Friday, 9 December 2016

Christmas - A few questions (Paper One)

I've been having some interesting conversations relating to Christmas and it's interesting how the older generation have, almost in total, told me that there's no place in the church building for a Christmas tree until we reach Christmas Eve. They did it in this setting:



And yes, there were a few Christmas trees around (in fact there were sixty trees in all) when they asked!

Their asking me questions has led me to ponder a number of things, each of them appearing here for you to join in and engage with along with me; for it seems that the way we treat Christmas might not be as joyful as perhaps the season might suggest. So here we go:

PART ONE
Tradition was that the tree didn't usually make it to the church building until something much nearer the end of Advent - some, like the lady I met tell me that Christmas Eve is indeed the right time - and this raises some real issues, for when we plonk Christmas trees in our church buildings the week before Advent, are we:

i.   Celebrating Christmas and fitting in with the community and their take on Christmas?

ii. Seeking to capitalise on the current attitudes regarding Christmas by make some money out of it 
    wheresoever we can?

iii. Trying to bring Christmas back into the church building and by so doing regain some Christian
      ownership of the whole shooting works?

There are three options here but I can think of other variants which might raise some eyebrows and challenge the way we do Christmas and more besides, but there's only so much you can do with a box of firelighters and some matches when you're sitting on a can of petrol, isn't there?

PART TWO
Whilst we are at it, are you one of those who subscribe to any of the three sentiments displayed below:


Are you someone who takes the opportunity each Christmas to correct those who are so obviously (in your opinion) wrong about what they say and how they celebrate it?

How do you deal with each of the three options above when you encounter them? Do you see the contraction of Christ into an 'X' as an abomination before the Lord?

Note: If you do then you'll be fighting a long line of people way back into the earliest days of the Christian Church for they loved that Christogram to bits and scribbled it, and fish, wherever and whenever the opportunity arose!

You may now turn over your papers :-)

There are a couple more questions but this will do for paper one.


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Morning Prayer - Friday 9 December 2016

Advent
Ember Day

Psalm 85
Lord, you were gracious to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the offence of your people and covered all their sins. You laid aside all your fury and turned from your wrathful indignation.Restore us again, O God our Saviour, and let your anger cease from us.
Will you be displeased with us for ever?
Will you stretch out your wrath from one generation to another?
Will you not give us life again, that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.

I will listen to what the Lord God will say, for he shall speak peace to his people and to the faithful, that they turn not again to folly. Truly, his salvation is near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other; Truth shall spring up from the earth and righteousness look down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed give all that is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness shall go before him and direct his steps in the way.

Psalm 85
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and in misery. Preserve my soul, for I am faithful; save your servant, for I put my trust in you. Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; I call upon you all the day long. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

For you, Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer and listen to the voice of my supplication. In the day of my distress I will call upon you, for you will answer me. Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord, nor any works like yours. All nations you have made shall come and worship you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wonderful things; you alone are God.

Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you, that I may fear your name. I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your name for evermore; For great is your steadfast love towards me, for you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave.

O God, the proud rise up against me and a ruthless horde seek after my life; they have not set you before their eyes. But you, Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and full of kindness and truth. Turn to me and have mercy upon me; give your strength to your servant and save the child of your handmaid. Show me a token of your favour, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; because you, O Lord, have helped and comforted me.

Isaiah 48.12-end
Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called: I am He; I am the first, and I am the last. My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they stand at attention.

Assemble, all of you, and hear! Who among them has declared these things?
The Lord loves him; he shall perform his purpose on Babylon, and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans. I, even I, have spoken and called him, I have brought him, and he will prosper in his way. Draw near to me, hear this! From the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.And now the Lord God has sent me and his spirit.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go. O that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your prosperity would have been like a river, and your success like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me.

Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it forth to the end of the earth; say, ‘The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!’ They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; he split open the rock and the water gushed out.

‘There is no peace’, says the Lord, ‘for the wicked.’

1 Thessalonians 4.1-12
Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you knows how to control your own body in holiness and honour, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrongs or exploits a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly towards outsiders and be dependent on no one.

The Collect
O Lord, raise up, we pray, your power and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness we are grievously hindered in running the race that is set before us, your bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be honour and glory, now and for ever.  Amen.


The fool has said . . .

. . . In his heart, "There is no God!"

Yet today in the encounters this was clearly untrue for God, like many other things, is to be found should one have the eyes to see Him.

