Hope

7553674988_a483dd6db4_z

A lot of people will have woken up this morning with their hopes filled as they opened the curtains and saw the gardens, roads and paths covered in white. I’ve heard the children playing outside whilst I’ve stayed under the covers with no intention to go outside today.

In two weeks time we will be opening presents on Christmas morning, what are you hoping to open?

Advent is about anticipation, about patience and about hope. Pope Francis says “Advent increases our hope, a hope which does not disappoint. The Lord does not let us down”. As Christians we have a tendency to focus on the Gospels and the New Testament, because that’s when the Church started. However, it is the Old Testament that is the basis for the hope we can have in God.

If you have ever been to a traditional 9 lessons and carols you will know that all of the first lessons are from the Old Testament, from the prophets who were messengers from God, messengers of good news, good news that gave the people of God hope. Hope that God was going to save his people, that he was going to send a saviour. The remainder of the lessons are from the Gospels showing how God fulfilled that promise.

That is why Advent increases our hope, our hope that God will fulfil his promises. This is not the same as hoping that it will snow, or hoping that we will get the present that we want. This is a hope that God will fulfil the many promises that He has made throughout the Bible. The hope in forgiveness, in eternal life, in everlasting love, in peace and so much more. In a world of darkness this hope brings us a flicker of life.

So this advent, what will your hope be in?

Challenge: Look up some of the promises of God throughout the Bible, choose one of these promises and spend some time reflecting on this promise and how it can be fulfilled in you

Prayer: Father God, we thank you that have fulfilled your promises, and we pray that this time of advent will be a time of hope for us all. Amen

 

Advertisements

Patience

Patience is a virtue… a virtue that doesn’t come very easily to me. We should probably start off by understanding what we mean by virtue. A virtue is a character trait, something about our character that is thought to be a good thing.

Advent has officially started now, not just because it is December but also because there are only 4 Sundays left before Christmas. Advent is all about patience, waiting for the coming of the king, the promised saviour, the prince of peace.

The Bible is full of stories where people had to be patient, they had been promised something amazing, but they had to wait for that promise to be fulfilled. Abraham, Moses, Noah, Isaiah.

Why do we value patience so much? We are told that it is a fruit of the spirit, along with love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. This means that it is something that grows within us, as we develop in our faith.

We live in a world where we can pretty much get whatever we want whenever we want it. We don’t have to wait any more, or if we do it’s not normally for very long. However, waiting is part of the journey, it is often a time when we can learn more about ourselves, about each other, about the thing we are waiting for. It makes the fulfilment of the promise even more special.

Patience is also valuable when talking to other people, we can quite often jump in and make other people’s decisions for them, finishing off their sentences, but by being patient we can allow people to grow and develop within themselves.

Our thought for the week comes from Stanley Hauerwas and says

Advent is patience it’s how God made has made us a people of promise, in a world of impatience

The Bible is full of promises from God, promises that we long to see fulfilled, but that we don’t always see in the world. This can become disheartening, except Advent reminds us of the greatest promise, that was spoken about throughout the Old Testament of a saviour being sent. Lots of people lost patience, gave up, and yet Jesus was the fulfilment of that promise. We can trust that God will fulfil all those promises, but we must be patient, and trust His timing. It might be frustrating, and disheartening but we will be amazed at what we learn throughout the journey.

Challenge: is there something that you are particularly impatient for at the moment? Think about what you can learn/develop if you are patient for that thing

Prayer: thank you God that you fulfill the promises that you make. Thank you for the promise of new life with Jesus. Help us to trust your promises and give us patience to wait for their fulfilment and enjoy the journey. Amen

Anticipation

Officially in the Church of England advent starts next Sunday, but because we have 3.5 weeks left at school we’re starting advent now. I’m not sure how many of you have got decorations up yet? If you’ve started to listen to the music, watched the films, bought the presents, wrapped the presents?

Advent is a time of preparation, preparing for the coming of a King. As with so many things we can take that to be a practical preparation, all the things I’ve listed above. Let’s face it, that’s what we are encouraged to do by the shops. However, it is important to remember that it is a time to prepare our hearts and our minds.

