Reading through the Bible in a year

I’m encouraging my church to join in reading through the Scriptures together in 2013 – here is part of what I have suggested as an aide.

“Just a couple of tips – if you miss a day, do not worry, or try to catch up, this will just turn it into a chore! Start again with the reading set for the day. And if something grabs your attention, then stop, turn to God in prayer or praise or lament or in whatever way seems appropriate.

This scheme will take you through the whole Bible in a year and twice through some parts. It is adapted from a scheme supplied by the Christian Medical Fellowship and includes a reading from the Old and New Testament everyday as well as a reading from the Psalms, the prayer book of God’s people down through the ages.

Yes there are parts of the Scriptures which may seem arid (having OT and NT readings will help in this regard), but not all of life is through well watered places 🙂 )
Perhaps you might like to keep a small journal of those things that seem Significant to you as a memorial of the way you have made your was as a Pilgrim through the Scriptures this year?”

As someone said to me recently – it is surely better to memorize one chapter of scripture than to read it all through and never take any in. “What profiteth it a man . . .”

Hope that helps!

Reading through the Bible in a year

I’m encouraging my church to join in reading through the Scriptures together in 2013 – here is part of what I have suggested as an aide.

“Just a couple of tips – if you miss a day, do not worry, or try to catch up, this will just turn it into a chore! Start again with the reading set for the day. And if something grabs your attention, then stop, turn to God in prayer or praise or lament or in whatever way seems appropriate.

This scheme will take you through the whole Bible in a year and twice through some parts. It is adapted from a scheme supplied by the Christian Medical Fellowship and includes a reading from the Old and New Testament everyday as well as a reading from the Psalms, the prayer book of God’s people down through the ages.

Yes there are parts of the Scriptures which may seem arid (having OT and NT readings will help in this regard), but not all of life is through well watered places 🙂 )
Perhaps you might like to keep a small journal of those things that seem Significant to you as a memorial of the way you have made your was as a Pilgrim through the Scriptures this year?”

As someone said to me recently – it is surely better to memorize one chapter of scripture than to read it all through and never take any in.  “What profiteth it a man . . .”

Hope that helps!

Through the Bible in a Year – January 1

Genesis 1-2; John 1; Psalm 1-2

Our opening readings are about ‘Beginnings’, so very appropriate for today, and So very appropriate they are. For they set the foundation for everything that is to come, and indeed encourage us to open our eyes to all that Is.

John opens his gospel deliberately to announce the New Creation that is in Christ, or perhaps better, that Christ is the fulfillment of the ancient Genesis text. ‘All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being’ [NRSV]
A reminder for us that New Life in Christ is All encompassing.

These things are literally ‘too wonderful for us’. There are only two ways we can respond truthfully to this Glory. Initially we Must give up on trying to ‘get our head round these words – then either despair, or turn to God in trust. We can either flee from that which comes to us, or choose rather to stay put – to sink our roots into the bank of the streams of life giving water, these Deep Origins which are all at once past, present and future. Meditate on this Word. Allow it to come to birth in us . . . and so develop a hunger for more.

Psalm 1 sets our heart straight, that we might receive life. It is the necessary precursor to all Scriptural reading. We Pray – then we Read – then we Meditate on our reading, and then it brings forth the fruit of praise

Sermon for Christmas

Christmas 2012 audio [Link to Recording of the sermon]


JOHN 1:1-14

‘The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us’

One of the advantages of Christmas here in New Zealand is that we get Christmas first! I guess that that means we don’t have to wait as long?? 🙂 But as I’ve been keeping up with friends around the world this past few days, it’s been fun to see them half a day or more behind where we are in terms of their Christmas festivities – and so yesterday morning I heard from a friend in the UK who had just finished their nativity play – and the alarming news that with two minutes to go, they’d lost ‘the baby Jesus’!! The doll that was Always ‘the baby Jesus’ was kept amongst lots of others in a big cupboard of toys for the little ones and with two minutes to go before the service, someone noticed they hadn’t got the doll had gone to the cupboard . . . to discover that the cleaner had had a clean out and the doll had gone!!!

Well, fortunately a little girl at the service had brought her doll with her, and was more than happy for it to take the starring role!!

