Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve

This Christmas will likely be a difficult one in parts of Cumbria, in the aftermath of the floods, and we remember those communities before God. But in Iceland, tonight is marked by a very different kind of flood, the jólabókaflóð, or ‘Christmas Book Flood’. There, between eighty and ninety percent of books are published for Christmas, with almost everyone being given a new book on Christmas Eve and staying up through the night to read it. A heart-warming, cosy tradition.

Christmas is a time for stories, including all those Christmas films that are repeated year after year on tv. We have favourite stories we can read or watch or listen to again and again, never tiring of them.

My wife and I have a tradition of watching the film Love, Actually. It is a film about love; but it is really a film about choices: good choices, poor choices, habitual choices, painful choices, risky choices, life-changing choices.

In one scene, a young girl is bursting to tell her mother which role she has been given in the school nativity. She proudly announces that she will play the part of the Lobster – indeed, First Lobster. Her mother doesn’t quite know how to respond, and somehow manages to form the question, ‘There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?’ – to which her daughter responds, ‘Duh!’ [lit. of course; everybody knows that!]

The humour lies in our knowing that there were no lobsters at the nativity alongside the shepherds and wise men, the angels and star, the cattle and sheep and donkey, Mary and Joseph and the innkeeper.

Except there was no innkeeper, and no over-full inn. You see, the phrase on which every traditional nativity play hangs, there being no room in the inn, is simply a very poor translation. In Luke’s Gospel, an inn and innkeeper appear in the parable of the Good Samaritan, but not in the account of Jesus’ birth. The word translated ‘inn’ in Luke chapter 2 is in fact ‘guest room’ – the same term Luke uses to describe the room in a house in Jerusalem where Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover meal we know as the Last Supper. But that was a sizeable guest room in a home in the capital city. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary were guests in a home in Bethlehem. They were welcome and honoured guests – after all, Joseph could trace his ancestry to none other than Bethlehem’s most famous son, King David – but nonetheless they were guests in a smaller, provincial home, where the guest room was too small for Mary to give birth in, attended by the village midwives and the women of the household. So Mary gave birth to her son in the main room that served as bedroom to the family and shelter to their animals at night, and living room by day. Afterwards, Jesus was washed and wrapped in linen strips and laid to rest in one of the mangers, a confined and warm space, an ideal crib. And there the shepherds will find him, and all just as it ought to be.

I tell you this not to take away the wonder of Christmas, not to pour cold water on memories of childhood and children and grandchildren, not to throw out the carols, but because it is the stories we tell over and over that shape us.

We have told the story of Jesus’ birth as a story of rejection, of God coming into the world and being largely ignored at best. And the more we tell that story, the more it shapes us to expect of other people and of ourselves that they, that we, will reject or ignore God. It becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you like.

But Luke tells us a story of welcome, a story of God’s long-awaited coming to his people, of God dwelling in the midst of his people, at the heart of ordinary lives. And when we start to tell this story, and to tell it again and again, the story shapes us for welcoming - welcoming one another, welcoming God – and for wonder, shared between us, at God’s sheer goodness.

So tonight let us stay up telling stories, as the shepherds did, of good news for all people. Stories of a God who has not abandoned us but who came to us, and who comes to us today; who is here in our midst, in the bread and the wine of this holy night, and in the gift-giving of the morning, and the gathering around the table for Christmas dinner and then falling asleep in front of the telly later on. God with us.

That is a story I never tire of hearing, or telling; of sharing with family and friends; of shouting from the rooftops. Happy Christmas! May it be filled with welcome and wonder, more and more, year upon year. And may it shape our rejoicing and our mourning, our treasured memories and our deepest pain; in joy and in peace, amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Advent Twenty-Five


Advent is a season of learning to wait, attentively, in the dark.

To wait for the Lord’s return.

Yet the paradoxical miracle of Advent is that while in a very real sense we wait for God to come to us, in another very real sense God also waits not at a distance but with us.

The one who came into our world, not as an adult but as a baby; who grew into a boy discovering the world around him; became apprenticed to a builder; who shared the love of God with all who would welcome love; who experienced joy and sorrow; who died a painful death…waits with us, in the birth of a new baby, in the squabbles and excitement of children, in the application of learning a trade, in eating and drinking with friends old and new, in our celebrations and bereavement, in the hard-drawn final breaths of the dying, God is with us, now, for always.

