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.

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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.

Second Sunday in Advent

The text: Mark 1:1-8garth

   When we think of “snap, crackle and pop”, Rice Bubbles or Coco Pops would normally come to mind, but not munching on a bowl of locusts! I’ve always wondered why this would have been the staple diet for John the Baptist. But it seems locusts are not unusual to the palate of the Israelis and people there still eat locusts today. The wings and legs are torn off, bodies dried, roasted, or ground up and baked, seasoned with salt. Mixed with honey, locusts would provide a meal rich in protein, minerals and sugar and would have given John the Baptist valuable sustenance during his preaching in the desert.

Then there is John’s wardrobe. I guess his fashion stylist was going for the ‘wild’ look. Wearing a garment made of camel’s hair with a leather belt while standing in the desert under a hot sun isn’t something we might picture as particularly comfortable or desirable. But this was the customary clothing of a prophet, noted in Zechariah 13.

However Mark doesn’t include detail of John’s wardrobe and diet to explain the practical reasons for them, but to highlight the deep symbolical significance they carry. John’s clothing conveyed a message in itself. The people who came to John would identify him as a spokesman from God, and more particularly, the one of whom the Old Testament prophets had spoken. John’s meal, so unusual to us, would have evoked memories of God’s promise to the Israelites to bring them into their own land, a good land with abundant supply from God, a land flowing with milk and honey. Yet the locusts would also bring to remembrance God’s judgment on Israel; his warning that he would send a locust plague to devastate the land, sparking a national fast and mourning, during which the people were called to “rend their hearts, not their garments.”

As the Israelites came to John in the hot, uninhabited wilderness which in itself symbolised the spiritual state of the nation, they would have been reminded of their desert wanderings for forty years because of their grumbling and lack of faith. Yet as John stood there by the Jordan River, the location would have been striking for another reason: the Jordan was the gateway for Israel to enter into their new land that God had promised. So John’s ministry location was significant in itself. It is time to repent―a time for new beginnings. Indeed John had been sent by God as the forerunner to Jesus: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John’s task was to confront the people so that their hearts could be prepared to receive their Saviour. And so he preached a baptism of repentance. ‘Repentance’―that is a hard word for human ears to hear. It’s a thought laughable to the world. Even to God’s own people it’s a word that grates in our ears, wounding our pride. No one likes hearing that word, especially at this time of year. It’s a word that doesn’t fit with the candy canes and Christmas cards we receive, the carols wafting through the speakers in the shopping centres, the tinsel, Christmas lights, and fake snow in the windows. “Society’s changed and the church needs to change with it,” people say.

But as we wait in hope for our Lord’s coming, John’s words in the wilderness are more relevant than ever. They are not words out of sync with our culture and shifting morals. They are God’s words for us today, the church standing in the materialistic wasteland of our Western world. How might John’s sermon be relevant to us today? Did God give us a level of pride so great that it excuses his commandment to love? Did He call us to be judge over our brother and sister and decide who is forgiven, and when? Did he call us to lift ourselves above others and to be indifferent and insensitive to their needs? Did he call us to become workaholics and work hard at winning the approval of others rather than serving Christ? What—or who—do we look to for our security, worth, approval and peace? If the affirmation of others, or the things we do—even our service to the church—or our accomplishments and achievements take the place of Christ, then they are all idols.

The word ‘repent’ means a complete about-face; a U-turn. That’s something that we can’t actually do by our own strength. But the Good News in John’s preaching of repentance is his preaching of a baptism of repentance. Baptism is the means for repentance and baptism is God’s work. The change within comes after the washing. Through John’s preaching in the wilderness, God led the people to John to be baptised, to cleanse and change the hearts of his people, so that by God’s work in baptism they were now empowered to repent and prepare for Christ’s coming.

The Good News of Advent is that God longs to forgive people and give them his peace. How do we know? The purpose of repentance is to receive the forgiveness of sins. The word for forgive literally means to send away, to untie, to release. God knows that is not a work human beings can manage. So he sent the One who John was pointing ahead to. God made the paths straight all the way from heaven to earth when he sent Jesus into the world for you and came to you when he baptised you with his Holy Spirit to make you holy. Through the preaching of God’s Word the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of his people and moves them to turn towards Jesus with our sins, for him to release us from them.

