Second Sunday of Advent 2018

Ann Coomes

Malachi 3: 1-4,  Phil 1: 3- 11,  Luke 3:1-6

How many of you are going to have a Christmas tree this year? How many of you have got it decorated yet?

 Because of course, without the lights on the tree, there is no glory in the tree. It is all dolled up, but nothing glitters or glows – there is no energy in it – no light!

For me, the most nerve-wracking part of getting ready for Christmas comes just after I have managed to get the tree to stand upright without falling over, and I have unravelled the tangle of Christmas lights and wrapped them round and round and round the tree.  Then just before I plug the lights in, there is that awful moment when I wonder if the lights will actually work or not.  Suppose nothing happens?  Why didn’t I check them before I put them on the tree?  And if they don’t work, which bulb is not working?   How will I ever find it?  

Anyway, I reckon that the people of Israel were feeling a bit like that in this morning’s reading from Malachi.  The time was about 445 BC, and Israel was in the doldrums. They had, if you like, a very big tree with lights on it – but it would not light up.  In other words, they had a magnificent temple in Jerusalem, but it felt flat, somehow, and there was no power in it.

To really appreciate their problem, we need to remind ourselves of the back story.  Israel had returned from exile in Babylon nearly 100 years before, in 538 BC.  But they returned to disaster, because Jerusalem was in ruins.  Solomon’s beautiful temple where centuries before the glory of God had been so evident that it had literally lit up with glory, had been destroyed by the Babylonians.

But still, the prophets who had returned from exile with the people had assured them that God had not forsaken them, and that one day He would come in power and restore the glory of Israel.

And so the people, working for decades, had slowly managed to restore the city, and the temple.  But then – nothing happened.  The temple, although it was ready for God, did not ‘light up’, and the nation certainly did not return to the prosperity, international prominence and wealth that their prophets had promised to them.

Malachi is, as you know, the very last book in the Old Testament. And so the OT ends on a rather dismal note – the people of Israel in Jerusalem, hoping for the glory of God to return to them, but instead facing a rather terrible time of it. 

Because in thecenturies between 445 BC and the birth of Christ, Israel was invaded over and over again.  For example, in 350 BC Jerusalem was invaded by Artaxerxes 111 of Persia.  About 20 years later, in 332 BC Alexander the Great arrived.  After him Israel came under the rule of Egypt and then Asia Minor, until in 63 BC General Pompey of Rome invaded it, and the Roman Empire swallowed it up. 

So no wonder the Israelites felt discouraged.  Where was Jehovah?  Why had he not blessed the second temple?  Why didn’t the Christmas tree lights come on, as it were?

No wonder that by the time of Christ the Pharisees kept so strictly to the Law of Moses – they hoped that in doing so, they would encourage God’s blessing on their nation.  

After all, Malachi had warned the people that when the Lord finally did come, who could endure his coming?  God would demand purity and holiness, he would be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  And so the Pharisees preached strict observance to the Law – or at least the outward signs of it.   

But still –nothing happened.   Still no lights on the tree. 

The Jews could only wait and hope that one day the second temple would be filled with a glory that would make Israel the light of the world. But – where was it?

Of course, this morning, with the benefit of 2000 years history, we know that the reason the second temple did not ‘light up’ was that the first covenant God had made with mankind was coming to an end.  God was going to keep his promise of dwelling among his people in a way they could hardly have imagined – He himself was going to come to his people. He was going to be their glory, to dwell in their hearts, not in a mere building of stones. 

Which brings to our Gospel reading, from Luke, where John the Baptist begins his ministry.  John was unique, for he was the very last ofthe Old Testament, pre-Christian prophets, and the very first prophet to recognise Jesus for who he was. 

Isaiah had foreseen John the Baptist eight centuries before, calling him:  

A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’

The coming of John he Baptist was so important that Luke actually went to the trouble to set it in the context of world history by linking it with the political situation of the time.   He tells us that it was during the 15th year of Tiberius the Roman emperor.  Well, Tiberius ruled from AD 14-37, which would make his 15th year either AD 27-28 or AD 28-29. 

John the Baptist’s witness was almost the hinge of history, if you like.  The age of the Law was ending, and God was about to make a new Covenant with mankind – one written in the blood of Christ. 

From now on, the way to God was not through keeping the Law, but through repentence and forgiveness.

The middle one of today’s readings was from Paul’s letter to the Philippian Christians, which offers each one of us some wonderful encouragement as we prepare for Christmas this year.

