Tag Archives: Advent

A Glimpse of Heaven’s Glory

the-heavens-are-telling-the-glory-of-god

Based on the following readings: Luke 2:1-14 and Isaiah 9:2-7

Another Christmas and what a wonderful time this Advent and lead up to Christmas has been this year. Over the last few weeks at St James’ we have shared the nativity story with various groups of pre-school children; carolled our way through several nursing homes; taken part in a sheep-filled Knitivity before the culmination of Christmas Eve Crib and Christingle services and the pinnacle of Midnight Mass. It was my privilege to be able to preach at this first service of Christmas on what was a very special night…

Make I speak and may you hear through the grace of the Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

How’s everyone’s Christmas going? Got everything prepared?  –  I hope so, because you know gentlemen, I think even the late night petrol stations are closed now… But, of course you’re all prepared, and what better way to begin our Christmas Day celebrations [looking at watch] – well it’s not quite morning yet but it will be by the time I stop talking – than to gather here together to hear again the timeless story of Jesus’ birth. And there is something rather special about being here, at this time and in this place, and you must admit that the church does look rather wonderful, full of light and mystery.

However busy we’ve been, all the rushing around trying to find the perfect presents; making sure we’ve stocked up on plenty of food and drink; and those little treats we can indulge ourselves with; despite all of that, something calls to us to take a moment, this moment, to remember what Christmas is really all about. We hear the story of a young teenage woman about to give birth; the reluctant fiancé whose done the right thing; the outcasts and rejected members of society in the persons of the shepherds privileged to hear the good news first… of a baby born in an animal shed, yet destined to change the world… all heralded by angelic messengers descending – to bring heaven so tantalising close to earth.

Tonight we’ve come together in what I believe the Celts would have called ‘a thin place’. They had a saying that ‘heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller’. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. Perhaps that’s why we’re here tonight, hoping to catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

Indeed, there’s something about that story that seems to call to something deep within us, to draw us in so that just for a while we believe that all will be well with the world. A story that speaks of things so long ago and so far away and what wouldn’t we give for it to be happening right now; maybe like me you sometimes, just sometimes, wonder why it  doesn’t appear to be doing so nowadays. After all it’s good news of great joy for all people.

“”I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”

What then was that good news that the angels spoke of to the shepherds, and how is it good news for us today?  Because let’s be honest, the news that’s beamed into our homes and phones and splashed across the newspapers doesn’t exactly fill us with confidence and hope that humanity has a common goal of seeking respect, harmony and love.

Respect, harmony and love, three key element of Jesus’ message for the world into which he was born…  and the world in which we live today; a message that is good news for us but also requires us to be good news to others; a message that allows us to glimpse heaven’s glory.

For Mary and Joseph their lives had been turned upside down and the baby that was now sleeping in the manger brought them joy as any new-born child would, despite the distance they had travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the circumstances they found themselves in. Yet the fact is within two years they would be fleeing for their lives, trying to keep one step ahead of Herod’s henchman who would indiscriminately slaughter thousands of innocent children and bring misery to countless families; families who likes Joseph’s were valuable member of society, and who now had to rely on the country to which they fled to offer them security and compassion, to recognise and respect who they were.

Sounds a bit like a scenario that’s been happening around the world more and more lately? That even today there are people having to flee from their homes, seeking that same sort of asylum, escaping from violence and conflict. Do we recognised their value and treat them with respect? How do we welcome the stranger and alien in our land or into our homes? Do they hear good news from us?

So tonight, on this special night, it would be good to remember all those who are far from the country of their birth, who are missing the comfort of their own home and their families, and pray that with our help they too can envisage a future that allows them and us to catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

We hear too in the story that the birth of Jesus was a herald of peace on earth and our reading from Isaiah confirms that the one who was coming would be known as the Prince of Peace. It was a peace that would come about not only through meekness and tolerance but through seeking justice and reconciliation in a land dominated by a foreign power and then through the ultimate sacrifice.

“Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”

Most recently I believe we too are weary of a world in which violence and hatred seems to dominate, where mistrust and selfish power struggles offers discord rather than harmony, where acts of violence leave men, women and children in fear for their lives. How it jars with Jesus’ message of peace and how we so often feel powerless to do anything to bring about that peace?

Surely though it just needs to start with us, to be at peace with ourselves, our families and our neighbours, to reject hatred and discrimination and to stamp on injustice. So tonight, on this special night, let us be resolved to seek everything that speaks of harmony rather than conflict, not just in words, but in actions, so that we and the whole world might catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory.

Back to the story then; those shepherds were just the first example of Jesus’ determination that every single person would be valued, respected and loved. Throughout his ministry he actively sought out the poor, the homeless, the excluded – those rejected by a society that saw them as failures, inconveniences, worthless. He didn’t treat them as charity cases or patronise them in order to make himself feel better – he genuinely loved them. And he calls us to do the same.

Not just to love those who are lovable but those whom we consider unlovable. It’s too easy to create exclusive groups around us rather than to love inclusively. Perhaps though tonight, on this special night we can determine to open our hearts to love, to receive love and to give love so that all may catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

As I said earlier, tonight we hear again in the Christmas story those three key elements of Jesus’ message for the world – respect, harmony and love, but there’s one more important thing that Jesus’ birth has to offer us – his death. It wasn’t until just over 300 year after his death that Christians began to remember and celebrate his birth. Up until then the good news had centred on the message of the cross.

A message of forgiveness, redemption and salvation for the world as a whole and for us as individuals; but we do recognise that as part of the Christmas message as well. When, later on we come to sing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ the last verse has these words, “Born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons (and daughters of cause) of earth, born to give them second birth”. So tonight, on this special night, we can believe that heaven really has come close to give us a glimpse of heaven’s glory.

“…born to give them second birth”

 

But the truth is we can’t just leave it there – the Christmas story cannot be just that, a story in history. You may have come this evening because it’s simply part of a family tradition, or maybe you’ve been coming for years, or perhaps you haven’t been for a while – and that’s okay, all are welcome here… or maybe something stirs deep within and calls to a discovery that his story is also your story, my story, our story.

 

Isaiah prophesied all those years ago that ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.’ Tonight, on this special night, we can be certain that that light still shines brightly, dispelling the darkness and allowing us all a glimpse of heaven’s glory.

 

Love came down at Christmas, and may that same love come down and enter our hearts both tonight, this morning and for evermore. Amen

love-came-down

 

 

 

How Far Can We Trust God?

Trust blog

How far can we trust God?

Our readings for Evensong on the second Sunday in Advent bring us the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and his encounter with Gabriel in the Temple sanctuary. It gives us Luke’s introduction of how God’s divine plan is about to unfold…

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11Luke 1:1-25

May I speak and may you hear in the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This evening our gospel reading leads us further into our Advent preparations and on this second Sunday of Advent we are reminded of the work of the prophets, and in particular we remember John the Baptist who stands as a link between the Old and New Testament. However, this evening it is not directly about John, but his parents, especially his father’s pre-conceptual reaction to the news of his divinely ordained fatherhood.

It is with this story that Luke begins his gospel and being the historian he is he is at pains to include in his dedication the care he is taking to make sure that we have an orderly and accurate account. He doesn’t set out Jesus’ ancestral claims like Matthew does; or the symbolic prose of John, or even start with John, the adult baptiser, appearing in the wilderness to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy as in Mark’s gospel. No, Luke wants to start with a story of how people reacted to God’s preparations for the gift of his Son to the world. So, what does it tell us and how might we learn about our reactions from it?

