Tag Archives: advent

Advent Reflections – Birthing

I’ve never told my birth story publicly. It was far from the candle filled water birth I’d imagined – in fact it was the total opposite of what I’d hoped. Three types of induction, hooked up to monitors, pethidine and an epidural before my newborn was whisked away for observations and antibiotics.

Within hours, I knew that these words from Sarah Bessey were true.

“Birth is never not a miracle…It’s never not the best and most at the same time.”

I’ve been wondering what Mary’s birth was like.

We know there was no pain relief, that there was no shiny hospital or consultants on call.

But was it long? Did she wonder if she could do it? Did she beg and plead for it to be over?

(I’m guessing she didn’t cry “it’s like the cruciatus curse!” like I did at some point between my waters breaking and being given pethidine.)

The thing is, whichever way we look at it, birthing is painful.

The seed breaking through the ground to the light.

The baby breaking through to begin life in the outside world.

The butterfly breaks through its cocoon to fly.

The stars break through night’s sky.

We can’t separate birthing from breaking.

But that also means we can’t separate breaking from beauty.

The pain of birth certainly felt like a breaking, if nothing else it was a breaking of my old life, but the new life was and is undoubtedly beautiful.

All too often, we hold back from the birthing because we fear the breaking. We fear breaking ourselves open to allow God to do a deeper work, we fear breaking open new possibilities in case we fail.

But there is good news. It is called the gospel, after all.

Jesus went first, He was birthed and he broke through every barrier between us and God.

Alia Joy writes in her book “Glorious Weakness”

“It was always the plan that in the midst of the catastrophic brokenness in this world, grace would surprise us all.”

As Christmas approaches, let the birth of hope in Jesus surprise us with its grace and allow it to fill our brokenness.

Advent Reflections – Journeying

Throughout the Bible, God’s people are on the move, and God seems to do much of His work in people through their journeys.

Abraham’s journey to Canaan.

The Israelites protracted journey to the Promised Land.

Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem in the months before Jesus’ birth.

We can but imagine the maelstrom of emotions evoked during this journey; the uncertainty, the more than likely physical aches and pains of Mary, the anticipation, the worry perhaps – about having your first baby far from home?

I can remember, all too clearly, the relatively short journey to the nice clean and safe hospital to have my own son just a year ago, knowing my life would never be the same again, stepping into the unknown and trusting that my feet found some solid ground.

There’s something about journeys that disrupt us, perhaps it’s that they signal change (something I’m not a great fan of), and throughout history, God disrupts His people. He sends them to new places, on new adventures and asks us to take each step away from certainty and toward Him. Perhaps the reason He speaks so loudly to us on journeys is because we are already distracted from day to day life.

I remember studying Abram’s call during some of my first lectures at LST – how he had been called away from everything he’d known to enter a promise unseen – and I felt stirred by it, a similarity, even though my journey was only 30 miles down the motorway and nowhere near as drastic as Abram’s life-changing journey! But I had left behind the life I had known and stepping into something new where each step was one of faith.

It’s that journey that I remind myself of now, when I’m fearful of the next steps, or the next journey; because at the time it was the scariest thing I’d ever done and yet it was one of great joy.

We each go on countless journeys throughout our lives; some are inconsequential (such as the one my husband has gone on to get bin bags from co-op as I write), others are earth shattering and life changing, like the journey to Bethlehem or my own through university.

One of my favourite journeys recounted in scripture is one Jesus takes the morning of His resurrection, when he takes a walk with a man named Cleopas and his friend who are lamenting the loss of the one ‘they had hoped’ for and hoped in. It’s a sliver of a story which reminds us that the journey matters – that through Jesus – God walks with us on our journeys and reveals Himself in the tenderest of places, in the tenderest of ways. For it was not through lighting flash and growling thunder that Jesus revealed His identity on the journey, it was not even as he recounted His own story through the scriptures, but as He ate with them and broke their bread with His own scarred hands.

Advent retells Jesus’ journey to be with us, one not done in majestic fashion, but one that began in the womb of a teenager and ended on a sinner’s cross.

They journey of Advent is nearing its close for this year; soon the darkness of these weeks will be pierced by the unquenchable light of the God who came wrapped in a mother’s womb to save in the most unexpected of ways. Jesus’ journey to be with us is the greatest comfort in the darkness and ignited the flame of hope forevermore – it is what keeps me walking this strange journey of surrender and freedom.

