New Years Day

Dear friends, we are among those who have been called to be children of

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God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of us.

Let’s join in a word of prayer:
Loving Father God, we are together to continue in our celebration of the human birth and life  of Your Son, and to  worship You.  We praise you for the gift of salvation received through his birth, life, death and resurrection.  Guide our time together as we celebrate our fellowship with our Christian family this morning. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

Just a week ago, we rejoiced in the coming of Emmanuel. We marvelled that the Creator God of all the universe, the sustainer of worlds without end, would seek to join in our humanity.  We pondered how God entered humanity in the same way that each of us enters life.  He chose a young virgin Mary to be his mother. And chose a carpenter, Joseph, to partner with her in the rearing the God-child.  Yet, it depended upon these two saying ‘yes’ to God’s love.

Christ came not only to share our humanity, but to transform it. On account of sin, people were degraded. They were dominated by its power and under its control. But God has a brighter prospect for his people. Things are different now because  Christ Jesus was born into humanity on that first Christmas morning.   

That first Christmas came and went, and only a handful of people knew about it. We sometimes forget this in our sense of Christmas excitement. After all, we have shared the stories of people who did see, people whose lives were changed, a mere handful of people, perhaps fifteen or twenty, out of hundreds of thousands in the world.   All those people in Bethlehem, so crowded that there was no room in the inn for the Saviour to be born there.  

And, apparently, none of the rest of them knew a thing about it. The Saviour of the world was born in a stable, and it appears they didn’t even hear about it. Except those to whom the shepherds shared the miraculous visit of angels and birth of a saviour, as they returned to their flocks.

Now the first excitement of the Christmas event is passed for us too.  The Christmas dinner is now our leftovers, the presents are put away, and we are preparing to pull down the decorations for another year. Even so, this week,  we consider the Eastern astrologers and mystics known as the Magi.  How they identified this child as the longed-for King and Messiah.  And then we take in the visit of the Magi to Mary and Jesus settled into a house, while, I suspect, Joseph was off plying his trade to support his family.   We discover that the news is out.  At least to those in the court of Herod.  A brutal foreigner positioned King over Judea by Caesar. 

We celebrate the news of the birth of the saviour as such wonderful news.  Good news proclaimed by angels, confirmed by shepherds, and now noted by gentile travellers.   But this good news  of a world redeemer quickly turns into a vicious, heartbreaking story.  Although the Prince of Peace has come to the world, the world did not accept him.  The world was—and still remains—a hostile foe to peace and goodwill among people.

I see the hand of Satan in this.   Rather than receiving a joyous welcome throughout the land, powerful people resented his arrival from the beginning.  They plotted to destroy him, even as a child, to rid the world of his presence. Matthew tells of Herod’s hatred for anyone who might threaten his domain.  Especially the Messiah.  Herod’s hatred reached such a proportion that he determined to destroy all the young boys born in Bethlehem.  To prevent the Messiah from reaching manhood.

History witnesses that Herod was only the first among many who saw Christ as a threat to be removed.  First, during his life.  Than later, during the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. 

And even today, against the family of Christians in the world. Who are praying, helping, teaching, and presenting the Good News of a Saviour who is with us always.  

In our time, countless people see Christ as a burden upon them rather than the one who frees them from their burdens;  a hindrance to full life rather than the giver of meaningful, lasting life.  Their voices join the chorus of rejection through the ages, rather than acceptance of Emmanuel, God with us. 

We are reminded this morning that salvation begins in the heart and mind of God. If fallen humanity is to be brought ultimately into the presence of God as redeemed and changed.  It can only be because God has chosen to effect this miracle by his saving intervention into  human history.

Notice the initiative and action of God in all this.  Hebrews proclaims it is ‘by the grace of God’ that Christ experienced death for us.  It is through the wisdom of God that such a death is effective for humankind. God made it possible because He chose to. This sacrifice was part of God’s compassionate plan for the redemption of all people.  

Thank God, no attempt to remove the salvation of Christ from life can ever succeed.  God will not allow anyone to corrupt his plan to dwell among us and be as one with us.  Matthew tells of loyal, faithful Joseph.  The one who heard an angel in his dream and obeyed.  How he moved quickly to protect his young family, slipping away in the night to the safety of Egypt.

Joseph becomes the instrument for saving the life of God the Son, whose time had not yet come to be sacrificed for our sins. God always seems to move in his quiet, powerful way to preserve his presence with us.   Almost always against the most ominous foes.

Herod was unable to destroy the baby Jesus.   Pilate was unable to contain Christ Jesus to a tomb.  Roman might was unable to annihilate him in the early Church. Other hordes through history could not drive him into oblivion.   In every generation, new threats emerge, but the Christian Gospel message prevails.  As Jesus said, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’

Once the Holy Spirit of God is at work in the world, He remains.  Even if just below the surface, hidden no deeper than the human heart.  Constantly throughout history there have been Marys and Josephs who have been instruments of Christ Jesus.  Those who risked life-and-limb proclaiming the presence of Emmanuel. 

The presence of Jesus in our lives is the gift of a loving God.  Jesus brings his peace to be received, not laws to be obeyed.   Once we are inwardly at peace through his abiding Spirit, we learn to live peacefully in the world.  When we are at peace within ourselves, we can then become a witness of Jesus, the Messiah and Saviour.  A witness for those around us who are struggling. 

As the author of Hebrews explains, ‘In bringing many to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Both the one who makes holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.’

And yet the Gospel divides created humanity between those who believe in Jesus as the Saviour, and those who choose not to believe.  A broken world held captive by happy endings and easy religion.  That is the harsh reality of Christmas. 

Thank God that he provides for us.  That he forgives us, and makes provision for our redemption in the human birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Christ Jesus.  We can join Isaiah to  ‘tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us—yes, the many good things he has done according to his compassion and many kindnesses.’ Through Jesus, we share the same Father, and we become children of God.

May the grace and peace of God, which passes all our human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of eternal salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus.   Amen.

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