A Pause in Advent Week 1

Luke 1

5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

8-12 It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering. Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralyzed in fear.

13-15 But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God.

15-17 “He’ll drink neither wine nor beer. He’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother’s womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he’ll get the people ready for God.”

18 Zachariah said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.”

19-20 But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.”

21-22 Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. When he came out and couldn’t speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.

Before the birth of Jesus there was another miracle child. Different sort of miracle. Fewer consequences over time, space, man’s place with God etc. but amazing nontheless. Zachariah was a priest – a man from a long line of priests. His wife Elizabeth had the same sort of lineage. They were people of God. They served, they took their place, they were well thought of. It wasn’t an act. It was who they were. Yet there was a prayer –  a request perhaps long forgotten – but maybe not. There was no child. In the time of Elizabeth and Zechariah, this was a sadness beyond explanation. Initially, I suppose prayers for a child were pursued enthusiastially, with great faith – naming, claiming, calling down promises, waking each morning believing that this was the day. But, despite everything, no baby. Hope fades. There is a sadness, something missing but blessings were counted and life went on. Then Zechariah is performing his priestly duties, alone in the temple and the Angel Gabriel appears, at the right side of the altar. Now, with hindsight, if we were watching this in a film we would say all the clues were there. It is Zechariah’s one time in his whole life doing this. He is alone in the very epicentre of God’s place on earth and the Angel Gabriel appears with such splendour and force that Zechariah is paralyzed with fear. We would say  that when the Angel gave notice that the promise was at hand and everything, every prayer, every petition had been fulfilled and the time was here – now, we would say of course we would believe the angel straight away.  But, despite the evidence of his own eyes and his wobbly legs, Zechariah ignores all the signs and states that he doesn’t believe it. I like him. 

At this point Gabriel is possibly a bit naffed off. (I have no idea if angels get naffed off) He has come bringing great and joyful news. He has also conveyed detailed instructions about the child’s diet and lifestyle. This son will be an amazing son. He tells Zecharaiah that he will be literally jumping for joy. Zechariah is not jumping for joy. I sometimes imagine Gabriel now curling his top lip onto his teeth the way that Eric Morecambe did when he was losing patience with Ernie. And patience is truly lost along with Zechariah’s power of speech. Gabriel is probably not used to being contradicted and he takes away the trembling but incredulous Zachariah’s ability to argue with him.

Everyone outside is now restless. How come he is gone so long? As soon as Zechariah appears, they are in no doubt. He has seen some kind of a vision but he cannot tell them what it was.

Although, Zechariah does not win any Brownie points for his unbelief, it doesn’t change God’s mind. The time is still now and Elizabeth is soon pregnant with John the Baptist who would distinguish himself in many ways – including managing to recognise the Son of God when both of them were in different wombs. Elizabeth, it seemed dealt with the faith issues a lot better than her husband. (Maybe that’s the morning sickness – it can focus the mind wonderfully)

When we wait for something, when we know something has been promised and it doesn’t happen, then not so much doubt but a dull acceptance creeps in. We pretend that everything is alright really. But God doesn’t really do dull acceptance and the time for the miracle came in God’s time. After such a long time it was maybe to be expected that Zechariah’s receptors to the true nature of God had become a little fuzzed over, yet a promise is a promise. I don’t for a minute think that giving birth to John the Baptist had been what this couple had in mind but the wait came to an end. I think we all get a bit fuzzy about God’s plan for us, especially as time goes on and not much seems to be happening but Gabriel is very firm on this – the time does come and when it comes God will show up as promised. And I think the last thing any of us want to do is upset Gabriel so probably best to believe what he tells us. 

This has been part of a Blog thing called A Pause in Advent. Please go to http://angalmond.blogspot.com/ to read to some top notch Advent thinking pieces. We will be having a go at this all through Advent. You have been warned.

If this is the last…

Sorry – not trying to be dramatic. This is a reference to an old David Cassidy song because of the documentary on BBC4 on Friday night. At eleven years old, I was probably more Team Michael than team David – posessing all the Jackson 5 records and not a single solitary Partrige Family one. However, facts is facts and that was a mighty fine face he had there and a girl in possession of eleven year old raging hormones was certainly happy to give it the respect it was due.

