Pastoral letter from Richard Steven, The Rectory, Herstmonceux Tel 01323 833124

e mail:

Dear Church Members and Friends, are you feeling it yet? The Christmas rush? 

Many of us fill our days with more activity and events than we do the rest of the year. Or maybe your experience is quite different and just find this time of year depressing and isolating? Or just maybe this letter finds you rejoicing? Whatever our experience we often forget the reason for the season. Rather than feeling good things, we are stressed, exhausted, or frustrated and fed up. Instead of peace on earth, there’s anxiety or turmoil in our heart. In truth, the 21st century version of Christmas can remind us that we need someone to rescue us from ourselves! 

 Here is an account of the first Christmas. “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14) 

A miraculous, amazing, and fantastic thing took place over two thousand years ago. God’s promise to Adam and Eve was coming true. The curtains were pulled back and the story of redemption was unfolding for all who had eyes to see. The angels looked on with wonder and couldn’t help but sing and rejoice and give us their Christmas message. The Son of God came and lived among us? Who would’ve thought? But that’s not all. Jesus didn’t come just to live among us, he came to do something. He came to redeem and restore what was broken. He came to heal the hurting, find the lost, free the bound, and save sinners. He came primarily to bring peace on earth. But this is not just the normal peace we think of, this is the peace of redemption. St Paul writes “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life”. Jesus came to enable all people to be reconciled or to be at peace with God. (Rom 5v10) That’s what Isaiah meant when he referred to Jesus as the Prince of Peace (see Is 9v6). When the shepherds came to worship the Christ-child, they told Mary all that the angels had said. Her response? “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). 

What if our Christmas season involved more pondering and treasuring? What if we paused to think, consider, wonder, and meditate on what it means that Jesus is the Prince of Peace? What if this Christmas we fixed our eyes on Jesus and rested in what he came to do for us? Then we might know this reconciling power working in and around us. Jesus himself uses the word peace twenty-three times in the gospels, and he is found speaking peace to his disciples who were often far from peaceful. But the peace he gives isn’t just a reassurance that he can offering in troubled times, it is a deep experience that can be had even in the most unlikely situations. A doctor took an informal poll over a three-year period. 

‘If you had one desire that you knew would be granted without any question what would you ask?’ 87% said they would ask for peace of mind and soul! A very clever man with a Ph.D. once said I don’t see this Christianity business, I’ve got everything you Christians have. I’ve got a lovely home I love my wife, I’m kind to my neighbour, and I pay my bills, he paused for a moment and added, ’The only thing is I can’t sleep at night’. 

Jesus said ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid’ Jn 14v27. Jesus said, “my peace I give to you”, but we have to go to him to receive it. In St Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he says that as a result of prayer to Jesus we can all experience a peace that transcends all understanding. (Philippians 4v6,7) There were many at the first Christmas who missed the most miraculous event in history. Let’s make sure we take time to treasure and ponder what it means that God became man. Let’s marvel over a King who can relate to us all, born not in a palace but in a stable. This Christmas, let us seek to know the One who is our Christmas peace and can give us the peace of God in our hearts. Let's just ask Jesus to help and He will. 

(With thanks to Christina Fox for some material from her inspiring article on ‘The Salt of the earth’ website)