May we discover that secret hidden in our midst, transform every moment.

O Emmanuel
O Emmanuel, our King and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Advent Twenty-Four


In the ancient world, to be king – or pharaoh, or emperor – was understood to be raised up by one of the gods; perhaps even to be a living god or son of a god. Christianity modified this view, to consider rulers as taking up and being removed from office at least by divine permission. It did so under the world-changing belief that Jesus was king of the nations, which is not only to proclaim him king over all peoples everywhere, but to proclaim him so by appointment of – and a sharing in identity with – the God over all gods, of every realm. So fully did the early church identify Jesus with God that they considered creation to have been brought into being by him.

In this world view, everything points beyond its current state to an awaited fulfilment – or realignment – achieved through the person of Jesus.

For this we still wait. And for this, we are being refashioned, as from clay, to be those who are shaped not for what is but for what is to come.

O Rex Gentium
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Advent Twenty-Three


Living in darkness leads to desperation, and desperation can lead people to do tragic or beautiful things.

At this time of year in particular, working from a building open to the public during the day, I come across two kinds of people. There are those who come trying to scam us (and our neighbours) out of money. We have learnt to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. But what kind of darkness has so borne down on someone to drive them to attempt to steal from a church, to try to exploit kind-heartedness?

And there are those who come, having lost a loved one, and feeling that somehow, by not being able to stave off death, they have let their loved one down. Invariably, in sitting and listening to them, I can see that nothing is further from the truth. Again and again, they recount how they were there day-in day-out, or tell of battle after battle won, before one day they weren’t there or a final battle inevitably lost. Sometimes darkness allows us to shine, even if we cannot see ourselves shining.

Jesus is described as the Morning Star, visible in that part of the night which feels especially dark before the sun begins to rise and the sky grows light again, by degrees. More, so bright that it remains visible even as the darkness falls away: a promise, or testimony, that outlasts the dark and sees us into day.

O Oriens
O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent Twenty-Two


On one occasion, Jesus took his disciples to visit the mouth of a large cave which was considered by the Greeks to be one of the entrances to the underworld, the realm of the dead ruled over by the god Hades.

It is here that Jesus gives to Peter the (symbolic) keys to the ‘kingdom’ of heaven. These keys unlock/lock the door to the underworld, wresting control over Hades’ jealously-guarded ‘kingdom’. In other words, this event points to death being transformed into life (the possibility of return to the world from the underworld) and judgement being transformed into love (Jesus’ authority being expressed in setting captives free) and hell being transformed into heaven (the ‘kingdom’ of Hades being overthrown by the ‘kingdom’ of heaven, the souls of the dead set free and the furies bound).

Moreover, these keys, used on earth to unlock/lock the door of hell simultaneously unlock/lock the door of heaven. Heaven is now aligned to earth, or one with earth, with earth being the key (to play on words) location. And so this event also points to heaven being transformed into earth (earth becoming the dwelling place of God and his people).

O Clavis David
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Advent Twenty-One

Sign Post.

Sign-posts point us in the direction we need to go, towards our destination. But sometimes sign-posts get knocked off line, sending us off in the wrong direction.

Jesus’ birth stands as a sign-post; but the post has been knocked askew. Coming to it, we have seen a story of rejection. The stories we tell – and especially the stories we tell over and over – shape us. Coming to a sign-post pointing to rejection again and again, we are shaped to live in the expectation that you will reject Jesus, that I will reject Jesus. The sign-post still points to a destination in which death is not transformed into life, judgement is not transformed into love, hell is not transformed into heaven, and heaven is not transformed into earth.

Yet this is not how the sign-post was erected. Luke tells us a story of welcome and embrace, of God dwelling in the very heart of a family who opened their home, their lives, to him; an account in which all is well, which points to a day when All Shall Be Well. Coming to this sign-post again and again, we are shaped to receive death being transformed into life, judgement being transformed into love, hell being transformed into heaven, and heaven being transformed into earth.

We have read the story of Jesus’ birth as part of John 1:10, 11 – He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. – when we ought to read it as part of John 1:12-14 – But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

O Radix Jesse
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent Twenty


The title ‘Adonai’ is an attribution of majesty, a recognition of the greatness and the dignity of God. The beauty of this Antiphon is seeing that majesty best-depicted in the fire of the burning bush, and in the giving of the Law.

