Tuesday, 3 January 2012

2012: a year of opportunity for the gospel?

An article in the Daily Telegraph, by Peter Oborne, entitled ‘The return to religion’, on 3rd January, is not enough to build a strong objective case, but he is a valid observer of a trend we could easily miss. Oborne. The article is introduced: 'With the chill wind of austerity blowing through the country, religion’s warm embrace looks more and more inviting. Peter Oborne welcomes the resurgence of a national pastime: churchgoing'.

The Church Times article last week: ”Attendances prove Christmas surprise” added to the accumulation of observations. Cathedrals and churches up and down the country have reported a large rise in attendances this Christ­mas. Thousands of worshippers crammed into some of the most popular services.

And what about the Queen’s speech? I cannot recall (not that I keep a record!) a Christmas address, which has been so positively and expressively Christ oriented:

The importance of family has, of course, come home to Prince Philip and me personally this year with the marriages of two of our grandchildren, each in their own way a celebration of the God-given love that binds a family together. For many, this Christmas will not be easy. With our armed forces deployed around the world, thousands of service families face Christmas without their loved ones at home. The bereaved and the lonely will find it especially hard. And, as we all know, the world is going through difficult times. All this will affect our celebration of this great Christian festival.  Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: 'Fear not', they urged, 'we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
'For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.'
Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves - from our recklessness or our greed.
God sent into the world a unique person - neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God's love.
In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, there's a prayer:
O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin
And enter in.
Be born in us today.
It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

I, for one, thank God for our Queen.

Of course, 2011 was 'the wedding' year: of Kate and William. I recall commenting at the time of what I hoped would be the significance of their own heartfelt, personally written prayer. Not emphatically ‘Christian’ but certainly looking in the direction of Jesus.

David Cameron too has added his thoughts. In his recent speech on the place of the Bible and Christianity in our national life, he showed how the political development of the nation is inextricably bound up with Christian ideas.

I’m not arguing for a return to Christendom, but what I am observing is people are more open to real Christianity now, in the UK, than they have been for many years. People beyond the thresholds of our church buildings don't simply need, they want to see a credible expression of the good news, which is Jesus. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this year heralds many things we instinctively draw back from, but I pray our commitment to, conviction in and communication of the gospel is not one of them.

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