Advent Reflection 5: O Come Let Us Adore Him

We have been delighted to have Karenza Mahtani write a series of Advent reflections for us over the past few weeks. Here’s the final one! Karenza is part of the Accessible Prophecy UK team. Art work is by Carolyn Higgins, another member of the team.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

It’s Christmas! The time when we celebrate the person of Jesus, born in a stable – the hope of the world. We take time to reflect on the Incarnation – God taking on the form of a vulnerable baby, yet not losing any of his divine greatness in the process. Fully God and fully man. This profound mystery has beguiled Christians through the centuries and I invite you today to once again marvel in its simplicity and yet unending beauty.

Leo the Great said, “Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the incarnation. From the time when Christ came, the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, and the speech of kindliness diffused. A heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth.” (Quoted in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals).

Take a moment to ponder on this quote. The birth of Jesus is so much more than just the beginning of his life and ministry. It is the turning of the tide, the first glimpses of heaven come to earth. It changes everything! Spend some time now considering what this means for you today, as well as for all of mankind. Perhaps ask God if there is a particular part of the quote that he wants to highlight to you – ask him some questions about this.

Last week, we reflected on the ways it is easy to miss what God is doing because of the busyness and stress of life. Certainly, Christmas is a time when we can do this without realising. However, we know from the gospels that many could not receive Jesus as he was and thus could not accept that the promises and prophecies had been fulfilled in their day. Not only did this lead to them missing out on the joy experienced by the shepherds and Simeon and Anna, but also to them missing his entire ministry whilst on earth. Even amongst his own disciples, there were those who had looked for a Messiah very unlike the incarnated Christ that arrives as a baby. Some people wanted him be a human king, a political revolutionary who defeated the Romans and restored the nation to a former glory. From this perspective, we can understand why King Herod was so disturbed by the news of his birth from the wise men. Others wished him to be a moral reformer who brought “sinners” into line. Even simple things like where he grew up and who his parents were are subjected to scrutiny at various points in the gospels, as surely a Messiah could not come from that town, or be part of a carpentry business. Yet we also see those who, like most of his disciples, allow these ideas to be challenged and replaced with the glorious reality of who Jesus truly is.

Everyone brings their own expectations of what and who Jesus should or shouldn’t be. We do too, even if we have walked with him for decades. The joy and mystery of the incarnation is that the more you are captivated by the humility and love of a God who would come and walk amongst us, serving us and giving up all comfort to see us comforted, the more you want to see. The longer you want to look. The more captivating it all becomes. The more in love we fall, especially as we consider the physical smallness of a tiny baby, yet the overwhelming, all-encompassing greatness contained within this person: Immanuel, Jesus Christ, God with Us.

As you go off into your Christmas celebrations, take moments throughout the days to just marvel, to adore, to thank Jesus for all he is. Allow him to reveal more of his nature to you and allow yourself to be caught up in that divine love that comes and finds us, even in the most surprising ways.

As Advent comes to an end, I pray that the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ child be yours this Christmas; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

Advent Reflections 4: Our Hopes and Fears Through All the Years are Met in Thee Tonight

We are delighted to have Karenza Mahtani write a series of Advent reflections for us over the next few weeks. Karenza is part of the Accessible Prophecy UK team. Art work is by Carolyn Higgins, another member of the team.

Over these Advent weeks, we will be following a similar pattern to the traditional Advent wreath – 5 candles, 5 opportunities to reflect on different parts of the story. What each of these candles represents tends to vary across theological and ecclesiastical traditions, but each representation offers a fresh moment to pause and connect with God. I encourage you to take these moments as we move through this season.

The true light that gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognise him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.

John 1:9-14

Last week, we reflected on the joy experienced by the shepherds and Simeon and Anna when they recognised that the promises of God had been fulfilled in sending Jesus. All of them experienced this joy, even though, as far as we know, only Simeon and Anna were waiting expectantly and specifically for the arrival of the Messiah. Nevertheless, all of them were in a position to receive the good news, the answer to the hopes and prayers of a yearning people across the centuries.

