Sunday, Epiphany 2

Collect

Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(or) **

Eternal Lord, our beginning and our end: bring us with the whole creation to your glory, hidden through past ages and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’ So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

1 Samuel 3:1–20

Psalm

1  O Lord, you have searched me out and known me; •

   you know my sitting down and my rising up;

      you discern my thoughts from afar.

2  You mark out my journeys and my resting place •

   and are acquainted with all my ways.

3  For there is not a word on my tongue, •

   but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

4  You encompass me behind and before •

   and lay your hand upon me.

5  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, •

   so high that I cannot attain it.

12  For you yourself created my inmost parts; •

   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13  I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; •

   marvellous are your works, my soul knows well.

14  My frame was not hidden from you, •

   when I was made in secret

      and woven in the depths of the earth.

15  Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished; •

   already in your book were all my members written,

16  As day by day they were fashioned •

   when as yet there was none of them.

17  How deep are your counsels to me, O God! •

   How great is the sum of them!

18  If I count them, they are more in number than the sand, •

   and at the end, I am still in your presence.

Psalm 139

Epistle

Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:

‘You are worthy to take the scroll

   and to open its seals,

for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God

   saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;

you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,

   and they will reign on earth.’

Revelation 5:1–10

Gospel

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

John 1:43–51

Sermon on Second Sunday after Epiphany

“The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” When do you think those days were? I think the story about Samuel could be told about anyone right here and now.

Whenever someone says that he or she has had a vision, don’t we all tell them to go back to sleep just as Eli did – at first. I think we do this to our friends and acquaintances time and again. There is nothing bitter and twisted about our lack of belief in what they are saying, only a revelation that we aren’t as good friends as we should be.

One of the ancient philosophers wrote a treatise called On Friendship, in which we can read about the great goodness of a true friend. The one thing I always remember is that a friend will always accept what you say, never judge you, but always talk with you about what you are saying to see whether there is truth in it. This, I think, is where our society has gone awry, for we certainly do not delve for truth in all our conversations and I wonder about people in calling them friends in that strict definition of the philosopher. Rather, we say that you can trust no one, and, even worse than that, is that we believe everyone lies purposely. Why is that? I don’t know but I think we certainly treat no one like a true friend.

Our time is full of difficulties and we are a little to selfish to speak to larger matters than whether someone is lying because they want something from us. – I remember being in Detroit with a friend at a local community centre. I was just myself and talking with a few children, as you do. It was a nice time, and later my friend told me that the kids didn’t know what to make of me because the only people who ever talked to them wanted something from them. No one ever talked with them for themselves. That was where I was different from everyone else they usually met in that city. Everyone had an angle they were running on the kids. However, I  was running no scam: I didn’t want anything from them. They did not know what to make of me. I suppose I wanted to be for those children that philosopher’s dispassionate and compassionate friend. I was willing to listen to them for their own sake.

That experience in Detroit encapsulates what I fear is the problem all around us. Everyone is trying to play some scam to “make a few bucks” or to “mess with your head.” Everyone does it, don’t we? So what do we do when our friend comes to tell us their vision? — Well, I think we should really talk about it. I think we both could learn something about each other if we could engage with the message of the vision. We both could learn. I would learn about your hopes and dreams, and I could learn about myself, about my own hopes and dreams as we talk about your vision. In this discussion you would learn about yourself and your place in the world because of your vision.

Isn’t this what happened with Samuel and Eli? Three times he asked Samuel to go back to sleep, but at the third, he realised that something else was happening, that the voice had to be heard for what it truly was, no longer the master to a slave, but the Lord of the universe was calling to him from the depths of space and time. It is up to Samuel to listen to that voice and up to Eli to help interpret the vision with Samuel for their own time. In other words, we have to encourage the other to listen to what they have encountered. We all need to take our perceptions seriously.

So, what are the visions we have? Some are little daydreams – how we would like to care for a loved one – some are revelatory – what we would like to do for the rest of our lives for the sake of the world. Our visions are statements of intent, aren’t they? Our visions focus us on a goal out there, sometimes they are really out there beyond our usual compass, but usually the goals of our visions are limited. We are not the world’s visionaries, are we? Rather, we would like to live our lives of desperation quietly, don’t we? We don’t want the trouble of the world beating their way to our door for our paltry insights into life and how to live.

But imagine if the words we have heard were like these which Samuel heard, “I am about to do something that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” Wouldn’t we rise and do what we have been asked? But, as I said, we don’t have those big things in our lives, do we? Or do we? Haven’t we heard the Word of God week in and week out? Haven’t we had those words tingle both of our ears?

I think we have – why else would we come here week after week? Our vision is one that must be shared, isn’t it? Why do we stand alone against the bulk of the population talking with one another about our hopes and fears? Who knows – perhaps they have heard something that has tingled both their ears. What should we do for those friends?

I think we should talk with them with that philosopher’s attitude, to learn about meaning with them through their visions. We should take them as seriously as we take ourselves – to discuss their hopes and fears out there in their world, just as we do with each other here in Church. Their hopes and fears out there in the world are just as real as our own here within the church’s sanctuary.

“Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me.’” Are these the words we ask our friends when they rise from their visions? Do we reply truthfully when our friends ask us about what we have seen?

The joke about answering whether these clothes make me look big is not without its point. How many times have we said, “Those clothes do nothing for you”? We cannot disappoint anyone, can we? Aren’t we just like the court around the emperor when he showed off his new clothes? We say nothing, and the vision the emperor has is faulty and may even harm someone. Is this what friends do for each other?

Let us be good friends. Let us speak with clarity and honesty with our friends. Let us be clear about our vision and share it with our friends, so that everyone will benefit.

Sometimes visions are extraordinary things – we see something others don’t. Speaking to Nathaniel. “Jesus said, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?’” If we talked with others, our visions could have a life of their own for people who will be true friends, and no one need be left out.

Amen

Epiphany

Collect

O God, who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may at last behold your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(or) **

Creator of the heavens, who led the Magi by a star to worship the Christ-child: guide and sustain us, that we may find our journey’s end in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

Arise, shine; for your light has come,

   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,

   and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

   and his glory will appear over you.

Nations shall come to your light,

   and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;

   they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from far away,

   and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant;

   your heart shall thrill and rejoice,

because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,

   the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you,

   the young camels of Midian and Ephah;

   all those from Sheba shall come.

They shall bring gold and frankincense,

   and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah 60:1–6 

Psalm 

 [

1  Give the king your judgements, O God, •

   and your righteousness to the son of a king.

2  Then shall he judge your people righteously •

   and your poor with justice.

3  May the mountains bring forth peace, •

   and the little hills righteousness for the people.

4  May he defend the poor among the people, •

   deliver the children of the needy and crush the oppressor.

5  May he live as long as the sun and moon endure, •

   from one generation to another.

6  May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, •

   like the showers that water the earth.

7  In his time shall righteousness flourish, •

   and abundance of peace

      till the moon shall be no more.

8  May his dominion extend from sea to sea •

   and from the River to the ends of the earth.

9  May his foes kneel before him •

   and his enemies lick the dust.

]

10  The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute; •

   the kings of Sheba and Seba shall bring gifts.

11  All kings shall fall down before him; •

   all nations shall do him service.

12  For he shall deliver the poor that cry out, •

   the needy and those who have no helper.

13  He shall have pity on the weak and poor; •

   he shall preserve the lives of the needy.

14  He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, •

   and dear shall their blood be in his sight.

15  Long may he live;

      unto him may be given gold from Sheba; •

   may prayer be made for him continually

      and may they bless him all the day long.

Psalm 72

Epistle

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Ephesians 3:1–12 

Gospel 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

   who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Matthew 2:1–12
Sermon on Epiphany

La nuit des trois rois” I learned this phrase from Pointless over the holiday. We heard that it meant Epiphany – Twelfth Night (yesterday, in fact, but the Church is celebrating this holy feast day today because this is the closest Sunday to the date).

We like the three kings, don’t we? I think we must because it has become the butt of childish humour. That carol’s outrageous substitute lyrics – like “smoking on a rubber cigar” – proves this point to me. But why do we like the kings?

