Don’t judge a book …

… by its cover.

That’s the theme we have been looking at today in our young church BLAST! time.

I tucked in to eating some of this nice food whilst I told the kids about the fact that People look at the outward appearance, but God look looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

They looked on in disgust.

Then I told them … on the outside it says dog food.

On the inside? Mars bars and jelly!

Advent 2016: Nº7

Did you know that in Mexico they have a ritual in the final 9 days leading up to Christmas? It is called the Posadas, which means ‘shelter’ or ‘lodging’ and takes place from Dec 16th – Dec 24th. It re-enacts Joseph and Mary’s search for somewhere to stay in Bethlehem: each night a couple will call at someone’s house and be turned away by an ‘innkeeper’; and on Christmas eve they are finally welcomed into the last house where they celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Have a little think about Mary. I can’t help thinking she must have been very disappointed in God at times. Having been told she was going to be mother to the ‘Son of the Most High’ by an angel, I wonder if she thought she had dreamt it or imagined it as she made the long uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem in the late stages of her pregnancy at the whim of an emperor. And then finally to arrive to find that there was nowhere she could have some shelter, some privacy, some dignity as her labour started to commence, except a cattle shed. I think I would have felt pretty angry with God if had been me.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into the story from a 21st century perspective; all we can do is speculate what Mary thought or felt as we know so little from the few words about her in the Bible. Mary traditionally has been presented as such an ethereal, calm, placid woman over the ages but I like to think she had some pretty frank discussions with God as she prayed, trying to make sense of it all. Maybe that is what is meant by Luke 2:19 ‘But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ – I imagine Mary telling the story to Luke and discussing how at times things made no sense, and how there would then be incidents of surprising holiness and affirmation.

How do you deal with your disappointment or anger with God when you don’t understand what he is doing in your life, in your work, in your family, in your church, in your neighbourhood, with your friends? In this time of waiting, perhaps we can be real about those feelings and acknowledge that we don’t always understand how God works. And perhaps we can look at the Christmas story as an example of how God was working to draw everyone to himself, even if it made no sense to Mary at times.

Pictures and music can speak far more than words – take a look at this 4 minute video about Mary: CeeLo Green – Mary Did You Know

This is our last Advent post, and Gus & I wish you all a very Happy Christmas. Please do give us your comments about how you think this experiment of using internet posts has been for you. We would be very interested to hear your opinions, particularly whether you feel it has been useful for you; and whether it is worth doing this kind of thing again. With love, Vidge x

Advent 2016: Nº6

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

-Isaiah 9

The story of the Bible starts with creation, and everything being ‘good’. Pretty soon though, things go wrong and time after time, people seem to choose a path that takes them further away from God. People choose to go there own way, and make idols for themselves. At this point in the story there seems to an absence of God – a darkness. And it is of course still true. You don’t have to look very far to see the darkness in our world right now. Greed, war, injustice, poverty – all too present around us.

And Breaking into this darkness – in the way that only a light can – after a long time of waiting, God comes. And isn’t that what we are doing this advent? Waiting for God to break into the darkness in our world. Longing for him to break into our hearts and the hearts of those around us. I love how it is written in The Message in John 1, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.”

I leave you with this prayer from the Northumbria Community. It is titled as an evening prayer for blessing during Advent, but perhaps it is also for anybody who is waiting. Love, Gus.

God of the watching ones,
give us Your benediction.

God of the waiting ones,
give us Your good word for our souls.

God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,
give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest.

God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,

and of the angels in heaven,

and of the child in the womb,

give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest and rise
in the kindness of Your company.

~ from Celtic Daily Prayer From the Northumbria Community

Advent 2016: Nº5

I came across this lovely Advent liturgy a few years back. I don’t know where it is from – I can’t find it anywhere on the net; but it continues to inspire me each Advent.

Here it is:

I believe in the promise of Christmas
and the importance of celebrating it in Church.

I believe in the God at the centre of Christmas,
whose hope for the world was imagined by the prophets.

I believe in Mary,
who sang of turning the world upside down
and who allowed her life to be disrupted by God.

I believe in Joseph whose broken heart
broke the rules to do the right thing.

I believe in the smell of the stable
I believe there is no place where God will not go.

I believe in the shepherds,
those simple ones open to hear the Angel’s song.

I believe in the Magi,
the ones outside the faith,
outside the community,
who searched out the Holy.

I believe in Jesus,
born in poverty,
soon a refugee,
raised in faith,

who lived seeking justice,
died speaking forgiveness
and rose with a love that could not be stopped.

I commit to use this season to seek out the Holy
both in God among us and in God beyond us.

I open myself to an Advent journey of great joy
that will change my life.

