Good News – A sermon preached by the Archdeacon of Winchester at St Mary’s Fordingbridge on the First Sunday of Lent

Archdeacon Richard Brand, February 18th, 2018

Mark 1:9-15

Come Holy Spirit: what we know not, teach us; what we have not, grant us; what we are not, make us; for your love’s sake. Amen.

You may have come across articles this week stating that the Church of England is encouraging a reduction in plastic use through Lent. I only heard about this on Thursday but found I had ‘fallen into righteousness’ as it were, because my wife had already committed to a plastic free Lent. In the success column: we have bamboo tooth brushes; we’re back using the milkman; we’re taking our own bags to fill with fruit and veg at the grocer’s; in the failure list there’s: washing up liquid, medicine containers and bleach, and I’m sure there will be others; but we’re doing our best and it’s an eye-opening exploration at times; for example, I’m still to be convinced by the bars of shampoo!

I’m also aware that there’s a real danger of Lenten practices being self-defeating in many ways. For example, how often does the keeping of our Lenten commitment result in pride and boasting rather than deeper holiness? I’m not against anyone using Lent to help with a long intended detox or diet that will do them physical and mental good; but the main plan surely is something about holiness? I don’t mean holiness in some kind of otherworldly nirvana, but in terms of ending Lent walking more closely with God, living lives nearer to how we think God wants us to live them, becoming more the people we believe God wants us to be. Which leads us to this morning’s gospel.

If you enjoy a good bit or narrative and story then our 1st Sunday of Lent gospel this year will have disappointed you. Mark’s version of both the baptism of Jesus and Jesus’ time in the wilderness is pretty perfunctory; we don’t have John the Baptist protesting that he should be baptised by Jesus and there are no locusts or sandals; and Satan is robbed of his leading part in the various temptations of Jesus. All this is because Mark isn’t particularly interested in all that, what Mark wants to tell us is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And with these two short paragraphs Mark brings his prologue, his introduction to an end.

Mark then moves straight into the ministry of Jesus; and he tells us Jesus’ first words; words with which Jesus tells us why he has come:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

The word for ‘good news’ will be familiar to many of you, the Greek word for ‘gospel’: ‘Euangelion’. In his book Meeting God in Mark our former archbishop, Rowan Williams explains something of the background to this word and how it would be understood in Jesus’ time. It was a word to do with official pronouncements of news so significant that it would have the effect of changing the status quo. Williams writes this:

‘A euangelion, a ‘gospel’, a good message, is a message about something that alters the climate in which people live, changing the politics and the possibilities; it transforms the landscape of social life.’ [rpt]

If this is what Jesus came to do, to bring us good news about something that alters the climate in which people live, transforming the social landscape for the good, then it’s a little hard to argue that the Church should stay out of politics or any other realm of life. If the good news of God in Christ has nothing to say to the whole of our lives then it isn’t good news.

This year St Mary’s, along with the rest of this benefice of the Avon Valley Partnership, is setting out as one of the three diocesan pilots involved in what we’re calling ‘Benefice of the Future’. With the help of extra Church Commissioners resourcing we’re wanting to prove that multi-parish rural benefices can be as powerful a place to proclaim the good news of the gospel as any other part of the church. With the help of God we pray we’ll discover better ways of working far more closely together as churches, sharing gifts, strengths and resources; and be churches which better serve our communities, grow in strength and be generous in giving away resources to places of greater need. As such we can be part of fulfilling the vision +Tim has introduced for all that we’re looking to do as a diocese which is ‘Sustainable growth for the common good’. And as such we can change the status quo.

Earlier I spoke of how our Lenten discipline can sometimes become all about us and a form of opportunity for self-improvement rather than holiness, and I wonder whether there’s not something rather similar that we can end up doing as churches? At their best our churches help us discover more of God’s transforming love, help deepen our discipleship and help strengthen us in our engagement with the world, so that we daily live out what we believe in.

But there can also be a tendency for our Christian faith to be too closely tied up with the particular church we go to. We especially discover the limits of this whenever there’s suggestions of changing anything to do with the building, or suggestions of joining more closely with another parish. We end up back in that position of being all for change, so long as it doesn’t make a difference.

Part of what the project of Benefice of the Future is encouraging is to take seriously ‘sustainable growth for the common good’ and trying to find what might we do differently in our rural benefices and churches that could make this happen? What do we need to develop to make this more likely? And to me some of the most important questions are ‘What are the particular, perhaps unique, gifts our church can contribute both to our neighbouring churches and our community? And ‘Can we recognise and thank God for the particular gifts our neighbouring churches can offer?’

There’s an account of Mother Teresa meeting Bob Geldof. It stems back to that time when Mother Teresa’s work in the slums of Calcutta, working with those suffering from leprosy was at its height, and Bob Geldof was at his loudest in working for change for Africa’s starving and dying populations. When they met Geldof said to Mother Teresa “What you do is incredible, there’s no way I could do what you do.” And her reply was, “No, you couldn’t do what I do; and I couldn’t do what you do.”

Coming to church, saying our prayers, reading our bibles, keeping a good Lent: surely it’s all about what the Psalmist describes as ‘the beauty of holiness’. It’s all about God and the kingdom of God. For the church to better serve God and God’s kingdom we believe in this diocese that this is something to do with aiming for sustainable growth for the common good. Not just about us, but ‘a good message …that alters the climate in which people live, changing the politics and the possibilities; it transforms the landscape of social life’.

I’m delighted that the Avon Valley Partnership is part of the Benefice of the Future initiative. If you want to know why you were chosen, invited, it’s because we see in Gary, your leadership and in you, the kind of people, the kind of benefice that already has so much of the outlook and vision we’re wanting to grow; people, Christians, seeking faithfully to live out what you believe in; not just for yourselves but for the world.

So may it be,

Amen.

 

EPIPHANY GIFTS – A talk by our Girl Bishop

Kate Daykin has been our Girl Bishop from Advent to Epiphany this Christmas, and this is the talk she gave at the Allsorts Service on Epiphany Sunday, January 7th, 2017 (Posted with her parents permission).

My sister Florrie likes to play hide and seek with both my brother Ian and me. The game normally starts with either myself or Ian hiding, whilst the other one helps Florrie count to 10. Florrie loves then finding where we have hidden. It is then Florrie’s turn to hide, and I can guarantee that Florrie always choses the same hiding place where I have just hidden. I will count to 10, and then tell her that I’m coming to find her, this is when you start to hear giggling. I will look in a variety of different places first, whilst her giggles get louder and then head back to the hiding place where I had previously hidden, to find Florrie giggling and jumping out to greet me. This game can be very repetitive and boring for a 10-year-old but my 3-year-old sister loves it, and loves to be found.

Florrie turned 3 on New Year’s Day, and with the help of my Grandma Daykin I made Florrie an Olaf finger puppet from the Disney film Frozen. Florrie loves Frozen, it is a story about the power and meaning of sisterly love. It took me lots of time and care to make the finger puppet and I was so pleased with the puppet I had created. On the morning of Florrie’s birthday, she was so excited to open her presents, and she had a large selection of presents in all shapes and sizes, but I couldn’t quite believe that Florrie chose the small present that I had made for her to open first, saying, ‘this one is from you Kate’. Florrie eagerly opened it and it made me feel so happy when she opened it to see the excitement and delight in her face in receiving her new finger puppet. Florrie quickly put it on her finger and pretended she was Olaf. In seeing Florrie open her present and the happiness this brought her made me think how happy it made me feel and how I love receiving presents too. For Christmas, my Granny Amos gave me a bobble hat, my Grandma and Papa gave me a purple gillet and my Grandma and Grandad gave me a Lego Friends hot chocolate van. I loved all of these presents but thinking back I think I may have had more pleasure and happiness seeing my sister open her present that I had carefully made for her, rather than receiving my presents.

