Thought for the month

St Matthew tells us: “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’”

In the post which you can read in full at this link, Fr Patrick Briscoe asks us to imagine the scene: the wise men (having entered Jerusalem and consulted Herod) left the city not having found that which they were seeking. They had come so far in their journey, arrived at the great city of Israel’s kings; yet the star had disappeared from their sight, and the king of that place, Herod, offered not enthusiasm for their quest, but concern.

And then, upon leaving the city, “They were overjoyed at seeing the star.” Other translations render this phrase, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy”, and the ancient text includes the redundancy for emphasis. It’s not random poor grammar or superfluous text – the evangelist is trying to tell us just how much it meant to the magi to see the star again.

Every Christian at some point in life experiences what the magi undergo. After setting out to follow where God leads, we can lose sight of our direction. As the magi get caught in Jerusalem, it can appear to us that our labours for God have been in vain; that our efforts to do the right thing or live justly have been for nothing. The promise of the Christian life is the continual re-discovery of the star.

… And they would not have even seen the star if they had not been so ready to get up and go. Fr Dermot Preston’s Prayer for the Day on 22 December ended:  “Matthew contrasts these open-hearted foreigners with the closed religious authorities in Jerusalem. The magi were humble enough to recognise their knowledge was incomplete and, with eyes still open, they saw changes in the heavens and set out in search of truth – and were overwhelmed with joy when they found it. Lord: grant me humility and an open heart as I journey with you and search for truth.”

Saturday 25th December
Christmas Day

What child is this who laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet
with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard
and angels sing:
Come, greet the infant Lord,
The babe, the son of Mary!

Chatterton Dix

Christmas Eve

It was quite an entrance.
The only Son of God
homeless, illegitimate, a refugee
owning nothing
but the world that he grew up in
had made himself quite empty,
His birth a kind of dying where
he abdicated power, omniscience,
was needy, hated and misunderstood.
Two deaths, two births,
the manger and the cross:
The first brought hope,
the second brought salvation.
Out of his poverty,
this child has made us rich
beyond imagination.

Godfrey Rust

Thursday 23rd December

Maybe it is in the waiting for God,
not in the wandering from store to store that we find our way.
Maybe it is in the friendship of God,
not in the frenzy of the crowds
that we are led to the manger.
Maybe, just maybe,
in these last hours of Advent
we will let God lead us to Bethlehem.

Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday 22nd December

The Shepherds

It was done plainly enough.
The night sky was a perfect billboard,
the sound effects were spectacular.
Only a few were awake
and in the right place
at the right time when heaven
unable to contain
its amazement any longer
spilled out momentarily into earth
and explained itself.
The message was as clear as day
but God’s timing was,
as always, surprising
and the show ran
for one performance only.

Godfrey Rust

Tuesday 21st December

Bright God of Advent:
Blaze in our darkness.
Incinerate our iniquity.
Light up our road.
Riddle the ashes
of our desires.
Rekindle in us
your justice and love.

Ruth Burgess

Monday 20th December

In the psalms of David,
in the words of the prophets,
in the dream of Joseph,
your promise is spoken, eternal God,
and takes flesh at last
in the womb of the Virgin.
May Emmanuel find welcome
in our hearts,
take flesh in our lives,
and be for all peoples
the welcome advent
of redemption and grace.

Sunday 19th December
4th Sunday of Advent
Lighting the 4th Advent Candle

God our Father –
The angel Gabriel
told the Virgin Mary
that she was to be
the mother of your Son.

Though Mary was afraid,
she responded to your call with joy.

Help us, whom you call to serve you,
to share like her in your great work
of bringing to our world
your love and healing.

We ask this through Jesus Christ
the Light
who is coming into the world.

This sequence of daily readings or prayers for the fourth week of Advent was compiled by Rev Dr Michael Paterson using materials written by him and drawn from a variety of sources. You can download a printable version of the week’s sequence at this link.

