Entering a New Year always brings with it an opportunity to look back on the 12 months just gone, and to look forward in hope and trust for all that the New Year might bring. Most will presumably agree that 2015 was a year of mixed blessings. For instance, while the world gazed in wonder at the historic fly-past of Pluto by the spacecraft 'New Horizons' with some incredible photos beamed back to earth, nearer to home there has been increased tensions in Ukraine and the Middle East, with the latter spilling over into other countries with the tragic loss of life in Tunisia and Paris.
Inevitably, people question 'Where is God in all this' - particularly when atrocities are carried out supposedly in the Name of the Great Creator by those who allegedly claim an allegiance to His holy Name, albeit, in my understanding, falsely.
In some ways we are left to work out our own salvation, yet at the same time knowing that we have been shown the true Way, Truth and Life that brings with it harmony and reconciliation in relationships, communities and nations and with our God. If only everyone would take the Word of God more seriously, we would make the world a much safer place for people to live, and there would be a fairer sharing of the world's resources. Quite simple really, except too many think about themselves and their own particular cause, and maintain a strange justification for what they do, even if others suffer terrible through their actions as if the end justifies the means.
Over Christmas we also discover what happens when God intervenes in the sending of His Son as an expression of His deep love for humankind and offer a different kind of sacrificial living where others are put first. We have given thanks that some responded by leaving behind the familiar in order to offer gifts to the Christ-child, while others, either couldn't see the relevance to their lives, or worse, saw His presence as a threat to their wealth, status and power, giving rise to religious and secular authorities colluding together to be rid of this 'love that came down at Christmas'.
By far the worse account of the Nativity story - not often recalled it seems - is where the king, so protective of all that he held dear, issued instructions for the slaughter of innocent infants, TWO THOUSAND IN ALL, in the misguided belief that this would remove the child that the wise had announced 'had been born to be King' I've always shuddered when reading the passage, particularly the bit about the cries of the mothers who had lost a precious child: 'a voice was heard, sobbing in bitter grief for their children, and refusing to be comforted because they were no more' (Matthew 2: 18).
I often wonder what the parents would have thought, had they been told at the time that they had lost a precious life as a result of God sending His own Son into the world for its salvation. Their reaction would have inevitably been 'surely God cannot be in all this'. The tragic truth is, though, that when love is offered to our broken world, there are always those who will seek to extinguish it as, in their warped thinking, it's seen as a threat not a blessing. Think of the number of martyrs there have been - even in our own life-time - who have lost their lives because they were determined to demonstrate in presence, word and deed how the love for God and all people challenges rotten systems and injustice of every kind.
As we continue to witness the madness of humankind in so many ways, we should remember that God has demonstrated in Christ that He is present in the pain as well as the healing process, and has shown us an example of sacrificial love which prays for the persecutor with the words: 'Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing'. It is through Christ's life, death and resurrection we are continually reminded that God is indeed in every situation, insisting that His love will, in the end, conquer all.
At the beginning of the New Year we are encouraged to put our trust in God 'whatever comes our way' and seek in all things to put love first - love of God and love of neighbour, as these are the two Great Commandments. And remember: it's surprising what impact a tiny flickering light can have in the midst of utter darkness.