JESSE TREE BONUS (Day 25)

Here’s a little Christmas present for you – an extra post on the Jesse Tree theme, a poem I wrote before I even decided to do this season of reflections. I hope you’ve found the series interesting, helpful, thought and hopefully action provoking. See you in the New Year and may God bless you this Christmas and onwards.

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JESSE TREE

We’re not so different you and I

Our backgrounds not so unalike

As first appears

We both had ancestors

Who worked the land or tended livestock

Who administered or manufactured

Who served or gave orders

Who enlisted in their country’s armies

Who slept with people they shouldn’t

Travellers and foreigners

Admittedly

Mine didn’t own their land or animals

Like yours

Mine made guns and railways

Whereas yours made ploughs and buildings

Mine were low down in the administration

Of banks and hospitals

Whereas yours ruled whole countries

Yours invaded lands

Whereas mine defended it

But still, it’s not so different.

They loved

They fought

They struggled

With each other

And with God

We do not come from such different stock

You and I

 

 

 

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DONKEY (Jesse Tree Day 24)

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It’s funny how so much of the Nativity story that has passed into legend from regular retelling isn’t actually there in the original Biblical accounts – stable, three kings, not even a donkey. These things have been inferred rather than specifically mentioned.

Of course, there is a donkey in the Gospels but he appears near the end rather than the beginning:

‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion;

see, your king is coming,

seated on a donkey’s colt.’

The King of kings, the Prince of Peace, enters his capital in triumphal procession on a humble donkey rather than a conqueror’s war horse. So maybe it’s not so wrong to assume a similar mode of transport for when his family brought him to their ancestral home for his entry to his earthly kingdom.

It’s all so different to recent births of royal babies in Britain – no expensive private hospital, no official presentation to the waiting press, no bullet proof car with full security detail for the journey home.

No, the Heavenly King we serve arrives as, well, ordinary.

And that’s how we find and serve Him still:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Surely this is how we should commemorate the birth of our King?

Happy Christmas.

 

TOOLS (Jesse Tree Day 23)

The penultimate Jesse Tree symbol is a set of carpentry tools, reminding us of Joseph. Once again, this piece is one I wrote some years ago, but it fits well with the theme. If you want to use it as a reading, as before, please let me know in the Comments and do acknowledge at the time where you got it from. Thank you.

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Oh, and I couldn’t resist sharing this picture again of my very own Joseph (and Gabriel) in the church nativity about 15 years ago!

Who am I? Oh, no one you notice much. I’m just the one at the back keeping my eye on things, making sure everything’s ok, making sure they’re ok, that my family is safe and sound and undisturbed.

Undisturbed? Huh! Chance’d be a fine thing! The visitors we’ve had recently, all sorts I can tell you, and at all times of day and night too. And the racket them and what they brought with them made! But it’s amazing what a baby can sleep through. And I’ve done my bit to make sure the visits weren’t too long or too tiring for my girl.

Been through a lot, she has, enough to wear anyone out, let alone in her condition. All sorts of gossip and badmouthing she’s had to put up with. And then the paperwork to fill in, and not simple stuff you can just sort out at your local civic centre, oh no; we’ve had to travel miles to file it in the right place. Not that I minded, but she shouldn’t have been travelling, not in her condition, not so close to her due date. She should have been at home with her mum not in some strange town where we knew no one.

And then finding somewhere to stay once we got here – what a nightmare! I lost count of how many places we tried, how many doors I knocked on. But it’s the wrong time of year to find a room when you haven’t booked in advance. In the end, I was grateful even for this old dump that someone took pity and cleared out for us. At least we could sit down and rest.

Not the kind of place you’d choose to give birth in though, but better than the streets and at least things were straightforward in that department, which was a good job as it’s really women’s work assisting with all that. I did my best and, like I said, no complications to worry about, thank goodness.

Amazing thing, seeing your wife give birth. I thought I might feel differently, a bit detached maybe, seeing as the baby’s not, you know, not technically mine. But when it happened, I was just so relieved she was ok, that I hadn’t lost her, cos you hear awful stories about some births. And when I saw him for the first time…well, words just aren’t big enough. It was love at first sight, just like with his mother. And he is the image of her so that probably helped too.

