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.

Third Sunday of Advent

 

Text: Philippians 4:4 -7 (NIV)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Rejoice in the Lord

“Rejoice in the Lord always!”
Have you ever struggled with that piece of advice from the apostle Paul? 
Is it possible to rejoice even when you’re having a bad day?
Can you really rejoice even when you’re in pain, when you owe more than you own, when you are worried as you sit by the sick bed of someone you love?20180311_103505 (1)
Is it possible or it is just whistling in the wind to say “Rejoice” when others attack you, criticise you, and you feel as though you don’t have a friend in the world?
Can you really rejoice when your body is full of aches and pains, and old age has brought with it frailty and health complications?

The old song from “Bye bye, Birdie” tells us “Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face.  … Wipe off that ‘full of doubt’ look, Slap on a happy grin!” 

We all do that.  When things are going all wrong, we “put on a happy face” for a while at least (as pastors we develop this technique quite well) but no-one can keep it up.  We look happy on the outside but inside we feel awful and eventually it shows.

How real is Paul being when he says, Rejoice in the Lord always” not just some of the time, or when things are going ok, but always, all of the time?  Paul was in prison when he wrote these words and had been very cruelly treated by his enemies and yet he is able to be so christlike, so caring and gentle with his jailers.  It’s not hard to conclude that the apostle is one of those really annoying people who is always happy and always sees a silver lining in every gray cloud and is not frightened to tell people to not worry about anything and to be happy.  When you’re down and the umpire is about to count, “One, two three, you’re out!” the last thing you want to hear is “Don’t worry, be happy”. 

The writer and theologian C.S. Lewis once bluntly said, “As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian.  I didn’t go become a Christian to make me happy.  I always knew a bottle of Port would do that”.  Happiness is a human emotion that relies heavily on the circumstances we find ourselves in.  It is very much focussed on ourselves.  When things are going well we feel happy.  When we feel badly treated by others our sinfulness kicks in and instead of being a peacemaker or offering forgiveness we worry how we can fix things and that might include getting back in some way.  It’s not hard to feel sorry for ourselves and so become unhappy.

So what is Paul really trying to tell us when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always”?  (And to make sure we get the point he says). “I will say it again: Rejoice!” 

Take note of the words “in the Lord” – “Rejoice in the Lord”.  Paul is telling us that true joy does not rely on positive thinking, looking for the silver lining in every dark cloud, having a day of retail therapy, or slapping on a happy face when it’s clear that everything is not all right.  True joy is found “in the Lord”.  He insists that regardless of what is going on in our lives trusting “in the Lord” enables us to rejoice even in the face of the worst difficulty.

As I indicated before Paul was writing his letter to the Philippians in a cold and dirty dungeon uncertain about his future.  It would have been easy to despair in such circumstances.  But he insists that regardless of what he is going through he could be joyful and encourages his readers to “Rejoice in the Lord always”.

Paul had learnt a very valuable lesson through all the trials that came his way.  He had learnt that regardless of what happened in his life, he had learnt to be content.  Listen to what he has to say on this, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learnt the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil 3:11b-13).

And what is of great importance for us is to note why Paul could be so contented in the face of everything that was happening in his life.  It wasn’t because of some, strong inner force, his self-discipline, or because he was able to control his life better than anyone else.  The reason he could be content is that he knew that no matter what trial or need came his way, God was always near. 
He knew that in the face of every soul destroying disaster that came his way, God was there giving him the strength to enable him to see it through. 
He doesn’t have to rely on his own strength and ability to survive these troubles; he trusts God’s strength and God’s love for him that will only want the best for him. 
He knew that if his life on this earth came to an end, his Lord would take care of him and take him to a glorious life in heaven.  So what did he have to worry about?  He had every reason to rejoice.  In spite of the circumstances, he was always a winner so why not rejoice.

As you might well know Paul had something that distressed him, probably some kind of physical illness or disability, we don’t know exactly what it was.  There were times when he was utterly and unbearably crushed by it.  He called it a “thorn in the flesh” and he begged God to take it away.  God in his wisdom didn’t remove Paul’s problem but in spite of this Paul could still say, “Rejoice in the Lord always”. The apostle knew that God had him in his safekeeping and with God’s power and strength he would be able to endure that “thorn in the flesh”.  As he said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength”. 

So when Paul tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always” he knows what he’s talking about.  He might be a superman of the faith in the Bible but he is also a human just like you and me.  He felt life at its lowest and experienced the worst that others could do to him.  He had his own personal health issues; he struggled with all the things we do including temptation, sin, guilt and despair and yet he is able to come up smiling because he is “in the Lord”, he truly believed “the Lord is near”, and trusted Jesus’ promise, “I will be with you always”.

It’s interesting that Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always” and “The Lord is near” in almost the same breath.  Whether you take Paul’s words “The Lord is near” meaning that Jesus is coming soon or Jesus is always nearby it doesn’t make any difference (I believe he means both), he is telling us to relax Jesus is journeying with us.  He invites us to call on him, tell him our needs, let him shoulder our pain, our frustrations, our sicknesses and our worries.

When we’re overly concerned about our problems, about the people around us, or about our situation in life, he encourages us to take our needs to him in prayer. If we keep all our problems and worries to ourselves, they grow and multiply and threaten to suck all the joy out of our lives.  In this sense, worry is like a contagious disease that spreads through every corner of our lives and takes away all our reasons to rejoice. The antidote for worry and anxiety is prayer.

Paul urges us today, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”.  God cares.  There is no need for anxiety and worry.  He is waiting to hear from us, he is waiting for us to take every situation to him and unload every burden and trouble that comes our way on to him. 

We can’t wish our worries away through wishful thinking or the power of positive thinking, but when we bring them before God in prayer, he gives us his peace. Notice we are given God’s peace, which is far better than any calmness we could ever achieve by our own reasoning.  God fills us with his peace; peace that comes from knowing and trusting that everything is in his almighty and all-knowing hands and that he cares so much for each of us that he we have nothing to worry about.  Our focus has shifted from our problems and troubles and even though our outward circumstances may not have changed, we can be joyful because we are one with Christ, we are “in the Lord” to use Paul’s words, we are uniquely and especially loved by almighty God.

We are just days away from Christmas when we are reminded that the baby born in Bethlehem is Immanuel – “God with us”.  He came to bring reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.  He came to show us the love of God and how through his death and resurrection we are adopted as his own beloved children and can walk confidently in peace and joy.

Martin Luther’s daughter, Magdalena, died when she was fourteen years old. As they laid her to rest, Luther said, “Oh my dear Magdalenachen, you will rise and shine like the stars in the sun. How strange to be so sorrowful, and yet to know that all is at peace, that all is well.” 

The strange combination of sorrow on the one hand, and peace and joy on the other, is only possible “in the Lord”.

Finally, Paul uses a military picture.  He says, The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.  Like a guard or sentry on duty, God’s peace watches over us and keeps us from all harm, including eternal death.  In God’s peace, we can be joyful in all things.

And so I say to you, God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.”

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Second Sunday of Advent

John The Baptist  Revd. Martin Dale

 

Sermon: John the Baptist – Radical and Countercultural par excellence

Story: A young police officer was taking his final exam for the police academy and he was set the following problem to solve.bob

“You are on patrol in the outer city when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street.

On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van nearby.

Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants—a man and a woman—are injured.

You recognize the woman as the wife of your Chief of Police, who is at present away in the USA.

A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you realize that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery.

Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent.

Another man is crying for help, having been blown in the adjacent canal by the explosion, and he cannot swim.

Describe in a few words what actions you would take.”

The young man thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote,

PAUSE

“I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.”

But just as that wouldn’t do for the policeman so we as Christians we can’t duck our responsibilities either

We are often called to swim against the tide of public opinion.

Jesus certainly did – and so did the subject of our Bible reading this morning – John the Baptist.

And interestingly all four of the Gospels tell us things about the life of John the Baptist (Mt3, Mk1 and Mk 6, Lk 3 and Jn1).

John was an important figure for the early Church.

