Thursday, 24 December 2015

Making room

Luke 2:1-14
The Birth of Jesus
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 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.
The Shepherds and the Angels
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Emperor's decrees
Long journeys
Lots of travellers
Busy cities
A baby ready to be born
A birth that disrupts careful plans
That astounds night workers going about their business
enough to change routines 
so that they could go and see for themselves...
Following the bidding of Angels
the Shepherds were among the first
to witness the miracle of love
born for them
Born for us.

Prayer
Incarnate God, may there be room in our busy schedules for disruption. May we hear the voices of angels and go and see. And may there be space to be changed by all that we encounter.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Nothing impossible

Luke 1:26-38
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Nothing impossible
Conception
Mystery
Justice
Peace
Release
Sharing
Miracles
Love
Nothing impossible
Christmas

Prayer
God in our world today, may the miracle of Christmas be that we truly believe that nothing is impossible and so, in love, may we begin to meet the needs of our world.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Making ready

Luke 1:14-17
You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

One who goes before
Not the main event
Filled with the Spirit
Making ready
With power
to turn a nation around
to make folk ready
to greet the Messiah
Not an easy task
But vital
to the Kingdom of God.

Prayer
There will always be a need for those who prepare the way, for those who faithfully sow the seeds upon which others can build. May we be content with being forerunners to the main event.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Sharing the truth

Luke 1:1-4
Dedication to Theophilus
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

Who could have imagined
that setting down an orderly account
W
would lead to such confusion and debate
about what is truth?
Who could have imagined
that every nuance would be weighed and measured,
every phrase scrutinised?
And, far from revealing truth,
these words,
this orderly account
would convey deep, deep mystery.
And somewhere in that mystery
God dwells.

Prayer
Turn us, O God from seeking easy answers and half baked truths. Keep us searching for the mystery that you will reveal when the time is right.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The rustle of wings


Luke 1:5-13
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.

It seems that Angels were frequent visitors
in days gone past
Bringing good news and bad
Bringing terror and joy
Bringing anticipation and trepidation
Angels - messengers of God
Are they less frequent today?
Or is it that we're less inclined to notice
or pay heed?
Lost in cyberspace
there is no room for the celestial
And so we miss the gentle rustle
of angels wings
and the good news that they bring.

Prayer
God, in all the clamour, give us space to wait on angels, to hear your message conveyed by unconventional means to ordinary people in out of the way places. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Restored

Ezra 6:19-22
The Passover Celebrated
On the fourteenth day of the first month the returned exiles kept the passover. For both the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all of them were clean. So they killed the passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. It was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by all who had joined them and separated themselves from the pollutions of the nations of the land to worship the Lord, the God of Israel. With joy they celebrated the festival of unleavened bread seven days; for the Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.
Work done
Worship restored
Back to ritual and promise
A return to praise and devotion
With the evidence of their longing
manifest in the completion of the temple,
Gods people fell back on tradition 
Returning to what they knew or had heard about
Worshiping the Lord with joy
With the building as testament to an ancient way of life
they picked up old threads
and began to weave
a new pattern.

Prayer
In every unraveling and in every re-making, God is with us.
In every truth discarded and in every treasure rediscovered, God is with us
Aiding discernment in the myriad options we encounter
Guiding our thoughts and deeds
Directing our choices
Leading us
in the ways that lead
to hope
and peace
and love
and joy

Friday, 18 December 2015

Purpose

Ezra 6:13-18
Completion and Dedication of the Temple
Then, according to the word sent by King Darius, Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their associates did with all diligence what King Darius had ordered. So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia; and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. They offered at the dedication of this house of God one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel, twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. Then they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their courses for the service of God at Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses.
Job done.
At last
Offerings made
Boxes ticked
What next?
Will this fulfilment of decree
a long time in the making
Impact the life of the world?
Will the God honoured in this edifice
make any difference
to those who have hewn stone,
those whose taxes have increased to fund
a monument to the past?
Will this symbol of greatness and dedication
live long and prosper?

Prayer
God when we become embroiled in buildings and structures, in decrees and laws, remind us of the demands you make on us - to love you and to love each other, inside and out of our worship,

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Grand gestures


Ezra 5:1-5
Restoration of the Temple Resumed
Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak set out to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem; and with them were the prophets of God, helping them.
At the same time Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and their associates came to them and spoke to them thus, “Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?” They also asked them this, “What are the names of the men who are building this building?” But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until a report reached Darius and then answer was returned by letter in reply to it.

Isn't it the way
that those who seek to do right
come under scrutiny?
Their motives questioned
their authority usurped,
hurdles at every turn.
The temple will be built
but at what cost
and to what purpose.
Honouring God
needs not the ostentatious 
or grand gesture,
but the humble spirit
of reverence and awe
lived out in love.

