Well stocked is an understatement for this kitchen. It is abounding with absurd amounts of fresh meat, game, exotic fruits and vegetables: there is barely room for the kitchen maids to work. And every remaining nock and cranny is filled with a wine cup or goblet. The impending festivities do not seem to be limited to food and drink; the semi dressed figures behind the central maid suggest sexual indulgences too.
The scene is purposefully set against the scene we can see through the doorway in the back of the picture. Here in subdued tones we see Christ with Mary sat listening at his feet and Martha interrupting their conversation. Martha complains that it is unfair that she is left to do all the domestic work, but Jesus rebukes her, saying that Mary has chosen the better response.
This picture reminds us that we can get too enthralled in preparing the material aspects of our Christmas celebrations. We could be less ambitious, less profligate, less demanding of the time we must spend on these preparations and instead have time to sit and wait at Jesus’s feet.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.’
We are looking from one room to another, with a corridor in between. The first room is a kitchen or scullery – a mop and a towel suggest domestic tasks. The room beyond is more refined. A set of keys suggests a desire to protect the security of this room. On the table is an open book. By it is a large candle now extinguished; maybe the book was being read in the early hours before day break. There is an atmosphere of tranquility and peace about this scene, as well as a sense of patient waiting. Is the room waiting for the reader to return to the book?
The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ … Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Can we find words to treasure and ponder whilst we wait this Advent?
Do you remember the excitement of opening the little doors on an old fashioned Advent calendar to see the miniature picture behind it? We always knew that behind door 24 would be a crib and a baby Jesus, but what was behind the other doors would be a surprise – a mystery. Is that true of Advent itself? We know where we will end up on 24th December but our journey there and our encounters on the way may be full of surprises and mystery.
This first door is from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis. Lucy climbs in to hide and finds that the wardrobe leads into a parallel world, a world of challenge and adventure, fear and excitement. If we could choose to step through a door into another world this Advent, would we be hoping to step back into the world of childhood Christmases? A time when everything is exciting, the ground is always covered with snow, Christmas trees are tall and everyone is full of love and laughter. When we excitedly unwrap ribbons and paper to find we have been given our hearts desire.
Or would we hope to step into a parallel world of spiritual well-being? Where prayer comes easily. Where our hearts sing with joyous anticipation. Where every hour we feel close to God. Where our minds are free of worries about turkeys and presents. Where each day takes us a step closer to heaven.
Or would we fear stepping into a world of endless Christmas bling? Never ending shopping opportunities. Snake-like checkout queues, canned carols and dancing reindeer, fake snow and luminous snowmen.
‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight paths for Him.’
Luke 3: 4
O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
Long journeys require us to take regulars breaks, to rest, take on fuel, and freshen up before we set off once more. On motorways areas for such provision are known as services. I wonder if that should help us understand (in part) why we go to church for services. But more importantly i think we all need times to step aside and rest awhile and to enjoy life.
We have already heard how Elijah took time out in the wilderness where he was provided with food and a place to sleep.
Jesus knew the value of taking time out, both for himself and for his disciples, often setting aside his gospel work, to spend time in the wilder spaces well away from towns and villages. Yet at his birth, a resting place had not been so easy to come by.
For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15a
Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.And Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:4,7
Change is an inevitable part of life, but sometimes that change can be completely radical – a new direction of travel – requiring new ways of doing things, seeing things and of understanding. That was the case for Mary and Joseph, for the magi, perhaps even for the shepherds. It was certainly so for the disciples who first followed Jesus. It was certainly so for St Paul. And I am sure it is – or is to be – so for us.
The LORD said to Abram: Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you. Genesis 12:1
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. Matthew 1:20-21,24
And when they had brought their boats ashore, they left everything and followed Him. Luke 5:11
Not all street signs are official – in the sense of being installed by the local or highway authority. Often these unofficial signs advertised local events. Sometimes they concern lost cats and dogs, or keys that have been found (and not usually the other way round). This one here is providing a counter message to the prevailing media message that the ULEZ expansion was an intolerable inconvenience for the average motorist. Instead this sign is celebrating the positive, life enhancing benefits of the traffic scheme.
Prophets often have to shout out about the benefits of God’s ways to counter the ‘me, me, me’ message of society. That too must be our calling.
Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be destroyed. Zephaniah 1:11
If you oppress poor people, you insult the God who made them; but kindness shown to the poor is an act of worship. Proverbs 14:31
Banners can be a call out for action. They shout out their message in letters written large. Such too has been the role of prophets and evangelists. I wonder whether you have, or have had, the opportunity to speak out for God?
I am sending you to them, and you are to say to them, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says.’ And whether they listen or refuse to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. Ezekiel 2:4-5
What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear! Matthew 10:27
“Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life.” Acts 5:20
Not all signs are easy to interpret or understand. Sometimes they may invite us to ponder. Sometimes they may invite us to think about who the creator might have been, and what inspired – or angered – them?
Often graffiti is found in inaccessible places, or at places on the margins. Does our society push some messages aside, keeping their authors at a distance? Many of the prophets of the Old Testament found that their messages were unwanted.
Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear. Jeremiah 5:21
That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. Matthew 13:13
Some messages are more noticeable when displayed using unusual mediums. This one is knitted!
The prophets of the Old Testament used this technique of unusual media to convey God’s messages. Jeremiah bought a brand new loincloth which he deliberately buried so that it was irreparably ruined: a sign of what would happen to the people if they refused to listen to God. Hosea married a prostitute as a sign that even if God’s people followed other gods, God would still love them and forgive them.
Then the LORD said to me, “Go show love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and offer raisin cakes to idols.” Hosea 3’1
Some signs signify where we stand on an issue. This one shows my commitment to protect the environment by pledging not to fly.
The CND sign has been widely displayed by those who wish to declare their stand against the use of nuclear weapons, and the dove by those campaigning for peace. Whilst new to the block is the Extinction Rebellion sign used by those highlighting concerns about the climate crisis.
In Genesis we read of a rainbow that was set in the sky as a sign of God’s intention to protect the earth by promising not to let it be destroyed by floods. Later , both in Isaiah and the Gospel of Luke, we hear of God’s intention to stand by and save his people.
I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Genesis 9:13
Today in the city of David a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Luke 2:11-12