Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Waiting, waiting, waiting on waiting

This is a poem I wrote a few years ago which seems even more important in these covid times.  So.... I've recorded myself reading it

Waiting. Waiting

Waiting on waiting

Life's next adventure

Could just be passing

Rather than waiting

I should be squeezing

Every opportunity coz

Life's to be living

But life's not like that

Not mine anyway

I'll hit a stop sign

Sometimes literally

Road diverted

Route disrupted

Traffic light red

Danger ahead

Again I'm waiting

Waiting on waiting

For answers to questions

For new life solutions

Sometimes the waiting

Involves a slowing

(Might look like waiting)

If you're not concentrating

But in this waiting

There's action brewing

Internally learning

Adjusting my living

In the waiting

I'm learning

I'm growing

I'm living

Journeying with Mary

In 2011 I decided to reflect on Mary particularly through Advent, which then culminated in the midnight mass sermon.   The reflections are quite poetic and include a prayer every day. I've brought all these reflections together in this one post and they will become a bible reading plan, maybe by this advent but definitely by next.

Journeying with Mary

Day 1

Today is the first day of our advent journey with Mary.  This first week we will be with Mary as she is visited by the Angel of the Lord.

Luke 1:26-27

"In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

Imagine the scene; one day you're going about your normal business.  Perhaps you're doing the washing or making breakfast, maybe you're cleaning the house or tending the garden, or just possibly you're at work with your colleagues.  It's just a normal day, nothing special or out of the ordinary.

But then.......  an angel of the lord appears!

It sounds straightforward the way Luke says it doesn't it, the angel just appears. 

Just like that. 

No big deal.

There's no mention of Mary falling over in shock, or having her mouth gaping open, or screaming and running off.  She was quite clearly of a stronger constitution than me.  But then that's to be expected, after all she was to become the mother of the messiah.

Let's put ourselves in Mary's shoes. 

Imagine a point in your normal day.

Me, I'm checking my emails and wondering which ones need dealing with first.

What are you up to?

And suddenly the angel of the Lord appears in front of you.

I can imagine it now, the room would be filled with light and there'd be a person of sorts in the room.

I'd definitely drop my laptop, there's no doubt about that.

I would like to think that I would stay calm and that I would recognise an angel when one appeared to me.

But if I'm honest I'm pretty sure that I would scream and freeze in shock.

How do you think you'd react?

I trust the gospels but I have to say that I suspect Mary reacted much as we would, how could she not be shocked and fearful.  We will never know for sure, but one thing is sure, she didn't run away.

Prayer for the day

Father as we meet Mary today we try to imagine how she would have felt when your Angel appeared to her.  We thank you for her bravery and openness at that time and ask that we might be blessed with the same in our journey's of faith and love with you.  Amen.

Day 2

Luke 1:28-30

The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God."

As if it was not enough that an Angel of the Lord appeared to Mary, it then spoke in a language she understood. 

Greetings, you who are highly favoured

Or as no doubt the angel would have said today "Hi, God loves you."

Along comes an angel, not something you ever expect to see, and then they greet you as if you know each other, as if it's a totally ordinary thing to do and conversation to have.

If she was not overwhelmed beforehand, this certainly troubled her, as Luke makes clear.  

I wonder how Mary responded such that Luke would recall that she was greatly troubled and wondered what the greeting was.  I'm thinking physical and emotional shock manifesting in the way we often see, knees weakening, words fleeing and eyes opened wide.

Put yourself back in the everyday situation we thought of yesterday.

I'm in my chair with my laptop on the floor and my mouth agape.  I know my own reactions to shock, I loose the power of speech and go stock-still.

And then the angel speaks again; "Don't be afraid, God loves you especially", or words to that effect.



You seriously mean me?

There must be a mistake.

I'm nothing special, I'm just me.

The thing is we each are known and loved especially by God, maybe we are not called in such a dramatic way as Mary, but we are loved just as we are.  This is the focus of today, to remind ourselves that Mary had to come to terms with being chosen; and so must we.

Prayer for the day

Father help us hear your voice.  Give us faith through our loneliness when you seem far away, and joy in your love when we know you are close by at our sides.  Lord, we know you are always with us, let us know this inwardly in our lives and follow you wherever you lead us. Amen.

Day 3

Luke 1:31

"You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus"

Look for a moment at this image of the annunciation.  Mary is most certainly taken aback, she looks knocked off balance and in a state of shock.  This is a rare image of Mary when she was visited by the Angel, most of the art shows her calm and bowed in reverence.

Today we look at the crux of Mary's calling; she will be the mother of a son.

Of course that doesn't sound particularly special, especially in today's society.

But let's go back 2000 years. Mary is unmarried, a girl from a good home, betrothed to a man she will soon marry. She is a virgin, she has kept herself clean and she knows she can not be with child.

Her emotions must have been a plenty.

Worry about whether she understand right.

Fear about how her family and Joseph will react.

Concern over the reaction of society, who normally shun unmarried mothers.

Add to that the pure and simple unbelievability that she is carrying a boy child which is impossible, and she must have been close to fainting.

And why this specific name?

Would Mary have seen the link to the prophecies of her race?

Would she have started to put two and two together?

I am sure she was a faithful servant of God and knew her scripture well, but when put in a shocking situation do any of us manage join dots successfully?

Let's return to our scenario.

Are you on your knees yet?  I'm stuck, dumb-struck in my chair.

I know some of the impossibility she would have felt.  I felt it when I came to realise that I was called into ministry.  And I had none of the worries about family and societal condemnation.  Imagine how Mary would have felt being told she was to have a child out of wedlock, poor Mary, she must have been scared witless.

Prayer for the day

Father as Mary would have felt fear of her family's response to such amazing news, so we worry about what society thinks of our faith.  By following you we turn away from many societal norms and try to live the life you wish for us.  Give us strength in the face of our uncertainty and fear and judgement of others, as you gave Mary as she faced her family with such impossible and threatening good news.  Amen

Day 4

Luke 1:32-33

"He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

As if it wasn't enough that an angel appeared, spoke and told Mary she would have a baby; now she is told that this same baby will be the greatest of all babies, God himself.   There's nothing like reassuring a girl when she's in shock is there.

Let's look at the words themselves.

"He will be called the Son of the Most High"

Mary would have known that the Most High was referring to God, this would have been clear to her.  Suddenly the task she was being given would have been increased exponentially.  No longer was this a task, it was a mission and a half.

"The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end"

As part of a Jewish family Mary would have known, as part of her basic religious knowledge, that the house of David is the line of royalty and from which all rulers of the people of Israel came.  She would have realised that this mission was to carry and birth the next King of her people.  The King!

Let's take ourselves back into our own imaginings again; we are Mary, visited by an Angel, told we will have a miraculous pregnancy and now that the boy born will be the next king of our race.  This is like being told that a spaceship will fly down from the sky, land in the back garden and require us to be the translators for the entire human race. 

Do you fancy that task?

How would you feel?

Prayer for the day

Father of all you tasked Mary with the greatest task on Earth, you trusted her to carry out your precious mission and never fail along the way.  We feel so humbled as we journey with Mary and are reminded that we each have our own missions for you.  As we journey we ask for your reassurance and strength.  Amen.

Day 5

Luke 1:34-35

How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Finally we hear from Mary.  She is dumb struck no longer, although I find it hard to imagine she was silent until now, but I bow to the knowledge of the Gospel writers.  And let's give her the credit she deserves, she asks the pertinent question How?

The angel was not worried, not disturbed by the question; not insulted or affronted.  In seemingly simple words the angel explained that the "power of the most high will come upon you".  You will notice that these are slightly different words than included in the NIV translation; Mary would know nothing about the Holy Spirit since it arrived on Earth many years later at Pentecost, but she would have recognised God's power.

That's reassuring isn't it!

You've been visited by an angel, told you're special.

Told you're going to have a baby who will be the King of your race.

And now you're told that it will happen by the power of God coming upon you.

Feeling calm?

I think I'd have a whole load more questions like how? when? will it hurt?

But perhaps that's my own failings.

Prayer for the day

Father you know us each and love us for what we are and what we are able to do.  You knew Mary could and would cope, you know what each of us can cope with and we ask to have more faith in this when we are faced with things we worry about.  Amen

Day 6

Luke 1:36-37

Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Yes, even Elizabeth is now able to have a baby.  She who has been trying for so many years and has been barren is now pregnant and in her sixth month.  What a miracle.  That just shows what God can do.

This was also a powerfully soothing thing to tell Mary.  She was close to her cousin Elizabeth and it must have been reassuring to be told that they were in this miracle business together, and that they'd have babies close together.  This was God in his true caring father role.

As we near the end of this week with Mary and her visit from the angel we might feel like we've been through the ringer.  We've been shocked, floored, told the impossible, promised the powerful, explained the miraculous and given the best news possible.  We've been taken full circle through an emotional cycle and are almost ready to settle down.

Prayer of the day

Father you know just what to say and do when we are at the end of our ability to cope, thank you for your fathering of us.  Amen.

Day 7

Luke 1:38

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Five small words from Mary; one huge commitment, one life changing decision for us all.

