Anglican Parish of Swansea incl Gwandalan & Summerland Point

Anglican Church Newcastle, NSW

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Sermon Advent 3

During Advent we don’t yet celebrate the birth of Jesus. We await the arrival of the Messiah. Capitalist culture isn’t very good at waiting. It wants us to buy stuff now and feel a hit of excitement when we make a purchase. Our culture of consumerism wants to extend Christmas for as long as possible starting as soon as possible. Buy more stuff and feel good about it so that you will buy even more stuff! That’s what the secular Christmas of consumerism is all about. It doesn’t have much of anything to do with Jesus. But let us not be seduced by consumerism or other secular Christmas expectations. Rather, let’s pay attention to Advent.

Part of Advent preparation is to understand why the world needed a saviour at all. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was needed because something was wrong with the world. Sometimes the world feels so dark and sometimes God just seems absent.

The prophet Isaiah and his people suffered from systemic political oppression and violence. Empire after empire conquered Israel. Isaiah waited for the day that God “would tear open the heavens and come down” to set things right. And sometimes people today feel like Isaiah, that God is somewhere out there, up in the sky, and so absent from here. Sometimes it feels so dark. [i]

“A man came, sent by God. His name was John. He came as a witness, to speak for the light.”

This Sunday again focuses on this person called John and a question continues – who are you? This is the question being asked in the early Christian communities. Who was John? What was he doing? How can we understand his mission and his connection to the mission of Jesus? The questioners put to him names of key Jewish figures who were expected to come in the final days before a longed for new age. “The Christ” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew title, “The Messiah”. They hoped for a descendant of King David who was expected by many to restore the physical kingdom or empire of David. Elijah was one of the great prophets who was said to have been taken to heaven in a fiery chariot and would return at the end time. “The Prophet” refers to a promise made to Moses that God would raise up in the future, a prophet like Moses to lead the people out of oppression to freedom in a promised land. Some thought John fitted one of these hoped for figures. But John turns down these roles.

John knows his place in the scheme of things. He humbly attests that there is another, even greater, who is coming. This is part of John’s greatness, to know and accept the particular role for him in the Realm of God. For some people this can take years of searching and pondering to find one’s role. As Christmas draws near, may it be a time of reflection for us on the particular gifts we have and what particular way we may extend God’s Realm.[ii]

The Fourth Gospel states clearly that John was not the light but was sent from God to testify to the light. His role was to cry out in the wilderness, “make straight the way of the Lord.” When we read the Fourth Gospel on its own terms we see that John baptises with water then we might expect him to say “but one coming after me baptises with the Holy Spirit” as in the Synoptics. But instead, John says, “I baptise with water; but here is one among you whom you do not recognise.” In John we see Jesus who is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” [iii]

Let us not be demoralised by our small numbers or advancing age. Remember the people referred to in the reading from Isaiah. After decades of intimidation, war and the destruction of Jerusalem and then captivity by the Babylonians, every aspect of the personal and social life of the Israelites was in shambles. They were demoralized and resigned to their hopeless circumstances. But, the preacher feels called by the Lord God to make a startling promise: in short, God will reverse every hopeless aspect of their lives. The people of God will re-build their beloved City of Jerusalem out of the ruins in which they now live and many of the lesser cities, too. These people of despair will come to be known as “the planting of the Lord.” Why will God do these things? “For I the Lord love justice….” As reliably as a garden returning after a barren season, “the Lord will cause righteousness to spring up….”

St Paul told the Christians in Thessalonica to rejoice, pray, give thanks. Do not restrict the Spirit of God when God does the unexpected. Let the Spirit of God flow where it will. Although we never know exactly when or where or how God’s justice will re-assert itself, (just as we never know precisely when it will rain), we announce and work for God’s justice, taking for granted that the parched river bed will once again babble and gush with water. Be alert for “messianic time.” Live by “messianic time.” “The Messiah is already among you.”

Here in this Gospel John has dared to announce: “The Messiah is already among you.” The announcement sets the time of justice in motion. Isaiah declares that at precisely the time when God’s people have become resigned to the impossibility of justice, the preacher must announce/ remind/ initiate/ allow/ permit /incite a new era, God’s time of justice. Why? Because the Lord “loves justice.”[iv]

Restoration is a huge concern in our world right now. There is the restoration of nations where dictators have been overthrown and rebuilding must happen. There is the restoration of economic systems that have still not recovered from the global financial crisis. There is the need for the restoration of our damaged planet and its creatures. On other levels there are issues around the restoration of families, communities, and, particularly, the Church and Christian faith.

