For us in Australia we are now in Boxing Day – but for those in Europe, Africa and the US – it’s still Christmas – so here is my Christmas pastoral letter which was published in St Thomas’s this week. And a photo of our Christmas dinner! It seemed weird having Bar-B-Que prawns in the midst of summer for Christmas but it was superb…
Brothers and Sisters,
Twas the week before Christmas and an air of gloom, despair and panic hung over the city. Things had been going so well – people were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage. Social distancing was (almost) a distant memory. Masks were occasionally seen. But then someone flew in from the US and somehow this incredibly virile virus reached the Northern Beaches and numbers went from two to 30 per day. On top of the news from Europe and the US, along with memories of Victoria, it is no surprise that so many dreaded the worst. The CBD was quiet, it was easy to get a table at the Crow’s Nest restaurants on the Friday night before Christmas, and people either stayed at home or did the only thing they were told would help – wore masks.
The apocalyptic headlines did not help – “Sydney Facing Disaster!”. It reminded me of last year at the height of the bushfires when one headline shouted “100,000 Sydney homes to be lost!”. There does seem to be a particular cultural zeitgeist for doom and gloom in our media. “World to end in 12 years”; “Race riots to fracture society”; “China steps up war with Australia”; and even this week “Sea Snake Infested Foam Blankets Australian East Coast!”. 2020 may not have been the year of the Apocalypse – but it has certainly been a year when apocalyptic predictions have risen to the fore.
It’s very easy for those of us who are Christians to get caught up in this. I too have listened every morning at 11am for the latest figures from Gladys. I too am scared by Covid and certainly don’t want to get it or pass it on. But then I need to get things in perspective. On the day that there were 30 cases in Australia, there were 35,000 in the UK. Over 900 people in Australia have died this year with Covid, but each year there are over 160,000 deaths.
I think that is where the fear comes. Ultimately, we are those who live all our lives in the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23:4) and are held in slavery by our fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). But in the words of Blue Oyster Cult ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper.
Why should people fear death? As the Puritan Richard Sibbes asks. “What! Is it such a matter to die? It is nothing to die. They set a good face on the matter. And this is the conceit of many men till they come to it. But alas! To be enthralled to death, it is another matter, for beyond death there is a gulf”. The reason people are scared of death is not because it is the end, but it is a beginning. It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that to face judgement (Hebrews 9:27).
There is a right fear. A fear which is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). The shepherds in the field on the first Christmas had that fear. They were terrified when the glory of the Lord shone around them (Luke 2:9). But they were told by the angel of the Lord “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people”.
This Christmas let us burn that phrase into our minds and hearts. Let it be on our lips and in our tweets! This Christmas Friday let’s not go the route of the darkness of last Friday. Instead, let us rejoice that the ultimate vaccine for the world came many years ago and is still working amongst us. The Saviour of the World has come – rejoice!
This week’s resources:
Annabel and I have been greatly enjoying reading Voices from the Past – a daily devotional from the writings of the Puritans. Maybe your New Year’s resolve can be to read such a book every day? Click here
Christmas is especially good news for the poor. Our son Andrew is a church planter in one of the poorest housing estates in Scotland – this is an area hit by mental illness, poverty, drugs, family breakdown and has been particularly badly hit by Covid and the Covid restrictions. This video shows how they did a carol service with a great gospel message – it’s not technically perfect! But it is very real (with lots of interruptions) and a couple of incredible videos….enjoy it here – (starts at about 7 min) –
Please pray for the work in Charleston Community Church.
The carol, O Holy Night, is one of the videos from ‘the schemes’ (housing projects). It is deeply moving. Click here
Have a great Christmas,
Quantum this week is a Christmas special – Quantum 126 – 2020 Christmas Special