Tag Archives: Isaiah

The Best Laid Plans… On Being Prepared

Blake - The Angel Appearing to Zechariah

William Blake – The Angel Appearing to Zacharias (1799 -1800)

Sometimes you think you’ve got it all under control, the necessary preparations have been made, the last minute arrangements set up, and you’ve just celebrated with nearly 800 people the Nativity story and the symbolism of a red beribboned orange, pierced with a foil held candle, four cocktail sticks and various fruits and sweets (a Christingle), when someone leaves you a voicemail saying that the readings for this evening’s most important service, to which many will come for what might be their only visit to church in a year are incorrectly printed in the carefully prepared service sheet, not only incorrectly printed, but basically incorrect. Now what would you do?

Based on 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16 and  Luke 1:67-79
Actual readings heard Isaiah 52:7-10 and John 1:1-14

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

It’s wonderful to see you all here tonight, on this most important of nights; this holy night; this night when we celebrate once more the coming of God in the person of his son, Jesus Christ to earth.

However, they say that you should be prepared for anything and at about 8 o’clock this evening, it was pointed out to me that the readings that are printed in your service sheet are actually the ones for Christmas Eve – Morning Eucharist. An easy mistake to make I keep trying to tell myself, as we start this service on Christmas Eve, but we end it on Christmas Morning. I suspect when I was preparing the Worship rota in October, this minor, but important fact escaped me – I should have turned the page in the Lectionary – and so when I came to prepare my talk earlier for this evening it was the these ones that I’d used on which to base it

But I couldn’t let you not hear those beautiful readings from Isaiah and John, otherwise for some it would just not be Christmas, and I wouldn’t have got to read one of my favourite gospel passages from the bible – ‘the world became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory’ At least it also mentions John the Baptist…

It also wouldn’t be right to make you listen to both of the other readings as well, but please do glance through them so that you at least get an idea of where I’m coming from – the first one a message from God  through the prophet Nathan for King David and his kingship, and the second a song of thanksgiving, formally know as the Benedictus, and sung by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist which prophecies about the coming saviour and the part that John will play in that.

The fact is nothing ever really happens without some preparation and for weeks (or months even) we have been preparing our workplaces, schools and homes to reflect this celebration. Or have we? Nowadays, we have to look hard amongst all the trivial fripperies, the giant inflatable Santas, the cheese advent calendars and unicorn reindeer to catch a glimpse of the real story of God coming among us.

But he is there, and your being here tonight is a sign that despite all the tinsel and the glitter, the message he came to fulfil still resonates at the deepest level with our needs as human beings.

The preparations for Jesus coming among us, probably started the moment that Adam and Eve stepped out of the Garden of Eden. God wanted us back, to heal the relationship that had broken down, to restore his trust in us.

Come forward several eons and we find ourselves in the presence of Nathan, a prophet in the time of King David, now only one thousand years before the birth of Jesus. Now at first there doesn’t seem to be any mention of a saviour, but again God is working on his preparations and it includes building a house – not a physical house – although the temple would be established by David’s son Solomon – but a dynastic house

To David, God has promised to ‘make for you a great name’. David, the unlikely king, a murderer, an adulterer, a drunken carouser – sounds a bit like he’d have fitted into the cast of Eastenders Christmas special, and yet a mighty warrior, a loving father and a great king. Originally a shepherd, one of the least amongst his society, yet an appropriate choice to be part of the lineage of Jesus.

Yet this was to be no ordinary royal dynasty – and if we want to be picky – the genealogical proof that both Luke and Matthew give us at the beginning of their gospels, that Jesus, in his humanity, was a direct descendant of Abraham and David through to Joseph, Jesus’ legally adoptive father and by birth, through Mary, is actually a messianic rather than a physical bloodline.

Come forward to another prophet, Isaiah, whose prophecy, ‘Unto us a Son is born, unto us a son is given….’ was a little premature – some seven hundred years premature to be exact, but it was further evidence of God’s preparations, before there began a silence…. A long silence… a very, very long silence…

Even at the next stage of preparations that silence was to continue as we now need to imagine we are in the temple, carrying out our priestly duties, we are called Zechariah and we have been drawn by lot to enter the sanctuary to offer incense. Zechariah probably wasn’t prepared for the sight of the angel that appeared to him, far less the news that his wife was about to embark on a geriatric pregnancy, hence why his incredulous questions rendered him unable to speak for the next nine or so months!