Malcolm Guite’s beautiful poem O Emmanuel captures something of the mystery of Jesus’ journey to us as our hope.

“Be folded with us into time and place,

Unfold for us the mystery of grace

And make a womb of all this wounded world.”

 

 

 

Advent Reflections Week Two – Accepting

When I decided to use the carmelite themes to reflect this advent, it was this word accepting that captivated and confused me in equal measure.

For me at least, it conjures the concept of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and at last, acceptance. It’s the pinnacle stage in this model; whereby someone can see some kind of resolution to the pain of grief.

It’s place as the second week of advent then, feels almost jarring.

And yet, as I delved into the ancient stories again, both the gospel narratives and the story of the carmelites, I began to see it a little differently, because the carmelites had been crusaders who’d gone to fight but ended up so transformed that they stayed to pray and build a community in the holy land.

It reminded me how often in the scriptures God shows up in the most unexpected ways, calling unexpected people to do unexpected things.

A virgin conceiving.

A barren woman falling pregnant whilst her husband falls silent.

When we agree to follow the way of Jesus, we agree to the unexpected.

And sometimes the unexpected way we are called to hurts.

It’s all too easy to miss the trouble woven through the nativity.

Luke 1:29 tells us that Mary was “greatly troubled” by the angel’s greeting; Joseph and the shepherds are greeted with the words “do not be afraid.”

God does not hide from us that the walk ahead with Him is not easy.

As Timothy Keller writes in his book “Hidden Christmas”:

“The manger at Christmas means that, if you live like Jesus, there won’t be room for you in a lot of inns.”

Accepting the gospel truth and the invitation of God is not the easy – but God gifts us what we need to accept His invitation.

Perhaps Zechariah needed his silence to accept what lay ahead of him and Elizabeth.

I expect that both Mary and Elizabeth needed the time they shared together, to accept the extraordinary pregnancies and prepare them for the extraordinary lives their sons would lead.

Mary does not just accept the call grudgingly, however. She doesn’t say “All right then, if you must” – she sings a mighty song of praise.

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”

Whatever we have to accept in the course of our christian lives; Mary offers us a dazzling response to echo which is not based on our own strength but on our glorious Saviour.

 

 

 

Advent Reflections Week One – Waiting

This year for advent, I’m going to reflect each week on the Carmelite themes of Advent; waiting, accepting, journeying and birthing. Having read about them in author Sarah Bessey’s advent reflections, it struck me that they sound to me like stages of grief and lament and so I want to explore. Our emotional lives don’t necessarily follow the feelings of seasons – but God remains in them and with us in each season as we wait, as we accept, as we journey and as we birth.


Last year, the 1st December marked the end of waiting for us. It was our son’s homecoming day  after his first week of life was spent cannulated and treated for a chest infection.

The week before had been full of painful waiting; the promise of home dangled in front of us like a vista, but it kept being pushed back. When we were told we could finally leave; we felt the giddy excitement our son would late exhibit every time his daddy walks through the door!

The waiting was, I think, all the more painful because we didn’t know how long the wait would be. It was altogether different from the waiting of pregnancy which had consumed the months before; whilst we didn’t know a specific date, we knew that by Christmas 2018 our baby boy would be in the world.

Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people are a waiting people. They are waiting for the Promised Land, freedom from slavery, to find their way home from exile – and above all – they were waiting for a Messiah, the one who would save them.

Today we wait for the final return of Jesus, the end of mourning, crying and pain. Each day, however, is full of waiting. Whether it be in the queue at the corner shop, for call from the doctor or loved one to return home, we have no choice but to wait.

We do have a choice how we wait.

Waiting without hope can consume us, twisting our desires into idols and longing into bitterness.

Waiting with hope can see God transform us in the waiting – because God is with us in the waiting.

These words of the 12th century carol ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ seem to capture something of the agony of waiting and the hope of what is to come. It reminds us the God who is with us, who ‘moved into the neighbourhood’ does not leave us to languish in our despair, but comes to us and sets eternity in our hearts.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

In the waiting time, when our ‘until’ feels endless and our loneliness exiles us from ourselves, our communities and our God, Advent reminds us that our wait is not wasted when we fix our eyes on the God who broke through time and space to be Immanuel.

