Saturday, 29 December 2012

A Parish Christmas

We probably had enough drama in the parish over Christmas to keep the Denny Theatre going for the next six months, but such is life in a busy place where needs are being met, folk are struggling to put food on their table, and the consequences of living out an Incarnational Theology come home to roost.

Somehow, despite exhaustion and emotional overload, it all happened and the sermons were preached and the Good News was told to all. We even sent out a wee missionary band to Drumchapel to provide them with a Christmas Eve Eucharist with carolling and much joy.

The wonderful thing was the Christmas lunch which was put on for the folk in the town who would otherwise have been on their own. The community were fantastic with lots of donations, and our helpers put on a Christmas Dinner which was probably much better than the local hoteliers put on. And everyone got a doggy bag to take home. St Augustine's was the place to be!

We have still got some stuff left over which will help the needy until all the Benefits Offices kick in again in January.

Thank you to all who made this possible. In the midst of chaos, Our Lord was born. In the midst of chaos in St Augustine's 2012, he was born again. Emmanuel!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas Midnight


It is one of the spin offs of becoming a grandparent that you take again an interest in children’s books and Christmas stories. I was browsing lately and came across that wonderful story of the young girl who was turned into a frog.

Eventually, as you know, the handsome prince came along and kissed the frog, and the rest, as they say, is history!
And I was thinking about that story when I was thinking about what to say tonight….

God, the Prince of Peace leans down to kiss his creation and turns into a frog himself.

It’s one way to think about the meaning of Christmas, I suppose!

But, let me begin tonight with a beautiful old Christmas legend... the ancient legend tells of how God called the angels of heaven together one day for a special choir rehearsal. He told them that he had a special song that he wanted them to learn... a song that they would sing at a very significant occasion.

The angels went to work on it. They rehearsed long and hard... with great focus and intensity. In fact, some of the angels grumbled a bit... but God insisted on a very high standard for his choir. 

As time passed, the choir improved in tone, in rhythm, and in quality. Finally God announced that they were ready... but then, he shocked them a bit. He told them that they would sing the song only once... and only on one night.

There would be just one performance of this great song they had worked on so diligently. Again, some of the angels grumbled. The song was so extraordinarily beautiful and they had it down pat now... surely, they could sing it many, many times. God only smiled and told them that when the time came, they would understand. 

Then one night, God called them together. He gathered them above a field just outside of Bethlehem. "It's time," God said to them... and the angels sang their song. And, boy, did they sing it!
 "Glory to God in the highest... and on earth peace and good will toward all..." And as the angels sang, they knew there would never be another night like this one, and that there would never be another birth like this birth in Bethlehem. 

When the angels returned to heaven, God reminded them that they would not formally sing that song again as an angelic choir, but if they wanted to, they could hum the song occasionally as individuals. One angel was bold enough to step forward and ask God why. Why could they not sing that majestic anthem again? They did it so well. It felt so right.

Why couldn't they sing that great song anymore? "Because," God explained, "my son has been born... and now earth must do the singing!"

My son has now been born and my world must now do the singing! 

Once each year, Christmas comes around again to remind us of that... God's Son has come to earth... and now we must do the singing!

And to do that we need to be right with God... (If we want to find the peace that Christmas promises.) 

That's the starting place because that is indeed what Christmas is all about. Jesus Christ came into this world to set us right with God. Jesus Christ came into the world to bring us back to God.

I remember the old story about the elderly couple driving down the street one day. They were listening to the radio as the man drove the car through the busy Christmas streets. As they listened to the beautiful music of Christmas, the wife became nostalgic and she said, "George, do you remember how when we were younger we used to sit so close together as we drove along? It was so wonderful back then. What happened?" "I don't know about that," said George, "All I know is that I haven't moved." 

Well, Christmas comes each year to remind us that God is not the one who has moved away from us. No! We are the ones who move. We are the ones who drift away from Him.

Christ has come down to this earth to help us get back together with God who made us... and who loves us. That's what that word Emmanuel means in our text. God with us! God comes in the Christ Child to seek and save the lost.

