“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart”
Constantly connected. Near and far. We live in a global age when nothing escapes our attention. It allows us all to express our creativity; to share our news, pictures and videos with people far and wide - to chip in with the witty comment or astute observation – or bad joke! Yet, perhaps in this frantic, here today, gone tomorrow world, we are in danger of missing everything. It’s meaning and significance because things only touch us briefly, for a moment, and then they are gone.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was suddenly thrust into a whirlwind of a globally connected world. So fast that she must have been in danger of being overwhelmed by events that seemed to overtake her. Into life in a small country town there came news of an unexpected pregnancy and a son who would be a great ruler. Travelling from there across the country because of government regulations and struggling to find a place to stay. Stories of angels singing of “peace on earth”, bringing rough and ready shepherds, bursting in like the paparazzi trying to get a glimpse of a celebrity mother in the maternity ward.
Overwhelming! In our too often fast paced lives we, too, might miss out on the significance of these events. So maybe, this advent, we need to take heed of Mary’s response. To pause our apparent creativity so as to allow God to be creative in us. Bringing to birth in us new life, new hope, a new appreciation of wonder and of his love in the coming of Jesus.
Take some time to ponder the mystery of God’s love.
Write a poem or draw a picture that says something about what Christmas means to you.
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations”
I have always had an interest in how things are in the world, and I find myself listening to the news several times a day. And now with my mobile phone constantly connected to the internet, the news is constantly available 24/7. I wonder what the fascination is? Listening to the news last Sunday, it was grim listening. Terrible battles took place in Aleppo in Syria and Mosel in Iraq. A bombing at a football stadium in Turkey and at the dock in Mogadishu. Where, you may ask? That’s in Somalia. And this was all before news broke of a church in Cairo in Egypt being bombed.
“He will bring forth justice to the nations”. A promise spoken long ago? A promise we still need today. Perhaps each generation needs such a promise, for each has had to face terrible news even if they did not have it 24/7 on a global scale. Each has its questions. When? How? How long? In the face of what we see in the world or in what we face in our lives day by day.
Such questions might express doubt in this promise. Yet, perhaps they also express a deep desire, a sharing in God’s heart for the world, motivating us all to take steps in sharing in the work of the servant. Seeking to bring justice in our relationships, in our concerns and by our everyday actions. Then, together with the one who fulfils God’s promise - Jesus, we might share in bringing forth justice to the nations.
Pray for justice and peace throughout the world.
What do you wish for in the world? Write a prayer saying what you hope for. (You could write it on a nice piece of paper and hang it on your Christmas tree as a reminder).
“The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our Land.”
Song of Solomon 2.12
I don’t know about you but I love Christmas Carols! As soon as is socially acceptable, I will be singing them, (OK, maybe before). Christmas carols are great, they are catchy, sometimes too catchy but are also rich with the Good News of Jesus’ birth.
Today’s passage speaks of the arrival of something new, in this case Spring. With Spring comes the arrival of new life, new hope and fresh starts, which is what we are eagerly anticipating at Christmas. The passage also speaks of singing in this new season which is a fantastic way to praise God and connect with the Christmas story.
The image of a dove is something we see throughout the Bible. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is described as a dove and also, after the flood in Genesis, Noah sent out a dove which returned with an olive branch, symbolizing a new start for the earth. At Christmas time it’s good to remember the new, fresh start we have with the very special baby that was born in Bethlehem, with the joy that surrounded his birth and the eager anticipation of what was to come.
When we look forward, it can bring hope for what’s to come. When Jesus was born, it brought about a long awaited new season for Israel and the Bible speaks of the great joy that was celebrated, like with a sky full of heavenly hosts. Just like the flowering of Spring or the cooing of doves. What are we joyfully looking forward to? And how can we live out the joy we have received from the Christmas story?
Pray that you will feel the joy of life in all its fullness deep within your heart.
