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Reflection for Advent IV Sunday 19th December 2021 by the Rev'd Russell Duncan

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 18/12/2021 - 13:18

And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by her Lord (Luke 1:45)

One of the exhibitions which is presently on at The British Library, London is entitled “Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens”. In the introduction it entices us by saying “step back into a dangerous world of plots, espionage and treachery to explore the turbulent relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots in their own words”. Although they never met, their fates were intertwined.

In our gospel reading we have two women, also named Elizabeth and Mary. Unlike Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, their lives could not have been more different.

Luke records that Elizabeth is a member of the priestly house of Aaron, and therefore appropriately married to Zechariah, also of a priestly family. She is a relative of Mary, although the exact relationship is not spelled out.

The Bible gives us very little biography for Mary. She is a “young girl” newly betrothed to Joseph when the visit of the angel turns her world upside down.

As we discover, Zechariah and Elizabeth had not been able to have children, until in old age Gabriel announced the promise of the birth of a son who would become John the Baptist. Elizabeth appears to be more trusting than her husband giving thanks for the quiet work of God’s grace.  Gabriel then reveals Elizabeth’s pregnancy to Mary as a sign that God’s promises are to be trusted and will be fulfilled. Did you notice that Mary went in haste to visit Elizabeth when she heard this unexpected news?

In his recent book “An Advent Book of Days”, Gregory Cameron, Bishop of St Asaph, Wales, writes that “the story of the obvious love and compassion between these two women may cause us to think of the rewards of links in our wider families, but it also reminds us that great comfort and strength can be derived from finding fellowship with those who are walking the same path in life – whether joyful or sorrowful. There is a sense in which God does not wish to leave us abandoned and lonely in the story of our lives, and we can look for, and be ready to offer, hospitality with those who share our experiences”.

The theme in the early chapters of Luke’s Gospel is that God is faithful and keeps his promises – to Zechariah, to Elizabeth, to Mary, to the people of Israel themselves. These stories of faithfulness reinforce one another: as God has been faithful in providing for one, so he will provide for the other.

In Advent, Mary and Elizabeth greet each other and invite us to take comfort in their hope and their witness to God, the life-giver, who has come to be with the humble and meek.

As we celebrate the Visitation and Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting in the unexpected and gracious words of the Magnificat, may our hearts be filled with praise for God’s faithfulness.

And as we approach Christmas this year with its various uncertainties and challenges, may we too take delight in those words spoken by Mary “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my saviour”.   

Lord God, who enabled Elizabeth and Mary to recognise in one another the work of your faithfulness, give us companions in our journey through life, who may encourage us, and whom we may encourage, for in the giving and receiving of life, friendship and mercy there are reflections of your own goodness.

Advent III Sunday 12th December 2021 - a refection by the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 11/12/2021 - 13:09

Luke 3:7-18

At my rather austere Methodist boarding school in the 1960s we were perpetually hungry. If the interval between the saying of grace and the arrival of the trolleys of food in the dining hall seemed too long, we would break into a chorus of “Oh why are we waiting?” – sung to the tune which we use for O Come, all ye faithful, to which it is not a very good metrical fit. If I had a voice as good as Dean’s, I would give you an a capella rendition and invite you to join in, as he did last Sunday.

Waiting is, of course, one of the key themes of Advent and a theme to which today’s Gospel speaks. It struck me that the words “Why are we waiting?” have two possible meanings. It depends on where you put the emphasis.

Why are we waiting? Means for what or for whom are we waiting. In the case of hungry schoolboys in the 1960s it was, of course, for food, however low in quality.

Why are we waiting? has a completely different meaning. Why don’t we get on with it? Why don’t we take action?

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist addresses both those meanings.

For whom are we waiting?

The Jews who journeyed to the Jordan valley to be baptized by John the Baptist were, of course, waiting for the coming of the Messiah. They had begun to wonder whether John the Baptist might be the Messiah. His ministry was challenging. He wasn’t afraid to call them a “brood of vipers”. His methods were unusual. They knew that immersion was part of the ritual that Gentile converts to the Jewish faith went through, but John was linking the ritual of baptism with repentance, and that was a new idea. Might he be the longed-for Messiah? The political liberator who would free them and restore their religion to its original purity?

