Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Magi's Journey

Christmas seems a good time to post this. Feel free to use it if you wish.....Some details might seem surprising to you, but having visited Bethlehem in the middle of winter two years running I can assure you that it really is very cold there at this time of year! (Last year it was colder there than in York).

Instead of having a sermon, we are going to have a cross between a story and bible meditation. So get yourself into a comfortable position, close your eyes if you find it helps, and begin to relax........ Now is the time to leave the busyness of the high street shopping, the worries about what to wear, what to eat, who is coming on Christmas day and to place them in God’s hands. You think about each one now, name it before God, and imagine God turning it into a little silver ball to hang on your Christmas tree............ Now you are free of your worries you can begin to tune into what God wants to say to you this evening.

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Now imagine. Imagine that you are a traveller. You have come a very long way. All the way from Africa, carrying a small quantity of precious, fragrant burning resin. You have ridden for hundreds of miles on horseback till your thighs are aching and sore, you have travelled on foot too, till your back aches and your feet throb. Sometimes the territory was a little too forbidding or a little too steep to stay mounted. You are now in a strange country, and here it is night, and the nights are cold.

For as you began to climb higher into the hills, the temperature began to drop. It feels like you are on the roof of the world here and although it is pleasantly warm at noon, at night it is much colder than you have ever known it. There is frost on the ground. You have heard tales of this white powder that covers the sand where the dew has dropped, but noone has ever told you what it felt like before.
-how it bites at your fingers,
- how the cold wind cuts into your face.
- how your knees ache with the cold in the middle of the night with only a flimsy tent to protect you.

You wrap your thick, woolen travelling cloak tighter around you and you look for the place you are searching for. You feel scared and lost. Very lost. Although you have travelling companions and a servant nearby, you know how vulnerable you are in a strange place, with different customs, and this place is under military rule. Armies have been marching past you at regular intervals on the journey.

You hear jeers and shouts from cohorts of passing troops at times, and
the fear is always at the back of you and your companions minds. What if they turned on us? We could never fight against them, there are too many of them. But so far, they never have turned on you. Their commanding officers reigned them in, and told them to march faster. They disappeared over the horizon, the soles of their boots drumming rhythmically into the road.

The fear stayed, deep-down though. And the despair too and the tiny voice inside telling you that you must be crazy for leaving everything you know behind you, just to search.

Because you *are* searching - looking for a new born king. Looking for some answers in life too.
Yet the obvious place to look for a king is in a palace .

But the only palace near this place had no children crying in it. It contained only a bad tempered ruler, who you were afraid would
murder you on the spot, and a few local priests of the ancient and complex religion they follow in these parts. These holy-men directed you six miles to the South. But you aren’t really sure who you can trust. The king who asks you to report back to him with the cold-steel of a threat in his voice, or the priests who consult their ancient scriptures and give the name of a tiny hamlet miles away from anywhere important.

Your confusion mounts... and the black pit of fear in your stomach.
Was this long journey all for nothing?

And now you reach the village. Someone has scrawled the name of the place on a wooden post near a watering trough. The place is riddled with caves, like a giant anthill. And you begin to wonder where on earth you should be looking next. But then you gaze into the sky, and as you gaze the starlight seems to crystallize through the freezing air, pointing the way to one cave in particular, with an old family home leaning crookedly against it, like the cave has become the spare room or the granny flat for the unwanted guests and the pet goat.

It is about as far removed from a palace as you could wish. Deeply deeply ordinary. Yet something inside you makes you want to look further. You lift the latch. And smell, not goat dung, but something animal all the same, a cow, and the remains of whatever the cow had for breakfast. The ripe smell makes you cover your face at first.

But then you look around. And see a scrubbed corner. And in the scrubbed corner a woman is lying on a pile of staw. She is pale, as if she has been bleeding. She looks as if she has recently been through a great ordeal. And then you see the man. He is much older than her, and he is busy propping the woman up with piles of straw and trying to persuade her to drink some wine from a goatskin he is holding.

You hail him in your native tongue. He looks puzzled. You remember just how far you are from home so you try again, this time in the rough traders Greek you have picked up over the years. This time he replies, falteringly, trying to find some words. “Hail stranger, come in.”

You ask. “I have come from far away. I am looking for a baby king.”

He points to a feeding trough, which puzzles you at first. Perhaps he is offering food for the horses. Then you peer inside and you are shocked.
A baby. He is lying, newborn by the looks of him, too purple and wrinked to be any older than a few hours, tiny and fragile, wrapped in bands of cloth that are wound around and around, as the Egyptians do with their princes before they bury them. You stare straight into the baby’s eyes, and the baby seems to stare at you, in an unfocused kind of way. You move closer, so you can see each other more clearly. You feel moved to talk to this child. What do you say? ........................................................

Then the baby seems to want to communicate back. Not in speech, for he has no speech as yet, but in the way that he looks, his position. His eyes bore a message into your soul.
What does he seem to be saying to you...........

And now you feel compelled to give the child a gift. You have brought frankinsence from your home country for him, but you also want to give him something else. What gift do you want to give him now, a personal gift between you and him that noone else can see.................

Your companions come in too. They also pay their respects and give their gifts, and then you leave, after a brief conversation, filled with the halting phrases provided by the language barrier and both your lack of vocab. You are aware that something tremendously important has passed, but you are also aware that it will take time to process this. You sit and think for a while, about what this can all mean, about the next step.....

And then you hear singing, strange, ghostly music, that seems to come from the clouds and the frosty air itself. It sounds like the cross between a song of joy and a lullaby.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Hymmage

I'm doing a wedding, Visions-style at the end of the month. Its quite exciting really as its only the 3rd completely-Visions-style wedding we've ever done and especially nice because we've known Pete for years.

We're singing three hymns at the wedding. "Be thou my Vision", which we already had a remix of, "And can it be" (which I also had a remix of, but I didn't like it so I've done another) and a song which was new to me "O God beyond all praising" which is sung to the tune Thaxted, (I vow to thee my country). I always liked that tune, but really didn't like the words much, so its really nice to see some nice words to it (which are really appropriate for a wedding). Turns out it 187 in the "Praise!" hymnal.
It has some cool lines like..
"Oh God beyond all praising, we worship you today
and sing the love amazing that songs cannot repay;
For we can only wonder at every gift you send,
at blessings without number and mercies without end:"

and these lines really go with the "for richer, for poorer stuff"...

"Whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill,
we'll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still"

The words are by Michael Parry (1942-96).

Anyway I've now remixed this one as well and am feeling very productive having 2 new tunes in the bag in one week!
All I have to do now is find time to record some vocals to all the hymns we have remixed this year. I have a bit of a plan to release a CD entitled "Hopefulness" and use the money to finance social action projects in the city which would be a nice contribution Visions could make to the Hope 08 thing. Lets hope we get the time to do the recording......

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gregorian.

Whilst searching on itunes for "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" I was browsing various other artists covers of the song, and discovered a group called Gregorian. Have you ever heard something and wondered..."Hmm...either this is very clever or its cheesy." And I really don't know which. Actually having mulled it over I think its both clever *and* cheesy.

Basically they are a German group who sing covers of well known songs, but only ones which work in the 7-tone scale.
The vocalists record their parts in a church atmosphere with dimmed lights and candles for atmosphere's sake.

Actually I think their version of "with or without you" worked, but "fields of gold" really made me cringe! Still its worth having a listen for interests sake. It will either amuse or make you cringe, or make you smile, or maybe you might really like it. Feel free to share what you think!

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