Flesh for the Word

The Word became Wisdom and lived among us : but foolishly we missed its simplicity. So the Word became Light and lived among us : but we smothered its flame. Then Word became Truth and lived among us : but we disbelieved its sincerity. And the Word became Hope and lived among us : but we scorned its optimism. So the Word became Patience and lived among us : but we chased it away in our anxiety. Then the Word became Peace and lived among us : but we trampled on its careful footsteps. And the Word became Strength and lived among us : but we were caught out in our weakness. So the Word became Understanding and lived among us : but we misunderstood in our haste to know.  Then the Word became Kindness and lived among us : but we exploited its openness. And when the Word became Generosity and lived among us : we abused its hospitality. So the Word became Self control and lived among us : but we mocked its prudence. Then the Word became Goodness and lived among us : but we become lost in complacency. And the Word became Humility and lived among us : but we were puffed up on our own ego. So the Word became Gentleness and lived among us : but we refused to be tender.  And when the Word became Love and lived among us : we rejected it in anger.

So the Word became Flesh full of Wisdom and Light and Truth and Hope and Patience and Peace and Strength and Understanding and Kindness and Generosity and Self control and Humility and Goodness and Gentleness and Love:

And; Cradled in its warmth, welcoming its insight, captivated by its brightness, Revelling in its honesty, Engaged with its vision, Waiting with diligence, Dwelling within its boundaries. Supported in its embrace, Cherishing its knowledge, Partnered in its friendship, Gifted with abundance, Recognising our abandon, Humbled by its letting go, Receiving its mercy and Held in its compassion:  We might glimpse its glory. 

Can we? I mean really understand, ever this mystical knowing?  Is it possible to expand our imaginations a little from John’s theological account of the Christ and the nativity of Jesus pared down to an incarnate phrase?  Can we go a little further into the mystery to understand what it might mean for the ‘Word’ to be ‘flesh’ amongst us?  And perhaps then recognise the incarnation when it comes.

Out of the darkness comes…

Dear Santa Claus, St. Nick, Sant Claus, Bishop Nicolas of Myra died AD343 origin of the fable of fables, Story of stories, giver of gifts by stealth, childhood fantasy of dreams and visions, nighttime visitor, time engineer extraordinaire, magical mystery maker, bringer of wishes, keeper of ‘The List’ – Naughty and Nice.

Children wait in their beds half sleeping, half dreaming of satsumas and chocolate coins, (well, now I’m dreaming). Cutting through the darkness, expected to come for nothing less than to fulfil our deepest desires and for a mince pie, sherry and carrot for the reindeer.  Did you too get fed this story as a child or were your parents brave enough to tell you the truth?  That there is no Christmas unless we make it happen for ourselves. We can blame others this year that they’ve ‘cancelled Christmas’ but no-one cancels it unless we do it to ourselves. So, it’s up to us to be witnesses to the light in the darkest of times. It’s our task again this year to bring to birth the Christ child, the true light that was and is coming into the world.

But all we have is this darkness to work with.  The darkness I’m told is an absence of light. Is that all? I must disagree to say into the void that the darkness is so much more. A place of beginning. Of expectation. Of Potential. Of Dreams unborn. Of Waiting. Of Depth. A place to hold the despair into which we cry our tears of mourning and of sorrow for that which pulls at our hearts and leaves us with that gut wrenching emptiness as if there will be no dawning at the end of this long winter night. (Call it 2020 if you like)  And into this: Wilderness, exhausted, a voice cries out.  One small voice. When we are at our darkest and deepest moments of despair. When we too want to shout into the darkness – and by the way the darkness can take it all, whatever it is we need to shout.  When we name our fears, our despairs, our sorrows and expectations, our disappointments and unrealised dreams – when we let the darkness have them all; then we can begin to make it through. We need to go through the pain of being in the darkness to bring to birth the christ. 

