Expectant Joy

A bronze angel appears to a silver image of Mary, kneeling, on a purple backgroundHomily at Christ the King on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B.

Congratulations! You’re pregnant!

I can think of very few words with greater power to turn a life upside down.

A pregnancy is a promise of great changes to come, and a journey from here to there. Usually it begins by noticing that something subtle has changed. Then come the pains of morning sickness. As the child’s body takes form, the mother becomes aware that something is alive – and kicking – within her, but even with ultrasound technology, there will still be a revelation to come when the child is born. Even that’s not the end of the story, for it will take many years for the child to grow to maturity, the parents gradually discovering the person the child will become.

Tomorrow, the whole world will celebrate the birth of a child, and families will be reunited around a meal. Today, it’s only right that we acknowledge that for some of us, this will not be filled with all the joy we would hope for. Some parents – like Elizabeth – will know barrenness, and will have no children to share the celebration. Although childlessness was a stigma in Jewish society of those days, it was not and is not a sign of God’s displeasure. Other parents will celebrate this Christmas conscious that one of their children is missing – lost through miscarriage, or some tragedy later in life – or a child presumed alive but no longer in touch. Most of us will spend Christmas conscious of generations who are no longer with us, but the absence of a child brings a special pain.

If you’re a mum, or a dad, in one of these situations, I want to say something to you – and I’m happy to donate these words to anyone else who’s not sure what the ‘right thing to say’ is.

I’ve never been pregnant, and I’ve never fathered a child. I don’t know how you’re feeling right now. But I do care.

As a priest, I only get to know people’s personal stories when I’m called to the home or the hospital, so my “caring” has to be quite general. But I hope that if any of you here present today know someone personally who needs to hear those words, you have a chance to use them at the right time in the next few days.

When a pregnancy does go to plan, it still involves great uncertainty. When will the mother go into labour? What will the child be like? In a way, the whole Old Testament is a story of expectant waiting for the Christ-child: the prophet Nathan tells Royal David that he is destined to be the father of a line of kings, but will not be the one who gives birth to a Temple for God.

In my first parish, I was once called upon to help a pregnant mother, who had given birth to twins two days before Christmas. Her due date was in January, and although she already had children, she’d planned to buy a second set of the things you need for twins in the post-Christmas sales. But now she had gone into early labour, and the hospital planned to discharge her on Christmas Day. She lived in a rural village with no chance of buying baby equipment in the days after Christmas. So I put out an urgent appeal to my Christmas Eve congregation and they responded gloriously – after my last Mass on Christmas Day I met them in the hospital car park and handed over a carrycot and other useful kit before driving home to my parents. What could be more Christmassy then helping a baby in need?

St Paul was fond of using the image of a pregnant mother. In the letter to the Romans, he used the image of the whole world being ‘in labour’ as we live in an imperfect world awaiting the perfection of heaven, and in today’s extract he gives praise to God because he was alive at the long-prophesied time when God-made-man walked upon the earth.

As followers of Christ, knowing every human being bears his image, we have a solemn duty to welcome every child as we would welcome Christ himself. But that welcome doesn’t just extend to our pro-life stance. It extends to the way we treat every human being, especially the most annoying ones who cross our path!

During the next 24 hours, you’re probably going to attend a Christmas Mass. There will be lots of people there who only come to church once or twice a year. They will do some very annoying things. They will park where you like to park. They will sit in your favourite seat. They might have forgotten what they learned about good manners in church and chew gum or get distracted by their phones. When they do, our job is to make them welcome, for Christ is in them.

Congratulations! You’re pregnant!

You are about to give birth to Christ present in a guest in this or another church! Maybe that guest isn’t yet ready to re-connect with church regularly, and whether Christ brings renewed faith to birth in them depends on how well they experience love from you. So there are still some important gifts you can give this Christmas. You can give your regular seat and parking place to someone who needs to be welcomed. You can give a smile to the person who looks awkward at Christmas worship. You can give guidance with the order of service to the person sitting next to you. And most of all, do it with joy, giving glory to God, it is all part of the way the eternal God wants things to be! 

So remember, if you know someone for whom this Christmas is tinged with sorrow, let them know you’re thinking of them and are willing to listen if they want to talk. And when you meet someone who needs your welcome in the next 24 hours, welcome them as Mary welcomed the Christ Child. I don’t know exactly what or when God will ask you to do, but this I do know: you are pregnant, and your due date is at hand!


Some links useful if you are supporting someone who has experienced a miscarriage:

  • What should you say? Miscarriage Association New Zealand advice
  • Personal account from a woman who’s been there in The Guardian
  • The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity SANDS
  • What if you lose one twin and not the other? The Rainbow Baby signal may help.

