Thursday, December 31, 2020

5 Year Journals

Greetings for a bright(er) 2021!  Today I have reached the end of my 5 year journal which has charted daily happenings 2016-2020.  I started journaling in 1996 but have to admit that the journals only give 4-6 tight lines for each day.  Sometimes (as in these non-happening Covid days) this is more than enough space!  On other days I have needed to squeeze recording big moments.   As I look back I realize several things:

  1.  My handwriting is both appalling and small.  Really bad. To read earlier entries I now often need a magnifying glass and even then cannot decipher some of the words.  Clearly they meant something to me at the time.  This is the most frustrating find.
  2.  Nothing makes clearer the slowing of pace than to read of past life in a (Baptist) fast lane from early years at Spurgeon's College, through heady days in Chicago, to retirement in Cambridge.  I cannot believe what we packed into consecutive days back then.  A Wild 25 years!
  3. The jogging of memory that partially deciphered scribbles can still provoke - especially odd happenings of little consequence
  4. Overall, profound gratitude for the goodness of God shepherding us through these years and the kindness of friends who populate the pages.
I am glad I kept the discipline going through the years and though I have to wait a few weeks for a fresh journal (courtesy of Amazon) I shall try to keep going - with awareness both of the need for tidier writing and of the unlikelihood that will ever happen. 

May you have a really good fulfilling and healthy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2020


 Special (slightly late) greetings for all my blog friends with hopes high for 2021. As, on most Christmases, kind friends have sent cards and sometimes accompanying letters.   Some of you are among them.  We are really grateful for all the greetings.

Usually, I attempt a summary of the years' happenings which I confess made for much more fun when the children were at home and we possessed an adventurous cat.  We still revel in our children and grandchildren's exploits but now they send out their own letter and greetings.  This year of largely non-happenings posed a problem but I resolved it by telling a little story.   

Just last week, before (reseeing) another emotional TV session of Buying and Selling, Carol and I ventured a night walk round the block. This requires some daring. Most streetlights have been removed and intense darkness makes finding our way to the right home surprisingly tricky.  So many houses look just the same.  Since Carol’s severe labrythitis (starting this time last year) her loss of balance makes walking a series of erratic lurches.  Always needing to grasp my arm these lurches transmit an oscillation causing us to wobble together in a very distinctive zigzag formation. On this particular occasion, a man hailed us in the darkness: ‘It’s the Quickes…I recognized the walk’. Mercifully the night air carried his voice so, unusually, we heard him first time.  However, we had absolutely no idea who he was. We still don’t. This true story expresses much of 2020.  The powering down of memory cells, balance mechanisms, hearing and general alertness to life around. Fortunately, lockdowns mean fewer and fewer friends have been aware.

I know it's rather odd, but the whole year has been odd hasn't it.  So, with this insight into the Quicke lives let me express our love and greetings to my blog friends with prayers for a brighter 2021. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A Nativity Play 2)


MARTHA:  It's certainly different

JUSTUS: I'm not sure I caught it all, when do the shepherds come on?

JOHN: There aren't any shepherds, I was really trying to get to grips with the whole concept of God incarnate.

JUSTUS:  Without shepherds?

JOHN: Well, yes really, without shepherds.

JUSTUS: But my wife's already started working on the costumes

MARTHA:  Could we maybe have one or two shepherds just to balance out the angels?

JOHN: Actually there aren't any angels in it either

MARTHA: But my daughter's set her heart on being an angel

SIMON: Could she perhaps play Mary instead?

JUSTUS:  I think young Sarah's down to play Mary

MARTHA: Maybe we could have two Mary's

JOHN: Erm, actually there isn't a part for a Mary

JUSTUS:  Come on, you'll be telling us there isn't a donkey in it next.

JOHN: But that's just it, I'm trying to look at the whole thing from God's point of view - to see it as the central purpose of history since time began. Rather than looking at what happened then, to try and express what it means now- to help people see the wonder of an infinite God taking on flesh and becoming one of us.

