Feast of Candlemas

29th February 2023

Reflection (readings follow on) 

The temple was at the heart of the life of the Jewish people. It represented God’s dwelling place on earth and was the place where the priests day in day out formally worshiped God with prayers and the singing of psalms, sacrifices of animals, the burning of incense, etc. This was the chosen place for Jewish men, women and children to offer worship through prayer and through the gift of animals to be offered as sacrifices. It was where the came to celebrate the festivals of the Jewish year. It was where they came to offer prescribed sacrifices for cleansing. It was where they came to offer donations for the care of the Temple and for the care of poor. It was where lepers came to prove to the priests that they had been healed. It was here that people came to listen to and learn from learned scholars. It was here too the religious courts were daily in operation for those who sought justice. 

The temple had its own staff – priests and levites, scribes and judges, guards, makers of clothes and musical instruments. There were money changers and the sellers of animals for sacrifice. There were those who mended and repaired the buildings. Those who cleaned it.  There were tourists too – Gentiles who could access the outer court and colonnades and take in the grandeur and scale of the site.

As you can imagine from the time it opened each morning until it closed each evening, the temple complex was a crowded place!

In to this busy space comes just one among many families – Mary, Joseph and their 6 week old baby. Who will notice them? What could make them stand out? Yet two people do spot them, do seek them out: Simeon and Anna. Both are prompted or guided to seek out this family and their young child, for it has been revealed to them that this was not just any child but a child that was unique. This child was going to change the world. Both Simeon and Anna declared this to all who will listen.  I would if we would be so attuned to God’s word or so vocal it revealing its truth?

Simeon in his outburst declares that this child, this bringer of salvation, brings salvation not just for the people of Israel but for the gentiles too. This is an all inclusive salvation that God is bringing to pass. Yet at that time the temple was divided into areas where only priests could go, areas restricted to Jewish men, areas where Jewish men and women could go but not gentiles, and then an outer area Jews and gentiles could both congregate. The salvation that Simeon foretold would transform all that. It would be a salvation in which, as Paul put it, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male and female for all are one in Christ.’

In our  day and age we should challenge ourselves to revisit this all inclusive nature of salvation. There should be neither rich nor poor, neither  powerful nor victimised, neither above the law nor outside the law, neither male nor female, neither homosexual nor heterosexual, neither first world nor third world, for all are one in Christ. I think we should go further, recognising how our relationship with the world around us is now understood – how dependent and interdependent all parts of creation are – to declare that there is neither human nor non human, neither wild nor domesticated, for all of creation is one in Christ.

Malachi 3:1-4

Thus says the Lord, See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old days and as in former years.

Psalm 84

1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

2 The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

3 Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.

4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

6 They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

7 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.

8 Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.

9 For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

10 For the Lord God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;

11 No good thing will the Lord withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.

12 O Lord of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!

Hebrews 2:14-18

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

Epiphany 3

22nd February 2023

Reflection (readings follow on below)

The word epiphany comes from the Greek and means to show or shine on. From this comes the idea of revealing, displaying or making manifest. A light shines onto something and what is in view is made clear. 

At the beginning of this season we heard the story of the magi. They had, it seems, devoted their life to looking at the stars (which are in themselves lights) in order to discover new truths about the world. They see a star and see it as pointing to the birth of a new and important king. The star itself doesn’t in fact reveal all they need to know, and they head to Jerusalem to consult Herod and his wise men to hone their understanding. Finally they do find the child and in worshipping the child, gain a new revelation. The child’s life is threatened by Herod and they depart by a different route. I am sure that throughout the remainder of their lives they continued to seek further enlightenment the child they had worshipped.  

The prophet Isaiah has been called to call the people back to God, for on’y then will they escape the danger that threaten them and their world. In today’s passage light comes not from a star but from God. The light is a gift from God to the people that brings them joy and release from the burdens of oppression – the physical oppression from their enemies and the spiritual oppression of sin. It is a light that shows them the way out of their troubles. It is a means of enlightenment.

As we look around our world today with war and conflict, oppression and injustice, climate and biodiversity crises, we know we need enlightenment. It seem that we can seek enlightenment in two ways – both of which are not in opposition to each other. Through seeking God’s light and renewing our spiritual well-being. And through seeking enlightenment about the natural world in which we live and about which we are not as well versed as we might be. In seeking to understand the world around us, we learn truths about God, about the amazing connectivity and interdependency and life enriching wonder of creation. In seeking to know God, we learn of God’s ongoing love for creation.

