Sermons for Sunday 24th at 10am - 4th Sunday in Advent and Christmas Midnight follow... It's been a really good Christmas all in all. We split the crib service in 2 due to numbers and ended up with 200 there at the 3.30pm service at 350 or so at the 5pm!!! AMAZING!
Other services were well attended - Midnight Mass must hav had a congregation around 130 people and at least that on Christmas Day - inc. lots of children!
Incluiding multiple visits we must have had contact with just short of 1000 people over the Christmas Eve/Day celelbrations!!!
Even the eucharists after Christmas had worshippers! ALso really good.
I feel elated but knackered now. We had a nice family time too with the in-laws here - they helped out and were good with the kids too!!! LOTS of pressies...
Anyway enough - here are the 2 sermons:
In recent weeks’ sermons, as we have prepared for the coming of Christ, we have thought about how we should be as individuals and as communities. As individuals we need to be hopeful as it is only Christ, the Key of David, who can unlock the doorway to God and the doorway to humanity as God created it to be. Advent people need to be trusting people, people who have come to know that trusting God is not a last resort when all else fails, but the place to start. We also needed to be proclaiming people, people who know that it only when we return to our creator that we find our true status - as children of God - forgiven, healed, hopeful and reconciled.
As communities we have recalled that Advent communities are repentant communities, because we know that we try to survive on our own without God at our peril. As an Advent community need to work to bring ourselves and others to him, broken and incomplete as we each are yearning for forgiveness and love. We have also recalled that Advent communities seek justice and are aware of God’s coming judgment. Since the Buncefield explosion a year ago, there has been a growing need for justice and judgment for residents and business people alike - calling for a full public enquiry and for insurance companies to act as one. Advent communities also proclaim hope. As an Advent community, we must be about sharing hope; hope that the darkness is temporary, hope that the bleakness of life is being overcome by the coming of Life itself, God himself in Christ.
I began this season with Mary and we should end with her too, Firstly, let’s put Mary in context. What did she look like? Next to the tomb of the tomb of the Venerable Bede stands the diminutive stature, the slight frame, the delicate features not quite grown into yet of a teenage girl. There is a gracefulness and yet awkwardness about her as she stands almost coyly next to the English saint. This is Mary - the shy, unassuming girl edging with some difficulty into womanhood whom you still see coming out of Woolworth's at 4.30pm with her school uniform untucked, who spends hours with her friends trying out the cheap make-up she bought in the bathroom mirror. That said, by Jewish standards, she will have been a woman socially, legally, and religiously.
Secondly, the religious context. Mary as a good Jew, was expecting the Messiah who would redeem God’s chosen people and liberate them from the Roman tyranny. The Messiah would be David’s son - a political tour de force with the heavenly armies at his command. This divine leader would exercise the righteous judgment and wrath of God over people and nations. The expectations of most seem to be that this person would come from ‘above’ as an exalted leader and would certainly not be born fragile and delicate in our midst ‘with us.’
Mary must have wondered about the future and what it would bring after her angelic visit - for the child she was carrying promised the world much, as what the angel said challenged her own hopes for her baby, but the angel’s words also challenged what her faith told her about the nature and action of God. In her discussions with angel, we also learn something fundamental about this adolescent and her radical obedience to the will of God.
The Mary’s we see probably every day are often very self-conscious and extremely image conscious. So if some teen idol had spoken to her today, my guess is Mary would have been terrified, excited, and embarrassed all at once. It is hard to begin to imagine how one feels in the presence of an angel but I suspect that it must be all that multiplied to eternity. Either way, after the initial rush of emotions, most of us would be very perplexed at being called ‘favoured one!’
Gabriel goes on to tell this ordinary girl some extraordinary news. She has found favour with God. Why should she - she not holy, in fact she may have seen herself as wholly unremarkable, but she is exactly the sort of person that God likes to give status to - where the poor and humble are lifted up and the rich and proud are brought down. Gabriel comes with a commission, literally a co-mission with and from God. She is to bear a son and to name him Jesus which means saviour. It is a a joint mission with God as this child will be given the throne of David by God and his kingdom will last to eternity. This child is the promised redeemer, but He, like Mary, is not the person that people will expect God to use and he will redeem people for God, but not in ways that they will expect.
What is remarkable with this Mary, compared with her peers in today’s world, is that she has not had sex with Joseph or any other man. This she tells quite calmly to the angel. The biology is pretty basic - how can she become pregnant? Gabriel reassures Mary that all this will be God’s doing. This is supposed to reassure Mary. What will people say? What will Joseph say more importantly? This is it - the marriage is over - in Joseph’s eyes, this will be the consequences of sleeping around. She will bring shame on herself and her parents. Mary is not the sexually active or even curious teen of today - no contraception, no morning after pill - she will somehow just have to come to terms with the social and religious stigma of having a baby outside marriage. Gabriel tells her that this child will be holy and called son of God. So what, who will believe her and how will she cope? The road ahead must have seemed confusing, complicated, even objectionable, but God will see to it Gabriel's says.
In Mary the teenager, God takes something very ordinary and does something extraordinary in the miracle of the conception of the Christ child. The truly extraordinary thing though is not what God does, but what Mary does - she hears the Angel’s words, believes, and obeys, despite the consequences of what others will think of her.
We can learn much from Mary. The Orthodox Church call her Theotokos - God Bearer. This Christmas, as we celebrate the fulfillment of gabriel’s words, we have a choice, a co-mission with and from God. Either we can resolve to hear and obey God’s call to bear Christ to others in our whole lives, for as Christians we believe that God made a permanent and lasting difference to the world in this child. We must not shy away from the consequences of being Christian, and God using even us to tell others in our words and actions of His love. Let it be to me according to your word. Or, we can do nothing leaving it all to to others, besides what might others think of me - thank God Mary didn’t.
Angels. They are flaming everywhere at the moment. If you go in Waterstones, in either the Mind, Body Spirit section or in the Religion section you will find books about angels - how discover your own personal angel, getting to know your guardian angel, your round angel, how to amuse an angel over Christmas and so on.
Angels are not unique to the Bible and therefore to the Jewish and Christian faiths. Angels feature in other major world religions including Hinduism and Islam. Wherever they appear angels come as spirit messengers from God - usually in human form. They exist to carry out God's will. Angels reveal themselves to individuals as well as to the whole nations, and their ‘main job’ it seems is to announce events, either good or bad, affecting human beings. Aside from that they also spend a lot of time worshipping God in heaven.
As a result of spending so much time with God, we can conclude that angels are a bit like God - good, holy, otherworldly... Despite them being announcers of often good news, in the Bible they are usually frightening to those who encounter them (despite the attempted reassuring ‘fear not!’), they occasionally carry swords, they appear in white shining garments, they pitch up it seems anywhere they are sent - in dreams, in tombs, in Temples, in the sky itself.
Angels abound particularly in the Bible stories that we hear at this time of year. An angel tells Mary of her pregnancy, an angel tells Zecheriah of his wife Elizabeth’s pregnancy, an angel reassures Joseph about the nature of Mary’s pregnancy, an angel tells the shepherds about the birth of Jesus, and a host of angels sing praise to God for all that he has done and will do through this the baby whose birth we remember tonight.
Angels also feature at the end of this story too. After 3 years of turning the religious world upside down, of healing the sick and raising the dead, of teaching people everything they need to know about God which was often contrary to what the religious establishment of the day, Jesus is arrested, tried for a crime he did not commit, and sentenced to death on the cross. Three days after Jesus’ death, visitors to his tomb discover the stone removed from it, the body gone, and in it’s place an angel or angels telling those who have come some really good news - that Jesus is alive again as he said he would be, all of this happens to forge a new relationship with God with me. For me to know that the things, my sin, that keep me from God are no longer an issue and giving me the chance to live a new way - to aim for a good and holy life.
Tonight, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I want us to rediscover the importance of this part of the story with it’s angels, as I feel that in some ways, Christians over the years have focussed too much attention on the end of the story of the life of this baby.
The Christmas story is these days often confined to the ‘children’s section.’ It’s a lovely story about a baby after all. Yet we forget at our peril that the coming of God’s promised saviour, a political figure, was foretold generations beforehand and the arrival of the one who would liberate God’s people from Roman rule, and restore the worship of God once more at the heart of the life of people, was longed and hoped for almost physically. Thing is, in this baby, no one really got what they expected.
No one expected God’s great leader to be born in poverty, in the squalor of a stable. But to show that this accidental identification with the poor and homeless was no accident, the first visitors to the manger are shepherds - socially one of the lowest groups - so the poor and outcast are welcomed by God!
Later wise men too observe using their astrological charts the rising of a birth star of a new godly ruler and they come to seek him out to worship him. Similarly, no one expected God’ Jewish saviour to be visited and worshipped by non-Jews.
Also, for generations, people tried live God’s way, following the Law and the Ten Commandments and succeeding for a time and then mostly failing. The Old Testament is one long story of God people struggling to get back to him, to relationship with him. No one expected that in birth of baby Jesus - God comes to us.
Advertisers talk much about medium and message. For generations people had heard God’s message of love of love to the world and the call to live a new way - through God speaking, prophets speaking, and people doing some listening. Most of the time people wandered away from God and did their own thing - they heard the message, but the medium was too abstract.
Tonight though no expected it, in the birth of baby Jesus, God comes as medium and message - for in Jesus the adult, people see and hear what God is like and how all people - rich poor, Jews gentiles, wise lowly can build a relationship with him.
This is precisely the reason why the Christmas story is not just for children. It is a historical event that happened for all of us - rich, poor, Jew or Christian, intelligent or foolish. Don’t think for one second that this baby is not for you because you’re not like the ‘holy’ people who come to church and it’s not somewhere where you would normally feel at home. Don’t think for a second that this baby is not for you because other people come here regularly to worship God and you are not that sort. Don’t think for a second that this baby is not for you because you haven’t got your life in order, your relationships sorted and everything fixed.
You are in for a suprise. No one expected God’s promised saviour, whose birth was prophesied by angels, and whose arrival was sung by heavenly choirs, to arrive as a fragile and vulnerable newborn. Similarly, the baby whose birth we celebrate tonight is for us especially when our lives and our relationships are in a mess, he is for us especially when we don’t feel good enough and certainly not holy in any way shape or form - not today, not ever!, he is for us when we see ourselves as ‘normal’ and not like them in there because that’s how I feel, how many of us feel. You do not have to be an angel to be here tonight or any time and we will certainly not be checking for halos at the door.
The only angels tonight are the ones that tell us again of Jesus’ birth and invite us to discover him ourselves in Bethlehem, in Galillee as an adult, on the cross outside Jerusalem, and here in Leverstock Green in the hearts lives of ordinary people like you this Christmas and every day. Amen.