Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Look, Listen ... and DO something - a Christmas Day Message

The opening words of John’s gospel will be read at services the world over today.  It is one of the great Christmas readings.  It conveys to me a sense of awe and wonder at the immensity of God’s creation and the glory of God that is beyond our capacity to understand.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

It’s one of those things I find so good to do – to go out into the open, up to the hills, gaze at the stars – somehow it puts things in a different perspective, helps you to get things into proportion.  Where I wonder did I get my enthusiasm for the wonders of the universe?  I guess I would have been about 10 when I was given my first astronomy book – it certainly caught my imagination.  The Observer’s Book of Astronomy – and the author?  Patrick Moore.

19th December saw the fortieth anniversary of the return of the last of the Apollo Missions to the Moon.  It had been a remarkable achievement – and it brought us all a new perspective on planet earth.

Chrstopher Riley, writing in the Observer last week, told of the occasion when Apollo 9 astronaut, Rusty Schweickart was doing a space walk when his camera jammed and for five minutes he had nothing else to do but look 160 miles beneath him at Planet Earth.

Schweickart's mind-expanding view and the epiphany that it triggered led him to vividly appreciate the insanity of humans fighting over borders that were invisible to him from up there. "Hundreds of people in the Middle East killing each other over some imaginary line that you're not even aware of, that you can't see," he recounted. "And from where you see it, the thing is a whole, and it's so beautiful," he remembered of his view of Earth. "You wish you could take one in each hand, one from each side in the various conflicts, and say, 'Look. Look at it from this perspective. Look at that. What's important?'"

A wonderful sentiment – but it begs the question how can we make such a difference?

That takes me back to that Christmas reading and the heart of the Christmas story.

. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 

Right at the outset Luke notices something about Jesus that gives us a clue.  Lost in the temple at 12 his parents find him among the teachers and scholars of the day and he is ‘listening’ and asking them questions.

Jesus listens.

One of the many highlights of that remarkable Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games came well after midnight – it moved me to tears.  For the previous week we had been on holiday and we had managed to watch or listen into a remarkable cycle of all of Beethoven’s nine symphonies at the Proms.  The evening of the Opening Ceremony began for us with the remarkably powerful ninth symphony and the ode to joy.  The conductor, Daniel Barenboim, and the orchestra the West Eatern  Divan orchestra.  An initiative of the Jewish Daniel Barenboim and the Palestian Christian Edward Said to  bring together in an orchestra musicians from across the religious divide, Jewish, Christian, Muslim.

The key to playing in an orchestra is to listen to each other.  Not just listen, but actively listen.  One thing I noticed was the way the players engaged not only with the conductor, but with each other – at times in those televised proms it felt as if the  players were in conversation with each other as they played.  Remarkable.

How wonderful after midnight at the end of that exhilarating Opening Ceremony to see Daniel Barenboim as one of those carrying in the Olympic Flag.

That’s it.  The key to breaking down those barriers is to listen.

At this Christmas may we know the blessing of seeing the world from the perspective of the wonder and awe of the immensity of God’s creation.  May we know the blessing of listening and breaking barriers down.

But there’s something more involved in such blessing.

It’s been great opening the windows on an advent calendar in ourhouse this year.  I have been following through Advent a set of prayer meditations put together by the Church of Scotland from the churches of Palestine and Israel – as they appeal to us in churches throughout the world to be active in our support of their commitment to peace and justice in the land of Jesus’ birth.

There’s no 25th window on my Advent calendar.  There is a 25th meditation in my book of prayers.

It is an invitation to us all in churches throughout the world from the churches of Bethlehem and Palestine to think again about what blessing entails.

Jesus was in the business of offering blessing to people.

It’s so easy to think of blessing as something passive.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are you when you are persecuted.

Elias Chacour is a remarkable Palestinian Christian, Archbishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.  He has devoted a lifetime to seeking to bridge the divide and bring Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim together in understanding of each other.

