Happy New Year to you all and welcome to the latest issue of our church newsletter. I hope you are all keeping well and had a nice Christmas. Our newsletter will continue to be sent out regularly to help continue to maintain contact and a sense of community while life continues to be restricted.
You can find previous issues of the newsletter here. We would love to hear from you and are always looking for uplifting and encouraging content to share in future issues of this newsletter. If you have any ideas or content that we can share, please do email them to Louise (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We start with our opening prayer:
Lord God, giver of light and life,
by your word you bring everything into being –
the far-flung galaxies and the tiniest atomic particle.
You have given us a world to enjoy and to care for.
Give us compassion in the use of its resources,
wisdom in our stewardship of your gifts,
and reverence for all that you have made –
for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
(Taken from Roots)
Reflection from 27 December: End of the year
Reading: Luke 2:22-40
Cycling through Black Park a few days ago. Trees were bare, a sweet aroma of decay rising from the dead and decaying leaves covering the ground. A sense of desolation and an ending.
At the close of this year, it’s natural to reflect on the year that has passed. Whilst many of us will have some happy memories, I expect for most 2020 is a year we’d be glad to see the end of. A year we many have lost loved ones, where all of us have seen many of our plans or expectations dashed. I read that mental health issues are worsening in our youth, perhaps associated with that sense of a wasted year, a year not moving on, not getting that job, not moving up the career ladder. But I also know for many elderly, a deep sense of loss with one of their remaining active years of live stolen from them. For all, this year has been stressful and exhausting, living through change, living through fear – it’s been a marathon and we know it’s not over yet. But we should recognise it will take time to heal from the hurts of this year.
Simeon and Anna were at the close of their lives. I want us to think of those in their latter years, holding on faithfully to the promised. Perhaps that’s you. Let us respect the older faithful servants amongst us – and the spiritual gifts and wisdom that they bring the church. So as you read and think about Simeon and Anna, perhaps picture two older faithful servants, maybe looking rather worn as you’d expect for their years, perhaps still wearing unfashionable clothes from a decade or two ago, perhaps talking in out of dates ways – not keeping up with what’s considered politically correct this year – these are the heroes of the story, the ones proclaiming God’s work, speaking out God’s ways, speaking out about the promised one coming – the one for whom they’d been waiting for many years.
Waiting – there’s a word. We don’t seem very good at waiting any more. I work a company that excels in meeting customer demands as quickly as possible – next day delivery as a routine, even same day delivery. Or in the part of the business I work – if you need computer infrastructure, you can have it instantly – we even use the metaphor “on tap” – if you want more storage for your data, you can have it as instantly as water comes out of a tap.
Simeon had been holding onto a hope that he’d see salvation coming. A hope he held in his heart over many years, perhaps at time a hope that had grown dim. Of course we too are people who wait – as we’re waiting for Christ’s return – have we let that hope grow dim?
Finally, in the closing years of his life, he is moved by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple courts.
Maybe we don’t know how God’s promises will come true. We read that it had been revealed to Simeon that he’d see the Lord’s Messiah before he dies. Did Simeon expect to see the Messiah as a baby – I doubt it. We need to be wary of imprisoning God and his promises into our boxes and plans of our own design.
Imagine the scene, this elderly man approaches Mary and Joseph then, presumably with their agreement, takes their baby in his arms and prays over Him. A wonderful prayer declaring that this child is a light for the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel. Recognising and proclaiming that Jesus is the one bringing salvation. Notice here was Simeon sees, … obviously he sees a physical human baby, but more than that he sees by faith that this is the one promised by God, the Messiah, but even more than that as he say’s “My eyes of have seen your salvation” he is looking forward and anticipating. At this point Jesus hasn’t died and risen, has taught parables and performed miracles, hasn’t gathered his disciples, in fact hasn’t even uttered a word. Nonetheless, Simeon see’s God’s salvation, His complete redemption, manifest in this moment, in this baby.
There’s a lovely almost melancholic twist in the first verse – “as you’ve promised you can dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation” or more simply “I can die now, the promise is fulfilled”. In some church traditions this has become the ‘Nunc dimittis’, a traditional gospel canticle used as part of Compline or Night Prayer at the closing of the day. With a sense of “I’ve seen your work in this day, now let me sleep in peace”. Could we have a similar reflection on 2020, for many of us have seen God move through his people in many ways, now let us depart 2020 in peace.
Now in Christmastide, let us catch a glance forward to the next climax of our Ecclesiastical calendar – Easter.
He gives a bitter sweet message to the young parents – that their offspring will cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, that he will be spoken against and that a sword will pierce your own soul too. Imagine the young parents, came to the temple to fulfil their duties to present their newborn, in accordance with the laws of Moses, and they’re landed with this proclamation that not only their offspring will do momentous things, which given the last 9 months would seem expected, but also a foreboding sense of the soul piercing pain that will come. We read into this Jesus’ arrest, trial, flogging and crucifixion but I wonder what Mary and Joseph made of this foreboding prophecy.
Let’s think about Anna, we’re told she’s 84 years old, had been a widow for decades and lived within the temple, dedicating herself to prayer and worship. In Anna’s culture, if a woman was widowed then she had a problem. Usually women didn’t work, or old worked in the lowliest of jobs. Typically, if a woman was widowed early in life, she remarried. But Anna didn’t she was faithful to her husband even in death, and would have been seen as pious and faithful, devout even, as she accepted a life of probably poverty and devoted herself to the temple.
Now Anna comes over. She immediately recognises the baby as the one who had been promised, the one who would bring redemption. After giving thanks for Jesus she sets about telling everyone who was looking forward to God’s work that he it was, this child was God’s chosen one.
