Saturday, December 30, 2023

A Happy New Year

 For my New Year Eve's sermon I have immersed myself in the story in Matthew 2: 1-18. Within the narrative of the Magi visiting Jesus and Herod's violence I see vastly different responses. 

The first is glorious. Genuine worship. When these wise men, with obvious wealth and status, are able to enter Herod's palace, they ask: 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?' The king gathers all the chief priests and teachers of the law to give the right answer. Which they do. They know their scrolls and bring out Micah (5:2)  In Bethlehem in Judea.  I don’t know if they quoted the whole section, Matthew does: 'For you Bethlehem, out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people'.  And the king says 'Go and find him'.  

And they do in a weirdly wonderful story with which we we should never become over familiar. Weird because the first visitors were shepherds who fit exactly in the rural picture, but wealthy intelligentia who read the stars, travelling from far off lands, they enter the story too.  They just don't belong. They contrast in every way. Rank outsiders breaking in with their strange gifts for royalty, exploding what could be a cosy local Galilean story into an international one for all kinds of people.  Every kind of person.

That is the wonder. Their worship, their gifts.  Their not belongingness in the story which lays foundations for our not belongingness too. For Jesus the King will not just be king over Jews but Gentiles the world over.   CS Lewis once wrote: Look for Christ and you will find Him. And with him everything else.

It is the wise men's kneeling in worship, outsiders who are brought into the heart of the story that emphasizes the best response to Christmas.  That God has revealed who he is to US!  And as we go into a New Year this is the best response to share. That's why the Covenant Prayer will be said in church tomorrow - a personal commitment for 2024. 

A happy worshipping New Year!  


Wednesday, December 27, 2023

A Sunday preach

I have been asked to preach so little this year so I was surprised to be asked a couple of weeks ago to speak at next Sunday's service.  Dec.31st is a bridge Sunday with the celebration of the miracle of the Incarnation caught up in the beginning of a new year.  Those who practice the Christian Year know how it slows down preparation periods and then lengthens celebration. For Christmas this includes four weeks of Advent, twelve days of Christmas, and Epiphany with the Magi. Many churches, like my local church, tend to begin the Christmas event really early so that Christmas Day is almost an anticlimax before New Year activity takes over.  This runs the danger of reducing the extraordinary, heavyweight doctrine of the Incarnation of the Word made flesh to a side message, alongside a focus on children and festivity.  

What am I going to do?  I am planning the worship service with a friend who will lead communion after I have preached and led prayer.  We agree that the service will have two parts.  The first will include song, Scripture and me. I will focus on Matthew 2: 1-18. It won't be heavyweight though I shall aim to be challenging.  My friend in part two will lead communion and the congregation in saying the Covenant prayer.  This comes from the Methodist Covenant service usually held at the beginning of the year.  John Wesley adapted it from the writings of Richard Alleine in order that believers could make personal recommitments to God at the beginning of each New Year.

Its words are demanding. The modern version (below) emphasizes each disciple's surrender of will 

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

These powerful words will be anticipated in my message, though I am still in the process of preparation. Anyway, I'll keep in touch as you continue celebrations too.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Squeezed in greetings

The last few weeks have been hit by Carol's ill health,  with an eventual diagnosis of Diabetes 2 which could explain her dearth of energy and life force. However, I must squeeze in before Christmas my greeting to kind readers.  I know who some of you are though many are unknown.  I really want to wish you a wonderful Christmas at this very significant time of the year. For us the birth of Jesus marks the beginning of the best news this world can ever see. That there is a God, and we can see his Son in flesh!  In this dark world we need to celebrate this glorious news and that’s why we wish you a very happy, meaningful Christmas!

I try to issue a lighthearted summary of Quicke happenings at the end of each year which I send to unwitting friends. This latest epistle assured readers that we are both still alive. 

Bouts of pestilence and plague have kept us local this year with Carol’s Long Covid living up to its name.  The decline in sprightliness has mercifully seen matching clumsiness, memory mishaps and hearing loss which has kept our marriage together for another year. 

Sometimes one major theme dominates a year. As in the past it was a book, but in 2023 not mine! Contracted to produce 120k words, £170 in hardback, titled: Finding your Voice, Rob was facing his final final deadline for manuscript delivery this Summer. Events had conspired to frustrate his writing as he moved from a highly unsatisfactory University (putting it mildly) to a completely new role as Director of a large journalism and media department at Marshall Univ. in W. Virginia. He had good ideas with a mound of raw possibilities. Underline raw!

Memorably he said to me: Dad, how good it is for a father to be able to help his son!  On Jan 7th my journal records ‘3 hours on Ch 1 Rob’s book.’ Thus began daily fatherly duty. On Jan 12th he arrived via Iceland for an intensive week’s work in my garden shed which thrashed through three chapters. A further exhausting week in March bashed onwards. You need to be spared the intervening daily grind with zoom and google doc. keeping me umbilically involved. Carol mourned my long absences with patchy patience. However, Routledge accepted the ms. and promised speedy publication.  Astonishingly it arrived several days before its Dec. 19th.publication date.  Carol’s frustration with the process communicated with so many friends and neighbours that complete strangers would call out: How’s the book?

Long-suffering readers of my posts will be aware of this saga. It's happy conclusion is a great cause for celebration.  Now, we move towards 2024 I hope to have some fresh thoughts to share.

A joyous Christmas to you, wherever you are!