Isaiah 9:1-4

There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness–
on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Psalm 27:1, 4-9

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?

4 One thing have I asked of the Lord;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life

To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *
and to seek him in his temple.

5 For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.

6 Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.

Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation
with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

7 Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.

8 You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” *
Your face, Lord, will I seek.

9  Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptised none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptised in my name. (I did baptise also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptised anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptise but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Epiphany: Baptism of Jesus

15th January 2023

Reflection (readings below)

The Gospel story today is full of drama. Be amazed! Be in awe! This is an epiphany moment – the breaking of the true nature and identity of Jesus. In this moment earth and heaven are in perfect communion. Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is openly declared to be the Chosen One, the very unique and beloved Son of God. 

This is the chosen servant imagined in the words of Isaiah. This Chosen One would be as a covenant to the peoples, through whom salvation will be accomplished. Isaiah and the other prophets were all clear in their messages that salvation required justice. Salvation would be achieved through that justice that brings  healing for sick, sight to the blind, release for  prisoners and those trapped in darkness. 

I think that we and the churches too easily forget the importance of seeking justice – perhaps because  we can’t quite imagine how we can do this. Looking around our world there seems to be so much injustice. We only have to open our newspapers or turn on the television, to know that even in our own relatively affluent country, there are people who cannot afford to both eat and heat their homes; that there are people in employment who have to rely on food banks – and that includes nurses and teaching staff. We might have to read a little further and we would discover people who can either find an NHS dentist nor afford private treatment, farmers who cannot make a profit growing the food we eat, or people locked up 23 hours of the day because the prison system cannot afford sufficient staff.  

How indeed can we bring about justice in these situations? We can – as many churches do – support food banks. We can – as many of us do – donate winter fuel allowances to help run warm hubs. But justice needs more – system change. Change that will build in rather than exclude justice. Change that will equality and fairness the touch stone. Change that will always protect the vulnerable.

No one says that such change is easy to bring about. It can take  time and perseverance – something Isaiah clearly recognised. It will involve the transformation of the many systems that control our economic and social lives. Such change happens when opinions change, when tipping points are reached. The change often begins at the grass root level, and then grows. As Christians and church communities, we can call out and highlight injustice where we see it. We write to our bishops and our MPs and ask for change. We can be fact finders and information spreaders, ensuring that the truth about injustices and the need for justice becomes widespread. We can become campaigners and activists! We can, as St Paul, says be preachers of the Gospel –  empowering the good news of justice that underpins salvation and following the example of Jesus, God’s Chosen One. This is an awesome calling!

Isaiah 42:1-9

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.

I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.

See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;

before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

Psalm 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendour.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.

9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.

11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Acts 10:34-43

Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptised by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Naming of Christ

1st January 2023

Reflection (readings follow on)

Today is the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ and New Year’s Day.  The first day of the first month is a logical day to begin the new year, but how is it that this day, of all days, is the first? Different cultures and groups celebrate the start of their new year on various different days. For the Israelites it was the first day of Nisan (ie sometime in March as that calendar is lunar). For the Chinese it is a day in late January or early February. Islam follows a lunar calendar and this year’s New Year will be in July. In the church the liturgical year starts on Advent Sunday in late November. The tax year starts on April 1st and the school year from some date in September. There is no one factor that determines New Year’s Day.

That the 1st of January is the Feast of the Naming  and Circumcision of Christ is, as the gospel records- and in line with custom – because it took place eight days after his birth. This naming and circumcising marked him out as an Israelite. What the gospel accounts lack is any indication as to the date when Jesus was born. For the first couple of centuries no one felt the need to affirm the date of Jesus’s birth – as with the feast days of saints, it was the date of death that was commemorated (usually a more certain date). The first recorded celebration of Christmas was in Rome on December 25, 336CE. This day may have been chosen as 25th December also coincided with the winter solstice – according to the calendar of the time. (Since then calendars have been refined and adjusted).  

Whilst in the Roman era, the new year started on 1st January this did not remained fixed for all time. In Angle Saxon England 25th December – the solstice – was most commonly observed as the beginning of the new year. Later under Norman influence, the new year began on 25th March – the spring equinox – and this was the custom until 1752, since when the new year has begun on 1st January. So in a curious roundabout way this Christian Feast of the Naming of Christ is the first day of the new year! 

