He came down to earth from heaven

NASA has just launched its most ambitious ever mission to Mars. An Atlas V rocket took “Curiosity”, the one ton Mars Science Laboratory, on the first stage of its 8 month, 354 million mile journey to Mars, travelling at 3200 mph. This complex project, which has cost £1.6 billion, is intended to discover whether there has ever been life on the Red Planet. Curiosity, which is the most powerful, capable and complex planetary rover ever built, will spend 2 years travelling over a small part of the surface of Mars seeking evidence of life, past or present. The project is an amazing example of the skills of scientists.

The principle of life is wonderful and mysterious. It is supremely precious and fragile. It seems to require more than simply water and the right environment or to be a mere chance event. Rather it is something that has been given to us by an awesome Creator who is powerful and wise. He is not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being. We can speak to him where we are, and he hears us and cares. He is concerned for us all from the smallest child to the frailest elderly person. He cares for people of all races and languages. His promise is, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

We will soon be remembering the birth of Jesus Christ. In the words of the carol, “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all, and his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall: with the poor and mean, and lowly, lived on earth our Saviour holy.” Jesus was more than a good man or a wonderful religious teacher. He was the Son of God, who took human nature and lived for a time among us. He came to show us what God is like and to reconcile us to God.

God created us with amazing abilities, as the Curiosity project demonstrates. We share in a little of his amazing creative skill. The meaning, significance and relationship we all seek, and so much need, will not be found through an exploration to a remote, rocky planet. Millions of ordinary people, in all parts of the world, have found the key to life in receiving the Jesus Christ as Saviour, Lord and God.

Remember your Creator

For many weeks the main item on almost every news programme has been the economic crisis in Europe. The struggles of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy have been analysed in great detail. These countries, and the UK, have massive debts as a result of government over-spending and these debts threaten the economic stability of the whole Euro zone. The solution is a combination of high interest loans and austerity measures which will impact many people. Millions of people, including many young people, have no job and most of us will have to tighten their belts.

In Europe we live in a consumer society. Consumerism is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts. We are encouraged to buy things we don’t really need with money we haven’t got. This is in contrast to the millions of people around in the world who survive on a dollar a day. For them life is about survival. They have no extras and are grateful if they have one meal of rice a day. The child mortality rate is high and life expectancy low.

In the Western world consumerism has developed over the past 60 years as we have enjoyed an increasing standard of living. We judge ourselves and others in terms of how much money we have and the designer goods we own. The mantra of consumerism is “I shop, therefore I am!” The range of goods available in our supermarkets is an attempt to meet the growing demands of consumers for greater choice. But now we are being brought back to reality and the impact on our societies will be great.

Solomon was a great king who was renowned for his wisdom and his wealth. He wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, which is in the Bible, and reflected on the meaning of life if we live simply for money or pleasure. He recognised the ultimate meaninglessness of life if we live for material things and forget the living God. His book is a tract for our times. He wrote, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, I find no pleasure in them.”

We will Remember Them

For the first time this year the Remembrance Day Service took place without a veteran of World War I. In May, the world’s last known combat veteran of that war, Claude Choules, died in Australia aged 110. It is right that we remember the World Wars of the 20th century which wrought a terrible toll on our nation and on the world. More than 5 million men from Britain served in World War 1 and 44% were either killed or wounded. During World War II more than 60 million people died, 2.5% of the world’s population, including 450,000 British soldiers and civilians.

Remembrance Day is a deeply emotional experience for the veterans as they remember the terrible events of the wars in which they fought. Many of the young men involved in the D-Day landings have never spoken about what they experienced as they saw their friends killed and maimed. It is moving to see these, now elderly men, marching with great dignity as they remember their fallen comrades. Sadly, they are now joined by a younger generation of soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who remember their colleagues who have died.

The men and women who died in the great wars of the last century offered the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives in the hope that future generations might live in peace and security. The epitaph carved on the memorial of the 2nd British Division in the cemetery in Kohima, Nagaland, is a moving challenge, “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow we gave our today.” It is right that we remember them.

Christians remember a young man who died, not in war, but on a Cross. On the night before he went to the Cross Jesus shared a meal with his disciples. He took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.” Then he took a cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Jesus is the hope of the world. His death and resurrection tower over the sorrows and tragedies of history. Because of him a day will surely come when “they shall neither harm nor destroy, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

Finding Rest in God

Do you ever stop in the rush of life to think about God? We have enjoyed two beautiful days with cloudless blue skies. The sun brought out the beauty of the autumnal colours. Another year is passing and, although our human world is in turmoil, the beauty and splendour of God’s creation spoke to my heart. Our amazing little planet stands alone in a vast and bleak universe and speaks to us all of God.

Above the cacophony of voices telling us that it all happened by chance, over a very long time, something deep in my very being tells me that there is a Creator and he is good. His creation is amazing and tells me he is very great. It makes me want to worship him and say with the psalmist, in Psalm 8, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. You have set your glory above the heavens.”

The psalmist goes on to reflect on the significance for each of us of God’s greatness revealed in his creation. “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.”

We haven’t evolved from monkeys, but have been created by God, in his image, with a glorious purpose. Life only makes sense when we relate to him. Many years ago Augustine of Hippo wrote, “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until we find rest in you.” Rest and peace are not characteristics of our lives in the 21st century. The reason is that we live in a godless society in which many people, including our leaders, have decided to exclude God from everything. So there is no warmth or love, and none of us really matters.

Last week I heard that an elderly man, who was my friend, had died. I also heard of a young couple we know well and love, whose new born baby died. At such times it is so important to rest in the God who is there. He really is mindful of us and cares deeply for us.