Yesterday I was given a lovely apricot coloured patio rose and a ceramic pot to put it in. So this afternoon I planted it. I thought it would be straightforward, just planting a small rose in a pot, but it wasn’t. First of all I couldn’t get the rose out of the plastic pot. It should have come out easily, but it didn’t. I poked around with a trowel, pulled gently, gave it a good shaking, and finally it came out. I put the rose into the pot, and back filled with compost. Then I stood back ready to take a photo to send to the person who gave it to me, and with disappointment I realised the rose was not standing up straight, but had gone in with a rather pronounced tilt. I now had a choice; I could leave it as it was and hope it would straighten as it grew; or I could do something about it. I decided to try to straighten it, so I put a small stake in the pot, but when I stood back I could see the rose was still pulling to the side, and the stake made it look messy. So I removed the stake, and dug up the rose and started again. This time I took more care, making sure I held the rose straight while I slowly put compost in bit by bit. Finally I stood back, and could see that all my effort was worth it – the rose was now standing up straight. I gave it a good watering, took a photo and sent it to my friend.
Forgive the analogy, but I think there are times in our lives when God wants to do a similar thing in us. We may suddenly become aware there is something wrong deep inside us, and we realise we have been growing crookedly in our pots for a long time. It maybe that terrible things have happened to us in the past, or maybe not so terrible things that have still marred and marked us, and caused our growth to be stunted or somehow askew. Over the years we have probably found ways of coping, but there can come a time when God can re-plant us and help us to grow straight. It won’t be comfortable, being uprooted, shaken free of what holds us, our roots bare, and we will probably want some good, experienced friends to help us get through it. But God is a careful gardener, and He will do it as gently as He can. And from my own experience I can tell you it will be well worth the effort.
God rest you merry, Gentlemen, is one of the oldest carols, dating back to the 16oo’s, or maybe even earlier, and the first known printing was on a broadsheet in 1760. Although it is still often sung at Christmastime, the language now feels quite archaic, and could do with a little modern translation. The word ‘rest’ in the opening line means ‘to keep or cause to remain’, and ‘merry’ once had a wider meaning including ‘pleasant, bountiful, and prosperous’. So I quite like the idea that the carollers are wishing that we the listeners ‘remain in merriness, with abundant and generous prosperity’. I also love the meaning of the word ‘comfort’ which comes from Middle English, and derives from the Latin ‘com’, ‘ expressing intensive or extreme force, and ‘fort’ from the Latin ‘fortis’ meaning ‘strong, or to strengthen’. (Other words using the root ‘fort’ would be fortress and fortitude.) Later the word comfort came to also mean giving physical ease.
So this Christmas, may I offer you ‘merry tidings of comfort and joy’ – ‘that you remain in merriness, with abundant and generous prosperity, and that you are strengthened and made joyful by the news that Jesus is born’.
Advent for Christians is the season leading up to Christmas, starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. This year Advent began on 29th November, the earliest date possible. It’s a time when many traditional churches light candles, and Christians wait expectantly for Christmas Day when we remember the birth of Jesus, and look forwards to his promised return.
So what are we doing this Advent? Is it a special time? or are we absorbed in planning and logistics? Who to invite, who to ignore, and why? How much to spend, and who to buy presents for? What parties to host, and which parties to attend? What to eat and drink, and have we got enough? And above all, how do we get what we want, eat and drink what we want, and get to do what we want?
As a result, what should have been a blessed time for peace and reflection, we have made into a stressed time of soaking ourselves in materialism and over-indulgence. What began in a poor humble shelter has been commercialised and become all about money and corporate or personal gain. And what was a simple birth has become an excuse for gluttony and excess.
So what can we do about this, if indeed we want to do anything at all? How do we bring Advent and Christmas back to basics within all the busyness and responsibilities of modern life?