Crucially, when God reveals himself to Moses, a highly-combustible desert shrub burns but is not consumed. That is to say, God’s vision – to enlist Moses in leading his people out from slavery – is impressed upon the created world without damaging it. This is in marked contrast to how those in positions of leadership have often gone about impressing their vision on others.

Likewise, the Law is given as gift. Essentially, the Ten Words (or, Commandments) state, ‘I have delivered you from slavery: do not sell yourselves back into slavery; nor treat yourselves as slaves; nor enslave others under you.’ This is a Constitution of the Free.

Yet that freedom has been too frightening a thing for us. We have chosen something safer than God’s majesty, and found ourselves enslaved by fear. Only perfect love – that burns without burning us – can set us free.

O Adonai
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent Nineteen


It has been said that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

If wisdom is understood at all, it is often understood as knowing what to do for the best in given circumstances, and in particular in complex circumstances (far more complex than making a fruit salad). But such omniscient wisdom is beyond the constraints and responsibility of being human, for all of us face circumstances where we simply cannot know what to do for the best.

This year, I find myself asking the question, How do I want to live my life, in the light of our inevitable day of dying? And as the day of our own death is hidden from us, I am helped, in both asking and answering the question, by the terrible privilege of observing others approach that day.

As I reflect on the lives of those whose life has left a lasting impression on me, I have concluded that wisdom is not so much concerned with particular words or actions as with a way of living, and that the way of wisdom is made manifest through a gentleness that is evident to all (Philippians 4:5).

O Sapientia
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent Eighteen

Tomorrow sees the start of the Advent Antiphons, a series of centuries-old song-prayers - O Sapientia; O Adonai; O Radix Jesse; O Clavis David; O Oriens; O Rex Gentium; O Emmanuel – that explore different facets of Jesus’ identity, through which death is transformed into life, judgement into love, hell into heaven, and heaven into earth…

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Plea To Those Who Tell The Christmas Story

A plea to those who tell the Christmas story: when will we stop perpetuating nativity misconceptions and start proclaiming what the Gospels tell us concerning the birth of Jesus?

There was no inn, no innkeeper, no weary little donkey. Jesus was not born in a stable, but in a home. And the difference actually matters – to children and to adults.

The Gospel According to Luke tells us (chapter 2) that at some point in the second or third trimester of Mary’s pregnancy, she travelled to Bethlehem with her husband Joseph (nowhere is it suggested that they arrive on the night that she will give birth). Bethlehem is Joseph’s ancestral home. In that culture, where – and who – you came from mattered far more significantly than it does in my culture (which tells us that what matters is not your past, but your future, and you can be whatever and whoever you decide). That is what the biblical genealogies (such as the one in Luke 3) are all about. Even if Joseph no longer had immediate relatives in Bethlehem, simply by turning up and giving his genealogy – showing his ID – it is almost unthinkable that they would not find a welcome.

Moreover, Luke tells us that thisBethlehem – is the city of David. That detail matters. Everyone anywhere knew that Jerusalem was the city of David – though Jerusalem has grown in the 3,000 years since, that part which king David established is known as such to this day. But Bethlehem was proud of its most famous son, and the locals laid claim to the title for themselves (in the same way that Sunderland lays claim to Alice in Wonderland, though elsewhere Alice is universally associated with Oxford). Given that Joseph’s genealogy ties him not only to Bethlehem but to David himself, it becomes almost inconceivable that they would not be welcomed into a home.

Why, then, the inn? Quite simply, this is an inconsistent and unjustified mistranslation. Luke knows the word for a commercial inn – it appears, along with a beast of burden and an innkeeper, in the parable of the surprising neighbour (or, good Samaritan, Luke 10) – but here in the birth narrative uses the word for the guest room of a home, the same word he later uses for the (larger, urban) guest room in which the Last Supper is held (Luke 22).

The typical peasant house had two rooms: a larger multipurpose room in which the family lived, and slept; and a smaller guest room. Jesus (like both of my sons, but not my daughter) was born in the family room, because there was no room in the guest room for Mary to give birth, supported by the women of the house and the women who functioned as midwives within the community. In all probability, Joseph waited in the smaller room, with any other men.

