"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
There is a short story titled ‘The ones who walk away from Omelas’ by Ursula Le Guin. I heard about it on the radio during the week. Professor Glyn Davies was speaking with Philip Adams on Late Night Live, talking abut poverty and life’s lottery. Glyn Davies says that for those born into poverty it is very difficult to get out of it. Those born in poverty are very likely to end up living in poverty their whole life long.
Omelas is a lovely town by the sea and everyone leads a very fulfilling happy life, but everyone shares a dark secret. Locked away in the basement of a house is a little child without light, in poverty and in the worst possible conditions. Everyone in the town knows that this is the price of their happiness and each person has to come to terms with it and decide what is right for them; whether to keep on living their fulfilled happy lives at the cost of continual suffering to one child, to put it out of mind; or to get out of town. The author poses the moral question – if you have had a fortunate life how do you feel about those who haven’t and what are you going to do to make a difference? She asks what would you do? Would you walk away and say I cannot live with this bargain that this child lives in the basement in order that I can be happy. But does walking away change things?
How often it is that people remain trapped because of secrets and cannot walk away. Someone else or a group knows something about them and they live in fear and shame. Australian of the year Grace Tame describes how a teacher, a pedophile, kept her trapped and cut off from her family, manipulating and controlling her, sexually abusing her until finally she told another person the terrible secret of her life, then she was free of her abuser but is still recovering from the trauma.
On the ABC news this morning there was a follow up story in response to Grace Tame’s award, written by Isabella Murray another survivor of child sexual abuse Isabella Murray writes… It took me 57 years to "come out" with a secret I thought I'd take to the grave. A friend had come over for a meal, my husband had gone to bed and we started talking "secret women's business". We were talking about men's behaviour and something in me just cracked. I broke open as I told her how, at the age of eight, I was constantly sexually abused by my oldest brother. It all came pouring out, as I wept and snorted for hours. The next morning, my husband found me asleep on the couch, wrapped in blankets, looking like I'd been in a car accident. I had no choice but to tell him too. The next day, my friend came to me and said, "I'm here to talk any time you like". Without that, I think I might have stayed in that awful black hole forever. I think she saved me. But not every conversation goes that way. And that needs to change.
Isabella went on to say … Perpetrators thrive on their victims remaining under cover. My oldest brother would say to me, "you've done a dirty, bad thing, and if you tell anyone, they'll know what a dirty, bad person you are". It never occurred to me that I wasn't the bad and dirty person. A survivor telling their story is not enough. We need feedback, anything to start that conversation. When we're not afraid to discuss this issue in polite society, then, and only then, will we have perpetrators on the run. Until that time, those who sexually abuse children will always have the upper hand.
Isabella Murray concluded… If we keep this a secret, nothing is going to change, for me or anybody. …But I need my experiences to be acknowledged and I want you all to know and talk about these difficult issues. It is the only way for social and cultural change to happen. As Tame says, #Let Me Speak — but please, speak back to me. Response from the listener is as important as the telling. That is where the healing really starts. The damage to this long lifetime can never be healed, but can possibly be soothed. But I cannot do it on my own.
What I find most surprising about our Bible reading today is that there was something hidden in that Synagogue that day – perhaps something that had been hidden for a long time. Something that was not noticed. Perhaps later people said, “How come we did not notice that?” So often we do not notice things until they are brought out fully into the light. And that is what Jesus does. He brings things into the light, out into the open, secrets are exposed, truth is revealed. Jesus brings awareness.
As Jesus’ words are spoken in the Synagogue a man stands out. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
When Jesus says, “Be silent.” He is not telling the man to shut up. He is not telling the victim of the possession to keep quiet. Jesus is telling the unclean spirit to be silent. For it is the voice of the unclean spirit that has dominated and controlled the man’s life up to this point. Jesus is telling the abuser to be quiet so that the survivor’s voice can be heard. In church we can often wittingly or unwittingly maintain the voice of the abuser and keep a person trapped in an awful secret and in an awful lonely and dark impoverished life
As we reflect on the reading today. I do not feel a call to go searching for, exposing and casting out demons; rather I feel a call to walk in the light, as individuals but perhaps more importantly as a congregation. To walk in the light of truth and openness and honesty, that we may all be truly free and all fully alive. Churches and congregations must be places of light and hope for the world, especially for those who live with dark secrets to tell. Churches must be places of truth and healing, a reflection of God consciousness.
‘Circle me Lord’ A Prayer by David Adam
Circle me, Lord. Keep protection near and danger afar.
Circle me, Lord Keep hope within. Keep doubt without.
Circle me, Lord. Keep light near and darkness afar.
Circle me, Lord. Keep peace within. Keep evil out.
