Advent

Come back each day in Advent for a new post, or find us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to have it delievered directly to you!

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24 Reasons to be Grateful this Advent

Some of us love to sing about 10,000 reasons to praise God. No one wants to read a list of 10,000 things, though. To be honest, we’re not even sure you want to read a list of 24, but as it’s Advent that’s the number we’re aiming for. So, here are 24 things to thank God for this Advent:

1.       Chocolate – especially of the Lindor variety

2.       The annual thrill of hearing the Queen pronounce ‘often’ like ‘orphan’ in her Christmas Day speech

3.       Also, her dedication, service, and willingness to share her faith in those speeches (just in case Her Majesty is reading…)

4.       A whole month of belting out In the Bleak Midwinter and other such joyful tunes

5.       That warm, fuzzy feeling of walking around seeing all the Christmas lights

6.       Christmas baubles – I mean bubbles – no, baubles! But also bubbles!

7.       A week off work for some rest and – oh wait, the kids

8.       A month off uni for some rest and – oh wait, revision

9.       Whisper it, but Zoom has its perks too

10.   Glorious sunrises and sunsets, even if they are a bit too close together

11.   The certain hope of a whole drawer’s worth of new socks

12.   Ridiculous Christmas jumpers

13.   The last month of joy and freedom before hitting the gym again in January

14.   The Muppets

15.   Edible houses

16.   Real houses with heating and warm beds

17.   An excuse to cover everything in fairy lights

18.   Mince pies! Brussel sprouts! Whichever edible Christmassy things you actually like!

19.   Oh gosh, this is getting quite hard now. Errr…let’s try and be serious…

20.   The arrival of a Covid vaccine

21.   All the key workers who have worked so hard throughout the year for us

22.   Spending time with loved ones

23.   An opportunity to step and back and focus on what’s important, namely…

24.   …the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.’ – James 1:17

This may all be a bit silly and light-hearted, but we can genuinely be grateful to God for all the big and little things in life, knowing they come from him. As Paul puts it, ‘What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7).

While this is a hard time of year for many of us for all kinds of reasons, Advent is a chance to focus on God and everything he’s done for us. Christians are especially grateful for Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, the ultimate gift from God which means we’re saved from sin and death: ‘it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast.’ (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, if you’re stuck for reasons to be grateful at the end of this difficult year, why not consider finding out more about Jesus?  

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What does Christmas mean to members of St Mary’s? – Max Simpson 

What do you look forward to most at Christmas? 
With all that comes with Christmas it is a time of joy for me. Away from all the normal stresses of life it is a time together with a loving family having a celebration about our faith. And then there is the knowing there’s a boxing day cricket test match to watch on a very full stomach!

What is the best thing about Advent?
Advent so often for me acts as a countdown to school being replaced with fun, food and time with family and I imagine it is similar for many. But while these are not bad to look forward to, advent’s true importance comes from the daily reminder about a truth you should never forget, that Jesus came to earth as a helpless baby because of his love for humanity.

Why should people bother with Jesus in 2021?
Jesus should be worth our time because he showed us his immeasurable love and importance to us. Jesus, despite being God, didn’t see himself as too powerful or important to get tied up in the mistakes of the human race, but instead went through excruciating pain and humiliation for a human race who constantly reject him. Jesus did this for everyone to give them a chance to have a loving relationship with God himself. So, especially in 2021, when times could continue to be dark for many, looking towards a God who loves you more then you could imagine should always be worthwhile. I know it has helped me hugely.

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'A Very Noisy Christmas' read by Caroline West.

It is a story about that very first, very noisy Christmas when Jesus came to earth as a baby and how it means we can be friends with Him forever!

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The Hope of Christmas Future

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t predict the future. After everything that’s happened, we look back and laugh at our optimism at the start of the year. All the talk of a fresh decade, the roaring 20s, and ‘2020 vision’ was quickly forgotten as everything turned on its head.

Yet as we celebrate Christmas and the New Year, our thoughts naturally turn to the future. Maybe this time around we’re less inclined to make plans and resolutions, just hoping instead that vaccines will make life in 2021 somewhat more normal.

For some of us, the damage of 2020 will be longer-lasting. The plans we had for the next few years may have been permanently altered or taken away, and who’s to say that won’t happen all over again? As much as we want to be optimistic that life will better by Christmas 2021 than it is now, we simply can’t know that.

In a world full of uncertainty, however, there is real hope. There’s someone we can rely on for Christmas 2021 and beyond.

We saw in our previous blog posts how Jesus is the hope of Christmas Past and Present, the reason we can all celebrate Christmas with as much hope and joy today as people did two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. But what about the future? What difference do Jesus’ life, death and resurrection make to our futures?

Check out what Peter, one of Jesus’ followers, has to say about that:

‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…’ – 1 Peter 1:3-4

There’s a lot to unpack in those verses, but look what Peter says about people who believe and trust in Jesus: they have ‘a living hope’. Jesus rose from the dead, and through him we have a real, living hope of everlasting life with him.

What’s more, that promised eternal life is ‘an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade’. Unlike the plans and material things of this world, Jesus and the life he brings aren’t going anywhere. This is a certain, unchanging hope.

Wonderfully, Jesus isn’t just for Christmas either. In fact, the Bible tells us he’s ‘the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8). Even if it’s impossible to plan and predict even a year ahead, and even if things haven’t gone to plan in a year’s time, Jesus and his promises remain the same.

He’s utterly dependable and gives us hope not just for this Christmas and next Christmas, but for ever – even into eternity. If we’re following him, we can look forward to his return just as much as people had been looking forward to him coming at the first Christmas.

Jesus, then, truly is the hope of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, ‘the same yesterday and today and for ever’.

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What does Christmas mean to members of St Mary’s? – Emma Hayes

imageWhat do you look forward to most at Christmas?

I have a lot of happy memories of Christmas, Christmas stockings (my Dad’s football socks), standing by the lounge door, “Has He been?” and more recently my hope of persuading family to play board games “because it’s Christmas!” I love it all, the cheesy music, films, quizzes, jumpers, handmade gifts and cards.  However, it can at times, amongst all the fun, feel a bit of an anti-climax....  my handmade gifts were not received as well as I had hoped, am I really “simply having a wonderful Christmas time”?.  The full understanding and joy of Christmas came in 2002 when I celebrated for the first time as a Christian ~ I finally understood the purpose and point of it all!

 What is the best thing about Advent?

Advent helps to remind me even now that my focus is best directed to Jesus as “The reason for the season”.  I read in an Advent book recently, that rightly Jesus is more than a season.  Jesus is the meaning of everything.  He is not just the point of Christmas but the purpose for life! Now that is worth celebrating. 

 Why should people bother with Jesus in 2021?

I would encourage everyone to take time this December to check out the true meaning of Christmas and grasp it not just for this season but for life! 

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Everlasting Father, another name used in Isaiah to describe Jesus. 

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The Hope of Christmas Present

I don’t know about you, but I tend to pin a lot of hope on Christmas. As the nights get longer and the days get colder, I long for the cosy comforts of mulled wine, festive cheer, and family time. It all feels like a big hug, especially if it’s been a difficult year.

Maybe you feel a similar sense of hope for a week off from work and all the madness of life, or even just hang on until Christmas for something you really want and hope someone will buy for you.

It’s a lot of hope to place on one event. All too often, it doesn’t live up to the hype and those hopes go unfulfilled. We don’t sing my favourite carol at the carol service, or I still have work to do and don’t get the break I’d hoped for, or the longed-for family time starts to drag and tensions rise, or I don’t get exactly what I wanted. On Christmas Day itself, I sit there stuffed full of food and wonder what now? Before you’ve really had a chance to relax and enjoy it all, it’s over and reality bites back.

Surely there has to be something more, some kind of lasting Christmas satisfaction?

In our last blog post, we saw how Jesus was the hope of Christmas Past, how his birth on the first Christmas brought joy and fulfilled the hopes of the people who were there. But what difference does all that make to us today?

Remember the shepherds who ran off to see Jesus? They did that because an angel told them this:

‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ – Luke 2:10-11

Jesus’ birth wasn’t just ‘good news of great joy’ for the shepherds and the people in Bethlehem at the time. It was and is ‘for all the people’, including us today. Jesus and the hope he brings aren’t just a thing of the past, but a present reality.

How? Notice the angel called him a saviour. The reason he got his name and the purpose of his coming was that he would ‘save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).

Jesus grew up to fulfil that promise too by dying on the cross and rising again, taking the punishment we deserve for rejecting God and allowing us to have a right relationship with him again. That little baby really had come to save the world, and still today ‘whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16-17).

Christmas may well end up feeling like a let-down, but the life of Jesus truly was and is ‘good news of great joy…for all the people’, something we can celebrate and put our hope in knowing he delivers. Jesus is the real hope of Christmas Past and Christmas Present, and that promise of eternal life gives us a glimpse of the hope he offers for the future too.

Look out for our next blog post to find out more!

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Coming up at St Mary's this Christmas...
Hark! A re-imagining of the nativity, filmed live in a theatre. Showings at St Mary's on Saturday, 12th December.

Read more and book...








imageBake-along-a-Christmas (on Zoom!) for children. Bake gingerbread men while finding out about the first ever Christmas.

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imageComing up at St Mary's this Christmas...

The Bethlehem Experience
A great way to enjoy the story of Jesus' birth, told from the perspective of those who were there, in a covid-safe way! 

