The President of the Methodist Conference has called on people to make Christmas "a generous and safe space to all for whom this time is full of painful memories, grief and hardship."
The remark comes towards the end of the Rev Alison Tomlin's Christmas Message to Methodist people and others - which was written last month, but released yesterday.
Her starting point is that Advent and Christmastide is a time to reflect on the divine word spoken in Christ and "the challenge of God's coming amongst the poorest and the least."
In October 2010, Ms Tomlin told a trade union rally at Westminster Hall in London that the test of the moral claims of government was the extent to which they recognise the needs of those most in need and on the edge - citing both the biblical testimony and Methodist originator John Wesley.
The full text of the Methodist President's Christmas message reads as follows:
I find it very difficult to write a Christmas message in November. That’s partly a personality quirk, in that however long I spend thinking, reflecting and praying about something, I always do the work at the very last minute.
More importantly, however, it is about my approach to the whole of the Christian Year. I am unable to celebrate the joy of Easter Day until I have prayed my way through Lent and Holy Week, and spent time at the foot of the cross. Similarly, I don’t rejoice in the wonder and awe of the incarnation until I have prayed and reflected through the waiting time of Advent. I am sorry that we sometimes allow ourselves to be pressed into very early carol services when Advent is such an amazing season.
We are offered time to reflect on God’s Word – as if four weeks could possibly be long enough to explore more than a tiny part of it. We can notice again the challenge of the biblical story with all its centuries of learning about God, and finally the challenge of God’s coming among the poorest and the least.
We can take space to reflect on the whole church, the people of God, and our faith history as individuals as well as the faith history of God’s faithful communities. How have we responded in terms of worship; of our learning about God and developing as disciples; and of our service to those in need throughout the world?
We are reminded too that this annual celebration of God’s coming among us is also a time to reflect on what all the references to Christ’s coming again might mean for us. After all on most of the occasions when we gather at the Lord’s Supper, we say “Christ will come again”. How would I measure up to the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew’s Gospel if Christ should come again tomorrow? Is that why the Feast of Christ the King comes just before Advent?
And then we are invited to reflect on the days before that first Christmas – thinking about Elizabeth and Zachariah and their baby John (and his life); about Mary and her response to God and the journey of her life; even, if we have time, about Joseph and the changes in his life. So we reach Christmas itself ready to be amazed and awed by the coming of the baby who is our Saviour. And then we can celebrate the Christmas season from the midnight communion for the whole of the twelve days of the Feast!
I had the humbling privilege of being brought up in a Christian home. We sang carols together at Christmas and on twelfth night we read the whole story and each chose a carol for this final day when our decorations were taken down. I remember that every single year this conclusion of the Christmas season was a moving and joyous time. Even now in my memory so many years later I rejoice in all it showed me of God and of our celebration of that coming.
So I hope you have allowed yourself time to reflect and pray this Advent. I pray that your celebration of Christmas will be a joy filled renewal of your faith. I pray too that we will offer generous hospitality to those in need; generous support to those in pain and distress; generous and safe space to all for whom this time is full of painful memories, grief and hardship; and generous praise to our God who chooses to dwell amongst us.