Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Collect For The Feast Of John : 27 December

Merciful Lord, cast your bright beams of light upon the Church: that, being enlightened by the teaching of your blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John, we may so walk in the light of your truth that we may at last attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ your incarnate Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(Common Worship: Festivals)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Collect For The Feast Of Stephen : 26 December

Gracious Father, who gave the first martyr Stephen grace to pray for those who took up stones against him: grant that in all our sufferings for the truth we may learn to love even our enemies and to seek forgiveness for those who desire our hurt, looking up to heaven to him who was crucified for us, Jesus Christ, our mediator and advocate, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(Common Worship: Festivals)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 28

The planets orbit the sun in an elipse, sometimes coming close, sometimes moving further away.  Some say that time, too, is elliptical.  And so it is: there are times when we draw near to Christ’s birth – two thousand years on, but not far from the event itself – and times when we move away from it.  We call these times, this moving along the elliptical orbit, (Church) seasons.  And there are times when Jesus’ return – which may be millennia away – draws near to us.  Near enough to see, with the naked eye of faith.

At Jesus’ first coming, the heavens aligned in such a way as to create the impression of a star, brighter than any other.  Orbits are an integral part of this Story.  Our orbit is about to reach its closest pass, and then journey on.  At this very point, his orbit will coincide with ours.  Tonight, light will shine in the darkness.  And we have a share in the necessary alignment.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 27

An earthquake may be experienced at great distance from its epicentre, but the epicentre itself is a precise point.  The baby lying in a manger is the epicentre of the universe.  At the furthest reaches, he is Lord of All Things.  Somewhere on the way – in every direction: the earliest prophecies, and later deliberations of the Church – he is Saviour of All Peoples.  But not at the epicentre.  The epicentre is a precise point, and at this precise point – as the prophecies/responses closest to his birth indicate – the baby is born as king of the Jewish people, who comes into the world to liberate a reconstituted remnant of Israel from the Roman Empire.  All else will flow from this.  But here is where it begins: confronting Herod’s false claim as king of the Jews, and Augustus’ false claim to be the son of god who bestows peace on earth and goodwill to all who receive him.

Jesus’ birth is not one particular example of a universal but unspecified longing for peace.  It is God’s particular affirmation of, and specific response to, that longing.  If we are to receive him, he must first triumph over the Augustus desire of our heart to be king of our own life, the Herodian desperate self-deceit that we already are.  And he does so through vulnerable love, asking us to be the manger in which he is presented to the world.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 26

If it is right that the universe is expanding, in time and space, from an explosive moment to which it will one day return, then it is clear that that moment does not lie at the earliest chronological moment.  Rather, the earliest chronological moment is simply the furthest point from the epicentre in a direction opposite to where we find ourselves.

I would suggest that the moment at the centre of the universe is the event of God stepping into his creation as part of creation: the incarnation. 
Everything ripples out from this moment, from our limited perspective ‘before’ and ‘since’...but also outward in every direction, in every dimension, as Christ fills all in all in him, to whom all will one day return...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 25

Of course, we are not the only ones who wait, hopefully, for Jesus’ return.  God, too – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – waits; and the angels (and the demons, though not hopefully) with them.  And how do they wait?  Informed by their experience of waiting.  That God should come into the world as a baby – knowing almost nothing, and almost entirely unable to communicate even that – demonstrates a commitment to being human, to being formed through waiting.  And in Jesus, God still waits as a fully-human, as well as fully-divine, being.  That God should come into the world as a baby – knowing almost nothing, and almost entirely unable to communicate even that – demonstrates a commitment to waiting with humans, to being formed through their waiting.  A commitment to covenant relationship, which says what is mine is yours and what is yours is mine; a commitment to needing to call upon what is ours to give to him; a commitment to viewing us as equals – for the Church is described as Christ’s bride, and even the very body of Christ – not because the created has a right to call itself equal to the creator but because the creative Word has a right to be uttered into created flesh.

It is in asking us to wait, and entering into committed hopeful active contemplative waiting with us, that God honours us – not only ‘us’ humans but, by extension and by intimate connection, ‘us’ all of creation – more than we know or can imagine.  Because our waiting, with his, creates the very condition that is bringing about the new day we wait for.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 24

And so we wait, in different ways, in order to be formed, in order to play our part in the forming of the world to come.  But though we wait in different ways, we wait together.  Our shared waitings inform our personal waiting, as we come together, as we encourage one another, as we pray prayers and sing carols that have been passed down from generation to generation of patient, hopeful waiters, as we listen to familiar/over-familiar/forgotten accounts and try to enter in to the story of God entering in to our world.

