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ONE CHILD LET'S get one thing straight. Christmas is not about children. It's about One Child. That is the one fact we have to go on. We don't know how many shepherds turned up at the stable in Bethlehem. Nor how many wise men arrived. The bible says simply, "wise men from the east came". They probably arrived years later. The idea that the shepherds and the wise men stood shoulder to shoulder round the manger was only due to the demands of producers of nativity plays.

The focus of all this activity was the One Child that they called Jesus. They probably had other names for him, like "Bonny Lad". Most families do. One name was Emmanuel which means "God is with us". This name is important because it is this One Jesus who gives Christians their main route to God. That is why we pray "through Jesus Christ Our Lord," at the end of prayers. There's never been another child quite like him. LOST AND FOUND THERE was consternation in our Church last week! Mary and Joseph were missing! We were setting up the Christmas Crib for the Carol Service. We set up the stable and lined the place with straw. We set about arranging the characters, the shepherds, the innkeeper, the ox and ass. Last year, each had been carefully wrapped in newspaper and laid reverently in a cardboard box. But no sign of Joseph and Mary! Where could they be? Nobody could help us with our inquiries. Then Jean arrived. She's our weekly cleaner. Could she assist? "Yes, I know where they are," she said, "They're under the sink. Last year, when we put them away, we couldn't find a box big enough for all the figures. So there was no room for Joseph and Mary. I've been keeping them safe with my cleaning materials." No room for Joseph and Mary? Somehow I felt I'd heard the story before.

WHEN MICHAEL MET THOMAS THE year was 1886. That's when Michael, from a Jewish family in Belarus, first met Thomas in Leeds open Market. Michael had recently married Hannah at the Leeds synagogue. Thomas, born in Skipton, Yorkshire, had married Agnes at Holy Saviour's Church, also in Leeds. They became good friends and worked alongside each other. It was a meeting of the old Jewish religion with the new Christian religion. Just like the birth of the child Jesus at Bethlehem. The first Christmas. Oh, I didn't tell you, did I? Their full names were Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer. So the story is still true today that .. CHRISTMAS WOULDN'T BE COMPLETE WITHOUT MARKS AND SPENCER. GRACEFUL WORDS

YOU'RE sitting down to Christmas dinner. The candles are lit, the soup is hot when someone says, "I think we should say grace." All eyes turn to you. Could you cope? Like some help? Here's what to do: Wait until everyone is quiet and then say, "Let us with a gladsome mind, praise for the Lord for he is kind. For his mercies may endure, ever faithful, ever sure. AMEN." You may find people join in the words with you. THE DIARY ON Monday night, all good folk will lay down their shopping bags and begin to rejoice, with heart and soul and voice but not all in the same way. There is no space to mention all services in the region. However you celebrate, I wish you a holy, happy and safe Christmas. FRANCIS XXX
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 22, 2012
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