Monday, December 31, 2012

Writing Projects

One of the things I attempted to do in 2012 was to write a book manuscript, on vocation: the calling on each one of us to be someone in particular and to do something in particular; to receive ourselves as gift from Jesus and to offer ourselves back as gift to him and for the world.

This was a fascinating learning experience. I learned that I have allies, who believe that I have something to say that is worth saying – indeed, I embarked on the project not out of some need to do so, but because I was encouraged to do so by others whose opinion I value. I learned that people in the publishing world might take me seriously. And I rediscovered just how short and wide my attention span is, flitting from one thing to another. That I am not likely to write a full-length manuscript (at least without a sabbatical from any other commitments); and that a series of papers might in fact be a better way of saying the things that I want to say, creating a little reference library, each volume being a conversation-starter in its own right.

And so as the year comes to a close, I have put out the first and second in a series of papers online (with a permanent link from the sidebar of this blog).

The first paper is perhaps the bones and internal organs, as yet lacking the flesh we recognise as familiar; or the foundations and core structure, the visible building yet to be entered: things that are essential, but will remain hidden to most.

My intention over 2013 is to produce several much shorter papers, filled with stories that illustrate what different kinds of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers look like – to help us to see ourselves, in the nuance of our calling; to receive ourselves as gift from Jesus and to offer ourselves back as gift to him and for the world. The second paper looks at apostles.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Boy Jesus At The Temple

Luke 2:41-52

May the word of Christ dwell in us richly as we enter-into the story of his childhood. It is a story of growing in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and with human beings (v 52), who are also human becomings, in that we grow into ourselves. And at first glance, it may appear that Jesus’ parents do not appear in a good light, but we need to look again. This story reveals to us that God made a very good decision when he chose to give away his only begotten son to these particular parents. And, following God’s example, choosing to give away those we love is the only way in which they – and we – will grow to maturity, from the total dependency of babies to the mutual dependency of adults.

The first thing that Jesus’ parents give him away to is the story of their people, their enacted tradition, and in particular the enacted story of the Passover. This is the story of a God who comes to set his people free. And freedom from external oppression is only the beginning. At Mount Sinai, God invites his people into a conversation about being truly free – and they are terrified; for the thought of freedom is terrifying.

The conversation begins with the Ten Words: God comes as a friend – as he was known in Eden – in the hope that the people might experience freedom from anything or one who would set themselves over them to oppress them; might live in freedom even from their own conceptions of God, which are always inadequate, and, though necessary, when we hold them too tightly become idols; might live in freedom from invoking God to ensnare others; might live in freedom from the tyranny of endless work; might live in the freedom of belonging to others: might live in freedom from setting ourselves over others in judgement or envy or possession or greed or accusation or ingratitude.

This is the story Jesus’ parents had given him away to. It necessarily comes to us first as law, as rules, because children need a framework: need to know security in a big world. That is why it is tragic when parents say, “I’m not going to bring my child up within a particular tradition; they can decide for themselves when they are older.”: without a framework to give us security, a framework to kick against in time, we are overwhelmed by freedom and end up, ironically, enslaved. But these words are an invitation to listen to God as a friend, and so the truly free person is not enslaved by rules. This freedom is what the Pharisees were so afraid of, protecting the words with other rules; upset that Jesus’ disciples did the work of plucking and ‘milling’ grain on a Sabbath, while Jesus knew that the Sabbath word is given as an invitation to freedom, not another form of slavery.

The other thing Jesus’ parents gave him away to was wider company, relatives and friends. That is why they were, at first, and for a whole day, unaware that he was not with them. Part of being a parent is coming to several points where you have to share this precious gift you have been given: with their choice of friends, you may or may not approve of; perhaps with their choice of a life-partner you may or may not approve of...Even before that, part of being a parent is recognising that we have been given this gift for the very purpose of giving it away, by degrees, in order to become themselves; of recognising that, after the pattern of the Trinity, family love was never meant to be self-contained: and that, in part, is why one of the first things we do for our children is choose godparents, a first step – along with relatives – into wider community.

This being given away to others is a necessary part of becoming ourselves, of growing into maturity: and the fear we have over that in our own society is one of the most tragic consequences of our having forgotten how to receive other peoples’ children: that out of right concern that no child should be abused in certain ways, all children are abused in another. The church needs to be a wider community that models trust and enables freedom.

