Category: Bible

A Christmas Poem

Courtesy of the Bible Society, here is a neat, child-friendly, summary of the meaning of Christmas:


An Advent hymn

Help, I’ve already had two Christmas lunches and a carol service and Christmas is still three weeks away. I suppose it doesn’t matter that much – not one has died as a result of not keeping Advent. However, it was suggested that perhaps we get so caught up with Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ first coming, that we lose sight of the other meaning of Advent. As well as looking forward to Christmas there is looking forward to Jesus’ return, his second coming, just as he promised. I sense (and this includes me) that many Christians may well nod in agreement with the idea of Jesus’ return and yet. And yet, while we may still be waiting, we have given up expecting him.

So as a reminder to myself I re-read this old Advent hymn. It was written around 500 years ago by John Milton. As with all poetry, it is better read (or sung) out loud.

The Lord will come and not be slow,
his footsteps cannot err;
before him righteousness shall go,
his royal harbinger.

Truth from the earth, like to a flower,
shall bud and blossom then;
and justice, from her heavenly bower,
look down on mortal men.

Rise, God, judge thou the earth in might,
this wicked earth redress;
for thou art he who shalt by right
the nations all possess.

The nations all whom thou hast made
shall come, and all shall frame
to bow them low before thee, Lord,
and glorify thy name.

For great thou art, and wonders great
by thy strong hand are done:
thou in thy everlasting seat
remainest God alone.

John Milton, the elder (c.1563–1647) based on verses from Psalms 82, 85, 86
from “Ancient & Modern”, no. 51

Elizabeth and Zechariah

I was going to call this poem a “sonnette” because my original intention was to write a sonnet. However, I was too impatient to shape my ideas into a sonnet form yet I did want it to resemble one. “A little sonnet” or a “sonnette” seem a bit too pretentious for what is really just a run-of-the-mill poem made from lines thrown together in the midst of some Bible study. It is a snap-shot of my thinking process: half-baked, you might say, but then again, some people enjoy the sauce that comes with the not-quite-baked sponge pudding.

The occasion is when Elizabeth and Zechariah, who are both too old to have any children, are both told that they will have a son – the person we have come to know as John the Baptist. He was born some six months before Jesus; Elizabeth was Mary’s sister, thus making Jesus and John cousins. The miracle of John’s conception forms part of the overall story of God coming to us as a human being, the incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas.

Elizabeth and Zechariah

Two loyal servants of God, long in years
who wrestle with blessing and prophecy
in the house of the divine and in the prose of humanity;
Hidden in her womb, a miracle, a blessing;
knowledge of another soon to follow
He serves faithfully yet doubts the angel’s message
a word that leaves him dumbfounded
– astonishment will evolve into confidence and joy
for now makes him speechless
There is wonder-ing and then there is questioning
There is keeping one’s counsel and there is being lost for words.

There are Zechariah and Elizabeth – good and faithful
There is what they believe: Zechariah doubts; Elizabeth trusts
There is what they are told about their son:
There is what will happen next:

Faithfulness will be vindicated in the end

A prayer for refugees

I realise that the migrant/refugee crisis in Europe has various causes and a variety of solutions; I also acknowledge that Europe does not have a monopoly on human suffering. Having said that, one thing I agree with our bishops on is the need and value of prayer. Here is one which we have adopted in our churches.

Almighty and merciful God
whose Son became a refugee
and has no place to call his own;
look with mercy on those who today
are fleeing from danger,
loveless and hungry.
Bless those who work to bring them relief;
inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts;
and guide the nations of the world towards that day
when all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and peace.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As Christians we believe that we are called to break down barriers,
to welcome the stranger and love them as ourselves (Leviticus 19:34), and to seek the peace and justice of our God, in our world, today.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury


… is everywhere.”

Too often of a Sunday when we sing a well-known hymn it is marred by over-familiarity and we stop paying attention to the words. Or rather, stop paying attention to the meaning. Recently we sang this hymn by John Mason (“How shall I sing that majesty?”). I realise now that I have sung it a few times before but to another tune. This time it was not an easy sing, with an tune new to me, and I really had to concentrate. In order to do so I listened to the first verse before joining in. Although this hymn/poem is well over three hundred years old, it struck a chord.

A day later and I re-read the the hymn. The first reading is sounded pleasant to the ear. The second time round, as I work through the 17th century turns of phrase, I began to get the poets idea: singing praise to God here on earth, pales in comparison with the songs of heaven. That said, he still wants to join in. Like most poetry it works better when read out loud. It is reproduced below and I commend it to you.

How shall I sing that majesty
which angels do admire?
Let dust in dust and silence lie;
sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.
Thousands of thousands stand around
thy throne, O God most high;
ten thousand times ten thousand sound
thy praise; but who am I?
2 Thy brightness unto them appears,
whilst I thy footsteps trace;
a sound of God comes to my ears,
but they behold thy face.
They sing, because thou art their Sun;
Lord, send a beam on me;
for where heaven is but once begun
there alleluias be.
* 3 Enlighten with faith’s light my heart,
inflame it with love’s fire;
then shall I sing and bear a part
with that celestial choir.
I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,
with all my fire and light;
yet when thou dost accept their gold,
Lord, treasure up my mite.
4 How great a being, Lord, is thine,
which doth all beings keep!
Thy knowledge is the only line
to sound so vast a deep.
Thou art a sea without a shore,
a sun without a sphere;
thy time is now and evermore,
thy place is everywhere.

