Adevnt Reflection

This Advent and Christmas, pay attention to the symbols of this season, because there is a lot to be learnt through the traditional images we find at this time of year. Although, saying that, I wonder how many of you will send and receive cards with a depiction of the nativity, or if you and your loved ones will favour robins in the snow, or Santa?

One image that always makes its way onto my computer background is the Icon of the Nativity. For me this Orthodox image gives us a different angle to the traditional images, and it drips with symbolism to aid in our Advent preparations and our Christmas celebrations.

The background is dark and displays an inhospitable world, the world we’ve inhabited since our expulsion from Eden. A world we can recognise today in our media with the uncertainty of peace or safety for many people.

Christ is shown in the centre of the icon, with his mother Mary sitting in a cave that the earth has provided. The Creator of the universe is entering history as a new born baby, and his birth changes everything. Christ is a helpless figure, wrapped in strips of cloth, representing his complete submission to becoming human and sharing our life. His manger is like a coffin, and his cloths like grave cloths, reminding us that this child has been born to die. Into this world of darkness and danger, he comes to save us.

Among the joyful festivities of the birth of this child, there is a serious message; the Immanuel (עִמָּנוּאֵל) is here, Jesus, ‘God is with us’ has arrived but not all will recognise this. He is watched over by the ox and the ass. “The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:3)

Mary, the Theotokos (God-bearer), is the largest and most dominant figure in the icon, lying back after giving birth. It was her “Yes” to the angel brings about the whole series of events and her faith in God that brings forth our salvation. She is a reminder to us that working for Christ is sometimes exhausting hard work, but worth it.

The Wise Men are on the left of the icon and the Shepherds on the right, and they show that Christ came for all, rich and poor, acceptable and unacceptable. The Wise Men on horseback, looking up to their guiding star, they represent not only the rich and wealthy, but they also bring politics into the story with their dealings with Herod. The shepherds are tending their sheep. One of the shepherd plays joyful music on a flute, while one of the sheep looks up to the angels above.

My favourite characters in this icon however are the angels, whose role here is to announce the good news, to praise and glorify God, and watch over the holy events below.

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Candlemas Reflection for Abbey News

From one hymn of praise to another. In the Christmas edition of Abbey News Fr. Kevin reflected on Mary’s song ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ (Luke 1: 46-47) repeated every evening in countless different settings by our choirs. And for this edition, as we celebrate Candlemas, we have another hymn, also repeated every evening, in countless different settings by our choirs, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word’ (Luke 2: 29).

The song of Simeon otherwise known as the Nunc Dimittis is a calmer, sombre song of praise then that of Mary’s. It’s a song of fulfilment and of a hope satisfied. Simeon, described as a righteous and devout man, had waited for many years in hopeful expectation. He’d waited for the anointed, the chosen one from God. He’d waited, with God’s assurance that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah.

The words are so familiar to many of us that it is easy to lose the impact of them and the experience the Simeon went through. He has waited for so long and, being human, he probably despaired at times. Would God’s promised Saviour truly arrive in his lifetime? Perhaps he’d just imagined that God had spoken to him. But, whatever his feelings, he kept on waiting faithfully.

Candlemas is a pivotal celebration in the churches year. It’s a time when we can look back on what has been and look ahead to what will be. In the church that means looking behind us to Christmas and the celebrations of the birth of Christ, and ahead to Christ’s passion, and the promises of Easter.

And for us?

There is certainly a lot we can learn from Simeon’s patient, faithful waiting. It is easy to hold onto our faith when God feels close and his plan is very clear. But we all go through times when our vision of God fades, and there are times when all we feel is His absence. When prayer feels like a waste of energy and time. It is at these times when we can turn to Simeon and take his example of holding on day by day, watching , with no apparent signs of change, in the expectation that God is about to act.

We can also remember and rejoice that Simeon’s faith was rewarded by the sight, sound and touch of the infant Christ and was given a time to act.

‘Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what is customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…then Simeon blessed them.’ (Luke 2. 27-28 & v34a)

For each of us there are times for waiting and there are times for action, and Simeon gives us an example of this crossover, this move to action. As we approach Lent, many of us will make this transition and act; to join home groups and Lent courses, to vowing to make changes in our lives by the giving up of luxurious treats for a period of time, to raise money for worthy causes, or to start preparations for confirmation.

What will your action be?

From one hymn of praise to another. In the Christmas edition of Abbey News Fr. Kevin reflected on Mary’s song ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ (Luke 1: 46-47) repeated every evening in countless different settings by our choirs. And for this edition, as we celebrate Candlemas, we have another hymn, also repeated every evening, in countless different settings by our choirs, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word’ (Luke 2: 29).

The song of Simeon otherwise known as the Nunc Dimittis is a calmer, sombre song of praise then that of Mary’s. It’s a song of fulfilment and of a hope satisfied. Simeon, described as a righteous and devout man, had waited for many years in hopeful expectation. He’d waited for the anointed, the chosen one from God. He’d waited, with God’s assurance that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah.

The words are so familiar to many of us that it is easy to lose the impact of them and the experience the Simeon went through. He has waited for so long and, being human, he probably despaired at times. Would God’s promised Saviour truly arrive in his lifetime? Perhaps he’d just imagined that God had spoken to him. But, whatever his feelings, he kept on waiting faithfully.

Candlemas is a pivotal celebration in the churches year. It’s a time when we can look back on what has been and look ahead to what will be. In the church that means looking behind us to Christmas and the celebrations of the birth of Christ, and ahead to Christ’s passion, and the promises of Easter.

And for us?

There is certainly a lot we can learn from Simeon’s patient, faithful waiting. It is easy to hold onto our faith when God feels close and his plan is very clear. But we all go through times when our vision of God fades, and there are times when all we feel is His absence. When prayer feels like a waste of energy and time. It is at these times when we can turn to Simeon and take his example of holding on day by day, watching , with no apparent signs of change, in the expectation that God is about to act.

We can also remember and rejoice that Simeon’s faith was rewarded by the sight, sound and touch of the infant Christ and was given a time to act.

‘Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what is customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…then Simeon blessed them.’ (Luke 2. 27-28 & v34a)

For each of us there are times for waiting and there are times for action, and Simeon gives us an example of this crossover, this move to action. As we approach Lent, many of us will make this transition and act; to join home groups and Lent courses, to vowing to make changes in our lives by the giving up of luxurious treats for a period of time, to raise money for worthy causes, or to start preparations for confirmation.

What will your action be?

Advent 3 Evensong Malachi 3:1-4

We are over half way through this season of Advent, this season of preparation, this season of waiting, and it’s a good time to step back and look at our journey, where we have been, and to look ahead to where we are going.

For many, they share in the traditions that make up an emotionally difficult, stressful and expensive Christmas; decorating the tree and houses in a mixture of plastic, wooden and glass ornaments, tinsel, figures of Santa and snowmen, reindeer, sending out 100s of cards, many to people you hardly speak to for the rest of the year, attending and hosting parties, meals, drink get together; buying gifts for friends and family, neighbours and acquaintances; buying enough food to make an army obese, even though the shops are only closed for one day.

But none of these things does a true Christmas make.

Even those of us who commit to keeping a holy Christmas and to keep the true meaning of it can get bogged down in all of these frills that have become the tradition and if we’re honest, Christmas in this consumer society does seem to be all about the cards, and the gifts, the parties and decorations.

And it makes me sad to see so many committing to the hollowness of the fills rather then the holiness of the season.

Advent is a season of preparation, but if your Christmas is about the frills, then what are you preparing for?

We have a different understanding of preparation given to us in our scriptures. We are preparing for the coming of the Lord, coming to us in human form, coming as one of us, to live with and among us. And no amount of tinsel can prepare you for that.

We’ve heard it said again and again at our Advent services, that this is a time of preparation and looking at the four last things, death, judgement, heaven and hell.

But how are we to do this? How are we to do this when the rest of the world is in the ‘Christmas Spirit’ so soon? And why would we want to when the rest of the world preparations are so sparkly and attractive?

Mary Reed Newland has a wonderful quote about what our advent preparation should be, she says, :

“…you cannot just walk into such a blaze of glory without preparation… you must creep up to it, think about it, count the days, watch the signs, and prepare.”

Listen again to the words of the prophet Malachi who speaks one method of preparation:

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple… but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver,
This is a time of preparation—but what a preparation!

Refiner’s fire!

Strangely enough, when given the option between being put in a fire and fairy lights and tinsel, most people opt for the fairy lights and tinsel.

Refiners fire is not a form of preparation that we often opt for. Not many of us like being put into the fire by God; or by life’s circumstances.

But we’ve all been there, when the heat is on, and we’re under pressure, when life happens

and we have to deal with the messy reality of our fragile and fallible nature, and when we have to deal with the messy reality of the fragility and fallibility of others.

When we need to suck it up, and tackle those things that hang over us, and weigh heavy on our shoulders.

When we’re faced with the choices that we’d rather avoid, and face with the people that have hurt us, and the people we’ve hurt.

And when we’ve experience loss, and death. In all these, we are people in the refiners fire.

We have a choice in those times, to use them, to refine, improve and purify, For the bad things to burn away, and to allow God to create something new and to do a new thing in us, or not.

‘but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire….. he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver

A friend of mine, who is a priest in a little Welsh town, was a silversmith in a former life and made very fine jewellery.

He once described to me the process to of how silver is refined.

He said, ‘the piece of silver is held over the fire to heat up. It needs to be in the middle of the fire where the hottest flames are so all the impurities, the dross can be burnt away. You need to carefully watch during this process, there is no room for slacking because if the silver is left a moment too long, then it would be destroyed.

The refiner needs to wait until their reflection can been seen in the silver, then it is ready to be made into something beautiful.

If God is the refiner, and we are the silver, we can know, and trust in a few things about this process of preparation.

We can trust that God is a good silversmith, who doesn’t just throw us in the fire and leave us there to be destroyed.

He holds us, watches us, he is always nearby, unwilling to let us be destroyed.

And we can trust that when we are ready, that the refiners reflection is returned to him, that we reflect outwards God’s image.

“…you cannot just walk into such a blaze of glory without preparation… you must creep up to it, think about it, count the days, watch the signs, and prepare.”

Advent is that time of preparation before entering the blaze of glory, before meeting God made man in the manger of Bethlehem.

How will use the rest of this preparation time? With tinsel and shopping, or with burning the dross, and reflecting God to the world?

Carol Service Sermon for Townsend School

It’s so easy at this time of the year to get caught up in the ‘Christmas Spirit’. We all have our favourite parts of Christmas, those parts that we look forward to the most.

We had our toddler service this morning with the Abbey’s big white teddy bear, predictably named, Abbey Bear. And we asked the tots what parts of Christmas they enjoy the most.

I’d like to see if you agree with their list, so put your hand up when I call out something you are especially looking forward to this Christmas.

  • All the chocolates you get to eat.
  • The parities
  • The music and carols
  • Decorating the tree
  • Spending time with family
  • The presents
  • Eating huge amounts of Christmas dinner

There are so many things to enjoy about this season, and its good that we have so many things during these cold and wet days to look forward to. But at the same time, it’s

really easy to get so distracted by the glitter and sparkle of this season that we can forget what it’s really all about.

We need to remember that Christmas is a birthday celebration.

It’s the time we get to celebrate being given the greatest gift of all. A gift that will not wear out, or break, or needs batteries changing. It’s the time we celebrate God coming down to earth, to live with us and as one of us.

We’ve just heard, read so well, the story of Jesus, starting with the predictions from Isaiah, 800 years before his birth going right through that story we all know so well. Angels, Shepherds, Wise men and donkeys.

I want you to think for a moment of what that really means. What does it mean that God sent Jesus to be born a human?

Thanks to the Victorians, we’re given a particular image of Jesus at this time of year of him being sweet Jesus, meek and mild, no crying or screaming. We don’t often think about the man that this quiet angelic child will turn into.

The man who walked purposefully from town to town, village to village, community to community teaching people about

  • Justice
  • Peace
  • Fairness
  • Forgiveness
  • Truth
  • Love
  • Charity
  • Hospitality
  • Generosity
  • Faithfulness
  • Healing
  • Unity

This baby will grow up to argue with religious leaders and public officials so that the poor aren’t ripped off, so the sick can be helped, that the hungry will be fed and those with nothing would be given the things they need.

But we are quick to forget this.

We forget that he called and asked us to do these things in our lives as well.

But we’re easily distracted.

How often do we think about those that today, right now, are poor, lonely, sick, or dying.

If our celebrations at this time of year are only about the tinsel, turkey and presents, then our celebration is hollow and empty.

Wouldn’t it be better to celebrate the birth of Jesus among us by making a special effort to demonstrate some of those qualities in our lives?

We’re still in the season f Advent. We’re in week 3 of 4 in our time of preparation. And it’s a time, not only to buy our gifts and party, but it’s also a time we can prepare ourselves and make ourselves ready.

In the time we have left before Christmas, think about whether you are prepared to celebrate a real Christmas, or a hollow festival of tinsel?

Are you ready to meet Jesus when he comes?

Are you able to celebrate Christmas by letting others see God working through you, and showing those qualities in your life that we taught us about?

How are you going to celebrate this Christmas?

Amen.

Midnight Mass 2012

What words can I say on this most holy of nights?

What words could I possibly use to express how glorious and yet how lowly this night is.

In the church we have had four Sundays of watching and waiting, four Sundays of preparation for this night.

And there is something in the air. I always get a shiver when I think of the thousands upon thousands of people who will gather on this cold and damp night, who will come together to celebrate. You know something special has happened when people gather into church this late at night.

For some of you this will be extremely late, and you will have made a special effort to remain awake to be here. For others this might not be late at all, but you have still ventured out, at a time when most will be resting.

But we are all here, to share, to celebrate, to rejoice in the climax of this season.

I do not need to tell the story again, we have heard it so many times, in so many ways this year, we know about the angels, we know about the shepherds, we know about the wise man.

We are here, to share, to celebrate and to rejoice that a baby has been born. A baby has been born in a strange land, in a stable surrounded by animals, and hay. A baby has been born, screaming and crying, testing out his new lungs.

A baby has been born tonight, who is the saviour of the world.

A baby whom time predicted, whom prophets spoke of, whom we have been waiting for, God has come to earth.

The word has become flesh and dwells among us.

What can I say on this most holy of nights?

I can declare that Jesus, the Christ is born.

I can shout out that God is among us.

And we can celebrate, because everything that has taken place this night, has been done out of love.

With the glitter, and the sparkle of Christmas, with the fairs and the fetes, the trees and the cards and the decorations, and the buying of presents, the wrapping and unwrapping, the food and parties, they plays and performances by our kids, the concerts, the get together with old friends, and distant family members.

It is easy to get distracted. Distracted from the message of love which is sent to earth this night.

I said earlier that there is something in the air on this night. It’s a freedom from these expectations, and the business of the season which we all know so well. It’s the hope of a better future filled with love.

There is one carol which I have come to adore during this advent. I didn’t know about it until this year. And don’t worry I’m not going to sing it. But I would like to read you the words. It is a popular Arabic carol which talks about the meaning of Christmas.

“On the Eve of Christmas Hatred will vanish

On the Eve of Christmas The earth will flourish

On the Eve of Christmas War will be gone

On the Eve of Christmas Love will be born

When we offer a glass of water to a thirsty person

it is Christmas

When we clothe a naked person with a gown of love

it is Christmas

When we wipe the tears from weeping eyes

it is Christmas

When the spirit of revenge dies in me

it is Christmas

When in my heart I no longer want to stay apart

it is Christmas

When I am buried in the being of God

it is Christmas

The hope of Christmas, is the hope of love.

God gave us a gift in Jesus, he sent his son to show us the way. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied, it is love.

What can I say on this most holy of nights?

The love of God has been born to us, let us love one another.

I printed copies of this carol, and you might want to re look at it tomorrow, after the presents and food and celebration with family and ask yourself what you could do to bring the hope and love the author of this carol speaks about further into your lives and this world.

But for now, What can we say on this most holy of nights?

Jesus is born, Alleluia!!!!