A year in the life of a busy Church

A churchwardens report

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2016 was, as usual, a busy year at St David’s, with many opportunities to serve God, each other, and our neighbours as we tried to live out our lives as disciples of Christ.

The PCC continued to meet regularly, and to be organised into teams so that everyone could use their particular gifts, skills and interests, and combine to fulfil the whole of the church’s ministry, and be Christ’s body in this place.

Sunday services consisting of Common Worship and BCP Holy Communions, All-age Worship, Morning Praise, Evening Praise and Evensong continued.

A new All-age Communion, with children taking part, was introduced, and two of our older girls, after a short preparatory course, were admitted into Communion.

The numbers attending Sunday services once again showed an increase on the previous year.

A Chill-Out area for parents and under 5s was available in the Lady Chapel during the 10am Sunday service.

The Thursday Holy Communion continued to be well attended and appreciated by all who attended.

There were quite a number of special services including Good Friday, Easter, Harvest, Memorial, Remembrance, Ascension Day, Ash Wednesday, Shoebox Sunday, as well as United Services. There was a good variety of Advent and Christmas services, including our best-attended service, The Christingle, and the Midnight Communion was transmitted on Hermitage FM. There was a service to which those who had been recently baptised were invited, and one to celebrate marriage, where flowers were presented to four couples celebrating their Golden Weddings.

The deanery’s Archdeacon’s Visitation service was held at St David’s.

During May we had our famous ‘Two Bishops Week’, when the church was visited by Bishop Martyn, our new Diocesan Bishop, and Bishop Stanley from the Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro and Kiteto. It was an honour to welcome them both to St David’s.

A wonderful Confirmation Service led by Bishop Martyn was held at St David’s in November with 13 candidates, 4 of whom were from our church.

In celebration of our 50th Anniversary year a new Paschal Candle holder was commissioned and ready for Easter Sunday, and the Ministers Board was put in place.

Monthly services continued at Tillson House Care Home.

Café Church thrived and was enjoyed by all who attended. It continued to provide an opportunity for retired people or people on their own to socialise and worship in an accessible way.

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Home Communion was taken to those who were house-bound or in care homes.

Some of us travelled to Leicester Cathedral in May to Bishop Martyn’s Service of Welcome, and even more of us were there in October as Jenny Holland was provisionally licensed as our Pastoral Assistant. Two wonderful occasions!

Our ministry team had to work even harder as we said goodbye to Revd Rhona Passey who retired in January and to Rev Derek Whittaker who was married in March in a joyful Spirit-filled service at St David’s, and moved to Yorkshire with his new wife.

Morning Prayer on each week-day continued to provide a good start to the day; the monthly prayer group met; some prayer triplets continued;the quarterly prayer mornings provided a welcome opportunity for quiet reflection; and a special time of prayer was held before Pentecost. All these things strengthened our prayer life and  helped to ensure that all our decisions and  initiatives are underpinned by prayer.

Home Groups continued to be invaluable ways of meeting together to learn more about God, our faith and one another and to deepen relationships. There were six regular groups and several seeker courses were held when needed.

Pastoral Link visiting continued, as did the sending of cards on special occasions, distribution of Hospital Bags, and the get-togethers for everyone. Under new leadership the Pastoral Link team looked at updating the scheme and finding new ways to build up the fellowship.

Door-to- door Parish Visiting was on-going as homes in Oakham Drive  were visited.

We continued to have working relationships with Hall Lane Methodist Church and Greenhill Community Church, having some joint services and distributing shared Easter and Christmas cards.

A new incumbent, Rev Liz Angell was appointed to our Mission Partners at Whitwick, Thringstone and Swannington. Meetings of the Mission Partnership, Cluster services and joint Lent Groups were held, and relationships were strengthened.

St David’s was a member of Coalville Churches Together with representation on the organising committee.

Sunday Club met with three regular leaders and a number of new helpers. During the summer volunteers provided activities for children in the choir vestry. The Brigade continued to meet weekly, and a small Christian drama group for teenagers began.

After School Church met every Wednesday during term time, with crafts, games, refreshments and a half-hour time of worship. There was much enthusiasm from children, their parents and carers and good relationships were built up.

After School Church

The church hosted services for Broom Leys School, Warren Hills School, CL&CGB and Heartland Youth for Christ.

Our work with young people outside the church building continued. We carried on taking Open the Book  into Warren Hills and Broom Leys Schools. It meant that well over 500 children, who might otherwise have had little or no contact with a church were hearing God’s story every fortnight. 

The after-school club Rock Solid  continued to meet at Castle Rock High School. There were additional visits to all three schools by members of St David’s for a variety of purposes, and we are  represented on the governing body of both the primary schools.

Visits were made to our Play Group and Warren Hills Nursery to tell Bible stories.

Our Child Protection Policy was updated and a Vulnerable Adults Policy began to be formulated.

There were a number of different social events to encourage fellowship between church members, some regular ones, and others included a lunch to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday and a treasure hunt.

The Golden Anniversary themed Summer Fair was a time of fun, teamwork and witness to the community, as well as a great fund-raiser, and the November Market  was a further successful fund-raising event.

Communication was maintained through the website, the magazine, posters and handouts, Facebook and Twitter. Sermons can now be found on the website and blog.  New outdoor notice boards were put place and have been well used advertising what is happening in our church. Monthly newsletters are emailed to baptism and wedding families.

St David’s was a referral agency for Food banks. The church continued to collect food donations, and members  were involved in food collections at supermarkets.

We continued to be represented within the Neighbourhood Action Group.

A Christmas Day Lunch for those who would otherwise have been alone was once again held in the church hall.

The Hall was well-used by both church groups, youth groups, charities and the community for both regular and one-off events, and the main hall was decorated.

The PCC had an away day in September to look at our Vision and Ministry, to assess where we are, and to ‘dream dreams’. During the subsequent PCC meetings  we started to prioritise these  and see haw they relate to our desire to ‘Grow in Faith and Live in Christ’. (You will be hearing much more about this from Andy very soon!)

Much was achieved in 2016, but there is still much more to be done. We are fortunate  to have so many people who are committed to the church, to each other and, above all, to God. And what a privilege it is that God has chosen us to carry out his work here! There are exciting times ahead so let’s dedicate ourselves once again to his service.  The future of this church is entrusted to us, so, together, united in one body, in the power of the Holy Spirit, let us give our all to further God’s kingdom and see his will done in this place.

