Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Prayer for New Years

Lord God, we come to worship you at the ending of this year. Time flies by so fast for us, moments hours days weeks months years they move at a great pace. Like the tide our lives move through great ebbs and flows, high marks and low points. Our lives change in their various seasons. Through all our times and ups and downs, our seasons you are constant and unchanging. You are eternal a strong tower and a refuge for us. The rocky cliffs along the coastline of our Island home wear down with the wind and the rain and the constant pounding of the waves, the hills around us are subject to erosion yet you are our rock of ages and you will not be moved or shaken.

We praise you for your constant care and love, for your presence that has been like the cool shade of a tree in the summer heat and the warmth of a fire in the winter cold. You have led us through this year like the good shepherd you are. You have both fed us and when it has been time for us to move on you have prompted us disturbed us and called us to follow you afresh. You know what is good for us and often it has meant that you led us out of our comfortable fields into uncertain places, new horizons where we have to trust you more fully.

We thank you for the good times this year, when we have seen your hand and known your favour. We praise you that in the times when we have felt alone and abandoned far away from you that it was not true even though we could not feel or see you, you were closer than our own shadow. We even want to praise you for the dark times of sorrow, confusion and pain in this year. Not because we must because you are some egotistical deity, but because it was true that you are the one in those times that walked through the deep shadows with us, your rod and staff providing comfort; Your constant love our only hope, hope as true as a new dawn after a sleepless night.

We acknowledge in Jesus Christ your goodness and righteousness that you have been constant and loving towards us. You have acted justly and with mercy. You have called us to repent from the wrong we do and turn back to you. You have forgiven us and restored us.

It is light of that we stop and see that we have fallen short of this love, we are fallen, sinful and there is darkness within that you son came as light to banish. We confess our sin before you.

We acknowledge that there are people that we need to ask forgiveness of for the wrongs we have done them. We pray for your forgiveness and ask that you will help us face them and ask their forgiveness as well.

We acknowledge that there are people we have withheld forgiveness from. We hold grudges we have broken relationships in our life and we need to seek reconciliation and healing. Forgive us and aid us in seeking to right these wrongs.

We acknowledge there have been times when we have let you down and not done what you would have us do and as we remember them we pray that you would forgive us.

Hear the good new that as we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Jesus has paid the price and has set us free.

Lord God, You are not only the God of yesterday and today you are the God of tomorrow and as we turn to look at a new year we acknowledge that we can face it with assurance that ‘our times are in your hands’. We pray that you would fill us afresh with your spirit that we may move into this New Year following Jesus, being made more and more into his likeness. Showing his love and mercy to all who we meet. Living our lives according to Your word and in the power of the spirit.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas I't worth Singing About: Zechariah's song (Luke 1:57-80)

I’ve been trying to write a children’s book. It’s called ‘I’m not a morning bird’. It’s about how we live in this wonderful land of birds (New Zealand). At the merest hint of light in the eastern sky they burst into song; the native birds on the far off bush clad hills, the birds that dwell in the country hedge rows, the ones that nest in the large tress outside the library, and the birds that live in our gardens that we desperately try and keep from roosting under the roof of our houses.

As each of these different sections of the dawn chorus joins in there is one creature in a dark cave who slowly opens its eye and says ‘I’m not a morning bird’. The noises of the town waking up adds itself to the birds like a bass line and rhythm track, but the creature in its cave rolls over and mutters once more I’m not a morning bird.

Then it’s mother sweeps back the curtains and lets the light in and says come on John you’ll be late for school. “awe mum I’m not a morning bird.”

Zechariah finishes his song using the metaphor of the dawning of a new day to talk about a new thing that God is doing, the coming of the one his son John will herald. Just as birds lift their beautiful voices to praise God to celebrate the end of the darkness and the beginning of a new day It’s appropriate that this new thing God is doing is celebrated with songs. Christmas is worth singing about!

This year we are using the four songs in Luke’s narrative of the birth John and Jesus to explore again the significance of the Christmas story for our lives today.

Today we are looking at Zechariah’s song. The song appears in a story in which NT Wright says ‘Luke manages to both capture the big picture of what God is doing and also the small human stories that matter so much to God’.

Zechariahs story

Luke begins his gospel with Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah was a priest and Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth are devout and righteous people who are now getting on in years and are childless. There are echoes and overtones of the story of Abraham and Sarah.

Zechariah is serving God in the temple and the angel Gabriel appears and tells him that he will have a son. They are to call him John, which means ‘God is gracious’. The child will be filled with the Holy Spirit and will be a prophet, like Elijah; in Jewish thinking Elijah was to be the one who heralded the coming of the messiah. At the Passover Jewish families leave a place set for Elijah in the hope that this year the messiah will be proclaimed.

Zechariah is very human and says to Gabriel, How can I be sure of this? Hey I’m old and well, to put it nicely, the wife’s not a spring chicken either. Gabriel says that because Zechariah didn’t believe he would be struck dumb until the birth of his son. Zechariah finishes his duty in the temple, goes home and Elizabeth is soon pregnant.

Luke then parallel’s Zechariah’s encounter with the angel with the announcement to Mary that she is pregnant, a narrative that culminates in Elizabeth’s meeting with Mary while she was six months pregnant and Mary’s song of praise as a result of it. In the passage we had read out to us today we see that Elizabeth gives birth to a child, a son, much to the joy of the people who know them. The family and friends gather together to celebrate at the boy’s circumcision. When it comes to naming the child, people expect he will be named after his father, but Elizabeth chooses the name ‘John’. The people aren’t sure about whether that’s right so they use sign language to ask Zechariah. Scholars have suggested that not only was Zechariah mute but probably deaf as well. That may have been age related or as most women will tell you their husbands are hard of hearing anyway. Now Zechariah has a chance to show his faith in God and the angel’s message so he writes ‘His name is John’. Instantly Zechariah’s voice returns and he sings or chants the song we have recorded in Luke’s gospel, known as the ‘benidictus’ the Latin translation for the first word bless or praise.

There is a pattern in these two early stories of the birth of these two significant children. Ordinary people who have put their trust in God are told of amazing things that God is going to do. That through God’s power working in them God is going to bring his light his salvation into the world: That they will see history change and God’s kingdom inaugurated. They are the most unlikely people for that to be seen through. Mary is just a girl a virgin in an obscure town in Nazareth ‘and well can anything of value come from Nazareth, it’s on the wrong side of the tracks. Zechariah and Elizabeth are old, in his own words they are past it. But God is going to do something. He tells them that, the angel Gabriel has to put in for some overtime. Both parties are very human, they are blown away at the idea that God would do such things. Then as they are see what the angel has said come to fruition they are moved from doubt to praise. Both these narrative threads woven together, end in songs of praise that tell the big story of what God will do.

Zechariah’s song

Zechariah’s song like his son John the Baptist, ties in the themes and the hopes of the Jewish scriptures that we call the Old Testament with the coming of Jesus. Zechariah looks back and brings together the story of God’s calling of Abraham, his deliverance of his people from Egypt, his establishment of David’s line and says these things are just a fore taste of what God is going to do now.

He will come to his people and will redeem them. To redeem someone a kinsman would come and pay the price, the debt that was owed, that had lead to someone being enslaved and set them free.

In a very political way Zechariah says that God will send a saviour who will set his people free from their enemies, just like he had sent Moses to do so long ago. That just as the reason Moses told pharaoh to let God’s people go was so that they could worship him, now we are being told that God will liberate his people again so that they will be able to serve him. We often think of being saved as being saved from, saved from oppression or from sin and death, but right here at the beginning of the gospel we see that it is God’s intention to save us not only from by to save us for. We are being called to become God’s new people, people who will serve him.

