The Christmas Story, as John Betjeman so memorably put it, is 'the most tremendous tale of all'. But, how to tell it afresh?That's the challenge! Our Minister, Revd. Hilary Howarth had the answer on Sunday evening (20th Dec). Tell it with gifts - 8 intriguing parcels, hidden earlier in chair backs, to unwrap between the carols.
The service began with the 4th Advent Candle ceremony, led by the Atkinson family, and the first gift - No 1 best-seller of all time, the Bible - which tells the story of Christ's birth.
'Joy to the world' we roared, all stops out on our new clavinova in full Cathedral mode, before Gift 2, a mobile phone.
These neat little bits of kit are essential to modern life but, long ago, the most dramatic messages came from the prophets, especially Isaiah's forecast of the birth of Jesus, 'The people walking in darkness have seen a great light'. Gift 3, a ring, symbolised the engagement of Mary to Joseph.
The Angel Gabriel's visit to Mary was told again from Luke 1 26-38, before the catchiest of Christmas numbers, 'Come and join the celebration'.
Luke 2: 1-7 is the account of the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem, far from Joseph and Mary's home in Nazareth. Gift 4, a tax return, had reminded us why the couple had been obliged to make that exhausting journey, as did the haunting harmonies of Christina Rosetti's magical carol, 'In the Bleak Midwinter'.
Gift 5, a 'No Vacancies' sign, recalled the chilling news for the desperate pair, "no room at the Inn" and the solution - a humble stable. The choir sang 'Love shone down', before Gift 6, three sets of sunglasses.
These would have been ideal wear for the bedazzled shepherds on their windswept top as the Angel broke the news to them of Jesus' birth, recorded in Luke 2: 8-20.
'See him lying on a bed of straw' is one of the most charming of modern carols and set up the opening of Gift 7, a horoscope page, travel brochure and map, essential equipment for Three Wise Men riding in pursuit of that brilliant star. Matthew 2: 1-11 recounted 'The Visit of the Magi'
and the choir sang 'He Smiles within his Cradle' in honour of their visit. Gift 8 was the surprise package - a rubbish bag. "What will we do with Jesus when Christmas is over?" Hilary asked. "Put Him out with rubbish? Keep Him as "Baby Jesus" in our hearts? Or recognise Him not just as part of an amazing story, but as a life changer?"
Bringing the story right up to date, Joan Hindle treated us to some of the funnier moments of our modern Christmas, and the offering was accompanied by the 21st Century music of Pentatonix, 'Mary did you know?'.
The finale? What else but the Mother and Father of all carols, “The First Nowell', rounding off a gift of an evening.
Kindly written by Astley Jones