Christmas 2014 will seem very strange at Purley URC. Partly because some good and valued friends, whom we have been mourning recently, will not be with us. Also, though, because for the first time in so many years, there will not be the usual Christmas Day Lunch. The lunch, entertainment and tea on Christmas Day was such an incredible event and a wonderful expression of incarnational faith (God is with us) that it, too, will be greatly missed. To witness the atmosphere of friendship and celebration in the hall each year was very special.
Most of us will recall special gatherings at Christmas and Christmas Day meals in remarkable locations. I recall with great fondness childhood memories of when my Dad ensured that all our guests, and there were plenty of them, had been liberally supplied with pre-dinner sherry that when it came to the meal itself the sugar and salt, regrettably on the table at the same time, got mixed up by a couple of elderly friends! Some of you may have experienced Christmas ‘down-under’, with a barbecue on the beach. I cannot imagine that feels right.
One Christmas Day meal I will never forget happened in 1994. My then wife, Joanne, had been in hospital, critically ill, since early November. She had spent most of that time in Intensive Care. It was a horrible and painful time. Christmas Day arrived. I had just about managed to take a service that morning but had returned with other members of the family to the hospital. Joanne, at that point, was the only patient in Intensive Care. All the nurses, who by then had adopted us as part of the hospital ‘family’, invited us to share in Christmas Day lunch which they had arranged to be held on the ward itself. I am sure that every health and safety rule was ignored and probably today such a setting would be impossible but for us, with my sick wife in an adjoining room, it seemed normal and right.
In so many ways to celebrate Christmas on an Intensive Care Ward was one of the most powerful expressions of the truth we celebrate at Christmas. God is with us, whether that is in moments of celebration or in moments of pain and suffering, whether we are in a church hall full of strangers who, for one day of the year, become our family, whether we are painfully watching one we love die, or surrounded by excited children desperately hoping that Santa has brought them the latest ‘must-have’ toy.
Wherever you celebrate Christmas this year and whether you are surrounded by happy celebrations or sadness because there is a familiar face missing this year around your table, may you know the truth of God’s loving, compassionate presence with you.
‘He came down to earth from heaven,
who is God and Lord of all…
with the poor, and mean, and lonely
lived on earth our Saviour holy.’
Nicola, Cameron and Ross join me in sending you greetings this Christmas and wishing you love and peace.
Russell J Furley-Smith