In just a few more days, our intentional waiting will come to an end, as we first celebrate Christmas (the Light coming into the world) and then Epiphany (‘kairos’ encounters with the Light) and on...And our ability to enter into Christmas, and Epiphany, and what lies beyond will to some degree be limited by the extent to which we have wrestled with God in the waiting, in the night.  Like Jacob, we too will emerge into the day with a lasting limp – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers more aware of our own frailty, (conversely) more aware of our own strength, more aware that we have met with God and that he has allowed us to meet with him as an equal because he has stooped down in order to lift us up, more aware that we have a story to tell, more aware of those around us from whom we have been estranged and to whom God is committed that we should be reconciled.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 23

I have been reflecting on the different ways in which we engage with waiting, as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and today as teachers.  Apostles must wait for God’s timing, in preparation to bring to birth the new thing; prophets must wait in solitude, but not in isolation, in preparation to foretell the imminent arriving; evangelists must wait as they search out the good news, in preparation to proclaim the now-arrived; pastors must wait in order to defeat their demons, in preparation to nurture the new; and teachers must wait in patient study and costly response, in preparation to foster growing wisdom.

We don’t know exactly where the Magi came from.  They may have come from what is today Iran; the ancient records of Chinese court astrologers show that the most senior astrologer went missing – Absent without Leave – for a period of two-three years at around the right time.  We can’t know for sure, but these scholars sought out the place where received wisdom met current affairs, in order to read the signs of the times in which they lived and to know how to respond.  Then, they made plans, to go on an open-ended journey of discovery; a journey with provisional stops and re-calibrations of their own understanding; a journey not only to invest in their own development, but to share their treasures with another.  Their choice of gifts to share is, I believe, significant: showing the infant, who had emptied himself of all divine omniscience, what it means, what it looks and feels like, to be human.  Gold speaks of our material needs, for food and shelter.  Incense, symbolic of prayer, speaks of our spiritual needs, to forgive and be forgiven.  Myrrh, used to embalm the dead, speaks of our emotional needs, of love and loss.  The gifts play their part in Jesus’ own journey, as he grew in wisdom and in favour with God and his fellow men and women.

The Magi offer a role model for teachers in waiting.  Their study is corporate, a group activity – and one which drew on the work of others who had gone before them.  It is not confined to the court – to the place acknowledged as the location of learning in all ancient societies (and not much has changed) – but results in moving outward, away from privilege, to the margins, to the domestic scene, to the peasant home.  What they have been given – the fruit of their learning, their treasure – is invested in their journey (what would such a lengthy journey with such a large retinue cost?), and freely shared at the journey’s goal.

Teachers must wait, in order to discover that their knowledge (the interpretation of information) and their wisdom (the application of knowledge) is for passing on...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 22

Any community requires structures and agreed procedures in order to run smoothly.  Within any community – a school, or health service, or business, or neighbourhood, for example – pastors are those who act as guarantors that, in the necessary pursuit of the greater good, the needs of any given person are not ignored.  Without the humanising role of pastors, it is impossible to sustain healthy communities over any length of time.

Of course, as with apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers, pastors too have their weaknesses, those opportunities for potential attacks.  For many pastors, their biggest battles lie in a natural desire to be liked (that is, natural to pastors, though not necessarily to other types); and in the false belief that they are indispensible, that without them everything will fall apart.  These weaknesses often result in unhealthy patterns of people-pleasing and taking on unsustainable workloads.  For the pastor, waiting involves the discipline of taking mastery over these tendencies.

Joseph provides us with a working study of a pastor at waiting.  Here is the man God has entrusted with enfolding Mary and Jesus in his protective embrace.  And so he must face his demons as he waits.  The demon of people-pleasing is faced down as he is asked by God to take on a part which will bring him into disrepute: in the eyes of his neighbours, is it pride or stupidity that motivates this righteous man to take on a woman abandoned, to raise as his own another man’s child?  The demon of indispensability is faced down as he accepts that he has no part whatsoever in the conception – he is, in a very acute way, absolutely dispensed of; in this instance God does not need the pastors involvement to fulfil his plan...and there will be other such instances, albeit less dramatic.

