The people of North Korea are in mourning following the death of their leader, Kim Jong-il. Many people have filed past his open coffin as the nation has been “engulfed in indescribable sadness.” Kim Jong-il’s son Kim Jong-un has already been installed as his father’s successor. Kim Jong-il was presented to his people as a father-figure and demi-god – all-powerful and benevolent.
What legacy has Kim Jong-il left? His rule has been repressive for the people of North Korea, who are very poor. Shortly after he came to power in 1994, a severe famine, caused by his economic reforms and poor harvests, left an estimated two million people dead. His regime was guilty of human rights abuses and developed great military power, including nuclear weapons. Today many cannot afford to buy food or to heat their homes. Since 1948 a Demilitarised Zone has divided North and South Korea. Families have been separated. Some people have escaped from North Korea to China, at great risk to their lives. No doubt Kim Jong-il was very rich, but now he has died and left this world naked, as he entered it, and has stood before the living God.
How very different the reign of Jesus Christ is! He is the greatest of kings, yet he was born in humble circumstances and never even owned a home of his own. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. The kingdom Jesus established has spread throughout the world, embracing people from many nations. The empires of the world have come and gone, but the Kingdom of God has continued to grow.
Living under the lordship of Jesus Christ brings great blessings. He freely accepts us as we are, and forgives all our sins. He promises to be with us always and to help us in every situation. He gives us strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. At the time of the 1994 famine some Christians wanted to help the people of North Korea by sending them food. They also wanted them to know that Jesus loved them. So they sent many sacks of food into North Korea and put a message on each sack, “With love from Jesus“. Many of the people who received the food were full of thankfulness to Jesus, of whom they had never heard before, because of his love for them.
Around the world this week many people will celebrate Christmas and remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Many will attend a Carol Service to sing familiar carols and hear Bible readings about his birth. Parents will go to see their children taking part in nativity plays and playing the parts of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men. Deep in the subconscious minds of people, many of whom do not attend church regularly, there is a sense that the birth of Jesus is significant and is more than a nice story, and they are right.
Centuries before Jesus was born the prophet Isaiah spoke about what would happen and explained its meaning. He said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The birth of Jesus was the pivotal point in history and even our calendar reflects this.
The events surrounding Jesus’ birth are simple yet amazing and wonderful. Mary, a teenage girl, conceived a child when she was betrothed to be married to Joseph. She was a virgin and had to endure misunderstanding even from her beloved Joseph at first. The baby in her womb had been conceived supernaturally by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was a human being, but also truly divine. He was God’s son who was given. He had always existed as the Son of his heavenly Father and now came as God’s gift to the peoples of the world.
This child, who was so vulnerable at first to those who tried to kill him, was a great King. He established a kingdom which has spread through the whole world. Last year I attended a conference in South Africa attended by more than 4000 Christians from 197 countries of the world. All of us who were there have experienced God’s love in Jesus Christ. We gladly live under his gracious rule now and look forward to being with him in heaven for ever.
We can all learn something from the children’s nativity plays. We not need to be powerful or clever to know Jesus Christ as our Saviour. In fact these things often become barriers to true faith. God gave his Son, Jesus, so that all who come in childlike faith to him will have life and have it to the full.
The weeks leading up to Christmas are very busy. There are cards to write and send and presents to find and buy. It is an exciting time, especially for children. This year the difficult economic situation means that many people have less money to spend and there are already many special offers in the shops. Many families are apprehensive about how they will afford the cost of Christmas, but are still looking forward to precious time together.
Christmas is a time for giving and receiving. At Christmas we want to give special gifts to those we love. This need not involve great expense. We want to express our love in a gift which has been carefully planned and which we know they will really like. Christmas morning is eagerly awaited, and not only by the children!
At the first Christmas God gave a very special gift to the people of his world. It is the greatest gift ever given. Then, as now, the world was a sad place with many troubles. The Roman Empire dominated many nations, including Israel, and most people were poor. Jesus came, not to solve the problems of the day, but to solve the biggest problem we all face – our sinful hearts and lives. The message of the angels to the shepherds was, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord!” Our sins spoil our relationship with God and separate us from him. Jesus came to bring reconciliation through his perfect life and death on the cross. The name Jesus means “Saviour!” God, against whom we have all rebelled, took the initiative by giving his only Son to be our Saviour.
Opening a present from someone we love brings great joy. Parents enjoy watching their children opening their present and seeing their delight when they see what it is. The child’s instinctive response is to give their parents a hug and tell them they love them. Have you ever responded to God’s gift of Jesus like that? Do you love him for giving you such an amazing present? It brings great joy to God when anyone receives Jesus as their Saviour. This Christmas, like the shepherds, why not take time to receive Jesus, God’s gift to you, and to thank him for his love to you.
The tragic death of Gary Speed has touched the nation. All over the country football fans have stood in silence and spontaneously broken out into applause to express their great respect for Gary and their heartfelt sympathy for his wife and family. He had an exemplary playing career and had been enjoying great success as the manager of the Welsh national team. The news of his death stunned us all. Our daughter was in the same class in school as Gary and his wife. Many of his friends had no idea of the dark struggle he was experiencing. On the surface everything seemed fine but, tragically, it was not.
We are living in sad times when many people are depressed and some are in despair. Many feel alone and vulnerable. Our secular, materialistic culture has no soul, no deep spiritual values and certainties. There is an emptiness in the hearts of many people. Success and wealth cannot satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. Living in the public eye is not easy and the pressures are very great. Popular opinion is fickle. Celebrities may be lavishly praised or savagely destroyed.
The response of fans at many football grounds affirm that Gary was widely loved and respected, yet he still felt alone and overwhelmed. In the darkness of the night and the darkness in his heart he felt unable to go on and to face the future. The most important thing in life is our relationships. Yet sometimes we do not realise the love with which we are surrounded by our family and friends. It is so important now for Gary’s wife and family to experience the love of those around them as they struggle with the devastating consequences of his death.
We can also know a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He came into the world to reveal God to us and to give us a living hope. One Christmas carol, says, “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace, hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. Hark! the herald angels sing, glory to the new-born King.” Beyond the glittering Christmas lights we all need to experience God’s amazing love in Jesus, who came that we might have a rich and satisfying life.