John understood this, and by saying

“I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

He pointed them towards the ministry of Jesus, which was about to begin. Jesus would prove to be so different from the generally accepted view of the sort of person the Messiah would be and the things that he would accomplish, that many would be unable to recognise him. To know for what or for whom one is waiting, and thus to be able to recognize and to receive is very important.

Advent invites us to recollect the answer to the question “For whom are we waiting” and John the Baptist points us in the right direction. We are waiting for the light that came into the world when Jesus was born, the light that shines in the darkness.

What are we waiting for?

Some years after we hungry schoolboys sang “Oh why are we waiting?”, the Glasgow-based rock trio Bis produced a single with the same title, and the words of the chorus go very well with today’s Gospel about John the Baptist.

Why are we waiting / Why can't we start changing?

Why are we waiting / Always so frustrating.

Why are we waiting / We need rearranging.

John the Baptist preached about repentance, and linked baptism with repentance. He didn’t mean saying sorry for past wrong-doing, though that is important.  The Jews had other rituals for that purpose. He meant changing and rearranging one’s life. He was saying that religion is nothing unless it is life-changing. In encouraging his listeners to share clothing and food with those in need, and to abandon corrupt practices and extortion, he was reminding them that religious beliefs which do not bear fruit in changes of behaviour and lifestyle are hollow and meaningless.

Don’t wait for the coming of the Messiah, John told them. Change now. Rearrange your priorities. The changes he suggested seem straightforward – he’s not asking tax collectors and soldiers to change jobs – even though most of his hearers viewed tax collectors and soldiers as people to be despised because they collaborated with the Romans. He’s asking them to be honest and just in their dealings. That doesn’t, at first hearing, sound like a big ask, though when one contemplates recent goings-on in Downing Street it seems radical. And his words about sharing food and clothing with those who need them challenge us profoundly about how we should respond to refugees and asylum seekers.

Going back to that song lyric.

Why are we waiting / Why can't we start changing

Why are we waiting / Always so frustrating

Why are we waiting / We need rearranging

Our Advent waiting is not frustrating because we have been changed and rearranged by our baptism, by the adult commitment that we have made to follow Christ and by the on-going changing and rearranging that commitment involves as we encounter new challenges, new opportunities, new worries and new dilemmas.

In Advent we look forward to Christmas, to celebrating the love of God coming visibly among us. In Advent we also look towards the Second Coming of Christ, the goal towards which history is moving, a goal which has already been scored in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Our team is 1-nil up, but the match is not over and we are called to go on playing our part. Our waiting should not be passive

The eighteenth century French spiritual writer Jean Pierre de Caussade asked the question

“Why are we waiting?” and he definitely placed the emphasis on waiting.

His answer was:

“Let us set out at once, let us lose ourselves in the very heart of God and become intoxicated with God’s love.”

That’s an intoxication which can continue and deepen the changing and the rearranging and enable us radically to respond to the call to loving relationship with all our human sisters and brothers. Why are waiting? Because we know that God is present in Jesus in our human condition, and, because of that, present in the here and now and in the unseen time that is before us.   

 

A reflection for Advent II 2021 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Fri, 03/12/2021 - 16:10

“My old man said follow the van

And don't dilly-dally on the way.

Off went the van with me 'ome packed in it;

I followed on with me old cock linnet.

I dillied, I dallied;

I dallied, I dillied;

Lost me way and don t know where to roam.

Oh! You can t trust a special, like your old time copper, when you can t find your way  ‘ome.”

Today, is all about trusting the  old time coppers  or more precisely the old time prophets, the messengers of God.

Malachai, the last of the prophets to appear in the Old Testament tells us this morning, that:

“The Lord will send his messenger, who will prepare his way before him.”

St.Paul, similarly, encourages the Philippians to prepare the way forward by living lives which are pure and blameless.St.Luke, recounts the ministry of the last Old Testament prophet; John-the-Baptist and how he urged the Israelites to repentance and preparation in order to meet the Christ, face to face.

How well were these prophets of old heard?

How well do we hear their voices, today?

Luke also challenges us with his quote from Isaiah, in relation to the Baptist:

“ … like a voice crying in the wilderness.”

