I've always felt sad at the passing of Christmas Day: at how quickly the world moves on to Boxing-Day sales, extinguished fairy lights, discarded fir trees and raucous New-Year revelries. Perhaps it's partly nostalgia, but I yearn for those past times when the twelve days of Christmas were celebrated in full. For me, Christmas is worth lingering on, because it's a sign of the world to come.
One of my favourite pieces of Christmas music is ‘For unto us a Child is born’ from Georg Friderich Händel’s Messiah. I have loved it since I was a child, touched by its bouncing joy and the intricacy of its polyphonic choral writing, with lines appearing and disappearing like needles through the musical fabric, aligning with each other for a few ‘stitches in time’ before one vanishes to reappear a moment later in a different hue. As a music historian, I am enchanted by the majesty of Händel’s choral setting, but its glorious lyrics are what I love most.
As we approach the most significant point in the Christian calendar – the weekend where we remember the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of Jesus, our saviour – it is good to return to some of the core truths that he taught about himself whilst on earth. I've been struck recently in particular by one of the last things Jesus says to his disciples as he prepares for death, in John 15:
As academics, we don’t like looking foolish. We are trained to provide evidence for assertions, and refrain from making them if we can’t provide justification for what we think and believe. But as I have been working through 1 Corinthians over the past few months, I have been convicted and encouraged by Paul’s call to ‘foolishness’.
Reflecting on what Advent might mean for my work, I ended up looking at the connection between teaching and research. About half of this Advent wraps up my first semester of teaching (in a job I recently began), and the other half will give a little more time to pursue research tasks until Christmas is fully here.
At my church, we have been going through Isaiah in this month's sermon series. When we got to chapter 42, I was struck by the call in verse 10 to ‘sing a new song’. This is a phrase I've come across again and again in the Bible (in fact, I've found and listed a handful of these occurrences below) but it was the first time I stopped and pondered: why a new song? Why not an old song? God’s plan for his people was established before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-10). So what is it about the newness of the song that’s important?
The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord. Proverbs 21:31
Inspired by this post from the archives of The Well (InterVarsity’s ministry to women in academia and the professions), I recently took a mini-‘retreat’ in the midst of my current summer season of being at home, preparing for a family wedding and working on my thesis in the midst of planning and errands.
The head of my postgrad ministry recently gave a wonderful talk on Ecclesiastes 3:9-13. During my week away from work, I have spent time with the passage and have found it very encouraging. I hope my reflections on it prove helpful to others at a time of year when many of us are looking forward to changes and new challenges!