Illuminate the Shadows Part 4: The Illuminator

24 12 2022

Illuminate the shadows
Let the light of Christ shine into every
Crack and crevice of our hearts

What does this all mean for us
This familiar story of the birth of Jesus?
More than myth or fable
A beautiful tableau or a morality tale
This is the bringing together of two cosmic realms
The place where God dwells
And everywhere else
We call them heaven and earth
And the place of his birth was with us
Because he is for us
He is for us
In the darkness and cracks of our lives
He is for us
In the tiredness and anxiety
He is for us, with us
In the hope of the spoken love
Of joy
The pain of the broken dove
Of peace
He lives in us because he is God and he came here to dwell
That is why he is called Emmanuel

This Jesus carried God-ness into that delicate cradle
Where the awestruck Mary and Joseph held table
With shepherds and magi
And maybe just maybe
Saw a glimpse or a flicker
Of what would in the future appear
To be the image of the invisible god
Right here
The first-born over all creation
Who is before all things
Right here
The Word became flesh and set up camp among them
Right here in the backstreets of Bethlehem

This Jesus, who did not consider equality with God
Something to be held
like a child clutches toys
But instead was compelled
To give himself up in a
Radical choice
Of love
Knowing that though he came to his own
His own would not receive him still

This Jesus, who came into the darkness
Of all that entangles us
Is the living hope of all that will save us
If we can see the truth that he who became us
Does not blame us for the shadows
That at times overwhelm us
But says come, and gather,
I have come, I am here
In the immortal words of Gabriel:
God is coming. Do not fear.

This is our Jesus and this is our story
This is the hope and his is the glory
Jesus is radical and vulnerable and incredible
Our story is living and Jesus writes with indelible ink
On our hearts
I love you

So come, all you faithful
You fearful, you hopeful
Sing choirs of angels
Or let us sing for you

The holy overshadowing
Illuminates the shadow in
The cracks where the light gets in

May you be filled with that light.

Illuminate the Shadows Part 3: The Watchers

24 12 2022

Illuminate the shadows
Let the light of Christ shine into every
Crack and crevice of our hearts

We talk of illuminating the shadows
But what about illuminating the meadows
Where the shepherds watched their flocks
On the hills around Bethlehem
For as soon as the baby was born
The angels were back in force, en mass
To announce to the world that god was back!
But although the world did hunger and thirst
For good news
It was to the shepherds that the angels came first
The outsiders,
So yes – though usually brave
These men were afraid
And not afraid to say so
Because the angels made quite a stir
Singing loudly about peace on earth
Telling them a king was born
and that they would find him in a manger
Not a throne
And spend precious time alone
A new king, with old shepherds?
Well, who would have known

Illuminate the shadows
Let the light of Christ shine into every
Crack and crevice of our hearts

We talk of illuminating the meadows
But what about the the skies above
Where pinpricks of light tell stories of love
And some magi travelling from foreign lands
Want to see exactly where this star will land
That they’ve followed for months across hills ands plains
These men from a foreign nation
A different religion
Finding themselves in an awkward position
They believe it will lead them to a new king
So they go
To a palace with a Herod
And a kingly throne
But they were looking in the wrong direction
For the spark to light this insurrection
Would not be found in the seat of royalty
But down the road
In the normal, born in humility
So they went to see him with their gifts
Of gold, incense and myrrh
Which with the old prophets did concur
As they did foretell
That this was a king, god with us, Immanuel
So they bowed on their knees and with faces glad
Said this is our God, and offered what they had

Illuminate the Shadows Part 2: the Extra and the Ordinary

24 12 2022

Illuminate the shadows
Let the light of Christ shine into every
Crack and crevice of our hearts

God with us, Immanuel
Is all very well
but you’ve got to start somewhere
Enter the angel Gabriel
He was sent with a message to an ordinary girl
You’re gonna have a baby who will change the world
She’s like really?
I mean, what?
And I don’t think so
And, how
And Gabriel smiles and reassures
and sticks around
Long enough for Mary to grasp what he was meaning

So she went and spoke to Joseph who said he’d been dreaming
About angels saying do not be afraid
Which made them laugh
So together they prayed
And as she conceived
Mary believed
This baby would be special
Not as in clever or beautiful
But mighty and powerful
Scattering the proud and bringing down kings
Lifting the lowly, filling the hungry with good things
And Joseph would show he’s not a bit-part actor
Adoption is written deep into God’s loving character

It starts with the extraordinary appearance of angels
Celestial beings on ordinary ground
And then there, in a humble home, with family around
That is where the beginning of a Messiah was found
And so their hearts were warmed at the birth of this boy
And so was the beginning of God’s story of great joy

Illuminate the Shadows Part 1: The Least

24 12 2022

(this is the spoken word from our outdoor Carols by Starlight, posted in the 4 parts that formed the readings)

Illuminate the shadows
Let the light of Christ shine into every
Crack and crevice of our hearts

Welcome to our Carols by Starlight
Where together in the darkness of night
We meet to sing the story of Jesus who
Transformed the darkness into the brightest light

This may be a story with a familiar groove
This maybe the story you believe is the truth
Or it maybe a mystery you don’t understand
Maybe being here is quite unplanned
Whatever your reason you’re welcome to hear
The story of hope in a world full of fear

It begins long ago
I’m talking centuries, not years
When there were prophets who believed the
Hope and fears of a nation
Would be gathered up in a particular person
People like Isaiah
Who spoke of a hope in a coming Messiah
A wonderful counsellor
A prince of peace
And how would they tell
It is God with us, Immanuel?

A child would be born – they later deduced –
But the way that it happened left them quite confused
Because it wasn’t a birth on a privileged throne
But an ordinary child in an ordinary home
So nobody noticed
Not at first, at least
That the first-born of God
born among the least
Would say the least would be first
And the first would be least
And the least of the towns
Where this would first happen
To the most ordinary lady
And gentleman
Was the humble little town
of Bethlehem.

Re-thinking Mary – A Guest Post by Lizzie Glover

24 12 2021

What if she wasn’t just mild? What if she wasn’t just gentle and calm? What if she was strong? Courageous and brave. Like a warrior marching into battle, like a knight preparing for war. What if she was determined , focused and alert, with the strength of mind to pursue this mighty mission she had been given.

What if she was fit? Healthy and committed – walking in her pregnant state to a place she didn’t know, to settle in a home that she didn’t yet own- to give birth alone – away from her family and friends. With a husband she didn’t yet know.

What if she was decisive? A mother able to move when her child came under threat. Ready to act when God spoke to her husband. Decisive and trusting in her Father’s care. What if she was unshakable? Unflappable! Fearless! Bold! Steady like a ship in a raging storm. Pushing forwards looking up at the Father – following his lead.

What if she could be described as all these things and more? A young woman who pushed the boundaries because God asked her to. Who said yes when culture dictated no. Who pursued what others only dreamed of. Who believed beyond doubt in her Heavenly Father.

Would she laugh now? Hearing herself described as gentle Mary, meek and mild! Words that perhaps place her back into that feminine realm. More accessible? Easier to comprehend, less of a challenge….

More of a woman?

A woman who took the sword when it was handed to her and instead of laying it down in humble surprise, lifted it high and ran forward- leading the way for all mankind – yes and womankind too. So what if we learn from this person of strength? Of character and perseverance. Of anointing and power.

What if WE said yes and followed God’s call with passion and intent? What if we – man, woman, child- believed that we too are called to make a difference? To stride into battle with our eyes on our Father – in trust and obedience- what then? What now?

Lizzie Glover is the children’s pastor at Cirencester Baptist Church, and a passionate and courageous woman.

we the people are tired

21 12 2021

Comfort, comfort my people, says the Lord…
You don’t say that unless somewhere there is trauma
somewhere the need for comfort
somewhere that speaking tenderly is needed
for hearts are bruised and we the people are tired 

When the shadow of covid looms over us
like the brooding darkness of king Herod
Which like a dementor has stolen the joy
We are meant to know 
In the birth of this baby boy
our hearts are bruised and we the people are tired

The angels weren’t bending their songs to earth
Because we were all fine
Its the people walking in darkness who have seen a great light
The voice calls in the wilderness, in the loneliness
Prepare the way for the lord
For our hearts are bruised and we the people are tired 

And in this finally, maybe, we begin to see how
We are invited into the story
A story in which 2 pregnant women plot the overthrow of an empire
A story in which the unexpected happens
The weak are raised up and the strong pulled down
The hungry are fed and the full go empty
The person of God dwells among us 
This is a story for us because
our hearts are bruised and we the people are tired 

It is into this that the voice of hope speaks tenderly 
of comfort and joy
It is into this world of uncertainty that the voice of hope 
Speaks of peace, deep inner peace 
Because even now there is a place for joy, 
the deep joy that comes from knowing
The creator of the world is here..
the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God, is here
Our hearts are bruised and we the people are tired

Into the darkness,
the laughter of a baby,
the babbling talk of new parents,
and the silliness of the faces we pull at babies… 

That, like a candle lit in a dark room, changes everything. 

It is into the silliness and the seriousness 
that God in the form of Jesus arrives
Because as a wise person once said,
Jesus isn’t part of the Christmas story; 
Christmas is part of the Jesus story. 

Don’t let the wonder and joy of Jesus stop at Christmas 
Don’t see the trailer and think you’ve seen the whole film
Don’t stop with a single candle 
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

Our hearts are bruised and we the people who are tired 

May you know that thrill of hope
The inner strength of comfort
And the deep depths of joy
For though our hearts are bruised and we the people are tired
His heart is for you, for us, and we his people are loved.  

This was my address at our Carols By Streetlight 2021, moved outside at short notice due to Covid-19 concerns.

the terrible and wonderful reasons why I lead

14 12 2021

A few years ago I was given a brilliant book about running, except it wasn’t really about running, it was about cupcakes and suffering. It’s a comic, its very funny and surprisingly deep, and its called “The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distances.”

If you hate running stick with me. The basic premise is that whilst runners often talk about hitting ‘the wall’ when running, ‘the wall’ being an obstacle you power through when you feel defeated, the author says he does not believe in the wall. He believes in ‘The Blerch’, which he describes as ‘a fat little cherub who follows me when I run. He is a wretched, lazy beast… he tells me to slow down, to walk, to quit.”

The Blerch represents all forms of gluttony, apathy and indifference that plague my life.

The terrible and wonderful reasons why i run long distances

The Blerch is ever-present, and whilst the wall cannot be silenced or outrun, you can silence The Blerch. And you silence it by running. More. I often joke that I run so I can eat cake, and this is his point. These are the terrible reasons why we run long distances. We run to eat. To shortcut to endorphins. To look good. To achieve mental clarity through pain. Because we want to stand still. And eat.

Last week as I was planning how to lead our group of local church leaders in our monthly breakfast together, this jumped into my mind. What are the terrible and wonderful reasons why we lead churches. For like all people we church leaders are randomly assorted bunch of odd-bods, right? Of course there are good and holy reasons why we do what we do. But what if we pressed into the terrible reasons.

Like, what if am only a church leader because I am a narcissist? A control freak? What if it’s because I am incapable of getting any other kind of job? What if its because I truly believe every other church is badly run. Because its a crazily risky idea and it was 8am on a Friday morning just before Christmas, I threw it out there to the group. And to my relief they went with me.

Why did we do this? Because there is truth in our shadow sides, and I think it is good to be honest about them. God uses us through who we are, not some idealised version, no matter what we try to show people. If we are a bit of a control freak, admit it. If we are deeply critical of other leaders, admit it. If we like power, or find it impossible to follow, admit it. God can change us, use us, and transform us.

It is also good to remember the wonderful reasons too. What was interesting was that the ‘terrible reasons’ were quite honest and practical – the ‘wonderful reasons’ because very ‘spiritual’. Because in a way they have to be – you shouldn’t just be a church leader because you can, you do have to have a calling – and yet, it is because of what we can do, or are learning to do, that we are called.

We ended by singing the song “Living Hope”, largely due to the line that I think gets to the heart of our vanities and insecurities and failings as leaders humans:

Through the darkness your loving-kindness

tore through the shadows of my soul

Living Hope, by Phil wickham

Be honest, be hopeful, be real. Admit to The Blerch, confess our gluttony, apathy and indifference, and lead bravely, courageously and vulnerably.

How is your heart?

25 03 2021

Where do we put faith, forgiveness and bruised hearts after a year of COVID?

A year on from the first lockdown, I was preaching the lectionary and focusing on Psalm 51. What seemed to come out of that passage, and Jeremiah 31.31-34, was that how we see God, what we think his character is like, will have a profound effect to us as we begin to navigate the next few weeks, months and years. We will need forgiveness, patience, humility, and grace, and if we cannot see them in God, how can we show them to each other?

This was what I said, and it includes a beautiful song by Porter’s Gate that can be found below.

mountain of the mundane

17 02 2021

I wrote this poetic spoken word when preaching on the transfiguration (Mark 9), at a time of COVID when many (not all) are suffering from a mountain of the mundane, and we pray for God to show himself as he did on that mountain all that time ago. Here it is in video and word form.

Are you living your life
On a mountain of the mundane
Layer upon layer of the same
Going round and round again and again
Relentlessly and unstoppably like
A red sock in the washing machine window
On a white wash
Where you press your nose against the glass
It simply laughs

Are you living your life
on a mountain of the mundane
Where the demands of home learning
And working
Mean that you’re burning out
And yearning for an end
But like the unstinting demand for printing

Are you living your life
On a mountain of the mundane
Where no matter how lovely your house
The fact you haven’t been out
for a year is getting you down
And you see more of Judge Rinder
Than your grandchildren
Who are growing up
Without knowing you
And the pain of the absence of your presence
Bursts any pretence that

Are you living your life on a
Mountain of the mundane
Trudging daily upwards to a never-ending peak

Come with me then, on this mountain of sadness
And sameness
On this shrine to mundaneness
Come with me and come with Jesus
Because he is the only one who can change this
Mundaneness to the numinous
Do you know that word?
Like when Jesus went luminous
Up the mundane mountain with 3 of us
And the normal became paranormal
The natural, supernatural
When instead of one he became three
And the the three who were seeing
Were suddenly disbelieving
but instead of running
Considered staying, tenting, camping
Because Jesus went weird and the best thing about weird is
not mun

Peter James and John
have gone
Together with Jesus up a high mountain
A mundane trip you might think
But with Jesus the risk is always there for a crazy healing
A restoring of mental health well-being
Or giving the religious leaders an uneasy feeling
He knew what they were thinking
But here, on a mountain alone
He was about to show them something they

First he was transformed, his mundane face
Becoming luminescent – it radiates
His mundane clothing impossibly white
Then Elijah
Then Moses
And clouds and the voice of god on high
And the three disciples are terrified
The mountain of the mundane
They weren’t

Whats it all about then?
Here’s some biblical allusions you may have missed:
Moses was a prophet who
Told Pharaoh to stop it
And left the Egyptians to mop it up
The Red Sea I mean
And after he had seen to the mean-minded Pharaoh
Up a mountain called Sinai he would go
And there was a cloud of god’s presence
And God’s voice and Moses’ face was radiance
The supernatural, the numinous

Elijah was a prophet who
Told Ahab to stop it
And afterwards was exhausted
And terrified for his life
And ran away to mountain called Sinai
Where there was wind and earthquake and fire
And in a still small voice
God’s presence, the numinous

Here we are on a mountain of the mundane
Yet the transcendent presence of God
Irrupts in
And in a flash reveals Jesus transformed
Like pulling back a veil on his humanity
To reveal his divinity
And despite fearing insanity
The disciples afterwards clearly see
Jesus as he will soon be

2 Peter 1.16-18
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’[b] 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

So they saw Jesus transformed
The greek is metamorphed
And because of who this revealed Jesus to be
Fully god, tangible divinity
Mundane but supernaturally
Peter and the others want us to see
That we can also be
That the mountain of the mundane
we climb Again and again
Can be the place by his grace
To the human race
He shows

Do you want to see him unveiled
The mundane derailed
Do you want to be so caught up in his glory
That when others tell your story
They’ll have a laugh at your expense because
You too wanted to build tents
To keep this precious moment forever?

You can. Such experiences are free
But that doesn’t mean they are not costly
For to see Jesus unveiled
Is for us to be changed

There’s two places the same word is used for transformed
Or transfigured
Can you figure out where?

2 corinthians 3

Romans 12

Many of us are living on a mountain of the mundane
We know that and we don’t shy away from its name
And then
and then
and then
we turn our eyes away from the day to day
Because whilst god is always there
He is also THERE
Supernatural, unbelievable, transformational
We see the places where the veil is lifted
And in them our attention is shifted
From clouds of despair
To the clouds of gods presence
From faces so grey
To faces of radiance

This is what the transformation of Jesus on that
Mountain of mundanity can show us
That there are thin places
Where the kingdom of heaven
Is right there
Even in the midst of the greyness and drudgery
If we could only see it
If he would only reveal it
Sometimes we need to plead for it
So together we ask
Jesus, show yourself
Though we know the consequences
The ever-present risk is
We will be transformed

From the mountain of the mundane show yourself

Rend the heavens? An advent argument with God

2 12 2020

What do we mean when we say we want God to come? And what if he already has? And what about the rabbits?

This was my reflection for the beginning of Advent.

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