You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2021.

Circumcision of Christ stained glassNew Year’s Day is the feast day of our Lord’s Circumcision and the Holy Name of Jesus.

The readings are the same regardless of Lectionary year.

There is more information about the stained glass depiction of the Circumcision here.

These posts have more detail about the Circumcision:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (2010)

January 1: why Jesus was circumcised (2021)

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

The next post has more on the shepherds. They reared the lambs to be used in sacrifices at the temple. They lived and worked in a sacred place just outside of Bethlehem, Migdal Eder (Genesis 35:21):

Migdal Eder: the shepherds provide a biblical key to unlocking the Christmas story (Luke’s Gospel, Micah, Genesis; Carl H Bloch’s painting The Shepherds and The Angel, oil on copper, 1879)

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 2:15-21

2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

2:16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

2:17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;

2:18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

2:19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

2:21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

It is useful reminding ourselves of the preceding verses, Luke 2:8-14:

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[d]

John MacArthur explains what the second half of verse 14 means. We know it as ‘peace to men of goodwill’, however, it does not include all of mankind, only those of God’s choosing:

It’s a salvation peace that will belong only to those that God pleases to give it to This is a great and gracious eternal decree.  This involves the great doctrine of election, predestination Before the creation of the universe God chose to save some just because He was pleased to do it Angels, you see, are not rejoicing or glorifying God for what men have done or will do, but because of what God has done and will do.  It’s not that God’s salvation is a reward for those who have goodwill toward men, as the old translation says But salvation is a gracious gift to those to whom God chooses to have goodwill. On earth, the Messiah, Savior, the Christ, the Lord will bring salvation peace to those whom God pleases to save.

After the angels had left to return to heaven, the shepherds felt compelled to go to Jerusalem to see the ‘thing’ that had taken place, as the Lord revealed to them through the first angel and His glory shining around them (verse 15).

MacArthur tells us about the Greek word for ‘thing’:

It’s literally the Greek term rhma, and it means “a word,” or “a reality.”  Let us see this reality.  They now understand that they have heard the word from God, that there’s a reality and the reality is that the Savior has been born Now they can confirm it easy enough because the angel had said to them, you’re going to find a sign, back in verse 12, you’re going to find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying where? In a manger.  Now that’s just an unheard of thing and very unusual, probably never happened. Nobody would put a baby in a feed trough in a stinking stable So that would verify that this was all true.  I mean, they had seen the angels and that was verification enough.  But they were going to get even more verification when in fact they found the child exactly where the angel said He would be, which meant this was not just an earthly situation going on, this was heaven and earth involved.  They believed the angel.

Matthew Henry’s commentary notes the shepherds’ certainty of the angel’s message:

… observe, These shepherds do not speak doubtfully, “Let us go see whether it be so or no;” but with assurance, Let us go see this thing which is come to pass; for what room was left to doubt of it, when the Lord had thus made it known to them? The word spoken by angels was stedfast and unquestionably true.

They hurried and found, as the angel said, the Child lying in the manger, with Mary and Joseph watching over Him (verse 16).

MacArthur thinks the shepherds did a door-to-door search in Bethlehem, but Henry thinks the angel told them where to find Him:

They lost no time, but came with haste to the place, which, probably, the angel directed them to more particularly than is recorded (“Go to the stable of such an inn”); and there they found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.

I, too, prefer to believe that version of events.

When the shepherds saw the Holy Family, they told them about the heavenly message they received (verse 17), and all who heard it were amazed (verse 18), a favourite word of St Luke’s, for it appears several times in his Gospel.

MacArthur says:

… it says in verse 18, “All who had heard it wondered of the things which were told them by the shepherds.”  I mean, what it did create was a stir.  The word “wonder” is the word thaumaz, it’s a… Thaumaz means to marvel, to be amazed.  And by the way, it’s…it’s common in Luke’s gospel He likes that word and it’s repeated again and again I mean, the things that Jesus did caused people to be amazed, they caused them to wonder, caused them to marvel.  I mean, that was pretty typical.  You see him use that word in chapter 4, chapter 8, chapter 9, chapter 11, chapter 20 He uses it in chapter 24 and also in chapters 4 and 5 you get a similar kind of response Jesus caused people to be amazed There’s no question about it.  He was an amazing person. They had never seen anybody like Him.

Henry elaborates on the scene at the manger:

The poverty and meanness in which they found Christ the Lord were no shock to their faith, who themselves knew what it was to live a life of comfortable communion with God in very poor and mean circumstances. We have reason to think that the shepherds told Joseph and Mary of the vision of the angels they had seen, and the song of the angels they had heard, which was a great encouragement to them, more than if a visit had been made them by the best ladies in the town. And it is probable that Joseph and Mary told the shepherds what visions they had had concerning the child; and so, by communicating their experiences to each other, they greatly strengthened one another’s faith.

MacArthur shares that perspective of deep, abiding faith:

They heard it and they believed it, they believed it, the Spirit of God obviously having prepared their hearts … I felt that these men chosen to be the recipients of this divine message were probably true Jews, that is they were believing Jews not just secular Jews, that they truly believed in the true and living God, that they were no doubt among those looking for the redemption of Israel, waiting for their Messiah. They would have been genuine believers in the true God who had repented of their sin and had come to God and sought His grace; all of that because their hearts were so ready and their responses were so right And they heard the heavenly revelation and they believed it.  They believed the fact that Messiah, the Savior, and Christ, the Lord, had come.

MacArthur imagines the conversation between the shepherds and Mary and Joseph:

… they unfold the saga.  Well, um, um, and I can just hear them all vying for telling the story their way as Joseph and Mary tried to sit quietly and listen And it must have been wonderful confirmation for them as well, for any malingering doubts that might have been raised in their minds. And they told the story of how an angel came and an angel described one who had been born, good news of great joy, a Savior.  He is Christ the Lord.  And on and on, they told the whole story.  And then a whole host of angels came and there were angels everywhere, and they were bright and they were shining and they were praising God and thanking God.  And oh, it was incredible.

And as that story unfolded I think Joseph and Mary probably began to unfold some of their side of the details Well isn’t that wonderful because, you know, an angel came to me, Joseph might have said And he told me not to worry about the fact that my virgin, betrothed, bride-to-be Mary was pregnant because the baby that was in her womb was put there by the Holy Spirit. She was not sinful. She was not unfaithful to me.  That she was going to have a child who would be Immanuel, God with us, God in human flesh and that He would be named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins And this all happened to me when I was deciding whether to divorce her or stone her to death And I had a dream and in that dream an angel of the Lord came to me and told me the whole thing.

And then Mary might have quietly said, and, you know, I had a visit from Gabriel and Gabriel came to me even though I am just a young girl and a virgin and said you’re going to have a baby and that baby is going to be Son of David, Son of the Most High God, He’s going to rule over a kingdom that will last eternally. And it all is beginning to come together.  And these shepherds, talk about being in on the scoop, they’re in on it.

And at this particular point, it’s Joseph and Mary and a handful of shepherds, and Zacharias and Elizabeth and they know about it, and really nobody else has the kind of inside information that these people have.

Luke says that Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart (verse 19). Luke would repeat this later on in the same chapter, verse 51, which was in last Sunday’s reading, when Jesus stayed behind after Passover at the age of 12 to listen to the teachers in the temple:

Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Henry says that Mary’s is a good example to follow:

She laid the evidences together, and kept them in reserve, to be compared with the discoveries that should afterwards be made her. As she had silently left it to God to clear up her virtue, when that was suspected, so she silently leaves it to him to publish her honour, now when it was veiled; and it is satisfaction enough to find that, if no one else takes notice of the birth of her child, angels do. Note, The truths of Christ are worth keeping; and the way to keep them safe is to ponder them. Meditation is the best help to memory.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen, just as it was revealed to them (verse 20).

Henry says it would not matter if no one else believed them, because God would accept their thanks:

If others would not regard the report they made to them, God would accept the thanksgivings they offered to him. They praised God for what they had heard from the angel, and for what they had seen, the babe in the manger, and just then in the swaddling, when they came in, as it had been spoken to them. They thanked God that they had seen Christ, though in the depth of his humiliation.

Henry compares the manger scene with the Crucifixion, both of which reflected God:

As afterwards the cross of Christ, so now his manger, was to some foolishness and a stumbling-block, but others saw in it, and admired, and praised, the wisdom of God and the power of God.

Eight days later, Jesus was circumcised and (officially) named (verse 21), in accordance with Jewish law.

This was the first time His precious blood would be shed. The next time would be as He was crucified, the one sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world and a ransom for many.

As He is the Son of God, He had no need for the rituals of man, even as laid out by His Father, however, Henry explains that Jesus was obedient to His Father at all times. His circumcision also made Him part of the Abrahamic covenant, bringing Him closer to mankind:

1. Though it was a painful operation (Surely a bloody husband thou has been, said Zipporah to Moses, because of the circumcision,Exodus 4:25), yet Christ would undergo it for us; nay, therefore he submitted to it, to give an instance of his early obedience, his obedience unto blood. Then he shed his blood by drops, which afterwards he poured out in purple streams. 2. Though it supposed him a stranger, that was by that ceremony to be admitted into covenant with God, whereas he had always been his beloved Son; nay, though it supposed him a sinner, that needed to have his filthiness taken away, whereas he had no impurity or superfluity of naughtiness to be cut off, yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would be made in the likeness, not only of flesh, but of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3. 3. Though thereby he made himself a debtor to the whole law (Galatians 5:3), yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would take upon him the form of a servant, though he was free-born. Christ was circumcised, (1.) That he might own himself of the seed of Abraham, and of that nation of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, and who was to take on him the seed of Abraham, Hebrews 2:16. (2.) That he might own himself a surety for our sins, and an undertaker for our safety. Circumcision (saith Dr. Goodwin) was our bond, whereby we acknowledged ourselves debtors to the law; and Christ, by being circumcised, did as it were set his hand to it, being made sin for us. The ceremonial law consisted much in sacrifices; Christ hereby obliged himself to offer, not the blood of bulls or goats, but his own blood, which none that ever were circumcised before could oblige themselves to. (3.) That he might justify, and put an honour upon, the dedication of the infant seed of the church to God, by that ordinance which is the instituted seal of the covenant, and of the righteousness which is by faith, as circumcision was (Romans 4:11), and baptism is.

