Tag Archives: Mary



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Little Drummer Boy


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December 16, 2015 · 10:50

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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Proddy Christmas


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December 2, 2014 · 09:44

Martha in her Kitchen

Martha in her Kitchen

Martha in her kitchen (Vincenzo Campi, d. 1591).

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January 23, 2014 · 13:47

When the Chips are Down (preached 1 April 2001)

A young Mum, Linda was having ‘one of those days’ The baby was constantly crying, the toddler was fractious, visitors were arriving the next day and the loo was clogged!
The car broke down on the way back from the supermarket, and the frozen food she had bought was rapidly melting.

By the time she got home, Linda was frazzled and in a hurry to get something on the table for dinner. Deciding on Cream of Mushroom soup, she grabbed a can opener, cranked open the can, then remembered she had forgotten to buy milk. Out went the soup idea. Putting the can aside, she went to plan B, which was leftover baked beans. Opening the Tupperware container that had been in the fridge, Linda discovered her next surprise. The baked beans were the colour of caterpillars. Really frustrated now, she decided on a menu that was as foolproof as it was nutrition-free: burgers and chips. Only there weren’t any chips – she’s forgotten to buy them… crisps would have to do. Taking a brand new bag of crisps from the cupboard, Linda grabbed the cellophane and gave a hearty pull. The bag did not open. She tried again. Still, nothing happened. Linda took a deep breath, and gave the bag a hefty wrestle. With a loud pop, the cellophane suddenly gave way, ripping wide open from top to bottom. Crisps flew sky high. Linda was left holding the empty bag. This was the final straw. She raised her face to the ceiling and let out a blood-curdling scream. “I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!”

Jack, Linda’s husband, arriving home from work, heard her uncharacteristic scream, and came to kitchen doorway, where he surveyed the damage: an opened can of soup, melting groceries, mouldy baked beans, and one quivering wife standing ankle deep in potato crisps. So Jack did the most helpful thing he could think of at the moment. He took a flying leap, landing flat-footed in the pile of crisps. And then he began to stomp and dance and twirl, grinding them into floor.

Linda stared. She fumed. But pretty soon she had to work hard to stifle a smile. Eventually she laughed. And finally she decided to join him. She took a leap onto the crips and began dancing on them.

Jack’s response was not exactly the one Linda had been looking for. But it was just what she needed. She didn’t need a cleanup crew with mops and brooms as much as an attitude adjustment, and the laughter from her husband’s unorthodox potato crisp dance did just that.

Sometimes foolishness is more importance and has more lasting significance what those things that are practical and logical.

April Fool’s Day originated in France in 1564 when the Julian calendar was dropped, and the Gregorian calendar adopted. This meant that New Year’s Day was switched from 25 March to 1 January. Of course, it took a while for the change to take hold, because there was a long tradition of having a week-long celebration after March 25th – and people were not prepared to give up a week of partying without a fight! But as more and more people followed the new tradition of January 1st as New Year’s Day, those who were still celebrating the old New Year’s celebrations were called “April Fools” – 1st April being the last day of the festivity.

What a wonderful story – a day that celebrates people who would not stop partying just because the rest of the world was doing the proper, logical thing! And what a marvellous coincidence that this years April Fool’s day coincides with our reading of Mary’s lavish, extravagant and utterly foolish gift to Jesus. She breaks open an alabaster jar – itself valuable – and pours perfumed oil – Nard – over Jesus’ feet, wiping them dry with her hair. This gift of Nard – what an extravagantly foolish gift, worth a whole year’s wages for an ordinary working person.

At a women’s retreat a little while ago this passage was given for prayer. When the group gathered for discussion, one of the older women (recently turned 80) admitted, “I always thought she used lard!” Apart from being funny, how wonderful that this woman could be free enough to appear so disarmingly foolish. The same type of genuine, innocent foolishness that would give such a valuable gift of love as Mary did to Jesus.

Jesus appreciates this “beautiful thing” she has done for him, understanding it both as an expression of her deeply felt affection for him, as well as a symbolic preparation for his death.

But not everyone present sees things his way. Judas, supported by the other disciples in Matthew’s version, protests this “wasteful” and foolish act. Such a valuable gift could have been used in much more sensible ways.

But who is the fool here? Is it really Mary, who the disciples consider to be ridiculously irresponsible? If so, isn’t her’s a worthy foolishness? One we should try to emulate? What about the foolishness of Judas, who can only see the practical applications of such a gift? Mary has seen that God is doing a new thing in Jesus, that he offers a new way of loving that is open and generous. Judas cannot see that. He wants to continue living in the old way – so he too is a fool. But he is not the April Fool who celebrates life joyously and passionately despite the logic of the situation. He is the sad fool who is denying life. He is the tragic fool who cannot show love and passion for Jesus while he is still with him. Did this foolish symbolic action of Mary’s do anything worthwhile?

Apparently, it did for Jesus! Those who know the exact price of things, as Judas did, often do not know the true cost or value of anything.” Mary, in her foolishness, knew the true value of Jesus – so even the most extravagant gift was not too costly for him.

May we all be, in our own way, fools for Christ – and remembering our opening story – especially when the chips are down!

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Martha and Mary (from LiturgyWorship that works – spirituality that connects – by Bosco Peters)

‘Unauthorised version’ by U.A. Fanthorpe

Of course he meant it kindly. I know that.
I know Josh—as well as anyone can know
The Son of God. All the same, he slipped up
Over this one. After all, a Son is only a son
When you come to think about it. And this
Was between sisters. Marty and me,
We understand each other. For instance, when Lazzie died,
We didn’t need to spell it out between us,
Just knew how to fix the scenario
So Josh could do his bit—raising Lazzie, I mean,
From the dead. He has his own way of doing things,
Has to muddle people first, so then the miracle
Comes as a miracle. If he’d just walked in
When Lazzie was iII, and said OK, Lazzie,
You’re off the sick list now — that’d have lacked impact.
But all this weeping, and groaning, and moving of stones,
And praying in public, and Mart saying I believe, etcetera,
Then Lazarus, come forth! and out comes Lazzie
In his shroud. Well, even a halfwit could see
Something out of the ordinary was going on.
But this was just ordinary. A lot of company,
A lot of hungry men, not many helpers,
And Mart had a go at me in front of Josh,
Saying I’m all on my own out there. Can’t you
Tell that sister of mine to take her finger out,
And lend a hand? Well, the thing about men is,
They don’t realise how temperamental good cooks are.
And Mart is very good. Believe you me.
She was just blowing her top. No harm in it.
I knew that. But then Josh gives her
This monumental dressing-down, and really,
It wasn’t fair. The trouble with theology is, it features
Too much miraculous catering. Those ravens feeding Elijah,
For instance. I ask you! They’d have been far more likely
To eat him. And all those heaven-sent fast-food take-aways—
Quail, and manna, and that. And Josh himself
The famous fish-butty picnic, and that miraculous
Draught of fishes. What poor old Mart could have done with
Was a miraculous draught of coffee and sandwiches
Instead of a ticking-off. And the men weren’t much help.
Not a thank you among them, and never a thought
Of help with the washing-up.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course I love Josh,
Wonder, admire, believe. He knows I do.
But to give Marty such a rocket
As if she was a Pharisee, or that sort of type,
The ones he has it in for. It wasn’t right.
Still, Josh himself, as I said—well, he is only
The Son of God, not the Daughter; so how could he know?
And when it comes to the truth, I’m Marty’s sister.
I was there; I heard what was said, and
I knew what was meant. The men will write it up later
From their angle, of course. But this is me, Mary,
Setting the record straight.

‘Unauthorised version’, From U.A. Fanthorpe, Collected Poems 1978-2003, (Calstock, Cornwall: Peterloo Poets, 2005)

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Blackmail (a real oldie from the Meenister’s dusty files)

Little Johnnie desperately wanted a bright red toy truck for Christmas.

