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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Monday, 21 December 2009

carol service sermon 2009

This is the text from the sermons at Lindsell and Stebbing Carol services over the last 2 Sundays. This the one from Stebbing but it is essentially the same as last week's at Lindsell. The texts were the usual Christmas lessons. The opening jokes were from the Grove Booklets email.

I would like to begin by sharing some directives I received this Christmas
The Union of Shepherds has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available. Shepherds have also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year they should watch their flocks via cctv cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts.
Please note, the angel of the Lord is reminded that before shining his / her glory all around she / he must ascertain that all shepherds have been issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and Glory.
You are advised that under the Equal Opportunities for All policy, it is inappropriate for persons to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr R Reindeer from the Reindeer Games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence. A full investigation will be implemented and sanctions—including suspension on full pay—will be considered whilst this investigation takes place.
I guess if we are laughing about these then there has been a watershed, and the anti-winterval backlash is about to begin! The Grinch may have stolen Christmas, but we’re stealing it back!

The opening words of U2’s 1988 live album, “Rattle and Hum” introducing their version of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” were "This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles. We're stealing it back."

“We’re stealing it back”. U2 made “Helter Skelter” OK to listen to again; it lost its connotations of racism and murder that Charles Manson had given it in the 1960’s, and just became a joyous rock and roll song again, which is how it should be.

For years in this country, the shops and the television have had a hold over Christmas; they have stolen it from us and from our children. Consumerism and secularisation and whatever the word is for when you want to have more and better decorations, lights and paraphernalia in and on your house than your neighbour have stolen Christmas from us, but instead of complaining about that I’m just going to say,


This benefice bucks many trends but one of them is that the attendance at Church is going up. And not just at Christmas. The newspapers and the TV will perhaps tell you the woes of the Church over Christmas – and there are woeful things about Church, let’s be clear. Yet I don’t think it’s the institution that attracts people here, it is the people themselves. In a world where the concept of community has been stolen by facebook twitter and so on, this community is stealing it back. And doing it properly!
And of course beyond our human community we are gathering here with a spiritual community that transcends time and space. This is not the only place to find God in Stebbing, but it’s a pretty good place to start.

Before I finish I will just steal back another Christmas icon.

You might have some in your house; you might not want to see it in church. It certainly has pagan connotations. I just said church is not the only place to find God here, and living in such a beautiful place does mean that I am constantly reminded of how the created world points to God though its serenity and beauty; of course this idea has also been stolen by the New Age and some elements of the ecology movement, but today,
“We’re stealing it back”
Mistletoe provides us with an amazing illustration of how we are supposed to relate to God. Christmas is the time when we celebrate God’s coming among us as a human child who grew to be our saviour, our teacher and our friend. Sometimes when I read the gospel stories I end up thinking to myself that some people even then, as now, just don’t know how to relate to God. Christmas tells us the story of his coming then; Mistletoe gives us a picture of how we’re supposed to relate to him now.

When you see Mistletoe in the shops or in houses at this time of year it has been cut down from the place it’s mean to be. Mistletoe is meant to grow on a tree; it does not survive on its own. Mistletoe is meant to be connected to a tree; we are meant to be connected to God.
I read recently a novel about a Saxon warrior whose girlfriend returns to a convent, saying to him “I’m like mistletoe, I need a branch to grow on”. Friends, we are all like that; whether we are feeling joyful or doleful, whether or not we feel like celebrating Christmas, we all need a branch to grow on.

And so as I close I want to extend this metaphor a little to show you how, if you don’t already know, you can enter into a relationship with God in Christ. A market gardener at this time of year will be wanting to sell mistletoe for Christmas decorations. He doesn’t have time to go around gathering it from the wild, so he gets hold of some mistletoe berries and he cuts a little slot in the bark of an apple tree. He squashes a berry under the bark, and treats it and seals it; from that little berry grows a new mistletoe plant.

So also with us; you may only have a tiny amount of faith, smaller than a tiny berry, yet God – the apple tree in this picture, is willing to receive you in his warm embrace. As the berry drawn close to the tree flourishes and grows, so also our faith, as we draw close to God in repentance, in worship and in prayer, will flourish and grow.

If this Christmas your faith has been stolen by suffering, by tiredness, by business, by despondency or despair, I hereby declare that we are stealing it back

Happy Christmas


  1. Fantastic! Can I steal it?!?...

  2. please go ahead; if anyone asks, the misteltoe thing comes from "Lords of the North" by Bernard Cornwell


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