With the Epiphany season now in full swing we leave the manger and on Sunday our worship leads us forward 30 years to stand on the banks of the River Jordan to witness Jesus’ baptism. The Gospel reading on Sunday ends with the voice from heaven declaring that “you are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:4-11). In normal times I would be pleased to stop there, but as we face the challenges of this new year, I feel the need to continue reading so that we can include the next two verses. If we read on, St Mark tells us that from the moment of his baptism ‘the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out in to the wilderness’ (v12). I don’t know about you, but I feel as though I have been driven out from the twinkly, comforting light of our Christmas celebrations into the harsh wilderness of a new year which feels dark, alien and threatening and not at all where I want to be. Jesus’ wilderness experiences are explored much more fully during Lent of course, but for us now, as we enter a new year and continue to face the horrors of a seemingly never-ending and unpredictable global pandemic, I think we might find some comfort and strength in what another evangelist tells us about Jesus’ wilderness experience following his baptism. We read in Matthew’s gospel that when Jesus was exhausted from his struggles, angels came and waited on him (Matthew 4:11).
Angels come in many forms and guises, and over the last few months we have been waited on by some of them: In his great age Captain Tom brought good news to the NHS through his remarkable achievements and stirred us all on to lift our eyes heavenward and be inspired by the kindness of the human heart; footballer Marcus Rashford has ministered to hungry children and their anxious parents and made their voices heard; and Mother Julian of Norwich continues to send re-assuring messages of hope from her cell in 14th century Norwich, reminding us that through the love of God in Christ all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. One angel who has ministered to me recently with his powerful affirming and inspiring messages of hope has been the artist Charlie Mackesy, and if you haven’t been introduced then let me do the honours. Charlie is the author of a book called ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’ – it’s a comfort blanket of a read and at times when life feels chaotic and the storm raging around us threatens to overwhelm and consume, Charlie’s unlikely travelling companions offer wise insightful truths to guide us out of our wilderness experiences.
At a time when so many people want nothing to do with organised religion, Charlie shines a light on Love (with a capital ‘L’), and the beauty of the human soul. Charlie has a deep and profound Christian faith, but he speaks from his own experience of feeling excluded by the Church and baffled by the rules and regulations which are unhelpful when people struggle with life. Charlie’s gift is to make Christ real, his illustrations have the power to bring the love of God and the message of redemption to those who are at the end of their tether and exhausted by their struggle. There isn’t room here to do Charlie’s ministry justice, but put his name into any search engine and you will quickly discover more. If I were to share just three of Charlie’s messages with you today as we continue together on our journey through 2021, it would be these:
“Courage is a gentle thing: when the way ahead seems too dark and the path unclear, just to take one single step is enough”
“Sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent”
“This storm is real, and our fear is real”, said the horse. “But our love is also real, and in the end love wins”.
Rev Anne Crawford