Jesus, having been raised in this way – given away – has come to a moment when he can give himself away: can stay behind in his Father’s house, without his parents, relatives and friends.

Now we come into the present story. Jesus’ parents have travelled away from Jerusalem a day’s journey. As their company sets up camp for the night, they discover that Jesus is not among them – has not been among them: everyone has assumed that he was with someone else. And so they head back to Jerusalem. Most likely, they are travelling along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho: the steep road they have gone down by day in company, they now climb up alone in darkness: a long and difficult journey. Who knows what hour of the night they reached Jerusalem; perhaps the city gates were locked and they could not enter; perhaps they camped at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where within a few years so many Passover pilgrims would camp; perhaps even in the Garden of Gethsemane, a camp-site that had become habitual to Jesus by his adulthood.

Perhaps, as they made their way, their thoughts returned to a decade earlier when, with their toddler, they had fled along the Negev road to Egypt by night: to a time when they had had to give themselves and their son away, into the hands of God, into the hands of strangers, to be kept safe. After three days of searching, they will be – increasingly – anxious. But perhaps the night holds them in creative tension, between chaos and trust: that night we always find ourselves in when we give someone we love away, when we give ourselves away, not knowing what will become of us, but knowing the One who holds us (in the words of the Doctor, “I never know how, I only know who.” Dr Who Christmas Special 2012).

The night stretches out over three days. We might recall the three days Jonah spent inside the big fish. We will recall – as Mary might, with much later hindsight – the three days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Three days symbolise God at work in the hidden place, forming something new that transforms chaos, that will turn our lament into joy, that will turn loss into gain, defeat into victory, death into life. And as this is going on around Jesus, he is in the eye of the storm.

Mary says, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” The irony is that they have prepared Jesus for this very moment, by faithfully giving him away; and when he gives himself away, they are at a loss. In our culture, that does not honour father and mother, it would be easy to dismiss them: to point out that Joseph is not Jesus’ father, whatever rights he might believe he is entitled to. But that would be to misunderstand the story, to misunderstand God. In this record, we see family honoured: Jesus is their son, son of Mary, son of David’s line; and they have searched for him patiently and carefully for far more years than the days they have searched for him anxiously. And now he is revealed, a little more, to them: but still not yet fully – the process will continue.

Then Jesus returns to Nazareth with them, and was obedient to them. Obedience in Scripture does not mean what it means today, doing what you are told by someone over you. It means to listen attentively. To listen, and ask questions; to enter into conversation: just as Jesus had done in the temple; just as God had invited his people to do at Mount continue to grow into freedom, learning the spirit of the law, and when to break the letter of the law in order to live as God hopes for his friend.

What, then, is the word of Christ to you through this Gospel – good news! – story; the word you are invited to let dwell within you richly (Colossians 3:16), to make his home more fully in your life?

With Jesus’ parents, is the good news to you an affirmation that you have done a better job of giving someone you love away than you have realised; that God does not regret his choosing you for that task? Or perhaps the good news to you is that word that calms our anxious fear: love, the love of our heavenly Father for the one you have given away into his care.

With Jesus, the good news to you may be an invitation to respond to the freedom God created you to live in, more fully than you have done up till now – regardless of how young or old you are, how much or little freedom you already know.

Whatever the word, it is Jesus’ intention that you, like him, should grow in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and with other people. So welcome his word to you, and, like his mother, treasure it within your heart.

Monday, December 24, 2012

John's Prologue

These words, concerning the Word, are among the most celebrated words ever written. They create a frame – a manger, if you will – in which to place the One who is both fully God and fully human; and just like the manger in which Luke tells us Jesus was laid, they are at one and the same time unworthy yet chosen and dignified by God-with-us. As we gaze on the manger, may we see the face of Christ.

These words are deep, pointing to a mystery beyond our understanding. Nevertheless, they speak to us with words of invitation and of challenge – invitation to us when we believe that all this is beyond our knowing, and challenge to us when we believe we are already in the know.

What does it mean to be a witness to the light (v 8)?

How might we (fail to) recognise (v 10) and receive (v 11) this light?

What does it look like, for the Word to have become flesh and made his dwelling among us (v 14)?

