Wednesday, December 7, 2016

‘IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR’

 I love it, I love everything there is about Christmas.  Carolling with an SA band … the buying of presents, wrapping them … writing of endless cards … the decorations …  turkey on Christmas day with all the trimmings … giving time to those who would otherwise be on their own and sharing Christmas with them, trying to help them feel part of the family.  

I love the cold weather, clear, dark starry nights and walking Mr Ben, our Cocker Spaniel, and as we walk gazing into people’s windows and admiring their Christmas trees.  I love it when people are kind enough to decorate the outside of their homes too and put lights on trees in their gardens. 

Just last week Sven and I were in London and briefly saw some of the Regent Street and Oxford Street lights; this year the sky is filled with angels and as I delight in all the lights I am reminded of the words from Isaiah 9 ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned;’ words of prophesy spoken more than 400 years before the birth of Christ. 

At the end of the Old Testament God was in hiding.  For a long time He had threatened to hide His face … and He did … and a dark shadow fell across the world.  For four centuries, the four hundred years of God’s silence, people searched for, longed for the promised Messiah. .. And then, He came to a dark, hurting world.

Ironically, in the western world we celebrate Christ’s coming to earth as a babe on the 25th December. In Europe, this follows the darkest time of the year, but what kind of dark world did He come to over two thousand years ago?  What was happening at the time of Jesus’ birth?  There was violence, injustice, abuse of power, homelessness, refugees fleeing oppression, families ripped apart, and bottomless grief.  Sound familiar?  Sound just like today?

The world has and always will need Christ, Light of the World and advent is a constant reminder of this eternal gift.

Hans Christian Anderson’s story of 'The 'Little Matchgirl' reflects, for me, something of the spirit of Advent. The little Matchgirl was a young child, undernourished and very poor. She earned her daily bread by selling matches, but the earnings were sparse and at home a cruel father was waiting to punish her if she failed to bring home enough money. One dark winter night she was standing in her usual place, shivering and gazing at the lighted windows of the big houses all around her, catching fleeting glimpses of all that was going on inside those rooms … the preparations for Christmas, the lovely gifts, the bright decorations, the happy faces, the smell of Christmas puddings and roasting goose.

All she had was a box of matches and there were no customers that night.   Everyone had other things on their minds. 'Dare I strike one?' she wondered. She took out a match, and struck it, gazing for a few brief moments into its blaze of light. As she did so, she imagined that it was one of those lighted windows.  She looked inside, in her imagination, and entered into a warm room where loving friends welcomed her.  Another match; another scene.  Another window to look into.  Perhaps a fine dinner set out for a family.  The crackling of the goose, the aroma of mince pies.  Food and shelter.  And so she continued, until she came to the last match in the box.

As she strikes her last match, the little Matchgirl sees a shooting star falling across the night sky and her granny is standing there, smiling, waiting to gather the child into her arms and carry her home to heaven. The frozen child is discovered the next morning, with an empty matchbox in her hands and a deep, contented smile across her white face.'

That night, in the darkness and in her pain, the Little Matchgirl experienced something of mystery and hope in light. 

Advent, invites us to gaze with awe and wonder into God’s great light, and discover again something of the mystery of His coming to earth as the Christ Child.  As we sing the old familiar carols:  ‘Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.  The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.’  May we recognize afresh:  ‘How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.  So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heaven. 


No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him STILL the dear Christ enters in.’  Emmanuel, God with us, leading us closer and closer to Him, the mysterious light of the world.

Glad Ljungholm
Major
The Salvation Army, UK

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