John the Baptist was both radical and countercultural in three ways:

  1. In his lifestyle
  2. In what he taught and
  3. In his fearlessness of men in the face of adversity.
  4. The first way that John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was his radical lifestyle

While the religious leaders of his day lived in fine houses – and the High Priest himself even lived in a palace – John the Baptist took to the desert to live a life of seclusion and prayer.

John wasn’t pretentious. He didn’t overrate himself. In fact quite the contrary.

He didn’t claim to be more than he was. There was a humility about John.

When Jesus came to be baptised by John – look at John’s reply:

“But John tried to deter him, saying: I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14)

There was also a simplicity in his lifestyle

He didn’t wear an Armani suit or Designer jeans. He didn’t have a rolex watch either – and all the other trappings of worldly success. St Matthew records that

“John’s clothes were made of camels’ hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” (Mt 3:4)

While I am not advocating locusts and honey for our harvest supper – I do think it is important to notice the simplicity of John’s living.

  1. The second way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his teaching

John the Baptist was very clear in his message. He called a spade a spade

He was hugely popular with the people – not just because he tweeked the nose of the heirarchy – but because the people recognised what he was saying was from God.

There was a mini revival. Even the outcasts of society – the tax collectors and the Roman soldiers are recorded as coming to him (Lk 3).

And I wouldn’t be surprised if the prostitutes came as well.

Yet his message wasn’t a populist message – indeed it should have been extremely unpopular as it was so condemnatory.

We read in Matthew 3 that he preached a Gospel of repentance. And He was quite a tough preacher.

When many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptised by him he said this:

“You brood of vipers Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves ” We have Abraham as our father. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children of Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:8-9)

I don’t think John the Baptist had ever read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to make friends and influence people”!!!

The Jews thought that simply by keeping the letter of the Law – as they saw it – would make them fit children for God

But God is interested in the heart – as Jesus often himself taught

“What comes out of a man’s heart and not what goes in is that which pollutes him,” (Mt 15:17-18 paraphrased) Jesus once said.

And God speaking through the writer of the book of Proverbs inn the Old Testament said this:

26 My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways, (Proverbs 23:26).

John’s message was tough – he didn’t mince his words – and inevitably this brought him into conflict with the authorities – which in this case was the local king Herod Antipas.

For Herod, John overstepped the mark once too often when he condemned Herod for marrying his brother Philip’s wife. And so Herod threw John in prison.

And prison in those days was not at all comfortable. Prisoners had no human rights and generally were dependant on friends and relations for the very food they ate.

  1. And the final way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his fearlessness of men

He didn’t chicken out when the going got tough.

John, I am sure could have extradited himself from prison if he had simply found a formula to allow Herod to marry Herodias, Herod’s brother Philip’s wife.

And even great men of God bowed to such temporal pressure.

Story: One of the blots on the career of the great German Reformer, Martin Luther – was his acquiescence to the bigamous marriage of Philip of Hess.

In 1530, at the height of the Reformation in Germany – and where the Protestant cause was at its most vulnerable, Philip of Hesse organised the secular Protestant forces of the Reformation into

what was known as the Schmalkaldic League.

This alliance was set up to protect their religious and secular interests against interference from the Roman Catholic Holy Roman Emperor

On 11th December 1523 Philip married Christine of Saxony the daughter of an important ally George Duke of Saxony.

However Christine has been described by contempory sources as sickly and unattractive – and was reputed to have a drinking probem.

So it wasn’t very soon after the marriage that Philip committed adultery with the daugther of one of his sister’s ladies-in-waiting, Margarethe von der Saale.

And he wanted to marry her.

The matter was discussed with the great German Reformers, Luther, Methancthon and Bucer.

It was only when Philip threatened to side with the Holy Roman Emperor against the Protestant Schmalkaldic league if he didn’t get his own way, that the Reformers gave in.

They agreed that – rather than follow Henry VIII and have a divorce – they would sanction a bigamous marriage which took place on 4th December 1540, between Philip and Margarethe.

To the eternal shame of the Reformation

Had John the Baptist been asked his opinion, I am sure he would have condemned it.

Such was the courage and integrity of the man.

And John’s brave outspokenness eventually cost him his head.

Conclusion

John the Baptist’s story reminds us that being a Christian will not always be easy.

There will be tough decisions to make that might lead us to be unpopular.

Yet the story of John is not given to us to show us a way to earn our salvation – because we can’t.

All of us still have to come through the Cross of Jesus.

Even John the Baptist – a Great and Godly man as he was – could only enter the Kingdom through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

For the Kingdom of God is made up – not of those who in their own goodness try to enter it – but ofn those who are clothed in the blood of Jesus.

For in human terms John was special – but this needs to be kept in perspective – as Jesus said:

I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the very least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he (Lk 7:28-29)

However, once we are saved John was a great example for us to follow in Christian living.

But John’s life reminds us that we must have integrity in our lives.

We must be willing to be faithful to God’s calling in our lives – even if it eventually costs us our head. That is quite a challenge.

Read by Bob Rayward.

First Sunday of Advent

Advent 1

Luke 21:25-36

 

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may be alert but not alarmed when our Lord Jesus Christ comes in his glory. Amen.

How do you feel when you see the police? I suppose it depends, doesn’t it? It can depend on the situation and what you’re doing at the time, and may also depend on the state of your conscience! For example,20180311_103505 (1) if you are driving along the road and see the police flash their lights at you and sound their siren, you’ll probably take your foot off the accelerator, and do a quick mental and visual check of everything you’re doing before pulling over. It wouldn’t surprise me if your heart starts beating faster and you’re quickly trying to decide whether it would be better for you to be honest or dishonest with your answers to their questions! Even before the policeman or woman starts talking to you, you might experience feelings of fear or guilt, even if you’ve done nothing wrong!
Or another example: let’s say you’re sitting at home and the doorbell rings. As you answer the door you see a policeman or woman standing there. While it’s possible they could be looking for directions, your heart fears another reason for their visit. Because it’s the police visiting, and even before they open their mouths, terror strikes your heart as you mentally account for your loved ones. On the other hand, if you’re in danger or trouble is threatening and you see those lights and hear the police siren; that same sound, those same lights, and those same uniforms which so often strike fear and loathing in most people’s hearts, can bring comfort and assurance. As the police arrive you know help is near, authority is near, and justice is near.

In today’s text we hear of coming disasters which would normally strike fear in most people’s hearts. When Jesus talks of signs involving the sun, moon, and stars, troubles between nations, and surging seas, it sounds terrifying! In fact, you don’t have to visit a movie theatre to see some of these things because sometimes we get to see them on the TV news reports. Just think back over events which have struck fear and terror into so many people’s lives, such as the surging seas of Tsunamis, the damaging winds of cyclones, floods, bushfires and earthquakes. But it’s not just natural disasters, because we also fear the man-made disasters such as wars and terrorism being played out over the globe. Thankfully most of us have so far escaped such terrors. However, there may be people among us here today who have experienced their own personal terrors: major car accidents, road rage, physical attack, robbery, addiction, abuse, neglect etc. These too strike fear into our hearts.

Unfortunately, we don’t all get to live happily ever after on this earth. People get hurt. Too many are terrorized by sights and sounds and smells. Too many find sleep hard to come by because they’re afraid of the nightmares which not only haunt their days, but also their nights. So many people are afraid, and they’ve got good reason to be afraid!

Many times we’re afraid of what we don’t know, but sometimes we’re afraid of what we do know and work so hard to avoid, deny, or run away from those things or people. We cower because we’re afraid. We fight because we’re afraid. We isolate ourselves because we’re afraid. We struggle with our faith because we’re afraid.

Even though Jesus talks of such signs which make the end of the world sound quite scary, when we stop and think about it, the end of the world comes every day for many people! When someone’s life ends, it is the end of the world for them. So, how do you know when your last day has come? And when your last day or moment comes and your breath is taken away, will you be afraid? If you’re afraid, what are you afraid of? Are you scared death will hurt? Are you scared what happens to you after you die? Are you scared all your life has come to nothing? Are you frightened because you don’t know what will happen to those you love? Are you afraid of standing before your God and Lord and Judge in heaven?