Some of you will look at pictures of us and see that I’m always there. But you won’t focus on me. You’ll look at the baby, and his mother; they’re the natural centre of attention. And then you’ll see the visitors – because, to be honest, they do look a bit strange, a bit out of place, not what you’d expect to see in a family snap. You won’t notice me beyond registering my presence. But that’s ok. I don’t mind. You see, ever since the beginning when I agreed to take this on, I knew that my life’s work would be to take care of her so that she could take care of him. I have such an important job to do.

Who am I? I’m Jesus’s other daddy.

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CROWN (Jesse Tree Day 22)

I wore a tiara when I got married. The fashion for floral wreaths in the hair was just fading and my new hairstyle didn’t suit that anyway. As we drove through the safari park to the mansion that was our reception venue in our vintage open top MG, I heard, as we passed, a voice cry out from a queue of Brownies waiting for a ride:

“Look, Brown Owl, a princess!”

It’s not something an ordinary girl hears very often and it made me sit a little higher in my seat, adding to the day’s glow in my heart.

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We begin to run out of Jesse Tree symbols as we get nearer to the climax of Advent, the birth of Christ, ‘the reason for the season’ as they say. Today’s symbol points us to the prophecy of the coming of the Prince of Peace.

Watching the news this week – the horrors of Aleppo, the numbers of migrants drowned in the Mediterranean this year, The Berlin Christmas Market attack – peace seems a distant dream. The world could do with a Prince of Peace to claim His crown and start reigning now.

But if we are children of the Most High, siblings of the Prince of Peace, shouldn’t we start acting like the princes and princesses we were born to be? It’s not enough to dress in a tiara and look the part for a day; we have to act it. Just as the Queen recently passed on some of her royal duties to other members of her family, so God sends us to be His envoys in the world.

Let’s start with two things: asking God how and where He wants us to bring about peace and then looking for opportunities to do so right here and now. It is quite possible that He may want us to practise peace in how we behave with those nearest to us first and that may involve some hard work: some change in our usual patterns of thoughts and reactions, some forgiveness, some consideration of others’ needs before our own.

And if we prove faithful in practising peace in our own day to day lives, He may then call us to apply the same principles to a wider stage. Perhaps He is already doing that by alerting us to the needs of others via TV or the News or a Facebook appeal. If so, we need to listen carefully and act accordingly.

In this season where the words ‘Peace and Goodwill to all men’ are so frequently spoken, let’s put those crowns on and start behaving like royal envoys, making the way clear for the Prince of Peace to claim His throne.

 

SUNRISE (Jesse Tree Day 21)

There are nights when I don’t sleep well (stress, hormones, illness – they’ve all played their part) and there are nights when I haven’t slept at all. On those nights, having abandoned hopes of unconsciousness and diverted wandering brain with writing or reading, there comes a time when I am distracted by the indigo inkiness of my back garden  gradually diluting into a dove grey as the night imperceptibly retreats before the dawn.

Sometimes the sky just fades to white or the pale blue of washed out denim. Sometimes it is streaked with candy floss pink and apricot. It brings feelings of quiet peace, acceptance and hope alongside the exhaustion. As the new day begins, ironically, it’s when I’m most likely to finally fall asleep.

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If I look at a photo, I can’t tell (unless I already know the compass direction the camera was facing at the time), whether the colour streaked sky is a sunrise or a sunset. Either brings great beauty; it’s just the order of the process that is different.

With a new addition to our extended family this month and the realisation that another member may be reaching the end of their journey, it strikes me that there is great beauty to be found at the dawn and dusk of life as much as at the start and finish of a day. Everything is simple and vivid; it’s just the order of the process that is different.

For those of us with a faith in Jesus, we know that the sunset and the sunrise, and everything in between, is not experienced alone, that, as Henri Nouwen puts it in the prayer at the end of this post, Jesus is the ‘master of both the light and the darkness.’ We know too that every final sunset will be followed by an ultimate sunrise. This prophecy by Malachi, which is what this Jesse Tree symbol represents, promises this:

‘For you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its rays.’

(Malachi 4.2b)

Let’s watch both the sunrise and the sunset with hope.

Lord Jesus,

Master of both the light and the darkness,

Send your Holy Spirit on our preparations for Christmas.

We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.

We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.

We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.

We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.

To you we say. “Come, Lord Jesus!”

(Henri J.M. Nouwen)

HEART (Jesse Tree Day 20)

The Jesse Tree symbol for today represents Mary so I thought I’d share something I wrote many years that I hope reflects the similarities and differences of becoming a mother then and now. My brother used it as an alternative Christmas Day service reading. Feel free to do the same but please let me know that you have in the Comments and do acknowledge the source. Thank you.

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NATIVITY – A Reading for 2 Voices

(One voice each for italics and non italics; read together words in bold)

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

In these days the local GP decreed that all expectant mothers should give birth in hospital.

And everyone went to his own town to register.

And all the pregnant women chose one of three hospitals and began ‘shared care’.

So Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David because he belonged to the house and line of David.

So Rob drove from Fleet to Basingstoke, to the North Hampshire Hospital, because that was where his first child had been born.

He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

He went there with his wife, Liz, whose waters had broken and who was having contractions every 3-4 minutes.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.

While they were there, after some pethidine and the use of a TENS machine, she gave birth to her second son.

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

She dressed him in a Babygro and placed him in a cot in a sideroom on the labour ward because they were going home in just 6 hours.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

And there was her mother waiting back at the house, looking after the elder boy throughout the morning.

An angle of the Lord appeared to them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!”

At lunchtime Rob appeared at the house and said to his son and mother in law, “It’s a boy! You’ve got a baby brother!”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in a manger.

So that evening, they drove back to the hospital and found Liz and the baby in the sideroom, along with a Mr Potato Head toy from the baby to his big brother.

When they had seen him, they spread the news concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

When the paediatrician had seen the baby, they all went home together for a celebratory bottle of wine and a takeaway curry.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

But Liz ate little; she treasured up all her memories of the past 24 hours and remembered them often.

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

On the last day of Rob’s paternity leave, within the 6 week limit to register, he was named Padraig David, the names his parents had agreed 9 months previously on holiday in Ireland.

After Jesus was born, wise men from the east came and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

After Padraig was born, local friends and far off relations telephoned and asked, “When can we come and visit the new baby? We got your birth announcement and we’d love to see him.”

On coming to the house, they saw the baby with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him.

On coming to the house, they took photographs of the newly enlarged family, made a fuss of his brother, and cuddled the baby.

Then they opened their treasures and presented gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

Then they opened their bags and gave presents of money, baby clothes and toys.

This was how the birth of Padraig

                                               Jesus came about.

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WATER (Jesse Tree Day 19)

When I was a child, my dad called me a water baby. I was rubbish at all sports until my parents signed me up for swimming lessons aged 11. Strangely, the limbs that were slow, sluggish and uncoordinated on land quickly became the opposite in water.

I progressed through the different classes quite quickly, enjoying learning new techniques and gaining confidence alongside more badges than my mum could sew on the specially bought tracksuit for my Friday night lessons.

Don’t get me wrong, I never became a fast swimmer as such, so remained a sporting disappointment at school, but I had found the one physical exercise I truly enjoyed and performed well.

I still love the feel of propelling myself through the silky wetness, losing myself in the precision of positioning and movement that lead to the most efficient technique, varying the strokes to stretch different muscle groups, concentrating on the rhythm of breaths and lengths completed. I don’t feel self conscious in water and I don’t feel overweight.

I don’t know why I don’t go regularly any more.

Nowadays I’m more likely to get that sense of mindfulness and achievement from a yoga class after work. It’s more convenient, accessible, and cost effective.

But I can’t forget the sense of being in the element I was made for when I’m in water. I wonder if swimming is the nearest human feeling to angels flying? Or whether heaven will feel like this?

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TOP POSTS OF 2016 (Five Minute Friday Special Edition Link Up)

Five Minute Fridays, hosted by Kate Motaung, has probably been the biggest blessing and motivation for my writing this year. So thank you Kate and all my fellow FMFers for all your encouragement.

