Easter & Christmas

We will be following the story of Christ's birth in words and pictures from December 1st to 25th

 

1 December - Time

2017 years ago - waiting….

Herod was King of Judea, Quirinius was Governor of Syria and Augustus was Emperor of Rome.

The Jewish people had suffered hundreds of years of oppression.  Now they suffered under Roman rule and taxes - income tax, food tax, land tax, transport tax, purchase tax, customs duties, poll tax.  When would they be free?

For over 700 years, they had been waiting for a great King, promised by God.  Prophets said this King would be born in Bethlehem and live in Nazareth. He would be called “Emmanuel” or “God with us”.  He would be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and King David.   “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light, those who live in the land of the shadow of death, upon them will a light shine. The yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, will be shattered.  They will be full of joy and rejoice.  For us a child will be born, to us a son will be given and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever”.

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“I love you with an everlasting love.  I am with you always, until the end of time.”

Planting   Thyme, Holly and Ivy.  Evergreen plants are used at Christmas to symbolise everlasting love.

 

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2 December - Place

Bethlehem in Judea.

In Hebrew, Bethlehem means “house of bread”.  It is located in a mountainous area, about six miles south west of Jerusalem. 

King David was born and lived in Bethlehem.  It was the City where he was crowned King of Israel around 1002 years before the birth of Christ - 3019 years ago from now.

“Bethlehem, you are one of the smallest towns in Judea, but out of you will come a great leader, whose family line will go back to ancient times. He will rule with strength and majesty. People all over the earth will acknowledge his greatness and he will bring peace” (Micah, written around 700 years before the birth of Christ).

Woking 

A town in the South-east of England, 23 miles south west of London.

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“You are precious in my sight.” “Your image is on the palm of my hands.”

Planting    Heathers and Olive tree.  Olives grow in Bethlehem and heathers on Woking heathland. 

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3 December – Why ?

Wars,  violence, hunger, debt, homelessness, illness, fear, death. Life seemed more about grief and sadness than joy.

God had promised to send a King who would bring a new way of living.  He would bring good news to the poor and heal the broken hearted.  He would comfort those who mourn, giving joy and gladness instead of grief, a song of praise instead of sorrow.   He would wipe the tears from their eyes.  Fear, darkness, sin and grief would be overcome by love.

Every year at the Passover festival, Jewish families gathered to  remember God’s blessings and promises.   They ate special food to remember the past and God’s promises for the future. Unleavened bread to remember there had been no time before the flight from Egypt to wait for the bread to rise. Wine to symbolise joy at their freedom. An extra cup of wine was placed on the table and the door opened for Elijah to come to announce the coming of the Messiah, the special King.  But every year  the meal ended with “Next year in Jerusalem”. 

How long would they have to wait? When would He come?

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“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son”.

“When I see you in great need, my love and compassion reach out to you.”

Planting   Rosemary for remembrance.  Red berried Wintergreen inside a gold tinsel heart, Mistletoe  for love.

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4 December – Mary

In the small town of Nazareth in Galilee, a young woman called Mary was busy planning her wedding.  She was engaged to be married to Joseph.  He was the local carpenter with a good business and a little older than her.  Her family thought it a good match with a secure future.   Mary did too, but more than that, she was in love. The more she got to know Joseph, the more she fell in love with him.  He was kind and generous and she was looking forward to making a home with him.  However she was still young and now they were engaged they could take their time and plan it properly.  There was so much to plan!  What to wear, who to invite, how many bridesmaids.  The wedding party would last a week or more, the whole village would be invited not to mention relatives she hadn’t seen for years. 

Mary was practising her cooking. With all the special food and preparations for the festivals there was a lot to learn.  She loved all the festivals, but especially the Passover when the children hunted for pieces of bread that had been hidden and all the family gathered to remember God’s blessing and promises.  She was determined to be a good wife, a good mother too when the time came, although that was too far in the future to worry about yet. 

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With God, anything is possible.

