Saturday, December 29, 2012


At the beginning of all things, they came into being, and they sang for joy as creation unfolded, for behold, it was very good! They watched as the foundations of the earth were put in place, as wisdom shaped the heights of the heavens and the depths of the seas, and called forth life. They watched as the man came into being, and then the woman; they watched and they learned that the only thing that was not good was to be alone. But they saw the beauty of the Creator reflected in Creation, and they were glad.

They saw the years pass, and the deeds of darkness that could not bear the light of day. They saw the hunting of the wolf and the owl, and the vicious hunting of man by man. They saw, and they shuddered. Then came the time when they saw nothing – for forty days and forty nights the world was covered by dark clouds. When the clouds parted again they saw their own reflection in the mirror of the vast waters, until the waters receded and the land reappeared.

Time passed. They saw a man called out by God to count them in the desert sky. He was overwhelmed by their magnitude, and even more overwhelmed to be told that he, childless as he was, would be father to a host more numerous than they. And, as generations passed, they watched those children, too many to count, following a pillar of fire by night. They watched the wars and the travails that followed. They watched a king pace his roof with restless lust in his heart, they watched the rise and fall of nations, and sometimes they hid their faces from the horror.

Then one of them was given a momentous task: to travel across the sky from east to west and guide some stargazing mystics to a rough shelter in a little town in the Land of Promise. And, even while that journey was in progress, they witnessed a great marvel, for near that same little place, in the dead stillness of the night, the very angels of God became visible, with a light so bright that the stars felt faint and pale beside it. And the joy of the angels’ song was like the joy sung at creation itself, as if, even in the midst of trouble, misery, pain and entropy, something was being renewed and reborn. And hope coruscated through the universe.

They watched, and in time they knew, for rumour proved to be truth, and the world was being changed forever, as Truth Himself walked through its dust. They shone over a betrayal, and the next night over an empty cross. Then, when the world waited in silence, and no human eyes beheld, they saw the emptying of the tomb, and felt the thrill of wonder.

And they continue to watch, and, in their own distant way, to encourage and inspire. They shine bravely knowing that a new creation is coming – glorious pure and perfect – when every tear shall be wiped away and all things shall be healed. Sun and moon shall be no more, for the Lamb Himself shall be Light, but the Redeemed who pour into that city, the Overcomers, shall be given the morning star. And all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

There will be Horses

Sometimes I close my eyes and see The Kingdom
Salt-whipped sand, bright, and a strong wind blowing
Wild waves that know their boundary,
Strange air
Perfumed with cleanness, warm and sharp and clear,
Salt on my lips, yet sweet as tropic fruit.

Laughing, yes laughing,
For the gladness of glory. I am become a child
Twirling like madness into that new wind.

Then come the horses,
Riderless and inviting, born to run,
For the living joy of the wind, and the sea’s sweet singing,
I run with them, I run and am not weary,
‘Hallelujah!’ scream the eagles
And the gulls shiver with joy,
And I run with the horses.

There are meadows
Where grass bows to the wind
Where glory burns
And we run through the scent of flowers,
Running towards the Beauty that is borne
Down to us.
Face-upward, how we run!

And the chains of the years melt away,
And the sin and the sorrow
Fall from our limbs like a shadow, passing, passing.
And I know not if I run or if I fly
Home to my Home, Who meets me in the splendour,
Welcoming me, and I come,
Yes I come with the horses!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

In Anticipation

He was surprised when the strangers came, looking for a king. Any ruler encountered odd people and odd requests, especially foreign emissaries whose expectations were often very different to those of his own people. Then one must weigh up carefully before responding. What would it cost? Who would be gratified? Who would be offended? Whatwould he, Herod, gain from all of this? Power was rather like a giant board game, where one knew most of the moves, and became very adept, over time, at blocking and defending, only appearing to yield when it put one’s opponent in a more vulnerable position. But, just occasionally, a player would come along who played the game so differently that he had no idea what strategy to use, or whether he was winning or losing.

This was one of those times. First he had heard the rumours (his informers were very good), then, deeply disturbed, he had asked to see the men himself. He had expected to meet crazies from the desert, with this mad talk of a new Jewish king being born. Everyone knew that the sun out there could addle a man’s brains. Crazies were easy to deal with. But when he met them he had to give up all these assumptions. These were men from the exotic east, far beyond the sway of Rome;
they were wealthy men, and learned, wise in the ways of the stars, a wisdom he knew nothing of. His eyes had always been fixed on the darkness deep in the human heart, a darkness so powerful that it could swallow up even his best beloved, and turn them into enemies who were plotting against his throne and had to be killed.

So now he was confounded. These were men who had to be taken seriously, and they had unwittingly exposed a terrible threat to his throne. But where, and who, was this child? Surely the priests would know? The priests murmured and muttered among themselves (was there anything these men would not argue about?) Then they came back and told him that it was prophesied that this child would be born in Bethlehem, just a few miles down the road.

