Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Refugees

A talk given at the end of term High School Services.... 

The refugees

The militia had taken over; and there was chaos everywhere
The Emperor wanted to know how many… how many people were there; which family line did they come from; what did they do… so he ordered a census.
A tally of people
You can’t tax them, rule them, oppress them if you don’t know them.

The militia spread fear and mistrust
No one knew who to trust
No one knew who was loyal, who was a collaborator; life was lived on a knife edge.

The militia had their own pawns in the game
The local leaders were all terrified, and desperate to preserve what little power remained, what little dignity was left. So they obliged; obeyed; submitted; accommodated the interlopers.

Life was hard; people were hard and it seemed like there was no hope. Anywhere.
The faithful cried out to God
O God! How long?! How long must we wait?

And into the darkness came the spark of hope.
Angel messengers.
Strange events.
Miraculous babies.

Into the atmosphere of distrust and fear and anxiety and suspicion came a glimmer of hope. 
Mixed with doubt and confusion.
It was all risky.
The hope might pay off; but it might also end in betrayal; grief; death.
But, it also might bring joy and love and new life. 
Glorious new life!
So, they took the risk.
They followed the plan
They set out on the fearful, hazardous journey, filled with pitfalls and threats.

Eventually they got there… but there was nowhere to go
Everywhere was so full
The place teemed with weary bodies; exhaustion permeated their very being
The time came for the glimmer of hope to shine
Angel voice filled the sky
But not many heard or saw
Just a few bedraggled, coarse working men, unaccustomed to miracles and light and hope.
Yet, because they weren’t expecting it
Because they were not holy men, wise men, educated men the miracle was all the more beautiful
And in their simplicity they were able to see beyond
Beyond the dark pit of fear and squalor into the glorious brilliant hope:
A tiny baby
God made human

The light shone, and the darkness could not overcome it.

And here we are, two thousand years later
Still there are people under the power of oppression
Still there are people fleeing, undertaking risky journeys; all in the hope of new life, new beginnings and a faint hope of something better for those they love.
Still there are people dying at the hands of persecutors, bullies, tyrants and still the strong use their power to take advantage of the poor and less able.

Still there are those who respond too:
The ones who offer shelter – however meagre
The ones who witness the light – however dim
The ones who believe in a miracle birth – however unlikely
The ones who allow in the light – however reluctantly
And the light continues to shine

And the darkness will not overpower it.  

Winter sun, through the trees (c) JW 2010

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Sermon 13 December: Time for Miracles

Luke 1: 5-13, 57-80

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s Story

Time for miracles
Time for hope
Time for JOY!
It was a bleak time; Romans, the interlopers, the invaders, were everywhere; life was lived on a knife edge, with no one trusting anyone else.
There was an expectation of doom and gloom in the air; no one expected anything, especially not a visit of an angel, or a heavenly messenger
And no one expected a miraculous, unexpected, unanticipated, impossible birth.
Yet, they happened anyway.
Sometimes it is at the most difficult, most troubled and most challenging times that the most extraordinary things can happen.

At this time of year we usually hear about the other miracle baby born around the same time… but today we think instead about his cousin’s birth.
Elizabeth and Zechariah are elderly they have lived blessed and faithful lives, yet have not be blessed by the child they so longed to have. Now, before we go on I’d like to take a moment’s pause…
For those of us who have been blessed with children it is impossible to imagine the pain of not having them. The depths of despair, the yearning, the desperation that childlessness brings to some is beyond our imagining. Add to that this story – (and others, John is not the only miraculous impossible baby in the bible) and the pain is compounded: Why can’t we pray hard enough? Why won’t God bless us with a baby? What did we do wrong?
For all who yearned for babies to love and care for we pray; for those who prayed to God to help them conceive, we pray. For those who never got the opportunity to become parents, we pray.

In a society which set such great store by families and future generations, securing the family line, to be barren was viewed as a curse; a punishment even. Zechariah was a holy man, a priest; he served in the temple, his was a position of great honour and status; yet here he was, an old man, in his twilight years, with no son to pass on the family name to.
Into this scenario comes a stranger, a visitor, an unknown. We are told that when the angel appeared, Zechariah was afraid… and, as is customary, the angelic visitor tells him not to be. Hmm… easy for the angel to talk!
In today’s reading we then fast forward the whole nine months to the time for Elizabeth to have her baby.
In the verses we miss out, there is a maelstrom of happenings and strangeness. For a start, Zechariah is so utterly incredulous at the declaration of the angel he doubts and questions… and boom! He is, literally, struck dumb for the next nine months.
Meantime, the angel is kept busy, nipping up to Nazareth to visit Elizabeth’s very young cousin Mary and let her know that she too will be having a baby – but hers is different to Elizabeth’s. For she is unmarried and will not be conceiving by any known means… but that’s a story we know and will not visit again this year.

So, back to Elizabeth and Zechariah.
He, being struck dumb, cannot tell her the happy tidings, she has to wait and work it out for herself. Though we must suppose he has written her notes, because she knew the chosen name for her baby.
When Elizabeth knows beyond doubt that she really was going to have a baby, she makes this declaration: “At last the Lord has helped me, he has taken way my disgrace”
And when the child is born, the local population is filled with wonder and questions – what will this child be, do? What is he a sign of for the future?
His father however is roused from his silence, to declare the boy’s name, and then praises God, and prophesies about his precious son.
 “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High God.
You will go ahead of the Lord to prepare his road for him, to tell his people that they will be saved by having their sins forgiven.
Our God is merciful and tender.
He will cause the bright dawn of salvation to rise on us and to shine from heaven on all those who live in the dark shadow of death, to guide our steps into the path of peace.”
The words of the final two verses, in a different translation, I use as the introductory verses of every funeral I conduct ‘in the tender compassion of our God, the dawn of heaven will break upon us, to shine on those who live in darkness, under the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace’. The words remind us, in our darkest hour, that God never leaves us alone, that even in darkness there is light, hope and peace.

Because, more than anything, we need light and hope.
We need to know we are not alone; that God has not abandoned the world.
Even now. Especially now, that it seems that the whole world is hell bent on self-destruction.
From the nit-picking and compromises of the World Climate Change Conference; to the proliferation of death and destruction by the abuse of guns; to the strange and scary thought that extremist views are pervading the world giving voice to hatred, racism and bigotry… the world is indeed, a dark and scary place, yet at this time of year as we reflect on the world as it was 2000 years ago, we can see that it wasn’t dissimilar. The weapons might be different; the means of communication more instantaneous, but the world was still a dark and scary place, with fear and violence pervasive and persistent.

The world needed symbols of hope
Symbols of peace
Symbols of joy… and what can be more joyous than the promise and hope of new life!

The world still needs these same symbols: we need to know that it is not all darkness; it is not all hopeless; we need to hear the good news proclaimed from the rooftops.
God is still here!
God’s word stands for all time – God is compassion and kindness
And God’s dawning light will shine on us in our darkest hour, and guide our feet into the ways of peace.

Zechariah believed God’s promises; he knew he would never see his son grow up – that is the curse of older parents – but still he believed; his son would be a prophet of God; he would have a special task, to prepare the way, to declare God’s promise of JOY and hope would be fulfilled.

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to shine on those who live in darkness, under the shadow of death, and guide our feet into the way of peace, hope, and JOY.
And that’s a promise worth holding on to.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The time is Coming - sermon for 6th December

Prepare in the wilderness a road for the Lord!
…the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it.
 (Isa 40:3,5)

It was said that John the Baptist was the messenger who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy; the world waited with baited breath; there was turmoil; there was war; there was civil unrest; violence lurked on every street corner.
The people were afraid; the people were oppressed; the people had had enough.
Enough – they said
Enough! God replied
Enough suffering
Enough punishment
Enough waiting…

And yet, here we are, two thousand, four thousand years later; still waiting…
Still crying out enough!
Still calling, How Long O Lord? How long?

The people of Israel were living in exile when Isaiah wrote his prophecy down; they were in the wilderness, searching, seeking, hoping for something better. They needed comfort more than anything else; a symbol of hope; a picture of something new… and Isaiah gave it to them.
But, it isn’t just given; they have to act. The voice tells them: Prepare! Clear the way! Do stuff!

Not easy stuff either! Fill in the valleys; level off the mountains… this is hard, physical, demanding work but the rewards will be great.

Over on our online discussions on this passage earlier in the week, one asked – but what if we like the view from our mountain? What if we like the shelter down in our valley?
What if we don’t want to change, but we just want the stuff to happen around us? Or we are too scared to change – fearful of the outcome?

Because… what happens if we do the work; carry the hope; believe the promises and still at the end of it we do not feel better off?
At the end of it, the world isn’t a better place?
There are still bad people out there who want to kill and maim?
There are still powerful, power-hungry people out there who think nothing of taking advantage of those who have less; those who are different; those who are vulnerable?
What do we do then?
How can we take this prophecy, today in the 21st century, when it feels like the world has gone mad…?

Our country is once again attacking a foreign power
Our country is once again fighting and abusing and taking advantage 
Our country is once again split – with those who think it is the right response, and those who think it is not.
In Europe, people are still fleeing; risking everything to try to get to somewhere where they sky at night is not filed with bombs and weapons.
In Europe people are still drowning in rickety, overfilled boats… walking, walking, hundreds of miles… hoping, hoping against hope that someone, somewhere will take them in, offer them shelter…

What is going on?
What is happening in the world?

Here we are, preparing the way for Advent; getting ready to remember the story of a refugee family; living in a country that is occupied by a foreign power; travelling great distances; fleeing death and destruction…
What are we doing?
What is happening?
What can be done?

