Monthly Archives: December 2011

Waiting, hoping, looking (First Sunday of Christmas, Year B, 1 January 2012)

Waiting, hoping, looking

Readings
Galatians 4.4-7
Luke 2.22-40

It must have been an ordinary enough scene. A young couple come to the temple in Jerusalem, forty days after the birth of her firstborn son. They were obviously a devout couple, a couple who obeyed the Law of Moses, which said:

Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord.

They’d been taught that since the time of the first Passover, the firstborn son had belonged to the Lord; they were required to offer sacrifice to redeem their son, to buy him back, from the Lord.

But this particular man and woman were also quite poor. If they could afford it, they would bring a lamb and a pigeon or turtledove to the temple. But those who couldn’t afford a lamb were allowed to bring two birds. Mary and Joseph brought two birds.

An observer would have only seen an observant couple, a poor couple, doing the right thing.

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A good, not perfect, Christmas (Christmas Day, 2011)

A good, not perfect, Christmas

Readings
Isaiah 9.1-7
Luke 2.1-20

This year has been a painful experience for people in many parts of the world. For example: Christchurch was wrecked by a terrible earthquake, the folk of Japan were devastated by a tsunami, recently the people of the Philippines were inundated by severe flooding and many asylum seekers drowned when their boat overturned.

And of course, Christchurch has been struck again by earthquakes; and Darwin may be hit by another Christmas cyclone.

It’s not been easy right here either. The floods last January left their mark in many ways. Those directly affected lost precious possessions and even homes. Some people lost their lives. The community rallied, and people showed that they could care. But even now, there are homes as yet unlived in since the floods. There are people scarred by depression. There are people who won’t go away this summer because they prefer to stay around their home. Just in case.

2011 has not been the easiest year.

Now Christmas is here, and we can forget all that. It’s a good thing to have a celebration, and Christmas gives us a celebration that’s as regular as clockwork. It’s always good to see the joy on children’s faces and perhaps recall our own Christmas memories.

Christmas is here, and it’s good. But you know, one of the things we often tell ourselves is that Christmas must not only be ‘good’; it must be perfect. Perfect meal, perfectly behaved kids, perfect gifts for people who—well…aren’t perfect. All this in times that are not perfect.

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The ‘real’ Mary? (Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B, 2011)

The ‘real Mary’?

Readings
2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16
Luke 1.47-55 (responsive)
Luke 1.26-38

Will the real Mary please stand? 

Who was Mary?

Was she meek, mild, submissive, not very worldly-wise? That’s a common image of Mary, the wide-eyed mother holding her baby, looking as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth… But is that really Mary?

It must be said: we don’t know much about Mary. And a lot of what we think we know has been filtered through the imaginations of people through the ages, many of them celibate men and women who never once held their own child in their arms. Because I have to say, that’s a life-changing experience which helps you ‘get’ Mary, one that grounds you in the realities of life, of poop, of piercing cries and demands for food now. And it also teaches you what love and delight can be.

Whoever the real Mary was, she held her own child in her arms. She knew the need to protect, to love, to nurture that child.

Luke gives us a fuller picture of Mary than anyone else. His Mary immediately sees her future Son as a sign. A sign of the coming justice of God. So Mary sings:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices
in God my Saviour…

But more than that, Mary proclaims this as good news:

You have filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid
of your servant Israel,
to remember the promise of mercy,
the promise made to our forebears,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

And later, her Son would sing that song anew in the synagogue of Nazareth as he proclaimed this good news:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Mary protected and nurtured a Son who was to be the world’s Saviour. She had no idea what was ahead of her; like the rest of us, she put one foot in front of the other day after day and watched her Child grow.

This picture that Luke gives us of Mary is a bit different from the ‘meek-mild Mary’ we may be used to. Let’s look in a bit more detail.

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John and Mary, Jesus and Josie: A sermon for the Induction of the Rev. Josie Nottle (8 December 2011)

John and Mary, Jesus and Josie

 

Readings
Luke 1.47-55 (responsive)
Mark 1.1-8

 

It’s Advent, and two of the most wonderful people in the Bible appear in our Lectionary readings every year at this time. Those two are Mary, the mother of Jesus and John the Baptist.

(Not that they ever come together in our Lectionary readings. I’ve cheated! I’ve taken one of the choices for the ‘Psalm’ from this coming Sunday—it’s actually the Song of Mary in Luke 1—and I’ve teamed it with the Gospel Reading from last Sunday, from Mark 1. So tonight we have John and his Auntie Mary together.)

I say I like these two, but I’m not sure I’d like to have either living next door to me. They’re both prophets, burdened with a need to tell out the word that God gives them. I really don’t think I’d like to live next door to a prophet, especially John with his weird diet and his funny clothes. And what’s more, they’re both saints. If there could be one thing worse than living next door to a prophet, that would be living next to a certified saint.

But here we have John and Mary, prophets and saints. Though I doubt that either would get through the Uniting Church’s selection process to become ordained ministers. John would have too many ‘personality issues’ and Mary would be too young (apart from having a young baby to take care of)—so Josie, you’ve done even better than them. You really do have a lot to live up to.

John was a cantankerous old coot. (Though he was actually a cantankerous young coot if the truth’s to be known.) He stood at the end of the old order and he proclaimed a brand new thing: a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark says,

…people from the whole Judean country-side and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him…

Sounds like he was as successful as a modern-day tele-evangelist. His approach wouldn’t work too well in these materialistic days though.

