: Pastor Richard Schwedes
message to us.
Pastor Richard Schwedes.
: Pastor Richard Schwedes
message to us.
Pastor Richard Schwedes.
Message by Pastor Richard Schwedes
Pastor Richard Schwedes
You’ve done presents? Did you like what you received? Where there any surprises? For children, Christmas is magical, gifts, holidays, a different experience of life. And I know that parents and grandparents go to a lot of work to help that magic happen for their children. Now that I am older that different experience of Christmas time that I treasure is the togetherness – that becomes more and more important. Togetherness that is deepened and made totally secure by being together with you in worship on Christmas Eve and now on Christmas Day; joining together with others who also say that this God stuff is absolutely vital, it’s true, and it works.
What is God like at Christmas? Firstly – a baby. Red, wrinkled, sometimes looking like life is just way too much, helpless and utterly dependent on his parents. Not our normal idea of God.
God – a human baby. Let’s explore that.
And in the light of that, and God’s love for us, shown in this baby, we do the hard things that we have sometimes to do, embracing (maybe that’s way too strong a word), coping with things that aren’t just the way we want them to be, and not losing heart. Learning to trust that God has us, when we discover that our little ideas of who we are and how important we are have to die, and in that dying, God raises up something deeper and more joyful. God is bringing to birth something inside us which is more real, more connected to him. So we allow God to work with the stuff inside us that is not so nice. We learn to trust that the things we have to sacrifice allow God to bring forth something much bigger. We trust that the efforts and work we have put into things are not in vain and are never wasted.
So, this baby, whose birth we celebrate again this Christmas means that God does not despise the world. God does not despise ordinary people, like the shepherds, like us.
This coming to be born as a baby was not plan B. It was always part of God’s plan, because God’s love, from the very first moment of creation, takes physical shape.
And finally, this love is working in all sorts of ways to come to greater life in each one of us.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
So close to the celebration now, we’ve been waiting for 3 weeks. It’s almost here, He’s in Mary’s womb, but still we wait. This waiting for God’s word to be fulfilled is something people have done almost from creation on, they were waiting, we’ve been waiting, and here Mary and Elizabeth are both waiting. Waiting for the coming of their Lord and ours. Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, anointed one; the one who would save the Israelites and bring salvation and joy to all the world, peace to those favoured. But Elizabeth and Mary don’t just feel anticipation for the wonders to come, they’re thankful. Even John in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy with the Holy Spirit. They all wonder and marvel at what God has put into motion, what He has done and will do.
This is the last Sunday of Advent, the first season of our church year. And if you’ve kept track at home, you’ll notice that the church year is a very helpful tool for teaching the faith. We start the Christian year with Advent, then Christmas, Epiphany, Transfiguration, focussing on who Jesus is; God, man, and Saviour of both Jews and gentiles. That is why, while we wait, we can still celebrate, together with the blessed virgin Mary, Elizabeth and her unborn child. We know who Jesus is, even though He hadn’t really done much at this point, not even born yet.
But why celebrate before anything has happened? We don’t have a house warming party before we’ve moved, or celebrate someone’s retirement before they’ve finished school. That’s ridiculous. You have to wait until after the thing has happened before you party. However, if I promise you you’re favourite food, if I promise my wife an overseas trip, if we are promised something from someone we trust we thank them for it and our thanks reflects our trust and the magnitude of the gracious promise.
Now God Almighty promised His suffering, crushed and dispersed people salvation from all those evils. Time and again The Lord promised that He would come, to save and heal them, to be their holy, just and righteous king, to restore their relationship to Him, to bring them complete peace, joy, comfort, even everlasting life (Ezekiel 34:11-16; Isaiah 57:14-19; Daniel 12:2). And just before today’s text Mary heard God’s word, that she would be the one to bear the Messiah, the one to come, God Himself (Luke 1:31-33). Highly favoured, greatly graced, Mary surely is, the mother of God her saviour! I can not imagine how amazing and wonderful it would be to be told by God that I would be the one to bear my saviour. For a few reasons, one of which I am not a woman. But even to be told that you would raise Him who would bring blessing and peace to you and the whole wide world, like Joseph all those years ago, how would you react? If God just sent an angel to me would be wonderful enough, but Mary would be to one to bear her own Lord. Elizabeth by the Holy Spirit says, Blessed are you among women, and calls Mary the ‘mother of my Lord’! Thanks be to God!
