St. John's Uniting Church Wahroonga

Christmas at the Dish

At The Dish, this Christmas, St. Leo’s served Christmas meal on Christmas Eve. Thank you to this team of keen and enthusiastic parents and some pupils, organised by Connie, who were glad to prepare and serve the dinner. Christmas ham was carved in situ at the Van! Shepherd’s Pie, Tandoori chicken, lasagne and roast vegetables accompanied the fine fare. Plum pudding and custard were appreciated for dessert.

Festive red bags of gifts were prepared by University students, Jess and Laura, from donations of goods and gifts that had come in throughout the year. Mimi, and members of the Pennant Hills Probus Club had given cash to cover the purchase of extras for the bags; Helen had bought bags of cookies from Mister Cookie Man – so that each of our friends had something to eat for a treat! Sian and her children had prepared gifts; her husband had provided puddings; North Sydney Rotary Club’s Inner Wheel provided an assortment of wrapped gifts and others to be wrapped – items of clothing and necessities. Others had sent in their items and toiletries from overseas travel – sometimes from Business of First Class treats – even pyjamas!! These all added to the fun in store for our friends when they received and unpacked their “goodies”.

Each year in the bundles necessities are included; these were given by other families and merchants in Wahroonga.

Another highlight were the cards and letters prepared by the pupils in one of the Year 5 classes of Waitara Public School. Each pupil wrote a thoughtful message to be given to each one of those who came to share in Christmas this year at The Dish. Some prepared fun cards – items of humour and thoughts of care were expressed by these youngsters – wishing our friends well.

All of these items added to the wonderful spirit of Christmas that was present on that special eve. Tige and his team of volunteers servers presented the food prepared by Sue, Val and Betty later in the week; Victoria gave us a ham which Sue glazed for serving. This continued the festivities into the New Year period.

We thank all those who thought of, gave time, money, gifts and items to be included with the bags of goods. We thank those who prepared the bags, who cooked the food and served it at that special time.

This was a special blessing to all who received during that week.

The Greater Kingdom

Listen!
Isaiah 35:1-10 | Matthew 11:2-11
I’m sure everyone here is well aware that the Christmas story, as we tell it each year, especially as we tell it to children, or as we create it in a nativity scene, as an amalgam, a mash-up of the stories told by the different gospel writers; in particular, by Matthew and Luke, with a considerable degree of embelishment from the imagination of religious artists, and hymn writers, over the centuries.

And that makes for a good story, lots of characters, lots of animals, lots of great visuals – angels, shepherds, stars, foreign kings, camels. A memorable story.

The problem is, the different gospel writers had very different priorities in their telling of the nativity. Matthew, stressing Jesus’ fulfilment of Judaism, tells the story of the Magi visiting, in an echo of the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon, with their gifts symbolysing monarchy, priesthood, and suffering; Luke, stresses the upside down nature of the incarnation, with the birth in a stable and shepherds as witnesses; John, with his eye to theology and philosophy uses the language of word and light and life.

Each of these are strong gospel themes, vibrant colours of the story. But mix together vibrant colours, and you end up with brown; mix together powerful themes in music, and without great care you get cacophony.

You end up with a story which feels a bit of a mess.

So this year we’ve been following the lectionary readings from Isaiah and Matthew, looking to paint Matthew’s picture, tell his story, clearly.

That is why this week we find ourselves faced with John the Baptist again. His career as a prophet finished by one run in too many with the authorities, he asks what is, for Matthew, the central question of the gospel: “are you the one?”. This is the question, in Matthew’s mind, that every Jew should be asking, as they hear the stories of Jesus, the only question that really matters: “are you the one? Has the time come? Or are we still waiting?”

John, the prophet, the one who prepared the way, wants to know – is Jesus the one I prepared it for? The one for whom I cried out in the wilderness “make straight the way”?

And Jesus answers “look around you! look at what is happening. Look, and compare it with what the prophets described.”. As was almost always his way – and very much in keeping with the didactic technique of the rabbis of his day – Jesus answers the question “are you the one” not with a simple assertion, but by drawing the questioner’s attention to those things that will lead them to the answer.

“look around you. Everything you see is signs of the coming kingdom, the kingdom Isaiah spoke of, the kingdom you, John, said was at hand.”

