As I was thinking and praying about this Blue Christmas service, which we know to be a service of light, comfort and hope, a specific theme kept coming to mind, and that theme is change. We are invited to engage with the question how do we journey through a time of change?
With that in mind I wanted to begin by sharing with you the words of that awesome hymn, though all the changing scenes of life. This is what it says:
Through all the changing scenes of life,
In trouble and in joy,
The praises of my God shall still
My heart and tongue employ.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
With me exalt His name;
When in distress to Him I called,
He to my rescue came.
The hosts of God encamp around
The dwellings of the just;
Deliverance He affords to all
Who on His succour trust.
Oh, make but trial of His love,
Experience will decide
How blest they are, and only they,
Who in His truth confide.
Fear Him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear;
Make you His service your delight,
Your wants shall be His care.
To many people, change is scary. Some even do all that they can to avoid change and maintain the status quo. Change is inevitable though, and there is a very old well-known saying “time and tide wait for no man” – the earliest record of it dates back to 1225. The notion of ‘tide’ being beyond our control brings up images of the story of King Canute which was recorded in the 12th century by Henry of Huntingdon. Just raise your hand if you are not familiar with his story.
In the story, King Canute demonstrates to his flattering courtiers that he has no control over the elements (the incoming tide), explaining that secular power is vain compared to the supreme power of God. The episode is frequently alluded to in contexts where the futility of “trying to stop the tide” of an inexorable event is pointed out, but usually misrepresenting Canute as believing he had supernatural powers, when Huntingdon’s story in fact relates the opposite.
That literal interpretation of ‘tide’ in ‘time and tide’ is what is now usually understood but wasn’t what was meant in the original version of the expression. ‘Tide’ didn’t refer to the contemporary meaning of the word, that is, the rising and falling of the sea, but to a period of time. When this phrase was coined, tide meant a season, or a time, or a while. The word is still with us in that sense in ‘good tidings’, which refers to a good event or occasion and other times like Whitsuntide, noontide, eventide etc.
Through all the changes scenes of life, God’s supreme power and purpose prevail. The future prospects we might expect are confounded and contradicted by the greatest intervention ever – God sending himself and paying the price once and for all. He brings “no more gloom for those who were in distress.”
I’ve been through a tremendous amount of change in my life. Some of it I embraced willingly; our personal growth and the deepening of our faith is a good thing – but it isn’t always easy. I’m reminded of the refiner’s fire, and being pruned – both of which involve change and transformation. What have I learned from these experiences? We have to be real, with ourselves and with God, and we have to trust Him even in adversity. When I encounter adversity, yes I might stumble and fall, but it is His hope that somehow gives me strength to get back up again and dare to believe that one glorious day all wrongs will be made right.
We are invited – we are always invited – to turn to Him, to acknowledge our sin and to know forgiveness or to bring our worries and concerns and give them to Him knowing he is in control. God does not change even if everything else around us does.This Christmas, allow a God of constancy and truth to be your beacon of hope in and through change and allow the truth of the Christmas narrative to rekindle hope within you. Jeremiah said “11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)