Henry says that our Lord’s circumcision is a sign that we should baptise our children as infants:

And certainly his being circumcised at eight days old doth make much more for the dedicating of the seed of the faithful by baptism in their infancy than his being baptized at thirty years old doth for the deferring of it till they are grown up. The change of the ceremony alters not the substance.

In closing, most of my friends in the UK are, at best, agnostics. I know few believers here.

Many ask why they should believe in God through Jesus Christ: ‘What has God done for me lately?’

MacArthur provides the answer, which is life eternal rather than earthly comfort:

it’s not that Jesus saves you from your meaninglessness, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your anxiety, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your poverty, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your lack of fulfillment, it’s not that Jesus saves you from your trouble Really there is no guarantee in this life that you’re going to be rescued from any of those things.  Jesus saves you from the eternal wrath of God, that’s the issue It’s not that Jesus saves you from anything in this life in particular.  You may still struggle through all kinds of troubles and struggles and you may still have a measure of unfulfillment.  You may even find life to be less than you want it to be in this world, more painful than you can bear There’s no guarantee that that will change in this life.

But Jesus came to save His people from their what? Sins, from the penalty of their sins, first of all, which is eternal hell, the wrath of God, the power of their sins by giving them the Spirit of God so they can be victorious over their sins even in this life, and finally the presence of sin, when we leave this world and enter His glory; that’s the good news that He would save His people from their sins and therefore save them from the wrath of God which is eternal wrath in hell forever.  The wages of sin is death And that death is not just spiritual death or separation from God, but eternal death, separation from God forever in a place of torment and punishment.

The child was born to save us from the wrath of God

May all reading this be blessed on this first day of 2022.

Advertisement

As Lectionary readings comprise my New Year’s posts, may I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy and healthy 2022.

May this plague of a virus get behind us as the months roll on.

Today, I ran across this short clip from Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation:

The BBC never reran Civilisation. That tells us something about both Kenneth Clarke and the BBC.

What Clarke said 50 years ago is very true. He ends by saying that socialism is waning in favour of materialism. Five decades on, it seems we have an unholy union of the two.

It is incumbent upon those of us who value freedom to continue to pursue it in goodness and godliness in the year ahead. I wish all of us the very best in that pursuit.

For at least ten years the Christians living in the Holy Land have been persecuted.

Over Christmas 2021, articles and interviews surfaced about their plight. Sadly, this is not new, but it does show how impossible a resolution to this situation seems.

In July 2011, The Sunday Times reported that the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was launching an appeal for Christians suffering in the Holy Land (emphases mine below):

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams yesterday launched an appeal for “suffering” Christians in the Holy Land, calling for Anglicans to do more to help with community projects and job creation.

Dr Rowan Williams told the General Synod in York: “I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there …

He said he hoped that Anglicans and others would give generously to help build a fund for projects that would contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable Christian communities, especially on the West Bank

He launched the appeal prior to a joint conference on Christians in the Holy Land with England’s Catholic Archbishop — now Cardinal — Vincent Nichols :

Dr Williams’ appeal came ahead of a conference on Christians in the Holy Land which he and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols are jointly hosting at Lambeth Palace in London next week.

In a video presentation to explain his appeal Dr Williams warns that the rate of Christian emigration from the Holy Land had reached the point of “haemorrhage”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols says: “People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance, to its — not just its historical reality but to its presence and future viability.”

In January 2018, Patriarch Theophilos III, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote an article for The Guardian, ‘Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land’.

The Patriarch is from the Holy Land and says that socio-political tension has been part of the problem:

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff

Now various sides want to claim the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, as the exclusive possession of only one people. This treats with contempt the mechanism that has maintained peace and our multi-religious landscape for generations.

A delegation of Christians had travelled to the UK only a short time before to discuss the seriousness of their plight:

Recently Christian communities from the Holy Land came to the UK to seek support for our plight in the face of legal and land threats to the Christian church in the Holy Land. We were moved that church leaders from across the UK came to our support. In meetings with Prince Charles and government ministers, as well as with church leaders, we highlighted a proposed “church lands” bill signed by 40 members of Israel’s Knesset that would restrict the rights of churches to deal independently with their own land. We also discussed threats to church land around the Jaffa gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Cardinal Nichols was also there:

The UK’s Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols summed up the view of many when he told us that the proposed bill represented “an intolerable infringement of the status quo and the legitimate rights of the churches, and should be recognised for what it is: an attack on the property rights of the Christian community”.

‘Radical settlers’ added to the tension:

In addition to the church lands bill, one of the foremost threats to Christians in the Holy Land is the unacceptable activities of radical settler groups, which are attempting to establish control over properties around the Jaffa gate. The properties in question are in the heart of Jerusalem’s Christian quarter, the seat of all the patriarchates and headquarters of the churches, and less than 500m from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

If the settler groups were to gain control of the properties, they would be able to pursue their aggressive campaign of removing non-Jews from the City and from these strategic centres at the heart of the Christian quarter, threatening the very presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

The Patriarch explains that the holy places are sacred because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one:

The Christian understanding of holy places is that all people have claims to the sanctity of their holy places, because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one. No party should ever be able to make an exclusive claim over a holy place – in this case, over the holy city of Jerusalem.

We shall continue the fight for this cause because it is right and because it is our basic pastoral duty.

Incidentally, in neighbouring Syria, in 2019, the Jerusalem Post featured a contrasting news story and a podcast: ‘Muslims convert to Christianity in Syrian town once besieged by ISIS’.

This took place in the town of Kobani:

A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago.

The converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them towards their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year.

Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month …

Christianity is one of the region’s minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.

Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.

The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.

“After the war with Islamic State people were looking for the right path, and distancing themselves from Islam,” said Omar Firas, the founder of Kobani’s evangelical church. “People were scared and felt lost.”

Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church …

The church’s current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.

That is a most positive step for the Good News.

Returning to Jerusalem, on Sunday, December 19, 2021, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Hosam Naoum, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, co-authored an article for The Sunday Times: ‘Let us pray for the Christians being driven from the Holy Land’.

The two men say that the radical settlers have increased their persecution of Christians in the Holy Land:

Last week church leaders in Jerusalem raised an unprecedented and urgent alarm call. In a joint statement they said Christians throughout the Holy Land had become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.

They described “countless incidents” of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, and attacks on Christian churches. They spoke of holy sites being regularly vandalised and desecrated, and the ongoing intimidation of local Christians as they go about their worship and daily lives.

The Romanian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was vandalised during Lent in March this year, the fourth attack in a month. During Advent last December, someone lit a fire in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. It is usually a place of pilgrimage for Christians from around the world, and the vandals are thought to have taken advantage of the lack of visitors due to the pandemic.

These tactics are being used by such radical groups “in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land”, the Jerusalem church leaders said in their statement.

That is why, when you speak to Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem today, you will often hear this cry: “In 15 years’ time, there’ll be none of us left!”

This crisis takes place against a century-long decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land. In 1922, at the end of the Ottoman era, the number of Christians in the Holy Land was estimated at 73,000; about 10 per cent of the population. In 2019, Christians constituted less than 2 per cent of the population of the Holy Land: a massive drop in less than 100 years.

Elsewhere, in Jaffa, for example, there is good news, but not in Jerusalem:

In Israel, the overall number of Christians has risen. The imminent reopening of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Jaffa, which has been closed for more than 70 years, is encouraging. But in east Jerusalem, the central place for pilgrimage and the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — where Christ is believed to have been crucified — there is a steady decline. Church leaders believe that there are now fewer than 2,000 Christians left in the Old City of Jerusalem

Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region. But the escalation of physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, and the vandalism of holy sites by fringe radical groups, are a concerted attempt to intimidate and drive them away. Meanwhile, the growth of settler communities and travel restrictions brought about by the West Bank separation wall have deepened the isolation of Christian villages and curtailed economic and social possibilities.

All of these factors have contributed to a steady stream of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek lives and livelihoods elsewhere — a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.

What can be done?

This trend can be reversed — but action must be taken fast. We encourage governments and authorities in the region to listen to church leaders in their midst: to engage in the practical conversations that will lead to vital Christian culture and heritage being guarded and sustained. The time for action is now.

On Christmas Eve, Tom Harwood of GB News interviewed His Grace Bishop Dr Munib Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Palestine and Jordan:

He pleaded for the radicals to ‘be brought to justice’ and asked what Jerusalem would be like without its Christian community. He says that the city belongs to three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He said that love is at the heart of the Christian message and that those who are persecuted should pray for their attackers. He added that Christ died on the Cross to give us life and life abundantly.

He ended by saying that everyone has to work together to resolve this ongoing and desperate situation.

On Wednesday, 29 December, Janine di Giovanni, a journalist and Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, wrote about this subject in a broader sense for The Telegraph: ‘We need to talk about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East’.

She has reported from the Middle East for three decades and says:

I can tell you first hand, as a human rights reporter who spent three decades working in the Middle East, the situation there is urgent and it threatens to disrupt the entire demographic of the area. I made it my mission to work with embattled Christians, aiding them in their plight and trying to get the message out to the wider world: they are in peril. And so, I began in-depth field work on the most vulnerable Christian communities. I focused on four areas where I felt the risk was most prominent: Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and the minute group of Christians in the Gaza Strip. Their numbers are dwindling rapidly.

