Hetty’s Devotions

Epiphany: a story

Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar

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(Picture from The Life of Jesus, painted by Paul Forsey)

It was a black night. Nothing lit our Eastern sky, nothing. The tiny pinpricks of starry light were almost blotted out by the inky darkness.

Nevertheless, our team was out there on the dunes, peering into our telescopes, occasionally lighting a small candle to jot notes and diagrams onto our parchments.

It was a still night, which was a good thing. Sand grit can be a problem if it’s blown into our equipment and ink. Caspar was sitting in the middle of a huge groundsheet, gazing across to the horizon. It was so quiet that, even though I had my back to him, I heard it when he stopped breathing. He wasn’t dead, just dead surprised.

I turned and said, “Cas?” and then looked where I thought he was looking.

I answered his unspoken question. “I think it is.”

“I’m going to make a light” he said, “you get Melchior.”

I set out over the dunes. With no illumination I stumbled along. Once I turned to look behind me and saw Caspar’s small candle. But behind him was a rising glow from near the horizon. I finally found Mel; actually I stumbled onto him. He cursed as I landed on him, causing his ‘scope to drop to the ground.

“Look” I said, and standing close behind him with my arm alongside his head, I pointed to the west. He moved slightly to follow my direction. “Yes…” he murmured.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking” I asked.

“I think I am, Balthazar!” he replied, and I heard the twinkle in his eyes.

We ran then, back to Caspar, who had been consulting the charts. He was fairly jumping out of his skin! And that’s not bad for an eighty year old astronomer.

This was the beginning of our journey westward. That little star, rising up into our world, had been predicted for centuries. But not as headline news in the Astronomers Of The East Gazette. No. It was hidden in the historical parchments of our discipline, to be discovered through intense cross referencing and study. A group of us were hoping and waiting for its appearance in our lifetime. And here it was!

The following days were a buzz of preparations and talking. Our colleagues agreed that Mel, Caspar and I should be the ones to meet the promised King. The King born somewhere to the west of us. The King whose star we had seen rising in the darkness.

And this King would be worshipped with gifts.

So a committee was formed to find appropriate gifts. The gift registrars. They consulted the astronomical charts too, for clues. Each gift would be fraught with meaning. Finally they came on the night before we were to set out. Three packages were presented to us.

“This one is the only gift we could give to a new King” they said. “It is the ultimate symbol of power and majesty.” Caspar stood beside me and whispered breathlessly “Gold!”

“This one” another registrar said, holding up a small box, “was a tricky one. Something in our research suggested this new King is also Godly. So in this box is the very precious frankincense.” He handed it to Melchior.

A third registrar stepped forward.

“Finally, our last gift.” A few of the other members of the committee shuffled uneasily and looked down, as if they weren’t too sure about this choice of a gift.

“Myrrh.” And it was offered to me.

An explanation was called for. The registrar continued. “It’s traditionally used as an embalming agent. The committee thought it appropriate as all kings eventually die, and this new King will deserve the very best of burials. Although” he added,

“this King is a God, so it should not be necessary. However, on the off chance…..” He was now clearly out of his depth so I stepped forward and took the package from him. He looked glad to be rid of it.

The journey continued. The next morning we were assisted onto our camels and the whole assembly of astronomers were there to see us off.

Our College president handed us the scrolls containing copies of the prophesies of the Hebrew Daniel, concerning the King we were seeking. And so we left our home in the East.

It was together boring and exhilarating to be travelling.

At night we pitched our tent, found our telescopes and studied the sky as we had always done. But we hardly needed the telescope to see that Star; it became larger and brighter every night. It was our signpost, our route map, our light for our path.

During the days I reread Daniel’s prophesy. He was an alien in our country, captured over 500 years ago and brought to Babylon as booty.

He wrote about his God and a plan to bring a saving Christ into the world. The ‘Son of Man coming from heaven’.

When we reached the region of Palestine we made our way straight to the city of Jerusalem. I was glad to stop there. Beyond this country was the Mare Nostrum sea and I didn’t like sailing much. I preferred the ships of the desert – camels, and the waves of bare sand.

At the palace the guards brought us before the ruler King Herod. He listened to the reason for our coming, and looked puzzled. “No new kings here!” he blustered.

“A new born King, a baby perhaps?” I suggested.

Now he looked positively scary. “No newborns around here!! “

Melchior offered another idea, “we believe him to be the king of the Jews.”

“What?!!” roared Herod. “I am the king of the Jews!”

And then “Send for my advisors, and those magicians I have!”

They came, and they confirmed what we had said. In the town of Bethlehem the Christ would be born.

Now Herod ordered us out of the room while he conferred with his advisors.

