Planning for Christmas

We all do some planning for Christmas, some of us do a lot more than others. There are those who write meticulous lists and tick off each completed task with a sense of satisfaction, there are those who scribble notes to themselves on the backs of envelopes and frantically search their coat pockets to make sure none have been missed, there are those who hold it all in their heads – they know exactly what has and has not been done and purchased- without having to write any of it down at all!

I probably fall between the first and second category, I like to make a list but I am not always organised enough to have it all in one place or to tick off each completed item. On the day itself there are only two fixed events ; church in the morning and the Doctor Who Christmas episode in the afternoon; all else revolves around these two fixed points in a more or less organised manner. Some families run the entire day to a rigid schedule, with dinner timed to the minute and strict time limits on present opening  or after dinner napping.

Just over two thousand years ago a couple were planning their wedding, they had been formally betrothed and a day would have been set for them to come together as man and wife in the presence of family and friends in their community. their plans were interrupted when the bride to be was found to be pregnant and Caesar Augustus decided to take a census of all the world. The wedding was brought forward and the couple headed off for Bethlehem, their families no doubt hoping that, by the time they returned with a baby, the neighbours’ arithmetic would not be too accurate.

Of course, the arrival of this baby may not have been planned by his parents but in fact this child had been planned for so long and with such care that the schedule for his arrival makes the most careful list maker look last minute and slapdash in comparison. God didn’t wake up one morning and decide to have a son, the incarnation was not an idea sketched on the back of an envelope, the coming of Jesus had been planned from the beginning, when the Word  spoke creation into being he already knew at what point in history he was going to become flesh and dwell amongst us. Throughout the Old Testament the coming of Jesus and his saving work, revealing the Father to us and reconciling us to the Father on the cross, are foretold and foreshadowed. When Abraham in faith offers up his only Son, God provides the sacrifice; when Joseph is falsely accused and imprisoned, God vindicates him and raises him up so that he can save his people; when Benjamin is threatened with imprisonment, Judah steps in to take the punishment on himself; when a king is needed for Israel, Samuel is guided to anoint a humble shepherd boy; when the people pass out of Egypt, the blood of the Lamb protects them from the visitation of the Angel of Death.

Isaiah, writing 700 years before the event, proclaims the birth of the incarnate Jesus

“The people who dwelt in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the shadows a light has dawned…for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”

The Empty Tomb

hermitageno8 telling tales

untitled I slept last night – I did not think I would but after all the emotion of the last couple of days I was just exhausted and I eventually cried myself to sleep.

My dreams were not good, I kept seeing his face as they led him out of the garden, sad and resigned, the soldiers hard and angry, Peter and the others dismayed and defeated, Judas looking like a whipped dog, the shouting and jostling as they pushed past us on the path. Even worse, I remembered his back covered in blood, his muscles straining to carry the cross up the hill, the sound of those nails thudding into his flesh, the rattle of his breathing as he died and that awful, abandoned cry that dragged up from the depth of his soul.

I woke up in the cold, dark hours before dawn and, for a moment, I thought…

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angels part 2

Angels appear in the Bible in various roles, in this post I am looking particularly at the angels referred to as cherubim and seraphim.

The first angel mentioned in the Bible is the cherub who is placed with a flaming sword to keep fallen man out of the garden of Eden, this is  creature of power but no physical description of it is given. Cherubim are mentioned again when the ark of the covenant is constructed, they are effigies placed on the lid of the ark, winged protectors of the contents of the sacred box. The instructions of the temple include carvings of cherubim with their wings outspread in an attitude of protection around the holy of holies. David’s song of praise to God describes him as being “mounted on cherubim and flying on the wings of the wind.” Hezekiah refers to God as being “enthroned between the cherubim”, a reference to the presence of God resting on the ark in the temple.

When Isaiah has a vision of God in heaven he describes his attendants as seraphs, six winged creatures who fly around the throne worshipping God. They hide their faces with two wings and their feet with two and use the third pair to fly. Their voices make the doorposts of the temple shake, one of them flies to Isaiah to touch his lips with a coal from the altar thus preparing him for his mission. Ezekiel has a similar vision of the throne of God, he describes the winged creatures as cherubs and in his vision they have four wings and four faces and are accompanied by the wheels within wheels and covered with multiple eyes. There is enough similarity in the visions to say that both men were seeing the same thing, the throne of God in Heaven where he is attended by cherubim as represented in the temple carvings and the figures on the ark of the covenant. The differences in their accounts are likely due to the fact that both men struggle to find the language with which to describe their visions; they have been shown scenes beyond human understanding and so find that words are insufficient to express what they have experienced.

Cherubs and seraphs then, are the angels whose role is to worship at the throne of God in heaven. They are winged but they do not look human, they are not in the form of men although they have one human face. They are controlled by the Spirit, their worship is the true worship of the spirit. These are the hosts of heaven whose songs of worship continually surround the throne and are the most mysterious of God’s creatures.

angels part 1

People talk about angels, they are everywhere in art and jewellery, as Paul Simon observes there are “angels in the architecture” in churches and in secular buildings. There is almost a separate religion of angel followers without reference to the power they serve, there is a whole mythology around angels which, as it turns out, has nothing to do with the Bible where one might expect to find the definitive account of the angelic realm.

Angels are actually quite incidental to the Bible, it is the story of God’s relationship with man, not with any of his other creatures, but angels do appear from time to time and play a part in the human story. In the Old Testament there are three quite distinct categories of angel: 1. The Angel of the Lord; 2. cherubs and seraphs and 3. messengers and interpreters of visions who appear human.

