If the headlines are anything to go by, 2007 did not get off to a very bright start. We emerged from our Christmas festivities into reports of the deteriorating situation in Iraq and, indeed, throughout the Middle East, to dire predictions about global warming, underlined by some unusually mild winter weather, to alarm stories about crime and criminals, and lots more gloom. The news always seems to be the bad news these days. You have to dig deep to find good news.
It is easy to condemn the media, but sometimes the church suffers the same problem. To many people the church seem over-preoccupied with sin - usually other people's - and human frailty, and rarely seems to say anything about the good things that are happening. Part of the reason for focussing on sin is so that we can rejoice in the wonder of forgiveness and the joy of a new start, but in modern times that's not "news".
The only contact a lot of people have with the church today is at times of difficulty and sorrow - in serious illness, or personal problems, or at a funeral. This makes their picture of the church one-sided. Just as the newspapers and the television shift our perception of life by concentrating on bad news, so this limited encounter with the church can give the impression that it is only concerned with the down-side of life. And the media don't help. It's always possible to find a religious leader who will come on the air to condemn something, but how often do they even bother to look for one who will praise some new initiative or invite us to celebrate success and achievement.
One of the Bible stories Christians traditionally read early in the New Year is the story of Jesus at a wedding. It starts with a problem: the hosts ran out of wine. But in the story as St John tells it (chapter 2) Jesus made new wine for the assembled company from the water standing in the huge jars that stood ready to wash the feet of travellers. The first thing Jesus is recorded as doing in St John's Gospel is making people happy and sharing in their joy. Later on in the Gospel Jesus says "I have come that people may have life, and have it in full abundance". There's something to correct the melancholy imbalance of contemporary life. In the Christmas story the angel tells the shepherds "I bring you news of great joy - joy for all the people", and the church should be a community of joy, the joy that flows from the assurance of God's never-failing love and mercy.
There is joy all around us, if we're prepared to look for it. There are plenty of things to celebrate, and we need to share our celebrations with one another instead of keeping them all "private". It is easy to look back at times of difficulty and see how a sense of community was created out of shared adversity, but shared joy and celebrations strengthen and renew family- and community-life. We need to look for the good things of life. We need to talk about them and share them with others. We need to celebrate them. Weddings are among the most obvious such occasions, and even they are becoming fewer and fewer. But Jesus at the wedding feast reminds us that life is meant to be enjoyed, and there are good things all around us.
So, even though it's a bit late, may I wish you all a truly joyful New Year.
- February 2007
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- August / September 2007
- October 2007
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- December 2007
About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.