Today’s readings celebrate the importance of naming and of new beginnings. The first begins with a blessing that God gives so that God’s people may be blessed, and in blessing them they are named Israelites. The name Israel was first given to Jacob after he had wrestled with God and the name means ‘one who struggles with God’. The name suggests a dynamic relationship between God and God’s people!

The Psalmist is overawed by the difference between God and all the wonder of God’s creation and the smallness, the lowliness, of humanity, and at the same time, the Psalmist is amazed that even babes and children know how to praise the name of God. There is something truly amazing about the relationship between on one hand God, and on the other, humanity. This amazing relationship unfolds even further in the words of Paul. God has not just named us as God’s people, God has adopted us, through the birth of God’s only begotten son, as children and heirs of God. It is no surprise then that the name given to Jesus – Yehoshua – means the Lord is Salvation. We are people called to struggle and to be saved!

So today we begin the year of our Lord 2023. May it be a year blessed with care and compassion and action to safeguard the future of all that God has created. 

Numbers 6:22-27

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

Psalm 8

1 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

2 Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.

3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.

4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

5 What are human beings that you should be mindful of them? *
mortals that you should care for them?

6 You have made them but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn them with glory and honour;

7 You give them dominion over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under their feet:

8 All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,

9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

10 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

Galatians 4:4-7

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Luke 2:15-21

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Christmas Day

Vulnerability 

 One small light 

One new born infant 

Lacking  protection

Seeking love –

Can we care for him?

Vulnerable world

1.5 degrees –

Do we care enough?

Like the last few years, this year has been overshadowed by the ongoing climate crisis. The oddly shaped seasons with an early spring and a long warm autumn and in between a heat melting summer – not just here but across the world. Amazingly the trees and plants that seemed dead during the drought, have bounced back with new growth and new blooms well into November. I am not sure that the birds and insects have been as resilient. 

This nativity picture spoke to me of vulnerability, and I feel that the world is in a similarly vulnerable state. It seems that it won’t take much in terms of a temperature rise, to trigger a series of tragedies – disappearing glaciers and ice caps, floods and rising sea levels, burnt out summers, crop failures, hunger and drought. Will we humans look on bemused, and simply fail to act? 

In this nativity scene, the onlookers are in awe of this new life, worshipping this gift. They are looking on with love and compassion, and each in their own way will change their lives to care for that new life that lies before them. They will keep a flame of hope alight, not knowing what blaze of glory it will ignite. 

Have a happy Christmas filled with love and awe for all that is good in the world. And may 2023 be a year of hope and transformation, a year in which we rise to the challenge of averting the worst of climate crisis, a year in which peace and joy and sufficiency will be our reward.



 

Fourth Sunday in Advent

18th December 2022

Reflection (the readings follow on below)

Ahaz was king of Judah, the southern half of what had been the unified Israel. The kings of the adjoining lands of Israel (the northern kingdom) and of Aram (a western neighbour) wanted Ahaz to join forces with them and overrun the larger – richer – Assyrian nation. Isaiah’s counsel had been that Ahaz should not join the conflict but place his trust and the safety of Judah in the hands of God. Ahaz decided ask for help of the Assyrians, who did then rout the kings of Israel and Aram but in return demanded Judah became one of Assyria’s vassal nations. 

Ahaz was unwilling to ask help from God, and unable to choose between good and evil. 

That the  stories we read of in the Bible are rooted in real history is important. It certainly is for Paul who, in his letter to the Roman congregations, is keen to remind them that Jesus was descended from David, ie that there was a human earthiness or rootedness to Jesus. And then with equal historical certainty, he talks of that same Jesus as the one resurrected from the dead through, as the one who is the Son of God. And further that that same Jesus fills his followers with grace. This is the mystery of Christmas: that Jesus, who is of God, is also of humankind, and is God with us, and God in us. 

Another message that today’s readings give us is about being open to God, willing to hear and receive God’s word – indeed God’s Word. Ahaz is reluctant to listen to either God or God’s prophet. He is reluctant to place his trust in God. Paul, in contrast, has learnt to trust solely and absolutely in God, to be ever open to God’s will, ever open to receiving power and grace from God, through Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel both Mary and Joseph are open to trusting in and doing God’s will – whether that be  bearing a child  or being seen as a cuckold. I am particularly intrigued that is through the medium of a dream that Joseph hears God’s word. Prayer is  about openness, about clearing one’s mind of chit chat and buzz, which is also what one does before falling asleep. Both now in Advent and in the busy season of Christmas, it is good to clear our minds and make time for God.