Why, then, is Jesus laid in a manger? In that context, every home kept a few animals, and the animals were brought into the house at night, both for protection against theft and in order that their body heat help keep the people warm at night (no central heating; hot days, cold nights). The animals were untied and led out from the house in the morning – every morning (including the Sabbath, as Jesus himself will point out when criticised for healing – untying – a woman on the Sabbath, Luke 13). The animals were kept at one end of the house, with the living room perhaps raised up a few feet; and mangers were bowl-shaped depressions in that end of the stone floor, at grazing height for the animals. As such a manger would provide a contained space, ideal for making a new-born baby feel secure. This is also why the shepherds, sent by the angels, praised God for all they had seen, as opposed to concluding that they had been sent to rescue this family from woeful abandonment.*

And that is why it matters, how we tell the story. Because the stories we tell shape us. We have told it as a story of obstruction and rejection. We confront people – however politely – with the expectation that they too will reject Jesus. But that is not good news. It is the very opposite of the good news that Luke presents us with. The good news is that in this carefully-planned event God is to be found dwelling in the midst of his people, having fulfilled his promise made long ago to David.

This is not a story of rejection, which allows us to take pride in being rejected, or make points about the marginalised, however convenient it might be if it were. This is a story of God being received with joy, of good news for all people, of Jesus at the very heart of everyday life with all its struggles and benefits and normality.

This is a story worth rediscovering, and shouting from the rooftops.

*If you are interested in more detail to this overview, see Kenneth E. Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.

Advent Seventeen

Heaven and hell exist in the present tense – which is why I find it so strange to come across people who don’t believe in one or the other, or both.

Some days I live in heaven: where love is shared; where those on the margins are enfolded within community; where broken lives find healing and wholeness. But, at least for now, living in heaven continuously is not sustainable.

Some days I live in hell: existing in experienced separation from the source of love and life. But hell does not go on for ever (Jesus spent time in hell, somehow being good news and holding out hope; so at least we know God is at work even here).

I am not using ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ as metaphors to describe something else, but in an absolutely literal – albeit not final – sense. We can all relate to this, for we have all participated in both. Some days, we live in both simultaneously.

Death, judgement, hell, and heaven – the so-called four last things – are traditional Advent themes. Which might sound quite bleak, until we understand each in the light of Jesus’ coming-again into the world, until we see each transformed through him.

Death. The full stop, at the end of every life; torn open, thrown into the air, become a semi-colon; the pause before our story carries on…

Judgement. Anyone who has ever feared accusation, but found themselves affirmed instead will have an insight into God’s judgement on humanity – the sheer release, relief, encouragement, gratitude…

Hell. We have all suffered loss, in all our relationships – not only bereavement, but misunderstandings, regrets. Here is the promise that everything that is redeemable will be redeemed, and everything that harms will be consumed forever…

Heaven. Fully-established. This world made new. Right relationship between every living thing…

Four last things, not because these four cannot be moved, but because with their transformation – death into life; judgement into love; hell into heaven; heaven into earth – the work begun in Christ is brought to its completion.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Advent Twelve

Four days a week, most weeks, for the past two years, it has been my custom to say Morning Prayer in Sunderland Minster’s Bede Chapel. In the darkest days of the year, the windows are black when I arrive. I must simply trust that there is something beautiful there, waiting to be revealed. As the light increases, some idea of structure begins to be made out. Then, the boldest, brightest colours are shown; not in their glory, but muted, ‘muddy’. As the light grows, more and more colour and fine detail become apparent. Many people assume that windows of coloured glass are made for radiance; but this window is designed to change with the light.

There are days when I shine for all to see – and hopefully for God’s glory. There are other days when it is a major victory to get out of bed in the morning, and I might achieve little else all day. Days when my boldest colours are muddy, when my intricate design is hidden in darkness. Days when I don’t have the energy running through me to offer the world what is on my heart.

But that doesn’t mean that the beauty isn’t there.

In the context of the tendency to compare ourselves – sometimes unfavourably, sometimes favourably – against others, Paul wrote:

‘…do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.’ 1 Corinthians 4:5

Sometimes, I am hidden in darkness. Sometimes, I am not able to express the good, God-given purposes of my heart. When the Light comes, what is hidden is brought forth, disclosed to all. Then I will be commended, for what was there all along. And not only me, but also you.

If I truly believed this, what difference would it make to how I wait in darkness?

