I wonder whether you have ever received a present that has changed everything for you? A present that has led you on a journey of discovery? A present that has stimulated a life-long interest, or fascination? For many boys of my generation – though not me – something like a Meccano set may have led to an interest in engineering. Or what about train sets and dolls houses? I suspect that many parents and grandparents thoroughly enjoy giving gifts to family members that they have enjoyed, and in reality still enjoy playing, or tinkering with, many years later. There is something about giving to someone else something that has enriched our lives.

 

My life changing present would be this: R.J. Unstead’s Children’s Encyclopdia of History. As a boy I loved delving into it. I really enjoyed learning about the events that have shaped our, British, history. But, in particular I enjoyed learning about the characters that have left an indelible mark on our history and culture. Through this book I developed a life long interest in understanding the events that shape people, and also how people shape events.  This book opened up a whole new world for me. In fact when I applied for my MA in Ministry and Theology I was asked to list five books that had shaped how I view the world. As I was training for priesthood I thought that I really ought to put the Bible at the top of the list. I nearly put the BCP at number two on my list, but was talked out of it by a friend who thought it a ‘little smarmy,’ and suggested that my interviewers might view it as an opportunity to ask a whole load of questions, that I would be completely unable to answer on the some of the more arcane services in the Prayer Book. So, Unstead’s masterpiece was given the ‘silver medal’ position.

 

I don’t think it is too big a claim to say that this book shaped how I read other texts, even sacred texts such as the Bible. You see I am far more interested in reading about and reflecting on the great biblical narratives and, the nature of the characters that bring these stories to life than I am in finding so called proof texts to validate any prejudices or dogmas that we might hold. It seems to me that religion goes very badly wrong when the latter approach is taken.

 

Christmas is of course a major event in the Christian story. And, Christmas invites us to reflect on the nature and character of Jesus. In the Christmas story we learn that ‘the word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.’ As we gaze upon the Babe of Bethlehem our task is to ‘see his glory.’ And yet the glory we are asked to see is presented in the most vulnerable of forms; a baby. Our task is to cherish the gift we have been given, and to become increasingly intrigued by the person, and character, of Christ.

 

The bible readings associated with Christmas give us plenty of insights into the character of Jesus. We learn that he is ‘the prince of peace,’ and from the Psalm that he will ‘judge the peoples with equity,’ we have heard that he came to be the ‘light that shines in the darkness.’ But tragically we also learn that even though he came ‘to what was his own, his people did not accept him;’ the greatest present ever given.

 

So as we receive the present of Christ himself, let us receive him both with grace and fascination. We need to accept him as a vulnerable child to be cherished, we need to reflect on his character, so that in the words of the Psalm we can ‘sing a new song to the Lord,’ and to ‘all the earth.’

 

Our invitation at Christmas is to receive the word made flesh and then to share the story of the word made flesh, in the sure and certain knowledge that should we do so righteousness, equity, truth and light will follow, and the world surely needs, more than ever, these most Christ characteristics. Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

Can I start with a question? Who is looking forward to opening their Christmas presents?

Well, I for one am! I hope I get a new jumper or cardigan, you see since getting ordained I have discovered a real love of knitware; strange but true. Oh, and I also hope I get given some chocolates; my mother normally buys me a jumbo sized box.

The great thing about chocolates is you get to share them (although I do carefully make sure that my favourites are protected!).

But, of course as Christians we believe that the very best present we receive is nothing other than the present of God himself in the person of Jesus. And, this present we should be truly excited by.

The present of Jesus, the Christ child, is utterly unique because it is humanities present. It can never be just my present, because it can only ever be our present. Strangely, unlike my box of chocolates, sharing in the present of Christ doesn’t mean me getting less. The more we share Jesus the bigger and better it gets. Jesus, you see defies the laws of economics, which state that scare resources when used get depleted; once again strange but true.

In the story we have just heard from Luke’s gospel, there was ‘no place for him in the inn.’ At Christmas we are invited to make room for Jesus, and to welcome Jesus, not just the historical Jesus, but the real and living Jesus, and after we have welcomed him we are asked to share him. We are asked to follow the example of the shepherds who when they saw the fragile and vulnerable Jesus lying in his manger ‘made known what had been told them about this child.’

I hope you enjoy today – Brussels and all – but can invite you at various times during the day to pause and to welcome Jesus into the midst of your festivities, to make sure there is room for him in your ‘inn.’ For if you do what you will be receiving, and sharing, is the greatest present ever given.

 

Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

Sermon - Sunday 6th December. Advent 2: Micah 3, 1-4, Philippians 1, 3-11 & Luke 3, 1-6

Have you ever had the experience of being asked to do something that you really, really, didn’t want to do? I have. I remember going on a ‘leadership course’ in the mid 1990’s near Hereford and being ‘made’ to go potholing. I cannot tell you how terrifying I found it. In the early 1990’s, 1993 I think, I did what was then the world’s highest bungee jump: 111 metres off the bridge over the Zambezi between Zimbabwe and Zambia. I didn’t find it exhilarating and I didn’t enjoy waiting two and half hours to do it. I only did it because Sallyanne wanted to!

 Often the Church asks us to do things we would prefer not to. I am not talking about things like selling yet more raffle tickets, but deep, and scary things, things like a commitment to ‘holiness’ and ‘evangelism.’ Despite the scariness inherent in the words themselves there can be little doubt that growth in holiness and, yes, numbers must be part of our collective rationale. We know this because today’s Advent readings tell us so.

Micah calls us to holiness: ‘for he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.’ John the Baptist, reminds us of the need to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to be evangelists, and to baptise new members into the Church.  Proclaiming the good news is not an optional Christian extra. It is obligatory. We can discuss how the good news is best proclaimed, but we cannot duck the imperative to do so.

Compared to my potholing and bungee jumping experiences are the pursuits of growth in holiness and numbers exercises in Christian heroism? Are they matters of mind over matter or will power? I think not, and I also think that the prophet Micah and St. Paul show us a better, less self-centred way.

Paul refers to the fact that he constantly prays with joy for the Christian community in Philippi. And what is he praying for? Holiness: ‘and this is my prayer that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced – and this is a key phrase – the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.’ So let’s make sure we pray, because prayer works! It is through prayer that we grow in first holiness and then in numbers as our love for each other and the world becomes contagious. If we don’t accept that prayer changes initially us, and then the world around us, why bother with it? Micah stresses this point; let’s look at the passage I have already read but with a different emphasis:

He is like refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; he will sit as refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.’ In our prayers we need to open the door to God and allow him to transform us from deep within; that’s all!

So let me finish with a question: ‘could we this Advent, through prayer, invite God to come amongst us as a ‘refiner’s fire,’ because if we can it will produce an unquantifiable harvest of righteousness, and that is an absolute promise.  Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown