Monthly Archives: December 2020

Sunday Worship at MtE – 27 December 2020

The worship service for Sunday 27 December 2020 can be viewed by clicking on the image below.  The order of service can be viewed here.

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

27 December – God, the fullness of time

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Christmas 1
27/12/2020

Galatians 4:4-7
Psalm 147
Luke 2:22-40


In a sentence
We are truly ourselves in the time we have when we receive it as a gift from God

In the next few days, our calendars will mark ‘New Year’s Day’ – that most gloriously pagan of the various holydays we mark throughout a year.

The paganism here is in the linking of human possibilities to the patterns of the natural order. In this understanding, our experience of the world and our opportunities within it are a function of how the world moves. The western festival of New Year takes its energy from the northern hemisphere’s experience at this time of the year. The long winter has historically been a period of hardship and scarcity which presented a major threat to survival. With the passing of the winter solstice comes the increase of daylight, sunshine, and the return to production of food for the coming year. The New Year festival celebrates that we have survived another ‘death’ – another winter – and look forward to the coming abundance, encouraging the gods to keep the wheels turning so that we might not be stuck in seasonal or spiritual winters. In this way of thinking, our lives are subject to a law of cycles and natural processes.

While modern technology goes a long way to disconnecting us from the patterns of the seasons, we retain today a significant intuition that there is at least the possibility of change which comes with the end of one year and the start of a new one. Most modern people would be aghast at the suggestion that they should order their lives according to the astrology sections of the tabloid media, yet our thoughts about the New Year are not far removed from just this. As the earth swings once more through the ‘same’ space it occupied 365¼ days ago, we pause to reflect and to utter the closest things to secular prayer we can: a wish for others that they have a ‘Happy New Year’ and a few New Year’s resolutions prayed not to the gods but to ourselves.

What we have heard in our brief reading today from Paul’s letter to the Galatians contradicts both old paganism and our sentimental retention of a few of its vestiges in our New Year celebrations. When it comes to the question of our being subject to time, Paul proposes an understanding very different from the cyclic filling and emptying which seizes our imagination so strongly at this time of the year. For Paul, the fullness of time is not a cyclic recurrence but a singular event: ‘when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…’ Time is filled not in an eternal return of filling after emptying but in a single fullness.

And yet it is also the biblical witness that this singular event is not located where we might most expect – as an end-of-time fulfilment of all things. The distinction is sometimes drawn between the cyclic time of general human religious imagination and the directional time of the biblical imagination, but this doesn’t quite reflect the biblical witness. The end of all things to which Jewish apocalyptic thought looked gives way to Jesus himself now being the end – the goal of all things – and this not when the world’s final tick has tocked but in the very midst of history.

Biblical time does not, then, march on towards a final arrival of God, as if the later we are born, the greater the chance that we will be alive in the final apocalypse. Biblical time, rather, revolves around a central moment. It is not where the hands on the clock point which matters so much as that they are fixed at a central point around which they move. Every time, then, is equally close to God’s filling of all time with Jesus, just as every hour, minute and second on a clock is the same distance from the axis around which the hands move. If it is necessary that our clocks and seasons go around and around, every moment in each season is nevertheless hinged upon God in Jesus at the centre of the clock face.

God is present to every moment, then, not because God is stretchy enough to extend the whole length of time’s arrow, stretching from creation to Jesus to us here and now. God is present to every moment because it is only from the axis of God that we can truly know the time in the first place – what kind of time it is we live in.

We might, then, dare to rework Paul a little bit here: not so much ‘when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…’ but ‘the fullness of time has come: God has sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law’. In this way not only does all time look forward to the birth of Jesus – Paul’s fullness of time ‘had’ come – but all time looks back to the birth of Jesus: the fullness of time ‘has’ come.

For all the possibilities we think the New Year brings, our sense that we have here a new beginning (again!) reveals how we are trapped by those things which build up with the old, unrolling year and cause us to yearn for the New Year, with the new possibilities it seems to promise, as if hope comes with warmer days or the accumulated passage of time.

For Paul, however, the time is not a matter of past and future – of old and new – but a matter of enslavement and freedom. The enslaved soul notices only the numbers on the clock, wanting it to be one time rather than another. The free soul takes each moment as an extension of God into her own time and space. She knows the freedom which comes from receiving her time directly from God: now is the time God meets her, not a moment ago, not in the next moment. There was not more of God or of her a year ago, and there will not be more in a year’s time.

