A love that changes us

When you read the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus you are struck by the number of individuals he met and helped. He responded to people of all kinds and always had time for them. No-one was unimportant to Jesus. An encounter with Jesus was a life-changing experience. Jesus visited the house of Zacchaeus, a covetous tax collector, and that day Zacchaeus became a changed man. A woman, who had lived a very sad life, talked to Jesus at a well and, for the first time, met someone who truly loved her.

The transforming love of Jesus is still being experienced by people today. We know a young lady who has had a very sad life. She grew up in a very unhappy home and in her teens moved into a hostel where she was, humanly speaking, alone. There was no-one to love and support her. Later, she had to leave the town in which she lived to find a place of safety for herself and her children. She has been a wonderful mother but, during a time of very great stress, all her children were taken into care. She, and they, were heartbroken.

On Christmas Day last year, she went to an evening service at the church she had been attending. She was feeling very low, but that night God showed her that the story of Jesus is true and she experienced God’s love in a way she had never known before. She knew a real peace in her heart and was transformed. She was a new person. She still had to face all the problems she had before, but the love of Jesus had transformed her and given her new life. Everyone who knows her can see the change knowing Jesus has brought to her life.

When she was baptised she told her story. She said, “Since I have known Jesus as my Saviour I have found peace in my life. I still experience hard times but have learned how to deal with them. I listen to hymns and sing along with them. I read my Bible and pray to God and he gives me the strength to cope and to come through the hard times. I find strength and great encouragement in God’s promises. I know that in the future there will be other hard times but I know that because my saviour Jesus Christ is with me I will be able to face them and deal with them. I can do everything through Jesus who gives me strength.”

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

As we sat in Bali airport waiting for our flight it was a very pleasant surprise to hear the music of a familiar Christmas carol, “Joy to the world”, being played. The carol joyfully affirms that the coming of Jesus into the world is a reason for all to rejoice. “Joy to the world! The Lord is come, let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing.” Jesus, who was born in lowly circumstances in Bethlehem, is King of kings. “He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove, the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.”

It seems as if two different celebrations are being held at this time of year. For some it is “Winterval”. In the dark days of mid winter this festival offers happiness through spending, feasting and parties. It is very expensive and leaves the headache of paying the bills in January. It is really good, in the busyness of modern life, to take time to be with family and friends and to give and receive presents, but surely there is more.

Jesus is at the heart of Christmas. His birth is a wonderful reason to celebrate because his coming brought true and lasting joy. In the words of another Christmas carol, “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.”

There are real similarities between Bethlehem, when Jesus was born, and our 21st century world. The people in Bethlehem that night were busy because their lives had been disrupted by the demands of a Roman census. They had had to travel from their own communities to Bethlehem and many were stressed as they tried to find a place to stay. It wasn’t a good time to pause and take note that a child had been born in a nearby stable who fulfilled the promises made by God from the beginning of history.

God has given us his only Son, whose name is Jesus, because “he will save his people from their sins.” “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.”

Coping in a 24/7 World

When Mrs Thatcher was our Prime Minister I remember hearing, for the first time, that Cabinet meetings were being held on a Sunday. The emphasis was that we all had to work hard and follow the example of the successful Japanese economy. Later the Labour Party began to prescribe how many hours homework secondary school children should do each night. It was said that A level students should do 3 to 4 hours per night, after a full day at school. Between 9 and 10 on a Saturday evening Tesco apologises to its customers that, “because of current government legislation”, the store will close at 10 o’clock.

It seems we have lost sight of the importance and benefit of rest. The book of Genesis describes how God created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh day. It says, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating he had done.” In this way God established the pattern for our lives. It is also enshrined in the 10 Commandments, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God, on it you shall not do any work.”

God’s laws are not arbitrary rules, but are all for our good. We all need times of rest and recreation. Working long hours every day, without a break, is not good for our health or our effectiveness. A young teacher I knew was considering becoming a Christian. She was worried that, if she did, she would need to keep Sunday as a special day. She was caring for her elderly father and used Sundays to catch up on house work and prepare for the coming school week. She felt she wouldn’t cope if she rested on Sundays. After she became a Christian she found, to her surprise, that when she began keeping Sundays special, she was able to complete all her work in the other 6 days. She also felt far more relaxed and less stressed.

Many of us need to break out of our 24/7 world, which creates so much pointless stress. A weekly day of rest gives us the opportunity to change the pace of life, to have time to think and focus on God and the ultimate spiritual realities of life.