Joseph’s predicament

The Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Today’s focus is going to be on Joseph and his part in the coming of our Lord8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 Jesus. So let’s begin with a little Bible quiz about Joseph—just three quick questions…

  1. 1. Do you remember what Joseph’s trade was?

He was a carpenter. We think of Jesus as a carpenter, but that’s mainly because we know Joseph was a carpenter. In the Gospels according to Matthew and Mark, people ask of Jesus, ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?’

  1. 2. Here in today’s Gospel Reading is the first time we hear of Joseph. Do you remember the last time we hear of him in the Gospels?

It’s in the Temple twelve years after Jesus’ birth, when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus because, as Jesus says, he was in his true Father’s house. We hear of Mary right up to the crucifixion, but the last we hear of Joseph is when Jesus is twelve years old, which leads most people to guess that Joseph probably died some time after that, perhaps because he was older than Mary. But we don’t know that for sure.

  1. Now for the last quiz question. Do you remember how many things Joseph says in the Gospels?

It’s a trick question actually. The answer is…none; not one recorded word from Joseph. Joseph comes across as the ‘strong, silent’ type and we’ll return to this later in the sermon. 

For these sorts of reasons, Joseph is an intriguing and even mysterious character. But what we want to see today is that his role in God’s plan of salvation is no less significant because of it.

So, as we think more about Joseph, let’s look first at his predicament; second, at his task; and third, at his response.

First, what is Joseph’s predicament? His quandary? His dilemma? In simple terms, Joseph’s predicament is that he is pledged to be married to Mary; Mary is pregnant and the one thing Joseph knows for sure is that he is not the father. So what to do? 

If we probe a little deeper we can discover there’s actually two possible ways of reading this situation, both of which could leave Joseph in a difficult spot. The one we most commonly hear, is that Joseph assumed that Mary had been unfaithful to him. Now this may have been difficult just on the personal level. But more than that, according to the law and social custom, it would’ve created big problems for Joseph to take Mary as his wife if it was known she had been unfaithful to him. So divorce seems to be the inevitable end. The problem, then, is that this sort of thing could be punished quite severely according to the law. So Joseph is in a predicament. He is a righteous man, and comes across as a kind and merciful man. So what is he to do?

Well, he arrives at a less than ideal solution but the best he can work out—arranging the divorce, but doing it quietly and so not creating more problems for Mary. Quite a predicament! This is the most common way to read this situation, and I think is the most likely. But there is another possibility that is worth considering, which is how many in the early church understood this story.

According to the alternative understanding of this story, Mary told Joseph about the visit to her by the angel and the news that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph believed her. So he wasn’t suspicious of her, but he believed her. One of the things to remember here is that Joseph wasn’t a modern materialistic sceptic. He was a faithful, believing first century Jew who would’ve been much more open to God’s miraculous intervention than people today would be.

So if this understanding of the story is correct, then the predicament of Joseph is that he is overwhelmed by the magnitude of what is happening and what he is being called to do. He perhaps feels unworthy about caring for the holy child. So again, what to do?

Okay, divorcing Mary and running away from the situation may not be the best option. But it’s the sort of thing a lot of the prophets felt like doing when God called them into his service. So whether Joseph is suspicious of adultery, or he is overwhelmed by the presence of God’s holiness, he finds himself in a predicament.

Now let’s pause, because there’s a connection here with our lives today.  

As people of God today, as married people, as Christian families, we find ourselves in our fair share of predicaments, don’t we? And if we take our faith seriously, if we want to hear what God has to say to us and live according to his will, this doesn’t necessarily mean we have less difficult situations. In fact it can mean we have more of them.

Let me give you a very simple example, which perhaps some of you are facing right now. Let’s say Christmas lunch this year is scheduled for 12:30 at the rellies’ place. This part of the family isn’t involved in the life of the church. The problem for you is that it’s a two hour drive to their place. Church is at 9:30. So by the time we finish and get on the road you’re thinking: “Hmm, are we going to make it? Are they going to be upset if we’re late?” And so on…

Now at one level this may not sound like a big deal. But still, this small example can simply illustrate for us that our faith constantly raises these predicaments, dilemmas, and difficult situations. Many of you are facing your own particular ones right now, no doubt. In these experiences it can simply be good to remember that even the ‘holy family’ of Joseph, Mary and Jesus was not exempt. God’s interaction in their life is disruptive and confusing, at least at first.

Do you think it’s hard being late to lunch because of church? Imagine explaining that you’re late to lunch because an angel had just visited you! And in fact it gets a lot worse after this for the holy family, because they are forced to flee to Egypt to escape Herod. But notice too, that God does not leave Joseph in his predicament. God intervenes through his angel and reassures Joseph, comforts him, and assures him who this child is and where he is from. God’s enters into Joseph’s predicament.

Now we are not promised such extraordinary angelic interventions in all our difficult situations. But let us be open to God’s coming into them, to lead us through them, and to work all things for good according to his purposes.

So that is our first point: The predicament of Joseph.

Now we move onto the task of Joseph. What is Joseph actually called to do?

The reality is that biologically, Joseph was not needed. We confess from this text and from Luke’s account that we believe… ‘In Jesus Christ our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…’ The Christian church has always confessed that the conception of Jesus was a miracle. The church confesses that the Son of God became a human being in this world not through the normal processes of a man and woman coming together, but through the power and work of the Holy Spirit in Mary. Biologically speaking, Jesus had no human father. So what is the task of Joseph?

You could say Joseph is called to be a foster-father of sorts—to adopt and care for and protect Jesus as his own. He certainly does a good job of that especially in the flight to Egypt. So Joseph is sometimes called the guardian of Jesus. Notice too that Joseph is addressed by the angel as ‘Son of David’.

So, there’s something going on here to do with the fulfilment of the covenant that God made with David—that by Joseph becoming Jesus’ legal father the rightful King will come to his throne. But connected to this in the text, we read of a very specific task Joseph is given, which is the naming of Jesus: ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him… Jesus…’

Now, you’ve probably noticed that names seem to carry a lot more significance in the culture and time of the Bible than they do for us today in our culture. But even today we still often spend a lot of time thinking about what to name our children, don’t we? It’s fairly important to us. Just imagine if someone tried to restrict this freedom. Imagine if the government tried to tell people what they could and couldn’t name their children! We seem to instinctively know there’s something very important about names, and so there is a certain honour and gravity in the giving of a name.

