The Vicarage, Blackmore, Essex CM4 ORN
19 - CHRISTMAS - 73
There is a line of a hymn which runs "Change and decay in all around I see". Change? Well, yes! But decay? Hardly, where the Parish of Blackmore is concerned. When my dear wife and I came Blackmore in 1957 it was a quiet agricultural village. Things were different then but not better. Change has come through the years and continues. Hundreds of new houses have been built. Our population has grown by over two thousand persons. The majority earn their keep in London and neighbouring Essex towns. Indeed, comparing the Blackmore of today with the Blackmore I first knew decay is the last word I'd use.
So I come to my seventeenth Christmas Letter to be sent out from Blackmore Vicarage. It was three years ago last March that my wife entered into that fulness of life which, in the body, we cannot experience as we would. I know that God has provided for her and he has provided for me. For me, with a calling that employs all my time and faculties, and friends, both in and out of the parish, whose interest, care and demands enrich and challenge continually. However, my greatest sense of well-being stems from the fact that Christians here are drawing closer together in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his service. There is a growing interest in the study of the scriptures and the Holy Spirit has moved in the lives of many. I wish I could extend my letter to tell of one and another who have committed themselves to Christ as Lord and Saviour and are demonstrating the fact in their daily lives.
To be more particular, my Lay Reader, of whom I wrote a year ago, is proving an able colleague who preaches acceptably and assists in many ways. Earlier in the year we started a monthly Family Communion Service, using the new Series III Order of Service, with the holy table in the nave and the chairs arranged on three sides. The congregation participate in the prayers and in the reading of Scriptures. It has been good to see young parents with their children coming to the Lord's Table. In response to our Bishop's Call to Mission the Anglican and Baptist Churches have combined to arrange a parish mission to be led by the Rev. Dick Rees in October of next year. We are preparing ourselves for the Mission and a continuing strategy of Christian Outreach. Five Parish Weekends have been planned as part of the preparation. A fortnightly joint Bible study has also commenced. Other parish activities mentioned in earlier letters continue.
So far I have concentrated on local news. However, we live in a large world and we find ourselves less and less able to confine ourselves to purely local interests. At the time of writing, the Middle East War between Arab and Jew has given way to truce. Christians, sensitive to the part Palestine has played in history and the part it may yet play, if certain interpretations of prophetic Bible passages are correct, have no doubt wondered whether the stage was set for Armageddon. Certainly the state of world affairs is disturbing to the natural mind. The morality and integrity of some in high and influential places leaves room for doubt. Wealthy and powerful nations seem to tolerate local wars and find in them a means of proving sophisticated weaponry. A spirit of anarchy is abroad and materialism breeds selfishness. Godless socialism is as ruthless towards its opponents as are the religious devotees who kill one another while professing to serve the same God. Had Robert Burns lived today one wonders whether he would have found other words to express "man's inhumanity to man". How wonderful it is for the Christian to realize the sovereignty of God over all the universe and not least in the affairs of men. God's own book assures the believer "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength". For my Christmas - New Year message I want to say something about a passage from Genesis (16.13). It is the story of a woman in great distress. An underdog, who, like Esau and the Prodigal's elder brother, tends to appeal to our natural sympathy. She was a younger wife of Abraham. She was with child and the envy of Sarah, Abraham's first and so far childless wife. God had promised Abraham some ten years earlier the Sarah would bear him a son and heir. God's time for the fulfilment of his promise was a quarter century later. In his providence God sometimes proves the measure of our confidence in him by making us wait for the fulfilment of his promises. His time for the coming of special blessings alone is the right time. Abraham and Sarah grew impatient. The years were passing, getting older. Let me have a son by proxy said Sarah to Abraham. Take my maid and make her the mother of a son. So Abraham Sarah and, weakened in faith, went ahead of his God instead waiting to be led by him.
Repercussions from his act have distressed the Middle East through succeeding centuries. And Sarah, who had heard God’s promise of a child through her, brought trouble of mind to herself, to Abraham and to the whole family through giving Hagar, the Egyptian slave, as wife to Abraham. When Ishmael, the son of Hagar, was about fifteen years old and Sarah had borne Isaac at the age of ninety, the resentment of Sarah forced Abraham to banish the slave wife and her son. Hagar and Ishmael were great-extremity in the desert and like to die of thirst when God intervened. Hagar said, "Thou, God, seest me". At a time when it seemed she was all alone and none at hand to help, she came to know that God was there, at work in her life. His eye was on her and Ishmael her son. It must have been in Abraham's household that Ishmael had learned to call to God for help and God, who distress, also heard Ishmael's cry. The seeing God, who became so real to Hagar that day, looked with pity and compassion on mother and son and flew to their relief. What God did was literally to give them the water of life freely, and they lived and prospered under the good hand of God, in spite of the neglect of Abraham and the bitterness of Sarah.
In this world it is the lot of men and women, and young people too, to feel desperately alone at times, when it seems that nobody knows, understands or cares. All too often this is sadly true where our fellow humans are concerned but it is never true of God our Maker. As Hagar discovered, He sees, His eye is over all the earth. It matters not who or what we are the eye of God is upon us.
This is a sobering thought. God sees what is commendable and what is not and what is so wonderful is that he never writes us off. The divine eye that looks on all my resistance to the will of God, my folly and stupidity, sees also the potential for godliness (god-like-ness) if I am willing to drink of the water of life freely.
Perhaps 1974 will bring you times of loneliness, times when you feel unable to cope. Or times when things go so well that you may be in danger of growing careless of your spiritual needs. In either case and at all times remember Hagar and say as she said "Thou God seest me". Such realization will be balm to your soul. To know that God, your Heavenly Father, sees, cares and will be your supply.
In sending my good wishes for Christmas and the New Year, I commit you to the grace, mercy and peace of Him who is perfectly revealed in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
MONTAGUE H. KNOTT.
* * * * * * * *