It’s not about the cat…but liturgy matters.

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Sermon for Adel Parish Church – 3rd Sunday before Lent.

Isaiah 58: 1 – 9; 1 Corinthians 2: 1 – 12; Matthew 5: 13 – 20

There was once a wise and holy man who every evening sat down with his disciples to meditate and worship God. One day a young cat joined the community. It wandered through the temple during worship, mewing and distracting people, so the holy man ordered that the cat should be tied up at the door before worship began.

This went on for many years. The holy man died, but the cat continued to be tied up during worship. Eventually the cat died…and another cat was bought so this important ritual could continue…learned scholars wrote books about the significance of the cat in worship…

I guess some of things we do could seem as odd as if we tied a ceremonial cat to the door at the start of the service. In our first reading, Isaiah warned of empty rituals that made no difference to the way people lived.

And yet we still do them. One of the many things that attracted me to this church was the fact that we celebrate the Eucharist, with a priest in vestments, on Sundays and midweek; that we have a robed choir and server, a gospel procession, that we stand, sit, kneel, turn to face different ways…

…that’s because the rituals, the liturgy, the stuff we do has been very important in my adventure with God.

There are lots of words in our worship – and they’re important. But in the end they’ll always be approximate, inadequate. God is transcendent…beyond and greater than any words. Symbols take over where words are not enough.

It’s not only our brains we bring to worship, but also our bodies and emotions, our whole selves. I think we learn about God in what we do as well as what we say and hear. So for me the things we do are important, not because they please God, or because we’re ‘getting it right’…but because they change us.

Of course some people feel it’s all old fashioned, that we should find more modern ways to worship. But part of the power of liturgy is that it is ancient. It has deep meaning because its meaning is in a way outside of time, outside the ‘fashion’ of the day. People have done these things for hundreds of years because in them they have found God.

Sometimes it needs a little explanation. When I’ve read the gospel, I put it back open on the altar for the week. Perhaps I should’ve said that I do this because in hearing it – and in exploring it in the sermon and prayers we’ve broken open the gospel. We’ve let it out of the book and into our lives. It’s open to remind us that it’s not just words on a page, but truth to be lived.

Sometimes though, the liturgy can’t be explained – it’s much better experienced.

Soon we’ll be entering Lent, Holy Week and Easter…when the church provides us with almost an overload of stuff to do. I will be ‘going for it’ whole-heartedly – and would like to invite you to do the same.

Why? Because I’ve found that when I do that stuff, Holy Week is about much more than remembering what Christ has done for me. It becomes a way of taking the journey with Christ.

On Ash Wednesday – the start of Lent, we have ash put on our foreheads. It asks us to recognise what’s wrong with our world, that we are with Christ in the wilderness – and need him to lead us out.

On Palm Sunday we sing ‘Hosanna’ and process waving palms…we say ‘Jesus is our King’ – knowing how fickle we are – how soon cheers turn to spite.

On Maundy Thursday we come to the last supper and share bread and wine as if for the first time. I’ll be looking for 12 volunteers to have their feet washed as the disciples had theirs washed by Christ. I’ve been one of those 12 – slightly embarrassed, but moved as my priest replaced robes with a towel, knelt and washed my feet – and I imagined Christ doing that for me.

I’ve also done the foot washing…reminded of my place washing feet rather than standing in the pulpit…but also conscious of the grace of those people…we’re British…we’re uncomfortable with stuff like this…but people agreed to have their feet washed so we could learn together about Christ’s way.

Then we strip the altar, take away everything but the consecrated bread…and sit for a while as Jesus prays desperately in the garden; trying not to let our minds wander…trying not to fall asleep. And then we go…leaving him to face the court alone.

On Good Friday – we kneel before the cross – think about the agony – perhaps about our agony – or of those who suffer today around the world.

Then we come at 6am on Easter morning. Hear the story of God and his people – come with the new light brought into a dark church. Sing…shout ‘alleluia’ because all the cruelty, fear, failure has not overcome the love of God.

It’s very different to just hearing the story. There’s a posh Greek word for it…anamnesis. It means an active remembering where the past gets drawn into the present…and we find in it truth for every time.

Somehow in the doing we experience with Christ…popularity, anger, fellowship, love, fear, betrayal…even doubt. We realise those are our experiences too and that becoming like Jesus is about finding the way to cope with what life throws at us.

So whether it’s all new to you, or has been part of your life for years, please come, and let’s travel this journey together. Humour your new Rector…volunteer to have your feet washed – or to read a lesson at dawn on Easter Sunday!

I will finish with some advice from our next Archbishop of York on ‘A Good Holy Week’ – a book I heartily recommend…

He says:

Attend everything.

Go for broke.

Just be there, be part of it and see where you are taken.

 

Telling God’s story of hope in a new way – sermon for Evensong, 1st Sunday of Epiphany, Adel Parish church.

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An old story for today’s world…words for Evensong, 12/1/20 at Adel Parish Church

Joshua 3: 1 – 8, 14 – end; Hebrews 1: 1 – 12

During my post Christmas break we went to see the film ‘Little Women’. When I was a child I loved the series of books, so I was slightly anxious whether the film would live up to my memories.

For a while I was unsure, because the film started somewhere towards the end of the books, telling the main story in flashbacks; material from all four books was mixed together; characters weren’t as I’d pictured them.

But the acting is excellent, and eventually I relaxed into the story. By the end I’d realised this was an adaptation which told the same story – but in a new way, a way suitable for today.

Perhaps the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was wrestling with the same issue. There is much uncertainty about both the writer and the recipients of the ‘Letter to the Hebrews’. It is likely though that the Hebrews were Jewish Christians who had not themselves witnessed Jesus’ life and resurrection.

They would be familiar with the old testament texts. They would know that God has always spoken to his people. Directly to a few individuals – such as Moses and Joshua, as we heard in our first reading. Mostly through the prophets…in many and various ways…

…in anger at His people forgetting him.

…in the Manna called down by Moses, and the fire called down by Elijah…

…in words of hope to a people in exile.

God was known by his mighty acts…of rescue from Egypt…of destruction and punishment. For long periods God was known only by his absence, by the feeling of being abandoned. Then the words of hope would be vindicated – God’s people would feel able to sing, as in the psalm we just said together…”God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

They would know these stories of God’s people and their encounters with God…and the picture of God, which this built up. Now though, they’ve been confronted with this utterly new and radical idea that God can not only speak through a human – as he did with the prophets – but can be a human.

In these last days, they’re told; God has spoken through a Son. A son who is not just a special human – but ‘the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.’

This was an enormous thing for them to take in…and it still is today if we truly engage with it. The Almighty, powerful God of the Old Testament is reflected perfectly in this human…Jesus Christ is God in human form…the same God we encounter in the Old Testament.

But, they’re told, look properly and you’ll see that this is the same God speaking in this new way. This is the same story of power…as shown in Jesus’ miracles…of righteous anger…as shown by Jesus in the Temple…of faithfulness as shown by Jesus weeping at the death of John the Baptist, of Lazarus…of feeding…and healing.

Like the film I saw…this is the same story, but interpreted anew, for a new time.

The new revelation this brings is that God loves us enough to share our humanity. That God really is interested in us just as we are. That God is not only utterly beyond what we can imagine, but also closer than we know.

I will go back to Little Women and reread the books, but I will do so with new insights brought by the film of how women’s lives have changed, and how they haven’t.

I think this lovely passage from Hebrews tells us not to forget what we learn of God from the Old Testament…from the prophets. But to look at it with the new knowledge of God we gain from the person of Jesus.

Jesus, who is challenging and difficult as well as welcoming and human…but who shows us above all that we are loved.

David Jenkins…one time controversial Bishop of Durham…and thus a bit of a hero of mine…once said “God is, as he is in Jesus, so there is hope.”

A message that we need at the start of 2020 with so much uncertainty in the world.

Look at Jesus, said both the writer to the Hebrews and Bishop Jenkins, and you will begin to understand a little more about God. Look at Jesus, and you will see God’s story told anew in a way we can begin to grasp. Look at Jesus and you will find a reason to hope.

“God is, as he is in Jesus, so there is hope.”

