This is the last day of the Advent Reflection. Thanks for taking part. We hope you have been blessed by it.
Take a moment to study this deceptively simple woodcut by the Edinburgh artist Mabel Royds (1942) holding the words of the reading in your mind. All the facts are there – it’s night, Joseph – with as much as he can carry on his back, - leads a donkey on which Mary rides, cradling her son. Look again at the faces – what feelings can you see?
How many women would be willing to make a long journey on a donkey after having a baby?! Yet Mary is completely wrapped up in looking at her son. Utterly focused on her source of her new life. Meanwhile Joseph is deep in his thoughts. You can imagine them : ‘What am I doing? Where can I find a job and a place to stay? How can I keep this baby and his mother safe?" He’s leaning on his stick, shouldering his responsibilities : doing what he can.
The picture captures both the wonder of Mary and the commitment of Joseph, and leaves hanging in the air the idea that now their lives will never be the same again. They have willingly taken on the closest relationship with the Messiah and it will be a costly service.
There is no greater joy than to be reconciled to friend from whom you have been distant for many years. Jesus is the great reconciler.
Let us remember that stars were very important to the ancients and even in today’s world they have a great significance for mariners. It is the stars that have guided home many a lost and weary soul. Think of the things that are constant in your own life. The constant people and places that have become your stars.
Perhaps we have become too earth bound to recognise the angels. Do we need to turn again towards mystery and expectation and wonder in order to encounter angels or perhaps their speciality is to surprise the un-expecting?
It took a Calvary for Thomas to worship at the feet of Jesus. It took a heavenly choir for the Shepherds to bow the knee, and it took a special star in the sky for wisemen to adore the child. What of us, what will it take for us to bow the knee?
Our word for today – the celebration of Jesus birth – is Immanuel. Written in Hebrew as לא ונמע it literally translates from right to left as ‘with / us / Elohim’ – ‘God with us’ in our way of speaking.
Not God looking over us, or God speaking from the mountain-top, but God coming in among us to tell us and show us his love through the life of his son. Look carefully at today’s picture of Jesus’ birth. It’s an old painting by the Italian painter Domenichino from the middle of the 17th Century. You can see how much care and work has been put into it’s complex detail. The artist studied the work of his master and other painters for ideas and techniques, and has carefully read the Bible narrative to make sure he gets everything in! See how many characters from the familiar story you can find.
Now look at the Shepherd on the right of the picture; the one in blue with his stick on his shoulder. Everyone else is looking at Jesus, but he turns to look out of the stable, pointing at what he has seen. He is doing what is described in verse 17 above – ‘When they had seen him, they spread the word’ !
The birth of Jesus is an awesome event, and those who were involved were often bowled over by what they were witnessing, but fortunately a few made sure to spread the word, and we who understand the significance of Jesus birth are similarly called to spread that word throughout our time and generation. God is with us! Happy Christmas!
Expectation is the key that opens the door of glory.
Somehow waiting seems to infer that something will be coming, while watching implies an active wishing, hoping and praying for the arrival. As we watch for the Kingdom are we longing in anticipation?
To be truly blessed is to not only know it but receive it and live it out in the presence of others.
Joy to the world! Joy cannot be contained and just wants to be shared. PS Joy: J-O-Y, Jesus and You with nothing in-between!
It is the natural response of every child to sing a song. Carols are the songs of redemption sung to express the sheer joy encountering faith, hope, and love.
God in Jesus has drawn so close to each of us he has become the one who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18: 24) He is willing to lay down his life for us.
Country folk know that there’s no devotion quite like the shepherd and his/her sheep. James Rebanks – a Cumbrian farmer - has become an internet sensation for his daily tweets on the shepherd’s life, such as “There is no smile quite like the smile of a sheep given their breakfast... “
Look at the stance of the shepherd in today’s picture. He’s been painted by a Dutchman 233 years ago, but it might be yesterday in Perthshire. He’s out in the weather, dog at his side, studying the flock while it grazes. He’s looking for things that might be wrong, missing sheep or how this year’s lambs are coming on. He’s not ‘chilling out’ or ‘taking five’, he may be leaning against the gate, but he’s alert, focused and processing information. A good person then, to give an important message to.
