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


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


Let’s Celebrate The Prince Of Peace This Christmas

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In the light of recent atrocities carried out around the world and especially those in November carried out in Paris in the name of the so called ‘Islamic State’, it’s easy to see why some people take the view that it’s religion which is the cause of all evil, suffering and division. It’s especially easy to adopt this perspective if you have no religious faith of your own and yet wish to find some sort of convenient explanation as to why there should be so much sadness, suffering, anger and hate in the world, whilst at the same time distancing oneself from it. Unfortunately this view is rather too simplistic and doesn’t actually tell the whole story. For instance, it doesn’t adequately explain why so many of the victims of ‘Islamic State’ have actually been Muslim, or why some of the recent Islamic extremists weren’t particularly religious until they became radicalised. Neither does it recognise the vast amount of good that is done by people of faith and particularly by Christians up and down the land. The truth is that although none of us are perfect, there are some truly horrible people in the world, who at the slightest insult will do all that they can to ‘get even’, or take advantage, using whatever means, power or influence they have to gain control and satisfy their own wicked ends, regardless of the cost to others or the number of people they hurt. When sufficient individuals gather together in such a way, they have the means to become an expression of pure evil.

However, CHRISTMAS IS A REMINDER THAT THE WORLD DOES NOT HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS! At Christmas, the Christian celebrates the wonderful truth that ‘Almighty God’, the Creator of the universe, steps into his creation. He literally stepped into this forlorn and broken world in the person of Jesus, arriving not as a conquering king, tyrant or dictator, but as a tiny, fragile, vulnerable little baby; not as a superman immune to our trials and tribulations, but as a human being, walking, talking and experiencing the joys and pains of life just like each and every one of us. His ambition therefore was not to control the world or coerce its inhabitants in any way, but to transform it, starting with its people – by giving each and every man, woman and child the possibility of a new start and a new life ‘in Christ’. This is done by a simple act of repentance, a true and genuine act of contrition for every bad thing that we have ever said or done which spoils our lives and those of the people around us. It is not simply a case of saying sorry (as important as that is) or trying to be good (for who can be good enough?). It is done by putting one’s faith in the person of Jesus, acknowledging him to be our Lord and Saviour who dies for us upon the cross wiping out our sin, and indeed the sin of the world, and offering us forgiveness in its place. This is an act of pure and unadulterated love on the part of God, who ‘loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3.16). This is not simply an act of atonement but of peace, for how can we hate ourselves or the people around us if we know that God has expressed his love for us in the person of Jesus and dies for them, offering the same promise of hope, joy and peace to us all? This is truly GOOD NEWS and can make a world of difference to the world in which we live. No wonder Jesus is called the ‘Prince of Peace’!


For unto us a child is born…. Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. Isaiah 9.6