Tag Archives: Creation

19 December – A new star in the sky

In the city at night we only see a few of the stars. In ancient times, or now in deep countryside, there’s far more to see. We don’t have to give specific meanings to particular stars or planets to be affected by the beauty of stars in a clear, dark sky. They remind us of the majesty of Creation – and the greater majesty of the one who created it.

Would your journey to meet Jesus be richer for that sense of awe? Maybe the wise men were ready to move because they knew their place in the universe, and so were ready to act when they saw that the universe was changing around them!

Why not try this Christmas or New Year to head somewhere dark on a night with few clouds, and just absorb the brilliant glory of the night sky?

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

 

Blogging the Bible 331 – Colossians 1-2 – Christ in you

In Colossians 1:15-22, Paul gives us something a bit like John 1:1-18. His language and focus is a bit different from John’s, and we think he may be quoting an existing hymn to Christ the creator; but the sweep and flow of his thinking is similar.

First he celebrates the cosmic wonder of Jesus, through whom all things were created and in whom all things hold together. This same Jesus has now conquered death as the firstborn to new life, and in him by the cross God has reconciled all things in heaven and earth. This reconciliation is cosmic and universal in scope, but comes down to ‘you who once were estranged’ – it’s also personal and individual.

This wonder of the infinite becoming personal, of God watching at the same moment over the formation of stars and the transformation of a single human life, is overwhelming if we allow ourselves to step back and contemplate it. Our salvation is never separate from the reconciliation of the whole of creation to God. But that doesn’t mean that we’re absorbed into a uniform spiritual soup. God’s work with us is as individuals, and it doesn’t stop at salvation.

God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col. 1:27-28)

Christ in you. This Christ, who Paul has just been praising as the author of creation and ground of being, dwells in us. It’s our work to allow God to transform us in him, to become ‘mature’ as his life shines through us to transform the world around us. Paul more usually writes of us as being in Christ; here he turns it round to write of Christ in us. Perhaps that makes the focus more individual, more personal. What does the difference of phrase mean to you?

The source of all life dwells in you and longs to work through you. How does that make you feel? How will you respond?

Blogging the Bible 285 – John 1:1-2:12 – Word, Wedding, Wine

I think I’m going to struggle over the next few posts – I find John’s gospel to be so overwhelmingly full of wonderful things that I’m not going to be able to focus on a short passage each time and write something coherent.

After all, John 1:1-18 is the foundation of my worldview, and 2:1-12 has layer upon layer of meaning. So there’s quite a bit to say.

John is clearly different in style and focus from the other three gospels. I believe that it’s at least mostly the work of the apostle John, in exile in his old age, writing out of years of reflection on what the events and words of the life of Jesus mean , more than on giving an account like those he must have known were already in circulation. So he includes fewer events and miracles, but explores them more fully and deeply.

John 1:1-18

John starts in style. His gospel takes us right back to the reality of God before creation, as the Word is already with God, is God. John brings together two great strands of thought in one concept – the Word. In the Old Testament, the Word of God is the action of God towards the creation. Genesis 1 has the repeated ‘God said, “Let there be…” and there was… When the Word of the LORD comes to the prophets, they must speak, and their words don’t just describe the future – they shape and create it.

So to the Jewish mind, the Word is the life of God reaching into the world to make things happen.

On the other hand, the Stoic philosophers also used the language of the Word. To them, the Word was the underlying principle of rationality, order and beauty below the surface of the world and of life. In modern terms, all of science, art, philosophy, truth depend on the Word. We can only make sense of life at all because it is underpinned by the Word.

And John tells us that it was this Word – the creative power of God, the underlying reality of all that is, which became flesh and dwelt among us. Wow.

Jesus is the human face of God; and Jesus is the human face of the universe at its deepest being. Whether we honour him through justice and charity, through academic study (theology, physics, economics, philosophy), through creativity, through love, through appreciating beauty – it’s all the same Christ.

And all of this cosmic reality comes into focus when ‘there was a man sent from God, whose name was John.’ (1:6) Eternity enters history, and the whole of John’s gospel will deal with the shockwaves of that collision.

There will be conflict – John sets out at the beginning of his gospel in 1:10-13 that many will not receive him – but that to those who receive him he gives power to become children of God.

If I could have only one passage of Scripture to remember or read for the rest of my life, it would be those eighteen verses.

Please read them, and read them again!

Water turned to wine

I’ll skip over the next bits, to come to the first of the ‘Signs of Glory’ of which John tells us, as Jesus turns water into wine. (2:1-12) Like much of what will come, it’s a story which tells truth on several levels.

  1. The first Sign of Glory is done as quietly as possible, without fanfare, to save a young couple from embarrassment and to bless the day of their great celebration. Jesus doesn’t draw attention to himself. That’s not what glory is about. Only those who need to know realise what has happened – the other guests just enjoy the wine (and probably take a few jugs home for later, given how much there is!)
  2. This Sign is also an indication that the Kingdom of God is coming into the present. More than the other gospel writers, John brings the whole themes of judgement, resurrection and new life into the present as Jesus lives among his people. Part of the hope of heaven is the great banquet to which we are all invited – and this miracle starts that banquet now, in a village in Galilee. We don’t need to wait for an unknown future date to see the Kingdom – we need to be where Jesus is.
  3. I don’t think John mentions details accidentally. The water jars which Jesus uses to hold the water as it becomes wine are specifically those ‘for the Jewish rites of purification’. At a formal meal, there were many ritual hand-washings, to make sure that the guests were kept from defilement by anything unclean. Water was measured out in specified amounts, to wash away the uncleanness of the world. It’s this water, measured out in small cups to keep us from defilement, that Jesus turns into the best wine the guests have ever tasted, in quantities such that they’ll never be able to drink it. Jesus is marking out a new day for ‘religion’. It’s no longer to be about careful rules to keep the world at a safe distance. It’s about the celebration of life and of the love that God brings – celebration in all the quality and quantity that only God himself can give.

So a quiet intervention in a village wedding holds within it the announcement that the Kingdom of God is here and now. And it holds up a sign to the Pharisees that a new way of knowing God is here.

Once again – Wow.

Blogging the Bible 261 – Mark 6 – Lord of Creation

In the latter part of this chapter, Mark gathers stories which show in different ways that Jesus has power not only in relation to human hearts, but to the created world. Bluntly, amazing things happen when he’s around – things that are amazing not just because they’re impressive, but because they meet and answer people’s need.

First of these, starting at 6:30, is the feeding of the five thousand – the one miracle (other than the resurrection) recorded in all four gospels. Mark doesn’t give the fullest account, but his stark telling keeps the focus on the central event. That when the disciples obey Jesus’ order to gather the people in groups, and he blesses and breaks food, all are fed with plenty left over. Jesus would not turn stones to bread to feed himself in the desert, but he multiplies bread and fish beyond all measure to feed others.

Then, having taken time with his Father to renew himself after that miracle, Jesus walks across the water to join his disciples. I remember reading somewhere that the phrase ‘He intended to pass them by’ is significant. It’s not that he was ignoring them. Rather, the phrase echoes the moments when people in the Old Testament see something of God’s glory, as close as they can bear it. Think of Moses or Elijah. They saw God directly, but not face to face – only as he passed them by. Mark is hinting that in Jesus, we are seeing God directly – and hinting that the disciples glimpsed something of this vision. 

Be that as it may, the central truth here is that Jesus goes where he wants, when he wants. He can walk on water as easily as on grass, for both of them exist only because they have been called into being through him – and when he tell the wind and waves to be still, they obey him.

Lastly, Jesus heals people – not just with his attention and words, but simply by his presence with them, as they reach out in part-formed, perhaps superstitious, faith to touch his cloak.

Where Jesus is, amazing things happen. 

How can I see his presence in the events around me today?

