Sunday, 21 December 2008

Sunday 21 December 2008, Carol Service, Bruce

I love Christmas decorations, especially the more imaginative ones. There are some very festive ones installed along the Frimley road. They are bright, multicoloured, and the flash merrily. Very Christmassy. And the clever thing is that you have to be driving at a certain speed to get them to come on. If you go fast enough, the decoration flashes at you, and you are rewarded with the number 30. It’s lovely.

The number is always 30, though. I wonder if you can get a different number if you go faster?

Or do you think I might have misunderstood the point?

Thousands of outraged fans are flooding Facebook, Myspace and other sites with vitriol: Alexandra Burke seems a lovely girl and sings well, but how can she understand a song like Hallelujah. It sounds vaguely spiritual, and religious, liturgical even. How appropriate to release it for the Christmas market.

Except that it is mournful, wistful, a song about a doomed love affair. The bible references are to King David being tempted into adultery with Bathsheba, and Samson having his hair cut by Delilah (OK, she did not do the actual cutting). After this service, I hope that you will stay for some refreshments, but you may still have time to go home and download the Jeff Buckley version as a protest before the polls close this evening.

Unless you prefer one of Leonard Cohen’s original versions.

And all of this might seem entirely irrelevant to you.

But how hard do we find it sometimes to engage with the real meaning of Christmas?

It is familiar territory to bemoan the increasing commercialism, the tawdry offerings of the entertainment industry, the stress that families face when forced to spend time together for the holiday. Even church does not seem to be as good as we remember it from our younger days.

But pause to savour this story that we have been telling, our story of how God loves us and what he has done about it.

From the sin of the first humans recorded in Genesis, through the faith of Abraham and the other patriarchs, through the sins of Samson and David alluded to by Cohen in his song, through the promises made by the prophets of a coming deliverer, through the story of Jesus born as one of us.

Let’s not miss the point of all this. O come, all ye people full of faith: each of us is being personally invited to seek out Jesus and make our personal response to him. The journey you are engaged on may seem as long and tortuous as the journey of any shepherd or wise person from the east, but this is the time to band together with fellow travellers to seek him.

The St Michael’s are a rum lot, but we are purposefully seeking to encounter God together, in Camberley, in 2008 and into 2009, and we are open for all to join us.

May the Lord bless you this Christmas time.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Sunday 21 December 2008 Advent 4 Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38, Bruce

Many of us have been out delivering invitations to the people of our parish. A good proportion of the doors I visited have notices requesting that no junk mail be delivered. What is junk Mail? The mass and random distribution of unsolicited advertising material.

As it was my turn to write the message on the back this year, I was prepared to answer anyone who challenged me that this was a personal message from me. More seriously, I would that these are not random. We are trying to cultivate a relationship with the folk who live in our parish, and these leaflets are one small part of that strategy.

The heart of any advertising is that we can offer something that will be of benefit, which the people we are talking to are as yet unaware of. How many of us thought ten years ago that we would never need a mobile phone? And how many of us carry one now?

And yet, there are many products that are offered to me on a regular basis that I am sure I can do without, at least for the present.

And so we turn to Mary. She is favoured, gifted, not in a position that she has earned. How is she to respond?

Some of us visited the Nativity at Wintershall last Wednesday. It was a wonderful and evocative production that inspired worship. And yet, it all looked a little predictable and easy. The angel made his announcement, Mary looked a little perturbed for a moment, and then said OK.

But we are told that she was ‘greatly troubled’ at the words of the angel. She was shocked to the core. The angel feels it necessary to tell her not to be afraid, and well she might have been, both to receive this messenger and to hear his message.

Mary also ‘wondered’ at the words. She thought carefully and explored all that they could mean. She responded with an instinctive love for and trust in God, but she also responded with her mind.

On the face of it, he is telling her something that is good news. Every pious and patriotic Jew has yearned for, hoped for, the birth a deliverer, one to sit on the throne of King David. That she realised the enormity is shown by the song she sings a little later on: My soul magnifies the Lord, he has cast down the mighty and rescued the weak … But she has not expected it to happen now, and for her own life to be so affected, so impacted by the event.

How prepared are we for God to ‘turn up’? We are a community that prays some wonderful prayers, and sings some grand hymns and songs. We celebrate every year the birth of almighty God as one of us, a baby in humble circumstances. Our faith is founded on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and we are united in worship, as we gather round the table where he invites us to eat and drink with him.

What at first might have been seen as the renewal of Judaism turned out to be in fact the renewal of the world. In the same way, God wants to renew St Michael’s, and therefore contribute to the renewing of Camberley and the whole world.

God is making us an offer that at first might seem inopportune, or even uncomfortable, that we should allow our lives to be impacted, changed by his activity. It is not a random, unsolicited offering. It is his gift to the people he loves, to us, whom he has chosen to be part of the bearing of his Son for our town, our circle of family and friends, at this time and from this place.

We need to pray and debate and work and give, in order to be part of God’s plan for the renewal of St Michael’s.

Mary was troubled, and she wondered.

If we are to be in any way really touched by God, I suspect that will lead us to be troubled, and will get us wondering a lot.

But God will overshadow us by his Spirit, and nothing is impossible with him.