Sunday Bulletin 25 January 2015

WORSHIP THIS WEEK
Sunday 1 February 2015: The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
10am Morning Worship at St Stephen’s
11.15am Morning Worship at the Old High
7pm Short Communion Service at St Stephen’s
SUNDAY BULLETIN ITEMS should be sent to Jim Monro: jim@jimmonro.com
The deadline for all items is Wednesday at noon
For further information and contact details for any items listed elow:
E-mail: invernesschurch@gmail.com
NEWS FROM OUR CONGREGATION
KIRK SESSION meets this Tuesday. Details from Linda.
RETIRING COLLECTION This Sunday in the Old High will be donated to the Inverness Street Pastors.
CONFIRMATION CLASS for anyone wishing to become a full member of the church will run in the New Year. Please contact the Minister if you are interested (peternimmo@minister.com).
LUNCH CLUB will meet at 12.30pm on Thursday 29 January at the Craigmonie Hotel. New diners will be most welcome. Transport is available. Contact Val Cantlay.
CHRISTMAS CONCERTS The St Stephen’s and Community Choirs raised the grand sum of £3,200, of which £1380 went to Marie Curie, £1380 to Woman’s Aid and £450 to Church Funds. Well done and many thanks to all concerned.
CHURCH MAGAZINE Willie Morrison, editor of the OHSS Magazine, urgently requires reports, articles and photos for the next issue, which is due out in March. Please, please, submit whatever you can, as early as possible, as the cupboard is particularly bare at this time, by e-mail to willie@kenilweb.com . The deadline is Friday 13 March.
WORD FOR TODAY The new issue of Word for Today is available in both the church vestibules.
PRAYER POINTERS will return in a few weeks. If you have ideas on the format and content of the Prayer Pointers, please contact the Minister or Ruth Martin. Meantime, as a guide for your prayers, please use the Prayer for the Day on the Order of Service, and pray for the acitivities of the congregation listed here.
OTHER NEWS
OUT OF THE BOX Christian charity based in Inverness are running an event for young people in Primary 5 through to S2 during the February school holidays. The event is called AMP, which stands for Acting, Music and Puppets. A.M.P. is a performing arts week, where young people can make new friends, develop creative skills and grow in faith. Each person attending will have a choice of creative streams where they will have the opportunity to work alongside professionals from the performing arts towards an end of week showcase where they can put all their new skills into practise. The event runs from 14 to 18 February in Hilton Parish Church from 10am till 4pm. The cost to attend is £85, with discounts for siblings. For more information please check out the website www.outofthebox.me.uk or email chris@outofthebox.me.uk
ADVANCE NOTICES
COFFEE MORNING is to be held on Saturday 28 February from 10am to noon in St Stephen’s Hall in aid of Church Funds. Donations of cake/candy, unwanted gifts, raffle prizes will be gratefully appreciated. If you are able to help please contact Margaret McAleer.
WORK PLACE CHAPLAINCY This is an opportunity for interested or already involved to find out: What is Work Place Chaplaincy; essential skills required and how to use them; opportunities for chaplaincy; introduction to further training. The meeting is in the Baptist Church, Castle Street on Wednesday 25 February from 7.15 to 9.30pm. For further details or to book contact info @wpcscotland.co.uk
THE BIG CLEAN at Stephen’s will take place this year on Saturday 14 March. Please put this in your diary. For more details contact Joan Darcy.
FRESH EXPRESSIONS OF CHURCH DAY CONFERENCE: IMAGINE CHURCH “for those that don’t do church”. Speakers Olive and John Drane will lead the day with interactive learning with presentations, interviews, stories, activities and questions. Saturday 21 March from 9.30 to 4pm in Fort Augustus Village Hall (transport may be available) http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/vision/fortaugustus15 . For details contact The Minister

The Devil’s Wisdom: sermon for Sunday 18 January 2015

Texts: Psalm 91.9-16
Matthew 4.1-17

(The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Narrative Lectionary)

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I have been thinking a lot about arrogance this week. The arrogance of believing that we are right, and that others are wrong. The arrogance which uses power to belittle or harm others. Continue reading

