Everyone agrees this year has been a strange and crazy year! Within all that let's focus on two key things: it has made us evaluate what is important; and it has revealed the beauty in simplicity - for example the times when it is just you and God.
Remember in Lockdown 1.0 when we started with stripped supermarket shelves, it was hard to shop, and we could only go out once a day? That environment forced us to evaluate what is really important - it felt like stripping back to the essentials. That can be a good thing - it gave us the opportunity for something of a 'life detox'!
The first reading in Isaiah 11 talks about bringing something wonderful from just the bare stump. We had the same notion in Ezekiel, with all the doom and destruction then followed by God restoring. God can restore even from the ashes, when normal life has fallen apart - that is certainly not the end with God! Isaiah 12 says the 'well of salvation runs deep'. We have had to dig deep this year, but in doing so we have seen God at work - we have four people asking to be baptised amongst other things! Many of us have found new depths of discipleship, with new rhythms and practices. Again this is good - let us hang on to those in the New Year!
Discipleship doesn't have to be complicated. One member of our leadership team reflected on times when it was 'just him and God'. That captures it well - there are times when it is just 'you and God', but these can be the richest of times.
Let us remember we are all caught up in a much bigger story. The Micah 5 reading talks of events that connect with the ancient and long-ago, but they also point forward many years from Micah's actual life. The grand purposes of God stretch way beyond us, our life-times, and over many generations. Remember these purposes are good - God has a plan! Rulers and those in authority will come and go. The best thing they can do is for themselves to bow down. The Matthew reading shows this. Herod of course tries to control and manipulate for his own ends, but the wise - even with their grandeur and expensive gifts - go to bow down before the humble baby. Let us always keep that principle in mind.
Finally, remember that Mary was just an ordinary girl. Possibly just at GCSE or 6th form age ... but she is the one to bear the Son of God. In the Luke reading she is told the incomprehensible news, but decides to go with it. Let that be a principle for us - to get on board with the calling God has put on your life. Remember your calling will be different to someone else, so quit the comparing!
The bottom line, captured in John 1, is that we now live in the trajectory of the big story in this wonderful era: God with us. God is in the neighbourhood, and God is in our lives. That's not to say it will always be easy. Brexit, pandemics, climate change and all kinds of things will impact our physical lives, our budgets, and in fact everything. Yet we can let that swirl around, learning to hold fast to the deep resources of God's salvation, finding practices that rehearse those in your life. That enables us to go out on Monday morning or every other day of the week assured and brimming with the presence of God, His calling on you, and in His purposes.