• Invitation

    What thoughts do you notice passing through your mind
    • As we begin this session of our retreat, start by becoming physically still. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to stand up, sit comfortably, or lie down; just take up a position in which you can be, for a few minutes, both relaxed and alert. Stay quietly there for a few moments as you begin to relax.
    • Now take time to notice what is going on inside yourself, in your mind and heart. What thoughts do you notice passing through your mind? What feelings are you aware of? As you take time to become more still, what do you find crowding your consciousness?
  • Stillness Exercise

    Spend some time peacefully observing all that is going on
    • As you stay with these thoughts and feelings for a few moments, notice how these thoughts ebb and flow like a river. Some, perhaps, seem more important and long-lasting. Others are simply fleeting impressions, come and gone quickly. For a little while, just continue to watch the movement of these thoughts and feelings as they pass through you.
    • Try and detach yourself from these feelings even more. You aren’t the swirling river of thoughts and emotions anymore; instead you are watching the river from a distance, watching the thoughts and feelings. Spend some time peacefully observing all that is going on, without the need to get immediately involved. So let the river of thoughts and feelings continue on their journey. Meanwhile, from your quiet point overlooking the stream, listen to a passage from Luke’s gospel, describing an incident in the early life of John the Baptist.
  • Scripture

    Luke 1: 57 – 66

    Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

    On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

  • Reflect

    Can you recall any time when you have reacted to God with fear and amazement
    • In this session of our Advent retreat, we look at three people who aren’t in Matthew’s list of the ancestors of Jesus. Zechariah, Elizabeth and John aren’t direct in the direct line that we have been tracing from Abraham onwards. They are instead relatives, and contemporaries, of Jesus and his mother Mary. Elizabeth had been thought to be incapable of having children. So the birth of her son is above all a cause of rejoicing for her and her friends and neighbours. Can you recall a time when you have shared the joy in the birth of a longed-for child?
    • John will be the one who prepares people to receive Jesus. We’re shown here God working powerfully from the first moment of his life. People react, we’re told, with amazement and fear. Can you recall any time when you yourself have reacted to God, and to the work of God, with fear and amazement?
  • Talking to the Lord

    God has been gracious
    • Names and the meaning of names are important to the bible writers. Zechariah is insistent that his child should be called John, a name bestowed by the angel that told him that he would soon be a father. The name John means “God has been gracious”. Can you apply that same idea, that God has indeed been gracious, to your own life? What evidence could you offer to support a claim like this?
    • At the end of this passage, people are asking themselves “What will this child become?” We know the rest of the story. He will baptise many, inviting them to turn away from their sins. He will recognise and make way for Jesus as one greater than he is. And he will fall foul of a king by his preaching, and suffer a martyr’s death in prison. What speaks to you most in the life and example of John the Baptist?
    • Speak for a moment now to Jesus about his cousin John, and what John’s life means to you from what you have experienced in this prayer.