A Christmas whirlwind
What is Christmas like for a priest? I have been asked this many times.
I always describe it as a whirlwind of various services, all building up to the big Christmas morning communion.
On the big day the church was always packed to the rafters and the pressure was high as I was officiating in front of hundreds.
Once the service came to an end I was always exhausted. So, after wishing my parishioners and church wardens a seasonal greeting, I was very happy to make my way home.
All I wanted to do was collapse in a chair with a strong drink. But I had no chance for my family then expected me to be the life and soul of the party.
So after a little encouragement, I threw myself back into the occasion! Be it cooking, partying, gaming, present opening and eating – I was at the centre of it all.
The recovery was therefore postponed until Boxing Day and like many priests, I was then relieved to take a well deserved break from parish ministry for a few days.
It may be the most wonderful time of the year but it’s also, I’ve found, the most stressful!
Sharpening the Christmas message
I once knew a man called Frank, who was an acclaimed preacher and an ordained minister at Eastbrook Hall, Bradford.
One weekday he rang his steward, who owned a local garage, to book his car in for a service. Frank jokingly said, “Don’t make the bill too much, for I am only a poor preacher.”
“Yes, I know”, said his steward, trying to hide a smile, “I listen to you every week!”
Sometimes, like Frank, we can feel that our weekly preaching falls on deaf ears, and our retelling of the Nativity story so familiar, it holds little impact.
The trouble is, today people’s lives are so hectic that the message of the church needs to be sharpened to break through the noise.
At no other time is that statement more true than during the Christmas period.
With all their frantic preparations for the day, many people miss what the lead up to Christmas is all about.
However, during Advent and Christmastide a high percentage of the population attend church.
Whether this is for nativity plays, carol singing, Christingle, Midnight Mass or Christmas Day Communion, there is an opportunity to connect.
For the majority it is a fleeting time to capture a little of the Christ child. So the preparation and the impact of the presentation of these services is paramount.
In our services of Advent we as ministers have a duty, amongst the dash of secular and commercial preparation for Christmas, to proclaim Christ’s coming.
The majority of occasional church goers know the Christmas account of Joseph and Mary, the crowded city of Bethlehem and Christ’s birth in a stable.
However, I believe only a minority truly understand the significance of these things.
Sadly, since so few children attend Sunday School and RE is often not given prominence in day schools, some of the younger generation do not even know the story of the Nativity.
May we therefore tell and retell the Gospel stories of Christ’s foretelling and birth until they become a reality in the lives of the people.
Advent is waiting
Advent is an expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.
But we should never be disappointed in waiting for Christ’s coming, for our services in Advent should reflect that maturity in our waiting.
In those weeks we reflect on the Patriarchs, the Prophets, John the Baptist and Mary mother of Jesus.
It is then we begin to realise the timescale of the waiting for the second coming and of God’s preparation for the birth of Christ.
So here is the message, it is never too late. We, the ministers of his people in God’s grace must share the Gospel, including the Nativity, and in that telling allow our hearers to see the all-redeeming grace of God for themselves.
So may we, in our preparation for Advent and Christmastide, share the true story of Christ’s coming and celebrate his birth.
May we allow God to change lives through the gift of his son and enjoy our wonderful Christmas Day in peace together.
The Reverend Priestly Brook, an Anglican priest, retired in August 2012 from the Colne and Villages Team Ministry in East Lancashire. His Bishop has granted him a licence with ‘Permission to Officiate’. He is married to Christine, with six grown up children. He is a well known preacher and after dinner speaker in the North of England.