Luke’s gospel is the only one that has a sequel and here at the beginning of the story we see why that story of the early church is so important. The community we read about in Acts 2 and we see spread throughout the Roman Empire is the outworking of God saving a people for himself. It is political because it’s the kingdom of God spreading in the realms of humanity.

In the second part of his song we see that this is not just the political salvation that Israel had longed for that it will be bigger and deeper and more wonderful. In Verse 77 Zechariah ties in his son’s ministry with the forgiveness of sins. The things that separate humanity from God will be dealt with. John’s ministry was to call people to repent from their sins to make the way for God’s kingdom to come into their lives. Then in words that echo prophecy in Isaiah and Micah Zechariah picks up the metaphor of God shining his light into the world, a world of darkness, a world in the shadow of death. This new thing that God is doing goes beyond the political and deals with the oldest of human enemies death, death that came into the world with our sin and is going to be defeated by the coming of God’s messiah: Jesus Christ.

Zechariah’s Son

The second part of Zechariah’s song is a prophecy about his son John. He John is to be a special prophet in fact he is an interesting character he is the last of the Old Testament prophets. Zechariah says that his son will have the roll of being the one who prepares the way of the Lord, he will be the one who is talked about in Isaiah 40 , the voice who cries out in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make you’re paths straight. He is the one who will baptise Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. He acts like Samuel, another miracle child born to an older women, who anointed David.

In this song we see the big picture continuity of what God is doing. It points to the fact that Jesus is the fulfilment of the longing of God’s people all through their history. That now God is going to let a new light dawn in the live of human beings. Salvation from sin and death, calling people to freedom: Freedom to know God and to serve him. God’s purpose is to create a people who would live in such a way that would reflect God’s goodness and God’s grace and God’s presence. God continues to bring the dawn of a new age through ordinary people like you and I. Who have meet Jesus born at Christmas and are willing to allow him to set the agenda for our lives.

Let me share an example of this through the work of a group called International Justice Mission: A group of Christian lawyers, criminal investigators and professional carers who work for the freedom and rehabilitation of slaves and those forced into prostitution in our world today. Inspired by their faith they seek justice for the poor and victims of injustice and police brutality and corruptions and through that seek to share Jesus in the darkest places on our planet.

Gary Haugen, the CEO of IJM, told one story of a young man called John in Kenya. A group of policemen were drinking in a pub and had run out of money so they went out into the street and accosted John. They beat him up and stole the little money he had. Almost as an afterthought and a way of making sure he didn’t report them one of the policemen shot him and they left him for dead. John didn’t die he managed to crawl his way to a hospital nearby. They operated on him. He lost an arm and had to spend many months recuperating. When the police heard he was still alive to stop him from talking they arrested him and threw him in prison without a trial and no hope of getting out. The lawyers of International justice Mission heard of this and set to work. They got him released from jail, something that the people of his community had never heard of, they prosecuted the five policemen who had abused him and they are now in prison, unheard of. John now is in college training to be a community advocate. The Light that Dawned at Christmas came to shine through his people and into the darkness of John and his community’s life.

You see unlike the unfinished children’s story I told you about we are morning birds. God has called us, full of our doubts and uncertainties to bring the dawning of his light into this world. You may think your past it or that you’re insignificant, or too young. But the same God who worked in the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth and Mary to usher in his Kingdom is alive and working in our lives. The challenge is what darkness is God calling you to shine the new dawn light into to?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas It's Worth Singing About (Christmas Day 2010)

Christmas has always been associated with singing and song. In fact the Start of Luke’s gospel sounds like an old Hollywood movie or an Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway production... or an episode of Glee. Where people burst out in songs of joy.

It starts when Mary finds out she is pregnant she composes a song of joy that we know as the Magnificat. Zachariah an old man whose equally old wife Elizabeth gives birth to a baby, John the Baptist, and sings a song outlining God’s plan for a saviour and a light in the dark.

At Jesus birth it seems the whole of heaven was full of song. An angelic visitor woke shepherd’s tending their flock by night to tell them a child born, a saviour given, and then they were treated to the awesome singing by the hosts of heaven. Maybe not the wonderful and adorable angels we have in a children’s Christmas play, because the heavenly host is after all the angelic armies. Perhaps the shepherd’s could have identified with the All Blacks a few weeks ago in the Millennium Stadium when the Haka was responded to with a stare down and 80,000 welsh voices singing ‘Bread of heaven.” baying for all black blood. Enough to make the normal man quake in your boots.

Simeon a righteous and pious man who the spirit had said would not die till he saw the messiah breaks forth into joy on seeing Jesus in the temple. Content now to die and aware that this child will be a light to the gentiles and for the Jews alike. But also aware that Jesus would be the cause for many in Israel to stumble and fully aware of the pain and suffering that waited in Jesus future. Anna, almost, throws off her age and her sorrow filled life and dances and sings for joy at what God will do through this child.

We have a great depth of songs that we use to celebrate Jesus coming at Christmas time. Some that express the Christmas hope and message and others that just sort of express the joy of the season. You can’t get away from them really. You walk into a store and they are there playing in the background hopefully to get you in the mood to loosen the strings of your purse and make you happy enough to push the limit on your credit card.

For some Christmas really isn’t a time of singing. Because of memories or circumstances the songs cannot raise out of the dark shadow of sorrow or depression. Maybe its part of that year of first’s after the loss of a loved one or the continuing feeling of being alone over what is for everyone else a festive time. They find themselves feeling like those Jews in the Psalms

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion

On the willows we hung our harps

For there our captors asked us for songs,

And our tormentors asked for mirth,

Saying sings for one of the Lord’s songs’

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Or in the midst of wrestling with the state of humanity we could find our selves joining in the U2 song Peace on Earth with its cry out to God in the face of inhumanity like the Omagh bombing where 29 men women and children were killed in sectarian violence.

Jesus and the song you wrote

The words are sticking in my throat

Peace on Earth

Hear it every Christmas time

But hope and history won't rhyme

So what's it worth

This peace on Earth

A song by the way not of losing faith in the Christ of Christmas but a prayer that the peace of the angels song would become manifest in our world.

The reason for the joy and the answer to the grief and questions come from the songs from that original Christmas.

Firstly because Christmas is a song of Love…

Maybe not the overt and deep lyrics of modern pop tunes ‘Oh baby I love you… baby. But a depth of love that is a light that shines in the dark.

The faithful love of God that God should keep his promises to his people and send them a saviour. A deep love that God should see Mary and humanity in our lowley state and show us his mercy and favour in Jesus Christ.. Become one us, dwell in our midst and offer us eternal and abundant life with him… God has shown us his extravagant over the top undeserved love in forgiveness and new life. It’s worth singing about.

It is a song of hope.

That God has been and is at work in our history and circumstances as a planet and individuals to bring his light and his justice and mercy to reign in the midst of our world. The hungry shall receive good things and the lowly shall be lifted up. Those who have exploited power and wealth in this world will not be stealing away more than their share of God’s kingdom. It’s worth singing about

It is a song of peace.

For the Jews Peace as not just the lack of conflict and war or a silent night peace with the child not crying at night or that feeling of wellbeing you get lazing by the pool or the beach during well deserved holidays. Rather for the Jews peace was shalom which meant wholeness living with right relationships. A right relationship with God: Because of the Child born at Christmas we can have peace with God. In Jesus life and death we can come to know God as our heavenly father. Also a right relationship with each other, loving one another as I have loved you as Jesus said and love your enemies. Simeon’s song proclaims that we would be bought together across the great divides of culture and race, in his day epitomised by the divided between Jew and gentile. In Christ to become brothers and sister adopted into God’s people.

Foremost Christmas is a song of redemption. A freedom song. That God will set us free from the bondage to sin and death. That God will restore justice and mercy to our lives and invites us to work with him to bring his love and peace into the world.

That’s why Christmas is a song of Joy. That’s why Christmas is worth singing about.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Its Worth Singing About: The Angels' Song (Christmas Eve 2010)

Luke’s starts his gospel with a parallel account of the birth of Jesus and John the Baptist, and when you read it, it has the feel of being like an old Hollywood musical, a made for Broadway Andrew Lloyd-Webber stage production. It’s full of people bursting into song.
There are four songs in the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel: three solos Mary’s song, , Zechariah song , Simeon and Anna song. And the production number to end all production numbers.

The production number is what we are looking at tonight. The Angels song and an unrecorded reprise in the praise the shepherd’s give God when they see what they have been told is true.

Maybe because of hallmark cards and Christmas pantomimes where every little girl makes a beautiful angel, with white dresses tinsel halo’s and fairy wings, we think of these being as rather cuddly and tame,

But in the scripture every time an angelic being turns up the first thing they have to tell people is not to be afraid. They are creatures of light like the moon to the sun that reflect the radiance of the one they serve. In fact the Angel tells the shepherds not to be afraid but to be filled with great joy because of the good news that the angel has to give them. He announces the birth of a child who is the saviour and the messiah and the Lord and gives the shepherds a sign so that will know what they have been told is true. They will find a child in a stable, lying in a manger, a feed trough and wrapped in rags.

Then in a way we can relate to in New Zealand at the end of his speech this Angel is joined by the host of heaven for a waiata. It’s almost as if the sky is drawn back like a curtain at a cinema or theatre and there are thousands of angels. They sing glory to God in the hightest and peace on earth to all whom he finds favour’.

Lets turn to look at the words of this song.

Glory to God

Firstly what is happening this night this birth in Bethlehem is to be the focus of Glory to God in the highest? Here is something new and profound that God is doing. It is something that God’s people Israel had been looking for centuries a saviour a messiah who would free them and be the long awaited king like David. God was now going to establish his Kingdom. A kingdom that was totally different than those in the world around them. A kingdom that will result in peace to all who dwell on earth.

On earth Peace

Peace of course for the Hebrew people was the word shalom which did not simply mean a halting of hostilities, a cession of conflict, or a general sense of wellbeing but rather peace was seen as wholeness. The establishment of right relationships.

Peace to the world because through this child there would be A restoration of that prime relationship with God. This saviour had not come to liberate Israel from roman rule but rather to liberate all human beings from sin and death and allow us to become the sons and daughters of God. Peace because in Jesus Christ, his life, his death and resurrection there was to be a way for us to be forgiven for all we had done wrong and a way for us to be reconciled with the one who made us. Peace because here was the one who would call for justice and care for the poor and the down trodden, who would call his people, all people to love one another and love their enemies and forgive those who had wronged them. To say to the powers in this world that there is something greater that calls us to act out of God’s justice, mercy and love.

Let me illustrate the hope this brings in this famous photo and the story of the girl in the photo.

This is perhaps the most famous photo of the last century. It has come to encapsulate the horror of war and the civilian price of our conflicts. June 8 1972 and the United States and South Vietnamese forces drop napalm on the village of Trang Bang. Nick Ut took the photo of six-year-old Kim Phuc running from her burning village her back and arm badly burned.

Kim Phuc’s life is radically changed by this moment. She goes through years of pain and suffering. The communist government use her as a propaganda tool.

In 1996 Kim Phuc, then living in Canada, and a follower of Jesus, was invited to speak at the Vietnam War Memorial.

“ Dear friends” she says

… as you know, I am the little girl who was running to escape from the napalm fire. I do not want to talk about the war because I cannot change history. I only want you to remember the tragedy of war in order to do things to stop fighting and killing around the world. I have suffered a lot from both physical and emotional pain. Sometimes I thought I could not live, but God saved me and gave me faith and hope. Even if I could talk face to face with the pilot who dropped the bombs I would tell him we cannot change history but we should try to do good things for the present and for the future to promote peace…’

(Denise Chong: The Girl In The Picture, 1999. pp362)

In the Crowd was John Plummer who was involved in planning the raid on Trang Bang. They meet that day. He explained who he was and he cried, “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…” Kim Phuc embraced him and said, “I forgive, I forgive”.

This is another photo of Kim Phuc and her son taken by Nick Ut. It has a real Christmas look to it doesn’t it. Kim now works for UNESCO as an ambassador for forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. Her life gives us hope of the change that the Christmas message can bring even in the face of our worst inhumanity.

So let’s move to look at those who heard this angelic announcement and saw this production number and what they say to us this Christmas. It’s strange because in our society such large production numbers are done to be seen by a great multitude of people. The more the merrier, we fill large stadiums, look for TV audiences in the billions, or box office figures and DVD sales that ensure a good return. But here we see that Angles perform for a small and unusual audience. In our world that may mean playing to a small audience would mean a very exclusive group, one where John Lennon’s words as the Beatles played at the Royal gala Performance might apply, ‘those in the cheap seats clap and you others just rattle your jewellery’ This audience are the most common of people in agrarian first century Judea.

When Caesar Augustus was born, the same language was used of him as of Jesus , it was said that he would be a saviour, and Lord and a ruler who would bring peace, the Pax Roma, social order that was maintained by the ever present threat of the roman army. But it was announced and declared in palaces and in provincial capitals to the wealthy and the powerful.

But here the birth of a different kind of King is announced to ordinary folk like you and I, in the midst of their everydayness. Here is a different king indeed not born in a palace or in plush circumstances but in the humblest of surroundings. It tells us in an age of glossy magazines, PR companies, and the cult of celebrity, that it is not the circumstances of a person’s origins and surrounding s that is important but their part in God’s plans.

The shepherd’s are told of the child’s birth and they are allowed to see the heavenly response to this event, however they are invited to go and see for themselves. To go and see if what they have heard is true. At Christmas time we focus on the manger, a simple feeding trough and the stable and those that came that night shepherd’s and as Matthew tells us wise men from the east. We even think of animals that may have shared that stable. But the manger and the stable for the shepherds were simply signposts pointing them to the child in the manger. They were signposts pointing to which particular child it was they were seeking. The shepherds go and see that what they have been told is true and for Mary and Joseph this birth which has been a private moment now becomes something more, they are given affirmation that what they believed about the child is true and Luke who uses Mary as the source of his Christmas narrative tells us Mary stored these things up in her heart and pondered them. It’s only after this that the shepherd’s return joining the angels in giving glory to God and telling everyone of the Good news of this child’s birth.

