First Epiphany Sunday

Mathew’s proclamation about Jesus

Mathew 3: 13-17

This year, many of our Gospel readings will be from Matthew’s Gospel account. Therefore, I thought it is worth highlight a few points to look out for when reading through Matthew.darren2

  Matthew was originally writing for a Jewish audience. For example, Matthew quotes more Jewish or Old Testament scriptures than any other New Testament writer. He assumes his audience will be familiar with these scriptures.

Also, the Jews had such great respect for God’s name that they never said it. Therefore Matthew avoids using the word ‘God’. So where other New Testament writers use the term, ‘Kingdom of God’, Matthew uses the term, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ – which he does 31 times.

Also, where other writers explain the significance of certain practices and customs of Jewish life, Matthew assumes his audience will know this, and doesn’t always point them out. That’s why, when someone unfamiliar with the bible wants to read about Jesus, Luke’s Gospel account is often a better place to start, unless they happen to be familiar with Jewish practices.

      When studying Matthew’s gospel, at least three main themes stand out.

  1. The Kingdom of Heaven is real and amongst us now.
  2. Jesus is Immanuel – God with us.
  3. Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.

So today, I want to give you a brief overview of these three themes.

Firstly,  the Kingdom of Heaven is already here. Jesus does lots of teaching about the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew records these in 5 long discourses, starting with the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven. These are interspersed with numerous miracles to show that the kingdom of heaven is not some distant reality. It is here and now. Jesus and his kingdom is amongst us today.

The same is true today. Amongst all the havoc of the fires over the last few months are many miracle stories. This week I read one published by the Eternity magazine on Tuesday. 

David Jeffrey owns a B&B at Mallacoota in far East Gippsland. He was one of hundreds, if not thousands of people spending the early hours of New Years’ Day on the Mallacoota wharf. He was initially planning to stay and defend his home. That was until he heard reports of fireballs coming.

David says, “That day the town experienced a miraculous answer to prayer. There is no way that it was all just luck.” Previously an atheist, David has now been a Christian for 25 years.

  The approaching firewall was reported to be 60 feet high and moving at 90 kilometres an hour. David says, “We could hear the roar. It sounded like a thousand freight trains coming at us. Then a huge gust, like someone had opened the door of a furnace, pushed us … It went black as black. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe.”

At this point David and many others thought “we were going to die.”

“I prayed, ‘Lord if you don’t push this [fire] back now, we need [wind] from the east.’ As soon as I said that, it started blowing from the east a little bit. Then I got louder and [the wind] got stronger. Then I got louder again and it got stronger again

“I felt it change. I noticed that the bolder I got, the stronger [the wind got]. I was yelling, ‘In Jesus’ name, thank you Lord for rescuing these souls. Push it back Lord, rescue us!’

“I did not care who heard me. I knew then that God was then doing what I was asking. Because if he didn’t answer then, we were dead.”

No easterly wind was forecast. Yet David says, “What God did was push [the fire] back from the east, which was impossible but he did it. He did that for five minutes, which broke [the fire front] enough to stop it from getting to where we were.”

Afterwards, as the smoke started to clear, the crowd at the wharf listened in horror as properties were consumed by fire and gas cylinders exploded.

David says, “The fire wall was getting closer and closer to my house. We were about to lose everything.” Yet he says he was more concerned about his neighbours, who had remained to defend their home, rather than his own property.

“Then I heard God say to me, ‘pray’. I started off with a pathetic little prayer … Then within me, this faith rose up and said ‘who are you praying to?’ And I thought, ‘Yes! You’re the God of the Bible. Nothing’s impossible with you!

“This was so impossible, but somehow God turned off the flames, like flicking off a switch. All the fuel was still there – the houses were still there, the grass was there.

“My neighbours – who are not Christians – were eyewitnesses and they tell me ‘God saved us’. They thought they were going to be annihilated because that fireball was coming straight at them.  But the whole of Vista Drive [their street] got spared and the bush around us got spared. Hot embers went into the dry, long grass, big bits of bark and trees, but where we were praying for, right there, it was all spared …

“There were no burn marks. There is honestly not a blade of grass singed.”

Previously, David has been talking with his neighbour, Chris, about his faith. “Chris and I have been talking about little things to do with Jesus for the past couple of years, but now we’re talking big things.” Since the fire, David has been “explaining [to Chris] what it means to be a disciple of Christ”.

Referring to other neighbours, David says, “They all feel like the prayers saved them … They’ve seen miracles. They’ve seen the supernatural – flames getting pushed back, they’ve seen the embers hit the grass and not burn, without even a singe mark.

“That’s literally Bible stuff – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego [who were spared from the ‘fiery furnace’ in the biblical book of Daniel … We are in awe of what God’s doing.”

He is hopeful this situation will “help people realise that there is a God and he does love them, that the only safe place is behind that cross.”

But the miracle doesn’t stop there. David has been able to use his B&B property to feed and house police and other emergency services personnel. “Not only did this building not burn to the ground, but now it’s getting used in unbelievable circumstances,” he says. “This building [provides] an opportunity now for love to flow – that’s what I see it as.”

David is determined to ensure that all the glory goes to God. “It’s time for people to rise up and pray. It’s time to get serious about God and get back into reading his word.”

   The kingdom of heaven is real. It is here and now. What’s more it’s not a kingdom of judgement but of love and relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a community of true love. They invite us into that community of love. More importantly, you don’t have to do anything to earn their love for you.

