St Helen’s Church

23rd June 2024. 4th Sunday after Trinity

Prayer for today:

O God the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

Please pray for Charlotte and Ruari, who were married here yesterday, and Millie and Spencer, whose wedding is on Saturday.

Among those who are sick we pray for Barbara Parker, Liam Marshall, Maureen Stevens, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those whose year’s mind is about this time we remember George Frederick Watling, John Lowdon, James Oliver, Robin Dodwell and James Lamb Urwin.

Whitley Chapel First School summer Fayre is on Saturday 29th June from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. Please support this event and your school.

Very many thanks for the superb efforts of so many who made last Sunday’s Garden Trail a wonderful success, and to those who kindly opened their gardens to visitors and made them welcome.

And thanks be to God for sunshine and that the rain held off until 4!

Here is a  message from Claire Bradley:

Dear all,
I think that I have all the money in from the garden trail and totalled it all up.  The final total is £3,609.51 – which is AMAZING!!!  Well done everyone, particularly Ruth, for a day that not only raised a lot of money but also gave a great number of people a lot of enjoyment.

I can’t give a completely accurate breakdown of the total, but it is approximately as follows:
Raffle – £1,687
Tickets – £810
Food etc – £1,067    (Breakfast butties etc – £260, soup around £300 and cake and drinks around £500)
Other (plants, willow) – £45


2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,‘In the time of my favour I heard you,     and in the day of salvation I helped you.I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.We put no stumbling-block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. 12 We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. 13 As a fair exchange – I speak as to my children – open wide your hearts also.

Psalm 107

O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good:
for his mercy endureth for ever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;
and gathered them out of the lands,
from the east, and from the west,
from the north, and from the south.

23 They that go down to the sea in ships,
that do business in great waters;
24 these see the works of the Lord,
and his wonders in the deep.
25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind,
which lifteth up the waves thereof.
26 They mount up to the heaven,
they go down again to the depths:
their soul is melted because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
and are at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble,
and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
29 He maketh the storm a calm,
so that the waves thereof are still.
30 Then are they glad because they be quiet;
so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.

31 Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness,
and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
32 Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders

Mark 4:35-41

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’

41 They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’

Thoughts on today’s readings

I was talking with the children in school some days ago about risk. On the one hand we want to protect our children from harm, to keep them from danger, but on the other hand they have to learn how to deal with danger, what to do when the storm comes, as it were.  Among the children were two with broken bones, not because their home is a particularly hazardous place, but because this is what happens in life. Whether you’re learning to ride a bicycle or learning to ski, one of the first things you learn is what to do when you fall, because that is generally what happens.

St. Paul writing to Christians in the wealthy city of Corinth makes the point that following Jesus, and bearing witness to him as he did is not without risk. On the one hand he paints a rather unattractive picture: often rejected, imprisoned, tortured, penniless and despised, nevertheless he writes not as one who has fled the battle, but who, despite it all, has triumphed through the power of God and through the power of God alone. There is no other explanation for his preservation and, though seeming to have nothing, has made others rich with the treasure of the gospel they have received. It is God who has provided the weapons: the sword of the word of God in the right hand, the shield to defend him from evil in the left. It is the Spirit of God which has kept his soul alive, holy, incorrupt, and filled with that generous love which the New Testament calls ‘agape’ and enabled him to endure hardship and danger without losing sight of his goal, without losing hope or faith.

We are unlikely to face torture or shipwreck, but even in the ordinary storms of our lives, we may be face with the question Jesus asked his disciples in the boat: ’Why are you afraid?  have you still  no faith?’ I think it is when we think we know and understand what is going on, when we can only see one outcome, that we fail to act in faith, that we fail to recognise who is in the boat with us. The disciples were in their boat, on the sea where they worked every day. They knew that the storm was dangerous, they knew that once their boat was swamped it would sink, and they would drown. That was their knowledge and their experience. Their teacher, the carpenter from Nazareth: what did he know of such things? Exhausted, he slept on a cushion. They took his peaceful sleep as a sign of his ignorance, not of his Knowledge: of his total confidence in the power of God. And when was awoken he did not get on his knees and pray but stood up and ordered the wind to be still. And it was calm. Of course they were afraid: it was clear that this was no ordinary man; only the power of God could do this; it was far beyond their experience or knowledge. But Jesus in effect says to them: do not be afraid; you must have faith.