Many years ago whilst walking with a friend in the country I realised that they we seeing so many things I wasn't - or to put it another way - I was not seeing what they saw. I asked them how It was that they saw so much when I saw so little and was told that I had never learnt to look!

Isn't this the problem with our 'post. hristian' world today? In days past, accepting the concept and presuming the reality of God, people would have eyes which saw Him and His works. Today we have become blind to the things around us, choosing not to see (or perhaps they are merely unable) what is around them.

Today began, as ever with the daily Office and after some forlorn shuffling of paper saw an early Communion service. How is it that some fail to get excited by the psalms such that we are slowly seeing them exit from our worship? The very first thing we say in our midweek service is the Psalm - and some days we gasp and other days we dance, but we are never left unmoved. The temptation to cry, "Hallelujah," is immense and compelling in the extreme.

The creation of tosh as an outworking of our own desires and attitudes is so great. Never is this statement so true than when it comes to matters of belief for here we find the logically doubtful rubbing shoulder with the awe-inspiringly glorious!

Do I do that?
Are there irrational assumptions made alongside the Christian speaking esoterica which confuses and counfounds?

Recalling the essay thrown back because it was 'too theological' and my protests that theology was what it was only to be met with a rebuff which led me to realise that for my theology to be real I needed it to be done in less theological tones such that it could be read by the non-theological. A fellow student protested that it was 'dumbing down' and yet, although the theological terms allow one word where many would be needed, they also, in that one word, alienate and confuse.

So Lord help me to be an apologist (sorry, I meant 'give an answer for the hope that I have in Jesus, the Christ') and to engage with those who are both near and far off. Help me to explain the deepest truths simple, and the simple truths deeply. To make the difficult things of God simple and the simple commonplace.

Help me to visit friends and minister that same Grace that sets me free and makes us one; to never see a client but a brother or sister; to never hide behind the answerphone or the email but to engage as Christ engaged, and engages still.

Funerals and the visits, the legwork, the paperwork, are to be found in abundance and the grim spectre of those not laid to rest before the Bethlehem bit arrives is before us. The chairs, empty around festive tables, will shout of loss. O death where is your sting: O grave, where is your victory?

Nativities and Christingle, carols and mulled wine are racing towards us. Not my busy time, just my more visible time. And who will they see? Those who tell me they are busy rarely are! Those who are never seen are rarely seen working! Which is the truth for me (for many I know can take care of their own attitudes and rarely welcome question or observation from others) and how do I make it Your truth?

Lord, for the encounters had today - may those around me have find the Christ in some measure.
For the decisions and suggestions made today, may Your wisdom and life have been present..
Create in me a pure heart and an honesty that speaks in the silence.

May the Grace of God abound and the light of Christ be obvious in all that I do. Thank you for the meetings made, the Communion (and glow sticks) given and the good cups of tea received. Bring it on today and help me as I lay loved ones to rest I pray.

And may I touch the hearts of the foolish :-)

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Morning Prayer - Thursday 8 December 2016

Advent 
The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Psalm 53
The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’
Corrupt are they, and abominable in their wickedness; there is no one that does good.
God has looked down from heaven upon the children of earth, to see if there is anyone who is wise and seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way; all alike have become corrupt; there is no one that does good, no not one. Have they no knowledge, those evildoers, who eat up my people as if they ate bread, and do not call upon God? There shall they be in great fear, such fear as never was; for God will scatter the bones of the ungodly. They will be put to shame, because God has rejected them.

O that Israel’s salvation would come out of Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people then will Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.

Psalm 54
Save me, O God, by your name and vindicate me by your power.
Hear my prayer, O God; give heed to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen up against me, and the ruthless seek after my life; they have not set God before them.
Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who upholds my life.

May evil rebound on those who lie in wait for me; destroy them in your faithfulness. An offering of a free heart will I give you and praise your name, O Lord, for it is gracious. For he has delivered me out of all my trouble, and my eye has seen the downfall of my enemies.

Psalm 60
O God, you have cast us off and broken us; you have been angry; restore us to yourself again. You have shaken the earth and torn it apart; heal its wounds, for it trembles. You have made your people drink bitter things; we reel from the deadly wine you have given us. You have made those who fear you to flee, to escape from the range of the bow. That your beloved may be delivered, save us by your right hand and answer us.

God has spoken in his holiness:
‘I will triumph and divide Shechem and share out the valley of Succoth.
‘Gilead is mine and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet and Judah my sceptre.
‘Moab shall be my washpot; over Edom will I cast my sandal; across Philistia will I shout in triumph.'
Who will lead me into the strong city?
Who will bring me into Edom?
Have you not cast us off, O God?
Will you no longer go forth with our troops?

