Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Feast of the Holy Innocents


Today, 28 December 2022, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, on which we remember the massacre of the innocents recorded in Matthew chapter 2.

In his Gospel, Matthew presents Jesus as the Son (descendant, heir) of David. Matthew groups Jesus’ teachings into five blocks, and it has often been noted that this is a nod to the Five Books of Moses, Jesus the New Law Giver; but it is surely also a nod to the five books that make up the library of the Psalms.

David is loved by God, but that doesn’t stop him from doing terrible things. Among them, David rapes Bathsheba, then, when she is found to be with child, has her husband, who is away fighting one of David’s wars, murdered to cover his tracks. The child dies, but Bathsheba refuses to be discarded: first, David will take her as his queen, relegating his other wives; then, later, David will name their son Solomon his heir, even though Solomon is nowhere near the head of the line of succession.

When Jesus, Son of David, is born, another king is on the throne in Jerusalem, the pretender, Herod the Great. Herod, also, has issues with his issue. Not long before his own death, Herod had his firstborn son and heir, Antipater II, executed, having already had two sons by his second wife executed some years earlier. On his death, his territory was mostly divided between two sons by his fourth wife and a son by his fifth wife (Herod’s sister also being given a few cities).

Matthew records that Herod, on hearing news of a son born in Bethlehem and being proclaimed David’s rightful heir, ordered that every boy who fell, give-or-take, within the spatial parameters of Bethlehem and the temporal parameters of two-years-old, be killed. Thus, we are told, the wailing lament of Rachel for her lost children (Jeremiah 31:15) is fulfilled. But the lament the Lord speaks of through Jeremiah is the lament of exiled youth, met with the promise of a return from exile. The fulfilment is not Herod’s paranoia but in the exile of the holy family to Egypt and the promise that they will return. Not even Herod and his heirs can prevent this work of God’s grace.

Nothing in God’s selfless goodness makes human selfish wickedness okay. There is a field of darkness that encompasses the hero as much as the villain, a part of all our stories, if not the whole story. But there is a light shining in the darkness, and the darkness cannot grasp it with evil intent, cannot extinguish it. Seal it in a tomb, and it will burst out, ablaze.

Some have questioned the historicity of the massacre of the innocents, but history knows better than to doubt. There have been, and remain, countless children killed before their rightful time to die, through our negligence, our weakness, our own deliberate fault, in the wrong we have done and the good we have failed to do. This is a tragedy. And if death was the final word, an utter waste. But despite the tragedy of life, death is not the final word. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a bitter-sweet day no doubt, and yet a day in which all that was intended for harm is caught up in goodness, where every tear of pain is washed away with tears of joy. Where mothers and sons are reunited, and all wrongs redeemed.

God has loved us with an everlasting love. So come to the table of the future, set for us in the present. This night is the fifth night of Christmas. Let us raise a glass to the children.


Sunday, December 25, 2022



I will not wish you all a Merry Christmas. For some of you, this Christmas is already full of joy, of diamonds and champagne and promise, of Christmasses to come, of new traditions waiting to be birthed. For others here, this Christmas is as bitter and unpalatable as the baked camembert Jo served up tonight. Though even such full-bodied notes as these, having recoiled, may come to be appreciated by the mature palate. An after-taste, a counterpoint to sweetness.

Instead, my wish is this. That, with the babe, this Jesus, wrapped tight in strips of cloth, and hidden in the manger, you may find whatever grace you need this night. Whatever you need.


Saturday, December 24, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 28


Today is the final day of Advent 2022. The end of our annual Season of making ready for the unknown day when Jesus will return in glory. Are we ready? That depends on where we choose to focus. Consider the arrival of relatives for Christmas. We might know the date they’re due, but we can never be certain of the hour. Will they be delayed, in traffic, by bad weather? If we fixate on All That Must Be Done before they get here, then, no, we’ll never be ready, never have quite enough time. Yet they come. Not in search of a perfectly tidied and seasonally decorated home, but because, for all its difficult challenges, family matters. Love compels us, in search of joy (however fleeting), peace (even if it is a temporary truce), hope (for, so long as we have each other…).

This Christmas, Christ comes again, perhaps not yet in glory, but rehearsing the Day. Over and over.

This Christmas, may you know Love.


Friday, December 23, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 27


The Season of Advent calls us to contemplate the Last Four Things, Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell, alongside the great Virtues of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. The fourth week brings together Hell and Love. To love is to live in hell, for to love is to live with the seemingly bottomless chasm that is the weight of absence of the beloved. The child who has grown up and left home. The parent who has died. But on Holy Saturday, Jesus, the lover of every soul, descended into the pit of hell, filling every part of it, claiming it, as much as heaven and earth, for his own. Hell will endure for as long as the New Heaven and New Earth endure, not as a place of damnation or eternal conscious torment, but as the place of longing and desire. This, for the simple reason that our resurrection bodies, though imperishable, are finite, are embodied. If I should take time, in the world to come, the world made new and healed of every harm, to walk the Appalachian Trail, something I have never had opportunity to do before, and my children are not there but off somewhere else, pursuing other adventures, then I shall know the weight of their absence, pressing the very air from my lungs. If not, how would I know the joy of seeing them again, the air now rushing back into me? Hell will endure, but this, too, shall be made New, healed of every pain. Christ’s three realms: desire, deep within, in subterranean chambers of the heart far from human habitation (Job 28:3, 4); it’s consummation, that catches us up into the halls of heaven; and the world that unfolds inbetween.

