29th November 2020
The church is not a building… but we are nonetheless delighted that we can now re-open the sanctuary so that we are able to meet in person, as well as online. Services will start at 10.30 am and be live-streamed on Zoom. Please use the corridor entrance, as we did before, to sanitise your hands and sign in.
November 29th First Sunday in Advent: Hope
December 6th Second Sunday in Advent: Peace
December 13th Gift Service Third Sunday in Advent: Joy Every year we hold a Gift Service and this year will be just the same. Gifts should be new, unwrapped and, if possible, in their original packaging.
Usually, this is just before we host a party for children from a local Women’s Refuge. Obviously, we can’t host a party this year, but the need for gifts suitable for boys and girls from babies to teenagers is still there. We also ask for donations of scarves, gloves, socks, and hats for The Link, the group which gives support to homeless and other disadvantaged people. On a chilly Thursday evening recently, as well as the hot drinks and sandwiches, they were able to give warm clothing to several very grateful people. Please be as generous as you can.
If you are unable to get to church but would still like to donate, we can arrange for gifts to be collected. Please email email@example.com or text/leave a message on 07771662206 and we’ll get back to you. Alternatively, please consider making a donation. The bank information you need is East Croydon United Reformed Church Sort code: 60-50-01 A/C No: 10322620 Reference: Christmas Donation + [date]
December 20th Fourth Sunday in Advent: Love
We will hold a Carol Service if possible
December 24th 11 pm Holy Communion
December 25th Morning Worship for Christmas Day
The Nativity Story
Have you ever thought about the effect of the Nativity on some of the other characters? The Innkeeper almost certainly had a wife – what did she think of everything that happened? Perhaps there were some young shepherds amongst those who were on the hillside, how did it affect them? The Magi were powerful and influential men who would have travelled with quite an entourage. What would their principal servant have thought of what they were doing undertaking this extraordinary journey? How did Mary’s family feel as they waited in Nazareth for news?
The Innkeeper’s Wife with her Grandchildren
“Grandma, one more story – please.” “All right then, just one. What would you like?”
“Tell us about the night the baby was born.” “But you’ve heard that one lot of times.
“We know, but we love it!”
“That was such an amazing night. You know how quiet Bethlehem usually is – well that week you could hardly move for people. It was the Emperor you see, he wanted to know how many people lived in the country – something to do how much tax we should pay. He ordered everyone back to their home town to register. Not a problem for us – we’re born and bred in Bethlehem – but some people had to travel miles. And then there were the risks. My cousins went from Jerusalem to Jericho and we all knew how dangerous that journey could be!
Back then your Grandpa and I ran a small inn with rooms we let to travellers. Well as I said, Bethlehem was very busy but we didn’t mind the extra work – the money was always useful. That night we were full, we couldn’t have squeezed another person in, and by the time we finished for the day, it was very late. We’d shut up the animals and were heading back indoors when I almost fell over this young couple. She was expecting a baby and he had that harassed look some men get when they don’t know what to do.
They were desperate. “Please”, they begged, “please find us somewhere – we’ve been everywhere. You’re our last hope”. Your Grandpa started to say we were full too when I caught sight of her face. She was nearly in tears. Well I wasn’t going to be responsible for anything happening if we turned them away, so I nudged Grandpa and said, “What about the stable? At least they’ll be out of the cold and we could make it ok.” They were so grateful when we took them to the stable and cleared a bit of space. There were plenty of straw bales they could rest against and I got them some blankets – a bit rough, but it was all we had left. At least, we thought, they’ll be all right tonight and we can find them somewhere better tomorrow. Little did I know…
I woke up with a start thinking that I’d heard a cry. I listened, heard nothing and went back to sleep. Then came this thunderous knocking. A crowd of shepherds were outside. We pulled our clothes on and went out into the night. ‘Where’s the baby?” they said, over and over again, and then started to tell us a story. They were so excited we couldn’t really understand them – something about an angel, no, lots of angels, and a baby born in Bethlehem. We hurried round to the stable and found the baby, tucked up snugly in an old feeding trough his dad had found. I quickly got the men out and gave them all sorts of instructions for what to bring to us. I made sure mother and baby were all right, then let the men back in. We were all speechless with wonder. You, youngsters, talk about everything being ‘awesome’ but this really was. We knew this was a very special baby. Yes, I know all babies are special, but this one was different. When the three wealthy strangers arrived a few days later. The young couple showed us their gifts and we were even more amazed and puzzled. Gold and frankincense made some sense but myrrh? What was that about? The young couple stayed with us for a while until she was fit to travel then they left. We don’t know what happened to them, but I have often wondered… Now then, you’ve had your story, off to bed all of you. Good night.”
