Sunday, 29 December 2013

First Sunday of Christmas

As we continue to celebrate Christmas with the joyful singing of carols there are other voices, darker voices, that seek to silence these beautiful strains. This morning our attention is drawn away for the image of peace and silence around the stable in Bethlehem, we look instead in to the heart of a man of great violence and hatred, into the acts that Gods children are capable of – murder

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet
     Jeremiah:  "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud
     lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be
     consoled because they were no more."

Rachel of course is a central character within Salvation history, the story of God and humanity seen through the eyes and felt in the experiences of the people of the first covenant, our Jewish brothers and sisters. Rachel never had it easy.  On the one hand she had Laban for a father.  On the other she had Jacob for a husband.  Then there was her older sister Leah.

She was the prettier of Laban's daughters when Jacob came to work for them
and she stole Jacob's heart the first time he laid eyes on her.  Jacob
agreed to work seven long years for her and he was good on his word.  But
when it came time to close the deal Laban tricked him and sent Leah into
the wedding chamber heavily veiled.  Jacob ended up having to work another seven long years for Rachel while learning to live with Leah for whom he didn't bargain.  When they finally did get married, Rachel found that she couldn't have children Her sister Leah has four and so further insult was laid upon Rachel.
Eventually, Rachel did have a child named Joseph.  She just didn't get to enjoy him for very long.  By the time she gave birth to her second baby, her body wasn't up to it.  With her dying breath, she named him Benoni, which means 'child of my sorrow'.  Jacob eventually changed it to Benjamin.

She became a symbol for Israel, in other words, of inconsolable sorrow.
How can anyone console you when so much that seems to happen to you is
unfair and full of sadness?  So, when the Babylonians carried off Israel
into exile centuries later, Jeremiah wrote that it was like old Rachel was
still crying out from her grave.  Rachel's children were God's children.

returning to the writing of St Matthew we see the brutal face of Herod hanging over the Christmas story like a funeral pall.  It is about a cruelty, an utter disregard for human life that we see again and again throughout scripture and throughout human history.

     Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet...

The slaughter of the innocents in Matthew may be a pious legend or it may have really taken place but in our day it is a fact of life for thousands of women and children who are the victims of violence in this world every passing day. 

When we support government policies or buy products from corporations without demanding accountability for the kinds of circumstances in which they were made, the conditions of the most vulnerable in our midst, we end up with innocent blood on our hands.

Rachel still cries out from the grave for her children who are no more.

Many are in their “Babylon” a place of exile a place of captivity, in the sweat shops of Asia or those who are trafficked as modern day slaves.

We will not return home, none of us, until we learn to weep
with Rachel, until we learn to weep with the God who cannot forget any of
his children. For her tears and God’s tears are a sign of love, and the Christmas Story is a love story. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son…”

It is through the tears of another woman Mary Magdalane that the reality and truth of the resurrection is comprehended and it is in our tears of compassion and love that God is able to bring about the miracle of resurrection and life eternal.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A blessed Christmas to you all

A few days ago I heard a clip from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who was reflecting on the first verse of the gospel of St John  – “In the beginning was the word”
The few words I caught were his reflection suggesting that maybe it was not so much that creation began with a word but with a song.

I have thought about this over the last few days in the run up to this morning, a song whose melody and echo reverberates through the ages and in the Christmas story a new harmony is created within the original score.

Christmas of course is a time of song – Carols have been piped in lifts, shopping malls and high streets since October, sung outside blocks of flats and in homes, remembered in the half light of churches amidst candles and accompanied by the aroma of mulled wine and warm mince pies.

The Carols of course tell the story, tell of that little town of Bethlehem, that Royal city where there stood a lowly cattle shed. Their melodies remind us of shepherds who watched their flock by night and three kings from orient far, their words speak of that midnight clear, that glorious song of old; and that amid the woes of sin and strife the love song the angels sing.

But as song, as the song we are reminded that Christmas is, amidst the tinsel and tea towels of a thousand nativities, a love song. A love story with a prequel that takes us not to a distant galaxy far away but to the very beginning of time when God spoke into the void of nothingness “Let there be light” - let there be love, let there be a wonderful and complex world in which all creation can hear the song of Gods love in the earth, land, sea and the very dust of our being. The Christmas story is another chapter in this amazing story, a central aria within this grand Opera where the center stage is Bethlehem and a stable in which God choose to be born, born of a woman.