For our knowledge and our experience of life can blind us to faith and fear can disable us from placing our trust in God. We can be like those who, in the winter, decide to close the school because snow is forecast, and then discover in the morning that nothing has happened. When our oldest son John became desperately ill at the age of 17, my experience told me he could not survive. Not only had his bowel perforated but weeks of chemotherapy meant that his blood had no power to fight infection or heal wounds. My experience told me that in every similar case I was aware of the patient had died. And yet he did not give up, and I felt we were carried by prayer: the prayers of people like you, the prayers of sick people I had ministered to in hospital, the prayers of those who knew us and of people unknown to us. Yes, he was young, and yes, he received wonderful care, but I knew then and I know now that Jesus Christ was with us, and that his hand was on my son. In his healing and recovery he has confounded expectations, and in his turn he works to bring healing to others.  In September of 1838 a ship foundered on the rocks near the Longstones lighthouse. It was too rough for the lifeboat to put out, so it was the 23 year old daughter of the lighthouse keeper who, with her father, put out in their little rowing boat to rescue the survivors and bring them to safety. Knowing the danger, they nevertheless did not hesitate when their fellow men and women were in danger. Grace herself said, ‘God was with me. He gave me the strength which I needed.’  She was no more indestructible than anyone else. Like many of her generation she contracted tuberculosis 3 years later and died at the age of 26. And yet those lives were saved, her story is told and retold, and lives continue to be saved at sea.

So may we teach our children faith, and show it within ourselves and in our lives. May we teach our children that God is with them, and show that we know it is the truth within ourselves and in our lives.

15th January 2023. 2nd Sunday of Epiphany.
Prayer for today:
Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new:
Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for Steven Winter, Tom Cowing, Alison Tweddle, Betty Martin, Daniel Bradley, Prue Critchley, Heather Brooks, Ned Ryan, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Jane Bristow, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Roy Walker, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett , Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, John and Gwyneth Wilde .

Among those who have died recently we remember David Lamb and pray for all his family .
We also remember Sydney White, Denise Baxter, Eva Dodds, Peter Johnson, George Heslop, David Leyland, Sarah Jane Walker, Matthew Clark and Judith Robson, whose year’s mind is about this time.

Isaiah 49: 1-7
Listen to me, you who live far away:
When I was yet in my mother’s womb the Lord called me, he named me. He made me like an arrow, my mouth like a sword, and hid me with his hand. He said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel; I will be glorified in you.’
But I said, ‘I have laboured in vain, for nothing; yet the Lord is my cause, my reward is with God.’
And now the Lord is my strength, who formed me in the womb to bring Jacob and Israel back to him; I am honoured in his sight.
The Lord says, ‘It is not enough that you should be my servant, and restore the tribes of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.’
The Lord, the redeemer of Israel, says to one despised and abhorred by the nations, and a slave of rulers, ‘Kings shall see and stand up, and princes prostrate themselves, because the Lord, who is faithful, the holy one of Israel, has chosen you.’

Psalm 40
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
2 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay,
and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
3 And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God:
many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.
4 Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust,
and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
5 Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done,
and thy thoughts which are to us-ward:
they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee:
if I would declare and speak of them,
they are more than can be numbered.
6 Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire;
mine ears hast thou opened:
burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.
7 Then said I, Lo, I come:
in the volume of the book it is written of me,
8 I delight to do thy will, O my God:
yea, thy law is within my heart.
9 I have preached righteousness in the great congregation:
lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest.
10 I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart;
I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation:
I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.
11 Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Lord:
let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.

