The Anglican Churches in the Monmouth Area

The Anglican Churches in the Monmouth Area

What are you looking for?

Fr David’s sermon on Christmas Day 2015

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John)

I was asked by a helpful shop assistant in Waitrose a couple of days ago: “So, did you find what you were looking for?” How many times have you heard this over the past few weeks during the shopping forays and the preparations for Christmas? Have you found what you were looking for? And then over the next few days: Did you get what you wanted?

But on this Christmas Day – it is a good question to ask: Did you find what you were looking for? Once again, we hear the familiar story of an unmarried, pregnant teenage mother, whose husband is not the father of her child, struggling on a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to have their heads counted by their Roman overlords. But owing to the crowds – bigger than any we have seen in Waitrose over the past few days – they are forced to bed down for the night in the animal shed round the back. The baby is born, and at the same time, on the surrounding hills, a group of farmhands, who are forced to be out all night to care for the sheep (such animals are a valuable commercial asset) receive a strange message from God. Remember, shepherds were despised as misfits, ostracised and branded as sinners by the Jews, as they were not ever free to attend worship in the Temple. So they go and check it out – and they find things just as they were reported to them. They found what they were looking for. But what did it mean? What was it all about?

The Christmas story tells us what happened – but we need to ask another question – why did it happen? Why was God born as a baby in poverty in a borrowed shed?

Well precisely, because we live in a world that is a mess. It was then, two thousand years ago and is now. Look around us –the news, the internet, our own personal experience of the challenge and pain in our daily living. Life can be hard, sometimes we don’t know where to turn; we don’t know what we are looking for, but we know we are looking for something. You remember those Eurythmics’ lyrics from the Eighties?

“Sweet dreams are made of this…
I travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody’s looking for something…”

Well God, who is pure unconditional love, appeared among us in human flesh. God is looking for us.

You are all here, in this church, on this Christmas Day. Why did you come? Of course, there may be many reasons – you want to be here; you are here because you have come with the family; it’s Christmas; you like carols; you are curious; someone asked you to; someone told you too… whatever the reason you are here – pause and consider the question: what are you looking for?

If we are being honest, we all have a deep longing in our lives, as human beings we are aware of our fragility, are weaknesses, our vulnerability – the temptation to run away from this question and fill our lives with something that will fix us, will fill the gap, is great. It is natural: we are human. The whole point of Christmas, is that God knows that. And what is more, he came to be like us. In that manger, we see a poor, weak, defenceless, dependable baby, stretching out his arms towards us looking for our response. God is not only spirit, God is also flesh. Christmas reminds us that God speaks to us through the deep experience of being human. God speaks to us in the way we have the strength and courage to care for one another, forgive one another, love one another. We are given the gift to look into one another’s eyes and see in the faces of each other, God’s beautiful idea. That is the true gift of Christmas – and it is given, freely, as a gift to every one of us. Did you find what you are looking for?

No matter what your life circumstances are this day, God has called you here, this Christmas Day to speak a word of eternal life and love to you – he spoke that word in the form of a baby:

John Betjemann put it well at the conclusion of his poem Christmas:

‘…No carolling in frosty air,

nor all the steeple shaking bells

can with this single truth compare,

that God was man in Palestine

and lives today in bread and wine.’

 

So come. Come to this Table. Come as you are. Come with open hands and open hearts, and you will find what you are looking for.                        Amen.

The Two Kingdoms

Fr David’s Sermon Midnight Mass, Christmas 2015

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2: 1-14)

 

The Gospel we have just heard is about two kingdoms. There is the kingdom of Cesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor who calls a census of the entire world. He is anxious to consolidate his reign politically and financially and to extend his effective control of what was considered the whole world of the time. By any way of thinking the expansion of the Roman Empire was a remarkable achievement rarely replicated in later history. It brought a unified cultural and political reality into being. Cesar Augustus’ authority was so far reaching that he was thought of as a God.

 

Alongside this vast kingdom which seeks consolidation another king appears: the infant who is to be found in a manger. Jesus is born outside the circle of power and authority. The stable itself would have been outside the city. Jesus is born an outsider from the very start. He is born not in the opulent dignity of the socially privileged, or even in the comfort of an ordinary family, but into a place not even designated for human habitation. He is laid to rest not on a throne, not even in the somewhat elegant mangers of the cribs to be seen on our Christmas cards or in our churches, but in the roughness of a feeding trough for animals.

In Saint Luke’s short account of the birth of Jesus this manger is mentioned three times. We are told that Mary laid her infant in the manger. The shepherds are told that it is a manger which will be for them the key to identifying new born saviour. And it is when they reach the unlikely scene of a new-born in a manger that they recognise in this the person of the saviour, the Messiah and Lord.

The manger – the feeding trough – is a sign. Not just for those mentioned in the Gospel narrative but also for us. When we look at the manger this evening what is it pointing to in today’s world?   The manger is first of all a reminder that if we want to understand who God is, then we have to look first of all at the humility of Jesus’ birth. The God of power and might appears in our midst –in human shape – but not with the VIP accessories and status we normally associate with presidents and monarchs. God appears in our midst as vulnerable, sidelined, unimportant. When we recognise that Jesus is born as an outsider, then we realise that God must be different to what we expected.

Christmas is a Feast of humility. Christmas teaches us that humility is the basic channel through which God chooses to reveal to us who God is. God is LOVE. Not a guy in the sky waiting to zap us if we wind him up! God is pure, selfless, unconditional LOVE. Jesus is God in human shape. Jesus is born in humility; Jesus (which means: “the one who saves”) lives in humility, he gets on his hands and knees to wash the feet of his disciples in humility and service; Jesus finally humbles himself even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus reveals how God is love.

The birth we celebrate this day calls us each to renew humility in our lives. We live in a dark and dangerous world. A world where there exist those who would turn the humility and gentleness of the Christ child into a corrupt and violent expression of religion and government, defacing and disfiguring the great world religions of Christianity and Islam; ruling and judging people by terror and violence. We still live in a world of two kingdoms. But because of a baby in a manger, on this Christmas night, we are being shown a new way: the power of humility.

Two days ago a bus was attacked in Kenya: all were ordered off by the gunmen. Quickly, Muslims gave Christians distinctive headscarves to protect their identity and save their lives.

Two weeks ago, that allusive and mysterious street artist, Banksy left one of his graffiti works under a bridge in Calais under which Syrian refugees have been sheltering. It showed the late Steve Jobs as a refugee carrying his possession in a bin bag slung over his shoulder and carrying the first kind of Apple computer invented by him.

Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian refugee; had he not been allowed to settle in the USA, the Apple i-technology revolution would never have happened. Banksy, whose true identity has never been revealed, donated the whole of the proceeds from sale of his recent works to building wooden accommodation units for refugees in Calais. He left the artwork under the bridge during the night after he had been helping to build the wooden shelters.

Humility is the key to everyday Christian solidarity. Humility is a different road to that of the haughtiness of the corrupt which has led to so much hardship in our world. Humility is a different road to that of the arrogance which has given rise to a horrible cycle of criminal violence which tarnishes our cities.   Humility is a different road to that of the indifference and lack of caring which leads to hopelessness.

In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea/ With a glory in his bosom, which transfigures you and me./ As he died to make us holy let us die to make all free… Glory, glory Halleluja!

Having seen the Christ (the chosen one of God), as a baby in a manger, there is hope for us all. No matter how dark and violent this world may be at times – we know that because of the birth of Jesus; God made flesh and blood for you and me – there will always be hope in the rough mangers of our hearts; there will always be love to give; the light will always shine in the darkness:

We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell: O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.

 

 

 

Advent Expectation

Fr David’s sermon 3rd Sunday of Advent, 13 Dec 2015

“As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah…”

Advent is the season of expectation…waiting in hope. Well, is it? What are we waiting for? What are we expecting? Christmas? But surely that is the most predictable of events…surely it is a time of the year when we know what we shall be doing…the carol services follow the same pattern each year… Vicars are used to hearing: “well, we usually do this and we usually do that…what normally happens is…so and so expects…” well maybe there is nothing wrong with that…in many ways…expectation suggests that we know the outcome. Christmas, in our culture is the most predictable of events.

But listen again – feel your heart beating with empassioned indignation as the preacher calls you a brood of vipers…does your blood boil at such an insult? It is not what you expect. Feel your ears tingle as the words strike home and unsettle you. The words cut to the heart as surely as an orchard owner cuts out a tree that fails to bear fruit. It looks like a fruit tree but without fruit it is only good for the fire. Take your place in the crowd, look into the piercing eyes of the prophet as he identifies your role in society: change the way you do what you do. There is no need to change your occupation…your job may be difficult, but do it differently with a spirit of honesty, respect and love.

Is that what you expect to hear…or did you expect to be made comfortable?

On Friday, that allusive and mysterious street artist, Banksy left one of his graffiti works under a bridge in Calais under which Syrian refugees have been sheltering. It showed the late Steve Jobs as a refugee carrying his possession in a bin bag slung over his shoulder and carrying the first kind of Apple computer invented by him.

Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian refugee; had he not been allowed to settle in the USA, the Apple i-technology revolution would never have happened. Banksy, whose true identity has never been revealed, donated the whole of the proceeds from sale of his recent works to building wooden accommodation units for refugees in Calais. He left the artwork under the bridge during the night after he had been helping to build the wooden shelters.

It reminds me of the wise old Rabbi, who once asked his students a question: “How can a person tell when the darkness ends and the daylight begins?” After thinking for a moment, one student replied, “I expect it is when there is enough light to see an animal in the distance to tell whether it is a sheep or a goat.” Another ventured, “I expect it is when there is enough light to distinguish a tree and tell if it is a fig or an oak.”

The old Rabbi gently said, “No. It is when you can look into a person’s face and recognise your brother and sister. For if you cannot recognise in another’s face, the face of your brother and sister, the darkness has not yet begun to lift and the Light has not yet come.”

Advent – means coming – and demands that we open our hearts to the coming of the Lord, not in the expected and cosily predictable but in the unexpected. Feel a new way of life for you and those around you. Smell the aroma of the food and drink you will share with your neighbour; feel the joy of generosity as you give away your wealth and time; touch the hand of the lonely and desperate, the anxious and afraid and see the smile of restored hope and dignity. And ask yourself:

Was it expected that the Son of God would be born in a humble stable to an ordinary unmarried peasant girl? Was it expected that Jesus – the human face of God – would befriend tax-collectors, prostitutes, lepers and those on the very edges of society? Was it expected that the Prince of Peace and the King of Glory would wear a crown of thorns and be executed like a common criminal? Was it expected that the Lord Jesus Christ would rise from the tomb that you and I might have a second chance of experiencing God’s glory? We shall meet God in the unexpected, in the wilderness moments of our lives, when all seems confusing and lost.

And this is the most unexpected thing of all,that God should love us so much that he comes down into the very depths of our lives. That is the astonishing, but real, central truth of the Christian Faith. The birth of Christ means for us that the power of God, his love, his life, his very self, became flesh and blood that we might become alive to sharing that love with each other, as God, now one of us, shares our living and loving, our joys and sufferings.

What we are preparing ourselves for this Advent is the reality that wherever we may be, God will find us in the very depths of our lives. There is no hiding from the love of God. Wherever we are, there is God, revealed unexpectedly in Jesus in our midst – in our joy, in our suffering, in our love. Amen.