His friends were writing letters to Santa Claus, but Johnnie decided to go one better.

“Dear Jesus,” he wrote. “If I get a red lorry for Christmas, I won’t fight with my brother Jimmy for a year.” Then Johnnie thought, Oh, no, Jimmy is such a brat, I could never, ever keep that promise. So Johnnie threw away the letter and started again.

“Dear Jesus, if I get a red truck for Christmas, I will eat all my vegetables for a year.” Then Johnnie thought, Oh, no, that means spinach, broccoli and cabbage. Yuck! I could never ever keep that promise.

Suddenly Johnnie had an idea. He went downstairs to the living room. From the mantelpiece, he grabbed the family’s statue of the Virgin Mary. Taking the statue to the kitchen he wrapped it in newspapers and stuffed it into a grocery bag. He took the bag upstairs to his room, opened the closet and placed the package in the farthest, darkest corner.

He then closed the closet door, took a new sheet of paper and wrote, “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again…”

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The Greatest Thing

One afternoon three children, two boys and a girl, entered a flower shop. They were about nine or ten years old.. They gazed around the shop and nervously approached the owner. One of the boys said: “Sir, we’d like something in yellow flowers, please.”

The man immediately realized that this was a very special occasion. He showed them some inexpensive yellow spring flowers. The boy who was the spokesman for the group shook his head. “I think we’d like something better than that.”

The man asked, “Do they have to be yellow?” The boy answered, “Yes, sir. You see, Mickey would like them better if they were yellow. He had a yellow sweater. He’d like yellow better than any other colour.”

The man asked, “Are they for his funeral?”

The boy nodded, suddenly choking up. The little girl was struggling to keep back the tears. “She’s his sister,” the boy said. “He was a great kid. A lorry hit him while he was playing in the street.”

We took up a collection for him.  We’ve got a pound and three pence. Would roses cost an awful lot, sir — yellow roses, I mean?”

The man smiled. “It just happens that I have some nice yellow roses here that I’m offering special today for a pound  a dozen.” The man pointed to the flower case.

”These would be great” said the boy, “ Yes, Mickey would really like those.”

The man said, “I’ll make up a nice spray with ferns and ribbons. Where do you want me to send them?”

One of the boys said, “Would it be all right if we took them with us? We’d kind of like to, you know, give them to Mickey ourselves. He’d like it better that way.”

The florist fixed the spray of flowers and accepted the pound and then watched the youngsters trudge out of the store. And within his heart he felt the warm glow of the presence of God.

Our Gospel lesson about Mary anointing Christ’s feet  is about such love and such extravagant giving from one’s heart.

It is also about an upcoming funeral, the funeral of Jesus.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover and stops in Bethany to visit with his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It was six days before the Passover and therefore six days till the passion of Jesus starts.

Mary, Martha and of course Lazarus were well acquainted with Jesus as he had raised Lazarus from the dead. He stopped in for dinner, or supper and a brief visit while he continued his journey to Jerusalem.

Something quite unexpected happened at that gathering

Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment

This act of Mary’s was an act of love. An act of love toward Jesus because she sensed he was indeed someone who was truly special. And as the events unfold in the next days, we see this anointing was a fore shadowing of what was to come. Jesus was not anointed after His death, so this anointing was something planned ahead of time. Mary probably did not know it, but Jesus did.

Mary had to express her love for Jesus and this was the best way she could. Yes, it was extravagant, yes it was costly, but it was her expression of love for Jesus.

Are we extravagant with our love for Jesus? Or do we hold back? How do we express our love for Jesus? We can’t anoint Him as Mary did. But we can worship him and we can serve him by serving others.

A closing story –

It happened at a Scripture Union weekend.. One of the lads who was attending, a boy with spastic paralysis, was the object of heartless ridicule. When he would ask a question, the boys would deliberately answer in a halting, mimicking way.