Anyway, the documentary was much sadder than expected, revealing that all he really wanted was to be Jimi Hendrix and that he just wanted to be loved by his dad. We got through the whole thing with just ten seconds of “I think I Love You.” and not even a nod to The Puppy Song. And I was hoping at least that Shirley Jones (his step-mum) might have been given a chance to belt out a few tunes from Oklahoma – but no. We just watched an old, ill man struggling with alchohol induced dementia.  

Speaking of last – this is my last book round up of the year as I am hoping to do the Pause in Advent. More of which later. I am currently reading the Nigel Slater Christmas Chronicles which was a present from last year but it had to be put swiftly to one side when the whole house developed throwing up-itus and reading about chocolate covered stollen was turning me green. It is a lovely book though. Not just descriptive about food but he writes so well about his garden, his travels and Christmas traditions. I would probably never make anything he describes as I am unlikely to win the pools anytime soon  – everything has about 300 ingredients –  but that doesn’t stop me appreciating his lovely world. 

Slightly more negatively, I didn’t finish the Elizabeth Goudge book. I know, I know – it must be me. All the elements were there – heartwarming, churches, whimsical, mysterious. But blimey, I found it boring. I may go back and do it again and them come back and apologise.

Then two quite different books that I really liked. Catherine Fox – Unseen Things Above. She is a really good writer I think. I do lose track of who is who sometimes but I think that is my age rather than her problem. It is set around a fictional C of E parish and all the goings on within. It can be a bit raunchy, although, actually, that’s not true. A lot is suggested but very little actually described if you get my meaning. If I have a teeny tiny criticism, we do seem to be quite short of hetrosexuals in the parish – especially those with decent relationships. However, her characters are all done well enough for you to bother about them and she is very clever at suddenly clobbering you over the head with the Grace of God and making you a bit wobbly. Lastly, Making Marion by Beth Moran. This an old school lovely book. I love books about people discovering themselves. Marion turns up at a camp site to try and find out more about her father. She is shy, lost and lonely but, miraculously, the camp-owner/manager – an American powerhouse called Scarlett, almost immediately takes her under her wing and helps her change – well everything really. There is a romance you see coming about eight pages in and also the inevitable ugly duckling transformation but I didn’t care. There are also some profound things said about forgiveness and the introduction of church and a vicar never jars. (Although these days vicars who DON’T wear cowboy boots and invite everyone to “Share” during the meeting are very rare birds) There is a brave and unexpected development which is handled beautifully and when I closed the book at the end, I found I was smiling. 

From next week I am, as stated earlier, hoping to join in the Pause in Advent over on Tracing Rainbows. This means that I will be writing about Christmassy things on the Sundays in December. I need to have a think about what I’ll be writing this year. Previous entries have included – favourite Christmas films (which I tried to look at from a deep and spiritual angle obviously) and also favourite Christmas paintings. I tried going all deep with an NT Wright Advent book last year but that went pear shaped. Anyway, hopefully will be able to come up with something to stand on the side of those desperately trying to drag Christmas back from the morass of Black Friday, the John Lewis advert and Wishing it could be Christmas every flamin day! (Do you though? Do you really?)

Before I go, went to Aged Parent’s yesterday and she was sorting out her presents.

Aged Parent        You should see what I bought for “Insert name of   friend with tight socks.” It’s lovely. It’s from H&M.

Me                         H&M? That’s quite posh isn’t it? Was it something   extra nice?

Aged Parent       Did I say H&M? I meant the hospice charity shop. It’ll do.

Have a great week. 

T’was the month before…

We made it through Halloween (or at least the thing it has become where children pretend they are Hollywood offspring and dress up as characters from Marvel comics and sing the Spiderman theme through your letterbox). Bonfire Night has also passed with little reference to the historical detail and a lot of frankly quite depressing Brexit themed jokes. I live in the home of the British Firework Championships so we overdo it a bit here. Although, if I were twenty years younger, I might think it quite romantic to take a boat out into the harbour in the evening to watch the fireworks. I am, however, as old as the hills and hate the water so we stayed at home with a Jack Russell with fear induced flatulance. 

We have made our way uncertainly through these events only to find the John Lewis Christmas Advert lying in wait for us so I think we can safely assume that Christmas is on its way. This is the Diptyque Advent Calendar above by the way. It’s £320. For that amount of money, I would expect a personalised Wise Man complete with all the relevant gifts.

