You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
I am sure we have all sung this old Victorian hymn lustily at some point or another. It always brings to my mind the Salvation Army which was founded in the East End of London in 1865 by William Booth and his wife Catherine to tackle in a practical way the poverty and destitution of the area at the time. Their work with the homeless, those with an addiction, the prostitutes, the downtrodden and those whom polite society would rather ignore continues to this day. Of course it is not only the Salvation Army that cares for the neglected members of society in this way: there are many other such organisations. Indeed in his Epistle to the Ephesians St Paul instructs them and us all to “Put on the whole armour of God” And this is the point. We are all called to be soldiers of Christ, enrolled under the banner of the Cross. Now, having put on our uniform and had the usual photos taken for the family album what part do we play in God’s army. Are we in the vanguard swords drawn and gleaming in the midday sun with trumpets blaring out the Good News? Or do we rather stay on the sidelines not quite prepared to commit ourselves fully just yet?
Just a couple of thoughts, and I make no judgement here, I leave that to you.
In the news we hear of many refugees who are fleeing their war torn homeland to seek a better life in Europe. Obviously as Christians we have compassion for them but do we breathe a sigh of relief that some, if not the majority, are intending to make Germany their home rather than the UK?
Again, in the High Street we often see a young chap sitting on the pavement playing a guitar linked to an amp with a cap in front of him. He is clearly begging. Now, is he homeless? If so should we put something in his cap as he obviously needs it? On the other hand is he making rather a good living doing this? As the bus is due shortly perhaps it would be safer to put a few coins in the Salvation Army collection bucket next time we see one. They will know how to look after him.
So where are you when the roll call is taken? Where do you stand?
Snow lay on the ground outside the Hospice that evening although it was very warm inside. Her husband holding her hand felt the grip lessen as she slipped away. Her sister was with him although the rest of the family had just left for home. “She is at peace now,” she said. And so she is.
Jay has fought a long and hard battle with cancer for a number of years so this day was not entirely unexpected. She had a loving family, husband and three daughters and her mother. I cannot begin to imagine how mother must have felt watching her child suffer and die as she did. No one expects their child to predecease them. I suppose Mary must have experienced the same anguish as she stood by the Cross on which her Son died.
There were good times as well, of course; the birth of her grandson Charlie a year or so back, for example. She was able to spend this Christmas with him and all the family. Charlie had been told to be careful not to tread on “Grandma’s tail” - the tube leading from the oxygen bottle to her mask and so he carefully stepped over it each time. She went into the Hospice a few days into the New Year giving her mother a hug and a kiss before she went.
Her passing will leave a gaping hole in the family life but they are strong and with God’s help will cope, I am sure. Jay, as her sister said, is at peace now, no more fear, no more suffering or painful operations, no more long and tiring journeys to the specialist hospital in London that was treating her. Now she may rest in God’s peace and may God be with her family to guide and support them all in the years to come.
Now all the Christmas decorations have been taken down everywhere looks a bit drab and dull. The holiday is over and the hum-drum day to day life must go on. There seems nothing to look forward to now until the Easter break and that is months away. Even the garden is in hibernation. But not everything there is asleep. This Christmas our son bought us a pure white Hellebore plant. The Hellebore is sometimes known as the Christmas rose or Lenten rose since it flowers during late winter and early spring. It is evergreen, surprisingly frost resistant and thrives happily in shady conditions. Just perfect for our garden!
The pure white of the Hellebore reminds us of the innocence of the Christ Child, the anniversary of whose birth we have just celebrated; the Child who was born into this world to bring peace and salvation.
To shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1:79 (NIV)
Perhaps it is apt that it should flower at this time when there seems so much fear, bitterness and trouble in the world since the fact that it flowers in the depth of winter reminds us that even in the deepest darkest moments when there seems to be no hope, God is there with us and within us.
By the time we get to Easter the pure white flower of the Hellebore will have died away to return again at Christmas next year to remind us once again of the innocent Christ Child; resurrection I suppose.
Over the past year I have found much spiritual inspiration from the garden. It seems that God reveals Himself not only in the heavy leather bound volumes of the Bible or in the thought-provoking and inspirational sermons of a brilliant speaker but in the simple plants and animals that inhabit my garden. Perhaps the message here then is that although we might consider ourselves unworthy or indeed simply not able to carry out God’s commission for us the simple hellebore and all his flowering cronies show that we can. The plants need God’s rain and sun to grow but they exhibit His glory in a stunning display. So with God’s help can we.
Well, was Father Christmas good to you this year? Did you get all the socks and handkerchiefs you need for the coming year? Are you stocked up with nice warm woolly jumpers? Perhaps like us your bookshelves are groaning at the prospect of even more books being stacked on them – yes Granddad and Grandma are avid readers!
In the next few days we will celebrate the visit of a group of astrologers to the baby Jesus. They probably came from Babylon since that was a seat of astral learning at the time. To them the appearance of an unusually brilliant star was associated with the Jewish expectation of a Messiah, since a stellar phenomenon of this kind was often connected with the birth of some notable person. Thus it is not surprising to find them making the journey to investigate their theory, bringing precious gifts with them.
One of the gifts I received this Christmas was a slim volume entitled “Prayer for the Day on Peace”. Peace in the whole world! Now what a wonderful gift that would be! It would be a gift more precious than all the gold, frankincense and myrrh that ever existed. But more to the point this is what God wants for the world He created, that it should live in His image.
Surely it is just a forlorn hope? Well, maybe but we use an enormous amount of the world’s resources to protect our own privileged position; to defend ourselves against one another. Suppose all that was diverted to peaceful purposes. Would that not be sufficient to make the prophecy of Isaiah come true?
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isaiah 2:4(NIV)
Further on in that Book God showed Isaiah His view of the world and then asked the question “Whom shall I send?” Remember Isaiah’s response, “Here am I, Lord send me.” John takes up that theme in his gospel:
“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8 (NIV)
Of course, we cannot bring peace to the world overnight; we cannot solve all its problems, but we can start somewhere – in our own families, in our own communities, in our own countries.
Will you commit to work for peace in the world this year?
Are you ready to say with Isaiah, “Here am I, Lord send me.”?
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years