Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Unexpected Result - our Christmas Day Celebration

Our Christmas service followed on from our Advent theme and focused on the Unexpectedness of Christmas, and in particular, the Unexpected Result of Christmas.

Christmas Greetings

597      O come all ye faithful

The Unexpected Result – our Christmas Candle

Lighting the Christmas Candle

We light our Christmas candle
And think of the unexpected result
Of the birth of a baby who grew to a man
Who would have thought it
For the one born to be King?
No life of regal splendour
But a life lived with those no one else
Had time for.
A life lived for other people.
A life that seemingly ended in tragedy
Yet opened up life in all its fullness
For all of us to share.

John 1:1-5 and 14 – the Congregation

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him;
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life;
and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness;
and the darkness comprehended it not.
And the Word was made flesh,
and dwelt among us,
and we beheld his glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth.

Reading:  Luke 2:1-7 – Pete

At that time the Emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 When this first census took place, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. 3 Everyone, then, went to register himself, each to his own town.
4 Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. 5 He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, 6 and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. 7 She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger — there was no room for them to stay in the inn.

A New Nativity by Alan Tichmarsh – Caroline

A New Nativity.
by Alan Titchmarsh.
When all those long, long years ago a child came down to earth below,
To save the likes of you and me from evil, harm and misery,
Do you suppose that even then, there were some doubting, heedless men
Who, rather than believe the word, just turned their backs and never heard?

You see, today we all recall, the baby in the ox's stall.
The ass, the stables, shepherds, Kings, - all ancient, rural, rustic things.
But what if, here, this very night, it happened....on the Isle of Wight
Would we rejoice and all be merry? Would we dash off and catch the ferry?

If Christ was born in Walthamstow, would builders drop there tools and go?
Would Wapping printers stop their presses?  Would supermodels ditch their dresses?

In Hampshire and in rural Kent, would shepherds, by an angel sent
Walk miles to see a newborn child, whose mother, unmarried, although mild
Had given birth to a baby boy, not at the Dorchester or Savoy,
But in a garage, there's the rub, round the back of the local pub.

And yet I like to think that we, despite the e-mail and DVD
Would know to go, when star shone bright, and make that journey through the night
To see the child who saves the world, in some old oil drum safely curled.
The nativity for the Millenium.  Would anyone out there like to come?

72        Away in a manger

Unexpected Presents

Greeting from Stefan and Birgit

Christmas Greetings

Sermon – The Unexpected Result

When the unexpected happens it can fill you with fear and trepidation, it can be pretty scary.

Mary did not expect to be expecting a baby: she was frightened.

Joseph did not expect to take on the responsibility of a father: it was scary.

Joseph and Mary did not expect to have to make the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem: it was frightening

Joseph and Mary did not expect to have to make do with the squalor of an unexpected stable: it filled them with fear

The Wise Men did not expect to have to take special measures to avoid the clutches of a King Herod determined to do away with the Christ child: Herod’s power and his abuse of power was terrifying

Mary and Joseph did not expect to have to flee south from Bethlehem and escape across the border to become refugees in Egypt for a matter of years.  It was a frightening time.

Think back a year to the last Christmas and in that time unexpected things have happened … not a few of them have been pretty scary.

A year ago who  would have expected the Arab Spring to have happened?  Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria – democracy coming to countries over-run by dictatorship.  But it has been a time filled with fear for Christian communities throughout the middle east.  Prayer requests come from so many Christians in each of those countries who are facing persecution in a way they have not faced before.

And then things that have happened very much closer to home – someone taken ill: I wasn’t expecting that.  Uncertainties at work, issues in the home, someone very close who has died.  I wasn’t expecting that to happen.

How do you cope with the unexpected that is so scary and troubling?

Two thoughts contained in two words that for me are particularly special this Christmas.

Of all the words I associate with Christmas, of all the words that crop up in the Christmas story, there is one long word that I want to hold on to.  It seems to me to be the word that speaks directly into all the fears that come when the unexpected happens.

It is the word, Emmanuel.

It sounds like a name.  But it is a name with meaning.  And it s the meaning of the name that is all important in the face of the unexpected.

Emmanuel means ‘God is with us’.

That’s not just a conviction to hold on to in the face of everything that goes wrong.  The point of Christmas is that it is a reality that is there, come what may, even when we feel it not to be so.

God is with us.  That’s what comes across in the prayer letters that come from the Middle East – it is the promise that shines out of the Christmas letter from Alex Awad and his congregation in East Jerusalem and his college in Bethlehem.  It is what shines out in the prayer letters that I receive from Middle East Concern.

God is with us.

How can we know that to be true?

That’s where my second word comes into play.  It’s my favourite word.  The word ‘serendipity’.  The joy of discovering the unexpected unexpectedly.   The Christmas story is full of serendipitous moments.  Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, the Shepherds – they all were in totally frightening situations.  But in the fear, quite unexpectedly, they had a sense of the reality of God with them, the reality that God is with us.  Wonderful, serendipitous, God moments.

When I wrote about my favourite word in Highbury News I had a response from Peter Petrie, one of our evening congregation.  He had been digging into the derivation of the word ‘serendipity’.  It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 when he recounted a tale form the East of the Three Princes of Serendip,  Serendip the land once known as Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka.   On their travels, Horace Walpole recounts, the three princes were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.

What fascinated Peter was the number of scientific discoveries that have been made as a result of ‘serendipity’.  Indeed it is a commonplace term in the history of science.  Maybe a Christmas quiz is to list scientific discoveries made unexpectedly.   You might include penicillin, the microwave oven, Teflon!

The point Peter made in his email to me, however, was an interesting one.  Though they appear to have been discoveries made by accident.  Something else was involved as well.  Each of the people responsible had the wisdom to recognise that something special had happened.

Serendipitous things happen and you have the joy of discovering the unexpected unexpectedly when ‘accident and sagacity’ are both involved.  Chance and wisdom.

That’s the other observation I want to make for Christmas.  Maybe the Christmas story should encourage us to seek the kind of wisdom that will recognise the God moment when it comes.  And that is something we can work at.

Putting yourself in a position where you are exposed to thinking about God, thoughts of God, in the pages of the Bible.  Prayer and praying have their part to play – those Christians facing persecution in the Middle East share that with us constantly, I pray for you each night, was said to me only on Friday, by someone who is not able to get out and do a great deal – but it meant the world to me as they shared that thought.  It reminds me to look out for the God moment that comes unexpectedly.

One other thing – it is as we step out of a concern simply for ourselves and step into a concern for other people that maybe, we shall encounter God unawares.  To love another person is to see the face of God.

From the squalor of a borrowed stable

Prayers of Concern

85        Good Christians all rejoice

Words of Blessing

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Unexpected Christmas Story

Sunday 18th December Service The Unexpected Christmas Story

Each Sunday of  Advent has been unexpected!  The unexpected gift, the unexpected guest, the unexpected route, and today the unexpected Christmas story.  Carolyn Tennant, our children's worker, explored the unexpected twists and turns of the Nativity with our children.

Young child welcomes everyone to the service!

·        That was unexpected ... but lovely!

Welcome and News of the Church Family.

An opening prayer and verse from theBible.

59 Hark the herald angels sing

CT- We probably all like stories. Bethany and Abigail like fairy stories and they are going to come up now with Helen who is going to read us one of her favourites.

(Helen sits on chair, children dressed as princesses sit comfortably on floor and Helen reads)

As she finishes, CT steps in;

·        That wasn’t what I was expecting! (asks the girls and has brief conversation about the expected ending to the story)

·        It just goes to show, you have to listen very carefully even if you THINK you know a story so well. When we’ve heard a story lots of times we can stop listening. We’re no longer surprised by it. We know what to expect, or at least we think we do.

·        The Christmas story can be a bit like that. We are going to re-tell the story and think about the surprises God had in store.

Nativity Play with Open the book. (includes ‘Little Donkey’, ‘Away in a manger’ and finishes with ‘Come and join the celebration’.)

·        Presents to open.

Choose child to come and open each present, one at a time.

1.      Baby doll
God chose to be born as a baby. He couldn’t do anything for himself. He wanted to identify with us totally. He relied on his parents. It’s perhaps not how you would have chosen to plan it if you were God. It’s a risky strategy.

But, how perfect! Right from the beginning, God loved to turn things upside down and challenge everything we think we know so well. As Jesus grew up, he taught strange things like ‘the first shall be last and the last shall be first’ and he said, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’. So, really it was the perfect plan to come into this world as a powerless baby.