That's what Christmas is all about. This is the only way we can have the peace of Christmas. The only way is to let the Christ of Christmas bring us back to the Father who loves us and set us right with the One who made us. 

The first step toward the peace of Christmas is to be set right with God. 

In an old Peanuts comic strip, that popular misfit Charlie Brown cracks open his piggy bank. He says, “Look, I’ve got $9.11 to spend on Christmas.”

Lucy is not impressed. “You can’t buy something for everyone with $9.11, Charlie Brown,” she responds.

Charlie Brown retorts, “Oh yeah? Well, I’m gonna try!”

“Then,” Lucy continues, “they’re sure gonna be cheap presents.”

“But,” Charlie Brown says with absolute conviction, “nothing is cheap if it costs all that you have.”

God has given us all he has, and we need to try to give something back to God!

God gave us Himself in the babe at Bethlehem! What a wonderful truth! It is our turn to sing!

So - Get yourself right with God, this Christmas! Sing his song, or croak it if you will, and help others sing it with you!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Magnificat


I want to make my annual public service announcement to the men in our congregation. Guys, it’s time to do your Christmas shopping. I know that maybe some of you have this problem already out of the way. But just in case, please heed my announcement. 

Our Gospel from Luke takes place some months before the birth of Christ. In fact, Mary has only recently learned from the angel that she will bear a child, a child conceived of the Holy Spirit. Almost immediately, Mary decides to visit her older cousin Elizabeth. This meant she had to travel about 100 miles south to the hill country of Judah. This would be about a five day journey, an amazing trip for a young teenage pregnant girl.

And Mary breaks out in a song, a song we know as the Magnificat. We seem to be hearing it and singing it a lot today!

The Magnificat is radical and revolutionary. The humble and the hungry are lifted up but the wealthy are sent away empty. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, warned his missionaries to India never to read the Magnificat in public. Christians were already suspect in that country and they were cautioned against reading verses so inflammatory. Don’t speak too loudly against the rich – they might throw you out! 

In our country, Mary would be accused of being politically na├»ve today.  It’s dangerous to talk about the greed of the wealthy and powerful and the oppression of the least and lowest. It causes fights at parties! 

We have to watch out for the hangers-on, and haven’t you read the Daily Mail lately?
Stupid woman! What does she know? We need the wealthy! They are our salvation!

After all, the Old Etonian’s tell us, “We’re all in it together”!
Aye! That will be right! I'm on £50 a week and you pay more for that for a bottle of champers!

And you will not find many MPs or MSPs living up closes in places like Bellsmyre. The Queen visited the cabinet last week and realised she was the poorest person round the cabinet table! Ho ho ho!

So, what is it that we need to take away from Mary’s song so close to Christmas?  First of all we need to see that Jesus came to turn the world right side up, or upside down! I prefer right side up. It makes more sense!

Jesus didn’t come to maintain the status quo. Jesus came to bring righteousness and justice. The message of God’s love for all people regardless of who they are or what they have is the most liberating message in the world. 

Remember that the very first message the adult Jesus preached was based on the words of the prophet Isaiah and went something like this: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. 

Jesus was not a revolutionary. He was sent to be the Saviour of the world. However, his message was revolutionary.

Once you accept that God is the Father of all people, once you accept the fact that Christ died for all people, once you accept the fact that everyone on earth is our brother and our sister, it becomes impossible to justify the oppression of one people by another.

It becomes impossible to justify that some would live in absolute luxury while others go to bed each night with hunger pangs gnawing at their insides or need food banks to feed their children. Jesus came to turn the world right side up, or upside down. We have still to hear the message it seems!

There will be food banks soon in Dumbarton, but I will have nothing to do with them. It's a return to the Poorhouse!

The Provost recently visited America and in a Q & A session was asked what was the most significant thing he had seen. He answered the poverty and homelessness in the streets. Every parish had a homelessness programme. Every parish fed the hungry! In one parish they boasted that they fed 30,000 people each week, and Kelvin said that if 30,000 people lined up in Great Western Road, he wouldn’t be feeding them. He’d be on to politicians to ask them why the poor were not being fed!

