Snow, Trump, and a Quiet Defiance

What does the recent / expected Snowfall and Donald Trump have in common? And no, that’s not the beginning of a very bad joke, though if it were the punchline probably ought to contain the words ‘slippery and slope’.

Perhaps they have in common that we love to hate them?

That both are the target of righteous anger?

That we seem powerless to be able to do anything about either of them. Though I suspect by the end of this I’ll be disagreeing with myself about the last. For perhaps there is something that we can do, yes, even about the snow!

Perhaps less obvious is that both Snow and Trump reveal a hidden truth. A good hard snowfall reminds us how vulnerable we are and how susceptible we are to a little inclement weather. (If only Trump were so short lived.) Once again DT has enraged nations, this time with his declarations over Jerusalem. Perhaps though he has done us a favour – just as the snow gives us a little reminder, for both have shattered our illusions.

I first met Sami Awad as I drove him back to his hotel at the beginning of a tour of the UK speaking about his home town of Bethlehem, non-violence and the work of the Holy Land Trust of which he was director. That was in 2013. Sami Awad, now executive director of the Holy Land Trust is back in the UK this December and has just finished a tour of the UK with the Amos trust who work for justice and hope in the Holy Lands. Sami wrote this last week that Trump [has] erased the illusion that there was an actual peace process. And that peace and justice … will not be realised … by one side forcing its will on others. That, It is only through a commitment to recognizing and honouring the full equal rights of all peoples in the land and building a new joint vision for the future that is founded in the principle of non-violence, justice, equality, and healing, will we be able to move forward in real peace.
That’s an awful lot to digest on a Sunday morning in Advent. Advent is not only about chocolate calendars and the run-up to Christmas. It is also about a world-view that says that “hope appears where it’s least expected and when it’s least anticipated. 2,000 years ago it was a Jewish Palestinian baby born in the occupied village of Bethlehem. Is it perhaps this advent a recognition of the “reality” President Trump talks of which is the failure of a quarter century of the peace process. It’s also the reality of the on-going discrimination and dispossession of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.” (Amos trust) If those are some of the realities we are faced with, what then can we do? This is perhaps where we have a chance to do something positive – but it will take a change of heart. Our Gospel reading today begins the account of Mark with the dramatic prophesy of Isaiah – interpreted in the light of what Jesus achieved. A change of heart for a community which recognised a different way of being, not one which focussed on the past as if nothing would ever change, and acting out of the same fears that it had always acted. A community which focussed on the future they wanted to see and acted in ways to bring about that future. This transformation is key. It is simply the transformation of our way of looking at a situation. Rather than to base our reaction always on what has gone before, it is to look into the future and base what we say and do on what we want to achieve in the end. If we want a future of peaceful relations, then our actions must reflect that. If our lives are disrupted by the weather, then we have the opportunity to reflect on what we believe we are in control of. I defy the snow; not by going out in spite of the warnings, but by changing my perspective. I defy DT; not by shouting righteous angry slogans at my television, but by sharing the story of Palestinians and Israeli’s of Christians and Muslims and all those who stand together and choose not to be defined by the violence or words of others, but who are defined by the common humanity which binds them into community.  Build a little hope this advent…

Gaudete Rejoice

UntitledGaudete – Rejoice.   You brood of vipers? Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Do these go together? They ought to! As the French Foreign minister struck his gavel to mark the agreement of the deal on climate change, he could have cited Luke ch3 as he sent the delegates home. A deal to attempt to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C has been agreed at the climate change summit in Paris after two weeks of negotiations.  The message to the nations who gathered, perhaps we might like to think them akin to a brood of vipers, fleeing from the wrath to come. In ready repentance of past actions of countries towards the environment – they are told: ‘Bear fruits worthy of your repentance.’ As they are sent out, the words of John the Baptist are most appropriate: A message to everyone. ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ There are resources enough for all on this world, IF. Ah yes, the all important word: IF.  If the nations live up to their promises. This agreement indicates a glimmer of hope for a positive response to that IF. If Tax collectors, government officials, bankers, lenders of money to developing nations ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ IF those in power, in all nations ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, being satisfied with your wages.’ Then they might bear fruit worth of their repentance.  So, Rejoice this third Sunday of Advent. Rejoice with John the Baptist, who himself seems as mad as a bag of snakes, but at least a bag of snakes knows what it is.  Why go out into the desert at all to hear this strange fool in sack cloth eating wild food?  Gaudete – Rejoice, embrace the darkness. Embrace who we are and from where we have come. Dark times are times of struggle and pain, advent-times of preparation. Don’t deny what causes us to despair, but choose to rejoice despite it. That is in essence what the nations have signed up to in Paris. Agreeing there is a problem worthy of a solution, and agreeing to do something about it.  Embrace the darkness. Use the times and places where we find it hardest to see the light to begin again.  Recognise that we are broken, individually and as a nation and choose to rejoice despite our issues and problems and our own darkness.  Return to our lives, live them in truth, and in generosity and without hate in our hearts and bear fruits worthy of repentance.  Are we running out of energy this advent? Then today Gaudete Sunday is for you! Rejoice, despite the darkness. Are we finding it tough?  Not least with the continual rain pouring down upon us? Rejoice! Does it sound like the wrong thing to do? When we talk of embracing the dark places in our lives, we might feel like we are being drowned by them.  Perhaps quite literally for some, and even in this nation, let alone those on small islands preparing to leave their whole life and home behind. But still comes the cry: Rejoice. Is this agreement in Paris ‘The One’ to save us? Was John the Baptist the Messiah? John pointed to the one to come whose winnowing fork was in his hand whose like the people had never seen before and whose message would blow their world apart.  One who would gather the wheat and burn the chaff.  I’m sorry, this was the good news?  I thought we were to be Rejoicing?  We may have an agreement in Paris at COP21 on the eve of Gaudete Sunday, and there is much to rejoice in. But for each of those baptismal promises must come our response: What then are we to do?  Asks the crowd: Go home, says John. But, go home with a new spirit of generosity towards your neighbour.  Go with peace and with justice on your heart and in your hand.  Go recognising your interdependence with one another. Go rejoicing that you too have been to a dark place and have recognised yourself and can now stand to bear the fruits of that repentance.  As we watch and wait for Jesus this advent, we are reminded of the simplicity of his message by John who went out before him to prepare his way.  Before we recognise the Christ in the baby Jesus this Christmas, we need first to recognise ourselves and be prepared to face the darkness that we might find.  Then knowing our own brokenness we can come to the stable and rejoice.