Throughout advent we tend to look at the Old Testament, where we can see that God is trying to prepare the world for Jesus. In Isaiah 40 it says

A voice of one calling:

‘In the wilderness prepare

    the way for the LORD;

make straight in the desert

    a highway for our God.

The people knew that they were expecting a saviour, that the Lord was coming, but was Jesus what they were expecting? Probably not. The people were prepared but Jesus did not match up with their expectations.

Are you a present guesser? Or even a present finder? I used to search round my parents house finding presents before Christmas. One year I found two pairs of Wallace and gromit slipper socks, so I told my brother that we were each getting a pair of slipper socks. Christmas Day comes we are opening presents and… I get both pairs of slipper socks. My brother was gutted, because he thought he was getting a pair. It turns out if I had looked carefully I would have seen that they wouldn’t have fitted him anyway. So I had to by him a new pair of slipper socks from my Christmas money!

You might think that it’s silly to have a time of preparation for Christmas, afterlife we know the story, our faith is based on the belief that Jesus was born and turned out be the saviour that wasn’t expected.

But… do we get complacent about that? Do we truly recognise what that means? Or do we focus on the decorations, all the extra services, and the dinner?

We may understand what Christmas is celebrating but are we recognising what Jesus is still doing in our lives today, or what Jesus wants to do in and through us?

This is what advent is about, that reminder that we need to stop, and to prepare our hearts and minds to welcome Jesus again. We may have ideas or what God wants to do with us, or what we’d like God to do with us, but as we can see from the Christmas story, that we know so well, God doesn’t tend to go along the normal line, or do what we expect.

Bill McKibben said

“Advent: the time to listen for footsteps – you can’t hear footsteps when

you’re running yourself.”

The theme this week is anticipation. Christmas seems to be filled with a false anticipation as there are people who are disappointed with presents that they open, disappointed with the reaction someone gives to a present, that the family time didn’t quite live up to the hype.

However, we can anticipate that God will work in our lives, and that it will be for good. We need to take this time in advent to put our own agendas and thoughts aside, but to anticipate that God will speak to us, if we take the time to listen.

Challenge: how can you practically take time each day during advent to listen to what God is saying to you?

Prayer: father God, we thank you that you continue to work in our lives today, may we take this advent time to stop, and listen, and welcome you in. Amen

 

Servant king

Year 7 have been looking at rights and responsibilities in religious studies. As part of this unit they have looked at the universal declaration of human rights, and they had to choose one of the human rights that is being violated on to do a case study on. In the group I teach the majority of groups chose ‘the right to freedom from slavery’ I have been reflecting on why this might be, and I think it is purely because they didn’t like the idea of having to do things for other people without anything in return. We like to be recognised for what we do, and yet one of our school values and the theme of the song we are looking at this week, is serving.

Service, is, the idea of doing something for someone without getting anything return, I guess the difference is choice. A slave is forced to do something, a servant is choosing to do it. Even a servant in a stately home, they may not have enjoyed what they were doing but they chose to do it in the first place.

Our hymn this week is servant king by Graham Kendrick. Straight away we can see two words that don’t appear to go together, servant king. Well, they do go together because usually a king is someone we would associate with having servants, but not to be one themselves.

This hymn talks about the choices God made when he came to earth to save us. He could have come with a fanfare of trumpets, cheerleaders and told everyone what to do, but instead as the first line says “from heaven you came helpless babe, entered our world your glory veiled”. Who would ever think that a helpless baby was ever going to be a King?

The entire song talks about the apparent contradiction of Jesus being King. In verse 3 it says “hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered”. The God, who created the world, ended up dying on a cross. Giving his life that we might live.

How often do we put other people’s needs before ourselves? That’s what service is about, and we had the perfect example of that in the person of Jesus. The night before he died, he washed his disciples feet – and they will have been MESSY! When his disciples were asking to be sitting next to him in heaven he said

Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many

The kingdom of heaven has upside down values, well, they’re actually the right way, but are upside down in comparison to the world. In the world we are called to show importance and power, and yet in the kingdom of God we are called to serve others. Through serving, we are demonstrating the love that we have been given by God. That service may be holding a door open, or helping someone who is upset, or volunteering somewhere. It doesn’t matter, it’s all service.

