Tag Archives: Christmas

Week 4: Saturday (aka Christmas Eve! yay!) Matthew 28:16-20

What goes around comes around.
Child in the manger
Innocent peace
Sleeping so soundly
Not knowing the danger
From Herod’s police
Pursuing him roundly
Already authorities
see him as threat
Yet still he sleeps calmly

As he grows older
At mother’s knee
Learns of his Father
Now enters manhood
Clearly we see
As crowds now gather
Here’s a man speaking
with authority

Touches the leper
Gives sight to the blind
Hope to the hopeless
Never unkind
To those who are needy,
Who come for his aid.
Forgiving the guilty,
Says “don’t be afraid”

Authorities now feeling
threatened indeed
their power is challenged
As he meets the need
For love, for forgiveness,
For healing, release
From fears that disable –
To all he brings peace

Around him disciples
are blind to the signs
of the times.
Though walking beside him,
Alone now he strides on
to certain destruction
for other men’s crimes

He hangs on a cross now
In great agony
Centurion looks up
At man on the tree
This foreign invader
Is first one to see
“surely oh surely
this can only be
The Son of God”.

Why?
‘Cos unlike the usual kinds that hang close to death
This one, far from cursing, with his dying breath
Says “Father, forgive”.
Nothing if not consistent.

Disciples are gathered in fear in the dark
Fearing they’ll be the next one.
Women determined to care for their Lord
Head off at the rise of the sun
Expecting a closed tomb, to their deep dismay
the tomb is now open, the stone rolled away.
weeping and wailing, expressing their grief
the voice of an angel now offers relief:
“He’s not here – he’s risen! now run, tell the rest”
But Mary remains, sobs still racking her breast.
Still not understanding, she asks of the man
She thought to be gardener “Please tell, if you can,
Oh where have they taken him? where lies he now?”
He speaks but one word
“Mary”
She sees him at last
“Rabboni”

Now forty days later, on mountain-top high
The man who now lived though they’d all seen him die
Leaves them once more, he’ll not be seen again –
But first sets in motion unstoppable chain
Reaction

“You’ve heard me teach,
Seen me reach out to all
Now one last commandment
I give you – I call
you to take on the mantle
of Love.”

And that is how God’s Kingdom rule
is even now, through me and you,
by power of Spirit shared with all.

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Week 4: Tuesday Matthew 6:16-24

Just five days before what is traditionally the biggest blow-out of the year in our over-commercialised Western celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, our reading begins with the three words “When you fast”.

Not if – when.

Fasting isn’t a fashionable discipline.
Come to that, discipline isn’t a fashionable concept.
In particular self-discipline and self-denial fly in the face of the current Zeitgeist.
I suspect the decline of discipline, in that sense, began
around the time that your flexible friend took the waiting out of wanting. Any of you remember that?access1978_85c

We are challenged in this passage to live by another standard.

Not “I’m on a sea-food diet. I see food and I eat it.”
Not “I’m entitled – why should I wait?”
Not “I’ve worked hard – I deserve to splurge on ……. (insert indulgence of choice)”
Not “My happiness depends on owning the latest piece of technology” (despite what the adverts would have you believe)

No.
The challenge of Jesus is summed up in those first three words – “When you fast“.

What Jesus is not saying is that it is inherently wrong to have nice things or to enjoy nice things. Remember – he liked going to parties – even provided the best wine they’d ever tasted. So go ahead – enjoy your Christmas feast.
Just don’t make the consumption of things the main goal of your life.
The discipline (that word again) of the Christian year includes two seasons of fasting – Advent and Lent.
Two seasons of putting the wait back into wanting (unless of course you succumb to mince pies in October and Hot Cross Buns in January  winking-smiley)

Fasting isn’t just going without food or alcohol.
Fasting is about priorities.
It’s about putting prayer – simply being in the presence of God – higher up the list than anything else.
It’s about not allowing your appetites to rule your life.
It’s about allowing God to rule your life.
It’s about discipline – remaining steadfast in prayer for our broken, hurting world including the perpetrators of the latest atrocities as well as giving thanks for all that contributes to building God’s kingdom .
It’s about being Christ to the world by the power of the Spirit.
It’s about building the kingdom of God.