So Joseph’s task is to name the child, not using a name of his own choosing, but with the name the Lord supplies: ‘You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’

Let’s think a little about the name Joseph is to give the child. The name ‘Jesus’ comes from two Hebrew words, which together mean ‘the Lord saves’. Notice the emphasis in his name—Jesus comes to save. This is who he is; this is his work; this is his mission. He comes to save his people. He comes to save you.

Jesus does other things. He teaches, he heals, he works miracles, and so on. But everything else serves this main purpose of being the Saviour. This is no small point. Just about everyone is willing to acknowledge Jesus in some way—as a great teacher, as a spiritual guru, or as a nice guy. But the only way to truly know him is as the Saviour.

The reason that it’s difficult to acknowledge him as Saviour is that it also requires realising your problem is much deeper than you think. So, for example, if all we need is a bit more information and guidance, then Jesus the teacher will do. But if our problem is that actually we are broken from the core; if our condition is terminal, then we need a Saviour. And notice what he saves from!

Many people of that time were hoping for a saviour—a saviour from the Romans, a saviour from their enemies, a saviour from all the problems out there. But the angel says he comes to save his people from their sins. Salvation is about delivering us from the problem inside of us—in our sinful hearts.

Jesus comes to save you from your sins. He does this by taking your sins on himself on the cross, and so removing their power. And he’s not only Jesus, the Saviour. He’s also Immanuel; God with us, God for us. So that’s the awesome task of Joseph—naming Jesus.

Now finally and more briefly, let’s note the response of Joseph, which is the obedience of faith. ‘When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.’

One of the striking features of both Mary and Joseph in the Christmas event is that when the angel comes with the news of Jesus’ birth and gives instructions concerning it, to use the words of the old hymn, they simply ‘trust and obey’. With Joseph it stands out even more because of what we said earlier about there being no record of anything he said. All we have is his action. Joseph hears, trusts, and does what God has called him to do. At the beginning he was in a predicament and he was unsure and unclear about what to do. He had to work it out as best he could and choose a course of action.

But with a clear word from God to him, there’s no great deliberation, no argument, and no second guessing. He simply hears, trusts, and obeys.

So what about for us?

It’s true that there are situations we find ourselves in in which it is not always easy to know what God would have us do. Things can be unclear to us, and so we are called to use our Christian wisdom to find the best course of action we can. But perhaps there are not as many of these as we think there are, and in our lives there are often situations which we make more complicated because we have trouble simply obeying the clear and simple word of God.

There’s a time for deliberation and discernment. There’s even a place for wrestling with God, and asking our questions, and pouring out our hearts’ struggles to him. But there’s also a time for simple, trusting obedience. This obedience does not put us right with God. We stand right before God by faith in Jesus Christ. But from our faith flows a joyful obedience.

So as you face predicaments in your Christian life, remember Joseph, and, as Joseph did, trust God to intervene and lead you through them. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, remember Joseph, the one charged with giving the child the name and all it means, Jesus, the Saviour from sin. And as you believe in Jesus, your Saviour, may a simple and joyful obedience to God’s will overflow in your life. Amen.

Jesus & John the Baptist

The Text: Matthew 11:1-12

 1After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0

2When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

4Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

7As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written:

‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

11Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

In today’s text, Matthew tells us that John is in prison. He had been arrested by Herod because John had condemned Herod’s adulterous relationship with his brother Philip’s wife. John was simply being faithful to God’s Word. John the Baptist showed his love for God by not compromising his word, and he loved Herod too―really loved him by pointing out the hard truth to him and calling him to repentance, in accordance with God’s own definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13―that love rejoices in the truth.

Okay―people don’t like to hear the truth that hurts―but being imprisoned for speaking it? It wasn’t meant to turn out like this for John, was it? Maybe that’s the reason for John’s question of Jesus: “Are you the one to come, or should we wait for another?” The reason behind John’s question has resulted in quite a deal of debate and uncertainty among scholars for a long time. Was John doubting that Jesus was really the Christ? After all, John has faithfully prepared the way for him. Yet instead of the situation getting better it has only become worse. John had proclaimed that the Christ would come to bring judgment on evil―and now languishing in prison as a victim of injustice perhaps that is what John is longing for Jesus to do for him.

Or perhaps John was uncertain or confused because his proclamation was of a Messiah coming to bring judgment. He had heard in prison of the works Christ was doing―but where was the swinging of the axe that had gone below stump level and was already at the roots? The only works John had heard were those of forgiveness, healing, and mercy―would another follow Jesus, who would perform these works of judgment?

Or could it be that John’s question is not one of doubt, but really a question of trust―expecting confirmation and verification for what he already knows? The fact that John sends a delegation to Jesus with his question and awaits an answer from him proves his faith in Jesus. I’m not so sure it need be an either/or answer. Could it not be all of these thoughts are running through John’s mind while he waited and waited in prison?

It seems like we wait and wait too. Come Lord Jesus we pray. We don’t like waiting, especially in today’s society. But today’s text doesn’t just leave us with the questions. Jesus gives his own response. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say: “Yes, go and reassure John that I’m the Messiah.” But Jesus says: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” This is the best assurance possible, for what Jesus says is the direct fulfilment of what God promised through Isaiah in today’s Old Testament reading. Jesus is the fulfilment of what has been promised from of old. He has been doing precisely these things since the beginning of his public ministry. He has preached in the synagogues. He has cast out demons. He has healed many from their sicknesses including a lame man and a blind man. The miracles point to his authority and power over all things, even to release people from their sin and the kingdom of darkness, and to be victorious over the power of death itself. It’s no wonder Jesus tells them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.”

Perhaps at some point or other we can all relate to John the Baptist as he waited in prison. Just like John, everything we might expect or hope for from God is not always fulfilled in the way we’d like, or with the timing we’d like. Maybe it’s an illness that we or a loved one suffer, or the troubles of our family. Maybe it’s a time of difficulty we’re going through, or maybe it’s wondering about an uncertain future. We might feel trapped and isolated with burdens nobody else could understand. We might feel imprisoned by our frail bodies or our own sinful human natures.

