I am signing off now with a Christmas message from Steve Plummer of Ampthill Baptist Church - and a copy of my Christmas card to my constituents - well, to everyone really!
The card is a picture of Katherine's Cross, Ampthill Park, taken by my Association, Chairman Councillor Andy Rayment during my 'Tourism Tour' of Mid Beds on Friday 16th March 2007. The Cross marks the site of Ampthill Castle, where Queen Katherine of Aragon was kept under house arrest for three years, during her divorce from King Henry VIII. The Cross was erected by Lord Ossory in 1770.
I am hoping to catch the 'House Beautiful' in the snow at Houghton Conquest, or maybe the leopards at Woburn Safari park for next year's card.
Until the New year, a very Merry Christmas to you all.
Below is the message from Steve.
I can still remember the first vinyl record that I ever received. It was a Christmas present from my uncle and aunt to complement the record player that mum and dad had bought for me: Wizard's 'I wish it could be Christmas every day', a record I still sing along to with gusto whenever it's played!
Sometimes I say to the children at our church, "Do you wish that it could be Christmas every day?" and, invariably, they excitedly answer "YES!" Their eyes widen in anticipation as they consider the possibilities of a daily round of presents, sumptuous dinners (minus the brussels sprouts!), visits by favourite relatives and, in their ideal world, snow falling thickly on the ground outside.
But even the children realise that, in such a world, the excitement would eventually fade, the frisson-filled events taken for granted, the magic dissipated.
And what about the real meaning of Christmas? The author, George MacDonald wrote, "Nothing is so deadening to the divine as an habitual dealing with the outsides of holy things." I love Christmas: the buzz of crowded shopping centres, the brass bands playing their familiar tunes, watching sentimental films with the family, the lights and decorations, the parties, and both giving and receiving special presents. But these good things can just as easily cauterize me to the beating heart of Christmas. And so, in the midst of the Christmas wrapping, I have to discipline myself to take time to pause and consider what the Apostle Paul calls God's 'indescribable gift'....
'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means, God with us.'
'Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'
'The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.'
....and I remember that, bright and colourful as the wrappings are, what makes the real difference, and what makes the heart really dance, is experiencing the gift.
Some years ago I spent Christmas in Nairobi, Kenya. During that time I visited a shanty town near the airport where the dwellings were knocked together out of whatever material was to hand, even cardboard. There, in the midst of the squalor and biting poverty, one positively joyful woman shared with me words that I have never forgotten, and which will always challenge and inspire me: "We've got nothing, but we've got Jesus, and he's everything to us."
I've always thought that here was someone who really did know what it was like to celebrate Christmas every day!
May you experience the blessings of God’s indescribable gift at this special time of year,
Reverend Stephen Plummer.
Ampthill Baptist Church.