Love will not, cannot, abandon hell, for they are wed; to live, as the fairy tales remind us, happily ever after.


Thursday, December 22, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 26


Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, here in the northern hemisphere. As of some point yesterday (the precise moment varying from year to year) the turn and tilt of Earth inclines us towards the light. For months, we have been drawn to darkness; now, we are drawn to light. There is, of course, no moral judgement here: light and dark are both alike elements of God’s creation, intended to complement one another; though, perhaps, provoked to jealousy—the day of the moon’s dignified and mesmerizing beauty, the night of the sun’s bold warmth—by some wounding fallen angel of light; perhaps in need of the Word that restores them to their purposed harmony.

Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth from Mary’s viewpoint. Matthew, from that of Joseph. John tells it from the perspective of the heavens. This Son is a light-source, that shines in the absence of light, and the darkness has not taken possession of it. The Day is coming, and the light-source of the Day is the Sun of Righteousness. But the light-source is firstly that which shines in the dark, the Moon that reflects the radiance of the sun without blinding those who gaze directly upon it. This Word that is with God and is God is ‘Moon,’ reflecting the unbearable dazzling brightness of the Father. Here is Mary’s egg, that will not wax and wane in a twenty-eight-day cycle, but will shine in the fullness of glory, always facing the Light, never shying away.

And to all who believed in him, he has given power to be suns and moons, lights to light the day and the night. Not erased by unending day, nor gripped fast by over-reaching night. Christ is our Moon and Sun. We are as suns and moons, set free to love the day and the night, the bright days and the hours, or months, of darkness. Empowered to know their own distinctive hallowedness.

May you come to Love the dark as much as the light; for it was in the dark that our Light first shone. There is loveliness here, that draws us near to Him.


Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 25


It is often said, of warring humanity, that ‘we have more in common than that which divides us,’ and we should focus on what we share, to overcome animosity. Our human alike-ness. But this might get it precisely wrong. So often, it is that which we cannot love about ourselves, seen reflected in the mirror of our neighbour, that causes us to reject them. It is where we share the most common ground that we find the Other most unlovable, for they remind us of ourselves. How dare they reveal, in themselves, the very thing I most try to hide in me? And then, we live in days when the inability to love ourselves is epidemic. When the insatiable desire to be, always, other than we are is celebrated; the right to annul ourselves, fought for. Free speech, freedom of expression, both ciphers for violence. How easily taking care of our soul transforms into a cell. How easily taking care of our body turns to a regime.

To love oneself, of course, is not at all the same as believing oneself to be the ideal specimen. That is simply another form of annulling who we truly are. To love oneself is to receive the gift of life in awe and wonder, with daily gratitude; and to meet that about us that causes shame or pain with wise compassion. You are a soul, that has a body, a body that changes over time, a soul shaped by the contingencies of your history meets the divine grace that heals all wounds, that will draw all experience into harmony.

Before ever he receives the wounds of crucifixion Christ takes up into glory in his resurrection body, he has received so many scars: beginning with the navel, and then his circumcision; a history of childhood falls; the record-keeping of an apprenticeship in carpentry. A baby, child, man, stretching limbs, that knot in the shoulder blade from repetitive action, his mother’s eyes. The sky torn open at his baptism, and his Father’s voice, from heaven. Jesus is good news not because his being fully human is greater than his being fully God—more in common with us than that which divides—but because he embodies how to love the Lord our God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength; and love your neighbour as yourself. Because love draws all experience—that which we have painfully in common—into harmony.

Today, may you nurture love, in every place it may be found, and most of all, where it is needed most.


Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 24


To open ourselves to love is to open ourselves to a broken heart. This is the wisdom old Anna and Simeon share with Mary, that a sword shall pierce her heart. As this mother watches her firstborn son grow, leaving behind ages and stages of development that will never be shared between them again. As her beloved Joseph dies, an event so heartbreaking that it is hidden from us, and their son reaches other milestones, Mary will not be able to share her joy and pride with his father. As her son leaves home. As he encounters rejection and opposition. As Mary realizes that she must let him go. All these heartbreaks, before ever she stands at the foot of an executioner’s scaffold and watches her son die the most tortuous, public, humiliating death; as his body is taken down, and she cradles him in her arms, as she had done so many times before, so long ago. As she washed away the sweat and blood and shit and wrapped him in cloth—again, recalling days long since lost, back at the beginning, when she first loved this man, son, Jesus.

To open ourselves to love is to open ourselves to a broken heart. And yet, we are compelled by love, compelled to love. A broken heart is not a heart no longer capable of holding love. It is a heart broken open, that love might flow. And so the Hell of loss, of separation, is overwhelmed, one broken heart at a time.