Joseph stands his ground in faith, and faces down and defeats his demons.  Throughout, he is attuned to God’s speaking into his life, in his case in particular through dreams; and is responsive in decisive ways that honour both God and others, especially Mary.  For pastors, waiting is a time of testing and of victories that will equip you for the tasks that lie ahead...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 21

Evangelists carry good news.  The primary focus of their message is not what could or even will be, but what is both new and news-worthy.  So an evangelist might spread the word of a new cafe that has opened up in the neighbourhood...

For an evangelist, waiting is particularly active in nature.  It involves searching out the good news they will then carry to others.  In this way, their news remains new, does not go stale.

In Luke’s nativity account, the shepherds have to search for the new-born Saviour before they find him and then spread the news.  Contrary to popular misconception, Jesus was undoubtedly born in a home.  As homes were shared with animals, a manger is commonplace...though that Jesus was placed in a manger was a specific clue the angel gave the shepherds to help them verify that they had found him.  One might wonder how many doors they knocked on before finding the child they were looking for, just as easily as wondering how many doors they knocked on after finding him.

I think of a friend who is an evangelist.  Because they love Jesus, they search out stories of how Jesus is transforming people’s lives in the neighbourhood where he lives, and shares those stories with others.  But he is also an ornithologist; and because he is an evangelist, he travels in search of rare bird sightings, and then tells others where to go to see what he has seen.  He is created an evangelist: it is not simply a function, a speaking of Jesus; rather, it shapes what and how he speaks of Jesus – and any other interesting and good news.

If you are an evangelist, your waiting will be characterised by searching out the new thing God is up to where you live, paying particular attention to the easily-overlooked things others might not notice...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 20

Prophets both see the present world from a different perspective and see a world that differs from the one in which we live at present.  They are often concerned with social justice; often involved in the creative arts; and may bring these two strands together as a way of fostering the imagination of others.

Few prophets are able, on their own, to galvanise a community for the change they envisage: their role needs to combine with that of evangelists, who will carry their message, and apostles, who are better equipped to make concrete the steps a community needs to take from where we currently are into the new ordering of our lives.  It was prophetic imagination that sowed the seeds of a community post-segregation and post-apartheid, but it took the involvement of others to work that process through.

This prophetic inability to galvanise a community plays out in the particular potential pitfalls of both not waiting and waiting.  Where the prophet fails to wait, they are likely to end up merely grinding their own axe, rather than proclaiming God’s hopes and dreams for our experience of life; and resenting the lack of uptake.  But for many of us who are created primarily as prophets – that is, as a share in Jesus, who was the only human to hold apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher in perfect harmony in one life – we need far more time waiting than others: we are wired for it, drawn to it, refreshed in it.  The key lesson is to learn the distinction between solitude and isolation.  Solitude is space alone with God, on the edge of community; isolation is dislocation from community.  The inability to galvanise community can be exploited by the accuser to foster a false sense of isolation, along with the temptation to actually withdraw into genuine isolation.  And so the prophet must wait in a particular way: seeking the balance between hours of solitude and searching out apostles and evangelists in particular in the community to which the prophet is sent, in order to invest in those relationships.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 19

While there are an incredibly diverse combination of personalities, gifting and experience, I believe that at heart everyone is an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor or a teacher, and that when we surrender our lives to Jesus’ rule, he gives us as gifts to his Church to serve in particular roles within the life and witness of the community of faith.

And even taking into account the diversity of personality, gifting and experience, these five fundamental types will engage with waiting in different ways – and need to, especially where they find waiting hardest, in order to be more fully formed.

Apostles are those charged with the role of birthing the new thing that God is doing in a given place, among a particular community.  As such, apostles are motivated by the urgency of the immanent coming of the kingdom, just as Mary would have been very aware of the impending arrival of Jesus, just as expectant parents feel the pressure to get everything ready and the excitement of not-being-able-to-wait to see this new life that is coming into the world.  And yet, wait they must – and realise that they simply won’t have everything ready, or at least, things are unlikely to go to their neatly made plan.  The birth will take place in God’s timing, God in partnership with the baby as much if not more so than with the mother.  All those Old Wives’ Tales for bringing-on labour are simply that: Old Wives’ Tales.  Premature birth brings with it major complications, and long-term disadvantages.

Apostles play their crucial role in the process, but must embrace the limitations of that role.  And so apostles wait, often in discomfort and impatience...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 18

The attentive waiting of Advent is the practice of entering into the Story, and as we contemplate those who entered into Jesus’ first coming, so we discover our role in entering into Jesus’ coming return.  This process takes time – potentially, years – and the Season of Advent is an annual gift to us, to this end.

