Thursday, 15 January 2015

Advent thoughts...

We had a thoughtful journey through the season of Advent 2014.  Here are some of its moments...

On the First Sunday of Advent we held All Age Holy Communion.  Our 'feature' liturgical act was to weave together teaching, confession, thanksgiving and sung reflection, around the image of the Advent Wreath...

Priest:   Each year, we have an Advent Wreath, which has five candles in it, one of which we light each week, leading up to Christmas Day.  We have our Advent Wreath here, but we’re also going to become an Advent Wreath today! 

We’ll start with the first candle, which is for Hope.  All walk toward the west end of church as we sing:

Hope, perfect hope, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Hope, perfect hope, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Thus, says the Lord, will the world know my friends.
Hope, perfect hope, is the gift of Christ our Lord.

A:         In a world of doubt and questioning, we all need hope; hope is the seed-form of faith and it is through knowing Christ that we have hope in the world.

B:         Lord, we pray for those who feel they have no hope; who feel lost and hopeless.  May they come to know you and again, know hope.

All:       Hope is like a light shining in a dark place; as we look at the light of this candle, we celebrate the light we have in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

We’ll move on to the second candle, which is for Peace.  All walk toward the north end of church as we sing:

Peace, perfect peace, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Peace, perfect peace, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Thus, says the Lord, will the world know my friends.
Peace, perfect peace, is the gift of Christ our Lord.

C:         In a world of war and violence, we long for peace; Jesus does not enter into physical battle in order to defeat the enemies of God. Instead, Jesus chooses the way of non-violence. Jesus lays down his life and dies at the hand of God’s enemies in order to defeat evil. Only then does God raise Jesus from the dead in the victory over sin and death. In the person of Jesus we see the perfect example of humble obedience, sacrificial love, and life-giving peace.
D:        Lord, we pray for the places and people in our world most affected by war.  We pray that war may end and peace may reign.

All:       Peace is like a light shining in a dark place; as we look at the light of this candle, we celebrate the light we have in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

We’ll move on to the third candle, which is for Love.  All walk toward the east end of church as we sing:

Love, perfect love, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Love, perfect love, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Thus, says the Lord, will the world know my friends.
Love, perfect love, is the gift of Christ our Lord.

E:         In a world where hatred consumes, we long for love to push out that hatred.  God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son….. such love.

F:         Lord, we pray for those who have no-one to love and no-one to love them.  May we reach out as your hands to offer love.

All:       Love is like a light shining in a dark place; as we look at the light of this candle, we celebrate the light we have in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 We’ll move on to the fourth candle, which is for Joy. 
All walk toward the south side of church as we sing:

Joy, perfect joy, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Joy, perfect joy, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Thus, says the Lord, will the world know my friends.
Joy, perfect joy, is the gift of Christ our Lord.

G:        In a world of sameness and monotony, we all need joy; let us take happiness and radiance from the created world around us.

H:        Lord, we pray for those who feel no joy; we give thanks for the beauty of your world and the joy we get from it.

All:       Joy is like a light shining in a dark place; as we look at the light of this candle, we celebrate the light we have in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

And now we need to make the wreath itself; a circle – which represents God’s unity and eternity; it’s often made of evergreen which is a symbol of everlasting life.  With the little ‘candles’ dotted around, everyone else should make a circle round the church.

I:          We give thanks for the family of St Peter’s, for the support we get from one another; the hope, peace, love and joy we share.  And we thank you for our faith, given and strengthened by God.

Faith, perfect faith, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Faith, perfect faith, is the gift of Christ our Lord.
Thus, says the Lord, will the world know my friends.
Faith, perfect faith, is the gift of Christ our Lord.

On the Second Sunday of Advent, St Peter's LLM (Reader), Sue Diplock led us in reflections on our 'journeying in the wilderness'...

If you had an important message to deliver, to as many people as possible, would you, say, go to the wilds of Scotland, far from any road, to deliver it?
But that is the sort of place John chose for his mission – where Jesus was baptised and where He began his long journey to Jerusalem and crucifixion.
The wilderness – the place where John – and then Jesus began the work.
 As it was then – no roads, just winding tracks and arid scrubland.  If you had to travel through it you tried to travel with a caravan of other travellers for safety.
Today, on the Israeli side, there’s a straight path from the coach park to the River Jordan, a specially constructed embankment and baptismal facilities for (paying) tourists – Judith and I were there earlier this year.  And the Jordanian side – at least a few years ago, was still a winding path through the scrubland down to the river bank – James, I think, had a paddle there?  On the Israeli side you have to stick to the fenced in path because the rest of the area is full of land mines – at least Jesus didn’t have to face these in the wilderness – although he had to face a lot else.
But I think we can’t ignore or deny the importance of the wilderness in our lives.  I think there are times when we all feel we are in the wilderness – a mental, emotional space far from the highways of our normal everyday life and contacts and experience.  A space where we can find ourselves feeling caught and lost in those winding paths through the scrubland, searching, searching for we don’t quite know what but with an ever present heartache.
I suspect, from my own experience that once you have been there in the wilderness part of it always stays with you. .  But I believe and trust it can be a starting place for us too, as it was for Jesus.
The wilderness – a starting place and a great place for getting rid of rubbish – life reduced to essentials.  And, as Isaiah tells us, there we can meet our shepherd ready to lead us, to carry us if necessary, through and out of the wilderness.
Think of the importance of the wilderness in so many of our bible stories:

There’s Hagar, the slave of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  Used to bear a son for Abraham when Sarah couldn’t.  And then, pregnant and ill- treated by Sarah, running away into the wilderness where, we are told, ‘the Lord found her by a spring of water,’ told her to go back to Sarah and promised a great future for the son she was to bear.
And again, later, when Sarah gives birth to her own son Isaac, cannot bear to see him playing with Hagar’s son and has Hagar and her son turned out – back to the wilderness.  There again, in the depths of despair and waiting for death, they meet God and survive.
And then we have Moses, watching over his father-in-law’s flock, taking them into the wilderness and meeting God in a burning bush – and given the mission to save the people of Israel.  And the people of Israel, free from slavery in Egypt but hating the wilderness, scared that they will never get away but die there, turning away from God creating  their own idols again and again, spending forty years in the wilderness before they reach their promised land. 
And, perhaps one of my favourite stories, – Elijah, also driven to despair and desperation, asking only to die, standing on the mountain waiting for the Lord to pass by and finding him where he least expects, in the sound of sheer silence.
The wilderness –a starting place for new beginnings for Hagar, Moses and Elijah and it can also be a starting place for us.  We can meet God, meet ourselves.  Meeting ourselves can include meeting our personal demons, that side of ourselves we prefer not to see, not to acknowledge.  That can also appear, offering us relief, comfort from anything, from anywhere rather than God, like the Israelites with their idols.
God’s story – in us and around us – how much do we understand what is going on/ see the wider picture?  Can we do this or only catch glimpses?
It’s as if we were waiting for the dawn – but what do we expect that dawn to bring?  New life?  New hope?  New love? New work?  New understanding?
Mark, quoting Isaiah makes it clear what our work is – making straight the way of the Lord, in our hearts and to the hearts of others.  And Peter, writing to those early Christians finding their way in their new faith encourages them the same way, so that they will be ready when Christ does return, and all the crooked paths will be straightened.  He talks about the ‘day of God’. 

The ‘day of God’ – day of the Lord when Jesus Christ returns with new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home and all disclosed,  I wonder what we each really believe about it?  Do we find it slightly embarrassing theologically? Early Christians seem to have thought it imminent and then gradually realised that God’s timescale is not ours.
But what about what we – and I include myself – are merrily contributing to climate change, to destroying our beautiful planet – but then, of course, some don’t believe in that either.  I don’t have all the answers but the question’s worth considering when we think about how we lead our daily lives - and our faith.
The wilderness – a special place – some things can only be learnt there.  Everything seems stripped away so there is only God.
Humanity tries to impose itself on the wilderness – like the Israeli path driven through to the baptism centre for tourists – but its essential nature remains unchanged – wander there if you dare. The danger may be land mines today but it’s always been dangerous.   Lay yourself open to God and his work in you and for you, and all else will be stripped away – Elijah in his mountain in the wilderness – the still small voice – Moses and the burning bush – the Holy Spirit descending as a dove at Jesus’s baptism – again God where you don’t expect him talking in a voice you don’t expect.
Time in the wilderness can be a gift – to see ourselves and our lives – God in ourselves and our lives – a little more clearly.  Jesus’s temptations there showed him clearly the way forward.  The temptations we meet in our times in wilderness can also cast a light on our lives’ direction.  When our usual comforts are stripped away we can only turn to our Lord and God, allow his love to fill and hold us whatever is to come next.
Think of the Garden of Gethsemane – a garden yes, arid scrubland, no, but still, that night before his arrest and crucifixion a wilderness for Jesus – his disciples asleep except for the one busy betraying him and his Father, loving but steadily holding out the cup of pain and sacrifice to him.
So what does all this mean for us this Advent?  Preparing to celebrate Christmas, God giving us his Son for our salvation?  A time for prayer and reflection.  But at the same time so much to do, so much food to buy and prepare, so many cards to send and receive, so many presents, also all those extra services at church, carol services, children’s, midnight mass…………..  Easy here to find ourselves lost in a wilderness, perhaps with memories of other Christmases, good and not so good, other times, other wildernesses, other lives.
Unlike Jesus and John the Baptist, most of us, most of the time, don’t choose to enter the wilderness but, for one reason or another simply find ourselves there.
But, once there, life can be focused on essentials, what is really important to us and there can be times when suddenly, there is a shower of rain, and the whole desert is abloom, flowers from nowhere.  Then, by grace, we can find, see, understand what is most important to us.  Shift our focus from ourselves to others – and by grace, to God and his will for us.
So let us pray a moment now:

The Advent story
of hope and mystery,
a kingdom
of this world and the next,
and our Lord and King
appearing when we least expect.
Heaven touching earth,
the footsteps of the divine
walking dusty roads
as once they did in Eden,
and a people,
lost in their wildernesses
searching for a Saviour,
and walking past
the stable.
Lord, open eyes and hearts,
that this might be
an Advent of hope to the world.[1]

[1] Adaptation from

On the Third Sunday of Advent, the Vicar, Fr Paul Trathen, preached this sermon, focusing on imagery of light & dark and our capacity to see...

In the creation narrative of the Book of Genesis, God is presented as saying, “Let there be light.” In the First Reading for the Midnight Mass of Christmas we hear, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” It seems that God’s light got turned to darkness along the way, but God seems to keep saying, “Let there be more light.”
We have an expression which is used when we come to understand something, “I see.” We refer to others from whom we keep secrets as “being in the dark”.
Those whom we consider not as smart as ourselves, we name, “lights out” or “not the brightest bulb on the tree.”
A second form of darkness is a mood of spirit. We have the phrase, “doom and gloom” referring to statements or personalities of pessimism or hopelessness. We can often invite them to “lighten up”. We heard in our Second Reading that we should, “rejoice always.” We hear also “in all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God.” Being happy and grateful at all times is a constant work of God’s grace and God’s will is to bring us out of our sadnesses. We all have hard times and it is not unfaithful to weep and wonder “why us?” God does not ask us to be inhuman in our reactions and responses. Denial is not a faith response either. God is always saying, “Let there be some light, sometime!”
There are also various forms of visual darkness or blindness. We all can be blinded by what we do see. The familiar objects and persons around us can be treated as if we do not see them for what they are. We become blind to them by their closeness to us. Family-members, friends, neighbours, and fellow workers can all become foggy figures. It is often when they move away to a greater distance, by job relocation, death, or our lack of personal attention, that we come to see them more clearly.
The word “expectation” means literally, “watching out,” or “looking out”. What we visually see is often determined by what we are specifically looking out for. There might be other objects or persons in the field, but we get blinded to them, because of our exact focus. Expectations can limit our vision, both physically and spiritually. We are blinded by what we want to see or don’t want to see.
Pre-judging anything or any one is a form of keeping them in the dark. Colour, forms, actions, and gestures may not conform to our way of seeing things as acceptable. My “view” of you or them can be disturbed by the distance I keep. Keeping things at a safe distance will also keep them distorted and safe for my security of selfishness. God continues saying, “Let there be brighter light!”
We are waiting for the Light to uncover us; to take off the blinders by which we walk in ignorance, sadness, and distrust. Jesus as the Light illumines ourselves to ourselves and says, “Now what do you say of yourself?” The joy to which we are invited is the sense that we are of and in God. The Creator still works out our fuller creation and asks us to let go of false images of God and especially ourselves. As the Light draws closer to us, He Who is always desirous of moving closer to us, we will see ourselves more clearly, but as we say, “in a new light”. If we stay in the shadows we will never see our features and our gifts. When we allow the Light to come closer, we will see things perhaps we wish not to see. Our faults, our lack of response might be too real, but the Light is embracing, not accusing. In that Light we were created and in that Light we receive our re-creation. That is the good news, the cause of rejoicing.
We cannot love that which we do not know - ourselves, each other, creation, or God. The Light has come to reveal as much as we can know about all four. God does not want to keep us in the “dark” about ourselves. What blinds us could be fear or false humility. The Light calls us out into the bright idea God has of us and for us. The darkness prevents us from accepting others upon whom the Light has shined in the form of sacredness. God sees them as sacraments, outward signs, of God’s love. The Light has entered our world to focus our vision upon the Source, God, and what the Source is all about. The Source is about what God says we are, beloved ones, and what we are to be.  About our final and eternal Light shining now and forever, as we seek to live in the Light of Jesus, who illumines God for us. God still says, “Let there be a joyful light and lots of it.”

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, St Peter's Reader, Harry Goodwin, challenged us in our disciplines of prayer and self-control.
Here is a player for the audio of his sermon...

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