Sunday, December 30, 2018

Goodbye 2018, Welcome 2019.

Early this morning as I looked out of my window I was a little surprised. Everything was white! In upstate New York on the last Sunday of December that really shouldn’t have shocked me. Yet it did, as it was very unexpected. Certainly, not what my weather app had told me before I went to bed. The forecast had been no more snow until next Friday. The weather has certainly been very changeable. A lot of snow for a few weeks culminating in a crisp white Christmas (always lovely), a couple of days later a surge in temperature causing a thaw with the ensuing glimpse of green grass again . . . for a day! Now snow stretched before me white and unmarked. A fitting sight for the last Sunday of the year. A reminder that a new year, as yet untouched, is before me. 

A couple of lines from the popular Christmas song—which made the Christmas number one spot in 1973—came to mind. 

 “Look to the future now. It’s only just begun.” (Slade)

So, the last Sunday in December has arrived — the last Sunday of 2018. Perhaps, a time to look back and a time to look forward simultaneously. I’ve reached an age where I am aware of how short and fragile our time on earth is—this year has flown by. Life is a gift and should never be taken for granted. I’ve always liked the idea of the analogy of life as a journey. The journey may be smooth or have rough spots, have ups and downs, deep sorrows and joys, but that is all part of our humanness. 

The text for today (Luke 2:41-52) talks of a journey. One undertaken by a young Jesus and his earthly parents. I’m sure their annual trip to Jerusalem for Passover festival was something of a highlight in their lives. The text tells us they travelled with a large crowd, presumably friends and relations were part of the group. The journey was probably a large part of the overall event. I know whenever Andy and I travel we enjoy the journey, we listen to books, we see new places, sometimes passed through quickly and seen from the road. Occasionally lingered at and experienced for an hour or two. 

In today’s story, after the festival, as they journeyed home the parents realised that Jesus was missing. They had assumed Jesus was with some of the others in their party. They returned to Jerusalem and found him in the temple. 

The reading contains some lovely phrases and ideas that I want to highlight. The first idea is that Jesus sought to be with those who he could learn from. Jesus listened and questioned (46). I thought about this in relationship to part of our community prayer, “to find Christ in those we meet.” Everyone has something to offer me and teach me, I just need to listen.

The next idea I want to highlight is the comment about Mary who “treasured all these things in her heart” (51). I love that idea, special moments, special joys being treasured in one’s heart. As I thought about it I can’t number how many times Andy and I have thought about and reminisced about special times. They are close to our hearts. These treasures help through the rough times.

The last idea from the text is the closing sentence. Although in the reading it is specific to Jesus, I want to think about it more generally. The wording is “increased in wisdom and in years.” (52) What an encouraging thought that is. What a hope. As physical aging occurs there is the possibility of an increase in wisdom. Life experiences on the journey are not wasted, they bring wisdom.

Soon I will go outside and step into the snow. I will leave my footprints, I make my mark on it. Each step is like a new beginning, treading a path previously untrodden. In 2019, whatever the year brings, I want every moment to count. 

“Look to the future now. It’s only just begun.” (Slade)

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Noticing Kindness.

Over the last few months I have read or heard several times that the world is becoming a more selfish place. It set me thinking— is this true? Or is this simply a media image?  Perhaps, because doom and gloom incidents make better headlines!

My awareness was raised. I decided to start to notice kindness, as an antidote to selfishness. I was amazed. Once kindness starts to be noticed it is all around. Mostly it is little acts of kindness, things that before awareness was raised would have gone unnoticed. 

Today, is the third Sunday of Advent. The third candle—the pink one— is lit. It represents joy. A reminder that even in a solemn season of preparation, joy can be found. Joy and kindness are deeply linked. 

This week at work a small boy was engaged in making a flower out of beads. He worked hard and long during his breaks for two days. When it was completed he announced that he was going give it to an older child. He had noticed the other child had seemed unhappy. It was a small act of kindness. As he found the older child and presented his gift her face broke into smiles and she hugged him. His act of kindness brought joy to another.

The lectionary reading today gives some hints about acts of kindness, which I’m sure would bring joy to others. The text (Luke 3:7-18) is a story of John the Baptizer talking to the crowds, warning them that their lives need to change. John gives three examples which can be useful when exploring kindness,

The first example is, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” (11). 

The second illustration is about tax collectors. They are told “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you” (13). 

The third reminder is “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages” (14)

As I read these three principles I saw acts of kindness illustrated which would bring joy to others and to self . . . generosity, sharing, honesty and satisfaction with one’s life. 

For me, noticing kindness has been an interesting and fruitful exercise. I would recommend it. Noticing kindness daily in all the small things brings much joy.

I wish everyone a happy and joy filled third Sunday of Advent.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Hopeful Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent, the beginning of the church’s year is a time of preparation. A whole year stretches before yet to be written on. What will it bring? Will I be prepared to meet the challenges and share the joys? 

Today, our advent wreath is prepared for the lighting of the first candle at Eucharist. The first purple candle which signifies hope. The other four, for later weeks, are the candles of peace, joy, love and the white Christ candle.

Hope, the first word to linger with this advent. I been thinking a lot about hope and what it means. The dictionary interprets hope as “a feeling of expectation” and “a desire for a certain thing to happen.” My thinking has been more about what do people hope for? What is their main need? Need drives hope. 

Yesterday, Andy and I went to the cinema to watch Boy Erased. A thought provoking film depicting the true story of a teenager struggling with the reactions of his family to him being gay. I would urge all to go and see it if possible. It is quite disturbing as it showed the boy going through conversion therapy. Over the years, a gradual change occurs in the family led by his mother as she slowly emerges from the bonds of patriarchy. 

The young man’s hope was for acceptance of who he was. His desire was that his family love him rather than change him into some idealistic image of the perfect son. Perhaps acceptance is a big hope for everyone.

Today’s gospel lectionary (Luke 21:25-36) is part of apocalyptic literature. It talks about fear, foreboding and distress. It continues by urging the reader to note all these awful things as signs that the realm of God is near. 

Personally, I think that these verses were included in the gospel to give hope to a people under dire persecution. They were in a time of fear, distress and imminent death. They needed to hear that everything was in control to give them the strength and courage to go through the persecution. Together with the hope of better things to come. A doorway to a future. Perhaps one of the best depictions of that doorway is in C.S. Lewis’ final Narnia novel, The Last Battle.

Yet both the film and the reading made me realize how much strength and courage is linked with hope. It is the hope of a better future that gives one strength to face the now. 

The text also urges the reader to look to nature and see the signs portrayed therein. It feels a very Celtic thing to do. So, this first Sunday of advent I look out of my window to see signs of hope. I see squirrels piling pine cones in hope of food to survive the cold months. I see trees showing the beginnings of buds in hope of the bloom to come. I see the clouds looking heavy with snow ready to give a brand new, clean, untrodden path.

May this week be filled with hope for all.