One of the classic Victorian hymns that still speaks to us today.
Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?
Was there ever kindest shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Saviour who would have us
Come and gather round his feet?
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in his justice
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Saviour;
There is healing in his blood.
But we make his love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we lose the tender shepherd
In the judge upon the throne.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
I have been extremely ill of an asthma and dropsy, but received, by the mercy of GOD, sudden and unexpected relief last Thursday, by the discharge of twenty pints of water[11 litres]. Whether I shall continue free, or shall fill again, cannot be told. Pray for me.
Death, my dear, is very dreadful; let us think nothing worth our care but how to prepare for it: what we know amiss in ourselves let us make haste to amend, and put our trust in the mercy of GOD, and the intercession of our Saviour.
I am, dear Madam,
Your most humble servant,
Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784″ by James Boswell.
Lucy Porter was Johnson’s stepdaughter; he had married her widowed mother but she had died after just a few years. Although he lived and worked in London – the man who is tired of London is tired of life is his saying – he kept in touch with family and friends in Lichfield, his home town, including Lucy. At the time of writing he was an old man and sick; dropsy is now called oedema, a swelling of soft tissue especially in the legs, and may be an indication of heart failure – so carrying 11 kilos of extra weight in fluid was not good. Johnson does not say how his relief was brought about.
But his heartfelt love for his stepdaughter shines through, as well as his apprehension of death and judgement.
The Covid-19 global pandemic; the economic crisis that has followed and the failure of political, economic and social structures to protect the weakest and most vulnerable; and the racism that blights our communities have underlined the global need for a light to shine in the darkness. The star that shone in the East, (the Middle East), two thousand years ago still leads us to the manger, to where Christ was born. It draws us to where the Spirit of God is alive and active.
After encountering the Saviour and worshipping him together, the Magi return to their countries by a different way, having been warned in a dream. The communion we share in our prayer together must inspire us to return to ourselves, our churches and our world by new ways. But what does this mean in practice?
Serving the Gospel today requires a commitment to humankind, especially the poorest, the weakest and those marginalised. It requires from the churches transparency and accountability in dealing with the world, and with each other. This means churches need to cooperate to provide relief to the afflicted, to welcome the displaced, to relieve the burdened, and to build a just and honest society.
This is a call for churches to work together so that we can all build a good future according to God’s heart, a future in which all human beings can experience life, peace, justice, and love.
Jerusalem is a powerful symbol for Christians because it is “The City of Peace”, where all humanity was saved and redeemed. But today peace is missing from the city. Even prayer in Jerusalem has become subject to political and military measures. Various parties stake their claim to it and disregard others. Jerusalem was the city of kings, indeed the city that Jesus will enter triumphantly, acclaimed as king (Luke 19:28-44). Naturally the Magi expected to find the newborn king revealed by the star in this royal city.
However, the narrative tells us that, rather than being blessed by the birth of the Saviour king, the whole of Jerusalem was in tumult, much as it is today. Today, more than ever, the Middle East needs a heavenly light to accompany the people.
In this context Christians are called to seek the new-born king, the king of gentleness, peace and love. But where is the star that leads the way to him? It is the mission of the Church to be the star that lights the way to Christ who is the light of the world. By word and through action the Christian people are called to light the way so that Christ might be revealed, once again, to the nations. Yet divisions dim the light of Christian witness and obscure the way, preventing others from finding their way to Christ. Conversely, Christians united in their worship of Christ, and opening their treasures in an exchange of gifts, become a sign of the unity that God desires for all of creation.
One Sunday our walk to church took us across a field of crystals, each blade of grass glowing in its jewels, our path marked out by one who had gone before. I was reminded of the good bit of the new translation of the Mass, where the presiding priest asks God to ‘send down your Spirit [upon the Bread and Wine] like the dew-fall‘. Maybe the image does not work in big cities but that’s no reason to discard it.
The same verse from Isaiah is often used in Advent – ‘Heavens drop dew from above’, ‘Rorate Coeli’ and so on.
Scientifically, what’s interesting is that dew does not exactly drop from the heavens; it is water that is in the air all along, and appears when conditions are right. When the air is saturated with water vapour. And the dew is seen when eyes are open to it.
We do not need a thunderstorm to impart the Spirit. (1Kings 19:12) The Spirit is already within us through baptism – water again! We can let ourselves be saturated, with grace, with mercy, at least sometimes. After all, it is for us to prepare the way of the Lord by letting the Spirit be visible in our lives. If one person sees the spirit of love in me today the Holy Spirit will be able to touch them, and change them a little. And maybe change me a little.