Advent Sunday 2016

Ann Coomes

Isaiah 2: 1-5 ; Romans 13: 11 – end;  Matthew 24: 36 – 44

You’ll never guess who I ran into last night. Michael Fox, our former curate, and his wife Ginny. I was up at the Royal Northern College of Music, where Ginny, who is a member of the St George’s Singers, was singing the wonderful Brahms Requiem.

brahmsrequiemBrahms’ requiem is a magnificent affirmation of faith and hope in Jesus Christ, and of an eternal future in the comfort of his presence,  and so it reminded me of our readings this morning – the longing which St Paul had for the second coming of Jesus, and his joy and utter confidence in Christ’s eventual return.

There is a line in the requiem which quotes Jesus from the gospel of John. It runs:

‘You now have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you.’
I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice. 

What a wonderful promise!  And of course, that is what Advent is all about – the coming of Jesus. Or the ‘adventus’ of Jesus, if you want the Latin.

So it is little wonder, then, that Advent is the season of Christian anticipation and hope.

For as we look back to that First Coming of Jesus, born so humbly in a manger in Bethlehem, so we look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus, when He will come in power and authority.

Our readings this morning look forward to that Second Coming of Jesus, at the end of time. Together, the readings spell out several things the Bible urges us to remember.

Firstly, we are reminded that as Christians, we are citizens of two countries. We belong both to this present age on earth, with its pain and evil, and also to the age that is to come, when Christ shall reign in power. We live our lives at the intersection of these two ages.   Hence the ambiguity of Christian experience. We are not what we were, but equally, we are not yet what we shall become.

So, if you like, the two ‘ages’ of history overlap. With the birth of Jesus, the kingdom of God has come, but not in completeness.  Paul likens a Christian to a child who one day will come into a great inheritance. We Christians are waiting for that – for the Second Coming of Jesus, when the present age will finally disappear, and the new age of God’s kingdom will be consummated.

So Advent is a time to remember that world history is not just a tale of on-going gloom and doom. It has a story line. In a sense, world history is His story. God’s story. He made this world. He came and lived in it. He calls us to follow him. At the end – the second Advent – He will return and wind up history. That is the great Christian hope which we remember this morning. That history is moving steadily towards that amazing day of Jesus’ return.

And this time it won’t be in an obscure manger in Bethlehem. When Jesus comes back, this Second Coming will be the most public event in all history. It will come like a bolt from the blue, and be like sheet lightning, from one side of the sky to the other.

The return of Christ will be the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
It will be a time of judgement, a time of restoration

As our reading in Isaiah put it:

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

It will be a time of new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, where God will once more live among his people.

Of course, just as in the time of Noah, most people do not believe that anything big is coming. They think that the present age will go on forever. Many people say that Paul got it wrong, because he tells his readers that they are living in the last days, and of course 2000 years has gone by, and Jesus has still not returned.

But when Paul uses the term ‘last days’, he is not referring to the length of time between when he was writing and when he expected Jesus to return. Rather, he was saying that there is now nothing more on God’s calendar when it comes to his dealings with mankind. The Messiah has come, has died for his people, he has risen again, and now reigns in heaven with a name that is above every name. There only remains now for his return – when every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is indeed Lord.

In that regard, these last two thousand years are indeed the ‘last days’. There is no other age of human history after this age. Everything between God and man has been accomplished, the stage is set. And at just the right moment, known only to God the Father, Jesus Christ will return.

Meanwhile, our Christian calling is to behave in the continuing night as if the day had dawned. We are to live lives of self-control and goodness,  showing that we are citizens of a different kingdom. In that regard, we are the light of the world.

This Advent can for each one of us become a spiritual journey. We begin by remembering birth of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem. We look then to the Scriptures that reaffirm that He is present, through his spirit, in the world today. We then remember the scriptures which tell us that he will come again in glory. Finally, we look forward to our final destination, which is to be in his presence forever!

Which, of course, brings me right back to the Royal Northern College of Music last night, and that magnificent line which runs:

‘You now have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice.

As it says in Revelation, even so, Come Lord Jesus.

Amen!

The story of Zaccheus (Luke 19: 1-10)

Canon Roy Arnold

The Gospel tells us the story of Zacchaeus, who was a very, very rich man – the chief tax-collector in the prosperous city of Jericho – but not a popular man because tax collectors were collaborators with the hated Roman occupiers, and noted for making a bit of cash on the side for themselves. But one day – going about his business in town – he heard a stir and wanted to know it was all about. Actually it was Jesus just passing through Jericho, but Zacchaeus couldn’t see him because of the crowd and also because he wasn’t very tall. So he started to run up the road and scrambled up a sycamore tree. It was a surprise – up among the branches – when he heard his name being called.

Church of the Good Shepherd, Jericho (photo by Tango7174)
Church of the Good Shepherd, Jericho (photo by Tango7174)

“Zacchaeus, come on down”. It was Jesus who was calling and much to the surprise of Zacchaeus, Jesus was saying that he wanted to stay at his house, despite the muttering of the crowd about Jesus mingling with tax collectors and sinners. Actually, I believe that Jesus could see into the heart of this man called Zacchaeus – that he wanted something more in his life, he wanted forgiveness maybe; he wanted to feel loved; no longer to be an outcast. And this is what he heard Jesus saying directly to him (and the men muttering in the crowd) “Today salvation has come to this house, because this too is a son of Abraham. For the son of man came to seek and to save the lost”, using the word lost in the sense of getting lost as in a strange city or place.

I guess that most can feel lost at times. People can get lost in their search for riches, as I think Zacchaeus had done; for the love of money is the root of evil and a frequent way of getting on the wrong track. Or people can get lost when they take to the bottle, or drugs. And also we can get lost when the experience of our lives change. I must admit that I am not particularly enjoying getting old, despite having a bus pass. But then I could be old or a child in war-torn Syria.

There are all sorts of ways in which we can feel lost, some our own fault and or by actions of others; or by illness or loss, but lost is lost (as Mrs May might have said). But Zacchaeus was found – up a tree – by Jesus, the same Jesus who can show me and you the right way to go. By that light of God which Jesus brings to us when we are lost, as the old hymn has it:

Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom; lead thou me on. The night is dark and I am far from home, lead thou me on. Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene. One step enough for me.

One step out of our lostness, or one step towards the life which is to come. One step; a step to follow Jesus. Just one step is probably all it takes. So we pray that Jesus, the Light of the World, will be with us this day, that we may ever live and walk as children of the light, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

All Saints – 30 October 2016

Canon Roy Arnold

A while ago I came across one of the books I had in my childhood, and was amused to find on the second page my name and address as follows: ROY ARNOLD, 41 HIGH STREET, BOLLINGTON, NEAR MACCLESFIELD, CHESHIRE, ENGLAND, EUROPE, THE WORLD. I guess that maybe you wrote that sort of thing in your books or on the cover of exercise books at school.

And I thought that it might be an idea this morning, to remind us of our place in the Church right now in a similar way. So in imagination put your own name here, at the front of your mind. And then, where we are now, at St Oswald’s Church seated next to – well whoever it is – and the company of all the people who are here in Church this Morning And then add as well the names of any who aren’t here this morning; away on holiday, or ill, or in hospital or Nursing Homes. And then count in our friends at Church in St Gregory’s and the Christian Life Church. And then outside Bollington, at Pott Shrigley and Prestbury and Rainow; at St Paul’s in Macclesfield with Michael in charge… and on through all the churches in this Deanery under the charge of Veronica as Rural Dean. And so on, adding in the churches of Chester Diocese and, going the whole hog, throwing in all Churches of any denomination in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland where acts of worship similar to here in our church are going on right now.

But there’s more to come as we recall the hymn which tells us that “our brethren neath the western skies” will be taking over where our worship leaves off while we sleep. Christians at worship throughout the world; a stupendous chorus of praise – even more than the 14 million who watched the Bake Off Final on Wednesday night. Many, many more because now we must add in the all who belong to the Church in the closer company of God; including we hope some of our own loved ones who are in heaven. All whom we have loved and lost awhile; our daughter Rachel, my Mother and Father and so on. And of course you can put in the names of your loved ones here. How or where we can hope to see them all maybe we cannot know; all standing around the throne of God, and maybe all of them joining with us as we say the Our Father. They on the other side of death and we on this – which is the special theme of All Saints tide starting today, as we remember that we are part of the Communion of Saints stretching across time and space. With our prayers, whether offered alone or together, and being caught up in the great outpouring and praise and worship of the whole people of God.

all-saintsAnd the golden evening will brighten in the west and soon to faithful warriors will come their rest. And from earths wide bounds, from oceans furthest coast, through gates of pearl will stream the countless host, singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Our effectiveness in this heavenly choir depends, of course, upon our joining in. Singing together from the same hymn-sheet as the saying goes, using the same script, taking note of the teaching of Jesus. And not least of those last words from this morning’s Gospel where he tells us “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” A specific direction to me. Now residing at my home in Bollington, near Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, Europe and The World. And to you, whoever you are and wherever you live.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

A golden rule. Easy to remember. Difficult to do.

Michaelmas – 29 September 2016

Canon Roy Arnold

When the Protestant Reformation swept into Britain from Germany in the time of King Henry VIII and his short-lived son Edward, the more radical of the Protestants had it in mind to clear out anything that smacked of the old Catholic ways such as altars, vestments, candles and devotion to saints. And also the keeping of Saint’s Days, but with Saint’s Days they ran into a major snag because some of these were part and parcel of the legal and educational setup.

Not least Michaelmas (which we are celebrating today) because Michaelmas marked the start of the new Legal Year and also the start of University Terms. And it was (like Lady Day in March) a Quarter Day connected with the payment of rents and debts, and with the hiring of new servants and labourers. After much thought they decided that it was best to stick to the status quo and leave Saint’s Day alone because they were too interwoven with legal issues and education and practical life to tamper with.

mikharkhangel1Another of the customs of Michaelmas was to ordain new clergy – deacons and priests – because of the obvious connection between the role of the clergy and the ministry of angels. For both angels and clergy have been given the task of being God’s Messengers, informing and teaching people about the love of God. But here I dip back into Reformation history because one of the main teachings of the Reformation was that it was not just the clergy who were servants and messengers for God; this work has been given to all who call themselves Christians. And God doesn’t have favourites, nor does He have First and Second Class messengers and servants. This forms the Reformation Teaching which we call THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS

Maybe you might recall that it was at Michaelmas in 1963 that I was ordained as a Deacon and the following year as a Priest. But through all these years of Ministry I have always kept in mind that important thought of THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS; that it is together – clergy and lay people together – being about our Father’s business, as Jesus was. So we must help the Angels out (or be helped by them) in the work of carrying the message of the love of God to a world which so badly needs it. God’s love for us, and our returning love for him, and ideally for everyone we meet as we live our daily lives.

Heavenly Father,

We pray to you this day that we (like the angels) may truly be messengers telling of your love, spreading this great good news.

And being like Jesus, we ask that
your love may shine through our eyes,
your spirit inspire our words,
your wisdom fill our minds,
your mercy control our hands,
your will capture our hearts,
your joy pervade our being
until we are changed into his likeness from glory to glory.

We pray for peace in our warring world, and for that same peace in our own lives; whether we are happy and in good health or if are worried or ill or sad. May the peace of God which passes all understanding may settle in us all and we pray for our loved ones and our friends, for us here at St Oswald’s and throughout the wide boundaries of the Christian Church and today we remember especially Mary Houghton who died this week.

All this we pray through Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Amen

Referendum Day – 23 June 2016

Canon Roy Arnold

I finished writing this sermon a week ago on the Monday before the death of Jo Cox MP.

StEtheldredaAs well as being the big day to vote whether we wish to stay in or out of the European Union, it is also the day we remember Etheldreda; an Anglo Saxon Princess and Abbess of Ely which Abbey she founded. She was born in Suffolk near Newmarket and died on this day in the year 638 after a life known for its prayerfulness and simplicity and prophecy. Apart from her posh name Etheldreda she was also known as Audrey, and in October-time in Ely they had an annual event called St Audrey’s Fair, which sadly got a name for second rate and shoddy goods and from which we get our derogatory term “tawdry” (meaning just that: cheap and nasty).

Which (in my opinion) is how I would describe the Referendum Campaign now thankfully reaching its last few hours: cheap and nasty. It was dressed up as a once in a lifetime chance to choose our political destiny but we all perhaps know that its real object was to save Mr Cameron’s bacon and pacify the strong anti-European element of his Party. A ploy which blew up his face when seemingly lifelong friends and colleagues turned against him and became the Leave Campaign with the might of Mr Farage (with his majority of one seat in the Commons). And then it all became like a Pantomime; you know., where the actors and actresses engage in one of those OH YES IT IS…OH NO IT ISN’T routines, in this case egged on by our so called free press – sadly not free of powerful influences by (ironically non-elected) folk such Rupert Murdoch and the editors or owners of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph. The result, almost inevitably will be a win – whichever way it goes – that will leave large swathes of the population disgruntled and disaffected and certainly a nation sadly divided.

In – or Out – or shake it all about. Sadly our political leaders are not like St Audrey – uncomplicated and prayerful and able to see into the future – but are all too human like us. Whether it be David Cameron with this shambles of the EU Referendum or Tony Blair with his disastrous invasion of Iraq; they make mistakes and misjudgements like we all do, but with more widespread and toxic results. Tomorrow we must accept the democratic results of the vote; but maybe (as the old Prayer for Unity had it) recognising the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. It will take -I believe – all our best efforts and prayers to overcome this state of affairs and try to build bridges and a better way of being a united nation. Maybe as Britons we have never been good at making our minds up one way or other about really important matters such as Private Education (Eton and Harrow) or Tytherington Secondary School, or between a National Health Service or private health providers… or the EU. Having said this I reckon that most of us would not want to live anywhere else but Britain. So whatever the result of the referendum, perhaps we might take advice from the last few lines of the poem called Desiderata…

…the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals…
…in the noisy confusion of life keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

 

Saint Anselm

Canon Roy Arnold
anselmToday as we visit the Church’s Gallery of Saints we come to St Anselm. He was born in Northern Italy in 1033. At an early age set out to travel extensively in Europe, visiting many monasteries and places of learning, eventually settling at the Abbey of Bec near Rouen in Normandy where he made his reputation as a Christian Writer and Scholar. He eventually became the Abbot of the monastery, but he found opposition to his rule, surprisingly from a man by the name of Osborne. After sorting out Osborne (good idea), Anselm was called to cross the English Channel to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1089, some 23 years after the Normans Conquered England in 1066 – the year Britain became more inextricably joined to Europe…

Anselm didn’t have an easy time as Archbishop – having fallen out with the King he was twice sent into exile – but in so many ways I would put Anselm down as being ahead of his times, not least in his attitude towards the role of women in Society and in the Church. He believed that although we refer to God as our Father we must not forget that God (and therefore Jesus) is like a Mother to us as well. Let me quote a prayer that Anselm wrote about the year 1109.

Jesus, like a mother you gather your people to you, you are gentle with us as a mother with her children and despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness, and through your gentleness we find comfort in fear. Your warmth gives live to the dead and your touch makes sinners righteous. Jesus in your mercy, heal us and in your love and tenderness remake us. In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness and for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.

In a world mainly dominated by men there were, even at that time, many powerful women but I would like to think that it was Anselm’s deep studies about the life of Jesus where he learnt about the need for the Church, and all of us as members of the Church, to truly value the role of both men and women. For one reason or another, women make up a good proportion of churchgoers, so I am proud of the fact that the Church of England recognises this fact in the Ordination of Women, not only as Priests but also now as Bishops. Something which perhaps Anselm never even dreamt about.

And on this, the 90th birthday of Elizabeth II we thank God for this living proof of a Christian woman who has fulfilled, I believe, every aspect of her role as a family woman and as monarch of this nation and Commonwealth. As we can all say: “God Save the Queen!”

Good News: 24 January 2016

Canon Roy Arnold

The word Gospel means Good News although News as we know it now from Newspapers, Radio and Television is normally anything but good. In fact it is often downright depressing. But Jesus, when he was at the start of his preaching ministry, chose a text from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah about God’s really good news for the poor and for the blind and the oppressed and those in prison. He was preaching in his home town of Nazareth (and down the ages to me and you) and saying this is to be the theme of his message about Good News to the poor and others.

Of course there are many ways of being poor. People can be poor in cash-terms or poor in spirit; and there are many ways of being oppressed and imprisoned, for we can be imprisoned by our doubts and our fears, oppressed by depression – being continually in the dumps – or blind to the love of God.

And maybe this can happen to us all, from time to time, when we take too much notice of the Rolling News on the BBC and ITV and the media in general, which forms a background of misery to our modern lives. Obviously we cannot bury our heads in the sand and not be aware of the plight of migrants and the movement of Stock Markets or the violence and cruelty of our world. But we must not let ourselves get oppressed and imprisoned by it all, particularly when there is nothing we can do about it most of the time. Our opponent whom we call the Devil wants us to swallow the poison of this bad news making us feel lost and hopeless and imprisoned by it all.

But Jesus came to tell us of our release from such imprisonment and to look up and see how much good news there is all around – good news which by far outweighs the bad. Remember this: things which make headlines only get there by being bad news, while we fail to notice the small print of life because it is the small acts of kindness and love and caring which are greater than the glaring headlines. Not least because we can and do contribute to the sum of good news when we ourselves are loving and kind and generous in our own lives. In fact if we are truly following Jesus and paying attention to what he said long ago in Nazareth, we can live positive lives as underlined at the very end of our Old Testament reading this morning when Nehemiah told us (the people of God) we must obey God and then (he said) go on our way, and eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions for those for whom nothing is prepared. And not to be downcast, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

THE JOY OF THE LORD IS OUR STRENGTH.

dietAnd here incidentally is some good news for those of you who are still dieting after Christmas – according to this book you CAN eat the fat and drink sweet wine…but not cakes and bread.

But here’s some even better news, set out in the words of an ancient prayer written by St Gregory, saying “O Good Jesus, O Good Jesus, Word of the Father and brightness of His glory. Teach us to do your will, that guided by your spirit we may come to that blessed city of everlasting day where all are one in heart and mind, where there is safety and eternal peace, happiness and delight where you live with the father and the holy spirit, world without end. Amen.”

Remember that, as people trying to follow Jesus to the city of everlasting day, we are called to bring Good News and to be Good News. The Good News which may be difficult to swallow sometimes but which we must hold on to by the skin of our teeth.

Last night we watched the scenes of horror from the Nazi concentration camps. Difficult to watch – and difficult to believe the Good News Jesus brought – but maybe it showed what happens when people forget God.

The Good News is that the joy of the Lord is our strength and it is the basis of our faith that God loves us. And sometimes it is best to stop trying to love God and to let him love us. As he will in this life and the next.


Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

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.