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Mary Smith

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Lost and found

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Have you ever been lost, or has a member of your family been lost? I don’t know about you, but I find it is such an awful feeling. It can be quite a lonely and anxious place to be.

In my previous job before I became a minister, I visited many different companies in this country and abroad. I was fortunate enough to get a new car to use to drive to companies and to airports and it had a satellite navigation system. Now for those of you who have such a system you will know from experience that you need to be careful how you use them, they aren’t infallible. I didn’t know that, I thought they would know better than I how to get from A to B. So I needed to get from Coventry where I worked to Stansted airport to get a flight to Stockholm in Sweden. I was the main speaker at a meeting with a potentially important new customer. I would normally have travelled on the A14 and then the M11 to get to Stansted, but I dialled in Stansted airport on my new SATNAV and it said go down the M1 across the M25 and up the M11 and I thought that must be a quicker way. Except that it wasn’t and not only that it took me to a roundabout with roadworks on it that it didn’t know about and all the exits where blocked except the one I had joined on and I could only go back the way I came. I thought, no problem, I will drive a bit and the SATNAV will re-route me and it did, only to take me back to this same roundabout again and I was stuck and lost and panicking and already late for the plane. I had no idea where I was, I was lost. So, I rang my wife on my hands-free phone and said quick get a map out and find a way for me to get to Stansted from this roundabout. After many many minutes she finally managed to guide me onto the right route and I arrived at Stansted late and missed my flight.

The consequences were not good. The team I was working with in Sweden were not happy, we arranged a conference call with the Customer for the next morning, but the Customer was not happy and we lost the sale and I became an unpopular person, an outcast and I felt awful and quite lonely.  Getting lost brings about such an awful feeling.

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Well we can also find ourselves lost in our lives as well, outcast from the main stream, not being part of the crowd, it can be an awful feeling.

(Luke 18:35-19:10) Jesus comes to seek out and save the lost and here we have two examples of those who find themselves lost and are saved by Jesus and they both take place near and within the city of Jericho.

Jericho is a significant place, this is the place that Joshua came to when he brought God’s people out of the desert wilderness into the Promised Land. Here in Jericho is a flat plain amongst the mountains and the desert. It is the lowest and oldest town on earth and therefore the place of probably the oldest civilisation on earth. It is a fertile plain with natural springs forming an oasis. Jericho is surrounded by the Judean desert a place where bandits, thieves and freedom fighters controlled the paths through the desert to Jerusalem. You can imagine that this was a place of plenty, of food and drink, and sanctuary for God’s people lost for so many years in the wilderness of the desert.

Yet amongst saved people thousands of years later, are those who are outcast and lost, lonely and on their own. They are regarded as sinners, not suitable to be amongst God’s people.

the-jordan-valley-and-jerichoThe blind beggar on the roadside outside Jericho looking for some means of supporting his life. He hears the crowd and asks them what all the fuss is about and when he hears it is Jesus of Nazareth coming into Jericho, he seeks his face. Jesus reputation as the Messiah, the promised king in the line of David, has gone before him, his reputation that he is a man from God who heals has gone before him.

The blind man doesn’t sit there though questioning who Jesus is in his own mind, or hoping that people might bring Jesus to him. No he takes his destiny into his own hands and full of faith in who Jesus is he calls out ‘Jesus, son of David have mercy on me’ and even when the crowd tell him to be quiet, trying to keep him as the unworthy outcast beggar lost to society, he cries out again ‘Son of David have mercy on me’. He actively seeks the face of Jesus and is brought to him. Jesus asks him what he would like and his sight is restored and he is restored and he is no longer lost and outcast but accepted as part of God’s family, saved by Jesus Christ.

During our life we experience sickness and doubt and we may have people praying for us, it is up to us as well to seek the healing face of Jesus and put our total trust in him? Sometimes shouting out ‘Jesus, have mercy upon me’ is a cry we need to make and believe in. After all, he is a merciful God.

In this almost heavenly fertile place of Jericho, given to God’s people, there is oppression by the Roman occupiers and Zacchaeus, works for them collecting taxes. Tax collectors didn’t receive a wage for doing this job. The job would go to the highest bidder that is the one who agreed to return the highest amount of taxes to the Roman occupiers. To earn a wage the tax collector would take more money from the people than they needed in order to earn a living and of course many became very rich.

zacchaeusZacchaeus though wasn’t a tax collector, he was the Chief Tax Collector in Jericho, the one who organised the tax collection and he made sure that he became very rich. Zacchaeus was understandably, despised, outcast and lonely. He was lost and he knew it. So he decided to seek the face of Jesus and there he encounters Jesus in a very personal way as Jesus honours him, a despised sinner, by eating with him in his home. The encounter saves Zacchaeus and he responds in a remarkable way by giving half his riches to the poor and paying back 4 times the amount he has defrauded. He is saved back into God’s family because he knew he was lost and he sought the face of Christ.

During our life we may well take wrong paths, we may well find ourselves subject to temptations in life. We have seen many examples in our society today of pursuing wealth for the benefit of one person and not for the common good. It takes courage to admit we are wrong, but seeking the face of Jesus can bring us back into his fold.

It was seeking the face of Jesus that changed the lives of the blind beggar and of Zacchaeus and some might say that this was only for Jesus time. But we live in the presence of the resurrected Christ who when ascended into heaven released the power of his Holy Spirit into the lives of those who believe in him. Peter and John filled with the Holy Spirit brought an encounter in the name of Jesus Christ to the beggar at the beautiful gate. This beggar was another outcast who is restored into God’s family.

The-Name-of-JesusIt is in the name of Jesus Christ that we live and worship and pray and serve today. There is power in the name of Jesus as God’s Holy Spirit points us to him and empowers us and guides us in our life if we seek the face of Jesus Christ.

We live in a society today that looks at different faiths on an intellectual level and people decide to follow one or none at all. It is as though faith is a life choice and consequently people become lost and confused. But seeking the face of Jesus Christ is a life changing, spirit filling, saving experience of God our Father.

Jesus tells his disciples before his death and resurrection that they will be filled with the Spirit of Truth, whom the world will not know, but they will know and “on that day” he tells them “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”. We seek the face of Christ and we seek his filling with the Holy Spirit which the world does not understand. There is power in the name of Jesus.

lost & savedI have seen people come to seek the face of Christ in Church services, lost and in desperate need and leave as changed people. I have seen people come to seek the face of Christ lost and living in torment and in the name of Jesus have found peace and release. I have seen people lost in terrible illness, find a future and a hope in the name of Jesus. I have seen people lost, seek the face of Jesus and find a new life. There is power in the name of Jesus.

