Archives December 2013

Epiphany Proclamation 2014

The feast of Epiphany begins with the traditional proclamation which sets the dates for Easter and the rest of the Church year. In an age without watches or calendars it was a useful marker of the year, and is a tradition which should, I believe, be maintained…

Epiphany Proclamation

Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of His return.

Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.

Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: His Last Supper, His Crucifixion and Death, His Burial, and His Rising, celebrated between the evening of the 17th day of April and the evening of the 19th day of April, Easter Sunday being on the 20th day of April.

Each Easter—as on each Sunday—the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has forever conquered sin and death. From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the 5th day of March.

The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the 29th day of May.

Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the 8th day of June.

And this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the 30th day of November.

Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the Passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever. Amen

A Chant version may be found here to slightly different wording.


My favourite albums of all time

Three years ago I thought about my Desert Island Discs. Now, in the post-Christmas, pre-Funeral lull, I turn my thoughts to the whole album which has meant so much to me, the LPs which I would wade into the surf to rescue…

You can tell a lot about people from their all-time top albums: not least how old they are.

The most important thing to remember as you draw judgement on my crass and sentimental list of favourite albums is that these are not the best albums ever made in my life, but the five that meant the most to me – records which got me through it all, which provided the soundtrack to my life and which were worn out my incessant playing (because all of these were vinyl, with the notable exception of One Trick Pony which was on cassette tape). It might have easily been just Bowie albums, but I have limited it to one per artist and with a couple of notable exceptions none are compilations (the Stevie Wonder album was made up of older hits, but he re-recorded them so wonderfully, it is a work of art in its own right). When I starting thinking about this list, it was a top 5, but I couldn’t stop there…

In (as they say) no particular order, the soundtrack of my life:

David Bowie – “Heroes”

Why this and no other? Why not the sublime Low or Lodger? Could I not have all three as an indivisible trilogy? No. This was the best of the Berlin albums made by Bowie/Eno. From the anthemic title track (in full, in English, for many years he started at the second verse, and it missed a lot of the melancholy as a result), to the bleak Neukoln or Sense of Doubt to my all-time favourite – the Secret Life of Arabia, this album was the quintessential Bowie. Reduced to tears in the rain one night listening to the bleak second side whilst waiting for my girlfriend, this incredible piece of music summed up being 17. My Bowie obsession was cemented with this album and it continues to this day. The fact that The Next Day features that iconic photo all but blocked out makes me very happy indeed. Bowie is back. Hail Bowie.

Update: Bowie never went away. His death in 2016 was momentous, and following what would possibly be his best album ever: Blackstar was just awesome, and made me revisit every album, every single, every bootleg I own (and believe me, that’s a lot.) but no, Heroes it is. Heroes it shall ever be. My absolute favourite album of all time, of all artists.

 

Paul Simon – One Trick Pony 

You probably weren’t expecting this from me… surely something hipper, something more seminal or important; well, to me, this beautifully written, wonderfully played soundtrack album is unhesitatingly in this list. Its slightly wistful air and chokey rhythms moved me so at the time and still do. Late in the Evening still gets my heart racing with its latin beat and the best ever song to finish the day with is the closer It’s been a long, long day. You can look down on me if you want to, but we all have to look up to the best American poet, ever.

Led Zeppelin – II 

Riffs forged on tour, stolen from great bluesmen from the past (and even stealing their writing credits), laid down with maximum effect. Yes, we all know Whole Lotta Love, but it is Ramble On, What is and what should never be and of course my favourite, the obscene Lemon Song which makes this album. Played late at night on rubbish headphones to maximise the very rudimentary stereo, this is my early music obsession. There were better, later albums from Led Zep, but this one was the breakthrough for me – about the second or third album I ever bought and I still love it. If I could peep through the bedroom door now, and spy on the 12 year old, standing in front of the mirror pretending to be (alternately) Jimmy Page or Robert Plant (or in his own mind a strange hybrid multitalented version of the two), I wonder what I would think: embarrassed? proud? bemused? Probably all three – bless ‘im, if only he realised he’d only ever learn 4 chords on a real guitar.

Various Artists – Pillows and Prayers

“Pay no more than 99p” this sampler from Indie label (when Indie labels were real labels making music independently and not just self-indulgent fronts for big business) did what it said on the tin and introduced me to bands and artists I had never heard of, to music which enthralled me and many of whom subsequently sank without trace. Yes, Everything but the Girl were there as well as Ben and Tracy in solo form, a wonderful bon mot from Quentin Crisp and a poem by Attila the Stockbroker that even now I can recite by heart (which shows that Slam Poetry is fundamentally a punk thing). It was balanced, it was beautiful and I must have snogged a dozen girls with this playing in the background. Best 99p ever spent, I reckon.

Stevie Wonder – Original Musicquarium

The best songs he ever wrote (before all that schmaltzy rubbish about calling to say he loved you and happy birthday and so on). This is how a Greatest Hits should be – a complete re-recording of your hits, with new insights, new orchestrations, latest production values, and wonderful songs: Boogie On Reggae WomanLiving in the City and many many more. Sublime.

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

I have a particular weakness for albums and songs which are coiled tight with emotion: Led Zep’s Lemon Song, Alanis Morrisette’s You Oughta Know and Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing are classic examples of these. This whole album is tighter than my son’s wallet, with beautiful songs of love and loss which could go on forever. Indeed, once I was listening to a CD of it and during the exqusite Madam George it kept skipping, but here’s the thing – I didn’t notice! The same riff and line kept playing over and over again, and I was still happily listening to it about 20 mins later. I will always love this record.

Rolf Harris – Sun Arise 

Rolf Harris LP

 

Yeah, I know. Operation Yewtree and all that… Well, firstly innocent until proven guilty and secondly, what I thought as a five-year-old in 1972 was very different to now. This is a wonderful 1962 comedy album, with songs which I still perform at Church cabaret evenings. Simply and cheaply made, this is mid-60s musical comedy at its best. It makes me laugh and both I and my children know every single word on it. Nick O’Teen and Al K. Hall is a masterpiece. People seem to conveniently forget what Eric Gill was like and concentrate on his fonts and engravings, maybe we should do that for Rolf…

UPDATE: This was written in 2013, before his conviction. I have had to drop performances from my cabaret routine. However, I’m not deleting my comments or my inclusion of this album because, like Eric Gill, a person is more complex than that. I don’t listen to it anymore, but it was at the time very important to me.