Well, I suppose I could try to take some time out of my frenetic preparations. Impossible you might say! But time-out doesn’t have to be hours and hours, just a couple of minutes of space and mindful thought can bring focus and rejuvenation. Perhaps I can think outside the box, and every time I go up the stairs, I can ask for His help in what I am doing. When I have that peaceful moment alone in the loo, I can ask God for patience in the turbulence of life. When I’m standing by the kettle, making yet another cup of tea or coffee, I can praise Him for the gift of friends and family. I can begin the habit of looking at things positively and endeavour to bring Jesus right into my busy life by my attitudes and the way I treat others. I can seek out the good, and stop thinking and behaving as if I am the most important person in the universe.
I dropped a shelf on my foot a couple of weeks ago. It hurt! WOW IT HURT! There was no one else in the house to hear, but I yelled out anyway, I couldn’t stop myself. I don’t know where the almost primeval sound came from, but it was from somewhere deep down inside. It didn’t even sound like my own voice; just a roar of extreme physical pain. And even after the shout it still hurt, so I cried a bit too.
We’re allowed to shout out and cry when we are hurt aren’t we? When we are cut or bruised or broken? But what do we do when the hurt itself is inside, when we can’t actually see it, but our innermost being is crushed or injured in some way? I don’t know about you, but I think I usually bite my metaphorical tongue, and shove the hurt down even deeper inside; where it can fester and grow and mutate unseen. Then sometime in the future it will undoubtedly pop up again, seemingly from nowhere, and cause me yet more pain. How much better to let it out, shout it out if necessary, and maybe with a trusted friend or professional, deal with it before it gets to be a problem.
PS Just in case you’re worried, my toe is getting better now, and only hurts a little 🙂
I awoke this morning feeling sorry for myself – not a good way to wake up! I’d slept badly, and tatters of disjointed dream images still clouded the back of my mind. I opened the curtains, the sky was as overcast and grey as I felt. I went downstairs, let the dog out and made myself a cup of tea. Then I slipped back into the warmth of my bed to do my daily Bible reading – today it was Psalm 62, maybe this would cheer me up. It starts, ‘My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken.’ “Well Lord,” I grumbled, still feeling sorry for myself. “I don’t feel very rested!” I sipped my tea, and stared out of the window; and the colours of next doors oak tree took my breath away. Oak trees are amongst the last to lose their leaves, and now the colours were finally changing and the leaves fluttering to the ground. The colours are simply glorious. With a quick glance from a distance, you might consider the leaves to be merely brown, but when you look more closely, the various intermingled shades of green, yellow and brown are amazing. My day has been lifted, not only by Psalm 62, but also by the unveiling of God’s beautiful creation.
As a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, I have been given the gift of eternal life.
What is eternal life?
If my life were a sentence –
My birth is a capital letter my death is a comma, and there is no full stop
My dog Charlie is a rescue dog, and after being a stray on the streets of Ireland, he can be quite fearful. When I enter the house after being out, Charlie is nowhere to be seen, although he must have heard the key in the lock and the front door opening. The house appears empty as if I have no dog at all, because poor little Charlie is hiding well out of sight in his bed under the stairs! I stand in the hall and call his name, and when he hears the sound of my voice he comes bounding out from the safety of his hiding place. He is so pleased to see me that not only his tail, but his whole body wags; he can’t contain his joy that I have returned to him.
While I was in church this morning, I got to thinking, and I wondered if we can sometimes be like that with God. In our worship we ask Him to be present, but do we then hide away, as if we’re frightened? Do we simply feel unworthy of His attention, or are we frightened of what He might do in our comfortable lives? Frightened of what He might say or ask of us? So I tell myself that I’m not important enough and He won’t miss me. I hide, retreat into myself and pretend I’m not there.
Then I hear Him call my name – He has noticed me, even me! Am I ready to throw caution to the wind, rush out and meet with Him? And like my dog Charlie, is my whole body so eager to greet Him that my joy over-spills?