According to my diary, British wintertime begins on Thursday the 21st of December. This is also the day on which many Anglicans (me included) keep the Feast Day of St Thomas the Apostle and Martyr. There is an old rhyme that goes, “St. Thomas Day, St. Thomas Gray, The longest night and shortest day.” The ancient Church, in her wisdom, positioned it quite deliberately to intersect with the changing seasons and the atmosphere of the year. Unless you rise early from your nights slumber, the nights of winter can be very long and the days can often be very grey; in fact as I am writing this I am very aware of the rain pelting against the dining room window of the Vicarage. Is it any wonder that there are so many people who find these months particularly hard and difficult to navigate; they may be on their own with no visitors from one week to the next; they may be homeless; they may have no one to share their troubles with; the walls, metaphorically, begin to close in and all seems very dark.
It was St Thomas, one of Jesus’ own disciples, who doubted before he believed. It was St Thomas who touched the wounds of the risen Christ and exclaimed, “My Lord, and my God.” His darkness turned to light, his wont of belief to Faith, his sadness to joy, his despair to hope and his life renewed.
When I celebrate Holy Communion on Christmas Eve I am touched/affected, call it what you will, by a number of things. First and most obviously is entering a candlelit Church with the Gospel Procession led by our wonderful young people and the Blessing of the Crib; the Church has been decorated in preparation for this most holy night and then the Bread is raised and broken and wine is outpoured. When we enter the final stage of our celebration the organ triumphantly blasts out Hark the Herald Angels and we sing the words, “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man may no more die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” And there in those brief verses we express our belief, winter becomes summer and darkness becomes light.
We all have our own winters to live with, the clouds and the wind and rain that batter us, sometimes do so very painfully. But the Faith that we hold, the Faith of the Church is that Christ comes to us most powerfully when we find ourselves in our own particular bleak mid winter and it is at that point that we discover the real joy of Christmas that goes beyond the 24th of December.
May I wish you all a truly holy and blessed Christmas, an increase of Faith and a gift beyond the wealth of all the nations of the world – the Peace of Christ.