“How could I go to a persecuted young man in a Palestinian refugee camp, for instance, and say, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”  Or “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven?”  That man would revile me, say neither I nor my God understood his plight, and he would be right.

Elias Chacour speaks the language Jesus spoke, Aramaic, Syriac, a language that survives in small pockets in the middle east.

“When I understand Jesus’ words in the Aramaic [they mean something very different], I translate like this:

“Get up, go ahead, do something, move you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall  be satisfied.

“Get up, go ahead, do something, move you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.

To me, says Elias Chacour, this reflects Jesus’ words and teachings much more accurately.  I can hear him saying, “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.”

Christianity is not passive, but active, energetic, alive, going beyond despair.”

Come all you Faithful: An Advent Journey with the Palestinian People (Church of Scotland and Christian Aid, 2012)

Christmas invites us to see the world from a new perspective, to listen to one another and above all to get up, go ahead, do something, move to make a difference in the world.

It’s worth reflecting what is it we can do to make just such a difference?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Communion

Come and see!  Said Andrew to Peter

Come and see!  Said Philip to Nathanael

Come and see … the word made flesh, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,

Come and see … an ordinary man from Nazareth who is a remarkable teacher

Come and see … the Son of God the King of kings

Come and see!

Christmas is almost upon us … and once again we turn to John’s Gospel.

But today the invitation is subtly different.

In some ways the fourth gospel is the most spiritual of the Gospels.  It’s where you find those wonderful I am sayings of Jesus.  I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

I am the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through me.

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.

And yet in other ways the fourth Gospel  is the most tactile, the most concrete, the most down to earth.

Nowhere is that more apparent than at the very end when it comes to John’s account of the resurrection.  You can try it for yourself.  Read through chapters 20 and 21 and underline all the words associated with the senses.

Peter and John SEE the empty tomb, Mary SEES a gardener, HEARS him say her name and is the first to carry the Easter Message of resurrection victory when she tells the other disciples, “I have SEEN the Lord”

The disciples see the risen Christ, hear his words, and then are invited to touch his hands and his side.  Thomas won’t believe unless he sees and feel just how real the risen Christ is.  He does just that and Jesus says, Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

And then it’s on the shore that the dsciples smell the aroma of a charcoal fire as Jesus is preparing a meal – and they eat a breakfast of fish and bread.  Sight and hearing, touch and taste, all five of the senses are there as the disciples smell that charcoal fire.

Christmas is about the spiritual coming down to earth.  It’s about the Word made Flesh and dwelling among us so that we too can SEE his glory.  It’s about the sights and sounds of the city of David.

Not so much, come and see … more taste and see!

It’s an age-old tradition in many a church to have a Christmas communion.

It’s what we are going to do today.

It doesn’t fit with the perception of Christmas as the time of festive fun and games.  Remembering a body broken, blood shed for our sakes?  This isn’t the time or the place is it?   Re-living that last occasion Jesus shared a meal with his closest friends?  Not exactly the comfort and joy Christmas should be about?

I had a lovely time with Min King on Friday.  Min arrived in Cheltenham as part of a staff of not much more than half a dozen in what is now UCAS (the Universities Central Admission Service)  and was then UCCA moved from London to set up in Cheltenham where it has remained ever since.  She was as sprightly as ever (above the waist as she told me she has been telling people) and asked to be remembered to those who would remember her.  She was one of many Joan Lee had kept closely in touch with over the years.  We were talking about Joan’s death, and she made the comment so many make – with the shooting of all those children in the States, the awful things that are happening in Syria and so much tragedy, it doesn’t seem like Christmas.

That’s the point … Christmas is exactly about the cruelties of a vicious world and the difference Christ makes in precisely that kind of world.  It is not an escape from its ugliness, but it’s a confrontation with that ugliness.  It was in the squalor of an empty stable, it was in a town that was to experience its own massacre of young children.

And it took two who were long in years and wise beyond measure to say to Mary even as she and Joseph were presenting the child  in the temple that a sword would pierce her own soul too.

So shouldn’t we have put the chairs back for Joan’s funeral and left them there?  Why bother to set the church out around tables once again.  Shouldn’t we have done communion properly.

For Advent this year we have been looking into John’s Gospel to see just who it is whose coming we celebrate at Christmas.

It’s in John’s Gospel that you begin to realise that Communion is more than a simple re-enactment of the last supper.  It was after all, the last supper, the last in a long sequence of meals that Jesus had shared.

Maybe we should remember all the meals Jesus shared with his disciples and those meals he shared with others too.  They didn’t sit in rows with a table in the far distance.  They sat together round a table.  It was about being together being with each other  and being at one – com meaning with each other – and union meaning at one.  Meals that were a coming together as one – a communion.

Meals that got people round the table with each other talking, sharing, being in fellowship with each other – people who didn’t always eat together.

Jesus was in the business of breaking the rules – Jewish rules that limited the people you could eat with for fear of being unclean – no wonder the purists among the Jewish people of Jesus’ day couldn’t get on with the way Jesus bent the rules to eat with tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus was in the business of breaking the rules of the Roman world where you ate only with people of your own status in society – a Roman citizen eating at table with a slave – never … no barriers like that for Jesus.  He got people sitting round the table and eating together.

You don’t get miracles in John’s gospel – he calls them signs … they are filled with significance.

And the first of those signs is at a meal.  No ordinary meal.  A celebration.  A wedding in Cana of Galilee – and the water becomes wine.  The ordinary everyday becomes special and new.  That’s what’s happening here around the table.  We are celebrating something new that’s in the air.  A new way of looking at the world, a new way of looking at each other.  This is special beyond words.

It’s not long before Jesus is breaking barriers down – over water from the well and in the company of a Woman from Samaria of all places.  And then comes the second sign – and again it’s filled with significance as Jesus heals the son of a royal official – whose whole household is changed in their encounter with Christ.  All are welcome in Jesus’ company.

Then comes the third sign.  And Jesus breaks the rules again – healing someone on the Sabbath.

And the next sign.  A crowd who are hungry and a boy with five barley loaves and two fish.  And all five thousand eat their fill.

What’s going on here – we are already half way to Jerusalem and the final week.

Eating with one another.  Sharing a meal with each other.  It’s what you do.  It’s what you need from one day to the next.

And we need the presence of Christ with us no less.   His presence at the table breaks barriers down, brings us together as one, and sustains us for the task he has set for us to do.

I am the bread of life, he says,  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

And the meal is open to all.

Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.

And then he presses the point home.

His sustenance is not just for a period.  It is for a life time … and more than that it is for eternity.

Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.

The most spiritual of all things – the message of resurrection victory, the message of eternal life that speaks into the sadnesses that can be so acute at Christmas comes down to earth, and is most tangible as we eat and as we drink.

The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

It is as if those meals Jesus shares with his disciples are a foretaste of the body that is going to be broken of the blood that is going to be shed.

Very truly, I tell you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.  But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.

And so as we prepare to share in communion around the table – face to face with one another – let’s seek that oneness in Christ that is true comm-union.  Let’s break barriers down.  Let’s rejoice in that eternal life that Jesus promises and let’s follow in his footsteps once more.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nor room at the inn - an all-age Nativity Service

Nativity Service for 16th December – Café style

People sat around tables decorated for Christmas and we imagined we were in an inn.

Welcome to the Inn

[get children sitting on different tables in groups – angels, Mary and Joseph, Shepherds, Wise Men,  Herod and the soldiers.]

It’s great to come together and share in something of a party.  It’s what you do at this time of the year – fun and games, crackers to pull, party hats to wear.  Things to make and fun to share.  Presents to sort out, cards to write.  So much to do at Christmas.

Things to do on the tables – a few of our youngsters are going round to take names of people who are here.

Parties and Pantomimes, Santa Claus too.  All those presents – great time.  The fun, the partying.  And all sorts of songs – carols are dances to go with the partying –

Maybe some non-religious carol like The Twelve Days of Christmas

[As I am talking there are three interruptions

  1. Someone knocking on the window, someone goes to find out what’s happening – and interrupts me with a whisper: it's a young couple apparently and I suggest sending them round to the back
  2. A second interruption – one of our congregation who lives on a farm has arrived in wellies with a bundle of hay saying there are lots of others outside - they too are sent round the back.
  3. A third interruption – maybe on the mobile phone - there’s a delivery, three parcels – they are going to get sent back – can we take them in?  Send them round the back! Someone will sign for them there.

Reading of Poem – Mary’s Shopping list – read by two women’s voices - the one voice is in today's world overwhelmed by the busy-ness of getting ready for all the trivia of Chrsitmas.  The other voice is Mary's anxious about the expected arrival of her little one.


A reminder of how different it was then.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

No room in the inn – packed full because something was going on.  It wasn’t the happiest of things that was happening.  The Romans had taken control of Galilee and of Judea – they placed a cruel, local ruler in charge – his name was Herod.  Herod the Great.

They forced people to return to their home town … so that they could be listed.  And so it was that masses of people

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. 

People had crowded into the little town of Bethlehem and stayed wherever they could.

Imagine what it would have been like – crowding into every nook and cranny.  What would it be like if people were herding us together … and then counting us up – it’s one thing having polite young people taking our names.  Imagine what it would have been like … forced to give your names, your personal details, so that the Roman state could take control of your lives.

Sheltering, frightened, not sure of what is going to happen next.  Conscious of a big, old nasty world out there.  Held captive.  Lonely,  feeling as if they weren’t in control, in exile all over again.  Faced with a tyranny.  It felt as if they were plumbing the depths of hell.  It’s  along night.

Yet something is stirring, something is moving, something is happening to change things, to change the world – it’s as if the words of the prophets of old were taking hold …


The people who walked in darkness
   have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
   on them light has shined. 
For a child has been born for us,
   a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
   and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 
His authority shall grow continually,
   and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
   He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
   from this time onwards and for evermore.

Carol:  66 O come, O come Emmanuel

Mary came from up in the North, in Galilee – in the village of Nazareth.  There it was that she had sensed it first, the presence of someone there, speaking to her.

[Mary comes to the front – and the angel too …]
Narrator 1
God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a young woman engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the young woman’s name, Mary.
On entering, Gabriel greeted her:

You’re beautiful – with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.
She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her,
 “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
He will be great,
   and will be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
    the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever—
    there will be no end, ever, to his kingdom.”
Mary said to the angel,
“But how can this be?
35 The angel answered,

The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
    the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
    will be called Holy, Son of God.


Mary was overjoyed at the wonderful news and couldn’t keep it to herself.  She knew something was happening, something that would change everything.


I’m bursting with God’s great, good news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Saviour God.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the proud and the boastful.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
he remembered his people and piled on the mercies, piled them high.


Everything was ready.  Joseph was ready too.  And then the news came – it shocked them to the core.
About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.
6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.
[As this reading is being read Mary and Joseph make their journey around the church … and they go out of the door towards the back of the church.]


What would it have been like? – arriving in Bethlehem to find there was no room – the anxiety, the fear, mounting deep within their hearts.  And then somewhere – not in the warm where everyone was …  but out in the back, out in the cold.

Carol:  Away in a manger
[During carol Mary and Joseph slip back in and return to their table]


Generous of someone to find that place in the back, out in the cold.  But not quite so generous of the people who had somewhere comfortable, thank you very much.  The inns were full, packed.  And no one wanted to give up their place.

The night was drawing on, darkness had long since fallen.  It was cold outside.  But there was a disturbance.  The comfortable inn was not going to be left alone.

They were rough and ready – they had come down from the hills.  And they had a strange story to tell.

[go over to the Shepherds’ table – and get the shepherds together – and the angels table too – acting out the story as it is read]

There were shepherds sleeping rough out in the fields.  They had set a night watch over their sheep.
Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them.
They were terrified. The angel said,
“Don’t be afraid. I’ve got good news for you.  I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Saviour has just been born in David’s town, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord, the Messiah and the Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the shepherds talked it over.
“Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”
They left, running at full speed.
Was that the disturbance those folk in the inn felt?  What were all these others doing and so late too.
They too went out to the back – [shepherds go out to the back]
 and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger
Carol:  94 While shepherds watched their flocks by night
[during carol shepherds slip back in and go to their table]


What did the authorities make of it all?  Did they share the delight, the joy.  Or were they unsettled by it all?

Herod and the soldiers were in the palace Herod had built.   Their power was impregnable.  Or was it?

Were the crowds still there?  Were they troubled by the threat the soldiers posed?  Far in the east there were Kings – were they?  Wise Men?  Maybe.  Magi?  Strange word.  Maybe they were scholars, people who studied the skies, and studied the world and its ways.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”
You would have thought this would be exciting.  A wonderful message.  Something to rejoice at.
It was actually happening.
One set of people were not amused.  This was a threat to the Roman puppet king, to Herod.  It was a threat that filled him with fear.
3-4 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well.
The people of that city knew that if Herod felt threatened, they all had good cause to be frightened.
 Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked,
 “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
5-6 They told him,
Wise Man 1
 “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:
Wise Man 2

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
    no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
    who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

7-8 Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East.
He had formed a plot.  He had a secret plan.
Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said,
 “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”
9-10 Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!
11 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 luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.
[The Wise Men go out the back]
Leader introduces …
Carol:  See him lying on a bed of straw

During the carol we build up a tableau on the platform of everyone taking part, finishing with the Wise Men who come from the back]
That’s something worth celebrating – great ending to the story.
The shepherds went back singing praises to God and telling everyone all they had seen.
Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the shepherds were amazed.
19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The shepherds returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!
[The shepherds return to their places.  And the angels too]
Those scholars, however, knew that something was not right … they were fearful of Herod the Great and of those soldiers of his.  Rightly so.
In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.
[The Wise Men return to their places]
That left Mary and Joseph … they too were fearful of what would happen next.
After the scholars were gone, God’s angel showed up again in Joseph’s dream and commanded,
 “Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him.”
14-15 Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.”
[Mary and Joseph and the Christ child return to their places]
It was still a dark world.  When Herod realized he had been tricked he was incensed.  It was a devastating time in that small place.
And the Christ child grew
He lived a life of love and mapped out a life for all to live
With love for God and love for neighbour and love for enemy too
He brought healing into a hurting world.
He did not escape the suffering of the world.
He opened up a way through the suffering of the world
Into the glory of God’s eternal love
2000 years on as we meet together here it’s good to party, but it’s good to remember the ones who interrupt our partying.  Not to forget them.

Who is it knocking on our windows?
Who is it with muck on their shoes because they have been in the muckiness of the world? 
Who has gifts to share?

Could it be the children in Kerala state that we are going to be supporting in our Christmas Collection finding a home for someone who is homeless?
Maybe it’s someone closer to home? – someone supported by CCP’s foodshare programme and someone in need of our help too.
What gifts are we going to share 2000 years on? – What charities are we individually going to support this Christmas?  What are those more personal gifts each of us has that we could use for God and for other people in 2013?
Is God Himself knocking on your door to interrupt your life and come closer to you?
Carol:  We’re told he was born at a Bethlehem Inn
Prayer – Leader and Offering
Carol: 600 in the bleak mid winter

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Come and See Just who God Is

You’ve been waiting for ages and then two come along at once.

What is true of buses may also be true of James Bond movies.

We knew one was to be released in the Autumn, but none of us knew what Danny Boyle had in store for us in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

It was too good to be true … as James Bond made his way solemnly through the corridors of Buckingham Palace, entering the state apartments.  The woman in the salmon pink dress with her back to us, was it Helen Mirren or … and then when she turned round and it turned out to be the Queen herself, that really was the icing on the cake of a wonderful opening ceremony.

But that was not all!

She accompanied James Bond into a helicopter and then we saw her in that same dress leaping in the company of that special agent and parachuting into the stadium.  Maybe that bit was played by a stunt man!!!

But when she took her seat in the same dress that was clever!

I read this week an interesting observation.  When the Bond movie was eventually released was its director                       also having fun and inviting us to make connections with the Opening Ceremony.

The name of the Bond movie Sky Fall took us right back to the leap from the helicopter.  Even the location of the actual Sky Fall took us into the wilds of the Scottish moors that could almost have been in the grounds of Balmoral!!!

I then spotted another link.  And I couldn’t’ help but share it with Matthew and Adam.  Do you remember I set a quiz at a Parade Service asking them to find out the lines of the poem that was to be placed on a wall in the Olympic Village by Tennyson.   Adam Matthew and James button holed me after the service with the answer – and I eventually awarded them a prize of a Gold medallist stamp of Bradley Wiggins and a collage that included the quotation from Tennyson’s Ulysees

That which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
It seemed almost to be her swan song speech when Judi Dench, once more playing the part of M, had to appear before a House of Commons Select Committee.  The speech she gave was strangely moving.

And what should be the quotation she drew on … but those very words from Tennyson.

I have a hunch that wasn’t just coincidence – both Danny Boyle directing the Olympic Opening Ceeremonoy and the director of the James Bond Movie were playing games with us – making connections and references to and fro the same events.

Fanciful? – that’s how good film making works.  It’s how books too are constructed.

And interestingly the Gospels are wonderfully crafted pieces of writing that use themes in such a way.

As Advent unfolds we are turning to John’s Gospel.

There’s something exciting in the air as the Gospel opens.  People come on stage and point to Jesus, the Word of God made flesh and bones, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the teacher, the saviour, the king – so many ways of thinking of Jesus.

This is exciting.  It’s intriguing.  It makes you want to find out more.

Look.  Watch.  See.   Those words are repeated.

And one phrase sticks in the mind.

Andrew to his brother.

Philip to his friend.

Come and see.

Don’t be content with what I have to say.

Come and see for yourself.

It’s not long before Jesus enables someone who is born unable to see, actually to see.

In things Jesus does and in things he says John makes us very aware that there is something worth seeing here.  And we need to see it for ourselves.

Indeed the likes of Philip stick with Jesus – they see him doing remarkable things.  They hear him saying remarkable things.  And they see for themselves.

And then the Gospel story draws towards its climax.

The night of Jesus’ arrest he meets with his friends and they are with him once more.

And he has wonderful words to share with them.  There is a note of calm in Jesus’ voice.  No wonder, those friends sense the mounting anxiety of what is in store.

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.   In 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? And 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. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

Notice the sequence of thought.

Calm does away with fear.

Believe in God.  That’s something loads of people do.  In some way.  In some religious form or other.  But Jesus extends an invitation.

Believe in God.    Believe also in me.

It is through Jesus that we then see things in a different way.  And in particular we see God in a different way.

The conversation goes on and then Jesus says something remarkable.  Pay careful attention to the words.

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

It is significant that it is through Jesus that we come to be able to see God as Father and enter into a relationship with him in the closest of possible ways.

Then Jesus says something remarkable.

If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

What a difference that would make if we could only see God.

This is a running theme through the Gospel.

And by now it is too much for Philip.

He may have told Nathanael, Come and See.

But he still feels something is missing.

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 

Philip longs to see God.

See Jesus and you see God as he really is.

The focus is on Jesus.

What a difference that makes.

And then it makes a difference to our lives as well.

For then as we see God in this way we too can share in those acts of love that make such a world of difference that Jesus himself did.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The gospel unfolds further.

Jesus goes to his death.  The grave cannot contain him.  He rises again to life. Track through those resurrection accounts and time and again John emphasises that people ‘see’ for themselves, they hear, the taste, they touch.  This Jesus is real.

Come and see is such a refrain.

Until you get to the very end.

And then comes what for me is one of the greatest lines in the Gospel.

Thomas it is who needs to see before he can believe.

And he does see.  And he does see.

And then Jesus says.

Have you belived because you have seen me?  B lessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to  believe.”

Jesus was real.

So many people Saw.

But we too can share in the presence of God with us – even when we have not seen.  For we too can believe.

Come and see!
He’d said it to his friend.
At first it seemed so clear.
But then the questions started.
And now the questions overwhelmed.
Just show me.
Let me see.
Let me be sure.
Come and see in jesus just who this God is
A Father filled with love,
Such love as the world cannot give
Such love as the world cannot take away.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Come and see!

Come and see!

There’s a breathless excitement.

It just has to be shared!

Come and see what I’ve done!

The excitement in the voice however young or old is something to hear!

Come and see what I can see!

The view is breathtaking – it simply has to be shared!

Come and see, you’ll never guess who has just arrived!

As a long-lost friend appears unexpectedly on the door step.

Come and see for yourself!

Seeing is believing – come and see and you really will believe!

Come and see!

There’s a breathless excitement as John’s Gospel opens.  It’s not just Andrew who says to his brother, Come and See!

It’s not just Philip who wants to convince his friend Nathanael, Come and See!

It’s John himself as he writes his Gospel.  As the Gospel gets under way it’s difficult to catch your breath.  One after another people appear and they point to Jesus.  It’s as if one by one they are saying one thing.

Come and See!

Come and see in all his words the Word of God

Come and see in all his life a light shining in the darkness

Come and see in all his deeds glory full of grace and truth

Come and see in all his love the Lamb of God

Come and see in all his thoughts the wisest of teachers

Come and see in all his humanity someone just like us

Come and see in all his authority the Son of God, the King

Come and see in all  his being the One

Come and see the One who spans earth and heaven

Come and see the One who brings earth down to heaven

Come and see the One who raises earth to heaven

Come and see so that you may come to believe

Come and see that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God

Come and see that through believing you may have life in his name!

Come and See!

That’s the message we want to share as Advent unfolds.

We have something really exciting to share!   Come and See!

We have something that will make a world of difference in your own life, in your family, in the community, in the world!  Come and See!

We have something to share!  Come and See!

And it starts this evening as the Choir get Advent under way with a service of readings and music for Advent and Christmas.

And then on Saturday we have our Christmas Café, not only will Hy-Speed be there with its digital scalextric, not only will there be fresh Nicaraguan Coffee and freshly baked cakes, not only will there be crafts and gifts from Bethlehem, not only will there be the Christmas story to reflect on and enjoy … but this year as never before, there will be a book launch, with our very own collection of poems to see you through the whole of 2013!  I don’t know whether Shirley and Judy, and illustrators Rosamond and Jane Dixon will be doing a book-signing … you’ll have to Come and See!

Then it’s the Nativity Service on Sunday, 16th – come and see!

Then it’s the Christingle Service as we welcome the peace light on Wednesday 19th – come and see

Then it’s the Carols by Candle light service – come and see.  And we want people to host a table – bring along a dozen mince pies, be ready to welcome people at the table, invite some friends to join us, and we are going to get people to choose their favourite carols for us all to sing.  A great evening.  Come and see!

And just to make sure we don’t keep it to ourselves, Ruth has done us proud with another card to go round the neighbourhood with an invitation to everyone to come and see!  And people need to take bundles of those cards today so we really can share the good news of the coming of Christ at Christmas … come and see!

Come and see this Jesus.

 And on the Sundays of Advent we are going to dig a bit deeper into John’s Gospel and catch John’s excitement as we come and see just who this Jesus is.

John carries on through his gospel filling out a picture of who this Jesus is, just what he means in people’s lives … and always there’s that invitation.

Come and see!

Not once, not twice, but ten times John tells us how Jesus sees himself.

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

I called on Alison Steley this week … and I said I would pass on her love.   I spotted that picture over her desk – The Light of the World.  We sat talking about the picture, I shared some of the story I shared earlier with the children.

Alison is thoughtful.  She thinks a lot.  And always has.  With her downs syndrome it’s so easy to treat her as a child.  But she isn’t.  She is an adult.  And she wants you to know it.  She has lived most of her life with her parents.  When first her father died and then her mother died, it wasn’t easy for her.  It was wonderful to see the way St George’s and St Vincent’s, as it now is, stepped in.  Alison found a home in Well Spring House.  Until recently, a communal home for 10 women.  But now a set of three self-contained flats.  And Alison now shares with two other friends.  And it’s as if she is set free.  Found a new identity.

But there are moments when she feels the darkness.  The sadness of her own bereavement, the loss of a close friend from that community of 10 last year, more recently one of the older friends having to move into a nursing home.  Alison watches the news.  She is very sensitive to the tragedies that go on in the world around us.  There are moments when she feels the darkness.

And she spoke of one of those moments.  I asked if it was OK to share her thoughts and she was delighted.

“When I look at the picture and I see the Light of the World, I think of children who have lost their families and I long for peace around the world.  We are called the children of the light and we look for the peace of the world.”

There can be a very real darkness.   And it can seem to envelop us at times.  And it comes to each one of us.

I hear a gentle voice.  The breathlessness has gone.  The excitement is tempered.  It is calm, it is soothing.

In the middle of the darkness that voice says, come … come and see.

It’s a voice that knows the darkness of the loss of a friend and the tears that come at the moment.  It’s the voice that knows the darkness of feeling abandoned by God.  It’s the voice that knows what it is to wish one could escape the future that lies ahead.  It’s a gentle voice.  A calm voice.  The kind of voice that brings light into darkness.  And not just light.  But life as well.  Life in all its fullness.  Life that is not bounded by death, but life that is to eternity.

I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in  darkness but will have the light of life.

But sometimes the voice is muffled.

Sometimes the voice is distant.

I come back to that pictuire.

Jesus is knocking.  The door hasn’t been opened for a long time.  The door is strewn with weeds.  They choke the door.  They choke out the life.

It’s the door of my heart.

And it’s closed.

And the voice of Jesus from the other side of that door seems muffled, distant.

I can’t quite make it out.

There are times when it feels as if you are pushing on a door and the door refuses to budge.  It will not open.  The hinges have seized up.  The lock is jammed.  It won’t open.

And then the voice speaks again.

I am the door …

What a curious thought.

I am the door.

Not just the one knocking.

Not just the one on the other side.

I am the door.

The voice seems more distinct.  It’s gentleness is all embracing.

I am the door.  Whoever enters by me will be saved.  Whoever enters by me will be made whole.

It’s no longer a barrier.

It opens up and it beckons.

Whoever enters by me will be saved.  Whoever enters by me will be made whole.

What a wonderful thought.  This is the heart of the message of Advent.  This is what we have to share.  Come and see.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful simply to come in and find a safe haven.  No longer any need to face the world and its troubles.

But it’s not like that.

I am the door.  Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

That’s it – in  Christ we can find a wholeness and a peace such as the world cannot give – but we go back into that world with its darkness, with its troubles and find that he is a presence with us through it all.

I came, he says, that they might have life, and have it abundantly.

A rich life that goes beyond the things we become obsessed by in the commercialism of Christmas.  A rich life that goes beyond the trappings and the tinsel of a Christmas that can be so over-wrought with anxiety.

A life in all its fullness that is for eternity and is immersed in the fullness of God’s richest love.

Come and see … and discover that life is something worth living for!

Come through the door and see the light

Come and see!
Is it locked or is it stuck?
It seems so difficult to open
And yet the invitation is there ...
I am the door!
Come and see!
It’s so dark, it’s overwhelming
It seems impossible even to catch a glimpse
And yet the invitation is there
I am the light!
Come and see!

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light