Well….here it is! Almost as exciting as the Christmas Radio Times double (other magazines are available!) here is the St. David’s Uniting Church & Castle Square URC Christmas papers 2021!!!
I will assume that you cheered at the end of that sentence!
Now, even with present uncertainties, we’ve many services coming up between now and January 9th -(when the next newsletter will be shared – a Christmas and New Year’s Day courier service costs triple, y’know!) – some online, some in person. See newsletter for more details and check online or phone your elder if changing circumstances means a likely change of events.
For those who have access, extra reflections will appear online as they come but for now, enclosed is material that relates to Nativity Sunday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve – all of which should keep you out of mischief for a while! Whatever the next few weeks, months, years have in store, we celebrate the fact that God is with us. So join us as we declare that there is a light shining in the darkness, hope for the despairing, peace for the soul, good news of great joy for all. However you are spending your Christmas, may you know that you are loved; feel God’s presence with you; keep safe, well and wonderful.
Nativity Sunday – 19th December
As is tradition at St. David’s, Nativity Sunday will be a creative service, involving a bit of drama from friends old and new. My great thanks to Creative Director – Iestyn, additional writer – Viviane and the army of actors (invited and cajoled!), below are the monologues that will be shared during the service. We hope that they will enable all to encounter the Christmas story afresh as we ask,
‘What’s the Christmas story got to say about farmers, foreigners, and fishermen’?!
Contemporary Farmer (complete with border collie in church!)
My name is Claire, and I’m a sheep farmer in central Wales. If you met me, or came to my farm, you’d probably think of me as a reasonably comfortable, moderately well off, middle-class farming type, what with my nice farmhouse (fantastic views!), and driving the Land Rover Discovery. And the truth is, for most of my life, and that of my family for three generations, the land has been very kind to us.
But you know that old quip – ‘Have you ever met a poor farmer?’ – well, yes I have, and the way things are going, we’ll all be meeting many more of them in the next decade or so. Because it’s a very, very hard life, and the lifestyle rewards which so enthused my father and grandfather are fading into memory.
Farmers of all sorts are under threat from so many different angles. All of us – shepherds, cattle and dairy farmers, poultry experts, crop and fruit farmers, all of us are under pressure. For starters, we find it difficult to attract staff – of itself, that should tell you this life isn’t an easy one – and immigration rules are making seasonal recruitment harder. And if we can’t deliver our produce at that ‘just in time’ moment, fresh and of quality, then our natural markets are under threat. When you then include this country’s obsession with always having the cheapest option, rather than the one which is fairly priced, the pressures mount up. Did you know that it costs me more to sheer my sheep than I can get for the fleece, and that I’ve had to sell the wool for as little as 10p a fleece?
And the pressure leads to poor health – not so much the physical, we’re a strong lot, by and large. No, it’s the mental health which has declined, our capacity to cope. No wonder so few are interested in joining us. In my moments of reflection, I find it all so very sad. Although Britain made its fortune as an industrial nation, we’ve also got an island which is wonderfully diverse and is agriculturally sustainable. We’ve got history in the countryside too. I suspect that we’re all going to have to return to a simpler way of doing things anyway, but we can turn it around if we are more realistic about it. Our contribution to the climate debate surely is about buying local, cutting out unnecessary travel, packaging and waste? And you know what, we don’t actually want to be rich, not in the build-your-empire sort of way. Our wealth comes from knowing that we can contribute to sustaining the people, because you can’t raise a lamb in the City of London, or grow wheat and barley in a factory. Our satisfaction comes from being part of a diverse society; of giving what we can, our labour, our skills and our traditions.
New Testament Farmer
My name is Pam, and I was a sheep farmer on the hills around Bethlehem more than 2000 years ago. We’ve never met, except in the stories told, but you’d not have thought much of me, or my family, which had been tending sheep and goats for many generations. We were not well off, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t happy, some of the time. We knew our place, as did everyone.
It was always a hard life, living out of doors, or in poorly constructed and maintained small buildings. We suffered from the heat in the day and the cold at night; we suffered sometimes from an unbalanced diet, but we knew how to forage for food, as well as barter with other farming families, of course. We had no advantages in life, had nothing special of our own.
Except, just the once…That one night when messengers came to see us – they were so happy, they were actually singing. They told us that a baby had been born in the town, a unique baby, a holy baby, a child of God. ‘Why tell us?’ we wondered, before remembering that God has a soft spot for children, shepherds and Bethlehem, and that the Messiah was to be descended from David himself.
We went down into the town, and found the baby boy, just as we had been told. Nothing Royal mind, just a poor family, destitute youngsters, snuggled up with household animals behind the inn. The royalty was to be found in the simplicity and in the love. We left them a lamb, a small gift, but all we had really, but enough to keep them in food for a little while, and for the mother to regain her strength.
We never thought we’d be rich – there was no social mobility in our lives, you were who you were, and that was that. But that one night, we understood that being blessed is not about money or even about the material comforts that money can buy. Blessing is about watching and listening for love, and then being part of love by sharing, so that others who are watching and listening can join the song.
My name is Viviane Augustine Jeanne Lamare – that’s three Christian names, like most of my country folks in France.
I come from a small community in Normandy – a village my father’s family called home since before the French Revolution. My mother’s family hailed from Brittany and “travelled east” to Normandy in 1928, seeking work and a chance to better themselves as many migrants still do.
Although born into a small community, I have always felt part of a ‘bigger world’ – connected to my fellow human beings everywhere. As a child, I was thrilled of having Polish, Italian and German cousins, alongside a Vietnamese uncle. So it only ‘completed the collection’ when I introduced my husband to my parents for he was born in West Bengal, in a village north of Calcutta. As he did not speak French whilst I spoke English, I emigrated to Wales where he worked. Having spent a year in Sutton Coldfield before, the friendliness of the valleys was a real breath of fresh air.
More recently, that air has grown a little stale. It hurts me when I think that the majority of voters wanted to leave the EU and that antiforeigner sentiment has become more mainstream ever since. Some people might say to me that they want to stop other foreigners coming here, not me – their friend, but people are not abstract concepts, numbers or statistics so how can a European take the decision as anything other than personal? For me, it also brings up questions of faith as I believe that the Christian gospel speaks of sacred solidarity and of a God- glue between all people. That solidarity is also mirrored in the French motto ‘liberté, égalité et fraternité’ which I hold dear. Especially ‘égalité and fraternité’. To me, that togetherness seems out of favour with our current government in Westminster.
Yet there are lights that continue to shine in the current darkness.
I first started coming to St.David’s Uniting Church after witnessing the joy that was shared at Beti and Sue Skym’s baptisms. Here I found, what seemed to me, my sort of community, a community of equals who celebrate, deliberate, and operate together, welcoming me into their community not as a feared foreigner but as a friend.
This welcoming stance is very important to me and we continue to live it out in the language classes, our friendships with our oversea friends and our inclusive policies.
We live it through our commitment to global justice and declaration that all human beings have inherent dignity and equal worth, for every person is our sibling and a child of God.
For me this is especially clear in my friendship with friends from beyond these shores, my friendship with Renda, Magdi and Susan and the Syrian community. Around dining tables full of tasty goodies, I have learnt about real welcome, about deep gratitude, and also that life is a journey, ever changing, never static – a lesson that we might heed as a church. But whatever the future holds for us, wherever God calls us next, I pray that we will continue to embrace and learn from the outsider; that we will shine as a welcoming community of equals, that there truly will always be a welcome in our midst for everyone.
New Testament Foreigner
When we first arrived in Jerusalem, oh how they made us welcome, a welcome was written into their culture. Of all people, the religious leaders in the palace knew that full well, and so the welcome as genuine, I’m sure of it.
