Yes we are at that point in the year again!
Advent, Christmas, it seems to come upon us so quickly, yet we have been told how many days there are left, for months now, and I should imagine most of us began some of our preparations long ago!
Christmas day, is a unique day isn’t it? I mean, at one level it’s a day like any other, falling rather predictably between the 24th and 26th days of the 12th month. But at another level it’s a day like no other.
We’ve been building up to it for weeks, months even, and the sense of anticipation has been mounting inexorably. From garish grottos in garden centres, to cheesy canned Christmas music round every corner, there has been no escaping the increasingly imminent arrival of Christmas day itself. And then it arrives.
And what, I wonder, will that day hold for you? Giving? Receiving?; Eating? Drinking?; Family? Loneliness?; Happiness? Sadness? For each of us, that day will bring a unique mixture of emotions and activities. But then, as quickly as it began, it’ll all be over. The day passes, and we wonder ‘where on earth’ it went. For many it will disappear and the new year with all its challenges will take over.
However as believers we are surely challenged to tell others ‘what on earth’ this day meant, and still means. Dinah Washington famously sang ‘What a difference a day makes’, and this is certainly so fitting for Christmas day. What a difference this one day makes.
Within the Christian tradition, Christmas is a day of celebration, but it’s also a day of remembrance. It points back in time to another day, long past, when a young woman gave birth to a child. Just another day, just another birth. And yet we believe that that day, that that birth, in some way changed everything. The birth-day of Jesus, one moment in history, one day among many, is celebrated as the moment history changed, the moment God became human.
The Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn puts it beautifully in his song Cry of a tiny babe: ‘Like a stone on the surface of a still river, Driving the ripples on forever, Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe’.
The prediction of the prophet Isaiah, comes true at Christmas, everything is changed for ever. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9. 6-7.
What a wonderful description - this is ‘what on earth’ Christmas means - peace, order and love. It is up to us to help this to be completely fulfilled.
Rev Michelle Ireland
Sunday 27th marks the beginning of Advent. No doubt most of us know about Advent calendars, opening a window each day throughout December and revealing a picture or gift, but are we so clear about the word Advent itself?
Well……In Advent we look forward to the coming of Christ. Jesus Christ comes to us through being born as a baby in Bethlehem. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. But we believe that he also comes to us at the end of our lives and at the end of time.
Advent is a time for meditating on all three of these comings of Christ. At one time it was traditional to preach on the four Sundays of Advent on death, judgement, hell and heaven. The readings set for the first Sunday in Advent look to the time when Jesus Christ will return to transform the life of the world at the end of time; a time of tumult, judgement in the sense of being drawn into the more immediate ambit of Christ’s love; a time when this earth will be drawn into God’s fuller presence.
The readings set for the second and third Sundays of Advent reflect on John the Baptist, the forerunner, the one who prepared the way for the coming of Christ. On the fourth Sunday of Advent we read about the Mary and Joseph and their part in the coming of Christ. Each Sunday many churches light a candle to remember those who prepared for the coming of Christ.
In all these persons and themes there is the call to repentance ( turning around) as a very important way of preparing for the coming of Christ. The people who were part of the Christmas story were just like us, for they too were human, and at times they did what was wrong.
Repentance (turning around) is not to be seen as a duty or a hardship, although it can feel difficult. It is to be life giving for as we change for the better we become more joyful and are better able to help other persons. We live in a world with too much destruction; some caused by nature but much caused by human actions. Repentance leads both to less destructiveness and more help and healing to those hurt by what life brings to them.
May God guide and bless our repentance this Advent; so that we rejoice all the more at the coming of Christ, the light of the world at Christmas.
Rev Michelle Ireland
In the bible, the book of Psalms is an intriguing book. It is packed with short, honest poems, joy and tears. Emotions swing from high to low and back again. The writers talk, sometimes even shout, to God about how they feel and in most cases some form of understanding or resolution in the writer occurs.
Psalm 8 has a question – ‘What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour.’ — In other words – who are we???????
Adolf Hitler’s political philosophy has been summed up to say: “Society’s needs come before the individual’s needs.”
History, of course, tells us how that way of thinking worked out. Similarly, Communism stresses the importance of the political party over the person. In fact, under Joseph Stalin’s collectivization efforts in the Soviet Union during the early 1900s, peasant farmers were forced, for the benefit of the state, to give up their land and animals in order to become part of collective farms. This resulted in the starvation and death of many millions of innocent people.
In contrast to these philosophies, the biblical worldview holds that people matter supremely because they matter to God. Genesis 1:26-27 makes it clear that human beings are uniquely created in the image of God. We therefore have intrinsic value beyond that of any of the other creatures on earth, and this value is not contingent on our abilities, quality of life, or perceived worth in society.