And then, Jesus turns to the crowds and talks about John. He affirms everything John did and said, everything he stood for. A prophet, and more than a prophet. The herald, the messenger – or perhaps even the angel – the one word angelos carries both meanings in the New Testament, angel and messenger (bear that in mind when you read of angels in the Bible).

See again how Matthew draws together the ministry of John – and in it, the tradition of the prophets, with the ministry of Jesus – and with it, by the time his gospel was written, the developing tradition of the Church.

You went into the wilderness to see a prophet, and more than a prophet, a herald. But more still – no one has ever arisen who is greater than John the Baptist… imagine the pause as Jesus allows those words to sink in… but the least in the Kingdom is greater than he.

No one who has come before stands comparison with John. But the Kingdom that he has played this crucial role in proclaiming and preparing for, is so much greater that the least in the Kingdom is greater than its greatest herald.

Here, in this one story, is the core of what Matthew has to tell us about the Kingdom of heaven.

There is at once a continuity: John is a prophet, in the line of the great prophets that gave shape to Israel, that called the people of God over and again back to their first allegiance to the one true God: John is a prophet, fulfilling the words of Isaiah and adding to them his own; and he in term points the way to another, who will be both prophet and king, placing Jesus too in that tradition.

And then at the same time there is a qualitative change; a step change in what it means to be one of God’s people. For the Kingdom that the prophets have spoken of, John declared at hand, and Jesus innaugurated, is so far above and beyond what has gone before, so much more even than the Kingdom of David and Solomon, that it is not even to be compared.

The Kingdom of Heaven is to story that has gone before as day is to night, or as reality is to the photograph.

For the prophets all stood in a tradition which said God’s rule, God’s time, the fulilment of all God was working to reconcile the world God, was something to come; but now it had come.

That is the truth at the heart of the mystery of Christmas; the truth which also lies at the heart of our sharing in communion today; the good news of the Kingdom, the good news of the new covenant; that God has now done what is needed, in, what C.S. Lewis called the one great miracle – that God became human, lived, died, and rose again.

That we now live in the time of God’s Kingdom.

At least, sort of.

For when we read Isaiah’s description of that Kingdom, the description of peace and prosperity and reconciliation and justice, we know that it’s not truly here yet. Not really. Not fully.

But nor can we say that it is a thing only in the future. For we see glimpses of that reality – in the big picture, the reconciling work of Nelson Mandela that we’ve commemorated this week; but also in the day to day acts of love and justice that we, as individuals, as a community, as a Church national and international work each day as we live out the miracle of the incarnation.

The miracle of Christmas.

Amen

God’s Team

Listen!
Isaiah 11:1-10 | Matthew 3:1-12
At first glance, John the Baptist is a bit of an odd character.

I mean, there’s the whole camel’s hair, locusts and wild honey thing. Now you realise that I’m not a big one for dressing formally, but even so, camel’s hair is, well, a bit odd for my taste. And living in the desert, eating locusts – it makes him seem a figure of fun, someone you might well go to see, and talk about, but not someone to be taken seriously. Not someone that changes anyone’s life. At least, not the life of any ordinary person, anyone like us.

But if you compare John to many of the Old Testament prophets, you pretty quickly see that he was very much one of them. In their mould, both in his character – eccentric, radical, memorable – and in his message – abrasive and comforting by turns, uncompromising always.

And the gospel writers take John very seriously. For he plays a pivotal role, especially in Matthew’s narrative, linking the ministry of Jesus, the Messiah, back into the ministry of those Old Testament prophets. For as we will see, over and again in this coming year, in which the lectionary focuses on Matthew’s gospel, that link was of the utmost important to the author; the link that reassured the almost entirely Jewish Jerusalem Church for whom he wrote that Jesus was not something alien to their tradition, but that Jesus was, at heart, everything that Judaism was supposed to be about.

And so Matthew will again and again quote the prophets; Isaiah in particular; to demonstrate how Jesus’ life was ‘in accordance with’ the revelation of God made through the prophetic tradition of the Jewish faith.

And so, in the opening words of our gospel reading, Matthew makes this link: John comes proclaiming “the Kingdom of heaven has come near” – the very words that Jesus uses to open his ministry in Luke’s gospel (except, of course, that Luke refers to “the kingdom of God” – a phrase Matthew, a good Jew, would never use) – John the Baptist proclaims the central theme of Jesus’ ministry, and Matthew describes him as fulfilling the words of Isaiah – that he, John, is the messenger, the one who would cry in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord”.