We had travelled a long way, we had been on the road a good month or so, and we had known pretty early on that our direction was heading towards the Judean capital city. It made sense, of course it did. And when we arrived at the palace, they seemed to know we were on the way – chances are they saw us coming a day or two away, I suppose. Probably had visitors regularly too. All the same, it took us a little while to convince the civil servants that it was Herod we wanted to see; I expect we’d confused them with our premature talk of a royal birth – there were some puzzled looks for sure.
Eventually, Herod himself put in an appearance, and I’m sorry to report that we didn’t particularly like him from the outset. Whereas his palace staff had been wonderful with us, fed us and our animals, shown some of that legendary Hebrew hospitality, Herod was difficult. He was confrontational, argumentative even. It dawned on us gradually that turning up asking about the birth of a new king was a threat to Herod, to say the very least. We had been so naïve.
Herod listened to us, whilst not really hearing what we were saying. In the end, he sent for his experts, perhaps looking for some clarity of thought. And when he got that clarity – the detail of prophesy from his scribes, and the reference to Bethlehem, just up the road, his mood seemed to brighten again. We joined him for some more food, as he wished us well on the way. “Let me know how you get on” said Herod, “because I’ll want to go and pay my respects to the child too!”
But really, we should have known. Known that Herod’s exchange of information with us wasn’t on the level. Sure, his experts had shown us the last leg of our trip, but they had not done so free of charge; Herod had got information out of us too. We had an awful feeling about it, and agreed not to go back to Jerusalem as a result. We’d said enough already. And we learned later on that Herod had sent the troops in anyway, and that dozens of boys were murdered by royal command.
The welcome we had been given was a hollow one; we had been used by a political puppet king, only interested in his own self-preservation.
But it would be wrong to leave it there. We had found the holy family in Bethlehem, where prophets and star alike had shown the way. And it had been wonderful, the highlight of our trip, in every possible way. We offered our gifts, but they too shared food and drink with us, and would have done so if we’d been empty-handed, of that I’m sure. Their humble welcome was everything that the palace was not – simple, sincere and loving. A different kind of royalty; a proper kind of royalty.
My name is Pete and I’ve been a fisherman – a trawlerman – all my working life. It must be one of the least glamorous of all professions or vocations. It’s invariably tiring, physically and mentally, it can be extremely dangerous at times, and as for our ‘perfume’…..the smell of the sea is in our blood, quite possibly literally so by now. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved my work, for all its hardship, especially the bond I have with my fellow workers, through thick and thin.
These days, it’s mostly through thick; we’re really starting to struggle. Things that we have taken for granted for decades are no longer straightforward, and we’re getting pinched from two sides. On the one hand, our freedom to follow the fish and take our agreed share of the stock is under threat – we haven’t got automatic right to travel to European waters any more, and I’ve never been the best at the paperwork to be honest. And then, perhaps even more of a threat, we haven’t got the freedom to sell our catch far and wide either – and the bureaucrats don’t seem to have understood that some of the types of fish we catch are only popular in places like Spain and Portugal anyhow – when was the last time you ordered Megrim from your chippy?
We were all in favour of change – a chance at last to break away from the constraints of rules and regulations, of restricted quotas and limitations. We were told that new agreements would be signed, but the truth is that politicians, from here and from Europe can’t find seem to find ways that works for all of us.
It’s such a shame! We’re an island nation, and sustainable resources from the sea are part of our heritage. And surely, they must be part of our future too, if we’re going to save the planet. God has given us abundant resources if only we could share them without all this need for aggression and conflict.
Fishermen have always been friends of Jesus; in our quiet way, many of us still are people of deep faith, born I suspect of our understanding of nature and of the peace which we get from God in times of danger. I do sometimes wonder what the Galilean Fishermen would have made of our lot today…….
‘Fishermen First’: A ‘Jesus and Peter’ sketch in the style of Wild Goose resources
Peter: Hey, Jesus
Jesus: Hi Peter, what’s up?
Peter: I’ve got an idea, a recruitment strategy!
Jesus: Oh yeh??!
Peter: Yes! (slowly, with pride) ‘Fishermen First’!!
Jesus: ‘Scuse me?
