Short Devotion by Luís Samacumbi at the “UCC Morning Staff Chapel on ‘Following Jesus in Challenging Times’”

Samacumbi's Blog

January 20, 2021


Following Jesus in challenging times

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” 16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. Mark 1:14 -20 NIV

Dear friends,

Good Morning and…

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Book Review: Ghost Ship

A.D.A. France-Williams, Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England, (London: SCM Press, 2020).

The boat named the Church of England has sunk. She was a slave ship, and the people of colour on the edge of the church, her enslaved women, men and children, are the ghosts. Those in high office are the ship’s captain and boat owners, with her crew being the staff of national institutions. Ghost Ship is also written for the interested public. Fr Azariah hopes it will spark a sense of solidarity across global majority Anglicans, with partners who see, hear and speak up for the full human flourishing of black and brown people within better ships where all can find safety and safe passage.

Written from personal experience of ordained ministry in one of the largest dioceses of the Church of England, Fr Azariah’s vivid and gripping story-telling presents a major critique of the Church and the systems of power on which it operates.

He observes that the Church of England has merged two rulers, The Queen and Christ. Which path will it take? The path of power, privilege and prestige – the way of the Crown – or the path of pain, people and paying the price – the way of the Cross. The crown that people of colour have known within the Church of England is the crown of thorns.

Interestingly, the wearer of the Crown is an evangelist for the Cross; the Queen is consecrated for this ministry. Yet the Crown also represents the State and Government, and the Church. Each have systems – have they taken advantage of the Queen’s trust in their use of the Crown?

“It takes the whole world to know the whole gospel”, said Max Warren, former CMS General Secretary. Fr Azariah is a mission focused poet priest theologian from Nevis and connects his stories with insights on power from the story of God.

One ethnic group had power over another in the community of the Early Church (Acts 6.1). The disciples gather the whole community and there is a clear transfer of power and positive affirmative action takes place. Can the Church of England transfer power?

Prophetic and challenging, Ghost Ship gives a voice to those whose voices have not been heard as the ship sailed on. Spiritual and missional, Ghost Ship requires boat owners, captain and crew to stop, reflect and take action together to build better ships. This is really essential reading for the whole crew.

Ghost Ship is available from Aslan Christian Books for £14.41 with free delivery in the UK.

Moses and The Glory of God

Talk on St Jude and St Paul’s @ Home on Sunday 12th July, 2020

Two weeks ago at St Jude and St Paul’s @ Home we introduced our new morning service series on The Story of God: Big and Small, and then last week James spoke about the big story of creation and the fall. His message was that being made in God’s image, relationships and community are central for us, but relationships within the community of creation break when we make choices different to what God intended. This means that the world is still essentially good but is broken.

Today we have a small story about one person and their relationship with God. Just as we did two weeks ago on the Road to Emmaus with Cleopas and Mary, I’d like us to look into this story of Moses and the Glory of God, and see what we can find out about the bigger story of God.

It’s not worth going anywhere without God

Moses said, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. Moses knew that it wasn’t worth going anywhere without the presence of God going too.

At many points in their history, the people of God had been rescued. Miraculously God had intervened to save them from slavery in Egypt, and from pursuit by the Egyptian army. God had provided water in the desert when they were thirsty, by telling Moses which rock to strike on Mount Horeb.

Moses knew he wasn’t God. He couldn’t provide water out of a rock by himself. He could strike a rock with his staff as much as he liked, but no water would come out unless God was with him. Moses knew from experience that if the presence of God was not with the people then it wasn’t worth going anywhere, because they wouldn’t get anywhere.

God’s presence with his people is distinctive 

When God met with Moses on Mount Sinai, it was covered in smoke because God came in fire, and now, whenever Moses went out of the camp to talk to God, a pillar of cloud would come down and stay while God spoke with Moses.

Moses knew that the power of God could be seen through what God did, and by how God appeared to him. This meant that the people of God could be identified from all the other peoples because God’s presence with his people is distinctive.

Which brings us to Moses second request:

Now show me your glory.

Exodus 33.18
Moses in the Rock, 2011 (Jack Baumgartner)

This image of Moses in the Rock was painted in 2011 by an American called Jack Baumgartner, who is a farmer, painter and woodworker.

Brilliant lights of red, yellow and white fill the mountain valley and cover the peaks. Near to us, Moses shelters in the rocks, tucked into a gap in the rocks as far back as he can go. His hands are raised as if one is trying to hold back the wind, and the other to shade his eyes from the dazzling bright light. The fine detail of the rocks looks like the woodworker artist has chiselled them out of the mountain that is bathed in beautiful orange light.

Like us Moses has not been able to have a haircut for some time; his long hair and beard are lifted up as if there’s a huge wind, which also blows up his blue cloak as if it were another fold chiselled out of the rocks. Just beyond, lies his staff. “You will see my back” said God. Moses could only see where God had been. He couldn’t FaceTime God! Some years later, St. Ireaneus of Lyon would say:

The glory of God is a human being fully alive, and the glory of a human is to see a vision of God.

Ireaneus, Against Heresies IV

Moses knew that it wasn’t worth trying to go anywhere without God because God’s presence with his people is distinctive. Being the leader of God’s people meant being in relationship with both the all powerful God of creation, and the broken community of people who struggled to follow where God led them.

Next week, we will move on to the next part of The Story of God: the agreements or covenants that God makes with people, and we’ll look at that big story through the call of Abram.

In the far right corner of Moses in the Rock, away from the dazzling light, out of the dark rock flows a stream of water. It could easily be overlooked or forgotten if we were to feel overwhelmed by the glory of God. The Church is called to reach

into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible

Common Worship: Ordination of Deacons

I wonder how the presence of God with us can distinguish us from other people.

Introduction to The Story of God

Talk on St Jude and St Paul’s @ Home on Sunday 28th June, 2020

Today we are launching a new morning service series called The Story of God: Big and Small. To encourage us in these extraordinary times, we will be exploring some of the big stories of the Bible, and some of the little stories. To introduce the series is this story of the Road to Emmaus. Let’s look at the story and then reflect on what it can tell us about stories, both big and small.

Emmaus, 2002 by Maximino Cerezo Barredo

The artist shows the two disciples as a man and a woman. Luke’s Gospel tells us that one was called Cleopas but doesn’t name the other. John’s Gospel tells us that Mary, wife of Clopas, was one of the women standing at the foot of the cross. It is often assumed that the unnamed disciple on the road with Cleopas is another man, but several bible commentators think it’s likely that Cleopas would have been married and together with his wife for the Passover festival in Jerusalem, and that Clopas is just a different spelling of Cleopas. So here are Cleopas and Mary.

Two separate scenes are captured in this one image.

Nearest to us are the two disciples sitting at a table with Jesus, who has just broken the bread. Jesus looks straight at us, as though inviting us to accept some of the broken bread he holds in his hands. His wrists show the holes from having been nailed to the cross. Mary and Cleopas each hold a hand up, perhaps in astonishment, perhaps in praise, or perhaps in blessing as they look intently out of the picture, as though having shared broken bread with Jesus, their attention is now somewhere else so they can share this with others. Cleopas has one arm around Mary. They are together.

In the background, as though in the doorway to the dining room, are Mary and Cleopas with blindfolds covering their eyes. In between them stands Jesus, with a hand on each of their shoulders. Cleopas and Mary both wear backpacks, they are carrying baggage. This is how they got here.

The two disciples couldn’t see that they were walking with Jesus. They were blind to that fact. It was as though their eyes were covered. A blindfold on the table in front of Mary shows that once the bread had been broken in front of them, they saw it was Jesus who had been walking with them. Their packs sit on the floor. They are no longer burdened but have been set free by this wonderful news that Jesus is alive.

The Road to Emmaus is a wonderful story. Mary and Cleopas were caught up in the loss of Jesus. This was a huge burden that they carried – the loss of their hopes for the salvation of Israel followed by confusion over the disappearance of the body of Jesus from his tomb.