So often the idea of God can be so huge and distant that we cannot even get our heads around it, but within Christianity we were shown God clearly. We worship a God who was a servant, who didn’t crave power, but who gave love. As our act of worship, we should do the same.

Challenge: how can you serve others this week?

Prayer: (from the final verse of the hymn). 

So let us learn how to serve, and in our lives enthrone him, each other’s needs to prefer, for it is Christ we’re serving. Amen

Shine Jesus Shine

On my walk to school in the morning I walk through Beverley Meadows, and this week as I have walked through I have felt like Dumbledore from Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone. It’s the time of year where I am leaving the house in the dark (and often returning home in the dark as well). As I walk it gets lighter and as I walk through Beverley meadows the street lamps go out. This is when I feel like Dumbledore when he is preparing the street for Hardin to drop off Harry at the Dursley’s house and he uses a deluminator to remove the lights from from the street lamps. Why was he using the deluminator? Because he was hiding, hiding what they were doing and hiding Harry’s identity. That’s what darkness allows us to do, it allows us to hide but it also stops us from seeing.

This week we are looking at the hymn Shine, Jesus, Shine, which starts off with the line Lord, the light of your love is shining, in the midst of the darkness shining. What is this light that is being spoken about? Throughout the Old Testament God had sent many prophets with many messages to the people, but although it made a difference everyone always went back to their ways – their ways of darkness.

The darkness being hiding from God, ignoring the truth, focussing on themselves. So God decided he needed to send light to the world, in fact, he needed to bring light to the world. So Jesus came to earth, the embodiment of God. He was seen as standing from before he was born, but once he started his ministry there was nothing but light. He didn’t just give a message from God he lived a message from God. He loved those who weren’t loved, he spoke to those no one else would speak to, he challenged what the worship of God had become.

The light that Jesus gave shone, and it changed people’s perspectives. The light that Jesus gave was a reflection of God the Father. People could see that light, they then had a choice to follow that light and reflect that light or to hide from the light. We have the same option today.

In 2 Corinthians it says “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

Each of us has the light of God in our hearts. Do we choose to see that, and reflect that to the world, or do we chose to ignore it? It’s not actually an easy decision, and even Jesus struggled with it. After all, quite often the light of God, the light of love goes against what society tells us is acceptable. Jesus made a lot of enemies from the people who did not want to see the light, they were more comfortable in the dark.

 If we can make enemies why would we choose to reflect God’s love. Simply because God first loved us, by experiencing the love of God for ourselves, and in our lives, we will not only want to reflect God’s love to others but we won’t be able to help it.

The deluminator is a powerful tool but darkness is only a lack of light and we are probably all capable of performing actions which act as deluminator for God’s light, how much more powerful is illuminating the world with the love of God.

Challenge: what actions do you do that might act as deluminator for God’s love? What actions can you do to reflect God’s love?

Prayer: thank you God for the love that you have for us, thank you for the light that came when Jesus came to the earth. Help us to reflect your light to the world. Amen

We will remember them

This week I was looking at Facebook and I saw some pictures which made my heart melt. The photos were put up by a friend’s brother. He lives in the Phillipines and he had come over with his family, and it was pictures of his sons with their grandparents. One of the sets of the photos were when they went to a cemetery to visit the place of rest of my friend. Clare died 8 years ago and I know that this visit will have been filled with stories of Clare, for the boys to learn about their aunty. I know that I regularly talk about her. When I was on holiday with friends from school last year we spoke about her so much, and it felt like she was there.

This week we take a break from looking at our hymns to think about the importance of remembering, as we approach Remembrance Day. Our thought for the week comes from Czeslaw Milosz who says ‘the living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story’.

This is important for Clare… this is important for all those who are no longer with us… everyone has a message, everyone has a passion, everyone has a story… if we know what that was it is important for us to share.

People may argue that although yes, it is important for everyone, is it is especially important when it comes to those who have lost their lives so that we can have ours.