We are in the same position! Why our poor and those who have benefit cuts needing to be fed by churches? God help us all! Are you listening? We are not all in this together! 

I will not run a food bank but I will pester those in Scottish society who think that’s an acceptable state of affairs! You guys in parliament who tell us that you care for the poor and are trying to make things fair….  Show us your hand! You are hounding the least, last and lost.

Jesus also came to give dignity to those whom society does not value. Where is the dignity to queue up for food? The Christmas story shows those in government palaces in the worst possible light. Meanwhile members of society’s least prestigious vocation, shepherds, hear the message of “Peace on earth, good will toward humankind.” That is no accident. 

The Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, as I said, has just returned from America where he spent three months. He calls Washington the city where nothing matters except politics but I read a story of an Episcopalian Vestry member from there who wrote:  

I should have kept running, he says, but for some reason I stopped for just a moment. It was then that I noticed all of these teenagers, singing carols had some kind of developmental disability. One young lady with Down syndrome had the job of playing the triangle. Whenever the director pointed to her, her face would light up, she would smile from ear to ear, and give her triangle a whack.

He says he was riveted by her. He says she became his priest. As his eyes teared up something inside him leapt for joy. He noticed the stressed-out leaders of business and government around him who had also been captivated by this moment, dabbing their eyes. What was happening? He wondered. “Something deep inside,” he writes, “something planted by God, was touched as they sang, ‘the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’ That holy thing God had started leaped up to our hearts and every one of us wanted to join that group of singers saying, ‘I have disabilities, too. My spirit and heart have been disabled by cynicism, hurt, and anger. I would love to have your innocence and purity leap out of me as it does from your little choir.’”  

It is only right that at Christmas we should be mindful of those for whom life is a struggle. It is only right at Christmas time that we should be reminded of our bounty and the world’s need. Sometimes it seems that Christmas is homage to Mammon and not to God. Whose birthday is it anyhow? Have we forgotten somebody? Someone?

And that is why I am so proud of all of you who in whatever way, will make Christmas Dinner happen for some really needy people on Tuesday. Even those who gave the widow’s mite or the generous cheque. Jesus is undoubtedly yours this season!

Because Jesus came to turn the world right side up. Jesus came to give dignity to those whom society does not value. 

Jesus came to give hope to the hopeless, peace to those who hearts are in turmoil, love to those who are broken. 

Among the things we will want to remember is the song the wee girl sang as she awaited the birth of her son, God’s son.

The song was about her son and his mission in the world. Jesus came to turn the world right side up. Jesus came to give dignity to those who society does not value. Jesus came to give hope to the hopeless, peace to those who hearts are in turmoil, love to those who are broken. Jesus came to give you the greatest gift of all.  Just love. 

Monday, 17 December 2012

Rejoice?

It's been a bad weekend newswise, with staff and children mowed down in an American School. I look around and see terminal illness, depression and sadness. I am entrusted with proclaiming Good News.

All I can say is "Emmanuel", God with us. God's middle name is 'with'.

God is with us whatever befalls, whatever we need to go through. God is there, comforting, healing, making all things new.

Today's readings were from Zephenia proclaiming hope in the ruins of Jerusalem, and from Paul on death row. Rejoice, they said. Emmanuel. God is with us.

God's middle name is 'with'. Maybe we can live with that. Rejoice then.


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Monday, 3 December 2012

Advent


Sometimes I think that we ought to enter Advent with a level of excitement. 

It is a shame that some of the old Advent hymns tend to be slow and almost mournful. I grew up with one that we sung every Sunday during Advent which included the words “deeply wailing”. And boy, did the choir at Holy Cross Knightswood know how to deeply wail!

Sometimes I think that shopping centres do a better job of promoting this season of the year than churches. The problem is that they start in October! But they start generating excitement about what is to come.

Advent is a magical time. It’s a time of anticipation.. anticipation that we will see The Lord again, and anticipation of the magical Feast of Christmas when we get to come to adore, yet again, with shepherds and wise men!

In church, we should be generating excitement!

