Category Archives: Bible references

The Church – the Body of Christ

A conversion is incomplete without Jesus in central place in our life, Lord of All. And second, conversion is incomplete if it does not bring us into the full fellowship of the Church. Who believes it these days? Fewer and fewer – at least in our country. For more and more people, the church is not for them – an anachronism, the butt of ridicule. Doctor John White, a well-kent figure in church in his day, preaching at an open-air meeting was heckled continuously. One heckler shouted at him, “Why should I go to church? It is full of hypocrites!” “Correct”, Dr White threw back at him, “but there is still room for another!”

There is more room than ever today for hypocrites and whosoever will belong. If we cannot arrest the spiralling decline in church membership by 2040, we are informed, only 0.5% of the population will belong to church. Enough said! There are many reasons given for people ignoring the church, apart from the absurd idea that we are all a bunch of hypocrites, or that we have not moved with the times. I am certain a lot of our friends have voted with their feet because of what they consider to be the entrenched stance of the church over matters of personal morality. And it seems to me that, in this respect, the voice of concern and protest in regard to family planning and contraception has, for the time being, given way to matters relating to same-sex marriages.

Why is the Church in decline? It is not! Maybe in the UK and Europe – yes. It is a different story in Africa and South America. World-wide the church is growing, most certainly giving expression to their commitment to Christ and Faith. A young woman being interviewed as a prospective candidate for the church’s ministry was asked what she would most like to see in the church during her ministry. She replied immediately, “Full churches”. Would not we all? The pessimistic streak in me thought “poor girl”. In a different mood, the prospect of a dying church and the adverse impact on the ministry and mission of Jesus, the vision I have of a church on its last legs is not as bleak.

We began this essay with the bold statement that our conversion is incomplete if our embrace of faith takes no account of the Church. Here we are about to enter to the realm of controversy – Is that opening assertion written in stone? I am not so certain. I do not hold with the view that all of those folk whom we would love to see in church do not share with us a spiritual hunger or are not impressed by the story of a Saviour’s life, his mission and ministry and the breadth of his love. I believe (there will be those who disagree) the many folk who assure us that they have no ambition to commit themselves to the church, that they have found faith and love Jesus without the restricting hindrance of the church. I have a lot of sympathy for that point of view and find myself on occasions asking, might they not be in the sight of God, Christians, entitled as much as you and me to be named disciple? My friends may be relieved that, so far, I have returned to orthodoxy! I still hold that a conversion is incomplete until we embrace the full fellowship of the Church. For a number of reasons – I shall mention two briefly.

First: the journey of Christian faith is far too hard for any one of us to go it alone. We need one another, a helping hand as we stumble along the rough path of faith, a shoulder to lean on, and the wise counsel of those who have “been there – got the T-shirt”, a guide who is heaven-sent. Secondly, God needs the church, which is why it is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). The Body of Christ to preserve and proclaim the stories of Jesus and of the love that passes all our understanding, to seek out and bring women and men into the embrace of a Heavenly Father’s love. God still needs the church; still uses the church.

Lord of all

Conversion of St Augustine. Fra Angelico (circa 1395–1455) and workshop [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Conversion of St Augustine. Fra Angelico (circa 1395–1455) and workshop [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It has been said that there are three conversions in a Christian man or woman’s life. First to Christ, then to the church and then back to the world. Or, put another way, there are three ways in which an alleged conversion may be incomplete and imperfect. I propose in the next two or three issues to have a look at those three facets of the conversion process as stated above.

First, a conversion is incomplete if it does not leave Jesus in the central place in our life. In fact, without him it cannot happen. I have told the story; I repeat it without apology. It takes me back to Salvation Army days when I was young and had never witnessed an altar call. I have told in an earlier edition how I missed out on a visit to the penitent form. It was not uncommon in those days for the sermon in worship to conclude with an appeal to those who were not saved to claim the gift of salvation here and now. As I recall, the first testimony given by a convert went something like this: The worse of drink one Saturday night I followed the band to its meeting place [the SA Citadel] and I heard the story of Jesus from the Major. At his invitation, I staggered to the altar and knelt there and surrendered my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, my Saviour. I have never looked back; Amen!’ The testimony of a man for whom it happened the way St Paul told the people in Rome. He said: If you confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your hearts, you shall be saved. (Romans 10:9) How we describe who Jesus is may differ from person to person, circumstances may differ, but down through the centuries women and men have told the same story. Even so, the Christian church is far from monochrome in the way it does things, the way it says things, what it believes on certain issues and its expectations of its members.

