Welcome to St John the Baptist Church in Smalley, Derbyshire.


St Augustine summed up the Christian faith in this one sentence: “We are the Easter people and our song is Alleluia”. I guess (I fear) that most people who call themselves Christians are much more likely to come up with “We are the Christmas people and our song is Once in royal David’s city”. Despite the weeks (even months) of advertising, shopping, wrapping and partying, many people feel that Christmas has only really arrived when the King’s College Cambridge choirboy starts off the Nine Lessons and Carols with that famous line of Mrs Alexander, the wife of a Victorian Irish bishop. There is something about that opening solo which spells out a mixture of wonder and worship, nostalgia and endurance.

But is this the best way of launching the Christmas festival? How do you think of Mary? According to the carol the most fitting words are ‘mild’, ‘lowly’ and ‘gentle’. ‘Lowly’ also describes the cattle shed, the stable and the people with whom the Saviour came to live. And the Saviour? ‘God and Lord of all’ and ‘holy’ alright, but also ‘little, weak and helpless’ and ‘dear and gentle’. And you and me? We must grow and learn to be ‘mild, obedient, good’. OK, it’s a children’s hymn; but those of us who enjoy singing it need to remember that.

The idea that “Christmas is for the kids” is not a Christian doctrine – that is the doctrine of the toy manufacturers and film producers. When we think about the actual events, if we believe them at all (and if we don’t then perhaps we shouldn’t be singing about them) can we please grant to Mary the more likely adjectives: brave, resourceful, strong, faithful, hopeful, persevering and trusting? And while some children we know (mainly other people’s) could well use a dose of mildness, obedience and goodness, don’t we actually want our children to be more like the person the baby Jesus grew to become: tough, lively, adventurous, interesting, inquisitive, witty, fun to be with, risk-taking and a whole lot more things that may not always seem ‘holy’?

Have a great Christmas. But when you’ve put the decorations away and written your “thank you” letters, please don’t leave Jesus in nappies and please remember the tough times that lay ahead for his young mother.

The Very Revd Geoffrey Marshall