Photo: West Cork, Republic of Ireland
1 Samuel 3:1-10 Finding One’s Voice
In the past I have had a recurring dream or rather nightmare. In my dream I am in trouble. I am about to drown or suffocate or be mugged or murdered. I try to call for help but I can’t get the word ‘help’ out. I open my mouth, but no words come, not even a scream. I can’t find my voice. It is a terrible feeling of helplessness. It makes me think about how I would react if it were really happening. But it is not only in violent situations that I can’t find my voice, there are often times that I get frustrated that I can’t find the words to say to express what I believe, or to express my opinion, or the wisdom that has come to me.
How do we find our voice? By that I mean giving voice to the best that is within us and acting on the best that is within us. Speaking and acting from the light that is within us.
From the story of Samuel as a young boy learning to hear the voice of God, we too learn the importance of listening for God speaking to us. Samuel wasn’t just a good listener to God, Samuel went on to be one of the most important prophets in Israel. Not only did he hear what God was saying, he acted on what he heard and he articulated to the nation what God was doing. Not only did he find his ears for God he also found his voice for God.
One of the most famous sayings of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers was, “Let your life speak.” George Fox, believed that each individual has the capacity for direct dialogue with God. God, he believed, appears to us through a divine inner voice, an inner light shared by all. Revelation from God would occur if people joined together in silence and opened their hearts to the divine voice within. Fox taught that if we can achieve stillness of Spirit, God will speak to us out of the silence, and by heeding the voice of God our lives will speak to others through our actions. Actions and well chosen words were what was most important for George Fox in voicing what God was saying.
How does one find one’s voice? How does one express or articulate what God may be saying to us? Or is this only for prophets and preachers? One of the authors of the book ‘Get up off your knees,’ (a collection of preacher’s sermons about U2), said in the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book that she was grateful to her Bishop for encouraging her to follow her dream of completing a PhD for in doing so it helped her to find her voice. It give her a means of articulating what was within her, of putting it out there for others to hear.
A PhD, an essay, letters to the editor, letters to politicians, letters to colleagues, letters to friends, sermons, participating in discussions, writing books, writing poems, writing songs, singing, drama, art, craft, dance etc. All these things give us vehicles to find our voice.
Living what we believe through our actions also gives voice to the ways of God. Acting out of truth and justice, peace and love, speak forth of a God who is loving and just. It’s about bringing out the best that is within us. In doing so we are nurturing our common humanity.
Have you ever felt that your life wasn’t speaking for you? Or that you had something within that you wanted to express to another person or to the world, but you just could not articulate it? Have you ever felt that God had said something to you, something that was helpful for the world but you just can’t get it out? What stops us from finding our voice?
Sometimes, fear prevents us from speaking up or speaking out. It stops us from writing that book, displaying our art, risking loving another person. I think that one of the ways of overcoming fear is by being able to articulate it. Saying, ‘I am afraid’ is a great start. It may not be what others want to hear. But getting it out from within is a great help. Squeezing out the fear can be quite painful and potentially embarrassing. But being able to squeeze out those words can be such a relief. An understanding friend might then ask, “Where did this fear come from?” or, “How did this fear get a hold of you?” or “What is it that is causing you to be fearful?” or, “What effect is the fear having upon you?” “Are there times when the fear was not there?” Again, putting it out there, articulating it, helps us to give voice to our desire to be rid of the effects that fear is having upon our lives.
We can find our voice by articulating first our fear and when our fear is out there, rather than in here, then our voices can speak forth of the freedom and joy of God. Our voices can speak out the truth we know within. From the depths of our being we can voice the praise of a liberating God and we can say ‘I am a child of the most wonderful liberating God.’
As you called your disciples, open our ears to your calling, open our eyes to your presence, open our hearts to your love; that we may hear you, and hearing you may love you, and loving you may serve you.
We have come to listen to you, O God: not only with our ears, but with our heart, and with our mind, and with our whole being.
Open us, that we might receive the truth that you speak to us.
Photo: County Galway, Republic of Ireland
Becoming little children
Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2:28-32)
I think that one of the loveliest things one can do is to take a new born baby in one’s arms. For me it is one of those moments in life when one is completely filled with wonder. How precious is this little bundle, with its tiny toes and fingers, it’s delicate head and mouth and nose and ears and its body wrapped in a blanket or sheet all helpless and totally dependent on those who carry it, those to whom this little wonder has been entrusted.
