Christmas 2021
Of the Father’s heart begotten:

Today’s Readings

Midnight Mass (10pm) – Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14.
Christmas Day (11am) – Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18.
Let us pray.

Almighty God,
you have given us your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him
and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin;
grant that we,
who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

O Little town of Bethlehem:

A Reflection from Fr. Simon

Just under a couple of weeks ago I was writing about how salvation was at hand, how Advent is a time of expectation – waiting for the baby born in Bethlehem as we await the coming of Christ at the end of time. And Advent draws on the period of the Babylonian captivity, when the Jews longed for their homeland and restoration with Israel, as a people and a nation. The scriptures we hear at this time from Isaiah in particular speak poignantly of exile but how God comes to save.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins (Isaiah 40.1-2).
I did not think, though, I would spend the ebbing days of Advent this year in my own form of exile. After mass on Advent 3, I went to visit a beloved member of our congregation in his care home and tested negative for Covid-19. The following morning I awoke with heavy cold symptoms and later tested positive. No choice but to sit it out and wait. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint (Is 40.31). It’s a bewildering experience to come down with Covid. Loss of energy or much interest in anything, brain fog and the corrosion of short-term memory, then the loss of taste and smell. This is such a sensory time of year that within days I went from the spices in a mince pie or the piny scent of a Christmas tree to bland mush, a blank palate.
Naturally, this brings feelings too of vulnerability. I have had my vaccinations but the virus can penetrate even those and it attacks aggressively. Thankfully I had a clear lateral flow test on Wednesday this week and am now allowed to circulate again, but my body and senses are longing for full restoration. This means waiting a little longer, and a helpful reminder of much in life is beyond our own will. So many things are out of our control; the meaning is in the waiting. Advent reminds us year after year of God’s time, and how emphatic that has felt for me this past fortnight. But “when I am weak, then I am strong” said St Paul. Mary’s angelic promise was to be overshadowed by the Most High. Deliverance and salvation, and the assurance of God’s strength are there throughout.
Christmas is essentially about the choice of God to locate that strength in human form and to side with the vulnerable, taking flesh and the ‘thousand natural shocks [it] is heir to’ in Hamlet’s words. This is the God of solidarity. Not changing or compromising himself, but living among us, in our midst. We hear each year on Christmas morning the opening of John’s Gospel. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (Jn 1.14). Malachi is another prophet we hear from at this time of year, and one of his verses inspired a popular carol: But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings; and ye shall go forth and grow up as calves from the stall (Mal 4.2). Healing, light, restoration and strength. And all this comes through that momentous yet lowly birth in the Bethlehem stable. Because this is God’s choice.
God’s embracing of vulnerability in the human form must be our inspiration too. Coming in the dead of winter and a time of feasting is a reminder of those who simply have not: the homeless, jobless and cashless. Even the feckless and helpless. God’s recognition of us is a journey that goes all the way to the cross, ‘costing not less than everything’. And our discipleship must also be one of sacrifice in our shared humanity, finding Christ in and being as Christ to others. And it begins with the baby in the manger, recognising life for its precious gift and precariousness, and the strength in that weakness.
Recovering collectively from Covid-19 and what this pandemic has done will be asking questions of us for a long time yet. It will continue to make life strange and unsettling, demanding things of us we don’t understand or want. Yet it will prove a decisive opportunity, that after the encounters and whatever we discovered, “we have learned to see the world in gasps” as Offred commented in The Handmaid’s Tale. We have come to see something new in our shared humanity, such as the Word made flesh, and that the form of restoration is one with sparks of the divine, focused on God. For this is the God who comes in the presence of Christ who comes to ‘this demented inn’ as the Trappist monk Thomas Merton termed it. The God for all, and for all time, and whose mission is ours today.
Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited.
But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with the others for whom there is no room.
His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power, because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied status of persons, who are tortured, bombed and exterminated.
With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.
May you know something of Christ’s presence in your life this Christmas – his shared humanity, salvation and love for us all. A happy and blessed Christmas to you all.

A Reflection from Fr. Andrew

‘… what we have to do is give up everything which does not lead to God…’

This Christmas reading from St. Paul’s Letter to Titus is so rich and so challenging for each one of us, and I encourage each one of you to read it once again.

During these many months, nearly two years, many have been re-assessing their lives, their priorities, their ‘work/life’ balance and seem to have decided that they do not want to live ‘post-pandemic’ as they had lived ‘pre-pandemic.’  They have looked at their lives and thought, ‘no, I don’t want to go back to that – I want something better.’  They have decided that they do not want to work so much, they want more time at home with their families and friends, more ‘outside space’ or, simply, ‘more time to myself.’

This is good. It is right that we should continually re-assess our lives, but I can’t help wondering if the answers upon which people settle are really the answers for which they are looking.

In this last week, Pope Francis wrote about Christmas:

‘To celebrate Christmas is to receive on earth the surprises of Heaven.  We cannot simply live and earthly existence when Heaven has brought its news to the world.  Christmas inaugurates a new epoch where life is not planned, but given: where one no longer lives for oneself, on the basis of one’s own taste, but rather for God, and with God, because from Christmas onward, God is the God-with-us, who walks with us.  To experience Christmas is to allow oneself to be shaken by its surprising newness.  The birth of Jesus does not offer re-assuring cosiness by the fire-side, but rather the divine shudder which shakes history.  Christmas is the victory of humility over arrogance, of simplicity over abundance, of silence over clamour, of prayer over ‘my time,’ of God over my self.

To celebrate Christmas is to do what Jesus did, who came for us needy ones, and to bend down to those who need us.  It is to do as Mary did: to trust God with docility, even without understanding what he will do.  To celebrate Christmas is to do as Joseph did: to arise in order to do what God wants, even if it is not according to our plans.  Saint Joseph is surprising.  He never speaks in the Gospels; there is never a word from Joseph in the Gospels and the Lord speaks to him in silence.  He actually speaks to him in his sleep.  Christmas means preferring the silent voice of God to the din of consumerism.  If we pause in silence before the Nativity scene, Christmas will be a surprise for us too, not a thing that we have already seen.  To stand in silence before the Nativity scene:  this is the invitation of Christmas.  Take some time and stand before the Nativity and be silent.’

There is almost nothing to add to what Pope Francis writes except, perhaps, to say that as we re-assess our lives and consider what to throw away, what to keep and what to take up that we might ask ourselves if and how everything that we see in our ‘post-pandemic’ future ‘leads to God.’  And, as we stand in silence before the Nativity scene that we open our hearts and minds to the newness and surprise that God offers because it might just be the real answer for which we were looking but hadn’t realised.

Organ Voluntary

Noel X – Louis-Claude Daquin:
Watch here

Today’s hymn

O come, all ye faithful:
Watch here

St. Anne’s Christmas Video

Our thanks and congratulations to Carola, The Fleet Singers and all who took part in this year’s Christmas Video.  You can see it on the parish Website:


‘At the heart of Christmas’ – The Church of England’s Christmas Video

Watch here

A Christmas Message from the ‘Deputy Assistant Organist’

Watch here

Gaudete – Rejoice!

You will have noticed that the third Sunday of Advent, is often referred to as ‘Gaudete Sunday’ because of the first word, in Latin, of the Entrance Antiphon.
This is a rather jolly recording of a well-known C16th Christmas carol, in Latin, also beginning with ‘Gaudete’ – Rejoice! which is often sung at St. Anne’s.  Look out for Spike Milligan, Dawn French, Gandalf, George Melly and a rather fruity female soloist, who is straight out of ‘Carry on up a Mediaeval Christmas!’
Watch here

Christmas Jam

Nick has a few jars of home-made jam, crab apple, damson rosehip and apple.  £3.50/jar and available on Christmas Day!  All proceeds to St. Anne’s.

Christmas Recipes – Brussel Sprouts

For those of you who put your sprouts on to boil on Advent Sunday, I am already too late!  For those of you who retain some respect for the vegetable, here are a couple of recipes:

The first is from ‘Chef Webb’ who won Masterchef 2020 and is a local Highgate boy!
Thinly slice 750g of Brussel sprouts.  Heat a frying pan on a medium heat and add one clove of chopped garlic (add a pinch of salt to stop it burning – a TIP I didn’t know!) Then 50g (about half a small onion), finely chopped and 200g of black pudding (you could use sausage meat, lardons or chopped bacon), stirring until the Black pudding is crispy.  Then add the sprouts, two sprigs of chopped sage leaves, 100g of wholegrain mustard, 50g of butter, a splash of water, cover and allow to steam for 4-5 mins.
Turn into an oven dish, sprinkle with about 100g of breadcrumbs and bake in the oven, at 180c, for about 5 minutes or until golden on top.

The Vicar’s Christmas Sprouts:
As I have written before, the secret of cooking for large numbers is preparing ahead.  The additional problem at Christmas is that most things need to go in the oven, so I usually pan-fry the sprouts.

So, for the sprouts, par-boil a day ahead.  Throw them, as they are, into a pan of boiling salted water for 3 or 4 minutes.  Drain and ‘refresh’ under cold water so that they retain their bright green colour.  When they are cold, trim the base and the outer leaves, cut in half and store in the fridge.

On the day, pan-fry, at the last minute, basically just to heat, with garlic and chilli flakes, or lardons, or chestnuts, or just lemon juice.
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