Delirious? – King of Fools

The only clearly Christian album in this list, and without doubt the best from Delirious? They were desperate to make the mainstream and never quite did, tried to be a bit too hip when they were a bit too old, but this album catches them at their zenith: beautiful songs, catchy rhythms and at its heart the articulation of one who has come to know Jesus. It spoke to me so loudly when I first heard it.

Magazine – Secondhand Daylight

Overplayed. Over-obscure. Rhythm of your Cruelty is possibly the best song ever written. Ever. The sparse production reminded me of Bowie. The fact you could play it to girls who’d never heard of it and then spend hours trying to understand what on earth Howard Devoto was trying to mean… I loved it. Whenever this comes round around on the random playlist I am filled with nostalgia and excitement. I will never be 16 again, but this whole album brings me right back to the Permafrost

What? No Joy Division? No Paddy Roberts? No REM? No … thing after 1997? Yeah, there are lots of great albums out there, lots of things worth listening to, lots of better songs and better production values. However, these are the ones that I loved and like the purpose of Desert Island Discs, aren’t there to show how hip or connected you are, but what has had a musical impact on your life. I am currently playing to death the latest Lorde album Pure Heroine, and keep coming back to Bowie’s 2013 comeback The Next Day but these (even Bowie tbh) will never make the classic canon of music which moved my soul: from one place to another.

This list isn’t hip… it’s just me.


Sermon: Holy Family Year A, 2013

Listen (preached at S. Mary the Virgin, Bickleigh)

Text: Matthew 2:13-15; 19-23

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

With the birth of the Christ child still fresh in our ears, we move away from the crèche and towards the reality of living in the presence of a living God. We quickly move from the crystal starlight over the stable scene to a scene of warnings, dreams and severe human suffering.

For Mary and Joseph, the consequences of caring for their small infant son, the Emmanuel – the God with us – meant further dislocation and further isolation. This faithful couple, always ready to follow God, were being led away from everything and everyone that would support them while they cared for this child. Our Gospel moves us from the gentleness of the incarnation to the harsh reality of life.

These new parents had to flee from their homeland and their people and go to a strange land that did not know them. They became aliens, immigrants forced to flee away rather than run home to their village. For the families in Bethlehem and surrounding communities the consequences were much worse. Small children were slaughtered because a ruler was tricked by some wise elders from a distant tribe. There was blood everywhere. The awful reality of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents is recalled by the Church yesterday, whilst today this genocide forces the Saviour of us all to become an Asylum Seeker. The consequence of human anger with access to absolute power is clear in our Gospel today. The word of God made flesh reminds us today of the responsibility we have to the innocent and the alien. How easily we forget this lesson. The next time we read one of those poisonous newspaper articles about Asylum Seekers we should remember the story of the Christ-Child and his experience.

The harsh reality of the genocide inherent in the slaughter of the Holy Innocents  invites us to move our gaze from the pastoral crèche scene, the wise men and sheep, to the world to which God came. We are invited to see the same broken world that is about us today. We are called to witness this same world, full of terror, in which angry and selfish political leaders even today destroy innocent lives.

Jesus came into the midst of terror and enters into our terror.

We, like Our Lady and St. Joseph, are called to move out from soft places, from warm rooms and safe havens, to the places where innocence is challenges, where faithful tender lives are at risk, and carry the God incarnate to alien places so that we might all be free.

A friend was recently in an airport waiting for a connecting flight. In the next row sat a family of six, mother, father and four small children. They were all dressed quite inappropriately for the season and the location: they huddled together, sleeping fitfully and speaking very little. When they did, it was a strange and unfamiliar language. As they boarded the plane, it was obvious that they were very confused by the seating and signs. My friend tried to help them as best she could but there was little was of communicating except by pointing.

This family of refugees were coming to a place where very little was familiar. How could they raise their children, find their way, communicate their basic needs? And yet they came with a weary willingness to protect and care for their little ones, to find a new life, despite all of the challenges and dislocation that were behind and in front of them.

This is what love does within in each of us. It gives us the courage to take on responsibility for the innocent. Love incarnate empowers us to turn away from the comforting familiar, in order to let love incarnate thrive.

Here is our call, our responsibility this Christmastide and all through the year. God with us, Emmanuel, encourages us to face the power of this world in order to protect the vulnerable and the needy.

Three days before Christmas, a Tory MP, Mr Mark Pritchard tweeted:

MPritchard MP - More Gospel, Less Politics

He’s probably right: The Church should preach a little more gospel and a little less politics. We should be focussing on Jesus, after all – not involving ourselves in the grubbiness of the world. For one thing, church people are hopeless at claiming expenses.  And so I go to the Gospel. And I read…

From the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter  25

“the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Now the thing is, if you feed the hungry – that is a political act. If you set up a food bank (and the churches have, quite a lot), that’s a political act. If you wonder why there’s so many people needing food banks, that’s a political thing to think.

If you see someone who needs clothing, and you sort them out with some clothes, that’s a political act as well. I’m sure David Cameron would think that was part of his “Big Society”. After all, now he’s dropped the term, there’s a lot of Big Society, on a small scale, about. There has to be.

If someone is sick – and you don’t even necessarily know them – but you’re there for them anyway, that’s a political act. You’re saying you won’t allow them to lie there in hospital on their own, if you can do anything about it. And if someone is in prison, and you visit them, then that’s a political statement. You’re saying that it’s not good enough just to stick people in chokey and throw away the key. You’re making the walls porous – keeping people in society that others would want to keep locked out.

Jesus’s birth, in the first place, is a political act – God siding with the poor, the dispossessed, the homeless. And the belief that he will come back and judge the nations is not a piece of apocalyptic wish-fulfilment – it’s saying that the ones who rule, the ones who abuse, the ones who push down, will one day be judged. More fairly than they have judged, as well. Which might or might not be good news. Apocalyptic is always political.