It’s a harsh world out there. A wilderness, where people are lost and confused by so many competing ideologies about life and spirituality, promising so much hope and fulfilment, but delivering so little. A wilderness where people are consumed by the consumer lifestyle trying to shop their way to happiness and create the perfect Christmas paradise. A wilderness where people carry the burden and anxiety of the longing to be loved. A wilderness of pain from the cycle of selfish abuse and neglect at the hands of others who care only about themselves.

Humans devise many ways to attempt to deal with sin. We can justify it: “They deserved it!” We can rationalise it: “It was done in the name of love, and I was just trying to help.” We can reframe it in more acceptable language—“It was a spirited conversation” even though it was really a volatile argument. We can simply attempt to cover it up. Or we can even blame God, and say it’s the personality we were born with.

The Advent message is the message of the hope we have in Christ―not hope as the world understands but an expectation that Christ will come again. We also expect him to be with us now, here, through his word, because that is how he has promised to bring you his grace. Indeed the One whom John pointed to and called the people to prepare for, has arrived and keeps on arriving in every worship service. Here, in the church, is our refuge, for Christ is here. He will not drive us away but will turn us, with our sin, toward himself, to show us his mercy and favour.

This is what makes the church different from any other organisation in the world. Jesus doesn’t deal with your sin the way the world would deal with sin. He doesn’t bury your sin deeper by covering it up, but he lifts you up out of the pit. He doesn’t reframe it but releases you from it. He doesn’t justify it but he justifies you. Some say that right preparation for attending worship would be to leave our sins at the door before we enter church. No. Bring them in, with you. Bring them here. Because here is the Good News of the forgiveness of sins. Jesus bestows on you peace that the world cannot give, because it is the peace given to you from your Heavenly Father. Peace be with you. Amen

First Sunday in Advent

Text: Mark 13:24-37

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may keep watch for the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Have you noticed what’s coming? For example, have you noticed that Christmas is coming, and how can you tell?

 You can tell because the shops and streets are full of Christmas decorations, wrappings, lights, gift ideas, etc. You can tell because Christmas music is playing. You can tell because the TV advertisements let you know what you need to buy to make yourself or your loved ones happy.

 Or, have you noticed a number of new films coming soon? Boxing Day is traditionally when many blockbuster films open in cinemas around the country.

Or, have you noticed that the days are getting longer and warmer, and the agapanthus and jacarandas are flowering?

Or, have you noticed the Lord is coming, and how can you tell?

Well, you can tell by the signs.

Just like a television advertisement or movie trailer which changes scenes rapidly, today’s gospel reading, or rather Jesus through St Mark, is using a montage of pictures which advertise the Lord’s coming in a very contemporary way.

Try to imagine what he’s saying, picturing the signs:

The opening scene: Cosmic chaos! You watch the sun go dark; the moon goes black without the sun, the stars fall from their positions, and the heavenly authorities and powers are shaken from their foundations.

Change of scene: You see the Son of man coming on the clouds surrounded by the light of his glory. The angels whizz backwards and forwards to the ends of the earth, gathering all the chosen ones.

Change of scene: You see a fig tree at spring time, sprouting a new, green, tender shoot, advertising the coming summer; then you see a picture of the universe, and you’re disturbed to see everything, including the heavens and the earth disappear over time, yet you also notice the words spoken by God strangely remain unaffected by the ravages of time and don’t fade at all.              

   Change of scene: You see an alarm clock about to go off, but because it hasn’t got any hands to tell what time it will happen, no-one can figure out what time it will go off. You even see the Son of God go up and inspect it, but he too doesn’t know what time it’ll go off.

Change of scene: You watch a man going away on a journey, leaving his servants in charge of all his belongings. You see the doorkeeper of his property stand at watch. Time goes by and you notice the same doorkeeper at different times of the night and day still standing, still watching, still waiting.

Change of scene: everything is going dark, but as you see this, you notice more and more people falling asleep, and fewer staying awake. The scene ends with a word, strong and clear: Watch!

Like a richly colourful and startling advertisement, this montage of pictures creates a sense of anticipation.

In the church we anticipate and eagerly look forward to the coming of the Day of the Lord. This is what the Advent season is all about. Advent isn’t designed just to make us ready for Christmas, but to remind us and make us ready for Christ coming in his glory. And while we may not see the sun going black or see any stars fall, we know the moment of his return is getting nearer all the time.

But, we are not very good at keeping watch!

We aren’t very good at waiting because we want things NOW. We’re not even patient at watching sport. Many people prefer the quick action games like one-day cricket or 20-20 cricket to the slower battle of the tests. We also want our meals NOW, that’s why we have microwaves and fast food. We want to sing Christmas carols now and then by the time Christmas is here we are tired of them. We want to see the films now. We want the new products now so we can be first in our social circle to have the latest thing. We want to get better now rather than letting nature take its course. We want the highly paid positions now rather than working our way up the ladder. We want to get paid for our crops now. We want to receive the blessings of retirement now. We want to be wise now. Even emails and mobile phones demand our immediate attention.

Why are we all so busy and feeling stressed out? Because everything has to be done…NOW! But who said everything has to be that way?

Have you noticed how we’ve become so impatient? Is this healthy for us? We have forgotten how to be patient, to watch and wait.
We need to re-learn the art of silence. We need to re-learn the teaching of rest and relaxation instead of our constant work and busy-ness.

But that’s not all! We’ve also become passive watchers. What once used to make our blood boil or cause us to cry, no longer affects us or moves us to action. Many of us were deeply affected when we first saw the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre buildings or the Bali bombings on our television screens. But what about now? Terrible atrocities seem to be reported on every night in our news bulletins. What is our reaction? Not another terrorist attack that we are tired of hearing about. It also seems as the amount of violence increases on our TV screens, the less we notice it; we become conditioned to it. Violence and terror don’t move us to action the way it used to. The most we do is shake our heads and change the television channel to find something else more appealing.

In other words, we’re becoming people that hide or ignore our emotions. What once used to shock us, we now turn a blind eye to. What once used to terrify us, we now only shrug our shoulders.

Unfortunately this same attitude affects the church. For example, when the Word of God strikes deeply at our hearts, we might just consider it an “itch” and ignore it. When God urges repentance, we self-justify our actions and excuse ourselves from self-examination. When God announces peace, forgiveness, comfort and love, we simply shrug our shoulders as if nothing has happened.

Yet we are called to watch – actively and patiently. The Spirit calls us to action like a concierge standing watch. He calls us to have patience as we wait in constant anticipation.

But just like a scary movie, we might be afraid to watch. Some of us are afraid to look for the signs of the Lord’s coming, because it reminds us of our fragility, our feebleness, our weakness, or our sinfulness. Yet for those in Christ, watching for Jesus isn’t something to fear.

Even though some of the signs Jesus talks about may be scary to some, to Christians they’re something to look forward to. We look forward to them because we’re among the chosen ones!

Since we’re God’s chosen ones, even if the sun were to lose its light and energy, we’ve nothing to fear. Even if the stars were to fall from the sky, we can instead celebrate the coming of the Lord. Even when Jesus comes in glory and many shake with fear, we can clap our hands and cheer our victorious King.

We can do this because we’re among those he’ll gather up into his eternal kingdom. He’s already placed his name on us in baptism, claiming us to be his own. Therefore, confident of his love and faithfulness, we can constantly watch and look forward to his promised return.

This is the story of Advent. When Advent comes, we’re called to watch. We’re to watch ourselves and admit our impatience, our inaction and our laziness. We’re to repent of our busyness that has squeezed Jesus and his word out of our lives. We’re to repent of our sinfulness, but in such a manner that we don’t fear his anger, but instead we are confident of his mercy, compassion and forgiveness.

