#Adventbookclub: Moses

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Exodus 3:1-8

We return today to another Old Testament figure, with quite a depressing tale, in which “the dice are loaded” in days which cycle through themselves. He talks of living a half-life – half-Hebrew (by nature) and half-Egyptian (by nurture), and how difficult this has made things – and why he lashed out when he saw ‘his people’ being mistreated.

“Today”, however, he has made a decision to move forward. The past cannot be changed, but the way that he moves forward can be. As he faces the Burning Bush, and is given his ‘commission’, he questions his qualifications (or lack of them). As he looks at the bush, he thinks of the passions that have consumed him in the past, and how they have almost devoured him. He thinks of the future and questions when they’ll be another “from the depths of someone ordinary like me who is also able to say yes to God” (Mary, no, I think Jesus?). “He will be salvation.”

#Advent20

The final email from Brian offers a call to be ‘in the present':

Of course, we are celebrating this week the coming of the Word-made-flesh, for whom this, here, was the only place he was prepared to be – on Earth, with us, one of us. Fully present, wherever he found himself. Can you imagine Jesus complaining – for a second – about where he’d ended up?

How much time have we spent wishing we were elsewhere? Can we put that energy to better use – and – focus on the positives in our lives?

#AdventBookClub: Isaiah

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Isaiah 9: 2-7

Having seen the key characters in the drama, we look back to a prophetic figure, Isaiah, who prophesied the birth of Jesus. At a time when many were sacrificing to God, he shared the despair of God, calling the people to wash the blood from their hands and get active:

… remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Isaiah talks about having come to know about light and darkness, how sometimes they can be the same thing, and in the times of greatest darkness, you will see yourself as you really are? We get a sense of God’s anger against those who ignore injustices… and how we will be burned up like stubble in a field (gives a sense of urgency!). As he speaks of the future coming he says

It wasn’t a messenger or even an angel that saved them, but his presence. In his love and pity, God redeemed them himself; he visited his people, he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

We forgot the past and rebelled against God in the past, will we do so again?

#Adventbookclub: Mary

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Luke 1:26-38

We get a sense of Mary, a woman who has been well-prepared for a role as homemaker by her mother. She is a woman who loves the world, loves life, and can see God in every part of it. Her parents thought that she would find it difficult to find a husband as she was too ‘headstrong’, but

I just wanted a strong love and a deep passion, and a way to channel this energy and faith and knowledge of God which was boiling inside me.

She describes herself as having a tremendous presence of God, the beliefs infusing everything that she’s doing, although they sometimes frighten her

I simply believe in God like I believe in the flowers and the trees and the birds and the seasons. God is there, with me and for me.

“God is not a thing… God is the lens through which I look upon everything and receive everything.” She suspects that others see her as mad, holy or deeply religious, but indicates that she’s simply a girl who wants to “seize hold of life and all its benefits”, living every moment as if its the only one she’ll ever have. We get a sense of the confusion as she takes in the import of the words, especially understanding how she can be with child as a virgin… it’s all too big to take in, but “it is as if heavy has reached down to earth, and touched me.”

This chapter is interwoven with lines from Christmas carols, as Mary seeks to understand, thinks how she’ll explain to Joseph, how the world will perceive what is happening, but the words of the angel she holds onto “nothing is impossible with God”.

#Advent20

Just picking the bit I love from Brian’s reflections from today – how are we being shaped by this journey:

Let your ‘inner quality of aliveness’ burn, like a candle.

Go with the waxing and waning of the spiritual life.

Celebrate beauty in a myriad shades and textures (it’s not all back and white!).

Hope, don’t keep wishing.

Nurture patience, and be ripened like a fruit

#AdventBookClub: Elizabeth

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Luke 1 5-15; 24-25; 39-45

Today we meet with Elizabeth, who has spent too long saying ‘if only’, and wishing for a child. She is disappointed that everyone assumed that it was her fault that there were no children (I have friends who have experienced this false assumption!), with the baby causing an emptiness between them, and a feeling of emptiness in her own life. For those who desire children, this is a sad state to be in, and there must be ways to find a better resolution – shame she didn’t have Sheridan Voysey’s book Broken Dreams to read.

