Magazine Leader - December 2013

From the Vicar

As I write this, we are witnessing the tragic pictures of the wreckage caused by the ‘worst storm ever recorded’ out in the Philippines. Thousands of lives have been lost and communities destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. Appeals have been launched and the international community is coming together to assist. The scale of the disaster is huge. Our hearts go out to those lives have been devastated by what has happened and to those, working on the ground, who seek to provide food, medical care and shelter. It is heartening that so much money is being donated by people in our own country. I hope that we will all generously support this appeal this Christmas.
I don’t know whether insurance companies will describe this as an ‘act of God’. That is an expression I find very hard to take. If there is no other explanation, or no one else to blame, then blame God! In practice, many people take the opposite point of view. In the face of such disasters as this, how can anyone believe in God? I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘God’. If you see him as some remote puppeteer, controlling our every moment, then you are stuck with the question of why he allows such events, or does not step in to prevent them. In fact I find such an image of God quite horrendous. Life is fragile. It is now believed that both the planets Venus and Mars were once inhabitable and might have harboured life. Venus developed global warming with a vengeance and not even spacecraft can now survive on its surface. It is clear that Mars once had flowing water and, maybe, life too. It is thought that the loss of its magnetic field meant that the solar wind has stripped off its atmosphere so that most of its water has evaporated into space. Our growing knowledge of these two planets helps us to get a sharper perspective on the life of our own planet. Earth will not always be a place where life can flourish. Some of the forces of nature, which have helped make life possible, can also be utterly destructive of life.
If God does not control the forces of nature, why believe in him at all? My answer has to be that it is a matter of faith. I have seen a depth, authenticity and integrity of living in others which has made me sit up and take notice. It has led me to search for, and find, a presence at the heart of life that is creative, life-giving and transforming. And Jesus is the key. I was fortunate enough to have been brought up within a Christian family, but there came a moment when I finally saw it for myself. In Jesus we come face to face with a love that will give everything for us. For myself, I found that that simply melted my heart. New life flowed from that encounter and my faith became a matter of living in a relationship with God in which I have found my true meaning and purpose as a child of God.
I wanted to write something personal about these matters, because Christmas, if it is to have meaning, must touch on what is personal. It is good to have a great feast and celebration in the depths of winter, but it can become something both hedonistic and empty, if we forget just what it is we are celebrating. True, there can be many good things about Christmas for those without faith, such as family gatherings and feelings of goodwill to one and all. I suspect that such good things, for some, go hand in hand with the pain of others, who face loneliness at Christmas, perhaps facing the festival on their own for the first time, or discovering that families can be just as destructive as creative. Yet if we have the faith to discover God, not as a remote despot, but as a deep ‘river within our souls’, and if we know what it is to have our lives transformed by that encounter, then Christmas becomes the celebration of the truth that ‘God is with us’. The word used in the bible for that phrase is EMMANUEL. Christmas is the festival when we celebrate that each of us is so precious to God that he is prepared to take on human flesh and to live with us in all the joys and sufferings of human living. New hope for our world was born in that stable in Bethlehem. Today, millions find that, whatever the sufferings of their lives might be, the experience of God brings hope in the midst of darkness and joy out of sorrow. May that joy be something we can all share as we celebrate another Christmas together.
Nigel LLoyd

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