#adventbookclub 18 December: Dumbstruck

Poor old Zechariah. A perfectly understandable wobble in the face of apparently ridiculous news and he’s struck dumb for questioning. This is, as Maggi points out, apparently quite unfair since plenty of others have encountered God and demanded proof.

Today is all about waiting…a renewed emphasis on our waiting for the birth of our saviour comes through looking at the waiting and end of hope for another child, that of Elizabeth and Zechariah.

What are you waiting for? Is there an unfulfilled longing in your heart?

There are two other points to take away from this passage. First: Zechariah’s muteness means Elizabeth has a role in declaring the arrival of John.  Would the people she met have been incredulous as they saw her growing? It would be a fascinating conversation to overhear.

Secondly, we are pointed to the symbolic nature of Zechariah’s silence. He was a priest, serving in the Temple. But his silence represents the gap, the change to a new priesthood – that of Jesus, our new high priest. The church doesn’t let people into priestly orders lightly these days, and many potential priests spend a long time in the process of discernment. Fire, angels or even a helpful direct message from God are few and far between.

I can remember as a child asking ‘how do I know whether this is God speaking to me or just my own ideas?’ – how do you know which it is, whether it is inspiration or indigestion you’re feeling? I’ve never quite worked that out, and I’m just a teeny bit suspicious of those who are so certain that God Told Me to (buy this, go there, do that, talk to that person, etc). At least in our indecisiveness and doubt we know we are in good company…

11 December – the BBQ bake off

Oh goody goody hurrah. One of my favourite and, I may dare suggest, one of the silliest passages in the OT. Yes, Elijah was a great prophet, the foreshadow of John the Baptist and yes we see a powerful God at work but come on: a fire competition? A barbecue show-down? A ram bake-off? I can never imagine this scene without finding the comedy in it. Can you imagine, all those Baal worshippers… Sneaking a look at Elijah’s damp bonfire and hoping theirs will break forth in flames sometime soon…?

Or being on Elijah’s team – would you have had the complete faith that the dousing of the bonfire implies? I’m not sure I would. And did the fire of the Lord take people by surprise? I bet there were a few singed robes, if not beards.

But… seriously… As well as the comedy, this passage has the drama. It shows Elijah fully confident that God is God. And I wonder how many times we doubt that?

As with last Wednesday’s reading the interesting part for me was the new idea: that actually, calling down fire from heaven isn’t the best way to demonstrate to onlookers that God is God and in control. (Although…am I the only one that’s ever wished for a tiny bit of fiery smiting of our enemies?)

If we are secure in our faith, goes the argument, we don’t need to engage with those who would loudly criticise and ask for proof. We do not need to have our apologetics governed by ‘media fads.’ I think this idea is ever more true in our world of social media. Our book was written before Twitter was invented, so the kind of argument, abuse and controversy that can be tweeted could only be imagined. I suspect a discussion about religion and social media could take us until the end of Advent, so let’s not focus too much on that.

How do we engage with our critics? What are good, loving ways to tell people the good news? What makes a good herald in the 21st century?

4 December

Go on, admit it. You saw this list, tried to read it, got as far in as ‘son of Jannai’ and skipped straight to the end. It’s the kind of reading that you’d dread having to give in church. That’s OK, I don’t think you’re alone.

I wanted to blog today because it’s my birthday. So it feels appropriate that today we start with the genealogy. Thanks to my father’s patient research I can get as far back as my great-great-great-great Grandfather, so I know how at least half of my recent family has progressed.

Luke chooses to emphasise Jesus’ family tree in his telling of the story. This, we are told today, reminds us that the salvation in the coming Messiah is for everyone…regardless. The gospel is for everyone.

Do you ever doubt that? Have you ever secretly – or openly – worried that the invitation is for everyone…except people like you?

It is the second point raised in Maggi’s commentary for today that I found the most interesting. The simple explanation that the incarnation is ‘a rescue plan for a world gone wrong’ has served me well as a theological starting point for a couple of decades. I don’t think I’d considered the idea that it was a ‘fulfilment of humanity,’ ‘an expression of God’s desire to reveal himself in such a way that we may become like him.’ In other words, I think, Jesus wasn’t born just because we are in a broken world but because God made person-shaped shows us what a perfect person was like. Jesus interacted with, ate with, cried with and celebrated with real people so that we would be able to relate to our creator God in a completely different way. Jesus understood what it’s like to be on the inside of one of these human-shaped bodies – with the need to eat, express emotion, be tired, cold or in pain. So we can be assured that he really does sympathise with us and our failings.

What do you think of this idea?
Does Luke’s grounding of the narrative in the dawn of time affect your perception of the story?

#adventbookclub – Days 1 and 2

So, we’re off. Advent Book Club is underway. This is where I add another thing to my List of Things to Do… only this one, this is the one that will make me stop and slow down enough during the headlong rush to 25th December. At least, that’s the plan.

Yesterday’s reading, and Pam’s blog post, picked up on the idea that Christmas can be a difficult time for many. In part, I think, motivation for being part of #adventbookclub is that I am trying to take the focus off that one day, 25th. If I can take time between now and then to anticipate the celebration, to think more about the reasons than the trappings of the day, then perhaps the recurrent problems will disappear. Or perhaps not. Perhaps I will be so frazzled after an afternoon of stewarding in church, and the midnight mass, that Christmas Day will really just be a blurry blot of tiredness. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Today, Monday, the key point that’s being made (or at least the one I picked up on) was that the Genesis account of creation, and as echoed in John’s gospel, is not a second best, an explanation for a world’s existence that is for people who ignore science (which is lucky, as that is never an approach I’d take).

And the light, the light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

This is a terribly hurried post – in between finishing work, going for a run and then on to PCC – so if you want more comment, more in depth ideas, there are other better blog posts on the Facebook page!

Want to join in? We’re reading ‘Beginnings and Endings‘ together. Read along, comment on Twitter (use the hashtag #adventbookclub) or on our Facebook page.