SCATTERING DARKNESSES

I LOVE TO PRAY an advent blessing …

Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you
and scatter the darknesses from before your paths

… and I also love Mary Oliver’s poetry, that knows the Sun so very intimately. “Why I wake early” speaks to the Eternal Warmth:

dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –

Here’s the Advent message! ha, ha! – intended for every living, breathing product of Divine Love:

Good morning, good morning, good morning

Thank God for the poets. Thank God for the poets. Thank God for the poets! And read them, and hear them, and be present with them, and pray with them, that every other living thing, whosoever they may be, and wheresoever they may be, and whatsoever their present circumstances – they may thrive both after and Before The Sun Rises (Stay put, just for a moment; click this link to share a good morning with one of my friends).

Good morning. Good morning. Good morning. Thank God for the poets in every time, and in every tradition, and in every place.

Jesus of Nazareth came to be known by some as Christos or “Anointed” – because God breathed in him, and because he both knew and prayed for dawning and good morning, for everyone, always, “on earth as it is in heaven”. The Life of the Life-Giver breathes in you and me too, we, the anointed in our day, who sing in every tongue to the sun of righteousness and –  learning to breathe as one – say and pray

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise!
Triumph o’er the shades of night:
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
unaccompanied by thee;
joyless is the day’s return,
till thy mercy’s beams I see,
till they inward light impart,
glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine!
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief!
Fill me, Radiancy Divine;
scatter all my unbelief;
more and more thyself display,
shining to the perfect day.

Charles Wesley

LITTLENESS

littleness

LITTLENESS. That’s how Jesus of Nazareth entered this world. What’s in the Word of littleness that ALL humankind could learn from? What kind of Word to the world comes from little mouths that haven’t uttered words? What kind of Word is spoken by littleness born to poverty and not to a shopping centre?

Isn’t the important littleness of Jesus of Nazareth the same kind of littleness we’re ALL born to? Isn’t his the very same Word that shapes us? Jesus lived littleness and loved littleness. What’s in the Word of littleness – in him or in us – that ALL humankind could learn from? How does such littleness act as prism for such very great light?

Steadfast love and faithfulness
will meet;
righteousness and peace will
embrace one another.

Psalm 85.10 (again)

WILL YOU COME?

Loyd-Fannins-Bethlehem-Nativity

FOR ST MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS BRAMHALL

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began …
Mary Oliver

IN NOVEMBER we’ll be remembering all the saints and souls who have lived and died before us – some of whom, whether by the hand of religious intolerance or other reason for war on a wider scale, “laid down their lives for their friends”.

IN DECEMBER we’ll turn hearts and minds to an advent, a coming – that of the infant Jesus who, born into obscurity in the smallest nation upon earth, grew up with the fire of God’s Word at the centre of his life – so much so that he came to be seen by countless millions as the Word of God Himself. Very God of very God. A Christos – someone anointed, someone history has recognised as Son of God (a familiar title since it was used of the Roman Emperor) – though Jesus of Nazareth himself was at pains to say that he was human – Son of Man – one of us. Just as his mother Mary suggested God had done in calling her to be Theotokos or God-bearer, Jesus turned his world upside down. Executed for that, his Spirit nonetheless lives today in billions – some of whom will die for his cause.

SO WE’VE A LOT TO THINK ON in the last two months of 2013, or indeed in any month in any year. Plenty to remember and to look forward to. There’s an advent on the horizon. An unusual, vulnerable bundle of energy in a manger. And it’s this Jesus of Nazareth – in, and with, and through, and for, and all around us, who’s going to be calling us to be changed “from glory into glory” for ever and ever. “Turn around and think again” – he cries throughout history. “Be open and vulnerable in your manger. Enter into your chamber. Listen. Be still … until you know what to do – and begin”.

THE LITTLE FELLOW in the cattle stall is going to be making some pretty persuasive demands of us all. Change. Change. Change. The world you’re living in today is not what God intended it to be at all. From the “garden of creation” until now God calls upon YOU for assistance. You’re made to be Christos, anointed, co-creators with God of all that a person might dream of as heaven …

… justice, righteousness, fair distribution of the world’s resources; co-responsibility; revulsion wheresoever a culture of ignorance, oppression and death is encountered; a thinking again about right order, whilst not being too self-righteous or self-indulgent; neither pain nor tears anymore.