Mary, in the visit of one angel, for possibly an hour at the most, went from the shock of her life to the acceptance that she would birth God's son, the king of her people.

Well done Mary.

And well done us for making it through the first week of advent.

We have started the journey towards Christmas, accepting the shock of God's call on our lives and realising the blessing that it is if we follow Him.

Prayer of the day

Father we thank you for Mary and for her day with your angels, this one encounter brought about the salvation of us all, we owe all we are to that process.  Amen.

Day 8

Welcome to week two of this advent journey with Mary.  This week we look at how Mary followed directions, and cope when she had to follow directions given to others.

Luke 1:39-45

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

Mary and Elizabeth as cousins would have been close, even when separated by distance.  Mary would have been thrilled with the prospect of seeing Elizabeth and sharing her great news, and allowing Elizabeth to share with her.  No doubt Mary also realised she could be of use to Elizabeth who would likely find pregnancy hard in her advanced years.  (I dread to think what advanced years meant, perhaps only in her thirties?)

The gospel of Luke tells us that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit upon seeing Mary; Jesus' presence made her baby leap for joy.  There was always a connection between Jesus and John the Baptist, a connection of love and ministry in the coming about of God's action in the world.

Now let's think about what else might have been going on at this time.

Mary would no doubt have been relieved to have been able to journey to see Elizabeth and away from the prying and judging eyes of her community.  Perhaps she had told her parents and Joseph of her pregnancy and it was not received with joy or understanding.  We do not know; but the affirmation of Elizabeth would have been a comfort beyond all at this time.  Mary stayed with Elizabeth for some considerable time, time during which Mary helped Elizabeth and time when her family and Joseph could come to terms with the miraculous events.

Prayer of the day

Dear Lord, we are thankful that Mary had Elizabeth with whom to share her joy and concerns about her pregnancy; and we celebrate the connection between Jesus and John the Baptist from before their births.  We remember today those friends who are always there for us, and the fact that you remain available to us and fully present whenever we need.  Amen

Day 9

Matthew 1:20

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."

Today we move from following Luke's gospel to that of Matthew. Whilst Luke's gospel is relational and deals in depth with Mary; Matthew is more concerned with ancestry and Jewish family lines which brings Joseph into the foreground.

It is not clear when the Angel appeared to Joseph in the timeline we are following; it might have been immediately after visiting Mary and before she left to be with Elizabeth.  Or perhaps Joseph was visited whilst Mary was away.  Maybe Joseph had his doubts and concerns about Mary's miraculous pregnancy quickly allayed, or perhaps he was questioning his choice of fiancee and was pleased she was away from him.  We don't know.  But we do know that he must have been doubting and fearful since the Lord sent an angel to reassure and instruct him to take Mary as his wife.

Prayer of the Day

Father as we journey today with Joseph we do not know how Mary was feeling; we know that she must have been doubted and that this must have been difficult for her to bare.  Lord we know that you understand our pain and torment and ask that you come close to us, as you did to her, when we need you.  Amen.

Day 10

Matthew 1:21

"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Today we look at the angel's instructions to Joseph; he is told, as Mary was previously, to call the baby Jesus.  God did not want the naming to go wrong, it was imperative that both Mary and Joseph knew that their baby would be called Jesus.  This detail confirmed what Mary would have told Joseph and therefore might have helped him to accept what she had said.

Prayer of the day

Lord you always have your bases covered, when things may seem chaotic to us we must remember that your plans are in your hands and we need not fear.  Amen.

Matthew 1:22-23
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” —which means, “God with us.”

Fulfilling prophecies; it sounds easy doesn't it.  But can you imagine being the one tasked with bringing to life the great prophecy of your faith?  What pressure, what weight, what burden and yet what an honour.  This week we have seen Mary come to terms with her role in the prophecy, whilst Joseph hears the news for the first time.  Now, together, they face the world and their future as the parents of the Son of God.  There is still no way of knowing whether as a couple they were strengthened by their shared task, as perhaps the image suggests; or whether their relationship was under immense stress.

Today I reflect on the stresses in my own marriage; in the worries and concerns about family life, choices and pressures.  I reflect on the love in our marriage and the joy we share in our lives together.  Today I realise how Jesus was brought up in a very ordinary human family which I have no doubt had it's ordinary ups and downs, worries and joys, agreements and disagreements.  How reassuring this is, that Jesus knew human relationships and therefore knows us in the struggles we face.

Prayer of the day
Lord Jesus you were born to an ordinary family with an extraordinary task.  Today we come in thankfulness that you know the ups and downs of human relationships and are with us in these.  Keep us hoping and striving together, as you saw your parents do.  Amen.