Sunday Bulletin 18 January 2015

WORSHIP THIS WEEK
Sunday 25 January 2015: Third Sunday after Epiphany
10am Morning Worship at St Stephen’s
led by Rev Arthur Sinclair
11.15am Sacrament of Holy Communion at the Old High
SUNDAY BULLETIN ITEMS should be sent to Jim Monro: jim@jimmonro.com
The deadline for all items is Wednesday at noon
NEWS FROM OUR CONGREGATION
For further information and contact details for any items listed below:
E-mail: invernesschurch@gmail.com
CONGREGATIONAL INFORMATION EVENING Thanks to all who attended and took part on a wintry night last week! Our Session Clerk, Linda Philip, has produced a report on the evening which is available on our website.
CONFIRMATION CLASS for anyone wishing to become a full member of the church will run in the New Year. Please contact the Minister if you are interested peternimmo@minister.com
FOOD FOR FAMILIES A big thank you to everyone who scraped, stirred and cooked for the Food for Families project this year. Over 200 meals were provided by 16 ladies and gentlemen from Old High St Stephen’s. This really made a big difference to needy families.
CHRISTMAS CONCERT The St Stephen’s and Community Choirs raised the grand sum of £3,200, of which £1,380 went to Marie Curie, £1,380 to Woman’s Aid and £450 to Church Funds. Well done and many thanks to all concerned.
OLD HIGH FLOWER ROTA 2015 There are a few spaces on the flower rota for the Old High Church for 2015. If you would like to add your name please contact Sally McCubbin.
HOBBY/CRAFT EVENINGS are recommencing in St Stephen’s Hall at 7.30pm on Wednesday 21 January and fortnightly thereafter. Please come along and enjoy the cameraderie. Further details from Margaret McAleer.
WORD FOR TODAY The new issue of Word for Today is available in both the church vestibules.
OTHER NEWS
LEPROSY MISSION Dan and Babs Izzett from Zimbabwe will talk about their experiences of being affected by Leprosy and the work of the Leprosy Mission on Tuesday 20th January 2015, at 2.30 pm in Inshes Church. Contact Ruth Martin.
THE OLIVE GROVE has been run entirely by volunteers for five and a half years. Currently, there are a few spaces which need to be filled to continue the smooth running of the tearoom. If anyone can spare 2 hours per week, they would be delighted to hear from you. Working in one of the teams is a hugely enjoyable experience for both men and women. Please drop in to talk to us, or contact Eileen Ardern for further information.
CROSSREACH (the social work branch of the Church of Scotland) have a specialist dementia Care Home, Cameron House, at Culduthel Road, Inverness. They are currently recruiting for Relief Care Workers and Relief Housekeeping Assistants. Full training will be given. For more information or an application pack please contact the Service Manager, Pat Birse.
OUT OF THE BOX Christian charity based in Inverness are running an event for young people in Primary 5 through to S2 during the February school holidays. The event is called AMP, which stands for Acting, Music and Puppets. A.M.P. is a performing arts week, where young people can make new friends, develop creative skills and grow in faith. Each person attending will have a choice of creative streams where they will have the opportunity to work alongside professionals from the performing arts towards an end of week showcase where they can put all their new skills into practise. The event runs from 14 to 18 February in Hilton Parish Church from 10am till 4pm. The cost to attend is £85, with discounts for siblings. For more information please check out the website www.outofthebox.me.uk or email chris@outofthebox.me.uk.
ADVANCE NOTICES
WORK PLACE CHAPLAINCY This is an opportunity for interested or already involved to find out: What is Work Place Chaplaincy; essential skills required and how to use them; opportunities for chaplaincy; introduction to further training. The meeting is in the Baptist Church, Castle Street on Wednesday 25 February from 7.15 to 9.30pm. For further details or to book e-mail info@wpcscotland.co.uk
THE BIG CLEAN at Stephen’s will take place this year on Saturday 14 March. Please put this in your diary. For more details contact Joan Darcy.
FRESH EXPRESSIONS OF CHURCH DAY CONFERENCE: IMAGINE CHURCH “for those that don’t do church”. Speakers Oliver Fleming Drane and John Drane will lead the day with interactive learning with presentations, interviews, stories, activities and questions. Saturday 21 March from 9.30 to 4pm in Fort Augustus Village Hall (transport may be available) For details contact The Minister or http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/vision/fortaugustus15

Congregation information evening 13 January 2015

We had an excellent information evening for the congregation about our finance and property action plan on Tuesday 13 January. Our Session Clerk, Linda Philip, took some notes. Here is her report. If you would like more information, please contact us.