John 1: 29-42
When John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching he said, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! I said of him ,” After me comes one greater than me, because he was before me.” I did not know him, but came baptizing with water for this reason : that he might be revealed to Israel. For I saw the Spirit come down from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. He who sent me had told me, “ The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain baptized with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen myself and I testify that this is the Son of God.’
On the next day John stood with two of his disciples as Jesus walked by and exclaimed, ‘Here is the Lamb of God.’ The disciples followed Jesus. He turned and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They asked, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’
They came and saw, and stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon. One of the two was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. He found his brother and said, ‘We have found the Messiah,’(that is, the anointed one).
He brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘Simon, son of John, you will be called Cephas’ (which is translated as Peter).

Thoughts on today’s readings.
We continue on the theme of Jesus being revealed to the world.
Last week it was the sign given to wise men from far away , led by a star to a child in Bethlehem.
Today’s reading from the Gospel according to St. John opens with the fulfilment of the mission of John the Baptist. It had been revealed to him that Jesus, who came to him for baptism, was the one for whom he was sent to prepare the way, and so he declares, ‘Look: here is the Lamb of God,’ and, to emphasise the importance of this witness, John repeats this declaration to his disciples the following day.
He does not say, ‘Behold the Lord’s anointed,’ or ‘Behold your king,’ but ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’
We repeat these words every Sunday before Communion, but what sense do they have for us?
Note that John does not say, ‘Here is Mary’s lamb’, or ‘Joseph’s lamb’ or even ‘David ‘s lamb.’ Jesus is the Lamb of God.
For as once Abraham, when he had brought his son Isaac as a sacrifice in obedience to God, found on the mountain that the Lord had provided him with a ram for sacrifice, so God has provided his own son to be the sacrifice.
And that sacrifice is not just for Israel, or for the justification of those who have faith, but for the sin of the whole world.
This is our world: created by God, loved by God, yet filled with cruelty and death, a world exploited, fields turned to deserts, a world which longs for love.
John the Baptist underlines this understanding when he declares, ‘I saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove,’ – the dove which was a sacrificial animal, the offering of the poor in the temple.
John’s words reveal his understanding that Jesus is identified with the servant in the prophecy of Isaiah: here is one who was hidden until the time chosen by God, like a sword in its scabbard or an arrow in its quiver, hidden in the hand of God.
Here is the one called not simply to restore the tribes of Israel, but to be a light to the nations, and to make a covenant with all the peoples.
In these words we hear the same Spirit which spoke by Simeon the prophet when he held the infant Jesus in his arms and declared that here was ‘A light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel,’ words echoed whenever the canticle ‘Nunc dimittis’ is spoken or sung in Church.
John the Baptist understands that his mission is complete: the Lord has revealed to him the one for whom he came to prepare the way, and now he points the way for his own disciples.
They follow Jesus, first addressing him as ‘Rabbi’ – teacher, but when Andrew goes to find his brother he has already understood that this is the Saviour. Simon his brother comes and finds that Jesus knows him and calls him by his name – and then gives him a new name , Peter, the rock, as a sign of what God is going to do through him.
And this is what we, the church, are called to do, as once John the Baptist and Andrew the fisherman did: to bring people to Jesus.
The Bible and our worship and liturgy teach this, and we are called by name to bear witness in our lives and in our dealings with one another.
For who can believe that the human race is alone able to save the world? Amen, come Lord Jesus.

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know , and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown in you,
And you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind,
And never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare,
Should your life attract or scare,
Will you let me answer prayer in you,
And you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you let the prisoners free,
And never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean
And do such as this unseen,
And admit to what I mean
In you, and you in me?

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
If I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside
And never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
To reshape the world around
Through my sight, and touch, and sound
In you, and you in me.

Lord, your summons echoes true
When you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
And never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
Where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move, and live, and grow in you,
And you in me.

Colours of Day

Colours of day dawn into the mind,
The sun has come up, the night is behind.
Go down in the city, into the street,
And let’s give the message to the people we meet.

So light up the fire and let the flame burn,
Open the door, let Jesus return.
Take seeds of his Spirit, let the fruit grow,
Tell the people of Jesus, let his love show.

Go through the park, on into the town;
The sun still shines on, it never goes down.
The light of the world is risen again;
The people of darkness are needing our friend.

Open your eyes, look into the sky,
The darkness has come, the sun came to die.
The evening draws on, the sun disappears,
But Jesus is living, and his Spirit is near.