This Advent I have been thinking about how unlikely the Christmas story is. It’s probably occurred to you ages ago, but sometimes it takes me ages to catch on. Perhaps it’s because we are brought up with the Christmas story from primary school in constant nativity retellings (angels with sparkly tinsel: tick, shepherds with tea-towel headgear: tick, wise men with lots of bling: tick) but we just swallow the whole thing sometimes without really thinking about how mad it was. But why the shepherds? Why a stinky stable for God’s son’s birth? Why the Wise Men? Why was the Son of God’s mother put through such indignity, anxiety and discomfort? One of the things that helps me when I have a massive doubt attack (which can be frequent) is this story – I mean if humans were going to concoct a story about how the Son of God came into the world I don’t think they’d have come up this this version; they’d have come up with a much more plausible one.

However when you think about all these unlikely elements of the Christmas story – and the liturgy above helps us get into that – it tells us a lot about God’s character and his priorities. And it makes me think about how my priorities can be very different to God’s priorities. It’s all very humbling.

With love, Vidge

 

Advent 2016: Nº4

We’ve said that Advent marks a time of waiting. But what are we waiting for? Well, that would depend on who you ask. Most people would say that we are waiting for Christmas. For a large part of our world around us, advent is just the bit before Christmas when you do your shopping.

But clearly that has little or nothing to do with waiting. We are waiting, looking forward to the celebration of Christmas – remembering the first Christmas was the most extravagantly gracious and outrageously wonderful thing that has ever happened in the universe, the moment that the eternal God came to live with us, as one of us, sharing our humanity in every way, so that we could share our lives with Him. This is certainly worth celebrating; it is a story worth any number of tellings and retellings. But the purpose of the season of Advent when it comes around every year is to remind us that we are not just waiting to celebrate a wonderful event that happened two thousand years ago and is over and done. We are waiting because there is something more. We are waiting for the conclusion of the story that began on that night in Bethlehem when a carpenter and his pregnant wife searched for a room to stay in. And Advent reminds us that we are waiting for something that is certainly going to happen, and might even happen today or tomorrow or the next day.

Jesus was born into this world to bring light and healing. He was born into the world to bring real life, not to tell us about an afterlife. So we, as Christians are also to be bringers of the kingdom to this earth everyday; to live lives of grace and forgiveness and kindness and compassion as Jesus did. We are called the Body of Christ because we are his hands and feet and eyes and ears in this world. Because his Spirit lives in us, through us his kingdom comes and his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We are all very imperfect raw materials, but in the hands of the great Carpenter we are his excellent workmanship, and by his grace our lives do show forth his goodness. And so the kingdom of God has already broken in upon this world.

Advent asks us to open our eyes to the world around us where a lot of people still walk in darkness. Advent invites us to open our hearts to long for a world where those things will never happen again. Advent reminds us to keep hoping for those things the world desperately needs – justice, and peace, and cleansing, and restoration – because the promise of the child who came in humility is the promise of the Son of Man who will come on the clouds in power and great glory. It’s kind of a hard thing we are called to observe, when we set out to observe a holy Advent, because it calls us to be uncomfortable, to be unsatisfied, to grieve for all that is still so sick in the world around us, to weep for the people we see who hurt others to escape their own pain or who run after pleasures and lose themselves in the process. But at the same time Advent calls us to remember that Jesus is working among us even here, even now, and that he is working through us, and that he will surely bring real justice to this creation that he loves as his own flesh.

Just like the small, bright flame of an advent candle or the candles of the advent wreath we light each week, Advent shines the light of hope into our world. We of all people in this world can face the reality of things gone wrong in our world, and of suffering without despair, because we know that the true Light has shined into our darkness and that the darkness could not overcome him.

-Gus, with thoughts taken from ‘What Are You Waiting For?’

 

Advent 2016: Nº3

Today I would like to introduce you to Kevin – he’s a vicar in South London, and he does a great blog: well I like it anyway – he’s very honest about what it’s like being a Christian in our country today. I’ve never met him but I’d like to. Please read his bog about Advent and waiting…

We as a church are in a period of waiting – just like Kevin talks of in his blog about how many people in the Bible waited for God. We are in the traditional period of Advent when we remember that we are waiting for Jesus, but we are also in a period of several months whilst we wait for our new minister to arrive. Not that I’m comparing Gill to Jesus – although I am sure she is most Christlike – but it struck me very much that this time of waiting is important. We can often see Advent as the time to get through before Christmas (and I think my children would impatiently fall into that category); do we see the next several months as a time to get through as a church before Gill comes and takes up her post as our minister? Or is it a time that is valuable in itself that we can use to find out what God is doing in us as a church during this time of waiting? During this time can we ‘wait expectantly, live hopefully, and serve faithfully’ to echo Kevin?

Love from Vidge x

PS as a special treat at the bottom of Kevin’s blog there’s also the video clip of ‘Advent in 2 minutes’ – you won’t be able to get the irritating tune out of your head. Enjoy 🙂

Advent 2016: Nº2

In today’s post I’d like to reflect on the angel visiting Mary. I own up to the fact that I am not very good at taking myself off for some quiet time to be with God — I find that just to sit and try and stop thinking about everything-that-is-going-on-in-my-head is really quite hard. I’m much better when somebody else gives me some structure and some ideas to think about! So, here is a little structure, and some things to think about. With love, Gus x

 

Prepare Yourself

If you can, find a quite place. And if you find things like focusing on your breathing for a while are helpful to you, then do so.

