Blogs for December 2017

 Advent Calendar Blog

1st December: How It All Began. What the Apostle Matthew actually said was: "This is how the birth of Jesus came about....". The three wise men followed a star and came where he was. King Herod wanted to know where the Messiah should be - but for all the wrong reasons. Some, like old Simeon, were patiently awaiting his arrival. Prophets, like Isaiah, clearly foretold of His coming. He was expected and its that which lies at the heart of Advent. It was the Jews that were expectant. We never thought that He had also come to us as well. Sadly, whatever Christmas meant in that long-ago time has been lost to many in the Twenty First Century. But we still have Advent. We still have this beautiful season of remembrance. On this first day of Advent we remember first that Jesus was born into this world as a human baby. God made flesh. God made flesh in Christ. But long before He ever was to be called the Christ, recognised as the Messiah, he was to begin life on earth humbly, like us as a baby, growing through childhood, maturing through his teen-age years, becoming a man and finally entering into his short but world changing public ministry. 2 Nov 2017 StanH.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

2nd December: Follow that star. No matter how hopeless, no matter how far. Well I think those last few words belong to another song that has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. First - because there is hope.  Paul the Apostle spoke of the hope of Israel that is bound up in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28v20). And second - because God came near to us in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the old language He drew near. He is never far from us if we will but look for Him and call to Him. 3 Nov 2017 StanH.

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light

3rd December: Lying in a manger. It's clear that there are a lot of mistaken beliefs and mythology surrounding the nativity story. Things that are not supported by the straight gospel narrative. For example, there was no room at the inn because there never was an inn as far as the Gospels of Mathew and Luke are concerned. No mention of an inn. However, thats not to say that there were no inns in Bethlehem. From the indirect evidence of the Parable of The Good Samaritan its clear that there were inns in the time of Jesus; though I'm not suggesting it was a Premier Inn! Because there was a manger it does not follow, except in some traditions, that there must have been a stable. Mangers are often found in the middle of a field. Out in the open. It's the farmers way of "dispensing" clean hay or straw and keeping it off the muddy ground. The baby Jesus needed shelter from the weather and a soft bed to lay on - but that's not to say that Mary and Joseph had, themselves, to literally camp out in the open like all the shepherds who were also living out in the fields ? What we can say is that Jesus came into this world in the most precarious and humblest way. Chapter 2 in Matthews Gospel is very interesting. It is inferred in Christian tradition (though not in the Gospels) that the Magi or Wise Men or Three Kings, whatever we choose to call them, came to Jesus on the very night that He was born - which is just not so. Matthew 2v11 talks about them coming to the house (mark that - the house - not an inn, not a stable, not even a field) to meet Mary and the Child (no mention of Joseph or farm animals). More than likely He could have been a toddler around the age of two years old by the time the Magi first visited Herod. Luke does not mention the coming of the Magi even given his "careful investigation" of all the facts but, if Matthew got it right the gifts that the Baby Jesus received - Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh - mark Him out as a special child worthy of the highest honour because He was a KING, born to be called the SON OF GOD, born to eventually die as a worthy sacrifice, to save us from our sins. In Luke 2v11-12 we read: "Today in the town of David (which was Bethlehem) a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you; you will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger..3 December 2017 StanH.

Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head

The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

 

4th December: In These DaysThinking of our own asylum seekers here in Doncaster in these days, nothing has changed that much since those days in which Mary and Joseph's lives were changed by a decree which would change their quiet lives in Nazareth forever. Lukes Gospel says this: "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world....And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David". Little could they know that they would not be coming back home again any time soon. As the crow flies its only 70 miles between the two towns but by road it was more like 80-90 miles, probably taking well over a week in Mary's delicate condition - for she was with child. It sounds a bit rough doesn't it - especially for Mary. Today and over the last few years thousands have been forceably displaced in the Middle East and Africa due to persecution by ISIS and other militant muslim groups. Families have risked life and limb crossing the Mediterranen in small rubber boats or have left everything and everyone they hold dear behind to escape Iraq, Syria and Iran. Some we know personally so we can relate to Mary and Joseph in a real and personal way this Christmastime. For some reason my thoughts went back to 2014 when some 40,000 Yazidis, many of them women and children, were trapped in northern Iraq on Mount Sinjar by the forces of ISIS - suffering from deydration, hunger and exposure. Some of the women would be pregnant, some would have given birth in extreme conditions. Jesus prophesy in Matth. 24v29 talks about "the distress of those days" and 24v19, "How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight (your escape) will not take place in winter.." fits the story very well.    4 December 2017 StanH.

Little donkey, little donkey 
On the dusty road 
Got to keep on plodding onwards 
With your precious load.

Been a long time, little donkey 
Through the winter's night 
Don't give up now, little donkey 
Bethlehem's in sight.

5th December: B List Actors With Tea Towels. I can remember some of the Christmas School Plays we attended in support of our children and grandchildren. Everyone got a part, even if it was only a minor non-speaking role as a sheep or a shepherd. Traditionally, shepherd actors were identified as those wearing their mother's tea towel for a makeshift headress. Miss Jones had to push them onto the stage from the side and it always got a laugh from the audience. This Christmas, perhaps for the first time, I have come to realise that these were in fact the A List actors in the greatest story ever told. If they had not been there, if they had not been faithful to the Angel in telling their story (for Angels never waste idle words), had never gone back to town and told the good news, then that First Christmas would have gone by unobserved. They were just shepherds living out in the fields all year round. They were not rich and famous, neither noble nor great. But it was to such as these that God sent his angel. Matthew was not there. Luke was not there and yet the account given by those shepherds somehow survived for posterity and there's a truth about it that will not go away: "And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them , and the glory of the Lord shone around them [you could'nt make this up could you] and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you : you will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger' ". And later: "When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened...' ". Afterwards, Luke records: "When they had seen Him they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all were amazed at what the shepherds said to them." Luke 2v8-20. It didn't stop there for the shepherds. But his was just the beginning for them. Luke finishes with: "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told". 5 December 2017 StanH

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter, long ago

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Christina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894)
When you look at her dates of birth and death it seems quite 'poetic' that she should write this particular carol about that First Christmas.

6 December: Famous For Fifteen Minutes. I'd like to be famous for fifteen minutes. But I would'nt like to be famous for sixteen minutes. I'd like to go and watch some spectacular event at the Albert Hall but I appreciate being able to get into my armchair at home after a long day in the vestry to watch Emmerdale Farm. I'm saying that I'm not naturally comfortable in the public gaze for too long. It's not who I am. Had they known that they were going to be the most famous and talked about parents on the planet I'm not sure Mary and Joseph would have signed up for what happened next. From what Matthew records of Joseph, he would have been like that. Like me. He was a quiet, devout man and didn't want a lot of bother for himself or to make Mary a public disgrace. He'd already decided to divorce her quietly (Matt.1v19) but when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream with a different plan for his life, as much of it as was left to him (for tradition has it that he was an old man), life was going to change forever. The Gospel writer, Matthew tells the Christmas story through the eyes of and through the concerns of this older, quiet man, Joseph. Luke, on the contrary, tells the same story through the eyes and the character of this young girl, Mary, who was barely old enough to get married. Big changes were coming into her life which, had she been able to foresee what it was going to be like at the foot of the cross, might have brought her to a very different decision. They both seem to have had a choice but, though having questions and doubts, in the end they were persuaded to obey God. Mary had questioned the angel Gabriel: "How will this be, since I am a virgin". A fair enough question but the angel dealt with her doubts and fears sensitively given her young age. But the same angel, Gabriel, who came to Zechariah, the future father of John the Baptist, dealt with him in more harshly. He rendered Zechariah dumb because of his lack of faith and acceptance: Zechariah had asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this ? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years". But here's the thing - not everyone will be asked to do big things for God but everyone will at some time in their lives, be asked to do small things for God. How will you react? Will you question the angel? 6 December 2017 StanH

Long time ago in Bethlehem 
So the Holy Bible say 
Mary's boy child Jesus Christ 
Was born on Christmas day

 Now Joseph and his wife Mary 
Come to Bethlehem that night 
Then find no place to born the child 
Not a single room was in sight 


7th December: Even The Angels Celebrate Christmas: Jesus was born at Christmastime to be the saviour of the world. God sent his own son to be our salvation. There's a curious passage in the first letter of Peter, chapter 1v10-12: "Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them (the prophets) that they were not serving themselves (in their time) but you (remember Peter was writing to scattered groups of Christians, including many gentiles), when they spoke of these things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.  The poor old prophets were given prophecies concerning things in the far future that they never lived long enough to see. But we in our time have received that revelation. We have received the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Angels were very much involved in the advent and birth of the baby Jesus. They came to Zechariah the father of John the Baptist, to Joseph and Mary and even to the shepherds living out in the fields: "An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.........suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests!" We should not assume that the angels knew why they were given these duties, why God had shown such an interest in this one baby - but He did. For this was His very own Son come down to earth. 7 December 2017 StanH

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

 

