Advent II Sunday 10th December a reflection by Canon Dean Fostekew

If like me, you are a fan of historical novels you will be quite familiar with messengers arriving and shouting out their news (and there is a lot of shouting going on in today’s readings). Usually, in the novels the news they bring is, more often than not, unpopular - well you wouldn't want to spoil a good story. In most cases the herald is exhausted having travelled far to proclaim their message. Sadly, some of them end up dead - either because others do not want the message to be delivered or the recipient doesn't like what he or she is told. Whatever their fate, messengers were important in conveying the news of the society in which they lived.

John-the-Baptist is one such messenger and his ministry seems to have been foretold by the prophet Isaiah centuries before, also a messenger:

3 A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

In today’s readings what is clear is that the messenger is not the one 'to come’ but merely the pre-cursor and it is striking in Mark’s Gospel account that John is humbly pointing the way to Jesus:

7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. Mark 1:7

The messenger, so says Isaiah, is the one sent to tread the path 'to make a highway in the desert', to level out the uneven path for the more important figure to follow. Many people, we are told were, drawn to John’s call to Baptism and I suspect many wondered if he were in fact the promised Messiah but John refutes any such suggestion that he is ‘The One’. He is merely the servant of the one to come. I wonder how many of us would be as humble as John was, when lauded with praise and adulation not to take on the mantle of superiority and to make out that we were the ‘Promised One’? Human nature likes flattery and we can all be tempted to be something we are not - but, not John.

Mark tells us that John-the-Baptist came to make 'the paths straight' and to encourage repentance. Both Mark and Isaiah seek to tell us that we need to prepare and be prepared to meet the Lord, the Christ. Perhaps not an easy thing to try and do nowadays with the frenetic run up to Christmas and the disappearance of Advent in secular awareness. There just doesn’t seem to be time to prepare. We do not, however, only need to prepare we also need to be ready to respond to the call as well. It is all well and good ‘hearing’ the call to repentance but we have to make a positive response in order for that cal to really make a difference in our lives. John called his followers not only to repent but to be physically Baptised as well. We 2000 odd years later are also called to hear and respond too.

In order to properly prepare and respond we have to try and clear space in our lives, hearts and minds in order to shut out the ungodly din of life and allow the godly voice of our Creator to talk to us and to encourage us to make that response to his call. Easier said than done, though. So what to do?

This Advent try and find just a few minutes each day to be still, to stop and let the busy-ness of the world pass you by. You might want to quietly and calmly say the Lord’s prayer a couple of times a day or just to sit and be with God for a few moments. You could even do this on the bus, or in a busy café. Just carve out a wee space to pray or to be quiet.

How ever you create this time, make trying it a priority. See this as prayer time in which: “The still,

small voice of calm” can talk directly to you in the silence or even with just the silence. Look out for the signs or people (prophets) pointing you in a new direction or encouraging along the path you already tread and be open to surprises as to how God might be talking to you.

What might you hear? and How will you respond?

These are two questions you might have to try and answer. For when we stop and give space to God, we might be surprised, as I said, by what God is trying to say to us! And, who knows where, actually giving God a bit time this Advent, might take you?

“See the Lord comes ...” Isaiah 40:10a

Thoughts for Advent Sunday 3rd December 2023 and prayers for when lighting your Advent Candles by Canon Dean Fostekew

Advent Sunday 

‘Happy New Year’ - a bit early you might be thinking? Not at all because today being Advent Sunday is the beginning of the Church’s new year. It might seem a bit daft beginning a new year today when the calendar year till has a good month to go, could the Church not wait a bit? Actually, no and when you consider that pre-1752 New Year’s Day was the 25th March starting the Church’s new year today is as good a day as any. 

We begin the Church’s new year today because with the beginning of Advent we turn our thoughts again to the forth coming celebration of Christ’s nativity. Every year the church reminds itself of Jesus’ life story and the birth narratives coming in our darkest months give us hope of new life and new hope, Even if life does not tend to be as straight forward as we might sometimes hope.

Stephen Cherry in his poem ‘Advent Wreath’ writes:

I wonder about circles

and straight lines.

I wonder about eternity 

and time.

I wonder, though this sounds grand, about the 

purpose of my life.

Many of us will no doubt have wondered similar things this past year if things did not plan out as we might have expected. With the days of our lives there seem to be echoes of repeated patterns of living from the past but also the emergence of new ways of being too. The familiar and the unknown all mixed together and it’s never easy when that happens.

Advent, can I think, does give us hope. For Advent is a time when we look forward and anticipate the future through the lens of the known. What I mean is that in Advent we ponder on the second coming of Christ by reminding ourselves of his birth some 2000 odd years ago. We remember through the Old Testament prophets and the Gospel writers what happened and hear from the letter writers how that birth changed the world and the lives of all God’s people. And, we can do the same thing this year. 

As we light the candles on our Advent wreaths we do so thinking about the teachings of the prophets about the Messiah and the knowledge of his birth and how his life is so intimately bound up with our lives. Ponder and wonder on these facts over the next four weeks and as you light your candles pray for each other and our world; that the light and hope of Christ will never be lost. 

Advent Wreath Prayers

Advent Sunday & the First Week

We light this candle to recall prophetic voices which announced the Prince of Peace, which foretold the coming Kingdom of God, which called for justice and announced the song of happiness.

May the light overcome the darkness.

Advent II & the Second Week

We light this candle to recall, shepherds on the hills and throughout the ages who in their place of work have been ready to hear good news and who were delighted to pass it on to others.

May the light overcome the darkness.

Advent III & the Third Week

We light this candle to recall Simeon and Anna and all those who are the Quiet in the Land. Those who have awaited every generation for the glory of the Lord to be revealed and who have patiently accepted your will and timing.

May the light overcome the darkness.

Advent IV & the Fourth Week

We light this candle to recall Mary and Joseph who saw their visions and dreamed their dreams, who heard angelic announcements and were obedient to your Word and their calling, giving a home and care to the Child.

May the light overcome the darkness.

Christmas Day

We light this candle for the baby of Bethlehem, for the child born to be King, for the boy in the cradle who became the man on the cross, the Redeemer and
Saviour of the World.

The darkness is overcome, the light is around us.



Looking towards St.Andrew's Day 30th November 2023

St.Andrew of Scotland 2023

How did a Galilean fisherman become the patron of Scotland? 

According to early chronicles of the Christian religion, Andrew was inspired to preach in Greece and as far north as Kiev, which is why Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Georgia and Russia have him as patron saint. He is widely venerated in many other Christian countries, and among other patronages ascribed to him he is the patron saint of fishers, miners and singers. Andrew was martyred by the Romans in their province of Achaia – now in Greece – at Patras, on an X-shaped cross which became his symbol. Andrew asked to be executed on the saltire cross as it is now know because he did not believe himself worthy to die on a similar cross to that of Jesus Christ.  Christians at Patras somehow managed to preserve his body in a secret grave.

Legend again has it that a monk at Patras, St Regulus or Rule, was determined to preserve the relics and in a dream he was told to take the saint’s arm, kneecap, three fingers and a tooth to the ends of the earth – Scotland, at that time!!! Then comes the most intriguing legend about Andrew. You will recall the Constantine story of a vision before battle – well the same vision was seen in the sky by King Oengus II before the Battle of Athelstaneford in 832, and with his Picts and Scots being victorious against the larger forces of Northumbria, Oengus ordered that the flag of his kingdom should be a white X cross on a blue background – the Saltire, as we know it.

The Scottish cult of St Andrew grew exponentially. Thanks largely to St Margaret and subsequent kings, St Andrews became the largest ecclesiastical centre in Scotland and a centre for pilgrimage with the long-lost shrine of our patron saint as the main attraction.

Quite some legend! The important thing, I think, about St.Andrew that we can take away this morning is his willingness to give up everything and to follow Jesus. He did not have to give up his fishing and probably quite a good life but the inspiration he found in Jesus was enough to encourage him to take a risk and to follow the young rabbi to who knew where. Andrew, like us, discovered that faith in Jesus can help us to do things we did not think we were capable of and like Andrew we have a duty to share our faith with those who have yet to hear the words of Jesus speak in their hearts. 


A reflection for Sunday 19th November 2023 by the Rev'd David Warnes

Matthean version of the Parable of the Talents

In these days of higher interest rates, many people have been asking the question “where would it be best to invest our savings?” We are, of course, very fortunate if that’s a question for us since many people have no savings to invest. I remember some years ago checking out the website of a major British bank, which shall remain nameless, where you could only get at information about savings accounts and interest rates by first answering a series of intrusive questions. “None of your business” was my immediate reaction to that exercise – but I had no trouble whatsoever in deciding what sort of saver I am. I plumped for the cautious option.

Today’s Gospel – the Parable of the Talents – reads like the story of an over-cautious investor and seems to paint a picture of a scarily judgemental God. It’s one of a series of parables in which Jesus is explaining what the kingdom of heaven will be like, and most people down the centuries have assumed that God is there in the parable – that God is the master who goes away on a journey, leaving his three servants in charge of his wealth. 

It's important to bear in mind that Jesus’ style of storytelling was vivid, and that he sometimes made use of hyperbole – he exaggerated to make the story more emphatic. It’s also important not to take the story out of the context of Jesus’ whole teaching about God. Keep in mind that he told his friends that God, mindful of the fall of every sparrow, was far more mindful of their needs and problems. Keep in mind also one of his most memorable stories – the loving father who welcomes home the prodigal son without a word of blame or criticism. I don’t think that the point of this story is that we should think of God as the master who condemns the cautious and fearful servant who has buried his share of the money.

A talent was a vast sum of money. The best way of explaining it is to think about how many years of a labourer’s pay it amounted to, and the answer is twenty years. Expressed in terms of someone in Scotland working a forty-hour week on the National Minimum Wage for twenty years, a single talent equals £433,472 at 2023 values. The employer in Jesus’ story is therefore a very trusting person. Between them, the three slaves are entrusted with almost £3.5 million. These facts may help us to understand what is at first reading a puzzling parable. 

I say puzzling because at first reading the master in the story seems harsh and judgemental and that’s not the God whom I encounter in Jesus Christ.     I don’t believe that God  “reaps where he does not sow, and gathers where he did not scatter?” 

Perhaps the question we need to ask of this story is “For what is the servant being condemned?”  On the face of it, it looks as though he is being condemned for failing to make a profit. Read a little more carefully and you’ll see that isn’t the case. The failure of the cautious servant wasn’t a failure to make money for his master. Rather it was that he had a fearful and negative view of his master. 

Anyone who has watched small children develop knows that the child who is able to take risks and become more adventurous is the child who is secure in her or his parents’ love. The third servant was paralyzed by fear of his master and was completely unable to take risks. And it is that fearful view of his master for which he is condemned. So we have two kinds of servant here – the first two know that their master is generous and kind, that he trusts them rather than micro-managing them, that he wants them to be free to take risks and that he will reward them generously for making good use of their freedom. The third servant has a false image of the master – he imagines him to be hard and unreasonable in his demands. He is afraid of the master, and his fear paralyses him.

So today’s Gospel asks us the question – “What’s your image of God?” Is it a loving heavenly Father who gives you the gift of freedom and wants you to venture into the world, to take risks and to make yourself and your talents available to others? Or is it a stern disciplinarian – a very demanding parent who is quick to punish? The latter image is unhealthy and unhelpful because it makes people fearful and cautious and fear and caution are the very opposite of what Christianity, the faith into which Zoe will shortly be baptized, is about. 

It's helpful to know that our English word “talent” is derived from the Greek word talanton that the Gospel writer uses. We are all blessed with God-given talents and part of the adventure on which Zoe has embarked is the adventure of discovering, with the help of Katie and Drummond and her Godparents, what her talents are. May she enjoy them in the freedom that God gives her. May she never think of God as an exacting disciplinarian but rather as the loving and generous source of her existence and the existence of everyone and everything. The call of Jesus is not a call to be cautious and to obey the rules, but rather a call to the kind of love and outreach that Jesus himself practised, a call to engage with the world and to use our God-given talents to make it the place of love and acceptance that God means it to be.    



A Remembrance Day reflection by Canon Dean Fostekew

Very few of us today will have a direct remembrance of those who died in WWI and increasingly as the years past from the end of WWII, this will become the same. No one in my immediate family actually knew my great, great Uncle Ern. My Grannie knew him but not my father and now they are both dead the link to him is very fragile. I have his photograph, in his Sapper’s uniform, on my desk but I doubt any of the next generations of my family will do so. The heroes like Uncle Ern are being forgotten as the individuals they were and are becoming part of a historical event that no one now alive was part of.

Recently while waiting for the Paddington train from Reading Station I saw opposite a Great Western Railway locomotive dedicated to those who lost their lives in WWI and most especially to those who received a Victoria Cross for their bravery. As well as the major name dedication every single man and woman who worked for GWR and who died in WWI was remembered. I was very happy to see the

locomotive in its special livery because it told me these men and women were not yet forgotten, especially as for some their names were accompanied by their photograph as well.

‘Lest we forget’ words associated with Remembrance Day are I think increasing important words and sentiment. War is awful, it destroys lives and countries and changes things dramatically and violently. Because of this you might think that we humans would remember not to fight and destroy each other - sadly events all too current in the world today show this not to be true. For an ideology or a few miles of territory we fight to prove a point and never stop to count the cost in hums lives and the destruction of Creation. How God must weep to see what we do to each other!

We wage war because we forget what war does. The majority of our population in great Britain has not lived through a major war and politicians and others can because of this, sometimes be too quick to commit to the use of force in a conflict. When the immediate memory is lost the collective memory is not

strong enough to make us think about what war and violence actually costs and does to us.

What I mean by the collective memory of war is that it becomes simply a historical event that happened years ago and has little impact on the individual. Although saying this one can be surprised. A recent report in the Church Times told of how Dr. Megan Olshefski a historian walked the infamous Death March from Dunbar to Durham. Following the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 the Royalist soldiers and supporters were march from Durham to be incarcerated in Durham Cathedral. Of the 4000 who began the march only 3000 reached Durham, the others dying on the way and the inhuman treatment of them in Durham over the next two years increased the death toll to well over 3500. Those who survived were later released and many emigrated to New England. The Battle of Durham was 375 years ago but Olshefski was surprised by how many knew of the march as she followed in their footsteps. She said of the experience:

“I was surprised to find many ... knew the story already, dnd those who didn’t were excited to learn it.”

It was good that Olshefski set out to remember those who made the march to Durham and those who died and perhaps her actions will cause those who met her or saw her walking the Death March to remember those who died in 1650 once again. No one knew those men today but they are now not forgotten.

I hope and pray that as the collective memory of WWI and WWII grows, we will not forget the individuals who gave their lives to ensure we live our lives in freedom. Remembrance is more than just remembering it is honouring the memory of the dead with dignity and thankfulness and acknowledging that they did not died in vain even if we still have a lot to learn about living peacefully together.