Last week the Church began a new year, and the new calendar year is only a month away. I suspect that most of us will be quite glad to say goodbye to 2016, and I know we will all be praying for the new year to bring peace, security and justice to a world that desperately needs them. Whatever our political views, we can probably agree that we are leaving the old year with greater uncertainty and with more questions about the future than we could have imagined asking, a year ago, and it’s at times like these that we recognise afresh how much we need to put our trust in God. We may not be able to do much to influence the great events of the world or even our own country, but we know that our citizenship and identity are in heaven. That’s what enables us to see what happens in this world with a true perspective, and to judge, decide, speak and act in the light of God’s eternal love for his children.
Of course, those words, that injunction, apply at every level of our lives – internationally, nationally, locally, at home, and within our parish, where the news of Chuks’ departure has come as a shock to many people, and there is real sadness at the ending of a ministry we have valued so much. Chuks and Adanna have made the decision because they believe it is the right one for their family and we wish them every blessing in Great Linford, (just to the north of Milton Keynes) where Chuks will be Associate Minster with responsibility for St Andrew’s church, within the Stantonbury Ecumenical Partnership. As I write this we are beginning to plan a farewell and thanksgiving for 12 February, which will be his last Sunday and now that the uncertainty is over we can all focus on making his last few months a time of joy and fellowship.
Chuks, Adanna and the children are beginning a time of preparation for a new home and ministry, but for all of us this is a time of preparation for a new beginning, a new birth, as we move through Advent towards the wonder of Christ’s coming once again at Christmas. Looking forward to our celebration of that miraculous birth, at the end of such a turbulent year, I have been thinking once again of the enormous risks God took in his preparation for our salvation. Becoming human, giving up all the power that created and sustains the universe and taking instead the body of a baby boy, unable to do the smallest thing for himself and utterly dependent on others for food, warmth and love. In this, God laid himself completely open, made himself completely vulnerable to the best and the worst that humanity could do. How amazing, that God did this for us.
We have all experienced the kind of love and care Jesus knew, from his mother and father and later from his friends and followers. None of us have experienced the extremity of rejection and cruelty that surrounded his death, but many of us have been deeply hurt, emotionally by people we love and by casual, unthinking unkindness. It’s often when we have chosen to trust, when we have been open and made ourselves vulnerable, that the hurt is worst.
This is what God did – opened himself through Jesus. The lesson for us is simple but hard. We need to follow Jesus’ example by being open and trusting with each other. We need to look out for each other, watching our words and actions to make sure they won’t hurt, intentionally or casually. We need, in this season of wrapping things up, to unwrap ourselves, removing layers of prejudice and assumptions and allowing that clear, bright light of the infant Jesus into our hearts and lives.
The world needs more of this. Our parish needs more of this. And our families need it too. Love trumps risk… kindness and generosity and openness trump the selfishness that springs from overcarefulness and fear.
My prayer for all of us this Advent is that we may do some of this unwrapping of ourselves alongside the wrapping up and decorating of presents and homes, preparing to welcome Jesus by examining our hearts, our motives, our actions, and trying as best we can to obey his command to become more childlike and trusting in the way we treat one another.
And so I wish everyone in our parish a joyful and blessed Christmas and a New Year.