SIMON: Maybe he's got a point

JUSTUS: I still think it would be better with shepherds and angels

MARTHA:  People are going to be awfully disappointed

SIMON: It is Christmas John

JOHN: And surely this is what Christmas is all about

MARTHA:  I just think all this Word became flesh business is going to confuse people - keep it simple that's what I say. It might be alright for one of your books.

JUSTUS: Well you can put it in your book if you like, but I can't see anyone reading it. 

A Nativity Play 1)

One of the (many) joys when I was minister in Cambridge was the church drama group, who would often write their own material for our worship services.  I have just found this play set in a Church Meeting in North Jerusalem around AD50.  I jump into the script after some early church meeting matters (like signing the minutes!) ...

SIMON: Right - well let's move on to our arrangements for Christmas shall we? Now, John, I believe that you've had an idea for the nativity play.  

JOHN: Well, yes, I have actually, I've been working on it for a while. I thought it would be good to think about the coming of Christ in cosmic terms.

MARTHA: Mmm - sounds exciting

JOHN: To recognize the Jesus' birth was a truly earth shattering event

JASON: Amen to that.

SIMON: So have you got a script then?

JOHN: Well, actually I have. I'm hoping I might be able to extend it eventually into a book about Jesus' life- anyway here's the opening bit, that I thought we could use for Christmas.  In the beginning....

JUSTUS: Good beginning

MARTHA: Sounds a bit familiar

JOHN: In the beginning was the WORD....


JOHN: (After a pause) Well, what do you think?

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Grim Times

This week Carol received a bill for a rarely used credit card.  She knew she had used it at Subway for sandwich but was blown away by huge expenditures in Cape Town, S. Africa, which pushed the bill to hundreds of pounds spent.  What? And that was only up until the statement date of November 11th. Hundreds more had been spent since. Oh, you murmur, identity theft. Many of you will know the frustrations of dealing with fraud and the exasperation that such wicked mean people are around.  Especially at Christmas. Another spot of grim reality.

Putting this into perspective, you may have noticed that God, who has all the timing in the world, chooses a time of real wickedness and meanness in the reigns of Herod the Great and his son Herod Antipas for the births and lives of John the Baptist and Jesus.  When Jesus is born Herod the Great massacres the innocents. In any happy safe story there would be an intervention. There isn't.  Jesus will begin his ministry when John is arrested (Mark 1:14).  In any happy safe story there would be a rescue of John. There isn't.  Surely John won't be beheaded in such a wanton way. He is. When Jesus is sent by Pilate to Herod who colludes in allowing the crucifixion surely there will be a reprieve. Some last moment of justice. There isn't.

From the beginning the world is a grim place for Jesus. The Herods are there at the begining and ending, inflicting fear, death, and random acts of cruelty.  Jesus comes when it is dark and he works as light in the darkness though the darkness will not overcome it.  Sometimes we behave as though Christian faith soothes out all the troubles and removes  problems and it's always going to be a happy safe story.  Christian discipleship follows Jesus today, knowing that he came within grim times to show that he is the Light of the World precisely within grim times.  Hallelujah. 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Advent shocks 3)

The greatest shock in the world remains 3. God chooses to become a baby. We should never ever get over this shock.  Oswald Chambers challenges us that it is not the Fatherhood of God that should amaze us but the babyhood of God.  He did not come from the human race. He came into it from above. Jesus Christ is not the best human being.  He is a being who cannot be accounted for by the human race at all. He is God incarnate, not man becoming God, but God coming into human flesh, coming into it from the outside.

Rationlists mock Christian claims about the virgin birth and the resurrection. Which sensible person could swallow such ideas?  But the two greatest events about God entering our world to change it - the birth and resurrection of Jesus - would always be much bigger than anything the world has ever seen before, wouldn't they?  This is God in action! They call for transrational thinking that recognizes subjects like God, infinity, incarnation and resurrection are beyond normal thinking. Honestly, would you expect to be able to explain them? 