I was watching a series about a chief police detective in Denmark. His daughter was pregnant, and she wanted his support as her mother had died. He was so caught up in solving a murder mystery that he kept missing family get togethers and phone calls. At one point when the dad finally got around to visiting his daughter, she told her dad not to bother as she couldn’t rely on him; that he had never been there for her during her life so why should she expect him to be there now when she was pregnant. However, after the murder mystery was solved, the detective retired from the Police force. There was a lovely shot of him at the end of the series being handed the newborn baby by his daughter and of him cradling the baby in his arms and looking at the baby, staring at it, as if it was the most amazing and special thing in the world. It was as if at last he had come to understand what was most important and precious in life.
Imagine being given the baby Jesus to hold. I wonder how that would feel to us knowing who we were holding in our arms?
When Simeon and Anna held Jesus in their arms they were filled with joy. Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
Having blessed Jesus’ parents Simeon said, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed--and a sword will pierce your own soul too."
When Anna entered the Temple, she … began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Here was the source of God’s salvation, the hope of all nations, the light of the world.
Anna and Simeon were two older people, committed to prayer, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. They took Jesus in their arms and they blessed Jesus and his parents and thanked God for whom they were holding. Their eyes had seen the salvation of God. Have we seen God’s salvation?
Thirty years later Jesus came full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit taking little children in his arms and blessing them and saying to all who would hear, “Let the little children come to me ... for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 1014-15)
What can we learn from the moment of taking a newborn, helpless baby in our arms? Who is this baby that has been given into our arms? What can we learn from this moment? Who is this Jesus who cradles us and the whole world in his arms of love, who dies and rises from the dead and who promises us the kingdom of God, the gift of eternal life, who gives us his Spirit and the wisdom and the life we seek, if we become like little children?
John 1:14 - Enfleshing the mystery
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
When you play the game of rugby you have to decide what to do when you receive the ball. Do I try to run through the opposition, or do I pass the ball onto another player?
A question that challenges us all at Christmas is: will I receive the Christ? Then there is a second question: if I receive Christ what do I do next? Will I run with him or offload him?
Christmas is about receiving Jesus as a baby but what do we do next? Do we gently put him down, give him back or pass on the message we have received? What do we do next?
John’s Gospel tells us that the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. God’s glory was revealed in the life of Jesus as he lived among us in the fullness of grace and truth. In his life Jesus was fleshing out the wonder and mystery of God and that is what we are asked to do with the gift of Christ that we have received this Christmas morning: to enflesh the mystery of God.
In a busy street in Calcutta a young nun sat cradling a poor man in her arms, trying to give him some comfort until he took his last breath and died. She then arranged for his body to be removed. She returned to the convent late that evening. She was very sad. Another sister inquired as to what she was doing. The young nun replied, “I have been holding the body of Christ for the past two hours” (Story from the book Body and Soul by Fintan Creaven). Not only was she holding the body of Christ as she held the dying man, but she was also being the body of Christ. She was Christ to the dying man.
St Irenaeus said, the glory of God is revealed in a human being fully alive. Fintan Creaven says, ‘We too need, in various ways, to bring the reality of God to life for ourselves.’ Through our lives we are receiving and bringing the life of God to earth; that God’s glory may be revealed through our lives. It begins by being born from above, with a seed of mystery and hope sown deep within us and which comes to bear fruit as we let the mystery of that life flow from our hearts; receiving and giving love from lives that are not driven by the ego, or by the desires for power and wealth; but in intentional and chosen surrender, laying down our lives like Christ.
The Christian life is not one of hanging onto the Christ child for dear life. In rugby if you hang onto the ball too long one usually ends up at the bottom of the heap, with people jumping in on top of you from all angles and all sides.
A time comes when we release the gift and with it release our lives to God, that we too might enflesh the truth and grace of God and reveal the mystery and glory of God on earth. What a thought that is, that the mystery of God is enfleshed in our bodies. Never think less of ourselves for we are the body of Christ. Like the dying man on the streets of Calcutta, people need to be held by an enfleshed God, a living loving real person who cares and loves without judgement. People need others who will help carry with them their suffering and wounds and worries and their sins.
Today we will share some of our money with others in need though the Christmas Bowl offering. This is good. It is good to give. But the greatest crisis facing earth today needs more than loose change; it needs an enfleshed God who shows a love and care not just for people but for soil and water, for air and animals and fish and birds, for all creation. As we receive God, in Christ, our eyes and ears are opened to the cry and suffering of all creation and our hearts are softened and our arms extend in embrace of all, as God embraces us in love.
May Christ be born in us today and may the mystery of God be enfleshed in our lives. Amen.
Photo: Jervis Bay, New South Wales
Luke 1:26-38 Alive
Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
Every year when the Methodist Conference meets in the UK (and in other places), Methodists sing the hymn “And are we yet alive?