Let me offer these suggestions, as a start:

The-Word-become-flesh-and-dwelling-among-us looks like local churches coming alongside couples preparing to start out on the challenging adventure of marriage, or families adjusting to the addition of another member, or grieving the death of one of their own...

It looks like local churches running food banks for those who have been hit hardest by the recession; or youth clubs in areas where there are no other safe places where teenagers can gather together; or any of the other activities that make up the thousands of hours of voluntary service given by church members every week.

The-Word-become-flesh-and-dwelling-among-us also looks like this: the asylum-seeker, the sex worker, the elderly person who has lost control of their bladder and their memory, the disaffected youth, the Big Issue seller, the hurting and the hopeful, the person who rarely if ever comes into a church at a service of public worship because they don’t know what is expected or don’t feel worthy or capable of contributing to all that goes on. Jesus said that whenever we serve such people, we are – quite unaware – serving him, encountering him in our neighbourhood. Perhaps if we are only aware of the respectable people in our neighbourhood, or the people who do not make us feel uncomfortable, then we haven’t seen Jesus for some time...

You see, the-Word-become-flesh-and-dwelling-among-us is both incomprehensibly mysterious and earthily ordinary; bigger than our imagination can conceive, and so small we miss it, right under our nose, again and again.

And so, this Holy Night, what is it that God’s Spirit is whispering to your spirit?

Will you see me?

Will you welcome me?

Will you see me, and welcome me, in you?

Will you live in such a way that others get the opportunity to see me and to welcome me, too? Will you be a manger for the Christ child?

Such a whisper may bring us to our knees, in conviction of our failings, in wonder that God loves us so very greatly. And that, as John understood when he came to write down his account of Jesus, is the place of the beginning.

Happy Christmas! May you know both joy and peace, both grace and truth, both now and in the days ahead.

Advent 2012 : Day 23

My Heart Is Now Become An Ark

In the past

God gave instruction to his people

to build an ark

out of acacia wood

covered with purest gold inside and out

and overshadowed by

gold cherubim.

Within the ark were placed those

treasured mementos

of God’s presence,

and so it served as promise

that in all the days ahead

God would meet with his people

at the ark.

My heart is now become an ark

of a renewed covenant.

Exodus 25:10-22

Exodus 37:1-9

Luke 2:8-20

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Outline Nativity

Here is an outline I made for an all-age Nativity, which we used this morning. It is built around Luke 2:1-20. People had been invited to come dressed as their favourite character from the Christmas story. No line-learning is required; nor is it dependent on who turns up.

Welcome, introduction/explanation: everyone will be involved.

We sang a carol

Luke 2:1, 3
Has anyone come as Caesar Augustus? He was the first Emperor, the adopted son of Julius Caesar. When JC was stabbed in the back, Augustus took revenge on his killers, and proclaimed himself Emperor. He proclaimed his dead dad a god, and himself to be a living god, who had brought peace to the world. Caesar Augustus is the centre of his own universe; and though it is unlikely that anyone will have come dressed as him, there is a bit of him in every one of us. This, then, is an appropriate lead into confession. We use a form of confession, and absolution, from Common Worship.

Luke 2:4
Joseph is returning home for ‘Christmas’ – so anyone who has returned home for Christmas, as well as anyone come dressed as Joseph, gets to be Joseph. He was returning home not just to visit his relatives, but because he had no choice. Sometimes we have to return home for happy reasons – such as a significant birthday or anniversary – or sad reasons – such as a funeral. Life is full of highs and lows, and hopes and fears, to be held before God. Calling to mind a high point from 2012, we held our hands up high and thanked God for those things we wished to celebrate. Calling to mind a low point from 2012, we held our hands as low as we could reach, and thanked God that he never leaves us on our own, but is with us to comfort and strengthen us. Turning to 2013, we called to mind a hope, holding our arms out wide, and thanking God for giving us hope; then called to mind a fear, holding our hands close together, and asked God to fill our hearts with his love that drives out fear.

Luke 2:5
Mary is visiting the in-laws – so anyone who is visiting (or has visited) their in-laws for Christmas gets to be Mary, along with anyone who has come dressed in the part. At this point, we light the fourth candle on our Advent wreath, and pray together using resources from Times and Seasons.

