Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas 1 26th December 2010

Noblesse oblige!

One must act in a fashion that conforms to one's position, and with the reputation that one has earned.

The unfashionable nature of this truth fuels our mass media from the irresponsible expenses claims of our MPs to the goings on among minor royalty.

Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly.

This morning we ourselves have such a reminder as Christians.

The Prayer Book collect for the eight days of the Christmas Octave states the truth behind Christmas from God’s point of view:

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:

The prayer goes on to tell how this has consequences from our own point of view:

grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit;

The Son of God took our whole nature upon him, our total manhood, not just our body but our mind and will and emotional makeup so that our mortal nature might be capable of the divine nature.

Something happened yesterday on Christmas Day that affects us profoundly and affects the whole world through us.

Why did God become man? In order that we might become God, be made God’s children by adoption and grace and be daily renewed by God’s Holy Spirit.

To pray as our Christmas collect prays is to ask to be re-born in Jesus and become a partaker of the divine nature. In other words to ask that we may ourselves obtain the full benefit of the Christmas gift of Jesus.

Just as everyone is born of natural parents, if they wish to be regarded as God’s children, they need to be born again in a spiritual fashion, by water and the Spirit, by baptism, through which we share God’s essential nature and are joined to him.

Through the coming of God in Christ there is a new creation. From the incarnation – which means the making flesh of God – the whole world is divinised working from the souls of women and men out into the whole cosmos.

Noblesse oblige – we who are made children of God by the Son of God becoming Son of Man have obligations with such an awesome nobility.

Saint Leo the Great preaching in Rome at Christmas around 450AD had this appeal to his hearers which I hand on to you:

This is the day our Saviour was born: what a joy for us, my beloved! This is no season for sadness, this, the birthday of Life – the Life which annihilates the fear of death, and engenders joy, promising, as it does, immortality...

My beloved, let us offer thanksgiving to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit. In the great mercy with which he loved us, he had pity on us, and in giving life to Christ, gave life to us too, when we were dead through sin’, so that in him we might be a new creation, a new work of his hands.

Let us then be quit of the old self and the habits that went with it. Sharers now in the birth of Christ, let us break with the deeds of the flesh.

O Christian, be aware of your nobility – it is God’s own nature that you share: do not then, by an ignoble life, fall back into your former baseness. Think of the Head, think of the Body of which you are a have been made a temple of the Holy Spirit; do not, by evil deeds, drive so great an indweller away from you.

Those words are as true in 2010 as they were in 450. Praise God for the faith of the church through the ages carried down to us by the liturgy of Christmas.

We are God’s children made so by the gift of his only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin:

Christians, be aware of your nobility!

Born again and made God’s children by adoption and grace, may we daily be renewed by the Holy Spirit;

Noblesse oblige! Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly.
So are we made noble, so should we conduct ourselves!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas day all age eucharist 2010

What did the snow man order at Macdonalds?

Iceburgers with chilli sauce!

What do you get if you cross an apple with a Christmas tree?

A pineapple!

Well, Christmas is here so we’re going to light the Christmas candle from one of the Advent candles. Which reminds me - what did the big candle say to the little candle?

I'm going out tonight!

Well this one isn’t going out, it’s coming on – who shall we choose?

Sunday Club member to light candle.

Christmas is here and it’s time to be thankful for Jesus.

All the gifts we’ve been given this morning are given to honour the greatest Gift from the greatest Giver!

So what gifts have we been given?

Time for children to share.

All of these gifts were given us because of what the angel told those shepherds in our bible reading.

Let’s read it our loud together. It’s the fifth paragraph of this morning’s gospel reading from Luke chapter 2:

What did the angel say 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.’

Good news of great joy! God has come to earth to give himself a human face, the face of Jesus!

What does it say the child was wrapped in?

Bands of cloth or what were called swaddling bands. Swaddling is an age-old practice of wrapping infants snugly in blankets or cloth strips so that movement of their limbs is tightly restricted. People believed that swaddling bands helped an infant to develop proper posture.

Swaddling fell out of favor in the seventeenth century. It has become popular again as modern medical studies indicate that swaddling assists babies to sleep, and to remain asleep.

Come back to Jesus though, the baby tightly bound lying in a manger.

We believe this infant Jesus was bound up so that we could be free!

Can anyone point me to an image of Jesus in church outside of the crib that shows him once again bound up?

When Jesus was bound up in the manger it pointed towards his being bound to a cruel cross 33 years later.

Mary and Joseph were told to call their son Jesus, which means Saviour. We know about Jesus more because of how he died and rose than on account of his birth. We keep Christmas because of Easter.

This Christmas eucharist is Christ’s Mass in which we see the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. The eucharist is about the gift of Jesus who’s always alive and with us and loving us – that’s the truth of Christmas.

Jesus was bound so we could be free!

