‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.’
(Minnie Louise Haskins)
As we stand at the entrance of 2022 and open the gate of a New Year, I wonder what your hopes and fears are for the months ahead? For many people the New Year provides a chance for a fresh start and the opportunity to begin again – to learn from the past, to allow our mistakes to become seeds of growth and to heal old wounds. In the secular world January is a time when resolutions are made to adopt new fitness regimes or to follow a healthier diet. For health and environmental reasons, ‘Veganuary’, where people foilow a plant based diet, has gained popularity. My faith tells me that an antidote to the rush and consumption of the festive period might be a ‘Began-uary’. To allow my mind, body and spirit space to begin again and the opportunity to simply ‘be’. By adopting this attitude, I can give myself permission to receive the ‘life in all its fullness’ that Jesus talked of in John’s gospel when he said:
‘I am the gate. Whoever comes in by me will be saved: he will come in and go out and find pasture.’ (John 10 v 9)
What might you ‘begin’ in ‘Began-uary’ in order that you might ‘find pasture’ which gives health and strength? Is there a new hobby or skill you might like to learn to keep you mind and hands active? Is there something different your church might like to try as part of the ‘new normal’? Closely linked with the theme of new beginnings, is the idea of endings. In order to begin something ‘new’, sometimes we must let go of something we have previously done. It takes courage to let go of the ‘old’ and try something ‘new’. We may fear that the new project will not work out. It is my prayer in 2022 that we will find the courage to try new things both individually, in local churches and as a circuit.
One significant thing about gates is that they can be open or shut. In the times in which the Bible was written many cities would be surrounded by walls in which a gate or aates were inset. The gate and the walls were part of the cities defences, especially at nightime and in times of siege. It is interesting that the Book of Revelation describes the gates of the heavenly city/Jerusalem as permanently open (Revelation 21 v 25). One might surmise that the gates of the heavenly city are at liberty to remain open because the immediate presence of God means that no harm can come to anyone inside. We live in world where people are still vulnerable to harm and churches have the responsibility of balancing limiting the risk of harm with a loving openness. The Message translation of the Bible describes the need for loving actions as well as words thus:
‘If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.’ (1 Corinthians 13 v1)
‘Began-uary’ might present us with some difficult choices. The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ reminds us:
‘But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it.’ (Matthew 7 v 14)
Being open to discovering Christ’s way of life involves us remaining humble enough to simply ‘be’ in God’s presence and to receive from Him. Before we become anxious about locating the ‘gate to life’ purely through our own efforts, let’s close by remembering the words of the hymn ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away’:
‘There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in.’ (STF 284, Cecil Francis Alexander 1818-1895)
In all your coming in and going out in 2022 may you find pastures that refresh and nourish your soul.
Rev Vicki Atkinson