We sang a carol

Luke 2:6-16
Here are several more characters: Joseph’s relatives (those hosting Christmas), the shepherds (those whose plans have ever been disrupted at Christmas), and the angels. With each new set of characters, the number of children and adults at the front grows. At this point I handed out 16 key words/phrases taken from the Bible reading, and made observations on ways in which Christmas is for people who identify with any of these categories. The words I chose were:

census; Bethlehem; first baby; not enough room; night-shift; glory; afraid; good news; great joy; a Saviour; company of angels; praise God; peace; spread the word; amazement; treasured.

We sang a carol

Intercessions: An open time for people to call out the things on their hearts, using the formula, “We pray for...Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.” (we all join in the response hear our prayer); followed by joining in the Lord’s Prayer.

Luke 2:17-20
The final characters in the story (for those who haven’t identified with any of the other characters yet) are the neighbours. What do you make of the Christmas story? It is both invitation, to enter-into the Story, and challenge, to tell others.

We sang a carol

Closing prayer and blessing (again, we used resources from Common Worship).

Mary's Song

Mary sings a song (Luke 1:46-55), a song glorifying God, a song that is still declared daily by many Christians around the world. But before we look at her song, we need to understand why she sings. Mary is expecting a child, a son, and this son’s birth will be a sign.

Mary has been told, by a messenger from God, that she will have a son. This son will be called the Son of the Most High, the Son of God. We need to understand what that would have meant to Mary. In time, Jesus’ disciples came to the conclusion that he was the Word of God made flesh. In time, the Church came to articulate their understanding of the Trinity – one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But Mary did not know that. Mary would not have understood the angel’s words to mean she was giving birth to the Second Person of the Trinity. Mary would have known that the titles Son of the Most High, or Son of God, were attributed – without any suggestion of divinity – to David, king of Israel described as a man after God’s own heart, a man who pursued obedient covenant relationship with God. A man who had unified the tribes of Israel into a nation that enjoyed peace in the land God had given them, for the first time; a man whose descendants parted company, dividing into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah; a man who was distantly related to her husband, Joseph. And her son will restore David’s throne.

What is more, Mary is a virgin; that is, a young woman. Now, listen carefully to what I am going to say. I am not denying the traditional belief that Jesus’ conception was miraculous, but we need to recognise that a virgin being with child is not, in itself, unprecedented. It has a very significant precedent, as a sign. When Judah is threatened by Israel and Damascus, the prophet Isaiah tells king Ahaz that God is giving him a sign (Isaiah 7): a virgin will have a son; before the child is old enough to know good from evil, Israel and Damascus will have been defeated by the Assyrians. So Judah will be spared from Israel and Damascus. However, Judah itself will be besieged by the Assyrians, and this will be a time of judgement unlike any they have previously known. All this came to pass. God was with Judah and miraculously intervened to bring an end to the siege of Jerusalem, but the people did not turn back to him and ultimately fell to the Babylonians instead.

God speaks to Isaiah about other sons, born to other women, as signs of what God is about to do (Isaiah 7, 8, 9). Micah also speaks of a woman who will give birth to a son (Micah 5). None of these prophecies are, in the first instance, about Jesus. But they create a ‘type’ that Jesus’ birth will fit into (which is why most are read around Christmas).

So when a young woman about to be married is told that she will have a son who will restore David’s throne, her question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” is not one of mechanics (how will I get pregnant?) but of significance: according to the precedent, a virgin with child is a sign that God will judge, not restore. And Gabriel’s reply – which is also about significance, not mechanics (yes, this birth, like several other births in Scripture, is miraculous; but Scripture is never concerned with how God does what he does, it is always concerned with what miracles signify) – is that God’s departed presence will return and cover the faithful with his protection.

Mary’s pregnancy is a sign, that God is about to act in both judgement and deliverance. And that is why Mary rejoices in song: God’s judgement and deliverance are worth rejoicing over, because the world needs both.

God’s coming judgement is worth rejoicing over, because corporately as the human race we sense that things are not right. We see that even in very recent days, not only in tragedies in our news, but also in the widespread expectation of an apocalypse – which we might laugh at, but betrays a significant recognition at least at a subconscious level, that our civilizations deserve to be judged.

God’s coming deliverance is worth rejoicing over, because corporately as the human race we long for something better, something that we recognise – again, perhaps subconsciously, and in the face of the posturing of humanism – we have not been able to achieve ourselves.