The incarnation is political – Christ taking on human flesh in this grubby world. Not standing, shining, off in glory but arguing with priests, politicians, taking on kings and local rulers. Walking through the middle of all the mess, that people can choose to follow his way, or not. Demanding justice – isn’t that a political concept? Being the Prince of Peace – isn’t peace a political idea?

Consider the Magnificat “the mighty being cast down from their thrones and the lowly lifted up” – each Evensong – each night – this radical call to action is heard.

And then – all the people that Jesus knocked about with, and who followed on from him. I mean, clearly Churches shouldn’t get involved in equal opportunities – after all, just ask St Paul:

Gal 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

So I did what Mr Pritchard wanted. I’ve looked straight at the Gospel. And do you know what, it’s full of politics? I guess he’s going to be disappointed, and it calls us to something far more. It challenges us in the not-very-fluffy reality of the Incarnation

This Love made Flesh challenges us to see the face of God in each refugee, each alien, each immigrant, every stranger, every sick person, every hungry person, every prisoner, every one.

The Prince of Peace calls us to look away from the comfortable and the pastoral to see the stark reality of suffering and terror in our world. We are called to see with the eyes of the Word of God – eyes which see everyone as relatives, tribal members, kin, family, equally welcomed at God’s table.

May these days of Christmas be times of looking outward, seeking the family which has been left outside, bringing home those who have been refugees, aliens and strangers.

As later in his ministry, Matthew recalls this fleshy-God saying “whenever to visited or welcomed or cared for one such as these, then you did the same to me”. The Refugee, the Asylum-Seeker, the Poor, sick, frightened or destitute remain, and it is our Christian duty to shelter the next Holy Family which flees for survival to our land.

Amen.

with credit to the Archdruid for reminding me what this is all about and the Twitter-troll who accused me of being a communist this week when I mentioned library closures. I pulled these things together with him in mind.


"If you want" – S. John of the Cross

If you want,
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
and say,
“I need shelter for the night,
please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul
you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
taking birth
forever,

as she grasps your hand for help,
for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.

Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence eternally,
through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb in your soul,

as God grasps our arms for help;
for each of us is
His beloved servant
never far.

If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and sing…

–St. John of the Cross, “If You Want” in Daniel Ladinsky Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (New York: Penguin Group, 2002), 306-307.


Midnight Mass 2013

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

It’s often said that there’s something magical about Christmas, that it has a fairy tale quality to it. Christmas lights, candles and other decorations certainly enliven this darkest time of the year: their gentle, subtle, twinkling light fills this sacred space and instils in us a gasping wonder. This heady, festive atmosphere can lift the spirits and draw us deeper into this mystery. On this night, there is something tangible in the air – can you sense it? – a sense of expectation, of hope, of promise. However, the greatest thing about Christmas is that it is celebrating a real event, not an imaginary one. And that event should lift the spirits more than anything else.

Why? Because behind the birth of Jesus which we celebrate at Christmas lies the greatest truth we shall ever encounter – that the God who made us, the God who flung stars in to space and created the whole universe out of nothing – that this same God loves you and me more than we can possibly imagine. That’s what he sent Jesus to tell us by his birth, tell us by his life and teaching, tell us by his death and tell us by his resurrection. It’s a simple truth but it’s a profound one: you are loved. You are part not of a cosmic accident, nor of a fairy tale nor of a magic show but of the greatest love story ever.

So, if amidst the festivities of Christmas this year you are weighed down by doubts, worries, pain or anxiety let the profound message of Christmas reach deep into your heart. You are loved – infinitely, gloriously, wonderfully and eternally loved. And nothing, but nothing, will be able to come between you and that love if you choose to receive it.

Being embraced by Divine Love is the most glorious thing which can lift the spirits more than anything. It can do more than that, though: it can give us the will and the determination to share that love with others. There are many in our community who are in desperate need of human care and compassion this Christmas.

As you share Christmas with family and friends, spare also my friends a thought for those for whom this is a time of loss and sadness; of isolation or illness, and reach out to share the blessings that God has poured out on this world, and on your family especially with those who have not yet felt that.

Where there is sadness, loss or unfairness in this world, Christ comes.

Where there is pain, isolation or injustice, Christ comes.

…he comes through you: he calls you to share the love and to spread the blessings; and It is through us that the love that God shows to you is made most manifest, in what you seek to do for those on the edges of society.

May we all be touched by God’s great love in Jesus this Christmas and, as a result, be enabled to show that same love to those who most need it. The Christ in our midst this holy night shared with us of himself: in stepping into this world, and being formed in human flesh he demonstrated his love, and in leaving us of himself in the Eucharist, his love is played out, at each and every celebration of this sacred mystery – come and share in that outpouring of love, come and share in this special meal…

I wish you every blessing this Christmas: may this coming year be one filled with the knowledge of God’s love for you, and for all people.

Amen

With huge thanks to +John Inge, Bishop of Worcester 2013 from whom substantial parts of this homily was stolen.


Homily: Advent 3, Year A: What was the question again?

Texts: Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11

What was the question again?

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

One of my favourite books is the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, by the late lamented Douglas Adams, a trilogy which contains five books…

The Hitch-Hiker’s Story is a search for the answers to the fundamental questions of life: why are people born, why do they die, why do they spend much of the intervening time wearing digital watches?

A hugely sophisticated race builds a computer which takes seven and a half million years to tell us that the answer is, most definitely, 42

…because the problem is really, that we didn’t actually know what the question was. It was just the ultimate question to Life, the Universe and Everything. Knowing that the answer was 42 could lead you to a number of possibilities:

– How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man? (Thank you, Bob Dylan)
– What is the value of human existence?
– or even “What is Six times Seven?”

In the end, they had to construct an even bigger computer to work out what the question is, so big that it was often mistaken for a blue-green planet on the western spiral arm of the galaxy and which was given the name by its inhabitants (and participants in the computer program) the slightly uninspiring name of “The Earth”.

Sadly, in the story before the question is decided, the planet gets destroyed to make way for a bypass. Leaving one human, Arthur Dent still in his dressing gown traipsing around the universe: searching through time and space, seeking this question, seeking this truth.

It turns out that knowledge of both the ultimate question and the ultimate answer is, in Douglas Adam’s warped world, mutually exclusive: knowledge of one precludes knowledge of the other.

But, the ultimate question and the ultimate answer can be known, and has been known for some time: it’s just that we haven’t been looking for it in the right place.

Before I tell you this monumental thing: the fundamental question to the universe, I want to ask you a question: “How will this answer affect your life?”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide is an allegory. It is a parable. The story is full of some of the most glorious silliness, but it is a story about you and me. We do not cruise around the universe or travel through time looking for questions and answers, but it might feel like we do.

What if, after all of this struggle: travelling the universe in search of truth, only to discover that the answer is “42” – a pointless, meaningless nothing of an answer – a futility. Is life a futility?

What if after years of study at school, the answer is “42”

What if, after decades of work: some of it stimulating and challenging but much of it dreary, dull and repetative, all just to make money and feed the famility, and the answer is “42”

What if, in the later years of our lives, when we start to look at the horizon and look beyond the shallow and material, the answer is “42”

“Do you mean that’s it? That’s all there is? I never even got around to asking the question?”

This is really the fundamental question of the universe, and unlike in Douglas Adams’ fiction, it does have a real answer. We have heard the question asked this morning in Holy Scripture…

“Are you the one who is to come? Or do we look for another?”
This is the question that the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus the Christ.

“Are you the one who is to come? Or do we look for another?”
This is the question that will be asked at the end of our lives.

“Are you the one who is to come? Or do we look for another?” This is the question that we ask at the beginning of our lives, our real lives as a new creation in Christ.

It is the question of Life, the Universe and Everything (the title of Adams’ fourth book in the er… Trilogy) Are you disappointed that that the question is so simple? But this question is not at all simple. This is THE Question for all time, for the entire universe. The hard part is that you are left to answer the question. The answer is not “42”.

Jesus looks at the disciples of John the Baptist. Their question is a good question. They ask the question with eyes open and a sincere heart. The rumours are wild. The politicians and priests speculate in the back rooms. The villagers murmur amongst themselves.

Is Jesus of Nazareth also Jesus the Christ?

Jesus looks into the hearts of the men before him. His answer was recorded by those who loved him. But his answer is a cryptic answer, which I am sure left them scratching their heads even more.

Jesus said, “After you leave, declare to John the things that you have heard and seen. The blind receive sight. The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. The poor have good news proclaimed. Blessèd is anyone who takes no offence at me.”

And then Jesus says, “What did you expect? Some kind of plant flapping in the breeze? Did you come out to the desert to find a king is fancy clothes? Did you come out to find a prophet? Well, you have found a prophet, but even more than a prophet.”

Now that you have heard the question and the answer, what next?

The prophet Isaiah cried out, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice, and blossom… And the burning sand (a mirage) shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water…. And a highway shall be there and a way, and it shall be called, The Holy Way…. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads: they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

The very rhythm of the earth changes when the Messiah sets foot upon it. The rhythm is a melody of joy. The earth knows life, new life, abundant waters flow. The mirage shall become real. The waters of new life shall flow. The Messiah has come.

The ransomed shall return with singing and everlasting joy.

You who are ransomed by your depression and loneliness. You who are ransomed by your drug or alcohol addiction. Those captured and bound by abusive or unsatisfactory relationships, or dead end job. You who are burdened with illness or insurmountable guilt.

Jesus Christ comes for you.

The ransomed shall return to the promised land. That means you. That means me. That means all of us who come to encounter God in these holy and sacred sacraments.

“Are you the one who is to come? Is He the One?” The answer is yes. What are we to do? For now, we are to rejoice. Then, we are to continue the work Jesus began: to love, to serve, to praise, to heal, to reconcile, to pray, to rejoice.

“Are you the one who is to come? Is He the One?” The answer is yes. With a resounding joy. The answer is yes, not 42, but YES. One of the translations of “Amen” is YES, so let the people of God respond in the same way as Our Lady responded to the Angel of the Lord: Amen – YES

Amen


The public is wrong…

what the public thinksWe seem to have such strange public perceptions: we love to stigmatise and alienate. I read this week (http://theconversation.com/british-people-are-wrong-about-everything-heres-why-16018) that out of every £100 of Benefit, the public believes about £24 of it is obtained fraudulently whereas in reality the figure is about 70pence. Everytime I pass a newsstand I glimpse the front page of the Daily Express – a paper which is, and I find it hard to admit this – worse than the Daily Mail in its xenophobia, racism and utter disgust for anything that isn’t WHITE and ENGLISH. It makes me ashamed to be British really.

(do you see the formula above: Massive indignant headline and huge picture of a photogenic woman – bread and circuses all the way, and a little bit sexist as well I fear)

Christian values should be one of welcome, of acceptance, of caring for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the refugee. We do not know whether those who come to our shores, or reside sheltering under our freedoms are Angels (Genesis 18:1-2). Treat them as you would wish to be treated: without grudging, but with welcome and love. Oh, and stop buying the Daily Express – it really doesn’t represent what this country is about; and Richard Desmond should learn that.


Real life user review: Motorola Moto G Smartphone

IMG_20131212_080017

Motorola used to be massive: the major player in mobile phones alongside Nokia and then… well, they just got overtaken and the likes of Apple, Samsung and HTC put them into the second division. This must have been the point when Google snapped them up as a bargain. Google license the Android OS and specifically brand some third-party phones as specific-Google phones with the Nexus brand: there are Nexus Tablets (I use a Nexus 7 from Asus) and there is a Samsung Nexus and the Nexus 5 is from LG. By buying Motorola they have a foothold in the hardware as well now, and although they aren’t using the Nexus brand yet, I am sure that this is where the close integration between Google and Motorola will take us.

A year back I thought I would downsize my phone to a basic Android smartphone and use it primarily for calls and as a wifi hotspot. For this reason, size and power would be (I thought) irrelevant, so I changed to a Sony Xperia U. This is a mistake: the phone was too small for my mansize fingers and far too underpowered to actually answer calls. People would phone me, I would answer and it would just sit there, looking at me while I plaintively would shout “Hello? Hello? Father Simon here!” at a frozen screen. It’s not professional and was seriously getting in my way.

So now I have been changed to a Motorola Moto G smartphone which has an impressive set of specifications which you can peruse here (have you noticed that most phone review websites just copy the same spiel from one review to another, nobody really answers the key question: what is this phone actually like? which is something I want to address in this very post). It is a quad-core processor and comes with 8 or 16Gb of RAM. The most important thing to note is that it is really good value: you can get one of these for around £99 on PAYG and that’s a lot of bang for your buck.

The phone is a reasonable size and is encased in Gorilla glass which they claim is scratchproof (we’ll see eh?). The screen is of a good size (4.5 inch screen 720 x 1280 pixels) and the speakers are okay – a little distortion on occasion, but more than acceptable. I haven’t found a way to make it Vibrate and Ring at the same time, but that is a very very minor inconvenience: normally my phone is on vibrate whenever I am leading worship or visiting someone.

Performance is excellent: with Jellybean OS and now Kitkat (Android 4.4), the phone can easily swap between apps and multitask with no noticable lag. Hey – it answers the actual phone! I can once again function as a normal human being and communicate with people! It can even run Carmageddon quite successfully, so no more dull gaps! It can handle the notoriously resource-hungry  Google Maps very well, although I do miss the little blue arrow short cut which dumped Maps straight into GPS mode… I guess that’s progress…

I only have the 8Gb model and there is no memory expansion so you are limited with music and video on the machine itself, but as I am on a Three all-you-can-eat data contract, I use Spotify, the BBC Radio iPlayer and Google Drive and stream everything I need, meaning I can keep the phone light from these kinds of files. Seriously, if you must have music on your phone, just choose an album at a time or make your own mixtape: it’s what we used to do when we had Sony Walkman Cassette tapes…

I have been in the habit of putting my phone in a car cradle when driving so that I can listen to Internet Radio (get my fix of Jack FM via TuneUp Radio or my favourite comedies from the BBC iPlayer) and perhaps answer a few hands-free phone calls, but the Micro-USB (no charger supplied with the phone BTW) is on the very bottom and the headphone jack is on the very top. It doesn’t fit in the cradle very well, and I might have to cut a slot in the cradle or get a new cradle.

$_12

I record my homilies on my phone using a microphone extender (without the headphones plugged in) so it works just like a tie-clip microphone. You can also use this to plug in your high-performance headphones and still use the phone. The quality of the recording was good and I then immediately upload them to my dropbox so that by the time I have got back to the Vicarage, the audio files are ready and waiting to be edited into completed files. See here for the archive of my homilies.

With the Xperia U, I had a stock of charged batteries so by about 4pm I was able to swop in another battery and continue out on the road until the evening. The battery is fixed (as seems to be the way these days) so I have to get back into the habit of a top-up charge and a portable recharger.

Others have commented on the quality of the camera, but let’s face it: if I want an art picture, I’ll use my Nikon dSLR, if I want a drunken picture of me and my mates down the pub, then all is need is adequate and to me, this is fine. To carp on about camera quality is to forget that actually having a camera in your pocket at all times is the most awesome thing, even if it has created the monster which is the Selfie.

So, do I like the phone: Very much yes

Does it perform well? Oh yes…

What isn’t great on it? The positioning of the connections, the non-removable battery, the lack of a microSD slot

What is good? Performance, Screen, Price

Should I get one? Yes. No question – if you are looking for a cheap but powerful phone. Clearly it isn’t going to be as flash as the Samsung Galaxy S4, the iPhone 5S (yech!) or the Sony Xperia Z but it’s a quarter of the price for the same level of performance without the bells and whistles. Go for it, I say.


Advent Quiet Day: Pregnant with Expectation

Opening Prayer

Heavenly Father, At this time we prepare to be caught up in the dance towards the redemption and renewal of all things, on earth, in heaven and under the earth. Help us to cast aside our earthly concerns and to look to the dawn that is coming. Be with us in our stillness and our quietness today, be with us in our praying and our activity, be with us in the breaking of the bread; in the name of the one who was, who is and ever shall be, Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen

Introduction

1488184_497143043734007_628216792_nYou might be in one of two conditions at the moment:

  • Your brain filled with a million lists, notes, spreadsheets, plans and so on for the impending Christmas season; deluged by calendar events for carol services and assemblies, nativity services and at-home invitations
  • Or you might just be relieved that this is no longer your problem – that mantle, that responsibility has passed to another and all you have to do is smugly (or benignly, take your pick) watching from the choir stall, giving thanks that it’s not you any more.

Alternatively, you may be just making lists for the home: the large family meals, the travel plans, the gift lists.

From Remembrance Sunday onwards, we seem to be preoccupied with Christmas, and to an extent quite rightly so; but I want us to pause in our frantic preparations, to put them on hold and consider the season which is intended to help us focus on that key Christian Festival: Advent

keeping christmas and advent separate

Not for the first time my friends will I be desperately trying to “keep Christmas out of Advent” but in doing so, it only serves to put greater emphasis on Christmas: it would be wrong therefore to entirely ignore the festival that the season points so inexorably towards. But this is not a festival of glittery, tinselly lights, but a deep and profound mystery around which the whole world revolves: the mystery of the Incarnation

Both Christmas and Easter are preceded by penitential seasons so as emphasise the contrast: a counterpoint to turn mourning into dancing, to reach bathos from pathos, a zenith from a nadir. A season of penitence affords us the opportunity to prepare spiritually and reflect. In many ways, this seems to be the exact opposite of the preparation which many of us seem to be engaging with at this time: rather than the compiling of lists, true spiritual preparation should be about the emptying of self and the leaving of tasks: a decompilation in effect.

So today, my friends, I propose an opportunity for reflection and quiet; prompted perhaps by some words of mine and a few key poems of others: two shortish talks which seek to focus on clearing the way for the Lord. There will also be some visuals, not least because sometimes I find that images speak louder than words and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that people expect of me. If images do not speak to you, then I suggest you simply close your eyes and focus on the poems. I have chosen to use poetry as the key medium for these addresses because it strikes me that poems are as much about the gaps as the words, the pauses as the talking, the white space as much as the text, and it in those apparently null spaces that God may be found to be present. In each of the stretches of silence you are free to do what you wish: to meditate on my suggestions, to pray, to read the Scriptures or finish the novel you haven’t had time to polish off yet, or even to catch up on some well-needed sleep! All of this is good: use this space and time as you need. In the quiet time, if you would benefit from a spiritual chat or the sacrament of reconciliation, then I am also available for those ministries: it’s what I am here for.

At the end of the day we will gather around the altar to meet with the Lord in his holy sacraments; although today is usually given over to Francis Xavier, I propose that we keep the Advent theme and celebrate a Feria of Advent so that we might dwell on him as we watch and wait for the Incarnation. The full timetable is available.

Is that okay?

Talk One: The Incarnation

Poem: BC:AD by UA Fanthorpe

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

An Infant School Headteacher once declared to me that she knew exactly when Christmas began: in the eyes of her 5,6 & 7 year-olds, it was the publication of the Argos Christmas Catalogue which sparked on the Tsunami of excitement in the hearts (and wiggly bottoms) of her small charges.

And yet, the inexorable journey towards the Nativity does come early: a child does not spring from the womb ready assembled and the coming of the Messiah was long fortold: some would argue from the first breath of creation, some from the portents of the prophets, especially some of the Isaiahs, but for us most especially, the Advent of the Lord begins with the Annunciation

Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)

The annunciation of Jesus’ birth

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Unlike the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus springs into ministry a fully formed and ready-to-call-us-to-repentance adult, the signs and portents of the coming of the Messiah take time to come. John would take us right back to be beginning, even though he does not dwell at all on the mechanics of the Incarnation: Word to Flesh: you make the connection. Whereas Matthew speaks of genealogies and then dreams, Luke instead recalls an encounter with the word of God: the message of an angel and an encounter which appears to leave more issues up in the air (how exactly will this go down with Joseph?) than are resolved: it’s a good job that Nothing is Impossible with God because there appears to be a few loose ends left with Mary to deal with…

In God’s good time, a Messiah begins to be formed in the womb. With Our Lady’s yes, a chain of events long foretold are set into motion and a new chapter, a whole new testament is begun. Slowly.

Like the coming of the Messiah, every child takes time to be formed, to be shaped like a pot in the potter’s hand (Jeremiah 18:4,6) and during the pregnancy there are first subtle and then clear signs of momentous change.

Clearly, I have never had first hand experience of pregnancy (and certainly not my wife reminds me of childbirth) but I have, praise God, had the opportunity to witness it, closely, and three times have seen that everyday miracle in our lives. The excitement and fear that sensing a child moving in the womb brings is almost indescribable: the realisation that someone is taking shape within our very midst and even the reality of an ultrasound image does not encapsulate the true excitement of a hand placed on a swelling belly and the sensation of new life moving within.

That it must take time is significant. How often we would wish to have our Christmas straight away, to have our Salvation guaranteed immediately, to gain the Father’s pleasure with no effort on our part and yet the one thing our faith demonstrates is the need for patience and a reliance on God’s good time.

So often our lives are governed by the clock: time as a series of events – unyielding, relentless, the march of time as a scientific process, linear and consecutive. Chronos from which we get the word chronological, and yet God’s time, his own good time is not linear, it is more concerned with the right time (cf John 2:4 “My hour has not yet come” and later John 17:1 “Father, the hour has come”). This is Kairos – the right time.

The point where the Chronos and the Kairos (our time, and the right time) intersect has (so far) only been twice in the history of the world

graph of time

and the space which dwells between them is the Incarnation. These two loops may intersect again, and when they do, the circles will be complete. The right time and our time will once again be united and heaven and earth will come together in the New Jerusalem when he returns in Glory

Poem: Christmas Traffic UA Fanthorpe

Three, two, one, liftoff
Signals Mission Control. And off they go
To the dark parts of the planets
In their pressurised spacesuits,
Cocooned in technology, the astronauts.
Mission control whispers in someone’s ear.
Yes, she says, I will. And in due time
A different traveller makes a quieter journey,
Arriving hungry, naked, but true to instructions,
Docking on Earth, taking the one small step.

A different traveller makes a quieter journey. Hidden from our sight in Our Womb and not bursting forth like the bursting from a tomb, but the slow and dangerous passage from womb to outside world: the most dangerous journey any of us will take is those six inches. Childbirth does not – I am clear about this – happen at the click of fingers, but takes time and no small degree of effort: due time, right time.

There is a right, a kairos time, which we cannot influence or control: it is not by our skill or artifice that this will happen.

Kairos: the right time is an innate sense: not the completion of a checklist: the right time to pass a ball, to connect in a golf swing, to hit a tennis ball is less about science (although admittedly a lot of physics is involved) but more about a sportsman sensing when the apropos moment has come.

God is, of course, the ultimate sportsman: he knows the sweetspot, the right moment for maximum effect, even if the shot deludes the opponent into thinking it was an error – a forced error, when really it is a trap in order to achieve the perfect winning shot.

At the risk of being one of those annoying clerics who can’t mention Christmas without also talking about Easter, I think this masterly use of the Kairos is key: My view of the Cross is that it is victory and not defeat – the enemy might have thought at (in the words of the Rolling Stones) his moment of doubt and pain Christ had been vanquished, but the prophetic words “It is finished” (not I am finished, but IT is finished, it is completed, it is sorted John 19:30)showed that through the resurrection, sin and death had been overcome – victory from the jaws of defeat, and this can only come through the cross and the cross can only come through the Incarnation and we can only get to the Incarnation through Advent… and we’re back to the beginning again.

There is a Bishop in the Church of England who tells this story of his Curacy:

It was in Stepney, I believe and his Training Incumbent was one of those priests much given to the… er… theatrical. On Christmas Eve night, as the faithful are gathered in silent prayer before the crib, the vicar appears at the door, strides to the crib and rips off the star above the stable scene. Casting it to the floor, he takes a Cross and dramatically nails it in the star’s place: thud, thud, thud. When the Cross is over the scene he turns to those gathered there and declares in his most dramatic voice “Remember why he came…” and marches off. As he passes the two little old ladies at the back, one says quite loudly to the other:

“See, he always does that, he always bloody ruins Christmas”

But the Cross does not ruin Christmas, but rather it completes it, and each event is a vindication of the other: without Christmas there could be no Easter, without Easter, Christmas would have no point.

Poem: The Wise Men and the Star UA Fanthorpe

The proper place for stars is in the sky
Lighting the whole world,but negotiating only
With the highly qualified – master mariners, astro-physicists,
Professionals like ourselves.

This one came unscheduled, nudged us roughly
Out of routine, led us a wild – goose chase,
And perching here, above unspeakable rafters,
Common as a starling on a washing line,
Whistles to every callow Dick and Harry,
Idlling amazed around : OK, pals, I’ve done my bit.
Over to you, now, Earth.

The more we understand the size, the scope, the nature of the universe, the more amazing it seems to me. The greater the scale, the more I am personally reminded of the awesomeness of God. For me, further scientific discovery does not diminish God (for I have never felt the need for a hardcore science / religion division) but enhances our understanding of Him: the complex the atoms and quarks, the more amazing God seems to me. Am I alone in this perception or must it be so black or white, science or religion, x or y, Dawkins or Jesus? The more we understand about evolution, the correct scripture in the shape of the first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:2) seems to be; leaving the older, more mysterious, symbolic creation narrative to speak less of literal truth and more of a deeper meaning and significance

The most outrageous idea in all the philosophy of religion is the Incarnation: a new departure from most religious narratives. For the most part there was God: the creator – aloof, remote and inaccessible and there were his messengers (Angels), spokespeople (Prophets), even progeny (the Roman or Greek Pantheon, for example); but the idea that God himself would step into his created world is an outrageous idea which I suspect over 2000 years has lost none of its import, but much of its impact.

Before the Incarnation, God was out there, and after it, he is here.

The literal meaning of Incarnation draws from the word carne – think chili con carne – carne meat – flesh – literally incarnation = en-flesh-ment; the wrapping of God in a cloak of meat, but more than that – the melding of two natures into one, God and Human in a single form – never before attempted, never after repeated.

For God to willingly take on our human form is the most significant and important point of this season, for it must come at a cost, a vulnerability; not just as a helpless child, but as an equality helpless blob of humanity.

Phillipians 2:5-11 (the Kenotic Hymn) NRSV

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death —
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

So often this hymn from Scripture (no less poetic, though) is thought of as referring to the Cross alone, but I want us to pause for a moment and look a little closer.

Verse 7 speaks of emptying himself, made into the likeness of men and is a start contrast with the awesome, cosmic power of God which he rightfully held.

www.scripture4all.org OnlineInterlinear NTpdf phi2.pdf

Ekenōsen from which the title of the hymn comes, is more than just assuming human form, but is literally and symbolically a pouring out, an emptying of the nature of God into this small, weak, porous vessel: humanity.

It is an act of love which cannot be measured in human terms, for like all true love it is about the giving up of self for the need and the edification of the other. Recently a wonderful article was posted “Marriage isn’t for you”  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-adam-smith/marriage-isnt-for-you_b_4209837.html

Marriage Isn't for You   Seth Adam Smith

The author realises that marriage is not about himself, his selfish desires or his own needs, but about the needs of the love of his life: to be committed in love means to be committed to that relationship. In the act of Incarnation, for the sake of this relationship: one-sided though it often is, with humanity’s lack of commitment and infidelity in the partnership, the constant complaining and the unrealistic expectations, God has chosen to empty himself out for the sake of our relationship – a one-sided act of love

The last poem I want to share with you before our silent time is a favourite and very obscure one

Sharon’s Christmas Prayer

She was five,
sure of the facts,
and recited them
with slow solemnity
convinced every word
was revelation.
She said

they were so poor
they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
to eat
and they went a long way from home
without getting lost. The lady rode
a donkey, the man walked, and the baby
was inside the lady.
They had to stay in a stable
with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)
but the Three Rich Men found them
because a star lited the roof
Shepherds came and you could
pet the sheep but not feed them.
Then the baby was borned.
And do you know who he was?

Her quarter eyes inflated
to silver dollars,

The baby was God.

And she jumped in the air
whirled round, dove into the sofa
and buried her head under the cushion
which is the only proper response
to the Good News of the Incarnation.

John Shea, The Hour of the Unexpected, 1977

“…which is the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation”

The questions I invite you to meditate on is this:

  • Ignoring those tired feelings you might be having at the moment, is Sharon’s response to the Good News of the Incarnation recognisable in your life, work and ministry?
  • What things might you have to let go in order to properly experience such a response?
  • Will Christmas still happen if you allow it to?
  • How might this Advent afford you the opportunity to find space and time: as the star said “Earth – it’s up to you now”

Talk Two: The Next Advent

“Jesus is coming, Look Busy” say the T-Shirts

Jesus is Coming

But in the text from last Sunday reminded us (NRSV)

Matthew 24: 36-44

Jesus said: “No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father…Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

On the web there is a page which is called The Rapture Index which collates all the signs and portents of the end of days as predicted by various little gobbets of Scripture which, let’s face it, is mostly the Revelation to S. John the Divine. When the index reaches 100 then hold onto your hats, Jesus is on his way. The index is currently…

The Rapture Index

185!…and has been for many years now!

The response we usually make to that is that “Oh well, you can’t simply count up these things and expect him to come on demand or when the paperwork is complete”, because “you know not the day or the hour”

And yet, how we love to seek to force that issue. It has been said that some of the reasons for the USAs aggressively pro-Zionist stance in Middle Eastern politics is the desire of a body of American Evangelicals to precipitate the second coming of Christ by making things worse!

It’s as if the Kairos time was of our making. And we know what the answer to that is…

Advent is not just about the birth of Jesus the Messiah, but also about the New Advent, the end of days, the second coming of Christ in the Parousia. It is no mistake that some many of our favourite hymns of this season speak more powerfully of his return than his first appearance:

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

There are a lot of confusing images surrounding the return of Christ in glory, but I find that happens whenever we try to use human words to encapsulate the Glory of God: words are not enough and it is no wonder that the images and metaphors employed by John the Divine (much like Daniel before him) appear garbled, elliptical and seriously hallucinogenic.

The nature of these visions should not alarm us, neither should they be taken at absolute face-value, but as heavily layered metaphor they are rich in essential sacramental imagery which should both encourage and challenge us; not just for the end times, when two of us will be frothing cappuchino and one will be taken, but for now, and most importantly what we do in the meantime.

Not the Millennium: UA Fanthorpe

Wise Men are busy being computer literate.

There should be a law against confusing
Religion with mathematics.
There was a baby. Born where ?
And when ? The sources mention
Massacres, prophecies, stars;
They tell a good story, but they don’t agree.

So we celebrate at the wrong midnight.
Does it matter ? Only dull science expects
An accurate audit. The economy of heaven
Looks for fiestas and fireworks every day,
Every day.
Be realistic, says heaven :
Expect a miracle.

Ursula Fanthorpe’s poem (like many of the others we have encountered today) manage to merge the today with the past, and here the science of modern life and the realities of ancient history are counterpointed.

Karen Armstrong in the Case for God reminds us of the relationship between fact and myth:

“In most pre-modern cultures there were two recognised ways of thinking, speaking and acquiring knowledge. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were essential and neither was considered superior to the other … each had its own sphere of competence and it was considered unwise to mix the two.

Logos equates with ‘reason’ and enabled people to function effectively in the world. It had therefore to correlate with the tangible reality around us. Logos was therefore essential to our human survival.

… but it had its limitations: it could not assuage human grief or find ultimate meaning in life’s struggles. For that, people turned to mythos or ‘myth’ … Today we live in a society of scientific logos and mythos has fallen into disrepute. In popular parlance, a myth is something which is not true. But in the past, myth was not a self-indulgent fantasy; but rather like logos, it helped people to live creatively in our confusing world … a primitive form of psychology.”

It is wrong therefore to assume that something which firmly belongs to the mythical genre is not true, but is truer in a real sense, for it seeks to make sense of the world. Nowhere is this seen more vividly than in the Holy Scriptures.

“Only dull science expects / An accurate audit.” she notes

We should therefore be less concerned by Red Dragons than the very notion that when Heaven and Earth are merged into a single place, and the New Jerusalem arrives (in my mind) a bit like that alien spaceship at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, then everything will be transformed.

At that point, of course, something is predicted to happen which makes sense: something which we instinctively desire to run away from, but which is an essential part of the Advent Question: What are we waiting for? The answer being, of course, judgement.

Matthew 25:31-46, NIV

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

There remains much for us to do whilst we await the second coming, and the greatest part of our busy-ness needs to be in this realm: the actual building of the kingdom, the care of the least, the outcast, the addicted, the prisoner, the sick.

The Social Gospel is the groundwork of both our ministry, but also our essential Christian lives and It is clearly our response to the Good News that seeks to serve others. But it is not enough.

The transformation of Christian Life is rooted in both the exterior (what we do to others) and the interior (the difference it makes to us). In the time we have been allotted before the return in Christ in glory, we therefore need to both heal and be healed. The healing of others is indeed the good works which is certainly of use to the building of the Kingdom (James 2:20) but in today’s reflective pause, I to remind you of the need to be healed yourself: through prayer, through spiritual guidance and most importantly through the healing of the sacrament of reconciliation.

In the Church of England, this is a most regrettably neglected sacrament. Not “confession” as our brothers and sisters in Rome would have it, for the act of confessing our sins is only part of the process, a necessary preparation, an Advent of sorts for the Reconciliation and Absolution which is what this encounter with God is truly about: it is necessary because we all need that healing, it is desirable because it brings us into the visceral encounter with one of Christ’s main activities – the forgiveness of sins; it is effective because it frees us from those things which burden us and hinder us from being truly ready when the Lord returns.

I commend the sacrament of reconciliation to you this Advent: the unburdening of sin which is so often glibly applied. Even if it has not been your spiritual discipline, and if It has been but has fallen away (and I know from personal experience how easily it can do so), the I wish to encourage you to return to it: either here today or later, with myself or another. How can we make Christ known, if we ourselves have not come to know his forgiveness; how can we pronounce that blessing if we cannot be blessed and released ourselves?

I want to draw this second talk to a close with another Advent/Christmas poem, and one so well-loved. John Betjeman’s Christmas initially speaks (quite disparagingly) of the preparations for Christmas before moving away from tinsel and presents and onto the real significance of the Incarnation. Once upon a time in Palestine, and remaining with us, in the Mass, until he comes again in glory.

The greatest commandment “do this in remembrance of me” brings the past into the present, makes the Mythos into Logos and makes sense of the Incarnation for me.

John Betjeman. Christmas

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain.
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker’s Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that villagers can say
‘The Church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial public houses blaze
And Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad,
And Christmas morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? and is it true?
The most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

John Betjeman (1906 – 1984)

in Bread and Wine , as Ursula Fanthorpe said,

“Every day.
Be realistic, says heaven :
Expect a miracle.”

So therefore, for our next period of reflection, I will ask you to think of these things:

  • “Jesus is coming – Look Busy” – what will be keeping you busy when he comes, and will it be something of the sheep or of the goats
  •  “And is it true? and is it true?” as Pilate asked Jesus “what is truth?” How much of what we hold dear is literal fact and how much of it is mystical language and does it matter?
  • What about your own spiritual preparation – are you shriven? Are you directed? Do you need it?

Prayer

‘Most High and glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart, and grant me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and understanding,  Lord, so that I may carry out your holy and true command. Amen.’”

Francis of Assisi