St. Nicholas, the Shopping Frenzy and a box of goodies

goldboxThis box came from Bedwellty, a Parish in South Wales as part of the Church in Wales The Time is Now conference.  So as I’m speaking it will come around and you can help yourself to a simple gift from St. Nicholas.

It was doomed to end in violence, but either they didn’t care or they were too short sighted to see it coming.  Clearly there were going to be problems from the start.  You put 10 top of the range flat screen TVs on sale and expect an orderly queue?  DUH!  One of the most mis-quoted passages from the bible is amongst our readings this morning:  That money is the root of all evil – no, Love of money!  The Black Friday phenomenon that reared its ugly head again this year and can be neatly attributed to America – but I catch myself as I say, that’s not really fair as it has always been as much a part of their tradition as Boxing Day sales have been British.  Though it was the US corporations who began offering ‘Black Friday’ deals a few years ago over here.  Retail giants, eager to get going on the Christmas spending spree are encouraging the spending to start a week or so earlier than before.  How much can we squeeze out of already stretched families still feeling the pinch from the financial crisis.  So the solution it seems is to encourage us all to spend even more?  Don’t they know what caused the crash in the first place – of course they do!  As our disgust at the behaviour of some of the shops and shoppers diminishes it leaves us wondering why?.  Why do we behave in such ways, surely human nature is not built for this?  Does it perhaps reflect a culture which says we must have this or that and without it we are nothing?  Does it simply reflect that fact that there is less money around so a bargain must be had at all costs, even if we don’t really need it!  Perhaps it is both.  They say that Black Friday was followed by ‘Take it back Saturday’, then Cyber Monday – keep the pace of spending going.  I decided to try ‘Buy Nothing Friday’ which worked well until the last moment when I was forced to buy two coffees and a hot chocolate, and they were full price.  The hype, the drama, the thrill of the chase for the last cheap deal before what?  Doing it all again after a few days break? Probably.  And the church leaders wonder why churches are emptier than before, that folk would rather be at the sales or the supermarket enthralled with the thrill of the shopping experience.  You arrive at the checkout – give over your loyalty card and pay the cashier your confession fee as your needs and wants (or goods as we like to call them) are loaded back into the trolley.  The priests of the supermarket handing you absolution with a knowing wink along with your receipt.  You saved yourself today.  £3.62 and earned loyalty points on top – have a nice day and come back soon.  In the midst of it all look at Jesus.  Yes look at Jesus.  In the midst of it all here stands Jesus with his arms out, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”  And there is no price tag or catch or queue or limit.  The antithesis of all the shopping, gift buying and financial malarkey is the love that never runs out the gift that never grows old, the day that never dies away.  St. Nicholas was known for giving gifts and slowly over time and culture became our Santa Claus.  But the gifts that Bishop Nicholas gave were life giving.  Gifts of freedom, of charity.  Gifts given in love for the people, given in the knowledge that Jesus calls us all into his arms as children are called to enter into the kingdom with the joy of the simplest gift given in love.  No price tag, no disorderly queues, no fancy offers, no two for ones or buy two get one twice the price.  In the spirit of St. Nicholas enjoy a simple pleasure of a simple gift as we contemplate and wait this advent for the one who St. Nicholas always pointed towards, the greatest gift of all.