Adevnt Reflection

This Advent and Christmas, pay attention to the symbols of this season, because there is a lot to be learnt through the traditional images we find at this time of year. Although, saying that, I wonder how many of you will send and receive cards with a depiction of the nativity, or if you and your loved ones will favour robins in the snow, or Santa?

One image that always makes its way onto my computer background is the Icon of the Nativity. For me this Orthodox image gives us a different angle to the traditional images, and it drips with symbolism to aid in our Advent preparations and our Christmas celebrations.

The background is dark and displays an inhospitable world, the world we’ve inhabited since our expulsion from Eden. A world we can recognise today in our media with the uncertainty of peace or safety for many people.

Christ is shown in the centre of the icon, with his mother Mary sitting in a cave that the earth has provided. The Creator of the universe is entering history as a new born baby, and his birth changes everything. Christ is a helpless figure, wrapped in strips of cloth, representing his complete submission to becoming human and sharing our life. His manger is like a coffin, and his cloths like grave cloths, reminding us that this child has been born to die. Into this world of darkness and danger, he comes to save us.

Among the joyful festivities of the birth of this child, there is a serious message; the Immanuel (עִמָּנוּאֵל) is here, Jesus, ‘God is with us’ has arrived but not all will recognise this. He is watched over by the ox and the ass. “The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:3)

Mary, the Theotokos (God-bearer), is the largest and most dominant figure in the icon, lying back after giving birth. It was her “Yes” to the angel brings about the whole series of events and her faith in God that brings forth our salvation. She is a reminder to us that working for Christ is sometimes exhausting hard work, but worth it.

The Wise Men are on the left of the icon and the Shepherds on the right, and they show that Christ came for all, rich and poor, acceptable and unacceptable. The Wise Men on horseback, looking up to their guiding star, they represent not only the rich and wealthy, but they also bring politics into the story with their dealings with Herod. The shepherds are tending their sheep. One of the shepherd plays joyful music on a flute, while one of the sheep looks up to the angels above.

My favourite characters in this icon however are the angels, whose role here is to announce the good news, to praise and glorify God, and watch over the holy events below.

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Sunday Club looks at Bonhoeffer

Prayer: Dietrich Bonhoeffer served Christ with his mind and intellect, fought against tyranny, inhumanity and barbarism, challenged the Church’s compromise with evil, and refused to abandon his witness on pain of death. Lord, make us steadfast to resist the evils of our own day, and purify your Church to speak and live your truth.

Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Pray for us Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pray for us, all saints of God.

Info: Bonhoeffer is remembered by the Church for his courage in the face of Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer was a clergyman who lived in Germany during World War II. Adolf Hitler came to power of the Nazi Party, and soon after a group of Protestants formed an anti-Hitler group called the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer was a member of this group and began training its members to become teachers and preachers. When the Nazis found out, they closed the church down. Bonhoeffer was forbidden to teach and was banned from the city of Berlin.

Then came “Kristallnacht” or the “Night of the Broken Glass.” German troops led an attack on Jewish property; more than 7,000 shops were burned down and hundreds of synagogues were burned down. Bonhoeffer thought Christians would be next. He began to speak out more and more against the Nazis; and his friends in the United States became worried about his safety, so they arranged him to visit to give a series of speaker-talks. When it became clear that war would break out soon, Bonhoeffer left the safety of the United States to “share the difficulty of this time with my people.”

Fearing what would happen to the world with a man like Hitler leading it, Bonhoeffer became a double agent by taking a job in the Nazi Military Intelligence Department. His job allowed him to travel all over Europe to visit churches with the expectation that he would bring back information to help the Nazis—but he wasn’t really working with the Nazis, he was working against them and was secretly helping Jews escape Germany to less-hostile countries in Europe.

In the end, the Nazis discovered he was a double agent, and he was put in a Berlin military prison. They also discovered he was involved in a plot to kill Hitler. He was then sentenced to death shortly after. Before he died, he said to another prisoner, “This is the end—but for me it is also the beginning of new life.” He was hanged a few days before the end of the war. Bonhoeffer knelt for the last time to pray; and within five minutes, his life was over. (http://www.loyolapress.com/saints-stories-for-kids.htm?cId=403508)

Craft

For part of the Second World War, Bonhoeffer worked as a spy, getting information on the baddies to use against them. Some of the ways they used for passing on information was in code.

Make the code breaker and set some codes for the kids to work out (there are quotes from Bonhoeffer in the discussion option).

You’ll need to decide which code you’re going to use. You line up the “A” on the smaller circle with the letter on the larger circle that you’ve chosen. Some do the first letter of the day of the week so today would be S for Sunday.