When the Second World War ended and the need for reconciliation and the restoration of broken relationships was both urgent and necessary, the first post-war Conference of World Christians was planned to convene as soon as possible. The big question, in view of the great diversity, ecclesiastically and nationally – how could this large and diverse community come together and hold together? No easy matter, in the circumstances. Jesus Christ is Lord was the banner that united all who gathered in Oslo on that historic occasion. Surprisingly, Jesus was not called Lord very often in the Gospels. But of all the titles of Jesus, the word Lord became the more commonly used. By the time of Paul, in one form or another, the Apostle refers to Jesus as Lord some two hundred times and it was Jesus the risen Lord who saved and redeemed, that convinced them he is Lord. A bishop in some branches of the church is addressed as My Lord, although no one pretends that he or she ranks alongside Jesus in status or authority. Nevertheless, it is a pity that any servant of the Church is accorded the same title given to the One whose unique authority alone merits it. Do not let us confuse the one with the other, or even compare or imagine any likeness. Jesus is Lord, the one person with the sole right to claim our full obedience.

There is no better illustration than to think of our elder forebears in the faith subjected to the authority of the Roman Empire. At the very beginning of the Jesus movement, Rome was a force to be reckoned with throughout the then known world: there were few places where the Roman Ensign was not raised. But the Roman Empire was a vast heterogeneous mass, difficult to unite and hold together. Rome looked for some unifying bond and thought it had hit on the ideal solution. Caesar worship would do the trick. Once a year anyone living under the flag of the Roman Empire was required to burn a mere pinch of incense to the godhead of the Emperor and to say Caesar is Lord. Do it, then go home and worship whichever god or gods took your fancy. A simple and innocuous ritual, but it was too much to ask of Christians. They dug in their heels: there was to be no surrender and no compromise. Jesus alone was entitled to their obedience and none other than Jesus was Lord.

Richard Holloway, a former Bishop of Edinburgh, put it like this: They heard from Him a divinely compelling demand. What Jesus stood for had an enormous intrinsic power. It compelled people, converted them, it turned them around. This is the touchstone of our Christianity, the first step in our Christian conversion – to be confronted by the wonder of Jesus that He can do for us what we can never hope to achieve by ourselves.

Say and do

How can I understand unless someone explains it to me? Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. Acts 8: 31 & 35

The Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch by the Deacon Philip. Lambert Sustris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch by the Deacon Philip. Lambert Sustris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We do not know a lot about Philip. What we do know is that he was one of seven Church Leaders appointed to sort things out, following a quarrel among the members of the church about the management of certain funds and other practical matters, so that the Apostles could concentrate on their ministry of prayer and preaching, unhindered by such trivial distractions. Philip was also a preaching evangelist, sent to head a mission to the Samaritan people. A bold undertaking, for Jew and Samaritan had not got on with one another for a thousand years – the hostility intense and bitter. And tradition has it that Philip was the first to lead a black African to faith in Jesus. That is what the opening verse of this reflection is all about.

Even less is known about the Ethiopian who heard the good news about Jesus from Philip. We are led to believe that he was most probably black but a eunuch, and that he held high office, none other than Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Court of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia. Candace was not her real name, but a title given to all the Queens of Ethiopia. When the two characters in our story met, the Chancellor had just been to Jerusalem to worship God. So, he was religious, either a Jew or a devout man fed up with the multiplicity of gods on offer, looking to Judaism for something better. When Philip meets him on the road out of Jerusalem he was riding in his carriage, reading and struggling with the text of Hebrew Scripture. Philip, man of the hour for this wandering pilgrim in search of true faith by asking the pertinent questions, longing and hoping for answers that made sense.

And Philip knew what to do and what to say – with great effect. Philip, grasping his chance, told him the good news about Jesus as they travelled the road together, unlikely to be looking at the scenery through which they journeyed. The Word of the Lord was by far more important and urgent. Whereas most of the commentaries consulted translate that Philip, “preached to him the good news”, I prefer the alternative, “told him the good news.” No chance of the award ‘PhD’ for that little morsel of biblical criticism! It is simply that as I endeavour to imagine the scene, “told” the good news somehow fits better, speaks more eloquently. What matter, the great thing in this story is that Philip knew what to say and what to do and a new convert was baptized and went on his way rejoicing. A conversion to Christian faith, always an occasion of great joy but it is just the beginning!

The body of Christ

Bartolomeo_Montagna_-_Saint_Paul_-_Google_Art_Project

St Paul: Bartolomeo Montagna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27 ) –  the hands to do his work, the feet to lead folk in his way, the voice to tell them how he died; for Christ has no help but our help to lead folk to his side.

So says a verse – a familiar, well-worn verse that tries to put Paul’s concept of the Church in context for us. A. J. Gossip once said that Christ’s aim for this world was to produce a race of Christs. Not a phrase I very much like, although when Jesus said I have set you an example, you are to do as I have done for you, the invitation is to be like Him. If people want to know what Jesus is like, they ought to be able to see Him in us, His body! Really! Just think of it, our body, unfit, crippled frail, slow, ageing.

It is a folly to sing of Gentle Jesus, meek and mild; folly to go to the other extreme; folly to impress on Paul’s picture an Atlas type figure. Paul presents a different image: the Church – the Body of the Risen Christ – a crucified body: the body broken for you, for me, for the world’s salvation.

Three things to remember:

First, Paul does not doubt that the contribution of the weaker parts is valued.

Second, when the church is under pressure God does not write her off.

Third, we cannot be in the company of Jesus without personal cost.

A followers prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ in our weakness may we find your strength, In our failure , your forgiveness, In success, your humility, In all things, your peace.

Two-sided picture

Jeremiah by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremiah by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremiah might have been forgiven for thinking God had a grudge against him when God chose him to be a prophet. But when many supposed God to be dead or slumbering, Jeremiah had to tell them that, far from it, God was active, chastening his people in the presence of their oppressors. In all that was happening to them, hard though it was to accept or understand, God was working his purpose out. Jeremiah was certain that he was entrusted with a Word from the Lord and that he must proclaim it. Nevertheless there were occasions when he wished, as did The Great Messenger still to come, the Lord Jesus, that God would take the cup from him. There is a passage in the story of his life and mission that explains his dilemma, described as “one of the most impressive and most revealing passages in all the writings by the prophets”.

If I say, I will not make mention of Him, or speak any more in his name, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. (Jeremiah 20: 9)

Here, in Chapter 20, the soul of Jeremiah is exposed and disclosed in his bleakest and darkest hour. He curses the day he was born. He is driven to the depths of despair. He was flogged and put in the stocks and thrown into a pit – and this is just part of the mockery and suffering he endured, the cost of loyalty to his Calling. Derision is hard to take, worse than violent blows, and few can cope with it. Jeremiah began to think himself a failure. He blames God for getting him into this sorry mess. God is still the subject of blame.

But there is another side to his story. There comes a time when Jeremiah is in prison and, during this time, he does a very unusual thing. From his cell in a city besieged, and his hopes daily diminished, Jeremiah bought a field in Anathoth. He was a native of Anathoth and the land, left in the hands of his cousin Hanamel, Jeremiah had a right to purchase. Jeremiah bought it and in a single act reveals the religion of a Great Heart. Jeremiah had every reason to think that his incarceration was nothing less than a life sentence. What was a man in his position wanting to do with a piece of land? Folk must have concluded that he was completely round the bend. There was every possibility that in a few years there would be no Hebrew land left. But Jeremiah bought a field in Anathoth. In Jeremiah’s darkness a light shone, admittedly at times a mere flicker, but still a glimmer of hope – a light that cannot be quenched. The troubles he had seen and borne made him conscious of a resource in God, providing us with a double-sided picture of a true man of God whose faith sustained him. He does not warrant the reputation that has pursued him down the centuries. A pity there would appear to be very few babies who are given his name.

In a German concentration camp, imprisoned because he would not compromise his faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the cost of discipleship (for him it was martyrdom) and there is a prayer to which Jeremiah could subscribe – to which hopefully we might say Amen however we might be confused by God.

In me there is darkness – but with thee there is light – I am lonely but thou leavest me not –I am restless but with thee there is peace – in me there is bitterness but with thee there is patience – thy ways are past understanding – but thou knowest the way for me!

An investment in faith

When I was christened in the parlour of our ground floor flat, common practice in those days, I was given a family name – another not uncommon practice. I was ‘John Gordon’ after my father, Gordon my mother’s surname. My wife was also given family names and so were our two daughters. That was just the way it was done then, unlike today when little bairns have fancy and unusual names. Once upon a time it was the normal thing to give a child a biblical name. They still do it, although parents and offspring may not be aware of it – it’s just a nice name. In the olden days to which I refer there was no question that a biblical name was the name of a character who, for one reason or another, had come down to us as part of biblical history. So we have our Adams, our Jacobs and our Sarahs, our Ruths, our Marys. In the deep south of the USA and in African countries people are proud to be a Moses, even an Ephraim, Ebenezer or Naomi or Leah and such like. I should not imagine anyone opting for Jezebel!

Jeremiah by Michelangelo Buonarroti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremiah by Michelangelo Buonarroti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is another name that may not be contender. Calling someone a Jeremiah is no compliment. All down the centuries, Jeremiah is denounced as the great pessimist of Old Testament times. His reputation is that of a ‘dismal Jimmy’, a melancholy sort of guy – one reason why we can thank our lucky stars our parents did not have us christened ‘Jeremiah’. However, thus far there is no suggestion that we have met up with the real Jeremiah. A more detailed portrait of this man of God, this great prophet, would reveal that he is much maligned, misunderstood and misrepresented. In his biography, the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, he is shown to have been a given very difficult assignment by God. For 40 turbulent years he gave himself to the service of the Lord, a vocation not marked by outstanding success. So much militated against him.

In the early days, Manasseh was king and the Bible has little good to say about him. With Manasseh around, Jeremiah was on a hiding to nothing. Certain of the Word given him by the Lord, Jeremiah showed tremendous courage in the face of such opposition and persecution. Jeremiah was the king’s thorn in the flesh, especially when he made it clear that God was on the prophet’s side. Religiously the king was a dead loss, a corrupter, schemer who indulged in his personal whims and fancy to shape Hebrew religion as he pleased. Dr Norman Snaith, who taught me Old Testament in College, did not spare the king. He tried to make our hair stand on end with indignation at the thought of Manasseh’s prostitution of religion. He accused him of every abominable thing he could think of introducing in the Temple. Although never a lover of priestly religion, Dr Snaith had some harsh things to say of those who tolerated the variety of dark superstitions initiated by Manasseh in the temple, despoiling the pure religion of Jeremiah, for which Jeremiah vigorously campaigned. He denounced those whose preaching was false, those who proclaimed all is well when there was no peace. Jeremiah was well aware that his message was not popular. Society was corrupt and Jeremiah dare not ignore it. He did not have a growing movement of supporters. Instead he was headed for defeat, imprisonment, death, exile. Few listened, few heeded, but Jeremiah continued to fulfil his calling. He is misunderstood and misnamed, so much so that few babies are named after him.

Jeremiah will be back next time.

I’m H-A-P-P-Y

Sermon on the Mount. Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sermon on the Mount. Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The second thing I want to say about happiness (as promised) is that to be happy is to do good to others. There is no prize for the right answer, but there is a question. Who said “There is no such thing as society?” Of course, it was former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The statement was part of her thesis that life is enhanced by an individual’s personal initiative and self-motivation. Many people can live with that, and do, their philosophy more political than religious. In practice looking after number one is not the same as doing good to oneself. The doctrine of looking after number one does not quite gel with the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. Two things stand out: take the Beatitudes alone and they are all about happiness and community and the two are interrelated. To be content with our lot, we are truly blest. One example, “Happy are those who are merciful to others.” The Sermon on the Mount demonstrates clearly and bluntly how much we are bound together in the bundle of life. Take one small example, the desperate need for Food Banks and the magnificent response of so many people. And the Sermon on the Mount also makes clear that to belong to Christ is to belong to a community. A community, or society, shaped by the conviction that no one is an island. So, those first Christians shared with one another as each one had need. Happy are those who are merciful to others.

