Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Seekers After Truth.

The New Year is traditionally a time when we remember the Magi who journeyed from the East to pay tribute to the newly born Jesus.  They were late arrivals in Bethlehem having travelled a great distance, probably from Babylonia.  It is something of a mystery as to what exactly set them on their way.  We are told that they saw a star when it rose in the East and they connected this with the birth of ‘the king of the Jews’.  Something about this star spoke to expectations they had that one day a significant figure would be born in the land of the Jews. 

It is doubtful if they would have made the journey to pay tribute to a foreign king unless they were convinced that this particular king would give them some insight into the great mysteries of life.  Magi were scholars who studied science, philosophy and religion.  Sometimes this led them into areas that today we would call the ‘occult’ but at their best these men were honest seekers after truth.  It is possible that copies or fragments of the Hebrew Scriptures had come to their hands and they were familiar with the expectation that one day a special person would emerge from the nation of Israel who would offer hope not just for this life but also the life to come.  Then they saw the star and it touched something profound within them.  Joseph Ratzinger wrote this:

‘All kinds of factors could have combined to generate the idea that the language of the star contained a message of hope.  But none of this would have prompted people to set off on a journey, unless they were people of unrest, people of hope, people on the lookout for the true star of salvation.’ 

A colleague recently said to me that he is convinced that there are many people in our country who are interested in Jesus but who just do not see the point of the Church.  This is not new.  There will always be ‘people of unrest, people of hope, people on the lookout for the true star of salvation.‘   That is the way we are made.  Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.  And the Church has a point for it is within the community of faith that the story of Jesus is told, that His significance is drawn out, that the hope He brings for this life and the next is emphasized, that His love is demonstrated for those who need Him most. 

Another year is just around the corner.  Let us never lose this vision of Whose we are and Whom we serve.  Not just for our own sake but for the honest seekers after truth who God is seeking to gather into His purpose.  

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Great Project.

Address at Douglas Academy Christmas Service: 22/12/15.

The new Star Wars movie is called ‘The Force Awakens’.  I haven’t seen it yet but there was an Imax screening last Wednesday at the Science Centre  and my son was there.  He bought his ticket sometime in October about five minutes after they went on sale.   And for all that time he lived with all the hype, the promise that this was going to be the greatest cinematic experience of his life. The verdict was it was pretty close.  Everything that was promised was delivered.

It’s great when things work out like that.  There are few things worse than living with a promise not delivered, especially when it touches the more serious side of life.  For instance there is a Christian minister who was recently in prison in Iran.  His name is Farshid Fathi.  He hasn’t done anything that we would regard as criminal.  It’s just that certain Christian activities are unlawful in Iran and regarded as a threat to the state.  He was arrested on Boxing Day 2010 and sentenced to 6 years.  There was good news, however, in July of this year when he was promised early release and was given a date, 10 December this year.  But that day came and went and he was still in prison.    It must be so hard living with a promise of freedom that has not been delivered.  Thankfully I just heard last night that he has been released, hopefully free to join his wife and family in Canada.  

Christmas is about the most important promise ever made and how that was delivered.  God promised the ancient people of Israel that a special person would be born in their midst who would be the most important person ever.  He would not only make an impact on Israel but on the whole world.  His coming would be like a light shining in the darkness.  

When he came, though, he wasn’t quite what was expected.  He was born in an ordinary family and worked as a village carpenter.  Things changed when he became a traveling preacher.  He spoke about God and how people could get close to Him.  He spoke about hope for this life if people could learn to put others first.  He spoke about the renewal that God was seeking to bring to the whole earth.  

It wasn’t the most spectacular life on the face of it but after he had been nailed to a cross and rose from the dead it was as if a force awakened that changed the whole face of human history.  He had promised that the Spirit of God would come and live in all his followers.  He had promised that a day would come when his love and justice and peace would triumph over the darkness in human experience.  

I call this God’s Great Project.  It is sometimes hard to believe that it is going forward when you see the cruelty and injustice that bites into people’s experience.  The world can be a dark place.  But one of Jesus’ followers once wrote: ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it.’  I believe we can go forward with that great hope in our hearts.