Second Sunday after Christmas

Immanuel – At Christmas God enters creation Matt 1:23, John 1:14

  Mary Poppins  is a classic children’s movie. I’m sure you have seen, or at least heard of it. Those who have seen it might recall the scene where Bert, the chimney sweep,  draws pictures with coloured chalk on the pavement. The curious thing about this scene, is that Bert, Mary and the two children don’t just sit back and admire his work – they actually jump into the picture. darren2They enter his creation.  They experience the world he has just drawn in all it’s glory, beauty and wonder. They engage and interact with this world in a way that you can never do so by just observing the picture on the pavement. They dance with the penguins and ride the horses from the merry-go-round as they sing – including the famous Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. There are some similarities here to Christmas.  After God created the world, he doesn’t just stand back and watch. He is continuously involved in it. He continues to care for his creation. He continues to provide for you and me. Many have shared stories of how they or their property were miraculously spared in the recent fires. On Boxing Day, our family had an incident on a river that could have ended a lot worse, but we thank God that he was there protecting us, bringing us all to safety.
Yet God doesn’t just intimately care for his creation. God is so involved, that like Bert entered the world he’d drawn, our God enters the world he has made – our world. John says,
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. … the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Christmas is about Jesus, not just admiring his creation from a distance, but becoming flesh and blood to enter our world and become one of us.
Now when God came into the world, he could have come as he was. He could have come in some spectacular way.  He could have come like a superhero with special powers. He could have come with all the glory, glitz and glamour of the greatest celebrity of all time. He could have been the richest millionaire, throwing money at everything and anything so he could fix the world and solve all it’s problems.
Now in some respects he did some of this. Somewhat like a superhero, he performed numerous miracles, but that wasn’t his main message. Like a celebrity, there were times that he had a large following, and times that he felt terribly alone. But he didn’t throw money around to fix our problems.  His greatest miracle and his main message was that Jesus died on the cross to fix our greatest problem – the problem of sin in the human heart.
Sin infects our world. It contaminates us, destroying our relationships with each other and with God. It destroys how we see ourselves. It leaves us feeling broken and hurting within.
The only cure for sin, is for someone perfect to die in our place. We need someone to come as our substitute and sacrifice themselves for us. That’s why Jesus came.  So when Jesus entered our world, he actually became one of us. Not just as a fully grown human, but as a little vulnerable baby, born to a humble couple. Jesus is God in the flesh. He looked like you and me. And this wasn’t just a disguise Jesus wore. In Jesus Christ, God actually became one of us. And that means he experienced all there was to experience about humanity. He experienced deep joy and happiness, but also trials, hardship, suffering, death and vulnerability. So vulnerable that so many times he nearly didn’t make it to the cross.
At his birth, Jesus Christ was extremely vulnerable. His mother was pregnant before she was married. So according to their laws, they could have stoned her to death before he was even born. They travelled so far that she could have miscarried along the way.
Then when Jesus was finally born to a young, inexperienced mother, with no family support, the town was so overcrowded that the only accommodation left for them was out in the garage. We often joke about someone sleeping in the dog kennel or the
3 Immanuel – At Christmas God enters creation Matt 1:23, John 1:14
chook house, but Mary, Joseph and Jesus actually did. Not only was Jesus born amongst animals, he was placed in their food bowl. These conditions certainly wouldn’t meet Australian health standards for a newborn infant.
And if this wasn’t enough, the king at the time was jealous. When he heard that a new king had been born, he wanted to get rid of the child. To make sure, King Herod ordered that all children in Bethlehem and surrounds be killed to make sure the child was dead. Talk about being vulnerable.
This is the extent God went to for you, to become one of us. He experienced the joys of life as well as the pain of suffering we experience.  His death was one of the most horrific and tortuous known in history. That’s what God was willing to go through for you and me – so that by trusting in him, you and I don’t need to experience the torture of hell. That’s how much he loves you.
And God continues to love you. Jesus is Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’. Jesus is still with you and me today, walking amongst us and dwelling with us. It might seem hard to find him in this crowded, busy world, filled with many different faiths and beliefs. We often expect God to come in glory, surrounded by angels, bright lights and beautiful music. You certainly wouldn’t expect the king of the world, the God of the universe, to come to us in the dim lights of a stable and the lowly screams of a baby. You wouldn’t expect him to be crowned in thorns and be enthroned on a cross.
Yet he did all that for you and me. He did that because he loves you and wants you to know your sins are forgiven. Christmas is only important because of Easter. You can’t truly believe in the baby at Christmas without trusting in the freedom and forgiveness of the cross.  The place that God promises to be found today is not in spectacular ways, but in a humble book, in ordinary bread and wine. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God comes to us today in many ways, but the most certain way is through the bible and the sacraments. That’s why church services, devotions and a healthy prayer-life focus so heavily on the bible.
Now we all know that Christmas is a festive season. But for many, Christmas is also a stressful time. Many financial pressures with Christmas shopping, cost of travelling, and job losses. And when the day finally comes, some family gatherings aren’t so pleasant. Maybe there’s some tension, arguments or even on-going feuds. There is likely some disappointment after an exchange of presents, as well as the reminder of the loss of loved ones. And of course, this year with so many fires, there are many fearing for their lives, their homes, and their families.  When Joseph was worried about his situation, an angel came and told him it was going to be okay. Everything was in God’s hands. Continue with your plans to marry Mary.
And to the fearful shepherds, the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that for all the people. Today a Savior has been born to you”
I don’t know what you are going through, but whatever your situation, God says to you, ‘Do not be afraid, Jesus knows the stress you are going through, and he wants to take all your worries and anxious thoughts, and fill you instead with his peace and joy.’ (Philippians 4:6) Seek first his kingdom and he will provide all your needs (Matthew 6:33).  Jesus is called “Immanuel” – which means, ‘God is with us’. The loving God is with you! He always has been, and he will continue to walk with you no matter what.
On this, the last Sunday of the Christmas season, may you know true joy, love, hope and peace through Jesus Christ, and may that go with you all throughout this New Year, and on into eternity.

Darren Kukpe.

First Sunday after Christmas.

Luke2:10-20

Keeping the joy alive

What do you do when you hear news of a new baby being born? Do we simply return to what you were doing before, as if nothing happened? Or do we stop what we are doing and take a moment to appreciate this new life?darren2 Often, we become so excited that we want to spread the word and share the news with others? This is especially true if this new child is part of our family, or we know the family personally. Perhaps we may be so excited that we can’t wait to meet this new child or see photos of the new bub.

In many cases in our culture, once a healthy baby is born, the father is the first person to spread the good news. Often, he has been there with the mother at the birth of the child. Then, while the mother gets some rest, dad starts telling the world about the exciting news. He might go and tell them in person. He might go and make a phone call. These days dad might send a text message or post it on social media. He often starts with his family and friends, and they spread the news further afield to their friends. The family and close friends then often make eager plans to meet the child. Many are so eager to see the new bub face to face, that they can’t wait. They might suddenly take time off work to travel to see this new child and their family.

 It’s amazing what lengths people will go to share the good news and excitement. I remember one father relating his experience. It was about 15 years ago that his daughter was born. Mobile phones were still fairly new, and he didn’t have all the phone numbers with him. So his daughter was born, he went home to make some phone calls. The problem is, when he got home, the landline wasn’t working. By this time it was 10pm … but he couldn’t wait until morning. So he picked up his mobile phone and his contact list, ready to dial some numbers. But the phone signal in that town wasn’t very unreliable at that time. So there he was, on top of the cubby house, in the cold and dark, ringing the family with the good news.

There are some parallels here with the birth of Jesus. Once Jesus is born, his Father is so excited that he wants to tell the world. He starts by sharing the good news and excitement with the angels.  The angels then spread the news and excitement further afield. And in that field were some shepherds, sitting outside in the dark, keeping watch over their flocks. 