Are we in a position to recognize what God is doing in our lives and the lives of those around us? Are we attentive to what the Spirit is doing to bring answers to our prayers, breakthrough in our situations, and healing to our hearts? Sometimes we are quick to recognise it and to receive it with joy. Other times, it can be easy to miss what God is doing in our lives, especially if those lives are chaotic, stressful and noisy. Missing what God is doing can leave us going round in circles in our discipleship and prayer life. Moreover, if we aren’t aware of what God is doing in each of us, it can be difficult to express our testimony to others, as the shepherds and Anna did, especially to those who have not met Jesus yet. We know that knowing God closely makes an impact on us, but we also need fresh bread and new wine each day in order to grow closer to him and share the ongoing difference and transformation he brings to our lives. This starts with noticing when he is on the move.

In the Advent story, particularly in Luke 1, we see several figures who eagerly receive the news and play important roles in preparing the way for Jesus. Most notable amongst these is John the Baptist: he who “came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light” (John 1 v 7 – 8). Just as the prophets of the Old Testament prophesied the Messiah’s coming, he is both a fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 40—“a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight!”—but also someone who in turn prophesies about the imminent arrival of the Messiah.

In Luke 1, we see Zechariah and Elizabeth wrestling and receiving the response to their own prayers for children, despite their advanced years. Their differing responses are worth considering, as Zechariah initially appears sceptical about whether this is even possible. This leads to him becoming mute from then on, throughout the whole pregnancy, and only receiving his voice back when he is fully obedient to the instructions of the angel, going against custom and naming his son John. Perhaps this is a challenge for all of us – when we don’t recognise what God is doing, we can lose our voice to share with others. It is in our careful attention to his words and obedience to what he says, that enables us to speak with authority and for those around us to be blessed.

Elizabeth on the other hand, seems to receive this news with great thanksgiving: “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favour in these days to take away my disgrace among the people” (Luke 1 v 25). Later on in Luke 1, we see Gabriel also visiting Mary and delivering the news that she will bear the Son of God – this part is often the bit represented in school nativity plays. Yet it is the interaction between Mary and Elizabeth in Luke 1 verses 39 – 45 that shows us the real power of receiving and recognising what God is doing. Mary’s greeting is not only heard by Elizabeth, but by John in the womb who leaps and causes the Holy Spirit to fill Elizabeth – an overflow of God’s power and joy. This leads Elizabeth to declare: “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil what he has spoken to her.”

Indeed, this chapter finishes with a now fully restored Zechariah prophesying about both John and Jesus: “And you child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (v 76 – 79). To those who receive this move of God, there is salvation, mercy, rescue for those who live in darkness and peace for those who are afflicted and oppressed.

As the nativity story progresses, it is interesting to notice who receives the news of Jesus’ birth with thanksgiving and joy – the shepherds, Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the wise men. Later on, as we read about Jesus’ life and ministry, it is the poor, the outcasts, the sick, the downtrodden, the sinners that receive him (and John the Baptist) with great joy. But not everyone does. Those who have already received their comfort and already have stations of power and privilege, such as King Herod and later on the Pharisees and other religious leaders, are threatened by his arrival. Those who know the promises and the prophecies, but seem to be hoping that they would not be realised, at least not during their day. Far from missing what God is doing, they perceive it as an open challenge to their own position. A cause of fear, not of hope. Something to be silenced and cut down. If you’ve read the rest of the Christmas story, and indeed the rest of the Gospels, you know what happens as they attempt to stifle what God is doing.

But what happens if we are not in one of those camps. We are not always like Elizabeth and Mary, receiving and recognising what God is doing quickly and experiencing the accompanying blessings. Nor (hopefully!) are we like Herod, wanting not only to ignore what God is doing because of fear, ignorance or an oppressive comfort, but also to stamp out what he is doing in others. What if we simply are too busy, too stressed, too preoccupied to notice the ways God is working in our lives. To some extent, I would expect that all of us have elements of this within our walks with God. Especially in this last lead up to Christmas, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with tasks and expectations and therefore all too easy to miss the still small voice of God and the subtle ways he is working all things for our good.

Today I would encourage you to just take some time to pause. Be at peace. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you places of joy and breakthrough. Ask him where he is moving in your life. Perhaps you could also ask him to show you or remind you of a testimony that you could share with someone who hasn’t heard that God is Immanuel – God with us. We are no longer alone. Consider the image, listen to the song or perhaps gather a playlist of your own and create some space. Hand your hopes and fears over to him and rest in the wonderful knowledge that all of them are met and answered in the person of Jesus.

Advent Reflections 3: Rejoice in the Lord Always!

We are delighted to have Karenza Mahtani write a series of Advent reflections for us over the next few weeks. Karenza is part of the Accessible Prophecy UK team. Art work is by Carolyn Higgins, another member of the team.

Over these Advent weeks, we will be following a similar pattern to the traditional Advent wreath – 5 candles, 5 opportunities to reflect on different parts of the story. What each of these candles represents tends to vary across theological and ecclesiastical traditions, but each representation offers a fresh moment to pause and connect with God. I encourage you to take these moments as we move through this season.

But the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a Saviour was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’

Luke 2:10—11

Previously, we reflected on the tension between what has been promised versus what we can see in our circumstances. The hope and expectation brought out from the Patriarchs and the Prophets, but also the reality of disappointment and lament both in our lives and those who waited hundreds of years for the Messiah to be revealed. However, this point in Advent traditionally represents a key shift, when the purple or blue candles of fasting, repentance and waiting give way to a pink candle symbolising joy and celebration. In the Catholic church, this week leads up to Gaudete Sunday, a name derived from Philippians 4 v 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” It is this Sunday, where we consider and meditate on the joy of those who recognised that the Messiah had finally come, particularly the shepherds as they rush to see the baby.

In this part of the story, we see the shepherds’ fear turn to overwhelming and infectious joy when they realise that God’s promises have been fulfilled, but also that they have been chosen to bear witness to this. Indeed, verse 17 and 18 tell us that, “After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them”. In the context of the wider story, these are some of the first people to bear witness to the breakthrough of God’s kingdom after such a long time of waiting – no wonder they were filled with joy! There has been pain, darkness, dislocation, lament, but now we join them in celebrating because the Messiah has finally arrived.

Take a moment to reflect on that scene – Mary and Joseph with the new-born Jesus. The shepherds rushing to witness the events that have taken place – maybe they are crowded in close, or in the doorway as they wait their turn. Perhaps they are overcome with emotion, or like Mary, storing up all of this in their hearts. Spend some time with God today, asking him to show you where you fit in this scene. Are you in the midst of the joy, hungry for a glimpse of the Messiah? Or maybe you are somewhere else? Ask God if there is anything specific he wants to say to you in this place. Take some time now to check in.

There seems to be a clear theme of joy in Luke 2, as we see later in the chapter when Jesus is brought to Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord, according to the law of Moses. Firstly, we meet Simeon who the Bible says “was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit he entered the temple” (v 25 – 27). Simeon was aware of the promises to the patriarchs and the messages of the prophets and he remained one of a faithful remnant who were waiting expectantly, despite the many hundreds of years that had passed without any sign of fulfilment. Moreover, he trusted in the promise that God had given to him. In this beautiful moment, we see his joy being made complete – he recognises Jesus and takes him into his arms, declaring “Now, Master; you can dismiss your servant in peace, as you promised. For my eyes have seen your salvation” (v 29 – 30). Shortly after, a widow and prophetess called Anna, who the Bible says never left the temple and who served God, day and night, also recognises Jesus and with great joy begins to thank God and share the good news that the Messiah has arrived to anyone who would listen. God grants these two individuals the honour of seeing the Messiah and the fulfilment of his promises before their deaths, and the result is overwhelming joy and thanksgiving.

Alongside hope and expectation, joy and thanksgiving are a key part of Advent. We need to take time to recognise and respond, not only to some of the things which have challenged us this past year, but crucially to those things that have brought us joy. Maybe you have seen answers to prayer this year. Perhaps there have been new additions to your family. A great holiday. An incredible meal with friends. A vaccine. New opportunities at work. An impressive flowering season. It could be anything. Whatever these things are, let us not be a people that forget to express joy and gratitude to God for the ways he meets our needs and fulfils his promises to us. A joyful heart is good medicine!

Take a few moments now to pray and thank God for all he has done for you this past year. You could write down individual things (be creative as to how!) or just thank him for the year as a whole and all the ways he has blessed you. Enjoy listening to this favourite Christmas carol and let it spark the joy of the shepherds, and of Simeon and Anna, in your heart. And remember, in the spirit of Gaudete Sunday: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!