 

Read the story

Mary and the Angel (Luke 1: 26-38)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

 

Use your Imagination – Involve yourself in the story

  • Imagine Nazareth and Mary’s home.
  • Think about Mary: what is she like? She is so unimportant: young, unmarried, childless, female, poor, living in the back of beyond! What goes on in her mind and heart?
  • Imagine the angel Gabriel coming. What day is it, and what time? Think of the first moments of their meeting.
  • The angel is clear about the task they have to do. Imagine talking with the angel: ‘Who gave you that task? Why? Why choose this girl?’
  • Now talk with Mary: “How much did you understand when the angel spoke?
  • What made you say ‘YES’ at this life-changing moment?
  • Imagine saying to her: ‘You were so open and trusting!’ How does she respond? A blush, a smile, a bowing of her head?
  • Reflect on her attitude: she seems so open to all possibilities. She does not insist on controlling her future. She trusts in God’s goodness to carry her through all difficulties.

 

Reflect – Think about your own life

  • How would I be if the angel visited me?
  • What proposal might the angel have for me?
  • Have I ever been visited by a messenger of God, someone who was trying to help me to realise what God wanted me to do?
  • How did I respond then? Did I respond at all?
  • How would I respond now if the angel came?
  • Do I control my life as if it were mine alone and not given me by God?
  • How much do I trust my future to divine protection and guidance?

 

(Source: Sacred Space, www.sacredspace.ie)

Advent 2016: Nº1

Well I don’t know about you but I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the thought of everything that is to be done over the next few weeks. I have lists coming out of my ears, and vague thoughts whizzing into my brain (“must remember to get extra cake ingredients for all the baking…”) that frustratingly are gone a moment later leaving me with with the unsettling feeling most of the time that I need to do something – but what I don’t know. The kids have numerous Christmas parties to attend; and they keep coming up with yet more presents they want to add to their Christmas present list. I still don’t know what to get for several friends and family. It all makes me feel tired and wishing it was all over already. I came across this poem below though – hope it’s as helpful to you as it was to me. With love, Vidge x

An anxious note to baby Jesus – Peter Thurston

Dear Lord,

I feel tired before it’s even started.
The cards (should I bother?)
The presents (who to buy for?)
The decorations (real or artificial?)
The family… (enough said)
The crowds, the hassle, the weather –
Wake me up when it’s all over.

I know I shouldn’t feel this way
but if I’m honest,
Advent –
it makes me weary just thinking about it.

Which makes me wonder,
how was it for you?
Were you weary too?
Just thinking about it?
The call, the life-long challenge, to
hear God,
listen to God,
follow God?
For those with ears to hear
and eyes to see,
to be God?

All begun in makeshift circumstances.
(Sorry, Lord, we were not better prepared –
some things don’t change.)
A sign of things to come,
of an uphill struggle
to make your voice heard.
Uphill towards Jerusalem.
Uphill to the Mount of Olives.
Uphill to the hill of execution.

Hoping we would follow.

Hoping we would understand you,
respond to you,
welcome you then,
welcome you now.

Lord, were you tired before it even started?
Or was your love your inner energy,
the love you received your support,
the love you gave a light in the darkness,
the love you give the strength I need?

Will you help me through Advent, dear Lord,
little one?

Give me the grace to greet you
without suppressed sighs of weariness.
Give me the generosity to invite you home
without thought to the inconvenience.
Give me the will to rise to your demands,
to share your love and to receive it.

It’s not so much to ask, I know,
when you have faced it all –
the Advent task, the Christmas hope –
two thousand times before.

(Source: The Methodist Church in Britain Website http://www.methodist.org.uk/prayer-and-worship/advent-and-christmas)

 

Advent 2016: You’ve got mail …

So we are a good few days into the period of Advent. The time of year when Christians look forward to the coming of Christ both as a baby and His second coming. So, how’s that looking forward and waiting working out for you?

 

About  four years ago we tried something in advent to connect with one another during the period.  We had a series of posts on the website through advent to encourage us to reflect and engage with advent.

 

I think it would be good to replay those posts so we can think again, and perhaps there will be some thinking back for those who read them first time round! If you subscribe to the TH website (which you can do at the bottom of the website) then you will receive an email every time there is a new post.

But we don’t want to this just to be you reading the posts, we encourage you to join in, and add your own comments to the posts. Thus though we may be individuals celebrating advent, we can in a sense be celebrating together. The initial post provoking comments, and possibly those comments going on to encourage further thoughts and further comments.

If you do leave a comment, you can elect to receive an email whenever somebody else contributes on that post.

We aren’t exactly sure how this will work, but we want to give it a try and see if this could be another way to let God into our lives.

(And if you are wondering if you will be signing up to receive emails from the TH website for the rest of your life, you can unsubscribe whenever you want.)