Imagine an infant lying on the lounge room floor. It can’t do anything except smile, laugh and cry. Yet their parent or grandparent has incredible love for this child. This child can’t do anything to earn that love. The same is true with our heavenly Father. Your Father in Heaven loves you as you are, no matter what. You don’t have to do anything to earn that love.

In today’s Gospel reading, we heard that, at Jesus’ baptism,

a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17, nlt)

At this point Jesus hadn’t actually healed anyone yet. He hadn’t performed any miracles, such as calming a storm, or turning water to wine. We don’t have any of his great teachings. Jesus hadn’t yet died on the cross. Jesus didn’t have to earn the Father’s love. The Father loved him for who he was.

Likewise, You and I also don’t have to try and be good enough to earn the Father’s love. He loves you just as you are. Yet he loves us too much to just leave us that way. He wants to transform our lives through the power of the cross and the freedom that this brings. This is the miracle God wants to perform in your life, here and now. Eternal Life in Jesus is not just for after we die. We have new life in him today.

So that’s the first main theme in Matthew’s Gospel: that the Kingdom of heaven is here and now.

   Last week I actually covered the second theme – that Jesus is Immanuel, meaning ‘God with us’. So I will only cover this very briefly today.

Using a quote from Isaiah 7, the very first chapter of Matthew tells us that Jesus is God with us. When we turn to the last chapter, in fact the very last verse of Matthew, we read

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20, niv)

During my quiet time on Ascension last year, I compared the different accounts in the Gospels and Acts. The thing I learned, is that Matthew doesn’t mention the ascension at all. He wants us to know that Jesus isn’t just up in heaven. He is also still here on earth with us. He is particularly present for us through his word and in the sacraments.

And finally, Matthew goes to great lengths to point out that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. This is also true of all the New Testament writers.

As I said at the start, Matthew includes more quotes from Old Testament or Jewish Scriptures than any other New Testament writer. Many of these are in reference to the way Jesus fulfilled the scriptures about the Messiah.

For example, the Messiah would be a descendent of Abraham, and King David. So Matthew starts his gospel with a long genealogy showing Jesus is a descendent of Abraham and David and the other Jewish kings. Now this section often seems long and tedious for us westerners, but for Jews it is critical. There are also some really interesting comments I could make on this, but I don’t have time for today.

What’s also interesting is, if you skip over most of the family line, you are left with the following verses, 

1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

… and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about … (Matthew 1:1, 16b-18a, niv)

As you can see, in his opening paragraphs, Matthew tells us four times that Jesus is the Messiah. I wonder if there’s something Matthew wants his audience to know from the outset?

The rest of the book gives examples of three groups of people. There are those who declare Jesus is the Messiah, some who aren’t so sure, and others who say he is not the Messiah – he is just a very naughty boy and he deserves to die. Some even change their mind. For example, in today’s reading, just after Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist was one who witnessed the Father declaring Jesus was his beloved son.    But then in chapter 11 we read that John was sitting in prison and he starts to have doubts. If Jesus is the Messiah, come to set the world right, then why is he in prison for speaking God’s word’s to the king?

[John] sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2b-3, niv)

  What’s more, a pivotal moment about half way through Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospel accounts is when Peter declares

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16, niv)

After this, these accounts all focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Matthew makes it clear that we are also challenged with the same question. Is Jesus the Messiah or not?

More importantly, what does it mean for Jesus to be the Messiah. 

   Like Peter, as disciples of Jesus, Matthew wants us to declare with our words and our lives, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus and his kingdom are not some distant reality. They are here amongst us, alive and well, and can bring transformation to our life today.

Jesus died and rose again to save you and me from the consequence of our sin. He came to overcome death and evil in our lives and give us new life, here, today. May we live the new life Jesus has won for you and me.

