Welcome to the season of Advent which pre-empts the two secular cultural commercialisations of our day: the Christmas rush and New Year’s. It is a declaration by all Christians that this is a season where we anticipate and lovingly await the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of all of us who have chosen to respond to the relationship He has offered to us, and the hope of the world.
Advent historically, and in the preparation of this newsletter, pre-empts the raucous demands of the culture and intentionally and pointedly re-appropriates this season as an experience of worship and adoration. It will be of interest to some of you that historically Christians considered Advent to be the beginning of the new year rather than the 1st of January.
Claudia Wakeman and I have selected a variety of readings for your own devotional reflection in this month’s newsletters leading up to Christmas.
How Can I Be Sure of This?
A challenge and encouragement to spiritual leaders whether you are a treasurer, deacon, Sunday school teacher or youth leader, staff or clergy.
I would like to direct your attention to Luke 1 vs5-25 and 55-80. It is the story of Zechariah and before you go further in reading this piece would you please read the reference that has just been cited. I was drawn to this chapter 2 weeks ago while sitting in church and it has touched and haunted me ever since. I trust it will encourage you this Christmas season.
Zechariah, like all of us who are faith leaders, was set aside by the people of God for a special task; each of us in our own special role. Zechariah’s role led him in a special way to represent the people in the temple. Whatever our task, it is likely we are asked to represent someone else, as we perform a ministry or calling that God has asked us too. When Zechariah is told of the great news that he and his wife, Elizabeth will have a son, he utters the immortal line in verse 18: “How can I be sure of this?” and goes on to list his limitations. I cannot tell you how often I have been prompted by the Spirit to imagine or dream some great thing, or have turned my nose up at what God has given, and in the default and pessimism of human nature asked Him “ how on earth can it be solved….doesn’t He know the situation? Doesn’t He know me? What could He possibly be thinking?”
As a sign to the people and a rebuke to Zechariah, Gabriel strikes Zechariah mute. I must admit many people have prayed that for me. I must further admit that I have returned the compliment. Zechariah had a long time to reflect on what happened that day. I want to suggest that instead of provoking one of God’s messengers, like Gabriel, to cause us to be mute; why don’t we symbolically set aside the time between Sunday the 27th in the afternoon and the following Saturday to be far more still, quiet and reflective than we usually are. Having been God’s servants in so many ways, many of us need to be restored and say to the Lord, “Not how can I be sure of this, but Lord how can I, in your strength make it so?”
I hope this is a helpful invitation to Sabbath for each of us. It has been for me. I trust it will be for you. It will be interesting to structure that quiet time and to maybe share the fruits of that time together in the New Year.
From Gathering For Worship, The Baptist Union of Great Britain, published by the Canterbury Press Norwich, 2005, p. 35
Advent 4: Mary’s Faith
Mary as a model of faith, as one who responds to God’s call. Women and
God’s valuing of those regarded by the world as lowly.
Isaiah 7.14; 9.2–7; Zechariah 2.10–11; Matthew 1.21–23; Luke 1.28–33;
1.35, 38; 1.46–49; 1.52–53; 1 Corinthians 1.26–27.
Thanksgiving and Dedication
we thank you for calling Mary
to be the mother of Jesus.
In a world where men were in control,
you chose a young girl
to nurture the Saviour of the world.
In a world where power is sought,
you turned our values upside-down
by inviting Mary to share in the great work of redemption.
We thank you
that still you call women and men
to share in your saving actions.
You call us to live and serve in the way of Christ,
uncertain of the future but trusting in your faithfulness.
Sometimes your choice surprises us,
the way you seem to point daunts us,
and your faith in our possibilities awes us.
Help us to say ‘Yes’ when you call.
Enlarge our vision,
strengthen our resolve
and increase our sense of your all-sufficient grace,
that we might be used mightily
for your glory and for the serving of your world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord, prepare us for your Advent coming.
In our prayers today
we try to come to you,
sure that you will come the rest of the way.
Lord, prepare us for your coming – in the church.
Clean out the unnecessary clutter of our church life,
the piles of dead habits,
the cupboards full of prejudice,
the cobwebs of compromise
and the sad rotas of forgotten dreams.
Open our church to the free flow of your refreshing Spirit.
Give to this church a new vision and hope.
We want to belong to you again.
[In particular, Lord, we pray for … a special local plan or project]
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Lord, prepare us for your coming – in the world.
Come, drive away despair from our politics;
revive our dreams of justice;
restore our passion for what is good, right and true.
Establish your just and gentle rule [in places like …]
where peace has been powerless
and violent people have had their day.
Set a flame to the fuse of justice [in places like …]
where arrogant people have defied the moral order year after year.
Guard well the new springtime of hope [in …]
where peace has come like a gift,
wrapped in reconciliation and gladness.
[In particular, Lord, we long for this … a particular world need]
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer
Lord, prepare us for your coming – in our community.
In the problems of our locality
help us never to forget the supremacy of love.
May love motivate our care for this neighbourhood.
May love heal the social ills which drag us into despair.
May love inspire our citizenship to rise beyond mediocrity.
We name in our minds the problems locally of which we are aware
[particularly … local issue]
and pray that love, gracious and practical, will find a way.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Lord prepare us for your coming – in those in need.
Give us eyes to search the face of the stranger
and there to see the face of the saviour.
Give us sensitivity to hear the doubt and hesitation,
and there, with that person, to share the confusion and futility.
There are those we know who are ill now,
struggling this morning to handle the pain.
Let us pray for them, for you come to us in them,
and you ask for our love.
We give that now, as we name them and love them, in our hearts.
What we have promised in love and prayer,
let us never forget to do.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Advent Lord, come ever nearer.
Come to rejuvenate our faith.
Come to fortify our social conscience.
Come to open wide our eyes of wonder.
So that when the Saviour comes,
he may steal into our heart – and find them ready.
Even so come, Lord Jesus.
Look forward in hope
to the coming of your Saviour,
prepare the way for Christ your Lord;
welcome him with love and faith
when he comes in glory.
And the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among us and remain with us always.
From Celtic Daily Prayer, Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community, 2002, p. 233.
O Rising Sun,
You are the splendor of eternal light
And the sun of justice.
O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
From The Lion Book of Christian Poetry, compiled by Mary Batchelor, (a Baptist Deacon), 2005, p. 206-207
in the dark centre
of this season
the birth occurs
noiseless and marvelous
move on their journeys
there are gestures
of wonder, and at midnight
a resting star.
it is amazing
that the mountains do not relinquish
their momentary grandeur,
bend to the stable,
let the ermine tremble
where the oxen
and the angels are.
Jean Kenward (20th century)
It is as if Infancy were the Whole of Incarnation
One time of the year
the new-born child
planted in madonnas’ arms
hay mows, stables,
in palaces or farms,
or quaintly, under snowed gables,
gothic angular or baroque plump,
naked or elaborately swathed,
encircled by Della Robbia wreaths,
garnished with whimsical
partridges and pears,
drummers and drums,
it by oversize stars,
partnered with lambs,
peace doves, sugar plums
bells, plastic camels in sets of three
as if these were what we need
But Jesus the Man is not to be seen.
we are too wary, these days,
of beards and sandaled feet.
Yet if we celebrate, let it be
has invaded our lives with purpose,
striding over our picturesque traditions,
our shallow sentiment,
overturning our cash registers,
wielding his peace like a sword,
rescuing us into reality,
demanding much more
than the milk and the softness
and the mother warmth
of the baby in the storefront crèche,
(only the Man would ask
all, of each of us)
always, urgently, with strong
(only the Man would give
his life and live
again for love of us).
O come, let us adore him –
Christ – the Lord.
Luci Shaw (20th century)