At the heart of Christmas

If you’ve been to any of our carol services this season, you may have heard a version of this reflection:

Certain things just make it feel like Christmas is here, don’t you think?

Whether film or book or song, this month is filled with familiar, much treasured tales: the Snowman, Aled Jones singing ‘We’re walking in the air’, It’s a wonderful life, Slade and Noddy Holder shouting ‘It’s Chriiiiiistmaaaas!’, jingle bells and reindeer, Rudolph with his nose so bright, Home Alone and ‘Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?’, Christmas specials, a Christmas Carol (Muppets or otherwise), It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house…

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“Do you want to see her?”

Sermon for Advent 4 (Year C), 19 December 2021

Readings: Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, chapter 25; Luke 1.39-55

When I was 19, I was sent to support a couple of church groups as an additional leader for trips and to broaden my experience of different church traditions (as I was already exploring my vocation to ordained ministry) – one of these groups took me to the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage. I’ll never forget this trip, because it was first real exposure to the high church, Anglo-Catholic veneration of Mary. It was supremely surreal for me, who was at the time a fairly middle-of-the-road charismatic. As the gathered crowd proclaimed, ‘Ave Maria! Hail Mary!’, I was quietly bemused. As a statue of our lady was processed around the tent, I started to panic. What was this? Mary isn’t God, so why are we worshipping her? I just didn’t get it.

Since then, I’ve been on a quiet quest in response to my question at the time: Who is Mary?

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Singing the song of salvation

Sermon for Advent 3, 12 Dec 2021

Philippians 4.4-7; Luke 3.7-18

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!  

Isn’t it exciting? Each week we’re getting closer and closer to Christmas! This week, schools will be breaking up for the Christmas holiday – and if they’re anything like I remember, there won’t be much academic learning happening – why? Because everyone is so excited! For children, this last week before Christmas is the most magical as the anticipation builds and builds: Christmas crafts, sugary treats, games, and Christmassy programmes on TV; letters to Santa, relatives coming to visit, a growing pile of presents under the tree…pantos and carols, Santa hats and Christmas fairs, Santa’s grotto and the magic of belief.

I wonder if this is how things felt in those weeks leading up to the nativity: the whole world seeming to hold its breath in anticipation of this one magical night that would change everything. 

The theme of this third Sunday of Advent is joy – Gaudete Sunday – the part of advent when our anticipation overflows and we embrace the excitement of the season, following the command: Rejoice!

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Advent Illustrations 2021

The first two chapters of Luke are a rich concert of songs sung by Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, Angels (and Solomon). This series of daily illustrations represents a slow reflection on how our familiar characters were responding to the Holy Spirit, and the songs that were filling their hearts.

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The Advent To-Do List

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent 2021

Readings: Malachi 3.1-4;   Luke 3.1-6

As we get closer and closer to Christmas, I find that there is a certain frantic energy building at the Rectory as I try to get everything ready – not just making sure that everything is in place for all of our services over the Advent and Christmas season, but also quite literally trying to get my house in order so that it’s a cozy, welcoming space for my family when they come to stay at the end of the month.

This frantic “getting ready” energy is one which I’m sure is no doubt familiar to all of you, as December is often dominated by a long list of things that need to get sorted before the 25th:

  • Buying presents
  • Sending cards
  • Putting up decorations
  • Inviting the neighbours over for seasonal drinks and minced pies
  • Getting the house ready for guests
  • Planning all the meals and putting in the orders for the food
  • Baking and cooking special treats
  • Deciding which services and events to attend
  • Planning special trips and outings
  • Making sure that work is completed in anticipation of a holiday…

And I’m sure we could all add to the list. 

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Light up a life 2021

Reflection for ‘Light up a life’ service of thanksgiving and remembrance of loved ones,

5 December 2021.

For many of us, Christmas is marked by spending time with loved ones. It is a time of celebration and joy, of parties, feasts, and family – of annual reunions and shared sacred spaces. Every family and group of friends will have their own traditions, the things that “make” it Christmas for them.

