Reflection for Wednesday in Holy Week: An act of pure devotion

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If she had hoped her actions would go unnoticed, the beautiful all-embracing scent was always bound to give away her act of quiet devotion.

Whilst others chatted away at table, Mary slipped into the room and knelt at the feet of Jesus.  Then with costly perfume, she bathed the feet of Jesus.  It was an act so extraordinary that inevitably others would feel the need to comment and, of course, not in favourable way.

Who did she think she was being so presumptuous? How dare she act in this way? Some, of course, hint darkly at erotic motivation.  And what was Jesus thinking in letting her do something so improper?  It was wasteful, inappropriate, intrusive, unnecessary… the list goes on and all to say it should not have happened.

The comments merely all go to show that they did not understand.  They do not understand her actions because they do not understand Jesus.   Quite simply this is an act of devotion.  Later commentators may want to link it to a preparation for the burial of Jesus but first and foremost this is an act of love, of undiluted love, unconditional love.  She cannot help but do this.

When we truly understand the events of this most holy of weeks, and their significance fully dawns in our minds, hearts and souls, then we too will not be able but to find the costliest perfume, kneel and bath His feet.  Mary is not washing, she is worshipping.  This is the only full, right and proper response to all that Jesus does and all that Jesus is.

When the words are silenced, the questions stopped and the explanations forgotten, there will still be a scent in the air and a woman kneeling.

May I this Holy Week kneel with Mary, worship and adore.

 

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Reflection for Tuesday in Holy Week; Don’t assume the worst even in the dark

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On the edges of the trial of Jesus a group of women warm themselves by a fire. A man slips in to join them, nervously looking around – for him the presence of the fire is more about cover than warmth.  One of the women thinks she recognises him and says: Are you not one of the friends of Jesus?

So what do you think prompts the question?  The traditional assumption is that these women are part of the braying mob and if the man admits to knowing Jesus then he will be put on trial too.  The man – Peter by name – assumes this too and continues to deny any association about Jesus.

But why do we assume this?  Imagine it played differently and Peter admitted knowing Jesus.  Suddenly a flood of new excited questions:  Go on tell us what is he like? Did he really do miracles? Can he walk on water?  Did he really say God is his Father?

Peter does not just deny knowing Jesus he also assumes the worst of the women.  He presumes those around the fire will betray his presence but just as likely those around the fire would have offered comfort and sympathy.  When Peter flees as the cock crows, and in his running away proves his real association, there is no reference to the woman shouting to the guards to catch him – they had no interest in making more trouble – at worst just curious and at best potential fellow disciples.

When we are walking in the dark it is too easy to assume that all around us is malevolent and threatening.  Yes it is easier to trip or miss the path when it is dark but if you let yourself get accustomed to the dark there are wonderful shapes and sounds that open up a new and wonderful, if mysterious, landscape.  And if you look up just maybe you will see some stars.

Peter is for ever known as the one who denied Jesus.  He earns this title because he assumes the worst of those around him.  Even when we are not in such a tight corner as Peter, we too can too easily assume the worst of others or of a given situation.  Even when the landscape shifts do not assume the worst – to assume the worst is only to make the darkness darker.

This Holy Week as we walk once again the way of the Cross do not think the worst of all those characters caught up in the story.  And do not think the worst of either those who do or who do not keep this week as holy.  And when you come to stand before the Cross remember He never thinks the worst of you – in fact only the best.

A Reflection for Monday in Holy Week: Stop blaming Judas

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Once again in church I have sat through St John running down Judas.  I know it is not a popular thing to be critical of the gospel that stands in the Beloved Disciple’s name but without taking away from its profound nature, his treatment of Judas is a disgrace to the Church.  It is the worst kind of tabloid sensationalism – a determination to dish the dirt on a character we know has done something wrong.  None of the other gospel writers feel the need to go for this gutter journalism but John is determined to tell us how not only did he betray Jesus but he was a thief and did not care for the poor. The message is clear – he had always been a wrong ‘un.

Remember Judas is chosen by Jesus, a favour few enjoyed. It is everybody’s favourite  Peter who is actually addressed as Satan.  Where is the litany of the disciples who just ran away and did nothing.  And at least Judas does show genuine remorse – too late perhaps – but we hear nothing of the remorse of those who ran away.

