Timing

Advent: ‘the arrival of a notable person or thing.’ In Christian terms it means the coming of the Messiah. It also suggests the idea of waiting and expectation for the Christ. In former times the Advent season extended over several weeks and was to be a time of spiritual preparation and anticipation; much as Lent is a lead up to Easter.  Fasting was also associated with the Advent period. Christmas Eve in Ireland was a ‘fast day’ until evening time when a fish dinner was celebrated.  

The lead up to Christmas was to prepare for a time of celebration and wonder. The time of incarnation, when God became man, when a Saviour was to be born. The advent of something new. 

The birth of Jesus was a God plan.  God promised it through the prophets over time:-unto us a child is born… The government will be on his shoulders… Wonderful counsellor… Mighty God… A root will spring up… Bethlehem. He arranged the circumstances- census, stars and stable.  His angels announced it in glory. It was all in the grand scheme of salvation. 

We may be conditioned to think that this life is a series of random events with coincidental people we meet along the way. Stuff happens, we move on. Things don’t work, shrug the shoulders. We are governed by fate, superstition or nothing at all. But thanks be to God- No! No! No!

Because there is ultimate purpose and meaning and lives to be lived and all this in God’s timing. In Him, we live, and move, and have our being. 

And when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…the greatest gift given at the opportune time.

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Mid-Winter celebration

We know that Jesus was not born on 25th December. Most likely He wasn’t born in December at all. So much for the bleak midwinter; frosty- breath manger animals and snow, snow, snow!  

So the date of the Nativity is wrong. And Jesus clearly is not the reason for much of the Christmas season. In the words of MacNeice, referencing Christ, “in honour of whom we have taken over the pagan Saturnalia for our annual treat.” In fact there is a long pagan tradition of Roman, Norse and other mid Winter festivals. Yule logs, trees, reindeers, guzzling and conspicious comsumption.

Christmas was a replacement of pagan celebrations and gods with a Christian festival. But the thin veneer of Christian practise has been chipped off over time. A Wikipedia article says that even most people of a christianised background have accepted Santa as a surrogate Jesus for the season. Maybe a stretch, but the big man in the red suit sure gets plenty adoration and his coming is so eagerly awaited.

So what is a body to do? 

The Puritans generally opposed the celebrations and under Cromwell’s rule, Christmas was banned in England. That didn’t go down too well. It was one thing to slaughter the natives across the pond or ultimately rule England as a dictator, but hands off Yuletide!

So if resistance is futile, what is the solution? Assimilation is out. What can be more naff than baking a birthday cake for Jesus or having to enjoy Cliff warbling about mistletoe and wine!

Well, maybe we could accentuate the positive aspects and try to eliminate the negative ones. It is great to have time off and time together with brothers and sisters,  family and friends. It is great to sing about the incarnation and season of goodwill. It is nice to enjoy good food and drink without going mad.

The coming of Jesus into our world and into our messy lives was as light into darkness; it was a time of joyful singing and brought the promise of peace; it was a token for hope; it was God himself come down and taking on flesh. All of that is something to be celebrated. 


Pilgrimage


The Pilgrim Way to Santiago; Reek Sunday on Croagh Patrick; Marathons; Yoga; mindfulness; so many people are set on pilgrimage, external or internal.  All of these endeavours spring from many motives- finding meaning; seeking peace; self-discovery; boredom;restlessness. One way or the other they all have a destination.  This is important because a common mantra today is ‘It’s not about the destination but the journey’.  I can see the reasoning behind this idea but at best it is a half-story (leath scéal). The earnest walker heading for Compestela would be distraught to end up on the South coast of Spain. Indeed they would be disappointed if they ended up in a town just 10kms from their goal. Or what if someone who practiced meditation said it was to help them to calmly plan and carry out a bank robbery? So destination or goal is key. 
 All those who ‘have set their hearts on pilgrimage’ have a gameplan. They do not give up easily, even when faced with the ‘valley of trouble’.  Christian faced his ‘slough of despond’ in ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’. Through persevering they find blessings- springs of water in a dry and weary land. As they go their resolve  increases even if their bodies are perishing. And of course they enjoy the journey, they stop to smell the roses along the way, they fellowship with fellow travellers. But ultimately the destination does matter. 

A Christ pilgrim has a goal- to appear in God’s presence, to go up to the Holy city. However his strength is not in himself. His travelling won’t be to ‘find god within’.  We are not God.  But God by the gift of his Spirit leads us on. We will have troubles in this world, but we know one who overcame the world. We can grow in grace and love- to go from strength to strength.  We have the One who is truth, we have life and walk in the good Way. And one fine day, we will see Him as He is.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, {‘trouble‘} they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. (‭Psalm‬ ‭84‬:‭5-7‬ NIV)

Peace (Hopkins)

I always liked the poems of G M Hopkins, even before the words took on a deeper significance for me.  He sees the spiritual in the natural so vividly and expresses it so wonderfully. He creatively depicts the creator’s hand and work in ‘Pied Beauty’, ‘ The Windhover’ and so many more. This one took my attention many years ago. And I came back to it today, thinking about God’s peace.  Thankfully He is a peace-maker and has made a way to have peace with us- even if you haven’t quite got there yet.  Or even if I forget sometimes that even “this Jack, joke” writing here “is immortal diamond”

——-

WHEN will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows         5
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?
 
O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,         10
        He comes to brood and sit.

500 years ago today.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

People have likened the nailing of Luther’s theses onto the church door as hammer blows that echoed.  Firstly through Wittenberg religious circles; then through Germany; then even as far as Rome; and through all Christendom. What started as an academic debate ended in a spiritual revolution. 

Essentially one man stood up and changed everything. A flawed and sinful man. A man who was yet wracked by doubts and fears. Yet at Worms he stood by his conscience, with God’s help. The God who was his fortress.

Today the simple re-discovered messages of God’s grace and his Word are central to the proclamation of the gospel. That we may live by faith and each one may come before the living God. 

We may be worlds away from early 16th century Saxony but human hearts and minds and cares and needs and failings are basically still the same.  More than ever we need Christ at the centre and not some form of religion. Jesus is the same today as yesterday.

To God be the glory!

The gift of Life- John 17

In John chapter 17, There is a wonderful prayer by Jesus. Charismatic believers tend to pray as the Spirit moves them. Here in this portion of the gospel it looks a bit different. The prayer of Jesus seems to be thought through and even planned out. In fact it is recorded in detail by John and obviously made an impression on him. Today, many bibles break it down into constituent parts – Jesus prays for himself; for those who believe; and those who will believe in future. Given the structure and nature of this prayer, or series of prayers, it seems to me that Jesus wanted to say something vital.  The timing is also important -This was one of the last messages that he gave to his followers before the crucifixion.

Even though the first part is often titled ‘Jesus prays for himself’ – there is some key knowledge for believers too- “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. ” (John‬ ‭17‬:‭2‬ NIV)

Jesus was the one granted authority over all people.  What was this authority to be used for in this instance: judgement ? Lording it’ over us? demanding something of us? No, none of these things. He was to give a great gift, even eternal life. 

And what is eternal life? Living forever? In one sense that is true in terms of heaven. But here the focus is on quality rather than time and on relationship with the eternal God as opposed to a slightly ethereal heavenly existence.

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (‭John‬ ‭17‬:‭3‬ NIV)

Eternal life is knowing the true God. Being in relationship with the divine community of Father and Son through Spirit.  Not a vague mental assent to a well repeated creed but a supernatural ‘knowing’ of the very giver of  life itself.  What a fantastic, truly mind blowing gift! And this is Jesus’ great desire for all that have been given to Him.

Local stories

Duchas.ie is a great resource collected c. 80 years ago from schools primarily. It is enthralling and educational to see stories of localities – Folklore; local history; geography; knowledge of crafts etc. 

It is nice too to find work of relatives! Such as the Adams of Knuttery near Burnfort in Co. Cork. Mary attended Knockacullata National School and her stories and those of her peers were collected in the 1930s. Check out Knockacullata, County Cork on duchas.ie

The Holy Corinthians

Corinth was a byword for every sort of transgession.  As a cosmopolitan seaport and ancient crossroads, all manner of lifesyle was seen there.  The apostle Paul wrote several times to the wayward church body in the city.  His letters to them show a man sometimes perplexed; frustrated; astonished; indignant.

Here was a body of believers, reportedly followers of Christ, living like Corinthians!  Among the believers were swindlers and compo warriors; greedy gluttons;  sexual deviants; and downright flakes.  The church was riven with dissent and rival camps; meetings running completely out of order; self-important and proud members. In fact much of their behaviour was no better or worse than the non believers in town.

Yet how those Paul begin his letter to this wayward bunch?

“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord…”(‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭1‬:‭2‬ MEV)

They are God’s church; holy and set apart by Him and for his glory; called for sainthood and part of the universal body of Christ. And more-

“By Him you are enriched in everything, in all speech and in all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift while waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭1‬:‭2, 5-7‬ MEV)

The Corinthian believers, according to Paul, have been given everything. They are enriched with knowledge and spiritual gifts.  But there is more –

“He will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by Him you were called to the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭1‬:‭8-9‬ MEV)

God will continue working in them.  They will be blameless in the end! God the Father and Jesus Christ his son want fellowship with them! 

So does the Lord leave their behaviour unchallanged and uncorrected? Of course not! Paul deals with a whole range of sins and issues in his letters. They are to put their house in order and ‘remove the old dough’.  But ultimately and despite all of the mess, God sees better things for these Corinthians. He is indeed a God of grace and truth.

“Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭5‬:‭6-7‬ NIVUK)

This is how God through Holy Spirit speaks about the Corinthian believers, this is how he sees them.  This is how they really are- a holy batch!  All thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus, the Passover Lamb.  What an encourager the Holy Spirit is to the church.

A Short (but sweet)

When the cares of my heart are many, Your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94:19)

In the midst of injustice and world weariness and darkness and personal struggle: there is one who cares and lifts our heads.

The convert

(This is a fantastic poem that I came across about a year ago. The world turned upside down and inside out- and the dead come to life!)



The Convert
BY GK Chesterson.
After one moment when I bowed my head 

And the whole world turned over and came upright, 

And I came out where the old road shone white. 

I walked the ways and heard what all men said, 

Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed, 

Being not unlovable but strange and light; 

Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite 

But softly, as men smile about the dead 
The sages have a hundred maps to give 

That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree, 

They rattle reason out through many a sieve 

That stores the sand and lets the gold go free: 

And all these things are less than dust to me 

Because my name is Lazarus and I live.