Wednesday, 30 December 2009

deep and crisp and even...


With the snow flying in thick and fast just before Christmas, I went into 'Narnia' mode.  Apparently we've seen the heaviest snowfall in 20 years and while it was beautiful it was soooo very cold as well.
And of course the inevitable bad white Christmas joke:
What kind of pizza does good King Wenceslaus like?
Deep pan, crisp pan, even.

There was a part of me that really, really, really wanted to bump into a faun carrying parcels.  And, as in Narnia, Christmas did arrive in Scotland: neither the power of the White Witch or the darkness could overcome it.
There's something about hearing those words in the first chapter of John, read over Christmas in this darkest time of year, that have the power to fill me with a joy that goes beyond my ability to articulate.  The words hit home, strike a chord, breathe new life into a sometimes ragged hope and give me courage to keep going:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

'The life was the light of all people... and the darkness did not overcome it.'  Something changed this year over Advent and Christmas for me: I noticed a shift from sadness and loss and the sense of inevitable dread of Christmas - and what has felt for these last several years as jolliness being imposed upon me - to renewed enthusiasm, the thrill of expectation and the knowledge of joy being not only in the head, but in the heart also.
Christmas has, since 2001, been associated with bereavement: within 8 weeks the loss of a significant relationship, loss of home and loss of my grandmother.  The first two were hard, but those wounds healed pretty well.  It was the last which went beyond emptiness and needed more time.  Nan was that one person everyone should have in their life - the one who cheers you on, who loves you utterly, who believes in you and who understands you and fights for your causes.  It was a fierce, protective love and she was my point of stability, support and sanctuary.  She gave me the gift of allowing me to be just me - and if I am vaguely sane, it is due to her.  And, of course, if I'm not vaguely sane, then I guess I could be a heck of a lot worse...!
As I moved through Advent into Christmas this year, and even bought a tree, I began to realise that the long season of mourning had run its course.  The light had finally pierced through that long, dark, winter of my soul and Christmas arrived... as indeed it does, each year and every day in the wonder of the incarnation and the Word made flesh.

As a postscript there was a comedy moment involving the tree:
Possibly having a car would have been useful for doing this....
A walk to the local tree place, which promised delivery, resulted in arriving at gates firmly bolted on the Sunday before Christmas.  Whilst heartily endorsing the scruples that perhaps wanted to 'keep Sunday special', to have a business which was solely for the purpose of flogging Christmas trees shut on the Sunday nearest Christmas did seem slightly batty in my mind.
This meant trogging up to the outskirts of Fort Kinnaird to find, and bring home, the Christmas tree.
As I paid for the tree, the chap heaved the thing over his shoulder to take it to my non-existent car.  I smiled regretfully and told him I'd be doing this the old fashioned way.  Heaving it over my shoulder, away I slid over the icy path to the roundabout.
Bemused drivers, taking pity on me, stopped on the busy roadway and watched a rather short person carting a rather large tree across the road to the bus stop a looooooong way away.
This was followed by a bus driver who looked mildly stunned as a Christmas tree walked onto the bus followed by my grin and greeting of 'merry Christmas'.
And then bemused looks from onlookers as I carried the thing the 3 blocks home, on my shoulders in the snow and ice.  Given my shoulders could hardly move the following day, plus the arrival of some very oddly shaped bruises, I discovered other reasons why it is not often I bother with getting a tree!
But she has been lovely: I'm sitting looking at the gold and purple decorations and twinkling lights and thinking she's going to last quite happily until the Epiphany party next week.  She will then be tenderly chopped [an oxymoron?!] up, stored until the wood dries out and then used for the fire for next Christmas - and I quite like the symmetry of that.

Friday, 25 December 2009

'P' is for... Prince of Peace

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays his glory by
Born that we no more may die
Born to raise us from the earth
Born to give us second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!

May the Son of the One who created all things bless us this Christmas, this coming year, and this life... and may we be a blessing to all who we meet.  Amen.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

breath of heaven


Love this song, told from Mary's angle.
And so the journey to the stable nears its end...





