You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
Well that’s Christmas over! In a few days 2015 will be consigned to history as Big Ben chimes in the New Year. Traditionally this is a time to make New Year resolutions even though they often get broken before January is out.But let us take some time over the next few days to reflect on this past year so that we can make some resolutions that we can keep for the whole of the year.
Maybe we might resolve to get physically fitter in this coming year. We could give up cream cakes, for example, or those tempting chocolate biscuits. Perhaps we might take out a subscription for the gym, or simply go along more often. But do remember before embarking on any strenuous exercise programme to get a health check by the doctor, who will need to take a full medical history before giving the go-ahead.
But what about our spiritual fitness, our spiritual health? What resolutions do we need to make there? Do we need to change anything there, or is all satisfactory as it is?
Once again, before making any rash decisions a health check is appropriate. So let us consider where we were on our spiritual journey on 28 December 2014.What was our relationship with God at that point? Were we active in His work or were we in the same comfortable, dare I say complacent, place we occupied in December 2013.How far we have come along the path since then? We should not dwell too much on that since what has happened cannot be changed – it is in the past. It will of course provide reminders and pointers for the future, but leave it there. But have we really done those things we ought to have done or have we strayed from the straight and narrow road? In other words, what have we done for God over the last twelve months?
So we come to the point where we ask ourselves where we are now. How far have we progressed on our spiritual path? In other words, what are we doing for God now?
Now are we open to making our spiritual resolutions for 2016? We need to pray, to ask God what He wants us to do and listening to what He has to tell us. Taking account of our starting point and our progress through 2015 what does He want us to do in 2016? In other words, what am I going to do for God in the coming year? Whatever He wants us to do we must make sure that we are committed to His plan even though the path may not be smooth, even though people might get upset!
And I think the key word here is commitment. We must be committed to following God wherever He leads through January and beyond.
A Happy, Peaceful and Blessed New Year to you all
This week I would like us all to re-read the story we have read a thousand times before. Read, meditate, pray and contemplate. What is the message for you?
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
Later we read that the Magi – wise men from the East - came to worship the babe.
From this I understand that God is the God of all people, Jew or Gentile, rich or poor. Thus I can say with St Paul: Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4
The speed of communication has increased phenomenally. A couple of hundred years ago it took several weeks, maybe months for our ancestors in the UK to learn that some American colonists had tipped a load of tea into Boston Harbour. Nowadays a remark or comment made by a person in the media spotlight is heard instantly around the world. Sometimes it seems we get a message overload. Twenty four hour news coverage on a vast number of television stations, all seeming to say something different, means that whilst if something happens we are right there our reactions can be confused. On a more personal note how many emails are in your inbox? How many of them are important and how many have you read? And that is before you have looked at your social media site. It often feels that there are so many messages that they just add to the confusion and worries already existing in our lives.
But there is one clear message which echoes down the centuries; the message given to Mary, to Joseph, to Elizabeth and to Zechariah; the message repeated to the Magi and to the shepherds. It is the message proclaimed by John the Baptist: The Lord is nigh and close at hand.
Today there are a couple of things we need to do; firstly we must echo the words of St Paul: “Gaudete in Domine semper.” “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) Secondly we need to look beyond our fears and worries to anticipate with joy celebrating the birth of Jesus: “O come! O come Emanuel” as the old hymn says.
But let us not forget what the coming of Christ meant, and still means, for the world and for each of us. His birth led to the Cross. Are we ready to take up our cross to follow Him? What must we do to follow God with wholehearted commitment? Does it lead us to want to live a life of justice and integrity?
The weather here has been exceptionally mild this autumn and as winter approaches it shows no signs of getting colder. Nevertheless the ice and snow will come I am sure as it usually does. The mild weather has had a devastating effect on parts of the UK, especially in the North west where flooding has caused misery to many thousands. Nevertheless since the area has been flooded in the past the residents were, to some extent prepared. And that theme of preparation is taken up in the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday in Advent, Luke 3:1-6. Here we are introduced to John, the now adult son of Zechariah the priest, who came to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord....’
In the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, there will be a frenzy of buying gifts and food; attending Christmas parties and the like. Will there be enough food for everyone? Will all the family be able to get here for Christmas Day? Do we have enough chairs for them all to sit on? Or enough beds to put them up? So much to do and so little time! Really, there isn’t enough time to get everything done.
But we need to make time in our busy schedules to remember the true meaning of Christmas – God’s great love for each one of us expressed in that familiar story of Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus and the angels who announced the Saviour's birth. That, all too familiar story, is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.
And whilst out shopping for that must have gift remember the amazing gift that God gave to us: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ John 3:16 King James Version (KJV)
Now that is not something you will find in any shop!
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years