Each week The Reverend Richard Terrell reflects
upon the biblical reading
from The Common Worship Lectionary
that is used in local churches
CHRISTMAS CHANGES EVERYTHING
If there’s one thing we can count upon, it is Christmas and the celebrations around it. Nothing seems to change from one year to the next.
There is the Postman’s call with Christmas cards from oft forgotten people and the anxiety of whether or not we have sent THEM a card! There is the worry about Christmas presents – what to give and what to ask for. There’s the round of parties and socialising.
Wait a moment though. This year Christmas DOES look different. The onslaught of coronavirus has limited what we are allowed to do.
Yes we could still put up the cards and the lights. We can roast the turkey and have the Brussels sprouts and Christmas pudding. But what about Church? Now THAT has changed. Congregational singing at Carol Services is not allowed and Christmas Services cannot be ‘as usual’.
Let’s be honest, we don’t like change and prefer to stick with tradition. But before we rue the thought of change, perhaps we should remind ourselves that Christmas is really A TIME OF CHANGE.
The Prophets of old spoke about a coming change. Isaiah said, in chapter 9, verse 6 ‘For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ People were not expecting change, but ‘change’ this child would bring.
A young mother had her life changed. Mary undoubtedly was fearful of God’s call for her to be the mother of Jesus. But she accepted the calling and the change that would come upon her life. “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” she declared. “And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”
The acceptance of God’s Word would have been enough for most people but Mary went beyond the call of duty. She found herself giving birth in a stable. In the middle of a town made busy by the demands of a census, the birth pangs, the animal breath and a bewildered carpenter, she brought our salvation, Jesus the Messiah, into a noisy and mainly indifferent world.
That night and that scene changed a lot of people who became involved as the events of the first Christmas unfolded.
It was certainly an experience to remember for a group of shepherds who were going about their routine task of keeping watch over their flock by night. Excitement, for them, usually came in the form of a hungry fox eyeing the young lambs and planning his supper.
But that night the hillside was clothed in light and song as angels heralded the birth of the Word made flesh: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased. (Luke 2:14)
The shepherds, greatly moved by the angels’ message, decided to leave their flock to discover the truth of what they had been told. “Let us go over the Bethlehem,” they said, “and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord had made known to us.” Those shepherds became changed people. They went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
Can you begin to imagine how the experience of that night changed those humble shepherds? Luke tells us that when they saw what the angels had told them, they made known everything that had been told to them about the child in a manger. They became, in a sense, the first evangelists and all who heard them wondered at what the shepherds had told them.
Mary, we are told, kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. She realised what a change had come over her as a result of what the shepherds had said, while the shepherds, realising what they had witnessed, left the scene changed people. They returned to the fields praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Undoubtedly people were changed that night in Bethlehem and maybe changed in a way we may never know.
The story is often told that those who made merry in the Inn were totally oblivious to what was going on in the stable at the rear. But I am not convinced that to be true. If you were at a party in a pub and a baby was born out the back, do you think word would not have got around? Do you think that the Licensee would not have known? What about the wider community – would word have gone around?
I think there may possibly have been more people changed by the events of the original Christmas than we might realise. There may have been people saying ‘I was there’ when a baby was born. And there may have been people who subsequently heard of Jesus of Nazareth and the way he was born, realising that it took place under their noses.
It is somehow easy to declare that there was an air of indifference when Jesus was born but I don’t necessarily think that paints the whole picture. Many people’s lives were changed by what had happened all those years ago and they continue to be changed today.
The celebration of Christmas may have changed. Changes may have been forced upon us by Covid-19 restrictions. But we can still see through all that clutters and obscures what Christmas is really about.
There will be those who fail to realise that an event of vital importance is being celebrated at this time. There will be those for whom life goes on and unchanged by what has happened. But for those who can push aside the tinsel and trimmings to see a very special baby in a manger, there will be life altering changes and nothing will ever be the same.
You and I, as followers of this helpless baby called Jesus are the ones who are challenged by Christmas. You and I are the ones who have to rise to the challenge of encouraging the world to realise that with the birth of Jesus in a manger and in our hearts EVERYTHING CHANGES.
As we celebrate the fact that God has become incarnate and entered our world on the first Christmas Day, so we are to recognise that in this very act He is challenging you and me to share His work in the world.
Each one of us is challenged to be like the Christmas shepherds. We have heard the angels’ song; we have heard the announcement of Christ’s birth and are to leave whatever we are doing to draw closer to Him. Then we must make known everything we have heard and seen. We must proclaim the teaching of this Child whose birth we celebrate and who has changed our lives.
We must leave the cosy image of a baby in a candlelit stable, with ox and ass standing by, to make known the Man He was to become and the teaching He proclaimed. We must bear witness to the fact that our Saviour has been born this day so that not only we ourselves but the whole world can be changed by Him.
Sutton Bingham 2020
as we celebrate Christmas and remember how the birth of Jesus changed so many people, may His coming bring change into our lives and into the lives of everyone as we bear witness to the true meaning of Christmas and the teaching of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
SUNDAY 10th JANUARY
GOSPEL READING FOR THE SUNDAY
Mark chapter 1, verses 4-11
Jesus Baptised by John
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘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. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;with you I am well pleased.’
