CHRISTMAS – ARE WE IN DANGER OF MISSING THE POINT?

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There’s nothing quite like a traditional British Christmas! The hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping; the writing of cards and the exchange of presents; the decoration of houses both inside and out, and the turning on of lights on the Christmas tree. Christmas is a time for rest and relaxation, family get-togethers and stories of childhood. A time for mulled wine, cake and mince pies besides a real open fire. It’s a time to fondly remember those who are no longer with us and make plans for all we shall see in the new year. It’s a time to ‘eat, drink and be merry’, ‘peace and good will to all men’ and dream of snow, Rudolf, robins and Father Christmas. And – O yes – there’s church for those who want it!

Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of the things listed above – but if Christmas really is, just about rest and relaxation and time spent with families – then are we as individuals (and indeed as a nation), in danger of missing the point? It would certainly seem so if the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent conversations are anything to go by. The Telegraph has printed a story where Justin Welby notes that there is a fundamental lack of ‘religious literacy’ in Government circles about those who are religious. They want the church to back them when it comes to promoting basic “British Values” but fail to appreciate that many of these values stem from our Christian religious heritage. In their efforts to understand religious extremism (mainly Islamic) they fail to understand that Christians are also motivated ‘first and foremost’ by their Christian faith and are desperately playing ‘catch up’ when it comes to appreciating the differences between these two religions and others.

So like government, have we all tended to take our ‘Christian Heritage’ for granted, so much so, that like music in a shopping mall it just becomes background noise and largely filtered out? So, in a world which is desperately crying out for peace, have we largely forgotten the ‘Prince of Peace’? Have we forgotten the real meaning of Christmas? I hope not! Christmas is about a loving God, who so loved the world that despite its shortcomings he literally steps into it. Christmas is about a young man who was both at one with his humanity but also his divinity. Christmas is not just about a baby that was born in Bethlehem but the man who died in Jerusalem and rose again. Christmas is all about the one who died for our sins so that we might be forgiven of them. Christmas is all about the start of a process where a loving God puts things right through the power of the resurrection – including us. Christmas is therefore fundamentally a celebration for all about a God who loves us.

So on Christmas Day, we could be left with a lot of empty parcels, that we may or may not, appreciate on Boxing Day, but the significance of Christmas for Christians is that in Jesus Christ every day is Christmas Day and worth celebrating. That’s the point of Christmas!

So may I wish you all a very happy Christmas and warmly invite you to celebrate it with us. God bless you all.


‘The angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born… he is Christ the Lord”.’ Luke 2.10-11


 

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THE OLYMPIC STORY BEHIND CHRIST THE REDEEMER!

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What a wonderful Olympics it has been! After months of worry and uncertainly about the Stadium, the Zika virus and political unrest, Rio 2016 has been a great success. Certainly from a British point of view there has been a lot to cheer about – not only have the women’s eight matched the men with gold medals in the rowing for the first time ever, but Max Whitlock has become Team GB’s first ever gymnastics champion (twice!); Justin Rose became the first man to win the golf at the Olympics since it was last played in 1904 and Andy Murray put us all through the mill as he successfully defended his tennis title first won at London 2012. At this time of writing, the athletics is well underway and Team GB find themselves, somewhat surprisingly second on the medal table in front of China – but will it last? But of course, the tales of inspirational human endeavour aren’t simply tied to those who’ve come away with a medal but to all those who have done their best to be ‘the best they can be’ despite the odds (who can forget the efforts made by the Refugees Team, competing under the Olympic flag) and all such athletes should be proud. However, the sporting arena is not the only source of wonder and appreciation – the Brazilians have been commended for their warm welcome, hospitality and sense of fun, along with their beautiful country, ranging from the beautiful Copacabana beach at Rio to the magnificent statue of ‘Christ the Redeemer’ looking down upon the city from the Corcovado Mountain.

Although the statute isn’t the largest statue of Jesus to be found in the world it is considered to be an ‘art-deco’ masterpiece and is hugely iconic of Rio de Janeiro and symbolic of Brazil’s Catholic Christian heritage. The statue is 98 feet tall (not including it’s 26-foot-tall pedestal) and weighs 635 tonnes. There were several designs initially proposed but the familiar statue we recognise today with its open arms (measuring 92 feet wide) was specifically chosen to represent the love of Christ for the world who will warmly welcome and embrace all who come to him. The statue was originally built in 1922 and took 9 years to complete, and was officially declared one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ on 7th July 2007.