There is the third thing to be noted about our quest for happiness. We must not equate the Beatitudes with the Ten Commandments: they are not the same! The Beatitudes are not a collection of moral rules of conduct or code of ethics. They do not mean you must do those things in order to deserve and win divine approval. They have nothing to do with being well-thought of. The happiness God promises comes to those who claim no merit for themselves but, knowing their own hearts, are content to rest their need on the mercy of God. A description I have borrowed: “not so much the ethics of obedience as the ethics of grace.” The picture we are given is of a gracious giver and ourselves as humble receivers. Side by side with the teaching, there are the promises. The happiness of the Beatitudes is not the product of an alliance of human will and strength. The happiness of the Beatitudes is the promise of a living relationship with the One Christ Jesus, who not only taught them but exhibited them in his own life. And the more closely we walk in His Way, the more firmly we walk in His footsteps. The closer we are drawn into His presence, the more we become like Him, the more Blessed we become.

Epilogue: “I have spoken to you,” Jesus says “that My Way may be in you and your joy be complete.”

Happiness, Happiness, The greatest gift that I possess; I thank the Lord that I’ve been blessed with more than my share of happiness. (Ken Dodd)

I’m H-A-P-P-Y (song)

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5 / Luke 6

Happiness

By Harry Popoff (The hunter of happiness) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Hunter of happiness (Harry Popoff) CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Take yourself back a little in time to a day when variety theatre was very much alive. For a number of years we spent a week of our holidays in Scarborough and, if I remember correctly, there were probably about four to choose from. An essential ingredient to the success of the week would be an evening, in fact several, relaxing in a quality show. What made it more interesting was the number of top class artists, big names in comedy, who made regular visits to the resort. They could fill the theatres easily. There was (is) one famous comedian forever reluctant to leave the stage and let staff and audience go home. The audience was not terribly concerned. They loved him and the star of the evening showed every sign of loving them. Eventually they would get home, tired and happy, looking forward to the next time. The artist is Ken Dodd and he gets special mention by this blogger for his warm, enthusiastic musical rendition of what might be his theme song. “Happiness, happiness“, he will sing with great gusto and sincerity. As promised by my last posting we are about to consider briefly something of our understanding of happiness.

Happiness: there are three things I want to highlight about happiness in this commentary. First, to be happy is to be good to ourselves. Of course, Christianity is about self-denial. This is how Jesus explains it: “If you do not take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my apostles.” At the opening of a New Year those of us in Methodism engage in a service of worship that dates back to Wesley’s time and which we very much treasure – the Covenant Service, when we are invited to share with one another in the renewal of our personal commitment and relationship with God. It is a service that says the same thing as Jesus does in the quotation above. “Christ has many services to be done, in some we may please Him and in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.” Yes, I have read the Beatitudes, they are largely about attitudes and reactions to people. We will come to that shortly, but what point is there in commending values to others if we do not subscribe to them and treasure them ourselves? Unless we know how to care for ourselves, we reduce our capacity to care for others.

I want to inject here a brief and totally inadequate word of warning relating to a very large issue. We have witnessed in recent times how easy it has been for some in big business, for example, to do so well for themselves that caring for ‘number one’ converts to excess indulgence and a criminal record. However let us keep on track, back to where we diverged slightly.

To remind ourselves where we are, before we conclude, we turn to Rabbi Blue who said, “The kinder we are to ourselves, the more kind we are to others.” The Book of Proverbs has a saying which the Authorised Version of the Bible translates, “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance but low spirits sap a man’s strength.” A verse which may be interpreted: to be happy is to be good to ourselves.

To be concluded……

Blessed

A Methodist minister is ordained at the Church’s Annual Conference in June. It is a big day, a long day, a memorable day – although not quite as lengthy as in my day. First there is a lunch where the ordinands and their guests meet with the President of the Conference who talks to them informally and briefly, congratulating them on reaching Ordination and perhaps offering some practical advice gleaned from his/her experience in ministry. After lunch in a crowded conference auditorium they are received into what is known as ‘Full Connexion’, in my judgement of greater significance even than ordination. The President addresses them more formally about ministry. Come evening, at different venues, is the ordination by laying on of hands, the service itself always a wonderfully inspiring and humbling occasion. A Charge is given to those about to begin the work to which God has called them by an appropriate person on behalf of the whole church, a pertinent word of wise counsel and encouragement.