But what does that mean? Why did Jesus need anyone to prepare the way, to make things ready for him? Why would God need a man like John the Baptist as a forerunner? Why did Jesus need a herald?

But when you start to think about that question, it turns out to be just a small part of a much bigger question – why does God need people to do anything at all? God, is the creator, the sustainer of the universe – why could God possibly need help from people he himself created? And yet throughout the story of the Bible we see that God has had a role for humanity; from the story of Genesis, where we are given responsibility for creation, to care for the garden, the plants and animals – to look after the world God had created; the story of Israel, called to be a people of God, a light to the nations, in order to bring God’s way to the world; and to the New Testament; John the Baptist, preparing the way, the disciples, working alongside Jesus, the Apostles, carrying the message of Jesus to the four corners of the world. The Church, through the ages, and to the present day, charged with the mission of continuing the work of Jesus, continuing the proclamation of the Kingdom of heaven in word and action.

Surely God could have done all God wanted to do without relying on people to help? Especially as, almost every time God does rely on humanity, we mess it up.

And yet, this seems to be the way that God chooses to work. Not to do everything alone, but to enlist partners, to create partnerships. Throughout history, God has chosen to use us as collaborators. God gifted us with imagination, with intelligence, with the ability to love and be loved, with resources and abilities and insights – and with those gifts, has given us the responsibility of living as God’s partners, creating in cooperation with God, living and loving and serving alongside God, healing, reconciling and sustaining in the name and power of God.

It seems as if God chooses to take the risk of giving us these roles, giving us jobs that matter, knowing that we can never do them right, the way they would be done by God.
So even when it came to the incarnation, the great mystery of Christmas, when it came to God taking human form and living amongst us, God chose ordinary people to complete parts of the task. Elizabeth and John to prepare the way. Mary to carry the child, and Joseph to be her partner in raising him. Prophets and prophetesses to proclaim the significance of the baby. Shepherds and magi to witness the birth and protect the young child from the jealousy of kings.

And so it is in the family of God. In creating us in his own image, God chose to share responsibility for this world with us, to make us God’s partners, part of the family of God.
For it seems that this is something fundamental to the very nature of God, the very nature of creation: that engaging in partnership with us, empowering us and challenging us and charging us with real responsibility, is as important as the outcomes – that the way God’s work gets done, the team that gets built by God to do it, matters as much the work itself.

For this is, and has always been, the nature of God’s love. We as Christians do not worship a God of abstract love, a standoffish deity who wishes us well but remains aloof; but nor do we worship a God of smothering love, an overanxious parent who coddles us in cotton wool and never allows us to get anything that matters wrong.

No, the love of God is neither distant and abstract nor close and controlling; the love of God is to draw alongside us, and draw us alongside one another; supportive, collaborative, challenging. It is the love of a parent who knows that their child is capable of great acts of compassion as well as terrible thoughtlessness, of imaginative creativity as well as mindless destruction, of sacrificial love as well as selfish pride, and that the very best as well as the very worst of our characters will be seen only when we are close with others.

And God the parent draws us into communities of faith that bring from us our very best at the risk of also exposing our very worst; God the parent ever guiding, prompting, hinting, but never taking over.

This love would draw us away from our obsession with individual success and achievement, and challenge us instead to the far greater task of building the community of Christ which is both an end in itself, and the means to much greater things.

This is the love of one who walks beside us as we walk together. It is the love which reconciles us to one another, calls us into the family of God, empowers and inspires us, and sends us as servants and agents of that same community building, reconciling, team-working love.

That is the love we celebrate coming into the world.

Amen

Dubbo Gully & Old Great North Road, Dharug National Park, 30th November/1st December 2013

James (& Simone) at the start of the track

James (& Simone) at the start of the track

This walk replaced a planned walk in the Royal National Park and it turned out to be a fantastic alternative. The 24km walk took us through some very pretty bush and rock overhangs, past historic convict road works and along a lush green pastoral valley via a pioneer cemetery.  This walk is one of several that investigate sections of The Old Great North Road (OGNR), built to provide Sydney access to the fertile Hunter Valley.  The road was surveyed in 1825 and construction by convict gangs began the following year.  Construction continued until about 1836, when the road was virtually abandoned in favour of the new steamboat service between Sydney and Newcastle or the more direct Peat’s Ferry Road (now the Pacific Highway).

