Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent 4 : Homily / Sermon

The Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23)


Posting Christmas CardsDespite the rise of twitter and Skype and email and FaceTime we still send and receive Christmas Cards. I got mine from the Archbishop the other day. It has got his signature on, but it looks as if it is printed. 

Cards can convey love, and affection, respect and courtesy, though all too often we send them because we have to, and we receive some from people we barely know or might even have forgotten. Cards may be important, and still popular, but they can also be very routine, and even empty of any real feelings.

Much better than the card, of course, is the actual visit - when we go and see someone in order to exchange greetings. And instead of an address, written on an envelope, we meet face to face, and address one another by name.

In today’s Gospel we hear of a meeting - well, too meetings. The angel meets Joseph in a dream and tells him of another meeting, when the angel had met Mary, and gave her the great commission from God.

And here too, names are important. In today’s Gospel two of the names of Our Lord are set before us. Jesus - which means God saves, and Emmanuel - which means God-with-us.
And it is the names which tells us what Christ’s coming is all about. He saves us by being with us.

We might reasonably ask the question, why did God come and live amongst us as Jesus. Why did he take flesh? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die for us? Could not God have just acted, just waved his hands like a magic wand and put all sins and sufferings right?

Perhaps. But that would be doing things at a distance, almost disinterestedly, rather like sending a card with a polite greeting to someone we are not really close to. It would be an act of courtesy, but it requires little effort.

But God does more than send a card. He comes to visit. And God does more than visit. He comes to dwell amongst us. He becomes one of us, and shares our joys and sorrows, our cares and our concerns. He takes our sins upon himself. And that is how he saves us.

And today Mary and Joseph stand before us. She was chosen by God to carry Christ and bear him into the world. Joseph is included in the same mission.. They are not like some postman who carries a card, passing on a message or a greeting. They are humanity. Mary, especially, is us - the one who receives this great gift on our behalf, the one who welcomes this wonderful saving visitor.

And he is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He has come to meet us. He knocks at the door. And all we need do is open the door and let him in.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Advent 3 : Homily / Sermon

‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ (Matthew 11:3)

Kris Kringle

In the film, Miracle on 34th Street, we meet the character of Kris Kringle, a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus. The film revolves around the question of whether the character is the real Santa Claus, and indeed, whether Santa Claus exists at all. 

The original film, made in 1947 and which featured a very young Natalie Wood, leaves that question tantalising unanswered, though leads the watcher to think carefully about the old man’s identity. Other remakes of the film, such as the much more recent 1994 version starring Richard Attenborough, try and answer the question for us. 

Here, in today’s Gospel, there is another, and not altogether dissimilar question. The followers of John the Baptist come to ask a burning question: who is this man, Jesus? Are you the one who is to come? 

They were not the first to ask the question, and certainly would not be the last. 

The question is asked when Jesus heals the paralysed man and forgives his sins: Who is he who forgives sins? It is asked by the disciples when Jesus stills the storm: Who is this that the wind and waves obey him? It is asked by Jesus himself at Caesarea Philippi: Who do people say that I am? And when he is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks Who are you looking for? 

And it is asked of him at his trial: Are you the Christ, the Son of the living God? 

And it has been asked in the centuries since: is he a great prophet, or a political revolutionary, or a religious reformer? Is he just an ordinary man? Did he even exist? Or is he King of King and Lord of Lords? Every question has been asked, and every possible question has been given. 

Even the famous atheist author, Philip Pullman, wrote about “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ”. 

So when Jesus is asked the question, how does he answer?

Well, he does not try to persuade … at least not in words. He says, [look at the evidence, he says,] “What do you see?”

Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor

[Or in another place, he put the whole thing much more plainly … By their fruits shall you know them. 

St Francis said something similar to his followers Preach the Gospel … use words if necessary … ]

It is by example, by acts of mercy, by the experience of his love in action that God is known 

[… As we will hear in just a few days now “The Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us”

It is the flesh that we know who he is. In his actions that we know his love. ]

And it is through our actions, the quality of our life, our compassion, our mercy, our forgiveness, our generosity, our love that God’s own compassion, mercy, forgiveness, generosity and love is known, and experienced, and recognised in this cold and often heartless world. 

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Advent 2 : Homily / Sermon

Prepare a way for the Lord - make his paths straight. (Matthew 3:3)


Last week I mentioned a character who is familiar to us from a popular Christmas Film - well, a book really - the character of Scrooge - this week I choose another one.
His name is George Bailey … an ordinary sort of chap who lived a fairly ordinary life in a very ordinary American town from the 1930s into the 1940s. He has a loving wife and a large family and a fairly comfortable life - but he had been a young man with dreams! He had damaged lungs, after rescuing his younger brother from a freezing pool as a child, but has great ambitions - to travel the world, to see Europe - but he doesn’t even get to serve in the war, as his brother does, with great distinction, because of his disability. The problems of the Great Depression means he has to stay in the small town to maintain the family business, a small mutual bank, a Savings and Loans company, which helps provide affordable homes for the folk of the town.
And then a crisis comes, for which he can’t see a way out, and he realises that his entire life has been a failure, a disaster. None of his dreams have come to pass. He has not seen the world, or served his country, or done any of the wonderful things he had dreamt of as a young man.
This wonderful film - it’s called “It’s a Wonderful Life” - then traces how George Bailey is shown, by a very unconventional angel, what the lives of other people would have been without him: how many people would have been without homes if he had never lived, how his brother would have died, so never have become a war hero, how him Mother would have become a bitter broken woman, his wife a lonely spinster, and the wonderful house which they renovated together for their family of many children would have stood as a ruin. He realises that his life has in fact made a difference.
Well, its a lovely film, set at Christmas, complete with snow and angels. A bit sentimental indeed, but cheering none the less.
But what - you may be thinking - what on earth has George Bailey to do with today’s Gospel, and its strange and uncompromising figure, John the Baptist?

Prepare a way for the Lord - make his paths straight, he says, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near at hand.

Well, the thing about all the prophets, John the Baptist included, is not that they predict the future, nor that they accuse us of being wicked sinners, but that they are sent to convince us that we can make a difference.

We may think that we are not important, that we make no impact, that God has not chosen us for anything in particular, that our actions have very few consequences. And yet they do!

The listening ear, the words of comfort, the loving hug, the acts of generosity and kindness - they all make a difference. And so do the occasional dishonesty, the moderate selfishness, the passing hardness of heart.

George Bailey, dare I say, came to see that God had a plan for him, and he did make a difference, an enormous difference - though his modesty was such that he had hardly noticed it. And John the Baptist tells us today that that whoever we are, whatever our age or job or condition of life, we can and do make a difference: Prepare a way for the Lord.