Yet for all we sing ‘Away in a manger’ and have our crib services, the gospels really aren’t written to have us cooing over ‘the baby Jesus’ – rather the text of the familiar stories as told by Matthew and Luke are far more concerned with telling us the story so that we might be drawn into it and allow it to address us. All these thoughts about the fragility of a baby, about his humble origins are not the concern of the evangelists – rather the way they tell the story is to get us asking the question ‘Who Is This child?’ – Who is this child that Emperors have restless nights because of – Who is this child whose coming requires God’s Spirit to move over the face of the deep as once of old he had Bringing Life out of nothing, a baby from a virgin? Who is this child who causes the angelic host to be seen once more – who is this child who is born in Bethlehem, the City of Old King David, and yet who finds the door of the inn slammed in his face (there is no kindly innkeeper in the narrative) – Who is this child whom Shepherds worship and herald?

And in a sense there is little point us reading Luke and Matthew’s’ account at Christmas – for they are telling the story of Jesus from its human beginnings – it is if you like the beginning of the biography. And at the beginning we cannot see the end – the whole. It is only Mary and Joseph who are told – Joseph is told that this child ‘will save his people from their sins’ – Mary is told ‘He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end’ It all lies in the future – Faithful Israel will ponder all these things in her heart, but Luke and Matthew tell the story from its beginning and cause us to ask the question which the rest of their gospels are written to answer – Who is this child?

John however, tells us it not only from the end, but from before the beginning and beyond its end. John, as we hear at our annual carol service ‘unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation’

And so that is why as we the people of God gather to Celebrate Christmas – we read John. For John reveals all the breadth, the height and the depth of the reality of this child – when we read John we read the True meaning of Christmas – and It is So big it is like swimming in a vast Ocean of meaning and Truth.

What does John tell us about this child?
This child is the eternal Word of God – He is God’s Very Truth and Life and Light – This child has always been with God – This child is the one through whom everything that has been made was made – This child is the means of Life coming into the World – a Life that gives Light to all people, This Child, this LIght is overcome by nothing, not even death can hold This Child.

John of course knows the Nativity stories – he knows how there is no room for this Child – he came to his own – to the Very city of David – and his own knew him not – the World did not know him – Imperial Rome did not come to pay tribute – only to extract it

But to all who received him, He gave power to become children of God! John is So careful here in setting out what this means – children born not of blood – or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man – children born not by biological process – not by human desire – but born of God. As John knows of the Virgin birth, so he points to the birth This child heralds. This child – ‘the baby Jesus’ whose birth we focus on – as we truly turn our hearts and minds to him – becomes the source of Our Birth

Perhaps this is why we want to sentimentalise the story – as I said a few weeks ago, we don’t want to drag in the evil Herod into our Christmas plays – we want to keep it safe – because in the end this child opens the door to the most dramatic and challenging possibility of all. A possibility that calls our very Life into question – that of our own rebirth as God’s children, born from above, born of the Holy Spirit – as that which was within Mary was conceived of the Holy Spirit.
This child – The one who fulfils the  impossible possibility of the LORD through the prophet Ezekiel – I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. As the Virgin Birth of Jesus heralds an impossible possibility, so too, perhaps even more so it heralds the impossible possibility of the transformation of our hearts – that we might be like Him – the Firstborn.

The birth of Jesus into our flesh, opens the door to our birth into HIs Life – this child

And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we have beheld his Glory, Glory as of the Father’s only begotten, full of Grace and Truth.

All through Advent we have considered how to be ready – how to prepare our hearts – yet aside from turning our hearts and minds to him there is nothing we can do – He is the one who when we contemplate HIm transforms our hearts. The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us – literally tabernacled amongst us.
Of old the children of Israel had camped in the Wilderness – three tribes to the east, three to the South, three to the west and three to the north – all facing the centre – the tabernacle – the dwelling place of God, where the Glory of God dwelt above the ark of the covenant – the pillar of cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night. Now he dwells once more amongst his people – that we might behold his Glory and so be changed ourselves from one degree of glory to another

I guess we will all go from this place today to celebrate with much food and more – but I pray we will all take the time to Swim – not in the cold Southern ocean – but deeply into these words of John and into the Wonder of This Child – and so rejoice evermore deeply and truly in our celebration of His Birth. That our Christmas might be truly Merry and Happy and Full of Joy and Light and the Life of Christ.

