Friday, December 31, 2021

Welcoming the New Year

I was reflecting with a minister friend about the Watchnight Services that we used to hold in our churches. I say 'used to' because they don't seem as popular today (though I could easily be proved wrong!)  In my first church in Blackburn, people gathered on New Year's Eve at 11:30 pm.  We sang, reflected on the past year, gave thanks and made confession and then prepared ourselves for the new year with prayers like the one below.   

At midnight I would turn on a portable radio just in time to hear the chimes of Big Ben and then with  immense joy we would greet each other.  It really felt good to be with the church family anticipating the future together.  And then we moved into the street outside to sing loudly The Lord's my Shepherd ! It was a tradition I happily inherited. In a densely residential area we hoped it made the right kind of impact. 

So, let's commit ourselves to a good new beginning:

Lord of the ages, 

you are our beginning and our end.

Everlasting God, we place our days within your care.

Eternal Father, we trust you,

For your faithfulness in the past, we thank you;

for your constant care we praise you;

for our future in your love, we place ourselves

into your keeping and offer our lives for your service;

through Jesus Christ, your eternal Son, our Saviour.  Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2021

And a Christmas Day Prayer

 by Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Just a few lines, but a profound prayer for today.

Moonless darkness stands between

Past, O Past, no more be seen!

But the Bethlehem star may lead me

To the sight of Him who freed me

From the self that I have been.

Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;

Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;

New beginning, and alway;

Now begin, on Christmas Day.



Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Another Christmas thought

Before I put Godfrey Rust away let's read one more:

"Fear not" the herald said - yet until then 

I think the shepherds were quite unconcerned -

cold, perhaps, or quarrelsome, or bored, not 

expecting anything to happen, and anxious

only for the usual domestic reasons. What scared them 

was the sight of their clean, familiar sky ripped open

by beings from another dimension, 

brilliant with the news that God

has become a man, and is quite unlike 

anything that we expected - this is something

to be afraid of, this rude 

intrusion into the world we thought we had created:

the owner has turned burglar; breaking in 

to steal our Chubb-locked hearts, and throw the keys away.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Joseph and the shepherds

Just this week I found again my copy Godfrey Rust's Breaking Chains. I heard him give some of his poetry at a memorable evening years ago.  So much imagination to provoke minds and hearts!  Let me quote the last part of his poem on Joseph and the Shcpherds. (This is not the formatting Godfrey Rust gave the poem and that I tried to follow....but my blog post had other ideas.  Still, you can work through its theme!)

No room at the inn. No room anywhere,                                                                                                They gave him the only place they could spare                                                                                            and the promised Messiah was born that night                                                                                          on the floor of a stable without any light                                                                                              where they cut the cord and cleaned up the mess                                                                                          and wrapped him in somebody's workaday dress                                                                                    and while Mary slept there exhausted and cold,                                                                                  Joseph sat by feeling  helpless and old.                                                                                                  This wasn't the way he had thought it would be                                                                                        when the angel had told him that destiny                                                                                              chose them to look after the Holy One.                                                                                                    No, this was a farce. What God had done                                                                                                    was to trust the care of the Saviour instead                                                                                                  to a man who could not even find him a bed.                                                                                              If only he'd planned it more carefully then.                                                                                                  If he only could go back and do it again.                                                                                                  He turned round in his mind the way he had blundered -                                                                        then he looked at the infant and suddenly wondered                                                                                  If it was all a lie, if he was a fool                                                                                                              and the object of everyone's ridicule,                                                                                                          if the dreams of the angels were tricks and not                                                                                      what they promised to be, and his anger grew hot                                                                                when the shepherds burst in all breathless and wild                                                                                and stopped in their tracks when they saw the child.                                                                              They shifted their gaze from the baby's bed                                                                                              and their eyes met his, and he nodded his head,                                                                                standing awkwardly, not knowing quite what to do                                                                                      now they all knew the for certain the story was true.                                                                            They stayed there for minutes. It might have been years,                                                                        Not one of them spoke. Their hopes and their fears                                                                                were gathered around this helpless God                                                                                                      as their minds tried to grasp what it meant. Where he stood                                                                    Joseph was silent as finally                                                                                                                        he saw this was how it was planned to be,                                                                                                that the smell and the dark and the dirt and the pain                                                                                      were not Joseph's mistake but God's choice. As the rain                                                                          ran down on Bethlehem Joseph knew                                                                                                      that men would be saved despite all they might do.                                                                                  He could not control it. He did not understand.                                                                                        He felt like a baby himself in God's hand.                                                                                                He thought of his anger and flushed now with shame                                                                              He remembered the angel had said that his name                                                                                would be Jesus, God saves. He glanced up and saw                                                                                that the shepherds had gone. Day had Dawned.                                                                                    From the floor Mary looked at him, quizzical, on her straw bed.                                                            The tiny God-child cried out to be fed.                                                                                                Joseph moved to the business of the new day,                                                                                        gave the child to its mother, the donkey some hay.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Christmas Tree Decorations

