Tag Archives: Mary and Joseph

Are we there yet?

Who has not gone on a long drive with a child and not heard the whine “Are we there yet?”

Advent is not unlike a long journey and we are all wondering when we will get there; not just the children! We are tired, restless and maybe even a little bit disgruntled as we plod on and never seem to arrive.

And, as seems to happen every year, there is still so much to do and so little time left in which to do it.

We’re not there yet & we’re going to have to wait a little longer. Just as Mary and Joseph had to wait the normal nine months for the time to come for Jesus to be born we too must continue to wait.

While we wait it might be helpful for us if we were able to focus on the preparation, the inner journey and growth and the openness to the work of the Spirit within us.

We have been doing that but we are getting anxious because we are at the point where we can see it from here. We can see the stable of Bethlehem. We can hear the angel choirs in rehearsal and we have heard that the magi are looking round the camel showrooms and are checking out travel insurance. Yet, we must continue to keep our focus. There are still things to ponder.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal they lay down for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend.

“Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”


“I see millions and millions of stars,” Watson replied.


“What does that tell you?” asked Holmes.


 Watson pondered for a minute. “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.


Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.


Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.


Theologically, I can see that God is all- powerful and that we are small and insignificant.


Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.


But tell me, Homes, what does it tell you?”


“Elementary, my dear Watson,” replied Holmes. “Someone has stolen our tent.”


What have we overlooked this year? As we look at the oh-so familiar Christmas story once again this year we need to ask ourselves the question, “What do we see?”

We have heard the  Christmas stories so often that we can forget how hard it must have been for Mary and for Joseph to walk that walk. We forget that the situation in which they found themselves, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was dangerous in more ways than one.

They lived in a time of social, religious and political turmoil. The hope for a messiah had been fostered in them for generations.

Perhaps it had been a dream of every little Hebrew girl for generations to give birth to the long expected one.

Perhaps Mary had not even dared to imagine such a thing?  But without a husband? Mary ran the danger of public ridicule at the very least – in fact, Joseph would have been within his rights to have her put to death.

But he chose another way, at the direction of the angel, and placed his honour and his reputation in the court of public opinion.

So they were married and became a family. He raised Jesus as his own, always knowing though, that there was something very special about him. Perhaps it is this loving and accepting relationship with Joseph that provided the basis of Jesus’ experience of God as ‘father’

Perhaps Joseph influenced Mary’s son more than we will ever know.

When we seek to interpret this story in today’s context we learn that we can encounter the divine, indeed we can give birth to the divine when we ignore the court of public opinion and do what we believe to be right, fair and just.

When we do what is right despite what it might do to job prospects or reputation we are then able to know what the cost of discipleship is and also its rewards.

Mary and Joseph are models for us of those who step forward in faith, unsure of their road, unsure of what the cost will be, yet sure that God goes with them to guide and protect them.

a footnote …. for many in our society, there is nothing for which to count down.  I’m thinking of the homeless and hungry, the folks estranged from their grown up children, the neglected lone pensioner, those alone who are missing a deceased partner or parent or child… for them, there’s nothing to look forward to.  There’s no need for preparation.  No need to shop, even if they could afford it.

Are we nearly there yet?  For so many folk it can’t come quick enough nor go just as rapidly.

May we – in however small a way – a phone call, a donation to a food bank, the giving of even a few Pounds to a charity – bring something of the hope and joy of the Incarnation into the life of those who desperately need to receive the love of God made real.


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The Nativity (scientifically accurate version)


Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Thursday 12 December 2013 07.00 GMT by Dean Burnett, the Guardian

The Nativity (scientifically accurate version)
The nativity is the classic Christmas story still told and performed in schools all over the UK. However, to reflect that we live in a modern, secular society, a new and more scientifically accurate update of the story is needed

Evidence suggests that, despite modern interpretations, most of those present at the original nativity were actually adults.

The nativity is the traditional Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is still regularly performed by schoolchildren in the UK, despite the apparent war on Christmas. However, it being an obviously religious story, it’s not very scientifically accurate. But just because you’re a fan of science it shouldn’t mean you miss out on the Christmas spirit. So if you are a keen scientist or science enthusiast who wants to embrace the true meaning of Christmas without compromising your rational world-view, here is the nativity story, updated and edited for scientific accuracy.

The Nativity (scientifically accurate version)

According to many scholars, the events of the nativity took placearound 7 BC. Given that “BC” stands for “before Christ [was born]” and the nativity is the story of the birth of Christ, this means that Christ was born around 7 years before Christ was born.

This is actually one of the least illogical things to happen during the birth of Christ.

The Virgin Mary was betrothed to the carpenter Joseph. However, the Virgin Mary was pregnant with the Messiah. This occurred when Mary was visited by a heavenly angel named Gabrielwho told her that she would become pregnant with a child who would be called Jesus, which is something of a self-fulfilling prediction; if an angel appeared and told you that an all-powerful God wanted your baby to be named Jesus, you’d probably go along with it. I recently met a child named “Audi”, so it doesn’t take much to influence this decision.

According to the Bible, Mary asked the angel how she could become pregnant when she was a virgin, and the angel Gabriel said to Mary that the Holy Spirit would “come upon you”.

In fairness, that’s surprisingly close for a book written by old celibate men 20 centuries ago.

Mary then told Joseph what had happened and that she was now pregnant. Scientifically, there are three possible explanations here:

The thing with the Angel and Holy Ghost is genuinely what happened.
Mary was actually some form of hitherto unknown human-plantor human-Komodo Dragon hybrid, capable of undergoing self-fertilisation.
Mary wasn’t a virgin and had fallen pregnant after sleeping with someone who wasn’t her partner Joseph, and came up with this fantastical story to explain it to Joseph rather than admit she’d been unfaithful, and Joseph subsequently believed her.

In truth, any one of these options would still count as a miracle, so the story is still intact.

Mary and Joseph then had to travel from Galilee, where they lived, to Bethlehem, where they needed to be. Reasons for why they had to make this journey remain unclear. Some say it was because of a tax, some say it was for a census, others say it never actually happened so why give a damn? But let’s ignore those humourless killjoys, and continue with this scientific critique of the nativity.

The distance between Galilee and Bethlehem is around 80 miles, according to Google maps, which takes around 2 days to travel on foot. Of course, Mary was heavily pregnant so her average speed would have been reduced. Of course, this is an optimistic estimate. Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have had google maps. They would have had to use some primitive equivalent like Streetmap or the AA Route Planner.

Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph found that there were no rooms available. This casts doubt on the reason for their being there that they had to pay a tax. If everyone were in Bethlehem for a census then, judging by past observations, around1% of the people there would be practising Jedi. As unlikely as it sounds, this would make for an even more exciting nativity. And of course, Anakin Skywalker was also the result of a virgin birth.

Mary and Joseph were unable to find somewhere to stay, which posed something of an issue because around this point Mary went into labour. They eventually ended up in a stable, surrounded by domesticated farm animals, which violates any number of health and safety protocols. When the baby was born, they swathed him in cloth and placed him in a manger.

For those who don’t know, a manger is somewhere where food for farm animals is kept. Ergo, Mary and Joseph placed their newborn baby, believed to be the saviour of mankind, in a container that animals eat out of, in front of the animals that usually eat out of it. At this point you have to wonder whether God almighty, in all his infinite wisdom, had chosen poorly when selecting potential parents.

While this happened, an angel appeared to some shepherds on a mountain near Bethlehem and told them a baby had been born and they should go and worship it. We can’t prove that this didn’t happen, but it’s probably worth mentioning that sparsely populated mountainous regions in the Middle East are ideal locations for growing opium, and shepherding can be a very boring job.

Also, three wise men from an unspecified Eastern country saw an unspecified bright object in the sky that led them to Bethlehem, where they somehow predicted they’d meet a messiah, as you do. They took gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense and myrrh are two fragrances used in aromatherapy and funeralsrespectively.