Can you imagine this scene as an evening near Bethlehem? Nothing seems to be happening, the sky is settled, the weather clear, the sheep are munching, all is peaceful. Then suddenly the sky is lit with the glory of God. Does the dog start barking? Does the shepherd take to his heels? You bet!
Faith is to have the confidence to believe what we hope for will happen. Faith gives us assurance for the things we cannot see at present.
Beauty causes us to stop and wonder. It draws from us adoration and lifts us into the presence of a holy God. Holiness and beauty go together.
Think of those who have no peace. Patients in hospital, prisoners in prison, soldiers on the move, refugees with no place to belong. Reflect on the peace of God that can reach into the most tormented of souls.
To wait, is a gift in time; looking, expecting, believing. To be still, is a gift in time. Looking for nothing, expecting nothing, except the moment.
Joy is a promise we can look forward to in the saddest moments of our lives, as hard as it can be to do so. Reflect on the fact that for some their sorrow has turned to joy today.
Everyone is invited to celebrate in God’s Kingdom and there is enough for everyone. Who should you be inviting to God’s banquet?
Picture in your mind, William Bell Scott in 1871, busy at his easel in Penkill Castle, Ayrshire painting this very Scottish setting for the nativity. Does it seem weird to find ‘a manager scene’ in a Scottish barn? Look carefully for all the parts of the nativity story – angels, shepherds, wise men, animals and a manger. Can you spot an unexpected thing beside Mary?
Many artists are keen to convey the relevance of Jesus’ birth to the people of their own time; placing the events we know about, into the land and culture of the viewers of the picture. Does that approach make sense to you? The idea is to stop us seeing Jesus as a distant figure of the past, but rather as the unique Son of God, who comes to all people - again and again – to make himself know to us.
Can you see Jesus coming into Scottish life, walking our beaches, challenging our churches? Look up at the hayloft of the tumble-down barn and you’ll see ‘creatures of the air’ – birds and angels together. When God breaks through into our world (his world) he shows us that heaven and earth are very close indeed.
p.s. The pot of lilies beside Mary? Artist’s code for the purity of Mary. But remember too Jesus’ words from Matthew 6. 25-29. He counsels those close to him not to keep worrying about tomorrow, but to trust God. Something Mary was clearly prepared to do!
What is the point of wrapping paper? Is it to surprise? Is it because the gift in its self needs added value? What parts of our lives are we covering with wrapping paper?
Do I really believe in redemption? Can wrongs be made right? If I believe this how will it change my world view? Redemption is truly a hope filled word.
Think, God could have just thought about the incarnation… but instead he acted. Why is it important for you to physically do the challenge rather than just think about it?
There are places you have still to go to, people you have still to meet, no one lives in dead end street.
Think how precious a new born baby is to a parent. Words cannot describe the love that is experienced. Consider how precious you are to God.
Take some time today to think about the personal journeys you have been on and the people who have helped you on your way and who have inspired you.
Let’s step into Mary’s shoes for a moment. It’s a scary place to be young, engaged and with a good future opening up for her, the news from Gabriel is potentially a disaster. You and I might’ve been less than impressed, that the plan for our life had been so completely rewritten. But not Mary. This modern painting by Glasgow painter Gerard Burns, seems to catch the moment when Mary ‘gets’ God’s destiny for her. There are difficulties and trials ahead - “A sword will pierce your heart’ someone will helpfully points out. But for Mary, serving God in whatever he calls her to do, fills her heart with real joy. How does the body-language in the picture convey joy. In our Christian journey choosing joy in the face of challenge is a deliberate act, and praising God in seeming adversity, can mobilise our ability to come through successfully.
Think about words and how they can hurt, heal or be divisive. It’s strange how it’s often the hurtful words that we take to heart and we often ignore the word of praise.
Think of the stable where Jesus was born. Homeless.
For some the conception of a child is good news, for others in a war torn area, our good news becomes their nightmare.