Sermon for Epiphany 2C – 16th January 2022

Isaiah 62:1-5; Ps 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

Paolo Veronese, “The Wedding Feast at Cana” 1563 – via Wikimedia Commons

Today: 

A woman sits in quiet dignity on her own whilst there’s a boozy party going on.

Is the person at the centre of it all, at work or at a party?

Why is His first action one that seems almost frivolous when He later heals serious illness; calms terrifying storms; and feeds the hungry?

By the way any correspondence between anything above and recent events is of course purely coincidental.

On the third day … and the mother of Jesus was there

Jesus did this, the first of his signs … and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him

John isn’t simply a reporter. He’s a theologian who reflects deeply on the broader picture of what the coming of Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God actually means. John records Jesus as saying that there were many significant aspects of his message that he couldn’t tell his disciples while he was still with them, but that under the influence of the Holy Spirit they would come to understand theseat a later time. so when we read John we need to do so with sensitivity to the resonances of what the Spirit is saying.

The Wedding at Cana passage opens with the words: “On the third day there was a wedding at Canaand the mother of Jesus was there”, it follows three passages in chapter one which start “The next day”. People who read the whole thing as a sequence of diary entries and ask, “The third day from when?” counting back through these events, are missing the significance of these words. Sometranslations replace them with “Two days later. Now it’s not that the phrase, “On the third day”, isn’t part of a succession of days in John’s narrative, but that John’s intention is much more subtle than that of a diarist piecing together entries in a careful sequence.

John’s making an allusion to the resurrection of Jesus which also occurs on the third day. John’s subtly connecting the resurrection and this wedding.  He’s suggesting that the victory of God that’s wrapped-up in the resurrection of his Son, is a cause of celebration; much like a wedding party.

Incidently it’s an allusion that he repeats in his apocalyptic vision in the book of Revelation, that the victory of God is much like a wedding.  He uses wedding functions as a metaphor for salvation. There are of course other biblical metaphors for salvation but today let’s think about the wedding metaphor in the story of the wedding at Cana.

Wine is a crucial part of this story. The wedding host has run out of wine, but at this event, he doesn’t send someone down to the off-licence with a suitcase to pick up some more.  No Mary asks Jesus if He can do something about it, to which he replies “my time is not yet come”, then he acts. You’ll notice in this story that the amount of water Jesus turns into wine is quite large. The text suggests that Jesus made about 120 gallons of it! That’s a lot of wine and a pretty boozy party. 

John may also be hinting at Old Testament prophecy that says that when the Messiah comes and inaugurates God’s kingdom once again on earth that there’ll be an overabundance of wine?

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Isaiah 25:6-9

So John’s telling his readers, “This is the Messiah that we’ve been waiting for, rejoice and be merry”.

Mary’s not only central to Advent and Christmas, she’s central to God’s whole plan for humanity. It’s through her faithful ‘Yes’ that Jesus is born. It’s when she visits her cousin Elizabeth that Mary breaks into song with her great prayer, ‘The Magnificat.’ 

In the gospels there aren’t many details about Mary. We do know that she followed Jesus as he preached and healed. She saw him being betrayed, denied, arrested and condemned. She was there at the cross with the other women when he died. She buried her son and then “On the third day” went to the tomb with the other women. Then at Pentecost, she was there when the friends and followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary is truly the example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. 

Marys’ greatness is that she points the way and leads us to Jesus through her own example. She’s not asking us to do anything she hasn’t already done herself. She doesn’t seek or ask for any attention for herself. At this family wedding in Cana Mary’s an invited guest, but her concern about the wine is about the reputation of the young couple, not about herself. 

When we think of Jesus’ miracles, we usually think of him helping those in desperate need – feeding the hungry, healing the blind and the lame, delivering the possessed, or even raising the dead. These account for most of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospels; they’re acts which relieve suffering, provide healing and restore life and wholeness.

