Thoughts at the end of the year: report on this morning’s service

Star of Bethlehem

There were lots of strands in this morning’s service.  After we had sung some very inspiring worship songs, Duncan asked John to read the Bible passage – Matthew 2:1-23, which includes the story of the Wise Men’s visit, the murder of boys under two in Bethlehem by king Herod who was attempting to ensure that the king who had been born there would not survive, the exile to Egypt of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, and there eventual return to Nazareth.

Following the star

Duncan asked us to reflect on this passage as it was read, and then to feed back the things which ‘stood out’ for us, using an on-line app on our mobiles: the results  (there were over 40) were displayed on the screen. This was a great way of sharing insights in a completely non-intimidating way.  There were comments about the place of dreams in the story (which made Duncan wonder what stories some of us had which involved ‘hearing from God’ in dreams); comments about the very precise instructions people in the story were given – by angels, or in dreams; about the concern of the author to link his story with Jewish tradition through references to the fulfilling of earlier prophecies; about the significance of the star. Many people’s hearts were touched by the description of murder of children: what would it have felt to have lost a child in this way? What, someone wondered, would it feel like to be the parent of a child who escaped death – perhaps a girl, or a three-year-old boy?

In the course of reading the passage John mentioned some of the things which spoke to him. He recalled that Matthew 2 has been read at this time of year ever since the celebrations of Jesus’ birth began. It’s been read in times of peace, and war; in times of darkness and times of light. We follow in the footsteps of generations who have found encouragement in these verses. We walk in a living tradition, and we follow a Jesus who is as relevant today as he was a thousand years ago.

John highlighted verse 3 ‘When King Herod heard this [about the birth of the king] he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.’  King Herod was disturbed because he saw the arrival of Jesus as a threat; perhaps the whole of the city was disturbed with the uncertainty of anticipated change.  Perhaps this morning, some of us were disturbed in spirit for whatever reason.    John recalled John 5:4, in the AV – Jesus meets a man waiting beside the pool of Bethesda longing to be healed:  ‘For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.’  John spoke about disturbance, troubling as being a locus of healing.  In the disturbance of our hearts we can find the healing and whole-making touch of God.

And John also highlighted verse 10: ‘When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.’  This stood out for him, he said. He spoke about the star as a symbol of God’s love, and mentioned the many symbols in which God love can be made visible to us. Communion, the natural environment, the loveliness and grace we glimpse in one another – all are symbols pointing to Jesus.  We are called to ‘see the star’ – and if we truly see what the symbols point to, we will be truly ‘overjoyed.’   And Jesus himself, John said, is the Morning Star, who guides us and gives us hope at the start of a New Year and always. Jesus, not just ‘out there’  but welling up in us as we sang , Jesus, ‘the wind inside my sails, The anchor in the waves.’, Jesus who assures us that in the words of another of the songs we sang ‘Our labour is not in vain,’ for ‘the houses we laboured to build
Will finally with laughter and joy be filled.’

Persecution

The next phase of the service involved our  remembering the tragedy of young boys in Bethlehem killed by King Herod in his desperate attempt to ensure that the king he heard had been born would not survive (see Matthew 2:13-18), Duncan asked us to reflect on people around the world who suffer because of their association with Jesus.

He showed us this video, giving a child-friendly version of the story of Open Doors, an organisation which supports Christians in countries where it is very difficult to be a Christian because of persecution. We learn about Brother Andrew who supported Christians in Eastern Europe at a time when many countries there were run by Communists who did not believe in God

And he referred us to another Open Doors video, highlighting  the five countries in which it’s most dangerous to be a Christian in 2018.

Good things worth searching for

In the final phase of the service, Duncan spoke about the theme of ‘searching’, with reference to Wise Men searching for the King who had been born.  He showed us a Google Twitter video with the slogan ‘Good things are worth searching for’: it highlights some of the Google searches in 2018 which used the word ‘good.’  Duncan encouraged us to be seekers after good things in the year ahead.

I liked the video.  On Christmas day, we watched the Call the Midwife Christmas Special, and I commented after it had finished how nice everyone was to one another in it. One of our daughters responded ‘Well, people are like that.’  I wondered whether I’m over-pessimistic about human nature, through focussing too much on bad news and watching too much TV drama, to say nothing about my Calvinist theological background!  The Google video Duncan showed us this morning reminds us that there are many, many good things in the world, and we are called in the year ahead to seek, and nurture, and rejoice in what is good.  What ‘good things’ should I be searching for in the year ahead?  What has held me back from seeking them up until now?  Is God calling me to have faith, to see how precious I am in God’s sight, to show me good things which God has in mind for me – even those strange gifts which come through times of darkness.

Hope-filled people

And finally, we reflected on the year ahead

We are hope-filled people, who are named by tomorrow

We are hope-filled people who find our God ahead of us and in what is yet to be.

 

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