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Lk2v1-2 Syria. A country often on our lips but one for whom I struggle to know how to pray for. How does one pray for a nation? How does one pray for a government? How does one pray generically for the suffering and intentions of thousands upon thousands? When I lead a service at church I find myself googling for world events that need intercessory prayer in a way that I don't usually - perhaps this is a virtue of communal prayer, that it forces us to think of prayer for those beyond ourselves, but equally this behaviour is indicative of the fact that I haven't internalised prayerful habits for nations and places in need. God, teach me to pray. I pray for the people of Syria, I pray your light, your love, your armour of protection. I pray for Syrians in the UK, prompt me, us by your spirit to be a place that demonstrates your kindness, your refuge. worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/syrian-refugees-prayer
Lk2v3-4 Davidic lineage. Man hands ministry onto man, it, too, deepens like a coastal shelf, if we would only let God.. By individualising against familiality we have not escaped the formative damages of childhood development, while we have aggressively shed those benefits of being intergenerationality triangulated and of being deepened in the peculiar ministry of our tribe. Being of a lineage is a given given, you are cast in the mould of even absent negligent parents recursively. You have only the choice of whether you face this consciously or no, in the counselling of the everyday or the counselling of a psychotherapist. For better or worse, you are your father's son. God's vision for humanity is for better, redeeming families to be more than the sum of their pathologies, and He considers their idiosyncratic gifts as the irreducible building blocks of a personalist Kingdom of Heaven. God's plan for the world is the long game, the patient ground swell of lineages, like giant oil tankers, brought slowly round the long of arc of redemption.
~ Town of Bethlehem. We go to the ends of the earth, _from_ a somewhere. "Y'all know where I'm from: 01 to the 21.." to the farthest flung you are still inescapably from. Watching Caitlin Moran's Raised by Wolves is a little essay in such Genius Loci. Hilarious and uncomfortable home truths. So too, God works through the complex tapestry of place. The Emperor Quirinias and his nativity crew, political projects, armies and subsequent empires breeze through the land fleetingly, God has been orchestrating a much bigger story. He is orchestrating a much bigger story, for London, for 41.
Lk2v5-6 The time came. 'God's timing is perfect', 'trust in God's timing' are phrases I've never liked or used. Maybe the mire of tangled philosophy behind these phrases makes me keep them at arms length but also because the way these phrases are used tends to conjour in my mind a god as a super-person, who floats just slightly higher off the ground than human beings and can see a little further into the distance, who has some magic powers to move middle-sized dry goods around a bit, a god who wants to bring about the same things that I want, but just at a slightly different time, so I can feel a bit smugly vindicated in the end that I got the thing we wanted, but oh how humbly I also learnt to wait for god's timing. This picture seems to get wrong both God's transcendence and God's immanence. For in some sense all timing is God's timing (Ec3v1-8, what other kind could there be?) And in another sense our sense of time is so shaped by the contours of our own consciousness that cosmic time and deep time are beyond our grasp (2Pt3v8). This is a mystery, I don't know how to comport myself to God's 'time'. I think the 'timing' of God must have an ethical (Ec3v16) and an aesthetic dimension (Ec3v11), & I think we see glimpses of this. We sometimes see how things 'fit', we can tell events as narrative for the glory of God. Sometimes God speaks specific things, like 'wait' or 'go for it'. God is both nearer and bigger than we think, the events around us today already contain a language that speaks of God, the time is always coming, the time is always more than us.
Lk2v7-8 "No room at the inn.." Plan B was always Plan A: The bolt from the blue for the broken is a backstreet bleak and insanitary birth wrapped ragged with what's ready-to-hand. Harsh like Calais Jungle improv, Christ is born at the edge in a brutal theatre of unsentimental favela energy. Behold a sticky God, messy, he makes do to mend. Just about mangering, God takes brinkmanship to the borderlands to display enoughness itself.
~ "No room at the inn.." Outsiders, outliers.. Jesus' birth is not incidentally outside. The outsideness is vital. Beyond the city gates. From-the-outside is where the energy to reverse entropy comes from. Outside of the closed loop of recursive recurrence, God is.
Lk2v9-10 More fear. Interesting to note that the shepherds proclaim joy to be the antithesis of fear, rather than peace, comfort, stillness or courage, as we might expect. I realise that I tend to think of joy as being an extra and optional variable on top of some basic level of existential security that I'm supposed to feel. Not so, dear shepherd-heart, quaking in the early morn. Behold! The joy of your life is close by. Allow joy to master you first, for joy frets nothing, joy panics nothing, joy is a right response to the good, the true, the beautiful. Joy is a right response to belovedness, that which casts out all fear.
Lk2v11-12 Saviour. Christ. Lord. Blurry tautologians, note:
~ Saviour (ctrl+shift+S): From the world, the flesh and the devil. From sins of thought and word and deed. From negligence, weakness and our own deliberate fault. Saviour Jesus saves. Perpetually present tense. Over and over and over. Again and again and again. You and you and you. Jn5v17
~ Christ (adj. 'annointed'): Annointed Prophet. Annointed Priest. Annointed King. Christ Jesus ministers. A supernatural multi-tool, a kit of gifts, commissioned to assume roles mediating spiritual power via a threefold office.
~ Lord (, The): Preeminent over all. Preexisting before all. Prevailing beyond all. Lord Jesus is. Total Boss. Last word. Definitionally superlative. Utter and ultimate. Unparseably vast. Being in its utmost form. More than more than.
~~ Saviour. Christ. Lord. // Does. Has. Is. // Action. Power. Title. // Effecting. Ministering. Being.
Lk2v13-14 Heavenly host. Thinking about the we-yous of angelic-human interactions. There is a collective subject that is the heavenly host who can, it seem, address us, and to whom, it seems, we can reply. Speculation on the inter-group dynamics of a band of angels isn't something we're given much insight into here, but we do see their unity in joint action, collective proclamation, shared purpose, communal worship. We see angels attending to Christ together and turning to face other others to speak of him. Our tasks might differ from the angels in some ways, but there is obvious similarity, overlap and ultimate shared purpose of the worship of the true God. So too then the church, that we are called to attend together to Christ, coordinating ourselves to labour together as one. Prayer this morning for the grace, wisdom, co-ordination, right focus and love that we need for one another as the church, small scale and world wide.
Lk2v15-16 "Let us go.." It is a tidy and dazzling coincidence that we should have considered precisely this notion at such length this weekend from Ps84 'Blessed are those whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.' Pilgrimage is a 'going': a sense that there is a point A and a point B. // a conviction that I cannot stay at at A. // a counting the cost of the distance to B. // And then, a going.
~ And we, like the shepherds, *go together*, withwards, speaking a "let us" to one another - such is a sacred texting.
~ And we, like the shepherds, *go in hope* for a thing which already "has happened" but which is revealed as future tense not-yet seen.
~ And we, like the shepherds, *go "in haste"* knowing our need, knowing time is short, knowing that this makes all the difference. ~ And we, like the shepherds, *go looking* with an earnest yearning seeking scouring eye, a raking and close meditating attentive attention "and found Mary" - ἀνεῦραν is no mere stumbleupon, but a discovery after searching.
and shepherds, bored
woke, and wonder gnawed
Beheld the Lord!
made known abroad,
of one accord,
absurd to hoard
the treasure stored
the spirit broad
their guilt unscored
Far more, and less, than they could afford.
Lk2v19-20 "treasured up .. pondered" What do you store away? What do you commit to memory? What do you bottle up? What promises have you preserved? What tapes do you play? What have you tattooed to your eyelids, what have you carved to your desk? Memory is everything. It is your only interpretative lens, it is the calibration tool of all experience, the bedrock of all language, the means by which we self-identify at all. The modern mind is amnesiac, a flickering light on a blank slate, delible words on disposable architecture, we are committed to nothing and commit nothing to memory, we are flimsy and forgettable flash drives *But you can choose to remember.* And you can choose what you remember. Selective memory is inevitable, so select well. I can give you more verbatim Eminem than I can any writer of anything more edifying. I have not selected well. And thus polluted, the lens by which I describe reality through is tinted and tainted by untruth, subtly shifting my sense of the real, my definition of normal, and my measure of the possible. Scripture memorisation is nothing to boast in, it is an epistemological life-jacket, it is windscreen-wash for our journey through a sandstorm, it is the control test against which all other variables are wildly field tested. // One could contrast "treasured up" two ways. It is *not-forgetting the foundations of your identity*, but it also implies *not-broadcasting boasts of bravado.* The Christian is a depthed being, withdrawing from the ecstasy of communication, and the noise of the present, into the steady and eternal certainties of treasure treasured up. Or so says this introvert..
Lk2v21-22 The naming of Jesus. Sat in the College garden this morning I took out Hudson Taylor's 'Union and Communion with Christ' then put it away again, feeling self-conscious. Among the philosophers and theologians I feel awkward about the name 'Christ', and 'Jesus' is even worse. I'd much rather talk about 'the divine', or maybe 'the Trinitarian God' if I'm feeling brave. I'm quick to un-name Jesus, fearing association with a caricature of the one-dimensional cheesy evangelical. Why have I let myself associate use of the name of Jesus with this fear? I pray that I might be in the business of loving the name and naming the love of Jesus. Out loud: 'Jesus'. May remember, reassociate, recognise the depths of his name.
Lk2v23-24 Christianity is Jewish. Judaism entails certain contextual practices which are now redundant, but also, certain practices which reflect broad human universal practical necessity and enduring poetic relevance. Maternity leave is such a universal practical necessity. Lv12 makes this provision in a language very alien to us: *Uncleanness* ameliorated by *Sacrifice*. The modern mind dismisses these as crude anthropological curiousities. The evangelical mind dismisses these through Jesus: Christ makes all things clean. Christ is a once-for-all sacrifice. I want to briefly and inconclusively speculate on these two themes:
~ *Unclean* as a word conjures in the mind an icky naughtiness, it is a cruel pejorative, a slur brought against the helpless to add insult to injury. It renders a world irredeemably polluted, and the pursuit of personal hygiene stands as a barrier to mission (Ac10v14 etc). However, not all modes of quartering the world into geographies of quarantine are equal. It is possible to establish categories of time space and matter according to their contagious influence or immune nonresistance and to make contingency for compassionate cushioning for the protection of the vulnerable. Maternity leave is such a bracketing. And it is notable that in Judaism the leave is total, short (33 or 66 days), celebrated publically upon readmittance, and varied according to the child (in this case by gender which is another discussion, but it is enough to note that the leave is bespoke).
~ *Sacrifice* usually emphasises a vertical dimension to our spiritual life, a theatrical death of a hapless creature to placate an irate deity. Or in more modern modes, like secular Lent, it is the dramatic death of a pleasure or the onerous foregoing of some privilege in order to placate an infinite moral misdemeanour - smoking or crimes against the body beautiful. Sacrifice in Judaism is notably more person-centred as a ritual, and even horizontal in its orientation, the cost varied according to the economy of her means and the meat would then be eaten by the offerer.
Lk2v25-26 As per discussions about Simeon in Advent, considering that this revelation is comparable to someone now having revelation that they will witness the second coming before they die, which I would dismiss as craziness. As I all the more encounter different types of people with different styles and convictions I ache for discernment and openness both in full measure that I might be able to be aligned with the work of the Spirit who transcends subjective conviction. Come Holy Spirit, give us knowledge, make us wise, draw us close.
~"Death" It is interesting to me that they both have a story with death (v26 "see death" and v37 "widowed"), as if the Spirit were a Thestral, we are beings-toward-death, but over death, we talk down to Death on first name terms, 1Co15v55.
Lk2v29-30 Breath to breath / birth and death. Birth and death heighten everything, neither are capable of telling lies. Both tell us things matter. Both make us responsible. Both tell us we must surrender. Both tell us we can't run on default. Both are unknowns. This is life alive to God: alive to the mystery and pain of birth and death.
Lk2v31-32 "..Salvation .. Light .. Revelation .. Glory.." Generic Christian honorifics prompt an overfamiliar drowsy nod-along response in me. The light metaphor, however, never gets old, never bottoms out, never ceases to draw my imagination to the nooks of new possibility. Light: emitted, transmitted, reflected and absorbed. From the rectilinear propagation of an evangelion, to living in the light's warming glow and nuanced colour, to the casting of light and shadow onto the relief of a textured universe. The world is divided here for Simeon, as for Paul, into Jew and Gentile, a world yet united under a banner 'all peoples' who will yet be brought to light.
~ The Jews, that is, the church qua existing covenant community, has a *light-for-glory*. Light from within, Christ the filament gloriously emitting light outwards from the bulb of the church. Christ's coming into the world is light-for-glory, your glory, Christian. Christ-In-You-the-[luminous]-Hope-of-Glory.
~ The Gentiles, that is, the world, your colleagues, your family, your housemates, have *light-for-revelation*. From this moment, they can now see their hand in front of their face. Radiant light transmitted through the ether from the lit-for-glory saved-ones, casts a world brighter and more shapely, coherent and navigable. Light-for-revelation is task lighting, lamps-unto-paths, neon signage.
_# I will hold the Christ-light for you_
_in the night-time of your fear;_
Lk2v33-34 Rise and Fall First the falling, then the rising. Dragging my soul kicking and screaming to believe Col2v12-15 this morning. Unadorned prayers: First death, then resurrection. Praying for a fuller measure of understanding.
Lk2v35-36 Mary's bleeding heart. No glassy scarlet bead etched with a scalpel, no needling switchblade idly toyed with. The blade ῥομφαία in view here is a blazing barbarian cutlass, the greek mentioned only elsewhere in Rv1v16's double-edged samurai sword, the WMD of sabre sports. Like Mary, we bear Christ, and if we suffer we will reign Rm8v17. Against sanitised Christian suffering, we are lambs to the slaughter, church should be a bloody mess.
Lk2v37-38 Considering what it would be to "never leave the temple". I suspect that Anna is someone else I would dismiss as a bit crazy if I met her. Worshipping night and day? Isn't it a bit...extreme? One-sided? A dangerous echo-chamber? The latter prompts thoughts on what makes for a pathological 'Christian bubble' vs discerning a right calling to primarily or even exclusively invest in worship, prayer and prophecy in the temple. A 'Christian bubble' perhaps involves none of the risk, challenge or labour of life 'out in the world' but also none of Anna's fervour. It takes God-language and church-habits for granted but can operate on an otherwise functional atheism. Where we find ourselves called to life in the temple it must surely be a life of costly rather than cosy.
Lk2v39-40 Jesus "grew" and "became strong" and was "filled with wisdom" and.., like Team America, this needs a montage. The Exploding Calendar trope, set to Eye of the Tiger, we see JC manning up. When we pop out the end of our extended adolescence, what have we become? What manner of manhood have we acquired?
Jesus' incarnation involved birth and death, weakness and temptation, family and friendship, hunger and thirst, dirt and cleaning, anger and intellect, physical pain, emotional pain, and in this verse, 'growth'. To grow is inevitable. But to grow up to become other than merely boys-who-can-shave is not inevitable. Being human involves a growing into an adult form of the species, quantitatively bigger, but what is the quality of being a grown-up, which Millenials are accused of delaying? Many answers could be discussed, but these verses offer these three for starters:
~ *1. Strength.* What did Jesus need strength for? His calling in life was to die for sinners - no strength needed? Additional to that, to preach - no strength needed? And to perform healing - no strength needed? This popular construction of an abridged Jesus in a body-optional mode of his embodiment offers very little to provoke we the reedy, cybernetic and metrosexual towards a muscular Christianity. Jesus grew strong. Christian! Become strong, increase in vigour, Do Hard Things! (Alex & Brett Harris)
~ *2. Wisdom.* Against the myth of the genius, the magic-thinking shortcut to the right answer, there is a wisdom into which one grows. Jesus _was being filled.._ present-participle of a process ongoing. In an wiki age of networked mind, what does one bother to commit to memory, what mental fight is worth the effort, what sort of a knower does one want to become? In an age of mere data processing, what is wisdom? It is still "the art of living skilfully..", it still begins with "the fear of the Lord.." and it remains a prerequisite for mature adulthood. Would that we, 41 and the rest of our generation would set our hearts on a sage gravitas, slowly earnt, long fermented and hard tested. Wisdom wars for true truth, against constructions of reality based on unrelational knowledge and disembodied being. Jesus grew in a wisdom.
