God, will of course be available anywhere and everywhere this Christmas. There is no need of a pre-Christmas rush to buy-in stockpiles of God before the stores and superstores either 'run-out' or experience a temporary seasonal closure, a kind of 'breath' taken between frantic acts of consumerism. God is an inexhaustible supply of all we ever truly need or could wish for - if only we would stop ignoring God's eternal and intimate presence. Yet where will that presence be most discerned and gratefully received by otherwise distracted humans?
Here are my predictions:
God will be felt near,
By the single-mother who in fear mixed with inexplicable joy (that pierces through her pain) as she gives birth to her child regardless of the poverty and disgrace which surrounds them.
God will be felt near,
By the hospital bed of the dying man surrounded by care and family, and in the solitary unaccompanied death on a dark and silent street.
God will be felt near,
By the huddled victims as bombs drop and bullets fly.
God will be felt near,
By the shivering homeless in the city's shadow, or village byway.
God will be felt near,
By the fearful and powerless, the poor and the oppressed, the lost and the lonely. Just as God, in Jesus Christ, infant and adult, has always drawn close to those in need.
It isn't (as is sometimes suggested), that God really loves the poor and suffering more than those who are rich, powerful and well, but rather that God is so often more clearly known and wanted by those in distress. We have to want God to be Immanuel for us - for Jesus to come to us, and we have to put aside all the impermanent glitter and shine which can blind our eyes to our own true need. Of course, one way to ensure that God is with us, is for us to be with God - as God goes out into the world to bring hope to the hopeless, food to the hungry, warmth to the lonely, and peace to the distressed.
Anthea, Luke and I, wish all of you a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New-Year, and may God be with You always.
When the 'new' St Helen's church was dedicated in 1719, its location meant that it was at the heart of the parish which in those days included Seaview and parts of St John's Ryde. Present day footpaths and bridle ways attest to this central location in community geography.
Though St Peter's Seaview (born out of St Helens Parish a century or so later) is physically located in the heart of Seaview, nevertheless, many of its regular visitors and worshippers travel some distance to get to the church.
When we gather together at our parish churches - often from different directions and with varying means of transport, we become representatives or ambassadors of the homes and communities from which we have come. We become, if you like, Pilgrims who, when they return to their points of origin take with them God's word and God's blessing.
The physical location of our churches and our journeys to them are only important because our loving creator God has chosen to be located at the heart of our lives - whether we are aware of God's presence or not.
Whether you regularly travel to visit or worship in your parish church, do so only for life-events such as weddings or funerals, or have never done so yet: may you know God's presence with you in all your journeys, be they physical, spiritual, intellectual or emotional.
If I am ever occasionally successful through preaching or private conversation in persuading someone that GOD LOVES THEM (or persuading myself that GOD LOVES ME!), there is perhaps an even greater challenge in convincing human beings that GOD DELIGHTS IN THEM!
We may (just) come to accept that God loves us rather as a dutiful parent loves an errant child - think of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet the truth is even more wonderful than that. God, our divine creator, our father and mother in heaven, has an image of us - God's uniquely created individuals, which never falters. An image which never wavers in God's eyes, despite what we as individuals may do through miss-deed, or miss-thought to mar our image in our own eyes. Sometimes when we are content with ourselves we can grasp the wonder of who we are and say, like the psalmist of psalm 139: 'I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made' - Yet too-often we wallow in our mistakes and failings, or get caught up in worldly notions of what is beautiful or what is ugly.
Thankfully, there are some human events which can help to lift us out of such selfish self-condemnation. The recent Olympics and Paralympics have championed diversity and endeavour and celebrated human joy in the achievements of others. Beauty could be seen everywhere.
Amidst the nightmarish scenes of death and destruction in Aleppo and other fields of conflict, or emerging from apocalyptic areas of natural disaster, occasionally the camera dares to show a dust-covered rescue-worker cradling a child, who, despite everything shall live.
