The Epiphany of Our Lord – 31st December 2017

Today we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany – a little early I know but Easter is early in 2018 – Hence next Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord.

Anyway, along with Epiphany being the celebration of the gift bearers from the East recognising the Messiah there are many stories or legends around Christmas, the arrival of the Christ child, and gift givers who missed the opportunity to worship at His birth.

Part of Italy’s traditional celebration is the story of a witch known as La Befana who arrives on her broomstick during the night of January 5 and fills the stockings with toys and sweets for the good children and lumps of coal for the bad ones.

According to the legend, the night before the Wise Men arrived at the manger they stopped at the shack of an old woman to ask directions. They invited her to come along but she replied that she was too busy. Then a shepherd asked her to join him but again she refused. Later that night, she saw a great light in the sky and decided to join the Wise Men and the shepherd bearing gifts that had belonged to her child who had died. She got lost and never found the manger.

Now La Befana flies around on her broomstick each year on the 11th night, bringing gifts to children in hopes that she might find the Baby Jesus. So in Italy, children hang their stockings on the evening of January 5 awaiting the visit of La Befana.

Legend or not, the story is a salutary reminder to us not to allow ourselves to get so caught up in the “busyness” of life and preparations for Christmas, that we miss the Christ child himself.

For me this means making a conscious effort to look for the Christ in the face of each person I meet… May you find Him in unexpected places and know the true joy of Christmas!

And as we close the door on 2017 and ring in 2018 may our eyes be ever open to see the unexpected manifestations of Christ who continues to journey with us.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – 24th December 2017

A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ. He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy: white to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the Foundation of the Church and firmness of the promises of God.

The candy maker made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It could also represent the staff of the Good Shepherd with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who like all sheep have gone astray. Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candy maker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes for the blood shed by Christ on the cross. So that we could have the promise of eternal life.

Unfortunately, the candy became known as the Candy Cane. It became a meaningless
decoration seen at Christmas time. But meaning is still there for all those who “Have eyes to see and ears to hear.” We pray that this symbol will again be used to witness to the wonder of Jesus and His great love that came down at Christmas.

Third Sunday of Advent – 17th December 2017

As a child I remember that the most difficult part of Christmas was simply waiting for it to come. I really enjoyed the last few weeks of school, after exams had been completed and reports given out it was time for some serious fun at school, with concerts and parties and speech days or nights.

Then came the school holidays and the waiting became almost painful as mysterious packages were placed under the Christmas tree and preparations were made for our Christmas feasting.

Days felt like weeks and weeks felt like forever. Time truly stood still! Oh how I long for
those days now!

But seriously, waiting is foreign to our society. It seems unnatural. We hunger for immediate gratification. The idea of delayed satisfaction is a stranger to our thinking.

The symbols of our unwillingness to wait are all around us. Fast food outlets boom because we don’t have time to cook. We stand in crooked lines, then give our order, get it down in five minutes and then get back to the rat race. We haven’t got time to sit down and read a book anymore. In kitchens all over Australia there are gadgets to get the meal prepared quickly. When we become sick we want to be made well now, not later. Medicine, doctors, pastoral care and love are often rejected if they are not swift.

I, like you, accept most of our no — wait approach to life, with the exception of instant mashed potatoes, which are almost intolerable. But the truth is that, though we do not like waiting, waiting is a part of living. We must wait for payday, a break, home time, and the check out queue and the mailman. When you do your Christmas shopping, you had certainly better be prepared to wait in a line to get checked out, wait to get a parking place, and wait through at least four red lights on your way home.

But there are also very serious matters for which we wait. Some wait for health to return, some for marriage or remarriage. We pray for peace but must wait for its arrival. A scared child waits for the coming of morning, and a scared adult awaits death. And an expectant mother waits for delivery. Waiting can be pure agony. But over and over scripture tells us that God’s clock is wound in a different way… Let us pray that our impatience doesn’t blind us to the wonder of the present and the realisation that, however things might appear, God continues to hold the world in loving compassionate hands. And in the words of Julian of Norwich – All will be well and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

Second Sunday of Advent – 10th December 2017

In the gospel reading for today we are reminded of a surprising (to the world) choice, by God, to deliver the call to repentance and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. His name was John. People knew him locally as the Baptist. Some would say of him that he was a religious eccentric. Others, less kind would dismiss him as being simply a flake, a religious fruit cake. He definitely did not seem to be the kind of “How to win friends and influence people” type of personality to usher in the news of the Messiah’s coming. He just doesn’t seem to fit in with shepherds and wise men and the other characters that we traditionally associate with the Christmas story. Yet, this was God’s unlikely servant chosen to herald the spectacular events that would soon follow. A most unlikely promotions man to be sure, but God’s man nevertheless.

From the very beginning everything about John was unique. His mother Elizabeth was related to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Elizabeth conceived six months before Mary. But Mary happened to be a very young girl, indeed almost a child. Most scholars put her probable age at thirteen. It was not unusual for a girl in that day and time to be of childbearing age at such a tender age. Indeed, it is not unheard of even in contemporary America.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, was a woman who was in the golden years of her life. She had never given birth to a child. You would think of her more in the category of grandmother than mother. Yet, she and her aging priest of a husband were the unlikely candidates.

And then comes John – vigorously opposed to the way of life of the religious and political leaders of the time and unafraid to raise his voice against them. A rough and wild looking man – yet chosen to prepare the way for the coming of the Christ. His call is to preparedness, and his call is to you and to me. We are to be prepared to recognize the presence of Christ in the world, and share the good news with others.

Yes, John might be an unexpected and surprising messenger, but perhaps no more surprising than you or me!

First Sunday of Advent – 3rd December 2017

This week I share with you a story from a sermon written by Pastor Brett Blair –

“It is hard for us to understand Jesus’ delay in his coming. God’s time clock is certainly out of sync with ours as Little Jimmy learned one day as he was laying on a hill in the middle of a meadow on a warm spring day. Puffy white clouds rolled by and he pondered their shape. Soon, he began to think about God.

“God? Are you really there?” Jimmy said out loud.

To his astonishment a voice came from the clouds. “Yes, Jimmy? What can I do for
you?”

Seizing the opportunity, Jimmy asked, “God? What is a million years like to you?”

Knowing that Jimmy could not understand the concept of infinity, God responded in a manner to which Jimmy could relate. “A million years to me, Jimmy, is like a minute.”

“Oh,” said Jimmy. “Well, then, what’s a million dollars like to you?” “A million dollars
to me, Jimmy, is like a penny.” 

“Wow!” remarked Jimmy, getting an idea. “You’re so generous… can I have one of
your pennies?”

God replied, “Sure thing, Jimmy! Just a minute.”

Little Jimmy wasn’t ready for that response was he? Our text this week seems an unlikely scripture for Advent. It has nothing to do with Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men, of shepherds watching their flock. Instead it is story about a wealthy landowner going on a trip. The servants left behind were given charge of the estate and when the master returned he would check on their stewardship. It is a story about being prepared, getting ready. In that sense then this is an Advent story, for this is the season of preparation… not just for our celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, but for the coming of Christ, who has given us stewardship of creation, and who will return at an unexpected hour!