Report of Congregational Information Evening
held on Tuesday 13 January 2015 in Old High Hall

The minister, Rev Peter Nimmo welcomed everyone and opened the meeting with prayer. He outlined the church’s Mission statement. He then highlighted the items on the Action Plan followed by an update on each item.
Insurances: Christine McKenzie said that the renewal date was shortly coming up but it was unlikely that there would be a reduction to the cost of the Old High church insurance. The church is insured for £9.5 million. As this was a Grade 1 listed building it was possible that grants might be available. Inverness Council has offered their services to look at the insurance. It was also important that a more positive approach is taken with the media.
Ministries & Mission: This is a complicated calculation taken over 3 years but there would be no reduction for this year.
Outside Agencies: Peter has met with David Stewart MSP who has offered to set up meetings with national and local government bodies. Peter has also met with the council, BID and has had interest shown from the Civic Trust. It was noted that Historic Scotland will amalgamate with Ancient Monuments in May this year.
‘Friend’s scheme: Jennifer Morrison has written to various churches who have a ‘Friend’s scheme in operation and has had several replies to be followed up. It would most likely be necessary to have a constitution and a charitable trust drawn up.
Old High hall: The plans for Phase 1 and Phase 2 were available for consideration. Further provision has been made for storage comparable with the area we now have. Phase 1 funded by Birchwood Highland would allow them access to the building, followed by Phase 2 which would see a change mainly to toilets, kitchen and committee room. We hope to source funding for this. The final stage will be to renovate the hall. Rent and terms of the lease have to be agreed. The plans will shortly go before the various stages of Presbytery. We should know their decision in February 2015.
Energy costs: Joan Darcy explained that the energy costs at St Stephen’s had been looked at by professional services who recommended changes to the heating operation. We will find out how effective these changes are with the next bills.
Running costs: The Treasurer has a tight grip on the day to day running costs.
John Craigie legacy: This had been used to fund the Pastoral Assistant’s expenses which are now being paid for by the church. The Education team will look for a project for the John Craigie legacy.
Informing the congregation: This was the second congregational meeting. It may be necessary to hold a few more meetings to keep the congregation well informed.

The congregation were given time to ask questions and the meeting closed with prayer.

Getting Wet: a sermon for Sunday 11 January 2015 (The Baptism of the Lord)

SERMON

Text: Matthew 3.1-17

Getting wet

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Surely one of the worst things that could possibly happen to someone is to be arrested for a crime you haven’t committed. Bad enough that you might spend years in jail. Worse, however, to be branded a criminal, to be told you are guilty when you know you are not guilty. It’d be terrible to be criminalised by mistake. And who would choose to be treated like a criminal?

By NickGibson3900 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By NickGibson3900 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Continue reading

Mrs Margaret Small- funeral announcement

Mrs Margaret Small, one of our members, who previously worshipped at St Stephen’s, has died at Wyvis House Care Home, Dingwall, where she had lived for the last 10 years.

She was 92.

The Rev Peter W Nimmo will conduct Mrs Small’s funeral service at Inverness Crematorium (large chapel) on Tuesday 20 January at 10.30am.

The funeral director is D Chisholm and Sons (01463 712255).

