Dear Friends,
Today, 11th November, has been notable in Southampton for two reasons. Firstly, at 11am a ceremony of remembrance was held: no surprises there. And secondly, at 5pm, who should arrive in town but Flying Santa!

You can fill in your own reactions as to the timeliness of Santa’s arrival in Southampton, but I must admit some sympathy for him. Because my recent past has also involved a lot of journeying, and I can tell you, it’s not always easy, even without reindeer management.

My journey up to Iona involved three trains, a ferry and a bus. But just as my fellow pilgrims and I were bracing ourselves for the final ferry to Iona, we heard that it wasn’t sailing. The good news was that a fishing boat had turned into a taxi service. The bad news was the size of the boat. Put it this way: it was a very snug fit for a dozen people with luggage…

The worst bit was getting onto the boat to start with (it was a gaff rigged ketch, for those of you who understand that language), even with the help of the crew. I thought that tipping up and down with the waves would make me feel sick, but in fact it was as exhilarating as a roller coaster: more in fact, because this was real, the way that a theme park isn’t. And there was the pleasure in not looking smug when two of our number, who’d decided they really didn’t want to start their visit to Iona like this, joined us in a more conventional way, on the next morning’s ferry…

A small boat on a choppy sea: what does that remind you of? That’s right – the Gospel story of Jesus stilling the storm, that we remembered together as a group of four churches on that Sunday afternoon five years ago when I preached with a view at Isaac Watts. I think I’m getting my sea-legs with you (!) but none of us knows what lies ahead, or whom God will call to journey with us during 2018.

Getting back to Santa, flying into Southampton in early November, I’d agree with anyone commenting that the celebration of Christmas gets earlier every year, and that by the time we finally get there, everyone’s thoroughly fed up with the journey, not to mention the number of mince pies consumed along the way.

On the other hand, there’s another journey that must have started even sooner than Santa’s, which had to begin early if Christmas was going to happen at all. That’s right: Mary’s journey of pregnancy. If I get fed up with Southampton starting to celebrate just a month and a half before the great day, how must she have felt, as month by month she waited, her body changing, and her situation seemingly more and more precarious? Her emotions must have been as up and down as that fishing boat that got me to Iona; she probably felt more sick than I did, too. And even once her son was born, the journeying, the uncertainty, the swings of mood between great joy and great sorrow – it all continued. Right up to the moment when another Mary went to a tomb that was supposed to be occupied, and found that his journey hadn’t even ended there.

But that is a journey that will keep. For now, I wish you enough time to pause and reflect on your journey through Advent and into 2018. It will be an interesting trip: the only certainty we can look forward to is that God will be travelling with us.

Sarah Hall