1 Kings 18:20-24, 32-39 is today’s text – Elijah is tested by the prophets of Baal – the god who answers a call for fire with fire is the true god.
What kind of a prophet is Elijah? One who is passionate about God – who constantly preaches God’s word. Maggi reminds us that sometimes, we make showy demonstrations of our faith to the wrong audience with the wrong argument; we could seek out instead those who are perhaps willing to listen, but have not yet found someone to talk in a way they can hear about faith.
Lord – help me make a difference for you. Help me bring the faith to others. Help me to realise that this may not be in a showy demonstration; it may be in looking for those who will listen and speaking to them. Amen.
Genesis 26:13-77 is today’s choice – Isaac redigs wells that Abraham had dug and the Philistines had stopped up. It’s a case of third time lucky – the first two times he tries, more Philistines chase him away – but God appears to him and repeats the promise he made to Abraham.
Maggi draws a neat parallel for today’s church with Isaac – he was an in-between generation – seeing neither the start nor the end of the nomad’s journey, but passing the baton on to the next generation. We are the same – between the first and second coming.
Maggi also notes that Isaac knew how to co-exist with the surrounding culture – he didn’t fight the Philistines needlessly, but he didn’t give in to them either – he tried again.
There may be a metaphor here for today’s church – we can rail against a godless society, or we can ourselves become godless, or – crucially, we can try digging a third time and rediscovering what our forebears knew. Perhaps this is some of the Fresh Expressions movement which is reaping rewards in bringing the Gospel to new audiences? Café church looks nothing like today’s traditional church – but is it perhaps a fresh expression of the agape feast (the love feast of Jude 12). The New Monasticism movement is a fresh expression of, well, monasticism.
Lord, help us to get along with the churched and unchurched; help us to dig anew wells of spirituality that we may find your love in the water of life and share it afresh as we wait your coming in glory. Amen.
I was sick today. Organised at the start of the day – half an hour early to a meeting at church – productive meeting – then sick. I used the half an hour to read today’s section of Maggi’s book, and then to pray.
Today’s reading is the story of Abram being told by the Lord “to your offspring I will give this land.” Abram doesn’t put down roots there and then though – he is nomadic and pitches his tent in different places, journeying by stages.
Maggi talks to us about how this story is used to reflect on the idea of leaving clutter behind to follow God; yet this isn’t clutter but
Do we try a church we like more or less and move around till we find one that feels like home? Or do we make a choice and stick to it? Do we just pick the nearest church – the old parish system – or do we seek out the right church (whatever “right” might mean?) Perhaps there are unchurched gaps when we get busy, before we go back to God. How do we find him on our wanderings as well as where we have set up an altar, so to speak?
Genesis 11:31-12:5 is today’s text selected by Maggi – but instead of reading it, you could watch it in Lego form (and it takes the story on just a smidgen further too):
Maggi explains that the clear call of God to Abraham in this passage may have seemed clear with hindsight; yet as the story flows on it seems it might not have been as clear as it might have been. I’m sure when my parents told me clearly what they wanted me to do I might well have misunderstood a tad… yet eventually I probably ended up doing what they wanted. I’m finding the same thing with my son now – a clear instruction starts out with him following clearly but getting distracted easily.
Maggi goes on to explain that a call may not obviously be a sudden clear demand from God that we upend our lives. I guess that it isn’t all “thunderbolt city” (as Tom in Four Weddings and Funeral wasn’t expecting). Sometimes it is a nudging, a “hunch that there is something beyond the horizon” as Maggi puts it.
Lord – help me to listen to your Word and your will. Help me to hear what you are calling me to do and to be. Help me to be open to your plan and to the unexpected as well as the expected. To look for you in the silver lining as well as the golden opportunity. To aspire to “not my will but thy will”. Amen.
Genesis 3:8-19 today for Advent Book Club (the observant amongst you might have noticed day 6 went AWOL – Wordpress wouldn’t let me in – now fixed and in the unlikely event you’re missing it, it’s here).
The fall. Adam and Eve expelled from Eden. The reason we need salvation – to rescue us.
Maggi explains the way the now famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Kings’ College Cambridge came to be. Following World War One, many of the men who returned found they had lost their faith, or that the words of services from before which had been comforting had, in fact, offered cold comfort and were now alien and unwelcoming.
Rather than start his carol service with the foretelling of the Messiah in, say, Isaiah, or with the Angel Gabriel, Maggi tells us that the Dean of Kings chose to start right back at the fall. Why? The story of Adam and Eve then is figurative – the idea that perfection can be sullied by human desire, with the need for God to restore our brokenness.
Again, this provoked more thought from me – I’ve always been an Isaiah lover – perhaps I ought to read more widely in preparing for Christmas than just the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah – and go back to square one?
And, as Maggi cites Adam Lay Ybounden, and I’ve just found this YouTube video from ‘home’ (it dates from 1990):
Mark 1:1-11 today – the third opening we’ve read as part of the Advent Book Club.
There’s no messing about with Mark. None of the mysticism of John, nor the genealogy of Mark. We’re told right there in the first line that this is the good news about Jesus Christ – we don’t need to worry that there might be a sad ending – we know it is good news.
And then we get to one of my favourite things about so much of what we read at the start of the Gospels – the echoes back to the prophets – in this case, Isaiah 40:3.
Too soon to listen to part of Handel’s Messiah? No such thing, surely?
