As I write, we are preparing for the first ever (in this country) winter football World Cup and so our Christmas preparations and celebrations may this year be interspersed with activities normally associated with the summer. (It may be that some of you are even planning a barbeque or two given the relatively warm weather we’ve been having?!) It got me thinking about the comparison between the game of football and faith. In many ways there are similarities and football has often been likened to a kind of religion. When it became a spectator sport in the 19th century there was a national craving for a new ‘opiate of the masses’. Vast stadia were constructed so that ‘worshippers’ could gather in the hope of the experiential corporate high of a goal (or even a win!) and hymns were sung to the tunes originally heard in churches. Players are idolised (some are even called ‘God’ – Paul McGrath for one; and in Argentina there is even a ‘church of Maradona) and vast sacrifices of time and money are made in order to follow your team. When our team wins, we can feel euphoric and when they lose there is little to console us – it is that personal. And throughout there is a desire to share the experience with others (to sing together and celebrate together).

And yet I want to suggest that although I love football (particularly now that we have a decent national team and Villa have a decent manager!) it is a poor cousin to the real deal – to a relationship with God. In my opinion, that inner craving for involvement in something greater than ourselves, a shared euphoric experience and deep satisfaction and joy can be satisfied and obtained at church! Being present with others and seeking God himself through prayer and worship beats winning a football match every time – even the World Cup. The purpose of church is not to go through the motions of liturgy and religious practice but to experience God, to receive his joy and strength, to hear his voice and know that he is near. And the Christmas season is the perfect time to reflect on that as we are reminded that God himself was so intent on a personal relationship with his creation that he became part of it in the person of Jesus Christ.

So, when you experience the inevitable highs and lows that will accompany this coming tournament (and Christmas!), remember that they are only temporary but if you want to experience joy that lasts – give faith in God a go.

We have a whole range of services on offer over the coming month. We begin December with the popular Duggie Dug Dug who will be hosting our Christmas Praise Bubble Party at the church on Friday 2nd December. The following Sunday (4th) will be our Nativity service and our carol service takes place a few hours after the world cup final on the evening of 18th December. (Expect Slade as well as the trad. carols!) Christingle takes place on Christmas Eve at 4pm and our Christmas Day service is at 10:30am. I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and much success in the new year whichever team you support!