Epiphany: Ephesians 3, 1-12 & Matthew 2, 1-12
One of the ideas that has been mulling around in my mind for the last few weeks is the notion of travelling, or journeying; more specifically the idea that as Christians we perhaps ought to learn the art of travelling well.
As a nation I suspect we are not good at travelling well. We get irritated when we have to queue, or when the train is delayed, and when we are forced to sit in a traffic jam. We have probably all seen the worse excesses of road rage and it seems at least possible that some of us – not me of course – might have said the odd rude word when we are on the receiving end of someone else’s bad driving. And, what about car parks, has anyone here ever been just a little bit irritated by poor car park etiquette? Without wanting to excuse others poor driving, car park etiquette or the state of the railways I think we must also own up the fact that we also seem to be a nation that is perpetually in a hurry. We are simply not very good at travelling.
When I commuted into London each day on the train one of the things that I found most amazing, and it is something that I was personally guilty of, was the profound sense of irritation or disease people expressed when the rituals of travel were disrupted. The primary example of this is when people sat in the ‘wrong seat’ in the carriage. Believe it or not I have even seen people in churches develop a sense of anxiety and irritation when someone else sits in what they regard as their seat!
The feast of the epiphany challenges us to do two things: to re-learn the art of travelling well, and to do so alongside others; others who we wouldn’t necessarily chose to travel or share a compartment with. Epiphany asks us to consider the possibility that all of us are fellow and equal travellers. In Jesus’ economy first, business and standard compartments don’t exist. We travel with whoever it is we find ourselves alongside. In St. Paul’s language that is the ‘commission of God’s grace.’
Learning to travel or journey well requires spiritual ‘wisdom.’ Wisdom is the art of seeing as God would have us see, hearing as God would have us hear, feeling as God would have us feel, and worshipping as God would have us worship. The magi epitomise the art of travelling well. They follow the star, and we too need to look out for where God is already at work. This year why not ask God to give you eyes to see? They listen to, and then chose to ignore, Herod and in doing so take a massive risk. In and through Herod’s words of insincerity they hear they perceive the abuse of power. ‘Again why not ask God this year to give you ears to hear? On finding Jesus the Magi were ‘overwhelmed with joy,’ we too need to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with joy. Our response to Jesus should be a felt response. And finally the Magi give us a wonderful picture of what true worship looks like. Worship is best done from our knees in a spirit of true humility and where we offer back to God of our very best.
So my challenge, or invitation, to you, this year is to re-learn the art of travelling well. Travelling well requires developing a real sense of spiritual wisdom where wisdom is defined as seeing as God would have us see, hearing as God would have us hear, feeling as God would have us feel and worshipping as God would have us worship; together and alongside whoever God calls us to travel with.
May you travel well this year, Amen.
Sermon Midnight Mass: Isaiah 52, 7-!0 & John 14, 1-6
I love reading John’s prologue, in fact John is my favourite gospel. His prose is majestic. But, in some ways this is the problem with John. We can get lost in the beauty of the language. Whereas Mark has an immediacy and writes in what one of my tutors described as ‘estuary Greek,’ John is poetic.
And yet in the middle of the prologue we have just heard we read the line:
‘He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.’
The prologue, in all its majesty and beauty, contains within it a cold and cruel message of rejection and desolation and, in doing so offers a nuanced and gentle challenge: ‘will we accept him?’ The challenge isn’t offered blind, instead it comes with a promise, or guarantee, ‘but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.
Our Christmas challenge then is simply this: ‘will we choose to reject him or receive him?’
If our choice is to receive Him we must do so on His terms. And the good, or in Isaiah’s terms, ‘beautiful’ news is that his terms are somewhat easier and gentler than the conditions set by the conservative religious class of Jesus’ day.
The religious elite of Jesus’ day didn’t want a vulnerable God they wanted a strong, decisive and alpha God. They didn’t want their Messiah to appear as a baby, work as a carpenter and mix with all manner of folk. They didn’t want their Messiah to transcend civilized boundaries by befriending fishermen, women, Samaritans, publicans, Greeks and tax-collectors. They didn’t want their Messiah to go anywhere near women with gynaecological problems, epileptics or lepers; they were far too concerned with their purity codes and religious protocols. They had forgotten the straightforward message that God exists for all. They had actually thrown away their foundational Scripture with its instance that all of human-kind is made in the image of God (Genesis 1, 26).
So, when we talk of receiving or accepting Jesus what we are also talking about is our willingness to accept, relate to and include each other. Jesus came for all, so our only authentic response should be to welcome and include all in our festivities. To do otherwise is to commit the sin of trespass.
My hope, for the Church both the world wide church and the Church of England this Christmas is that in looking to Jesus as the Messiah we will follow in his footsteps, relating to others as he related to them. As I look around the world it is clear to me that the church needs to model a new way of behaving and relating. The world needs a more Christ-like mode of engaging.
The beauty and genius of the Christian faith is to be found in the simple fact that God cares for all, came for all and is, if you will excuse the terrible pun, the present for all, and that in a nutshell is the real meaning of John’s prologue!
So, in receiving Jesus this Christmas let us simply allow ourselves to be fascinated, challenged and inspired by His story, so that we, in the words of the prophet Isaiah may too be the sort of people who ‘announce peace,’ ‘bring good news’ and, with absolute integrity proclaim salvation’s song.
Sermon - Fourth Sunday of Advent (Christmas Eve): Luke 1, 26-38
Today we celebrate and reflect on the amazing story of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. One the delights that Advent brings is the opportunity to reflect on the part played by those involved in the narrative surrounding Jesus’ birth: Elizabeth, Zechariah, Joseph – the forgotten man of the gospels – and of course Mary.
In many ways we are all called on to learn and mimic these characters for they are not just biblical characters placed there by the gospel writers, and Luke in particular, to pad out the story, no, they are presented to us, given to us, as living icons.
From Elizabeth and Zechariah we learn the importance of righteousness; Godly living. From John the Baptist we learn that our role is to clear the path for Jesus and, of the centrality of repentance in the life of faith. Joseph has an awful lot to teach us about honour, dignity, fidelity and human kindness. He also has a lot to teach us men about women and their equal status in God’s kingdom. Can you imagine the ridicule that Joseph was probably subjected to by the religious elite of his day, simply for his support of his errant wife? And, what of Mary? What can we learn from her?
Trust, humility, fidelity, constancy and, perhaps above all else, the importance of saying yes to God.
Can you alongside Mary say: ‘here I am the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word?’
If we can, if like Mary we are open to the possibility that however nuts it might seem, we too might be God’s chosen vessel to be bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ, who knows what might happen? Well, God knows.
So in all the busyness of today can I simply encourage you to spend just a few minutes reflecting on the person of Mary, giving thanks for her life and witness and perhaps simply praying her words:
‘Here I am the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word?’
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