Social scientists estimate that some of them – such as the Iraqi Christians whose populations have plummeted from close to 1.5 million to an estimated 100,000 in 40 years – are in danger of extinction. It is unthinkable to me that Christianity in its birthplace, the land of the prophets where St. Thomas or Jonah had wandered, might disappear. Everywhere I went as a war reporter in my long career – Africa, Asia, the Balkans, Afghanistan – I always found a church. No matter where I was, these visits drew me back into a safe place where I found solace and freedom from gripping fear.

Even Kabul had a tiny Catholic chapel, Our Lady of Divine Providence, at the Italian Embassy, opened in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. But unlike the Christians in the Middle East – whose ancestry can stretch back to the prophets two millenn[ia] ago – the tiny population of Afghan Christians were nearly all converts. Nonetheless, this month, Father Giovanni Scalese, the leader of that community, who has since fled, issued a plea that Christians need no “obstacles to religious freedom.” Their situation is bad in Afghanistan, but even worse in the Middle East.

During lockdown, she began writing a book — The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East — based on journals of interviews that she has kept since the 1990s. Her article recounts some of what Christians are experiencing in that part of the world. It’s a harrowing read.

However, one place stood out for her:

it was the 800 Christian inhabitants of Gaza who perhaps touched me the most. Gaza was mostly Christian until the fourth Century. Today, the mainly Greek Orthodox Christians – but also Catholics, Lutherans Baptists – are sandwiched between Hamas, which is at war with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and also with the Israelis.

The lives of these Christians (as all civilians in Gaza) are perhaps the most hellish on a day-to-day basis: the lack of electricity, fresh water and health services, the fear of more bombing and their inability to visit family in Bethlehem and Jerusalem during the holidays. They are isolated and abandoned. Last summer, I returned, my first trip since Covid – and the situation was the worst I had seen in 30 years.

Nonetheless, faith and love characterise the persecuted:

But faith somehow continues, even in these embattled communities. Throughout the hundreds of interviews I did for The Vanishing, there was one theme that was consistent: love. Whether it was Father Mario da Silva, an inspirational Portuguese priest who had left a comfortable posting in The Vatican to work in Gaza, or a family celebrating its existence after encountering Isil on a mountaintop near Mosul. These people continued to pray, to believe, to gain inner strength from something they could not see or even at times understand: their profound belief in God.

Their faith, in many ways, was more powerful than any of the forces that tried to destroy them.

Christians know that persecution is to be expected, but we can pray that God relieves believers in the Middle East of this daily scourge, a seemingly intractable — and tragic — situation.

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 11:30-33

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

—————————————————————————————

My last post discussed Paul’s description of his brutal persecution in his ministry for Christ. He concluded by saying that he was also consumed with anxiety for the well being of the churches he had planted and the congregants.

Paul is boasting, something he finds distasteful. However, he has to do it in order to contrast his godliness and authenticity with the venal, devilish false teachers who had inveigled themselves with the Corinthian congregation.

He says that, if he has to boast, he will do so by talking of his weaknesses (verse 30).

He says that God the Father knows that he is not lying (verse 31), something the false teachers said he had done.

Paul describes God more fully.

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

… what he is saying is, “I’m going to call on God, the true and living God who is identified repeatedly in the New Testament as the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus.”

In other words, worshipping God is not enough. You are not worshipping the true God. You don’t know the true God unless you have identified Him as the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus.

Of this verse, Matthew Henry says:

It is a great comfort to a good man that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is an omniscient God, knows the truth of all he says, and knows all he does and all he suffers for his sake.

Paul mentions another episode of persecution, one that took place early in his ministry in Damascus.

He says that the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city in order to seize him (verse 32), but someone lowered him in a basket through a window in the wall, enabling his escape (verse 33).

The story is in Acts 9. Paul — still Saul at that point — had only regained his eyesight and his strength after his conversion when he began preaching. This episode in Damascus did not occur straightaway but some time after his conversion:

Saul Proclaims Jesus in Synagogues

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Saul Escapes from Damascus

23 When many days had passed, the Jews[a] plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall,[b] lowering him in a basket.

The man who had been responsible for persecuting Christians in Jerusalem — including the death of St Stephen, the first martyr — experienced his own persecution shortly after his conversion. Persecution would be part of Paul’s life up to his own martyrdom in Rome.

MacArthur has more on this Damascene episode, which Paul recounts in more detail in Galatians 1:

The Lord, after he converted him, took him and sent him into Arabia – Nabatean, Arabia it used to be called. He sent him into Nabatean, Arabia, south of Damascus, somewhere between the Red Sea and the Euphrates River – in the modern era world, that area. He sent him into Nabatean, Arabia for three years. He didn’t have an seminary education, didn’t have any formal training, didn’t have anybody with him. God sent him down there, and the Lord Himself gave him his message. You remember he says that to the Galatians, “I didn’t get my gospel from any man. No man gave me this gospel. The Lord set me apart, took me down, and for three years he’s down in Arabia, and he’s preaching the gospel all over Arabia.

After three years, he comes back to Damascus. And when he gets back to Damascus, according to the ninth chapter of Acts, he starts to preach Christ. And the Jews, who have a synagogue in Damascus, are furious, because he’s preaching Christ as the Messiah, as the Savior, as the King of Israel. And so, they’re plotting his death.

Now, in Damascus there’s a colony of Arabs, who’ve migrated up from Nabatean, Arabia, and they live in Damascus. Damascus would be the main city in that part of the world. And I’ve been in Damascus; it’s an incredible place with an incredible history. It was the further eastern most extension of the Roman Empire as well, and it was a very formidable place.

So, Nabatean Arabians had migrated up. In fact, there were so many of them there that the colony was large enough to have a governor. And it says in verse 32, “In Damascus the ethnarch” – that’s the governor, and he would have been the guy assigned to govern this Arab colony in Damascus, he was under Aretas the king. Aretas is … a title rather than a name; Aretas is like Pharaoh or Caesar. It’s the title of the king of Nabatean, Arabia.

So, the king of Nabatean, Arabia, a man called Aretas, appointed some governor to kind of lead the colony of Arabs up there and rule over them. Well, what happened was Paul’s ministry down in Arabia had irritated the Arabians and the normal hostility and persecution that arises against the gospel arose there, and it migrated up into Damascus. And so, the Arabians somehow joined with the Jews. On the one hand, in Acts 9, you got the Jews plotting to kill him, and now you’ve got the Arabians involved.

Aretas had assigned this ethnarch, and is job – the Jews had given him the job – “to guard the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me.”

The word was out, “Paul’s in town; we’re going to get him.” The Jews wanted him dead, and the Arabs wanted to cooperate in the process. The Arabs were given the responsibility to guard the gates so that if he tried to get out of the city, they would seize him, and he would be executed.

Now, he had just gotten launched into the ministry, and already he’s got the Jewish and Gentile world after him. This was just the beginning of how it would be throughout his life, until one day he laid his head on the block in Rome, and a Roman executioner chopped it off, and he entered the presence of the Lord. From the beginning of his ministry to the end, this is all he ever knew.

This is how Paul was able to escape:

The wall of Damascus was very wide – wide enough to drive a chariot on. And homes were built up on the top of the wall, and some of them hung over the edge and had some windows, which would just be an opening, where some wooden doors could be opened or closed. And they figured out a scheme. They would get Paul up into one of those homes on the wall, and they would put him in a basket.

The word for basket here – sarganē – is a rope basket, not just a reed basket or straw basket, but a rope basket. You’d take rope and just wrap it into a basket form and somehow tie it all together. They’d have to be pretty strong to hold a full-size man.

Today, Paul would have been considered too confrontational:

And anybody in their right mind today, who sat him down, in our contemporary Christian environment, would have said, “You know, Paul, you really need to change your method; you’re just infuriating the whole world. I mean there’s got to be a soft sell here that you could develop. There’s got to be some subtleties, Paul. Everything can’t be blatant.” I mean he wouldn’t have known even what you were talking about

Pastors used to be much more Pauline, although that was so last century. I only ever heard one fire and brimstone sermon in my life. I was 12 or 13 at the time. An elderly Irish priest gave it. He was a retired pastor, stepping in for ours one weekend. He wore the traditional pre-Vatican II alb which had about six inches of lace at the bottom and at the ends of the sleeves. I will remember him for the rest of my life.

Perhaps we need more Pauline preaching today. My dad really enjoyed the Irish priest’s sermon and said he could have listened to him for hours. It reminded him of his childhood.

Build it and they will come. We’d stop calling new churchgoers ‘seekers’, because so many would come to church that a full house, so to speak, would become the norm once again. We would no longer have to think of those people as being in a special category.

We can but pray for such a happy eventuality.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 12:1, 11-13

Many years ago, Chicago’s PBS station ran a late-night show on Saturdays featuring newspaper columnist Irv Kupcinet, who was its host.

Irv Kupcinet invited a variety of guests on to sit around a table for 90 minutes to discuss current events.

He mentioned ‘the lively art of conversation’ in every show. Despite the controversial topics, his guests managed to engage with him and each other in an intelligent and considered way. Perhaps that was because Kupcinet set the tone with his own conversational style. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall anyone ever walking off the show or being told to calm down.

Nearly 50 years on, things have changed drastically.

We’re at the point where we cannot discuss much, even around the relative safety of the dinner table.

On November 22, 2021, The Times‘s India Knight discussed this unfortunate state of affairs in ‘Our children are losing the ability to argue’. She means making a reasoned, fact-based argument for or against something, e.g. climate change.

I fully appreciated her experience as a youngster, because it paralleled my own (emphases mine):

When I was growing up, the kitchen table was a place of frequent and sometimes shouty political and cultural debate. I would acquire an opinion, usually from something I’d read or watched but sometimes from someone I thought was cool, and then I would express it, often with half an eye to provocation, in the self-important teenage manner. I didn’t have the sort of parents who smile vaguely and say, “That’s nice, dear”, so I would be expected to explain why my opinion was my opinion and to defend it as it was dismantled and sometimes demolished.