Let’s look at the reading a little more closely. “Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem” – what a start to the story. Wise men are something about whom we know nothing. Who are these “magi”? They are completely outlandish characters in the course of this narrative, aren’t they? These strangers went straight to the king, Herod. Who would be that brazen today – to go to the head of state to ask what is actually that very private question, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ After all, this child should be well known to the current king of the Jews, don’t you think? Who should know the answer to this question, but the king himself? “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” Why should anyone be frightened at a new-born? The reason may lie in the fact that King Herod was a puppet-ruler: he was king in Jerusalem because the Romans appointed him to be so. The birth of another King of the Jews would upset everything, wouldn’t it? Herod would no longer hold sway and the Romans would want to subjugate this new king. Fear would be the first reaction in the ordinary world. Everyone is afraid that the world order would change – and everyone’s place in that new world would be up for grabs. No wonder everyone is frightened.

The star has guided these kings, these wise men, these men of mystery who can read the signs of the times – signs that no one else has noticed. The star has commanded the magi to make their way to Jerusalem. They have wound up in Jerusalem, not Rome, to ask their question about the new king. No wonder everyone is petrified. Imagine what the Romans would do if they heard about it!

In our everyday understanding, isn’t it a good thing that Herod secretly met with them? He had discovered the answer to their enquiry. The wisest of the Jews, the scribes, pharisees and priests of the temple, all agreed that they should pass on to another place, to Bethlehem, an obscure town in the countryside to find him. And the star helped as it continued to that other region to take its place there. By discretely answering their question Herod would not upset anyone, and he would quietly have intelligence about the new ruler in the region before the Romans did. Like all politicians, Herod was hedging his bets, he kept the new king in obscurity, but he also said, ‘Bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’

But we have to remember that we are dealing with a king who is anointed by God, which means all bets are off. Herod cannot hedge anything, can he? Herod is merely a Roman appointee, not really seen as part of a theocracy. God sets all our plans at nought, forcing us into his providence, a purpose human frailty can never comprehend. So whether we wager on this child or another in our human political lottery, we won’t necessarily win any jackpot, will we? Herod certainly did not. – When the magi sneaked away having given their gifts to the newborn child, Herod was wroth. In his anger, he began a progrom against the under-two-year-old-boy-children in his kingdom. Imagine that, a king murdering all boy children under two years old! This is the sort of thing which has happened all too often in human history, leaders have turned their faces against certain groups and the zealous have carried out wicked programs of slaughter. We need not go on about the fickle plans of human leaders, do we?

However, the three magi in their wisdom, in their appreciation of the divine, did go on to worship with joy, offering gold, frankincense and myrrh to this child whose star they followed right to the house where Jesus lay. And then they went home by another route, avoiding Jerusalem and all the bother Herod was stirring up in the meantime.

I think we can see these three men with their gifts and prognostication as trouble-makers. They came in, stirred up the palace, the temple and the streets with their question about a new king, then they scuttled off home, never to be heard from again. No wonder everyone was afraid in Jerusalem – They were all waiting for the jackboot of tyrannical oppression belonging to a conquering army to come crashing down on their necks. Rulers of that period were not known for sweet reasonableness, never mind the soldiers doing the bidding of a ruthless regime. The three men of our story avoided the consequences of the questions they asked on their way to Bethlehem by taking another route home.

“They were overwhelmed with joy” St Matthew tells us about these wise men who came from the East. Because they were migrant holy men, they could do what they wished – come to Jerusalem, ask questions about a new king, stir up the palace, and go submit themselves to the new king. No wonder Herod was mad. What is a fellow to do? – We know now that we should not do as Herod did. He has never had a good word said about him, has he? What good word will be said about us if we do not go to the child born at Christmass?

The night of the three kings – their story of the quest to find Jesus on his natal night inspires us every Epiphany, doesn’t it? They may have been a little late, but they did finally come to his side, just like we do every Christmass, to worship with joy.

