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Christmas Message

Christmas is so often the time when we look back over the year. We tend to do so individually, as well as Nationally. The BBC celebrating the sporting achievements by such things as Sports Personality of the Year, and reviews of the year.

But of course memory is a very unique thing. There are some who look back through rose tinted glasses, others who find themselves dwelling on painful memories, and perhaps some who choose to forget. And of course there are many whose memory is such, that they are not afforded that choice, as they struggle to recall events.

Any Police Officer will tell you that they even if they interview many eye witnesses from the same event – they will often relate very different accounts. Memory it would seem, is not always a reliable force however old or young we may be.

It is at this point – where I thought my thoughts would be heading towards looking forward in hope. But then I realised I was forgetting something. Something really quite important, that so often gets ignored.

What about the present moment, and no I don’t mean capturing it in a photo – because as soon as you look at that photo, you are in fact looking at the past.

But I mean really experiencing what the present moment is really like. What are you feeling, seeing or sensing right here and right now ?

One person that really knew about presence and the presence of God, was a man named Nicholas Herman, who later became known as Brother Lawrence. He was born in Lorraine, France in the early 1600s and in his early years, lived through the horrors of the 30 year war.

Nicholas had a strong conversion, which led him to seek a deep relationship with God. He worked for a while as the footman to the king’s treasurer. But according to his own words, he was a “great awkward fellow who broke everything.” (no wonder I can relate to this man so well)!

So at the age of 18, feeling pretty worthless, he entered a monastery as a cook, as a way of punishing himself.

But it was there that he developed an amazing way of living his faith through everything he did. His life was a never-ending dialogue with God. He wrote about his experience…and so today, the man who rendered himself worthless and broke everything – ended up being someone who over 400 years later, we are here in Brookland talking about him.

What he taught us is that it doesn’t matter how clever you are, or indeed how clumsy you are, you are a very important cog, in the wheel of life.

And there is so much to gain from living in the present. If we live in the past, it is too easy to beat ourselves up over things done or not done, wishing that we could have done things differently. And conversely if we live in the future, we are effectively living in a concept.

Living in the present means that we have time to concentrate on the things that we are doing. We might even end up doing them better, maybe even be safer? How many times are accidents caused because our mind is elsewhere. Or how many times do we miss the fact that a friend is in need, by failing to stop and notice those emotions? How many times do we inadvertently hurt someone by appearing indifferent?

I spoke earlier about memory. I am a great believer that our greatest assets to learning about the present - are from those with memory loss including those with dementia. Sadly so often they themselves may feel like a young Brother Lawrence, and feel pretty worthless. But people with poor memory or dementia are the very people who can give us hope.

I am always struck by their trusting openness. There is something liberating that a lot of the unnecessary clutter has gone. And research has shown that even if people forget that you may have visited them– the sense of how you made them feel remains for a long time afterwards.

In other words, they are vessels of love. The clutter has moved aside – and they are able to experience love in its purest form.

If we now return to the first lesson of any carol service – which depicts the story of Adam and Eve….. the one verse that now leaps out to me is “And they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord”. That in itself seems quite a shocking statement.

But the important question to ask is “Why” and in what context?

They hid themselves at a time when they had just been offered the perfect world. The only request was not to eat the fruit of one tree. But it would seem, that a perfect world was not enough, and so they ate of the tree. As a result, their minds were full of clutter, which led them to hide from the presence of the Lord.

The world is not perfect, so neither should we pretend that we humans are perfect. Of course - there are things that we battle with daily, whether it be poor memory, illness or heartache. I am not for one moment dismissing any of those feelings or frustrations.

But I would ask you to remember – those things do not define you as a person. What defines you, is your capacity to love.

We have a choice of cluttering our minds and seeking perfection, and just like Adam and Eve, hide from the presence of the Lord.Or we can be like the dementia sufferer, de clutter our minds, and love in its purest form.

Love came down at Christmas – and it is the greatest gift of all. So why not spend 2018 exploring that love, and savoring every moment of each day, surrounded and comforted by the presence of the Lord.