Why, oh why?

a Christmas wreath

It’s with hearts tinged with sadness that we draw closer to Christmas. We were all shocked by yesterday’s tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut when, after killing his mother, a lone gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot 26 people dead, including 20 children. Our sympathies go out very much to the bereaved families. Dannel Malloy, the state governor, said yesterday, “We’ll do whatever we can to overcome this event.” But how can something like this be overcome, how can good come out of something so evil?

Darrell Scott’s 17 year-old daughter Rachel was the first student to be killed at the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. Speaking yesterday to Fox News Darrell said, “We made a choice not to be angry or bitter, but to celebrate Rachel’s life.” In memory of Rachel he set-up a foundation called “Rachel’s Challenge”. It has seen seven school shootings and over 500 suicides prevented through its work. It’s website describes it as “a series of student empowering programs and strategies … to combat bullying and allay feelings of isolation and despair by creating a culture of kindness and compassion. The programs are based on the writings and life of Rachel Scott. … Rachel left a legacy of reaching out to those who were different, who were picked on by others, or who were new at her school. Shortly before her death she wrote, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.””

Rachel’s father Darrell went on to say, “The answers are long term. They’re not just a knee-jerk reaction on gun control or more laws, … but we have got to be a kinder nation. We have got to take time to listen to one another, to love one another, to be role models to these kids.”

As Peter, a follower of Jesus, once wrote: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9)

This is not just true for American society, but for us all. For the sake of our children, our world needs to wake up and look at the society that we have created. For instance, there is a movie currently being promoted in the UK about a serial killer. How can this be entertainment? We need to question what motivates us as a society; but most of all we need to show love, acceptance and encouragement to our young people, that they might grow up as a loving and integrated community, from which no one will feel excluded. Who knows the difference we personally can make this Christmas? As Rachel wrote: No one knows “how far a little kindness can go.”

To read one Sandy Hook mum’s story click here.

What’s it all about?

Bored man in Christmas hat

The stores have been full of Christmas goods for weeks; you’ve probably heard more than enough of ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’; your bank account is probably looking rather forlorn and the children’s excitement will soon be nearing fever-pitch. Enough already! In some countries of course, Christmas comes and goes almost unnoticed, as Christmas presents, or even a proper meal and a roof over one’s head, are only a dream. What’s the point of Christmas?

For others, Christmas is a magical time, the food, the presents and the opportunity to relax and indulge make Christmas the highlight of the year, but is that all there is to Christmas?

Before you give up on Christmas altogether, take a quick look at this video of ‘Christmas in a Nutshell’. In 1 minute 59 seconds it gives us the answer to “Why Christmas?” So when Christmas Day comes and goes, the presents are all unwrapped, the alcohol drunk, and you think what was that all about, you will have learnt the secret, not just of Christmas, but of life itself. Take a look!

Diamond Jubilee

Her Majesty the Queen
Her Majesty the Queen

Today is the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the 60th Anniversary of her accession to the throne. The United Kingdom has prospered under her reign, emerging from post-war austerity to a country where, although there are still many needy, there are also very many who have fitted carpets, central heating, colour televisions and even iPhones. Such items were luxuries or even non-existent in 1950’s Britain. The quality of a nation cannot just be measured in material terms however. Safety, security, peace, unity and goodwill are even more important. Sadly these have not grown at the same rate as our material prosperity, which itself is looking more shaky.

The world was at its most unstable during the reign of the Queen’s late father, His Majesty King George VI. World War II was a terrible time for many nations, but now sixty-seven years later people are still afraid of what is happening to the world. Even today a 6.8 magnitude earthquake shook the Philippines. What is the answer? Her Majesty’s recent Christmas broadcast gives a clue to the solution. Not one that will necessarily take our problems away, but instead she points to someone whose love and strength will see us through.

EXCERPT FROM THE QUEEN’S CHRISTMAS BROADCAST 2011

“Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:

O Holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us we pray

Cast out our sin

And enter in

Be born in us today

It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.”

Perhaps if our nation followed the Queen’s advice and stuck more closely to Him, it would be in a better state than it is now? May God continue to “save our gracious Queen.”

The Secret Millionaire

Millionaire surrounded by money

How many of you have watched the TV programme Secret Millionaire? Each programme focuses on a real millionaire, who leaves his or her luxury home and family for ten days, and moves to a rundown urban area. While living alone and incognito in a very basic house, they spend their time volunteering with three local charities. Often they find themselves caring for the sick or feeding the hungry, supporting needy children or comforting the bereaved. At the end of ten days, they reveal their true identity to the charities and to needy individuals, and give away thousands of pounds (or dollars) of their own money. Many of the charities they help are struggling financially, and the millionaire’s gift is often the lifeline they need to survive.

It struck me recently that this is the very essence of Christmas. Approximately two thousand years ago – but not in December – the Creator of the universe left behind the riches of His spiritual home, to live a basic life incognito, while he healed the sick and fed the hungry, welcomed the children and comforted the bereaved (by bringing their dead back to life). At the end of His time here, He gave the most expensive gift anyone could give. He gave His own life to pay the debt we all owe to our Creator. None of us has lived a perfect life; no one has a totally clear conscience – except Yeshua. So out of His immense love for us, He took our place to buy our forgiveness and secure our future. As Rabbi Sha’ul of Tarsus (the apostle Paul) wrote, “You know the generous grace of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Though He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty could become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Following the filming of the TV programmes, rather than abandon their charities, many of the millionaires return to provide help and support on an ongoing basis. In the same way Yeshua calls us into an ongoing, loving relationship with Himself. He promises “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Missing the point?

starry skies
From beyond starry skies

“Surely there’s more to life than this?” Many people have a sense that this is not all there is, that outside of this material world, that beyond the blogosphere, the shopping malls and the celebrities – and indeed beyond the poverty, injustice and suffering of this world –there is an intelligence, a presence that we cannot see. Some scour the skies for evidence of alien activity, some avidly research psychic phenomena, some are in continual contact with their spirit guides. Many spend their lives searching for what works, others for what is true.

Two thousand years ago, approximately 4 BCE, someone came to this earth, was born, grew up and lived for over thirty years as one of us, but his supernatural signs and miracles showed that he was someone very special. His wisdom, teaching and authority were far beyond that of human reason. His claims about himself were either ludicrous or true. He claimed to have lived in eternity before the world began (John 17:5); he claimed not only to be the way to God (John 14:6), but that anyone who had seen him had seen God (John 14:9). He not only predicted his own death (Matt 12:40; 17:9), but also his future return in power (Matt 16:27; 24:30).

Surely someone who came with so much love, so much wisdom, so much mystery, must warrant a closer look. If not, we may miss the evidence we’ve been searching for, and spend our lives always looking but never finding the spiritual satisfaction we’ve been seeking. As a Jewish rabbi once wrote:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

May you discover the real meaning of Christmas, and in so doing find LIFE itself!