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Christmas message: Rev Simon Howell, Stroud Parish Churches

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Beginnings

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in a land like this one, there lived in the town of Cheltenham a woman named Mary.

One night, an angel came to Mary, which was a bit of a shock. Mary was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, and the angel told her that she would have a baby – who would be, wait for it, the son of God. This was a lot to take in.

At that time occupying forces ruled the land, and it was announced that they wanted to count all the people in the nation. Everyone had to go back to the place they were born. Joseph took Mary, who was now quite uncomfortable because she was soon to have her baby, to Stroud – a small town with five valleys. The journey down the A46 on a donkey was long and they were exhausted when they arrived.

Christmas Eve

Mary and Joseph staggered down the last of the Painswick Road and onto Beeches Green, eventually hobbling up the High Street. They’d had enough – shoppers crowded the streets on this Christmas Eve, pushing and shoving – it was hard work getting through and the donkey was getting stressed, so they hastily took a left off the High Street.

Thankfully they stumbled across the Retreat Pub on Church Street and made their way to the bar. They were told, firmly, to leave the donkey outside. The bartender laughed when they asked for a room for the night on Christmas Eve. ‘You haven’t booked? Are you joking?’ And looking nervously at Mary, she said ‘shouldn’t you be at the Maternity Hospital on Field Road?’

‘Look’, she said, realising they were young refugees with little money in a fraught situation, ‘we don’t have rooms for the night, but I do know of a stable under the Town Hall in The Shambles across the way – it sometime doubles as a market. You could stay there for the night.’

Christmas Night

Slowly, all of Stroud grew quiet and still. Night blanketed the town on this Night of Promise. The noise of the day, the demands of the crowds, the busy-ness of tomorrow were all forgotten in the deep dreams of rest. Stroud slept.

On the dark hills of the valleys, shepherds sat warming themselves by the blaze of the fire, their sheep resting safely in their care. It was good to sit there resting, watching, telling their stories, gazing at the stars.

Then one of the stars seemed to flood the landscape as if the heavens had opened. As the shepherds’ eyes got used to the brilliance of the light, they realised the light was a thousand angels. The Angels didn’t audibly speak, but the shepherds knew immediately that they had to make their way to The Shambles.

And coming over the valleys, three teachers of great learning, rich in knowledge and wise in mysteries continued on their journey into Stroud. They could read the sky and were following a shooting star that had appeared in the night skies and then settled over The Shambles. They knew its meaning and they were set on following its path to find what they had been searching for. 

And after their endless searching they, like the shepherds, saw in the face of a baby the end of their search. They recognised the face of a Prince of Peace in their hostile world, and they wept.

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