REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 56: New Year Security.
With his nation at war King George VI ended his 1939 Christmas message with the words of Minnie Louise Hoskins: I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, give me a light that I might tread safely into the unknown. And he replied: Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be better than light and safer than a known way.” He then added: “May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all”. With a New Year ahead and pandemic uncertainties persisting, and for many, multiplying, it may be beneficial to consider the wisdom of the King’s quotation.
Though the unknown can be a cause of fear, even dread, we can be sure that we never need face it alone. The Christmas event secures this assurance for all who would turn to Christ. The uncertain future for Mary, an unmarried Jewish girl, was allayed by Gabriel the Heavenly messenger with the characteristic words of the Godhead, do not be afraid [Luke 1:30; Gen 15:1; Deut 31:7-8; Jer 1:8; Matt 10:28; 28:10] and then with the God-given explanation that what was happening was all in God’s good purposes [Lk 1:30-38]. This is the way God continues to help us; the explanations of Scripture are always given, not to explain everything, but to assure us that He who is Sovereign can be fully trusted into the future. A month or so after Jesus’s birth God spoke to Mary and Joseph through Simeon [Lk 2:33-35] with the further assurance that Jesus was God’s promised deliverer, and with the disturbing words about the opposition He would invite [2:34-35a] and the heartache Mary would endure watching her son go to the Cross [2:35b]. What she had been told would sustain her in her confusion and distress on that first Good Friday. A basic Biblical principle that will sustain us as we face uncertainties, our own or of others, personal and pandemical, is summed up in the exhortation never doubt in the dark what you have learned in the light.
There are some real advantages in facing hardships, whether they be national or personal. [I am given to understand that the personal unwelcome diagnosis of his own cancer was known to the king, but not to his subjects]. In a similar way, the pandemic reminds us that we are not masters of our own destiny. The prospect of another year causes us, if we are wise, to pause and take stock. The poem is a timely reminder that it is not knowledge of our future circumstances that brings comfort and security, but that the King of Kings can be known and trusted into 2021.
He who became a real live man with flesh and bones, needs and emotions, fully understands our frailty, temptations, fears and joys [as Hebrews makes clear in 2:10-18; 4:14-16; 5:7-9]. Here is our confidence: we are welcome into the court of heaven as we pray through His once-and-for-all-completed sacrifice [7:23-28; 10:19-25], fully understood by Jesus, our sympathetic High Priest, whose atoning death and presence at our Father’s right hand, assures us that the throne of the Holy God is one of grace [4:16]. Here is the basis for the encouragements to pray which come from our Lord and His apostles [Luke 11:1-13, 1 Peter 5:6-7; Phil 4:4-8].
We were reminded of God’s faithfulness as we sang Timothy Dudley-Smith’s great hymn on Sunday. With so many of the Old Testament prophecies finding their fulfilment in Christ’s first coming there need be no doubting His ability or willingness to complete the purpose He has begun. The birth of Jesus was the primary fulfilment but so are all of us who have been drawn to Christ, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the gospel. We are numbered among the Gentile beneficiaries, just as Anna and Simeon were among those believing Jews who responded to our Lord’s ministry. God is keeping His promises [Lk 2:29-32]. So we can sing, and live in confidence, that the safest way to live is God’s way, with our hand in His [Deut 33:27; Psalm 37:24, 73:23; 139:10; John 10:29] and following Jesus who is the light of the world [John 8:12]. We need not know every, even any, aspect of our future save that, bound to Him by faith, [Matt 11:28-30; Jn 10:27-30; Rom 8:28-39] we are on the right track [Mt 7:13-14], with the right Saviour [1 Jn 2:1-2], with the right citizenship [Phil 3:20-21] and assured destination [John 14:1-6, 2 Peter 3:13].
We can sing with joy-full confidence:
Lord, for the years Your love has kept and guided, Urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way, Sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided: Lord of the years, receive your peoples’ praise.
Evoking prayer for our nation:
Lord, for this land in this our generation, Spirits oppressed by pleasure wealth and care: For young and old, for commonwealth and nation, Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.
And for our own conformity to Christ and His gracious purposes in 2021:
Lord, for ourselves; in living power re-make us- Self on the cross and Christ upon the throne, Past put behind us, for the future take us: Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone. [Mission Praise 428 verses 1, 3 and 5].
Peter Brain 29th December, 2020