8th January 2023. 1st Sunday of Epiphany
Prayer for today:
O God, who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the people of the earth: mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may at the last behold your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for Steven Winter, Tom Cowing, Alison Tweddle, Daniel Bradley, Prue Critchley, Heather Brooks, Ned Ryan, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Jane Bristow, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Roy Walker, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett , Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, John and Gwyneth Wilde .

Among those who have died recently we remember David Lamb and pray for all his family .

Isaiah 60: 1-6
The prophet addresses Zion: Arise, shine; your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Though darkness cover the earth and its peoples, the Lord will arise upon you; his glory shall appear over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn..
Look up! Look around you: they gather and come to you.
Your sons will come from far away, and your daughters will be carried in their nurses’ arms.
Then you will see, and be radiant; your heart shall rejoice, for the riches of the sea and the wealth of nations will be brought to you; camels without number from Midian and Sheba will cover the land. They will bring gold and frankincense, and proclaim the praises of the Lord.

Psalm 72
1 Give the king thy judgments, O God,
and thy righteousness unto the king’s son.
2 He shall judge thy people with righteousness,
and thy poor with judgment.
3 The mountains shall bring peace to the people,
and the little hills, by righteousness.
4 He shall judge the poor of the people,
he shall save the children of the needy,
and shall break in pieces the oppressor.
5 They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure,
throughout all generations.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass:
as showers that water the earth.
7 In his days shall the righteous flourish;
and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.

10 The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents:
the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.
11 Yea, all kings shall fall down before him:
all nations shall serve him.
12 For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth;
the poor also, and him that hath no helper.
13 He shall spare the poor and needy,
and shall save the souls of the needy.
14 He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence:
and precious shall their blood be in his sight.

Matthew 2: 1-12
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, when Herod was king, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem, asking , ‘Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We have seen his star rising and are come to pay him homage.’ Fear struck Herod and all Jerusalem. He called the priests and scribes and asked them where Messiah was to be born. The replied, ‘In Bethlehem in Judea, for the prophet has written, ”You Bethlehem in Judea, are not least amongst the rulers of Judah; from you will come a ruler who will be shepherd of my people Israel.” ‘
Herod met the wise men in secret and asked them when they first observed the star. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Search diligently for the child; when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and pay him homage.’
So the star went before them, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they observed this, they were filled with joy. In the house they saw the child, with Mary his mother, and knelt before him in homage. They opened their treasure chests and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and returned to their country by another way.
Thoughts on today’s readings

The first thing that strikes me in St. Matthew’s account is the response to the sign given by God:
The wise men, who have been searching the heavens in expectation are energized by the sight of this star to leave their lives behind and undertake a hazardous journey.
They obviously expect their sense of hopeful expectation to be shared by the people to whom God has given a new king, and rejoice at the sight of the child and his mother, the fulfillment of the sign, and kneel before him.
In contrast, the response in Jerusalem is one of fear and confusion, in spite of the centuries of prophecies.
Obviously, Herod was not planning on being replaced, and reports of self-proclaimed ‘messiahs’ were not unknown. Was it because this revelation was given to foreigners, and not to priests and scribes? Nonetheless the contrast is very deliberate.
On January 6th the birth of Christ was celebrated by that part of the Christian community labeled ‘Orthodox’. From Eastern Europe to the Middle East, and on to Egypt and Ethiopia this is a day of great celebration.
And the joy and the celebration are the same as ours on December 25th, that God has given to the world the most precious gift he had, in the form of his only Son Jesus Christ, and as children of God, we give gifts to one another as a reflection and as a celebration of God’s extraordinary generosity.
The reading from Isaiah reminds us of God’s purpose for his chosen people: not merely that he should save them and make them prosper, but that they might be a sign for the nations and for the whole world, that they might shine like that star and that all nations might come to Zion to live together in the light of God. Does that dawn seem far off today, in our world of walls and fences, of surveillance and of violence?
Perhaps it seemed pretty improbable then too, and yet some came to that light and have shared it throughout the world.
Today I believe God calls us as the people of God to celebrate, along with Christians in Aleppo and Beirut, in Bethlehem and Bakhmut, in Cairo, in Moscow and in Bethlehem, and to bear that light in ourselves and bear witness in God’s world.
nuary 1st 2023. 2nd Sunday of Christmas; the naming and circumcision of Jesus.
Prayer for today
Almighty God, whose blessed son was circumcised in obedience to the law for our sake and given the name that is above every name: give us grace faithfully to bear his name, to worship him in the freedom of the Spirit, and to proclaim him as the Saviour of the world, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for Steven Winter, Tom Cowing, Alison Tweddle, Daniel Bradley, Prue Critchley, Heather Brooks, Ned Ryan, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Jane Bristow, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Roy Walker, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett , Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, John and Gwyneth Wilde .