Yet the season of Advent focuses our attention on God who did not abandon his creation but stepped into it in the person of Christ and was born in that stable at Bethlehem. However if Advent were just a reminder of what had happened in salvation history then it becomes emptied of so much hope and power. Neither is Advent only about hoping Christ will come again one day. In The freedom of a Christian, Luther says

“…it is not enough…to preach about Christ just by telling what he did and said, simply as a story or as historical facts. Just knowing these things doesn’t necessarily make any difference to how a person lives.

Instead, Christ ought to be preached about in such a way that faith in him is kindled and kept burning, so that he is not only Christ, but Christ for you and me; so that what we are told he is and does takes effect in us. Such faith is produced and grows in us when we are told why Christ came, what he has brought and given us, and what good things we have when we have him.”

Together with our remembering and hoping, this is why the season of Advent is so special. Jesus came for us. He was born, truly human, for us. Born there in a stable surrounded by dirt and animals and their waste, Jesus came to us to know what it means to be a person and live in vulnerability and weakness and brokenness. He overcame temptation for us and lived perfectly for us. He came to rescue us and bring us true freedom by calling us into God’s Kingdom.

No one knows when he will come again but he tells us where he comes now with his re-creative power at work. He tells us where he comes in the midst the suffering of this world to bring the Good News to the blind, the lame, the sick, and the poor. Through the Holy Scriptures he continues to teach us, just like he taught his disciples in verse 1. He raised us from the dead and brought us his new life and resurrection power in baptism. He continues to bring freedom and release through the holy meal he serves his people which is not just bread and wine but his own flesh and blood. As he ministers to us through these ways, he calls us to wait―and to wait with him. As we do wait for his return we can rejoice that he will never leave us. As we wait with our Advent King and gather around him to be served by him, we proclaim to the world that he has trampled over death and lives today, and that he uses his authority to bless unworthy sinners with the abundant grace of God, so that there is hope and strength, joy and refuge in even the darkest places of human experience.

Blessed are those who do not take offence at Jesus’ words! For those who cherish Jesus’ words rather than taking offence at them can only do so because they have first been blessed by God. And those who have been blessed by God so that they do not take offence at the words of his Son—but hold firmly to them in faith—will see John the Baptist and all the other saints of all times and places, as we gather around the throne of the Lamb in heaven.


Prepare the way for the Lord

Matthew 3:1-12


In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “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 for 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.

 “I baptize you with water. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Repentance―it’s a key theme of advent and clearly a focus of today’s Gospel reading. “Repent.” That word is the opening word spoken in today’s text. It’s not even softened with a sugar-coated preface. Human ears don’t like that word. It’s a word frowned upon and laughed at by society. It’s an idea that society says oozes with irresponsibility because it gets in the way of personal freedom in deciding and claiming for ourselves what we think is our right to have. Society protests: “How dare anyone else try to snuff out my right to have whatever I want, whenever I want it and tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing!”

Even in the church it’s a word that grates and cuts against the grain of our human nature. “Outdated!” “Not progressive!” “Unloving!” “An impediment to mission!” we might argue. Or, those of us who call the church to take a stand against immorality might be heartened when we hear the word ‘repent’―until we realise that word is spoken to the unacceptable things we think or say or do ourselves. Then we quickly get to work at building the self-justification fortress: “Repent!?! Me?! We’re not that bad!!” our old self protests. “OK, we’re not perfect, but we’re pretty good.”

John the Baptist didn’t come to tell people everything was ‘OK’. “Repent!” he calls. What an unusual sight he must have been, eating locusts and wearing garments made of camel’s hair, the food and attire of the very poor. As he stood there in the wilderness, the hot, uninhabited gorge through which the Jordan flows―itself symbolic of the spiritual wasteland of the people’s hearts, devoid of any love for God―John drew people into a place where they were without the luxury, comforts, and security of their normal daily routine, to reflect on what they had prioritised in their life and how their priorities were at odds with God’s.

John saves the strictest rebuke for the Pharisees and Sadducees, very different religious sects in Israel, but with a common problem―they are assuming that because they were born into the covenant people Israel, they will be saved from the wrath to come simply because of their ancestry. Yet their hearts are far from God. They had all the external marks of religious respectability―and that is what they are trusting in. They have the false confidence that they have Abraham as their father and so have an automatic right to heaven. But they did not bring forth the fruit of genuine repentance and humility before God. John calls them to repent. He warns them the axe has gone far below the stump of the trees; it is already at the roots. Not so much as a twig will remain―God’s judgment is that they will be completely removed from the privileges he has given them.

Why does John make this call to repentance? Because the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Through the ages there have been so many predictions about how near the Kingdom of Heaven really is―even though Jesus teaches us that no-one knows the day or hour. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”―those words can be hard for us to hear for other reasons―just how near is God’s Kingdom, given that these words were spoken some 2,000 years ago? How then can we be firm in hope that God’s Kingdom is near? Is it an empty promise?

Although we don’t know when God’s Kingdom will come again, we can know where it comes now. A kingdom is where ever its King rules over his subjects. In his explanation to the petition “Thy Kingdom come”, Luther explains in the Small Catechism: “God’s Kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask in this prayer that it may come also to us. God’s Kingdom comes when our Heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy word and live a godly life on earth now, and in heaven forever.”

With this understanding of the kingdom, it might be easier to see what the Baptist means when he says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The Kingdom is near―close by―in Christ, the King of heaven, who came all the way from heaven down to earth, born in a stable at Bethlehem to be God with us. In him the kingdom has drawn close by to us, and indeed is in us, as Christ rules over our hearts and uses his authority and power to serve sinners and bless them with his grace and bring, love, forgiveness and joy. John was the one that Isaiah had spoken of in Isaiah 40:3-4:

A voice of one calling in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

Isaiah says that mountains and hills are to be levelled and valleys raised up. The hills and valleys are symbolic of the sin in the human heart that separates people from God. Just as levelling mountains and raising valleys is a task beyond human ability, so too is making a way through sin to fellowship with God. It is a task that is utterly beyond human power. Only God is able to construct a way through such obstacles. He must prepare a highway to come to his people and deliver them. That is what Jesus does for us. Notice that our reading does not say: “Make a straight path so we can travel to him.” It says “Make a straight path for him to travel”. God has made the roadway and travelled it first in the person of Christ. He has come near to us.