It is too easy to heap all the blame on Judas. What of the action of the Pharisees, Pilate and those who lied in court, the soldiers that did not need to mock him, the crowd who could have called for his release or blocked the way to the site of crucifixion, or the execution party who could have refused to use the hammer and the nails.  It took the actions of many people to bring Jesus to death but it is easier to savage the character of Judas and leaves him the blame. Paint him with horns and forked tail and we are off the hook.

If you are looking for someone to blame then blame me.  It is my denials and betrayals, it is my lies and cowardice, it is my refusal to speak up, to stand up for right, it is my hiding in the crowd, my refusal to stop doing that which I know is wrong that took him to Calvary.  I will not blame Judas.  I will not judge him.  He is no more responsible than I.  It is I that paved the path to Calvary – and still do day after day.

I will not deny my part but – and this is the deeper mystery that it will take all my life (and perhaps beyond to understand – if I prepared the nails it was nothing less than Love that held Him there upon the cross.

Palm Sunday 2018 – Three images for reflection

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Image one: Standing outside the Forum in the centre of Norwich.  10am and the city is just waking up.  The city centre churches have gathered for the Blessing of the Palms.  And looking out over the market, the shops and the castle, the Cathedral Choir start to sing:

Cumque audisset populus quod Jesus veniret Hierosolymam exierunt obviam ei.

(When all the people heard the cry that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem, they went forth to meet him.)

Their clear and soaring voices felt like the most beautiful gift to the city.  Few were passing by and fewer still perhaps cared or noticed but it still felt like a precious act.  A little yeast added to the mix of this fine city.  Yeast often goes unnoticed and those who enjoy the final bake are unaware of its presence, but without the yeast the bake would no be all that it is.

The daily offering of worship at the Cathedral goes on largely unnoticed but that does not matter.  Listening to the choir’s voices echoing over the city I only know that I understood that it is the doing of it, not the attention it is given, that matters.  In some profound way the Cathedral’s daily offering of worship is part of what makes this place a fine city.

Image two: Walking in procession through the city behind Spice, the donkey.  Faithfully plodding on wherever he is led, an occasional stumble on the paved stress, the occasional comfort needed when there is an unexpected noise.  And there on his back, and on the back of every donkey, the imprint of the cross.  This most put upon of beasts for ever associated with the put upon man Jesus.

There are stories of mountains forged on Good Friday, of the Robin and his blooded breast turned red by plucking a thorn from the brow of Christ and the Swallow’s cry for ever echoing the word salvation.  With our wisdom we can give other less fanciful explanations but in and through these tales is the message that people down the ages have wanted told: the events we recall in Holy Week matter.  These are eight days that change the world – nothing was ever, could ever, be the same again.  Two thousand years on and still this story is not forgotten, still it fascinates and draws people.  Humble donkey and the love of God forever bound in the same story.

Image three: The story of the trial and death of Jesus has been sung.  The large congregation in the Cathedral sit in a long and profound silence.  Remembering the Passion of Jesus there is no other adequate response – no rush to words or explanations, just silence.  In the face of such sorrow (and love) only silence will do.

Emma Gonzalez, Parkland High School shooting survivor, dared to hold  6 minutes 20 seconds of silence in her speech at the March for our Lives Rally in Washington DC – the time it took the gunman to enter the school and kill seventeen victims.  In the face of such tragedy her silence was stronger than her impassioned words.

We rush too quick to comment, to judgement, to reaction.  Walking through Holy Week there needs to be much silence.  Only in silence will we begin to enter into the mystery of all that God has wrought for us, the revelation of a love beyond words.  Silence embraces us, and if we will let it, draws us deeper in until we understand not with our mind but with our heart and our soul.

 

Learning from snow

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Early Wednesday morning and the world was beautifully transformed. A thick carpet of snow had reshaped the world. Everything looked different and the light reflected from the snow brought a new perspective to familiar landmarks. Rightly at our Morning Prayers in the Cathedral did we offer praise to the Lord of the Snow.

There is something exciting about the first fall of fresh snow. Children (and adults!) long to be outside and to play in this wonderful winter wonderland. For awhile wet gloves, cold noses and snow-clogged boots are forgotten amidst the fun but soon the call of the warm, dry indoors can not be ignored.