I have traveled
Many moonless nights
Cold and Weary
With a babe inside
And I wonder
What I've done
Holy Father
You have come
Chosen me now
To carry your son

I am waiting
in a silent prayer
I am frightened
by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone
Be with me now
Be with me now

[chorus:]
-----------------------------------
Breath of Heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of Heaven

Breath of Heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me, your holyness
For your holy Breath of Heaven
-----------------------------------

Do you wonder
As you watch my face
If a wiser one, should of had my place
But I offer-all I am
For the mercy-of your plan
Help me be strong
Help me be
Help me

[chorus]

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

O Emmanuel...

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: 
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
A reading from the book fo the prophet Isaiah, 7: 14 -
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

The last of the Great Antiphons, traditionally sung at vespers, falls on the 23rd of December.  On the 24th the Christmas vigil takes its place. 

Pausing now...
for breath
from preparation
and for preparation
when hoped-for promises are birthed
and God, enfleshed.
Emmanuel:
God with us,
God for us.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

O Rex Gentium...

O Rex Gentium
O Rex Gentium, 
et desideratus earum, 
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,  
quem de limo formasti.

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


Readings from the book of the prophet Isaiah, 2: 4 - 
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 anymore.

and 9: 6 -  For a child has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

Today's antiphon, with its metaphor of humanity as fashioned from clay, reminds me of the work of Anthony Gormely.  It fascinates me: particularly the way in which he brings people together to create living art.  It is a collaborative process, one in which place and space are explored.
His most recent project was a live piece entitled One and Other - or what came to be known, in shorthand, by the place and space on and in which it was created: the plinth, Trafalgar Square.  Another of his works, the Field Project has seen the creation of hundreds of thousands of tiny clay figures.  This too, was a community-oriented project, in which Gormley enlisted local groups of people to make the figures, in a sense, representing themselves and creating what he calls 'surrogate populations'.  The collected figures are compelling.
The link to the Field Project has an interview with Gormley from a couple of years ago, discussing the project.  In it he comments on space and lack: the viewer, confronted in a room filled with these small figures can feel crowded out... and yet the focus of the gaze of all the figures is on that which they lack: life.  He notes on the sensation of the viewer feeling somehow diminished, excluded and unimportant that: 'Well you are important. You are where all those gazes want to be. They want what they haven’t got, which is life and you haven’t got what they have, which is this space. There is a kind of exchange of lack.'   

It is this phrase 'exchange of lack' that strikes a chord.
And yet... in the incarnation, it is less an exchange of lack - lack for lack, than an unequal and wonderful exchange: life for lack.
We are like the little clay figures gazing at God, wanting life, movement, breath and being.
And in the child in the manger, we are offered life in abundance.
Do we dare to live a life fully lived?
O come, o come, and save us from the life half-lived that we may rejoice in you...


Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Monday, 21 December 2009

O Oriens...

O Oriens                                                                           

O Oriens, 
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:  
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

         O Morning Star, 
         splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
        Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
 
A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, 9: 2

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.


Accept surprises
that upset your plans
shatter your dreams,
give a completely
different turn
to your day
and - who knows? -
to your life.
It is not chance.

Leave the Father free
himself to weave
the pattern of your days.
                 Dom Helder Camara in A Thousand Reasons For Living


Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O Clavis David...

O Clavis David
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
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.

readings from the book of the Prophet Isaiah:
9: 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore.
22: 22  I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.
42: 7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.

I've just finished reading The Alchemist.  It is a brief novel telling the story of a young shepherd's search for hidden treasure.
The search takes him beyond all he has ever known: family, friends and the fancying glances at a girl in one of the villages he travels through.
The search is costly: he sells his sheep - his livelihood and security, he is beaten and robbed, he trusts and is betrayed, he faces death.
The search is a voyage of discovery: he meets guides - good and bad, he finds out that his heart is the best guide and learns to listen to it....
Many times he thinks of ending the search for the treasure, but something always turns up to compel him to keep going.
He does and finds that which has been sought for over time.
One of the  factors that keeps him searching is found in watching the lives of others: others who have chosen not to find the treasures of the heart, but to close themselves off to the possibility - either through fear or idleness.  They are happy enough... and yet... sometimes from deep below the surface, the murmur of vague discontent, the heart's yearnings to seek the life that should have been sought, emerge briefly....  It is enough to encourage the boy that unless he seeks his treasure with all his heart, he will never rest.