So, basically, three men followed an unspecified bright object over hundreds of miles of desert in order to meet a baby, about whom all they knew was that it would have a nose, might need money and would eventually die. For this they were considered “wise men”. This goes to show that wisdom is clearly a subjective term.

As everyone gathered around the stable, a brightly lit host of angels appeared above it, starting a tradition of needlessly gaudy brightly lit decorations on domestic dwellings at Christmas that endures to this day. It is also traditional to have highly educated wise people at births too, but they’re known as “medical professionals”.

The end.

Dean Burnett ruins many things with science via Twitter,@garwboy

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The Rose – Some Thoughts for Mothering Sunday (Lent 4)

“Say it with flowers!”   I’m sure florists all over the land have been inundated during the last few days with orders for bouquets, sprays, and posies.

Today, of course, is Mothering Sunday, and what symbolises the love we feel today, and the joy we feel today, than the beautiful gift of a flower….and particularly that of a rose…

“Enough the rose was heaven to smell”  – that’s a fine line….

…yes, there is something special, beautiful, almost heavenly  about a rose.

It is a thing of beauty; a thing of joy.  Roses and rejoicing go well together.

The Prophet Isaiah when talking of the future glory of Zion writes:

The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose

He seems to link the rejoicing of the people with the blossoming of the rose.

The rose – it symbolises fertility, joy, success – it is something to be prized.

It’s not new, however, this giving of a rose to a worthy recipient at this time of year, you know

On the fourth Sunday in Lent,  a Golden Rose, an ornament was given by the Roman Catholic Church to worthy women as well as men as a mark of special favour – rather like the Oscars of their day.

It’s said that the tradition dates back a long way to the time of the betrothal of Mary and Joseph, when, supposedly, a bud or flower sprouted on Joseph’s staff or rod –  an indication that he was the man Mary should become engaged to & a fulfilment of the prophesy:

There shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him

Somewhere along the line, this tale got less concerned with the birth of the Saviour and more with his mother.  Artists in the Middle Ages liked to depict the happy couple, Mary & Joseph, together at the scene of their betrothal – rod, bud, flower and all.   And a caption was often to be found beneath the picture: “She is the flower, she is the rose” referring, of course, to Mary

The Rose….in her were the virtues of the rose – sensitivity, beauty, serenity.

Think of her life – a life of love, a life of piety

Think on these early years – told that she had been chosen to give birth to God’s own son;

then the journey to Bethlehem;

and the flight to Egypt –

–          all done calmly, faithfully – for the love of God and of  her child.

Then think of all the times when Jesus did or said things that she couldn’t comprehend – and on occasion said things that must have hurt her very much

But the love was still there in Mary’s heart

The whole Jesus-story must have seemed like a ghastly riddle to which there was no clue.  But she accepted it all – in love, in faith.

A mother’s love never dies.  It goes on even to the point of death, even when the crowds and the laughter and the support of the people are gone. There she stands at the foot of the Cross, love still blossoming in her heart.

We learn a lot about love from our mothers.  Jesus would learn about love – not only through our Heavenly Father’s Spirit – but also at his mother’s knee From Mary the Rose – Jesus was much indebted…perhaps more than we would credit him for.

And his too was a love that never died just as Mary’s before him.  Love does indeed conquer all.  Love never gives up.

Let me finish with two different pieces of verse.

The first a stanza from a song which was in a movie called ‘The Rose’   It’s talking about love of a different kind, but we may use it for our own purposes here:

“When the night has been too lonely

And the road has been too long;

When you think that love is only

For the lucky and for the strong –

Just remember in the winter

Far beneath the bitter snows

Lies the seed that with the sun’s love

In the spring becomes the rose”

And this – a 16th Century carol:

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming

From tender stem hath sprung!

Of Jesus’ lineage coming

As men of old have sung.

It came a flower-et bright

Amid the cold of winter

When half spent was the night

The Rose    Love It may seemed buried and dead   But the seed is always there, ready to burst forth in blossom, in all its glory.   And after every Good Friday comes Easter morn.


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