Arise, shine; for your light has come

By now many of us will have put up our Christmas lights. But the origin of this festivity which we link with Christmas is more complicated than it may first seem. The pagan festival of light on the 21st December welcomed the return of light at the winter solstice acknowledging that all beginnings emerge from darkness. Yule or Yuletide (“Yule time” or “Yule season”) is a festival historically observed by the Germanic people. Many present-day Christmas customs and traditions such as the Yule log, Yule goat and Yule singing stem from pagan Yule traditions. For Christians this all has new meaning, as the light we look to is that of Christ who overcomes darkness with new life.

Isaiah 60: 1-6 NRSV

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”

Reflection

In the Old Testament the great Prophet Isaiah sees the hope of Israel as a brilliant light that will reach the darkest corners of the earth and human experience. In the New Testament, the Gospelers recognise that Jesus is that promised light, which john describes as: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

This light, which we celebrate in Advent in anticipation of the great feast of Christmas is first known inside a person, in the womb of Mary the mother of Jesus. Following the announcement of the angel Gabriel, God overshadows Mary, and she conceives within her womb the Emmanuel, which simply means, ‘God is with us.’ Mary is the first Christian, the first person to carry the light of Christ and share that light with everyone, the light that enlightens the nations. For the truth about the Incarnation, the God-event when the very light of the creator chooses to dwell among mortals, is that God does not stand aside but actually engages in what it is like to live, to know life, love, and all the emotions and experiences of being alive. The light comes among us. At the start of John’s Gospel (his prologue) he introduces another prophet – John the Baptist. The people ask, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” (John 1:22,23)

John acts as a bridge between the Old and New Testament – he points beyond himself, like Mary ever Virgin, to where the light truly dwells. But what about us? Do we long to dwell in light? Do we look forward to longer days and new life? Are we people of the light, who point to God and Jesus in all we say and do? Do we seek to bring the light of love into every situation?

As we decorate our homes and community with lights, to change the darkness of December into the hope of new light and life, may we remember how God chose to come among us, to bring his light into the darkness, just as Isaiah reminds, the light has come – his glory appears! (Isaiah 60:1)


Lord, the light of Your love is shining, in the midst of the darkness shining

Jesus, Light of the World, shine upon us, set us free by the truth You now bring us

Shine on me, shine on me.

Shine Jesus, shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory

Blaze Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire

Flow river, flow, flood the Nations with grace and mercy

Send forth your word, Lord, and let there be light.

Lord, I come to Your awesome presence, from the shadow into Your radiance

By the blood I may enter Your brightness, search me, try me, consume all my darkness

Shine on me, shine on me.

As we gaze on Your kingly brightness, so our faces display Your likeness

Ever changing from glory to glory, mirrored here, may our lives tell Your story

Shine on me, shine on me.


Lord, you have shown us the way from darkness into the light. May all who struggle amidst the darkness of this present age, see the light which is your love among us. Grant us all the grace to see a way forward through the present challenges of our time, illumined by your love. Amen. 

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

God is always looking for us

Traditionally during advent we come face to face with some challenging themes including death, hell and judgement – so hold onto your harts today as we enter the garden of Eden and retrace our first parents and their battle with good and evil!

Genesis 3: 11-11 NRSV

Now the serpent was craftier than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”


The Fall of Man (Hendrik Goltzius )

Reflection

How we read scripture really matters when we think about how we apply scripture. And today’s reading is an example of a passage that can help us understand our relationship with God and temptation (which we all experience) but I can’t put my hand on my heart and tell you this text is exactly what happened, because I don’t know that it is. However, it contains some important lessons for life, not least the way that God, all knowing, goes looking for his children in the garden for God searches us out, even when we have failed to live in his light and love.