He made the way straight for you in your baptism, where the rough ways and mountains and valleys in your heart were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit at work through God’s word. Christ came to you and washed you clean at the font and joined you to his own death and resurrection. You were born again from above and the Holy Spirit created faith in your heart, calling you to Christ through the Gospel—even if you were asleep and blissfully unaware of what was taking place, and even if you cried and squirmed and protested.

Since the Kingdom is so near in Christ who reaches out with God’s grace, it is only appropriate that all people should long to receive this Kingdom and turn to Christ with their sins for him to free them from them. John the Baptist’s call to repentance is for our ears too. It is not just to escape judgment but to receive grace. For us the call to repentance is because, though Christ will come again, he is also already here. The freeway has been opened! In the person of Christ, the Kingdom of heaven is near, again, today. He has already spoken his absolution to you this morning. He has come with good news for you through the words of Scripture. He serves you this gospel as a holy meal that he hosts―his true body and precious blood. As he hands it to you he says: “This is my body given for you. This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

The Kingdom of Heaven is near. It is 2000 years closer than when John first spoke these words in the Judean wilderness. The Kingdom of Heaven is near to you as we, the church, live in the wilderness of this age―the wilderness of western materialism, spiritual supermarkets, and spiritual wasteland of living for the self. The Kingdom of Heaven is near to you as we live in a consumer age that looks to filling the valleys of loneliness and the potholes of anxiety with things that promise hope but can’t give lasting peace. The Kingdom of Heaven is near to you as you live in a society with all its ethical and moral upheaval that has so many different ideas about what walking the straight path looks like, depending on opinion and trends. The Kingdom of Heaven is near to you as the church lives in a world that doesn’t want to hear the call of John the Baptist and in some parts would do anything to drown it out.

In days like this many of us might groan and wonder “Lord, how long? How near is your return?”

Rejoice that the Kingdom of Heaven is near to you, because you have the Christ. When we hear John’s words: “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near” we don’t know when that is…but we do know where. Thinking of the Kingdom of Heaven being found close by is actually of far more help to you than speculative dates of Jesus’ return. For when you look for the Kingdom of Heaven close by in worship; in God’s word and sacraments and in devotional time in the word of God each day, there Christ meets you with all the treasures of his grace, forgiveness, life and salvation for you. Looking for him there with repentant hearts and open hands waiting to receive is the best way to prepare for Christmas and your Saviour’s coming again―when he will take you to be with all the other saints of all times and places and serve you in the heavenly banquet that has no end.


Clothed in Christ

Romans 13:11-14  8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0

‘Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…’(v14a NIV)

A lot of people say that you should never judge a book by its cover. There’s probably a lot of truth in that when we apply it to people; because there is usually a lot more going on in people’s lives than what we can see when we look at them. However, there are times when you can tell a lot about who people are and what they do by the way they dress.

For example, you can probably tell if people are firefighters by the uniform they wear, and that their job it to put out fires. People dressed in surgical scrubs are probably surgeons who operate on patients to help them recover from illnesses or injuries. Someone in a sporting uniform will most probably be an athlete who competes in a particular sport. Depending on the sport, the clothes that athletes wear might even tell us the position they play or what their role is in the team.

In each of these cases, there will be consistency between what a person wears, who they are and what they do. You wouldn’t want a person dressed like a fireman to do surgery in the operating theatre. Cricketers dressed like surgeons won’t be able to compete to their full ability. And there is no way you would want to fight a fire dressed like a netballer or a swimmer. What we wear can say a lot about who we are and what we do.

When the Apostle Paul encourages the Christians in Rome to be dressed in Christ, he wasn’t giving them fashion advice. Paul was encouraging the readers of his letter to find a new sense of who we are and what the purpose of our lives are through faith in Jesus.

Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus covers our sin, shame and guilt and gives us a new identity as children of God. Through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit washes us clean of everything that makes us unacceptable to God, to others and even to ourselves, and covers us with the goodness, righteousness and purity of Jesus. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see our flaws, mistakes or failures. Instead, because we are clothed in Christ, God sees us as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased (see Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).

In the same way that the clothes firefighters, surgeons or sportspeople wear can tell us who they are, so being clothed in Christ tells us that we are God’s children who receive all of Jesus’ goodness as his gift to us through the Holy Spirit.

Just as it makes sense that what a firefighter, surgeon or sportsperson does will also reflect who they are, so the way in which God’s children live their lives needs to be consistent with being dressed with Jesus and who we are in him.

As surely as it is absurd to think of a fireman in an operating theatre, or a surgeon on a netball court, or a footballer fighting a fire, it makes just as little sense for the children of God to live in ways that are different from who we are as people who are clothed in Christ’s goodness. That is why Paul writes,

‘So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.’ (v12b,13 NIV).

Paul is urging us to be clothed in the goodness of Jesus so we live good lives which show the world who we are as God’s children.

When we live faithfully as God’s children, we bring the light of God’s goodness into a world that is often very dark. As we begin the season of Advent, in the coming weeks we will be remembering God’s gifts to us of peace, hope, joy and love.

People who live in our world, who live right next door to us, or maybe even live under our own roof, often need a greater sense of peace, hope, joy and love in their lives.

As we live in ways that are consistent with our new identity as people who are clothed in Christ, we can be the means by which God brings his peace, hope, joy love and light into people’s lives.

Christianity isn’t about following a set of rules to get into heaven, like a lot of people imagine. Instead, the Christian faith is about finding a new sense of who we are as people who are covered by Christ, and then living in ways that reflect our new identity as God’s children so God’s goodness and love can come into the world through us.

We all put our clothes on every day. This week, as you get dressed, remember that God gives you the goodness and love of Jesus to put on each and every day.

Jesus covers each of us and gives us a new identity as children of God whom he loves and with whom he is pleased, even before we do anything. In this garment of faith we are clothed with Jesus; all of his goodness and purity. And so we live each day as God’s children and bring the light of his peace, hope, joy and love into the lives of everyone we meet through all we say and do.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

It’s all about Mary

Micha 5:2-5a    Hebrews 10:5-10    Luke 1:38-45
The lectionary reading for today, the fourth Sunday of Advent is ostensibly about Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist and her meeting with Mary, the mother of Jesus, her cousin.gordon5

 St Luke 1: 41-44. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

But the reading it is not about Elizabeth or John her son who leaps in her womb when Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, it is about Mary, It is about Mary’s faith, her obedience in response to the angel’s word to her. For Elizabeth concludes the reading with these words. (verse 45. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”) It is about what Mary said when visited by the Angel Gabriel and her response to the Angel Gabriel’s words of promise to her. (verse 38. “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”)

In the figure of Mary, because of Mary’s faith, that the early church found an archetypal figure of the church in her. It viewed the first Eve, the mother of all the living as representing disobedient humankind, and Mary the mother of Jesus, the new Eve, representing the beginning of a new humanity, the church. She is seen as the archetypal mother of all the faithful and thus they called the church ‘the mother’ of us all.

In the Protestant tradition the figure of Mary has had a chequered history; ranging from a benign admiration to ferocious opposition. This came about through the way in which Mary has been portrayed in the Roman Catholic tradition. In some places in that tradition, particularly in a place like Italy, Mary is seen as someone bordering on a goddess. We hear phrases such as ‘Coredemptrix’, together with the Papal announcement, after the first Vatican Council in the mid 19th. century, concerning Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven as a dogma of the church. That is it became an article of the Catholic faith. These developments have confused and dismayed Protestants in their evaluation of Mary as she is portrayed in the New Testament. The handmaid of the Lord who hears and obeys the angelic promise.

But Mary was also the subject of a long running controversy in the early church, a dispute that was not resolved until the mid fifth century by the Council of Chalcedon 451. This dispute was between those who held that Mary through the gift and power of the Holy Spirit became the mother of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, as we say in the Creed of Nicea, ‘conceived by the Holy Ghost born of the Virgin Mary’ and therefore as the decree of Chalcedon declared, Mary is rightfully called ‘theotokos’: but there were others who maintained that Mary was only the mother of the flesh of Christ and that the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity became simply associated with the human Jesus after the birth or was united with Jesus only by moral association. The spokesperson of this view was one named Nestorius. Nestorius’ opponent and upholder of what became accepted by the Council of Chalcedon was St Cyril of Alexandria, whom the Orthodox church call St Cyril the Theologian.. Cyril held that if Mary was not the mother of the divine Word of God, if she was not theotokos, God bearer, then our humanity is unredeemed precisely because in the incarnate Word our humanity was not truly united with God. If our humanity was and is not united with God then what Jesus Christ is and does, what he became has no relationship to who we are, who are conceived and born of our earthly mothers. St Cyril therefore insisted that Mary must be truly described as ‘theotokos’, which literally means ‘God bearer or as it is translated ‘Mother of God’.

What St Cyril saw so clearly, and the importance of Mary derives from this, he saw that Mary becomes the human created means whereby the One who is both God and man, Jesus Christ, shares our humanity from conception to death and thus is able to be the Mediator of all our relationship with God at every stage of our human development from conception to death. The reason why we baptise infants is that at every stage of our human development our Lord perfected our relationship with the Father and gives it to us through His Word and the sacrament of Baptism. For He is the one that traversed our way from conception and birth to death and beyond death, not for His own sake but for ours, and gives us by the Spirit to participate in His new humanity, he has created for us in His risen life

By his participation in who we are He gives us to participate in who He is, the eternal Son of the eternal Father. In Him our alienated humanity is brought into such a relationship with God that through his being born, as we are born, and living in obedience to the Father in our place, fulfilling the law for our sakes, and at the same time assuming the burden of our guilt, even to death upon the cross, we are given to participate in His righteousness and eternal life.

So the significance of Mary for us is that our fallen human nature is present with God. But present not in the form of sovereign creative humanity, but in the nature and form of one who can only receive. That is in Mary’s words in relation to the angel’s promise, “Be it unto me according to your word”.(v.38)

Thus our humanity through Mary’s faithful obedience is made one with the Son of God who fulfils once and for all, God’s purpose of reconciliation for humanity: all this through His unique identification of Himself with us: a unique union with us begun in Mary’s womb, Jesus conception by the Holy Spirit, for our eternal salvation. It is not Mary’s faith and obedience that saves us, but we are not saved without it. Mary’s “Be it unto me according to your word”, establishes in our flesh that miracle of grace whereby the Son of God assumes our fallen humanity and, from the moment of His conception, begins the process whereby He establishes a relationship with the Father for us at every stage of our life from birth to death.

In Mary’s womb there is re-created that relationship between God human beings that was destroyed forever by the fall in the garden of Eden. The One who is conceived in Mary’s flesh begins from the moment of conception the sanctification of our humanity, the re-establishment of our relationship with the Father. This journey will take Him from Bethlehem to Golgotha and beyond death to the right hand of the Father as our Great High Priest who ever intercedes for us and unites us with Himself by the gift and power of the Holy Spirit. This is the substance of the miracle of Christmas about which the Angels sing at Christmas.

And at the beginning of this new work of God is the unique work of Mary whose faith and obedience enables her to become indeed the Mother of God. As such, in relationship to the work of her Son, she is the representative figure of all believers. With her response she defines the truth of our human being in relationship to the miracle of Christmas. We along with Mary can only receive the work of God for us in Jesus Christ as Mary received it from the angel.  ‘Let it be to me according to your word.’

It is only in faith, like that of Marys’, that we can appropriate or receive this promise. Since God promises nothing more or less than the recreation of our fallen human nature in and through the birth, life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. This is a work of atonement and reconciliation that can only be undertaken by the One who was our Creator in the beginning, the eternal Word of God. In and through Mary’s faithful obedience to this promise we too may become children of God. We are offered this miracle today, by receiving, as Mary received the promise of the Angel word, “Be it unto me according to your word”, in this holy sacrament. “This is my body” “This is my Blood” given and shed for us. Amen
Dr. Gordon Watson.

  Where do  we find the joy of living? 

Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all .
  Paul writes to us from his letter to the church at Philippi.
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about‍‍ these things.’         



Let’s  join in a word of  prayer:

O God our Father, we give thanks for the life and ministry of Your son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Help us to hear his words, think of these things, and express the joy we have in Him, even in the continuing upheaval of our broken world.  Guide our time together, at this Sunday of Joy, that we may rejoice together in harmony as we listen to your message for us with our attention toward all that is worthy of praise about our relationship with you and with each other. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Christ Jesus, Amen.

Advent gives us a unique opportunity to visit Jesus in a cradle in Bethlehem, through the lens of Jesus Christ the ascended Lord of all creation.  We find the joy of Jesus, as we are reminded of the wondrous birth in Bethlehem and we worship him.   We  also find the joy of our life in Christ, with the Disciples as they witnessed his ascension, and  ‘Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.’ 

I find so much joy as I join in worship, with our songs, Scripture, prayers, and fellowship.  But what about those times outside of our worship, as we face the challenges of living together in a broken world.  Where do  we then find the joy of living.  I suggest that we find this joy in our fellowship, our mission in the community, and our growing together in faith.

One pastor once formed a “mutual encouragement” fellowship at a time of stress in his parish. The members subscribed to a simple formula applied before speaking to any person on any subject.  

To think about what they were intending to say: 

  • T – Is it true? · H – Is it helpful? · I – Is it inspiring?  
  • N – Is it necessary? · K – Is it kind?

If what they were about to say did not pass these tests, they were to reframe their thinking into something commendable, excellent and encouraging.

Paul encourages us not only to reframe our thinking on what we will say to one another, but what we will hear from one another.  What we will say and hear in the world around us.   Just think of how many disagreements and misunderstandings we can avoid if we simply reframe what we hear and what we say.  

If we determine not to listen to all the things that are not worthy of consideration.   If we determine not to say all the things that would only stir up unhealthy dialogue.  By doing this, the peace of God will be with us, as Paul says.

Every word that we speak or write originates in a thought – whether consciously or unconsciously.  Our thoughts, formed from our attitudes, will make friends or turn people away. God created our minds with incredible power.  But he gives us free will about what we’re thinking. If we think good thoughts, our words will be positive. And we can experience joy of sharing those words.

Each of us has a unique perception of the world we live in. This is because our perceptions are formed from our past thoughts.  Thoughts introduced by what we have seen and what we have heard.  The Bible tells us in Proverbs that  “As a person thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7)

Our spiritual battle is most often in the world of our thoughts. Overcoming the unhealthy perceptions of our past by filling our minds and hearts with healthy perceptions created by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  By the joy of our salvation.   

The Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith in our world of thought, as we hear the word of God, share in the sacraments of Christ Jesus, and experience life changing fellowship with like minded Christians.  But the battle only begins there. 

The battle continues with the Holy Spirit training our conscience with ‘whatever is true, honorable, excellent and worthy of praise’.  The Holy Spirit training our conscience to filter out all thinking that is not in line with God’s will for us.  Forming us into the best people that God wants us to be. Joyful people.  But be sure this training will not always be easy or painless.

The key to triumph in the challenge of Christian living is learning how to let God guide the free will of our thoughts and align our attitudes with his Word.

While it is important to speak in line with God’s will, it is also important to listen in line with God’s will.  To have strong faith, and operate in the Christian principles that will empower us to be  victorious in the way we think, and live.

Psychologists tell us that our life goes in the direction of our most dominant thoughts. We cannot expect to be kind, gentle, loving, or patient without thinking the right things. Without hearing and experiencing the right things.  Without speaking the right things.  The Scriptures agree with these Psychologists, in describing the fruit of the Holy Spirit imparted to us by faith.

Praise God.  God knows that we will always make mistakes.  He gives us permission to fail, to repent, to be renewed, and to learn the discipline that comes with failure and  forgiveness.  Training us to look  at others with joy in our heart. 

That is why we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the life he lived, the sacrifice he made to atone for our failure, and the resurrection that gives us victory of life in eternity.     

But we still need to be active in the process to gain control over what we hear, what we think, and what we say.  Trusting in Christ Jesus, and listening to the Holy Spirit, is active Christian living. Not passive living with a ready excuse for our human behaviour.  

There is really no excuse for ignoring the Holy Spirit as he trains our conscience.  There is every reason to rejoice when we feel the sharp tinge of reprimand within our conscience for the angry words that we say with intention, or the wicked things we accept to hear and view with interest. 

This rebuke witnesses to us that the Holy Spirit is active in moulding us into the person that our Saviour wants each of us to be.  And so, we can hear the words of Paul in Philippians with a new insight.  ‘Rejoice‍‍ in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.’

We can follow the advice of Paul when he encourages us to ‘‍ Let our gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.’  Our Saviour smiles every time we speak with gentleness, respond with gentleness, act with gentleness.  Because this is how we witness the hope, peace and joy that are the core of our Christian character.

And even when we do slip, and need reprove, Paul encourages us ‘not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God.’  Because we have his assurance of forgiveness and renewal every time we come to him in repentance.  And, thank God, his peace ‘which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus,’ restoring the joy of our salvation.

As we turn our thoughts to all the good things that captivate our attention, we can follow the advice of Paul and ‘rejoice in the Lord always’.  We can set our will to celebrate our Christianity.  We can make the choice to live our life of faith in Jesus with joy, even in the face of life’s cruellest disappointments and heartaches and grief’s.   We can face each new day, with a sense of victory and energy, as we speak with encouragement and listen to others with gentleness, as we cling to the character of Jesus Christ. 

The grace and peace of our Triune God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.               

Rev David Thompson 

“No fake news”.

The Text: Luke 1:78-79


David: 0428 667 754

Being the season of Advent, this sermon is based on the imagery of the advent candles.


Today’s theme is peace – a major aspect of life with God. 

The Words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, are good to start us thinking about this:

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78–79 (NRSV)

In the church we often use the greeting: ‘The peace of the Lord be with you’, and the response: ‘And also with you’.

When we are greeting with those words we may not be feeling very peaceful. It might be we have had another difficult moment with someone, or a troubling circumstance has happened, even on the way to worship.

One of the reasons we have this greeting in worship this way is, that, through God’s people, Jesus bestows his peace upon us.

Peace is at the heart of God and God’s word to us.

In the Old Testament it is the word ‘Shalom’. Shalom is beautiful term, pregnant with meaning. Not just peace, but also wholeness, welfare and deliverance. 

To wish someone Shalom says: “I want you to have not only peace, but also come into physical, mental and spiritual wholeness and deliverance’. So not just a feeling, but a process too. It’s beautiful.

Who creates the beauty though? Who makes SHALOM it what it is?

