Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Sermon for Holy Innocents

Although written three years ago, nothing has changed

A few days ago I received a circular letter from a Christian organisation with their Presidents message for the Christmas Season. I have to say I receive quite a number of such letters and pay little attention but something caught my eye in this letter, the sentiment of the opening paragraph. Without quoting exactly, it was ‘well what with the credit crunch and wars around the world I am finding it hard to get into the Christmas spirit’ - and I wonder how many people felt the same, but I found it a little disturbing. It was as if Christmas should be some sort of distraction from the real world, as if the message of Christmas was all about taking our minds off the reality of the world. And I found it disturbing because here was someone in a very senior position in a church organisation, who seemed to imagine this to be true - as if we needed Peace on Earth in order to celebrate Christmas -but the message of Christmas is that God does not wait for the world to get itself ready for his appearing, that global economic meltdown and wars and rumours of wars is the world into which God comes in Jesus.

Put another way - if we in our wisdom and power have got the world all sorted out  - well then a Saviour arriving on the scene isn’t good news, because we don’t need one, we’ve saved ourselves.

To paraphrase one Christian Writer, the message of Christmas is not that everything is fine - it’s far from fine, but in Jesus God has made a decisive start on putting things right and shows us a new way - but it is not an easy way, it is the way of Love. Not a romanticised Love - not the sort of Love often on the lips of Christians which ignores the reality of the world and blithely announces ‘I Love everybody’ - but the Love of Christ that sees the world as it is and then lays down it’s life for this cruel and broken world - greater Love. When Jesus appears on the scene we see Love in Reality - and so we see the World as it truly is.

As we do on this day - The feast of the Holy Innocents.  The slaughter of all the male children under two by Herod. A reminder of Pharaoh - his injunction that all the male Hebrew babies should be  killed at birth. Rather like the romantic view of Moses in the basket which clouds our imaginations to the wholesale slaughter of children around him - the birth of Jesus may be so romanticised that we forget Holy Innocents. We may wish to escape into a fantasy Christmas with words about ‘Christmas Spirit’ and familiar rituals and forget today’s Holy Innocents - we may choose to ignore the truth that that today’s rulers think the daily death of 36,000 children of malnutrition or from lack of clean water is a price worth paying for  'Progress', or 'National Security', or the greatest of all Idols, 'keeping the economy on track'. When the powers that be are disturbed the most vulnerable in society are always the victims - I do not need to tell you what will happen because we know - in the need to tighten our belts - the shamefully small aid budgets of the wealthy will be reduced even further. I gather that despite the credit crunch people have continues to spend on Christmas but at the same time charities are reporting sharp decreases in donations. When the rulers of this age be they ’the economy’ be they Pharaoh be they Herod - when they are threatened the weakest are sent to the wall as a price worth paying. And the weakest are the frail and elderly, and the children.

The Holy Innocents. Why do we use this word Innocent for children? Because they are powerless - they are wholly irresponsible for the way the world is - Who creates wars? Who creates violence? Who creates unjust economic orders? Who makes a mess of the world? Not children but adults. Here again is that strange revealing of the Nature of Love.

A child, uniquely amongst humanity embodies perfectly the human vocation - to be recipients of Love and to give love in return - it is only as we bring them up that they forget the way of Love. And we in our wisdom think we know how to bring children up, that their vocation is to become like us adults. But Jesus says the exact opposite -  ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like children you shall not enter the Kingdom of God’. And when we think about becoming like children the true cost of Love is revealed - for we see what happens to children - what happens to the weak and the vulnerable in our society and across the World, we see what the World does to them, not only two thousand years ago around Bethlehem but today.

And we are frightened of that reality - why becoming like a child, eschewing control and power, entering into weakness and vulnerability. So we hedge ourselves round with reasons to ignore Jesus’ way of Love - ‘why, if we became like children we think’ - the world would go to pot! Well folks, take off the dark glasses - the world has gone to pot and only the children are innocent. Only the children are not responsible for the way the world is. Funny isn’t it - how we try to bring children up to be responsible . . .