Darren Kupke

Second Sunday after Christmas

Immanuel – At Christmas God enters creation Matt 1:23, John 1:14

  Mary Poppins  is a classic children’s movie. I’m sure you have seen, or at least heard of it. Those who have seen it might recall the scene where Bert, the chimney sweep,  draws pictures with coloured chalk on the pavement. The curious thing about this scene, is that Bert, Mary and the two children don’t just sit back and admire his work – they actually jump into the picture. darren2They enter his creation.  They experience the world he has just drawn in all it’s glory, beauty and wonder. They engage and interact with this world in a way that you can never do so by just observing the picture on the pavement. They dance with the penguins and ride the horses from the merry-go-round as they sing – including the famous Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. There are some similarities here to Christmas.  After God created the world, he doesn’t just stand back and watch. He is continuously involved in it. He continues to care for his creation. He continues to provide for you and me. Many have shared stories of how they or their property were miraculously spared in the recent fires. On Boxing Day, our family had an incident on a river that could have ended a lot worse, but we thank God that he was there protecting us, bringing us all to safety.
Yet God doesn’t just intimately care for his creation. God is so involved, that like Bert entered the world he’d drawn, our God enters the world he has made – our world. John says,
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. … the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Christmas is about Jesus, not just admiring his creation from a distance, but becoming flesh and blood to enter our world and become one of us.
Now when God came into the world, he could have come as he was. He could have come in some spectacular way.  He could have come like a superhero with special powers. He could have come with all the glory, glitz and glamour of the greatest celebrity of all time. He could have been the richest millionaire, throwing money at everything and anything so he could fix the world and solve all it’s problems.
Now in some respects he did some of this. Somewhat like a superhero, he performed numerous miracles, but that wasn’t his main message. Like a celebrity, there were times that he had a large following, and times that he felt terribly alone. But he didn’t throw money around to fix our problems.  His greatest miracle and his main message was that Jesus died on the cross to fix our greatest problem – the problem of sin in the human heart.
Sin infects our world. It contaminates us, destroying our relationships with each other and with God. It destroys how we see ourselves. It leaves us feeling broken and hurting within.
The only cure for sin, is for someone perfect to die in our place. We need someone to come as our substitute and sacrifice themselves for us. That’s why Jesus came.  So when Jesus entered our world, he actually became one of us. Not just as a fully grown human, but as a little vulnerable baby, born to a humble couple. Jesus is God in the flesh. He looked like you and me. And this wasn’t just a disguise Jesus wore. In Jesus Christ, God actually became one of us. And that means he experienced all there was to experience about humanity. He experienced deep joy and happiness, but also trials, hardship, suffering, death and vulnerability. So vulnerable that so many times he nearly didn’t make it to the cross.
At his birth, Jesus Christ was extremely vulnerable. His mother was pregnant before she was married. So according to their laws, they could have stoned her to death before he was even born. They travelled so far that she could have miscarried along the way.
Then when Jesus was finally born to a young, inexperienced mother, with no family support, the town was so overcrowded that the only accommodation left for them was out in the garage. We often joke about someone sleeping in the dog kennel or the
3 Immanuel – At Christmas God enters creation Matt 1:23, John 1:14
chook house, but Mary, Joseph and Jesus actually did. Not only was Jesus born amongst animals, he was placed in their food bowl. These conditions certainly wouldn’t meet Australian health standards for a newborn infant.
And if this wasn’t enough, the king at the time was jealous. When he heard that a new king had been born, he wanted to get rid of the child. To make sure, King Herod ordered that all children in Bethlehem and surrounds be killed to make sure the child was dead. Talk about being vulnerable.
This is the extent God went to for you, to become one of us. He experienced the joys of life as well as the pain of suffering we experience.  His death was one of the most horrific and tortuous known in history. That’s what God was willing to go through for you and me – so that by trusting in him, you and I don’t need to experience the torture of hell. That’s how much he loves you.
And God continues to love you. Jesus is Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’. Jesus is still with you and me today, walking amongst us and dwelling with us. It might seem hard to find him in this crowded, busy world, filled with many different faiths and beliefs. We often expect God to come in glory, surrounded by angels, bright lights and beautiful music. You certainly wouldn’t expect the king of the world, the God of the universe, to come to us in the dim lights of a stable and the lowly screams of a baby. You wouldn’t expect him to be crowned in thorns and be enthroned on a cross.
Yet he did all that for you and me. He did that because he loves you and wants you to know your sins are forgiven. Christmas is only important because of Easter. You can’t truly believe in the baby at Christmas without trusting in the freedom and forgiveness of the cross.  The place that God promises to be found today is not in spectacular ways, but in a humble book, in ordinary bread and wine. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God comes to us today in many ways, but the most certain way is through the bible and the sacraments. That’s why church services, devotions and a healthy prayer-life focus so heavily on the bible.
Now we all know that Christmas is a festive season. But for many, Christmas is also a stressful time. Many financial pressures with Christmas shopping, cost of travelling, and job losses. And when the day finally comes, some family gatherings aren’t so pleasant. Maybe there’s some tension, arguments or even on-going feuds. There is likely some disappointment after an exchange of presents, as well as the reminder of the loss of loved ones. And of course, this year with so many fires, there are many fearing for their lives, their homes, and their families.  When Joseph was worried about his situation, an angel came and told him it was going to be okay. Everything was in God’s hands. Continue with your plans to marry Mary.
And to the fearful shepherds, the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that for all the people. Today a Savior has been born to you”
I don’t know what you are going through, but whatever your situation, God says to you, ‘Do not be afraid, Jesus knows the stress you are going through, and he wants to take all your worries and anxious thoughts, and fill you instead with his peace and joy.’ (Philippians 4:6) Seek first his kingdom and he will provide all your needs (Matthew 6:33).  Jesus is called “Immanuel” – which means, ‘God is with us’. The loving God is with you! He always has been, and he will continue to walk with you no matter what.
On this, the last Sunday of the Christmas season, may you know true joy, love, hope and peace through Jesus Christ, and may that go with you all throughout this New Year, and on into eternity.

Darren Kukpe.

New Years Day 2020

What’s in a Name?

 

  About 2000 years ago, an eight-day-old baby boy was circumcised according to Jewish law, and was given the name Jesus. What makes this child or his name so special? In our world over 350,000 babies are born every day; that is over 127 million babies born in the world each year.20180311_103505 (1) Many of those babies are circumcised for reasons of religion or custom. Many are presented in churches and temples; they are all given names, and in Israel many are even given the name, Jesus.

Yet this one child—Jesus of Nazareth—has changed the course of history and of many individual lives. He has caused the years to be numbered from the time of his birth; BC—Before Christ, and AD—Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord. While your name or mine might not tell other people much about ourselves, the Name (or names) of Jesus tell us something very significant about his person.

William Shakespeare is known for the famous quote: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet! That is not true in relation to Jesus. His name is packed with meaning and purpose; and this one referred to in the Scriptures as the ‘Rose of Sharon,’ would by any other name than those given by God, certainly NOT smell as sweet. 

So what is the significance of the Name of Jesus? While many other Hebrew children were given the name Jesus, including the notorious criminal Jesus Barabbas, the name of Jesus of Nazareth was chosen, not by his parents, but by God himself. Luke writes: On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived (Luke 2:21). You will remember how Matthew records the angel’s instructions: You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matt.1:21).

The name ‘Jesus’ is a Greek form of the Hebrew name, ‘Joshua’ which means “The Lord Saves”.  How appropriate a name for this child!  Just as Joshua had been chosen to conquer the enemies of Israel and lead them into the Promised Land of Canaan, Jesus had now been chosen to conquer the enemies of the entire human race – sin, death and the devil – and lead his faithful people into the promised land of heaven.

It is not just his common, given name, Jesus which is significant.  Matthew recalls the prophecy of Isaiah: They will call him Immanuel—which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). His name describes his nature. This Jesus of Nazareth would be God in human form, true God and true man, living among his people.

Luke tells of another name the angel gave for Jesus: He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32). This name also tells us about the nature of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, and fulfils the prophesy of Isaiah: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Almighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  This child born to us, this Son given to us is not like the 127 million other babies born each year; he is not like all the other children called Jesus or Joshua. He is the Son of the Most High God (Luke 1:32).

When Jesus was born, the angels gave the shepherds another significant name for this child: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). The name ‘Christ’ held great significance for the Jews. ‘Christ’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’—meaning ‘The Anointed One’—the long awaited King and Saviour of his people. The angel told Mary: The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end (Luke 1:33).  Hence this Jesus is distinguished from all others by being referred to as ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ Jesus.’

When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians he showed how Jesus lived up to each of these names.  He lived up to the name ‘Son of the Most High’ by being in very nature God (Phil 2:6). He lived up to the name ‘ImmanuelGod with us’—by taking the very nature of a servant and being made in human likeness (Phil 2:7). He lived up to the name ‘Jesus—The Lord saves’ when he humbled himself and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross (Phil 2:8); and he lived up to the name ‘Christ—the Messiah, the Anointed One’ when God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11). Yes, Jesus is certainly the name above all names!

What does the name of Jesus have to do with us?  John tells us that when we believe in Jesus who is The Christ, the Son of God, we receive ‘life in his name’ (John 20:31). The name of Jesus saves those who trust in it because to believe in the name of Jesus is to believe in the person of Jesus and everything he is for us. Early Christians developed the symbol of the fish because the first letter of each Greek word in the sentence “Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour” spelt out the word ‘ichthus’ [pronounced ick-thus] the Greek word for fish. This confessed who Jesus was.

The apostles declared that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

When the Jews asked the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:37, 38). When we are baptised in the name of Jesus we are given the name and nature of Christ as a personal gift for our forgiveness and eternal salvation.  We are referred to as CHRISTians. 

Scripture tells us that when we are baptised in the name of the ‘Son of the Most High’, we also become sons of the Most High God (Gal 3:26). The ‘Immanuel – God with us’ now becomes ‘Christ in us’’ (Gal. 2:20).  ‘The Lord saves’ us by joining us to his dying and rising (Rom 6:3-5).  Christ, The Messiah King gives us the power to join him, seated at his Father’s right hand in glory (Eph. 1:19-23). Such is the power of this name!

So as we enter a new year, what are we to do with the name of Jesus? Jesus’ name cops quite a bashing in today’s society. It is used commonly in cursing and swearing. Next time you hear it used that way, ask the person who says it: “Do you know who you are talking about?” You may get some interesting reactions. The name of Christ is being removed from State Schools and from prayers at all levels of government. We hear the name of Christ and the people who bear his name demeaned in the media. We Christians can even bring disgrace to the name that we bear by failing to live like ‘little Christs’ in the world or by failing to call upon the Lord’s name in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.

God calls us to live as ‘bearers’ of his name, honouring his name, believing in it, calling upon his name in worship, praying to the Father in Jesus’ name and praising his name forever. Luther encouraged us to begin each day by making the sign of the cross and repeating the name in which we were baptised.  All these things are involved in the words we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be your Name”. We are acknowledging the holiness of all God’s names—including Jesus—and asking that we may keep them holy in speech, in life and in teaching.

So, “what’s in a name?” Let’s never forget that the name given to a Hebrew baby over 2000 years ago and engraved on our lives by baptism and faith is our most precious possession. A rose by any other name would certainly NOT smell as sweet!  Amen!

 

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

First Sunday after Christmas.

Luke2:10-20

Keeping the joy alive

What do you do when you hear news of a new baby being born? Do we simply return to what you were doing before, as if nothing happened? Or do we stop what we are doing and take a moment to appreciate this new life?darren2 Often, we become so excited that we want to spread the word and share the news with others? This is especially true if this new child is part of our family, or we know the family personally. Perhaps we may be so excited that we can’t wait to meet this new child or see photos of the new bub.

In many cases in our culture, once a healthy baby is born, the father is the first person to spread the good news. Often, he has been there with the mother at the birth of the child. Then, while the mother gets some rest, dad starts telling the world about the exciting news. He might go and tell them in person. He might go and make a phone call. These days dad might send a text message or post it on social media. He often starts with his family and friends, and they spread the news further afield to their friends. The family and close friends then often make eager plans to meet the child. Many are so eager to see the new bub face to face, that they can’t wait. They might suddenly take time off work to travel to see this new child and their family.

 It’s amazing what lengths people will go to share the good news and excitement. I remember one father relating his experience. It was about 15 years ago that his daughter was born. Mobile phones were still fairly new, and he didn’t have all the phone numbers with him. So his daughter was born, he went home to make some phone calls. The problem is, when he got home, the landline wasn’t working. By this time it was 10pm … but he couldn’t wait until morning. So he picked up his mobile phone and his contact list, ready to dial some numbers. But the phone signal in that town wasn’t very unreliable at that time. So there he was, on top of the cubby house, in the cold and dark, ringing the family with the good news.

