Covenant Sunday

In January our Methodist brothers and sisters often celebrate a renewal of their covenant with God. Within our community down at the tip of Cornwall, we have a special relationship in St Levan with the Methodist church. Sadly their building had to close so they joined forces with the Anglicans and we worship together week by week.

One of the things that is such a rich gift to us, as Anglicans, is the service of Covenant that we share each January. Although this year it will be by Zoom service as the buildings are closed, it will be no less important.

On December 25th 1747 and on many other occasions, John Wesley, a Church of England clergyman and the founder of Methodism, strongly urged the people called Methodist to renew their Covenant with God. The Methodist prayers goes like this:

A Covenant with God

‘I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.’

What might it mean for you to pray this prayer? It is not a simple thing, as what we are saying is that we agree to entwine our wills to God. No longer seeking self but seeking to serve. No longer looking out for the best for me, but the best for others. No longer preserving myself as the priority but giving God control in my life. (This reminds me of those working in the NHS at the moment, fighting the pandemic with out thought for their own wellbeing.)

This Covenant is scary stuff indeed. But our God is a God of Love and grace, truth and beauty. In God, with God we have no need to fear, for we are in safe hands. No matter what God asks of us, where God sends us, God is with us always and everywhere.

For this is the covenant made in the life of Jesus given on the cross, that we might live freely forgiven and loved. Thanks be to God.

Baptism of Christ

Do you remember your baptism? Many of us were “done” as children and may have an old, if not ancient, photo of a small baby in a white gown being held proudly in church. Hats and smart clothes show the importance of the ceremony. Here is the proof that you are now part of the family of God – or in some cases here is proof you are doing the best you can as a parent to give your child the very best chances in life.

What is baptism really about? A time for celebrating a birth, of asking others to help with the child’s life. An opportunity for some lovely gifts?

Remember that in the bible those being baptised were adults, baptised as they recognised that they have come far from God, had done things that were wrong and needed healing and help. When we think of baptism as something for “babies” we disable the sacrament from being a means of grace and freedom for us all.

Adults seeking baptism is far more common than you would think, and we often have folk in their teens to their eighties coming for baptism, having heard the whisper of God’s love, the promise of his forgiveness and a chance for a new start in life.

There are 3 questions at the baptism service: do you renounce evil, do you repent of your sin, do you turn to Christ? But these questions are not a one off decision but a daily way of living and following Christ. For evil and sin are ever before us as a choice, as is the desire to be able to do everything on our own strength rather than asking God to help through Jesus.

Evil is the word Live backwards, to renounce evil is to turn our backs on all that leads to the death of our spirit and soul, relationships, and joys. To repent our sin means we must recognise that – gasp – we are not perfect, and we get things wrong! To turn to Christ is a reminder we should refer back to Jesus daily in prayer, to ask for his help, to turn to him whenever the challenges of life are overwhelming. Turn to Christ, not from him and you will find the strength to cope with all that is thrown at you.

So, this weekend as we remember the baptism of Christ, might you quietly bring to mind these questions, to offer them and yourself before God. Then perhaps you will be ready to reaffirm these promises.

I renounce evil.

I repent of my sin,

I turn to Christ.

And I pray that you will hear the words of God as spoken at Jesus’ baptism “Here is my precious child, in whom I am well pleased.”

Grasp the grace of God, be saturated in the love of God, and be filled with the Holy Spirit, know yourself to be God’s beloved. Redeemed, forgiven and freed. Thanks be to God.

Epiphany Poem

A reminder of one of the greatest poems about the Epiphany. Enjoy!

Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot    

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times when we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling                                     

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wineskins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Christmas Traditions The Crib

The Legend of the Live Christmas Crib from St Francis

The Christmas Crib comes from St Francis of Assisi. In 1293 the first crèche was celebrated in the woods of Greccio near Assisi, on Christmas Eve. Legend says that a holy man, John, lived there, and St Francis loved him.

Francis called upon John about two weeks before Christmas and said to him, that he wanted to celebrate Christmas by setting up a re-enactment of the nativity with animals, seeing the scene of the manger with his own eyes.

John organised the scene, and the Friars gathered around St Francis with the men and women of the neighbourhood. They brought candles and torches to brighten the night. St Francis arrived and saw that Greccio had become a new Bethlehem. The crowds gathered and rejoiced in the celebration. Solemn Mass was sung.  The place of the babe of Bethlehem was taken in a moving way. It was the custom for people to abandon the babies on the hillside for the wild animals because they could not afford to raise the children. Poverty was rife. So Francis found a baby boy, and brought him out at the moment of the birth, the newly wed, and wealthy couple who were playing Mary and Joseph were given the baby. At the end of the service, they were asked to take the baby back to the hill and abandon him for the wolves! Obviously they were horrified and vowed to raise the image of the Christ child as their own. Later the custom to abandon children was ended, due in no small part to this Christmas crib.

There is a legend that at midnight on Christmas Eve animals have the gift of speech. This gift was bestowed because the humble farm animals gave the infant Jesus His first shelter, and warmed Him with their breath, they were rewarded with the gift of human speech. In most countries it is bad luck to hear them, so no one has ever reported doing so. Cattle bow to the East, and bees hum the I00th Psalm in their hives.

St Francis’ idea of bringing Bethlehem into your own town spread quickly all over the Christian world, and soon there were Christmas cribs in churches and homes. The home crib became popular in Catholic Europe after 1600. Pre-Reformation England had had its own crib custom, that of baking the Christmas mince pie in an oblong manger shape to cradle an image of the Child. The British Puritans, therefore, in outlawing Christmas, declared particular war on mince pie as ‘idolatrie in crust’.

Francis would smile at our nice varnished cribs, though he would bless any home that has one. Probably he would prefer those set up outdoors with live animals. And if he were to stand by one and preach today, he might say something like this:

“Look deeper than this pleasant scene. See your God become your food for eternity in a feeding place for animals. See the simple bands wound around the helpless baby, not the embroidered dress. See a man and woman wearing the clothes of the poor. See and smell the animals. Feel the cold and dirt of the cave, lighted only by a little fire. And adore your God, who took a human heart that could know the greatest love and the sharpest pain, arms that could embrace the sinners, the neurotics, the lepers, and hands that could touch cheeks running with tears, and be pierced with nails. Adore your poor and humble God.”

Christmas Traditions The Stocking

Who does not love the bumpy surprises of the filled stocking on Christmas morning, or the fun of hanging it up the night before Christmas, with eager anticipation of the next day’s excitement? But why do we do this? I am sure you know all about St Nicholas, but did you know that the stocking is meant to be filled with some very specific items, all of which help to tell the story of faith?

Bishop Nicholas of Myra heard that the oldest daughter of a poor man was due to be sold into marriage, he decided to give a dowry to her, so that she might marry the man she loved.  Bishop Nicholas went late at night to the cottage and left the dowry on the doorstep.  The family were delighted and she married the man she loved.   Her two sisters were pleased, but fearful of their fate.  The next year the middle daughter was due to be sold, Bishop Nicholas came past late at night, the door was ajar and the family were keeping watch so he left the money on the open window ledge and left before they could see him.  The daughter married with her dowry.  The next year the youngest daughter was keeping watch, praying that the mysterious stranger would once again rescue them.  Bishop Nicholas saw that they were awake, and on watch so he crept to the back of the house, but no windows were open, he looked up and took aim, and threw the money bag up on the roof, and down the chimney, where it landed plop into the socks that were hanging to dry around the fire.  The family heard the noise and turned to see the sock fall down off the mantle piece. The last daughter was saved!

Now days to remember that gift of freedom from slavery we hang a stocking for Santa (Saint) Claus (Nicholas) to fill.  These are the things that the stocking should have,

Coins              to remember the dowry and Jesus was sold for 30 pieces of silver

Wool               to remind us we are the sheep of God’s pasture

Candy cane    the Shepherds crook, and symbol of a bishop, to remember Nicholas, and that Jesus is the good shepherd.  If we turn the cane upside down it makes the letter J for Jesus, and is stripped with red to remind us of his gift of freedom from sin by his death.

An Apple       to remind us of  Adam and Eve and the creation

An orange     for the world.

And a toy       because God made this world for our pleasure and enjoyment, and we should learn to play as best we can. 

So when you think about your stockings this year, remember that they are not just some nice treats for you, but a living story of the life of Jesus and his love for you!

Christmas Tinsel, why do we use it?

I hope that you have enjoyed finding out more about the legends and traditions around Christmas.  I know that I do find it interesting to find out the how and why of some of the things we do automatically.  Christmas trees and decorations are nothing without tinsel, but it is a random thing, a string with glittery ribbons glues on and then shredded.  Huge amount of effort, surely for more that reasons of beauty?

After the birth of Jesus Matthew’s gospel tells us of the visit of the Magi, the wise men, with their gifts, and of how Herod was as the children from Idmiston school said “a bad man” .  He thought that Jesus was a challenge to his throne, in a time when royal succession often came at the end of a knife!  Herod declared that all young boys were to be killed and so the Holy Family became refugees and had to flee for their lives.  Joseph and Mary ran to Egypt to shelter and find a refuge from soldiers who were intent on completing the task of killing the innocent children.  But with a small child running away is not easy.  That first night they ran as far as they could but then, once the could go no further they looked for a place of safety to rest, and found a cave.  They settled to sleep, with Joseph on watch, but he was so tired he drifted into sleep.  The animals play an important part in the nativity story, so it is no surprise that they come to the rescue again. 