This is why the freedom which Jesus brought was rejected and continues to be rejected to this day both by those inside and outside of the church - because freedom means vulnerability and we prefer life trapped by the walls we’ve built for ourselves to defend ourselves than accept the offer of freedom and vulnerability which Jesus brings. We see what happens to the weak and are trapped by the Herod’s and Pharaoh’s of this age. But the way of the Holy Innocents is also the way of The Holy Innocent - The Archbishop of Canterbury in his Christmas address says the following “Human beings, left to themselves, have imagined God in all sorts of shapes; but it took Christianity to introduce the world to the idea of God in the form of a baby: in the form of complete dependence and fragility, without power or control.” In the birth of Jesus we see the Life of Jesus - born in weakness and vulnerability, living in weakness and vulnerability and dying in weakness and vulnerability - and so revealing the truth about the World and the Truth about Love. Upon the Cross St Paul reminds us - Jesus unmasks and dethrones the powers and authorities of this world - it is only as the world is confronted with something alien and strange to itself that its true nature is revealed.

The Holy Innocent’s don’t fight back - the cruelty of the world is revealed - Jesus unlike so many failed Messiah’s does not come into Jerusalem with an army - he is the only Messiah we remember because Jesus alone did not answer the world’s violence with violence and so hide the truth about the world, rather he confronted it with Love and so unmasked the world’s truth.

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one* might boast in the presence of God.

Christmas is truly about children, it’s about learning from children, it’s about relearning our humanity from children because as Christians we believe that God comes to us as a vulnerable child and he calls us to follow his way -  the way of vulnerability, the way of weakness, the way of Love, which is the power of God.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Sermon for The Feast of St John

Jesus said to Peter, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’

Yesterday we remembered St Stephen: the first Christian martyr, so called. Stoned to death as he witnessed to the Light of the gospel revealed in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.

Tomorrow we remember the Holy Innocents: the children massacred by Herod; 
in a sense, themselves martyrs also. witnessing to the reality of the darkness of the World.

and in between, St John.

It is tempting to think that John 'gets off lightly.'  He suffers no bloody death like Stephen, and, of course, it is Peter who asks Jesus of his fate and he too dies a martyrs death. Although we are not entirely sure when or how, it was probably under Nero.

it is almost as if Jesus is saying to him – 'If I choose to give him an easy time and you a hard time - So What?'  For it is God who chooses how and through whom he will work in the world. When we put ourselves at his disposal for his glory we may well wonder mightily at his ends – the glory of divine purpose – but his means are often less than congenial too us.  Sometimes obedience to God draws us into intense personal loss and cost.

Thus, it would be easy to say that John has it easy: the one apostle to die in his bed.

However, if we think that, then we miss something so vital to Chrsitian faith that we might be said to have totally missed what it is all about.

For whether we die by the sword, or die in our beds, the Christian life is always one of costly love. In fact, one might say that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was given the hardest path of all to follow, the path of year after year after year of Love.

In the fourth century something literally Vital went out of Christian faith:  It was normalised.  It was made part of respectable society.  It transitioned from  a few being Christians to a , Christianity that was made compulsory. If you like, it became part of the warp and weft of the World: taught in Schools, attendance at worship expected of all decent citizens. No one was martyred any more, as if the Light had finally vanquished the darkness – but as we know – 1600 years later that wasn’t so.

The Life that so challenged the World that one had either to repent and follow Christ or persecute those who did, the sharp dividning line between darkness and Light, was blurred.

But there were those who saw what was happening – who held out – who clung on to the fire of the Gospel.  First fleeing to the desert, then collecting as communities, communities of faith, they were the fore-runners of monasteries. One title that attached to them was ‘White martyrs’: those who still believed that one could not live with a foot in both camps – darkness and light – that one had to die to the World to enter the Love of God and to become one with it.

White martyrs: witnessing to light not by dying physically , but by dying to anything the World had to offer. Dying by refusing to choose any way but the way of Love.

St John is the Apostle of Love, he is the first White martyr, the first to live out day after day, month after month, year after year until at the last his body failed him.  He lived the command to Love without exception. For John there was to be no respite, no quick end to the costly walk with Jesus. His was literally in a fight to Love unto death.

Does this all sound too strong?