I want us to live this story in our own lives today. We need to look into our world to see that star shining to guide us to our Lord and Saviour. There in the bleak midwinter we will lay our very selves as homage. The hopes and fears of all the years will be met in the person of our new-born king. There in that child who will give himself over to death on a cross just for me – just for each and every one of us – so I will become myself. I will surrender to Jesus and become free. I will offer up the most dear of my possessions in humility and joy because the world has been overthrown and I have no fear. I will live a life of fullness. Isn’t this what Bishop Rachel’s call for “LIFE” is all about?

Amen

Christmass Day

Collect

Almighty God, you have given us your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(or)

Lord Jesus Christ, your birth at Bethlehem draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth: accept our heartfelt praise as we worship you, our Saviour and our eternal God.

Readings

Old Testament

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.

You have multiplied the nation,

   you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

   as with joy at the harvest,

   as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden,

   and the bar across their shoulders,

   the rod of their oppressor,

   you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For all the boots of the tramping warriors

   and all the garments rolled in blood

   shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us,

   a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

   and he is named

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,

   and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.

   He will establish and uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

   from this time onwards and for evermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:2–7 

Psalm 

1  Sing to the Lord a new song; •

   sing to the Lord, all the earth.

2  Sing to the Lord and bless his name; •

   tell out his salvation from day to day.

3  Declare his glory among the nations •

   and his wonders among all peoples.

4  For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; •

   he is more to be feared than all gods.

5  For all the gods of the nations are but idols; •

   it is the Lord who made the heavens.

6  Honour and majesty are before him; •

   power and splendour are in his sanctuary.

7  Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; •

   ascribe to the Lord honour and strength.

8  Ascribe to the Lord the honour due to his name; •

   bring offerings and come into his courts.

9  O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; •

   let the whole earth tremble before him.

10  Tell it out among the nations that the Lord is king. •

   He has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;

      he will judge the peoples with equity.

11  Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad; •

   let the sea thunder and all that is in it;

12  Let the fields be joyful and all that is in them; •

   let all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord.

13  For he comes, he comes to judge the earth; •

   with righteousness he will judge the world

      and the peoples with his truth.

Psalm 96

Epistle

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus 2:11–14

Gospel

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,

   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:1–20

Sermon on Christmass Day

Now the parties should really begin, shouldn’t they? Today is the Feast of the Incarnation and starts the Twelve Days of Christmass. Forget Santa Claus, his elves, the overindulgences of office parties, everything the television has been foisting upon us during the last eight weeks or more, the trite songs of wishing every day is Christmass as they blare to encourage shopping. Today we keep Christmass with our families close. We enjoy the holidays with our loved ones, for the most part, don’t we? Today we can practice that christian love, making ready for the new year of peace to all.

I think we should  now remember the child born in the midst of a time of terror. Let us celebrate with joy that God is with us in the Christ, whatever the situation. Let us rejoice in the hope we now have because of Christmass.

Yesterday I mentioned the infinite possibility of the new-born child and I would like to start there, with the infant Christ in the manger. This is the image we wake to on Christmass morning, isn’t it? Of course we honour our loved ones with presents whatever the cost, but we remember that our giving to our loved ones is just what those shepherds did two thousand years ago when they left the fields on that cold and frosty night or later on what the magi did when they followed their star to Bethlehem.

Our waking thoughts this morning were not of the profit we can make from the deal, but the love we have received from those with whom we are to exchange those presents. Our giving of presents is not a reflection of the political reality of deals which has oppressed us for over a year. No, our gifts on Christmass Day are not transactions, they are offerings without expectation of an exchange of equivalent items. We are not making deals on Christmass Day, or are we? Do you think that Christmass is just one huge potlach? – I may be referring to something you may not know about. Does anyone else know what a potlach is? The native americans of the northwest of the continent used to outdo each other with gifts – once a gift had been given, you had to return a more expensive gift (it became a gift race, not an arms race). I suppose it is like when the King or Queen visits – they always require such lavish hospitality. How can one out-do regal hospitality? – But we try in any case, don’t we? Christmass is not this sort of potlach, is it? Christmass is an opening of hearts to one another, with no thought of anything in return – a pure form of charity, agape, christian love.