They were brave enough to share their story with the stranger who came up to them on the journey home. And they were then patient enough to listen to the stranger telling them a story. Jesus shared with them all that the Jewish scriptures said about him. That would have taken several miles. The story of God’s plan of salvation was a much bigger story, much bigger than their personal stories of having lost their hope of salvation.

We too can be so caught up in our own stuff that we are blind to the bigger story of what God is doing. Bigger stories can make sense of smaller stories. Just like the Road to Emmaus, our lives are a journey. In this pandemic, we have all experienced loss and been caught up in that. Unless Mary and Cleopas had shared their story with Jesus, he wouldn’t have had an opportunity to share his story. The Story of God is both big and small. Their own personal stories were needed for them to receive the revelation that Jesus is alive.

Pentecost 2020

Talk given at Islington Pastors Prayer Meeting, 28th May 2020.

On Sunday the Church worldwide celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It’s our birthday we celebrate, but a birthday like none other in our lifetimes. And the church – what are we to look like? Or as the disciples of Jesus put it, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

The Ascension – The Life of Jesus Mafa

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Acts 1.6-9

Jesus said to his friends that this is what it would look like. They were to receive power, and then be witnesses to him. As we prepare for Pentecost this year, these words of Jesus remain the mandate he gives to all his disciples. How are we to apply them in our current context?

At Pentecost the city was to be full. God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven were to be in Jerusalem for the festival. Here in London, the city is full of people from many nations. We speak more first languages than any other city in the world.

The first thing the Spirit did was to give the disciples the languages to communicate with the people from all the nations around the Mediterranean. If we look around us in London, we see many signs of God communicating his love across language barriers. Each of us will have examples from our own ministries, but here are a couple of examples:

  • During several Islington Life Festivals, one church has offered free English language lessons – this is one of their ministries. As I stood watching a session last year, I was struck by how beautiful it was that a young pastor from Brazil, whose first language is Portuguese, was teaching English to people from so many other nations.  
  • As we know, most diaspora congregations worship in their first languages. Many are Pentecostal or Holiness Churches, but here in London the Church of England has diaspora congregations worshipping in: Arabic, Bulgarian, Cantonese, African French, European French, Gujarati, Hindi, Iranian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Brazilian Portuguese, Multicultural Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Turkish, Ukrainian and Urdu.

    NB These are all Anglican congregations of Christians living in London. Given that the Church of England has not always been well known for embracing other cultures, this too strikes me as being such a beautiful sign of God’s love being communicated.

So, the city is full, the Spirit is given, and the Church has languages to communicate the love of God in Christ Jesus. We have all that we need because God has equipped us with the Spirit. God has equipped us for a purpose, “You will be my witnesses” said Jesus to his friends. That’s why the Holy Spirit is given – to witness to the presence of Jesus in the world, whether we teach English or welcome people to worship in their own language, when we pray for healing, when we provide food to those who are hungry, when we advocate for those without power, we witness to the love of Jesus in our city.

Anyone can catch the virus, and sadly many people have passed away from it. I have been particularly shocked by the Office of National Statistics reporting on unequal impact with much higher proportions of people of black and other ethnicities being killed by the virus than white people. Is it that underlying health conditions are poorer due to higher levels of deprivation caused by an income gap between races? Is it that black and minority ethnic people are overrepresented in public facing roles in the NHS, care homes, public transport and shops, and they have been the most exposed?

Whilst the answers to these and similar questions are not yet known, I think there is a more direct question for us on what is the role of church leaders in this situation? How are Christians to witness to the love of God in our multicultural communities when our communities are being disproportionately impacted by the virus according to different racial backgrounds?

Next Tuesday evening there will be a discussion hosted by Ben Lindsay, author of We Need To Talk About Race, with a multicultural panel of Christian leaders to explore how should white majority / white-led churches respond to the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has had on ethnic minorities. This will be live streamed on YouTube so anyone can join.

As we celebrate on Sunday, and are refreshed by God’s gifts of power, we will be re-commissioned as witnesses of Jesus in Islington, and in all of London, both north and south, and to the ends of the earth.

We will devote ourselves to teaching and to the fellowship of our church communities. We will connect with our sisters and brothers, perhaps by WhatsApp or online or with appropriate social distance, including those speaking many other native languages. We will break bread, or struggle with how we do that, and we will pray. As we pray, can we find space to pray into these issues of racial inequality within our society and seek to be witnesses to the love of God who is One and invites us to be one. For in one Spirit, we were all baptised into one body, whether black or white, slave or free, male or female, and we were all given one Spirit to drink. 

Ben Lindsay and We Need to Talk About Race

Ben Lindsay, We Need to Talk About Race: Understanding the black experience in white majority churches, (London: SPCK, 2019, £9.99).

Ben Lindsay aims to start a conversation: to create opportunities for prayerful self-reflection, enquiry, understanding and actions, large and small, from black and white people, to help dismantle racist structures in the Church and beyond. How well he succeeds is indicated by some of the credits:

“A must read for the UK Church”

Justin Welby

“It is about God’s mission” – “it is geared for action”

Rose Hudson-Wilkin

 “a game-changer for so many churches engaged in the complex world of building a “church for all nations”

Wale Hudson Roberts

In We Need to Talk About Race Ben Lindsay has proclaimed the gospel afresh for his – and our – generation. This is a refreshing and up to date challenge to the UK Church to work on becoming intercultural. He writes as a British Caribbean pastor born in London, raised in white-majority churches and now leading a white-majority church in a racially-diverse area of south-east London. For Lindsay, integration is not about assimilation where people leave their cultures behind  to be accepted into another, but means being included in, and creating and contributing to, church culture so that the culture they worship God in is their own. For me, this book moves beyond black theology to be much more of an intercultural theology.

Starting from his personal experiences, Is it because I’m black? Being Black in the UK (Chapter 1) and Family Feud: Racism in the Church (Chapter 2), Lindsay engages with Why black man dey suffer: The Church and Slavery (Chapter 3) and You don’t see us: Disentangling Christianity from White Supremacy (Chapter 4).

Stories of black women Christians in an Interlude: Don’t touch my hair, lead on to a challenge to Love like this: Racial Solidarity in the Church (Chapter 5) and Kick in the door: Church Leadership (Chapter 6) which presents a deliberate strategy to achieve a racially-diverse leadership through developing black people and relinquishing (white) power. This is illustrated by an interview with Kate Coleman which occupies a second Interlude: Black (wo)man in a white world.

Jesus walks: Social Action (Chapter 7) addresses issues of concern to black communities. and Let’s push things forward: What Next? (Chapter 8) responds to the world around us being in desperate need of displays of racial unity and a multi-coloured picture of hope.

We Need to Talk About Race is all about the UK Church learning to encompass the gifts of all her multicultural members and be better equipped for the Mission of God. It is vibrant intercultural theology with big ideas, and Ben Lindsay invites readers into reflective practice with questions framed for different cultural backgrounds: persons of colour, white church leaders, white church members, and those looking in.

Different reactions are likely from different people coming from different cultures, but for me, as a white church leader in a black-majority church in Inner London, there were three big ideas in We Need to Talk About Race:

  1. Agency – Learning from biblical figures such as Joseph and Esther who had the ear of the majority culture, and worked on behalf of the oppressed and fought against injustice. If we are committed to seeing a diverse Church in which everyone is able to flourish, we will need to exercise responsibility for each other.
  2. White allies – Discipleship and leadership development of persons of different ethnicity was brought to life by Kate Coleman’s experience of men calling her to leadership in a church that did not believe in women in leadership, and of a key white church member validating her ministry by saying he recognized authority, grace and gift in her.
  3. Unmute – Engaging with issues that disproportionately impact black people locally or nationally. Alan Everett showed what this looks like by “opening the doors and turning the lights on” at St Clements, Notting Hill for those impacted by the Grenfell Tower disaster. Is the UK Church willing to do this for racially diverse communities?

