Follow That Star!

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We used to talk about the ‘stars of stage and screen’ but in today’s celebrity culture the definition of who is ‘a star’ and what makes ‘a star’ has broadened to cover almost every type of entertainment and eventuality – because the traditional categories of Pop Star, Rock Star and Film Star have been joined by Social Media and Reality TV stars (and more besides), all trying to capture our attention and their fleeting five minutes of fame and fortune – especially around Christmas. In fact, it could be argued that we have so many celebrity ‘stars’ that the term has somewhat lost its impact. But Christmas provides us with an opportunity to step outside of the noisy razzmatazz of the entertainment industry and focus once again upon the true meaning of Christmas and upon someone whose significance and stardom never fades – and that is of course Jesus of Nazareth whose birth we celebrate and who Christians believe is the incarnate ‘Son of God’; ‘the eternal word made flesh’; ‘the Saviour of the World’.

At first glance, the casual observer wouldn’t have thought that his birth was anything remarkable, a simple child born into poverty with two loving but very humble parents, but for those with the eyes to see, his birth was not only remarkable, but completely astonishing and highly significant as demonstrated by the train of visitors who came to see him; first shepherds and then ‘kings’ or more accurately Magi, ‘wise men from the East’ who had been drawn to his birth place by the appearance of a STAR!

Now perhaps we are so familiar with the nativity story that we tend to think we know it, and so it is only too easy to overlook the significance of these special visitors. Ever since the time of King David, Israel’s Kings thought of themselves to be like ‘shepherds’ as he was and so the appearance of the Shepherds at the manger was highly symbolic of his royal pedigree. Likewise the appearance of a star was deemed to be the fulfilment of ancient prophecy heralding God’s anointed; ‘a star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel’ (Numbers 24.17). Strangely, even in Roman Culture a star signified divine status as demonstrated by the fact that when a ‘wandering star’ appeared after the death of Julius Caesar it was believed to signify his deification – a star symbol thus being engraved upon imperial coins. So what with the anointing of Jewish thought and the divine ruler from Roman thought, there is a double significance here!

But this is not the end of the story because later Jesus would describe himself as ‘the bright Morning Star’ of Revelation 22.16. His Kingdom and his stardom never ends!

So this Christmas, may I encourage you to reflect once again upon the Christmas story and to ‘follow the star’ as you consider just who Jesus is and embrace the eternal nature of God’s love and peace for you and your family this Christmas.

May I wish you all a very Happy Christmas.

#followthestar


“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony …. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” Revelation 22.16


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And the baby’s name is ….

Immanuel God with Us

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE A NAME FOR A BABY? Do you name your child after a grandparent, parent or family member? Or do you name it after a famous celebrity, such as a pop star, film star or footballer? You might want to be creative and invent something unusual that will attract attention and make a statement, while others prefer to stick to something more traditional. Some people might want to make a popular choice, and for others it really doesn’t matter! Choosing a name is really difficult isn’t it! Made all the more so if you are the sort of person who’s as interested in the meaning of a name, just as much as the sound of it!

In many ways, Mary and Joseph didn’t have this problem, for when Mary was told by the angel that she was going to have a baby, she was also told what he was to be called – he was to be called Jesus (Luke 2.31). Now Jesus wasn’t an uncommon name at the time, in fact, it was exceedingly popular, because it had a wonderful connotation and a meaning loved by all the people, for ‘Jesus’ was simply the more ‘modern’ Greek form of the much more traditional name, translated in Hebrew as ‘Joshua’ which means ‘God saves’ or possibly ‘the Lord is salvation’. So imagine what it would mean to a poor people who had known hardship all their lives, fearfully living in the shadow and military might of Imperial Rome, to be reminded of the fact that ‘God saves’. It’s a wonderful hope to cling on to and this child would be a reminder and symbol of it, every time his name was spoken. But Christians are aware that there is so much more to this story than this, for Jesus has ‘another name’ – a name which is celebrated in song every Christmas in carols around the world, for his birth is also seen as the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy that was first uttered many centuries before in the time of Isaiah. ‘All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, God with us’ (Matthew 1.22-23). So, God is no longer aloof, abstract, or ‘out there’, for one brief moment in time, he is made wonderfully ‘real’ in the person of Jesus. It’s this coming of Jesus, God literally stepping into the world that Christians celebrate at Christmas. Knowing that God can understand us in every way because he has become like us in the person of Jesus, is an incredible thought. Especially when one considers how prone we are to make silly mistakes and get things wrong! It would be so simple for this holy God to simply blot us out of his copy book, but he doesn’t because he loves us and cares for us, and wants us to know and understand him. This is a great joy and when we understand that he has come not only to know us, but save us, by taking upon himself at the cross all the punishment for our misdeeds. We recognise Christmas for what it truly is – the celebration of the greatest piece of news that this world has ever known or will know. It is my hope that over the coming weeks, you will find yourself not only enjoying the festive spirit, but grasping the opportunity to embrace the true meaning of Christmas and possibly celebrating it with us. It would be great to see you!

May I on behalf of my family and all the parishes I represent wish you all a very happy Christmas and a very peaceful new year.


‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel’ Isaiah 7.14


 

Who Are You Missing This Christmas?

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There’s a quiet and wonderful hush as Mary and Joseph, holding hands, slowly walk to the front of the school hall, he with a large staff in his right hand and she clutching a small bag to her chest. The music to ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ gently fades into the background as Joseph knocks upon the door standing in front of him – and as the innkeeper appears Joseph calls out in a loud voice ‘please sir, do you have any room where we can stay? For we have travelled a long way and my wife is about to have a baby!’ The innkeeper lets out a loud sigh and sadly shakes his head, but then after a momentary pause his face brightens up with a big grin as he politely and kindly directs them to a stable.

This wonderful and captivating scene has been played out by many generations of school children over the years watched by their proud parents, but it is also a scene that leaves a lot to the imagination and makes a lot of assumptions, for the Bible account never actually mentions the innkeeper, but simply says that after the birth of the baby Jesus ‘she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’ (Luke 2.7). The kindly innkeeper never actually features, but is strangely absent – missing!

Christmas is often said to be a time for children having fun and families getting together, but perhaps for some this biblical story actually reflects a present reality in their lives – perhaps because someone special, someone significant is missing and Christmas just isn’t the same without them. This could be because circumstances dictate that they can’t be present (such as serving in the armed forces or emigrated or away on business); or it could be because they have started a new chapter in their lives (such as young people leaving home or getting married leaving parents feeling isolated and alone); or it could be because of some sad circumstance (such as a divorce, a broken relationship or the death of a loved one). It’s at times like these when the love and support of family, friends and the community is so crucial, mutually encouraging people to appreciate that they are not alone, but cared for by the people around them – kind words and deeds which can mean so much and mirror the love that God has for us.

But perhaps for some the most significant missing person this Christmas, is Christ himself – which is such a shame because in the person of Jesus we meet with a God who loves and cares for us so deeply that he actually steps into this world of ours, and takes upon himself our humanity when he was born as a baby at Bethlehem. So no-one can say therefore that ‘God does not understand me’ because in Christ he has been there, done it and ‘got the T-shirt’. Our lives aren’t perfect and neither is the world in which we live, but in Christ we meet with someone who not only wants us to feel better but actually makes it possible for us to be better; loved, forgiven and at peace when we put our faith and trust in him. So, don’t miss out this Christmas because in Christ we have a friend who has promised to be with us, not just for today, or for tomorrow, but for always. Christmas just isn’t the same without him!


“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1.23