When Advent comes, we’re called to watch for Jesus. We’re to watch for the signs of his coming and listen to his Words of promise. We’re to look to Jesus who truly comes to us already, hidden in a child born in Bethlehem, hidden in the words of a sermon, hidden in water mixed with his holy name, and hidden with bread and wine that truly becomes his body and blood.

Just like an advertisement announcing the arrival of a film, product or celebration, Advent creates sense of anticipation. We anticipate that Jesus will return, for that’s what he said. Jesus doesn’t lie. His word remains true and valid today as the day he first promised.

Therefore stay awake and watch, actively and patiently! Watch, knowing that salvation is ours and we’re the chosen ones who’ll be gathered up to enter his kingdom. Rejoice that we’ve been selected to enter his kingdom without fear.

As we stand and watch, clinging to God’s word, we’re assured that he’s not far off, but here with us, standing beside us patiently. In this way as we listen attentively, eat and drink eagerly, we’re assured that salvation is ours even now. So the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds as we wait and watch for our coming Lord Christ Jesus. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

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

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

david3
David:0414521661

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Thompson.

Third Sunday of Advent

 

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

Rejoice in the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Second Sunday of Advent

John The Baptist  Revd. Martin Dale

 

Sermon: John the Baptist – Radical and Countercultural par excellence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAUSE

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

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

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

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

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

John was an important figure for the early Church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was also a simplicity in his lifestyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

what was known as the Schmalkaldic League.

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

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

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

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

And he wanted to marry her.

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

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

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

To the eternal shame of the Reformation

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

Such was the courage and integrity of the man.

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read by Bob Rayward.

First Sunday of Advent

Advent 1

Luke 21:25-36

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

4th Sunday in Advent 23rd December 2018

Luke 1:42-45

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

So close to the celebration now, we’ve been waiting for 3 weeks. It’s almost here, He’s in Mary’s womb, but still we wait. This waiting for God’s word to be fulfilled is something people have done almost from creation on,20180311_103505 (1) they were waiting, we’ve been waiting, and here Mary and Elizabeth are both waiting. Waiting for the coming of their Lord and ours. Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, anointed one; the one who would save the Israelites and bring salvation and joy to all the world, peace to those favoured. But Elizabeth and Mary don’t just feel anticipation for the wonders to come, they’re thankful. Even John in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy with the Holy Spirit. They all wonder and marvel at what God has put into motion, what He has done and will do.

This is the last Sunday of Advent, the first season of our church year. And if you’ve kept track at home, you’ll notice that the church year is a very helpful tool for teaching the faith. We start the Christian year with Advent, then Christmas, Epiphany, Transfiguration, focussing on who Jesus is; God, man, and Saviour of both Jews and gentiles. That is why, while we wait, we can still celebrate, together with the blessed virgin Mary, Elizabeth and her unborn child. We know who Jesus is, even though He hadn’t really done much at this point, not even born yet.

But why celebrate before anything has happened? We don’t have a house warming party before we’ve moved, or celebrate someone’s retirement before they’ve finished school. That’s ridiculous. You have to wait until after the thing has happened before you party. However, if I promise you you’re favourite food, if I promise my wife an overseas trip, if we are promised something from someone we trust we thank them for it and our thanks reflects our trust and the magnitude of the gracious promise.

Now God Almighty promised His suffering, crushed and dispersed people salvation from all those evils. Time and again The Lord promised that He would come, to save and heal them, to be their holy, just and righteous king, to restore their relationship to Him, to bring them complete peace, joy, comfort, even everlasting life (Ezekiel 34:11-16; Isaiah 57:14-19; Daniel 12:2). And just before today’s text Mary heard God’s word, that she would be the one to bear the Messiah, the one to come, God Himself (Luke 1:31-33). Highly favoured, greatly graced, Mary surely is, the mother of God her saviour! I can not imagine how amazing and wonderful it would be to be told by God that I would be the one to bear my saviour. For a few reasons, one of which I am not a woman. But even to be told that you would raise Him who would bring blessing and peace to you and the whole wide world, like Joseph all those years ago, how would you react? If God just sent an angel to me would be wonderful enough, but Mary would be to one to bear her own Lord. Elizabeth by the Holy Spirit says, Blessed are you among women, and calls Mary the ‘mother of my Lord’! Thanks be to God!