Matthew 1:24-25
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Travelling as husband and wife; today we know that Joseph took Mary to be as his wife.  We do not know when they were married, but the wording of Matthew's gospel seems clear that they were not yet married, but were "as" man and wife.  This seems like as nothing in our modern world, there are so many people who live in committed loving relationships for decades without the need for marriage, and it is accepted as normal for couples to live together prior to marriage. 

But going back 2000 years into a religious society and we would experience a very different reaction.  The community would know that Mary and Joseph were unmarried, not least because marriage was a cause for major celebration and could not have been missed accidentally.  The community would also have seen with their own eyes that Mary was expecting a child; you try hiding a swollen belly beyond 6 months and you'll know that hiding it is nigh on impossible.

So Joseph takes Mary as his wife despite the fact that their community would in all likelihood treat her appallingly, and possibly him as well.  That is bravery indeed and a showing of their commitment to their task for God.  How much we owe them perhaps starts to become clear.

Prayer of the day
Father you tasked Mary and Joseph with the greatest of all undertakings knowing that it would be a hard process for them yet knowing no other way.  We thank them for their part and ask to be reminded of this when we walk the rough paths in our own lives.  Amen.

And so we find ourselves without the gospels to guide us.
There is a gap.
A time when all Mary and Joseph had was Trust in God.

We know Mary went to be with Elizabeth for several months, but are sure that there must have been a very pregnant and unwed Mary in the community for some months, taken as wife to Joseph. No angels are said to have visited; no more guidance given. Mary, and Joseph, had nothing but their faith in God and their knowledge of their role in a grand plan to sustain them.

Mary had to rely on Joseph, in a patriarchal society, he was the only one who could protect and defend her; she had to have trust in this man God had tasked alongside her.
To trust entirely on God; this is trust indeed; a trust I have had to find in times of feeling abandoned; a trust which I understand.  My awe for Mary increases.

And so in this pause we can perhaps think of how we might feel abandoned and alone, away from God. Perhaps as in this image, we feel in a desolate place with no guidance on hand. Today let's remind ourselves that God is always with us, we just need trust that he has our safe.

Prayer of the day
Father you do not always seem so close, we do not always feel so connected to you, we have times when we find it hard to know how you can hold all people of all time in your care.  Yet we know it to be true.  Thank you Lord for the reminder we need.  Amen.

Luke 2:4-5
So Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

We are back in Luke's gospel; back to the detail of the birth itself. Next week we find ourselves in Bethlehem; but first Mary and Joseph must make their way there.  I love the fact that Luke in these verses focuses on Joseph, I'm sure it was might hard work for him to get to Bethlehem with his heavily pregnant wife to be.  But I can assure you that more than 30minutes in the car is no joke when you're expecting a baby, let alone several days or weeks on the back of a donkey. 

Just imagine that!  Yes, I really did say days or weeks. It wasn't just around the corner, or even the next town; it was a massive journey across a country and it would have been a long hard slog.

Luke's account of the journey doesn't mention there being no room at the inn until after the birth, but for ease of understanding and chronology I'm including it.

Mary is sore and weary after a long and uncomfortable journey at the late stages of pregnancy. She must have been looking forward to a bed, a proper meal and some time to rest, but no such luck. There was no room at the inn, at any inn, so they took a warm dry place instead, possibly with the animals. I'm guessing just being out of the elements would have been comfort enough, but not exactly what she'd have expected for the labouring of her first born.

Prayer of the day
Father life is not always what we hope for or expect; the journey can be long and tiring and the destination more hostile than comforting. Today we're reminded that we need to worry less about the how and what, than the why and when as we follow you. Amen.

Welcome to week three of this advent journey with Mary.  This week we look at parenting on the other side, other side of pregnancy that is.  We following Mary, Joseph and Jesus through the first weeks and months of being together as a family.

Luke 2:6 "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son."

Doesn't Luke make birth of a first born baby sound easy.  My experience is not quite as simple as that, but don't worry I'm not going down that path.

Mary is a mother; she has her son in her arms. She knows the immense joy of motherhood, the miracle of life, the weight of her task as a mother. I know those feelings, I can feel them like it was yesterday rather than 6 years ago, it is truly amazing.

Prayer of the day
Father and Mother of us all, as we sit with Mary in the joy of new motherhood we experience the joy you must feel with each new life on earth. Remind us of this joy today as we celebrate Jesus' birth on earth. Amen.

