Monday, 24 December 2012

Midnight Mass

St Giles Cheddington – 24 December 2012

First Reading Isaiah 9.2-7 Chris

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and for ever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Gospel Luke 2.1-14(15-20)

Alleluia, alleluia.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we have seen his glory. John 1.14

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

There were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


· 8th C BC prophecy applied to coming of Jesus Christ.

o Original coronation of child king

o Hopes for freedom from oppression – walked in political darkness – rule by Assyria – corruption

o Light dawned – rejoice – burden lifted – no more fighting

· Isaiah warned King Hezekiah what would happen – relied on Israel covenant people – but they had broken covenant with God

· Coronation of child king – what hope he will accomplish – what he will be like – wonderful counsellor, everlasting father, prince of peace – Mighty God?? No. Names apply to God?

· Name of King unknown – what accomplished? – fulfil promise?

o Is it right to apply specific prophecy to Jesus – was that foreseen or intended?

· Prophesies of Isaiah scattered through lectionary – deeply embedded in culture and liturgy – in our consciousness and music – hard to hear them without thinking of birth of Jesus

· Does it matter? – whether or not applied to Christ does not change what he is or what he did for us – like Luke’s infancy narratives.

· Child king did not bring about freedom – only God can do that.

o Hezekiah failed – disobedience broke covenant with God

· Likewise our own sin and disobedience – we can do nothing in our own power – God accomplished this in Jesus at Christmas and Easter

o Prophecy applies to all time – parallel to Israel and the child king – Jesus born a child – offers redemption for our sin and disobedience – frees from oppression

· Not just to Israel – for

... to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Message - not just for 8th C BC Israel – not even just for us today – but universal, for all time – the message of this night. Amen

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Mary and Elizabeth (oh, and Hannah, Sarah and Micah too)

St Mary the Virgin Mentmore – 23 December 2012

First Reading Micah 5.2-5a

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labour gives birth
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
And he will be their peace.

Gospel Luke 1.39-45(46-55)

Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

All Alleluia.

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.

All Glory to you, O Lord.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants for ever,
even as he said to our fathers.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

All Praise to you, O Christ.


In his Autumn statement two weeks ago – the Chancellor George Osborne squeezed us all, but for some strange reason he squeezed the rich and the poor more than those of us in the middle. Taking from the rich is all very fine, but shouldn’t we be acting more like Robin Hood and giving the proceeds to the poor.

The prophet Micah lived through a time of turbulence. It was the 8th century BC. Small countries like Judah were dominated by the power of the Assyrian empire. Micah foretold freedom from the yoke of Assyria. He prophesied a ruler would come, who would stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord. Micah foretold a saviour would come, who would bring peace, nourishment and prosperity to the people who had been oppressed.

But this could not happen until the moral and social decay in the land had been purged. The poor were evicted from their property. Officials took bribes. Weights and measures in the marketplaces were fixed. The rich abused the poor. Corruption was rife.

God’s wrath was directed not only against the perpetrators of sin, but also against the prophets and religious leaders, who should have been standing up for the downtrodden and oppressed. In the end, out of devastation will come a time when righteousness and peace is restored. Swords will be beaten into ploughshares, and everyone will sit in the shade of their own vines, olives and fig trees.

We read the words of Micah’s prophesy as applying to the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. We are right to do so – Jesus himself is steeped in Old Testament prophecy, and clearly applies many passages of Scripture to his own mission here on earth. The original prophecy was addressed to Micah’s contemporaries, but God speaks to all people at all times. God is outside time itself. So his words apply to Micah’s time, as well as to Jesus but also crucially to our own time. To regard Micah’s prophecy as merely foretelling the coming of the Saviour Jesus is to miss the word of God applicable to our own situation.

You see, God in Christ constantly turns everything upside down. Read the prophecy for yourself, and you’ll see what I mean. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount did the same.

In today’s gospel reading, two women fill the frame: Elizabeth and her cousin Mary. Elizabeth, like her forebears Sarah in Genesis and Hannah from I Samuel is unable to bear children. Her condition was thought to be her fault. She was looked down upon by society. She was considered unable to fulfil her role as a woman. Yet here she was, miraculously 6 months pregnant, visited by Mary the mother of the Saviour foretold by the likes of Micah and Isaiah.

Hannah, the mother of Samuel, is not just someone’s mother and someone’s wife. She is a prophet in her own right. Take note all those who are against the consecration of women bishops. Hannah’s song is much like Mary’s song. The first verse sounds much like the opening of the Magnificat:

"My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.

Everything is upside down. God has brought down the mighty, and elevated the humble and meek. He has scattered the proud and fed the hungry. The rich go hungry. This idea of social justice is at the heart of the Christian gospel. Wrongs will be put right, and the coming of the Kingdom on earth means we must start the process right now.

Is this why big tax breaks for the rich feel so wrong at a time of long term austerity? Politics is about pleasing the majority of the people, or at least persuading them to go along with your policies. Politicians have in mind the chance of re-election, ahead perhaps of social justice, doing what’s right, and protecting the poor, needy and disadvantaged. In the past, when our administration and law were firmly founded on Christian principles, we could perhaps take it for granted that the Christian gospel message of social justice and care for the poor would be at the forefront of policy making, but alas no more. That’s where our faith informs how we act, not only towards our neighbours but also in the way we cast our votes and influence governments.

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.