Saturday, December 30, 2006

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.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Herewith a version of what I preached at 8am on Sunday. Very concerned about what I am going to preach about this weekend. Here's hoping and praying!


Remember when you were expecting your first child? That feeling is probably clearest today, the third Sunday of Advent. This day is traditionally called "Gaudette Sunday." It means "rejoicing Sunday," from the Latin word, gaudere , to rejoice. The rose candle on the Advent wreath is lighted today and the sometimes heavy weight of Advent is lifted for a time.

Now, there is something tricky about great gifts -- especially when the gift is a child. The lessons we just heard do a marvelous job of pointing to this insight. The first isall about rejoicing. "Rejoice" is the first word we hear from Philippians. We are assured that the Lord is at hand, and this is a wonderful thought.

That is part of what it means to prepare for a gift. That is almost always the very first thing you say when you discover someone is expecting a child; you say, "congratulations," -- rejoice, this is wonderful news. We have all heard that a lot.

Rejoicing is also a big part of what it means to prepare for Christmas. The good news of Advent is that God is coming to God's people -- to you and to me. God's promises are being fulfilled. And we are to await that, to believe that, to realize that-and open ourselves fully to it. That is cause for celebration and for rejoicing.

Then we hear the Gospel and the image shifts. God is no longer pictured as a victorious warrior exulting over his people, but as a wrathful judge, an executioner who loves his work. We are standing at the River Jordan, face to face with John the Baptist at his most intense.

John doesn't say to rejoice; John says to repent. Paul told the Philippians not to be anxious about anything; John tells his hearers to flee from the wrath to come.

Everyone in the Gospel is asking, "What shall we do? What has to change if we are to survive the great and terrible events that lie ahead?" For the axe is already laid to the root of the trees, and fire
Is prepared for burning the chaff. This is a very different message from "rejoice!" And if you think about it, that makes sense, too. That fear, that anxiety, too, is part of our preparation and of our waiting. And it should be heard, and felt, at exactly the same moment we hear, and feel, the call to rejoice. For the Lord we await in Advent is a Lord who makes a difference, who changes things.

He is a Lord who offers both new life and new responsibilities, and who offers them together -- simultaneously. Part of what new life means is that the old life just doesn't work anymore -- because everything is different. If we receive the gift of the Christ child, everything will change, and the direction and the focus of our lives will shift. It just works that way.

Remember the second thing everybody says when they learn that you are expecting a child? The first thing said is always, "congratulations, we're happy for you; it's wonderful news." The second thing is always one form or another of, "boy are you in for it!"

We are told often, and in a variety of ways, that things are going to change, that everything will be different. Nobody uses the word, but everybody tells us we have to repent, indeed that we are going to repent, to change our way of looking and living.

"Rejoice/repent!" This dual demand in the face of the coming of God is addressed to all of us -- it is part of Advent. It is a perfect reflection of the ambiguity that permeates our vision and our experience. We await and try to prepare for the coming of a child -- a child who changes everything. So Zephaniah is right, we are to rejoice, and give thanks to God, and sing. And John the Baptist is right, and this wonderful gift will also come as judgment, and with a power and a violence all its own. If we are going to take seriously the good news of Christmas, then things are going to be very different.

Think about how much your first child changed your lives. Think of what it would look like to live comfortably with the child from Bethlehem -- as a baby, and as an adult. For both the joy he offers and the demands he makes cannot be truly ours if we remain exactly the people we are today. And think about what repentance, the redirection of our attention, looks like -- it is not something weird or mysterious. Repentance generally looks pretty much like our lives now, but with a difference.

When the crowd at the Jordan River felt this crunch of anticipation and judgment, their cry of "what then shall we do?" was met with responses designed to force them into practical decisions. "Look at who you are," John the Baptist said; "begin there." When it comes to sharing, share from what you have. Don't wait until you have more, or until your offering can be of a higher quality-start now, start with what is already there.

Practice justice where you work, build fairness and mercy into your present dealings, your current life. Don't wait until you have a job where justice is easier -- or more noticeable. Don't wait to be somewhere else, or to be doing something else, or to be someone else -- begin with the road in front of you, walk that road, and so allow God to transform the real life you live right now. John did not tell even the despised tax collectors or the hated and feared soldiers that they had to go somewhere else to begin. Just as being a son of Abraham was no exemption from the call to repent, so being a tax collector or a soldier was no barrier to repentance, to change. The business of repenting because of the gift of a child is much the same as rejoicing. It has to do with transforming the life we are already living.

Repent and rejoice -- in all things, with the real life we live in the real world. It really is a familiar situation. As it is with much else, this is also our response to the ambiguity that surrounds us, and to the reality of the coming of the Lord. Rejoice, for what is happening is wonderful. Repent, because from now on, everything will be different.

Monday, December 11, 2006

And from the Diocesan website, the text of the sermon the Bishop Christopher Herbert preached at the service called Buncefield: A Service to Remember at our Holy Trinity, Leverstock Green.

Buncefield Anniversary Service Sunday 10 December 2006 by The Rt Revd Christopher Herbert, Lord Bishop of St Albans.

We all have our memories. Mine is of being woken suddenly and terrifyingly by the huge explosion; the whole house shaking. Like everyone else I didn’t know what had caused it. Within minutes someone was at my door telling me that it might have been a terrorist attack. The next memory is of seeing thick, black smoke pouring up into and across the sky.

I have other memories – of coming to the meeting at the Sports Centre in Hemel and seeing the look of shock and devastation on the faces of those made homeless – and watching the Police and Council Officers as they swung into action so efficiently – some of them homeless themselves; and then going to a school in Leverstock Green and seeing all the windows shattered and tiny shards of glass embedded in absolutely everything like shrapnel….and being taken to meet the fire crews and being asked what took me so long because the minute I stepped into Silver Control, the fire damped down….and then going around the Industrial Estate, and being unable to comprehend the scale of the devastation; buildings twisted into grotesque shapes; trees stripped and blackened. It would be invidious to pick out heroes – though the fire crews are up there with the gold medallists and, I can’t begin to tell you how proud I was of the clergy and people of the Church in Hemel, as so much pastoral and practical help was offered. It was understated, often un-noticed – but it was the stuff of which real ommunities are made. I should like to put on record my personal thanks and profound appreciation for all that was done by Dave Middlebrook, Simon Cutmore, Peter Cotton, Sue Allen, Jan Neale, David Lawson and fellow ministers in other churches…..the Salvation Army (the Mars bars in their van near Silver Control were delicious). Of course Government Ministers came shooting up the M1 and shot back down again….but the real work was done at County level, at Borough level, and at parish and street level. It is not recognised, it is unsung – but it has its own tenacious, quiet and noble bravery.

What the fire crews did as they walked towards the inferno, was echoed a thousand times over by smaller but equally important acts of sheer loving heroism, all over Hemel Hempstead, on the day itself and in the weeks which followed.
None of this, of course, detracts from the questions that continue to be asked – about the causes of the blast; about the storage tanks being so close to places of work and homes; and about who was responsible. Those questions will not and must not go away. I confess I remain puzzled why a public enquiry was not held. There should be nothing to be afraid of in transparency should there?

A sermon needs a biblical text – and mine comes from the story of the prophet Elijah, who longs to meet and see God. He stands on a mountain: “a great strong wind came, rending mountains and shattering rocks before him, but the Lord was not in the wind, and after the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake, fire, but the Lord was not in the fire – and after the fire, a still, small voice….” There have been many attempts to listen to the still, small voice after the devastation here – all those acts of worship, in the car park at Maylands Avenue Industrial Estate, in the school at Adeyfield; all those quiet, one-to-one conversation where people have helped each other through the shock; the counselling, the friendships, the Mayor’s remarkable and very timely appeal; the work of repair and rebuilding: the still, small voice of God is heard and found in all of those things – wherever, out of love and self-sacrifice people give themselves to each other. But I want to suggest that there is also a still, small voice to be encountered in some of the bigger questions which the Buncefield explosion highlighted. Let me concentrate on one in particular:

In the past few years Hertfordshire has suffered more major incidents than any other county in Great Britain. The Watford railcrash; the Hatfield rail-crash; the Potters Bar rail-crash and Buncefield. In each of those cases the work of the emergency
services, the work of the churches, the work of voluntary organisations, and the work of hospitals, the work of Borough and
County Council Officers has been outstanding. The County of Hertfordshire has a remarkable record – and can be proud of how these major incidents have been handled. Hooray and alleluia for that. But can someone please explain, therefore, why those services upon which we all rely, I’m thinking particularly of the NHS and our hospitals, are now facing such upheaval and such turmoil? The A & E at Hemel Hempstead is apparently scheduled for closure; the QEII at Welwyn Garden City is under threat and we are told that the NHS is being taken closer to the people. That is a twist in truth and logic worthy of ‘1984’.

When, from a statistical point of view Hertfordshire is such a vulnerable place to live (because we are the neck of the funnel from the North and Midlands into the London). Is that being factored in to the “reorganisation” of our health-care systems?
Is that being factored in to the resourcing of our emergency services? Is that being factored in to the siting and development of new housing areas? I do not know the answers to the questions – but it is only right to raise them. Would it not be helpful if, as we reflect on Buncefield, Potters Bar, Hatfield and Watford – would it not be helpful if County-wide we could bring together the leaders of emergency services, hospital trusts and PCTs, churches, voluntary organisations, councils and transport planers and see what we can jointly learn from all that has happened?

And the still, small voice would require that Ministers, who have a very difficult job in balancing priorities (I fully acknowledge that), if they and their senior advisers might come to listen to what is being said. The still, small voice is in danger of increasing the volume – and that must be avoided, but I want to add two things more. - and that is firstly to acknowledge and give thanks for the ingenuity, the efficiency the professionalism and the wealth created by the industries in Hemel Hempstead and especially on the Maylands Avenue Industrial Estate, which enables so much of our society, in spite of all the criticism we hear, to flourish. and secondly, to recognise that whilst competition seems to be an inherent and necessary part of industry and society, what we also discovered out of Buncefield, was the significance and pleasure that came from co-operation: cooperation across the boundaries of professional and volunteer, of industry and social services, of councils and

At a local level it would be very telling and very forward-thinking if those kinds of co-operation for the common weal of all the people of Hemel Hempstead, could be explored and developed further. Put in this way: imagine a child in Hemel Hempstead in, say, twenty years time. What would you like that child to be able to say about living in this corner of Hertfordshire, which they cannot say now? If Buncefield could lead us to shape our community and our work and our lives so that we could bring that kind of vision into being – then the still, small voice of God will be able to be heard.

Meanwhile, in those who are still suffering ill-health, homelessness or distress as a result of the explosion, the still, small voice of God discovered within the depths of our souls and within the love of others, will bring healing. But for those in positions of power, in the worlds of insurance and law, in the boardrooms of public companies, the still, small voice is
waiting to be heard; quietly and persistently demanding righteous and just dealings for those who suffer, and demanding that the eternal values of compassion and truth are given space to flourish.

‘After the fire, the still, small voice….’.
Herewith a version of Sunday's sermon marking the anniversary of the Buncefield blast.

A year ago at 6.01am all of us were woken by the largest explosion in peace time Europe. For a large number of us, the damage to our homes, lives and livelihoods has been small, and in most cases anything that needed attending to in terms of counseling, building work, and employment have all been resolved one way or another.

For a significant minority of people though in this village, the Buncefield blast lingers on in more than just the memory due to wrangles with the insurance company, incomplete building work, ongoing unemployment, children’s inability to sleep, and unresolved post traumatic stress. As Mike Penning rightly said on Friday night - those members of our community have become a forgotten people and and their struggle has become a forgotten story. So on this anniversary weekend I feel that it is absolutely right that bring to mind the almost biblical events of last year that affected us all to a lesser or greater degree, that we remind ourselves of the ongoing struggle for some, and that we commit ourselves to walking with them into the future.

This anniversary weekend we are also confronted with this strange, hairy man, John, shouting in the desert about repentance. The Gospel writers associate him with a prophet standing in the desert scrubland. This prophet seems to think we only get to the comfort when we’ve faced the devastation. He’s on about the wilderness, as well. What’s more, he seems to think that we are sitting in a desert because that’s what we have made of our lives. He suggests that we’ve pulled up our roots, and turned away from our ground, our source of water, which is God. Now we are so weak and dry that we drift about aimlessly.

With the Buncefield blast still ringing in our ears, and the prophet in Isaiah linked to John certain that we only get true comfort when we have faced devastation - a devastation still present amongst us, what sort of a community should we be as we prepare to greet the Christ child?

Repentant. John calls us to repentance, to live a new way. To give ourselves so completely to God, that our lives take an about face away from the wasteland that we so often make them, filled with lifeless doubt, crippling guilt, and choking fear of today and tomorrow, to them becoming places where life springs up and new growth is nurtured which is completely dependent on God for it’s future.

Advent is our readying ourselves for God’s coming to us. In some senses this is not a joyful season but one that helps to acknowledge that our world, our society, our lives, our faith are all broken and the only help and hope open to us is in God. Advent is also our readying ourselves for our coming to God and therefore being repentant is not just about breast beating at our willful ignoring of his will for us, rather it is as much about our longing for wholeness, healing and hope.

An Advent community is a repentant community, because it knows 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.

As advent people, on this Buncefield anniversary weekend of all weekends, we need to work for healing and hope for those in our community who continue to be affected by the events of a year ago - listening to and sharing the story of our community, supporting the most vulnerable amongst us through acts of practical love and working together for the future of all.

Seeking justice and judgment. Hear the words of God through Malachi - God says he is like a refiners fire and a fullers soap, purifying and refining the descendants of Levi. Isaiah too prophesies the leveling of the land before God. We as an advent community need to be prepared for God’s judgment whilst also longing for his justice.

The story of God’s involvement with people in the scriptures speaks again and again of God’s coming and his coming again, to conclude the work he began at the first moment of creation and to restore and renew, but also to identify that which is irrevocably broken, to bring to light the things that we as people do which have willfully hampered God’s purposes for us and our lives.

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.

As an Advent community, on this Buncefield anniversary weekend of all weekends, we need to continue seek justice and judgment and to call for closure for our community. Part of this justice and closure must come through a full and transparent public inquiry, not so that the finger of blame can be pointed at particular people because their job was not done properly, but so that the community can know stage by stage what happened and why it happened. God’s advent justice for this community is also about our insurance companies acting with a single voice and acting as one and acting now. God’s advent justice for this community is also about those who have the power to ensure that as far as possible this sort of event doesn’t happen again, make sure that it doesn’t.

Hope. Hear the words of Isaiah, liked to John the Baptist - all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Salvation, literally saving from an irredeemable event, from an impossible situation offers hope. The story of God’s involvement with people is one that speaks again and again of God stepping in and lifting humanity out of the deepest darkness we insist on putting ourselves into

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.

As an Advent community, on this Buncefield anniversary weekend of all weekends, we need to be the voice telling our beleaguered community God’s story of hope. Part of this story is already being told not in words but in actions. Look back over the last year and see how this community has come together and supported one another because we had to.

As Christians we are purveyors of hope - hopes invested in a soon to be born child, but not just any child but God incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus - saviour. But it was throughout this child's life that hope exudes as even at teh end in death and resurrection - hope is revealed. Hemel Hempstead, heavenly homestead as it literally means. knew the presence of the coming God a year ago. It must continued to do so now as we hold our community’s hand, and walk together into God future in hope.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Very tired again tonight.

Feeling better though after a month of feeling really pretty ill. The Advent carols service - 'Seven Bells to Bethlehem' went really well on Sunday night. The best attended it has been in my time with about 100 people there. It really is a beautiful service though...

Today though, it seems there tensions between school and church that need resolving. The main issue it seems to me is that communication at the bazaar needs to be improved. I am quite angry though at the back biting and bitching and will talk to Alan about it tomorrow. I will also ensure though that if we do something as a church like the bazaar - we will make sure we do it properly including helping set up and clear up et al.

On another note - Ben seems ro be doing really well potty training. Been at it for 2 weeks now and he has got it! Today he managed to to verbalise that he needed to go, took himself off un aided and succeeded! Major breakthough...!!!

As the Buncefield anniversay draws nearer, I am aware of how big the service in church on Sunday at 2.30pm could be - it is certainly got national profile. I feel a bit daunted by what needs to be resolved yet and I feel that I need to spend some time on Saturday and maybe even Friday in putting stuff in place. I am delighted that the Bishop is coming and his support through all of this has been immeasurable.

On another note - the first of the Adevnt studies on prayer happened tonight using Bishop Martin's 'Pearls of Life.' A small group, but the content seemed to be very well received. Do feel that I feling around in teh dark a bit and will need to be better prepared next week - even so - the group seem as liberated to pray as I do using them pearls. I also need to do less talking next time and find some we to free discussion. Either way, I hope that this is beginning of something special in terms of renewing the prayer lives of the people at church.

Anyway, off to bed


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Very very very tired today - in fact Alex is too... Very bad night indeed. Hey ho!

New Advent service book in use for the first time today - I was pleased with the result I think.

I am concious that there are alot of people within the community who are really struggling right now with one thing or another. It feels quite crushing. Need to to hope and pray that God breaks into the situations of many in our church right now...

Below is an incomplete version of what I preached this morning...

LGVA Carol concert in a little while... :-)



In the hills of northern Spain stands an old church with a very unusual statue of Mary in it. Down in the crypt she stands - La Madona de la O - the O Madonna or Advent Madonna. She stands in late pregnancy, heavy with child and full of hope for the future. Her pregnant fullness quietly announces God’s love for the world.

It is this Mary, blooming in late pregnancy, that also represents the church as she enters Advent. We like Mary are anticipatingly awaiting the arrival of her Son. We, like her, are filled with hope because of the child she will bear. The Advent church, with Mary, long for justice for the world, through this child whose name means ‘saviour.’ We, like Mary, know that with God this sense of hope and longing has a personal edge that affects us - it brings us into the searing light of God’s judgement, it calls us to change, and yet fills us with pregnant joy that the fulfilled hopes of God and us rest in this unborn child. As we prepare to greet the Christ child - how should I be?

Hopeful. Advent is the season where we long for God’s coming to us. For centuries faithful men and women throughout the Old Testament had watched and waited for God to come and liberate his people - freeing them from oppression, slavery, and occupation. With the angel’s words to her, Mary knew that generations of waiting were soon to be over. In this holy season as we anticipate remembering God coming to our world bringing justice and judegement, we need to be hopeful that God has moved the constant battle with evil and suffering, into it’s endgame.

The coming Christ is the one who can open the gateway closed by God at Eden because of sin and who stands at the door open in heaven inviting us in. In Advent, Christ is called the Key of David - a symbol of authority at the palace of Jerusalem - and it’s bearer had the authority to admit people into the royal presence. The key in question was a cumbersome affair carried on the shoulders, and the analogy between key and cross cannot be downplayed.

With the coming of God comes wild hope, but not a crazy utopian dream. Peace in nations begins with peace in people. Free nations begins with free people. Liberation of lands and political systems begins with liberating the human heart. Advent people are hopeful people, people who know that it is only the coming Christ child who can unlock the doorway to God and the doorway to humanity as God created it to be.

Trusting. Mary’s words to the angel. “Let it be to me according to your word.’ show a radical obedience to the will of God. In this holy season, as we anticipate remembering God coming into our world - restoring, healing - we too need to become people who trust God. As God entrusts himself to his creation in the vulnerability of a helpless baby, so we need to entrust ourselves to his will. In advent, Mary reminds us that her trust is not a blind acceptance. All that she had been told would happen had happened.

We need to trust God, as incredulous and unlikely as that might seem. God is trustworthy and true and does not revoke his promises. In Christ, all God’s promises already in place. His first coming at the Incarnation confirmed the reliability of all the Old testa ment prophesies. The enduring presence of of the Holy Spirit in his church, by which the endgame has begun, assures us that he will return again. God’s future has begun, here, now.

With the coming of God comes a need to trust him, but not a crazy utopian dream. What Mary knew, we must know. God has consistently proved himself to be faithful through the pages of scripture and the lives of men and women over the ages, all that Mary heard from the angel she saw fulfilled. Advent people are 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.

Proclaiming. Mary’s words ‘My soul magnifies the Lord!’ remind that Advent’s purpose is to proclaim God in a world that largely ignores him. As a tiny baby, that is to say so unobtrusive in his humility, he needs to be magnified to been seen. In a world that ignores him and yet needs him more and more - the we need to sing the Magnificat in our live all the more loudly. In a world that gives status dependent on wealth, on body image, on clothing, yet longs for love, forgiveness, healing and hope, we need to proclaim him all the more.

Advent longs for coming of God to us, but it also is the time to remind us that God waits for our coming to him. At the incarnation he comes to us and will come again at the end of time, in the meantime he watches out like the father of the prodigal son - waiting to embrace us in eternal love.

Advent is traditionally as season of repentance - seeking to mend broken relationships, hearing words of forgiveness - so we also need to return to God, discovering as we do in this holy season, that it only when we return to our creator that we find our true status - as children of God - forgiven, healed, hopeful and reconciled.