Tag Archives: Mary

Treasure in Clay Jars

 

Jars of clay

What is it that makes us special? Thoughts from this morning’s sermon focussing on the reading 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

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

I am nobody special. I will never become a worldwide known church leader. I will probably never become a diocesan-wide known church leader, but that’s okay. I will never be troubled by celebrity and stardom. I may appear from time to time in some charming local newspaper article about fetes or fundraising, but the paparazzi will not be camped outside of my door; that’s not a problem. My name will never be immortalized with a monument set up by the local community, although perhaps for a generation there will be some who will speak fondly of me, it won’t matter.

A remnant of my thoughts may continue to exist somewhere in the ether of the world-wide web, but it will probably be something that people accidentally come across whilst searching for something else, an amusing diversion, but quickly clicked away from – and that will be absolutely fine.

This isn’t an attempt at false modesty or to deny that any gifts or talents that I may have aren’t being put to good use. It isn’t to say that my existence is worthless or that I haven’t loved and been loved. It’s just that I am not special in my own right. But then very few people are. In the bible, those whom God chose to make known his message, were very often the most ordinary of people, they did not seek to proclaim themselves, in fact they were often reluctant to do so. But they trusted that God would give them the words to say, the actions to do and the courage to keep on trusting even when things looked like it would come to nothing.

Take for example Mary, the mother of Jesus, a young girl chosen not for her status, for we hear in the Magnificat, her song of praise to God when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, that ‘God has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant’. Nor for her connections, betrothed as she was to a humble carpenter; but someone who was a woman of great humility and whose strength came from her knowing that she had achieved nothing except what God had enabled her to do, ‘for the Mighty One has done great things for me’.

Or perhaps we can think of Peter, a simple fisherman, whose enthusiasm often overtook his reasoning, whose bluntness many times led him to say exactly what he thought rather than reflect on what he was being taught. Tender hearted and inconsolable when he realised that he had thought only of himself when challenged about his relationship with Jesus, but who, when filled with the Holy Spirit was bold and fearless in proclaiming the gospel, ‘But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them’.

And of course there are many more from inarticulate Moses; through ‘I know best’ Jonah; to womanizing David, all unlikely choices to participate in God’s mission, all fragile human beings in their own right, but they were given the power to be something special… Like humble clay pots they contained a treasure.

Now if you’re going to place a valuable thing in some sort of vessel would you choose a clay jar? Yet, it really is the most appropriate material.

I wonder how many of you saw the series, The Great British Pottery Throw Down, a bit like the Great British Bake Off, but baking of another sort, in which contestants were given various types of clay and challenged to make things from simple drinking pots to whole toilet systems. Workhorse utilities to elaborate designs and functions yet fashioned from that most basic commodity, a lump of earth.

Middleport-Pottery-in-the-Summer-The-Great-Exhibition-Pottery-Throwdown-25

Pottery Toilet from the Great British Pottery Throw Down

When Paul is referring to jars of clay, he is referring to humankind itself – that we are the clay jars, a metaphor that takes us back to the description in Genesis, of God forming humans from the dust of the earth. However, we are called to hold within us the shining treasure, ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’. But the fact remains that vessels made of clay are not very sturdy. If you tip over or drop a piece of pottery it is easily broken, but Paul says there is a reason for God trusting us to hold within us this treasure. We are reminded that on our own we have no power, no special strengths or talents, we are as fragile as a jar of clay, but God’s all-surpassing power ensures that this clay can sustain all sorts of pressures so that his divine treasure is taken care of.

Paul reminds us that even as fragile, human beings, easily broken it is not only Christ’s life, but also his death that has made a change in us. He goes on to describe it in his letter to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”(Galatians 2:20); Reminding us again that as jars of clay, we can’t depend on our own power and strength.

And the overriding purpose for this is ‘so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies’. As Christians we are called to act as guiding lights and at other times flash warning signs; we need to seek out those in darkness and draw people into the light. We are called to live our lives as beacons of hope to those around us. Each of us will do this in different ways, some of us will become blazing flares that light up the whole sky around us, whilst others will be the constant inextinguishable glow of embers providing warmth and comfort.

Like an ordinary lump of clay, God forms each and every one of us into something that is useful and beautiful; like a potter he fires us in the kiln of life to give us extra strength, and he places within us the light of Christ so that we can shine out of the darkness.

