They say there are four phases in life. In the first phase you believe in Father Christmas. In the second phase you don’t believe in Father Christmas. In the third phase you are Father Christmas. In the final phase you just look like Father Christmas. Well, if you were the real Father Christmas and you happened to visit a few hundred thousand carol services on a re-Christmas dry run this week, I suspect you would observe a common theme in many of the sermons.
It’s a theme picked up in one of my all time favourite films Miss Congeniality. It’s about an FBI agent, played by Sandra Bullock, who must go undercover in the Miss United States beauty pageant to prevent a group of terrorists from bombing the event. Each of the contestants is asked the same final question “what is the one most important thing our society needs?” They all reply “world peace” and the crowd cheers ecstatically. But when Sandra Bullock the undercover FBI agent is asked, she replies, “That would be… harsher punishment for parole violators.” And then after a long embarrassing silence, she adds, “and world peace!” and then the crowd cheers ecstatically.
Well what is the one most important thing our society needs? “World Peace” is a no brainer. The question is how to achieve it? Many are looking to the new President in the USA to deliver. Perhaps that is why Barak Obama said recently that contrary to rumors, he was not born in a stable. I’d like to suggest we need to lower our sights if not our expectations and think local instead of global.
So let me ask you what is the one most important thing Virginia Water needs in 2009? Sounds a little more specific doesn’t it? For the new ‘West Course’ you are going to have to wait till 2010. Focussing on Virginia Water, moves us from generalities to responsibilities, from what we expect others to do, to what we can achieve. And sometimes it only takes one person’s initiative. I was inspired by PC Elaine Bryant’s initiative to get the first ever Virginia Water community Christmas trees up. I kept thinking two things – first, why hadn’t we done it before? And second, see what one person with vision and determination can achieve in a few weeks to bring us together.
OK, we are only talking about two medium sized Christmas trees with lights for heaven’s sake but that is not the point. Judging by the hundreds of people who turned out on a cold, wet evening, families with small children and senior citizens, to sing carols, drink mulled wine and eat mince pies and ginger bread men, perhaps PC Bryant’s initiative struck a chord in a lot of us. We certainly had more police officers in Virginia Water than I have ever seen before.
So what is your hope for Virginia Water in 2009? I’ll tell you mine. To see each one of you come to know Jesus as your friend and leader. One of his titles is The Prince of Peace. He alone can reconcile us to God and bestow his peace upon us to cope with the storms of life. You are very welcome to our Christmas services to find out more. My second hope is to see our community grow closer together in 2009. With the recession beginning to bite harder and forecast to last at least a year, with the steady rise in radical political and religious extremism and the threat of terrorism ever before us, the temptation in 2009 will be to retreat into our shells (or behind our electric gates) and begin to blame others for our woes. Remember Oswald Mosley and his Black Shirts who fed off the back of the Great Depression? How do we avoid it ever happening again?
Here are three ideas for building up our community:
1. Participate in community based events in 2009. The VWCA Carnival Capers, the open air Summer art exhibition, the local school fayres, the Wentworth bonfire, the Remembrance Sunday wreath laying, and now the local Christmas tree lighting. At Christ Church we have added annual events like Mothering Sunday, the May Bank Holiday Rogation Walk around Virginia Water, a Summer Picnic in the Park and of course the Church festivals of Easter, Harvest and Christmas.
2. Support the local voluntary organisations. The Virginia Water Community Association for example; the Royal British Legion; our three local schools at Trumps Green, Christ Church and St Ann’s Heath; the Scouts, Cubs, Guides and Brownies; the Library; and our one local charity shop – Help the Aged – I’ve got one of their gold club cards.
3. Volunteer to serve in the community. At Christ Church, we encourage every member to volunteer at least an hour a week in the church and community – to help us host a monthly senior citizen’s lunch and Scallywags and Cherubs parent and toddler groups, for example. If everyone in Virginia Water volunteered one hour a week to the community, it would be the equivalent of employing 18 people full time. Two hours each and it would be the equivalent of employing 36 people. Imagine what we could achieve. A sign of a healthy community is how well it cares for the most vulnerable – irrespective of health, age, race or religion.
These are some of the practical ways we can build up our community and neutralise the influence of the isms – cynicism, isolationism, radicalism and extremism. So, how about it? What is your hope for Virginia Water in 2009? What are we prepared to do to turn our hopes for world peace into a local reality?
At the beginning I said there are four phases in life. The first – ‘believing’ is not enough. We can’t revert to childhood. The second – ‘not believing’ won’t help much either. So which is it to be? Resign ourselves to looking more and more like Father Christmas or spend the rest of our lives becoming like him?
Jesus said “Give and it will be given you, pressed down, shaken together, running over. With the measure you give it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) May the Lord bless you and those you love this Christmas.