Everything is poised, ready and waiting
Gabriel has delivered
Mary has said ‘Yes’
Joseph has come round
and the divorce is off

Everything is poised, ready and waiting
Caesar Augustus has issued his decree
Civil servants are geared up for the Census
Travel arrangements have been made
and accommodation is at a premium

Everything is poised, ready and waiting
shepherds watch
astrologers gaze
angels clear their throats
the world turns

Everything is poised, ready and waiting
as with no room at the inn
a homeless God is born
Divinity starts out as a refugee
and straw becomes a royal bed

Everything is poised, ready and waiting
as wise men bring gifts
Mary ponders,
Herod plots
and Joseph dreams

Everything is poised, ready and waiting
as children count sleeps
Omicron spirals
parties are cancelled
and families re-group

Everything is poised, ready and waiting
as God threatens
to overcome the darkness with light
to eclipse two years of despair with hope
to outdo the statistics of death with life

Everything is poised,
everything is ready
and everything is waiting
as Emmanuel
– God-with-us –
promises to save us
yes, even this year
yes, even this year.

(Michael Paterson)

Saturday 18th December

Was it necessary
to go to this extreme?
To take for a carrier
a village girl
unmarried and disgraced,
nine months pregnant
on an exhausting journey
to a strange town
with nowhere to stay,
in a century
with no healthcare
or sanitation?

What purpose was achieved
except to show
how the weight of God’s love
is so exhausting
it will break the back
of our most stubborn pretensions
and how in a manger
would be the last straw to do it?

(Godfrey Rust)

Friday 17th December

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
one night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding ..
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

(Rowan Williams)

Thursday 16th December

In the days of Caesar, when his
subjects went to be reckoned,
there was a poem made,
too dark for him (naïve with power)
to read. It was a bunch of shepherds
who discovered in Bethlehem of
Judah, the great music beyond reason
and reckoning.

(Waldo Williams)

Wednesday 15th December

Sometimes words are not enough
for everything we have to say.
Words can’t beat like a heart
A verb won’t sweat or bleed.
A noun doesn’t get thirsty.
An adjective cannot feel pain.
Something gets lost
in translation into words.

So when God
needed to express
a love deeper than words
he used body language
of a kind not known on earth before.

(Godfrey Rust)

Tuesday 14th December
St John of the Cross

It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter
from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come …

… My equations fail
as my words do. What resource have
I other than the emptiness without
him of my whole being, a vacuum he
may not abhor?

(R. S. Thomas)

Monday 13th December

This is what hope looks like…
Not squeezing our eyes tightly shut
and believing everything will work out, but persisting in the face
of all the signs to the contrary
that God’s promise holds true,
that a glimmer of light will persist
in the darkness,
that the proud will be scattered,
the lowly lifted up,
the rich sent away empty handed
and the hungry will be fed. How?
By the work of those whose hope is in God.

(Liz Crumlish)

Sunday 12th December
3rd Sunday of Advent
Lighting the 3rd Advent Candle

God our Father,
you gave to Zechariah and Elizabeth
in their old age, a son called John.

He grew strong in spirit,
prepared the people
for the coming of the Lord,
and baptized them in the Jordan
to wash away their sins.

Help us,
who have been baptized into Christ,
to be made ready
to welcome him into our hearts,
and to grow strong in faith
by the power of the Spirit.

We ask this through Jesus Christ
the Light
who is coming into the world.

This sequence of daily readings or prayers for the third week of Advent was compiled by Rev Dr Michael Paterson using materials written by him and drawn from a variety of sources. You can download a printable version of the week’s sequence at this link.

This post is a shortened form of Michael Paterson’s homily to the St Margaret’s congregation on Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, in which he adapted The Message version of Matthew 11:28–30:

Jesus said to the crowd: “Are you tired? Are you worn out? Are you drained and running on empty? Then come to me. Come away with me. Courie in, slow down … slow … right … down and breathe and rest and recover. I’ll show you what real rest looks like. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. I will help you learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

‘The unforced rhythms of grace’ – now there’s a phrase to sit with. Duty demands – grace invites. Duty puts the pressure on – grace take the pressure off. Duty results in doing what you have to do – grace results in doing what you want to do. And so I would like to propose three rhythms of grace for us to try this week

Rhythm 1 is Practice the Pause

Be still … still … still

Rhythm 2 is Accept the Truth

that no matter what you have done or ever will do
you are loved, loved, loved

Rhythm 3 is Help is at hand

so ask, ask, ask

Dear friends, on this mid-Advent Sunday, when we take a well-earned break from heavy-duty religion and glimpse the joy that is just over the horizon, let’s yield to God’s invitation to courie in, slow down … slow … right … down … knowing that we are loved, confident that help is at hand, and yielding to the grace of rest, of healing and of deep inner peace. Amen.

1 2 3 35
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