As I said at the beginning, I nor anybody else is special if we live in our own right, but when we become the bearers of Christ’s light then that makes us special beyond measure.

Amen

The Potter's Hands

Shoah…An Obliteration of Potential

Shoah - an obliteration of potential

Shoah – an obliteration of potential

A sermon preached on Candlemas, honouring Holocaust Memorial Day 2018, based on Luke 2:22-40

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

A Jewish family… mother, father and precious new born baby son… entering the temple in Jerusalem, some 33 to 40 days after his birth, to fulfil a rite of passage required under the law of Moses; the purification of his mother with a simple offering, for those without wealth or status, of a pair of turtle doves or young pigeons.

Three people learning what it means to be a family, with little or no inkling of what life lies ahead of them, but filled with dreams and aspirations of what their son may grow up to be. Maybe for Joseph, a son to follow in the family tradition, to become a skilled carpenter working alongside him, and for Mary, a child who will grow up strong and healthy, perhaps achieving far greater things than his parents had by becoming a rabbi or priest.

We have to remember that this was taking place quite some time before three strangers from the East would turn up on their doorstep, with their unusual gifts, and a warning in a dream that would cause the family to flee across the border into Egypt. And yet the season of Epiphany draws to a close today with this story of Simeon revealing the poignant potential Jesus is destined to fulfil.

A potential that was to bring salvation for those who believe in him, both to Jews and Gentiles at the expense of those who would oppose him, , ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’. A potential that is offered to each and every one of us, to every child that is born. A potential that is to be nurtured and encouraged whatever shape or form it may take. A potential that can be torn away, stamped on and destroyed.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly
John 10:10

Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day, a day set aside from our November Remembrance Day; when we remember those who fought and gave their lives not only in the 1st World War but also in the 2nd World War, where they stood up aside the evil tyranny of the Nazi regime. Holocaust Memorial Day is a special day to remember the six million Jews as well as other victims, who were murdered simply because of their religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation, bringing the total nearer to eleven million lives.

As a dry statistic, eleven million people is probably unimaginable, but imagine that you drove to the outskirts of London and suddenly the roads, houses and buildings were empty, deserted, every single place, right into the centre of the city. Everyone had disappeared, leaving behind most of their possessions, gone without a trace. Not a single living person remaining.

For the Jews living in Nazi occupied countries, these disappearances were happening in every city, town and village. The streets were falling silent, no one rushing about their daily business, no children playing in streets or shouting and laughing in parks and playgrounds. For among those six million almost a quarter of them were children, 1.5 million lives. Children who never got the chance to grow up and fulfil their potential or their dreams for the future.

Those six million people who were not born as victims, but who had their hopes and dreams brutally stripped away because of an ideology that condemned them to death just because they were Jewish.

Some of you will know that late last year I undertook a ten day seminar at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where they not only educate people about the events and the peoples of the Holocaust or Shoah, as they prefer to call it, but also strive to preserve the memories and stories of the victims. Their photographic archive contains hundreds of photographs of Jewish people; people who smiled, danced, took part in sports and musical events, got married and enjoyed holidays and family occasions; with no awareness of the fate that awaited them; each now frozen in time for posterity, as the camera captured their everyday lives.

Pre-War Jewish Life

There are also photos of beloved children, dressed up and posed in their Sabbath best, no different I doubt to the snapshots we have, brought out years later to embarrass our offspring, except these children would face no future embarrassment.

This recognition of unfulfilled hope is echoed in another part of the site, where the Children’s Memorial has been created by hollowing out an under underground cavern, which has its own symbolism. It is entered by a descent that funnels you into a darkened room. In the gloom the images of several unnamed children stare out from photographs, as the sound of a mournful lament softly plays.

Then further down, feeling your way into the darkness, you enter what appears to be a room filled with stars. The effect is created by just five candles, which are replaced each day, reflected by mirrors to produce an infinity of tiny lights. In this twilight we listened to just a few of the names of some 1800 of the children, their ages and where they were from; a representation of stolen lives. It is very moving and I immediately thought of my own children

But it is the photographs that haunt me because it makes these children more tangible, and despite not knowing their names, they are no longer anonymous. In your service sheet is a slip of paper with some photographs on it, take a look at it now [see below].