We cannot hope to address the great challenges of our time without a deep, revolutionary change of our hearts, minds and attitudes. But, equally, we cannot hope to find answers if we keep the same systems and structures and actions that have created our crises in the first place. As followers of Christ we are called to deal with both realities – the internal and the external. As John challenged people to live differently, to change not just themselves but their world, so too did he invite people to recognise Jesus as Lamb of God who is taking away the sin of the world. And so as we Christians, the Church, the Body of Christ, work for peace and justice, may we embrace the call to work for love, compassion and connectedness with God for those with whom we work. And may we continue to pray that God will continue to come to us and bring God’s reign into visible action among us and through us.

It is a shame that the Church is sometimes seen to be concerned only with the hearts and minds of people. We have created a split between the spiritual and the physical which is neither helpful nor biblical.

In every church and every neighbourhood and every city there are people who need both a change of heart and a change of circumstance. There are those who need to encounter Christ both in an experience of God’s Spirit, God’s healing and God’s forgiveness, and in an experience of God’s comfort, provision, protection and care through the physical hands and voices of people. Therefore, we proclaim Christ’s coming not just through our preaching and singing, but also through our feeding of the poor and visiting of prisoners and shut-ins. We demonstrate God’s Reign not just through calling people to repentance and change, but also through living as citizens of God’s Realm by our acts of care, advocacy and service.

And our message is proclaimed and heard most effectively in those places where God’s presence is most hidden, where it is darkest. When we enable people to recognise God’s coming to them, even when they don’t expect it or don’t feel they deserve it, we have revealed God’s Reign. When we have touched people with God’s love and grace through our actions and words, we have made straight paths for God’s coming, and have prepared the way for people to open themselves to God’s transforming presence. Like John our task is both internal and external, and it enables both people and the communities they live in, slowly but surely, to become more just and peaceful and compassionate.[v]

[i] Adam Ericksen http://www.patheos.com/blogs/teachingnonviolentatonement/2017/12/sermon-war-advent-makeadventgreatagain/#gUBIuOwCQtWqe6MU.99

[ii] Mary Coloe, Sundays Under the Southern Cross 2005

[iii] Schmisek, Macalintal and Cormier, Living Liturgy Year b 2018

[iv] Sacraconversazione http://www.sacraconversazione.org/?p=1085

[v] Sacredise http://sacredise.com/lectionary-resources/advent-3b/

Lenten Bible Study at Swansea

Lenten Bible Study

Jesus’ Final Week: LENTEN BIBLE STUDY

These Bible studies encourage you to look closely at the amazing events of Jesus’ final week on earth–Palm

Sunday, the Last Supper, the trial, Jesus’ death and his resurrection.

WHERE: St. Peter’s Hall Swansea

STARTS: Feb 1, 2018

TIME: Thursdays, 10 —11.30 am

COST: $10.00/book (also available on Amazon kindle)

CONTACT: Trevor Smith 49715919

*No prior bible knowledge required*

Christmas Message from Bp Peter

There is a chance that some church going people get grumpy around Christmas. Some are irritated because the songs in the shops seem disconnected from the biblical stories and they all seem to be sung too soon. I try to avoid this grumpiness!

Traditionally, Christmas festivities began on the eve of 24th December or on 25th December rather than culminating on that day. The twelve days of Christmas followed from there. Our experience is more often that Christmas Day is the ending of a long festival of lights, tinsel, gifts, and meals.

My life experience enables me to relax and enjoy the Australian approach to Christmas. In December 1979 I was recovering from major spine surgery in a hospital a long way from home. I was 16 years old and, apart from an occasional visit to church and school scripture lessons, I had nothing to do with Christianity. Unable to sit up and move from my bed I experienced generous care from staff and the families of others in the hospital. One evening, I imagine it was the Sunday night, I was watching the Christmas Carol spectacular on the television. Tears welled up in my eyes and I was quite overcome with the singing of Silent Night. In the darkness of the hospital ward, recovering, receiving special care – the words of the carol and the meaning of Christmas broke through. The ordinary experience of Australians getting into the spirit of Christmas engaged this hardened teenager! Some two years later I embraced the way of faith fully. The events of Christmas were one among a number of turning points.

With years of reflecting on these events, I recognise that those days in hospital were what is often described as a liminal or threshold moment. It was a moment or perhaps moments of personal, social and spiritual change amidst profound challenge. I didn’t have the language to express that at the time and I suspect when we are right in the middle of things most of us don’t step back and analyse it anyway!

One of the gifts of the rich theological and spiritual traditions associated with Christmas is the gift of language to express awe and wonder in the face of surprise as well as language to express gratitude and joy. The Christmas traditions invite us to find hope in the midst of adversity and to celebrate love as the enduring force at the heart of the universe. Much of the Christmas tradition invites a personal response. We are asked to ponder how might I be and act differently in response to God and God’s actions.

The personal response is captured in the Christmas Song The Little Drummer Boy. I think we can say with some certainty that there was no one playing a drum as Joseph and Mary were housed with the animals on the lower floor of an overcrowded house in Bethlehem. With a sentimentality familiar to many Christmas songs we hear the Christmas proclamation and a personal response. “Come they told me, a new born king to see.” “Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the king.” “I played my drum for him. I played my best for him.” The song captures the idea that in response to God’s great love in Jesus we give our best in his service.

May we rejoice in the spirit of Christmas wherever it breaks out! May our hearts be stirred by songs and carols that draw us closer to the meaning of Christmas! May our souls be ready to respond to all that God has done for all creation in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord!

Bishop Peter Stuart?

December 2017

Bishop Peter Stuart

 

Christmas Reflection

“… in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht… all is calm, all is bright

Adeste fideles, laeti triumpantes… Noel, noel, noel

O come let us adore him… born is the king of Israel

Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, French, German, English …

 A cave in Bethlehem echoes with multilingual songs of pilgrims… sleep in peace… Christ the saviour is born…. God is here… We sing the familiar songs and our hearts swell as in the days in Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph, shepherds and angels, wise magi from the east… God is here! The good news bursts from the scriptures as men and women discovered in the life and death of Jesus, “God is here’.

The lives of Mary and Joseph were filled with extraordinary experiences. It’s not always easy to handles surprises. Mary treasured and reflected on events. The shepherds glorified God. Others who heard the story were astonished. When we accept that God acts in our lives, we must respond, respond with trust and love, as we are loved by God.

The birth of Jesus is a preview of the Kingdom of God Jesus would proclaim. The foundation of the Kingdom of God is justice for the poor and vulnerable among us. The Gospel defines an understanding of peace that is not just the absence of discord but the reality of justice, mercy and reconciliation. The kingdom of Christ is the antithesis of the Caesars of the world.

Throughout history, we have always wanted peace. There have essentially been two methods to achieving peace. For example, the “Pax Romana,” or Roman Peace, was spread through violent conquest. The Pax Romana believed that the way to peace was through defeating your enemies. It never brought about true peace, as violence can never be contained and you constantly live in fear that someone will stab you in the back!

That way to peace is contrasted by the Way of Christ, who gave peace, but not as the world gives peace. The Roman Empire gave “peace” as the world gives peace. But, for Jesus, the way to peace isn’t through defeating our enemies, but through loving them.[i]

Two thousand years on the Bethlehem story is layered with tinselled memories from childhood, and Calvary’s horror pales beside the atrocities of our time. Can the Gospel really speak to our experience now and still proclaim a saviour is born?

In any birthday celebration, we pause to celebrate the life of the person so far. It is not so the baby we remember, but the person now, in whatever stage of life they are and the memories of all the richness of their life – both its joys and sorrows. So it is today. We celebrate a birth, but more importantly we celebrate a life given for us. We celebrate that God has joined our human story in the person of Jesus and lives with us in the Holy Spirit.

Silent night, holy night… sleep in heavenly peace…

The song continues in the hearts of Christians, for the manger in Bethlehem we now carry within. The holy place of Israel has become the holy place in our own lives, in our hearts and souls. When we enter this sacred place with the longings and hopes of pilgrims we too can find the Christ of God born ever anew. In the silence and stillness of our own Bethlehem, our voices can sing with the voices of pilgrims through the ages: God is here, god is truly here.[ii]

Reading: Luke 2:1-7, 8-12, 15-20

[i] (Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/teachingnonviolentatonement/2017/12/advent-choice-caesar-christ/#kbSZJP9Fyg6qzt7Q.99 )

[ii] Mary Coloe

Share your Christmas joy through Samaritans

Christmas Lollies –As Swansea Parish is unable to make up jars of lollies as we have in past years, we are asking for gifts of Christmas fare – packs of lollies, chips, fruit cake, mince tarts, tin hams etc.

Also Christmas Gifts – such as gift vouchers, toys, sports equipment, beach towels, bags and books etc for Children, youth and adults. No soft toys or gifts which require batteries please. Do not wrap gifts but wrapping paper may be donated.

Please have all gifts and lollies in early in November as Samaritans have a large demand in November. Thank you for your continued support!

 

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