Christmas 2017 - Advent Reflection: The Light Shines in the Darkness
When I first came to Wales as a visiting speaker, I remember driving all the way from Reading along the M4 to my appointment in Swansea. I’d heard South Wales on the whole is a pretty place, and for most of my trip that seemed to be true. That was until I approached the city of Port Talbot, where I was greeted by chemical works, with their chimneys, factories and generally very unattractive industrial plants. And of course the M4 itself ploughs right through the centre of the city, it’s concrete pillars elevating it and the vehicles it supports above the city streets and right past the living room windows of the poor folks who live there. Not very attractive I thought. I hope I don’t end up working here! Some time later, when I started working in the district, I was heading back home and driving through this not very attractive place, late at night. Something dramatic had transformed Port Talbot. At night the lights of the city, the factories and industrial plants, and the flames coming out the chimneys had turned Port Talbot into a place of beauty, as if draped with Christmas lights. As we come to the end of another year, we notice how the winter nights get longer, and the days shorter. What better time is there to celebrate the light, with candles and Christmas lights making the long nights and dull days into something beautiful? The light shines in the darkness. Light is a theme that runs throughout scripture. In the creation story, light is the first thing that God brings to pass. The prophet Isaiah, when talking about the coming of the Messiah, declares, ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, on them the light has shined’ The shepherds, watching their flocks at night, were visited by angels bathed in the glory of God’s light. The wise men travelled hundreds of miles, guided by a star shining in the night sky. The light shines in the darkness.
Jesus was born into the world at a dark time in history, so that this Christmas light could shine all the brighter. Jesus, the light of the world. What kind of light are we talking about? It is the kind of light that can draw wise men to travel over deserts to a far away land. It is the kind of light that gets ordinary folk like shepherds, like us, all excited about life. It is the kind of light that can turn a not so pretty town like Port Talbot into something to behold. ‘We have seen his glory’, John the apostle wrote, as he reflected on the life of Jesus, 'glory …full of grace and truth’, the light of love and kindness. It is hard to explain fully what this light is, but one thing we can say, is that we are drawn to it, we feel good when we have it, drawn to it when we have it our homes, and have it in our lives. It gives us happiness, and it gives us hope. Even though dark forces surrounded Jesus in his lifetime on this earth, they were not successful. He loved, he forgave, he won the victory over the darkness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… And so this Christmas time, may you receive this light into your life. There is no need to be afraid of what is happening in the world around us. That light still shines, it shines for you and for me…So may you receive it, and you yourself be a little light too, shining wherever you go…
Jeremy Tremeer (Seventh-day Adventist Church at St. Paul's)
October 2016 - Harvest Festival - by Jeremy Tremeer (Seventh-day Adventist Church - at St. Paul's)
A recent article in the National Geographic magazine reported the looming crisis of feeding a growing world population. Apparently crop yields are not increasing fast enough. To add to the problem is a dwindling number of seed varieties left to choose from. As an example, a seed laboratory in the United States currently stocks about 79 varieties of tomato. However, at the start of the twentieth century seed houses in the U.S. had over 400 varieties available. They found a similar pattern with other crops. Lettuce seed stocks had dwindled from 497 varieties to just 36. The survey included 66 crops, and found that around 93% of the seed varieties had gone extinct over the course of the last 100 years.
As many of our churches celebrate Harvest Festival this month, I am drawn to think of all the great food I love to eat. We are lucky to have such a great choice of colours; textures and tastes available to us, something we can celebrate and enjoy every time we receive a plate of good food. I also find Harvest is a good time to reflect on how that food got to us. Year after year, generation after generation, someone, somewhere, has carefully planted and harvested each seed, to make the food we have today possible. It is impossible to imagine to how many people, and how much, we need to be thankful for what we have.
One the readings we had at the Harvest Festival I attended was the story of Joseph, which we find in the book of Genesis. Here is a story about a man, who, given the the gift of interpretation by God, was able to explain to Pharaoh the meaning of his troubling dream. As a result, he catapulted from a prison cell to second-in-command, to oversee the careful storing and preserving of grain in time for the coming famine. In doing so Joseph was instrumental in saving a generation of people, and a superpower, from starvation. It is a wonderful story not only of God orchestrating the survival of a people, but also through all of that being reconciled with his family who had thought he was long dead and buried.
It is a beautiful illustration of not only how preserving grain saved lives, but how on a more important level, sacrifice and giving makes such things possible. Here is a man, who was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers, sold into slavery, and then thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit. But incredibly, through the work of God, his life became like a seed, discarded to the ground, and yet returning with so much more good influence and power than anyone could ever have expected. Added to this was his determination, in spite of his imposed exile and being betrayed by his older brothers, to remain faithful to the God he served. He held on to his integrity, his honour, his morals. He did not develop any loathing or bitterness, but in spite of his loss maintained a spirit of forgiveness and cheer. Without that he never would have even given thought to the welfare of others around him. Such is the power of sacrifice, of letting your life be like a seed, not allowing pride, the desire for revenge, or self-pity to consume you. Holding on to your integrity in all things brings a rich harvest in life.
