Daily readings and prayers for Advent
The Word became Flesh…
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 people. The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it…The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1.1-5, 9 –12,14a)
I feel quite incapable of commenting on this most wonderful passage. It has to speak for itself. Likewise I offer this prayer from one of the Christmas Collects:
Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son, Jesus Christ: Grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity…
And a personal prayer:
Lord, I pray that I may be specially aware of you through this day, bringing light into any darkness. Help me to shine your light to any who feel unloved. As you gave yourself to us, I give you all that I am, Jesus Christ, my dear Lord and Saviour.
Thursday 24th December
The Angels and the Shepherds
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’… So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby who was lying in the manger…And Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 1.8 – 14,16, 19)
The shepherds were the only ones who were told who this baby was: A Saviour. Christ the Lord. They were the ones who saw the glory of the heavenly host and heard the angels’ song of praise. So they were the ones who could go to find the baby who was ‘wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ There wouldn’t be any other babies in Bethlehem that fit that description.
What a comfort and joy it must have been to Mary and Joseph to have that extra confirmation after all they had been through. And we have that lovely phrase: ‘Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’
Dear Lord, we too sing of your glory and praise you for sending your Son into the darkness of the world. Help me to absorb your love and peace and even joy however I’m feeling about everything else.
Wednesday 23rd December
Mary gives birth to Jesus
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…And everyone went to their home town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2. 1, 3 –7)
I never cease to be amazed at how hard everything was for Mary: Walking or riding on an uncomfortable donkey for about three days when nine months pregnant; unsuccessfully trying to find somewhere decent to stay when she was probably already in labour; eventually resting on a rather dirty bed of straw or a hard wooden bench to deliver her baby. Did she have any help other than Joseph? How cold was it? Did she manage somehow to wash the new born baby – or clear up the mess? Was she able to rest in some comfort and warmth until the shepherds arrived? We are not told these kind of details – just that the world did not shift to make space for the Son of God to come into the world.
But the darkness did not overcome the light. Jesus was born quite safely. All was well – for a time.
Lord God Almighty, may we never forget, especially at Christmas time, the sheer discomfort around the birth of Jesus. Forgive us for thinking we have a right to comfort. Help us to give more generously to the homeless.
Tuesday 22nd December
God’s Love and Ours
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No-one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us… God is love. Those who live in love live in God and God in them. In this way love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement… (1 John 4. 9 – 12, 16b – 17a)
If ever we doubt God’s love for us we need to read this again. He sent Jesus into the world because we continue to make such a mess of it; we continue to create hostility between each other, near and far; and we continue to mar his image in us by living our lives without him, becoming troubled and darkened rather than living in his light. He might well have given up on us; but God is love… He just loves us and reaches out his arms for us to come back to him. He gave us Jesus, as a very costly sacrifice to atone for the mess we have made of everything; and he set us up with his Spirit to enable us to care rather than destroy, to love rather than hate, to draw us to himself rather than ignoring him. He sent us Jesus – God-with-us.
Holy Spirit, come to us, give us hearts of repentance; turn us to the love of the Father and the Son and draw us to them in our great need. We thank you for their unfailing love, forgiveness and joyful help to begin again in newness of life. We realise that loving is not optional. Make me a true child of God, with your love in me.
Monday 21st December
When they (the wise men) had gone, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod… When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. (Matthew 2. 13 – 15a, 16.)
It seems important, especially this year, when there are increasing numbers of refugees throughout the world, to remember that the holy family were refugees too. They did not have to live with thousands of other refugees in overcrowded tents and shacks but they had to escape in the middle of the night with a baby to another country and would have nowhere settled to live for a while. God truly identified with the poorer parts of the world, when his Son had to be born in uncomfortable conditions because the world did not make room for him anywhere else, and when he was threatened with death and had to flee for his life. And still the killing of innocent citizens goes on at the hands of despotic rulers…
Father of all, we weep with you at the cruelty of some leaders and the suffering of your people at their hands. May we love and give and pray with all our hearts that leaders may realise their abuse of power, and may care for their people; that refugees may keep their faith, hope and love, survive well and return to their homelands in due course.
Sunday 20th December
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the time of King Herod, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem, in Judea’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet (Micah) has written: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’ (Matthew 2. 1-6)
So non-Jews, or Gentiles, had some inkling of a new divine king. At the appearance of a bright new star these learned astrologers from a faraway eastern land like Persia did their research. The ancient scriptures told them of the long expected birth of a Jewish king with divine qualities. So excited were they that they set out to follow that star, to find him. The present neurotic king of the Jews, King Herod, was hardly the right person to ask – but he found out and directed the astrologers to Bethlehem where they found him – in an outhouse of an inn rather than a royal palace. But they recognised that this was no ordinary king – and they bowed down and worshipped him and laid their gifts before him.
Loving Father, we thank you that you sent your Son to the whole world as well as to the Jews. Thank you for the whole-hearted commitment of those wise men who gave up everything to seek you. May I, too, give everything to seek you, know you, and worship you as my dear Lord and Saviour.
Saturday 19th December
Mary and Elizabeth
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the baby leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear. But why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears the baby in my womb leapt for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.’ (Luke 1. 39-45)
We are not told why Mary embarked on the lone journey to stay with her relative Elizabeth. But it is easy to guess. She was just at the stage of having to tell her parents and Joseph about the pregnancy and having to face people’s shock and judgement. She must have needed some time away on her own and the angel had told her that Elizabeth too was expecting a ‘miracle’ baby. It seemed likely that she too was part of God’s plan. And what a wonderful welcome she received. At last someone who knew who Mary’s baby was, who revered Mary as his mother and blessed her for her faith. Mary’s faith would surely turn to a renewed joy as she could rest in the love and belief of Elizabeth for a while.
Oh, and we mustn’t forget Elizabeth’s unborn baby who obviously wanted to join in the fun – or rather the wonder and joy of that meeting.
Father, we thank you for giving Mary a break and for giving them both the confirmation that both babies were part of your plan of salvation. Thank you for the privilege of sharing in their joy. Lord, give us the faith to believe in our salvation.
Friday 18th December
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph but before they came together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save the people from their sins.’ (Matthew 1. 18-21)
Matthew refers to Joseph as Mary’s husband as engagements in their society were considered legally binding, only to be broken by divorce. We can only imagine his reaction when she told him she was pregnant. I imagine that Mary was fairly calm and confident about it herself – and not at all apologetic – which would be even more puzzling and shocking to this ‘righteous man.’ But the dream was all he needed and from then on he believed and must have supported Mary against the inevitable criticisms and judgements of others.
There must have been a time, however, when Mary had to cope with bitter misunderstandings before Joseph believed and married her. But I suppose there had to be a gap between conception and marriage so that we would all know that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, not Joseph and therefore the only one who could be the sinless sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Almighty Father, sometimes we question your timing when our prayers are not answered immediately. But you know the whole picture; we know in part. Increase our faith in you – and in your ways.
Thursday 17th December
You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain …say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. He gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40 from 9-11)
Isaiah prophesies about the coming of the promised Messiah after the people’s return to their homeland from exile. He speaks both of his second coming with power and authority and his first coming as a tender, good shepherd.
And now, as we approach Christmas from the social restrictions of the pandemic we can rejoice especially at the birth of the Messiah, the physical coming of light into darkness. Socially, Christmas will not be the same for there will not be big parties or celebrations, but (from the time of writing) there will probably be small family gatherings – and our churches should be open again. Perhaps, in a way, the true significance of Christmas time will shine through…
Father, as we prepare for Christmas this year may we appreciate our close families in a new way and rejoice in being with our church family again. We thank you for the exhausting work of the NHS and those committed to producing a vaccine. We grieve for those who have died, and all who suffer from the effects of the pandemic. Give us the grace to appreciate what we have and to love our neighbours with your love.
