Keeping it simple this Christmas

We’ve slipped an owl into our Christmas tree. Not a real one of course. That would be too much work… and cruel. But it looks cute, peeping out between the fairy lights and the baubles. Owls don’t have anything to do with Christmas, needless to say. But thinking about it, neither do robins, doves nor pigeons. And to be strictly honest we must acknowledge that camels and donkeys don’t appear in the Bible accounts either. In fact the list goes on. You will find no mention of fir trees, holly, ivy, mistletoe, turkeys, snowmen, crackers, cards or tinsel. Most of that was invented in fairly recent times. Indeed, if you go back to medieval days you’ll discover that Christmas was a short festival with special food, plenty to drink, catchy music and a special church service or two. “Ah, if it could only be that simple again!” I hear you say. I sympathise. It’s all pretty overwhelming and could be much easier. It is, after all, supposed to be a celebration centred on Jesus himself.
The Bible seems to agree. Even in the New Testament the accounts of the circumstances surrounding his amazing and rather strange birth don’t occupy much space. The four writers who tell us the story of Jesus’ life in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John spend little time on the birth of Christ. They seem keen to get down to business with their story-telling and focus on Jesus’ adult life, his miracles and teaching, as well as explaining how he came to save us by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. In fact Mark and John’s gospels leave out the story of Jesus’ birth entirely, beginning their accounts when Jesus was around 30 years of age. You might be surprised to know that the early Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas at all. Easter was the big annual event for them.
That’s why many Christians try to keep things simple at this time of year. We organise church services where we recall the events of the first Christmas in song and stories. We make sure that at some point around December 25th we walk into church with expectation and gratitude to give thanks to God for the gift of his son, Jesus. The churches of Leeswood, including Bethania will have open doors several times over the coming weeks for you to come and join us. You will be very welcome.
Peter Cousins, December 2018


Of First Importance

The Apostle Paul writes:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…  (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

Some years ago, Mary and I were able to enjoy a holiday in Israel. That holiday reminded me that the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are rooted in space and time. We saw the garden of Gethsemane where he suffered in anticipation of his great sacrifice for us. We walked the

Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering that led to Calvary. We saw where the mount of crucifixion might have been and the place of the garden tomb.

Personally, I felt closest to Christ, not in the great city of Jerusalem, but in Galilee where he grew up, where he taught in the synagogues and on the hillsides, and where he appeared to his disciples following the resurrection. My most profound sense of the presence of God was in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. That great place of worship marks the occasion when the angel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to a son, Jesus (Luke 1:26-38)

In a Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown and Linus are standing next to each other, staring at a star-filled sky. “Would you like to see a falling star?” Charlie Brown asks Linus. “Sure…” Linus responds. “Then again, I don’t know,” he adds, after some thought. “I’d hate to have it fall just on my account.”

In the book Parables of Peanuts, Robert L. Short reminds us a star did fall on our account. God came down to us as Jesus: like a lamb led to slaughter, He died on our account. He died so that we might know God’s love and forgiveness, and he rose again to conquer death forever. I am more amazed than ever at the grace of Jesus, who gave himself for us on the cross.  And I am more convinced than ever of the truth of his resurrection and its life-changing power.

 

Love in Christ,

 

Rev. James



God is Love

Sign
 
For many years Bethania had the words ‘God is love’ in English and in Welsh painted above the archway at the front of the church. When the church was decorated just over a year ago, it was necessary to paint over those words. But they were missed. ‘Doesn’t God love Bethania any more?’, someone asked.
 
So recently, using transfer wall art, the words ‘God is Love’ and ‘Duw Cariad Yw’ were reinstated on the front wall of Bethania. They remind us of the heart of our faith. Love is not a chance by-product of random matter and energy. Love comes before all things because it is in the very nature of the Creator of the universe. Love did not come into existence when the first beings capable of feeling and acting evolved. Those beings – whether on this planet or elsewhere – simply discovered something that had always been there. Love is truly Eternal.
 
But what is love? In Christian thinking love is much more than a feeling of attraction. Love means wanting what is good and beneficial for another person. To say that God loves us is to say that God cares about us and wants what is best for us. Another Bible verse that is very precious to the people at Bethania is Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
 
Believing that God is love gives us a solid basis for our lives. Firstly, we can live with confidence and self-respect because we know that we are loved. Secondly, God’s unconditional love provides us with a steady moral compass in our relationships and actions. And thirdly, we know that we can experience the love of God, together with the joy and peace that accompanies it, through our prayer and worship.
 
‘God is love. Duw Cariad Yw’. May those words not only be written on our walls but in our hearts. 
 
Revd James