This is why we are encouraged by our Archbishops to pray in the name of Jesus Christ for the lost to come to know Christ and to seek his face. It will change our nation.

I check my SATNAV now when I go on a journey and I have learnt to seek the face of Christ in my life and the life of others because Christ is alive and his Spirit moves amongst us so we and others need never be lost again. Shall we pray?

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I wonder what it is like being a sheep?

 

SHEEP

 

I wonder what it feels like to be a sheep?

Well you and I in the Church should know because we are all part of the flock of Jesus Christ, he is our Good Shepherd (John 10:1-10)

Jesus uses this analogy of the Shepherd and the Sheep in Palestinian terms. Here the shepherd leads the flock, he doesn’t drive it. Here the shepherd gives the flock names so that he can call them to him, even in a mixed flock. Here the Shepherd will show extraordinary care to keep the flock together, seeking out the lost, carrying the stray, rescuing and saving those who are in danger. Here the Shepherd looks after the flock, even sleeping at the opening of the sheep pen to prevent anything attacking the sheep, he becomes the gate to the pen. Jesus uses this analogy to describe himself and how he cares for those that follow him, those he knows by name, those who believe in him. So what does it feel like to be sheep?

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In Biblical times, sheep are bred for their wool and male lambs without defect become religious sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jesus however becomes the one and only sacrifice for the sins of the people, his flock is not sacrificed, the Shepherd offers himself.

The vision of this type of Shepherd caring for his flock is often used in scripture to describe the characteristics of a King anointed by God to lead his people. It is a vision of servant leadership, a vision of a public office to serve the people.

How interesting for us as Christian people to know this model of leadership not only to reflect on the leaders of our Churches, the pastors, vicars and curates of our day; but also to reflect on the leaders of our communities and country as we come into a General Election. What is the motivation we can ask of those who would offer themselves for public office?

So what does it feel like to be a sheep?

We are I think extraordinarily fortunate as Christian people to know something different from the secular and that is a personal revelation and relationship with our Shepherd who cares for us and knows us by name and gives us insight into God’s will. This means that we can often discern the good leader, the servant leader, the caring leader rather than the leader seeking power and authority. We are given insight through Christ of right character and given the responsibility to be salt and to be light amongst our friends, families and communities.

So what does it feel like to be a sheep?

The apostles and disciples and first believers of Jesus Christ, the revelation and saving presence of God in our world, certainly felt a privilege, a new and exciting way of life under the care of Christ. They established the foundations of the Church, the essential elements to know this insight from God, to know his will through Christ. (Acts 2:42-47)

The baptised believers came together and devoted themselves to teaching from the apostles, to learn more about Christ and his teaching for the world and this responsibility for teaching is passed down in prayer and anointing to clergy and pastors today. Without this element we become subject to the teaching of the world and not of God.

They came together in fellowship, they were people who cared for one another and shared with one another, they would not desert one another and they loved one another deeply, despite their faults, they share the love of God between one another and we have taken this and extended it into our model for Pastoral link. Without this element we become superficial human beings in our world striving and searching for satisfaction and joy in things that will disappear and perish.

They came together and broke bread, they shared Holy Communion, remembering Christ’s sacrifice for them and meeting Christ in the bread and the wine. They relive the Easter message of the cross, placing it as central to their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one and only sacrifice for the sins of the world. They meet the holy and the heavenly as Christ’s love beaks into our world.

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They came together and prayed seeking God’s will through his Holy Spirit and bringing their needs to extend his kingdom on earth. Prayer together is so essential to our Christian life, without this element we don’t hear Christ calling us, we don’t put our trust in him and we don’t know what it is to serve and to be empowered for God’s work. 

How lucky we are to be able to come together in the same way in our Church today, to be people of Christ here on earth. How does it feel to be a sheep?

At our annual meeting this year we revealed the priorities for St David’s discerned by the PCC in prayer and discussion. These priorities will be rolled out for us over the next few years, but our number one priority was to see extended prayer amongst us.

This especially meant extending our prayer life to offer from those who are called, a ministry of wholeness and healing to take place during our services. It meant encouraging us to pray together using the vehicles of prayer triplets, Morning Prayer, home groups and ½ days of prayer. It is to encourage us to pray on retreats and quiet days.

If your prayer triplet has stopped meeting, then take responsibility to meet again, if you don’t belong to a triplet then pray about who you might meet with. Prayer is not just for the ladies, this is a movement of the Spirit to men as well to take responsibility to pray together. We are called to pray for those who don’t know Jesus Christ in their lives to come to know him. We are called to pray for the lost.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s initiative called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is again being held throughout this country and throughout the world and throughout Christian denominations to encourage a wave of prayer between Ascension Day and Pentecost for our friends and families and communities to come to know Christ. Here at St David’s we will be opening up our Church for prayer with material to encourage us.

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We hold regular ½ days of prayer to call us together and we publish prayer topics on the back of each newsletter for groups to pray in silence or out loud together. Taking part brings us the vital element of knowing God’s call and to know what it is to serve our Lord and to be empowered by his Spirit for his work, and to see others come to know him. We can expect to be in awe and wonder at Christ’s work amongst us.

We are so fortunate as Christian people to know something different from the secular and that is a personal revelation and relationship with our Shepherd who cares for us and knows us by name and gives us insight into God’s will. If we come together with a generous, praiseworthy heart, as part of the flock for teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and for prayer, we will see our Church grow.

So how does it feel to be a sheep?

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Arise shine for your light has come

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2016, I suspect will mean different things to all of us here. I hesitate to highlight events, but we might want to remember Leicester City becoming Premier League Champions, Mark Selby becoming World Snooker Champion for the second time, the resurrection of Leicester as a city after Richard III’s burial in 2015 and a new Bishop coming to be with us in 2016. We might want to be reminded of 2 Bishop’s week here at St David’s when we welcomed Bishop Martin and Bishop Stanley from Kilimanjaro in an historical week for St David’s in our 50th anniversary year.

We may also of course remember times of sadness, times of suffering, events in our world that seem horrific and the turmoil in the world of politics in Europe, the Middle East, Russia and the USA.

There is a contrast between good and troubled times in our lives. Events of goodness and events of suffering and striving for power by some.