We have woken to a new day – the newest of mornings, as the hymn goes – today, a day unlike any other during the year. We are celebrating the Christ-child as he presents himself, as we present him, in the manger. There he is in infinite possibility – let alone  the majesty – of a new-born. There he lies before us in his finite transcendence. There he is in his very real existence so we can ponder and wonder.

Christmass Day is the day we wake up that new morning and we place ourselves in the world as if for the first time. We individually awake to our ownmost possibility,that of each and every one of us. This is a great mystery, isn’t it? That my fate is infinite. There are no bounds to what I am in my self, the self that I choose to be even though I have been thrown into these particular circumstances.

In essence, today we know that we are all like Christ at the beginning of life. With Christ we hold the infinite universe in the minutest of hands. No one who gazes at a new-born, whose little finger is grasped and tugged by the infant’s tiny hand, doubts this. We are filled with wonder as we gaze down, wondering what the future will be for that wee bairn.

We wonder what our own future is on this most glorious of mornings, as we look into the manger, don’t we? What one possibility can be my very own? Which one of the infinite possibilities will I take to my heart authentically?

These are the thoughts of a Christmass morning for me.I think of my immediate possibility of turkey with all the trimmings, the spare place set for the stranger who may come, opening of presents from far and near, the tokens of love from friends and family tumbling anew into our hearts today. I will eat my fill as we have for the last forty years together but feel as if this is the first day of creation. In the midst of traditional Christmass, I am renewed – a new man, yet again. – When I was a student I read about traditional cultures where the myths, symbols and rituals were repeated exactly the same as they always had been, but they were the renewal of the world, precisely because they were done in the way they happened at the beginning of the creation, their very own world. – My repeating of the elements of Christmass Day is much like rituals of those traditional societies. I renew my world with these comforting routines – church, the turkey and all its trimming, the opening of presents that unite me to loved ones near and far – and I hope that the world will be one of peace and joy to all.

And I say this is the case because this morning I looked into the manger to find Christ staring up at me from amidst the warming straw. On this cold winter’s day I have been enlivened, fired up even, by seeing the innocence of a baby giving me hope in my quest for my ownmost possibility. I realise that I can find what I ultimately am in the absolutely new of the unknown just as in the repetition of the traditional, that boring ever-the-same, beloved of the very reactionary conservative. However, I realise that it is neither the strange nor the familiar, but I realise that my engagement with the tradition and world around me makes the world new this morning. I make the world my own as I settle into the tradition which reflects my very real world around me.

That is what the manger and my looking at an infant has done for me today, to bring me right into the present where life is to be found. Perhaps this is what Bishop Rachel is trying to do with her LIFE campaign, to raise everything into the foreground where we can live it anew every morning. Jesus promised life in all its fullness – that is what I have today, even if it is the same ritual of so many years, with the ancient symbols hanging all around us, as I tell the old, old story of Jesus Christ to myself and to you as you listen to my rambling story of a new creation here today.

So let the Christmass parties begin in authentic earnest. Everything up to today has been a practice run for our celebrations. Now we can open our hearts with our presents – we can make the history of salvation our own by sharing it with all, whoever and wherever they are. Now we can really enjoy the closeness of friends and family and even strangers, as we gather everyone together during these twelve days of Christmass, and in the tradition of this benefice until we light up our churches on Candlemass.

Amen

Fourth Sunday of Advent/Christmass Eve

Collect

God our redeemer, who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son: grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour, so we may be ready to greet him when he comes again as our judge; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(or)

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory; bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings

Old Testament

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.

2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16

Psalm

1  My song shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord: •

   with my mouth will I proclaim your faithfulness

      throughout all generations.

2  I will declare that your love is established for ever; •

   you have set your faithfulness as firm as the heavens.

3  For you said: ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one; •

   I have sworn an oath to David my servant:

4  ‘ “Your seed will I establish for ever •

   and build up your throne for all generations.” ’

19  You spoke once in a vision and said to your faithful people: •

   ‘I have set a youth above the mighty;

      I have raised a young man over the people.

20  ‘I have found David my servant; •

   with my holy oil have I anointed him.