Read more and book...

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Mighty God, the second of Jesus' titles from the book of Isaiah.

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What does Christmas mean to members of St Mary's? - Ruth Meech

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What do you look forward to most at Christmas?

Christmas is a mixed bag, the build-up is always so exciting, but often the day itself falls flat and is a disappointment.  I idolise a day of festivity and fun that rarely meets my expectations and has often felt like just another day.  That is why knowing that there is more to Christmas than the tree and the turkey is a real comfort.  Because it isn’t just another day, it is the day we remember that Jesus came to this world, fully God yet fully human to save us all from the mess we make of things.  That he loves us so much he would give the gift of becoming a baby in a manger who would ultimately be hung on a cross to die and face the justice I deserve.  And in remembering this, then how can I be disappointed?

What is the best thing about Advent?

The build up and excitement for Christmas is always my favourite part.  Everyone in a festive mood, lots of yummy food about, getting out the Christmas jumper and searching the shops for the perfect gifts for the family.  Then you have the carol services and mince pies – I love all those parts.  I think the joy of it, is us all feeling more connected, the majority of us celebrate Christmas and that draws everyone together in some way.  You see people you haven’t seen for ages, chat to the cashier more easily, speak to your work colleagues about their Christmas plans and families.  There is a sense of joy and excitement that we all share – that is the best bit.

Why should people bother with Jesus in 2021?

This year has been so difficult for so many people.  There has been a lot of loneliness, anxiety, delays in medical treatment, frustration that the restrictions are too severe or frustration they aren’t severe enough!  All this suffering can be explained by the Christian faith, that by rejecting our creator and the vast love he has for us, we have broken the natural order of the world.  The earth is not the perfect place it was made to be and we are not the people we were made to be – but through his compassion, God has taken his anger at the mess we have made upon himself, so that he can forgive us, have a restored relationship with his people and one day suffering will be no more.  So we don’t know what will happen in 2021, but we do know that we have a wonderful saviour who loves us, listens to us and is with us through the hardest times. 

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The Hope of Christmas Past

I wonder what the first thing you think of when you hear ‘Christmas’ is? Frantically shopping on Christmas Eve? Cheery Christmas films like Die Hard? Mariah Carey? The snow that never seems to materialise? The neighbours’ dazzling light display that keeps you up until 3am every night for a month? Stuffing yourself with turkey but insisting there’s still room for pudding?

We’ve made Christmas into a months-long season of festivities, traditions, and celebrations. We look back to how we’ve always done things and find comfort in doing it all over again.

In these uncertain times, though, it’s difficult to know how many of those things will actually feature in Christmas 2020. Will Christmas be the same without them? Is there any hope for a happy Christmas?

Well, lost in all the noise and buried under all the tinsel and wrapping paper is real hope. Whether we’re consciously celebrating it or not, the real reason for all of those things is the birth of Jesus two thousand years ago in Bethlehem.

That might not sound like something worth celebrating. It might even sound made up, or like a kill-joy’s way of spoiling all the Christmas fun.

But if you look back at the first Christmas, there weren’t any fairy lights or paper crowns or John Lewis adverts, and yet it was an occasion full of hope and celebration.

On the surface, an unknown couple having a baby in a stable and laying him in a manger doesn’t look or sound like much, does it? Sure, it’s a bit unusual, and the wise men rock up with some shiny gifts for this baby, but what’s the big deal?

What’s with the reaction of the local shepherds, for example? As soon as they heard that Jesus had been born, they ‘hurried off’ to see for themselves (Luke 2:16). Then they ‘spread the word’ about who Jesus was and ‘all who heard it were amazed’ (Luke 2:17). They sound like kids (and some adults…) at Christmas today, bouncing off the walls and desperate to tell their friends about the amazing presents they’ve got.

You see, we spend a couple of months building up to and getting excited for Christmas, but people had been waiting hundreds of years for Jesus to come. He was truly the best gift they could’ve hoped for.

This was the same Jesus that Isaiah wrote about seven hundred years earlier, saying:

‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ – Isaiah 9:6

Jesus was the fulfilment of all this and more, a Prince of Peace bringing hope and cause for celebration.

So even if Christmas doesn’t look quite the same this year, even if some of the trimmings are stripped away and we don’t quite feel like celebrating, thanks to Jesus it’s been an inherently hopeful and joyful time from the very beginning. He was the hope of Christmas Past, and he gives us hope for Christmas Present too…

Look out for our next blog post to find out more!

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This year we face a Christmas which will be very different for many, but we rejoice that the message of the Bible doesn't change, and we are able to celebrate Jesus Christ coming into the world on that first Christmas.

Join us throughout Advent as we remember Christ's first coming and look forward to when He returns again.

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