Today’s reading is Luke 2:1,3–7. It’s the story of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem. There, Mary gives birth and famously places Jesus in a manger because there was no room in the ‘inn.’ (My post from Christmas Eve last year has some useful notes on this word.)Continue reading Luke 2:1–7: The Prince of Prayer (a poem)
Continuing the series of poems drawing on the scripture readings in a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Strictly speaking, the reading for today is Luke 1:26–35,38.
This is one of those passages that’s so famous, it’s hard to know what more can be said about it.Continue reading Luke 1:26–38: The Weight of Wings (a poem)
I never used to address God as ‘Father’.
Instead I would just say ‘Lord’ or ‘God.’ It didn’t matter whether I was addressing Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, or…
OK – Christians have this belief that God exists in three persons. They’re separate, but they’re one. And therefore not separate. It gets confusing very quickly.
But we believe “the Trinity” is the best way we have of describing a being who is beyond comprehension.
And it explains things that we see in the Bible.
For example: Mary was told she would become pregnant with Jesus, who would be called the son of God. When she asked how, she was told the Holy Spirit would come upon her. And the power of the Most High would overshadow her.
Three persons, one God.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 2, Day 7: Mystery
Pollution is incredibly unjust.
It’s so indiscriminate, so harmful, and its effects can be so long-lasting. Its point of impact can be far removed from its cause. When you stop and think about it, it’s hard not get angry.
I don’t just mean environmental pollution. Harmful substances, ideas and actions can pollute our bodies, minds and communities. The biblical writers often spoke of wrong-doing as something that polluted the people and their land.
(They also believed some perfectly healthy life experiences were polluting, but I won’t go into that now.)
If you ask me, the unifying thing about all forms of pollution, is that it steals people’s futures.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 2, Day 6: Temple
You hear some kinds of stories multiple times. Then they become tropes. Then you get fed up of hearing them.
Take the whole ‘chosen one’ plot. Something bad needs sorting, but fate or prophecy has decided who will do this. And more often than not, it’s a child. Or a baby. Or a yet-to-be-born baby. Whoever it is, they were born for this.
And then every now and then, you see the story told well, or in a surprising way.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 2, Day 5: Chosen
“God lets his children tell his story.”Peter Enns, biblical scholar
Today, people believe things are true when the history, facts and science stack up.
(Well… I mean… most of us do…)
Being people of faith, Christians want to show that things about God are true. And sometimes they do this by showing how the facts stack up.
Now, I have time for this – up to a point. There is reliable historical information, outside of the Bible, to show that Jesus lived and died. There is science behind the study of ancient texts and earliest the New Testament manuscripts date from very close to Jesus’s time.
But, trying to prove God or the Bible by using science has its limits. For one thing, history cannot be reproduced in a lab experiment. For another, the stories of the Bible aren’t scientific in that way.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 2, Day 4: Translation
In an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, the crew of the spaceship meet an alien race that values stories. (Prime Factors, season 1, episode 10.) The ship’s library of stories, and permission to tell them, was valued as highly as powerful transportation technology.
I found this idea thought-provoking.
Personal stories can be immensely precious, but they’re also vulnerable to appropriation – especially when it comes to identity and faith. And the church does not have a good track record here.
In the millennia since Jesus was born, we have systematically stigmatised the Jewish people, and claimed their literature as our own. I’m not proud of this. That’s why when I write about the Bible, I try to distinguish between what the text says, and how Christians interpret it. I want to remember that this text is not mine; it was not written for me.
And many Jews do not agree with how I interpret it.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 2, Day 3: Stories
Servants wait to be called. But children approach anyway.
Christians often share their stories about how they’re living out their faith. Many of these are filled with hope and fresh ideas, fitting for our time. But there’s a phrase I’ve heard so many times, “I realised this was what God was calling me to do.” The emphasis is on finding God’s will.
We talk negatively about our own will much of the time. We acknowledge that God is a loving God, so we can trust his call will enliven us. But our will has to be couched within his will.
And… on one level, I get this. I believe God is good. I want his will to be done on earth because I know he’s unselfish and wise. I get that. I’m not interested in doing anything outside of God’s will.
But… I find it dissatisfying when the search for “God’s will” consumes our life of faith. It’s like “the Calling” becomes more important than what God wants to achieve through that calling.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 2, Day 2: Children
This week, we’re looking at the song of Mary.
If you ask me, it’s massively underrated.
I’ll talk more about Mary on Thursday, but she was Jesus’s mother. A young Jewish woman, most likely a teenager, she totally knew the music of her culture.
Growing up, I didn’t think much of Mary’s song. We sang it in very high English, to boring tunes. And we called it by its Latin name, the ‘magnificat.’
But there’s also what people didn’t say. No one said, “Hey, you want to know what Christmas is about? Read Mary’s song.” If someone tried to explain the good news, they would give you an analogy or draw a diagram. They wouldn’t point to this song.
I guess it’s partly because she was writing within the Jewish tradition – which the church hasn’t studied well. And maybe the church preferred to think of Mary as a musician, but not a theologian.
Whatever. I get to appreciate it now.Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 2, Day 1: Blessing
This is a short story / sketch based on the events recorded in Luke 2:41-50. It is told from Mary’s point of view.
We went to Jerusalem again this year to celebrate Passover. It was the third time we’ve been able to do so since Joseph and I returned to Galilee, but still it conjured so many emotions for me.
On the one hand it was good to be amongst family and friends, walking with them and seeing the children play together. On the other hand it reminded me of all that I missed during the years we were in Egypt. I heard the young mothers asking questions of the older women, receiving good advice and homely encouragement. It stung to be reminded how I didn’t have that community and I tried so hard not to begrudge them.
The children were a handful, as ever.Continue reading Skandalon: Mary teaches the boy Jesus
I was contemplating what it must have been like for Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist. She went through childbirth in her old age, knowing she would not live see her son minister and having to wrestle with the religious and political tensions of her culture. It can’t have been easy. This is an imagined letter written from Elizabeth to Mary (her cousin and the mother of Jesus), inspired by the events told in Luke’s gospel chapter 1, verses 5-25 and 57-80.
Elizabeth, a delighted mother whom God has mercifully remembered in her old age,
To Mary, my dear cousin and blessed mother to be,
Peace be with you.
It seems but a day since you returned to Galilee, and yet I know it has already been some three months. Please forgive me for taking so long to write to you.Continue reading His name is John: Elizabeth writes to Mary