Weekly Online Sermon
The feast we celebrate today has many names; the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, the Meeting of the Lord, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, …. Candlemas – based on the tradition of the priest blessing beeswax candles on February 2nd for use throughout the year, some of which were distributed to the faithful for use in the home. Candles light our processions and stand on our altars, candles are with us at the time of our departing, at our funerals as a symbol of hope and light, but above all candles are with us at our baptisms, all our baptisms.
For if Christ is the light of the world, to the darkness in the world he brings hope and love and light. We too as Christians are meant to be a light to others – to carry the love and light of Christ to all whom we meet.
As the new year starts, advertisers often ask us to look ahead. January may be grey and dull we are told; it is dark and cold when you get up, and the same before you finish for the day. But just think, in the summer you could be on a beach, bathed in sunshine, far away from the realities of today. And, of course, it plays to our weaknesses. Our dissatisfaction with January needs little help or encouragement. But in all this looking forward we are blinding ourselves to the possibilities of life now.
Instead we might give thought to what energises us, what gives us meaning, what is our passion – now. For life is to be lived, not tomorrow – but today.
Jesus said ‘Come and see’.
What if he hadn’t? What if Jesus had not called Andrew and Simon. He would have found other disciples of course. But for Andrew and Simon, what would life have been like for them if he had neither spoken to them or called upon them to follow?
By extension we might ask the same question of ourselves. How would your life be different if you were not a Christian? If you had never been a Christian, what would your life be like? Where would you be, who would you know and love? What would you be doing, what would you be thinking and saying – what difference would it make – who would you be?
Apart from their names, over the centuries, the three Magi also developed distinct characteristics in Christian tradition, as new generations added new symbolisms and discovered new meanings in the story, so that between them they came to represent the three ages of (adult) man, three geographical and cultural areas, and sometimes other aspects as well.
We accompany them on their journey for we are pilgrims too, on our own holy journey. The journey through life, the journey in faith, the journey into the mystery of eternity.
And what Epiphany, what discoveries might we encounter in our own time?
As we look to the future in our lives and for our churches we might reflect what is the core business of our church and our faith. For a church that merely looks inward can never truly be called a church. In much the same way as the dead partner of Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley reflects on the business of his life in Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.
Jesus did not come to us as a powerful warrior, or as a ruler; he was neither rich or powerful or even particularly accepted in his day. Indeed, Jesus was rejected by so many in his lifetime precisely because he did not meet the expectations of a glorious deliverer – who they believed should be mighty, and military; who should sweep all before him, commanding armies and nations and people.
It is often said that in our present day we have lost the true meaning of Christmas. If that is true, then we clearly stand in a very, very long tradition of misunderstanding not only the purpose of Christmas, but also of the coming of Christ himself. So what is – the true meaning of Christmas?
By tradition, on the fourth Sunday of Advent we say prayers for Mary; we light the fourth Advent candle in her honour, we recall that she is to bear a child, under frightening circumstances, being little more than a child herself.
Patriarchal societies can sometimes be cruel and unjust, especially to women. But such has been the culture and practice of countless numbers of men throughout history – who have bullied, abused, intimidated and dominated their way through life, when in fact it was a woman who bore them and gave them life and so often extended to them acts of kindness that they little deserved and most certainly did not repay. But this, as it turns out, was not Joseph’s way. What can we learn from the examples of both Mary and Joseph?
For some time John the Baptist had been preaching, echoing Isaiah’s words of ‘the one who is to come’. Knowing that his time was drawing to an undoubtedly violent end, but at this stage still able to receive visitors in prison, John sent some friends to enquire of Jesus ‘Are you the one, of whom I have been speaking? Is it you that I have been pointing to, praying for?’