Monday, December 19, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 23


In Atlas of the Heart, the very wise Brené Brown writes

‘We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.

‘Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can be cultivated between two people only when it exists within each one of them—we can love others only as much as we love ourselves.

‘Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can survive these injuries only if they’re acknowledged, healed, and rare.’

Today my mind turns to Luke 2:7, where we are told that Mary brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him and laid him in a manger because there was no topos, no place, for them in the space set apart for offering hospitality for the night to strangers passing through on a journey. Such hospitality can certainly cultivate love, but the topography of the nativity, as might be charted in some atlas of the heart, is the timeless covenant love God has for David, the shepherd-songwriter-general-king. This child shall be called the Son of David, shall be loved, and love, and know betrayal, and healing. His mother shall love and know love and have her heart pierced by a sword. Yet love will survive its injuries. And, one day, love will have grown so large that it encompasses all in her embrace. While we wait for that day, what might you do, today, to cultivate love?


No room in the inn


kai eteken ton huion autēs ton prōtokon kai esparganōsen auton kai aneklinen auton en phatnē dioto ouk ēn autois topos en tō katalymati.

And she brought forth the son of her, the firstborn, and wrapped in swaddling cloths him, and laid him in a manger, because not there was for them a place in the inn.

Luke 2:7

When Mary brought forth her firstborn son, she wrapped him and laid him in a manger, because there was no topos for them in the katalymati.

A topos is a place, a region or terrain, from which we get the word topography, the recording of the forms and features of place. But there is more to the meaning. The topos is the place assigned by God to any given creature to inhabit: the oceans, with their mountains and canyons, where the great creatures of the deep migrate; the sky for the birds (though we do not chart this topos in quite the same way); the land in all its diversity, the polar caps for bears or flightless birds, the great plains for herds of cattle beyond number, the forests for the tiger, the mountain gorilla, the smaller elephants. In Genesis 1, we see God create a topos for all life, and bring forth the firstborn of every kind.

The katalymati was (not a commercial inn, but) the place set aside for the stranger passing through on their journey and in need of hospitality for the night. In the place where Jesus was born, families lived in one shared common room, with a place set aside for such travellers. It could be a small room beyond the main space, or even a curtain at one end, providing some privacy. It could be a room, or even a canopy, on the flat roof, accessed by steps on the outside of the house (the upper room where Jesus would celebrate the Passover with his disciples on the night he was betrayed was a katalymati).

When Mary brought forth her firstborn son, she wrapped him and laid him in a manger, because there was no topos for them in the katalymati. There was no place assigned to them by God within the provision for those who were only passing through. Instead, Jesus is laid in a manger. In the main room, shared by the whole family, and, at night, by their peasant animals—perhaps a small cow, perhaps a donkey, perhaps a family of goats, the body heat of the animals providing warmth for the humans. There is no manger out on the hills where shepherds watch over larger flocks of sheep. There is certainly no manger in the stable of a commercial inn.

There was no place assigned to them by God within the provision for those who were only passing through. The topos God assigns to the young mother and her firstborn son is in the heart of the family who are descended from David.

There will come a time, soon enough, when they will need to flee the hot anger of Herod. They won’t need a lodging for the night because they will travel by night, the better to slip away unnoticed. But they shall return, to claim the topos assigned by God, a kingdom that shall endure for ever.


Sunday, December 18, 2022

Fourth Sunday of Advent 2022


The Fourth Sunday of Advent rejoices in the theme of Love. And this year, the lectionary has us in Matthew’s Gospel, and the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s point-of-view. Whatever we make of the virgin birth, make no mistake: Joseph is the man chosen by God to be the father of His only begotten Son: adoptive fathers are fathers 100%. Like Mary (in Luke’s account), Joseph is visited by an angel, who addresses him as the Son of David, a name by which Jesus will be called nine times in Matthew’s Gospel, by those who recognize him for who he is (Jesus refers to himself as Son of Man, thirty times; while those who oppose him—Satan, demons, chief priests, mockers—and, once, his disciples, call him Son of God five times). Joseph, alone, shares in this special title, Son of David, beloved by God.

For Joseph and Mary, as in every good love story, the course of love does not run smoothly. There are obstacles to be overcome, misunderstandings to be worked through, good counsel needed. But this quiet man, who never says a word, loves Mary and her son, and will go to the ends of the earth—to Egypt—to protect them, whatever the cost. Love knows no bounds.


Saturday, December 17, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 21


Often, in the Scriptures, joy is the response to being delivered from oppression (joy flows from peace, as peace builds on hope) not only liberated people singing for joy but the liberated land itself, the trees of the field clapping their hands, caught up in a moment of oneness, wholeness, all things connected to each other in mutual interdependency.

All creation sings for joy at the birth of the One who comes to judge all things with equity, with justice and mercy. The trees shed their leaves and shake their bare branches with joy at release from the burden of having to be useful all of the time, of taking in carbon dioxide through their leaves and giving out oxygen. In the spring, the same trees will unfurl new leaves with spring joy, for the winter is past. In the summer, their joy is in having strong limbs and a canopy in which birds nest and raise their young. In the autumn, their joy is that of preparing to let go, a crowning blaze of orange and gold. All creation sings, through out the seasons, sunrise and sunset and the beauty of the moon as it waxes and wanes, the dance of the planets, the snow in its time.

