There were nearly 2,000 years between these two births, Jesus Christ and Karl Marx, their only similarity is that they were both revolutionaries in their own right.
Both had similar aims, the welfare of people, fighting poverty, fearlessly condemning bad rulers, the great difference between these two boys, is that one died a vicious and horrific death, rejected by the people He had come to help, particularly by the religious leaders, the other was the focus of one of the crueller regimes of history.
It is interesting, how Christmas Carols have changed over the centuries; nowadays the newer compositions sing of angels and lovely babies in a pristine make-shift cot, jolly people making merry, ignoring the hard facts of the case. The Cross rarely mentioned in modern carols.
The reality is that the “stable” was a cave hewn in the rock, ripe with the smell of animals, and within a short time, the family would be refugees, fleeing Herod’s wrath as he contemplated a possible competitor for power.
What was it the old man Simeon said to Mary? “A sword will pierce your own soul also” (Like 2, vv34-35) and that Jesus “would be for the rising and falling of many in Israel”. One wonders how often those words came to haunt Mary as the years went on.
For thirty years He was His father Joseph’s assistant until the day that He went off with a band of young men ready to proclaim the foundation of a new Kingdom, to be based on love and not on force of arms.
Virtually what might be described as a group of homeless “hippies”, for Jesus said that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” when He was asked “Where do you live?
From the beginning, this young man set out on a Ministry of love, pronouncing a realm of freedom and joy, with the company of a handful of friends, most of whom faithfully followed Him and in so doing set themselves on a collision course with both the religious and political forces.
Jesus deliberately set out to befriend and mingle with the people on the edge of Society, far from the respectable, self-satisfied leaders of His day.
We hear cries that you cannot mix religion with politics, but Jesus did, for “politics” is the force by which people’s lives may be enhanced or ruined.
How I long for the day when our religious leaders will confront the politicians of our day, to deal with the homelessness, the edge-of-poverty living, where thousands of young people are sleeping rough, families struggle to survive when they ought to be sharing in the apparent wealth of the nation.
In His birth, in His life, and in His death, Jesus sought to heal humanity of their ills, physical, mental and above all, spiritual, leaving The Church to continue His work.
Karl Marx is remembered by his tomb in a London cemetery, for in the end his way was one of bloody revolution and oppression; the Saviour headed a revolution of which love was (and is) the motive force and who is remembered by a Cross, an empty tomb and a new relationship between God and humanity.
A happy, peaceful and joyous Christmas to you all.
Sitting in the Doctors’ Surgery recently, I was amused and puzzled at how, in the “waiting room silence” I could only hear the slight clicking of fingers on mobile ‘phones.
From looking up the weather forecast, doing puzzles, or whatever, most of my elderly companions were hard at work communicating with, even heartless, lifeless websites.
My “parsonic” mind, led to my considering whether many of them equally find time to have a chat with God?
Yes, praying comes naturally to folk who have some personal and painful problems where it seems that only divine guidance can come to their aid. But how would you feel if the only time you met and spoke with a neighbour was because you wanted something, say some sugar in the days when that necessity was rationed?
It comes easier if you are on regular speaking terms with them, which makes me wonder to what extent we are on “speaking terms” with God?
How often do you pray? I won’t ask, for you might be embarrassed at how little time you spend in talking to God and additionally, how much time you spend listening to Him?
When Rector of Wootton, there was a parishioner who many tried to avoid for when Ron met you, the wrong thing to say was “Hello, Ron; how are you?” and then you would stand patiently (or impatiently), while you had the latest news about some part of his body that was causing concern, unable to get a word in.
It has to be a two-way conversation, for by this we come to know what people are really like, and that applies to God as much as anyone else.
We have thought already about two ways we can meet God in our lives, but this one requires nothing more than a sense of quiet to be with our Friend and an awareness of what God wants to talk about WITH us, as well as that we wish to say to Him. We learn if we are ready to listen.
The wonder of our Faith is that we don’t need professional people like the clergy to do this on our behalf, but are able to take steps ourselves to come to know Him. There is no better way to do this than reading and pondering how He reveals Himself to us when we read the Gospels.
“He that has seen me, has seen the Father” Jesus tells Philip and if we read the scriptures with an open mind, rather than the rag-bag of images that some hold in their minds, we can begin to know the One who is both “Master and Friend”.
However, this does mean discipline, for there are so many forces at work to prevent us from holding these conversations.
Prayer is not a matter of whether we kneel or sit, or even stand doing the washing-up; gazing out of the kitchen window. I do a lot of my “meeting” God with such mundane occupations, and I suspect I probably surprise the neighbours by loudly singing some hymn or psalm that feeds my spiritual devotions.
I have to be honest, that I do not find prayer the easiest activity and I can find worthy reasons why I should be doing something else, but nothing is more valuable than seeking to meet Him by our daily conversations.