We fielded the Cartophiles’ largest ever group for a weekend hike.  It had initially promised to be an even larger but sadly at the last moment health issues forced David, Mick and Adam to withdraw.  Even so, eight Cartophiles took to the track: Annie, James, Owen, Sue, Kit, Ethan and first timers John and Penny.  The group was a little bit heavy on Craig derivatives, but apart from a lot of noise and a few confused responses to ‘Dad’ it seemed to work alright.

The track starts just off Wisemans Ferry Road at Mangrove Mountain and follows the Dubbo Gully management trail steeply downhill for about a kilometre and a half to the junction of Dubbo Creek with Mangrove Creek. From here it follows Mangrove Creek along Ten Mile Hollow Road on an easy walk through

St Thomas' Cemetery L-R Penny, Annie, John, Owen, Ethan

St Thomas’ Cemetery
L-R Penny, Annie, John, Owen, Ethan

what was once important farmland providing produce to the convict gangs building the OGNR.  Today the creek is part of the Gosford City Council water catchment area.

Not long after the bridges at the creek junction there’s the historic cemetery of St Thomas’ Church of England.  Sadly, St Thomas’ itself burned down in the 2002 bushfires.  We passed the junction with Donny’s Track and soon stopped for lunch near the abandoned homestead Fairview.   Although the house was built in 1922 there’s a 150 year old slab hut that bears mute testimony to how important this area was in the development of the Lower Hawkesbury.

Just after lunch we bumped into a young couple hiking the other way.  We greeted them but had no idea how much we would see of them later.

The walk along Ten Mile Hollow Road was very easy, although a times a bit swampy after the recent rain.  There were some very interesting stone retaining walls to remind us of the convict chain gangs that constructed the roads.  About 2½ km after lunch we came to a very large grassy clearing where Ten Mile Hollow Road intersects with Oyster Road and Simpson’s Track, and where a large bronze plaque mounted on a boulder provides information on the historic OGNR and Simpson’s Track.  We signed the log book and headed uphill along Simpson’s Track.

Penny, Sue, Owen & Ethan climb Simpson's Track

Penny, Sue, Owen & Ethan climb Simpson’s Track

This track was established as a major branch from the OGNR into the Yarramalong Valley and on to Cooranbong, where Lt Percy Simpson, Assistant-Surveyor at Wiseman’s Ferry, had selected land near Dora Creek in 1828.  It’s comforting to know that that sort of corruption is not a new phenomenon.

Simpson’s Track climbs steadily for about three kilometres and was undoubtedly the hardest part of the days walk.  At the top of the hill we came to Ten Mile Hollow campground at the intersection of Simpson’s Track and the OGNR.  The camp site was originally a stockade for the convict road gangs. According to WildWalks, “Later the area was named ‘Snodgrass Valley’ and plans to build a town were developed, neither the name nor the town proved popular (even at 2 pounds an acre).”

The campsite is lovely: a wide grassy area with a new hybrid toilet and a water tank that was quite full.  There are a couple of fire circles, but the rangers had told us that there was a total fire ban in place right across the park so we made do with our gas stoves.

Celebrate the small victories. Setting up camp L-R Owen, Kit, Penny Ethan (in the shelter), Annie, James, Sue

Celebrate the small victories.
Setting up camp L-R Owen, Kit, Penny, Ethan (in the shelter), Annie, James, Sue

After we set up camp we had an arrival treat together of stuffed olives, chilli pepperoni, cheese, smoked salmon and crackers.  We also had a glass or two of wine.  Just then the couple we’d met earlier walked into camp from the opposite direction to us – they’d done the complete circuit in reverse and were now setting down for the night!  Soon after the young man came over a shyly asked for help.  He had a tick very high on his thigh and needed help to remove it.  The combination of our tweezers, headlamp, glasses, antiseptic wash and the crowd-sourced advise to our resident nurse soon relieved him.

Penny, Owen and Kit walked 600m south to have a look at the Wat Buddha Dhamma Bhuddist bush monastery.  We walked in asking questions only to be told, quietly, that they were having a silent retreat that weekend.  Oops.

After a happy dinner we retired early to a lovely night’s sleep.  We woke to the dawn chorus and Penny’s laughter.  By about ten to nine we’d had breakfast and were on the road for our second day.