Prayer 
God you ask not for amazing feats of architecture or vulgar displays to wealth but for humility and sincerity in our worship accompanied by generosity in our living. This Advent, help us to see the treasure you have planted deep within each of us.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Temporary victory

Ezra 4:23-24
Then when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and the scribe Shimshai and their associates, they hurried to the Jews in Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. At that time the work on the house of God in Jerusalem stopped and was discontinued until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia.

Stopped in their tracks
from rebuilding the temple
Thwarted by evil intent
Such malice is always soul destroying
it rarely feels temporary
We're not always able to see beyond
the present reality
It's hard to trust
in God's time
Hard to await
the right time.
Faith and promises
do not pay the bills
or keep worry from consuming.
The discipline of waiting
does not come easily
to a people accustomed to doing not being.
Being forced to wait
encourages us to be.

Prayer
God, when plans are thwarted and evil seems to have the last say, give us the strength and the wisdom to discern your purpose and, in discovery, help us simply to be.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Undercurrents

Ezra 4:1-5
Resistance to Rebuilding the Temple
When the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of families and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of King Esar-haddon of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of families in Israel said to them, “You shall have no part with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus of Persia has commanded us.”
Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and made them afraid to build, and they bribed officials to frustrate their plan throughout the reign of King Cyrus of Persia and until the reign of King Darius of Persia.

In every task
there will always be discouragers
Those who feel left out
Those who resent others
getting on with the work in hand - 
especially when they're making a good job of it.
Not everything can be wholly embracing,
not when the outcome will be compromised
Discernment and instinct
should not be overruled
by the desire to be inclusive.
Even when we know
there will be a price to pay.

Prayer
Lord, in our desire to embrace, help us not to sell out. 
In our desire to compromise, help us not to let what is important slide into oblivion.
Give us wisdom to discern when it is appropriate to simply say no - and then to live with the consequence.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Laughing or crying

Ezra 3:10-13

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel;
and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.

Shouts of joy mingled with weeping
Celebrations tinged by mourning
Looking to the promise of the future
Pulled back into grieving the past
Such is life
Populated by those with vision
and those who live in the past
To make space for each other is a gift
The new alongside the old
Each with its place
Each worthy of honour
Held together in love

Prayer
God in all our celebrations, keep us mindful of those who mourn.
In all our joyful anticipation of the future, help us make space for those who long for the past.
May we find wholeness in you who brings all things together.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Memories

Ezra 1:1-4
End of the Babylonian Captivity
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared:
“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”
Ezra 3:1-4
Worship Restored at Jerusalem
When the seventh month came, and the Israelites were in the towns, the people gathered together in Jerusalem. Then Jeshua son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his kin set out to build the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as prescribed in the law of Moses the man of God. They set up the altar on its foundation, because they were in dread of the neighboring peoples, and they offered burnt offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening. And they kept the festival of booths, as prescribed, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the ordinance, as required for each day,
Ezra 3:10-13
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel;
and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.
In the midst of rejoicing
there was also weeping
And so it has always been
Tears amidst the shouts of joys.
Laments amidst the praise
Memories among the newly created moments
Longing for the past
even while welcoming the present
What might have been
alongside what is
And God in the midst of it all
whose steadfast love endures forever.

Prayer
God may we always be mindful of those whose memories are long, whose joy in the present is tinged with the memory of former things. May our rejoicing make way for the feelings of others.
And may we know your steadfast love in our lives every day.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Precious

Isaiah 43:1-7
Restoration and Protection Promised
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Precious
So precious
that the God of all creation
calls you by name
restores you
takes pride in you
and journeys with you
through all things.
Precious

Prayer
God of all the universe,keep reminding us of your presence right beside us in all things. And help us believe that, in your eyes, we are precious, redeemed, known by name.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Locked in


Isaiah 42:21-25
Israel’s  Disobedience
 The Lord was pleased, for the sake of his righteousness,
to magnify his teaching and make it glorious.
But this is a people robbed and plundered,
all of them are trapped in holes
and hidden in prisons;
they have become a prey with no one to rescue,
a spoil with no one to say, “Restore!”
Who among you will give heed to this,
who will attend and listen for the time to come?
Who gave up Jacob to the spoiler,
and Israel to the robbers?
Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned,
in whose ways they would not walk,
and whose law they would not obey?
So he poured upon him the heat of his anger
and the fury of war;
it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand;
it burned him, but he did not take it to heart.

There's something about a people oppressed
A people who have lost sight of what is good and right
A people who have lost hope
that life can be other
than the narrow enclave
in which they now reside
Those with vision of something new
are few and far between
and are despised for their ability to dream
And so the cycle of despair and hurt
becomes perpetual and endless
And signs pointing to a way out
are misunderstood, mistrusted, 
destroyed before they have a chance to take root.
And people hunker down  
and stick with what they know.