 

 

 

A bruised reed he will not break…how do we follow that? Sermon for Baptism of Christ Sunday, Adel Parish Church

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‘A bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not snuff out’…how do we follow that today?

Sermon for 12/1/20 at Adel Parish Church

Isaiah 42: 1-9;    Matthew 3: 13- end

Epiphany. It’s a bit of a strange season. Often ignored by squeezing the wise men into the Christmas crib, then packing them away with the tree. Or if people do know of it, it’s probably only as a celebration of those wise men. Yet there are 3 more weeks of the season to go.

Epiphany means manifestation, showing. It means realisation. The crib says God became a tiny baby. Epiphany begins to unpack something of what that means for us.

And today we get a surprising picture: Jesus, Son of God, lining up with repentant sinners to be baptised by his cousin…so unexpected that even John, one of the few to recognise Jesus for who he is, tries to stop him. Today we’re given a very alien notion of what a Lord and Saviour looks like.

So today we also hear Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant to help us to understand. In it God promises to send his chosen one, a light for the nations, who will bring forth justice. But how he will do it is not perhaps quite what we expect…‘a bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench.’

‘a bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench.’ It’s such a strange picture that it stuck in my mind.

A bruised reed – if it’s not to break needs support and protection. A dimly burning wick, if it’s to stay alight needs protection…needs oxygen.

God’s servant, it seems, is sent to minister to those who are bruised, breaking, flickering. The prophecy may have referred to God’s people the Israelites; it may have referred to Jesus. Either way, I think, it challenges us. We are God’s people today – we are followers of Jesus.

That’s had me wondering what nurturing and protecting bruised reeds and smoldering wicks might look like in our lives.

In the last couple of years I’ve had a twitter account on social media. I don’t use it much but I rather like the surprising things I see – posted by the few people I follow. I’m not entirely sure why, but these are mainly clergy and farmers. So my twitter feed is a slightly surreal mixture of sheep, obscure Anglican jokes and faith related articles.

The other day a reference to the Timpson chain popped up. You probably know them – once shoe menders, then key cutters, now dry cleaners…

…what made it interesting is that 10% of their workers are recruited directly from prisons. James Timpson talked about a chance encounter on a prison visit, which made him realise the vast pool of talent in prisons being discarded when all it needs is a bit of nurturing. Timpson’s now do that nurturing with a high success rate.

James’ father John Timpson fostered over 90 children and set up a trust, which supports looked after children. It also gives financial help to 2 schools. The two schools chosen were a failing school, and a school threatened with closure. Bruised reeds? Dimly burning wicks?

I don’t know whether they are Christians – but these actions, I think, show a counter cultural nurturing of the bruised and failing that all Christians could learn from.

But Timpson’s is, after all, a business. Elsewhere on their website they talk of only recruiting the most able, the most innovative and creative. Their business requires that the bruised and flickering have the right sort of potential…of course it does, they have to keep their business afloat.

But to really commit to ministering to the bruised reed, the dimly flickering wick, asks for something even more against the prevailing culture. It asks us not just to help those who have great potential but are going through a bad patch, or had a difficult start. It asks us to protect and support that wick – even if it will never burn very brightly.

Imagine ‘Strictly’ or ‘Bake-off’ where the best contestants were voted off, so those who were struggling could have more help…I’m not sure it would make great television…

…but perhaps in this Epiphany season we’re confronted by Jesus: the chosen one, the light for the nations, and reminded that his message of hope is particularly for the bruised and broken, the struggling and the weak.

Perhaps we’re asked to consider whom the bruised reed and dimly burning wick might be in our lives, and our society. The ones who seem to need help over and over, the ones it might be easy to give up on. Perhaps it asks us to consider how we might be asked to nurture and protect them.

I’m aware this is much easier to say than to do – especially perhaps for those working in business. I spent time the other day with someone whose job requires him to make people redundant…in order to safeguard the jobs of others.

Applying our faith to our work might be easier if we are say, nurses or teachers, or Rectors…but being Christian doesn’t mean much if we aren’t prepared to think about what it means in the real world, in everybody’s world.

