Advent Meditations 2015

Christmas Day - The Christ Candle, a meditation by the Revd Mary Taylor

MapcropTHE Journey through Advent reflects our own life journey and the journey of our world. What is our direction of travel and who or what provides us with the map?

The first words of Jesus to Peter and Andrew, James and John were Follow me,

To the weary and heavy-laden, Jesus said Come to me,

To those thirsty for real life, Jesus invited, Believe in me,

And to those looking for light in the darkness, Jesus says, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

But it all began with the greatest mystery of all, which is the journey of God through human experience, all the way from growing in the womb of Mary to a murderous death. We do not need to strive to ascend to God, because God in Jesus has made the journey down to us. He walked alongside us. He is Emmanuel – God with us. And  this is the reason for our Christmas celebrations.

TO DO: Find a quiet 5 minutes in the Christmas celebrations. Light a candle and slowly read these words from John’s Gospel. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak directly to your heart about this mystery.

The Word Became Flesh John 1: 1-18

Greek writing1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

TO THINK ABOUT:

What do we learn about God from Jesus who lived among us?

Why would I choose darkness rather than light?

Why do I often find it harder to receive grace than to receive law?

Do you like poetry?

Read this poem by George MacDonald aloud; share it with your family or friends. What is Macdonald saying about our expectations, our demands (our how or when) and our real need?

That Holy Thing

THEY all were looking for a king
To slay their foes and lift them high:
Thou cam’st, a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.

O Son of Man, to right my lot
Naught but Thy presence can avail;
Yet on the road Thy wheels are not,
Nor on the sea Thy sail!

My how or when Thou wilt not heed,
But come down Thine own secret stair,
That Thou mayst answer all my need —
Yea, every bygone prayer.

George MacDonald Fraser

Christmas Prayer - by Robert Louis Stevenson

stained glass maryLoving Father,
Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and the worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate
and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift
and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings,
and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.
May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children,
and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven,
for Jesus' sake,

Amen!

 

The 4th CANDLE of ADVENT - A meditation by the Revd Graham Ensor

4 candlesTHE fourth candle of Advent is the candle of peace - which reminds me of two contrasting newspaper articles I read this week, both which will be familiar to you. One was by Donald Trump calling for, ‘a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States while we figure out what the hell is going on’. The other was a posting on facebook by Chris Herbert, a soldier who served in the British Army and lost a leg when a bomb went off next to his Land Rover in Basra, Iraq in 2007.

He wrote:

"Getting frustrated by some people expecting racism from me, because I got blown up. Here it is:

Yes. A Muslim man blew me up, and I lost my leg.

A Muslim man also lost his arm that day wearing a British uniform.

A Muslim medic was in the helicopter that took me from the field

A Muslim surgeon performed the surgery that saved my life

A Muslim nurse was part of the team that helped me when I returned to the UK

A Muslim healthcare assistant was part of the team that sorted out my day to day needs in rehabilitation when I was learning to walk

A Muslim taxi driver gave me a free ride the first time I went for a beer with my Dad after I came home.

A Muslim doctor offered my Dad comfort and advice in a pub, when he didn’t know how to deal with my medicines and side effects."

As I reflected on those two stories during this fourth week in Advent it made me think that one of these men was a peacemaker, the other in all essence, a peace-breaker.

To be honest I find it astounding that Donald Trump wasn’t arrested for religious hate crime. His version of creating secure borders must come close to committing this offence. It certainly seems he knows nothing at all about peace – which many of you will know comes from the Hebrew word ‘shalom’, and means much more than stillness and harmony. It also incorporates ideas of wholeness and completeness, welfare and tranquility and refers not just to the well being of individuals but also entire communities.

cloudsOf course during this season of Advent we recall the heavenly host brining a message of peace. Luke tells us that angels appeared to shepherds on a hillside, saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to [all] men on whom his favour rests;’ meaning Christmas is the time when we especially remember how God works towards our wellbeing and wholeness which is the sum total of his peace. Presumably, thereafter, we’re called to reflect that peace in the way we respond to others; and by others I don't just mean individuals, but whole communities, as per the definition of shalom; and by peace I don't just mean stillness and harmony but wholeness and completeness, which Christians seek to do in a variety of different ways at Christmas, with the Bless Lebanon Appeal being a positive addition in 2015.