London is a multicultural city with many churches that are multicultural in membership and monocultural in leadership and culture. Ben Lindsay has crossed the racial divide himself, and in this book has given the UK Church a gift so we can do likewise, and in so doing demonstrate the good news that the love of God is from all and is for all.

At the time of writing, the first edition of We Need to Talk About Race is available from The Book Depository at £7.59 [accessed 26 August 2019].

Ben Lindsay will be speaking at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday 29th October 2019 at 6.30 – 8pm with Guvna B,  Rosemarie Mallett, and Chine McDonald. Tickets are available free here

You lovely people did it again – and again!

A great example of partnership in the gospel inspiring Christians to join in with God’s mission through their partners.

Four stops short of Barking

Well, folks, you’ve surpassed all expectations. I’m gobsmacked.

Back in 2017, we were given the challenge of raising enough money to buy a motorbike to enable our Kenyan colleagues to serve remote communities in the vast, arid region of Marsabit, in the north of that country. You responded brilliantly, and in February 2018 I had the privilege of presenting that bike – a Yamaha 125 – to its new owner outside Marsabit Cathedral while the congregation clapped and cheered. It is now in daily use around Sololo, near the border with Ethiopia.

Your generosity didn’t stop there. By March of this year, we were able to send a second bike to Marsabit, again enabling its user to reach far-flung villages quickly and easily.

Since then, people have continued to give, and more than once I have been surprised with cheques at the end of services. A collection at the service…

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Preparing for Peace in the Midst of Conflict

This is the gospel: “when ethnic conflict makes it impossible to meet together, we’ll make the most of the opportunity by running a new course called Ethnic Conflict and Theological Reflection. Amidst the sound of gunfire, we will gather together in little groups …”

Shade like night at the height of noon

This week, we’ll be celebrating three years in Ethiopia. It seems like good time to reflect on why we are here.

Prospective students from the Anuak, Maban and JumJum communities with their English teacher, Joanna Cox. July 2019.

For three years, we’ve been working to provide excellent theological education to current and prospective church leaders. And we’ve been trying to do this in a multi-ethnic community: each day, we bring students from five different ethnic groups (Nuer, Anuak, Dinka, Maban and JumJum) together to worship, study and have fun together.

Although there are many dimensions to this work, bringing students from these different communities together each day has been the most worthwhile aspect of our time here. We’ve seen some great friendships develop that transcend hostile divisions. During periods of intense hostility and complete segregation, our students often call each other to exchange greetings and chat. We’ve seen Anuak students…

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The Changing Landscape of the Church in Scotland

Missio Africanus held it’s first event in Scotland last Saturday, 11th May. We aimed to discover what the research into new churches in Glasgow by Dr Sheila Akomiah-Conteh might mean for being Church in Scotland.

Glasgow Worship Choir

As we gathered, the conference was opened by ministers from Nigeria, England, Ghana, Malawi, and Rwanda and was led in worship by the inter-denominational / inter-church Glasgow Worship Choir. The inter-cultural nature of this opening foreshadowed what was to follow!

Dr Sheila Akomiah-Conteh

We met in a building that had been Church of Scotland and is now the home of the Church of Pentecost. This was a tangible reminder that the backdrop was secularisation and decline within Western Churches, and yet church growth is happening through Fresh Expressions and New Churches which are generally not known and therefore not counted.

110 new churches were started in the City of Glasgow between 2000 and 2016; on average seven new churches were being planted each year. They are the second largest group of churches in the city, alongside 126 Church of Scotland parishes and 65 Roman Catholic churches. There has been a significant seismic shift in the Christian landscape of the City of Glasgow.

Culturally these churches are diverse: African 51%, Scottish 35%, Asian 9%, and Other 5%. Yet in all cases, most members of the new churches are from the same culture – the new churches are not multicultural.

For many pastors, the Great Commission is the reason for starting a new church. Yet, as Matthew recorded, the mandate is to make disciples of all nations. The Holy Spirit came to all nations on the Day of Pentecost, with no differentiation between African, Middle-Eastern, Asian and European.

