I’m on holiday in Australia, staying with my sister and family in Beaconsfield, Victoria. It’s a beautiful area, and their house is situated at the head of a long wooded valley, teeming with wildlife and birds, all very different to those I’m familiar with back home in England. It’s spring here in Australia, and I’ve been woken every morning by the laughing call of Kookaburras, and the burbling of Australian Magpies. While we were having lunch on the veranda, a pair of King Parrots entertained us with their chattering, and stayed long enough for me to grab my camera, and photograph this one before it flew away.
A couple of weeks ago, I took my three-year old grandson to the park, and on the way back we crossed a small stream. So, of course we stopped to play Pooh Sticks. You know the game – drop a stick over one side of the bridge, dash to the other side before the stick floats through. Sometimes the stick appeared very quickly, and sometimes it took a little longer. Once we thought we’d lost the stick altogether, but we waited, and at last it broke free of the brambles or whatever had entangled it, and off it drifted down the stream.
I shared this picture with my church on Sunday morning; how sometimes our lives get caught up, just like that stick got caught up under the bridge, and we must shake off what has grabbed hold of us; or maybe we just need a ‘whoosh’ of the Holy Spirit to set us free. It got me thinking a bit more. There we are, sailing along that river we call life. Most of the time it seems, life just takes us, and we bob along quite happily with the current. Sometimes we dance crazily along on the crest of little waves, other times we drift aimlessly, meandering round life’s bends as if we have all the time in the world. Often (or so I’ve found) we get caught up on things out to get us, or rubbish that other people throw into our lives, just like the little stick entangled by brambles and creepers. When we realise this, we need to make a conscious effort to push on through, or ask God to help us. As we sail on down this river we call life, there are also currents to negotiate, and rocks to avoid, where the best we can do is just stay afloat. But we are always moving onward, we can never go back, only move on. And as I travel on this river we call life, I am very glad I don’t have to do it on my own. I am very glad I have my friends and family around me, and I am very glad I have God, who is ever-present, and willing to help as soon as I ask.
This morning I read in the Bible that God camped in the very middle of the Israelite camp (Numbers 2:1). He loved them and wanted to be with them. He wanted them to know He was there; to teach them how to truly live with Him; to travel with them and guide them.
So I had a little conversation with God, that went a bit like this:
God, I know You are here too, in the middle of my life, in my mess, because you say love me and want to be with me. To guide me and travel through life with me. So Lord, why is it you want to be with me, in my mess?
Because you are my child and I love you. I love to be with you, to walk closely with you and hold your hand.
But why me? when there are thousands and millions of others who are better than me and much cleverer than me. Those who are more important and certainly more worthy than I am. You love them, and walk with them, so why do you want me as well?
Because there is no one else like you, you are unique and I want to be in the centre of your life.
And because there is only one you.
In the beginning there was nothing but darkness. But God was there, in the darkness. God didn’t like the darkness, so he said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, amazing, incredible, light. Light that lets you see and understand. And God saw that the light was good, very good indeed. Next God created the water, the sky and the land. Plants and trees, sun, moon and stars, fish and animals. Then God created people, just like you and me. And God said it was all good, very, very good. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. So all the people lived in the light, and in understanding with God.
Time passed. People changed and became selfish, wanting their own way. They became unkind, greedy, violent, cruel. And they didn’t like God seeing everything they did. So they turned away from the light of God and their hearts became full of darkness. They did hateful things in the shadows, thinking that the darkness would hide them and that God wouldn’t see.
But God did see. He could see that His wonderful world wasn’t good anymore. And He wanted to do something about it. So He made plans to bring the light back. For a long time He planned. For hundreds of years He planned. And sometimes He let his friends in on the secret, just a little. Isaiah was one of His friends. Isaiah said that one day in the future, “The people walking in darkness and living in shadow would see a great light.”
So hundreds of years later, when the time was just right, the true light, that could give light and understanding to everyone, came into the world. His name was Jesus. He was God’s own son, a part of God himself, come to earth to shine His light into the darkness. When the angels spread light across the hillside, the shepherds hurried to Bethlehem to see the new baby in the manger. When the wise men followed the light of the star, they came and gave gifts to the brand new baby king. Jesus grew up knowing he was the light of the world. He said “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” And, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Another time He said, ” I have come into the world as a light, so that no-one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
But people still didn’t like the light, because it showed up the bad things they did, so they tried to put out the light, by killing Jesus on the cross. But God’s light could not be turned off, and could not be extinguished. Jesus didn’t stay dead! He came back from the dead, and walked around with his friends, and once he even cooked breakfast for them. Before He went back to heaven to be with Father God, He handed the job of carrying the light on to His followers – and that’s us, you and me! The apostle Paul said, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. So live as children of light.” Another time he said ” We are all sons and daughters of the light, we do not belong to the darkness.” In one of his letters, Peter said, “You are a chosen people, belonging to God, so you can praise Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Now we who are Christians carry that light, because, “God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Jesus Christ.” Some of us think we are only little lights, and some of us may think we are bigger lights, but we are not asked to carry the light on our own. Just like a string of fairy lights, we are joined together, you, me, and all who follow Jesus. We need the power of electricity to light each bulb in a string of fairy lights, and if we ask him to, God’s Holy Spirit gives each of us the power to shine out for Jesus in our little bit of the world. Batteries, or a power cable in our string of lights are useless, if we don’t choose to plug in and switch on. And it’s no good if we don’t choose to plug into God, and be switched on by God’s Holy Spirit. Each of us can be a little light for Jesus, and
joined together we can be a big light for Jesus.
Bible references (some slightly paraphrased!): Genesis 1:1-3, Isaiah 9:2, John 1:9, John 8:12, John 9:5, John 12:46, 2 Corinthians 4:6, Ephesians 5:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:5, 1 Peter 2:9, 1 John:5
One hundred years ago today, five days before the end of the Great War to end all wars, my Great-Uncle, Private Charles Henry Nicholls died, fighting in France. He was a soldier in the 4th (City of London) Battalion (Royal Fusiliers), and took part in the One Hundred Days Offensive, the final campaign of the war before the Armistice on 11th November 1918.
I obviously never knew him, but I honour him now, and all the other men who gave up their lives in the fight for peace.
They hoped then it was the War to end all wars, but many wars have been fought since, and many more lives lost. Will we never learn?
The third stop on our Caribbean cruise was Antigua. We docked at the capital, St John’s, in the north-west of the island, which has a deep harbour suitable for large cruise ships. Antigua was named by Columbus when he first visited the island in 1493, and means ‘ancient’ in Spanish, but is also known locally as Wadadli, which has a meaning similar to ‘our own’, and gives a delicious meaning to the name of the local beer! By 1674 its main crop was sugar, and by the 1770’s it had a slave population of over 37,000, and a non-slave population of 3,000! The slaves lived terrible lives, malnourished, cruelly mistreated, and even killed by their owners. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and slaves freed by 1834. In 1981 Antigua and its sister island Barbuda, became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations. Antigua’s economy now relies on tourism, with luxury hotels along the coastline, and throughout the summer months cruise ships visit almost daily.
Antigua is surrounded by coral reefs, with a coast-line of about 54 miles, and (we were told) 365 sandy beaches, enough for one a day for a year! We had decided it was time to spend a morning on the beach, so we took a taxi ride to Fort James, a quiet and pleasant bay not far from St John’s. After paying an ‘umbrella rent’ we strewed our belongings under our huge, hexagonal wooden umbrella, and went for a dip. I expected the aqua-blue water to be warm, or at least warmish – it wasn’t! Instead it was a refreshing cold, not the gasping cold, we’re used to in the UK. There were large, long roller waves that almost swept us off our feet, we were later told this was quite unusual. We dried off quickly in the sun, and did a bit of beach-combing across the hot sand, finding shells and pieces of coral that had washed up on the beach. It was hot but not overwhelmingly so, and a bottle of Wadadli from the beach bar, went down very well!
Palm trees grew along the beach, and there were scrubby trees with bright orange flowers, rather like azalea. A bird, with black plumage and bright yellow eyes hopped around in the sparse undergrowth at the edge of the beach, and then perched in the bushes; we later discovered it was a carib grackle. Fat pink doves cooed at us from the trees, and humming birds hovered around the flowers, iridescent blue and yellow, but they moved too fast to photograph. There were also huge, black frigate birds soaring high in the sky, and then swooping low over the sea.
The beach at Fort James, Antigua was completely what I expected from a Caribbean island beach – pale dazzling sand, clear blue sky, aquamarine sea, and wall to wall sunshine!