All this though we still only anticipate the great joy of all creation delivered from harm.

How will you be surprised by joy today?


Friday, December 16, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 20


Happiness is dependent on circumstances (these can be specific or general). Joy is not.

The opposite of happiness is sadness. The opposite of joy is fear.

My friend Dan died yesterday. I feel sad, a sadness beyond words. There is no room for happiness right now. But I am overwhelmed by joy. Joy that Dan is with Jesus. Joy that I am in Jesus, and so Dan and I are one with another. Joy in response to the immeasurable, unerodable wonder that Dan brought to the world, by which all creation is moved closer to what God always hoped and dreamed for it to be.

The intensity of both my sadness and my joy will fade in time. But the sadness will fade completely, and I shall know happiness (and other sadnesses) again. The joy will lay down an ever-thickening layer of life, every time I think of my friend, every time we ‘meet’ again, until we meet again.




A friend of mine has died yesterday. I say a friend, for that is what he is, but there are many people who were much closer to him; I do not post for your sympathies for my loss.

He was younger than me, and had lived for twenty years with MS. One might say that the world is diminished by his no longer being with us; and certainly, those for whom he was a tangible presence, his family most of all, will feel that loss sharply. But in a very real sense, the world is not diminished at all: the world is immeasurably enriched by his having been given to us; and he himself is still alive, in Christ. He is still where we are, in Christ. He and I had lived in different cities for the past fifteen years, he was already a real but intangible presence in my life; now he is a real but intangible presence in our lives. Alive in Christ, he no longer endures the advance of MS; though he was already so very fully alive that I doubt the untrained eye can tell the difference in his now fully-alive now fully-glorious body, it will be such a small thing.

One day, we shall meet again, face to face, in the fully-accessible new heaven and earth, and then my own constraints (for every person has her constraints, we are not infinite but particular, unique, personal, embodied) both the dyspraxia I live with daily and any other constraints that will form me in days to come, will also be made glorious. Not stripped from our resurrection bodies but freed from harmful intent. Until then, may I live each day as my friend did, with immense gratitude, and joy, and love.

Thank you, God, for Daniel Cooper. And thank you, Dan, from the bottom of my heart. You are a legend and a role-model. May you, and all those who love you, rest in peace, and rise in glory.


Thursday, December 15, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 19


‘Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked? On the day of prosperity be joyful, and on the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that will come after them.’

Ecclesiastes 7:13, 14

Back when God created the world, he ordained day and night, with their attending lights in the sky, to mark out days and months and seasons. We live in time, and our days are numbered. Some of those days will be shaped by joy, some by sorrow. We are born, and we die, and in between we will know prosperity and adversity, we will know what it is to flourish and what it is to struggle against the odds—indeed, often we flourish because we have had to overcome. Things are beautiful in their time, but cannot be grasped, cannot be held on to by us: our days are not in our hands, but held in God’s hands, both cherished and hidden from us, for we do not know what day will be our last.

When we try to straighten life out, we expend ourselves in a fruitless and ultimately joyless task. When we take delight in the crookedness of what God has made, in the meandering, the doubling back on ourselves to look more closely at that small detail we initially dismissed, when we do not worry about the future, certain that payment for our present happiness will be demanded by fate or karma, but instead discover that God is our companion on every step of the way, then we will know many days of joy. Then we will look back and say, I remember. Then we will look forward and say, I anticipate. Every day is God’s gift to us, not to discern a pattern, but to discern his presence. Jesus, God-with-us.




The lectionary readings for Holy Communion today are Isaiah 54:1-10 and Luke 7:24-30.

Throughout the Bible, we are given many different images of imagining what God is like, to help us connect. In Isaiah 54, God is imagined as the husband of his people, who, in their youth, together entered that covenant relationship. But the people, God’s bride, were unfaithful, running off with other gods. In his hurt, pain, anger, shame, God withdrew, could not bear to be in the same room as his unfaithful wife. She, in turn, experienced the absence of God, the shame of the consequence of her actions. Yet God could not stop loving his bride, could not give up his faithfulness, could not tear up their marriage covenant; and so, God takes his people back, and brings an end to their shame.

[Clearly, in human relationships, there are also instances of husbands being unfaithful to their wives; and of husbands walking out, only to change their minds and demand that their wives take them back, which is abusive. But this is not the image here. Nor does being asked to imagine the pain of a cuckolded husband imply that women in general are unfaithful.]