21  ‘My hand shall hold him fast •

   and my arm shall strengthen him.

22  ‘No enemy shall deceive him, •

   nor any wicked person afflict him.

23  ‘I will strike down his foes before his face •

   and beat down those that hate him.

24  ‘My truth also and my steadfast love shall be with him, •

   and in my name shall his head be exalted.

25  ‘I will set his dominion upon the sea •

   and his right hand upon the rivers.

26  ‘He shall call to me, “You are my Father, •

   my God, and the rock of my salvation;”

Psalm 89

Epistle

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen.

Romans 16:25–27

Gospel

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26–38 

Sermon at Morning Prayer, Fourth Sunday of Advent/Christmass Eve 

This Sunday’s advent candle is special, it is pink – to remind us of the Mother of God, theotokos, as our orthodox brethren call the Blessed Virgin Mary. So I want to ask: How do we in the modern, scientific West remember the human parents of Jesus Christ?

The Eastern name for Mary is quite different from the West’s Blessed Virgin, isn’t it? I think theotokos in itself goes well beyond the West’s epithet in marking Mary as a unique point in time and space, part of the central point in the history of salvation. There are theologians who find the whole history of the world and its culmination in Jesus Christ’s existence. Up to that point, everything anticipates him; after that life everything looks back to Jesus as the saving event. All the prophets pointed to the coming saviour of the world. All the saints who have followed on from the cross take Jesus as the model of life and imitate Christ in their lives of flesh and spirit.

Without Mary, we could not understand that Jesus was born amongst us historical human beings. Without Mary we could not comprehend that God is with us in that baby of salvation. Mary is the point to which mothers all look. They understand their own motherhood in the light of Mary’s, for their children are the sum of their hopes. Every child expresses the hope of the world, a mother’s hope. Each child could be the next miracle worker, a new world leader, a doctor who could cure the common cold, a model citizen, a person to whom people would turn in times of trouble. Why that child may even become a priest who through sacraments, teaching and prayer will bring holiness to everyone’s lives! These are just some of the infinite possibilities of the new-born child we see in its mother’s arms.

In the midst of all these possibilities of life which the new-born baby represents – which the new-born baby symbolises – let us consider the historical reality of Mary’s boy-child. The period of the birth of Jesus was one of great turmoil. Foreigners invading, violence, wars, famines, plagues – it was a time of terror, not unlike the fear we experience today. Jesus’ era was one in which the faithful hoped for a king to rule with a mighty hand, a king whose hand is graced by a ring which would rule them all. The mothers of this time hoped for their children, that one of them might be that ruler in the name of God. Every mother at that time had great expectations for the future, and for their children. They often gave them symbolic names, none less significant than the name ‘Jesus’.

Mary was one of those women whose expectations will be met in her child tonight. Doesn’t the angel tell her everything?

‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

These words, however, are not comforting – they foreshadow the trials and tribulations to come. Being called “great” and “Son of the Most High” are blasphemous when they issue from mortal mouths. Imagine Mary’s terror when she took that on board! Imagine how she must have shaken when she thought about how this tiny scion of David was to take over the reign of the house of Jacob. We all know the bloody history of the succession of kings, don’t we? The many historical dramas have illustrated that in great detail, haven’t they? Why even our own limited study of history should do this for us! Did Mary really want to give her son up to that game of thrones?

Mary must have been absolutely terrified at the prospect of this life of political leadership being prophesied for her expected child. Wouldn’t we all pale at the prospect of such a fate for our own children? We have watched the stories of the powerful and their demons, how kings and queens have battled to do the good in spite of their frailty and fear – and how so many have failed. If we know this, we who live in relatively peaceful times, imagine how Mary must have felt as she heard this news with the iron-shod tramping of foreign invaders all around her.

