The Torch - Issue 5 2013

From:-
TORCH TRUST, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, U.K.
Telephone: +44(0)1858 438260, Fax: +44(0)1858 438275, email: info@torchtrust.org
The Torch Trust for the Blind, registered charity number 1095904.

Contents

Christmas Greeting

It seems to me that when somebody becomes famous, all of a sudden there is an interest in where they were born and facts about their parents and family. When Barack Obama first became president of the United States in 2009 news teams and film crews set off to research his origins. I'm sure his parents could never have imagined that their baby could one day become the most powerful leader in the world.

With the birth of Jesus it's a bit different. Even before he was born there was a feeling of anticipation that this baby was someone greatly important. An angel tells Mary, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:32-33). And centuries before, the prophet Micah had correctly forecasted Bethlehem as the place of his birth (Micah 5:2).

His birth is announced by an angel, surrounded by a celestial light display and accompanied by a heavenly chorus, with the words: "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11). A bright new star appears and guides people from a distant land to come and pay homage before the child can even speak.

Never - before or since - has there been such a build-up to a birth, such anticipated greatness.

Simeon was awaiting the coming of the Messiah. An elderly devout man, God had told him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the long promised Saviour. As he held the eight-day old infant in his arms he said words that for me are among the most moving ever spoken:

"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel."

I love the weeks of build-up towards Christmas. Not the commercial razzmatazz that accompanies the modern Western-style Christmas of shopping and indulgence, but the period of reflection that some churches refer to as Advent, extending through the four Sundays preceding Christmas itself. It's a time to think about the coming of Jesus, and for me that includes an opportunity to ponder Simeon's words. Though they were uttered in the Temple in the city of Jerusalem at the heart of the community of Israel these were not parochial words. This singular birth was significant to everyone, everywhere in the world. It was a restatement of God's heart to draw all humanity back into a relationship with himself.

Jesus did not grow up to be the conquering emperor that the Israelite people thought they needed, nor a presidential statesman. He just walked around Palestine telling stories, chatting with people and making sick people better - spending most of his time with the ordinary people of street and field - and it ended with his crucifixion. But the impact of his short life on the world has been greater than that of any other. Emperors and statesmen come and go but two thousand years later Jesus has more subjects than any of them ever had.

The exciting thing about Advent reflection is that it's forward looking. It stimulates that anticipation all over again. Jesus came into the world and he's due to come back again soon.

May the approach to Christmas time engender in you a sense of anticipation - an eager expectancy for Jesus the Lord, who came and comes again, all because of his love for us.

This magazine comes with our prayers and best wishes for a very happy Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Gordon Temple and the editors

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The plan

"I will send my son"

by Stella Heath

[Stella Heath, known and loved by many as Mum Heath of the Torch family, was co-founder of Torch Trust with her husband Ron Heath. She completed her earthly journey in 2009, and wrote this article some years prior to her death.]

I have clear memories of holding my children and then grandchildren as small babies in my arms, and thinking how precious, how perfect, and wishing every blessing possible on them!

Yet the whole amazing plan of God for his world hung on a tiny baby, born away from home, and cradled in a cattle shed, a baby that was born to die!

Jesus told a story of a man whose plans went wrong. There was once a wealthy vineyard owner who had a son. He had to go abroad for a long time, so he hired tenants to care for his vineyard. But he was having a lot of trouble with those tenants. They were very behind with their rent. What is more, they refused to hand over the dues which their tenancy required.

So this man sent members of his staff to try to resolve the situation and bring back the rent. Unfortunately, one after another, the hapless staff were spurned, abused and beaten. All had come back empty-handed. One had been killed. As a last effort to quell the rebellion, the owner declared, "I will send my son, surely they will respect him!" They didn't. They killed him in cold blood. That father must have been shocked and despairing when his plan failed so badly.

There was another father who said, "I will send my son", God himself. Our world was made by him, perfectly balanced, perfectly clean, and free from any evil. However, the very creatures he had made and put in charge had brought sin and rebellion into this perfect place. It became defiled, full of evil and violence. These days we don't need that spelt out to us do we! Terrorism, greed, abuse of all kinds, make our news bulletins horrific to listen to. God sent messengers, prophets and preachers to warn mankind to turn from evil, but they were not received, some were even killed.

But God already had a plan to put things right.

He didn't decide to destroy mankind, instead he decided to show those sinners how much he loved them! He would give them every chance to repent before he destroyed Earth and all on it. That was when he said, "I will send my son, he will fulfil the plan".

And so, a baby was born in Bethlehem - God's son! Even the angels were amazed. God's son, born in a cattle shed! Those wise people who knew the Bible remembered many times when prophets had said this would happen, even foretelling the place where the birth would take place. That holy child we remember at Christmas time died to save us from the wrath of God. He took our punishment. This was God's plan.

The Bible says, "God did not keep back his own son but he gave him for us all!" (Romans 8:32). "God sent his own son to be like us sinners and to be a sacrifice for our sin!" (Romans 8:7 CEV).

The plan was victoriously successful, for Jesus rose alive from the dead, and was taken up to the throne room of Heaven. He is watching with love as the plan unfolds in the lives of individuals on earth who have come to him, repented of their wrongdoing, and been given a new life, and a place in Heaven for eternity. It is wonderful to have such a hope in the dark days in which we live. Have you that hope?

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The Christmas story

(published by SGM Lifewords Ltd)

A promise

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. His mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they were married, she found out that she was going to have a baby by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18)

An angel appeared to Mary:

"Don't be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus." (Luke 1:30-31)

A gift

The Emperor ordered everyone to return to their home town to register for a census.

Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David ... He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger - there was no room for them to stay in the inn. (Luke 2:4-7)

A celebration

That night in the fields, an angel appeared to some shepherds:

The angel said to them, "Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David's town your Saviour was born - Christ the Lord!"

Suddenly a great army of heaven's angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God:

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!"

"Be silent, everyone, in the presence of the Lord, for he is coming from his holy dwelling place." (Zechariah 2:13)

Reflection

This Christmas, remember the promise of God to become one of us. Receive the gift of his love, and celebrate his presence with us.

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Christmas memories

by Malcolm Ferries

[Malcolm became blind at just under a year old while he was being treated for Spina Bifada Hydrocephalus, a condition little-understood at that time. He did a degree in philosophy at Warwick University, which is where he met Jan, who became his wife. They live in South Lincolnshire.]

Christmas has always been a joyful time for me. Between the ages of five and eleven, I went to Lickey Grange School for the Blind. Christmas was the time of year I got most excited about at Lickey: there would be parties, concerts, a Christmas dinner and, of course, a visit from Santa Claus himself!

As Christmas approached, we would be told the story of Christ's birth - which I have found even more powerful and meaningful as the years go by.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed ... And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

For one marvellous year at Lickey, my teacher was Barbara Cudmore, well known to many Torch people, as she worked with Torch Trust for many years. Barbara was an inspiring teacher who made the world a fascinating place! She was a fantastic story-teller who could really bring characters alive. One of my clearest memories is of those days leading up to the Christmas holidays, when we would gather our chairs around her in a semi-circle, and she would talk to us about the birth of Jesus.

Jesus came down to earth in such a humble way, didn't he? The ancient Greeks had their mythical gods, living on Mount Olympus, where they squabbled among themselves and used us as their playthings. Christ didn't do any of those things. He came down to us. He had been seated at God's right hand, yet he began his earthly life in a stable. I don't believe the myth-makers would have thought of an idea like this.

Luke, one of the Gospel writers, was a medical doctor. He had to be a man of education, method and considerable intelligence. Why would he want to peddle myths? In his gospel, he told it like it was. Not far from that stable, a bunch of shepherds - not exactly movers and shakers or opinion-formers - were just doing what had to be done, watching their flocks as the night dragged on, when events took a rather unexpected turn: a messenger of the Lord appeared before them!

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

At this point we could use that cliché, "and the rest is history", but it's not. God was working his purpose out in an entirely original way. He had sent his beloved son to earth, to take the penalty for what we had done wrong.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

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God with us

(published by Lifewords-global)

An absent God?

More than 2,000 years ago, God's people, the nation of Israel, are in trouble. A Roman occupying force rules the land. Israel's kings have been defeated, their prophets have gone quiet. The God they have known for so long is nowhere to be seen, and the people wonder if he has abandoned them for ever.

But there in the silence God is still working.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they married, she learned she was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit.

An angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream: "Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the baby in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:18, 20-21)

On the night that the baby was born, an angel appeared to some shepherds in the fields.

The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all the people. Today your Saviour was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord." (Luke 2:8-11)

A present Saviour

All this happened to bring about what the Lord had said through the prophet (Isaiah): "The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which means 'God is with us'."

The Word (who is God) became a human being and lived here with us ... From him all the kindness and all the truth of God have come down to us. (John 1:14)

Prince of Peace

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light ... For to us a child is born ... and he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2, 6)

Reflection

God became one of us. Light entered our world, and his presence has never left us. Take time this Christmas to look for him. Stop for a moment to feel him near, to talk, to listen; to know his light and peace.

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Here's a thought

How to make an Impression

by Norman Hillyer

Once a year we are bidden to go "even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass" - to gaze upon the Babe lying in a manger.

It is not a bit of good telling a baby what a great person you are. The baby will merely smile and gurgle, quite unimpressed. All that the baby requires is your love. Everything else flows from that.

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It's Christmas night

By Max Lucado

The midnight hour has chimed and I should be asleep, but I'm awake. I'm kept awake by one stunning thought. The world was different this week. It was temporarily transformed.

The magical dust of Christmas glittered on the cheeks of humanity ever so briefly, reminding us of what is worth having and what we were intended to be. We forgot our compulsion with winning, wooing, and warring. We put away our ladders and ledgers, we hung up our stopwatches and weapons. We stepped off our racetracks and roller coasters and looked outward toward the star of Bethlehem.

More than at any other time, we think of him. More than in any other season, his name is on our lips. And the result? For a few precious hours our heavenly yearnings intermesh and we become a chorus. A ragtag chorus of longshoremen, Boston lawyers, illegal immigrants, housewives, and a thousand other peculiar persons who are banking that Bethlehem's mystery is in reality, a reality.

For a few precious hours, he is beheld. Christ the Lord. Those who pass the year without seeing him, suddenly see him. Emmanuel. God is with us: He came near.

Soon life will be normal again. But for the moment, I want to savour the spirit just a bit more. I want to pray that those who beheld him today will look for him when the gifts are history and carols are quiet. And I can't help but linger on one fanciful thought: If he can do so much with such timid prayers lamely offered in December, how much more could he do if we thought of him every day?

For after all, the one who came that Christmas morning so long ago still comes. He comes every time a seeker turns his face heavenward and says "Yes!" to the Saviour. A Saviour sent by a God who "so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Because God loves you, he has invited you to enjoy eternal life with him in Heaven. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Jesus made a way to accept God's invitation, and he did it just for you. Confess that you've sinned: "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Accept God's invitation by believing that Jesus received the punishment for your sin by his death on the cross. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18).

You can pray something like this:

"Dear God, I admit that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. Thank you for sending Jesus to this earth so he could suffer the punishment I deserved for my sin. I do believe that he died in my place so I can have eternal life. Please come into my life and help me live a life that pleases you. Amen."

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