There are some parallels here with the birth of Jesus. Once Jesus is born, his Father is so excited that he wants to tell the world. He starts by sharing the good news and excitement with the angels.  The angels then spread the news and excitement further afield. And in that field were some shepherds, sitting outside in the dark, keeping watch over their flocks. 

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:10-11, nlt)

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15, nlt)

The angels spread the good news and the excitement. The shepherds responded by taking time off work to go visit the infant saviour and his family.

The shepherds then shared the good news and excitement with others. 

the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished (Luke 2:17-18, nlt)

And so, the good news and excitement was spread throughout the land. It continued to be told until even we have heard of the birth of Jesus, our saviour and Lord.

But this isn’t just an ordinary baby. Christmas is only worth celebrating because of Easter. What’s special about Jesus is that he saves us! Not just from our sins. Jesus also saves us from the burden of guilt, shame and regrets.  We can leave all these at the cross. And we can walk away with peace, freedom and new life. In Jesus we can have a fresh start. We can live differently because we have new life in Jesus.

But news often only seems to be discussed when it is new. When some other big news comes along, people quickly forget the old news. We stop talking about the transformation we have discovered, like a fad that has run its course. The old news is out and we start raving about the latest piece of news.

The same can happen with the freedom and life we have in Jesus. We can forget the difference he makes. It can be taken for granted.

The challenge for us then becomes,  how do we keep the good news of Jesus – born for you and me – fresh in our hearts and minds? How do we remain excited by this news that we may have heard time and time again.

Our Gospel reading suggests two things that can keep this news fresh for us. Firstly is Mary’s response. 

19 but Mary kept [/treasured] all these things in her heart and thought about them often. (Luke 2:19, nlt)

Over time our enthusiasm and excitement can wane. As humans we can quickly forget. We need continual reminders of the blessings Jesus Christ brings us. We need to hear this good news often. That’s why the church offers services every week. That’s why there are daily devotions and bible reading plans. That’s why bible study groups often meet weekly or fortnightly. So that, like Mary, we can be reminded of the good news and ponder them in our hearts and minds. Over time we learn to treasure this, and even long for the routine to hear again of God’s love for you and me in Jesus Christ.

The second response in today’s reading is that of the shepherds, 

20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. (Luke 2:20, nlt)

The shepherds went back to their regular lives glorifying and praising God. You see we’re not meant to just praise and glorify God on Sunday mornings. We are called to praise him all week in the way we live. Many refer to church services or singing hymns as ‘worship’ or ‘praise’. While that is true, it can distract us from the fact that we are also called to praise, worship and glorify God with the rest of our life too.

The shepherds glorified and praised God for all they had seen and heard. Today we see the Christian community gathered. We see bread and wine. We receive Jesus in Holy Communion and through his word. We hear his words of love and forgiveness for you and me throughout the service. We can return to our lives glorify and praising God for all that we have seen and heard.

The birth of Jesus is Good News for you, me, and the rest of the world. Let’s treasure this good news in our hearts and minds. But let us not keep it to ourselves. Let us encourage each other and the people we see each day with reminders of this good news, so that we don’t forget how important and special this is. And let us glorify and praise God in our lives – with all that we are and all that we do and say. Amen.

Pastor Darren Kupke.

Christmas Day 2019

The Text: Matthew 2:13-23

 

Here we are just a few days from the joy of Christmas Day and we hear the horrible story of King Herod’s massacre of the baby boys of Bethlehem, the reading from Matthew’s Gospel.20180311_103505 (1)

Matthew’s version of the events of the first Christmas is quite different to that of St Luke’s. Matthew begins with the confused and bewildered Joseph planning to separate from his fiancé. She is pregnant. Joseph has nothing to sing about. He believes that Mary has been unfaithful to him.

Matthew makes no mention of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus, the journey made by a heavily pregnant Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the lack of accommodation, a stable, or a manger. Matthew makes no mention of angels announcing the Saviour’s birth to shepherds or of the shepherds visiting the newborn child and singing praises to God on their way back to their flocks. In Luke’s account, there is room to imagine that “the stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay” and to picture the peace and joy that fell on Bethlehem the night Jesus was born:

O little town of Bethlehem,

how still we see you lie!

Above your deep and dreamless sleep

the silent stars go by.”

Matthew’s version of events is quite different. There is nothing sweet and gentle but the birth of Jesus is set against the backdrop of treachery and murder. He tells us “Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the time when Herod was king” (Matt 2:1).

Herod had a reputation for being a cruel and bloody king. It is well documented that Herod murdered his own wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, his brothers-in-law, his uncle, and whoever else posed a threat to his throne. So those who first heard Matthew’s Christmas account would have gasped in horror when the wise men turned up at Herod’s palace to ask, “Where is the baby to be born king of the Jews?” They knew how suspicious Herod was. He always suspected others were plotting against him, even when they weren’t. And Herod doesn’t disappoint us; he plots to get rid of this so-called King of the Jews. He asks the wisemen to report to him when they have found the baby. He pretends that he too would like to go and worship him. His first attempt to get rid of this newborn king fails when the wisemen are warned not to go back to him.

Herod would not rest. “He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighbourhood who were two years old and younger—this was done in accordance with what he had learned from the visitors about the time when the star had appeared.” (Matt 2:16). Herod was thorough. No boy born in that region about the same age as Jesus would remain alive. But before Herod’s soldiers arrive at Bethlehem, Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus, escape during the night and go to Egypt.

In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, Bethlehem is known not only as the place where Jesus was born, but also the place where Herod’s soldiers slaughtered babies and toddlers. This is not a place where, as the carol says, “the silent stars go by” but a place where the loud crying of parents is heard because their children, who had done nothing, were now dead. Matthew’s Christmas pageant ends, not with tinsel-covered angels proclaiming good-will, but with Rachel (the wife of Jacob, believed to be buried near Bethlehem) weeping for her descendants.

Matthew has placed the birth of Jesus right in the middle of the real world where rulers like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mugabe (Mah-gah-bee) slaughter children for their own political ends. He has come into a world where many more babies than the babies of Bethlehem are aborted every day, others are brutally treated and killed, and others are sold into prostitution or slavery. The baby Jesus has come into a world where more children die of hunger every minute than the children of Bethlehem died at Herod’s command.

Matthew wants to make it clear that Jesus wasn’t born into a fairy-tale world. We leave Herod out of the Christmas story – he doesn’t fit with Santa and his jolly ‘ho-ho-ho’ or with the baby Jesus in the sweet-smelling hay. Matthew presents a story about Christmas that is far from the sanitised and often sentimental story that we are familiar with. Jesus came into a world that is far from perfect, in fact a very evil world. Into the real world where we live, and work and struggle, and work, has come a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. He doesn’t remain above the trouble of this world. Rather he enters into the fray as a baby, he becomes as vulnerable and helpless as the baby boys of Bethlehem.

All this gives us an idea of how magnificent it is that God became a human. There is so much wickedness and sin that the holy God could have refused to send us his Son. And it’s only when we keep this context in the forefront that we can appreciate the awesome reality of God’s entry into the fallen world. Jesus Christ comes to us, not into a picture-perfect peaceful world of serenity and tranquillity. No, Jesus Christ comes to us into the real world, a world of pain and death and suffering and evil.

Matthew’s version of the Christmas story has a lot to say to us as we encounter adversity, suffering, grief and death in our own lives. This may not be the Christmas story that we like but it’s the Christmas story we need. Remember, it is Matthew who reminds us that Jesus is Immanuel, which means “God with us”. We need to know that God is with us even when we feel that he is a million miles away. We need to know that God is right here with us when things are getting us down, when our sorrow is overwhelming, when death stares us in the face. We need to know that God will never consider us too sinful or too far away from him. This is a story about God’s love that will do anything to be with us and help us when we need him the most.

Today we celebrate our Lord’s gracious promise to be with us always in life and in death. We remember this day the children of Bethlehem and the children of every time and every place who are suffering. We remember those who are working to give these children a fair go in life. As Christ’s disciples, we strive to make this world a better and happier place for the vulnerable and helpless.

Jesus Christ walks with us in this violent, stark existence to suffer with us, walk with us and take us home.

In a Russian orphanage, there were about 100 boys and girls who had been abused and abandoned – like the babies of Bethlehem, they had experienced the violence of our world. With amazement, they heard the Christmas story for the first time.

Following the story, the children were given small pieces of cardboard to make a manger. They tore up a paper serviette for straw and were given a small doll cut out of felt.

In next to no time 6-year-old Misha finished his project, not with one baby but with two babies in the manger. When Misha was asked why he had two babies in the manger he replied by retelling the story until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.

Then Misha made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mama and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like the wise men did.

But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So, I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” “So, I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him – for always.”

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him – for always.

In the suffering and pain of our lives and in the violence of our world, Jesus is Immanuel – God with us – for always.

Christmas Eve 2019

Text: Luke 2:10-12 (NIV)

The angel said to them (the shepherds), “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

From heaven to hay

 

Let’s suppose that you are a visitor in Australia. You are interested in Australian politics and you know that our chief politician is the Prime Minister. You would like to meet him but you don’t know who he is or where to find him so you ask me for help.20180311_103505 (1)

I would say something like this, “This is what you need to look for. Go to Canberra and look for this large building with this huge Australian flag flying above it – that’s the Australian Parliament House. If you see someone in a suit welcoming some dignitaries from other countries with a lot of pomp and ceremony and speech-making, flanked by security men, journalists, TV and newspaper cameramen and reporters, that’s the Prime Minister.

An angel visited some shepherds near Bethlehem and gave them some signs to enable them to find a special baby in the nearby town. They were told that this child would bring great joy to all people. This child born in David’s town was the Saviour – the Son of the Most High God, a king like his ancestor David.

Then a great crowd of angels fill the sky and sing the praises of God at the birth of God’s Saviour into the world. What signs were the shepherds given to help them find this heavenly prince? They were told, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

What a contrast this is to the usual signs of important people. If royalty were about to visit [name of town or city you are in], the signs would be evident. Newspapers and magazines would have photos and stories of the royal family and what preparations were taking place in the town. The streets would be tidied, the dignitaries of the shire would have the place where the royal reception was to take place spruced up and lessons would be given on protocol, what should be worn and how to address the royal family. Curious on-lookers who would want to catch a glimpse of the royal visitors would line the streets. The signs that someone important was arriving would be quite clear.

But when the Prince of Peace, the son of the Most High God, the Saviour of all humanity arrived in Bethlehem, the sign was “a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”.

Let’s suppose that you were one of the shepherds and all that you know about this important child is what the angel had told you when he said, “This is the sign that will tell you that you have found the Saviour – Christ the Lord. You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying on a bed of hay in a feeding trough.”

You can imagine the shepherds talking about this angelic message on the way to Bethlehem and discussing what this was all about. But once they had seen the baby lying in a bed of hay in a manger, what the angel had told them about the baby made good sense and nothing could stop them telling Mary and Joseph and anyone they came across what the angels had said and what they seen in the manger.