Simeon and Anna, both recognised Jesus – and responded by worshipping and telling others. Like Simeon and Anna, we are living on the other side of Christmas, we Christ child has been born among us. But unlike Simeon and Anna, we’re also living on the other side of Easter – we know the next part of the story, his ministry on earth, His death and resurrection. Even from their standpoint, Simeon and Anna recognised Jesus for who He was.
Can we say the same about ourselves – that we recognise Jesus today. Do we see Him working through others in the body of the Christ, the church? Do we see and acknowledge his work in our lives? Are we moved to worship? If not, we should learn something from Simeon and Anna – from their devout and faithful waiting for God and their preparedness to move when they saw Him. We have full confidence that our redemption, our life in Christ, is complete – we’re just waiting for it to unfold. Amen
Reflection from 3 January: Epiphany
Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
The story of the magi visiting Jesus is one of those well-known readings that has become so familiar, we can be in danger of hearing it without really listening to the words, or glossing over certain parts of the story. I realised that I’d been doing this as I was gathering my Playmobil characters to illustrate this morning’s Bible reading. I had my stable scene set up with the three wise men and Herod ready but I soon realised I was missing several other characters – the chief priests and teachers of the law whom Herod gathered together to find out where the Messiah was to be born. And although I set my scene with three wise men, there is no mention in the Bible of how many magi came from the East to visit Jesus. Our tradition is to have three kings, each bearing one of the three gifts given to Jesus, but Herod is the only king named in this passage and the number of magi is not given.
Herod and the magi respond very differently to the news of the birth of the Messiah. Herod ‘and all Jerusalem’ (which presumably included the chief priests and the teachers of the law) were disturbed. Herod tells the magi that he wants to know where the newborn king is so he can go and worship him, but his true feelings are very different. Herod feels threatened by this newborn King; so threatened that he later issues an order for his soldiers to kill all the boys in Bethlehem aged two or under to try and wipe out this threat to his own power. Herod’s reaction is to lash out in fear and destruction with innocent families paying the ultimate price for his fear.
The magi, on the other hand, are overjoyed by the birth of the Messiah. On reaching the stable, they bow down and worship him, presenting him with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
If we consider our own reaction to Jesus, no doubt we would also place ourselves alongside the magi, bowing down in worship at the stable. And yet, whilst not to the extremes of Herod’s reaction, there are times when Jesus can probably disturb us too. I recently shared a tweet that commented that Christians can be in danger of placing Jesus in the manger and leaving him there. Baby Jesus ‘meek and mild’ seems only threatening to the likes of Herod, but a grown-up Jesus calling us to love our enemies, to forgive others, to follow him, to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to our banquet is a very different prospect. How do we bring our gifts to love and serve that Jesus?
One of the books that we read at home during Advent was ‘The Fourth King’ – a story about a poor king of a small kingdom who set off to follow the three kings of our tradition and bring his own gifts to the newborn King. This king is delayed on his journey though. Firstly he encounters a lost child in a sandstorm who he carries to safely. Next he encounters a camel train who are lost in the desert and stops to lead them to their hometown. He then stops to give a thirsty plant the last of his water before finding his path blocked by a huge wall. As he makes his way around the wall, he realises that the wall is being built by enslaved children. He offers up the last of his gifts to try and buy their freedom but it isn’t enough: instead he stays to help them build the wall and eventually helps them escape. Finally he encounters a family with a newborn baby fleeing the soldiers who threaten to kill the child and distracts the soldiers, allowing them to escape in safety. And at long last, he reaches the stable, only to find it empty. In despair, he falls to his knees and hears a voice telling him that he has not come too late. The voice tells him:
“When I was lost, you showed me the way.
When I was thirsty, you gave me water.
When I was captive, you freed me.
When I was in danger, you saved me.
You were always there when I needed you and I will be with you forever.”
We each have our own gifts to bring to those around us. Even in times like these, when our activities are restricted, there are ways in which we can use those gifts to help those around us. Even if it is just something as simple as a phone call to let someone know they are not alone. We might have to find different ways of using those gifts, or sharing what we have; different ways of being there for those around us, but we can still give them. What gifts do you have to bring Jesus today and how will you share them?
Our readings for this week
Mark 1:4-11 (NIV)
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
The baptism and testing of Jesus
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
Further readings from the lectionary this week are as follows:
- Genesis 1:1-5
- Psalm 29
- Acts 19:1-7
Our services are currently online-only and are live-streamed on our Facebook page at 11am on Sundays. If you wish to view our services online, you can find them at www.facebook.com/christchurchuxbridge. You do not have to be a Facebook user to watch them – our services are publicly viewable. You can also view a recent service here. This Sunday’s service will be led by Methodist local preacher Sue Lloyd.
We meet via Zoom immediately after the service for a virtual ‘coffee and chat’. The link for this will be shared in the comments on Facebook during the service.
If you are unable to join us in person or online for our Sunday services, but would like to receive a recording of them on a memory stick to watch at home, please let us know.
Church charity news
So far we have raised a total of £753.37 for HOPE not hate. Our virtual sales table is still open if you would like to buy any items and help support our church charity. If you have any ideas for future fundraising events, please let us know.
You can find more details about our church charity fundraising events and items on our virtual sales table here. Gifts and donations can be made online via Virgin Money Giving or by cash or cheque made payable to Christ Church and clearly marked for the church charity.
Praying for other churches
This week we hold the following churches in our prayers:
- Wealdstone Methodist Church
- Wembley Park URC
Loving God, be with us this day and always, flow in us and through us, cleanse, renew and reshape us. Reminding us always that no matter what, you remain with us. Amen.
(Taken from the Methodist Church worship at home service)