Do you identify with Mary, who took on an apostolic role: birthing the new thing God was bringing-about in her context; and guarding the integrity of the new, in transformed continuity with the old, by treasuring in her heart the things God was unfolding?

Do you identify with Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, and Jesus’ as-yet unborn cousin John, who took on a prophetic role: testifying to what God was about to do, pointing to the new thing as-yet just beyond the horizon; helping ground the apostolic urgency in the bigger picture?

Do you identify with the shepherds, who took on an evangelistic role: spreading the good news of the birth of the Saviour through the streets like a virus, infecting the neighbourhood with glad tidings of peace and joy?

Do you identify with Joseph, who took on a pastoral role: enfolding Mary and Jesus in his protective care; nurturing the Word-become-Flesh through patient apprenticeship?

Do you identify with the Magi, who took on a teaching role: bearing gifts to help inform the One who had emptied himself of all knowledge of what it means to be human: gold, which reveals that to be human is to have physical needs, of food and shelter; incense, which reveals that to be human is to have spiritual needs, to forgive and know forgiveness; myrrh, which reveals that to be human is to have emotional needs, experiencing love and loss...needs each met by the Father’s provision?

What is your role, as you attentively wait?  To bring to birth?  To foretell the imminent arriving?  To proclaim the now-arrived?  To nurture the new?  To foster growing wisdom?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 17

Nativity plays ought not to be stories with a moral (e.g. It is better to give than to receive; or, Don’t forget to observe Jesus’ birthday).  Rightly understood, they are invitations to enter into the Story: which character do you identify with?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 16

The incarnation is the central event in history.  Easter restores what was lost; but Christmas is not merely a means to that end: rather, it inaugurates a future that is far more glorious than what was ever lost...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 15

Hope compromises its position.  This may surprise you, if you believe that for hope to be worth having it must be uncompromising.  Hope does not compromise on the grounds that doing so is the quickest way to secure a place we are happy to settle for, accepting a lesser evil that gives our conscience room to wriggle, if somewhat uncomfortably.  Rather, hope is happy to compromise its position because the one who hopes recognises that we do not have a monopoly on the best vision for the best future.  Hope recognises that we need to listen to one another, to our different hopes, and fears; and that we need to lay down our life for the lives of others.  That together, as we lay down our lives for the other, a future is negotiated into being which is more glorious than any given contributor could imagine.  The one who truly hopes is secure enough to not be defensive, not demand their rights be upheld.

This is why God listens to humans, and is willing to change his plans in order to work with ours.

Indeed, this compromising hope is why God became human: and in so choosing, took on a changed nature, not temporarily but for eternity.  Not because he had to, not because he had no choice; nor even simply to restore what was lost: but because the transformative reconciliation of God and humanity centred in Jesus negotiates into being a completion that is more glorious than the beginning ever was.

And this is also why the entrenched debates within the Church at the present time, regarding women and authority, and regarding human sexuality, are so tragic: polarised, without hope-full compromise...for now.  As John the Baptist calls out to each one of us, Undergo a change of heart and mind, for the arrival of the King is drawing close...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Friday, December 09, 2011

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 12

And so hope brings us back to the sweetness of anticipation.  The event we wait for – whether the arrival of a loved one at a railway station, or the birth of a child, or the dawn of a more just society – is not an end but a new beginning.  Hope is not naive: it does not assume that They Lived Happily Ever After; it knows that there will be an ongoing working-out to be engaged with.

Emotionally, the event we wait for is as a stone thrown into a pond, sending out ripples nearer to us and further from us, before and beyond.  But whereas despair sees those ripples as threatening to swamp us, hope sees them as radiating out in peaks, and troughs; light, and dark; song, and silence; reaching out to us.

Hope sees both what will be and what is, and just as love drives out fear so hope overturns despair.  And so we wait, with anticipation; and as we wait, we prepare ourselves to welcome – the loved one, the child, the just society – and to live within the new reality, to have our story-line recorded in the new chapter.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 11

Hope embraces the future while that future is still unwanted, distrusted, generally seen as a threat that will contaminate our way of life.  While embracing the future is as yet a costly thing to do.

Hope is a prophetic action.

It refuses to bow to segregation.  It takes its part in the ongoing reconciling of all things to one another and to God, which is being brought about with and in and by and for Christ Jesus.

Hope is the subversive work of love in the world.

And we are called to be hope-full...

