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I know Christmas is some weeks away, but we are about to enter the season of Advent – the time of waiting and preparation for the second coming of Christ.   But I thought now was as good a time as any to remind ourselves of what it is we celebrate in 29 days time – the First Coming of Christ.

“He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.   And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”   

(Philippians 2:7-8)

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For many people a visit to the Holy Land becomes a sort of “fifth gospel”. For me, it became a lens though which to read the pages of the written Gospels and I am stunned at how much clearer they have become. I am now leading a 10 day Pilgrimage to the Holy Land leaving from Aberdeen, Scotland 16th-25th March 2011.

I feel that, if at all possible, people should take the chance to visit if they can; there is so much to see, hear, learn, experience and share. Blogs, books, photos and presentations can certainly peak our attention, but nothing beats the personal experience. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is more than pious tourism and few, but the cynical, would see it as a “Christian Disneyland”. Indeed I found it to give me an awareness not only of the past, but also the present.

I became aware that the Holy Land was an amazing experience of spirituality, education, and culture.

Model of Jerusalem on eve of destruction 70 AD

Visits will include Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea and Qumran, as well as allowing free time for relaxation and private exploration. We will walk along the Via Dolorosa, sail on the Sea of Galilee, float on the Dead Sea and ascend the Mount of Masada by cable car.

If you’re interested in joining this adventure then please get in touch.

For more information see the attached brochure. Holy Land Pilgrimage 2011

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You can do all sorts of things in a minute – you can waste it;  you can send a tweet; make a comment on facebook; switch the kettle on; share a hug; tell someone you love them; or you can wait a minute… But what happens when your minutes add up and you’re in a situation in which there is no end in sight?  

Take a minute out of your day … to watch.  Take a minute to pray.  Take a minute to think.  Take a minute to tell someone how much they mean to you.

 

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sunset

sunset

I don’t know about you, but one of my favourite pictures to draw when I was younger was a sunset. You know the picture I’m sure – two hills and a sun in between, maybe a beach or a river or a field in the foreground.  I liked to draw that picture maybe because it was the simplest to draw; no humans, nothing elaborate, or maybe it was because I liked the implied peacefulness. Who knows? But I was reminded of it recently while on holiday.

It was late in the day and the train was full of people coming home from work.  We on the other hand had just arrived at San Francisco Airport after an eleven hour flight and were making our way to Walnut Creek to visit family.  People around us looked like I felt – shattered. We’d just come through the tunnel under the Bay when the train came to a stop aboveground; halted by a red light.  People continued to read their books, newspapers, magazines, computer screens, or scroll through their i-pods and tap messages into their mobile phones.  Basically I think the idea was to make sure that you were secure in your own little world; no eye contact therefore no intrusive and unwanted conversations.  The only voice I could trace belonged to a girl who had been talking incessantly to a wide variety of friends on her phone trying to find someone who might want to go out with her that night for a meal.

Moments later the disembodied voice of our lady train driver announced: “That’s really quite a sunset out the right-hand side of the train”. Almost every head turned to look, and true enough, it was a spectacular sunset.  People smiled, and there was a perceptible change in the mood of the passengers in our carriage.  All, that is, except for the girl on the phone, who never flinched from her task of trying to find companionship, and so a beautiful moment in our world was missed. It was a moment when disparate people found a sense of common wonder.  It was a moment when we looked at a visual illustration of beauty and peace in a chaotic and busy world.  It was a moment of community.

And the only person who missed it was the girl seeking company; on the phone telling yet another person in a bright and breezy voice “I’m on the train.  Want to scope out a place to eat tonight?”   The thing is, the voice belied her face and posture, and as I witnessed the continuous phone calls I became aware that I was looking at someone who was essentially lonely and in need of a friend.

angel

Angel announcing Good News

Later, as I thought about that unexpected announcement on the BART, my thoughts turned to other unexpected announcements.  The angel Gabriel made an unexpected announcement to a young girl called Mary: God was going to bring an unexpected addition into her family.  God also used angels to announce to shepherds tending their sheep: “This very day in David’s town your Saviour was born — Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11).  Yet this unexpected announcement, this beautiful moment: the good news that Jesus is Lord and the powers of the world are not, is something that I am convinced so many continue to miss because the are wrapped up in their own little world looking for relationships that will fulfil their immediate wants and needs.

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