Some of you are in China, Russia, Korea, Iran, Indonesia where the symbols of Christmas are not as dominant - or hardly exist. It is certainly not a holiday season. for people.
Some of you are, at this very moment glancing at this email via your phone whilst shopping or preparing for Christmas events.
I am thankful for the choice we have at Christmas time. I am concerned that such a developed country as NZ has so many poor families - poor in money and poor in values and quality of life.
Yesterday I watched a group of younger primary children sing to a large group of senior people residing in one of our rest home facilities.
Every older person lit up to see the children. I enjoyed it too and loved the fact that I knew two of the children and they knew me. Recognising someone and them recognising you makes a difference.
This got me thinking about a time when I would see the faces of children light up at the sight of adults presenting and performing. Our church would organise every year a Sights and Sounds of Christmas (and Easter) Exhibition for all the local schools and schools at some distance would travel by bus. This was well before the Auckland Drive in Christmas. our first exhibition was in the 1970’s.
Every available retired person was a part of hosting 20,000 school children arriving in busloads or walking groups of two classes to go through our exhibition.
It was wonderful see the delight in the children and even awe at the exhibition. The way the adults shared their knowledge and skills with the children was very moving. It was exhausting and exhilarating. it built community and friendships and laid the foundation for many children to have a positive experience of a local church.
By the time 2005 arrived, it was no longer acceptable from a religious view point for classes to come to such an event. that was outwardly Christian. Even though it was documentary in style, very musical, and involved sometimes 200 adults from the local community - it was deemed Christian and too difficult to include in school time.
This decision seemed backward and narrow to me as if Christ came only for the Christian church which came about after his death.
The wonderful story of Christmas told in the scriptures makes clear that Christ came for everyone.
That version of Sights and Sounds of Christmas is in the past. I don't find the present less hopeful at all. The challenge to offer effectively the meaning of life that Christ came to give (starting as a baby) is still before us - it always will be. I affirm each of you in your offering of blessings to others, in your prayers for others and in your serving of Christ through generosity of self and gifts and time.
It is difficult to live and share at depth with so much of our Christmas being rather shallow.
I think about family difficulties - relationships, past Christmases that have gone badly; a loved one no longer by your side. The truth is Christmas is also very painful for a lot of people. My prayer is that the Jesus' spirit will abide with you; bringing courage, a sense of peace with the world, patience, and generosity to offer something that you feel you don't have to give - be it forgiveness, gracious love, giving something away, an awareness for those you are with that all will be well.
One of our pastoral care team always says in greetings ‘GO WELL” I believe she means “Go well" in peace, in generosity and in love.
This SUNDAY 18th take advantage of the Advent Breakfast at 9am which precedes the Service of Carols and Readings at 10am. The breakfast includes music, prayer, readings. It is an informal time of worship around tables in the lounge. All are welcome. Stay after the breakfast for the Carols and Readings service.
SUNDAY EVENING IS OUR CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD INTERNATIONAL DINNER at 5.00pm followed by the Hard to be Merry or Christmas Remembrance Service at 7pm - where we pray for others, pray for our world, our families, and remember and thank God for those who are no longer living. Our church community has lost a lot of very dear older folk this year. We will remember them in this service.
I share a great memory - Matilda Meek was baby Jesus in last week's Christmas Pageant. How she blessed us all when she clapped everyone and clapped the children performing on the stage. Matilda brought such a spontaneous response of laughter and tears from so many. Thank you, Matilda, you enabled the spirit of Jesus to be at the centre of the nativity. At 9 months, you will never know how much love you gave us all last Sunday. Thank you.
The first time in 37 years.
Stan and I will not be with you for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. it is the first-time in 37 years we will not be with our church. On Tuesday 20th we leave for Australia as on Friday 23rd I am officiating at the marriage of my brother Danny and then our family on Christmas Eve will celebrate my Mother's 90th birthday.
Danny is the youngest of 11 and the last to get married.
I did not set these dates but with our very large family it seemed the best time to gather everyone from near and far. I knew this in July and so there have been teams in place organising the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. Everything is ready for you.
The original plan was to continue to Indonesia to be with Walker, Effie and Logan for the birth of the new grandchild. That is no longer going to happen and we will return on January 3rd. Once again thank you for enabling us to go and be with them at their time of great need.
Our daughter in law is doing well and her body is healing well. Their Christmas will be different than planned like so many of you. But they are not without plans for their future and hope for their family. They are very aware of how fortunate they are in terms of what happens every day in the world. I am glad of love - in praise of love; it is the most powerful force - tap into it my friends. Love came down at Christmas for the whole world.
God is with you. May it be a loving Christmas. I hope to see you this Sunday if you are in Auckland.
My love to you
Rev Pauline Stewart