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MINISTER’S BLOG

MUSINGS FROM REV TIM PERKINS

 

 

JOURNEYING THROUGH ADVENT


FRIDAY 21 DECEMBER 2018

I have begun to notice recently just how many people are struggling with a burden of some sort. Be it serious ill-health, bereavement, depression, the stress from having to care for others, loneliness...The issues are many. Maybe I am more aware of them because society is becoming more aware of them. Or maybe it is because I have had to face some of them myself this year. And perhaps because of that increased awareness it has struck me more than ever before just how many of our carols and the readings from the Bible that we hear in churches at this time of year are all about light and darkness. These are the words of one of my favourites, written by Maggi Dawn. May the One they speak of bring Light and Hope into your life this Christmas:

Into the darkness of this world,
into the shadows of the night;
into this loveless place you came,
lightened our burdens, eased our pain,
and made these hearts your home.
Into the darkness once again -  
O come, Lord Jesus, come.

Come with your love to make us whole,
come with your light to lead us on,
driving the darkness far from our souls:
O come, Lord Jesus, come.

Into the longing of our souls,
into these heavy hearts of stone,
shine on us now your piercing light,
order our lives and souls aright,

by grace and love unknown,
until in you our hearts unite.
O come, Lord Jesus, come.

Come with your love...

O Holy Child, Emmanuel,
hope of the ages, God with us,
visit again this broken place,
till all the earth declares your praise
and your great mercies own.
Now let your love be born in us,
O come, Lord Jesus, come.

Come in your glory, take your place,  
Jesus the Name  above all names,
we long to see you face to face,

O come, Lord Jesus, come. 

 


THURSDAY 20 DECEMBER 2018

I spent a lovely morning at Cornerstone Café, at Menston Methodist Church, with the Church choir leading some community Carol Singing. Having reflected yesterday on "Cradled in a manger meanly", I found myself focussing this morning on a single line from "O little town of Bethlehem." The line says this:
"Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."

Much of the proclamation of the Christian gospel during the season of Christmas quite naturally focusses in the hope that we can discover in and through Jesus. But I have never really stopped to think about what the author, Phillips Brooks, might have meant by "the hopes AND FEARS..." What does it mean for the fears of all the years to be met in Christ? It surely doesn't mean that we should be fearful of God. I guess many of us are happy bringing our hopes for the future to God in prayer, seeking God's blessing upon us. But can we also bring our fears? Can we bring that sense of darkness or despair that often characterises life, to God? Well, I think that would fit with the metaphor of the everlasting light being brought into the dark streets of Bethlehem.

So whether it be fear that comes as the result of uncertainty, ill-health, bereavement or loneliness or whether it be the fear that seems to grip our world at the moment due to the uncertainty in politics or the pulling-apart of international relationships, we can bring those fears to God and find that as we invite "Immanuel", God with us, to "come to us, abide with us," God's perfect love can drive out all fear.


WEDNESDAY 19 DECEMBER 2018

Today I had the joy and privilege of taking part in the Burley Oaks Primary School Christmas Service. They did a brilliant job at helping us not to get too caught up in the busyness of the season and to stop and remember what it is all about.

On Sunday morning I have a meditative Carol Service at Burley in Wharfedale Methodist Church. So I am finding myself reflecting on the words of some of my favourite carols. How do you go about choosing your favourites when there are so many good ones? For me a good carol has to have the right tune to fit with the feeling of the words. For anyone who's interested I will post my favourites over the next few days, starting today with one some folk may not know. It does a great job at re-telling the story in poetic form but also majors on the point of it all. Words by GS Rowe, to the tune St Winifred by SJP Dunman...

Cradled in a manger, meanly
laid the Son of Man his head;
sleeping his first earthly slumber
where the oxen had been fed.
Happy were those shepherds listening
to the holy angel's word;
happy they within that stable,
worshipping their infant Lord.


Happy all who hear the message
of his coming from above;
happier still who hail his coming,
and with praises greet his love.
Blessed Saviour, Christ most holy,
in a manger thou didst rest;
canst thou stoop again, yet lower,
and abide within my breast?

 

Evil things are there before thee;
in the heart, where they have fed,
wilt thou pitifully enter,
Son of Man, and lay thy head?
Enter, then, O Christ most holy;
make a Christmas in my heart;
make a heaven of my manger:
it is heaven where thou art
.

And to those who never listened
to the message of thy birth,
who have winter, but no Christmas
bringing them thy peace on earth,
send to these the joyful tidings;
by all people, in each home,
be there heard the Christmas anthem:
praise to God, the Christ has come!

 


SATURDAY 15 DECEMBER 2018 (Part 1)

This is the first of two brief reflections for this weekend. I have a Carol Service tomorrow so again will not be using the set reading for the 3rd week of Advent. In that reading from Luke Chapter 3, John the Baptist is calling people to express their sorrow over the poverty of their spiritual lives and to get ready for the coming of the Messiah. The crowd ask John. "What should we do then?" And John's response is amazingly down to earth and practical - "Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same."

To me, John is saying that the state of your spiritual well-being is reflected through the generosity and compassion of your actions.

Here in Burley and Menston we have an organisation called Wharfedale Refugee Response. It works throughout the year to try and encourage people to be compassionate and generous to those in need. At this time of year, it's major campaign is a Reverse Advent Calendar, where, instead of opening a window and getting some chocolate, we are encouraged to put something of use into a box to save up and then be delivered to organisations in our nearby cities in the New Year who work with refugees and asylum-seekers. It is simple, it is easy and it helps someone in need.

Perhaps John's advice can be useful too on a much bigger level. We have seen this weekend the ongoing conversations about how to implement fairly the Paris Climate Change accord. It is widely recognised that those countries suffering most from the affects of climate change are those who do the least to cause it. Perhaps it is time for the polluters to offer something back to the victims?

I wonder, how might you respond to John's advice in your own context?

SATURDAY 15 DECEMBER 2018 (Part 2)

My second brief reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Advent is inspired by another photo from a friend. I love bonfires. My mum always used to tell me that I was born a little early just in time for Bonfire Night. I remember many a Bonfire Night/Birthday Party in our back garden as I was growing up. I used to love helping dad build the bonfire and once it was lit, I would often stand mesmerised as the flames danced in the cold Autumn air. It brought light and heat to the dark and cold. But I also remember loving to sift through the remnants of the fire in the days that followed to see what was left. I found it hard to understand how old bed frames or other bits of furniture could be reduced to ashes and the occasional spring or nail.

A little further on in Luke 3 from John's practical advice about helping others, he tells the crowd that he is not the one they should be seeking. That one more powerful than he would come and that he would "baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire." That verse always makes me think back to Bonfire Night - to the light, to the heat, to the refining work that fire does. The imagery is that the fire Jesus brings to our hearts will melt away all the impurities in our lives and make us pure - white hot with his love and light and warmth to share with what is often a cold, dark world.


I wonder if there are attitudes or motivations in your life that could melt away through experiencing more of the love of Jesus so that there is space for his love, light and warmth to shine through you?


WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2018

As I was reflecting on waiting yesterday and this popped into my inbox this morning I thought I would share it. It comes from the Missional Wisdom Foundation.

By Andrea Lingle
December 12, 2018

. . . the darkness covered the face of the deep . . .

As we journey into the literal dark of the northern winter, we are asked to embrace that which has been declared worthless. Darkness. Rest. Waiting.

Darkness.

I just spent twenty-four hours without power due to a winter storm (put the sympathy away...we had heat and could cook). As night fell, we began lighting candles. A tray on the counter lit the sink so I could wash dishes (with no hot water, so perhaps a wee-bit of sympathy). A twin pair of candles set in front of a mirror lit the hallway. A trio of pillar candles lit the bathroom. Before the last rays of sunlight faded from the heavy gray sky, I walked from room to room leaving canning jars and tea lights behind me. I opened the blinds to let in the few scraps of light, multiplied by the reflective snow, and tidied up the walkways. This would be a dark night.

It was gorgeous. Not just the candle light, but the dimming of the day into night. The process of evening. The gentle arrival of night.

With the drawing in of night I was invited into repose. A candle light dinner with dear friends. A fireside chat. An early bedtime. As I washed my face by the light of a single candle, previously so ornamental that it was dusty, gasping at the cold of the water (viscerally thankful that we had water), I felt held. Embraced. Tucked-in. Loved. Settled. But not by the candle-light. By the darkness.

Rest.

How often we resist rest. From our infant-unwillingness to give-in to sleep and child-need for a drink, a different story, to-tell-you-one-thing, just one thing...to our adult caffeinated, digitized commitment to wakefulness. We seem to hate to rest while constantly complaining that we are tired. Advent can be the most unrestful season with its Holiday Parties and dance recitals and year-end business meetings, but what if Advent is whispering through the darkness of the early night...come, rest, wait with me.

Waiting.

“What time will you be here?”
“The map says I will be there at 2:38.”
Reheat contents for one minute.
Check one-day delivery at check-out, if you need it sooner.

We don’t wait well. But here we are, in Advent, waiting. The question is what are we waiting for? What are you waiting for? A brith? Surely not the birth of a two thousand and eighteen year old baby. Surely this birth is happening here, among us—in us. This birth is an incarnation of love, born in me, born in you, moving, together, into the twilight.


TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2018

I have heard a lot over the last few days that Advent is a time for waiting. I spent a lot of time yesterday waiting. 1hr 30 mins for a hospital appointment followed by 2hrs 40 mins in a traffic jam on the way home, in which time I travelled about half a mile! Our experiences of waiting can be frustrating, boring, painful or full of a sense of anticipation and excitement.
The photos today were taken at Burley weir and stepping stones. Two of them in the height of the summer and two of them on Sunday afternoon after numerous days of rain. They capture for me something of the sense of waiting through different seasons in life.

There are times of dryness and times of flood. There are times when obstacles are easily overcome and others when it simply is not possible even to try and to do so would risk drowning (metaphorically!)

So how do we wait in such a way as to experience something of what Jesus called "fullness of life", irrespective of the situation we face?

The link below is to a song by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend (hopefully! My technological ability is somewhat limited. If the link doesn't work you can find it on YouTube) which I am finding helpful. It is called "I will wait for you." It is based on Psalm 130. I like it because it encourages me to engage in what I call soul-training exercises. It talks about prayer and about searching the scriptures as ways of experiencing God's love, mercy and forgiveness. It talks about hope and about God's faithfulness.

The chorus says, "I will wait for you, I will wait for you, through the storm and through the night. I will wait for you, surely wait for you, for your love is my delight."

It is during the waiting time that we can actively seek God's voice and guidance, through prayer, meditation, reading scripture, silence or solitude. It is through the waiting times that we can develop patience and perseverance.

There were just a few drivers who could have done with practicing some soul-training exercises in their cars yesterday afternoon - not me, of course, because I am a model of patience and hope that it will all work out ok!!!

 


THURSDAY 6 DECEMBER 2018

I have a Nativity Service on Sunday so won't be preaching on the reading from Luke 3: 1-6 that many churches will be reflecting on this week. It concerns the role of John the Baptist as the voice calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'

The photo was sent to me by a friend in response to a request for images that say something about Advent - making a straight path!

Luke is concerned in his Gospel to provide an accurate historical setting so makes the effort to link the events he is writing about to the rule of the Roman Emperor at the time. So Luke 3 starts with 'In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.'

Of course, the Romans were well known for making straight paths and roads. It was their way of ensuring good transport routes for their armies and supplies. But it was also what often happened when the Emperor was about to go on a journey. The way would be prepared - made straight and smooth - for him.

Already, in many parts of the Empire, Tiberius was seen as a god in human form and certainly by the time of Luke's writing, that idea had become more widespread. I wonder if Luke is playing on that by recording that John the Baptist declares as necessary the same process for preparing the way for the true God in human form, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas?

It is right to prepare the way for God to enter into our lives by clearing out all the obstacles and rubbish - what Luke calls 'repentance for the forgiveness of sins.' But as the photo shows, and as my friend knows, making a straight and smooth path is hard work. It doesn't just happen all by itself. It requires preparation, the right equipment, time and energy, as well as a spirit-level, or something straight to measure it against. The same is true in our own lives. It takes time and effort to prepare the ground of our own spirits to welcome the Lord. Spiritual practices which form humility and force out pride are key - prayer, study of Scripture, meditation, serving others, generosity are just a few things that can help. How are you going to prepare the way for the Lord in your own life as we move steadily towards Christmas?


MONDAY 3 DECEMBER 2018

Yesterday I was preaching at a united service at St John's, Menston, on Luke 21. It is for many a confusing passage in which Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, talks about seeing signs in the sun, moon and stars and speaks of the coming of the "Son of Man." It is full of imagery. One of the things I said yesterday is that it reminds me of Tolkein's great fantasy, "The Lord of the Rings," a story that is all about the rise of evil, the steadfast and patient journey that good people have to make to battle the onset of darkness, and the ultimate victory of the returning King. Both Tolkein's work and the Narnia Chronicles of CS Lewis help me to reflect on what Advent is all about.

The photo reminds me of Frodo Baggins and his friend Sam determinedly setting off on their journey to fulfil the calling they have been given. It is a hard journey, full of battles and doubt and darkness but it is also marked by hope and faithfulness and the perseverance to just keep on going.

I get the same feeling reading Lewis' Voyage of the Dawntreader, with Edmund, Lucy, Eustace and Caspian having to just keep going through all the trials and tribulations they face on their journey to the edge of the Far Country.

Advent is a journey through darkness towards the light of God's presence revealed through Jesus at Christmas. It is the hope to which we are called that can help us place one foot in front of the other when we are so tired or despairing that we question the point of it all. The darkness will not extinguish the light. This world will be made new. And it happens in small ways each and every day through our determination to keep going with the love of Jesus in our hearts and expressed through our words and actions.

Perhaps as an encouragement to your soul you could use the stories of Tolkein or Lewis throughout this season of Advent to help you on that same journey.

 


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