Archives for December 2020
From the Vicarage
Every New Year provides us with the opportunity to look back and to take stock; it is a time to reflect and to prepare for the year ahead.
As we look back over 2020, it has been an extraordinary year dominated by an unprecedented pandemic across the world. Alongside this, in the UK, “Brexit” has continued to dominate politics and, no doubt, will continue to consume much time and energy moving forward. As I write this, parts of the country have just been placed in Tier 4, and no agreement has been achieved on Brexit. These are uncertain and worrying times. What is clear is that few areas of life will remain unaffected by either the pandemic or the Brexit negotiations. It seems that wherever we look, nothing is as we would wish it to be – internationally, nationally, or in politics, indeed, in so many different areas of life.
This is the world in which we are called to live as Christians. It is a world, still to be fully transformed, that has been changed by the birth of Christ. It is a world in which our faith offers us hope and that informs the way in which we live. Increasingly, it will be a world in which what matters is our personal witness and integrity, and our coming together for the common good in prayer, worship and study of the Bible, as disciples of Christ. As we reflect on 2020, this is a good opportunity to reflect upon the values by which we live; those things which inform what actions are right and what actions are wrong; what matters and what doesn’t matter; where we place our trust; where we find hope and how we act; and how others come to know us and we come to know them – practically during times of crisis.
We all have values and those values shape our character. We show respect, act courteously, live honestly and with integrity, because these things are important to us, and to the society in which we live. By doing so we show others who we are. And, of course, for a Christian, this is not an arbitrary way of living for our values are not simply made up on the spot. Our faith gives us a particular perspective – a way of looking at, and seeing things, differently. We have seen many examples of “faith in action” during 2020 as we help and support one another.
An authentic, core value, which shapes our character, is something that is within us. We intuitively know that only by living by our authentic, lasting, core values, can we truly be ourselves. They inform the moral compass by which we navigate life – they show others the person we are and what we stand for.
The Bible makes it very clear that showing respect, honouring the other person, and living with a proper sense of gratitude for blessings received, are among those core values which are not optional, but essential for living a good life. What matters is living a life of holiness. Holiness, which is a gift from God, and which is not the same as goodness, kindness, gentleness or intelligence, although it may include those virtues as well as others. It is a quality that always lies beyond ourselves and which gives others a glimpse of that reality which is lived in us and through us, but which is not ours:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2.20)
May 2021 be a time when we move beyond the pandemic and Brexit and grow in holiness so that the life that is in each of us finds its true expression in the life we are called to live.
With my love and prayers for 2021
Sermon St Peter and St Mary 27 December 2020 Year B Christmas 1
Isaiah 61v10-62v3 Psalm 148 Galatians 4v4-7 Luke 2v15-21
A Christmas star, angels, shepherds, and a crowded inn with a stable and manger, these are all a part of our traditional Christmas celebrations we have come to love.
Unfortunately not all those elements are truly faithful to the biblical story but grew up in apocryphal traditions written down during the second century. So what are we to believe?
Yes, there was a Christmas star. Perhaps you have all heard of the coming together, the conjunction, of the planets Jupiter and Saturn last week on 21 December, described by the media as ‘the Christmas star’, but that was not the true Christmas star the Magi followed. The power of modern computers and simulation software means we can now map the sky for any place or time in history. Those simulations shows the most probable ‘star’ the Magi followed was the motion of the planet Jupiter which the Magi had observed in the east ‘at its rising’, and which then moved westward and led them to Bethlehem. Amazingly, because of the form of its motion across the sky, called retrograde motion, Jupiter did in fact ‘stand still’ over the Bethlehem, the place where the holy family with the 15 month old Jesus, no longer a baby, stayed on 25th December 2 BC. Quite wonderful.
If you ever visit the Holy Land and go to Bethlehem, you can walk down the hill to the fields below where tradition places the ‘shepherd’s fields’, and visit the Orthodox and the separate Catholic Church commemorating the angels visit. Yes, the peasant shepherds were indeed keeping watch over their flocks during the early autumn nights of September BC 3, and were filled with fear when the glory of the Lord shone around them and a heavenly host appeared with the angel.