I don’t think anyone would say that we like the idea of war, however it is something that exists. Some would say it is a necessity. I have to teach about war a lot, even with year 7 we discuss the fact that we have human rights because so many people lost theirs during the holocaust, and World War II. Countless lives have been lost through the various wars that have happened through history. Many of those lives have been given, because those people were passionate about defending their country, or defending the innocent lives of others. I am no expert but I don’t think anyone goes in to the armed forces because they want to kill, they want to protect, and they do so knowing that they may have to give the biggest sacrifice… their own life.

This is why we remember, this is why we tell their story. By remembering why those people did what they did, by remembering the atrocities that have happened through war, we can but hope and pray that we will strive to not get to a place where war is deemed necessary in the first place. We are getting to a time now where there are not many people left from the two world wars, therefore we need to keep the story.

As Christians our faith is based around remembrance. Remembering the sacrifice that was made when an innocent man died in the place of all of us. He died so that we might live. Every time we share the Eucharist that is what we are doing. As Christians we are called to share his story with others that they may also know what was done for them.

We actively remember this who died in war on the 11th November, we actively remember the story of Jesus in a Church service or act of worship. But maybe, in the same way that we are called to live lives sharing the life and sacrifice that Jesus made for us, so that we can have eternal life; we should also make more of an effort to remember the life and sacrifices that millions of people, and their families have made that we may have the every day freedom that we know and love, and take for granted.

Challenge: is there anyone in your family who has fought in the armed forces? Can you try to find out more about their story so that you can share that with others?

Prayer: father God we live in a damaged world, where to often the answer seems to be hatred and violence. Help us to remember that we also live in a world that has so much more freedom because of the sacrifices that people have made for us. We pray for those who are in the armed forces, and we remember those who have given their lives that we may have life. Amen

How Great Thou Art

What is it that makes you go WOW!!!?

Have you been fortunate enough to have seen any the ‘wonders of the world’?

This term we are continuing to look at the sung worship at school and this we are looking at one of my favourites “how great thou art”.

The hymn speaks about the greatness of God. When talking about the nature of God, one of the characteristics often referred to is ‘the greatest’. The full stop is important there because it isn’t that God is the greatest athlete, or the greatest footballer, or the greatest musician, but just that God is the greatest.

The first verse of the hymn talks about the natural world, the wonders of the universe and how it reflects the greatness of God. Those WOW moments where you wonder how something so beautiful and amazing can exist. The hymn talks about considering all that has been made, the stars, the mighty thunder. God’s power being displayed throughout the universe. I am not an art, music or film critic, but I know that artists often have a style that people will recognise. I was always a fan of the Roald Dahl books and could recognise a drawing from Quentin Blake easily. That is what the universe is like, it has God’s fingerprints all over it. I’m not going to go into all the complexities of the universe now – mainly because I would probably fail, but those complexities, according to the writer of this hymn and all Christians are a reflection of the greatness of God.

The first verse is based on psalm 19 which says

The heavens declare the glory of God;

    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

    night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;

    no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,

    their words to the ends of the world.

The universe declares the glory of the Lord.

WOW. God created something so beautiful… he also created humans… they had free will… they made a mess… they continue to do so.

God could have stopped there, but he didn’t, this is also recognised in the second verse of the hymn. God sent His son, to die, bearing our burdens, bleeding, dying, to take away our sin. It sounds mad, and this is also recognised with the words ‘I scarce can take it in’.

I think this is why I love this hymn so much. Yes, it has a good ‘belt it out’ tune but it considers the greatness of God in the beginning of time, through the death of Jesus, in our lives now, and in the future when we will be bowing in admiration of God.

This is why we can sing how Great Thou Art. Not how great you were, or how great you will be if you keep working hard, but How Great Thou Art. A number of the hymns we looked at last term considered hope, and this is what our hope comes in… that God is great, and is unchanging, but through his greatness can change us, to be reflections of His greatness.

Challenge: try to look for reflections of the glory of God in your everyday life

Prayer: Father God, we thank you that you are great, and through your greatness you created this world and you created us. Thank you that you sent your son to die for our sins. May we recognise your glory and reflect it in our lives. Amen