What did the message of the angel tell them, and us, about Jesus?

Firstly, these words tell us something about his humanity. The angel announced that the shepherds were to look for a baby, a newborn child. He came into the world the same way as all of us. It is true that this baby’s conception took place in a miraculous way, but apart from that, Mary carried this child for the usual nine months, felt the movement of her unborn child, and experienced the pain of childbirth in the same way as all mothers do.

We are told that the baby Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth. In a world with little medical care, where babies often died before their first birthday, it was a way of providing a crude kind of protection. The Son of the Most High God was born as helpless and as vulnerable as any other child born at that time.

To say that Christ was born as a baby brings us face to face with the truth that Jesus was as human as you and I. Although he was fully and truly God from all eternity, the Son of God took on true humanity when he was conceived in Mary’s womb and born in Bethlehem. He was not half-God and half-man, but fully God and fully man. He did not cease to be God, but was at the same time fully human with the same emotions, same temptations, same physical needs, and same pain that we all experience.

Secondly, the words of the angel: “This very day in David’s town your Saviour is born—Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” told the shepherds something about the humble circumstances in which they will find this baby. They found the baby lying in a manger. In Bethlehem, there were probably a number of newborn babies wrapped in strips of cloth, but I’m sure that there was only one lying in an animal’s feeding trough. The mention of a manger indicates that Jesus was born in a stable, or a cave where animals were kept, or perhaps even in a very poor home where the animals lived inside the house with the family.

Before the birth of Jesus, the ancient writers never used the word “humble” as a compliment and would have certainly never referred to their gods as being “humble”. But the events of the first Christmas give us a picture of a “humble God” – an incomprehensible idea in the ancient world. Philip Yancey describes the humility of God in this way:

The God who came to earth came not in a raging whirlwind nor a devouring fire. Unimaginably, the Maker of all things shrank down, down, down, so small as to become a single fertilised egg, barely visible to the human eye, an egg that would divide and redivide until a foetus took shape, enlarging cell by cell inside a nervous teenager. … God emerged in Palestine as a baby who could not speak or eat solid food or control his bladder, who depended on a teenager for shelter, food, and love” (The Jesus I Never Knew p 36).

There were no halos, no angels hovering over the stable, and no choirs singing in the background.
Maybe if you had been there you might have commented to another passer-by something about how terrible it was that this couple had brought a baby into the world and they only place they could lay the child was in an animal feed trough. Stables were dark, dirty, smelly places made for animals. The shepherds were told that they wouldn’t find the baby in a nursery but outside in a barn where the ground was covered with dirt and the air smelled of manure.

God does do some strange things some times. Occasionally he does strange things to get our attention – and he certainly got the attention of the shepherds. He always does strange things for a purpose. God became a human so that we could relate to him and so that people could experience the powerful love that God has for us.

God became human in order to save his people from their sins as the angel said to Joseph (Mt. 1.21). Beyond the cradle, see the cross. This baby in the hay was born for you and me. He was born because of God’s love for each of us. He was born into our world to bring us forgiveness and eternal life.

The island of Molokai is a part of Hawaii and has quite a history. Back in the late 1800’s there was no cure for the horrible disfiguring disease, leprosy. In order to keep it from spreading and creating an epidemic, lepers were sent to a colony on the island of Molokai.

In 1873, there was a young Belgian priest named Father Damien who volunteered to spend his life serving the people secluded on the island of Molokai. When he arrived, he was shocked to see the condition of the people. Not only were they physically sick but they were also disheartened. There was drunkenness, crime and an overall sense of hopelessness. They needed God’s presence in their lives. And so, in 1873, Father Damien lived among the 700 lepers, knowing the dangers, realizing the inevitable results of so much personal contact with a highly contagious disease. In fact, in 1885 at the age of 45 he himself contracted leprosy.

God has seen that we need his help. Sin has become a part of our lives and there is nothing we can do to free ourselves of its effect on us or our relationships. God was determined to do something about it. God loves us so much that he wanted to stop this procession toward death. Like Father Damien who made his home among the lepers to show them God’s love, God has made his home amongst us who have the leprosy of sin. 
He came to show us his love for us and to save us. He came down to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves – get rid of our sin and the punishment we deserve because of it. He came down and was born a human so that he could die for us. He wants us to be his and to live forever with him in heaven. We have a God who loves us, cares for us, forgives us and welcomes us into his kingdom.

The question that remains is – what is your response to this gift from God?
How is your life different because of what God has done for you?
The visit by the shepherds certainly had an impact in their lives. They couldn’t help but tell everyone they saw about what they had witnessed that evening both in the fields of Bethlehem and in the stable.

God came to earth to bring about change in our lives –to give us peace and hope in the face of difficulty, to clear away guilt for our sinful actions, to tear down old barriers and restore love and forgiveness between people. Let us also sing “Glory to God in the highest” We have our Saviour – Christ the Lord – who came down from heaven to be laid in hay!

Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. 
In the Book of Isaiah the Prophet, we find the words from God to Ahaz, ‘the Lord himself will give you ‍ a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and ‍ will call him Immanuel. ‘  As the Angel Gabriel said to Mary, ‘Nothing is impossible for God.’