Shoah Children Victims

Florika Liebmann, Unknown and Raphael Altmann

On the left is Florika Liebmann. She was born in 1934 in Szeged, Hungary to Bela and Szenka Liebmann. Bela was a Jewish photographer and businessman who ran an optical and photographic supply store, as well as doing photography in local theatres. During World War Two, he was conscripted into the Hungarian labour service. Szenka and Florika were deported, and in April 1945 were killed along with 38 other victims, in the village of Weissenbach by retreating SS soldiers.

On the right is Raphael Altmann. He was born in 1937 in Wilmersdorf, Germany to Kurt and Grietje Altmann. He was the oldest of four children, including his brothers Martijn and Fred. During the German occupation, the family was expelled to Zeist, in the Netherlands, from where they went into hiding in late 1942. When they could no longer stay together, the parents gave their two older children to a children’s house in Zeist. The house had an escape procedure, but in real time things went wrong. The headmistress was arrested with the children and sent to the Westerbork camp. The children were sent from this camp on to Auschwitz, where they perished on 26 March 1944. Kurt and Grietje, however, hid in four different places with their youngest son Fred and managed to survive. Raphael and Martijn never got to meet their sister Sophia, who was born in 1949

And the picture in the middle, what do you see there? A disabled child? A child with Downs Syndrome? Or a child who was lovingly dressed in his smart sailor’s suit, with polished, laced up boots and no doubt one of his daddy’s ties. I couldn’t find a name or a history for this young man, but he is known to have been victim of the Holocaust and he is representative of one of at least 5,000 disabled children who were murdered under the Nazi regime.

The Nazis falsely believed that some human beings were superior to others and they aimed to develop and preserve a pure Aryan master race. To do this they strove to select those they believed to be the most ‘perfect’ human beings and to deliberately remove from society those considered ‘undesirable’, including the disabled.

German midwives and doctors were ordered to report any child known to them who was born deaf or blind, with paralysis or with a neurological disorder such as Down’s Syndrome, and these children were systematically removed from institutions and families, although not without some reluctance on the parents’ part, from whom the final euthanasia was hidden.

Hitler and his regime justified this by endorsing opinions as expressed by Madison Grant, the author of The Passing of the Great Race, who said, “Mistaken regard for what are believed to be divine laws and a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life, tend to prevent […] the elimination of defective infants … The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit, and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race.”

Nazi Propaganda Against the Disabled

Translation: 60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering with a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen that is your money too.

The Nazis took Darwin’s ideas of natural selection, in particular the idea of survival of the fittest in the animal kingdom, and applied them to the human world and society, however, the valuable of human life doesn’t just rely on its usefulness to others, but more importantly its capacity to love and be loved, and God places in each and every one of us an overriding potential for love.

Not just then, but nowadays, there is also a danger that we stifle this potential even before a child is born. A recent warning by the Church of England was that the future existence of people with Down’s Syndrome is ‘under question’ with the introduction of a new Non-Invasive Prenatal blood test to test for the condition, that the Church is concerned will lead to more terminations because of people’s fears and concerns about their ability to raise a disabled child and misconceptions about the condition itself.

I believe there are compelling and justifiable reasons why a pregnancy might be terminated, particularly if it is for the health and mental wellbeing of the woman or of the unborn child, but not for a sense of seeking ‘perfection’. Some woman reportedly, when they were told that the child they were carrying had Down’s Syndrome were presented with this information as ‘bad news’.

Actress and screenwriter, Sally Phillips, whose son Olly has Down’s, recently addressed this in the BBC documentary ‘A World without Down’s Syndrome’ revealed that when he was born, the doctor said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry’, the nurse on duty wept, and nothing positive was expressed. She discovered however, that far from being a tragedy their lives have been transformed by Olly, who is now twelve and attending a mainstream secondary school.

As she says, ‘Having Olly in my life has changed me and my family for the better. He has slightly worse impulse control which means he often says exactly what everyone is thinking but is too shy to say and he is also incredibly caring and gifted emotionally, really focussing on how others are feeling by noticing when people are upset when I don’t.’

And we do well to remember that discriminating against the disabled, disables us and diminishes us. There is no perfect human being, not me or you, nor anyone else apart from the person of Jesus, and no-one should be robbed of their potential for a full and meaningful life.

