Tag Archives: glory

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 – The Shepherd’s Story

A Thousand Angels

A Thousand, Thousand Angels

Jonathan shivered and pulled the camel hair aba more tightly around his shoulders. It was still fairly mild for the time of year, but he knew that these clear skies would soon bring bitter, frosty nights. Tonight though, the stars seemed to be vying to outshine each other as they twinkled brightly overhead and the moon, a silver crescent, hung low in the sky westward.

They had been gradually leading the sheep down from the hills into the valley’s pasture, and the limestone cliffs at their back were providing some welcome relief from the dusty winds that had been blowing hard. He was grateful in some ways that the size of the flock meant that they could not all be gathered into the sheepfold around the Migdal Edar* but had instead been allowed to graze the cleared harvest fields; nibbling a few remnants that the gleaners had missed.

Anyway, he didn’t really like going into the town; they were forbidden from going into the synagogue and the people in the streets stared at them and often moved aside as if they were unclean – like lepers! No doubt they did smell a bit, but who wouldn’t after being surrounded by sheep all day. But it was more than that – they wanted to keep him out of God’s house, but he was pretty certain that God heard his prayers anyway.

Still, the town looked very peaceful and it’s residents no doubt dreaming as they slept in their comfortable beds. He looked over at his younger brother Caleb, laid on his back with his eyes closed, gently snoring… some shepherd he was at keeping watch! Yet he knew that at the first sign of danger he’d be up and ready to use his sling to defend the sheep. He’d let him sleep for a while longer as it had been a hard couple of days for his new apprentice.

Jonathan shifted his body slightly to look down the hill. It was uncomfortable sitting on the hard ground; maybe he’d take a stroll in a minute to talk to some of the other shepherds he could see sitting in small groups. He was just about to rise when the whole world disappeared – his eyes were open but a blinding flash had taken away his night vision. Then a clear melodic voice spoke somewhere above his head telling him not to be afraid. Without seeing him, he could feel Caleb clutching his arm.

The voice continued to speak, and by shielding his eyes he could just make out the hazy shape of a man surrounded by a halo of light, who seemed to be hovering above the field. The few words he caught were of ‘good news’ and of ‘a Saviour being born in David’s town’…… Bethlehem!  After he had spoken, the angel, for Jonathan was certain that’s who the figure was, appeared to expand, but then he realised that he had been joined by a whole host and that the entire sky was lit up as if it was daylight. Their ethereal song was full of praise and glory to God; of peace and goodwill.

As the last heavenly notes faded into the air, Jonathan realised that dawn was breaking and he got up and hurried with Caleb over to the other shepherds who were equally amazed. Wordlessly, they all made their way into the town, a few of the sheep and lambs bleating as they followed their shepherds. Without obvious direction, they found the open door of what appeared to be an animal enclosure, from which the faint glow of an oil lamp could be seen.

Looking inside they could see two people bending over what appeared to be a hay manger. The man looked up, slightly startled; then beckoned them to enter. Humbly, they made their way in and in the makeshift crib, Jonathan could see a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, he gazed down at the child, still speechless. Meanwhile Caleb had squirmed his way through to the front and now put his hand out to touch the baby. Jonathan went to stop him, but the child’s mother nodded and smiled, and the infant reached out to grasp Caleb’s proffered finger.

The older shepherds began to tell the story of what had happened in the fields and why they had come. The man seemed to think it incredulous, but the baby’s mother, perhaps already aware of how special this child was, listened to all they had to say and pondered their words.

Afterwards, Jonathan and the others made their way back to their temporarily abandoned flocks, but what to do with the news of all that had happened that night? Who could they tell and who would believe them? Certainly not the rabbis or synagogue leaders. He, stood still for a moment to think, ‘We may be the despised guardians of the Pascal lambs but maybe we have just seen a new kind of shepherd who will lead us beyond the Temple sacrifices – a true shepherd of the sheep’

Then he turned  and ran to catch up with Caleb, who was already striding across the field. Right now these sheep needed him, and as he called out to them they answered with baas and mehs as they recognised his voice.

Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) by  Francisco de Zurbaran

Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) by Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664)

While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground; the angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around. “Fear not!” said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled minds, “Glad tidings of great joy I bring to all of humankind. To you, in David’s town, this day is born of David’s line a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, and this shall be the sign. The heavenly babe you there shall find to human view displayed, all meanly wrapped in swathing bands, and in a manger laid.” Thus spake the seraph and forthwith appeared a shining throng of angels praising God on high, who thus addressed their song, “All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace; goodwill henceforth from heaven to earth begin and never cease!” Nahum Tate (1652-1715) based on Luke 2:8-14

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*Migdal Edar literally means ‘Tower of Eder’ or ‘Tower of the Flock’ in Hebrew. Biblical records locate it near to the present day city of Bethlehem. It is mentioned in Genesis 35:21 and scholars interpret a passage in Micah 4:8 as a prophecy indicating that the Messiah would be revealed from the ‘tower of the flock’

Madiba – A Light For The World

African Trinity

African Trinity

Nelson Mandela 1918 – 2013

This small tribute that I wish to pay to Nelson Mandela will without doubt be just one amongst millions. Unlike the news of his passing it will probably only reach a handful of people; but somehow a man that few of us have met or claim to have known personally, except through the media, became part of our lives and his loss means we are the poorer for it.

His is a rare breed, a true child of God, whose faith was the bedrock on which he based his life. Who saw ways of dealing with the world, not with hatred and a desire to extract maximum retribution for the events in his life, but who took love and made it the measure by which he weighed up his actions both on the personal and political stage.

He undoubtedly prevented a bloody civil war from breaking out in South Africa in the 1990’s with his message of truth and reconciliation, which paved the way for a far-reaching constitution that dismantled apartheid and guaranteed freedom for all; regardless of whether your skin was black or white or any hue in between. He valued the person not the persona; the genuine not the gender; the true of heart not the heartless.

The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a small step.” —Chinese Proverb.

As his book title ‘Long Walk to Freedom‘ suggests, his journey was long and arduous at times. The fact that he continued to do all he could to bring about freedom for the people of South Africa, even whilst imprisoned for many years, shows that his vision was not diminished and his first step back into the outside world turned that walk into a joyful race in which the prize was not only won for Africa, but for the whole world.

You know that many runners enter a race, and only one of them wins the prize. So run to win!
1 Corinthians 9:24

We are called to be lights to the world, and with the passing of Nelson Mandela many may say that a light has gone and the world is a darker place for it. I believe that his light has ignited a flame that will shine in the lives of millions of people now and for eternity. God speed Madiba and rest now in glory.