The angels song and the shepherds response invites us also this Christmas, to go and see. In the midst of our everydayness our going about our own business, in the midst of the festivities and traditions of our family and cultures celebration of Christ’s birth to go and see what all the fuss is about, what all the singing is about. To look beyond the manger and the stable to Jesus born in the manger. Jesus the man who taught his followers to love their enemies and called the poor blessed because theirs was the kingdom of God, who forgave sins, healed the sick, gave his life up for us, and whom God raised from the dead. Come again and see and ponder and give glory to God and seek to work with this Jesus for peace on earth.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Robert Louis Stephenson's Christmas Prayer

Two years ago I found and used this Christmas prayer written by Robert Louis Stephenson and I think I'll use it again this year. You normally equate Stephenson with that most wonderful of pirate adventure treasure Island but he also seems to have written for the advent season as well.  The prayer picks up the joy of day, the wonder and amazing grace shown in Jesus Christ and a prayer for hope that this Christmas Good News will have an impact on the way we live our lives and treat each other. he even manages to add in a prayer that we may see the giving of gifts with a child-like-ness and at the end of a day with family and friends be reconciled and at peace with one another, an apt prayer when you think of the increase in domestic violence and relationship break ups that happen under the strain of western consumerism and expectations on this time.

Loving God, Help us remember the birth of Jesus,

that we may share in the song of the angels,

the gladness of the shepherds,

and worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate

and open the door of love all over the world.

Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings,

and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be the children,

and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts,

forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

-- Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, December 20, 2010

Meeting Christ in People.

Recently I've managed to catch up with some old friends who I haven't seen for years. Its a result of being part of this phenomenon called facebook and social networking. Maybe I'm lazy or that life always seems to be like a strong current pulling you along with new landscapes and relationships to navigate that unless you really try you can easily loose track of people who have had a significant role in your life in the past. Facebook give me a chance to 'at the click of a mouse button' reconnect with people, at one level and begin the process of reconnecting in a face to face, life to life way.  I've moved around in NZ quite a bit and we do all tend to be very mobile here in New Zealand, so it has been easy to leave one place and go to another and have to forge new relationships and friendships. When I turned 40, we had just moved to Dunedin in the South Island, but it was great that I was able to have in six people that Kris and i invited out to dinner to celebrate people who had played a significant role in various big chunks of my life. A couple who I had looked up to growing up in Titirangi (to the west of Auckland), friends from Rotorua, where i worked at St john's Presbyterian Church for six years (In fact they were the people who had been the first to invite us to their place for lunch when we arrived, and filled their hot pol for us to soak in, a real Rotorua luxury), and a couple I had meet and valued when we  moved to Dunedin ( I was mentoring him in his youth ministry).

In the last year having moved back to Auckland I've made connections with people from my youth again and had coffee and dinner with them and it's been great being able to acknowledge the big parts they had played in my life. in fact all three had come round to my house the day my dad had died (back when I was 20) and offered simply to sit with me in silence, go away if i wanted to be alone or talk and listen to tales of my father if i wanted to talk. It was a valuable gift that I have always treasured. Interestingly enough one of my friends when I told him about that time and thanked me for it couldn't remember saying the words that had been so important to me.

It may sound strange but the one time I have walked into a church and experienced God's love and presence the most was the Sunday after my mother died. I shouldn't be surprised that God actually cares, but in a very profound way he spoke to me and showed me his care. An old friend of mine Micheal was an elder at the church we went to worship at that day, the minister was away and so Micheal was speaking and he shared from one of my favourite Psalms about the psalmist wrestling with grief and sorrow and still placing his trust in God and he shared in the context of only two weeks before that Sunday having to deal with his fathers death and speaking at his fathers funeral (that was exactly what I was going to do the next day at my mothers funeral). he spoke of wrestling with grief but in the midst of that experiencing God's presence. Amazing that God should speak right into my circumstances through someone who had been a significant part of my life. I heard God's voice in a voice I could trust speaking into my situation.

I am amazed at how I hear God speaking to me through new people I meet as well. Encouragement, correction, inspiration, compassion as well as being willing to share with me their lives and to tell you the truth sometimes simply dealing together with the trivia of life and necessity of getting things done.

My prayer at the moment is that everyone I meet, old friend, new friend, brief acquaintance I might value the contribution they make to my life. Even people we may not usually recognise as being God's gift. Bus drivers are a good example, I always thank them as I get off the bus they have managed to get me safe to work and home gain through the midst of Auckland's crazy traffic. Cleaners, they make life at work so much better and in scripture Ministry is seen as service and waiting on tables.

yup, there are times when I'm tired and grumpy and my family will tell you down right obnoxious, but I'm trying to treat everyone I meet as if I'm encountering Christ in them, and that they are an object of God's love and grace... and just maybe God is wanting to speak to me through them.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas It's worth Singing about: Mary's Song (Luke 1:39-56)

Christmas it’s worth singing about. In our New Zealand culture there are not many times when we have a common sound track a common body of songs that we sing or have an occasion to meet together to sing. But Christmas is one of those times.

Yes at rugby matches we will sing the national anthem with gusto, even the Maori verse if we can see the words. And praise God our children know them off by heart.

We are not like the home nations who support their Rugby teams and express their enjoyment of sport in song. We are not like England’s balmy army in Australia at the moment doing backing vocals to the radios cricket commentary. Mind you our Cricket team doesn’t give us much to sing about.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Christmas is worth singing about, because it has been from that first Christmas. Luke’s starts his gospel by telling us two parallel birth narratives, John the Baptist’s and Jesus of Nazareth. And the start of Luke’s gospel reads very much like a Bollywood movie or an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. At significant moments in the narrative people break out into songs of joy, songs of praise. In fact in Luke chapter one and two there are no less than four songs recorded. Three solo’s and the production number to end all productions numbers.

Christmas it’s worth singing about and this Christmas, this advent season leading up to Christmas day. I want to use these four songs to look afresh at the Christmas story, its message for humanity and its hope for this world. In the songs are motifs that reflect central themes in Luke’s gospel: Important aspects of Jesus purpose and mission that continue to speak to us today individually and corporately.

The songs of praise come in response to God making a promise and then that promise being fulfilled. Mary is told she is pregnant and it is confirmed by Elizabeth’s own pregnancy and greeting, Zechariah is promised a son and after his birth after almost a year on mute, Zechariah sings God’s praise, the Angels proclaim Jesus birth as a fulfilment of his promise for a messiah to Israel, in a song we don’t have the words to the Shepherds go home from Bethleham rejoicing because what the Angels had told them was true. and Simeon in the temple was told by God he would not die till he saw God’s promised messiah and into the temple Mary and Joseph bring Jesus.

We no longer have the tunes for these songs, but my hope is that the lyrics might resonate with our hearts and cause us to bring forth our own praise our own new songs, a lyrical beauty in our lives that will give Glory to God for God’s grace shown to us in Jesus Christ. Christmas it’s worth singing about.

It’s appropriate today to start with Mary’s song, A song that JT Wright calls the Gospel before the gospel. A bold proclamation of the coming of God’s Kingdom, thirty weeks before Bethlehem and thirty years before Calvary. That foretells Jesus as God’s Good news for the Poor, the blind, the oppressed, the outcast and the prisoner, and for you and me.

It has been called the Magnificat after the first word of the Latin translation; ‘My soul does magnify the LORD’. It is one of the oldest and most famous Christian songs it has been whispered in monasteries, chanted in cathedrals’, orchestrated by Johann Sebastian Bach, recited in remote country churches, become the basis for Hymn’s. its formed the basis for contemporary worship songs, like one written by the wife of a friend of mine, she was reading the Magnificat while visiting a couple of friends living in Cambridge, who had really struggled to have children and were finally expecting. Mary’s song seemed to capture the Joy.

