As Christmas approached, many people commented that they couldn’t get into the festive spirit this year. One reason may have been the unseasonably mild weather. Or perhaps it was the climate of gloom and doom spread by the media.
For me, something needed to awaken that sense of expectation, so apparent in the faces of children, as they watched the shops fill with Christmas stock back in September, and Father Christmas arrive in his grotto in November.
And it did! On Sunday 18th December, Christmas came alive at St. Mary’s Parish Church, Woodbridge. During the morning service, the small children of the Sunday School presented their charming Nativity play, each taking his or her role with dignity and poise. Later that evening, a congregation of hundreds were in fine voice, as was the splendid choir, as we sang many familiar carols and listened to superb music.
On Christmas Eve, a special service is held for the young, and the young at heart. Over one hundred children brought well behaved adults to church to hear again the familiar story, sing their favourite carols, and assemble the beautiful crib at the foot of the altar. In the stable, the animals appeared, followed by the Holy family and the shepherds with their lambs. Still far away (actually, on the window sills) were the wise men with their camels who will arrive in the stable at Epiphany, in early January.
What is the highlight of Christmas for you? Is it being together with family and friends? Or maybe it’s the presents? Perhaps it is in entertaining and the enjoyment of meals together? Each year, for me, it is the service of Midnight Mass at St. Mary’s on Christmas Eve. And 2011 was no exception: every seat was taken, with folk standing around the huge Christmas tree at the back; the lights were dimmed, creating a very special atmosphere. The shops were closed, the preparations complete. On this most special night, there was a very strong sense that we were celebrating the truth, for Christmas begins with Christ. In his address, the Rector of St. Mary’s, Revd. Canon Kevan McCormack, spoke of his personal faith and how he came to believe in God. But, the main theme reminded me so much of the words of my favourite song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, ‘Aspects of Love’, namely ‘Love Changes Everything’: how our human love for another person changes the way we feel, think, live, behave and communicate with them. It changes the way we feel about ourselves when we feel loved and valued by another. This is how God loves each of us. And, in loving God, our lives can be totally changed. His closing words still ring in the ears and strike a chord in the heart: “God loves each of you to death. Literally.”
On Christmas morning, following the early Communion service, families and young children gathered to hear a story about the shepherds from Revd. Dr. John Hare. One hundred hand knitted sheep (thank you to all the knitters!) were scattered around the church and the youngsters had great fun trying to find them. This may be something they will remember in years to come as they learn the true meaning of this wonderful festival on the Christian calendar.
Our grateful thanks go to all who worked so hard to make 2011 another memorable and special Christmas season at St. Mary’s. Thank you, too, to all who came and celebrated with us. The clergy and congregation wish you all peace and joy for 2012 and we hope you will join us next year for Christmas, here at St. Mary’s.
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