Rebecca

A story for Christmas, 2019

Rebecca.

My name is Rebecca. I am ten years old, and I live in Judaea, in a town called Bethlehem. It’s usually a very quiet sort of place, but last night it was anything but! First, there were lots of extra people in town – Dad said the Romans wanted everyone to go back to where they were born so they could be counted up for tax. Typical Romans, he said, always wanting our money.

Lots of our cousins were visiting, and the house was packed! The guest room was full and there were people sleeping on the roof, and I had to share my bed with my little cousin, who snores! It was really hard to get to sleep, and there seemed to be some sort of star outside that stopped it getting properly dark. Continue reading

Hot cross buns already?

Well, today is Epiphany, the feast of the three kings, where we consider the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. This marks the end of the Christmas season. But Christmas isn’t really over, in spite of what I saw in the supermarket two days ago. Yes, as I hinted in the title, hot cross buns were already on display! And this is even before the fruit mince pies have reached their use-by date! Does Christmas have a use-by date then? No, it can’t. We need to keep hold of the wonder of Christmas, the sense of awe that God would allow Godself to be born as a tiny vulnerable human, to teach and to guide us, and ultimately die for our salvation.

When I saw the hot cross buns, I was sad as I reflected upon the shallowness of our culture. We are all too happy to have the trappings of a religious festival – Christmas trees, Advent wreaths, Nativity scenes, and then hot cross buns – with or without peel – but can we as a culture cope with the raw powerful images behind the symbols? Can we cope with a baby born in poverty, destined to die for all of us, only to rise again? Can we cope with a youngish man,a good man, who loved everyone, but who was cruelly tortured and murdered, and all because God planned it so?

At Christmas we must never take God’s sacrifice lightly. We must surely try to embody Jesus in everything we do and say, and remember that God wants us to love Him. He just won’t force us to. Or even bribe us with hot cross buns, with or without peel.

T’was the week after Christmas…

T’was the week after Christmas, and all through the house

there was plenty of food for the opportune mouse!

There was cold Christmas pud which no-one could eat,

and the fridge was still groaning with left-over meat.

Scraps of wrapping were strewn all over the floor,

and remote controlled cars crashed into the door.

The grown-ups were having a lie-in in bed,

and plans for their lego filled the little kids’ heads.

The Christmas tree drooped as it started to die,

and the pile of recycling was 2 metres high!

The children were hyper with too many sweets,

and instead of cards, Christmas greetings were Tweets!

The church was now empty – no people or song

and abandoned Christingles were starting to pong.

The Nativity scene figures looked all forlorn –

Did anyone care that the Saviour was born?

The Boxing-day sales were swelling the mall,

and no-one remembered the Christ-child at all.

Why did we celebrate his birth at this time?

and forget him next day as the cash registers chime?

Jesus was born for the sake of us all,

for the man sleeping rough, for the crowd in the mall,

for the over-fed, under-fed, all in-between,

for the poor and the rich, the generous and mean.

We must remember him every day

and give thanks to God that he saved us this way –

not with a Santa and reindeer-drawn sleigh,

but a vulnerable baby, asleep in the hay.

Rev. Felicity O’Brien Boxing Day 2013

Nowhere to stay

I was listening to Luke 2 today, describing the journey Joseph and Mary made to Bethlehem. Several things struck me – and one may be the result of the other. They were going to his own town, his ancestral town. Surely there would have been relatives in Bethlehem who could have given Joseph and his pregnant fiancée a bed? What had gone wrong in his family so that the important codes of hospitality were not being observed? Maybe all Joseph’s relatives were no longer alive, or had moved elsewhere, and like Mary and Joseph were looking for accommodation too. Or maybe there had been some terrible disrupt in the family – many families today have problems where one person is seen as the ‘black sheep’, where no one will give them the time of day, let alone open their house. I urge you, if there is a problem like that in your family – and many families have issues – please try to forgive, and to let yourself be forgiven, and open your heart to your own family, no matter how awful they have been.

It’s entirely possible that Joseph and Mary were rejected by their own relatives. Why? Another part of Luke 2 gives a hint – Joseph was engaged to Mary, who was heavily pregnant. They were not yet married. There had been rumours about the coming baby which would float around for years, and maybe the relatives just couldn’t bear the thought of an unmarried couple with a baby nearly there contaminating their house.

As Christians we must guard against this attitude. Many Christians are very judgemental about people who live together, have their families, buy a house, a dog, a trampoline – in short, set up a family, without the legal status of marriage. Is it any of our business? A resounding NO! If it’s good enough for God to be born to an irregular couple, it’s good enough for us to accept those as a couple who regard themselves as one. The Bible continues to surprise us with the sort of people God uses to further the Truth, and human judgementalism and rule-making, which is unfortunately very noticeable in the church, can get in the way of God’s work.

