The culmination of Advent with the coming of Christmas calls us once again to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
John’s Gospel talks of Jesus existing with God from the beginning, before being incarnated as a human being, and of then returning to be with God after His death & resurrection.
This is the pattern not only for Jesus but for every human being.
We each come from God and at our birth enter into this world carrying with us ‘memories ‘ of the Home whence we came.
We are each called, as Jesus was, to incarnate some aspect[s]of God into our world: it is our vocation, our calling. It’s almost certainly not something overtly religious, and it may be something you consider quite ordinary, but its what, deep down, you know you are meant to do and become, and it is what brings you fully alive.
There needs to be discernment to avoid the mis-use of our vocation. We will find ourselves tempted to do so as Jesus was.
Whatever we incarnate of God, being ‘of God’,must therefore transcend death. It is what we take back Home to God, as gift, when we die.
Its not enough simply to celebrate God’s incarnation in Jesus this Christmas. As Evelyn Underhill wrote “The Eternal Birth must take place in you.” The challenge is to be open to God incarnating Godself in our own lives, in whatever particular way we are called to.
A small village nestled high up in the mountains had developed over the centuries a series of traditions by which they marked Advent every year.
All the men in the village used to dress up as shepherds and bring symbols of their trades to the little village church, as gifts for the Christ-child. The gifts were then distributed beyond the village, to people in need.
Similarly all the women dressed up as midwives and brought gifts to the church, appropriate for a young child, which were distributed in the same way.
All the young people, on finishing their education set out on a journey, as if following a star, to places well beyond the village to learn of different cultures, and they returned bringing new wisdom.
Saturday 11th December 2021 OR Wednesday 15th December 2021
10am to 4pm
O Wisdom, proceeding from the Most High, filling all the world and ordering all things with strength and gentleness: Come and teach us the way of truth.
In the Old Testament, we read that Wisdom was ‘…uttered by the mouth of the Most High..’ (Ecclesiasticus 24:3). Ideas around ‘Wisdom’ and the ‘Word’ are closely associated and have influenced the way that the coming of Christ has been understood.
I marked Easter this year by mulling on the Resurrection stories in the Gospels, and found myself led from those in John’s Gospel to John’s account of the raising of Lazarus, where I was struck by both the similarities and the differences between the stories of Jesus’ Resurrection and that of Lazarus.
In the story of Lazarus, Martha and Mary arrive at their brothers tomb with a crowd of witnesses. Lazarus’ body has been there for four days. Jesus commands that the stone in front of Lazarus’ tomb be taken away. Martha is concerned at the probable stench from Lazarus’s decomposing body, but nevertheless the stone is removed. Jesus commands Lazarus to “come out” and he does, still wrapped in his grave clothes. Jesus tells the onlookers to “Loose him, let him go,” and as a result many of them place their faith in Jesus. The story says nothing more of Lazarus save that later when Mary & Martha give a supper at home in honour of Jesus [not Lazarus!], their brother Lazarus is amongst the guests. Throughout the story the focus is on Jesus not Lazarus.
The truth is that we are always home. On this retreat day, we will explore coming home to our bodies, to ourselves, to the present, our own presence and The Presence, and to our place and purpose in the world. I will offer what I consider to be some important landscapes for exploration, but the journey and the destination are yours.
I was talking with a friend recently, and he mentioned the vision that Julian of Norwich had in which she saw God as a Lord and human beings as the Lord’s servants. I had to admit that while I understand that image of God in my head it doesn’t engage with either my heart or my soul, and it’s therefore not an image that has ever spoken to me. Obviously it spoke to Julian through her vision, and continues to speak to some today, so I found myself pondering why it doesn’t to me?
Recently a friend told me that she had been to receive Communion for first time for some months as her church was now open for worship: she was delighted to have been able to do so, as others are, as lockdown is beginning to be eased. Unlike my friend I haven’t been to worship in a church for a long time, worship there doesn’t currently feed my soul & it often leaves me feeling irritated & depressed. So its better for me to absent myself and look elsewhere. But rather than being a problem its become a gift, a challenge to think outside the box, and in a number of ways.
When I became a trustee of the Spiritual Counsel Trust (SCT), Bishop Dennis Hawker, then Bishop of Grantham, was soon to retire. I can still remember the words he used telling the trustees that he had been speaking with the new Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Hardy, about the work of the trust, and Bishop Bob had said to him that it “sounds like just the sort of thing I’d like to get involved with.” So, in 1987 Bishop Bob (as he liked to be known) became our chairman, and our trustees’ meetings were from then on held at The Bishop’s House, just across the road from the Cathedral. Bob indeed revealed a lively interest in spiritual direction and the tradition of Reginald Somerset Ward, (RSW). David Smith, a priest in Lincoln Diocese who had taken early retirement from parish ministry, was then full-time warden.
My friend Colin and I have met regularly to talk over many years. He retired early as his wife Joy was not well, and as her illness progressed and she was confined to her bed, he became her full-time carer. As he could no longer visit me I started to visit him at their home. Joy and I knew each other quite well, so one day when I was there I asked her if I could sit and talk with her for a while. She agreed and we ended up talking for most of the afternoon, to the surprise of both of us. Thereafter our afternoon conversations became a regular part of my visits.
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