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  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 3rd December

    Yesterday, I carefully took down this sign from the porch of the now-closed-for-a-season premises of the Gathering Place.  It will be kept safely until it is re-hung at a future date.  Shortly, I will head off to join a small working party hoping to do the rest of the sorting and a bit a shifting of the stuff we couldn't do until now.

    It's the words that make this an Advent theme... a tryst as "a journey undertaken by a company pledged to travel together".  It is a perfect summary of Baptist ecclesiology properly understood... a covenant community of believers in Jesus who walk together, and watch over each other, in ways known and to be made known.  It is also totally advent... advent as coming/becoming/travelling towards a hoed-for destiny/destination.

    On Sunday we sang, "it's from the old we travel to the new" and that's what Advent is all about... somewhere in the midst of familiar rituals and warm remembrances is the promise of newness.

    Better get myself wrapped up warm and some sturdy boots in my feet!  From Christingle tape to mirrors to folding tables to unopened boxes of light bulbs, there are things to be sorted, packed and shifted!

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 2nd December

    This morning, it is my turn to lead Morning prayer in the Chapel at the University of Glasgow.  The assigned Bible reading is the start of Revelation 22 - what, to me, is the 'river of life' passage and which, for me, is always linked to the River of Life sulpture/water feature that flows along Bridge Street in Warrington.

    Regular readers will know that, from time to time, I allude to events that took place in Warrington on 20th March 1993, and their significance in the "peace process" for Northern Ireland. 

    Warrington is a town through which the River Mersey flows in "meander" en route to the sea.  Given a few millennia, there may well be an ox-bow lake (remember those from geography lessons?) at Thelwall.  Wide, slow and carrying with it detritus and junk, in more recent years it has been cleaned up enough to allow fish to return.  Historically, a river bringing life to this part of the north of England, in what was, in 1993 a largely unheard of industrial market town.

    The deliberate choice to create a civic art project quoting Revelation 22 always struck me as significant - a text precious to Catholics and Protestants alike, and an image/metaphor that crossed any or all religious divides.  A river carrying life through the city (or town in this case) and the leaves of the trees being for "the healing of the nations".  As part of the installation, twelve plaques are embossed with different leaves, and the names of different schools and communities.  Well-trodden, worn down and now, sadly due to choices for development, in a largely neglected street, the symbolism represents a conscious, deliberate and defiant decision to choose life, to choose hope.

    And, to me, these are important Advent themes.  Hope is a choice, an action, a process... Life, too, is more than mere existence, it requires that we choose to be alive.

    In a little over an hour, I will lead a congregation of maybe half a dozen in singing 'for the healing of the nations' and will reflect, off the cuff, and briefly, on the words from Revelation 22.  One much-loved Advent carol refers to Emmanuel as 'the desire of nations' - maybe today in pausing to recall nations in need of healing, this hope is also expressed.

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 1st December

    Among the dates I choose to remember each year, is World AIDS Day.  I don't know anyone directly affected by HIV/AIDS and to my knowledge never have done, but for some reason, since its existence and - at the time growing - prevalence became well publicised in the 1980s it has seemed to me important to raise, and maintain, awareness, to care for those affected and to fund research into treatment.

    One of the early campaigns had the slogan "don't die of ignorance" and advocated safer sex, avoidance of needle sharing etc., etc.  Nowadays we know that one of the main transmission routes in sub-Saharan Africa is via breast milk, and that myths abound in come cultures that sex with a virgin will cure it.  Most shocking, for me, a few years back, was a documentary following young, British men who were actively seeking to become infected with the virus viewing it as 'the gift'.  Scary stuff.

    So why this as the first day of my Advent Calendar?

    Mostly, because I think it is important in its own right.

    But perhaps it is in the terrifying and saddening story of the young men wanting to receive "the gift" that I am reminded of the very natural human quest for meaning and significance.  When I began my first pastorate, moving in to the manse between Christmas and New Year, the poster on the 'wayside pulpit' announced "The Gift is Given" along with a clip-art manger.  Christians often use the language of "the gift" to refer to the birth of Jesus, and here is a story that for two millennia has helped countless people in their own quest for meaning and signficance.

    I wonder how many people begin their countdown to Christmas seeking some elusive 'gift' that will bring them joy and fulfiment?  The young men seeing HIV/AIDS as "the gift" are certainly extreme, but the inner yearning that drives them is, I think, common to all people.

    Today I pause to remember those affected by HIV/AIDS, I will make a small financial gift to an AIDS charity, and I will reflect on the nature of gifts and giving, thankful that, as the fourth gospel expresses it "God so loved the world that he gave..."

  • Counting Down - An Advent Calendar of Sorts

    Usually, during Advent, I have made a conscious effort to post something daily.  This year, when Advent is the longest it can be, starting on 27th November, I have been so busy chasing my tail that I have given no thought to what, if anything I might make of Advent.  So, on the basis that mass-produced Advent calendars begin on 1st December, and today is that day, I'll pull myself together and do something to 'count down' to Christmas.  I should warn you, there will be no chocolates to eat, and the topics are liekly to be anything but saccharine!