(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)
Matthew 1:18–21 (NRSVA)
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’
Have you ever had your hopes dashed? Joseph was looking forward to seeing his hopes fulfilled as he married his fiancé and they started a new life together. Then, in an instant, everything he had hoped for was taken from him. His hopes were dashed, or were they? He received all he had hoped for but not in the way he expected. It reminds me of these words from a prayer written by an anonymous Confederate soldier in the US civil war: “I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.”
Poem: Joseph’s Diary
I wonder what would you do
If something like this happened to you
The wedding was only a few weeks away
We were all prepared for our special day
When Mary who was the love of my life
The woman who was to be my wife
Told me that she was to have a child
Any other man might have gone wild
Because the baby she carried wasn’t mine
She told me God had given a sign
That she hadn’t been with another man
This was all part of God’s plan
Well I didn’t know what to do
Being a good God-fearing Jew
So I decided to send her away
She could go to Elizabeth’s and stay
While I organised a quiet way
To call off the wedding with least affray
Then an Angel visited me
The brightest light you ever did see
He told me what Mary said was true
He told me what I had to do
To believe the message of this Holy one
Her child would be God’s own Son
I wondered if I was going insane
But the wedding was back on again
Father, sometimes I feel my hopes have been dashed. The things that I long for elude me and yet I know that you have plans for me, plans to give me hope and a future. Help me to trust in your purposes. Amen
TIP … from the blog
Theme: God makes all things new (Prayer sheet)
(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)
Luke 1:26–33 (NRSVA)
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’
Has God ever surprised you with an unexpected gift of hope? Sometimes God’s plans for us surprise us because we have not even formulated a hope. Mary’s unexpected visitor brought her news she was unprepared for and yet that news brought hope to the earth.
The words of an Iona carol come to mind: “God surprises earth with heaven/Coming here on Christmas Day.” Allow God to surprise you!
Poem: Mary’s Diary
Dear Diary, the strangest thing happened today,
I was in my room, I’d just started to pray
When from the sky came a blinding light
There stood an Angel shining bright
I wondered how could this be
As the Angel spoke to me
He said “Mary be not afraid”
“In your womb God’s son is laid”
I wasn’t afraid, I was terrified
I was sure the Angel must have lied
I knew I couldn’t be pregnant you see
Why did this have to happen to me?
But the Angel promised it was true
My son would be the King of the Jews
Of all women, God had chosen me
This child would set his people free
What could I say, I couldn’t say no
So all I said was “Let it be so”.
Lord God, you so often surprise us. Thank you for the unexpected gifts which bring hope and joy into our lives. Amen.
(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)
Luke 1:24–25 (NRSVA)
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
Have you ever given up hope? Sometimes God answers our prayers when we have almost given up hope of an answer. Elizabeth had given up hope of conceiving a child and yet with God all things are possible.
What hopes do you have that are yet to be fulfilled, what prayers await an answer? Do not give up hope, trust in God!
Poem: Elizabeth’s Diary
Things are quiet round here at the moment, but what do you expect when Zechariah’s lost his voice. And he says it’s women who do all the talking.
Still can’t believe I’m pregnant, at my age, what you would call a miracle I suppose. Thought I felt it move today; maybe it’s just indigestion.
Got a letter from our Mary – Poor lass is pregnant. That Joseph should have known better. Anyway she wants to come and visit for a while. Don’t blame her. A baby is not the sort of secret you can keep in a place like Nazareth. She should be here any day now.
Mary came today and I definitely felt the baby move. It wasn’t indigestion; more like dancing to me. When I told Mary she began to sing a beautiful song like the one Hannah sang in the scriptures. I’ve a feeling this baby of Mary’s is going to be even more important than Hannah’s Samuel. Mary says she conceived of God and amazingly I believe her.
Zechariah still said nothing but I know he thinks this is really special too.
Father, we thank you that all things are possible and that our times are in your hands. We bring you the hopes and desires of our hearts, trusting that your purposes will be fulfilled in our lives. Amen
(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)
Isaiah 9:6–7 (NRSVA)
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
What do you hope for during Advent? The hope of so many during Advent is that Santa will bring them the ideal present or that Christmas dinner will be cooked on time and yet surely the true hope of Advent is a time when God’s kingdom as described by Isaiah becomes a reality in the lives of us all.
In the services of Advent
No one listens to what they sing
Of a child born in a manger
Who came to be their King
In the festivities of the season
No one has the time to pause
To reflect upon the Christ child
They’re too busy with Santa Claus
In the merriment of the celebration
No one stops to question why
We are stuffing ourselves with turkey
Followed by mince pie
In the noise of the parties
No one can hear the voice
Of the Angels singing “peace on earth”
As the heavenly hosts rejoice
In the busyness of Christmas
See them rush right by the stall
In which lies a little baby
Who came to redeem us all
So in this season of Advent
Let us pause to remember Him
Whose birth it is we celebrate
Whose praise it is we sing
Lord, as we journey through this season of hope let us hold on to the promises we find in scripture and look for your coming among us afresh and the establishment of your kingdom of justice and peace among all nations. Amen.
For this post I’ve selected an excerpt from Seasons of Grace by Ann Lewin that explores the similarities between prayer and bird watching. It’s taken from a chapter entitled, “Material for use in a Quiet Garden” and includes one of her poems, “Disclosure”.
May her words inspire us to contemplation and get us in the mood for prayer and a little bird watching of our own.
Bird watching has taught me that all is gift. I may go out hoping to see a particular bird – but it may not be in evidence. I can’t control the movement of the birds. And if I am too intent on seeing one particular bird, I may miss a lot of other things that are around. Prayer is like that:
Prayer is like watching for the
Kingfisher. All you can do is
Be where he is likely to appear, and
Often, nothing much happens;
There is space, silence and
No visible sign, only the
Knowledge that he’s been there,
And may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
You have been prepared.
But sometimes, when you’ve almost
Stopped expecting it,
A flash of brightness
So it’s all gift. The work we have to do is be prepared, in the right habitat, with the right disposition. And then we have to respond, with thanksgiving for God’s amazing love which cares even for the sparrows, endangered species that they are.
from Seasons of Grace by Ann Lewin, pp. 208-9
poem from Watching for the Kingfishers, p. 23
I recently saw kingfisher nests in the Biesbosch on an outing with my Iona regional group, but no sightings of kingfishers, unfortunately.
The Dutch call these birds “ijsvogels” (ice birds). In France they are named after St. Martin of Tours: Martin Pêcheur (St. Martin’s fisher). I think I like the name “kingfisher” best.
Video of kingfishers building their nests
– An in-depth discussion of the poem, “Disclosure”
– Liturgy featuring some of Ann Lewin’s writing
See also In the school of prayer with Eddie Askew.