Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Throughout Advent we have been waiting with joyous hope and anticipation for the coming of the Christ-child. This last week our evening prayer has included verses from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Each day Jesus is addressed by a different title: Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Rising Sun, King of Nations and finally yesterday’s Antiphon, O Emmanuel (God is with us). In the Revised Standard Version of the Bible today’s verse reads: ‘Because you do, the Lord of His own accord will give you a sign; it is this; a young woman is with child, and she will give birth to a son and call him Immanuel.’ Isaiah 7:14
Like Christian communities across the world the congregation of St Mary Magdalene will gather at 11.30 tonight for Midnight Mass. The preparations have been made, all is now ready for as St Matthew writes: “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Matthew25:6(NIV). Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled! God is with us! Of course, Christ was not born some 2000 years ago never to return, God is with us now and will remain with us all the days of our lives. Yet remember that Jesus did promise that He will return again in glory to take us to Himself. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:3 (NIV) The baby Jesus can now be placed in the crib in the Nativity scene as a reminder of that wonderful gift and promise of God.
Our only reaction must be to join with St Paul and cry: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.6 Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7(NIV)
That said let us not forget those who will spend this Christmas without loved ones, especially for the first time, or are facing illness or poverty. May the peace of God that passes all understanding find a way into their hearts.
I wish you all a blessed Christmas and a New Year where peace prevails.
This week I want to continue the theme of praying with the imagination since I believe that placing oneself at the scene in a biblical story can bring home a message for each of us.
Maybe you will better be able to understand the emotions and turmoil that Mary went through once the Angel Gabriel had given her God’s message but this is my take on events.
‘Once Mr Gabriel had left, Mary’s head was spinning. What was that all about? Who was that man and more importantly what have I agreed to? She decided she needed to talk it over with Joseph although, whilst a just and kind man, he did have a fearsome temper so she was more than a bit afraid as to what he would say. Sure enough when she met him coming out of his father’s workshop at the end of the day he flew into a rage at her news. He told her the wedding was off and he never wanted to see her again. She ran home in floods of tears. Mother suggested that she should go to spend some time with Cousin Elizabeth. After all with a few months apart it might all calm down, she thought to herself, although she doubted whether the wedding would ever take place. Next morning Mary packed a few things into a suitcase and caught the early morning train to the hill town where Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah lived. It was a long journey and so it was evening before she arrived, by which time Mary was quite tired. Elizabeth was in the neat well-kept garden gathering some flowers for a vase in the living room. When she saw her young cousin approaching she ran to welcome her with open arms. “It’s lovely to see you,” she cried, “Come in and tell me all your news!” It was as if a weight had been lifted from Mary’s shoulders. Elizabeth would understand and could surely help her. “Looks as if you’ve news of your own!” she laughed patting her cousin’s enlarged stomach. “Indeed! We both thought we were far too old to have a child but it seems God has other ideas! Anyway, come on inside I will make some tea and we can chat.” Over a pot of tea and cakes in front of the kitchen stove it all came tumbling out. Mary told her all about the visit of the strange old man, Mr Gabriel, what she had agreed to and Joseph’s reaction. “What I can’t understand,”she said, “is if they wanted a king to reign over Israel, why choose me? Surely they would have chosen the daughter of some wealthy family. I am not worthy or qualified to undertake such a task” Elizabeth listened in silence. Then, quietly she explained, “God works in mysterious ways. He does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. After all, I didn’t know what to think when Zechariah told me that whilst serving in the Temple an angel came to him, - yes, your Mr Gabriel is an angel, - to say that we would have a child who would bring people back to God, that he would prepare the people for One who was to come after him, but it has happened.” She paused, and then said,“I believe that the child in your womb is indeed that holy child who will be called the Son of God. If you want further proof, my unborn child gave me a good kicking when you called out to me! Anyway we can talk more later. Come and give me a hand to make up a bed for you.” Mary stayed happily with her cousin until John was born.
Mary prepared for the birth of her child by spending time with her cousin. How are you preparing for the coming of the Christ Child into your heart?
It was a bright crisp day in December. The tall buildings cast long shadows across the street. Rueben and his mates were kicking a football about when an old, smartly dressed, man approached. “I’m looking for the Feinstein’s home,” he said “Can you direct me.” Of course Rueben could; it was his home. “Follow me” he said.
At the door he called out: “Ma, Visitor” before running back to his game. Mother bustled to the door wiping her hands on her apron. Looking at the visitor she stiffened. What was a smartly dressed gent like this doing here? Was he the new landlord intending to put up the rent? “I wish to speak with your daughter the old man said handing Mother a card. On it she read ‘A.A.Gabriel. Communications Director.' Clearly not a man to be trifled with, but who was he? To be polite, she said, “Come in. Have some tea and perhaps you’d like a cake, I‘ve just baked some.” The old man thanked her, came in and sat by the fire. “Mary” she called out, “Come down we’ve a visitor” Mary had been looking at some magazines choosing a dress she dreamed of wearing for her forthcoming wedding to Joseph. She sighed but did as Mother had asked. As she entered the room the old man stood up and addressed her rather strangely, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you” he said. What an odd way of speaking, she thought, I wonder who he is. But Mother now knew exactly who he was although had no idea of his proposition. Sensing Mary’s apprehension he went on, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. He has asked me to put a proposition to you.” Found favour with God? Her mind was racing now! What could God want from her? ”You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” said the old man. “You’ve got to be joking,” laughed Mary, nervously; and yet there was something about this man. He didn’t seem the sort to joke about something important like that. “But I am a virgin,” she protested, “Really I am Mum. I’ve not let Joseph near me.” Turning to the old man she asked “What will Joseph say? He won’t marry me if I am pregnant!” “Don’t worry about the details,” said the old man rather testily, “Everything will be taken care of. I will call on Joseph to explain things. You can leave it all in God’s hands.” With that promise Mary made up her mind. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” “Excellent” said the old man making a note in the little notebook he drew from his pocket. Now, I must be getting along. So much to do! Oh, by the way, did you know your cousin Elizabeth is six months pregnant? I saw her the other day. I think she would welcome a visit from you” With that he got up, thanked Mrs Feinstein for the tea and cake and left.
What does God want from you today? More importantly, will you accept His invitation as Mary did?
As Anglicans, the Sunday before Advent is colloquially known to us as ‘Stir up Sunday’ from the first words of the Collect for the day: Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the will of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Traditionally it was the day when Mother would make the Christmas pudding. Once the pudding bowl came out and the ingredients assembled on the kitchen worktop you knew Christmas was not too far off. Everything was in the bowl, so the children would be invited to take turns in stirring the mixture. Plenteous fruit was stirred into the Christmas pudding! Finally Father would come into the kitchen with a small supply of silver three penny pieces which he would ceremoniously drop into the bowl. The mixture was then tipped onto a muslin cloth, tied with string and placed in a saucepan of boiling water, there to steam for what seemed ages. The rich and inviting smell of the pudding cooking permeated the house. Preparations for Christmas had started! The next step would be to find the crib and make the decorations. Not that anything would be put out yet, of course, but the excitement was in the air!
In the same way, Advent is the time for preparation for the coming of the Christ child. Let us bring forth plenteous good works this Christmas as we go through Advent
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK