ACTION REPLAY

Here we are again! He’s done it – a 20th Grand Slam title for Roger Federer. And a 6th Australian Open, to equal Roy Emerson’s record. Emmo was another of my sporting heroes. He won the Wimbledon Championships in 1964 and 1965 and then, during the 1966 quarter final, crashed into the umpire’s chair and injured himself – and that was the end of a possible trio of consecutive titles in SW19.

How can watching a fuzzy yellow (or white in the olden days) tennis ball be so engrossing? Well, it wouldn’t be if it were me hitting it. But when the ball is tossed into the air and hit by an expert it becomes a thing of beauty to behold. It’s the same with other ball sports. Watch JPR Williams or Gareth Edwards with a rugby ball, George Best or Bobby Charlton with a football, Ronnie O’Sullivan with a snooker ball, Jeff Thomson or James Anderson with a cricket ball.

When a ball is in the hands of someone who is skilled and has a passion for what they’re doing, expect something special to happen. We marvel at Roger Federer. He works hard and enjoys what he does. But in the end it’s only a game and his prowess, sad to say, really won’t last forever. Far more awesome are the ‘hands’ that shaped the universe. If you believe in God, you’ll marvel at his skill, passion, ingenuity and love – and not a fuzzy ball in sight.

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PEARL DROPS

Is it easier in winter to appreciate the landscape? Whatever the weather, there’s always something beautiful to see in a wintry scene, despite – or perhaps because of – poor weather conditions.

Pearl drops adorned bare-twigged trees this morning. A silver birch, its mottled bark creating a haphazard pattern of grey and black, looked exquisite. Each little twig wore a drop of rainwater, looking for all the world like a decorated piece of art. The river, flowing ferociously, was punctured all over by piercing rain, creating a pattern reminiscent of summer sun sparkling on the water. A female pheasant stood on the river bank, her feathers fluffed up. She was absolutely still, and looked like a carved wooden sculpture.

In muddy groves, snowdrops bowed their white heads, adding brightness to a dark spot. Daffodils, in a growth spurt and eager to burst their buds, drank thirstily from the saturated earth.

Blackbirds and robins delighted in the softened ground, cocking their heads on one side, then pulling up wiggly worms for breakfast. Greenfinches adorned the bird feeders, dropping sunflower seeds for pigeons to hoover up.

Such activities contrasted with the absence of human beings who, having glanced out of the window, were holed up at home or in their cars, missing out on close encounters with the gems of nature. Thank God for wet winter days? Why not?

 

CLOCKWORK

Clocks don’t always work like clockwork. London’s Big Ben isn’t donging while it undergoes repairs. A neighbour’s grandfather clock has been removed from its case – in need of complete overhaul by an expert repairer. The clock’s owner says the grandfather is an old friend – and she misses it. A friend’s chiming clock has stopped its chimes and is also away for repair.

Do you like a ticking clock? Someone told me that hearing his clock ticking during sleepless nights is a comfort, a reminder of the steady, rhythmic passage of time.

We anthropomorphise time pieces by talking of a clock’s face and hands. The familiarity of a clock on the wall provides security. When it fails to work, it’s unsettling – as when a family member or friend leaves your house after a happy visit.

Some years ago, when my last watch stopped, never to go again, I gave up wearing a watch altogether. It was liberating! Admittedly my laptop tells me what the time is (3.12.34 pm at this precise moment.) As does my mobile phone. And if I wake in the night I’m chuffed if I can guess the correct time before checking the digital clock by my bed.

We’re more tied to time and timetables than God is. For him a day is as a thousand years; a thousand years as a day. Our lives, like our clocks, won’t always go like clockwork. God’s promise is that he is with us at all times.

OVERWHELMED…

There are personal and global situations that can become so all-consuming that they threaten to overwhelm us. We flounder, not knowing what to do or how to unravel the things that are of concern.

“They were overwhelmed with joy.” This phrase is part of the strange account, read in churches at Epiphany, of the wise men (probably more than three and almost certainly not kings) who’d travelled westwards with a star as their Sat Nav, to see and worship a newborn king.