Is this the answer we give to my questions?

I don’t know how many of you have been into the desert? It can at first sight appear to be a dry, barren place where at night the silence is deafening. I have been into the Sahara, and into the area around Massada, in Southern Israel. Both places were wildernesses, desolate places full of unseen dangers, loneliness and death. These are the images that come to my mind when I hear John's voice crying in the wilderness.

It can, however, be just as desert like and desolate in the middle of the city or within a dying relationship - when you have no one to relate to. Think back to the times when you may have felt  a bit down  and longed to see someone, or to engage in stimulating conversation with a friend and no one has called. How painful and isolating that can feel. This is as much a barren, empty, wilderness as the desert.

Scripture, however, teaches us that in order to reach the ‘Promised Land’  we first have to cross the wilderness. We have to seek out and heed God’s word and respond to it. The wilderness we have to cross, is the one within our own hearts. We have to allow God into this barren place, so that he can renew us and liberate us from our guilt and fears, thereby enabling us to grow. To grow into him.

The Baptist’s call, this morning, is a challenge. He is urging us to repent of our sins and to open our hearts to the Lord. It is a dangerous challenge because if we open our hearts to God, we will surely be changed; and any change is scary, difficult to accept and not  always easy to deal with. It is easier and safer to stay as one is - it’s comfortable and secure.

BUT be warned!

If you do not change, you will not grow, and you will effectively keep God out of your life and never maturing into the whole person, that God calls you to be. It is hard to change and even harder to convince non-believers that they too need to listen to God's word. Being a Christian in the early years of the 21st century is a bit like living in the wilderness. The values that the church stands for, or should be seen to stand for are on the whole counter-cultural to the understanding of the majority of the population:

Honesty

Kindness

Gentleness

Respect for others

Unconditional love and acceptance of one s neighbour

Caring for the weak and needy

Putting others before self

All too often our values are dismissed as irrelevant or even totally rejected as being inappropriate. It is not true to say that all of Society is like this but there are people in our world who believe that 'Looking after number one' is the only important thing to so. Why care for the less fortunate? It is their own fault anyway. Don t worry who you have to step on in order to get to the top, just so long as you succeed.

Perhaps we Christians are the odd-balls, out of sync’ with everybody else? Well, if we are, then that's okay with me. I would rather try and follow the  ways of Jesus and meet God face to face in the faces of the people others reject or see no value in than to pursue a life of selfish and lonely self-satisfaction.

Jesus responded to the Baptist’s call and was baptised. We the baptised must seek to take our example from him. We must learn to pray and ponder Scripture, seek to spend time with God in prayer and put into practice those things which the Gospel commands us to do. Like Jesus, we must proclaim God’s love in both word and deed.

We are God’s prophets today and we have a Gospel to proclaim in our society. We have 'Good News' to share and we must ensure that this news really is good. We must be prepared to take risks for the sake of that Gospel and not to be over cautious and careful - for it is easy to end up doing nothing but staying in a comfortable rut.

John-the-Baptist, challenges us today to both listen and respond to God’s word.

Try and use this Advent season to ponder how it is that God is calling you to water the desert and to make the wilderness blossom.

How are you being led to journey through life?

What are you hoping for?

What path are you being shown?

What is the voice in the wilderness saying to you?

 

 

 

Advent Sunday reflection Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Fri, 26/11/2021 - 14:50

When I read through today’s readings none of the well known Advent poems or hymns immediately came to mind. What did bounce into my thoughts were these lines from a well known hymn:

“Stand up, stand up for Jesus,

ye soldiers of the cross;

Lift high His royal banner,

it must not suffer loss.

From victory unto victory

His army shall He lead,

Till every foe is vanquished,

and Christ is Lord indeed.”

Nothing sentimental about those words, unlike some of the Advent poetry one reads. I realised as I read the verse why this particular hymn struck me as appropriate. Verse 28 of that third Chapter of the Gospel according to St.Luke says:

“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Advent is all about looking for the signs of Christ’s return. The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah is a foreshadowing. A prophesy, that the Christ would come one day. The verses  from St.Paul are a thanksgiving that the Christ did come and those verses from St.Luke express the hope that one day Christ will return. St.Luke imagined that Christ’s return would be within his generation’s lifetime but that was not to be. Christ has not yet returned but Luke’s sentiments and instructions are no less valid in the 21st century than they were in the 1st century. For what St.Luke is doing is calling ALL of us to be alert, to be aware that Christ could return at ANYTIME.