We sat in a tiny anteroom, cooling our heels. “I don’t like that man much,” said Caspar, “can’t we just go over to that town and check it out for ourselves?”

But then the door opened and we were called back in.

Herod’s plan went like this:

We were to go to Bethlehem, find the baby King, and then return to Herod and give him the precise location.

It was something about the way his moustache twitched when he spoke that made me wonder. His whole demeanour had changed since before, but that moustache was twitching! I didn’t trust him.

Well, we found Bethlehem, and we found the King. Our star continued to lead us until it stopped over an ordinary-looking house in a plain old street. No palace, no royal crib, no red carpet.

We felt a tiny bit overdressed for the occasion, and the gifts we brought seemed a tad too grand for such an ordinary child, but we knelt before him. His parents didn’t blink. It was as if they knew His importance, as if they understood Who he really was.

I bowed deeply.

I offered the jar of myrrh to the child’s mother.

In my heart I felt some flutter of recognition as I gazed upon the small boy sitting on his mother’s knee.

The star had brought me to Him. He was the end of my journey.

Hetty Stok,

Epiphany, 2019

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Telling Bible stories to young children

Once again my wife reflects upon one of our passions – how to present gospel stories to children.

 

The story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. (John 13:1-17)

 

Traditionally, we concentrate on Jesus, the teacher, humbling himself to wash the feet of his disciples. However, to a young child, this would not seem unusual at all. Their experience is normally one of adults caring for them; teachers and childcare providers, parents, and grandparents. It would be strange to them if the disciples had washed Jesus’ feet!

 

So how could we tell this story?

 

Often Bible storytellers try to interpret the stories. We want to be sure the child understands the meaning and the lesson. In short, we tell the child what they should think.

I’m wary of this approach.

I believe that when we impart God’s Word to young people the Holy Spirit is present and active in their hearts and their heads.children 1

We need to trust that He will guide them as they hear our stories.

Our aim should be to facilitate worship in children.

 

The lives of children are full of friends, family gatherings, travelling, food, and identity. This story has it all. Jesus plans a meal together with his friends. They all travel to an upstairs room in a house. They probably walked along dusty roads to get there. When they arrived there were probably hugs and kisses all around. The table had an array of food and drink, lovingly prepared by others in their circle of friends.

Most importantly, Jesus was with his friends: they identified themselves (and the community recognised them) as His followers.

 

So, as you tell this wonderful story, touch on these points of contact.

 

Children will also visualise the story as you tell it. They will “see” it using their own experiences. Therefore a table full of food will be their family’s dining table.

Enrich the story for them by telling them the colours, the smells, the icky ness of the dirty feet, the warmth of the water in the basin, the gentleness of Jesus hands, and the softness of the towel.

 

When we tell stories in this fashion we help a child take it into their heart. The story will resonate with them.

 

And finally, give the child a way to respond to what they have heard. Wonder with them, sit quietly and ponder, provide art materials, sing. Follow their lead as they follow the Holy Spirit.

 

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Easter Sunday in Santiago -Hetty’s Perspective

Hetty’s thoughts about Easter Sunday

We had an appointment to meet Kiki at the cathedral at 11am, so we found a car park and walked into the city centre. It wasn’t difficult to find each other. As we approached the cathedral the Risen Jesus was being wheeled in. We followed Jesus.
Just inside the doors he did a tricky 25point reverse and back outside.
Crowds of tourists/spectators were shooed out of his way. Meanwhile people in costumes arrived from all directions: little angels, Biblical characters, and traditional Spanish women in high veils. And lots of green-caped churchmen and women. Then we realized another float was coming into the square.
To drums and trumpets and a Spanish version of the bagpipes , Mary was being borne aloft by two dozen men. No wheels under this lady! Her carriers had her rocking from side to side as she and Jesus inched towards each other. We then got an Easter Pageant and a kind of sermon. It was good that we knew the story and that the word Halleluyah is universal. The two Marys went to meet Jesus, ran back to tell John and Peter who in turn ran towards Jesus. Then some angel children released some doves. After that the procession went through the town to more music.
We turned back to the cathedral for the 12 o’clock Pilgrims Service. there was a lot of pomp, ceremony, smells and bells, but we understood little of it. the priest did welcome us in English but I didn’t realize it immediately and didn’t precisely notice when he went back to Spanish.
At the commencement of the Communion we left, found our way back to the car, and started on our journey south.

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The Invisible Man

Another of Hetty’s reflections: Matt 12:1-14

Mostly I am ignored at the temple. I go every week to pay my tithe, say my prayers, listen to the priest’s words, and no-one seems to notice me – I’m invisible.