Luke 2:7
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

I have always loved this verse; it's so gentle, so beautiful and so strong.
There was no room in the inn, but Mary didn't let that stop her caring for her new born infant. She didn't shout, scream, rant or rave; she just got on with her new job as mother despite the situation.

I will let you into a secret, a badly kept secret; I'm a ranter and raver.  I find it extremely hard to keep my emotions inside for very long and often find them spilling out into a rant.  Who do I rant at?  God!  Yes, I rant to God in my prayers quite often.  I used to hold a lot of guilt about it, but I know God would rather I rant in prayer than rant at people who don't deserve it.  If I had been Mary I would not have simply wrapped Jesus in cloths and placed him in a manger; I would have then got on my knees and ranted about the situation my beautiful boy was born in. 

Luckily I have been chosen for many tasks for God, but not this one!  And that's the point that's with me today.  Mary was chosen for her specific qualities to be the mother of Jesus; she was resourceful, strong, gentle and calm; everything she needed at the birth and throughout the years she mothered the messiah.

Prayer of the day
Father God you are the only one who knows us inside and out, completely; we ask for more acceptance of that as we follow your calling on our lives.  It isn't always easy to follow where you ask us to go but we are today reminded that you have excellent reasons and we should trust them.

Luke 2:8-20
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

I love the shepherds section of the nativity tableau, it ticks all the boxes of wonder and awe with the ordinary people being central to the message and meaning.
Shepherds had one of the hardest lives of all people in biblical times; they were some of the lowest in society and discarded as those who lived with the animals.  They lived with the herds for weeks and months at a time, protecting them from wild animals and ensuring that they survived the elements; which meant living themselves in the elements far from communities and families.  They were uneducated and of very little worth; yet God chose them to be the first people told of Jesus' birth.
I have read many accounts and interpretations of the shepherds and the reason for them being chosen over the years; the majority of which conclude that the choice of shepherds is confirmation of the proof of the birth of a messiah; after all any fabrication would have chosen a holy man of importance.  I however prefer to think of the shepherds being the first to be told not as a way of providing historical proof, but as a demonstration of how Jesus Christ was born for all people of the world, even the lowest in society.  God chose to send the angels to tell the shepherds as a sign that Jesus was for all people, of all time, no matter how they are seen by their communities.  God showed that human value is of nothing to Him, He values us all as we are.
I love the fact that "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart".  She held the visit from the shepherds as a treasured occurrence; it spoke deeply to her and she held it in her heart.  I wonder what that means; perhaps she saw that God was choosing the lowly and the excluded and this showed how deep her son's task would be.  Perhaps she realised how wide God's net was being cast and therefore how broad Jesus' ministry would be.  Perhaps she basked in the pure joy of a celebration of Jesus' birth despite it being lowly and quiet; God was showing how great it was to Him.  Whatever it was, she treasured it and thought on it and no doubt this was part of the birth story she told to Jesus in the years of his childhood.
Prayer of the day
Lord of all, we thank you for reminding us that Jesus came for all.  We are more than good enough to receive your grace, love and forgiveness and for this we are in awe.  Remind us to treat those who are excluded from society with the same depth of love and ministry that you do.

Luke 2:21-24
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.  When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Jesus was born into a Jewish family and as such was brought to the temple on his eighth day; he was circumcised, named and presented to the Lord.  Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem, and this was the site of much of Jesus' major milestones through his life.  A sacrifice was offered according the Jewish Law and birds were sacrificed.

I normally glance over these few verses and head straight to Simeon, but today I've been struck by the sacrificial offering; it seems so small compared to most Jewish sacrifices.  Never before have I heard anything about this but upon research it appears that it is indeed small, it is the sacrifice allowed for poor families who cannot afford a lamb.  This is another confirmation of the low standing and ordinary-ness of the family into which Jesus was born; he was born into a family of love and strength rather than wealth and status.

Luke 2:25-40
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,  Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:  “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”   There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

Today the part of this amazing meeting with Simeon which sits most with me is not Simeon's acceptance of Jesus as Messiah, the one he knew he would see before he died; it is instead Simeon's words to Mary "a sword will pierce your own soul too".
As a mother I know all to well about the sword which is forever close to your heart when you become a parent; you are always close to being wounded as you do anything to protect your child from hurt and disappointment.  But Mary was to know this so much more than any of us hopefully will; she saw Jesus rejected, persecuted, tortured and committed to a death sentence.  But of course we know this as we look back knowing the entirety of Jesus' life story; Mary did not.  I wonder whether she was hurt or shocked by Simeon's comment; perhaps it stayed with her for many years to make sense later, or maybe it passed her by, we will never know.
What we do know is that Mary and Joseph apparently left, went home and Jesus grew strong and full of God's grace.  easy peasy. 
Prayer of the day
Father there is so much within this visit to the temple with Jesus as a babe; so much of the future, so much of your path with Jesus, so much of Mary's life.  But today we must just remain here, not worrying about the future.  Help us Lord to remain in the now as Mary must have done then.