Surely the idea of the Apostle of Love sounds so ‘nice’, so ‘comforting’, as if John is warm and cuddly. But he is not. With his brother James he is one of the Sons of thunder.  Perhaps this is why Jesus chose him to be the one who would bear costly witness without the blessed relief of a martyrs death.  It was only a Son of thunder who would hold on to Love to the very end

And so we have in these days following the holiest of days:
The witness of Light – Stephen – those who cannot bear the light choose to kill him—and The witness of Darkness – the Holy Innocents,
and finally the witness of Love – costly devotion to the end

You see Love is a Nice idea.  We all like the idea of Love, we all want to be loved, until we encounter God’s Love. the Love that says “I love you, take up your cross and follow me’”  We all too easily say ‘I love God’ until we hear Jesus say to us: “If you Love me, keep my commandments.”  We all too easily say: “I would do wanything for Love,” until Love in the flesh tears us, rends us from all we hold most dear. Love is no idea – it is FIRE-- and the way of Love is the way of fire

Love in the flesh; that is what it is all about.  I speak not of love as an Ideabut Love you can touch and feel and see.  “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.  T2his life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us’

How is it declared? In Love – there is no other way.  This is what it means to walk in the light, to bear the beams of divine Love for the world, to Love the Enemy, to Love those who hate us, to Love and to Love and to Love.  This is to enter into the fiery purposes of the God of Love. John’s declaration is not a string of doctrines or ideas, it is the declaration of LIFE!

Why?  ‘So that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ We Love in order to draw others into Light – the Light – the very life of God.  We love to share in the life of the Divine: fellowship with God, the God who is Love. For surely our Joy will only be complete when all are drawn into the fellowship of Love: costly, fiery, awe inspiringly beautiful Love, Love in all it’s fullness.  Love as revealed to us perfectly in Jesus.

Love took on flesh for our sake.  He became like us for one reason and for one reason only: that we might become like him,  that all may be drawn into the fellowship of Love, that all might be drawn into the life of God

4Love that commands: the voice of the Lion of Judah, 
roaring out above the chaos of the World, calling us to Light, 
to the witness of Love, 
Love in the Personal, love in the particular, costly, overflowingly generous Love.

Whatever path He chooses for us it is a path of martyrdom – of witness – be it St Stephen or the Holy Innocents or St John.  We are martyrs to Love, for Love must triumph: the darkness has not understood it, but the darkness shall never overcome it.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Happy St Stephen's Day!!

One of the  features of Christmas is that, unlike Easter, it is an immoveable feast, and thus may fall on any day of the week, like all of the Saints Days. For those of us who are clergy this can sometimes mean having 'done Christmas' we are hauled early from our deep and one trusts 'well earned' slumbers the following morning to lead God's people in worship once more it being Sunday. 

I would be lying if I pretended that in years like this one when Christmas Day falls upon a Sunday, I do not breathe at least a slight sigh of relief and hap'ly leave the alarm off and slumber on. However it would be utterly foolish to disregard the day after Christmas, December 26th, St Stephen's day. So much of what passes for Christmas celebration nowadays seems to miss the point as my good friend 'The Shepherd of the Moss' makes plain, here. I don't mean that folk have forgotten that 'Jesus is the reason for the season' ( a phrase which thankfully one or two critical Christian voices are being raised against ), rather the way most of us has come to celebrate the season both infantilizes and sentimentalizes The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. 

St Stephen's Day is a reminder as 'rude and bare' as the Lord's cradle, that insofar as 'Christmas is for children' it is Only because the world is utterly inhospitable to those who would be childlike, utterly inhospitable to those who would enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The announcement of the Reign of God in The Babe of Bethlehem comes as Good News only because this is a Harsh and Savage world, for those who would follow the Christ Child in his humility, vulnerablity and utter truthfulness.

As soon as the Christ child is born, the church is called to remember what this means for her.
The Feast of the Nativity is Immediately followed by the Feast of her first witness, literally her first martyr. in the same way that the one who comes ahead, 'bearing witness to the light' pays the ultimate price for childlike truthfulness, the church's first Servant, (Deacon) knows that the coming of Christ into the world doesn't stop the conflict, it merely brings it all into the light, a light to which he must bear martureia.

It may well be that even in our Christmas celebrations, our eyes have been cast down, to children dressed in nativity clothes. St Stephen is one whom like John on Patmos sees Heaven opened, a reminder that in witnessing to Christ our gaze must ever be turned upwards, that our Gospel is that the Son of Man stands at the right hand of God. As Jesus tells Nathaniel, such a Vision is the mark of faith, a true Israelite in whom there is no guile, the one who sees as a child. To see as a child does not mean to look at a child, rather to look up and bear witness.

