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Letter for December 2012/January 2013

posted 4 Feb 2013, 12:48 by St. Thomas' Church Aboyne

Dear Friends,

‘Love came down at Christmas...’

‘Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angel gave the sign.’

This much-loved carol by Christina Rossetti summarises one of our key beliefs as Christian people: that out of sheer love for the human race, God sent his Son to be born as a baby in a stable in Bethlehem and to share the experience of being human, so that Christ might grow and share with us what it means to be divine.  At this wonderful time of the year, we think of all that the Christmas season can involve for us: singing carols and Midnight Mass; the coming together of friends and family to feast and enjoy each other’s company; the exchange of gifts; and the hope of ‘peace on earth, goodwill to all.’  For many, it is a magical, very special time that they eagerly anticipate for the whole of the year – and it is good that this is so.  We need times of togetherness and celebration with those we love as much as we need the air we breathe.

But there is another side to Christmas, which might be said to be captured in these poignant words:

‘Now when you climb into your bed tonight,
And when you lock and bolt the door,
Just think of those out in the cold and dark‘
Cause there’s not enough love to go ‘round.’

(from ‘Sympathy’ by Mark Ashton, Graham Stansfield, David Kaffinetti and Stephen Gould)

For many people, Christmas in particular can be a lonely time.  With so many coming together to celebrate with those they love, those who are homeless or hungry and those in greatest need in our world can be especially conscious of how alone and unloved they may be.  Perhaps it wasn’t always so; but this very fact may make their present circumstances all the more painful for them, as they remember the happiness and warmth of times past.

‘Love came down at Christmas...’  Christ’s birth is the greatest sign of hope – for the entire world.  Even with these stark contrasts in people’s experiences, there is hope.  For one of the great wonders of life is that God places on the hearts and minds of so many ordinary men and women the desire to care for those in need.  Organizations like Shelter, Crisis at Christmas, and the Cyrenians, who work with those without homes and often with very little hope or self-esteem, help to show real compassion and care for people whom others would ignore.  To mention a few contemporary facts:-

  • Each year more than 45,000 people apply for council assistance through homelessness legislation, and this year ‘phone calls to Shelter Scotland’s national advice helpline soared by 20% + compared to 2011.
  • Each Crisis at Christmas guest receives a warm welcome and vital companionship, three nutritious hot meals including Christmas dinner, the chance to shower and get clean clothes, and a chance to access a wide range of essential services that homeless people often miss out on, such as health, dental and optician services, expert help with mental health and addiction problems, advice on housing and finding employment, access to training and support throughout the year ahead, and the opportunity to leave homelessness behind for good.
  • In November Aberdeen Cyrenians launched their Christmas and Beyond Appeal 2012, and they write that “Since our appeal in 2011 we have continued to see significant increases in the numbers of individuals accessing our services, particularly requiring food parcels and access to our Street Alternatives Project, a service that allows rough sleepers and clients staying in temporary accommodation to have access to shelter, food, showers and a laundry service, as well as emotional support and advice”.
These are all the kinds of things that so many of us take for granted.  For those who find themselves in these sorts of predicament, Christmas can be a very hard time.  But organizations like Crisis, Shelter and the Cyrenians really do make a positive difference to people’s lives.  We might say that those involved in such amazing work actually show the love that came down at Christmas in action, through their care of others.  And such organizations need our help and support to continue to do this Christlike work.  So perhaps, as we gather with those we love, we can spare a thought and a prayer – and possibly much more! – for those who take that love out into the world and who make such a wonderful difference to the lives of lonely and hurt people who are, nonetheless, our sisters and brothers in Christ.

I write this with some passion and from personal experience, as I once spent a unique and special Christmas working at a centre for homeless people.  It was one of the greatest privileges of my life, and I can thoroughly recommend spending Christmas in such a way, where those who help will undoubtedly receive far more than they give.  But even if this is not possible for us, we can all offer our support, as we are able, to such organizations, who are able to give of their time, talents and love to help those in need, and in this way we can join in the ‘love in action’.

So – ‘Love came down at Christmas...’ – and there is  ‘enough love to go ‘round,’ if we are generous with our time, talents, and resources, as God enables and inspires us to.  Then many more people will indeed have a Happy Christmas:

‘Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men
Love for plea and gift and sign’ 

(Christina Rossetti  (1830-1894))

A very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year to you all.

James Curry