TEAM WORK

TEAM, in my granddaughter’s primary school, stands for Together Everyone Achieves More. My granddaughter won the TEAM player of the week because “she always works hard to ensure everyone around her is happy, feels safe and is included. She is so warm and caring and a real asset to her class.”

One can’t help feeling that the TEAM acrostic, if applied to Parliamentarians, might, just might, have made a difference to the confused picture of solving the Brexit puzzle. There is little evidence of party politics being put aside and for true cooperative teamwork to take place. Is it a power thing?

Think of other teams. A few years ago there was unrest in the England cricket team when one player was an individualist rather than a team player. It can happen in any work situation. If one person does his own thing, it impacts on the rest of the group and achievement is slowed or doesn’t happen at all.

Jesus could have done his Son of God work on his own. Why did he choose a motley lot of people to form a team to work with him? Because we were made for relationship – with God and with each other. There were tiffs between the disciples in Jesus’ team from time to time. Yet God chose to work with people, even appointing the church to be his ambassadors. Maybe all of us, whatever team we’re in, can learn something from that school TEAM mantra and from the example of a 9 year old.

 

 

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BAKED BEANS ON TARMAC

An empty cylindrical can of baked beans rolled uphill. Yes, uphill. A gust of gale-force south-westerly wind propelled the can up the road then, as the gust subsided, the can rolled back down the road. Another gust – and an action replay.

It’s fascinating what you see on the tarmacked road, on the pavement, and in the hedges. In the course of the last few days I’ve spotted a pair of underpants, a hoodie on a hanger, several single gloves, and three bicycles – or parts thereof.

An elderly gentleman – brought up in the days of raising one’s hat, standing up for a newcomer entering a room, and crooking his little finger to drink a cup of tea – would pause regularly on his way to the corner shop, balance with his stick, then stoop to pick up litter. His younger fellow humans ignored him – and the litter. Now… had he seen this morning’s baked bean tin, he would have paused to watch it and work out the physics of motion and velocity (or whatever physics is involved in a rolling baked bean can) and then picked it up and carried it to the bin outside the shop.

I didn’t pick up the baked beans can. I should have done. I’m called to be a steward of God’s earth, even when it means clearing up after someone else. Maybe I just wanted somebody else to enjoy the spectacle of a can rolling uphill. Maybe I was just lazy.

 

BRIGHTEST AND BEST

Well, the fairy lights have stopped twinkling, the Christmas decorations are packed away, and for those of us who aren’t yet back in life’s routine, tomorrow will be the day when we’ll know, once again and for sure, which day of the week it is.

Today is Epiphany, the day when light dawned on the travellers from the East who, after navigating by the stars, arrived at the place of promise where they would meet a new king. How apt that one of the names of this new king was The Light of the World.

Light shines into dark corners, showing up cobwebs, lost dice, marbles, dominoes, the odd cornflake (delete where not applicable) and the general detritus of life’s activity. It also illuminates our way in the dark. The moon and Venus – on rare clear days over Christmas – were brightly visible in the early morning when it was still dark. The sun gives light all over the world through different time zones; we expect day to follow night, and that daylight hours will increase here in the northern hemisphere.

Maybe you’re starting this year feeling there’s more darkness than light in your life. Take heart from the Light of the World who came for all people everywhere in all ages – and still comes. Holman Hunt’s painting, The Light of the World, is a reminder of Jesus coming to a thorny dark place and knocking on a door. He carries a lantern and around his head is a halo of light. Here is the Brightest and Best of the sons of the morning ready to dawn on our darkness.

 

ONE FOR THE ROAD

2018 was a bit baffling: untimely deaths, political muddles, increased homelessness… And you can add your own bewildering moments to the list. Jesus, whom we remember at Christmas as the Saviour and Prince of Peace, had many other names. Thank God that he is also the Wonderful Counsellor. Don’t we all need counselling to negotiate life’s dark alleys and bewildering mazes?

I lost a wise counsellor when my dad died a couple of months ago. He had reflected – though in the inevitably less than perfect human form – the wise counsel of the Wonderful Counsellor. While I mourn the loss of my dad, I still have Jesus, the Wonderful Counsellor, who is all wisdom, totally dependable, and always there. How do I know that? Because another of Jesus’ names is Emmanuel: God is with us. My human dad is now in the company of the Everlasting Father, but Jesus – the divine companion – is with me.

