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Christmas Eve 2017: What was Joseph doing?

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We know what Mary was doing on the night Jesus was born, but what was Joseph doing?

No, I think it most unlikely he would have been helping Mary to give birth. That was a female duty and it is inconceivable that local women would not have rallied round to assist a young woman in labour with her first child, whatever the circumstances.

While the midwives or Joseph's female relatives of Bethlehem supported Mary through labour and the birth of her firstborn son, what did Joseph do? Stay nearby to protect her? Most probably, but it would have been hard to do nothing through the long hours of waiting and wanting do help but feeling helpless.

So, there's plenty of room to imagine what Joseph might have done during the hours of Mary's labour. 

Thanks to Byrony Taylor's post I came across an animated poem by Nick Morgan about how Joseph might have kept busy. It is imaginative, simple and profound. I am grateful to Nick Morgan for giving it a Creative Commons licence so it can be s…

Believe

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The last word in the Advent Word calendar is 'believe'.

If you google the word 'believe'in a search for images, you will come across a lot of phrases like, 'believe in yourself', 'believe you can do it', 'believe you can succeed'. Many such phrases can be useful, for example in encouraging someone who is lacking in confidence to keep on trying to do something. But they ignore the great need of individuals and communities to believe in something beyond ourselves, to commit to something or someone greater, to turn outwards rather than inwards to our own selfish concerns.

It's the last day of Advent and also this year it is Christmas Eve. Christians are celebrating the birth of a baby something over 2000 years ago. I believe that God gave Jesus out of love for the world and all the people in it. Our family crib scene has a manger in the shape of a cruciform coffin. The baby Jesus lies on that piece of wood, a reminder that Jesus came to give his …

Child

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Advent is nearly over. Tomorrow is the 4th Sunday of Advent and also Christmas Eve.

The Advent Word for today is 'Child'.

The reason for the season of Christmas, which begins after dusk on Christmas Eve is the birth of one particular child, born in Bethlehem. So as an image for 'child' I have chosen this image of a painting in the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, over the underground cave where Jesus is said to have been born.

Here is a verse from the prophet Isaiah, often read in connection with God's gift of Jesus to the world:

"For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders,
and he is name
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9: 6 NRSV
Praise be to God for the gift of this child.

Image Credit: Commons Wikimedia

Greeting

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The Advent Word for today is 'Greeting'.

We're now well into the season of Christmas Greetings. Christmas is almost here. Some greetings arriving by card, text, email, phone call or in person come as a surprise. Someone you had not expected to greet you makes contact because this time is special.

I cannot think of a more surprising greeting or more surprising visitor than the one Mary the mother of Jesus received in Nazareth a little over 2000 years ago.

In the image (above) of an icon of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel appears eager to deliver his surprising greeting to Mary. There is also a suggestion that the angel is bowing the knee as if in obeisance to this ordinary but uniquely chosen and favoured young woman. Gabriel begins with the sort of greeting people expected to give to powerful and important people. I think I will let Luke tells the story:

'In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a…

Renew

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The Advent Word for today is 'renew'. So why the image of a soaring eagle? (Scroll to the bottom to find out.)
Renewing things can be hard work. It can involve mending, cleaning, sanding, polishing, painting, taking apart and reassembling.

To me, 'renew' can never mean replace the old with something completely different. I think of 'to renew' as meaning 'to transform', to create something better out of the material already there. That piece of furniture for example may look tired and worn out but in skilled hands can become like new.

People can become tired and worn out, especially in difficult situations like facing illness, anxiety, uncertainty and grief. Rest may help, but is not always enough to give the strength needed to keep putting one foot in front of another each day. Hope is something that most certainly helps to keep going, the hope of finding new strength, renewed faith.

In the Advent season, Christians read and hear many promises of hope that …

Embrace

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The Advent Word for today is 'embrace'.

That word 'embrace' made me think of the parable of the prodigal and his brother. This is a short, but multi-layered story told by Jesus. The younger son had left home and squandered the inheritance his father had generously given him. When the 'prodigal' had lost it all and feared he would die of hunger, in desperation he began to return home. He planned to confess to his father how he had wronged him and sinned against heaven. His best hope was for his father to hire him as a servant. The prodigal knew he was 'no longer worthy' to be called his father's child.

Many artists have portrayed the moment when the father, having seen his son while he was still far off, rushed out to embrace him and welcome him home as his much loved son. The image at the head of this post is by the 17th century painter Leonella Spada. Another painting of the father's embrace that I especially love is the one by Rembrandt. In '…

Open

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The Advent Word for today is 'open'.

Today I think I will let this image of open hands bearing a lit candle speak for itself.

What does it say to you?

Or you may like this short reflection for today from the Virginia Theological Seminary in their Advent Word calendar:
"Being OPEN is a gift we must receive each day from the God who opens up even the grave.Be OPEN to what has been.Be OPEN to what will be.OPEN me, God."Or you may like to look at a short prayer I wrote 3 years ago with another image of open hands. It begins,
'may this day be blessed with open hands...'.You can find it in 'May this day be blessed: response to BigRead14'.


Image Credit: Myriams-Fotos on Flickr, CC License

Dazzle

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The Advent Word for today is 'Dazzle'.

What could be more dazzling than the sun? A part of the sun is shown in this image of a filament eruption accompanied by solar flares. A sight to dazzle anyone attempting to look at it directly.

It is no surprise that sun worship features in many ancient religions, or that times, seasons and calendars are constructed in relation to the sun's position in the sky. Without the light of the sun there would be no life on earth, or at least not as we know it now.

In the vision of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 21 are these words about the 'city of God':"And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it."Revelation 21: 23
The glory of God is pictured as a light, glorious enough to give light for all nations. Will that light dazzle or simply enable us …

Light

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'Light'  is the Advent Word for today.

In Advent, Christians look forward to the coming of light into darkness.

And in Advent, Christians celebrate the fact that the true light has come, is coming and will come into the world. 

The coming of true light is cause for hope even in the darkest days.

As I wrote in 'What is Hope?' in Advent last year, hope is not wishful thinking or a denial of reality. On the contrary:
"Hope, like faith and love, are gifts of God, so do come from outside of us. Hope come from God who is other than us. We may discover hope within and cultivate hope by our actions. The challenge in times of despair is to open our eyes to small green shoots of hope and nurture those wherever we find them. In doing so, it helps to remember that God, who is the source of hope, is not only outside of us, but also behind us, before us, beside us and within us."Nancy Wallace in 'What is Hope?' a post on Seeker
John's Gospel begins with these words, …

Among

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The Advent Word for today is 'among' in the global Advent Calendar I am following this year.

Thinking about what to post in relation to the word 'among', I remembered Jesus' words in Luke 22: 27
"I am among you as one who serves."So I'm posting a painting by Ford Maddox Brown of Jesus washing Peter's feet at his Last supper. You can find that story in John 13: 1 - 20.  It's a wonderful example of the meaning of 'Emmanuel' - 'God-with-us'. Not God high and mighty or remote, but God among us, one of us, serving among us.

Image Credit: Commons Wikimedia

Trust

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In this image a child reaches for the hand of her father. For me that is a lovely illustration of trust. 

It looks as if father and child are walking.

It may be that the child has no idea where they are going, but that's not a problem to the child. Daddy is here and Daddy can be trusted.

How would you define trust?

What about trust in God? What does that mean to you? About 4 years ago I wrote a post entitled What does it mean to trust God? In that post are some links that some may find helpful. Take a look and see what you think.


Image Credit: mcdarius on Flickr, CC License

Wilderness

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What does the word 'wilderness' mean for you? 'Wilderness' is the Advent Word for today.

Is the wilderness a place of escape into the natural, uncultivated world of nature? In the hope of finding refreshment?

You can escape from people, but not from yourself or from God.

In the wilderness, the name of the game can become sheer survival, faced with the daily necessity to find water and food. In the wilderness wild beasts may threaten, in the form of jackals and wolves outside or the fears or depressive thoughts within.

The word 'wilderness' is found at least 300 times in the Bible. The people of God wander in the wilderness, complain about it, are led through it by God.

The wilderness is the place where God asks questions like:

what are you doing here?where are you going?will you listen to my voice?do you trust me?The wilderness is the place where God provides what is needed, water, food and a way to live in relationship with God and one another.
If you find yourself i…

Voice

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The Advent Word for today is 'voice'.
The phrase 'voice in the wilderness' is one of many English idioms that originates in the King James Version of the Bible. We use it about a person expressing an unpopular opinion or an idea likely to be ignored by the majority. John the Baptist was one such person. Although many came to hear his message, his preaching the need for repentance was so unpopular among powerful people he was imprisoned and in the end beheaded.
When questioned by religious authorities about his identity, John the Baptist quoted the prophet Isaiah and described himself as "the voice of one crying in the wilderness".This is a description of John the Baptist you can find in all 4 gospels: Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4 and John 1:23.
I am wondering, in the wilderness of this world: whose are the voices we need to hear?who are the people who dare not voice what they desperately need to say?who is suffering because they dare to be a voice in the wilder…

Watch

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'Watch' is the Advent Word for today in the global Advent Calendar I am following this year.

I love the way that groups of meerkats always have at least one meerkat on watch, alert to the surroundings. This is particularly for the safety and so the well-being of the group as a whole.

Jesus told his disciples to watch, stay alert, keep awake. In other words to have eyes, minds and hearts open and ready to see his coming, whenever and wherever that might be.

Jesus said: 
"Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. therefore, keep awake - for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, at at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all. Keep awake."Mark 13: 33 - 36 NRSV
In Advent, Christians…

Messenger

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There is so much bad news around at the moment, it becomes a particular joy to receive good news.

And good news is all the more likely to be believed when it is personally delivered by a loved and trusted messenger.

Advent is about the message of God coming to save. The messengers who herald that coming bring good news of comfort, peace and joy for those who receive that message.

Prophecies from the book of Isaiah are often read during this countdown to Christmas season. I especially love this one:

"How beautiful upon the mountainsare the feet of the messenger who announces peace,who brings good news,who announces salvation,who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns'.Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,together they sing for joy:for in plain sight they seethe return of the Lord to Zion.Break forth together into singing,you ruins of Jerusalem;for the Lord has comforted his people,he has redeemed Jerusalem.the Lord has bared his holy armbefore the eyes of all the nations;and al…

Prepare

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Advent is about getting ready for the coming of Christ.

How do we get ready? We prepare.

The Advent Word for today is 'prepare'. 

At this time of year, preparing for Christmas, we can become so focused on private preparations for friends and family like preparing food and presents, that we lose sight of the bigger picture.

The bigger picture involves preparation of heart, mind and will. It involves commitment to God's kingdom values of justice, love and peace.

In many churches today, on this 2nd Sunday of Advent, these words from the prophet Isaiah will be read:

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

Focus

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In the busy season of Advent it can be hard to take time out to do nothing.

It can be hard to make space to concentrate on an activity that brings you peace and joy.

The boy in this picture is keeping quiet and still. His focus is on his fishing line and especially its end where he hopes the fish will bite.

Whether this is work or play for the boy in the picture, he seems to have a clear focus. He is waiting and watchful. He seems to do nothing, but waiting and remaining attentive is not idleness. He is focused, prepared and ready to act at any time, not knowing if that will be sooner or later.

The Advent Word for today is 'Focus'. The brief meditation that accompanies it in the global Advent Calendar I am following this year is this:

"Imagine the lenses in your glasses get accidentally switched – everything is out of FOCUS; blurry.Today, be still and take time to FOCUS. You will see what you have never seen."
The Psalmist sings,
'Be still and know that I am God'. (…

Mend

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What has the word 'mend' got to do with Advent? It is the Advent Word for today in the calendar I am following.

Advent is about waiting expectantly for the coming of Christ to judge the world.

That is the great Christian hope: that in the end light fully overcomes darkness, evil will be destroyed. God will, with justice and mercy, mend what is broken and restore to wholeness what is wounded.

In the meantime, we live in a broken world where each can play a part in repairing relationships. No one can do everything but all can do something. Even 1 needle and piece of thread can be used to stitch a wound so it may heal. There's a lot of truth in the proverb, 'a stitch in time saves nine'. When something is in need of repair it is better to act sooner rather than later when things may get worse. Just think about potholes in the road, or tiles missing from a roof.

Mending sooner rather than later is especially true when someone needs to give or receive forgiveness in order t…

Heal

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'Heal' is the Advent Word for today.

To heal is one of the things God does, through natural processes, through medicines and physicians, through people and communities and through miracles.

Healing in the Bible is about much more than curing an illness. It is about wholeness, well-being, restoration, being at peace and in harmony, not only within oneself but with others and with God.

The Psalmist says this of God:
He heals the brokenhearted,and binds up their wounds.Psalm 147: 3
Jeremiah prays:
Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;save me, and I shall be saved;for you are my praise.Jeremiah 17: 14

Image: a Galilee beach, my own

Simplify

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Today I enjoyed one of my favourite breakfasts, a soft boiled-egg and a slice of rye bread. It's a simple, uncomplicated meal.

As I ate my breakfast, I thought about the Advent word for today given in the global Advent Calendar that I am trying to respond to each day of Advent 2017.


Today's Advent Word is 'simplify'.This makes me think of all those how-to articles in magazines and blogs, such as '10 steps to simplify your life', 'how to de-clutter your home'. Sometimes trying to do those things turns out to be more complicated than simple. Sometimes we don't want to let go of things or attitudes that get in the way of simple living. That doesn't mean it isn't worth making the effort, especially in the 'run-up to Christmas' when the pressure can be to do more, spend more, work harder to create that illusive 'perfect Christmas'.


I find the words 'live simply, that others may simply live' a real challenge.The origin of this…

Gather

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What do you think of when you hear the word 'gather'?
Yesterday I spilled a container of cashew nuts over other stuff in the kitchen.

It took a while to gather up what had been scattered. The nuts of course were powerless to get themselves back where they belonged. People on the other hand...(complete this sentence how you will.)

Christians regularly gather for worship, in the open air, in churches, homes and many places, including on-line. We belong in relationship with others and with God.


'Gather' is the Advent Word for today in the online global advent calendar that I am following.You can follow Advent Word on Twitter @adventword or sign up at Advent Word to receive a daily email during advent with the image and very short meditation.

Today's image shows people gathered for worship.





The accompanying meditation from Advent Word gives a reason for such gathering:

"We gather together because when “two or three are gathered in my name, there am I (Jesus) among them.”