Tag Archives: Christmas

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

 

 

 

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – Joseph’s Story

Flight To Egypt

Flight To Egypt

This is the last in a series of four meditations for Christmastide. I hope you have enjoyed reading them

Joseph sat under the welcome shade of the sycamore trees. Mary, his wife and their child also rested nearby. He could see his son chattering away to his mother, who was doing her best to answer his inquisitive questions.

His son? He knew that wasn’t strictly true, according to nature’s law; too much had happened over the last two or three years to make him only too aware of that fact; but the truth was he felt it was now his responsibility to fulfil a father’s role.

The last time they had been on a journey like this Mary had been expecting their first-born any day; the child that now played happily at his mother’s feet. Her latest pregnancy wasn’t obvious yet, still it was hard to have to travel in such conditions. However, circumstances meant that they had become refugees – putting themselves into self-imposed exile, heading towards a land where their ancestors had been treated like slaves.

Joseph knew it was for the best. The vivid dream, warning him of death and despair, had prompted their hurried departure from Bethlehem. Even now, from such a great distance, there were stories exchanged between fellow travellers and the camel trains they passed, telling of King Herod’s murderous slaughter of thousands of innocent children – death on the whim of an egotistical maniac with an inferiority complex

After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.” Matthew 2:13

It was as if a dark shroud of mourning was descending on the land; a palpable wail of inconsolable sorrow rising up. What sort of world was this going to be to raise children in?

Hopefully, though, his family was safe now, only one more day till the border crossing and that was merely a desolate rocky outcrop in the Wilderness of Egypt. He’d bought them as far south as he dared, but after crossing they would have to make their way north-west in order to find villages and towns where he might earn his trade as a carpenter. He was grateful for that at least, for who knew when they might be able to return.

The strange gifts they’d been given, by those unexpected visitors, might be of value if their lives depended on it, but somehow he’d couldn’t see Mary agreeing to part with them and who was he to treat such precious gifts so lightly. No, he would rely on his own skills, skills taught to him by his father and ones which he would pass on to his sons in the future, to give them a good chance to earn a decent living and start families of their own.

He looked up at a sudden burst of laughter, and watched as his son ran smiling towards him with his arms open wide.

“Aba, Aba. We have to go – let’s get on our way!”

Joseph scooped him up into his arms and walked back to where his wife was sitting; gently helping her to her feet. Setting his son down, both he and Mary prepared to follow Jesus as he hastened on a little way ahead, leading them towards their new life.

He Qi, Nativity - The Flight Into Egypt

He Qi, Nativity – The Flight Into Egypt

*Sycamore Trees have been cultivated since ancient times. The Pharaohs of Egypt called them Nehet. The oldest sycamore tree is in El Matariya, Egypt and is known as the Virgin Mary Tree.

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – Mary’s Story

Mary and Child

Mary and Child

The day had been long and arduous, whether walking slowly along the dusty, gritty road or bumping along on the ass’ back; each step jolting the baby she carried inside her, as she gripped tightly onto the beast’s mane.

The town had looked such a welcome relief as they’d approached it, but it had soon become evident as they pushed and jostled their way through the narrow streets that they had arrived too late to find the comfortable guest house with its cool whitewashed walls and decent bed on which to rest.

Instead, “No vacancies, we’re full up!”

She had tried to smile as her husband looked apologetic, but he was determined to find them somewhere to stay. The last place they tried looked less appealing, a little shabby, but by then they were desperate; the baby was stirring inside her. The owner, must have sensed their anxiety as he led them down to the only room he had for them….among the animal stalls! Still there was plenty of clean straw and hay, and when her husband lit the oil lamp its glow had seemed to bring a tiny feeling of warmth to the room.

As darkness fell, she had tried to get some sleep, but it seemed to elude her tonight. She lay listening to the snuffling and soft breathing of the animals; a shaft of moonlight fell onto the earthen floor through a chink in the roof, and tiny motes of dust made it seem alive in the otherwise still air – there was a feeling of expectancy, not least from the child that moved more urgently in her womb. Through the open door she could see what seemed a million stars in the heavens, under which the rest of the world slept in deep oblivion of the future.

She felt the first sharp pain, but waited to wake her sleeping husband until she knew the birth rhythms were regularly and imminent. “The baby’s coming…”

Afterwards, as she wrapped the child in the swaddling cloths she had brought with them, she gazed down at him, cradled in her arms, and felt such an overwhelming sensation of love, that it made her whole body tingle, dissipating completely the few lingering pains of childbirth. She looked up to her husband, wondering what his thoughts were now that the child was here, but she saw only love and an unconditional acceptance, that here was a son; whom he would nurture and raise as best he could, A carpenter’s son or maybe he would choose another calling?

The baby, now content with a breastful of milk, lay quietly. He too held his mother regard as she scrutinized her perfect new-born infant and as their eyes met, she gasped slightly as she glimpsed briefly within them an ancient wisdom that spoke of creation and new worlds. Rocking him gently, she sang a lullaby “Let all creation join my song, for peace and love are born…” which stilled not only her own mind but that of the creatures around her.

“A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23

Outside, Bethlehem and the rest of the world was beginning to awake as the dawn broke. As she laid him in a manger of sweet smelling hay she spent a while pondering the future, wanting this hushed moment of peace to last for ever, but somehow knowing that it would not last…

… at least not in her or perhaps her son’s lifetime. Maybe eventually though it just might….

Bethlehem Wall Graffiti by Pawel Rzyzawa

Bethlehem Wall Graffiti by Pawel Rzyzawa

With every blessing for peace this Christmas!

“Let all creation join my song, for peace and love are born” are lyrics from ‘Mary’s Lullaby’ by Jan Underwood Pinborough

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