I love Titus 3:4 - ‘But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.’ That is worth celebrating! Christians around the world do so in different ways.
The Russian, Greek and Serbian Orthodox Churches in the East etc exchange gifts after the feast of the Magi, usually on January 7th. The Orthodox begin their 12 days of Christmas with fasting to prepare for the coming One. In Pakistan Christians paint their house walls again with a coloured whitewash and buy each other a new set of clothes. It is great to see many poor families being able to dress up for the Christmas Services where Punjabi psalms and Christian carols are sung with gusto! They also build large wooden-framed Christmas stars with red paper, illuminate them internally and suspend them for Muslims and Christians to see - presenting a witness to their wider community.
There are of course those who simply take on Western cultural practices. A friend told about a Kenyan dressed up in a Santa’s outfit outside a store in El Doret with Jingle Bells playing. December is particularly hot at that time of year in Kenya! Simon Clift has celebrated with our diocesan companion link in Holy Cross Cathedral singing ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ in a temperature of 35 degrees centigrade! I like the laid-back Australians who enjoy their Christmas BBQ feast on the beach
At Christmas we received the greatest gift of all as Christ is born for each one of us. Let us be a gift to other people this Christmas by particularly inviting the lonely, neglected and poor to His feast – that is a tradition worth practising!
Thirty-five people attended the day led by John and Gillian Ryeland from the Christian Healing Mission (CHM). The day was a mixture of hearing about ‘Encounter Prayer’, seeing it demonstrated, experiencing it for ourselves and practising it with each other. We learned that there are three aspects: resting on the Father’s love; finding the presence of Jesus, and inviting the presence of the Holy Spirit.
John demonstrated this on a volunteer, emphasising that when we come into the Father’s presence we stand on His love and not on guilt, condemnation and a sense of worthlessness (which is often our default mindset). After some moments of reminding the person how much God loves them, John asked ‘Where is Jesus for you right now?’ and, after their response, he continued with ‘What would you want to say to Him?’ He then invited the Holy Spirit to come and make real for them any revelation they had received.
Encounter Prayer is an approach that lets each person come to God and talk to Him themselves. Each person matters. We all carry something of the presence of God. God may do things in an unexpected way. Don’t be afraid of silence! Allow space to explore what is happening with the person who is being prayed for. If the answer to ‘Where is Jesus in this?’ is negative that is ok because God wants reality and we have to start from where we are. It is our ongoing relationship with God that brings the healing.
From the ‘buzz’ in the room at the end of the day it seemed that people were refreshed and encouraged by all that had happened.
For more info about CHM see https:/www.healingmission.org
Sandy (mum) and Grace (8) did an alternative Light Party in their front yard at Halloween. Here's their story ...
How did it come about?
Our Light Party was Grace’s idea. Beforehand I was not impressed at the thought of standing for two hours in the cold, but Grace was very excited she was actually going to act out her ideas.
What did you do?
We attracted children by having lights on, curtains open and tea lights in the front yard. We had two stations: apple bobbing, and bracelet making. Grace stood at the door, gave every child a glow stick and sang ‘My Lighthouse’ to them. I welcomed each group, explained we were Christians, that there is no darkness where there is light, God is light and we should follow him, not darkness.
How did people respond?
People were attracted and interested by the lit up house. Between eight and twelve children at a time stood waving glow sticks as I told them the true meaning of that night. Parents shared cultural traditions of their country and many adults were chatting and children playing. I had to laugh - most forgot the sweets we had to give! They left waving glow sticks, some singing ‘My Lighthouse’! I spoke to many families and they said such things as: ‘Food for thought!’, ‘We will do this next year!’, ‘WOW, amazing idea!’
How did you feel afterwards?
I wasn’t cold and my feet didn't touch the ground. Grace gave out sixty glow sticks and forty apples were dunked. We needed more hands to make bracelets (which were to show God is eternal). I didn't know two people could reach out and touch so many people's lives in 1¾ hours!
Last Sunday, one of our church shared this word:
2 Kings 4:1-7 tells the miracle of the widow and the clay jars. God miraculously filled as many jars as the woman could get hold of with oil to enable her to pay her debts.
I believe God longs to pour out the oil of his blessing, his healing, his abundant life on all of us.
We are those empty clay jars. God only filled the ones the widow was given.
If we choose to hold back, whether through fear or unbelief or lack of self worth, God can't fill us.
He wants to fill our clay jars with the gift of His Holy Spirit, corporately and individually.
We simply have to come and offer Him our emptiness. He loves us and longs to bless us.
"As I was coming home from the prayer gathering, I had a picture of a dry stone wall. I could see the ‘odd’ shapes of the stones and how they fitted perfectly together to make a strong wall to be able to face the fiercest of weather and be a protection for whatever was on the lee side of it. I also felt that if ‘my stone’ was not there, there would be a gap and the wall would be weakened. It could possibly collapse!! I don’t feel that is me being arrogant but in humility knowing with confidence I have a place in the wall.
"I felt that for St James’ by the Park it was a picture of us all being of great importance, all different shapes but fitting together to make something strong and beautiful, for dry stone walls are so much more beautiful than a ‘bland’ brick wall. They can a bit rough and ready - as individuals within the church, we are not perfect, but all together…. Who knows!