THE ANGEL OF THE LORD.

This category of angel appears several times in the Old Testament, to Abraham he foretells the birth of Isaac and discusses the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah; with Hagar he offers comfort and reassurance. This specific wording “angel of the Lord” seems to signify more than just a messenger and may be read as the physical presence of God, ie Jesus appearing before the Incarnation when there is a need to talk on “human” terms. Hagar names the angel “God who sees me”, she believes that she has spoken with God himself. When the angel of the Lord comes to visit Abraham at the oaks of Mamre he is accompanied by two angels who head off to Sodom while Abraham converses with the Lord. Abraham has the courage to plead with God and even to haggle with him over how many good men it would take for the city to be saved. It seems that the angel of the Lord enables God to talk to his chosen people face to face. Joshua falls to the ground in worship when he meets the “commander of the armies of the Lord”; as the angel does not rebuke him it can be inferred that he is God incarnate as “ordinary” angels refuse worship as God’s alone. The following verses document a conversation between Joshua and God in which Joshua receives his instructions for the defeat of Jericho. Similarly Gideon meets the angel of the Lord in the wine press and then is able to talk freely to God. He is afraid that, having seen God, he will now die; another indication that the angel is actually GOD in person, concealing his glory in the form of a man as Jesus does later in the New testament, so that he can communicate more effectively with the people he chooses to lead the Israelites. The wife of Manoah is also afraid of dying after she meets the angel of the Lord who tells her that her son Samson is to be a Nazarene, her husband asks the angel his name and is told it is “beyond understanding”; the angel accepts a burnt offering thus confirming to Manoah and his wife that they have indeed seen God

Because God exists outside of time his incarnation can appear to people in the Old Testament before the actual event of Incarnation takes place in history. The son has been with the father and the spirit since the beginning, Jesus was not created or born at any time in history, he is an eternal part of the Trinity, co- existing with God outside of time. The Old Testament writers have no concept of the son of God as he has not been revealed in linear time and so his appearances are described as visits from the angel of the Lord. His acceptance of worship and burnt offerings are indications that he is God and his appearance is often followed by conversations between the person visited and the Lord which shows that the purpose of the incarnation is to enable people to know God and speak with him – exactly as it is in the New Testament.

Hope for the future

I had a lovely reminder today that here is hope for the future, a group of year 10 students had a lively, mature and thoughtful discussion about faith. They asked some really deep questions and listened carefully to one another’s ideas, there was some “banter” and we had a good laugh but they also showed that they can be sensitive and want to be informed.

In a society where young people are often portrayed as little more than zombies, I am greatly encouraged by the teenagers I have the privilege of working with each day and especially when dreadful events like the Paris massacre bring out the worst knee jerkery in many “adults”, it is good to be reminded that many of those who will be shaping the world of the future are fundamentally good and intelligent.

People often ask me why I work in education – and it certainly isn’t the money- and I have to tell them honestly that I do it because I love it, and today I loved even more than usual.

Je suis Charlie

Once again shocking news that armed terrorists have targeted unarmed people and killed them. The “justification” is that the satirical magazine they worked for had published cartoons and articles which the terrorists did not like. Just as the murderers of Drummer Rigby claimed that they were acting in retaliation for the actions of the British Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, the perpetrators of this hate crime in Paris will claim that there is some kind of logic to their actions, that the behaviour of the journalists and cartoonists somehow provoked this deadly response. The news media will repeat these claims as if they somehow explain the actions taken and we will accept until in our own heads it makes sense that, if someone says something you don’t like then it is OK to kill them.

It starts with trolls on twitter and other internet sites who hide behind distance and anonymity to make vile threats against people who express opinions they don’t like. Debate consists of reasoned argument, putting your point of view and listening to the opinions of others. Threatening to hurt or kill someone who holds an opposing view to your own is not debate or free speech- it is madness.

In the same way, explaining that the reason the Parisian journalists have been killed is because a drawing upset religious sensibilities is not logical; it is madness, insanity, anarchy. Sadly all our lives will become a little less free because of these few mad dogs, people will self censor, security will be tightened, the streets and offices of our every day lives will feel less safe. I don’t have a solution, I just feel very sad about this situation, I pray for sanity to prevail in the world and I mourn the tragedy of today’s events.

NEW TERM

The alarm went off awfully early today, the first day back at school, the end of the holidays. It was cold and dark as well as I shuffled downstairs to eat my breakfast, the lone bird singing in the garden anticipating the dawn. There was no sun this morning, the sky was resolutely grey and leaden, the air damp and cold as I cycled to work. Traffic was light as the children still had one more day of holiday to go, we were in for the joys of an inset day. The heating had been off for two weeks and the building resisted all attempts to increase the temperature, we huddled in our coats as the visiting speaker struggled not to shiver while she delivered her presentation at speed so that we could break for hot drinks. Tomorrow the term starts in earnest, students will be in, the school will be filled with their noise and laughter, the heating will be more efficient , the rhythm of the working day will be re-established. I have decided to be positive this year, to see the glass as always half full, to be like Pollyanna and always see the good in every situation. I am also trying to write something every day, to make myself put something on the blank page, however random it might be, making creativity a habit. Tomorrow the alarm will be just as early but the dawn will be earlier, too, the light will be increasing every morning until I am getting up in daylight. Now there’s something to look forward to!