Be born in us today – a Christmas Sermon

St Bartholomew, Corsham, Christmas Eve

Come Holy Spirit,
 fill the hearts of your people
  and kindle in us the fire of your love,
   for Jesus’ sake. Amen

A new born baby!

If there is one thing that seems guaranteed to produce a reaction, it is a new-born baby!

Whether it is around the hospital bedside, or around the buggy in the street, the assembled friends and relatives will go “Ooh, aah, isn’t she beautiful!”

At least, that’s what the women do, the men are more likely to stand back looking bemused. That is, until our own baby is born when we join in excitedly and proudly.

So it’s good to be celebrating Jesus’ birth tonight.

Babies are amazing. Human beings are amazing. And all the while God is looking on, saying: “We made him!” Or, “We made her!” I like watching nature programs on t.v. Among all the other creatures we can be gob-smacked by, let’s remember that human beings also are creative, created, and amazing.

Tonight we celebrate the Christmas event: that is the birth of Jesus. The fact that this happened approx. 2000 years ago and we’re still celebrating shows that it is a rather special event! Tonight we read passages from the Bible and sing carols that all remind us of what took place. It is hardly surprising that, there at the centre of it all, is a group of people going, “Ooh, aah,” around a baby.

Well, compared to your average birth today, there are similarities. There is the group of people.

However it is a little unusual that at various times the group includes shepherds, who are summoned from their fields and sheep by angels praising God, and magi who have arrived by following the stars.

God looks on, this time not just saying: “We made him”, but “I am him.” This is the awesome truth of the Christmas story: that God becomes human, or incarnate (which means the same thing). God, who amazingly created this small and wondrous planet that we live on, chooses to come and live among us.

Like those visiting shepherds, and magi, we need to have a sense of awe. I wonder when you feel that? Perhaps you feel it every Christmas. Perhaps you feel it when you see snow on the ground, or when you look up at a clear starry sky, or when you see the first spring bulbs coming into flower. Perhaps you feel it when you see a new-born child. These are moments when we have to recognise that life is not all about ‘me’; that we don’t do everything on our own; that there must be a God, and that he must love us a lot to surround us with such creativity.

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If you were part of that “Oooh, aah” crowd looking at the new born Jesus, what would you be thinking?

If you were going to sing a few lines from your favourite carol to celebrate, which would they be?

Some of us live very much in the present moment, aware of what is around us, and indeed soaking up the beauty or awesomeness of a new-born child. “Wow! He’s got his father’s eyes! He’s got his mother’ nose! (Oops!) What a pretty dress!”

Others of us like to think to the future. “Have we finished decorating the baby’s bedroom? What school will he go to? Will she get a good job? Who shall we ask to be the God parents? When shall we have the baptism, or christening?”

We are all human, and we do have different skills, strengths and interests. These become more evident as we grow older, and so we know that it is our duty as parents to do our best to nurture any growing child of ours – so that they can make the most of their life.

As far as we know, Jesus went to school in the way that other boys of his time did. He worshipped at the synagogue on the Sabbath, and spent most of his life following in Joseph’s footsteps to work as a carpenter. It was only when he got to the age of about thirty that he stepped into new work and started to teach and to gather disciples around him. We don’t know exactly how Jesus became aware of this, but it was a serious change in vocation.

This change was marked in a number of ways, including at Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John, which as a church we shall celebrate in a few weeks’ time. This is the famous moment when heart-warming words from heaven were heard by the crowd announcing Jesus’ place in things: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Maybe, for some of us here tonight, life will be like that. We’ve spent all our lives working in what we thought was the right job, then along comes God and says, “Follow me!” All change – a new vocation!

As we think about the birth of Jesus, and what his presence means to us, we could talk about such differences, but instead let’s talk about some similarities.

For all of us as Christians, our baptism marks the moment when we put our lives into the hand of God and allow him to make the most of us – to help us to become the people he made us to be, to live life to the full and enjoy it.

I wonder whether you believe, as I do, that God has plans to prosper us, to give us hope and a future; that he has good work in store for us to do; and that if we will connect with him we shall discover the best for our lives?

So we can stand in the crowd around the new-born Jesus and be struck with awe and joy. We can also wonder about the potential of this child.

We may have different vocations, but as Christians we share a vocation to care for one another; to connect in a spiritually intelligent way with creation around us and its Creator; and to make good use of the gifts that we have.

It is these small acts of love that bring hope to the world.

I asked you what few lines of a hymn you might want to sing.

My favourite hymn is O Little Town of Bethlehem, and two lines in particular.

O holy Child of Bethlehem! Descend to us we pray,
Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.

It is an awesome thought that as people and as Christians we can celebrate Christ’s birth, and we can also celebrate his birth in us. We can wonder at the potential of a baby, and we can wonder at our potential. We choose to nurture a new-born child, and we can also choose to nurture Christ in us.