Having sought to be supportive of friends who have got pregnant, she is overjoyed (but confused at the timing) once she is pregnant. Her husband, Zechariah, she describes as unsurprisingly full of doubt and fear (as age/disappointment have made them cynical), and therefore didn’t believe the angelic messenger – and so was struck dumb until the birth of John – who would come to share the good news of Jesus.

As her cousin Mary visits, she sees the life, joy and vitality in the young women. As the children in their wombs jump towards each other, Elizabeth feels that she has been reborn, losing all the bitterness of past years. She sees that her child will point the way to Mary’s child.

#Advent20

Brian reflected today on the juxtaposition he felt yesterday in watching the school nativity play, after the news of the Pakistan school shootings – this sentence stood out:

“This is a universe at war,” wrote CS Lewis, once upon a time. And Christmas was a key battle in it – not some soft-focused winter pick-me-up, but a cosmic fight-back. As John Eldredge reminds us, “The coming of Jesus was a dangerous mission, a great invasion a daring raid into enemy territory.” He would get himself killed, lest we forget.

I also really appreciated being given a free download of this book by Phil.

#AdventBookClub: Joseph #Advent20

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Matthew 1:18-24

Today we look at what happens in ‘The Christmas Story’ from the perspective of Joseph. Joseph is ‘a practical man’ who makes things (a carpenter) – unlike those who work in the ‘learned’ sector, he finds true satisfaction in getting something ‘done’ and there being no question that it is ‘done’. This does not stop him dreaming, however (named after ‘the most famous dreamer  in history’)…

He speaks of the joy of meeting Mary, so full of hope, expectation and zest, who re-awoke his dreaming in the full. He describes this not as love in the sense that many would think of it, but of love as the ‘accumulation of shared memories… the weaving together of separate stories into this story’, maturing slowly amongst commitment and ‘determined choosing’ (not so much the words we hear about with ‘romantic love’.

We see the tough, real emotions, the doubts that fill his mind as he looks at the pregnant Mary, and thinks of the times that others call him a fool … but, as a deeply religious man, a dream from God has given him the confidence to stand by her, and once the decision was made, he got on with things. He loves the Mary that is not a weak woman but ‘a force of joy and energy and life’, although he wonders that God could not have chosen someone better prepared.

Familiar with a wide range of trees/woods, Joseph finds it hard to see the bigger picture, but knows that the sturdy trees started out as but a seed. Unlike the trees, we long to be someone or something else…

Idolatry was always our greatest failing – making God out of wood, rather than seeing God in the wood itself.

Cottrell finishes, putting thoughts into Joseph’s mind as to what the future will be for this baby? Will it bring something refreshing, or will he be a barren tree on a lonely hill?

#Advent20

And the piece I liked from Brian Draper today:

Try to notice the times when you are seeking to impress others, today. Stop and ask yourself, how can I act differently, lovingly –  in order to give something, instead of trying to get something, out of the situation.

Always gracefully challenging us!

#Adventbookclub: Martha #advent20

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Luke 2: 1-7

Martha is the name given the Innkeeper’s wife in this version of the story. She’s a rather cynical woman who’s done her fair share of midwifery, and, clearly feels she’s been taken advantage of frequently, so is quite tough with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. She saw both desperation and dignity in Joseph and Mary, however, and so took pity on them. She gives a clear impression of just how dirty and dingy the space was, with straw full of excrement, probably not refreshed for several days (due to lack of time), with a trough (manger) provided for the forthcoming baby. We get a sense of just how scary this was for Mary – she’s young, and not experienced giving birth before… she goes through the full painful process.. and then engages in some ostentatious breastfeeding! Martha doesn’t understand it all, but feels that there is something different .. likening it to a new fire being kindled…

#Advent20

Brian thinks about those who make such a big effort for Christmas, and questions what elements of Christmas we should really/truly be making an effort for:

But it matters that we try. I mean, what was it about Christmas itself that proved so powerful that the guns fell silent, albeit briefly, in December 1914?

