Emmanuel - God With Us

Having just celebrated 25 years as Vicar of St. Augustine’s, obviously I have been thinking about the future which has led me to look afresh, with the Parochial Church Council and the congregation, at what we are doing. What do we think our  mission is and what  should be it be in the future? 

All Christian churches share the same mission of course; that is to proclaim the good news of the Gospel, a gospel that has at it’s heart the historical fact that God himself came among us, in the flesh, incarnate in His Son, Jesus Christ, whom we call Emmanuel, ‘God is with us’; a coming foretold by the prophets and announced both to Mary and Joseph by an angel. This coming was to show us what God is really like, not a remote deity but a God of  love; by coming to us in form of a flesh and blood person He shows he totally gets it as far as our humanity is concerned. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, living an ordinary life with his family in Nazareth, and yet with a mission, kept hidden until he was 30 years old, to reveal  that God is truly with us; he did this not just by talking about it but ultimately by dying on a cross and rising from the dead to show just how serious God is in his identification with the human condition and how serious he is in his desire to save us from whatever spoils our lives.  We live in a society where many people do not really know what God is offering to us, indeed they might not want to know because it interferes with the way they live their lives! Yet the churches are entrusted with the task of proclaiming this good news and that is very much what we see as our mission at St. Augustine’s.

For some Christians, proclaiming that good news might mean standing on a street corner or knocking on doors, bible in hand, expounding the scriptures, for others, and here I include myself, we take a less ’in your face’ approach, believing that through the sacramental life and daily witness of the church here in North Town, others will come to believe that God is with us. This is a work in progress and its fruits are often unseen; our church is certainly not full on a Sunday and yet people still talk about St. Augustine’s being their church. We are always baptising the children of the parish and from beyond and we continue to offer our ministry freely in many other ways too; getting people through the church door and sat in a pew is not  what we are about! We believe God is with us, not just in our church building, locked up and kept from others, the possession of the few! No we believe God is out there in the local community which why we engage with the community across a wide spectrum of activity, doing all we can to avoid what a recent Church of England report described as ‘ self-preserving attitudes’, whilst showing what it calls ‘ a practical concern for  justice, right living and respect for all.’ For regular readers you will recognise that concern has been apparent in many of the articles I have written for ‘Reaching Out’ since it was first published in 1991. Many years ago the Bishop, when visiting Aldershot, urged the churches ‘to engage with ordinary people’;  that is what I have always tried to do, forming so many relationships with so many people in my time as the parish priest of North Town I have shared in your good times and your bad times, your joys and your sorrows; we have partied together, we have laughed together and we have cried together too!

As Christmas approaches it is time once again to remind ourselves God is truly with us, not just as priest and people gather in  worship to sing our carols, but in the ordinary and the everyday; born in human flesh, that little baby, Mary’s son, Jesus, born in a stable in Bethlehem, the same Jesus who has experienced and shares in the experience of our daily lives. Whatever life may brings God is with us, truly with us in the lives we share together, truly with us in his love to save and his hand to guide. Try to make a space for him in your lives this Christmas, let the Christ Child, in!

 

May God bless you and your families this Christmastide,

your friend and priest,    Father Keith