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Dear Friends,

Every year for the last few that I can remember, my wife and I have got up rather too early on New Year’s Day and driven to Whitby for breakfast at the Moon and Sixpence, overlooking the harbour, before enjoying a bracing walk along the windswept seafront and a trudge up to the Parish Church and Abbey - our first exertion of the year notched up on day one.

This year was no different, except that we got there for lunch and found Whitby heaving with other New Year’s Day visitors, all far too cheerful for their own good. We didn’t get our usual table in the Sixpence, and finding a car parking space was an exercise in patience and well timed speed,  similar to that of a sparrowhawk on the hunt.   I presume they need to eat on the first day of the year too.  Once in the parking space, paying for the privilege was to be a new New Year’s Day challenge for me which I look forward to perfecting in the future.  None of the Pay and Display machines worked so we had to pay remotely, over the phone and using a credit card.  All would have been well if the Artificial Intelligence at the other end of the line could have heard me recite my car’s details.  The Whitby wind whirled around me and my phone rather more loudly than was helpful, confusing my soulless interlocutor , who insisted that I text all relevant car and card details instead.

Believe it or not, we did have a rather good few hours there.  We like to see the Christmas Tree festival in the Parish Church at the top of the cliff, light some votive candles and offer prayers for those friends and family whose needs are in our hearts and who may be facing particular challenges in the coming twelve months.  Despite the annoyances, or perhaps because of them, the day felt good.  Something we like to do had been accomplished and the drive home was characterised by contentment.

The first of January is also the feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ in the Church of England’s calendar.  This event would have happened eight days after his birth, as would have been the case for all Jewish boys.  What possibly began as a rather good day for the new born boy soon turned to pain.  The pain would have diminished, but the physical marks remained as a reminder of that day.  Circumcision was and remains a sign of the covenant made between God and his people.  It signifies a past event that continues to have present and future resonances. In the new covenant, sealed by Jesus as an adult upon the Cross, only one person bears the scars but all of us are invited to participate in the new covenant through the perpetual offering of Himself in the gift of Holy Communion to which we respond by offering ourselves as a “living sacrifice” for the world in which we live.  The manner in which we live is the sign of our commitment to Christ - even the baptismal waters that give us new birth in Him wash away leaving no long term, visible, mark.

It is essential for us all who seek to follow Christ to know his story and to know our part within it.  We also need to encourage one another regularly so that we may tell our tale of faith with the same enthusiasm as we may speak of a day at the seaside, a wonderful meal or that bargain we got while out shopping.

There obviously have been Christian martyrs who have shed their blood for the sake of the Gospel and there will be more waves of persecution as time goes on.  Jesus said that would be the case.  But martyrdom and persecution must come about as a result of Christian love for the downtrodden, not because Christians have themselves participated in injustice.

On 31st January the Church encourages us to remember St John Bosco, an Italian who ministered to the poor of Turin during the nineteenth century, having been a witness to the dreadful poverty and living conditions of young people of the city.  Practical action, brought to fruition because of Love, began to change people’s lives.  St John Bosco’s life reminds us that the One who bore the scars of the New Covenant lives on and that the joy of resurrection life remains a gift for all.  As January unfolds and we continue to reflect upon the events that revealed the Saviour to the world, may we consider how we are continuing to reveal Him and Love to that same world.

Fr Stephen

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