Enough of this.

Every news headline brings prayers and thoughts for the latest atrocity; the latest tragedy; the latest round of death…
We no longer know what to pray; how to pray; where to pray for.
Yet, Isaiah’s prophecy remains.
There is still a voice, crying out in the wilderness
Prepare the way
Comfort my people
Encourage them not to give up
The time is coming when the glory of God will once again be revealed.
The love of God will once again be heard in the cries of a new born child.

The world may be falling apart before us
And we may be feeling helpless in the face of such adversity
Yet, remember this – we are not alone
God has this
We may, like the grass and the flowers fade away to nothing, but God is ageless, timeless, and God’s Word lasts for ever… for all time… for all eternity.

Another prophet, a teacher, a wise man once said, “There is nothing new under the sun” and it is true.
Generation by generation we see war and violence and horror; it comes and goes; peace restores and is disrupted again and again

Generation by generation God says enough. 
Enough. Enough.
Generation by generation people seek God, turn to God, give their hearts to God…
Today our Second Advent candle is the symbol of PEACE.

Peace be with you
Peace be with me
Peace be with us…
Peace in your hearts
Peace in your praying
Peace in your lives…

Today, rather than finishing with just our time of quiet and prayer I have prepared a slide show… pictures of refugees interspersed with pictures of nativity scenes.
Pray for the Peace of the World

Friday, 4 December 2015

Friday Five - Distractions...

Over at Rev Gals today's Friday Five - in acknowledging the madness that is  Advent, the world and the universe just now...  3dogmom asks - what do you do for distraction?
What a great question! 

Regular readers of my blog know that I've been feeling a little low recently... (if you want to catch up see here )

So distractions have been uppermost in my mind... 

First and foremost, to lift the blue: getting outside; fresh air; daylight; some exercise; just makes all the difference.

Second: this one will come into its own on Wednesday next! The DOG!!!!! At the moment I'm visiting with her... but on Wednesday she's coming home permanently, and I can hardly wait. She will make sure #1 will happen daily... but she will also provide some much yearned for companionship through the day. 

Third: reading; when I actually make time for it, I just get lost deep in another world. Currently I am reading "Miss Carter's War" by Sheila Hancock - it begins in 1949 - and currently we have got to the 1970s. It's an intriguing and absorbing read. 

Fourth: my major distraction right now is thinking about my wedding; planning food, designing stationery, looking at pretty dresses, finding sweet gifts for the precious friends who are helping me stay sane during the uncertainty - it is the most organised wedding in the world that doesn't have a date yet!

Fifth: food - I love to bake, and cook and create in the kitchen - it both distracts and relaxes me. I have various food intolerances, so creating and finding substitutes is challenging, but ultimately very satisfying. 

Bonus: writing! Blogging, or journalling; for Advent I am using Advent in Narnia by RevGal Heidi Haverkamp... really finding nuggets of inspiration there! 

Even on a cold, misty morning it's food for the soul!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Advent - contentment

What a difference a day makes! 

Today is less grey and so is my mood... this is enhanced by the fact that I have a dog snoozing beside my chair as I work today!
Bless her!
She is Missy; and she and I have been visiting together for the past couple of weeks.
She's a rescue; not ill-treated, just neglected and not loved.
And, in a few days more she will come home permanently to live with me.

It's only when you spend time with them, that you remember why you loved having a dog so much... 

You can read about how I said goodbye to my last dog here

Missy is the same breed as Bracken was; she's a little bigger but has the same bright collie eyes and a great personality. I'm sure we will have many adventures together!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Anticipating Advent...

Oh LIFE!!!! 

Sometimes it sucks
and sometimes it does not go at all the way we anticipate... 

Those who know me well know that over the past few months I have been balancing personal issues alongside parish work. And that a few curve balls got thrown into the mix. 

Like - Sunday past was going to be my wedding day.

But it didn't happen.
Life; the legal system and some technicalities got in the way; and the day was postponed - for the third time. 

SO - life is a little sucky right now. 

The wedding will happen. 
We await due process within the court system as, at last, every possible paper is signed and sealed; every arrangement in place and in due course - my beloved will be free. 

I fear I will be glad to see the end of 2015 - even though there have been some wonderful times and much fun, it is overshadowed by the death of my beloved father and the stress of trying to follow due process to enable my wedding to take place. 

December is probably the worst month in the year for me - I find the short days, the encroaching dark, the gloom and greyness to be overwhelming. I crave light. Desperate for sunshine and warmth. The grey of the sky matches my mood. 

The one bright hope of December is Advent.
When my boys were wee, there was a strict rule about not getting the tree and the lights up too early. But this year I am seeking that light right now.

So the tree and the lights will go up this weekend - and I will bring light into my darkness.
reminding myself - Light came into the world, and the darkness cannot put it out.


Shines in the Darkness