Histon village has a Christmas Tree Festival where many different organizations share something about themselves by creating and decorating Christmas trees.  Our church was urged to take part this year by our minister's wife, who instructed us to be as imaginative as possible.. One member of the church made a wooden Christmas tree with another member painting on each limb descriptions of Jesus...Wonderful Counsellor, Prince of Peace etc.  And each of us was encouraged to make hanging decorations using anything that came to hand.  Like toilet rolls, we were told. 

So, invited to be imaginative, I purchased a couple of plain ceramic decorations from a craft shop. On one star shape I painted with acrylics our church building in the snow (which hasn't yet fallen...actually not for several Winters!)   It was bright and confident in a clumsy way.  Carol did at least seem to recognize it but asked me what I was going to paint on the other side which, honestly, I had thought of leaving blank.

On the reverse I therefore painted a blue sky with snowflakes falling.  But, alas, placing the decoration down to dry it went splat onto a patch of red paint.  Now our church building resembled an apocalyptic scene suggesting serious climate change. Of course I tried to paint over it. This effort plus a village scene on the second decoration were then diffidently offered.

We have just returned from visiting the festival.  What a riot of ideas and different decorations filled the Methodist church venue!   Yes, true imagination shown by so many different village organizations. And mercifully, our tree was bedecked by so many attractive decorations and mine lurked unobtrusively. Another lesson learned - beware wet paint, but try your best!

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Saturday Surprise

Last Saturday morning as we were debating what Christmas shopping was still necessary the 'phone rang.  It was our minister warning me that his family had been stricken by a serious cold, especially his wife. and he felt it was now developing in his own system.  'Just to ask you, please stand by if I can't preach tomorrow.  I'll let you know definitely later! said he  cheerfully.  

Just finishing lunch he was on the 'phone again. 'Yes, please.  I am feeling worse and don't want to pass it on. The theme in my series is Gratitude with the Magnificat as the text.'  If he had asked me to work on a less well-known passage it would have been much more demanding.  But an opportunity to preach on such a great text genuinely thrilled me.  Suddenly, Saturday afternoon, sitting at my lap top I was thrust into the joy of preparation.  I say joy...because not only does Mary's song (Luke 1:46-55) begin with such wonder and gratitude but she foretells in revolutionary language what the ministry of Jesus will bring.

Someone wrote to me and asked whether I used old material.  Well, not exactly, but I remember preaching on these verses as Jesus the Great Leveller - levelling DOWN the proud with haughty thoughts, kings with absolute power, the rich with self satisfaction and levelling UP the lowly, and the hungry,  ( Have you heard the expression 'levelling up' recently?) 

I believe so much in the promise of God's Holy Spirit to work with the preacher (and it helps that I have had a few decades of practice) but when I preached I sensed how God had used those few hours of preparation.  I cannot recommend leaving sermon writing until the Saturday before but I was so glad to experience God's grace in action. Anyone who would like to see it - it's short (19 mins.) - and you can find it on Histon Baptist Church web site. Just google the church's name, hit the church site, move cursor to resources and go down to sermons!   Blessings!