The real terror is that our hopes for, and the realities of, life do not correspond in any way. How can I hope for my child to be great at all when the political forces around me conspire to keep me under their heels? How can my innocent child become the heir to the throne of such a power? Why would I place my child on that seat bathed in, and stained by, blood? Parents have no wish for their child to take on that future, do they? — The infant has infinite possibilities. They open all around the child and remain myriad until I, as that child, come to ask what my “ownmost possibility” is. What is my destiny? How do I know that is the only thing that I should be? This is the heart of the existential dilemma. How am I authentically what I choose to be? The infant can be anything, but choices made begin to limit the child, and even more so as the child becomes an adult and finally the limitations of old age.

However, knowing the limitations of my life gives me freedom to be who I am at every moment. I seize upon who I am at that very instant. I ultimately choose my destiny. Theologically, this is the heart of human free will, the ultimate choice for belief or despair.

When we do not choose to be what we are, fate, others, or perhaps the anonymous “they” are given power over us. As Mary heard those words from the angel, she chose her own destiny, to be the “Mother of God” – Mary chose to be the Blessed Virgin.

[When] Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,’ and the angel departed from her,

she chose her infinite future before God with an angel as her witness. The best of mothers make up their minds for the sake of their children, don’t they? Our mothers don’t choose our fate, rather they place us in a field of infinite possibility and keep it clear for us until we hem ourselves in to our ownmost possibility, whatever that may be.

Our mothers have chosen their fate to be for their children. Like Mary, theotokos and ever-Blessed Virgin – the pure woman, is how we consider our mothers, isn’t it? Mother has bared her heart to take that sword which pierces it so painfully as we grow to be what we can be. The hopes and fears of a mother’s expecting of her child are what Advent is all about. We await the coming, glorious Messiah. That is our ownmost possibility as christians today and tomorrow – to welcome our messianic saviour.

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory; bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

Advent Sunday

Collect

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

(or)

Almighty God, as your kingdom dawns, turn us from the darkness of sin to the light of holiness, that we may be ready to meet you in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Readings 

Old Testament 

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,

   so that the mountains would quake at your presence –

as when fire kindles brushwood

   and the fire causes water to boil –

to make your name known to your adversaries,

   so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,

   you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

From ages past no one has heard,

   no ear has perceived,

no eye has seen any God besides you,

   who works for those who wait for him.

You meet those who gladly do right,

   those who remember you in your ways.

But you were angry, and we sinned;

   because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean,

   and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.

We all fade like a leaf,

   and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name,

   or attempts to take hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us,

   and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;

   we are the clay, and you are our potter;

   we are all the work of your hand.

Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,

   and do not remember iniquity for ever.

   Now consider, we are all your people.

Isaiah 64:1–9

Psalm

1  Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, •

   you that led Joseph like a flock;

2  Shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim, •

   before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.

3  Stir up your mighty strength •

   and come to our salvation.

4  Turn us again, O God; •

   show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

5  O Lord God of hosts, •

   how long will you be angry at your people’s prayer?

6  You feed them with the bread of tears; •

   you give them abundance of tears to drink.

7  You have made us the derision of our neighbours, •

   and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

8  Turn us again, O God of hosts; •

   show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

18  Let your hand be upon the man at your right hand, •

   the son of man you made so strong for yourself.

19  And so will we not go back from you; •

   give us life, and we shall call upon your name.

20  Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts; •

   show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Psalm 80

Epistle

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:3–9

Gospel

‘But in those days, after that suffering,

 the sun will be darkened,

   and the moon will not give its light,

 and the stars will be falling from heaven,

   and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

Mark 13:24–37

Sermon on Advent Sunday

Advent has been the time we traditionally consider the four last things – death, heaven, hell and judgement. In fact our collect for today elicits these thoughts, if we were to consider the prayer carefully.

… that on the last day, when the Lord shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal …

I wonder if we have ever thought about the four last things as part of our Advent preparation for Christmass. Advent is supposed to be like Lent – a period of preparation for the great feast of the Church during which we celebrate the mystery of Jesus Christ – that is why we use purple for both seasons’ colour. Advent and Lent.are purple times; we are supposed to be making ready for the Christ in our lives, here and now, a very present help in the troubles of our own times. We prepare in Advent for the Incarnation and in Lent we prepare for the Resurrection, the two events which define our salvation.