11th December: Tear Gas in Bethlehem. Israeli troops have fired tear gas during clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank town of Bethlehem following the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. This was the news on our TV's today. Because its Christmas many will affronted by this news, maybe even beat their chests and say "What has the world come to?". I got a Christmas card in the post the other day. Mary and Joseph with a donkey were just arriving in Belthlehem. To us that scene usually gives us a warm Christmas glow. But many have to live there every day and life is hard and precarious. Not much has changed really in some two thousand years. Then, Israel was subject to the Roman Empire. Joseph was obliged by decree to take himself and Mary to register in Bethlehem for a census. Evil men held sway. Herod was a bad king who was determined at all costs to remain in power.  The Gospel of Matthew records this: "When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi (the Three Wise Men were indeed very wise!) he was furious and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under...", this should have ensured that one of them would be King Jesus. So - nothing changes and evil still abounds. But greater yet - the love of God still abounds. So peace to men on Earth this Yuletide ! 12 December 2017 StanH

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

19th December: Wonder, Love and Praise. "Wonder, love and praise!", is the phrase I woke up with this morning. The words I eventually got to are in the song "Lost In Wonder" by Martyn Layzell (see below). It's a great worship song and many church worship groups like to try it. But it raises a question about the real meaning of Christmas. I'm in our Sunday Morning Service about fifty-two times a year yet "wonder, love and praise" do not always happen for me there. The cares of the world creep in or I'm wearing my Churchwarden's hat a little too low over my eyes to see Jesus in His people. If there was one time in the year when wonder, love and praise should be present it's concerning the birth of God's Son - the baby Jesus. Fortunately, I have no illusions or interest in the materialistic season that Christmas has become - I don't suffer from it - but it is always knocking at the door, like sun in our eyes blinding us to the real meaning of Christmas. The song Lost In Wonder is not about Christ's birth but about His death - the real reason that He came. It's hard to square that with the traditional image of a baby in a manger and it's ironic that Bethlehem, where He was born, and Jerusalem, where he hung on a cross, are only six miles apart. Concering the events and circumstances of His birth and the visitors they received, Luke records that: "...Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart". I wonder if she recalled that time some thirty-three years later when she looked up at Him from the foot of the cross. When he was young she looked after Him but when He was on the cross He looked after her when He gave her into the care and protection of His closest disciple, John (John 19v25-27). 19 December 2017 StanH

I'm Lost in wonder 
I'm lost in love
I'm lost in praise forevermore
Because of Jesus' unfailing love
I am forgiven
I am restored

Lyrics by Martyn Layzell

20 December 2017 Waiting for Christmas. Remember when we were kids? We couldn't wait for Christmas Eve to come. It couldn't come quick enough could it? We were so excited. About the Three Wise Men the Gospel writer, Matthew describes their excitement in a more contained way: "After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the the star they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him". Some people had been waiting expectantly for years, for a life-time almost, for the one who had been promised in the books of the prophets. Luke records that one man, Simeon, who was righteous and devout was "waiting for the consolation of Israel". I think that would have been another way of saying the Messiah. Moved by the Holy Spirit and on the very day that Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus to be blessed in the Temple, circumstances conspired that Simeon was in the Temple on the very same day. Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised God saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel". Simeon would not have put it in these terms but he had been waiting for that first Christmas! Many in the Church today are waiting and watching for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, King Jesus, and many believe His arrival draws near. But no longer as a baby. 20 December 2017 StanH
 

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

21 December 2017 Fit For A King. In an age when it's "all about me" and pound shops it's increasingly difficult to see where the baby Jesus fits into our modern Christmas. If there was no room at the inn for Him then it is fairly certain that there will be no room for him in our hearts and homes now. What would be a fitting present for the baby Jesus? The Three Kings brought Him something that, at the time, was the best "state of the art" expression of their worship of Him that they knew how to give - Gold, Frankincence and Myrrh. Gifts fit for a king - and if they were indeed kings then surely they would know what would be appropriate. I wonder what happened to those gifts. Did Mary keep them somewhere safe on top of the wardrobe for when He was older. We may never know and really we don't need to know. Material gifts were never that important. The best gift of all and it was the one given by God was the baby Jesus - sent, not in the post, not in an oversized amazon box, but in person. I hate what Christmas has become - don't you? It has been personified in this picture of stupified crowds milling around in pound shops looking for the cheapest possible expression of Christmas that they can get away with. My wife's favourite expression is that Christmas is only one day! So who is all this food for in the fridge? Another good one is: "Are you ready for Christmas ?".Don't you just hate it when people say that?  Every year we say that we will stop sending christmas cards but we've not managed it yet. Every year we agree with someone to stop reciprocating "tit for tat" presents. We know its wrong, we know its stupid, but we've not managed to give up that kind of Christmas yet. We've got just 10 days until New Years Eve to re-think 2018 and restore the real Christmas into our hearts and homes. To make Christmas fit for the King. 21 December 2017 StanH

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.