Simeon, when he looked at the baby that was in his arms, rejoiced that he was being given this opportunity to see for himself the person sent to bring about God’s plan of salvation for all, ‘the light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’; and we know that Jesus was able to fulfil his potential by making the ultimate sacrifice of dying on the cross. It was part of God’s all-encompassing plan of his will being done on earth, but it was also Jesus’ choice and decision to go through with it, no one else’s.

Definitely ‘good news’, however, this still didn’t negate the sorrow that would be felt by Mary his mother. The sword that would pierce her soul, should also prick our own conscience so that we don’t forget those millions of innocent lives that ended so abruptly and so brutally. Children who never got the chance to grow up and fulfil their potential.

Holocaust Memorial Day is a time to remember the millions of people who were murdered, not just as an anonymous mass, but having looked into the eyes of the people in these photographs realising that they were people, just as we are. We don’t know everyone’s name but we can pause to reflect on their suffering and remember their ‘untold stories’. We can also make a clear promise to speak out against discrimination which judges some lives to be of less value than others today

In that way all may grow strong, be filled with wisdom and know that the favour of God rests on them.

Amen

HMD 2018

 

 

 

Seeds of New Life

Seeds and Bread

Seeds and Bread

Except a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, 
it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit’
John 12:24

 On Monday in Holy Week our church holds an informal communion and this year we were reminded of the seeds of hope and the bread of life through the beautiful liturgy of Dorothy McRae-McMahon from her book Liturgies for the Journey of Life published by SPCK

This simple and reflective service allowed us space to offer our prayers where we believed we saw the signs of the seeds of new life, however small, by placing the single seeds we had been given at the beginning of the service onto Christ’s table, where seeds are turned into bread, as we named the sign we saw and the hope we have

Also to quietly listen to Psalm 42:1-9 and to hear the Gospel through a meditative reading I had prepared based on John 12:1-11.

 Seeds of New Life

It seems incredible that we’re all here together again. It fact it is far beyond incredible and yet I must somehow believe it. Look at them all – relaxing and enjoying the meal that Martha has prepared for us. My wonderful, hardworking sister Martha – not at all as bossy as she appears but kind-hearted and generous, and so very grateful to the man who is our guest of honour this evening.

An honoured guest indeed, and yet he has become one of the family, certainly no airs and graces, just a gentle and humble presence. As I catch his eye, he smiles at me, a look of genuine love – and yet just a few weeks ago it could have been so very different.

Silence

Then I was aware that my illness had taken such a grip on me that my family was beyond hope, and yet they still had faith that he would come. They had tried to hide their tears from me, but I still heard them sobbing as the night passed and I felt myself slipping away to death and to nothingness. ..

… That was until I heard his voice, telling me to come out; but out from where? Everything seemed muffled until I realised that my whole body had been wrapped in cloths for my grave, yet the insistence in his voice gave me a sense of urgency and so I stumbled into the bright light before falling at his feet.

As I said, beyond belief… and yet I do believe.

Silence

Many of his travelling companions are with him tonight. They’ve stopped here in Bethany on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. I can hear Peter, with his loud, gruff voice cheerfully retelling stories of what they’ve been up to since we last met, and Thomas – careful, thoughtful Thomas – listening intently, and occasionally interjecting to correct some small inaccuracy of what Peter is saying, which Peter takes in good humour.

On the other side of the room, I can see Judas, looking as if he’s brooding about something. I often wonder what it was that Jesus saw in him when he called him to be one of the disciples. They say he’s good at making the small amount of money they have stretch just that little bit further, although they often seem short of cash. Still God provides for them somehow.

Silence

And at least we’ve been able to provide some warm food and plenty to drink; and Martha hasn’t had to scold Mary too much to get her to help get things ready. I can see Mary now, sitting right in amongst those nearest to him. She been so excited since she knew he was coming, full of smiles as if keeping a secret but trying not to let it burst out.

Suddenly it’s as if the room has been transported to the middle of Solomon’s garden of delights; the air heavy with a strong fragrance, familiar and yet unfamiliar. Of course… it’s nard, that purest of perfumes and also one of the most expensive. That must have been what Mary was hiding and it must have cost her a great deal, at least 300 denarii – a most precious gift indeed.

Silence

A gift that she has broken open and is now using to anoint his feet; an act of pure devotion, yet one which I can see is making her sorrowful as tears roll down her cheeks and fall on his feet, and which she wipes away with her beautiful long hair, her own glory.