There is so much in the world – so much within each one of us – that needs turning on its head: pride scattered, rulers brought down, humility lifted up, hunger fed, greed emptied. And yet not one of us is competent to hold justice and mercy together, to meet our need for both to be done.

That is one reason why Mary’s song is still said or sung each day, at Evening Prayer.

Unless we take on the discipline of Mary’s song, we will fear God’s judgement as applied to our own lives and not embrace it.

Unless we take on the discipline of Mary’s song, we will distort the message of God’s judgement, declaring injustice against the weak to be God’s judgement on the powerful, as some Christians in America have declared the recent school shooting to be God’s judgement.

Unless we take on the discipline of Mary’s song, we will grow to doubt God’s interest in mercy, or distort it into cries for our own vindication.

But if we sing, and allow this song to shape our lives, then in countless little Christmases, Mary’s son will come into his world again, not only as a sign to his people destroyed by Rome in AD 70 and to his first disciples who survived the end of their world in that apocalyptic event, but as a sign to those who would respond in every time and place, until he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

In the words of an ancient Christian prayer prayed each year on the twenty-third of December:

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

Advent 2012 : Day 22

O Emmanuel

When he comes

I shall be completely undone;

undone, undone,

and made complete.

The life that always was

of God’s great plan,

hidden within for now – 

constrained by my weak flesh – 

shall then be birthed

for all to see,

on that great day

on that great day

on that great

and terrible Day.

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.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent 2012 : Day 21

O Rex Gentium

One day, out of the blue

a caravan of travellers came to town,

exotic in their clothes and tongue.

They came in from the west – 

the road of dreams – 

but pitched their tents towards the east,

to indicate they came in peace,

as father Abraham himself had done.

They set up camp, and all the while

the eyes of every Bethlehem child

held every move: our sentinels.

All, except one: my son.

Like any boy his age, he did not lack

boldness of heart, inquiring eye...

but nonetheless,

he looked up from the dust

in which he drew – 

unfolding stories with a sweep – 

and then turned back

to his own occupation. Sure enough,

when they were ready,

they came to him.

They next day, they were gone again,

as suddenly as they had come;

off on their onward journeying,

in search of precious hope

and rising faith

and costly love.

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.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Advent 2012 : Day 20

O Oriens

O you planets, on your sure

Orbits – set at his command – now

rolling into rare alignment;

in unison proclaim the news

entrusted to your care:

now is the time: earth’s

saviour is revealed!

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.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Advent 2012 : Day 19

O Clavis David

Christ is the Key

that opens every door:

that unlocks bound-up heaven

that unlocks bound-up hell;

that overturns our fear with love

our enmity with friendship

our boastful pride with quiet modesty

our riches with emptiness

our emptiness with riches.

Christ is the Key

that opens every door:

that unlocks bound-up earth

that unlocks bound-up heaven;

that overturns our rule with grace

our wounds with healing balm

our brokenness with noble company

our dignity with troubled minds

our troubled minds with dignity.

Christ is the Key.

By the time John comes to write his Gospel, at the end of his long life, he has come to understand that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. Later still, the Church comes to articulate the Doctrine of the Trinity. I believe that it was the Holy Spirit that led them to these points. But I also believe that it is anachronistic to think that Mary understood Gabriel’s message (Luke 1:26-38), that her son would be known as the Son of the Most High and the Son of God, to mean that she would give birth to the Second Person of the Trinity. This description – without any claim to divinity – was ascribed to king David; and Mary would have understood the angel’s message as God’s intent to restore David’s kingdom.

This raises a problem for Mary: she is a virgin. Her question – How will this be? – ought not to be understood as a question of mechanics (how can I become pregnant? – news that a bride will become a mother is not unusual) but of significance: how can a virgin giving birth to a son signify the restoration of David’s kingdom, when the Scriptural precedent is that a virgin giving birth to a son signifies that the Davidic line of kings is soon to come to an end? (Isaiah 7 – and, indeed, the following several chapters – read far enough, and you’ll come across yesterday’s Root of Jesse. In the immediate, the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed, while the southern kingdom of Judah was besieged but delivered: it was, however, to be the Beginning of the End.) (Here I am not denying the traditional Doctrine of the Virgin Birth, but rather denying the unscriptural belief that it signifies something unique, without precedent.)