Mary’s song is a new song, but it’s drenched in the scriptures of the Old testament, it has overtones and follows the same structure as Hannah’s song In 1 Samuel it echoes the story of Abraham and Sarah and Israel being descendant from a child of promise born to a couple in their old age. You could imagine that song from Hannah’s story and Sarah’s that parallels Elizabeth’s, being on Mary’s mind as she headed into the hill country to meet her older relative. Hannah like Elizabeth was childless and God allowed her to have a child, Samuel who when he was grown up would anoint king David. Definite parallels here between Hannah’s son and Elizabeth’s.

It’s a song that has three parts.

It starts with Mary finally being able to rejoice about her pregnancy and over what she had been told by the angel.

The Angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary and told her that she was to become pregnant and that her son would be the heir to King David’s throne, that he would reign forever.

She is perplexed by this as she is still a virgin and its mind blowing that she is with child. But is told, “It will be a miracle and will happen through the power of the Holy Spirit, that nothing is impossible to God”. Then as a sign of this she is told that her elderly relative Elizabeth who has been barren and is post menopausal is also pregnant. If God could do that then God could do what he had said to her. Mary’s response to the angel is faithful and devout and she says ‘ I am the Lord’s servant, May it be to me according to your word’. But there dosen’t seem to be much joy in that. You could imagine that Mary is still bewildered and amazed by the event and she doesn’t really know what to make of it. Luke tells us that Mary hurried off to see her relative Elizabeth. Could the news she had be true could this amazing angelic visitation be real? She arrives at Elizabeth’s house and as she greets a six month pregnant Elizabeth the child in Elizabeth’s womb that Zechariah was told in Luke 1:15 would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born, leaps. John starts the musical off with an unseen dance. Elizabeth now affirms to Mary what the angel had told her about her own baby and Mary’s response is to burst out into song. Finally after the uncertainty of a journey to the hill country where Elizabeth was living and hoping that what she had experienced was real Mary allows herself to express the wonder of God’s great love and power. She expresses Joy at what the Lord has done.

The heart of Christian worship should be Joy, wonder our souls bursting with the good news of what God has done. It’s also Joy that often only comes as we are prepared to yield ourselves to God and follow him even when we don’t fully understand. Mary had obediently yielded to God’s will and had struggled with doubts. Yes there will be sorrow and pain child birth and later her soul will be pieced with a sword of such sorrow as she is told by Simeon in the temple, but despite suffering and pain and sorrow, there is Joy because of God’s goodness and mercy.

The second portion and theme of the song is a personal reflection on God’s mercy that God would be mindful and bless his humble servant. There has been a lot of veneration of Mary in the Catholic church that is not helpful for us. In classical catholic dogma, she is seen as being the product of an immaculate conception, remaining a virgin for all her life and being taken up into heaven like Elijah rather than dying, but that does not fit in with the expression Mary gives in this song and the picture we have of her in Luke’s gospel. I got in trouble at a church once for saying that Mary was just an ordinary woman. A Catholic women in the church took exception to that. Can I say that Mary is to be honoured and respected as a women of faith and as the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ but in her song of praise the amazing thing is that God would look with favour on such a humble person as her. This is the amazing truth of the Gospel the reoccurring theme of the nativity narrative that God looks with favour and mercy on ordinary human beings.

We see that the God’s saviour coming into the world is firstly acknowledged by two women who would have been stigmatised in their society and time. An older women who had not had any children in a society where women got their value through their husbands and the children they bore tham and a young women who despite her miraculous tail of angelic visitation would still be in a dangerous and ostracised position of while being betrothed to a good man but being pregnant out of wedlock. But in the lives of these two women on the margin of their society God was bringing his salvation into the realm of humanity. Not through the great and the powerful but through the least and the powerless. The praise that God looks for comes from those who are humble they know their need for God, they don’t think that God needs them, and are surprised and elated and respond to the magnitude of God’s grace.

The church in the west tries desperately to hang onto its perceived place in the centre of society, to hold on to status and position, but we forget the way God’s kingdom came into our world, on the margins, not to palaces and positions of power but to the humble and ordinary. Maybe as the church here in our society, here in the twenty first century finds itself more and more sidelined and marginalised, we will see again what God wants to do in this world and wants to birth in us.

In the third part of Mary’s song It moves out from a close-up of what God had done in Mary’s life to a panoramic big picture of what God is like and what he will do and does in the world. In verse 49 Mary says God is Holy. Holy here means that God is totally different than his creation. He is ethically pure and always acts and reacts in a just and righteous way. In the beginning verse of the first of John’s letters to the church he puts like this, “God is light and there is no turning of darkness in him.” Mary expresses this holiness of God in that he is for the poor and oppressed the lowly and humble. This sets the scene for Luke’s gospel where the Kingdom of God is seen as an upside down kingdom where the poor and the sick and the outcasts are the ones who receive God’s favour and are blessed. A kingdom where we don’t settle for the ‘that’s just the way it is of any social order but rather seek God’s justice. Where leadership is service. Where Jesus comes to seek and save the lost. What joys for us right those of us who have gone astray and are far away from God. We are the objects of his grace. Also it shows in Luke’s gospel that the way we are to express our Joy and thanks to God is not only in song but in our lives as well. That our lives lyrically live out the upside down nature of God’s Kingdom by caring for the least and seeking out the Lost with the Good news of Jesus Christ.

Let me finish by sharing with you A story that illustrates the revolutionary nature of the kingdom of God that Mary articulates in her song. A story of a young women that both moved me to tears and made me want to sing for Joy when I heard it.

Catherine Rohr is a petite attractive thirty something women By the time She was twenty four she was making hundred million dollar deals on wall street, she was making quarter of a million dollars a year. But something was missing in her life. She became a follower of Jesus and went on a short term mission trip to Eastern Europe, then she was invited to go to prison. Now we’ve seen a lot of top executives and wheelers and dealers go to prison recently but this was different. Chuck Colsen the head of prison fellowship invited her to visit prison. Her initial thoughts were that she didn’t want to meet the dregs of society, murders rapists and violent criminals but as she went into prison she was amazed because what see saw was people with potential. She was so moved by what she saw she sold up quite her job and moved to Texas to work in the prison. She started a programme called the Prison Entrepreneur programme. Giving felons who want to reform their lives the skills and support they need to start fresh lives when they leave prison. Basically she is teaching these men to own and run their own business, giving them the skills they need to get a job or start their own company. Working on their character and arranging venture capital for them. Helping support and house them and their families till they can start to get on their own feet. The state prison authorities were rather concerned as high flying CEO’s from round the country were suddenly coming by private jets to help train these men. Catherine Rohr is straight up with these hardened men and tells them she will not tolerate any sideways inappropriate looks, and because of who she is she breaks down the barriers between rival gang leaders by getting them to hug and dance with each other. She brings hope and Christ like love in to the lives of these men.

The cynic in me wondered if she wasn’t just creating a class of smarter criminals. However over 400 have gone through this scheme and while the reoffending rate in Texas is between 50-80%. For the men who have gone through the Prison Entrepreneurial programme the rate is about 2.5%. Cathrine Rohr has yielded her life to what God was wanting her to do, she reflects God’s desire and care for the lost and the least and now she has a song of great Joy at seeing what God is doing.

Christmas it’s worth singing about.

