ABC Day 37: The end is a new beginning – returning by another way

An Epiphany. A striking revelation.

Advent has been and gone; it is twelfth night. Today the church remembers the visit of the magi – trusting in the revelation through study of scripture, they followed a star to Bethlehem.

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

Matthew 2:12-15; 19-23

This is the third time I’ve thought about this passage since Christmas. I’ve heard it preached on twice, and now I’ve been enjoying reading Maggi’s thoughts on the passage as well as those of Pam, Graham and Ruth.

Journey of the magi
Journey of the Magi, by Stanislav Lvovsky on Flickr.
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An unexpected journey then – or rather several unexpected journeys.

A few days ago we thought about how Joseph probably hadn’t been planning to bring a pregnant Mary all the way to Bethlehem to give birth. Yesterday we thought about the magi’s trip to Bethlehem.

Today we get both return journeys. Maggi points out that these are unexpected journeys because of an encounter with Jesus. The magi are scared to return the same way because of Herod’s attitude to the challenge of a new King; Joseph has a similar concern about Herod’s son. Both of their paths changed by an encounter with God.

Now, I suppose, is the time to admit that the #adventbookclub has led to some unexpected journeys for me. Virtual journeys to share the views of both friends and those I’ve never met. Thoughts about the journeys of faith that have brought some of the club’s ‘members’ to an unexpected place in their ministry (ministry isn’t just for the clergy, either!). Our journey outside yesterday in the rain to chalk our door. And my own journey to think more deeply about the passages of scripture picked for us by Maggi (unknowingly, perhaps, as in 2007 the idea of a virtual book club may not have been top of her list!).

May each of our onwards journeys be unexpected – surprised by God when we most need it – and hopefully I will meet some of my fellow ABCers along the way. Amen.

Finally, I thought I’d share a sonnet by Malcolm Guite:  listen to ‘Epiphany sonnet’ on Audioboo. He’s promised more for the other Sundays of the Epiphany season, so you might want to keep an eye on his blog…

ABC Day 35 – Born in a borrowed room

Hello. Remember me? I was blogging every day with the #adventbookclub. And, whilst I’ve been following along the words of others, and reading Maggi’s book, and praying, actual blogging time has been limited. Half-formed thoughts just haven’t made their way onto the laptop; the laptop couldn’t make its way onto my lap during a prolonged parental visitation; a cold struck; and I’m still struggling to get the iPad app to talk to my webhost. But I’m hoping to now be able to complete the last few days, God willing…

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Luke 2:7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

All Saints Church, Bracknell Road, Ascot, Berks – Reredos of the Last Supper by John Salmon [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Luke 22:7-13 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.’ They asked him, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for it?’ ‘Listen,’ he said to them, ‘when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks you, ‘Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.’ So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Before Maggi’s book pointed it out to me (there’s a reason I’m not a theologian by profession, you know) I’d never spotted that this was two borrowed rooms at each end of the story – the stable of the nativity and the upper room of the passover meal – the last supper.

I was struck Maggi’s observation that, whilst an Englishman’s home is his castle, a rented castle is somewhat less secure. This fits with a lot of the news of the last few days – for example, the latest Shelter survey here. The second of the borrowed rooms set in train the ultimate in insecurity – betrayal and death. Yet Jesus trusted in God the father.

Finally, I am struck again by the links between Christmas and Easter. I didn’t enter into the debate sparked by this post here – my views will have to wait for another blog post (be warned, there might be life in this blog between the Advent Book Club and the Big Read 14).

So, setting aside the question of preaching to the ‘unchurched’ at Christmas, for those of at least some traditions within the ‘churched’ there is a focus on the four last things – death, judgement, heaven and hell – throughout Advent. I give you, for example, my thoughts from last Advent here. And with that focus, the Incarnation is all too close for comfort – a baby born young and innocent, in the knowledge that sacrifice on the cross is the endgame. Which brings us neatly back to the symmetry I was struck by at the start – the borrowed room is the beginning of the beginning as well as the beginning of the end.

You can follow the Advent Book Club on Facebook, on Twitter, or read about it on Pam’s blog.