News for December 2018 - January 2019

Dear Friends,

At our Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve we will be singing ‘Silent Night’ – a carol which always seems so fitting for that service. It is particularly significant this year because it will be two hundred years since it was first sung as a carol at Midnight Mass in the village of Oberndorf in Austria.

The German words to ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht’ were originally written as a poem by an Austrian parish priest, Joseph Mohr in 1816. The story goes that by 1818, Mohr, who was by then assistant priest at St Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, handed over the manuscript of his poem to Franz Gruber, the church organist. Mohr asked him to write a suitable melody for two solo voices together with choir, to be accompanied by the guitar.

Later that same day, Gruber produced his composition, Mohr approved, and it was sung at the Midnight Mass. According to Franz Gruber’s account it went down well with the congregation of the church, mostly shipping labourers, boat builders, and their families. I’m not sure if it would go down too well with our organists, if I produced a poem for them to set to music on Christmas Eve in time for Midnight Mass!

Various legends have grown up around the carol and its first performance – that Joseph Mohr discovered on Christmas Eve that mice had nibbled the bellows of the church organ. What a disaster! No organ and no music for Christmas! So, he rushed round to his friend Gruber, who set it to music for guitar and saved the day, or rather, the night!

Whatever the true story might be, since then ‘Stille Nacht’ has spread around the world, to become what is arguably one of the best-known Christmas carols. The story goes that it was one of the carols sung by British and German soldiers on Christmas Eve 2014, during the so-called ‘Christmas Truce’. Whether or not it was remains unclear, but its message of peace would have seemed particularly fitting against the backdrop of World War 1.

The Centenary of Armistice Day on Remembrance Sunday this year seemed to touch so many people as we remembered the terrible events of the Great War, and the huge loss of life. As well as looking back on World War 1, and other conflicts since, that special anniversary brought into focus our continuing longing and prayers for peace in our world.

We long for peace closer to home too. As Christmas and a new year approach, and amidst the political turmoil, anxiety and uncertainty in the UK, as we prepare for our departure from the EU on March 29th; we pray for peace here too. The EU Referendum and all that has happened since has brought such deep division. Peace is needed here.

So, this Advent, it seems right to focus on peace. To this end, we will be supporting the work of EMBRACE the Middle East at our Carol Service. Embrace is a Christian charity, helping people of all faiths and none to free themselves from poverty and injustice. They work to bring lasting change to the Middle East through education, healthcare and community development projects. When we light our Advent candles each Sunday, we will also be joining Embrace in praying for peace, and at our Carol Service we will be giving everyone a peace prayer on a star to hang on their Christmas Tree.

As we begin Advent, and prepare to celebrate Christmas, we remember God’s gift to each one of us – Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, the Prince of Peace. We remember how God loved the world so much that he sent his Son, to share the joys and sorrows of human life; to bring light and love to our world and to our lives, and to give his life for us that we might enjoy eternal life.

May the blessings of peace, joy, and love be yours this Christmas, and in the coming year.

With my love and prayers,