In the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal was the genius of his age — mathematician, philosopher, inventor (of the ﬁrst mechanical calculator), his intellectual contributions are still studied and celebrated today.
When he died, a piece of parchment was discovered, sewn into the breast of his doublet, over his heart. It was his treasure – not gold sovereigns, but a golden experience from which he would never recover.
He had had an encounter with God so profound that the words describing it tumble out like babbling bubbling lovers’ language, not the precise prose of a philosopher and mathematician.
Year of grace 1654, Monday 23 November, feast of St. Clement . . . from about half past ten at night to about half an hour after midnight, FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certitude, heartfelt joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ. God of Jesus Christ. ‘My God and .your God.’ . . . Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy . . . Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. May I never be separated from him
The Greek word is eureka, which conveys immediate joy. Joy is the “emotion of the kingdom ” – joy is the fruit of the Spirit, joy is the overﬂow of those who find Jesus. When the angels announced Jesus’ birth, they declared ‘joy to the world’ — to truly meet Jesus, to receive his gifts, is to know joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Life is full of hard knocks for most and no one sails through it without stormy seas. For many, life is spent more like Eeyore than in awe, as if we have mistaken haemorrhoid cream for toothpaste.
The medieval mastermind, Thomas Aquinas, once wrote
“Man cannot live without joy — therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joys, it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures.”
Tiffany and my boys went to feed the giant koi carp ﬁsh in the large pond at the bottom of the garden.
Suddenly Tiffany’s voice interrupted my thoughts, ‘Simon, come quick, there’s a ﬁsh in trouble!’ I got up and rushed to the end of the garden and there, stranded in the mud, in a few inches of water, was a massive orange, black and silver carp, gasping for breath, ﬁghting for life. Why it had swum into the shallow end I don’t know; perhaps it had followed some tasty morsel, or perhaps this was a favourite spot in the cool of the day. Whatever the reason, the heatwave and the low water table resulted in drying up the pond to half its usual depth and this noble ﬁsh, beached in the shallows, was dying. Trying to wriggle back towards deeper water, this ﬁsh only embedded itself in the mud, it was stuck, gills part submerged, for a slow death.
Tiffany and my boys stood appalled at this pathetic sight. I told the boys to quickly bring a dustbin lid and a watering can both of which we had used and were by the gite back door. They ran off and quickly returned with them. Joel poured water on the ﬁsh offering it momentary relief, and I stepped into the muddy pond, gently put both my hands under the huge but listless ﬁsh, and lifted it onto the dustbin lid. Joel constantly watering it, I carried it on the lid to the deeper end of the pond, where I lowered it back into the water. On the bank, Tiffany and the boys held their breath. The ﬁsh lay in the water momentarily motionless, and then suddenly it lunged to life and with a swipe of its tail and a swaggering ﬂash of orange, black and grey, it turned and swam for the deep end. I climbed out, a hero, my family cheering.
Immediately as we headed back to the cottage, the Lord spoke to me.
“The church is like that carp: mature, distinguished, and impressive. But she has left the deep waters. And she is stuck in the mud and slowly suffocating. Momentary relief from the odd Spiritual, watering can of a renewal conference cannot save her. Her only hope is to get back to deep water.”
This was the revelation the Lord had told me in the morning he was going to give me. The church is out of the deep and in the shallows – the river has become a pond and the pond a puddle. And she is straining to breathe, fighting for life.
The experience of Shacklteon in the Antartic when on a perilous journey over ice mountains he and his colleagues were aware of a strange accompanying presence:
Who is the third who always walks beside you? When I count there are only you and I together. But when I look ahead up the white road there is always another walking beside you.
There is always another walking beside you – the Lord inviting you to walk with me. Jesus walked along the Galilee shoreline and called people to him. Jesus walked to the disciples on the stormy sea and dispelled their lurking fears. Jesus walked to the mourners on the Emmaus Road and turned and set their hearts on fire.
Jesus walks alongside you and says, “Walk with me.”
The saintly Methodist leader John Fletcher of Madeley is said to have prayed at all times, regularly spending all night in prayer and when walking, greeting his friends he would ask the question, “Do I meet you praying?”
It is said the first sign of madness is talking to yourself – I suspect many might think I’m going mad for I always walk and talk to the Lord. But I often see people walking along the road, headphones in their ears, talking – I presume they’re on their phone. Why not put your headphones on, put some music on and walk and talk out loud to the Lord – cultivating a constant communication with Jesus.
Before his rise to stardom, the controversial artist Kanye West wrote a song titled “Jesus Walks.” It was about how Jesus walks with all kinds of people and is told from the perspective of a drug dealer contemplating God. Kanye West played it to many music executives, who all turned him down because it didn’t conform to the the accepted stereotypical form of rap, But Kanye knew Jesus walks with any and all whatever side of life they come from. Kanye’s mum, in her biography of her son, recalls one night when 300 teenagers gave their lives to Chrisy after an appeal when Jesu Walks was performed.
Jim Irwin who was one of only eight people to walk on the moon (at least at the time of writing). He went to space agnostic, but returned a passionate Christian, leaving NASA to start his own Christian mission. He stated:
The entire space achievement is put into proper perspective when one realises that God walking on the earth is more important than man walking on the moon. I believe that God walked on the earth 2,000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ.
One Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim, drawing on Jewish tradition and lore, suggested that the place Jesus was born was Bethlehem’s Migdal Eder, the tower which was used to watch over the special sacrificial flocks of the temple from birth to temple sacrifice. The tower had a table where ewes delivered the lambs which were then wrapped in swaddling strips. Edersheim offers several important connections:
Migdal Eder (literally ‘Tower of the Flock’) is mentioned in Genesis 35 as the place where Rachel died giving birth to a son, Benjamin. The name Benjamin means “Son of my Right Hand” but it wasn’t his original name. He was first called Ben-Oni meaning ‘Son of Sorrow’. So, there is a connection between Migdal Eder, Bethlehem and a child who is both a Sorrow’ and ‘Son of my Right Hand’.
Micah 4 establishes the expectation of a godly King intrinsically linked with Migdal Eder who would ultimately restore people and lead them victorious over evil. This Messianic figure would bring ultimate peace because he would establish among the nations.
According to Jewish writings, the shepherds of Bethlehem would tend the sheep for the temple sacrifices. In addition, it was said that when a lamb which met the requirements for the Passover sacrifice was born, the shepherd would wrap it in cloth and lay it in a feeding groove on the floor of Migdal Eder to prevent it from any harm.
Our materialist culture has turned, or perhaps it’s our materialist nature, has turned advent into adverts. Three years ago, on Christmas day in the UK, £1 billion was spent online shopping – on Christmas Day itself