St Stephen is the first to remind us that our gaze must thither be fixed 
where true joys are to be found. 
This reminder is worth getting out of bed for.

[Icons, which have been a constant feature of my recent blogs are never posted as works of art. 
They are created for and intended as aids to worship, Only]

Sunday, 25 December 2011

A few thoughts for Christmas on the Nativity Ikon

Christmas Sermon

The Ox, The Ass and the Shepherds

I just want to speak for a few minutes this morning about two elements of the Nativity Ikon – The Ox and Ass and the Shepherds. Now of course we may well say that there is no Ox and Ass in Luke’s account of the birth – indeed it is only in the 8th Century after the birth of Christ that we find any account of the birth of Jesus which includes them – but they were present much earlier in ikons of the birth of Jesus – So why are they there??

All through Advent I’ve emphasized our need to know the Old Testament texts if we are to understand Jesus’ birth – you see we may say it is all to do with the humility of Christ and there is no doubt something of that in this, but if we know the old testament then we will know that at the beginning of the Prophet Isaiah we hear these words ‘The Ox knows its owner and the donkey its masters crib but Israel does not know, my people do not understand’ – unlike his people, the Ox and the Donkey get it! He came to his own and his own knew him not . . . but the Ox and the Ass do

There is perhaps a little more here too though, for the word for Ox in Hebrew is similar to the word for Prince and the word for Donkey is similar to the word for Priest – The ox and the ass were Present at the birth of the newborn King, but the priests and princes of Israel weren’t

But what about the shepherds?? Again we may well think that they are there as a representation of Christ coming to the outsiders – shepherds were of no account in Palestine – but they weren’t meant to be – The word Shepherd was used of Kings and again Priests – God had called people to Shepherd his people Israel and they had been found wanting as all the prophets record over and over again – and of course we think again as we have been through advent about King David who was a . . . Shepherd

Ox and ass were present to him – the shepherds hearing the glad tidings of the angels, Ran to be present to him

But the Princes and Priests, the kings were not present to welcome their true King, the Lord and Saviour – the Christ

And what of us? Christmas it seems is one of those real Martha and Mary times – do you know what I mean? Martha distracted by her many tasks . . . oh there is So Much to do – we are SO excited – there is so much to look forward to! But are we Present to Him.

I used the illustration recently of the Christ child being at the eye of a storm – all of Bethlehem, indeed the whole Roman Empire is stirred into a great Storm of activity. And Christmas can seem just like that storm - And at the eye of the storm? A child is born “who is Christ the Lord, and this will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” And so the shepherds hurried to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in a manger – the Prince of Peace at the eye of the storm. The shepherds, who are interestingly not caught up in all the census goings on – free to come and worship.

So where are we this Christmas time – distracted by many tasks – distracted by the excitement of it all – or in the eye of it present to the one who comes into the World, thought the world does not know him, to die on a cross and to be raised again and to be eternally Present. ‘The Lord is Here’ we will say in a few minutes. Are we?

Let us be quiet for a few moments, still our thoughts, even out thoughts of what we’ve just heard – for a holy miracle has taken place

Oh come let us adore him, Christ the Lord

Saturday, 24 December 2011

'There were shepherds abiding on the fells . . .'

The inscription on this monument on the slopes of Skiddaw reads
"In loving memory of two Skiddaw shepherds Edward Hawell of Lonscale, 
born October 21 1815, died June 1889, 
and son, Joseph Hawell, born December 24 1854, died February 20 1890. 
Noted breeders of prize herdwick sheep. 
Great shepherd of the heavenly flock, these men have left our hill, their feet were on the living rock, 
oh guide and bless them still."

There's nowhere quite like the outer reaches of The Lake District in England. Away from the endless romanticism of Wordsworth’s daffodils in Grasmere, boat trips from Bowness pier and the hoards roaming the sad town that Keswick has now become – in the remote West, to the Back o'Skiddaw and round to the Howgill fells, for those seeking solitude, cure of the soul can still be found.

But it is not a tame landscape. Many’s the day has found me high on pathless fells in horizontal rain with no visibility, huddled behind one of those engineering marvels, the dry stone wall – fighting to get some warmth into a temperamental stove. When the rain comes in, it oft comes to stay, settles and makes to squat til the next depression sweeps in off the Irish sea. My grandmother grew up on these remote edges where her family farmed on Black Combe – a lonely sentinel looking out across the shipyards of Barrow and Walney to the Isle of Man and beyond – if it weren’t raining. 
It is said of Black Combe,  ‘if you can’t see it, it’s raining and if you can, it’s just about to ’
More often than not, it had its ‘hat’ on.