This Christmas, let us welcome those we have rejected, and those who have rejected us. And let’s give thanks for families of all shapes and sizes – if they love each other, that’s a God-thing!

Wind in the branches

It’s Advent! Our family always has a real tree, so yesterday we headed up to our local school where we had permission to take a wilding pine. We found our perfect tree, and between four kids and myself, we cut it down, plus a couple of smaller ones for the kids’ bedrooms – yes I know it’ll make a mess but the smell is glorious!

When my son and I were carrying our tree home, we heard a strange noise, like wind rushing through the trees, but it was coming, not from the distant treetops, but from the tree over our shoulders! It was really weird hearing the wind in the branches we were carrying!

I got to thinking – the Holy Spirit is like that, isn’t it? We can notice the Holy Spirit’s movements and actions when they are a bit distant from us, we can rejoice at healings and answered prayers, but how easy it is to miss the very work of the Spirit in our own lives! So often we don’t recognise what the Spirit is doing for us, because we’re so busy and distracted, and sometimes we’re just not looking for it.

Be surprised this Advent! Notice the wind in your Christmas tree – notice God’s Holy Spirit near you, in your living room, spicing up your life!

Secret delight

I wanted to write a companion post to Kevin’s recent post about God and global resources.

When our oldest son was about 18 months old, it was his second Christmas. His father and I filled up a stocking for him, laid it on his bed while he slept, and set up the baby monitor. On Christmas morning, we heard all sorts of noises and delight as Morgan uncovered all the presents wedged into the stocking. His first word had been ‘train’ so it was no surprise when this came over loud and clear on the baby monitor. We tried not to laugh too loudly as we heard his delight in his new goodies!

In a way, I wonder if God also delights as parents do, when we discover the good things the Creator has placed in the world. And it’s not unscriptural to suggest this analogy – just remember the story of the egg and the stone – surely  earthly parents will give  their child what is good,- how much more will your father in heaven do this for you? (paraphrased)

When God made the universe, over many billions of years, via  a big bang, or evolution, or by whatever means, God placed all sorts of minerals and elements within it. As human beings develop their minds and their cooperation that we have been created with, we can do more to uncover the resources of the earth. One of these is thorium – Kevin’s post yesterday talked about thorium as a way forward for safe and cheap nuclear fuel. God did give us free will however, as to how we use it, and that’s where a problem lies. We can choose to use something for good, or for evil. We can use it wisely, or exploit it. Sometimes the end results are not clear at the beginning, so motives are mixed. But what God did not do is make us into little marionettes, to be manipulated by God whenever he felt like it. No, and because God did give us this free will, we cannot blame God when we don’t discover something to use, or when someone uses it for non-lifegiving purposes. We must take responsibility for our own actions, which again must be guided by love. If we accept that God loves us, then we must accept that God loves everyone else too, and enlightened self-interest – with self meaning all the people on , – must mean that we all can strive for the good of everyone in how we use the resources available to us.

Even if we don’t accept that God loves us, then surely it is still in the best interest of ourselves and the earth to behave as if other people have rights to resources too. That is why thorium is so exciting – because it will do away with the desire to experiment with biofuel, which uses up available agricultural land.

Care for your own garden

This summer I have been caring for my neighbour’s garden. He’s elderly and frail, and can’t manage the garden any more, so when he asked me for help with some shopping, I volunteered myself and the kids to tidy it for him. That was not entirely a selfless act – while we do try and do something community-based as a way of celebrating Christmas, I was also looking forward to getting to know his garden  He had the house built himself, 60 years ago, did all the painting and the wiring, and made the garden. Every tree that was planted, my neighbour put in. He built every pergola, every fence, every gate, every step. He made all the concrete paths, the little walls, and even the bird bath. Now, the garden is mature, and grown up tall. It’s like the Secret Garden – a book I loved as  a child. There are paths under overhanging trees, secret tunnels, hidden areas – it’s delightful!

Well, I’ve enjoyed this garden a lot, but today when I was picking some feed at home for my bunny, I realised that my own vegetable garden was less-than well-cared-for! Where there had been nice healthy broccoli, now there are caterpillar-munched stalks, with convolvulus starting to twine upwards. Dandelions are sprouting among the carrots, and the whole thing looks decidedly unkempt!

I think God had a message for me and for others in this garden -I had been so taken with the pleasant and appreciated work of caring for my neighbour’s garden, that I had neglected my own thankless vegetable plot.

Often in a life of ministry we are called upon to care for others. But if we neglect our own environment, weeds creep in, things fall apart, and all of a sudden it’s a great mess!

We must attend to our own homes and families before taking on all the other pastoral needs of the community. They can be done together, but it’s very easy to take the more interesting tasks. But  remember if we neglect the boring day-to-day weeding of the vegetable garden, before we know it we  are in a huge mess.

May God bless your ministries richly this year, especially those at home.