As we travel around Yorkshire it’s so encouraging to hear positive stories of generosity in our Baptist network; of how together we’re making a difference in people’s lives, transforming communities, as we reflect the God of peace. It’s also appropriate at this point to say a big thank-you for your support of our sisters and brothers fleeing to Lebanon, who we trust will find a measure of ‘peace’ through our generosity.

As Advent leads into the season of Christmas may God grant us grace and strength to be peacemakers – like Chris Herbert, who through his posting reflects the generous God we all serve.

PEACE

Peace between neighbours,

Peace between kindred,

Peace between lovers,

In the love of the King of life.

 

Peace between person and person,

Peace between wife and husband,

Peace between woman and children,

The peace of Christ above all peace.

 

Bless, O Christ, my face,

Let my face bless, every thing;

Bless, O Christ, mine eye,

Let mine eye, bless all it sees.

Carmina Gadelica

 

The 3rd CANDLE of ADVENT – A meditation by the Revd Mary Taylor.

Click here to download a copy for printing.

3 candlesTHIS Sunday we light the candle of joy. We remember the shepherds who came to worship Jesus. His birth was announced to them by a quite unnecessarily lavish choir of angels who lit up and filled the whole sky above Bethlehem. Though they went from their menial and despised task of guarding the beasts, to an apparently unremarkable peasant birthplace, and back; yet they were filled with an inexpressible joy that they shared with everyone they met. The shepherds had been caught up in an eternal offering of praise to God, bringing glory to God on earth as it is in heaven.

ACTION:-
Read what happened when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth whilst both were pregnant. Praise leaps from Elizabeth’s baby in the womb and this famous song of praise and triumph bursts out of Mary as she takes in what God will do through her.
Luke 1: 39-56, Mary visits Elizabeth

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!’

Mary’s song
46 And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord
47  and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me –
holy is His name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear Him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants for ever,
just as he promised our ancestors.’
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Mary’s song of joy did not necessarily come from a place of happiness or well-being. In many ways, her life and future were uncertain and troubled. Instead her joy rests on her trust that God’s ancient promises of mercy and justice are being fulfilled. Joy and struggle can go together to produce rich fruit as in the Macedonian churches that Paul knew: “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”
(2 Corinthians 8:2).
Try reading Mary’s song with a friend, shout the alternate lines louder and louder to feel the triumphant joy behind the words.

ACTION:-
Ask the Holy Spirit to make you fruitful in joy.

Think about the circumstances that often cast you down. Look at them afresh with Mary’s eyes of faith. Use her words to pray: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’

Bless LebanonPray for the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development’s Christmas events for Syrian and Iraqi children in December. A series of events are planned over the next few weeks. The first one gave great joy to the children who came. The next 2 events are scheduled for December 12th and 13th.
Please pray for the children, the youth leaders, the programme and its impact, the LSESD team, their local church partners and their global partners.
For more information about LSESD visit the website: http://www.lsesd.org/

 

ACTION:-
The loving care of Baptists at New North Road Baptist Church, Huddersfield, was one of the steps on Jean-Paul Samputu’s journey to songs of love and forgiveness.
Visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p039wm9r

joyShare the story of Jean-Paul with those you meet this week. Pray for him as he uses the power of music to bless and not to curse.

Practise joy and gratitude this week. Keep a daily diary of what God teaches you through this spiritual exercise.

 

The 2nd CANDLE of ADVENT

two candlesThe 2nd Candle of Advent is the Bethlehem Candle or the Candle of Love. It reminds us of the place where Love came into the world in all its fullness. Read Revd Ernie Whalley’s meditation on seeing the face of Love in everyday Huddersfield.

Click here to download a copy for printing.

RECENTLY I was drawn to the strapline for one of our churches. Under the name of the church it stated ‘Meeting Christ in the Community’.

Where IS Christ in the Community? And how do we recognise him?

In Matthew’s Gospel we read the story of Jesus Christ exalted as the ruler of the world in glory – Matthew 25 verses 31 – 46. The story mentions 6 places where Christ is seen and this is repeated 4 times. When I read the story I find it challenging my limited horizons…

 homesless man‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me….. I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, YOU DID FOR ME’                      (Matthew 25 verses 35,36,40)

 

Christ can be found in many places in our world and especially in the vulnerable…and who of us is not in need at some time?  Christ identifies with the vulnerable. He is alive and often found in unexpected places. Incredible and startling!