Mary trusted God, believed His wonderful promise, but still asked how this could be. And God in His marvellous grace shows her that none of His words will fail, pointing her to something she could grasp, much like Baptism or Holy Communion for us; that her barren relative now was pregnant (Luke 1:36-37). And so we come to our text, Mary rejoices in her waiting, she knows that God will fulfil His words, His wonderful promises; Elizabeth, filled by the Holy Spirit in her humility wonders at God’s grace; Even the unborn John, later ‘the baptist’, leaps for joy in the womb. Waiting yes, but also wonder joy and praising God, Lord of all. And in the same way we can praise God for His mighty power to save all people from our own selfishness and evil and even from death, and we can thank Him, Father Son and Spirit, for who they are and what they will do for you at the end of time.

Blest, happy and joyous are you who have believed that the Lord fulfils all His promises to you. Amen

Joseph Graham

3rd Sunday in Advent 16th December 2018

  How are the Christmas preparations going? Is it usually the women doing the hard yards – thinking of presents, getting everyone together, planning menus, as well as making sure everything is tidy and ready?mike “What do you mean, I’m not putting in.  I did the whipper snippering. All of it, the footpath as well.” Unspoken thoughts, ‘That’s more than enough. Besides, I am amazing. I am male. And I don’t carry on like I am entitled. Why can’t I be appreciated more, hassled less, it’ll all work out?’
Whether we are doing more than our fair share, or not pulling our weight, let’s ask what God is doing during this lead up to the gift of Christmas, and how do we align with God’s work? Our candle was about joy – what brings us joy, and what brings God joy? How can our hearts and God’s hearts line up?

John the Baptist was a strong voice – the first God voice for centuries. And it was a strong call: don’t rely on your religious credentials, your family history. Step outside the Promised Land, admit you need to make a new start, get washed clean in the Jordan River, and then, when you go back home, actually walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Bear fruit, good fruit, do practical actual good. John the Baptist then gave guidance to people in their different positions. Share with others. Don’t use your position or authority to exploit or abuse others. No more excuses, no more looking good but not showing any love, and to all of us sometimes, he might be saying, no more wringing your hands, no more helplessness and hopelessness. It is ok to be stuck, not knowing what to do, which way to go.  But that is for a season only. Bring that stuckness to God, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what that is a about. Is it fear, or faith?
John the Baptist was into doing actual good in your everyday, about making a difference. Let’s explore his image of a good tree bearing good fruit. You are grafted on to Christ. You belong, you are welcomed. You are joined to Christ, with God the good gardener. It’s pure gift. It’s forgiveness. It’s Christ dying on the cross for you, and saying, ‘I’ve got you. You sins are covered.’ It’s the promise that no matter what judgements are flying around, and what things keep rising up to accuse you, and what keeps rushing around inside you, God says, ‘You are my dearly loved son my dearly loved daughter.’ Breathe in, breathe out. Trust.
Now, out of that deep, utterly sure connection to God, the connection of grace and forgiveness, what will happen. Keep the nutrients going into your system: the good practices of listening to God’s Word and letting it go down deep inside you, trusting the Lord’s Supper to keep you in God’s love.
Never write yourself off.  The OT reading talked about shame changing to praise. Our most shameful, embarrassing or humiliating things are never wasted. Sometimes they are meant to be, to bring us into a teachable space. The grace and kindness we receive from others there will open up a God space inside us. They help us to be more aware of others, in a less putting down way. The hard work done there, on those persistent faults, or those places of great need, where we have allowed others to minster to us, become places from where we reach out to others with love in words and actions, love that comes from God.
If you are Yr 8 and you’ve done the whipper snippering, good on you. Part of the joy of Advent is showing love in practical ways.

Rev. Mike Mayer