We may find it a bit surprising that the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry in John’s Gospel is one that seems almost frivolous. There’s no desperate, life-threatening need in this story, no crisis of hunger or illness. Rather, the crisis in this story is that the wine’s run out at a wedding banquet. It’s a problem which threatens to cut the celebration short and cause considerable embarrassment to the hosts, but certainly it poses no immediate danger to anyone’s life or health.

Turning water into wine seems almost trivial. So why did He do it, why did John decide to include it in his gospel, and what does it reveal to us about who God is?

You might argue that the purpose of not only this miracle but of all of Jesus’s miracles is to reveal His glory. But they’re never inward, self-aggrandising displays; they always serve to benefit others. He always brings others with Him into glory. This first miracle sets a tone for the rest of Jesus’s earthly life and ministry; one of kindness, one of empathy, one of care. 

Turning water into wine is a small yet profound miracle; it’s exactly what’s needed when it’s needed. Jesus is really good at that: being what we need when we need it; not trivialising our issues and our worries and being there to help us celebrate our joys and achievements too. For Jesus perhaps work and parties are the same thing.

Through the witnessing of arguably the smallest miracle in the gospels, we’re reminded that God’s with us and for us; we’re reminded that the smallest work of God is still greater than anything we could do by ourselves. And that’s a reminder that we’ve never needed more than we do just now.

Amen

Sermon for ‘The Baptism of the Lord’ – 09.01.22

Isaiah 43:1-7  • Psalm 29  • Acts 8:14-17  • Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

When preparing for the sermon this week, I came across a story about a young girl called Georgie who was at home with her mother.

Georgie had been a terror all day long and with each incident of bad behaviour her mother warned her, “You just wait until your father gets home!”

Eventually evening came and Georgie’s dad got home from work.

Her mother began telling him about their daughter’s behaviour. The dad looked at his daughter and before he could say anything the girl cried out, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

Wow! If only it was that easy, that clear, that simple. If only we could say to the sorrows and losses in our lives, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

Wouldn’t it be so wonderful to just be able to say to the struggles and difficulties in our lives, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

If only we could say it to the changes and chances in life, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!” But of course, that is not how baptism seems to work.

Despite our baptisms most of us have suffered sorrows and losses in our lives, we’ve encountered difficulties and struggles, we’ve had to face changes and chances in life that we would rather have avoided.

And despite her baptism, little Georgie in the story was still sent to the naughty step by her father!

And yet she speaks a deep truth. She is absolutely right; she is untouchable. At some level she knows that her existence, her identity and value are not limited to time and space; to the things she has done or left undone.

She knows herself to be more than her biological existence. She knows herself as beloved. She knows the gift of baptism.

Baptism does not eliminate our difficulties, fix our problems, take away our pain or change the circumstances of our lives.

Instead it changes us and offers a way through those difficulties, sorrows, problems and circumstances – and ultimately a way through death.

Baptism transcends our biological existence and offers us a vision of life as it might be. Baptism offers us a new way of being – one that is neither limited by, nor suffers from, our “createdness.”

Through baptism we no longer live according to the biological laws of nature but by relationship with God, who through the Prophet Isaiah says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

That means when we pass through the waters of sorrow and difficulty God is with us. That the rivers that can drown will not overwhelm us. It means that when we walk through the fire of loss and ruination we are not wholly consumed by the flames. For he is the Lord our God, the Holy one of Israel, our Saviour.

To know this, to trust this, to experience this is the gift of baptism and baptism always takes place at the border of life as it is and life as it might be.

That border is the river Jordan.

Geographically, symbolically and theologically the Jordan River is the border on which baptism happens.

It is the border between the wilderness and the promised land; the border between life as survival and a life that is thriving; the border between sin and forgiveness; the border between the tomb and the womb; the border between death and life.

We all stand on that border at multiple points in our lives. Some of us might be standing there right now. Some of us experience that border as a place of loss, fear or pain. For others it is a place of joy, hope and healing. In reality, it is both of these things at the same time.

The only reason we can stand at the border of baptism is because Jesus stood there first. We stand on the very same border at which his baptism took place.