Wednesday 16th December
These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb… and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst…For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7. 14,15b)
This is a vision of John rather than the words of Jesus; but very real to one who lived so close to God. I love to think that all those who have suffered in this world – from persecution, despotic regimes, homelessness, extreme poverty, lack of food, clean water, medical help, abuse – and anything else – will, first of all of us, be comforted and cared for by Christ who loves and understands and gives them new life in his kingdom. And God himself – our almighty creator – is so full of mercy and compassion that he comes down from his throne and personally wipes away every tear and hurt from their earthly life.
Dear Lord, we thank you for suffering all your agony and death for our sake – to make us clean, forgiving our sins. Give us grace to call to mind our sins every day, to truly repent, receive your forgiveness and the new life you offer through your Spirit. And we thank you not only for your mercy and love but for the tender care with which you lead us and the thought of the Father’s intimate healing. Help us to address our present injustices and evil as we can – and have faith in your ultimate kingdom.
Tuesday 15th December
The Second Coming
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other…No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matthew 24.30-31,36)
This is scary stuff, way beyond our comprehension. But it is part of Jesus’ teaching, and part of the Church’s Advent season. The thought of Jesus coming again – very openly this time – to establish his kingdom on earth – should really be very comforting news to us now as we live with a rapidly spreading uncontrollable virus, and its widespread effects, personally diminished by lack of social contact with others under a government which is struggling to cope and smitten by conflicts within itself. And much of the rest of the world lives amid far worse conditions. We may not understand but we can live and die in this wonderful hope through Jesus – that, in God’s time, he will gather all those who believe in him or who have believed in him, to live as his redeemed people in a redeemed community, on a redeemed earth and heaven together, with him as our shepherd-king and God as our ultimate Ruler.
Eternal God and Father, Jesus taught that he would establish his kingdom at the end of this present age. Give us faith to believe what we cannot understand and to prepare ourselves to be fit for your kingdom.
Monday 14th December
Living in God’s way
We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as children, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved… In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8.23-24a, 26-27)
There are probably times when we despair of the corruption of many leaders of the nations, all the refugees, all the crime, suffering, poverty, disease and deprivation; and abuse everywhere by the powerful over the helpless. But despair is not helpful and we must try to do what we can in terms of praying, giving, helping and influencing where we can – and trusting. For Christ will indeed come again, and establish God’s rule over the whole world, including creation; and we shall, then, be fully redeemed and receive our promised resurrection bodies.
It is so true; we don’t know how to pray for all this. So often, all we can do is to offer up a situation or someone who is suffering into God’s hands and pray for healing or redemption.
Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, we bring our troubled world before you. We will try to pray each day for at least one leader and one bad situation outside our own small world and we will try to live in hope and trust in you. May we be aware of the ‘first fruits of the Spirit’ in us, and be firmly united with you, that we may do your will for us now and always.
Sunday 13th December
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8. 18-22)
Neither the earth nor its people are now the way God intended. Creation is so beautiful but if you happen to live on an earthquake fault line or near an active volcano it will seem anything but perfect. And we, its people have so much potential for good in us – but also so much potential for evil. The Bible explains this in Genesis 3 in terms of the very first people disobeying God by eating the fruit God had forbidden them to eat and from then on using their intellects and gifts to make up their own minds how they wanted to live rather than following God’s way for them. Since they could no longer be trusted to be stewards of the earth God banished them from the Garden of Eden to the tough world outside where life would be hard. And so, Paul explains, creation itself fell into disrepair. But right from the beginning God planned that creation as well as humans, would be rescued and renewed.