Plant some bulbs inside or outside, ready for the spring.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Last year, according to Classic FM the nations favourite carol was this one
Last night as part of the churches outreach we went and did Beer and Carols at the Sportsman Pub here in Croxley Green. It was a great evening and as I sang along with the carols I noticed that some had more significance for me than others. And what that boiled down to was the words. Some were very twee and nice and christmasy but some really connected with me and spoke to me.
In particular it was a line from O' Little Town of Bethlehem
"The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight"
Every time I sing this song or read these lyrics I realise how much God values us and how much we need to see that no matter our circumstances, no matter what hopes we have for the future or fears that grip us, that somehow Jesus' as a tiny baby can hold all of that and lead us into the kingdom of God.
I don't know what you are facing today, maybe it is positive, full of hope, or maybe its full of fears and worries. My prayer is that today you will turn to God and give all of it to Him so that your hopes and fears are held within the love of Jesus this day.
Give thanks to God for the gift of his Son
What is your favourite Christmas Carol? Find the words to it, read them slowly and think about what it says - you can sing it too if you like!
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
Psalm 8.3 - 4
Have you ever just stopped on a clear night and looked up into the night sky? I remember one time when I was about 17 and I was away with a school trip in youth hostel somewhere in Yorkshire I think. Me and a friend were there as “helpers” on the school trip for younger members of the school and one evening we had an evening off duty, so we decided to go for a walk.
It was absolutely breath-taking. Being a southerner I am used to a fairly polluted night sky, but up there in the hills of Yorkshire in the middle of nowhere there was little light pollution. And the view was incredible. I am sure that that night was part of the reason I became fascinated with space. It was also on that night that I realised the immenseness of God.
Not only had he flung the stars and planets into space, casting into creation an entire universe that was alive and majestic, but he had also made me! Looking up into the vastness of the night sky that night I realised that God was indeed wonderful because if he created all of this and yet still took time to make me, then he is truly awesome and worth of praise.
So tonight, or the next clear night you have, take some time to just look and remember that the God who made all you see also made you.
Allow yourself to wonder at the intricacy of the world God has created and give thank for his care of you.
Make something to give to someone to show you care for them, just as God made the heavens for you.
“Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!”
How do we value ourselves? Maybe in the midst of the consumer rush that is Christmas we are tempted to value ourselves in terms of what others may buy for us? Certainly DeBeers and L’Oreal would want us to feel our worth by how much we sparkle and shine this Christmas. And yet deep down we all know that there is something deeply unsatisfying about this kind of worth and value.
Jesus reminds us that our worth to God has nothing to do with what we have or even what work we do. The birds he mentions have nothing to offer except being uniquely themselves and reliant on their heavenly father. That’s not the kind of thing we value these days, but maybe its what we are all secretly longing for.
Jesus’ words about birds don’t just relate to our value but also the value God places on creation. In this small picture of nature at work we see the balance of the food chain and how God has provided. But we also see that God values us even more than his creation.
In the midst of a world in a rush to consume and create value around ourselves, perhaps we should take a minute to acknowledge that priceless value that God has placed in us. And as we value others and the world God has made, maybe we can catch something of the way he values us.
Pray for those who work in caring for the environment.
Feed the birds!
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”
2 Corinthians 9.7
2016 has been quite a year! We have had many times to celebrate like the fantastic achievement of Team GB in Rio. but there have also been times of tragedy with floods, earthquakes and violence.
Christmas gives us a great opportunity to think about how we can help others. I dare say that we do much already to help those in need, but are there other ways that we can help? The Bible verse for today says that God loves it when we give cheerfully, because it is the heart that God examines when he looks at us. So, what is our heart prompting us to do this Christmas?
A friend of mine delights in making cookies with her children and then going door to door to her neighbours giving them the cookies and praying a blessing over them. I believe this is what the passage is referring to because they do it, not because they have to, but because they ‘want’ to and they can see how it benefits others without asking for something in return. Sometimes we may feel that we should give our money to help others, which is great, but for some people they may want to give in other ways, like with the cookies. Is there a way you can cheerfully give your time this Christmas? Or offer to help someone with something?
