A Happy New Year

Bliadhna Mhath ùr – A happy New year to you all !

May I take this opportunity  to wish you all a happy New Year. In particular it is my prayer that we would all know the continued presence and peace of God in this coming year. It is hard to believe that we are now in 2017, and I am sure that like me, many will wonder where 2016 has gone? New Year is often a time of reflection and resolution, but there is also a need for us to recognise from whom our help comes.

As I prepare this letter in the last few days of the old year, I cannot help but reflect on the year that has passed. It is safe to say that 2016 has certainly been eventful and will not be quickly forgotten! This was the year of ‘Brexit’. It was the year her majesty the Queen celebrated her ninetieth birthday and became our longest serving monarch. 2016 saw an intensification in wars and terrorist attacks that have made our world a dangerous and uncertain place.  Neither can we forget a certain Donald J Trump winning the United States Presidential election.  Closer to home the news has been preoccupied for much of the year with two or three major news stories including the Transocean winner rig coming ashore at Dalmore, and the internal wrangling and problems of the Crofter’s Commission.

This is also the time when we reflect on those we have lost in the past year. 2016 like every other year has taken its toll whether rich, poor, famous or not.  In this year many celebrities from the worlds of film, entertainment and sport have gone to meet their maker just as we will one day ourselves. New Year is for many reasons a poignant and difficult time for many. It is for many a time of struggle against addiction, and also a time when many are acutely reminded of bereavement and loss in their own family circles. This year itself has taken its toll on  many homes and families in our villages,  congregation and community. My prayer is that the empty places  left in hearts, homes  and pew will be filled with the loving presence of Jesus Christ during this year as the one whom to know is life eternal.

It would be easy for this letter to become an epistle of gloom and doom!  It can be easy to remember only the bad news of the year that has passed, and similarly easy as we stand on the threshold of a new year to look to the future with dread. Yet this would be completely wrong. And even more so considering we have just celebrated Christmas, and the significance of that to us. The Bible reminds us that Jesus came as Immanuel, as “God with us” (Isa 7:14) , a literal fulfilment of God’s promise to His people long ago.   Matthew the gospel writer has no doubt that this is the case when he records that “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”)(Matt 1:22-23 (NIV). Matthew goes on to reinforce this point at the very end of the gospel in the last words of Jesus before He is taken up to heaven  “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. (Matthew 28:20 NIV)

There is a real comfort and assurance in the words of the psalmist that we will sing as our opening praise on  New Year’s morning from Psalm 90

 1Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in generations all. 2Before thou ever hadst brought forth the mountains great or small; Ere ever thou hadst form’d the earth, and all the world abroad; Ev’n thou from everlasting art to everlasting God. 

As we reflect on the past year, and look forward to a New Year, we would do well to take to heart the reminder the psalmist gives, that the God who does not change and who is from everlasting to everlasting the same, is His people’s dwelling place. In other psalms God is our refuge and strength, our fortress, our Hightower, our shield and our defender. The God who is from everlasting to everlasting the same, is the one whom we must trust in 2017. It is foolish to trust in anything or anyone else.God never fails. How happy and blessed are the people who truly take God at His word, believing that He is El Olam – the Everlasting God ( Genesis 21:33) who does not change.

New year is a time of resolutions. It is the time we are bombarded with slimming, diet and fitness plans, and other things that might form the basis of any resolutions we make. Whether or not we are making any New Year resolutions this year, the best resolution any of us can make is to live each day and each moment for Jesus Christ. To take Jesus at His word is the best and only way this can be done.

In Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV UK) we read these verses ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’. It is important that we continue to SHINE as a light in a dark place for Jesus Christ. And that in our  love and commitment to God , an overflow of love and commitment to each other  is manifested. And as a consequence that the love of God is demonstrated to people of Harris. I am convinced that Harris needs the presence and witness of this congregation more than ever, and how we should pray that Christ would be exalted in our life, work and worship in this coming year.

New year is a time for recognition of the contribution many make to public life in our country through the new Year honours. It is only fair that I use this opportunity to recognise the immense contribution that many people make to the day to day running of the Congregation during the course of the year.
It has been a busy, varied and sometimes challenging year, in which much has happened. So it is heartening for me to see so many involved in the work of the congregation, and in a great variety of ways. I am firmly of the view that this congregation is greater than the sum of its individual parts, and it is only when one steps back to see what is happening that one is able to see all that has been achieved. It would be wrong of me to single out any individual(s) from the many who continue to work so very hard for the good of the congregation. It would not be possible for me in a letter like this to even begin to list all that has been undertaken and achieved by so many, still less would it be possible to thank those whose work is greatly appreciated by so many throughout  the course of the year.

It is though  important for us to recognise particularly also from whom our help comes from.  The psalmist is very clear as to who is his help, he says “ I lift up my eyes to the hills.From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 (ESV)  As Samuel himself reflected on the victory God had given His people over the Philistines he  too could say, “Thus far (or hitherto) the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12). In this New Year do we ourselves have the same hope and trust in God?   Would that we could take the hymn writer’s words to heart and say

 My times are in Thy hand; My God, I wish them there; My life, my friends, my soul I leave Entirely to Thy care.

To trust God is to take Him at His word, and to live by faith. The simple and oft used acronym F.A.I.T.H is still  appropriate, FORSAKING ALL I TRUST HIM. To trust in God when the way ahead is not clear is hard, but that is when Faith comes in. We are living in days which would have been impossible to predict, both in the church and in the world.  But has God changed ?  The answer is unequivocal He is the same yesterday, today and forever, He is still Immanuel ‘ God with us ‘ .

In our morning service today we will be singing the well know words of Isaac Watts hymn

O God, our help in ages past,  our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home:

The God who has taken us through the storms and trials of previous years is our hope and stay for the coming year too. In the last verse Watts puts it like this.

O God, our help in ages past,  our hope for years to come, be thou our guide while troubles last, and our eternal home!

As we enter a new year with all its challenges and opportunities, may we do so in faith trusting in the God who is our hope for all the years to come.

With our prayerful good wishes for the year ahead and for God’s richest blessing upon you all

Ian Murdo, Alison, Catherine, Angus and Eilidh  Macdonald