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Saturday, 31 December 2011

"At the Gate of the Year"

Minnie Haskell was her name, or so I have been told, and she wrote the poem, or so I have been told. But it was surely King George VI quoting it in his radio broadcast of Christmas 1939 that gave the poem its staying power. Here are the opening lines. They are the best part of it, or so I have been told.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

"Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!"

And he replied:

"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'

And here we do indeed stand at the Gate of a New Year. The new year, now advancing upon us with such determined and eager strides shall be called "2012". In due course it will itself become the old year and we shall wave it good bye with the same mixture of fondness and regret with which we now let go of its predecessor, "2011". But for now at least, all is new. Fresh possibilities offer themselves with courage and daring. Hope stirs us at our depths even as we emerge from the old year, dog-tired and trodden upon.

We have seen enough New Years to know we have no control over what will come our way in 2012, but we can surely do better than stand at the Gate of the year, empty-handed and forlorn. Let us at least ask ourselves what to take with us into the unknown.

There is a game, a game of quite serious intent. It is known as the "Balloon" game. We are asked to imagine ourselves hundreds of feet up in the basket of a Balloon, sailing high over dangerous, raging seas. Around us in our balloon are not only the possessions of a lifetime but our friends, our habits and our principles, that mish-mash of things that help us feel we belong here. The balloon starts to lose height and we are asked to discard one thing after another to prevent our being thrown into the raging waters.

We've probably all played this game at one time or another. Have we got the time, the inclination, the courage, to play it just once more as we stand here at the Gate of another New Year? Beneath us, not the raging of the ocean, but the apathy, the misunderstanding and even the enmity of the world through which we will travel in 2012. What one item will see us safe to the farthest shore where lies safety, even salvation?

As is my wont, I shall read Hardy's "Darkling Thrush" today, but I hope I shall also find time to clear the floor of the basket under my balloon. I shall be trying to take with me not necessarily the things I have been told, but the one thing I hold most dear, which I think I have expressed in the picture. Then I shall be ready when the call goes up, "we have lift-off".

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A Banging and a Wailing

This Blog has readers right across planet earth, China, Brazil, Japan, Russia, France, Australia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Georgia, Italy, Romania, Taiwan, Poland,France, Colombia, Canada, Estonia, Zambia, USA, Sweden, UK, Ireland, Israel, Netherlands, Singapore, Chile, Lebanon, Mexico, Lithuania to date. But it is a fair bet that many of these people have never heard of the town where I live, so let me offer you all a very brief description: Blackpool is a holiday resort on the Northwest coast of England which sometimes glitters but often stinks.

I drove through the glitter tonight. The Christmas lights in front of the famous Tower and running south along what was once called the Golden Mile, really are pretty and even (hold your breath) tasteful. But there was no getting away from the stink either.

I was out late in that part of town on what might be called an errand of mercy. Earlier in the evening, just above the sound of the television set, I fancied I heard someone cry out. At the front door I saw a hand struggling to get through the letter box. The poor girl looked absolutely wretched; wet, emaciated, desperate.

I happen to like those soups in plastic cups you can get in Sainsbury's, so there are usually one or two in my top cupboard. I have never seen anyone demolish one of them as "Teresa" did, sitting there at our kitchen table in the warmth of the electric fire. She took mightily to the cheese sandwiches too. She was ravenously hungry.

She needed money too, don't we all? But once we had secured her accommodation for the next few nights, her sobs died.

We found her a place near enough to my place (too near?) but needed to go all the way to South Shore to get the key and it was on the way to South Shore that I drove through that section of the famous "Illuminations" and noticed how well they look since the re-organisation. It was then too that I noticed the stink. And no, it was not the girl, it was me.

You can call me a hero, if you like; after all Teresa had already been turned away at three churches. But I had a guilty secret gnawing away inside and it wouldn't go away. I knew in my heart of hearts that at this stage all I really wanted was to be rid of the creature, and (forgive me) her incomprehensible accent.

I had given her food and arranged her lodging, but somehow the words "as long as you did it to one of these the least of my brethern, you did it to me" didn't seem to fit how I felt, inside.

I passed "Funny Girls" on the way home, a famous night spot where men dressed as girls entertain audiences who pay over the odds for their night out. I had a real urge to snort "this town stinks", but I held my tongue for I was acutely conscience of my own B.O. problems.

I know he said, " the poor you will always have with you", but does he have to send them banging and wailing at my door?

Monday, 26 December 2011

Search and You will Find

After three days, they found him.

Back in the Nazareth of his childhood, just one of a scattering of small towns in remote, far-off Galilee, he will have noticed how his parents looked south to the Holy City, how they spoke of it with awe and longing.

He will have grown up among subsistence-level people who, in the midst of their carefully eked-out existence, still managed to save and "put aside" for their trips to Jerusalem. And not just to Jerusalem as holiday makers but to the Temple as pilgrims.

He will have heard the other villagers sing from the psalms as they made their long journey to the Holy City, "it is there that the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord". And again, " I rejoiced when I heard them say
'Let us go to God's house, and now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem' ".

When those who came in search of him eventually found him, they discovered that he was doing much more than merely "standing within the gates of Jerusalem". He was in the Temple itself, sitting among the very leaders of the law, asking them questions. The growing lad was finding his own voice and in the process revealing the Word within him. Not everyone would come in search of such a word for being "in Control" had shut them out from what was yet to be revealed.