Paul writes that he is confident ‘that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus….’

In other words, God is at work within us, through his Spirit, and He will never give upon us.  We may have various troubles in our lives this Christmas, but we can be sure that God will never leave us or forsake us. 

Indeed, Paul says that as we share in God grace,

  • our love ‘will abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 
  • we will be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless
  • and we will be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
  •  

All of which takes me back to my Christmas tree lights.

They cannot shine of their own accord, they need energy from outside.

They cannot shine if their filament is corrupted or twisted in any way. 

They need to be properly plugged into the source of their energy.

Only then will energy from the Source be able to flow into them, and light them up,bringing glory to the tree, and being a light to all those around them.

Only when the Holy Spirit is dwelling within us will we, in our small way, become lights to the world, because his light is shining through us. 

Christ The King – Sunday 25 November 2019

Brian Reader

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Ps 93; Revelation 1:4-8; John 18:33-37

Today, is the last Sunday of the Church’s year and as next Sunday we will start the reflective season of Advent, it is appropriate that today we celebrate Christ the King.

I don’t know about you, but I was quite surprised by the readings set for today. At first they appear to have little in common, but when studied together, they reveal the understanding – or the misunderstanding – of the Kingship of Christ as it has been revealed over a long period of history.

The Book of Daniel would probably not have been my first choice for an Old Testament lesson as it is difficult for us to understand, as our with minds are more used to dealing with life in the 21st century. If we wish to understand it, we should first consider when and why it was written.

It was written, probably after many decades of it being passed on by word of mouth, to remind the Jewish people of God’s greatness, and to encourage them while they were in exile in Babylon. Earlier in the book Daniel interprets the king’s dream which vividly portrayed a time when nations will be judged and destroyed. At that time God would set up His kingdom and reign forever.

9 As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousand served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgement, and the books were opened.
13 As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

This passage is part of a later dream or vision that Daniel had that adds the fact that God will “sit” for a solemn day of judgment before He sets up His “everlasting dominion.” An elaborate court room is described and the Ancient One who took his throne is God the Father, and the white garments and white hair stress that he is eternal.

His throne was a fiery flame: This was a brilliant manifestation of God’s splendour and the fierce heat of His judgment. There seems to be something lava-like in the stream of fire pouring from the throne; it was like a river of vast destructive and cleansing power. There is then a description of the innumerable company of angels surrounding the throne of God, and the mass of humanity standing before God for judgment.

The books referred to contain the records of good and evil since the beginning of time. His verdict will be both just and merciful, because He commits the judgment to His Son, who gave His life for us. It continues:  – in my dreams (night visions) I saw the Son of Man – or the Messiah (one like a human being) coming with the clouds of heaven – this refers to Jesus ascending to heaven after his resurrection, “to receive the kingdom.”

After His resurrection, Jesus said he must return to His Father. In this passage, on his return to the heavenly courts, His Father invests him with, dominion and glory and kingship that all peoples nations and languages should serve him – and says that his kingship should never be destroyed.
It is a call to the Jewish faithful to stand firm with the assurance that even though, humanly speaking, the situation seems hopeless, God is in control and things will come right.

These verses are for the comfort and support of the people of God, in reference to the persecutions that would come upon them, and many of the New Testament predictions of the judgment to come, reflect this vision.
Our next reading was from the book of Revelation. The word can be interpreted as the sudden unveiling of a previously hidden truth. As such it could be titled the book of Revelation of Jesus Christ!

This is another of the visions and ‘revelations’ seen by holy, prayerful people who were wrestling with the question of the divine purpose. This book was also written to bolster the Christians, living in seven towns in Asia Minor which is now in modern Turkey and in our passage, these seven towns are referred to as the seven spirits. There may have been several groups of Christians in ancient Turkey, where John seems to have been based. They would have been mostly poor, meeting in one another’s homes.

By contrast, at that time, people were building grand and expensive temples for Caesar and his family in various cities, all eager to show Rome how loyal they were. What would Jesus himself say about this? Did it mean that, after all, that the Christians were wasting their time, following a crucified Jew rather than Caesar who was rather obviously the present ‘lord of the world’?

Revelation is written to say ‘no’ to that question – and to say much more besides. At its centre is a fresh revelation of Jesus the ‘Messiah’. John, with his head and his heart full of Israel’s scriptures, discovered on one particular occasion, as he was praying, that the curtain was pulled back.
He found himself face to face with Jesus himself.

The early Christians believed that Jesus of Nazareth had become, in person, the place where heaven and earth met. Meditating on Jesus, and contemplating his death and resurrection in particular, they believed they could see right into God’s own world. They could then understand things about his purpose which nobody had imagined before.

So John starts by offering them the grace and peace of God the Almighty, and from Jesus to whom he gives various titles.

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

Jesus is the one who, through his death and resurrection, has accomplished God’s purpose. His love for his people, his liberation of them by his self-sacrifice, his purpose for them (not just to rescue them, but to put them to important work in his service) – all these are stated here briefly in this verse. And, not least, Jesus is the one who will soon return to complete the task, to set up his rule on earth as in heaven. But by far and away the most important: everything that is to come flows from the central figure, Jesus himself, and ultimately from God the father, ‘He Who Is and Who Was and Who Is to Come’.

And so we come to the Gospel.
This too is an example of misunderstanding, and it is set in a place where Jesus is on trial. We have heard the reading many times, especially at Easter, so we have some understanding of what Jesus is saying. But not Pilate.

Are you the king of the Jews?

The Kings he knew about ruled people according to their own wishes and whims. They were all-powerful. And people knew how kings became kings.
Often, the crown would pass from father to son but from time to time there would be a revolution. The way to the crown, for anyone not in the direct family line, was through violence.

Herod the Great, thirty years before Jesus was born, had defeated the Parthians, the great empire to the east, and Rome in gratitude had allowed him to become ‘King of the Jews’, although he, too, had no appropriate background or pedigree. So Pilate comes to investigate whether Jesus is a political threat to Rome: are you the King of the Jews?

Rather than answer Pilate, Jesus becomes the interrogator and judge in this trial. Pilate is not as in control as he pretends to be and Jesus knows it. This ironic blurring of legal and political roles is a favourite technique of John’s.
But it is clear who the real judge is. In response to Jesus’ question, Pilate declares, “I’m not a Jew, am I?” Of course he’s not; quite the opposite: he’s a Roman representing the arm of the Empire that is oppressing Jesus’ own people, the Jews. As Pilate remains opposed to Jesus and entirely uninterested in truth for truth’s sake, he does in fact become indistinguishable from those who rejected Jesus by handing him over to Pilate.

Jesus responds, in a way, to Pilate’s king question. But Jesus does not crow about being a king; rather, he immediately speaks not about himself but his community, calling it a kingdom (some prefer the word “kindom”). Here he contrasts himself with Pilate.

Pilate uses power and authority for selfish ends with no concern for the building of community, and certainly not a community guided by love and truth. Pilate hoards power and lords it over people even to the point of destroying them, on a cross if necessary. Jesus empowers others and uses his authority to wash the feet of those he leads. He spends his life on them, every last ounce of it; he gives his life to bring life.

Pilate’s rule brings terror, even in the midst of calm; Jesus’ rule brings peace, even in the midst of terror

Pilate’s followers imitate him by using violence to conquer and divide people by race, ethnicity, and nations. Jesus’ followers put away the sword in order to invite and unify people.

Pilate’s authority originates from the will of Caesar and is always tenuous.
Jesus’ authority originates from doing the will of God, and is eternal. Jesus places all of this choice conversation material before Pilate, but he hears only Jesus’ possible threat to Pilate’s own authority: “So you ARE a king?”

Jesus again pushes deeper to the heart of the matter: this is the trial of the ages. Truth itself is on trial and Jesus is the star witness. Will Pilate side with Truth or Cynicism?

What about us?

It is interesting to note that, in the end, Pilate attempts to crucify the Truth. He places a placard mockingly announcing Jesus as The King of the Jews. The irony is that Pilate in trying to mock, has unwittingly announced the truth. There on the cross the King is crowned, not with diamonds or a laurel wreath but with thorns. And from that lofty height, his Church, his ally in announcing the truth is born. Loving truth will always win.

As Christians we believe that Christ the King lives and will come again to reign in glory for ever. Until that time we have to follow His calling, and with His help follow in His way, spreading love and His Gospel truth to all we meet.

AMEN

Recycle your Christmas Tree in January 2019!

Richard Raymond writes…

A Million Pound Milestone

On 13 January 2001 a van swung out of the drive of the old vicarage in Prestbury and went to make a collection of a Christmas tree. Tied onto the tree was an envelope containing a few pound coins. Building on a fundraising initiative based on the Parable of the Talents proposed by Men’s Choir member Mike Thompson and his wife Lis when the church required a new organ, those coins were the first donation to the East Cheshire Hospice Christmas Tree Collection.

Some 19 years later (to the day!) on 13 January 2019 over 40 vans all manned by volunteers of the same Christmas Tree Collection will be out hoping that they will pick up the one tree whose donation will raise the cumulative net amount of monies raised for the hospice to over one million pounds.

Since 2001 over 70,000 trees have been collected. Countless volunteers have helped over the last 19 years; many meals have been served to keep the van crews going; endless roads have been visited; bundle-loads of leaflets have been delivered; and a whole community has helped in so many ways to do this. We could reflect on our award-winning status or that we are the largest volunteer-led Christmas tree collection in the country, or that another 50 hospices have followed our lead to run such a fundraising initiative.

But now is not the time for all of this! We have a six-figure target to smash! And to do so we shall mobilize our teams of volunteers who will have to collect another 75 tonnes of trees. Once again we will organize an enormous industrial operation to turn these into recycled mulch.

However all of this will not achieve our target. It is the generous support of all our customers which will push this year’s total to over £120,000, and that will see us through £1million! Please help us!

By doing so we can all support our local hospice and help them to provide care for those with life-limiting conditions, and their families and friends, through the in-patient unit, the daycare centre and the Hospice at Home service.

Please go to www.echtrees.org.uk. Here you will find how to book your tree in and how to make a donation.

The Collection will be on 12/13 January 2019.

Bible Sunday 2018

Brian Reader

Isaiah 55: 1-11; 2 Timothy 3: 14-4:5; Ps 19: 7-14; John 5: 36b-47

Last week we had the Confirmation Service with Bishop Libby preaching, so today might feel a bit like, ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’! But it shouldn’t.

Today we could be celebrating Simon and Jude the Apostles, or the Last Sunday after Trinity, but our readings are for Bible Sunday, so today we celebrate Holy Scripture. If we had any doubt about its importance then the collects and the readings for today make the point very clearly.

Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Do we receive the comfort of God’s Holy Word?
Do we listen for God speaking through His Word?
These days, our lives seem so full of noise, which makes any listening hard. We tend to turn on the Mobile, or the television and leave them on, even if we are not interested in the programme. We seem to have a dread of silence, and all this noise makes it difficult for us to listen. So to what, and how should we listen?

For the Muslim, it is comparatively easy, for theirs is a religion of the book,
the Koran, the direct word of God dictated to Mohammed his prophet.

But our Bible is not like that. For one thing the Bible is a very human book. Not only one book but a collection of many books, written in many different styles, at different times and in varying contexts. Within its pages we can find history, stories, songs and letters. The Bible did not fall out of the sky ready-made and there is evidence that parts of both the Old and the New Testaments have been revised over the centuries.

Within the Bible, God’s word is depicted in very dynamic terms – His word is his deed. When God speaks, things happen. And most particularly of all, John’s gospel speaks of Jesus as the Word become flesh.

God has used the Bible, down through the ages to reveal himself to us. He has spoken through his prophets, whose words and deeds have been recorded in the Bible; he has spoken to His people through their history, by showing how he has acted through the ages, giving them support, succour, and hope, during times of both their obedience & when they have rebelled

When you read the Bible you are aware of the truth that those who wrote the books of the Bible had faith in God; and that their understanding of God changed, as they reworked the Bible texts to cover changing circumstances. For it is from the Bible they learnt about God, and from God they learnt how to discover the truth in the Bible.

Why is it that some people still have no understanding or knowledge of God? I am reminded of the schoolgirl who, when faced with an RE project, sent a letter to the Anglican Church Information Office, in London saying.
‘We are doing God next year. Please send all details and pamphlets!’

We don’t need details and pamphlets we have the Bible which is an information resource without parallel. However, without the help of the Holy Spirit and our faith to aid our understanding, the Bible is just old religious literature beloved of our fathers but dead to many of this generation. It is God alone who gives the Bible Authority and reveals it to be the Word of God. And Christ, who is himself frequently referred to in the scriptures, he came to fulfil the Bible prophesies.

In today’s epistle St Paul writes to Timothy. All scripture is inspired by God
and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

We sometimes question why the world rejects the teaching of the Bible. But why should the world believe and follow the teaching of the Bible, when some, who call themselves Christians never open their Bibles at home from one year to the next? Yes, it is true, that there are many who will quote the Bible passionately to support their arguments for pacifism, against pacifism, and 22 years ago, when I spoke on Bible Sunday, some were quoting the Bible to support their views for and against the ordination of women.

My father-in-law, a village Rector, loved to quote verse 40 of Matthew chapter 22: which reported Jesus as saying Hang all the law and the prophets, but he only quoted this to show that any quotation taken out of context would probably be incorrect!

The Bible still remains a primary channel of God’s word to us. By such means God confronts us with challenge, choice, guidance, and rebuke,
but also grace and hope. A community of Christians that stops reading the Scriptures, will soon be deaf to God, and will try to make him after their own image.

This is what must have happened in the early 13th century. Did you know, that in 1229, at the synod of Toulouse, the Roman Catholic Church – forbade the laity to possess the Scriptures (Bible), except the Psalter, and such other portions as are contained in the breviary, (their equivalent of our prayer book) and especially denounced all translations other than Latin?

One of the reasons for the Reformation was the wish of Christians to return to a true Christian religion based on the Bible. This gave the impetus to Wycliffe and Tyndale to translate the scriptures into English. We thank God for their work, and also for the work of many Christian Biblical scholars of all denominations who now work closely together to produce the text of the Bible which is as accurate as can presently be achieved. However, the Bible is most effective when it is translated into everyday Christian life.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus never gave chapter and verse when he quoted the scriptures? How would you have found a passage in the scroll of Isaiah say? It was only when studying for the Certificate in Theology that I discovered that Stephen Langton had first numbered the chapters in 1226 and that Robert Etienne introduced the numbering of verses in 1551.
These two actions resulted in the easy referencing of the Bible that all Christians still enjoy today.

This does not mean that the Bible is any easier to understand! God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. This is good news; the last thing we want is a God who thinks and acts like us. There is something very human about the Bible’s own witness. Many of the stories of God drawing near to his people are set in everyday contexts rather than specifically religious settings. The challenging word of God is heard through the prophet in the market place or by the city gate or a thirsty Christ at the water well.

The Bible brings good news. From Isaiah we heard: Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. God has given mankind intellect and this great reference book, the Bible. The Bible does not contain pat answers to all the questions we have in life, but by careful study, the use of our minds, and guided by the Holy Spirit and our friends in Christ, we too can understand the truth and wisdom of the Bible for our use in our world today.

It is His Holy Spirit that has the power to change old religious writings into this great authority that we call the Bible. For in today’s Gospel from John we learn that Only God can reveal God.

We know that the New Testament records the sayings and the teaching of Jesus and Jesus taught us that God is as a father to us all. A God with whom we can all have a personal relationship as a child has to a loving parent. Jesus said: ‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?’

Yes, the Bible is a wonderful book, but if reading it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit does not bring us into a personal relationship with God the Father, through Christ the Son, then it is of no more use to us, than an just an outdated book of yellowing pages!

AMEN

Centenary of the Armistice 1918

Various commemorative events will be arranged to mark the centenary of the signature of the Armistice on 11 November 1918. But there is one commemoration that you can view right now in Bollington – at least, during office hours Monday to Friday.

The Rolls of Honour for the Adelphi and Clarence Mills for both WW1 and WW2 were probably originally to be found in the Clarence Mill, but we think that they were relocated to a position under the tower of St John’s church when the Mill ceased production. When the former parish church was closed, the Rolls were put into storage for safe keeping while an alternative location could be found for them.

The rolls have now been installed in the Adelphi Mill, near the lift entrance on the ground floor and can be viewed by the public free of charge during normal office hours. Enter the Mill building by the main entrance – the stairs will be on your left and the lift entrance will be on your right. However, it is normally difficult to find a parking space unless you are visiting the gym or one of the other businesses in the Adelphi that has reserved parking.

The Rolls of Honour list employees of the Adelphi and Clarence Mills who served in the two world wars (not only those who lost their lives in the conflicts). They show their ranks and regiments, whether they received gallantry medals, and whether they were wounded or killed. Note that many soldiers did not remain in the regiments with which they initially enlisted, so in some cases the regiment shown on the Roll of Honour my not be the one in which a man spent most of his service.

Most of the surnames on the lists are still represented in Bollington today, so why not go and see if any of your family members are listed?
These Rolls of Honour are part of Bollington’s heritage and we are grateful that the management of the Adelphi Group have put them on public view in co-operation with Bollington Town Council.

You can read more about Bollington men who served in World War 1 on the Bollington Online War Memorial, which can be found on our parish website – look under Family History on the Home page.