Monday 24 December 2012

Jerusalem Widow: Encountering Jesus

The Bible offers detailed accounts of the birth of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew (Matthew 1 & 2) and Luke (Luke 1 - 2:40). It presents the details of the birth, shows how Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah are fulfilled in him and presents a number of descriptions of the encounters of ordinary people with the Son of God. Two of the most wonderful stories in the gospel accounts are the encounters of Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:21-38). Both knew from the Scriptures of Jesus coming, and each rejoiced at what it meant to them personally when he arrived as a baby in Bethlehem. Two separate people who faithfully waited for the promised Messiah, and who overflowed with joy when he entered the world.

At this time when we remember the birth of Jesus and rejoice that in him salvation has come, I thought I would simply share a beautiful poem, 'Jerusalem's Widow', written by my daughter in 2008. It tells of the elderly widow Anna, a faithful servant of God fasting and praying constantly in the Temple. Married just seven years, she spent the rest of her life serving and worshiping her God, as she awaited the Messiah. "She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying awaited the arrival of the promised Messiah." (Luke 2: 37). Rembrandt's painting (circa 1627) of Simeon and Anna meeting Jesus (left), captures something of the wonder of the moment when she sees him for the first time.

Jerusalem Widow
By Nicole Starling

Luke 2:36-38, Lamentations 1:1-2, Isaiah 54:1-4

Married seven short years,
Jerusalem widow
alone and childless,
makes the temple her home.

She does not know
the chatter of children
squeezed around
a table filled with food.
Just the hard knot of hunger,
fasting day and night.

She has no comfort
in the night.
No warm arms
slipped around her belly
as she sleeps.
Instead, she weeps into the dark,
And waits a lifetime.

But when a baby comes
one ordinary day,
She knows.
Her wait is over.
She takes the baby,
and holds him.

Jerusalem widow
(like widow Jerusalem)
cradling salvation in her arms.

Thank you for supporting CASE and reading this blog. Might all our readers encounter Jesus in their own way at Christmas.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Tuesday 18 December 2012

How will others 'read' us at Christmas?

Children are learning machines. From birth they observe their world and the people who inhabit it. Even if you wanted to stop children from learning you'd find it difficult. We often lament the fact that our children don't (or won't!) learn the things we want them to. But in many ways, a much bigger problem is the fact that they learn lots of things we'd prefer them not to learn, simply by observing us.

At Christmas Christian families have great opportunities inside and outside their homes to speak about and demonstrate the reality that Christ lives (!) in their hearts and lives. And yet, it is easy at times to inadvertently lead people to wonder whether this is so. Our lives can easily provide confused messages and priorities to our children and friends. This is a challenge for all of us not just parents of young children.

So as we approach Christmas it might do us all a lot of good, young and old, singles and parents, male and female, to consider in advance how our family members will 'read' us at this time when we celebrate God's grace and mercy in entering the world in the person of Jesus. It might also be worth taking some time to think about those situations that put us under the greatest pressure. The times, places and activities where and when we fail! I offer some questions below for self-evaluation that I've framed broadly enough for those of us who don't have young children.
Do we speak of God's grace at this time and yet demonstrate lack of forgiveness in our attitudes, actions and words towards and with our family members, fellow Christians, workmates and neighbours?
Do we talk of the love of Christ and yet demonstrate a coldness of heart that fails to show patience, kindness, and gentleness in the way we deal with others?
Do we speak of the generosity of God in sending his Son into the world and yet demonstrate avarice, greed, envy and jealousy?
Do we speak of the priority of Christ in our lives and yet at this time demonstrate in our actions that other things gain priority over our devotion, love and service in Christ's name?
Paul challenges his readers in several of his letters to be imitators of godly men and women who in turn are imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14). Similarly, the writer to the Hebrew church exhorts his readers to be imitators of those who through faith and patience have inherited the promises of God (Hebrews 6:12; 13:7).

People read us every day. How will they read us this Christmas?

Friday 7 December 2012

The Means to Attain a Happy Life

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to revisit some old episodes of the "The Tudors" (a television drama produced by Showtime). In later episodes the viewer is introduced to the Earl of Surrey- Henry Howard, who is renowned for various talents including that of poet. Amongst his works is The Means to Attain a Happy Life. 

MARTIAL, the things that do attain
The happy life, be these, I find :
The riches left, not got with pain ;
The fruitful ground, the quiet mind :

The equal friend, no grudge, no strife ;
No charge of rule, nor governance ;
Without disease, the healthful life ;
The household of continuance :

The mean diet, no delicate fare ;
True wisdom join'd with simpleness ;
The night discharged of all care,
Where wine the wit may not oppress :

The faithful wife, without debate ;
Such sleeps as may beguile the night.
Contented with thine own estate ;
Ne wish for Death, ne fear his might. (1)

In simple yet impressive language the poet has effectively communicated his thoughts on how he believes he would obtain some degree of contentment in his life. The pursuit of such sentiments is still real today as it was in the 1500's, and the occasion brought to mind issue #14 of Case magazine, which explored the topic of seeking happiness.

Readers will find this edition of Case interesting, as author Ben Cooper explores a concept known as 'happiness stagnation' in his article "Money and the Pursuit of Happiness." The author's research highlighted survey data which concluded "...that once a nation has reached a certain level of prosperity further economic growth seems to have little or no impact on the average levels of happiness."

The article goes on to discuss whether happiness stagnation can be resolved, but also counter the idea that the Christian gospel is opposed to happiness:
....we need to be clear that the Christian gospel is pro-happiness—good news of great joy—and not necessarily anti-material. To enjoy material blessings thankfully, as good gifts within a loving relationship with our heavenly Father is indeed one of the constituents of true happiness. It is only when our love of money supplants our love of God (and thereby love of neighbour) that we have a problem.
Cooper concluded that discontentment with what we have leads to envy and the pursuit of more. This discontentment is alas deeply rooted in our hearts, and thus we cannot solve the problems that surround our discontentment on our own. He however concludes on a happier note- reminding the reader of Luke 2:10-11:
Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you.
God himself has intervened in the world and in reconciling us to himself he will reverse our discontentment that leads to unhappiness, envy, emptiness and ultimately to death.

Courtesy of
Re-reading edition #14 of Case is well worth it, as the publication has several other articles that explore the theme of happiness. Mike Wilson provides a summary of the Dalai Lama, and his teaching and its impact upon concept of the meaning of' life and happiness in the Western world. His article entitled "The Dalai Lama's long road to happiness" also offers a Christian response to his teachings. You may also enjoy Kel Richards article which looks at the very etymology of the word 'happiness' and its appropriateness in the biblical vocabulary.

Case Subscribers may enjoy retrieving their copies of "Seeking Happiness" (Case #14) published 2008 and view the articles to which I refer to in this post. Our most recent magazine Case #32 entitled Believing Science, has been available for the last month, it too is well worth a read. For blog followers who are yet to become CASE Associates you can subscribe HERE or order a single copy of edition #14 or 32  HERE.

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(1) Surrey, Henry Howard, Earl of. The Poetical Works of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1854. 57.