LAST month, I counted 21 illuminated Santas in the small garden of a house in Truro. St Nicholas of Myra would be surprised by the ways in which his cult has developed in contemporary Britain. More pleasing were the lights at the house of some neighbours, whose front garden had also an illuminated crib with simple figures of Mary and Joseph.
A few nights before Christmas, their timer malfunctioned and the illuminations blazed into the small hours. Just after four o’clock in the morning, there was a commotion outside. When they looked out, they saw a young man kneeling in front of the crib. His brother was with him.
It turned out that they were worried about their mother, who was addicted to drugs. They were desperately anxious, and, before the crib, they asked for God’s help. I don’t think they would have done that in a garden full of Santas.
THE family with the crib held a Covid-secure outdoor Christmas party for everyone in our road. We brought our own glasses to be filled with mulled wine. As we stood around, with the crib near by, it struck me that this was a very natural way of both building friendships in the community and encouraging people to reflect on the Christmas story.
I don’t think there was any evangelistic intent, which added to my fascination. Was this a new way of being church, or simply the Christmas story doing its work? Compared with many current mission strategies, it all seemed so simple.
Taking the plunge
BUT perhaps I was over-interpreting. It’s a danger for the clergy, constantly seeking something compelling for that next sermon (or Diary column).
I remember, years ago, at Center Parcs, I was persuaded by my children to climb the long water chute. Hurtling down the twisting tube towards the pool below, I felt helpless, arms and legs out of control. Once submerged at the bottom, I was sure that I was drowning. Scrambling to my feet, however, I discovered that the water was quite shallow. I was glad to be alive.
It struck me at the time that this was a perfect image of baptism: diving into the waters of Christ’s death, and rising with him to new life in triumph. Shouldn’t every church have one of these flumes going into a big font? Caught in this moment of watery wonder, I realised that no one else showed the slightest sign of having had a theological experience. Why do some of us see God communicating with us everywhere, while others never notice?
WE WERE glad to go to the carol service at St Clement’s, on the outskirts of Truro. The organist there, Martin Davies, died a few months ago. He was always so full of life that it was hard to imagine the place without him.
The carol service was one of the high points of his year, and he put an enormous amount into its preparation and rehearsing the choir; so this year’s Nine Lessons and Carols was always going to be poignant — especially as his widow read one of her own, beautifully crafted, Christmas poems.
To add to the pathos, as 6 p.m. approached, no organist had appeared; so the Vicar began her notices with “Is there an organist in the house?” Sadly not; so we sang unaccompanied. Admittedly, we were helped by the choir, but I was reminded how well even a masked congregation can sing with only the human voice. Just one or two confident voices give everyone else confidence, too.
Halfway through “O little town of Bethlehem”, the organ broke in. The organist had arrived, thinking that the service was at 6.30. To make up for his absence, he played with extra vigour, which was a shade incongruous, since we were singing “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.”
A football match is sometimes described by commentators as a game of two halves. That was certainly true of this carol service, and somehow it made it both a joyous event and a fitting tribute to a well loved man.
What’s in a name
OUR son and his fiancée, who live in London, were among the first to get the Covid Omicron variant, even before Plan B was announced. Calling these variants after Greek letters has meant that my time spent learning New Testament Greek 50 years ago has found a fresh and unexpected use.
It was only last May that the World Health Organization (WHO) started naming Covid variants in this way, to prevent their being called after the places where they were first discovered. All done to avoid stigma attaching to the countries concerned, but, as has been widely reported, some Greek letters have been omitted.
The WHO decided against using nu because of confusion with “new”, since every variant is new; nor did it use xi, since so many people are called Xi in some parts of the world. It’s probably wise not to name a Covid variant after the Chinese President — although the Omicron Family Restaurant in Wisconsin (yes, there is one) may not be completely overjoyed, despite the free publicity.
The Rt Revd Graham James is a former Bishop of Norwich and an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Truro.