Isaiah 7:10-16

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

1 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; *
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

2 In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, *
stir up your strength and come to help us.

3 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

4 O Lord God of hosts, *
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; *
you have given them bowls of tears to drink.

6 You have made us the derision of our neighbours, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

7 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

16 Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, *
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.

17 And so will we never turn away from you; *
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.

18 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. 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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Third Sunday of Advent

11th December 2022

Reflection (readings follow on afterwards)

“…prepare and make ready your way …. that at your second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people…” What would John the Baptist be saying to us this Advent? Would he see  in us a people likely to be found acceptable when Christ Jesus passes judgement on the world?

Isaiah envisaged how the world would look when renewed by the glory of God – or as we would now understand it, when transformed by the good news manifesto of Jesus. In today’s passage from Isaiah, Isaiah describes the wonder and the beauty of the age to come, a time of abundance and joy, an era when needs would be met and people would no longer be fearful. 

When we look around our world today, we are faced with multiple needs and  and great fear. In our own country we hear of people who lack the wherewithal to feed themselves and their families, who lack the wherewithal to heat their homes. We hear of people who lack homes, who lack jobs and opportunities. People who lack freedom to make choices about their lives. And we sense their fears for the future. 

Jesus in his conversation with John’s messengers, echoes the words of Isaiah that in God’s kingdom the blind will see, the deaf hear and the incapacitated walk. But what of those who do not see the people starving to death in East Africa? What of those who do not see the destruction of the rain forests and the escalating loss of biodiversity? What of those who do not hear the pleas of the people of Pakistan for aid to rebuild their country after this year’s floods? What of those who do not hear the pleas of climate activists for a safe future for their children and grandchildren? What of those who will not step out of their SUVs and walk, or walk outside their gated communities to see how others live?

The words of Isaiah tells us what we should be doing to be called ‘an acceptable people’. The words of Mary tell us what we should be doing if we wish to follow the example of Jesus. Advent is the time to examine our selves and our lifestyles, to measure ourselves against the words of Isaiah and the words of the Magnificat. Do we need to recommit ourselves to the task of bringing down the mighty and lifting up the marginalised? Do we need to recommit ourselves to feeding the hungry and safeguarding the future of generations to come?

As we look forward to the coming of Christmas, let us also look forward with renewed commitment to the coming of the kingdom of God and the establishment of God’s reign on earth. Let us echo the cry of the angels that there should be peace in earth and goodwill – wellbeing – for all. With God as our strength and Jesus as our guide we can do this.

Collect

O Lord Jesus Christ, who at your first coming sent your messenger to prepare your way before you: grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready your way by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in your sight; for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;

like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.

The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.

They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,

with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;

the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;

they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

The Song of Mary Magnificat

Luke 1:46-55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; *
for he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

James 5:7-10

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Second Sunday of Advent 

4th December 2022

Reflection (the readings follow on below)

One of the themes of today’s readings is justice. What is justice? What do we mean when we talk about justice? Is it me getting what I want? Me being free to do what I want, when I want and how I want? Is it me being free to exercise ‘my rights’?

This is a lot about ‘me’ but what I what I want to do adversely affects someone else? What if my rights block someone else’s rights?

Might justice be concerned with what I have done wrong, where I have impinged in somebody else’s rights? Might justice be about me being penitent and offering restitution? 

The Psalmist tells us that justice goes hand in hand with righteousness. More explicitly, we’re told that to do justice is to defend the needy, to rescue the poor and the oppressed, to restore the fertility of the land and to enable peace to flourish. Nothing there about my rights!

Isaiah tells us that justice comes from the spirit of the Lord, that it encompasses the wisdom and understanding that comes from God – as well as the awe (often translated as fear) of God. The exercise of God’s justice doesn’t just rely on what one sees and hears, but on a deeper understanding of the situation. It is a justice that creates a world of peace, of mutual co-existence, of joy. It creates that renewed world order which in Advent we look forward to. 

And for which we prepare. John the Baptist’s cry that we should repent and prepare the way, is not an ideal call. Nor is it a call only to be heard in the past. It is the rallying call for us today, this year of 2022. 