Nurturing the bruised and flickering must be able to find some way into every job. I think though it also asks us to consider how our whole society might be changed…how we might work for a society where no one is ever written off, whether they seem to have potential or not.

This is a challenge, but it’s also good news for us when we for whatever reason are the bruised or the broken. Jesus’ message of salvation is then particularly for us.

This 2nd week of Epiphany we’re offered the revelation that God loves us and takes us seriously whatever…and as followers of Christ we’re asked to reveal that same love to others…in all aspects of our lives.

 

A letter from King Herod to the people of Adel St John’s…words for the first Sunday of Christmas.

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Words for the first Sunday of Christmas – Adel Parish Church

Isaiah 63: 7 – 9; Hebrews 2: 10 – end; Matthew 2: 13 – end

I know, I’m the baddie; the ‘evil fairy’ at your nativity cradle; Killer, no slaughterer, of innocents. But you forget – I’m also known as ‘Herod the Great’…’the Great’ I didn’t get that title by being weak and indecisive.

You conveniently forget the peace I secured for the Jews under Roman occupation; my long reign; the magnificent Temple I built. You only remember my story because of the visit of those three travellers from the East…

And even then you don’t read it properly…’when King Herod heard the kings were searching for a baby, born king of the Jews – he was frightened’…frightened – that’s not how you picture the scheming villain in your nativity plays.

But you’ve never been the ruler of an unruly people occupied by a ruthless nation. Fear? Yes – every day.

Fear of those around me hungry for power and anxious to take my place…why do you think I had secret police listening all the time?

Fear of those who would upset the status quo – the delicate balancing trick I was playing to keep Romans, pagans and Jews happy. There were always false prophets, messiahs threatening to ruin things…’he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him’…you never remember that bit do you? It’s a lonely and frightening place – being a ruler.

So yes, they did scare me – those strange, intense travellers from the East, with their tales of a new King of the Jews – a baby worth a thousand mile journey – a baby they would bow before. All Jerusalem was unnerved – but I was the ruler, so it was up to me to act…

…and I made a mistake. I trusted that my welcome and my flattery had worked…I trusted that as I’d shared my knowledge, those travellers would do the same. I trusted they would lead me to this ‘king’ so that I could deal with the problem.

I should have recognised in their single-mindedness, their intensity of purpose, that this baby, in Bethlehem of all places, had already won their allegiance. So then what choice did I have? The gnawing fear wouldn’t go away. Fear that a baby who could draw noblemen from the ends of the earth would easily deceive the common people around him, the poor, the dissatisfied.

I had made the mistake, so I had to act. The lives of a few ordinary children? – hardly a great price for peace and stability. Many wouldn’t have lived to adulthood anyway – life is cheap in these places. If you haven’t had the responsibility of real power you don’t know the loneliness and fear that goes with it.

And anyway, before you jump to judgement – how do you feel when you think power is being taken from you? Do you fear change? – anything that threatens the status quo, the little kingdoms you’ve built? Do you slaughter infant plans and ideas – just in case? Just in case they grow into something you didn’t expect, something that forces you into the background?

 

 

The power of presence…a sermon for Christmas morning at Adel Parish Church

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The power of presence…a sermon for Adel Parish Church, Christmas morning 2019.

Isaiah 9: 2-7; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 2: 1-14

“Mummy – why doesn’t the moon fall out of the sky?”

“Mummy – do dead people have legs?”

There was a time when this was the sound-track to my life.

Then, when I was ordained, and began life as a curate, I found myself asking a constant stream of questions. Ones I’d always thought I knew the answer to – but then realised I’d never really asked.

Questions like, “Christmas – what’s that all about then?”

Now you are wondering what on earth they teach at theological college these days…but I don’t think it is an unreasonable question.

After all – since Christmas tells us how God, unknowable, all-powerful, creator of all – chose to become human – it is quite difficult to make sense of.

Look at the four gospels: Mark avoids the story altogether; Matthew uses a family tree to show how Jesus is the long awaited Messiah; and John resorts to poetry ‘In the beginning was the Word…’, in his attempt to capture the mystery.

Today we get Luke’s version – a very human story with Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels – and an obvious requirement for a donkey and an Innkeeper, even if they’re not actually mentioned.

A very messy, earthy story…suitably reenacted at the first crib service yesterday. Our wonderful children’s team have knitted enough sheep for every child to bring one up, so there was a glorious moment when the Christ child was entirely buried in knitted sheep.

A messy story, uncomfortable actually, if we look properly. Almighty God becomes the baby of poor parents in an occupied country, on a dangerous journey, born in a stable. There seems a good chance the story will end before it’s even begun.

Luke – with these almost trivial human details – gives one answer to ‘Christmas – what’s it all about?’ – this baby is Emmanuel – ‘God with us’.

As a child one of my favourite Christmas songs was a very simple one – ‘Emmanuel, Emmanuel – God who came on earth to dwell – who can all our story tell – God with us, Emmanuel.’

“Who can all our story tell”

One answer to my question is that Christmas is about the over flowing love of God which results in God as a baby – an ordinary, vulnerable baby – who can be cold, hungry, scared – who will grow up to be a man who can laugh and cry and suffer and die – like us.

Not just a God who knows our story – but who can tell all of our story because it’s also his story. Truly – God with us.

During my curacy I got to know an amazing gentleman of 100, who served for 3 years in the desert during the Second World War. He was pretty scathing about the church and religion in general – but he had huge respect for the Salvation Army.

Because as he says, “wherever we were – even on the front line – they were there with us.” They didn’t stop the fighting, they didn’t save lives – they were just there – providing hot meals, hot drinks and a friendly face. And more than 70 years later he still remembered the power of presence, of ‘being with’.

I recently reread ‘The boy in the striped pyjamas’ – about Bruno, the son of an Auschwitz commander who, through the wire, befriends a child inmate of the concentration camp. He has no idea what’s going on in the camp – he just makes a friend.

At the end of the book, in what he sees as an adventure, he borrows some striped pyjamas, crawls under the wire and joins his friend in the camp.

Just as he’s thinking he should head home, soldiers start rounding people up. They are heading for the gas chamber, although the children don’t know this. All Bruno knows is that his friend is frightened, so he holds his hand and goes with him.

This should be a really depressing ending to a story – but it’s strangely uplifting – showing the power of ‘being with’ to somehow bring hope to even the worst situation.

Perhaps rather dismal for Christmas morning? Well despite what TV adverts might want us to believe – the difficult stuff doesn’t stop happening because it is Christmas. There is still suffering, war, famine…

The profound and sober joy we have on Christmas day is that God really is with us. He was the tiny baby; totally dependent on others…he wept at the death of his friend…he was despised, beaten and killed.

2019 has not been an easy year – nationally, internationally, and personally for some of you here – but if we believe that the baby in the manger is also the son of God – then we know that God is with us in the suffering. I don’t always understand why he doesn’t stop the suffering – but I do know that like Bruno in the story, in the dark times he holds our hand.

And since it is Christmas – a reminder that ‘being with’ is as important in joy as it is in sadness. Many of you will know the film Billy Elliott – the son of a miner – who, despite his father and brother’s angry resistance becomes a ballet dancer.

The really moving moment comes not when he finally makes it onto the stage with the Royal Ballet – but when his father and brother are shown taking their seats in the audience, sharing his joy…the power of ‘being with’.

So this Christmas whether we are celebrating in joy, sadness or both – we have God’s gift to us all – the gift of choosing birth as a poor, vulnerable baby to be Emmanuel – God with us.

And remembering the example of the Salvation Army – I pray that we will follow our Lord’s lead and share the simple, but oh so powerful gift of ‘being with’ – whether in joy or sadness – with those around us this Christmas.

A story with a part for everyone? Sermon for Midnight Mass at Adel Parish Church

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A story where everyone has a part…words for Midnight Mass at Adel Parish Church.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Well it’s been a funny old year…a year, sadly, with a fair amount of darkness…or at least a feeling of struggling to see our way, of being lost.

There’s been the question of who we are if we are not Europeans, of whether there’s still such a thing as being ‘British’. There’s the way many have felt their traditional political party no longer has a place for them. There’s the feeling amongst foreign nationals, Muslims and Jews, that they are not safe here…or they that this is no longer their country. And faced with the way these people have been treated, many of us don’t recognise Britain as the country we love either.

So many uncertainties that it’s easy to feel we are groping around in the darkness.

It’s been a year of uncertainties for me too…how I would cope when our vicar Matthew went on Sabbatical for three months…would I find a job as my curacy came to an end…where would it be? The unknown of being ‘Rector’ rather than an assistant curate…how I fit into this community in my new role…I’ve I felt a bit lost at times.

And then there are the uncertainties everyday life throws at us.

In the midst of it all, we’ve come this evening to share a story we know so well – the story of the first Christmas – wondering perhaps whether it has any relevance in our lives today.

It is, of course, the story of ordinary, respectable working folk. Joseph, a skilled craftsman, probably self-employed, and Mary, his wife to be.

…the story of brave young people with dreams of an ordinary, settled life together.

…the story of people who find themselves with nowhere to stay, sleeping in unsuitable borrowed rooms even though there’s a baby on the way.

…a story where the first, most important guests are the poorest, marginalised, least valued in society – a group of shepherds from a hillside.

…a story where the rich and learned from other countries and other cultures are also invited to come and play their part – three wise men setting off to follow a star which invites them to travel but tells them little else.

…the story of an unremarkable family turned into refugees, as a powerful ruler tries to hang on to power. That bit doesn’t usually make it into nativity plays. But when King Herod the Great heard the rumour of a baby king, he sent men to slaughter all babies in Bethlehem…just to make sure.

…the story of indifferent busy people rushing past, offering no room, ignorant of the gift in their midst.

That is why it’s a story that draws us back again and again…because we find that whoever we are, whatever is happening in our lives…we have a place in this story. It’s such a powerful story because it says when God came to earth; he came to and for everyone.

But God didn’t come, as we might expect, as part of the ruling class. God didn’t come with power to order people to come and worship.

The scandalous thing about the Christmas story is that Almighty God chose to come to earth as a tiny, vulnerable baby born to ordinary parents during the chaos of a census in an occupied country. God chose a life that people are free to ignore, a truly human life, a life that shows us what it is to be truly human.

In other words, God chose to need people…chose to risk human life at its most precarious…not to dominate or posses but to invite. And we are all invited, not just to be onlookers, part of the crowd. We’re invited to come and find our place in the story…a story of love where everyone is needed.

Those who like Mary and Joseph welcome Christ into their lives so that he comes into the world afresh in each generation.

Those who like the shepherds are on the margins, and who if we choose to listen can teach us so much about what is really important in life…who, even though they have almost nothing, still find something to give.

Those like the Innkeeper, who don’t really understand what’s going on, but sense something special and can’t quite turn away. Who let Christ in – at least to the edges of their lives.

Those like the wise men, of different cultures and faiths who understand the importance and goodness of this event…and although it’s not part of their world…choose to protect it from those like Herod who would destroy it.

Those who, like the Holy family, are forced to flee their country today, who know what Jesus experienced.

Those like the busy passers-by, who if only they take a moment to turn aside, can be part of the story. Who are invited, but never forced.

Maybe, if we make it our story again this Christmas, we also might start to remember that everyone is needed, that we need one another. We might contribute a little to reclaiming a country where all can feel at home.

And if we stick with the story, we might find that we need the God who chooses to need us. Perhaps we will grow a little more like the one who never forces but always invites.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

And if we find our part in his story, we might also find that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”

 

Joseph – a saint forBritain today? Sermon for Adel Parish Church Dec 22nd 2019

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Joseph – a saint for a divided nation? A sermon for the fourth Sunday in Advent – Adel Parish Church.

Isaiah 7: 10-16; Romans 1: 1-7; Matthew 1: 18 – end

“Mrs Battye…you know how ladies make lots of noise when they’re having babies…if Mary’d done that wouldn’t she have disturbed all those animals in the stable?”