Once this would have given him pause: sweating ice at the mere thought of trying to fight against  a prophesied act of God Himself, but that time was long past. Now the only icy sweat was at the thought of losing any of his power. The fact that he would most likely be dead and gone before a newborn child could ascend to power never even occurred to him. So, in anticipation of a problem solved, he laid his plot.

It would all be so simple. The eastern scholars would go and find this usurping child in Bethlehem, come back and tell him all, ostensibly so that he too, could go and worship. As if! Rather, he would quietly send a detachment of soldiers and the troublesome child would never be heard of again. And maybe these foreigners should quietly vanish as well? In anticipation, he sent them on their way.

But of course, it never happened. For God, who had anticipated this child for time beyond Herod’s power to reckon, sent the wise men home by another way, and when Herod, enraged, sent his forces against every little boy in the town, somewhere far to the south, on the road to Egypt, the King of kings and Lord of Lords snuggled against his mother’s shoulder in anticipation of an ultimate victory against principalities and powers compared to whom Herod, styled the Great, was as nothing.

And this king shall reign forever and ever.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Servant

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

She had said it, and she had meant it, and she meant it still.  She would not falter from that commitment, that obedience to God’s miraculous choosing, but now she was learning that the saying was much easier than the living. It was not true, of course, that every Jewish girl dreamed of being the mother of the Messiah, some of the girls she knew would not have given it a moment’s thought, there were far too many other things that interested them, but she certainly had, and wasn’t the first to do so either. But it had been a little girl’s dream, full of gentle-toned holiness, soft voices, and the admiration of everyone she knew. The reality was far different, and she would never be that little girl again.

Who knew how the Messiah would be conceived? She supposed that the rabbis and wise men might well have discussed such things, but, if they had, it had never occurred to them to share their thoughts with young women who were, after all, the most likely people to need to know. It had certainly never occurred to her that He would be born outside of the ordinary ways of marriage, in a scenario that invited gossip and condemnation. It cost to be the Lord’s servant.

Nor, in that strange, marvellous conversation with the angel, had she thought of how difficult the conversation with Joseph was going to be. If she had thought about it at all, it was with a vague notion that God would have already explained it all to him. After all, wasn’t she under God’s protection? Only now was she beginning to understand what God’s protection actually looked like: glorious and marvellous, but also rather terrifying to normal flesh and blood. Because, of course, God had sorted it out, but only after she had faced the loneliness and shame of Joseph’s disbelief. But then, she reflected, wasn’t that the way it had always been? The priests had to step into the water before the Jordan receded; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had to endure the terror of being cast into the unbearable fire before they met the One who walked with them in the flames; Abraham had to lift the knife against his son before the ram was given to be offered in Isaac’s place. It was always the same: the Lord called His servants to walk into wonder and great joy, but also into trouble and fear and great labour, for how else shall flesh and blood keep company with the Holy One, the Maker of heaven and earth?

And now, having endured the common ardours of pregnancy and the sideways glances of the women of Nazareth as they watched her growing larger, she must set out on an uncomfortable journey just when she was nearing her time. Her mother said she was mad to do such a thing (and Joseph was mad to allow it), but she knew that this journey was absolutely right. For where else should David’s greater descendant be born but in David’s own town? The one who set the stars in place had set these events in place as well, and she could rest against the reality that this was of God and He would utterly provide.

She was the servant of the Lord, a small but necessary participant in the miracle, and it would be to her in accordance with His perfect love.

Short poem for slain children

The horror happens: 
The massacre of children
And a stunned world’s frozen tears
Fall to the ground.

The ground remembers
The blood of Abel,
The merciless wars
The bones of the starved and forgotten
The ground remembers
And weeps with us.

Scream against the wind!
The unconscionable has happened
How long oh Lord?

And the mothers of Bethlehem share our tears
As we wait for the One Child
Who will undo the night
When death shall be no more.

How long oh Lord?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Promise

All his life he had been waiting, and sometimes it seemed like the hardest job in the world. He had seen the impatience with which men usually waited: for a betrothed to reach marriageable age, for a baby to be born, for a feast day, for a business transaction to be completed so that they had the money or the goods were in their hands; he had seen and he had marvelled. What did they know of waiting who only had to endure for such a short and measurable season? For him the years grew long, and the weariness immeasurable, but the sweetness of the Promise still held him fast. No other thing could ever be so precious.

It had begun in his youth. He had come to Jerusalem to study the scriptures, and had stayed there ever since, to be near the Temple, where the presence of God was enacted every day, and to wait for the Chosen One while he studied the Holy Writings to learn more. The more he read, the more he understood, the more he knew how desperately Israel needed her Messiah. From the day that the first man and the first woman had eaten of the fruit and been driven from the garden, the promise of restoration had been there. And down through history it had grown more specific: the Servant, the Branch from the stump of Jesse, the Messenger who would suddenly appear in the temple. The Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham, of Judah, of David, as down through the years the Promise became more specific, and his house would be established forever. And as his understanding grew, Simeon had cried out to God for the Consolation of Israel to come.

