The T.V. adverts for Christmas have excelled themselves once again, with many new selling angles. Each one competes to ensure us that in spite of the stress and strain that Christmas brings through family visiting, entertaining, present buying etc we mustn’t worry, for shopping in their store will mean you don’t totally crack under the pressure.
It leaves me wondering, how can we redeem Christmas from all the stress and anxiety, surely there has to be another way? I think the answer lies in Advent. Advent is the season of hopeful waiting, eager anticipation, joyful preparation of God coming amazingly into our lives.
Many people know what Lent is, the period leading up to Easter and they tend to say that Advent is the same , it’s the four weeks leading up to Christmas. But Advent isn’t Lent. In Lent we have a spring clean and clear out the rubbish. Advent on the other hand is about getting your home ready for a new arrival, a special guest, for Jesus the Son of God. Lent is a season for confession and giving things up, Advent is a time of preparation for a great celebration.
Advent prepares us for welcoming God afresh into our homes, our work, our schools, our everyday lives, it reminds us that Christmas is a time for rejoicing, a time for hoping, a time for God breaking in.
There is much in our world and in our lives that may depress us, much more than the supermarket shop, but the great news is that a Son has been born for us, Jesus is coming to show us just how much God loves us and as he comes he will transform our lives, as he did for Mary and Joseph, Shepherds and Kings. I hope you will capture the spirit of Advent, that will lead you to a very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
Rev Michelle Ireland
This has been a year of sad memories as we have been remembering the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914 with all the carnage that followed. These memories will be recalled in November when we pay our annual tribute and respect to those who lost life and limb in the defence of our country in many conflicts. The human cost of war is so vast that we cannot escape the mixed feelings of pride and shame that humans can rise to such great heights of courage and sacrifice and others sink to such depths of violence and cruelty. No-one in their right mind goes to war if it can possibly be avoided and the leaders of our nations carry a heavy burden and deserve our prayers.
Many voices have been raised to question whether Britain should have gone to the defence of Belgium when Germany invaded and it is always easy to be wise after the event. The real question is whether we should have kept a promise made at the Treaty of London (1839) to defend Belgium if attacked. Should nations as well as individuals keep a solemn promise - or are they like pie crusts ?
We might consider the case of Joshua who made a treaty with the Gibeonites (Joshua Ch.9.) in Canaan who pretended that they came from a far country although they were near and hostile neighbours. Despite the deception, having made the vow before God Joshua would not break his word and spared their lives though they became servants. For Joshua a promise once made cannot be cancelled or broken. He remembered what Moses had commanded in Deuteronomy Ch.23.v.21. that such a promise must be kept.
This is a generation that makes an habit of breaking promises or not making any promises at all. The bonds that hold us together in life are the commitments we make to each other and the greatest promise is that which we make to Christ for time and eternity. ' O Jesus I have promised to serve you to the end.'
If we do not honour our promises then how can we expect God to keep His promises for those who honour God He will honour. (1 Sam.2.30.) God is faithful to His promises and He expects us to do the same. At every Harvest Service we recall God's ancient promise that as long as earth remains seedtime and harvest shall not cease. (Gen.8.22.)
The covenant God made with Abraham so long ago He kept through all the rebellion of Israel until the promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ who was born of King David's line and established God's Kingdom in the hearts of those who love Him. In Christ all the promises have been confirmed (2 Cor.1.20.) and as we are now the Children of Promise we have everything to look forward to for He is faithful who promised (Heb.10.23.) and we have a sure and certain hope so rejoice!
Rev Michelle Ireland
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, the wizard Gandalf explains why he has selected a small hobbit like Bilbo to accompany the dwarves to fight the enemy. He says, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
That’s what Jesus teaches us as well. Warning us that we would live in dark times, He reminded us that because of Him we are “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14) and that our good deeds would be the power against the darkness for the glory of God (v.16).
There is one force that the darkness cannot conquer—the force of loving acts of kindness done in Jesus’ name. It is those people who turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and forgive and even love their enemies who oppose them who have the power to turn the tide against evil.
October is a month which includes many ancient traditions, some associated with the darkness. It’s okay to have fun, but the light should always shine brighter.
So this month let’s look for the privileged opportunity to perform acts of kindness today to bring the light of Christ to others.
Light up your world with an act of kindness.
Rev Michelle Ireland
During September many churches celebrate Harvest Festival. This is a church festival celebrated by most traditions in our country, though in its modern form it only really dates from the nineteenth century. Up and down the land Christians turn their minds to the subject of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth.
I hope I do not fall into the same trap as the rather scholarly parson who preached to his congregation one harvest festival. Such an occasion in the year must not pass by, he thought, without the parishioners being reminded of his learning and wisdom. Thus he preached a particularly theologically erudite sermon, analysing in detail the texts of various parables to do with the harvest. After expressing his personal views on one very difficult verse, he concluded: “I am afraid that commentators do not agree with me.” As ever his rural parishioners went away from the service scratching their heads. The next day the parson was surprised to find a sack at his door with the note attached to it. ‘From Farmer Giles: I understand from your sermon that ‘common `taters’ don’t agree with you, so I thought you might like this sack of King Edwards’!
Every harvest we celebrate the goodness of God in providing for our needs in the form of the food we have to eat. It also gives us the opportunity to think of those through whom God works to actually grow and harvest our food. Whenever the Bible or Jesus talks about the harvest or about anything to do with food they nearly always refer to the people who do the donkey work, the sower in the field, the farmer who stores in barns, the men who sort out the wheat from the tares, the labourers in the vineyard. In our world, however, such people are often overlooked or forgotten, especially if they are far away. We are very happy to find the fruits of their labours on our plates, the bananas or rice or chocolate or coffee or tea, but we seldom give the people who are primarily responsible for getting them there a second thought. This is not God’s way. He is a God of justice and fairness and he calls his people to a similar pattern of life.
At harvest time, therefore, we are called to be thankful. Thankful to God, yes, certainly. But thankful also to those children of God who work so hard that we might be fed with all the delicious food we have the choice to buy in this country and in the other rich parts of the world. But thankfulness is empty unless we give it substance. This is why Christians and others work so hard to try to create a fairer deal for the poor farmers and farm workers of the world. We do this partly by giving financial help to organisations like Christian Aid and Oxfam. But charity alone will never overcome the inequalities which exist in our world. That is why we are encouraged to support fair trade. We need to give poor farmers the chance to sell what they produce at a fair price and not one that keeps them in penury. Another important way to try to improve the condition of those who work so hard to provide us with our rich diet is through campaigns to persuade governments and companies to treat poor workers fairly. Those who head up such campaigns often spend many hours beavering away to help alleviate the often appalling conditions of the poor farm workers of the third world. It involves sacrifice for them. It involves sacrifice for us too if we contribute generously to help the poor. But is not such sacrifice a vital part of our Christian calling to work for justice and fairness for people everywhere? We can easily afford small sacrifices to help those who sacrifice themselves every day that we can enjoy relative prosperity. This harvest let us commit ourselves again to a fairer world in which the fruits of the earth may be shared more equally.
Rev Michelle Ireland