The smell has obviously reached Judas’ nostrils as well, and he seems incensed, querulously asking why so much money has been wasted; that she would have been better of giving it to help the poor or maybe he wanted it in the common purse for another purpose. My dear friend was having none of it, rebuking Judas and pointing out that regrettably there would always be poor people among us, and what she has done was simply what she would do on the day of this burial. Instead we should be more worried that we might not always have him.

Silence

I wonder what he means. Perhaps he’ll soon be moving on again. Things have undoubtedly become a little more difficult. Ever since he miraculously restored me to life I have noticed that people are very confused, several of them shy away, ducking into doorways and crossing over when I walk along the streets. Still more though want to see for themselves and vast crowds of people are starting to visit our village. They too are discovering how incredible the things that he does are. It’s certainly rattling the chief priests; they don’t like to see their authority threatened.

Perhaps it’s best then that he goes away, and Mary can save the rest of the perfume till much later… Cheer up Judas, your teacher knows what he’s doing.

 

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – Joseph’s Story

Flight To Egypt

Flight To Egypt

This is the last in a series of four meditations for Christmastide. I hope you have enjoyed reading them

Joseph sat under the welcome shade of the sycamore trees. Mary, his wife and their child also rested nearby. He could see his son chattering away to his mother, who was doing her best to answer his inquisitive questions.

His son? He knew that wasn’t strictly true, according to nature’s law; too much had happened over the last two or three years to make him only too aware of that fact; but the truth was he felt it was now his responsibility to fulfil a father’s role.

The last time they had been on a journey like this Mary had been expecting their first-born any day; the child that now played happily at his mother’s feet. Her latest pregnancy wasn’t obvious yet, still it was hard to have to travel in such conditions. However, circumstances meant that they had become refugees – putting themselves into self-imposed exile, heading towards a land where their ancestors had been treated like slaves.

Joseph knew it was for the best. The vivid dream, warning him of death and despair, had prompted their hurried departure from Bethlehem. Even now, from such a great distance, there were stories exchanged between fellow travellers and the camel trains they passed, telling of King Herod’s murderous slaughter of thousands of innocent children – death on the whim of an egotistical maniac with an inferiority complex

After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.” Matthew 2:13

It was as if a dark shroud of mourning was descending on the land; a palpable wail of inconsolable sorrow rising up. What sort of world was this going to be to raise children in?

Hopefully, though, his family was safe now, only one more day till the border crossing and that was merely a desolate rocky outcrop in the Wilderness of Egypt. He’d bought them as far south as he dared, but after crossing they would have to make their way north-west in order to find villages and towns where he might earn his trade as a carpenter. He was grateful for that at least, for who knew when they might be able to return.

The strange gifts they’d been given, by those unexpected visitors, might be of value if their lives depended on it, but somehow he’d couldn’t see Mary agreeing to part with them and who was he to treat such precious gifts so lightly. No, he would rely on his own skills, skills taught to him by his father and ones which he would pass on to his sons in the future, to give them a good chance to earn a decent living and start families of their own.

He looked up at a sudden burst of laughter, and watched as his son ran smiling towards him with his arms open wide.

“Aba, Aba. We have to go – let’s get on our way!”

Joseph scooped him up into his arms and walked back to where his wife was sitting; gently helping her to her feet. Setting his son down, both he and Mary prepared to follow Jesus as he hastened on a little way ahead, leading them towards their new life.

He Qi, Nativity - The Flight Into Egypt

He Qi, Nativity – The Flight Into Egypt

*Sycamore Trees have been cultivated since ancient times. The Pharaohs of Egypt called them Nehet. The oldest sycamore tree is in El Matariya, Egypt and is known as the Virgin Mary Tree.

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – The Wise Men’s Story

The Wise Men Came Travelling

The Wise Men Came Travelling

Originally written for a Messy Church service storytelling slot to celebrate Epiphany

I want to tell you the story of three men who decided to leave their comfortable homes and travel a very long distance in search of…..well at the beginning they weren’t entirely sure what or who it was they were searching for? They just knew that it was so important that they set out on a new adventure.

Some people called them wise men…but I’m not so sure they were very wise to consider going on such a journey …at least not at the start. Others call them kings… In fact only one of them was a king and his name was Balthazar. He was a very kind king and looked after his wives and servants very well. His life was extremely comfortable, because he could afford to buy anything he wanted. The trouble was he had bought everything that he wanted and now he was bored!