Jesus’ baptism is for our sake and salvation. His baptism makes ours possible. The water of baptism does not sanctify Jesus. Instead he sanctifies the water for our baptism. The water that once drowned is now sanctified water that gives life.

Ritually we are baptised only once. Yet throughout our life we return to the waters of baptism. Daily we must return to the baptismal waters through living our baptismal vows.

We must confess our belief in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit –  because God first believed in us.

We must continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers because the Holy Spirit has descended upon us and has filled us.

We must persevere in resisting evil and whenever we fall into sin, we repent and return to the Lord because the heavens have been opened to us and we have seen our true home.

We must proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ because we have heard the voice from heaven declare us beloved children in whom he is well pleased.

We must seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves; striving for justice, peace, and dignity for every human being because that is how God has treated us and how could we do any less for another one of his children.

Sometimes our own body provides the waters of baptism – our tears.

St. Ephrem the Syrian spoke of our eyes as two baptismal fonts. Tears are the body’s own baptismal waters that cleanse, heal and renew life.

At other times the circumstances of life – things done and left undone by us and others – the ups and downs of living – push us back to the waters of baptism. We return in order to again be immersed into the open heavens, to be bathed by God’s breath, the Holy Spirit, and to let the name “beloved” wash over us.

There is truth in what little Georgie said, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!” My dear friends believe that! In and amongst life’s adversities say it and claim it for yourself! “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

Amen

May Our Lord bless you and those you hold dear during this coming week.

Fr Simon

Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany 2022

Adoration of the Magi – Edward Burne-Jones

Isaiah 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

A number of years ago when my aunt came to visit she gave us each felt glasses cases with another piece of felt in the shape of a pair of glasses sewn on, presumably so that we’d remember what to put in the case.  The last time she came she gave us a pair of felt egg cosies with pieces of felt in the shape of chickens sewn on, but we haven’t been able to find chickens small enough to wear them yet. Then this year she heard that I had a new phone and send me a felt phone case. She does like to make her presents felt!

Now I rarely start my sermons with a joke and having heard that one, you’re probably relieved about that, but it does help to make a point however you’ll have to wait for that point to emerge.

Matthew’s account of the visit of the wise men is fairly brief, with very little detail. Almost all that we think that we know about Epiphany comes from hymns and poems and other creative writing, all of which have added layers of meaning and detail to the tradition surrounding it. 

Our opening hymn: ‘As with gladness men of old’ is a pretty pared back account, not even mentioning the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh (which may themselves have been Matthew’s embellishment).  In contrast our final hymn: ‘We three kings’ has a great deal of embellishment. The tradition has even given the wise men, now promoted to kings, names and places of origin – Melchior from Persia, Gaspar (also called “Caspar” or “Jaspar”) from India, and Balthazar from Arabia. Their gifts have been given special symbolic meanings as well: gold signifying Jesus’ status as ‘King of the Jews‘; frankincense representing the infant’s divinity and identity as the ‘Son of God‘; and myrrh touching on Jesus’ mortality.

It’s so easy to get carried away with all these details.

Suppose that I was to tell you that in defiance of Scottish Government Guidance we’d invited three people over for a party at New Year (we didn’t by the way). There are a number of ways that I could tell that story, which give very different impressions.

Maud arrived first from Tain and she gave us a wonderful scented candle. The next to arrive was John from Dornoch who brought a lovely bottle of red wine and finally there was Daphne from Lairg with a yummy box of chocolates.  We had a bit of a blether and shared food and drink until the bells. It’s about who, where they’re from and their gifts.

On the other had I could tell you that three long-standing friends came over to see the New Year in with us and we really enjoyed spending a little while together catching up on all that has happened during the pandemic and what our families are up to.That’s much more about the purpose.

When I took my first wedding, I was particularly struck by a piece at the bottom of the invitation that said:

Please no presents. Your travelling from near and far to celebrate with us is the greatest gift of all

The gift of the company of their friends and relatives and the memory of celebrating together, that’s what this couple wanted from their guests.

For me, that’s the most important part of the Epiphany story some strangers from afar who weren’t connected with the Jewish Tradition undertook long journeys to honour an extraordinary happening, God had become incarnate as a tiny baby. This was God being revealed to the wider world – to all.

Woody Allen is reputed to have said that 80% of life is just showing up and I think that’s the most important aspect of this story, spiritual presence rather than worldly details.

This Epiphany let us reflect on the essence of the story rather than a whole load of fictional embroidery and through that see the call to reveal God’s presence in the world to everyone – to the grumpy, the depressed, the selfish, the worried, the suffering, the disadvantaged and everyone else that we meet. 

Amen.

Sermon for Christmas 2C – 2nd January 2022

Jeremiah 31:7-14; Ps 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:10-18

At New Year we get lots of people making prophesies about what will happen in the coming twelve months. Jeremiah 30-33 is known as Jeremiah’s Book of Consolation. The first two chapters are full of prophesies of promises made to the Northern Kingdom. These verses offer really good news to a people longing for some when things looking bad.

They’re words of hope and restoration; a message of joy and praise. But there’s a catch, they’re not a statement of fact. It’s an oracle, a promise yet to be fulfilled, a description of things hoped for. Jeremiah is ever hopeful and his message is delivered to a people sorely in need of hope, who’ve suffered long in captivity and eagerly accept any prophecy of divine promises of release and restoration.  A prophecy of hope is also what many in our society are looking for, those whosometimes feel hopeless about the challenges confronting them in their lives and communities.

These verses are addressed to people who’ve survived the devastation of being overrun by the various conquerors of their nation and offer assurance of God’s enduring presence that will ultimately bring about their restoration. They’ve suffered devastating loss in their personal and family lives, in their religious and societal way of life and to their culture. 

Remember that I said there’s a catch. The Northern Kingdom, to whom they’re addressed was swept away into exile in the 8th century BCE. The promises in chapter 31: “again you will plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria” and “the sentinels shall call in the hill country of Ephraim,” weren’t fulfilled for them, their land was forcefully repopulated by the Assyrians and they never returned home. Indeed, most folk of the Northern Kingdom died in exile in Syria and Babylonia.

As the Covid pandemic has rumbled on, we’ve been hit with many prophesies ranging from “it’ll all be over soon and we can return to normal by Christmas” to “there’ll be huge numbers of cases/deaths unless we stop doing x or y or z”. Most of these have failed to be fulfilled and I think that we’re getting used to that and taking some of it with a pinch of salt.

Failed promises can be difficult to face, especially when these are made, not just to the population at large, but to specific groups of people: the blind, the physically disabled, and women in their third trimester. These promises are made to the grieving, to people who’re overcome by “hands too strong for them,”. Jeremiah’s not kidding when he says: “your hurt is incurable…there is no medicine for your wound, no healing for you”. It’s not hyperbole when Rachel refuses comfort because “her children are no more”, just her reality.

Although this kingdom and it’s people disappeared from history, their words and their poetry was preserved, leading to many reuses of it. In a sense “failure is just material waiting to be recycled”.So hopes that emerge from failure can bring new life to others.

Tuesday was the Feast of the Holy Innocents and it’s Matthew who uses this failed prophecy to suggest that Rachel’s weeping refers to the children in Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod, mappingpresent grief onto an earlier sense of loss.

But we can’t be satisfied with the idea that people die and suffer so that their hope can be recycled for others. While there’s quite a lot that can be done with failed hope, what about the people of Jeremiah’s time, the people to whom he prophesied. What happened to those women in their third trimester who hoped to return home but never came back?

In asking this question, we’re not alone. The book of Tobit is about an 8th century Northern Israelite who was exiled to Ninevah. The story focuses on two folk who tried to do what was right by God but things never turned out, Tobit and Sarah a distant relative.  They both feel despair and a desire for death. Tobit’s sends his son and his dog on a journey with a relative who turns out to be an angel in disguise and which ends in his meeting and marrying Sarah.  So our question, “what becomes of these people?” connects us to the ancient author of Tobit who wondered the very same thing.

This desire to follow the lost is precisely what Jeremiah did with his Book of Consolation.  The failed hopes for the Northern Kingdom may have served as reading for Jeremiah while in jail.  So in wondering about the lost, he used his imagination, shaped by God’s hopes for those people, to write a new book in solidarity with them. His Book of Consolation is actually his “Letter from a Jerusalem Jail”.

Even during his incarceration, he didn’t adopt a simplistic hope that God would make everything better and would restore some sort of ‘normality’. Jeremiah was maybe the ultimate skeptic, when you compare him with his contemporaries who just preached hope and protection.

Jeremiah’s willingness to be skeptical and a big helping of imagination, gave him the power to see beyond what was happening. “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry”.

God is concerned even about the weakest among us. The blessing of God isn’t a sign of worthiness. God’s compassion and justice extends to all and promises the hope of God’s restorative justice to those who’ve been brought low by any and all circumstances of life. The promises of God delivered through the words of the prophet transcend time and place and gather all people of every time and place into the ever-present grace of God that offers fullness of life to all.

We see exactly the same message in the prologue to John’s Gospel when we read:

To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And 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. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

John 1:12-18

Amen.

Sermon for First Sunday of Christmas 2021

Sermon Luke 2.41-52

Thomas, Richard and Harold were three brothers who over the course of their careers had all done extremely well for themselves.

When they met up at Christmas they were talking about the gifts that they had bought for their elderly mother.

Thomas, the eldest and most successful, told his brothers, “I have built a big house for our mother. Four reception rooms, seven bedrooms – each of them en-suite – and even an indoor pool and sauna”

Richard, the middle child told his brothers, “I sent her a classic Rolls Royce Silver Phantom – I tracked down the actual car that she and our father had used on their wedding day.”

Harold, the third and youngest brother, smiled and said, “I’ve got you both beaten. Now you know how much our mum enjoys reading the Bible – but of course her eyesight is failing and she finds it very difficult to see even large print editions. Well, I have sent her a most remarkable parrot that recites the entire Bible. It took senior clerics in the church twelve years to teach him. He’s one of a kind. Our mother just has to name the chapter and verse, and the parrot recites it.”

A short while later the mother of these men sent out her letters of thanks.

“Dear Tom,” she wrote to the eldest, “Thank you for the house you have built for me, it is very beautiful, but I have to say is too huge. I live in only one room, but I still have to keep the whole house clean!”

“Dear Dick,” she wrote to her second child, “What a beautiful car you have given me, but my dear, I am too old to drive very far now. I stay at home most of the time, so I rarely use it, but don’t worry, it’s nice and safe under a cover in the garage.”

The mother wrote to her youngest and favourite son, “Dear Harry, my darling boy. You have the good sense to know what your Mother needs and likes.
The chicken was Dee-licious!”

As parents, relatives, teachers, guardians, and friends of children we are quite rightly concerned for their well-being. It is our duty (and our joy – most of the time) to protect and teach them, nurture and nourish their lives and ensure that they grow up healthy and feeling loved. We all need someone to guide and guard our growing up, because growing up is hard work.

Growing up means establishing our identity and figuring out our place in the world. It involves creating relationships, setting priorities and making decisions. We choose values and beliefs that structure our lives and along the way we sometimes make mistakes – we can get lost and we can backtrack on decisions that we make. At some point, growing up means moving out, away from your family and finding a new home. This may be a geographical move, but it most certainly involves psychological and spiritual moves too.

So it is no surprise that Mary would be in a panic when she discovers that Jesus is not with the group of travellers that we hear about in our gospel this morning. With great anxiety she and Joseph search for him. Three days later the one who was lost has been found and Mary’s first words are, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” What I really hear is, “Where have you been young man? Your father and I did not survive angel visits, birth in a manger and live like refugees in Egypt only to have you get lost in Jerusalem.” But Jesus isn’t the one who is lost. He knows who he is and where he belongs. Mary and Joseph are the ones who are lost.

