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Rob’s Message – December and January 2016/2017

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Dear Friends,

 

We are on the verge of bidding another calendar year good-bye and, for a brief moment so as not to hurry it on, I am resisting the urge to mention that time of the year when ‘all the world’ (well, nearly), in one way or another, will be celebrating. But why not! Some, because it is a good time for a family get-together and a celebration of the richness that can bring; others, because it will be a good excuse for a party; still others, because it heralds a break, however short, from the drudgery of work. For many children the expectation will be building – ‘will I get what I want?’ – and the fulfilment of that expectation will bring either happiness or disappointment. But some, very many, I hope, will be celebrating in this most special time that God, our Creator God, has come to us in his Son, and redeemed us – calling us back to him with love, mercy and forgiveness and offering us life in all its fullness. THIS IS CHRISTMAS! And I hope and pray, at this time of great confusion and uncertainty in our country and beyond, that this Christmas will herald a time of peace and goodwill, for such was the message of the angels.

 

We are reminded, too, at this time of Advent, that it doesn’t just stop at Christmas and the cosy scene we paint of the Manger in Bethlehem, as I feel that some would have us do, but that we live in Advent hope that Jesus will come again and that, in the words of the 14th Century mystic Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. By the time you read this we will have celebrated our Advent hope in a Combined Benefice service of readings and Advent carols on Advent Sunday. I am sure it will be an encouraging and uplifting service. God’s promise of salvation embraces the whole and not just a part of our being – the tinselly Christmas part, perhaps – and so we are encouraged to live out our faith every day with perseverance and with joy.

 

Bishop Mark’s area lecture this year was given by Dr Lindsey Hall, Diocesan Director of Vocations and Training, at All Saints, Wellington, a week or so ago. Her theme was “Sarah Laughed: The Joy and Challenge of God’s call”. In the Book Genesis (chapter 18) Sarah, Abraham’s wife of many years and childless, could not suppress a laugh when she overheard the three visitors (angels?) who had come to visit Abraham, assure him that he and Sarah would have a son by that time the following year. When challenged, she denied her laughter and so set up a train of thought of the importance of accepting who we are and what God wants us to be. Dr Hall told the story of Rabbi Zusya, an 18th C Orthodox Jew, in which Zusya replied to a question concerning a vision he had had.

He said, “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?’ and that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?’” Zusya sighed; “They will say to me, ‘Zusya, why weren’t you Zusya?’”.

I found that a striking and very helpful observation. It is not wrong to aspire, but it is more important to be who you are and to know that God can and will work in and through you, if you will let him, for the fulfilment of his kingdom. For nothing is impossible with God. Despite Sarah’s laugh of perhaps disbelief – ‘how could this woman bear a child in her old age?’ – she did indeed have a son and they named him Isaac, which means ‘he laughs’.Thus continued the growth of God’s kingdom here on earth; in this instance through Isaac, but also, today, through all who accept the joy and challenge of God’s call. What an amazing connective-ness and legacy.

 

Remembrance Sunday – it was the fifteenth occasion that I have been privileged to lead the service and what a privilege it has been. The last three occasions especially so because of the involvement of the children from our schools. This year wreaths from Clive and Hadnall schools, and the toddlers’ group in Clive, were presented. I feel this involvement has brought a new dimension to our thanksgiving for the men and women we remember, and a real sense of continuity. The wreaths that the children decorated with poppies they had made, and with the rolls of honour attached to the wreaths, were laid up at the altar during the service in a moving little ceremony. Thank you so much, children and helpers – you made real sense of our words, “We will remember them”.

 

And so to Christmas. Pat and I wish you all a blessed and happy celebration in the company of those whom you love and cherish. May the Christ Child bless you and keep you in the days ahead and may you know his peace.

Rob

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