The once beautiful virgin snow is now a mass of footprints and the odd snow people, and paths start to become slippery. Vehicles are churning up the roads, cars start to be abandoned and in the wind the snow starts to drift. After the initial excitement a different reality sets in. It is fun to be off school but what about child care? Taking one snow day from work is a treat but key appointments start to be missed and we worry about the back-log of work we will face on our return.. And quickly we become conscious of isolated and vulnerable individuals for whom the snow starts to make their lives a prison, cut off from the daily support so essential to their lives.

It is surprising too how quickly the supermarkets start to run out of items especially fresh produce. All their smart delivery systems suddenly come unstuck as supplies chains come unstuck in the snow. Thankfully the local market stall seems to be able to produce a much better range of fresh vegetables despite the snow. Meanwhile at the first whiff of unusual weather trains are cancelled and buses stop running.

Snow teaches us a very important lesson. We are not as much in control of things as we often like to think. We have become so used to living our lives independent of the rhythms of nature, it comes as a bit of shock to the system to find nature still has the upper hand. We delude ourselves into thinking that we have subdued nature to our will but snow say otherwise.

Such is our surprise at such unpredictable weather that we have to give it names such as the Beast from the East or Storm Emma, as if somehow naming it helps us to feel more in charge of events. However all such name calling really reminds us how we are grown out of harmony with nature and how little attention we play to the elements that govern our planet. We have become poor at reading the signs of the times.

We are called to be stewards of all God gives us in creation but we have not been content with that and have rather sought to be masters of the created world. In our arrogance we ignore the evidence of our failure. The impact of climate change is all around us, oceans are polluted with plastics, in many of our cities air quality is damaging the lives of our children and too many species are facing extinction thanks to human action. We are proving poor stewards of this precious planet. Even when we are faced with the consequences of our actions, as demonstrated by the distressing scenes shown on Blue Planet 2, we are still slow to change the lifestyles that reap shut harm on our planet.

As the cold wind bites, our feet slip on the ice, and our too-precious car is buried under a white blanket it is time for us to learn the lesson of the snow. When the weather forces its attention upon us, it is a necessary reminder that we have to live lives in harmony with the created order. We are part of God’s work of creation not set apart from it. The different elements of the creation, and the very heart of its mystery and its wonder, means that nature will always impact on our lives in ways big and small and by the same token the way we live our lives will impact on the natural world around us, again in ways big and small. Our survival is intertwined with the rest of God’s creation. We must not be so foolish as to think that we are so amazing and masterful that we can carry on as if we were independent of the planet on which we are set.

We need to live lives more in tune with Creation and that begins by living lives more in harmony with the Creator. This season of snow is an important reminder of this fundamental truth but when the snow melts will we once again forget?

Time for the Church to resist centralisation and let the local flourish

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Malcolm Guite in his Poet’s Corner in the Church Times on 2nd February 2018 invites us to join CAMRE – the Campaign for Real Evangelism.  His inspiration is the growth of microbreweries and the local brews challenging the nation brands. He writes:

 

Perhaps we should see each small parish as a kind of microbrewery, combining an ancient recipe with local ingredients for a lively, distinct, and refreshing gift to its own community.

As the world is discovering the importance of localism, the Church of England seems busy following an outdated business model and be determined to strive for ever more centralisation.  The Church’s (alleged) great hope, Renewal and Reform, seems to be leading this mistaken big business model.  Bishops and Dean are to be shaped by new MBAs, theological courses and colleges are becoming more standardise, national programmes such as Alpha, Emmaus, Pilgrim are promoted as the new essentials and posts grow at Church House to over-see this new brave world.

A similar process is seen at work in the new Cathedrals Review Group report.  There is talk of a “cathedral sector” and a greater control over the way they are both governed and operated, additional reporting and creation of new “dashboards” to allow quick comparison – which presumes they have been made “alike” so like can be compared with like.

The fear in all of this is of the eccentric, the maverick, the individualist, the one who may go off message.  The dread is the uncontrolled individual (or individual church) saying or doing some that may bring the Church “reputational damage”.  Yes things go wrong (though we forget more often how they go right) but making change because of occasional mess-ups represents a failure to learn from the old adage that bad cases make bad laws.  Too often governments rush to legislation when something goes wrong and unintentionally can make things worse.  Centralisation, more control, more standardisation, will not protect the Church from mess-ups, but it may end up making the Church so bland nobody will care whether the Church messes-up or not.