Take out the tree

It’s a new year! The kids have toys all over the floor, and the dying pine tree has been shedding needles. Time to take it out.  I took the decorations off the tree, shoving them in a bag to sort out later (well probably next Christmas). I staretd thinking that taking the tree out of the house could be quite a symbolic act. What do we do with Christmas when it’s over? Do we consign the whole thing to the compost heap, and forget about love, joy, peace and hope, while the normal grind gets underway again?

Or does something of Christmas stay with us? Are we aware of the tremendous sacrifice God made for us, so we could be together with God? Does this impact our daily choices, as we deal with family, work colleagues, and all the normal messiness of life?

The church I used to go to would take out the Christmas tree, and instead of taking it to the tip, they would cut off the branches leaving one long trunk. Then they would cut the top third off, and store it for a few months. Yes, that took it to Holy Week. Can you guess what happened next? It was made into a cross, and covered with flowers for Good Friday.

I find the cyclical symbolism of this quite profound, as Christmas is joined to Easter, the Season and the Reason are intricately entwined. Joy and sorrow are connected, for a longer term goal of eternity with God.

May God bless you richly this New Year, and may the joy of God’s presence on earth stay with you every day.

What state is your Christmas tree?

Here in New Zealand it’s midsummer, and over the last week we have had really high temperatures (for us), and tropical humidity. Finally, the rain has come and it has cooled down. The kids have opened their presents, left the wrapping all over the floor, and constantly requested different-sized batteries. Yes, it’s post-Christmas.

But what is left over after Christmas? Our tree is starting to die – we always cut a branch of pine from the local school, so it smells fabulous for the first week or two. But inevitably we forget to top up the water, and nature takes its course, as it slowly starts to die, giving off a less-than-pleasant smell. Is Christmas like that for you? Has it left a bad smell in its wake, of having spent too much money, having eaten too much, drunk too much? Are you happy with your presents?

There’s another side to Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. When I get up in the morning, before the kids claim the TV for the cartoons, the early sun slants in the side window, catching the green tinsel on my admittedly elderly tree. The little shards of bright green light sparkle and dance in the bright sunshine, casting  patterns in all sorts of places where the sun can’t yet reach. Is your Christmas like this? I hope mine is. Sparkles of light from the birth of Jesus reach into every dark corner of our lives, adding joy and hope. This is what Christmas can be, and long after the tree is on the compost heap, and the tinsel packed away for next year, the hope and joy of Christ’s birth remain.

1. Carol our Christmas, an upside down Christmas;
The snow is not falling and trees are not bare.
Carol the summer, and welcome the Christ Child,
Warm in our sunshine and sweetness of air.

2. Sing of the gold and the green and the sparkle,
Water and river and lure of the beach,
Sing in the happiness of open spaces,
Sing a nativity summer can reach!

3. Shepherds and musterers move over hillsides.
Finding not angels but sheep to be shorn;
Wise ones make journeys whatever the season.
Searching for signs of the truth to be born.

4. Right side up Christmas belongs to the universe,
Made in the moment a woman gives birth;
Hope is the Jesus gift, love is the offering,
Everywhere, anywhere, here on the earth.

5. Carol our Christmas, an upside down Christmas;
Snow is not falling and trees are not bare.
Carol the summer, and welcome the Christ Child,
Warm in our sunshine and sweetness of air.

Music: Reversi Colin Gibson (20th C)
Words: Shirley Erena Murray (20th C)

It’s Christmas Time!

15_The light shines in the darkness_1440x900

15_The light shines in the darkness_1440x900

We have posted two new wallpapers for you to enjoy over the Christmas season. One reflects a traditional northern-hemisphere Christmas – trees in the snow, with rays of light breaking through. I like this picture, because it shows how light can always break through, no matter how bleak or cold life may look, that there is always the  resurrection power of Christ coming into the world. And we celebrate His first appearance as a tiny helpless baby – no ordinary babe, but one with an awe-inspiring destiny.

14_Make a joyful noise_.1440x900

14_Make a joyful noise_.1440×900

The other wallpaper reflects our Christmas and summer season here in New Zealand. It’s a pohutukawa tree, in full flower on a cliff overlooking the sea. This is its natural habitat, and I like what it says too – that life and joy and colour can flourish even in the stoniest, bleakest places,buffeted by wind and salt-spray, where nothing else will grow. And that the perseverance of this coastal tree will burst forth into glorious flowers – hundreds of fine red stamens, tipped with gold pollen.

If you look closely into this tree, it looks a bit like an Advent wreath I think. (Well, if the Hubble telescope can see Christmas ornaments in space..)

May God bless you this Christmas time, with people you love around you. May you reflect again on the great gift God has given us!

Here’s one of my favourite pieces, the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s Messiah, performed by a flash-mob in Canada in 2010. This is how the angels would appear if they turned up in a food court! The singers all look so joyous as they announce the good news!