He is in every room of our life.

The following was written by my wife, a Christmas fanatic!

“There’s a Nativity scene in every room of my home,” I tell people at this time of the year.

I am a lover of Christmas. Unashamedly I celebrate the coming of Christ as a babe in Bethlehem. While others complain that putting decorations up in November is too early, I am thinking it’s not early enough. If eating mince pies is a reminder that Jesus came to redeem sinners, then what’s wrong with having them in the shops a week after Easter?

And so I put a Nativity scene in every room.
There are two, side by side, in the front window. They were fashioned in Peru; very simple creations that reflect the people of South America in their look and dress. One sits in a hand shape. On the stable roof of the other a little angel is curled up, asleep, while Mary watches her precious Baby and the wise men clutch their gifts.
I stop to look while I’m rummaging in my bag for the front door key.
Jesus came.

Inside in the hallway there are three wise men standing to attention on the dresser.

nativity

The Nativity

They are candle holders with small candles sticking up out of their crowns.
Surely these visitors to Jesus were always destined to be bearers of the Light. They made their way to Jesus’ side by following a star. They found the Light, did a u-turn, and carried that Light back to the East from where they’d come.
Jesus illuminates.

A few steps further, into the kitchen. Here is my best Nativity scene. It’s a beauty!
A cross-stitched triptych depicting the shepherds, the Holy family, and the Magi, is the backdrop for the corresponding figurines in front. It’s a rich scene. The deep hues of the clothes worn by the characters, the ornate rugs carried by the camel, and the opulent gifts held out to the Newborn are contrasted with the straw I’ve strewn around their legs. I have collected extras for this scene – several animals, an odd assortment of angels – from around the world.
The centre of their attention is Jesus. He lies in the lowly manger with arms outstretched.
Jesus gathers.

In our family room there is another Nativity on the piano. It’s carved from a piece of soapstone. It sits beneath another framed cross-stitch which says “Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”.
The scene is simple. Three characters. One small, small Infant. Yet He is all that the quote from Isaiah declares.
Jesus fulfils.

I go into our bedroom, and there on the mirror hangs another Nativity scene. It comes from Belgium. It is made of lace.
I often notice it while I’m glancing in the mirror before dashing off for the day. “Is my hair okay? Collar straight?”
“Oh look, there’s Jesus…..”
In this scene it’s hard to see all the details unless you come close. Then you see the ox and the donkey, the shape of the manger and the tilt of Joseph’s head. Then you notice the haloes around the faces.
It’s delicate and intricate.
Jesus cares.

Finally the bathroom and yes, there is a Nativity scene in here too. A plain wooden one; one piece. Joseph stands, Mary holds Jesus close to her breast.
It’s on the bench above the washing machine. Today there is a pile of washing in front of it so it’s not easy to spot. A toothbrush, laundry powder and a bottle of moisturiser stand around it like bizarre wise men.

The Holy family are witnesses to the business of a bathroom. It’s not pretty. It’s not clean. But it is the business of cleansing and beautifying. The Son is there in the midst of our muck.
Jesus cleanses.

In January I will move through my home to collect my Nativity scenes. They’ll be carefully wrapped and stored away for the 9 months until early November. Jesus’ life will be compressed into our period of time between then and Easter. His birth, and then His death and Resurrection. Next December we will begin the Advent season again, waiting for Jesus.
But in God’s reality of time, which is ‘time-less’, Jesus never leaves. He never arrives, because He always was. We don’t have to wait, because He is.

He is in every room of our life.

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Christina Rossetti – Christmas

We often think of “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” when we think of Christina Rossetti’s Christmas poems. In fact she wrote many others. The following was written years before “In the Bleak Mid-Winter”.

 

A Christmas Carol

Source: The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, with a Memoir and Notes by William Michael Rossetti (1904)

Before the paling of the stars,
Before the winter morn,rossetti
Before the earliest cockcrow
Jesus Christ was born:
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world His Hands had made
Born a Stranger.

Priest and King lay fast asleep
In Jerusalem,
Young and old lay fast asleep
In crowded Bethlehem:
Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
Kept a watch together,
Before the Christmas daybreak
In the winter weather.

Jesus on His Mother’s breast
In the stable cold,
Spotless Lamb of God was He,
Shepherd of the Fold:
Let us kneel with Mary Maid,
With Joseph bent and hoary,
With Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
To hail the King of Glory.

