Church fetes are one of the great British traditions, aren’t they? We invest our time and talents, making produce, serving tea and coffee, donating raffle prizes and then, in a sense, we all go around and buy each other’s things back -– one big merry-go-round of lovely things, shared between ourselves.
Fetes and fairs
I recall with fondness the annual Autumn Fair at the church where I was a curate – always a wonderful occasion of fellowship and fun; lots of stalls; the opportunity to chance one’s arm with the tombola or one of the generous raffles, or just sit down and enjoy a chat over a cup of tea and a scone.
Invariably, as one who loves his food, I found myself hovering over the cake stall for a bit longer than was perhaps healthy for me, and as a result I walked away with a large lemon drizzle cake for £4. I knew it would be yummy as I had prior knowledge that my wife had made it and I’d had the pleasure of sampling her drizzle cake before. My wife eyed her cake under my arm, and then me, with an element of surprise – thinking I must be a cherry short of a Bakewell tart – before breaking out into a laugh and thinking it all good fun.
But, of course, her initial surprise was justified – who on earth would buy back their own cake? Then she realised who she was married to…
The aforementioned Autumn Fair made nearly £1,150, all from things largely donated or made by one another.
God’s love and grace
Such occasions prompt thoughts about the extravagance of God’s love and grace.
Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God redeems the world, his people, his children; he buys back, in a sense, what is already his, what already belongs to him. His love is an unconditional, ever-flowing love that seems overwhelming and disproportionate in comparison to our stuttering efforts to love one another or, indeed, to love him back. It doesn’t depend on our performance, on being ‘good enough’, or even on whether we want him to love us, whether we ask for it, or respond to it. It is certainly extravagant, remarkable; almost reckless and foolhardy. It’s a love we can’t fathom, other than that he calls us his children and desires nothing more than to draw us to himself, hold us and assure us of his love for us.
Grace is often described as ‘free unmerited favour’; it costs us nothing – we need only look at the Cross to realise that it cost God everything. Anything we give to God – in love, time, talent or resources – is only really a response to, and out of, what God has given us in the first place. We can never out-give God; we never give to him or return to him anything ‘new’ – God simply delights in his children sharing in what he’s already given them and their participating in what he loves to do. I’m reminded of the wonderful words of C S Lewis – who wrote of our response to God’s generosity in his book Mere Christianity:
“If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, / will tell you what that is really like.
“It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present. ’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction. When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now. ”
Christmas and the New Year
In all the wonderful activities and relationships that have been enjoyed in our churches and in our wider community – and we hope will be again in a new year in which the coronavirus has been beaten – as one person, or neighbour or group reaches out in help and support to another, lots of ‘sixpences’ are being exchanged; the love and the gifts that God has given us first. It is true that God cannot be ‘sixpence to the good’ in anything that we give him, but we are most certainly the richer for his love as we share it around and make it known to one another.
Perhaps, for those of us of a certain age, our experience of sixpences at Christmas was reserved for the Christmas Pudding with the hope that we would find it without choking on it first, and then making a wish. At Christmas, we celebrate God’s ultimate gift to us all: the revelation of himself amongst us in his Son, Jesus. Take time over Christmas to delight in this most precious of gifts; take time this season to share around the ‘sixpences’ which God has given you, in acts of loving kindness to one another. The New Year, I hope, will provide a time for us to delve down the sofas of our lives to find the sixpences which we’d long-forgotten were ever given to us; more love, more gifts to be shared around, in a world re-emerging and renewed in 2020.
A happy, holy and peaceful Christmas to you all, when we get there. Check your Pudding carefully!
Revd David Smith
Priest-in-Charge of the Raveningham Group
and the Waveney Benefice
The Rectory, 60 The Street
Geldeston, Beccles, NR34 0LN