It won’t surprise you to know that this sort of peace is something that is made possible by God. In the beginning God lived at peace with us in the garden. God used to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. Such was the peace that existed! Ever since we disrupted that peace by reaching for that fruit we were told not to have, God has been trying to bring us back into peace. You see, God wants to walk in the garden with us once more.

Peace is a very relational thing. A side-by-side concept.  No surprise – God is entirely relational. And so God comes to be amongst us in a very side-by-side way. Why? So he can bring us back into his garden.

One of the well-known prophecies about Jesus says:

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…For unto us a child is born…And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’  (various verses from Isaiah 9).

Jesus is our Prince of Peace.

But he is not a prince like William or Charles waiting for the Queen to die. This description of prince in the Hebrew language refers to one who exercises dominion. It’s not a second-rate power, but first rate.

Now as much as I like the idea of having the first-rate power on my side, its what he has achieved that is the really important thing. To see what his achievements are we might start with Jeremiah 6:14:

“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace”.

The context to this verse is this: The prophets and priests are saying there is no problem in Israel. In fact however, serious sin abounds; but the prophets and priests are washing over it.

Donald Trump used to talk about fake news. What these priests were doing was fake peace.

What Jesus achieved for us was anything but a washing over of our condition. He wasn’t into merely dressing our wounds. One doesn’t dress the wounds of a dead person and expect them to get better.

And that applies to us.  Ephesians 2:1 tells us this pretty stark news: ‘As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins’. Or as Romans 6:23 puts it: ‘The wages of sin is death’.

Jesus did not just dress our wounds. Instead, he received deep terminal wounds on our account. The scourge of the lead tipped whip of a Roman torturer. ‘With his wounds- his stripes – we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:6).

Then the nails from the Roman Execution squad: ‘But he was pierced for our transgression. He was crushed for our iniquities’ Isaiah 53:5a

And the glorious conclusion: ‘The punishment that brought us peace was upon him’.

There was no fake peace with Jesus.

He entered deeply into our condition and took deep, deep wounds in our place. So deep they went through his wrists, feet and side!

So let’s paraphrase Jeremiah in terms of what Jesus did for each of us, starting with the original:

‘They dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.’

Now imagine Jesus reporting to the Father on what happened on Calvary and in the open grave: “I address the wounds of my people because they are serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ I say, for there is NOW complete peace.”

So what we now have is peace with God. Romans 5:1 puts it like this: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Peace with God given to us when we believe God is the foundation of all peace. If people lived out of it more there would be a lot more peace. If people were determined to put it into action there would be a lot more peace.

But let’s come back to a day today when we might feel as though we lack real peace. Unsettled. Even questioning of God and why life is not more ‘outwardly’ peaceful.

We need to remember these words of Jesus from the night before he died. They come from John’s gospel. He said to his disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.

What we have here is Jesus telling us that despite what he will do on the cross, the day-to-day rubbish we have to put up with won’t change. There will always be trouble.  “But take heart … or ‘be of good comfort’ as some other translation put it… I have overcome the world!”

That is what Jesus tells us. We shouldn’t have an expectation of some sort of global mega peace. And certainly in our own lives a sort of ‘feet up lying around the pool on kabanas cocktail in hand’ peace. Sometimes we get glimpses. It’s nice when it comes along. 

But to think it is all the time is just unrealistic. Why doesn’t God bring me more peace? Less disagreement in my family? At my workplace? On the road? In the stories I hear on the news?

Well the problem is not God but our distorted view of what he has said. There is no promise of final peace now. There is however the promise of peace in the midst of a tumultuous world. That’s why Jesus tells us some of this will almost be with us. “There will always be trouble” (John 16:33b)

But because he partners with us as he changes us to be more like him, he also shows us how we can make a difference as people who receive peace from him. And that’s by sharing his peace.

He says:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).

There might be trouble, but we are also blessed by Christ to be Christ to each other.

And how about this: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

Is that too demanding?

No! God is generous to us here.

In this world there will always be trouble.       Yet, nevertheless, this side of eternity, we have important work to do in as far as it depends on us, live at peace with everyone. Share his peace.

And sometimes, that’s as simple as apologizing and asking for forgiveness.

Jesus brought us peace!

No superficial band-aid for the deep terminal wound of our sin and separation from him, so that now, brought back into the garden by our prince of peace, we are his agents of peace in his world. Therefore:  May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


How do you feel when you see the police?

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.garth

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, 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.

Fourth Sunday in Advent

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.

Third Sunday in Advent

Isaih 61:1-4 8-11 Thessalonians 5:16-24 St John 1:6-8,19-28

There are at least two things which are of importance for understanding the background of the reading from the holy gospel of St John Chp.1, this morning; concerning John the Baptist.

First, there is the obvious historical question regarding John the Baptist. gordon5According to the gospels John’s mother Elizabeth was a cousin of Jesus mother Mary. Both had births signalled by an angelic emissary. In John’s case his mother’s conception of him is the occasion of his father being struck dumb. Zechariah, his father was released from his disability only after the birth of his son and his revelation that his son’s name would be John.

Second, John became an itinerant preacher like Jesus, a prophet, proclaiming the immanent coming of the expected Day of the Lord. God’s final judgment of Israel and the world. He therefore preached repentance to the people in the light of this coming great event. He gathered around him, like Jesus, a band of followers. We hear in this same first chapter of John (v35) that while he was standing with his disciples, he saw Jesus, and he said to them, ‘Behold the Lamb of God’.