The story starts with a talking serpent, as many tales do, and this creature is cunning and suggests to Eve that she can eat the fruit that had been forbidden by God and all would be well. We have often thought of this moment as Adam and Eve taking a bite from a beautiful red apple – much art on the subject depicts the scene in vivid colour. However, the Hebrew doesn’t specify an apple – it is fruit. Indeed, every decision we make, every action we take results in fruit – consequences. Here the temptation isn’t to do something in absolute opposite from God, but it’s a temptation to doubt God’s word just a little bit…so the craft snake says, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

We all know that’s how temptation works… oh go on a few mouthfuls more of chocolate, that extra sweat, that third portion of roast dinner, and many more things less appetising besides. Because friends, that’s how sin works. Rarely are any of us tempted to do something truly awful, truly evil, truly dreamful. Often bad decisions are made because we put ourselves before others and worst of all, as with Adam and Eve, put ourselves before God. We all miss the target from time to time.

Eve eats from the apple and passes the fruit to Adam her husband who does the same. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Feeling naked, vulnerable or even guilty is a classic reaction to sin. Another way of explain this biblical story is that Adam and Eve were unmasked – yes they did now know the truth, but what was revealed was their human frailty – and that is why the story is important to us today, because we too are frail. As Christians we believe that at such times all we have to do is to turn to Christ, because in the name of Jesus we can be forgiven, reconciled back to God because we are loved unconditionally in the first place. This is not some kind of cop-out, our mistakes, sins, selfishness all matter – they really do, and the come with consequences. But God doesn’t ever stop loving us. In the Genesis 3 story God looks for Adam and Eve because he loves them. May we remember, when we have let others or ourselves down, when we have made mistakes, when we have sinned, that God always longs to reconcile us, to help us make amends and to lead us back into life and light.


God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name;

I’ve been born again in Jesus name;

And in Jesus name I come to you

To share his love as he told me to.

He said, “freely, freely, you have received; Freely, freely, give.

Go in my name, and because you believe, others will know that I live.”

All power is given in Jesus’ name,

In earth and heaven in Jesus’ name;

And in Jesus’ name I come to you

To share his power as he told me to.

God gives us life in Jesus’ name,

He lives in us in Jesus name;

And in Jesus name I come to you

To share his peace as he told me to.


Prayer

Lord of love, we thank you that you always search us our and know us. In times of self doubt and temptation, help us to navigate life’s challenges. In times of failure or selfishness, restore us to your love. May we know how to make amends and love others, and even ourselves, for your sake, the one who brings light, hope and peace. Amen.

Can you wait for a bit?

Unfortunately COVID rules have resulted in the Winter Fair being cancelled

Isaiah 35: 4-10

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,[a]
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,[b]
    but it shall be for God’s people;[c]
    no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


Reflection

Andrew Falconer

It’s getting close to Christmas now, isn’t it?

I like Christmas, the traditions, the music, the sense that everything stops for – well at least for a day anyway. Many houses of my road have their Christmas decorations up. I tend to leave that until about a week before Christmas day so the novelty doesn’t wear off.

Remember Christmas as a child? The excitement! But, goodnesss, that wait. Advent seemed to last several months as the anticipation of the day itself wore on.

Anticipation.

When I was driving past Thorpe Park the other day I remembered being told by a member of staff there that there was a reason why queues for rides could be so long. Yes it was about crowd control, yes it was about capacity and safety. But it’s also about anticipation. The psychology suggests that sometimes the anticipation is as much of the event as the ride.

What are you anticipating?
A glimpse of what we thought was normal? Being able to see friends and family again without limitations and risk? A vaccine? Friends, we know that life will get better, but until then, we wait.

And as we wait, how do we keep our spirits up? OK so we don’t have to endure one of Fr. Damian’s Christmas pantos this year – yet perhaps, dare I say it, we’ll miss it. How do we keep our spirits up?

When I read the book of the prophet Isaiah I sometimes get a glimpse of this.  We talk of “the prophet” yet theologians believe it to have been the work of two writers. The book can be seen in three distinct parts – the first being attributed to Isaiah himself, the second and third parts written by an anonymous 6th century BC author writing in and returning from exile.

The book was written at a time of major political turmoil, with the Assyrian empire directly threatening the Kingdom of Judah. Life would have been very difficult for that community as once again they faced potential exile. They must have spent each day longing for and awaiting the promised Messiah to save them.

And today’s reading gives them encouragement. It lifts their spirits. It sends a powerful message about the transforming nature of Christ: “Then they eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.”