Cruse offers advice on how bereavement can impact Christmas.

Expectant!

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B.

This parish is pregnant!A bronze angel appears to a silver image of Mary, kneeling, on a purple background

A pregnancy is a promise of great changes to come, and a journey from here to there. Usually it begins by noticing that something subtle has changed. Then come the pains of morning sickness. As the child’s body takes form, the mother becomes aware that something is alive – and kicking – within her, but even with ultrasound technology, there will still be a revelation to come when the child is born. Even that’s not the end of the story, for it will take many years for the child to grow to maturity, the parents gradually discovering the person the child will become.

In the same way, we in this parish are on a journey towards next autumn, when we will launch our Parish Connection Programme, which will be both a way for us who worship regularly to re-connect with one another and explore our faith, and also the gateway to baptism, first communion and confirmation for parents, adults, and teenagers who wish to receive these sacraments. Like any pregnancy, it will involve uncertainty and pain. It will take time for the new programme to take shape. And once it is born, it will take time to grow to maturity. People of St Philip Evans, I will be relying on you to support this new project as you would support a mother with a newborn child. I have already been having conversations with key parishioners, and in the New Year I will be ready to roll out more information – but for now I ask for your prayers.

Not only is this parish pregnant, but today is ‘Expectant Mothers’ Sunday’. It’s a day to remember that the church welcomes all human life in the womb, and there are special ceremonies of blessing that families can ask for when a mother is pregnant. But there are also ceremonies we can use when such joy turns to sorrow.

Tomorrow, the whole world will celebrate the birth of a child, and families will be reunited around a meal. Today, it’s only right that we acknowledge that for some of us, this will not be filled with all the joy we would hope for. Some parents – like Elizabeth – will know barrenness, and will have no children to share the celebration. Although childlessness was a stigma in Jewish society of those days, it was not and is not a sign of God’s displeasure. Other parents will celebrate this Christmas conscious that one of their children is missing – lost through miscarriage, or some tragedy later in life – or an older child presumed alive but no longer in touch. Most of us will spend Christmas conscious of generations who are no longer with us, but the absence of a child brings a special pain.

If you’re a mum, or a dad, in one of these situations, I want to say something to you – and I’m happy to donate these words to anyone else who’s not sure what the ‘right thing to say’ is.

I’ve never been pregnant, and I’ve never fathered a child. I don’t know how you’re feeling right now. But I do care.

As a priest, I only get to know people’s personal stories when I am called to the home or the hospital, so my “caring” has to be quite general. But I hope that if any of you here present today know someone personally who needs to hear those words, you have a chance to use them at the right time in the next few days.

When a pregnancy does go to plan, it still involves great uncertainty. When will the mother go into labour? What will the child be like? In a way, the whole Old Testament is a story of expectant waiting for the Christ-child: the prophet Nathan tells Royal David that he is destined to be the father of a line of kings, but will not be the one who gives birth to a Temple for God.

St Paul was fond of using the image of a pregnant mother. In the letter to the Romans, he used the image of the whole world being ‘in labour’ as we live in an imperfect world awaiting the perfection of heaven, and in today’s extract he gives praise to God because he was alive at the long-prophesied time when God-made-man walked upon the earth.

As followers of Christ, knowing every human being bears his image, we have a solemn duty to welcome every child as we would welcome Christ himself. But that welcome doesn’t just extend to our pro-life stance. It extends to the way we treat every human being, especially the most annoying ones who cross our path!

During the next 24 hours, you’re probably going to attend a Christmas Mass. There will be lots of people there who only come to church once or twice a year. They will do some very annoying things. They will park where you like to park. They will sit in your favourite seat. They might have forgotten what they learned about good manners in church and chew gum or get distracted by their phones. When they do, our job is to make them welcome, for Christ is in them.

Congratulations! You’re pregnant!

You are about to give birth to Christ present in a guest in this or another church! Maybe that guest isn’t yet ready to re-connect with church regularly, and whether Christ brings renewed faith to birth in them depends on how well they experience love. So there are still some important gifts you can give this Christmas. You can give your regular seat and parking place to someone who needs to be welcomed. You can give a smile to the person who looks awkward at Christmas worship. You can give guidance with the order of service to the person sitting next to you. And most of all, do it with joy, giving glory to God, it is all part of the way the eternal God wants things to be! 

 


Some links useful if you are supporting someone who has experienced a miscarriage:

  • What should you say? Miscarriage Association New Zealand advice
  • Personal account from a woman who’s been there in The Guardian
  • The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity SANDS
  • What if you lose one twin and not the other? The Rainbow Baby signal may help.

Cruse offers advice on how bereavement can impact Christmas.

A Royal Baby is Coming!