Planting   Blue berried Callicarpa, white Skimmia, white leaves, purple Heuchera.  Blue and white for tranquility and purity. 

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5 December - Joseph

Joseph was the village carpenter.  He was a good carpenter and a kind man who always tried to do what was right. He made furniture and tools, shaped timbers to build houses, made ploughs and yoke for the oxen.  He came from a good family - he could trace his ancestors back hundreds of years to King David, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Of course no one took any notice of that, but it was fun remembering all the names.

He had built up his business over the years and was well respected in the town.  He had a reputation for good quality work at a fair price and his workshop was always busy.  When he fell in love with Mary, he was afraid she would think he was too old.  When he was that age, anyone over 25 seemed ancient!  However their love had deepened and now they were engaged.  He would work hard to give Mary the best future he could.

His customers asked about the wedding every time they came to the workshop - good natured banter about not waiting too long in case Mary changed her mind!  He would have to invite them all.  He must give Mary a list.  Talking of which, he was responsible for ordering all the food and wine - he had better start his own list - it would be awful to run out of anything at the wedding feast and he still had the house to finish. It was exciting but there was so much to prepare!

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“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, for my yoke is gentle and well fitting and my burden is light.”

Planting    Red Skimmia 'Rubella (male Skimmia) , Ivy, wood.

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6 December - Emmanuel

Mary was busy updating the guest list (Joseph would keep adding to it!) when she suddenly became aware of a stranger at the door.   Mary jumped, she had been so engrossed she had not seen him approaching.  She was about to ask him what he wanted when the stranger said, ”Peace be with you!  The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you”. 

Mary  stared at the stranger. She started to feel frightened.  In the silence she could hear her heart pounding.  What on earth did he mean?   What sort of blessing?  Who was he?

The stranger continued “Don’t be afraid Mary, God has been gracious to you.   You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God, Emmanuel, which means God with us. He will be given the throne of David and he will reign for ever.   His Kingdom will never end.”

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“I have called you by name.”

Planting       Yellow Mahonia and gold for the angel, white hellebore (Christmas rose) and pink for Mary.

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7 December - Mary agrees

Mary was so shocked she was speechless for a moment.  “How can this be” she said to the stranger. “I am not married yet and how can any child of mine be a King?”   

The stranger answered “God’s power will rest upon you.  For this reason the child will be called the Son of God. Remember your cousin Elizabeth. It is said that she can not have children but she is now six months pregnant. There is nothing that God can not do’ . 

“I am the Lord’s servant” Mary said, “may it happen as you have said” and the stranger disappeared.

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My love is unshakeable and instantly accessible.  Here you find real security. 

Here you can surrender to my enveloping love and let everything else slip away.

Planting  Red stemmed cornus for the angel, sheltering variegated Osmanthus.  Pink primulas for Mary.

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8 December - Mary tries to understand

“Was that real” thought Mary, “or was I dreaming ?”. She wanted to tell someone what had happened but she was too scared. She was sure no one would believe her. They would think she was mad, or worse. Yet she felt so close to God, so loved, so happy. Such a combination of joy and excitement that she wanted to dance. She didn’t know how much longer she could hide the joy, or cope with the fear. Telling anyone was impossible. No one would understand.

The stranger’s words kept going round in her head. She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t eat. Even Joseph noticed she was distant and preoccupied and asked her what was wrong. Kind and generous though he was and much as she loved him, how could she possibly tell him this? Easier to pretend she was just tired with all the wedding planning. 

“Maybe you need a break” Joseph suggested, “a few days away somewhere.” Suddenly Mary remembered what the stranger had said about Elizabeth. If that was true, maybe Elizabeth would understand. Mary quickly packed a few things and arranged to travel to the town in the hill county of Judea where Elizabeth lived.

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“Peace be with you.  It is I, do not be afraid.”

“I will hold you by your right hand.”

Planting; Red Camellia sasanqua  ‘Yuletide’, white primulas. Red for God’s love and Mary’s apprehension, white for the  promise of a new baby. 

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9 December - Elizabeth

Elizabeth was married to a priest called Zechariah. They had been married a long time but had no children and they were both getting old.

One day when Zechariah was in the temple, in the most holy part of the Temple where only the priests were allowed to be, a stranger appeared by the alter. Zechariah was terrified, but the stranger said to him, “Do not be afraid, God has heard your prayer and your wife Elizabeth will bear a son. You are to name him John. He will be a joy and a delight to you and many will rejoice because of his birth. He will be filled with the spirit of God even before he is born. He will announce the coming of the Lord”. 

Zechariah said he didn’t see how this could happen since he and Elizabeth were old. The stranger told him the message was true and Zachariah would not be able to speak until the child was born and named.

Shortly after, Elizabeth became pregnant and she was now in her sixth month and Zechariah was still unable to speak.

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“Light has come into the world. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  Believe in the light.”

Planting   Cornus “Midwinter Fire” - like the burning bush which Moses saw, it symbolises the presence of God.

We stand on Holy ground.

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10 December - Mary and Elizabeth

Mary arrived at Zechariah’s house and greeted them both. Elizabeth looked at her oddly and ushered her inside, claiming Mary must need a rest and a cool drink after her journey. 

Elizabeth hugged Mary and told her she knew that Mary was pregnant. Mary told her what the stranger had said and after her own experience, Elizabeth believed Mary’s story was true. “You are so blessed”, Elizabeth said, “and blessed is the child you will bear. Even the baby I am expecting leapt for joy when I saw you. Blessed are you for believing God will fulfill his promises to you!”

Mary was so relieved that someone believed her. She began to understand what had happened and started to think about what this would mean. “My heart praises the Lord” she sang, “My soul is glad because of God my Saviour. From now on all generations will call me blessed”.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about for three months and they talked long into the night about the future and how exciting it was to be part of God’s plan.

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“Rejoice in what I am bringing about.”

Planting   White flowered Camellia transnokoensis, white hellebores, pink daisies and primulas -

The Magnificat - Mary’s song of praise.

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11 December - Joseph is worried

Joseph was worried. Mary was only supposed to be away for a few days. She had sent a message saying she was staying for longer to help Elizabeth, but he wasn’t sure he believed the reason. Mary had been acting so strangely before she went, he began to wonder if she was regretting the engagement. 

Still, Mary was due back tomorrow. He was sure it would be all right again once she was home. He had nearly finished the house. Maybe they should get married sooner than planned, perhaps a quiet wedding, less stressful for Mary.  He would talk to her about it tomorrow - he was so looking forward to seeing her again.

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 “Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Even the hairs on your head have been counted.  Your Father knows what you need”

Planting   Twisted red and green - that knotted feeling when you are worried about something and hoping it will be all right. 

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12 December - Joseph finds out

Joseph was devastated. He could not believe it - Mary was expecting a baby. His Mary - after all she had promised.  Not only that, but she had lied to him - a stupid story about a stranger who must be an angel and the baby being the Son of God. Did she really think he was going to believe that?  No wonder she had stayed away for three months - better she had never come home than this.  

The wedding would have to be cancelled of course. All his customers would know, all his friends, all the village. They warned him she was too young, too pretty. Some in the village would want Mary stoned, especially as she refused to admit who the father was and stuck to her ridiculous story. Even if he could protect her from that, Mary would be publicly disgraced. He might be angry and hurt, but he couldn’t do that to her, he just couldn’t. Somehow he would  find a way to break the engagement quietly, in private and Mary would have to move away, where no one knew her or what had happened. 

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“Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid”.

“Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful.”

Planting   Holly ‘Blue Angel’, purple leaved Hebe, red Bergenia, black grass Ophiopogon planiscapus, dark purple Ajuga.  Purple for Joseph’s sadness and anger.  One white Hellebore as  even in his anger and sadness, Joseph still loved Mary.