In the face of a food crisis, we rely upon those in charge to carefully preserve, plant and harvest today so that there will be food for all of us tomorrow. But on a grander scale, God is calling us to preserve those fruits of the Spirit the New Testament talks of. Each one of us has the opportunity, wherever we may be, to carefully and lovingly plant seeds of goodness in the communities we live in and beyond.
I am grateful for the rich variety of churches and faith traditions we all represent in Canton. I believe we all have something good to bring to the table, that we can share with one another. And as we work together on projects, such as our joint worships, the Night Shelter, Messy Church, the Youth Club and whatever else God has in store for us, may God enable to plant seeds of his love, joy and peace in Canton and through the city of Cardiff.
The National Geographic article, ‘Food Ark’ was published in July 2011. The story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream is found in Genesis 41, but the complete story starts in chapter 37 and runs through to the end of the book of Genesis.
September 2016 - Merciful like the Father - by Angela Graham (St Mary's RC)
On a dismal weekend several years ago my work brought me near Ruabon. The only Mass I could find was at night. I battled driving rain, in the dark, to reach the church up a winding path. I found myself in an ancient building containing plenty of Georgian marble monuments. You don’t usually find those in Catholic churches in rural Wales and indeed I quickly realised that I was in an Anglican church. In fact, I was in the only joint Anglican/Catholic church in that province. The Roman Catholic Mass was to be celebrated in a Church in Wales property because there is no Roman Catholic church in the area. Around me were fixtures and fittings typical of the Church in Wales. I sat in a pew and looked around to get my bearings and as I looked to the wall on my right I got a shock. I recognised instantly what was depicted there: the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. Every Catholic knows these: Feed the Hungry Give drink to the Thirsty Clothe the Naked Shelter the Homeless Visit the Sick Visit Prisoners Bury the Dead But this painting was clearly very old. The figures were dressed in clothes from the 1400s. I was astonished to see Ruabon’s parishioners from 600 years ago busily carrying out these works of mercy, each of which has a biblical basis. A woman hands a labourer a cup to drink. A man gives a tunic to a needy person. I felt an enormous sense of continuity across the centuries. mercy.jpg I thought of this mural particularly throughout the last year because Pope Francis declared it to be a Year of Mercy and has encouraged us to have the works of mercy at the forefront of our minds and actions. The Year will end on the 20th November. All around the world there have been doors designated as symbolic thresholds to the mercy of God. The physical act of passing through the door helps to impress on us how open God is to receiving us. In our Cardiff archdiocese on 23rd September a special meal was held at St David’s Cathedral, marking the welcome of the Father of all who turn to Him. The wall painting in St Mary’s, Ruabon was discovered during renovations in 1870. It shows people performing five of the seven works, each encouraged by an angel. In the mid-fifteenth century the priest at Ruabon was Maredudd ap Rhys, a poet. He wrote: 'And the seven deeds (expected of) the believers, Which should all be performed for the sake of the weak; Supply food and drink when they come seeking, Attend to the suffering of invalids, Carry the dead from the hill to the church, Befriend every jailed prisoner, Give board and lodgings to those in need of shelter, And clothing against the elements.' In the Wales of 2016 we are asked to do the same: to be Merciful like the Father.Information about the Year of Mercy can be found at:http://www.im.va/content/gdm/en.htmlAnd local details at:http://rcadc.org/year-of-mercy/works-of-mercy/St Mary’s Shared Church, Ruabonhttp://www.stmarysruabon.org.uk/index.html
Easter 2016 - ‘Christ, my hope, is risen!’ - by Angela Graham (St Mary's RC)
These words are given to Mary Magdalen in a hymn about Easter morning written more than a thousand years ago. These words are ours too, in Canton, in 2016.
“Death and Life grappled in an extraordinary battle; the Prince of Life – dead, yet he reigns alive.”
Whatever there is in our life that speaks of death - failure, temptation, shame, loneliness, uncertainty, loss – Jesus has gathered all that to himself, almost as though he breathed in the corruption in our atmosphere and breathed out Paradise. Ever since the first Easter we have had the possibility of meeting suffering as an opportunity to love, to turn suffering into love. Suffering in itself is always negative but because Jesus has taken all suffering on himself, including sin, and even descended into hell, we have the possibility of finding him in every situation, even the most painful.
Our hope is not in efficient planning or personal ability but in Jesus.
To turn suffering into love by following his commandment to love one another - till even the great suffering of death is no longer an end but a beginning - that is what makes Easter a celebration. (written by Angela Graham from St. Mary's)