The beauty of autumn

The recent sunny days have shown the autumn colours in all their beauty. The summer has past, and winter is coming, and the world around us is beautifully clothed in orange, yellow, red and brown colours. The autumn colours are not a sign of death but of the cycles of life. As the days grow shorter and the temperatures cool many trees shed their leaves so that they can survive the winter. The leaves don’t simply fall but are actively pushed off their branches by the trees. The changes in weather and daylight trigger a hormone that releases a chemical message to each leaf that it is time to prepare for winter and slowly, but surely, the leaf is pushed from the tree branch. This process is essential if the tree is to survive the winter.

The world and the universe around us are constantly revealing the glory of God to all people everywhere. This revelation transcends differences in language and culture. In Psalm 19 we read, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.”

God’s creation reveals his beauty and splendour. Through the year he beautifully clothes his world from the bright colours of the spring flowers to the russet colours of autumn. As each day dawns he floods the world with light and at the end of the day creates spectacular sunsets. The sun, moon and stars speak of his wisdom and greatness. He leaves nothing to chance. Through his creation he speaks to us and tells us that he is and that he cares.

How should we respond to God’s revelation through his creation? The trees are wise enough to prepare for winter, but we may not be so wise. God is the living God. He gives life and breath to everything and satisfies every need. He watched over us in our mother’s womb from the moment of conception until the day we were born. He created us to live and to enjoy him forever. He sent his Son into the world so that we might have life and have it to the full. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.”

O little town of Bethlehem

Some of the best-known hymns are Christmas carols. Familiar words express the wonder of the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son, and all that his coming brings to people still today. In 1868 Phillips Brooks, the rector of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, wrote “O little town of Bethlehem” after visiting the Holy Land and seeing Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine at night. He reflected that when Jesus was born in that little town many people were unaware of it. Yet Jesus had come to fulfil their greatest hopes and still their greatest fears. Our deepest needs are the same as theirs, and Jesus meets those needs.

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth, and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth; for Christ is born of Mary; and, gathered all above, while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.”

In Jesus, God drew near to our needy world. He is the greatest gift that has ever been given. Just as he was born quietly in Bethlehem so, over the years, he has gently drawn near to countless people of all nations who have received him as Saviour and Lord. “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming; but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”

Christmas is a busy time with so much to do. Some will rejoice with their families, others may be on their own and feel sad that those they loved are no longer with them. Whatever our situation we, like Phillips Brooks, can take time to reflect on the birth of Jesus so long ago in Bethlehem. The child who was born is an eternal person whom we can still encounter today when we pray that he will draw near to us and be with us. “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in; be born to us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”

Special births

Alfie, Connor and Dylan Bateman, who are just 2 years old, are in the Guinness Book of Records. They were born on 31 August and 1 September 2014 and are the smallest and most premature surviving triplets ever. They were born at 23 weeks and their combined weight was less that 3lbs. Early in 2014 their mother, Emma, was told she was carrying triplets. The likelihood of conceiving triplets naturally is one in a million. Thanks to the skills and dedication of the medical team, the boys survived and all arrived home 6 months after they were born, but less than 2 months after their due date. Today they are typical lively toddlers who keep their Mum and Dad very busy. Emma says, “I’m very thankful that, although the boys have some minor issues still to overcome, they don’t have any major health problems – they’re happy, content and cheeky.”

At Christmas, we remember the birth of a very special child. He was conceived in the womb of his young mother, Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit. When the time for him to be born was near, Mary and her husband Joseph had to leave their home in Nazareth and travel to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census. While they were in Bethlehem the time came for the baby to be born, and Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. This child, born in such humble and ordinary circumstances, has changed the history of the world and the lives of millions of people.

The birth of Jesus was accompanied by some remarkable events. An angel of the Lord announced his birth to shepherds living out in the fields near Bethlehem. As the glory of the Lord shone around them the shepherds were terrified, but the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

When the angel had left them, the shepherds said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So, too, why not take time this Christmas to consider the wonderful things God has done in Jesus? He can transform our lives today just as he transformed the lives of those shepherds in Bethlehem.

To us a Son is given

The birth of a baby is always special. At Christmas we remember the birth of very special son to Mary and Joseph, a young couple living in the small Galilean village of Nazareth. Mary was probably a teenager and Joseph a little older. They had fallen in love with each other and had been pledged to be married. However, before they were married something amazing happened. Mary was told by an angel that she would supernaturally conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. When she told Joseph she was pregnant he, understandably, assumed she had been unfaithful to him and planned to divorce her quietly. Then in a dream God told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife and to give the son who would be born the name Jesus, which means “the Lord saves.”

