New Year 2021

Today, anticipating the Epiphany on 6th January, we remember the Wisemen bringing their gifts to the child Jesus. They were foreigners and Magi – the intellectual, scientific and religious experts of the day, but they obeyed the summons; admitted that for all their wisdom they needed guidance. They humbled themselves; and they were open to changing their plans. And they brought as gifts the most costly and precious things they had.

As we begin a new year, which is starting very much like the very challenging one that has just ended, we are invited to bring ourselves to God like those Wisemen – whatever our status and expertise – obeying the summons; admitting our need of guidance; humbling ourselves; and being open to changing our plans. And we too are invited to bring the most costly and precious things we have.

But what are our gold and frankincense and myrrh that we are being asked to lay before Jesus? Christina Rossetti put it this way:

What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Christina Rossetti

That heart will include our gold (our financial and material goods); our frankincense (our worship and prayers); and our myrrh (our life and death) – the whole of ourselves and whatever life brings in every 363 days of this New Year that are still left to us.

These are some very challenging words that some of our fellow Christians use at the beginning of every year:

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Do you recognise those words? They are the Covenant Prayer used by Methodists in this country at the beginning of each New Year. Maybe, having heard it you might be thinking, “I’m glad I’m not a Methodist!” The author of the book that I have been reading during Advent and Christmas said this about it:

Whenever I have encountered this prayer, I have asked myself if I dare pray it.

In the Bleak Midwinter – Through Advent and Christmas with Christina Rossetti by Rachel Mann, 2019, Canterbury Press

She makes that comment in a chapter about another poem of Christina Rossetti called He Cannot Deny Himself which expresses more starkly the sentiments of the Covenant

Love still is Love, and doeth all things well, whether He shows me heaven of hell, or earth in her decay, passing away, on a day.

Love still is Love, tho’ He should say, ‘Depart’. And break my incorrigible heart, and set me out of sight, widowed of light, in the night.

Love still is Love, is Love, if He should say, ‘Come,’ on that uttermost dread day; ‘Come,’ unto very me, ‘Come where I be, come and see.’

Love still is Love, whatever comes to pass: O Only Love, make me Thy glass, Thy pleasure to fulfil, by loving still, come what will.

He Cannot Deny Himself, Christina Rosetti

The author, Rachel Mann, concludes with these words:

In times of illness, strain and, well, just sheer rubbishness, I have often found it impossible to say, with Rossetti, ‘Love still is Love, whatever comes to pass.’ And yet … and yet … Rossetti’s line captures one of the profoundest calls of our faith. Our God does not promise an easy ride; our God only promises to be with us till the end of the age. Our God’s self-offering of love is not sentimental, easy or cheap. It is the profoundest desire for our flourishing and growth into the likeness of Christ. It is the self-offering of the one in whom, if only we dare meet him, we shall find our deepest, richest selves.

Rachel Mann

I was once asked what Bible verse I would pick out as the most significant for me. My reply was this:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

For me those words reassure me that whatever puzzles me; however difficult life might be; and however I fail to live up to my Christian faith, God in Jesus knows me, loves me and holds me. Those words challenge me to entrust the whole of myself to him whatever comes to pass. Will you do likewise in 2021?

Tony Vigars 3rd January 2021

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