Dear friends, colleagues, fellow labourers in the City of God, companions on the way of reconciliation and renewal, especially but by no means exclusively those who share the ministry and mission of the Sydney Central Coast Presbytery…
May hope, peace, joy and love be yours this Adventing-Christmassy-Epiphanous season.
Having been five years a Presbytery Minister, I still experience a slightly guilty feeling about not being flat out preparing Christmas with my own congregation. However, believe me, comrades, when I say “I really do know how you feel.” I will be praying for you all today and the next few days as your services, vigils and celebrations take place.
Christmas is almost the last remaining season in which the community seems still to expect something from the church ‒ that is, as long as what we bring fits, more or less, the peculiar structure which the community now provides for us. So Church Christmas is expected to cater for un-house-trained children and their indulgent families, for parties, carols and presents. And there’s nothing really wrong with that. The challenge, of course, is to hospitably welcome the world into Church space by meeting at least the most reasonable of the community’s expectations, while also offering, into the personal space made open for a few short minutes, the true Christmas gift which we cherish: a word, a sign, a niggle, a sneaking suspicion that there might be something more in this worth following up after Boxing Day.
What could this possibly mean, for someone who lives largely outside the story of which Christmas is just the first page of a fresh and intense new chapter? What is the serious gift behind the happy frivolity? What does it mean, that in the cute Liddle Baby Cheezus is the presence of God in energy and matter, life and love, bleeding flesh and soaring spirit, with us, among us, within us? How do we (can we?) infuse this gospel into the fixed expectations of this tightly scripted Christmassy experience?
This, I know, is what each minister attempts each December, in a suburban congregation or inner-city mission, in a school, facility, cell, ward, or possibly (dare I suggest) in a Synod office. May God bless your attempt this year with brilliant new ideas, or if not, at least with genuine warm honesty.
Please remember particularly to help your community to pray for the world and its struggles: for the homeless and asylum seekers (like Jesus); for participants in war and political protest (like Jesus); for victims of personal violence (like Jesus); for vulnerable children (like Jesus); for politics and politicians (with Jesus) and, in Jesus Alpha and Omega, for the groaning, perspiring, weary Creation. But don’t forget to pray also with people who are hopeful, joyful, peaceable and loving – all also like Jesus!
I want to acknowledge the privilege it has been for me to minister among and to the Deacons, Ministers of the Word, Pastors, Office-bearers, Candidates, Lay Leaders, Staff and general Hangers-On around the Sydney Central Coast Presbytery (oh, all right, and a few others around the Synod and Assembly as well.) You all work bloody hard, you care about your people and Christ’s business. Together we hurt over the painful stuff and breathe deep sighs of gratitude over each new shoot that lives.
This year some of us have moved on, others have moved in, some have retired while others are being retried (see what I did there?); some top ministry people have gone to God; some of us have lost friends or family dear to us, others have thought that the next Synod Pastoral Note may have featured our name. Take time to be mindful, prayerful, grateful and above all hopeful in all that God is doing among us in Jesus, Emanuel.
Rich Blessings to all of you and your families,