Christmas Messages from Henley Mayor and Father Jeremy

Christmas is that time of year where we all wonder what just happened, how is it that time of year again? – Where did that year just go?!

As your Mayor every day I have had the privilege of seeing this town from a new and different perspective – I can assure you all from the numerous events to its public service infrastructure in our education system, health and wellbeing Henley is well oiled machine with people at its very heart.

Not only is Henley a beautiful place to live and work, this town of ours has so much to offer, not just for residents but visitors too.  You can walk out of your door and enjoy the river, countryside and town – its fantastic shops, restaurants and cafes, its entertainment – pubs, the cinema and theatre.  There is something different to do every day of the year if you so choose.

I have been absolutely astonished to see the dedication of so many individuals raising money for good causes not just this Christmas with the Living Advent Calendar and help for Ukrainian refugees but throughout the year.  Henley has thriving community centres in every corner serving the diverse needs of our town.

We are very lucky in Henley to live in such a supportive community. It’s been a tough couple of years I still think about what we have all been through. The events of the last couple of years has made me think a lot more about those people who work tirelessly for our wellbeing and needs – let’s not forget everyone who worked and volunteered throughout lock down, the emergency services, health workers and volunteers; drivers and supermarket workers, retail and hospitality (when allowed).

Every family has its traditions and one of ours is listening to the Queen’s message on Christmas day.  Queen Elizabeth II was a constant in our lives and always gave us such a stoic Christmas message which lifted the soul.  We await our new King’s message with much anticipation.

However you are celebrating, whatever you are doing, whoever you are with, or without, have a wonderful Christmas.

Henley Mayor
Councillor Michelle Thomas

Light and darkness are central themes in the bible stories we read in church at Christmas.  The prophet Isaiah writes: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light”.  St Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus tell us of shepherds in the fields at night, startled by “the glory of the Lord” that “shone around them”.  And St Matthew tells us of the Magi, guided by a star to Bethlehem.  St John’s unfolding of the mystery of the Incarnation tells us of “the light” that “shines in the darkness”, and the “life” that is the “light of all people”.  So it is no coincidence that Christmas is celebrated at the darkest point in the year.  The bible accounts do not tell us when in the year Jesus was born, but the darkest point of the year is a very natural time to celebrate the birth of the Light of the World: in the darkness we are acutely aware of our need of light, and also in the days that follow our celebration of the birth of Jesus do actually start to become lighter once again.

At the moment we need rather less persuading of the reality of the darkness than we would like.  Christmas is both a celebration of Jesus, the Life that is the Light of all people, and also an encouragement to belief: in the beauty of worship, and in the coming together of people in common celebration, it becomes easier to believe in the Light when we find ourselves in darkness.

But Christmas also presents us with a choice.  In Luke’s account the townspeople of Bethlehem are unaware of the Light that has appeared in the darkness; it is only the shepherds in the hills who come to the manger.  In Matthew’s gospel Herod is not unaware or indifferent to the Light, but rather acts out of hatred of the Light, his bloody actions revealing his hate and his fear.  John’s gospel too speaks of those who would not receive the Light.  This Christmas may we like the shepherds and the Magi receive the grace to come to the Light, and to recognise in the Christ-child the Life that is the Light of all people.

May the Light of Christ fill your hearts with joy this Christmas!

Fr Jeremy
The Revd Jeremy Tayler

Rector St Mary the Virgin, Henley-on-Thames, with St Nicholas, Remenham