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?’
3rd December - Advent Sunday- 1 Corinthians 1, 3-9 & Mark 13, 24-end
My worst experience with someone remaining awake was when Lilly, aged about two, stayed awake and screamed her head off all the way from the Pear Tree roundabout to Rock, in Cornwall. When we arrived at the end of the drive at the house where we were staying she promptly fell fast asleep. Should we wake or not then became the great parental dilemma. I think, despite all temptations to wake her, we let her sleep!
In Advent, or through Advent, we are invited to heighten our senses so that we are fully ready to receive our Lord at Christmas. Advent invites us to do many things. I would like to pick out three. We are invited to watch, to wait and to prepare.
One of the peculiarities of Christian ministry is that you end up doing a lot of watching, waiting and preparing. Waiting, watching and preparing takes place every time I work with a family who are anticipating a death. It also happens every time I work with a couple preparing for marriage of for the baptism of their child. I do an awful lot of watching, waiting and preparing. Sometimes its joyous, but often painful.
During Advent you are all invited to minister to yourselves as you watch, wait and prepare for Christmas.
Let’s start with watching: Advent is one of the church’s two penitential seasons. The other is Lent. In Advent and Lent the church asks us to review the state of our own hearts and consider where we fall short. Are we carrying deep within unresolved pains? Do we pander to our petty resentments? Are there any relationships in need of repair? Can I encourage you to think on these things this Advent.
Waiting can sometimes be a highly frustrating process. Learning to wait well is a profoundly counter-cultural virtue. Yet for Christians, waiting well is a vital skill. Waiting well, I think, has two dimensions to it: remembrance and hope. Remembrance involves looking backwards and seeing that which God has already done and giving thanks for the tough times he has brought us through. Hope implies looking ahead in the anticipation of something better to come. In Advent that better thing is Christmas, and in Lent it is Easter. Incarnation and resurrection. So this Advent can I also encourage you to learn the art of waiting well; remembering with gratitude and anticipating with hope.
Finally, preparing. For me preparing implies consciously thinking, but more importantly praying, in advance of the event to come: Christmas.
When we watch, wait and prepare we become the sort of people who are alert, or in spiritual terms alive. In the epistle St. Paul uses the word ‘revealing.’ Watching, waiting, preparing and praying I would want to suggest are the spiritual means through which the glory of the Lord is revealed. If we learn to watch, wait, prepare and pray, we will have a wonderful Christmas when it comes.
This year we have produced a daily pray card for use in Advent. It can be used either in the morning or the evening. It is designed to help you minister to yourselves, to keep watch over yourselves and wait in a spirit of anticipation as you prepare for that ‘happy morn.’ Please do take one with you at the end of the service and use it each and every day as you watch, wait and prepare for Christmas, Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
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