Over the last few days, as our Advent Maranatha! series develops, we’ve reflected on some serious considerations – judgement, the second coming, the need to be alert for Christ.

For us, we know that Christmas Day is the 25th December, Epiphany of 6th of January. We know that these really challenging months will give way to a vaccine and a high chance of a decent quality of life once more. We have a level of certainty. And that is a luxury. A luxury the jews didn’t have when Isaiah was writing. We can look back on the prophecy and see Word made Flesh, we can see that story unfold 2000 years ago.

But those Jews held faith. As a community they supported each other. Maranatha! is just one way for us as a church family to look after each other and over the next few months we must remain positive, actively listening out and helping those in need.


Psalm 119

17 Deal bountifully with your servant,
    so that I may live and observe your word.
18 Open my eyes, so that I may behold
    wondrous things out of your law.
19 I live as an alien in the land;
    do not hide your commandments from me.
20 My soul is consumed with longing
    for your ordinances at all times.
21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
    who wander from your commandments;
22 take away from me their scorn and contempt,
    for I have kept your decrees.
23 Even though princes sit plotting against me,
    your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24 Your decrees are my delight,
    they are my counsellors.


Final thoughts:

For many of us there hasn’t been much to get excited about this year. But we are now in a new Christian year and we have that most wonderful gift of Jesus to look forward to. The prophet Isaiah not only foretold Christ’s coming but ensured his Jewish community shared in that joyful anticipation. How will you experience that sense of excitement this year?

A prayer from Iona

You keep us waiting.

You, the God of all time,

Want us to wait for the right time in which to discover

Who we are, where we must go,

Who will be with us, and what we must do.

So, thank you…for the waiting time.

You keep us looking.

You, the God of all space,

Want us to look in the right and wrong places for signs of hope,

For people who are hopeless,

For visions of a better world that will appear among the disappointments of the world we know.

So, thank you…for the looking time.

You keep us loving.

You, the God whose name is love,

Want us to be like you –

To love the loveless and the unlovely and the unlovable;

To love without jealousy or design or threat,

And most difficult of all, to love ourselves.

So, thank you…for the loving time.

And in all this you keep us,

Through hard questions with no easy answers;

Through failing where we hoped to succeed and making an impact when we felt useless;

Through the patience and the dreams and the love of others;

And through Jesus Christ and his Spirit, you keep us.

Amen

Fill this house with splendour

As we enter the second week of Advent 2020, so we begin to think about the message of the prophets found in the Hebrew (Old Testament) scriptures. Haggai was one of those prophets who is a bit of a stirrer as he metaphorically gets out his prophetic wooden spoon and challenges the nation to rebuild their faith in the face of opposition and apathy. He is not only concerned with the re-build of the great Temple in Jerusalem, but the building of people’s heart for God, who longs to dwell once more among the faithful. 

Haggai 2: 4-7 NRSV

“And I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts.”

Four times Haggai presents God’s message to the people, but they don’t seem to be listening; perhaps they have their priorities wrong, or their sights set on other more worldly things, rather than the things of God. But the prophet persists with God’s message for them, and today with three weeks or preparation left this Advent, we too have a message from the Lord, that he is coming again. But will he find our priorities, our hearts are ordered in the right way?

Take time to think this Advent about your own priorities in life. Do you make time for Jesus, for prayer, for study of God’s word to us, the bible? When you make decisions, do you consider your faith as part of that process? The prophet Haggai may have been speaking of the re-build of Solomon’s great Temple, but no doubt God’s message is also direct at people’s lives and priorities, that which really matters, not buildings but faith.

And if you are finding this challenging, then don’t panic. It takes time to change our priorities and re-order our hearts to make the room needed for God’s dwelling presence which transforms lives. You have three more weeks to pray, “come Lord Jesus into my heart, my life.” And I promise this, that like the great prophets, when we hear the call of God upon our lives and give ourselves to Jesus, the transformation is just incredible. It simply takes our willingness to have a go, to trust the Lord of life who loves us. 

Lord Jesus, think on me, and purge away my sin;

from earth-born passions set me free and make me pure within.

Lord Jesus, think on me, with care and woe oppressed,

let me Thy loving servant be and taste Thy promised rest.

