Category: Advent

Who are you?

Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address
Friday 11th December: Advent 3, John 1.6–8,19–28

Although we’re not quite there yet, it is fair to say that we are nearing the end of term, and nearing the Christmas holidays. There are still two-and-a half days of lessons left, and for some of you some last tests for which to revise. Yet, the Christmas trees have been decorated, Secret Santa gifts have been bought – or will have been by Monday – and the list of things to do before Christmas is slowly getting shorter.

In this time between preparation and celebration, I would like to take the opportunity today to take stock. Not so much looking at what we have done or achieved, as there will be plenty of time for that next week. But I do like to reflect on the past few months using the question we hear asked to John in our reading this afternoon: Who are you? What do you say about yourself? Those are questions we all encounter at some point, and it is good to give them some thought.

John the Baptist’s answer that we hear in our reading this afternoon is that he is the voice crying out in the wilderness. He is the one who is proclaiming what is to come after him: Jesus, the Messiah, the Saviour. Those words ‘a voice crying out in the wilderness’ seem to indicate a loneliness, yet there is certainly also a sense of purpose with John. He knows who he is, and that is why he does what he does.

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Are you ready?

Sermon for Advent Sunday at Holy Trinity Hurstpierpoint
Sunday 29th November 2020, Isaiah 64.1-9 and Mark 13.24-end

This Sunday, we mark the beginning of the season of Advent. Four Sundays until Christmas, and traditionally a time of preparation as we anticipate the Incarnation by prayer, the reading of Scripture and fasting. A time of waiting, during which we are invited to reflect on our readiness to celebrate the birth of Jesus. At the same time, during Advent, we are also invited to look ahead to the final coming of Christ as our judge and redeemer and our readiness for that.

Over the years, as society has grown more secular, we have lost some of the immediacy of these two aspects of Advent: the waiting and the judgement. For many of us, Christmas starts no longer on Christmas Eve, but on 1st December. We seem to have lost the ability to wait, as we live in a time where everything is available at the click of a button. We also live in a society that has become weary of the language of judgement, and the idea that we are accountable has become increasingly uncomfortable; a language we try to avoid.

This is how I probably have started most Advent sermons and reflections over the past few years. But this year is different. This year, we have been confronted with a time of waiting that we have not experienced before. This year, we have come to realise that we cannot get everything we want when we want it. At the same time, we are also become more acutely aware of the consequences of our actions. So maybe we need to be challenged too by that uncomfortable language of judgement.

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Keeping the message alive

Homily St John the Baptist, Pewsey 15th December 2019: Advent 3
Isaiah 35.1-10 & Matthew 11.2-11

Just like last week, today’s Gospel passage speaks about John the Baptist. Last week’s passage focussed on John’s preaching: his message of the need for repentance. We heard how crowds of people came out to him, all confessing their sins and being baptised in the river Jordan. Now, however, John is in prison. He was put there by Herod, because John had told him that his second marriage was not lawful – John was rather good at telling uncomfortable truths.

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Whilst he is in prison, John hears reports of what Jesus is doing: his healing, his teaching and the followers he is gathering. And so he wants to know: is this the man who John himself had proclaimed, or is there yet another prophet to come? It is rather humbling to think that John doesn’t ask to get liberated, he doesn’t ask Jesus or his disciples for help, but only wants to know if his work is done.

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Seeing ourselves

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It is a little daunting to commit to writing a reflection for each day in Advent. It needs more systematic planning than my normal writing routine, which has become increasingly to work right up to the deadline. Whereas my early sermons were drafted and re-drafted well before the Sunday on which they were preached, latterly, I have found myself typing the last words early on Sunday mornings.

When I was at theological college, two ministers taught the course on preaching. During the introductory session, the Methodist minister explained how he read the readings on a Monday, had a first draft ready by Thursday to be finalised on the Saturday. His Anglican colleague then explained how he on a Saturday evening, often with some beers and possibly a cigarette, would put his sermon together. I have certainly moved from one method to the other!

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Expect the unexpected

expectationAdvent is not only the time to prepare for Christmas, it is also the start of a new Church year. On New Year’s Day, 1st January, my sister, my parents and myself used to go and visit my grandmother. She was not always a ‘glass-half-full’ person to say the least. One year, as we arrived, the first thing she said was ‘It’s going to be a difficult year’. It quickly became our family mantra on New Year’s Day.