Code Breaker

Game

Following on from the theme for the spy craft, double agents need to have a good memory. Bonhoeffer had a very good memory and was very clever when it came to theology and teaching people about God.

This memory game involves a plate or tray covered with either salt or sand.

One person (separate from the group) is told an object or something they can draw in the sand. The rest of their team need to guess what it is they’re drawing.

For younger children this could be simple things like dog, book, family, church.

Or older children you might like to test their biblical knowledge and get them to draw a famous story from the bible, nativity, Noah’s ark, Garden of Eden, Jesus and his disciples.

Discussion

In pairs or larger groups, give one or more of these quotes out from Bonhoeffer. Encourage them to discuss how the quote relates to the topic, what might say about the world, or how it might inform their own faith.

  1. On hardship…

“You have granted me many blessings; let me also accept what is hard from your hand.” (Prayers for Fellow Prisoners, Christmas 1943)

  1. On challenging injustice…

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

  1. On pastoring…

“A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.” (Life Together)

  1. On materialism…

Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time they are the very source of anxiety. (The Cost of Discipleship)

  1. On peace…

“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes.” (Meditations on the Cross)

  1. On cheap grace…

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” (The Cost of Discipleship)

  1. On self-importance…

“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”
(Letters and Papers from Prison)

  1. On worth…

“Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.”

  1. On fellowship…

“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.” (Life Together)

  1. On Christ…

“Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” (The Cost of Discipleship)

Remembrance Sunday Evensong 08/11/15

No one can deny the power of the right words spoken at the right time and in the right place. Many words have been said today, familiar and yet still poignant and spine tingling.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

At remembrance, lots of words are used to try and summarise our collective feelings and experiences, and yet none of them are able to cover the vastness of the emotions that comes at this time of year.

Even for those of us who have had no first-hand experience of war are still moved, still touched, because war is one of the very worse things that takes place in this world and it’s consequences travel down the generations.

Nobody wants war, nobody wants to fight, and kill, and die. But sometimes it’s all we have to protect family and friends, cultures, races, and nations from great evil.

And so we spend the day in remembrance, gathered together to remember the past fallen, the soldiers of wars gone by and the soldiers of today. But as I see it that is only half of what this day should be about.

Firstly the gathering together of peoples, wherever it is, to honour the departed.

But the second half should be that re-commitment on our part to strive for a better world.

This second point hadn’t really sunk into my mind until earlier on today. I spend the morning with our Girl Guides at the cenotaph near St Peters. And as part of their order of service they asked all of those present three questions and these are the words that hit me strongest this morning:

  1. Will you strive for all that makes for peace?
  2. Will you seek to heal the wounds of war?
  3. Will you work for a just future for all humanity?

 

For some, these may seem like empty words. That cry for peace has been shouted over and over again across generations. And for many the possibility of peace has become almost a fantasy, something unreachable, especially with the tragedies that we see in the media where war continues, the innocent killed, and thousands flee their homes in terror.

But, in the light of our readings for this evening, these questions form something much bigger than just words.

‘The Lord of hosts will lop the boughs with terrifying power… the lofty will be brought low and a shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse… and the spirit of the Lord shall rest on him…He shall not judge by what the eye sees…but with righteousness he shall judge…and the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid…and a little child shall lead them.’

These part of Isaiah was written when Israel’s northern kingdom was under threat from Assyria, and yet there comes this hope for a new order of justice and peace.

But here there is also a call for action and change. And this starts with repentance and an uncomfortable reminder for us, that some of the pains of war are of our own making.

Isaiah is looking forward to the new spirit of ‘wisdom and understanding…of counsel and might…and of knowledge and the fear of the Lord’

This new spirit puts God at the centre, and it is there that this harmonious co-existence can follow. Putting God at the centre changes the way we live our own lives, and our life in community and society

Jesus follows this up when in conversation with his disciples he says, ‘Those who love me will keep my word…and the word you hear …is from the Father who sent me.’

Putting God at the centre and following His words changes us because his words are a command to action and a call to us to assess how we live our lives with our neighbours.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Remembrance Sunday is about honouring the departed, who, in those poignant words, gave their today for our tomorrow. But it’s also about where we go from here; what we do with the inheritance they’ve left for us.

No one can deny the power of the right words spoken at the right time and in the right place, so in the light of the promise we’ve been given when we put God into the centre, I return to those questions given at the cenotaph:

  1. Will you strive for all that makes for peace?
  2. Will you seek to heal the wounds of war?
  3. Will you work for a just future for all humanity?

These are not empty words, but part of a wider calling for your action.

What will you do? Amen.