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Good news of great joy

The birth of Jesus was announced to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in the fields near Bethlehem. The darkness of the night was suddenly banished as an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. The angel said, “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. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Then the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

God has broken into his world to give us hope. The angel messengers, who came from heaven, were accompanied by heavenly glory but the all-important sign was “a baby lying in a manager.” This baby was the long-promised Messiah, God’s eternal Son, yet the circumstances of his birth were so simple and unadorned – he was lying in a manager, an animal feeder. The baby was called Jesus because he had come to save his people from their sins. He was also called Immanuel because in his coming God has drawn near to us.

Whatever our circumstances this Christmas, it is important for us to follow the sign that points us to the Christ-child who gives hope and joy. He was born to an oppressed people living in a troubled world. Today our world is very troubled, and many people are suffering greatly. Many are afraid and hope is in short supply. A well-known Christmas carol says, “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.”

Jesus came to give us peace on earth now. We will never be at peace with each other until we know peace with God through his Son, who died on the cross to secure forgiveness of sins and peace with God. He offers the wonderful prospect of a joyful new beginning. The last verse of the same carol is a prayer, “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel!”

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Reflections on Andy Murray at Wimbledon

Over the past two weeks many people in Britain have been following the progress of Andy Murray at Wimbledon. Hopes were high that this year he would win the tournament, but Roger Federer narrowly beat him in the final. A player from Britain has not won the Wimbledon men’s championship since 1936. Immediately after the match Andy spoke emotionally about his appreciation of all the support he has received from his family, coach and team, and the crowd on the Centre Court. He knew that many people were willing him to win.

Our society puts great emphasis on success. We praise people who get to the top, but put little value on coming second. Television interviewers sometimes give the impression that winning a silver medal is a failure! Andy Murray played really well and lost to a man who is one of the greatest ever tennis players. There is no disgrace in that. Indeed the rise of Andy Murray to sporting excellence is cause for great thankfulness.

On 13 March 1996 Andy was a pupil at Dunblane Primary School when Thomas Hamilton entered the school armed with 4 handguns. He shot and killed 16 children, aged 5 and 6, and their teacher, Gwen Mayor, who was killed trying to protect the children in her care. Hamilton then committed suicide. Andy remembers taking cover in another classroom. He attended a youth group run by Thomas Hamilton and his mother gave him lifts in her car. Andy could so easily have died that day but, in the providence of God, he survived and has gone on to become one of the world’s best tennis players. Every year he is getting better and one day he may well be the Wimbledon Men’s Champion.

The determination of great athletes is a challenge to us all. They are single-minded in their determination to succeed and get to the top, even though their careers last just a few years. Do you have a goal in your life? There are more important things than success. The most important thing is the kind of people we are, rather than great achievements. The Apostle Paul was a man of great energy and determination. As a Christian he had one great goal in life which was to please God. He knew that one day, like us all, he would appear before God and nothing was more important than receiving God’s commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”