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Advent Eleven

‘…my soul waits for the Lord…’ (Psalm 130:6a)

At this time of year more than any other, I find myself having to wait: waiting my turn, waiting in line, waiting to pay, waiting to be served, or seen.

However long I have to wait, something transformational takes place when my waiting is acknowledged. The words “Thank you for waiting” speak directly to my soul.

We are made up of heart – our will, the choices we make; and mind – our thoughts (which cannot be separated from our emotions) and emotions (which cannot be separated from our thoughts); and strength – our bodies, finite energy packs; all held together by our soul. Unless our soul is at peace, it cannot direct and gather heart and soul and strength. But when our soul waits, then we might notice and attend to the warning signs in our bodies, our mental health, our decision-making.

When I find myself having to wait in a queue to pay for an item of Christmas shopping, in an over-full retailer in an over-full shopping centre, my body starts to show signs of anxiety, my thoughts turn to agitation, my choices start to lack grace. Friendly conversation with others who are also waiting might stem the rising flood for a while, but will only hold for so long. But if, when I reach the counter and the till, I am thanked for having waited…it is not so much that my irritation is disarmed, but, rather, that my soul is blessed; and blessed, encouraged; and encouraged, empowered to bring heart and mind and strength into alignment, into harmony.

It is my soul that needs to wait, more than anything else. And stilled, attentive, watchful, sees the salvation of God break in.

If I truly believed this, what difference would it make to how I wait in line?

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Advent Ten

The obvious thing to do when we aren’t making progress is to try harder. Or – if we are really smart – to try another approach for moving forward.

When the thing we are being invited to do is to stop.

To stand in attentive waiting.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Advent Nine

Once, I walked on water.

Stepping out onto a frozen lake, in Sweden, with an experienced local guide.

We stood in the middle of the lake, and I thought that, standing still, the ice might give way.

We keep moving because we fear that if we stand still, if we stop for just a moment, the ground will fall from under us.

Sometimes that is exactly what we need to happen.

Once, Jesus walked on water. And Peter doubted that it was truly Jesus, not a ghost. So Peter asked to walk out on the water to him, as proof; and Jesus consented. Peter walked on water. It was only when he stood still that he recognised Jesus, the salvation of God.

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

‘Little faith’ is not a criticism. In Jesus’ teaching, it is precisely the poor in spirit who experience the kingdom of heaven; the little flock who are comforted; the seed or the grain of yeast that transform. Those ‘of little faith’ are those on the inside of the secret – those who, of all people, are able to recognise Jesus. The doubt Jesus wondered at is Peter’s failure to recognise him while still (or, more to the point, not standing still) in the boat. Even so, these are words of comfort and encouragement, not rebuke.* And they spring from the place of stillness, of poised or attentive waiting.

In the boat, Peter was busy, rowing against the wind, fighting circumstances, trying to keep afloat. Jesus, initially making as if to walk past, stood still. Stood still, at the edge of Peter. Stood still, long enough to see Peter – beneath the veneer of competence and busyness – before Peter stood still long enough to see him. And far from drowning, their friendship took on new depths.

*Jesus certainly rebukes Peter on occasion. But this is not one of those times.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Advent Eight

Sieger Köder, Celebrate

But most of all I wait to be found and freed, held and carried into the circle of light I can see but cannot reach.

And in this, I do not believe that I am alone.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Advent Seven

Of course, waiting does not only take us to the outside edge of ourselves. It also brings us to the outer edge of others, holding us long enough to look again, to look beyond the surface – should we dare so to do. True waiting is not an introspective withdrawal from life; it is the means of a deeper discovery of this life we get to share.

Why does that person hold such very different views from me? (And why do I hold the views that I hold?)

Why are they unreliable? (And how can I bear my own capacity to let others down?)

Why are they so frustrating? (And why do I frustrate myself?)

Such questions cannot be answered well quickly, by second-guessing or labelling others (or myself). They cannot be answered by generalised status (or by social media status-updates); they cannot be answered by reading about the other. They can only be answered – never fully answered; always partially and provisionally answered, and yet meaningfully so – slowly and respectfully.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Advent Six

Waiting takes us to the edge of ourselves.

Not from the centre, outward, coming to our end, beyond which we are not; but travelling in the other direction, arriving at the border beyond which we are.

