He came down to Earth from Heaven, who is God and Lord of all….

Tomorrow is Christmas Day, the first of forty days celebrating one of the most important teachings of Christianity: that Jesus is, as he claimed before his crucifixion, God. At tonight’s midnight mass, we will have as our reading from the gospels the beautiful ‘prologue’ from John, one of his closest friends, which attempts to express this amazing truth:

That God, the Source of all being, the Reason that the universe is ‘incomprehensibly comprehensible,’ as Einstein nearly put it, was and is the itinerant teacher, healer and exorcist who was executed for being the rightful king of the Jews in implicit opposition to the authority of Rome.

It is an amazing claim, so amazing that many people simply refuse to consider whether it is true. But God spent centuries preparing his chosen people for this amazing event: our new testament reading for tonight’s midnight mass is from the beginning of the letter to the Hebrews, a portion of an argument using verses from the Jewish scriptures (what we Christians have as the old testament) to establish that the Messiah, the promised king who was to come and rule according to God’s will, was never going to be a mere human being but was always, in God’s eternal plan, going to be God himself.

I suspect that everyone, or at least the overwhelming majority of people, reading this knows the story of Jesus’ birth, if only from nativity plays and Christmas carols: angels announcing that Jesus is the Messiah and the Lord, foreign dignitaries paying him tribute, even the somewhat questionable interpretation of Isaiah that insists there was an ox and a donkey present.

But the real question is not how well you know the story: it is, Have you really considered whether or not it is true? Have you considered, without close-minded prejudice, what the bible actually says about Jesus and who he is? The question, as Betjeman hauntingly repeated in his poem ‘Christmas’, remains: And is it true? For if it is, it is the most important truth there is. If Jesus is God himself, what he said and did (and does and says) must be of supreme importance for each and every one of us. Merry Christmas!

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

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Lo, he comes with clouds descending….

Sunday is the beginning of Advent, the first season in the church’s year. With all the preparations for celebrating Christmas in a few weeks, it is easy to see Advent as a season of preparation for that. But the ‘advent’ (‘coming’) that the season is really about is Jesus’ second coming, his coming in glory to judge and rule all creation.

Some people talk as though this idea, the idea that Jesus will come again in glory, is one people made up after his death. In fact, it was a prominent feature of his teaching before his crucifixion. The four gospels between them mention Jesus referring to himself as ‘the son of man’ over eighty times. This title, which really means ‘the human being’, is Jesus’ way of identifying himself with the everlasting King seen in a vision by the prophet Daniel. Jesus was very clear that he meant himself when he spoke about ‘the son of man’ and equally clear that the title identified him as the One in Daniel’s vision.

This is the basis of the good news: Jesus is able to forgive our sins because he is the King of all creation, issuing a royal pardon to each and every rebel who trusts in his mercy. His dominion is an everlasting dominion.

When we have spent the next three-and-a-bit weeks thinking and praying about his coming in glory, then we will be ready to better understand what Jesus did when he came in obscurity, being carried by an unmarried mother, being born in makeshift accommodation, living as an asylum seeker in infancy, growing up in humble obedience to his mother and adoptive father. And, just as with his first coming, he has told us about his second coming ahead of time so that we will give him the glory when it happens. (‘Played for and got.’)

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

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Good news, everybody!

At Saint Mary’s church this summer we have been going through the letter to the Romans chapter by chapter, Sunday morning by Sunday morning. (We are still at it: we should be finished before Advent Sunday!) Some people find Romans difficult but I felt it would be good to read the whole thing together because Romans answers so many of the questions I hear from people week after week — and questions so many of the answers I hear from people week after week.

