And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’”
M. Louise Haskins
Dear brothers and sisters,
At this time last year, COVID-19 was something few of us had heard about and was a very long way away. We simply didn’t have any idea of what we were going to face during 2020. But an unknown threat became a familiar part of daily life as the tiny virus swept across the world. Our lives were turned inside out and upside down in some way or another.
Now, many of us have spent Christmas separated from loved ones, perhaps for the first time ever. Others have worked throughout in essential services and are weary. Some of us have lost employment and, sadly, some of us are bereaved. Many of us enter a new year with anxiety, loneliness or frustration. I have the sense that most of us are ‘walking wounded’.
As we begin this New Year, the church celebrates the Feast of Epiphany and the journey of the Wise Men to the Christ child. Until now, the Nativity scene has been Mary and Joseph and the baby with the shepherds, representing the local people who recognised God’s great gift. The Nativity scene has animals, angels and the star representing the response of the whole of creation. Now, with Epiphany and the coming of the Wise Men we see each continent, and therefore the whole of humanity, represented at the stable.
This year, the gifts that the Wise Men bring have a particular meaning for me.
Gold represents all that is precious in life. Perhaps this is a time to reassess what is most important to us. Faith teaches that true glory is found in patterning our lives after the example of Jesus in loving service, and seeking God in one another and our everyday lives. Love is what is precious.
Frankincense represents prayer, the longings of our hearts, both those that we can articulate and those that remain unspoken. God knows the secrets of our hearts and our hopes and fears. This is the time to pray, because when we pray, we begin to cooperate with God who transforms lives and communities. Faith transforms daily life.
Myrrh represents ointment for healing. Out of so much suffering and loss in the past year, humanity has been connected in its common vulnerability and common cause. We have glimpsed a different future where we work together for the good of all, the healing of the nations and the planet. Hope transforms the world.
We don’t know what the future holds but we have faith, hope and love. The advice of the man who stood at the gate of the year is this:
‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’
I do hope that, whatever your circumstances, you will know the comfort and energy of God’s daily presence. I hope that this New Year will bring love, healing and a new sense of faith and hope for us all. I close with an audaciously hopeful prayer, written for New Year 2000 from Churches Together in England:
Blessed Lord Jesus, let there be: respect for the earth, peace for its people, love in our lives, delight in the good, forgiveness for past wrongs, and from now on a new start. Amen.
A message from the Rector, originally written for the Sandleheath Newsletter.
A rather belated Happy New Year to all.
I’m writing after Christmas, but still in the Season of Epiphany – a season which begins with the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem, but soon leaves the infant Jesus behind, and moves on to the bigger picture. The Sunday after Epiphany is the Feast of the Baptism of Christ – within a week we have moved from the birth of Jesus to him adult ministry.
Other Advent themes include the Wedding at Cana, where John tells us that Jesus performed him ‘first sign’ by changing water into wine – a very substantial quantity of it – gallons and gallons! What does that say about God’s generosity?
Then we reflect on the calling of the first Disciples, and on how God might be calling us in this difficult time. Perhaps to care for family, neighbours, friends; perhaps by phoning, or shopping, or dog-walking, or other practical things; perhaps simply to pray more, to spend more time consciously in God’s presence; or, perhaps to be involved in some sort of ministry, either within the Church or in the secular world? I am surprised and delighted by how many people have reflected on their lives during this time of enforced isolation and separation, and feel called as lay ministers, or worship leaders, or ordained ministers.
Looking back to Christmas, in spite of all the difficulties and oddities, it was a good time of celebration in many ways. The highlights were, I think, the Open Air Carols in all four AVC Parishes, which were all great occasions – they were the only things which had a degree of normality about them.
Now, we look as if we are moving into a time of great Lockdown, as this new strain of the virus takes hold, just as the vaccination programme is beginning, with all the hope that that was bringing.
Moving from tier 3 to 4 doesn’t affect the regulations for worship, but it does change the perceptions of the risks for us all.
As I’ve continually said, no one should be feeling obliged to do anything they feel uncomfortable with. On the other hand, I’m aware that there are those for whom coming to Services in Church is very important for them.
Having spoken with the AVC STaff Team, and seen e-mails from Wardens of the AVC Churches and others, we have decided that across the AVC we should have some Services in Church, but mainly be on-line.
There is a great deal of worship offered on-line, and people have much to choose from.
If you’d like to join the AVC, we are on-line every day at 10.00 on Facebook, often live on YouTube as well – or Services are posted there afterwards. You can access Facebook directly, or via our website. The address for all of these is AvonValleyChurches.
We also have a phone line, 01425 543305, on which people can hear live Services and catch up – it’s probably easiest to put your phone on to ‘speaker’, and the call charges are the same as for any local call.
For those who wish to meet in Church, we’ll have one or two Services in Church each Sunday, as we did during the late summer – please see Partners for details – you can find that here on the AvonValleyChurches website, and have it by e-mail each week.
It looks as if this latest Lockdown (pretty much!) is likely to last a few weeks or more, so we’ve decided to do Lent on-line this year. From the 17th February, Ash Wednesday, we’ll be running a Lent Course based on the wonder film, the Greatest Showman. It’s called ‘From Now On: A Lent Course on Hope and Redemption’. Anyone on-line can join in, and we’ll find ways of offering to those not on-line as well. Full details to follow.
We have some difficult weeks ahead of us, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, with the new vaccine being rolled out, and so we just have to wait in hope.
As Peter Sills wrote in the Church Times recently:
VÁCLAV HAVEL, the Czech poet and first president of post-Soviet Czechoslovakia, said: ‘Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out’. This is the quality of Christian hope. Our hope is not a refusal to face the facts of the world, dreaming of an ideal society, but a belief — in the face of those facts — that a better world is possible and worth striving for.
Do make an effort to find ways of enjoying this season of Epiphany, and then getting ready for Lent. And do search the Scriptures, and keep an eye open in your daily lives, for signs of hope – like the seeds and bulbs under the ground, already getting ready to burst open in the spring, so the signs of the Kingdom of God are all around us, if only we have eyes to see.