Here are the words of the hymn:
1. And are we yet alive, and see each other's face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!
2. Preserved by power divine to full salvation here,
again in Jesus' praise we join, and in his sight appear.
3. What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past,
fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last!
4. Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love;
and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above.
5. Then let us make our boast of his redeeming power,
which saves us to the uttermost, till we can sin no more.
6. Let us take up the cross till we the crown obtain,
and gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain.
Although it may be a tradition now, it was originally used as a means of reminding Methodists when they met to ask one another whether they were living the life God had given them through the gift of eternal life.
Is the promise of eternal life one that we only experience after we die?
For the Wesleys, this life was very much for now. John Wesley said, ‘I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist… But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.’ The first line of the second verse says, Preserved by power divine to full salvation here. This speaks of the dynamic power of God, the Holy Spirit living in us so that we may experience the fulness of life here and now – to be fully alive. Wesley was afraid that Methodists would settle for a form of religion, a shell, and forget to allow the life of God to live through them.
How can we live a life that is fully alive?
The response of Mary, to the news told to her by the angel that she would give birth to the Son of God, gives us a clue to living life to the full. Mary responds, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
The clue is in Mary’s intentional surrender to God. Notice the word intentional. She didn’t just roll over and accept her fate. She was not forced into it nor have no choice in the matter. She chose to participate in God’s plan of salvation. Mary aligned herself with divine kenosis – the self emptying of God.
As the Wesleys sang...
He left His Father's throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam's helpless race
'Tis mercy all, immense and free
For O my God, it found out me!
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Matthew 16:24,25 - Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Surrendering in the spiritual sense and in the way that leads to living life to the full, to being fully alive, is not letting anyone and everyone walk all over you. It is not giving up and giving in. It is choosing another path, aligned with the mind and way of Christ.
The place of prayer is very important here. In prayer, in that place, where we are seeking to meet with and be transformed by the source of life, we learn to meet our fears head on and to welcome the fears that control our lives and in welcoming them they lose their power, and we can then consciously decide how to act not react. This kind of prayer is something that I encourage you to learn more about and practice.
Spend some time repeating Mary’s words over in your mind, let them sit in your mind and fall into your heart. Perhaps use her words as a prayer to be fully alive. Notice any changes in your life.
"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
Photo: Clonmacnoise, County Offaly, Republic of Ireland
John 1:6-9, 19-28 Aware: Being Aware - Awareness
Have you ever woken up and not aware of where you were? It happened to me again during the week. I was woken up from a deep sleep, it was very dark, and I was totally confused where I was. I heard a bang on the door of the bedroom, then it opened, and someone was in the room. I said, “Who is that?” I thought I was in the house here at Clemton Park, I thought the cats were pushing the door to get in, then I thought the person in the room was my daughter, and that she had come in to restart the internet. But I wasn’t there at all, I was at home in Bulli and it was Julie coming to bed. Because it was dark in the bedroom it took me awhile to become aware of where I was. If the light had been on, I would have been aware much quicker, perhaps instantly aware.
In this Advent series titled ‘Awake, alert, aware, alive’ this week we look at being aware or awareness. The reading today refers to the light. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light (John 1:6-8). John the Baptist was not the light but he pointed to the light – to the True light, which enlightens everyone, coming into the world.
Last Thursday, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah began. It is also known as the festival of lights. The festival commemorates a time after war and the rededication of the Temple when a single candle with only enough Olive oil for one day miraculously burned for eight continuous days in the Temple. During the Hanukkah a single candle is lit each night until the eighth night when all candles are lighting. Each night as another candle is lit the light becomes brighter. Like Hanukkah Christians light candles during advent, one each week until Christmas day when the fifth and last candle, the Christ candle is lit. What do lit candles symbolise? What is light symbolic of? The advent candles remind us of the coming light, the light of lights, the Christ coming into the world whose light enlightens everyone.
In Judaism each Synagogue has a lamp known as an eternal light or sanctuary lamp reminding the people of the lamp that was constantly lit in the ancient Temple as a reminder of God’s abiding presence. Light is a symbol of God’s abiding presence. Light is also symbolic of wisdom. God’s light gives wisdom. God’s light enables us to see our way clearly. It reminds us that God’s light within us never goes out. It reminds us that there is that of God in each person, a small flicker of divine light within each human soul.
At Shabbat, at sundown each Friday evening Jewish people light two candles: the first reminds them that they are made in the image of God and to rest like God rested on the seventh day. The second candle reminds them that they are made in the image of God and that they are free. It was God who freed them from slavery in Egypt. They are reminded of God and to be like God. Genesis 1:3 - Let there be light and there was light. Proverbs 20:27 - The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord. Psalm 119:105 -Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Isaiah 2:5 - Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. Psalm 43:3 - O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me. John 8:12 – Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus says, “You are the light of the earth… let your light shine before others…” As God is light, as Christ is light, be a light, be a light to the nations. Let your light shine.
