Saturday, December 31, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 31 Dec 2017 New Year’s Eve

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. 
John 1. 14

This is the amazing truth of Christmas: God came into the world as a human being. And he did so for us, because he loved us. And all he asks is that we love him in return.

Friday, December 30, 2016

prayer diary Friday 30 Dec 2017

And there was a prophetess, Anna … (who) coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 
Luke 2. 36-39

Christ's coming into the world fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament and restored hope to the world. This is a hope that we must share with all people so that they too may know of the Redemption they have in our Saviour.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 29 Dec 2017

And Simeon said 'Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples.' 
Luke 2. 29 - 31

Simeon understood that once the Christ-child had come into the world so also had the hope of salvation for all people. We must also take that understanding into our hearts; and having done so, live it out what that means completely, without holding anything back.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 28 Dec 2017 The Holy Innocents

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under. 
Matthew 2. 16

There are those in the world who will stop at nothing to suppress the truth, even God's truth. Their efforts are futile, but they are willing to sacrifice anyone, even the most vulnerable, even tiny children, to achieve their evil ends.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 27 Dec 2017 St John the Evangelist

This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 
John 21.24

Those in the early Church had sound reasons for believing in the truth of the Gospels. They knew the men who wrote them; and they were already well acquainted with the facts of the story they told. The people of that day themselves testified by their acceptance of the Gospels of their truth. Therefore there is nothing in them for us to doubt.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Divine providence in the timing of St Stephen's Day?

It might seem somewhat counter-intuitive to celebrate the feast of the first Martyr the day after we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord. However, the timing is neither accidental, in the sense of it being a random quirk of the liturgical calendar, nor deliberate, in the sense that it was done by human hand for the sake of making some particular theological point. That one follows one after the other is one of those happenings that seem less coincidence than the workings of Divine Providence. 

First we must remember that the dates of Christmas and St Stephen's Day are not chosen at random. We have good reason for celebrating the birth of our Lord on December 25th - the ancient belief that a great man died on the anniversary of his conception couple with widespread belief in the early Church that Christ was crucified on March 25th lead naturally to the date we have for Christmas; and details concerning dates contained with the infancy narrative of St Luke's Gospel gives credence to that being the correct day also. 

The feast days of saints are usually set as near the date of their death as is practicable. This custom is more especially observed if it is possible to do so in the case of martyrs. The tradition has always been that St Stephen died near the end of the year in which Christ was crucified. This makes December 26th a very credible date for his martyrdom and certainly an appropriate one for his feast day.

But why do I speak of Divine Providence as opposed to coincidence being behind the closeness of the dates? It is because we as Christians are given a powerful lesson from the fact that the martyrdom of St Stephen falls hard on the heels of the Birth of our Lord in our liturgical calendar. The death of the martyr reminds us that the child who was born came into the world to die. This is made particularly evident by the many echoes of our Lord's Passion and death that there are in the account of St Stephen's death. The one following so closely after the other brings back into sharp focus the reason that Christ came into the world - not to create a cute cradle scene that would sweet upon our mantelpiece, but the power of Satan to destroy, as it has it has it in the Christmas carol. And he would do that by his suffering and death. And remembering St Stephen's death so soon after the Nativity reminds us of what we, as Christians in the world, are called to do - to give faithful witness to the Gospel message, speaking the truth whatever the personal cost to us, doing so even though we know it will cause some to hate us for it, and doing all this lovingly, prayerfully, and joyfully. 

That it should be a mere coincidence that such a powerfully appropriate lesson to us should be found in the Church calendar is to stretch credulity. And yet, as I said, the dates we have for these two festivals were not chosen by some wise father of the Church for the purpose providing us with this lesson. That leaves only the hand of God. And why should we find it difficult to believe that his guiding hand is to be found in this? We believe, as St Stephen did, that he became man and died for our sins. Why should we not believe that he would not think it important to remind us of this, even at Christmas?

prayer diary Monday 26 Dec 2016 St Stephen's Day

'Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.' 
Matthew 10. 21, 22

Martyrs such as St Stephen were not afraid to die for the faith. They knew the price they paid was as nothing to what they gained. So too must we present our faith courageously to the world

Sunday, December 25, 2016

seeing Christ in Bethlehem and beyond ...