‘Confess you sins one to another . . . so that you may be healed’

One of the great glories of Protestant faith was its rediscovery of the unmediated relationship of each believer with Christ. But like all glorious truths, it becomes a Lie when it is allowed to become The Truth. [It may well be argued that the exaltation of this insight to the height of TOTAL revelation of the divine will for humanity, which it often became, was in no small part responsible for the rampant individualism of our societies, against which the same Protestant churches so unthinkingly rail and then exhibit in their  piety.]

There may well be folk who read this whom like I, always bristled with a certain righteous indignation, (which tended more to the righteous than the indignant), when confronted with the Catholic idea of ‘Our Relationship with Jesus’ being mediated through the saints, most especially of course the Mother of our Lord. [Although few who would take it to the extreme of not asking another member of the church to pray for us . . .]

Suffice it to say that in hanging on so vigourously to this blessed insight, that we might know Christ so directly, we have allowed ourselves to let go of a more mysterious truth. And so have strayed further from Truth and Life – our intimacy with Christ has been seriously hampered, and thus our spiritual lives immeasurably impoverished.

And that deeper truth is that of the Spirit’s indwelling  every believer, which means that Christ cannot help but be present to us in and through other members of the church. This uncomfortable Truth, which comes to us through flawed brothers and sisters rather than ‘warm inner intimacies with Jesus’, is Necessary to our Salvation – our truest and deepest healing.

One of the most disturbing aspects of Jesus’ address in the gospels to those of us in the churches, is his emphasis on Sinners – of calling sinners – of sitting and eating with sinners – of bringing Salvation to the house of a sinner. Why uncomfortable? Because whilst we often say such things as ‘we are all sinners’ – we are infrequently if ever so with one another. I do not mean that we do not commit sin in each others presence – we do this all along, but we do not bare our hearts in confession to one another. We do not meet Explicitly as Sinners whom Christ has called to himself to form this rather motley assembly of Salvation Life we call Church. Respectability and living a ‘good Christian Life’ is the pattern we tend to prefer. We make no mention of our sins, even though we commit them with unremitting frequency.

Confession is something which the church has moved away from, and these past years with indecent haste – perhaps because the clarion call of Individualism has become like the air we breathe, we do not even recognise how it distorts our faith. For many years, THE teaching on confession was on living with open hearts before one another – then gradually, especially so following the Great Schism between East and West, the emphasis moved to private confession and only before a Priest. By and large Protestant praxis has abandoned even this sacrament, and we are told to rely on ‘Our Relationship with Jesus’.

Much has been written elsewhere of the greater psychological benefit of verbal confession to another Christian. It somehow makes it Real – and indeed that is precisely what it does, but I cannot help but think that there is something far more powerful going on here. Yes, confessing to another Is confessing before Christ who indwells that other – thus it is truly a Sacrament, but I want to think for a moment about something deeper even than this.

Imagine for a moment, that someone came to you and so opens their hearts – pours out their confession to you. I wonder how that would make you feel? I suspect that for many if not all of us, it would make us feel dreadfully uncomfortable. We say we ‘feel uncomfortable with such self disclosure’ – and those who have grown up in the English culture know all about not pouring out all our emotions. Yet this is not what I am touching on here. Rather someone comes to us and plainly and without excess emotion lays the unpleasantness of their own hearts on the table before us. There Pride, their lack of obedience to Christ, how they have lived careless lives of indifference to Christ in prayer and lack of love for Him. What is going on here – why might this make us feel uncomfortable.

When a Christian in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells opens their hearts, then not only are we exposed to their hearts  – we are exposed to the One who happily lives with and eats with sinners. There is Christ, in the midst of that persons heart keeping fellowship with the unworthy, the imperfect. This confession not only releases the individual from the burden of their sin, it also lets lose Christ. Is our discomfort more to do with Christ being mediated to us in this exchange?