So around the world the song is once again sung, but it does seem that more and more people are asking, as the psalmist asked long ago “ How can we sing the Lords song in a strange land”.

In a country as diverse as we now are it is a question that many are asking. Some think the answer is to reduce the wonder of Christmas to a winter fest; a winter wonder land of bright and shinny, but ultimately faux and false, promises. False snow, ever cheaper party food and even a channel on my sky package called The Christmas channel with back to back films with Christmas in the story line.

It was rather refreshing this year to see the advert put out by the Muslim Council of Britain this year
“Keep Calm it Christmas : Don’t panic Christmas is not banned”

Let us therefore not be afraid to join in this amazing love story, to become a part of its narrative to allow ourselves to be caressed by this love song from God.

let us rejoice that God so loved the world that he sent us his son, not out of wrath that needed satisfying, or out of some cosmic sense of duty but because of love – a love that knows each one of us by name if we are prepared to acknowledge the name of Jesus.

The past two thousand years since the birth of Christ can be viewed as a relentless round of greed and violence, fear and insecurity of greed and violence and death to the love song sung by the angels. But the truth of the matter is that there is still an incredible energy in the world that flows from generosity of God. I think we saw that acknowledged in the reaction of every nation and maybe every human being at news of the death of Nelson Mandela a few weeks ago.

The Christmas story, the Creators love song, cannot and will not be silenced, and the beauty of both is that even when we feel that we have no voice, or that we have lost the will to sing or cannot remember the words, others will lift their voices and sing and the song will touch us and inspire us as the Love of God revealed in that stable long ago continues to do so today.

May God bless you all this Christmas and may the message of the angels resound in your hearts…

with peaceful wings unfurled;
and still their heavenly music floats
over all the weary world:
above its sad and lowly plains
they bend on hovering wing;
and ever over its Babel- sounds
the blessed angels sing.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Barnet Refugee Service End of Year Party

This afternoon, St Matthias Hall hosted the Barnet Refugee Service End of Year Party, providing festive food and entertainment for lots of children. Volunteers from our church, along with people from a local synagogue, secular groups, and others helped get the hall ready and tidy up. Des from St John's did sterling work as Santa Claus!

Here we see Father John joining battle with a balloon sword:

Barnet Refugee Service provide vital support for refugees and asylum seekers in Barnet and neighbouring boroughs, and are based just up the road from St Matthias Church. You can help their work in various ways; see here.

We are hoping to begin a food collection for the Service at St Matthias in the new year. More details to follow!

Christmas Mass Times - Colindale and West Hendon

MIDNIGHT MASS (24th DEC) - 11:30pm
DAYTIME MASS (25th DEC) - 10am

At both churches.

There will also be short crib services, aimed at children,
at 6pm on December 24th.

St John's, Algernon Rd, NW4
St Matthias, Rushgrove Avenue, NW9

Have a merry Christmas!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

SMSJ. Carol concert

A wonderful re telling of the Christmas story with traditional carols and the choir performed " when love came down" reminding us that the Christmas story is a. A love story between God and humanity.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

West Hendon Pre school nativity

The children put on an amazing nativity to a full church

The Second Part of Advent

Today we enter the second part of Advent, preparing more urgently to celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas.

During the next seven days, the Church's prayer focuses on the longing of God's people for the promised Kingdom, and on the hope of all people of good will for a world of justice and peace. We enter into the often tragic reality of the world, but we do so on the basis of hope: "Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel".

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Gaudete Sunday - Rejoice!

Today, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, is sometimes known as Gaudete, or rejoicing Sunday.

It has a more relaxed feel than the other Sundays in Advent. In some places rose coloured vestments are worn, and we ourselves lit the rose coloured candle on our Advent wreath.

Advent is a time for rejoicing - not for a superficial happiness, but for a fundamental joy that sustains us through the difficult times in life. As Christians, we know that history is in God's hands, that Christ will return and fulfil the promises of his Kingdom. Our joy is the joy of people who know that they are loved, and that their Beloved will not abandon then.

So, rejoice!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Nativity play at Colindale primary school

120 children from year 1 at Colindale primary school retell the Christmas story. Clearly new research has uncovered lost sources that st Matthew and st Luke were not aware of, for example "the grumpy sheep"-brilliant 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Reflection for the Second Sunday in Advent

As we continue celebrating Advent, inevitably our thoughts and prayers this morning also focused on Nelson Mandela, praying that he might come to share forever in the life of God our liberator.