Among the throngs who came to him was Jesus, perhaps seeking to know the direction that his Father God was calling him to go.

There’s a lot we could say about John and Jesus, but I just want to highlight one thing. John says:

The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

It was said that disciples owed their teacher every duty except to untie the laces of his sandals. This was too demeaning.

John says not only should he untie the laces of the one who is coming, but that he is unworthy to do this very demeaning thing.

There are some often-quoted words in the Fourth Gospel. John the Evangelist has John saying about Jesus:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Josie, you are a minister of the Word. There is a real sense in which you are a symbol of the Word, the Word-made-flesh.

As a symbol, you are to point beyond yourself to the Jesus, who is the One you symbolise in a particular way. You must decrease, that he may increase. You may not be worthy to untie his laces, but listen: he has made you worthy. You have the dignity of a daughter of God.

Yet any symbol that points to the One who was broken on the cross needs to be a ‘broken symbol’. To decrease in the presence of the One broken for our sakes is to turn away from pride, manipulation and self-serving. It is to serve in his Spirit. It is to rejoice when others shine, because they shine with the reflected glory of Jesus Christ, the One more powerful than we are.

In the end, a broken symbol leads people to faith, not to control or power or possession of something. Your ministry will elicit faith within the people of God.

Take John as your example; not in the way you dress or what you eat or how often you shower, but in who you are. And in Who you belong to, and Who you yield to.

And what about Mary? Josie, you’re a young woman, but Mary was about half your age. We Protestants tend to ignore Mary; she makes us nervous. One Advent, a friend of mine said she was preaching on Mary. I said, ‘So you’re preaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary?’ She said, ‘Oh, I couldn’t call her that.’ I said, ‘Why not? The Bible does.’ She replied, ‘Oh yes, so it does!’ (All right, I confess: I was deliberately being a smart arse.)

The point is this: there are passages in the  Scriptures that value Mary more highly than we do. So we should look at her more than we do.

For tonight, let me again just say one thing: Mary is the example of a believer. She shows us what it is to believe. When confronted with an arduous task of gargantuan proportions, she just says,

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

But that’s after she questions God:

“How can this be…?”

Mary says “Let it be” after she questions what this is all about. And then Mary praises God.

Josie, I suspect you’ve taken a similar route in coming to Centenary. You’ve no doubt questioned whether this is a task of gargantuan proportions—but I think it’s not!—and you’ve sought whether God is calling you here.

And once you decided that was indeed the case, you said, “Let it be with me according to your word.” And I know you have given thanks to God for bringing you to this point.

Mary was a courageous young woman, who knew the consequences for her could be severe—even death by stoning—but she said “Yes”.

Josie, you are another Mary, as are we all. Jesus is being formed within you, and changing the way you look at life. You know that Mary sang the truth:

You have shown strength with your arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
casting down the mighty
from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry
with good things
and sent the rich away empty.

Tell us that story, Josie, tell us again and again! Lead us to live that story, as Mary did. And always keep in mind that Mary was only half your age, so take St Paul’s advice to Timothy also (1 Timothy 4.12):

Let no one despise your youth.

So Josie, whatever else you are, you are a symbol—a broken symbol—pointing us to the risen and crucified Lord. He is being formed within your very being, so you can be bold and daring with Mary. Be a broken symbol among us and with us and for us.

I don’t know if you’re a prophet, or a saint, Josie; maybe you are, but if so I’m sure I’ll get used to working with one. For now, on behalf of the people of God in this place, let me just say, “Welcome!”.

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The beginning of the Good News: Second Sunday in Advent (Year B, 4 December 2011)

Today, the Rev’d Josie Nottle joins us for the first time. Josie will be working among us with her focus being youth and children’s ministry.

 

The beginning of the Good News

Readings
Isaiah 40.1-11
Mark 1.1-8

 

Three books of the Bible have the word ‘beginning’ right at, well, the very beginning… Those three books are

  • Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”
  • John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”
  • Mark: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…”

What’s your reaction to that? If it’s Ho hum, or So what?, listen closely: the writers of the Gospels of John and Mark knew the Old Testament very well. They knew that its first words were “In the beginning”, and that those words started the stories of the creation of the world. Mark and John are giving us a clue: what they are writing about is as important as the creation of the world. In fact, it’s about a new creation.

John says that the Word with which God spoke the universe into being—“God said, ‘let there be light’ and there was light”—that Word was personal. More than that, this person was God. More than that, this person took human flesh and lived among us, not to judge us but to bring us life in all its fullness.

Mark says that the Good News is good news of a new creation. A brand new beginning. In fact, it seems likely that this was Mark’s title for his whole book: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.

What is ‘the gospel’? You may know our word comes from the old English godspell, which means ‘good news’. The gospel is good news. If it’s bad news, it’s not the gospel.

But it’s not any old good news. It’s not the good news that the Rev’d Josie Nottle is commencing her time with us this Sunday. That’s wonderful news, but it’s not the gospel. It’s not even the good news that the Aussies are thrashing the Kiwis in the cricket. For one thing, it depends what side of the ditch you hail from—it’s bad news for the Kiwis. It’s not even the good news that the baby was born safely, or that the operation was a success. It’s a particular kind of good news.

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