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Resurrection joy

Easter is a time of great joy. The resurrection of Jesus lifted his first disciples from a spirit of defeat and despair to an experience of great joy and hope. They saw their risen Lord who sent them out into the world to proclaim the wonderful message of the resurrection. This message has transformed many lives and the very course of history. The Apostles faced great opposition from their own people, and from the Roman authorities, but were unafraid. Most of them died for their faith – some were beheaded, others were crucified – but through their message countless people from many nations have found new life in Jesus.

Christian faith centres on the person of Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again to give us hope. Christians put their faith in Jesus, not in their religious observances. They don’t think they are better than other people, or sit in judgement on them, but are deeply conscious of their personal failures and need. They rejoice that Jesus has done everything needed to secure their salvation and gratefully trust in him as their Saviour. They have been delivered from the need to achieve their own salvation and, in response to his love, are free to live for Jesus and to tell others about him.

Many in the Western world have turned away from a living faith in God and Jesus and the consequences are clear to see. Evolutionary theory dominates. It offers no hope to our deepest needs, but declares its doleful message, “When you’re dead, you’re dead!” Yet God’s wonderful creation, which is plain for all to see, constantly proclaims that he is. He created this amazing universe and our little planet, which teems with life. He created each of us and put eternity in our hearts. We were created to live with him for ever and God’s freely offers us eternal life through his Son, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again.

Every day during the Covid-19 pandemic we have been reminded of death. Nearly 3 million people around the world have died and their families feel the loss deeply. Most who have died were elderly, but that in no way diminishes the value of their lives. Every single life is precious in God’s sight. The great evangelist Billy Graham, who died at the age of 99 said, “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

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To us a Son is given

Christmas is a special time as people around the world remember the birth of Jesus Christ. His birth was prophesied hundreds of years before he was born. The prophet Micah said where he would be born: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.” The prophet Isaiah spoke about his special conception: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah also said this child would be a gift from God: “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 more than 2000 years after the birth of Jesus, he is still remembered with joy and thanksgiving by countless people from many nations. Christmas carols will be heard in shopping centres, schools will have nativity plays and many people who don’t normally go to church will attend carol services. The focus will be on this special child who was born so long ago. Well-known carols explain why his coming was so important.

Jesus brought light into this dark world: “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.”

Angels, and the very creation itself, rejoiced at his birth: “For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above, while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love. O morning stars together proclaim the holy birth and praises sing to God the King and peace to men on earth.”

Jesus has transformed the lives of countless people and is still changing lives today. This Christmas many will come to know him for the first time: “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. 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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The Life Transforming Power of Forgiveness

The story of Ray and Vi Donovan is remarkable. In 2001 their son, Chris, was murdered. Chris and his brother Phil were attacked by a gang of youths. They kicked and stamped on Chris’s head and left him in the middle of a four-lane road. A car came over the hill and ran over Chris, dragging him 40 feet down the road. At the hospital the doctors were unable to save Chris’s life.

Vi’s immediate response was to run out of the door. She was very angry and wanted to find her son’s killers and to “do to them what they had done to Chris.” Ray fell to his knees screaming. Three teenage boys were found guilty of Chris’s murder. During the court case Vi remembers the look of pain and shame etched on the faces of the boys’ parents. She realised that everyone had lost; things would never be the same for any of them.

Several years later, one of the young men contacted Ray and Vi asking to meet them to say sorry. A meeting was not allowed at that time, but Ray and Vi wrote to all three young men telling them that they had forgiven them and that they hoped to meet them one day. In July 2011, after the young man had completed his sentence, a meeting was arranged.

Ray and Vi had many questions including why he had left Chris in the middle of a busy road. He told them he had heard sirens and thought the police were coming so ran away. He said that he had been a fifteen year old coward and now he couldn’t get Chris out of his heart. Ray and Vi hugged him and said he was forgiven. He whispered his thanks. Ray said, “My wife and I left that meeting feeling like a weight had been lifted. Just hearing the words ‘I’m sorry’ is a start to moving forward. For us it was a life changing event.”

Saying “Sorry” is something we all find very difficult, but forgiveness is a very powerful thing. Jesus was a young man who was unjustly executed. When he was nailed to the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Since that time millions of people, from many nations, have honestly faced up to their sinful lives. As they have come to God through Jesus they have experienced his forgiveness. It is always a life changing event.