Desire, worship and obedience

January 1, 2017

St Michael’s 1st January 2017

Readings – Isaiah 49:8-13; Matthew 2:1-12

I guess most if not all of us are very familiar with the story of the wise men. From an early age we’ve all heard about the kings who travelled to bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus. It’s an essential part of the Christmas story told again and again in song and story and sermon, even if some of the details we have learnt aren’t perhaps always the most accurate. For example, we’re not sure if there were three of them, and if they did travel across the desert, it’s unlikely they passed across field and fountain, moor and mountain despite what a well-known carol might say.

But if you look at Matthew’s gospel as a whole, in many ways chapter 2 sticks out a bit like the proverbial sore thumb. Let me explain what I mean. Chapter 1 starts with a typical Jewish family tree tracing Jesus’ descent from Abraham and David, two of the founding fathers of the Jewish faith. When the angel appears to Joseph, his message is clear: the coming of Jesus is in fulfilment of Old Testament Scriptures. Skip forward to chapter 3 and it is the people of Judea and Jerusalem who are flocking out to hear John the Baptist. It is they who witness Jesus’ baptism and a voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be the Son of God – again another quote from the Old Testament.

Indeed Matthew is the most Jewish of all four gospels, and in many ways the visit of the wise men doesn’t fit. They are an interruption, an intrusion into the story of how Jesus came to the people of Israel as their long-expected Saviour. And that actually is the whole point. They don’t belong to God’s people. We don’t where exactly they come from, only they’re from somewhere out East. They don’t know anything about the right way to worship the Lord, and such information as they have has come from them reading the stars. They don’t know where to find Jesus, and despite the leading of the star, they end up in the wrong place, in Jerusalem, because this is where they reason the king of the Jews is to be found. And they don’t know the Old Testament Scriptures which would have told them that king Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem.

In fact, for all that these men are supposed to be wise, they really don’t know anything much at all about Jesus. But what they have going for them, quite simply, is a desire to find Him. And that is why they are included in the Christmas story. Later on in Matthew’s gospel we will hear about Jesus talking about the kingdom of heaven, and the question naturally arises who can be part of Jesus’ kingdom? The answer is anyone who has a desire to find and to follow Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »

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The God who communicates

December 25, 2016

St Michael’s 25th December 2016

Readings – Isaiah 9:2-7; John 1:1-14

Many, many years ago as a trainee vicar I was on mission with a fellow student in Northampton. We were working with the local church for a week learning how to communicate the good news of Jesus and gain some real parish experience. So as part of that week my fellow student was invited to a discussion evening the church was holding down the pub. He walked in just as some man at the bar was loudly proclaiming that science has disproved religion. Now I should add at this point that my fellow student went by the name of Professor Rodney Holder, and he held several doctorates in astrophysics. Needless to say, when Professor Holder entered the conversation, the evening took quite a different turn.

But I often think back on that story because, you see, there’s a popular myth that somehow science has disproved religion. When you turn on the TV and watch a documentary about science, it nearly always talks about the Big Bang and evolution as if all the mysteries in the universe have been solved and you don’t need to believe in God any longer. What these documentaries fail to mention is that actually the majority of scientists in this country do have a firm faith, and indeed several scientists have come to faith precisely through studying the wonders and complexity of the universe.

To take another example: my daughter is studying biological sciences, and more specifically genetics, at university. She thought that the more she studied the more she would find her faith challenged. But in fact the more she has learnt the more she has found her faith deepened. For instance, the fact that a foetus usually develops so completely with rarely any significant mutation is for her nothing short of miraculous.

No, when men and women look at the whole universe or the intricate details of this life, more often than not they come to some kind of faith in God. The question then arises: how can we find out who this God is and what He’s like? Read the rest of this entry »


Good news for the poor

December 24, 2016

St Michael’s 24th December 2016

Readings – Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 2:1-15

I want you to imagine the following scenario. A strong, unified party sweeps to power in the next election. It has one clear policy in its manifesto – to sort out the issue of immigration once and for all, and make sure no-one is here illegally. So at the first cabinet meeting of the new government, backed by overwhelming popular support, the prime minister makes a dramatic decision. Everyone is to return to the place of their birth, whether in this country or overseas. No exceptions, no conditions. From now on there will be no doubt who should be living where, and anyone who defies the order will be fined or thrown in prison.

There would have be some period of time before the order could take effect, of course. You can just picture the chaos on the roads, on the railways and at the airports. Even if you could get to your intended destination, your journey would still be slowed down by an army of people hired to check your identity, make sure you were in the right place, and indeed tell you exactly where you needed to register.

There would also have to be extra policemen on the streets, as well. All those homes and businesses lying empty would be bound to attract attention. Insurance companies would probably be overwhelmed by claims from people who had been burgled or had their property vandalised. And the effect on the economy would be pretty staggering, as well. Just think how many days’ work would be lost, and how many jobs put on the line.

Fortunately such a scenario is pretty unlikely, I think, although after the extraordinary events of the past year it seems hard to rule anything out. But if I’ve read our Christmas reading rightly, something like this happened exactly two thousand years ago: Read the rest of this entry »


Joseph’s story

December 18, 2016

St Michael’s 18th December 2016

Reading – Matthew 1:18-25

So here I was, engaged to this beautiful young lass called Mary. We had received the blessing of our parents, and both of us were working so hard towards our wedding day. I was busy building an extension to my carpenter’s shop, she was busy making a new dress with her mother and doing whatever girls who are about to be married tend to do. We had fixed up a date with the local synagogue, and everyone in the village seemed to be talking about this lovely couple who were soon to set up home in Nazareth. For our part, we were dreaming of a wonderful future together, building a home and a family in this quiet corner of Galilee, and maybe one day earning enough money to be able to return to our roots in Bethlehem.

All was going so well, and the wedding date was fast approaching. And then one day Mary came to see me. I still remember the shy knock on the door, and Mary standing there, barely able to even look at me.

“Whatever is the matter?” I asked.

“I’m pregnant”, she replied. Read the rest of this entry »