It seems that whenever Christ dines with sinners or keeps their company, their is always His winsome invitation to join them. Our churches and our individual lives of faith are not prepared for what happens when a Sinner comes to the party. Not meaning a notorious sinner, but an honest one. One who in revealing their inner reality consciously, also opens the door through which Christ may come, not Into their heart, but Out from their heart – calling us to live in the same openness, an openness which would transform our churches. Of course we may well demand, ‘how on earth could we cope were such openness suddenly come?!!’ We are not ready for this kind of shared Life. But that is The message of Advent – we are not ready, but He is coming. When the Sinner comes to church, openly – then so does Christ, who keeps such people company and thereby Saves and heals them, and so disturbs those who want to enjoy their privacy with Him.

It strikes me that the Life of the Church is always hamstrung by this lack. Imagine for example folk getting up to speak in public in order to be considered for high office in the church and instead of speaking at length about all their accomplishments and why they were the right person for the role, (of course with a few nods in the direction of’ ‘we’re all sinners really . . .’ and  ‘nobody is perfect’ ), they spoke instead of how they were amazed at the Grace of the church in calling one such as they. One who had no Right to lead, who was unfit, who was in the words of the prayer of Humble access ‘not even worthy to gather up the crumbs from under the table’

We began by thinking about a truth, but we are called to live in The Truth and at the heart of that Must be genuine honesty. That is life giving and healing. In my work with drug addicts,  I was always struck by their necessary and ruthless inventory of life. That those who had hit such a low, and who would seldom be seen in church, had such Life Together and that it was Safe – it was Healing. In opening up their lives, Life flowed forth. Of course to a new member such groups were always intimidating, to be surrounded by those who wanted to be well (a question Jesus asks of us is ‘Do you want to be well?’).

Well, thanks to our ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ the dynamic is utterly reversed. In Narcotics  and Alcoholics Anonymous it is the one who is learning the healing power of confession who is in the minority, the person ‘new to faith’. They come in as yet unsure that they are able to be themselves in vulnerability and thus find healing.

In our churches it is the one who knows this power who is in the minority, and in opening their heart lets out the disturbing Presence who invites us to Life. We Need each other for He is chiefly present to us in one another. In our heart of hearts we know that, and it scares us. We are not frightened of the self exposure of others, it is that we are fearful of the One who steps through the open door of their hearts, calling us to live in healing truth as well.

Christ is both Truth and Life – he calls us to the Honesty that sets Him Free amongst us.



Sermon for CHRIST THE KING 2012


Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Revelation 1:4b-8

John 18:33-37




“In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him.

Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” Hebrews 2:8

I wonder if you can tell me who this is?? Here is his house? And here is his car? His favourite dog has three legs 🙂


This man is Jose Mujica – the President of Uruguay . . . you wouldn’t have known it to look at him would you 🙂


What does a President look like?

Today is a very important day in the Church’s year – not only do we welcome our friends from Tolcarne 🙂 – it is actually the last day of the year. When people accuse the church of being behind the times, we must always remind them – our New Year is five weeks before yours – so Next Sunday we will celebrate Advent Sunday, the first of the New Year.

But today is a Sunday for drawing everything together – in a sense summing up our year and we sum up our Christian faith with the feast of Christ the King.

But in our gospel reading today it is clear the Pontius Pilate, the local representative of the Roman ruling powers, a man who has the power of life and death over everyone in Palestine, it is clear that this incredibly powerful man cannot tell that Jesus is a King. ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He can’t tell by looking. This strange and bedraggled man, dragged before him by angry religious authorities, known for having a band of followers from that disreputable area of Galilee, A King?? ‘So, you are a King??’ Jesus answered ‘you say that I am’ . . . enigmatic, not giving anything away . . . at least Jose Mujica will tell you out straight he Is the President of Uruguay however odd he looks. Jesus won’t give Pilate an answer, it is as if we have to discover for ourselves that he is the King


So today we celebrate what might seem to many a very Odd festival  – Christ the King??? [Slide with words] A King who doesn’t let on that he is The King – In fact so Odd is it that most people and many Christians either don’t know of it or pass over it without much thought – in other words its hidden, and that might be a Good thing 🙂

Think of All Hallows [Slide of Halloween] Christmas [Santa slide] or Easter [chocolate] and we find that major Christian festivals get hijacked – but the world doesn’t seem very interested in Christ the King, How can you distort this festival and make moeny out of it? Yet Christians are so bold as to make an extraordinary claim – that this first century, Palestinian Jew, a carpenter of humble origins, who never led an army, who never was crowned, who often had nowhere to sleep, who was followed around by prostitutes and those traitors of the Jewish people, the tax collectors and fishermen, Who was despised, rejected and finally put to death on a Roman Cross, executed as a common criminal – they claim that this Jesus, is King, [Pantokrator slide] – not just of the Jews but of the whole of Creation – indeed We are so bold and foolish to state that He is the Creator of everything that is and that in Him all things hold together, that it is his Life which sustains all life. Without Him there is nothing – he is the Centre and sustainer of all existence


When people get all tied up in knots over the truth of Christianity nowadays, they always seem to miss the central point, even Christians – that this is the Ruler of the Universe – and that it is Most clear here [Slide of the Cross]


The early Christians made this extraordinary claim, that this Jesus whom had been crucified was Lord – he was the world’s true King


And like if you met him you might laugh at JOse Mujica for telling you he was the President of Uruguay everyone laughed at those first Christians 🙂 Those Jews who hadn’t followed Jesus couldn’t accept it because as far as they were concerned Everyone who was put to death on a cross was Obviously under cursed by God – how else could you explain this outcome? And for the Greek people who were in many ways the dominant culture of the age (in a sense like we might think of the united States today) the idea that the Ruler of the Universe might be revealed in such weakness, broken and bloodied on a cross – well it was just laughable – even more laughable than the idea that this man could be President of Uruguay – This is a President [Obama] – but him? [Mujica] This is where presidents live [White house] but here [Mujica’s farm]?? But, people will say, ‘This is the ruler of the Universe? The World’s true and only King?? . . .’ come on!! Yet this is actually what we argue for when we argue for the truth of Christian faith


This is the absolute core truth of Christian faith – without this everything else falls apart – The first Christians never got tangled up in pointless arguments about Evolution or Political systems, about wars and religion – no – they had One Ludicrous claim, that Here we see perfectly revealed the world’s true King [Cross] – the core truth of Christianity and indeed we would argue, the entire Created order


‘You say that I am a King’ Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, ‘for this I was born and for this I came into the world to Testify to the truth – everyone who belongs to the the truth hear my voice . . .’


Once upon a time he had spoken of hearing his voice . . . My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.


‘What is Truth?’ Pilate asked him’ And the Truth was standing right in front of Him – the heart of Christian faith is not an idea – it is a person – the person of Jesus Christ, whom Christians acknowledge as the True King of the world


Jose Mujica may well have changed our opinions of what a President looks like, but my guess is that he won’t be setting a new trend 🙂 I don’t expect Barack Obama, or even John Key to follow his example any time soon! But if the Christian claim that Jesus is the King, the Centre of Everything, that in his very being he is The Truth of all existence, then that changes everything.


What difference would it make if a person, if this person not an idea or a philosophy was in truth The Truth of all or existence?


Well we have seen it down through the ages – it always happens the same way – When Jesus first appeared he said – Repent, believe the Good News – and some laid down their own lives and agendas, some left families to follow him, to be with him, to learn from him and learn to obey him – in so doing they discovered that he was The Way, The Truth and The Life – the absolute centre of existence. Because The Truth is Jesus you cannot learn the Truth without knowing Him, without following him, without putting your life in his hands – which of course it already is 🙂

What might our lives look like if we were to Understand this Truth, the Christ Is the King, that he is The Truth? What might St Hilda’s look like if Everything that happened there was directed towards Jesus? What indeed might our church look like??


As folk know I am working on the idea of a shared Rule of Life for us as a church and the heart of the Rule is Christ Jesus, the heart of everything. Just last week I was privileged to visit somewhere with a shared rule, I visited Ngatiawa where Bishop Justin comes from, just inland from Waikanae on the West coast of North Island. And there to see a sort of church, a community where there was a daily rhythm of prayer, where lives were shared around a very noisy 🙂 common table – where folk held one another accountable in mutual love and trust. Some of the folk I met there were only in their early twenties – but it is a long long while since I have met such well formed young Christian people. On the surface they had little in common – people form relationships with people who are like us – we form deep relationships especially with those who are like us and sadly most churches are the same in that regard – but they were a very mixed bag – young and old, some who had been very well off, others who’d spent time on the streets – just like those first disciples – but a deeper community than I have met anywhere for a very long time – and at the heart – this worship and prayer – time with the King in their simple but beautiful chapel (named after Tarore whom we heard all about in chapel last week :))


A shared life, around a common table – food shared with one another in the presence of the King – that of course is the heart of what we do here Sunday by Sunday. This King, The King, Christ the King is only Visible in glory to the seers of Revelation and Daniel – the ANcient of Days coming on the clouds, the Alpha and the Omega who is and who was and who is to come – “In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” But when those who are drawn to him come together he becomes more and more visible – where two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of them – by this shall all know you are my disciples by your love for one another – as we are drawn closer to the Truth – Christ Jesus, our Strange and glorious King – revealed amongst us

Sermon for Advent 2 – Refining Fire


Sermon for Advent 2 – Year C – 2012

Advent 2 [Link to Audio]

Malachi 3:1-4

Phil 1: 3-11

Luke 3:1-6


“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

Last week we began our journey through the season of Advent – largely a hidden season in the churches year as Christmas expands to fill what should be space for our meditation upon the Coming of Christ. And I launched what in all probability is a futile campaign, for the church to stop referring to ‘Christmas’ and start once more to refer to The Feast of the Nativity. That we might then in Advent, stop ‘Getting ready for Christmas’ and instead be preparing ourselves for Christ and his coming.

And I spoke of the need to prepare our hearts and of how we need to ask ourselves ‘Are our hearts prepared to receive Christ’ – to which I said there could only be two responses – “No they are not! And so we run and hide as our parents Adam and Eve hid from the Presence of the LORD” – or on the other hand “No they are not, . . . but perhaps we are given an opportunity in this season of Advent to make ourselves ready?”

That of course begs a further question, just How can we prepare our hearts to be fit places for the coming of Christ? And here I suggest that again our distorted apprehension of Christmas does us few favours – If I say to you – how might we prepare our hearts ‘to welcome the baby Jesus’ (a phrase which might come to mind if we hear the words – The Feast of the Nativity) – we might perhaps see it as an opportunity to slow down – stop – seek some Peace deep within. We might think of being in church at midnight, an image which conjours up deep associations and largely to us beautiful ones – and imagine singing the words of the Carol – ‘O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray – cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today’ – Be born in us today . . . it gives us a sense of something beautiful and quiet perhaps . . . be born in us today we might pray meditatively . . . we might indeed seek that deep peace within, BUT what do we find when we go within, but a heart Not ready for the Coming of Christ – All of a sudden that previous line in the carol takes on a sharper meaning ‘cast out our sin and enter in’ . . . be born in us today? A reminder that our hearts are not Ready, as we remind ourselves Sunday by Sunday  – ‘we are not fit even to gather up the crumbs from under your table’ – a reminder that this coming of Christ entails a work to be done on our hearts

And we are given a sharp reminder that we are not ready in those who herald His Coming, the Patriarchs, the prophets, Mary, Mother of our Lord and, perhaps most especially, in the strange figure of John the Baptist – the voice crying in the wilderness – Prepare the way of the LORD – make straight in the desert a highway for our God! Proclaiming a Baptism of Repentance – of turning our Lives to the One who is coming, the one for whom we are not ready – John calls us to dismantle the barriers to Christ’s coming to our hearts – get rid of the valley and hills, the sharp turns in the road around and behind which you try to hide from the LIving God. – Repentance – Throw Open your heart to Him, the one. Throw Open your heart to Him who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

He baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with Fire. – Who may abide the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears! As we consider the One who is to come, there is no avoiding this fire. As St Paul says in the words I quoted at the outset, speaking of future Judgement – the work of each person will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. Are our hearts ready for His work – the blazing, purifying fire of the One who comes in the name of the Living God?

Such a theme, Advent as a preparation for the Fire of God – the one who comes and says he has come to bring Fire upon the earth, is buried in an instant in our ‘getting ready for Christmas’ With our at times complacent sentimentality in this ‘season of goodwill’ – there is no place for such Fire in our plans. We turn our backs on it, we hide from it, like anxious Marthas – upset and worried by many things, preoccupied, getting ready for Christmas, trying to avoid His Presence.