Which reminds me of Augustine and his search for God...
'Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.
... You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.'  Confessions.

O Key of David
Open our fearful, timid hearts.
Shut out the sounds of gnawing, biting doubts
that eat away the fruit of your promises
and which imprison us
and which close the door upon the greatest journey:
searching,
seeking,
finding
the treasure
that is you.

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

O Radix Jesse...


O Radix Jesse
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; 
before you kings will shut their mouths,     
to you the nations will make their prayer:   
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, 11: 10 -
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

 I'm currently playing about with the word 'witness' within the context of a chapter in the thesis.  It is a hugely loaded word - multiple levels, multiple layers, of meaning and I'm enjoying the digging down through the layers.  The text from Isaiah states that 'the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal' - the root of Jesse as a witness of God to the people of God and reaching beyond those who would think within terms of particularity... reaching out to all peoples, to all nations.
Perhaps the root of Jesse witnesses to the paradox of God's particularity which encompasses all humanity?
All loved,
all favoured,
all God's own.
Definitions once again overturned as God refines, and defines.

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse's stem,
From ev'ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow'r to save;
Bring them in vict'ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Friday, 18 December 2009

O Adonai...

O Adonai 

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, 
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, 
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

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.
  
a reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, 11: 4-5 -
with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.


O Adonai:
Leading,
Appearing,
Lawgiving,
Redeeming....

You stretch out your arm to redeem:
no 'slacker' God -
no casual God -
but passionately,
energetically
calling us close.
God at full stretch:
reaching out,
reaching in,
moving in our lives.
Reclaiming,
reshaping,
remaking,
refining.
God appearing:
eternal, boundless -
breaking into finite time and space.
Becoming human:
sweating,
laughing,
sharing,
dying.
Lawgiver,
Righteous ruler:
voice of the voiceless,
liberator of the oppressed,
beacon of justice
shining hope into the world.
Faithful.
O Adonai.

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel! 

Thursday, 17 December 2009

'O' is for the O Antiphons of Advent... O Sapientia

Over the next seven days, as we come speeding down the final stretch of Advent, we meet one of the great liturgical traditions: the O Antiphons.
The O Antiphons were the inspiration for that great hymn 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel'.
Each of the seven antiphons is based on the words of the prophet Isaiah, and is a name / attribute of Christ.  In the Latin texts, the first initial of each of the words run as:  S - A - R - C - O - R - E.
Reversed, in Latin, it becomes 'Ero Cras', meaning 'tomorrow I will come' - so a mirror image, if you like, of the antiphons.  And on the 'mirror' theme, my plan for this next seven days is to hold up a reflective mirror to the antiphons....
And so we start with:

O Sapientia - O Wisdom...

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, 
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:   
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
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.

From the book of the prophet Isaiah, 11: 2,3 -
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
 and...
28: 29 -
This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.

Earlier this year, I was wondering just what wisdom is.
Moving towards the birth of Jesus, this first of the O Antiphons is a powerful reminder of God overturning definitions, of refusing to be contained by what we might call common sense pragmatism.
How wise is it, to come into a harsh, and terrifying world,
a world in which life is cheap and where might and power crush the weak and the vulnerable?
To save the world from itself, surely the wise thing would have been to match power with power, to fight might with might?
And yet...
Wisdom is born:
in a draughty stable.
Wisdom is heard:
in the wail of a child.
Wisdom is seen:
in the tiny scrap of human flesh,
brought shivering into the world,
dependant on the hospitality of the human heart to take him in.
God all powerful,
God all vulnerable.
Overturning delusions and illusions of what power truly is.
Wisdom is born when we, too, like him are prepared to strip away the defences,
to be vulnerable,
to be real.   
O Sapientia, O Wisdom,
teach us your wisdom this day, and always.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ten reasons why... men just shouldn't be ordained

It's been seen before in other places, but the following 10 reasons on why men should not be ordained still makes me grin.  I quite like #7  :)

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a
parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, change the oil in the church vans, and maybe even lead the singing on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.

1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

Monday, 14 December 2009

'handles for forks...' and other Advent songs!