The first part of the day was on the OGNR itself.  After about twenty minutes we came to Clares Bridge, billed on all the web sites as the second oldest bridge on the mainland.  The bridge was built between January and September 1830 from sandstone quarried on site under the supervision of overseer Arnold Clare.  There is currently no deck on the bridge.  The sandstone piers and abutments are impressive, and hopefully the Convict Trail Project will be able to raise enough funds to fully restore the bridge in the near future.

Climb to the abutment at Clares Bridge.  Kit and Sue in the foreground as John climbs up to join Annie & James

Climb to the abutment at Clares Bridge. Kit and Sue in the foreground as John climbs up to join Annie & James

The next 4½km is mostly uphill as the route leaves the OGNR and follows Donny’s Track, built as part of the construction of the high voltage power lines.  There are two climbs which will get you puffing on this walk, and this is the steepest one.  However, it’s still not an enormous climb and after about an hour we stopped for morning tea at Donny’s Lookout.  From here we could see Ten Mile Hollow Road and the route back.  We descended the steep hill to the road not far from the St Thomas’ cemetery and turned back toward the car park.  We were making good time and as a group we powered up the climb along Dubbo Gully.  We were back at the cars at about ten to one and headed to the Mooney Mooney Club for lunch, a cool drink and a debrief.

This was a really delightful walk that we will certainly repeat in 2014.  It’s been on a list of possible Cartophiles walks for three years but we have never scheduled it because both NPWS and WildWalks rated it as hard.  None of us could see why it gets a hard rating, especially when the Gentlemans Halt walk was so much more difficult and was rated moderate! From now on we’ll put in each walk report the ‘official’ rating for it and the Cartophiles’ rating.

NPWS rating                                   Hard
WildWalks rating                           Hard
Cartophiles rating                          Moderate

Our next walk is our last for 2013.  It’s the iconic Spit to Manly walk on 7th December.  See here  for details.

Prophets

Listen!
Isaiah 2:1-5 | Matthew 24:36-44
And so, the colour has changed. Now it’s the time for the colour purple. It’s not a tradition we follow avidly at St. John’s, but across a wide range of Christian Churches – probably a sizeable majority of Christians throughout the world – today communion tables and lecterns and pulpits will be covered, or at least trimmed, in purple cloth.
Purple: the colour of royalty, and of the priesthood. A colour prized in the ancient world for its scarcity and cost – obtained from a sea snail – and because the colour did not easily fade.
A colour adopted by the Church to mark the two periods in the year of getting ready; advent, four weeks spent getting ready to enter into the mystery of Christmas, and lent, six weeks spent getting ready to enter the mystery of Easter.

And so today we begin that journey of getting ready for Christmas, the journey of advent.

Of course, the idea that we are just now beginning to get ready for Christmas is a bit of a joke, really. Talk to Amanda and she’ll tell you that she’s been getting ready for Christmas – at least, for Christmas kMotion, since July; and I’m sure most of us here are already some way into our Christmas planning. Certainly the trusty whiteboard chez Goringe is covered with lists of jobs to be done, written a few weeks ago and still, disturbingly, growing longing rather than shorter.

Try as we might, we cannot completely avoid the crazy busyness of the time of year; end of school, start of summer, family get togethers, cricket matches (and that’s as close as you’re going to get to an acknowledgement of the ashes, baring some radical change in England’s fortunes), parties, celebrations.

And nor, really, would we want to.

But what we do want to do, as God’s people, is not to escape or squash the energy of the season, but to supplement it, season it, return to it the flavour of the birth that lies at its core. For many people can be so busy in December that they walk right through this mystery without entering into it, without even noticing it is there. Perhaps they never learned how to enter the mystery of Christmas; or perhaps they forgot. Perhaps, sometimes, that is us.

As is so often the case in our modern world, the greatest challenge is to find a way to stop out the noise of life for long enough to make space for the story. Maybe you have a routine that works for you, a pattern of prayer or reading or reflection that enables you to keep the Christ story alive in the Christmas season. Perhaps you just rely on at least having an hour or two each week on Sunday.

On the St. John’s website there are two special features for advent that might help. The first is a series of 26 short – two minute – animations which between them tell the story of the first Christmas. One will be online, each day from today until boxing day. Take a couple of minutes out of each day to remind yourself of a small part of the story.

Or, if you feel like something more creative, our friends in the United Methodist Church invite you to a photo-a-day. Each day, from today until Christmas, they have a single word – today “go”, tomorrow “bound”, then “peace”, then “time” and so forth – and you are invited to reflect on that word, and take a photo that somehow, for you, that word. You can share the photos, or just keep them to yourself – the point is the stopping for long enough to think.

