You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
The garden is quiet at this time of year. It has been a very mild winter so far; the temperature on Christmas Day was 15°(C), which probably makes it the warmest on record. Some plants are not quite sure whether to come into leaf or not whilst there are still bright red berries on the firethorn for the birds; in the main though everything is a bit dull and drab. Resting before bursting into new life in Spring.
Last year our grandchildren gave us a pot plant for Christmas, a hellebore, more commonly known as the Christmas rose. A lovely gift from children we love. Now one of the problems with buying pot plants as presents on special occasions is that they tend to be “forced” by the growers to produce a beautiful flower at purchase but without the depth of strength to grow on afterwards. We enjoyed our present and when the flowers had died off we kept it in its pot until the weather was a bit warmer when we planted it out in the garden. I must admit we did not have great hopes for it but we cared for it as best we could.
This Christmas morning we looked out of the window to see amidst the gloom a beautiful pure white little flower on our Christmas rose! Right on cue it came into bloom! Truly a light shining in the darkness around it!
In my delight another thought came to me. What a wonderful gift a pot plant can be – a gift that keeps on giving year after year. That, of course, brings to mind God’s greatest gift 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 KJV
Thanks be to God for such a wonderful gift!
The word I have been given this week is joy. Yes, I know I am a week late since Guadete Sunday is the third Sunday in Advent when we sing “Rejoice the Lord is nigh!” But we have just celebrated the fourth Sunday. My only excuse is that Jennifer and I have been struck down by a particularly nasty flu like virus which has confined us both to bed for much of the week and left us completely washed out. Writing about anything has been impossible.
Yet that setback reminds me that in all the rush, the buying of food and drink, the presents; the general joyful anticipation of celebrating Christmas with our loved ones, there are some less fortunate than our selves. Some for whom Christmas is to be endured like every other day, tramping the cold wet pavements seeking shelter or a bite to eat where they can. And perhaps in our own streets there are some who have not spoken a word to anyone for days or weeks; whose only companion is the flickering image on the TV set. Loneliness can be a terrible thing.
We may feel we have come a long way since that night 2000 years ago when a babe was born in wretched circumstances to a Virgin. Yet have we really? There is still oppression, war, hatred in the world just as there was then, people still live on the streets, are homeless or are refugees just as Mary and Joseph had to flee their native land. Real joy then still seems to be missing in our world today. Yet in the darkness a small bright light shines. Jesus Christ is that light which will illuminate the darkness of our chaotic world. Only God can forgive. Only God can say to the down trodden, to the fainthearted “Take courage”.
Christ then is the true source of our joy – not mere tinsel gifts.
As we celebrate with family and friends let us spare a thought, no, more than that let us do something positive for those less fortunate than ourselves this Christmastide.
Peace and blessings to you all.
By now you will have done all your Christmas shopping, probably sent all your Christmas cards and have everything organised for the coming festivities. Still got things to do? Well, don’t worry there are a few days left, but you need to be prepared.
As every housewife knows, the secret of a good party or event lies in the preparation, and that was the role played by John the Baptist in this world-changing event we call the Nativity. His father, Zechariah, would have told him, probably at an early age that an angel had promised that he, John would take after the prophet Elijah. (I bet he had a few sleepless nights thinking about that one!) As the son of a priest John would have grown up knowing the Scriptures. No doubt father and son would have talked over the meaning of the angel’s message as John ‘grew and became strong in the spirit’ Luke 1:80 NIV. When he was old enough he took some time away from family and friends to spend time as a hermit in the desert. There he could contemplate his mission and prepare himself for the enormity of the task to which he had been called. That task, like that of the prophets, was to call people back to God ‘for the kingdom of God has come near’ Matthew 3:2 NIV. He was to fulfil the prophecy: ‘As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him”’. Luke 3:4 (NIV)
In his mission his most urgent plea was that the people should repent their sins and be baptized so that they might know they were forgiven. Such was the strength of his message that people flocked into the wilderness to hear him and to be baptized by him in the waters of the river Jordan. From the power of his speaking some thought that he was the Messiah but John was quick to point out that ‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire’. Matthew 3:11 What a day that must have been for John when Jesus appeared in the crowd coming forward asking John to baptize him! On that day all the preparation was fulfilled, John had completed the task God had set for him; he had prepared the way for the Lord.
We too, are in the desert waiting in joyful hope for the coming of Jesus. We too, need to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord, by repenting our sins, by letting our hearts be changed, by turning our lives around. Remember, God does not wait until we are ready. He will come whether we are ready or not, so let us get on with the preparations right away.
Advent is a time of hope, of anticipation but also of waiting.
As a child I expect you were frustrated at only being allowed to open one door at a time of the Advent calendar. Why do we have to wait? Why can’t we open them all at once? But once the doors were all opened the wonder, the joy of the message was amazing. It was worth waiting for.
Maybe you were involved in the school Nativity play. My acting ability was never recognised since the height of my career was fifteenth shepherd (in field –sitting). I never actually got to Bethlehem, never stood with my mates round the manger. Why could I not be cast as one of the Magi, then I would get to see Jesus. I always hoped teacher would choose me next year; but she never did. But I still hoped and waited. The Magi were clever, learned men who had made a study of astrology. They calculated that a bright new star would appear soon. What that star meant they did not know just that its rising heralded something very important. When it appeared as predicted they gathered together their finest gifts for this important event and followed the passage of the star. The journey was long and difficult but they travelled in hope. What they found at the end of their journey was not quite what they expected but then sometimes we do not get what we hope for.
The other day I found a piece that echoes these themes of waiting and travelling in hope and anticipation. It will be familiar to some of you: ‘Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.’
As we waited to open the doors on the Advent calendar years ago, so we now wait in joyful hope for the coming of God’s light into our broken world of chaos. But we do not wait passively, we wait actively together with our fellow Christians to prepare both materially and spiritually for a new and unforeseeable experience of healing and hope; for we need that healing and that hope now more than ever.
May I leave two Scripture readings with you for you to think about? Firstly:
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them.
Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice
before the LORD who comes,
who comes to govern the earth,
To govern the world with justice
and the peoples with faithfulness. Psalm 96:11-13
Secondly, the Lord who comes to govern the earth with justice is: ‘ The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:5 (NIV). Let us then wait in joyful hope.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years