Sunday Bulletin 11 January 2015

WORSHIP THIS WEEK
Sunday 18 January 2015: Second Sunday after Epiphany
10am Morning Worship at St Stephen’s
11.15am Morning Worship at Old High
3pm Ecumenical Service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at Inshes Church
SUNDAY BULLETIN ITEMS should be sent to Jim Monro: jim@jimmonro.com
The deadline for all items is Wednesday at noon
NEWS FROM OUR CONGREGATION
For further information and contact details for any items listed below:
E-mail: invernesschurch@gmail.com
CONFIRMATION CLASS for anyone wishing to become a full member of the church will run in the New Year. Please contact the Minister if you are interested: peternimmo@minister.com).
INFORMATION EVENING ON CHURCH ACTION PLAN The Action Plan on property and finance, which has been adopted by the Kirk Session, was published in the last edition of the Church Magazine (anyone who has not received a magazine should contact our Session Clerk, Linda Philip: lindajphilip@hotmail.com ). We plan to hold an Information Evening for the congregation on Tuesday 13 January from 7-8pm at the Old High Hall when there will be a chance to ask questions and make suggestions about the Action Plan. We hope everyone will want to come along and find out about the Session’s plans for the future of the congregation. If you require a lift to the meeting, please contact your elder. You can read about the Action Plan in the latest edition of the Church Magazine.
TEA AND CHAT Everyone is welcome to have a cup of tea and to enjoy some home baking on Thursday 15 January in St Stephen’s Hall from 2.00 – 3.30pm.This is an informal event, organised by the OHSS Pastoral Care Team. Come when you can, and enjoy some fellowship with friends. For more details contact Val Cantlay or Sheila McLeod.
CHRISTMAS OFFERINGS The offerings at Christmas services amounted to £652.58 and you will recollect that this sum will be matched by Government and donated to Christian Aid. Thanks to all who contributed
FOOD FOR FAMILIES A big thank you to everyone who scraped, stirred and cooked for the Food for Families project this year. Over 200 meals were provided by 16 ladies and gentlemen from Old High St Stephen’s. This really made a big difference to needy families.
OLD HIGH FLOWER ROTA 2015 There are a few spaces on the flower rota for the Old High Church for 2015. If you would like to add your name please contact Sally McCubbin.
A BIG THANK YOU TO ALL WHO GAVE TO OUR GIVING TREES -
ST STEPHEN’S In all 115 gifts were distributed to the seven places of need. Copy Letters of Appreciation are attached to the Notice Board in the chancel at St Stephen’s. A big thank you to everyone who donated so generously to these worthy causes. Cliff Sim.
OLD HIGH Last Thursday morning 2 members of staff collected about 100 parcels that the congregation had wrapped for the homeless cared for by the Trust. They were very grateful and thank you all for your kindness. Diana Fraser.
HEALING SERVICE today at 4pm in St Stephen’s to which all are welcome. (Contact Ruth Martin).
WEDNESDAY HOME GROUP will meet this Wednesday 14th January, at 7.30pm, at Winnie Stafford’s House. We will be continuing our study of James at chapters 3-4. Anyone interested in coming together to learn more about Jesus is welcome to join our discussions that are serious, amusing and all between. There will also be Christmas cake!. (Contact David Martin)
OTHER NEWS
ECUMENICAL SERVICE for the week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Sunday 18th January, 3pm, at Inshes Church. Visible Christian unity breeds gospel witness (John 13:34-35), so please be part of our churches’ efforts to start something that this city might be blessed by. Church leaders from a variety of denominations (including our own minister) will lead the worship, and there will be time to share fellowship together following the service. Details from Mrs Dolina Coventry.
THE OLIVE GROVE has been run entirely by volunteers for five and a half years. Currently, there are a few spaces which need to be filled to continue the smooth running of the tearoom. If anyone can spare 2 hours per week in the New Year, they would be delighted to hear from you. Working in one of the teams is a hugely enjoyable experience for both men and women. Please drop in to talk to us, or contact Eileen Ardern for further information.
CROSSREACH (the social work branch of the Church of Scotland) have a specialist dementia Care Home, Cameron House, at Culduthel Road, Inverness. They are currently recruiting for Relief Care Workers and Relief Housekeeping Assistants. Full training will be given. For more information or an application pack please contact the Service Manager, Pat Birse.
OUT OF THE BOX Christian charity based in Inverness are running an event for young people in Primary 5 through to S2 during the February school holidays. The event is called AMP, which stands for Acting, Music and Puppets. AMP is a performing arts week, where young people can make new friends, develop creative skills and grow in faith. Each person attending will have a choice of creative streams where they will have the opportunity to work alongside professionals from the performing arts towards an end of week showcase where they can put all their new skills into practise. The event runs from 14 to 18 February in Hilton Parish Church from 10am till 4pm. The cost to attend is £85, with discounts for siblings. For more information please check out the website www.outofthebox.me.uk or email chris@outofthebox.me.uk or contact Chris Wall
ADVANCE NOTICES
WORK PLACE CHAPLAINCY This is an opportunity for interested or already involved to find out: What is Work Place Chaplaincy; essential skills required and how to use them; opportunities for chaplaincy; introduction to further training. The meeting is in the Baptist Church, Castle Street on Wednesday 25 February from 7.15 to 9.30pm. For further details or to book: info@wpcscotland.co.uk

Sunday Bulletin 4 January 2015

WORSHIP THIS WEEK
Sunday 11 January 2015: First Sunday after Epiphany
10am Morning Worship at St Stephen’s
Sunday School returns
11.15am Morning Worship at Old High
SUNDAY BULLETIN ITEMS should be sent to Jim Monro: jim@jimmonro.com
The deadline for all items is Wednesday at noon
NEWS FROM OUR CONGREGATION
For further information and contact details for any items listed elow:
E-mail: invernesschurch@gmail.com
CONFIRMATION CLASS for anyone wishing to become a full member of the church will run in the New Year. Please contact the Minister if you are interested (peternimmo@minister.com).
CHURCH ACTION PLAN The Action Plan on property and finance, which has been adopted by the Kirk Session, was published in the last edition of the Church Magazine (anyone who has not received a magazine should contact our Session Clerk, Linda Philip (lindajphilip@hotmail.com). We plan to hold an Information Evening for the congregation on Tuesday 13 January from 7-8pm at the Old High Hall when there will be a chance to ask questions and make suggestions about the Action Plan. We hope everyone will want to come along and find out about the Session’s plans for the future of the congregation. If you require a lift to the meeting, please contact your elder.
OTHER NEWS
THE OLIVE GROVE has been run entirely by volunteers for five and a half years. Currently, there are a few spaces which need to be filled to continue the smooth running of the tearoom. If anyone can spare 2 hours per week in the New Year, they would be delighted to hear from you. Working in one of the teams is a hugely enjoyable experience for both men and women. Please drop in to talk to us, or contact Eileen Ardern for further information.
FOOD ADMINISTRATION ASSISTANT at Hilton, Inverness The role will be to provide high-quality administrative support to the Foodbank Officers.  The person should have good time management skills, be fully conversant with Microsoft Office and have excellent communication skills. The position is for 22.5 hours per week, over 3 days, between Monday and Friday. For an Application form and Job Description contact Barbara Grace (personnel@blythswood.org)   The closing date is 5 pm on Monday 5 January 2015, with interviews planned for early January.
FOOD FOR FAMILIES Highland Homeless Trust is arranging this project this Christmas- throughout December and into the first week in January. Hopefully we can manage to provide teams to do cooking w/c 8 December and 5 January. All ingredients are provided together with containers and this year there is a choice of cooking: Vegetable Broth, Mince & Tatties or Spaghetti Bolognese. Contact Christine MacKenzie (christinemac73@hotmail.com) for further details.
CROSSREACH (the social work branch of the Church of Scotland) have a specialist dementia Care Home, Cameron House, at Culduthel Road, Inverness. They are currently recruiting for Relief Care Workers and Relief Housekeeping Assistants. Full training will be given. For more information or an application pack please contact the Service Manager, Pat Birse.

Seeking the light: a sermon for Epiphany Sunday, 4 January 2015

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 4 January 2015: The Second Sunday of Christmas

SERMON
Text: Matthew 2:1-23

Seeking the light

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Imagine I had time machine, and was able to go back in time and find King Herod. And supposing he agreed to come with me to the twenty-first century, so that he could come to this church and speak to us today. What might he have to say to us…

You people think you know all about me. You have me categorised- you have me filed away in your minds with the tyrants you hate and fear- Herod the baby- killer, lumped in with the likes of Stalin, Hitler and the Arab dictators killing their people in your own age. But that’s too easy. You’ve made me a scapegoat, without ever having heard things from my point of view.

Consider my position. I had mighty responsibilities. First century Judea was a difficult place to rule. A rumour of a new king threatened to upset the balance of power. When these wise men from the east appeared in my palace and said, ‘We have come to worship the baby born to be King of the Jews’, my first thought was, ‘That’s all I need’.

For a start, I was the King of the Jews. Now, you may think that sounds great- king, I can do what I like, get to live in a palace and all that. Well, let me tell you, getting to be King of the Jews, and staying there, was hard work. I might be the King of the Jews now, but, as you say in Scotland, my jacket was on a shoogly nail.

For Palestine was an uncertain place in the first century. A bit like the Central Asia, or much of Africa, at the start of the 21st century. Lots of little kingdoms and tribes battling for supremacy, years of minor wars fuelled by ethnic and religious rivalries. And just over the horizon, a superpower- the Roman Empire. Rome needed someone to sort things out in Palestine. They preferred not do it themselves- perhaps one of the local warlords would oblige. I was their man.

With Rome’s backing, I went to war, and made myself the most powerful man in the region. I brought ruthless war to Palestine, but in the end I brought a kind of peace to the warring factions- even if it meant the execution of most of my opponents. The Roman Senate rewarded me with the title of King of Judea. I built great cities, and built a grand new temple for Jerusalem. I looked after my people, even remitting their taxes when times were hard.