Likewise, Gabriel’s response is not concerned with mechanics (how God will do this – Scripture is rarely if ever concerned with how God does things, which is why faith and science are not incompatible but complementary) but with significance: what previously symbolised God giving his people over into the hands of their enemies will be reversed because God’s presence is about to return to his people, and his protective presence will cover them. As in Isaiah’s time, the people are about to be destroyed. Yet in this moment of crisis, God will reverse the fortunes of the people, bringing down false rulers and raising up the humble (as Mary recognises in her song of praise, Luke 1:46-55).

So God is about to do something which will restore a Davidic king on David’s throne. And here is why it is important that we understand Son of God to refer to Son of (his father) David, and not jump straight to Second Person of the Trinity: David is king for many years before he takes up his throne; years spent hidden in a cave, while those broken by Saul’s mad reign are drawn to him and find themselves formed into a community of Mighty men and women. This is the significance, as in Advent we look to Christ’s return, to his taking his throne: that Mary’s son, the hidden king, receives the broken and confers upon them dignity and purpose, still.

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.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent 2012 : Day 18

O Radix Jesse

When God came into the world,

it was as one entrusted not to kings

or priests or generals

but to a carpenter:

to one who knew not how to rule,

or broker rites, or break resistance,

but one who knew the life of

trees - 

which one to choose,

to trust, for every purpose.

One whose trained eye could tell

what lay beneath outward appearance,

whose skill could fashion habitable space

for saint and sinner, Jew and Gentile.

From the beginning

God had known

this was the call

to which he must apprentice.

The very act of human living involves the repeated discipline of receiving life and letting-go of death, as we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. In God’s breath-taking vision, trees take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen: an exchange that calls on us to shepherd trees well, and, as long as the mutual interdependence of all creation is honoured, guarantees that we are not consumed.

One of the ancient images of Jesus is the Root of Jesse. As a tree cut back will grow again if its roots remain, so Jesus is the re-growth of David’s family line (Jesse was David’s father; David, king of Israel; and David’s line cut off at the Exile – defeat and a series of exiles and later returns – under the Babylonian empire).

But there is more to the image of Jesus as tree than that: echoes of the Tree of Life, and of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (knowing right from wrong); echoes of the ark in which survival was secured in the days of a Great Flooding of the Cradle of Humanity...and of the ark of the Covenant, symbol and sign of God’s presence with his people; echoes also of the crucifixion, and of the exchange where God takes on himself the sin (the death that exists when we live in disharmony) of humanity, in so doing destroying sin, and extends his own righteousness (the life that exists when we live in harmony) to us.

O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign to 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.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent 2012 : Day 17

O Adonai

He falls, arms outstretched,

at my feet. His eyes meet mine,

imploring me to lift him up

and hold him in my arms;

my heart is in my mouth, again.

He runs, arms outstretched,

to my side. His eyes meet mine,

imploring me to lift him up

and hold him in my arms;

my heart is in my mouth, again.

He dances, arms outstretched,

before the fire. My eyes meet his,

inviting him to lift me up

and hold me in his arms;

my heart is in my mouth, again.

He hangs, arms outstretched,

from a tree. His eyes meet mine,

imploring me to lift him down

and hold him in my arms;

my heart is in my mouth, again.

Exodus 3

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.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent 2012 : Day 16

O Sapientia

This child is relentless

in his love for the world,

always asking questions,

seeking understanding – 

the most amazing questions;

as if he sees his fingerprints

in everything around

and wants to know,

from sun and rock and leaf and calf,

from ant and hyrax,

locust, lizard...

Do you see, too?

Proverbs 30:24-28

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.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent 2012 : Day 15

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago

in a land far away lived an old man and an old woman.

Life had not been bad to them, exactly,

but in their hearts each nursed a secret sorrow.

Day after day after day, the old man looked out

across the wilderness and wept as he called by name

the sons and daughters never born to them.

Night after night after night, he looked out

into the dark sky and called to mind

life-moments that had never come to pass.

One evening, as day gave way to night,

God visited the man and said

Look again at the wilderness

Look again at the night sky

Look closer than before: what do you see?

Beauty in the wilderness, beauty in the night sky.

And God said, So shall your descendents be:

more numerous than the crystal-grains of sand

more numerous than the diamond-glittering stars

formed in great pillars

formed in great constellations

marks and signs for all those who would make their way

through this uncertain world,

giving direction, sustaining hope.

So shall your descendents be.

