Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Eve of Christmas... Waiting

1 Earth was waiting, spent and restless,
with a mingled hope and fear;
and the faithful few were sighing,
'surely Lord the day is near;
the desire of all the nations,
it is time He should appear.'

2 Still the gods were in their temples,
but the ancient faith had fled;
and the priests stood by their altars
only for a piece of bread;
and the oracles were silent,
and the prophets all were dead.

3 In the sacred courts of Zion,
where the Lord had his abode,
there the money-changers trafficked,
and the sheep and oxen trod;
and the world, because of wisdom,
knew not either Lord or God.

4 Then the Spirit of the Highest
on a virgin meek came down,
and He burdened her with blessing,
and He pained her with renown;
For she bare the Lord's anointed,
for His cross and for His crown.

5 Earth for Him had groaned and travailed
since the ages first began;
for in Him was hid the secret
that through all the ages ran-
Son of Mary, Son of David,
Son of God, and Son of Man.

Walter C Smith (1824-1908)
8 7 8 7 8 7 Trochaic

Copied from HymnQuest 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fourth Week in Advent: Love

This week's Northumbria Community readings do include some familiar mentions of love, but I am opting to share three alternative ideas that emerged from my readings and pondering.

Firstly, Proverbs 15: 16 - 17
Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

I wonder how much fake jollity has been, or will be, expressed over groaning tables this Christmas... better the soup-run with love, beans on toast with a loved one, an apple halved with a friend...

Next, Matthew 13:31 - 32
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

If love is a (the?) defining quality of the Kingdom of God, then is love like a mustard seed or a mustard plant? Shelter, shade, security... attributes of love

Lastly Psalm 1:1 -3 and Jeremiah 17:7-8
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.

as a stream - refreshing, cleansing, invigorating, leading to flourishing and blossoming to fruitfulness.

God of love
Shelter and sustain us
Cleanse and refresh us
And may we
Share with others
The love you give us

As advent nears its end, what does it mean for us to look at the world through the lens of love? What does it mean for love to become incarnate where we are? Come, Lord Jesus, be born in us today...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Imago Dei

One morning, God was staring at the wall. Not a blank wall, but not patterned either. It was a wall of chaos: bright colours, dark colours, swirling patterns, eternally dark and infinitely bright both at the same time. God wondered what could be made of the wall, so he reached out a hand and swirled the colours around. Soon order and pattern began to emerge: luscious pastoral greens coalesced, deep aqua blues combined, and this new creation seemed very pleasing to God.

After contemplating the wall for a while longer, God began to wonder what to do next, so he spoke gently to the wall, and a lustrous sheen began to appear. The wall became shiny, as if a layer of glass had been laid over the top of it. As God continued to stare at the wall, he could now see his own reflection within it. He saw himself inside his creation. When he moved his hand, the image of God waved back. When God smiled, his image smiled back. When God blew at the wall, the image blew a kiss back. God loved the image in the wall, and was happy with all that he had made.

But then something unexpected happened. The image of God reached out and punched the wall from the inside, and the shiny surface of the wall now had a flaw in it, like a stone-chip on a car windscreen. Suddenly the image of God didn’t look quite so much like God anymore: the flaw in the surface had damaged the reflection. The order that God had brought to the wall was distorted, and God was very sad. But still he stood there, staring at the wall and not turning away. Then the image hit the wall again, this time harder and angrier, as if trying to get out, trying to get at God. God flinched, but still he stared at the wall. The surface was by now crazed with cracks, and the image continued to fragment into lots of tiny, sharp fragments. God contemplated walking away from the wall, but knew that if he did so his image would vanish from the wall forever. Distorted as it was, it was still his image; it was still the image he had loved, waved at, and blown kisses to.

God wondered what to do next. And then had an idea. He took a few steps back, and threw himself violently at the wall. The force of the impact stunned him and shook the wall, and the millions of tiny sharp fragments ripped at his skin. Powered forward by the momentum of his run-up, God seemed for a moment to merge into the wall. His blood streaked the surface, and the mark of the impact was clear to see. But God himself had vanished.

After a while it was just possible to make out the faint image of God through the crazed, blood-stained, fragmented surface. God had gone into the wall. Gradually the image of God grew stronger and larger, as God walked up to the wall from the inside. He reached out his hand and carefully joined two broken shards together, and then two more, and then two more. Gradually, slowly, God began to repair the wall from within. As God repaired the wall, he looked at it very carefully, and started to see his own image reflected back.

The end.

(c) Simon Woodman, 2011.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Without warning

Something I wrote for our 9 Lessons: One Story service last night at Belle Vue Baptist Church.