Mary and Joseph were a godly couple who wholeheartedly embraced God’s plan for their lives, even though this had very big implications for them. They knew that their son was the long promised Messiah for whom the Jewish people had been waiting. More than 600 years earlier the prophet Isaiah had said, “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Now, in the birth of Jesus, God’s promise was fulfilled.

Because of a Roman census Mary and Joseph travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which was the town of King David, from whom Joseph was descended. It was there that Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. Shepherds caring for the sheep on a cold Judean night were told by an angel, “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.” Later the wise men from the East also came to see the child.

Jesus has transformed the lives of millions of people from all nations as they have responded to him in simple faith and trust. One well known carol says, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

Glory to the new born King!

2 billion Christians around the world will soon celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. One in three people in the world are followers of Jesus. This is an amazing statistic. Jesus came from a small village in Galilee. His parents were ordinary people. He learned his father’s trade and was a carpenter. He never travelled more than 100 miles from his home. His remarkable ministry lasted just 3 years. When he was 33 years old he was executed by the Romans. Yet today millions of people from every nation on earth profess to be his disciples. How can this be explained?

Jesus was the Son of God. One of our carols says, “He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all.” When the wise men from Persia, who followed the star, found the baby they “bowed down and worshipped him.” They recognised him as a divine King and offered him their gifts. Because Jesus was the Son of God he rose again from the dead. It was not possible for death to keep its hold on him. One of his disciples, Thomas, who at first doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead, saw him personally and said, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus came in fulfilment of God’s promise. From the beginning of time God had promised that a child would be born who would bring blessing to the peoples of the world. Through this child God’s great purpose for his world was going to be fulfilled. God is still carrying forward his gracious purposes for the nations. Today the good news of Jesus is being proclaimed around the world and many are receiving him as Saviour and Lord. One day “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.”

Jesus came to give us hope. The world into which he was born knew great sadness and pain. Our world today is very much the same. Jesus is the One who gives us sure and certain hope in this life and when we die. Many carol services close with these words, “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son 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 us second birth. Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new born King!”

The unique role of mothers

Mother’s Day is a special time for many families. It reminds us of the unique role of mothers. The intimate bond between a mother and her child begins in the womb. After the traumas of labour a mother rejoices when she sees her new born baby and holds them for the first time. The relationship develops and deepens as the mother feeds and cares for her baby. It is a wonderful thing to experience a mother’s love. The first person a child looks for is their mother. It is no wonder that Mother’s Day cards extol the virtues of mothers.

Amongst the many opportunities women in our society have today it is good to remember the vital role of mothers. It is not easy for working mothers, but is something they feel is really important. A friend of ours has recently returned to work after having her first baby. It has not been easy to be separated from her little boy during the day after they have spent many months together. Her husband is helping with his care. Time spent with our children is very precious and cannot be caught up later in life.

The Bible emphasises the importance of the relationship between parents and their children. One of the 10 Commandments commands children to honour their father and mother. The New Testament emphasises this and sets out the benefits which flow from it. “Children, obey your parents for this is the right thing to do. Honour your father and mother. This is the first commandment that ends with a promise – that you will live a long life, full of blessing.” When the relationship between parents and children is strong it is a great blessing, when it breaks down there is great pain.

God’s love for his people is compared to the love of a mother for her child. In a time of national crisis God’s people said he had forgotten them. God answer through the prophet Isaiah was, “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!” William Cowper picks up this theme beautifully in one of his hymns, “Can a woman’s tender care cease towards the child she bear? Yes, she may forgetful be, yet will I remember thee. Mine is an unchanging love, higher than the heights above, deeper than the depths beneath. Free and faithful, strong as death.”

To us a Son is given

The birth of a child is a very special time. The birth of a second son last week to a young couple we know has brought great joy to the whole family. More than 2000 years ago a young engaged couple living in the little Galilean village of Nazareth had to come to terms with the fact that the young woman, Mary, was expecting a child. This was no ordinary child.

The angel Gabriel had visited Mary and told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and his kingdom will never end.”
Mary replied, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Mary humbly replied “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Mary is a great example to us of what it means to humbly trust God and his purposes for our life. She had been chosen for special privilege but this brought inevitable misunderstanding as people became aware that she was pregnant. They assumed, as, at first, did her fiancé Joseph, that she was guilty of immorality. Her reputation was tarnished. In order to protect her and the child Joseph married her, as he had intended to do.

The birth of Jesus was extraordinary. God broke into history. “He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all.” In Jesus, his Son, God intervened to give us new hope and purpose. So, too, God breaks into individual lives as he opens our eyes to see our need to know him so that we put our trust in Jesus. Steve has just become a Christian. Christmas has taken on a whole new meaning for him. He told me, “The things which used to mean so much to me don’t really matter anymore. The main thing for me now is that God loves me and sent his Son, Jesus, to be my Saviour.”