The lesson from the Brexit referendum is that people do not like centralisation.  The yearn is for decision-making to be as close to the people it affects as possible.  Sadly the Church seems as slow to learn this lesson as many others in positions of power in our society. In many parishes Diocesan House can seem remote and out of touch and in turn Church House in London seems irrelevant.

Above all this creeping centralisation goes against the core Christian doctrine of Incarnation.  Jesus is made flesh at a particular moment of history, in a particular location. His words and his actions reflect the local context he was in.  Similarly in our own age each priest is called to incarnate the gospel in their own unique setting.  Each priest needs to be released to be their own microbrewery taking the three essential Kingdom ingredients named by Malcolm Guite as “Golden Grain, Living water and Secretly Working Yeast”.  Of course not all the brews will be the best fermentation and it may take several goes before something drinkable is achieved but as many a CAMRA member will tell you, these local brews usually knock the socks off the mass-produced, big brand alternatives.

It is time for the Archbishops’ Council, Church House, the House of Bishops, General Synod et al to let go and let be.  Release the levers of power and let’s go local.  Trust the priests on the ground, let the incarnational be the hall-mark of the Church – local, rooted, distinct – of its community, for its community.  All will not always go well, poor brews will occasionally taint the palate, but that is part of what it means to be family, Church family.  All this will make it much riskier to be a bishop, yet alone an archbishop, but as they themselves learn to become unpasteurised, the Church stands every chance of becoming  more colourful, diverse, and quirky – in short much more like the humanity God created.

So let’s get microbrewing…

Hard Thoughts prompted by lying on a hard cloister floor

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Last night a group of us slept out in the Cloisters to raise funds for the work of the excellent Church Urban Fund.

It cannot be considered any great hardship to go to sleep amidst the wonderful architecture of the Cloisters, the vaults covered with one of the greatest collection of medieval roof bosses in the world, but the floor was unforgiving and did not encourage sleep.

Thankfully there were no loud snorers, but the floor was unforgiving and sleep did not seem to want to come.

At least I was nice and warm despite the settling of frost on the Cloister Garth, but the floor was unforgiving and encouraged hard thoughts rather than deep sleep.

Why was I doing this?  Why in 21st century Britain, one of the richest countries in the world, do we need to be raising money for the homeless – some of whom would be huddled in doorways not more than a couple of hundred yards from where I was curled up?  And yes I was warm in my many layers of clothing and blankets together representing more possessions than most of the homeless of our city possessed, but representing just a small fraction of the clothes hanging in my wardrobe back home.

It is the sheer inequalities at the heart to our society that are so breath-taking. In any society there will always be some that struggle, or who, for what ever reason take a wrong turning and life starts to unravel.  Conscious of this we proudly created the Welfare State; together we would look after the most vulnerable and weakest in our midst.  Or at least that was the vision we thought was on offer but instead a narrative emerges of the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor.  The poor it seems have to be sifted and as the wholes in the sieve get bigger more fall through the net.  Too many get no help and many have to wait to long for the little help on offer; stripped of their dignity they must learn to be grateful for what little they receive.

When we encounter the growing numbers huddled in shop doorways some encourage us to intervene, to offer food, or warm clothing.  Others tell us by doing that we make the problem worse, we need, instead, to encourage them to use the agencies on offer, and donate to the approved charities. Help is out their we just need to be aware of it and signpost people on.  We are left confused and feeling helpless. And when you do get to know the statutory teams you find good people, trying to give of their best but overworked and under-resourced – they too often feel helpless in the face of the need that confronts them.

To mention the need for more resources has almost become taboo.  The new mantra is that you do not solve problems by throwing money at them.  There may be truth in this but there can be no denying resources help – austerity has done more than trim the fat, it is now cutting into the bone.  One party tells us to encourage wealth because it trickles down to benefit all but it does not seem to trickle down very far.  The other party talks of taxing them, of making them pay their fair share, but for fear of lost votes the talk is always of “them” not of “us” – and even rarer still of “me”. The rich are always those with more than me.

But this “have” is willing to have less in order that the “have-nots” may have more.  I would willingly pay more tax, still pay my prescription charges whilst working even if I have reached a certain age and as long as I am working I do not need other discounts or free passes because of my age.  I would rather live with less it that will lead to a more just and equal society.

Lying on a hard floor provokes hard thoughts.  There is nothing virtuous about being part of a sleep out. Our joint efforts may help others apply another sticking plaster on the sore of inequality but we are long past the time when deeper, longer lasting solutions are needed.

