I have often welcomed January as a time to plan for the coming year. It’s usually quieter with no meetings and many people away on holiday. But this year January has marked us all with the horrific bushfires that blazed across the country. The youngest daughter of one of my close friends was camping down at Mallacoota and was eventually evacuated by the defence forces, and my sister’s home in northern NSW was eventually saved from the fires around her. However, whether we were personally affected by these events the smoke haze that blanketed our lives brought us all together in the same boat – smoke that also drifted to New Zealand and beyond. It reminded me forcefully of how our lives are all so interconnected and just how small our world is.

The opening verses I use in morning prayer every day come from the Iona Community where I lived and worked so many years ago, and they constantly hold before me that sense of inter- connectedness:

The world belongs to the Lord
The earth and all God’s people
How good and how pleasant it is
When people live together in harmony
Love and faith come together
Justice and peace join hands…

Imagine saying this every day until it you know it off by heart and then suddenly one day the power of those words hits you with fresh insight. That’s one of the significant aspects of Christian liturgy constantly repeated. The words worms their way into us until their meaning dawns on us. It’s like the great hymns of the church or passages from the Bible that we put to memory: they become a deepening dimension of our prayer.

I have also been deeply appreciative of the care and support you have given to us as a family in the face of my brother Davey’s death. I want to thank you all for the wonderful support so many have given us – helping with the funeral, the refreshments afterward, the flowers, the words of comfort and prayer. I know that my whole family join me in this. When a member of your family dies it has the potential of drawing a family closer together and I certainly feel that has happened for us. So thank you all!

This Sunday, I have chosen to focus on the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple when he was but eight days old. On one level it’s a story of a young couple giving thanks to God for the wonder and joy that has been brought into their lives in the birth of this baby. So it is about thankfulness, encouraging thankfulness in us. But it’s also about the role older people can play in the life of faith, where Simeon and Anna not only welcome Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, but recognise in Jesus the very presence of God. As we get old we can sometimes feel we have little to offer. Anna and Simeon’s welcome and discernment paint a different picture and remain models of wisdom and prayer for us all. Discerning the presence of God in the ordinary events of our lives is both a wonderful gift but also a discipline we need to foster so that our faith doesn’t grow dim.

Saint Augustine once wrote: ‘Look, you’re here, Lord, freeing us from our unhappy wandering, setting us firmly on your track, comforting us and saying,

“Run the race! I’ll carry you!
I’ll carry you clear to the end,
and even at the end, I’ll carry you.”