This wonderful statue of Jesus is of course called ‘Christ the Redeemer’ but why and what is so special about redemption? Well, redemption literally means ‘buying back’ and was often used in the ancient world of slaves buying their freedom or having it bought for them. One of the greatest acts of redemption in the Bible (and which has coloured the way this word is used ever since) was when God bought his people out of slavery in Egypt to give them freedom in the promised land. The problem was, that over the years the people found themselves repeatedly bound as slaves by successive regimes and therefore in need of a ‘new redemption’. The early Christians understood this in the most radical of ways, they saw it as pointing to the poverty of their own human condition, they were constantly ‘in slavery to death and sin’. What they needed was a redeemer! Someone who would be able to pay the price for their sin and lead them to freedom and new life. That person was Jesus! His self-giving, sacrificial death upon the cross was truly Olympic in its magnitude, the most dramatic, inspiring and generous gift of God’s love the world had ever seen. His death was the price paid for our ‘redemption’, the innocent dying for the guilty, but of course the Gospel story doesn’t conclude with Christ’s death but his resurrection! His rising from the grave was the first sign, evidence and promise of future hope and life everlasting. A precious gift warmly and freely given to anyone who wishes to receive it and puts their faith and trust in Jesus as their personal Lord, Saviour and Redeemer. The Olympics may be glorious; the games have been thankfully largely harmonious, and the athletic achievements truly inspirational – but the story behind the Christ the Redeemer statue is even more so and gives us all the chance of reaching our full potential and ‘being better than we can be despite the odds’.


We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3.24


 

IF SEEING IS BELIEVING – WHY DON’T WE?

On February 11th 2016, scientists around the world jumped for joy as they announced that they had detected ‘Gravitational Waves’ produced by the spinning and collision of two black holes more than a billion light-years from the Earth! The news was greeted with euphoria as it finally confirmed the prediction made by Albert Einstein 100 years ago in his Theory of General Relativity and supported by Professor Stephen Hawking’s work relating to black holes. The discovery was hailed as a landmark because it will revolutionise the way that we think about the creation of the universe and our continued understanding of it. The discovery is remarkable because Einstein himself had thought that gravitational waves would be too weak for anyone to detect – and yet the scientists have done it, and the evidence is there for all to see. Seeing is believing!

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Yet, however great the discovery of gravitational waves might be, it surely pales into insignificance compared to the discovery that was made by some women two thousand years ago, when they found that the tomb used to place the dead, crucified body of Jesus was empty, and that Jesus was indeed alive. It sounds completely astonishing, astounding and fanciful, and just the sort of thing that might be the product of the over active imaginations of some rather hysterical, grief stricken women! In fact, it’s a story that could be easily dismissed if it wasn’t for the fact that their story was corroborated by others – many others, and neatly summarised by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Christians at Corinth (I Corinthians 15.3-8). There were of course the women, but then there were the disciples, and Peter; a crowd of 500, James (the brother of Christ and later leader of the church in Jerusalem), the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and finally Paul himself, but perhaps the most telling, poignant and significant encounter was with Thomas. Thomas had been absent when the risen Christ had first met with his disciples, and upon hearing their exhilarating news, he refused to believe it, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand in his side (the dead body of Jesus had been speared to prove death), I will not believe it.” (John 20.25). Like many others, I am so glad that this account has been recorded for us, because it shows a man who would not allow his heart to rule his head but wanted tangible proof of a story that would have seemed just as incredible in his day as it does in ours. Strikingly, when the Lord eventually appeared to Thomas, and he was invited to physically examine Christ’s wounds, we are not told that he did so, instead he immediately knelt before Jesus, proclaiming him to be “My Lord and my God”. Seeing was believing and seeing Christ before him was more than enough! Every doubt, worry and anxiety was blown away by this incredible and unique experience.