It is very interesting to see how the media and various public figures have reacted to Mandela's death. There has been a lot of talk about Mandela's commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation. And that was undoubtedly part of his legacy, and one which as Christians we celebrate. But Mandela realised, in a way I am not convinced that all his obiturists do, that genuine forgiveness is hard won. Forgiveness is not cheap; rather for him it occurred on the other side of a life involving taking sides against injustice, suffering, persecution, struggle, and victory. In the same way, of course, the forgiveness we all need comes to us through a life, through the blood of the Cross, and through the triumph of the empty tomb. There is nothing glib here, nothing that allows us to cover up injustice, or the need to oppose it, with premature appeals to forgiveness. The prophet Jeremiah denounces those who "cry 'peace, peace' when there is no peace".

It is the less comfortable, more confrontational side to Mandela in which I am interested. In standing up for justice in the face of power exercised for injustice, he echoes the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament. The prophets were not - as we sometimes are in danger of thinking - holy fortune tellers. Rather, they dealt solidly and squarely with the here-and-now of the real world, telling - often quite bluntly - God's people, especially their rulers, when they were falling away from their relationship with God by damaging the poor and the oppressed.

The Church - and that means all of us - needs to continue this prophetic work in our own day. It is part of what we have been baptised to do.

But nor should we get too comfortable, spending all of our time pointing out wrong doing in others (however necessary that might be when those others have the power to oppress and exploit) without ever turning our critical attention on ourselves. In today's gospel one of the central characters of Advent, the great prophet St John the Baptist, turns on some of God's People, the Sadduccees and Pharisees, calling them a 'brood of vipers' and warning them not to appeal to their special status as God's People. Because, after all, God doesn't need them. God could make new children for Abraham out of stone. They need to repent.

And what about us? It is no good us sitting smugly and imagining that as the Church we are somehow privileged. God no more needs us than he needed the Pharisees and Sadduccees. How are we failing to live God's children? How are we complicit in injustice and oppression? What are the hypocrisies of which we need to repent? Those questions force themselves upon us during Advent and we should each of us spend time thinking about them, and then turn back to the Lord who wants to forgive us.

Drop down, ye heavens from above; and let the clouds rain the Just One.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Advent Sunday - some practical suggestions for a Holy Advent

So what things can we do in Advent to help us watch for the presence of God in our lives?

Fr Tony shared some ideas for this Advent to keep Christ in the middle of our homes and families and at the front of our minds every day, making it a daily habit, during Advent:

Ø Lighting an Advent candle – or any candle for that matter – and burning it gradually every day during Advent – perhaps for 5 minutes or during a meal. The light of the living flame of the candle reminding us of the light of Christ.

Ø Opening the doors of an Advent calendar every day leading up to Christmas Day can be another habit, perhaps with a short time for prayer, reminds us we are keeping close to God in Advent

Ø Set up your Christmas Crib with an empty manger – as a sign that during Advent we are awaiting the coming of the Lord – with the infant Jesus being placed in the manger after Midnight Mass on Christmas morning.

Ø Find moments for prayer during the day – perhaps going for a short walk or using your time on the tube or bus as a time of prayer, trying to be aware of God around us.

Ø Or get into the habit at the end of each day of spending 3 minutes prayerfully reflecting on the day that is passing – giving thanks for the gift of life; thinking about when in the day you felt that God was most close to you and asking God to show you those situations when you were not living as God wants.

A few ideas for Advent – you don’t need to do them all of course! – but I would encourage you to try something – to do something different for Advent – that becomes a daily habit and a reminder of God with you.

Kilimanjaro in review

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me for climbing kilimanjaro in Tanzania in November. It was a truly unforgettable experience - deeply terrifying at times, wonderfully amazing at others and in all of those days a deep thanks to God.
Here are some images
all this for five of us! all carried by the  porters up the mountain

our camp above the clouds on the way up
Kilimanjaro from the lowlands - snow was added during our climb

Mawenzi  after a night of snow and hail
View of Kilimanjaro after some snow the day before we assaulted the summit 

Yes this small tent is what you think it is - a room with a view

protea in the wild
It took a great deal longer to go up than come down!
Vegetation changes according to the hight of the mountain

our amazing porters and guides

Pilgrim through this barren Land....

taking in the view

At the summit with Ernest the SMSJ school bear 

All this raises money for the BLMF - too cold for the diocesan tee-shirt

Kilimanjaro orchid

Mighty Mawenzi
coming down through the rain forest on the last day