Among those who have died recently we remember John Adams.
His funeral is here in Church on Thursday 5th January at 1.30 p.m.
Among those whose year’s mind is about this time we remember Rachel Readman, Margaret Nieuwland, Clarence White and Fred Howden.

Readings :
Galatians 4: 4-7
In the fulness of time God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. Because you are his children, God sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child and, if a child, then an heir, through God.

Psalm 8
1 O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings
hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies,
that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4 what is man, that thou art mindful of him?
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,
and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands;
thou hast put all things under his feet:
7 all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;
8 the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea,
and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

Luke 2: 15-21
When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said one to another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. When they saw this, the shepherds told what had been said to them about this child. All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned, giving praise and glory to God for all they had heard and seen, and what had been told to them.
After eight days, the time came for the child to be circumcised; he was given the name Jesus, as the angel had said to Mary.

Thoughts on today’s readings.

In this season of Christmas shepherds come into the streets and squares of Rome from the hills and fields where they tend their sheep. The sound of their bagpipes has been heard in those streets for who knows how many centuries, as they play traditional carols and call out, ‘Auguri!’ – Good wishes! Blessings to those they meet. It’s an ancient tradition and much-loved, a direct connection to the story of the first Christmas in a way it is difficult for us here to imagine. But what if the farmers and shepherds of Northumberland were to come up from the Mart into the streets of Hexham, greeting the people with blessings and good wishes at Christmas?
Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus casts a critical light and asks questions of Churches which over time adopted the insignia and style of the Imperial Roman court, stoles, vestments and all.
For in this account there is a very obvious contrast between the extremely visible Augustus Caesar, whom his propaganda machine described as ‘Saviour of the world’ and ‘son of God’, the god in question being his adoptive father Julius Caesar, and the humble birth of the Lord whose praises we sing.
‘How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.’
The titles of an emperor were publicly declared, and worship was compulsory; Jesus was revealed to those to whom God sent his messengers. His glory was apparent to those who believed and had faith, and so shepherds gazed in wonder at an as yet unnamed baby boy lying in a feeding trough.
‘Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.’ There is an ancient tradition which holds that it is Mary’s account which is recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel; rather than dismissing this as wishful thinking we do well to notice the prominent place she holds in this account. Humble and obscure she may have been , but she was the one chosen by God, she was the one who believed and had faith, the daughter of Israel , who embraced God’s will, whose faith has been a model for all who follow Jesus.
And in Jesus God has given us the Lord who is one of us, named and circumcised on the eighth day like any other Jewish baby boy, that his spirit might find a home in our hearts, and that we too might cry ‘Abba! Father!’ as children of God, and that the Father’s will might be done and his kingdom come.

25th December 2022. Christmas Day.
Prayer for today:
Almighty God you have given us your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for Steven Winter, Tom Cowing, Prue Critchley, Heather Brooks, Ned Ryan, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Jane Bristow, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Roy Walker, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett , Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, John and Gwyneth Wilde .

Among those whose year’s mind is about this time we remember
Violet McArdle, Helga Marshall (Duncan), Watson Purvis, Charlotte Trotter, Rachel Readman and Joseph Nichol.