The Queen’s Christmas message on Christmas day, which you might have seen, acknowledged the tremendous achievement of Britain’s’ Paralympian and Olympian athletes in the games in Rio in 2016, quite a highlight in the year. The Queen drew out the inspiration that these Olympians had received from former athletes and the inspiration that ordinary people can be in their lives. She talked about those unsung heroes who carry out small acts of goodness with devotion and generosity of spirit that make such a huge difference in the lives of many others. The Queen’s inspiration, is of course, Jesus Christ, a guiding light in her life, born as an insignificant baby to parent’s Mary & Joseph who did not consider themselves important at all.

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Our Queen, our Head of State, is paying homage to Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, Emmanuel, God with us. In the same way the Magi, the wise men go to some effort to pay homage to Jesus their King.

You all, I have no doubt, know this story well, of the wise men, two or more of them, following the bright star to find the baby Jesus in the room in Bethlehem, via a quick detour to Jerusalem when they got a bit lost, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

If you critically look at the story though you would have to wonder that if the wise men were wise women, wouldn’t things have been easier, because wise women would have:

  • Asked for directions
  • Arrived on time
  • Helped deliver the baby
  • Cleaned the stable
  • Made a quiche
  • And brought more practical gifts!

But the wise men, 2 or more of them, were not women, they were most likely astrologers who had seen a bright star rise, possibly the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which occurred several times in the years 7 to 6 BC. Jupiter was known as the royal planet and Saturn sometimes represented the Jewish nation and this may have inspired the wise men or magi to go to Jerusalem, expecting a new King of the Jewish nation to be there. The years 7 to 6 BC are considered the possible years of Jesus Birth, rather than the year 1AD set by Dionysius Exiguus who compiled our calendar, this would also have given the magi time to travel to Jerusalem before Herod’s death in 4BC.

Matthew is the only Gospel writer to record this story of the magi visiting Jesus to pay him homage. It would seem to be quite a significant event for him to write about because Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience who are expecting God’s anointed Messiah to be sent to them, to the Jewish nation. The visit of Eastern Magi is the first indication that Christ has come for all nations, the story echoes the reading from Isaiah “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you… Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn”.

Matthew is making the point that God through Christ, comes to save all people not just one nation.

The Magi naturally come into Jerusalem first, the capital city of the Jewish Nation, where they believe that the King of the Jews has been born and they naturally make for the Palace, where Herod resides and is King.

The Gospel writers use the phrase ‘King of the Jews’ only twice, the first is here when the magi visit Herod and the second is on the cross when Pontius Pilate has the sign ‘King of the Jews’ nailed above Jesus head at his crucifixion.

The encounter with Jesus demands a decision about who he is and therefore causes division between those who accept and those who reject him. Throughout Jesus life he is opposing those who use power and control over others for their own ends for their own corruption. He comes to judge those who would use power in this way and he comes to save those who are subject to it. The dynasty of Herod illustrates power, control, corruption and evil in a very real way. We meet Herod, known as Herod the Great, here at Jesus birth and we meet his son Archaleus who rules Judea after Herod the Great and then we meet Herod Antipas who confronted Jesus before his execution and imprisoned John the Baptist.

herodThe Herod dynasty aspired to be Kings, Kings of the Jews, but they had no right to be Kings of the Jews. Herod the Great, who the magi met, had been appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Emperor Augustus because his father was favoured by the Romans. Herod’s father was an Edomite and his Mother from Arab descent. In no way did Herod come from the line of David or any Royal line. After the Jewish people had returned from exile a new King arose, not from the line of David’ but from the Maccabees line and Herod in an attempt to legitimise his kingly claims, married Mariamne a descendant of the Maccabees.

Claiming power and control under circumstances that may not be seen as legitimate leads to an attitude of defensiveness and influences the actions of those who are hanging onto the power they so much desire. How much do we see this in our world today? Herod the Great became so anxious and suspicious of people’s actions that he even murdered his wife, her 2 sons, her brother, her mother and her grandmother because he thought they might depose him.

Imagine his reaction when the magi arrive looking for an innocent baby born King of the Jews, whom his advisors tell him is prophesied to be born from the legitimate line of David and who is anointed by God as the Messiah and can be found in the town of David, Bethlehem. Herod is intent on removing the threat and when the magi don’t return he sets about killing all the boys in Bethlehem under 2 years of age.

Jesus is a threat to the corrupt use of power, he brings God’s judgement on those who use it. As an innocent baby he is a threat to Herod the Great, as a grown man he is a threat to Herod Antipas, even on the cross he is a threat, in death he is a threat and in his resurrection and ascension he is a threat because everyone will at some time face death and stand before his heavenly throne. But for those of who are subject to oppression who have become enslaved he offers freedom.

In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas sermon he says:

“To all who have been or are being dehumanised by the tyranny and cruelty of a Herod or an ISIS, a Herod of today, God’s judgement comes as good news, because it promises justice. As Isaiah makes clear, God’s judgement is one piece of a bigger story of salvation – God’s apocalypse of love – which declares, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”.

For those who believe and follow Jesus Christ as God’s son, Emmanuel, God with us, we have salvation, we know forgiveness, we belong to Christ who is our King and that frees and empowers ordinary people in acts of goodness and devotion in a generosity of spirit towards each other. The small acts make a big difference and they start with us.

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There is a great contrast between acts of goodness towards others and acts of corruption and power and control over others. Christ comes to confront these acts of power in humility and innocence and purity so that we may be free from them. In 2017 let’s encourage each other in our faith and be generous towards one another and those that we meet for it is then that we come to know the light that Christ brings into lives and in a world of change, where aggression and power for control have become widespread, Christ brings us gifts of goodness and mercy which we are encouraged to bring to others.

 

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Peace and Purity

The Meaning of Christmas

reduce-stress-holiday-shopping-01-afI wonder what your Christmas has been like for you so far? Have you managed to buy the gifts you wanted for people? Have you managed to post all the greetings cards? Have you got the food in for Christmas day? Have your family and friends arranged to come and see you and you see them? Whatever you have planned and arranged, Christmas day is nearly upon us and as with every Christmas we have had some weather to cope with. This year it is storms as we experience the impact of storm Barbara and it has disrupted travel and in some areas the electricity supply. We will not it appears be having a white Christmas in the Midlands this year, although I am sure if there is even a slight chance Coalville will know about it first.

pure-snowA white Christmas of course is something that many people dream about. The gardens, the fields and the trees covered in the whiteness of snow and frost, bring a look of purity to the landscape. I often want to be the first to tread in the crisp snow leaving my footprints, to be the first to have trodden there, but of course those footprints ruin the look of the snow on the field or garden. To all good things there is an opposite, the snow may look good, but like storms and rain, it brings havoc to our roads and rail systems and the pure whiteness of the snow turns to that muddy slushy mess with ice underneath. The snow doesn’t stay as the pure picturesque whiteness, it becomes trodden and dirty. Our world as we know only too well is filled with great goodness and human kindness which is sullied by human evil, the clean can soon become the muddy and the dirty.

