God is Love

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

February 14th sees St. Valentine's Day come around again...love is in the air!

You will probably have your own views on this particular celebration. Some of you will see it simply as commercial, till-ringing nonsense. Others of you will value it as an opportunity to re-affirm your love for someone...or to declare your love for someone for the very first time.

St Valentine was not, as some may think, an invention of the greeting card, floristry and confectionery industries but was a Roman priest martyred for secretly marrying Christian couples who were being persecuted by the Emperor Claudius.

Since Rebecca and I first became a couple as teenagers at school we have always celebrated Valentine's Day, exchanging cards and sharing a special meal together. For us it's an opportunity (hopefully not the only one of the year!) to remind each other of the love we share and to reaffirm the special place we hold in each other’s life.

Love is a major theme in the Bible too. Whilst in English we muddle through with just one word for love, the bible uses several Hebrew and Greek words for the different types of love. These include ‘eros’ for sensual, romantic love and ‘phileo’ for the deep friendship type of love.

But God's love for us in the New Testament is expressed using the word ‘agape’. This describes love that is far more than emotions or feelings. It is the unconditional love God has for every one of us, love that doesn’t depend on how ‘good’ we are or start only when we come to church. Agape is the same love that led Jesus to die for you and me on the cross, so that our relationship with God that had been broken by our sinfulness could be restored.

God never stops loving you and me, whatever is in our pasts...but as with the Valentine’s card, it's a love that deserves to be given in return.

David Wells, Acting leader, St. Mary's at the School

A New Year

I find myself, appropriately enough, writing this on New Year’s Eve. It’s a time for remembering 2018 but also for looking forward to new challenges in 2019. It is thought by many that January is so named after the Roman god of doorways, Janus, who is usually depicted with two faces - one looking backwards and one facing forwards. If that is correct (some think the month is named after Juno) then it is entirely appropriate. We’ve had the celebrations of the birth of Jesus Christ, which often involves heroic consumption and for many this needs to be atoned for by a quiet January. Cancer Research is even mounting a fund-raising campaign (Dryathlon) based on drinking no alcohol in January. Steady on is all I can say! Others will diet or take out gym membership as the short days and dank climate seem to make us rather remorseful.

If we look back at 2018 everyone will have different memories - some happy and some very sad. England got to the semi-finals of the football world cup, Alan and Jill Comfort moved on, Brexit probably didn’t, and the sun shone mightily all summer. It was daunting to get cover for the variety of services that our three churches host, but it happened thanks to huge amounts of time and effort from many inside and outside the Church. We are very grateful to all the visiting clergy who have helped us out over the last six months and we will continue to need their help until John arrives, and of course Caroline’s exceptional hard work. There are many others too, far too many to name but you know who they are!

You will probably have heard that we have appointed a new Rector, John Chitham, who with his wife Basma will be moving to the area and taking up the reins towards the end of March. He has a great deal of experience and a very easy manner about him. We are all looking forward to their arrival. One of the biggest challenges any one taking up the post will face, is the wide spectrum of worship provided - from BCP Communion, which is pretty much unchanged since the Reformation, to St Mary’s at the School where the emphasis is on much more charismatic and informal worship; and we have most other things in between as well.

For those who are ambivalent or even just plain agnostic and the gym doesn’t appeal, why not decide to try one of our services at Standon or Little Munden or Sacombe, you might surprise yourselves - and we don’t bite.

Derek, Churchwarden

Advent

Advent can easily be overlooked, but it’s an important season in the Church calendar. It’s a time of looking forward, not just to the holiday season, but beyond.
700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah looked forward to a time when God would send a special King, who would ‘redeem’ God’s people. That’s a very churchy word, and we hear it a lot at Christmas time – Jesus, our Redeemer.
To redeem something or someone means to buy back something held or claimed by someone else, to recover something that has been pledged, to free a captive, by paying the amount due, the ransom price.
Even in Isaiah’s day, people felt pulled to act in ways they knew were wrong. Human nature, peer pressure, the busyness of life got in the way of them living as they knew God would want. They couldn’t seem to help themselves, and things kept going wrong for them. God promised to put that right, one day. God’s great King would come, and he would release us from the things that pull us in the wrong direction; he would pay the price of our freedom from all that separates us from God.
People looked forward to that time. Sometimes it seemed it would never come, but God keeps his promises, and at Christmas we remember the birth of the baby who is that King.
When Christmas comes, our churches will be busy with services. We’ll remember that baby, but that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus did come; he is the King, but still people act in ways that are wrong. The job of the King is not finished yet. And so, in Advent, we look forward to Christmas, but we also look forward to the time when the work will be done, God’s rule will prevail, and God will live with us, in peace and harmony. Many think that’s not going to happen now, after all this time, but God has kept the first part of his promise, and we can be sure that the second part is on its way, one day.
As we celebrate Christmas, let’s thank God for the baby who was born King, and let’s look forward to the day when he rules the whole world and God’s perfect kingdom comes.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Caroline Franks, Reader (Licensed Lay Minister)

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