Easter Sunday – He is Risen!

Christ is Risen! 

This is always the good news of Easter! Always has been and always will. This year has been different of course. What is usually a very busy weekend with a number of services has been quiet. In lieu of an Easter Vigil last night (although a number of dear Priest friends were doing them online) I opted to re-watch the Passion of the Christ without distraction (my phone). I vividly remember watching it when first released in 2004. At the end of the movie, the entire audience left the cinema in silence. Again, it left my in silence. 

As per request I am posting an Easter Sunday sermon. This was from last year. Still good! 

He is Risen Indeed! 

Acts 10: 34-43
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

Risen Christ,
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father. Amen.

Jesus is Risen. That is the message of today. I know that and you know that too. I kind of want to sit down now!

We come together this morning as brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate what was done for us by Jesus on cross, we it meant and what it continues to mean. My hope this morning is that as we hear again the familiar story of the empty tomb, the reactions of those who were that we can put ourselves somewhere in the story of that first Easter Day.

Luke’s account has slightly different details than the other gospels, this doesn’t mean it is better or more accurate than any of others. Luke’s perspective is just different. I read through verses 1-12 with a stop every few verses with a thought or reflection with a brief pause. 

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,  but when they went in, they did not find the body.

• These women, who had been at the cross, went to the tomb expecting to find Jesus’ body; they had seen it hanging on the cross so knew the condition it would have been in. They were prepared to finish the job of preparing the body. But they did not find it.
• We can only imagine the shock and surprise these women faced. There was a body yesterday but not today!
• How do we do when our expectations go unmet? When we turn up, ready to complete the job, meet that person, do what needs to be done and we can’t?

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?
• Are we looking in the right place for things? Are we looking among the dead? Do we do the same things time after time but expect different results? Do we treat people the same way, with the same expectations – but want a different response? Maybe it is time to look somewhere new?

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words,

• Sometimes we too need to remember what we know about the promises of God. He did not come to meet our expectations but to meet our needs. This is cold comfort sometimes. I think this is why many people struggle with God; he doesn’t act or behave in a way that would make life more convenient or easier for us.
• Jesus rose again on the third day so that we could be with him forever, be forgiven and freed from our sins.

and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

• I’m not sure about you – but I struggle when I am not believed. If I am telling someone about an event or situation or telling a story, I expect that I will be believed. I like to think that I am a credible person!
• We have some idea of what these women have been through – the disciples (the men) all left Jesus on the cross as they couldn’t bear to watch. It was these women who were up early to get to the tomb to finish the preparations. The grief they must have been feeling. And now the hurt of not being believed.
• There is something in this about how I believe other people when they share their stories with me. Do I hold the same level of entitlement to be heard and believed that I think I deserve to other people? I think of some recent encounters with people and I have had to think seriously about this very issue. Am I treating the stories of others as an ‘idle tale’ or the real lived experience of another human.

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

• Luke has Peter going to the tomb by himself. Matthew and Mark make no mention of Peter, John puts himself and Peter going to the tomb.
• Evidently Peter believed what the women had to say so he went too. Maybe one of the unnamed women was his wife or mother-in-law whom Jesus had raised? Anyway, something that Peter heard was enough to get him out of the house and on the road. Remember too that Peter was the one who had denied Jesus three times as Jesus told him he would. We again can only image how Peter must have felt that next day – his grief, his shame could only have been overwhelming.

• Now maybe in his mind Peter had a way to make things right. He saw the linens clothes by themselves and went home amazed at what has happened.
• What would it take to be amazed about the death and resurrection of Jesus today? Have we become complacent in our faith? Has life worn us down and we no longer feel that Jesus is bothered with us?

Friends be reminded again that He loves you, that everything that happened in that week 2000 years ago was for you today. As we hear these verses again let’s try to renew our amazement of all that Jesus did and continues to do for us.

Trust of the Saints

This past Sunday was technically the 2nd Sunday of this year’s Stewardship campaign and I was to preach on that. However, in the last few weeks 2 long-time members of the parish have died. Reg and Ralph were two of the loveliest, funniest and godly men I have met. Both of their wives were in church yesterday and while I initially wrote this with Ralph in mind, I was able to easily make room for Reg as it speaks of him as well.