Love God (primary task); Love your neighbour as you love yourself (second, or consequent, task). Put God and others first. But don’t shout! Notice that the message is a subtle one. The Word of God comes quietly – and initially only to a few – from a cattle stall, not from a marble hall – out of weakness, not out of bounty – or the church bank balance.

THIS IS THE REASON for the season. Re-member. Be thankful. Look for something extraordinary coming. Wise women and men have wondered before us at what they saw. Get down from your camel – or your high horse – and offer worship to the God who made us all. This is the “call” of a bundle of vulnerability in swaddling clothes – a “kingdom-building” manifesto quite unlike anything heard before. “Don’t be too proud to kneel down in straw.” Change, change, change.

SLEEPERS WAKE! Look! Look! Look! here’s a coming easily missed – some thing, some one, coming to us by way of a still small voice somewhere in the depths of us. Not a noisy coming. Not a religious coming. Not a triumphalist coming. Not a tyrannical or a democratic coming but a little Jewish coming, quietly, to everyone, born in Beit Lehem – “the House of Bread”, a little beating heart of a town named after a staple food – that also means “understanding”. This is a coming, this is a call for a change, this is a call to all, for all.

SO OF COURSE St Michael & All Angels is changing – as Charles Wesley has it – Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise. We’re being brought to our knees. And our 103 year old heritage as Bramhall Parish Church means that we’re being brought to our knees within a recognisably Anglican framework – and that recognition will continue to hold us together, as it has held those who have mothered us in the faith, even whilst we open our arms wide to embrace God’s beloved in all the world’s other faith traditions as well.

THIS CHANGING, this growing, is the life work of all human persons, the work of disciples or learners – like you and me. Often we feel we’d rather look on from the safety of our camels, or our high horses. But the cry of the demanding little fellow in the cave of us, in the quiet depths of us, won’t be silenced. And “our hearts are restless” as St Augustine prayed, “until they find their rest in thee” – until we’re quiet enough, still enough, often enough, to actually hear the still, small voice and – worshipping, privately AND corporately, just BE.

Sometimes the changes required of us are a return to former times and experience, (our choir’s just returned to the choir vestry of 40 years ago), sometimes change will involve the entirely new. Many things come and go in our lifetimes (this is the last issue of this Parish News in its present format and as I write this letter I am trusting that its passing will lead to some new “resurrection”) – but “Don’t be afraid for I am with you” is the word of the Lord who walks with us, and the call of the vulnerable Jesus will never pass away.

WILL YOU COME WITH ME? Will you “follow the star” with me to Bethlehem? There’s food for weary pilgrims to be found there. A sight for sore eyes. And understanding, too. This little vulnerable one (creator of heaven and earth) listens a great deal. He wouldn’t fare well in a Church Council meeting because he hasn’t learned to talk. And yet he / she will speak to us, does breathe “ruach” – vivifying spirit into us, right into the centre, right into the heart of us. And the little Word of God’s still, small voice will show us how to change.

Will you re-prioritise this November and December? Will you not so much SHOP for presents as BE present? Will you come? Will you BE St Michael & All Angels? – that the kingdom may come on earth – and in Bramhall – as it is in Heaven.

WHAT A CHARACTER!

WHAT A CHARACTER! What a visionary John the Baptist appears to have been. “Skinny as a cactus” as Barbara Brown Taylor has it, and ready to stand before all-comers to present them with a haunting hunch. No. He was not the Christ. No. Not the greatest amongst the prophets, past or present. No. Not the light that was to come into the world. No. He didn’t know his name. Yes. He understood that most people had heard more messianic / apocalyptic preachers than they’d had hot dinners. No. He wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to the one who’s absolutely going to be raised up, “one who stands among you”. It’s a hunch. A haunting hunch. Not much detail yet. But an absolute assurance that what’s needed in this world, the real and radical hope for the friendless, the unheard, the dispossessed (of whom, in our time too, Archbishop Rowan has been writing in the Advent wilderness this week) – is repentance. Not a nauseating or ingratiating or formulaic “Father, forgive me for I have sinned” but repentance. Turning around. Looking at life, and at love, and the way we live, and the way we love, in a new way. John the Baptist had a prophetic hunch that what was going to be required, in future, of every anointed man, woman and child upon the face of the earth was a willingness to “walk the walk” as well, if not better, than they “talk the talk”. And people like you and me were prepared to put life and limb at great risk to go out there into the wilderness to hear that! John the Baptist wasn’t the only guy with a hunch, was he? We’ve a pretty strong sense too that what we need in our broken world is a good dunking in the Jordan. Fresh, cold water. Rise and shine. Smell the coffee. The wilderness is about to break into flower. Which wilderness? Where? Yours. In your heart, for a start. What a character! What a visionary. Who? Ah, come on! YOU …