My father was excellent at that: ‘If you’re going to take a stance, you’ll have to defend it a lot better than that. Come back with some facts.’

And I could also relate to India Knight’s reaction as an adolescent:

I did occasionally go off to my room in a huff, there to boil with fury at the great injustice of not being given a standing ovation every time I aired a view. But eight times out of ten the conversation was lively and thought-provoking, even enlightening (because I was a child, and children know less than adults, having lived less life). The conversations/arguments were sometimes fiery, but because I was treated as an intellectual equal, I didn’t feel belittled. I found it intriguing and satisfying to learn what the opposing point of view to mine was on any given topic, and why it was held. It taught me that people who hold different opinions from yours can still be clever, likeable and interesting; that they hold their views just as dearly as you hold yours, and that this is fine.

These days, I look back on my late parents’ viewpoints on life and politics. I consider them geniuses, because I now hold those same perspectives.

However, today’s adolescents and twenty-somethings really don’t know how to put forward their side of an argument:

Woke young people are amazing. They do care about important things in a laudable way and are indeed awake to social justice. All that is great. But you really can’t say anything any more. The kitchen table scenario I describe above is now often a fraught and tentative affair, involving many eggshells and much tiptoeing. The anxiety is all on the part of the parents. Even the gentlest, most thoughtful and cotton-woolly discussion can result in young people feeling aggressed and disrespected. The parent’s only permissible answer to, “The sky is green,” is, “Yes, that’s right.” This is never truer than in the context of gender, in which expressing the previously uncontroversial view that biology is real can instantly mark you out as a bigot, a fascist or a phobe.

Sometimes, too, big, insulting, very loaded accusations are chucked carelessly about by the children. As a result, many parents of teenagers I know — and by “many” I mean “nearly all” — feel it’s just not worth the hassle of having these conversations. And, as a result of that, an awful lot of young people don’t know how to argue their case when faced with views that differ from their own. They are able to air an opinion but not to defend it objectively or intellectually at any level.

India Knight says:

Parents must gird their loins and persevere, I think, in tiny, manageable increments. It is vital for children to understand that disagreement is not a personal attack, that holding a topic up to the light is not sinister and that saying, “You’ve just completely contradicted yourself, darling,” isn’t abusive.

I couldn’t agree more, and if more parents, like hers and mine, did that, the world would be a better place.

Unfortunately, a growing number of adults are also unable to accept differing points of view.

Spiked‘s Brendan O’Neill discussed this sad phenomenon on GB News with Patrick Christys on Wednesday, December 22. He said that people are too afraid to say anything that goes against the accepted narrative. He’s right:

That was an apposite interview just before Christmas, when Britons were preparing to host family and friends around the dinner table.

Earlier that day, another GB News host, Michelle Dewberry, explored the horrid nature of the division appearing between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Tony Blair called the unvaxxed ‘idiots’ and the Archbishop of Canterbury called them ‘immoral’. Blair later walked back his use of ‘idiots’. I’m not sure the Archbishop did likewise.

In any event, Michelle Dewberry discussed this divisive controversy at the beginning of her show (from 8:25 to 11:20):

There are many reasons why people are rightly suspicious of the vaccinations. I’ve had my two shots and the booster but fully understand why others don’t want them. Most of those people can cogently explain their reasons for not doing so.

It is disappointing to see a former Prime Minister and the spiritual head of the Church of England labelling people with whom they disagree in such a parlous way. Were he alive, Irv Kupcinet would have been appalled.

Surely, they should be leading by example.

It is time to return to the lively art of conversation, but that also requires an ability to accept other perspectives, whether we’re teens or grandparents.

We know where the blame lies. We have to try and stop damaging division and emotional arguments in the best way we can. Unfortunately, it is much easier said than done, and I do not have a solution.

For many, Christmas as they know it ended at midnight on December 26.

Most people will be heading back to work on Monday.

Yet, there is a reason for the old song The Twelve Days of Christmas, because that is how long the actual season is.

An Anglican priest of the High Church tradition explains to presenter Calvin Robinson in the following GB News video that, when many people think Christmas has ended, it has only just begun. This 45-minute programme, which includes carols from an Anglican church choir, explores the true religious meaning of the season. It’s well worth watching:

Epiphany is on January 6, so there is still plenty of time to celebrate and contemplate our Saviour’s birth until then.

Furthermore, we in the UK are blessed with a thoughtful Yuletide convention. Because Christmas Day fell on a Saturday this year, Monday, December 27, is a bank holiday. We get a long weekend of celebration and relaxation.

The Queen delivered her traditional address to the nation on December 25. This year, the theme was her loss of Prince Philip, who loved her dearly and was her best friend. The old film clips show her face light up when he joins her at various functions. It’s a beautiful, spontaneous reaction. Our monarch said that she is looking forward to celebrating her Platinum Jubilee year in 2022:

The Queen always includes a Christian message. This year was one of enduring faith, one that promotes leadership:

Neil Oliver delivered a thoughtful Christmas message which will appeal to all, believers and non-believers alike. He reflects philosophically on the story of the Christ Child and the meaningful traditions that have emanated from it. This is a must-see:

Oliver also had a round-up of the Greatest Britons he interviewed in 2021. This will restore one’s faith in humanity:

A few days ago, I wrote about the Revd William Pearson-Gee’s impassioned video about keeping churches open during the Christmas period during the current coronavirus panic over Omicron. Watch his hands; the intensity is palpable:

Mr Pearson-Gee’s Buckingham Parish Church has its own YouTube channel with all its main services.

Here is the church’s Service of Nine Lessons and Carols for 2021:

The next video was one of their Christmas services which starts with a charming Christingle service and ends with the liturgy for Holy Communion. Mr Pearson-Gee includes Christmas prayers in the second service, making it all the more meaningful:

I hope that these videos, be they religious or secular, help us better appreciate the Christmas season.

It is unusual to have a 48-hour period of Christmas worship.

December 26, 2021, is the First Sunday after Christmas.

It is also Boxing Day in the United Kingdom:

Boxing Day – a history

Ireland remembers the first martyr on the 26th — St Stephen’s Day:

St Stephen, the first martyr

December 26 — St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day and more (the money box, details on St Stephen and Good King Wenceslas)

Readings for the First Sunday after Christmas can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 2:41-52

2:41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.

2:42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.

2:43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.

2:44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.

2:45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

2:46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

2:47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

2:48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

2:49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

2:50 But they did not understand what he said to them.

2:51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

2:52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke shows us that Jesus is the Son of God in his second chapter. The preceding verses contain the prophecies of Samuel and Anna in the temple when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus as the firstborn in thanksgiving to the Lord. Although Scripture does not say so, Mary had completed her ritual bath 40 days after delivering the Christ Child. Joseph bought a sacrifice of two young turtledoves (verse 24). Simeon prophesied (verses 34 and 35):

34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke tells us that, every year, Mary and Joseph went up to Jerusalem for Passover (verse 41).

John MacArthur says that, normally, only men went for the feast of Passover. For Mary to accompany him indicates a strong devotion to God:

In fact, for a woman to go to Passover, according to Jewish tradition, was to demonstrate on her part a rather unusual spiritual devotion, a rather unusual interest in the things of God, a devotion to God and to His Word and to obedience. How interesting, verse 41, “His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year.” And here again, Luke reminds us of the devout character of the faith of Joseph and Mary. They were true worshipers of the living God. They went every year to Passover. It wasn’t something they did now and then, it wasn’t something that Joseph alone did out of duty. They went together.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Joseph probably attended the other two important Jewish feasts on his own:

We have reason to suppose that Joseph went up likewise at the feasts of pentecost and tabernacles; for all the males were to appear there thrice a year, but Mary only at the passover, which was the greatest of the three feasts, and had most gospel in it.

When He was 12 years old, Jesus accompanied his parents for the festival (verse 42).

Henry says that Jesus might have accompanied them before, although Scripture does not say so:

It is not said that this was the first time that Jesus went up to Jerusalem to worship at the feast: probably he had done it for some years before, having spirit and wisdom above his years; and all should attend on public worship that can hear with understanding,Nehemiah 8:2.

The fact that He was 12 years old is significant because Jewish children are supposed to begin to fast at that age, at minimum on the Day of Atonement. Boys are to know and obey the Lord’s precepts at the age of 13:

The Jewish doctors say that at twelve years old children must begin to fast from time to time, that they may learn to fast on the day of atonement; and that at thirteen years old a child begins to be a son of the commandment, that is, obliged to the duties of adult church-membership, having been from his infancy, by virtue of his circumcision, a son of the covenant.

Jewish boys make their bar mitzvah at age 13. MacArthur says that there were no bar mitzvahs when Jesus lived. That ceremony came afterwards:

At thirteen Jewish boys were considered to be obligated to the law of God themselves. They passed out from under parental authority and they were accountable to the law of God themselves at thirteen. That is why after Jesus’ time, not at Jesus’ time, after Jesus’ time, an official ceremony developed and that is known as bar mitzvah. It wasn’t the ceremony of Jesus’ time but later on it developed, but it developed out of the idea, bar mitzvah meaning son of the law, or son of the commandment, that at thirteen a son was responsible to the law of God.

When the festival had ended, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, unbeknownst to His earthly parents (verse 43).

On their way back, they had travelled for a day before realising that Jesus was not with the group of travellers (verse 44).

MacArthur says that there would have been a large group of people, separated by age and sex, with children going first, followed by women, then men:

… most of the traditional Jewish scholars would say the children were in front because if the parents got in front they would be going too fast for the kids. So they put all the children in front, followed by the women, followed by the men, so that the men couldn’t, because they tend to stride a little faster, distance themselves. And they would go in caravans for the sake of friendship and fellowship, family, neighbors, acquaintances. But also because it put them in a safer position to be able to withstand the traditional onslaught of highway robbers and marauders who would attack people traveling in small groups or alone.

