Every fortnight people from a farming background, or who have a heart for the countryside, offer a personal reflection on faith and rural life. They hope that you will be encouraged by it.
Christmas Day is almost here and I have to confess that I find it a struggle to cope with all the to-ing and fro-ing at this frantic time of year.
Perhaps you have spent hours searching for that special present and deep down you know your purchase isn’t really something the person wants or needs. I’m sure if we asked people for their special Christmas tradition or memory, it would be something unassuming which cost either little or no money at all.
The work on farms goes on regardless of this special day - animals need fodder and water; lambs must be attended and of course, cows still have to be milked. And yet there is something in the air that suggests this is a ‘different’ day.
Lots of work also takes place in the kitchen as preparations are made for the special meal. Many changes have taken place over the years with regard to the availability of prepared foods, such as readymade stuffing, puddings and even cooked turkeys. However, one tradition that has remained in our home is that the cranberry sauce must be homemade! Our family know Christmas Day is almost here when they get a WhatsApp message with a picture showing the multiple jars just prepared.
But let us look beyond the food and presents to the first Christmas in Bethlehem. We can only imagine the hardship endured by the heavily pregnant Mary as she made her way to Bethlehem with Joseph - as was required for a census - and then endeavouring to find lodgings. They must have been amazed that, after Jesus was born in a stable, the shepherds and Wise Men came to worship Him.
I wonder if Mary and Joseph then began to understand the true meaning of God’s previous messages to them - that this baby was His Son, the Perfect Gift, who would fulfil His plan of salvation for all humanity. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” Isaiah 9:6.
We live in a world that bears the consequences of sin - both the fall of mankind, which took place in the Garden of Eden, and the consequences of personal sin. Subsequently, we face difficult circumstances as we journey through life and our hearts may be heavy for a variety of reasons.
Persistent rainfall since August has affected many in their homes and farms causing great hardship and distress, whilst others are grieving for an absent loved one. Jesus, the One who suffered so much, understands suffering and the Bible teaches us that it is Him alone who can give us the peace and rest we long for. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.
As I look back at another year I am all too aware of my sin and so thankful for God’s precious gift, sending Jesus to bear the punishment I deserve by the shedding of His blood on the cross. For as it is written in John 3:16, “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.”
Charlotte Stevenson farms with her husband, Jim, and son, James, near Kilkeel, County Down. She is a member of Mourne Presbyterian Church.
If you would like to talk to someone about any of the subjects raised in this article, please email Rev. Kenny Hanna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 028 9753 1234.