I used to love teaching R.E…children ask the best questions…

That 10 year old was really asking what children often want to know – ‘why doesn’t the bible have the interesting details?’ I can sympathise as I’ve always felt this about Joseph. He’s in thousands of nativity plays at this time of year – he’s one of the few bible characters most of the population has heard of – but when we actually look in the gospels, today’s reading is almost all we get. Joseph is the earthly father of the Son of God, and yet we don’t hear one word he said.

I used to tell the kids that the gospel writers included things that say something important about God. So perhaps we should look at what we do hear about Joseph, and what might we learn from it.

Well we first come across him receiving a dreadful shock. The girl he’s about to marry is having someone else’s baby…devastating, and a terrible source of shame. But he doesn’t react how we might expect – he doesn’t expose Mary to public disgrace, even to salvage his honour.

Instead he decides to divorce her quietly. He knows it’ll be even worse for Mary – and he’s willing to spare her as much as possible. Joseph – a man for whom compassion is more important than either revenge or his own position.

We also learn that Joseph was a thoughtful man. The Good News translation says ‘while he was thinking about divorcing her quietly’, an angel of the Lord spoke to him. While he was thinking about it…Joseph an Advent Saint – willing to pause for a while, willing to wait.

And that pause gave God the chance to speak to him. Which was vital, because he had huge adjustments to make. Mary finding someone else would be sad – but not unheard of – but a child from the Holy Spirit…that turns all his plans on their head. I guess he dreamed of having a son…who would join him in the family business, take over in time. However little he understood the angel’s message– he must have realised that the future wasn’t going to be how he’d imagined it.

But by pausing, and letting God in, he saw there might be a larger story. He saw Mary’s side of the story – and had the imagination to see that his challenge might be just a small part of God’s enormous story. Joseph…an Advent saint…looking forward in the expectation that God might act.

I think Joseph is very much a Saint for our times. It’s not been very comfortable being British lately. In a nation that prides itself on tolerance and fairness, Brexit has shown how racism and prejudice often lurk under the surface. We seem to have forgotten that we can disagree and still respect one another.

In the recent election campaign, many of those who hoped to govern the country used personal slurs and downright lies to discredit their opponents. For lots of people voting was a negative thing, voting against a particular prime minister or governing party, choosing the least worse option.

Last week’s election result saw some jubilant and others despairing and genuinely fearful for the future. Whatever our political beliefs…as Christians we’ll agree that our country desperately needs healing, reconciliation, ways of coming together.

Compassion not revenge; pausing to let God in; expecting God to act…Joseph gives us a powerful example to follow however we feel about recent events.

If we always wanted to leave the European Union…and have perhaps become angry at the delay, and those who’ve caused it…we need to take seriously the fears of people who wanted desperately to remain. Our country really doesn’t need a Brexit of revenge. It needs Joseph’s example that caring for others – however we feel about what they’ve done – is more important than our reputation or what the world expects.

If last week’s results seem like a catastrophe…the end of our hopes…we need to readjust as Joseph did. We might still regret the result, but we need to be part of the bigger picture of the future of our country. We need to take seriously the hopes of people who see that future outside the European Union. We need to join the debate so there’s a chance of building a Britain for everyone.

We’re not all suddenly going to change our political views, and nor should we. There is no healthy democracy without disagreement. But we urgently need a different model of dealing with difference.

Joseph’s public reaction to difficult, perturbing news was not a knee jerk reaction – not angry, or vengeful. However he felt inside – he waited and thought before he spoke and acted…allowing God to be part of his reaction.

Britain needs people willing to do that. Most of us are not in positions of power; we aren’t going to be on national media outlets. But in a country of free speech we do have a voice.

If our local MP is not who we hoped for, we need to give him a chance, listen to him, challenge him and hold him respectfully to account.

If our government are not who we hoped for, we need to encourage our MP to listen, challenge, and hold them respectfully to account.

Joseph’s response to his life’s plans being turned upside down was to accept the change and play his part in the different future as faithfully as he could…

…I suspect Brexit won’t give anyone the exact future they hoped for and I’m not saying it’s part of God’s larger plan. But I’m pretty sure healing and reconciliation are. So I pray that with compassion, pausing to let God guide us, and looking forward in hope, we might help our country to unite and move forward.