Years after these events, the small Jewish Christian community of which Matthew was the leader was trying to work out why this question was still being asked by some, and why Jesus and the beauty of his message of the Kingdom were still so widely rejected, both by his people generally and by the most powerful in the land especially, including the religious authorities to whom they looked for acceptance. Perhaps in our own age we can draw a kind of comfort from the fact that faith has never been easy, its future never secure.
‘…the voice crying out in the wilderness’. What a powerful phrase that is, it speaks of a yearning, of a need so deeply felt that it erupts from inside, a cry for justice, for deliverance, for humanity in the face of cruelty, for peace in the face of violence, for freedom in the face of oppression. In the desert of human suffering, in the wilderness of pain, a voice cries out. At this time in Advent, why do we hear of John the Baptist? Is his call for repentance all that Advent is about – or is there more?
It has become a cliche to say that Advent is a time of preparation, especially as we so often seem to prepare for the expected rather than the unexpected. But what does it even mean to prepare? Are we being invited to make temporary and external arrangements, are the changes to be practical, visible but extrinsic? Is this to be but a brief hiatus before we return, once more, to ’normal’? Or are we being invited on a journey of transformation that is essentially intrinsic, perhaps even private and invisible to others, but which for us helps to uncover and discover our true selves, the true ‘us’ inside. Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he called us to life ‘in all its fullness’?
Due to illness – this week we have a short video meditation.
For the festival of Christ the King, this poem entitled ’The Kingdom’ was written by R.S. Thomas 1913-2000.
Today we make an act of commemoration but not celebration; we hold in our prayers those who have died and suffered in two world wars, in countless regional conflicts since, and in peace-keeping duties across the world. We mourn their loss and their suffering; the failure of politics and diplomacy that led to their sacrifice on the altar of human pride, obstinacy and indifference, and we also confess the darkness in our own hearts that all too often gives way to anger and seeks retribution. We pray that humanity may, before it is too late, consign war to the sins of history, and instead walk the ways of conciliation and peace.
The video was recorded in Montesinho, Northeastern Portugal at A Lagosta Perdida (https://lagostaperdida.com). The poem comes from ‘the state of us’ a first collection of poetry by Larry Doherty – ISBN: 978-1-5272-7173-9. Larry Doherty’s debut collection of poetry is eclectic, nuanced and powerful. It reflects his thoughts and feelings on life in these challenging, turbulent, watershed times.
Perhaps one of the hidden dangers of keeping ‘All Saints Sunday’ is to project their goodness away from ourselves. To see sainthood as rarely bestowed, exceptionally lived out, the province of the miraculous and extraordinary. Examples perhaps, but ones that shouldn’t trouble us too much as they are so far removed from the normal, the average, the everyday human condition – hardly human at all, divine, godlike creatures. But the proximity of the feasts of All Saints and that of All Souls reminds us that the witness and example of the few, must also be reflected in the witness and example of the many. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain confronts us with stark choices, for does charity really begin at home?
Christ was the word that spake it. He took the bread and brake it; and what his words did make it, that I believe and take it.
These words are famously attributed to Elizabeth the first when she was asked in Queen Mary’s reign what she believed to be happening in the Eucharist. In fact, it is a quote from John Donne’s Divine Poems – On the Sacrament. Today we focus on the sacrament itself, its meaning and implications for us, how in the Eucharist, Communion, we encounter Jesus in a way that we do at no other time. But what do we mean by Christ being present? And are more than bread and wine transformed?
Jesus tells the story of the so-called unjust judge – a story unique to the Gospel of Luke. From the language that he uses it is clear that Luke is not relating a parable about a particular judge, but a stock character, an archetype. The casting of a widow in the story heightens the listener’s sense of the judge’s wickedness. In Israel of the time, as in any patriarchal, agricultural economy the most vulnerable type of people were invariably orphans, strangers and widows, without land to their name – at the mercy of the powerful.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said: “What is the gospel if not a gospel of justice” We might re-phrase that and also ask ‘What is our church, if not a church of justice’. We might further ask ourselves, can that truly be said of me and my church?