But Christmas is for celebrating, for giving and receiving gifts, to enjoy all the benefits of our preparation, to wish goodwill to all people, despite the weather and the events in our world.  I wonder then, why we are drawn here, late in the evening, when we could be relaxing in the warmth of our home or the celebration of a party. Could it be something about the story we had read to us from the Gospel of Luke, could it be something else we need to connect with, could it be something that is mysterious, that is spiritual, that is wonderful and is pure and full of goodness and is full of truth? Could it be something that is bringing good news of great joy that we don’t fully understand, but is totally free and might make a difference to our Christmas day?

tracks-on-snowWe can read this story of Jesus birth (Luke 2:1-20) with our human eyes and see it as a quaint story from two thousand years ago of a young insignificant couple engaged to be married and struggling with the fact that she is pregnant and disgraced because her fiancée isn’t the Father and no one wants them in their home and so he takes her 80 miles to Bethlehem, to be registered in the census, where she gives birth with only Joseph there in a dirty place housing animals, where she wraps the baby after giving birth in some strips of cloth and places it in a feeding trough, a manger.

This couple have had a bad start in life and it’s probably going to get worse for them and it’s a little bit sad and sordid. We can read this story with our human eyes and see the shepherds desperate to be accepted in society coming up with a story of heavenly beings in order to become accepted and listened to because no-one wants to know them either. We can read this as a story that our children should perhaps know about because it’s part of our heritage but it doesn’t really impact our lives. We can read this story with our human eyes and see the muddiness, the slushiness and the humanity and dismiss any relevance it has to our life at all.

muddy-snowBut perhaps we are drawn here by God himself, someone full of wonder, of mystery and of love and purity, like the fresh snow without any footprints, and this story becomes very different through his eyes.

Through God’s eyes he sees the people he loves not knowing him, the ones he created to love him not being able to touch and experience pure goodness in their lives. He sees the evil and hurt in the world perpetrated by the few seeking power and control over others. He sees the people he loves needing rescuing and saving from themselves.

So he comes and lives with them, not as a powerful almighty person to tell people what to do and how to live, but as a pure baby, born of a virgin mother, created by God’s Holy Spirit, full of goodness and grace like the fresh snow, born in vulnerability into a world which is impure, so that that world can connect with all that is good and pure, so that it can connect with something that is beyond its understanding or comprehension, the wonderful, the mystical, the spiritual, the lovely full of love. He comes to live amongst the people he loves not in a nice comfortable palace, but where the dirt and the loneliness and the cynical and the abusive are at its height to bring love and wonder and purity. He sends his messengers, angels, to those who are outcast and abused, whose lives are full of hardship and impurity and tells them that there is a sign for them that God loves them, that they will find this sign in a manger and they can touch the pure and the wonderful, rather than know the hardship and oppression. The angel says ‘I bring you good news of great joy’ so that the impure can experience the pure, humanity can experience God. The muddy and soiled snow encounters the pure snow. No wonder Mary exclaims when she is filled with God’s Holy Spirit and becomes pregnant with Jesus Christ ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’. She doesn’t feel the muddiness and slushiness of her life, she only feels the love and purity of God in her life and he has saved her. To see this story through God’s eyes requires faith and trust before we can experience the good and the pure and the love of God.

jesus-birthOf course where is God now? Where is Jesus Christ?

Two thousand years ago people could hear Jesus speak, they could see him perform miracles, they could see the wonder and the mystery of God in front of them, they could touch him and experience his love, but we can’t do that now.

How do we touch the pure and the good, the wonderful and the mystery, how do we experience God’s love. Well the purity of Christ took on the impurity and evil of humanity and died with that impurity and evil on a cross so that we could be born to a new life and touch the pure and experience God’s love and be filled with Christ himself through his living Holy Spirit here with us now waiting to fill our hearts with his love. This is why we come on Christmas Eve to experience the wonder and the mystery of seeing ourselves and other people through God’s eyes, to touch the pure and the lovely, the wonder and the spiritual and to live Christmas day knowing that God see us in a very different way, as fresh snow, rather than muddy snow, as pure, rather than impure and he wants us to experience him through his Holy Spirit and touch something that is beyond our comprehension and outside of our understanding.

Soldier-praying-with-JesusThat’s why we are here and that’s why we come to communion to connect with Christ and in faith to see the world and ourselves through God’s eyes and recognise what he did for us on Christmas day two thousand years ago and what he wants to do for us today through his Holy Spirit. Our relationship with God is not down to how good we try to be, because we can never be good enough, it’s about believing in Christ as God’s son and turning to him like the shepherds did and experiencing the grace of God, something that is unearned and undeserved and is full of love. No wonder the angels exclaimed Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those whom he favours, those who come to him in faith. It’s an exciting day and it’s an exciting time where we know that the purity of Christ covers our impurities and we can ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with God’s love this Christmas day and in turn we can return that love asking for forgiveness and knowing his Holy Spirit in our hearts. This is what makes Christmas a happy day and may more of our world take notice of this good news from God himself and seek his face and know his peace.

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The Nativity

Is God with us?

christmas-shopping

To come to know Christ in our lives is quite a privilege because through Christ we come to know God’s love and direction in our lives. It is also quite a privilege to be able to share the love of Christ with others and the Nativity story and Nativity service is a wonderful time to remind and encourage people of God’s love for them. Christmas becomes a time not of shopping all the time but of sharing God’s love with one another because God is with us!

I have been to several children’s nativities over the years which is a real privilege because as a man and a Father working many hours I never did get to see my own children in their nativities. So to see many nativities now is wonderful!

I have seen animals in the stable including a wise owl, a very loud cockerel and a couple of cows who didn’t like each other and started fighting. I have seen nativity stories with Superman, Batman and Robin. I have seen one nativity story where the prayerful angels came down the aisle and one of them was carrying a bucket because her friend was feeling sick!

