Bearing the Good News

December 31, 2014

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 28th December 2014

Reading – Luke 2:15-21


So Christmas Day is over. You have unwrapped the last of your presents. You are manfully ploughing through the remains of the turkey, if you haven’t already consigned them to the freezer. You have been for the Boxing Day walk and seen your favourite Yuletide film. Some of the family have already gone back, and you may have even begun on the housework. You are really trying hard not to think about it, but you are conscious the New Year is around the corner. Soon you will be packing away the decorations, sorting out which cards and newsletters to keep, and gradually returning to the everyday routine.

And there’s a danger that when we hear a familiar reading like the one from Luke’s gospel, we too tend to treat it as just part of the Christmas celebrations, a passage we unwrap once a year, enjoy and then parcel up again for the next twelve months. But of course that was never Luke’s intention when he wrote this gospel. After all, in those days there were no Christmas celebrations. The first recorded Christmas on 25th December was in 336AD, once the Roman emperor Constantine embraced the faith. And if the early church celebrated the birth of Jesus at all, it was on the feast of the Epiphany, 6th January, from about the third century onwards.

As we saw when we began our study of Luke at the beginning of Advent the object of his gospel was to help his friend Theophilus know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke’s aim in telling the Christmas story is to show that the coming of Jesus is real, is relevant and should make a practical difference to our lives every single day. That’s why I showed this video just now, to make connections between the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and life there today.

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The Word of God – Dec 25th

December 31, 2014

The Word of God

St Michael’s and St Barnabas – Christmas Day 2014

Reading – John 1:1-14


There are just so many different ways nowadays to wish someone a Happy Christmas. Just think about it for a moment. Back in the last century you basically had three options – you could greet someone in person, or ring them up, or send them a card (I don’t think many people sent greetings by fax). But today the options appear almost limitless. You can e-mail, you can text, you can Skype, or Facebook, or use any of a whole host of applications such as Snapchat or Instagram.

We live in a world where there are many, many different forms of communication and we are exposed to a bewildering torrent of words day by day. The information revolution has been truly extraordinary and we now have the ability to get in touch with almost any part of the world, and access knowledge from almost any source.

Yet what I find interesting is that the more information we have at our disposal, the less we are inclined to trust what we read. Because what people post online or send on social media so often reflects their own personal opinion or agenda. That’s why, for example, students are routinely warned not to gather information on a site like Wikipedia. What appears as facts may turn out to be only one person’s particular point of view. Or why, for example, we need to go to several different sites to work out what’s really going in the world, because each source is pursuing its own angle, or indeed may be trying to feed us only the news it thinks we want to read. So despite all the major technological advances, the information age is also one of great confusion and uncertainty and unsatisfied hunger for truth.

Why I am talking about all this on Christmas day? Well, let’s listen to how John begins his account of Jesus: In the beginning was the Word – just one, a clear, unambiguous word that gives us the knowledge we need. And why is this word so special? Well let’s read on to the next part of the verse: and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This is a word that is utterly trustworthy and totally reliable because it comes from the source of all goodness and truth, who is God Himself. It is a word that can help us make sense of life’s deepest questions such as: who we are; what God is like; why we are here; how we should live.

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Peace on earth – Dec 24th

December 31, 2014

Peace on earth

Reading – Luke 2:1-14

St Michael’s Christmas Night 2014

If there is one thing that people wish for more than anything else at Christmas it is for peace. At a time when many of us are celebrating the birth of Jesus with our family and friends, it is only right and natural that we long for peace to extend across this beautiful but broken world. There are too many people this Christmas who are dying alone or caught up in warfare or suffering from hunger or neglect; too many people who are living in fear or want or poverty. Sheer compassion moves us to pray for a better future where there will be no child going to bed hungry, no family torn apart by violence, no country ravaged by famine.

And of course peace is at the very heart of the Christmas story. When the angels appear to the shepherds in those rocky fields near Bethlehem, what is the song that they sing? Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests (Luke 2:14). But that was two thousand years ago, and I guess if we are really honest with ourselves, we may well wonder in what sense the birth of Christ has brought peace. Yes, we may agree with the sentiments of the angels’ song, but aren’t these words just wishful thinking or things we would like to believe?

That’s a question we need to take seriously. Because if the Christmas story is just about things we would like to believe are true, then we need to ask what is the point and purpose of our celebrations. The birth of Jesus may be a lovely, sweet story but if it is nothing more than this, then it is just so much sentiment to cheer us up on a cold winter’s night.

