11th December 2014
At a time when many thoughts go back towards Christmas in France exactly 100 years ago, it feels appropriate for our annual bilingual reading from the start of John's Gospel to be in German. There must have been many in trenches on both sides drawing solace from the same biblical words. I am pleased that Mr Walker's excellent WW1 exhibition has brought to life the experience of that conflict from the point of view of Norvicensians who sat where you sit now and I trust you have made the most of it in recent weeks.
"So, how has the term gone?" "How are things at school?" I don't know about you but these are standard questions asked of me in the round of Christmas engagements. They are quite natural and are indeed ones we ask ourselves at this time of term to take stock, to measure ourselves against the targets we set back in September.
They inevitably provide a stimulus to plan ahead, to build on what has been achieved through the selection of prudent New Year's resolutions. This may involve the academic, the sporting, the musical, the philanthropic, the dramatic, and it applies to staff as well as to pupils. I am also pleased to report that the success of the staff pantomime has spurred certain members of the Common Room into more ambitious ventures and we are lucky to join an early rehearsal...
Sketch performed by Miss Ziegler, Mr Curtis and Mr McIvor of Fry and Laurie's Shakespeare Masterclass.
Thank you to Miss Ziegler, Mr Curtis and Mr McIvor for that; we shall look forward to the whole of that speech in the summer and I am sure the sketch will put a spring in our collective stride as we set off for the holiday.
Yet all this talk of reflection on the Michaelmas Term and new goals is perhaps a few weeks too early. That is something for the start of 2015 and what we actually all need is a good rest as we build up, or wind down, to Christmas. So what thoughts might we carry with us in this season of Advent? At our best, I hope that the ethos and values practised during a term at Norwich School feed comfortably into some of the key ideas at Christmas: love, compassion, service; the idea of us using what John refers to as the light of life within each of us to bring light to others and enrich the world around us.
And so my message to you is to extend what we try to teach you into your home lives over this holiday. Just as your teachers have gone out of their way to help you this term, and your families have helped you get the most out of life at home by doing the cooking, washing up and clothes washing, not to say cleaning of the house, groceries shopping and transport of you to various school functions. Why not offer help to those in your family so that they can have a break from normal routines? If you are already doing this, you will get nothing but praise from me, and can you come to my house to tell my children what you do? If not, have a think about the support network put around you at home so that you can make the most of all the opportunities available to you at school and see if there is anything you can do this holiday to acknowledge your gratitude.
And this can extend to the traditional present-fest, which is part of the modern Christmas. I wonder when you catch up with school friends after the holiday, how many of you will be asking not "What did you get for Christmas?" but "What did you give?"
The Chapel Choir are shortly going to sing for us Mr Allain's beautiful composition (and what a gift to be able to write such lovely music!). I should like you to listen out particularly for the words of the last two lines (which, incidentally, are written by Mr Allain's brother). They talk about the relationship between giving and receiving gifts:
How poor the gifts we offered,
How precious those we received.
These lines draw to our attention the inequality between human gifts and the gift of Jesus from God, thereby reinforcing a message of humility at a time of year which may not naturally lend itself to such a quality. And at the human level, the gratitude we feel when we receive a well-chosen gift is such that we should set much store by careful selection of the gifts we offer others.
Do give some thought this holiday to using the light of life within each one of you to continue Norwich School's loving, compassionate community of service with those you know outside the school. I hope you all have a good break.
Reading: John 1:1-5,12-14