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.’         

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David:0414521661

candles

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

‘Peace’

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David: 0428 667 754

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

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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.

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.

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David:0414521661

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.

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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