Without warning
no expectation
no anticipation
God speaks.
God speaks to Abraham
That he will be blessed.
This Abraham is
Without children
No reproduction
No future generation
But God speaks
God speaks you will be blessed
To be a blessing

With hope unswerving
With trust unfailing
Abraham believes.
Abraham believes
That like stars in the sky
And sand on the beach
Will his descendants be

This aged man and his wife
Past child-bearing years
Are promised a son
And the God who spoke blessing
The God who made a promise
Is faithful to his word
Is truthful to his word
A child is given
A son is born
A one and only
A one and only and much loved

Without warning
no expectation
no anticipation
God speaks.
God speaks to Abraham
Take your son, your only son
Up the mountain
and there give his life as a sacrifice.
Without reason
No explanation
No justification

Abraham does as he is told
And he takes his
One and only
One and only and much loved
With him up the mountain

Without warning
no expectation
no anticipation
as Abraham is ready to strike
God speaks.
God speaks to Abraham
That he should refrain
And go no further
The one and only
The one and only and much loved
Son is spared

God speaks
God speaks again to Abraham
Because you have not withheld
Your one and only and much loved
You will be blessed
With a family
More numerous than the stars in the sky
More numerous than the sand on the beach
You will be blessed
To be a blessing

Another child is given
Another son is born
One of Abraham's family
The Father's one and only
One and only and much loved
Born to be a blessing

And God did not withhold
His one and only
But gave him up for all of us
God's love revealed:
He sent is
one and only and much loved
Into the world
That we might have life
That we might be blessed
To be a blessing

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Third Week in Advent: Joy

My decision to follow the Northumbria Community readings during Advent has shown me, afresh, how mischievous God's spirit is... some of these readings are at best puzzling, and many of them present what I have come over the week to term 'unjoy'... the opposite of what I understand joy to be.

To me, joy is not an emotion or a feeling, it is something inner, more akin to an attitude or a state of mind, a kind of indefatigable positivity that recognises reality as it really is but refuses to be defined, constrained or restrained by it. Unlike Pollyanna's ridiculous glad game (I'm glad that bad thing happened because now....) joy has a sense of defiance (that which happened is frankly awful, but I will not allow it to destroy me) and even, I am discovering mischief.

Unjoy is manifest in bitterness, in unkindness, in lack of generosity, in resentment... as we spot hints of unjoy we seek to subvert them with joy.

One reading appeared twice this week (I am sure a transcription error... or was it divine mischief?) and, to me, illustrates how Jesus, tempted to an life of unjoy, chose instead joy in all its costly authenticity...

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’" The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered, "It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’" The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. For it is written: "‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’" Jesus answered, "It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’" When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4: 1 - 13)

Unjoy... arising from a focus on material satisfaction, power or celebrity. I wonder what tempts us to unjoy rather than joy? I wonder what it means to look at the world through a lens of joy, spotting the hints of God's indefatigable positivity and gentle mischief?

God, grant us a fresh experience of inner joy
Remove from us the temptation to unjoy
And lead us in your mischievous path of unquenchable shalom

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


A few weeks ago I had a miscarriage. Not as awful as it sounds; I've been prepared for some time with the knowledge that I cannot bear children – I did my grieving long ago.

I mention it only because it did something very strange to me. It reminded me of the pain of hope. Advent hope is an oft spoken of theme; we talk of God’s people waiting for God’s promises to come true; we talk of a people waiting with expectation and hope for the time when their suffering would cease; we talk about Elizabeth and Zechariah, who were given a new hope for a child, long after they thought it was possible; we talk of the people walking in darkness who saw a great light. We talk of this wondrous feeling of hope that gets us through the dark and difficult days. Because at the end of all this waiting, there is a baby.

My own experience caused me to stop, and question for a moment. What about those for whom there isn’t a baby at the end of all the waiting? What about those waiting for that which will never come? What about those whose wait will end in bitter disappointment? Because it’s true, isn’t it, that as we celebrate the joy of Christmas, we often gloss over the bittersweet truth. The truth that for some, the lights will be taken down, the tree packed away and the wrapping recycled, and all that will be left is emptiness. The truth that the birth of Christ is a story not without tragedy, for as the baby was born, so a plot was being made to kill all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of two.

During Advent I cannot hide from the fact that at the end of my wait, there will never be a baby. Not for me. And so I think perhaps, as we work up to the joy of Christmas, I want to suggest that we don’t forget that sometimes hope is painful, hope leads to disappointment, and un-fulfilment. And perhaps sometimes it’s okay to voice that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Counting Down the Days

(From Phil Durrant)

We seem to be constantly at war with time here in the West, there’s so little of it in the day, and so few days in the ledger for our lives. At our backs we always hear, Time’s winged chariot hurrying near. We can’t decide if we love or loath it. But our obsession leads us to strap time gauges to our wrists and wave our filofaxes around as if they were the Good Book. We flood our bodies with caffeine and our environments with artificial light. Come on people! Squeeze out every drop!

I do think that if whoever it was that invented time were to show up, we’d say ‘well it’s all right for you, you’re impervious, you’re unimpeachable’, and if there was a glimmer for a split second that he weren’t, we’d rig a show trial; tick-tock his head; pin him to the clock face and nail down his hands. ‘Three, six, nine o’clock and time for bed’, we’d say. ‘Remind us of our mortality will you? Well try it on for size; try tasting the inside of a tomb’. But then time’s creator would never lay himself open to such an onslaught, surely? Never himself become vulnerable to time, to the curse of ‘your days are numbered’. Or would he? I suppose that’s what we’re waiting to find out during Advent.

But we don’t want to wait do we? That’s time wasted. And to wait is to accept we are powerless and to acknowledge our mortality. We are a breath; our days a passing shadow. And no one wants to square up to that old chestnut. Not to mention that to wait is also to accept that only God is truly powerful and eternal. For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. He is God and we most certainly are not.

But should we choose to force ourselves to wait, to grit our teeth and try on this discipline, perhaps we might experience God’s gracious ‘now’ which outstrips past, present, and future. Perhaps we’d experience in our persons the advent of his likeness in our members; a certain transparency to an everlasting glory.