A letter from Revd Will Gibbs for the Redbourn Common Round
I wonder if you were one of those people who decided not to take your Christmas lights down this year but to keep them in place and lit-up during January.
There were quite a few people around the village who thought this might give some cheer and encouragement through the period after Christmas which is always a bit gloomy and difficult, and especially so this year with Covid and the third national lockdown.
Normally, people tend to take their Christmas decorations down after Epiphany, on Twelfth Night. We took the church Christmas trees down then which had looked so magnificent inside and outside the church through the festive period and, of course, we’re still sweeping up the pine needles now!
But we always keep the crib up in church until the end of January or the beginning of February. So, if you are someone who did keep their lights up, then you’re not wrong! For actually the season of Christmas lasts for 40 days right through until the 2 February. So, we can continue to enjoy the lights and the decorations, and even sending cards (if you missed the post!) until then.
The shops would have us believe that Christmas starts in September and ends on 24 December as they close the shop doors and pull down the shutters, ready to open again on Boxing Day at dawn with the sales. The Radio Times would have us believe that Christmas ends when their famous festive double issue finishes in early January and we drag ourselves off the sofa and away from the television repeats and back to school or work. Folk tradition, and a famous carol, suggest that there are twelve days of celebrating and then we pack everything away in the loft and move on.
But actually, we keep celebrating Christmas, and then the Epiphany season, right through until early February when we reflect on an amazing passage of the Bible found in Luke chapter 2. In this story the forty-day old baby Jesus is taken by Mary and Joseph to the Temple, in accordance with Jewish custom, and presented in thanksgiving and in prayer to God.
And as they come into the Temple to do this, we’re told of two characters whom they encounter – Simeon and Anna. Both are elderly and it seems both have been waiting patiently for a long time for this moment. Simeon had been promised that he would not die before he set eyes on the long-awaited Messiah.
And in this seemingly normal little baby, he recognises something far more – that this is the Light that the world has been waiting for. Simeon and Anna had been waiting faithfully, patiently and prayerfully for this moment for such a long time and then they experience it and their joy is unbounded.
I think it is a wonderful story about waiting expectantly, praying fervently, of being open to recognise the presence of God in something surprising and seemingly ordinary, and then of responding with great joy and thankfulness. It is such a helpful story for our times.
At this time of year, each day, the light is bit brighter and the lasts a little longer and we move ever so slowly through the month and towards the promise of Spring and warmer days.
Each day, we hear of more people having the vaccinations and the hope that this brings. Each day, it feels as if we’re just that tiny little bit closer to some light at the end of the tunnel.
Sadly, the nature of something like a pandemic means that we’re never going to have a definitive moment when we can suddenly say it’s all over. There’s never going to be a truce declared one day that marks the end of this war we’ve been waging against the virus.
It won’t be possible to say that one day the virus was still here and then we awake the next day and it has gone. But we can see a way forward and there is light ahead that brings hope, relief and joy.
Until then, inspired by Simeone and Anna’s example, I hope we will keep fixed on that, continuing to be faithful to all that is being asked of us, remaining patient, quietly longing and praying for that day to come.
For when it does, our joy, like theirs, will be out of this world.
Yours in Christ,