And there were shepherds abiding high on those hills, quite literally as of old, living out there come shine or rain. 
You can allus tell a Cumbrian fellsman or shepherd, for the rain might be horizontal, but it’d be ‘nobbut a drop’. It’s hardly surprising that the Cumbrian breed, the Herdwick was not exactly world famous and they was under a degree of threat til it were found that its fleece made some of the hardest wearing carpets known to the world. As if surviving in these bleak conditions weren’t enough.

Shepherds abiding in the fields . . . watching o’er their flocks by night. I remember well being told that here was proof that Christ wasn’t born on December 25th – for which shepherd would be out in the middle of winter even in Palestine. 
This 'proof' of course came from a townie – one unaware that the shepherds did precisely that, living out in rough shielings with their flocks and as you walk on Starling Dodd, or Great Calva, or in the remote fastness under Kensgriff or Wild Boar Fell, you’ll find evidence here and there of the shepherds care for their sheep.

The shepherds of the Nativity scene are there in part, to prophetically remind us of the Kings and
Priests of Israel, and their absence from the birth of the King of Kings and the Great High Priest, the Good Shepherd. They were ‘just shepherds’, doing what shepherds do – being out in all weathers for their flock was more important to them than their own comfort.The 'shepherds of Israel' were in royal palaces, tucked up at home in bed

At Epiphany the Magi direct out gaze to Wisdom incarnate – at Christmas the shepherds direct our gaze as we follow them even unto Bethlehem – Here lies the Shepherd of his Sheep. 

And where will He dwell? Where will He pitch his tent?

Wherever His sheep are.

So wherever you are this Christmas – that is where the Shepherd is to be found

'And we have seen his Glory . . . full of Grace and Truth'


Friday, 23 December 2011

O Emmanuel - The Eye of the Storm

The 'O Antiphons' are sung according to tradition, during the evening liturgy on the last days of Advent. Each one is a named attribute of The Christ, to whose coming the church looks forward with eager and in these latter days, heightened expectation

'They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, 
and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God 
among the trees of the garden.'

The writer John Steinbeck, most famous for his novels such as East of Eden and Of Mice and Men also wrote an account of a fascinating road trip he took with his French Poodle Charlie, to check out the state of the heart of America in the early 1960's. In 'Travels with Charlie' he describes the passing of a hurricane over his coastal residence, in itself a terrifying occurrence - but what he finds almost more disturbing is the eerie silence as the Eye passes directly over where he is holed up.

As we listen to the  familiar story of the infancy narrative these next few days I guess we will hear the words 'God with us' - "This" is all about 'God with us' we will no doubt be told and Unambiguously told 'This is Good News!'. Except it isn't. One must practise a kind of myopia to read the Scriptures and especially those elements which speak of the Presence of God to see the promise of "God with us" in terms we would gladly endorse as Good! 

The phrase comes from the prophet Isaiah in the seventh chapter and here the message is without doubt ambiguous - you may wish to read it for yourself - but instead you may well wish to imagine yourself in Palestine at the time of the census - the lives of many thrown into disorder so that anxious Imperial orderliness may be imposed. The anxiety of the Emperor spreading anxiety abroad, literally and so many thousands of hours of anxious toil disturb the world. Imagining that, imagine again someone coming up to you in the streets of Bethlehem and declaring 'God is with us!' - Good News eh?

There are it seems to me, two ways in which this narrative is read - one popular and one less so. In the popular version of events, Christ is born into the world almost accidentally and just happens to get caught up in the Census. He is thrust into the midst of the ambiguity, anxiety and storm of the world's circumstances as it is - God with us in the storm. He takes on human flesh and so knows what we are going through. And I guess many who hear this will think, well that's very nice . . . and nothing will change.

Another less comfortable reading puts it like this. God creates the storm - he troubles Caesar with anxiety, pretty much as he had so troubled King David many years before. An anxiety which cannot rest until things are Ordered and the people counted like so many beads on an abacus. So the storm rages and at its eye is Peace, the Prince of Peace, disinterested Love incarnate. Borne by the one who has Surrendered "let it be to me according to your Word" -  'God with us', the heart of the Storm its Still Energy.