When he does regain his voice he uses it to confirm the child’s name and to break out into what we now call the Benedictus, his song of thanksgiving to God. It is this child that we hear about in his prophetic words, the child that will grow into the man John the Baptist, who will make the final preparations to announce Jesus’ ministry and the fulfilment of God’s promise.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways
Luke 2:76

But we’ve jumped too far ahead, because tonight we have come prepared for the Christ-child’s birth, in a stable, in the night, as a helpless babe. We’ve also prepared for it during the season of Advent, where each week we’ve watched and waited and thought about the reasons for his coming. Reasons, as I said, that we all instinctively know make the most sense for our lives but seem so difficult to achieve both on a personal and global scale.

The reason that he came to bring joy. A joy that was shared in the songs of Zechariah, of Mary and the angels; a joy that is heard in words and the music of the carols and songs that we sing tonight.` The angels that bent near to the earth, to bring glad tidings of goodwill from God, tiding of joy and of reconciliation. A joy that can be shared among us, in friendship and fellowship to all, not just tonight but every day

The reason that he came to bring peace. An outward peace in a world where men and women need to hush the noise of strife and warfare and look for ways of working together for the common good; and an inner peace, through the message that John will share, that ‘the dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace’.

The reason that he came to bring love. A love that is all encompassing, limitless and freely given. Which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians. A love that brings its own peace from knowing that whatever situation we find ourselves in, whatever we might have done, there is forgiveness available to us, and because of that forgiveness we can be in a loving relationship with God again, and through our relationship with Jesus we can love one another better

Finally, the reason that he came to bring hope; the realization of the Messianic hopes of the Jewish nation as they impatiently borne the yoke of the Romans, and continually sighed for the time when someone from the House of David would be their deliverer and to whom Zechariah was pointing in his prophecy. That same hope that is offered to all of us, regardless of age, gender, sexuality or ability. A hope that is everlasting, because of what Jesus would go on to do through his death and resurrection in order to bring us back to him at the end of time.

Zechariah wasn’t initially prepared to trust what God was going to do through him, and too often we can be so distracted by the world around us that we find it difficult to just accept what God might be saying to us, how he calls us into a relationship that demands nothing of us but to simply be prepared to open ourselves up to the possibility that his joy, his peace, his love and his hope are all that we really need.

So tonight, be open to hear his invitation to come and be prepared to receive him into your heart. Tonight, be open to share with others the things that you discover about Christ and yourself and be prepared to be that herald of good tidings. Tonight, be open to having your life changed by the child in the manger and be prepared to be transformed. Tonight be prepared for anything and everything.

Amen

Starry Starry Night

O Holy Night – starry skies over Japan

Day Seven – Antiquities and Art

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‘Turning the World Upside Down’ by Anish Kapoor, 2010

 

Any trip to a famous city would not be complete without a Sunday afternoon browse around a museum, especially if it houses particular treasures. Of course all art is subjective, but there are some things you really have to see and others that just catch your eye and imagination.

IMG_7541The Israeli Museum sits below the watchful eye of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament and the site is spread over some 12 acres, so with limited time it was important to choose which exhibitions to visit.

But there was definitely one that I was not going to miss the chance of seeing – The Shrine of the Book

 

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The Shrine of the Book contains the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran in 1947

The white domed building was originally built in 1967 to house the first seven scrolls discovered at Qumran in 1947. It shapes represents the shape of the lids of the jars in which they were found, and is constantly sprayed with water from the fountain to keep the dome and the rooms beneath it cool.