26 August 1859

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Past Advent Poems 11- 16

What Lord?

So You Think …

mary crop

The Shepherds – A Narrative

 

The Inn Keeper – Correcting the Record.

The Magi

Immanuel

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One of Those Days

I have had one of those days today. Yes one of those days! I had to write an email on the

moderntimes

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times

Principal’s behalf. It turned out to be a great letter. It was punchy, pointed and passionate. I wrote it, reflected on it, reread it and finally sent it. No, it didn’t go to the wrong recipient and I didn’t say anything inappropriate (as has occasionally happens) but it was completely on the wrong topic. It wasn’t a bad letter but just not the one I was supposed to write. Now I have to write another email to explain everything. Humiliating!

Then I had to do a little background reading. I typed in the website I was supposed to look for. It had an easy acronym in its title. The website looked good. The acronym was splashed across the top of the page. There was a pleasant photo and an inspiring motto. “I am at the right place” – I thought. However, it took me a while to realise that instead of looking at the Australian Association of Christian Schools I was actually looking at the Australian Association of (good so far) Convenience Stores. The neurons were slow to fire today. We are coming to the end of a long year. Maybe it is time to go back to bed.

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Zechariah

Zechariah

(Luke 1)

 

So it was our clan’s turn

And the dice rolled in my favour.

Beth will be happy.

The old dear has always been  proud

When I get my day in the temple.

 

With people praying outside

I was inside and about to light the incense

 

And then …

And then …

You wouldn’t believe it …

Next to the altar of incense …

You wouldn’t believe it …

We hadn’t seen one in hundreds of years.

An angel!

AN ANGEL!

Nearly scared the life out of me!

 

“Don’t be afraid,”  he said.

Easy for him to say!

Then he goes on,

Beth, the old girl, will have a son.

Beth!

At her age!

“Call him John,” he said.

Not even a family name.

He was to grow up like a Nazirite

– So no alcohol.

And he will turn people back to God.

How can this be? I said.

 

And then I said no more.

I couldn’t. I couldn’t talk.

This angel Gabriel,

As called himself,

Struck me dumb.

Until now as I hold John

In my arms.

And I can praise God!

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Past Advent Poems 1-10

Head or Heel?Ave of Jesus

The Blessing

The Lion and the Sceptre

Moses a Slave Saviour

Joshua and Jesus

The King and the Everlasting Kingdom

Old Promises New Realities

Hallelujah

The key

Your Throne

 

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Waiting – an Advent poem

Waiting

Waiting is hardChartres Blessing

Fingers twiddling

Feet tapping restlessly

Mind wandering

Head scratching

Watch looking

Pacing.

 

But

Advent is not just

waiting

But expecting

Looking forward

Anticipating

.. even more, longing

 

For the Messiah

The Christ

The Saviour

 

Waiting

… and now

For His return.

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Secular Shariah Law

Hands are are thrown up in horror when people suggest Shariah law may become part of Western democracies with the influx of Muslim migrants and refugees. But I would suggest that there is another Shariah law of which we need to be even more wary.  Slowly over the last decade or so Australia has descended into a state of political correctness and the problem exists for those who may not agree with aspects of that correctness. The nature of ‘political correctness’ is that if you don’t agree you must be ‘incorrect’. The consequences: you become the object of social bullying and ostracised.

One may struggle with the idea of same sex marriage, current views on gender, child rearing and a whole host of other concepts. The problem is that if you don’t agree with the pc majority you and your views are considered unworthy of social acceptance or tolerance. In other words we have entered an era of secular shariah law. Or using a Henry Ford analogy you can have any colour T model ford as long as it is black. Other views are not permitted. If one doesn’t hold the view of the majority in the area of ethics and morality one gains pariah status.

At the heart of a vibrant democracy we need to be able to discuss and debate views in which worldviews encounter each other and can be weighed up. Even in the Cold War era Australia was wise enough not to ban communism. Yet that style of openness has been eroded. Only particular voices are now considered worthy to be listened to. Ironically even media articles arguing for tolerance are intolerant of discordant voices. Most disturbing is that one’s conscience can no longer be a reason for disagreement. The secular Shariah police will ensure that.

And that is the aspect that bothers me most. I understand and accept that with changing social mores many people, indeed most people, won’t agree with me but now, increasingly, many of us are being forced to agree or at least submit to the edicts of the secular Shariah law whether we like it or not.