The Gospel for this coming Sunday takes us into Joseph’s confidence, as he wrestles with a huge decision. He has discovered that Mary, the woman he is betrothed to, is expecting a child; and he is not the father. Joseph is a righteous man. He is deeply hurt, in pain, wrestling with anger, and shame. Yet he refuses to expose Mary to shame or place her in danger. In the morning, he will quietly release her from their covenant agreement, and carry his hurt and shame on his own. (Joseph does everything quietly; in the Gospels, he never speaks.) But that night, in a dream, an angel of the Lord appears to him and says, ‘Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…’

God invites Joseph into God’s own lived experience. God invites you and me into God’s own lived experience. This is God’s way. In the Gospel reading set for today, the Pharisees and the lawyers stand apart and reject God’s purposes for themselves. But God always comes to us. Even when God turns away, hurt by us, our actions cannot keep God’s love and faithfulness away for long. Even when the Son is wounded to the point of death, on the third day he returns again.

God meets us in our deep disappointment, our pain, our confusion, our anger, our desire to do what is right even though it cost us everything, and we encounter God in such a place because God has experienced these things before us and invites us to share in the divine nature in the face of the divine experience. For the God-with-us who is Jesus is fully human and fully divine, wed together inseparable, and draws us into him.


Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 18


Yesterday, a group of us went to sing carols with the residents of a nearby retirement development. It was bitterly cold, and we were glad to be able to join them in their common lounge, rather than standing on the lawn outside, as Covid-19 precautions had required us to do for the past couple of years. They were delighted that we had come to visit with them, and I can honestly say that it is always a joy, that together with them we were caught up in a blessing.

As we were composing ourselves and handing round carol sheets—that is to say, before we had even sung a note—more than one of the residents looked forward to doing this again next Christmas, if we are still here, God willing. By which they meant if they were still alive. I pointed out that there were all kinds of reasons why some of us might not be here a year from now—the manager is off to spend Christmas with family in Australia, and who knows but she might decide to join them more permanently. Part of joy is anticipation and recollection—this is something the residents look forward to each year and remember fondly throughout the year—but part of joy is also being able to accept the passing of time and the change, the loss, it brings. As we sang our carols, sometimes finding the right notes and sometimes not, sometimes finding ourselves singing in the same key and sometimes not, we reached for each next note, held it for a moment, and then released it. The same with the breaths we took as we sang, or spoke, or simply lived these moments in one another’s company. You cannot take a breath until you have let go of a breath. You cannot sing the next note until you have allowed the last note to pass, to be lost, though not forgotten. You cannot find joy in grasping the moment; the fear that it will pass all too soon robs us of the joy three times over: of joy anticipated, joy experienced in the present, and joy recollected.


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 17


Snow fell at the start of this week. Only a thin layer, but enough to cause the blackbirds to stand out against the now-white Pyracantha hedge that marks the boundary between the vicarage garden and the church grounds, yellow-orange berries behind the vicarage, red-orange berries to the side, where there is a little gate, for my convenience. In the breeding season, blackbirds are territorial; but in the winter, when the temperatures plummet and the snow falls, they become more gregarious. Returning from the church yesterday, I found the hedge alive with a flock of blackbirds, in their first year, the males still with brown beak, not yet goldenrod, nor yet bespectacled in the same, darting and beating their wings, standing sentinel on the top bar of the gate. And I was surprised by joy.


Monday, December 12, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 16


There is a progression. Hope is the conviction that in the end all shall be well. For the Christian, this conviction is rooted in Christ alone. Peace is what we experience when we surrender the pretense—only ever an illusion—that we are in control of our lives, and trust that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is sovereign. This surrender flows from the knowledge that, in Christ, all shall be well. Joy is what we experience when we live undefended lives, and are caught off guard by the sheer goodness, in its time, of all that God has made, and the wonder of being part of that sheer goodness. This requires an undefended posture, the fruit of peace. And in its turn, joy paves the way for love, the experience of this sheer goodness as being deeply personal and intentional. Love, of course, lays down another layer of hope—all shall be well, because all is loved, and drawn to love—and so the progression—hope, peace, joy, love—is a spiral staircase, on which we ascend to where Jesus is, seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, and on which we may also descend, with him, into the darkest corners of our world, the times and seasons when we, or those around us, are most in need of hope and peace and joy and love.

This morning, I cleared a path through the snow to my front door and gritted it so none would slip and fall. It was only a thin layer of snow, the kind that turns to ice when walked on, the pressure of a footfall melting the snow just enough to freeze again, treacherously; had the snow been deeper it would have offered grip and would not have needed clearing. This day, may you tread on the step of joy with confidence. You shall not fall.


Sunday, December 11, 2022

Third Sunday of Advent 2022


The theme for the Third Sunday of advent is joy. In many of our churches, the third candle in the Advent wreath is rose, the mixing of the three purple candles (purple bring the colour of Advent, and Lent) and the white Christmas candle.

The biblical metaphor for joy par excellence is the desert bursting into bloom after the rains have come. Where, for forty-nine weeks of the year, you must look closely to see the many small, hidden, signs of life, for three weeks the ground is a canopy of flowers, of the most intense colours. Where a desert is found close to an urban centre, such as Perth in Western Australia, people will come out into the wilderness just to see the spectacle. But the window is a brief one, and then the desert returns to its muted, sun-bleached palette—until the next rains.