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13 December - Joseph’s dream

Joseph lay awake, trying to work out how to break the engagement without anyone knowing the real reason. It was nearly dawn, he was going to have to think of something soon. He was so tired….  

He woke with  start. He  thought he had dreamt that a stranger told him that Mary’s story was true, that he should not be afraid to marry Mary. She had not broken her promises to him. She would give birth to a son and they should call him Jesus and he would be called Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’. 

Was it a dream? Was it possible? Could Mary really be telling the truth?  He knew all the prophecies of course, had heard them read in the synagogue, but hearing them was one thing, experiencing them was entirely another. That these great readings should be coming true and he and Mary were part of it - that was mind blowing to say the least.  God may be great but this was impossible… wasn’t it?

He must tell Mary as soon as it was light.  How this was going to work he had no idea, it was hard to take it all in. He could only hope if God was doing all this, He had a plan for the rest.

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“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord hear my voice.  I wait for the Lord and  in his word I hope.”

“Your sadness will be turned into joy.”

Planting   Brown turning to light green. As Joseph listens to God his desolation turns into trust and belief in what God is doing.

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14 December - The Wise Men

Meanwhile, far away in the east lived men who studied the stars and thought deeply about the past and the future.  They studied charts and calculated the movement of the planets. They saw a new star, rising in the east. In their calculations, this star signified the birth of a new king, a king so special that there would be no one else like him.

They checked and double checked their charts and discussed it for months. There was no doubt about it.  Something significant was going to happen and they had to be there to see it. Although it would be a long and dangerous journey, they had to visit this King and worship him. 

They calculated from the movement of the star that he would be born somewhere around Jerusalem. This made sense, since a King would be born in a palace and the palace in the capital city of Jerusalem was the most likely place. 

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“I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last”.   I love you in your past, present and future.

Planting   Three mini Christmas trees - for the three wise men.

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15 December - Presents

The wise men  started to plan their journey. It was too dangerous to travel alone, but they could not reveal their real reason for travelling as that was dangerous too. They organised a party of servants to travel with them, plenty of food and water and their finest clothes to change into when they were presented to the king.

They would have to take presents of course. You couldn’t just turn up and demand to see a great  King. Only special people would be allowed to get anywhere near. There would be servants and guards. They would need money and gifts to buy entry. Gifts that were small enough to take with them hidden in the luggage, but valuable. What did you buy a King?

Gold for a royal birth. Frankincense, a perfume used in worship. Myrrh, an expensive perfume, often used for burial.   It was important the gifts were expensive and suitable for royalty. It was a long and risky journey. They could only hope they would be able to see the great King at the end of it.

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“I will never turn away anyone who comes to me.”  My love is a free unconditional gift.  It is available for all.

Planting   Gold, purple and red for the royal presents. White for the love that is unconditional.

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16 December - The Journey and The Star

The Wise Men set off on their journey with camels piled high with luggage. For months they travelled across desert and mountains. Dry, arid landscape, hot at day and cold at night. Water was rationed. Bandits, robbers and wild animals were always a threat. It was a hard journey, one problem after another. Several  camels went lame and they had to stop while they recovered. They tried to travel in the  direction the star seemed to be moving, but it was not always possible to follow the star in a straight line. There were mountains and valleys, crevices and rocky outcrops. Often they had to divert from the direction of the star in order to find a track the camels could manage. 

Sometimes they wondered if they should stop and go back.  Maybe they were wrong. Maybe this journey was just a waste of time and there would be nothing at the end of it.  Night after night, under a sky ablaze with stars, they discussed it. Could they have miscalculated their charts?  

Every night the star seemed to shine brighter and still it seemed to lead in the direction of Jerusalem. 

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“I am doing something new.  I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

“The sun will no longer be your light by day nor the moon your light by night. The Lord your God will be your everlasting light.”

Planting   Brown grasses for the Camels, pebbles for the desert.  Yellow for the star shinning ahead.

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