The wise men went to the palace in Jerusalem and innocently asked the megalomaniac King Herod where they might find the new king. “Bethlehem,” his own wise men told him. The travellers duly pressed on to Bethlehem. En route they spotted the guiding star and were “overwhelmed with joy.” Why? The night sky is awe-inspiring and exciting, but “overwhelmed with joy” seems slightly over the top – until you realise where and to whom the star had taken the men: right to the place where Jesus was! In his presence they gave their presents and worshipped.

Jesus’ presence is God’s present to us. Joy indeed! In his divinity he came to earth as a human being. He understands what life is like. Centuries before Jesus’ birth, God reassured his people that, “Your troubles will not overwhelm you.” Like a seesaw we have ups and downs, troubles and joys. Jesus can be the steadying central pivotal point – with us in all circumstances.

 

 

AFTERWARDS

December’s Christmas music stopped on Boxing Day. Mini Easter eggs appeared in the shops. High street decorations began to look forlorn – as if they should no longer be there.

The church, thankfully, celebrates Christmas well into the new year. ‘Hark the herald angels sing’ and ‘Joy to the world’ were sung heartily at morning worship today.

The first Christmas didn’t end the minute Jesus was born. What happened afterwards to the shepherds, for example? Theirs had been an extraordinary experience: an angel appeared to them with good news, then a choir of angels sang praises to God. Such a glorious sight and sound! Rubbing bleary and startled eyes, they hurried to Bethlehem to see the promised Saviour. So far, so familiar. But after they’d met the baby? “The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they’d heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them.”

Ordinary people, often looked down upon by others, sang their way through the streets in the middle of the night. Whatever did the neighbours think? Did they tut-tut at the commotion? Did they stagger out of bed to listen to the shepherds? Did they ask for directions to see the Saviour for themselves?

God’s invitation to ‘Come and see’ doesn’t go away at the turn of a new year, any more than Jesus disappears on Boxing Day. One of his names is Emmanuel: God with us. At Christmas and always.

 

JOY IN PUZZLING TIMES

Are you troubled this Christmas time? Do you wonder what on earth is going on? Do you question life’s perplexities? Testing circumstances impact our personal, local, national, and global situations. But can you imagine anything more bizarre than the circumstances that faced Mary? An angel told her she would give birth to the Son of God! No wonder she was troubled, wondered what was going on and questioned the angel!

Mary moved on to a place of trust: God knows what he’s doing. Her trust burst out in joyful praise to God.

Later, heavily pregnant, Mary arrived with Joseph in Bethlehem, only to find there was nowhere for them to stay. Did her heart sink? Or did she continue to trust God when there was no room; where an animal’s manger was the only bed for the Son of God; and when a bunch of shepherds visited with a weird story about angels… Yet the shepherds’ tale rang true. After all, hadn’t she and Joseph each had angels visit them? Here was God working in extraordinary ways. Only the Creator could fashion such a masterful stroke as coming to earth in the form of a baby.

Questioning, trust, praise. With the departure of the shepherds, Mary became silent. She pondered the impact of God coming to earth as Saviour. Now it’s our turn to ponder. How does Jesus impact us? Jesus is God with us – whatever our circumstances. Happy Christmas!

SUNRISE

Frost was on the ground this morning. Cars had their headlights on, people hurried to work wrapped in coats, scarves, hats, gloves and boots. Then, as I turned a corner to walk by the river, the sun rose. The orange disc was dazzling, its brightness accentuated by a sparkling reflection in the quietly flowing water.

Shortly before the birth of Jesus, Zechariah paraphrased a much earlier prophecy: “God will cause the bright dawn of salvation to rise on us and to shine from heaven on all those who live in the dark shadow of death, to guide our steps into the path of peace.” John wrote of Jesus as the source of life, “and this life brought light to all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.”

This is good news! There are dark days, dark corners, dark thoughts, all kinds of physical and metaphorical darkness in people’s lives today, as there were 2000 years ago. It is into darkness that God shines as he enters the world as a baby.

Sometimes the sky is obscured by clouds and rain falls like tears. But the sun still exists. Glorious sunrises are a reminder that Jesus the Light of the world is here. So we sing with joy, “Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings.”