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Thursday, 10 December 2015

Looking for the signs

Click here for the link to the Christmas Newsletter for St Stephen Walbrook. We warmly invite you to:

‘Carols for All and Blessing of the Crib’ by Candlelight

Our traditional candlelit Carol Service will be on Wednesday 16th December at 6.00pm and it is always a great occasion when neighbouring businesses and friends of St Stephen Walbrook come together to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The music will be led by our ownchoir of St Stephen Walbrook with organist Joe Sentance and there will be well-known carols to sing, including ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, ‘While shepherds watched’, ‘The first Noel’ and ‘Hark the herald angels sing’.

During ‘Away in a Manger’, children will be invited to gather round the crib for its Blessing and there’ll be a carpeted area in the church for them to sit at other times. The service will be followed by mince pies, mulled wine and soft drinks. Last year, the church was full so do arrive early to ensure you get a seat.

Christmas Eve Midnight Eucharist

The first Communion of Christmas will be celebrated on Thursday 24th December starting at 11.30pm. The choir of St Stephen Walbrook and organist Joe Sentance will again lead the music and the setting will be Schubert in Bb. Mince pies and hot drinks will be served after the service.

Please see our Christmas newsletter for details of other services during Advent. Here is my sermon from today's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook (see the 'Sermon' section of the London Internat Church site for more sermons from St Stephen Walbrook):

How many of the early signs of Christmas have you spotted?

They begin in the shops with displays of Christmas gifts from early autumn while, at work, the Christmas meal or party is being booked. Into November, and the displays of Christmas decorations and foods begin appearing. Then the Christmas displays in shop windows go up and the Christmas lights are put up in Town Centres. Before long the first Christmas decorations go up in a home near you triggering the annual competition to see who can cover their house in the most lights or have the largest illuminated Snowman. Bets begin to be taken on whether we will have a white Christmas and you are given the name of a colleague to buy a Secret Santa present for. Before you know it there are children on your doorstep singing the one carol that they know and people start saying there only X number of days to go. These are some of the signs that Christmas is coming and we all recognise them, probably with dread!

Natural and human signs of coming events are around us all the time. But do we spot them or spot them early enough? In the City this is why economic analysts are employed, to try to identify signs of where markets and the economy are headed. Even though experts are analysing trends on a daily basis, they don't always get it right, as we saw in relation to the last stock market crash and the result of the last election where the polls were all out of sync with the result.

In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples to be actively watching for the signs of a particular coming event; that is the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which Jesus prophesied, as can be read at the beginning of Luke 21, would occur and would happen within the lifetime of his disciples.

They needed to watch for the signs of this event because some of them would be in Jerusalem at the time and would need to escape. For all of them, however, it would be an important sign that Jesus was a true prophet and that all he had said and done was from God and of God.

In AD70 Titus, the adopted son of the Roman emperor Vespasian, “entered Jerusalem, burnt the Temple, destroyed the city and crucified thousands of Jews” (Wright). For Luke the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy, although a disaster for all those caught up in it, was the final vindication of all that Jesus had said and been and done.

The Biblical measure of whether or not a prophet was a true prophet or not, is, obviously enough, whether or not the things they said would happen did happen. Jesus prophesied that the Temple would be destroyed within the lifetime of his disciples and that is what actually happened in reality in AD70.

It that day, he says, people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. This refers to a prophecy in Daniel 7 about the vindication of the Messiah. In other words, he is saying that by being vindicated as a true prophet, people will come to realise that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the Messiah. The destruction of the Temple was proof that Jesus had spoken and acted truly. He was vindicated by the coming to be of his prophecy about the destruction of the Temple.

In the years after Jesus' ascension when, at times, the disciples would naturally have doubted whether the things Jesus said and did were true, this confirmed prophecy would have been an important reminder to them that Jesus spoke truths from God; truths that they could and did rely on, even in times of real confusion, struggle and despair.

We face similar doubts and times of struggle. Again, the fact that Jesus met the Biblical test of true prophets in a way which is factually documented historically can then be a source of encouragement and help to us when our faith and trust in him is tested.

Our vindication will come when Jesus returns and the kingdom of God comes in full, on earth as it is in heaven. Until then, just like the Christians in Jerusalem prior to AD70, we are called to be patient, to be faithful, to be alert, to be watching and witnessing and praying. “Be on your guard!” Jesus said, “Don’t let yourselves become occupied with too much feasting and drinking and with the worries of this life … Be on the alert and pray always that you will have the strength to go safely through all those things that will happen and to stand before the Son of Man.”


Over The Rhine - The Trumpet Child.

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