When I was at Theological College I remember a visiting speaker asking us to share with the group where our home was. I naturally responded saying it was here at Queens – because for that 2 year period Queens was home…
But immediately I was asked – “no I mean where is your actual home…”, and I pushed back… “this is my actual home…”
Having moved around a lot as a child, and now training for itinerant ministry – despite the instability it offers, I’ve got quite used to home being a movable place – that where my family is is home.
The Nativity story is also one of changing home. Mary and Joseph leave their home town of Nazareth, and find a borrowed room in Bethlehem – and then they have tio move on again – and end up in Egypt.
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
I wonder how Mary & Joseph felt at that time. They’d got earthly responsbility for God’s son – indeed to them Jesus was their son – and yet so much danger surrounds them.
This year I’ve come to question the line in Once in Royal David’s City ‘And through all His wondrous childhood’ (verse 3). Was Jesus childhood years, living as a refugee, an alien in a foreign land, wonderous? Is it wonderous to live in fear? To have to flee for your life?
Jesus experienced persecution from those who clung desperately to power from an early age. And so too, today, there are people in our world who spread hate against others – including for refugees – simply so that they can cling to their power.
May 2023 be a year when we turn hate into love and hostility into peace – and make room for refugees who from terror and devastation flee.
I always look forward to hearing new Christmas tunes and carols, and watching the music video’s that come with them. This year I’ve been struck by Ed and Elton’s ‘Merry Christmas’.
Every time I watch this, I see reference to another past Christmas hit. Slade, Wham, Snowman, even a Sausage Roll!
If feels like they’ve looked back at all the classic Christmas tunes that people have most loved and tried to combine all the ‘feel-good’ buts into one video.
It has a wonderful, Christmassy feel about it, but the song is also very real. It starts with the truth that Christmas 2021 is also a Christmas of lament, remembering all that we have gone though these last 2 years…
I know there’s been pain this year but it’s time to let it go Next year you never know, but for now Merry Christmas
As we remember the Christmas story, the declaration of angels saying God’s promised one has come, and will transform the world…Mary, Joseph, shepherds responding to God’s message… there was much they didn’t know. But for now, in the moment, they look in awe and wonder at the Christ-child, who is love that is the best love of all.
We’ll dance in the kitchen while embers glow We’ve both known love, but this love that we got is the best of all I wish you could see you through my eyes then you would know My god you look beautiful right now Merry Christmas
This Christmas I want you to see the Christmas story, not through Elton’s eyes – but through God’s eyes. God who wants us to see and know that in Christ we find the ultimate expression of God’s love. Love that has no terms and conditions attached, love that shows no judgement, Love simply because God can do nothing but love us.
Just as we may well spend some of Christmas visiting or spending time with people we love, so too did God step down from heaven and become human, to spend time with us. To live as we live, because God loves us.
So as Christmas comes around once again, here comes the annual reminder of God’s love come down to earth, and to us.
I feel it when it comes Every year helping us carry on Filled up with so much love All our family and friends are together where we all belong Merry Christmas everyone
We’ve had a tough 2 years, and while the landscape is changing it is still going to be tough for while longer… but the love of God we discover in Jesus helps us carry on through the highs and lows of life.
And that gift of love is not only for us to keep and cherish for ourselves, it is also one we are encouraged to share.
There are many ways of encouraging, of giving, of sharing, of caring for and loving the people around us. In our words, our actions, our giving and offering hospitality.
Christmas is a time to give and share and encourage, Christmas a time to love, because it is through the best love of all we discover in Jesus that the world, and we all, can find true hope.
this love that we got is the best of all I know there’s been pain this year but it’s time to let it go Filled up with so much love Merry Christmas everyone
A personal reflection on Advent, where I find myself in Minsitry and Gabriel’s words, Do not be afraid’ – with thanks to Tim Lea’s video ‘No to Fear’.
The angel said to Mary, ‘Do not be afraid, for you have found favour with God.
I took up running earlier in the Autumn. In was loving getting out first thing in the morning and jogging along as dawn began to break. I managed to capture some of those moments in photo’s – but often they photo’s didn’t do justice to the moments – just as the cover photo above demonstrates! it is hard to capture the dawn on a phone camera because light is sparse, and the conditions of the day still uncertain.
Then I got a cold, and the weather turned colder, wetting, darker, and I gave up – but I keep telling myself I will try again in Spring when the conditions are better.
As I joruney through advent 2021, I am finding the conditions around me really challenging. The pandemic began 18 months after I began ministry here on the Sussex Coast and now 22 months later the pandemic is still with us. I think sometimes we forget how much of an upheaval the pandemic has been, turning every aspect of our lives upside down, and challenging every assumption of what normal means.
In ministry right now there are many pressures around us and among us. There are practical uncertainties. There are quesitons about what activity to resume, and how to do it. There are questions about whether the conditions around are right to do something new, or additional, or to resume something else.
And all that comes within a culture that recognises the decline of the church in the UK and a sense of urgency that we must seek growth, numerically and spiritually.
I’m finding this period the hardest of all the periods of the pandemic so far. This seemingly endless period of of tentative, anxious, uncertain emergence from lockdown and transition to work out how to ‘live with covid’ when we don’t know how to do that well yet is exhausting, and draining let alone factoring in the advent of Omicron and all the anxieties about the future of the church.