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

And so, at last, we have reached the destination we have been journeying toward; for all of Advent has been a journey to Christmas and the birth of our Lord which we celebrate this night. Indeed, we might say that all of human history before it was a journey to the night when Christ was born and the long-awaited Messiah, who would save us from our sins, would enter into our world. That night is pointed to again and again in Sacred Scripture, as God spoke to man through his prophets, promising a Saviour to his fallen children, beginning in Genesis as our first parents were cast out of the garden when he told Satan, in the form of the serpent, that he would send one born of woman who would crush his head. And the prophecies went into such specific detail so that all who had their hearts truly open to God could be in no doubt that the words of the prophets had been fulfilled in Jesus: Isaiah, for example, telling us that he would be of David's line and born of a virgin; and Micah that his birth would take place in Bethlehem.

And so, even as we gather this night to celebrate his birth, others gathered on that night to gaze in wonder at this child who had come into the world: the Blessed Virgin, his mother, of course; but also St Joseph, the righteousness man who was her espoused husband; and the shepherds who watched their flocks by night also came to wonder. And then there were the angels who burst forth out of heaven; expressing their great joy that God's plan is being fulfilled, that God has been made man, and that as a result the men and women of this earth would now have the opportunity to one day be with them in heaven for all eternity as God intended when he created them. And far away others are beginning their journey so that they may also gather worship this child that has been born, the great kings from the East, men who in their wisdom understood the prophecies and signs that God had given mankind and that an even greater king than they had been born – a king for all mankind, as the presence of these men from a faraway land showed, a king for men and women of all places and all ages.

What a wonderful gathering there was to see that Christ-child. Is it any wonder that down through the centuries people have sought to gather by his side themselves in their imaginations? That is why we create crib scenes and place them in our churches, under our Christmas trees and on our mantelpieces, and in public places such as shopping centres, hospitals, and even in the streets and squares of our towns. Those people who gathered long ago were driven by a deep-seated human desire to see the long awaited Messiah face to face; and that desire has never been erased. How could it be? The coming into our world of the Christ is the event upon which the salvation of us all depends; how could we not long to see him? 

And so perhaps we even envy those who were blessed long ago with that particular gift from God to be present that night? But we need not, for we have our own particular blessings, sent to us by God also, that allow us to meet with Christ for ourselves.
We can him in the face of every man and woman we meet, especially those in need. 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat' he tells us in the Gospels; because what we do for the least of our brethren we do for him. We meet him when come together as the gathered community of God's faithful people, because the Church, as St Paul tells us, is the Body of Christ. And we meet with him when we partake of the Blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. This is my Body, this is my Blood he told the Apostles at the Last Supper. 

And these three way of meeting Christ of which I speak are not separate but intimately connected. For Christ also told his followers that if they did not eat his body and drink his blood they had no life in them, making partaking of this sacrament as essential to our life as breathing itself. And this sacrament can only be partaken of when we gather together as his Body, when we come together as his Church, most often in church. And that supernatural food acts as a channel of God's grace in us, a means of his grace entering into us, strengthening to live our lives according to his commands, including giving us the faith to see Christ in the face of all we see.

So we have the opportunity to see Christ in many ways as we gather this night, and not only in our imaginations. This night as we gather as his people and his Church to celebrate the Holy Eucharist he is really and truly among us, just as he was that first night in Bethlehem. The joy and the wonder of Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, and the angels is our also this night. And I pray that it will be yours always. Amen. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

prayer diary Christmas Eve 2016

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.' 
Luke 2. 13, 14

Look around you. Does what you see in the world around you reflect the glory of what is to take place this night? Pause to let the wonder of it all to fill your being. Hush the busy world from your heart and soul and mind. Hear for yourself the message of the angels - and rejoice!

Friday, December 23, 2016

role reversal!