Our old friend (the Devil) is always ready to put interesting thoughts in our minds, (a failure that Christians in their confessions to me have regularly admitted) distracting us from this needful occupation. But there is no more important way by which God (in Jesus) comes to us than our conversations fuelled by a regular reading and meditating on the Gospels. The way He can come to us through our meditations is indeed “Gospel”, that is, “Good News”.
16 December 2018
By the way, “Jargie” was what my wonderful Grandmother called me, particularly when as her Grocer’s errand boy she found me slyly reading the daily paper and would rouse me by “Jargie, Jargie, don’t ‘ee sit there, Do summet useful”, and Jargie obeyed!
There is a moment in the Eucharist Order of service when the priest says “Great is the mystery of faith” and it is proclaimed that “Christ will come again” and I find myself at odds with everyone else, for I always say “Christ has come again” for we are at the moment when the bread and wine by the power of the Holy Spirit (of Christ) become the Body and Blood of Jesus. The Real Presence.
A moment so important that in many churches a bell was (and still is) rung at these two moments to indicate that something wonderful has happened of great importance to the present worshippers and the entire world.
Last week we considered how Jesus promised that “Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them”, and if this is so, then what more wonderful than that He can be present in the Spirit and more significantly is sacramentally so under the form of Bread and Wine?
An action so simple, yet like so much regarding Jesus and His teaching can become, if we are not watchful, mundane and almost automatic rather than realising we are In the Presence of Divine Mystery.
When is the moment of Consecration?
There have been many arguments on this subject of over the past 2,000 years; some scholars suggest it is at the words of Institution “This is my Body/Blood”, but it is only complete when the final Amen is said with the congregation, so that it is not just the priest’s offering, but becomes Christ’s people sharing in the priestly act.
It appears in ancient service forms that the congregation once had a greater part in the Consecration Prayer, similar to one in Common Worship where the (Thanksgiving) Prayer involves the people.
The word “Amen” means “So be it” or “I agree”, being the only moment when the laity can share in the act of Consecration. That means that in our worship that united seal of approval and participation needs to be pronounced firmly and even, loudly.
In parentheses, it’s worth saying that congregations seem to be a bit anaemic in their “agreeing” with prayers that are said on their behalf. Paul writes (1 Corinthians 14, v16) how important it is that the priest or leader of prayer should pray in such a way that we are able to know exactly when we should say “Amen”.
Then again, another school of thought says it is not finally complete until the “Our Father” is said and Common Worship has rightly brought that prayer prior to the administration of Communion, rather than as in the 1662, Book of Common Prayer, being said afterwards as an act of thanksgiving.
So you have a choice, but it doesn’t really matter, except that He is among us when the priest recites His words of Institution, so we can say with the first Queen Elizabeth : “His was the Word that spake it, He took the Bread and brake it, and what that Word doth make it, that I believe and take it”.
One thing is clear that Jesus is not confined by forms of service for He can be present even among a small believing group, with a particularly focus when we receive Him through the Blessed Sacrament.
It may surprise some that until the Reformation believers were expected only to receive Communion very occasionally, but rather gathered on a Sunday morning to “hear” Mass and to adore the Sacrament but not to receive it!
The whole focus of the 1662 Book and the Anglican reformers was to restore the Mass (with Communion) as the central Sunday act of worship, but for many reasons that didn’t become a realty until the Anglican revival of the Victorian years.
The Eucharist has only over the past 150 years become the central act of Christian worship in the Church of England.
The glory of Christendom is the teaching of the “accessibility” of God, for we can gain personal access to the Divine without the intervention of priests or elaborate sacrifices of animals or other creatures.
However, when we come to Communion we need to prepare ourselves well for this wonderful encounter and welcome the Risen, Glorious Christ who, as in Bethlehem came (and still comes) quietly with His loving Saving Presence.
“I reckon it will be the end of the world” said an old friend to me, last Monday, considering the dire threats of calamity with global warming, which we had been discussing considering the message of Advent, the “End of all things”.
We wondered together what it would mean for our grandchildren and the legacy of disaster that they will inherit, thanks to our greed and reckless treatment of God’s world and all that is in it.
Rather than heeding the scientists’ warning, Donald Trump refuses to admit that it is going to happen and indeed has sanctioned the reopening of American coalmines that will add to the pollution.
Yes, it’s a frightening future, with the visions of disaster that readings from the Book of Revelation suggest.
Will Jesus come in clouds of glory visible to terrified mankind as He declared? When, How?
Yet, the Gospels suggest that the “Coming” (that’s what the word “Advent” means) may occur in different ways, even in our own lifetime.
Let’s consider the possibilities:
Many of us have become complacent regarding our relationship with the Almighty Father.