Imagine my surprise when Jesus, surrounded by his followers AND a gaggle of Pharisees marched right up to me. Me! An invisible man with a shrivelled hand, who no-one ever wants to see, let alone help.

They were arguing about something. Arguing politely, but I could tell that those lawyers were trying to trap Jesus with his own words.

They stopped before me.

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” they asked him.

Ah, so I was their visual aid. Here was a “rubber meets the road” moment for Jesus. (Or should that be “donkey’s foot pad meets the road?”)

Well he answered the question with a question. And then using the convenience of a man in need of a miracle close at hand, Jesus drove his point home. “Stretch out your hand,” he told me. I did. I gazed down at my hands. They were both as perfect as each other!

Heavenly father, it is not the rules that keep us right with you. It is not what we give up or do without. You only want us to live “mercifully”; to value our fellow humans as you do; to do good, every day of every week. Help me go through this life journey following Jesus in all that I do. Amen.
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Jesus Clears the Temple

One of Hetty’s reflections: John 2:13-16

I’m right behind Jesus. Since he did that miracle with the wine at the wedding, I want to see everything he does. This seemed like a routine visit to the temple … until …

I’m on my way home. I have to give some serious thought to what I’ve just seen. Jesus was a man out of control, or was he? What did he mean when he said, “My father’s house”? That would make him … the son of God! Can that be true? What about the line about destroying the temple? If, if, someone destroyed such a structure it would take more than three days to build it again. It would take another miracle.

I’m sticking with this guy. Whatever he does next, I’m going to be there to see it.

Lord help me to keep my eyes on you. Not because I have to witness the miraculous, wonderful as that would be, but because you are the one who made me. You love me more than anyone else would. Stepping with you will be the best way I could travel through life. You know what will cause me to stumble, and if I’m close to you, you’ll gently take my arm and tell me, “Watch that stone there Hetty. Don’t trip over.” Thank you Jesus for being the best travelling partner. Amen
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The Wedding at Cana

A reflection by Hetty on the Wedding at Cana. John 2:1-11

A bystander at the Wedding at Cana: I surely must have had as much to drink as those around me, but the celebrationns are set to continue for a while yet. On observing Jesus talking his mother to task and giving strange orders to the servants, my interest was piqued. How amazing the resulting miracle! Who is this man? Who is he related to? Where can I find out more about him?

To follow Jesus at this point would be to follow a magician, a sideshow.What about when he begins to say things people don’t want to hear? What about when he starts to make demands of me?

Lord, may I grow in my understanding of Jesus day by day. Please give me the faith and courage, not just to know him, but also to follow him, willingly, in obedience.
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I’ve heard about Jesus …

A reflection on Matt 8:5-13 by Hetty:

I’ve heard about Jesus: Water, evil spirits, diseases, they all obey his word. So when he said he would come and heal my servant, I told him plainly, “That’s not necessary. Just say the word and I know he will be cured.” I knew he would have made the journey for me and the young man, but he is the “Chief Officer” and what he says goes. But I wasn’t expecting his amazement at my reply. And those comments about my faith – surely I’m not as good as all those pious Jews?!

Jesus comes for each of us. He makes no distinction between masters and servants, Jews or Gentiles. He only requires our faith in him.
“Remind me that you are
the Way,
the Truth
and the Life
and apart from you there is no life.”
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Encountering Jesus

The following reflection on Matt 8:28-34 comes from my wife, the “Sarah”, in reality, Hetty, in “Travels from Ur”:

It’s a peaceful spot, not too far from town, the ideal place to let the swine wander and graze. Well, most of the time it is. You see, in the tombs up there in Gadarenes there are a couple of wild men. People say they are demon possessed. On this day we saw some other strangers who we now know were Jesus the Nazarite and his disciples. I’d heard of him and I should have recognized him when those two wild men started shouting at him and he ordered their demons to leave them. He’s known for that kind of thing.

Well, I have nothing against that man for giving those two their lives back and it’s not everyday that you witness such a miracle right before your eyes. But it is the other thing that he did that really angered us. The demons asked him to send them into OUR pigs. Can you believe it?! And then once our herd was filled with demons it ran straight down the bank and into the lake. Every one of the pigs drowned! Utterly gobsmacked, us herders took off in the other direction – into town, and there we told anyone who’d listen what Jesus had done. A whole posse of townsfolk  went back to the “scene of the crime.” Jesus and his followers were still in the field. Once the townies had established what had happened via a whole barrage of questions, they had an impromptu town council meeting. then they asked Jesus to leave. And I say, “Fair enough! He ruined our livelihood. he ruined our lives.”

Lord. let me not only see what I may have lost because of my encounter with you. May I continually count the blessings you have bestowed on me. May my following you be about giving back to you, in gratitude, for all I have received.
Amen
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