I wonder how many of you listened to the Queen’s speech broadcast on Christmas Day. It began well. Her Majesty reminded us that 2011 would be the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorised Version of the Bible:
“Acknowledged as a masterpiece of English prose and the most vivid translation of the scriptures, the glorious language of this Bible has survived the turbulence of history and given many of us the most widely recognised and beautiful descriptions of the birth of Jesus Christ which we celebrate today.”
But it was not the importance of the Bible she wanted to emphasise. Yes, it had been vital 400 years ago. But why? “The whole enterprise was guided by an interest in reaching agreement for the wider benefit of the Christian Church, and to bring harmony to the Kingdoms of England and Scotland.”
What will do the same job today – bringing harmony to our divided society?
“Four hundred years later, it is as important as ever to build communities and create harmony, and one of the most powerful ways of doing this is through sport and games. During this past year of abundant sporting events, I have seen for myself just how important sport is in bringing people together from all backgrounds, from all walks of life and from all age groups….”
She went on to tell us that “nothing is more satisfying than the feeling of belonging to a group who are dedicated to helping each other…” And it’s sport that will help us build such a group!
What a sad pointer to the state of our country! The nation is threatened with economic collapse; terrorists born and bred in the UK are striking at the fabric of our society; our school-children and students are rioting on the streets; people have given up reporting crimes… and all her Majesty and her advisers can offer is the suggestion that sport could help to build communities and build harmony. She is, of course, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, as well as our Head of State. She speaks for the spiritual as well as the secular leaders of the nation. Couldn’t she have encouraged people on this 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version, to open its pages and to read again the words of God? But no, her Majesty’s advisers believe that to speak clearly of God and his Word would be divisive and out of tune with our society.
As I thought about the words of the Queen’s speech, I remembered an embossed card that was on display in our family home when I was growing up. It was a transcript of words that her Majesty’s father spoke in his 1939 Christmas broadcast, four months into the Second World War. He used these lines:
“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 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!’”
I don’t know whether His Majesty had any clear understanding of the New Testament gospel. But at least, he knew where to point us at a time of unparalleled national crisis. He acknowledged that the future was indeed unknown and would remain so. But he assured us that, even in the darkness, there was safety for those who put their hand into the hand of God. Which of our national leaders is willing to use such words today? Our Prime Minister tells us that he has faith, but is quick to say that he would never “drop to his knees and pray for guidance”. His faith is simply that “the teachings of Jesus just as the teachings of other religions are a good guide to help us through… Do unto others as you would have them do to you; don’t walk on by. These are good and thoughtful ideas to bring to life.” This is the language of humanistic agnosticism rather than of God-fearing trust. As to the leaders of the other two great national parties, both are definite and forthright atheists.
Well, our hope was never in the official leaders of our nation. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man in whom is no salvation…” (Psalm 146:3). Our hand is in the hand of God as we step into the unknown of 2011. Nothing is unknown to him.
“O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar… Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether… In your book were written all the days ordained for me, every one of them, before one of them came to pass… Lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:1-24).
What has God planned for our nation in 2011?
Will the economic crisis that we are facing accelerate and end in economic collapse? Will the fragile political coalition that has given us stability for few months survive? Will the terrorists succeed in hitting a major target – an airport, a nuclear power station, the underground system? Will we see a major natural disaster on the scale that has shattered other nations – an earthquake or great flooding? Or will we see restored prosperity and stability? We cannot guess but God knows.
What has God planned for the gospel churches of the UK in 2011?
Will we see a stepping up of persecution? More vicious legislation to curtail our freedoms? More employees sacked for upholding Christian standards, more street preachers arrested, more Christian hoteliers sued? Will we see the hostility of local communities against Christians intensifying? More preachers ending their ministries through spiritual exhaustion or moral failure? Will we see more churches closing? Maybe.
But equally we may see the tide turning. We may see a new spirit of prayer in our prayer meetings, believers pleading with God with fresh urgency and boldness. We may see preachers preaching in our church buildings and out in the streets with new authority and gripping force. We may see great numbers of people coming under the fear of God, seeking the Lord, asking “what must I do to be saved?” We may see new churches coming into being, packed with new converts, full of the fresh joy of forgiveness and peace with God. We may hear on the BBC and read in the newspapers about transformed lives and communities. We may see abortion clinics closing and TV channels pulling obscene dramas through lack of public interest. We can pray in fear or in hope but God alone knows.
What has God has planned for ourselves as individuals or for our families?
Will it be a year of joys or sorrows? The short answer is that if we are true believers, it will be both. God has told us that much. But what the balance will be between pain and joy for any of us, we do not know. And in what form the hurts and the delights will come is beyond our guessing. Some of us will walk for much of the time in green pastures and besides still waters. Others may spend much time walking through dark valleys. Some may even walk the darkest valley – the valley of the shadow of death.
What we do know is that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives if we belong to the good Shepherd. And we live believing that certain promise.
I do not know what lies ahead,
The way I cannot see;
Yet one stands near to be my guide,
He’ll show the way to me…
I do not know how many days
Of life are mine to spend;
But One who knows and cares for me
Will keep me to the end…
I do not know the course ahead,
What joys and griefs are there;
But One is near who fully knows,
I’ll trust his loving care.
Finally what has God planned for this world in which we live?
Ah, that’s the biggest question of all. Will this be the year when the heavens open and the Son of Man comes on the clouds of heaven? Will every eye see him in 2011, even those who pierced him? For nearly 2000 years his people have been praying, “Come quickly Lord Jesus”. And for nearly 2000 years he’s been answering, “Surely I am coming soon”. How soon? We don’t know. But sooner than a year ago. We’re one year closer to the great day.
May we all be ready for that day, whenever it comes.