Preparations

I came across this sixteenth century poem today.

Yet if his majesty our sovereign lord
Should of his own accord
Friendly himself invite,
And say “I’ll be your guest to-morrow night.”
How should we stir ourselves, call and command
All hands to work! “Let no man idle stand.
Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall,
See they be fitted all;
Let there be room to eat,
And order taken that there want no meat.
See every sconce and candlestick made bright,
That without tapers they may give a light.
Look to the presence: are the carpets spread,
The dazie o’er the head,
The cushions in the chairs,
And all the candles lighted on the stairs?
Perfume the chambers, and in any case
Let each man give attendance in his place.”
Thus if the king were coming would we do,
And ’twere good reason too;
For ’tis a duteous thing
To show all honour to an earthly king,
And after all our travail and our cost,
So he be pleas’d, to think no labour lost.
But at the coming of the King of Heaven
All’s set at six and seven:
We wallow in our sin,
Christ cannot find a chamber in the inn.
We entertain him always like a stranger,
And as at first still lodge him in the manger.

Thomas Ford

As on who loves entertaining in normal times I can identify with the preparations which would be made to entertain a king. I wonder, do I make as much effort to welcome Jesus into my home?

But here’s the thing; Jesus enters our home not as a king but as that loyal friend who sits with you as long as you need, who doesn’t care about the dishes piled up in the sink or the dust on the shelves.

You can invite Jesus into your heart and home without a big clean-up operation beforehand. Just do it!

I still like the poem though.

Epiphany – what does it mean for us today?

Epiphany –  a moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation  (OED). In Biblical terms the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented y the Magi of three kings. (Matthew 2:1-12.)

My husband likes to say that he had an epiphany four and a half years ago while riding his motor cycle along the Wye Valley from Chepstow towards Monmouth on his way to visit friends. We had been talking for years about moving away from the overcrowded South East of England but the question was where to?  When  I arrived at our friends’ house by car with the dog  he presented my with half a dozen house details. He had experienced an  ‘epiphany’.  Mid Wales was beckoning. I am so grateful.

Today is January 6th. I took down the Christmas decorations yesterday. I feel a little gloomy as lockdown continues, we were not able to see our grown-up children at Christmas and the prospect of seeing them in the near future seems unlikely. Yet today is Epiphany and I must remember that when the magi saw the infant Jesus they saw God. It was God himself who manifested himself two thousand years ago.

In the Old Testament we read of God manifesting himself in many ways –as a cloudy pillar, a burning bush, as an audible voice in the darkness. Since he has revealed himself in the human form of Jesus, there is no need for the obvious presence of God. He has revealed himself to us through Jesus  and promised that his presence is with us constantly in the form of the Holy Spirit. And so,

We will not be afraid even though the earth is shaken and mountains fall into the sea. Even if the seas roar and rage and the hills are shaken by the violence.   (Psalm 46 v2) GOD IS WITH US. 

This is the meaning of Epiphany. 

Straying from the Path

1 Peter 2: 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd…”          

Luke 14v:10 “I… tell you, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.”

                Our dear old dog, Rufus, is fourteen years of age. He has cataracts and his hearing is not as sharp as it once was. He is also in the early stages of doggy dementia. He is otherwise healthy and continues to enjoy life. He loves his daily walk, although we have noticed that he no longer strays far from us. Whether due to his poor hearing or declining mental faculties he does not respond so quickly to oral commands.

                Take him into woodland, however, and he seems to revert to his youth. Apparently the sense of smell is the last sense to leave a dying person; Rufus’ sense of smell remains as acute as ever. Which is why, this morning, walking in the nearby woods, he picked up the scent of a badger or deer and was off the path away into the undergrowth.

                He was gone for several minutes. Although in the past he has been known to disappear for as long as twenty minutes, this morning I was concerned; with his poor eyesight and poor hearing, would he find his way back to me. Would he continue along the track to the road, in which case, would an increasing lack of awareness cause him to run in front of an approaching car?  I stood and called; probably only five minutes yet it seemed like an eternity.

                Such relief when I spotted him, ears pricked, picking his way through the shrubbery back onto the track.  I crouched down to his level and opened my arms wide. To have scolded him for running off would have been wrong; he had, after all, only followed his doggy instincts. The fact of his, in dog years, considerable age and the knowledge that he had run off before in pursuit of an enticing scent did not lessen the relief I felt at his return.

                All this led me to reflect on how relieved God has felt on the several occasions that I have returned to him after straying from his path and how the anguish I have caused him while I have been away following my sinful human instincts; how there have been no recriminations when I returned to his fold, simply joy, and the holding out of his welcoming arms.    

Starry Starry Night

                                               

          Philippians 2 V:15-16 You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky as you offer them the message of life.

                We are fortunate to live in between two of Wales’ Dark Sky Reserves with the Brecon Beacon to the south and the Elan Valley to the north. There is something very humbling about gazing upwards and seeing the thousands of glittering stars.

                At this time of year as  the days shorten and night falls ever earlier it is easy to mourn the passing of summer, forgetting that we are not so much losing summer days as gaining winter nights; crisp , cold days followed by nights with little cloud cover provide the perfect  opportunity to gaze on the night sky.

                In Philippians 2:15 Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi who “live in a world of corrupt and sinful people,” encouraging them to   “ shine among them like stars lighting up the sky.”

                The stars are always there. When our hemisphere is lit by the sun we do not see the stars. It is only when we are out of the sun’s brightness that the glory of the stars shine.

                I was encouraged today by Cathy Madavan’s commentary on Philippians 2: 14-18 in Inspiring Women Every Day in which she reminds us that it is often in our suffering that we shine in the darkness like stars, not when the sun is shining and all is right with the world. The world watches to see how we deal with life’s trials and tribulations; are we able, like Paul, to demonstrate the presence of Jesus in our lives in all circumstances. May we welcome troubled times as opportunities to shine like stars.  

God is our Shelter and Strength

Psalm 46: 1-3

  1. God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help us in times of trouble.
  2. So we will be not afraid even if the earth is shaken and mountains fall into the ocean depths;
  3. even if the seas roar and rage, and the hills are shaken by violence.

I write these words on a beautiful autumn morning; the sun is highlighting the autumn hues, the chaffinches are clinging to the feeder and late blooming roses lift their head.

Yesterday was so very different; the surrounding hills were veiled in grey mists, the rain fell steadily and a violent wind stripped the trees of their remaining leaves.

We complain about the weather in this corner of the UK but how fortunate we are not to have to endure the extreme weather conditions prevalent in other parts of the world.

Wherever we live, however, very few of us escape the storms of life which can sometimes be as equally devastating as a meteorological storm. The current pandemic has, in some cases, had a dramatic effect on peoples’ lives, resulting in the loss of livelihoods and homes. Even where economic hardship is not a concern, lack of physical contact with family and friends and the uncertainty as to when this will end is causing great worry and sadness.

Thankfully, we can cling to the hope that God is our refuge and strength in all storms, that he knows when this pandemic will be brought under control, and that he works for good in all situations, even pandemics.

Autumn

James 5 v: 7

Be patient, then, my brothers, until the Lord comes. See how patient a farmer is as he waits for his land to produce precious crops.. He waits patiently for the autumn and spring rains. You must also be patient. Keep your hopes high, for the day of the Lord’s coming is near.

The golden days of September and October have been usurped by rain. As November approaches the leaves on the lawn are no longer crisp and crunchy, rather they are heavy and sodden, the earth in the vegetable garden is claggy. As one who rejoices in warmth and sunshine It would be easy for me to slip into despondency.

I love this passage from James. It reminds me firstly that the autumn rain is just as much part of God’s creation as is the summer sun. The leaves may look brown and uninviting but they will by dragged down into the soil by greedy earthworms where they will help to nourish soil ready for next year’s planting. The mountain streams will fill and flow quickly downstream washing away debris and re-oxygenating the deep pools. The soil will retain enough moisture to ensure that next year’s seedings are able to take root and flourish. More importantly though, the passage is a reminder that Jesus will return. We can be sure of that as surely as we can be sure of the seasons.

