EASTER 2022: PASTORAL LETTER: WHEN THORNS BECOME A CROWN

EASTER 2022

PASTORAL LETTER

When thorns become a crown

Line after line of traumatised refugees, leaving behind their homes, livelihoods, their young men and throwing themselves on the mercy (mostly) of their western neighbours. As I write this, they are bleeding out of Ukraine in vast numbers. Nothing on this scale has been seen in Europe in my lifetime. Millions are desperately fleeing all that is precious and familiar to them as they frantically seek safety, and they are doing so in the depths of winter. At the same time, their men are expected to stay and fight. Emotional goodbyes on railway platforms seem like the set of a WW2 movie. But these are very real partings, and we know there will be tragically fewer reunions.

As I write this, parts of Ukraine are being laid waste. Centres of once-vibrant cites are either eerily quiet, the streets emptied of people and traffic, a tense stillness before the onslaught, or worse, the stillness has passed and they have been bombed to rubble by relentless and indiscriminate Russian shelling. The Russian army is doing in Ukraine what it did in Syria, and Chechnya and Georgia – encircle cities and ruthlessly destroy them. The human suffering amidst this violence is excruciating.

We are deeply shocked, and rightly so, by what we see unfolded and described by courageous camera-operators and journalists. Yet we must concede that such suffering is experienced all over the world, from the Rohingya settlements in Myanmar to the cities and villages of Yemen, or the ongoing wars in Ethiopia and South Sudan. And elsewhere. All the time. War is an endlessly sickening reality of human life in our world.

    Where is God in it all?

At Easter time we are reminded afresh that God is not immune from this suffering. Where is God in the midst of a suffering world? He is exactly there – in the midst. He does not stand aloof and insulated from the agony of Ukraine. Jesus came and earthed himself in our flesh. He took our humanity to himself for ever. He takes our suffering to himself, bearing all of our sorrows and griefs (Isaiah 53:4). He takes our sins to himself, the iniquity that lies behind war and ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ is laid on Jesus at the cross (Isaiah 53:6). More than all of that, he takes our curse onto himself, surrendering himself to be lifted up on a cursed tree to bear the reproach we all deserve (Galatians 3:13)

When the question is angrily asked ‘Where is God amidst all this suffering?’, the answer is that he has taken it all to himself. God is not some false pagan deity who is detached and shielded from it all. He takes it all to himself in Jesus. He then puts it to death in his own body. He plunges into the horror we have created and takes on the darkness in person.

All of this is represented and symbolised in an aspect of the Easter events which we tend to bypass, through familiarity – the crown of thorns. In the Bible, thorns are emblematic of curse. As soon as Adam sinned, the ground was cursed with thorns (Genesis 3:18). God’s people at their best are pictured as a fruitful vine, but at their worst, rejecting God and embracing violence and injustice they are like briers and thorns (Isaiah 5)

When Jesus taught the parable of the farmer who sowed seed in various soils, representing how the Word of God was received, thorns are depicted as choking the Word (Matthew 13:22). When the Apostle Paul referred to some intense pain or affliction he was forced to endure, he referred to it as a ‘thorn in the flesh’ (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Thorns are anti-life. Thorns are a blight on creation. Thorns are anti-Gospel.

So when Jesus was mocked by the soldiers, as they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, pushed a staff in his hand and twisted thorns together to form a crown, they did infinitely more than they realised. They were mocking the notion that this poor peasant could be a king. But, in fact, this was the King of the entire universe, and the crown of thorns made clear that his reign would not ignore the thorns of life, but embrace them in determined, redemptive purpose.

We have a Saviour who turns thorns into crowns because as he embraces the darkness of the cross, and takes to himself the primeval curse that poured forth in all the evil of a broken world, he then pushes through the cross to resurrection blessing. The curses are not forgotten. Curses become crowns.

The pain and suffering and sin around us is never forgotten or discarded, but is taken up by Jesus. Look to the cross and be assured that whatever thorns afflict your life, Jesus can be trusted to turn them into crowns.

Your minister

Martin

Easter week

The following services will take place during Holy Week:

Wednesday: Taize, 7:30pm @ St. Peter’s Episcopal

Maundy Thursday, Lord’s Supper, 7:30pm @ St. Margaret’s

Good Friday, Service, 2pm @ Trinity,

Easter Sunday, Outdoor Service, 8:30am @ Dalry Cross followed by refreshments in St. Margaret’s Hall.

