The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Let’s join in a word of prayer:
Loving God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; this day around the world, our fellow Christians are gathering together to worship You, and to remember the human life, death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who is our true redeemer. We thank you that we can be together to praise you, and to consider the sure and certain hope of eternal life with You. By your Holy Spirit, open our minds to understand, our spirits to receive, and our hearts to rejoice over your plan for Christ to return again at the end of this age. In the name of Christ Jesus we pray. Amen.
Christmas is soon upon us. As we make our final preparations, this week, it’s good to take a few minutes away from all the fuss and just relax in the presence of the Saviour whom we celebrate. After all, soon, we will once again gather to celebrate the birth of the most important person ever – Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, and the Son of God – both human and divine indivisibly intertwined.
A Saviour whom followers have been celebrating for more than 2000 years. And whom our Triune God has been preparing the world to receive almost from it’s creation. A Saviour who brought both blessing and controversy to the people whom God loves so much.
Nearly 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, God was speaking to David about the Savour through the Prophet Samuel. “ ‘And now the Lord declares that he will build a house for you—a dynasty of kings! Your dynasty and your kingdom will continue for all time before me, and your throne will be secure forever.’ ”
The birth of Jesus Christ into humanity, into the line of David, was the fulfilment of God’s promise to David. And yet, this fulfilment needed to wait for the perfect time when a gentle teenager, Mary, was chosen to be the human mother of Jesus. A girl faithful to God in all things. The first believer in the Saviour who brings us into a right relationship with God by our faith.
What do we hear when we listen to the words used to describe the incarnation of Jesus to Mary. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Isn’t this reminiscent of words used much earlier in Scripture? ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was empty. And the Spirit of God was hovering over its surface.’
The same creating presence of the Triune God. Father God who sets His plan for creation into motion, the Son and Saviour who is present and active in both creation and redemption, and the Holy Spirit who fills all creation with the presence of God.
And we have young Mary, caught in the embrace of history and destiny. But Mary, who is given both opportunity and choice. The Angel Gabriel explains the future for this young believer in a God of miracles. And Mary makes her choice. “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.” I can just feel the relief of Gabriel, if angels can have feelings at all. The plan had not been rejected.
But this choice must have represented some serious after-thought on Mary’s part. I am convinced that Mary would have suffered rejection and criticism from the family of Joseph. Even Joseph himself revealed his concern over the chastity of his fiancée. He considered breaking the engagement quietly and sending Mary away to have her baby. Now I can almost feel the anxiety of Gabriel.
It reminds me of the beginning of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The Angels are in conference about the fate of George Bailey, in answer to the many prayers for him. But St Peter calms the angels and sends just the right one to meet the challenge facing George.
I can imagine the angels in serious discussion with God about Joseph’s quandary. And then God sends Gabriel to calm the fears of this devout carpenter.
Gabriel spoke to Joseph in a dream, when he was quiet enough to listen. Gabriel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
When angels make their presence felt in the human experience, two things are certain. It will involve a miracle, under the direction of God, and it will involve belief on our behalf to accept the miracle.
Like Mary, Joseph was a person of great faith. Faith in a miracle working God. And when Gabriel appeared to Joseph in his dream, Joseph believed. ‘When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife, but she remained a virgin until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.’
Now I can imagine the utter joy of Gabriel. God’s blessings of both Mary and Joseph will become the reality of every Christian, drawn to faith by the message of angels, the servanthood of two simple folks, and enshrined in the sacrifice of the Saviour of the world.
The human birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ had one purpose. The focus of God from the beginning of creation and the fall of Adam has been upon that purpose. And we are the realisation of that purpose. Chosen to follow Jesus just as surely as Mary and Joseph were chosen to parent the Saviour. Given the opportunity to believe, just as surely as Mary and Joseph were given the opportunity to receive the blessings and the challenges of raising Christ Jesus. Guided along the path we accept by the Holy Spirit, just as surely as Mary and Joseph were guided in their lives.
But we have the same challenge that Mary and Joseph had. When we face the reality of Jesus Christ, inviting us to accept the challenge of Christian living. We must face our fears and doubts and come to terms with who we are, and what we are about. Even when we don’t see the angels that surround us, we can face the confusion and anxiety of this world, knowing that in our every day lives, we are being addressed personally by God. è
Through the Word and Sacraments. Through the presence of his Holy Spirit. Through his plan for our lives. Through the protection of the guardian angels sent by God our Father.
Our gracious God created the world to be a place of harmony and peace. But when the people God created determined to be their own god, our Creator’s perfect plan was corrupted. And so, God determined to restore our relationship with him by entering humanity and bring salvation. God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ was born into humanity as the sacrifice for our human brokenness. In our own brokenness, we can only come to terms with the brokenness of others by living the forgiveness and compassion of our Saviour.
And when Christ Jesus returns to establish an eternal kingdom of perfection, all will be completed, and we will once again find ourselves in a garden of eden. Walking in the cool of the evening with our ever- present God the Father, with our eternal Saviour, both human and divine, and surrounded by God the Holy Spirit.
As we personalise this morning’s message of Paul to the church at Rome, we might paraphrase it as, ‘God is able to make us strong, just as the Good News says. It is the message about Jesus Christ and his plan for each one of us, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time, but now revealed in Jesus Christ.
And now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to each one of us everywhere, so that we might believe and follow Christ. To God, who alone is wise, be the glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen.’
God spoke through Gabriel and through Paul. God also spoke through Nathan to David who desperately desired to build a glorious temple to house the glory of God. ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a temple to live in? I have never lived in a temple, from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until now.’ And God continued in his dialogue through Nathan, ‘And now the LORD declares that he will build a house for you—a dynasty of kings! Your dynasty and your kingdom will continue for all time before me, and your throne will be secure forever.’ ”
Solomon did build that magnificent Temple, Even so, it was the presence of the glory and majesty of God in the tent of human life, that God’s Son would assume to bring salvation to all who would believe.
As Paul spoke once, of our life in this world, ‘For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.’ (2 Co 5:1–5 ESV)
This week, we begin the celebration of the saviour of the world joining the tent of humanity to bring the gift of ‘mortality being swallowed up by immortality’. All from a stable in Bethlehem on a bright star-lit night.
As we embrace the human life, and the eternal divinity of Christ Jesus today, may the grace, the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, ‘the lamb who takes away the sin of the world’. Amen
Rev. David Thompson.