~ *3. God's favour.* Indefinite teenagers: there but for the Grace of God go I. The answer to growing up is not simply to work harder and do more. The gift, the privelege, the resource to be the grownup you are called to be, this comes from God. Recieve it by faith. Seek it. Flex the muscles of faith, grow into the use of it, know more the need of it, so seek more of it. And so then Lk2v52: "increase in this grace and favour of God". God grant us grace to grow up.
What is in your Rocky montage?
Lk2v41-42 Jesus was a church kid, like me. He knew the deal, he breathed the alloyed oxygen of genuine faith and compromised religion all about him, his body knew the rituals, his memory was populated by these annual church weekends away in Jerusalem. A prayer this morning for the church kids, for myself, for Phil [et al]. We're all church kids. All the churched and de-churched and re-churched and the not-sures and just-beginnings. For the idol of church to be broken in us all. For the love of church to be a true safety and calling. For true church. For new church. For freedom in realising that Jesus is not the small-c church, for the joy and hope of realising that the big-C church is Jesus, the true vine. God, come save us church kids.
Lk2v43-44 Struck by two things:
 Becoming adult
 Being chill
~  Travelling parties to Jerusalem would have travelled in two groups: the men, and the women&children. Jesus here is older than Nancy Cameron left in the Plough Inn, and the focus here should not be on negligent parenting, but on the unavoidable ambiguity of adolescence. And considering that, then pondering what are the sufficiently safe, sufficiently challenging conditions for the eager developing mind to make radical choices not to follow the inevitable path of his father and uncles, but to carve a divergent road less travelled. The church, as the temple in that day, should be that third space. And perhaps 41 might be such a context for the church. Run this story of Jesus coming-of-age with the parallel prodigal son parable, or with a more contemporary Into The Wild, a note the will to inividuate and the youthful vigour, curiosity and sense of justice, is constant, but how easily this drifts restless and uncontained into the twenties, and even thirties. Kettled, coddled, indulged, suffocated - the world is wasted by the youths we squander.
 Being Chill vs Judgemental Phil who is baffled that this behaviour should be called love. Jesus callous disregard for the practicality of The Plan, what is he thinking!? Och, Phil. The God has these things in hand, and it is so important to retain a sense of proportion, and an openness to the self-ordering of the universe, and the capacity of grace to come in from the outside to bear up these practical things. Jesus is relentlessly relational and impractical, because he could be, and can be. He holds the universe in his hand. As if this were Lion in every moment, knowing that it ends happily ever after, knowing that all things work for good, that we will be reunited, and that everything broken will be repaired.
Lk10v41-42 "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."
Ps46v10 "..Be chill, and know that I am God."
Lk2v45-46 I wonder how Mary & Joseph felt during this search for Jesus, especially Mary. She tells us afterwards of her v48 "great distress". Did she know in her depths that Jesus would be ultimately be safe, drawing on the 1v32-33 prophetic promises of God and the 2v19 deep-buried treasures of testimony in her heart, despite surface anxiety? Or did she wonder with deep-seated fear and confusion whether this event unfolding was the 2v35 sword that would pierce her? How did she pray? With anger? With surrender? Reminding God of his words? With loss of certainty as to whether any of it has been God at all? How do we live with the specific direct things we think God has spoken to us - with faith but not entitlement or hubris? What do we do with hard words? How search for Jesus in the hub-bub of the city without over- or under-interpreting our own calling? It can all be a bit loud and frantic, this search, God...teach me the how as well as the where.
