Sermon for Christmas Day 2020 Hurstpierpoint College Chapel
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined” So speaks the Prophet Isaiah to the people almost three thousand years ago.
I had never experienced what it was really like to walk in darkness, until I walked a stretch of the Camino de Santiago in October last year. I had anticipated long, sunny days, but instead I spent a lot of time walking in darkness and in rain. I hadn’t appreciated that Spain’s coast is significantly west from where we are, yet it shares the Continental time zone. Hence, the first three hours walk every day I walked in darkness.
I would have certainly been surprised, if not terrified, if I had suddenly seen a great light. So I can imagine a little bit what the shepherds must have felt that night when they saw a great light, and probably even more so when they saw that in the light there was an angel. No matter how much the angel told them not to be afraid, that was probably exactly what they were.
Sermon for the first Eucharist of Christmas Hurstpierpoint College Chapel
A couple of years ago I was speaking to a colleague from Albania. He had come to the UK in the late nineties fleeing the civil conflict at the time. Remembering the continuous threats and fear of his home country, as he arrived here, he could not believe that people here got upset if they didn’t have enough milk in their tea or if the post arrived a day late. However, after a couple of years in safety and security, he noticed how he too got bothered by the trivialities of daily life.
I was reminded of this conversation when reflecting on the year past. On a personal, national and international level, our conversations have been dominated by COVID-19. For all of us, the pandemic has brought a darkness and dullness to our lives, which we could not have imagined a year ago and this has dominated our thinking and our speaking. As many of us have asked ourselves: what did we talk about before COVID? Ok, apart from Brexit and Trump …
I am sure, therefore, that I am not the only one who hears the words from the Prophet Isaiah tonight in that context: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation.”
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.
Sermon St Peter’s Milton Lilbourne, 24th December 2018, 11.00pm Midnight Communion: Isaiah 9.2-7 and Luke 2.1-20
As a child, I often spent Wednesday afternoons with my grandmother. I particularly remember one afternoon: we were going to leave a message in a bottle. I don’t quite remember what the message was, but I remember well the sense of excitement as I stood in the middle of the bridge crossing the river, ready to throw my bottle into the unknown. I have remained fascinated by the idea of leaving a message for someone you don’t know.
So last week, my eye was caught by the story you may have read or heard as well. It was the news item that a young girl had found a message in a Christmas card she was about to write: a message that claimed to have come from within a Chinese prison. Someone wrote in English “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qinqpu prison in China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organization.”
What if God was one of us? A reflection for the Feast of Candlemas
What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us Just a stranger on the bus Tryin’ to make his way home?
You may know the song What if God was one of us by Joan Osborne, which was released in 1995. Last month, when we celebrated the Feast of Epiphany, this was one of the songs we used in our All Age service.
It’s an interesting question to ask ourselves, and maybe some of us do occasionally: What if God was one of us? And, as the song continues, ‘Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus?’ One can reflect philosophically on this question: is the idea of a God who is both transcendent and immanent logically coherent? But that’s not what I want to now, as it would require some more than a few hundred words.
The Feast of the Epiphany
A reflection for at the start of the New Year
On 6th January, we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. It is the twelfth day of Christmas, and so traditionally the last day of this season of celebration. Epiphany literally means manifestation or appearance. The Gospel set for this day is the well-known story of the journey of the wise men, who after having followed a star find and recognise the child in Bethlehem, bringing with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
This is Matthew’s version of the Christmas story: no stable, donkeys or shepherds, but instead a star, wise men and gifts. It is a story full of signs and significance all pointing towards aspects of Jesus’ identity: a star signalling the cosmic significance of his birth, the gift of gold indicating his royal status, and myrrh to foreshadow his suffering.
Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough, 30th December 2018 First Sunday of Christmas: 1 Samuel 2.18-20, 26 and Luke 2.41-52
Traditionally, well, at least since the 1970s, this first Sunday after Christmas is often celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Family. As we hear about Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we are invited to see them as a model for all Christian families, and, I suppose inevitable, reflect in how far we live up to that standard. I think whoever had the idea of placing this particular celebration just after Christmas, either did not have a family, or had a good sense of humour, or was one of those people who had the perfect family – a person I have yet to meet!
Of course, hopefully, over the past few days, most of us will have had the opportunity to spend time with family, or families in some way or other. Time with children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, or with friends who have become like family. Time to celebrate, be together, and eat together – often a bit too much. But, no matter how much we have enjoyed our celebrations, I think we also realise that the perfect family – whatever that may look like – does not really exist. For many of us, this time will also remind us of the more painful moments in our lives, often connected with what has happened to those nearest to us, or between us and them.
Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough, 24th December 2018, 11.30pm Christmas Midnight Communion: Isaiah 9.2-7 & Luke 2.1-14
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered”. They are familiar words for many of us, and I guess that whenever we hear them, we think of Christmas. Just as when we hear the opening chords or “Silent Night”, smell the sweetness of mulled wine and Christmas pudding, or see a beautifully decorated Christmas tree through a window.
Apart from the things we have in common, we will also have our own rituals: things we say or do to mark the start of Christmas. It may be a particular meal for Christmas Eve, a film you watch year after year, or indeed, coming to Church tonight.
Address for the Lower School Marlborough College Chapel, 12th December 2018
Here we are, on the last day of this term. It has felt like a long term, and the lists we just had, were a good reminder on how much we have achieved in these last few months; of how much you have been giving to this College community over this last term. As I said at the carol services, I think it is worth repeating, that at Christmas we have an opportunity to celebrate who we are, the gift we are, and to say thank you for this. Maybe in many ways, not unlike the lists we just had.
Homily Marlborough College Carol Services December 2018
Christmas is only a couple more weeks away, or, for us here at the College, only a couple more days away. Today, we celebrate together, but later on, we each will celebrate in different ways. For some, it will be a large gathering with family and friends, whereas for others, just those closest to us. Some will travel to sunny or snowy places, whereas others will not travel any further than the Berkshire border.
But, no matter where we go, or what we do, there is – I think – one thing we all have in common: in some way or other, we will all be involved in exchanging gifts: we will all be giving something, something of ourselves. For many, of course, this will be actual gifts, great or small. But it also may be giving of your time, or your skill: providing the music or cooking the turkey. Giving is so instinctive to us human beings that often we forget that we are doing it.