Each week The Reverend Richard Terrell reflects
upon the biblical reading
from The Common Worship Lectionary
that is used in local churches
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 other. 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.
Last year and, to an extent, this year coronavirus has been imposing change upon us. We could still put up the cards and the lights, roast the turkey and have our Brussels sprouts and Christmas pudding. But Church Services had to be changed
Let’s be honest, we don’t like change and prefer to stick with tradition. We like a traditional Christmas which may, or may not, include ‘Church.’ 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 screaming 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.
Our celebration of Christmas may have changed down the years. Changes may have been forced upon us by circumstance or social pressure. 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.
as we celebrate the coming of your Son
our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
may we remember how the lives of many were changed
by what happened all those years ago
and that lives are still changed today.
May we realise the significance of Christmas
so that our lives are changed
and that we also may serve you
all the days of our life.
SUNDAY 5th DECEMBER 2021
GOSPEL READING FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
The preaching John the Baptist
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Christmas is coming and it’s an exciting time of year. Often it’s a time when visitors may arrive. Maybe it will be parents, children, family or friends who will visit for Christmas.
One thing is for sure that when you expect company most people make preparation for their visitor(s). It means there will some work to do – we don’t want them to find our house in a mess! So we mop the floors, vacuum the carpet, dust the furniture, clean the bathrooms, make sure the beds are all made, and that there’s no dirty clothes laying around.
In our Bible lesson today, we read about a man named John who went into the country around the Jordan River preaching and telling people to prepare for the coming of the Lord
When John told people to prepare for the coming of the Lord, he didn’t mean that they should go home and tidy up their houses but that they should prepare their hearts for this very special visitor.
He said that their preparation should involve repenting of their sins and turning toward God. When they did this, John would baptize them in the Jordan River.
The Bible contains the message that Jesus is coming again and it is important for us to make sure our hearts are clean and ready for the coming of the Lord by confessing our sins and asking God to forgive us and make our hearts clean.
Cleaning house isn’t something you can do one time and forget it. It is something that we must do every day. If we kept our house clean all the time, it wouldn’t be such a big job to get ready for company.
The same thing is true when it comes to keeping our hearts ready for Jesus’ return. We can’t ask God to forgive us and then return to our former ways. Adjusting and correcting our lives so as to conform to God’s way of living is something we must do every day. We must spend time each day in prayer, reading His Word, and asking God’s forgiveness for those things that keep us from being ready to welcome Jesus’ return.
The fact that Jesus is coming is exciting. But it can also be a frightening and worrying prospect if we have not prepared for Him. So we must listen to the message of John the Baptist and be prepared.
Father in heaven
You sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send Him again to be our judge:
give us grace so to imitate Him
in the humility and purity of His first coming
that, when He comes again,
we may be ready to greet Him
with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
SUNDAY 12th DECEMBER 2021
GOSPEL READING FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
In today’s Gospel, Luke tells us how God sent and used John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus to begin his public ministry. John’s ministry was primarily preaching the message of repentance and baptizing those who responded.
Those who heard John were told that in order to experience in full the influence of God upon their lives they must make preparation for His coming and this was primarily seen as involving repentance for sins.
Many people were coming to John and wondering if he was the Christ. John may have been tempted to declare himself as someone of greater importance but he was careful to proclaim that he was the forerunner of someone much greater that himself.
John told those who questioned him, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Jesus is superior to John in the nature of his work and in the nature of his being. John explains Christ’s superiority in works by comparing their baptisms. John’s water baptism is important for those who receive it and are prepared to receive the Lord. However, it is far less powerful than the baptism that Christ gives.
The water of baptism was a sign of repentance and a public declaration of beginning a new life but it did not change a person’s inner nature.
The true baptism of Jesus with the Holy Spirit has power to transform our inner being. It puts to death our sinful nature and creates a new nature like that of Christ’s.
Help us to hear the message of John the Baptist
and to realise that our lives need to be cleansed and purified
not simply by Baptism but by putting to death our sinful nature
to become a new person whose life conforms to that which is revealed to us
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
SUNDAY 19th DECEMBER 2021
GOSPEL READING FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Mary visits Elizabeth
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
Today is the last Sunday before Christmas. What I remember most about the Christmases of my childhood were the family get-togethers. It was the one time of the year when I got to see some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was fun visiting, eating, and playing games.
