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Showing posts from December, 2018

Weeping on the 4th Day of Christmas

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Christmas can be really hard to get through, for those who are grieving or feel they have nothing to celebrate.

Some churches put on a special quiet service before Christmas for those who simply cannot face the crowds or joyful singing at the usual Christmas and Carol Services. A quiet alternative service like 'Blue Christmas Service' can be just what some people most need at this time. Such services give permission not to be merry, say it it OK to grieve while others rejoice.

We are still in the season of Christmas and during these 12 days from Christmas Day to Epiphany (January 6) the church calendar has a number of special days that often get forgotten.

Today's commemoration certainly gives permission not to "laugh and be merry". Rather, it gives permission to weep, to protest, to rage in anger, to ask 'why do the innocent suffer'?

Today, the 4th Day of Christmas is called 'Holy Innocents Day'. It commemorates the story of a dreadful massacre of yo…

#celebrate

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It's Christmas Day and today's #AdventWord2018 is #celebrate.

Yes, today is a day to celebrate. The reason for celebration is the birth of Jesus.

Christians celebrate because the message of the angels to the shepherds is of good news of great joy to all people.

Christians celebrate because we believe that in Jesus, God gave himself to the world, not in overwhelming power or extraordinary ways, but in the vulnerability and weakness of a baby. And that greatest of gifts is the gift of love, something to be shared and celebrated.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning,- Jesu, to thee be glory give'n; word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
If, for whatever reason, you feel you have no reason to celebrate today, may you know peace and discover before too long a reason to be joyful.

Image Credit: Pixabay, CC License

#peace

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Todays #AdventWord in 2018 is #peace.

It is also now Christmas Eve in the UK, so Christmas is almost here.

One of the main messages of Christmas is 'peace'. Many Christmas cards carry images of a dove of peace.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He brings, not the sort of peace that is merely absence of war and conflict, but the deep inner peace that "passes understanding."

One of the prophecies from Isaiah , often read at Carol Services, speaks of a child born to us, a son given to us, who is named:
"Wonderful counsellor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6).
And on Christmas Day, alongside a gospel account of Jesus' birth, other verses from Isaiah may be read, like these:
"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'. " (Isaiah 52: 7)And yet, we have to go on asking, where is that promised reign of peace …

#persist

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On the 22nd day of Advent the #AdventWord2018 is #persist.
To run a marathon you have to persist. You have to persist through months of training when you wonder if it will be worth it. And then there is the day of the race itself when those who are determined to reach the goal however long it takes are rewarded.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, along with Joseph, had to persist through a rocky hilly journey to Bethlehem for a compulsory census and tax payment. They had to persist through whatever worries they may have had about finding accommodation and paying the tax. They had to persist in faith that Mary's baby would be the One got promised, the Saviour. If that was really the case, why didn't God make it easier for them?
Mary had to persist through the pain of labour, probably knowing that many other women died in childbirth and the infant mortality rate was high. Humanly speaking, there was no guarantee of a rewarding outcome.

It's only when you are nearly at the end that you c…

#expect

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When you think about God breaking into human life, what do you expect? Earthquakes? Wind? Fire? Storm? Upheaval?
When you think about one sent from God, who comes to save, what do you expect? A strong superman? A warrior at the head of a conquering army?

What do you expect?

Advent is about preparation for God coming to our world in Jesus Christ. Today's #Advent Word on this 21st day of Advent is #expect.

When you think of Christ's coming, what do you expect?

I love Rowan William's poem on this theme, which I quote in full below:

Advent Calendar
He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed …

#Sign

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It's the 20th day of Advent and this year Advent only has 24 days. If you are wondering why, then take a look at Preparing for Advent 2018.

We've reached that stage in Advent when even those who try to observe the whole season of Advent, find that Christmas seems to be so almost here that we just allow Christmas to overtake Advent.

I certainly found that to be true when thinking how to respond to today's Advent Word #sign.

The word 'sign' immediately made me think about what the angel of the Lord told the frightened shepherds on the margins of Bethlehem, on the night Jesus was born. How were the shepherds to know that the good news of great joy for all people that the angel promised was true? The angel gave them a sign:
"This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." Luke 2: 12 (NRSV)What an unlikely sign of universal good news!