One night the others chose him to lead the devotions before the entire gathering. It was one more effort to have some “fun” at his expense.

Unashamedly the boy with cerebral palsy stood up, and in his strained, slurred manner — each word coming with enormous effort — he said simply, “Jesus loves me — and I love Jesus!”

That was all. Many began to cry. From then on things were different for that group of youngsters …. that weekend …and beyond

Jesus is anointed by Mary Magdalene. XIX centu...

Jesus is anointed by Mary Magdalene. XIX century engraving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Unrecognised – A Story for Easter

Some years ago when I was a Parish Minister, I happened on this particular occasion to be at the western General Hospital in Edinburgh visiting my new parishioners

I went to see Mrs Bloggs.  I located the ward and the bed.  “Hello, there, Mrs Bloggs, and how are you feeling today?  “Not so bad, thanks, but I’ve got a bit of pain…about here”   and she indicated her abdomen, and then proceeded to go into what I think can only be termed as very personal and indeed private, if not intimate detail about the effects of her recent surgery.

I was getting a bit hot under the dog collar by this time, and especially when she said that she would like to show me her operation scar.

“I think I’d better get a nurse, Mrs B”

“Right, DOCTOR” she answered

That’s when the penny dropped.  DOCTOR    a case of mistaken identity.

Needless to say, I made my excuses and left.

Mistaken identity.  It happened on another occasion, back in the 1970s.  I called upon this elderly lady, who opened the door, and said “I’ve been waiting in all day for you to come and convert me”    A strange kind of remark

“It’s over here” she added and showed me a cupboard where the gas meter was situated.

“Have you not brought any tools with you?” she then asked.

Perplexed I was thinking ‘what tools?’  a bible?   maybe a communion kit?,

And then the penny dropped – no, it clattered.  She thought I was from the gas board and had come to covert her supply to the then new North Sea gas!

Let’s pause for a moment and think about these two incidents – in the hospital, the patient has been expecting to see a doctor; perhaps it was the time when he did his rounds – hence the mix up.

In the other case, the elderly lady had been anxiously waiting all day for the gasman to come; no doubt, she was a bit flustered; maybe her eyesight wasn’t as good as it could have been.   She was expecting someone else – not a minister, even although I was wearing my collar; so…. when I turned up on her doorstep: Behold the Gasman cometh!

On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdelene went to the rock tomb where Jesus has been buried on the Friday, having been taken down from the Cross.

She was in a highly emotional state.  She certainly wasn’t thinking straight.

The person in whom she had put her trust had been put to death.  That was fact.  Dead & buried.

Then, coming to the tomb early in the morning of that Easter day, she finds the stone rolled away.  She tells Peter and John of her discovery; they run ahead of her to assess the situation.

Mary goes back herself, standing outside the empty tomb weeping.

We’re told that she sees angels who talk to her and ask her why she is crying.

This is an obviously emotionally charged situation.  This poor woman is confused and disorientated.

And even although the signs are all there – the empty tomb – the angels (a sure symbol of divine activity) , her expectation level is low – the last person she would possibly hope to encounter is Jesus.

But she’s in a garden.  Who else but the gardener should approach her and speak to her “Woman, why are you crying?” He may have looked like Jesus, and sounded like Jesus – but Mary, her eyes blinded by tears, her mind confused, expecting to see a gardener, sees a gardener.  And thinking that he is the gardener, she asks him where they have put the body of Jesus.

But then he speaks her name, “Mary!”, and she knows…she knows.

Mary was seeking a dead Christ on Easter morning.

So do so many many others so often.

They say that he was a good man or a good teacher, a guru or a prophet…..but long since dead and gone. They do not realise – do not want to acknowledge that our Christ reigns forever.   He goes unrecognised.

But he is alive!  And once we know that, we see all the glory…..and like Thomas later in the Easter narrative, we too can say of him and to him “My Lord and my God”

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