Sunday 13 December 2020
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 & John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Reflection by Andrew
Paul tells the Thessalonians this morning: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing.” To the Philippians he writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!”
It’s kind of astonishing for a man who knows life isn’t easy. “Five times I have received forty lashes, less one, at the hands of the Jews. Three times I have been beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked. A night and a day adrift at sea, on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from my own people, danger from robbers” and then, he tells the Corinthians, I had to put up with you lot.
So Paul has been through all this, and yet still he says: Rejoice, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. That’s such a big ask when life is hard. We’re coming to the end of a hard year – and we know it’s not all over even with a vaccine. We’ve been deprived of so much and we’re missing people so much. So many people have died and almost everyone’s felt lonely at least some of the time. But rejoice, pray without ceasing, no matter what.
I’ve seen two stories to make me rejoice this week and I’ll bet you’ll have some too. I guess the vaccine would be one and that’s amazing – what an achievement for those scientists and researchers. But the story that grabbed my imagination and warmed my heart was one about a man called Jason in Dumfries, I think he’s a funeral director, who was really upset because at this time of year he always visits his Dad’s grave in Birmingham and he tidies it up and he puts a holly wreath on it, and he can’t do it this year because of travel restrictions. So he put something on Facebook telling everyone this and he got thousands of responses. One lady responded to say she walks her dog in the same cemetery every day, and not only has she tidied up his Dad’s grave and placed a holly wreath for Jason, but she’s said she’ll keep looking after it from now on. At the same time another lady got in touch, and it turns out her Mum is buried in Moffat and Jason is going to visit her Mum’s grave for her.
Rejoice in the Lord, give thanks in all circumstances. How good is that? And while we’re giving thanks, we know there are lots of bad things about the internet, but here’s an example of people connecting and blessing each other which, without the internet, could never have happened. This has been a time when we really are thankful for technology. This has been a terrible time, but stories like that warm your heart. You know how we sing, and we will again, “Ubi Caritas” (where love is there is God), well we’re seeing it on our TV screens every day.
My other Rejoice story this week, was Kevin Sinfield, the rugby league player doing seven marathons in seven days to raise funds for everyone suffering from Motor Neurone Disease because he’s been so inspired by his friend and team-mate Rob Burrow. Rob’s only thirty-eight and he was a brilliant sportsman until this cruel disease took so much away from him, with a prognosis that’s dire. But the joy on his face as his friend crossed the finish line for his final marathon, and his courage – he can now only talk through a machine – was so moving. He’s got two wee girls who spoke to say how proud they are of their Daddy and how proud they are of his friend’s amazing fund-raising. I could hardly bear to watch. Rob’s the same age as my oldest daughter and he should have had so much ahead of him, but he smiles and he laughs. Where love is there is God.
This horrendous year has brought immense suffering all over the world, but it’s also made us aware of so much goodness. There are good people doing good things. There is more love than hate; there is more goodness than evil. Dare I say that? Yes, I do. And I’ll bet you’ve known it too. In the midst of this world, a world God loves, the God of love is never absent – and his Spirit is at work in every moment, everywhere.
The coming of Jesus, “down to such a world as this” as the carol says, reminds us that this God enters the mess and the pain of the world exactly as it is, because he loves the world. And for this we rejoice. Amen.