Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dream a little dream

Readings for the First Sunday after Christmas Day December 30, 2007 Isaiah 63:7-9 Psalm 148 Hebrews 2:10-18,Matthew 2:13-23
Dreams feature prominently in Matthew's account of the Christmas story
They are not all, or even usually, the sort of dreams which reveal to us exactly what to do
though we're often super-fascinated by that sort of dream.
If we look at Joseph's dreams carefully
they are often and mainly the sort of dream which is rather a considered reflection.
On finding out Mary is pregnant
he is at first minded to send her away
After a dream and a time of reflection
he finds a different alternative..
Likewise the Wise Mean dream up a different alternative
to the plans of Herod,
and we read as Joseph becomes more experienced in the ways of dreams and angels
that he is able to protect his family
and then bring them back to safety.

It is opening ourselves to the inner more reflective workings
of our psyche and our lives
that gives us added dimension.
We do not want to make too much of this.
But we also do not want to make too little.

This week
Take time to give serious thoughts a second visit
Perhaps pay attention to your dreams
Open your ears to you inner most self
and the voice of the Spirit within.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Feast of the Epiphany. Sunday January 6, 2008, Reading s are taken from Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
The picture is Nativity by He Qi (2001)

January 6 is "Twelfth Night" or Epiphany
and those of us who like to wear cross-gartered yellow stockings welcome it!
(This is a Shakespearean reference not for the faint hearted!)
But it marks the coming of the Magi, or the Wise Men
Archbishop Rowan William on a slow news day
caused a minor skirmish when he suggested that
the story of the Wise Men is a "legend"
(see a good little reflection on the comment in The Australian here)
You will note that most serious commentators agree with him to a greater or lesser degree.
As do I.
To be a legend is not to be untrue.
It is rather to be open to a grander interpretation
than the facts alone attest to.
Thus we think of Bradman as a legend.
This does not deny his existence.
It rather points us to the higher values of his life
which the facts alone do not give credence to.
--Loyalty, humility, strong and committed leadership.
So the meaning that is being conveyed here
is where we should focus our attention.
And there is much.
The precious gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh
symbolise the character of the life of Christ
  • gold- because a new reign has begun, ushering in the fullness of God's kingdom
  • incense- because Christ is a sacred priest who recalls us to holiness of life as God intended
  • myrrh-the embalming oil, foretelling Christ's redeeming death which would transform humanity's relationship with God
All so much more than the bare facts attest to.
But laden too in the text is the fulfilment of the psalms and the prophets.
Everything is coming together
and there is the profound statement that God is being made known beyond the narrow confines of Israel
this is the power of the legend to draw these huge strokes
and to help us think more expansively.

Is our God so small that we would confine God by our language, our thoughts
our poor ideas of what "fact" is
or do we embrace the legend
that God is ever increasing his reign
above and beyond the very narrow conceptions we choose to narrowly define.
More than that
we are challenged
to make Christ more widely known ourselves
and to allow Christ to be more deeply manifest in our own lives.

The legend is big. The legend is good.
But it demands of us expansive, legendary, Godly thinking.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Making room

Some thoughts for Christmas Day.There is a lot of scripture that we can read to enliven Christmas Day: Luke 2:1-14, Luke 2:8-20, John 1:1-14, Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 62:6-12; & Isaiah 52:7-10 are some of the lections set for that day.
No doubt if you have been to a Christmas Nativity Play this year
you have seen Mary and Joseph
trudging, looking for somewhere to stay.
It can be quite a frightening thing
I had a brief time earlier this year when on holiday we were without somewhere to stay, and it would have been easy to panic.
Of course it would have done no good!

The Primate, Archbishop Philip Aspinall writes this year
Two weeks ago I was in Bethlehem where Jesus and Christmas were born. A Palestinian man said to me ‘2000 years ago we made a mistake saying “There is no room at the inn". Today there’s plenty of room.’
This is one of the aspects that we naturally think about at this Christmas time.
The little town of Bethlehem
Can we encourage our government to actively work for peace in the Middle East?
rather than promoting the selfish warring policies of self-interest
which so often seem to characterise our western interests.
In a complex world it is not always possible to feel that we can affect the affairs of the world
so maybe we have to focus more intently on making room in our small lives.
Can we simply "make room for Jesus"?