All books of the bible are important to us Christians but Romans is undeniably an important book. ‘The Protestant Reformation began when a Catholic monk [Luther] rediscovered a Catholic doctrine [justification by faith] in a Catholic book [Romans].’ — Peter Kreeft. By reading Romans together we can rediscover the basic teaching of the gospel that makes us Christians. We can understand this basic teaching in four parts:

  1. God loves each and every one of us — that means you — and created us to receive that love, love him back and enjoy his creation (Romans 1:7,19,20; 5:8; 8:28,39).
  2. Each and every one of us (that means you, too) have rejected God’s love and turned away from God (Romans 3:23) and so have cut ourselves off from the one Source of life and love (Romans 2:12; 3:9; 6:23).
  3. God never stopped loving each and every one of us and came in person — in the person of Jesus — to pay the price for our wrongdoing in the only way possible, with his life (Romans 3:20; 5:8; 8:2,3), and to give us new life in him through his resurrection (Romans 5:8-11; 6:8-11; 8:10,11).
  4. Not everyone accepts Jesus, so not everyone has access to the freedom from wrong and new life that is available in Jesus (Romans 9:27,32; 10:2-4,16). ‘Justification by faith’ — whether or not we put our trust in Jesus — is the most important question each and every one of us will ever face (Romans 9:21-24; 14:23).

I hope you can make the time to let Romans answer your questions. And question your answers.

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

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Firmly I believe and truly….

Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday, when we think and pray about the teaching of God the Holy Trinity. Some people think the teaching is obscure but it is the most distinctive teaching of Christianity and one of the most important.

God is one Being and three Persons; one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There is only one true God: all other ‘gods’ are false (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 42:8; Mark 12:28-30; 1 Corinthians 8:4).

The Father is God (John 6:27), Jesus the Son is God (John 20:27-29) and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3,4).

But the Father is not the Son (John 8:17,18), the Son is not the Spirit (John 14:16,17; 16:7) and the Spirit is not the Father (Romans 8:26).

These considerations lead us to the orthodox and true understanding of the God the Holy Trinity, the teaching on which we focus on Trinity Sunday. This understanding is traditionally expressed in the Shield of the Trinity, a sort of diagram that was very popular during the middle ages.

Of course this understanding is not complete: how could we have a complete understanding of God? But it is true and it is important not least because of some of the problems it solves. There is one God and only one God (Isaiah 45 — 46): so God is Lord of all and all other ‘gods’ are false. The Father to whom we and Jesus pray is God (Matthew 11:25-27): so he is worthy of praise and can answer prayer according to his will. Jesus the Son is God (Phillipians 2:5,6): so God did not send someone else to die for us but came from heaven himself to reconcile us to himself. The Holy Spirit is God (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19): so we can know that God is with us and will accomplish his will in us if we ask him. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three Persons, not one (Genesis 1:26,27): so God is love, in himself, and his image in us is shown in community, not in isolation.

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

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Up from the depths….

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Tomorrow is the third Sunday of Easter and we will be fifteen days into our fifty-day celebration of the most fundamental truth of Christianity: Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead. Is Jesus your Lord? If he is, celebrate his rising to new life, his ascending to his heavenly throne and his sending of the Holy Spirit with us this Easter: we have another five weeks of celebration until Pentecost (27 May this year)!

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

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Liar! Nobody believes you….

Today is The Second Sunday before Lent: Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (22 February this year) and continues for forty days (not counting Sundays) until Easter Day (8 April this year). The forty days of Lent often remind people of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry, although that period of forty days itself obviously reminds us of the forty years the people of Israel spent in the wilderness before entering the land (Numbers 13:25 — 14:38) as well as having several other echoes in the old testament (Exodus 34:27,28; 1 Samuel 17:4-10,16; 1 Kings 19:8).

But Jesus did not spend forty days in the wilderness simply to make a point: he went to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2). This is a story we could all benefit from thinking about this Lent. The devil tempted Jesus with satisfaction that could never last (Matthew 4:3; Luke 4:3), with lies (Matthew 4:9; Luke 4:7) and with misinterpretations of God’s word (Matthew 4:6; Luke 4:10,11). This is the same way the devil tempted Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden: with satisfaction that could never last (Genesis 3:6), with lies (Genesis 3:4) and with misinterpretations of God’s word (Genesis 3:1) and the devil tempts you and me in the same way. It is important to remember that the devil is a liar first and foremost (John 8:44). The satisfaction he seems to offer is temporary and the interpretation of the bible which he offers is wrong. His promises are lies. We can resist temptation by the power of God the Holy Spirit and we can resist lies with the truth of God’s word.

This is what Jesus did in his replies to the devil in the wilderness. When the devil tempted him with temporary satisfaction, he replied by explaining that it is God’s word that gives lasting satisfaction (Deuteronomy 8:3). When the devil tempted him by misinterpreting the bible, he replied with a true interpretation (Deuteronomy 6:16). And the verses Jesus quoted were from a passage in Deuteronomy which explains the purpose of the forty years the people of Israel spent in the wilderness. Jesus did not simply pick verses here and there (since ‘a text without context is a pretext’ for our own — or the devil’s — preconceptions). He interpreted Deuteronomy 6 — 8 as an explanation of the forty years in the wilderness and the forty days he was spending there. And the theme of that passage is, of course, that there is one true God and other gods are lies (Deuteronomy 6:4,5,12-16; 7:3-6,16,25,26; 8:3-6,10,11,14,17-20). When the devil tempted Jesus by lying, that is the truth with which Jesus replied (Deuteronomy 6:13). Why not read Deuteronomy 6 — 8 this Lent and think about that?

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

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The Sign of Contradiction

Today we (at S Mary’s) are celebrating The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (the feast is actually on Thursday, exactly forty days after Christmas Day, but the Church of England allows us to celebrate it on the Sunday between 28 January and 3 February).  We are celebrating Jesus being taken to the Jerusalem temple forty days after his birth and being met by the prophets Simeon and Anna.

This feast marks the end of the Christmas season. We have celebrated Jesus’ birth (as promised) as one of God’s chosen people, at Christmas, his appearance to the other peoples of the world (as represented by the magi) at Epiphany, God’s self-revelation as Trinity at Jesus’ baptism, and now the season is completed with a celebration of Jesus’ first visit to his temple in Jerusalem.

This may have been his least controversial visit to the temple but, even on this occasion, the challenge of Jesus and his gospel was apparent to some. Something to think about as we turn towards Lent (which begins in less than a month).

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

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Christmas time….

Yesterday was Christmas Day, which means today (the second day of this forty-day season of Christmas and Epiphany) is the Festival of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

A martyr (the word comes from a Greek word meaning ‘witness’) is someone who insists on the truth of Christianity even when it means being executed or murdered. This is still happening today: Stephen was the first of many Christians who are killed just because they will not deny our faith in Jesus.

A lot of early Christian leaders, including, it is thought, ten of the original twelve apostles, were killed because they insisted that Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead. Think about that next time someone tells you that the stories about Jesus’ miraculous birth were not written to be taken literally or that the story of his resurrection is a sort of metaphor. Merry Christmas!

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

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They shall grow not old….

Today is Remembrance Sunday and the gospel reading we used at S Mary’s for our remembrance service is Jesus giving orders to the eleven disciples before his arrest. He told them that the greatest love a person can have for friends is to lay down his (or her?) life for them.

Today we remember and honour those who have given their lives away, or had them taken away, in war. But as Christians we remember and honour Jesus, who gave his life to save us from sin and death and now spends his life praying for us in the presence of God the Father. Thank God for Jesus.

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

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Come, ye thankful people, come….

Tomorrow is The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity. It is also the Sunday when we are celebrating our harvest thanksgiving at S Mary’s. It can be difficult to understand why we celebrate harvest festival, especially now that most people live in cities rather than the countryside, but I think we can look at the fruit and vegetables we give thanks for in three ways:

1) The produce people gave thanks for in less urbanised times was what they produced: literally the fruits of their labour. We can follow their example by thanking God for what we have produced, as indicated in Psalm 127:1.

2) The produce people gave thanks for was what they received for their work: they were not in it for the money but, originally, received their produce as their pay. We can follow their example by thanking God for our pay, as indicated in Deuteronomy 26:8-10.

3) The produce that people gave thanks for was what they enjoyed: just as some of us say ‘grace’ before eating a meal or ask for God’s blessing in the form of marriage before becoming partners, we can thank God for everything we enjoy because he is the source of all goodness, as indicated in Ecclesiastes 3:9-13.

Thank God!

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

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