 

Inside the cave-like building, in dimmed light are examples of the texts dating from the third century BC to the first century AD, most of which are written in Hebrew, a few in Aramaic and Greek. Most of the texts were written on parchment and only survived as fragments, but despite this scholars have been able to reconstruct about 950 different manuscripts. One manuscript, the Isaiah Scroll (Manuscript A) written around 100BC  is the only biblical scroll from Qumran that has been preserved in its entirety – 734cm long, and a facsimile is displayed around the centre. Toward the end of the First Temple period, the Jewish people began to shape their ancient traditions into holy scriptures and thus became known as ‘the People of the Book’.

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Isaiah 2:3

Outside is a model of Jerusalem recreating the city of 66AD, at the time of the Second Temple at the height of its glory, on the eve of the great revolt of the Jews against the Romans.

From antiquity to modern art, I made my way through some of the outdoor sculptures

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‘The strange loop you are’ by Mike and Doug Stern 2015

Created from bamboo poles and multi-coloured climbers ropes, in the Billy Rose Garden

 

 

 

 

IMG_7549However, I think my favourite piece is the sculpture that heads this blog. The piece was commissioned in memory of Theodor ‘Teddy’ Kollek, the founder and father of the Israeli Museum and Mayor of Jerusalem for 28 years, a tribute to his vision for the museum. Under his tenure as mayor, Jerusalem developed into a modern city, and he was once called ‘the greatest builder of Jerusalem since Herod’

Made out of stainless steel there is a warning not to touch the piece, indeed the heat could be felt just by standing near to it.

Inside the Fine Arts exhibition there was one picture that really caught my eye, not necessarily because of its content, but the amazing green sheen that the artist had created for the dancer’s dress.

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‘Salome’ by Egardo Sambo, 1920

Another favourite section was the Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei’s ‘Maybe, Maybe Not’ exhibition. Weiwei was imprisoned without trial in his native China, and his movements were restricted by the government due to his political activism and outspoken stance on human rights and freedom of expression. Bearing this in mind, his decision to hold this exhibition in Israel caught many of his supporters by surprise. However, at its opening in June he told the crowds:

My voice should be heard. … I have to make the argument [and not say],
‘OK, let’s boycott it’ and ‘It’s nothing to do with me.’ I think that’s too easy.

 

I had already spotted one of his pieces outside, ‘Iron Tree’ which is a cast iron copy of the ‘Tree’ sculptures that are assembled from the dry, dead branches, roots and trunks of numerous species of tree, such as camphor, cedar and ginkgo, that Ai Weiwei gathered from across mountainous southern China. The sculpture mimics the form of a real tree, although the cuts and joins are left visible

Also inside is his infamous ‘Sunflower Seeds’ (2010). When it was originally exhibited at Tate Modern in 2010 you could walk across the 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds, each one painstakingly sculpted and painted by hand. However, this constant disturbance created a health risk from the dust that was kicked up. Here in the Israeli Museum the installation was still vast even just walking around the edge.

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 At the end of the room was the triptych ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’ (2016). In 1995 Weiwei took a 2,000 year old Han dynasty vase and dropped it deliberately, referring symbolically to Mao’s destruction of China’s historical traditions, when temples and antiquities were routinely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution

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 He burned the house of the Lord, the king’s house,
and all the houses of Jerusalem;
every great house he burned down.
2 Kings 25:9

The medium chosen for the image however was Lego Bricks. When Weiwei decided to use Lego bricks he received a letter from the company refusing to sell them to him because they were unwilling to collaborate in a political work, therein demonstrating that censorship was alive in the West as much as in China, through large corporations undermining individual freedoms. However, after posting their response on his Instagram thousands of people from all over the world send him small individual supplies.

Of course there were a million other things I could have taken pictures of but time was running out and a one point I did find myself walking in and out of so many different galleries trying to find the exit that they became a bit of a blur – such is art.

