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Eagerly Anticipating Christmas

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

Sunday 23rd December 2012

The Archbishop of York's sermon in The Sun today focusses on the importance of eagerly anticipating Christmas. He also writes about remembering those who have lost children and the Carol Services at York Minster.


Are we nearly there yet?

 

The familiar cry of children in the back of the car.

 

Are we nearly at Christmas yet? 

 

Well, there is only one more door to open on the Advent Calendar, and we lit the last of the purple Advent candles this morning. 

 

One tradition tells us that the Advent wreath was invented to help children who were asking ‘Are we nearly there yet?’

 

Johann Wichern was a pastor in Germany who was working among poor city children in Hamburg. The children would ask daily if Christmas had arrived, so eventually he built a large wooden ring from an old cartwheel and fixed 19 small candles and 4 large candles. A small candle was lit every weekday during Advent, and on Sundays, a large white candle was lit. This helped the children count down the days.  The circle of the wreath reminds us of the unending love of God. The lights are a sign of the light of Christ who brings hope of transformation into a world full of darkness – darkness not just of the long winter nights, but darkness of people who have lost sight of God.

 

The Bible reading in Church today tells about the time when Mary just discovered she was going to have a baby. She went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was also about to have a baby – a baby who became John the Baptist, whom we’ve been talking about over the past weeks.

 

Elizabeth felt her baby give a great leap of joy in her womb when Mary arrived. So even an unborn child was excited about the coming birthday of Christ!

 

What are we anticipating so eagerly? Is it the thought of dressing up and parties?  Or dressing down and relaxing? Is it the food and drink?  The presents?

 

Well, in two days’ time, we are celebrating the greatest gift there was ever given.  And there was no greater dress-down day than that when the One by whom all things were created left all his glory behind and came to earth as a little baby, born in the out-building of an inn.

 

Are we nearly there yet? Are we ready for the coming of the King of Kings.

Are we ready to receive that gift and let it transform the rest of our lives?

 

Remembering Families Who Have Lost Children

As we celebrate and rejoice in the birth of the wonderful Son of God, let us not forget that there will be many families who will be in real need of the comfort and hope Christ brings, as they grieve the loss of an absent child. Let us pray for the families of those young children so senselessly murdered in Connecticut; for the families of those who have lost children through illness or accident. 

 

And let us remember, too, the particular anguish of those families whose children have disappeared with no hint of how or where they might be. 

I am thinking today particularly of April Jones the five-year-old was abducted on 1st October - twelve weeks ago tomorrow - near her home in Machynlleth in Wales.  Her picture is in my chapel along with the photo of Madeleine McCann. 

 

May God keep these children safe and take away their fear and anxiety.

May the holy angels guard and protect them.

We pray that they may be reunited with those who love them.

Give hope to all their loved ones

And hear our cry for their safe return.

 

Carol Services

Later this afternoon I will be going to York Minster for the first of two Carol Services there. The second is tomorrow, on Christmas Eve.

 

Every year these are services of great beauty. The Minster is decorated with an enormous Advent wreath hanging from the roof, and the candles and the Christmas tree add to the delight of the occasion.

 

The Minster will be filled with people eager to pray and sing and hear the words of the Christmas story again.  But it is probably the music which will create the greatest thrill.  The beautiful soaring harmonies of the choir remind me of what the angelic host must have sounded like that first Christmas night; and as the huge congregation raise their voices to sing together of God’s gift of joy and peace, it feels like a foretaste of heaven.

 

I hope you will all go out in the next few days to join a congregation in singing for joy at this time which is like no other time of the year. A time of peace and goodwill to all people. A time when God’s love and justice come close to us all.

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