And his prayer had been heard. It had not been a blinding flash of revelation, but slowly, surely, the Lord had shown him, as the Holy Spirit spoke to his spirit, an amazing promise: that he himself would not die until he had seen the Messiah come. And so he waited; summer and winter, day and night, through the fat years and the lean, as the world seemed to him to grow more dreary and more desperate, he waited for the Chosen One to come. And as he waited, he grew in wisdom, for he saw, more and more clearly, that Israel needed military success far less than she needed to be renewed and transformed. The ‘Consolation of Israel’ was her only hope of salvation.

And finally, when age had so bent him that every bone in his body was crying for release, the day came. Moved by the Spirit, he went to the temple courts, and there he waited, watching the line of pilgrims come to make their sacrifices. And there they were, just another poor couple with their baby boy, and their offering of a pair of pigeons. And yet, when he saw them, the Spirit spoke to him, and a fierce joy and a gentle wonder flooded through him. This was the one! This child, this baby settled quiet against his mother’s shoulder, was not just Israel’s hope, but the Salvation of the world.

Afterwards he never remembered what he said to the young mother, but she willingly passed the child to him, and as he held the most precious thing in the universe, with steady hands and streaming eyes, he whispered his prayer of thanks:

“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your promise. For my eyes have seen your salvation ...”

It was enough, he was at rest. And if the Lord so faithfully kept His promise to one man, how much more His promise to all mankind?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Ordinary Time

Oh let the whirling planets twirl,
And numbers dance in forms sublime:
For I have seen the hand of God
Outstretched in ordinary time.

The beat of rain on bended weed,
The rapid flash of beating wing,
The sunlight angled on a leaf:
Who needs to hear the planets sing?

The warmth within a stranger’s smile,
The sound of water, scent of sea,
The love that holds through daily things –
These are, for me, epiphany.

The angels bend their eyes to watch
The sacrament of cookery.
The artistry of everyday,
The small things in humility.

Oh God of galaxies and stars,
Like a weaned child, may I find rest,
Not in the things too high for me,
But here and now, against your breast.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

At The Threshold

The angels poise themselves in expectation. They watch. They wait. They have been watching and waiting for years beyond human knowledge, but now is the fullness of time. It will happen tonight, and everything will be changed forever, because God himself has done the unthinkable. The very atmosphere of earth is pregnant with the Holy Spirit’s power and purpose, and they marvel that human beings can be so unaware of cosmic realities. But some will be players in tonight’s drama, and even now they are taking their places ..

The woman knows, though it will be many years before she understands all the implications. She is tired: the travelling has been rough, and the pains started several hours ago. She leans on the strength of the man, letting him organise things for her, for the hour of her need approaches. It has been a strange nine months, living in two realities at once: the ordinary pregnancy, the extraordinary conception. But now her exhausted mind is stilled upon two realities – the demanding rhythms of her own body, and the still, deep certainty that she and her future are held and carried in the love of God. She does not yet know that because of this night to come, and because of that daring ‘yes’ she said nine months earlier, her obscure, ordinary name will be known and honoured as long as the earth endures.

The man is as anxious as any first time father. Far away from the female relatives who would normally care for her at such a time, he feels an added responsibility to care for her safety, and that of the child. And he knows so little about things. But as he fusses around, trying to make sure that everything possible is provided for her, he is overtaken by a deep sense of peace. This birth has been planned for aeons; he can leave the outcome in the Lord’s hands.

The town is falling asleep, though restively. There are too many people crowded here at the moment; no one is quite at ease. But the laborious day brings its own reward of rest, and, one by one, the lamps are going out.

Out on the hills, it is just another night of sheep-watching. Or is it? The sheep are not settling down in their normal way, like Balaam’s donkey centuries before, they can sense the angelic presence which men are blind to. So the men, tuned into their beasts, if not to spiritual realities, are alert. There is a sense of waiting.

And somewhere, far to the east, a mighty star is shining, directing a bunch of weary travellers on their way. It is hard to travel by night and to try to sleep by day, but when the guiding star is only visible in the darkness, they have no other choice. The miles grow burdensome, but when they look up to the star they are reassured. Somewhere, many days ahead of them, a mighty wonder is waiting, a wonder that is worth all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them.

Night settles more deeply over the little town. Somewhere, a few miles to the north, an unhappy king starts from his sleep with a nightmare sense of foreboding. Why should he feel so threatened in the stillness of the night? The cold, midnight darkness is strangely silent, as if all the non-human creation is holding its breath ..

Then, somewhere in little Bethlehem, the thin cry of a newborn pierces the night, and creation exhales. The angels can restrain themselves no longer, they see the amazing miracle, and marvel. High above the surrounding fields they soar and sing, “Glory to God in the Highest!”