This, then, is why we are the ones

called to Rejoice!

For we look closer-than and see

For we look farther-than and see

God, the Creator and Sustainer and friend

has not left us on our own:

tomorrow he comes!

Today is Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday. Rejoice, because light is breaking into darkness (Isaiah 9); because rain is coming to transform the wilderness (Isaiah 35). Not in denial of the darkness and the wilderness in our world - in our lives - but in the certain hope that by his coming among us (Advent), God transforms our communities. Today we light a pink candle to mourn with those who mourn and, simultaneously, rejoice with those who rejoice.

Tomorrow marks the start of the Advent Antiphons, ancient Christian prayers that run between 17 December and Christmas Eve, and spell-out, in secret code, the message: TOMORROW HE COMES!

Saturday, December 15, 2012


We are fragile. We like to pretend that we are strong, but we aren’t.

Homeless people aren’t lazy or worthless. Most of the time, they’ve been hit, by a marriage breakdown or the death of a child or domestic abuse or the loss of a job, have struggled to hold their life together, and not been able to. They are just like those of us for whom life is going well at present – something none of us should ever take for granted.

People who walk into schools and kill children and teachers aren’t any more evil than you or me. They aren’t good-for-nothing failures, or whatever other term of abuse we might be tempted to categorise them as. Some might have wilfully given themselves over to acting in evil ways, but it won’t do to label mass murderers evil as a means of seeing them as the exception and not the rule: as with the homeless, there but for the grace of God go I.

Wherever we live, our societies are full of people who are struggling, who are withdrawing. The irony is that in this position, we get ourselves into a catch-22: with the best will in the world, it is hard to reach out to someone who is heading away from the reach of those who try to show love. I saw this over and over again when I was working with university students who were dealing with an intense social and academic environment with – especially in the case of international students – homesickness and culture-shock thrown in for good measure.

It only takes a couple of things to spin out of their regular orbit in our lives at once, and we get drawn into a downward spiral out of control. In such circumstances, frustration is normal and understandable. Life can lose its value – not only our own, but those of others, family and stranger alike. Anger is natural, and illogical: can be directed against the world at large, and at ourselves.

Make it relatively easy for anyone in such a place to get hold of firearms, and the potential impact on the community is massive and tragic.

As an outsider looking in, as a friend, I cannot understand why America does not amend its gun control legislation (I cannot see how the Second Amendment to the Constitution equates to carrying concealed automatic and semi-automatic weaponry), and I also long to see a completely different approach to mental illness (effectively criminalizing it is...madness).

But what I want to end with this evening is an endorsement of and encouragement to the churches across America and across my own nation and in countless other places; faithful communities who are reaching out to broken people in love. Yes, it is hard at times. It is hard to love broken people: because of their brokenness, because they run from us, because of the ways in which their brokenness offends or mirrors our brokenness. It is hard, almost impossible: indeed, without the Holy Spirit in us and with us, quite impossible. And yet, day after day, night after night, the church is there. The church, that gets so much bad press.

And so, take heart. Grieve for the world we live in. Lead our neighbours in repentance – in a change, in how we perceive situations and people, not from the world’s perspective but from the perspective of heaven – and belief – living a different way, forming society in truer ways. Hold fast to good. Be of good hope.

We stand, shaken but not overwhelmed. For we are not alone.

Advent 2012 : Day 14

The Massacre Of The Innocents

When they came

and cut our children down

before our eyes

we realised:

this was not the

foreigner intent

on crushing us into submission;

these men were of our own,

our flesh and


It was not evil – 

in some projected-outward sense – 

that visited our quiet town

that day; it was

the dark and fearful side of

who we are.

And where was

God With US

in this? He’d slipped

across the border,

gone away,

to be among our enemies

until we turned

away from fear, humbled ourselves – 

for only then could he return.

How long, O Lord?

Deliver us from evil.

Deliver us from


You can read about the massacre of the innocents in Matthew 2.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Advent 2012 : Day 13

The First Word And The Last

Words don’t exist

in splendid isolation:

all words become

within the world.

Vaults and spans

become cathedrals,

joined by so many

words they gather

in a chapter.

Envy and hate;

faith, hope and love:

all become action.

All words become.

The Word

from whose utterance

all other words

act or react,

the Word became...


and, without words,

said hold me close – 

and as I grow,

what might become?