You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
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.
May I wish you and all your family peace and joy this Christmas, and many blessings in the New Year.
At this time of year across the country, in schools and church halls, children are rehearsing their parts for the annual Nativity play. Whilst some will take the starring roles, others will play what seems a lesser role, for example as sheep. Of course, each part is important since without sheep there would be no shepherds and thus no angel to bring them the Good News! It is always a joy to see the happy, excited faces of the children as they take their places on stage to bring the age old story to life once again. Each performance will be different and perhaps that is part of the joy of it. What is more important however is the impact the Nativity play has on the performers and those in the audience watching as together we sing the old favourite carols, and a few new ones as well.
It is a joy too, to open the Christmas cards that come through our letter box and to read the messages and the news of friends far away; news of births, marriages, new careers, new opportunities opening up for them or their children. Sometimes, however the joy is tinged with sadness as we open a card signed this year by just one friend as their husband or wife has died or perhaps is now looked after in a care home as dementia has taken its toll.
For many this season will be tinged with sadness as there will be an empty place at the festive table. Sadly, too, there are some who have no one with whom to share their Christmas meal, who will receive no cards and indeed have no-one to send a card to. For them this Christmas time will seem as empty as every other day with only their “friends” on the TV screen for company. And spare a thought for those whose worldly possessions are contained in a carrier bag, who have no home and are struggling to survive. Yet at just such times our faith teaches us that only the healing and peace that Christ brings can ease our burdened hearts, and it is for Christ’s coming we pray.
As we light the third (rose) candle on our Advent wreath let us pray for the joy of Christ’s coming; for the joy in the children’s hearts as they perform the Nativity play. Let us pray too for the joy in receiving cards and messages from our friends and loved ones far away. And let us not forget to pray for those for whom Christmas will be just another lonely day.
In the words of the old hymn let us: “Rejoice, rejoice Emanuel shall come to thee, O Israel”
Peace and joy to you all this Christmas.
In St Matthew’s Gospel we learn that the crowds were coming to Jesus to hear him teaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and to be cured from ‘every disease and every sickness’. Matthew 9:35 (NIV). Clearly there was too much work for him, in human form, to do alone and so he instructed twelve of his disciples to go out amongst the Jewish people to proclaim the good news, to cast out unclean spirits, to cure every disease and sickness as well as raising the dead. Quite a tall order for a bunch of untrained fishermen, tax collectors and the like! Now, of course, Jesus was well aware that the time would come when he would not be around on earth, yet people would still need to hear God’s message and to receive God’s healing power. Thus he instructed his disciples; a trial run, if you like, whilst he was still with them. That they succeeded in their mission is amply illustrated in the Acts of the Apostles; but also in the fact that, 2000 years after His death His Will and Word are still a powerful force in the world today.
The original twelve disciples are long dead but we are called to take their place, to be God’s disciples today. We may not all be able to cure the sick or raise the dead but we can proclaim the Gospel. As St Francis of Assisi is reputed to have said “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words”. Whilst there is no evidence that he did use those words his life and actions certainly demonstrated their import. And really we have no excuse since we received the Holy Spirit at our baptism just as the disciples did at Pentecost.
So, in the midst of all our preparations for Christmas, all the shopping for gifts, food and etc let us make time in prayer and reflection to prepare ourselves for God’s mission for us on earth; to proclaim the good news, to show God to all people at all times in our lives and actions.
In this last week we have seen what can only be described as an incitement to racial and religious abuse broadcast across social media networks. No doubt it is always there but this week it was given greater coverage. At the same time we are supposed to be preparing to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace into the world. How can those two diametrically opposed positions be reconciled? Quite simply they cannot. We need to remember that “All peoples comprise a single community and have a single origin [created by one and the same Creator God]. . . . And one also is their final goal: God.” These words are taken from Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council. This must have taken great courage and brilliance to write this in 1965 when very few people thought that way.
Thomas Merton in his writings speaks of our True Self and our False Self. The False Self is sadly the side of us that we most often display. It seeks material happiness by the acquisition of wealth, status, power, control of those less able to look after themselves; in other words the worship of the Great God ME. It is a rather shallow and unlovely picture to present to the world, but it is the picture displayed by those messages on social media. On the other hand the True Self is the God- with-us, God within us, Emmanuel, whose coming we anticipate with joy in Advent. And since Deus caritas est, God is Love, then our True Self, being Love cannot, will not, tolerate such abuse. Rather it calls us to follow the path laid down by the Prince of Peace; to speak out against it. As St Luke said: ‘ because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.’ Luke 1:78-79 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
Let us then use Advent as a time to prepare our hearts and minds, to ask for God’s help to put aside those words and actions that foster our False Self, to make room for our work on developing our True Self, the God within us; to show the world that there is a better way, that material happiness is illusory. The False Self will die but the True Self will live since the death of the Saviour whose coming we celebrate at Christmas has overcome Death. Let us follow St Paul’s advice to the young Church at Rome: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years