All of which also makes Christmas a time when our loss can seem the greatest, our loneliness and sadness so much more pronounced in contrast to the bright lights of the season. It is painful, because we become more aware of the empty spaces at our feast table, the absence of a certain voice, a gaping wound where our loved one once stood. Everything that was once familiar has now changed, even if (and perhaps because) we follow the same patterns and traditions.

And yet there is hope – a sure and certain hope in the promises of the one whose birth we now remember – that there is life beyond death, that grace transcends all things, that love endures forever.

Our loved ones may be absent from our tables, but they still live in our hearts.

We may no longer hear their voices, but we can still speak of them and keep their stories alive. 

Our lives were richer for knowing them, and we can celebrate all that they were and continue to be in significance to us. 

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The kingship of Christ

Sermon for Christ the King (Year B), 21 November 2021

First Reading: Daniel 7.9-10, 13, 14

Gospel: John 18.33-37

Well, here we are at the end of the Church year. Next Sunday we will celebrate our liturgical new year with Advent Sunday, and once again begin the cycle of discovering Christ in the world.

And as with any New Year’s Eve, we mark the transition with a party: the celebration of the Kingship of Christ. 

Our mood today is triumphant: we celebrate the resolution of Salvation, the defeat of death and darkness, and the anticipation of the coming Kingdom. This is our ultimate confidence – that our God reigns. 

But what exactly do we mean when we talk about Christ as King?

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Jesse Tree visual reflections

Over Advent 2020, I challenged myself to create illustrations following a Jesse Tree reading plan.

Beginning on 27 November, the Jesse Tree follows the story of scripture from Creation to the birth of Christ. It is a reflection that prepares for Advent by journeying through the stories on Jesus’ family tree – the people and events that paved the way and gave us the context into which Jesus was born.

I used the Jesse Tree resource available on Faithward to prepare for this project. The illustrations were created using ProCreate and a variety of brushes.

Please feel welcome to use these images for non-commercial purposes – if you are reproducing my images please credit them to ‘Caitlin Thomson (2020)’

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Reflection for Remembrance Sunday

Sermon for Sunday 14 November 2021, given in Kingstone Church as part of our Service of Remembrance.

Gospel: Mark 13.1-8

Remembrance Sunday is, for me, a very complex emotional journey. It represents so many things to so many people, all held in tension in this one moment of silence. My own list looks something like this: 

We honour the fallen.

We lament at the lost.

We celebrate armistice.

We commit to ongoing memory the horrors and human cost of war.

We stand in solidarity with all who fight oppression.

We mourn that conflict is necessary at all.

We comfort those families with loved ones past and present in active service.

We support those whose service has ongoing mental, physical, and socioeconomic costs.

We long and hope for peace, and an end to conflict.

My list is, of course, just a small sample of the many thoughts, perspectives, experiences and emotions that will have been brought to this church today – you each will have your own list cycling through your heart and mind – some of it will be known by those around you, but some will remain private and deeply personal. 

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The Heroes’ Journey

Sermon for Sunday 7th November 2021, Third Sunday Before Advent, Year B

Readings: Hebrews 9.24-end; Mark 1.14-20

Some of my favourite type of stories to read are the grand, epic fantasy adventures – the heroes journeys where everyday people are called by fate from their mundane lives to save the world. Things start small – an unexpected visitor, a dash of mystery, an encounter or mishap that draws our everyman (or everywoman) into the plot – the first step of the ‘Hero’s journey’ mono-myth, the common template of story and legend that crops up again and again throughout history and across cultures. 

Folklorist and comparative mythology scholar Joseph Campbell summarises the story like this:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)

And the first step in this journey is the call to adventure.

Now, as I re-read today’s Gospel in preparation for this morning, it occurred to me that this is the set up fo a Hero’s Journey – the call to adventure. But what strikes me the most is that – if we are following this story pattern, Jesus is not our protagonist – instead he is the one calling others to adventure. If you’re familiar with Lord of the Rings, then rather than Frodo, Jesus is more like Gandalf – inviting our band of heroes to gather to fight evil. Or, Nick Fury from the Marvel Movies, assembling our superheroes to become the Avengers. 

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