He was also very intelligent and liked to try and find out everything about the world around him. He read loads of books and his favourite subject was history. However, he was not as clever as his best friend Melchior, who was indeed a wise man. Melchior, was also very rich and so he could spend all of his time studying the stars. That is he looked up at them at night and watched them as they moved across the sky, and during the day when the sun hid the stars he plotted their movements on his charts. Whenever Balthazar went to visit his friend he had to try and find him behind a mountain of papyrus rolls

Also living in the city was another man called Caspar, who was also a friend of the king. He was a man who thought a lot about the world – about how it was created; about who created it; about why it was created; about why he had been created! He had read all of the ancient scriptures of lots of different faiths and had come to the conclusion that there must have been a very powerful God who had done all of these things

One day Melchior, rushed into the palace when Caspar was visiting Balthazar. He was very excited and told them both to come and see what he had discovered. He spread out a large chart on the table in front of them and pointed to a small object that was separate from all of the other stars.

“I noticed it the other night…I’m sure it wasn’t there the night before! Come and see it for yourselves.

They all went back to Melchior’s house and waited…..and waited….and waited. Actually they had to wait for quite some time as it had been lunch time when Melchior had rushed to the palace and the sun needed to set before the stars would be visible…

Eventually though, when the night was very dark, they saw an incredible sight…. on the skyline a bright light was shining… it was brighter than all the other stars and seemed to twinkle and sparkle as if it was waiting for them to make a decision.

“I think I know what this means,” said Caspar, “I read about a star appearing in the sky when God wants to send a message to the world”

Balthazar and Melchior wondered how a star was going to tell them a message. Stars can’t talk after all.  But they did notice that the way the star hovered over them it seemed to be saying ‘Follow me’ before it disappeared as the sun rose. Over the next few days they kept on seeing the star and each night it seemed to flicker more brightly and urgently.

Eventually they came to a decision. Caspar had reread one of the ancient books and declared that the stars appearance was because a very, very special person had been born…a prince or a king!

Melchior said that the star was moving very slowly westward, so perhaps that was where it had happened. Balthazar just thought it was the chance for a great adventure and began making plans for a journey…. and because he wasn’t sure how long that journey was going to be he packed lots of things, including gifts for whoever they were going to meet…after all it’s only polite to take a present when you go visiting.

The three men travelled for many months and days through the desert. They tended to sleep during the day when the sun was at its hottest and then set out again as the sun set and the stars began to appear; and every night the brightest star in the sky seemed to lead them onward into new lands, never stopping. Even when it was a cloudy night the light seems to glow through the clouds so that they could see where it was.

Then one day they were sleeping in their tents when some men entered their camp. They told Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar that they were King Herod’s guards and that their master would like to welcome them to his country, so they were escorted to the palace of King Herod

Now King Herod wasn’t a very nice king. He was greedy and cruel and extremely jealous of anyone who threatened his power. None of his own people were ever allowed to see him. Only the important people were allowed into his palace. So we’ve got to stay outside…

…However, Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar were allowed in. King Herod seemed very friendly to his three visitors. Apparently he asked them lots of questions about their journey, about how they had got there and where they were going. Melchior, who was very excited about how the star had led them on their journey, told Herod about his discovery and Caspar tried to explain that they were looking for a very important person, possibly a new king… Balthazar just felt uneasy.

After a while, despite all the splendour and luxury of the palace, the three men thought it would be wise to continue on their way. Especially as the star had moved on – and they had to spend three or four nights travelling very swiftly to catch up with it. King Herod had made them promise to let him know when they found the new king, so that he could come to welcome him. Balthazar thought that was one promise he really didn’t want to keep, and had kept his fingers crossed behind his back when he said they would!

After a few more days they approached the town of Bethlehem. They were only expecting to top up their food supplies and allow their camels some rest, as the city was not very grand – there were no majestic palaces, or magnificent houses within its walls; only ordinary houses, in ordinary streets. Yet the star seems to be hovering right over the town, as if it had come to a stop.

As they made their way through the twisting and winding streets, they kept asking themselves was this the place? Surely not! Yet the star was right there in the sky above them and was shedding its light onto a particularly small, very plain looking house. The three men stood in front of the wooden door

“You knock,” said Caspar

“No, you knock,” replied Melchior

“Oh for goodness sake, I’ll knock,” sighed Balthazar, as he rapped very smartly on the door. At the sound of the knock, a woman’s voice from within the house bid them to come in and so they entered the house.

