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We have a little pond at the end of our garden. It is our view into another utterly different world – a water breathing and virtually gravity free one. Beings there can just fly up and down whenever they want. The roof of their world is the silver surface of the water. At certain angles they can see us - and we can see them. Our world must be as unbelievable to them as their world is to us. Both are real. They live below that silver ceiling and we live above it. This does not mean that their reality is any less real than ours. We have a silver ceiling of our own. Above us is a spiritual world
Death is our silver ceiling - We know for certain that human beings have spiritual identities which survive death. There is a vast body of literature and testimony from people who have had near death experiences and to have been revived after apparently fatal accidents – often on the operating tables. We know that while they were clinically dead, they could see without their physical eyes, hear without their physical ears and above all think without their physical brains.
Near death survivors become humane amphibians for minutes or hours or even days before their human body draws them back to our air breathing gravity bound world. For a short time, they become like some animals like frogs and toads in our pond - amphibians
Saints and prophets are spiritual amphibians They live in this world and the next. Our Lord was the supreme spiritual amphibian. Equally the events around his life were spiritually amphibious.
Everything about Christmas is amphibian – but is it too good to be true? What is the earthly events associated with the spiritual ones.
These are the things we know for certain about Christmas. We know for certain that Isaiah’s prophecies of around 600 BC were true. Equally we know for certain that Mary was a virgin and that she was visited by the Angel Gabriel. (Luke 1:26–38) that thanks to the Angel Gabriel, Mary knows that she was the bare child who was to change the world. Christianity did change the world
We know for certain that Mary went and stayed with her elderly and apparently barren cousin Elizabeth who was to give birth to John the Baptist. This was after her own a miraculous conception following her equally elderly husbands’ Zachariah’s vision in the temple
We know for certain that the Messiah was born in the Royal City of Bethlehem as was prophesied by Isiah and numerous other prophets.
We know for certain that shepherds were miraculously informed of the Christ Child’s birth by angels - as there are so many first-hand witnesses. (Luke 2:8-20)
We know that wise men travelled a great distance to worship Christ child and that brought prophetic gifts - gold for a king, frankincense for divinity and myrrh as a symbol of death.
We know for certain that the prophecies of Simeon and Anna were to be fulfilled. The Christ Child was to grow into a man who lived in both worlds, healing the sick, raising the dead and prophesied his own death and miraculous resurrection.
We also know for certain that miraculous dreams played a key role in the protection of the baby Jesus.
Joseph was warned in a dream to protect Mary as she was to give birth to our Saviour (Matthew 1:18-21).
Equally the wise men were warned in a dream not to tell Herod of the location of the Christ Child (Matthew 2:13).
Importantly Joseph was warned in a dream to emigrate to Egypt to avoid Herod’s massacre of the first-born sons in Bethlehem.
Lastly After Herod had died Joseph was again informed in a dream that it was safe to return (Matthew 2:19-23
We also know that Our Lord left a body of teaching to utterly change the world – as prophesied.
Our Lord created the ladder between earth and heaven that we call Christianity. This gives us all the opportunity to be amphibians – to escape the limited reality of our world.
Religion is not a nice to have – it is our birthright – the reason we live. If we follow the teaching Our Lord left us it not only enriches our earthly life but prepares us for the next world that we know for certain that we will all enter.
We can all be amphibians - just as our Lord was and so many of the people around him and who listened and practiced his teaching.
We can choose to share in that spiritual dimension here on earth.
This is why I have devoted my life to it and can recommend it to you all
……. HAPPY CHRISTMAS. Amen
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
Life is surely a sacred opportunity for spiritual development. If we ignore its spiritual opportunities and just indulge in sinful pleasures, we waste it and must face the consequences. We have to discover that is we live our lives driven by the seven deadly sins there will be consequences. ‘Riches’ give us that opportunity to make these mistakes
However, the poor man Lazarus would have had little opportunity:
to be proud – because he had nothing
or to be greedy - because he had little food
or to be lustful - because there would have no opportunity
or to be angry - because he had no one to tirade over
So the poor man had few wicked choices – and went to Heaven
The rich man however would have every opportunity to be proud, to be greedy, to be lustful, to be wrathful at his many employees, and be as lazy as liked. He had every opportunity to sin - every opportunity to indulge
But he is also had every opportunity not to do these things – to have faith - to have love and to be charitable
Our late Queen was fabulously rich – but worked for the service of others all her life – she did not need to work. Equally:
She could have been proud – but wasn’t
She could have been greedy – but wasn’t – Tupperware
She could have been lustful like many of her predecessors stayed loyal to Prince Philip
She could have been envious – was not
She could have been wrathful – but she very seldom lost her temper
She could have been slothful – but the evidence is that she worked her whole life for no extra worth – for the nation – she kept up with her boxes
Surely she must have died safe in the poor man’s state of mind – and have been rewarded
Our late queen was basically and absolutely five-star granny – and a result was universally loved and respected everywhere she went.