All time is marked by God: this is the meaning of redemption. In this God’s timing, today is what tomorrow will be, and also the day after that: not the next day to which we have been given but the next day which God has given to us – redeemed and renewed, a free space in which God meets us to see what we will do with it. Imagine what tomorrow might be if it were not merely what today seems to demand that tomorrow be. This is the freedom of the children of this God: every day, new, with God.

By the grace of God, may the newness of the coming year be found in that we are again blessed with the gift of the Spirit of Jesus his Son, that we might know ourselves again as his children, that in the freedom of God himself we might discover the time of our lives. Amen.

(A much re-worked re‑presentation of a sermon
preached at MtE on December 28, 2014)

25 December – We’re all in this together

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Christmas Day
25/12/2020

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Luke 2:1-20


In a sentence
The defining ‘this’ which is the context of our lives is not what is now happening to us but Jesus himself: we are all in him together

In this most unexpected of years, we have worked up a full oratorio of choruses and chants around the theme of Covid-19. One of the most happily sung among these has been, ‘We’re all in this together’.

By this refrain we remind each other that a virus is indiscriminate, so that we can’t tell who will be next. For it not to be me who is next, I have to act so that you are not next. ‘We’re all in this together’ means that we must cooperate ‘to get through it’. The good sense in this is obvious enough to most of us, and not particularly surprising.

Perhaps less obvious is that we don’t usually tell ourselves, ‘We are all in this together’. Most of the time, we are not ‘in this together’; most of the time we don’t recognise much we have in common ‘to get through’. We are usually – at least on the larger social scale – not ‘in this together’ but rather competing against each other. We compete for university placements, for partners, for jobs, for parking spaces. Colonists compete with indigenous peoples. New refugees compete with old refugees. Cities compete with rural communities. Nations compete with nations. The poor compete with the slightly less poor. Not so long ago, competition was especially fierce around toilet paper, which was unexpectedly revealed to be one of the previously unrecognised cornerstones of modern society. The church, of course, is scarcely immune to this infection.

Competition is not quite everywhere, of course. There’s a little less of it between friends and lovers and within the household, and we are sometimes startled by acts of kindness outside those safety zones. Yet, like our vulnerability to a virus, we are all also nevertheless continually subject to the struggle of all against all (Hobbes, Leviathan).

More insidiously than with a virus, however, we are not merely subject to competition; we also participate in it. A better strategy – or perhaps just the good fortune of having won more often before – sees me step up to bid the highest at the auction for my new home. Getting up earlier sees me at the front of the line on the Boxing Day sales, like gladiators who’ve trained hard to earn a longer sword or wider net. If I work harder, I might pick more bulls than bears, winning more from the losses of others.

Curiously, the virus has made the well-being of the usual winners dependent upon the well-being of the typical losers. Universal cooperation has displaced competition for a while. But competition again lurks around the corner: Who has the best vaccine? And who will pay for it? Who should get it first? And is it, perhaps, best, if others have it first, ‘just in case’? Calculation and strategy in the game of life, all oriented towards not losing.

Outside of the immediate space of Covid-19 and similar ‘war footings’, we are not much ‘in this together’ because, in a world of winners and losers, what you are ‘in’ can be very different from what I am ‘in’. The only thing we are really in together is the competition itself and those social, political and legal conventions which legitimate how society operates and so are powerless to alter it.

If this account sounds rather pessimistic, it matters today in this place because our not being ‘all in this together’ is scarcely new While, in some respects, Augustus, Quirinius, Joseph and Mary, and Rome, Syria, and Bethlehem are thousand of years and miles away, we still recognise many aspects of their stories. An imperial census is an emperor in competition with his people. To hear that ‘there was no room in the inn’ is to know that Joseph and Mary were in that race but lost. There is nothing new under the sun.

In the midst of all that is ‘the child’, strangely anonymous among the names of other persons and places around him. We have learned what his name will be (1.31) but he is yet to receive it (2.21). All around this child, of course, swirls the language of salvation but this also is strange to us today, for what is it from which we would be saved – from which we would all be saved? Do winners need to be saved? To have won is to imagine that God’s kingdom has already come. If around this child there were a universally relevant message of salvation, it would offer salvation from something to which we are all subject. The virus is an obvious candidate but we don’t need a god to do what will probably happen with time anyway.

A more likely thing from which we might be saved at Christmas is the struggle of all against all which creates winners and losers. Salvation is salvation from such things as this. It is not that competition does not touch Jesus. The religious authorities see in him a serious opponent. The poor jostle for access to his healing hand and his disciples calculate for positions of honour in his kingdom or for time to sit at his feet. His family competes with the crowds for his attention. Even on the cross, those with whom he is crucified compete for his attention.

Yet, for all of this, Jesus is himself no competitor. His success does not hinge on another’s failure. He is ‘in this together’ with us, but does not contribute to the struggle even as he is subject to it. Of itself, this might be a remarkable moral achievement but the morality is not the point. It is good for Jesus if he has lived fully without taking advantage of others but bad for us if we are, therefore, to achieve the same.

We sometimes speak about the ‘God with us’ of Christmas in this way – as if God comes to show us the way, and we are to follow. This is a little better than the account of a God who comes among us as a kind of comforter, more or less to suffer with us, but not much better. Certainly, salvation is not something more for us to do.

We get to something more helpful if we take up again the Covid chorus, ‘We’re all in this together’ but sing it now with a very different meaning. Now the ‘this’ is not some passing condition like the health crisis or the next ‘affects everybody’ moment but Jesus himself: ‘we are all in this – this one – together.

Jesus is now not an answer to whatever question we happen at the moment to think is the most important. Rather, Jesus now poses a question about our fundamental situation: What is the context which truly defines us? What is our true condition?

The answer of Christmas – of the gospel itself – is that we are most ‘in’ Jesus himself, and not this or that passing experience, however pressing, painful or exciting it may be. It often does not feel this way. Pain and excitement are highly distracting. In each case, we mistake what hurts us or excites us as immediate – as direct, as sheer us-and-it.

But if our true context is not what is happening in front of us but all these things in God-in-Jesus, then he becomes something like an underlying harmony to everything which happens. Those we love – and sometimes lose – are not ‘immediately’ ours, not ‘directly’ ours. They are mediated by Christ, they are ‘in’ Christ, just as we are. If this is true, they are never solely ours because they belonged first to Jesus, and they are never lost to us because they remain in him, as we do.

It is so with all things. Jesus is given as the theme which threads through and holds together every key, every melody and discord. ‘We are all in this together’ locates us not in some particular time or place, some particular condition or crisis. The ‘this’ is Jesus himself: we are all in this one together.

This is to say that what happens to him is what happens to us. What happens to Jesus is God himself – ever calling, ever-present, ever restoring. Christmas is not so much a divine rescue mission as a radical clarification of who and where we are: children of God in Jesus, from God and towards God.

To believe this is to be freed from the drive to compete for as much life as we can win. And it is to be opened up to one another and to God, in all things, in thanksgiving and praise.

May such openness and praise be ours today, and always.

Christmas Day Worship at MtE – 25 December 2020

The worship service for Christmas Day 25 December 2020 can be viewed by clicking on the image below.  The order of service can be viewed here.

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

MtE Update – December 24 2020

  1. Welcome to the last MtE update for the year!
  2. CHRISTMAS DAY – 9.30. Please come a little earlier if you can; this helps us move families together to fit more people in under the C-19 seating requirements (see further below on worship on-site and streamed). Services from Sunday December 27 onwards will be at 10.00.
  3. Christmas services information
  4. The Hotham Mission Christmas appeal is now open; for more information, see here.
  5. Christmas Day readings are from the Christmas I set; the readings for Sunday December 27 are details of the readings are available here;

Worship

  1. Worship update Worship is now a gathered service in the church buildings. The services are also being live-streamed, with the links to this stream accessible from the congregational home page. We have sufficient space to accommodate those members of the congregation who would like to attend the service. VISITORS (from outside the usual membership) who would like to attend should register their interest and can be admitted only up to the maximum number allowed in the building. Visitors should register their interest prior to the service by contacting the minister via his email address on the contact page. We ask for your understanding should we not be able to admit you on the day.

Sunday Worship at MtE – 20 December 2020

The worship service for Sunday 20 December 2020 can be viewed by clicking on the image below.  The order of service can be viewed here.

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

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