As with all paradoxical dualities, both are true and Steinbeck's experience of the hurricane illustrates this well. He cannot experience the terrifying eye before he passes through the storm, as John cannot fall to his face as one dead before he is exiled in Patmos, as one cannot be born again lest one awaken to one's own death - you have to pass through the storm, to know the Eye, to Know the Peace that passes understanding. Having passed through the Eye, Steinbeck is less troubled as the Storm hits once more - the Silence at the heart had created within him a new consciousness. The wind of course now hit from the other side, the winds of a Hurricane rotating around the eye, it is as if he has turned around.

A couple of days ago I referred to some teaching of Richard Rohr about Conversion and how we in the West in our affluence we have opted to put the Comfort of God ahead of his Discomfort and thus our peace is not Peace. He says that we must be Challenged by the Word and Converted by the Word before we can truly be Comforted by the Word - we cling to comfort without the Storm of Challenge and Conversion. And so in the end we do not know the true Comfort. The Good News is never heard among us as such.

Now there was a great wind, 
so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord
but the Lord was not in the wind; 
and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 
and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; 
and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, 
the hope of the nations and their Saviour: 
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Thursday, 22 December 2011

O Rex Gentium - The Kings of the Earth are as nothing

The 'O Antiphons' are sung according to tradition, during the evening liturgy on the last days of Advent. Each one is a named attribute of The Christ, to whose coming the church looks forward with eager and in these latter days, heightened expectation

O Rex Gentium
Sung by the Dominican student brothers of Blackfriars, Oxford

I think it was the Marquis de Sade of all people, who came up with what, I guess to him sounded like a novel political philosophy, suggesting that people were much happier if the weak were ruled by the powerful and we all lived in the human equivalent of a pecking order. You might say 'well he would say that wouldn't he'.  

Of course if this is true, then we as human beings ought to be happy for this is precisely how human society has ordered itself down through the ages. There is no age in which in the end 'The Will to Power' has not been writ large, and all who rule do so by force, even if it is 'only' the force of argument (always, let us not forget backed up by the threat of violence if some don't like the arguments which 'wins the day'). Democratically elected governments show no particular antipathy towards prosecuting war to protect the system that keep them in power. Democracy may or may not be 'the least worst form of Government', but it is none the less as idolatrous in its pretensions as all that has gone before it and those which no doubt in the fullness of time will follow it. 

Indeed it may be argued that there is much to be said for hereditary monarchy in this regard. There's always at least a chance of a reluctant King or Queen, made so by an accident of birth rather than by laying hold on power by power, in however 'civilised' a manner.

When we hear O King of the Nations, it is Almost impossible to hear that phrase without hearing it through such a filter - as if we are finally waiting for the one who will WIN by argument or Overwhelming physical strength or both, depending upon your particular version of the Parousia. 

But that is to completely misunderstand the relationship between God and humankind, that He created something other than himself when we were spoken into being, that were it not for Jesus Christ, there would be no correspondence whatsoever between the creator and the Created and that Only in Christ may we begin to understand that elusive phrase 'Image of God', used so loosely by many today to justify the human before God. God is not man to the raised to the nth degree, even if n = infinity. There is just No correspondence apart from Christ and thus we need to realise that in our hoping for the King of the Nations, we are not meant to be looking for the human system and way of doing things perfected, that we might find our eternal happiness if the strong rule over the weak.

This is the King whose Kingship is revealed when there is nothing in him that we might desire him and hides when he looks as if he is the sort of King we desire. At that Very Point where we would acclaim him King, when he enacts the supreme act of a Good King and  feeds the hungry 5000, in the very moment when he does what We would have a King do, when they would 'make him King by force' - he hides from them, he hides from us. He is the strangest of Kings in that when to our eyes he seems to put things right, to be King on our terms he disappears from view, as if this isn't the point, as if oddly this is not what Kings should do. And then when Politically he is spent, when there is nothing left when his enemies have won the day and arguments as good as most employed though the ages in pursuit of power have been made and 'won' , when he is empty and in our eyes a hopeless case, THEN he is declared King.