The farmers has faith that the much needed rains will come. What he cannot do is control when the rains will come. He can only wait, patiently. Likewise we cannot order Jesus’ return, but simply live patiently, firm in the faith that His Kingdom will, one day, prevail. In these uncertain and worrying times may we hold firm to that certainty.

The Palm Tree

Psalm 92 v:12-15

12. The righteous will flourish like palm trees:

they will grow like the cedars of Lebanon.

13: They are like trees planted in the house of the Lord,

that flourish in the Temple of our God,

14. that still bear fruit in old age and are always green and strong.

I have a friend who immediately sprang to mind as I read this psalm. Well into her eighties she continues to lead worship, help with Messy Church and Toddler Group. She may not be able to get down onto the floor to play with Duplo or play in the ball pool but she has a a comfortable lap, a wealth of ideas for craft and a passion for telling Bible stories in a way which draws in the little ones.

Another of my friends plays the organ for us in church, Sunday by Sunday. She is a wonderful musician and her knowledge of sacred music is astonishing. She recently celebrated her ninety second birthday.

Then there is my eighty year old friend who is enthusisastic in expressing her love for Jesus and will pray for anyone, in any situation with an ease and love which is quite wonderful.

As we live with the restrictions imposed during this Covid-19 pandemic these ladies have had to live much quieter, self-contained lives than usual. They each live alone and have suffered periods of loneliness, alleviated by the joy of an unexpected phone call or letter. Fiercely independent they have accepted the help of the community with grace while continuing to do what they can to share God’s love with others. For this purpose they have learnt to use technology to participate in on-line services, Zoom meetings and video chats with friends and family.

In 2 Corinthians 1 v: 4 Paul write “He helps us in all our troubles so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same kind of help that we ourselves have received from God.”

I am no longer in the first flush of youth; indeed,, during Lockdown I have come into receipt of my state pension. My prayer is that like these wonderful ladies I will continue to minister faithfully and bear fruit into old age.

Psalm 139 v 1-6: God’s complete and knowing care.

                1. Lord, you have examined me and you know me.

                2. You know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts.

                3. You are with me whether I am working or resting: you know all my actions.

                4. Even before I speak you already know what I will say.

                5. You are all around me on every side: you protect me with your power.

                6. Your knowledge of me is too deep: it is beyond my understanding.

I have always been an unashamed optimist, cup-half-full kind of person. My husband , on the other hand is a somewhat cautious cu-p-half-empty kind of man, so we balance on another nicely. He is a keen motorcyclist. When Corona virus hit Europe in early 2020 he immediately cancelled all the bookings he had made for various motor cycle trips during the summer. Meanwhile  took me until the end of May to accept that I would not be travelling to Portugal in mid-June.  

                So as we in Mid Wales enter a seventeen day Lockdown and vast swathes of England are subject to severe restrictions, one of my Bible reflections this week gave me food for thought.

                Apparently, those concentration camp survivors who accepted their situation fared better than those who held onto the hope that they would be soon released. Those who held onto the hope that they would be out in a short time found that as time progressed this optimism disappeared along with hope. On the other hand those who had accepted the reality of their incarceration from the start developed a resilience which helped them withstand the situation.

                In the same way – and here I quote* “though we live with the promise and hope of the wonder of heaven and eternal life with Jesus, we still need to be able to accept and live with and through whatever life’s current difficulties and challenges might be.  It helps to know that God is not just our future hope.  He is with us in all our situations and circumstances. He will never leave us.”

The writer of Psalm 139 acknowledges that wherever we are and whatever our circumstances God is with us. No place is too awful or dark for him to reach; indeed “if I lay down in the world of the dead you would be there.”

               Something to hold onto in the midst of these strange times, don’t you think?

*Diane Regan: Inspiring Women Every Day.  

