The Other side of the Christmas Story

In this season of Advent, as we anticipate that most monumental moment in history when the Son of God was born in Bethlehem, it is a good thing to reflect on the whole story. Yes, it is a story containing wonder, angelic visitations, incredible miracles and great joy. Matthew and Luke’s accounts continue to amaze with the high drama of the great event.
If you study the birth narratives closely you will see on a number of occasions how Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled. How Jesus was born, where Jesus was born, who visited Jesus, even the gifts brought to Jesus, weren’t just co-incidental, but the culmination of a variety of messianic prophecies. One such is Jeremiah’s prophecy, in Jeremiah 31:15 quoted in Matthew 2:18, where Herod orders the slaughter of all the male infants in Bethlehem. We are, no doubt, familiar with the way the visiting Magi , having been warned in a dream, do not let Herod know where the Christ has been born. What then results, as a result of Herod’s jealousy and ruthlessness, is one of the most terrifying aspects of the Christmas story which rarely finds its way into our cosy Christmassy mindset. We should never forget that the story of the first advent has a dark side: jealousy, terror, brutality and slaughter. Herod was far worse than a pantomime villain. But the narrative also contains examples of great courage: The Magi ignoring Herod; and especially Joseph leading his young family in their flight to an unknown and inhospitable country, only to return after Herod’s death. It is also a fulfilment of prophecy that they returned to Nazareth (Matt 2:23), originally intending to return to Judah, then realising Herod’s son Archelaus ruled, and through a combination of fear and a dream, only then headed north back to Nazareth.
As we approach Christmas and enjoy all that accompanies it we should remember not just its wonder but its terror; not just its joy but its pain. As we make room in our hearts for the Christ who is the Saviour of the world we do well to remember the place he has in his heart for the least, the last and the lost.

Mark Elder

Reflections from Mark

mark I will listen

It was great to see so many of you participating in this on Sunday, and hear some of the stories on your return from your exploits. This church is full of creative and innovative people. It’s worth reminding ourselves why we did it:

I fully realise that faith sharing takes some of us out of our comfort zone and that the possibility of approaching strangers, especially for those of us with a more introverted disposition, is a bit scary. I’m not one who naturally finds it particularly easy to share the gospel in word and deed. But a primary calling on our lives as a community of faith in Heaton is to bless our local community. That’s why we did the festival and that’s why we did the £5 giveaway. And we will go on engaging in these enterprises because it’s at the core of what it means to be church today. It’s not our only missional responsibility, because all believers are called to be witnesses within each of our spheres of influence where we live and work, whether that’s in Darras Hall, North Shields, Cramlington, or indeed Heaton.

So, well done for those of you who had a go. Let us know your stories. And let me challenge those of you who didn’t participate on Sunday. You missed out on an adventure that was good fun, faith stretching, and spiritually fulfilling.

Mark

What a fantastic day!

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Wow. What an amazing experience to be part of the Festival on Saturday amongst the thousands of people, the buzzin’ atmosphere, the quality acts and performers, the smell of doughnuts….and the great weather. I suspect those of us privileged to be involved felt we were participating in a little bit of local history, indeed a local councillor told me it was the most significant and happy community event seen in Heaton for a long time.

We will all have our own stories to remember from the day. One of my overriding reflections was to see so many of our people, both within our church, and from other churches, serving so sacrificially, not just on Saturday, but in some cases for months previously. To you all, well done.

As we look forward it’s important to reflect on how we did: what went well and what can we learn for next time? Talking of which, I know those keenies who would like to see a Heaton Festival every year, and whilst I hate to disappoint you, to do this well indeed better next time, I think it’s probably right that it’s a bi-annual festival.  We continue to pray that God will smile on this community and city.

 

Heaton Festival

This coming Saturday will be a really significant day for the community of Heaton. It presents a fantastic opportunity to celebrate that which is good; to have fun with family and friends; to reflect and think about those important things that go beyond the everyday and mundane. For our church it is a beautiful thing to be engaging in mission in a way that recognises the image of God in those who rarely darken the doors of the church but have good hearts and a desire to make our city better.

Like all of you I am praying for a fine and sunny day. But whatever the weather, Saturday’s festival may prove to be one of those days that we reminisce about in the years to come. I firmly believe that what we are doing is ordained by God for do we not cherish and worship a God who loves creativity, joy, fun, unity and partying?

May you be there to experience a day of advance for God’s kingdom when our loving heavenly Father smiles upon this community.

Mark

How I love the Psalms!

Author:  Mark

How I love the Psalms. I love them because they speak to every season of life, because they’re real, emotional and convey feelings, and because they nourish my soul as well as expanding my mind. As a student at Bible College many years ago I was taught the practice of reading and digesting a psalm a day; fine if it’s Psalm 117 but could take all day if it’s Psalm 119!

At Sunday evening’s gathering we were invited to reflect on Psalm 1. It’s a Psalm, by an unknown author, about wisdom. Which pathway do we choose in life? Do I choose the way of the righteous or the way of the wicked? It is straightforward.  Who do I walk, stand and sit with? In other words how do I order my life; to whom do I align myself with; and in what am I putting my trust? For those who delight in God, verse 3 tells us, are,

‘like trees planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.’

Simply beautiful.

Let’s encourage one another to choose the way of wisdom and the pathway of righteousness, so that we may know much fruitfulness and joy in our lives.

 

A cold day in October

Author: Mark Elder

Zoe and I, with a group of history students from Church High in Newcastle, have recently returned from a trip to Poland and Berlin. Both Krakow and Berlin are beautiful cities, crammed full of interesting sites and museums, not to mention shops and café’s! There were two main reasons for the trip: the first, focusing on the rise of the Nazis and the beginnings of the cold war after WW2, and the second, to examine and reflect on the Holocaust, and the ‘final solution’.
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