There is no doubt that this past year has been a very difficult time for us all, and for those who have sadly lost loved ones it will be a year which they will never forget. Although no one would pretend that the government has got everything right when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s roll out of the vaccination program with nearly 25 million people receiving their 1st dose of the vaccine as I write this letter, has been well received and applauded. This wonderful progress gives us all a sense of hope, that there is indeed ‘light at the end of tunnel’ and that hopefully one day soon our lives will be more like normal. Which is why the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine in at least 13 countries across Europe seems strange. Fears that the vaccine may cause blood clots has prompted the EU to follow ‘the cautious principle’ and restricts its distribution until they are confident that it is safe to do so, despite the fact that both the World Health Organisation and indeed Europe’s own European Medicines Agency has consistently said that there is no evidence that the AstraZenica vaccine is unsafe, and with only 40 suspected cases of blood clotting being reported out of a distribution pool of 17 million, the rate is less than that you might expect to find in the population generally. With many scientists feeling baffled as this development, the general conclusion is that this move is more politically motivated than data driven.
But of course, any delay in vaccine distribution has the potential to sadly cause more suffering and death.
However, this sense of jumping to a conclusion without due consideration of the evidence is precisely how many people behave when it comes to thinking about Easter. They like the trappings of being with family and friends (in normal times) as we move into Spring and the Easter holidays, complete with chocolate treats and Easter eggs, but they don’t give any more serious thought to the significance of Easter than they do the ‘Easter bunny’! But this is a shame, because, if they were to really consider the Easter story, and contemplate the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, They would discover that not only is there a compelling case for Jesus to be the Son of God and the Saviour of the World, where the ‘facts’ speak for themselves, but the debate is much more significant, lively and robust that they would imagine. In fact, it’s life changing and life-giving!For you see, at the heart of the Christian gospel is the ‘Easter story’ which brings light into the darkness, life over death, and hope where there is despair. For many it would seem ludicrous to pass over the hope of a life-giving vaccine simply because one had been failed to give due weight to the evidence or come to it with some form of unfounded prejudice. It’s my hope that you won’t treat the Gospel story with the same distain, but allow a new day to dawn in your heart as you consider the evidence, ask all the right questions and come to it fresh and with an open mind.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Easter.
Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. John 20.8
Meghan and Harry’s decision to step back from royal duties and spend more of their time in Canada ‘away from media intrusion’ has sparked another mad frenzy in the newspapers and media outlets, dividing public opinion and knocking other major stories into the shadows (the reconvening of the Irish assembly at Stormont after three years was almost completely over-looked!). Inevitably public opinion is divided. Some take a sympathetic view accepting that the progressive young royals have a right to live their lives as they choose, believing that the biased tabloid newspapers forced them into making this decision having treated them, and Meghan in particular, abysmally. Others see this as nothing other than a snub to the Nation, the Crown and the Queen, depicting Meghan and Harry as selfish individuals who want all the fame, fortune and advantages of their royal status with none of the duties or responsibilities, and blame Meghan as the catalyst for it – the Duchess of Sussex described as becoming ‘the Duchess of Anywhere’ by one leading political commentator. The truth of the situation is probably none of this. It’s very hard for those of us who are on the outside to truly understand the pressures that face this particular couple and royal family on the inside. Despite her personal preferences, The Queen’s loving and gracious acceptance of the situation wanting to support her ‘grandchildren’ as best she can I think is a good example and lesson to us all.
However, the Christian will be well aware of another royal personage who not only held his royal status lightly but was prepared to set aside his majesty in order to serve the world. We love The Queen because we recognise that she has dedicated her whole life to duty and service on behalf of the nation which is much applauded, but Jesus speaks of himself not only as being in service – but as a servant, one who ‘made himself nothing’(Philippians 2.7) in order to reach out, rescue and in love serve the world. Jesus frequently turned the values of the world upside down and once, when his disciples were arguing between themselves as to who was the greatest, he taught them that if they wanted to be truly great, they had to be prepared to come last and be the servant of all (Matthew 9.35), an act he modelled himself not only by washing his disciples feet but later by dying upon the cross – the ultimate act of self-giving, humility and sacrifice.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex using their privilege and status to highlight and generate good will for various charities, good causes and those less fortunate than themselves, and we wish them well in their family life, but we also pray and trust that given their royal status and privilege they will use their position wisely and hold their prestige with some humility.
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Luke 22.24-26
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.
“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