That would explain why they noticed only after a day of walking, which would have been around 20 or 25 miles, according to MacArthur:

… they went a whole day’s journey, twenty, twenty-five miles. And then when they realized at the end of that day, because the families would then come together, find each other, eat and sleep, they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, assuming that He would be with somebody they knew.

When they did not find Jesus, Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem (verse 45).

It took three days for them to find Jesus. This must have been a traumatic time for them. Jerusalem would still have been teeming with people. During this time, Jesus was with the teachers of the temple, listening to them and asking questions (verse 46).

Henry has an interesting thought, derived from St Stephen. Jesus could have been there to indicate that the Messiah was among them, although they did not understand that:

Methinks this public appearance of Christ in the temple, as a teacher, was like Moses’s early attempt to deliver Israel, which Stephen put this construction upon, that he supposed his brethren would have understood, by that, how God by his hand would deliver them, Acts 7:24; Acts 7:25. They might have taken the hint, and been delivered then, but they understood not; so they here might have had Christ (for aught I know) to enter upon his work now, but they were only astonished, and understood not the indication; and therefore, like Moses, he retires into obscurity again, and they hear no more of him for many years after.

All listening to Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers (verse 47).

Henry reminds us of His ancestor David in this context:

And his wisdom and understanding appeared as much in the questions he asked as in the answers he gave, so that all who heard him were astonished: they never heard one so young, no indeed any of their greatest doctors, talk sense at the rate that he did; like David, he had more understanding than all his teachers, yea, than the ancients, Psalms 119:99; Psalms 119:100.

MacArthur says that this is the only time Luke refers to the Jewish hierarchy as teachers:

We don’t know who these teachers were.  Luke is kind to them.  He calls them teachers. Didaskalos is the word, and it’s a word that he never uses to refer to Jewish teachers againFrom now on when he identifies them, he’ll identify them as nomikos, lawyers, or grammateus, scribes, but he never calls them teachers again.  He reserves that word for John the Baptist and most particularly he reserves that word for JesusOnce Jesus became the teacher, nobody else is called by Luke a teacher.  But for now he gives them credit as teachers.

MacArthur surmises that Jesus was eager to hear these men, who came not only from Jerusalem but all over the Diaspora:

Just after the Passover many people would linger, and most notably during the Passover, great teachers who were devout Jews would come from all over the dispersion. Jews had been scattered over the Roman world and even down into Africa.  And they would come to the Passover so there would be a great coming together of…of teachers.  This is an opportunity Jesus seized uponIt’s an opportunity that never would be afforded Him in the out-of-the-way place called Nazareth where He lived, to be able to sit in the midst of the great Jewish teachers, those who are expert in the law, expert in the prophets, expert in the hagiographa, the holy writings the three sections of the Old Testament, the laws, the Pentateuch, the books of Moses.

But Jesus also knew what was going to happen in the years to come:

Again, remember He knew who He was and He knew why He had come. And the imagery of the Passover was very clear in His mind as the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. And He saw a people frenetically engaged in acts that were endeavoring to…to offer some atonement for the overwhelming burden of their sins. He could see the power of sin in the butchery that was taking place and in the guilt-ridden lives of the people. He could see the hypocrisy of Judaism, all of it laid out to His now fully aware and wisdom-filled mind. The questions must have dealt with those kinds of issues and they astonished these teachers.

Mary and Joseph were astonished when they found Jesus in this setting and Mary, mother-like, gave Him a verbal correction, saying that He had put them both under a lot of anxiety (verse 48).

I highlighted Simeon’s prophecy of a sword going through Mary’s heart. This is why:

this is the first time the sword pierces Mary’s heart. You remember back in chapter 2, verse 35, Simeon had said that this child is going to put a sword through your heart, Mary. Well now it had been twelve years and there wasn’t any sword. This child had been nothing but a joy. After escaping Herod, after escaping the slaughter, they had returned back from Egypt to Nazareth. They had lived there for these years. The child had been nothing but obedient, nothing but compliant, nothing but submissive, nothing but loving. And certainly Mary loved that…that Son like no other child and certainly that Son loved her like no one ever loved her. One can only imagine what it was like to have a perfect child, the sinless Son, God in human flesh with all the sensitivity and tenderness and kindness and mercy and grace that that child could bring to bear upon her life and Joseph’s. There had never been a sword, but now there was a sword.

To Mary, Jesus replied that He was doing His Father’s work, in His Father’s house (verse 49).

Neither parent understood what Jesus said (verse 50).

Henry says this is because they believed Him to be a temporal Messiah, not a spiritual one:

They did not understand what business he had to do then in the temple for his Father. They believed him to be the Messiah, that should have the throne of his father David; but they thought that should rather bring him to the royal palace than to the temple. They understood not his prophetical office; and he was to do much of his work in that.

Then the three went down from Jerusalem, returning to Nazareth, where Jesus was obedient to them; meanwhile, Mary pondered these things silently, treasuring them in her heart (verse 51).

This is not the first time Luke has mentioned Mary’s consideration of events concerning Jesus.

MacArthur reminds us:

Back in chapter 2 verse 19 it says the same thing, when she heard from the shepherds she treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart. Mary had a lot to think about, a lot to think about. She had to realize that this Son was to be thought of as a Savior, that she had to exchange authority for submission. She had to exchange commanding for obeying. She had to exchange responsibility for redemption. She had to exchange wonder over the child for worship of the child.

In fact, a sword pierced her heart as recorded in Mark 3 when she came to find Jesus one time with some of her other children, brothers and sisters. And the crowd said, “Your mother is seeking You.” And Jesus said, “Who is My mother? Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, the same is My brother, My sister, My mother.” And He distanced Himself from that human relationship, not because He didn’t love her, He loved her with a perfect love, but because she needed not to see Him as a Son to do what she wanted but as a Savior doing what the Father demanded. In fact, Luke only mentions Mary one more time. Just once more is Mary mentioned and that’s in chapter 8 verses 19 to 21 where it refers to that very account that I just mentioned from Mark chapter 3.

Jesus went on to increase in wisdom and years, in divine and human favour (verse 52).

Henry says this was a gradual process:

Though the Eternal Word was united to the human soul from his conception, yet the divinity that dwelt in him manifested itself to his humanity by degrees, ad modum recipientis–in proportion to his capacity; as the faculties of his human soul grew more and more capable, the gifts it received from the divine nature were more and more communicated. And he increased in favour with God and man, that is, in all those graces that rendered him acceptable to God and man. Herein Christ accommodated himself to his estate of humiliation, that, as he condescended to be an infant, a child, a youth, so the image of God shone brighter in him, when he grew up to be a youth, than it did, or could, while he was an infant and a child. Note, Young people, as they grow in stature, should grow in wisdom, and then, as they grow in wisdom, they will grow in favour with God and man.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Happy Christmas to my readers!

Readings for Proper III at Christmas can be found here.

The Epistle for Proper III follows (emphases mine):

Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)

1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,

1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

1:3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

1:4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?

1:6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

1:7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.”

1:8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.

1:9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

1:10 And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands;

1:11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing;

1:12 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur summarises the purpose of the Book of Hebrews, written for a Jewish audience of converts and those not yet converted. These Jews lived in the Diaspora, therefore, not in or near Jerusalem:

In the book of Hebrews, there is confidence and assurance to the Christian. In the book of Hebrews, there is warning to the intellectually convinced that he must receive Christ or his knowledge will damn him. And finally there is a convincing presentation to the unbelieving Jew who is not intellectually convinced that he indeed should be and should believe in Jesus Christ.

And thus, to do this, was Hebrews written. It is simply, then – mark it – a presentation of Christ, the Messiah, the author of a new covenant, greater than the old one that God had made in the Old Testament. Not that the old one was wrong, it was only incomplete.

Now, the theme of the book, then, is the superiority or the preeminence of Christ. That He is better than anything they’ve got. That He is better than anything that is. He’s better than the Old Testament persons. He’s better than the Old Testament institutions. He’s better than the Old Testament rituals. He’s better than the Old Testament sacrifices. He’s better than everything.

The author of Hebrews — undetermined — says that God spoke to the Jewish ancestors in many and various ways through the prophets (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

The order in which God spoke to men in those times that went before the gospel, those past times: he spoke to his ancient people at sundry times and in divers manners. (1.) At sundry times, or by several parts, as the word signifies, which may refer either to the several ages of the Old-Testament dispensation–the patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the prophetic; or to the several gradual openings of his mind concerning the Redeemer: to Adam, that the Messiah should come of the seed of the woman,–to Abraham, that he should spring from his loins,–to Jacob, that he should be of the tribe of Judah,–to David, that he should be of his house,–to Micah, that he should be born at Bethlehem,–to Isaiah, that he should be born of a virgin. (2.) In divers manners, according to the different ways in which God though fit to communicate his mind to his prophets; sometimes by the illapses of his Spirit, sometimes by dreams, sometimes by visions, sometimes by an audible voice, sometimes by legible characters under his own hand, as when he wrote the ten commandments on tables of stone.

However, in the last days, He spoke to us through His Son, His appointed heir of all things, through whom He also created the worlds (verse 2).

Henry tells us what this means:

II. God’s method of communicating his mind and will under the New-Testament dispensation, these last days as they are called, that is, either towards the end of the world, or the end of the Jewish state. The times of the gospel are the last times, the gospel revelation is the last we are to expect from God. There was first the natural revelation; then the patriarchal, by dreams, visions, and voices; then the Mosaic, in the law given forth and written down; then the prophetic, in explaining the law, and giving clearer discoveries of Christ: but now we must expect no new revelation, but only more of the Spirit of Christ to help us better to understand what is already revealed. Now the excellency of the gospel revelation above the former consists in two things:–

1. It is the final, the finishing revelation, given forth in the last days of divine revelation, to which nothing is to be added, but the canon of scripture is to be settled and sealed: so that now the minds of men are no longer kept in suspense by the expectation of new discoveries, but they rejoice in a complete revelation of the will of God, both preceptive and providential, so far as is necessary for them to know in order to their direction and comfort. For the gospel includes a discovery of the great events that shall befal the church of God to the end of the world.

