In the perception of the so-called general public, when people think about God - if indeed they ever think about God, the idea that will probably be conjured would be more like the idea of the force from Star Wars, then the biblical reality of God. Likewise, the idea of heaven as somewhere up there - a long way away from us - is a convenient place to store an inconvenient god. But this also is not the biblical vision.
As we celebrate today the feast day of Mary, the mother of God on this first day of the new 2012 calendar year, the readings that the church presents us with provide an opportunity to reflect anew on the place of God in our lives. So let us turn first to the teaching on blessing provided by Numbers 6. Just as we turn to the gospels - Matthew 6 and Luke 11 - to find the teaching of Jesus on prayer when he invites us to pray the Our Father, so we should turn to Numbers 6 to know what it means to receive and be a blessing.
When the Lord tells Moses to teach the sons of Aaron to pray and bless like this, we should hear the same direction being given to us, because in Exodus 19 the whole people are invited into covenant with God, as a kingdom of priests. In the blessing of Numbers 6, there are 6 elements in the three lines of the blessing. The first reminds us that whoever shares the blessing - priest or people - it is God who does the blessing; we simply share in this work.
1. May the Lord bless you
2. and keep you;
3. May the Lord shine his face upon you
4. and be gracious to you;
5. May the Lord uncover his face to you
6. and bring you peace.
When we turn to the Gospel today, from Luke 2:16-21, we see at least three elements that can help us to bring this teaching of blessing into our worlds. In reverse order within the text, they are: pondering and treasuring the word of God; being astonished by the words and works of God; and when we finally know what God wants of us (through this pondering and being amazed by God) then we cannot remain lost in procrastination - like the shepherds and like Mary - we must hurry to where God wants us to be.
Recorded at St Paul's, 8am (9'13")