In recent weeks I have seen people released from the power of guilt by the power of Jesus’ forgiveness, people released from the power of cancer by his healing power, worried people released from their anxieties. I have come across people who’ve died freed from fear of death by their faith in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy.

In the joy of this morning you may know many constraints in your life. There is the constraint of a guilty conscience. There is the constraint of regret, of anxiety, of the fear of death, of loneliness.

Today the Son of God was bound in swaddling cloths to free you! We know as Christians, as lovers of Jesus, what we call salvation, a new dimension of freedom in our lives that is the best gift of Christmas.

God who made each one of us in love loves us so much he wants each one of us to be one with him. The Son of God became man so all who open their hearts to him could know the liberty of the children of God!

Let’s pause for a quiet moment to reflect on that great thought

Our service moves on now to centre on a new born baby, Arthur Beesley, whom we are to bless on the day God showed himself in the Babe of Bethlehem.

Midnight Mass 2010

The world turns and the world changes, but one thing does not change. In all of my years, one thing does not change, however you disguise it, this thing does not change: the perpetual struggle of Good and Evil wrote T.S.Eliot.

We shall never cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

These words are appropriate as the calendar turns once more to Christmas.

For over 1000 years on this hill the church calendar has turned. 50 generations have revisited the coming of God to the earth year by year throughout their life time and gained wisdom from this.

Tonight we arrive where we started and know the place as if for the first time.

The Word became flesh so that those who receive him, who believe in his name, may gain power to become children of God (John 1.14, 12). In the Christmas event we welcome life and light afresh. By the Holy Spirit the words of scripture enter our hearts afresh so we know that life and light as if for the first time.

Though 50 generations have prayed here before us we do not inherit that life and light. God has children, not grand children. To be a child of God is to receive him, to believe in his name, the name of Jesus, and so to gain power.

Tonight we recapture the sense of our being God’s children through the love that came down at Christmas. The annual celebration takes us back to basics with its reminder of the dignity afforded the human race by the incarnation.

The world turns and the world changes but this thing does not change: the perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.

In that struggle there’s a winning side we’re called to enlist in as God draws us to his side and his victory in Jesus over sin, death and the devil.

The truth I am sharing is a hidden truth. It started off hidden away in a stable and continued in the obscurity of Palestine over 33 years. Then it was revealed by the resurrection.

We live in a more and more transparent society as the WikiLeaks saga has been reminding us, which is both good and evil. The aggression behind the hacktivity as they call it is such that when the Australian Prime Minister announced plans for censoring the internet the hackers took down his website and that of the Australian parliament.

This thing does not change: the perpetual struggle of Good and Evil...and internet technology is to be found on both sides.

The knowledge that is most powerful remains hidden to pride. It is concealed tonight in a stable away from the mainstream. God, as much as WikiLeaks, sees all. And he loves all. That is the Christian good news in an internet age or any age!

God sees all and he loves all - and all can respond to this truth.

The Word became flesh so that those who receive him, who believe in his name, may gain power to become children of God.

Love needs a body to show itself. Tonight divine love takes flesh.

This year is the centenary of the birth of one of the 20th century’s great explorers, Wilfred Thesiger. I have been reading his life in pictures which has a particularly Christmassy scene on the back.

He twice crossed the so-called Empty Quarter of Arabia, lived in the 1950s with the Marsh Arabs of Iraq and finally among the Samburu of Kenya.

Just as the internet is changing our lives today for good and ill, so Thesiger lamented the changes to Arab society that came about through the demand for oil. His writings are an invaluable record of a desert culture that has been largely lost.

Wilfred Thesiger explored by going native. He took no radio, let alone iPhone, to keep up with what was going on at home. He lived as the natives. Through this he became the first European to see amazing sights, many captured in his brilliant photography.

He writes of the fearful splendour of the desert being offset by human companionship. In the pitiless light of day we were as insignificant as the beetles I watched labouring across the sands. Only in the kindly darkness could we borrow a few square feet of desert and find homeliness within the radius of the firelight.

In human solidarity the fearfulness of nature is countered. Just as Thesiger’s work gained from hiding himself away for years among the natives so it is with God’s work of hiding himself in Bethlehem and Horsted Keynes. God is in the homeliness that counters the impersonal forces at loose in the world.

The Christian faith holds God has taken a body and kept it for ever in the body of Christ. God made a home in Bethlehem, literally the House of Bread, so he can continue in that bread, through Christ’s Mass, and in the hearts of all who will receive him.

Love needs a body. Divine love provides the body of Christ which now embraces the world in the words of scripture, in signs of water, oil, bread and wine and in the human warmth of Christian fellowship.

Love needs a body for this thing does not change: the perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.

The light and life of Jesus show us a body with love stronger than death.