Here I am Lord, send me

My sheep hear my voice

Now after these things God tested the faith and commitment of Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” and he answered, “Here I am.” Genesis 22:1

In that dream the Angel of God said to me “Jacob!” and I said, “Here I am.” Genesis 31:11

The Lord called Samuel and he answered “Here I am.” 1 Samuel 3:4

How do we hear the voice of God? In diverse ways I think. At times I do so wish that I could hear his voice audibly as did the Old Testament prophets. More often than not however what I hear is simply the “still, small voice within,” nudging me along his path. I was reminded of this last Sunday when our virtual church service began with the hymn “Here I am Lord.”

About twenty years ago, I was questioning whether to apply for a teaching job which I’d seen advertised. The wording of the advertisement began “Are you able to” followed by a list of criteria which the successful applicant should meet. I was able to answer “Yes” to all requirements, and yet there were a number of reasons why this job was not for me, or so I thought. Yet God knew better.

The deadline for applications was drawing near and I had made no attempt to apply. However a voice was nagging me, “do it, do it.”

“No!” I said, emphatically, “It’s not for me.” I was a secondary school teacher and this job was in a junior school. My two youngest children were pupils there and I had vowed never to teach at the same school that my children attended. Most importantly, I was very aware that the head teacher was at best very demanding, at worst very temperamental person. I would be a fool to apply.

In Church that Sunday we sang “Is it I, Lord?” As I joined in with the familiar words I suddenly had a change of heart. I knew that God was calling me to that school.

“Okay God,” I prayed, “If you really want me there, I’ll go, just for two years.” For that was the length of time my children, twins, would remain at the school. I could say that I had gone while they were there for convenience; their leaving would give me a reason to leave also.

“Alright,” replied God.

It happened to be the beginning of half term. The following day were were off to the sea-side for five days. Before I went to bed I revised my CV, wrote a brief covering letter, and put the two in an envelope ready to be posted the following morning. This was in the days before electronic applications you understand.

I returned from our sea-side break to find a letter inviting me for interview lying on the hall mat. A few days later I duly turned up for interview. I left feeling that it was the worst interview I had given. I had been home for an hour when the head phoned and offered me the job. I accepted with good grace. God had won.

Reader, I grew to love that school, its children, staff and the head teacher. My children left, I stayed. They progressed through secondary school and onto university. I remained at the school until I retired fifteen years later and was greatly blessed. God has the last laugh. I trust that in my time there I carried out the ministry he had called me to.

I have heard God’s calling since. Sometimes a shout, sometimes a whisper. I pray that I will continue to do so, and continue to respond,”Here I am Lord.”

Here I am Lord

I, the Lord of sea and sky
I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save
I who made the stars of night
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night
I will go, Lord
If You lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart.

I the Lord of wind and flame
I will tend the poor and lame
I will set a feast for them
My hand will save
Finest bread I will provide
‘Til their hearts be satisfied
I will give my life to them
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night
I will go, Lord
If You lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart
I will hold Your people in my heart

“Sent by the Lord am I, my hands are ready now to make the earth the place in which the Kingdom comes.”

May we all hear the Lord’s voice when he speaks to us and respond, “Here I am ,send me.”

The Fruits of the Spirit

“”But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.” Galatians 5:22

Roses, clematis and hop vines climb intertwined over the rickety trellis, the flowers cascades downwards in an unruly fashion. Like a mop of unruly hair, these climbers need a regular trim to keep some semblance of order.

            I enjoy pruning away the dead wood in order to allow new growth to flourish. I am, however, enthusiastic rather than experienced with the secateurs and am apt to make mistakes. It saddens me when  I cut away what appears to be a dead branch, only to discover when I pull it free from the trellis that right there, at the end, are new green shoots which would have developed into flowers had I left well alone.

            How wonderful that God knows what he is doing when he prunes his garden. He knows that whatever age we are, whatever stage we are at, we are still able to bear fruit. As long as we are fruitful he leaves us be. Isn’t that good to know? Those of us in later years can be unafraid, secure in the knowledge that God doesn’t see old wood fit only for the compost heap. He sees an elderly branch still capable of bearing fruits of the spirit. We can be fruitful right up to the very last. God, in his wisdom, will only call us to eternal rest when our work for him is accomplished and we have added all the fruit he requires to his harvest.

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