We come back to the question, how do we prepare our hearts and we get the answer we cannot – the only choice we have is to open our hearts to him, or flee. As the words of our gospel had it last week, to faint in fear and foreboding at what is coming on the earth, or to ‘Stand up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing nigh’

Our readings indeed the whole counsel of the Word of God, which is brought to us through the liturgy of the church each week, tells us in no uncertain terms that we cannot prepare our hearts – we cannot make our hearts a fit place for the Lord’s coming, because He is coming precisely to deal with our hearts. who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

Malachi uses a double illustration – a refining fire – and fullers soap – neither comfortable, neither fitting in with any domesticated image of Jesus. But with the Same purpose – Cleansing! Like precious metals are refined by intense heat, that the dross may be separated out, Like Wool is cleansed from all the grease with a harsh soap, Christ is the one coming to do the cleansing. The one who in his Incarnation has come, the one who will come again, and the one who is Present now. The Saviour and Judge – He Judges, finds us wanting and then goes to work Purifying ‘the descendents of Levi – Christ’s primary work in this regard it with his church.’ The Saving work of Christ cannot be separated from his Judging of us – why would we need Saving, were it not that we are judged and found wanting.

And in this regard we I think tend to make a simple error, informed by years of getting this wrong – we tend to think of Judgement as in the future – but it is not simply then. It is implicit even in the Christmas story we tell year in year out – although we tend to airbrush out those elements which remind us of this. Christ, as our collect reminds us, does come to us in great humility – but this is no quiet slipping in without effect. No. If we read the whole story we read of an Emperor whose anxiety is awakened at this coming King and who must discover how many taxpayers her has – we read of a despotic King whose rule is similarly threatened. In our Nativity plays there is little of this – what indeed might be the impact of a Nativity on Christmas eve if we closed with the slaughter of the innocents and Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt, before closing, ‘A Merry Christmas one and all!’

He comes among us in great humility as our collect puts it – as the judge – the Judge who has come to save – He will come in the last days as the judge who will come to Save – and he is present with us Now, as the Risen one, the great disturber of our false peace, our attempts to settle down Sunday by Sunday by Sunday – moment by moment

The problem it seems to me is that we ignore the Judgement of Christ at his first coming into the world – we have a sentimentalised understanding of it – thus we hear the words of our collect about coming in great humility that at the last, when he shall come to judge the living and the dead – it is a terrible shock – so much so that it seems that the writers of the NZPB, removed the words ‘when he shall come to judge the living and the dead’ We have created a vast difference between the coming of God in Jesus of Nazareth and His COming again at the end of time, by reducing the significance of his first coming – domesticating it – making it easy – an incarnate God who is little more than the projection of ourselves – not the coming of one who’s life threw all of life, civic, religious and private into complete turmoil that at the end we had no choice but to nail him to the Cross.

He came as Saviour and Judge Then, He will come as Saviour and judge – and he is present to us now, if we will but Throw open the door of our hearts as Judge and Saviour.

Every Sunday, in our most traditional liturgy we ‘prepare’ our hearts by acknowledging we cannot, that He Must. ‘Almighty God, to whom All hearts are open, All desires known and from whom No secrets are hidden’ We come to the place of worship and acknowledge that try as we might we cannot hide from Him – We say, we have come to worship – to meet with you – we cannot hide and then we ask ‘Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit’ As we Inspire – breathe in the Holy Spirit – as we receive our Lord in Word and Sacrament – Do your Refining work in us, Refiners fire – Purify us – Fullers soap  – Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts. That we might perfectly love thee and Worthily magnify your holy name. We are praying for the prophecy of Malachi to be brought to fruition, Here, Now –  ‘purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.’

Advent, and this is reflected in our collect, can itself distract us if we are not alert to the Truth of our Faith – we may be distracted looking both forwards and backwards. Backwards to his coming in great humility, forwards to his coming in glorious majesty – distracting us from His Coming to us Now – Now is the day of our Judgement – Now is the Day of our Salvation, our healing, if we will but Throw open the door of our hearts to The Lord whom you seek – who Will Suddenly come to his Temple, His people. We Live in this Transforming Hope – one of the key themes of Advent – Hope of the Purifying Fire of Christ’s presence amongst us


I close with the words of St John – Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. May we live in Advent Hope of his coming among us, Now in the time of this mortal life.