When I was training for ministry my college Principal, an eccentric Welshman, sometimes surprised us in college chapel.  I remember him praising God that he was like a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere?  This really startled me. 'What did he say?'  How could God be a circle,  how might this picture help me praise God. Only later did I realize he was quoting Augustine with a desire to emphasize both the omnipresence of God with each of us yet also his infinity beyond our knowing.  And it does work to express how Jesus meets with us by his Spirit where we are though he reigns with the Father in glory.  Yet, does it work in this particular story?  God remains infinite in majesty, glory and power yet the centre of the the circle is SOMEWHERE.  Bethlehem and Nazareth.   

A large dose of transrational thinking is necessary for Advent praise!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Advent shocks 2)

 The first shock I noted was: 1. God chooses Nazareth.  My guidebook says: Nazareth 30 km from Tiberias, 35 km. from Haifa. It lies in a lovely position, nestling as in a cocoon scooped out of the hillside. Closer contact tends to disappoint the visitor...noisy and dusty with traffic, it wears a shabby and neglected air, in spite of the ostentation of some of its religious monuments.  And it is disappointing! You wonder why on earth God chooses this place.  Bethlehem is foretold by the prophet Micah and has a rich place in history as traced through the Old Testament. Nazareth, on the other hand, is never mentioned anywhere in Scripture until now.  How come this nondescript place becomes the home of Jesus for 30 years?

When I visited Nazareth with a group we saw the traditional sites but overall the guidebook summed it up  accurately.  Then, as were were about to leave, something happened that I shall never forget. I looked out of my coach window onto the busy, noisy dusty street straight into an open coffin carrying the body of a young woman.  Her family and others were following in procession.  Suddenly Nazareth was a place of real people going through life and death. In this place we were were passing through ordinary people lived a lifetime. 'God became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood' (John 1:14 The Message).  This neighbourhood.  He will be known as Jesus of Nazareth and cynics will say: 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'  

Why did God choose Nazareth.?  Is it possible because Mary lived in Nazareth?  That, because 2. God chooses Mary - the place of Nazareth becomes inevitably vital in God's story?  The choice of Mary has become so familiar in its telling yet it should still startle.  This teenager, probably mid-teens is engaged to be married (which in Jewish law was binding and should the fiancĂ© die she would be a widow).  All her future is settled, planned out in trusting faith.  Until Gabriel interrupts with what seems to be impossible news that she will give birth to the one who will be called the Son of God.  But as Gabriel says: 'nothing is impossible with God,' (Luke 1: 37).   What turmoil this stirs up for both Mary and Joseph, yet this birth will change the world.   Onto choice 3.......

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Advent shocks (1)

I am calling next Sunday's sermon Advent Shocks though I know how difficult it is to be shocked by a story we know so well.  Rather like telling something good about someone and then asking them to act surprised if they hear it from the person concerned. 'Pretend you don't know!' How difficult is that? And yet, I shall seek to push for some surprises in Luke 1:26-38.

I shall dare to ask about God's choices.  Why did he choose certain elements of this story? Obviously the 'sixth month' (v26) emphasizes the role of Elizabeth's pregnancy in the advent timeline.  Six months into her pregnancy reminds us how God chooses to begin the Christmas story with the nativity story of John the Baptist.  To have two utterly unknowns Zechariah and Elizabeth in the frame, with Gabriel giving them a parallel message to that of Mary, wakes us up to see how God loves to work by ordinary human ways to change the history.  When he could have gone public with Gabriel's God-zapping in a big impressive way he chooses to work by his Spirit with ordinary humans - pregnancy, birth and trusting lives.

I invite you to look further at these familiar verses and reflect on what surprises I might be about to highlight concerning God's choices.  I see three key advent shocks.  I will spell them out in the next post or two.  I am fairly sure you will guess them!