Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Advent 4, Matthew 1:18-25, Mary

Take us to Bethlehem, House of Bread
Where the hungry are filled
And the satisfied sent empty away
Where the poor find riches
And the rich recognize their poverty
And all who worship are filled with awe.

Today on this 4th Advent Sunday we traditionally remember Mary, chosen by God to give birth to Jesus. Mary knew it was going to be a hard time for her and she was just a young girl, a teenage mum. In her life she had some hard journeys to make, to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, to Egypt, where they had to go to escape the soldiers, and to the cross, where she watched her son die. And yet she said yes to the angel. Mary knew what Jesus birth was meant to bring. 

In the story we hear described that an angel comes to Mary to tell her she will be pregnant before marriage. We also know that Joseph, her fiancé thinking the worst, plans to divorce her. It's a story with ominous beginnings. It is a story of crisis. The Christmas story begins with shame, the shame of a pregnant unmarried teenage mother, a single parent and a break up of relationship. It goes on to release its power through the childless, the dumb, the poor. This Christmas they are all still with us. Those we despise because of their situation. those who are vulnerable, those who are powerless. It is to these and many others that the Christ light gives hope, lifting up the lowly, proclaiming release to the captives, bringing meaning at a time of crisis.

And so it is that with Christians throughout the world that we are waiting and preparing. The Bible  gives us a spectrum of history from 20th century BC to 21st century AD and we see the message of hope run like a golden thread through the story a drama, Gods drama. The hope of the rainbow and √™ the ark; the hope of the Israelites in Egypt; the hope for a king, the hope of deliverance from Babylon and finally the hope of the Messiah, the one who will come to deliver the people. We often hope for a deliverance which we do not get. Deliverance from poverty, from pain, from death and yet  the Magnificat sung by Mary as she carries the baby born to be such an important person in human
history, gives us hope too of material relief from poverty.

The message of hope that the Christmas story brings is the golden thread that runs through the story of Gods people. For many of us we need to feel the brush of angels wings and the whisper of hope this Advent, this waiting time.

We may experience hope coming to us in a dream. We may realise that the situation we regarded as hopeless is a vehicle of hope. We may realise that God is with us in all things and especially in the crisis 
we face.

There can be nothing better than to hear words of hope. An infertility broken. A diagnosis wrong. A wrong forgiven. A brokeness mended. New possibilities envisaged. Hope of a better world, hope of in Syria, Chechnyia, Iraq, Afghanistan. Hope born of years in prison, or of a death for a dream. Of such things others maybe have much to teach us.

This Christmas there will be no hope in the noisy shopping rituals and the exchange of presents but hope is found in the humbling, waiting, vulnerability. Christs coming, the perspective of God with us, can change us, forever, completely. 

God given hope is not optimism, or sentimentality, based on ignorance or naivite. It is based quite simply in a trust in God. A little candle light burning in the darkness is a symbol of Christmas and a source of inspiration shared by people of all faiths. May this Christmas be a vehicle, a carrier of hope for us all to feed our spirits and our imaginations and to inspire us, with the angel’s message, to bring hope and peace on earth.

This week take time and space to be still before God, take time to look at your priorities as we approach the end of another year, take time to give to others less fortunate than yourself and the God of Hope, the God of Light will be with you, and you will know it by the peace in your hearts. And of such stuff are dreams made of and of such stuff is the journey that as Christians we embark on when we decide to truly follow the Light of All Lights.

Loving God help us once more to hear your voice
and glimpse your light.
Deepen our faith
and enlarge our understanding,
so that even in the darkest of places and bleakest moments of life we may recognise that the light of your love continues to shine, and that nothing shall finally overcome it.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Advent 3 2014 John 1:6-28, John the Baptist

Prophets are never popular people. They are not people to sit with at a dinner or a party. The Old Testament prophets spoke of a return to God. When God’s people wander away from their true calling, and forget the plight of others, they become aimless and empty, and their souls are not fed. Only God can satisfy the hungry soul, and so Gods prophets cry in the emptiness and chaos, because in their hearts is a dream which refuses to die.

The message of hope runs like a golden thread through the story of Gods people like a drama, Gods drama. Hope after a storm, hope of deliverance. The hope of the rainbow and the ark; the hope of the Israelites in Egypt; the hope for a king, the hope of deliverance from Babylon and finally the hope of the Messiah, the one who will come to deliver the people. Deliverance is a sub-text, the hidden agenda. The prophets speak of a messenger who will prepare for the coming of the Christ, a prophet who will deliver the people, make the way straight.

After four hundred years of silence, God speaks through a new prophet; he proclaims the coming of the long-awaited kingdom, and calls upon the people to repent, to turn away from what is wrong and back to God.

The passage in John reminds us of the symbiotic relation of God to the incarnation. This is God with us, born as a human being suffering as we suffer. Today this message challenges us to live lives according to gospel values rather than those of the consumer capitalism that surrounds us. God given hope is not optimism, or sentimentality, based on ignorance or naivite. It is based quite simply in a trust in God, the God who brings light into darkness. and speaks to us.

John the Baptist, predicted by Isaiah, was the one, who prepared the way for the coming of Christ. John was not the sort of person who you would invite round for Sunday dinner. He was hairy and wild and naked except for a loin cloth. He ate locusts and wild honey and lived in the desert. A nomad. A tramp. And his message was no more comfortable than his looks. He told people to prepare to put their lives in order and to make the way straight. In other words-to repent. If John came today what would he say to us today in preparation for the coming of Christ this Christ/mass? John's call for repentance or change not  only  is a call on our lives as individuals but our life  as a society. As a nation we need to hear that message, to change.

Luke has set the stage by identifying  7 people to date the ministry of John, and the commencement of the ministry of Jesus, approximately AD 27-29. When Pontius Pilate was governor, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee. "Tetrarchs" were local rulers appointed by the Roman government to serve alongside a local Roman official, either a Procurator or Prefect. Its Herod Antipas, 4BC-AD39. Luke refers to the high priesthood. Both Annas and Caiaphas are mentioned. Caiaphas is functioning as the formal high priest, but Annas is still around. The Roman authorities had removed Annas in AD14. 

At this time God spoke to Zechariah's son John in the desert - a place of reflection, retreat and revelation. Probably the wilderness is the area north west of the Dead sea, leading into the Jordan valley.

John's ministry covered the whole of Jordan. preaching - communicating, proclaiming. It was authoritative including baptism by immersion in water, but also overwhelmed. The baptism represented repentance/turning away for the forgiveness of sins. Water baptism also symbolically expressed cleansing.

The Hebrew origins of the word repentance suggest a turning back / returning to God, rather than an expression of sorrow. Good deeds are not a necessary component of the inward act of repentance. Forgiveness does not rest on what we do, but on a turning toward God. 

New life growing on old-candlewick fungus


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Aled Jones, The Angel Gabriel in Welsh