Maybe today you can spend some time praying how you can give this Christmas, listen to what God may be prompting you to do and see if your heart is leading you to do something. For as the passage says “God loves a cheerful giver.”
Pray for a generous and uncalculating heart.
Think of someone you would not usually buy a present for (and who may not buy you one), then give them something you think they would really like
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask!”
What are you getting your kids for Christmas? This is a question that can create quite a bit of stress for parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles. The pressure to buy the ‘right thing’, the ‘in thing’, the thing that can’t be bought for love nor money because the hype around it has made it like gold dust, is huge however silly we might think it. In fact the stress from this part of Christmas comes from a very laudable desire to give good things to our children. The definition of good things may have got a little lost in the advertising of toy manufacturers but the original aim is still a good one.
Jesus reminds us that we get this desire to provide good things for our children because we are made in God’s image. He loves to bless us with truly good things. We don’t have to send him a list or direct him to the page in the catalogue or even our wish list on Amazon- God knows what we need before we even know ourselves. He knows only too well the power of a well-chosen gift and longs to give them to us.
So lets relax a little about what we, and the children in our life may want, and look to our heavenly father for what we actually need.
Take time to feel God’s love surrounding you.
Take time out and do something really nice that you have wanted to do for a long time
“A generous man will himself be blessed for he shares his food with the poor.”
Why should we share? We spend ages teaching children to do it, we expect fat-cat bankers to do it, and we all want a friend with a bag of chips to do it, but why? Why is sharing such a big deal and why is it that the act of sharing is supposed to make us feel blessed? We all know that being on the receiving end of sharing makes us feel loved and cared for, but why does it feel good to be the one who shares?
Maybe it’s because experiencing good things, and especially good food, loses something very fundamental when it is done alone? The joy of a really good meal is immeasurably enhanced when shared with friends around a table. We are hard wired to share- to be generous and give away some of what we have. Sharing with others not only lifts their humanity but also our own.
Sharing the basics of life says something profound about us and the person we share with- it says we are basically the same. We all need the same things to survive; warmth, food and shelter. Not sharing and leaving someone outside, hungry and cold diminishes all our humanity and leaves us all something less than God created us to be.
God shares himself with us at Christmas and we share with others because we are created to be like him. Make sure you don’t miss out on the blessing of sharing this Christmas.
Pray for those in this country and across the world who will go to bed hungry tonight
Buy some food and give it to you local food bank.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”
This year has seen me travel the farthest I have ever been: to China for five months and I am now in Spain until the end of May, in both instances teaching English as a foreign language. For all the things in Chinese culture that made me thoroughly stressed, there were also other things which were humbling, like the incredibly welcoming students and staff at my university and the chance to see amazing sights such as the Great Wall and the view from the top of Mount Emei. This has given me a new perspective on how different we are across our various cultures and while recent world events seem to want to challenge how accepting we are of different cultures, I have learned this year to try and embrace them, even when they are driving me mad!
As I look to the future, I wonder what God has in store for me and what this time in China and Spain will ultimately lead to. I probably won’t know the answer until I’m in the middle of it, as that is often how I have found the chance to reflect on the direction of my life and how God has guided me in different ways. But if you have a chance next year, either on holiday or a long-term plan, when you are somewhere different, take the time to immerse yourself in the local culture and to try and understand it, as it helps you to connect to others and could lead to amazing things. I have seen more of God’s creation this year than any other and it is a time to appreciate how big this world is and how there is a possibility of missing out on some wonderful opportunities if you don’t take them.
Praise God for the wonder of the world he has created.
Look carefully at a piece of holly or at a pine cone. Take time to notice its shape, its texture and its colours. It is fearfully and wonderfully made and so are you!