This is what joy is like, an intense emotion that surprises and delights us, and gives us the feeling that we are deeply connected to God, nature, the universe, everything. It is not something that you can manufacture—unlike the less intense happiness: you can do things that make you happy, such as plan a family gathering, or eat an ice-cream cone on a summer’s day—but it is something you can learn to rely on, and appreciate, through the discipline of gratitude. Isaiah pairs his vision of the desert bursting out with joy in response to the rains with a vision of building a road on which people can travel to come before the Lord with joy. Every paving stone, an expression of gratitude.


Saturday, December 10, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 14


Jesus is quoted as saying, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ (Matthew 5:9) It can sound like a platitude, an inspirational meme to keep scrolling past. But the word translated ‘blessed’ might better be translated ‘happy,’ happy for what from the outside—if you aren’t a peacemaker—seems like no good reason. How can you be happy, in a conflict zone? And yet, children can be, at least some of the time.

Don’t get me wrong. Children witness terrible things, endure things beyond words, and such things can leave them damaged, to grow in malformed ways. Nonetheless, children possess a certain resilience, can take adults by the hand, and lead them where they need to go, stepping into the life they must live, when everything in the adults wants to give up living. Children have an ability to see good, however small, however fragile, an innate ability to know happiness in the ordinary. Children of God, yet to grow old.

If a community ripped apart by violence is going to forge itself into something else, something practical and constructive—if they are to beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks—then it is their children who are going to inspire them. Those who will enjoy the fruit of the ploughshare, the pruning-hook, will be the very ones for whom we pick up our hammers. Might even be the ones to fetch our hammer and say, ‘Are you just going to sit there? Here, take this. Start hammering out peace.’

The young are not simply the future, waiting their time, but have a share in our present. Our imperfect, ordinary, wonderful present. If we can learn from them, we might just be peacemakers. In time, we might become known as children ourselves, children of God, where once we only saw divided children of men.


Friday, December 09, 2022

Advent 2022 : Day 13


There comes a day in our childhood when we pick up a stick. It helps us to feel just a little braver. But, like any gateway drug, the effect has diminishing returns, and we progress to sharper, harder, more sophisticated weapons. Words. Behaviours. Until everyone is on edge, and it only takes a spark to set off a powder keg.

Peace asks us to decommission our arsenal. To return words to their healing, life-giving potency. To beat swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks. To let fallen sticks lie, in peace.

This, too, is learned behaviour. Takes time. Change, by degree.

The best way to begin to deactivate our weapons is to stay curious. The simple principle of imagining, what could this sword be repurposed as? Hmm, might it become a ploughshare? Or, in concrete practice, the discipline of asking, when someone says something that raises our early-warning systems, ‘Oh? What makes you say that?’ and, ‘Oh. What makes me respond to you this way?’ The former question helps us understand where the other is coming from, map terrain together, perhaps find common ground. The latter question—which perhaps should be the first?—helps us understand our inner geography, those thick layers of neighbourhood we cherish, the helpful and harmful histories that live within us.

‘Peace be with you.’ ‘And also with you.’


Thursday, December 08, 2022

Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary : part 2


Today, 8 December, the Church is invited to reflect on the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Though there are alternative lectionary readings set for this lesser festival, I chose to use the main readings for the day, Isaiah 41:13-20 and Matthew 11:11-15, along with an icon of Jesus in the womb of Mary in the womb of her mother, St Anne.

The Isaiah reading includes this vision: ‘I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, so that all may see and know, all may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.’ (vv 19-20)

In the Bible, where we come across trees, they stand for people, sometimes an individual, sometimes a community. So here we have a vision of God transforming barrenness into an ecosystem, the descendants beyond measure of childless Abraham and Sarah.

The reading from Matthew says this:

“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (vv 11-12)

Interestingly, while the standard text for the Church of England is the NRSVA (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised) translation, the person who read the Gospel did so from the REB (Revised English Bible), which translates these verses as:

‘Truly I tell you: among all who have ever been born, no one has been greater than John the Baptist, and yet the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.

‘Since the time of John the Baptist the kingdom of Heaven has been subjected to violence and violent men are taking it by force.’

This translation removes women from where they are; and inserts men, where they were not. The Greek explicitly says ‘among those born of women,’ en gennētois gynaikōn; while ‘the violent,’ though the noun is in the masculine, biastēs from biazó, is not qualified by ‘men’. It is assumed that all who have ever been born are born of women, and it is assumed that the violent are men; but both assumptions obscure the point. Jesus is comparing physical birth and spiritual birth. Just as we are born from our mother’s womb through the violent contractions of labour—or the violence of Caesarean section—so spiritual rebirth is a Kairos moment of crisis and opportunity, of violent energy, risk, and all being well, subsequent joy.

Today we reflect on Mary’s conception, within the ‘salvation history’ prepared by God before the creation of the world, before there ever was history, carrying us away from and back to God in time’s ebb and flow. Mary’s place, not only within Anne, but within Abraham, within Adam. The work of God to transform the wilderness of time and space, devoid of anything other than the three-person God, into cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive; cypress, plane, and pine; all rooted in this life-sharing God.