The parents and teachers got a surprise at the school carol service the other day. Normally it is the children who have to put tea towels on their heads and be shepherds, wear fake crowns and pretend to be wise men, etc. Not at this one! The parents did the acting while the children for once got to sit in the pews and see what was going on! And a great time was had by all - Merry Christmas!

prayer diary Friday 23 Dec 2016

Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbours and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 
Luke 1. 57, 58

It is in the natural order of things to rejoice and be glad when a new life comes into the world. And yet there are those who regard these precious gifts from the Lord as if they were something they may reject.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 22 Dec 2016

'For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.' 
Luke 48, 49

God asked much of Mary; and she yet she felt that she was blessed that he should ask so much of her. Thus we who are asked to do so very little by our Creator should not feel he demands too much of us, but rather rejoice in our tasks.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 21 Dec 2016

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” 
Luke 1. 42, 43

St Elizabeth's response shows that the Word was made flesh at the very moment of his conception. In this way he showed the sacredness of human life from the moment it begins.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 20 Dec 2016

And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. 
Luke 1. 38

Mary recognised herself to be God's humble servant and responded with obedience to what he asked of her. So too are we all his servants; and we should follow Mary's example always by being obedient to God laws.

Monday, December 19, 2016

prayer diary Monday 19 Dec 2016

Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, "Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men."
Luke 1. 24, 25

Truly children are a gift from God. How sad that so many treat the miracle of new life with disdain.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent 4: the faith of St Joseph

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent and the focus of our readings move to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Hardly a surprise, given how it is all but impossible to think of Christmas and the birth of our Lord without also thinking of his Mother. The gospels give us two accounts of his miraculous conception and birth: the first, from St Luke, looks at events from the perspective of our Lady; and the other, by St Matthew, from the viewpoint of her most holy husband, St Joseph.

It is this latter account we look at today*. And in it we have what might be considered some curious words. St Matthew tells us that when St Joseph discovered that his espoused bride was found to be with child even though they were not living together as husband and wife he decided to end the marriage quietly, so as not to expose Mary to public disgrace. And he was doing so because he was a righteous man.

Now we may well ask ourselves why a righteous man would wish to protect the reputation of a woman who had betrayed her sacred vows to him and was now carrying a child who was not his, especially as to do so would be to risk his own reputation. By behaving in this way people would naturally assume the child was his; and an older man abandoning his very young bride who was with child would be seen as an odious figure indeed. The only explanation for his actions is that St Joseph believed our Lady when she told him the manner of how she had conceived, even before he was granted a divine vision concerning the matter. Which raises the question as to why he should have accepted her extraordinary story?

A clue to his actions may lie in an ancient tradition connected with Mary's own birth. The story is well known; and I imagine many of you have heard of it before. It comes from the very early, but non-Scriptural, Christian work called the Protoevangelium of James. This tells the story of how Mary's parents, Anne and Joachim, after many years of marriage, had not been blessed with children, much to their sorrow and shame. As in the Old Testament story of Samuel, Anne prays for a child, promises that if she is granted her prayer that the child will be dedicated to serve the Lord in his Temple. Her prayer is answered and Anne is faithful to her word, with Mary taking up residence to serve in the Temple from a young age as a consecrated virgin – a service to the Lord the young Mary, a child of great holiness, was only too willing to perform. And when she reaches the very young age in their society age when a girl would be expected to be betrothed, the elderly widower Joseph is asked by the temple authorities to be her guardian, and stop her being courted by the young men attracted by her beauty by becoming her betrothed himself. This gave him the legal standing to act as her protector; but his role was to be her husband in name only. Her vow of perpetual virginity was to be respected always. Naturally such a task could only be entrusted to a man who was of great and renowned holiness himself, lest he fall prey to the temptation of taking advantage of the beautiful young woman who would now be, according to the customs of his time, entirely within his power.

Now the Protoevangelium is not scriptural and no one is obliged to accept what it says; nevertheless, this particular tradition does help us to understand why St Joseph never doubted the Blessed Virgin's story. An ordinary girl might well lie as to how she became pregnant. But a young woman whose entire history was steeped in holiness, whose life story gave every indication that the Lord God had great plans for her, would far more easily be believed … especially by a man of such marvellous holiness as St Joseph.