 

 

 

For all who are not yet ready for Christmas…

Christmas is coming…

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…
Time to go out shopping for the tinsel tat.
Don’t forget the turkey, the pudding and the cake –
Better buy the mince pies, there’s no time left to make…
Stilton, cheddar, camembert, brie and Roquefort too –
Better get some port and whisky, red wine, white and – phew!
‘most forgot the stuffing, brandy butter, clotted cream –
And walnuts and pistachios, almonds, pecans also seem
Essential for the feast, with salmon, smoked, and sausage rolls.
But where, in all this great long list, is succour for our souls?
…..
All this to celebrate the birth
of He Who made the universe
yet left His throne and came to us,
was born in poverty?
How can we feast when others starve?
When prisoners still aren’t freed?
When sick still suffer, can we laugh
And dance and shout with glee?
Why, yes, we can – for so He did,
At weddings and at feasts.
And we rejoice for He has come
For all of us, not just for some,
To cleanse and heal and bring release
And calls us now to share our feast,
Our riches, with all those who still
Are captive, sick and hungry.
…..
For still He comes to earth, is born
In humble places – hearts so torn,
And binds and heals and brings release
And calls us on to share His peace,
To feed the hungry, heal the lame,
To give, and never be the same
As all the tinsel-tangled world.
And so His standard is unfurled
And flies above the dirt and shame
And through us others hear His name
And the whole world will be aflame
With Love come down at Christmas.

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Matthew 1:18-25

Emmanuel

In heart of clamour
Silence grows
In midst of turmoil
Peace flows
Beyond all logic
God draws near,
Takes on our flesh –
Christ is here.

Rest for the weary,
For hatred, love.
For sin, forgiveness,
For warfare a dove.
Hope for despair,
Comfort for grief
For sorrow, joy –
Such sweet relief
When dawns the Dayspring
On our sight,
Dispersing gloom,
Bringing light.

The King is born –
We own His sway,
Kneel in homage
On this His day.
Thoughts are stilled
Words fall away.
Gaze in awe
In silence pray
Before the Babe
Asleep on hay
Emmanuel

Week 3: Saturday Matthew 27:27-38

This passage came as a shock.

Wright’s commentary gave new insights – I’d never before made the conscious connection between the Sermon on the Mount and the events surrounding the crucifixion, although I’d always seen in the crucifixion narratives a deep integrity with all that Jesus lived and taught up to that point.

Powerlessness. That’s the word that sprang to mind as I read the penultimate paragraph on p89 of the book where Wright ponts out that similar atrocities continue to happen and asks what our response is.

Powerlessness.

Jesus, who had demonstrated such authority and power over sin, guilt, sickness and even death, was in this moment powerless – this is, above all, the moment when he, “though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2)

Powerlessness.

The disciples looking on could do nothing – the full might of the occupying forces was ranged against their Lord and Master, and would crush them instantly, like an insect underfoot, if they gave any sign at all that they objected.

Powerlessness.

Maybe above all, the powerlessness of his mother.
Mary, who had born him in her womb for 9 months, facing herself the possibility of condemnation and rejection for her “immorality” (an angel?? the Holy Spirt??? yeah, right… who does she think she’s kidding???).
Mary, who had nurtured him as only a mother can, held him to her breast, watched over his development, disciplined him when, an unthinking adolescent, he caused her and Joseph heart-lurching anxiety when they couldn’t find him following his Bar Mitzvah.
Mary, who had looked on as he left the carpenter’s bench to which he’d been trained by Joseph and began to wander the country – claiming, at one point when she and her other sons came to speak with him, that all the needy people crowding around him were his family.
Mary, who had given her life to love, cherish, nurture this precious gift from God.
Mary, now powerless to mitigate the suffering of the man who was once the baby inside her womb.

Powerlessness.

Ours, as we look around our deeply troubled world today.
There seems so little we can do – and certainly we are powerless to change the big picture.
Ours, as we watch those near and dear to us suffer physically and psychologically.
Ours, as our own bodies begin to fail or develop life-limiting conditions.
Ours, as our nearest and dearest or indeed ourselves, approach the end of life.

How do I respond to the cross? How does it touch my life?
It proves beyond doubt that God is in all things – including the unspeakable, the unthinkable.

This is Incarnation.

God in all things?

Truly?

Is God in all things?

A beautiful sunset, a sleeping child,
A rose in bloom, a mother’s smile…
A father’s strong hand, a lover’s caress,
A hug from a friend, my deepest distress…

Hold it right there! What’s that I just heard?
My deepest distress? When the sun is obscured
And the lightning strikes, the tsunami floods in
Sweeping all life away – or so it seems…?
When grief shreds my heart, when my body is wracked
With pain, when for lust a child is attacked?
When I’m sinking in mire, when I can’t find firm ground,
When all hope is lost, when the darkness surrounds…

Is God in all things?
Is God truly in all?
Is God?
Dare I say it?
Is God at all?

Is God in my doubting, my darkness, my fear?
Or does God hide away when the fog fails to clear?
Does God simply watch from the side-lines, wait
For the act of destruction which settles my fate?

