Wednesday, 21 December 2011

from The Hill - The Word is worth a thousand
With just
over seven billion people on this planet – and counting – the least we can say
is that makes for a lot of flesh.
In our raw or
clothed states, we bodies communicate with each other, largely with words. In
itself, this is no big deal but the challenge is for us to consider the number
of words that get spoken or written by us on any day.
One statistic
I saw claimed that, on one blog site alone on a certain day, over 50 million
words were recorded. That’s the equivalent of 100 copies of Les Miserables or War and Peace, written in one day on one
blog site.
Multiply that
by the total number of blog sites, add to this number the words spoken on radio,
TV and two-ways and those written in newspapers, magazines, letters, books,
novels and emails and all those words of which there is no record (like
conversations here, there and everywhere), and the figure becomes
We humans do
this all the time, quite naturally and mostly badly. I call it the
“flesh-into-words” phenomenon, a useful and sometimes lucrative business. You
might call it communication.
Think for a
moment, though, about the opposite process, the “word-into-flesh” and,
straightaway, we’re into another
We know how
the former comes about, but what about the latter? How does that happen? If
we’re serious about Christmas, this would have to be the key question of the
Leaving aside
the Shepherds and Wise Men, we are dealing with a deeply significant issue here
and we’d do well to get our mind around
If it’s true
that the word became flesh (personally, I don’t dispute that), my question is
this: how does one such en-flesh-ment change anything among so many inhabitants
of this blue planet?
Being a little creative can help.
In fact, beginning with words that can create something in us is, in fact, the
best place to start.
At lots of levels, “I love you”
are words that have the potential to unlock all that is good and true in us as
we pursue life. They have a creative energy in
These words lie at the heart of
what “word-into-flesh” – and therefore Christmas – is all about. It’s a
staggering idea.
So profound is this notion that
John, the writer of The Christmas Gospel, in an attempt to help our minds grasp
the enormity of it, describes this process of the word-becoming-flesh as ‘God
pitching His tent among us’.

That ought to
grab the holiday-makers gearing up for their week on Straddie or wherever they
go. The story, however, began with Mary hearing from the Big Angel but she was
also blown away by what he said.
Raised in a shame-blame culture
that is, even today, particularly hard on women, Mary would never have hoped to
have found favour with anyone, let alone God.
This simple moment in a young
girl’s life should be enough for us to understand what the theologians try so
hard to explain. (Sometimes, in our attempts at cleverness, we complicate simple
ideas. I suspect this is one such example.)
What God
wants each of us to know is that we have found favour with Him;
that we are blessed and that He
wants to be fruitful through us, not because we are better than anyone else but
because we have stumbled onto a surprise: that the Word of God’s love is here
for everyone.
Each of us long to hear the “Hail
….” (put your own name on the dots); to hear it in our own ears because that’s
what we long for most of all. God’s “Hail” brings us to life and is at the heart
of the Christmas process.
Incarnation (another name for en-flesh-ment) is not only a moment in
history, it’s the start of an ongoing journey, beginning with Jesus and fruiting
in every believer in every age.
Jesus gets incarnated in every
Christ follower every time s/he comes to faith. His word of love, compassion,
forgiveness, healing and peace comes and takes flesh in our
The Incarnation of the Word of God
into human flesh happened first in Jesus and that’s what we celebrate this and
every Christmas.
It doesn’t end there though. The
Incarnation is the ongoing fruit of the transformation of our life, by the
fruiting Word-being-made-flesh in us.
Here we have
an endless array of pictures of life, thousands upon thousands of them, all
springing from the One Word, as they should.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Reflections from The Hill – Favoured or Flavoured?

It is no small thing to be regarded, highly or otherwise, or to be favoured, especially when you are acutely aware that you shouldn’t be.

I had a mate who was in line for “The Headmaster’s Special Prize” at his school’s Graduation Ceremony. He thought that he would get one of the many shining statuettes on view but instead scored an illuminated scroll.

His disappointment was only temporary because the applause that went with the announcement was rapturous and, in talking with him later, was far better than a gleaming statue.

Like I say, it’s no small thing to be favoured.

I often wonder what it would be like to experience, you know, God’s favour. And I wonder how many people in parish-land need to hear those words now – not later, not at Christmas, not in the months ahead.

So much of our time, pre-Christmas, is spent or spending; thinking of others and what on earth we can get for someone who has everything.

To hear that God favours us brings the Incarnation to our hearth. We see this when the Big Angelic Kahuna appears to Mary in today’s Gospel and it shifts our spirits from being flavoured to being favoured, all in the middle of the Christmas shopping.

But there’s more, because Mary now finds herself in a maelstrom of impossibilities. It’s not just that her elderly, barren, relative is pregnant but that she, a youthful teenage nobody from nowhere special is now highly favoured.

Our set ideas and imaginations of Christmas get turned on their ear. Without so much as a by-your-leave, we now find ourselves in the presence of a God who specialises in turning the impossible into the possible.

Let’s not kid ourselves; unless our brain does a back-flip, the sort of scenario that’s being played out here offends our sensibilities because these things simply don’t happen in reality.

Mary herself, in the Gospel reading, almost innately, recognises this impossible possibility in her initial response. Gabriel has only said a Biblical “G’day” and straightaway, Mary is into the pondering.

Why? Why the bewilderment? Simply because Mary herself can’t yet believe that there is a God anywhere who would want to have anything to do with her.

“Me? Why me? Who am I that I should be favoured?” she asks. (As an aside, Mary sounds just like my mother: never looking for favours and always surprised when some should come her way. Mum knew her place.)

“This shouldn’t be happening to me. I’m only a kid, barely into puberty and from the wrong side of the tracks. God doesn’t talk to, or highly favour, people like me.”

Of course, Gabriel hasn’t yet given her the full heads-up for his visit yet, but it comes. Mary’s beside herself. “A baby son? Of the Most High? Line of David? Never-ending Kingdom? Whaaa… “

First there’s the “Why me?” then the “How?” This, in turn, becomes “Here I am.” But be careful.

Do we get the level of disbelief in this or are we stuck on the last part, the obedience bit? Are we relegating Mary’s astonishment to some kind of obligatory and prophetic answer? It’s a shame if we do.

There is a whole journey in this for those with eyes to see, from the absence of God (v34) to recognising His presence (v35) and then to fulfilling His promise (v36).

To collapse the "Here I am" too quickly into our notions of answering God's call simply reduces Mary to being a bit-player in a religious play. She has feelings, too, you know.

Mary's story moves us from being who we think we are to being what God has called us to be; from being an observant believer to being a confessing one.

More than that, and quite impossibly, Mary's story demands that we acknowledge the transforming power of God. That’s what His business is about, after all.

It is no small journey to go from our comfortable perceptions of God to God in the manger; vulnerable, helpless, and dependent. Yet this is the promise, and the journey, of Christmas.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Reflections from The Hill –John the Baptist, Dreams and Paris Hilton

Of all the dreams that rise in this land of mystery, this place where droughts, floods and stormy weather lay their head, none even come close to what The Lady and I dreamed for the progeny that sprung from our loins.

These dreams were never going to work if only because, as my Mum often remarked, we’re not that sort of people, by which she meant we were supposed to grow up without pretentions. Maybe dollars in the bank and our address had something to do with it, too.

Research scientists or astronauts or beauty queens or sky-pilots these sprogs might have been but only to keep their parents in the style to which they would like to have been kept, but that’s not any reason.

This yarn will be told over and over in households all over the world and there’ll be lots of gossips who’ll be crying into their washers because a spalpeen has not followed his parents as he should.

Which is all very nice but is not addressing Old-Camel-Hair and what were the dreams for his wrinklies? Continue in the family business, maybe? Take it to a new level? Franchise the lot and buy a unit in the south of France?

Johnny’s cards were stacked against him from the outset. His old man is visited by Gabriel, the Big Kahuna of Angels. Gabriel thought he’d better pop in while Zek is down at the Temple, a good place for that kind of visit.

There’s not a lot of negotiation. Zek’s basically told what the go will be and, let me say, when you get told by the Big Kahuna Angel, there’s no argument.

Zechariah, to give him his full name, is left speechless, a sign of his disbelief, which is bad news because Gabe tells him that he, Zek, will stay that way until little Johnny is born.

A bit of spite in that, is there? Little scratchy, are we? Get out of bed on the wrong side? To me, it sounds a bit like making faces until the wind changes.

Gabe’s job description for Johnny is wild: “Many will delight when Johnny is born. He’ll achieve great stature with God.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“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 children of Israel back to God; he will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, kindle devout understanding among hardened sceptics and get the people ready for the whole she-bang. In short, he’ll become a great prophet and priest.”

“Hang on, hang on; he’s not even born yet.”

That’s all background to where we pick up the story today. By now Johnny has grown up and hovers into sight, trying to fulfil the dream and orders from Gabriel and sprouting words like “Repent” and other bon mots. He is also, as we discover, dressed in New Rustic Camel Hair with leather accessories. Noice.

It’s what he does and why he’s on a diet of bugs that really interests us, curiosity being the mainstay of journalism from cuneiform days.

As an aside, we do the same thing with all of our celebrities, always looking for dirt, hoping to reveal this or that failure. We’re so attracted to dirt that 3 out of every 5 dollars spent on magazines goes towards that, but I digress.

What’s interesting is that Johnny doesn’t treat the paparazzi as if they were fools: tell them the truth, give them your itinerary and be completely honest. He didn’t evade the question but told the plain truth: "I’m not the Messiah and I ain’t Elijah, either."

When truth matters, Paris Hilton does the same thing, apparently. Where Johnny and Paris part company is that, while sweet Paris wants the limelight, Johnny is wanting people to gaze elsewhere.

Johnny’s gaze is toward Another: “The One I’m talking about is no second place to me, he’s no runner-up. He is so great that I’m not even worthy to tie his shoes never mind hold his coat."

The paparazzi get their shots and the reporters their stories. Headlines in the Bethany Bugle might read “John identifies Jesus as God’s Passover Lamb: forgiver of world’s sins revealed”, the sub-editor being very bad at his work.

So that’s where we are, right at the start of a Journey that will take us to the End of the Age. Today’s all about an odd bloke who points us to Another One, One who is banging on about forgiving sins.

It’s a dream message in many, many ways and begs to be told over and over, again and again.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Reflections from The Hill – News or Memory

It seems ages since I sat down to pen a Reflection and, of course, it is. My hair has actually become more silvery grey, such has been the length of the wait.

So much has happened in my life in the last few weeks that it’d be crass to even recall it all. I mean, I could begin with getting caught in the Qantas grounding, announced within minutes of me completing our On-line Check-in, but I won’t.

Or I could tell you about negotiating my way through ‘Bridge City’, the pet name that Grandson #2 has given to the Brisbane Inner-City By-Pass and the Clem 7 Tunnel. I won’t do that either.

Then there was the gathering of friends and family who shared with me a special anniversary in mid-October. I could get off on that, too, but I won’t, except to say that people’s generosity was in full view on that balmy night in Mackay.

It was a great celebration and I’m overwhelmed and grateful to those who made it happen. In telling you this much, I’m only scratching the surface of a life that is still delightful in every minute. Thanks.

Where do I start today? The geeks among us will already have noticed that the first bit of St Mark’s Gospel (we’re reading it this week) is all about beginnings, so why not take their lead?

There is one pearl to catch in this plain starting point: the opening words of Mark do not have a verb. “Oo-er,” say the grammarians; “so what?” ask the rest of us.

As it stands, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ …” sounds like a bit like a title of a book and carries with it an expectation of a beginning, middle and end. Whatever way you look at it, that’s not news.

What makes something news, as a journo friend of mine once remarked, is that it’s new and, in so saying, has given me a different perspective on the meaning and value of tertiary education.

The idea that it’s also the beginning suggests to me that there is much more good stuff to come from this Jesus Christ the Son of God.

I know I’ve used the word news instead of the more commonly used gospel. Actually it makes little difference because the word gospel was the ancient world’s word for announcing a victory that the king (or somesuch) had just won.

This was good news. Something big had happened that had changed their immediate world and the announcement was aimed at getting a response, a bit like a kid selling papers or a publican shouting the bar.

So here it is. Mark greets us with a gusto that is unbecoming in Anglicanism. There’s an excitement in what he writes that would not be out of place in an afro-American or Pentecostal church, and the more so as we settle into the second week of Waiting for God.

We might expect the announcement (the news) to be full of power and machismo as yet another nation falls. But no; enter John the Baptist in his camel-hair-and-leather ensemble, more like an out-of-work actor or nutter.

We might almost expect him to be holding a cardboard notice with “Will Preach for Milk and Honey” scratched on it in felt pen, just to complete the picture.

John’s presence alone would be enough to grab my attention but what follows is mind-blowing. John is announcing a victory alright and it’s a victory of a king and kingdom and everything is about to change.

However, unlike those standing around listening to old Camel Hair for some news from the imperial front, we – a couple of thousand years on – find ourselves not expecting much at all, I suspect. Not much, that is, except tinsel and Christmas fare. That’s a shame.

We’ve heard it all before … angels … wise men … Mary and Joseph … baby in manger … little drummer boy … blah, blah, blah and it’s all too familiar.

I ask: when does news stop being news and become memory? That’s what’s happened to us, you know. We can mouth the words of John the Baptist all we like, and even sing the Godspell song, until inertia and nausea take over, which it does, and then what?

The sadness is that, in these days at least, John’s announcement isn’t the beginning of any news, let alone good news. It’s more like a history lesson being given in a museum.

My struggle is this: can I hear the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as news because it is new or do I continue to put up with the memories?