In this way, it’s no surprise many people will be afraid when the end comes – either in cosmic events, natural disasters, or even in the personal tragedies of life and death through accident, sickness, and so on. Many people will cower in fear. Many people will be scared of facing their Creator and Judge.

Of course, that’s if you’re guilty and have something to be afraid of. If you’ve neglected or rejected the promises of God, you should be afraid. If you’ve denied the existence of God and his love, then you should cower in fear. If you’re faced with an authority which you’ve rejected and ignored your whole life, living just for now without considering the earthly and eternal consequences, then you should curl up in a helpless ball of terror. But that shouldn’t be any of you.

You see, in the same way the presence of police will strike fear in the hearts of guilty people, the presence of these terrible signs announcing the coming of the Son of Man will strike fear into most people’s hearts. But also like the presence of police who come to bring justice and help, and so bring comfort and hope to those in trouble, the presence of these terrorizing signs announces the imminent presence of our Lord and Saviour, who comes to bring you comfort and hope.

Jesus is saying when your end comes, no matter how terrible it may seem, you have no need to be afraid like everyone else with their drooping shoulders and down-turned heads. Instead, Jesus calls you to confidently stand and lift up your heads so you can see your deliverer and redeemer come.

You can do this because you know something the rest of the world doesn’t. You know these signs don’t announce judgment and punishment for your guilt, because the judgment and punishment for your sins have been fully paid for by Jesus Christ.

You know bad things happen to the bad and good alike because of the brokenness and corruption of sin in the world, but you also know and trust that no matter how your own end will come, you have the promise of eternal life, and nothing can take that away from you.

You also know all people will stand before the Triune God to be judged, but you already know the result of your own trial before God because you know you’re defended by Christ himself and his blood. He speaks for you to say the full time for your crimes has been paid for. Everyone else will be afraid of the result of their trial because they have no defender or redeemer, because they’ve rejected him or ignored him.

We can stand and lift up our heads with confidence in days of terror and tribulation, but not because of our own behavior or good works. None of us is good enough and we have all fallen short of God’s glory. The only reason we can stand in the face of these terrible signs and look up when everyone else is looking down, is because of God’s unfading promises to us which are fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Everything and everyone in this world will disappear, but God’s word remains forever immoveable and unchanging. Our only hope is in the Word of God; the Word made flesh, the one who speaks truth and doesn’t lie or go back on his word, but fulfills it for us. God’s word, including the promises he gives you which he fulfilled and completed through the life, suffering, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, will never fade away! With that knowledge, what have you got to be afraid of?

This is what Advent is all about. Advent isn’t about the ringing of cash registers, or about taking photographs with jolly fellows, or about endless Christmas carols which sing of snow and reindeer. Advent is about the coming of your deliverer and rescuer. Where everyone else is alarmed, you instead stay alert in anticipation of your coming Saviour and redeemer.

When you’re in trouble, when you’re in pain, when you’re struggling with yourself or with others, when disaster strikes, when loved ones die, and when you feel like crawling into a black hole of depression, don’t look at the sin, the pain, the guilt and the darkness, but look to the promises of God. God’s promises give you hope so you can stand up when everyone else cowers in fear. God’s unchanging word to you gives you reason to lift your heads when everyone else is hanging theirs.

God promises that even in tragic and tumultuous events, God’s gracious purposes are being worked out and his divine promises are being kept. Even though it may seem like the world and our lives are out of control, God’s word of promise is given to you so that you won’t be drawn into despair or cynicism.

So, today’s gospel reading isn’t supposed to be scary for us, the people of God, but it’s rather a word of hope and comfort for us to whom the promise has been given, which we receive by faith. These words are to encourage us so we may persevere in hope, continue with the art of prayer, keep bearing witness to God’s love for us, and endure to the end knowing the cosmic purposes of God have been decisively worked out and fulfilled in Jesus Christ…for each one of us.

 

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

4th Sunday in Advent 23rd December 2018

Luke 1:42-45

“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,20180311_103505 (1) 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

Joseph Graham

3rd Sunday in Advent 16th December 2018

  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?mike “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

2nd Sunday in Advent 9th December 2018

 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.david 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