Lord Jesus, think on me, nor let me go astray;

through darkness and perplexity, point Thou the heav’nly way.

Lord Jesus, think on me, that, when the flood is past,

I may eternal brightness see and share Thy joy at last.

Translator: Allen William ChatfieldAuthor: Synesius of Cyrene, Bishop of Ptolemais

Prayer

Lord of transformation, we thank you for your prophets who brought your message of hope and salvation to your people. Help us to day to look for the signs of your kingdom and to open our hearts to the new life you long to pour into our lives. Amen. 

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

Is my son to be the one good Shepherd?

David Howard is Director of Music at St. Mary’s Church, Thorpe

Zechariah 10: 3-12

“My anger is hot against the shepherds and I will punish the leaders for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock. I will bring them back because I have compassion on them and they shall be as though I have not rejected them; for I am the Lord for God and I will answer them. I will signal for them and gather them in, for I have redeemed them and they shall be as many as of old. I will make them strong in the Lord and they shall glory in his name” says the Lord.


Reflection:

Often, the image of Jesus the good Shepherd is one of cosy sentimentality and we miss the true significance of the title; particularly living as we do in a society so very different from that out of which that title sprang.

In the Middle East today, shepherds and their flocks are still very much an integral part of society and the point of our Lord’s title can in that setting be forcibly brought home.

The Shepherd rises at dawn, sometimes having slept on comfortably out in the cold night air. He leads or drives his flat to the nearest water hole, and then to some scrubby pasture. In the blistering heat of the day he keeps the perpetual watch for predators. He rounds up and searches for the thirsty and lost stragglers in the evening. It is emphatically not a job for the weak, but one for the strong.

The image of the Shepherd is that of a strong ruler, who cares for his people and is concerned for their protection and safety even at risk to himself. It is no surprise therefore that in the old Testament God’s care for his people is expressed many times in terms of a shepherd’s care for his flock. “The Lord is my Shepherd, therefore shall I lack nothing” is the most familiar example of all. God cares for his people with the same care that the Shepherd has for his flock and with the same costly devotion.

And yet, with all the gifts we have from our planet Earth, we continue to squander them, make waste that changes the climate, affecting us now as well as all future generations.

Go outside and take a slow, ponderous, in-focus look at any part of nature. The result of evolution is truly wondrous.

In much the same way as the planets circle the Sun in our solar system, atomic particles circle the nucleus of atoms – the awesome building blocks of matter. The difference is simply a matter of scale. Consider where you fit in terms of scale in relation to God.

Verses from Psalm 80

Here are the Shepherd of Israel, so that lead is Joseph like a sheep.

Show thyself also thou that sittest upon the cherubim.

Before Ephraim Benjamin, and Manassas.

Stir up the strength and come and help us.


A Perspective from Mary:

Why I wonder does God continue to love his people? Certainly he has earmarked them and set them aside whilst giving choice to the whole of mankind. Since our descent from Adam and Eve, man continues to choose badly, to make the wrong choices, not through ignorance of the correct path but through the ignoring of the Divine Will.

If the shepherds lead gods people along the path of the wicked for their own corrupt ends, is judgement not likely to be swift and sure?

Is my son to be the one good Shepherd?

Final thoughts

Let us take steps always to make choices that are right. Let us ponder God’s creation; nature itself, considering the microscopic atomic level and its relationship to the macroscopic level of the solar system and what is beyond. Such steps start in our daily lives as we make everyday choices about how we live our lives and a focussed choice about our belief.

Amen

Making sense of Advent 2020

Zechariah 9: 9-17

Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion.

Shout aloud O daughter of Jerusalem!

Lo your king comes to you,

triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on an ass.

As for you also,

because of the blood of the covenant with you,

I will set your captives free from the waterless pit.

Return to your stronghold

O prisoners of hope;

today I declare that I will restore you double.

then the Lord will appear over them…

On that day the Lord their god will save them

for they are the flock of his people;

for like the jewels of a crown

they shall shine on his land.

Yea, how good and how fair it shall be.


Reflection

This passage starts with joy and excitement and in the past this would be true of many, particularly the young, as they began to see the Christmas lights, the adverts on the telly, gazed at all the goods specially arranged in shop windows,  the writing of wants to Santa.  