Our Gospel reading today tells what happened after God sent the angel Gabriel to tell Mary that she was going to have a baby and that she was to name him ‘Jesus.’
Mary, a teenager engaged to marry a young carpenter, must have had very mixed feelings when she heard the news. After she had recovered from the shock Mary hurried to the home of a relative, Elizabeth, to tell her the news.
Elizabeth was also expecting a baby and the Bible tells us that when she heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She told Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.”
Before Mary had even said a word about having a child, Elizabeth knew it and she knew that the child was going to be a very special child! “Why am I so blessed,” she exclaimed, “that the mother of my Lord would visit me?” “You are a blessed woman,” she told Mary, “because you have believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
At the very beginning of the Christmas story we find an event that was shared with the family. The nativity of our Lord is not something that is secretive or kept to ourselves but shared.
Together we look forward to celebrating the good news of the birth of our Lord. We rejoice at the obedience of Mary, hoping that like her we also might fulfil God’s wishes for us.
However we plan to celebrate Christmas this year, and whoever we celebrate with, be it alone, with our family or the Church Family, we rejoice at the good news of the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ into our world.
we are thankful for this time of joyful celebration
of our Saviour’s birth.
We pray that we will honour His birthday
as a time of celebration with our families.
In the name of Jesus we pray.
SUNDAY 26th DECEMBER 2021
GOSPEL READING FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF CHRISTMAS
Jesus in the temple
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.
It’s easy to misplace or ‘lose’ something. I’m doing it all the time and then spend ages looking for it. Mary and Joseph had lost something in our reading – it was Jesus!
At the age of twelve Jesus went with His parents to Jerusalem, as was their custom. But afterwards, as they made the journey home, they realised that Jesus was missing.
Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem to look for Jesus. Eventually, after three days, they found Him in the temple sitting in the middle of the teachers. Jesus was listening and asking them questions. Then He told His parents they should not have worried and have known He would be in His Father’s house.
Even as a child, Jesus knew He must follow the path His Father had laid out for Him. The most important place for Him to be was in His Father’s house.
In our lives it is so easy to leave Jesus behind and not have Him with us. We can get so full with other things that distract us and He is given little or no thought until the day when we realise He is missing.
Christmas is one of those busy times when it is so easy to let Jesus slip out of our celebrations. Jesus goes to the back of many minds and there is a failure to acknowledge the reason for the season. When Jesus is missing we need to remember Mary and Joseph and retrace our steps to the place where we left Him.
Jesus was found in His Father’s house and maybe that is the place to start looking. God’s house is a house of worship, a house of prayer, a house of peace, a house of love, a house of joy. It is one of the places where we can find Jesus.
as we seek Jesus
may your Holy Spirit guide and inspire our search
and help us to remember
how Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple.
May our churches be places where Jesus is found, seen and heard.
SUNDAY 2nd JANUARY 2022
GOSPEL READING FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF CHRISTMAS
The Word became flesh
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Today’s reading reminds us that on the first Christmas, God came to earth. He became flesh. In the human form of Jesus he was seen and dwelt among us in order that we might be enlightened about God and His ways.
The Bible is sometimes referred to as the Word of God. It sheds light on the ways of God and helps us to understand Him. In coming into the world Jesus not only taught but revealed to us the Father’s way of living. Disciples were drawn to Him and messengers were sent out to proclaim the gospel, something that continues to this day.
John reminds us of the rejection of Jesus and even to this day, in the celebration of Christmas, there are two possible responses. He can still be rejected, partially or completely, or He can be acknowledged as God in the flesh and received as Lord of all.
John describes Jesus as being ‘full of grace’ and that through Him we all receive that ‘grace’. The word grace means unmerited favour. It means that we get a second chance and not what we deserve. That is an important message today. As Christians we must make it known. As we experience that God-given grace ourselves so we must convey that message as an act of witness.
In the Old Testament, Moses asked God if he could see Him and was told that he could not see him face to face as it would be too much for him and he would perish. But in the New Testament, John explains that when we see Jesus, we see God and He will lead us to an understanding of Him and His way of living.
Christmas is the time when we remember God becoming Man to convince us of our need of a Saviour. Jesus is that Saviour. He lived and died for you and for me. His birth in a stable was a sign of His humility and service. We celebrate the fulfilment of what the prophets of old foretold and God had promised. We rejoice as we see and hear His teaching and The Word became flesh.
All praise to you, almighty God and heavenly King,
who sent your Son into the world
to take our nature upon Him
and to be born of a pure virgin:
grant that, as we are born again in him,
so He may continually dwell in us
and reign on earth as he reigns in heaven,
now and for ever.
SUNDAY 9th JANUARY 2022
GOSPEL READING FOR THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Jesus Baptised by John
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
It is a multi-million dollar business – selling cheap, imitation designer hand bags, sun glasses, and wrist watches on the internet for just a few pounds. At first glance they might seem genuine but often you discover the cheap imitation is not really a good proposition.
When John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing, many people began to wonder if he might be the ‘genuine’ promised Messiah. John set them straight by telling them that he was baptising with water but One was coming, whose sandals he was not worthy to untie, who would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Jesus himself came to John to be baptized and as He was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit, descended on Him like a dove. Then a voice from heaven, the voice of God, declared, “You are my Son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
‘The Baptism of Jesus’ comes in the Epiphany Season of the Churches Year. The word ‘epiphany’ means, ‘revealing’ or ‘making known’. Here Jesus was being revealed as the ‘genuine’ messiah and was beginning to be made known at the start of His public ministry.
When we are baptised we, or our parents/guardians, are revealing that we accept Jesus as the genuine messiah and declare that we will make Him known in our lives. As we take our baptism declarations seriously in later life we shall ourselves ‘hear’ God’s voice of approval.
who in the baptism of Jesus
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
grant to us, who are born again by water and the Spirit,
that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children;
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.
SUNDAY 16th JANUARY 2022
GOSPEL READING FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EPIPHANY
The wedding at Cana
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When 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 and 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.’ Jesus 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? It does happen. I remember when the Officiant called the bride by the wrong name throughout the entire ceremony. Then there was the occasion when the Father of the Bride’s mobile phone went off at the worst possible moment. To make matters worse, the Groom reached over, took the phone out of his pocket, and answered it!
In today’s Bible reading, Jesus was at a wedding – a big event and almost everyone in the town of Cana was there. After the ceremony there was a huge feast and a terrible thing happened – they ran out of wine! Imagine the embarrassment.
The mother of Jesus heard what had happened and, not wanting her friend to be embarrassed, told Jesus they had no wine. Jesus wasn’t particularly interested but Mary told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do.
Jesus told them to fill some water pots to the brim and take the content to the Master of Ceremonies to taste and he admonished the Bridegroom for leaving the best wine to the end.
John says that in performing this miracle Jesus showed His glory, and His followers believed in Him. This was another ‘Epiphany’ or revealing of Jesus.
The miracle happened, and Jesus was revealed, because the servants did what Jesus told them to do. He wants to reveal good things in our lives and if we do what He tells us good things will happen and Jesus will be revealed through us also.
we thank you for revealing your Son to us.
Help us to do what He has told us to do in your Holy Word
so that He may be glorified and people may believe in Him.
In the name of Jesus we pray.
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.
Humans can give some weird and wonderful gifts. The best gift anyone can give me is quite simply a tasty banana.
Remember those guys at Christmas who, the story goes, gave a baby gold, frankincense and myrrh? They were called ‘Wise Men’ and I guess they were to notice a bright star which they followed to lead them to the Child. But ‘Wise’? Did they not see the ‘unsuitable for children’ label? Surely they could have found something more suitable to give!
Perhaps those gifts were ‘something for the bottom draw’ or did the Wise Men know something about Jesus others did not know?
I’m sure that if you and I were thinking of a gift for a baby, gold, frankincense and myrrh would be right at the bottom of the list. But what would you have given?
The poet Christina Rossetti pondered the question in a carol we sang:-
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
f I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man I would do my part,
yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
Guess that’s it! That child in a manger, who became king of all, to be worshipped and adored, died for you and for me and for our salvation. The simplest yet most valuable gift we can give Him is our heart – to follow Him and love Him all the days of our life.