The weekly Midweek service will take place on Tuesday evening during this week to avoid a clash. Note that this year the Good Friday service is an afternoon service and on Easter Sunday an additional early outdoor service is planned.

Presbytery Plan

A draft Presbytery Plan has been published inviting comments from Kirk Sessions. It envisages one church in Dalry served by one minister. The same is planned for Kilbirnie and Beith and it is hoped there will be cooperation between these churches in what is called a Parish grouping.

Church buildings have been audited and it is expected that a recommendation regarding buildings will be made at the May Presbytery.

February 2022: Pastoral Newsletter: Where your heart lies

Where your heart lies

What we love determines who we are and how we live. Solomon of old knew this and expressed it in the Proverb:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it    Proverbs 4:23

Our lives flow from our hearts. Our fundamental allegiance in life, that on which we place our hopes and dreams and longings, is the very thing that will determine the people we become, and the lives we live. Jesus said something very similar: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

When Jesus refers to ‘treasure’ he is not speaking about the loose change in your pocket (or purse). He is referring to everything we value highly, which may be the contents of our savings account, our pension pot, our house, our relationships, our leisure lifestyle – basically that which we value most. Once we identify our treasure, we recognise what makes us tick and this explains why we live our lives as we do.

I recently read a biography of Elon Musk, currently the world’s richest man. He initially made his money from the internet payment company Paypal, before branching out to found the space exploration company SpaceX, the electric car manufacturing company Tesla and the solar energy firm SolarCity, amongst other ventures. You might think that the world’s richest man would live his life in the pursuit of riches. However, that is most certainly not what animates Musk. Accumulating wealth is of no great interest to him, other than as a means to realise his true ambitions. He is evidently a highly demanding workaholic, who is motivated towards saving the human race from the catastrophe of climate change (hence electric cars, solar power, etc). For similar reasons, he also wishes to advance humanity to the stars, making our species less dependent on planet earth. He is convinced that we need to learn to live on other planets, and so he is determined to make travelling to space cheap, which, in relative terms, he has accomplished with SpaceX. He can launch rockets at a fraction of the price of traditional companies.

Musk, by all accounts, works relentlessly to make his dreams come true. He is inspired by his ambition of clean energy, clean travel and space exploration. Everything he does is driven by these obsessions. In many ways, what he has achieved is both exemplary and admirable, although few of us would want to live with a man whose obvious obsessions so clearly rule his life!

In his case, it is relatively easy to see how his dreams and heart-desires have directed and driven his life. Who he is can be traced to what burns in his heart. But Musk is not unusual in this. He is only unusual in his ability and success. The same principle that makes him the product of his heart-desires works in all of us. We may be less ambitious, but we are no less who we are because of what we treasure.

Let me take you back to Jesus.

Before explaining that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, Jesus gave us a top investment tip. He warned against storing up earthly treasures and counselled us to invest our lives in ‘heavenly treasures.’ Earthly ambitions and goals and products won’t last. The biggest of all investment crashes comes at the end of life and these things get left behind and are exposed as being of no lasting value to us. All the more reason to heed the proverb and guard our hearts.

How do we guard our hearts? First of all, by being honest about what is first in our hearts, what our primary concerns and loves truly are. Then we can reassess those priorities in the light of Jesus’ instruction to ‘seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness’. This time of pandemic will have revealed to us (and, let’s be frank, to all who watch us) what is first in our hearts and lives. I am surely not the only one finding I must honestly reconfigure those priorities.

Your minister,

Martin

DECEMBER 2021: Pastoral Newsletter: What is God Like?

DECEMBER 2021
PASTORAL LETTER
What is God like?

If you know you are about to meet someone, then you are usually curious as to what they are like. The more important and powerful that person, the greater our concern to know what they are like. When a new doctor arrives at a local surgery, there is concern to know: ‘what are they like?’ After all, we might be paying them a visit with our medical ailments and it is important to us to know how they will deal with us. When a new boss arrives at the workplace then we are especially keen to know, ‘What is she like?’ Our workplace experience may well depend on the answer to that question.

Here is the most important such question: What is God like?

Recently, in two very different books, I came across exactly the same account of an event in the early life of Tom Torrance. He was the son of a missionary family, born in China, who went on to be professor of Christian Dogmatics in New College in Edinburgh University. As a young man, he served as an army chaplain during the Second World War. One day, he came across a 19-year-old soldier, Private Philips, who was clearly dying from his wounds. Sensing that his end was near, the young man looked at Torrance and asked him, ‘Padre, is God really like Jesus?’

