We seem to be moving swiftly through Advent. Soon it will be Christmas and, before we know it, the New Year. What will 2019 bring?
A few weeks ago in our services we were reading some of Jesus’ words from Mark 13: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines.’
These words are just part of a very troubling passage, which begins with a prediction of the destruction of the temple and goes on to speak about persecution, fleeing, and the heavenly bodies being shaken. Some of the language really has to be symbolic: ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky…’, and sometimes people think this is about the end of the world. But it all fits with the Romans’ sacking of Jerusalem in AD 70 – and Luke in his version makes it clearer by mentioning Jerusalem.
It isn’t the end of the world, but it was the ‘end of the world’ as the Jewish people of that generation knew it – and that means that it says something to every generation. There have been things like this throughout history, and from time to time it’s so bad that people ask, ‘Is this it? Can the world really go on any longer?’
There’s great upheaval in the world today, and we’re living in very uncertain and troubling times. We might think of the countless refugees who have fled their homes and livelihoods, Christians being persecuted, the challenges of climate change and pollution, Donald Trump and his policies, Brexit…
But Jesus says, ‘Do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.’
Jesus was born over 2000 years ago as a vulnerable baby in Bethlehem. He came into a world of chaos, uncertainty and oppression. All his earthly life was lived under the shadow of a Roman occupation with its restrictions and cruelty, and he was executed on a Roman cross. But he came to change things for the better. And by coming into this world and immersing himself in it, he was able to do that. He taught people God’s way of doing things; he showed us what it looks like when God does something; he died and rose again to make God’s way possible. And that means that however bad things are in the world today, and however much we feel like giving up, there is always hope.
We can also be part of bringing that hope to people today. Lots of wonderful things are being done by Christians and others in the world today that bring hope and transformation. One organization doing that is Open Doors, our Christmas Charity, which you can read about on another News page here. Another is Christian Aid, which is so well supported in Bishopstoke, especially during Christian Aid Week.
A few days ago some of us in church took part in the Christian Aid Christmas campaign which involved signing a large Christmas card to the Foreign Secretary, asking him to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia in order to bring peace to Yemen. You may wonder what difference this can possibly make. But if the Foreign Secretary is inclined to do this, he will be helped by having the support of many people behind him.
But it doesn’t have to be a giant Christmas card. It can be countless tiny things we do each day for our neighbours, friends and others that make the world a better place and give hope.
What does 2019 hold? It holds whatever we want to make of it. And we will be helped by trusting in Jesus, the light and hope for the world. He is the one who is totally stable, who never changes, and is always there for us.
At midnight on New Year’s Eve our bell ringers will as always ring in another year. Can we, in the words of Tennyson, ‘Ring in the Christ that is to be’? (See below)
With every blessing for Christmas and the New Year
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892)