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2019 can be a great year

A new year message from Commissioner Anthony Cotterill, leader of The Salvation Army in the UK and Republic of Ireland

These men of the east saw a new star rise and understood this was a sign

ON the face of it, this year may not have a lot going for it. The number 2019 is not particularly outstanding, living as it does in the eternal shadow of its illustrious neighbour, the perfect-sounding 2020. Unlike its predecessor, 2018, it offers no worldwide centenary commemorations marking the end of the First World War and there’s not a football World Cup or Olympics to divert our attention from our day-to-day living and all the troubles that dominate the news.

Yet, despite all this, the potential for 2019 to be a great year still stands. There is hope for us beyond the sporting calendars, TV schedules, political manoeuvrings and even our own personal or family achievements. That hope lies in discovering what God’s will is for us and then following it.

We could be forgiven for thinking that God’s way is discovered only through supernatural events, such as bolts of lightning, writings on a wall, voices from Heaven, visions and dreams. After all, the wise men, whose entrance into the Christmas story is traditionally celebrated tomorrow (6 January), had a star to guide them to Bethlehem. So, what about us?

When I carefully read the Bible’s account of the wise men visiting Jesus, I see that all is not as we have been led to believe. Carol writers and authors have taken great liberties with the story, resulting in an image of a star literally leading the way over hill and dale – something akin to a satnav system. Bearing in mind that the nearest star to the Earth is our own Sun, some 93 million miles away, the prospect of a ‘guiding star’ hovering just ahead of the travelling group without incinerating them, and indeed the whole Earth, is just too much.

What the Bible actually explains is that these men of the east saw a new star rise and somehow understood that this was a sign that a new King of the Jews had been born. With this knowledge, they did the most logical and natural thing: without the help of a star, they headed to Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. There they asked where they would find the Messiah, the one born to be King of the Jews.

Understandably, the current King, Herod, was not overjoyed when he heard what was being asked by these mysterious men. He asked the chief priests and teachers of the law where the Messiah was to be born. Those experts told the King that the prophet Micah had said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

As the men travelled the seven miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the star was seen again and, at this point, the account says that the star ‘went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was’ (Matthew 2:9 New International Version). When they entered the house, they bowed down, worshipped and offered their gifts.

My point about discovering God’s will for us is illustrated by these wise men. Ultimately, their guidance to Jesus, the Messiah, was a result of their seeking, asking questions and then listening to words, not from King Herod or even his religious leaders, but from the Scriptures.

As we head into a new year, if we want to know God’s will and direction in our lives, we would do well to follow a similar pattern – to seek, to ask and to read the wise words of the Bible.

An early Christian teacher explained the ways in which we need to respond to God’s love and grace in order for us to know his will for our lives: ‘I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will’ (Romans 12:1, 2).

In other words, there are three things that we need to do if we want to discover God’s will. First, we need to offer our lives to God. Then we need to rediscover God’s values and not allow the values of the world to dominate us. And finally, we must allow God to transform us inwardly as we increasingly allow his Spirit to be in us. Then, says the word of God, we will be able to know what his will is for our lives.

The year 2019? It promises to be a great one. Happy new year to you all!

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