We are called to look at the world around us with more than just ears and eyes. To look deeper, to seek to understand the deep issues that causes injustice to damage lives of both people and the natural world. We need to be aware of and able to stand up for those who are oppressed, who are poor, marginalised. Those who have inadequate access to the necessities of life, as well as inadequate access to opportunities of life. We need to be aware of the long and short term harm being caused to the natural environment as well as to the built environment in which we live and work. We need to be aware of where we are at fault, where we have been the cause of the injustices and we need to be willing to make reparations. 

We cannot stand back and ignore the plight of the people suffering starvation in East Africa after seasons of drought. We cannot stand back and ignore the plight of Pakistan where a third of its land has been flooded disrupting daily live on a vast scale. We cannot stand back whilst around we cause the 6th mass extinction of life on earth. We cannot stand back and ignore the plight of people in our own country who have insufficient resources to feed their families, to keep warm, to maintain a sense of dignity. 

Equally we cannot stand back and ignore the behaviour of those who oppress the poor with their commercial clout. We cannot ignore the behaviour of those who continue to invest in atmospheric polluting oil industries. We cannot ignore the behaviour of those who do not forgive the debts of the poorest nations. We cannot ignore those who behaviour persecutes people because of their race, colour, faith or gender. 

Rather we need to be active in repentance and justice, ensuring that our words and actions work to create the kingdom of heaven on earth. And we can. With God’s wisdom and understanding we can review what we buy – do our purchases help or hinder justice? We can review our lifestyle choices – do they help or hinder justice? We can review our opinions, the conversations we share with others – do they help or hinder justice? We can write to our local councillors, our MPs, business leaders, our bank and pension fund providers and ask what they are doing on our behalf to ensure justice. We can join ecological and justice organisations, sign petitions, join demonstrations. 

Our prayers and our study of scripture, our engagement with the natural world and with social affairs, will help us to learn and receive God’s wisdom and guidance. This is how we will ‘bear fruit worthy of repentance’.

Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the
ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

1 Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King’s Son;

2 That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;

3 That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.

4 He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

5 He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.

6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.

7 In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.

18 Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, *
who alone does wondrous deeds!

19 And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! *
and may all the earth be filled with his glory.
Amen. Amen.

Romans 15:4-13

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;

and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;

and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptise you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

First Sunday of Advent 

26th November 2022

Reflection (readings follow on below)

Is Advent just a precursor for Christmas or is it a season with its own focus and purpose?

Advent Sunday marks the beginning of the Church’s year. Whilst with the secular New Year one focuses on new beginnings, fresh starts, transformative resolutions, the traditional themes for Advent are death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Another view of Advent is to see it as a time to ‘Prepare  the way of the Lord’ with a focus on both the nativity of Jesus and his second coming. Other themes that Christians observe are hope, peace, joy, and love. 

Maybe Advent is both a time to make a fresh start – to repent and realign our daily lives with God – and a time of hope for the coming of Jesus through whom we once again receive the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. And in just under a year’s time we will again celebrate the feast of  – and our allegiance to – Christ the King. 

Kingdoms centre round a castle or palace or capital city from which the rule of the kingdom extends. It is the place from where justice is meted out. It is the place of learning and fashion that shapes the culture of the kingdom. The passage from Isaiah talks of the mountain as the Lord’s house – the pinnacle from which God’s presence is spread abroad. This mountain has become the highest point – now everyone and every nation can see where God dwells and feel the influence of God’s rule. This renewed prominence draws the people to God in their desire to learn God’s ways which encompass peace and justice and reconciliation. 

Jesus in his ministry drew people to himself as he preached the good news of the coming rule of the kingdom of God. His message was radical and transformative, calling on people to renew and reform their lives, following in the ways of God. Jesus also spoke about a day of judgement, a day of denouement when the success or failure of our lives will be tested. This day does not sound pleasant; it sounds as if it will come with pain and tears and suffering. Jesus likens it to the time of Noah and the flood. There was life after that catastrophic flood, a new beginning. There have been other times too when humanity as a whole or in various areas of the world, has faced similar cataclysmic situations – war, floods, hurricanes, financial collapse, pandemics – which have become a time of reckoning and from which life has re-emerged, often wisely, and hopefully with a renewed understanding of the right ways of Godly living. These times of reckoning will continue to occur as we continue to wrestle with our human inclination to trust in greed and self interest. So maybe each season of Advent should be seen as a challenge to face up to our unwholesome inclination, and a time to refocus on the right ways of living in harmony with God and God’s creation.

The passage from Isaiah has words of hope that God will arbitrate between peoples and nations to establish justice, such that the weapons of war can be reformed as tools of peace and prosperity. In our time our greatest threat comes from the use of fossil fuels and the release of excessive quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere causing global warming and climate change on a catastrophic scale. If we do not curtail this decisively and speedily, we know we face a near future in which vast numbers of plants, animals and people will suffer and die. It will be a a doomsday of our own making. The weapons that enable this crisis, are our patterns of consumption and our patterns of investment. We need to transform these to create sustainable and equitable patterns of consumption and to invest in renewable and sustainable technologies. 

Advent is a season to reflect upon and amend the relationship we have with creation, with technology, with society, and with all that shapes our daily live. We need to focus on those ways which will establish a way of live that reflects God’s will, and to share that so that it is a world wide transformation. 

We should not wait for the climax to be reached before we reform our lives in line with God’s way. Now is the time to be ready. Now is the time to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’!

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;

all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,

‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;

that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!

Psalm 122

1 I was glad when they said to me, *
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

2 Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3 Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;

4 To which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord, *
the assembly of Israel,
to praise the Name of the Lord.

5 For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
“May they prosper who love you.

7 Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.

8 For my brethren and companions’ sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.

9 Because of the house of the Lord our God, *
I will seek to do you good.”

Romans 13:11-14

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 24:36-44

Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Christ the King: 20th November 2022

Reflection (readings are below)

We need leaders who are just and compassionate and who stick to the ways of God – those whose aim is to be upright, to seek after righteousness. And we have the ultimate example in Jesus. Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King – the one who is the king of the kingdom of God. He is our king; he is the one above all to whom we owe our honour and allegiance. He is the one who will never stop caring for us.

Yet the gospel chosen for today is of the crucifixion, the suffering and death, of Jesus. That doesn’t sound like an apt reading to celebrate the highest of all kings? For Jesus’s friends and followers, that day, that hour, must have been the absolute low point of their existence. The day when all their hopes and dreams were dashed. Their leader had been arrested – trapped by his opponents, jeered at by his critics, brought to court and found guilty – a sentence approved of by the masses. His vision of a better world, a world of justice and peace, of inclusivity and divine compassion was surely now in ruins, lost for ever? And what was to be their future? Would they be hounded and rounded up by the mob? Would they be rejected by friends and family? Would they become vagrants trying to eke out a living on the margins of society? Were they overcome by shame and doubt, wondering why they had been taken in by Jesus’s words, wondering why they had not heeded the words of their religious leaders, their elders and betters? Perhaps it was one of those days when you think it can’t get any worse and it just does.

We are living after the event. We know that Jesus’s drawn out execution on the cross with its blood and pain, before a jeering crowd was not the end of the story. There were still some empty hours ahead, some dark times of waiting and not knowing, of uncertainty and fear, for the disciples. But they didn’t run away. They didn’t stop caring for Jesus. They kept on living taking each day as it came. They weren’t expecting a miracle but were waiting to do what had to be done to complete his funeral. And a miracle happened; an unbelievable miracle! Jesus rose from the dead and met them where they were. He comforted and commissioned them and then took on his new role as the ascended messiah, Christ the King!

Can we find hope in that story? Can we find that hope that the psalmist speaks of? The strength of faith to continue even when things get tough, when the future looks uncertain – doomed even – and to hold tight to get assurance that God will always be there for us? When we face an uncertain future in the face of the climate crisis, the intransigence of oil producers, the reluctance of rich nations to be neither penitent nor generous, the naive optimism of those who say the climate crisis isn’t really a problem.

Let us find hope, take strength, encourage one another and reaffirm once more our allegiance to Christ the King.

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength, *
a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, *
and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;

3 Though its waters rage and foam, *
and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.

4 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

5 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, *
the holy habitation of the Most High.

6 God is in the midst of her;
she shall not be overthrown; *
God shall help her at the break of day.

7 The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken; *
God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.

8 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

9 Come now and look upon the works of the Lord, *
what awesome things he has done on earth.

10 It is he who makes war to cease in all the world; *
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.

11 “Be still, then, and know that I am God; *
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.”

12 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Colossians 1:11-20

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”