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The problem for us is, that we weren’t there, and many therefore refuse to believe. We will believe in the existence of gravitational waves simply because we are told by scientists that we have empirical proof, but what could be more substantial than the testimony of those who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes, embraced him, ate with him and were able to share in other forms of fellowship with him? These people were witnesses and many were prepared to die themselves on the basis of their experience and what they had seen with their own eyes. But we may protest, and therefore shout all the more loudly that rising from death is just impossible for human beings, to which my answer (along with that of so many others) is – precisely. This man, this ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, although fully human, was more than that – he was also divine. He was as the Bible puts it, ‘the Son of God’. So, unless we are prepared to ignore all the evidence to the contrary, we have to accept that this event too was of cosmic significance and totally revolutionises the way we look at the universe and our place within it.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and meaningful Easter.

“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” John 20.27

FURY, FAITH, FORTITUDE AND FORGIVENESS – REFLECTIONS ON REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY

Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell

As our nation turns once again towards Remembrance Sunday, we can note that 2015 has certainly been a year of commemoration, celebration and quiet reflection, marking as it did both the 70th anniversaries of VE Day (Victory in Europe Day, 8th May 1945) and VJ Day (Victory over Japan Day, 15th August 1945) along with the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The latter was marked by the magnificent sight and sound of 40 Spitfires and Hurricanes, and a single Blenheim, patrolling our coastlines once more back in September. No doubt there are many more significant occasions, notable events and distinguished acts of service that we as a nation should do our best to remember and take pride in. Not that we glorify war, because war is always a terrible thing and the cost of it purely in terms of human suffering is always immense, and yet despite its fury, we pay tribute to all those whose stoicism, faith and fortitude preserved our freedom, values and British way of life, remembering especially those who died in the process – and to this end I would like to invite and encourage you to join us at one of our Remembrance Day Services across the Benefice as we remember those who gave their lives in service of the nation, and give thanks to God for the freedom we enjoy.

Sadly our world is far from perfect, and when evil raises its ugly head we are constantly challenged as to what our response should be. It is Edmund Burke who is credited with the famous saying that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” and although it’s hard to pin down a definitive version of that phrase or even its attribution to Burke, we all know what it means. Ultimately, we all need to be prepared to ‘stand up and be counted’, for when it comes to challenging evil we appreciate that we can’t always pass that particular responsibility on to others. One such person was Edith Cavell, the World War 1 British nurse who is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers in Brussels from all sides without distinction. As a nurse she refused to ignore the suffering of the wounded soldiers she came across regardless of their nationality, treating them all equally as human beings. However, her medical impartiality didn’t mean that she was neutral as far as the war effort was concerned, for with the help of Belgian and French colleagues she helped over 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. Eventually she was arrested and found guilty by a German military court of ‘assisting men to the enemy’, culminating with her execution by firing squad on the 12 October 1915. The railway carriage or ‘Cavell Van’ which brought her body back to England has recently been on display outside ‘The Forum’ in Norwich to mark the centenary of her death. However, on the evening before she died, Edith Cavell wrote in her diary some very moving words. She wrote “Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

Edith Cavell was a Christian woman who was magnanimous in death, even forgiving her executioners. Her actions were no doubt influenced by the example of Jesus, who had in life exalted his disciples not only ‘to love God and your neighbour as yourself’ but their enemies too, and forgave his executioners even as they put him to death upon the cross. As previously mentioned, war is a terrible thing and sadly sometimes can’t be avoided, but it shouldn’t be the war or acts of violence which define us. It should be our attitude to life and the way we choose to live it which should be our lasting epitaph.

Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6.31

LET’S PLANT A LITTLE HOPE THIS HARVEST!

Send A Cow Harvest Appeal

Send A Cow Harvest Appeal

The plight of so many tired and weary people travelling towards and across Europe at this present time is really quite astonishing. Many do so because they fear for their lives and seek a place of safety and refuge, others (often because of war) have found their local circumstances to be simply unbearable and so they seek a better life in ‘foreign’ places of freedom and opportunity. The travelling is hard; the risks are great and for those prepared to do so – costly. Apart from risking their lives, most people have had to leave most of their personal possessions behind and have either spent their ‘travelling money’ on food or had it stolen by people smugglers and others wanting to exploit their situation. The one thing that unites these travellers and keeps them moving is hope! The immediate hope of a place to live in safety and peace, and the future hope of a better life, greater security and opportunity both for themselves and their children. Naturally, every face tells a story, and presents a challenge to world leaders and politicians. How compassionate are we – and how charitable can we afford to be? These questions will require a great deal of wisdom, soul searching and fortitude if we are ever collectively to find positive answers.