It’s so tempting to rush through Advent, to miss it amidst the glitter of Christmas trees and carol singing – but this year – I invite you to wait in it and watch for how God might reveal Himself in the unexpected and the lowly just as He did 2000 years ago.

 

 

Book Review: Redeeming Advent

We are well and truly into November now, so I finally feel happy to start talking about the upcoming festive season (in my house, I don’t start thinking about Christmas until after my husband’s November birthday, but now that’s passed it’s time to look forward to the celebrations).

So as we do all the practical things to prepare, it’s important that we also prepare our hearts amidst all the busyness and Lucy’s book is a great way to spend a bit of time each day to reflect and reorientate ourselves back to Christ.

One of the most beautiful parts of the book is the way in which Lucy reflects on her experience of adopting her two youngest children and how that, in turn, reflects our relationship with God.

She writes:

Advent, like adoption, opens our eyes to a new place, a better place, where the sin and suffering of the last place will be no more. Advent, like adoption, reminds us not to cling to our old home – not to get too settled here – because it’s not where we belong. Advent, like adoption, tells us that the tragedies of this life are not supposed to bring us down, but to make us look up…Advent, like adoption, brings hope and a new start and a secure future. Advent, like adoption, prepares us for that glorious day when we will be with our true, heavenly Father.”

Lucy’s writing is warm and easy to read, but it is also profound and communicates some really important theological truths in a really accessible way and includes some very practical challenges.

One of the clearest examples for me, is this:

“I don’t want anyone who enters our home this season to be in any doubt about what we’re celebrating.”

As someone who loves to co-ordinate my wrapping paper with my decorations(!) I’ve been challenged to ensure that my home doesn’t just look pretty (although I still want it to look as good as it can with a one year old running amok!) Alongside the prettiness, I want it to be clear that the beauty in my home reflects the beauty of the gospel, not just my interior design skills.

On a practical level, “Redeeming Advent” is set out in short and readable chapter for every day in Advent that can be consumed with your morning coffee and advent calendar chocolate – and I think you should!

If you’d like to buy a copy of Redeeming Advent, you can get one at Eden Books, Amazon* and real life christian bookshops. You can also be in with a chance to win a signed copy over on my Instagram and Facebook!

For more from Lucy you can find her at Desertmum, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

*affiliate link

 

 

 

Let There Be Light

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

Let there be light.

These words were the beginning of everything, the light came and God’s creative power was revealed in all its splendour for the first time.

They are some of the most powerful words in scripture – we cannot deny the power of light.

Sometimes its as comforting as a night light for a child, at others its a harsh glare of realisation.

In John’s gospel the account of Jesus coming to earth in human form begins with light.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Light bids us to wait in hope for the day when the light will shine in all its fullness.

Christmas tells us that the Light of the World was and is willing to descend into the darkness of our humanity for our sake and will not be extinguished by it.

Tim Keller writes that:

“He is a light for us when all other lights go out.”

I pray that this Christmas, whatever darkness you may face, that you feel God’s presence with you as we remember that the God who formed the stars descended to us to come close – and to draw us closer to Him.

God With Us

 

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:23

God with us.

They are words we hear often at this time of year. They are words I ended the first blog of this series with, in fact.

With familiarity, however, we can forget the wonder of the words.

No longer are we kept at arms length from God – held apart from Him by our sin – Jesus came to restore the relationship we lost when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden so that we may one day walk with Him again.

Brian Zahnd writes:

“The lost beauty of God’s good creation is what is recovered in the Incarnation.”

The man who is God – bringing us and God together in a way that not even the prophet Isaiah could have imagined.

There is so much to marvel at the Christmas story; a virgin conceiving, angels visiting shepherds, and yet none of these things is more marvellous than God showing us in the most magnificent way possible, that He is with us through everything life throws at us because He has walked through this life before us.

When I was just becoming unwell with depression in my early teens, the idea that Jesus experienced human pain and cried human tears brought me a comfort I couldn’t articulate. And I sang a Graham Kendrick song that year at the carol service which has stayed with me ever since.

“And now a door is standing open before you
Casting its light into the darkness around
Stop for a moment, step inside
Tonight could be your Bethlehem

And nothing will ever be the same again
This night could change everything
Nothing will ever be the same again
Since the night he came”

At the time, I admit I thought that it meant that my life would never be the same again because depression had moved into my mind, but the reality is far greater, and full of hope.

