Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Night: The Birth of Jesus Christ

Tonight we conclude the journey we have been making together at AFC in Advent through Art.

Our final painting in this end of year series is by the Dutch artist Gerald von Honthorst painted in 1622.

Von Honthorst spent the early part of his career in Rome and much admired the work of Caravaggio and he completed a similar painting to this one two years previously in 1620.

This famous work of art wonderfully makes use of light.  It radiates from the Christchild and its source is the Christchild.

We are left in no doubt as to who is the centre of Christmas!

The promise of this Child is that He will bring light, that He is bathed in God's light and that He will enlighten our world with truth and kindness.

And one last observation from me - both the title of this inspired masterpiece and its stunning composition speak of The Adoration of The Shepherds .  Christmas is, I believe, a wonder-filled mystery and the 25th of December isn't really a day for theological debate but for worship.

For Jesus Christ still calls men and women to worship and be filled with wonder, love and praise.  This Christmas season we too can kneel at the manger and offer God our adoration and thanksgiving for the Christchild of Bethlehem.

Happy Christmas!

Ian

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Advent 4: Mary and Elizabeth

This year throughout Advent at AFC we've been looking at some paintings and today's shows us that wonderful moment when two cousins meet and share that special joy that both of them are to become mothers.

Mary and Elizabeth play a central role in our Christmases year by year.  Elizabeth is the mother of John the Baptist and Mary, of course, becomes the Mother of Jesus.  As Erna has written in our Art in Advent leaflet: At the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth and in the intimate sharing of their good news, the public scorn of barren-ness and the unexpected pregnancy outside wedlock fade away and joy becomes the dominant emotion'.

Well today's painting is one of my favourites in our Advent sequence - it's just an exuberant celebration of joy and friendship and expresses so much love and hope.  And surely that's what all the nativity plays and carol services this weekend are all about for we are celebrating a God of love who gives us so much hope.

The witness of John the Baptist and the message of Jesus of Bethlehem has changed the course of human history yet it all started with the obedience and faithfulness of two, well we might even call them, insignificant women.

Perhaps we should never under estimate the way God can use 'ordinary' yet committed people, the likes of Mary and Elizabeth, to bring about his loving purposes.

Reminds me a little of that lovely phrase from the pen of the American social commentator Margaret Mead who once wrote: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

I love that - and I love the part played in the outworking of Christmas by these two cousins in today's painting.

Best wishes,


Ian

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Advent 3: John The Baptist

Our painting today is a modern interpretation of John the Baptist and it's by the wonderful British artist who now lives in Folkestone Dinah Roe Kendall.

She is a exciting new discovery for me and I just love her vibrant and colourful depictions of well known Bible stories in this irrepressible style of hers.  Her book 'Allegories of Heaven' is on my wish list for 2016!

She says the highlight of her career was an exhibition of her work in the chapel at Doncaster Prison.  Apparently it gave her so many opportunities for honest conversation with the prisoners.

Today she depicts John the Baptist pointing to the true light who is coming after him - yet in a sense that light - God's truth and love - has been around for ever.

Our leaflet quotes the German Karl Rahner talking of the 'imperfect messenger' - that was undoubtedly true of John - who even at one stage started to question Jesus' mission and tactics.  It also applies to us - the church - for, of course, we too are imperfect.  Yet, thank God, we can still be used by God to be a signpost pointing others to God's love.

On Thursday last I spoke at an interfaith gathering at the Quaker Meeting House here in Amersham on the subject of light.  A fellow seeker after truth, a Muslim Banker from Canary Wharf in London joined me on the 'platform' and gave a perspective on the subject from an Islamic point of view.  I was so touched by a phrase he used when he said:  When we move one pace towards God - he reaches out and moves ten paces towards us.

In these tense days when our Muslim friends are so terribly misrepresented it was good to share together that evening and what a super thought that God reaches out to us with such generosity of spirit.

John pointed to such a God and we - an imperfect church - seek to do the same.

Best wishes as we move ever closer to Christmas!

Ian

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Advent 2: Wilderness

This year at AFC we are journeying through Advent using a painting or photo each week. 

A number of folk have said how much they appreciate the Advent paintings down the side corridor and accompanying leaflet – which is great!

On this second Sunday in Advent the set readings of the day take us out to the Wilderness as we meet John the Baptist.

Liz’s photo was taken in the Negev Desert on a visit to the Holy Land in 2013.  She says being there cut her down to size and in that context only the big questions mattered.

We all go through desert phases in our lives – and although we may not feel this when we travel through those wilderness experiences – they can become very fruitful times for us.  Times when the big questions mattered and were faced.  Times when we gained a deeper perspective on ourselves, life and God.

John the Baptist wasn’t a priest and didn’t serve in the temple.  Yet God spoke through this firebrand of a preacher and the wilderness became his pulpit.

Interesting that – meeting God in wilderness.

Although I’d want to unpack this, C.S.Lewis said something similar when he wrote:
God seems to whisper to us in our joys but he shouts in our sorrows. 

 Prayer
Loving and Life giving God
You travel with us through the wilderness just as you came to your ancient people as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night.
Sometimes you are silent and we are called to trust in your loving purposes.
Sometimes you speak to us in ways we could never expect and we are called to listen to you with discernment.
Lead us, we pray, through these days of Advent so that with both that sense of trust and discernment we may greet you in joy or sorrow and know that your presence always brings hope.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord – Emmanuel – God with us.

Amen

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