Matthew 2: 1-12
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route

We are back to Matthew's gospel since Luke makes no mention of the Maji at all; as we saw yesterday Luke ends the nativity account with Jesus growing up strong.  Reading through the researched chronology of the nativity it seems clear that the Wise Man would have arrived many months after Jesus was born, possibly a year or more.  In fact Matthew uses the term "child" which certainly hints at Jesus being beyond infancy.  It doesn't really matter when, what matters is that they came.  

Wise men came, from the east, from lands thousands of miles away.  They came following a star which they had not seen before and which was a sign for them that a new king and ruler was being born.  These were not Jewish people, they knew nothing of a Jewish Messiah; they knew only that a star was showing the arrival of a great leader and they were to meet him.

Again God uses those from outside the society of religious order to confirm the Messiah's birth; again Mary is visited by those whom she would not normally associate.  We know not whether anyone else was with Mary and Jesus; perhaps Jesus had younger siblings by this time; who knows.  I imagine that in an ordinary day of their life suddenly some strange looking people arrived to pay homage to Jesus; what a shock, another!  They presented gifts, rich and rare gifts fit for a king; Mary would have seen this and known the meaning, she would have seen another confirmation of Jesus' importance as Messiah to the whole world.

Prayer of the day
Jesus, king of all, your mother was there as you were again visited; how did she react, was she shocked, was she fearful?  How did you react?  We are often surprised in our faith and by the God-incidences in life, today we are reminded of how many of these Mary had and we rejoice with her.

Matthew 2:13
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

The maji have left, avoiding Herod and his need to kill any future leader of the Jews; and now it is time to rescue the holy family. Joseph is visited by an angel again and told to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt and stay there until it's safe.

I have learned enough from Mary over the last three weeks to have an inkling that this might not have gone down that well.  It is likely that she would have had at least one more child by this time and that leaving her community and support networks would have been a tricky prospect.  I verge onto the heretic as I wonder whether she would have queried Joseph; after all the previous instructions were given to her as well as Joseph and this time she was having to follow his lead.  On the other hand, she would no doubt have realised what danger Jesus might be in as the Messiah of the Jewish people, the future leader of a nation.  She would have wanted to keep him safe and would have been pleased to have whatever guidance available to do so.

This is one of these places where I long for more relational detail from the Bible, more depth from which a greater picture could emerge. But I also know that if it were important it would have been included, what actually matters is that the family follow their instructions and flea, keeping Jesus and their whole family safe.

Prayer of the day
Father I find it relatively easy to follow you when you lead me directly, but I find it harder when I must rely on other human beings; today I am reminded that you use whoever and whatever is appropriate to save us from harm.  Thank you.

Matthew 2:19-23
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Matthew jumps us on a good few years for the next step on the Holy Family's journey.  They had fled to Egypt but now that Herod has died they can return safely to Israel with Jesus.  However they did not go to the area of Judea as they had planned; instead they returned to their home town of Nazareth.

Mary has been travelling around a large area, pushed from pillar to post for her own safety and that of her son Jesus.  She must have been pleased to be returning into her home land and possibly relieved to be actually going back to Nazareth.  Home has such a special feeling doesn't it; it's safe and known and nurturing.  But after the several years of moving it is doubtful that Mary thought they would be in Nazareth to stay; she must have been ready for the next steps where God would lead them and keep them safe.

Prayer of the Day
Father we trust you to keep us safe but sometimes we just long to settle in our own homes, safe and secure and quiet in our lives.  We rejoice that Jesus spent his formative years in his family home town and that Mary could share her community with them.  Amen.

Welcome to the final week, week four of this advent journey with Mary.  This week we focus on her important task of Messiah mothering.

Luke 2:41-50
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Luke tells us throughout about Mary but nothing about her mothering of the messiah.
Yet we do not that..... Mary mothered Jesus.

She woke him each morning. She helped him to get dressed. She prepared his breakfast. She chased him off to school or to work with his father. She picked him up when he fell over. She kissed his hands when they were cut or sore. She worried about him when he was sad. She laughed with him in his joy. She washed him and nurtured him. And she tucked him into bed at night.
She mothered him.

She would also have introduced him to the scriptures. She would have helped him understand the community they lived in. She would have modelled human relationships. She would have helped him learn about life around him.
She mothered him.