2. It is a revelation which God has made by his Son, the most excellent messenger that was ever sent into the world, far superior to all the ancient patriarchs and prophets, by whom God communicated his will to his people in former times. And here we have an excellent account of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1.) The glory of his office, and that in three respects:– [1.] God hath appointed him to be heir of all things. As God, he was equal to the Father; but, as God-man and Mediator, he was appointed by the Father to be the heir of all things, the sovereign Lord of all, the absolute disposer, director, and governor of all persons and of all things, Psalms 2:6; Psalms 2:7. All power in heaven and earth is given to him; all judgment is committed to him,Matthew 28:18; John 5:22. [2.] By him God made the worlds, both visible and invisible, the heavens and the earth; not as an instrumental cause, but as his essential word and wisdom. By him he made the old creation, by him he makes the new creature, and by him he rules and governs both. [3.] He upholds all things by the word of his power: he keeps the world from dissolving. By him all things consist. The weight of the whole creation is laid upon Christ: he supports the whole and all the parts. When, upon the apostasy, the world was breaking to pieces under the wrath and curse of God, the Son of God, undertaking the work of redemption, bound it up again, and established it by his almighty power and goodness. None of the ancient prophets sustained such an office as this, none was sufficient for it.

MacArthur explains the Greek in the original manuscript:

“By whom also He made the worlds.” That is, Christ is the agent through which God created the world; bydia  – means through. The agency through which God created is Christ. John 1:3 says, “All things were made by Him; without Him was not anything made that was made.” Jesus Christ is the agent of creation. Now, my friends, I’ve said this many times, and to me, it’s a great single proof of who Jesus was. Jesus had the ability to create, and that set Him apart from man …

That establishes His absolute superiority over everything. He created everything material. He created everything spiritual. And man has stained His creation with sin, but Christ made it good originally, and even the creation, according to Romans 8, groans to be restored to what it knew in the beginning. Now, I want you to catch a little thought here, that’s kind of hidden if you don’t understand the Greek. At the end of verse 2, it says, “By whom also He made the worlds.” The common Greek word for world is kosmos, but that is not the word that is here. The word that is here is aiōnas.

It does not mean the material world, it means the ages; it means the ages. And he is not saying that Jesus Christ is only responsible for the physical earth. He is saying that Christ is responsible for creating the very concepts of time, space, force, action, and matter. Christ is responsible for creating the whole universe of time and space; that’s what he’s saying. He does not use the word kosmos, restricting it to this earth, but He makes Christ the creator of the universe, of the ages, of all concepts, and bounds of existence. Christ made it all, every bit of it, without effort.

Christ is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, sustaining everything by His powerful word; when He reconciled us to the Father at the Crucifixion, He sat — and continues to sit — at His right hand (verse 3).

Henry tells us:

He that hath known the Son hath known the Father, John 14:7-43.14.9. For the Son is in the Father, and the Father in the Son; the personal distinction is no other than will consist with essential union. This is the glory of the person of Christ; the fulness of the Godhead dwells, not typically, but really, in him …

From the glory of his sufferings we are at length led to consider the glory of his exaltation: When by himself he had purged away our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, at his Father’s right hand. As Mediator and Redeemer, he is invested with the highest honour, authority, and activity, for the good of his people; the Father now does all things by him, and receives all the services of his people from him. Having assumed our nature, and suffered in it on earth, he has taken it up with him to heaven, and there it has the high honour to be next to God, and this was the reward of his humiliation.

The author of Hebrews then discusses Christ’s superiority to the angels, which held a very high place in the Jewish mind of the day.

The author says that Christ is superior to the angels and the name He inherited is far superior to theirs (verse 4).

MacArthur explains why the author wrote that verse and the following three:

their views had begun to wander from the basic Old Testament context, because of all the Talmudic writings and the rabbinical feelings and ideas, they began to wander off the main biblical points of angels. And they came up with some interesting views of angels, so that when the writer of Hebrews is writing, He is writing not only with a true backdrop of a biblical view of angels, but he’s writing against a backdrop of the Jewish common concept of angels.

The author asks to which angels did God ever say “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son” (verse 5), which is pointing to the pre-eminence of Christ.

Henry looks at the language used in the ancient manuscript:

When it is said that Christ was made so much better than the angels, we are not to imagine that he was a mere creature, as the angels are; the word genomenos, when joined with an adjective, is nowhere to be rendered created, and here may very well be read, being more excellent, as the Syriac version hath it. We read ginesthe ho Theos aletheslet God be true, not made so, but acknowledged to be so

1. It was said of Christ, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee (Psalms 2:7), which may refer to his eternal generation, or to his resurrection, or to his solemn inauguration into his glorious kingdom at his ascension and session at the right hand of the Father. Now this was never said concerning the angels, and therefore by inheritance he has a more excellent nature and name than they.

2. It was said concerning Christ, but never concerning the angels, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son; taken from Hebrews 2:7. Not only, “I am his Father, and he is my Son, by nature and eternal promanation;” but, “I will be his Father, and he shall be my Son, by wonderful conception, and this his son-ship shall be the fountain and foundation of every gracious relation between me and fallen man.”

The author points out that when Christ came to earth, God said that the angels should worship him (verse 6), thereby making Him superior to them.

Henry says:

God will not suffer an angel to continue in heaven who will not be in subjection to Christ, and pay adoration to him; and he will at last make the fallen angels and wicked men to confess his divine power and authority and to fall before him. Those who would not have him to reign must then be brought forth and slain before him. The proof of this is taken out of Psalms 97:7, Worship him, all you gods, that is, “All you that are superior to men, own yourselves to be inferior to Christ in nature and power.”

The author says that God makes His angels winds and, as His servants, flames of fire (verse 7).

Henry explains:

What does God say here of the angels? He maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. This we have in Psalms 104:4, where it seems to be more immediately spoken of the winds and lightning, but is here applied to the angels, whose agency the divine Providences makes use of in the winds, and in thunder and lightnings. Observe, [1.] The office of the angels: they are God’s ministers, or servants, to do his pleasure. It is the glory of God that he has such servants; it is yet more so that he does not need them. [2.] How the angels are qualified for this service; he makes them spirits and a flame of fire, that is, he endows them with light and zeal, with activity and ability, readiness and resolution to do his pleasure: they are no more than what God has made them to be, and they are servants to the Son as well as to the Father.

In the remaining verses, the author indicates the power and superiority of Christ over all creation.

His throne endures forever, the scepter of God’s kingdom (verse 8).

Henry says the verse comes from Psalm 45:

Psalms 45:6; Psalms 45:7, where God declares of Christ, First, His true and real divinity, and that with much pleasure and affection, not grudging him that glory: Thy throne, O God. Here one person calls another person God, O God. And, if God the Father declares him to be so, he must be really and truly so; for God calls persons and things as they areSecondly, God declares his dignity and dominion, as having a throne, a kingdom, and a sceptre of that kingdom. He has all right, rule, authority, and power, both as the God of nature, grace, and glory, and as Mediator; and so he is fully adequate to all the intents and purposes of his mediatorial kingdom. Thirdly, God declares the eternal duration of the dominion and dignity of Christ, founded upon the divinity of his person: Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, from everlasting to everlasting, through all the ages of time, maugre all the attempts of earth and hell to undermine and overthrow it, and through all the endless ages of eternity, when time shall be no more. This distinguishes Christ’s throne from all earthly thrones, which are tottering, and will at length tumble down; but the throne of Christ shall be as the days of heaven. Fourthly, God declares of Christ the perfect equity of his administration, and of the execution of his power, through all the parts of his government: A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom,Hebrews 1:8; Hebrews 1:8

As Christ has always hated wickedness and loved righteousness, God anointed Him with the oil of gladness beyond that of His companions (verse 9).

Henry explains:

2. This anointing of Christ was with the oil of gladness, which signifies both the gladness and cheerfulness with which Christ undertook and went through the office of Mediator (finding himself so absolutely sufficient for it), and also that joy which was set before him as the reward of his service and sufferings, that crown of glory and gladness which he should wear for ever after the suffering of death. 3. This anointing of Christ was above the anointing of his fellows: God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. Who are Christ’s fellows? Has he any equals? Not as God, except the Father and Spirit, but these are not here meant. As man, however, he has his fellows, and as an anointed person; but his unction is beyond all theirs.

The author goes on to discuss Christ’s eternal power.

In the beginning, He founded the earth and the heavens — the universe — are the work of His hands (verse 10).

Henry tells us:

He was not only above all things in condition, but before all things in existence; and therefore must be God, and self-existent. He laid the foundations of the earth, did not only introduce new forms into pre-existent matter, but made out of nothing the foundations of the earth, the primordia rerum–the first principles of things; he not only founded the earth, but the heavens too are the work of his hands, both the habitation and the inhabitants, the hosts of heaven, the angels themselves; and therefore he must needs be infinitely superior to them.

Earthly creation will perish like clothing, but Christ will remain (verse 11).

Like clothing, earthly creation can be rolled up and changed, but Christ will remain as He is, His years never ending (verse 12).