The challenge I want to leave this morning is to invite us to yield our lives to Christ and live for his Kingdom and see what Songs of Joy he will bring.

a prayer: reflecting on God's love in the midst of the Christmas rush (4th Advent Sunday)

It is easy to loose the focus of Christmas in our Western worlds desire to celebrate and consume at this festive time. Commercial pressure coming out of a recession, means the push to sell us more stuff we don't need and express our 'love' for others with presents, While the cost of living for the average person just keep rising. In New Zealand at least there is the drive to head off straight after Christmas for the summer holidays (great) but it does ramp up the pressure beforehand.  Anyway here is the prayer I'm using in a service I'm taking at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church Symonds Street. It's the fourth Sunday in Advent so the focus is Love . I've used John 1:1-18 as a starting point to again focus on what Jesus has done for us. The challenge is also to not only express that in prayer but live in a way that reflects that love.

When I write prayers I try and think in terms of poetry (lines, rhythms etc) but this one sort of just came out more prose than poetic, but heart felt.

Well God , Christmas must be close

The pace seems to be quickening and there is so much more to be done

Our mail boxes groan under the weight of all those flash catalogues trying to sell us something

There is a definite edge about making sure we get to that car park first

We’ve got to work out whose place were going to on the day

And book in summer holidays

Yet in the midst of that God we want to stop and give thanks to you

Christmas is about you and your love for us

It’s about you and Your love for us

It’s beyond our ability to comprehend

A mystery in the true sense of the word

That while we were yet sinners in Jesus Christ you stepped into our world

You pitched your tent in our neighbourhood

You came as a light in the dark

The word become flesh

So that all who believe in you would be given the right to become children of the most high God

WE beheld you as grace and truth came in your son Jesus.

We give you thanks

It’s about you and Your love for us

You became one of us and experienced what we experience

You were known as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief

We know that you celebrated the good things in lives like a wedding at Canna and good friends and festivals

We know you healed the sick and cared for the poor spoke for justice and proclaimed good news that through you the kingdom of God was coming near

And there it is like a shadow over the Christmas narrative the sword that Anna saw would pierce Mary’s heart

That you gave you life on the cross so our sins could be forgiven

We thank you

It’s about You and Your love for us

We can know new life because Christ was raised from the dead and is alive

New life because you have sent your spirit to dwell with us

Not just in our neighbourhood but filling us making us more like Jesus

New life because you have given us a new family you church in the world full of brothers and sisters fathers and mothers in Christ.

New life because the old has gone and the new has come

New life because you have forgiven us and wiped the slate clean

New life because you call us to follow you and witness to your great love

We Thank you

Seeing your mercy and grace

We come today and confess our sins

Forgive us for losing sight of you in the midst of this Christmas rush and even in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives

Help us to fix our eyes on you, the author and perfecter of our faith

Forgive us for living graceless lives when we have received such grace from you

Help us to love and forgive, serve and love as you have and do

Forgive us that we have left undone all the good you call us to do

Forgive us lord we are sorry

There it is again the hope and good news that came at Christmas

That through Christ if we confess our sins you are faithful and just and forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness

Today and this Christmas season may we capture afresh a vision of your great love and your son Jesus Christ

May we be filled a fresh with your spirit to be Christmas people

Seeing Jesus break into our world through our words and deeds

Allowing your grace and love your justice to be our pursuit

To the glory of God Father, Son and Spirit

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What sort of Christmas are you dreaming of? (Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love Not Snow and Jingle Bells)

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Well in our southern hemisphere homeland I don’t think many of us would be dreaming of a white Christmas. We’re a summer people. Perhaps the only white that inhabits our dreams is the puffy white clouds in an endless blue sky. The white froth on a perfectly formed wave breaking on the Bikini infested beach, cricket whites on a well manicured oval and the white contrast of potato salad next to an array of greener salads and the brown, and if we’re honest the charcoal black, of BBQ’ed meat at our family gatherings.

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Well for so many Christmas signals the start of that holiday break they’ve been dreaming about all year. A chance to unwind let the tension knots of stress unclench in our overworked shoulders and necks. A time to indulge in that most New Zealand of dreams, The family batch by the beach, exchanging the crowded streets of suburbia for the crowded rows of caravans and tents at that secluded holiday destination before it gets sold off to the super rich. If I can be cheeky enough to say it we become the in car nation at Christmas heading off for our well earned rests.

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Of course so many people want to sell you a dream for Christmas. Glamorous glitzy catalogues and mail outs galore full of things that will show how much you care or just make your day, make your year or even change your life. Just to help you get what you want we are offered Specials and incentives, loyalty cards and kind offers to extend the limit on credit cards.

In a recent BBC poll about the 10 worst things about Christmas one response was the timing, it was good that Christmas came but once a year but why just before the January sales.

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

The food banks prepare for the seasonal rush, relationship councillors warn of the added stress and give tips on how not to have a break up this Christmas. The women’s refuge doesn’t see it as a time of peace and good will as families under pressure, fuelled perhaps by Christmas cheer and unobtainable consumer dreams, explode into violence. For some the festive season heightens their sense of isolation, “it’s the loneliest time of the year”.

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Our tables seem to groan from the weight at Christmas time while in Africa in Asia in our war torn and poverty stricken two thirds world there is simply a groan as people have to wait to see if there is any. Christmas appeals invite us to look at other places round the world where the dream for this Christmas is simply to survive. It calls us to share our wealth with the poor and hungry.

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Don’t get me wrong I love Christmas, I love the festivities and family time, I even love the gifts and being able to express love to people by giving. But I wonder if we haven’t allowed our Christmas dreams to be captured by our western consumer lifestyle and we miss the real meaning of Christmas.

Yes in Church we are year after year amazed by the mystery that in the child in the manger God became man. That like at those camping ground round our nation God pitched his tent in our neighbourhood: an act that will lead to the cross and the resurrection and humanity being reconciled to God. But I wonder if even we haven’t allowed God’ dream of God’s salvation and how it can impact in our world to fade behind the tinsel and the lights, to become simply a hallmark moment on a soon forgotten card from a distant relative.

What sort of Christmas are you dreaming of?

I fear that we have allowed the voice of the powers and powerful in our world to shape our Christmas dreams. We’ve allowed that voice to speak as if it were our god. But that’s not the way that God works and in Luke’s gospel we hear a dream for what the birth of this child Jesus will mean spoken not by the powerful but by a marginalised women in first century roman occupied Judah: Mary’s song of praise, ‘the Magnificat’. In that voice we glimpse what sort of Christmas God is dreaming of: A hope filled dream, a peace filled dream, a joy filled dream and a love filled dream but mostly a Christ filled dream for the world.

Elizabeth and Mary would have both been marginalised people in their society. They were Jews in their occupied homeland. They were women in a society where men ruled. Even in that society they would have been marginalised. Elizabeth was an older woman and she hadn’t been able to bear children, the sign of God’s blessing, people may have wondered what was wrong with her or even speculated that somehow she had done something wrong. But now she is with child, and she wonders about that child. Typical of a man her husband Zechariah was struck dumb when she conceived. She sees God in this.

Her relative Mary is also with child, and there is also a cloud hanging over her, she’s betrothed to Joseph but she’s pregnant, there are rumours and allegations flying round. But Mary knows that this child is different, God told her she has conceived a child by the Holy Spirit. It was hard for Mary to comprehend and the reassurance she got in an angel visit was that her relative Elizabeth is also with child. If Elizabeth being old could have a child them there is nothing that is impossible with God. When the two women meet, it tells us that the child in Elizabeth womb leapt for joy. That Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and realises who the child in her young nieces womb is

“ Blessed are you amongst women, and blessed is the child you will bear’ but why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should visit me.” The identity of this child is first spoken on the lips of a human being. By this marginalised but faith filled women.