And then, when he was 12 years old, Mary thought they’d lost him in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but eventually he was found in the temple in Jerusalem. And for the first time Jesus turned to his parents and said “didn’t you know I’d be in my Father’s house?”

Can you imagine how that would have felt for Mary?
Her son, her boy; yet not JUST her boy, not any ordinary boy. He was Divine.
And he was separating from her sphere of influence, from our ability to teach him, from her physical presence.  So we are reminded of the two sides of Mary’s mothering.  Both joy and sorrow.  As parents we all experience both, but Mary so much more than most hopefully go through.

Prayer of the Day
Father we are reminded today that Mary was called to mother Jesus as any earthly mother, but that Jesus was given as divine to live a human life.  We find it hard to balance our lives of faith with our lives in society; today we ask for help as we try to bring the two together.  Amen

John 2:1-11
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”  What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The next time we meet Mary in the Gospels is at the wedding in Canaan as written about by John in the verses above.  Mary was the one who prompted the first miracle; the turning of water into wine.  She didn't ask Jesus if he was ready; she didn't suggest that he might do something special; she just told Jesus the facts of the situation and he knew it was his time.  Yet he denied that it was his time; instead of just asking his mother what he could do about it, he told her off.

This raises so many questions for me:
- how did Mary know Jesus could perform miracles?
- had Jesus actually done something miraculous before?
- had Mary and Jesus had conversations about his ministry and calling?
- what had changed their relationship that he would tell his mother off so publicly?

I wish the Bible had some more to offer to answer these questions, but it does not.  These questions were clearly not seen as important in the grand scheme of the gospel writers; we will never know what might have happened before this first recorded miracle.

And the day continues; in front of the gathered company, Mary just told the disciples to do whatever Jesus told them.  She completely ignored Jesus' chastising of her; she basically over ruled him, pushed him into performing a public miracle.  And he did; he allowed Mary to lead him despite not wishing to.

This event is so important in Jesus' ministry; his first recorded public miracle; and Mary was not only there, but she was instrumental.  Mary was important, possibly essential.

Prayer of the Day
Father we might find it hard to know what we are capable of and wonder when we should do your work; we do not have Mary by our sides but we do have you.  We ask today that you help us to hear your promptings more in our lives.  Amen.

John 19:25-27
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

There at the annunication, pregnancy and birth, there throughout childhood, there to find him when he was lost at the temple, there at the first miracle and then..... well then nothing until the crucifixion, at the foot of the cross; there again we find Mary.  What greater sadness is there than outliving your child; let alone seeing them suffer and die in pain.  My heart goes out to Mary, my heart breaks for her at the way she saw him suffer and die.  What torture for her to live through.

Mary was the only human at Jesus' birth and his death; there at the start and the end, and the actual end as we will see later this week.  She was chosen by God for a huge task and she had to cope with the joy as well as the suffering through this.  I know her pain; I feel her breaking heart and I stand alongside her every Good Friday in her grief.

But as John shows in these gospel verses; Jesus did not leave her passive in her grief.  Before he left his human life he tasked Mary with mothering and caring for John - the first priest.  Jesus trusted Mary to hold John safe through his ministry.  He also tasked John to care for Mary; they became a family, a team.  Jesus made sure Mary was not alone when he died, and he also made sure that her calling would continue.

Prayer of the Day
Jesus we remember today that you were born to live, to minister and then to die as a man.  We are reminded of the pain that your mother Mary must have felt and ask that you be alongside all those who are suffering or grieving.  Amen.


There is no account of Jesus visiting Mary after his resurrection.  It has always struck me as strange, in fact I have searched the gospels thinking that I must be missing some reference to Mary.  But it appears that there is in fact no record of Mary meeting with Mary in the forty days of his resurrection.

But does that mean it didn't happen?  If the gospel writers don't include any encounter of Mary with Jesus then perhaps this is more to do with Mary's being Jesus' mother and therefore being less useful as proof against those who denied the Lord's Resurrection.

I find it hard to believe that Mary would have not been visited by Jesus; she was so much a part of his life on earth that surely he would have visited with her and reassured her.  I like to think he would.

Prayer of the day
Jesus we celebrate your resurrection, the centre of our faith; and the proof that you are indeed Lord our God.  We do not know who all the people you visited and whether this included your mother Mary, but we know that you came back to earth for forty days for us all, thank you.  Amen.

Acts 1:6-10, 1:12-14 and 2:1-3
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

These passages from Acts, probably written by Luke, detail the ascension and coming of the holy spirit at Pentecost.  There is no mention of Mary being present at the ascension, but as with the resurrection this does not mean she was not there.  However she is back in the accounts in the room in Jerusalem, where they went after the ascension, when the Holy Spirit came and filled them.  Mary was one of the group that were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues; she was one of those we remember at Pentecost.

