St Dunstan’s

Monks Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England

St Dunstan's James Tomkins 2

James’ Message

Dear Friends,

Are you ready? It's a question that is often posed at this time of year when people are looking forward to the celebration of Christmas. A few years ago, Tesco tackled this question head on and sent out a calendar to all it’s customers entitled 'Countdown to Christmas'. This told people the deadline for posting first and second class letters, the dates when fresh turkeys and free range geese would be available and which day to buy sprouts, carrots and parsnips so that they would still be fresh on Christmas Day. Following the Tesco 'Countdown to Christmas', it was impossible not to be ready and nowadays a similar checklist is available online.

Unlike Easter, the date of Christmas is fixed, so really there is no excuse for not being ready. There are also unmistakable signs that accompany the run up to Christmas, such as the darker mornings and evenings, decorations in villages, towns and cities up and down the country, the plethora of adverts on our television screens, along with seasonal Christmas music to enjoy and carols to sing. The Church also gives out signs to ensure that we are ready. An advent candle is lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, culminating with the lighting of a 5th candle on Christmas Day. Flowers are removed from the church and the colour of the cloth used to cover the altar changes from red to purple. These are all further signs that we need to be ready.

But what would happen if someone suddenly changed the date of Christmas? If the government decided tomorrow that this year Christmas should be celebrated not on December 25th, but on December 10th, only a couple of weeks after the publication of this Newsletter? Imagine the chaos that would ensue as people rushed around getting presents, buying food and writing Christmas cards. I suspect that few, if any of us, would really be ready.

This is why the church encourages the season of Advent, starting on the 4th Sunday before Christmas and finishing on Christmas Eve. Its purpose is twofold. The most obvious is that this season invites us to be ready to celebrate the birth of Christ, the first coming of Jesus to our world. We tend to be very good at this as we attend or listen to a service of Nine Lessons and Carols, 'Midnight Mass', a crib or family communion service. That in a sense is the easy part. The more difficult and less obvious part is whether we're ready for Jesus' second coming which is far more dramatic in its scope than a baby lying in a manger. This isn't to create a sense of panic, but a sense of purpose so that we maintain a state of spiritual readiness and preparedness in our own lives.

God expects us to take a responsible attitude to our faith journey, living in a state of watchfulness and being accountable for our own actions. The period of Advent reminds us to do this, to take time out for ourselves spiritually to make sure that we don't get carried away with the secular side of our preparations for Christmas at the expense of our spiritual health. Our state of readiness doesn't require us to be perfect, but it does require us to be watchful and obedient. With this in mind, the Church of England has produced a booklet which is available either in St. Dunstan's or St. Peter's, or by texting GodWithUs to 88802 or on line at to accompany us on our journey so that 'we're ready'.

With my best wishes for the Christmas season and 2018,