She also had her faith which kept her up to the mark – she prayed every night
She had her routines of red boxes and royal obligations
Monastic life is full of similar supports. There is little opportunity to:
Be proud – because good monastics have nothing
To be greedy - because there is only simple food
To be lustful – because there is no opportunity
To be envious – because there in nothing to be envious of
To be angry – Because there is little opportunity
To be lazy - because the routine prohibited it
So, what about us – the lost! We must remember that in Matthew 6 Our Lord said “It is harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” gate)
I am a great believer and follower of the Franciscan Richard Rohr. This week’s daily podcast is dealing with the rich fruitfulness of the autumn of life. Older age. (https://cac.org/podcasts/)
The last periods of our lives provide us with space to reflect on life’s experiences – the opportunities taken and opportunities missed. Opportunities to purge the physical clutter indulgence and self-seeking of our earlier years - and create space for reflection
Life really does give us the opportunity to be humble, charitable, grateful, temperate, patient, diligent and full of love.
If our Lord had been the rich man I have not the slightest doubt that he would have eaten with the poor man, regarded him an equal - and loved and provided for him as a brother
Crucially we can also remember that when Peter objected to the eye of the needle parable regarding - perhaps because he was rich - Jesus responded “but with God all things are possible.”
Let us hope and pray that this will be the case for us
In Jesus’s name Amen
Personally, I like to corroborate or test religious teaching scientifically, against other religions or historically before excepting it. The Bible appears to contain several major contractions? However, this is often only because some passages elate specifically times in history and so to the needs of different spiritual cultures.
Ecclesiastics was probably written around 180 BC. However the New Testament however was created 2 Centuries later and was essentially ‘the upgrade’ a new Covenant
Ecclesiastes 3 ….. There is a time for everything, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time for war and a time for peace
However Our Lords Beatitude ….. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Delivered 200 years later
The New Testament is full of non-violence. Our Lord told us to ‘turn the other cheek’ (Matthew 5:38-40), to ‘walk the extra mile’ (Matthew 5:41) with our enemies and are reminded that ‘those who live by the sword die by to sword’. How does all this relate to war in 21st Century. Let’s learn the from the lessons of history
In King David’s time, probably around 1000 BC, nations routinely went to war in the spring. Victorious armies also routinely put to the sword not only the entire opposing force or city but all their wives and children – even sometimes their animals!
We don’t do that now
In 13th Century the English fought crusades in the Holy land and captured large areas of France
We don’t do that now
When the United Kingdom was in ‘colonial mode’, we ‘held sway’ over 50 countries - over 412 million people or 23% of the world’s population. The world was pink! This was thought to be a ‘good thing’.
By the middle of the 20th century, we had accepted the error of our ways and rightly returned the lands of our conquests to their indigenous inhabitants’. Initiating war with the world is now unthinkable – we are 21st century nation. We value being a part of the global community of nations. We avoid physical violence.
In 1949 NATO was create which is a purely defensive organisation. Generally, the developed nations are now much near the New Testament goal.
When António Guterres, the head of the United Nations, entered Kyiv on 28th April he observed that “The Russian war is an absurdity in the 21st century.”
In short, nations can grow out of war. The question arises is how do we relate to expansionist nations like Russia and China still caught in 19th Century colonial era and seemly even ignore the 159 articles of the Geneva convention
How it can the wisdom of the Bible provide an interface for us as the East and Western block confront each other? Surely, we have to speak in a language they understand and operate at - a level they understand. This means following Ecclesiastes 3
‘There is a time for war and a time for peace’
However, once we come into the 20th and 21st Century powers we start to pick up our Christ’s Sermon on the Mount teaching.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Non-violent resistance becomes both a humane and effective force. Gandhi conducted a nonviolent campaign to remove us from India and won. Ultimately, we rightly gave up our entire empire voluntarily. The Commonwealth was born
Hopefully any future ‘wars’ will be sanction driven and nonviolent. Even now China must be watching the commercial decimation of the Russian economy and ultimately the downfall of President Putin.
It is important to remember the benefits of following and living ethical teaching.
The Beatitudes use the word Blessed as the reward for following the Beatitudes. Another translates for Blessed ‘divinely fortunate’. Divinely fortunate.
History records the fates of tyrants and war mongers as being grim. Hitler died in a bunker, Mussolini by public execution, Saddam Hussain in ignominy and hanging. Malachi 4 seems whole appropriate
The transition between the states of war is appallingly painful. However, we can take comfort from the way the world has come to the aid of Ukraine just as it come to our aid in our War against Hitler. Let us pray that the Ukraine War against Russia is the War that ends wars and that we can look forward to the peace of peacemakers:
Let us look forward to a time when all nations can identify as ‘children of God’