Friday, December 30, 2011

At the name

Readings for today Sunday January 1 2012 ...which we are keeping as The Feast of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus (but could also be New Year's Day and the Sunday After Christmas) Numbers 6:22-27, Psalm 8, Galatians 4:4-7; (also Philippians 2) Luke 2:15-21

I once pompously told some Mormons who knocked on our door
on New Years' Day that they were interrupting our celebration
(expecting them to think it was New Year's Day)
I then announced this was the feast of the Circumcison of Jesus!
(It didn't seem to bother them and their not-so-hidden agenda)
Strangely this festival does make sense
because it reminds us that
God is not just acting randomly or whimsically
the plan (which we seldom appreciate in its entirety)
is glimpsed occasionally.
By prophets, by scientists,
by ordinary people
by poets, and artists,
even by politicians and rulers.

We hold this to be a matter of faith.
Albert Einstein is oft misunderstood about his saying:
God is not playing dice with the universe.

So, although the birth of Jesus,
brings about a new phase in universal history
God is not saying
"Forget about everything that has happened"
Rather,  we see Jesus being taken to the Temple
as a sign that God still honours the ancient covenant
of circumcision.
Traditionally the name is given on this 8th day ceremony
and so the baby is named "Jesus"---God saves
(Yeshua or Joshua)
God is not scrapping everything and starting again.
God is fulfilling the promise to bring about the salvation of all people.

So today we celebrate
that God is keeping his promise to his people.

God's promise to us
Can we hear what God is promising to you and to me from the readings today:
The Lord bless you and keep you
...make his face to shine upon you
    ...and be gracious to you
........lift up his countenance on you
............and give you peace

This prayer from Numbers is God's prayer of blessing ...sometimes called the Aaronic or priestly blessing.
A prayer of great generoisty and God's care for us.

And the psalm reminds us:
When we look to the heavens and see the moon and the stars
...why should you bother about humanity.
Yet you have made us a little lower than God and crowned us with glory and honour

St Paul reminds us in his letters that though we are in the Jewish tradition yet  we (Gentiles) are not enslaved by it
...God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts....and
....we can call God, Abba.....Daddy.....
...we are not slaves .....but we are God's loved children.

Tremendously reassuring stuff

The Gospel reminds us that this all comes about
through God's faithfulness to us
through the loving faithfulness of Mary and Joseph
who received God's challenge and responded is signified by this day.

For you and me
Take time this week
to give thanks to God for the way we are blest and kept in place
...we have so much to be thankful for at this time.
to be an agent of peace, where can I act for good, can I help someone know forgiveness

Take time to look at the stars on these beautiful summer evenings (in the south)
or the crisp, sharp winters (in the north)....and to remember that God gives us all this to us to care for.....How can I better care for my environment in 2012? (Plant a New Year tree, grow some vegetables, get rid of rubbish in your local park.....)

What do you want to tell your "daddy"  Abba......speak quietly to God about your deepest hopes and fears for ..this year, your life...what's going on ...bring it to God

This is all about what God promises you and me
all because God is faithful to the promise
to bring salvation

Friday, December 23, 2011

Robust Christmas

Let's think a bit more about Christmas.
There is a wonderful selection of readings over the Christmas season. Take your pick or read them all Psalm 96; Psalm 97;Titus 2:11-14;Titus 3:4-8;Isaiah 9:2-7, Isaiah 62:6-12,Isaiah 52:7-10;Hebrews 1:1-12;John 1:1-14;Luke 2

Since I celebrated Christmas last year
it has been my great privilege to visit the Holy Lands
(I use this term in plural form advisedly)
so Bethlehem takes on a whole new vista of meaning
Bethlehem is surprisingly close to Jerusalem
many may not realise
that Bethlehem is in the Palestinian domain
known as the West Bank.
we often think of this
as being war-ridden
and centre of much conflict.
Some of that reflexion is true.
Last year and the year before
it was particularly difficult for pilgrims to be in Bethlehem
because of tight (often bizarre) border controls
that the Israeli government imposes.
It is just so sad.
One of my key reflexions this year
has been of of the handsome 23 year old Palestinian
who spoke to us about life in
The Daihesheh Refugee settlement.
It is unimaginable for those who live in the
Privileged World
to realise that people live, have lived
and look as though they will continue to live
in situations of helplessness,
at the mercy and whim of unresponsive government
to their plight.
That young man said of his lot in life
"I was born here, I grew up here, 
I do not want to die here!"
I found these words chilling. Not the least becaus I don't feel I can do much to help him.