Over Advent we have been singing a wee ditty after the lighting of the Advent candle/ prayer/ kids talk.
The last verse begins, seemingly innocuously, with:
When we have four candles...

It is now getting harder and harder to sing it without totally corpsing, and am enjoying immensely the choir's valiant effort not to... and to keep very straight faces.  Here's why:

Friday, 11 December 2009

'N' is for...

New College...
on a foggy early morning - [in what is a delayed 'alphabet of gratitude' posting!]

I love it when it's a proper, good old fashioned foggy day in the 'Old Town' of the 'burgh.  And it makes New College look even more like Hogwarts.  So, giving thanks for being at this venerable institution today: for the incredible privilege of being able to do my doctorate in 16th c. Scottish Church history here and for the privilege of being able to train for ministry in the kirk.

Pic on the left is of the steps in the New College quad, leading up to the entrance where the General Assembly meets each year in May.
Pic on the right is taken from the bottom of the Mound, looking up from by the National Gallery of Scotland.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Madonna and Child...

Although this coming Sunday should, in theory, be about John the Baptist, we're not going there due to a Nativity play the following week during worship.  Instead, this Sunday, we'll focus on Mary and angel voices and suchlike.  As part of worship, I'll be reflecting on Mary and possibly using this poem I wrote a wee while back:

Madonna and Child

So young,
so young to bear the One
to bear the weight
of all the world
inside your womb
and yet,
to bear that weight
has always been
a woman's fate,
her lot.

So small,
so small first-born for all
who bears the weight
of pain and weeps
and heals the wounds
and yet,
who bears that weight
as Son of Man
for pure love's-sake,
as God.
                   c. Nikki Macdonald
                                               picture by Sieger Koder

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Advent 2C: 'Be Prepared... to be amazed' - sermon for Sunday 6th Dec '09

Sermon for Sunday 6th Dec. '09   

Readings: Malachi 3: 1-4; Philippians 1: 1-11; Luke 1: 68-79

In a far away land,
In a far away time,
There lived a people oppressed by a foreign power…
Occasionally, some amongst them would shake their fists at their overlords, and some would rebel…
but they were too weak and too powerless to resist for long. 
Mostly, the people kept their heads down and just got on with the business of living and making the best out of a bad situation.
In this far away land, so long ago,
the people felt forgotten by their God…

In their distant past, their God had travelled with their ancestors,
had rescued them from other opressers
and spoken with them through inspired visionaries – prophets…
The voices of the prophets had given hope, reassurance, in the dark times…
The voices of the prophets warned and promised:
Warned of judgement, spoke of justice,
promised God’s mercy, rescue, love and grace.
But the prophets had long since gone.
God seemed far away.
Distant.
Silent.
And then…
the silence was broken by the cries of a wailing infant.
A prophet was born.
His name was John.

John was the answer to prayer of a childless couple: Elizabeth and Zechariah.  And it was said by folk far and wide that the hand of the Lord was upon John and all wondered what would become of him.
And Zechariah, filled with awe, thanksgiving and the Holy Spirit prophesied:
He saw God once again saving his people – liberating them from oppression.
He saw the beginnings of God’s promise to his ancestors coming true, coming to fulfillment…
 and his son was the one who would usher in that fulfillment… preparing the way, preparing God’s people…
John, prophet of the Highest.
John, messenger of God.
God’s voice once again sounded through the land in John’s words of repentance, salvation, forgiveness, and compassion. 
In John’s message were words of light and life and peace and hope.
John’s words were words of preparation for the One who would follow, who would be greater than him:
‘Be prepared.
Be prepared to see
what God has done
what God Is doing
What God will do…..
Clear the decks
Make the roads straight
Get rid of the obstacles…
Get rid of anything that will stop you hearing and seeing what God is doing’
That, in a nutshell, was what John was all about – calling God’s people to stop, look, listen and prepare:
To be prepared for the coming of Christ.

And if we were to continue reading the gospel, we’d find out that many people did listen to John, messenger of God.
They flocked to hear -
And, on hearing
They chose to change, to repent…
to turn their lives around to face God, not look the other way.

