Saturday, December 31, 2022

Entering 2023

Every New Year, for the 21 years I was minister, I led a Watch Night Service to see the New Year in.  In Blackburn there was a Church Social first followed by a short service, with reflection and fresh commitment. My portable radio was barely audible until Big Ben struck when I turned the volume up for the chimes to ring out. Happily we greeted each other and then processed outside.  Streets of terraced houses packed tightly around the church. Facing these neighbours we let rip with 'The Lord's my Shepherd.'  It was a memorable way to begin the new year.

Though the hymnbook  used during those 21 years had a section of hymns specifically for the Old and New Year we rarely sang any of them. But looking through I thought the words of this one is worth repeating as we enter 2023.  It has a deep seriousness, shared with many of these hymns. No bubbly enthusiasm here!  And, yes, it does have Thees and thous etc. Written by L. Tuttiettt (1825-97).

Father let me dedicate 

All this year to Thee,

In whatever worldly state 

Thou wouldst have me be;

Not from sorrow, pain, or care

Freedom dare I claim;

This alone shall be my prayer

 "Glorify Thy name,"

If Thou callest to the cross,

And its shadow come,

Turning all my gain to loss,

Shrouding heart and home:

Let me think how Thy dear Son 

To His glory came

And in deepest woe pray on, 

"Glorify Thy name."

If in mercy Thou wilt spare

Joys that yet are mine,

If on life, serene and fair, 

Brighter rays may shine, 

Let my glad heart, while it sings,  

In all proclaim:

And whate'er the future brings, 

"Glorify Thy name."

So, quite a challenge! To enter 2023 saying "Glorify Thy name" whatever happens.  May this be a year knowing God's love on every step of your journey.   

Monday, December 26, 2022

The Appropriate Gift

Imprisoned by sciatica I escaped in reading including Rosemary Hill's biography of Pugin, God's architect. It's a dense read and co-codamol and diazepam slowed my progress.  Undeniably Pugin's short dramatic life impacted Britain with his visionary Gothic architecture. Hyper-active and hyper-creative he designed cathedrals (Punch magazine said he could do one it in 45 minutes), churches, houses, furnishings with side-lines like Big Ben and inside Parliament.  So many details are fascinating such as his designing the interior of the chapel in Jesus College Cambridge (of special interest to me)  The interweaving of his Roman Catholic faith with his work and relationships threads right through. Family life was important to him as was romance but his unstoppable work rate made him increasingly remote. 

One paragraph struck me.  In 1840 with a son Cuthbert just born and Agnes aged 4, Rosemary Hill writes;

He was a fond father but at the time a distant and intensely preoccupied one.  His daughter Agnes later told her granddaughter that she remembers Pugin saying that for her birthday that year he had designed a cathedral.  She also remembered being very disappointed.

The sheer inappropriateness of the gift seems not to have crossed Pugin's mind. He wanted to give her something magnificent but unsurprisingly the four-year old was disappointed. It was all a tad beyond a child's wants and appreciation.

I haven't preached much recently but this struck me as a commentary note on the Incarnation and its sheer appropriateness.  God could have overwhelmed with magnificence, but a baby in a manger can be understood by all.  The whole miracle of Jesus being among us shrinks glory into a Lord who lives like us. Who can be easily rejected.  But, when taken seriously will never disappoint. 


Saturday, December 24, 2022

Have a glorious Christmas

After this long (welcome to some) silence, I thankfully break into cyberspace in time to greet you as we race to Christmas Day.  At last my pain is subsiding and my leg has returned to near normal usage.  The doctor warned me that it would likely take up to eight weeks and he was right. Though physiotherapy, acupuncture, erratic exercises have helped the process.  So, I shall be able to worship tomorrow morning in flesh, which is rather what, on the biggest scale imaginable, the world-changing miracle of Christmas is all about. God coming in flesh among us. 

On Facebook yesterday I saw a quote from one of my favourite authors, E. Stanley Jones. "The early Christians did not say in dismay 'Look what the world has come to,' but in delight 'Look at what has come into the world'."

Today's reading in a book of readings through the year, has Catherine Booth (wife of William Booth)  writing on the mystery of the Incarnation.  

Humanity must have a deliverer able to save, and no less than the Almighty deliverer was equal to the task. Here all merely human deliverers, all philosophers and teachers of the world had failed because they could only teach, they could not renew... rectify the heart. They could set up a standard, enunciate a doctrine, but they could not remove man's inability....Man needed some being outside of himself, above him and yet able to understand and pity him in his utmost guilt and misery, and helplessness - able to inspire him with a new life, to impart light, love, strength, and endurance, and to do this always and everywhere, in every hour of darkness, temptation and danger....God's expedient for showing this to man was to come in the flesh. How else could God have revealed himself to fallen man?

So, enjoy a glorious Christmas tomorrow wherever you are and celebrate this best news this world had ever heard.  God has intervened to deliver us. With delight let's say "Look at what has come into our world".