Thinking about giving made me think of the 3 Wise Men and their journey to Bethlehem. The 3 Wise Men wanted to find Jesus and followed the star to find their way to Bethlehem, I want to find Florrie in hide and seek but follow the giggles and knowing where I last hid to find her. I think both Jesus and Florrie want to be found, and love being found. The 3 Wise Men brought precious gifts to Jesus, and I think Jesus would have liked his gifts like Florrie liked her finger puppet I gave her. I think this will have brought pleasure not just to Jesus but to the Wise Men too. The process of giving brings so much pleasure, whether it be giving time to someone, for example me playing the repetitive and boring game of hide and seek with my sister, or giving an actual present, like Florrie’s Olaf puppet. Giving in itself is actually a gift to both the sender and receiver, and the bible teaches us that giving is an act of worship and we will be more blessed if we give.

Would anyone like to see Olaf?

 

Christmas Day, St Mary the Virgin, Fordingbridge, 2017.

A ‘Thought for the Day’ by Craig Philbrick, Ordinand.

Good morning.  My name is Craig and I’m a 2nd year trainee vicar at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.

Now.  Has anyone opened a present this morning?

I haven’t but I’m hoping you can help me unwrap my presents.

(Unwrap present 1)

That’s just what I was hoping for.  I really wanted a box of chocolates and I was really hoping someone would get it for me.

In our readings today both Hebrews and John announce good news of great joy that will be for all people.

I also think that they are telling us three things about this new-born baby.

  1. Firstly, in a similar way that I had been longing for some chocolate, they had been hoping for a saviour.

Do you know that when the angel told the shepherds that this new baby was the Christ, the messiah – this was what everyone had been hoping for?

For God’s people they had been waiting for a time when God would send his special king, his messiah who would come and bring God’s true kingdom.

When the angels said: he is the messiah – all the years of longing and waiting were centred on that baby.

Isn’t it great when on Christmas day we open that present that is exactly what we’ve been waiting and hoping for.  Jesus is just like that.

  1. Secondly, the angels told the shepherds that the baby was more than they were expecting.

Now let’s open up my second present.

(Unwrap present 2)

It’s a card, it’s just a card but it is from my auntie Monica and I haven’t seen her in ages.

She must know me so well – I love receiving cards with cute bears on them and soppy poems!

But there’s something else in the envelope – a £20 note. I wasn’t expecting that – as I said I haven’t spoken to Auntie Monica for ages.  That’s so much more than I thought I’d get!

When the angels told the shepherds that Jesus was the Lord – the shepherds realised this was much bigger news than they expected.

Whilst everyone was longing for the special king, the messiah, they hadn’t realised he was going to be God’s son.

But by proclaiming him as Lord, the angels proclaimed that Jesus was God, the master of all, Yahweh, the Lord God.

Jesus isn’t just a special king but he’s God.

Isn’t it great when on Christmas day you open a present, it’s a surprise and it’s much more than we thought it might be.  Jesus is just like that.

  1. The third thing the angel told the shepherds was that the baby was just what they needed.

Let’s open my third present, it looks exciting, I must have saved the best until last.

(Unwrap present 3)

Oh….it’s some socks.

That might seem lame but that is exactly what I need.

I’m always getting holes in my socks and I’ve been left with a load of single socks that make up odd pairs.

When the angels told the shepherds that Jesus was the saviour the shepherds realised that Jesus was exactly what everyone needed.

Lots of people thought that they needed someone to save them so they could be friends with God again.

We couldn’t save ourselves.  God’s people knew that they had gone their own way, they had rebelled against God and done things wrong but they knew they couldn’t save themselves.

They needed a saviour who could make them right with God again and Jesus is that saviour.

Does anyone know what the name ‘Jesus’ means?

Yes, when the angel spoke to Joseph they said you are to call him Jesus, which means the Lord saves, because he will save his people from their sins.

And the saviour that the angel announced to the shepherds is for each of us as well.  It’s exactly what we need to be made right with God.

This is good news of great joy that will be for all people.

It’s great when we get those presents that are just what we need and Jesus is exactly that.

So why you and why now?  We’re going to get some great presents today I’m sure.

But God has already given us the best present we could ever get because he gave us his Son, the baby Jesus who grew up to be

–    the one we were hoping for – the messiah and God’s special king.

–    the one better than we expected – the Lord, this baby is God.

–    the one who’s exactly what we need – the saviour, who would save us from our ourselves so that we could be friends with God.

So on this Christmas morning, may you be transformed by the truth that God sees you.  May you know that you are seen.

Our readings today remind us that the business of God is about turning our brokenness back into beauty — into peace and into joy.  He’s done it for me and he will do it for you too.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

AMEN.

THE SHEPHERDS AND THE ANGELS – Christmas Midnight Service

A Sermon preached on Christmas Eve, December 24th, 2017, at the Church of the Holy Ascension at Hyde, by Canon Gary Philbrick, Rector.

I don’t know how it is for you, but for me the run-up to Christmas can be quite challenging.

There is always a lot to do – wrapping presents, sending out cards, getting to see family and friends to deliver things, making sure there is enough food and drink in for all the guests who might turn up; and for clergy there are Services and Sermons to prepare, and lots of things to arrange.  In the past week I’ve been to around 15 Carol Services or Carol Singings, all of which have been delightful, and really worthwhile, and I wouldn’t have missed any of them.  But they do mean that the week has been fairly full.

And then, this afternoon, two Christingle Services, in Fordingbridge and Sandleheath, hundreds of children and adults, hundreds of lighted candles, and a great deal of excitement all around.

But now, leaving all of the busyness of Christmas behind, we’ve come to this quiet corner of the Forest, to this lovely Church which has stood here for over 150 years, to hear again the Christmas Story, to sing carols, to pray in whatever way we can or want to, and to open ourselves to the deeper meanings of Christmas, behind all of the tinsel, turkey, presents, and trimmings – important as they are to our celebrations, and all of which I love.

It could be in just such a quiet country spot as this, somewhere of which it would be difficult to say that it was the centre of the universe, that the shepherds, as we’ve just heard from Luke’s Gospel, were ‘Living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night’ [Lk 1:8].

Who were they, these shepherds, living in the fields?  Ordinary working men – and they probably were all men.  Simple but skilled village folk, brave enough to face the cold nights and the dangers of wild animals, to stay with the flocks wherever they roamed, and to protect them from all that might harm them.  Sometimes they would be the owner of the sheep; sometimes they would be hired hands.  As Jesus pointed out [Jn 10:11-13], sometimes they were good shepherds, and sometimes they didn’t care all that much about the flocks in their charge.

In contrast to Jesus’ generally favourable opinion of shepherds, though, by the

First Century [AD], it seems, shepherds – specifically, hireling shepherds – had a rather unsavory reputation… Rabbinic sources [suggest] that ‘most of the time they were dishonest and thieving; they led their [flocks] onto other people’s land and pilfered the produce of the land’.  Because they were often months at a time without supervision, they were often accused of stealing some of the increase of the flock.  Consequently, the pious were warned not to buy wool, milk, or kids from shepherds on the assumption that it was stolen property.  Shepherds were not allowed to fulfil a judicial office or be admitted in court as witnesses… Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher of Alexandria [25 BC – 45 AD], [living about this time], wrote about looking after sheep and goats, ‘Such pursuits are held mean and inglorious’

[http://www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/2_8-20.htm].

These then, these ordinary working people, of a generally unfavourable reputation, these chaps minding the flocks and minding their own business in the fields outside Bethlehem, in quiet countryside such as we have here in Hyde – these were the ones who were suddenly confronted by ‘an angel of the Lord [who] stood before them, and the glory of the Lord [which] shone around them’.  And no wonder ‘They were terrified’ [Lk 1:9].  And no wonder the angel’s first words were ‘Do not be afraid’ [Lk 1:10].

In the midst of their ordinary working lives, their routine daily existence, God’s ‘good news of great joy’ [Lk 1:10] suddenly came upon them, they heard the angels’ words, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ [Lk 1:14], and they rushed up to Bethlehem to worship the child who had been born that night.

If it can happen to them, it can happen to us, as we gather here this evening, and open ourselves again to the message of the angels, about which we’ve already sung twice, and will sing about three times more in this Service: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ [Lk 1:14].

An anonymous poet imagines the shepherds telling their story to Mary, when they arrive in the stable – ‘Mary’ here described as ‘Lady’, as in ‘Ladybird’ or ‘Lady Chapel’

We stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
That winter had won.

The evening was calm, Lady,
The air so still,
Silence more lovely than music
Folded the hill.

There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was
And bright, so bright.

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.

And so we have come, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves,
We give to your son.

We, the ordinary people of this place, have come to listen for the message of the angels, to be assured again of God’s plan for each of us and for the whole world which he loves, and to have the opportunity to reflect on our lives in the light of the Christmas Message.

I came across this poem recently, written by Esther Curtis in 2010 – Esther, I’ve recently discovered, lives locally, and has links with Hyde Church.  It sums up for me the continuing significance of the Christmas narrative for our day-to-day lives.

THE FIRST CHRISTMAS

We try to imagine the first Christmas Day –

The Shepherds, the Angels, the Babe in the hay,

Young Mary and Joseph, the beautiful star,

The Wise Men who journeyed, from country afar;

The Innkeeper surly, his wife who was kind,

No room at the inn, and no shelter to find,

The oxen, the donkey, the stable, the snow –

For this is the picture of Christmas we know.

 

A story so simple, we read in God’s Word –

By ordinary people the message was heard;

God chose a young maiden as part of his plan –

Salvation was promised before time began.

The Shepherds saw Angels, a star led Wise Men,

A few people worshipped – there in Bethlehem.

Emmanuel came just as God had arranged,

For this was the night on which everything changed.

 

Yes, everything changed with the birth of this boy –

To a world of great darkness he brought light and joy;

For God intervened in earth’s history –

Jesus was born, to set us all free.

So look past the parties, the lights and the fun,

Say ‘Thank You’ to God for the gift of his Son,

Who came here among us, and for our sins died,

That life everlasting, he might provide.

Esther Curtis, December 2010

 

A Sermon preached on Sunday 24/Monday 25th December 2017, Fordingbridge & Hale – Christmas Day! The Reverend Rachel Noël

Christmas Midnight FB, Hale Xmas morning 2017

“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our rock and our redeemer.”

Amen

The Nativity – Gari Melcher

Christmas day… Christmas day… what is there left to say today… many of you will have been to various carol services or nativities in recent weeks, perhaps the Christingle service earlier. As we prepare for today… we have read and sung about the very special birth of a very special child 2000 years ago.

Christmas day… Christmas day… So many hopes, so many expectations… I don’t know about you, but for me, for a long time, I have found Christmas day a really difficult day…

We got married young, and expected that a family might follow… each year went by, and there was no child… at christmas time we began to feel more and more outside what was going on… the John Lewis ads, the Oxo ads… sell us this image of the perfect christmas… that version of ‘real love’… that’s very cosy & beautiful, very acquisitive, … that’s all about spending christmas with your children, eating huge amounts of food and large, generous presents…

where did that leave us, without children,

or what if you were single, or gay, if you were on your own at christmas, or if you’d lost a loved one, or if your family were spread across the globe, if you weren’t able to afford to buy into this picture…

It’s easy for us to desire this image of a perfect christmas, it’s very comforting, and can be aspirational…

and sometimes in church, it is easy for us to collude with this too… our images of the nativity can be equally cosy – the mum, the dad, the baby… the immaculate shepherds & kings… the clean, fluffy sheep. Our services and celebrations can easily focus on children & families, reinforcing this ‘ideal’… can we end up promoting a Mariah Carey christmas, of saccharine & sweet comfort?