1.      Teenage things- hoody, magazine, i-pod, make-up?

You might have thought that God would have chosen someone famous or special to be Jesus’ mother. Mary was probably only 12 or 13. How would you have felt? People were unkind to her when they found out. Again, God does the unexpected thing and chooses someone ordinary for this most extraordinary job. God chooses ordinary people even when we might think there’s someone better for the job. But again, this is the perfect plan. There are no worldly trappings to confuse the purity of his purpose.

2.    Toy crib

God’s choice of birth place would probably not be ours! A hospital, a luxury hotel, Marks and Spencers maybe, but not a noisy, smelly, uncomfortable stable with no privacy, surely! Remember how the so called wise men went first to a palace to find the baby. They weren’t thinking God’s way yet. Again, God does the unexpected and makes it perfect. Not perfect in luxury but perfect in plan. ‘lest none should boast’ ring the words of the bible. Jesus came humbly into the world with no trace of corruption of wealthy start in life.

3.    Co-op funeral voucher in gift voucher card

Oh! I wasn’t expecting that! And I’m sure Mary and Joseph found it very strange to receive gold, frankincense and myrrh as gifts for their new baby. These presents show how the wise men DID know what they were looking for though;
Gold for a king,
Frankincense for worship
And myrrh for death.
God wasn’t afraid to hold new life and death in his hands at the same time. It is his remarkable and perfect plan.

A Hy-Spirit Christmas Song

Prayers including Christmas Lord’s Prayer written by Transformers and read by Grace and Andi.  The children's club we share with our friends from St Luke's, Transformers, has been looking at the Lord's Prayer for the last term.  This is a special version of the Lord's Prayer written by our Transformers for Christmas.

A Lord’s Prayer for Christmas

Our Saviour who art in the manger
Hallowed be thy son.

Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done with humans as with angels.

Thank you for all the food we have at Christmas, Give to the poor so we can ALL have Christmas food like turkey and mince pies.

Forgive us our greediness,
And cleanse us from wrong

And carry your forgiveness through the world

Help us not to be tempted to open any presents or calendar doors too early Or to steal things or do things we are not meant to do And lead us not into spoiltness Or spoiling surprises for other people.

Keep us safe when traveling
And keep us from bad things

Help us remember that Jesus is king and he is God’s son Not just at Christmas but forever and ever


Dinner table set up with one chair, fancy place setting and cloche covering meal.

Ask for volunteer to come to dinner, on condition they will eat whatever is served.

Seat the child, napkin etc.

Reveal the dish- tin of cat food!

·        I wasn’t expecting that!

Better open it up and eat it though as you promised! (read label etc., hope you like fish etc.!)

Open tin to reveal chocolates!

·        Well, I wasn’t expecting that! That was much better than you expected!
God planned things at Christmas that no-one expected, they were even better.

We can get so comfortable and familiar with the Christmas story and with coming to church that it stops having an impact.

Let’s pray that we will be surprised, challenged and overjoyed by what God is saying to us this Christmas when we understand God is with us – Emmanuel.

Carol:  See him lying on a bed of straw

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Unexpected Route

On the third Sunday of Advent we had a Sunday Special that started at 9-00 in the morning as our youngsters met for breakfast and some fun and games.  They made an unexpected journey that took them around the district looking for things that began with each letter of the word Christmas.

They then joined us in church as we explored the theme of 'Unexpected Journeys'

Carolyn Tennant, our Children's Worker then shared these reflections.

The theme of our service is ‘The unexpected Journey’.

If you have ever used a Sat-Nav, you will probably have your own unexpected journey stories to tell!

Have a look at this light hearted clip about the not-so wise men…

Show ‘Sat-nav-tivity’
We’ll be coming back to their story later.

(Children to the front.)
The children who came for their breakfast this morning have made an unexpected journey themselves.
Can you tell us about it?
(What was unexpected about it? Where did you go? How did you decide where to go? How did you find your way back? Did you have any other jobs to do on the way?)

Children sit down, readers remain.

In the Christmas Story, the people involved had to make many different journeys. These weren’t fun holiday type journeys. They weren’t exciting adventurous trips that had been months in planning. Sometimes the people had to leave in a hurry and think quickly about what they might need and travel light. I think it’s true to say none of the journeys was planned and most were reluctant travellers.
Let’s listen to the story as the children tell it now.

Unexpected Christmas Journeys

1.      Luke 2:1-7
When Mary was expecting her baby, everyone was ordered to go and register in their own towns. So, Joseph and Mary had to make an unexpected journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem where the baby was born.

