“We love because he first loved us,” wrote the apostle John. First things first. When we discover the love of God, we have come to the heart of things. We find our lives transformed and begin to live in a different way. “Were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Life, at its best, is about love. It is about the people we love, the places we love, the things we love doing. Jesus spoke to us in the language of love: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” The way that Jesus loved us, going as far as giving his life for our sake, takes love on to another level. And we are called to love like that!

There is nothing like the smell of freshly baked bread. It brings our senses alive to what is needed for our nourishment. This must have been in the mind of Jesus when he told his friends: “I am the bread of life.” Nowadays we get to enjoy many different kinds of bread but here is one that remains special, unique. Bread that nourishes us in the depths of our souls.

How long does a prayer have to be? Not long at all, according to Jesus. Only it needs to come from the heart. In Jesus’ book a long and eloquent prayer from a religious expert did not make the cut. But a cry from the heart – “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” – from someone out on the edge showed what prayer is all about. When we stop being full of ourselves and realise how much we need God, then we can truly pray.

New wine needs new wineskins, said Jesus. However much we are nourished by our old tradition we need to remember that our God is the God of the new thing, Jesus brings a wholesale renewal and the Holy Spirit comes to lead us out in a new adventure. Our faith is not a matter of patching things up. It is about venturing out to be part of the amazing new reality that God brings into being through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our next adventure awaits us.

After rather a quiet start to the winter we are now meeting some stormy days.  Time to reflect on Jesus’ story of a storm that struck two buildings. The one that was built on a rock stood firm. The one that was built on sand was destroyed. He wanted us to stop and think about the foundation on which we are building our life. An old hymn has a strong answer to that question: “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

Vines and vineyards feature often in the teaching of Jesus, provoking a question of fruitfulness. Whether we are assessing our own plans for 2019, taking account of the Brexit situation or forming vision for the future of the church, a good question to ask is: what kind of fruit is going to be produced? And to remember Jesus’ words: “I am the vine; you are the branches.”

John the Baptist once commanded the limelight in Palestine. Then Jesus came on the scene and John knew that he would henceforth play second fiddle. Willingly he accepted the role reversal – “he must increase and I must decrease”. He charted for us the pathway of faith. To be self-centred is the pathway to destruction. To be Christ-centred is the pathway to life. John made his choice. We must make ours.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). He also said, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) The light that came with Christ needs to go on shining in the darkness. As we venture into a new year we can be confident that the light of Christ will go before us to lead and guide. And we are challenged to be bearers of that light, with a calling to dispel every darkness.

“He’s grown, that baby,” is an observation made by the poet Ann Lewin. Though the Christmas idyll tends to romanticise baby Jesus lying in the manger, the fact is that he soon grew up. And had to face the harsh reality of life as a refugee. He came to be with us in the grown-up world where often there is adversity to face and difficult decisions to take. As we enter a new year, whatever it brings, we do well to ask ourselves the WWJD question: what would Jesus do?