And, there were also those who didn’t listen.
They were just busy getting on with their lives
And the sounds of their busyness blocked out the sound of God’s words….
God’s life-giving words.
…Such extraordinary words –
Words about God’s Word – Jesus –
God become human... Jesus - 
God’s ‘extraordinary’ Word…
The Word ignored in the routine humdrum of the everyday.
But whether God’s people responded or not,
Whether God’s people prepared… or not.. light grew in the darkness regardless…
a light which the darkness has never been able to fully extinguish:
the light which shines, on those who live in the darkness under the shadow of death….

On this second Sunday in the season we call ‘Advent’ we encounter John… who called God’s people so long ago to prepare for an encounter with God.
And down through the years, John continued to call God’s people to prepare to encounter God…
And his message meets us here … now …
In this time
In this place.

As we were reminded last week, Advent is the season of waiting… and in the waiting time, we, too, prepare to encounter God.

It can be a hard thing to swim against the tide of tinsel and glitter in the headlong rush to Christmas.
In the jangle of tills and the jingle of carols we find it harder and harder to hear God’s voice…
Pressurised to worship at the altar of consumerism, to worship the retail God who is never satisified, it takes all the energy we can muster to fight against it and to remember the real ‘reason for the season’…
We can easily get caught on the merry-go-round that seems to twirl faster and faster ….
Almost unable to stop and take time.
But sometimes… the busyness is also a way of avoiding that encounter with God. 

The reading from Malachi talks of God’s coming in dramatic terms:
Of a refining fire, of purification…  
Malachi says:
‘Who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand firm when he appears?’
Perhaps sometimes it just feels safer to hide under the tinsel and glitter?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor killed by the Nazis for speaking out against Hitler,   talked of the way we sometimes approach this encounter with God.  He said:  
‘We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.  We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect:  
that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.   
The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for every one who has a conscience.
Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. 

God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world.  
And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.’
Dietrich was a man who knew at first-hand what it was to have the light of hope in the darkest of times and in the darkest of places. 

In this time,
In this place,
how are we preparing to encounter God, made flesh, this Advent?
John’s words challenge us.

They force us to stop,
to think…
And to ask questions: 
Is there something we need to do to make it easier for Christ to enter our terrain… and to be known in the world?  
Is there some path through our souls which we need to straighten, to smooth? 
Is there some mountain of an obstacle that needs to be levelled so that Christ will meet less resistance in us?[1]

As we prepare to encounter God, I’m reminded of an old Celtic saying about meeting Christ in the stranger’s guise. 
It reminds us that we are all created in the image of God…
As we encounter one another – even, or especially in the midst of this busy waiting and preparing time – are we prepared to see and to encounter Christ in one another?  As Paul saw Christ in and at work in the lives of the Philippians, do we see and encourage one another to be little Christ’s?

Someone once said that Advent is ‘preparing for the long view :
we reflect on the coming of Christ…
past, present and future.' [2]
Christ past – in the miracle in the stable in Bethlehem;
Christ present – born again in our lives now;
Christ future – when he will come again at the completion of all things.’
Advent is a time that prepares us for more than Christmas…
At Christmas it is right to sing the well-loved carols of joy, that tell the story of the Christ-child… but the story is bigger, so much bigger:
We are also telling the story of the God who sees the pain of His people and who breaks into His world to lead us out of pain and darkness. 
God gives birth to hope where there is despair,
Light where there is shadow,
And life where there is death.[3]
It is the greatest story
A story deep and rich and beautiful;
A story which lasts forever;
A story that makes sense to prepare ourselves for.

If we stop and listen, perhaps we might just hear a miracle:
The beating of a tiny heart…
The heartbeat of the One who became one with us and for us.
Let’s watch.
Wait.
Listen…
And prepare to be amazed as we encounter God.  …

Let us pray:
Loving God
You are not distant or detached
You meet us where we are.
In this season of Advent
Help us prepare to look for you behind the tinsel and the glitter,
That we may worship you in spirit and in truth,
and in hope-filled joy.  Amen. 

[1] See Jan Richardson's fabby site The Advent Door
[2] Rev. Dr. David A. Killian on the wonderful Sermon Nuggets site
[3] from the wonderful Gord Waldie

Friday, 4 December 2009

Advent Conspiracy

This wee movie kinda sums up some of the thoughts I've been having over the last couple of days...