I love some of the quirky features of the Church, little idiosyncrasies that seem to say, ‘You can have your world view and global systems, but this is how we see things!’ I especially love that the Church’s year is very nearly over, not because I want to see the end of 2020, (who doesn’t?), but because it gives us an opportunity to be thankful.
Let me explain; Advent Sunday (this year it’s on 29th November) marks the beginning of the Church’s New Year. We do it this way, not just to be different, but to place proper priority on one of the major festivals of our calendar, Christmas. In the wider world’s view, Christmas is a major excuse for a party (no bad thing), but it’s tacked on at the end of the year to help us celebrate in a special way before the beginning of a New Year at midnight on December 31st. By putting the festival of Christmas towards the start of the Church’s year we are beginning (again) a new story of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The season of Advent thus becomes even more important as we prepare for this story to unfold before us through the festivals of the Church’s year.
So these last few days of Church Calendar 2020 provide us with a unique opportunity – a chance to say thank you. I know, even as I write this, that many of you will rightly ask ‘what on earth have we got to be thankful for?’, and of course, that question is very pertinent; ‘on earth’ there hasn’t been much to celebrate of late as pandemic, politics and peevish personalities seize our headlines: But from a heavenly perspective there is another way of looking at things.
Christians tend to look at the world a bit differently; much of the reason for this lies in the Beatitudes, a remarkable series of slightly off-centre teachings that Jesus gave to the huge crowd on a hillside above the Sea of Galilee, (I was there exactly twelve months ago!). In a series of teachings, Jesus began to turn our perceptions and realities on their heads (Matthew 5).
‘Blessed are… the poor in spirit, … those who mourn,.. the meek,… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,… the merciful,… the pure in heart,… the peacemakers,…those who are persecuted…! It is a truly inspirational reminder that Jesus always looked at things differently. He always tried to turn our preconceptions and our hidden prejudices on their heads, no wonder his disciples struggled to understand even the simplest of his Parables. Jesus always spoke from a heavenly perspective, with ‘Kingdom Values’ and it confused those who heard him with earthen ears.
Jesus spoke through a God-centred prism that reflected a world where Leaders were servants, where politics was secondary to social justice, where Truth and Joy, and Peace, and Love were Absolutes; Where the King of Heaven would be born in a cattle-cave; where Lepers could be touched, and the dead could be raised before astonished and terrified eyes; where happiness was secondary to Joy; where losing your life was nothing compared with losing your soul. Where you could be content, as St. Paul was, despite all the deprivations and persecutions he endured; where Christians could sing hymns of praise and thanksgiving as they entered the baying cruelty of the Colosseum. Where kingdom values and kingdom economics trump worldly obsession with possessions and power.
‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’, this was Jesus’ constant message before he brought the presence of God even closer by his death and resurrection. The presence of God is not distant nor detached, He is here, right now, in this very moment as you read these words, He is literally less than a nano-second from you, night and day, all you have to do is open the door to your heart and your life, and let Him in.
We have so very much to be thankful for, even though so much of it is not immediately evident in our daily lives. Take some time today, and think back into your experiences of life over the past twelve months. Of course your first instinct is to focus on the horrible, negative and shattering things that have happened; but persevere for a while and let the shadows fade, and precious memories of magical moments will begin to rise to the surface of your mind. Moments when someone was especially kind, or generous; moments that you were reminded of wonder and Joy, maybe on one of your now more frequent ventures into nature: Keep looking, there are many many more memories of light rather than shadow, they just got crowded out by the negativity and fear. Those moments are like little kisses from heaven, little messages that scream at you ‘you are loved, you are never alone, you matter!’. Don’t let the ‘white noise’ of our current troubles deafen you to the thrill of early morning birdsong nor the peaceful rhythmic lapping of water on a pebbled beach. Don’t let fear define you. You are so much more than what happens to you. Breathe in, breathe out… and give thanks!
(featured image at top of blog with kind permission of Carol Reynolds)