Many years later shepherd re-lives that night
I thought being a shepherd was great – most of the time. I loved being out in the hills around Bethlehem with my dad. He was teaching me how to look after the sheep, like how to find the best grass for them to feed on. It was hard work but he made it fun as well. The only thing I really hated was when it was our turn to stay out all night to make sure the sheep were ok. It could be really hot during the day but at night it was so cold on the hillside. We had a fire and a rough sort of shelter but it didn’t keep the cold out. Wild animals roamed around and they would snatch a lamb if they could. Every time I heard the wolves howling I shivered and kept even closer to my dad. I knew they couldn’t get at me but it’s a really scary sound.
That night it was freezing cold and we were all huddled together trying to keep warm. Except for our fire, it was pitch black. Then suddenly with no warning, the sky lit up like brilliant sunshine. It dazzled us so much we fell down shielding our eyes. I’ve never been so scared in my life and all the men were terrified too. They were whispering to each other that it had to be an angel, but not just any angel, it had to be Gabriel himself! Then he started to speak. I’ve never heard a voice like it. He was telling us not to be afraid because he brought us wonderful news. He told us to go straightaway to Bethlehem to find a baby who would fulfil a prophecy – I didn’t know what he was talking about, but the men did. Suddenly it wasn’t just Gabriel, the sky was full of angels. Then just as suddenly they had gone and we were back in the dark.
Without even talking about it, we set off down the hill. Because I was younger, I could run faster than any of them, so I got to Bethlehem first. The obvious place to go was the local pub. Of course, it was all locked up so I started hammering on the door trying to get someone to open up. It seemed like ages before the Innkeeper appeared looking sleepy and very cross. ‘What do you think you’re doing making such a racket at this time of night?’ “The baby, where’s the baby?” “What baby? You’ve been drinking!” “No”, we said desperately, “The angel came and told us, said we’d find a baby here in Bethlehem”. The innkeeper was still shaking his head, then his wife appeared, tugging at his sleeve. “The young couple in the stable,” she said, “They must mean them.” We rushed round to the stables at the back and there they were, the young couple with a newborn baby. The innkeeper’s wife got us all out of there and told us what to bring her. Then we had to wait, and wait until she said we could come back in– quietly so as not to disturb the baby. In lots of ways they looked like any other mother and child, I had younger brothers and sisters so I know what I’m talking about. But in some way I still can’t explain, they looked different. This child was obviously someone very special. We were full of joy and excitement but suddenly realised that we had to go back to the sheep – what if something had happened to them? We rushed back to find all was well – who knows, perhaps the angels were watching over them too?
The Kings’ Servant is writing his memoirs
It was a long and frankly uncomfortable journey, even though we were well received wherever we stopped. That was only right and proper recognition of the rank and status of the Magi but it did amuse me when we met Herod – but more of that later. Who in their right mind sets off on a journey of a thousand miles without being sure what they would find? And have you ever ridden on a camel! All they had to go on were these old prophecies and writings which they studied endlessly. And then there was this star – I’d never seen anything like it. Some people were scared. They thought it was a comet and they always seem to bring trouble. I found it awe-inspiring. It was huge and moved across the sky lighting up our route. We often travelled well into the night because it was cooler, and slept in the heat of the day. We had strong, well-armed guards with us so we felt safe enough but that also slowed us down. We had to cross deserts, mountain ranges, and many rivers, taking care all the time to protect our belongings. That was another puzzle, who travels long distances with a fortune in their baggage? Only four of us, the three Magi and I, knew exactly what we were carrying. That was just as well. In some places, if other people had known, I don’t think any number of armed guards would have saved us.
It took us months to reach Jerusalem but in the end, we arrived and were warmly received by Herod. He couldn’t really do anything else without getting into trouble with his Roman masters. He was absolutely desperate to know why we were there and stunned when the Magi told him or rather asked him where the King of the Jews had been born. Herod didn’t like that at all. He was the King of the Jews – what on earth were these men talking about? His efforts to control his fury were really very funny, but we also realised that we could be in a dangerous position. Herod had to restrain himself and be polite but was very keen to stress that when we found the baby we must come back and tell him so that he could go and worship him too.
