In the spring of this year, the Rectory received a new resident - a Springer Spaniel puppy called Coco. He was born on Easter Day, is now seven months old and keeping us all on our toes. He's a delightful character and a good companion to whoever he happens to with at any given time. But of course, like any dog, he can be hard work and expensive - what with vets fees and a splendid appetite - and there are moments when the full reality of his reliance upon us hits home. Fortunately, I have kept dogs before and am fully aware of the tremendous commitment we undertake when buying one. Sadly, not everyone thinks this through and they fail to hear the RSPCA's warning that 'A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.' In thinking about this, it occurs to me that the same is true of God. 'God is for life, not just for Christmas'. Unless you are without a television or radio, or haven't been into town for some time, it is impossible not to know that Christmas is on the way. Everywhere we go, from shops to restaurants and pubs, we are encouraged to get ready for the 25th of December. "Buy those gifts now!" "Book your office party or Christmas meal now!" "Get the television and video recorder you've always wanted now, in time for the Christmas T.V. specials!" And the financial institutions are in on the game too. "Can't afford Christmas? Let us give you all the credit you need - spend now and repent at your leisure!"
In the midst of all of this, perhaps God gets pushed aside, moved out of the way to make room for what we want Christmas to be? Yet, without God, Christmas simply would not happen. Christmas isn't about the excesses of spending and partying, although I do hope that everyone will be able to enjoy times of fun and giving this year. Christmas is all about the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, into this world. He came, quietly and humbly to us, being born in a scruffy stable, behind a pub in a tiny backwater town of Palestine. He came to tell us about God, to share God's love with us and to invite us to come back to our God whose one desire is to be close to us once more.
Sadly, that message seems to have been drowned out in all in the hype and razzmatazz that Christmas has become. So it is important to make space for reflection, to recognise that God came amongst his people in the form of Jesus Christ, whose birthday we celebrate on the 25th of December.
But all too quickly, Christmas will be over and the New Year upon us. It's then that we need to remember that 'God is for life, not just for Christmas'. Jesus didn't come so that we could have big parties at the end of each year. He came to tell us about God, to rescue us from the life in which we bury ourselves and to offer us new life - now and when we die. He's not asking us to become nuns or monks, dedicating our lives totally to him. He simply invites us to share something of our lives with him, to take care of our spiritual wellbeing as well as caring for our physical needs.
So, I wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas surrounded by all those you love and I hope that you will enjoy all that you have planned during this festive season. But I also hope that you will make some time to reflect on what Christmas is all about - the coming of God amongst us as Jesus Christ - and also recognise the tremendous love that lies behind the story of his birth.
With all good wishes.