This year our Christmas collections will be directed towards that refugee settlement
They might be used for the library
or the children's education program,
or the collective of women seeking to make a constructive life.

It won't make much difference (even if we send $2000)
except in your life
and mine.
We at least, this Christmas
might say,
however tentatively
there is more to life
than my pleasure.
I may not be able to solve the world's problems
But, I do believe God can and will.
And I commit myself to that.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Great time

There is a wonderful selection of readings over the Christmas season. Take your pick or read them all Psalm 96, Psalm 97, Titus 2:11-14, Titus 3:4-8, Isaiah 9:2-7, Isaiah 62:6-12,Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-12, John 1:1-14, Luke 2
There are a couple of reflexions for Christmas here.
It is such a wonderful time that there is much to think and pray about
and to act upon.

The cohort you contact
Most of us have a group
with whom we can clearly identify.
It probably includes 
our family
our neighbours,
those with whom we work,
our friends,
those who interest us,
and some others we like or are fascinated by.

As we read the Christmas stories
we come upon a lot of these people
the family...Elizabeth and  Zechariah,
the local yokels...commonly called
the shepherds
and the wierdos
or as we know them
The Wise Men.
We all live with a diverse group of people.
Christmas invites us to connect.

And the connection 
is interesting, fascinating and weird!!

Might this be what Christmas is about for you and me
The people we are stuck with!
Those who won't let us go!!
And those who we won't let go!!!

I invite you during this season to sneak into a corner
perhaps you are feeling tired
or overwrought
and just run through 
your list!!!

At the very least
if we spend a few minutes connecting
with real people
we escape something of the madness of the season.

That's the very least!!!
We also connect with what seems to be
the Christmas truth.
Christmas is not really about 
"How do you cook a goose?"
(something that has rather fascinated  me this Christmas)
But we live in a decadent and safe (relatively) world.
But the people,
the brothers
the friends
the neighbours.
Well they are not so neat and tidy.
They'll not all line up
and make themselves presentable.
Can we rejoice in this?
Rather than regret it?
Jesus is rather good at this.
he seems to accept difference
and love the unlovely.
Can we this Christmas 
thank God that Joe is gay
that Mary and Fred have decided to build a house
whoops...they're not married 
and Tonto Junior is on  the way

Let's rejoice that Christmas invites us
to just simply love those 
who God has given us!!!
Not nice, not neat
not even logical
But my brother, my friend,
my curious neighbour
And the Word......was made flesh 
and dwells among us.   AMEN

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Since I last reflected on the Christmas story
I have actually been to "the little town of Bethlehem"
This place which figures so much
in the Christmas story
can easily be romanticised.
We may not see the wood for the trees.
It was a bit like that for me.
So intent on seeing everything
I found myself at the manger shrine and wondered
"What now?"
I am a bit shocked that I did not have a profound revelation!
All we Christians have loved Bethlehem
since our childhood.
And, if not Bethlehem, then the idea of the stable
and the birthplace of Jesus.
The modern shrine has 
no stable
no inn

Indeed our learned Course Director, Kamal Farah,
invited us to critique
much of that which passes as 'truth' in the Christmas stories.
I am perhaps getting distracted. And am reminded that there is much about the Christmas story that needs to be unpacked

We experience a lot of Christmas input at this time 
One good question I heard asked about various school and church presentations was:  
Why all these stories and plays with a Christmas theme 
What's wrong with the story of the stable at Bethlehem.........? 
There are of course many representations of that story 
and it is rich in symbolism, myth (in the finest sense of that word) 
and cultural nuance 
When in doubt we should allow God's Word of Scripture 
to do its wonderful work in our hearts 
So take time this week to read the readings 
and just to allow them to speak to you. 
As you sit through the Carol Services take time too to be a little more open. Remember, as we see in this week's readings, 
hat Christmas is God showing himself to us in human form. 
It is about understanding who God is, 
and what God is about. So we find that Mary, when confronted by the angel has to begin on a journey of discovery because she does not understand what all this might mean 
"29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be"  
And Paul tells us at the end of Romans as we read today  
"the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith"  
The sort of message, that so puzzles Mary, 
is God revealing in Jesus what has been true for all time. 
This is the overarching message of the Christmas story. 
God is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. 
He is, what controversialist bishop, John AT Robinson 
describes as The Human Face of God
This is a description I find really helpful. 
God cannot (or perhaps may not )be described...
he is indeed "the mystery that was kept secret
our philosophy, our history, even our theology 
does not come close to fully disclosing who God is 
if we want to know what God is like 
then the fullest revelation is Jesus.  