We set off cautiously from Herod’s court to make our way to Bethlehem but Herod knew better than to try to follow us. I don’t know what my masters expected but I didn’t think it would be in quite as poor a place that we found the child and his parents. I was worried about handing over the gifts but my masters weren’t. They made sure no-one else was there when they gave the gifts and said everything would be all right. We didn’t stay long. I think my masters were keen not to draw too much attention to the young family and we all wanted to set off for home. We had another long journey in front of us. Did we go back to Herod? No, we didn’t. We didn’t trust him and when one of my masters had this very vivid dream, we took it as a warning and found a different route out of Judea. We weren’t worried for ourselves, but we didn’t want to put others at risk. So you can imagine how devastated we were to hear months later that Herod in a jealous rage had ordered the killing of hundreds of babies and small boys. The ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ they called it. We made cautious enquiries and it seems that our family somehow managed to survive though they had to take refuge in Egypt to make sure they were safe. Could we have done anything to stop this? Probably not but the guilt lives with us still.
Meanwhile back in Nazareth – Mary’s family tell their story
We were so worried when they set off from Nazareth that day to travel to Bethlehem. We knew Joseph would look after Mary but with so many people on the roads, it could be dangerous. However, they had no choice. The Romans had come round everywhere with this proclamation. Everyone had to be registered with the authorities. We all knew why. It was all about making sure that everyone paid tax, and that was why we resented it so much. It might just have been ok if they had kept it simple. But no, everyone had to go back to the place their family came from originally, even if they had never lived there. We didn’t have to go very far, just the next village but we were horrified when we found out that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem because he was a descendant of King David. We were proud of that, not everyone can claim to be descended from a great king, but we didn’t like the thought of the long journey. We couldn’t do anything about it though, Joseph had to go and Mary had to go with him. We helped them prepare clothes and as much food as they could carry. We even gave them our strongest donkey so that Mary didn’t have to walk all the time. We waved them off wondering if we would ever see them again.
We had such a long wait for news and an even longer wait before… but no we’re jumping ahead in the story. We had to keep going, for the sake of the other children if nothing else. Joseph’s family kept his business going. We went to the synagogue as usual and listened to the Rabbi. Cousin Elizabeth had her baby and they called him John, an unusual choice of name but they were adamant that was what it was to be. We were all so pleased when Zechariah got his speech back. The poor man had been struggling for months unable to talk. But there was still no news. We were frantic with worry.
Slowly little bits of the story started to reach us as people came back from their travels, but it wasn’t very reassuring. Strange tales of angels, shepherds, a star and some wise men, kings some people called them, and of a baby born in a stable of an inn in Bethlehem. Was it ‘our’ baby? Who knew? Then we heard the terrible news about what Herod had done! That was the last straw for Mary’s mother – what if her precious grandchild have been one of the victims? Some of us tried to stay more positive but it was so hard. Our spirits lifted a bit when we got the news that some families had escaped and we prayed and prayed that ours would be one of them.
Then one never-to-be-forgotten day the village boys came rushing down the street shouting, “We’ve seen them, we’re sure it’s them.” “What are you talking about?” we said, not daring to hope. “It’s Joseph and Mary and they’ve got a child with them.” Well, what a party we had that day! The whole village came to greet them and see their little boy. Over the next few days, they told us their story. They talked about the star, angels, shepherds, wise men and the stable where the baby had been born. Sadly they also told us what Herod had done, but they had managed to escape to Egypt and that’s where they had been. We were so thankful that our prayers had been answered. Life was outwardly normal after all this excitement but it was never really the same. We all knew that something really extraordinary had happened. We knew we had a very special child growing up in our family.
Church Meeting 22nd November
We were able to hold this on-line using Zoom. The main item on the Agenda was the Elders Election. We had two nominations: Patrick Afful and Hilary Martin. We are delighted to announce that they were both were elected unanimously to serve for four years from January 2021. They will be inducted into the role early in the New Year. As they have served as Elders before, they do not need to be ordained. Let us pray for them as they take on these important responsibilities.
Keep well and stay safe
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