These verses in Acts are fascinating because they also refer to "the women", pointing to the fact that there were women in the circle of those forming the new church.  Although they were not individually named, as the men are, they were clearly there.  This is a continuation of the value of women in the ministry of Jesus and in the early church.

Mary was there at the birth and death of Jesus and there when the Holy Spirit filled those who were to start the Christian church; Mary was and is essential to our faith.

Prayer of the Day
Father God. as we leave Mary at Pentecost, the last known detail of her life, we thank you for her calling and her ability to follow you where she was needed.  We ask today that you help us do whatever you need us to and to know that we are called just as we are.  Amen.

The Sorrow of Mary

We are at the penultimate day of our advent journey with Mary, we've seen her through from the annunciation to the start of the church. We've walked with her, laughed with her and cried with her.

The image I've chosen for today speaks to me of the sorrow of being Mary. She had so much to deal with, more sorrow than any mother should face; but she coped, made it through. In fact she did so much more than survive, she thrived and never turned her back on God and His plan.

We only need to turn to the news to be reminded of the sorrows of our world. We experience sadness, fear, loss and desperation. But like Mary we can survive with God's help.

Prayer of the day
Father we bring before you all those who are in sorrow today and we ask that you comfort them and help them find their way through the darkness. Amen

Day 28

Mary's Joy

It is the last day of advent, the last day of our journey with Mary.

Today we are still waiting.

Today we get to be still with Mary in her joys.

Her joy of motherhood.

Her joy of seeing her son fulfil his ministry.

Her joy of being there to help and support even when it was hard.

God tasked Mary with a massive job which she did despite it's hardship and sorrow, but we are today reminded that in her journey there was joy.

So as we come to Christmas let's offer thanks for Mary, for her presence with us in our advent journey, for her lessons to us and for her joy which reflects our own joys.

Prayer of the day

Father we have journeyed through advent waiting for your birth, we have journeyed with Mary in her waiting and her watching, her mothering and her following, her sorrow and her joy.  We thank you for the learning and deepening we have experienced this advent and ask that this might continue through Christmas and on through the months ahead. Amen

You might also be interested in reading two sermons I preached associated with this journey of Mary.

Mary Visits Elizabeth Sermon outline for the week before Christmas

Midnight Mass Sermon about Mary

Christmas Poems

I have written many poems over the years about Christmas, some about church, some about family; here I'm bringing together the links to those which are related to the church celebrations of Christmas

One Special Day

A Dickensian Christmas

The First Christmas Day

Let there be peace on Earth

Christmas Lights

Tell the Story Very Loud, We are the Nativity Crowd


Thoroughly Modern Mary

Nativity Plays

I have written a few nativity plays over the years which we have used with our children and young people for the carols round the crib service on Christmas Eve.  Some of these are available as books, both electronic and physical, but I am making them freely available here for anyone who would find them useful in these covid times

Christmas Windows

The First Christmas Day

One Special Day

We are the Nativity Crowd (tell the story very loud)

Christingle Posts #christingle

I thought I would bring together the various posts I've written over the years for Christingle services.

Introduction to Christingle

Explaining the Christingle in Poetry

Christingle Poem

Messy Church Christingle

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Love images and meditation resources

  I am bringing together into one post lots of the resources I have created on the theme of love.  If these are useful then feel free to use them saying that I created them and pointing them here to this blog.

Joy images and meditation resources

 I am bringing together into one post lots of the resources I have created on the theme of joy.  If these are useful then feel free to use them saying that I created them and pointing them here to this blog.

We walked in darkness
A poem inspired by Isaiah 9:2-7

We walked in the darkness
Now the light is upon us
God has brought us joy
He has filled us with rejoicing
Unto us 
A child is born
A son
A ruler of all
Wonderful Counsellor
Mighty God
Everlasting Father
Prince of Peace
He will have no end
He will reign on David’s throne
He will bring justice to all
Forever and ever


Sing to the Lord
A poem inspired by Psalm 96

Sing to the Lord a new song
blessing his name
celebrating the earth
telling of his salvation
Sing to the Lord a new song
to all the peoples
of all the nations
praising his holy name
Sing to the Lord a new song
of his beauty
his strength
his majesty above all
Come to God all you peoples
bring offerings
come to his courts
tremble before him
Tell the nations
the Lord is King
let the heavens be glad
let the earth rejoice
Sing for joy
The Lord is coming
he will bring salvation
he is bringing truth.