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Vigil Mass of Christmas, 2012

Clipart representing a newspaper

Read all about it! Read all about it! News! Good news! A Royal Baby is coming!

A few weeks ago, the newspapers were filled with baby-talk. Medical experts discussed different kinds of morning sickness. Fashion editors mulled over maternity-wear. Royal correspondents speculated on the kind of reign this future King, or Queen, might expect. Much of British society was excited watching and waiting, and supportive citizens have already sent cards and romper-suits to Buckingham Palace!

The Duchess of Cambridge’s baby matters because it will be a royal baby, and represents hope for the future. It may be many years before this child comes to the throne; I am now 39, and perhaps this child won’t become King, or Queen, until I am dead and buried. But we fully expect that this child will, in the fullness of time, take up their destined role. This child brings us stability. This child brings us hope. This royal child roots us to the future!

We’ve gathered in this church tonight to celebrate the birth of another royal baby. Tomorrow is the official birthday of Jesus Christ, King of the line of David, and Son of God. It was a coming glimpsed by the Prophet Isaiah in ancient Israel. If they’d had newspapers in Isaiah’s day, the headlines after he wrote his prophecy would have said:

Scroll and Bible

Read all about it! Read all about it! News! Good news! A Royal Baby is coming!

At Christmas, we celebrate this gift of new life. Baby Jesus matters because he is not only a King, but God among us. We proclaim his status by singing carols like Once in Royal David’s City. And he is not only our King but our Saviour, our Rescuer, our Redeemer.

In some parts of Britain this week, floods have trapped ordinary people who have needed to be rescued by boat. But many are trapped by a different kind of flood, a flood of insecurity, a sense that we don’t have complete control over nature, the knowledge that we are limited and our life on earth is finite. Some of us may be struggling with guilt over some foolish action. Many of us may be burdened by a sense of shame, that we are not as good as we ought to be – an ought imposed on us by a parent, or teacher, or society at large.

The angel spoke to Joseph: “You must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people.” The very name Jesus means God-who-saves us. And this is what the Christ-child came to do – Jesus comes among us with a mission to proclaim God’s good will to all mankind. He came to tell us that whatever wrong we may have committed, God is willing to forgive us and offer us a new beginning. He came to tell all who feel deep guilt that God does not hold us responsible – the punishment for our sins would be lovingly borne by none-other than the Christ-child himself. He came to show those of us who doubt ourselves that we are loved, and loved by God. He points us to a Heaven beyond this earthly life which never ends, and where he has gone before us. He is truly our Saviour, our Rescuer, our Redeemer, and he loves us!

Bible, black with gold words

Read all about it! Read all about it! News! Good news! A Royal Baby is coming!

We in the Catholic Church have a communication problem. Half of our message gets through clearly – we’re well known for being a church with clear DOs and DON’Ts. But the other half of our message is a well-kept secret: we are a church for people who don’t always get things right. We call Jesus the Prince of Peace, because he has the power to heal the mind, and to restore the body, too, for those humble enough to seek God’s help.

For a brief and beautiful moment, the media saw the beauty of a 12-week-old child in the womb for what it is; a human life. No newspaper reported that the Duchess was carrying a royal foetus, or a pre-human embryo. Because the child was a wanted child, because it represented the hope of a nation, there was no hesitation in calling it a child and pondering its royal status. Not all children receive such recognition.

Perhaps there’s someone here tonight who, in a moment of darkness, has hurt another human being – a friend, a parent, or an unborn child – and doesn’t know how to find peace. If that’s you, then know that the Prince of Peace wishes to offer you healing, through the Church. There are paths to peace of mind through prayer and counselling. If you ask for help, the Church will not condemn you, but will help you to find the peace which only Christ can bring.

This is news worth shouting about. This is truly Good News. It’s better than a royal baby, better than Britain’s performance in the 2012 Olympics. The great news is that whoever we are, whatever we have done before tonight, God WANTS US! Yes, us, warts and all. Sins and all. Each and every one of us is invited to be a member of the Royal Court – to be a follower of Jesus.

Not to follow Jesus on Twitter – though you can find Pope Benedict there as @pontifex.

Not to follow Jesus on Facebook – though this parish launches there soon.

But to follow Jesus to the altar, where he commanded us to “do this in memory of me”. At Christmas, at Easter, Sunday by Sunday, here in St John Lloyd Church, we do what Jesus asked us to do, we explore his words and message, and we are nourished by his Body and Blood. This church, and every church, is the Royal Court of the Saviour.

You have come here this night to celebrate the birth of a royal child. The stable door is open, the light is on, but you can only experience the full peace and healing which the Christ-child offers if you remain with him to be filled with that light. He is the humble child in the manger, the one who will be your King on the last day of your life. Will you choose to be his companion?