 

 

 

A Glimpse of Heaven’s Glory

the-heavens-are-telling-the-glory-of-god

Based on the following readings: Luke 2:1-14 and Isaiah 9:2-7

Another Christmas and what a wonderful time this Advent and lead up to Christmas has been this year. Over the last few weeks at St James’ we have shared the nativity story with various groups of pre-school children; carolled our way through several nursing homes; taken part in a sheep-filled Knitivity before the culmination of Christmas Eve Crib and Christingle services and the pinnacle of Midnight Mass. It was my privilege to be able to preach at this first service of Christmas on what was a very special night…

Make I speak and may you hear through the grace of the Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

How’s everyone’s Christmas going? Got everything prepared?  –  I hope so, because you know gentlemen, I think even the late night petrol stations are closed now… But, of course you’re all prepared, and what better way to begin our Christmas Day celebrations [looking at watch] – well it’s not quite morning yet but it will be by the time I stop talking – than to gather here together to hear again the timeless story of Jesus’ birth. And there is something rather special about being here, at this time and in this place, and you must admit that the church does look rather wonderful, full of light and mystery.

However busy we’ve been, all the rushing around trying to find the perfect presents; making sure we’ve stocked up on plenty of food and drink; and those little treats we can indulge ourselves with; despite all of that, something calls to us to take a moment, this moment, to remember what Christmas is really all about. We hear the story of a young teenage woman about to give birth; the reluctant fiancé whose done the right thing; the outcasts and rejected members of society in the persons of the shepherds privileged to hear the good news first… of a baby born in an animal shed, yet destined to change the world… all heralded by angelic messengers descending – to bring heaven so tantalising close to earth.

Tonight we’ve come together in what I believe the Celts would have called ‘a thin place’. They had a saying that ‘heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller’. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. Perhaps that’s why we’re here tonight, hoping to catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

Indeed, there’s something about that story that seems to call to something deep within us, to draw us in so that just for a while we believe that all will be well with the world. A story that speaks of things so long ago and so far away and what wouldn’t we give for it to be happening right now; maybe like me you sometimes, just sometimes, wonder why it  doesn’t appear to be doing so nowadays. After all it’s good news of great joy for all people.

“”I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”

What then was that good news that the angels spoke of to the shepherds, and how is it good news for us today?  Because let’s be honest, the news that’s beamed into our homes and phones and splashed across the newspapers doesn’t exactly fill us with confidence and hope that humanity has a common goal of seeking respect, harmony and love.

Respect, harmony and love, three key element of Jesus’ message for the world into which he was born…  and the world in which we live today; a message that is good news for us but also requires us to be good news to others; a message that allows us to glimpse heaven’s glory.

For Mary and Joseph their lives had been turned upside down and the baby that was now sleeping in the manger brought them joy as any new-born child would, despite the distance they had travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the circumstances they found themselves in. Yet the fact is within two years they would be fleeing for their lives, trying to keep one step ahead of Herod’s henchman who would indiscriminately slaughter thousands of innocent children and bring misery to countless families; families who likes Joseph’s were valuable member of society, and who now had to rely on the country to which they fled to offer them security and compassion, to recognise and respect who they were.

Sounds a bit like a scenario that’s been happening around the world more and more lately? That even today there are people having to flee from their homes, seeking that same sort of asylum, escaping from violence and conflict. Do we recognised their value and treat them with respect? How do we welcome the stranger and alien in our land or into our homes? Do they hear good news from us?

So tonight, on this special night, it would be good to remember all those who are far from the country of their birth, who are missing the comfort of their own home and their families, and pray that with our help they too can envisage a future that allows them and us to catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

We hear too in the story that the birth of Jesus was a herald of peace on earth and our reading from Isaiah confirms that the one who was coming would be known as the Prince of Peace. It was a peace that would come about not only through meekness and tolerance but through seeking justice and reconciliation in a land dominated by a foreign power and then through the ultimate sacrifice.

“Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”

Most recently I believe we too are weary of a world in which violence and hatred seems to dominate, where mistrust and selfish power struggles offers discord rather than harmony, where acts of violence leave men, women and children in fear for their lives. How it jars with Jesus’ message of peace and how we so often feel powerless to do anything to bring about that peace?

Surely though it just needs to start with us, to be at peace with ourselves, our families and our neighbours, to reject hatred and discrimination and to stamp on injustice. So tonight, on this special night, let us be resolved to seek everything that speaks of harmony rather than conflict, not just in words, but in actions, so that we and the whole world might catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory.

