1st Sunday of Christmas 2015

Canon Roy Arnold

Well that was quick wasn’t it? He was only born on Friday and now he’s 12 years old already. Jesus I am talking about. Actually – although slightly accelerated in the case of Jesus in the Gospel – it is only what most parents experience with their children. It seems no sooner are they born they are starting primary school and then sitting their GCSEs. And then wanting a car and then getting married (or at least a partner) and leaving to live in Exeter or Hong Kong or even Rainow.

With Jesus we see him – so soon after Christmas – as a 12 year-old visiting Jerusalem for the Passover with his parents after a normal Jewish childhood. Now at 12, coming of age according to Jewish Law and at (at that age I believe) realising for the first time about his special relationship with God; that it God who was his Father and not Joseph. To be fair, we are all God’s children but Jesus was especially God’s son and he came to live with us on earth to teach us about God and heaven.

As our Collect for today reminded us, he came to share in our humanity so that we might share the life of his divinity. In the meantime, in our Gospel story we hear of his not being on the coach back to Nazareth, about his earthly parents’ anxiety; about him being in the temple – like a student – with the wise men of the faith. And eventually having a good telling off by his Mum and going back home with his parents to Nazareth, but with Mary treasuring all these things in her heart.

And then Jesus himself (back in small town Nazareth) getting on with everyone and especially getting to know his father God, and generally getting on with experiencing the up and downs of human life, and so (as our Post Communion Prayer reminds us) sharing the life of an earthly home and bringing us all at last to our home in heaven.

All this was to the be the task of this baby born so long ago but in our memory and the memory of the Christian Church born just last Friday. And then, when he was about 30, starting his ministry of teaching and healing and so infuriated by his popularity, the self-righteous and those who thought they knew all about God (and loving the power and social standing that went with that knowledge) they had him tried and crucified. But then he rose again on the third day and continued his teaching and healing by living on in his disciples and in me and you.

One of those early followers, whom he called on the road to Damascus – in Syria no less – was St Paul who (in his letter to the Colossians and to me and you) left us an excellent summary of what was and is expected of us if we are to follow Jesus and to get to that home in Heaven. St Paul says we must clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness and humility, with meekness and patience; and if anyone has a complaint against anyone we must forgive them because we (by God) nave been forgiven so much. For that forgiveness and for so much else as well we must always be thanking God. Perhaps practising singing for when we join the united choirs of heaven… And whatever we do, doing it the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God who is his Father and ours through Jesus. And yes we must love him as the baby born as of last Friday (we cannot help but love a newborn infant) but especially we must follow the adult Jesus up hill and down dale, until we come within sight of the New Jerusalem. And in the words of an ancient prayer “….with Christ as our morning star, when the night of this world is past he will bring us to the light of life and to the opening of a new and everlasting day.” And so – if we deserve it – we shall find ourselves with Jesus and home at last. Our earthly journey done.

Through the New Year of 2016, almost upon us, let us – me and you – try to follow the Jesus way.

Christmas 2015

Canon Roy Arnold

I don’t often quote the Pope in sermons but the present Pope said recently:

“Christmas again. There will be lights and there will be parties and bright trees and even nativity scenes all decked out, while the world continues to make war. It is all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. The whole world is at war and Jesus weeps.”

Of course we may put it all down to Muslim extremists, but there we would be wrong. For this Christmas sees the 75th anniversary of the so called Christmas Blitz and not so far away either – certainly visible from White Nancy and the hills beyond Pott Shrigley – as after several nights bombing by the Luftwaffe, Manchester burned. Manchester Cathedral was hit, the Free Trade Hall, Manchester Eye Hospital and many homes. 600 people died and over 2000 were injured and perhaps Jesus wept even more to see two great Christian Countries such as Germany and Britain at war; and more if you count in Russia and France and all the rest. Fighting not one, but two Great World Wars, the Second as a consequence of the First.

What hope might there be when Christians fight with Christians. As the Pope has said; we just haven’t got the message. One Christmas Carol says it all:

“Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long; beneath the angel strains have rolled two thousand years of wrong; and man at war with man hears not the love song which they bring. O hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing.”

and yet another popular hymn asks:

“When comes the promised time that war shall be no more and lust, oppression, crime shall flee thy face before?”.

Sadly, on the Eve of Christmas 2015 we are still waiting for the answer to that question even though we can in fact rejoice that now there is peace over the battlefields and once ruined cities of yesteryear. Yet now there are new battles going on, perhaps right now, and bewildered people flee from the wreckage of their homes and livelihoods. All the more reason why we should truly welcome the Prince of Peace – even now waiting in the wings to come again as on this very night.

Waiting, waiting, waiting for us to get the message that He brings.

 

The Rural Dean’s Christmas Message: Midnight Mass 2015

“The flowers and candles are here to protect us…” This was a dawning realisation expressed by a young Parisian immigrant child in conversation with his father, an exchange captured in a short You-Tube interview taking place amid the crowds in the Place de la Republique on the day after the terrorist attack a few weeks ago in November. (The film clip is available to view on St Oswald’s Facebook page, and I recommend you have a look at it when and if you have a quiet moment in the post-Christmas lull). As the interviewer gently asks the child whether he understands what has happened, the four year old boy, held in the arms of his father, is acutely anxious about the “very, very bad people with guns” who were threatening to kill everyone, and about his family possibly having to leave their home in order to escape the violence. His father tenderly but hastily reassures him that they don’t need to move house, because “France is our home”. When the child then whispers, “But what about the bad men with guns, papa?”, his father does not sugar-coat the pill, simply repeating softly in sadness, “There are bad people everywhere…”

Then, in an inspired moment, the father points out to the child, still very worried about the bad men with guns, “They might have guns, but we have flowers! ” The child looks back over his shoulder, but clearly needs some convincing about the validity of this statement. Frowning, he stammers out, “But, but, flowers don’t do anything!?” He’s lost for words. His father immediately replies, “Of course they do! Look, everyone is putting flowers over there. It’s to fight against guns.” “To protect..?” asks the child. He is silent for a moment, then asks, “And the candles?” “The candles are to remember the people who are gone,” says his father. Another moment of thoughtful contemplation follows, and then the child turns directly to the interviewer and unexpectedly says, quietly and confidently, “The flowers and candles are here to protect us.” His father quickly whispers, “Yes!” And there is a beautiful exchange of a slow, shy smile between the two of them. The interviewer asks the child, “Do you feel better now?” And the little boy says, “Yes, I feel better.” He turns his small trusting face back to gaze on the candles and the flowers, which suddenly have kindled a fragile but blossoming hope within his fearful young heart.

That small boy, I think, speaks for many of us, adults, teenagers and children alike, when faced with dreadful situations shown daily on our television screens from across the world. Or when we encounter in our everyday lives difficult or distressing things much closer to home, in our families, workplaces, schools or local communities. We often have to be helped by others to find any glimmer of light in those dark places, whether in our inner being or in the complex world around us, or else we might otherwise stumble and fall. We all, at some time or other, need the encouragement of other people who care about us, to get us through and to help us see more clearly the bigger picture. This Christmas, many of us venture in through the open doors of our local churches, to find inside a light to help guide us in our common human search for making sense of things and for “feeling better” about it all… Lit by the candles of hopefulness and surrounded by the flowers of faith, even those held in tentative fingers by our companions gathered here tonight, I pray you will discover here your feet returning afresh to a well-trodden path which leads you into the light and tries to make some better sense of the confusions and sadnesses of our world.

Another short film-clip on our Facebook page features the simple yet profoundly wondering lyrics of the song “Mary, did you know?” sung by an A Cappella group called Pentatonix. This too is well worth listening to. The words echo those of the prophets as found in the Book of Isaiah from ancient days, and the song also picks up on Jesus’ own sense of his calling and purpose in life as we can hear later on in Luke’s Gospel, when as an adult Jesus stands up to read from the sacred scroll in the synagogue. The words of the song go like this:

Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?

 

Did you know That your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.

 

Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand? Did you know That your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod? When you kissed your little Baby, you kissed the face of God?

 

The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The dead will live again. The lame will leap. The dumb will speak the praises of The Lamb.

 

Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will one day rule the nations? Did you know That your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? The sleeping child you’re holding, is the great I AM!

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

 

(Some of the imagery here, strange to us but familiar to the ancient Hebrew people, is of a sacrificial lamb given up to enable restoration and reconciliation with one another and with the mysterious God whose name was almost too sacred to speak aloud…)

That same God, the one who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, may be glimpsed here tonight amidst the busyness and crowdedness of our everyday existence. That same God waits for us to enter into honest conversation with him, as (like the best of parents) he holds us tenderly, and desires to protect us from all that otherwise would harm us.

Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God, was born as a vulnerable questioning child into our dangerous and violent but also beautiful world, to show us the better way of truth, kindness, compassion, co-operation, courage and peace, and somehow, mysteriously, revealed to be in himself the Light and Hope that will ultimately lead all human beings safely home to God in heaven.

May we once again find ourselves just as awestruck as no doubt Mary was that first Christmas night, daring to recognise here God in Christ placed into our own hands, in the ordinariness of bread, broken for us, fragmented and shared out. May we glimpse God’s renewed purposes for our lives as, mysteriously through this Holy Communion, we find integrity and wholeness, both within and between us.

May the holy angels and all God’s saints, living and departed, remain our joyful companions as we go out from here, restored and refreshed for our different journeys through this often troublous life, and may God bless each one of us, friend and stranger alike, with true peace and heart-felt hope, this Christmas and always.                        Amen.

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Help support Cre8 Macclesfield!

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The Cre8 Youth and Community Programme (Cre8) comprises a charity and a social enterprise based on the Moss Estate in Macclesfield. Cre8 is part of the work of St Barnabas Church on Lyme Avenue.

  • The charity (Cre8 Macclesfield) does activities with children, young people, young adults and their families, including those who are at risk or hard to reach.​
  • The social enterprises (Cre8 Works & Cre8 Facilities) employ young people and young adults doing landscaping, garden and grounds maintenance, roof insulation and commercial vehicle washing.

Cre8 is a full time programme staffed by qualified youth workers, supported by student youth and community workers and volunteers, many of whom live on the estate.

Visit their News page

Vicar’s Letter December 2015

vicars letter003In the Vicarage we usually wait until 2 February each year before we take down our festive Christmas decorations, reluctantly removing the last bits of tinsel only at the Feast of Candlemas, celebrating the time when Jesus was first taken to the Temple by his parents and when he as a young child was recognised by two older holy people, Simeon and Anna, as specially consecrated to the service of God and as a light for all humanity. This coming year as soon the festive sparkle has gone (as if the dark January days have not been bad enough), the serious penitential season of Lent will be upon us almost straightaway! Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday fall in the very next week after the Feast of Candlemas – on 9 and 10 February 2016 – all of which in turn has the knock-on effect that Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter will be here before we know it, towards the end of March! Probably nothing to do with it being a Leap Year, but it seems the Easter Bunny will be out and about in 2016 earlier than usual!
In 2015, Bollington commemorated 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo, and White Nancy was painted with shadowy figures from both Wellington and Napoleon’s armies. Seeing that the two neighbouring parishes of Bollington and Rainow have each long since made claim to owning the same territory on which White Nancy sits, we have decided to call a truce this year and to join forces in our practical keeping of Lent in 2016! The Revd Steve Rathbone, Vicar of Rainow, has kindly offered to host a Shrove Tuesday Party and Film Show on 9 February at 7.00pm in Holy Trinity Church, Rainow, open for any members of our congregations who wish to take part in a planned series of Lent Groups, which will be happening at various venues across the two parishes, for five weeks beginning on 15 February.
At the Shrove Tuesday gathering we will have the chance to watch the epic film “Les Miserables” together (even to sing along perhaps?!) and to enjoy one another’s company over light refreshments. (At least one of Bollington’s Churchwardens will be pleased, as I think this is amongst her favourite films!) Don’t forget to bring your hankies! The Lent Course we’ve chosen to follow explores some of the themes and characters from this moving and well-known story, and has been put together in a little book entitled “Another Story Must Begin” written by Jonathan Meyer, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, where apparently some of the scenes in the 2012 version were filmed.
LentBook-2016
Following on from us all watching the film together on Shrove Tuesday, Steve Rathbone, Michael Fox and I will between us lead one session each over the next five weeks, and anyone from either congregation will be most welcome to sign up to take part. Over the course of five weeks, we will each be offering the same content for that week’s session but on different days and at different venues and times, to offer flexibility for those taking part alongside your other commitments. You’ll be able to mix and match if you like! So the pattern will be as follows:
  • Mondays 1.30pm till 3.00pm, at Holy Trinity, Rainow: led by Revd Steve Rathbone (from 15 February to 14 March incl.)
  • Tuesdays 7.30pm till 9.00pm, at a variety of homes across the two parishes: led by Revd Michael Fox (from 16 February to 15 March incl.)
  • Wednesdays 7.30pm till 9.00pm, at St Oswald’s, Bollington: led by Canon Veronica Hydon (from 17 February to 16 March incl.)
It may seem a long way off, especially if you’re still out and about doing your Christmas shopping, but please do put these dates in your new diaries now! It promises to be an engaging course, reflecting on God’s grace worked out in our own lives and in the lives of Victor Hugo’s characters as portrayed in the film. You’ll be singing all the songs by heart before we’ve finished! It will also be good to meet with our Christian companions from across the parish boundary and so be able to look up at White Nancy in future from a different perspective when we greet the Easter dawn and celebrate the time when Jesus brings us all home!
There will be sheets at the back of both churches nearer the time, so that you can sign up to say you’d like to join in with this Lenten journey. Thank you!
Meanwhile, every blessing for a thoughtful Advent and a joyful Christmas!
Veronica