Lk2v47-48 In the life of the mind, what made Jesus 'Jesus'? We know Jesus' Jesusness was not found in any "form nor comeliness". It was not any "beauty that we should desire him" Is 53:3. It was not an immunity to hunger Mk11v12 or sleep Mk4v38. Neither was it omniscience, for he had to learn wisdom Lk2v52. But what about his mind? He "astonished in his understanding and answers".. When the God of the universe elected to become flesh, did he fashion a version of a man with a peculiar mental capacity, a superhuman intellect? Should we consider Jesus intelligent, above average intelligent, in the top 1% intelligent, or beyond that, a superlatively intelligent genius operating with an inaccessible giftedness? And what does that genius alter in the way we relate to our friend and saviour, our brother and exemplar?
OR. Can it be claimed that Jesus was an ordinary human, of ordinary build and ordinary intelligence, distinguished only by sinlessness? Genuine question.
To meet a simple mind long shaped by grace, an average mind not blinded by sin, not hostage to sinful appetites, not corrupted in its thinking - such a mind would think astonishing thoughts. There would the weak and foolish things shame the wise. For, sin impairs thinking, the mind turned in on itself is epistemelogical self sabotage. There is a virus-of-the-mind aspect to our captivity to sin. And the corrupt mind's ideas have consequences for mental health, and the total effectiveness of a genius.
But an average mind, that has learnt to kill sin? That would be astonishing.
Lk2v49-50 Jesus embodies Ps84, obv. And the search for him draws us towards the Father's house, the holy of holies, a clearer signal of that Trinitarian love. The adolescent Jesus does a sneaky Jn17v24-26 on his parents. Go searching.
Lk2v51-52 "#..you too will get old; and when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders. Respect your elders..."
~ *Jesus submitted.* Be like Jesus. Imitate his civil disobedience. Imitate his submission. In this portrait of a saviour-in-formation, we see the adult Christ forged in the profoundly ordinary process of humble submission.
~ *Jesus submitted.* Even the peerless Jesus. Especially the peerless Jesus. Jesus submits because Jesus knows that the truest true greatness comes through submission. It is in submission that we find the all-sufficient resource, for the needed efficacy to overcome the utterly pervasive brokenness of the world. Submission is not incidental. Submission is essential. Submission is not merely a scout badge amongst other good behaviours. Submission is the training for, and the substance of, _the_ battle against the human problem: the rebellious unsubmissive selfish heart. *Submission is the antithesis of individualism.* And, individualism is _the_ drug of our age. It permeates every presupposition, every snowflake lifestyle expectation, every disruptive business plan, every party political manifesto. It colours marriages, it shapes architectures, and it renders community antagonistic and impossible. We measure ourselves and 'the good' against a false freedom, the myth of autonomy. And toward that vision, our modern saviour will come unfettered, so we must be unfettered. Our rugged individualist saviour will move fast and break things to bring us the salvation of invulnerable podular existences and technologies which mitigate all contexts for possible submission.
~ *Submit because Jesus submitted.* You are not the exception. A life-unsubmitted is not merely flimsy and sentimental, it is untrue and ineffective. You are not better than Jesus.
~ *Submit as Jesus submitted.* Jesus submitted to inadequate authorities, uncomprehending parents ultimately through to duplicitous disciples and corrupt government. Jesus submits, he takes no power over, he seeks the good of and serves, he plays by their rules, he dies by their sword.
~ *Submission is the substance of peaceful community* Eph5v21 Submission moves the heart. Mary was taking notes anyway, but this episode commits itself as a memory bookending Mary's understanding of the Christ's formation. And it is in this way of impacting the heart that *submission is the armoury of effective conflict* Rm12v21 Mt5v39 1Pt3v1 etc. Submission is the non-violence which heaps burning coals, overthrows empires and wins unbelieving spouses to faith.