Isaiah 9: 2-7
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: light has shined on them who lived in a land of deep darkness.
You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy. Before you, theirs is the joy of harvest, the joy of victory. You have broken the yoke of oppression as in Midian.
The boots of marching armies and the bloodstained garments will be burned in the fire.
For a child is born to us: a son is given to us; authority rests on his shoulders. He is named Wonderful counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His will be an authority and a peace without end for the throne and kingdom of David.
He will establish it with justice and righteousness from now and for ever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.

Luke 2: 1-14
At that time a decree was sent out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. At this time Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to go to their own town to be registered, so Joseph went from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea, the city of David, because he was of the house of David. He went with Mary his espoused wife, who was great with child. While they were there the time came for to give birth. She gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
In the fields nearby were shepherds, watching over their flocks by night. An angel of he Lord stood before them , and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid; look – I bring you good news; great joy for all the people. A Saviour is born for you today in the city of David; he is the Lord, the Messiah. This is the sign: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling bands and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude, the host of heaven, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth among those he favours.’

St. Paul in his letter to Galatians wrote that ‘in the fullness of time God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,’ but what was so special about that day and that date, that this was when God acted?
On the face of it this was not such a great time to be a Jew: the country was under Roman administration and the population was about to be subjected to a census so that the Romans could impose taxes. So why then?
To me this underlines that, as someone once pointed out to me, the Lord has also said, ‘ My ways are not your ways; my ways are higher than your ways.’
Our times and seasons are the seasons of the earth; the milestones of our life’s journey relate to how we understand our lives. But who can fathom what the Lord’s time and seasons might look like?
Nevertheless Christmas is about giving a way into this mystery, a way of engaging with this God who seems unfathomable, because God has offered us this way.
Christmas teaches us that God does not provide answers to the questions of those who search for meaning, does not give a set of rules or volumes of sublime wisdom, but acts in sending his son, in being born of a woman, as all of us were, in order that we might know the unknowable, and encounter that which is inconceivable.
And in this mystery we are told how God acts: the Word of God, through whom all things were made, and without which nothing was made, is born as a baby boy, unable to speak, totally dependent and helpless.
The angels and the glory of God appear to the shepherds in the joy of heaven and give them a rather unimpressive sign: they are sent to an obscure young woman from a distant village and her baby. That baby is given his name by Joseph who, although he is a descendant of King David, cannot provide anything better than a feeding trough as a cradle for his tiny son.
And so in the fullness of God’s time , God comes: in the night, in the time of oppression, in the home of the poor, in the arms of a young woman, inexperienced yet resolute in her faith.
And we celebrate because Christmas is not just Mary’s story, or Joseph’s story, or the shepherd’s story, but our story too, a story of hope and of joy.
I remember visiting the beaches of Normandy, the museums telling the extraordinary story of the landings in 1944, and the cemeteries where lie buried those young men whose service cost them their lives. It is possible to forget that this was not the end of that terrible war. For months afterwards trains continued to leave Paris for the camps in the east, taking innocent people of all ages, mostly Jews, to a terrible death, and those who resisted this dreadful regime were in peril of their lives.
Shortly after D-day, a young man from the east of France was betrayed along with his family, and they were imprisoned in a concentration camp. He was one of the lucky ones. Though he was beaten, and his teeth were broken, he was not sent out to work in the forests but in a factory. He was starved and the factory was unheated. He became exhausted and began to lose hope. He had been brought up as a Christian, attending Sunday school, though he had never been a Church goer.
In the darkness in which he found himself he began to pray and, as he recounted it, found in prayer that he was not alone, and that Jesus Christ came to him.
He and his family survived, bearing the scars of their experiences. He did not speak much about what had happened to him: his faith was quite a private matter and he did not want to appear to boast or to be better than anyone else. The only sign he kept of that time was a letter from President, formerly General, Eisenhower, thanking him for his role in saving the lives of American airmen.
He later married my aunt, and I believe it was her love which made him whole again.
So this Christmas may we think on that wonder: that the word of God was seen in the face of a tiny baby, and held in the arms of his mother.
Let those who labour in the dark and the cold know that to them too angels and the glory of God have appeared.
May we call on the name of our Lord who came to us that we might know him, follow him and place our hopes and faith in him.
God bless you this Christmas.

Rev Patterson's report 2017
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Vicar's report 2019
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