24 December 2017. Mary's Song. At the Christmas Eve Sunday Morning Service this year the preacher spoke about Mary the mother of Jesus. We are not a "high" church by any means so your won't find a statue of the Virgin Mary in our church. Nor indeed any other. If anything, we are ultra-low. So we don't especially venerate Mary at any time of the year. Yet Mary in many ways is an example to all Christians. In Luke's account of the Christmas Story we notice that the Angel Gabriel would not take his leave of Mary until he had obtained her commitment to be obedient to God and submit herself to being the mother of God's Son. In the end she did submit and Luke writes in 1v38: "I am the Lord's servant, " Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled.". Then the angel left her.

Now at peace with her commitment to God, though very much still at risk of stoning in her legalistic community as an apparently adulterous woman who was having a baby outside of wedlock, she set off to be with her much older cousin Elizabeth who was also having a miracle baby. They were able to encourage each other and Luke records that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months. There's an old Graham Kendrick song that we sing from time to time: "Jesus put this song into our hearts" and it reminds me of that famous song that was seemingly put into Mary's heart whilst she was staying with her relative. Nowadays we grandly call it The Magnificat though I don't think Mary ever meant it to be any more than her own private prayer of thanks and worship to God. Here's a bit of it from Luke's Gospel.....

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call be blessed for the Mighty One has done geat things for me. Holy is His Name....................

Mary wasn't blowing her own trumpet when she predicted that all generations would call her blessed. She was blowing a trumpet for God. Giving Him all the glory. This Christmastime let us also give all the glory to God for all that he has done for us in the sending of His one and only Son - the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ. May it be that God will put a song into our hearts as we come to the end of this Season of Advent 24 December 2017 StanH

Jesus put this song into our hearts
Jesus put this song into our hearts
It's a song of joy no one can take away
Jesus put this song into our hearts

Graham Kendrick
Copyright © 1986 Thankyou Music

31 December 2017. So This Is Christmas. I woke up this morning with John Lennon's Christmas song going round in my head: "So this is Christmas and what have you done? Another year over and a new one just begun......". And so he goes on.

Today is the last day of 2017 and come Monday morning many will be starting 2018 with a pounding head. Not the best way to kick off the year - but there you go. Looking over my Advent Blog I didn't manage to stick a piece of chocolate behind all the windows - just windows 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 19, 20, 21, 24 and, well today, the thirty first, is not really Advent is it? Its just a reflection of what I managed to do with Advent. I wonder how many people open every Advent calendar window anyway. Too busy, just forgot, got bored with too much chocolate, or just ran out of steam....whatever. Looking back to that first Christmas, when it was all over bar the shouting, I wonder what those characters in the nativity story did afterwards - with their Christmas experience. With Jesus. If it had been this year then I could imagine someone like former Big Brother presenter, Davina McCall, getting them all together in a nice hotel somewhere for a post-Crimbo televised re-union and catch-up. A TV documentary scoop. That would have been some New Year Party! Though most of them hadn't met each other before that get together, it would have been an opportunity to share their part in the story, their recollection of what happened that night. Their unique take on the Christmas Story and their part in it. A kind of - how was it for you? An "I was there" moment ! Everyone of them, in God's plan and purpose for their lives, seems to have had a unique part to play in the events that unfolded and in the preservation of the gospel story. By the time Matthew and Luke got around to writing their gospel accounts (amazingly about 90 years after Jesus' birth in 6BC) none of  participants, even Mary herself, would be alive to speak to. To get that first hand account. Yet somehow they each left their footprints and their stories survived like those of the shepherds who hurried to Bethlehem to tell others. And isn't that how the Gospel is meant to work. The sharing of good news! So in reply to John Lennon's question about who did what with their Christmas lets give a personal thankyou to each one of them for their part in ensuring that the account of Christ's birth came down to us:

So, here's to the shepherds and everyone they shared the good news with, to the Magi (Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior) and to the chief priests and the teachers of the law who were present with Herod when their news of the kingly birth was told (someone must have blabbed) , to Elizabeth and Zechariah (the parents of John the Baptist) who Mary stayed with during her confinement, and to old Simeon and the Prophet, Anna (who held Jesus and spoke to Mary and Jospeh in the temple). I will not include Mary and Joseph who kept their private thoughts to themselves. Nor will I include His stepbrothers and stepsisters though His brother James (St James) went on to be a great christian leader and martyr in Jerusalem and would have known so many family secrets of the Christ's life and origins. Nor will I mention the heavely hosts who worshipped him that night, nor therefore will I mention Gabriel either who was so central to the unfolding events - though Peter wrote in one of his letters that "even angels long to look into these things" [1 Pet 1v12b]. As Tiny Tim said: "God bless them one and all!".

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

31 December 2017 StanH

 


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