O God our heavenly Father, we may not know why the earth has faults or why there is so much evil in the world – but we do know that we have not obeyed you, or your laws of love and stewardship. Lord, we are sorry…Forgive us…Help us…
Saturday 12th December
You however are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you…By him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8.9-11,15-16)
We know that we belong to Christ, not by following behind him or by reading about him, but by knowing, realising that he is in us, an essential part of us. And we will realise this by pausing, loving, and dwelling upon his giving his life for us, that we may receive eternal life – that is, his life in us, now and after the physical death of our bodies.
We will also realise this by letting the Spirit control our lives – by praying that we will do God’s will, by asking him to help us in all that we do, by praying that he will help us overcome our bad habits, our addictions, our careless ways. If we are fervent in these kinds of prayers, the Spirit does help us – though we might have to pray like this every day.
Abba, Father, we want to be good and self-controlled but we just can’t manage this for long on our own. Help us to accept this and put all we do before you. Help us to accept that we need you in everything. Help us to accept that you care about our lives and nothing is too trivial for your concern. Abba, Father, thank you that you love us so much. We love you, inadequately, but as we can…
Friday 11th December
The Kingdom…is within you
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is’ because the kingdom of God is within you.’ (Luke 17. 20-21)
This is one of the most important truths spoken by Jesus and perhaps one often ignored by us, his present day disciples. We may only partially comprehend the kingdom of God for it is way beyond our human understanding. But we may know it, within ourselves. For us, the kingdom of God is where Jesus is, walking beside us, carrying our sins in his suffering body, rising from the dead to give us new, resurrection life – his life – in heaven with the Father – the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is everything we need or desire for our fulfilment, our joy in life, our truth. Before he died he explained to his disciples, ‘I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.’ Again, this is a difficult concept to understand but a simple concept to know for ourselves. Jesus lives within us through the Holy Spirit. As we dwell on that thought we are changed. We are not just ourselves; we are ourselves with Christ within us.
Jesus, Son of God, our crucified, risen, ascended Lord, we cannot help to bring your kingdom to earth
on our own; but in you, we can begin and go on. We give you all our thanks and praise that you actually live within us when we love you. Help us to realise and meditate on your presence, to draw on your living water of love and your will. Help us to let this out to enable others, in your name Lord, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…
Thursday 10th December
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10. 13-16)
The disciples could never be sure of Jesus’ approval. They were only trying to protect him from being mauled by clamouring toddlers with sticky hands and their pushy mothers. And they would not understand at first what he meant. They were struggling to understand Jesus’ concept of the kingdom of God but they certainly hoped they would be included just because they were Jesus’ closest followers. But there was Jesus saying that these little ones – who did not even know about God or the law, who did not even try to be good but who just wanted to be close to Jesus – would be part of his kingdom. All they wanted to do was to sit on his knee, lean against him and look up at him with eyes of love…
Father, most of us have been around for a long time; we have worked out that we need to follow you. But we have our careers, our families; we have to see to everything – and it’s hard work. What do children do? They don’t work hard; they just want to be loved and to love; they are completely dependent; they just trust… Perhaps they have it right; Lord, help us to just love, to just trust and to put ourselves in your hands.
Wednesday 9th December
The Kingdom of God
O you of little faith! Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12. 28b – 34)
So what is this kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven that Jesus tells us to seek above all else? When Jesus talks of the kingdom of heaven being near he is not talking of a place where believers go after their death. He is talking about that state in this world where people live by God’s laws, where they look to him as the ultimate authority, or king. Jesus established this kingdom through his own life and work, through his suffering and death – and resurrection. By living by Jesus’ commandments, by believing in our forgiveness of sins through his death, by believing in his resurrection and the resurrection life he gives to us – we are in his kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God here and now.
O God our creator and redeemer, you have filled your world with beauty and energy and you just want us to trust you and love you. Give us the grace and the good sense to put you first, to ask Jesus to help us live by your commandments. Then our lives will work out and be fulfilled. Then we shall be living in your kingdom now in our lives on earth and for ever.