Henry elaborates:

This our visible world (both the earth and visible heavens) is growing old. Not only men and beasts and trees grow old, but this world itself grows old, and is hastening to its dissolution; it changes like a garment, has lost much of its beauty and strength; it grew old betimes on the first apostasy, and it has been waxing older and growing weaker ever since; it bears the symptoms of a dying world. But then its dissolution will not be its utter destruction, but its change. Christ will fold up this world as a garment not to be abused any longer, not to be any longer so used as it has been. Let us not then set our hearts upon that which is not what we take it to be, and will not be what it now is. Sin has made a great change in the world for the worse, and Christ will make a great change in it for the betterChrist is immutable. Thus the Father testifies of him, Thou remainest, thy years shall not fail. Christ is the same in himself, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever, and the same to his people in all the changes of time. This may well support all who have an interest in Christ under all the changes they meet with in the world, and under all they feel in themselves. Christ is immutable and immortal: his years shall not fail. This may comfort us under all decays of nature that we may observe in ourselves or in our friends, though our flesh and heart fail and our days are hastening to an end. Christ lives to take care of us while we live, and of ours when we are gone, and this should quicken us all to make our interest in him clear and sure, that our spiritual and eternal life may be hid with Christ in God.

MacArthur concludes with this prayer and a hope for unbelievers:

Let’s pray. Father, we thank You for Jesus Christ, the superiorities that we’ve learned about tonight. Thank you that we’re not worshipping a religious leader who was human. We’re not worshipping some ethical teacher. We’re worshipping Christ, Who is God the creator. And to think that He lives within us, and the person of the Spirit empowers us and loves us with a personal love, cares about us, sends His angels to minister to us, and Father, these things overwhelm us.

But God, having presented all these truths of Jesus Christ, our hearts shudder and shake to know that there will be some people who would turn away, and walk about of this place tonight neglecting the salvation that they’ve heard. Who would fail to take earnest heed to that which they have heard. Who would turn their back on Jesus Christ, and walk out into a night of sin. God, it’s almost beyond belief. Lord, if Jesus Christ is God, as the Bible says, then He has a claim to lay on our lives. We’re to receive Him, to believe in him as Lord and Savior.

And we pray to that end, Father, tonight, that there may be no one in this place who would leave not having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Some have come doubting, some have come questioning, some have come wondering whether it’s all so. Father, may they be willing to put Jesus to the test, that He said, “If you really desire to know My will, you will know the truth.” So, Father, we pray that the honest, seeking heart will be found by You, and open to receive Christ tonight.

May those of us as Christians see Him all the more beautiful, because we’ve seen what the writer has taught us in this marvelous chapter. May we be better equipped to witness for Christ, with more power and boldness, because we know the facts. Bless us as we close, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

May everyone reading this have a most blessed and joyful day.

On Sunday, December 19, 2021, the Revd Will Pearson-Gee gave a heartfelt extemporaneous sermon at his church in Buckingham, England, part of the Diocese of Oxford.

Last weekend, it was unclear whether some sort of Yuletide lockdown would be implemented in England, possibly including churches. In 2020, churches were closed for months. The Government deemed them to be ‘non-essential services’. The Church of England hierarchy were complicit in that decision.

If lockdown were reimposed the way it had been last year, Mr Pearson-Gee clearly stated that he would not be playing that game again at Buckingham Parish Church.

This short must-see video went viral:

High Churchman Calvin Robinson responded:

I saw it on Wednesday, December 22, on GB News, thanks to Mark Steyn who was filling in for Nigel Farage. Steyn’s introduction could be a sermon, too, as it directs us to the transcendent, the living God, something the Church of England should have done last year:

Steyn also interviewed Pearson-Gee (from 12:21 to 20:00). I highly recommend watching it:

The vicar said that Zoom worked well in the early months of the pandemic, but it was only ever a temporary solution.

Once churches were allowed to reopen, he said that the elderly spearheaded a renewed fellowship in the congregation.

He graciously did not criticise the Archbishop of Canterbury for last year’s spiritual failings in the Church of England, saying that Justin Welby has a very hard job to do.

He also said that he knew Christians in Iraq who risked their lives going to worship, but they took that risk because their faith was so important:

If only we felt the same way.

Pearson-Gee has a lot going on at Buckingham Parish Church, including three different Sunday services — something to suit everyone’s liturgical tastes:

His daughter helps him out with Twitter:

Was Will Pearson-Gee always a devout Christian?

No.

Incredibly, he returned to the Church after his first wife and son were killed in a car accident. Mark Steyn mentioned this after his interview with the vicar ended.

Such a tragic event would have put most people off church and God forever, but Pearson-Gee saw things differently.

In March 2014, he discussed his testimony with Premier Christianity. I would highly recommend that unbelievers and agnostics read about his journey of faith which led him to seek ordination.

Excerpts follow, emphases in purple mine:

It was back in 1996 that my world fell apart. My wife, Anna, had gone out with our two children, Eleanor (two) and Jamie (three). It was a really hot summer’s day in July and she took them down to Bournemouth to the seaside.

On the way back (for reasons that we’ll never know) her car crossed over the centre white line on a narrow bit of a road, and was hit head on by an articulated lorry carrying 40 tonnes of very large rocks. Anna and Jamie, who were on the same side of the car, were crushed and killed instantly. My daughter Eleanor, quite amazingly, was able to be removed from the car wreckage by a Royal Marine Officer travelling in the car behind. She was literally unmarked, which I’ve always thought was a little bit of a miracle considering the combined collision was about 90 miles an hour. But she survived. Obviously it was a devastating shock for me, but I had my little girl to look after.

I was confronted by their bodies in the mortuary some hours later. They were in quite a mess and it took the mortician a while to make them presentable for identification. They pulled back the white sheets and I ranted, and I screamed, and I wept. Then I looked at them, and I thought, ‘This cannot be the end.’ There was so much life, particularly in my little boy ? he was such a handful. I just couldn’t believe it was the end of him and so I thought, ‘Where have they gone? Where are they now?’

At the time I was definitely a ‘nominal’ Christian. I believed there was some higher power, some greater being beyond myself that I could call upon and might listen to me, but I really had no idea about God’s character or whether he cared about me

Then my eye was drawn to a very simple crucifix on the wall of the mortuary. It was a sign of the Christian faith to which I had been exposed since I was a child. It’s like a penny dropped, and it suddenly became not just a cross, but a sign of hope for me. I then realised that if there was all this talk about resurrection and life after death, I needed to find out more about it. I managed to meet up with a Christian, also with my local vicar, and there was a Catholic priest who came into my life who had real expertise in helping people recover from child death. It was this cumulative effect that opened my eyes to the fact my wife and child were somewhere better, they were in heaven, and therefore if I wanted to see them again I needed to get myself right with God. That was a long process in itself.

This is why Pearson-Gee is not angry with God. It is an interesting perspective:

People sometimes ask me if I felt like blaming God. During my early time of grief, through counselling groups, I came across a lot of other people who were suffering and mainly they just blamed God. But to me it didn’t make sense that God had just got out of bed one morning and said, ‘Who am I going to strike down today?’Where do you draw the line with him intervening and stopping things going on? In a way, you’d be expecting him to upturn the laws of nature every single nanosecond of the day around the world, and then what kind of world would we be living in? So I don’t blame God.

I think God permitted that crash to take place, but ‘in all things God works for the good’, and I’ve really clung on to that. … in a funny sort of way the fact it has happened has brought me huge blessingsI’ve got a lovely wife, I’ve got three more kids including another son, I’ve got the most wonderful faith, my wife is a Christian. We know that whatever the world throws at us now, we have this wonderful eternal life waiting for us. Life is good. I know it’s not always going to be great and there will be trials and tribulations, but following Jesus is just such an amazing adventure.

Pearson-Gee wrote a brief autobiography for the Buckingham Parish Church website, which is also interesting (emphases mine):

I arrived in Buckingham just in time for Easter 2010 having moved from Oxford where I did my theological training (at Wycliffe Hall) and served my curacy (at St Andrew’s Church).

I enjoyed a full career in the Army serving all over the world as an infantry officer in the Coldstream Guards before leaving to join my brother’s printing company where I spent 6 happy years.  During this time I started to go to a newly planted church which showed me something that I had never seen before: an Anglican church pulsating with life and growing in size and depth.  Intrigued, I became more and more involved in its incredibly exciting mission and began to sense that ordination might be what God wanted me to pursue.  I think I was the most surprised of all when I arrived at Wycliffe Hall to start my training!

He mentioned the fatal car accident, adding:

That dreadful event really did change my life in more ways that I could have imagined and illustrates the truth in Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  My story surrounding this tragedy is here if you’d like to read it – if you do, I hope you find it an encouragement. Also, here is an article in Christianity Magazine that tells the story.

I am now married to Lucia and between us we have 4 children – Eleanor from my first marriage – and 3 of our own. I must say that I feel a little like Job who lost so much but was then restored by the Lord and had even more. We even called one of our daughters Jemima (as did Job).

Jemima — Mimi — helps her father with Twitter.

This is what motivates Pearson-Gee’s ministry:

I suppose what really motivates me in my ministry is sharing the good news that is Jesus Christ. It was this same, unchanging good news that pulled me out of the mire and gave me so much hope after my tragedy. I am passionate about making this good news accessible to everyone and will do all I can to make the Church (that is the people of God – Christians) welcoming to those who are – like I was once – lost.

That’s so moving, especially as we approach Christmas.

————————————————————————————–

Normally, I would have ended the post there.

However, the next few posts will involve Christmas readings, so I will close with two secular news items.

The first concerns Northern Ireland, which will reimpose coronavirus restrictions on December 27. Sammy Wilson MP (DUP) is none too happy but turned his disappointment into a little take on ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’:

“Hark the herald angels ping,” the East Antrim MP tweeted.

“Robin Swann won’t let us do a thing. No more parties, work at home. In the streets you cannot roam

“Omni is far worse than the delta curse. Stay at home. Or they’ll be far worse to come.”

It upset a number of politicians in Northern Ireland, who branded him a ‘moronic fool’:

The second item is Neil Oliver’s take on our covidian Christmas this year, wrapping lockdown and economic ruin into ‘Twas the Night before Christmas and Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Wry, witty and pointed, it’s worth watching:

With that — the spiritual and the secular — may I wish all my readers a very happy Christmas. May you be blessed despite State restrictions.

The UK had another big weekend of news, which, as I said last week, is unusual, given that Christmas is just around the corner.