Three times that day an ordinand is challenged, as indeed is the entire gathering. But two things stick in my mind, neither of mind-boggling significance. At the informal session the President said, “Keep your desk tidy. It turns my stomach to see the mess in some ministers studies.” Good advice but not tremendously exciting or inspiring! At the ordination service all I remember is an extract from someone’s homily, a tit-bit of practical advice it being said, “In your ministry Saturday is the day you prepare yourself for Sunday. So, do not anything on Saturday that you ought not to be doing on Sunday.” I saw myself denied the pleasure of shouting encouragement and, now and then, (polite!) abuse at my favourite football team on a Saturday afternoon. I thought of some of the activities in which we participated at the youth club on a Saturday evening. I thought to myself – is this the code of practice to encourage and sustain in the years ahead? Am I doing the right thing? Subject to those restrictions I would certainly not be ‘a happy bunny.’

Sermon on the Mount. Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sermon on the Mount. Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Turn to Matthew chapter five or Luke chapter six to what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, and which may be like an ordination charge, in this instance addressed to the twelve disciples. As I was given my charge on ordination day, likewise Jesus spoke to the disciples in similar vein, as they prepared to undertake their life’s work. My charge came in three sessions and it is virtually certain the Sermon on the Mount as it is presented in the gospel is not a single actual sermon but a summary of a number of talks given by Jesus on different occasions. The Sermon on the Mount begins with The Beatitudes – eight of them; each one begins with the words Blessed or in modern translations,’You are blessed or Happy are those’ (who) . . . .

When I first appeared in my royal blue cassock, gifted to me by family at a special time in my career, a lady in the congregation enquired if it was a new uniform for ministers! I was later to learn that a group of my colleagues actually participated in a discussion as to my motive in becoming so clad for worship. Was I trying to be different, a lookalike bishop? A sensitive subject for us! The Methodist church still refuses to countenance the appointment of some form of episcopacy into our system. Well, what was I getting up to? My friends need not have feared, I had no thoughts of grandeur, I was acting on the understanding that the Sermon on the Mount/Beatitudes consist of a promise of happiness, a call to happiness, an invitation to the happy life. Why did I choose to go blue? Ministers in the Church of Scotland dressed in the royal blue and I thought it looked well and bright – colourful. I wore it as a form of protest, an attempt to get away from the more familiar funereal black; a modest attempt to change the image of the church – to demonstrate that the party we attend on a Sunday is not a wake but a ball. So, be happy and be glad, is our Lord’s invitation and call.

To be continued . . . . . .

Christmas 2014

Gerard Van Honthorst: Adoration of the shepherds Image credit: Wikimedia

Adoration of the shepherds. Gerard van Honthorst [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Christmas comes but once a year. When it does it brings good cheer. Is it true?

I write one week before Christmas. Already I have heard it said more than once, Christmas has come too early, you get tired of it, not least the noisy music blasting out over the tannoy in shops and public places heralding the arrival of the new-born king. It is sad to hear it said, we will be glad when it is all over. Christmas is meant to be a time of great cheer. I have a certain sympathy with the point of view that questions the justification for anything resembling the Nativity event. For example, Christmas shopping promotions and bargain hunting aside, what Christmas are we celebrating in those weeks before with our trees and lights and parties, our scurrying around for presents for friends and family hoping we have got the right gift for everyone? How much does Jesus the babe in the manger, the Lord Jesus Christ, feature in it all?

While my mind was centred along those lines, I thought you might appreciate the message on a card that came to us from an American friend: Care deeply, think kindly, act gently. And be at peace in the world, for this is the spirit of Christmas.

On the evening before we broke up at the end of term, there was a tradition in my college for the students to visit each of our tutors to sing a couple of carols for them and to wish them a happy Christmas. The visit concluded with us singing the tutor’s favourite. Each of them, with one exception, requested a traditional carol. The one exception always chose one of the Advent hymns that are sometimes not given fair treatment in our acts of worship in the four weeks prior to the big event. The one who did not conform insisted, quite correctly, that he was right in the stance he took – Christmas began at twelve midnight on the 24th December. And he was right!

Be of good cheer …….

Be not afraid; I bring you good news; news of great joy for the whole nation. Today there has been born to you in the city of David a deliverer – the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2: 10-11)

Wishing you all Joy this Christmastide.