You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
As I look out of the window at the birds searching the garden for food to last them through the window my mind goes back to those days earlier in the year when the parent birds were busily gathering grass and sticks to build their nests. Perhaps you remember as children climbing a tree to peep into a nest to see the eggs yet to hatch. There was a sense of anticipation wondering what sort of bird would emerge from those tiny speckled blue eggs. Soon the wait was over as they hatched and the air was filled with the sound of the young fledglings calling for mother to bring them food. Then later, on a walk in the park you would see mother swan proudly leading her cygnets – her family - across the lake. Of course, this is not something that only happens in my garden or local park. All across the world something similar is happening. Earlier this year my friend Steve wrote about a walk round the lake in a beauty spot near his home, some 6000 miles from here. In that case the birds were of a different type from those round here but they were of the bird family just the same. In the same way we humans, of every race, creed and colour bring our children into the world – each one eagerly anticipated and cherished; we are all one big family.
At this season we look forward with that same eager anticipation to the birth of a new child, a new member of the human race. But this child is different for although He took on human form just like us, He is the Son of God. Yet despite His Divine nature He comes to share our human lives with us. More than that, His birth marked the beginning of the journey that led to our salvation through His death on the Cross. For by His Birth Life Death and Resurrection we are not only taught how to live our lives but that He has taken away the sins of the world.
One last thought. Many of you will have seen the painting by Holman Hunt depicting Jesus standing outside a door knocking, seeking admittance. In that picture you will have noticed that there is no handle on the door – that is on the inside. Jesus stands there knocking but waiting for us to invite Him in, to accept Him as a member of our family.
Let us then welcome Him into our lives, our families with the words of the old carol; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and let us remember that we are part of God’s worldwide family.
Yesterday was the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Christ the King, and the end of the Church year.
When anything comes to an end it is natural for fear to creep in, to be concerned as to what will happen next. In this country we are in the process of severing our relationship with Europe, our largest trading partner. What will happen now? In America our cousins have voted for a new President; one who after his election called for the American people to unite. Given the unprecedented level of vitriol and outright hatred many observed during the election campaign and the appointments he has made to high office so far, that call seems a little hollow to me. So what now? Fear is everywhere; a fear of the dark, a fear of the unknown, a fear of things to come. The Disciples were not immune to fear. They feared the storm on the lake. When they woke Jesus to seek His help His response was “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Mark 5:40. God never forgets us; He is always with us, even in the darkest hours of the night. Psalm 30:5 tells us: “Weeping may last through the night but joy comes with morning.” The dark night will not last forever.
We are now in the season of Advent; a time to look forward to the birth of a new King. Not a mighty warrior clad in fine robes with vast armies set to conquer the world by force, but a servant King who came to save the world with His life. The Bible is not just a nice old story which has no relevance to today’s fears and worries. It tells us that God lives now in each and every one of us! As His disciples we are called to follow Him, to walk with Him, to do His work in this world by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and standing up for those who have no voice – God’s fearful, anxious people. As my friend Tom said the other day: ‘It's time to take a stand, not only because it is the right thing to do; not only that, but because it is Christ's way of life and love for all God's people. He chooses not to save himself, but to love you and me and save all people from our fears, our suspicions, our hate, and ourselves.’
It is not enough just to say we love one another; we must witness to that love in our lives. God is greater than all the fear and hatred of the world. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of justice, of love and peace. By the coming of the Christ child we can overcome fear and look forward with hope to a brighter future in the knowledge and love of God. Thanks be to God!
November is traditionally the month of remembrance. Perhaps the most powerful remembrance is the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 when the guns on the Western Front fell silent and the ‘war to end all wars’ came to an end. Each year on Remembrance Sunday, this nation remembers and honours all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to secure and protect our freedom. It is not war that is being celebrated here but the sacrifice made by those who died or suffered in war. In remembering those who have died let us not forget:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16(NIV)
In this country we also remember November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day. In 1605 religious teaching in England was Protestant making it difficult, if not impossible for followers of the Catholic faith to worship freely. Guy Fawkes and the other members of the Gunpowder Plot were all Catholics and the plot was a response to the repression they experienced. Thus they decided to blow up the King and his government at the opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605. The plot was foiled but the memory remains. Indeed, it finds echo in the UK when the people recently decided in a referendum that Brussels did not have their best interests at heart and so rebelled by voting to leave the EU. In similar fashion, our American cousins have decided that the current political establishment is out of touch with ordinary folk and so have elected as President a man from outside the political spectrum.
But as we remember those no longer with us on this earth let us look forward to the future. The newly elected leader of the free world has an awesome task ahead of him. Indeed his policies and the decisions he takes will have far reaching effects well beyond the boundaries of the US. Let us then pray that he will seek God’s guidance in making those decisions.
Let us pray as St Paul urges us:
1I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 1 Timothy 2:1-3 (NIV)
For as St Peter tells us we must:
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor. 1 Peter 2:13-14, 17 (NIV)
Some people have a fear of spiders and you have to admit they do not look very attractive - unless you are another spider, I suppose. And they have a habit of just appearing, silently without warning where you least expect them. But perhaps it is a fear of being tangled up in the web that frightens people most. Nevertheless, like us, they are God’s creatures, made by God to fulfil His purpose on this earth.
So what lesson can Sister Spider teach us? Well several, actually. Firstly, consider the sheer skill involved in the design and building of the intricate and beautiful web that she weaves. For such a tiny creature, having what we humans would describe as limited intelligence to be able to do that is, I think, pretty amazing. What is even more amazing is that God should have given this tiny, unattractive creature such skills. Then, have you noticed how if her web does not reach the point she intended she will try again and again until it does? We could all do well to remember her persistence, her diligence and her perseverance. But perhaps the most important lesson she has for us is patience. Having spun her web, she will sit patiently waiting for her prey to become ensnared in her net. How often do we wish we had her patience! Certainly the world today seems to be revolving at an ever increasing pace so that we may feel we are going round in circles and getting nowhere. There are deadlines to meet, meetings to attend, so much to do; how are we to fit everything into the twenty four hours of the day? And you want me to set aside a time for prayer too? Really, I just do not have the time!
But remember that God has provided her with the skills and ability she needs to perform her part in the chain of life. In the same way God has provided us with the skills to perform the tasks He has set down for us. Skills which may need patience but remember that tiny creature weaving her web and then ‘Go and do thou likewise’. Luke 10:37 KJV
And one last thing; despite what you may feel about spiders, in her own way Sister Spider also displays the beauty and glory of God’s Creation. Let us then remember that all good things come from God and in His good time.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years