Today’s gospel is a story about growing up, but it is not Jesus’ growing up. It is about Mary and Joseph growing up – it is about you and me growing up. Growing up is not about how old we are, it is really about moving into deeper and more authentic relationships with God, our world, each other and our very selves.

Jesus is the one who grows us up. He is the one who will grow up Mary and Joseph. Children have a way of doing that to their parents. They challenge us to look at our world, our lives and ourselves in new, different and sometimes painful ways. That is exactly what Jesus’ question to Mary does. She had put herself and Joseph at the centre of Jesus’ world and his question was about to undo that.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asks. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus is telling Mary she should have known where he was. It is as if he is saying, “Remember, the angel told you I would be the Son of God. Remember that night in Bethlehem – angels praising God, shepherds glorifying God. Remember the three men from the East, their gifts, and adoration. Remember Joseph’s dreams that guided us to Egypt and back. Where else could I be but here?” Jesus has put the Father at the centre of his world and asks Mary and us to do the same – to move to the Father’s home.

Real, authentic growth almost always involves letting go. Mary’s move to the Father’s house, her growing up, means that she will have to let go of her “boy”. Jesus was born of Mary, but he is the Father’s Son. He is with her but does not belong to her. She can give him love but not her thoughts or ways. He is about the Father’s business. Ultimately, she must strive to be like him and not make him like her.

Jesus has moved from Mary and Joseph’s home to the Father’s home. This is not a rejection of his earthly parents but a re-prioritising of relationships. It is what he would ask of Simon, Andrew, James and John. “Follow me” would be the invitation for them to leave their homes, their nets, their fathers and move to a different place, live a different life, see with different eyes. It is today what he asks of you and me.

Growing up spiritually involves leaving our comfort zone, letting go of what is safe and familiar and moving to a bigger place, to the Father’s place. This letting go is a necessary detachment if we are to grow in the love and likeness of Christ. It means we must leave our own little homes.

We all live in many different homes. Some of us live in homes of fear, anger and prejudice. Some in homes of grief and sorrow. Some o fus in homes in which we have been told or convinced that we don’t matter, that we are not enough, unacceptable or unloveable. Homes in which we have been or continue to be hurt or wounded. Homes in which we have hurt or wounded another. Homes of indifference and apathy. Homes of sin and guilt. Homes of gossip, envy or pride.

Every one of us could name the different homes in which we live, homes that keep our life small, our visions narrow and our world empty. The problem is that sometimes we have become too comfortable in these homes and they are not what God offers us. We may have to pass through them, but we do not have to stay there.

Jesus says that there is not only another home for us but invites, guides and grows us up into that home. It is a place he knows well. It is the Father’s home in which we can know ourselves and each other to be his beloved children, created in his image and called to be like him. It is a place where your seat at the banquet is already set. It is a home in which we live in rooms of mercy, forgiveness, joy, love, beauty, generosity and compassion.

Leaving home does not necessarily mean leaving our physical or geographical home though sometimes it might. It does mean examining and re-prioritising the values, beliefs and relationships that establish our identity and give our life meaning and significance.

It means letting go of an identity that is limited to our biological family, our job, community reputation, ethnic group, or political party and trusting that who we are is who we are in God. It means that we stop relating to one another by comparison, competition and judgment and begin relating through love, self-surrender and vulnerability. It means that we let go of fear about the future and discover that God is here in the present and that all shall be well. We stop ruminating on past guilt, regrets and sins and accept the mercy and forgiveness of God and each other. We see our life not in opposition to others but as intimately related to and dependent upon others.

So I wonder what are the little homes in which you live? How do they bound up your life, stifled your growth and keep you from the Father’s home? What might you have to leave behind in order to grow up and move to a better place? Those can be hard questions, painful questions. But ultimately they are questions founded on love.

“Child, why have you treated us like this?

“Because I love you. I love you enough to grow you up, to find you when you are lost and to bring you with me into the Father’s home.”

Fr Simon

Sermon for Christmas 2021

Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)

Many years ago, when I was at school, there were these people that we called headmasters. My perception of them is that they were distant, very stern and seemed most concerned with discipline and in particular punishing those who strayed from the path of acceptable behaviour. Now I stress that this was my perception of them, but isn’t that how God seems to come across in the Hebrew Scriptures – distant, frequently absent, especially in difficult times and mostly concerned with discipline.

Now that isn’t how God is, nor of course is it how head-teachers are is it Simon? Head-teachers are ever-present, kind, accessible and caring, supporting staff and pupils and helping them to achieve their potential, are they not? (And I’m sure that’s how they really were when I was at school)

So how could God change that negative and unhelpful perception that the people of Israel had? The solution was elegant in it’s simplicity. God became human and dwelt among us, to experience life from a human perspective.

In my day there was a strict hierarchy in schools with the headmaster at the top and everyone else knew their place. But again that isn’t how God sees the world. When God became human, it was all upside down, it wasn’t properly organised, neat and tidy with everything in it’s place. It certainly wasn’t those in power (or anyone else) who was in control and in our day it isn’t the great and the good, the Church and especially not the clergy and other leaders who hold the secrets of the mystery of God.

Richard Holloway puts it beautifully when he writes:

The word becomes flesh in all its uncertainty and awkwardness. Grace come to us through weakness. The traditional account of the nativity, purged of its Christmas card glamour, captures this paradox. There is the uncertainty that surrounds the conception. There is the confusion and incompetence that characterises the birth. Yet somewhere the angel sings, because God’s grace has found another of the despised to dwell with. Grace uses every available weakness to pull down our might. It undermines the cruelty of our strength by throwing us on the mercy of our weakness. It is by our sin that we are saved, because through it we reach for the grace that alone sustains us. That is why we should have a special regard for the despised, those on the outside, the impure and the untogether. It is through them that God speaks to the Church. Through them the Church is evangelised.

From “Limping Towards the Sunrise” by Richard Holloway

Who were the first people to be told of the arrival of God into our world? It wasn’t kings, princes, governors, clergy or headmasters, it was humble shepherds in the fields. He wasn’t born of well-to-do parents, but to an unmarried working couple and the scandalous truth is that Christ Jesus came into the world as a helpless baby: 

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.

The incarnation marks a new relationship between God and humankind – ever-present, kind, accessible and caring, supporting all manner of people and helping them to achieve their potential, even if that’s not how our society sees it.

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.

Christmas can be a time of complex emotions and no more so in these strange times that we’re living through. For the Queen, it’s the end of the year in which Prince Philip died, after a marriage of 73 years together. As she faces her first Christmas without the man about whom she has said: “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.’, I suspect that many of us will have faced one or more such ‘first Christmases’ after the death of someone who we’ve loved deeply and who we’ll always miss, especially at this time of year. 

The present pandemic has made meeting up with other people and especially those who we love, less easy than it used to be. This has perhaps shown us the importance of all the relationships we have with others and also with God – the God who we now know is constantly saying to us “Don’t be afraid. I’m here. Your prayers have been answered.” And perhaps we need to emphasise this more than ever in these times.

As human beings we have an incurable tendency to write off the present as unsuitable or inconvenient. We keep looking forward to some ideal future when things will run more easily and smoothly, things will be better. So when we find our lives disorganised and full of makeshifts, we fondly imagine a future when everything will be sorted out and our lives will be full of nothing but peace and beauty and joy and we’ll be able to settle down again. We could be waiting a long time, perhaps for all eternity, for that to happen.

What God is saying to us in this season is

I’ve given you my Son, I’ve given you everything that I have. Lift up your eyes and see that my redemption now, it’s all around you. What else are you waiting for?

In past times the headmaster God spoke to our forebears through the prophets, but in our times the head-teacher God speaks to us in his Son and in all those around us through all their faults and all their weaknesses. Yes it is that messy.

So let me wish you a Joyous Christmas, made all the more joyous through its imperfections and the memories of Christmases past and all the people that we’ve known and who’ve shaped us as the people that we now are.

Emmanuel, God is with us.

Amen.