Tuesday 8th December
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, ‘You brood of vipers!’…Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…’ ‘What shall we do then?’ the crowds asked John answered, ‘Those with two tunics should share with those who have none and those who have food should do the same.’ Tax collectors also came to be baptised. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’ ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’ He replied, ‘don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’ (Luke 3. 7a,8a, 10-14)
These people who came to John to be baptised must have come because they felt wrong about themselves in some way- but they did not seem to know what they were doing wrong. Even the tax collectors and soldiers were so used to cheating people as part of their job that they didn’t think twice about the morality of it. But they did want to be baptised and made clean. It’s all part of following Jesus’ way of love: Sharing what they had with those who were without; being honest rather than taking advantage of people; not bullying, or lying at another’s cost; all of which may have come as a surprise – until they met Jesus and learned about his way of love for whoever was their neighbour.
Lord Jesus, we have been baptised into you; we know your commandment of love. Love is the law of your kingdom and we pray that we may be part of your kingdom. Jesus, we cannot enter your kingdom as we are. Help us to love; help us to receive your Holy Spirit.
Monday 7th December
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘ Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near…I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’ (Matthew 3. 1-2,11)
From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ (Matthew 4.17)
Repentance is a key word in Christian theology. And it is a word that puts a lot of people off Christianity. Why should we be sorry and miserable all the time? Well – there are two main aspects to repentance; yes, being sorry is one of them. But the other means a turning or a change of direction; a turning away from a self-centred life and a turning to Christ as the ‘way, the truth and the life’; becoming Christ-centred, in the sense of becoming united with him.
If we begin with that ‘turning’, then the ‘being sorry’ aspect falls into place. We are sorry when we realise that we have looked after number one before anyone else; when we do things that will harm others; when we do not even try to love others. We are sorry when we worship creation rather than the creator; when we seek other ways than Christ to fulfil our goal in life. We are sorry when we seek ‘life’ through other people or pursuits rather than receiving the life – eternal life – that he gives when we love him.
O God, we are sorry when we live without you. You made us for yourself, to be loved, and to love; you gave us your Son to bring us back to you. Jesus died that we might be forgiven, that we might begin again with a clean slate and know ourselves loved by you, secure and at peace.
Sunday 6th December
‘I am sending you’
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you!’ As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ (John 20.19-22)
It seems that God likes to work in his world through human beings – and especially through those who are disciples of Jesus. For he can communicate with us through his Holy Spirit and we can be his hands and his feet. I am sure those Christians in Antioch would pray before they sent help to their fellow believers in Jerusalem to make sure that was what God wanted them to do. And we too must be open to the Holy Spirit nudging us in the right direction. We must be like those whom Jesus said were ‘blessed’ in the beatitudes – humble, sorrowing, peace-making, pure in heart, with a passion for justice. These are the ones who will seek God’s will above their own, who will feel for others and sometimes allow themselves to get hurt. God works with and through those who love him.
Lord Jesus, you send us out into the world to love those we meet, to help where needed, to heal in your name. And to tell people about you – how you make us pure and give us your peace and eternal life. We cannot do all this in our own power. Breathe your Holy Spirit into me that I may help to build your kingdom around me.
Saturday 5th December
What can we do?
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution… travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch…telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus…The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world…The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11. 19-20, 26b – 30)
These disciples of Jesus were refugees, escaping from Jerusalem where Christians were being persecuted. Antioch, in Syria, was the third largest city of the Roman Empire, prosperous and cultured. The people there did not seem to have heard much about Jesus and the disciples were able to settle there for a while – and get on with the job of preaching to both Jews and Greek Gentiles there. But they never forgot their fellow Christians in Jerusalem who were living in fear and poverty. When they heard the prophecy about the famine their first thought, after worrying about them, was – what can we do to help them?
Perhaps this should be our reaction to those who are suffering most from the effects of the corona virus, those who have lost their means of livelihood and those who are plunged into isolation again. It is depressing. But don’t let’s leave it there. What can we do to help?
Lord Jesus, We are all one in you; one body, one church. May we feel for each other, love and help each other. Open my eyes to see anyone who feels uncared for. May I reflect your love and compassion to them.
Friday 4th December
Then Job replied to the Lord: I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge? Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42. 1-3, 5-6)
Job finally sees that God’s purposes are known to him and him alone and repents for his presumptuous manner and his angry words. He now sees that until now he has just heard about God but now he has ‘seen’ God, perhaps known his presence. He had addressed God honestly, making his feelings known, and it seems that God responded and gave him as much understanding as he needed. If God made known his plans for us, long term, it could be too much to bear at the time. We have to trust – and to trust we have to pray honestly to him from our hearts, in love and reverence for who he is. He does not send suffering as a punishment but he will help us bear it and may transform it to bring some good out of it.
Lord, if I have to suffer, help me not to be resentful for long, but to seek you. Give me the wisdom to offer up my suffering to you praying with honesty about how I am feeling and giving it to you, to transform, or shine your light into it, or just show me what I can do and give me strength to do it. May I accept that your long term plan for us is redemption from evil and eternal life with you. May that be enough for me; may I just love you.
Thursday 3rd December
For God does speak- now one way, now another -though man may not perceive it – In a dream, in a vision of the night…he may speak in their ears. Then the Lord answered Job…He said, ‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand…Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread his wings towards the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build his nest on high? (Job 33. 14-15a, 38.1-4, 39.26-27)
Although Job’s friends mostly insist that he must deserve all his suffering, one of them says these interesting words about the way God speaks to us. Ideas do come to us in the middle of the night, or someone says something to us that is exactly what we need to hear, just when we are not expecting it.
As to God’s way of answering Job, who could possibly reply? These are the wonderful mysteries of creation that only God knows. We have to accept that we do not know the cause of some suffering – or why some people suffer much and others little; or why God allows so much suffering to go on. But we do know that he understands it; that it was somehow necessary for his Son to suffer for our sake. And if we reach out to him in our darkest moments we somehow find comfort, a glimpse of light, even a way through…
Lord God, give me the gift of stillness and sensitivity to listen out for your voice and to hear you… Give me a sense of wonder and awe at the beauty and complexity of your creation and your deep healing love for your people. I don’t understand but I trust you and love you.
Wednesday 2nd December
‘I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, ‘Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands while you smile on the schemes of the wicked? Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees?’ If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me and consider what he would say (Job10.1, 3-4. 23. 3-5)
The Book of Job tackles the question of suffering at length, especially the suffering of the innocent. Although Job’s companions say he must have sinned to have all this suffering, Job knows that he hasn’t done anything too wicked and he is sure God is not punishing him for any sin he might have committed. But the question remains: Why? Why does suffering not necessarily happen to the wicked? How can we say that God is just when such dire suffering befalls Job; or when the whole world is suffering from the corona virus, if not falling sick or dying, then from its effects of cutting off normal life? If only God would give us the answers. Job pours out his feelings in the bitterness of his soul. Where is God’s justice?
Lord , the Bible says that you are a God of justice – but where is your justice now? Why are so many suffering all over the world? Especially those living in overcrowded situations, especially refugees who are helpless. How do we live in faith when you don’t tell us why? But Lord, we do believe in you. We know your love and compassion for us. Help us to do what we can – and trust in you.
Tuesday 1st December
Why do people suffer?
As he went along he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no-one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ (John 9.1-5)
Parts of the Old Testament do suggest that the good will prosper and the wicked be punished. It is an easy answer to why people suffer. Some of the Jewish religious leaders taught that there is no suffering without sin. Sometimes we can even find ourselves thinking, ‘I must have done something dreadful to deserve all this.’
Jesus plainly contradicted this as a general principle. When he was confronted with suffering he did not question the reason why. He did something about it, usually by healing. When the disciples asked, ‘Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus responded by making the blind man see thus revealing the ‘work of God’ and also demonstrating that he was the light of the world. We know that God does not send suffering and we know that suffering is not a direct result of sin.
Lord God Almighty, you sent Jesus to heal the sick and the suffering. Give us the faith to pray to him for the healing and wholeness of those who suffer in any way, and to ask him to work through us in helping. Only you have the ‘answers’ to why? Help us to trust in you, in your love and compassion and your ultimate redemption of all that is evil.
Monday 30th November
A Glimmer of Hope
How deserted lies the city, once so full of people… The hearts of the people cry out to the Lord… pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord… Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. The Lord is good to those who hope in him… for he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone… (From Lamentations)
Jerusalem has been destroyed. There is no temple, no worship, no ceremonial rituals. All the important people have been taken into exile. The city centres are empty, like our own.
Yet here there is a glimpse of light. There is a belief in God’s love and compassion for us. There is hope…And hope and faith open the way between us and God
Our normal worship is depleted; the vulnerable are isolated, our way of life, our social structure, the means of livelihood for many have been taken away. We lament what we have lost and how we are suffering. But what next?
Do we try to blame someone for the pandemic? Many do. The Chinese who started it? The government for not being prepared? God? No. ‘God does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.’ He brings healing and wholeness.
Father God, you see the sufferings of your people and hurt too. You sent your Son, Jesus Christ to suffer for us, to take our pain upon himself, to heal us. Come, Lord Jesus, make your presence known to me. Let me know your compassion and love.
A Cry of Lament
My soul is full of trouble. I cry to you for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend (from Psalm 88)
The Old Testament Book of Psalms is full of psalmists pouring out their hearts to God, telling him how they really feel – their depression, their pain, fear, anxiety. They come before God as they truly are, lay all their deepest emotions before him and hold up their hands to him in supplication. Most psalmists end on a note of hope, putting their faith in God, confident that he will help. This psalmist, however,expresses no hope. All he feels is lack of support, especially from God.
I am aware that this is not encouraging. I turned to Tom Wright’s little book, ‘God and the Pandemic’ and I was interested to read his suggestion that, in trying to cope with the effects of the pandemic, first of all we should lament. We don’t need to feel that we must be cheerful or that we can see the light of Christ at the moment. We can be honest and open before God. We can pour out our misery to him, tell him how we really feel – and know that he accepts us as we are.
Lamenting is realistic and not just a matter of moaning. It keeps our hearts from hardening; it keeps us open to receive love and to move on.
O God, I cry out to you with my disturbing thoughts. Listen to me, hear me with compassion and bless me just as I am. I pray that your light may shine into my darkness.
Advent is the time for preparing ourselves for Christmas, for the coming of God’s Son into our world. It is usually a time of expectation and excitement, a time of parties, family gatherings and celebrations.
But this year – what will Christmas be like? For normal life as we have known it has been taken away by the rapidly spreading corona virus: No parties, no big gatherings of family and friends or all that brings us together; loss of employment, loss of visiting our loved ones in care homes and hospitals; loss of the funerals we so desperately need; young people deprived of close contact with friends and social activities; old and vulnerable people isolated in their homes.
God – our loving, compassionate God – where is he in all this?
The first time round we could see he was there. There was a new spirit of friendliness and care as we all pulled together and related to our neighbours in a new way. We applauded NHS workers together, over our garden fences. We grieved over all the sickness and deaths – but felt we could go on making the effort until the virus would be overcome and we would be back to normal. And for a while, it almost was…
But within weeks a second spike in the corona virus epidemic brought on new restrictions. This time round the community spirit seems to have disappeared in waves of frustration and despair. But now there is hope. The vaccine is almost ready.
Meanwhile Advent is here. We need to prepare – with penitence and joy!
Lord God, give us hearts of new wonder and praise as we read your word, relate it to where we are now and become more aware of your love for the world, love that will not let us go, love that sent Jesus to us.