But as time went on I had to be more ruthless. When you are a king, even your family can be a threat. Family squabbles among royals can lead to civil war, if you aren’t careful. I had my wife, my mother-in-law, and three of my sons assassinated. For political reasons, of course. The same kind of political reasons that led me to murder hundreds of other religious and government officials during my reign. Collateral damage. The had to die, for the sake of my position, for reasons of high policy, to keep the peace, to keep Rome happy.

None of you are allowed to kill children. There’s never any reason for it, in the life of a citizen, a civilian. But we rulers- those of us in government- we operate by different rules. Sometimes you have to be tough, ruthless. Sometimes there is collateral damage, innocent people get hurt- even children. So heads of state are allowed to kill.

There were those who said I overdid it. They said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son. They said I got more suspicious, more cruel, as my long reign continued.

But Judea was a dangerous place. I had to make sure Rome was happy, make sure they got their taxes paid, if I was to keep my position. Rome would have no truck with any weakness from me.

This incident about the children of Bethlehem- pretty minor. A small town, so perhaps 20 or 30 children involved. Only infants after all, none of them over two year old. It began, as I said, when the Magi turned up. I knew these sorts of people, have a lot of respect for them. Advisers and teachers of the kings of Persia. Experts in astrology, in law, in religion. The sort of men you could respect, for they were guardians of an ancient tradition, their word was reliable.

When men like that travel a distance and demand to see the King- well, of course, you meet them. I thought that perhaps they were ambassadors from Persia. But no, they were here on their own account. They had been watching the stars- that was their job, after all, to watch the stars and advise their masters accordingly. And they had seen a new star- or some kind of strange phenomenon in the sky. A sign that something special had occurred.

They came to me because the rumour was that a new king would sometime be born in Judea- a king who would be greater than all the kings who came before. They put two and two together, and had decided that the new star meant that the new king would be born in my domains.

I was troubled by this news, and so was all Jerusalem- that is, everyone in government circles. I decided to bring in my theological advisers. Where is the great king to be born, I asked. ‘Bethlehem- the birthplace of King David’ came the reply. I now needed to send the astrologers on their way, and use them to help me find the baby. I got together with them again, made sure of their dates and times, and sent them off on their quest, piously telling them that I would like to know the result of their search, as I too would like to go and worship this special king.

Well, they did find him- but they must have sussed me out. They slipped back to their own country without telling me where they had found this special child. Drastic action was called for. And so I sent the army in. They tracked down all the children in Bethlehem born within the last two years, and killed them. Oh, there was weeping and wailing- killing innocent children is never exactly popular. But what did they expect me to do? I had my interests to protect. Rome was breathing down my neck. I couldn’t possibly countenance the thought of another King of the Jews. And the annoying part of it is that apparently the one I was looking for got away…

Do you find Herod’s explanation believable? It’s the explanation used by trying to justify war, or terrorists justifying violence. When children were massacred at Dunblane, it was terrible, but it was one deranged man who did it. What was so awful about the more recent school massacre in Pakistan is that, somewhere in that region, there is a man who gave the order for it, and that people carried out, and in some warped philosophy they thought they could rationally justify it. That’s what’s terrifying for the rest of us, and that’s what’s terrifying about Herod, that’s what terrifying about anyone who finds a way to rationalise the killing of children.

Most of what I just put into the mouth of Herod is based on what we know of him, not just from the Bible, but from other sources. He was in some respects a ‘successful’ ruler. But his success was bought at a heavy price. It is said that when he knew he was dying, he had many of the most important people of Jerusalem arrested on trumped up charges and gave orders that they should be killed when he died. ‘He said grimly that he was well aware that no one would mourn for his death, but that he was determined that some tears should be shed when he died’. So you see the story of the massacre of the children in Bethlehem, although it is only found in the Bible, is perhaps not so far-fetched after all. It is entirely consistent with what we know about Herod’s character- it may well have been that way.

And so Herod goes down in history as the first person to try to resist what God was doing in Jesus Christ. A new born baby is harmless- surely it can’t be a danger to anyone. But this child was a danger to Herod. He knows that, his advisers know that. Perhaps the wise men realise that two. But these pagan astrologers react quite differently to Herod. Herod, a Jewish ruler, reacts with alarm to the news that the greatest ever King of the Jews has been born. The Magi come and worship.

