Saturday, 11 December 2010

Reflective Blessing

Our forefathers chose to use this
cold and dark, inhospitable season,
to mark the hardness of the world
into which Jesus was born,
and into which many children are born each day,
in poverty, in conflict,
without a safe place to rest and live and thrive.

“Jesus” means God Saves.
And for many people today, as in Jesus' day,
salvation is a really physical, material thing:
safety from enemies, from abusers,
salvation from hunger and thirst,
from cold and disease.

And all of us, at some stage in our lives,
sense a need for salvation,
healing from sickness of body or soul,
freedom from oppression, bullying,
and the internal and external voices telling us:
"you’re not good enough"
"you can’t change the world"
"you can’t do things any better",
oppressing us with guilt

Into the remotest reaches
of the most marginalised people in the world
- and into the cold darkness of our hearts -
the Light of the World comes:
One, short Life,
lived in one small country,
yet transforming hundreds, thousands of lives
in his own day
The light was passed on,
other Hearts were warmed
till they too glowed with the love of God.

He died.
stripped and paraded before the people
hounded out of town.
This is how God chooses to be Immanuel
God with us.
God in Christ
doesn’t avoid the dirt or the darkness.
God in Christ
reconciles the whole world, through his death.

As wick touches wick,
we are united in the darkness of death;
but the Warmth of God in Christ
brings life that death cannot destroy.
Rekindled to a new life.
Everything is possible.
You don’t need to be good enough.
You don’t need to change the world.
You don’t need to do things better.
Christ, the Light, is in you,
and his Warmth is Bright enough for all to see.
In him all things are possible
all things are new
and the world will never be the same.

Light, in our darkness,
kindle a flame.
Let your warmth glow in
and through us.
Let us like Mary be willing
bearers of your light,
trusting you
for outcomes and consequences;
Let your Holy Spirit bring
the new life of the children of God
to dwell in us,
so that the whole world may have
light in place of darkness,
hope in place of despair.

In the Community of all your children,
May the cold be warmed,
May the homeless find refuge and rest;
May the hungry be fed,
May the thirsty be satisfied,
The sick healed
and prisoners find true freedom
May we be united in peace
as children of Light
This Christmas, and in eternity.

I wrote this for our Christmas Carol Service in the University of Ulster last Tuesday, to be co-read with my wonderful assistant chaplain, Katherine Rush.

The picture is my own. If you'd like to use it, please let me know.

An Advent Prayer

A number of people seem to have found this prayer helpful, so I thought I should post it here.

Week 2 - HOPE Came Down at Christmas : Isaiah 9:1 -7

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan —
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

Loving God, you know the anxiety of poverty,
the gnawing fear of the next bill,
how to feed the children, care for the sick.
You know the brokenness of dreams and ideals,
and the cynicism that hardens hearts
and crushes community.
You know too the foolishness of faith in wealth
and the mystery of great generosity in times of crisis.

This Advent season, we look to you, God,
Father of Jesus, our humble and joyful Lord,
who laughed and cried,
lived abundantly and died terribly
to be with us in every season of life and death.

We look to you, because you have been there;
be our Counsellor, our wise guide through these dark days;
fill us with the hope of those who know their Saviour is coming,
fill us with the love of those who know ourselves deeply loved
fill us with the songs of those who know our struggles are not eternal.

Give us hope in you so that we may be generous and not hoard,
fill us with confidence in your goodness
and gratitude for your faithfulness,
so that our children may live lives of hope.
Shine in us as light in the darkness,
a testimony to the end of war,
an alternative to violence,
and abundance instead of poverty and injustice.

May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth...

The prayer was written in Geneva, while discussing Mission, Justice and Partnership between churches in the strategic planning for World Communion of Reformed Churches. I was thinking of the implications of the economic difficulties facing the Republic of Ireland and beyond. The Bible text was the one I was given, when Margaret Clarke asked me to write the prayer.

The full set of prayers written for Advent is on