Advent is our preparation for the very real presence of Christ in the world, at the centre of time and space in the saving act of the Incarnation – as St Athanasius wrote, “God became a man, so that men might become godlike.” The collect prayer today points us to the εσχατον, the last moment in time, which St John’s book of Revelations describes, when the world will be overturned and Christ will walk the earth in the glory he is, while in his earthly ministry he only hinted at that glory. He did so through his ministry of teaching, healing and miracles.

The collect prayer is our collective meditation on the point of our faith, our relation with the divine through the person of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In Advent we concentrate on the incarnation, the coming into the world of God in the form of a human being – the very real historicity of the divine, that God is with us, no longer a remote abstraction with no connection to the lives we really live.

I would say the feast of the incarnation reflects our ownmost possibility, if those words of Athanasius explain Christmass, if those words of Athanasius explain the purpose of incarnation. The incarnation is the reciprocal relation between God and human being, that God has come down for us so that we can go up for God, as that saying in the letter of Hebrews says, and that we sing in carol.

Incarnation is something we don’t really take very seriously in the West. Our culture is the expression of mind over matter without realising that the world around us is one of matter in which we find ourselves.

The philosophers following Plato and Aristotle elevated the spiritual – the mind – over the flesh, and much of the Church’s thought followed that intellectual path. This idealism is the background to much of the New Testament as well as the patristic and medieval periods of the Church.

This trajectory of thought has brought so much of the history of the Church with it. We live in this world of dualism where body and soul, flesh and spirit, are sharply defined and one is despised while the other is lifted high into the sky. That ethereal realm is far from the everyday with which we deal – the nitty-gritty of recalcitrant matter, the grey area of life with others (our lovers and our enemies), the very knotty problems of ethics.

However, we have lost that world-view, haven’t we? We admit that we do live in a world where other people dwell with us. Since we have established our connectedness with all things, we become incarnate. We become grounded in our selves which are both material and spiritual at the same time in the same space.

This is a very different message from that of the Church traditionally. The Church in the West sees the spirit as the goal, the essence of human being. I would rather see the spirit as the completion of the flesh. This is the union of flesh and spirit into a whole, what I have called our “ownmost possibility”.

All of our prayers have a focus, in the case of our Collect for today, our ownmost possibility; this focus is the focus for our Advent preparations. How do I become precisely what only I can become? This ownmost possibility is what we here in this building call “redemption”, “forgiveness”, “salvation”. The whole point of my life is this very summation, my ownmost possibility.

Don’t think that this is my own idea – I am merely repeating what the philosopher has talked about – something I have overheard and, in the classic manner of the schools, have repeated in my own words, if only to use the philosopher’s phrase, “ownmost possibility”.

Wherever that phrase comes from, I can only hope that it helps us understand what Advent preparation is all about. Undoubtedly, I will come back to this theme throughout Advent. I hope that it starts us all on our preparation for the celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation. The most important part of our preparation is prayer, the focus of our very selves on the ground and end of our lives.

Prayer can take many forms. Meditation, intercession, confession, are some types of prayer. Sometimes, like Paul, we pray with incoherent groanings, when the very heart of life cries out unintelligibly but with the utmost of meaning. Sometimes, with the Carthusians, our prayer is silent.

Prayers connect us with our ownmost possibility when it is sincere and true. When we pray with all our heart, don’t we choke up with tears? Don’t our bodies come to the fore when our spirit opens itself to its final form? So I would like to suggest that we can pray our collects week by week in this manner – with our whole selves.

The alternative collect for today is this:

Almighty God, as your kingdom dawns, turn us from the darkness of sin to the light of holiness, that we may be ready to meet you in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Let’s use this collect as a starting point in our Advent preparation. This can be used throughout Advent, not just on this, the first Sunday of Advent.

Collects are prayers which prepare us for the worship ahead – they guide us into the theme of the particular worship we attend to. However, they also point us to a very real future for each and every one of us. We should take our collects into the whole of our lives, because they force us to confront our ownmost possibilities.

Let us pray fervently through Advent using our public Collects and our private prayers to attain the ownmost possibility for each and every one of us, to move ourselves closer to that Kingdom to which we aspire.

Amen