Get ready, get steady….

Two weeks to go. And already cards and gifts are arriving. You too? Lovely, isn’t it? But now I’ve reached 70 plus, I really don’t want stuff. Not stuff to put on a shelf or on a table, or in a drawer… not a new purse or a scarf of anything that’s loosely described as a ‘thing.’ It might give you great pleasure giving it, but really….. please don’t. ‘Surely books are always welcome?’ you say. No. No and no and no. I like trash at one end and really good stuff at the other, but nothing in-between. You don’t have a hope in hades of knowing what I’ll enjoy. A silly joke? Yes, please. That’s more like it. A visit, a shared coffee and chat, a laugh and a hug? Yes, yes, yes.

That’s Christmas, the company of friends, shared nonsense, prayers, cooking, eating, more prayers, a bit of praying, a glass of wine (or three) and then some prayers. Last year Christmas Day was solitary, but this year is promising to be different. Friends came yesterday, four of us sat down to lunch but, apart from giving thanks for the company and the food, did we pray? We didn’t! We were too busy catching up after weeks of being apart. Ah well, we’ll remember next time.

Many of you reading this are miles away, South Africa, London, Italy, Ireland… all over. I can’t give you a hug and you can’t pop in. So, here we go.. let’s defeat space and time…. come into my home…. there are fruit cakes in the oven and more mixture waiting to be baked…. 10 cakes to finish because this year I’m giving fruit cakes to friends, not books or jigsaws or scarves. Cakes! And native wild flower seeds.

December 11th in Wales. This corner of it, anyway.

Sorry about the abrupt end – I may be better at writing a scene than filming it!

I’ve decided that for me today is all about Christmas so on the beach I read the start of Luke’s Gospel, and when I came home I made a coffee and delved into this marvellous passage in Isaiah, in Chapter 9

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” 

If that doesn’t get your heart pounding you must be dead already (what’s it like up there in Glory?)

I’m beginning to feel a lot like Christmas! I am. Really.

What a story! What an amazing mind blowing story! Are there too many exclamation marks in this blog? Maybe I’m in an exclamatory frame of mind. I heard something that amazed me this week, something I had never realised before, maybe that’s when the exclamations started; we are familiar with the story of Zechariah going into the sanctuary to burn incense when an angel of the Lord appeared to him (chapter 1 of Luke). In our Western way, with all our New Testament knowledge, I think I’m probably not the only one who failed to realise what a great, amazing day this was for Zechariah, even before the angel appeared. It wasn’t just one more Sabbath and it wasn’t just ‘his turn’ to lift and waft the incense as it might be your turn to greet people at the church door… no, this was a highlight, maybe the culmination of his life in the temple. A priest would be drawn by lot to burn incense only once in his lifetime, and many were never chosen, so if his name was drawn, it was a huge, awesome duty. He was to offer prayers for the well being and the future of his whole nation, a sacred task. To go into the sanctuary was both a daunting and a thrilling prospect for any man, sinful and weak, daring to stand close to the presence of God, just a few feet from the Shekinah Glory, the Holy of Holies. Who wouldn’t have their knees trembling and their teeth chattering? Wowser. So already Zechariah was at the very edge of his composure.

There he was, all alone, in front of the golden altar of incense…. did his hands shake as he lifted the flame to the incense? A single lamp burned to throw its shadows in that sacred place….. just a heavy curtain between him and the forbidden Holy of Holies. Outside, hundreds or maybe even thousands of worshippers waited…. kneeling in worship, breath bated. The weight of their silence must have seemed palpable, no babies crying, no children playing, just the cloak of silent prayer, the breath of a crowd, the soft movement of heavy robes.

Enter into the story: Think of Zechariah, an old man, eager to serve God, all alone, wanting to get everything as it should be, humble and afraid… ‘let it go well, Lord… let me bring an honest open heart before you… let this incense rise before you as pure prayer from this weak- ‘ and then, maybe opening his eyes to light the incense – an angel! A gret big shining real angel. A powerful mighty creature like he had never seen before, or dreamed of, right there, in front of him…. I think his stomach must have turned to water, his thoughts to mush, his legs to jelly. ‘Zechariah was shaken and overcome with fear’ I bet he was! He must had the frantic fear that he had enraged God, that he was going to be punished with a mighty thunderbolt, banished, vaporised, or the temple was going to be brought down around his ears…

And the angel said “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah.”

You’re kidding? Don’t be afraid? Just like that?

Poor man was witless.

Then came the news that he was going to have a son. What a day! All he could do was gabble and protest and ask daft questions. Come on Zech, God has sent you an angel, not an email, a shining fearsome mighty angel, so common sense would tell you that if God could make that happen, God can do anything. But Zechariah was so shaken that he couldn’t think. He didn’t react as Mary did a few months later, he didn’t say ‘My heart does magnify the Lord.’ No, he was too busy shaking and gabbling and sort of explaining why it couldn’t be. ‘But hang on, I’m old, she’s old.. does God know that? Have you got the right bloke?’

Poor Zechariah. And for that he was struck dumb. What a day!

Listen, listen, I don’t know what I’m trying to say in this blog except, ‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ and ‘Isn’t this story just the most dramatic, heart wrenching history you’ve ever heard?’

Isn’t it amazing that an angel appeared to Zechariah, and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and so the prophecy of Isaiah and Micah came true, and all the other prophecies that I don’t know about, and that just as God sent an angel to Zechariah and to Mary, in just that same way he has sent his Son to us. He wasn’t there and then he was.

That’s our miracle. Our miracle. Isn’t that amazing and wonderful? Doesn’t that deserve a few exclamation marks?

The history of the world spins on the moment of Jesus’ birth. There is ‘before Christ’, and there is ‘after Christ’. Before hope, and full of hope. Without love and love overflowing.

However good we are at painting, or sculpture, or music, or words, there is nothing we can do to adequately worship God as he should be worshipped. Like Zechariah, we are in the sanctuary and we are filled with awe, but if we open our eyes, we will see our angel. Our angel is the good news of Emmanuel.

This morning. Two weeks to go.

2 thoughts on “Get ready, get steady….

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