Nothing would ever be the same again – but because Jesus came to be God with us in all we face.

2 Corinthians 4 speaks of this promise that we can cling to when all else fails; and whatever your Christmas looks like this year, whatever you are facing, hope is waiting because Jesus came to walk with us and His power to be within us.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Chosen and Choosing

mary image.pngObedience doesn’t have a very good reputation.

It summons up the idea that we are giving up what we want for what someone else says.

And if you’re anything like me and somewhat of a control freak – obedience to someone else’s will isn’t a particularly attractive idea. I can hardly imagine the fear and the confusion that Mary felt at the Angel’s words.

So often when we read this narrative, we rush past Mary’s questions and confusion to her song of praise. At the beginning of Luke’s account we see however, that Mary is “greatly troubled” when the Angel appears to her. It seems though, that our translation doesn’t really do these words justice – it’s more than troubled – its a deep agitation and unease.

I’m not surprised.

I think I’d be pretty terrified if an Angel came to visit me – and the initial terror comes from just the words she is favoured in God’s eyes before  Mary is told she’s going to carry the Creator of the universe.

Both Mary’s troubled nature and her question are answered not with why Mary was the ideal candidate to carry the Son of God, but with the greatness of God.

The favour of God is as much of a calling as the job He gives. As Paula Gooder writes:

“It is truly wonderful to be beloved by God, but with this comes challenges beyond our imaginings.”

When people are chosen by God – there is the weight of the gospel in their calling.

The comfort the Angel offers amidst Mary’s trouble and confusion is not based the specifics of her calling – but that God has chosen her and that He will be with her.

Even with this assurance – I think I’d probably have a few more questions.

How is the Spirit going to make me pregnant?

How are my fiance, my community going to react?

This wasn’t a case of the odd shameful look in the street for an unwed pregnant teenager – the penalty for sex outside of marriage could be death.

And yet Mary’s response is one which not only demonstrates obedience – but faith.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

It’s not blind obedience – it’s a trust in the plans of God.

Keller comments:

“Now she is not merely submitting her will but giving her heart joyfully. In the end faith always moves beyond mental assent and duty and will involve the whole self – mind, will, and emotions.”

This isn’t a reluctant agreement to God’s will in the way that I often acquiesce. This is a faith in God and His character that trusts in His goodness in the face of what could look like a dangerous plan.

It astounds me.

The calling God places on Mary’s life – to mother His son – is astounding.

And the call of God still astounds me.

He still calls the most unlikely to bear His word and His message.

And we have Mary’s choice.

But we have a greater assurance.

We can walk the first steps and trust that God will lead us home.

Because God himself walked the journey home through His Son, Jesus.

The question is – what’s our next step?

Christmas Trees and Family Trees

pexels-photoWe forget, I think, what a scandal the arrival of Jesus was.

Not only did He come to unmarried teenaged parents.

He came in poverty, instead of royalty.

It was the noises of a stable which welcomed Him, not an orchestra.

What has struck me this week, however, is those verses at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel which we all too often skip past.

The list of Jesus’ ancestors which, if I’m honest, I’ve never paid much attention to before.

It’s like a who’s who of the Old Testament – but not necessarily for the right reasons.

It’s astounding, not least because it contains women, but because it’s far from a tidy family tree.

There’s Jacob, who stole his brother’s birth right and had to flee.

Judah who slept with his daughter-in-law Tamar.

Bathsheba who the text notes had been Uriah’s wife – a reminder that even the royal King David’s story was marred by murder and adultery.

It’s not the pure and holy family that we might have chosen for the Son of God to be born in to.

And yet it tells us so much about the God we serve who would send a baby as His rescue plan for the world.

This God who defies all expectations and works through the meekest and most unlikely of men and women.

Through the worst of us, God reveals His grace in the most glorious of ways.

Our place in heaven isn’t dependant on our family tree. It isn’t dependant on us at all.

It’s dependant on a man born as a refugee baby who doesn’t let us down and doesn’t let us go.

Who waits for us to recognise Him as He calls our name and asks us if He can come and abide in us.

Ann Voskamp writes:

“Christ comes right to your Christmas tree and looks at your family tree and says, “I am your God, and I am one of you, and I’ll be the Gift, and I’ll take you. Take Me?””