We’re linking up about our top posts of 2016 so here’s my Top 5 (in reverse order, of course):

5. TEAM /2016/08/21/five-minute-friday-team/

Differences and purpose in teams at work, in marriage, and God Himself

4. MAIL /2016/10/14/day-14-write-31-daysfive-minute-friday-mail/

Love of all kinds by post

3. UNKNOWN /2016/10/10/unknown-day-10-write-31-days/

A precious and poignant moment with my father in hospital

2. FATHER’S DAY /2016/06/18/fathers-day/

My dad again (he’s played a big part in my life this year) – a poem of hope.

1. COMMON /2016/11/12/common-five-minute-friday/

Memories of my mum this time, a joke, and an inheritance to live up to.

There’s still my Jesse Tree Advent Reflections to finish so a few more posts before the year ends but thank you for reading. I’m so glad to share words with you.

 

 

STON[E]y Ground (Jesse Tree Day 18)

‘Surely this is stony ground

On which to build Your kingdom?

Surely, Lord, You might have found

A firmer rock than me?’

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You might not know these lyrics. They’re by Paul Field, from an album and musical he wrote about the last days of Christ’s life, called Daybreak. I had a small part in our local churches’ production many years ago. I think I even have a recording on tape (yes, a tape, that’s how long ago it was!) hidden away at the back of a shelf somewhere, where I can pick out my mercifully few but cringingly embarrassing solo lines.

I used to sing in public quite a lot when I was younger – a local Christian band leading worship and holding concerts in the church hall, two musicals (five if you count three more at school), a music group at College in the Christian Union and Chapel services, and a choir.

Some pieces of music that I learned have stayed with me and this is one of them. I only sang harmonies on the chorus but picked up the whole song along the way. And its lyrics came to mind for today’s Jesse Tree symbol.

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Stone can have negative connotations – impervious, inflexible, hard, cold; in this case, it speaks of barrenness and lack of progress. I definitely experience times when, like Peter singing this song, I feel like a failure, like I am only running to keep up, or even falling behind compared to everyone else.

However, as the Parable of the Sower doesn’t point out but surely any gardener or farmer must infer, stony ground can be improved – by removing the pebbles, adding fertiliser and mulch, or by planting alpines that thrive in such conditions. None of this is easy. It takes sustained hard work to succeed. But Jesus tells us that His Father is a gardener and that should give us hope.

So when I feel like my life is overfull with cares and mistakes, when it all seems like too much hard going, I need to submit to the Great Gardener Himself to sift the soil of my life and trust that He will grow something beautiful in me in due season.

HOVER (Jesse Tree Day 17)

What’s an Advent symbol got in common with my husband’s favourite German word?

That word is ‘Luftkissenfahrzeug’ and it literally translates as ‘a vehicle that travels on a cushion of air’, or as we know it, a hovercraft. And the symbol for today is the Holy Spirit hovering as a dove, signifying God’s wisdom.

It’s a great word, ‘hover’ (although part of me wishes it was ‘hoover’ so that I could share one of my favourite silly songs ‘Last Night My Wife Hoovered My Head’ by Fat & Frantic – check it out here: http://www.fatandfrantic.com/front/Videos/fat-and-frantic-videos/214247).

To hover means ‘to remain floating, suspended, or fluttering in the air’. It’s a gentle concept, delicate even. The most beautiful jewel coloured creatures come to mind with the word: dragonflies and damselflies hover; hummingbirds hover.

And yet there’s an immense degree of control for something as small as a hummingbird or as large as a helicopter to hover, concentrating on its task of collecting nectar or rescuing a wave lashed sailor, yet revealing so little effort. Power and strength underpin the whole ability to hover.

So isn’t it the same for the Holy Spirit hovering? It’s not a forceful imposition of personality or power but a gentle offering of nearness. But underneath the solicitude ad tenderness hide strength and fire that can be called on when needed.

It’s easy to get caught up with the image of the Holy Spirit like a flame, almost a wildfire leaping from person to person at Pentecost, or like an unpredictable wind ‘blowing wherever it will’. Those are untamed but simple concepts, but a hovering bird? Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem isn’t about a dove but he puts it so well: http://www.bbc.co.uk/poetryseason/poems/the_windhover.shtml.

May our hearts in hiding be stirred by the bird that is the hovering Holy Spirit.