Already, Matthew the Gospel writer is setting the story he is going to tell. Jesus is born as a result of God’s action- he is a special child, born of a Virgin, his birth heralded by a star. And yet it is not all plain sailing. He will not be immune to the dangers and perils of human life. Some will resist him- no sooner is he born than King Herod tries to kill him. Some will be faithful to him. His father Joseph listens to what God has to say, and does his part. He doesn’t break off his engagement to Mary, and he takes his young family into exile in Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. And some will realise just how special he is- the Magi travel from afar to worship him.

And some will suffer because of him. Life is messy. Jesus might escape with his life- this time- but it is at the expense of other the children of Bethlehem- his contemporaries. In Matthew’s Christmas story there is real pain, as he quotes the Scriptures:

‘A sound is heard in Ramah,
the sound of bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted
for they are dead’.

This is a terrible story. Here is a massacre, carried out in cold blood, just so that a suspicious and murderous old king can get rid of a rival. Nothing can excuse Herod’s actions. Yet such things happen in our world. Children get killed for all kinds of reasons. And there is something terrible about the death or abuse of innocent children, something that provokes in us some very deep repulsion. We are talking about children less than two years old here- children who depend on adults for all their needs. For adults to abuse that trust is something terrible. For adults to be able to rationalise it- for political or religious ends- is terrifying.

And yet it is often the way. Children so often fall victim to the adults of the world. They are so often the first victims of war, violence, famine, abuse, poverty, disease. Rachel will not be comforted. The death of children is a dark, terrible event. And it has happened throughout history, and it is still happening today.

How can this happen? How can God allow this to happen? What explanations can the Bible give? Perhaps no explanation- Rachel refuses to be comforted. Instead- this story, this terrible story, about how the birth of God’s son- the Prince of Peace- is accompanied by the death of innocent children. God, it seems, cannot come into our world without provoking a reaction, without there being suffering and death and grief.

This story offers no explanation as to why children suffer. It simply tells us that we knew- that helpless children are subject to the whims of adults, and that they all too often become victims. And yet perhaps the fact that that story is there in the Bible tells us something. The fact that such darkness is to found in the Bible, even among our best-loved Christmas stories, is a reminder that Scripture deals, not with fairy tales, but with real human life.
For in the midst of this massacre, as the women weep as their children are killed- God is there. God has come into this world in which innocent die and suffer, into this world of grief and uncertainty, into this world where the sort of wickedness we find in a Herod is always present. God comes into this world, and acts, and it is painful, and it is not simple. God allows himself to depend on a carpenter for his safety. God becomes a refugee, has to flee into exile, has a narrow scrape with death.

The Magi Journeying James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Magi Journeying James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Yet this story also gives us a clue how to react to such evil. The Magi were, I suspect, establishment figures in the country they came from. They were the wise men of the Persian Empire, advisers to the king in their own country. They were astrologers, but in an age when astrology was a respectable science. So it is not surprising that, when they work out a new king is being born in Judea, they head for the capital city, and are admitted to see King Herod and his advisers. They are used to the corridors of power, used to the sort of off-the-record meeting that they have with Herod: ‘So Herod called the visitors from the East to a secret meeting and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem with these instructions: “Go and make a careful search for the child; and when you find him, let me know, so that I too may go and worship him”’. Herod would fully expect his distinguished visitors to comply with that instruction.

After their consultations in Jerusalem the Magi head for Bethlehem, and since they trust the stars, they seem unfazed at finding the child there. They worship the child, present their gifts. And then they do something unusual, we might think, for people so much part of the establishment, used to serving kings, used to obeying higher authority. They commit an act of civil disobedience: ‘Then they returned to their country by another road, since God had warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod’.

In so doing, they save the child born to be king. They put God’s revelation above the demands of the local ruler. And sometimes we will have to do that. For the sake of the children, for the sake of the good, sometimes conscience demands that we return by another road- even if that means defying the demands of the powerful.

Another great religious teacher, the Buddha, once remarked that ‘It is… our perception that existence is awry that forces us to find an alternative which prevents us falling into despair’ 3. There is something wrong with the world when children suffer. Pretending that our world is not like that- pretending that our world is a Christmas card world- will not help. But the Bible says that into this awry world comes God, in Jesus Christ.

