Advent Wednesdays at DBC

iStock_000011091735XSmallPlease join us if you can for any of the first three Wednesdays of December at DBC. We will begin with a meal followed by an act of worship. We will eat at 6.30pm and meet (promptly) at 8.00pm. If you are planning to eat with us, it would help if you let us know ahead of time. If you are turning up for the worship, please arrive a little early (say, by 7.45) so that we can start the worship on time – there will be a cup of tea or coffee going if you would like one before we start. The worship themes will be as follows:

Wednesday 3 December:
Watching and Waiting

Wednesday 10 December:
Listening

Wednesday 17 December:
Darkness and Light

On Wednesday 24 December we will hold our Carols by Candlelight service at 6.30pm; we would love to see you there.

Advent at Didsbury Baptist Church

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We are now in the season of Advent. We mark this at DBC by lighting Advent candles during worship every Sunday of Advent and on Christmas Day.

On the Wednesdays of Advent (4,11 and 18 December) we will gather for a meal at 6.30pm followed by study and prayer at 7.30pm. Our topic will be The Christmas story as told by Matthew. We will be reading Matthew chapters 1 and 2 over the course of the three weeks. Please feel free to join us on any of the Wednesdays  for the meal, the study session, or both. We look forward to seeing you.

One greater than the temple is here

The Bible readings for today are 2 Sam 7.1-5, 8-11, 16; Psalm 85; Luke 1.67-79.

Actually, these are the readings for the morning. Tonight, in our carol service, we will hear the traditional Christmas Eve readings. There we will concentrate on Matthew’s version of the nativity story (Matthew 1) which seems to me to be darker than Luke’s. No Magnificat, no songs of praise, fewer angels but a mixed-up world into which Jesus is born, ‘God with us’. Matthew clearly presents Jesus as Messiah and ‘Son of David’ but also, perhaps, as the embodiment of the temple David had wished to build. The baby born in Bethlehem would represent God to people and would draw both Jews and Gentiles (starting with the magi from the east) to worship the living God. And if he would be a kind of walking temple, he would also represent the sacrifices offered in the temple. Jesus would save the people from their sins. This, Jesus continues to do for all who will seek and follow him.

Fearful wonder

Today’s Bible readings are Malachi 3.1-4; 4.1-6; Psalm 25.3-9; Luke 1.57-66.

I am interested in the relationship of fear and joy. There is a kind of fear, it seems to me, that has nothing at all to do with joy; this is the fear associated with terror. It is the sort we experience when we are in peril. Such fear robs its victims of joy and ruins lives. Its only positive aspect is that it might spark a ‘fight or flight’ response by which a person may escape the clutches of one who intended their harm.

The fear of the Lord is an altogether different thing. This is the fear we associate with reverence and awe. It is the kind we experience when we are confronted by something (or someone) completely beyond our control or comprehension. This is humility before God; it is wonder, amazement or astonishment and it issues in joy, sheer joy. Notice the connection in Malachi 4.2: ‘But for you who revere [fear] my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.’ It is there too in the Gospel reading at the naming of John the Baptist and the restoration of Zechariah’s speech: ‘And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him (Luke 1.63b-66)’. The fear that came upon the neighbours did not silence them, it did not terrorize them but rather provoked them to talk excitedly about what was happening and to reflect on its significance.

We need more of this kind of fear, the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. If our eyes are open we might experience it as we approach Christmas and reflect again on the mystery of the Incarnation.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

Mary Oliver, ‘Mysteries, Yes’ in Evidence, (2009, Bloodaxe Books).

Magnificat!

The Bible readings for today are 1 Samuel 1.24-28; Psalm 113; Luke 1.46-56.

I have long been intrigued by the fact that the revolutionary words of the Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55) have been set to such beautiful music. Oh I know, the words are beautiful too but they surely pose a challenge to the very classes that might be most expected to enjoy the music. Then again, I suppose terms like ‘the rich’ are always relative. When we sing ‘the rich he has sent empty away’ we can assume it refers to people other than ourselves. Of course, it always helps if the most threatening lyrics remain in Latin.

Well, the Magnificat, in any language, is a marvellous ancient hymn, steeped in the language of the Old Testament and taken up so powerfully on the lips of Mary. Despite what I say above, I am a fan of many of its choral arrangements. I like Monteverdi’s setting, and, of course, Bach’s and I am keen on Arvo Part’s (though I am not quite sure what it has to do with 1950s Philadelphia in this video).

In church we have been singing David Mowbray’s, ‘With Mary let my soul rejoice’ to North Bailey by Peter Morger (No 197 in Sing Praise). This is a great hymn but I cannot find a recording of it anywhere. Is anybody else singing it?

Why not click on the links and enjoy some music, but, please, think about those words too!

God will rejoice over you!

The Bible readings for today are Zephaniah 3.14-18; Psalm 33.1-4, 11-12, 20-22; Luke 1.39-45.

Joy is one of the great themes of Advent. Many of our Advent-candle liturgies include a week given over to the theme. All of today’s readings fairly ring out with celebratory joy. The one that gets to me most is Zephaniah 3.17:
‘He (God!) will rejoice over you and be glad,
He will shout over you with jubilation.
He will soothe with His love
those long disconsolate.’
The God of the Bible is a passionate God who rejoices over God’s people. The Incarnation brings God’s joy to the world!

Promised beforehand?

The Bible readings for today are Isaiah 7.10–16; Psalm 80.1-8, 18-20; Romans 1.1-7; Matthew 1.18-25.

Some of my Jewish friends object to the way that Christian interpretation seems to play fast-and-loose with the promises of the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament seems willing to take any verse as a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus. Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7 is a case in point. Isaiah was certainly not anticipating a virgin birth (the Hebrew can mean simply ‘young woman’, as the NRSV makes plain) nor was he thinking of events that would occur many years into the future. I take him to mean that by the time a pregnant woman gives birth and begins to teach her child, the national powers that threatened Israel would themselves be facing defeat. Whatever it is he anticipates, Isaiah thinks it will happen soon, within a few years at most. Still, Matthew feels free to adopt these verses and apply them to the birth of Jesus. In so doing, he demonstrates a kind of playfulness in his use of Scripture.

Matthew is not alone in taking up fragments of Scripture and using them for his own ends. In fact, much of Scripture, both Jewish and Christian, does the same thing. It constantly interprets and reinterprets what was written earlier, incorporating its understanding of the old into its own unfolding vision. What is objectionable though is when Christians refuse to accept that a passage like Isaiah 7 can refer to something other than the birth of Jesus. For me, it is not a case of either/or but of both/and.

If there is playfulness in Scripture’s interpretation of Scripture, there seems to be some too in relation to its presentation of obedience to prophetic commands. According to Matthew, an angel of the Lord told Joseph that Mary will ‘bear a son and they will call him Emmanuel’ (God with us), so Joseph ‘named him Jesus’! Whether or not we like the way Scripture interprets and reinterprets Scripture, the fact is that Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, fulfilled the dreams and expectations of generations. Ultimately, it is the resurrection that proclaims Jesus as Messiah and Lord (Rom 1.4).

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