Monday, 25 December 2017

Midnight Mass St Mary, Balcombe 2017

Any preacher at Midnight Mass speaks into a maelstrom of emotion.

Christmas is a milestone in lives and families bringing back memories of past joys and not least those we love but see no longer who’ve passed beyond this world.

It’s a feast of family. Even now I look back at the excitement of finding my Christmas stocking to be emptied before Church, the pillowcase of presents before lunch and an ongoing tradition of listening to the Queen at 3pm.

To enter the spiritual joy of Christmas though we have to go behind and beyond such experience however hard that can be.

To gain the forward looking newness of Jesus which is the spiritual force of tonight, our looking back needs to go further. Instead of looking back at our experience of the Feast, we’ve got to look back a lot further, beyond our lifespan and even the lifespan of Christianity to the Old Testament and make its eager longing for the Lord our own. 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. 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.

Those words of Isaiah are fulfilled by God’s speaking to us not just in words but personally through the arrival of his Son onto the earth. Isaiah’s brother prophet Micah, also writing 800 years before Christ, predicts the geography of tonight when he writes in Chapter 5 verse 2: You, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.

Micah, Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, Zechariah, David and the Psalm writers, all witness to those summary words of expectation in Isaiah Chapter 9 that the day will come when they’ll say 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. Israelites held – and Jews still hold by rejecting Jesus - that God will act in the future to redress the darkness in the world by bringing something new – Someone new.

When that newness broke into the world that first Christmas, Easter and Whitsun the writer of our second reading expresses the truth of it in an awesome UIKeyInputDownArrowsentence, Hebrews 1 verse 1: Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.  Later on in that epistle the writer speaks of God’s appointment of Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday and today and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8). Something new, Someone new who can never grow old, in whom we too find newness tonight.

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. Those words from tonight’s Gospel put the Christmas message in a sentence repeated in another way by Saint John two chapters later: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Tonight we stand with the eager longing of Isaiah, Micah and the prophets before a revelation of God of immense spiritual force and possessing the capacity to turn our lives round tonight.

The one true and loving God planned and made human beings for eternal life with him.

Knowing that once made we’d need renewing again and again on account of the errors we’d make that dull our spirits God came to embrace us face to face. Love needs a body to express itself and in that way to bring renewal to the one who is loved. As God in the child of Bethlehem first embraced his mother he embraces us tonight through the physical elements of bread and wine we call Christmass.

The prophets cried out to God for 1000 years about the errors of the people but into their cries God spoke a promise that would be fulfilled on a time scheme of his own so that as St Matthew says, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King. (Matthew 2:1)

God who is love spoke through the prophets and then as the second reading says in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

I can point you tonight to the Bible and its witness to God’s speaking to us over 3000 years. I can point you to the Christian revelation of God in Jesus Christ 2000 years back and the building of St Mary’s to homage that truth 1000 years ago.

More powerfully and immediately though, my task as preacher is to point you to Someone outside the pages of history who is here for us right now. Someone new who is waiting to bring something of his unending newness right into your soul tonight in the Blessed Sacrament of his body and blood.

To be a Christian is to be made new, day by day and hour by hour, by welcoming the perpetual newness of God’s love in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6b)

Christmas isn’t ultimately about nostalgia but about newness gained through the unique reaching out of God to us in Jesus Christ.

May we sense with the prophets that gift of renewal which is ours day by day as we engage with the stupendous fact of God made flesh, made flesh to live in our flesh, Jesus, who came and died and rose, whose Spirit is knocking on the door of our heart tonight.

Jesus who came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. (John 1:11-12)

Lord Jesus, the same, yesterday, today and for ever, bring your newness to our souls tonight in this sacrament of your body and blood.

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for you!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Advent 4 24th December 2017

How does Jesus come into our lives?

He comes by the Holy Spirit.

He comes by the Sacraments.

He comes by the Word of God.

He comes by holy people as they rub off on us.

He comes by circumstances – which links to a second question:

Why does Jesus come into our lives?

He comes to bring us into his life, death and resurrection – and here’s the rub.

Look, as the Church invites us to do so today, at his Mother.  She was first to welcome Jesus into her life – and where did it lead her?  She was led into hardship, led to a shaming pregnancy and a Cross of sorrows before taking the shine of glory.

I want Jesus in my life.  I want the shine of glory – but, if I am honest, I don’t want hardships!  

This is where Jesus sorts us out because it's by endurance of hardship that salvation is forged.

The great Christian writers speak of the need to gratefully accept most of what comes our way, including suffering and hardship.

Sharing life with Jesus means self-sacrifice.  

Mary gives us the clue.  I am the Lord's servant, she says in today’s Gospel, let it be for me according to the Lord's will and not my own.

Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit, the sacraments and scripture.

He also gives us hardships but we have to decide whether to endure them or quit.

In that decision we bring Jesus closer or we push him further away.

Over the last four months it’s been a privilege to come alongside St Bart’s as part of the team of priests serving our pastoral vacancy. The lay leadership here is impressive in its fortitude.

As someone privileged to minister to the scores who enter our doors day by day I engage with folk enduring hardships directly or alongside a loved one. In listening to and talking with them I’m many a time left feeling I’m a fair weather Christian!

The means by which we grow in holiness aren’t necessarily sermons or books or forms of prayer, the right sort of retreat or spiritual guide.

The means of our sanctification, of our cleansing from sin, healing from hurt and so on lies in the day to day circumstances of our life as we welcome them as the Lord’s gift.

As we read in Psalm 112:6,7 the righteous will not be overthrown by evil circumstances...he does not fear bad news, nor live in dread of what may happen. For he is settled in his mind that the Lord will take care of him.

The spiritual writer De Caussade in his book Self-abandonment to Divine Providence emphasises how our welcoming of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament Sunday by Sunday focuses the welcoming of the Lord in every circumstance that comes our way.

Jesus is as ready to meet us in the circumstances of our life as he is to meet us in the Sacrament of Bread and Wine.

To be glad deep down in your heart in every situation is a grace given by God, a grace we have to seek - just as Mary sought divine help to brave her expressed fear: How can this be?

If we aren't glad at heart it may be because we’re not fully submitted to God’s will revealed in the circumstances of our life. This leads me into a reminder. By a long standing tradition here at St Bart’s priests make themselves available for confession before the Feast of Christmas. You have a last chance to catch one of us over coffee if you desire to welcome from Our Lord the grace of absolution before Christmas Communion.

Jesus comes into our lives – by the Spirit, Sacrament, Scripture or by circumstances - to bring us into his own life, death and resurrection.

He is ready to help us face discomfort so that his resurrection life may grow in us by the Spirit and our old proud and sinful nature is further humiliated and put down.

As we prepare for Christmas may we have our spiritual ears open to hear God speaking into our lives so that we might decrease in self orientation and gain within us the love of Christ that will never fail.