Sadly this is not the same story this year.   But there will still be the delight in getting out the cribs from the attic and dusting off Mary and Joseph, shepherds and Angels but keeping the Baby Jesus safe – not yet to put in place.   is there the usual  sense of joy and excitement for you ….what are the concerns about the festive season?  do you feel motivated to put up a tree?  who are you worried about?

Our joy can be there as we look forward to the coming of Jesus into the World – god’s Gift to us to bring us awareness of the disharmony in which man lives and shows us another Path…..the way to Heaven.

Our passage continues with the picture of the king, showing his peaceful nature as he rides on an ass, not a strong horse as was used by powerful authoritarian emperors.  This passage was brought into the New Testament from Zechariah showing how Jesus on Palm Sunday fulfilled what had been written.   He rode in triumph heralding his teachings of Love, righteousness, care for others, devotion to His Father.

Follow me and you will be rewarded “the Lord your God will save you”

how do we make sense of this during the season of Advent?  For many of us we have been bewildered by what Christmas had been in the past  – the frantic shopping, incredible spending, trying to outdo the Joneses, the ‘must have’ mentality, with little thought to what this Festival is really all about.

How will your preparation this year compare with the past for you?

It is a time of darkness and in some countries very little  light.   An icelander told me “we go into ourselves and are very quiet.”  It is in the quiet that God speaks to us….the Stable shows us simplicity – Will you be able to find some quiet, some simplicity in the weeks leading up to December 24?

At the time these Old Testament words were written the Jewish people were in exile , suffering, needing encouragement.   In the time of Jesus there was Roman rule and again a longing for a Messiah to bring them freedom. But Jesus brought a message that the longed for change needed to be in the hearts of men,  to let go of materialism and earthly desires as the be all and end all.   And we today, as we prepare for the remembering of the Incarnation, we need to go deeply beyond the preparations, the lights and carols and hold deep desires for  spiritual union with the Almighty Presence manifesting in the Babe in the manger.  

How will we do this?    How do we nourish our Soul?  How do we give space for prayer?  there has to be repentance, acknowledging our weakness and forgetfulness.    the word Return in our reading has a translation also of Repent….only by placing our dross at the Lord’s feet will we have space for God to show us He is with us. 

As we read the Apocalyptic writing – a piece to nourish faith in a time of difficulty – we realise that we today are in a time of great difficulty – lockdown,  loss of loved ones, loss of work,  anxiety, fear, loneliness, for many a sense of hopelessness and a yearning for help.    the signs of God are here:  God has come through many generous dedicated people in the NHS, the care homes and the multitude of volunteers who have given support in many different ways.    God has inspired many to think of others – keeping social distance, wearing face coverings, following the requests to keep safe, contacting those on their own, showing love to those who are hurt and sad

But, as in the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, there are many who have ignored the call of consideration, who have profited from the vulnerable and tried to minimise the danger of this covid virus.  The Lord is a judge and Jesus’ parables tell us many times through ‘foolish virgins’. scared servants and someone wrongly clothed at a feast, what can lie ahead for them.     

How do you come to terms with these messages?  what prayer do you offer?

Can we pray that in this time of Advent we may deepen our Faith to be able to find ways to strengthen the Light from the jewels in the Crown so that more will see the Light and be bound by it, delighted with the Good News of God’s Kingdom and see in the Incarnation, the Christmas Festival,  a new beginning in their lives.  

How can we all start something anew in our thankfulness and desire for God’s Blessing….seeing God’s Love in manifesting Himself to become a visible Presence for us in God made man?  A Presence whose words are to be heeded and discussed and shared in our personal spiritual journeys.

A Presence who will inspire us into action in His name.

What does this mean for you?   What can you write down in a God Action Plan? 

The Light is there, as we have seen in the concern, generosity, dedication of so many;  it must not be dimmed and we must echo the Aramaic prayer “Maranatha!’ – Come, Lord!’ 

We are your flock. We are here.


A prayer by Michel Quoist

If we knew how to listen to God, if we knew

how to look around us, our whole life would become prayer.

