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The icon of the nativity: an explanation

Image
CHRISTMAS DAY 2009
I’d like this morning to look at an icon: it is the icon of the nativity. And I’d like to look at it because it seems to capture so much of the Christmas story.
Just a very brief words about icons. They are not meant to be a photograph of the event or person. They are images which are meant to bring out the inner meaning of the event – they show us the event from the perspective of heaven. And they are very stylised, and for those who have not seen this sort of thing before, at first they look very odd to us.
So here it is: the icon of the Nativity – It is 600 years old, and was painted in north Russia, in Novgorod.
1. It tells the story
Far removed from our sentimentalised versions. It is a background wilderness.
Mary is the dominant figure, but she is not the central figure. She has just given birth and is reclining on the cloth. The central figure is the baby, surrounded by the cattle, and I note that Mary takes her shape from the shape of the child. The baby is born in…

Unlikely Hero: a baby

UNLIKELY HEROES

Today we look at an unlikely hero: a baby
Now I realise that babies are astonishingly special
I did get in big trouble one Christmas time, many years ago, when I described a new born baby as looking like a shrunken Buddha.
And one of the ways our society deals with Christmas is to strip the story of any reference to God, and simply focus on children. Christmas is for children:
Take nativity plays. Don’t get me wrong. I love nativity plays. One of the problems of the three tier school system is that they don’t do nativity plays in Middle schools. So age 8 is the last time our children will do a nativity play
But, you have to be honest and admit that the plot line for most nativity plays is pretty thin. ‘Yes’, says the producer, “Let’s go through the story. Mum is pregnant and riding on a donkey. Dad – well we’re not sure he is dad, but the less said about that, the better – leading the donkey. They get to the place where they’re going and can’t find anywhere for the g…

When Christians face persecution

Revelation 1:4-20

Today, before we begin the period of preparation for Christmas known as Advent, we remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is the King. The Church calls today ‘Christ the King’ Sunday.
Our passage in Revelation describes Jesus as King. He is described as ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’ (1:4); it talks about his kingdom (1:9); it talks of him as being Lord of time and as the Lord of life. It talks of how one day he will return, not as a baby – in some sense hidden – but openly, so that all people will see that it really is he.
This is something that we need to remind ourselves
This month our mission focus has been on Christian Solidarity Worldwide which argues and prays for the protection of Christians, and for that matter – of people from other faith groups – and that they be allowed to practice their religion in freedom.
In Colombia, for instance, since 2004 200 churches have been forcibly closed, 35 pastors have been assassinated and a further 50 received death thre…

What Jesus can do for you?

JOHN 4:27-32
Jesus has met the Samaritan woman. He has spoken with her. And the conversation has led her to change her mind about Jesus In verse 9, he is a Jew In verse 19, he is a prophet In verse 29, she is saying to the people in her home town, ‘Could this be the Messiah?’
Now the disciples return. They’ve been in town to get the supplies. And John writes, “Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” (John 4:27)
Those two unasked questions are answered in our passage.
1. What do you want? (or, ‘What do you seek?’)
What do we seek today? Security, health, entertainment, respect, dignity, pleasure, wealth
[story of A: ‘I want some money’]
John sums it up in one word: ‘Food’.
The disciples assume – fairly reasonably – that the thing that Jesus is thinking about is his stomach, how to satisfy his physical desire. They assume that Jesus wants food. (John 4:31)
But Jesus turns it on its …

A funeral address for Richard Spaul, 9 October

Richard Spaul 20 December 1940 - 29 September 2009
Psalm 8
Today is immensely sad. We say goodbye (literally ‘God be with you’) to a man who was so special to all of us here, but particularly to you. And Sheila, Rachel, Jonathan and Philip; Michael and Joan, and the family – we do pray for you.
How does one speak of Richard?
Here was a man: a fully human person who lived life to the full. He was able, gifted and passionate. When he spoke, he conducted. He spoke with his whole body. There was no side to him. He was straight forward and direct, sometimes a bit too direct. He was a man of great integrity, someone who lived according to his convictions. I am not even sure if the word ‘compromise’ was in his dictionary.
Here was a man who loved this world: he was fascinated by it. He taught. He was the first to introduce computers into his school. He was a fellow of the British Interplanetary Society. He loved gardening. He loved cricket. He loved singing (more recently, St Peter’s music grou…

Glory, suffering, Greatness, service

Mark 10:35-45

In our Bible reading today,
James and John seek glory: "Grant us to sit, one at your right and one at your left, in your glory" Jesus instead offers them suffering
And the disciples seek greatness Jesus offers them service
James and John were two of three disciples closest to Jesus. Peter was the third. • Jesus took Peter, James and John with him when he raised Jairus' daughter. • He took Peter, James and John with him when he went up the mountain and was transfigured. • And, after this, it was Peter, James and John who Jesus took with him when he prayed in the garden of Getsemane just before he was betrayed.
So if any of the disciples could assume that in the coming Kingdom they would be in the top places, it must have been James, John and Peter.
They were the ones closest to Jesus. They were, it seemed, the inevitable - not successors of Jesus, because Jesus was always going to be around - but they were the inevitable right hand and left hand men.
What is it tha…

True power and true wisdom

WYMONDHAM COLLEGE FOUNDERS DAY

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

What would you like to build your life on?

Money: have the wealth of a Bill Gates
Fame: have the celebrity of a Danny Minogue
Brain power: be as clever as a Stephen Hawkins
Political power: have the authority of a Barack Obama
Physical ability: run like a Usain Bolt

Or would you prefer to build your life on Jesus Christ, who got himself crucified.

It is obvious. You choose anyone but him.

They are successes in life
He is a failure

Perhaps you might say that he has not done that badly. We are here 2000 years later and someone is talking about him.
But in life he was poor, homeless, shamed, tortured and executed. He was the victim.

And not only that. He said that if anyone wished to follow him, they had to deny themselves, and to be prepared to be crucified for him.

The choice for us is whether we live our lives for power and wealth. Watched the X factor a couple of Saturdays ago, when the contestants went to the judges houses. There was a castle in…

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year

THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN SERVICE 2009
PSALM 115
We gather today to honour those who fought in the Battle of Britain, and to give thanks for what was achieved. We do not honour victory in itself: victory writes the history books and is quite capable of blowing its own trumpet; but we do honour the love, courage, service and the self-sacrifice of those who made victory possible, and we celebrate the freedom and peace that victory won for us.
At times the world and life can seem very dark. 70 years ago, almost to the day, it must have seemed incredibly dark.
It was Christmas 1939 that King George VI echoed words of Minnie Louise Haskins, which many of us will know:
“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!’ So I went forth and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the…

Asking Jesus to help us to see

Mark 8:22-26

This is the story of a man who was blind who was healed. It is a unique story, because it is the only story where Jesus does not heal the person in one go. There are two stages to the healing. After the first time the man looks up, sees people, but they look like trees. After the second time, he opens his eyes and he sees everything clearly.
So what is going on here?
Obviously, we are being told that Jesus is the Messiah, the one sent by God to be King in his world. He does the things of the Messiah. He is the one who fulfils Isaiah 35:5, ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped’. In Mark 7:31-37 he has just healed a deaf person in very similar circumstances.
And we are also being told that Jesus heals. The friends bring someone who is blind to him, and Jesus heals him.
That is what we do when we pray: bring someone to Jesus. And although he does not always heal as we wish, he does heal.
[One of the very interesting things in Mark’s go…