But today – the first Sunday of advent – is the day of the Prophets, and we mark it with a reading from the prophet Isaiah, one of many of Isaiah’s prophecies that we in the Church have taken and identified with Jesus.

And if you’ve ever listened when I’ve spoken about the Hebrew Prophets you’ll know that I’m slightly uncomfortable with the way we do that, the way we take prophecies out of their context and their culture and their history, and identify them with Jesus and him alone.

I do believe that the prophets spoke of Jesus – but more indirectly than that. I believe the prophets spoke of Jesus because they spoke of the nature and character of God; because they voiced the things God cares about, condemned the injustices that hurt God’s people (which is to say, everyone) and God’s creation (which is to say, everything), described the future God has always been working to create. And so much of what they said found echoes, fulfilment, even, in the person of Jesus, because he, most perfectly of all, reflected that same character of God, declared that same Kingdom of God.

So in hearing the words of Isaiah chapter 2 today, and many other prophecies in the weeks to come, and finding their fulfilment in Jesus and in the Kingdom, let us recognise that we do not in doing so exhaust their meaning; that other figures of the past, present, or future may also echo these words, to the extent that they too echo the voice and nature of God.

Words today, of the mountain of the house of God. The prophecy, the promise, is of a time when the place of God, the mountain, the house, will be raised high – so high, it will be clearly greater than all other houses of the Gods; so high, it will be clearly visible to all the nations.

Isaiah wrote at a time of trouble and turmoil for the people of Israel. The kingdom was divided and besieged; the people had not yet gone into exile, but the time of David and Solomon, the time when all nations recognised Israel, when the Queen of Sheba came to visit King Solomon; that time was a distant memory. Deep in the national psyche was the promise and calling of God; that they were to be a light to the nations, a blessing to all kingdoms of the world; an embodied image of what it meant to live as God’s people that all nations could see and learn from.

But now they were a mess. Corrupted, divided, defeated. No inspiration to anyone.

And Isaiah, in the midst of prophecy condemning Israel for its failings, makes this promise: the day will come when once again the city of God is held high. And people from all the nations will flock there, longing to know the wisdom of God: ‘let us go to the mountain of God,’ they will say, ‘that God may teach us God’s ways’.
For from the city, from Zion, from God, instruction will go forth, out into the world: God and God’s people will by their lives and words and example teach the world.

And the promise continues with those famous, almost painfully hopeful words:
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more

And why will they do so? Why will swords and spears and war no longer be needed? Because God will judge and arbitrate between the nations. War does not vanish, in the vision of Isaiah, because people become nice; this is not the ‘war is over, if you want it’ of Yoko Ono. War is no more, in Isaiah’s prophecy, because there is judgement, arbitration, justice between nations. For all their many imperfections, this is a peace that find echoes in the United Nations, the European Union, the Organisation of African Unity, the International Criminal Court; it is the peace that arises from international development and cooperation, not from an obsession with the national interest.

It is a peace we would identify with the Kingdom of God, a kingdom in which all are valued and protected, in which the destructive power of entrenched poverty and entrenched privilege is judged and found wanting.

It’s not a peace of no problems, of perfect niceness; it’s a peace of justice: the Word of the Lord will go out from Jerusalem and judge between the nations and arbitrate between many peoples.

In Mozambique, the promise of justice and arbitration, and the hope of swords being beaten into ploughshares found concrete form: in the fragile ceasefire at the end of 16 years of civil war, the Christian Council of Mozambique ran a project in which weapons could be handed in and exchanged for hoes, sewing machines, building materials, bicycles. Swords replaced with ploughshares and spears with pruning hooks.

That is the promise; and we see shadows and rumours of it. But we live in the meantime. Hence the words the prophet finished with: O house of Jacob, come let us walk in the light of the Lord. For if the word of the Lord is to stream forth once more from God’s people, then God’s people are going to have to live lives which shine with that word, lives that show the value of life lived God’s way. For how can God’s instruction flow from us if we have not heard it, not committed to it, not lived it.

As we approach the mystery of the incarnation, as we prepare to enter into it, let us prepare ourselves also for living the lives of radical discipleship that demonstrate that the Kingdom of God Jesus came to proclaim is worth noticing, so that the people around us might say “come, let us go to the house of the Lord, that God may teach us God’s ways”.

Amen