God’s gracious revelation to those lowly shepherds of ‘a Saviour who is Messiah the Lord’, must have come as a great shock, but this long promised Messiah, was not to be born in a palace, but in an ordinary village home like theirs, and was to be ‘wrapped in cloths’ just as their babies were. And where were they to find that babe? Of course, in the manger that each of those first century houses contained, a manger from where the household animals would have been fed during the night, and located inside the home of their owner.
No, it was not in the stable of an imaginary inn, but as the Greek word used clearly describes, in the home, probably of one of Joseph’s relatives, as the ‘guest room’ not inn, was full. Joseph’s family was of the house and linage of king David from Bethlehem, so with such royal linage, any home would have been open to the young heavily pregnant girl, but because the guest room, attached to this typical single roomed house of the time, was full, they shared in the family space.
When you understand the culture of the time of Jesus birth, all fits so much better together. Jesus, God’s Son, who came to set his people free, and give hope to the poor and meek, was born in a home just like the ordinary folk would have known.
It is unimaginable, in the culture of that time, that if those shepherds had found the holy family in a stable of some crowded inn, they would immediately have offered one of their own homes to share. They certainly would not have left after seeing the babe, ‘glorifying and praising God’.
I hope you may find that picture in keeping with the ‘one who humbly came among us, full of grace and truth’.
Way back in the sixth century BC, God had revealed to the prophet Ezekiel (Ez34v23) that He would send His Messiah as a shepherd to tend over his people, so how appropriate that the Messiah’s birth was first revealed to those lowly peasant shepherds watching over their flocks by night.
That babe, ‘born of a woman when the fullness of time had come’, was the one who was to change human history for ever. Now the hope of all peoples that a promised time of ‘righteousness and peace’, revealed to us by God through his many earlier prophets like Isaiah, that time really now had a chance to come to fruition. But sadly not, ‘He came to his own and his own received him not’, and so we still await that time, a time we reflected upon during the recent days of Advent.
But with the birth of the ‘Christ child’, and to its fulfilment of the many prophecies pointing to that first advent of Messiah, we can have an assured hope that the many more prophecies relating to the second advent of Jesus cannot fail.
We have come to the end of a year like none of us could ever have imagined. Such disruption to what we have all taken to be ‘normal’, perhaps a word we shall take greater care over using in the days to come. A year of much pain, isolation and for some, much sorrow as well. Yes, we can all take hope as the vaccines begin to roll out in number, but is that where our true hope lies as we enter a coming new year?
There is a beautiful old hymn from the early nineteenth century that goes, ‘My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; no merit of my own I claim, but wholly trust in Jesus’ name’. ‘On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand’. Like Isaiah who confidently stated that he would rejoice in the Lord, that he would rejoice in the one true God Yahweh, and in Yahweh alone would he exult, we need to be sure that our hope is firmly seated in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that our lives are built upon Him as our rock.
When Isaiah was prophesising, it was at a time just before the impending judgement was to fall upon Jerusalem and Judea in 606BC, when the people would be taken into captivity in Babylon. But Isaiah could also see a later time to come, when Jerusalem’s salvation would ‘shine forth’ and make itself known like ‘a burning torch’, like something that could not possibly be missed. Jerusalem was given a message of hope to sustain the people while away from their homeland.
After this prolonged and disrupted year, maybe some have felt as if we have been under a form of God’s judgement, and with the uncertainty in the coming months with the implementation of the Brexit agreement, we also need hope that our salvation is going to once again shine forth.
Yet through all that may be still to come, our true and deep hope is in the love and faithfulness of God. Let us join with the psalmist in saying (Ps 18v2), ‘The Lord is our rock, it is He who is our fortress and deliverer’.
May we enter the coming year confident that we are loved by God, who through the salvation brought to us by the babe of Bethlehem, we can now address the Almighty God as ‘Abba- Father’.
And let us remember that our salvation means we are also called to do God’s work as we earnestly seek to further and build the kingdom of His beloved Son, Jesus our Lord.
On this day we remember Saint John the Apostle, the apostle whom Jesus loved, and so we pray:
Grant, O Lord, that the word made flesh proclaimed by your apostle John,
may ever abide and live within us.
We pray that through your Holy Spirit you will help us to live out our lives in
your service, we ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord and coming King. Amen
Sermon St Mary MaryTavy 11am 20 December 2020 Advent 4
2 Sam 7v1-11, 16 Magnificat Rom 16v25-end Luke 1v26-38
The beauty, but also the frustration of our Anglican Lectionary, is that so often we get too many good scripture readings coming together all at once, and today is no exception.
So what aspect is appropriate for this last Sunday of Advent before the great celebration of our Saviour’s birth later in the week? I thought that this morning we could focus on just three words that seem to jump out from our readings, Favour, Mystery and Obedience.
I wonder how you ladies would have responded if an angel had appeared to you as a young teenage girl and said you were going to have a baby? First there would have been the shock of seeing an angel, and then the sudden realisation of the stigma, and for my generation, the reaction of parents and boyfriend. But it would have been even worse, and far more severe for Mary in her second Temple culture.
For her, and for her generation two thousand years ago living in Israel, it would not just have been the stigma, and the pain and hurt that it would cause to Joseph, but it would have been a capital offense to have been betrothed to Joseph and found pregnant, an offense punishable by stoning. But what was Mary’s reaction, “let it be to me according to your word”.
No wonder the angel greeted her with such wonderful words, “Hail, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!” Mary, as a young and virtuous woman, had found God’s favour, and that same favour God has also bestowed upon you and upon me as well. Through the grace and mercy of our God, the one true and living God, the God who spoke, and the universe came into being, has shown us His favour. That favour was made possible because God broke forth into His own creation through the babe that the virgin Mary was to deliver. God Himself in Jesus entered into His physical creation in order to reconcile us rebellious children to Himself, so that we can now call Him “Abba” Father. Does that not stir up a thrill within your innermost being? That we can be at one with the creator God.
One Christian tradition has it that Mary’s parents Anne and Joachim lived near the pools of Bethesda, and today the Church of Saint Anne is said to mark Mary’s birthplace. As is so often the case in Christian tradition it is a cave in the basement of the church.
This house was located just north of the Temple Mount upon which the Holy second Temple was built, and one tradition says Mary spent her time as a young girl growing up helping and praying daily in the Temple. Perhaps that was one reason why she found God’s favour to become the mother of our Lord.
The incarnation, the birth of the Son of God, certainly came as a Mystery, not just to Mary, but to the whole of the Jewish nation then, now, and still to much of the world’s population even today. But as Saint Paul says in his letter to the Roman Christian’s it is “a mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made know to all the Gentiles”. A mystery that has been made know to you and to me, but which many still do not yet recognise or understand.
You see, all those Old Testament prophets that I hope we read on a regular basis, serve as a revelation to us Christians that is missed by so many. They point to the coming of Jesus, and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are able to understand the mystery that was kept secret for long. It is well worth studying the many prophecies that point to the first coming, the first advent of our Lord at Bethlehem, prophecies that we find so beautiful during this season, and which were all fulfilled. But do you realise there are far more prophecies relating to our Lord’s second advent, to His return as our Sovereign Lord, King and judge. If only we had time, but we must move on.
So far we have looked at Favour and Mystery, but what of Obedience, now that is where it starts to get tough and to touch us personally. But we have to ask ourselves, do we really want to become disciples, and as Jesus commissioned us, “to make disciples of all nations?” Paul went on to say that the mystery was disclosed in order to “bring about the obedience of faith.”
We remember that Jesus was of the house or family of King David, and like us David at times strayed from the will of God for him as a king. When David disclosed to Nathan the Prophet that he wanted to build a house for the ark of the covenant, Nathans first reaction was to say go ahead and do it, but hold on.
God then had to remind Nathan, and so often has to remind us too, not to always act upon impulsive first reactions. Nathan had to go back to David, and in obedience to the word from God to him say, “hang on a moment David, not yet and not for you to do”. Obedience can, and usually is, costly to our pride, even if we are well intentioned.