I’ve been feeling this for a while, but only more recently begun to make sense of it enough that I can begin to articulate it – largely because last week I actually did have the quarter days I had put in my diary – rather than let other expectations and demands crowd out the space.
Then at the end of last week God has encouraged me through a Fuelcast Video that reflected on Gabriel’s words: ‘Do not be afraid’. I encourage you to watch it if you can by clicking this link
‘Do not be afraid’ – the opposite of this is to fear. I’ve realised that all the conditions of ministry I’ve mentioned above have been feeding a sense of fear within me. In the video Tim suggests fear can kill faith & stifle holy creativity because our eyes become focused on the circumstances we find ourselves in, rather than on Jesus.
That has lead me to think again about Sabbath, divine and holy rest, offering space for contemplation, basking in God’s presence & opportunity for healing and wholeness. I’ve been pondering whether my focus should be more heavily on rest, on my being, on our wellness – rather than on activity and concerns about the future.
That seems ironic given we’re in December and I have a whole host of Christmas activities to plan for!
But as the video reminds us – God’ timing is perfect and will bring things forth at the right moment – if we are making space for God – and we do that through pausing, resting, Sabbath-ing.
Advent is a season of waiting that quite often the church pays some level of lip service to in it’s drive to make the most of the opportunties for mission and outreach. And as admirable as that may be, I wonder whether our desperate rush to get to Christmas means we skip Advent’s spiritual reminder that time is God’s. That just as God’s people both patiently and impatiently waited for Emmanuel, God’s moment came.
Perhaps we need to focus more heavily on rest, on recover, on being compassionate to ourselves, each other, to the church – to allow ourselves space to turn from fear to faithfulness, and trust that God’s moment will come.
God with us, To the grieving, bring comfort. To those weary with lockdown, bring hope. To tired medics and carers, bring strength. To the frustrating, bring calm. To the unjustly suffering, bring justice. To us all, be God with us.
Looking back on the interruption of 2020, and the interruption that the season on Advent encourages us to look towards.
What has given you peace this year? What is giving you peace today? Comment below, I’d love to hear your experiences.
Lydia, my youngest daughter, is 4 and an early riser – it’s unusual if she wakes up after 6am, usually, around 5:30 in the morning we’re awoke to Lydia coming into our bedroom asking ‘is it morning’, ‘can I have a cuddle’, ‘can you help me put my tights on’, or ‘wake up’!
Louise, my wife and I often respond with something of a grunt, a groan, or a go and play in your bedroom, but Lydia has none of it, she’s wide awake and she wants our attention.
During Advent, Christians often read some of the story of John the Baptist, an older cousin of Jesus who was himself called by God to tell people of the coming one, who would bring signs of the kingdom of God.
Right at the beginning of Marks gospel we read some words that we also find in the Old Testament – which point to John the Baptist as a messenger preparing the way for the Lord – the coming one.
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
The message at the start of Mark’s gospel is – ‘wake up – make space for the coming one!’ Pay attention to the signs of the coming kingdom.
The use of the words that are also in the Old Testament make a link with the words we find there. Some of them come from Isaiah 40, which is a chapter that begins with the words:
Comfort, O comfort my people, says God.
They are reassuring words, because they remind us that God cares for us, loves us and wants to comfort us. That in making space for God in our lives, the turmoil of life is interrupted by the coming one who came to bring peace to the world.
There’s a myth that God is sat on a golden throne looking down on use little humans wagging his finger in judgement, saying we are awful people who deserve to be punished. There’s even been Christian leaders suggesting that COVID-19 is God’s punishment on us. That’s codswallop.
God doesn’t sit on high, at a distance, judging us. God is among us and with us.
God knows the mess that the world is in, knows we, the human beings God made, are not always the best at looking after the world and one another.
But God knows we try our best and doesn’t focus all effort on punishing us. God loves us and wants our living together to be interrupted by peace, that we might live in peace with one another.
We’ve seen that interruption this year as we sacrifice our own wants and desires, to limit our activity and care for one another through pandemic.
Christmas reminds us that God came to live among us and show us signs of the kingdom of God now. One day Jesus will return and establish an even greater kingdom where all is well, and filled with peace.
But as we journey towards Christmas and hear the message wake up, make space for the coming one – we discover that the coming one, Jesus, has come to make God’s love and care for us more real for us today. The kingdom is now.
So while we know the world isn’t perfect, We know we’re not perfect – perfection isn’t want God is asking of us right now. What God is asking of us is to wake up and be open to be interrupted with peace, to let God’s peace flow into our lives, and flow out into our relationships with one another.
May your life be interrupted… by peace.
All shall be well in his kingdom of peace; freedom shall flourish and wisdom increase; justice and truth from his sceptre shall spring; wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King:
Sing we the King who is coming to reign, verse 2, by Charles Silvester Horne
In this advent season, waiting & watching, Known & unknown, Certainty & uncertainty, Hopeful & hopeless, Stability & instability, in the now & yet to be, We pray for peace & love, Grace & wisdom, Justice & hope, For all those who make decisions now, which impact what will be.
Originally written on 12th December 2018, in light of the Brexit ‘meaningful vote’
Holy God, Creator of the hills and valleys, Mountains and oceans, Maker of all that is, Give strength in weariness, Confidence in uncertainty, Wisdom in the unexpected, Peace in the busyness. God I give this, and every day to you. Amen