14 years ago, I was forced to confront this… after many years, I was pregnant, and so excited… but 14 years ago, we had a miscarriage on christmas day…  on a day when all are focused on the birth of a child, we were mourning the loss of our child… the unfulfilled hope and dreams that we had.

Part of me wanted to turn away from the christmas story, to reject it… I was so angry… how could this happen on christmas day.. of all days… I felt even more on the outside…

and yet, the more I read the christmas accounts in the gospels, I began to realise how radical, subversive and utterly generous are their accounts of the good news of the incarnation.

 

The picture I have given you on the front of your order of service is ‘The Nativity’ by American artist Gari Melchers.

I’ve chosen this picture, showing an exhausted Mary, having given birth to Jesus. Laying on the floor, resting, leaning against a weary Joseph. Crouched over, in this borrowed space. The pair are looking at their son, this child, wrapped in borrowed cloths in a manger.

This echoes the reading that I’ve given you, to take home and reflect on – the Mary of your Christmas cards… are we willing to see the real Mary in the stories… or do we want to turn her into a perfect, saintly, virginal Mary, with the perfect child who doesn’t cry.

The nativity story, that seems so safe, in the beautiful christmas card images we all have hanging at home… is a powerful, uncomfortable story.

It’s a story of light coming into the darkness.

Jesus was born, a real human baby, to real human parents, that loved him and cared for him in difficult situations – and although we like to portray an idyllic stable… it’s perhaps more like the picture on the front, an abandoned space. Making use of a corner somewhere, on the hard floor… to give birth to this child.

There is a massive contrast between the greatness of Jesus, as we understand it now… and the wretched circumstances of his birth.

The more you read the Christmas accounts, the more you realise that it is a story of outsiders…

Mary, unmarried Mary… having a child… would she be suspected of adultery?

Joseph… would they think his wife was tainted?… did he really want to go through with this?

If Mary & Joseph knocked on your door, would you welcome them in? would I let them in?

And then the visitors at the stable… the shepherds… Luke tells us they lived in the fields… I know we like to picture them with their nice, clean, white cloths on their heads… but there’s every chance that they were smelly & dirty… they’d been sleeping rough, in the fields… these were the first visitors on that first christmas… is that who you would want to celebrate the birth of your child with? … is that who you would like to have in your home for christmas?

And then, as we’ll get to at epiphany… we have the magi… would we have let in these strangers from the east? illegal immigrants? foreigners? they’d been following the stars? speaking a different language? are these the visitors you would choose at christmas?

 

So if you’ve bought into the perfect christmas picture, and are feeling slightly dissatisfied… or disappointed… or concerned that this year, it might not be the ‘perfect christmas’… think back to those outsiders at that first christmas…

And then remember the people you will see this christmas…

Will you welcome the people you encounter this christmas season? Will you extend your love to them?

How about that smelly relative that you’d quite like to park in the corner (or give a good bath)…  you don’t really want them there… but somehow it was ‘your turn’ this year…

may they remind you of the shepherds …. smelly & rough in the stable

and that relative that witters on, and you’re not quite sure what they’re talking about… or that one that gives you a really strange present that you’re not quite sure what to do with….

may they remind you of the magi, from foreign lands… and bearing strange gifts

 

you see, there is no such thing as a perfect christmas… the Jesus we worship here tonight wasn’t born into a conventional, cosy family.

Jesus was born into mess. He was born into confusion, and uncomfortable surroundings.

If we want to begin to understand something of the truth of Emmanuel; God with us, then we need to get out of our Christmas comfort zone.

 

God’s gift to the world of Jesus…. of God in human form, is the most incredible gift to the world, showing us that we too can discover God within us too.

Somehow, over the centuries, we’ve turned this radical gift into a moralistic religion… we’ve started to judge each other and ourselves… we want to fit in, we want to be OK… we think that somehow if we’re good enough, God will love us… that somehow we can earn that worthiness…

We lie to ourselves… we try and live up to our own image of ourselves… we try and be the person that we’d like to be….

(I know it’s not just me… )

But just as there’s no perfect christmas… none of us ever live up to our own perfect ideals for ourselves… we all fall short, we all mess up… we’ve all got bits of ourselves that we’d rather no-one else saw…

and our families don’t live up to our ideals for them either… there is no such thing as a perfect husband or wife, there’s no perfect child or perfect parent either…

 

And when we hear Jesus teaching, that all we need to do is to love God, to love our neighbour, and to love ourselves… if we’re really honest with ourselves – often the hardest thing of all is to actually love ourselves as we are, right now.

How many of us live in the past… we’re angry, we’re upset,…. if only this thing hadn’t happened to me… then I’d be OK…. if only so & so hadn’t said or done x, y, z…. then I’d be OK… if only… if only…

Or perhaps you live in the future… I’ll be OK… once I’ve got a bit more money,… or once I’ve won the lottery… or once we’ve had a perfect Christmas dinner with everyone… or once this health problem has gone away… then I’ll be OK… next year… it will all be OK… if only… if only…

But Jesus didn’t come for who you might be if only…

The only place we can encounter God is always now… it’s always here and now within our life experience as it really is. Paula D’arcy says – “God comes to you disguised as your life.”

Frederick Buechner says – “Listen to your life.”

The angels message is for us too… Do not be afraid… Fear not… Do not be afraid, for I am with you.

This baby was born, to show us that God loves us right now, as we are… we have nothing to fear. God loves you, right now, exactly as you are. Whoever you are, whatever has happened in the past… whatever you’ve done…

This baby, born in the messy stable… came to share with us God’s love for who we actually are.

Are we willing to live in this moment now… and to accept the reality of who we are… to open ourselves up, to love ourselves as we really are… not just who we’d like to be… if only… can we accept that God really does love us as we are…?

 

In those moments when we can let go of that control… when we can surrender, and be just as we are, right now… it’s in those moments that we can encounter glimpses of God too…

When we allow that perfect, idealised version of ourselves to be broken… when we let ourselves live with our own cracks… that’s where the light gets in… the humanity!

On the back of your order of service you’ve got a picture of a pottery bowl… a bowl that has been broken and then been repaired with gold, in the Japanese tradition. Their understanding is that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

I think that is a good metaphor for our faith too… when we let go of who we think we might be… when we live with who we actually are… when we accept our own brokenness… and start to actually love ourselves… to let God in, and let that love happen… it’s a beautiful thing.

Many of you will know Leonard Cohen’s song, Anthem.

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

(Hale Only:

Today, we’ve blessed our new altar frontal here… and we’ve remembered the story… the design from 8 years ago… the aspirations of how it might be… the time living with the unfinishedness… the courage to look at the pieces, to let them be broken and re-formed… and the beautiful finished piece that we have here today… the wholeness that has come through the brokenness… just like the japanese pottery, repaired with gold…

Are we willing to let our lives be transformed too?)

 

As we gather round the table for communion shortly… it’s this same paradox of brokenness and wholeness.

This baby Jesus, born in a mess… grew up, lived and died to share that love with us. Through his own brokenness on the cross, he showed us that we could be whole.

As we receive the bread and the wine, we face our own reality… these gifts shared freely with us, with the broken, real people that we actually are…

This love of God accepts us as we are right now, here tonight…

But just like the broken bowl… God doesn’t leave us where we are now… the gift to us, through the baby Jesus… is the call to keep choosing life… the broken bowl is transformed with gold… and we too are continually called to transformation… God meets us where we are, he loves us as we are… and he calls us to love ourselves, and be transformed through this universal gift of love. That love transforms the broken bits of our life, the bits we wish were different, the bits we’d like to hide… God’s love weaves them together with golden light… to encounter the beauty within the brokenness.

So tonight, I invite you to encounter Jesus… to encounter your true selves… to encounter this love… through the mystery, the paradox, the wonder… of God with us… shared through bread and wine.

 

I pray that this year you will have a beautiful, messy, broken, wholly imperfect, wonderful Christmas.

Amen