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Be Holy – Be Set Apart

Leviticus 20:26 You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

John 17: 6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.

Romans 12:2  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

DSC_1051cropIt has always been difficult for Christians to be ‘in the world but not of it’ simply because holiness is such foreign concept for a broken heart and mind to grasp. And as we have been reminded with the recent 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the medieval church like the rest of us also struggled with undeserved grace – the undeserved love of God which becomes the motivation to  inspire us to grow in holiness. The Christian knows that this too is only possible because the Spirit of God empowers us, and the Word of God guides us, towards an ideal that will not be achieved in our lifetimes.

But this challenge to holiness has clearly been in decline in the church in recent generations. The sexual abuse of children and its concealment by leaders in churches, poor ethical relations towards women, financial impropriety … and sadly the list goes on, has meant that the standing of the church in the Australian community is at an all time low ebb.

One of the consequences has been that many in the community have not even wanted hear any of the positions that Christians may hold on same sex marriage, gender and euthanasia. Our voice has been sullied in the minds of many. So what should Christians do? Shout louder? Demand certain legislation? Put ads in the media?

I passionately believe there are two things that are required. One is a genuine attitude of repentance for having failed our calling – over and over again. We have failed the community in which we live. The people who should have been pointing our neighbours to God have been more interested in protecting their own doubtful reputations and we done the name of God no favours.  The second is that we need to reclaim for ourselves an understanding  and commitment to holiness. This is not spiritual snobbery, or spiritual condescension but in simple terms a reminder that God has  set his people apart to be witness to Him – His holiness, his compassion for broken people and his claims over the hearts and minds of men and women.  If a Christian thinks of him or herself as a vessel for God’s use and purpose in the world, then life takes on a different perspective. It is not about me, but about God. It is not about my reputation but God’s.

Now this many not make us any more popular than we are at present, but it will mean we are becoming the people that God wants us to be. It will also mean that when lives are broken and people are looking for answers they won’t be turned off by the stench of the church. Rather they will come to know there are other broken people who have been discovered by the love God and there is hope and that there are answers – not just for moment, a  day or a life time but for eternity.

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The Reformation and Education

If  anyone has been around me for the last year and a half they would have heard me bang on about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. This was not just one event but a series of events and movements that came to a head on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses, attacking indulgences, on the Wittenberg Church door. This event, in turn, has had repercussions to this day. I don’t have the space to go through this momentous time in history but I would like to highlight some of its outcomes. (If you are unfamiliar with this historical period it is well worth studying).

One of the frst major outcomes of the Reformation was the return to the centrality of Scripture. This is highlighted in what is known as the “5 Solas” (Sola is Latin for alone):

  • Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) : The Bible alone is our highest authority.
  • Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  • Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  • Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Saviour, and King.
  • Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.

While in hiding from his enemies, Luther went to work translating the Latin Bible into German so that everyone could read it. Wycliffe, and later Tyndale, mirrored this process in England.

This return to reading and studying Scripture had many results:

  • One was Christian education. Luther and other reformers like John Calvin disagreed with the medieval idea that “Ignorance is the mother of piety” and set up the beginnings of universal education. 
  • We see developments in art: the idea that God was Lord of all of life and not simply ruler over that which had previously been seen as religious, saw artists broaden their perspectives to everyday life and landscapes as these also brought glory to God. 
  • Science, liberated from the judgement and strictures of the medieval church, blossomed.
  • Physical labour, rather than being considered second in comparison to spiritual endeavours, had an elevated status leading to what later became known as the “protestant work ethic”. Much of Northern Europe’s success in industry and commerce can be traced back to this period.

But freedom has its drawbacks when disconnected from God and His Word. The constant temptation we face is to make ourselves ‘god’. The period of the “Enlightenment” was a time when mankind began to turn its back on God and His Word. We see many of the results of this thinking in western societies today. Frequently laws, behaviours and attitudes no longer refect a Biblical understanding of life. We live in, what many label, a post-Christian society. For the Christian this can be both frightening and exciting. All past certainties have disappeared yet there is now an opportunity for the church and its people to return to its task of being counter cultural – refecting God’s will and not that of the world. In that environment it is clear that there is a definite role for a partnership between home, church and school to grow and nurture disciples who are equipped to be God’s agents in the world. In a very real sense we are to continue the ideals of the Reformation.
This article was written for the Covenant College newsletter

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