For it unfolds under God’s eyes and no part of it must be

lived without being freely offered to him.

At first we communicate with God through words.

which may be dispensed with later on.

Words are only means.

However, the silent prayer which has moved

beyond words must always spring from everyday life,

for everyday life is the raw material of prayer.

O come thou Root of Jesse

Today we are considering the Root of Jesse from the prophecy of Isaiah.

One of the past-times I’ve taken up this year has been researching my family tree. I admit that I thought it would be fairly straight-forward given modern technology but it really isn’t. Sometimes you’re making educated guesses about ancestors and undertaking research to see if you’re right. And I’m finding the more I research people that more I empathise and feel connected to them. In my family so far we have peasant farmers, railway workers, professional musicians, social climbers, teachers, soldiers and factory workers. Part of the family lived in the same villages in the borders of Scotland for centuries; others were moved in the Highland Clearances and ended up in Edinburgh.

There’s great contentment in knowing more about my roots.

Root of Jesse

The Root of Jesse is depicted in orthodox and Western Christian art as a way for us to understand Christ and his origins. We know how important it was to Matthew and Luke, the Gospel writers, that the genealogy of Jesus was illustrated for the communities they were writing for. They needed to know that Jesus was from the Davidic line. Jesse, father of King David being a direct ancestor of Jesus, Immanuel.

Our reading for today establishes that genealogy. Jesus fulfils that prophecy.

A couple of years ago, Jane Williams explored Advent in a series of articles for the Church Times. She says of the Root of Jesse: “The tree that looks dead, looks as though its story is at an end, will blossom again, and with it the new age will dawn.”

She continues:

“Isaiah describes the coming one as wise, strong, and just. Nothing deceives God’s Messiah, because he does not judge by human standards but by divine, and so the world can at last be at peace. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11.6-7).”

A little child. A child that we know will establish our relationship with God, creating a new covenant with the Creator.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Thank you to Br Paul-Vincent and the monks of St John’s Abbey, Minnesota for giving us permission to use this recording.

Malcolm Guite reflects on the Root of Jesse:

O Radix

All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,

Rose from a root invisible to all.

We knew the virtues once of every weed,

But, severed from the roots of ritual,

We surf the surface of a wide-screen world

And find no virtue in the virtual.

We shrivel on the edges of a wood

Whose heart we once inhabited in love,

Now we have need of you, forgotten Root

The stock and stem of every living thing

Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,

For now is winter, now is withering

Unless we let you root us deep within,

Under the ground of being, graft us in.

Malcolm Guite

We are grateful to Malcolm Guite for giving us permission to publish the poem here.

The Sheep and the Goats

Matthew 25:31-46

31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”

45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’


Reflection

Mother Jo Winn-Smith

Jesus’s parables were often set in a context familiar to his listeners. This story of the sheep and the goats would have been easily understood by the crowd gathered round him.

A couple of years ago I was on holiday in Morocco. We’d been on a camel ride and were relaxing after in a Bedouin tent, drinking mint tea.

The big tent opened out onto a courtyard, and whilst we were there, as it was starting to be late afternoon, a loud, noisy mixed herd of sheep and goats flooded into the homestead.

They were all jumbled up together, having been out on the savannah. But as they came in, without direction or order, they automatically and naturally separated off into two groups: one of sheep and one of goats. Each creature knew which was its trough and water, and split off, without exception to their respective sides.

Advent includes this theme of judgement, as we are preparing not just for Christmas but Second Coming. This stark story, indicates it will be clear who followed Jesus, and who did not. I wonder, if like the sheep and goats I saw in Morocco, if we do not actually know, deep in our heart of hearts, which side we are on? We know if we follow Jesus, we know if we have accepted the truth, we know if we love God and seek to honour him in our lives.

This is not to say anyone is either 100% good, or 100% bad. There will be times we have helped others, and times we have not. We all need God’s grace and forgiveness. But I suspect we also know deep down, whether or not we have opened our hearts to that grace, whether we ask God to guide us to make those loving decisions, or if we actually don’t take it that seriously and haven’t let our lives be changed by knowing Jesus.