As we walk into 2019, with all its uncertainty, our confidence is not in humans with our fallible bluster and blunders, but in God. He came to earth, was down to earth, and is the same yesterday, today and forever. Minnie Louise Haskins shows us how to approach any new year:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”

HONEY SWEETNESS AND MIGHTY GOD

What’s in a name? Mine, alas, means honey sweetness, and I can’t abide honey. If only I’d been called Marmite…

Jesus had many names. These are significant as we celebrate Christmas. “Mighty God.” What a paradox that the Mighty God who created the heavens and the earth should choose, as the divine, to enter the world of human beings – as a baby. A baby who is far from mighty. Helpless. Dependent. Why would God do that? By living as a human, God identified with us and experienced our joys and sorrows, smiles and tears and, above all, our suffering – though his suffering was worse than anything we can ever experience. Why would he do that? Because another of his names was “Saviour.” “Jesus” means the one who saves.

From the beginning of time God chose to be in relationship with human beings. He created a world for them to enjoy, to live in, to work in, and in which to bring delight to each other and to him. But humans messed up and the relationship between God the divine and mortal men and women, was spoilt. After centuries of pleadings from the Almighty for people to return to him, he eventually intervened in a history-changing moment: the time when heaven met earth, when BC became AD. This is what Christmas is all about. The baby in the manger was the start of Jesus’ life on earth that would culminate in the cross and the resurrection. God opened the door to restoration between him and us. Jesus Christ, the Saviour, the promised Messiah, came.

If you celebrate Xmas, you miss out on the name that is above all names: the Christ of Christmas. May you have a truly joy-filled, Christ-centred Christmas.

PS There’s a new Christmas poem on the Poems page.

 

ONCE… BUT IS IT TRUE?

The packed crowd is hushed. In the silence a lone treble voice pipes up, “Once, in Royal David’s City, stood a lowly cattle shed; where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed.” Is this the “Once upon a time” of fairy tales? Or the definitive “once” of reality? A sentimental story or history-changing facts of eternal consequences?

Luke’s Biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth is brief. It tells of Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds, plus an old male priest and an old female prophet. And a baby of course. Why, more than two millennia later, do we still sing and celebrate the birth of Jesus? The key, now as then, is that it’s good news for a world in turmoil.

Musicians: Bach, Tavener… and writers: Dickens, Hardy… and artists: Botticelli, Bruegel… have all been inspired by the birth of Jesus. In John Betjeman’s poem, Christmas, he poses the question:

And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all…
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

Well, what do you think? Is it true? Luke wrote at the beginning of his gospel account to Theophilus: “Many people have done their best to write a report of the things that have taken place among us… Because I have carefully studied all these matters from their beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you. I do this so that you will know the full truth.”

Each of us has a choice: to think it’s a sentimental fairy tale or to believe it as life-changing truth.

 

PRESENTS AND PRESENCE

‘You say you’re wholly holy? Your argument is holey.’ ‘They’re there with their family.’ ‘Four came to the fore for being exceptionally brilliant at homophones.’

My granddaughter once asked me if I could help her with homophones. I confessed that I didn’t know what a homophone was. My ‘progressive’ grammar school hadn’t taught grammar, preferring to give its pupils free rein to develop their own creative writing skills without getting bogged down with the tedium of grammar.

But back to the present. We can do nothing about the past and it’s a waste of energy worrying about the future. The present is happening now. So if you’re still present with me, may I present, in your presence, a present for you. This is the season of Advent when we look forward to the coming of Jesus into the world – past and future. He came as a baby from the realms of glory. He will come again – from the realms of glory. But how does his presence impact you in the present? God’s present – his gift, for our present time – our now – is the everlasting, beyond-human-time-spans, Jesus, who we’re told is the same ‘yesterday, today and forever.’

“Listen!” St Paul wrote, “This is the hour to receive God’s favour; today is the day to be saved!” Jesus, the one who saves, is God’s present to the world.

Feeling fraught? Fragile? Frenzied? Be still. Just be. Be present in the presence of God and receive his present.