The shepherds decided to investigate and went immediately to Bethlehem to see f…

#Ablaze

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It's the 19th day of Advent and today's word in the #AdventWord2018 online calendar is #ablaze.

So, why do I choose an image of a dove against a background of fire? It's because much Advent focus relates to John the Baptist. John preached with fiery passion to prepare the way for the coming Christ.

John declared that one was coming after him who will "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Matthew 3: 11). In Matthew's gospel that prophecy is followed by John's baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. As Jesus came up from the water "he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him." (Matthew 3: 16).

Dove and fire are contrasting metaphors for the work of the Holy Spirit who both brings peace and sets hearts ablaze with love for God and neighbour.

The reflection on AdventWord today asks 4 questions:

What sets your heart on fire?How are you ablaze with the good news of Jesus?How are you spreading love in the world?Where is t…

#Wash

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What do you do when you're dirty and sweaty? You wash.

What do you do when you're tired and stressed? You relax in a bath or pool to wash aware the cares.

What do you do when you need a kick start in the morning? You wake yourself up with a shower to wash and revive you.

All of those are wonderful gifts for those of us with the privilege of easy access to fresh, clean water. After a bath, shower or swim, one can feel like a new person, ready to face whatever comes next.

On this 18th day of Advent the #AdventWord2018 is #wash, a word that evokes so many images and memories.

Without water we couldn't live, so it's not surprising that most of the world's religions use water in a variety of symbolic ways, including to wash. During Advent, Christians remember how John the Baptist baptised people in the River Jordan as a sign of repentance, turning away from sin and towards God. The ritual wash in the river water marked a new start, a change of direction for those who repent…

#Ancestor

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Today's #AdventWord is #ancestor. That word reminded me of the search for ancestral roots that I have been engaged on for the last few years.

This photo is a gravestone in old St Mungo's Churchyard in Penicuik, Midlothian, Scotland, where many of my Scottish ancestors were buried.

Amateur genealogical research has become a popular hobby, in recent years. I have found it fascinating. It has helped me to understand more about my own family and the places and events that shaped my forbears' lives. As I have perused handwritten Christian baptism, marriage and burial records I've become more grateful for the heritage of Christian faith that has been passed down to me through many generations, including my grandparents and parents. By the grace of God, that faith has become real to me. Thanks be to God.

I haven't much time today, but later I may update this post with a reflection about Abraham, seen as the faith ancestor of Jewish, Muslim and Christian people. 

Image Credit:…

#Sing

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Today's #AdventWord 2018 is #sing.

On this 16th day of Advent, the word sing' follows on well from yesterday's word 'rejoice'.

I wonder what this robin is singing? What message are other robins receiving?

The word 'sing' reminds me of one of my favourite Psalms in the Bible. The Psalms are a collection of ancient songs, used in Jewish and Christian worship.

Psalm 96 is a song in praise to God who comes in judgement and mercy. It's opening words are these:
"O sing to the Lord a new song:sing to the Lord, all the earth.sing to the Lord, bless his name;tell of his salvation from day to day.Declare his glory among the nations,his marvellous works among all the peoples.For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;he is to be revered above all gods.For all the gods of the peoples are idols,but the Lord made the heavens.Honour and majesty are before him;strength and beauty are in his sanctuary."Psalm 96: 1 - 6 (NRSV)



Image Credit: Pixabay, CC License

#Rejoice

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On this 15th day of Advent the #AdventWord is #rejoice.
This elephant seems to be rejoicing in the moment. That is why I chose it for today's word 'rejoice'.
Today happens to be the 3rd Sunday of Advent, sometimes called 'rejoicing Sunday' or 'Gaudete' Sunday. Some churches indicate that this is a Sunday to rejoice by using rose coloured vestments or lighting a pink candle among the otherwise purple or blue Advent Candles.
For those churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary, at least one of the Bible readings used in church on this 3rd Sunday of Advent gives a reason to rejoice or has a call to be joyful. It provides a more upbeat tone in what can be a solemn season.
How can Christians rejoice when there is so much wrong in the world? When so many people face seemingly hopeless situations that never seem to get better? Isn't that to put our heads in the sand, to use religion as an escape from real problems? What if you are feeling miserable when yo…

#Prepare

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On this 14th day of Advent, the #AdventWord2018 is #prepare.

To prepare for Christmas is a task that can be enjoyable, stressful, sad or exciting. It depends on your situation just now.

One of my happy childhood memories is helping to stir together the ingredients for a traditional Christmas pudding. I still love the smell of a mixture of dried fruit soaking in rum or brandy, before the other ingredients are added. Ideally this Christmas pudding preparation should be done a long time before Advent begins to allow the cooked pudding to mature for a few months.

A common question at this time of year is, are you ready for Christmas? To which my answer is almost always, no. Last year, in a post called 'Prepare', I wrote of how Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of Christ and how that involves:

preparation of heart, mind and willcommitment to God's kingdom values of justice, love and peace.What helps you to prepare to celebrate Christmas? What helps you to prepare for the co…

#Prune

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The garden is beginning to look tidy for the winter. The necessary pruning is done, ready for a time of dormancy before the new growth of spring.

The vine now looks dead, but it is not. It's life is hidden for now. I trust that the fresh shoots, leaves and eventually grapes will appear during 2019 as they have every previous year.

To prune is a gardener's act of care, of cleaning up what is unproductive or getting in the way of better growth.

In the digital online calendar #AdventWord2018 I am responding to each day this Advent season, today's  is #prune. That word prune immediately took me to Jesus' enigmatic statement in John 15:1 - 5:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abid…

#Smooth

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#Smooth is the word for the 12th day of Advent in the #AdventWord2018 online calendar that I am following this Advent season.

Linking it with yesterday's word 'rough' and the Advent theme of preparing a way, today's word 'smooth' reminds me of words from the prophet Isaiah.

Those words are quoted by gospel writers (e.g. Luke 3: 1 - 6) to describe the mission of John the Baptist who called for all obstacles to be removed that would get in the way of revealing the glory of the Lord, seen in Jesus Christ. 

Here are the words from the prophet Isaiah:

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 (NRSV)
Image Credit: Pixaba…

#Rough

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#Rough is the #AdventWord2018 for this 11th day of Advent.

The word 'rough' reminds me of rough roads like the one in this photo. 'Rough' makes me think of hard times, desperate situations.

'Rough' also makes me think of the Advent theme of preparing a way for Christ. That preparation is about making rough places smooth, challenging injustice and oppression. That preparation work is in itself a rough and difficult task, not at all comfortable and often dangerous as John the Baptist knew to his cost. 

So, here for the 12th day of Advent and thinking of that rough and challenging work is an uncomfortable blessing: 

May God bless us with a restless discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that we may seek truth boldly
and love deep within our heart.

May God bless us with holy anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
so that we may tirelessly work for justice, freedom
and peace among all people.

May God bless us with the gift …

#Go

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Today's #AdventWord2018 for the 10th day of Advent is #go.

The word 'go' got me thinking about the last journey we each have to make, that is death.

'Go' also reminds me of the many ways we need to 'let go' in life, sometimes to let go of things, attitudes or habits, in order to make room for something better.

The final letting 'go' is the letting go of life as we go into death. For Christians, that final letting go into death, is in the 'sure and certain hope' of making room for something far better in the resurrection to new life.

Most of us would hope to 'go in peace', as old Simeon felt he could do when he held the child Jesus in his arms and saw in him the light that would lighten all nations. You can read more about that in Candlemas 2018.

When someone we love is dying and hope of recovery has gone, it is hard to let them go. It is natural to cling on to them, but sometimes the one who knows they are dying needs to hear spoken words…

Cry

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For the 9th day of #AdventWord 2018, my response to today's word #cry  is a prayer from the Bible.
"Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you.
do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call."
Psalm 102: 1 - 2 (NRSV)

And here is another version of that same prayer, set to music by the French composer Jacques Berthier (1923 - 1994). It is a sung prayer from the Taizé community in France.
In this short video by Maureen Ward the prayer is accompanied by some lovely peaceful images.
If you do not feel the need to pray this for yourself, perhaps you could pray it for someone else who cries today and is in need.




Image Credit: Pixabay, CCO License

#Wild

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On the 8th day of Advent the #AdventWord2018 is #wild.

Today also happens to be the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Bursting on the scene, through the gospel reading on this day,is a man who emerges from the wilderness and preaches around the Jordan river.

His name is John the Baptist. He is a cousin of Jesus.

John the Baptist dresses in camel hair and leather and eats locusts and wild honey. There was nothing unusual about either his dress or his diet for people living in that wild desert region.

What I see as most 'wild' about him was his fearless, passionate preaching.John the Baptist was wild in the risks he took in his prophetic preaching. Crowds come out to be baptised by him and he calls those coming, 'you brood of vipers'. This was because he saw that some of those who asked for his baptism of repentance, were not repentant, not willing to change the way that lived and so show the genuine fruits of repentance.

John the Baptist was 'wild' in that he was not afraid …

#Alert

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It's the 7th day of Advent. (No, Advent doesn't always begin on 1 December. See 'Preparing for Advent 2018'.)
During Advent, Christians prepare for the coming of Jesus. That coming happens in the past, present and future. Because Jesus entered our world as one of us in the past, we can know him in the present and anticipate his future coming when God's kingdom, of justice, mercy and joy, will come on earth as it is in heaven.

Advent waiting in hope for the coming kingdom isn’t passive. In many churches last Sunday the gospel reading was Luke 21: 25 - 36. In that Bible passage, Jesus calls us to "be on guard, alert and ready".
Today's word for #AdventWord2018 in the online calendar I am using for daily reflection is #alert. So how can we be alert? As attentive to what is around us as the meerkats on guard at the head of this post? How can we, in Jesus' words, 'be on guard, alert and ready'?
Jesus invites us to look, to have an attitude of atte…

#Sprout

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On this 6th day of Advent the #AdventWord2018 word is 'sprout'.

I don't know about you, but 'sprout' makes me think about the sprouts that are a traditional vegetable at Christmas dinners in the UK. Sprouts are hated by some. I like them, especially when raw or nearly raw.

Sprouts grow and reach their best at the coldest time of year and are best harvested after the first winter frosts. They provide a fresh green vegetable that can be grown without artificial heat and do not need to be imported into the UK. They sprout from hard stems in the cold winter. As such they could be seen as a sign of fresh new life.

The image I've chosen to place at the head of this post is not the vegetable, as I hope you realise. The image is of a green plant sprouting in an unlikely place, shooting up through the hardness of asphalt. As I look at this image of new life, it reminds me of a reading from the Hebrew Bible that is often read at Advent and Christmas carol services. In these…

#Light

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Yesterday's Advent post was about night and its associated darkness. To state the obvious: when people are in darkness they need light.

On this 5th day of Advent the #AdventWord2018 is #light.

In the Bible 'light' is often used as a symbol both of God and of the people of God. Light is used to describe God bringing salvation to people who walk in darkness so they may have the light of life.

The opening of John's Gospel describes Jesus is as the true light coming into the world and rejected by some who prefer darkness to light.

Later, in that same gospel, are these words of Jesus:
"...I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." John 8: 12 (NRSV) You may be reading this blog because you are a follower of Jesus. Or you may wonder what it means to follow Jesus but are unsure how to start. You could start by planning to attend a Christmas service at a church near you.

Meanwhile, if you need some straight…

#Night

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One Advent theme is finding light in darkness, hope in despair. Today's word for reflection on this 4th day of Advent in the #AdventWord2018 online calendar is #night.

In the Northern hemisphere, the Advent season falls at a dark time of year, with short days and long nights.  The long #night of winter darkness affects us physiologically and emotionally. Darkness can also be a metaphor for hopelessness, for oppression, for feeling lost and seeing no way out whatever pit we find ourselves in.

Light is essential for human life. No wonder we like to light candles in the darkness. No wonder we want to light up the #night. One reason to observe Advent, rather than rushing too quickly to decorate our homes and public spaces with Christmas lights, is that where there is darkness, we need to name it. We need to get real about whatever darkness we face within and around us. We need to acknowledge the mess we are in. We can best welcome light when through the #night we have been longing for l…