Easter & Christmas

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The Advent Story

 

The Advent Story

 

1 December - Time

 

2018 years ago.

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 punishments, taxes on wages, on food, land, transport, everything they bought and traded. They were tired, dispirited and struggling to see a way forward.  

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 Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 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, Ivy, Skimmia.  Evergreen plants are used at Christmas to symbolise everlasting life.

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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.

“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 - was this all there was to life?

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 away their tears. Fear, darkness, grief and sadness 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. Unleavened bread to remember there had been no time before leaving Egypt to wait for the bread to rise. Wine to symbolise joy at their freedom. An extra cup 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 no one came and still they waited.

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.  I long for you to turn to me.”

Planting:- Rosemary for remembrance.  Red inside a gold tinsel heart and 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 practicing 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 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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“In quietness and confidence will be your strength.  Trust me.”

Planting:- White Camellia “Cinnamon Scentsation”, blue Primula -  blue for tranquility and white for 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 ancient family - he could trace his ancestors back hundreds of years to King David, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

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.  Look at me and let my peace enfold you.”

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’.  Red for God’s love, pink for Mary, 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” and red Primulas - 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 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 have to 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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“Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful. 

You are my child - when you cry to me I will hear you.”

Planting:- Holly ‘Blue Angel’, purple leaved Hebe and 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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