As the sunlight scatters the darkness each morning and light streams in through our window panes we become aware of our surroundings. Objects that were dark masses in the night now become chairs and cupboards and tables. We become aware of our surroundings. Light brings awareness. Light brings awareness to the world in which we live. Light makes us aware of the goodness and badness in the world. As we become more aware of the world, we can become very depressed as we see the range and depth of evil, violence and suffering. But there is another kind of awareness that we need, an awareness of something greater than the darkness of this world. hope. We need the light that shines in the darkness, the light that is not overcome by darkness, the light of hope.
How do we have this awareness in the darkness? How can we be always aware of that unseen, life giving eternal presence? How can we learn to live in such a way that allows that light to shine from our hearts?
The awareness that I am talking about and seeking is awareness of the heart. It involves being aware of all that is going on around us in the world, seeing as God sees and hearing as God hears, but all the while being both present to God as well as the situation around us. Awareness means living from the heart, not from the mind. Awareness is connecting deeply with the light within. This involves finding ways to surrender all the thoughts and intentions of our minds to the attention of the heart and entrusting ourselves at a deeper level to the light within. This process involves a continual willingness to endure the uncomfortableness of silence and stillness and turning from all thoughts that arise, both good and bad, allowing them to drift on; and returning our attention again to the light within. If we are to live as Christ lived, if we are to love as Christ loved, we have to live from the heart and love from the heart; to live and love with the awareness that flows from the place that God dwells within us. We will fulfil the call of the Gospel, the good news, as our words and actions flow from this awareness. Our lights will shine.
A Prayer for Walking in Glory by Richard A. Hasler
Lord, help me to walk in the midst of your creation with eyes wide open
and give you praise for the glory that surrounds me. Amen.
Prayer: Let your light shine
Come Lord Jesus, come
and let your light shine through us
so that through our actions
we may be salt for the earth,
a light in people's sight
and that we might reach out to you
in one another,
especially those in need. Amen.
Photo: Cross Slab, Clonmacnoise, County Offaly, Republic of Ireland
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
I was driving back from Hurstville on Thursday having picked up the rescued food for distribution and I was thinking about this week’s reflection. I was thinking about what it means to be alert and I began to notice how many alerts there were as I drove through the streets. Every few metres there are signs warning us all the time to remain alert, to be aware of what is coming up: 50 km signs, 60 km signs, no right turn buses excepted, no turn left turn, one way, slow, no standing, no stopping, no parking, koalas crossing. So many alerts to make us aware and keep everyone safe and doing the right thing.
Alerts are warnings, telling us to watch out. To be aware of what is going on around us. To be alert How many alerts do we have on our phones? How many Apps do we have that remind us of things we are meant to do or are warnings such as weather or fire alerts. Last Summer I was constantly getting alerts about bush fires. I was awake to the danger and ready to act. It is handy to know that hailstones are on the way or damaging winds or floods. These all alert us so that we can take action, be aware of our surroundings, the world we live in and possible dangers, to be alert, prepared, safe.
In last week’s Gospel reading we heard Jesus’ call to Keep awake. We thought about being awake as compared to being asleep. This week we are thinking about being alert as compared to being sleepy. How do we wake up and remain alert? To be alert means to be wide awake, aware and attentive. When it comes to the ways of God, are we wide awake? We have Apps that remind us to pray five times a day, or that give us a daily reading or reflection or prayer. But are there deeper things that God wants to alert us to? Are we alert to what God may ask of us in our generation? Long before Apps there was a man called John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness of Judea, alerting the people of his day. John cried out, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’.
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ This is a shortened version of Isaiah 40:3-4 which says, ‘A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.’ It means prepare the road on which the Messiah will come to us. This road is made by acts of justice and kindness and mercy and love and grace, preparing to receive the one who has alerted us to live differently, to fully live the life of the Kingdom of God. John alerts us to the road we are travelling, the life we are living. Are we alert to the things God may want of us? What changes do we need to make so that all can live a fuller life. Are we still asleep? Are we still lost in our sins or living in the freedom of Jesus? We have alerts on our phones and signs along our roads but where do we see or hear God’s alerts?
Notice that the alert in our Gospel reading today comes from the wilderness. So much of our time is take up in the metropolis, in city living, dazzled by its lights, working for its goals, surviving, exploiting, rushing, being exploited, frustrated, sold out, consumed. We are caught up in the busyness of this world with all its messages. We are bombarded with advertising; to be cool, to be up to date, to be in charge. We get messages constantly delivered to our phones bearing fake news and scams and threats.
