Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas newsletters

Gospel reading: Luke 2: 1-20

This year we hadn’t had, until yesterday, a single round-robin Christmas letter. Perhaps they are going out of fashion like Christmas cards. But I also wonder whether you heard Lynne Truss’s attack upon on them on Radio 4’s Today Programme this year. That can’t have helped with their popularity. Of course people have been taking pot shots at such letters for years. But I like Christmas newsletters – even if I can’t seem to get round to writing one myself - and was glad when one arrived through our letter box. I’ll read it to you

The Star Inn

Dear all

This year has been a busy, busy one for us Brewers, what with having had a glorious new kitchen for the inn and then Martha’s wedding to Joel in the autumn which we had here. See picture of the bridal party below and particularly note my new hat.

Joel is such nice boy and we all love him dearly. This year he’s been promoted to Chief Tax Officer for the local district - which has certainly brought its benefits if also some rather unkind remarks from the neighbours. And Martha is expecting a baby which is due in the spring. Simon – now 14 can you believe it? - is doing marvellously at school and has just got a distinction for his Grade 6 Timbrel and Loud Cymbals exam. Fluffy the ox had a new calf in the spring so it’s now Fluffy and Huffy in the stable.

We had a lovely family holiday on the Med in June with my sister and her family. Such a beautiful spot near Gaza! The sea was as blue and as warm at it could possibly be. And the food was glorious. There was a bit of bother, at the time, between the locals and the Roman authorities. Some people – near where we were staying – were being evicted from their homes to make way for some new barracks. But as you know we don’t like to get involved in other people’s business – and our holiday was hardly affected at all.

It’s been very hectic here in Bethlehem over the last month what with that irritating Census. Luckily, as many of you will remember, Tom and I were born here so no travelling for us and, to tell you the truth, it’s been quite a boon to trade in what is normally a quiet season. You have to pity some of the travellers. Last night we even had a pregnant woman and her husband arrive at our door – and the only room we had for them – was with Fluffy and Huffy in the stable. I didn’t think the oxen would mind.

The woman seemed very heavily pregnant to me. She might have even had the baby last night or early this morning as there seemed to be quite a lot of noise coming from the stable throughout the night. At one point some most unsavoury looking characters turned up who seemed to be friends of the woman or her husband. I didn’t like to pry and couldn’t really see what was going on from our bedroom window.

So a lot has happened this year – what with the new kitchen, Martha’s wedding, Joel’s promotion, Simon’s musical successes and our lovely holiday. Tom is still his old self, spending too much time on the business but I have my health so we have much to be grateful for. Happy Holidays and I hope that you and yours have a prosperous New Year.

Lots of love Ruth, Tom, Martha, Joel, Simon and Fluffy and Huffy

Now I don’t know about you but I enjoy such Christmas newsletters. They are better than just a card. For one thing they contain more news. And in some ways they are better than a present. They do I think, cost the writer more in time and effort than, say a box of chocolates. They deserve to be received as news and accepted as a gift with good grace.

Of course Christmas newsletters generally don’t cover the disasters and the failures of the year: only the good times and the successes. They can seem impersonal because the writer is writing for a lot of different people – both friendly and not so friendly. They can sometimes seem boastful, even competitive, as if the writer wants to prove to their readers that they and theirs are doing better than you and yours. And of course they are easy to take apart and make fun of as Lynne Truss did, ever so skilfully, on the Today Programme.

It is fairly easy to see that Ruth Brewer – the author of my Christmas news letter – lives in a bit of bubble where it’s only the affairs of those most closest to her that particularly matter to her. But aren’t we all a bit like that? More significantly of course, Ruth seems to have, rather foolishly, missed the significance of a big event on her doorstep because she ‘doesn’t like to pry’ and, as she says, she and her family ‘don’t get like to get involved in other people’s business’. But how many of us in similar circumstances, would have got out of bed, got dressed and ventured out into the cold, merely to see a stranger’s new-born baby?

The birth of God in the form of a apparently insignificant baby, surely shows us one thing related to Christmas newsletters. It is in the most human that God is to be found, in the seemingly ordinary but also extraordinary events in our lives such as the birth of a child. If Ruth had looked she might have found God in her stable that night. But she also might, in the spring, find God in the birth of her own grandchild. God was even present - had she but known it – in her joy at her glorious new kitchen.

Newsletters contain news and at Christmas we think of the good news of the birth of the Christ child. In the Christmas story it’s angels who bring this news, first to Mary, then to Joseph, before the event and then to the shepherds immediately afterwards. In our Gospel reading tonight we heard how the angel tells the shepherds, ‘Be not afraid, I bring you good news of great joy.’

Newsletters may seem to contain rather trivial news compared with the birth of the Saviour of us all. But remember it was only Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men and a few others who glimpsed the significance of the baby born in Bethlehem that night. The innkeeper and his wife presumably didn’t grasp the importance of the couple who they housing in their stable, or they would have found them better accommodation. News might sound trivial but sometimes seemingly trivial news has earth shattering consequences. We scoff at such news at our peril.

A Christmas newsletter not only contains news but is also a sort of gift. And at Christmas it is customary to exchange presents, to symbolise the gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense brought by the wise men, but also to remember that the baby in the manger was God’s gift to us. ‘For to you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour’: in other words the angel is saying to the shepherds that the baby has a tag on it saying ‘For you’.

A newsletter is a type of gift because the writer gives something of them self in writing it. In writing one the writer has to reveal what they have seen as significant over the last year, show what they truly care about, open them self up, if ever so slightly to acceptance or rejection. In laughing at the newsletter we reject that gift. And it is a gift which is ever-so precious.

Our offertory carol today is In the Bleak Midwinter. The last verse begins ‘What can I give him, poor as I am?’ and ends with the words ‘Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart’. In a way people give their heart in Christmas newsletters. They give us something which God gave us in the form of human baby. In allowing himself to be born as a baby in Bethlehem he gave himself to us – with the hope of acceptance but at the risk of rejection. Our giving of our heart to God, in return, may seem a strange thing to do but it is all he asks of us. It’s all he wants from us this Christmas.

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