As 2012 begins, let me share some reflections with you, and invite you to join in praying for all that the year ahead may bring us, and the nations to which we belong.
Today, 6 January, Christians celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. It is a wonderful occasion within the Church calendar, which often passes without us truly grasping its glorious message. Also known as the Manifestation of Christ, it marks how Jesus is revealed to the world as the Messiah – that is, God taking human form, as the promised Saviour of all. In the Western tradition, this is associated with the visit of the Magi, the Wise Men, who came from afar bearing gifts to the infant Jesus, acknowledging his kingship beyond the ancient Hebrew people. Older tradition, still observed in the Eastern churches, focusses on Jesus’ baptism as an adult in the river Jordan, at which the voice of God the Father is heard saying ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’, while the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, is seen to rest upon him. Both reflect the fullness of the mystery of the incarnation, which is at the heart of Christmas, whose ’12 days’ we have just celebrated: that God is ‘made flesh’ in Jesus Christ, to give his life to redeem all of creation, and humanity within it
Salvation and redemption are not words we use every day, but actually they do describe God’s ever-present – and very necessary – loving care at work in our world, and in our lives, if we are prepared to accept it. God comes to us because he knows we need help. We need help to ‘do the right thing’, and we need help to rescue the mess we make of our own lives, and the lives of others and of society, when we fail (as we so often, inevitably do) to do the right thing. God also comes to us to encourage and strengthen us when life is hard and we find ourselves battling, surrounding us with his love, his compassion, his tender healing touch wherever we find ourselves hurting and sore. And God also comes to us with hope and promise – to be with us throughout our life’s journey, and to bring us safely to his eternal home, if we trust him and his immeasurable love.
All this is true for us as individuals, in our families, and even across our nations. The best New Year’s resolutions we can make are not those which are about trying to convince ourselves to make more of an effort through our own will power, for we know that, far more often than not, we are likely to fail. Instead, the most important decision we can make is to go forward with our hand in the hand of Jesus Christ, acknowledging that we cannot manage on our own, but that we need his guidance and his help, so that we can discover what is the right way to live, and receive the encouragement we need.
I felt I was experiencing very vividly God’s promises to be ‘with us always, to the end of time’ (Matthew 28:20) when I, with my wife Lungi and children Nyaki and Pabi, were invited to visit Madiba and Mrs Graça Machel, just after Christmas. With generous hospitality, we were treated to not just a warm welcome, but a delicious meal, over which we shared great company. I am glad to say both are in good health, and Madiba’s humour and ready wit are as sharp as ever.
Below I share with you the special prayer written for our visit, which you might also like to use. More than this, I invite you to pray for the nations of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, especially your own – that our leaders too may go forward into the year ahead trusting in God to guide and direct them in the paths that bring abundant life to all. And may I also ask your prayers for other nations around us that are in special need at this time, particularly the Democratic Republic of the Congo, following contested election results, and for Zimbabwe, where Anglicans continue to suffer political persecution (you may have seen my press statements on this).
And may Jesus, the living Word made Flesh, who is Emmanuel, God with us, grant you a blessed and holy year ahead, as you follow his call to discipleship.
Yours in the service of Christ
+Thabo Cape Town
Prayer for Madiba
The angel host that appeared to the shepherds sang ‘Glory to God in the Highest’. Lord God, heavenly king, yet born a tiny baby, we too sing your glory as we celebrate your coming as Emmanuel, God with us, our Friend and Saviour and Prince of Peace, in all that life brings our way.
As we give thanks at Christmas for all the rich gifts you shower on our lives, we thank you for the gift of Madiba himself, and all that you have helped him be and do, in his years on earth, and for the health and strength he continues to enjoy.
As we remember how, in Jesus, God was born into a human home, we thank you for the gift of this home, for the loving marriage shared with Graça, or the joys of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, of friends and family with whom we enjoy the love you pour upon us.
As, today, we remember St Stephen, the first Martyr, we thank you that you also inspired Madiba to devote his life to striving for all that is good and true, for all that is right and just, and to be a living sacrifice, and a bright shining example for others to follow.
As we look to the year ahead, we remember the words of Gabriel to Mary, and the Angels to the Shepherds - ‘Do not be afraid!’, and so we trust ourselves to you for all that is ahead, committing ourselves to keep on walking your ways, with our hand in yours, until that day you lead us safely home.
So today we ask your blessing on Madiba, and those he loves, and those who love him: May the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Mary and Joseph, and the peace of the Christ child be theirs, this Christmas;
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but upon you, and remain with you always. Amen.