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Reasons to praise God

December 22, 2014


Reading – Luke 1:57-80

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 21st December 2014

So today is the 21st December. There are only four days left to Christmas, and for many people I know this is a particularly stressful time of year. At home there are just so many last minute preparations to be made, maybe even presents still to be bought. At work, there are deadlines to be met before you can pack up for your Christmas break. Maybe we face long, difficult journeys to see those we love; maybe we are to about to have an unexpected visit and there so many things to get ready.

Today is also the shortest day of the year and I know how difficult many find these winter months. With the cold weather and the long nights, plenty of folk struggle to manage their own health or care for someone they love. It’s often a time of anniversaries when we become profoundly aware of those who are no longer with us this Christmas. And for some the sheer absence of warmth and sunshine simply drags them down and makes each day more of an effort than usual.

Yet we know this is also supposed to be the season of good cheer. We are called to rejoice in the birth of a Saviour, and to celebrate the love of family and friends. And I guess for many people there is a real tension between how they are feeling and how they believe they ought to feel.

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Waiting for Jesus – Recognition

December 14, 2014

St Michael & St Barnabas, December 14th 2014

Readings – Psalm 126; Luke 1:39-56

Tell me, have you ever recognised someone famous in a crowd, or simply walking along the street? I know some of you have met famous people … but I’m talking about the unexpected encounter. For example, I once bumped into Edwina Curry walking along Victoria Street in London, or I was on duty at the hospital when the actor Kenneth More came to visit a friend. Who is your most famous unexpected encounter?


I often wonder how some people manage to go shopping, or simply out for a walk, without being recognised … perhaps they don’t, but I suspect that often we don’t recognise people unless they are in the right place. I used to work in the library next door, and it was quite astonishing the number of people I know who walked in and straight past me at the desk … a few would walk by, and then hesitate and take a sneaky second look before recognising me and saying hello. But some who knew me well, simply didn’t recognise me in the context … I wasn’t where they expected me to be so they didn’t see me … I suppose they weren’t really looking.

Recognition is our theme this morning. In our reading from Luke, we have three separate, unexpected encounters. Let’s take a look at the first of them. We have heard how the angel greeted Mary and told her the news that God had chosen her to bear his son. The story continues, Luke 1 … Read the rest of this entry »

Advent 2

December 8, 2014

St Michael & St Barnabas, Sunday December 7th 2014

Readings – Psalm 131; Luke 1:26-38

There is no doubt that 2014 has been a year of particularly bleak headlines. Think for a moment of some of the stories that have hit our screens: the ongoing atrocities in the Middle-East; the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa; the abduction of schoolchildren in Nigeria; the downing of not one but two Malaysian airlines, and the civil unrest in the United States. The more I talk to folk, the more I know I’m not alone in feeling that the world has become a darker, more uncertain place, and certainly my cry this Advent is more than ever, “Maranatha – come, Lord Jesus”. There can’t be a single one of us here this morning who does not long for a new heaven and a new earth when finally the pain and misery of this world will come to an end.

But we mustn’t forget that when Luke came to writing his gospel, the world was in many ways equally dark and troubled. For a start, the Romans occupied most of Europe, North Africa and the Near East. Yes, they may have brought with them a sophisticated civilisation but they were also capable of the most brutal and savage acts. When Luke reports in chapter 13 how Pontius Pilate mixed the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices, this was only one account amongst many of Romans viciously suppressing any act of rebellion. And what about the kings they allowed to rule over the state of Judea? We all know how Herod responded when he heard the news of Jesus’ birth, and every single ruler of that royal family was known for his cruelty. Read the rest of this entry »

Advent 1 – Waiting

December 2, 2014

St Michael’s and St Barnabas 30th November 2014

Readings – Luke 1:5-25, Psalm 130


Today I want to focus on something we all have to do but none of us like doing. It’s an activity we find extremely frustrating but cannot control. It probably leads to more complaints and more grumbles than anything else, but is an everyday part of conversation. What am I talking about? I am, of course, talking about waiting.

We all know what it’s like to wait: to wait in the pouring rain, hoping for once the bus might possibly be on time; to wait on the telephone, while a computer voice at the other end tells us “your call is important to us, please hold”; to wait hungrily at a table in a restaurant while those people over there who came in after you are already being served. I am sure you can think of many other occasions where you have had to wait recently and indeed there probably isn’t a single person here this morning who isn’t waiting for something or other at the moment.

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