But what a reward comes to us through the obedience of faith, through our obedience to the call of the gospel upon our lives. Through putting our faith and trust in Jesus, that divine babe born to Mary, we Christians now have such an amazing hope set before us. A hope that should, and I trust has, transformed our lives
In a moment we shall once again in obedience to our Lord’s command at the last supper, take bread in remembrance of Him. As we have gathered in fellowship with one another, with our brothers and sisters, both here below, and those who have gone before, we remember also the real presence of Jesus Himself is here in our midst.
We shall hear again the familiar but comfortable words of hope from the promise, “the body of Christ, keep you in eternal life”.
Let us at this Advent time resolve with all our brother and sister saints, to give ourselves in obedience as God may call, and to strive, through the presence and power of His Holy Spirit, to build His kingdom of peace, justice and righteousness.
Let us pray:-the shorter collect for this fourth Sunday of Advent:
Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, and as we now wait for His coming in glory, bring us through the birth pangs of this present age, and open our eyes to see His kingdom at work and to share the great salvation that we have in Jesus our Lord. Amen
The Vicarage, 5a Plymouth Road, Tavistock, Devon PL19 8AU Tel: 01822 617432 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We continue to live in uncertain times with the COVID19 pandemic. There is no doubt that, at times like this, faith can be challenged as COVID19 affects all human life. I write this to our parishes of Tavistock, Gulworthy, and Brent Tor as Government guidance has been revised to allow certain activities to take place in our church buildings, and as we move as a County into Tier 2 restrictions, although these restrictions have yet to be fully clarified. Now that the second lockdown has ended, we will be able to hold acts of public worship once again. Weddings for up to 15 people and funerals for up to 30 people are also allowed. It will, of course, still be necessary for us to ensure that our hygiene and social distancing precautions are kept in place, and that our COVID19 protocols are followed in order to keep everyone as safe as possible.
In all our four churches, we are keeping Advent, and preparing to celebrate Christmas. We are planning a mix of online and “in person” services and events in order to celebrate the birth of Christ in a safe and inclusive way. At a time when many are fearful or anxious about the future, I believe preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ becomes even more significant for each one of us, and to the communities in which we live. 2020 will be remembered for the brokenness of human life, for the very many lives lost, as a time of increased mental illness, for isolation and a lack of physical contact, all happening alongside economic downturn, job losses, and reduced opportunities for all ages. However, it will also rightly be remembered for the time our NHS, essential services, key workers, churches and communities, have reached out very practically and pastorally and shown great care and concern for others. This is a Christian message of hope and for this we can thank God. The coming of Christmas will remind us, once again, of this message of hope.
The great mystery of the incarnation is that God takes on human form so that God’s light might become known in the dark places of the world. The story of Christmas is a story of God’s care and concern for his people, and of God’s involvement with the world in which we live. “Emmanuel” – God is with us – we proclaim aloud at Christmas. We do not journey through this present time of darkness and despair alone. Christians looks forward to what is to come. The child born at Bethlehem brings us hope so that we can face the future with confidence. God comes to us to dispel the darkness of this world. He is called “Wonderful”, “Counsellor”, “the mighty God”, “the everlasting Father”, “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9.9). In him we find our hope for the future, our peace and our joy.
As a benefice we have produced a series of four Advent reflections, the first of these was posted on our Facebook pages, websites and YouTube, on Wednesday, 2nd December. Further reflections will follow each Wednesday and I commend them to you.
Comfort and Joy
Nationally, the Church has produced a suite of resources called “Comfort and Joy”. These resources are aimed at supporting individuals, families and communities celebrate the birth of Christ this year. The Church is called to ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep’. (Romans 12.15).
Comfort and Joy is a series of reflections published on social media and available by Email, App, and on smart speakers for each Sunday of Advent. Fifteen core reflections have been published by Church House Publishing (CHP) in a booklet entitled, Comfort and Joy: Nine Lessons and Carols for Christmas Youth reflections are available on Instagram. Full information can be found at: https://www.churchofengland.org/resources/preparing-advent-christmas-2020-comfort-and-joy
Living Advent Calendar
As part of Tavistock’s celebration of Christmas and in conjunction with Tavistock BID, business and churches around Tavistock have created a ‘Living Advent Calendar’. Details can be found on the St. Eustachius website.