One of the key characteristics of the followers of the way that contributed to their being recognised in Antioch as distinctively different was being a multi-cultural team. This is part of what being Christian is all about, and it was very encouraging in Glasgow to hear pastors from different churches recognise their need to learn from each other.

Alongside the growth of new churches which Sheila’s research had found, this response by pastors to God’s call to be multicultural was another sign of hope in The Changing Landscape of the Church in Scotland.

Pregnant with Expectation

Sermon preached at St Jude’s, Mildmay on Sunday 23rd December 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Advent

Del verbo divina
La Virgen preñada
Viene de camino:
Si les dias pousada!

The virgin, pregnant
With the Word of God
Comes down the road:
If only you’ll give her a room!

St John of the Cross

Lord God, as we open our hearts afresh to your Son this Christmas, may we also give room to the mother who carried him into human life. Amen.

In the school nativity, an angelic child announced to the girl Mary that God says, “Will you be the mother of my son?” “Of course I will”, Mary immediately replied. “Of course I will”.

We might wonder whether Mary knew to what she was giving her consent. For two reasons, I think she did know.

Firstly, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Malachi and Zechariah, and Micah had long forecast that the Lord would send a messiah to save God’s people – and Mary would have known this teaching as it was passed on down the generations. Also, what Luke has recorded about her subsequent response demonstrates Mary had received a personal revelation from God and knew the purpose of her pregnancy in God’s overall plan.

Mary was pregnant with expectation and our opening hymn ‘Tell out my soul’ shows this as it’s based on her song in Luke’s gospel about magnifying God .

I’d like to explore what we can learn of God’s overall plan from the prophet Micah and the personal revelation of God to Mary and her cousin Elizabeth.

Micah lived in the southern Jewish kingdom of Judah about 700 years before Jesus was born. His name means ‘Who is like Yahweh?’ We might say, or sing, ‘Who is like our God?’ That was his name. He spoke of the birth of a new king in Bethlehem – the messiah of the Jewish people would gather the people into one nation and establish God’s kingdom. Several prophets had spoken of the servant king who was to come, but Micah is the only one to identify where the messiah would be born.

Bethlehem was a small town but famous for being the City of David, the shepherd boy who God called to be king. Micah announced that God will bring another king out of Bethlehem, “whose family line goes back to ancient times”. Whilst he would rule as David’s successor (Isaiah 9.7) his origin would predate David.

The name Bethlehem means House of Bread, and out of Bethlehem was to come Jesus, who said of himself, “I am the bread of life” (John 6.35). By using the divine name I AM, by which the Lord had identified himself to Moses (Exodus 3.14), Jesus associated himself with God. His family line went back to the beginning of time

Micah said that, with the strength and majesty of God, this king coming out of Bethlehem would reunite Jews who were living in exile outside Israel (Micah 5.3b). Some time later, the good news extended to include the Jewish diaspora around the Mediterranean in the new communities which formed to follow the way of Jesus.

This king would bring peace (Micah 5.5a). Peace. I wonder what we understand by the peace of God, and how we experience it.

I met someone recently who was clearly at peace with the world – and at peace beyond the world in her relationship with God – whilst engaging with issues of justice that constrain God’s people. She spoke of Mary as her inspiration. “Will you be the mother of my son?” “Of course I will!”

Perhaps this might show us that seeking to follow what God asks us to do can bring peace and contentment; even if the task is difficult.

Soon after a baby was conceived in Mary, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who, at a very old age, was herself six months pregnant with her first child. The angel Gabriel had announced to her husband Zechariah that they would have the son they had long desired and he would be a prophet as mighty as Elijah (Luke 1.17).