When you are about to die, and aware that you are soon to meet your maker, you are understandably concerned to know what he is like. This is what preoccupied Private Phillips as he neared the end of his life.

Here is the wonderful answer to that question – we have indeed been shown what God is like in Jesus Christ. When we turn to the events of the first Christmas, then we are given this tremendous reassurance – God has shown us what he is like, and he does so by coming in person, in Jesus Christ. John writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

Jesus is the eternal Word of the Father. Whatever else we might conclude from that, it helps to remember the obvious – words communicate. You can’t see me as I type this, but the words I type communicate what I am thinking (however inadequately). Words communicate. My thoughts are being revealed by the words I type, and which you are now reading. Words communicate.

Jesus is the Word of the Father and so he communicates and reveals God to us. He does this perfectly. What this means is that God is revealed in a person. Jesus draws near to us by leaving behind the glories of heaven and embracing our humanity and living among us. During his life he loved and taught, healed and helped, before suffering and dying for us. In all this he was revealing to us what God is like. We don’t learn what God is like by great effort in searching, but by receiving what has already been revealed. That revelation is a person. We know God by receiving Jesus.

Tom Torrance shared this with Private Phillips, as the young man lay dying: ‘I assured him that {God was indeed like Jesus} – the only God there is, the God who had come to us in Jesus, shown his face to us, and poured out his love to us as our saviour. As I prayed and commended {Private Phillips} to the Lord Jesus, he passed away.’

As Private Phillips lay bleeding to death and entrusted himself to God, he was entrusting himself to a God who himself bled out on the cross for him. This is the God who has shown us what he is like. He does not leave us puzzling over what he is like. Usually those who want to spend lots of time puzzling over what God is like, and endlessly proclaiming their search for God, are those who don’t really want to know. Their self-proclaimed search is a smokescreen for avoiding the obvious communication we have. They are like politicians who don’t listen to what is being said by their opponents and insist on talking over them.

God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. He has spoken and communicated in Jesus. Question for all of us: are we listening, and have we received him?

May you have a blessed Christmas

Martin

October/November 2021: Pastoral Newsletter: The Christian, the Environment and COP-26

Newsletter for October/November 2021
The Christian, the environment and COP-26

    The climate of the world is changing, and with it untold suffering is being visited upon countless millions of people. One estimate suggests that by 2036 nearly two thirds of the world’s population could be living in areas of water stress. At the same time, extreme weather events are becoming more and more frequent. The impact of these things, together with rising sea levels, is likely to fuel the growing refugee crisis, as millions of people ‘migrate’ in order to survive. At the same time, species of plants and animals are disappearing from the earth at an unprecedented rate, tragically with many believed to be lost without ever even having been discovered. There are fears that the farming, upon which our lives depend for food, will be even more adversely affected.

It is true that the climate of the earth has always undergone change, but the rate of change, and the direction of change, is unlike anything scientists can glean from geological history. In fact, the oscillating pattern down the ages would suggest that we ought now to be living in a colder epoch. The best explanation for the disruption of that rhythm is human activity, especially in the way we have pumped so-called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat in the way your car traps heat on a warm day. That heat gets in but not out. So when you return to your car it feels like an oven. Rising global temperatures are a threat to life.

Of course, there are dangers in addressing environmental issues because they have been tainted by extreme political ideologies. This means that there is the risk of being pigeon-holed as either a civilisation-hating, sandal-wearing, tree-hugger on the one hand, or as a greedy, selfish, science-denying, world despoiler on the other. Most of us are neither, but all Christians are certainly called to be environmentally responsible.

Let me make two brief points which we will further explore on the two Sunday mornings in October devoted to these issues, as we approach the time of the COP-26 summit in Glasgow.

First of all, human beings are part of creation, and not insulated from creation, and have a responsibility to care for the world around us. It is clear from the Book of Genesis that we are very much a part of the animal kingdom. We are creatures of the dust of the earth. Yes, we have particular privileges and responsibilities. We were uniquely designed in the image of God. Bearing that image means we are given a dominion which is meant to be an extension of the caring rule of God. Selfish exploitation is therefore excluded. This is made apparent in the remarkable Land Laws of Israel where there is legislation for the wellbeing of not only the poor but also for wild animals:

… but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. Exodus 23:11
It is often overlooked that the concern to save animals in Noah’s Ark is no less a concern for the animals. Interestingly, the Global Seed Vault in Norway, built to safeguard and store the world’s crops from disaster, is typically referred to as the ‘Noah’s Ark’.

