Tag Archive: Luke 1

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

Ascension Day, 14th May

Previously, I mentioned the Novena which starts tomorrow. Today in the church’s calendar, Ascension Day, we remember the day Jesus went back to heaven some 40 days after being brought back to new life (Easter Day).You can read about it in the last chapter of Luke’s gospel (chapter 24) and in the first chapter of the book Acts.

The particular emphasis today is on triumph. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated his victory over the forces of darkness, over sin and death. The battle was won, and his new, risen life observed by a number of people. Now, he returns home to heaven, victorious. In art Jesus is depicted as sitting on a throne because Jesus is King of the whole world, of the whole known universe. A king who won without the force of arms but through the power of God’s Spirit.

Sometimes it feel like that Ascension Day is simply a little be of tidying up of some loose ends in the story. It is not. I tend to think of it as being end of part 1; part 2 continues after a brief intermission

A prayer for Ascension Day

Risen Christ, you have raised our human nature to the throne of heaven. Help us to seek and serve you, so that we may join you at the Father’s side, where you reign with the Spirit in glory, now and for ever. Amen. (Common Worship, Additional Collect)



Go to a maternity ward,
To the birthing room
To the clinic,
To childless
To the worried parents to be
To the devastated parents not-to-be
To the nursery
To the operating room
To the memorial

And then write a poem about the annunciation
About the physical reality of Mary being pregnant
With the Word-made-flesh.

Unless you have wondered at human-being-flesh
How can you begin to marvel at God-taking-flesh?

Fourth Sunday in Advent

“My soul doth magnify the Lord”

What on earth does Mary mean by “magnify”? In everyday use it means taking a magnifying glass to something small or intricate so that we can see it better. Well, I don’t recall any paintings of Mary with a magnifying glass in her hand – more likely to see an angel. Mary has just been told by an angel that, although she is a young virgin, she has just conceived and will in due course give birth to a baby boy who is God’s Son, Jesus. She can hardly believe that God chose her and marvels at the miracle that has taken place. So she expresses her amazement and wonder in a song that spells out the kind of God who can do such miracles. She begins by saying that her soul, her innermost being, the core of herself, magnifies the Lord. When you magnify something you draw attention to it, you make it appear bigger – you don’t actually change its size – in order to see it better and to better appreciate it. A magnifying glass helps jewellers, opticians, nurses and stamp collectors in their various fields to carry out their job, to see small detail, to appreciate the object in front of them. So to magnify something is to bring it in focus, to bring it to our attention, the better to appreciate its fine beauty, to be more able to see what is there. Here Mary has turned her attention to the Lord, to God. In doing so she considers what kind of person he his, what wonderful things he is capable of, reasons for gratitude and wonder that span generations. Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, has been part of Christian worship for centuries. It reminds us of what God is capable of and of his faithfulness. It is supremely a song of hope and confidence in God. It comes in the gospel narrative before Jesus is even born, while there is still time waiting for him to arrive. During this last little bit of Advent, a note of hope and confidence in God is appropriate while we wait for Christmas Day. It is also right for any day while we wait Jesus’ return: waiting hopefully, not wishful thinking-ly, but with confidence in God past, present and future.

A prayer for the fourth Sunday in Advent

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory. Bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Additional Collect: Advent 4)

Gabriel’s message

This is one of my favourite carols. I wish I had the means to include the tune (from the Basque country) as I think it is quite beautiful – there are various settings but the melody is deceptively simple.

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
“All hail,” said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,
most highly favoured lady,” Gloria!
“For know a blessed Mother thou shalt be,
all generations laud and honour thee,
thy Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
most highly favoured lady,” Gloria!
Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,
“my soul shall laud and magnify his holy Name.”
Most highly favoured lady, Gloria!
Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
in Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
and Christian folk throughout the world will ever say–
“Most highly favoured lady,” Gloria!

Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924)

Eternal Law

ITV 1, Thursday 5th January, 1st of 6 episodes, 9 – 10 pm

I didn’t get round to doing a review of the Doctor Who Christmas special (BBC 1) nor of Endeavour (ITV 1), both of which I enjoyed and highly commend. However, I didn’t want to spend time at the computer when I was supposed to be having a break. And it seems a bit late now to make further comment on them.

Meanwhile, a few days ago I watched “Eternal Law”. This fantasy drama features angels who, in the guise of lawyers – barristers – come to help people caught up in some crime/tragedy. The reviewer in the Radio Times, Alison Graham, is clearly not impressed, describing it as “the most flimsy of fantasies” although she concedes that it does have “some charm”.

I am not inclined to be as disparaging as that. Granted the premise does seem a bit silly, but the performances were good and in the first episodes there are several threads to follow. What does it mean for Mr Mountjoy to “pull the plug on the whole thing”? What is the history, and indeed the future, for the angel Zak Gist and Hannah, the girl he is not supposed to fall in love with? How will newcomer angel Tom Greening adapt to the reality of the human world? What will become of Richard Pembroke the angel who is working for the prosecution?

The closing sequence alludes to the premise of the drama: that there are angels in disguise in all sorts of lowly occupations though we may not realise it. There are angels everywhere. That is an angle also worth exploring. However, angels being charmed by humans is not a new idea by any means.

I’m not sure quite where I stand with angels in reality. For many years I accepted the idea that angels were inventions or metaphors to explain unusual encounters and supernatural experiences. There are some angels mentioned in Scripture but their chief role is that of messenger from God. Meanwhile, in Christian history, angels seem to result from a compromise with Greek and Roman mythology. There is only one true God in Christianity, so where does that leave the pantheon of gods in Ancient Greek and Roman culture? Well, perhaps if we turn them into angels we won’t have to destroy all that art etc. I readily admit that I have oversimplified Church history but my point is that belief in the existence of angels is not an essential part of the gospel.

I worded that last sentence carefully: it is not saying that angels do not necessarily exist. I am suggesting that the picture we have in our mind when we read about Gabriel or Michael, for instance, says more about later ideas about angels than about what the writers of the New Testament understood them to be. For example, Gabriel is often pictured with wings but there is no suggestion of them in the Bible. They have more to do with the idea of a winged messenger, that is to say, the Roman god Mercury whose speed was designated by the symbol of wings on his feet. I expect that there are other things about angels which we have imported from elsewhere too. I am also saying that you do not have to believe in angels in order to be a Christian – any more than believing in angels automatically makes you a Christian.

Having said that, there have been stories/reports of help coming unexpectedly from someone “out of nowhere”. The helping hand, the well-timed word from a stranger whom we never meet or see again. I have no doubt that the vast majority of instances are where a human being has shown a stranger an act of kindness but have simply not wanted to attract attention to themselves. Once they have done their deed they immediately go on their way without leaving their name. Human angels abound. But I do wonder if there are others.

It will be interesting to see how “Eternal Law” works out. No stars yet – I’m suspending judgement for now.

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