Now much is made of the 'Fiat' of our Lady, her 'let they will be done' when asked by God to be the mother of the incarnate word; and rightly so. But today let us consider also the wonderful obedience of St Joseph. He had agreed in his declining years to be the guardian of a young woman – an act of great charity to be sure, but hardly an arduous one; but that plan is greatly changed. He is instead being asked to be the protector and foster father of the long awaited Messiah. But, elderly though he is, and great though the responsibility that he is being asked to undertake is, St Joseph does not hesitate. The same faith in God which led him to take on the role of Mary's protector, the same faith which caused him to believe her, this faith caused him to accept the task God set him of being the earthly father of the Son of God. His faith and obedience is a model to us all. And I pray that it will act as an inspiration to you, this day and always. Amen.

*Matthew 1: 18-25

Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Spirit. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shall call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 17 Dec 2016

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?' 
Luke 1.41-43

The words of St Elizabeth testify that from the moment of his conception Jesus was Lord. And knowing that she was inspired by the Holy Spirit we can have no doubt as to the truth of her words. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

prayer diary Friday 16 Dec 2016 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ 
Luke 1. 38

The Blessed Virgin's obedience is a model to us all. Her 'yes' risked much out of faith in God. We who risk much less should also humbly submit to his will.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 15 Dec 2016

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? 
 Luke 1.18

Zechariah, a priest and a holy man, could stand in the presence of an angel and question what was promised. We should not be surprised then that we are also at times capable of doubt.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 14 Dec 2016

When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 
Matthew 1.18

The virginal conception of Christ is a stumbling block to many. Such things can't happen, they argue; therefore this can not be true. They forget to ask themselves 'and if this is true what does this mean for me and all humanity?'

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 13 Dec 2016

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 
Matthew 1. 1

Where our translation gives 'account' the Greek reads 'biblos' or book. Matthew is telling us plainly what his purpose is: to give us a book that as a whole offers itself as witness as to who Jesus is; and that our faith is grounded on a sure foundation.

Monday, December 12, 2016

prayer diary Monday 12 Dec 2016

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ 
Matthew 21.23

There are always those who question authority of the Scripture and the Church, especially those whose comfort zones are challenged by that authority. Do not refrain from helping them through this. It is better for them that they deal with the challenge, rather than be allowed to avoid it.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent 3: did St John the Baptist doubt?

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent and St John the Baptist continues to be the focus of our Gospel reading just as he was last Sunday. The importance of thinking of St John during this season of Advent should be fairly self-evident: the Baptist is the fore-runner of the Christ. And just as he led the way for the Messiah in his ministry, calling people to repent of their sins, so too did he lead the way for the Messiah in the fate he was to suffer, being arrested, imprisoned, and put to death for speaking God's truth to the world.

Today's reading has the saint, as he languishes in prison, sending some of his followers to ask Jesus if he is he was the Messiah or if they were to wait for another. A superficial reading of this might tempt us to believe that St John, locked up and alone, has doubts about Jesus and sends his disciples to him looking to be convinced that this is indeed the Christ. But that would be to ignore what St John has said of Jesus elsewhere in the Gospels. Indeed, the moment Jesus comes to him for baptism, you will recall, he declares that he is not worthy to do such a thing, but rather that it is he who should be baptised by Jesus. There was far less evidence to suggest that Jesus was the Messiah at that point then there was when he sent these men to Jesus – and yet he had no hesitation in declaring to his followers then that he was the Messiah. So why would he doubt now? And the answer is that he does not. But he does want his followers to know and believe the truth about Jesus. So he sends them to Christ so that they may learn the truth and believe and follow the one who has come into the world for the redemption of all.

And we should take careful note of the way in which Jesus replies. He tells them that the evidence of the great acts of power he has performed should tell them all they need to know. He does so by alluding to some of the Messianic prophecies from the Old Testament; in fact those references to the Messiah are drawn from the reading we have today from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah, you may note, speaks of the blind seeing and the lame walking being signs of the Messiah; but Jesus adds the lepers being cleansed and the dead being raised – which are in the Old Testament signs of the power of God himself, not the Messiah. Jesus is, in effect, telling these men who come to him that he is indeed the Messiah … but not the Messiah as they expected him to be … for the Messiah is both God and man, God incarnate.

What we have in this passage is John the Fore-runner fulfilling his mission, by pointing others to the Messiah; and we have the Messiah letting those followers know that not only has the long awaited Messiah come into the world, but also their God and Saviour.