How can we know? How can we grow to be more loving and sharing of what we have? Opening our hearts and minds to God can start right here. Engaging this Advent in these Maranatha reflections, is exactly the sort of thing that is the kind of practice that if we develop it, shapes our souls and helps us to see with the eyes of love, the eyes of God.


Prayer

Lord Jesus,

Help us to know you, to be your sheep. Shape us, mould us, form our hearts to see as you do. Encourage us and inspire us to see how we can give of what we have, use our talents, use what is in our storehouses, to share with others and tend to those in need.

In your precious name we pray,

Amen.

Parable of the Bridesmaids

Jane Carter reflects on the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids and the Coming of the Son of Man from Matthew’s Gospel.

I don’t know about you, but I feel its all too easy to sit sleepily by the fire and do nothing. Especially when we are encouraged to stay at home and not mix with people or join in stimulating activities.

But though our outer lives may be constrained at this time, in Advent we are told to be inwardly awake, watchful, with lamps lit and plenty of oil in reserve. In our inner lives of prayer and relationship with God this is just the sort of time when some new experience of opportunity may come unexpectedly. In the turmoil the Bridegroom comes at an unexpected hour – this is the message of Advent.

“The Call” by Charlotte Mew describes dramatically the experience of suddenly being woken up and impelled into action. A not knowing, but yet a conviction that we must respond to the call:

From our low seat beside the fire
Where we have dozed and dreamed and watched the glow
Or raked the ashes, stopping so
We scarcely saw the sun or rain
Above, or looked much higher
Than this same quiet red or burned-out fire.
To-night we heard a call,
A rattle on the window-pane,
A voice on the sharp air,
And felt a breath stirring our hair,
A flame within us: Something swift and tall
Swept in and out and that was all.
Was it a bright or a dark angel? Who can know?
It left no mark upon the snow,
But suddenly it snapped the chain
Unbarred, flung wide the door
Which will not shut again;
And so we cannot sit here any more.
We must arise and go:
The world is cold without
And dark and hedged about
With mystery and enmity and doubt,
But we must go
Though yet we do not know
Who called, or what marks we shall leave upon the snow.

Are we awake to the possibility of a call or a new understanding What is God asking of us this Advent and Christmastide? Are we ready to respond to surprises in our lives of prayer?

“I believe that you are the son of God”

John 11: 24-27 Martha said to Jesus, “I know that Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Martha says to Jesus in a wonderful declaration of her faith, “I believe that you are the messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” She says these words, speaking as it were through tears of grief, having just lost her dear brother Lazarus. She is willing, even in the face of her bereavement, to declare that Jesus is God’s Son and trust him with her future, her brother’s future, indeed the future of the whole world, past, present and yet to come.

At times of loss for us, physical or emotional, we too can turn to Jesus and trust that God has a plan for the world and that we are part of that, we can bring hope, faith and life to others.

In a few days’ time we will switch-on our church Christmas lights sadly with no ceremony this year due to Covid. I pray they will shine light into the darkness of this time bringing real hope, comfort and even faith.

May we, like Martha have the courage to shine a light onto the truth and help others to know that Jesus loves them too, that our Lord seeks to comfort them and offer them hope, to illumine their lives with faith.

Because Jesus who knows what it is to carry a heavy load, to suffer and to die, embraces us with love and brings us by his grace alone to the joy of God’s presence which is life everlasting, the kingdom of heaven.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,

In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,

Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,

Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,

Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;

Thy justice like mountains high soaring above

Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all life thou givest to both great and small;

In all life thou livest, the true life of all;

We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,

And wither and perish but nought changeth thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,

Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;

All laud we would render: O help us to see

‘Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.

Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908)

With Jesus, our perspective on life has a new gleaming horizon, a promised destination where the angles of the Most High adore. Martha, in those few words of hope to Jesus, demonstrates how she comprehends this hope. May we, with her, be willing to declare that Jesus is the Son of God, the one coming into the world.


Lord of light, as we prepare for Advent at a time when Christmas will feel very different to years gone by, help us to shine the light of faith into places of darkness, bereavement and challenge. Walk with us these coming days we pray, guide our steps and help us to place our trust in you alone, the one who offers faith and the hope of eternal life. Amen.  

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!