At first it seemed very gloomy, then they made out a young woman sitting on a stool, with a child on her knee. Maybe it was the light from the star, or maybe it was the candle but the room seemed to glow with light and all three men fell down on their knees as they felt the presence of someone very special. It may not have been a palace, there may not have been hundreds of servants or furniture of gold and silver, but there was definitely someone royal there – a future king.

Balthazar then remembered the presents that they had brought and he laid down his gift of gold – certainly fit for a king! Melchior had some frankincense, which would be useful if he turned out to be a great priest and teacher. When Caspar hesitantly laid his gift of myrrh in front of the cradle the others were a bit confused. Surely myrrh was used when people had died.

“He may need it later on,” explained Caspar

Mary, the child’s mother, just smiled and thanked them for their gifts.

“His name’s Jesus, and Joseph, my husband and I, are very grateful. He is truly a gift from God.”

The three men bowed again and each thought that they would remember this journey and this night and this child for a very long time. As they left they knew that were all leaving wiser than when they had arrived.

Oh, and by the way – they never did tell King Herod where they had found the child. Which was just a well, as Herod did turn out to be a very, very nasty man!

Wise Men Came Travelling

Wise Men Came Travelling

The visit of the Wise Men or Magi to the Holy Family is celebrated in the Church of England as Epiphany on Twelfth Night (6th January). An epiphany is a moment of sudden and great revelation, which the wise men experienced on seeing the Christ child. Despite their names not being recorded, some traditions believe they may all have been Eastern kings –  and of the three Balthazar is an alternate form of the Babylonian king Belshazzar, mentioned in the Book of Daniel.

As to whether there were only three of them, this may be an assumption from the fact that there were just three gifts mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 2:1-12); in the East, the Magi traditionally number twelve,

However many there were, they certainly didn’t arrive on the night of Jesus’ birth, as the family had relocated from a stable to a house (Matthew 2:11). It would also seem that only Mary was there at the time of the visit to her child, who was likely to have been several months old but no more than two years old (Matthew 2:16)

And the star that they followed? Now known as the Star of Bethlehem or the Christmas star, and which astronomers throughout the ages have attempted to link to unusual astronomical events, such as a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, a comet or a supernova. Whatever it was it led them to the correct place.

May Christ’s love be revealed in and through you this Christmastide!

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – Mary’s Story

Mary and Child

Mary and Child

The day had been long and arduous, whether walking slowly along the dusty, gritty road or bumping along on the ass’ back; each step jolting the baby she carried inside her, as she gripped tightly onto the beast’s mane.

The town had looked such a welcome relief as they’d approached it, but it had soon become evident as they pushed and jostled their way through the narrow streets that they had arrived too late to find the comfortable guest house with its cool whitewashed walls and decent bed on which to rest.

Instead, “No vacancies, we’re full up!”

She had tried to smile as her husband looked apologetic, but he was determined to find them somewhere to stay. The last place they tried looked less appealing, a little shabby, but by then they were desperate; the baby was stirring inside her. The owner, must have sensed their anxiety as he led them down to the only room he had for them….among the animal stalls! Still there was plenty of clean straw and hay, and when her husband lit the oil lamp its glow had seemed to bring a tiny feeling of warmth to the room.

As darkness fell, she had tried to get some sleep, but it seemed to elude her tonight. She lay listening to the snuffling and soft breathing of the animals; a shaft of moonlight fell onto the earthen floor through a chink in the roof, and tiny motes of dust made it seem alive in the otherwise still air – there was a feeling of expectancy, not least from the child that moved more urgently in her womb. Through the open door she could see what seemed a million stars in the heavens, under which the rest of the world slept in deep oblivion of the future.

She felt the first sharp pain, but waited to wake her sleeping husband until she knew the birth rhythms were regularly and imminent. “The baby’s coming…”

Afterwards, as she wrapped the child in the swaddling cloths she had brought with them, she gazed down at him, cradled in her arms, and felt such an overwhelming sensation of love, that it made her whole body tingle, dissipating completely the few lingering pains of childbirth. She looked up to her husband, wondering what his thoughts were now that the child was here, but she saw only love and an unconditional acceptance, that here was a son; whom he would nurture and raise as best he could, A carpenter’s son or maybe he would choose another calling?