We aren’t told whether Mary had sent news in advance to Elizabeth about her own visit from the angel Gabriel, but Luke’s record of the encounter between Elizabeth and Mary contains several revelations about Mary and the child she was carrying. I’ve spotted four:

  1. The baby John moved within Elizabeth (Luke 1.41); he jumped for joy (Luke 1.44). John had not yet been born but this was his first recorded prophetic action, to jump for joy at being in the presence of the Son of God, who at that time would have been very very small inside Mary.
  2. Elizabeth declared Mary as the most blessed of all women (Luke 1.42) and mother of my Lord (Luke 1.43). Mary continues to be known by these two names; some Christians call her the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM); others call her Mother of God (Theotokos) and will be celebrating her response to God today.
  3. Elizabeth affirms Mary’s joy and the faith in God that she demonstrated by believing in the angel’s message (Luke 1.45). Elizabeth herself was carrying a miraculous baby whose birth had been announced by the same angel (Luke 1.5-25), so could confirm her cousin was right to believe what she had heard.
  4. Mary responds with a great song of praise to God (Luke 1.46-55). It’s one of the most famous songs in Christianity. We sing it or say it wherever Christians meet. It is the gospel before the gospel. It’s all about God and all about revolution. The Magnificat is so revolutionary that it’s been banned by governments who felt threatened by Mary’s words about God’s preferential love for the poor. Including a previous British Government! which prohibited it being said or sung during Evening Prayer in India. When British flags were finally lowered at independence, Mahatma Gandhi requested that this song be read. Mary’ song is revolutionary. It is the gospel.

God was at work in these two women. Elizabeth pregnant at last after hope had gone, and Mary pregnant far sooner than she had expected. They shared a dream, the ancient dream of Israel, that one day the Lord would do what he had promised to their ancestor Abraham: that all nations would be blessed through his family. But for that to be happen, the powers that kept the world in slavery had to be toppled.

But also, God confirmed to Mary through Elizabeth and John that what she thought had happened in her encounter with Gabriel, had indeed happened. When God speaks through multiple people, the Word of God is very clear and affirming. That is a reason why we need each other, so we can help each other hear clearly what God is saying.

Mother and Child
Angolan Mother & Child woodcarving

Three months later John was born, and six months further on Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In their mothers, the two cousins had spiritual teachers who were in tune with God and his mission to love the people of the world, and with the purpose of the lives of their two sons in God’s plan.

The sons were called by God and their mothers were called to be their teachers: to feed them spiritual milk from God, as well as feeding them with their own milk.

This beautiful carving from Angola shows mother and baby. Complete reliance of a baby for food on a human mother contributed to forming them into complete reliance for spiritual food on God who had given them life.

Over time the two boys grew up and came to recognise for themselves what God was calling them to be and to do. They both become agents of God’s long-promised revolution, the victory over the powers of evil. Much of Mary’s song is echoed by Jesus’s teaching as he warns the rich not to trust in their wealth, and promises God’s kingdom to the poor.

This is the kingdom that we are part of. God’s great plan of salvation to reunite all people with Himself through Jesus the messiah of the Jews and the anointed one of God, the Christ. We are called into this relationship of love. Perhaps we already know that, perhaps we have known that for many years, perhaps we are just discovering that God is calling us into a new relationship with Him, or perhaps we are wondering what Christmas is really all about.

Wherever we start from, we’re all invited to #FollowTheStar on a spiritual journey through the 12 Days of Christmas. The Church of England has produced an excellent booklet of reflections. There is one for each day from Christmas Eve throughout the 12 days ending with the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January. Each one includes a picture, a short Bible passage, a simple prayer and a challenge to reflect or act differently. Together, they form a journey that will help us take the joy and wonder of Christmas into the year ahead.

God of grace,
Wherever we are in the world this Christmas,
Let our hearts and minds draw close to you,
Renew each of us by your loving Holy Spirit and the breath of life,
Restore each of us to be whole again by your coming Saviour and reborn,
Reveal amidst worldly difficulty your true hope for the world in your coming King,
Let us love one another bravely especially all who have no voice or place in this world,
Let us welcome in Mary’s experience of a miracle into our hearts, and welcome in miracles into our lives today,
Be with us God wherever we are in our hearts with you this Christmas, and guide us with a hope as abundant as a radiant galaxy.

Sarah Strang