Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Making a New Start!

I love New Year! It's a great opportunity every year to draw a line under all that is past and start again. For me, 2013 has been a very difficult year marked by pain, the loss of dear friends, disappointment in others, family sadness at watching our only grandchild struggle her way through the challenging early months of her life, and the uphill task of trying to walk the journey of faith in a hostile culture. Yet, New Year brings with it a burst of hope, optimism and cheer that heartens me greatly and causes me to thank God that he is the God who describes himself with the words 'behold I am making all things new!'.

Far more significant than the date on the calendar, though, is the assurance within that God is still in charge - not man, not the doctors, nor the politicians and thankfully not me! He has not vacated the throne of the universe as so many want us to believe, but instead is working out his sovereign purposes for his glory and our eternal good. Romans 8:28 is still in my bible - "and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (ESV)

During the Christmas period I have been encouraged by the writing of Ian Coffey whom I look forward to welcoming to Guernsey and to Eldad Church in January.  In his book Shock and Awe (BRF, Abingdon, 2009) he quotes a prayer for today: "God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose years never fail and whose mercies are new each returning day: let the radiance of your Spirit renew our lives, warming our hearts and giving light to our minds: that we may pass the coming year in joyful obedience and firm faith; through him who is the beginning and the end, your Son Christ our Lord. Amen"

Saturday, December 14, 2013

As we enter the busy Christmas season it can be hard to keep our focus on the central facts of Christ's coming but we need to do so to avoid being swept up in trivia. Perhaps the passing of Nelson Mandela at this time of the year has helped to give pause to the annual headlong rush to accumulate trinkets and spend shed-loads of money, but only just. His noble legacy of grace, diplomacy and the victory of forgiveness over resentment have all merited airtime recently and may just serve to bring a dash of sanity to this recurring manic phase of capitalist splurging on non-essentials. At least I hope so.

I really am doing my best to avoid the 'humbug' scowl of the Charles Dickens character Scrooge because I simply don't feel like that. I can still remember my first Christmas as a Christian, savouring the wonder of Christ's coming to save the likes of me! I also love the fact that here in the West we get a festival of lights and feasting in our dark mid-winter, but I hope for better things than many people seem to experience at this time.  Is it too much to want real peace and joy instead of debt and domestic conflict? I don't think so and yet for too many homes the bills piling up will only add pressure to the tinder keg of strained relationships.  Sadly the experience of counselling organisations in the aftermath of Christmas each year testifies to this.

So how can we make a difference this Christmas? There have been lots of sensible tips given by folk as far apart as the Archbishop of Canterbury and various television budget advisers, but I want to say let's try to get behind the hype and discover the real Jesus this year. Let's take time to listen to the words of the traditional carols, like 'O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel' and 'be born in us today'. The real Jesus impacted our world far more powerfully than Nelson Mandela did, setting people free, not just from racism or political injustice, but from the chains that bind us within.  After all, racism and hatred are symptoms of a much deeper problem that requires a more radical solution than free and fair elections. Only a change of heart will do - and that's what I pray for you this Christmas.