Let me start with a question? Has anyone been to the cinema recently and watched a really good film; or if not the cinema has anyone seem anything really good on T.V.?  It strikes me that whatever Donald Trump thinks of Meryl Streep there are a lot of very talented actors out there, bringing a lot of really good stories to life.

Last Tuesday I was in London wearing my dog collar. I had arranged to meet my Spiritual Director at St. Paul’s. Whilst waiting for him I encountered hundreds of actors who were at St. Paul’s for the day for filming. A passer-by stopped me and asked whether I am ‘a real priest or an actor!’ I replied a real priest although I did make a bid, unsuccessfully, for a walk on part!

But, here is the interesting thing, through baptism as St. Paul suggests, we have all been cast to play our role in the story of God’s unfolding plan. The gospel tells us that the first characters to be cast by Jesus, the Director, were Andrew, Peter, John and James. Andrew, Peter, John and James were not big name stars, they were ordinary people, small people and very probably because they were fishermen smelly people! Yet, they were Jesus’ people, hand-picked and schooled in the story of real and transforming religion. Just as you and I have been hand-picked, baptised, grafted into the church whose only script is the salvation story. Our job is to carry on telling the story that the first apostles were schooled to tell.

Our script is the timeless script and, our story is the ultimate good news story, as St. Matthew declares. It is the story of salvation made possible through the cross as St. Paul insists in today’s reading. It is the story of liberation, freedom and increase in joy, as Isaiah stresses. It is the story that each one of us is asked to both inhabit and tell. And, the amazing thing is that we don’t need to be RADA trained! We need to do exactly what Andrew, Peter, James and John did: spend time with Jesus, learn from Jesus, believe in Jesus and His message, and then find our own way of telling the story in our daily lives.

Can we do it? In the words of Bob the Builder ‘Yes, we can.’ Amen

Rev’d Andrew Lightbown

Eucharist:

 

Happy New Year to you all! And, I hope that this year will be a fantastic year for the church in general and this church in particular. What better way can there be to celebrate the start of a new calendar year than with a double celebration, for today we celebrate the Epiphany and Hannah’s baptism.

 

The gospel reading we have just heard – the story of the Epiphany – or the revelation of Christ as Messiah reminds us that the world is a divided place. In one corner we find the powerful and strong; those who seek to gain power through domination and subjugation. In the other corner we find the baby Jesus whose adult mission and ministry is to be concerned with freedom from oppression, liberation and affirmation. King Herod and his modern day heirs exercise their power through fear. Jesus of course wants us to throw off all fear. The Epiphany presents us with a choice: fear versus freedom and asks us what it is to be. When we become Christians we accept the latter choice. Not that it is easy, for life will continue to place challenges in our way. The message of the Epiphany is simple: whatever life is placing in your way, know this, your ultimate security, in fact your destiny, is in Christ. If we accept Jesus as our saviour, our Messiah, then all we are asked to do is make the same journey as the wise men. We are asked simply to follow, to give of our best and to be obedient to God’s calling on our lives. In this way we too become wise. One of the ways, perhaps the most obvious way that we accept God’s call on our lives and claim the Epiphany for ourselves is through baptism. Tonight at Evensong I will invite everyone to consider and ritually renew their own baptismal commitments. This morning I am going to baptise Hannah. It feels so right and fitting to baptise on the feast of the Epiphany.

 

Rev’d Andrew Lightbown

 

‘First things first’ is an old fashioned phrase.  But, perhaps it is a phrase particularly apt for us this Christmas?

The natural order of things is certainly something John wants to impress on us; ‘in the beginning was the word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God.’ God is for John both the first and last Word, the Alpha and the Omega the beginning and the end. God is your ultimate destiny and, mine. And this is surely the very best of news, or the very best present we could possibly receive?

 

The birth of Jesus, the word, wisdom or logos ensures that God need not be simply an abstract character; A character we have to believe in through super human strength and mental gymnastics. God comes to us instead in flesh and blood. He comes to us in vulnerability and weakness. He comes to be among us, as one with us, and for us. He comes to us as flesh. This is one of the remarkable and defining characteristics of the Christian religion. God is not simply out there somewhere, he is down here.

And, he comes to us as pure gift. He is the ultimate present. And he is no mean gift. No, he is a shared gift, humanities gift. As the prophet Isaiah notes: ‘the Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.’ And, as John stresses ‘he was the true light, which enlightens everyone.’

 

The basic fact, or first principle, of Christmas is bound up in these two words: All and everyone.

There is no such thing as my God, only our God; yours and mine. Just as there is no such thing as ‘my communion,’ and only ever ‘our communion.’

Jesus, God made flesh, is our present, everyone’s present and that is what we celebrate and most importantly share at Christmas. This is why the Mid Night Mass is so important. The birth of Jesus slays the myth of crass individualism by insisting that God desires nothing more than to share himself among us. The fact that this is God’s desire reminds us that he loves each and everyone of us equally and wants us to live in peace and harmony with each other. Christmas invites us to see our neighbour, friends, relatives and fellow citizens of the world as special and equally beloved by God. The tragedy is that humanity so frequently fails to value and work for the common good. This Christmas let us pledge to renew our commitment to the common good.

 

So what are we to do with the Jesus present? Well the answer again is given by John we are invited simply to put our hands out and receive. We can’t save up for God, we can’t buy God on credit, all we can do is receive. The gift is freely given. That is the genius of Christmas; that is the wonder of Grace.

But, one thing that I would like to suggest is that we need to nurture and cherish the gift because if we do this we learn to appreciate the best Christmas present even more; the presents value increases. Again this is a remarkable thought. All of the other presents we receive this Christmas will deteriorate in value through use and enjoyment. But, not the gift of Jesus. The gift of Jesus grows in value as we cherish it and draw on it.

 

So this Christmas my invitation is staggeringly simple: Why not open up your heart to Jesus, and why not extend your hands to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, for if you do what you will be given is the very grace of God; and that is a present worth having and as importantly sharing.

 

Amen.