There is a double celebration today; the festival of our saint transferred from the end of August and the new year of the Church. Happy New Year would be trite; many of us are worried and concerned for the future. Rather I say may your year be blessed in every way possible.
There is a saying of Christ: “A prophet is without honour in his own country”. It is proverbial, a version of “familiarity breeds contempt” or “no man is a hero to his valet or his son”. I once told my son about something I did where I got a good response and he simply said “well of course they don’t know you the way I do.”
So it was in the case of Christ, the inhabitants of Nazareth knew Him as a carpenter’s son. The idea of His being the Messiah was appalling and once He had said that He was the people took Him out to stone Him, although they then let Him go. How could a local lad be a Messiah?
Sometimes one has to make a fresh start to allow people to hear without all the prejudice of earlier memories. It is people who are prepared to receive who do in fact receive.
It was this attitude possibly that lead our own patron Saint Aidan to take up monasticism and then to be the one to evangelise so effectively in northern England. We do not know much of the origins of St Aidan our patron, other than that he was Irish. He was called to leave his native land and serve amongst a strange people. What he did of course was obey God in doing this, first by being a monk on Iona and then of course as a missionary bishop in the North East of England. I think you all know something of his story, and it is clear that he was a remarkable man, much loved by the local king who served as a translator for St Aidan in his preaching.
Yet those local to us and well-known in our own day also have depths of holiness and much they can teach us. It is not just in the Church that we have friends and a common cause. It is important we do not limit ourselves in some sort of huddle against the world since our humility and loving faithfulness to God is also important to others. We are all part of the royal priesthood of believers and everything we do serves to link people around us to God, or if we do it wrong, to drive people away from Him. As the epistle today reminds us “[Holiness of life] pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. “They do that seeing how we - the Church - functions and acts. They see God in our love for each other and the world and they judge accordingly. What we do, what we say and who we are all important. We must be authentic imitators of Christ in all that we do and are. God Himself gives us the power and the grace to do that. What we do and what we are is all part of the great work of Christ, who is the only One who makes possible a union between God and Man.
Now as a part of that work we pray for all - we obey the instruction in today’s epistle - “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
That duty is never more important than when war threatens. Let us keep world leaders and governments in our prayers. Of course the saints pray for us and we are indeed fortunate in a patron who was a great missionary, who dealt with all kinds of people, and who incidentally was a witness to battle. I ask his prayers for our world now as much as ever. We do not honour St Aidan as a good person, although he was; not as a great leader such as Julius Caesar, although he was a great leader. No, we honour him as an example of Christian living. We follow his example as he followed Christ.
Our lives should reflect Christ, and we should do so more and more as we grow in Him. We need to put aside our own (even if wonderful) ideas and listen to the call of God. For we carry on the commission of Christ Himself. The passage from Isaiah that He read to the people of Nazareth was his role was as follows.
“The Lord ... has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free”
We need to learn and follow that example. We need to be authentically and genuinely Christ centred. Then, amidst all the noise and stress of life, all the fears, we may find the peace of God, because whatever the situation we face, Christ is in our midst.
May the coming Church year be truly a year of blessings and growth for us all.