As dawn creeps into the cloisters, I pull on my glasses and the roof bosses come into focus and there above me, weather-worn but still discernible, is the image of Christ on the cross. Two thousand years on and we still have to learn the lesson of self-giving love.  The challenge of God’s Kingdom of justice and peace needs to be proclaimed afresh. I crawl out of my sleeping bag and wonder how today I can achieve that task.

Fallen Clergy: solo artists or team players?

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This week’s report from the Cathedrals Working Group, speaks of the need for penitence for those occasions when relationships between cathedral and diocese, bishop and dean have broken down.  And they might have added between residentiary canons and deans. Approaching any conversation about church institutions on one’s knees seems like a good starting point.

Tensions in a Cathedral Close are not new, they are the stuff of literature and occasionally of newspaper headlines.  At best they are undignified and at worst deeply damaging to the wider Church’s reputation.  So what is to be done about them?  This latest report suggests yet  more new rules and regulations but however well intentioned will this really solve the problem?

The truth is clergy falling out is not just a cathedral issue.  Team ministries are also a regular source of clerical tensions to such an extent that bishops are often hesitant to create new team ministries and even break up the ones already existing.  Similarly relationships between training incumbents and curates can be fraught and each year some curate has to be rescued and given a new parish.

Clergy do not always work well with other clergy.  In part this just reflects their natural human frailty.  But there is also something more fundamental going on.  For all the talk of collaborative ministry, and no one ministering alone, the core model of the Church of England is the priest and his or her parish.  The focus is the lone priest working their own territory; working in teams is the exception. Whatever the intention of their training, clergy emerge as solo artists.

Yet when Jesus sent out the disciples, he sent them out in pairs.  From the beginning the model was of shared ministry.  Similarly religious communities offer models of ministry as a corporate not an individual undertaking.  Their rules of life, such as the Rule of St Benedict still have much to teach us:

This, then, is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: The should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone  else.  To their fellow monks they show pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot unfeigned and humble love. (Ch72)

We know the first apostles did fall out with each other and religious communities can be riven with division, but they nevertheless set the model of ministry as a shared undertaking.  Perhaps if we could return to a sense of priests as “Clerks in Holy Orders”, individuals under authority, part of the wider corporate whole – just a part, one part among many, of the Body of Christ, then just perhaps many of the recommendations of this report would not be needed.

Sadly the individualism of the age has infected the ranks of the clergy as much as other parts of society.  The opportunity for the Church is to model how it can be different, where individualism is not the hallmark, where teams are places of mutual flourishing and leadership inclusive and enabling.

Until the Church changes its underlying model of ministry, cathedral chapters will dysfunction, team ministries will fall apart and training curacies will come undone.  If we do not foster a more shared approach to ministry then this latest report will just create new structures that will, in due time, create more trouble at cathedral and in ten or so years time create a new crisis leading to a new report.  The deck chairs can be rearranged but the fundamental problem with the good ship, Church, remains.

Truly the place to start to a different future is on our knees.

The Empty Crib; a home for mistaken expectations

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It is not a story you will find written in the Gospels nor recorded elsewhere in the writings of the Church, but it is a story I have always felt was true.  If the Gospels end with the Empty Tomb, they begin with the Empty Crib.

When Mary returned from visiting her cousin Elizabeth, Joseph had a surprise for his betrothed.  After their uncertain start, Joseph wanted to make amends.  He wanted to show he would be there for her and was indeed quietly excited by this forthcoming birth.

So while Mary was away he had set to work.  Using offcuts from other commissions, and finding time around other paying customers,  Joseph set to work to build a crib for their baby.  And when Mary returned from her stay with Elizabeth, Joseph could not wait to show his handiwork to her.  With his hands covering her eyes, he led her into his workshop…and then the big reveal.  Her squeal of delight was reward enough.  Gazing together at the empty crib, the excitement of being parents drew them closer together.  Despite the shaky start they were going to make great parents.

And in the weeks that followed Mary would find endless excuses to visit Joseph in his workshop just to look at the crib, and touching her growing belly would smile with quiet excitement at the prospect of the adventure ahead.  At the end of each day Joseph took a brief moment to run his hand over the wood of the crib, his heart pregnant with expectation at the prospect of fatherhood.