Prayer
God, when we see no way out, for ourselves or for others, keep prodding us, especially when we become resigned to the status quo. Keep igniting our hope that life can be redeemed and that the dawn will come. Be in all our awakenings, diffusing love, light and hope.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Look up!

Isaiah 42:18-20

Listen, you that are deaf;
and you that are blind, look up and see!
Who is blind but my servant,
or deaf like my messenger whom I send?
Who is blind like my dedicated one,
or blind like the servant of the Lord?
He sees many things, but does not observe them;
his ears are open, but he does not hear.

In this Advent season
when all in the world around us 
conspires and encourages us
to keep our heads down,
to close our eyes to the strife all around
and our ears to the wails of lament
we are exhorted to:
Look up and see!
Look up and see
that in the midst of all the struggle
there are those who are making a difference.
Those who are living out the promise of God.
There are glimmers of light in the darkness,
threads of hope in despair.
Our God is doing a new thing.
Look up and see!

Prayer
God of all that is new, may our eyes and ears be opened to your spirit at work in our world, in our nation, in our community and in our lives. May we look up and see your presence infusing every darkness with the light of hope.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Loving softly


Isaiah 42:1-9
The Servant, a Light to the Nations
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

A servant who will not raise his voice
who will be gentle and effective.
In stark contrast to the false prophets of today
who deafen with their clamour
proclaiming evil
denouncing justice
Oppressing the unfortunate
while lining the pockets of the rich.
Inciting fear of the other 
encouraging isolation and insularity
Where are those gentle activists
with their random acts of grace?
Where are those who distil peace
with their calm assurance
that love is stronger than any force
more persistent than any invective
more tenacious than any deeply embedded opinion
More resilient than any tissue of lies.
We long for that new kingdom
to be born in our midst today.
We look for signs 
of its springing up
out of the darkness.
And, to hasten its arrival
we keep on practising love
with heart and soul and mind.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The colours of distraction


Isaiah 41:21-29
The Futility of Idols
Set forth your case, says the Lord;
bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they are,
so that we may consider them,
and that we may know their outcome;
or declare to us the things to come.
Tell us what is to come hereafter,
that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm,
that we may be afraid and terrified.
You, indeed, are nothing
and your work is nothing at all;
whoever chooses you is an abomination.
I stirred up one from the north, and he has come,
from the rising of the sun he was summoned by name.
He shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay.
Who declared it from the beginning, so that we might know,
and beforehand, so that we might say, “He is right”?
There was no one who declared it, none who proclaimed,
none who heard your words.
I first have declared it to Zion,
and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good tidings.
But when I look there is no one;
among these there is no counselor
who, when I ask, gives an answer.
No, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their images are empty wind.

There are many delusions
Many temptations
to lure us with false promises
and empty threats
Without substance
they dissolve into nothing,
vanish like vapour
None can stand against God
None can even come close
to the stature of the one
who was there at the beginning of creation
who called the stars to their places
and breathed life into the world.
None can measure up
to the God of all creation.
May we fix our eyes on truth
and not on passing fantasy.
On the One who colours the sky and the earth
new every day
surprising us time and again
with unimaginable beauty.

Prayer
God may we lift our eyes to see your indisputable majesty in the world around us. Save us from the glittering distractions that blind us to the truth. May we share, this season, with those for whom every day brings unrelenting greyness, the colour of your love displayed in rainbow hues, poured out on a world in need.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Courage and strength


Isaiah 41:1-10
Israel Assured of God’s Help
Listen to me in silence, O coastlands;
let the peoples renew their strength;
let them approach, then let them speak;
let us together draw near for judgment.
Who has roused a victor from the east,
summoned him to his service?
He delivers up nations to him,
and tramples kings under foot;
he makes them like dust with his sword,
like driven stubble with his bow.
He pursues them and passes on safely,
scarcely touching the path with his feet.
Who has performed and done this,
calling the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord, am first,
and will be with the last.
The coastlands have seen and are afraid,
the ends of the earth tremble;
they have drawn near and come.
Each one helps the other,
saying to one another, “Take courage!”
The artisan encourages the goldsmith,
and the one who smooths with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, “It is good”;
and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.
But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

The first and the last says
Do not be afraid
Work together
Take courage
God who has chosen you
will strengthen you:
Words of comfort
in the midst of despair
Words of encouragement
in the midst of fear
Words that call us to be active
not passive
to be engaged
not complacent
Words that help us
live in hope.

Prayer
God, when we feel discouraged or despairing, remind us that you have chosen us and will never abandon us. Give us courage and strength to do what is right, to keep hope and love alive.