At his ascension Jesus basically instructed his followers to be alert to his return and not to be idle until that day comes as well. He told them to get out into the wider world and to evangelise its people. He charged them to take the Good News to ALL who had yet to hear it. The same instruction applies to all of us as the inheritors or descendants of those first disciples; we are called to be fully awake and fully equipped in order to:

  1. recognise the Christ when he does return
  2. and in the meantime to share our faith with others and to draw all God’s people into Christ’s church.

‘Alert and Active’ should be every Christian’s watch words but how alert and how awake actually are we?

In Advent we regularly and actively pray for  Christ’s return and to return soon, even today or NOW! This is scary stuff for in doing so we are saying that we are ready to cope with and accept anything the Christ might have to say to us or ask us to do. This should really keep us awake and on our toes and to regularly repent of our sins in order to make ourselves ready and able to greet the Christ. The other bit of this preparation is that we are also charged with bringing others to Christ so that they do not miss out on his return and the salvation he offers. What this says to me, is that we should constantly be inviting others to join in sharing Christ’s good news - but do we do this enough? Probably not!

Advent and Christmas are not gentle, sentimental festivals, they are in fact a ‘call to arms’ for use of a better term. They are a radical invitation to all of us and to those who do not yet know Christ to come towards him and to prepare to meet him face to face when he comes again. As I said before both scary and exciting.

At the beginning of this New Year in the church and at the start of Advent let us all charge ourselves with telling at least one other person this coming year why we go to church and why Jesus is important to us and then to invite them to join us at church one Sunday for worship. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this time next year we saw a lot more people in church as a result of the invitations we offer and the testimonies we have shared. You do not need to do anything dramatic or out of the ordinary in order to share your faith with another or to invite them to church all you need to do is bring it into your conversations and chats over a routine shared cuppa with a friend or family member.

Will you rise to the challenge?

I hope so and remember you have a whole twelve months to do so.

Stand up for Jesus and tell the world why you wait to meet him.

 

 

A reflection for Christ-the-King And our AGM Sunday by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 20/11/2021 - 13:35

Today is the feast of Christ-the-King but it is also the end of the church’s liturgical year. We are at the threshold between Advent and the longed for coming of the Christ and this celebration of Christ as our King. Today, we step with from the old to the new year with hope, into a new beginning in the knowledge that Christ goes with us. As we celebrate each year, the round of events which is Jesus’ life, we do so knowing the full story but we always do so afresh because that story always has something to new to tell us and for us to discover. None of us ever holds the full truth about Christ; our lives are a constant exploration into what his life, death and resurrection were all about.

This morning we proclaim that Christ is our king;   not with any sense of fear for our king is one of gentleness and servanthood. He came not for us to bow and scrape to him in terror BUT for him to serve our needs and to lift us out of the darkness of our errors into the joy and light of his kingdom of love. And, this year we also hold for the first time our AGM on this feast day.

An AGM is an opportunity for us as a community to pause and take stock of where we have come from and begin to vision afresh where we might be called by Christ to go. We have continued to tread an unusual path this year, limited as we have been by the Covid19 restrictions. And, who knows what the coming Winter will bring? Life has been different but it has also been familiar in the celebrations we have followed throughout the Church Year and that has been a comfort - something unchanging in a strange world. Christ is our light, our guide and our King, our servant King and it is the pattern of his life that we are called to follow and make our own in the service of all God’s people.

We do not worship the Christ in fear but in joy. In joy that his life, ministry, death and resurrection have won new life for us and given us a way of life to live up to. As we discern what it is that God is calling us as a congregation to be and to become in the coming months, let us pray that we will never lose sight of the King who inspires us, that humble babe born in a stable and gentle man who died on a cross. Proving to us how much we are loved by the God who created us. Let that knowledge always be the guide to all we do as we reach out into God’s world to do God’s will.