Nativity services are often imaginative.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou might have heard of the Nativity play where Mary & Joseph were knocking on doors only to receive the reply ‘No Room’ several times when a little girl came up to them and said ‘Well you should have booked’!.

This year at St David’s we have had our own nativity service with praise and dancing, we have had a nativity service from Warren Hills School where the head teacher had tears in her eyes because she was so proud of what the children had achieved and 3 Carol services from Broom Leys school all of which had a lovely atmosphere of praise and thanksgiving, including the loud and energetic singing of one little boy which could be heard above everyone else’s voices.

There have been nativity stories told in Playgroup and Nurseries by Mary and I have heard of the wonderful ones put on by Sarah and Bec in their pre-schools and we had a lively Carol service with Brigade last week and a totally unrehearsed one at After School Church!.

In all these nativities we meet with God through the delight of children, we come from the stresses and strains of our day or our week to be delighted by children’s performances and emerge feeling that Christmas has started, that we feel a little different, more inclined to wish goodwill to all people than we did before perhaps.

The danger of course is to keep the nativity story with the children, as a children’s story told through children’s eyes and not engage with it as Adults, to not take away that ‘God is with us’ and wants to make his presence known to us.

Matthew writes in his Gospel (Matthew 1:18-25), ‘his Good News account of God coming to be with us’, eye witness accounts and testimonies of those who have witnessed the events of Jesus life. Matthew is one of Jesus followers and a disciple and he writes his eye witness accounts to a mainly Jewish audience. He writes an account of God being with us. But he writes this account with the knowledge that God has always been involved with his people, rescuing them and saving them from the situations they found themselves in. He makes reference to the prophet Isaiah telling King Ahaz, who was presiding over a declining nation; that God would not forsake his people and that a young woman would bear a child who would be God’s witness. This virgin was most likely the one who bore a son to Ahaz called Hezekiah, but Matthew notices that God’s intervention with his people that was once through prophets like Isaiah, becomes something different this time. This time God actually comes to be with us as a baby Jesus, to be with his people, to accompany them, but God doesn’t come in glory, he doesn’t come in triumph, he comes to ordinary people, many who are outcast and in poverty, living lives that are hard.

Mary is a young girl, she is betrothed and would most likely be around 11 to 12 years old, a virgin. Betrothal was a binding contract, almost like a marriage, although the couple would not live together. Mary’s whole life changes when Gabriel tells her that she is to have a child from God, in fact it is God himself. A child to a betrothed unmarried young girl, would bring assumptions and rumours about her worthiness and character, she would be in disgrace and shame, she would become an outcast, her betrothal would be broken and she would never be able to marry. Yet ‘Mary says to Gabriel, here I am a servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word’. How can God put Mary through this, I often think, but she conceives under the power of the Holy Spirit, she gives birth as any normal woman would and in fact goes onto have children with Joseph after Jesus is born. She is an ordinary girl who says yes to God despite the consequences. Joseph the man Mary is betrothed to, is an ordinary working carpenter who wants to mitigate the shame upon Mary, until Gabriel appears to him and Joseph decides not to divorce but to marry her.

It is under these circumstances that God decides to be with us. To faithful young ordinary people who now face disgrace and shame, who face a long journey to Bethlehem, who face a birth in a room where animals are fed, who face poverty and who become persecuted by Herod and become refugees. These are the circumstances of frailty and fragility and need that God decides to be with us and it is under these circumstances that Mary and Joseph know God’s presence and strength with them.

refugeesFor us, saying yes to God in our lives for the first time or the 101st time, is again saying Emmanuel ‘God be with us’ under all circumstances. It is saying yes to God to come and save us from our sins and the sins of the world and to accompany us on our journey of faith in our lives. We ask him to be our Saviour, to be with us.

This year at St David’s we have celebrated our 50th anniversary of this Church building and God’s people her in Coalville, in Broom Leys. We celebrate not just such a fantastic building but the witness of God being with us as ordinary people have said yes to him. This time last year we celebrated this anniversary and many friends and clergy who had serve here came back to see us or wrote to us.

The only reason these Ministers served here was because God is with us. They didn’t come to buy a house here, or to get a job here, or to retire her. The only reason they came was because God called them, because God is with us. I am so pleased that we invested in a board with their names on that is a witness to God being here with us. In fact the first Vicar here, Joe Edwards, has only recently died after many years of service and witness to God being with us.

I am also so pleased that we have invested in a Paschal candle stand. This holds a candle that is dedicated each year on Easter day and witnesses to the light of Christ here in our lives, that God is with us. We light it to show that significance this morning. God is with us.

I am also so pleased that we are able to use the generous gifts that were contributed in memory of Maurice Eames our former Verger and the generous contributions given in memory of our friend Roger Harris to buy these 2 important symbols to that remind us of God being with us as he is also with both of them.

In the Nativity story, God comes to be with us as his son Jesus Christ, he comes to ordinary people, some of whom live in oppression and poverty, and he comes to strengthen them, to rescue them, to rebuild lives that have been broken and to save them from the sins and evils of the world so that they may not be lost but may know God’s love. This is not a story told through children’s eyes but is one for all adults.

This is the God who comes to be with us this Christmas if we ask him, this is the God who gives us the gift of grace and calls us to obedience and saves us to himself. This is the God who wants to accompany you on your journey of faith. May you know him and know the peace and love of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, this Christmas.

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Can we know the glory of God?

planet-earth-2

There is an interesting programme on BBC 1 called Planet Earth II narrated by David Attenborough.

It is fascinating because you get to see this wonderful photography of the beauty and wonder and glory of nature. What strikes me is how abundant and how beautiful the world around us is. In Genesis 1 we are reminded that God created us to know his love and to return that love and he provides a place of abundance and beauty and glory for us to live in.

God said to the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

widowbird

I watched some clips of one of the Planet Earth programmes that I had missed, on the grasslands. There was this incredible shot of a widow bird bouncing up and down in the tall grass to attract a mate and the harvest mouse climbing precariously up a strand of grass to eat the seeds at the end of it and beautiful colourful birds called bee-eaters that would fly just in front of the tusks of a bull elephant as it walks through the grass disturbing the insects, which the bee-eaters would grab and eat.

Here you can see the clip of Bull elephants.