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:10-11, nlt)

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15, nlt)

The angels spread the good news and the excitement. The shepherds responded by taking time off work to go visit the infant saviour and his family.

The shepherds then shared the good news and excitement with others. 

the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished (Luke 2:17-18, nlt)

And so, the good news and excitement was spread throughout the land. It continued to be told until even we have heard of the birth of Jesus, our saviour and Lord.

But this isn’t just an ordinary baby. Christmas is only worth celebrating because of Easter. What’s special about Jesus is that he saves us! Not just from our sins. Jesus also saves us from the burden of guilt, shame and regrets.  We can leave all these at the cross. And we can walk away with peace, freedom and new life. In Jesus we can have a fresh start. We can live differently because we have new life in Jesus.

But news often only seems to be discussed when it is new. When some other big news comes along, people quickly forget the old news. We stop talking about the transformation we have discovered, like a fad that has run its course. The old news is out and we start raving about the latest piece of news.

The same can happen with the freedom and life we have in Jesus. We can forget the difference he makes. It can be taken for granted.

The challenge for us then becomes,  how do we keep the good news of Jesus – born for you and me – fresh in our hearts and minds? How do we remain excited by this news that we may have heard time and time again.

Our Gospel reading suggests two things that can keep this news fresh for us. Firstly is Mary’s response. 

19 but Mary kept [/treasured] all these things in her heart and thought about them often. (Luke 2:19, nlt)

Over time our enthusiasm and excitement can wane. As humans we can quickly forget. We need continual reminders of the blessings Jesus Christ brings us. We need to hear this good news often. That’s why the church offers services every week. That’s why there are daily devotions and bible reading plans. That’s why bible study groups often meet weekly or fortnightly. So that, like Mary, we can be reminded of the good news and ponder them in our hearts and minds. Over time we learn to treasure this, and even long for the routine to hear again of God’s love for you and me in Jesus Christ.

The second response in today’s reading is that of the shepherds, 

20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. (Luke 2:20, nlt)

The shepherds went back to their regular lives glorifying and praising God. You see we’re not meant to just praise and glorify God on Sunday mornings. We are called to praise him all week in the way we live. Many refer to church services or singing hymns as ‘worship’ or ‘praise’. While that is true, it can distract us from the fact that we are also called to praise, worship and glorify God with the rest of our life too.

The shepherds glorified and praised God for all they had seen and heard. Today we see the Christian community gathered. We see bread and wine. We receive Jesus in Holy Communion and through his word. We hear his words of love and forgiveness for you and me throughout the service. We can return to our lives glorify and praising God for all that we have seen and heard.

The birth of Jesus is Good News for you, me, and the rest of the world. Let’s treasure this good news in our hearts and minds. But let us not keep it to ourselves. Let us encourage each other and the people we see each day with reminders of this good news, so that we don’t forget how important and special this is. And let us glorify and praise God in our lives – with all that we are and all that we do and say. Amen.

Pastor Darren Kupke.