Then Mary’s response is a song. Maybe in our country and culture where at the maraes welcomes are started by Kuia calling chanting welcome and finished by visitors singing waiata it shouldn’t seem a strange event.

But the words of greeting exchanged between these two women at the door of a house, are words that capture the heart of the Gospel and speak to the world and echo down two thousand years to us.

The child that Elizabeth acknowledges as her Lord, God’s son will bring about a change and a shift in the power and structures of the world. Mary doesn’t use the words of the Kingdom of God but we see the expectations of the Old Testament of God’s ideal society where God reigns and poverty and injustice are no more. Those who are high will be bought low and those who are low and poor and oppressed will be lifted up; just as God has blessed his humble servant Mary. The hungry will be feed with good things and the rich will go away empty handed.’

The coming of this child will bring about a new way to be human. A new way where we are invited into a relationship with God through the life and sacrifice of this Child Jesus and that will lead to a new way of living a new way of being where the poor will be treated fairly, where oppression and injustice will be no more. Word’s echoed in Luke’ sequel to the gospel narrative where the first followers of this Jesus were able to say that no one in their community had a need. They sold what they had and gave to meet those needs.

That’s just a pipe dream I hear you say, look around you mate. Didn’t Jesus even say later on that we’d always have the poor with us. Who are we that we can do anything about it and well to tell you the truth Christendom, you know when you followers of Jesus were the powerful ones not the marginalised it wasn’t much better.

And I’d have to say your right about all those things.

But what sort of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Will your relationship with Jesus come that at Christmas bring change to you and to our world.

Are you dreaming of a hope filled Christmas? It doesn’t have to be this way? Where because of the Love and forgiveness we have received from the God who gave his son as a gift for us we can work with God to care for his people, and his world.

Are you dreaming of a peace filled Christmas. Where because we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ we can take up the ministry of reconciliation that Paul talks of in and work to see the peoples of this word have peace with god and with one another. It may mean staring by mending a fence with someone at church, bringing down a fence between you and the neighbour who is different than you. Forgiving and being willing to forgive.

Are you dreaming of a Joy filled Christmas? Not just a happy Christmas or Christmas cheer, but the joy of seeing the hungry feed the lost and alone become part of God’s community, The joy of people set free from sin and oppression.

Are you dreaming of a love filled Christmas? What a wonderful gift of Love that God should give us his only son that who ever believes in his should not perish but have everlasting life. And beloved will people see that love we have received, as we love one another as we love even the least in our world.

Are you dreaming of a Christ filled Christmas?

Enjoy the festivities the family, you need a break take it enjoy it, but my hope this Christmas is that we might again hear not dreams of a white Christmas but of Christ coming into our lives and though that into our world this Christmas, this new year.

Whose dream of Christmas are you dreaming?

What sort of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Voyage of the Dawn Treader: Review and Refelction

It was my 23rd wedding anniversary on yesterday and Kris  and I went out to the movies as part of our celebration (it's the low budget time of the year). we went and saw Andrew Andrew's adaptation of CS Lewis's 'The Voyage of the Dawn treader' from his Chronicles of Narnia' series. I have read and read the books to my children and love the story. AS A christian I cannot help but cry when reading or watching the death and Resurrection scene in' the Lion, Witch and the Waldrobe' which despite Liam Neeson's recent comment that Aslan could be any religious figure is CS Lewis' Christ figure in his story.

I haven't read the voyage of the dawn treader for many years but found as I do with many film adaptations of Book's, myself  saying I'm sure that wasn't in the book. And there is a lot in the film that is not in the book. I guess when you've CGI'ed a dragon you don't just want to use it for a short time and with 3D in mind  an aerial dogfight between the dragon and a sea serpent makes cinematic sense. It was obvious that some of the CGI effects (like a buzzing WW2 spitfire in the opening sequence) were designed for 3DLikewise making an external character of evil itself is helpful in a story where people find themselves tested and tempted, it gives a chance through special effects to visualise the inner struggle, just in case people don't get it, and to provide a classical good verses evil fantasy plot line. Having said that I must say the movie was great and I enjoyed it.

I appreciated the fact that the characters were tried and tested and faced real temptations. that they were ith the help of faith and with the help of the one they have put that faith in faced and over come those temptations and trials. Popularity, Power, wealth, Self-centeredness were all faced and over come. As were the haunting and dark shadows of past failings and insecurities. Edmund was constantly taunted with his past failings and a sense of inadequacy. Lucy faces a developing sexuality and comparing herself to her older sisters beauty. Eustice Stubbs (so well cast as all the children have been) portrayed self centeredness so well and it took some dragonician (a play on words) events and the friendship of a talking mouse to change his character.

AS with al the previous movies the scenery is totally amazing and magical. The Dawn Treader itself is wonderfully fashioned to be faithful to the original illustrations in the book. It was great to have those illustrations used in the closing credits as it tied the remediation of film into the the books.

The climax of the film was well done and moving. Caspian and Reepicheep the mouse meeting Aslan at the shores to his kingdom beyond the sea. The way in which Caspian is able to assert that he is called to serve his people rather than follow his own desires and wants saying "I want to be a better King' And Aslam's affirmation 'You already are' is a great moment for people who choose service and leadership. Edmund and Lucy were able to show very clearly that while they had been summons to Narnia yet again in our hour of need that as they had faced that, they had grown to as people to the place that they no longer needed Narnia to continue their own journey. They needed to know Aslan by another name in their own country and context. Reepicheep's setting sail in a coracle to the home of  the emperor over the sea (Aslan's father) bought tears to my eyes.   This CGI furry mouse had become such a loved character and one that showed such ventures as friendship, loyalty and a willingness to face adversity with courage and faith, is heading off on his final, be it eternal, adventure.

All in All a good movie. One I have many reflections on. The metaphor of life and faith as a journey, an epic sea journey I one that if you are a regular on my blog you will realise that I love. It was good to have a cinematic presentation of the wrestles that go in, on that journey, both hardships and trials and wrestling with inner temptations and our innate fallenness and to be reminded of Jesus ability to help and to encourage along the way.  Eustace Stubb's gives me particular hope as I am aware of all my own faults and failings and wondering how could I have a part in Christ's plans and purposes as we see transformational change happen in his character.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A prayer based round Emmanuel-God with us

23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:23 quoting Isaiah 7:14

The word Immanuel- God with us comes readily to mind round Christmas time. That is the context that Matthew uses the quote from Isaiah in his gospel. But the idea of Immanuel- God with us (the immanence of God) is something that I find significant and important in the Christian faith, Not the God way out there, but the God who dwells with us and within us and is with us... or in my creative use of English what I call the "With-us-ness of God". the image I've attached to this posting is of a person walking in the wilderness almost a clique for journeying alone but at the same time for many has the echoes of the poem 'footprints' which talks of the with-us-ness of God. Here is a prayer of thanksgiving and confession from a advent service in which I have tried to capture this.
I do try and stick to a basic poetic-line structure but have put a couple of joiners in from thanksgiving to confession and also an affirmation of God's forgiveness.