Of course, the sad truth about a prediction like this is that it may well become reality for those who expectantly wait for difficulty to arise. Not always: we may be pleasantly surprised by that which lies ahead of us, but our expectations do colour our experience.

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A time to prepare

Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas.  As any celebration, Christmas needs those preparations. It is much nicer to receive or give a present which is just right for someone, rather than a last-minute bought gift, a bouquet of flowers from a service station, which was rather unimaginative, as we ran out of time really thinking about it.

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Also, there is a lot of fun to be had in the preparations themselves. Decorating the Christmas tree is often more fun than just looking at it, and who doesn’t like a shopping trip to one of the Christmas markets? However, particularly with the normal busyness of life, it can all become a bit much and we continuously feel that we are running out of time and getting more and more tired.  There can come a moment that not only the extra commitments become a bit much, but everything we need to do is one thing too many. I’m sure that many of us recognise this feeling, particularly in these dark days that mark this time of the year.

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A journey into the unknown

Sermon St John the Baptist, Mildenhall
Advent Sunday, 1st December 2019

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” In this Gospel reading from Matthew’s Gospel set for the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus is speaking about the end of the age, also known as the second coming or the day of judgement. It is a reminder to us that during this season of Advent we are not only preparing for Christmas, for the celebration of God becoming one of us some two-thousand years ago, but we are also preparing for the end of the age, the day about which no one knows. How we can prepare for that day, and how we can do that in such a way that we do not fear, but instead anticipate with readiness and joy, the unknown of God’s judgement?

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Last week, I was visiting someone in hospital. She had just received the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Although we talked about Christmas, it was clear that for her it was very uncertain what this Christmas would look like. For her, this season of Advent would be a time to prepare in a very real way for the day and hour that we will all face, but of which no one knows. Continue reading “A journey into the unknown”

Taking stock

Homily St Mary’s Marlborough, 23rd December 2018, 8am
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Micah 5.2-5a & Luke 1.39-55

annunciationWe have come to the fourth Sunday of Advent. As Christmas itself is approaching, the season of preparation is coming to an end. So, maybe today is an opportunity to take stock: what difference has Advent made for us this year? What have we noticed, and how has it changed us?

Over these last few weeks, we have been accompanied by readings from the Prophets, and our Gospel readings have been speaking about judgement, asking us the question how ready we are to receive it. In those readings, we have been told how God prepared people throughout the ages to welcome the Word made flesh. Through them, we have been invited too, to see ourselves as part of the continuing story. However, now as people who are not only expecting a Messiah, but as people who have encountered the risen Christ.

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Care more, worry less

Sermon St John the Baptist Mildenhall, 16th December 2018
Third Sunday of Advent: Philippians 4.4-7 & Luke 3.7-18

advent-wreath-3The readings set for this third Sunday of Advent seem to be not quite the same in their message. Whereas Paul tries to reassure the Christians in Philippi by saying “Do not worry about anything”, John the Baptist, on the other hand, seems to have completely the opposite message: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” So, what should we do? Worry, or not?

I think the answer is ‘both’, which makes this message particularly suited for this season of Advent. As we draw nearer to the 25th of December, many of us will have started worrying about the logistics of Christmas. Have we ordered the turkey? Have I got my presents? Am I still on time for posting my Christmas cards? And, what will the weather be like for those of us travelling? Indeed, lots to worry about.

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The message, not the messenger

Homily St John the Baptist Mildenhall, 9th December 2018 
Second Sunday of Advent: Baruch 5.1-9 & Luke 3.1-6

ProphetThe  readings we hear on Sundays follow a three year cycle. Each year, one of the three synoptic Gospels has a main part to play. This Church year, which started last week on Advent Sunday, our main focus will be on Luke’s Gospel. As some of you may know, Luke is maybe most famous for his story-telling: it is through his narrative and through his characters that we start to understand who Jesus is, and who God is.

This morning’s reading starts by a very precise explanation of the time and circumstances of the preaching of John the Baptist. Maybe even more important than the historical accuracy is the theological reasons for mentioning these particular rules. In a way, it already foreshadows the last week of Jesus’ life and ministry, and his encounters with Pilate and Herod before he will be crucified.

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