Many years from now there would be another "three days", three dark and violent days when the veil of the Temple that shut out the Holy of Holies from mere Pilgrims, would be "rent in two from top to bottom." The child they had found in the temple had now not only become a man, but in his death made access to The Holy open to all. In revealing the Truth of his Word, he now asks questions of us all.

Some do not find it easy to listen to the questions he asks for they seem to threaten Orthodoxy, THEIR orthodoxy, and therefore also their control of "the temple". But those who come to the crib this Christmas, ready and willing to be changed, must not come in control of anything. Should their search be genuine, they will find Him a revealing answer.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Here is a Sign for You

Click on Image to Enlarge


If for any reason the image does not now inspire you as once it would have done, get some children to help you with it.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

UNPACKING THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS

FIRST PART: Find the gift.

Step 1. – Look in the Gospels, and in other parts of scripture too.
Step 2.– Get ready to be surprised. Lots of us imagine we already know what Christmas is all about, and consequently miss out the bit that really matters.
Step 3. – Be prepared to search. The shepherds and the wise men had to do so, why should you be different?
Step 4. – Ask real questions, not just clever ones. Our questions should bring us face to face with what we want for Christmas – from Jesus
Step 5. – The Gospels are not stories for children, they are serious theology done in a friendly way, a way which only the heart of a child really understands.

SECOND PART: Know where the writers are “coming from”.
This is nothing like as difficult as we imagine. We already know what the writers of the Christmas stories had at the back of their minds, because we have the same thing at the back of our minds.

In big serious theology we describe the work of Jesus by using words such as, "Redemption", "Atonement", "Salvation" etc. But the Gospels explain it all using simpler words and colourful stories. Here’s a good example of how they do it.

Theology reminds us that before Jesus, only Jewish High Priests could go through the curtain in the Temple into the very presence of God (the Holy of Holies). It then goes on to use big words like “Justification” to teach us that by his death and resurrection, Jesus changed everything. Now, because of Jesus, we can all meet up with God. Wonderful stuff, but heavy!

The Gospels put all that wonderful but serious-sounding teaching in a way we can easily picture and remember. Even a child could. Here it is. When Jesus dies on the cross, the Gospels say,
“The veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”

There you have it, big serious theology expressed in an unforgettable image. That’s the way the Gospels work with Christmas too.

When we come to unwrap Christmas that's the kind of thing to look out for. The events surrounding the birth of Jesus are NOT there to entertain us or give us nice memories of our childhood but to explain what the birth of Jesus means to us now that we are grown up. This takes us very nicely to part 3, below.

THIRD: Now you have found the gift, you should do like they do in Scripture:

1. Like the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke, you should praise (GLORIFY) God for the sheer wonder of it all.
2. Like The Gospel of Matthew talks of the wise men laying their gifts before Jesus and going back to their own country by a different way. You too should let the your meeting with Jesus change you so that you go back to your own life and live it differently.

That done, you have definitely unpacked
the Gift of Christmas

Saturday, 3 December 2011

HIGH TIME

In the readings of the second Sunday of Advent (B)
there is much talk of the plans God has for a future time.
The words used are those of the Prophets long ago.

It may be "High Time"
we learned to see the plans and promises of God

expressed, not only in the lovely poetic phrases
of the ancient Prophets

but also in the often confused utterances
that come from out of our times,
our own lives.

TIME was there at our beginning; had it not been we would not have been, ever! Without the gift of TIME our existence is unthinkable. Without the gift of TIME, no Register or Record book, and no family photo album would ever have revealed the slightest trace of us. If we were to exist then we needed TIME to be there before we even arrived.

Saying all of which you may feel is a waste of time, for isn't it painfully obvious? Well, yes and no. TIME is the umbilical cord between creature and creator; obvious when you think about it, but when do we do that? THINK about it, I mean. Hardly ever, which is why Advent is so handy.

If we give Advent our best attention entirely for its own sake, and not just like a film trailer for the main event on December 25th, the roots of the season will go deeper inside us and help us ENGAGE with our real selves.

Advent may find us thinking of things of the past, but we can go one better. We can think of the promise of TIME being fulfilled in our own lives now.

The trouble is our lives seem too ordinary. How often do we feel like describing our Mondays and Tuesdays in the lovely images the prophets use. Try picturing your own day-to-day life and then try declaring over it, "it shall come to pass." Try imagining something of great worth emerging from within your own time-frame, something of a quite different order than a mere stroke of good fortune like winning the lottery. The TIME you were given when you arrived in this world holds just such a promise, why not dare to imagine it this Advent?

It's like that little boy isn't it? The one who was on his way to school and noticed a man with an iron chisel chipping away at a block of stone. He passed by thinking what a hard, boring way of spending the day. Every day he passed and every day the man was there chipping little pieces from the great hard stone. Then one day when the boy reached the spot where the man was, he noticed that the block of stone was now the statue of a horse. "Mister", the boy asked, " how did you know there was a horse in there?

Please pay attention to your life, be patient with it; it takes time, and it is the only time you've got.

Please pay attention to your life, be patient with it; it takes time.