So what do we see 
We find at Christmas a deeply confronting story. 
God chooses a young girl about whom we know remarkably little. 
In the short passage of this morning's Gospel we know more about Joseph 
.... a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David  
than we do about Mary herself 
In fact we know more about Zechariah and Elizabeth than we do about their cousin: belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.  
What might this say to us? 
At the very least we are reminded 
that God views people differently from the way we do. 
We make different choices about what is important 
so we look for wealth, success, power and prestige ..
God looks differently. 
There is an invitation here in the Christmas story 
to look with different eyes at the world in which we live. 
In the reading from the Hebrew bible too, 
we read of David's desire to build a Temple. 
This seems like a righteous desire, a good thing. 
But it is not what God wants. 
We do not always get it right, 
we are often fixated on the material when God is inviting us to look deeper. 
These are two modest insights 
that we get from addressing the stories of the Bible 
rather than sidetracking it.
Making room  
Part of the frustration for us at Christmas 
is finding Jesus amidst it all. 
Let us not so much complain 
about what Woolworths and Target do, 
let us rather see the challenge to point ourselves and others to Jesus. 

Ask tricky intelligent questions of your youngsters
Why did God come as a baby? 
What is he trying to tell us by being born in a stable? 
Why did the shepherds and the wise men come? 
and what do you think they said to Mary and Joseph? 
What, indeed, would we say to them?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Reality and la vida loca

What is your lifestyle choice? 
This is something of a modern question. 
Today's readings invite us to identify our lifestyle as Christian 
How do you live faithfully as a modern Christian day to day?
Once again we have a pattern for faithful living in each of the three readings.  
One thing that is striking is that "faithful living" is not lived out in a vacuum, but rather is the act of living vigorously and actively in this world in which we find ourselves. 
Though many religious words are used, 
the emphasis of the passages is not on the narrowly pietistic
it is on the dynamically active a life lived in full communion with God 
and totally engaged with human life. 
Fully in communion with God, 
totally engaged with human life. 
These themes flow through all the readings but in this reflection I will focus on the reading from 1Thessalonians

6Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets,but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil. 23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24
The call to worship 
I am struck always when I read this passage of its absolute nature..."always" ; "in all circumstances""without ceasing" 
Paul anticipates here 
that worship will not be an occasional, Sunday-only, 
type of activity 
It will be all of life
Two points can be made about this. 
One, we need to get down and do it!!! 
 We need to do it. 
So find the place and start. 
Pray daily
for your family, for yourself for your concerns. 
Decide that this is a life-habit 
that you are going to commit to and do it. 
Try, too, to seize the opportunity 
to turn your day to day activities 
into deliberate, unobtrusive prayer. 

Some years ago I was asked by a woman 
who was very upset about blasphemy 
"What do you do you when people punctuate there speech with "Jesus!", this and "Jesus" that!"
My response was 
that I try and use this as an opportunity 
to pray. 
It's not always easy. 
We can find our own little ways to be more attentive 
to the need to pray constantly. 
One of the great benefits of afternoon and evening walks 
is that we can use the opportunity to give thanks to God 
for our local environment and to pray for our neighbours. 
This may not work for you....
but find something that turns your heart to God 
is a GOOD thing and we will reap benefits. 
The great traditions of meditation call us to "mindfulness" 
not just allowing our day to day experiences 
to go to waste 
While we might take this to mean 
that we "should take time to smell the flowers" 
and we should!
it also means that we should treasure 
our daily emotional and spiritual experiences. 
How often do we have ups and downs...and simply not do anything about them other than fret!!!? 
Take time to debrief yourself and commit to God 

The American farmer-poet Wendell Berry 
reminds us that we are called to engage with life 
He says we are called to live the given life 
not the planned life
It is a reminder 
that what ever else we think 
we are to do 
we are in danger of avoiding living the life 
we are given 
in favour of the life we think we should have 
or that we so desperately long to live. 
We are called to live the given life
...not the planned 
being mindful of what we have. 
The kings missed the Christ child 
because their plan had him somewhere else!!! 
In this season of vida loca 
we are called back to the given life 
and Christ really present with us