As part of my Advent reading, I came across the theme of ‘Journeying with the Magi’. Despite the paradox posed by travel restrictions I was surprised how it speaks into our current situation. Matthew tells us the Magi observed a bright star, which led them to set out together on a journey of discovery, leading eventually to the squalor of a stable in Bethlehem where a new-born baby was laid in a manger. We don’t know how many Magi there were, or how they travelled, but clearly their journey was of paramount importance to them. They sought neither material nor financial gain. They journeyed far, following the star, wanting only to present their gifts and pay homage to the new king whose birth was heralded by the new star in the heavens.
So then, as we isolate at home due to Covid-19; as our nation prepares to isolate itself behind new borders due to Brexit, and as the United Kingdom itself seems less and less united, what is the Magi’s spiritual significance for us in these strange and troubling times? Esther de Waal knew nothing of Covid, Brexit or Devolution when she wrote these words: “The Advent journey is, or should be, an inner journey or pilgrimage inspired by the Magi who saw themselves as guests of the world, ready to go wherever the Spirit might take them…seeking their true self in Christ”.
I hope you all enjoy your Advent journey, inspired by the Magi. My prayer is that we may always walk on common ground with all God’s people (yet do so safely for now, until a vaccine is available!)
On behalf of myself and my husband Alan, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Spirit-filled Advent, a joy-filled Christmas, a profound Epiphany, and a very healthy, happy and peace-filled New Year. May the birth of Jesus be a really fantastic blessing to all the waiting world, bringing hope of much better times to come. May God our Maker, Saviour and Sustainer bless us all and keep us safe.
Your friend and Minister, Rev. Anthea Wickens
Recently, I have been trying to devote a bit more time to Bible-reading, starting with selected extracts from the book of Ezekiel. I wonder, how much of Ezekiel you have read? It is a rather strange apocalyptic style book. Ezekiel experiences a number of
powerful visions of God in all glory, which affect him deeply. But it is quite heavy going, and full of strange imagery, hence my decision to read selected extracts!
The overarching theme of the book concerns the relationship between God and his people. A priest and a prophet, Ezekiel was living in exile in Babylon, denouncing Jerusalem’s poor moral and spiritual life, but at the same time offering hope for the future. The prophet foresees God’s kingdom established in perfect form.
I feel this is a timely theme for us in our times today. We need to be Kingdom people, willing to heed a prophetic voice. Recently, crowds have taken to the streets expressing concerns over racial justice. And the government has been obliged to yield to Marcus Rashford’s campaign to offer more help to children growing up in poverty.
In the midst of this, and other news stories, God speaks through the prophet: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’
I pray that God will put a new heart and a new spirit in all of us to help us to move forward in faith and in trust.
Your friend and Minister, Anthea
If I had a pound for every time over the last three weeks that I’ve read, heard or said the words “when things get back to normal” I’d be rich by now. Whether it’s about worship or shopping, meetings or coffee with friends, we are living in strange times where many of us are disorientated by the fact that things are not normal. We may be feeling very isolated, or possibly overwhelmed by all those virtual ways of meeting up. We may be delighting in having time to catch up with half finished projects, or lack the concentration to start anything, let alone finish it. We are having to think and plan differently.Two thousand years ago, in the aftermath of the death of a travelling preacher, a group of his friends were also in a state of disorientation. They reacted in different ways – some wanting to ensure that practical matters were taken care of, some self-isolating for fear of the authorities, some debilitated by all that was happening. And in the midst of this, we have Simon Peter announcing that he is going fishing. In other words, whilst everything around him is so strange and uncertain, he wants something to be normal -and fishing is, for him, the habitual thing to do. Of course, if we go further on in this story from John’s gospel, we discover that the fishing trip is anything but a normal one, and it ends in breakfast on the beach, and the challenge to Peter to respond again to Jesus command to “follow me”.During this rather strange Easter time, we too might want things to be normal. For Peter and the other friends of Jesus, despite their best efforts, they could not return to a previous way of life. The resurrection gave them no choice but to do things differently. Perhaps as we celebrate Easter this year, whether alone with a Bible, or in a video linked act of worship, we might be challenged by Jesus to follow him, not to expect things to return to how they were before, but, in the words of John Bell’s famous hymn, “let me turn and follow you and never be the same”.May you know both the peace, and the provocation of the risen Christ this Easter.
What uncertain and confusing times we are living through. Just as the need for prayer is greatest due to the coronavirus pandemic, Churches are obliged to close for Sunday worship (often for the first time in their history.) Even during the war, Churches remained open. Being currently frustrated in our calling to share the good news of gospel hope in the normal manner, Ministers and Elders have rushed to set up new and innovative ways to achieve this. We encourage you to take advantage of the inspiration provided by some of the URC’s leading lights, such as URC General Secretary Rev. John Proctor. We have also set up new procedures to ensure pastoral care and prayerful support in these new circumstances.
As we continue our journey deeper into Lent, the powerful imagery of the shadow of the Cross falling across our path takes on a new significance this year. However, we Christians know how the Gospel narrative unfolds: we know that beyond the passion of our dear Lord, there is the joy of Easter resurrection. We serve a living Saviour, even as we dwell in dark days of uncertainty. There is a Redeemer! He lives! Don’t ask me how I know He lives…He lives within my heart! Why not take this time of relative isolation to read the Good Book, especially Matthew’s Gospel account of the events leading up to Jesus’ time in Gethsemane and his arrest, unfair trial and Crucifixion? But don’t stop there…read on to the end of the Gospel. As the hymn goes:
All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew,
me through change and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
God unknown, he alone
calls my heart to be his own.
Pride of man and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth,
tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.
May God richly bless you all and keep you safe in his loving hands,
Your friend and Minister, Reverend Anthea Wickens