It is one of the threads of mystery and poetry
that runs through the birth stories.
We all know well the room at the inn.
This casual observation is also a hint at the real human problem
No room for Jesus in our lives.

Making room for the God of hope
Because at Christmas we hear a story about a baby
and babies' lives are filled with hope.
They are about what is yet to happen,
the promise that is to come.
We understand this pretty well,
when we visit a newborn
our words to that baby,
are strong and hopeful
...he looks like a footballer,
she has strong lungs
what a fine head of hair
As they grow
the hopes become more substantial, and complex
as children become adults we see that there is hope for independence
that there is great potential
that there is uniqueness.
We muck this up quite a lot
but at Christmas we need to take time to realise
that this struggle to make all this work
is what God intends for us.
It is how we become what God intends us to be.
So I say to you
encourage the hope in your children.
ENCOURAGE do not criticise
but rather voice the hope and offer the support
that babies demand and deserve.
When Jesus is born as a baby this is one of the things that God is showing us.
Fulfillment, maturity, growth
are like the growth of a baby
are what God intends life to be like.

Making room for the God of peace
For most of us Christmas is stressful
as well as joyful
for the lonely and the sad
it can be incredibly depressing.
We love the closeness that it means to family and friends
yet it also exposes
the very lack of peace that the season proclaims.
We are more conscious of soldiers in Iraq
of difficult community tensions
of family pressures.
Peace demands that we address these issues
and Christmas is for us a sign that what we articulate today
needs to pass into reality in our day to day lives.
We can easily say "no racial prejudice", "no war",
on Christmas Day
but we need also to put it into practice from day to day.
Peace will mean simple day to day application
of forgiveness
at home
at work
at school.
Do you want peace then practise it.

Making room for the God of love.
It is a commonplace to say that Christmas is about love.
The carols say it.
Love came down at Christmas.
We are at our most vulnerable in the face of a baby.
We are disarmed, most of us,
and just want to hold it and love it.
Even arrogant and tough young men
have been known to melt.
Do you want to love?
then love,
do you want to be loved
then allow yourself to be vulnerable?

There is much, much more that could be said.
If we want to know what Christmas is about.
Look not at Santa.
look at the baby.
Make room for him
in your life.
It may be that you cannot
put him at the centre
but is there a stable somewhere in your life.

Do you want Christ?

The Christ who is hope
The Christ who is peace
The Christ who is love.

Then make room for him in your life

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I don't want a hippopotamus for Christmas!

Readings for the Christmas Midnight Mass: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)
One of the most curious of Christmas songs reminds us
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Its words are bizarre
and climax (as you will know) in some clever little rhyming
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
No crocodiles or rhinoceroses
I only like hippopotamuses
And hippopotamuses like me too!

But I don't quite get it
as nice as it may be to have an hippopotamus
what does it have to do with Christmas?
This is perhaps the crux of the dilemma that we face at Christmas
and that puzzles us a little.
- What exactly is on offer? -
We seem quite confused about this
so confused
that we might as well ask for a hippopotamus
as anything else.
This perhaps suggests that we may actually think
Christmas is a load of nonsense.
as nonsensical as asking for an hippopotamus!

The readings give us some clues that there is more on offer
Isaiah says: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Is 9:2)
And St Paul says The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all (Titus 2:11)
The evangelists tell us that some how this light, this gift
are tied up with the birth of a baby
called Jesus.
Who has changed the meaning of the world,
this seems a far cry from crocodiles, rhinoceroses
and certainly the much desired hippopotamuses!

So the choice you have today.....a hippopotamus
or light in your darkness, and God's gift for the world.

Let's assume that the reason we are reading this
or in Church hearing this is that we are probably
not too worried about the hippo.
What might this light mean?
What might this salvation be and do for me?

It is an invitation, if you like,
to come back to God
and to rediscover a sense of God's purpose for your life.
So tonight, our first prayer is
-- Turn our hearts and minds back to you --
May we pray with all our hearts that as we look to baby
that God may be real to us tonight, and always

-- Help us to grasp the meaning that the birth of Jesus is both personal and profound --
This is not meaningless activity or just a general promise
It is God saying to you and me
Wherever you need and lack in your life
whether it be in personal relationships
in sense of purpose
in recapturing a sense of direction
then there is a new birth offered tonight

-- May we never despise our fellow men and women, since we are all your children. Help us rather to fight against their hurt or degradation --
This is a prayer of commitment
and an acceptance of responsibility
as one baby calls us to remember
that we share a common humanity
Where do I need to stand up and be counted
for those who are being humiliated
in my little part of the universe.
Do I challenge those who bully other people at work, or at school?
Do I confront mental, physical and sexual abuse when I see it or do I prefer to think about the hippo?