And this, of course, is done with a purpose. And that purpose is so that these followers of St John would not only become followers of the one who is both God and man, but so that they would lead others to become followers of his also. St John wants them to know the truth so that they can share that truth with others so that all men might be saved.

There are, of course, lessons for us in this passage that are of particular relevance to us in the season of Advent. The first is that it reassures us, just as it reassured St John's followers, that the Saviour has come into the world and with it the hope of ever-lasting life. Secondly, understanding the truth of his first coming makes certain his promise that he would come again – for the promises made to us by God himself from the lips of the second person of the blessed Trinity are certain indeed. That leads us inevitably to the purpose of this Advent season – that we must prepare ourselves for the time when that promise will be fulfilled and he does indeed come again.

That is no easy task when we do not know when that time will be. We are therefore left with no alternative but to live as if he might come at any moment. And to be ready to face him we must live a life that shows we truly love him – and he told us what we must do to achieve that. Those who love him will keep his commandments. So we must strive daily to live in accordance with God's law. Difficult for a frail human being to accomplish – but with God, nothing is impossible. We have his love, his Word, and the Sacraments of his Church to help us. And when we struggle, when we are tempted to go astray, we may do well to consider the words of the Apostle St Paul when he told us that God allows no one to be tested beyond their limits; we can resist even the greatest temptation if we fight hard to do so. And when we fail – which we will, for Christ alone is the perfect man who is without sin – then we have the additional comfort of knowing that God will forgive all who truly repent, even granting the power to the ordained ministers of his Church to pronounce absolution to those who confess their sins so that they may know that God has indeed forgiven them.

And as I finish I leave you with this final thought. In this Advent season of preparation for the Second Coming of our Lord we may look with some wonder at the world around us in which many seem to have forgotten what this time is for, and instead treat it as a holiday season for shopping, parties, and other pleasures. Seemingly they have forgotten, if they ever knew, the joy that is to be found in knowing the Truth of Christ and the hope we have in him of Salvation. Should we not also think to share during this joyful season the joy we have in our Christian faith? It was a joy that St John the Baptist sought to share with those who followed him, even as he lay in his prison cell; and it was the joy that they one he sent them to came into the world to bring to us all. A joy that I pray all here will know more fully during this season; even as I ask that you pray the same for me and all others. Amen. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 10 Dec 2016

‘So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ 
Matthew 17.12

Christ knew that at his first coming he would suffer and be rejected. It will not be so when he comes again in power and great glory to judge the living and the dead. Be ready for that terrible and wonderful day.

Friday, December 9, 2016

prayer diary Friday 9 Dec (Day of discipline and self-denial)

'For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 
Matthew 11. 18-19

Some look upon virtue and needs must twist it and call it vice in order to justify their own actions. It is all too easy for those who do not wish to see to find reasons for their blindness.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 8 Dec 2016

'No one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is grater than he.' 
Matthew 11. 11

Christ honours the Baptist in his role as the one who prepared the way for the Saviour. Even so, that glory is as nothing compared to what awaits all who enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 7 Dec 2016

'Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.' 
Matthew 11.28

There is no greater burden in any life other than the burden of sin. And no greater rest from that burden than that offered by Christ.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 6 Dec 2016

'It is not the will of the Father that any one of these little ones should be lost.' 
Matthew 18.14

God did not create any of us for the purpose of destruction. But that does not mean that we can not freely choose to reject what he offers. Think well then that you do not value earthly things over those that are eternal.

Monday, December 5, 2016

prayer diary Monday 5 Dec 2016

They let (the paralytic) down through the tiles … in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith he said 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.' 
Luke 5. 19-20

Christ's first concern is for the spiritual welfare of the man. Something for us to consider in a world that concentrates on the body but neglects the soul.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent: the first coming prepares the way for the second

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the second Sunday of Advent and our Gospel reading shows us St John the Baptist doing his work unabashedly and unapologeticly on the banks of the Jordan, calling people to repentance and having no hesitation in pointing out the sins of those who come to them, caring not in the least if the one listening was a person of influence, power, or authority who might be more used to being talked to in a manner that was far more respectful of their position in society.