Today we give thanks for the gift of labour in place of barrenness, and of particularity in place of mere potential—what is, in all its contingency; all that I am, free of might-have-beens or if-onlys. For, like Mary, you and I are chosen, and loved, from before the worlds.


Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary : part 1


Today the Church is invited to reflect on the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The icon below (thank you to my friend, Cameron Abernethy, for sharing it on facebook) is of Jesus in the womb of Mary in the womb of her mother, St Anne. Looking a little like Russian dolls, it is a beautiful depiction of the scriptural truth that future generations exist within their forebears. When the Lord speaks with his childless friend Abram/Abraham, and promises that his descendants shall be as far beyond counting as the stars of the heavens or the grains of sand on the seashore, we are to understand that those future generations beyond number are present, to God, (with)in the person of his friend Abraham.

We may tend to thinking that God chooses Mary to be the one through whom the Son will be born into the world on account of her disposition, that she is particularly devout, or feisty, or whatever it is that God might be looking for. And, certainly, how we fashion the life we are given matters to God. But this is less than the whole truth. It may be closer to suggest that Mary is the young woman whom she is because God chose her before she was conceived in her mother’s womb, indeed before the creation of the world. And that you are also chosen, and loved, within the divine purpose to reconcile all things, within ourselves and between us and our neighbour and us and Godself.

As you gaze on the human face of God through the window of this icon, can you dare to imagine it carrying on so as to include Anne, Mary, Jesus ... you?


Advent 2022 Day 12


‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: … a time for war, and a time for peace.’ Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8

‘Beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears; let the weakling say, ‘I am a warrior.’’ Joel 3:10

‘He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ Isaiah 2:4

‘He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more;’ Micah 4:3

In the turbulent days of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the prophetic imagination picked up an image from an earlier, turbulent time, the days of the tribal Judges. Then, an oppressing neighbour had sought to control God’s people by removing the skill of the smith from among them: now, they would have to go cap-in-hand to their enemy to have their agricultural tools repaired. In this way, the enemy both ensured the harvest they would plunder, and that there would be no armed uprising against them. So, some centuries on, Joel imagines those agricultural tools being repurposed for a just war; and Isaiah and Micah imagine a day when those makeshift weapons will be returned to their peaceable original intention.

Like ploughshares and pruning-hooks, we are ore of the earth, taken, and fashioned to break the earth for fruitful grain and prune the vine for fruitful wine—a communion, if you will. And yet, time and chance and circumstance push us to heat and bend and beat ourselves into a new shape, a weapon, against our neighbour, with whom we believe we must compete for scant resources. But when the Lord arbitrates between us, then we shall cooperate, labouring at the forge, refashioning our lives for peace. Come, Lord Jesus.


Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 11


We have an urgent need for peace, and yet, peace cannot be imposed upon us, nor can we fit it with a leash or harness and domesticate it to walk at our heel. We can only know peace when we surrender the illusion of being in control of our lives, self-creating master of our own destiny. Peace is found in recognizing the sovereignty of Jesus, the Christ, the firstborn of all creation, who lies sleeping attended to by a court composed of smallholder goats and starlight.

This is unspeakably hard for the English, who are obsessed with the illusion of their own sovereignty. There is so much illusion to let go.

One evening a week through Advent, I open the church doors and invite people in, to sit in the dark, beneath a net of ‘star’ lights, Advent songs washing over us, a cup of coffee or hot chocolate in hand, and just to simply be. Breathing space, for those in danger of being overwhelmed, in these dark days. A simple gift of love. It is not about the numbers, but about the souls who come, seeking the face of the Christ-child. Last night their number included a man living with dementia, a woman who has just learned that the breast cancer has returned. And others, carrying burdens of self-doubt, or questions that are simply unanswerable. Sitting with God. Communing in wordless conversation. Surrendering the illusion that we are in control. And leaving with a weight lifted from their shoulders.

These are counted among the most wonderful hours of the week.


Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 10


Peace is at the heart of the Christian story, that story we rehearse week by week when we come together, so that we are better able to live it when we are sent out again to our homes and neighbourhoods, workplaces, and thousand apparently random encounters before we gather again. At the heart of the Eucharist, having come together to hear and respond to Jesus revealed in the written Word, and about to meet him in the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation and carry his presence out into the world, we share The Peace, that recognition that it is Christ, the Prince of Peace, who has reconciled us to God and one another, in whom we are reconciled within ourselves. We look around, at the ragtag band who have come to the same place at the same time, to the same Person as us, and we lay down our weapons. ‘The Peace of the Lord be always with you.’ ‘And also with you.’ Truth be told, this is the second hardest thing we will do today; the hardest thing will be to not take them up again. Peace is the central revelation of Christ in the middle of his family, not (just) as sacrament of Story, not (just) as sacrament of Symbol, but as Prince of Peace. Peace is the central moment, and the Completion, when, at the end, we are sent out to ‘Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.’ ‘In the name of Christ. Amen.’


Monday, December 05, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 9


Hope holds on. Peace lets go.