Harvest time is a time when we in ‘the west’ can really ‘count our blessings’ and appreciate just how lucky and fortunate we are. With so many shops at our disposal and convenience, we tend to take our daily lives for granted and never really think or entertain the thought that we might not know where our next meal or morsel is coming from. How lucky we are!

That’s why we as a church would like to continue to support Send a Cow’s ‘Harvest for Life’ Appeal and encourage you to do the same. Last year we successfully raised enough money to provide several ‘Keyhole Gardens’ and this year’s appeal is to provide ‘Growing Kits’, which will enable families in Africa to become self-sufficient by giving them the tools, seeds and training to grow and harvest their own crops. Every £177 raised is enough to provide a ‘Growing Kit’ to a family. Send a Cow acknowledges that “poverty robs people of the power to choose their own path”, but their work with rural communities across Africa teaches, encourages and shows people how to get the best out of their soil and livestock, so that they can feed their families all year round. Socially, African husbands are also encouraged to see their wives as equals, appreciating that by positively working together they will be more successful at sustaining themselves and their children. Having grown enough food to feed themselves, families are able to sell the rest which improves their quality of life and allows them to send their children to school. This provides real hope and security for the future. Also Send A Cow’s ‘pass-it-on’ principle means that with every successful harvest, skills, knowledge and produce are shared with others within the community making it even more successful.

I would therefore like to encourage you this harvest to take stock of and count your blessings, and join us if you can for our special harvest service on 4th October at Necton, as we celebrate God’s goodness to each and every one of us and as we support this special appeal.

We’d also like to encourage people to bring to church ‘imperishables’ which can be brought up to the front during the service. These will subsequently be donated to the Swaffham Food Bank helping those people literally ‘on our doorstep’ who are finding it hard to make ends meet.

We very much hope you will come and we look forward to seeing you.

Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. James 3.18    Image 3

IN PRAISE OF CHURCH BELLS

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This month, I am very much looking forward to our “Summer Concert & Abseiling from the Church Tower” weekend (Fri 3rd & Saturday 4th July) as we try to raise some money towards the restoration of our church bells. I know perfectly well that in the grand scheme of things there are many other things that are much more important and significant to people’s immediate welfare than church bells and I wouldn’t for one moment want to pretend otherwise – but equally, we in Britain have a great and grand tradition of ‘English’ church bell ringing (which is completely different to that done across Europe), not just for church services but at times of national significance and joyful celebration. Recently bells have been rung to celebrate various Royal occasions, the Olympics, and commemorate various anniversaries pertaining to both the first and second world wars. Not only are they our bells rung for Sunday services but they are also rung to celebrate weddings and other joyful events of people from our community. The bells therefore add another colour and facet to our daily life bringing us all together – and it would be such a shame if they were to fall silent just because we couldn’t afford to maintain them. So if you are one of those ‘brave souls’ who is prepared to jump off the tower and raise some funds for us on Saturday – thank you very much indeed! Or can I encourage you to sponsor those who are? I would also like to invite you to come to our ‘Summer Concert’ on Friday evening (7.30pm). It would be lovely to see you and your attendance really would be very much appreciated.

I’m sure that most of you will appreciate that for me as a clergyman, and as Rector of All Saints Necton, the bells are immensely symbolic, for they remind us that despite our busy and increasingly secular lives, there is still a place for God, both at the heart of our community and at significant times in our lives. God is there. He is always there, as represented by his church – not just in the bricks and mortar of our buildings, but in the hearts and minds of those who put their faith and trust in him. The bells are a call to worship, but they are also rung in celebration of his presence amongst us, even at the most difficult times in our lives. We may not always feel his presence, but fortunately faith is not based upon feeling, but upon our simple knowledge and understanding of him. The bells go on to remind us that God’s love for us both as individuals and as a community is not fickle, ‘here one moment and gone the next’, but like them, is constant, steadfast and enduring – and that has to be not only a comfort to many, but a cause for celebration.

Yours as ever,

Stephen Thorp

‘and surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ Matthew 28.20

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