ADVENT WITH A DIFFERENCE

A GENEROUS FRIEND has made me a present of Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s Do Nothing Christmas Is Coming – An Advent Calendar With a Difference. I’m delighted with it. It’s inscribed:

Christmas is a busy time for me … don’t know what it must be like for you … I hope this book can make it less of a marathon and more of a celebration

I’m sure it will. And I’m immensely grateful for the kindness of the thought as well as the gift. It’s a novel thought for a cleric – Do Nothing Christmas Is Coming – another of those  biblical-sort-of metanoia moments. So I’m going to have a go 🙂 … I wonder what others are planning for Advent? – in the sense of, really, I’d love to know …

O LORD OPEN THOU OUR LIPS

in an English parish church in November AD 2011

ADVENT SUNDAY EVENING: O Lord, open thou our lips. And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise. O God make speed to save us. O Lord make haste to help us. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

A large congregation, and a goodly number in the Quire and Places where they sing; the hymn book, the (1662) Prayer Book, the versicles and responses, the Choir, the Psalm, the Lessons, the clouds of incense, the organ, the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis, the Apostles’ Creed, the collects, the Anthem, the prayers (for Her Majesty’s good governance amongst these), the well sung hymns, the sermon, It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old … and an evening prayer, and blessing.

“Wonderful. Wonder-full. Like a cathedral” – someone said at the door. Quite so. Like a cathedral. That’s what we aspire to. That’s what we’re reaching for. The cathedra, the seat of the Lord God Almighty. That’s why a parish church exists – seats in the heart of holiness, for everyone, and a door. The gate of Heaven. The place of

Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back … *

The place to which we lift up our eyes to seek succour and counsel, in company with praying people through ages past – the vision of which takes our minds off guarding our little piles of stuff for a while; the vision that takes our minds off wondering “what I want for Christmas” and the gold-wrapped but still fragile little securities that leave us still wanting – to notice the advent of God; to notice the gift of the Life of God in glorious, mysterious, immortal, invisible wisdom: reaching. Reaching to touch and to bless and to heal us. Advent, adventus. Come! We welcome you into your City, Lord. Come! Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants as may be most expedient for them.

Some things in the world and in the Church of God are, quite simply, everlastingly fresh expressions.

* R S Thomas, The Kingdom

ADVENT’S ADVENT ALREADY

ADVENT’S NEARLY UPON US again which means another whole year has upped and went! Maggi Dawn speaks of Advent’s Beginnings and Endings; Jan Richardson speaks of a door and of blessings; all of us look “for the City of Peace, in whose light we are transfigured, and the earth transformed.”

Advent: the coming of a Light by which we ourselves are first transfigured, a consequence of which is that the earth (and our view of it) becomes transformed. Beginning with transfiguration we end with transformation. 

Transfigured and transformed we discover that we have been mightily blessed by the simple event of having walked through a door into a lamplit scene of New Life; we have stumbled upon the great and mighty wonder of a young woman and a man and a baby; we have stumbled upon the breath of God streaming from the nostrils of horses, sheep and cattle, mother and father, shepherds and foreigners, rich and lowly, baby in manger bed, tired, happy, servant tenderness; the transfiguring and transforming Holy beaming in the faces of the recently very worried unwed. There’s resurrection right here in this new beginning just as surely as there’ll be resurrection come the ending.

And having walked through that door and having seen that light we know that this is our beginning and ending; we know that we are breathing Alpha and Omega; we know that all the colour of the good life shines in this scene. As gobsmacked as kings from the Orient and black-clad shepherds from the fields we recognise our deep, deep primal need for the continual transfiguring that alone transforms the world and worlds. There’s no going back. Advent. Coming. Tiny infant lungs are filled with the Very Breath of God. For me. For you. For all.

The door is open at St Michael & All Angels, Bramhall. On Advent Sunday 27th at 8am, 9am, 10.45am & again for Advent Evensong at 6.30pm.