Make way, make way, for Christ the King in splendour arrives...

So will sing the congregation at the start of December’s Benefice Service of Confirmation and Licensing in Swalcliffe church; a charge to open hearts and minds to God, and to put other cares aside.

It’s an appropriate sentiment for such a service, and a fitting one, too, for the season of Advent in which we now find ourselves; Advent, those four weeks of preparation before the great Christmas celebration.

It’s a bit odd in one way, for in this month of December the Church is all about getting ready, whilst the world is already busy celebrating - but that’s one small axe I shall continue to grind on my own. Whenever we do it, it’s good to have some space in which to prepare.

There’s a wonderful poem by a 17th century writer, Thomas Ford (1580 - 1648), which contrasts our willingness to get ready for an earthly celebration, with our unwillingness to prepare space in our lives for the coming of the King of heaven;

Yet if his majesty our sovereign lord
Should of his own accord
Friendly himself invite,
And say “I’ll be your guest to-morrow night.”
How should we stir ourselves, call and command
All hands to work! “Let no man idle stand.
Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall,
See they be fitted all;
Let there be room to eat,
And order taken that there want no meat.
See every sconce and candlestick made bright,
That without tapers they may give a light.
Look to the presence: are the carpets spread,
The dazie o’er the head,
The cushions in the chairs,
And all the candles lighted on the stairs?
Perfume the chambers, and in any case
Let each man give attendance in his place.”
Thus if the king were coming would we do,
And ‘twere good reason too;
For ‘tis a duteous thing
To show all honour to an earthly king,
And after all our travail and our cost,
So he be pleas’d, to think no labour lost.
But at the coming of the King of Heaven
All’s set at six and seven:
We wallow in our sin,
Christ cannot find a chamber in the inn.
We entertain him always like a stranger,
And as at first still lodge him in the manger.

Christ still finds no room in so many hearts and homes.

I suppose one of the big problems is that the Church seems to have appropriated Christ as its own, and almost suggests that the only way you can find God is via the pews. Thankfully this is not so! All the idiocy of the squabbling Church merely points up that it is a man-made institution, flawed and failing. The Christ whom it serves is above all that sort of nonsense, and is a God who willingly comes to dwell in each and every heart and life that will make room for him.

So each one of us can welcome the King of Heaven into our lives by waiting on him, by praying to him, by reading about him in the Bible, by listening to what he has to say in the Gospels and Epistles, by spending time with him, by honouring him for the creation with which he has blessed us, and by thanking him from the bottom of our hearts for the salvation he has won for us.

Christmas is NOT a Church festival but surely a FAITH festival. It’s the occasion on which we remember that our Heavenly Father loves each and every one of us - yes EVERY one of us - so much that he wanted to guarantee our eternal life with him, and the only way he could do that was by becoming human himself, and living and dying for us. Christmas is the start of that earthly/heavenly story.

So why not try to find a moment or two amidst the tinsel and cards to remember why you’re doing all this. Family is wonderful, Parties are fun. Yule is undoubtedly cool. Christmas is so much more. Once the tree is gone and the presents forgotten, the gift of God of himself, his love, his life, and the promise of our eternal life will remain.

Don’t think too badly of the poor old Church as it muddles along, getting things wrong - it’s human and far from perfect, just like you and me in fact! But come and share with other faith- filled folk as they find a few moments to be with God, hear again the most wonderful story of all, and welcome the King of Glory into their hearts and lives and homes and families once again; after all He is the reason for the Season.

May you and yours enjoy a truly joyful, peaceful, and blessed Christmas.

With love,
Ronald Hawkes

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