I try to connect this story with a specific situation.  At our church in New North Road, Huddersfield, I volunteer at our Reach project, which is a “drop in” for asylum seekers and refugees. I reflect on my experience at the “drop in” through the lens of this Gospel.

  • I see up to 50 folk enjoying hot food, with a smile. Christ is in them. When I see them eager to learn English, hungering for knowledge of an unfamiliar language, Christ is there.
  • According to the Gospel, when I glimpse people having a hot drink on a damp, freezing Huddersfield morning, Christ is in them
  • When a newcomer arrives, looking nervous I see them befriended by volunteers and other guests and soon they relax. We all seek to communicate, struggling with language, but a smile is universal. Christ is in them.
  • When friends are rummaging through the kindly donated clothes on the table, and happily select a warm garment, there is Christ.
  • Many are unwell, often through experienced trauma, and need medical support. Volunteers take them to register at the nearby medical practice. Christ is there.
  • One of our guests was taken recently to a detention centre and a couple of volunteers went to visit him. Christ is in them.

What do YOU think? 

Meditate on this Gospel passage for yourself.

 “Christ be with me, Christ within me,

  Christ behind me, Christ before me,

 Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

 Christ to comfort and restore me.

     Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

                                   Christ in FRIEND and STRANGER”                               
                        (St Patrick’s Breastplate)

 

The 1st CANDLE of ADVENT – a reflection by Revd Mary Taylor

Click here to download a copy for printing.

AS we begin to look forward to Christmas, the season of Advent calls us to consider the bigger picture of our faith in God and in Jesus our Saviour. Who is this ‘Immanuel’? Who is the God who is with us?

The season begins with lighting the candle of prophecy. It reminds us that God sees and holds our world from beginning to end. It assures us that God is not far away and holding us at a distance, but close and in communication. That is why we can hear the voice of God in prophecy. Our Christmas celebrations are all about the joy of knowing that God kept the prophetic promises and sent Jesus. But we are also called to trust and rejoice that his coming and his coming again shed light and hope over the whole of human history.

ACTION

light a candleThere is much to make us afraid and distressed as we see what is happening in our world right now. It’s a time when we need to have a solid reason to hope.

Why not light a candle and read through this Psalm two or three times?

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,

    an ever-present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam

    and the mountains quake with their surging.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

    the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5 God is within her, she will not fall;

    God will help her at break of day.

6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;

    He lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The Lord Almighty is with us;

    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8 Come and see what the Lord has done,

    the desolations He has brought on the earth.

9 He makes wars cease

    to the ends of the earth.

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;

    He burns the shields with fire.

10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;

    I will be exalted among the nations,

    I will be exalted in the earth.’

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;

    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

We can have hope because God is faithful and will keep the promises made to us. Our hope comes from God. As Paul tells us:

“And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
(Romans 15:12-13)

ACTION

Ask God for a river of hope to flow through you, making glad the thirsty places in your own life and in the world around.

Think about how it is our hope in Jesus that sets us free from fear so that we can take risks and be generous.

Read what Rupen Das of LSESD has to say about the Baptist Churches in Lebanon.

Bless Lebanon logoGod is doing something astounding among the churches in the region. In Lebanon, churches who had only believed in verbally preaching the Gospel are now demonstrating the reality of the Kingdom of God through helping those in need and the poor.
There are innumerable stories of forgiveness as Lebanese in the churches are moving beyond the hatred they have felt for the 20 year occupation by the Syrian army, to showing compassion to the Syrians.
As one pastor commented - as they forgave the Syrians and started helping the refugees, revival came to the church. They are experiencing the reality of Is. 58:7-9 “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter? When you see the naked, to clothe them and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

http://www.lsesd.org/Default.asp?DivisionID=12389&DepartmentID=14445

ACTION

This is how God is able to change fear and bitterness into generosity and hope.

Think silhouetteWhat might God want to do in you and your church this Advent?

What fear or bitterness does God want to replace with generosity and hope?

How will your church join the Yorkshire Baptist family to bless Lebanon?


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