Sunday, 29 January 2017

Candlemas 2017 at Great Brickhill

Benefice Service for the Brickhills on 29 January 2017


Dear friends, forty days ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we recall the day on which he was presented in the Temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people. In their old age Simeon and Anna recognized him as their Lord, as we today sing of his glory. In this Eucharist, we celebrate both the joy of his coming and his searching judgement, looking back to the day of his birth and forward to the coming days of his passion.

Invitation to Confession

Hear the words of our Saviour Jesus Christ: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me shall never walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.’ Let us therefore bring our sins into his light and confess them in penitence and faith.


May almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to everlasting life.


Let us pray that we may know and share the light of Christ.
Almighty and ever-living God, clothed in majesty, whose beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple, in substance of our flesh: grant that we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts, by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings Malachi 3

3 ‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty.

2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

5 ‘So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Lord Almighty.

Reading Hebrews 2

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Gospel acclamation

Today the Lord is presented in the Temple in substance of our mortal nature. Today old Simeon proclaims Christ as the light of the nations and the glory of Israel. Praise to Christ, the light of the world.

Gospel Luke 2

Jesus presented in the temple

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’.

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.’

33 The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.


Our faith depends on our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Easy to say—harder to live. Hard, but not impossible, even for ordinary Christians such as ourselves.

Wisdom and intelligence not required. Teachers and philosophers not needed. Power, influence and authority no use.

Religious people look for signs—clever people look for wisdom—God searches out human weakness:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. I Cor 1:25

How much weaker could God incarnate appear than to be brought into the world in the form of a new born baby?

The arrival of a baby has always been marked by many layers of tradition—family, religious and social. 2,000 years ago in Palestine, the expectation was that the rules set down in Leviticus 12: 3-8 should be followed. We don’t need to concern ourselves with the religious protocols which were observed after childbirth, but this was the pattern Mary and Joseph were following after the birth of a first born male child. This was the background to the events described in Luke’s gospel chapter 2.

Like many religious laws, the aim was holiness and purity. The object was that a woman should be sanctified after giving birth, just as the Temple where she presented her baby was holy ground. So the setting for the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple was holy, and the theme is Redemption as befits the dwelling place of a holy God.

The event relates to the date of Jesus’ birth, but we have to remember that, by the time the gospels were written down, the Temple had ceased to function, having been destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.

Wind the clock back 70 years, and the background was still one of conflict, fear and repression. Given what we know about Herod and the Epiphany, Mary and Joseph were doing a brave thing by moving straight from being counted in the state census and coming to the Temple to observe the Jewish customs and laws. Luke’s readers, with the destruction of the Temple fresh in their minds, would have been very aware of the risk of arbitrary punishment and random checks Mary and Joseph would have faced.

I heard a sermon in London, many years ago, when the preacher mentioned in passing that Simeon may have said the same to many families whose infant he believed just might have been the longed for Messiah. I’m not sure what point he was trying to make, but we are focused on one event, as Luke sets down for us.

Simeon was not a priest, but an ordinarily devout man who had dedicated himself to discerning the coming Messiah. He was moved by the Spirit to come to the Temple at the exact moment Mary and Joseph arrived, and intervened to bless the baby Jesus, and make his prophecy.

Taking the baby in his arms, no doubt surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, Simeon recognised he had seen the presence of Salvation in their midst during his lifetime, and that Salvation is for all people, Jew and Gentile alike.

But he also tells Mary that her son is destined to cause the downfall of many in Israel, and the death of Jesus will pierce her heart like a sword. Not exactly what she wanted to hear, but remember Mary had responded to the call of the Angel to become the mother of Jesus, and would be very aware of the miraculous nature of what she had taken on, and the sorrow as well as the joy that this led to in the fullness of time.

The baby Jesus takes no part in the event. His name is only mentioned once throughout the narrative. The point is that he was small and vulnerable but loved. He was born in lowly surroundings. Ironically, the Son of God is redeemed by the offering of two pigeons or two turtle doves—yet we know Simeon and then the prophetess Anna are effectively announcing the presence on earth of the Saviour of the world.

Could there have been a greater contrast between this baby and Augustus Caesar, the Roman emperor, having declared himself Imperator Caesar Divi Filius, the son of the gods, protector and saviour of the civilised world, on his throne in power, splendour and immense wealth, needing as he thought no redemption?