We are introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth, chosen by God to play an important role in Jesus’ story. I think we can safely say that neither of them were lukewarm nominal believers. Their credentials meant that they were righteous in the sight of God. Zechariah serving as a priest in the order of Abijah, which can be translated as ‘my Father is Yahweh’, and Elizabeth claiming descendancy from Aaron, God’s original high priest at the time of the Exodus. They walked blamelessly and observed all the commandments. In other words, they were obedient servants of God. Yet, for Zechariah there was an area in his life that resulted in some trust issues.

We can imagine that for a long time they had tried hard to conceive a child and had prayed to God about it, but no doubt as they grew older they had given up hope that it was likely to happen. So it is fairly reasonable that when Zechariah, alone in the sanctuary and terrified at the sudden appearance of an angel, is told that not only is he going to be a father, but that his child will play a pivotal role in proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah, that his first response is, ‘Are you sure? What proof can you offer for this?’

‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’
Luke 1:18

He was confronted with a situation that required faith and trust. The faith bit he had in abundance but the trust was not so easy. Very often we too can face a lack of trust where God is concerned. It seems that we are happy to accept that love underpins our motivation to seek God and to follow his example but trust is harder to pin down. Often this difficulty has to do with our past experiences and our present situations. As humans our fall-back position is to initiate our self-reliance mode. It’s a primitive response to protect ourselves from perceived harm, thinking that we only have ourselves to rely on to get out of trouble

It can also be difficult to imagine stepping out of our comfort zones, but we have to remember that nothing is impossible with God, not even in areas where we have experienced nothing but failure, disappointments and frustration. We have to trust he is there to catch us when we fall and to uphold us as we move forward. It may be that we are holding back that trust because we are happy and comfortable to stay exactly where we are; but this can lead to stagnation; our faith never gets an opportunity to mature, or for our relationship with God to grow stronger as we grow closer to him.

God knows all things; he knows our hearts, our desire to be committed to him and sometimes our desire to be rebellious. But we have to be prepared to take the first necessary step to trust him in each area of our life. Take that step, then another and then the next one. This is the way to grow our faith in God, one step at a time… and how much easier is it as well to take those steps in the company of others, to be encouraged and to encourage each other. Because the more we hand over our lives to God and trust in him the more we can be freer to become the people that God is calling us to be.

With regard to Zechariah’s enforced silence following his lack of trust, I would not see this as a punishment for a lack of faith rather an opportunity for Zechariah to have space for reflection. If we fast forward to his son’s birth, we know that he had become reconciled to leaving things in God’s hands, for his first actions on having his speech restored to him was to speak in praise of God and to leave people amazed at just what his son was to become

We know he was to be ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ but we also know that we too can be responsible to make this happen in our own lives. From Proverbs 3 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.’

So, this Advent let us all be prepared to step away from self-reliance and instead step forward in faith and trust.

Amen

zechariah window

Zechariah and Gabriel at the incense altar in the Temple

He Sang A Love Song To The Earth

Advent Wreath blog

The watching and waiting are nearly over

As Advent draws to a close and the Advent calendar chocolates are nearly all eaten, we approach the climax to our Christmastide celebrations. We’ve watched and we’ve waited… for what?

  • We’ve watched as greed and consumerism cheapens the meaning of a gift.
  • We’ve waited to hear the Good News amongst the stories of abuse and exploitation.
  • We’ve watched as helpless innocents are slaughtered by false religion.
  • We’ve waited to hear the angels sing above the cacophony of self-interest.
An almost emptly Advent calendar

An almost emptly Advent calendar

These are certainly not the things we still watch and wait for; they’re the result of ignoring the very thing that was revealed so many years in a message of love and hope for the whole world. For somewhere out there in the darkness, a child was assuredly being born to a surrogate mother; his paternity in question; his homelife unsecure and his future seemingly uncertain; and yet his message was simple… love God; love yourself; love each other. Only then will we truly be able to celebrate Christmas for what it really is.

 He Sang A Love Song To The Earth

He sang a love song to the earth,
and the seraphim in joyous trembling
heard words so sweet and clear;
as in radiant host they swept the skies
to bring good news to a waiting world
that lay so dark and drear.

