The four Sundays before Christmas are a time of waiting, preparing and anticipating what we know is to come. We rehearse the stories of Elizabeth and Zechariah, John the Baptist and Mary and Joseph as they lead us towards that day.
But Christmas isn’t about a day. Christmas in our church calendar is a season of 12 days – hence the old English Carol about the 12 Days of Christmas. So momentous is the occasion of God coming among us as a helpless infant that we take up to 40 days each year to wrap our minds around the significance of it.
I think it is helpful for us here in the southern hemisphere, away from the dark and cold of the northern winter, to celebrate this season in the middle of summer. It is the long holiday season for children and for many in the workforce this is the down-tools time. This gives us time to spend reflecting on the really important things in our life and thanking God for the gifts that have come our way through now effort of our own.
Our services at Holy Cross through this season are as follows:
- Sunday 16th – 9am & 11am
- Sunday 23rd – 9am & 11am
- Christmas Eve, 24th – 7pm Family Service for Children and Youth to make us think about Christmas.
- Christmas Day, 25th – 9am Celebration of the Nativity
- Each Sunday following Christmas Day up to and including Sunday 3rd February we will hold a single 10am Service
We live in a world that is always a mix of good and evil. Peace and Violence are found almost everywhere. Truth and lies are intermingled. Joy and heartache meet us every day. As humans, we are never fully good or fully evil. The selected readings this week remind us of this.
Hannah’s joy in the birth of Samuel is expressed in the prayer we will read like a Psalm, in which she acknowledges the presence of sadness and pain. Jesus pointed his disciples to the coexistence of good and evil in the days ahead. And we read in the letter to the Hebrew Christians that even despite our mix of good and bad, we are called to become ‘perfected’ or mature in the spiritual dimensions of our lives.
Spiritual maturity is not about making ourselves perfectly good to be acceptable to God. It is accepting ourselves as we are, a mix of good and evil, knowing that we are totally loved and accepted by God. Then we can love ourselves as we are, and learn, little by little, to love others as well. Like Hannah, like the disciples, like the early Christians, like Priscilla, we do this in a world of both good and evil, with other people who are also not totally good and not totally bad.
Please join us this Sunday, 18th November at 9am to celebrate the baptism of two dear children into the family of God. At 11am we will celebrate Holy Communion as well.
The War to End all Wars – that was how it was billed. The end result of it was the complete devastation of Europe – cities flattened, arable land made waste, a generation of young men damaged or killed. And a generation of people wondering where was God in all this mess.
We all understand the feeling. Resorting to violence in response to things done to us or others is so easy. Indeed, the foundational human family in Hebrew faith was confronted with the murder of a brother by a brother – Cain murdering Abel. Resorting to violence is so natural it is instinctive, making it really hard for us to think of alternatives.
Christians believed from the earliest days that violence was not an option for them. Many refused military service even when that exposed them to the accusation of being unpatriotic, or disloyal to the Emperor. They did this because they believe Jesus shows us another way – the way of Love. If you love your enemies as he commanded, how could you raise an arm in violence against them? That is why we call Jesus the Prince of Peace. And it is to peacemaking that we as his followers are called.
Please join us this Sunday Morning at 9am for a special Service of Remembrance and Holy Communion. Lest we forget!
Mark’s telling of the Two Great Commandments is distinctly different from Matthew’s and Luke’s. Firstly, the question about what is most important seems to be asked by a genuine enquirer rather than someone wanting to trap Jesus. In fact, when the encounter comes to an end Jesus affirms the man’s faith by telling him he was not far from the kingdom of God.
Secondly, Mark includes the first phrase in the quotation from Deuteronomy as a way of making it clear these words are addressed the family of YAHWEH – “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” It then goes on with the familiar words of the Hebrew Shema – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart …” For Mark, people are not being asked to love a God who is a ruthless tyrant or a genial Santa Claus, but a g
God whose identity has been revealed in the life of Israel.
Finally, Mark adds something neither of the others mentions – that Loving God in this way is far more important than adherence to the ritual sacrifices of the Temple Cult in Jerusalem. That this observation was made by the scribe who asked the question is what impresses Jesus and prompts him to affirm his faith. May we all share that simple faith, focussing all our energies and attention to loving God and our neighbours as best we can.
This Sunday, 4th November, we meet at 10am only. Come and join us.
In the final chapter of The Jesus Driven Life, Michael Hardin
discusses some of the unique features of the Gospel of John. We all know that it stands apart from the other three in that there are far fewer common stories and the literary style is much more figurative.
Two key features are worth noting. Firstly, John has a very high view of Jesus and speaks in terms of his divinity far more frequently than the other Gospels. This is important because this is exactly what should change our view of God. A key theme in Jesus’ teaching is that he and the Father are close and intimate with each other and that we, through Jesus, can experience that same intimacy.
It is also worth noting that in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ teaching about Love reaches its pinnacle. “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another.” John mostly uses the word Love as a verb – emphasising that it is something you do, not something you can look at. And it is very clear from his teaching that Love requires us to renounce our tendency to violence and so it becomes the antidote to violence.
Finally, John has his own understanding of the Holy Spirit that is quite distinct from the teachings of Luke and Paul. His use of a Greek word – Paraclete – invokes for us the idea of someone who will speak on our behalf, particularly when we stand before the judge. And since the Spirit is the Spirit of God, when we stand before the Judge it will be God speaking for us with mercy and love.
Please Join us this Sunday at 9am and 11am.
It is so often the case that our concept of God is far too small, too predictable, too domesticated to be true to the God revealed to us in Jesus. Our readings today invite us to ponder the reality of God, who moves inscrutably and freely beyond all our safe expectations and our conventional definitions. In some senses, this means that the church should be the most dangerous place in town because it should be a place where the awesome, hidden rule of God is spoken about unflinchingly.
Our readings from the book of Job and the Psalms point us to not just the beauty of God’s creation and wonderful productivity of it, but also the clear declaration that all this is the handiwork of God and intended for our well-being. The reading from Hebrews continues to declare the uniqueness of Jesus and his revelation to us of the nature of God as one who forgives.
These then serve to prepare us for our story about James and John from Mark’s Gospel. These two disciples clearly understood the wonder and power of Jesus, but they sought to turn that to their own advantage. They thought that all this was just for them. But the clear intention of the Gospel is to open our eyes to see a much bigger God than we ever dreamed – one who was compassionate to all, not just the Chosen few.
You are welcome to join us for worship this Sunday, 21st October at 9am or 11am.
Do you ever feel that the things which are happening to you must be because you have done something wrong? You don’t know what it is, but you feel something must be causing all these difficult times, times when God seems far off. Other people who seem to always do the right thing seem to have such a smooth ride through life. I must be paying the consequences for something somewhere in my life.
Jesus turns that feeling on its head. Being a friend of God and being blessed by God has nothing to do with being “perfect” or even good. People in Jesus’ day thought life going well for you, having success and wealth in life, was a result of being good, following God. It was God’s blessing on you.
Jesus says “Look at me! I am the one who truly knows God, loves God and follows God. I am not successful and wealthy. I am going to suffer and die in Jerusalem. Yet God deeply loves me and lives in me and I live in God.”
So Jesus’ message to the rich young man was if you want to please God, pay the price, leave your success and wealth, and come, follow me.
Please join us this Sunday, 14th October at 9am or 11am. You will be most welcome.