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.

 

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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.”

COMFORT

Snow, illness, sorrow, bereavement, uncertainty, fear, politics, famine, war… Such issues – and a whole lot more – are nothing new; history bears testament to that.

Despite our best efforts as human beings, we haven’t yet come up with a permanent solution to life’s problems. But God has. Handel’s “Messiah” tells the story of God’s plan, with words from the Bible. God, in love for his world, wants to bring comfort to forlorn folk. The oratorio’s first words, “Comfort ye my people,” were uttered 700 years or so before their fulfillment in the arrival of Jesus Christ as a baby. We have the benefit of hindsight, but still welcome the message of comfort as we grapple with a world that seems to be spinning out of control.

We hear of “rough places being made smooth”, and of a “shepherd taking care of his flock”. Why not embrace God’s comfort in Jesus the Saviour who lived, suffered, died and rose from death to bring forgiveness and hope through our life’s trials? As we wait for Christmas, we also wait for Christ’s second coming when his reign of peace will begin and death, sorrow and pain are no more.

“Comfort” is the first word. And the last word? “Messiah” ends with “Amen” meaning “So be it” or “Yes!”

PS  A Christmas poem is on the Poems page and winter photos in the Photo Gallery

 

BANNED!

Sardine sandwiches and a walk. That was how a former colleague liked to spend Christmas Day. She might have felt more at home in the 1600s. In 1642 all Christmas plays and pageants were banned by Parliament. In 1643 all music was banned in church. In 1647 Christmas was banned altogether – and replaced with a day of fasting. Very unpopular!

Today is the start of Advent, the build up to Christmas. Do you embrace it with joy? Do you panic? Or even wish you could ban Christmas?

Many people ban the Christ from Christ-mas, replacing him with an X for Xmas. From my dim and distant recollection of mathematics, X represents something unknown. If we leave Christ out of Christmas, we celebrate… what, exactly? A winter festival? The opportunity to eat, drink and be merry? However worthy and fun these things may be, it seems a pity to miss the real point of Christmas.

Advent provides preparation time to ponder the fact that God came to earth in human form. We live in a world that is dark and uncertain. Jesus is ‘the source of life, and this life brought light to the world. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.’ Trying to ban Christmas is therefore futile. Instead, let Christ make Christmas a time of joy and hope for you.

PS A Christmas poem is on the Poems page, and some winter photos in the Photo Gallery.

ISLANDS AND CITY

What do the Farne Islands and London have in common? In 2012 I took a boat trip with the older of my two brothers to celebrate his 60th birthday on the Farne Islands. Last week, I had lunch at the Barbican in London with my younger brother to celebrate his 60th birthday.

What places of contrast! Idyllic islands, unspoilt by human beings and home to birds and seals. And London. Last week London shocked me, country bumpkin that I’ve become. That part of the capital is a mass of glass and steel towers. What would the Romans think of it – they who built the London wall, part of which still stands rock-solid beneath the towers? And the builders of an old church that’s also dwarfed by its new neighbours?

My first job, as a teenager in the school holidays, was in an insurance company close to the Bank of England. I spent a numbingly tedious month filing dusty card folders. Oh, how the city has changed in appearance, as have its companies’ methods of filing! Man’s money box towers and nature’s islands…

Both my visits, however, were celebratory, and reminded me that in all the changes and progression of life, there is someone who is unchanging and as relevant now as ever: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.”

 

MAD WORLD

Does the world seem mad to you? “Stop the world; I want to get off!” sang Anthony Newley in the Sixties. Short of popping your clogs, the only way you can get off Planet Earth is to pop up to the International Space Station. From there, as we see from photos, the world doesn’t look so mad – just a beautiful orb in the blackness of space.

Meanwhile, down here in the reality of close encounters with fellow human beings, industry, noise and politics, where do we find sanity? For me, this morning, it was while out walking: a robin took a drink from a puddle, a beech tree was reflected in another puddle, two crows perched on a rugby goalpost – each on top of an upright. And the sun rose silently above misty valleys.

The sanity continued later as sunlight shone through stained glass windows into the little church where I worship the God of the whole vast universe. There I was reminded that God loves each individual – whether mad, bad, or sad. Life is tough for many people. How often does someone say, when asked how they are: “Bearing up,” “Soldiering on”? Jesus came into a dark world as the Light of the World. He told his followers to shine, to reflect God’s love and to bring hope. Ultimately it is HIS world. What a relief!