John Mason (c.1645–1694)

Tourism in the Bible?

The other day I thought to myself that tourism is a luxury only the relatively rich can afford and this post started out as a note to say that tourism is unbiblical. Until I thought about it. Now, there is the principle of taking a rest (Sabbath) and time for family and recreation free from the obligations of working for a living (see the fourth commandment in Exodus 20 verse 8 or Deuteronomy 5 verse 12) so having a holiday seems OK.

You do not have to look to far to see people taking a journey whether it is to a new land to live in, as with Abraham, or to visit the baby Jesus, as with the Magi. Going on a pilgrimage to a special place because you believe God has sent you or because of a holy association seem to be OK as well. But tourism? Visiting places out of sheer curiosity or going somewhere new to get away from it all?

Well, I think I have found two instances which seem to suggest that going as a tourist is OK – at least some times. When the Queen of Sheba heard about King Solomon’s fame, her interest is piqued. So she sets off to see for herself. It seems to me that curiosity was her motive. In the end she discovered that what she had heard was no exaggeration and she was suitably in awe of what she saw. Now one person’s curiosity is another person’s nosiness, so we do need to stop and check our motives. However, I think that a desire to learn, to discover new things, to allow ourselves to be challenged by new people and places etc is acceptable – so long as we are respectful of the people we meet en route.

The other day, when reading and studying Mark chapter 7, I saw something that I had not properly appreciated even though I had read that chapter several times before. At first glance in the gospels, Jesus appears very busy and appears to have little time to eat and sleep let alone take a break. That is understandable as it would be a very slow read if we had to plough through details of every meal and every time he went to the bathroom! Having said that, there are a number of times when Jesus does take time out, usually to pray. If we follow Jesus, having proper rest periods is part of our calling. But in the middle of Mark chapter 7 Jesus does not just have a rest: he goes abroad to another country where people will not recognise him. In other words he takes a foreign holiday.

Jesus’ “holiday” is not like ours. For a start he probably walked. For another, his holiday was briefly interrupted by a “foreigner” who asked him for help. His response is instructive. At first he says “no” but when the woman shows that she is serious, he then grants her request. What he does not do is say, “Now that is my holiday ruined, I might as well go back to work”. That is another lesson for us. If our holiday is interrupted and there is no one else on hand to help in a particular situation, then it is OK to help out. But that is no reason to go back to work – continue with the rest of the holiday.

So the Queen of Sheba travelled abroad to satisfy her curiosity and Jesus went abroad to get away from it all. I therefore conclude that being a tourist on a foreign holiday is permissible.

Twice Mine

There are not many stories that I know off by heart but “Twice Mine” is one of them. I remember hearing it told by a lady who explained that it was one of her own children’s favourites. On the face of it this is a straight-forward story for children about loss and recovery. You can also hear it as a parable of God’s love for us as our Creator and our Redeemer.

There are a number of versions on the web, this is just one of them.

When I told the story at church recently someone asked a pertinent question: what did the little boy do after he had recovered his boat? Did he put it on a stand in his bedroom to admire it and to keep it safe? Or did he take it sailing again?

A prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank you that you made us and that you save us. May we always know that you are with us both in stormy times and calm times. Help us to share your love and peace in the world around us. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

… so you decide to clean the mirror.

I recently attended a day course to raise awareness about domestic abuse. This is something I knew existed but, like many people I suppose, I assumed that it was rare and did not affect anyone I knew. You see, domestic violence, which is one kind of abuse, does not broadcast itself on the estate where I live. It all happens in another part of town.

Well, I learnt that that is just not true. The statistics were frighteningly high and there are psychological abuse and financial abuse as well as the more-reported sexual and physical abuses. My fellow students and I did struggle with some definitions. We could see how some incidents in isolation, while still wrong, did not amount to a pattern of abuse. For example, a sarcastic remark, a put-down, a criticism of your partner’s appearance is something many of us have said or heard – and regret afterwards. And it would be easy to excuse someone’s poor behaviour with a dismissive “but we’ve all done that” or, worse, ” what goes on behind closed doors is none of our business”.

The fact is that criticism can be used to put someone in their place and keep them there. The jokes at their expense gradually undermine their self-confidence until there is little of none left. Gradually, you have them under your control.The abuse is verbal and not a single smack of the fist is needed.