Mary trusted God, believed His wonderful promise, but still asked how this could be. And God in His marvellous grace shows her that none of His words will fail, pointing her to something she could grasp, much like Baptism or Holy Communion for us; that her barren relative now was pregnant (Luke 1:36-37). And so we come to our text, Mary rejoices in her waiting, she knows that God will fulfil His words, His wonderful promises; Elizabeth, filled by the Holy Spirit in her humility wonders at God’s grace; Even the unborn John, later ‘the baptist’, leaps for joy in the womb. Waiting yes, but also wonder joy and praising God, Lord of all. And in the same way we can praise God for His mighty power to save all people from our own selfishness and evil and even from death, and we can thank Him, Father Son and Spirit, for who they are and what they will do for you at the end of time.
Blest, happy and joyous are you who have believed that the Lord fulfils all His promises to you. Amen
How are the Christmas preparations going? Is it usually the women doing the hard yards – thinking of presents, getting everyone together, planning menus, as well as making sure everything is tidy and ready? “What do you mean, I’m not putting in. I did the whipper snippering. All of it, the footpath as well.” Unspoken thoughts, ‘That’s more than enough. Besides, I am amazing. I am male. And I don’t carry on like I am entitled. Why can’t I be appreciated more, hassled less, it’ll all work out?’
Whether we are doing more than our fair share, or not pulling our weight, let’s ask what God is doing during this lead up to the gift of Christmas, and how do we align with God’s work? Our candle was about joy – what brings us joy, and what brings God joy? How can our hearts and God’s hearts line up?
John the Baptist was a strong voice – the first God voice for centuries. And it was a strong call: don’t rely on your religious credentials, your family history. Step outside the Promised Land, admit you need to make a new start, get washed clean in the Jordan River, and then, when you go back home, actually walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Bear fruit, good fruit, do practical actual good. John the Baptist then gave guidance to people in their different positions. Share with others. Don’t use your position or authority to exploit or abuse others. No more excuses, no more looking good but not showing any love, and to all of us sometimes, he might be saying, no more wringing your hands, no more helplessness and hopelessness. It is ok to be stuck, not knowing what to do, which way to go. But that is for a season only. Bring that stuckness to God, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what that is a about. Is it fear, or faith?
John the Baptist was into doing actual good in your everyday, about making a difference. Let’s explore his image of a good tree bearing good fruit. You are grafted on to Christ. You belong, you are welcomed. You are joined to Christ, with God the good gardener. It’s pure gift. It’s forgiveness. It’s Christ dying on the cross for you, and saying, ‘I’ve got you. You sins are covered.’ It’s the promise that no matter what judgements are flying around, and what things keep rising up to accuse you, and what keeps rushing around inside you, God says, ‘You are my dearly loved son my dearly loved daughter.’ Breathe in, breathe out. Trust.
Now, out of that deep, utterly sure connection to God, the connection of grace and forgiveness, what will happen. Keep the nutrients going into your system: the good practices of listening to God’s Word and letting it go down deep inside you, trusting the Lord’s Supper to keep you in God’s love.
Never write yourself off. The OT reading talked about shame changing to praise. Our most shameful, embarrassing or humiliating things are never wasted. Sometimes they are meant to be, to bring us into a teachable space. The grace and kindness we receive from others there will open up a God space inside us. They help us to be more aware of others, in a less putting down way. The hard work done there, on those persistent faults, or those places of great need, where we have allowed others to minster to us, become places from where we reach out to others with love in words and actions, love that comes from God.
If you are Yr 8 and you’ve done the whipper snippering, good on you. Part of the joy of Advent is showing love in practical ways.
Rev. Mike Mayer
Paul writes to the Church at Phillippi and to us: ‘I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.’
Let’s join in a word of prayer:
O God our Loving Father, as Christians we are together to worship You and to celebrate the unfinished business of our lives. Guide our time together, at this, the second Sunday of Advent, that we may hear your message for us and continue to be moulded, by your Holy Spirit, into the people You want us to be. Gracious heavenly Father, bless us with your peace, and hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Christ Jesus, Amen.
An old fable tells how different tools tried to master a piece of iron. The blows of the axe fell heavily, but the only result was that its edge became more and more blunt. The saw’s relentless teeth worked until they were worn down and broken, without effect. The hammer’s head flew off at the first stroke, but didn’t even leave a dent.
