The Light Shines in the Darkness – Merry Christmas!

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Tonight we had a beautiful 9 lessons and carols service. One of our readers, Ros, read this poem by Lisa Debney and it was so beautiful I wanted to share it with you along with my good wishes for Christmas and 2017.

Remember that we carry the light of Christ with us into this dark world – the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it!

Find this poem in this book.

Mary by Lisa Debney

Your eyes are open now.

Those eyes which will open the eyes of others.

You study my face and, just for the moment,

though you came for the world,

you are mine and mine alone.

I made you and you made me

and we gaze at each other in equal wonderment.

 

Your eyes are open now,

so dark-bright –

sent from a night full of light and stars –

that I could watch you for ever,

watch your chest rise and fall

as you breathe the cattle-soaked air.

I would like this moment to last for ever,

you are so wonderful to me,

so truly wonderful as you are.

 

But not my will, Lord, but yours be done.

I must hand you over for the world cries out for you,

though I cry out to let you go.

Just for tonight let the future leave us in peace.

Close your eyes, baby.

Close your bright eyes on the dusty darkness of the world.

There is majesty in you but for now let it hide,

let it hide like a gem while you sleep.

 

 

But Mary treasured all these words… Happy Christmas!

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Wishing all my readers a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

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Here is an extract from my Christmas Day sermon:

If you truly put yourself into the nativity story, you can’t help but wonder: how did Mary cope?

Well, St Luke gives us a tiny clue in a beautiful verse. He writes that Mary ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’. I think he is referring not only to the words of the Shepherds but to the other words Mary has heard up to giving birth to Jesus.

Unlike us, Mary didn’t know the end of the story, didn’t know what was going to happen to her after she said ‘yes’ to God. So Mary clung onto the words and to the Word that she had heard as if her life depended on it. She remembered that the angel Gabriel had told her that she was highly favoured by God, she remembered, after hearing the jeers calling her a prostitute and a whore as she left Nazareth for her cousin Elizabeth’s house that the first thing that Elizabeth said to her was that she was ‘blessed among women’, and then she remembered exactly the message that the angels had passed onto the shepherds, those men with funny accents and coarse ways that stumbled into the cave – they said ‘peace on earth and goodwill to those on whom God’s favour rests’ – God’s favour – Gabriel said that God favoured me, Mary remembered, me, here in this cave a long way from home, disgraced by my village – God still favours me.

Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

Mary shows us what it is to have faith in the most dire of circumstances and there was worse to come for her. Soon after she and Joseph would have to flee to Egypt as refugees, unsure of the welcome they would receive in the country of the old enemy of their people. But Mary, throughout, must have treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. God favours me, she remembered, I am blessed among women. She chose to believe in God’s word when all the other words around her said the opposite.

So as we are on the cusp of a new year, unaware of what is to come, of the challenges and joys to come, we too should be like Mary and treasure the word of God to us, that we are loved so much, that we are welcomed, that we are included, that, yes, we are favoured by God so much that he became a vulnerable baby, come to be with us, alongside us in our difficulties and our delight. Let us treasure all these words, the Word of God, more than any other gifts we might receive today and ponder this mystery, this Christmas joy in our hearts. Amen.

 

Merry Christmas and have a great 2014!

Albin Egger-Lienz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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This Christmas has been a bit manic, what with our imminent move to the North East! I did find time, though, to create a contribution to this year’s online carol service – this time lead not by me but by Kathryn Rose. So here is the reading I produced:

But since this is from the Old Testament I will also share the videos I made from the last two years announcing the good news of the Incarnation of God in Christ.

 

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic 2014!

 

 

 

Albin Egger-Lienz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mind the Gap – the hidden sadness in the nativity stories

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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the dark side to Christmas. My friend Andy wrote a very moving article reflecting on what this Christmas would be like for the people of Newtown, Connecticut. I’ve also just read the book Dazzling Darkness by Rachel Mann where she explores what it means to meet God in the darkest moments of life. At my placement church in Leeds there are many people who visit each week to collect food from the foodbank and there are others who have fled their countries and live here in fear. All of this has combined to make me think again about the message of Christmas and what this season of joy might mean to these different people.

When we read the bible, it is sometimes the things that are not said that can be significant. We are fortunate that our gospel writers wrote very intentionally – their versions of the life of Christ and the early Christians weren’t written on the back of an envelope – they were carefully crafted. If you look closely at the nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke there is quite a lot of hidden sadness.

  • In Mary’s ‘yes’ to the message Gabriel brought her, she said ‘yes’ to shame, to ostracism in her community, to the risk of losing Joseph. Imagine for a moment what her pregnancy must have been like for her.
  • Joseph is compelled by the hated occupying forces to take his heavily pregnant fiancee all the way to Bethlehem just for his name to be registered – presumably so that the Romans can leech even more from his people. Joseph, in agreeing to stay with Mary, must have attracted some comments as well from his village – everyone would have assumed he was the father of the child.
  • The shepherds were the poorest of the poor, on the outskirts of the city being kept there both physically and metaphorically by wider society. What hardship had they encountered in their lives and what would have carried on after they had met Jesus?
  • The wise men had to change all their plans after meeting Jesus, they had to go home by a different, probably dangerous, possibly costly route. What would that journey home for them have been like?
  • As we can see, in amongst all the joy is sadness. In the call of God there is both loss and gain.

    I don’t know if this gives me comfort or not. I guess it does because if it wasn’t there, I don’t think I could believe the story – it wouldn’t feel real.

    I got irritated in Waterstone’s yesterday looking in the so-called Religion section. There, next to the bibles was AC Grayling’s alternative to the bible ‘The Good Book’. A cursory glance at it immediately spoke to me of emptiness. The reason the bible is the ultimate Good Book is because it contains the disturbing reality of human life – not a sanitised version of what we think it ought to be. I think I’d rather have the warts and all version of how God deals with people than someone’s lofty ideas of how life should be. This is the amazing mystery we celebrate at Christmas, that in our confused and often sad lives, Jesus still chooses to come and be present to us, in the dirt, whilst others whisper about the inappropriateness of it all.

    Immanuel. God with us.

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    O Emmanuel – advent antiphon: a reflection

    O come o come emmanuel
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    O Emmanuel, our King and our lawgiver,

    the hope of the nations and their Saviour:

    Come and save us, O Lord our God.

    cf Isaiah 7.14

    Listen to this antiphon:

    So we’ve reached day 7, the final antiphon: O Emmanuel. Emmanuel, of course, means ‘God with us’. There is no greater promise than that God will be with us in our darkness and suffering and we see this fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Think of the circumstances into which Jesus is born: out of wedlock,  nowhere to call ‘home’, a refugee (shortly after the birth there is the flight into Egypt), an occupied country, poor. Then, throughout his life Jesus aligns himself with those on the outside, the Other, until he himself is cursed by his own people and executed for a crime he didn’t commit. God with us, with us in the darkness, with us in the trials of life. And what does Jesus say at the end of Matthew’s gospel, his very last words to his disciples?

    And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

    – Matthew 28:20

    This promise continues for us. Love came down at Christmas and stayed.

    O come o come emmanuel

    I hope now, whenever you sing the carol ‘O come, o come Emmanuel’ you will remember these 7 antiphons, these 7 signs pointing to something of the character of God.

    I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

    Here’s one of my favourite versions of this carol:

    O come, O come, Emmanuel,
    And ransom captive Israel,
    That mourns in lonely exile here
    Until the Son of God appear.

    Rejoice! Rejoice!
    Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

    O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
    Who orderest all things mightily;
    To us the path of knowledge show,
    And teach us in her ways to go.

    O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
    Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
    From depths of hell Thy people save,
    And give them victory over the grave.

    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.

    O come, Thou Key of David, come,
    And open wide our heavenly home;
    Make safe the way that leads on high,
    And close the path to misery.

    O come, O come, great Lord of might,
    Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
    In ancient times once gave the law
    In cloud and majesty and awe.

    O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
    An ensign of Thy people be;
    Before Thee rulers silent fall;
    All peoples on Thy mercy call.

    O come, Desire of nations, bind
    In one the hearts of all mankind;
    Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
    And be Thyself our King of Peace.

    Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale – film review 5 stars

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    I had an epic trip to see this film. First I went to Vue in Leeds but I got the time wrong – thought it was on at 10.00am but it was 10.00pm. So then I checked my phone again and saw it was on at 10.30am in Bradford, so I dashed down to the station and got to the Media Museum bang on time. Then they wouldn’t let me in. It was a ‘mothers and babies’ only showing. I was gutted and also pretty annoyed as it was not clearly advertised as such. Then I eventually found out that it was on at 3.40pm at the Hyde Park Picture House so I made my way back over to Leeds and got there in time!

     

    Now to the film. Well, it was worth the epic trip to see!

     

    Fantastically dark, moody and unsettling, this is a Christmas film like no other you’ll have ever seen. I think we Brits share with our Scandinavian neighbours an inherent distrust of very saccharine, schmaltzy Christmases – so this film is the perfect antidote to all those cheesy Christmas movies that are on at this time of year. The only other film I can think to parallel Rare Exports is Bad Santa.

     

    Definitely not one to let the children watch (I was relieved this had a 15 certificate) – the suspense and tension builds really well and doesn’t really leave for most of the film. The story centres around Pietari, a young boy who, with a friend, goes to spy on the mysterious excavations on the mountain near their home. Pietari discovers an old book all about the very first Santa Claus and discovers that the elf, far from being a jovial, kindly fellow, is an ancient creature, intent on punishing children who have been naughty. Cleverly, the boy is the only character who puts two and two together and works out what is going on. He is the real hero of the tale.

     

    It’s a dark story but there are moments that are very moving – particularly the relationship between Pietari and his father (who is widowed). There is plenty of humour in the film as well, especially when the men (who hunt reindeer for their living) refer to the ‘magic of Christmas’.

     

    See this film if you liked District 9, The Village or Let the right one in. 

     

    Highly recommended: 5 stars

     

    Hyvää Joulua to you! (Merry Christmas!)