They were charming scenes of God’s creation showing something of his Glory, until we are also reminded of the savagery of nature as well. The pack of lions hunting a water buffalo attacking the animal, bringing it down and devouring its flesh. In fact many of the scenes from Planet Earth II illustrate the savagery of nature, the striving to survive, what scientists would call evolution through the laws of natural selection, as the fittest fight to survive.

water-buffalo

The abundance and delight of nature mixed with the savagery of survival mimics of course the human world we live in as we delight in family and friends and the abundance of what our world has to offer and then compete with each other to gain power, to gain land, to gain influence, to promote our views and lifestyles and we see the conflicts and destruction and savagery that results. The Glory of God in his creation is tarnished, is defaced, is distorted, sometimes beyond recognition when we see the scenes from Syria and Iraq and yet we continue to yearn and to pray in our Christian lives to know the Glory of God, to know his coming again, because it is then that everything will be fixed!

How much more must the people of Judah and Israel have felt as they became subject to oppression to invasion and even to be taken from their homes and these were God’s people, where was God’s glory for them? They had been invaded by Assyria, they had been taken into a foreign country into Iraq, into Babylon and everything they had inherited was taken away from them, they had nothing, they were slaves.

Out of this agony and savagery comes a message through one of the prophets of the school of Isaiah (Isaiah 11.1–10), a message from God, there will be a shoot from a stump of what there once was, something small and emerging, one man who will know the Spirit of God upon him, one man who comes from the line of Jesse, the great King David’s father, one man who will be anointed by God, the Messiah. The law of natural selection, the survival of the fittest, is perhaps not the rule of God, because God intervenes into our world, his anointed Messiah will bring God’s judgement in righteousness, bringing redemption to the Needy and the Poor and the downtrodden, the weak in society. It is not necessarily the fittest that survive.

A dove in the skyGod does indeed come to live amongst his people as Jesus Christ, the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the one who rescues them and us and his focus is on the poor, the needy and the weak.

God has intervened into our world on many occasions and scripture testifies to this and we know that when he does, he transforms lives and our world. His kingdom grows through God incarnate, Emmanuel, God is with us, Jesus Christ.

But Isaiah talks of some signs of the fulfilment of God’s kingdom, which we have yet to see.

The wolf will live with the lamb, the cow will feed the bear, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the infant will play near the viper! Not the type of image we meet from Planet Earth II. These are signs of God’s Glory, not the savagery of the survival of the fittest. But this isn’t just about nature but is part of God’s intervention with us, the human race. Christ comes as the Messiah bringing God’s kingdom and Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us what this kingdom should look like for people.

“The kingdom of God is one of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” he tells us in chapter 14. It is not one of savagery. But Paul goes further, “each of us should please our neighbour and should build and encourage each other in our faith”. This is the work of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we don’t live to criticise those who are at a different point in their journey of faith, but we live to encourage each other in our journey with Christ. It isn’t the survival of the fittest, the one who seems to be most mature in their faith, but it is the encouragement of one another, coming together in a Spirit of unity that brings about God’s glory. (Romans 15.4–13)

How wonderful it is to be welcomed into a Christian community that shows the love and grace of Christ and portrays the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. Here is the Glory of God. Here are the signs of his kingdom.

So are you prepared, is this the way you live your Christian life? God’s glory is coming amongst us, Christ will come again, are we prepared for this?

queen

When the Queen visited Leicester in 2012, she came to a city prepared to receive her. The city was painted and decorated, dancers were rehearsed, schoolchildren lined the routes and cathedral services were prepared. What would happen if the Queen turned up at your home tomorrow, unexpectedly? Would you be ready to receive her or would you be quickly trying to hide the dust and the newspapers and the unwashed dishes, whilst looking for some milk for her tea in a mug, because the china cups are packed away?

The Glory of God is coming says John the Baptist to the crowds under Roman occupation and rule, the God who they hadn’t heard from in over 400 years, are you prepared for this, he asks them? (Matthew 3.1–12) Have you turned to the ways of the world or to the ways of God? Belonging to the line of Abraham or for us the Church, makes no difference, unless you live the ways of God and give your hearts to him repenting of your sins. The people naturally came in droves to receive John’s baptism of water, preparing their hearts and lives to receive Jesus’ baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Preparing ourselves during this season of Advent isn’t just about getting all the preparations for Christmas day in place, although that is clearly important, so that we can enjoy time with family and friends. But Advent is also about getting our Christian lives ready to receive Christ afresh or to receive him anew. Do we live Christian lives of pleasing our neighbour, of encouraging one another in our faith, of living in a Spirit of unity together, of accepting one another as Christ has accepted us, bringing glory to God and showing God’s kingdom, bringing his righteousness amongst us, seeking and desiring to fill our lives with his Holy Spirit? Do we live our lives ready to help the poor, the needy and the oppressed?

This is a very different kingdom to the one of nature where the survival of the fittest wins, one we might experience in our world and in nature as Planet Earth II shows us. This is a Christian kingdom, bought by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and we, as Christian people, are asked to be different. Are we prepared? Amen.

 

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The Christmas Journey

Andrew Rhoades4   Christmas seems to come upon us very quickly often leaving little time for preparation unless you are someone who is very well organised, like a friend who buys Christmas cards in the New Year sales!

paper

I can remember vividly a family Christmas day when we all gathered together and our children, all under 10 years of age, proceeded to open their presents. Within 15 minutes every present was open and wrapping paper was strewn around the room and they started complaining about the presents they hadn’t received! Christmas was over! I started to think about the hours of effort that had gone into selecting gifts, writing cards, preparing food and meals, putting up Christmas decorations and all amongst a heavy working time, where we were all looking forward to a good time and a rest with family and friends. It all seemed to be over in 15 minutes! Is Christmas all about supporting our High Street stores I wondered?

The Christmas journey though isn’t about lots of preparation for 15 minutes on 25th December with a nice meal and a sleep in the afternoon. The Christmas journey is about something much deeper; bringing hope to the forgotten, purpose for the lost, healing for the broken, generosity to neighbours, peace to families, friends, communities, countries and the world. The Christmas journey is about God and the pain he sees amongst those he loves and his desire to bring to us a way of putting things right.

 nativity1

The Christmas journey is about a loving God breaking into our world, not as judge and jury, as victorious dictator, as a deity assigning the sinful to hell; but as a simple baby, born as a refugee into poverty, growing into a man, fully human and fully divine, who can forgive sins, heal, teach and bring people to himself, into his kingdom, God’s kingdom.