Maggi tells us that Mark brings together three different pieces of old testament prophecy – Exodus 23:20, Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 – to tell us why the man he is about to describe, Jesus, is the fulfilment of God’s promise – and hence what type of people we, as Christians, should be.
I found this helpful – it is too easy to spend Advent and Christmas thinking about the first of these points – who Jesus was and is – and not enough about what it means for us today. We are an Easter people, and all too often we look to Easter to answer that latter question. This got me thinking – and praying…
Three sets of fourteen names. From Abraham to Jesus. Some of them – Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon, Ruth – names from familiar stories. Others less familiar – Zerubabbel, Eliakim, Jeconiah, Azor.
Ok, I can confess to being like Claire and Sara – if I don’t skip the names, then I might at least tune out when I hear someone else reading them. Unfair – as each of them played their part in the story that led to Joseph being engaged to Mary and heading off to Bethlehem.
Maggi helps us understand why this matters. Yesterday’s genealogy looks back to Adam; today’s looks forward to Jesus. And each of those names – the Patriarchs – are the basis for the first candle in the Advent wreath we see in many churches.
For many of you, the Advent wreath will mean this video:
But if you stop and think about the Patriarchs, you realise that the Jewish people were always looking forwards to the coming of Jesus. Just as we look forwards to remembering that first coming at Christmas – and the second coming that is to come. Again, I think through to the prayers we say every Sunday:
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again
We pray this firmly – not just a statement of hope – but of firm belief. And we remember those Patriarchs who prayed for the first coming of a Messiah – and remember that until Christ was born, he could not die.
Maranatha – come, Lord Jesus.
Today we go for the flashback – Luke 3:21-38 – in which we read the genealogy of Jesus. Going by the generations, this leads to the suggestion that the world was formed in around 4000 BC – a conclusion leapt on by sceptics as easy to debunk with scientific evidence.
Yet Maggi points out that this isn’t the point. The point is to link back to the creation – to perfection – a time before sin. And that this grounds the point of the incarnation, which we are preparing to celebrate. It grounds the incarnation in the wholeness of creation, not just as a fix for the brokenness.
Far better than I, Claire explores this point more fully – that this is perhaps Luke’s way of making the same point as John – that the Word – Jesus – was with God in the beginning and was God – son of man and son of God being one and the same.
Ruth points out that we don’t just look back – we look forward – to all generations. And Graham brings this to mind even more as we realise the interconnectedness with others – go back more generations and more and more of us are but cousins who’ve never met. And finally Sara points out that the wholeness of creation point in Maggi’s text is really rather comforting – that Jesus was a human who knew what it was to live, equally as much as he was God.
Much to ponder on – we hear the word “incarnate” so often as Christmas approaches, thinking perhaps it just refers to some nice story of a manger and no room at the inn. But perhaps there’s a more fundamental truth here – the one we hear every time we say the Creed:
He became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
Today’s text is Luke 1:1-7. Luke sets out to write an “orderly account”. Perhaps, unlike the opening of John’s Gospel which we read yesterday, this is a more obvious start. We start slightly before the birth of Jesus, with the story of John the Baptist – seen as a prophet who not only foretold the coming of the saviour, as many had before him, but who actually met his saviour.
Luke goes on, in later verses and chapters, to tell us so much of the human side of Jesus’s birth and upbringing – that the other Gospels perhaps don’t dwell on. So we get the answers to the questions everyone asks about an unusual grown up they meet – how did they get that way – from both the mystical side (the angel Gabriel’s arrival) – and the human (a boy growing up in a carpenter’s house).
Maggi reminds of this – far more eloquently than I can – and that this intensely human story is exactly the sort of ‘human interest’ story that sells newspapers and magazines. And has sold the book which has not only sold more copies than any other, but also was the first “best seller” of the printed book world. A story about God, and about a man. A story about God made man. Not for Luke the mysticism of John – “and the Word became flesh and lived among us” – but how that actually came to be.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…
The start of the Old Testament and the start of the New Testament. Maggi suggests reading Genesis 1:1-5 and John 1:1-5 today, and thinking on beginnings – and how to choose a place to start. Both testaments start right back at the very beginning. You may be a literalist and believe that the heaven and earth were created all at once – or you may read Genesis as suggesting that God was responsible for the Big Bang and the ultimate existence of everything. Sara ponders a little more on that here.
But you can’t read John 1:1 that way. Apart from wondering what this mysterious Word is, it could hardly be more emphatic:
In the beginning was the Word.
The Word was with God.
The Word was God.
They are very firm, and very definite. I remember my grammar school headmaster, John Loarridge, reading them every Christmastime at our school carol services. Others, I’m sure, have similar recollections from their youth. These days it is the Dean or the Bishop at the Cathedral. The voice of authority. Start at the beginning. Here’s where it’s at. If you get this, everything else will fit into place. The ultimate three point sermon, perhaps?
Ultimately John is mystical; Genesis likewise. My favourite thought of Maggi’s today is that “To get the full picture of human life and meaning, we need more than science alone: we need poetry and philosophy, story and history, art and music.” And here, in the poetry of Genesis and John is the timbre of history – words that have spoken to people through the ages – words that remind us that, whilst we may be rushing towards Christmas (presents? turkey ordered? parties attended? carols sung?) that ultimately we don’t need to rush – but take the time to hear the Word.