When one goes about preparing the way for the Lord, trying to create a fairer and more just and inclusive world there will be lots of opposition. I heard on the radio that throughout the world there are groups of people and most often they are young white males who band together to target vulnerable people, people with disabilities, women, people of colour, social justice advocates etc. They target these people online and harass them, pushing some to suicide, pushing them to give up the causes that they are involved in, threatening them and even carrying out some threats.
We need to be hearing that voice crying out in the wilderness, saying to us prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight and to be hearing the life enhancing word of life to sustain us on the journey, messages that alert us to God’s life and constant presence and peace.
The wilderness is the place of beginning, the starting point, the place of ‘Being’ from which we begin. Like John, Jesus began in the wilderness. To begin elsewhere is to risk adding our misconceptions and agendas and ego and desires and best intentions to something that requires us to listen deeply and be aware of presence, God’s presence and God’s promptings and to move at that pace and with that awareness rather than quickly jumping to do it our way, acting in ways contrary to the ways of Jesus.
The alerts of God come from a place of stillness and silence- a place of alert stillness. Just after dawn or early in the morning before the mechanical noises that humans create, you may observe things in the silence and stillness that you may not observe later in the day. You may hear the natural sounds of your environment and perhaps notice things that you might miss later in the day as your mind is taken up with the tasks before you.
The place of alert stillness is not far from the place of sleep, nor is it far from the place where the mind kicks into action, perhaps it is on the boundaries, on the threshold, a liminal space, but it is not daydreaming. It is a place where we are listening for God, available to hear beyond the thinking mind and its preconditioning forms of thinking, prejudice and bias.
This means that the alert signs are not there sticking out for us to clearly see but need to be searched for and listened for. They require us to go to the wilderness, to learn to be still and silent, to quieten our mind and listen with our heart. This is a process or a spiritual discipline that we can learn. It takes time and practice. When we first attempt to sit in stillness and silence, two things often happen; we either fall asleep or our minds are filled with all sorts of thoughts, alerts about all the things we have to do or have not done. There are often messages of self condemnation or comparing ourselves to others. Learning to sit in stillness and silence requires us to welcome those thoughts and in welcoming them they lose their power over us. Our goal is to move beyond or distinguish between all the advertising alerts of the outside world and move beyond the fear and ego alerts in the mind to a place of stillness and silence where we listen with the heart, to listen to divine and to be alert.
It is when we are still that we know. It is when we listen that we hear.
It is when we remember that we see your light, O God.
From your Stillness we come.
With your Sound all life quivers with being.
From You the light of this moment shines.
Grant us to remember you at the heart of each moment.
Grant us to remember.
-from Praying with the Earth: a Prayerbook for Peace by John Philip Newell
Photo: Hedgegrow, West Cork, Republic of Ireland
Awake! Keep Awake!
13:37 “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
Jesus says in Mark 13:37 ‘And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’ In Ephesians 5:14b Saint Paul writes, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
How do you wake up in the morning or evening if on night shift? Does it take you a while to be really awake? Do you have a waking up routine? What do you do? Do you begin with a prayer? Have you heard this great prayer for getting up in the morning?
So far today I’m doing all right.
I haven’t gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy,
Grumpy, nasty, selfish or overindulgent.
However, I’m going to get out of bed in a few minutes,
And I’ll need a lot of help after that. Amen
By Nancy Corcoran in Secrets of Prayer: A Multifaith Guide to Creating Personal Prayer in Your Life
I often get calls in the morning and when they hear my voice people ask me if I am awake. Of course, I am awake when I answer the phone. I either have been up for a while or the phone has just woken me up. I am awake. I wouldn’t be answering the phone if I was asleep. When I wake up first in the morning, I may be awake but it takes a while for me to switch on, to be aware of what is going on around me, to be alert, to be alive. During Advent I want to focus on what I call the ‘A’s of Advent as we prepare for Christmas. The ‘A’s of Advent include the words: awake, aware, alert, alive.
Has 2020 been a wake up to the world? Perhaps for some, but it seems that all too easily it is back to business as usual- corporate greed flows again, exploitation spreads, wars resume and increase, environmental degradation marches on. How can we so easily forget the devasting fires, the smoke circumnavigating the earth, millions of animals killed, homes and livelihoods destroyed? And the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic? As of Saturday, 28 November 2020 the official number of people who have died from Covid-19 throughout the world is 1,448,942 and it continues to spread.
Why do we need to be awake? Noam Chomsky said - As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.
Advent asks us: ‘Are you awake?’ Advent says to us, ‘Wake up.’ Being awake is more than being no longer asleep. Being awake means being fully alert, being fully aware and being fully alive. Being awake is not restricted to our own wellbeing or salvation, but involves the salvation or wellbeing of the whole world and that means being awake to all that is going on in the world.
Richard Rohr says, ‘The need for adult Christianity and Jesus’ actual message is so urgent that we cannot allow the great feast of Christmas and its preparation in Advent to be watered down in any way. The suffering, injustice and devastation on this planet are too great to settle for an infantile Gospel or Jesus. Jesus taught that the “reign of God” or the “kingdom of God” asks a great deal of us personally —surrender, simplicity and solidarity with suffering.’ He says, ‘To be in Advent means to be aware, alive, attentive, alert, anticipating. Advent is, above all else, a call to full consciousness and a forewarning about the high price of consciousness.’
Catholic Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio says, ‘Going to church (or religious service) at least once a week challenges us to wake up from our isolated slumber and join in prayer with all who suffer the pain of life’s constant struggles; to be part of the eschatological community, and to realize that suffering and sacrifice are part of the ongoing evolution of life. God is doing new things and we are invited to share in the new creation. To resist sacrifice or ignore pain is to suppress the vitality of life and its impulse to evolve. When we are beaten down and defeated, our tendency is to give up and declare life a failure. Going to church is an invitation to get up again and awaken to a new future. God invites us to the sounds of a new beginning, a new ecclesia, not a closed assembly of friends but a disruption of sameness to envision a new a church of the planet, where all people can find dignity, acceptance and love, where the lion can lie down with the lamb, and nature is at peace.’ (Christogenesis.org)
Prayer: Wake us up Lord!
God of Salvation,
Wake us up Lord!
The night is nearly over.
Let us begin our Advent journey.
Move us from our lives
Of greed and selfishness,
From our globalised world
Of inequality and exploitation,
To your kingdom
Of righteousness and mercy.
To a transformed world,
Where peace is built on understanding not weapons,
The poor are empowered to live their lives to the full,
Businesses are built on need not greed
And your Creation is nurtured not abused.
Wake us up Lord!
Let us live as people of the light.
Photo: Cicada Shells, Bulli, November 2020
25:44-45 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'
For seven days a week over the last nine months we have been distributing food from Coles Supermarkets through the SecondBite food rescue program. We have met many people and seen many faces that we would never have seen if we did not have this involvement. It always gives great pleasure to see the smile on the face of someone receiving the food. Sometimes we also see the pain of abandonment, disillusion, isolation and of hunger looking back at us.
Earlier in the year I spoke about how some teenagers in a school had been staring into the eyes of another until one had to break away. However, as they held the gaze of another for many minutes something happened within and they began to cry. I also related the story of the artist who travelled around the world and people would queue to come and sit in front of the person and they would be moved emotionally, some leaving in tears.
It is difficult not to be moved when looking into the eyes of suffering and pain.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book ‘An altar in the world’ writes about the spiritual practice of encountering others. We are often too busy, rushing from A to B, getting things done, having a million things on our mind, to notice the people around us, the people we meet on our way, even the people we live with. If we were to stop and stare for a while, perhaps catching their eye even for a moment, perhaps, just maybe, we might notice God looking back at us. We might connect with the God who is in us and who is in them.
Jesus reminds us where Jesus can be seen. 25:44-45 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' 25:45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' Could we be too busy to see Jesus? And not just to busy to see him but to do something for him?
Barbara Brown Taylor says that what we have in common with strangers is not religion but humanity. Jesus talks about when the Son of Man comes in all his glory. When Jesus names himself as the Son of Man, Jesus is saying that he is the fullest revelation of what it means to be truly human, to be fully human and fully divine. Jesus shows us what it is to be truly human. Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved us. Jesus says love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus tells us to love strangers and to even love our enemies. This may mean not rushing past but slowing down, sitting around for a while, noticing, being still.
Let’s pause and think about this. This is about recognising that all people are made in the image of God. It is about recognising Jesus in everyone we meet and especially in those struggling in life: those in prison, those who are hungry and thirsty, those naked or clothed in rags, those who are homeless, those who seek asylum and refuge, those finding it impossible to get work and an income.
When we look forward for the coming of Christ this passage reminds us that Jesus comes to us not as a great conquering king. It reminds us not to look for Jesus in the places of power and wealth, but to look among those suffering in this world. Jesus comes to us as the Son of man, the true human being. We are reminded to stop, to look around, to really notice, to see, to hear, to understand, that Christ is the stranger whom we are called to love. Perhaps we do not want to look too closely or let our gaze linger for too long in case we get caught up in the humanity of Christ and become more fully human and thus more fully divine.
