Advent is the first season of the Church year, leading up to Christmas, and it includes the four preceding Sundays. This morning was the first service of Advent and it was led by the Revd Hilary. It was also this year’s Toy Service.
To Christians, Advent is the coming or second coming of Christ and the service began with the Advent liturgy led by Church Stewards, Jamie Blatchley and Glennys Astley.
The Liturgy involved prayers, the first two verses of the hymn 174 and the lighting of the first of four candles. The first candle reminds us of the longing for others, especially for Jesus who it is said will rise and come again.
The next hymn, quite fittingly, was number 185, “Sing we the king who is coming to reign”
Christmas is a time of giving and in continuance of the long standing tradition of donating toys to children’s charity members of the Church brought forward their donated toys and other gifts.
As in previous years, the gifts were gratefully received by the Bolton Lions, represented by Mandy and John. Mandy thanked the Church for their act of kindness and she informed us that this is the Lions 100 year anniversary, and that last year 1299 children in Bolton received toys through the charity. A certificate of appreciation was awarded to our church.
Revd Hilary then invited the first four families to come forward and receive Mary and Joseph figures in the first leg of this year’s Posada.
‘Posada’ is a Spanish word meaning ‘inn’. It is a celebration that started in Mexico where two young people were chosen to dress as Mary and Joseph and travel from house to house during Advent asking for a room for the night. They told the people living there of the imminent arrival of Jesus and then returned home on Christmas Eve.
The modern equivalent is based on this concept, but it enables people to give their nativity figures of Mary and Joseph a different home each day and night during Advent, symbolising making room for Jesus.
The figures travel around the church family, receiving a welcome at each home. They stay overnight and then travel to the next family. Light refreshments and fellowship are offered each day by the hosts. At the Service on Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph are welcomed back into Church as the crib scene is set up ready for Christmas Day.
Following the ‘Posada’ we were led in prayer by Worship Leader Brian Smith, ably assisted by Olivia and Daisy. The two girls read exceptionally well, and they did not appear to be phased standing in front of a congregation of more than 150, including about 30 children.
The Lords’ Prayer followed, but on this occasion it was sang to the Calypso version.
The children then left for their various Sunday School groupings, and this was followed by the hymn number 180, “O Come, O Come, Immanuel”.
As a prelude to Revd Hilary’s sermon entitled the second coming, Betty Anne Kirkham read from the New Testament: Mark, Chapter13, versus 23-37. The general gist of the reading was about being prepared and being on ‘watch’ for the unknown.
Revd Hilary then opened by asking a number of questions about the future and what we look forward to. Do we look forward to future events with joy and excitement, or do we look forward to future events with trepidation and fret? Of course, much depends on what we are waiting for e.g. a wedding, a birth, a hospital appointment or hospital test results, for instance. The early Christians believed strongly that Jesus’ would come again, and in so doing they lived a life of preparedness for when that day came. But for some believers it could mean a life of anxiety and anguish in that they did not know when that day would be. And how would they receive their Saviour when that day came, knowing that he would expect them to have behaved as good Christians e.g. by loving others, offering forgiveness and standing up for truth and justice etc? For others, the waiting was being in a state of constant readiness and preparedness, which gave meaning to their lives. They were comfortable with it. And so as Christians we wait for our Messiah knowing that in the meantime we continue our lives in the way Jesus would expect us to do.
As the congregation pondered on the Revd Hilary’s message, we were treated to an unaccompanied song by the six ladies of the Church – the African Choir. It was a song of Advent and it was sung in their native tongue. And while the majority of the congregation could not understand the words, the rendition was received with warm applause.
Prayers of Intercession then followed, led by Denis Kirkham. Denis prayed for all those who are poorly or ill and their carers; the homeless; for those who will not be receiving presents this Christmas; for the Church and its leaders; for the leaders of the town; for Christians everywhere, particularly in Zimbabwe and other African nations; and for democracy in those countries.
Holy Communion was then taken, led by Revd Hilary, followed by the closing hymn 172, “Hills of the north, rejoice”.
This was a service that was rich and varied in its content. It had something for everyone, whether it be the touching and heart warming Bolton Lions visit; the thought provoking sermon by Revd Hilary; the different, but entertaining Advent song by the African Choir; or the more traditional aspects of a communion Sunday service.
And to complete her busy morning, Revd Hilary undertook a service for the baptism of Khloe Kavanagh, daughter of Tom and Karen.
The work of the Lord is never done, it would seem.
Kindly written by Stephen Maslivec - Church Steward