The baby, now content with a breastful of milk, lay quietly. He too held his mother regard as she scrutinized her perfect new-born infant and as their eyes met, she gasped slightly as she glimpsed briefly within them an ancient wisdom that spoke of creation and new worlds. Rocking him gently, she sang a lullaby “Let all creation join my song, for peace and love are born…” which stilled not only her own mind but that of the creatures around her.

“A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23

Outside, Bethlehem and the rest of the world was beginning to awake as the dawn broke. As she laid him in a manger of sweet smelling hay she spent a while pondering the future, wanting this hushed moment of peace to last for ever, but somehow knowing that it would not last…

… at least not in her or perhaps her son’s lifetime. Maybe eventually though it just might….

Bethlehem Wall Graffiti by Pawel Rzyzawa

Bethlehem Wall Graffiti by Pawel Rzyzawa

With every blessing for peace this Christmas!

“Let all creation join my song, for peace and love are born” are lyrics from ‘Mary’s Lullaby’ by Jan Underwood Pinborough

Watching and Waiting

Signs of Advent

Signs of Advent

At this time of year, in the lead up to the Christmas celebrations, we spend a great deal of time watching and waiting. What is it though that we are watching and waiting for? Is it for the first sign that Christmas is coming? In that case our watching should have started in September, when the first packs of mince pies appeared in the shops! Maybe the earliest sign that we’re watching for is when, what has become an iconic Coca Cola advert, ‘Holidays are coming, holidays are coming….‘ appears on our television, as the twinkling lorry wends it’s merry way to bring cheer and healthy profits for its stockholders – perhaps the waiting is over when we’ve seen that?

On the other hand we might be watching our credit card groaning under the increase in spending as we are tempted to celebrate the season by purchasing an excessive amount of presents to show our friends and relatives just how much we really love them…… Maybe though, we won’t be waiting for the bill to flop onto our doormat and realise that it will probably take a whole year, if not more to make the repayments – if only we hadn’t bought that one extra present that got put in the cupboard last year and might just do as a raffle prize next time someone asks for one!

Indulging in luxuries, wine, and rich food will never make you wealthy
Proverbs 21:7

What is it we are watching and waiting for? Are we watching our weight as the pounds pile on as we tuck into several Christmas party dinners and surreptitiously open the big box of chocolates that we were saving for Christmas – we can always get a replacement before the day. Or are we waiting for the sales that will start on Boxing Day, so that we can go and hunt out all those bargains… the credit card should just last till then… or maybe we could return that ‘delightful’ jumper that Auntie May bought us, then we can buy what we really want!!

Am I being a bit cynical, a bit ‘bah humbug’. I probably am, but I’m certainly not being holier than thou, because at some point or other I have done all of those things – except for returning the jumper Auntie May! For many people the real joy of Christmas will be doing all or some of these things – and there is love and joy and happiness in coming together, sharing, and giving and receiving gifts. For many of us though there will be a little bit of sadness that people won’t watch and wait for something considerably more important and certainly longer lasting than the use by date on the egg nog.

At church we have started a new year, with the season of Advent, The word Advent is an anglicised version of the Latin word adventus – meaning ‘coming’ – what then or who is coming? Well Christmas is coming (regardless of whether the geese are any fatter) and we will spend these next few weeks preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus to earth over 2000 years ago. But we’re not really watching and waiting for his birth – that’s already happened; and his resurrection means that we will not really be watching and waiting for his coming among us, because he’s already here in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What the watching and waiting will involve is a retelling of the ancient stories of a long awaited Messiah, through the visions of the prophets, the blessing of Mary who carried the Christ-child in her womb and the messengers, like John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus’ earthly mission. Perhaps more importantly we will once again be watching and waiting expectantly in preparation for Jesus’ Second Coming, as we put aside some of the excitement and spend some time being penitent and a little more thoughtful.

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return”
Matthew 25:13

In the meantime, we can also spend time doing some more watching and waiting…. Watching and waiting for opportunities, whether it’s time or money, to bring to all those around us, who for one reason or another may not have the same chances or opportunities to join in our celebrations, a feeling of hope for the future; and to show once again that Jesus really is the reason for the season!

May God bless us all this Advent

Watching and Waiting

Watching and Waiting