We are a group of four Anglican parish churches who enjoy working collaboratively in serving the people and communities of Beech Hill, Farley Hill, Grazeley, Riseley, Shinfield, Spencers Wood, Swallowfield and Three Mile Cross. Our four parish churches are delightfully different in history and character, each offering a different take on what it means to be active, forward-looking, community-focussed churches of the 21st century. Each church also has its own style of worship, weekly activities and pattern of services that continue to evolve. You should find all you need to know about us as you engage with our website, but if you’d like to meet and talk something through in person… don’t hesitate to get in touch.
“Whose birthday is it, anyway?”
At this time of year, I must confess to being a little bit of a bah humbug person, because of the lead up to Christmas and its focus on everything commercial. Our approach to Christmas has become a period of time that stretches from September to December, where our senses are intoxicated with the intensely heightened and insatiable desire for the acquisition of “things” for Christmas.
And I can’t help but notice the thousands of lights adorning high streets, and private homes; the compulsory Christmas jumpers, and Christmas Trees; not to mention Mary & Joseph and the Holy child juxtaposed with inflatable Santas climbing up the side of buildings, or stuck up some flu or other, with Rudolph and his nose blinking at us! What a miserable so-and-so I am.
I’m forced to ask the question “Whose birthday is it, anyway?”
The same question shouts into my subconscious as I listen to yet another recording star’s sickly-sweet rendition of the “holiday classics.”
“Whose birthday is it, anyway?” I will probably curse, as I struggle to find the elusive parking space in which to throw my car, so I can do my last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve. (Wish me luck!)
The answer to “Whose birthday is it anyway?” is supposed to be obvious – we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But… if we look at John’s Gospel again….
“….to all who receive him, he (Jesus, the Word), gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God”
In case you missed it:
“To all who receive him, he gave power to become children of God. Who were born…….”
“Whose birthday is it?”
As it turns out, the writer of John’s gospel seems to be saying... that it’s our birthday! Yours and mine!
Oddly enough, John makes no mention of a baby, doesn’t say anything about a virgin mother named Mary, or a husband called Joseph, and provides us no details of stables, mangers, shepherds or magi. John’s is a truly spiritual Gospel full of eternal mysteries.
In fact, by comparison with the other accounts that we have of the Nativity, John’s is the least colourful, least dramatic of the records of Christ’s birth, and has therefore inspired few paintings and positively no flashing house decorations to date.
But what John does tell us, in fact he sings to us, and through his song bears witness to his belief, that the one who comes, comes so that we might be children of God – children, that is, who are born of God, to be as God, in and through the Word of God, Jesus the Christ.
The poet Malcolm Guite puts this thought of being born of Emmanuel (God with us), far more eloquently than I ever could:
O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought with-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us wisdom, come unspoken name,
Come root and key, and King, and holy flame.
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.
Wishing you all a Happy Birthday, a truly blessèd Christmas, and fulfilled hope in the New Year.
Revd Paul Willis