Loving and righteous God

We come together to celebrate in song and word

Your great gift of love,

We remember at Christmas that you sent your son into the world

To become one of us and to save us

Immanuel –God with us

Creator of all that is

God with out beginning and end

In a mystery so deep

You became a child in the womb

You were born into our world

Not to riches and privilege and palace

But in a stable to ordinary folk

So wonderfully blessed

Immanuel- God with us

Jesus Christ, prince of peace

Child born at Bethlehem

We praise God for you

As a man

You showed us God’s love

You healed the sick

cared for the poor

Welcomed the outcast

Invited us to come to You

Immanuel –God with us

Jesus Christ, Saviour and friend

In your death on the cross

You made it possible for us to be forgiven

To know God and be adopted as beloved sons and daughters

In your being raised from the dead you gave us the new life

Immanuel- God with us

By your spirit you dwell with us still

In the midst of our everyday life there is the presence of the eternal

You light our way

Lead us into truth

You comfort us and strengthen us to live for you

Immanuel- God with us

God because of this great love and mercy

We turn to you and ask that you may forgive us for the things we have done wrong

Forgive us

we have thought it all revolved around us and our wants

We have not keep your word or followed your ways

We do not always love as you have loved us

We are not as gracious to all as you have been gracious to us

We have done what we should not do and left undone much of the good you call us to do.

Forgive us O Lord

Hear again the assurance from Emmanuel -God with us

That if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness

You are forgiven

Fill us again with you spirit O God

Enable us to know the love that came at Christmas

Empower us to show the love that came at Christmas

To family and friend,

Stranger outcast and even foe

To bring your good news to all

Immanuel – God with us

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Prayer Of Thanks For All Life, Our Lives and New Life

Lord God almighty

You are the Lord of Life

we praise you for all you give

We praise you for creation

A world teaming with life and beauty

The lush dark greens of our native bush

The lighter hew of farmland and orchard

The melody and harmony of our Island of birds

The richness of marine life in the vaste deep blue beyond our shore

For the uniqueness and difference of your people

You are the Lord of Life

Help us to care for your world

We praise you for our lives

The newness in life that a baby brings

The sense of awe and adventure in toddlers exploring steps

A fresh eye on the world in the inquisitive questions of a child

The vigour and passion of youth

The Care and love of a parent’s embrace and nurture

The wisdom and maturity of older generations

You are the Lord of life

Help us to love one another

WE praise you for new and abundant life in Christ

We were lost and you sent your son to find us

We did not know you but in Jesus you made yourself known

We were burdened down in sin and in Christ you forgave us

Because of Jesus death and resurrection we have a clean slate and a new start

You fill us with your spirit to empower and guide, comfort and council

You lead us home to you through life to your father’s house

You are the lord of life

Help us to walk in the life you give

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas and Lights (They Go Together)

.I  Like this amazing image of a 'science geeks Advent wreath'. And let's face it Christmas and lights are synonymous with each other

There are some amazing displays of coloured lights, flashing and still that people decorate their houses with. For their pleasure and the pleasure of others. Over the past few years I’ve taken my children round to have a look at them in the various towns we’ve been in and its helped me recapture something of the wonder of the season with the infectious joy they seem to get from this.

There are the late night-lights of stores that stay open all hours to try and make Christmas shopping easier for us. Maybe they hope that after a certain time our will to resist that extra something for Auntie or the Children will break down.

Sadly there are the flashing lights of emergency vehicles responding to increased tension in some households or roadside carnage.

From the windows of homes there is the flash of Christmas tree lights that form a focus for family and friends. That are like a beacon to young ones filled with eager anticipation. They think they’ve guessed what is in the parcel that makes that wonderful rattle when they sneak in and give it a shake.

The Christmas tree lights often accompanied by the ghostly blue glow of the TV screens and more recently computer screens as people seek entertainment and amusement. The Christmas specials, adverts and maybe just ‘the same old same old’ another day where watching the box and surfing the web help keep the loneliness at bay or stop us from having to reflect to deeply.

Christmas time also is synonymous with candles. We see them on the Christmas cards we receive and send. At church they count us down to Christmas and light the special songs we cherish at this time of year. In fact at a recent Carols by Candlelight service I commented on the irony that the church know at Christmas was one of the only place you can say to people Light ‘em if you’ve got em’. Candles not cigarettes though.

Maybe Candles at Christmas are a chance for us to reflect, both on the light and the dark.

At the end of the first decade of the twenty first century where with street lighting, stadium lighting and the likes we think we have pushed back the darkness and the night. If we were to see a satellite photo of New Zealand and Australia at night, this would perhaps tell us a different story. It shows us that really we do have so much in common with our forebears who found themselves sitting by flickering candles steering off into the unknown. Maybe both in terms of knowledge and the human soul there is light and also so much darkness that we have yet to illuminate.

The Christmas story is also full of Light in the midst of darkness.

Mary bears a special child, the light of the world. Conceived and growing in the darkness of the womb. Able to hear the loud sounds about it. To know its mothers voice, the laugh of Joseph when he feels the child kick or the harsh order of roman soldiers in this occupied country demanding that people go to their native town to register.

Like this child we too glimpse as in a mirror darkly the existence of the spiritual all around us. The light that God shines to reveal himself to us; in creation, scripture and ultimately in coming as one of us.

The shepherds are sitting maybe by a fire in the cold hills around Bethlehem, keeping watch over their sheep. Always alert that a wolf or lion or two-legged creature may rob them of the animals from which they make their living. Maybe the banter round the fire would be rather familiar to us

… “ she’s a hard road finding the perfect woman, Boy’… “Lattee didn’t he play hooker for Otago”… “she’d have been faster if we had a horse”… “good on you mate”…

Then there is such blinding light. Like the sky was a curtain it rolls back and an angel appears. It was enough to frighten these harden shepherd they fall on the ground. The angel says fear not and give them Good News of a child born who is the saviour. A child not in a palace or in the home of the rich and powerful but in a shed lay in a feed trough. Suddenly the night was full of light. The angels arrayed as a mighty army spreading across the expanse of the night sky singing ‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace to all on earth in whom God find’s favour”. The shepherds abandon their sheep and go and see that what they have been told is true.

Here is the light of the world being proclaimed by creatures of light. Hope and peace with God for even the lowly shepherds and people like you and I.

We call them wise men, they gazed at the sky and looked to the stars to understand the world around them. They too see a light: Something new in the heavens. Something that causes them to leave their observatory, maybe change out of their white coats and put away their plastic pocket protectors, and go on a long journey. The star they understood signalled the birth of a special child. The long awaited ‘King of the Jews’. They journey through lands and the political intrigue of the paranoid dictator Herod to find this one. Lead and guided by a light. Finding a child who they worship and give and gifts of gold, frankeseince and myrrh. Strange to our twenty first century minds when a packet of treasures or a rattle maybe gifts for a baby. But they were gifts designed for a king.

The light of Christmas caused them to journey from the familiar to look for something new that would bring hope and peace for the human soul.

 John’s gospel.does not start by focusing on the shed out the back or the shepherds and angels wise men or kings but invites us to look at a bigger picture maybe like we would if we were standing at the beach at night staring out across the vastness of the pacific or up into the vastness of space. He looks beyond time and space to before the beginning and sees that in the darkness when there was only God That the word was with God and was God. That the word became a light that shone in the darkness. Like a candle it shed light, it showed us what God was like. That God loved us and was near us even in the darkness of our world or in the darkness in our own souls. The light revealed what had always been there beyond the gaze of man or the probe of the most technically advanced instrument. Beyond the physical universe there is a God who is spirit and who loves us. That in Christ this God became one of us, like a New Zealnad Christmas Summer Holiday, God pitched his tent in our neighbourhood and showed us the light of the world.