Thirdly, related directly to the words of the lectionary reading for today, (Vs 6-8 and 19-28) there would appear to be, what some have seen as a self-conscious attempt by John the Evangelist, to emphasise an obvious great difference between the persons of Jesus and John. That John the Baptist was and is not the promised Messiah of Israel. This repeated emphasis is seen as evidence in the early church community, with whom John the Evangelist was familiar, that there were those who had a higher view of John’s person than that he was simply a forerunner, a witness of One who was to come. Here we see something not uncommon in early the churches, which St Paul addresses in his letters also; party spirit, one group or another holding quite differing views on important theological and ethical issues. On more than three occasions in this chapter the issue of John the Baptists identity and authority is raised. From three different perspectives it is emphatically made clear that John the Baptist is not the One who is to come and inaugurate God’s kingdom and reveal God’s judgment. Firstly, John himself says of Jesus, “This is He of whom I said’, He who comes after me ranks before me, for He was before me’.” (v15) Then there are two quite different discussions between John the Baptist and the Priests and Levites from the Jerusalem temple, and also a separate discussion with the Pharisees about his status. In both of these discussions the Baptist makes it clear that He is simply one pointing away from himself to Another who is to come, and on whose behalf, he has come simply as a witness, to bear testimony, as a “voice crying in the wilderness”. (v23)

So, what is John the Baptist’s testimony, or witness? Remember the word testimony or witness in the NT is μαρτυρέω from which we have the word martyr. This was to prove true for the Baptist; being beheaded at the whim of King Herod and Salome the daughter of Herod’s wife Herodias. The substance of the Baptist’s testimony or witness was according to the text in (v7) is, “He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light that all may believe through him, He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light”.

The issue now is made clear: since the Baptist by his own confession is clearly not the light nor the one who is to come what is the purpose of his being there? It is to “bear witness to the light”. The Baptist is to testify to the Light. St John, the Evangelist, makes it clear what, or Who, is “the Light”. For this light is not the impersonal physical reality, composed of particles or waves called photons. This reality we know about, it is the basis of our understanding the world, including our sight, it is created light. Created light is one of the basic building blocks of all matter and its speed determines both the weight and mass of everything that exists in the material world, at least, according to Einstein.

But John the Baptist’s witness is not to this light but the Light of the world, the light which gives reality to the world and everything in it. The Uncreated Light of God’s very own being. The light of Him who was in the beginning with God and without whom nothing was made that was made. For as far as the Gospel writer is concerned this One who is Light was with God from and to all eternity and is of one essence with God. Thus, the Light to which the Baptist testifies is not a thing like a photon or wave of energy but a person. As Jesus later says of Himself, “I am the light of the world”. (Chp 8:12) As such John the Baptist testifies to the One who is the Light which lights up the reality of the world before God. Being Himself the uncreated light of God, He reveals the darkness that has come into the world of God’s creation that attempts to negate humanity’s being as created by God. But in Him human life has been irradiated by the uncreated light of God. As St John says, being the Uncreated Light of God Jesus is “the true light that enlightens every human person”. (v9) He overcomes the darkness that inhabits our lives as the One who in the beginning brought our life into existence from the dust of the earth and breathed into humans such that they became living beings. St Johns witness is that this One who in the beginning created all that was made now inhabits our creaturely being in such a manner that he turns our degraded being, having been grasped by the darkness, and wrestles it back to its true relationship to the light of its life in God. He does this not for His own sake, He never ceases to be the uncreated light of God, but this His act of self-humiliation is for our sake. It is we who are enlightened anew by His light so that we may come to believe and know the truth about ourselves before God through and in Him. John the Baptist’s testimony has as its purpose that ‘all may believe through Him”. (v 7)

It is for this reason that when we read St John’s account of the holy incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, we appear to enter a different world to that of the homely figures of Jesus and Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and the Angels, of Stars and Wise men. Most people today, regard such images of Christmas as harmless tales of special relevance only for children, but of no real meaning for adult society except perhaps to the GDP figures related to retail spending.

This state of affairs prompts the question why Christians believe in and practise Christian faith in today’s environment of nearly universal unbelief. The answer is simple: because they believe Christianity is actually true and that this is the only reasonable basis for any serious commitment to the Christian faith. Now it is St. John’s account of the incarnation, the birth of Jesus that raises this question starkly for us. John places the incarnation in the context of what is understood to be the reality of the human condition. That is life as lived in this world here and now.

St John speaks to us from the situation in which he sees our human condition as enlightened by the advent, the coming, of the Son of God into the world. It is a world which is alienated from the source of its life, living in darkness, subject to the thraldom of death. He speaks of a battle between light and darkness and of darkness not overcoming the light. If we feel this version of reality into which the Son of God comes, according to St John, is irrelevant to us and our more mature tastes; that we are people of good intentions and do not feel alienated from one another and are not alienated from God; that we live in a world that will progress in time to an earthly utopia. Do we feel like this? Do we believe that? Does it describe who we are? If it does then we must say that God’s strange journey into the world in such an unheard of manner, as depicted here by St John, was and is for no purpose; it is in fact irrelevant to us.

But what if what St John says is true? Then irrespective of what we may feel about ourselves we must consider the fact that we are the ones for whom the eternal Son of God, the One who is with the Father from all eternity, God’s word, the Revealer of God’s uncreated Light, undertook God’s strange journey into the darkness of our world for our sake. His light reveals the truth about our untruth. For He undertook his strange journey into a world that is alienated from God and living in our darkness to be for us God’s eternal light and Truth. Thus, we must think that such an act of extravagance by Him who is the Light of God was and is, from God’s point of view, necessary. And if this is so we must accept as true for us St John’s statement in verse 16 of the first chapter from which we read. Verse 16 says, “And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace”.

These words tell us the outcome of that history of creation and reconciliation which St John narrates from verses 1-15 and of which the Word of God is the Subject. The Word who was in the beginning and through whom all things came to be that was created, who became flesh and revealed the Father’s light and glory, it is of this Word that St. John says “we have all received grace upon grace”.

The meaning of these words is not that grace is divided up into different sorts of grace, but that at every point we are to understand that humans’ relationship to God in both their creation and their reconciliation with God and each other is established and continued by the grace of the Word. That both the gift and the receiving of the gift, the act of creation and our being created; the act of God’s self-revelation and our reconciliation; the believing in and the receiving of the gift in faith is the work of the Word. So it is that of His fullness we have received grace upon grace.

Of this fullness Martin Luther says, “As the sun is not darkened by the fact that the whole world enjoys its light, as a thousand lights can be lit from one light and this would not affect the first light, so Christ our Lord is an endless spring and fountain of all grace, truth and righteousness, having neither measure, end or source, so that even though the whole world draw enough grace and truth from Him for all to become angels, yet he would not lose a single drop”.

In St. John’s terms “from His fullness” means that Christ is not only the giver of our life before God and each other as created by and reconciled in Him with the Father and the Spirit: He is the gift as well. It is Christ Himself the giver and the gift we now celebrate in this holy sacrament. We then know the true miracle of Christmas.

Dr Gordon Watson.