Trust of the Saints

Jeremiah 17:5-10
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

I didn’t feel that I could not not talk about Ralph and Reg today. While I, like you, are very sad about this, I have found myself to be very grateful to have even known Ralph and Reg, to have been ministered to by them and to have confidence that they are now in the presence of God – whatever that looks like.

How do we make sense of the things that happen to us or to those that we love? I suspect that a few of us might be trying to work this through in these days. I think that it really comes down to trust. We can all see in Ralph and Reg, lives of faithfulness to God but also a life of trust. Trust also happens to be the golden thread that runs through our readings this morning.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God’s message was that he wanted his people to trust him alone. No other gods, idols or even humans could replace him. So determined is God to have their trust – he is prepared to curse those who trust in ‘mere mortals and make human strength their only strength.’ Over time the Jewish people had gradually come to trust in other things, in themselves, in novel religious rituals, in wealth – basically anything but God and they are paying a terrible price.

People like these live ‘like a shrub in the desert.’ There is no water, nothing to feed them. They won’t see relief when it comes. Think about for a moment when you are hungry or thirsty to the point of distraction? Can you think clearly? Living like this means a life of constant worry, anxiety and inability to focus on anything other than survival.
Jeremiah uses water as the image of God. God is as essential to life as water is, and to choose to live without him is as dumb as it would be to choose to live without water. Instead of being cursed, those ‘who trust in the Lord are blessed, like trees planted by water, sending out roots by the stream.’ These people are constantly being fed and watered by the stream that is God. They don’t have to fear and be anxious when things get difficult; they bear fruit always.

It would be silly to suggest that Ralph or Reg were never fearful or anxious. We all do – of course! But they knew where their roots where. By the stream, planted by the water that is God. Can we check our root system today? Have near or far from water are they?

Secondly, we need to trust in the resurrection. This is essential to the Christian faith – we can’t avoid it or downplay it. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, is rather stunned by those who say there is no resurrection of the dead. If Jesus was not resurrected, Paul says, then our faith is futile, and we are still in our sins. Those who have died in Christ have perished. That means they no longer exist anywhere – they have come to nothing. Do we really dare want to believe that? This is a very black and white matter of faith.

The power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that offers us redemption and is the same power that made us in the first place. This is power that we can trust in! This is the Good News of the Gospel – Jesus has been resurrected from the dead with the power to redeem and restore us. This is what the rest of the world needs to know – it is what the church should stand for, be about, why we give our time, talents and money. It is where we should put our trust. This is where Ralph and Reg put their trust.

Thirdly, the message of the Gospel is where we need to put our trust. Sometimes it is a hard message but first and foremost it is about love. The love between God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit – all equal parts. This is the love that we are invited into, that we were created for.

Luke, like Jeremiah, has a message of both woe and blessing. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular.

Debie Thomas: ‘As Luke tells the story, Jesus has just spent the night alone on a mountainside, praying before he chooses his twelve Apostles. As morning dawns, he and the newly called Twelve descend from the mountain to find a vast crowd waiting for them. The multitudes have come from everywhere, seeking help, and Jesus — in his element, with power literally pouring off of his garments — heals them all. Then, standing “on a level place” with the crowd, he tells his would-be disciples what discipleship actually looks like. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular. Yup, that’s the fabulous Good News of the Kingdom of God. A world turned upside down. An economy of blessing that sounds ludicrous. A reordering of priority and privilege that the Church will find awkward and even offensive for centuries to come.’

Again this is about trust. What is our trust in? Being rich, full and popular? These are good if used in the right way, not to be taken lightly or misused for our own personal gain. Woe to you if this is what your trust is in. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Why are they blessed? God’s favour falls on those who have nothing to fall back on – no pension, no credit line, no NHS, no social care, no credit card. Jesus is standing with people who are hungry to benefit from the power that streams from him, and he announces through his healings and his words that God cares for the poor, the hungry and the suffering.

The power of God is a power that is used to comfort and renew. It is the power of the cross and resurrection. It is the power that has raised Ralph and Reg and will one day raise us too.

Where then is our trust today? Maybe in light of what has happened it has been shaken – but that doesn’t mean that God’s power is less. Ever so fortunately, God’s power and love is not conditional or contingent on how we might be feeling in a particular moment. There is no better alternative to his power. Until we are powerless ourselves; we cannot truly understand his power. Find your roots again today and stay close to the waters where fear and anxiety are taken away. Our dear friends Ralph and Reg have been strengthened and healed by the power of the resurrection. There is no fear in that but only trust.

Lent 4: Mothering Sunday – Giving Up & Motherhood

Image result for hearts with cross lentI’ve fallen behind! I meant to do more writing and posting this Lent but  just haven’t made the time to do it. My last two sermons for Lent 2 & 3 were okay – passable even. I am still working on the condition of my heart – listening to it, having it tested through a number of events and it beats on. It is Mothering Sunday in the UK today. A day when hearts both rejoice and mourn. Here is my offering from this morning.

1 Samuel 1:20-28 & Luke 2:2-33-35

Well here we are again! Mothering Sunday. Looking around this morning I am aware that for many of you – this is not your first Mothering Sunday. Yet you made it to church – well done. Maybe you have had a thought or two about what you might hear this morning in the sermon and wondered if you would hear anything new. I have wondered that myself too!

While I fully appreciate and celebrate Mothering Sunday for the joy that it does bring, I know that this day is difficult for many people; motherhood can bring great heartache for many different reasons. It can be difficult for those who wanted to be mothers but were not able to for various reasons.

There are the mothers who found it difficult to be a mother who carry some guilt or resentment. Some people’s mothers weren’t exactly the loving and caring mothers they were supposed to be and the hurt of that lingers on. I think of the mother’s whose children died before they did and the enormity of that grief. Others here may be missing their Mothers who are far away or no longer living.

It is important to hold these tensions together this morning as this is what church family does. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

Yet we try to find a way to celebrate mothers and motherhood for the joy and delight that it brings too. I know that motherhood has brought joy to many here as I have listened to your stories over the time I have been here. We have prayed for many of your children too.

One aspect of motherhood that I think most people overlook or portray in a negative light is the ‘giving up’ that is required of mothers. The giving up of motherhood begins in pregnancy with the giving up of one’s body as it is inhabited by another. Not having ever experienced this I can only imagine what this would be like. Everything is shared as a mother must care for her own body so that it can provide the right environment for the baby as it grows and changes.

Mothers may also have to give up or at least put aside their own dreams and goals for the sake of their child/children. This can be harder for some than for others. This is a considerable issue for many young women in the current workplace; women who put off having a family for their careers face consequences of fertility issues as they age. Some women also need to consider the effects that having a family can present to career advancement later. Many women must go to work out of financial necessity so staying home is not an option for many.

We can also fall into the trap that ‘giving up’ something must always be framed in a negative light; that giving up is the same as giving in. It is not!

In this season of Lent, we are asked to give up those things (albeit temporarily) which distract us from our relationships with God. Part of our growth and maturity as Christians is to give up those things that ultimately bring harm to ourselves and others. Giving up is not always a bad thing! Giving up can be difficult – especially if it is something that we are not prepared to give up. But that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing.

But to give up a child? Or give up on the prospect of having children for the sake of a career or vocation? It’s one thing to lay off the booze and biscuits – but a baby?!  In our readings this morning we see two mothers, Hannah and Mary, who both must give up their children.

Hannah seems to give up her Samuel voluntarily as she makes a vow to God. Mary is told that she will give birth to the Son of the Most High – this not a normal baby! Mary says yes to God – let it be according to your word.

Hannah (1 Samuel 1:20-28)

Hannah’s story is one of pain that is both public and private. Her pain centres on wanting something that she does not and at the beginning of the story cannot have. A baby. Hannah is desperate to have a baby – she is one of two wives and the other one was producing children. Hannah was tormented by Peninnah for not being able to have children.

We know from the beginning of 1 Samuel that the Lord has withheld children from Hannah and we are not sure why. Hannah has a husband who loves her regardless of whether she can have children or not. But his other, fertile wife is making sure that Hannah knows that she is deficient, worthless. This happens privately at home.

Hannah prays that God will remember her and not forget her and her misery. In due time – that is a way of saying that it happened when the Lord planned it – Hannah conceives a child. Like Moses mother, Hannah had to give up her son. Hannah wanted nothing more than to have a baby. She fought for one, pleaded for one, took all sorts of abuse about not having one. True to her word – once Samuel is weaned Hannah takes him to the temple and leaves him with Eli the priest.

