Monday, 31 December 2012

Incarnation and atrocity

Of all the stories in the news this Christmas period, the news of the student who died after being raped in New Dehli, and  that of the church organist who died after an attack on his way to church on Christmas eve, must surely rate as among the most harrowing and disturbing.  I wrote earlier of the impossible message of peace on Earth, goodwill towards men, and perhaps it is to temper this message that straight after Christmas we have Holy Innocents and St Stephen's day;  human cruelty and atrocity continues to flourish in spite of Christmas.
To attack another human being, someone simply going about their business and living their life, and to so to end their life in a violent and traumatic way bringing untold sadness to their friends and relatives, creates a sense of revulsion in most people. We might wonder what the message of the Incarnation- of God with us- says to the perpetrators of evil as well as to its victims. I believe that the Incarnation dignifies humanity. God becoming human speaks to us of a God who sees in human kind, in spite of its fallen nature, a place where the divine can reside and where love can transform our tendency  to seek to have power over others, to the point sometimes of brutality and hatred.
What of those who perpetrate acts of cruelty against others? They certainly lack empathy, they lack a sense of others as human, but more than this I think they lack a sense of self, a sense of themselves as human beings and of the dignity inherent in this. My hope for this coming year is that we might have a sense of the dignity of being human and to see in all others and in ourselves whatever it is that God sees in us that makes Him love us so much that He chose to do the unthinkable and incomprehensible and make his dwelling with us.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Prince of Peace

"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" (Isaiah 9:6).

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

I heard this poem on Radio 4 this morning and thought about  the impossible but lovely Christmas message of peace on Earth and about how sometimes we need to  believe in and to rest in the grace of the world. The picture above was taken at  a place I go to when I need to feel peace.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Advent Prison

A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes … and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today's reading from Philipians is so upbeat, so full of thanks, praise and confidence that the God who "began a good work in us with carry it on to completion"  that it is easy to miss the fact that Paul wrote it "in chains". There are many kinds of prisons in our lives, those we create for ourselves and those we create for others out of our abuse or privilege. We only have to read the news to see on a daily basis the fact that humans are often better at creating prisons than in allowing freedom to flourish. Part of the promise of Advent is the promise of freedom, or as Isaiah put it, " to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness  the prisoners." Light in darkness and freedom from chains when seen as metaphors for a release from worldly woes create an inspiring ideal -  one which a cynic might well reject as pie in the sky.  Paul's words are those of a man who may be physically captive but who has achieved a mental and spiritual freedom because of his dependence on God. The next paragraph goes on to explore the paradox that Paul's chains advance the gospel and might make us consider that the Good News does not promise us freedom from our difficulties but rather freedom in spite of them. Paul's imprisonment is a metaphor for Advent because he waits with hope, with trust in God and in the knowledge that ,even while held captive to difficulties and constraints, God can still complete a good work in us if we rely on Him.