As St Paul writes, Christ in us is “the hope of glory”.
(Colossians 1:27).

Our world needs hope, and it is the way that we let God work in us that brings hope to the world. We need to nurture him.

Tonight we celebrate again our kinship with the new-born Saviour. With those gathered shepherds we wonder what it all means.

Watching God and us grow together, nurturing the Christ within us, is the only way we shall find out.

O holy Child of Bethlehem! Be born in us today.

 

Remembrance Sunday

Following the retirement of our Team Rector, I find myself readjusting to leading church services, starting with the Remembrance Sunday service at St Bartholomew's Church today. This was a well attended service as usual, with plenty of military uniforms in sight, and Padre Andrew Cooper preached an impressive sermon. It was moving to see the number of wreaths laid at the war memorial by various local groups.

One of my daily readings this morning (from Celtic Daily Prayer) coincidentally spoke of the “worst curse” in some cultures of not being remembered, of having one's name struck out. This reinforced for me the importance of just the act of remembering, whatever else may take place.

On the other hand I'm interested in the construction of the word remember. Member. I think of this as a word for parts of the body. Re-member. Remembering must have something to do with putting things back together. What action flows from our acts of remembering? I'm reminded that in the Old Testament when God “remembers” this is not a reference to some thoughts He has, but a reference to action that He takes.

Roger Clifton retires

Roger Clifton, Team Rector for Corsham and neighbouring parishes, held his last services in St Bartholomew's Church today.

The church was full for the main service at 10:00 this morning. The uplifiting worship for the festival of All Saints, with an excellent choice of music and hymns and a great sermon by Roger, was followed by refreshments and speeches in the Town Hall.

A moving morning. We wish him well, and shall miss him.

Cursillo involvement continues

Three years ago, following growing and enjoyable participation with Bristol Anglican Cursillo, the Bishop of Bristol appointed me as the clergy rep to be part of the leadership team (so a trustee and Spiritual Director) of this growing Christian community.

I've decided to step down from this role, but hope to continue to be actively involved in this valuable ministry. I value the ongoing fellowship and support, and the way people are encouraged to look at their life with God through the three lenses of piety (that is prayer, or devotion), study, and action.

Apart from our regular renewal events (Three Day Weekends) the life of the community centres around regular small group meetings. I was pleased tonight that we held the first meeting of a new group, after rearranging the groups to include the record number of people who joined at our weekend earlier this year.

Logos Hope at Canary Wharf

Logos Hope is the latest ship in Operation Mobilisation's fleet. Renamed and commissioned at the end of last year, she replaces their ship Logos. A former car ferry from Scandinavia, she is the first of their ships to be refitted for purpose rather than used “as is.”

I spent a few hours in London seeing her, having an on-board tour, and viewing the extraordinary vast bookshop on board. Along with her sister ship Doulos she tours the world seeking to bring something of the Christian message through word and action at every port. Her schedule is such that it may be another ten or twenty years before she visits the UK again, and it is a strange sight to see her moored alongside modern office buildings in Canary Wharf.

She is crewed entirely by volunteers. The refit has been good: although the ship still feels like a car ferry in places, she is far more comfortable and homely.

C3 Church

Last night was interesting, as it turned out to be my first experience of the fast-growing city churches founded by Australian Phil Pringle.

I attended an event in Bath that a friend and colleague had invited me to. It was a rare opportunity to listen to founder pastor Phil, and people had gathered from the UK and Europe and people who felt called to found new churches were commissioned during the worship.

I was impressed that the style of the service worked in attracting young people, and that Phil had a real vision for reaching Europe with the gospel in a way that works for the changing balance of people groups in the continent.

More info here http://www.christiancitychurch.eu/bathandbristol

Easter Life

Easter is a time when it is easier to be cheerful, with the arrival of primroses, daffodils, and other spring flowers and sunnier weather (in the northern hemisphere anyway).

There is also the message of the church of the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, which I enjoyed hearing afresh this morning.

“Eternal life” is a phrase that we can underestimate, because arguably we cannot understand it anyway. It conveys the meaning of life outside of, unconstrained by, time – not just an everlasting life that goes on forever. If God created, then he also created time, and somehow exists outside it as well as within it – being both the beginning and the end (as the Bible puts it) but more than that. So the gift of eternal life is the invitation to be with him in this way.

Julian of Norwich is famously quoted as saying that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” This leads to a Christian hope that even if things do not seem well now, it will be O.K. This was one of her “revelations.” However if our life is eternal, then what is a future hope can also be recognised as (present) reality.

So (as Christian writers such as Anthony de Mello put it) not just “all shall be well,” but “all is well”, and we are able to discover this. Such a fresh way of seeing life and experiencing life must be good news, whatever situation we are in.

Here are the related quotes from the Bible.
God has given us eternal life… (1 John 5:11)
Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)