Back to the story then; those shepherds were just the first example of Jesus’ determination that every single person would be valued, respected and loved. Throughout his ministry he actively sought out the poor, the homeless, the excluded – those rejected by a society that saw them as failures, inconveniences, worthless. He didn’t treat them as charity cases or patronise them in order to make himself feel better – he genuinely loved them. And he calls us to do the same.

Not just to love those who are lovable but those whom we consider unlovable. It’s too easy to create exclusive groups around us rather than to love inclusively. Perhaps though tonight, on this special night we can determine to open our hearts to love, to receive love and to give love so that all may catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

As I said earlier, tonight we hear again in the Christmas story those three key elements of Jesus’ message for the world – respect, harmony and love, but there’s one more important thing that Jesus’ birth has to offer us – his death. It wasn’t until just over 300 year after his death that Christians began to remember and celebrate his birth. Up until then the good news had centred on the message of the cross.

A message of forgiveness, redemption and salvation for the world as a whole and for us as individuals; but we do recognise that as part of the Christmas message as well. When, later on we come to sing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ the last verse has these words, “Born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons (and daughters of cause) of earth, born to give them second birth”. So tonight, on this special night, we can believe that heaven really has come close to give us a glimpse of heaven’s glory.

“…born to give them second birth”

 

But the truth is we can’t just leave it there – the Christmas story cannot be just that, a story in history. You may have come this evening because it’s simply part of a family tradition, or maybe you’ve been coming for years, or perhaps you haven’t been for a while – and that’s okay, all are welcome here… or maybe something stirs deep within and calls to a discovery that his story is also your story, my story, our story.

 

Isaiah prophesied all those years ago that ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.’ Tonight, on this special night, we can be certain that that light still shines brightly, dispelling the darkness and allowing us all a glimpse of heaven’s glory.

 

Love came down at Christmas, and may that same love come down and enter our hearts both tonight, this morning and for evermore. Amen

love-came-down

 

 

 

Ember Days

Ember DaysThen one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. ‘See,’ he said, ‘now that this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am,’ I said; ‘send me!’
Isaiah 6:6-8

The days are passing quickly now, flurries of letters and documents are being exchanged to ensure that everything will be in place for my ordination. College work is being completed and deadlines met. It is now less than nine weeks before I stand before the bishop and make my vows that will admit me to holy orders and I when I will become a deacon.

Ordination traditionally takes place during Petertide or Michaelmas. In Winchester this happened at the former time on the Saturday and Sunday nearest to St Peter’s Day (29th June) and this year it will be over the weekend of the 5th-6th July. As the time approaches I become more aware that whilst this has been very much a personal journey I have been uplifted and supported by a whole host of others, not least through their prayers.

During the church year, there are special periods set aside for prayer and fasting, some of these are known as Ember Days or Weeks, when prayers are sought and offered for all those preparing for ordination and for the parishes and people that they are being sent to serve alongside. Often, these requests are in the form of Ember cards, that are made and given to friends, family and congregations – a handy aide-memoire.

It also seems appropriate to use the image of an ember for this part of the journey as well. After all an ember is a glowing, hot coal made of greatly heated wood, coal, or other carbon-based material [in the hothouse of a theological training college!] that remains after, or sometimes precede, a fire. Embers can glow very hot, sometimes as hot as the fire which created them [God and those who have led them to faith]. Although outdoor types are often careful to throw water over them or cover them with earth [the world that still doubts or does not know] because they radiate a substantial amount of heat long after the fire has been extinguished, and can rekindle a fire that is thought to be completely extinguished or which has new fuel added to it [our ministry to hearth and home, wayfarer and wanderer?]

So here is my ember card featuring a design I created of a celtic cross:

You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit. John 15:16

You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit. John 15:16

and if you are the praying type then here is a prayer you might like to use:

Dear Lord,
You call us all into fellowship
both within and without your church:
hear our prayer that those who are called
to be your faithful people,
through their vocation and ministry,
and who are soon to be ordained,
may each be an instrument of your love;
and grant that they may receive
the necessary gifts of grace
in order to do your work;
we ask this through our Lord and Saviour,
Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.