Advent Book Club – Twelfth Night

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11

Ben's ChristeningAnd so we come to the last day of Christmas and therefore the last set of readings, thoughts, prayers and actions in the #adventbookclub. I will, I think, have one final post to come to sum up what I thought, what I got out of it, and what I think I have to learn from the whole process.

So, this post is the same as any other. What does Nouwen have to say today? He thinks on the Baptism of Christ. His visit to Lourdes where he bathes in the waters and prays before a statue of Mary.  He understands that water is part of life itself, saving everyone – the Israelites being led through the Red Sea; Jesus baptised in the Jordan; our own baptism.

So. Baptism.  Last February seems a long time ago, looking at the picture above from Ben’s Baptism. It’s only been ten months.  In that time he has grown in every way.  Taller. Heavier. Cleverer. Stronger. Nimbler. Abler in every way.  Would this have happened if he wasn’t baptised?  Yes. Does that make baptism a waste of time? No. Should we have waited until he was old enough to understand or even to decide for himself? No – though I respect those who have different views. It is the grounding of life.  It is the start of a very long journey which will hopefully last his whole life through. It is a sign by us, as his parents, that he belongs to God’s family – and that we want him to belong. It is a commitment by us, and by his godparents, to bring him up to have faith, to be good, to be kind, to do right. It is a commitment from our church to support him and us with our own commitments. It is the right thing to do.

I’ve just got to the final Advent Action in the book.  To take today to honour our own baptism.  I guess we all try to do that each day.   I’ve not done anything specific to honour my own baptism.  I hope that the words above remembering Ben’s baptism will do. So, my prayer for today is from the baptism service in Common Worship:

Heavenly Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit you give your faithful people new life in the water of baptism. Guide and strengthen us by the same Spirit, that we who are born again may serve you in faith and love, and grow into the full stature of your Son, Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit now and for ever. Amen.

And, as it’ll be Epiphany by the time this is posted, I think I can be indulged with this:

Advent Book Club Bonus Day 11

8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they[a] sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.
John 6:8-11

In today’s penultimate thought, Nouwen tells us that the world likes big, impressive things; God chooses the small things. The Bible reading, Nouwen reminds us, shows that from a very inauspicious start, thousands could be fed. Something little, with God’s help, can become something big.

And so it is with Christmas. Something so small and easy to overlook – a baby born to seemingly normal parents – is the greatest gift of all. The kindness I experienced in December from those – friends, family, my wife – who realised I was having a hard time meant far more than any gifts. Simple acts from colleagues like appearing with tea. Someone who I’d helped taking the effort to write a personal comment in a Christmas card. A hug from Sarah after my phone was stolen.

I look at our own son Ben and the childlike sense of wonder he has with everything – whether his new train set or his old ball. And I pray that we too can share this wonder, this ability to be happy with whatever we have, large or small. May we be willing to share what we have, large or small:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

And may we continue to appreciate the extraordinary in the ordinary – God in the form of a human babe – today, this Christmas-tide and always.

Tomorrow: the wise men are closing in.

Advent Book Club Bonus Day 10

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who carry out evil devices.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
    Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

16 Better is a little that the righteous person has
    than the abundance of many wicked.

21 The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
    but the righteous are generous and keep giving.

Psalm 37:7-9, 16, 21

 Today Nouwen tells us to be generous – each time we are, we move from fear to love. That those we are asked to be generous to – and to forgive – are our family – because we are all one kin – one body in one Christ.

I think perhaps many of the previous day’s readings have been pointing towards this.  That only by becoming generous like God can we be closer to God.  Today’s action proved hard – not to moan and groan about the challenges of life – after a sleepless night, no seat on the train etc. But actually, none of that mattered.  The sleepless night was love for my son (who is ill) and my wife (who was exhausted); the train was not intruding on others (though tweeting about it meant I moaned even though I didn’t allow my displeasure to be felt by the offenders).

How then to be generous when we are seriously wronged?  Prayer may be the only way… By praying we may come to see wisdom, to care less and understand more. We may yet be seen to be radical in our love of Christ and our fellow humankind as we were exhorted to be right back at the start of Advent in a sermon in church. A few snatched words of a kyrie may calm us down before we say something we regret, and allow us to respond graciously and gratefully.

This being a Christian stuff sure isn’t easy, is it?*

And for generosity, some music about the ultimate act of generosity. John Ireland’s Greater Love Hath No Man:

* understatement of the year so far.

Advent Book Club Bonus Day 9

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

And now the end is in sight. Four days more, including this one.

Nouwen notes that fear and hostility don’t only come when we meet the unfamiliar, the violent, the abnormal. They come when we meet rivals – those with whom we might otherwise have a lot in common – colleagues and classmates. And that’s it. No suggestion as to what we might do about this. No magic bullet.

As normal then I turned to the Bible quote in hope of illumination. A call to set aside sin and persevere, in the knowledge that we are following in our endurance in the path of Jesus. I suppose in this situation I’d fall back on the reading from Day 16. And perhaps Day 18. Hmmm….

Some music to end with which perhaps sums it up better than I can in my own words. Not choral this time, either. “Peace, perfect peace” – but not the well known hymn – rather a cover of a song by Toots & The Maytals (no, me neither). Go read the lyrics here – they’ll do as a prayer for today.

Advent Book Club Bonus Day 8

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:16-17

Today’s thought is titled “The Discipline of Gratitude”. We have to choose to be grateful.  We can choose to be grateful even when it is hard. For example, if someone criticises us, we can choose to be grateful for honest feedback, or we can choose to feel hurt.  This is hard. With a capital H.  When it’s something we’ve slaved over for hours, or perhaps really taken care with choosing some words or a present, and get criticised, it is very easy to feel hurt and very hard to feel grateful – even if we do feel grateful later on.

How can we try and feel gratitude up front? To respond positively to criticism rather than losing our rag, sulking or bursting into tears? Hmmm… And here we are, right back at the start of Advent, when I confessed to finding it hard to follow St Paul. If we followed today’s reading from Colossians, we would be doing everything joyfully in the name of Jesus. Yes, it’s hard. But yes, we must try. As Pam says, we need to strive to see the glass as half full, rather than half empty. Both she and Dorothy seem to be doing so. And I’ll try to strive too.

Finally, some more music. This is by a school choir from Australia, singing Benjamin Britten’s “This Little Babe” from his Ceremony of Carols. Bear with me – there is a link to the reading above – the last two lines are:

If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly Boy.

Help us, as this little babe is so few days old with Christmas only a week ago, to inspire us with joy for the next year, and so to foil evil.