Despite all their efforts, the iron remained hardened and stubborn. Finally a warm flame curled gently around the iron, embraced it, and never left it until the iron melted under its irresistible influence. (SOURCE: Rodney Fry, “Paul’s Prayer For His Loved Ones,”)
As followers of Christ Jesus, we can try to chop through the discord in the world with severe discipline. We can try to hammer out agreements between angry neighbours with harsh logic. We can try to cut away hatred and misunderstanding within families, and even the church, with piercing words and looks. But only persistent warmth of love can melt hearts and bring peace. Peace that keeps the spirit of Christ alive among His children, born out of the word and sacrament. As Paul writes, “I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding.”
The decision to love happens when we are exposed to a higher standard of living at peace with one another. … That’s what Jesus does for us.
As we read from Paul to Philippians earlier: ‘I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.’
As the world waits for the return of Christ Jesus, many people see only dimly what’s wrong with their lives, and they live under a cloud of self condemnation. Saying things like: “I don’t know if I can live it.” “I am struggling all the time,” “What if God doesn’t hear my prayer?” or “What if I just can’t do what God wants?”, “I’m upset all the time.”, “I don’t have any peace. I’m churned up about everything. Worrying myself to death.” In reality, the words we think and say to ourselves speak more clearly to our hearts than any words we hear from others. Even from the Scripture.
But, when we determine to listen, the Scripture can make a big difference in the words we receive even from ourselves. If we speak Gospel to ourselves and speak encouragement to others, those words will surely give us confidence that God has begun the work in our lives. That He will carry it out and complete it. No matter how we feel at that moment. As I paraphrase Martin Luther “We shouldn’t always trust in our feelings, but we should trust always in the Word of God.”
These words give us evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives to bring us his peace.
Paul goes on to write, ‘I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters.’
As we receive God’s word, and determine to express our love for one another, I am sure that we will continue to discover what really matters. Christ Jesus, influencing our lives through the faith we have in him. Christ Jesus giving us peace of mind in every circumstance of life. Christ Jesus smiling at the love that we share for one another.
What strength it is that we have someone who so clearly sees us for who we are and understands us. We are children of the Most High, co-heirs with Jesus, our King of all creation, sharing in the love that God lavishes on all of us through the Holy Spirit. As we wait for the full inheritance, we can live each day trusting in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, no matter what our current circumstances, whether celebration or challenge.
The Gospel today reminds us of the last Old Testament prophet, John the Baptiser. He remained in the wilderness trying to discern his mission for God. And God is faithful.
‘A message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living out in the wilderness. … Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.’
During this season of Advent, we confront our time of waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. We learn to live each day in the shadow of our justification before God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We prepare to meet our Savour, as though it is our last day on earth.
Each new day, we can live without any fear of tomorrow. Whatever tomorrow brings, we can hold onto our faith in God with peace in our hearts and our hope of life eternal with Christ Jesus. All this stored in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ Jesus.
We don’t need to be a ‘John the Baptiser’, although some will be called to be evangelists, pastors, and teachers. We only need to listen for the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, allowing our hearts to sing together the joy of our salvation.
Carl Michalson, a brilliant young theologian who died in a plane crash some years ago, once told about playing with his young son one afternoon. They tussled playfully on their front lawn when Michalson accidentally hit the young boy in the face with his elbow.
It was a sharp blow full to his son’s face. The little boy was stunned by the impact of the elbow. It hurt, and he was just about to burst into tears. But then he looked into his father’s eyes. Instead of anger and hostility, he saw there his father’s sympathy and concern; he saw there his father’s love and compassion.
Instead of exploding into tears, the little boy suddenly rubbed his face and burst into laughter. What he saw in his father’s eyes made all the difference! (Source: James W. Moore, Some Things Are too Good Not to Be True, Nashville:Dimensions, p. 43. Adapted.)
The sharp blow of God’s message to us is to live repentant lives. Just as John the Baptist shared with us in the Gospel reading today. ‘Prepare a pathway for the Lord’s coming! Make a straight road for him!’ But, with our inside eyes, we can look into our Saviour’s eyes. We can see what he offers us in forgiveness that makes all the difference.
As Paul writes to us: ‘May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—those good things that are produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.’
We have the confirmation of our salvation by the witness of God’s Holy Spirit working in our lives. All the times we can say with enthusiasm, “Jesus is Lord”.
But the world only sees the fruit of the tree, and not the sap running through it to give it life. During our preparation for Christmas, and for the return of our Saviour, let us put on display the fruit of the Spirit to show the world that we are part of the glorious family of Christ Jesus. AMEN.
Rev. David Thompson