That is why a decision made in haste so very often turns out badly, in the long-term: because one does not adequately know who it is that is making the decision (me) and on what basis they (that is, I) do so.* But to have to wait, whether as a result of our own limitations or the limitations of someone else, opens up a space that wasn’t there before – a four-dimensional space (that is, composed of both physical space, and time) – in which we can be found, and known.

However, this only happens when we understand waiting not as the opposite of action, but as a key action for living well.

If I truly believed this, what difference would it make to how I live? Who would I seek out as a conversation partner, in order to get to know myself better, and in order to get to know someone else – not (in either case) as a problem to fix, but as a person to delight in?

*Of course, repeatedly making decisions in haste results in recurring bad outcomes; which in turn feed the pressure to make decisions in haste.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Advent Five

Waiting takes us to the edge of ourselves.

Not from the centre, outward, coming to our end, beyond which we are not; but travelling in the other direction, arriving at the border beyond which we are.

The virtual reality of a post- digital revolution world is that we are all objects in our own lives. We might not be celebrities photographed by the paparazzi, our lives exposed in the press; but we cut out most of the middle-men and present ourselves via social media. We look at ourselves there, and – however honest we try to be in that presentation – see someone removed. We are in danger of losing touch with us.

This is not a rant against social media. It is a (small) celebration of the gift of waiting in an instant world.*

If I truly believed this, what difference would it make to how I live? What core practices might help earth my life?

*Which is also a flat earth, albeit tilted up from the old flat earth.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Advent Four

I notice that the pedestrian crossing lights have changed. Now when the traffic light is red, both the red and the green man are missing. The red man has moved from a position of triumph over the green man, or indifference to his plight, to friend who repeatedly goes looking for him.

Of course, that isn’t literally the case. But the picture image – and, indeed, the visual prompt – is a timely one.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Advent Three

Some two-and-a-half millennia ago, Isaiah is given an insight into the process by which God’s glory is made manifest in human lives – a coming that not only dignifies our human nature but also enables us to share together in the experience:

‘A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”’ (Isaiah 40:3-5)

As is so often the case with insight, the exterior world is recognised as holding up a mirror to the interior landscape; the nature of eroded earth mirroring that of the human, or, earthling.

Isaiah’s insight is that it is precisely in those places where we are at our lowest points, it is precisely in those places where life towers over us, where the Spirit of God rests upon us, at work both to prepare us to receive the Lord who comes and to equip us to recognise and proclaim that impending arrival.

It is in the places where we acknowledge our weakness, our humanness, that we are at last able to encounter ourselves – perhaps for the first time in a long time – and our neighbour, and the God in whose likeness we are both made.

If I truly believed this, what difference would it make to how I live?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Two

Pedestrian crossings perform a semi-responsive automated sequence day in, day out. When the traffic light is green, the red man stands guard to hold pedestrians at the kerbside. When the traffic light turns red, the red man goes off shift while the green man steps out, encouraging walkers to cross to the other side of the road.

Something has gone wrong with one of the pedestrian crossings I use every day. The green man has gone missing. Had the bulb gone, there would be no green man, but there would be no red man when the green man should be on duty: then, both lights would be off. But this is not what has happened here. The red man stands on permanent guard, as if he were instead a red alpha monkey who has chased off the green pretender to his throne. And so the pedestrian is faced with a disruption to the familiar: the red traffic light and red pedestrian light shining simultaneously.

Navigating this pass several times each day, I find myself calling across the road to confused pedestrians opposite that it is safe to cross.

I live with a life-long condition with the pretty name dyspraxia. Essentially this means that I am not ‘neurologically typical’, or that, for whatever reason, the neurological connections within my brain have not joined up along the tried-and-tested routes of the majority of brains. Things are messier inside my head. Information regularly travels along a pathway, only to get stuck; either needing to take a longer route round, or getting lost entirely.

For example, recently I was leading Morning Prayer, which concludes with the doxology ‘May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all, evermore. Amen.’ These are words I say with others every day. But on that particular morning, I couldn’t bring them out. I could access neither the words nor their sequence, and after three failed attempts I gave up. I regularly ask my wife ‘Do you happen to know…’ – to which she replies, ‘…when you might finish your sentence? No. Sorry.’ – or go to pass on information to one colleague, only to lose the name of the other colleague I want to refer to.

Other people wait – those who aren’t familiar, with confusion – and, indeed, I have no choice but to wait for myself. But in the waiting, God is…