Merry Christmas and a very happy 2018! #GodWithUs

Standard

My sermon this Advent 4 about Mary was inspired by Banksy and Danny Boyle’s Alternativity and Malcolm Guite’s Annunciation sonnet. I post the text of the sermon here as my Christmas message this year. May you have a blessed Christmas and a very happy and healthy 2018!

alternativity

We’ve had a week of nativity plays here in church. I wonder if you can remember who you played in your nativity play as a child?

A few years ago a survey was undertaken of adults about their role in a nativity play. When children, 42 percent of women said that they would have liked to play Mary and 23 percent of men would have liked to play Joseph. When asked which character they would like to play now if they were given the chance, most people responded with either Herod or the Innkeeper – people for some reason wanted to play the ‘baddies’!

This week an unusual production of a nativity play called the Alternativity was broadcast on BBC2. This was a staging of the play directed by the artist Banksy and film director Danny Boyle by the big wall in Bethlehem in the West Bank. Sadly, today, if you look up pictures of Bethlehem on the internet you will see that a huge two-story wall – twice the height of the Berlin Wall cuts directly through the town, dominating the landscape and making it feel like a prison with men with guns manning the watchtowers. Local Palestinian children were brought in to play the roles in this special production of the nativity. I was very moved by the young girl who said she wanted to play the part of Maryam (as she pronounced Mary). She had a beautiful pure singing voice and sang a beautiful hallelujah to the baby Jesus – all with the appalling backdrop of the wall that keeps the Palestinian people from travelling freely into the occupied parts of the West Bank. It really gave me a new perspective on the little town of Bethlehem about which we sing.

Would I want to play Mary in this nativity play? I don’t think so.

Some of the parents of the children who were in Banksy’s play in Bethlehem weren’t sure about allowing them to perform. Many of them had been shielded from the presence of the wall – their parents had kept it from them for as long as they could so that they could have as normal a childhood as possible. Being in the play would expose these children to the reality of the wall and their position as people living under occupation. Engaging directly in the nativity story for these children was literally dangerous. They were not even sure if anyone would want to come and watch – you don’t hang around a wall that has snipers at every tower.

I’m not sure you’d want to play any of the characters in this nativity play.

The Alternativity in Bethlehem that I watched this week reminded me that the nativity story is dangerous too. It’s fraught with danger. Which makes Mary’s response to the angel’s message that we heard in our gospel reading, all the more amazing.

If you read it closely, Luke has written his gospel in such a way that it makes us want to play Mary, or at least, want to be like Mary. She is an example to all of us.

Tonight we are going to be celebrating the incarnation – God becoming one of us, God becoming enfleshed, God reaching down literally into the mess and danger of our world on the edge of an occupied town where all life was fragile. This morning, the 4th Sunday of Advent we celebrate the role of Mary the mother of our Lord. Without Mary’s ‘yes’, we would have no Christmas. This is a reminder that God chooses to work in partnership with us, to work directly through ordinary human beings. God chooses us and then gives us the choice.

Gabriel tells Mary that she has found favour with God. He then tells her what will happen to her. She is allowed to question this experience she has of God speaking to her. And then, she says ‘let it be to me according to your word’.

God calls each one of us and just like Mary, God says to us, you didn’t choose me but I chose you – God is waiting for our reply.

Do you want to play Mary?

Oh that we can be like that young girl playing Maryam in the nativity play by the wall in Bethlehem, risking her life to bear the message of good news to all, singing hallelujah into the darkness of the listening audience. Oh that we can be like Mary and even knowing how much more challenging life is going to get once we allow God into our lives, we can still say ‘yes’ to God, yes to working with God to bring his presence into the world, into this dangerous and dark world.

I want to finish with a sonnet by Malcolm Guite called Annunciation:

Annunciation – Malcolm Guite

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.

 

 

Advertisements

Luxury Advent Calendar for the Soul – 22 December

Standard

Behind today’s window is another poem. This is almost a fixture now at our traditional carol service and is usually read by Ros, one of our Lay Readers. It is so moving.

‘Mary’, by Lisa Debney

Your eyes are open now.
Those eyes which will open the eyes of others.
You study my face and, just for the moment,
though you came for the world,
you are mine and mine alone.
I made you and you made me
and we gaze at each other in equal wonderment.

Your eyes are open now,
so dark-bright –
sent from a night full of light and stars –
that I could watch you for ever,
watch your chest rise and fall
as you breathe the cattle-soaked air.
I would like this moment to last for ever,
you are so wonderful to me,
so truly wonderful as you are.

But not my will, Lord, but yours be done.
I must hand you over for the world cries out for you,
though I cry out to let you go.
Just for tonight let the future leave us in peace.
Close your eyes, baby.

Close your bright eyes on the dusty darkness of the world.
There is majesty in you but for now let it hide,
let it hide like a gem while you sleep.

Luxury Advent Calendar for the Soul – 21 December

Standard

Behind today’s window is a sonnet. I was inspired by this for my sermon I’m preaching this Sunday morning for Advent 4 – which celebrates the Virgin Mary.

Annunciation – Malcolm Guite

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.

The Light Shines in the Darkness – Merry Christmas!

Standard

Tonight we had a beautiful 9 lessons and carols service. One of our readers, Ros, read this poem by Lisa Debney and it was so beautiful I wanted to share it with you along with my good wishes for Christmas and 2017.

Remember that we carry the light of Christ with us into this dark world – the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it!

Find this poem in this book.

Mary by Lisa Debney

Your eyes are open now.

Those eyes which will open the eyes of others.

You study my face and, just for the moment,

though you came for the world,

you are mine and mine alone.

I made you and you made me

and we gaze at each other in equal wonderment.

 

Your eyes are open now,

so dark-bright –

sent from a night full of light and stars –

that I could watch you for ever,

watch your chest rise and fall

as you breathe the cattle-soaked air.

I would like this moment to last for ever,

you are so wonderful to me,

so truly wonderful as you are.

 

But not my will, Lord, but yours be done.

I must hand you over for the world cries out for you,

though I cry out to let you go.

Just for tonight let the future leave us in peace.

Close your eyes, baby.

Close your bright eyes on the dusty darkness of the world.

There is majesty in you but for now let it hide,

let it hide like a gem while you sleep.

 

 

But Mary treasured all these words… Happy Christmas!

Standard

Wishing all my readers a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Egger-Lienz_-_Madona.jpg

Here is an extract from my Christmas Day sermon:

If you truly put yourself into the nativity story, you can’t help but wonder: how did Mary cope?

Well, St Luke gives us a tiny clue in a beautiful verse. He writes that Mary ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’. I think he is referring not only to the words of the Shepherds but to the other words Mary has heard up to giving birth to Jesus.

Unlike us, Mary didn’t know the end of the story, didn’t know what was going to happen to her after she said ‘yes’ to God. So Mary clung onto the words and to the Word that she had heard as if her life depended on it. She remembered that the angel Gabriel had told her that she was highly favoured by God, she remembered, after hearing the jeers calling her a prostitute and a whore as she left Nazareth for her cousin Elizabeth’s house that the first thing that Elizabeth said to her was that she was ‘blessed among women’, and then she remembered exactly the message that the angels had passed onto the shepherds, those men with funny accents and coarse ways that stumbled into the cave – they said ‘peace on earth and goodwill to those on whom God’s favour rests’ – God’s favour – Gabriel said that God favoured me, Mary remembered, me, here in this cave a long way from home, disgraced by my village – God still favours me.

Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

Mary shows us what it is to have faith in the most dire of circumstances and there was worse to come for her. Soon after she and Joseph would have to flee to Egypt as refugees, unsure of the welcome they would receive in the country of the old enemy of their people. But Mary, throughout, must have treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. God favours me, she remembered, I am blessed among women. She chose to believe in God’s word when all the other words around her said the opposite.

So as we are on the cusp of a new year, unaware of what is to come, of the challenges and joys to come, we too should be like Mary and treasure the word of God to us, that we are loved so much, that we are welcomed, that we are included, that, yes, we are favoured by God so much that he became a vulnerable baby, come to be with us, alongside us in our difficulties and our delight. Let us treasure all these words, the Word of God, more than any other gifts we might receive today and ponder this mystery, this Christmas joy in our hearts. Amen.

 

Celebrating Mary the Mother of God

Standard

Being a bit of a hybrid Christian, having grown up Anglo-Catholic, then been a Baptist for a bit and then come back into the Church of England I’ve had a constantly changing relationship with the Virgin Mary. My evangelical sensibilities were wary of her but I have now come to the realisation that to ignore Mary is to miss a huge part of the Gospel.

Today is the feast of what many call the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – celebrating the belief that Mary was received bodily into heaven. Of course, we don’t have any scripture that asserts this clearly but it is interesting to note that there is no site at which she is said to be buried, no shrine to her earthly remains. Anglicans officially fudge the name of the feast by calling it the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that we can celebrate her feast day without necessarily believing that she was bodily taken into heaven.

Today, I read an extract from Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Poor by Ivone Gebara and Maria Bingemer about the feast of the assumption and it made me look at it in a whole new light. Here are some quotations that gave me real food for thought:

Mary’s assumption brings a new and promising future for women. Excluded from Jewish initiation rites because of their anatomy, banned from full participation in worship and the synagogue by their menstrual cycles, for a long time women – even in Christianity – subtly or explicitly have been second class citizens in the world of faith because of the ‘inferiority’ and the ‘poverty’ of their bodies.

Mary’s assumption, however, restores and reintegrates woman’s bodiliness into the very mystery of God. Starting with Mary, the dignity of women’s condition is recognised and safeguarded by the creator of that very bodiliness. In Jesus Christ and Mary the feminine is respectively resurrected and assumed into heaven – definitively sharing in the glory of the Trinitarian mystery from which all proceeds and to which all returns.

She who, while a disciple herself, shared persecutions, fear and anxiety with other disciples in the early years of the church, is the same one who, after a death that was certainly humble and anonymous, was raised to heaven. The assumption is the glorious culmination of the mystery of God’s preference for what is poor, small, and unprotected in this world.

IMG_0385.JPG

Sculpture at Wichita Cathedral

Sermon – Holy Family – Sunday 29th December, 2013 – a leap into darkness

Domenico Fetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Standard

I was delighted (and a bit nervous) to be invited to preach at my home church of All Saints on the day of my parents’ 40th Wedding Anniversary.

Me preaching at All Saints Church, Southend on Sea on 29th Dec 2013

Me preaching at All Saints Church, Southend on Sea on 29th Dec 2013

Here is the text of my sermon:

Matthew 2:13-23

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.

(Isaiah 9:2)

Only a few days ago we heard these words read in our Christmas services – the words of Isaiah written about 600 years before Christ pointing to the light that was to come into the world. In today’s gospel reading, Joseph and Mary are the people who are walking in darkness.

Joseph is the star of the nativity in Matthew’s gospel. He is a model for us all. Much is made, and rightly so, of Mary’s ‘yes’ to the message brought to her by the Angel Gabriel. Here in Matthew’s gospel we discover that Joseph’s ‘yes’ to the angel is also hugely significant.

Joseph and Mary have been happily settled with relatives in Bethlehem, raising their toddler Jesus when Joseph, seemingly out of the blue, has a dream that shakes him to the core. His small, fragile family is in danger from Herod. An angel tells Joseph, rather abruptly to get up and take Mary and his baby to Egypt.

I don’t know what images are conjured up for you when you think of Egypt? Sunning yourself in Sharm El Sheik? Visiting the Great Pyramids? A Nile cruise? Or perhaps rioting and political unrest? None of these images come close to the fear bound up for a first century Jew in the phrase ‘go to Egypt’. Egypt is a place of darkness, a place of slavery, a prison, the place from which the Lord God dramatically delivered his people. This is all upside down and back to front. Egypt is a place of death, a tomb.

The imagery of darkness is there in the gospel reading: Joseph got up and took the mother and his child by night… There is almost the implication that Joseph woke up from his dream in the middle of the night, hastily packed their belongings and set off in the darkness to the foreign country of Egypt.

Domenico Fetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Joseph’s obedience to the angel’s command is astonishing. The threat to his family was even greater than what they might find in Egypt. So he went. He said ‘yes’ to God with no idea of what would happen and not with only himself to think about but his wife and small child, a two year old who would struggle with a change in his routine. This sounds a little bit like Abraham and his call to leave his home for the vague notion of a Promised Land. And that is deliberate, I think. Matthew’s original audience were Jewish Christians, they knew the call of Abraham and the promise of descendants more numerous than the stars – even though he and his wife Sarah were old. They also knew that Egypt is the place from which God rescues.

Joseph takes the step of faith that has been taken throughout the centuries by those who sought to follow God. A step that’s taken by us all when we say ‘yes’ to God: a leap into darkness.

And so Joseph models for us the great pattern of salvation that we experience in our lives over and over again – death and resurrection, death and resurrection. He goes to the place of darkness, the place of slavery and returns with the Christ child who will bring light to those who walk in darkness.

Earlier this year, Lord Howell was speaking in the House of Lords about fracking. He described the North East as a ‘desolate’ place. This understandably upset a lot of people – and I’m sure Fr Neil wasn’t too impressed!

The north of Israel in ancient times was viewed in much the same way. Just at the beginning of the Isaiah passage I started with it says:

“But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations”

(Isaiah 9:1)

In the place where no one expected blessing, the land beyond the Jordan – far from God’s own city of Jerusalem, there was salvation to come.

Picture a different donkey ride. Mary and Joseph, struggling with their belongings on a donkey, travelling for days to reach the “desolate” north of Israel. Jesus, a young boy sits on his father’s shoulders and points out what he can see: ‘look, Abba, another sheep!’ Mary and Joseph reminisce about that other journey they took to Bethlehem, some years before, they smile as they tell Jesus he’s been on this road before. This time they arrive looking like foreigners, they have been living as refugees in a strange land but now they come and find a place to settle by the sea in a small town called Nazareth. They are carrying the Christ child. They are carrying with them the hope of the nations. They are bringing the light that shines in the darkness.

This journey is made possible all because Mary said ‘yes’. All because Joseph said ‘yes’. The Holy Family are a family who say ‘yes’ to God, not knowing what the future will hold. We join with them in the journey – into the unknown. We don’t know what 2014 will hold for us. Mary and Joseph carried the Christ child with them. The message of Christmas that we celebrate in this season is that God is with us, Immanuel. Like Joseph, we carry Christ with us ourselves as we leave this place, as we start a new year, as we move to a place of the unexpected, possibly a place of darkness, into that we carry the light of Christ. God with us. Immanuel.

—————————————————————————————

At the service they made an affirmation of vows and my mother got a surprise new ruby ring which was blessed. As a thank you for using the church for a party this evening they also bought a new set of vestments for the church.