The birds and wild animals were worried, the cave was not hidden and could be seen from far and wide.  The birds looked at the cave , the wild animals, how could they hide the Christ child?  Then the lowly spider spoke up, “if I wove a web across the mouth of the cave, then the soldiers might think that the cave was never used?” So the little spider began to weave and make his web, back and forth across the entrance to the cave, up and down, back and forth until the cave was hidden behind a gossamer of delicate threads. As the light of dawn began to rise, the web across the cave sparkled in the cold icy weather. And the thud thud of the horses and soldiers came close, they pulled up near the cave, the order “search it” was barked out .. Then the soldier replied, “look at the web sir, no one has been in there for weeks”  “Move on then” said the commander, and they left.

So the humble spider is the hero of the nativity story and in honour of him we drape our trees with tinsel to remind us of that busy brave spider that hid the holy family and saved Jesus from Herod’s slaughter.

God Bless you in your tree decorating, you planning cooking and celebrating, and God bless you who are sad, hurting or lonely this Christmas, may we all together work to bring peace and love into our world, and we can do that if we like the spider use what we can do, in the place we can do it.  So smile think of others and care for those whose lives touch yours, and be God’s blessing to all you meet.

May you receive the gifts of love and joy this Christmas.

Christmas is really all about Love!

This is one of my favourite readings at Christmas.

  1 Corinthians 13 – a Christmas version

  If I decorate my house perfectly with tartan bows, strands of twinkling lights

  and shiny baubles, but do not show love to my family, I am just another

  decorator.

  If I slave a way in the kitchen, baking dozens of mince pies, preparing

  gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at meal time, but do

  not show love to my friends, I am just another cook.

  If I work at the soup kitchen, sing carols in the nursing home and give all I

  have to charity, but do not show love to my family it profits me nothing.

  If I trim the tree with shimmering angels and homemade snowflakes, attend a

  myriad of Christmas parties and sing in the church choir, but do not focus on

  Christ, I have missed the point.

  Love  stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to

  kiss the husband, Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love does not, envy

  another home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

  Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are

  there to be in the way. Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give

  in return but rejoices in the giving to those who can’t.

  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all

  things. Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be

  lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.

What is Christmas about this year?

In church Sunday by Sunday we say together a creed, a statement of belief, and this affirmation was written in the style of a creed. Would you want to agree with these statement?

Affirmations of Christmas                               Anonymous

I believe that Christmas is more than a time for parties and ornaments; it is a time for remembering Christ and the incarnation of God’s love in human flesh.

I believe there are gifts more important than the ones under the Christmas tree, the things we teach our children, the way we share ourselves with friends, and the industry with which we set about reshaping the world in our time.

I believe that the finest carols are often sung by the poorest voices; from hearts made warm by the wonder of the season.

I believe in the angel’s message that we should not be afraid—that the Child of Bethlehem is able to overcome all anxieties and insecurities.

I believe in prayer and quietness as a way of appropriating Christmas—that if I wait in silence I will experience the presence of the one born in the manger, for he lives today as surely as he lived then.

I believe in going away from Christmas as the wise men went: “another way.” I want to be different when these days are past—more centered, more thoughtful, more caring.

And I believe God will help me. Amen

Christmas Traditions The Candy Cane

There are so many traditions around Christmas celebrations. Have you ever wondered why we do something? Perhaps like me you wondered about those candy canes and why they are so much a part of the Christmas traditions? Here is a wonderful piece I found on a trivia site, enjoy!

A Candy Maker’s Witness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Anonymous

“A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.

He began with a stick of pure white hard candy. White to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the foundation of the Church, and firmness of the promises of God.

The candy maker made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Saviour. It could also represent the staff of the “Good Shepherd” with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray.

Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candy maker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the Cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life.

Unfortunately, the candy became known as a candy cane—a meaningless decoration seen at Christmas time. But the meaning is still there for those who “have eyes to see and ears to hear.” I pray that this symbol will again be used to witness to the wonder of Jesus and his great love that came down at Christmas and remains the ultimate and dominate force in the universe today.”

Christmas Traditions 12 Days of Christmas

The Puritans tried to ban Christmas all together, this is the period in which the 12 days of Christmas carol was written.   This 16th century story/song, tells the story of faith, used by the Catholics to teach their children the outlines of the faith using a code that only they could understand.

So …

12        Drummers drumming are the 12 points of doctrine in the creed — the statement that begins “I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth”

11        Pipers piping stands for the 11 faithful and true apostles.

10        Lords a leaping are the 10 commandments.

9          Ladies dancing are the 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians chapter 5.

8          Maids a milking refer to the eight blessings in the beatitudes from Matthew 5.

7          Swans a swimming are the gifts of the Holy Spirit from Romans chapter 12.

6          Geese a laying refer to the 6 days of creation.

5          Gold rings, these are the first 5 books of the Old Testament.

4         Calling birds …. Derived from colly (coal) or “black”  so these are the blackbirds and this stands for the 4 gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

3          French Hens, which were very expensive in the 16th Century. So these were the rich gifts from the 3 Wise Men.

2          Turtle doves stands for the Old and the New Testaments.

And a partridge in a pear tree, by now you will have guessed that this stands for Jesus on the Cross.

So maybe a simple carol … but it means so much more than a nonsense rhyme.