2.    Luke 2:8-20
Some shepherds were spending the night watching their sheep in the fields. An angel came to them and the glory of God shone over them. The angel told them not to be afraid and said they should go and see the new baby. So it was that the shepherds made an unexpected journey and Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger.  They rushed back praising God every step of the way.

3.    Matthew 2:1-12
Some men who studied the stars travelled from the east expecting to find the baby in Jerusalem.  King Herod wanted to trap the new born baby, so the wise men journeyed on, following a star and finally they found the baby and gave him their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They had to make an unexpected journey home by another route as God had warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod.

4.    Matthew 2:13-15
After the wise men left, an angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him to go and take Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt to keep them safely away from Herod and his plans. So Joseph had to make another unexpected journey in the night with his family.

5.    Matthew 2:19-23
After Herod died, an angel came to Joseph in another dream and told him to take Mary and Jesus back to Israel. So up he got and travelled again. But when Joseph heard that Archelaus was the new king, he was frightened of going through Judea.   God told him in another dream to go to Galilee and so one last unexpected journey took the family back to Nazareth.  There Jesus grew strong in body and wise in spirit.  And the grace of God was on him.

I hope you spotted all the journeys.

You might think that it was an odd idea for God to make Christmas happen like that.

Do you think you could have organized it better and made it easier?

We might feel like that in our own lives.

Unexpected things happen.

Things change and we have to change our routes and our plans sometimes.
This might involve moving house or school, friends moving away, having new teachers or dealing with the disappointment of an event we used to enjoy, no longer running.

For the adults, we learn that life is full of adaptations and we constantly need to review and re-work our ‘world maps’.

I was fascinated when I first read ‘The Road Less Travelled’.
Scott Peck writes,

 ‘Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are, and if we have decided where we want to go, we will generally know how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we generally will be lost.’

He goes on at length to explore how we need to constantly revise our maps all our lives, continuing to learn and embracing new information and ideas in order to keep our maps true.

Things change and we have to take a different route.
How do we cope?
We are going to hear how we can help in people’s lives through the work of CCP which helps people to deal with changing circumstances.

God doesn’t change.
But that doesn’t mean he’s dull or boring!
He has strange and unexpected plans for our life journeys!
What we know is that we can trust him.
He has the master plan and writes all the maps.

Later in the service Dave and Al who, together with Matt, grew up at Highbury and now work for County Community Projects spoke about the work CCP does in Cheltenham.  CCP is our Christmas collection and we are collecting food parcels each week.  This video gives a graphic glimpse of the kind of work CCP does.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Where Love is, God is

I grew up with two sets of Christmas stories.

I grew up with the stories built around the accounts of the birth of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel and Luke’s Gospel.  We will be reading those stories as advent unfolds and Christmas approaches … and we’ll be telling them again to the children in all sorts of different settings.

The other set of Christmas stories I grew up with were stories about the Christ child, tales that go to the heart of what the Christian faith is all about.

Of those stories, the tale of Martin, the Cobbler has been one of my favourites ever since I first heard it as a little one, told in the way I told it to the children today.

I think of it as a children’s story, beautifully re-told in lavishly illustrated children’s books, in glorious animations too.

It was a long time before I realised it was not written as a children’s story.

My father’s signature is on the inside of the front cover of a well-worn volume LXXII of ‘The World’s Classics’.  Twenty-three tales by Tolstoy.  There’s a book mark at Tale number 7.  The title was not so familiar to me, and yet it is a title that goes to the heart of the Christian faith for me.

Where love is, God is.

In a certain town there lived a cobbler, Martin Adveich by name.

Straightaway the story draws you into that basement with a single window through which all the cobbler can see are the boots of the passers by.

By the second paragraph of the story, it becomes very much bleaker than any of the children’s adaptations I have read.  There’s a theatre company doing the rounds at the moment that re-visits children’s fairy stories and re-tells them as they were originally told with a darkness that makes for very adult theatre.  The Knee High theatre company.  They could have a field day with Tolstoy’s tale.

It was while he was still apprenticed to his trade as a cobbler, working for a Master, that his wife died, ‘leaving him with a three year old son.  None of his elder children had lived, they had all died in infancy.’

He thought of sending his son away, maybe to his sister’s.  But then determined to look after him on his own.  And that meant being on his own.  He had to leave his master and go into lodgings.

And then the unthinkable happened.

“No sooner had the boy reached an age when he could help his father and be a support as well as a joy to him, than he fell ill and, after being laid up for a week with a burning fever, died.  Martin buried his son, and gave way to despair, so great and overwhelming that he murmured against God.”

There is a depth of despair in Martin’s soul that is dark, so dark it is without a glimmer of hope.  His prayer is simply that he should die.  He loses his faith.

“After that Martin left off going to church.”

Carolyn was telling us at our Deacons meeting that she had been to a Care For the Family Day on the very subject that we have very much as a focus for the work that Carolyn is doing - 'How to get your kids through church without them ending up hating God!' That’s a big challenging question.  At our church Meeting on Thursday, 5th January we are going to do things very differently – and give those who would like to have a conversation with Carolyn the opportunity to dig more deeply with her into this big issue.

Thee is something that resonates with Martin’s plight in Tolstoy’s tale.   One thing that puts people off church is what goes on not just in a troubled world, but in the troubled lives people lead.   Where is God in all of this?

What do you do in this moment of anguish and rage.

Martin has an unexpected guest.  What is wonderful about this unexpected guest is that he is willing simply to listen to Martin.  In the depths of his despair, it’s what Martin needs.

“Martin opened his heart to him, and told him of his sorrow … I no longer wish to live … I am now quite without hope in the world.”

It was great to hear that Neil and Lorraine contacted Richard Atkins on his Sunday morning programme and got in a good plug for Highbury.  I happened on a very moving interview he did with Malc Allen, Chaplain to the Robins and Garth, a member of the Samaritans.  They were discussing the impact the sad news of Gary  Speed had had in the footballing world.  As the interview came to an end it was moving to hear the ever ebullient Richard Atkins describing the way he had suffered from depression ever since he had been twelve or thirteen.  He spoke of the way in which so many men refuse to open up about their depression, and spoke of the way in which it was so important to do just that.

It was moving hearing him tell his own story – the experience many of us share testifies to just how true those words of Richard’s were this morning.

Christmas is a time when depression can so easily overtake many.  All sorts of triggers are around.  It is a time when the darkness of this kind of despair can become overwhelming.

In some ways it is simply the willingness of the old man to listen that counts.

The old man who is willing to listen has a wisdom about him that stops Martin in his tracks.

He wonders aloud, as to your despair that comes because you wish to live for your own happiness.

Now I will be the first to acknowledge that tales like this have their weakness.  They are written to make a point.  And sometimes the point they make is unbearably simplistic.  I want to take issue with Tolstoy when he puts into the mouth of this wise old man the thought that all that happens is God’s will.  I actually think that dreadful things that happen cut across God’s will.  It’s not so much that he must will them … but rather my conviction would be that God can bring out of the greatest calamity something more – there is nowhere so dark that God’s light cannot come.

Simplistic explanations often have grains of truth in them.

And for me there is a grain of truth here.

One of what I would think would be many causes of all kinds of despair is that we have built up a culture where the pursuit of happiness means everything.  It doesn’t really matter what happens so long as I can be happy.  One of the things we are being brought face to face with is that the relentless pursuit of happiness is something that can be self-defeating.

Martin has indeed followed that path.  He has drowned his sorrows on more than one occasion to find relief from his pain in an all too transitory happiness.  What else is there but to live for happiness and well-being?

“What else should one live for?” asked Martin.

“For God, Martin,” said the old man.

In many ways it’s simplistic.

But that’s a choice.

What is the purpose of life.  To seek happiness?

Or is life to be lived ‘for God’.

A big choice.

But what does that mean?  All very well to speak of living life for God.  But it’s not very helpful.

That’s exactly Martin’s problem.

Live for God … this is the antidote to your despair.

Martin was silent awhile, and then asked:  “But how is one to live for God?”

I like the response the old man gives.

The old man answered: “How one may live for God has been shown us by Christ.  Can you rad?  Then buy the Gospels and read them; there you will see how God would have your live.  You have it all there.”

“These words sank deep into Martin’s heart, and that same day he went and bought himself a Testament in large print, and began to read.”

So often faced with a crisis of faith, in the face of the depths of despair we want to rail at God, we want to sort God out, we want to ask where God can be in all of this.

You don’t get so far.

Instead look to Jesus … and see God.  To look to Jesus read the Gospels.

A good gospel to start with is Mark – it’s the shortest, and it packs in a lot of the action of Jesus’ life.  There’s no time for the stories around the birth of Jesus, Mark wants to get on with it.  John the Baptist heralds the arrival of Jesus who has the simplest of messages,  God’s rule is breaking into the world,  now’s the time to start all over again, believe the Good news.  Fishermen follow him, and he makes his base in the home of Simon Peter.  And from there he travels the countryside with a simple message and bringing healing into people’s lives.

Then there’s a twist in the story – indeed there are three stories in quick succession of very unlikely people Jesus helps.  First someone suffering from leprosy – Jesus’ reaction to the illness he sees is on the one hand to be angry, and then to have compassion.  He breaks all the taboos and touches that man.  It is a most unexpected encounter.

  Next is someone who is paralysed – and Jesus treats him just like everyone else – no different, you might have thought his biggest need was physically healing.  Not so, for Jesus.  He’s no different from any of the rest of us.  He needs something deep down in his spirit to assure him of the love of God.  It’s the high-up people form Jerusalem who are tasked with making sure the law is copied out fully and accurately to every last ritual detail who are up in arms about what Jesus shares – only God can bring that kind of forgiveness.  For good measure Jesus brings healing to that man as well.   It is an unexpected moment.

And the third tale to tell is of someone who is in hock to the oppression of the Roman power – a tax collector.  Not only does Jesus welcome this most unexpected of people as one of his band of disciples, but he also spends the evening eating and partying with his friends.  An unexpected guest.

Martin’s thoughts turn to no end of people Jesus helped in unexpected ways.  His eye falls on the sermon on the mount.

He is moved by what he sees … but not convinced. 

Then Martin laid his head upon both his arms and, before he was aware of it, he fell asleep.

“Martin!” he suddenly heard a voice, as if  someone had breathed the word above his ear.

“He started from his sleep.  “Who’s there?” he asked.

He turned round and locked the door; no one was there.  He called again.  Then he heard quite distinctly: “Martin, martin!  Look out into the street to-morrow, for I shall come.”

The next day, not sure whether this had been a dream or not, he feels something is going to happen.  Jesus is going to come to him – the ultimate unexpected guest.

And as the day unfolds he is disappointed – Stepanitch, the old soldier is glad of the tea Martin makes as he comes in from the cold of sweeping the snow.

The mother in summer clothes with a babe in arms is so pleased with the cabbage soup … and goes away with a warm cloak for herself and her child.

And the old woman and the young lad – he could have ended up in gaol  if she had had her way – but Martin got her to see the boy differently, and got him to make reparations for what he had done by helping the old woman.

The day over, nothing had happened.

No Jesus.

He took the Gospels from the shelf.  He meant to open them at the place he had marked the day before with a bit of morocco, but the book opened at another place.  As Martin opened it, his yesterday’s dream came back to his mind, and no sooner had he thought of it than he seemed to hear footsteps, as though some one were moving behind him.  Martin turned round, and it seemed to him as if people were standing in the dark corner, but he could not make out who they were.  And a voice whispered in his ear|: “Martin, Martin, don’t you know me?”

“Who is it?” muttered Martin.

“It is I,” said the voice.

And out of the dark corner stepped Stepanitch, who smiled and vanishing like a cloud was seen no more.

“It is I,” said the voice once more.  And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms, and the woman smiled and the  baby laughed, and they too vanished.

“It is I,” said the voice once more.  And the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped out and both smiled, and then they too vanished.

And Martin’s soul grew glad.  He crossed himself put on his spectacles, and began reading the Gospel just where it had opened; and at the top of the page he read,

“I was an hungred and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye game me drink; I was a stranger and ye took  me in.”

And at the bottom of the page he read:

Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren even these least, ye did it unto me.”  (Matthew xxv)

And Martin understood that his dream had come true; and that the  Saviour had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed him.

What I like about the way this tale unfolds is that it is so true to the experience of many.  Happiness at all costs is not a recipe for living life to the full.  Live for God?  That’s all very well … so look to Jesus.  Read the Gospels and find that he is the one who comes alongside us in our weaest moments and draws us to a God who is with us when life is at its worst.  But more than that Jesus invites us to find him in serving other people.  In doing that we shall find in those wonderful closing words to Les Miserables that to love another person is to see the face of God!

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light