Hannah’s sacrifice is rewarded with more children – 3 sons and 2 daughters. These children do not of course replace Samuel! He was the first one! But the others were a sign of God’s faithfulness.

Back to – sometimes we have to give things up – things we might feel we deserve or entitled to. Do we trust God enough that He will come through for us? Do we believe that He will remember us as He remembered Hannah?If we give up the things that God’s asks from us, we will be rewarded. We might not see the reward on this side of heaven – have to live with that.

We must remember that our view of the world is not God’s view of the world. He sees the past, the present and the future all at once. We are so much more limited and sometimes we apply our dim vision to God. But God is faithful and knows what we sacrifice and will care for us and love us through it.

Mary (Luke 2:33-35)

These few verses are part of a bigger story – one that we heard as part of Candlemas a few weeks ago as Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to undergo the purification rituals required of new Jewish parents.

The whole of Christian life is one of blessing and sacrifice – we see that in the stories of Hannah and Joseph and Mary. They were given their babies to care for and then had to give them back to God. Hannah was remembered and rewarded. We too are remembered and will be rewarded.

In this exchange in the Temple, Mary and Joseph are probably shocked at what Simeon has to say! All parents learn about their children by getting to know them, spending time together, paying attention to them. I would suggest that very few parents learn about their children, let alone their future through elderly strangers at church!

Mary and Joseph do not know very much about their baby – up to this point, the shepherds knew more than they did. The other interesting part in this story is that Simeon doesn’t bless baby Jesus – instead he blesses Mary. Then he says, ‘this child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed.’

Mary and Joseph needed to be blessed! Tough times were ahead for them! They may not have fully realized in that moment what they were being told or fully understood the sacrifice that was to come. Jesus would be the baby who grew up to become to new Passover lamb. The one who would be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world.

Likewise, parents need to be blessed! I spent a good portion of my Friday afternoon holding the week-old baby of some very good friends. Baby Lilian is not the next Messiah and probably won’t be destined for the rising and falling of many. But her parents need to be blessed – with sleep, with support, with guidance as they guide Lilian and make sacrifices on her behalf. I would encourage you to bless the mother’s you know – young and ‘more experienced’. Encourage and remind them of the blessing and sacrifice that being a mother brings.

Lent is a season of sacrifice; giving up those things that we are either asked to by God or voluntarily give to him. Hannah gave up her first-born son to God to thank Him for the gift of motherhood. She was blessed with five more children.

Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple where his future was spoken over him, much to their surprise. They received a blessing of mercy. Why? Mary would one day stand at the foot of the cross while her first-born was crucified for the sins of the world.

How much sacrifice of giving up is asked of us? I don’t think we can quite compare with Mary. In the resurrection we see the ultimate act of sacrifice and the greatest act of blessing. We are blessed and restored through the sacrifice and giving up of Jesus and Mary.

Jesus cares for us completely and fully. However much or little we were loved by our mothers – Jesus loves us more, cares more deeply, knows us better and longer than they ever will. This is also true for those of you with children – Jesus loves them more than you do!

Wherever you sit today in the range of feelings on yet another Mothering Sunday – bless you. Let the love of God fall on you today.

Amen.

 

Stewardship (aka Open Your Hearts & Wallets to Jesus) Sunday

St F 9:30 P&P
11/2/18
Stewardship Sunday 2

2 Corinthians 9:1-15
Luke 12:13-21

It is now the clergy’s turn to weigh in on Stewardship! You are welcome. I heard David preach last Sunday and have read Maureen’s sermon too; I thought they were very good. But I am going to challenge them on one thing that they both said – that sermons on money & finance are boring! Friends – they are not!

I find money endlessly fascinating. I do. Don’t tell me that I am the only one when walking by a sign for the next Euromillions jacket pot doesn’t have a daydream about what I’d do with it! Give it away to noble causes of course…

Money is not easily spoken of – whether you have a lot of it or very little. Yet it is a difficult subject to avoid as pounds and pence affect so many decisions in our everyday lives.

Think about it for a moment – you woke in a bed with pillows, sheets and duvet. Who paid for all that? Did you brush your teeth or take a shower? How is the water being paid for? I see we are all wearing clothes this morning – where did they come from? Even if we ourselves didn’t pay for them – someone did. A person was also paid to make them. Have a coffee or tea or piece of toast? How did those come about? Who bought the cow that produced the milk?

I’m not sure that many of us here could walk into any store and buy whatever catches our attention without looking at the price. Money has a major influence on our lives and our thinking – whether we find it distasteful or not!

Think about that for a second – everything that we own, or do, or touch or eat and drink has been influenced by the transaction of money.

The church is not much different – money was needed to build this building, paint the walls, buy the chairs, the altar table and the silver. We still need money to buy the loo rolls, the wine and wafers we will consume during communion. Let’s not forget the coffee and biccies after the service – it all costs money! Even the things that are donated cost someone – something along the way.

This is part of why I think that money and what we do with it is fascinating – even in the mundane things like water bills and loo roll. It influences pretty much everything we do both directly and indirectly.

Money is serious business and it requires both thought and prayer. Fortunately, both the Bible and Jesus have a lot to say about money.
Like both Maureen and David said last week, it is not money in and of itself that it the problem – it is our attitudes towards money and finance that Jesus is concerned with.

We have three examples in the readings this morning of attitudes (wrongly and rightly) towards money that we will explore.

In the Luke reading, we have the first two examples and we should keep in mind that none of the men in stories are bad or evil.

The first story deals with a family and an inheritance. The first man wants Jesus to take his side in a family dispute over an inheritance. His brother won’t share with him and he probably felt entitled. Family feuds over money are the most difficult to reconcile.

My younger sister is a solicitor who specialises in wills and estates law in Canada. On her desk is a framed photograph of our Grandpa Lepp with one of his favourite sayings inscribed on it: ‘you never truly know someone until you share an inheritance with them.’ It is so true!

But Jesus seems to bypass his request – there is probably more going on and Jesus decides not to be the judge. Maybe Jesus detected ulterior motives behind the request. Instead, Jesus tells them to ‘Be on guard against all kind of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ This is directed at both brothers.

‘Life’ here does not mean biological life – which can be measured – how old you are, how much you weigh, sleep, eat drink. It also doesn’t mean the ‘psychological’ life of values and relationships.

The word ‘life’ used here refers to the life offered to humanity in the call to follow Jesus though which we live in a personal relationship with the Father. God’s life! This is the life that we are meant to live. Jesus is saying there is a life more important than a life of stuff. There is something more. God’s life of abundance that cannot be reduced or measured or satisfied by stuff.

The second man, who is not a real person – Jesus creates him as an example for the parable he tells the brothers. Let’s call him Barney the Barn Builder. Barney has money and riches. He has got some stuff! This is where his confidence is.

But this is a false confidence. Barney’s prosperity has nothing to do with him. It is the ground – the land. He is rich as a consequence of the productivity of the land. This is a gift – an inheritance.

Barney cannot seem to recognize this – we see this in his inner monologue – ‘I will, my barns, my grain, I’ll do, myself.’ The inner monologue also tells us something – he was talking to himself – which means that he was alone. He had no one to talk to, to share with. Had his wealth isolated him?

Now Barney had some good plans – planning for the future and was going to enjoy himself. Again, these are not bad things to do. Barney was not wicked or unjust. He was a good planner! But in all of this – he had forgotten God.

Pride comes in many forms, but the worst form is to think that we don’t need God. The man doesn’t acknowledge the source of his blessings. This is why he was called a fool. There are only 2 occasions when Jesus calls someone a fool in Luke – both times the person has confused temporary earthly riches with eternal divine realities.

Barney is an example of what it is to gather for himself in order to serve himself. This guy lived on bread alone – all his hope was in things. And what happens? Barney’s life is demanded from him that night. He died. Leaving behind all the barns and grains and money. To whom?

None of these three men (the 2 brothers and Barney) were rich toward God. That was where they found themselves in the wrong.

I took a Christian-based money management course a few years ago, the leader said something that has stuck with me. He said ‘your bank statement is the most honest document you have about yourself. It tells of how you spend not only your money but your time. If you want to know what your priorities are – look at your bank statement’.

The most honest document you have about yourself. Wow!

This is also true of the church. By looking at how a church talks about money and uses its financial resources tells you a lot about its priorities.

The third example of money and finance is found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church. They are expecting some guests to come from Macedonia along with Paul as big things are happening in the churches – the Good News is being spread, people are becoming Christians and the church is growing.

The Corinthians have promised a ‘bountiful gift’ and Paul is writing to remind them to get ready. Paul wants the Corinthians to give generously but also cheerfully – without reluctance and to avoid embarrassment – this is partly why we spread Stewardship out over a few weeks. To make time for planning on your part – you are not asked to give reluctantly or under any compulsion.

We have seen that money can damage relationships and can led to resentment and mistrust. We need to be wise and planned in our money and finance – but it shouldn’t control us. Back to our bank statements and what they say about us!

We also need to balance this as we have a duty as Christians to support the work of the Church and the building of the kingdom. There are consequences – reaping sparing or generously – this also includes our attitudes. I have never met a generous person who is miserable!

Here’s the thing – you can’t out give God. He will take whatever you give and multiply it! He provides every blessing in abundance in every good work. He gives to us so we can give away to others and always have enough.

God loves a cheerful giver! We have a lot of be cheerful about this year in the parish!

We have managed to keep good control on our finances in recent years. Duke, our wonderful treasurer usually manages to balance the books.  However, last year we didn’t get as much income as we had budgeted for – down by about £10,000. The PCC has done an excellent job at looking at the finances and have trimmed as much as we can for 2018.

We are not in immediate danger of going broke but we also want to maintain the commitments, the promises we have made before digging into the reserves.

There are exciting events and plans coming up in the next few years – there is a lot of need in our community that the church is ideally placed to do. We are lucky in this parish to have two full-time priests, a Curate and three churches. But this all costs money! We get income from hall rentals at all three churches and by claiming Gift Aid on donations of current tax-payers but the majority of our income comes from regular stewardship donations.

Whichever way we give to the church, by cash, envelopes or bankers order, it’s good to recognize this moment in the service as the point of connection between that financial transaction and our faith and worship.

Why – because we give money to those causes or activities that we believe in or have a connection to. Think about for a moment those charities that you support. Why do you?

I know for myself that there are causes I support monthly that are close to my heart for various reasons. Likewise, when we give to the church we are saying something about our commitment to it. Back to your bank statement and your priorities.

The other secret about the church is that unlike other charities – it is only Christians, it us us, who give money to support the church. Lots of people will give money to cat homes, donkey refuges and little kids with cancer. But it is only Christians who regularly donate to the church.

So dear friends I encourage you to think about your relationship to money, pray about it, make a plan and then give cheerfully, graciously knowing that God’s abundance will provide all that you need.

AMEN

Christmas Day: Not-named Jesus, Angels & Shepherds

I am posting my two morning sermons from Christmas Eve & Day. They don’t particularly overlap (except for the introduction) but the style is similar. I decided to read slowly through Luke’s Gospel telling of the First Christmas and let various aspects fall on me in a new way. I then did some exegesis to unpick some of the ‘new’ aspects.

St M 8:00 P&P
St F 10:00 P&P
Christmas Day
25/12/17

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem:
may the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ the Lord.

One of the many things that I love about this season is how the story of the first Christmas comes alive. We see it in the pictures on Christmas cards; we hear it in the words of Christmas carols; we see the drama played out in Christingle and Crib services.

Even in the commercialization and secularization of our society the story of that first Christmas does get told – not always in words but in the symbols and pictures; seen if we pay attention to the world around us.

We know that many people who do not normally darken the door come to church for Christmas services. Why is that? Tradition and ritual? Just the done thing?

Maybe – naively on my part – they want to hear the first Christmas story told again in a way that is familiar, comfortable. The church tells the story of that first Christmas through our worship and liturgy.

But sometimes it can be easy to over-look things when we are familiar with the story. As I was preparing for this morning, I came across two aspects of Luke’s account that I want to share with you.

Now this morning we are here to celebrate the of Jesus. Amen!

But I wonder if you noticed that his name is not mentioned anywhere in the Luke reading? I really hadn’t paid attention to this before now. The name Jesus is not said in those first 20 verses of Luke 2. He is there of course – he gets noticed as an unborn child (verse 5); then he is ‘her (Mary’s) child’ and ‘her firstborn son’. The angels tell the shepherds of ‘a Saviour, who is the Messiah.’ Then they go to see ‘this child’ and ‘the child’.

It is interesting (at least to me) that Luke doesn’t use the child’s name – after all he was careful enough to name the Emperor Augustus and the Quirinus the Governor of Syria. Why their names and not the name of Jesus, the name that will go on forever?

One explanation is that by including Augustus and Quirinus the historical evidence is strengthened – to ground the birth of Jesus at a particular point in history.

The name of Jesus will go on forever though! In fairness to Luke, he is the one who for the very first time proclaims our Saviour’s personal name – ever – from the beginning of time. Jesus.

He does that in the first chapter of Luke when Gabriel appears to Mary to give her the news that she will conceive and bear a son whom she will name Jesus.

Jesus. The very name at which one day every knee will bow.

Jesus. The very name at which every tongue will confess.

Jesus. A name with no parallel in any vocabulary.

Jesus. A name with power like no other name?

Gabriel tells Mary ‘He will be great’. Oh yes he is.

This is who and what we are to celebrate this morning. Jesus and his greatness.
It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of this season – there are lots of lovely things happening – don’t get me wrong. But if the focus is not ultimately on Jesus – the true meaning gets lost.

The second aspect that I had overlooked was the three mentions of the manger. Luke very deliberately mentions the manger and the child lying in it in three separate verses. Yes of course he was lying in the manger – no crib for his bed and all that.

Mary laid her firstborn son in a manger.

The angels tell the shepherds about the child lying in a manger.

The shepherds went with haste and found the child lying in the manger.

The manger, appropriately enough, was the sign to the shepherds. It told them which baby they were looking for. It showed them that the angel knew what they were talking about. It was important to give the shepherds their news and their instructions.

Why does this matter? It was the shepherds who were told who this child is. This child – the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord.

Yet the manger isn’t important in and of itself. The manger is a signpost – a pointing finger – to the identity of the baby boy who’s lying in it.

The shepherds’ arrival may have helped Mary and Joseph to confirm what had been their own secret up to now. I thought about this in a new way too – what would it have been like for Mary and Joseph as the shepherds arrived? The secret is now out!

I am not sure if you have had the experience of a secret being let out! It can be quite shocking and uncertain – what happens next?! Who knows!? Maybe it was a relief – that all that they had been through – God was faithful to his word.

God is faithful to his word. Always. What a relief that is. In this uncertain world and in uncertain times – we can look to the manger and know that God is faithful!

We also need to look in the manger – not just at it. Many people – Christians too – come to see the manger – but they never look in it. For some Jesus remains the baby forever. A baby that is easily contained in the manger that gets brought out once a year – looked at – and then put away again.

I have a small nephew who asks a lot of questions. Just after he turned 5, he and my sister had the following bedtime conversation:

‘Mom, how old are Great Grandma and Great Grandpa?

My sister replied ‘They are both 90.’
‘Mom, when will they go to heaven?’

My sister replied, ‘I am not sure but Jesus will be waiting to greet them when they go.’

‘Mom, how old is Jesus?’

My sister, ‘well, he was born 2000 years ago but he doesn’t age. He has always been around.’

In a very defiant voice my nephew declared, ‘Mom, Jesus is a baby!’

It is quite easy to take this view whether we are 5 years or not. Jesus is not meant to be contained to the manger. Isaiah 9:6 – For a child has been born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders. Now I don’t know about you – but I have not heard that said about many newborn babies. A baby may be a good eater sleeper or pooper but has authority rests upon its shoulders?!

Jesus did not just appear one night in Bethlehem as if out of nowhere. He has always been around – part of the Trinity. Always more than a baby!

As we celebrate today – we can spend a little more time at the manger worshipping the baby born to us. The baby who becomes the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

I love these names – I can identify with each of them as titles for the Child that has been born to us. He is my Counsellor when I struggle; Mighty when I am weak; Everlasting when unwanted changes come my way; the bringer of Peace when I am distressed.

I hope that you will know and experience the great love God has for you this Christmas.

Not just at Christmas but at every moment of every day of your life – when things are calm and happy but more so when you are stirred up throughout.

I hope that you will know the Lord’s favour upon you.

I hope the name of Jesus falls sweetly on your ears and off your tongue.

The Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace lead you and guide you always.