Happy New Year
Our minister’s New Year Letter to the Congregation
Manse Road Tarbert
Isle of Harris
Wednesday, 27 December 2017
My New Year letter to the Congregation is a bit different this year for obvious reasons, in that I am currently on sick leave following my operation in November. As I informed people via video message at the Christmas eve service, I am getting better each day and making good progress. It has been a long and at times difficult journey . A journey is easier though when others walk with us, and so I should like to thank all of you for your ceaseless prayers for me and my family, and for every practical and prayerful support and encouragement we have received during these past two months.
I have normally made it my practice to write a congregational letter for New Year rather than Christmas. The main reason for this I suppose is because much of what I have to say about Christmas is said in the preaching of the word during the season of advent and Christmas itself. It has always been a time of year I look forward to, and I must say I love re-examining and preaching the unchanging but always new and fresh passages that tell of the birth of the Saviour, the passages in the Old and New Testaments that speak of God’s great plan in sending His Son into this world. Paul writing of this to the Galatians expresses it in this way ‘But when the right time finally came, God sent his own Son. He came as the son of a human mother and lived under the Jewish Law, 5 to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might become God’s children. “( Galatians 4:4 GNB) God was doing what we just couldn’t do, He came to save us in the person of His Son.
The uniqueness of the God of the Bible is something that is always being challenged nowadays, sometimes sadly even within the church. But the Christmas season is a reminder to us all of the greatness and uniqueness of God. And if there is any reason whatsoever for optimism and hope going into 2018 it is bound up in the fact that Jesus Christ came into this world as the God who is with us as ‘ Immanuel ‘ . Paul explains in another place what God was doing through the birth, life and subsequent death of His Son in this way ‘ For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. (2 Corinthians 5:19 ( NLT).
New Year is a time when many tend to reflect on the year that has past, and certainly when I do that, I can see the hand of God upon us as a family and as a congregation in so many different ways. As someone who has never really been ill in my life, you will understand that this year was therefore a real challenge to me. After a plethora of tests, scans and biopsies over the summer, it became clear to Alison and I that Consultants were going to insist on an operation. It was truly a bizarre experience for someone who felt healthy and fit to be told via Video Conference that I needed major surgery! However I cannot commend highly enough all the consultants and nursing staff of Raigmore hospital who were involved in my treatment. Truly we are as a community well provided for and should be thankful for our sometimes much maligned healthcare system.
I am glad that this is now largely behind us as a family, and we look forward to what 2018 has in store.
Although I was unable to be at the Services over Christmas it was nonetheless a great thrill and blessing to me to hear of how many came along to the Christmas Eve service, and how well everything went. I would like to express my own as well as the collective thanks of all of us to all whose contributions to this service helped make it such a success.
In addition I must thank all those who in very many different ways have contributed to the life and work of the Congregation over the course of the year. I should particularly like to give thanks to God for the Rev John Murdo Nicolson who in God’s providence and plan came to “ Stand in the Gap’ as Ezekiel 22:30 puts it, and take over the pulpit and pastoral duties during my time of recovery. Truly God has been good to us in sending the Rev John Murdo to minister here in Tarbert over these days, and we can only give thanks to God for John Murdo, Debbie and Sam, and pray that God will lead and guide them in the future to a parish of His choosing for them.
New Year gives us the opportunity to look back on the year that has past, and if there is any verse which resounds with me over this year it is the very familiar words of Samuel the prophet in 1 Samuel 7:14 saying “ …Hitherto hath the Lord helped us”. And He has, he has remained for you and for me the constant, the unfailing, unchanging, unflagging source of life, wisdom and peace throughout the year, whether we sometimes recognise or acknowledge this or not .
Some of you like me, have known your own health challenges over the year, yet God is always good as truly the one who never leaves nor forsakes us. We believe that God is the ultimate healer of mind, body and spirit, who can be trusted in every circumstance. And if my experience of hospitalisation for the first time in my life has taught me anything, it is I hope to help me empathise more with others who are going through their own health issues.
As we go into 2018, we know that many changes have taken place, and certainly our congregation and families are no different. As I reflect back over the year in my journal I see just how many families from the Congregation and throughout Harris have known the bitter sting of bereavement and loss during 2017. Our congregation and community is always weakened by the passing of a loved one, and our corporate lives made the poorer for their passing. As many of you will remember at this time loved ones no longer with you, my prayer is that God would continue to strengthen and uphold each one and bless to us the cherished memories we have of those no longer with us.
Where does all this leave us going into a New Year which will undoubtedly bring its own challenges ? Well I often feel that by looking back on the journey we have come (or maybe I should say the journey God has taken us), we are shown with every passing day our dependence upon Him.
As we look at the Bible whether in Old or New Testament, we are shown a powerless people, in the hand of an all powerful sovereign yet merciful God. The children of Israel are shown in several ways that they depended in every way upon God. And it is good for us to be reminded also of our complete dependance upon God .
I am reminded of how Moses spoke to the Children of Israel in Deuteronomy 4:32 “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of”. The reason Moses is saying this only becomes clear when we read the whole of the chapter ( something that is always wise to do). Moses is bringing this reminder to the children of Israel of how God has helped them in the past , of how He has proved himself in every circumstance to be a faithful God. It is as if Moses is asking them this question Delve into the past…has anything like this ever happened before ? Has any nation been as blessed as you have been ? , Has there ever been another god who has made Himself known to you in such marvellous ways. Has any god ever been able to rescue a people in such wonderful ways ? The people knew the answer. And if we are to be honest so do we. Moses puts it like this in verse 35 “He showed you these things so you would know that the Lord is God and there is no other’.
The always inspiring John Piper and Greg Morse recently wrote something on the Desiring God site that I believe could be a good new Year resolution for all of us, but especially me;
“ This is important: “Don’t be yourself. Be something higher. Be who God predestined you to be. Be who you are in Jesus.”
To be more like Jesus , that must surely be our resolution for 2018.
May I on behalf of Alison and myself as well as Catherine, Angus and Eilidh
wish you all a happy, healthy and blessed New Year, and the peace of God in 2018.
With every good wish and blessing to you in Christ Jesus our Lord
Ian Murdo Macdonald