This week spans the week of joy and I will be doing some joyful things; spending some time with my parents, celebrating an early Christmas with my family (its Aron’s year this year!), catching up with friends and having some time to rest after what has been a big year.

But biblical faith gives another dimension to joy. It says that joy is possible, even when things are not going well, because – to respond to Paul’s rhetorical question in Philippians 2 – there is encouragement in Christ, the one who has defeated even death, there is consolation in love, and there is sharing and compassion and sympathy in the Holy Spirit! And we can make joy complete by supporting each other, working together as a community, and loving each other.

I like too what last Sunday’s psalm, Psalm 126, said, that even when joy is hard to find, we can plant joy (by keeping on supporting each other, working together, and loving each other) that we will reap in the future – a bumper crop of joy! (If you missed the lovely story of Grace and David Quast, here is the link

And speaking of future ministry at Canberra Baptist Church, the ‘future ministries and staffing needs’ survey closes on Friday. We want everyone to respond to this survey. It is not long – just 6 questions – and you don’t have to answer every question. The focus is on asking what our ministry priorities and opportunities are, and what additional staffing we need. As I said, the survey closes this Friday, 18th December, so please fill it in!

But speaking of current staffing, I want to take this opportunity in the last ‘Sunday to Sunday’ of the year to thank the paid staff of the church, my colleagues, Cecelia, Eliza and John.

Cecelia, you have had an extraordinary year! Sporting injuries, personal concerns, separation from family, the Covid wedding planning nightmare that turned into a beautiful day (on which you looked truly incredible in your dress!) and though none of this has been easy you have persevered with your apparently unlimited resources of ebullience, creativity, ‘smarts’, and faith. Thank you!

Eliza, you remind me very much of the farmer in the psalm; not the weeping bit, but certainly the patiently, quietly, determinedly feeding and nurturing of those around you with your deep resources of faith and love. And – wow! Look at how the plants have grown! There will weeping when you go, but we are glad that your ministry – and this ministry here – will grow on!

And John! Thank you! I know it may not sound so glamourous for Cecelia and I to be emphasising just how much we will miss your ‘help’. (We will of course also miss your faithful worship leading and preaching and your incredibly appreciated pastoral care!) But, thinking about it in a biblical sense, ‘help’ is a descriptor for God, and you have embodied that godly help for us in all the craziness of this year. We will also miss your humour! You have been very good company! But we recognise that pilgrims, even if they do – thankfully – retrace their steps every now and then, must keep going on their pilgrimage. We only ask that our love and our God goes with you, John and Kristine!

May God bless all of you – at this Christmas time. It is not a normal Christmas and it is one where we look around our world and cry out even more for hope and peace and joy and love. But as we gather to worship, as we share time with friends and family and as we give generously, may we be reminded of the angel’s message, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people….”