Secondly, there is a remarkable passage in the Sermon on the Mount which sheds light on these issues and has lessons about living responsibly. Jesus said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Matthew 6:25-33

Jesus (perhaps with Psalm 104 in mind) paints a picture of creation as a common home for all creatures, in which God provides for our needs. Jesus goes on, in the light of that provision, to challenge us not to worry about what we wear etc. but to concentrate of God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness in the world:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you

You will see that Jesus is urging upon us a contentedness with what we have, striving not for more and more material things, but striving for the Kingdom. This picture of life is a long way from our modern culture of wasteful excess where new ‘needs’ are invented and manufactured to fuel a careless consumer society.

By way of contrast, Jesus points us to the natural world, to the abundance and beauty gifted to us by an extravagantly generous God. If we would but live in faith-relationship with God and in caring, responsible relationship to that beautiful world then we would be freed from the anxiety that arises when we try by artificial means to create our own world of spurious beauty and self-seeking plenty, despoiling as we go.

The natural world around us is a place of abundant variety and stunning beauty. We are not insulated from it, but depend upon it and are called to exercise a care for it, thereby reflecting the care of the God in whose image we are fashioned. In short, we must all consider how we might play our part in looking after the world around us.

Yours thoughtfully,
Martin Thomson

September 2021: Pastor’s letter: The Right Kind of Fear

The right kind of fear

I confess I was scared. I don’t doubt I was not alone.

When the scale, and some of the implications of the pandemic became apparent last year, I knew a time when fear gripped my heart. There was a haunting anxiety for the safety and well-being of loved ones. Each day Lorna was heading off to work into a high-risk covid environment in the Care Home at a time when there was little understanding of the virus, no vaccines, and precious little PPE. Our eldest son Philip was (and is) stuck in China (of all places!), our son Jonathan on his own in Bristol, Lewis and Naushin in Cambridge amidst early concerns that those of Asian background were especially at risk. My 97-year-old mother-in-law was on her own in Glasgow at a time when she had no carers except us to check on her each week. Like many others, I found myself distracted by my fears for family.

 Then there was an icy fear for myself, stabbing my heart after that phone call with doctors discussing whether I ought to be shielding, given my sarcoidosis with its historic compromise of my immune system and the loss of some 25% lung function. All this at a time when I was acting as Interim moderator in Saltcoats and having to be ‘out and about’ conducting funerals at a rate of almost one each week over many months. Some of those funerals were of people whose lives were shortened by covid, and who would be alive today but for the virus. In the end, on a balance of risks, it was agreed that I need not shield, but many of you did have to shield and must have felt intensely vulnerable.

Amidst these fears, I was helped, and not a little challenged, by something the Lord Jesus said:

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:27-31

If we learn what the Bible describes as the ‘fear of the Lord’ then it will quell and dissipate other, lesser fears. Of course, fear of the Lord is not the cringing terror of a tyrant, it is the loving fear of a heavenly Father whose care extends to quantifying the number of hairs on our heads, and yet who has ultimate jurisdiction over our lives and destiny.

Let me illustrate how lesser fears can be dispelled by a legitimate greater fear. One summer whilst driving in Europe we had trouble with our car. It turned out we had contaminated fuel. The car kept cutting out when we were stationary. It was a nuisance and I was constantly worried about it getting worse, and distracted by the terror of being stranded somewhere with a broken-down car. We finally got it fixed in West Germany (as was) where we met an Irish family who had been involved in a serious collision whilst towing their caravan on the motorway. It might easily have cost them their lives. They were badly shaken, slightly injured and had a bent towbar along with a partly crushed caravan. Suddenly my concerns with a car cutting-out seemed trivial and easily dismissed.

Dwelling more on God, who he is, all that he has done for us in Christ, can begin to dispel our fears. After all, the day is coming when we will stand before him. That is a sobering reality we must all reckon with, whether we have known fear or not over this past year.

Whilst on holiday recently, I read Hilary Mantel’s final volume in her beautifully written trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, who rose from humble origins to become second only to his master, King Henry VIII. Mantel’s fictional reconstruction ends, true to history, with Cromwell’s sudden fall from grace and execution. The closing chapters of the book describe him in the Tower of London, forced to make ready for his imminent death. These are truly gripping chapters. He reads a book entitled, ‘A preparation unto death’ by the scholar Erasmus. He is clearly preparing to meet his Maker. Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower, advises him to review his life and confess his sins. He agrees but challenges his captor; ‘We are all dying. Just at different speeds.’

Best be ready. Best cultivate the right kind of fear.

            Yours thoughtfully,

            Martin Thomson

MAY 2021 NEWSLETTER

DALRY TRINITY CHURCH

MAY NEWSLETTER

GOSPEL OF WEAKNESS

            One of the hardest things to do is admit your own weakness. However, at the heart of the gospel is the call to do precisely that! Other world religions tend to teach that salvation is something we accomplish by our own efforts – by doing good works, by the excellence of our moral virtue, by the fidelity of our ritual observances, by our success in attaining a transformed consciousness. In stark contrast, Christianity says that salvation is secured by God for us, by his coming to us in Jesus Christ.

            For this gift to be received we must accept that we need it. Salvation is not the prize given to the successful. It is the gift given to the needy. If you don’t think yourself needy then you will remain a stranger to the gift. Jesus calls us to repentance and faith. He calls us to an acknowledgement of our need as guilty sinners, so that we can know ourselves accepted and delighted in by God.

            Timothy Keller tells an amusing story. He describes an ageing man whose hearing was beginning to fail but who was in denial about it. He complained that other people were mumbling. His wife arranged a hearing test, the result of which confirmed the need for hearing aids. However, when the cost of these was made known, the man insisted they were not affordable. His wife’s response was ‘Buy the best ones and consider it a gift from me.’

            At this point the man must admit his weakness in order to accept the gift. By accepting it he is effectively saying ‘That is a generous gift and as I accept it I am admitting that I am getting older and I can’t hear what people are saying.’ Accepting the gift required admitting the need.

            Amusingly, Keller admits that the story is true, and is about himself!

            The gospel is exactly like this. It is the best gift of all, but requires honest and radical admission of need. This requires humility and a readiness to surrender control. When we do so, it is like entering a new and wonderful life. There is no need to strive to make yourself acceptable; you need only admit your need and trust. Then all that Jesus secured by his life and death and resurrection becomes ours. And God not only accepts us but delights in us!

            Spring time is a beautiful time of year. After the dark, lifeless days of winter, days lengthen and there is an extravagant burst of life with colour and warmth. Christina Rossetti celebrated this in a poem entitled ‘Spring’

There is no time like Spring,
When life’s alive in everything,
Before new nestlings sing,
Before cleft swallows speed their journey back
Along the trackless track –
God guides their wing,
He spreads their table that they nothing lack, –
Before the daisy grows a common flower
Before the sun has power
To scorch the world up in his noontide hour…

            When we repent and believe, admitting our weakness and receiving the spring-like gift of life in Christ, all is fresh and new. It is a spring time of life, regardless of your age.

            Your minister

            Martin

Thursday 13th May: Gift Day

            The Biggart hall will be open on Thursday 13th May from 2pm to 3pm. This is for two reasons

  1. On that day Martin, together with David Albon and others, will take part in a sponsored walk for Christian Aid. Should you wish to bring a gift towards this you may do so.
  2. We are immensely grateful to those who have found ways of bringing their offerings to keep the Church going during the pandemic. However, we realise this has not always been practical amidst the restrictions. You may wish to take advantage of the hall opening on that day to bring your offerings and gifts for the church.

            You may come on 13th May to take advantage of either or both of the above opportunities.

Easter 2021 Newsletter

DALRY TRINITY CHURCH

EASTER NEWSLETTER

 RESURRECTION HOPE:

            At Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Uniquely, Christians do not remember a dead leader, far less do we simply follow the teachings of a deceased hero. Rather, at the very heart of the Christian faith, is loving fellowship with a living Lord. Jesus is the King who is present with us, in the power of his Spirit, because he is alive. He is also the king who will one day return to fully implement the kingdom he inaugurated, the life of which is represented in his resurrection.

            Many people are familiar with the legends of king Arthur. He was an ideal king who reigned in justice, restored peace and brought prosperity. His tomb is said to bear the inscription ‘Here lies Arthur, the once and future king.’ He was once king, but will one day be king again. It is a promise that the king whose brief reign had been a time of unparalleled blessing would one day come back to make things right.

            Jesus is our once and future king. The difference is that his rule has already begun. His resurrection means that the life of the kingdom is already available. By faith we get to glimpse and taste the life and powers of the kingdom that is to come.

            Let me illustrate. In 2009 a new Star Trek movie was released, directed by JJ Abrams. In the story, an elderly Mr Spock travelled back in time and by doing so was able to provide key information to the young Starship Enterprise crew, enabling them to save planet earth. You don’t need to be a Trekkie to grasp the illustration. Something of the future was brought back to secure life in the present.

            The resurrection of Jesus brings the future kingdom of God into the present. The life of the resurrected Jesus belongs to that future kingdom to which we may now belong. When that future kingdom is fully established with the return of the king then there will be peace, prosperity and nature itself will be healed.

            Let me quote Timothy Keller:

            ‘The resurrection was indeed a miraculous display of God’s power, but we should not see it as a suspension of the natural order of the world. Rather it was the beginning of the restoration of the natural order of the world, the world as God intended it to be. Since humanity turned away from God, both the human and natural worlds have been dominated by sin and evil, disorder and disease, suffering and death. But when Jesus rose from the dead, he inaugurated the first stage of the coming of God’s kingdom power into the world to restore and heal all things.’

            Now there is hope!

Your minister,

 Martin Thomson

DECEMBER 2020 – PASTOR’S LETTER

Dalry Trinity Church

December Newsletter

 The Christmas that can never be cancelled

            A few weeks ago, a newspaper carried the headline ‘Christmas is cancelled’ in response to the realisation that covid restrictions will limit the way we gather together. At the manse we are delighted that we will see two sons and a daughter-in-law for only the second time since last Christmas, but seeing them means we hit our maximum of 3 households together. So, we won’t be seeing our family in Glasgow at Christmas, something that has never happened before. Every family in the land will be making these calculations and realising how different things will be. This Christmas will be unlike any other. Many people feel deeply disappointed that their usual festivities will be cancelled.

            But let me be clear – Christmas is NOT cancelled. However much our celebration of the festival may be curtailed, the abiding significance of the first Christmas remains. As the shortened days of December shroud us in ever-deepening gloom, the bright hope of the One who came as the Light of the World may yet shine all the brighter. Will it take the removal of what we have allowed Christmas to become to turn us afresh to the true wonder of the coming of Jesus?

            Amidst the anxieties and fears that accompany many of us towards the end of the year, there remains the true hope that is found uniquely in Christ.

            For those who refuse to recognise or acknowledge anything that they cannot see, because they are materialists, things look bleak indeed. For them the world is a place of chaos which just so happens to be the victim of a random biological and chemical process. For them, living through a global pandemic is no more than the hand dealt to us by the random dictates of blind fate.

            For Christians, the first Christmas tells us a very different story. It tells us that the Universe is not to be dismissed as no more than an impersonal stage where lifeforms are tyrannised by dictates of viral ‘luck.’ Instead, the first Christmas tells us that there is a God who made everything and that at the very core of the universe is a God of love relationships (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). He is a God of supreme kindness and mercy, a God of grace, who has a plan to rescue us from the mess of our own making, and remake the world without sickness or pain or death. The key step in that plan was Him coming as one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. The king came to inaugurate a new and perfect kingdom.

            Jesus was born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago and lived the perfect human life in order to invite us to join in that future perfect world. By his death and resurrection, the way is made open to receive forgiveness and new life whereby we can belong in that new world.

            Christmas is not cancelled, because the hope of the incarnation can never be cancelled.

            May you know the blessing and hope of Christ this Christmas,

            Martin Thomson

March 2020 – Pastoral letter – Religions

On our sixth day in India we caught the 6am train from Jaipur to Delhi. A train journey seemed less overwhelming after so much time spent in road traffic, gridlocked and noisy and colourful and relentless amidst the endless throng of people. For several days we had spent time on the roads amidst buses, cars, lorries, motorcycles, Tuk Tuks, each capable of going fast but all going slow, five or six lanes of creeping traffic on three-lane highways. Train travel seemed so much less stressful.

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February 2020 – Dependence and Vulnerability

A five year episode concerning my health has come to something of a conclusion. In 2014 I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder called sarcoidosis, which, in my case, caused inflammation in my lungs and lymph glands. The symptoms included wheeziness, an annoying cough and what I now realise was an unhealthy tiredness. Initially, the condition was monitored over a period of years before the decision was taken in April 2018 to treat the condition with some industrial strength steroids.

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December 2019 – Modesty Above Publicity

There had been a difficult confrontation. The atmosphere was getting more tense. Jesus had been engaged in an exchange with the religious teachers, the Pharisees. They were picking fault with the behaviour of both Jesus and His disciples. No doubt their antagonism had deepened as Jesus exposed their ignorance of the Bible and their careless disregard for the welfare of the people around them.

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