‘Open our eyes Lord, we want to see Jesus.
To reach out and touch him and say that we love him.
Open our ears Lord and help us to listen.
Open our eyes Lord we want to see Jesus. ‘
Open my eyes that I may see you in the eyes of all I meet.
Open my ears that I may hear your cry.
Open my heart that I may connect with you and with all creation.
Open my being that I may be still and live.
Open my hands that I may share your abundant life. Amen.
It is very important when reading the parables of Jesus not to always equate the master or king with God or Jesus. Sometimes there are similarities in the characters with the God but at other times the characters are entirely dissimilar to the God Jesus speaks of and reveals through his life. How we imagine God to be is very important for how we live our lives. It is very important for how we live in community as a congregation and how we relate to people who are not in our congregation. How do you imagine God? What do you think God is like? One interpretation of today’s parable could be that one of the characters totally mis-imagines God. He misunderstands the nature of God and the life God has given us.
In the parable of the talents a man goes away on a journey but first puts his servants in charge of his wealth. He gives five talents of gold to one slave, two to another and one talent to a third servant. At the price of gold today one talent could be worth almost five million Australian dollars. So, one would have got twenty five million dollars, another ten million dollars and the third five million dollars. These are incredible amounts of money. The master comes back after a long time and proceeds to settle his accounts with the servants. The servant with five talents, hands 10 talents back to the master, double what he received. The servant with two talents, hands four talents back to the master, double what he received. They are both commended as good and trustworthy and are further entrusted with charge of many things and enter the joy of the master. But the one who had been given one talent had been so afraid of losing his master’s money that he had hidden his talent in the ground. He gives it back to the master hoping that the master will be pleased to get what is his back safely, but the master has expected more. When no more is returned the master condemns the servant as wicked, lazy and worthless. The master orders the servant to be taken away and thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The parable reveals more dissimilarities with the kingdom of God than similarities. It illuminates the great contrast there is between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this earth, or the ways of this earth. The master in the parable bears little or no resemblance to the way Jesus has been speaking about God or himself. What is given to the servants is given in regards to their ability. But in the Gospels what Jesus gives to people is given freely irrespective of ability and without expectation of return. Jesus doesn’t give money to his disciples, quite the opposite, he sends them out without money. Jesus gives eternal life. Jesus speaks about entering the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, but this is not the reward for those who have done well or those who have lived a righteous holy life. The kingdom of heaven is opened to sinners, tax collectors, the undeserving, the outcast, the sick and the lame and the blind. The kingdom of heaven is opened to Samaritans, Romans, foreigners, gentiles. It is not a reward, it is an invitation to a journey, to a new life, to begin and enter now.
The servant imagines the master as a harsh man reaping where he does not sow and gathering where he does not scatter seed. Jesus is the opposite, Jesus sows and sows, scattering seeds of grace wastefully in the wind, to blow where they will and in response people come flocking to him. The similarity between the teaching of Jesus and the huge amounts of money the master gives is that the kingdom of heaven is priceless. Nothing is more wonderous, more valuable, more lavish than the eternal life Jesus freely gives. What the master says describes the unfairness of the world we live in: the rich getting richer and the poorer getting poorer, even from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The master orders that the ‘worthless’ slave be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be gnashing of teeth. This is not Jesus’ understanding of a loving God that he reveals in his teaching and ministry nor is it the way in the kingdom of heaven.
Perhaps the parable is telling us simply to be confident in God’s goodness, to not be afraid of God. God is generous and we are to be generous in love and grace, to use what has been entrusted to us, not to lock it away in fear for safe keeping. Perhaps the parable is encouraging us to do something great and incredible with what we have been given. To freely give as we have received.
What is given to us is good news for the world, wonderful news, life changing, life enabling news, far greater than any amount of gold or wealth. Will we keep on living the good news and being good news, or give it all up because we are afraid, because the world doesn’t seem to be getting any better? Shall we throw in the towel? Jesus has entrusted to us the secrets of the kingdom of heaven; secrets which look weak, insignificant and ineffectual against the might of empires and against the violence of this world and against the might of the dollar? But Jesus’ secrets bring abundant life.
At the beginning of time and at the end
you are God and I bless you.
At my birth and in my dying,
in the opening of the day and at its close,
in my waking and my sleeping
you are God and I bless you.
You are the first and the last,
the giver of every gift,
the presence without whom there would be
the life without whom there is no life.
Lead me to the heart of life’s treasure
that I may be a bearer of the gift.
Lead me to the heart of the present
that I may be a sharer of your eternal presence.
- from ‘Sounds of the Eternal’ by John Philip Newell
Photo; The Burren, County Clare, Republic of Ireland
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation