“Ye who now will bless the poor”
Following the latest round of public spending cuts there is growing concern amongst numerous charities that those who are likely to be most affected will be those who can least afford it. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of people trapped in a “spiral of despair” and leading economists cast doubt on some of the proposals, while students demonstrate in huge numbers and even some of the government’s friends, like the Mayor of London, wonder where it will all end.
In contrast to this gloomy picture the supermarkets, and even the airlines, announce record and growing profits and people seem to be spending as much as ever in the run up to Christmas. Within minutes of going on sale tickets for the recent Take That Tour were selling on ebay at vastly inflated prices. No shortage of cash there it seems.
Quite how it will all work out is anybody’s guess!
In his famous story “A Christmas Carol”, published over 150 years ago, Charles Dickens vividly highlighted the great gulf that existed then between rich and poor, in a pre-benefit culture. The central character, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, came to his senses just in time for Christmas.
We’ve come a long way since then but the Bible stories have that same theme: Mary rejoiced that God had “filled the hungry with good things, but the rich he has sent empty away.” Poor shepherds were the first to worship the new baby. Almost the first words we hear from the adult Jesus are: “I have come to bring good news to the poor”.
The last line of the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” has an urgent relevance today. “Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing”.
Whenever I’m asked what I would like for Christmas my imagination runs out after “Socks”. But I love giving and receiving presents at Christmas. Its been part of the way we celebrate the birth of Christ since the wise men brought gifts to Jesus. Often, though, the value of a present has very little to do with its actual cost. The most precious gifts may cost very little, or we may fail to recognize the true value of something we’ve been given.
Recently a young mother died in hospital after refusing a blood transfusion on religious grounds. To many people, including me, this seemed a tragic and unnecessary loss of life. Hers is not the only young life to have been taken unnecessarily lately. Think of the young firefighters who died responding to an arson attack, or the mother and daughter who died on the same stretch of railway line within weeks of each other; or the cheerful young lad gunned down in Liverpool for no reason, or the young woman who, it appears, had her throat cut as she resisted a sex attack. We continue to hope and pray that Madeline McCann’s name will not be added to this painful but far from exhaustive list.
Each of these cases is a powerful reminder of the value of human life. The reason they make the headlines is that we still continue to think that individual lives matter. Life itself is a very special gift from God and we cannot put a price on it. It should be cherished, protected and valued.
Christmas is a clear sign that God himself values human life and cares for each individual. The reason God sent his Son into the world was to save people from the consequences of human sin and give them the opportunity of a new life with Him. That’s why Jesus is sometimes described as “God’s greatest gift” – he opens up the possibility of a new relationship with our heavenly father which is priceless.
But just as a wonderful present is useless if it’s left wrapped under the tree, so God’s amazing gift of new life with him has to be accepted and received before it can do us any good.
I wonder if you’ve ever thought that even if you were the only person in the world God would still have sent Jesus, just for you. He values your life so much and longs for you to enjoy to the full the relationship which Jesus makes possible.
This Christmas let’s thank God for the gift of life – and for the even more amazing gift of new life which Jesus brings us.
AMAZING GRACE by Brian Hogwood
If we try to look honestly at ourselves – personality, habits, lifestyle, hopes and fears – we become aware of the way in which we are bound up by convention, our background (family and nationality), natural likes and dislikes and, probably above all, what other people think of us.
“They can think what they like”, we say, but inwardly that is the one thing that decides our day-to-day behaviour and reactions more than anything else.
Some things are very difficult to alter. For example, I am bald. Have been since my early twenties. A physical fact decided by genes I inherited from my ancestors. I could wear a wig, or a skull cap, or polish it, or just accept it as part of me an concentrate on more important things. The choice is mine.
But there are other things which bind or release us to react or behave in certain ways. Some of these may be good, others bad. A common example is how we view other people or situations. Are we positive and optimistic, looking for the good things, or are we out from the start to criticise, to pull apart, looking for the things we don’t like, or, worse still, jumping to wrong conclusions from the start? Do we see the gold in those we love and those we don’t or look for things to exaggerate which will bias opinion for the worse? Jesus always looks for the gold. If there are bad things, He will want to get rid of them for ours and others’ sakes. As He said to the woman dragged in front of Him, caught committing adultery, “Neither do I condemn you”. But also He said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:3)
The greatest risk God took in creating us as we are was to give us the free will to choose good or evil. God knew that without this freedom we would be simply puppets. But with it we have the potential to love and be loved by Him and by each other. We can and do bind ourselves by exercising our free will just as Adam did, the first sinner. Or we can release our lives to live God’s way as Jesus did.
We cannot do this all by ourselves, but God is waiting to give us the grace which will kick-start us in the right direction. Go for gold – God’s gold!
Ultimately it means the difference between heaven and hell in this life and beyond.
‘Amazing Grace……that saved a wretch like me.”
We have a Gospel to proclaim! by Stephen Griffiths
I was struck the other day whilst watching television, that when a company has a new product they are very excited about and want to sell, they go out of their way to make sure you know about it!
Glossy ads in magazines, huge billboards in shop windows, adverts on the television, fantastic websites telling you everything you need to know, front covers of magazines. In fact they have so many adverts for their products, that it is almost impossible to avoid.
Well this Easter we too have a product we are excited about and that is the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! A chance for people’s lives to be transformed, a chance for people to be given purpose and hope. A chance for their past to be forgiven and a new life offered.
SO WHY DON’T PEOPLE KNOW?
It strikes me every year at Easter time that as Christians we go to the various services, attend the various lent housegroups and celebrate on Easter Day and fully immerse ourselves in the good news of the season, but the rest of the world carries on completely oblivious of anything significant.
They do of course know it is Easter, as the shops tell you so with fluffy toys & chocolate eggs. They are allowed time off work for the bank holiday and a chance to spend time with the family, but that is as far as it goes. Not that there is anything wrong with spending time with the family, but the true meaning of Easter-tide is just not there.
And we shake our heads and wonder what the world is coming to as society doesn’t seem to care.
BUT IT ISN’T THEIR FAULT!
How will people know if we do not tell them? How will school children know if they do not come to Sunday School, and are not taught it at school? How will our friends, neighbours and work-colleagues know if nobody tells them?
Yes, spending time attending the various services, courses etc. is a must, but how much time do we spend outside of this boldly telling those around us the good news of the gospel? Boldly sending out Easter cards with the true message on them rather than chicks, boldly putting up posters in our windows, boldly standing up for what we believe? Boldly inviting our friends to church, boldly chatting to our neighbours over the garden fence, boldly putting articles in the local press and publications, boldly educating our children.
If we don’t we can’t blame society for not knowing!
The good news of Easter is that whatever people think of Jesus’s ministry, his miracles or his teaching, there is no getting away from the sheer facts surrounding his death and resurrection. Many people have tried to disprove it, but nobody has been able to. So the fact remains, Jesus Christ was who he said he was, and he did rise from the dead after three days in the tomb, and he is alive today and available today for us to come to have our sins forgiven, our past forgotten, an exciting new life now, and the promise of eternal life for eternity!
One fantastic way we do let society know the real message of Easter is through the March of Witness on Good Friday; over 200 of us joined in this year to boldly proclaim the gospel. However our duties do not stop there.
So this Easter let’s not complain about the ignorance of our society, let’s do something about it, and let’s truly celebrate God’s gift to the world.