|Pen and Ink Reflections||
John the Baptist is an angel. This is explicit in the biblical text, where Mark writes of them, quoting Isaiah, “behold I send my messenger ahead of you” – and the word used for messenger (as everywhere in the Greek text) is angelos - angel! John the Baptist probably does not fit the picture we have of an angel – no wings, no obvious glowing light, no message of peace. But he’s an angel. He’s pretty unmissable – wild, eccentric to say the least, and certainly not welcome at the average family tea table. As Jo has written in her brief Biblical commentaries in Insights for this season, “If he was a toddler someone might suggest his emotions were disregulated by his diet and he needed to calm down and get a good night’s sleep! Yet, his prophetic voice is one we cannot ignore. He reminds us that there is always a place for righteous anger and that sometimes the new and better requires actions of clearing and letting go that can be painful and disturbing to some. His voice acts as corrective to tendencies in some Christian circles to associate the gospel with niceness or respectability. John was not respectable. But his message was essential.” His was the message of a disturbing angel calling us to change.
So, angels are coming. How will we greet them? At once, perhaps we start to ponder: but what are we greeting? And are there such things as angels anyway? Modernity’s functional materialism has so much to answer for! From a Reformed Christian perspective today it is also sometimes hard to engage. For whilst the classic Reformed theologians were quite clear that angels are to be taken very seriously, as they appear in so many places in the Bible. Yet later thinkers have found less value. In some quarters of liberal and progressive Protestantism they almost became erased: rejected with supposedly passé doctrines like the virgin birth, miracles and even major articles of the historic creeds. Ironically, as liberal Protestantism declined, other faith constructions began to thrive, not least New Age spiritualities with their extraordinary mix of angelic and other speculations. Did demythologising thereby open the door to old heresies? - as well as to a loss of divine wonder in the secular world? Certainly, as Les Murray pondered in his poem ‘The Barranong Angel Case’, which we heard read earlier, do we have the capacity to see and receive the angels of Christian tradition today?
silence, dreams, and strength
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, once said that “somewhere we know that without silence, words lose their meaning”. When there is silence, words also become infinitely more powerful. An enfleshed Word, like an infant Jesus – remembering that the word ‘infant’ comes from the Greek for ‘not speaking’ – carries most meaning of all; ‘the Word without a word’ as T.S Eliot expressed it in his poem Ash Wednesday...
hope beyond queasiness
How do you relate to Mary in our Christian tradition? Even mentioning her name opens up a host of feelings and thoughts for so many. As the Danish literary historian Pil Dahlerup rightly said, in an article entitled ‘Rejoice, Mary’:
No woman and no deity in the Middle Ages attracted the poets like the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ. It is, however, hard to read what the poets write about Mary; we are inhibited by prejudices that block our understanding of what the texts are actually saying. Protestants dislike her because she is attributed divinity. Male chauvinists dislike her because she is a woman. Feminists dislike her because she is a woman in a way of which they disapprove. Nationalists dislike her because she represents an alien element in terms of creed and idiom. Marxists dislike her because they do not see her (in the North) as a figure of the people…
Despite this, we cannot avoid Mary in Christian faith. Not least, although women and their lives and gifts are so few and highly gendered in the Bible, Mary simply cannot be erased. So what do we make of her today?...
the voice that calls us home
Today, the second Sunday of Advent is traditionally devoted to the prophets – and in particular to the voices of second Isaiah and of John the Baptist as recorded by Mark’s gospel. Those voices, spanning the centuries, call us home from various kinds of exile...
how is your night vision?
I have to admit that my night vision is pretty terrible. In fact, I avoid driving at night for this very reason. I know I should be exercising my eyes and eating more vitamin A, but the reality is that I have never been able to see very well at night and age is only making things worse. I am not asleep – I just don’t see too well in the dark. But being awake and seeing in the dark are key to today’s gospel reading...
It is one of those lovely quiz questions, isn’t it – what do Barbados, Romania, the Ukraine and Scotland have in common? The answer is St Andrew of course, as their shared patron saint. In this COVID-19 year, that is something for which it is particularly important to wonder and give thanks. For in recent months we have, as a world together, been both divided by border closures, and united in suffering. On this Advent Sunday therefore, it is good to be reminded of our even greater connections in the immense hope to which St Andrew responded and shared with others. For Andrew’s witness is not least to the central importance of relationships, with God in Jesus Christ, with one another, and with the wider world. Today, as we celebrate the feast of St Andrew, and Advent hope, it is into such mission into which we too are called, and the joy which lies in such relational hope, beyond all the divisions and sufferings of our lives and world. Thus St Andrew should empower us to trust, and find new life, across our human borders and in the borderlands of suffering and joy, despair and hope…
bread and roses - the song of Mary
As you may be aware, there is a tradition in more Catholic Christian circles of using rose pink as a colour for this Sunday. For the third Sunday of Advent has often been known as “Gaudete’ – or ‘Rejoice’ – Sunday, and rose pink, became linked to it, as rose pink is also associated with Mary the Mother of Jesus. So, being a bit into colours at the moment, especially pink ones, I thought I’d do a little investigation into the subject. The first thing I came across was the Readers Digest guide to rose colour meanings It begins very interestingly. The red rose is said to symbolise love, and, I quote, is ‘Perfect for: freaking out your first date; covering beer stains; wooing a hunky bishop.’ So, something to bear in mind there? In contrast, according to Readers Digest, the pink rose is said to express grace and elegance, as well as sweetness and sympathy: and thus: ‘Perfect for: sick secretaries, (and) the platinum blonde in your life.’ Again, is there something useful for us to remember there? Well, maybe just a teens-weensy bit of gender stereotyping in that, don’t you think?! It is a little like many approaches to Mary, the Mother of Jesus …
4 x W
Four words to sum up the heart of the Advent season we enter today. Wait, wake, want and work. Wait, wake, want and work. I hope you’re listening because there will be a quick quiz later! Chocolates to those who can still remember those four over morning tea...
a time to wait
‘No room, no time, no way’
As the calendar flips over and we come to Advent, life can often seem this way. It can seem as though we simply have no room in our over crowded world for the ideas so central to Advent - silence, stillness, waiting. It can seem as though the time to attend to the things of God, is eroded by demands of hospitality, celebration and preparation. It can seem as though there is no way to change this, or to change the relentless patterns of our lives and world.
Yet this is to misunderstand the nature of waiting. I don’t know about you, but waiting is not something that comes easily. It can seem easier to rush onwards, seeking the next activity or the next opportunity. The slow natural processes of change and transformation can be a challenge to those of us raised to the high tempo of modern life. Our consumer culture reflects this, taking as its subtext ‘why wait’? Why indeed?...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney