Advent Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, and this year it fell today, on the 30th November. It was lovely to arrive at church this morning and find the Advent candle wreath ready to be lit, and some discreet Christmas decorations around the church - nothing too much, but some bright flower arrangements which included candles as their centrepieces, and some ornamental bits on the windowsills. It felt festive but not over the top. We talked about what Advent means and how the coming of the Christ-child is a long awaited event, and how hard that waiting can be, whatever it is you are waiting for! Unfortunately we had to reflect on the trend for the waiting to be focussed on the greed of the "I want" type of person, interested only in what Christmas will bring, perhaps as gifts, food and drinks, or entertainment. Sadly, few think of Jesus when they are thinking of Advent and Christmas. For far too many, Advent is the word that prefixes "calendar" and means a daily dose of chocolate, and nothing else. How sad.
In these tough financial times, it would be good to move away from the material acquisitions of gifts and entertainment experiences, towards fellowship with friends and family, church members and neighbours, and to think more of giving that of receiving. It costs nothing to speak to a lonely older person and cheerily wish them, "Merry Christmas!" when you may have been the only person to have spoken with them on that day. It would cost only a little more to invite such a person to share the celebrations with us and our families. I am afraid that I take the easy option which is a little bit of a cop-out on that front, and I make an annual donation to the Salvation Army here which does an amazing amount of social care for homeless people, older people and those who have little - they have centres which will be open on Christmas Day serving lunches to people who would otherwise be alone, they provide a huge number of meals every day to homeless people on the streets, and they provide boxes of food and small presents to families who are struggling to put food on the table at this time of year. Those are just a few of the wonderful things that the Salvation Army does each year, and I support their work in this arena.
The message of the service this morning was that God has a plan. He planned for Jesus' birth from the beginning of the world, and events in the Old Testament bear witness to the prophecies which were proved in his lifetime on earth. That Jesse was the father of David, and that David's line would eventually bear fruit in Jesus was all part of the plan, and how wonderful to believe that there is as big a plan for each one of our lives! How humbling to think that God has planned us and our lives to that extent - but how great must our faith be to allow God's hand to work in our lives and let us follow the path that He has chosen for us.
I KNOW that that is true, because God saved the FH's life through the FH's relationship with me. Although the end of a relationship is a sad and terrible time, if the FH had not decided to move out of his home with his previous wife and go and live with his mother, and then ultimately to pursue a relationship with me, he would have probably died sometime in 2000. Because he was living in Scotland, which was my choice of home, he was given a second chance in 1999 when he had a heart transplant at Glasgow's Royal Infirmary. The transplant hospital near to where he lived with his first wife would not have given him that chance at life, because he did not fit their criteria. The surgeon at Glasgow then was a little more radical and experimental, and willing to give it a go. I really do Thank God that they had that attitude there, as he is doing well 8 years later. The surgeon had to remove the old heart with a great deal of suction as it had deteriorated so badly that it was like jelly, and he was sure that it would not have lasted much longer at all.
That plan that God has is not revealed to us in advance, so we have to have faith in Him and trust that by living in His way, His plan will bring us safely through this life and on to the next. In following His way, we will do good in this earthly life, I am sure. The big thing is to remember constantly that this is HIS plan, and not ours. There is little point in sitting down on New Year's Eve and planning 2009 out for ourselves. The trouble with our plans is that they are usually selfish - we think too much of ourselves. When I think about the things I hoped to achieve in 2008, I was planning greater earnings, holidays and an easier life. I got none of that, but I have gained other, more meaningful things, and I can look back on a year in which I found a new church, which my children are happy and eager to attend on a regular basis, I made new friends, and I actually cut back on the amount I earned because I did less work! I spent more time with my family, and I have had a good year. God's plan was obviously a better one than mine! Can't wait to see what is in store for 2009.....
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