Grant us your help against the enemy, for earthly help is in vain. Through God will we do great acts, for it is he that shall tread down our enemies.

Isaiah 48.1-11
Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came forth from the loins of Judah; who swear by the name of the Lord, and invoke the God of Israel, but not in truth or right. For they call themselves after the holy city, and lean on the God of Israel; the Lord of hosts is his name.

The former things I declared long ago, they went out from my mouth and I made them known; then suddenly I did them and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from long ago, before they came to pass I announced them to you, so that you would not say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my cast image commanded them.’

You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it?
From this time forward I make you hear new things, hidden things that you have not known. They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, so that you could not say, ‘I already knew them.’ You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would deal very treacherously, and that from birth you were called a rebel.

For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, so that I may not cut you off. See, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tested you in the furnace of adversity. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for why should my name be profaned?

My glory I will not give to another.

1 Thessalonians 3
Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions. Indeed, you yourselves know that this is what we are destined for. In fact, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution; so it turned out, as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labour had been in vain.
But Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us—just as we long to see you. For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

The Collect
Almighty and everlasting God, who stooped to raise fallen humanity through the child-bearing of blessed Mary: grant that we, who have seen your glory revealed in our human nature and your love made perfect in our weakness, may daily be renewed in your image and conformed to the pattern of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


"You're good at so many things . . .

" . . . But having a day off isn't one of them." Talk about a two-edged sword!

Today was a day off, but the am bit was taken up with funeral related stuff: Squaring away the arrangements and burning CDs, doing a bit of post-production on the service recordings, writing eulogies and orders of service. There were the conversations with the funeral directors and family members and loads of stuff like that. Only seven more funerals to Christmas - been a quiet years with sixty-two done by the end of the year if no more come in.

Had some great visits yesterday and today was all about making sense of the information gathered and doing a bit of digging to discover more about the family and the deceased in particular.

The afternoon was taken up, mostly, with sorting out stuff for the church kitchen and editing some audio for the service on Sunday as I'm going to be elsewhere for the second week on the trot. Not a very welcome thing that, people want to have their minister on deck and when I'm away too much they feel a bit - wotsit!

Music practice went well and after that there was a director's meeting for the academy, which was also a blast. There's nothing better than a good accountant, makes the money stuff accessible and a joy.

Spent time with one of the church members - that's two of them who I've had an engagement with this week in a special way. It's good to talk with them and even better to talk to God about them afterwards. The intercessory thing is so blessed important and such a joy. Had an urge to pray for someone this week and then they turn up and make me think there must be something in the so many coincidences that frequent my life.

Need to get more time away to read the world and listen to the Lord - I love being in places and situations where time becomes elastic (sorry Catriona) and the traffic outside the church door becomes silent. Thinking and praying for the Taizé Communion this Sunday evening - to be in a sacred space and to feel the hair rise on the back of one's neck and sense the move of God; to pray and have the assurance that the need, unspoken though it might be, is dealt with.

And the issue of spiritual warfare came up again - in the old days we thought nothing of getting stuck in and the training (and experience) in working on the odd side of life - naming, binding, casting out and the like - it was what we did. Now I hear people saying we need the 'experts'! We are the experts, for if a non-believer can shut the door on the other side, how much more can we who are filled with the power and light of God's Holy Spirit do the stuff? He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world and so we triumph over them by the power of the cross making a public spectacle of them.

There are never two days alike in this life, we step out in faith and we seek to hear the Lord as we plant each step. How very blessed I am to be me. May my encounters today (it's after 01:00) be ordained by you and may I have ears that hear your voice and lips that work a little less!!

Build your kingdom Lord - use me to be a part of it - make me a peacemaker and help me to always give an answer for the hope that I have in Jesus, the Christ. Never let me lose sight of the fact that it is 'primus inter pares' (first among equals) and to never count anyone lesser that I count myself to be.

Thank you for dying for me and making me whole - Hallelujah!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Morning Prayer - Wednesday 7 December 2016

Advent 
Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Teacher of the Faith, 397
Ember Day

Psalm 62
On God alone my soul in stillness waits; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall never be shaken.

How long will all of you assail me to destroy me, as you would a tottering wall or a leaning fence?
They plot only to thrust me down from my place of honour; lies are their chief delight; they bless with their mouth, but in their heart they curse.

Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul; for in him is my hope. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken. In God is my strength and my glory; God is my strong rock; in him is my refuge. Put your trust in him always, my people; pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge. The peoples are but a breath, the whole human race a deceit; on the scales they are altogether lighter than air.

Put no trust in oppression; in robbery take no empty pride; though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it. God spoke once, and twice have I heard the same, that power belongs to God. Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord, •or you repay everyone according to their deeds.

Psalm 63
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul is athirst for you. My flesh also faints for you, as in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So would I gaze upon you in your holy place, that I might behold your power and your glory.

Your loving-kindness is better than life itself and so my lips shall praise you. I will bless you as long as I live and lift up my hands in your name. My soul shall be satisfied, as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise you with joyful lips, When I remember you upon my bed and meditate on you in the watches of the night. For you have been my helper and under the shadow of your wings will I rejoice. My soul clings to you; your right hand shall hold me fast.

But those who seek my soul to destroy it shall go down to the depths of the earth; Let them fall by the edge of the sword and become a portion for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all those who swear by him shall be glad, for the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.

Isaiah 47
Come down and sit in the dust, virgin daughter Babylon!
Sit on the ground without a throne, daughter Chaldea!
For you shall no more be called tender and delicate.

Take the millstones and grind meal, remove your veil, strip off your robe, uncover your legs, pass through the rivers. Your nakedness shall be uncovered, and your shame shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will spare no one.
Our Redeemer—the Lord of hosts is his name—is the Holy One of Israel.

Sit in silence, and go into darkness, daughter Chaldea!
For you shall no more be called the mistress of kingdoms.
I was angry with my people, I profaned my heritage; I gave them into your hand, you showed them no mercy; on the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy. You said, ‘I shall be mistress for ever’, so that you did not lay these things to heart or remember their end.

Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart,
‘I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children’
both these things shall come upon you in a moment, in one day: the loss of children and widowhood shall come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and the great power of your enchantments.

You felt secure in your wickedness; you said,
‘No one sees me.’

Your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart,
‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’

But evil shall come upon you, which you cannot charm away; disaster shall fall upon you which you will not be able to ward off; and ruin shall come on you suddenly, of which you know nothing.

Stand fast in your enchantments and your many sorceries, with which you have laboured from your youth; perhaps you may be able to succeed, perhaps you may inspire terror. You are wearied with your many consultations; let those who study the heavens stand up and save you, those who gaze at the stars and at each new moon predict what shall befall you.

See, they are like stubble, the fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame. No coal for warming oneself is this, no fire to sit before! Such to you are those with whom you have laboured, who have trafficked with you from your youth; they all wander about in their own paths; there is no one to save you.

1 Thessalonians 2.13-end
We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.

As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy!

The Collect
God of hosts, who called Ambrose from the governor's throne to be a bishop in your Church and an intrepid champion of your faithful people: mercifully grant that, as he did not fear to rebuke rulers, so we, with like courage, may contend for the faith we have received; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


When they needed a neighbour

Can we say I was there?

Today has been a day of death with multiple visits to plan funerals, comfort the bereaved and to make real the desire that the last opportunity for someone to be in the same physical place (until the Lord's return) is as good as can possibly be.

Our days are numbered and the journey through life is marked with many triumphs and tinged with the sadness of separation and acts of selfishness. But I am called to bring the light of Christ into the world and the lives of those I meet.

A church member once said of a cleric I knew, "The man could bring joy to a gathering by leaving the room! May I never become such a curse :-(.  May I be an influence for good and make the party no worse even if I cannot make it any better.

Lord for those who have wished me harm - I pray that your light and peace might touch them and that you would lead them into places where their hearts are made whole and their lives know the joy of your presence.

For those who stand with me as family, I can but give you thanks. For it is never right for us to walk alone.

For those who seek to serve you, may I be the means by which this is made real.

For those whose bodies and minds are broken - bring your healing and wholeness.

I thank you for the opportunities ministry brings and the joy of Communion with you. For the new clergy who have come to our patch, may they be blessed and be a blessing. For those who have been here for so long, may they not grow stale but rejoice at the opportunities we share and all that is before them. For the people of God in this place - may they be one, active in their love, faithful in their lives.

What a great day - let's do this again tomorrow.
You play the tune and I'll dance.
You show me your face and I will be healed.
Sola fide



Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Can't make it to church - 4 December 2016

It's the Second Sunday of Advent and as we head to Jesus’ birth in a Bethlehem we look at the prophets and the promise of Messiah – very different as our society has changed and evolved over the years, and yet, the insight that Christ’s birth has some important personal meaning for us as Christians, how does this change us?

 “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

Jesse – the father of eight sons, the youngest being David whose line is that from which Jesus comes; have a look at Matthew one for the full list!

What’s the stump? Who knows, there were so many times in the history of the Jewish people when the tree was chopped, broken and generally reduced to a stump: Exile, war, assignation, sin – you name it, it's there. Pick a time and you'll find somewhere the ‘stump’ label fits.

But today as we deal with Jesus and prophecy supporting his coming – and this passage is surely one of them as it speaks of the coming of someone who will change everything, what do we have?

The lion and the lamb lying down together – real image or political – who cares? There is an end to war!

There are within the Old Testament forty or so prophesies (my college notes say 44 but I couldn't find the page with the list on to check).

If you posted a letter with just a name and the location on it would it get to the person? The prophesies are a bit like that and yet I had an experience some years back where a letter addressed to "Vic in Tamworth, a Vicar from Ware," made it to my door.

The postman found me because it knew my name, where I was, where I came from and what I did. We know that Jesus is the Christ because we have forty-four (or so) things in the envelope that help,us find Him too!

Paul, as ever, does it different as he talks about what Jesus’ death and resurrection means to us but he does it using the prophets too. Starting with a ‘thumbs up’ to that which was written before, telling us that it was put there for our instruction, to give us encouragement and hope. The ‘us’ here are believers and  ‘God fearers’ – this is not, as I have heard some preach it, a supremacist statement regarding ‘the Church’ but is a statement written in awe that so many come under the shadow of the Cross. But there’s more as we read that Jesus, the Christ, “has become a servant of the circumcised.” Paul is His ambassador to the Gentiles (non Jews).

This is something that unites Jews and Gentiles – Jesus has come for all of us – now that's a Christmas present you won’t get at Argos! And Paul points to this by referring to prophecies (which is handy as that's today's focus).

Have you ever thought about the fact that our second coming expectation matches the first coming of the Messiah for the Jews? They won't be missing Him the second time I can guarantee it.

And then, with Paul, the job of bringing Jew and Gentile together into Church, and this needs love and hospitality and stuff, sharing, caring and being one together. Many different strands united in the one (realised) hope in Jesus – identified as followers of the Way. Our goal today as Church too!

So we come at last to the Gospel where John the Baptist gets the spotlight – this always strikes me as odd as next week, being all about him, sort of steals the thunder and gives us a bit of the same feel again next week. Perhaps that's because he's a bit important, more than many think.

The world is in a spot of turmoil as we find Trump, Brexit, Zac Goldsmith losing his seat in Richmond. The stability of the things around us has been shaken and removed. This is surely the time when we need someone coming to call us to change our ways and ‘seek the Lord whilst he may be found’.

A lone voice crying out to someone hoped for, that's what John the Baptist was. But the people were hoping for a Saviour then, and the Messiah and His hope and health-bringing presence were in every Person's psyche and thoughts. My question is, “Aren't they still today?” We just don't realise it!

The problem is that we have turned away from looking to Jesus and now look for this salvation in position, possession and power. We've made Christmas about Christmas, not Jesus, after all we've filled our churches and homes with trees and have probably picked up the Argos catalogue more than we have picked up our Bibles!

Could it be that we are now the people John is calling to repent?

Are we perhaps the brood of vipers that need to be washed clean and start again in our passion with renewed promise to deny ourselves and follow the Christ?

Are our hearts as cold as ice and have we become the Pharisees, that having found in our Bibles, are the people we so often detest?

John is a real partypooper as he appears at our birthday party for Jesus, asking each of us whether we really know Him!

Are we the gatecrashers and John is merely the security seeking to make prophecies real and make us real into the bargain? We want to party – he wants us to acknowledge who we aren't and who Jesus is in our lives so that the Christ’s pardon, won on the cross, might be ours and our hearts His?

Well?

Isaiah 11.1-10
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.


The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Romans 15.4-13
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

As it is written,
‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles and sing praises to your name’;

and again he says,
‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’;

and again,
‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’;

and again Isaiah says,
‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Matthew 3.1-12
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” ’

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

‘I baptise you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’


The Collect
Almighty God,
purify our hearts and minds, that when your Son Jesus Christ comes again as judge and saviour we may be ready to receive him, who is our Lord and our God.

Post Communion Prayer
Father in heaven, who sent your Son to redeem the world and will send him again to be our judge: give us grace so to imitate him in the humility and purity of his first coming that, when he comes again, we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.