Within a shroud of blackest night,
pierced by a woman’s cry,
an infant babe, slipped into life;
the godhead veiled in flesh.
and darkness swaying mesmerised,
retreated from the dazzling light.

Yet still among the silent streets
rang out creation’s babel sounds;
deafening those who strained to hear
the messengers divine; who joined
the lullaby his mother sang,
now echoing through the air

Do we, like them, refuse to hear
its simple melody. A song of peace,
a song of joy; if we could only see
the human face behind our fears,
the love amidst the hate;
the Christ child born in everyone
His song to set us free.

angels_song

The Angels Echoing The Song

Wishing you all a Joyous, Peaceful and Blessed Christmas!

Watching and Waiting

Signs of Advent

Signs of Advent

At this time of year, in the lead up to the Christmas celebrations, we spend a great deal of time watching and waiting. What is it though that we are watching and waiting for? Is it for the first sign that Christmas is coming? In that case our watching should have started in September, when the first packs of mince pies appeared in the shops! Maybe the earliest sign that we’re watching for is when, what has become an iconic Coca Cola advert, ‘Holidays are coming, holidays are coming….‘ appears on our television, as the twinkling lorry wends it’s merry way to bring cheer and healthy profits for its stockholders – perhaps the waiting is over when we’ve seen that?

On the other hand we might be watching our credit card groaning under the increase in spending as we are tempted to celebrate the season by purchasing an excessive amount of presents to show our friends and relatives just how much we really love them…… Maybe though, we won’t be waiting for the bill to flop onto our doormat and realise that it will probably take a whole year, if not more to make the repayments – if only we hadn’t bought that one extra present that got put in the cupboard last year and might just do as a raffle prize next time someone asks for one!

Indulging in luxuries, wine, and rich food will never make you wealthy
Proverbs 21:7

What is it we are watching and waiting for? Are we watching our weight as the pounds pile on as we tuck into several Christmas party dinners and surreptitiously open the big box of chocolates that we were saving for Christmas – we can always get a replacement before the day. Or are we waiting for the sales that will start on Boxing Day, so that we can go and hunt out all those bargains… the credit card should just last till then… or maybe we could return that ‘delightful’ jumper that Auntie May bought us, then we can buy what we really want!!

Am I being a bit cynical, a bit ‘bah humbug’. I probably am, but I’m certainly not being holier than thou, because at some point or other I have done all of those things – except for returning the jumper Auntie May! For many people the real joy of Christmas will be doing all or some of these things – and there is love and joy and happiness in coming together, sharing, and giving and receiving gifts. For many of us though there will be a little bit of sadness that people won’t watch and wait for something considerably more important and certainly longer lasting than the use by date on the egg nog.

At church we have started a new year, with the season of Advent, The word Advent is an anglicised version of the Latin word adventus – meaning ‘coming’ – what then or who is coming? Well Christmas is coming (regardless of whether the geese are any fatter) and we will spend these next few weeks preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus to earth over 2000 years ago. But we’re not really watching and waiting for his birth – that’s already happened; and his resurrection means that we will not really be watching and waiting for his coming among us, because he’s already here in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What the watching and waiting will involve is a retelling of the ancient stories of a long awaited Messiah, through the visions of the prophets, the blessing of Mary who carried the Christ-child in her womb and the messengers, like John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus’ earthly mission. Perhaps more importantly we will once again be watching and waiting expectantly in preparation for Jesus’ Second Coming, as we put aside some of the excitement and spend some time being penitent and a little more thoughtful.

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return”
Matthew 25:13

In the meantime, we can also spend time doing some more watching and waiting…. Watching and waiting for opportunities, whether it’s time or money, to bring to all those around us, who for one reason or another may not have the same chances or opportunities to join in our celebrations, a feeling of hope for the future; and to show once again that Jesus really is the reason for the season!

May God bless us all this Advent

Watching and Waiting

Watching and Waiting