Is God in the darkness?
Is God truly in all?
Is God?
Dare I say it?
Is God at all?

A child in a manger,
A refugee flight,
A victim of prejudice,
Sought out by night
For fear of the others –
Yet offering sight
For the blind, healing, hope
For those life leaves behind…
A man in a courtroom,
Falsely accused…
A whipping, a taunting,
Face battered and bruised
By a crown of thorns
Pressed down on his brow…
As he hangs on a tree
Is God in all things now?
If not now, then never…
At this moment of death,
Of defeat, the man says
With his last gasping breath
“Into your hands, my Father, my God, I commend
My spirit” – and still the night had no end
As darkness encompassed the earth at noon,
As the sun was obscured, earthquake rumbling on.
Grief, despair, darkness had won the day.

Until three days later the stone rolled away…

Yes, God is…
In darkness as well as in light
Yes, God is in all things,
In both day and night.
As I face the tsunami of life I proclaim
That God is in all things,
In both joy and pain.
Yes, God is…

Day 3:Matthew 24: 1-14

There may be trouble ahead…

I’m not sure about birth-pangs.
Birth-pangs imply that there will be an end, and that the end will bring (usually) new life (see my short story in yesterday’s blog post).

As far as I can see, there have been wars and rumours of wars throughout history. Indeed, the Old Testament is full of such stories – descriptions of anger, hatred, betrayal, adultery. The disciples of Jesus will have been steeped in the history of the Children of Israel. This most recent invasion and occupation, by the Romans (not noted for their mercy to dissidents), must have had them crying out to God in the words of the prophet Habbakuk:

How long, O Lord, must I call for help?
But you do not listen!
“Violence is everywhere!” I cry,
but you do not come to save.
Must I forever see these evil deeds?
Why must I watch all this misery?
Wherever I look,
I see destruction and violence.
I am surrounded by people
who love to argue and fight.
The law has become paralysed,
and there is no justice in the courts.
The wicked far outnumber the righteous,
so that justice has become perverted.

With all that’s going on in the world today, I reckon we could echo those words…

And then Jesus turns up. As they got to know him better and to see his power they began to be more and more certain that this man was the promised Messiah.

They had very clear ideas about what that meant – in their minds it meant a great leader who would bring them release from oppression – and by that they meant specifically a military leader who would throw out the Romans and establish God’s kingdom – the earthly kingdom of Israel – once and for all in a Golden Age.

Nowadays we pity their naivety. We can oh, so easily feel superior – of course that was never what God intended. We, with the benefit of that most amazing thing, hindsight, know that for sure.

So what conclusion do we draw then?

Maybe Jesus wasn’t after all the Messiah.
Maybe God actually doesn’t care about our every-day agony and the way the world is heading – history would suggest that.
Maybe God is so completely Other that we can never know or understand what it’s all about.
Maybe we are simply an experiment – like bacteria in some giant petri dish, with far-superior aliens looking on, and anyone who comes close to realising the truth and escaping the illusion is like a bacterium which wanders too far into the encircling protective penicillin and dies (gentle reader, you just might recognise the plot from an Asimov short story – Breeds there a man? – in that one…)
Or maybe there is no God after all…………..

The traditional interpretation is that Jesus was stating the literal truth in this passage – that one day God will wrap it all up and usher in His Kingdom Rule here on the physical earth, that it is merely the timescale that the disciples got wrong. At least, that’s what I was taught in my early years, what is still taught in my current Parish church and what is implied, I suspect, in Tom Wright’s commentary.

This I can’t believe. On so many levels, it simply doesn’t make sense.
Assuming for the moment that God exists, and that God is a benign Presence of Light, Love, Being, I see no way that the Kingdom of God can be reduced to earthly structures.
Given that God (if such a being exists) appears to have given us untrammelled free will, there can never be an earthly, physical “God’s Kingdom Rule” without changing us from autonomous beings to mere puppets.

That leaves me two options.
Walk away entirely from the Christian narrative.
Or understand the stories differently.

Mostly I do the latter.

And this particular story I understand as an indication that life is tough, unpredictable, full of death and disaster and pain. That is simply how it is – and how it ever was, and how it ever will be.

Even now dark clouds are gathering once again over the world. The extreme Right is rising up, prejudice and hatred are gaining momentum. Russia is flexing its muscles and eyeing eastern European ex-Russian-Satellite-States speculatively. The situation in Syria is beyond words awful. However, we’ve been here before and will be here again. In my youth (50s and 60s) we lived in fear of imminent nuclear holocaust. It hasn’t happened (at least, not yet… and certainly not in the way it was predicted then). This too will pass. Or not. Who knows? I certainly don’t.

One thing is certain, and one question matters.
How will I face this latest round of death and doom and disaster?
I choose.
Daily, hourly, moment by moment, I choose my personal response to each person I encounter.
I choose to continue to follow the call of Christ to live by Kingdom values – love, faith, mercy, integrity (and that last includes not pretending in this blog that I subscribe to the standard interpretation of scripture, not pretending that I believe it to be literally true – although I do believe that it contains and reveals Truth).
And in such choices, Christ comes again and God’s Kingdom is established on earth.

So please, please don’t try to convince me that what we hear and read in the news are signs that the End Times will soon be upon us.

I believe that, since the resurrection, we have all been living in the End Times and that with each choice made to live by Kingdom Rules Christ comes again and God’s Kingdom is further established.

In other words, Christ comes again and is revealed to the world in us.
Choice by choice.
In our willingness to live sacrificially by His standards, not the prevailing cultural norm.

What does that look like?
Feeding the hungry
Housing the homeless
Visiting those in prison
Giving water to those who thirst
Clothing the naked
Fighting (and voting) for social justice even if that is not in my personal best financial interest

The list could go on…

Not some future magic-wand solution, but us – here, now – we are the way God’s Kingdom is being established, one choice at a time.

Day 2: Matthew 13:24-35

The Waiting Game

“Are you still here?”
The voice rang out cheerfully as Sally, who’d been on an early morning stroll, turned up the path towards her front door. Inwardly groaning, she slapped the regulation bright smile on her face as she turned to the speaker – a new neighbour.
“Yes, I’m still here.”
“That baby of yours is taking its time, isn’t it? By the look of you, you’re more than ready to drop! I’ll bet you’re fed up with the whole business by now!”

Little did the speaker know.
Sally’s baby wasn’t even due for another four days, and every day the pregnancy extended was one of joy for her, despite the squeezed bladder, the aching legs, the great hump which seemed to have a life of its own, rising up under her ribs and shifting at the most awkward moments from side to side as the child within her womb shifted position. She was not for one moment fed up with the whole business. She’d waited so very long for this.

This was not Sally’s first pregnancy.
There’d been five others, not one of which had run to term.

The doctors were nonplussed – there seemed no obvious medical reason for the miscarriages, and even less for the most recent one – stillbirth at 8 months. She’d never forget the sight of that tiny, perfectly-formed but utterly dead baby, never forget the psychological and physical pain of induced labour, knowing all the time that there would be no live child at the end of it.

The doctors had advised them to give up trying, to consider adoption – but Sally and Tom, her husband, would have none of it. Painful though their losses had been, nevertheless they continued to hope.

This time… this time, against all the odds, the pregnancy was running to term. Doctors and midwives were keeping a very close eye indeed on the situation, but so far so good. And every day, every hour, every minute, every second of indigestion, bladder-urgency, leg-ache, heaving belly, seemed to both of them to be filled with glory.

This long time of waiting, even though full of anxious moments, spoke to them of life – life, hope, joy, faith fulfilled.

Sally escaped her neighbour, turned her key in the front door and entered.

“Hi, love!” she called out to Tom, who was on a late shift that day so was only now settling down to enjoy his jug of coffee.

As she spoke, she felt a stabbing pain and all of a sudden fluid was gushing down her legs onto the doormat.
Eyes sparkling with joy, she called out again.
“Tom! Quick, come here! It’s coming! I think our baby is coming!”

Tom, normally bleary-eyed for at least an hour after waking up but now wider awake than he’d ever been, was by her side in a moment.
All the hope and desire of the past long years of disappointment, pain and grief were contained in this moment.
His mobile was out of his pocket and he was dialling the hospital.
“Come right away” said the voice on the other end of the phone.
“All babies are precious, but this one – we’re taking no chances!”

Eight hours later, Sally lay back on the pillows in the maternity unit bed, hair lank around her tired sweaty face. Tom, at her side, was seriously wishing he’d taken his wedding ring off – that was the hand Sally’d been squeezing to help her through every contraction and the ring had cut into his finger – but reminded himself that his pain was as nothing compared to the hard work she’d just done!

And in any case – that tiny bundle in her arms made it all worth while. Their child. Their daughter. Perfectly formed, she’d entered the world screaming lustily at the top of her lungs. Tears flowed from every pair of eyes in the room, including the medical staff who were only too well aware of the history. This baby was not only alive, but perfectly healthy. For a moment, the room seemed to shine with a brighter light even than the neons overhead.

Tom and Sally looked at each other, then at their daughter, and smiled as the church bells rang out. This day was Christmas Day – and at last to them also a child was born, a child was given.

It had been worth the wait.