Though our lives move on from Christ’s Mass the end of all our living and exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

Bethlehem. God made flesh. Love incarnate – this is the place we need to know!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Advent 4 The choices of God 19th December 2010

Decisions, decisions! Our life runs on decision making hour by hour, day by day.

Some of these, like whether to have coffee or tea, are trivial.

Others, like whether to marry Liz or Anne, are less so.

Our decisions are caused by the time frame we live in. As time flows on we come to vital junctions where we can go one way or the other, for one thing or another, for one person or another.

The woman or man of God sees decision making in another perspective. We know that when time has ended we will face the consequences of our decision making.

We will see how closely our lives have run within the will of God and how much they have been lived off the rails.

For it is Christian faith that you and I, through the exercise of our faith, are chosen and guided by God. This means our lives including our decision making are shaped by the choices of God.

This morning we see God’s great choice of Our Lady to be mother of Our Lord. When we look closely at Mary’s story, especially in Luke’s account, we see how she struggled before saying Yes to God’s choice of her to be the mother of his Son.

In our own lives we also struggle many a time to conform our lives to what God would have us do.

I remember when I was praying about marriage God opened a door to me to serve as a missionary in Guyana. They told me a dozen men were waiting for a teacher to train them as priests so the sacraments could be available across Guyana’s hinterland. With reluctance I offered myself since the post was for a single man. I met Anne at missionary college and so my obedience to his call also answered the prayer of my heart.

This morning in Mary the church invites us to ponder the choices of God and to think about how much our lives are faithful to God’s choice of us.

Two years ago a process came about that tested my vocation as a priest ending with a decision to come with Anne and James to Horsted Keynes.

Since then I have helped or am helping fourteen couples as they seal their vocation or calling to marriage. I have been helping one young man as he explores his calling to the priesthood.

I have had a number of conversations about vocation with various church members as they seek what God most wants of them in life.

Some have been thinking about a change of job. Others have been making the most of a redundancy. One or two have felt they have done a task in the village or the church for long enough and have been seeking new possibilities which have connected with my own agenda as parish priest for ever seeking volunteers.

Christianity is a faith that holds disparate truths together – God is one and three, Jesus is God and man – and one of these mysteries is that God has chosen you and I and yet we have to decide how to live our lives.

It seems to me that Christians are at two ends when it comes to divine guidance. Some see God ‘s choice as starting us off and then leaving us with common sense – sanctified common sense – to get going on our own. Others, if you ask them to do something, will say they need to pray about it, and they talk of God’s guidance as very immediate and direct.

I am not coming down on one side or the other. What matters is to recognise the hand of God in our lives and to cast aside the things that draw us away from his leadings.

The sanctified common sense sort of guidance needs supplementing by openness to God’s surprises in the form of obvious divine intervention. Those who sense something of a hotline to God need to work harder to check their leadings by arguing the case at times with other experienced believers. Both reason and faith are God’s gift and they shouldn’t contradict each other.

If we want our lives including our decision making to go where they’re meant to go it means developing what Paul in our second reading from the opening verses of the letter to the Romans calls the obedience of faith.

This obedience is more than avoiding deadly sins. It is the best directing of our energies. It is knowing we are in the right employment or state of life, be that married or single. It is a readiness to ask ourselves whether where we are at is truly in God’s will or whether it is at variance with it.

If you are on the rails God gives us, living close to Jesus, you move more peacably than if your life is off the rails. A lack of inner peace can be a helpful warning from God to take stock of your life.

Christmas and New Year bring us such an opportunity to reflect. Some of us will use the sacrament of reconciliation or take opportunity to talk to the priest or another experienced Christian. Others may appreciate being put in touch with a spiritual director. All of us can ask God directly:

‘Show me the needs that are deeper than my wants. Place my energies more and more to your service and less and less to aimless self interest’.

When God chose Mary he invited her to be his mother by a surprise of the Spirit. He did not compel her but won the obedience of her faith.

It is the Christian faith that followers of Jesus, through the voluntary obedience of their faith, are chosen and guided by God.

God seeks our yes to his future possibilities as he sought that of the Blessed Virgin. Her life became a roller coaster of a life, a Lady of sorrow and joy, and so it is to be for us.

God’s hand on our lives, God’s choice of us, is a wonderful and a costly thing. We have a lifespan to exercise our faith in that choice. The penitent thief who turned to Jesus as he died shows us it is never too late to seek God’s leading.

God has chosen you and I and yet we have to decide how to live our lives.

In making this decision the clue is WWJW – maybe you have seen the Christian bracelet – WWJW – What would Jesus want?

The eucharist is all about WWJW. We offer our souls and bodies with Christ to the Father so that our lives are put back on the rails Sunday by Sunday.

With Mary we say: I am God’s servant. Let it be to me as God wills!

Take my energies and use them for good since there is work for those God has chosen. There is a harvest to gather and labourers are few.