Of course it is right that we should be shocked by our own sinfulness or the broken-ness and evil we repeatedly see in our world, yet God's look of love does not waver from us for one moment. God continues to delight in the truth of who we truly are, and the hope placed in our hearts that we can become more fully and truly ourselves. Not less-human, but more human. For every global human situation and every human individual, there is that hope - because of God's unwavering gaze of love, God's delight in who we truly are.
Earlier this year I presided at a wedding in St Helens church where the couple's delight in one another, their unwavering look of love for one-another, was matched by their delight in and care for their family and friends. Their wedding day became not just a proclamation of their love, but a demonstration and proclamation of God's love for us all. St Helens Church became one of those 'thin-places' where heaven breaks-through, and love is all-in-all.
There is in our world, much to grieve-over, much to repent, plenty of need for God's healing love. There are also countless hints and reminders (if we have eyes to see them, hearts to receive them) of God' s love for and delight in us as, through Jesus Christ, God's children.
October is one of the months of Harvest, so may your personal harvest this-year, be the knowledge that God delights in YOU!
As well as being a song by Swedish group from the seventies, ABBA; 'I believe in angels' is a phrase you are as likely to hear from non-Christians as Christians. This begins to seem highly ironic when some of those willing to confess believe in the existence of angels criticise Christians for their belief in, for example, the resurrection!
There is however, nothing wrong in believing in the existence of angels as spirit beings who are messengers and servants of God, there are many references to angels in both the old and new testaments, as well as in texts of other faiths. The sixteenth century theologian and protestant reformer John Calvin, whilst admitting the biblical evidence for angels, counselled Christians against too-strong a focus upon them for fear that this would distract from the more important study of and relationship with Jesus.
Yet, even in the 21st century, churches throughout the world, will celebrate the feast of 'St Michael & All Angels' (This year in our parishes on September 29th at our 10.30 Village Communion at St Peter's). The fact that we do so is a useful admission and reminder that our faith admits that there is more to life (and death!) than the physical, and that the God we worship is 'maker of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen'.
St Helens village joyfully abounds with angels in December when creative individuals and groups cause a wonderfully diverse range of angels to 'pop-up' around the village green and neighbouring areas.
I think that it is good for us as humans to recognise creatively in music, the arts, and our theology, that we don't have all the answers, and also that the acknowledgment of something 'other', something spiritual is not limited to Christians or Christian thinking. And now an appeal: I would love to hear of the views of readers of this postconcerning angels so if you have an experience or a thought on this topic, please let me know by writing to me at The Vicarage.
Meanwhile, may God's holy angels guard, guide and protect you, and those you love.
When Jesus visited the home of Martha and Mary (as told in Luke's Gospel Chapter 10), Martha complains that Mary her sister has left her to do all the work of home-maker and hostess, whilst Mary sits at Jesus' feet listening to Jesus as he taught.
Jesus defends Mary, saying that she 'has chosen the better-part' - or done the right thing by choosing learning and listening to him over the routine drudgery.
In this, Jesus is not condoning laziness or idleness, but he is highlighting the value of setting time-aside for one's spiritual development (especially poignant in this example because in Jesus' day women were not normally counted as worthy of learning or spiritual development as men were.)
Holidays, or Holydays are opportunities for all of us fortunate enough to be able to take them, to gain spiritual refreshment and renewal; to set some time apart to 'listen' to God. It is wonderful that we are able through the dedicated care of volunteers at St Peter's and St Helen's Churches as well as at St Catherine's Chapel to keep these special spaces open day by day so that people can drop-in to pray, to be still, or to listen in the silence for God's word to them, and to discover God's love for them.
In this holiday season - as we try to gain rest and peace if possible ourselves, let's thank God for the Marthas and pray for their refreshment and renewal - whilst also thanking God for those Marys who remind us of the wisdom of sitting-down with Jesus.
May God grant you peace and rest this summer wherever you go or whatever you do.