Winter Hope

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio, 11th January 2020

If you’ve ever been to Anglesey Abbey and walked round the gardens, you’ll have seen that they have a lot of statues. In the winter they cover the statues up, I guess to protect them from bad weather. One of the statues they cover up is, ironically, one that represents winter. This statue shows winter as an old, tired-looking man, because winter is seen as the end of the year, a time when things die off and we wait for new life in the spring.

That’s not the whole story of winter, though. Even though it looks like nothing is happening the world is still turning and nature is still at work. Underground spring bulbs are preparing to break the surface. Hibernating animals are waiting to wake up. The ground is resting and restoring itself. Birds fly in from foreign lands to spend time with us. The days are starting to get longer.

And us humans have settled on the 1st January as the start of a new year, right in the middle of the winter. In fact, the word “January” comes from the Roman god “Janus”, who had two faces. One looked back to the past and one looked forward to the future. So, we too see that winter is not just the end of everything and a time when nothing happens and a everything is dead. Instead, we also recognise that new things can happen even when everything seems dead and unmoving.

I think this is an important thing to remember for all of us – that even if things don’t seem to ever change, even if everything feels dark and dead and cold, there may be hope just under the surface, waiting to surprise us.

May you be surprised by hope this year.

Babies, Royal and Other

Small model houses made out of paper in a heart shape surrounding families made out of paper

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat radio – broadcast 10th May 2019

So there’s a new royal baby, and I’d like to say welcome to Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. Regardless of what we might think of the Royal Family, or the idea of monarchy, and whether or not we have children of our own, the arrival of a new baby into the world is a source of joy and delight. This joy was very clear on Prince Harry’s face when he made his announcement to the media.

I think we’re joyful about the arrival of a new baby because we recognise him or her as a gift to us – a gift of new life, of new hope for the future. For Christians each child is a gift from God, someone that he loves and who has the potential to love others and be loved by them. Every child also has the potential to change the world for the better, to be a source of happiness and help as they grow up and go out into the world.

But children can’t become everything they could be without the support, help and guidance of adults. Parents and people who take on parent roles are the most important, of course, and do most of the very hard work of caring for, guiding and supporting their children.

But we all need to be involved. It’s a cliché to say that it takes a village to raise a child but sometimes clichés are true. Teachers, youth workers, leaders of clubs and children’s groups, friends, relatives and godparents also play important roles, and can help both children and their parents.

So, in a society that sometimes finds children a nuisance, too noisy, messy, demanding or just inconvenient, perhaps we can try to remember that children really are a gift to the whole human race, and that we all, as a society, have a part to play in helping the next generation grow into fully rounded, loving and loved human beings.

Why we need Advent

Preached at a service of Advent readings and hymns.

 

This morning I’d like to talk about why I think we need Advent.

By now it seems like everything is about Christmas Day.

The shops have been full of Christmas things for months, and the adverts for Christmas shopping are relentless – one DIY shop even got in on the act with an advert I heard on the radio for a special offer on white paint to freshen up your house for Christmas Day.

There have been Christmas parties, shows and concerts going on for at least a month.

And all the Christmas songs have been got out again – in fact I’ve been learning to play one on the clarinet and it’s constantly getting stuck in my head.

Now, I like Christmas, all the decorating and organising the turkey and writing cards, and I look forward to seeing what’s going to be on TV.

I’m a bit disappointed that there’s no Dr Who special this year, but you can’t have everything.

But there’s more to Advent than just getting everything done in time for Christmas.

Rather, Advent takes a stand against the rush to Christmas Day and calls out to us to remember the bigger picture.

And this bigger picture is all about hope in hopeless situations, seeing a light growing in the darkness, about things being put right, and about God and humanity being restored to their proper relationship.

This hope is seen all through the Bible.

It begins from the moment when humanity first fell into sin yet was not abandoned by God.

It’s seen in the covenants God made with those who believed in him, when he chose the people of Israel to be his light to the world, in his promises of salvation, and in the way God constantly forgives, rescues, heals and restores all those who turn to him.

We see in the Bible a story of God constantly calling, working and reaching out to bring rebellious, fallen people back to him, even when they turn away.

There are glimpses of this in this morning’s readings, in Psalm 130’s calling out to God for rescue and mercy, and its declaration of faith in God’s love, power and willingness to help.

We see it in the prophecies we’ve heard from Isaiah and Malachi about God coming with power, judgement and mercy to set this world right and heal all hurt and harm.

The idea of judgement is an underlying theme in Advent that can seem uncomfortable.

But I think we need to remember that the God who judges us is also the God who loves us.

And we need to remember that there can be no hope for poor, the oppressed or the victims of cruelty and injustice, without God’s perfect justice that understands everything, sees everything, and wipes away the tears of suffering, not out of a desire for revenge but to put everything right.

And, of course, we see God’s constant redeeming work most clearly in Jesus, whose birth we heard foretold in the reading from Luke.

This is what all those Old Testament stories and prophecies have been leading up to: the arrival of a baby in a manger.

And we can use Advent to remember this.

We can use Advent to remember that we celebrate that birth at Christmas as the longed-for fulfilment of humanity’s ancient hopes and wishes.

As the beginning of God being with us, walking with us, healing, teaching, showing us how to live.

And finally dying and rising again for us, all so that we can be with him forever

And if we don’t remember all that, then we lose the real wonder of Christmas.

For it’s in remembering the centuries of waiting for God, in looking once again at the story of salvation, by taking part in that waiting by walking again through the story of God’s dealings with humanity, that we’re reminded once again just how amazing that birth in a dirty stable in a village on the edge of the Roman Empire really was.

We see again hope where there was hopelessness, light in the darkness, reconciliation being offered between God and humanity.

But of course that birth is not the end of the story.

In Jesus’s life, birth, death and resurrection we have the beginning of the end, the stirring of God’s kingdom transforming the world, but we’re not there yet.

Advent also reminds us that we’re still waiting for the final end, the final full stop of salvation – when Jesus comes again to finally set things right forever, as we heard about in the reading from Revelation.

There are many dramatic and scary images about the end of the world, involving flames, wars, disasters and judgement.

But these things are not meant to scare us.

Rather they tell us that even when everything seems to be going wrong, when we face dark times in our own lives or are tempted to despair about the state of the world, there is still hope.

We may have to deal with all sorts of difficulties, dangers, turmoil and evil but they don’t get the last word.

For God is still in control, still working to change our world, still set on restoring and renewing everything, and still ultimately victorious over evil, sin and death.

It’s been a long time, at least by human standards, but Advent reminds us not to lose hope, not to give up on Jesus or to stop following in his footsteps, because he is coming and God hasn’t forgotten us.

So, I know it’s a busy time of year but I hope and pray that this Advent we might all find a few minutes each day to remember why it is that we’re rushing round shops and decorating the house and putting on Christmas services and events.

And I hope and pray that in those few minutes of peace and remembering we might all enter more deeply into the true wonder and hope of God’s salvation.