Advent is not only a time for waiting, but also for preparation. Our task in preparation is creating the space to allow the Christ to come to birth. Among you stands one whom you do not yet know says John the Baptist to those who follow him out into the darkness, into the wilderness, searching for something that will bring healing in a time of desperate pain. This is where it begins. The slow bringing to birth begins in the darkness, in brokenness.  John the Baptist points the way to Christ, just as little Saint Nick the boy bishop of Myra did in the 4th century.  The darkness is where it begins with the small moments that bring in the light.  A moment spent on a doorstep offering a card, a moment on a video singing a song alone that becomes a choir of joy for others. Small moments of beauty and the time taken to stand and watch what unfolds yes, even in the darkness, especially in the darkness. Small moments of time offered, given for others, moments of love and even gifts given in the spirit of St. Nicolas.  As we prepare to remember a moment in time, the birth of the baby, the real moment, the birth of the Christ was the moment Mary said her yes and opened her heart to the possibility of what seemed impossible.  The idea of God away in the heavens and unreachable would instead come close. Perhaps that’s why John the Baptist points to the crowd and says one among you. There is one among you whom you do not know who embodies the christ and for us too, there can be one among us.  It can be each of us, unknown to ourselves this advent, each one of us, if our hearts are open to the possibility of small moments of transformation. Then comes born to us the Christ-mas in the reconciliation of all things.

Expectations for Christmas Stockings

I wonder what our expectations might be this advent as we begin our journey towards the celebration of the birth of Jesus once again this year? I suspect we will have rather conflicting expectations not least because of the ongoing pandemic, the last stand of the British Empire, aka Brexit. The rather sad image of a man clinging desperately on to power that has already slipped from his grasp and the economic doom being forecast as countless people loose jobs and income due to the failure of businesses built on consumerism that some thought would never end. Then there is the uncertainty over the latest COVID regulations designed to keep us safe but destined to confuse the vast majority at the same time. I misread the text of Mark where it says: ‘Beware, keep awake.’ I heard, ‘Beware, keep apart.’ How these messages filter into our minds. There is a marked difference between the healthy watchfulness that Mark commends and a mistrustful fear of the other. Our Gospel reading for this first Sunday in Advent begins, not at the beginning, but at the beginning of the end. We’ll return to the first chapter of Mark next week. As Advent starts though, we are reminded of the end game. “in those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” So what’s going on? It seems to me quite apt for the state we’re in and far from the cautiously expectant preparations we might all be engaged in as December comes quietly upon us. For every beginning there is an ending and so forth. It seems to me we are engaged in a struggle for the very soul of our nation, the world even. The apocalyptic nature of Mark 13 was meant to be dramatic, to call people to be ‘awake’, to take note of the lessons of nature, the trees must lose their leaves before the new are grown. Jesus’ words preparing those who wish to reconstruct the old order into the new will not fall away. New wine needs new wine skins. A new order needs a new model. Out of death comes new life. It makes sense as we struggle at the dark end of 2020 politically, socially, morally and economically. You can’t tweak capitalism into being ecological, or into caring for the poorest in society or into a truly representative democracy where the voices of all are listened to, and truly heard. Mark is alluding to nothing less than the highest structures of power in history coming to their knees. Expectations for Christmas stockings have just risen into the full burlesque. From [insert random easily forgotten present] to a complete transformation of everything. The dominant order of the day falls but the words of Jesus do not pass away! And we begin to ask a more urgent question like: How can I live? How can I live in this new world where everything I have known is now different, difficult or subject to regulation. How can I live? Is the right question for Advent, because there is on offer a bigger vision in the words of the bible the Kingdom of God, in the words of the liberation movements, true justice. In musical terms it’s the Cantus Firmus, the song of the earth, the fixed melody which undergirds all that lives and loves and breathes. We can choose to sing in harmony, or not. The Cantus Firmus was used by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a metaphor of the love of God, that which gives the underlying rhythm to the very stuff of life and out of which a child is born, a son is given and he will be called wonderful, Emanuel God is with us and the government will be upon his shoulders et cetera. As we begin our adaptation, reconcilliation in the birth pains of all creation this Advent, the call is to sing the new song, to dream the new dream and to celebrate the gifts and promises for all in the light that is to come, the Christ Child, in the crafting of new beginnings.