News from the Benwell & Scotswood Team
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Jan Gossaert, The Adoration of the Kings, 1510-15,
Oil on oak, The National Gallery, London
Dates for your diary
Thurs 6th Jan - weekday service at St John's
Sun 23 Jan - services in all churches
Sun 30 Jan - Candlemas
11 am - Celebration service at Venerable Bede for baptism families
Weekday service at St John's this week
Join us at St John's on the first Thursday of each month at St John's - a lovely small church in the heart of Old Benwell. The community is famous for the warm welcome offered to everyone who comes through their doors.
Our rubbish nativity in the news!
We have had lots of attention in the news about our nativity scene made with rubbish from the local area!
A rubbish nativity for rubbish times!
Made by local community groups with rubbish collected from the local area. With the help of artists Artep Avordno and Chris Minchin.
We wanted to show that looking after the environment and the local area is a good thing. But also, after two years of having 'rubbish' Christmasses, we liked the idea of turning something rubbish into something good!
who by the leading of a star
manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:
mercifully grant that we,
who know you now by faith,
may at last behold your glory face to face;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Ephesians 3.1–12 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
Matthew 2.1–12 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’ Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
There are some things in this world I just find an utter mystery. One thing I just do not get is how does a sewing machine work? I really just cannot see how it’s done. And I’m amazed that somebody somewhere had the imagination and belief to make such a machine a reality. I think the same about how can a huge lump of metal like a plane stay in the sky? And what even is the internet? I can learn as much about the science as possible and maybe even explain the physics of it to other people, but I only learn it by wrote and accept other people’s explanation of it as true, some part of me that is just utterly amazed that these things are possible.
The feast of ‘epiphany’ which comes after Christmas is the time we remember how the mystery of God was revealed to the world. For many Christian denominations it is more important even than Christmas. At the heart of it is this idea of mystery, but this isn’t a problem to be solved, a murder mystery, or a complex machine that can be investigated and understood. For Paul in his letter to the Ephesians Christ is the mystery through which we are granted ‘access’ to the presence of God:
“in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.”
It is like we have been given the password to access a computer or allowed into an exclusive party. But this isn’t exclusive, we have been granted access to this most precious thing. For Paul a ‘mystery’ is a revelation given to us, a treasure to behold, something that we encounter that we did not even know was possible, a mind-blowing extraordinary expansion of our world to encompass things that were unknown until they arrived, it is a mystery that cannot leave us unchanged. It is for us to enter the presence of God. Or rather God comes to us and enters our present world as weak and helpless baby human being.
We were discussing this ‘mystery’ in Bible study a few weeks ago, and the various different metaphors we use to describe God and the trinity - water/air/steam, the three sides if a triangle, three flames from one fire, and so on. All of these metaphors are totally imperfect because no metaphor can fully sum up how we understand God, and how an eternal being can be revealed in one time and place in history. But one of our group, Zanyar, in a moment of genius came up with what I think is a brilliant metaphor. He said it’s a bit like a computer and a screen - the computer is where the processing happens, the data, the memory, and all those things that computers do that remain a complete mystery to me, but the screen is how what’s happening behind the scenes is shown to us, we can only see what’s currently on the screen at one time, but it does not mean the rest of that data and power is not there. Christ is therefore like the screen, God the father the computer, and really both can’t exist independently. Maybe the holy spirit is the cables or the electricity… we haven’t quite worked out the full metaphor, but I thought it was a very useful way to visualise how the fullness of the eternal God is revealed in the face of a person 2000 years ago.
The feast of the Epiphany is when we remember the visit of the magi or ‘wise men’ from the east to see this person. They magi were astrologers who watched for signs and prophecies in the skies, and who come following a star. But rather than some very clever men working out the problem and ‘discovering’ Jesus, they find that the Christ is already discovered by the holy family, shepherds and animals. The mystery has already been revealed and the wise men are simply the first foreigners to witness the incarnation of God. They represent how this little baby will have a far-reaching impact beyond a small Israel, and we hear the first rumblings of just how drastic this impact will be when King Herod, fearing an uprising with a new king, orders the murder of all children under the age of two, forcing Jesus’ family to escape to Egypt as refugees. Even by just being born, the revelation of Jesus Christ has an impact which frightens kings and draws the cleverest from across the world. This not just a mystery for us to treasure quietly in our hearts, but something that will change everything we understand and know to be true.
Paul says that these ‘boundless riches of Christ’ have been given “so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”. This great revelation of the good news of God incarnate knows no bounds, and is to be made known through the church, that means through us. The Epiphany is not a one time event, it is the same revelation given to us, it is the beginning of the revelation that we are called to share. The church is alive because of this mystery, this message that God loves us so much to send his son, the presence of God fully revealed in one little helpless baby. Making himself weak, not to limit himself, but to declare that the love of God is with the weak, overlooked, poor and helpless, that they matter, that the face of God can be seen in humans and in the places the powerful want to ignore. The epiphany is the call for us to be active in sharing this mystery with the world.
The famous Christmas carol ‘In the bleak midwinter’ can help us understand how to do this. Based on the poem by Christina Rosetti it includes these words:
What can I give him?
Poor as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would give a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
But what I can I give him
Give him my heart.
We have nothing to give but our hearts, but with our hearts God will transform not just us as individuals, but the world. The epiphany not a mystery to be made comprehensible, to be measured, investigated and understood, but a revelation that can only change who we are and the world around us. Amen.
To add names to the prayer list please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers for others:
Dominic, Frances, James, and the new baby
James, Christina, Anastasia, and Xavier
Ali Zareie and his family
The Riches Family
All those who are struggling at home or in hospital with Covid-19
Post Communion prayer
the bright splendour whom the nations seek:
may we who with the wise men have been drawn by your light
discern the glory of your presence in your Son,
the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.