He was called Emmanuel, God with us. That’s the real meaning of Matthew’s story. In this world of grief, pain, and innocent suffering, we are not alone. God is with us. This can be uncomfortable. It might lead to a violent reaction- and ever since the massacre of Bethlehem, violent people have made more martyrs in an attempt to suppress the Kingdom of God. But God is with us, and depends on us, just as God once he depended on Joseph and the Wise Men to protect the Christ-child. When innocents suffer, we are to speak up and resist. When brute power threatens humanity, we are sometimes to go home by another way. And we can do so safe in the knowledge that even when we weep, and cannot be comforted- God is with us. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out, says John’s Gospel (John 1.5). We need no more.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father,
whose children suffered at the hands of Herod
though they had done no wrong;
give us grace neither to act cruelly
nor to stand indifferently by,
but to defend the weak from the tyranny of the strong;
in the name of Jesus Christ who suffered for us,
but is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

NOTES

Biblical references from the Good News Bible

The two quotations about Herod are from W Barclay, The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1 p29

Buddha is quoted in K Armstrong, Islam: A Short History, px

© 2015 Peter W Nimmo

Sunday Bulletin for 28 December 2014

WORSHIP THIS WEEK
Sunday 4 January 2015
10am Morning Worship at St Stephen’s
11.15am Morning Worship at Old High
SUNDAY BULLETIN ITEMS should be sent to Jim Monro: jim@jimmonro.com
The deadline for all items is Wednesday at noon
NEWS FROM OUR CONGREGATION
For further information and contact details for any items listed below:
E-mail: invernesschurch@gmail.com
SUNDAY SCHOOL returns on 11 January, but children are always welcome to our services over Christmas, especially our 6.30 All-Age service on Christmas Eve and the 10.30am Christmas Day service, where everyone is invited to bring along their presents to show us! More details from Raema MacKay raemamackay@yahoo.co.uk .
CONFIRMATION CLASS for anyone wishing to become a full member of the church will run in the New Year. Please contact the Minister if you are interested (peternimmo@minister.com).
PASTORAL COVER The Minister will be on holiday from 28 December to 3 January inclusive. For any urgent pastoral needs, please contact your elder or the Rev Morven Archer, Presbytery Chaplain (morvarch@btinternet.com) .
CHURCH ACTION PLAN & OLD HIGH HALLS The Action Plan on property and finance, which has been adopted by the Kirk Session, was published in the last edition of the Church Magazine (anyone who has not received a magazine should contact our Session Clerk, Linda Philip (lindajphilip@hotmail.com). We plan to hold an Information Evening for the congregation on Tuesday 13 January from 7-8pm at the Old High Hall when there will be a chance to ask questions and make suggestions about the Action Plan. We hope everyone will want to come along and find out about the Session’s plans for the future of the congregation. If you require a lift to the meeting, please contact your elder.
OTHER NEWS
THE OLIVE GROVE has been run entirely by volunteers for five and a half years. Currently, there are a few spaces which need to be filled to continue the smooth running of the tearoom. If anyone can spare 2 hours per week in the New Year, they would be delighted to hear from you. Working in one of the teams is a hugely enjoyable experience for both men and women. Please drop in to talk to us, or contact Eileen Ardern on for further information.
FOOD ADMINISTRATION ASSISTANT at Hilton, Inverness The role will be to provide high-quality administrative support to the Foodbank Officers.  The person should have good time management skills, be fully conversant with Microsoft Office and have excellent communication skills. The position is for 22.5 hours per week, over 3 days, between Monday and Friday. For an Application form and Job Description contact Barbara Grace (personnel@blythswood.org)  The closing date is 5 pm on Monday 5 January 2015, with interviews planned for early January.
FOOD FOR FAMILIES Highland Homeless Trust is arranging this project this Christmas- throughout December and into the first week in January. Hopefully we can manage to provide teams to do cooking w/c 8 December and 5 January. All ingredients are provided together with containers and this year there is a choice of cooking: Vegetable Broth, Mince & Tatties or Spaghetti Bolognese. Contact Christine MacKenzie christinemac73@hotmail.com for further details.
CROSSREACH (the social work branch of the Church of Scotland) have a specialist dementia Care Home, Cameron House, at Culduthel Road, Inverness. They are currently recruiting for Relief Care Workers and Relief Housekeeping Assistants. Full training will be given. For more information or an application pack please contact the Service Manager, Pat Birse.