Thus, Jesus said that God’s greatest commands are to
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind... [and] Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. — Matthew 22:37-40,
Jesus also challenged us to go beyond just loving our neighbours:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. — Matthew 5:43-45
The Bible teaches us that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
One would hope that by taking the biblical worldview believers would among many things fight for the rights of the oppressed, and work to feed, clothe, and lift up those in poverty. These are practical outworkings of the teachings of Jesus, who said in Matthew 25:40,
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.
Recently harvest has been a time for that.
So what nugget can I ask you to take away and chew over….. perhaps this…..
You matter to God, as does every person you know — and those you don’t know. Whom might God want you to protect, encourage, or love in His name today?
Rev Michelle Ireland
The Rio Olympics have been and gone, and whether you are a sports fan or not, I am sure that there have been moments when you have been captivated watching the various athletes pushing themselves to the limit to win the ultimate prize; the Gold medal. The single race, throw or game that we see, comes after persistent training, hours and hours of it. For the athletes this has meant everything and they have had to give their all. Why? Well for them the prize is so very, very worth it.
This year Team GB did achieve more medals than in previous years so the hard work obviously paid off! Their training, determination and passion led to better results than ever.
For those of us who were last in the races at school and never picked for team games at playtime, we may start to think that this has nothing to do with us. However ( as you may well have heard before, but it bears repeating) the sporting world gives us many pointers to follow in other walks of life, particularly our life as Christians).
There are a number of New Testament passages which seem to be very appropriate for this, verses from the Bible where the writer uses the imagery of athletics to encourage Christians to keep on going with Jesus. Here are some of them…
- Hebrews 12:1-2 urges “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,”
- 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 encourages us to “run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the fames goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever”.
- In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul challenges us to follow his example – “forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus”.
Those verses talk of perseverance, training and a goal. They were also totally relevant to the times when they were written, for everybody then knew about the Olympic Games. The Olympic Games took place in Greece every 4 years without interruption from 776BC to AD393. That’s over a 1,000 years of Olympics! And so the writers took the Olympic Games and taught Christians how to use them to think more of God. When we see athletes run, we too should consider another kind of running – running the Christian race with perseverance and effort. When we see athletes smiling with a gold medal, we too should consider another kind of prize, the prize of heaven, of being in God’s perfect new world and that can start now!
And the big question for us whether we are sports people or not is Are we living for God with Olympic passion and perseverance? It was once said that “The determination of the athlete frequently puts to shame the half-hearted, casual nature of much Christian discipleship”.
I think that opinion does give us something to think about very carefully – those of us who profess to be a Christian should take time out to consider how we are running the Christian race. It may be that our training has slackened, or that we have forgotten what we are running towards – that deeper relationship with the one who loves us so much. There may be the need to take more time to read the Bible, or to be still and spend more time with God in prayer, or maybe to read a Christian book (as well as the Bible – it’s okay to do that, it’s how we learn) or to reflect on the areas of life that we need to change in order to be living more in line with God’s word. It’s good to do all this, but let’s not ever get into the way of thinking that we have to earn God’s love shown in Jesus, we could never do that! It’s freely given and always will be, in fact it’s given with great passion by God. However, the more training we do, the more passion we have for our Christian life, the more I think we will understand and feel and know that love and the better equipped we will be for our everyday life.
Debbie Flood, a former Great Britain rower and double Olympic medallist wrote: “In some ways, being an Olympic athlete is similar to being a Christian. You live with a hope for the future, the light when the day comes. You put your faith and belief in something that you cannot yet touch or see in its fullness until that final day. But yet knowing Jesus is more important than a gold medal. Gold medals will ultimately be forgotten and I won’t be taking them with me when I pass away. In the light of eternity, knowing Jesus surpasses everything else and is the most important choice you will ever make in your life. It was an honour and a privilege to be able to represent my country at the Olympics, but an even greater honour to be representing Christ in my life”
I wonder if we would echo those words about Christ????
So, yes I hope that you enjoyed the Olympics –but I hope even more that you will see how important passion and determination are in other areas of life , and most importantly in our faith life. Please remember God is passionate about you and he has done everything he possibly could to show you that, the supreme way being that of allowing his Son Jesus to come to this earth to help and help and to die on the cross in our place. And to rise again! Why? So that you and I could pursue that relationship that mankind once had with God, so that God and mankind could once again enjoy each other’s company. Right now and once we pack up our sports shoes for good! That’s surely a goal worth training for!
Rev Michelle Ireland