Thursday, 17 December 2015


The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Year C                                                                                                                        Luke 1:39-45

Are you in Clermont over Christmas? Or are you somewhere else with your friends and family?

And what are you expecting?

An image: Two women dressed in vaguely middle-eastern fashion clasp each other in an embrace of joyful friendship. Some artists have portrayed one woman as being older than the other or one woman more advanced in pregnancy than the second (who might not yet even seem obviously to be with child). In the picture one woman might be regarding the other with greater honour. Even if the painting were not labeled, anyone familiar with Christian art and iconography will immediately think of the Visitation - the visit of Mary to her cousin Elisabeth (the mother of John the Baptist) and Elisabeth's salutations to Mary: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" and "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord".

You brought that box of Christmas decorations upstairs from the basement. You adorned your house "as it was" with something new, something seasonal, something pretty which you will take down and store again in the cave. The house goes back to its usual state. Isn't the Universe an elastic place?. It can be stretched into a new shape. It is capable of novelty. But at the same time it has an amazing ability to return to where it was and to leave no shed of evidence of ever having been different. This is not a modern reflection: men and women have been disappointed before with changes they were promised by others or with the changes which they themselves had promised to turn into a reality in their own lives.

Every Sunday we say, in our Nicene Creed, that God is Incarnate - that in one unique moment in history he took upon himself human flesh through his earthly mother and joins us where we are so that life could be changed in such a way that it does not slip back. From the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews to the testimony men and women you know yourselves, there is abundant witness to the power of God to change willing lives beyond their bounds with power and with permanence. Listen! Engage with the promise of God. Go to Bethlehem this Christmas with your prayers and your thoughts. Elisabeth cries out to Our Lady that she is blessed because she has believed what God has promised. The message to human beings is nothing like the adornment of what already is. It is substantial hope for what has not yet begun to be.

Your lives need never be the same

Friday, 11 December 2015


The Rev'd Robert Warren.                                                                                     Luke 3:7-18

The idea of fire as an agent of cleansing and renewal appears twice in this passage from Luke’s Gospel.  Useless trees, which bear no fruit, are cast into the fire.  The empty hulls of grain – the chaff – is burned at the end of the harvest leaving the good grains to be bagged and taken into the larder.  We are familiar with one term from this passage – The Baptism by Fire – which we have incorporated into ordinary language to describe any event which seems destructive and hostile but which ends up fitting and preparing us through the ordeal it produces.

When you drive through northern British Columbia and the Yukon Territory along the Alaska Highway (which in my day was nearly all gravel for the 920 miles between Dawson Creek and Whitehorse) you pass through areas which have been recently burned over.  The burnt ground is dotted about with blackened stumps.  It speaks of death and destruction.  If you give it some thought, however, you might be struck by how this section of the forest is now a sunny spot for the first time and standing on what was once the forest floor you can now see the sky.  As you drive along for a few miles more you encounter areas which were burned over a year ago.  Fireweed grows in tremendous abundance, filling in the spaces that have been left.  As you drive further you pass areas which were burned over five years ago.  Small poplars are growing, their leaves shimmering like paper coins in the breeze.  Further on the conifers are new and still small in areas which were burned over a decade ago.  Every hillside around you with its bands of old conifers, fireweed, poplars and new conifers and bear witness to the regular and periodic cleansing of the land through fire.

You – the men and women, the boys and girls of Christ Church Clermont-Ferrand – are being invited by God to repent, to return and to be renewed.  The Advent scriptures come with both promises and warnings because nobody can assume that the new life could simply be added to what we have
already acquired and collected around ourselves over the years.  The natural man will suppose that the promises of new life are extra bits – options if you like - that might go nicely with what we already have.   As you approach the river you should expect to hear loudly that this is not so.  The prophets will all tell you that burdens must be dropped to the road side, taken off our shoulders, stripped and even burned away.  Where most of our baptisms of fire are involuntary misadventures that come our way by chance or ill luck.  They fall on us. Your invitation here is something of a quite different order:  you are being invited to enter into the Good News quite voluntarily, to undertake the necessary process of leaving behind what has held back the new growth you desire.

John the Baptist is telling you quite roughly that you need to decide.  Do you want to see the sky again?   You may need to permit some  branches be burned away.