P: (more deliberate)’FISHERMEN FIRST’….. I was thinking, you know about you having made us ‘fishers of men’ and all that… Well, we could start with the fishermen: ‘Fishermen First’. (Getting enthused) Me, Andrew, James and John, we’ve got loads of contacts, we could work the network (network – get it?!) get some quick wins, and the organisation off to a flying start with market advantage!
J: Well, that’s a thought, certainly…….. I want you to tell your friends…
P: (Interrupting)…We’d need a campaign strategy to go with the catchy slogan, something practical as well as just the words. What might our bait be?
J: Eh? Bait? You’re losing me now….
P: Yeh, bait! What would we offer to catch the new recruits? How about promising to sort out the weather and tides for easier fishing, or how about turning a small catch into a big one when a crew has struggled all night?
J: (alarmed at the suggestions) I can’t do that!!
P: Sure you can, and I bet you would too, if the circumstances require….
J: (warning him) Peter!
P: Well, you know, we wouldn’t actually have to deliver on the promises would we? When it comes to getting people on-side, we can be clever like politicians and taxmen, Matthew and Levi can show us the way, make it sound all great in the promise, and then say ‘the conditions are not yet right, blah blah…Matthew and Levi might have some…
J: (sternly) Peter! Enough!!
P: Sorry, I get carried away.
J: Yes, I know…. Look, I like the idea of using your networks – I even appreciate the pun. I want you to speak to family and to friends about me, that’s a great idea to be honest, but I can’t really see this as a ‘Fishermen First’ sort of thing?
P: Oh, I see, yes of course, I’m so insensitive. Fishermen and carpenters – and to be fair, perhaps your dad has some friends who are masons?
J: No Peter, that’s not what I meant. I mean that I don’t really have any favourites at all, not by profession anyway, and if I did, it’s going to be those on the margins – the ones who are really struggling.
P: (a bit hurt) Well we’re not exactly rolling in it, Jesus! Besides which, you called us fishermen first!
J: Well, true but you weren’t the first to come. In fact, right at the start, the very first people who came to share love with me were the farmers and the foreigners!
P: You what?
J: Well, I was just a babe mind, but mum told me how it was local farmers and foreign astrologers who first welcomed me.
P: (under his breath) Not my fault Bethlehem’s 40 miles inland…
J: What’s that?
P: Oh, nothing. I just thought I’d had a good idea for once, that’s all.
J: And so you have Peter, I’m really grateful for your ideas, and your enthusiasm, it’s just what I’m looking for in my team.
P: Really? You’re not just saying that?
J: Yes, really. And you know what you were saying about bait?
P: (getting enthused again) Oh yes, inducements, sign up bonuses and all that?
J: Well, not so much a sign up bonus per se, as one that goes on and on. And not a politician’s false promise either!
P: What you got in mind boss?
J: Love, Peter, Love. Just as the farmers and foreigners brought me at my birth. And just as it will be for ever and ever – for everyone.
Prayers of intercession
Nativity God, we thank you for farmers, fishermen and women, cooks, care workers and all for whom Christmas brings extra work and long hours. May they be surprised by moments of joy, hope and peace this Christmas.
As the shepherds on the hillside were oppressed in their day, so we pray for all those who live under oppression today. For those in this land who must choose between warmth and food; for those in other lands who suffer under corrupt governments and oppressive regimes; for all who need rescue from damaging relationships and debilitating illnesses, we pray for your liberating and loving presence.
As the wise men travelled from afar, we think of those who are on the move today. Those we know hoping to see family at Christmas; those on the move for work; those forced to move due to conflict and natural disaster. Be with them on the journey. May they find rest and welcome on the way.
And, at this time of year which is joyful for some, painful for others, we think of those we know who are in need of good news today…
God of the nativity, open our eyes to Christ’s presence in the shadows of our world so that we, like him, may become beacons of your justice, bearers of your grace, and defenders of all for whom there is no room. All this, and more, we pray in the name of the babe in the manger, Jesus the Emmanuel. Amen.