If Jesus was born as a child, what else is possible for us to achieve?

#AdventBookClub: David, with #Advent20

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Image (CC) Wikipedia

Luke 2:8-17

Today, we’re looking at the events of that first Christmas through the eyes of ‘David’, a shepherd. We are often given a ‘romantic’ view of the shepherds, but Cottrell makes it clear that these were crude, vulgar men, used to a hard lifestyle, enjoying women and drink. Alongside, they were gentle (but pragmatic), as they cared for their animals (with fore-echoes of Jesus’ coming as look at ‘the lamb’s blood shed’, and questioning whether there’s a higher purpose to that. Unlike the Magi, his eyes are focused on the ground, as he needs to pay attention to the sheep – stupid, mindless, and silly… When the angels appeared, fear filled the shepherds, but also a calm as they basked in the glory. An ordinary man, he stated that “normal will never be the same again”. They were so excited/convinced, that they left the sheep behind, raucously entered Bethlehem, then sat in calm silence admiring Jesus, unable to understand why God would visit ‘such a dismal place‘, but filled with something that overflowed so that they had to tell everyone that they met.

#Advent20

As Brian looks back to 1914, when the ‘light’ of humanity broke through the fighting in that ‘simple’ football match on the front at World War 1, he suggests:

Try this! Put down your weapons, today. Look for the good in someone else. Especially in your enemy, or someone you really don’t like. Watch for goodness breaking out in difficult conditions, and celebrate it. Gossip about it, thank people, and report the good news within the RSVPs! Try to rise up beyond your own entrenched position, and see what happens when you do.

#AdventBookClub: Casper and #Advent20

Casper

#AdventBookClub: Casper

Matthew 2:1-2, 10-12

Today, we have the story of one of the Magi, a man who had planned journeys for many others based upon the stars, but (according to this interpretation), this was the first time he’d felt the need to follow a star himself (a chance to ‘awaken the dream inside’).

Better to keep looking upwards, to chase after dreams and stumble, than only ever see the few steps in front of you and spend a lifetime going round in circles, getting nowhere fast.

He talks of the experience of travelling strange lands, meeting Herod (a mistake where they took their eyes from the stars, and focused upon maps), a man who “only wanted to hear what he needed in order to subvert and control”. As he met with the other wise men along the journey, he gives a sense of how, although they had faith in what they followed, they didn’t have certainty as to what they would find, describing them as ‘wise men behaving like fools’. What they found, a babe in a manger, was not what they expected from a King … but was “better” than what they expected

We were part of a drama so much bigger than ourselves; something we would probably never understand properly. We simply had to carry on faithfully playing our part.

As he questioned what ‘true wisdom’ was, he

… wondered if true wisdom might be this: to know what matters, and to rest secure in the peaceful affirmations of loving and of being loved.

Having met Jesus “the whole direction of our lives was changed”. As they left, rather than an ending, Casper felt that this was the beginning of something new.

#Advent20: Day 8

Advent is a time of waiting. Brian asks us what is the difference between waiting and wishing. If we wish that we could ‘magically escape’ our current situations, we may miss the opportunity to be present in the present moment. We typically dream of a ‘make-believe future where everything is all right’, or rosily remember a time in the past when all things were good… and then forget what’s good about here and now.

If we are ‘wishing’ for something, can we think about how we could turn that into something more hopeful (and active).

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; for my hope comes from him”

#Advent20: Day 9

Again, on the theme of waiting – how can we be thankful that God is more patient than we are, and think how long he waits for us, and for so many aspects of his creation:

‘Our impatient age,’ says Bonhoeffer, ‘wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting – that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the full blessing of fulfilment.

‘For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait. It happens not here in a storm but according to the divine laws of sprouting, growing and becoming.’

Practically, we are encouraged to think those times where we are impatient (in queues), etc and seek a way to turn that time into something hopeful, restful and/or productive.