Now we can well understand, I think, why it is that we would think of John the Baptist during the season of Advent. This is the time when we think of the first coming of our Lord, when we try to enter into the spirit of that wondrous event so fully that it is almost as if we are trying to imagine that it is happening for the first time all over again and read ourselves into the story in such as way that it is almost as if we are present ourselves when the angel comes to Mary to let her know that she is to have a child even though she is a virgin, journey with her and Joseph in the cold of winter to Bethlehem; feel the pain of their rejection when they can find no room in the inn; and the wonder of the shepherds when the see the angels as they watch their flocks by night and then go to worship the child in the manger. 

And the story of John's birth is intimately tied up with that of our Lord's, making his story integral to the Christmas one. But our reading today does not deal with John's birth – it deals with his ministry, and we have his uncompromising figure standing in the wilderness, clothed in camel's hair tied up with a leather belt, telling people to repent, warning them of the wrath to come, when the one who comes after him will gather the wheat who are his faithful servants into the granary that is his eternal kingdom; but the sinful chaff will burnt in unquenchable fire. Grim stuff indeed for the lead up to Christmas!

But, of course, Advent is more than just getting ready for Christmas – it also about getting ready for the second coming of Christ. And that, as we all know – and should be reminded of if we have forgotten – is when he will come in power and majesty to judge the living and the dead. It is that fact that helps us to understand the passage that the Church has chosen for today's reading. For John the Baptist is the fore-runner of Christ; he is the one who prepares the way for the coming of the Messiah. And just as St John tells people to repent from their sins, so to will Christ call people to repentance. And the purpose of this repentance is, of course, to prepare people for when Christ will come again. 

This makes this scene we have from the ministry of St John in today's Gospel not only a very appropriate one for this season of our liturgical calendar, it makes it one that is vital for us to think deeply about. Because being ready for the time of our Lord's return is the issue upon which depends our eternal salvation – making it something of infinite importance and ultimately the only thing of this life that truly matters.

And note well the manner in which St John the Baptist goes about this work of saving souls. He bluntly tells people they are sinners in need of repentance. And he uses strong language indeed to do so – even calling the religious leaders who come to see him a brood of vipers. He is not, to use a modern term, very politically correct. Neither is he being, to use another word commonly used to day, non-judgemental. He is calling it not only as he sees it but as it is. And if that causes offence, so be it. 

But we have to ask ourselves what kind of behaviour is in the end better, in the end more loving: to say nothing, or to use only soothing, encouraging words, telling people that it really is their choice how they behave, and there is no eternal consequences for their actions; or telling them the truth, even if it does upset them to hear it, even if they do get angry, and take offence, and even shout and call you all the names the Politically Correct brigade reserve for those who speak the unvarnished truth these days? It can only be the latter – because it is the latter way of speaking that will help those who hear enter into the granary of Christ; while the former risks condemning them to the place of unquenchable fire. And just as John the fore-runner spoke and acted when it came to the salvation of souls, so also did the one who he came to prepare the way for.

And this, I think, must bring to our minds the joyful aspect of this season. For the one he came to prepare the way for came to open the way to heaven for us … and also to show us the way. He came to offer us the hope of a glorious and eternal future and to mark out clearly for us the path to that wonderful hope. The light of the world is coming into the world to light the way that leads to the everlasting light that exists in heaven, where we will need neither the sun nor moon nor lamps to give us light, for Christ himself will be our light. No wonder the angels in heaven, and all the human souls that have entered there, joyfully and always sing songs of praise to his glory. A glory that I pray all here will one day see; even as I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 3 Dec 2016

'Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.' 
Matthew 10.38

It was the prayer of Christ himself that his followers should work for the salvation of souls. Many in the world have yet to either hear God's word or come to believe in it. What labour have you done to correct this?

Friday, December 2, 2016

prayer diary Friday 2 Dec 2016 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

Two blind men followed him, crying loudly: 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!' 
Matthew 9.27

We will all face trials and troubles in this life. If we face them with trust in God's ultimate mercy, we can endure them, however painful they may be.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 1 Dec 2016

'Everyone who hears these words of mine will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.' 
Matthew 7.24

True wisdom lies in hearing and obeying the word of God. Sometimes this will seem as foolishness in the eyes of the world. But which is more foolish: to listen to the world and risk your soul; or to listen to God and gain salvation?