Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Celebration - following the footsteps

Christmas, at least in Panto land, is a time for making wishes.

What wish would you make?

I would be tempted to wish that all will be well.

When it comes to wishes, there's no pleasing some people.

How long have we been dreaming of a white Christmas … and when it comes! Beautiful to look at, but the problems it has caused! There comes the point at which you wish you could wake up and it was all gone.

So many people think of religion in exactly the same way. It's all about making a wish. And the wish it's so tempting to make is that all will be well. and all the world's woes will be no more.

Wake up and everything will be better.

That's so close to the wonderful message that that comes through at Christmas that it can entice and sadly, mislead.

After all, Jesus came to make a difference – but look around in the world and ask what difference has he made?

Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled.

Not much evidence of reconciliation going on.

Particularly troubling what has been happening to some of the most ancient of Christians this Christmas. CHIKS in Kerala State is a part of fhe world wehre there ancient churches of orthodox descent – that trace their ancestry to Thomas and his travels. Coptic Christians speaking the language of Christ – and one of the most ancient Christian parts of the world – in Iraq. And yet such devastation – devastation of Christian communities there and in the middle east.

If God came in Christ to set everything right … I wonder.

The faith I hold on to is different from that.

It has nothing to do with making wishes.

We have been using footprints to follow the journey Mary and Jospeh, Shepherds and Wise Men made to the stable – following in their footsteps.

Today we think of the footsteps Jesus left

He came to walk the road we have to walk … the path he trod was the path we tread, the road he followed the road we must follow. It may be a path way of joy – great joy. It may be a path way of great pain.

The Christmas message is the Christ walks the path we follow – he is with us in the joys and he is with us in the pain.

Then he offers us a way of life to follow, footsteps for us to plant our own footsteps in – as we are called to follow him.

From the squalor of a borrowed stable – someone has written new words which we have sung already – but I went back to the original words of Graham Kendrick and they spoke to me afresh …

King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
Humble servant in the Father's hands,
Filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
Filled with mercy for the broken man
Yes he walked my road, and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps, give me hope again
-I will follow my Immanuel!

His righteous steps, give me hope again – I will follow my Immanuel.

That word – Immanuel God with us.

The message is not that everything will be well.

But rather in the mess of the world, Christ opens up for us a God who walks with us wherever the road may lead, - that presence with us, his righteous steps give us hope again.

That then means we have steps we can follow – I will follow the God who in Christ is the God who is with us always come what may. He is the God who calls us to love our neighbours, to love our enemies, to be peace-makers with a ministry of reconciliation and so actively make a difference in the mess of the world.

That’s the good news of Christmas.

Yes he walked my road, and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps, give me hope again
-I will follow my Immanuel!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Come and Join the Journey

In some parts of the Cotswolds there was more than twelve inches of snow. We were fortunate in Cheltenham by comparison: we just had four inches or so!

It wasn't just the snow that was the difficulty, however, it was the ice. The roads around the church were like a skating rink!

In spite of all that many of our children were able to get to church. Most of our families live within walking distance. So it was that our Nativity service was able to go ahead.

It was good to welcome a number of visitors, one of whom had braved the journey from Stroud in a land rover. She was from the States originally and thought nothing of the tiny bit of snow we had had. It was just like being at home, she said, but she failed to understand the fuss we were making!!

A smaller number braved the elements to join in a very different carols by candlelight service in the evening.

If you missed our Nativity you can catch up with it here. Written by Becky Hartwell, it invited us all to join the journey!

Joining the Journey

(Start with the song Journey on while the children get in positions)

Narrator: A long time ago God began a story that went on and on. Heroes came and went and still the story went on and on. People lived and died and they only heard little bits of God’s story.

It was a long, long story, a story of the journey of God’s people.

Right at the start of that journey, thousands of years ago, God made a promise to a man called Abraham, that one day He would send someone very special to help people through their troubles.

Little by little the story became clearer.

It was as if God was building a picture of Himself and his people.

On and on went the story. More and more people joined the journey.

Every now and then God whispered in the ear of one of his people and a little bit more of the picture fell into place. It was a picture of someone very, very special.

His name will be Immanuel – God with us.

Wonderful counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

It was a picture of a very special time
A time of righteousness and justice,
A time when the wolf shall live with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the kin,
The calf and the lion and the fatling together
And a little child shall lead them.

Lead them on a journey, the most wonderful journey of all time.

And then something happened in Nazareth.

Let us join together and sing At This Time of Giving

Hymn: At This Time of Giving

Narrator: In the town of Nazareth lived a young woman called Mary, she was due to be married to a young carpenter called Joseph.

One day, it was just an ordinary day, just like any other day, Mary sat in her house all alone. She had no idea, no idea at all that her journey was just about to begin.

(Mary sits on platform cleaning, Angel stands at pulpit)

Angel: Greetings! The Lord has blessed you and is with you.

Mary: Aah! Who are you? What are you talking about?

Angel: Don’t be afraid Mary; God has shown you his grace. Listen! You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will rule over the people of Jacob for ever. His kingdom will never end.

Mary: But I don’t understand how this can happen

Angel: Your baby will be holy and will be called the Son of God. God can do anything!

Mary: I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say.

(Angel sits down in pulpit)

Narrator: At that moment Mary knew! In her heart of hearts she had no doubt. She was about to begin a journey and it would be the most wonderful journey of her whole life. From deep down inside her she could feel a song welling up: it was the song she would take with her through the whole of her journey.

With all my heart I praise the Lord,
and I am glad because of God my Savior.
He cares for me, his humble servant.
From now on, all people will say
God has blessed me.
God All-Powerful has done great things for me,
and his name is holy.
He always shows mercy to everyone
who worships him.
The Lord has used his powerful arm
to scatter those who are proud.
He drags strong rulers from their thrones
and puts humble people in places of power.
God gives the hungry good things to eat,
and sends the rich away with nothing.
He helps his servant Israel and is always merciful
to his people.
The Lord made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his family forever!

Mary’s journey was about to begin … and she was ready for it! And yet in a strange way the journey had begun long, long ago, right back then at the very beginning with Abraham. It was a journey that had been going on right up to now. And now it was a journey Mary was going to join.
There could be no doubt about it, Mary was ready!

But what about Joseph? Coming back from a hard day’s work, he could see something had happened.

(Joseph joins Mary on stage)

Joseph: Mary, what is going on? You seem different. Please tell me what is going on.

Mary: I am pregnant. An angel of the Lord visited me and told me I would have a child, a son. He would be a king who would reign forever. The angel said the Holy Spirit would come upon me and that’s how I’d be able to have this baby.

Joseph: I’m sorry Mary, I can’t deal with this right now. I don’t think I believe you, I don’t think I can trust you.

(Mary sits off stage, Joseph stays at front, pretends to sleep)

Narrator: There was no joy in Joseph’s heart. It seemed to be the end of everything. And so he began to make plans to divorce Mary secretly. Little did he know that he too was about to set out on a journey. In that moment of darkness, he was not alone. God was there … for him. God was there … for Joseph. It was later that night while he was asleep and dreaming that God sent an angel to meet him in his dreams.

(Angel stands up in pulpit)

Angel: Joseph descendent of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife because the baby in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him ‘Jesus’ because he will save his people from their sins. This is to bring about what the Lord had said through the prophet, “she will have a son, and they will name him Immanuel which means ‘God is with us’”.

(Joseph wakes up)

Narrator: When Joseph woke up, he knew in his heart of hearts that all would be well. If Mary was about to set out on the most wonderful journey of her life, he would be part of that journey. And deep down he knew that it wasn’t only Mary’s journey he would be part of: it would be the journey that had begun so long ago. It would be the most wonderful journey he had ever been on.

And so it was he did what the angel had told him. He took Mary to be his wife, and pledged his heart to her

(Mary joins Joseph back on stage)

Where you go, I go;
and where you live, I'll live.
Your people are my people,
your God is my god;
where you die, I'll die,
and that's where I'll be buried, so help me God
—not even death itself is going to come between us!"

The most wonderful journey of all was about to begin for Mary and Joseph; it was a journey they would share together. They both knew it was God’s journey. But little did they know what kind of journey it would be …

Soon after this Caesar Augustus sent an order that all people in the countries under Roman rule must list their names in a register. Joseph, from the family of David had to go to the town of Bethlehem, the town of David to be registered. Mary knew this would be a difficult journey and she was heavily pregnant but together Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem.

Let us join now together and sing Little Donkey

(During the song Mary and Joseph walk round the church and then back to the front)

Hymn – Little Donkey

(innkeeper stands at front)

Narrator: It took many days to reach Bethlehem. When they arrived Mary was very tired. They needed to find somewhere to stay but the town was crowded. Many others had come for the census and every inn they went to was full.

(Joseph meets innkeeper 1)

Joseph: Have you got any room for two travellers? We have had such a difficult journey.

(Innkeeper 1 shakes head and walks away)

(Joseph meets innkeeper 2)

Joseph: Have you got a room to spare? Even for just one night? My wife is very tired. The baby is due very soon and I must get her a room.

(Innkeeper 2 shakes head and walks away)

(Joseph meets innkeeper 3)

Joseph: Sir, my wife is so tired. Please, have you got a room? Please, have pity. Is there nowhere at all?

Innkeeper 3: I’m afraid we’re fully booked, all my rooms are in use. But you seem desperate, I do have a stable at the back. It’s got animals in it and not like any of the rooms but it is dry and warm.

Narrator: The journey had been a hard one, so long. But now their journey was over. Joseph had found somewhere for them to stay.

(Mary and Joseph go through the doors at the back of the platform with the innkeeper)

Mary and Joseph went to the stable and that night Mary gave birth to Jesus. She wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger.

Let us join now together and sing Away in the Manger

Hymn: Away in a Manger

A long time ago God began a story that went on and on. Heroes came and went and still the story went on and on. People lived and died and they only heard little bits of God’s story.

It was a long, long story, a story of the journey of God’s people.

Little by little the story became clearer.

It was as if God was building a picture of Himself and his people.

On and on went the story. More and more people joined the journey.

Every now and then God whispered in the ear of one of his people and a little bit more of the picture fell into place. It was a picture of someone very, very special.

'God says: From now on, I myself am the shepherd.
As shepherds go after their flocks when they get scattered,
I'm going after my sheep.
And I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.
I myself will make sure they get plenty of rest.
I'll go after the lost,
I'll collect the strays, I'll help the injured to get better,
I'll build up the weak ones and oversee the strong ones
so they're not exploited.

Mary and Joseph were not the only ones to join the journey, God’s journey.

On a hill that looks over Bethlehem another journey was about to start.

(shepherds lay on platform, pretend to be asleep)

Bob: Hey
Bill: What?

Bob: You guys awake?

Bert: Well, we are now

Bob: It’s really cold and dark

Bill: That’s the life of a shepherd.

Bob: How do you stand it? The cold, the darkness, the silence, the isolation.

Bert: You get used to it.

Bob: But does it get any less boring? Does anything happen here at night?

Bill: A shooting star once in a blue moon. What do you think a shepherd does?

Bob: I don’t know I just thought it would be more exciting than this.

Bert: I’m going to check on the sheep.

(angel stands up in pulpit, other angels stand at the front)

Angels: Do not be afraid!

(shepherds tremble)

Angel: We bring you good news that will be a great joy to all people. Today in the town of David your Saviour is born. He is Christ, the Lord. You will find him wrapped in pieces of cloth and lying in a manger.

Angels: Glory to God in heaven!

(All angels go through the back doors)

Bob: Wow, that was amazing! There’s nothing else for it … we have a journey to make!

Bill: Let’s get down to Bethlehem, I want to meet this baby. Although, I’m not sure what a manger is.

Bert: I think it is where animals feed. But hold on, I’m not sure we are special enough to meet this wonderful baby. The angels called him our Saviour.

Bob: Don’t be silly, the angels just came and told us. Wow, we are so blessed. Hurry up guys!

(shepherds go through back doors)

Narrator: So, the shepherds went quickly on their journey. They ran as fast as they could. Seeing was believing! They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the shepherds were amazed.
Let us join now together and sing Joy to the World

Hymn: Joy to the World

Narrator: A long time ago God began a story that went on and on. Heroes came and went and still the story went on and on. People lived and died and they only heard little bits of God’s story.

It was a long, long story, a story of the journey of God’s people.

Little by little the story became clearer.

It was as if God was building a picture of Himself and his people.

On and on again went the story. More and more people joined the journey.

Every now and then God whispered in the ear of one of his people and a little bit more of the picture fell into place. It was a picture of someone very, very special.

Give the king your justice, O God
And your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness
And your poor with justice.

Kings remote and legendary will pay homage, kings rich and resplendent will turn over their wealth. All kings will bow down and worship,

There were still others who had a journey to make. They had been chosen to be part of this very special story. Little did they know it, but they too would have a journey to make, and as they made it they too would join God’s journey.

(wise men stand at the front)

Caspar: Well, just another day at the home of the wise men. Hold on, (looks up) is that? No, it’s too bright. Hold on. I think that star is brighter than all the others. Guys, come and take a look at this.

Tony: What are you shouting about? I was studying my books.

Stanley: What are we meant to be looking at? Wow, that star is so bright.

Tony: It’s not like any I’ve seen, so bright, I don’t even need a telescope.

Caspar: You know what this means? I’m sure it says in one of our books that the birth of the King of the Jews would be foretold by a star.

Stanley: You can’t be serious. The birth of a king, the most important king?

Tony: I remember reading that. This birth is supposed to be a really special event. We need to go and meet him.

Caspar: Are you sure you want to do that? That star will probably take us somewhere like Jerusalem – that’s a really long journey and I have bunions. The camels are resting and well, we’ve got things going on. How important can it be?

Tony: This is big, we have to go, we have to go now. We need to get packing.

Caspar: But…

Stanley: But nothing. We have to go. We have a journey to make. Let’s get packing. And we need gifts. Now what have we got in our special presents cupboard. Gold is an obvious one, he is a king after all. And frankincense, he will be no ordinary king: he’ll be worthy of our worship.

Tony: And myrrh.

Caspar: Myrrh? But that’s for dead people surely: not for babies. That is not a gift for a newborn baby. He is a really special baby as well.

Tony: Definitely myrrh. I can’t really explain why but it’s important, we need to give myrrh.

Stanley: Well, lets get packing, we’ve got quite a journey ahead of us – especially if he’s going to be moaning about his bunions.

(wise men walk round the church, ending up at platform, Herod also goes to platform)

Narrator: So the wise men set off on their journey. It was a journey that took them far, far from their home in the East. It was a journey that took them to Jerusalem, to the palace of King Herod. Surely that’s where their journey would end: it was the obvious place for a king to be born.

King Herod: You tell me there is a new king to be born, I must speak to my advisors. Please take a seat.

Narrator: Although King Herod seemed happy to see the wise men he wasn’t. He had battled long and hard to get the power he now had. On no account would he lose that power. He spoke to his advisers and realised that this birth would mean something terrible for him. Herod was angry. Very angry.

(Herod storms off to the back of church)

Stanley: Well, he seemed very nice.

Caspar: And we mustn’t forget to tell him where the baby is once we have met him.

Tony: I can’t believe he wanted to worship him as well, what an incredible man!

Narrator: So after hearing from Herod’s advisors that the new king would be born in Bethlehem the wise men resumed their journey. They followed the star and soon they found Jesus in the stable.

(wise men go out the back doors on the platform)

Narrator: They journeyed to the stable. They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented their gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
It was a long journey for all that came to the stable. Let us have a moment of prayer, thinking of journeys that others will be facing this Christmas.

Time of prayer

We will now share in worship singing From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable

Hymn: From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable

(During the song the stable scene with the children is created on the platform)

Let’s join in the joy of Christmas as the children sing Behold the Star, join in when you like.

Kids sing Behold that Star

Narrator: A long time ago God began a story that went on and on. Heroes came and went and still the story went on and on. People lived and died and they only heard little bits of God’s story.

It was a long, long story, a story of the journey of God’s people.

Little by little the story became clearer.

It was as if God was building a picture of Himself and his people.

On and on went the story. More and more people joined the journey.

And that night, in that stable, in that little town of Bethlehem all those people reached their destination. It was their journey’s end.

Or was it?

That night, in that stable, in that little town of Bethlehem the wise men, the shepherds, Mary and Joseph discovered that their real journey, the journey God had in store for each of them was only just beginning.

Once the wise men had seen Jesus they were warned by God in a dream not to go back to Herod. So instead they returned home a different way. What a journey they’d had! What a journey lay before them!

(wise men leave the platform, go to the back)

Narrator: The shepherds were changed people. Once they had seen the baby they went and told people what the angels had told them and everyone was amazed. They then went back to their sheep, praising God and thanking him for everything they’d seen and heard. What a journey they’d had! What a journey lay before them!

(shepherds leave the platform, go to the back)

Narrator: An angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him to escape with Mary and Jesus because Herod wanted to kill the little baby. What a journey they’d had. What a journey lay before them!

(Angels leave the platform)
(Mary and Joseph leave the platform)

A long time ago God began a story that’s still going on. Heroes have come and gone and still the story goes on

It’s a story of the journey of God’s people. It’s a journey God wants all of us to join.

The baby Jesus grew up and became a man.

Come and follow me, he said, and many joined the journey.

It took him to the cross and beyond to resurrection.

Come and follow me, he said, and many joined the journey.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

I am with you always … to the end of the age!

Come and follow me, he said, and ever since many have joined the journey.

And so Jesus reaches out to us all down through the years and says …

Come and follow me … join the journey.

I am the way and the truth and the life
No one comes to the Father except through me

Come and follow me … join the journey

I am the light of the world,
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

Come and follow me … join the journey.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you have joined the journey and that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Come and follow me … join the journey.

I am the resurrection and the life
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.
And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Come and follow me … join the journey.

Let us join in singing our final worship song, will you come and follow me

Song: Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?

We shall now close with a prayer:
In my journeying with you,
may I never lose my sense of direction,
never lose sight of the landmark towards which I travel.
And should cloud or rain obscure my vision,
may I draw closer to you,
so that my feet may tread in your footsteps,
your words be my encouragement,
and your love my protection against the storms that assail me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Through the darkness ... joy! The shepherds' story

There’s something rather special and endearing about the shepherds. You can, as Becky and the children have shared with us, have a lot of fun with the shepherds. It is the Holiday Club on Saturday … but that’s not going to stop me from getting across to sing carols at Sainsbury’s – 11-00 for an hour – do join us if you can – and when we get to While shepherds watched their flocks by night, we’ll have a lot of fun with the original tune – a rollicking rendering of that favourite of carols to the tune better known as On Ilkley Moor bar t’hat. So join us – we need all the support we can – as some of our regulars cannot make it.

As I read through the shepherds’ story once again for today, I noticed the beginning of the story and the end …

It starts by night when the shepherds were terrified.

It ends as the shepherds returned ‘glorifying and praising God’

I guess what struck me was the transformation from the dark and the fear to the glory and the praise.

Then I noticed something else. The Bible I was using to prepare for this morning has cross references in the margin. I noticed beside that wonderful phrase at the end ‘glorifying and praising God’ there was a cross reference. See Luke 7:16.

I turned to Luke 7:16 and I found it was the end of a story that had started with tragedy and sadness.

Jesus went to a town called Nain, … As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow … when the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her.

The story goes on to tell of the raising of the widow’s son … and of the way Jesus ‘gave him to his mother.” The reaction of all watching is a mixture of opposites - “Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God …”

How curious, there seemed to be the same mixture of emotions. There is the joy of glorifying God. But that glorification of God only emerges out of the fear … and it only comes out of the darkness of the awfulness of this woman’s experience of bereavement.

Isn’t it curious, thanks to the editors of my cross-reference edition of the Bible I started with the Christmas story, but quickly found myself reflecting on one of those moments of tragedy and sadness in the story of Jesus. On this occasion the glorifying of God only comes through the experience of the darkness and in this instance the weeping.

Beside the phrase ‘and they glorified God’ I noticed one of those tell-tale letters that is characteristic of a cross-reference Bible. The superscript ‘w’. I looked across at the margin and a long, long list of cross references, quite a number in Luke’s gospel.

I decided to follow them through.

Next I was taken to Luke chapter 13 verse 13, chapter 17 verse 15, and chapter 18 verse 43 and to three people who experienced the awfulness, the mess, the darkness of life lived at its worst.

A woman who had been bent double for eighteen years, one of a group of ten men suffering from the most feared of all devastating illnesses at that time, leprosy, and a poverty-stricken outcast reduced to begging on the streets of Jericho who cannot see.

Each of those people in a different way is living in the darkness of a world that rejects them, in a world that they can scarcely cope with.

Into the mess of their lives comes Jesus and something happens. Each is in some way set free, as healing comes into their hurt, and light floods into their darkness.

And each of them comes to the point at which they share in glorifying and praising God.

We started with a story you might expect at Christmas, the story of the shepherds. But we quickly have moved on to people whose lives have been torn apart by some of the worst things life can hurl at people. The loss of a son hard on the heels of the loss of a husband, devastating illness, rejection by society, abject poverty.

Into the darkness of each of these situations comes Christ … and in Christ’s presence comes a transformation. Whether it’s the shepherds terrified, the mother weeping, the woman devastated, the leper outcast, the blind beggar ignored, they each find the darkness dispelled and they find themselves glorifying and praising God.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel the darkness can feel extra dark around Christmas … and it’s not just because of the time of the year. If things have gone wrong then everyone else’s enjoyment seems even more difficult to bear.

When that’s how people feel I want to draw people back to the story of Christmas and the message of our faith. Because it is of fundamental importance to me not only that the story takes place in a world that is at times very dark, but also that the message of Christmas speaks into the darkness.

But it is not enough for me that Jesus should come as a baby – babies are all right, but they quickly grow up. It is not enough for me, simply to be reminded of the healing that Christ brings into the lives of those who hurt.

The links in my cross-reference Bible take me further into the story of Jesus, into those parts of his story that have a power to touch us at our darkest and transform our lives too.

The next of our references precipitates us into the final days of Jesus’ life and to chapter 19 verse 37.

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.

That path takes them into Jerusalem, to the arrest in the darkness of the Garden, to the trial and to Golgotha, the place of the skull, where in the presence of two criminals Jesus is crucified.

He looked with compassion even on those responsible for his execution, and through them we can sense him looking with compassion on us. It is as if forgiveness and mercy flows out from the cross.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Then, Jesus crying with a loud voice, said, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.

And then comes the next of our references. And these words come from an unlikely source. “When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly, this man was innocent.”

Crucified, dead and buried, on the third day he rose again from the dead.

And that evening, again when it was dark, two friends made their lonely journey home from Jerusalem on the Road to Emmaus, their hopes devastated. Joined by a stranger they did not recognise, they stood still, looking sad.

Once again, the darkness envelops.

It was when he was at the table with them that he took the bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them, that their eyes were opened, and they recognised him.

We have reached the ultimate moment.

It is now, through Christ’s death and resurrection, that the joy can really become real and firmly rooted.

Listen to that sense of joy those two had, and then to the joy they shared with the others on their return, and to the joy they all have as they wait with expectation.

Luke 24:32-36 and 45-53

32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us* while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 36 -->

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’* 37

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah* is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses* of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
50 -->
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.* 52And they worshipped him, and* returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.*

There are dark times, doubly so at Christmas, don’t just join the shepherds in the dark and look to the Christ child, don’t just look to the healing Jesus brought into hurting people’s lives. Realise that he shares with us in the most painful of human experiences on the cross, and invites us to share with him the glory of his resurrection.

That’s what enables us to move from the darkness with all its fear to the joy of giving praise and blessing to God.

But even that is not quite the end of the story.

There’s one thing we must do. And for that our cross references lead us out of Luke’s Gospel into Matthew and to the sermon on the mount where Jesus maps out for us the kind of life we must follow as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Jesus says to each one of us … You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works.

That’s it – we need to put our faith into practice and in our actions show love towards others. That’s why Christmas has to be accompanied by doing something for others. And why our communion will include our collection for CHIKS, children’s homes in Kerala State.

Because something happens when we put our faith into action.

You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and those others will then find something that transforms their darkness and leads them to the point at which they too can share in that praise and glory of God … for they will see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Sunday, December 5, 2010

To the East with Thomas

At our service on the second Sunday of Advent we welcomed Robin Radley of Chiks. He told us about Children's Homes in Kerala State. It is the charity we are supporting this month and our Christmas collection. In the New Year, our Church Secretary will be going out to Kerala and will visit some of the homes taking them our love.

Click here to hear what Robin had to say about CHIKS that Sunday.

Click here to visit

And Click here to read about this month's charity and our support of CHIKS.

To lead into Robin's talk, our sermon on the Second Sunday of Advent told Thomas's story. It followed on from the story of the Wise Men starting out on their journey to the stable.

To the East with Thomas

After one of her visits to Kerala and to CHIKS, children’s homes in Kerala State, Sue presented me with three books that made fascinating reading. How easy it is for us to think of Christianity as a western religion, something Europeans exported to India and the East.

How differently the story is told in Kerala itself. The Christians of Kerala is ‘a brief profile of the evolution of all major churches in Kerala’ by Anthony Korah Thomas.

It quickly becomes apparent that the rich mix of Christians in Kerala goes well beyond the protestant missionary enterprise of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, beyond the Portuguese Catholic missions of the sixteenth century. There’s an intriguing mix of Eastern Orthodox and Syrian churches that trace their history further back to the very first century AD … and to an ancient tradition that the Apostle Thomas. Acts describes the expansion of Christianity from Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria to the ends of the Roman World – west to Rome. And the way we tell the story has tended to focus on that western church.

But other traditions tell of the move Eastwards. And one of those traditions tells of journeys the Apostle Thomas makes to Syria and Edessa and beyond two journeys to India, the second of which took him, so those traditions tell to Kerala in South Western India. Not that he was keen to go. He was filled with fear, until as the Syriac Acts of Thomas from the third century records, that the Lord appeared to him in a night vision and said, “Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.”

Roman archaeological remains on the coast of Kerala together with coins show that trade took place between the Roman World and Kerala in the second half of the first century. The story fits.

More than that, another of those books tells the story of Kerala and Her Jews. The town of Kochi boasts a synagogue that’s three hundred years older than Cheltenham’s synagogue, dating back to the sixteenth century, but traditions of a Jewish presence going back to the second half of the first century, or possibly even earlier to the Babylonian exile.

As we focus on CHIKS as our Christmas collection and today welcome Robin Radley to tell us more about the work of those Children’s Homes in Kerala State, maybe we can bear in mind the Eastern dimension of our Christian story.

Nowhere is that plainer than here in the story of the wise men, the magi, who came from the East. And returned there. One of those traditions has Thomas meeting with two of them on his travels to India.

It’s no bad thing to bear in mind Thomas’s story.

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 14Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15and Matthew, and Thomas, Luke 6:12-15

We would do well to take a leaf out of Thomas’s book and be disciples of Jesus, called to learn … and then to go out into the world.

These twelve [including Thomas] Jesus sent out with the following instructions: … go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.

As a disciple and apostle, Thomas was always ready to learn of Jesus, but more than that he was ready to put that teaching into practice.
We have a teaching to share with Thomas about the love of God breaking into our world and coming to rule in our hearts, our homes and our world.

And, like Thomas, we must put that teaching into practice by bringing healing into the lives of those who hurt.

But that can be scary in a hostile world. Like Thomas at moments of fear we need to be aware of the presence of Christ with us, speaking through the storm the words, Peace be still! Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.

What draws me to Thomas is the commitment that he is prepared to make before he has all the answers to the things that trouble and perplex him.

Turning to John’s gospel it is the commitment that is apparent first …

When Jesus heard the news of the death of Lazarus, he determined to go and visit him, even though that would take him closer to Jerusalem and very much closer to his own death. Thomas is the one who expresses his commitment to Christ in forthright terms.

Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

Thomas and the others accompany Jesus into Jerusalem but by the time they have reached the evening of the last supper, questions begin to crop up for Thomas. What I like about Thomas is his honesty in asking those questions.

It is only as we ask questions of our faith that we will elicit responses that can help us forward on our journey of faith. That was exactly the experience Thomas had.

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe* in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?* 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’* 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Thomas may have been with the other disciples in the Upper Room on the night Jesus was arrested.

But he was not among the disciples in that upper room on the evening of his resurrection.

But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Those words of Jesus stayed with Thomas.

He was among the twelve who heard the commission of Jesus to go into all the world, and make disciples of all nations, and among those in the upper room who sensed the strength of God’s spirit with them on the Day of Pentecost. And many in Kerala remain convinced that he overcame his fears and heeded the words of Jesus in that vision of his … recorded in the third century Acts of Thomas

“Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.”

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