And children understand that kind of excitement. Just wait until Christmas gets a little closer. Most of them started making list of things they want Santa to bring them in June, but as Advent starts the lists start to get serious. 

A priest tells about a young boy, a few years ago, who at one of their Christmas Eve candlelight services expressed his excitement. Immediately after the blessing, this four year old exploded at the top of his lungs with, “Hooray!  Jesus is born! Jesus is born! Let’s get going, mammy!” 
Maybe he didn’t understand the true meaning of Christmas, but he certainly caught its excitement.


The prophet Jeremiah understood that kind of excitement. God always fulfils His promises. 

That’s the thing we need to see today. God always fulfils God’s promises. Jeremiah writes, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah . . .’” 
And God always fulfils His promises. No matter how dark the night, no matter how harsh the critics, no matter how violent the enemy God will not forsake us. 

There is a wonderful story about an event that occurred several years ago somewhere in the States. I can’t remember where, but it had been devastated by a tornado. Six people died in that tornado. Among the structures that were devastated was a Lutheran Church. 

The day after the tornado the pastor walked through the devastation. She writes that it was an unbelievable sight a water tower toppled, vehicles and other heavy items strewn around like toys, whole buildings gone from their foundations. 

When she got near the site of the Church someone called out: “Look! There He is! There’s Jesus!” 

“Sure enough,” this pastor wrote, “there was the statue of Jesus that had stood at the altar of the Church. There it was a beacon to what had been the site of a 100-year-old congregation’s place of worship.” 

The pastor later wrote that it was so fitting to look up from the chaos around her and see Jesus arms outstretched, welcoming, and loving His people.

She wondered how the statue had survived the devastation and later learned that two young girls, helping clean up for a family member in a nearby home had taken time to come over to where the Church had been and found the statue in the rubble. They decided that everyone needed to see that Jesus was still there, so they stood him up for all to see. 
 
Those young girls were right. Whether times are good or bad, in times when things seem hopeful and times when they seem hopeless, people need to see Jesus. He is our hope. He is the Saviour of the world. 

God always keeps his promises. Among those promises is the promise that he will never forget us or forsake us. 

This is an exciting time of the year. It’s very busy, I know, but it is exciting as well.

I hope you will use the Advent season as a chance to invite a friend to worship with you. There are special services all over the place during Advent and Christmas, which give us the perfect excuse to invite someone to something a little different, or even traditional?

The most powerful form of advertising any church can do is word of mouth. When people are excited about their faith, they spread that excitement to others. Are you excited? Do you have the same excitement as that little boy when he shouted, “Hooray!  Jesus is born!  Let’s get going, mammy!” 

Maybe you’re not quite that excited. Maybe we don’t do great excitement in Scotland? 

At least maybe you will be just as determined to spread the good news of Christ as the two young girls who lifted up Christ after the storm swept through their town so that everyone could see their Saviour. 
God always keeps His promises. Jesus is the Saviour of the world. His Kingdom is promised and will one day come. That’s exciting. And it’s what Advent is all about!  

I Will Survive

I had one of my nastier experiences last week. I know what a cold is, especially if it's a "man cold", and I've had a few episodes in my life that have been "flu", but I was banjaxed by some sort of bug on Wednesday of last week.

Shaking like a pneumatic drill at times, sweating, hallucinating, together with the usual temperature, my body feeling as if it had gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson, coughing and sneezing, I had no option but to stay in bed.

The RW who was sent for Benylin was chatting to the pharmacist who opined, "People come in here telling me that they have flu, and I think, Jimmy, if you had flu you wouldn't be able to come into the chemist!"

Masses of Co-Codamol, linctus, and pints of fluid shoved down my throat saw me in church yesterday, first day up! Today, I'm a bit better again, although I think I'll leave the visiting off for a couple of days more. Whatever it was, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Plain Biscuits

We had a visitor in church this morning, on holiday from Lincolnshire. He thanked me after the service. "Nobody has ever told me before in 63 years that Advent is a season of joy", he said. "It's always been a mini Lent with plain biscuits".

Glad you enjoyed it, sir! You ought to see us when we get to Christmas!


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