1st Sunday after Christmas 30th December 2018

 Luke 2: 41-52 Mary’s Treasure
Mary treasured all these things in her heart. This is a saying we hear often in the Gospel according to Luke. 20180311_103505 (1)Mary kept and pondered all that happened in the core of her being! She remembered what happened and meditated on the events of Jesus’ life.
Thanks to Mary we have Luke’s Gospel account. In his account we find the most extensive recollection of Jesus’ birth narrative. It is most likely that Luke, the gentile physician and friend of Saint Paul, recorded the events of Jesus’ birth, life, and death personally from Mary. This is why in the Gospel of Luke we find this personal reference to Marypondering all these happenings in her heart.
We might understand why a mother might ponder the actions of her child. Yet while she treasured the events, she still didn’t understand why Jesus remained in the temple in Jerusalem and did not travel home with them. Nor did she understand why he said he said, “I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Nevertheless, Mary pondered all that had happened before her. She remembered, the spectacular way in which she conceived Jesus by the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit announced through Gabriel, the archangel.
Mary mused over her visit to Elizabeth, her relative, very pregnant with John the Baptist who jumped for joy at her arrival carrying the Christ child. She would have wondered about the awkward trip on the donkey to Bethlehem and the hassle of giving birth in an environment not really fit for a baby in which to be born. And she contemplated the visit of the shepherds and their excitement over finding this baby Jesus lying in the manger.
In the Lutheran Church, at times other then Christmas, Mary tends to get shunned in fear we might elevate her to the point were we worship and deify her to the same level as Jesus Christ. However, Mary is a person to whom we can look as a model of what it is to ponder, to treasure, and to honour Jesus Christ.
Mary not only bore the Son of God, but Luke uses her recollection and treasuring as the basis of his Gospel birth narrative. And similarly we can use Luke’s testimony, to gain an understanding from the mother of Christ, of what it is to be one who looks out of ourselves to Christ — pondering, treasuring, contemplating, and musing over he who once was concealed in Mary’s womb, but now who is hidden by faith in all who believe in him for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Unfortunately though, Christmas for our society today has become one of self-centred contemplation. The gifts we receive don’t regularly encourage us to look out of ourselves at all, let alone to worship and honour Christ. Rather our earthly gifts will us to look towards the glorification of ourselves.
From a very early age children see Christmas as a “what am I going to get” exercise. Yes, we give, but truth be known, getting gives all of us at least just a little bit more of a sense of warmth. Or, when we give great to someone and they return the giving with a lesser gift, there is a part inside of us that remembers the inequality.
Mary too could have bore a grudge against God the Father, her situation, her twelve year old Son staying behind in Jerusalem, and humanity, at her Son’s death on the cross, and ascension into heaven after his resurrection. She could have cried out as the victim! Used by God; losing the company of her Son at the age of thirty three!
Perhaps she did in the early days just after his crucifixion! But we’re not to know as the Scriptures report little of her emotion and thoughts after his death. What we do know is while Jesus was alive and conducting his ministry in the lead up to his crucifixion, his family thought he was out of his mind and sought to take charge of him. However, in time Mary and her family, look to her son and their brother, as the Son of God from eternity. They worked and served the church, privileged to be such a special part of God’s plan of salvation for humanity.
When Jesus was approached and told his mother and brothers had come to see him, he responded, “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother!” (Mark 3: 34-35) “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s Word and put it into practice.” (Luke 8:21)
We like Mary and her family should also be growing in the love of God too. As God continually reveals himself to us, as a God of forgiveness. Despite the nature of our sinful being, we, his brothers and sisters, can treasure, ponder, contemplate, and meditate on just how much he does for us. Especially as he sends the Holy Spirit to you and opens the eye of faith in your heart so you see, the holy Child of God, and, the Son of Mary, dwells in you in all his glory.
The gifts we received or the ones we thought we should have received. The ones which lead us to place ourselves at the centre, despite their inability to deliver into eternal life, because they are doomed to deterioration! They can be put aside in favour of a gift that we can worship and honour. And this gift will give us lasting peace and good will greater than the peace and goodwill we are supposed to find in the chaotic commercial lead up and Boxing Day sales of Christmas.
This gift doesn’t deem that we do anything to give us an emotional lift, or a sense of goodness or peace! Rather this gift encourages us to rest and trust in Christ, by trusting and remaining, or just being, in he who forgives and feeds us faith. Jesus can give you the gift of serving others with forgiveness and love, while still being able to focus solely on him and give him the glory for the work he does in and through you!
And in the spirit that Mary treasured Jesus in her heart, privileged to be a part of God’s redemption of humanity, you too are encouraged by Paul in his letter to the Colossians to meditate and muse over Jesus Christ as he uses you also to reflect his light on those in our world who still live in darkness. As he says…
Since… you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, and not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Amen (Colossians 3:1-3, 12-17)