My earlier announcement that I would not be “doing” the usual Christmas this year has been supported by the releasing of Christmas Rotas. Head of House will be ministering the the sick for a good proportion of the day. FOW1 will be spending lots of it supporting his inamorata who will be working in the local pub/restaurant- trying to keep slightly drunk former sailors this side of completely legless. This leaves me, FOW2 (only for one day as her work beckons as well) and you know who. Aged Parent is still at the stage where she is pretending that she is happy as Larry with a reduced Christmas. I am considering softening the blow by offering Christmas Morning Church. I haven’t done one of those since we stopped working there but it could be a bit lovely in C of E. Time will tell.

With our usual impeccable timing, we are also dealing with house viewings. It has only been seven days and it is giving me bad nerves. I am not exactly Miss Congeniality at the best of times but, we had our first viewers on Saturday and it fell to me to show them round  – all the while trying to keep Morecambe quiet. Our dog likes to show his interest in new people by barking wildly and throwing himself at them. This can make things quite difficult when you are trying to be positive about the lack of central heating upstairs. (We never wanted it. Don’t like it in the bedroom) Eventually, a nine year old girl turned up from the Estate Agents to do the proper viewing. Unfortunately, she neglected to mention that we had a living room or a basement so I had to recall them from the front door. It’s all going very well. Are we supposed to be looking for a place to move on to now? It seems a bit bad mannered when you haven’t sold your own house. 

Can I be honest? (Cue lots of readers rolling their eyes and thinking – “Well if you must”) I don’t think I am doing very well in the Christianity department. I think it is everything that is going on – and there is lots going on – and work is flippin’ crazy. I know when I am overwhelmed, because I become quite peevish. Even more so than usual. I was watching a perfectly normal advert for a “Worship Service” and everyone in it was getting on my nerves. Anyway – what does “Leaning In to Worship” mean? See – I am  getting you involved in my whinging now. 

The irony is, of course, that the less I do spiritually, the less I am able to deal with what life throws at me, making me therefore less willing to do anything spiritually – making me even less able to deal with life. It is a veritable circle of life and not in a good way and with no cute cartoon lions to lighten the load. However, the HUGE positive of all this is the vastly underestimated Grace.  Is it bad, that it never occurs to me that when I eventually make my way back to God, that he would reject me? Mainly because he says he won’t and because my life experience has taught me that this is so. This isn’t ingratitude – it’s how it is. It doesn’t make me any less grateful. It can be easy to miss grace. At least I find it easy.  I just sometimes wish that I could get more of a hold of this gracious God and his involvement in me and the life I live. I expect that it would make life less troubling and therefore less wearing. 

North

Ay up. We have been to the North and we have come back. I mean the North of England – well not even that really. We have been to Manchester. I am technically from Manchester way but we don’t get to go back very often This was a flying visit to see a concert in the Bridgewater Hall. For those who aren’t familiar with the Bridgewater Hall, it usually accomodates the likes of the Halle Orchestra or the Choral Society. On Friday night, it played host to a Northern Soul and Motown evening. The reason the event was in such an august setting was that there was a full orchestra providing a strings and brass background to some frankly brilliant songs. However, Northern Soul is basically music for the working classes and no-one should have been suprised when we working classes descended on the Bridgewater like seagulls on an open binbag.

Most people were very well behaved and if the doormen are not used to having a lady with several teeth missing insisting on showing them her tatoos, they certainly didn’t show it – much. She was so happy, it almost made me resolve to get inked myself. There was plenty of Northern bonhomie. The lady who sat next to us assured us that we could leave our coats with her at half time as she had no intention of going through our pockets. Ha. This was something that had obviously not occurred to us up until the exact moment that she told us that she would never do it. There then followed an awkward few moments when we weighed up laughing gaily while we checked our pockets or throwing our coats over our shoulders feigning a sudden chill and trying to change seats.  

The evening itself was fantastic. Lots of brilliant singers singing lots of lovely songs with some of the best acoustics ever. I am no expert in the Northern Soul department but Head of House is very, very (very) wise in this department and he was more than happy with the music. Phew. 

We did go into the City Centre for a bit of shopping (A bit! Remove this debit card from my hand now!!) I haven’t been there for ages but it did look a bit shabby which was a disappointment. Although, to be fair, the general ambience was not helped by a large group of workmen, trying to put up fifty log cabins for the Christmas Market while donks like me insisted on tiptoing through their carefully placed roof joists to get to Zara.

In other news, it is November 5th today and this means that I am acknowledging the existence of Christmas. Although, did I tell you that I have cancelled Christmas this year? Well, I say cancelled, I am not doing all the turkey shenanigans etc. Firstly, I heard an interview with a lady who said that she had never done all that stuff. On Christmas Day, they had a walk, went to church, ate bacon sandwiches and soup and fell asleep in front of Indiana Jones with a glass of prosecco. I wistfully announced to no-one in particular that this sounded lovely. HOH then said it was ok with him and he may be working anyway. Both kids will probably only be here for limited time. Aged Parent doesn’t have a say because she behaved very badly last year and also I think she is better if she ends the day in her own bed. So – there we are. I have done the full on dinner for twenty odd years now and we are paring back unless anyone else wants to take it on which I doubt. I may compromise and do something in the slow cooker – haven’t decided yet. Either way, it’s very freeing. (BTW, am not having a go at you if you like to do all that. I’m just not.) Anyone else done this? How was it? 

Lastly – is anyone watching The Little Drummer Girl? I haven’t read this so am at a bit of a disadvantage. (Although I had read the Night Manager but had to go back and re-read the end because they changed it completely) Anyway, really liked the first episode – but did not have the faintest idea what was happening in the second one. I mean, I thought I knew but then it seemed I didn’t. No one is apparently what they seem which is not unusual for a Le Carre but I am not sure what they are or who they might be pretending to be or not. Phew. Will stick with it though, partly because I like the frocks although there is an Israeli spy lady/Palestinian terrorist lady (not sure) with the most terrifying feather hair cut. I would arrest her at any airport she arrived at. She certainly looks like she is up to no good. Not all of the Seventies was glamour and velvet pants it seems.

Popsock Thoughts

It has been beautiful out there hasn’t it? Flippin freezing but beautiful. Apologies for not being here last week. We were blessed by a visitation from FOW2 and I had the choice of writing a blog or sharing a big bag of those new flat Maltesers, drinking wine and watching Ready Player One on DVD. I’m sorry but chocolate on the settee (in both senses of the word – I’m a messy eater) won the day. Apparently, the key to a sucessful blog is consistency, consistency, consistency so I am in big trouble.

I have been very thoughtful this week or so about the death of Eugene Peterson – author of The Message. It’s no good being sad because it appears that he certainly wasn’t. According to his family, his last words were “Lets Go!” and he appeared to spend his final hours smiling, praying and seeing something joyous that no-one else could see. I just wanted to pay a fulsome tribute to The Message. I know he would never have claimed that it was anything more than a paraphrase and, like most people, I have perhaps felt that sometimes there was more depth in an older translation but… I’m not sure that anything else has related back to me in such a joyous way. And, I will always remember the way I felt the first time I read this.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11

Other than that – I have just been working and trying to ignore a toothache. I have a dentist’s appointment this week so the date with death destiny will come soon enough.

Aged Parent is on a tidy kick which means that I am trying hard not to dole out an actual kick. When I say a tidy kick I don’t mean something useful like cleaning the fridge for that is my department apparently. For Aged Parent it means going though piles of old papers and finding shopping lists from 1985 endlessly fascinating and impossible to dispose of. However, bank statements, policies and last will and testaments can apparently be jettisoned without a thought. Anyway, Aged Parent threw a huge carrier bag full of details which could give a scammer a good living for a long time, into the communal bins and almost immediately realised that this was unwise. As I was at work Aged Parent had to enlist the help of “Friend with High Sex Drive” – or at least her inamorato to help her climb into the rubbish chute to retrieve her papers. He was very helpful – holding the stepladders, although I would suggest it is not unreasonable to expect him to be the person to reach into the rubbish bin rather than an elderly lady who is – according to her own description – is still in severe trauma from “Being properly run over”. Other trauma was to follow. When Aged Parent knocked on her friend’s door – she was greeted by the sight of – let us call her “a slightly portly lady” wearing just bra, pants, pop socks and holding a glass of Ribena. Aged Parent was a little concerned that she may have interrupted ahem “activity” and was therefore more than a little relieved to hear her friend say “I’ll be honest Beryl. I just couldn’t be bothered with clothes today.” As the world appears to be falling apart before our very eyes, it is somehow comforting that an elderly lady’s biggest concern of the day is how much her friend’s pop socks were digging in to her legs.

“She could do with sizing up. I told her.” Cruel to be kind – see?