Their dreams shattered in an instant by the rough knock on the door, the message of the census and the unlooked-for journey back to Joseph’s home town.  As they gathered their few possessions for the journey, unspoken they both knew the crib would need to be left behind but surely they would be back – this was just a temporary interruption to the life they had planned together.

Resting beside the road at night, the darkness hid the growing anxiety in both their eyes that they would not be back home in time for the birth.  Their last thoughts before a troubled sleep and their first on a too early waking were of the crib and the lost security it represented.

Bethlehem.  The crowds.  The onset of contractions.  No home comforts, no privacy and in the end only the stable’s manger for their sleeping baby – both trying hard not to think of the sweet crib that now seemed so far away.  This was not how it was meant to be.

Rumours of the wrath of Herod.  When the only hope of safety is leaving home behind then you know this is not the future you had planned.  No one chooses to become a refugee.  Each night on the long road to Egypt, cowering in the darkness, alert to every sound, taking turns to cradle their baby, their last thoughts before a troubled sleep and their first on a too early waking were of the crib and the lost security it represented.

Trying to find a home in a foreign county, far from everything that was once so familiar, thoughts would often turn to another time and another place, and uninvited, each would find coming to their memory an empty crib and all their dreams of what they had imagined parenthood would be like.

By the time it was safe enough to return there was no more need of a crib and the path they would be forced to take would mean it would never be seen again, never again would they feel its wood beneath their hands.  But as this baby grew first to boyhood and then to manhood, and life with Jesus took so many twists and turns that this became the new normal, still the image of that crib would return and they would wonder what had happened to the life they had planned.

Memories of magi from the East.  Gifts of Gold and Frankincense were surprising but flattering in their way.  But myrrh hinted at a different darker story; a gift for one who would suffer.  This was not part of his parents’ dreams.  And a cousins meeting.  News of John baptising at the River Jordan spread like wild-fire through the towns and countryside, heralding the one who was to come.  But John is stopped in his tracks as the one whose sandal he knows he is not worthy to tie asks him for baptism.  A mother’s delight at accompanying her son to a wedding yet a strange place for a Messiah to begin bios ministry and when all are a little the worse for wear, water is turned into wine, 150 gallons of wine.  What kind of a son is this, what kind of a Messiah is this?

I believe every church should have an empty crib by its door and there as we enter we should place our assumptions, our expectations, our judgements and our prejudices.  Made with such sincerity of purpose and good intent, the empty crib should sit there as a folly to our pretence to understand the things of God.

To understand the moment of Epiphany it is necessary to let go of the way you thought it would be – bring nothing but an open mind and a responsive heart.  With hands outstretched and eyes wide open, with Jesus we walk into a future not of our making but of his shaping.   Epiphany comes when we let God take us where He wills.

Wishing you a properly smelly Christmas

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What smells will waft through your home at Christmas time.  Will it be the mouth-watering smell of home cooking?  Will it be the pine smell of a freshly cut Christmas tree or perhaps you will resort to scented candles or oil burners to bring you the smells of traditional Christmas spices?

Smells can be very powerful at evoking memory and there may be particular smells that evoke the memories of Christmas celebrations past.  But to really get in the Christmas mood we need a very different set of smells.

The sweet hot breath of a cow, the not unattractive smell of sweaty donkey, the fuggy smell of damp sheep and the slightly fermented smell of warm straw.  These were the smells of that first Christmas morn, these were the smells that first filled the lungs of the infant Christ.  And these were the smells that would best express the coming of God’s kingdom.

God comes to us as life really is, no more pretence, no carefully placed scents to cover up the reality of life.  God comes to us in the midst of life as it honestly is, with all its mess and funny smells, with all its chaos and upset.

And there was no better setting than a stable and all its associated smells, because in a stable there can be no pretending, no putting on of airs and graces – in a stable you just have to be yourself.

And at the centre of this smell stable is the babe in the manger who is none other than God’s message of love to each one of us.  God is the one from whom no secrets are hidden, who knows us exactly as we are, who sees through all our pretence and our excuses – and knowing us for exactly what we are, accepts us and loves us.

So this Christmas no more fake scents.  May your lungs be full of all the smells of the stable.  Know that the baby lying in the manger is looking up and seeing you for who you are, who you really are, and longs for nothing more than to be loved back by you.

The Christ-child looks around the stable – could there be a greater contrast to the glories of heaven – and breathes in the stable smells – so very different from the fragrances of the heavenly realm – and smiles.  Why?  Because, truly, you are worth it.