For some people a New Year can be a time of ‘new beginnings’. They reflect upon the past and resolve to act differently in the future.
In our Bible reading today, we hear about a man called John the Baptist who went around the countryside telling people to turn from their sin and to ask God for forgiveness. Then, after they had repented of their sin and received God’s forgiveness, John baptised them in the river Jordan.
The act of baptism showed others that God had forgiven their sins and washed them clean. God’s forgiveness had given them a fresh start in life.
Jesus himself was baptised by John, and he commanded us to go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them all that he taught us, and baptising them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When we receive forgiveness from God we are given a new start. It doesn’t mean that we are allowed to carry on where we left off but that we are new and changed people.
Baptism symbolises death, cleansing and a rising to new life. We are ‘drowned’ by the waters of baptism. We are cleansed (forgiven) through it and, as a result, we begin a new life.
When Jesus was baptised in the River Jordon it marked an important moment in His life and the start of His ministry among us. We also can experience that moment and, with Jesus, make a fresh start in life.
In the birth of your Son you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word, and shown us the fullness of your love: help us to walk in his light and dwell in his love that we may know the fullness of his joy; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
SUNDAY 17th JANUARY
THE SECOND SUNDAY
GOSPEL READING FOR THE SUNDAY
John chapter 1, verses 45-51
Jesus calls Philip and Nathaniel
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’
When something good happens to you, it is the most natural thing in the world to want to tell others about it.
In our Bible lesson today, Jesus went to Galilee where he met a man named Philip. Not only did Phillip meet Jesus, but Jesus asked him to follow him and become one of his disciples.
The very first thing that came to Philip’s mind was to tell someone what had happened to him. He immediately went and found his friend Nathanael who, in turn, doubted that Jesus was actually the ‘Expected One’. “Come and see” Nathaniel was told and he was left in no doubt about Jesus.
Time and time again the followers of Jesus are encouraged not to keep their faith and trust in God to themselves. ‘Go out into the world’ they are told. Share with others your beliefs. Be a Philip and invite people to ‘Come and see’.
we have heard the example of Philip this morning and ask that we may be given the strength and inspiration to boldly share our beliefs. Help us to take others by the hand and lead them to Jesus and towards His teaching and way of living. Amen.
SUNDAY 24th JANUARY
THE THIRD SUNDAY
GOSPEL READING FOR THE SUNDAY
John chapter 2, verses 1-11
The Wedding at Cana
2On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Have you ever been to a wedding where something went wrong?
That does happen, you know. There was the wedding where a mobile phone when off as any ‘just cause or impediment’ was invited and the occasion when the Best Man fumbled for the ring unaware he had a hole in his pocket.
In today’s Bible reading, Jesus went to a wedding. It was a big event and almost everyone in the town of Cana was there. The wedding ceremony was followed by a huge feast and it was there that a ‘terrible’ and embarrassing thing happened – they ran out of wine!
Mary was there with Jesus and hearing what had happened enlisted the help of her Son, telling the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. They were told to fill some huge jars with water. Then to pour out some and take it to the master of the feast, who discovered that he was drinking the best wine he had ever tasted.
John describes this as a sign, the first sign, to reveal Jesus to his disciples.
It was because the servants did what Jesus told them to do, that He was able to save that reception. Time and time again we find that Jesus depends upon the action, or re-action, of others in order for a miracle to take place.
There are times when we must listen to Jesus and follow the instruction He gives us if the things we need are to become a reality.
we thank you for sending your Son. Help us to always do what he has told us to do in your Holy Word so that great things may be achieve in your name. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Martin the Monkey sometimes accompanies The Reverend Richard and helps to re-enforce the Gospel message. He usually attends on special occasions in the Church Year and shares his thoughts with you.
READING FOR THE SEASON
Matthew chapter 2, verses 1-12
Wise Men find Jesus
2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd* my people Israel.” ’
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Epiphany, the season between Christmas and Easter, should rank as the third most important event of the Church Year, right after Easter and Pentecost. Epiphany means ‘revelation.’ Israel’s King, born among Jewish shepherds and angels, was revealed as being also the King of the Gentiles.
The Magi may have been wise men but they hadn’t thought of searching for Jesus in a backwater town like Bethlehem. Who would have imagined a king being born to working class commoners and engulfed by the kind of scandal that swamped Mary and Joseph? Jesus wasn’t even Joseph’s baby, and everybody knew it.
The Magi gave Jesus myrrh for Christmas, a spice used for burying bodies. It was like putting embalming fluid under the tree with Jesus’ name on it. But did the wise men somehow know how things were going to turn out? Jesus later warned that following him required a cross – it could be hazardous.
That was certainly true for the Magi. Knowing the horror Herod wrought upon baby boys in Bethlehem, it’s not hard to shudder at what he might have planned for the Magi had they met up with him again. But God warned them in a dream to take the back roads home, and fortunately they were the sort of people who paid serious attention to dreams. Their lives had been changed. They returned to their own country as different people.
The Magi had been “overwhelmed by joy” at finding Jesus. They bowed before him and paid homage, though he’d yet to speak a word or do a miracle. Epiphany is a reminder of how Jesus was revealed and continues to be revealed to people today.
who by the leading of a star
manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:
mercifully grant that we,
who know you now by faith,
may at last behold your glory face to face;
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