His successor, Vespasian, was the Roman emperor when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. The comparison would not have been lost on Luke’s readers, who had the wisdom and discernment to believe the unbelievable about this baby and what in his short lifetime he would mean to us all. Amen

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Epiphany at SS Peter & Paul, Wingrave

8th January 2017





The Lord will be your everlasting light and your God will be your glory. Isaiah 60.19

Invitation to Confession

The grace of God has dawned upon the world through our Saviour Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for us to purify a people as his own. Let us confess our sins.


Creator of the heavens,
who led the Magi by a star
to worship the Christ-child:
guide and sustain us,
that we may find our journey's end
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Ist Reading Ephesians 3

God’s marvellous plan for the Gentiles


For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia. We have seen his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.
All Alleluia.

Gospel Matthew 2

The Magi visit the Messiah


After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.5 ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:

6 ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.


Word Epiphany – to manifest or show
Epiphany as feast day celebrates revelation of God in human form in the person of Jesus Christ. In the western church, we celebrate the visit of the Magi. In the eastern church, today they commemorate the baptism of Christ, which we would normally celebrate today but which is moved to tomorrow.

Both are manifestations of Christ to the world. Magi were gentiles, to whom it had been revealed that the child Jesus would be born. The baptism of Jesus is a manifestation to the world that he is the Son of God.

Epiphany in popular culture means The Magi meet the Messiah. We are fascinated by the magic and mystery. Lead figures—astrologers from Orient (place of rising sun). Who or what are they—how do they fulfill ancient prophecy—what magic is strong enough to disturb Herod and all Jerusalem?

Symbols of Epiphany
3 Wise Men – Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar – 6th – 8th C origin – first religious figures to worship – 20XCXMXBX17
Christ bless this house

Star in the east – at its rising

Gold, frankincense and myrrh – Persian, Parthian or Arabian—gifts may have come from S Arabia.

· GOLD—precious metal, given to a King.

· FRANKINCENSE—gum or resin harvested from a tree—burnt to create fragrance used in worship—symbol of divinity—used for purification.

· MYRRH—also from Arabia—also obtained from a tree like incense—bitter herb used for embalming—symbolic of suffering, affliction and death.

Real interest of Epiphany—Magi, Baptism of Christ and all other revelations.

· Magi are gentiles—they recognize the Messiah from prophecy and signs in heavens—they realise who Christ is and his place in salvation—they interpret these signs to us as they did to Herod.

· They pay homage to Christ—their gifts are significant in their meaning

· Their origin in the place where light shines first points to Jesus the light of the world—and its association in the New Testament with salvation

· Their message is to all nations

Dawning realisation
Epiphany experience can be sudden or gradual.

· Sudden—Best known conversion experience was Saul—dramatic encounter—bright light and voice of Jesus. Paul emerges from blindness a convert to new faith.

· Gradual—John Newton, slave trader born 1725 wrote Amazing Grace—his conversion experience sounds sudden, but in fact it was gradual over a period of years:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

So, the conversion experience need not be at one fixed point in time, as some would have us believe.

Take disciples for example: at what point did they convert from Judaism to Christianity? After resurrection, they were still fearful and joyful in equal measure.

Church dates their conversion to Pentecost when disciples receive Holy Spirit. But this was in effect ‘done to them’ rather than being a choice freely made.

There are hints in stories: repent and baptised John the Baptist—follow me call of Jesus—And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit John 20:22

In early church—Christians were marked by difference. Their beliefs and practices no longer fitted in with synagogue or pagan temples. So they met in own homes, or in meeting rooms.

Conversion took many forms – but it was a leaving of one faith (or none) and an acceptance of another. Did not necessarily mean baptism—Constantine not baptised until on death bed.

Christianity is a faith of relationship with God through Jesus Christ—not a faith of action. God does not tick boxes. We are not judged by whether we can say the Creed.

Epiphany does mark a defining moment, however, whether this is at a point in time, or as we have seen, through a long period of slowly dawning realisation.

True conversion is not to a programme, a set of beliefs or a creed. True conversion is towards a person, namely Jesus Christ. It is a new encounter with Jesus – as Paul on the road to Damascus would testify.

That is the message of Epiphany, to all people, whether sudden or realised. In Matthew’s gospel the Magi in chapter 2 lead to the Great Commission at the end.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’