Hope leads us, again and again, to that humble home in Bethlehem, David’s City, to kneel before the Prince of Peace. Peace has us lay down our decommissioned armaments of gold, incense, and myrrh in homage. The gold that insulates our hearts against our neighbours; the strength of our arm, and the burden of anxiety that weighs down on us in times of financial crisis. The incense of negotiation with our god, traditional deities or luck, the Universe, striking a deal that they might look down on us with favour. The myrrh of magical thinking, or denial, by which we seek to embalm the dead, preserve ourselves against our loss. Every weapon in our arsenal laid down, left behind, as we go home by a different route, the Way of Peace.

All hell breaks loose against the peacemakers. Yet, they are blessed. For they shall be called the children of God.


Sunday, December 04, 2022

Second Sunday of Advent 2022


On the Second Sunday of Advent, Hope passes the baton on to Peace.

As his people are surrounded by land-grabbing empires, and make desperate, futile attempts to secure their peaceful future, the prophet Isaiah proclaims that a day will come when God sends someone who will establish true equity. Then, there will be peace between the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the young goat, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear. Then, young children will play safely over the adder’s nest (Isaiah 11:6-10).

He isn’t talking about animals, but of the nations, who take to themselves the symbols of aggressive animals. As the men’s football World Cup is taking place, think the three lions (leopards, actually) of England, or the dragon of Wales; the lions of the Netherlands, Senegal, and South Korea. Think the Russian bear attacking the nightingale that represents Ukraine; or the eagle of the USA, or ancient Rome with its eagle flying above the Pax Romana. Isaiah dares to proclaim, a day is coming when there will be true peace.

John the forerunner comes to prepare the way for Jesus, soaked in the words of Isaiah. When he sees many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized, he calls them a brood of vipers. The adder’s nest. Not a random insult, but a marker in time: the time when the innocent child will play in safety over the viper’s brood has come near. There is a development here, from the animals who represent surrounding nations to the snakes that represent internal interest groups, the Pharisees who tried to secure a peaceful future by keeping the rules, and the Sadducees who tried to secure a peaceful future by cozying up to power. But the point is made: a new day is dawning.

How might we know peace? By surrendering the illusion of control, and submitting ourselves to the sovereignty of the Christ, the King of Israel.


Saturday, December 03, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 7


In the first week of Advent, we think about hope, and death, and the patriarchs and matriarchs. Hope endures—indeed, hope emerges and unfurls—only when false hope is gone. Abraham and Sarah desperately try to bring about the hope of an heir; and, in the end, they drive their hope away into the wilderness to die. God intervenes, of course, and even this false hope has a redeemed resurrection. But Hagar and Ismael will make their own journey to the nativity of God, on different paths to those of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. Hope gathers all of time and place to the Bethlehem manger, that all may be reconciled to God and neighbour.

Our false hopes, our hope in ourselves, must die; and yet we lay them down in true hope that even these missteps will be guided by some natal star, to the one who will judge the living (Hope) and the dead (hopes) in righteousness, with perfect justice and mercy.

What must die today, that hope may emerge?


Friday, December 02, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 6


Hope is resilient. And this year, I have noticed it being much shared on social media that hope is a street fighter. But hope is not a lone vigilante. Hope goes from place to place in the resolute company of faith and love. When hope is battered and bruised, faith and love raise her head. When faith is on her knees, love and hope lift her up. When love lies bleeding, hope and faith carry her to a place where she can heal. Hope is not faith is not love, yet these three are one, and in the end they will endure.


Thursday, December 01, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 5


Hope is the conviction that in the end all shall be well.

Hope, then, requires that all that makes for not-yet-well, not abstractly ‘out there’ in the world, but in you, in me, must be consumed.

Moses first encounters God in the wilderness, calling to him from a burning bush. Trees in the semi-arid wilderness have a high oil content in their leaves, and can get hot enough to spontaneously combust, burning out over a long time. But this tree is not harmed.

Whenever we come across a tree in the Scriptures, it stands for a person or people. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil planted by God in the Garden of Eden stands for God’s people; the Tree of Life, for God (I proposed, last Advent, that we should understand this story as concerning God’s people planted in exile in Babylon, and God there with them). The roots of these two trees, planted side-by-side, entwine, such that they cannot be pulled apart: for, in Jesus, God has come into the world, fully-God and fully-human.

Moses encounters God as he stands before a tree in the wilderness, a tree that stands for the people of God, a people taken by God for his own possession, to be his home, as a dove might roost in the branches of an olive tree. Within this tree, in its growth rings laid down year on year, in the sap that rises each spring, is the totality of the people of God, those who come before Moses and those who will come after, in chronological time, all represented in this Kairos moment.

As we stand before our God, lying in a cattle trough in a Bethlehem home, gazing upon his face, upon his glory, we catch alight, and burn, unharmed. And by this fire, all that is found in us that contributes to the not-yet-well of the world is consumed, until it is utterly consumed. A fire that will not go out until all the oil that fuels it is spent. And yet these halos of our sanctification do not burn a single hair of our heads: though you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned (Isaiah 43). We blaze, to the glory of God, and as lights in the darkness, as promise to the world that their darkness will be consumed until only light remains.