The Christmas journey is to come to know God’s deep love in Jesus Christ; to know he is the bread of life, the light of the world, the way, the truth and the life, the giver of living water, the good shepherd, the resurrection, the gate to God’s kingdom. Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Son of the Most High, Emmanuel ‘God is with us’, our Saviour, Messiah, the Lord.

 cross

The Christmas journey is one to engage with and to embrace. In the Church calendar it begins at the end of November on the 1st day of Advent, travels through Christmas day to the cross on Good Friday and then onto the glory of the Resurrection on Easter day and to the Holy Spirit coming amongst us on the day of Pentecost. In reality it is a lifelong journey of letting Christ into your life, bringing his love to others and growing deeper into him as we endeavour to be more like him.

On Advent Sunday we will be sending out figures of Mary & Joseph into our community. They will be hosted in schools and in homes on their travels. These figures are a symbol of taking Christ into your home and hearts with prayer and passing them onto the next person with prayer. Mary & Joseph will come into Church on Christmas day after their journey. We are encouraging people to sign up in Church to host Mary & Joseph for an evening and to take a photograph of them with a few words of your experience, so that we can build a visual record of their journey on our web site for all to see here. You may want to share a time of coffee or a meal between the giver and the receiver as a sign of fellowship and peace.

Our Christmas is nothing like the one with paper strewn around the floor and over in 15 minutes, it is one to prepare for, to savour, to grow into, to celebrate with friends, family and strangers; one to know Christ, to love Christ and to be like Christ to others.

I wish you all a Christ filled Christmas and may the peace of our Lord be always with you.

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Advent

Something new is coming!

522620_empty_boxIf you came to our prayer morning yesterday, you would I think have encountered something very special. We were introduced in prayer and reflection to the season of Advent through that famous passage at the beginning of John’s Gospel.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” And John then goes into describing John the Baptist coming to prepare the way for Jesus, the light of the world and the question was raised can we bring the Christ light into our world of darkness or can we be people of light in a dark world, can we be like John the Baptist in our community preparing the way for the light of Christ?

Our world is seeking something new amongst the conflict, the neglect, the divisions in society, the gap between rich and poor and the abuse and addictions. It is looking for light and it is looking for salvation and as we prepare in Advent to celebrate the incarnation of God in the man Jesus Christ as a baby at Christmas and as we prepare for the time when he will come again, we live between the 1st and 2nd Advent and we seek to be the people of light.

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In our world and community where there are many areas of darkness, God wants to do something new amongst us and I feel that its starts this Advent Sunday.

I don’t know what you think about the Old Testament in the Bible, many people find it difficult to read it claiming it describes a judgemental God, or that the content is not historically accurate so it discredits the Bible, or that it doesn’t fit with the New Testament. But the scripture that Jesus, God’s only son, knew about was only the Old Testament scripture and he said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets (in the Old Testament); I have come not to abolish but to fulfil”. Our understanding of the Old Testament Jewish scripture is so important to our understanding of who Jesus is and what God is doing amongst us.

christoldtestament2

The Old Testament is a testimony of God’s saving power amongst his chosen people, the people of God, the Jewish race. It is a testimony of God’s loving intervention into a world that needs saving from itself, it is a testimony of God rescuing his people, not once but many times, it is a testimony of his promises, his covenants, which are never broken.

God comes to the Father of faith, Abraham an elderly man and promises that he and his elderly wife Sarah will have a child and from him will come many descendants, God’s people.

God sees those people in slavery in Egypt and comes to the Father of faith, Moses in a burning bush and commissions him to go and bring his people out of slavery, to rescue them. (Exodus 3:1-6)

An Angel of the Lord appears to the wife of Manoah and tells her that she will bear son in old age who would be named Samson and who will rescue God’s people.

Hannah prays earnestly to God to grant her a son who is dedicated to God and became the greatest of Israel’s judges guiding and rescuing God’s people from corruption, his name was Samuel.

The prophet Elijah called God’s people back to him from foreign idols and called them to repentance so that they could be saved from famine and drought.

The prophets of the school of Isaiah bring God’s message of comfort and of rescue to those in exile and bring God’s message of his kingdom coming into the whole world not just those who were from Abraham.(Isaiah 40:1-11)

The Old Testament is a testimony of God’s loving intervention, not once but many times into a world where people need saving and rescuing and here in the New Testament at the start of the Gospel of Luke, we find history repeating itself, a new prophet, John the Baptist, is to be born, he will bring people back to God in repentance, like Elijah, he will rescue God’s people and, like Samson and Samuel, he will not let them drink strong drink.

But this time God will do something new, he will come amongst his people himself and he will save them from darkness and bring them into light and John will prepare the way.

alexandr_ivanov_010

How does this happen, an angel of the Lord appears to an elderly faithful priest from a righteous line whose wife from an equally righteous line is barren and he tells Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth shall bear a child to be called John, the history of God’s loving intervention to save and rescue his people repeats itself but this time there is something very new. (Luke 1:5-25)

God will come and dwell in the midst of his people himself, calling them back to himself and John will prepare the way for the light to shine in the darkness. An Angel of the Lord appears to a young girl, called Mary, a relative of Elizabeth. An ordinary righteous and pure girl engaged to Joseph who is descended from a Kingly line. It is to Mary that God will be born as a baby called Jesus, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Son of the Most High, Emmanuel ‘God is with us’, our Saviour, Messiah, the Lord.

gabriel-and-mary

This time history does not repeat itself, this time there is something very new, God comes to live amongst us as a baby, Jesus, who comes to redeem and to save God’s people once and for all to himself. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets”, says Jesus; “I have come not to abolish but to fulfil”.

God is used to intervening in our world to save his people, but by coming himself in the incarnation as Jesus Christ, he has done something very new and he asks us to show people so that he can do something new in their lives. We are called to be like John the Baptist, to prepare the way for the light of Christ in people’s lives.

We live between Advent 1 and Advent 2 and once we realise this and know that we are part of God’s saving plan, we can take on that responsibility of showing the way to those who are seeking hope, to point them to Jesus, we can be John the Baptists.

God wants to do something new in people’s lives and it starts with Advent.

As we open ourselves up to the reality that God intervenes into our world to save us and redeem us to himself, let’s also prepare ourselves to God coming into our lives, into our hearts and pray that he will do something new amongst us this Advent in our lives, in our Church, in our community and in our world. Let’s welcome him afresh.

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