Then there is money: who controls the purse strings? Now, we had some discussion about this because some of us recognise that in some marriages one person may be more competent/confident in managing the money. That is OK if you are in the habit in trying to explain what is going on from time to time, insist that both of you see the financial advisor and you do not have everything in your own name: there must be some discretion for each of you and a level of trust that does not have to account for every single penny. By contrast, we heard about one instance where one partner worked and earned more than the other. The man took both their wages and she had to ask for some of her own money back – which he resisted and resented. To help make the distinction one member of our family said that it was one thing to be in charge of the money and another to be in control. In other words, one of us might be responsible for the finances but not in a dictatorial sort of way.

There was a lot more in the course but I think one of the key lessons was to realise that abuse is the result of one partner/family member wanting complete control over the other. It was as if they saw themselves in the other person and did not like what they saw. So, instead of sorting themselves out they tried to sort the other one out: “When he sees his dirty face in the mirror, he cleans the mirror”.

The message for the church is two-fold. Firstly, if we want our churches to be safe places for people to come then we need to recognise that it is likely that there are some in our congregations who are abused or who are abusers: their public persona may be wonderful and they may even be in church leadership.

Secondly, abuse is not part of God’s plan. Abuse violates the marriage covenant: there are vows to love and to cherish and to honour; there are none which permit abuse, physical violence or otherwise. Jesus tells us to love one another (John chapter 15 verse 12) and if this is true of his disciples then it applies no less to families. “God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John chapter 4 verse 16, NRSV)

There are a number of places you can go if this affects you. I found this link to worth a look. In this country there are now dedicated units in the police, the National Domestic Violence Helpline and Childline as well. For the churches there is also the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) with further advice and information.

Incidentally, we learnt that while most domestic abuse is perpetrated by men on women (for which there is most research, and hence the main focus of our course), there is also abuse women on men; by men on men and by women on women.

A prayer for the home

Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, you shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home. Reign in the home of your servants as Lord and King. Give them grace to minister to others as you have ministered to them. Grant that by deed and word they may be witnesses of your saving love to those among whom they live; for the sake of your holy name. Amen. (from Common Worship: Pastoral Services p 161)

… but not necessarily on it!

I have mixed feelings about the sea – I have nothing against it personally. However, this is the person who gets seasick on the Isle of Wight ferry (mind you, I also felt a bit nauseous on a boating lake in East London but I think that had more to do with the state of my rowing as there were no wind and waves to blame.) On the other hand there are some positive experiences, to name but a few: paddling in shallow water at the seaside, exploring rock pools, simply sitting gazing out towards the windswept horizon and boat trips to visit wildlife. There are some magnificent creatures in the sea though many of them are notoriously shy and to see such as dolphins and whales is a rare treat. And where would our fish and chips be without the sea?
Come to think about it, where would our foreign cars, bananas, mobile phones and other gadgets be without someone to cross the sea to import them? Let’s spare a thought for all those who work on, in or under the sea to help our nation’s trade, to provide us with food, to take us on holidays and to keep us safe.
Apparently, it is said that we know more about the surface of the Moon than we know about what is under the oceans’ waves. (If you do the arithmetic, I think you will find that that is in part because there is more ocean than there is surface of the Moon – but you get the general point). There is so much we do not know about the sea. There are myths and legends aplenty – we have very little idea what is to be found in the deeps. For example, over centuries there have been stories about a giant squid which were thought to be entirely myth – until eventually someone managed to bring one to the surface for all to see. (More on giant squid at New Scientist). God knows about the seas’ hidden depths and is fully aware of the risks and benefits that flow from working on the sea.

For some churches 12th July is “Sea Sunday” when the prayer-focus is on those who live and work on (or under) the sea. It is also a chance to learn about the “Mission to Seafarers“. We do well to acknowledge how much we depend on the resources of the sea and on the work of people to harvest them.

When we think of the sea – whether on a seaside holiday or at other times – let’s remember that it is not just so much water full of creatures to fish; it is also a place of mystery, beauty and danger. Thank God for the sea.

There is the ocean, large and wide, where countless creatures live, large and small alike. The ships sail on it, and in it plays Leviathan, that sea monster which you made. (Psalm 104 verses 25 to 26)

Saturday 23rd May

We have prayed for the elderly (any one more than 10 years older than us) and today’s subject is “children”. I take that to mean “young children” because every single human, is someone’s child. One big feature of life for young children is change. Compare 30 years old with 35 years and you are unlikely to see much difference in that person’s appearance (not impossible, of course). Compare 5 years old with 10 years and you will definitely see a change in height and appearance – even their teeth will be different. Growing up is what we expect to see in children. We also see some of the more vulnerable members of our society and we naturally want to be sure that they are properly protected as well as nourished and nurtured. It is right to pray for the protection of children.

Children can also be found in our churches and are part of the church family. Some people describe them as “the Church of tomorrow”. I respectfully disagree: they are part of the today’s Church and should be included, appropriately, in the life of the Church. That includes asking their opinion and includes praying for the renewal of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The ministry that a child has will likely be very different from that of an adult, but they will have one. Our task as adults in the Church is to ask for the gifts of discernment and encouragement in order for everyone to find and follow their calling in Christ’s Church.

A prayer for all people’s ministry

Almighty and everlasting God, by your Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified. Hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people, so that in their vocation and ministry they may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Common Worship)

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