...How will hope flow into me, through me, from me, here, today?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 10

Hope is the temporal offspring of eternal love.  It is birthed because the world is not as it should be...and it will one day surrender its life knowing that the world is, at last, as it was first hoped.

Hope is inherent to every human heart.  We hope because we are created to bear the likeness of the Three-in-One who hoped first.  And hope will not end until its role is done.

But hope can be suppressed.  It can be crushed.  It can flicker and splutter, but not be put out.

Hope needs to be cherished.  It grows bold with use; grows confident with growing competence.  Hope calls others to rally to her cry, to join hope with hope.  Hope is a communal exercise, of a community that reaches out and welcomes in.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 9

In the beginning, hope is the womb of justice, and mercy, and peace.

But then, hope must become their nursery, their school-room.

Mother, nurse, governess.

Behind every great deed stands hope.

In the beginning, hope – of what was not, coming into being – gave birth to our world.

And, fully consistent with the nature of hope, the Word of Hope – Let there be light!  Let there be life! – entered the womb, the nursery, the school-room...Hope took on flesh, took on human form, human expression, human activity in the world in partnership with God’s activity, growing...

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 8

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:18-25 [emphasis mine]

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

Faith, hope and love:

Faith and hope are temporary.  They are given for while we wait.  Indeed, they exist because we wait.  Their existence is dependent on the absence of Jesus, of God-with-us.  For where we see Jesus we no longer have need for faith or hope.  Where Jesus breaks into the present – made manifest in his Body, the local church, empowered by the same Spirit that raised him from the dead – we see fulfilments of hope, received through faith.  And when we see Jesus face-to-face, in person, we will be truly faith-less and hope-less, because both will be completely fulfilled in him.  Faith and hope remain for now; but love is greater, because love alone is eternal, will never be fulfilled, but experienced for ever.

Faith exists in the very situations which would appear to deny faith.  Hope exists in the very situations which would appear to be hopeless.  The creative kingdom which is brought about by the paradox that God, in Jesus, is both with us and absent – paradox: neither truth denying or even qualifying the other, but complementing one another in mystery that confounds human reasoning – is the very means by which the goal of faith and hope – their con-summation within love – will be brought about.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 7

Paul writes to the waiting church in Corinth:

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.  For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge – God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you.  Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.  He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 [emphasis mine].

Not you (singular) and you (singular) and you (singular) have each been given every spiritual gift you need; but, you (plural) have together been given every spiritual gift that you need.

And we, who have been waiting for two-thousand years, have been given every spiritual gift that we need.  Including each other, ministering in enriched speech and knowledge: the one whose hope has slowly died, who feels a hypocrite, needs the one who has only just begun to wait, in hopeful expectation; the one who is first starting to experience the deferment of the fulfilment of their hope needs the one who has navigated those waters before and come out the other side.

Only when we embrace the discipline of waiting are we able to notice those around us, who wait: the families of service men and women, who wait for a knock on the door that they hope will never come...the child of a parent gripped by dementia, who feels guilty that they continue to live and who will feel no less guilty when they finally die...the dreamer who imagines a more just world than we live in...

Only when we embrace the multi-faceted experience of waiting are we able to begin to learn, together, from one another, how to live – not merely exist – in the now, in the light of the absence of the One we long for...

Friday, December 02, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 6

But then again, you have done nothing wrong.  It was not you that disappointed.  You are, you suppose, no longer waiting; though by now you have been here so long you have become part of the furniture, along with the cafe tables, bronze statue, and the man pushing his bucket and mop who cleans the public toilets.  This is your railway station, and there really isn’t anywhere else you might as well be, now...Do you ever recall the hopefulness of anticipation?  Do you feel guilty to have lost it, by degrees?  Do you feel for those arriving at the station, as you once did?  Envy?  Pity?  Contempt?  Do you notice them at all?

Imagine.  Savour the bitterness of waiting.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Advent 2011 : Day 5

No, if something had happened, they would have texted to let you know.  And if there had been some accident, news would have filtered through to you somehow.  Perhaps they have not come, not because they have been prevented, but – of course – because they did not want to.  Here you are, waiting for someone who will not come; who is not, in turn, actively waiting to be with you, carried on a train, the miles between you falling away into the past...How foolish, to have thought otherwise.  How blind love – familial, friendly, or romantic – is, to whether it is requited or not.  How foolish you must look, to those walking by, standing there on your own, with no reason to be here at all.  An imposter, among those being met.

Imagine.  Savour the insecurity of waiting.