A message to the people of St Andrew's Moscow February 2022. Luke 1.67-79

The last few weeks has been like watching, in slow motion, a horrendous car crash about to happen

The audio of this talk can be found here

I was aware of the western press and the general pessimism among the embassy staff that war was going to happen, and yet like most of us, we read in the Russian media that war was 'unthinkable', let alone war with Ukraine.

And yet four days ago war began

It does seem that a deep darkness – politically, economically and spiritually - is descending on Ukraine and Russia

Many have spoken of their shock and disbelief at what has happened
Many have spoken of a sense of shame that this is being done in their name
And there is fear – among those in the foreign community, those who have made this their home, and those for whom this has always been home

What will happen?
How will we survive sanctions and global exclusion?
Will it all go out of control?
Will a new impenetrable iron curtain descend?
How are those from overseas to travel home?
And there are other questions that we are asking.

Of course, I have no answers. I’ve realised my new stock answer to virtually anything at the moment is ‘I don’t know’.

But this morning I do want to speak of something that I do know. I want to remind us of our hope

At the end of last year, I learnt what we call the Benedictus. Benedictus is the Latin for ‘Blessed’. We say it daily in our morning prayer and it is the words which we have just heard in our gospel. And I have been praying this in the early morning hours when I have been awake.

They are the words of Zechariah. He had just been told by an angel that Elizabeth and he were going to have a child. It would not be an ordinary child. This child, his name was to be John, would be consecrated to God from birth. He would be a preacher, and he would turn people to God.
His preaching would inspire parents to love their children (‘to turn the hearts of parents to their children’) and he would inspire people who had rebelled against God to realise the wisdom of following God’s ways (‘to turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous’).
He would be a prophet, like the great prophet Elijah of days of old, and he would prepare the way for the coming Messiah, for the coming King, the Son of God.

But Zechariah didn’t believe it. He pointed out to the angel that both Elizabeth and he were far too old to have children.
And so the angel tells him that because he did not receive the word of God, he will be silent, until the baby is born.

We move on 9 months. Elizabeth has given birth to a baby boy. Zechariah has been dumb. The baby is named John, and then Zechariah speaks.

And the first thing that he does is to proclaim the praise of God

‘Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, who has come to his people to set them free’

It is an astonishing hymn
It is primarily a hymn praising God for the coming Messiah
‘He has raised up a mighty Saviour from the house of his servant David’.

And this mighty Saviour will save us from our enemies – from the hands of those who hate us.

Of course, the people listening to John would have heard this in a political sense.
They thought that the Messiah would come, would expel the Roman occupying force, and establish the Kingdom of God in Israel.
And in one sense they are right. This is political. One day Jesus will establish the Kingdom of God

But they were wrong. Jesus had not come to expel the Romans.

What we are talking about here is something that is supra-political, bigger than political.
You see our real enemies are not flesh and blood. They are not political rulers, or people of another nation. They are not the West or Russia.
That is what Paul says, ‘For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:12)

And Jesus defeated those forces of evil, not by getting an army and crushing his enemy by force, not by blood taken – but by blood given.
He defeated our true enemy: the devil with all his pride and bitterness and lies and rebellion and lust and fear and cruelty by obedience and sacrifice and truth and service and love.

He defeated the devil, he defeated sin and death by standing firm and resisting everything that satan threw at him, and by going to the cross and dying for this world.

This country has seen that sort of example.
Those of you who are Russian need never be ashamed of being Russian.
I think I’m going quite Dostoyevsky here, but the foundation of the greatness of any nation does not lie in its size and territorial borders, nor does it lie with its military might or armies. Most nations play that game, and when we glory in our physical or military power, then we glory in our shame.
No, the glory of this country was the red river of blood of the martyrs, of the countless men and women, of the last century, who together with believers from Ukraine, were faithful in their obedience to Christ and love of neighbour, in the face of terrible persecution, even to death.

Nobody knows what the future holds – for Ukraine, for this nation, for the world.
But we, as Christians, are called to follow our mighty Saviour who conquered through love and self-sacrifice and obedience, even in the face of enormous suffering

And this might Saviour has set us free to worship without fear
‘to set us free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous all the days of our life’

Zechariah speaks of freedom to worship, of freedom to serve

When Moses went to Pharoah to plead for the enslaved children of Israel, he did simply say, God says, ‘let my people go’. He said, God says, ‘Let my people go so that they can worship me’.
And the first thing that the people of Israel did when they came out of slavery and crossed the Red Sea, was to go to Mount Sinai and worship God.

What we worship is at the centre of our lives.
We worship many things – money, stuff, power, work, status, popularity, sex, technology, pleasure, another person.
The problem is that if we worship those things, however good they may be, if we put them at the centre of our lives, then we will always be controlled by fear. What will happen if/when I lose my gods?
And yes, we will lose them. We will lose our freedom, our loves, our lives.

But there is no fear in the worship of God: we give our lives, we dedicate ourselves to the one who loves us, who wants the very best for us, and who can never be taken from us.

What can separate us from the love of God? Exclusion from SWIFT or facebook? 'Will hardship or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life .. nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:35ff – although those verses don’t mention SWIFT or facebook!)

And this Mighty Saviour has the power to forgive us our sins
‘Go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins’

I am, for the sake of time, going to be brief. This could be a whole sermon.
But the kingdom of this mighty Saviour is not built on revenge, but on forgiveness. I stand before you as a forgiven sinner. You stand before me as a forgiven sinner.
It is only when we realise that we have been forgiven, that we can begin to forgive.
That is the beginning of reconciliation and of peace.

And this Mighty Saviour has the power to bring peace
‘the dawn from on high will break upon us and shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, and will guide our feet into the way of peace’

I spoke earlier about a darkness that has come and is coming on these lands

But it is not the last word. There will be a new dawn

There will be a new dawn for the people of Ukraine
There will be a new dawn for the people of Russia

In the Lord of the Rings, the people are besieged in a city. A message arrives and tells them to look to the East. And on the morning of the third day, Gandalf the White - who they thought was dead - rides over the hill. He comes to rescue them.

Look to the East, for the dawn. 
Today may be like Good Friday, but Easter is coming.

Our Mighty Saviour went into death but he was raised from the dead.
He will guide our feet into the way of peace.

And this is our hope.


  1. Wonderful, Malcolm. Praying for you all. He alone is the Hope of the nations. Grace, wisdom andstrength be yours...called to be where you are 'for such a time as this'


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