We await a King
King of Kings and Lord of Lords
the one who reveals the utter vacuity of all our agendas
the one who reveals that if only someone would feed us we'd be 'happy'
and in so doing reveals that in our striving to be More -
we have become far far less than we were created to be

He is the King who in His Glory, reveals our true Glory
but it doesn't look like any Thing

We cry out for our King to come
but would we secretly be happier if he didn't and the powerful people made sure that there was bread on the table

Whom will we have to rule over us?

Will we have him for Our King? 

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay. 
O Come, O Come Emmanuel


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

O Oriens - The Rising Sun

The 'O Antiphons' are sung according to tradition, during the evening liturgy on the last days of Advent. Each one is a named attribute of The Christ, to whose coming the church looks forward with eager and in these latter days, heightened expectation

It is perhaps no co-incidence that we celebrate O Oriens, O Rising Sun on this day, the 21st of December - Solstice wherever we are - the day the sun stands still. Whether as here in the Southern hemisphere it stands as high in the sky as it will all year, or as in the Northern its height at midday marks the turn towards longer days, the sun's appearing is significant

One of the features of living nearer to the equator as I now do, is the relatively short length of both dawn and dusk. It is not long light here before sunrise and not long after sunset that darkness covers the earth. I know from short experience and wider reading that at or reasonably near the equator this experience is far sharper, the sun plunging close to vertically unto the Horizon and rising perpendicularly with dramatic effect, like the brightest light being switched on in the depths of darkness. And it is this Suddenness of the appearing that is hinted at in the other familiar name for this Antiphon, O Dayspring, remembering the words of Isaiah 

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. 

Listening this morning to some Advent reflections by the Fransican Priest, Richard Rohr, I was reminded of a word that seems to have slipped from popular Christian discourse. Perhaps it never was that popular but I am sure it once was more commonly used than in these days. Rohr was talking about how the increasingly and now staggeringly affluent church in the West had got Scripture back to front. We went to the Scriptures he said, for comfort. But that was the last thing we find there - not that it isn';t to be found,. but it is discovered last - the comfort is for those who are first Challenged by the Word, then (and here is the 'old-fashioned' word . . .) Converted by the Word. Those whose only hope is now in Him may find True comfort their, and only they.

Conversion is a word which we use less and less the more and more comfortable we become - we now talk much more readily about faith in terms we might employ of a holiday, or a retirement cruise - it ha become 'a journey of faith' and a very gradualist one at that. If we hear the word Conversion at all it is invariably prefaced by such words as 'Sudden!' or 'Dramatic!'. It is not Usual, or Normal.

Of course the church in the West situated as it is away from the equator is not a place of 'sudden light' and also it is a place where we tend to have insulated ourselves against the reality of the world. Central heating and Air conditioning mean we are never Hot or Cold, Electric light means we little heed the rising sun, or its setting - conditions are neither one thing nor the other. So comfortable are we with the lights we have made for ourselves, we may say that we are not at all far from the Kingdom of God and forget that those are words which we cannot say, for we cannot See - for in reality it is dark, very dark.

In Advent we await the coming of a Saviour, not a therapist

If we will for a moment cease from our remorseless talk, in the Silence we may hear voices from behind a large stone which up until that point we had not regarded. 
We may perhaps extinguish the lights we have made for ourselves to discover how dark things are. After a while it becomes obvious that our eyes will not adapt to this Pitch darkness. 

The voices behind the stone become louder, there is the sound of astonishment.

A voice of command

The Stone begins to move

A Light brighter than the Sun at noonday pours blindingly into our 'place of comfort', 
which is revealed for what it is . . .

A voice is heard, like the sound of many waters

Lazarus, Come Out!

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o'er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by thee;
Joyless is the day's return,
Till thy mercy's beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine;
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.

O Dayspring,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. 
O Come, O Come Emmanuel



Tuesday, 20 December 2011

O Clavis David - The One who holds the keys

The 'O Antiphons' are sung according to tradition, during the evening liturgy on the last days of Advent. Each one is a named attribute of The Christ, to whose coming the church looks forward with eager and in these latter days, heightened expectation

O Clavis David
Sung by the Dominican student brothers of Blackfriars, Oxford

His kingdom cannot fail;
he rules o'er earth and heaven;
the keys of death and hell
are to our Jesus given.
Lift up your heart!
lift up your voice!
Rejoice! again I say, rejoice!

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Matthew Chapter 16 verse 19

Perhaps the gravest verse in Scripture
Do we know who we are?
Do we realise what we have been given?

O Key of David and Sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel!