The First Sunday of Advent (Year C)

Every year in Winter we have a season of four weeks called Advent to prepare for the coming of Christ. During this time we don’t recite the Gloria in excelsis, so that when we say it at Christmas, it may ring out with joy, as we join our voices with the angels celebrating Christ’s birth. The colour for Advent is purple, a dark shade which reminds us both of Christ’s royalty and our penitence. During the next four weeks we prepare for Christmas, our yearly remembrance of Christ’s First Coming in Bethlehem, and For His Second Coming as our Saviour and our Judge. The idea of the Second Coming of Christ tends to make people uncomfortable, and that is understandable. No-one likes the thought of being judged, of being called to account. But the one who will judge us is the God who loves us, and who died for us. God is our judge, but He is the God of love and mercy who has saved and redeemed us by His Death and Resurrection. Thus we can have hope, and prepare to meet Christ with joyful hearts.

In our first reading this morning, the prophet Jeremiah declares that God fulfils His promises: we can trust Him.

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.’ (Jer 33:15)

This promise, made to the House of David, is fulfilled both by Jesus’ birth and His return in judgement. God promises to save His people and to rule in a way that is far beyond any human idea of justice. Earthly rulers and politicians will, and do, disappoint us: they fall short of our expectations. Any of us would. We need to ask God to intervene. Only God can save us, we cannot save ourselves.

When St Paul wrote to the Church he founded in Thessalonica, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia (now Greece), they were expecting Jesus to return imminently. 

So Paul prays that God may make them,

abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.’ (1Thess 3:12-13)

Love is the key to the Christian Life: God’s love of us, and our love of God and each other. We need God’s help in this, so that we can be genuinely loving, and live the life of the Kingdom, here and now. Each week we confess our sins, listen to God speaking to us in our Bible readings, and we are nourished by God, so that we can grow together in love, and be transformed by Him, and for Him. Part of this transformation happens at the Eucharist. Normally when we eat food, it becomes part of us. But in the Eucharist, we are transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood. Such is the power of God’s grace that by our communion, whether physical or spiritual, we are united with God and our souls are transformed. We become joined with the God who loves us, so that we can live lives of Christian love, expressed in service, which build up the Kingdom and make it visible.

At various points in the Gospels Jesus talks about the end times. There is an expectation that it is imminent, and we should live prepared for it to happen. Christ warns us: 

But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” (Lk 21:34-5)

The word ‘dissipation’ is not one we usually hear, it means ‘overindulgence’ or ‘excess’ It is all too easy for Christians to despair about themselves and the world around them, and to give ourselves over to behaviour designed to distract us. We become wrapped up with cares and anxiety, and forget that we can trust Jesus’ promises, and that He has come that we might have life and life in all its fullness. Jesus tells us to be awake and to pray, and Advent is a time for prayerful alertness, focusing on our relationship with God and each other, and living lives of love. 

If we consider the parable in today’s Gospel, the parable of the Fig Tree, two things are apparent. The first is that fig trees are clearly visible and easily recognisable in the Middle Eastern Landscape. This means that, when Our Lord comes it will be apparent to everyone. Secondly, figs as fruit take a long time to ripen. Therefore their appearance shows that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. This long ripening reminds us that we need to be prepared to wait, for all things will happen at their appointed time. Our preparation for Christ’s Coming is the work of a lifetime. It involves a journey of faith, entering into the mystery of God’s love, and letting ourselves be transformed by it. 

What greater present could we offer to Our Lord than hearts filled with love and lives lived in the true freedom proclaimed by the Gospel. At one level, therefore, it does not matter whether the Second Coming is today or in a thousand years time. What matters is that we live lives infused with the values of the Kingdom of God. This is a joyful and yet a serious business. Jesus has taught us what we should be doing, and these are things that we, as Christians, need to do together. As a community we pray for the Grace of God to help us, to strengthen us and fill us with that Love which comes from Him. So that we all may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

The Tree of Jesse – Lambeth Bible MS3 f. 198r

Christ the King

As we all came into church this morning we used the hand sanitiser by the door to cleanse ourselves. Also located by the West door in this, and many other churches, is a font. There is a very good reason that the font is placed by the door. It is because Baptism is how we enter the Church. Baptism therefore takes place where we come in, so that what we do is reinforced by the place where we do it.

We have come here today, in Christian fellowship, to participate in the Eucharist and to pour water over a child’s head in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, He told His disciples to do these things. So for two thousand years Christians have gathered to pray together, to read the Bible, to baptize people, and to celebrate the Eucharist.

Before Jesus began His public ministry He was baptized by His cousin, John the Baptist in the River Jordan. To this day some Christians use rivers and streams to baptize, but that might be rather cold today! As Jesus emerged out of the water, the Gospels tell us that the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, and that God the Father spoke, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, listen to Him’. And we do. And so we gather to welcome another child of God into the family of faith, which we call the Church. It is a truly happy occasion and a cause for genuine celebration. The past eighteen months have been a difficult and painful time for all of us, so to have something to celebrate is wonderful news indeed.

In our Baptism we are washed, freed from sin, and raised to new life in Jesus Christ. We are named, known, and loved by God, and become part of a family which extends across space and time, which we call the Church. In a few moments time we will have the newest Christian in the world right here among us, and if that is not a reason for celebration, then I don’t know what is!

Just as the parents and godparents make promises on behalf of this child, we are reminded of the promises which we made, or were made on our behalf. We give our prayerful support as part of a fellowship of faith which lives and grows together in love. Baptism is a public declaration of faith in God: of what we believe as Christians, and of how we live our new life together, as a community united by our shared relationship with God and each other. When we enter the Church through our Baptism we become part of a new family in which we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Unfortunately families don’t always get along all of the time. But when we say or do something wrong we say, ‘Sorry’, we try not to do it again, and we forgive each other, because we love each other. The Church is like any other family in this regard. Through Christ we know that God is love, and that God loves us. Jesus gives the Church Baptism and the Eucharist to share new life with us, and so that we can grow together in love and forgiveness. We read the Bible together, we are taught together, we say ‘sorry’ together to God and each other, we pray together, and we are nourished by the Eucharist together. And week by week, and year by year, these things change us, so that we become more and more like Jesus.

This journey begins with our Baptism, but it doesn’t end there. As we grow in faith in our lives, we develop. None of us are the same person we were two years ago. We are older, and wiser, and hopefully more loving and generous. These changes can be hard to see, but they do happen. Such gradual change is never going to make the headlines, but it is the key to living a Christian life. By living like Christ, with God’s help, and a lot of love and prayer, we are prepared for heaven. The rôle of the Church is to get us ready for Heaven, to spend eternity with the God who loves us. The support of our fellow Christians helps us to grow in love and faith, and as we do, to transform the world around us.

If we live lives characterised by love and forgiveness, it affects what we do, and who we are. By living out our faith in our lives we can change the world for the better. This is what Jesus came to teach humanity, and it is why we pray,

deled dy deyrnas, gwneler dy ewyllys; megis yn y nef, felly ar y ddaear hefyd.

thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’

If we want God’s kingdom to be a reality, then we have to do God’s will, to help bring it about. We have each been invited to play our part, and to work together to make the world a better place. It is all about co-operation, with God, and with each other.

It is good that we are celebrating a christening on this the Feast of Christ the King, because it stresses the fact that Jesus, as God, is the supreme ruler of Heaven and Earth. We want to see His Kingdom come, so we do His will. We live lives of love, forgiveness, and generosity, because this is how God wants us to live. This is how we flourish as human beings. By doing so we help to make the Kingdom of God a bit more visible here on earth, and we are made ready for Heaven, where we hope to enjoy God’s love in His presence.

So let us all live out the full reality of our Baptism, and encourage others to join God’s family and do His will. Let us sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

James Tissot – Ecce Homo

Remembrance Sunday 2021

‘Gwyn eu byd y tangnefeddwyr: canys hwy a elwir yn blant i Dduw’

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Mt 5:9)

For over one hundred years people in this country have gathered on the Sunday closest to Armistice Day to give thanks to Almighty God for all who have served and died for the peace in which we live. We give thanks for those who continue to serve and protect us. We are grateful that the Armed Services have helped administer the vaccine against Coronavirus, playing their part to keep this country safe, and to save lives. We give thanks for the work of the Royal British Legion, raising money to support service personnel for one hundred years, and wish them continued success.

When we recall the sacrifice made by people from the villages in which we live, from this country and from all over the world, our remembrance must be an active one which has an effect on our lives. We recall the generosity of those who have tried to ensure that we can live lives free from warfare and suffering. Such generosity must leave a mark on our lives, and help us to learn from the mistakes of the past and try not to repeat them in the future.

There is no-one who has not been touched by the events of the past one hundred years. Many people, members of our own families, gladly offered, and still continue to offer themselves for the safety and security of humanity. An act of remembrance has a deeper significance when we know that members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces are on active service overseas, working for peace and stability, for a safer, fairer, world, where people can live in peace and plenty. We remember too all the victims of warfare, the countless millions who have lost their lives in a century characterised by conflict. Our reaction will, of necessity, be a complex one: a mixture of sadness and thankfulness, gratitude and grief. While we are grateful to live in a country at peace, we cannot fail to be moved by the cost of military and civilian lives, throughout the world, which continues to this day. 

Peace is not simply the absence of war, but the right ordering of the world around us. It means living the way God wants us to live, in harmony, and love, one with another. That is why peacemakers are children of God. To live in peace is the will of God. God wants humanity to flourish. What peacemakers do reflects what Jesus Christ has done for us: 

Ac, wedi iddo wneuthur heddwch trwy waed ei groes ef, trwyddo ef gymodi pob peth ag ef ei hun; trwyddo ef, meddaf, pa un bynnag ai pethau ar y ddaear, ai pethau yn y nefoedd

and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’ (Colossians 1:20). 

Christ’s sacrifice inspired many of our forebears. Christ bought us peace by the shedding of His own blood. In the face of anger and aggression, Jesus’ response was love. Christ is our peace, and Christians are called to follow Him. We do so knowing that the Cross, like our Cenotaph, is not a place of shame and defeat, but rather victory. The love of God has triumphed, and all will be well. 

Does God want us to fight? No! War may be just, and undertaken for the right reasons, but we are supposed to live in peace. Human nature longs for wealth and power and is willing to stop at nothing to acquire it. Christ, however, shows us another way — the way of love and gentleness, which longs to heal and reconcile. This is what Christ proclaimed on earth, and continues to do — to draw people into the peace of the Kingdom of God, where wounds are healed and divisions reconciled.

We are thankful for those who sacrificed themselves for us, and we honour their memory by treasuring peace won at so great a cost. We are serious about peace, because it is the will of God, and the means of human flourishing. It is precious, and it is for everyone. We are thankful that we are alive and able to give thanks for those who gave their lives for us, and we commit ourselves to being peacemakers in our own lives, in our community, and in our world. What greater tribute could there be to the fallen than for us to work for a world where all may live in peace and security, for such is the Kingdom of God. By doing this we honour their memory and share the treasure they have given us with humanity.We are called to be generous, after the example of Generous God, who loved us so much that He gave His Son to die for us.

God’s Kingdom is a radical place which seeks to transform humanity into the image of Our Loving Creator. For two thousand years Christians have been living lives of love and service. We continue in church, in chapel, and in our daily live, to make God’s Kingdom a reality here and now, through what Christ has done for us, and the sacrifice of our forebears. 

We will remember them.

Trinity XXIII

Today’s first reading is from the First Book of Kings. Elijah the Tishbite has proclaimed that God is not happy at the religious changes undertaken by Ahab, King of Israel and his wife Jezebel. They are worshipping false gods and setting up idols, breaking the First and Second Commandments of Moses. There is to be a three-year long drought, which will have dire consequences for the people of Israel. 

The Lord tells Elijah to go to Zarephath on the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon between Tyre and Sidon, where a widow will feed him. Elijah asks the widow for water and bread, as she is gathering sticks to make a fire. The situation is a dire one. The widow is preparing a last meal for her son and herself, after which they expect to die. She does not tell Elijah to go away, but instead does what he asks of her. In doing so, the widow demonstrates humility and obedience, and will be rewarded for her actions. 

At one level the story can appear strange to our modern eyes. Here is a poor woman on the margins of society, without a husband to support her, about to use up the very last of her food. Along comes a stranger who asks her for food and drink, and she obliges him. Hospitality, showing kindness to strangers is a crucial aspect of human society. All of us would happily share what we have with guests, and visitors. Food tastes better when it is shared. 

Elijah addresses the widow and begins:

“Do not fear; go and do as you have said.” (I Kings 17:13)

Just like Jesus in the Gospels, Elijah begins by saying, ‘Paid ag ofni’ ‘Do not be afraid’. He then prophesies that the widow and her son will have the food they need:

For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” (I Kings 17:14)

God performs a miracle, and the widow is rewarded for her generosity. She has risked everything by giving away what little she had and in turn receives more than she could have asked for. 

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus is teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem. He begins by criticising the religious elite:

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the market-places and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretence make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation (Mk 12:38-40)

Jesus begins by pointing out that the scribes like to be ostentatious in their practice of religion. They parade their faith, so that people will see how overtly pious they are. As someone who walks around in long robes and sits in the front of churches, I feel somewhat uncomfortable when I read these words. However, I wear what I wear, and sit where I sit to serve and honour God, and not myself. The scribes make themselves rich by preying on the vulnerable and marginalised, and their prayers are long so that they can demonstrate how religious they are.

Jesus then turns His attention towards the giving of donations:

“And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.” (Mk 12:41-42)

At an instinctive level we tend to see generosity in terms of the size of the donation. This was the case in the Temple where there were thirteen donation chests that had trumpet-shaped flared funnels on top of them. Rich people would deposit large amounts of money which would make a lot of noise. It was an ostentatious way of saying, ‘Look at me and how generous I am!’. The widow’s gift seems very small and quiet by comparison. Jesus then explains his teaching:

‘And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”’ (Mk 12:43-44)

The important thing to realise is not how much was given in monetary terms, or the noise it makes, but what the gift represents. The widow is poor, she has very little, but gives all that she has to the glory of God. Just like the widow of Zarephath, who shares her food, this widow is an example of generosity. The rich people can afford to give their gift, and make a great show out of giving it. Their gift does not affect them, or alter their lives in any way. However, the poor widow gives away all her money, and is left, literally, penniless.

The idea of giving everything away brings us to the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. The passage contrasts earthly ideas of priesthood, sacrifice and temples, and their heavenly realities. Christ is our great high priest, who offers Himself, on our behalf, as an offering to God the Father, out of love. This takes place on the Cross, at Calvary. God, in Christ, gives everything — the life of the Son of God is offered freely, to reconcile what sin has thrust apart. Jesus is the greatest example of generosity that exists. This is the heart of the Christian Faith: Christ dies for us and rises again to heal the wounds of sin and division and to open up the way to heaven for those who believe in Him. Jesus appears ‘in the presence of God on our behalf’ (Heb 9:24). 

Thanks to the generosity of God we have the hope of Heaven, where we can join the angels and saints in singing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

James Tissot – The Widow’s Mite