Brentor Advent Calendar
Brentor’s Online Advent Calendar is also up and running. Please do take a look at https://brentorchurch.org.uk/christmas/advent-calendar/ and keep checking back. New items are added each day.
Tavistock’s Alternative Christmas Tree Festival 2020
Known this year as the “SchoolsTreeFest, and opening on the 4th December at 12 noon, Tavistock Church will welcome visitors into St. Eustachius’ to see this year’s trees, subject, of course, to Tier 2, COVID19 regulations. The festival will run until Tuesday, 15 December, from 12 Noon to 4.30 pm each day. A one-way system will operate with visitors asked to enter using the South door and leave by the North door. This event is very different, and necessarily smaller, from that of previous years, nevertheless, it remains a wonderful festival for the Church and town. I very much hope you will be able to visit the Church and celebrate the spirit of Christmas.
The Church will also be available for private prayer from Monday to Saturday, 12 Noon until 4.30 pm., during the period of the festival with members of the Ministry Team present.
South West Carols
“South West Carols” is an event happening this weekend, the 5th & 6th December, from 7pm each evening. It is described as: “The Biggest Festive Carols & Nativity Event in the South West!” and you can watch it live at: www.southwestcarols.com, also on Facebook and YouTube.
Church Services in the Benefice
St. Eustachius’, Tavistock
Sunday 6th December: Holy Communion 9.45 am
Wednesday 9th December: Morning Prayer 10.30 am
Sunday 13th December: Christingle Service 9.45 am. This service will be followed by a “Meeting to Elect a Churchwarden.” Please do come if you are able to do so.
Wednesday 16th December: Holy Communion 10.30 am
Sunday 20th December: Holy Communion 9.45 am and Benefice On-line Carol Service 4.00 pm
Wednesday 23rd December: Holy Communion 10.30 am
Christmas Eve Midnight Mass: 11.30 pm*
Christmas Day: Christmas Morning Eucharist 9.30 am*
*For both of these services, numbers will be restricted, and it will be necessary to book a place for one of these in advance. To book a place, please contact Mary (Churchwarden) on 01822 481179 from the 15th December.
Sunday 27th December: Holy Communion 9.45 am
Sunday 6th December: Holy Communion 11.15 am
Sunday 13th December: Holy Communion 11.15 am
Sunday 20th December: Benefice On-line Carol Service 4.00 pm and Christmas Festival 6.00 pm
Christmas Day: Christmas Morning Eucharist 10.30 am
Sunday 27th December: Holy Communion 11.15 am
Christ Church, Brentor
Sunday 6th December: Holy Communion 9.45 am
Sunday 13th December: Prayer and Praise 9.45 am
Sunday 20th December: Nativity Service 9.45 am and Benefice On-line Carol Service 4.00 pm
Christmas Eve: Midnight Mass 11.00 am*
*Numbers will be restricted for this service, and it will be necessary to book a place in advance.
To book a place, please contact Helen (Churchwarden) on 01822 810845
or email email@example.com
Sunday 27th December: Family Service
St. Michael’s, Brent Tor
Both Christ Church and St Michael’s are open every day for private prayer. On Christmas Day there will be carols playing and lay ministers and churchwardens present from 10 am until 4 pm at St. Michael’s to greet people and pray.
For those self-isolating, or unable to attend Midnight Mass or a Christmas Morning Service in any of our churches, a Midnight Mass service will be broadcast on our social media sites at 10.00 pm on the evening of Christmas Eve. Tavistock’s Christmas Morning Service will also be available on-line on Christmas Day.
Each month, we continue to publish the Benefice magazine “virtually” on the St. Eustachius website, and again, I commend this to you. A printable version is available on-line to share with anyone you know who has no access to the internet.
Please continue to share and cascade this letter to anyone you know who has little or no access to email, or to our social media sites. It remains vitally important to keep everyone informed of, and involved in, our ongoing Church life across the Benefice. Thank you.
Please stay safe and well and be assured of my continued love and prayers this Advent and as Christmas approaches.
With God’s blessing