Sunday, 10 December 2017

Clear the paths!

The snow fall prevented me from attending St Anne's this morning but I thought I would put up the transcript of my sermon anyway...
St Anne’s Brown Edge Advent Two 2017

 A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
 Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
   and all people shall see it together,
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ 

I came to live in Stafford in January 2015 and it seems that there has not been a time without some major roadwork's going on and causing disruption.

We are told that it is all very important work.

Isaiah told of another very important type of roadwork's, in a land that has plenty of mountains and valleys.

All of these roadwork's, filling in valleys and making clear paths, appears to be so busy and full of activity.

On November 18th our lovely daughter was married to Peter.

Tabitha spent hours and hours ensuring that every last detail of the wedding was taken care of, helped of course by her mum and Peter.

On the day of the wedding the hairdresser turned up at 6am to make up and style hair for the five bridesmaids, two young flower girls, the mother of the bride and the bride.

(I went and stayed the night in a local hotel where we had arranged for family and friends to stay)

Tabitha had a detailed list of who was to have their make-up and hair done with timings.

When we arrived at church (just a tad late) one of our Priest friends Kay, took Tabitha by the hands and told her to take several deep breaths and compose herself.
She said, “Tabitha you are now to forget all the planning and all the details and concentrate on what is about to happen.  The most important thing is that you and Peter are coming before God to become man and wife.” Then she prayed for God’s peace to settle upon Tabitha.

Last Tuesday night I was leading the Growth Group I belong to in my home church in Stafford. We were reflecting on Advent and I asked for a top of the head answer as to what came to mind when the word Advent is mentioned.

As I suspected several people mentioned being busy.

Although Isaiah and John give us a picture of hyperactivity and colossal roadwork's we need to hold in mind what this is all leading us towards.

Just as Tabitha was reminded by Kay, all the many preparations and long hours were leading towards this one moment.
It is only too easy in all the busyness of preparations, the endless rounds of carol services, the Christmass cards to send, the Newsletter to write and the meals and cakes to prepare – it is only too easy in all of this to lose sight of what it is all leading to.

Immanuel – God with us…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

It is delightful to see Tabitha and Peter with their shiny new wedding rings and their deep love for each other.

This will be my 41st Christmass as a Christian and I was reminded the other day of the message to the Angel of the Church at Ephesus in Revelation 2. After a commendation for their hard work and faithfulness comes this…

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.’

I hope, pray and trust that Peter and Tabitha’s love will grow and develop over the ensuing years – I also hope, pray and trust that they will not lose something of that first love.

The love I have for God has grown and developed over the last 41 years. However Advent offers as good time to reflect back on not only how my love of God has developed and grown but also on whether I have lost my first love.

Maybe Advent is also a good time for you to lay aside some of your busyness to reflect on when you first became a Christian, that first love.

(If you are not yet a Christian I would delighted to pray alongside you today, that God might remove obstacles and make the road straight so that you can invite Jesus into your heart and life)

One of the things that Peter and Tabitha enjoyed and continue to enjoy doing is to point out the other to their friends and family. Things like pictures on Facebook, introducing the one true love of their life to their family and friends. 

Keeping with this analogy we might say that John the Baptist is if you like the Best Man introducing the Groom to the people of Israel.

He (John) 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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

One of the dangers of losing our first love is that we stop being exited and wanting to introduce them to family and friends.

This season provides us with so many opportunities to introduce people to Jesus – the real Jesus, not the fake, blue eyed, blonde haired variety – so tender and mild, and not crying.

Wonderful maybe, but largely sentimental nonsense and utter mush.

Archbishop Justin Welby said in his 2015 Lambeth Lecture on Evangelism…

‘The best decision anyone can ever make, at any point in life, in any circumstances, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever they are, is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is no better decision for a human being in this life, any human being.’

Do believe that – do you know it for yourself – are you so in love with Jesus that you want to tell everybody all about him.

Are you willing to tear down mountains of misunderstandings and clear paths of problems so that people can come to know more about the Child in the Crib who became the Christ on the Cross?

As people come along to sing their carols and perhaps get all misty eyed at little ones portraying the nativity will you take the opportunity to ensure they don’t simple myth out on the true meaning of Christmass.

It could be something as simple as making sure that a web address is on all literature, Carol Sheets and like, you produce – something like

It could be getting hold of the wonderful books – ‘The Greatest Journey’ from the Bible Society for all the younger folk.

Or maybe the great Christmass special magazine from Hope Together featuring Miranda Hart.

And of course letting people know of what you are doing here – and maybe highlighting Connect2.

For many people seeking faith that could be an easier way to begin to engage with God’s people and make steps towards becoming a Christian.

So, Advent…

Busyness, maybe, but to what end and for what purpose?

And in all the busyness ensuring we take time to reflect on our first love of God. Hopefully that will create within us a passion to make Jesus known not just as the Christ Child but as God’s promised and long awaited Messiah, for the Crib and the Cross are inextricably linked.

Let us pray…

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Additional Collect

Almighty God,
purify our hearts and minds,
that when your Son Jesus Christ comes again
as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him,
who is our Lord and our God.

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