Let’s join in a word of prayer:  O God our Father, source of hope, peace, joy and love – our hearts are hushed by the mystery and wonder of your plans fulfilled in the birth of the Christ Child. Open our hearts to the wisdom of that Saviour who lived among us and showed us your love, so that once again the truth of the incarnation will be born among us. May your name be glorified in our praises, now and evermore.  Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

david3
David:0414521661

King Ahaz of Judah lived in fear.  The kings that surrounded Judah were far less powerful than Assyria, but they appeared powerful enough to join together to overcome Assyria.  They wanted Judah to join with them in their quest for power.  But Ahaz didn’t trust them to pull it off.  So he refused.
The other kings then pooled their resources to attack Judah first.  When Ahaz went to Isaiah for guidance from God, he received his answer.  Ahaz had nothing to fear from the risky neighbours. As God spoke through Isaiah, ‘Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood’.  God spoke about the crushing defeat of these ambitious neighbours.  And yet, King Ahaz still lived in fear.  But also in the stubbornness of his pride and the weakness of his faith. Ahaz held onto his doubt that God is all powerful! 

And yet in his compassion, God was saying to Ahaz, ‘trust me’.  When Ahaz waivered so badly, God offered to give him a sign that the Kingdom of Judah would be protected.  The reply from Ahaz is so well known.  ‘Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”’  And yet, by not asking for a sign that all would be well with Judah, Ahaz was testing God.  When God gives each of us an intuition of the right thing to do, like Ahaz, we have a responsibility to trust God and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, the Sovereign Lord made it clear to Ahaz ..  “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’ ” (Is 7:4–9 NIV84) 
Christ Jesus will never abandon us, he has promised it.  But we can only live in peace and hope, when we are living in the will of the Father.  Responding with faith that God puts in our hearts by hearing his word to us, and sharing in his gift to us of the body and blood of his Son.

We test the Lord when we decide to follow our own will, against the intuition that God gives us, and then expect the Lord to save us from consequences and forgive our failures. It is true that God has promised, that by faith in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, we have forgiveness, we are free from eternal guilt.  But we still face the very human consequences of the world’s rebellion against God.

This is what happened to Ahaz.  Because of his fear, he failed God’s test.  He lost faith in the Lord Almighty.  He aligned himself with Assyria, who defeated the neighbouring kings, and then extracted tribute from Judah in gold and silver, demanding also the worship of the foreign gods of Assyria, in the Kingdom of Judah.  Of course their false worship led to the human consequences of Judah being over-run, the temple destroyed and the people taken captive by the Babylonians who later defeated Assyria.    

Nothing is impossible for God.  But God demands our faith in him and his Son and his Spirit. Faith that eluded Ahaz.  Faith that we see demonstrated this morning in a young maiden and her husband to be. 

I suspect that  Mary and Joseph, in almost every aspect, were a typical young couple.  Living with excitement through the year of preparation that would bring them together as man and wife.  But I also suspect that one aspect of their lives made all the difference.  Their unwavering faith in the God of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.  Faith that impressed Mary to declare “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”  Faith that called Joseph to wake up, do what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and take Mary home as his wife.  

God has blessed us in the way he sees Christ Jesus in each of us.  By our baptism, by our faith, by our fellowship. We test God, when we place barriers between us and God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Barriers that prevent God our Father from doing his work in us.  Barriers of fear, of doubt, of anxiety.  These barriers will keep us from being who we are in Christ Jesus. 

When we let the Holy Spirit remove these barriers, we join with Mary and Joseph, giving thanks that we are the Lord’s servants, allowing him to guide us in our lives, doing what the Lord commands us, following the intuition of what to do as disciples of Christ Jesus. 

God knows what it is like to be human.  Through his son, our Lord Jesus Christ, He was born into humanity, and became one of us.  Immanuel, ‘God with us’.  God knows what it is like to grow into adulthood.  He cared enough to experience everything that makes us who we are.

To God, every person is important.  God made us just the way we are, and He loves us just the way He made us. He loved us enough to enter our humanity and make the way for our salvation, and He loves us enough to remain with us until the very end of the age.

He loves us enough to give us purpose and meaning for our lives.  It is our time now to show God how much we love him by sharing this love, care and concern for each other.  Just as Mary and Joseph showed God how much they loved him by giving birth to God’s Son, and nurturing him to adulthood to fulfil God’s plan for us.

During this season of Advent, we cherish the traditions of lighting candles for the hope, peace, joy and love that Jesus represents.  We cherish remembering the first advent when Christ was born in Bethlehem, and of looking forward to the second advent, when Christ will return in glory.  

The whole point of Christmas is that God came down to stake his claim on the world he created and on us as children of God through our faith. To give us a sign that he is for us, and not against us.   At the time of the first Christmas, Christ Jesus was unwelcome, and some even wanted to destroy him to erase his name from the earth.  When we look around today, it doesn’t appear that much has changed.

God the Son, Jesus Christ, loves us all so much He entered humanity to tell us just that, and to show us the reality of his love for us.  Because of God’s love, each year, we celebrate the birthday of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Even in the multicultural world with such animosity toward Jesus, it is a joy to celebrate his birth.  A birth proclaimed by ancient prophets.  A birth announced by angels.  A birth through which God blessed just the right parents to give him birth and raise him to manhood.

Yes, God loves us very much, and we are part of God’s grand plan for all things.   We ponder the Scriptures that proclaim that plan to each one of us.  And we glorify God for the Good News that the Scriptures share with us. 

The plan of God for our lives revealed in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Scriptures tell us that God set into place every aspect of the Saviour’s birth, along with his life, death, resurrection, and sovereign divinity.  God chose just the right place to be born into humanity, as God the Son.  He chose just the right time to pivot history around that birth.  He chose just the right mother to bear him, and surrogate father to raise him.

And he revealed his plan to the prophets, the apostles, and now to us.  As Paul writes in Romans, ‘I Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit ‍ of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God.’

David Thompson.