Of course as I was suggesting last week, Jesus came to show us the “Human face of God”, who by His Cross has bridged the gap between humanity and the divine, but that does not mean that we should not retain what the Old Testament describes as the “fear” of God.
As a youngster, I was truly afraid of God, hiding when I thought I had done something that He would find offensive and for which I would be punished,
If someone had taken me aside and suggested that I needn’t be “afraid” of God, but that I should approach Him as I would anyone who was superior to me; in other words, “Respect”, I would have felt much better.
After all, I respected my teachers, not least Mr. Bolton-King (our headmaster at Sandown Sec.), who wielded a nifty and efficiently handled cane!
So we need not be afraid, but considering His majesty and power, we need to show Him respect and come before Him in reverence.
That is something that has disappeared from much of our thinking and worship attitudes. The Psalmist says “Be still and know that I am God”.
Discussing the changes we (over 80s) had experienced during our lifetime, one subject was that then Sunday worship was an event and when we entered God’s House we should behave as if we were entering a royal palace to meet and have an audience with the Queen. Quiet and respectful.
In our worship we are approaching the King of Kings, the “Master of the Universe” and should show it by our demeanour.
Jesus is not “up there”, but this morning by the power of the Spirit, is present here in St. Mary’s as He is in any of our four parish churches.
A local priest, justifying the closure of a parish church, said that “it isn’t worth coming to a church to take a service when only 12 people attend”. I’m sure that Jesus doesn’t think so.
Obviously, that priest had not studied Matthew 19. v20 where Jesus tells us that “Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them”.
Our service may begin “The Lord is here!” to which we reply “His Spirit is with us”, but do we really believe it and are in a state of quiet anticipation?
It was said of the Apostles (Acts 4, v13) that they were inspired, because they “Had been with Jesus”; when we go out to the world would people say the same of us this morning?
No, you don’t have to be dead to meet with Jesus, but if we can’t approach our worship with anticipation, it may be because we are spiritually so.
Watching a documentary last Sunday evening on “The rise of the Roman Catholic Church”, I couldn’t help wondering what Jesus, born in a stable to obviously poor parents, or His disciples, together a homeless wondering band, makes of the vast enterprise that has arisen from a group of “Nobodies”?
Watching, it was clear that there was little relationship between the Church of St. Peter, St. Paul and the other early apostles and the slick business-like organisation, not only of the Roman Catholic Church, but even of our own Church of England.
What is obvious, is that both are built upon secular organisations, which as far as the CofE is concerned has at its head a competent business man.
Each (and indeed, the other Christian Denominations) have within them the elements of “business”, with a constructed hierarchy, each with their honorific titles.
We view the Roman Catholic set-up, with concern, where the Pope is titled “The Vicar of Christ”, whose authority is absolute, defining what Christians should believe for salvation. He is supported by a vast pyramid of officials (all with honorific titles), of which the local base is the parish priest and congregation, and above it all is God, the Managing Director.
This won’t do, for the whole of Jesus’ Mission was devoted to defining our relationship with Him whom we are to address as “Our Father”. Such a close relationship that Jesus can not only address God as “Abba” (a term of endearment similar to “Daddy”), but that “every hair on your head is numbered”, implying that our relationship with the “Master of the Universe” is one of “freedom” where we can individually have access to the Godhead without the intervention of a priest.
When we see Jesus in action, we are also glimpsing the “openness” of the Father, for He sits down feasting with a crowd of folk who could by no means be considered “desirable” members of Society, but treating everyone with concern and courtesy.
Between 2016 and 2017, I spent more than 6 months in St. Mary’s Hospital (knees with infected bones) and throughout that whole period, we never saw the Chief Executive on the wards, so that he had no personal relationship with the staff or knowledge of the problems they encountered.
This is the common and understandable complaint regarding our leaders. Many MPs and certainly prominent politicians seem to have no idea how ordinary people live and what are their needs, hopes and aspirations.
To some extent this can be said of our Church leaders; it is fine for Diocesan “experts” to draw up wonderful plans, some without prior consultation with the parishioners and those most affected.
However, when you consider the multitude of people who inhabit this small planet, you may ask how God can possibly fulfil this role to be close to His Creation and particularly what we consider His highest creation, humanity itself?
This is where our vision of God is too small; when we consider the vast, unimaginable Universe with its reliable order, there is no way that we can begin to understand the immensity of the Godhead.
To enter our world and our lives, it is clear that God had to come in recognisable form, as a human being and living among us, chose the most humble of families to whom to be born.
if God came among us with all His Glory, we would be unable to approach Him; as the son of a village carpenter who mixed with every level of Society, He demonstrated that we are equally valuable to our heavenly Father, no matter who or what we are.
“For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind and the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at His Word; and our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of Our Lord.” (Faber)
Not an unapproachable despot, but a loving, forgiving Father and friend to whom we can be joined in love.