Blogging the Bible 238 – Zechariah 1-4 – Angels unseen

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)
Sometimes physics seems as mysterious as theology. Since I studied at university, we’ve become aware that the huge majority of the physical universe is completely invisible to us. Dark matter only interacts with the matter and energy we see by the force of gravity. That’s one reason why the recent detection of the gravity waves predicted by Einstein is so important; they may give us a way to study what we can’t otherwise see. Then there’s the even stranger dark energy.
Perhaps there’s a parallel in the spiritual universe. We’re aware of our relationship with God and with other people, and at second hand with other people’s relationship with God. But Zechariah gives us a glimpse into the hidden spiritual reality which is the life and work of the angels around us. It’s hard to be sure how literally to take all the references to angels in detail, but they’re clearly part of his vision of the world and God’s work in it.
If we’re only ever aware of a small part of the spiritual reality around, what are we missing?
And what do the angels who walk beside me think of the life that I live?

Blogging the Bible 184 – Isaiah 8-11 – In darkness, light!

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (9:2, 6-7)

In mid-Advent, it’s hard not to read those words in the setting of Christingle and Carol Service, and to try to look back to what they meant to Isaiah. It seems fair to presume a link back to the child whose birth was foretold in 7:14 and told in chapter 8 – the prophet’s own son. But it’s not clear how this was to be fulfilled – what would become of Isaiah’s son?

When we put this alongside the wonderful vision of 11:1-9, it begins to feel even more compelling to look beyond what Isaiah himself saw. After all, by all accounts many of the Jewish people down to Jesus’ day were still waiting for the real return from exile, when all this would be fulfilled. And we rightly see Isaiah’s words and hopes fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, while we still await their full completion in new creation.

That new creation is a vision of the Kingdom which encompasses all creatures, not just humans – let alone just those who know themselves to be God’s people. It’s a picture of profound peace and reconciliation on earth, not possible by any natural agency but needing God’s work in a new way. After all, even if we manage to get all the governments and all the terrorists in the world around a table to agree on peace, we’ll still struggle to get the lion to lie down with the lamb – or as in the Book of Kells, the cat with the mouse (lions being in short supply in medieval Ireland…) God’s work is about the renewal of all things, not just ‘us’.

And so we can recognise that Isaiah saw in his own son’s birth the hope of God’s renewing grace after the judgement of Assyria. And at the same time we can recognise the greater, deeper fulfilment of his words in the birth of Jesus – and yet again can recognise that the fulfilment that began at the first Christmas is still in progress, until the world is at peace with God and with itself.

With a few days of Advent left, that’s something worth waiting for and praying for.

Blogging the Bible 174 – Proverbs 30 – How wise do you have to be to be human?

What’s involved in being human? We could answer that in many ways. It also depends on why we’re asking the question. If we’re looking to draw boundaries around how far we should extend ‘human rights’, then we very quickly get into dangerous territory, and start setting minimal qualifications for being ‘properly human’ which become both ridiculous and nasty.

If we’re looking for something to aim at, though, then the question can be a lot more productive. What’s involved in being a fulfilled, mature human? The writer of this chapter of Proverbs is clear that wisdom is a big factor.

Thus says the man: I am weary, O God,
I am weary, O God. How can I prevail?
Surely I am too stupid to be human;
I do not have human understanding.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the holy ones.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of the hand?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is the person’s name?
And what is the name of the person’s child?
Surely you know! 

‘I am too stupid to be human’ seems a bit harsh. It doesn’t take much TV to see a fair amount of stupidity among people who are definitely human. But to be fully human, to be a fulfilled, mature human being – that is something different. What would be included in the ‘human understanding’ that we should have? To this author it includes wisdom, the deep learning that interprets the world into right action, rather than the shallower knowledge of facts and theories. It includes ‘knowledge of the holy ones’ – those who can inspire and enrich us by their learning from the past. 

But the writer is also looking for something which is beyond human reason and discovery – for wonder and heavenly insight. ‘Who has ascended to heaven and come down?…Who has established all the ends of the earth?’

In a few weeks’ time we’ll hear the wonderful words from the beginning of St John’s gospel, ‘In the beginning was the Word…’, and we will tell again the story of the one who came down from heaven, to ascend again – the same one through whom all things were made. Jesus.

True wisdom won’t be found without reference to him, for he is Wisdom become one of us. He is the model of true humanity – and when we learn from him, we grow into our true selves.