One of the big scoops was The Spectator‘s revelation as to why every SAGE scenario is based on a worst-case outcome.

Fraser Nelson, the magazine’s editor, had an online exchange with Graham Medley from SAGE, which can be seen in his article, ‘My Twitter conversation with the chairman of the Sage Covid modelling committee’, which is a must-read.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Medley is a professor at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Last week, LSHTM published another alarming set of figures for the Omicron variant that, naturally, make the case for more lockdowns.

By contrast, JP Morgan came up with a different conclusion after looking at LSHTM’s data:

JP Morgan had a close look at this study and spotted something big: all the way through, LSHTM assumes that the Omicron variant is just as deadly as Delta. ‘But evidence from South Africa suggests that Omicron infections are milder,’ JP Morgan pointed out in a note to clients.

JP Morgan concluded:

Bed occupancy by Covid-19 patients at the end of January would be 33% of the peak seen in January 2021. This would be manageable without further restrictions.

Fraser Nelson says:

So JP Morgan had shown that, if you tweak one assumption (on severity) then – suddenly – no need for lockdown.

Nelson went online to find out why LSHTM didn’t do the same thing:

Medley seems to imply that the Government wants the worst case scenario:

Nelson says:

Note how careful he is to stay vague on whether any of the various scenarios in the Sage document are likely or even plausible. What happened to the original system of presenting a ‘reasonable worse-case scenario’ together with a central scenario? And what’s the point of modelling if it doesn’t say how likely any these scenarios are?

From what Prof Medley says, it’s unclear that the most-likely scenario is even being presented to ministers this time around. So how are they supposed to make good decisions? I highly doubt that Sajid Javid is only asking to churn out models that make the case for lockdown. That instruction, if it is being issued, will have come from somewhere else.

He concludes that there is an ethical issue with SAGE’s pronouncements:

Prof. Robert Dingwall, until recently a JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation] expert, has said that Medley’s candour reveals “a fundamental problem of scientific ethics in Sage” – ie, a hardwired negativity bias.  “The unquestioning response to the brief is very like that of SPI-B’s behavioural scientists,” he says and suggests that the Covid inquiry looks into all this.

At a time when we have just been given a new set of ‘scenarios’ for a new year lockdown it might be good if someone – if not Prof Medley – would clear up what assumptions lie behind the new 6,000-a-day-dead scenario, and if emerging information from South Africa about Omicron and its virulence have been taken into account. And how probable it is that a double-jabbed and increasingly boosted nation (with 95 per cent antibody coverage) could see this worst-case scenario come to pass.

In my view, this raises serious questions not just about Sage but about the quality of the advice used to make UK lockdown decisions. And the lack of transparency and scrutiny of that advice. The lives of millions of people rests on the quality of decisions, so the calibre of information supplied matters rather a lot – to all of us.

Too right.

I haven’t believed SAGE at all, from the beginning. I am also still angry about how much taxpayers’ money has been pumped in for a pandemic that needed a common sense solution in March 2020, such as, ‘There are a lot of unknowns here. We will provide updates. However, we advise that anyone who feels sick to get a test then isolate at home for 10 days. Keep your distance from those outside your household. Keep your hands clean. Above all: use the same precautions you would in any potentially contagious environment.’

That’s it in a nutshell. Not a lot more needed to be said.

But no.

We plebs couldn’t have that. We cannot be trusted.

Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty implied that we do not know what we are talking about.

This video is from Whitty’s appearance before a parliamentary Select Committee on Thursday, December 16. Dean Russell MP (Conservative) asked him whether the NHS risks prioritising the virus over cancer. While it might not be Dean Russell’s view, this is a prevailing opinion among many members of the public.

Whitty wasted no time in shooting that down, saying that we do not understand ‘health’ and insisting that lockdowns helped to save the NHS, which would have collapsed otherwise. Along with Prof Gordon Wishart, I also beg to differ, but here is the exchange:

People are frustrated:

General practitioners are wrapped up in this, too:

Coronavirus has overtaken their surgeries. It was already nearly impossible to get an online appointment, never mind one in person. As of last week, GPs’ priority from the Government is to dispense boosters:

No, pandemics are not a regular occurrence, but the NHS should be prepared to deal with one.

On Monday, December 20, Boris convened the Cabinet for a two-hour meeting to discuss the possibility of imposing a Christmas lockdown in England. Sir Patrick Vallance presented a doom-and-gloom scenario.

Bear in mind that Boris is skating on thin ice at the moment politically. A lockdown might have caused some of them to resign their Cabinet positions.

In the end, they decided not to go for a lockdown in England, at least over Christmas weekend:

Well, five of them did, at least.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had to leave early:

https://image.vuukle.com/72d3fbbd-8a54-4bac-865c-3fd342d8e2b7-0450edce-1519-43f8-8417-b493691b9f15

Guido Fawkes has more (red emphasis his, the purple one mine):

The Times and Telegraph have the most comprehensive write-ups, reporting Rishi, Steve Barclay and Grant Shapps were those leading the sceptics’ charge. The Times reports Jacob Rees-Mogg had a prolonged argument with Vallance about their modelling, telling Boris to trust the people rather than the scientists. Truss, Kwarteng, Alister Jack, Nadhim Zahawi and Nigel Adams are all also reportedly sceptical about the threat of Omicron…

On the other side of the divide backing restrictions, according to The Telegraphare (unsurprisingly) Javid and Gove; Nadine Dorries and Chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke. We can only presume the PM also errs towards this group. There’s set to be one more Cabinet before Christmas day that could still decide to recall MPs before New Year.

Katy Balls of The Spectator reports that this is the first time in ages that the Cabinet has been consulted on coronavirus policy:

So what happened in that meeting? ‘Boris did a great job and encouraged a proper discussion and respected other views,’ says one minister. ‘He had quite a lot humility’. Michael Gove was, as usual, leading the arguments for more lockdown. But this was based on Sage forecasts of what might happen which have lost some credibility in the eyes of Cabinet members who were — for the first time in a while — genuinely being consulted.

Boris knows he’s in trouble:

Several members of Johnson’s Cabinet are vocally opposed to new restrictions. They argue that there needs to be clearer data before any restrictions are brought in – with whispers of resignations if Johnson pressed on without this. These members of government hope that more time will offer clarity that could show omicron is milder than previous variants.

Behind the scenes, the Chancellor is understood to have played a key role warning against rushing into decisions that could cost billions. Other ministers keen to see more modelling include Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (“although it was never quite clear what he was saying,” I’m told.) Other ministers have been pressing on Johnson the idea of limiting any new measures to guidance.

But when Johnson emerged talking about the need to observe the data, and questions about Omicron’s severity, he was using the language of those who opposed lockdown. They argue, in effect, that Sage models cannot be trusted as they are composed of hypotheticals – and that we need to wait for real-world data. The next few days of hospital data, it’s argued, will tell us much about how severe Omicron is and if lockdown is needed. Data is emerging not just from South Africa (where cases now seem to be falling) but Denmark where Omicron has been found to be significantly less likely to put patients in hospital. At least some Sage modellers produced figures on the assumption that Omicron is no less likely to hospitalise or kill: one scenario talks about deaths peaking a day

Johnson faces a parliamentary party filled with MPs vehemently opposed to any new restrictions and who could question his ability to lead as a result. When the Whips office sent a note around this afternoon telling MPs that the parliamentary away day has been cancelled, one messaged me to say:

‘It’s probably for the best. If we were all in one place for a few days, we could work out a successor’

But there are Tory MPs who believe action is required. One senior Tory concludes:

‘This is a Prime Minister paralysed between science and his backbenchers. It’s depressing.’ 

The Times reports on Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg’s words of wisdom. He, too, read Fraser Nelson’s article. Good man:

Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the Commons, said the government should trust people to do the right thing rather than introduce further restrictions. He said many people had voluntarily changed their behaviour as the threat posed by Omicron became clear.

The prime minister said Rees-Mogg’s argument was interesting but asked how he would justify his approach at a press conference. He said that as prime minister he had to look after everyone’s health. Rees-Mogg is understood to have responded: “I would stand up and say I respect them for doing the right thing.” The prime minister is said to have suggested that this would not be enough if the NHS were at risk of being overwhelmed.

Rees-Mogg is also understood to have criticised official modelling suggesting that without further action 3,000 Omicron patients a day could need a hospital bed. He asked if Johnson had read an article by Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, questioning the assumptions behind the data.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, is said to have responded directly to Rees-Mogg that the modelling had included scenarios where the Omicron variant was deemed less severe than the Delta variant.

If so, why did Vallance not present those data?

Boris made a brief announcement after the Cabinet meeting, saying that he is still keeping all options open after Christmas:

On Wednesday, December 22, Health minister Gillian Keegan told LBC’s Nick Ferrari not make firm plans for New Year’s parties because of ongoing ‘uncertainty’:

As people have been cancelling dinner reservations and reneging on trips to the pub, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has had to come up with a £1bn compensation plan for the hospitality sector, which amounts to £6000 per business. A nightclub owner says it’s ‘insulting’. I agree with the person replying — just drop any remaining restrictions:

When is this going to end?

Oh, well. At least we’re not in the socialist nations of Scotland or Wales, where things have been far worse and continue so to be.

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you wish to borrow, 1) please use the link from the post, 2) give credit to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 3) copy only selected paragraphs from the post — not all of it.
PLAGIARISERS will be named and shamed.
First case: June 2-3, 2011 — resolved

Creative Commons License
Churchmouse Campanologist by Churchmouse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://churchmousec.wordpress.com/.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,545 other followers

Archive

Calendar of posts

December 2021
S M T W T F S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

http://martinscriblerus.com/

Bloglisting.net - The internets fastest growing blog directory
Powered by WebRing.
This site is a member of WebRing.
To browse visit Here.

Blog Stats

  • 1,694,789 hits