-- Heal the broken bonds of human life --
Lots of relationship stuff about Christmas
there is a promise here of forgiveness
of new beginnings
of fruitful relationships
Sorting out of mess. Will you try to embrace this today?

-- Help us to hear your voice where we live and work --
This is a prayer about God being born amongst us.
We pray for awareness of God
in the very fabric of our life.

A bit more important than an hippopotamus
which after all is imaginary!
  • Turn back to God
  • be real in my personal life
  • Show me where to stand in solidarity with the oppresed and needy
  • Heal my impoversished relationships
  • Let me hear you speaking

And may the Saviour born in the manger at Bethlehem
be born afresh in your life this day

Oh what a gift!

Reading for Sunday 23rd December: Advent 4 (also known as O Emmanuel!) Isaiah 7:10-16 Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1:18-25

I like young kids
It is perhaps a politically incorrect thing to say.
I am now the oldest male in my generation of my family
So I had a real sense when I baptised Princess Zara recently,
My great niece
that I have become a patriarch!
I had also a wonderful encounter a few weeks ago with a class
of 5-7 year olds from St Peter's School, Blackwood
as we sat in the church
and talked about what we could see.
Chief amongst these things was a bird which had flown into the church.
We had a most alive conversation about what you do when a bird flies into your house!
One little girl told me "I can speak to birds"
and after they had left she offered to stay and tell the bird to leave.
So it is not surprsing to encounter at the heart of the discourses
about God's salvation of the world
That the prophet Isaiah should remind us that the surest sign
that God is with us -Emmanuel-
this is the word of Christmas
and the sign is that a woman will bear a child.
Not the most spectacular of signs
not a volcano, a burning bush, or an ark or a transfiguration
But perhaps the most alive sign
a human being has
is the birth of a child
The Christmas Bowl reminds us that
the aid that we give to communities overseas
will secure the future of children
pure water, economic security
is about the world we need to establish for children
We are challenged by Anglicare
to offer small offering of food
and gifts
for people right in our midst
who are at risk.
God's work...the Emmanuel work..
of Christmas,
will be about the realities of our life.
These realities are most sharply focussed
through the lens of our children.

The surest sign that God is with us
is that a young woman will give birth.
How does this speak to your life?
What have you made of Christmas so far....
do you hear the voice of the child speaking to you?
What is he saying?
What does she tell you
about the birdsong that she can utter?
About the dreams that they hold
about what we need to do
to nurture them
and create a world fit for children.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.


Readings for this Sunday, 16th December 2007. Advent 3. Isaiah 35:1-10, Magnificat Luke 1:47-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
The prophet Isaiah says...Thus says the Lord
My ways are not your ways, and your ways are not my ways. (Is 55:8-10)
This theme is particularly apparent in the great seasons like Advent.
God does not do things in the way that we seem to think
they should be done
The king is not only not born in a palace
he is also conceived out of wedlock
and his mother is in danger of nto actually being able to marry at all
and provide the necessary security for her son.
It almost seems a rule
that what ever way we expect things to be done
God's way will be different
This is not because of some sort of perversity
on the part of God
who is just being contrary.
It is rather a fundamental statement
about how poorly we succeed
at understanding the will of God.
So it is hardly surprising that the words we hear
being spoken
are challenging
our very established and unimaginative ways of thinking
about life and about God.
This may often escape our attention
as we hear words that we have heard many times before.
Such are those words (well-known to Anglicans)
we hear spoken by Mary
as she commits herself to cooperate with the the will of God.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
There are a few shocks in the song that she sings
....from this day all generations will call me blessed.
Women are often perceived by society
as secondary people
this much is known to us
Not so so in God's world.
God says to each woman you are holy!
If I say nothing else to each of you here today
it is that
But can we also say
that God does not make the sort of judgment on the umnarried pregnant girl
that we so often rush to make!
...this day God says to women, and to those with child
You are blessed.

My ways, are not your ways
If we think that pride, arrogance and self-promotion
are the way to go
then Mary's song reminds us that
God is on the side of the humble and meek
he has an option for the poor
and we who are rich need to be particularly cautious.
The world's ways are about reputation, power and influence
God's are about humility, compassion and concern.

The world is totally seduced by greed
and the need to be rich
But God's promise is to stand alongisde those who are poor.

Great encouragement
We need to hear these words for what they are.
Great encouragement.
They are revealing to us truths that the world does not readily appreciate.

John says to the people who went out to see him.
Did you come out into the desert execyting to be told that you had got it right
What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.

No he says, you went out looking for God.
You come to church (presumably)
Or you read these words
Not to be told that you have got it right

But to be confronted by God
to hear what God says to your heart.
He ways are not yours
You need some education in my will.
Those who you tend to reject...the poor, women, the illegitimate
They are the ones I take and bless.
My understanding rather turns the world upside down.

Many heard John and Jesus
and turned away
because they did not want hear the message
that confronted their lifestyle.
Others found that their life was transformed.

Which are you?

This week
  • Pray for insight to seeGod where God is least likely to be found
  • Ask the Spirit to show you where you need to change and affirm God in the unexpected place.
We praise you Lord
as we see you confront our popular misconceptions.
As you turn aside from injustice and greed and
bless the cause of the powerless and poor.
Give us the courage of Christmas to do that too.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bettering the chance of peace

Reflections for Sunday 9th December, 2007. Advent 2 Is 11:1-10, Ps 72: 1-7, 18-19;Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
One of the great themes of Christmas and Advent is the reign of peace that is to be ushered in by this new king
Peace is not a difficult concept to grasp though we need to be careful to do it justice
In the Hebrew Scriptures the word we use is "shalom"
it speaks of a peace which is not just the absence of war
but a time of harmony, justice and prosperity
for all people
We would hardly say that we live in a time of peace
because if harmony, justice and prosperity are the measures
then none of these seem to fully exist at this point in history.
At most what we seem to be able to achieve
is a closed world in which we shut ourselves in.
But this shallow view of peace
is not the shalom
that is being talked about here.
It is not the peace with which we greet each other when we say
The peace of the Lord be always with you.

Peace at all times and in all ways
A couple of ideas that may help us think of peace-shalom
Because we are overwhelmed by how to bring about peace in Israel or Iraq or Pakistan
we seem to think that we cannot do anything at all, ever.
But of course the very fact that biblical peace is about how life is lived
must bear fruit in the way we actually live.
As the song puts it
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me
It is easy to invite someone else to do the hard yards
but the call of the gospel
first by John the Baptist and then by Jesus himself
is to lay into it ourselves.
We are to be righteous, holy and active in living our life.
And not leave it up to someone else.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me

How to begin
Paul talks in Ephesians (picking up Isaiah) about
peace to those who are far off
and peace to those are near
most of us will need to focus on the near rather than the far.
It is those who are near who affect our shalom.
Yes we need to forgive and seek to be forgiven
in Advent in order that there may be genuine peace!
Do not let this week go without paying some attention to that!

But we also thought last week about one of the major contributing factors
to the lack of peace
and that is poverty.
It is often noted
that what underlies the East-West bitterness
is not so much the Muslim-Christian-Hindu-Jewish-Buddhist division
but the rich-poor divide
Iran and Iraq and anti-Western hatreds are fuelled by the great inequalities
We HAVE and they HAVE-NOT.
If we threw the energies and money into addressing inequalities
rather than in waging war at the cost of billions upon billions of dollars,
if we took seriously the addressing of poverty;
then the fomenting of hatred becomes harder
because most people long
not for domination
but that there may be peace on earth.

So we are invited to give some of what we HAVE
which seems like little
and place it in the Christmas Bowl
or wherever we want to help

We can lament that governments can give millions and billions
(and maybe we need to be articulating this more strongly
and advocating for more overseas aid)
and we only give tens and hundreds but we hear that refrain
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
We are called to be signs and sacraments of what God wants to happen.

We are struck as we read of the John the Baptist in Matthew that he is strident
he says Do this!
the Lord requires that an axe be laid into the situation
that we not just water it
but allow the Spirit to consume it like a ferocious fire.

Wherever else we can strive for peace,
we should!
Do not be seduced by the shallow Christmas
but hear the call for real and genuine peace.
It has some sense of rigour about it.
We should look both close and far off
but let us hear that song....
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.