What better New Year’s Resolution could there be.

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.          

  Let’s  join in a word of  prayer:

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Loving God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; this day around the world, our fellow Christians gather to celebrate the human family of Your son Jesus Christ, and our own families, as we worship You.  Guide our time together that we may hear and understand your message for us.   Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Here we are, on the verge of a new year, saying good-buy to the old one.   This is often a great feeling.  Especially when the old year had been filled with the uncertainty of COVID. When we can look back on all the challenges, mistakes, difficulties, and broken relationships of the past year and just let go. When we can look at the new year ahead with a clean slate, as Isaiah writes in Chapter 43:   This is what the LORD says— “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.   See, I am doing a new thing!”

Of course the new thing that Our God has done was to enter humanity in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  To make a difference in our future, day by day, and moment by moment.  And so, we can trust in Christ Jesus, as we allow the Holy Spirit to bind our will to his.  Since, as Paul writes in Colossians, ‘as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.’   

As Paul also reminds us, ‘the Lord forgave each of us, so we must forgive others, as we let love bind us together in harmony, and let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts.’  What appropriate words for us as we end the old year, and begin a new year. As Carl Brand was quoted, “Although no one can go into the past and make a new beginning, all of us can start from now to make a new beginning.”

In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 2, Mary and Joseph seem to be honouring the traditions of the past, and looking forward to a new beginning.  At eight days old, they brought their baby son, Jesus, to be circumcised, as required by Jewish law.  Then forty days later, they took him to Jerusalem from Bethlehem to offer sacrifices, seeking God’s blessings upon the baby Jesus.

In today’s Gospel reading, we find Mary and Joseph once again returning to the Temple for Passover, when Jesus was about 12 years old.  I must admit that this is a passage that I often take for granted.  To look at this account as just a story of the Lord’s younger years, to round out the Good News of Christ Jesus.  But this year it has been different.  As I confront the visit of this special family to Jerusalem, I have received some very interesting insights.

The Augsburg Confession tells us in Article 3 ‘Our churches teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God [John 1:14], assumed the human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  So there are two natures—the divine and the human—inseparably joined in one person.’  (McCain, P. T., ed. (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 32). Concordia Publishing House.)

We celebrated yesterday the birth of the divine Son of God, Jesus, accomplished by God our Father at just the right time, at just the right place, to just the right mother, and just the right man to guide him through his early life to fulfil God’s plan for all of us.

And today, we discover the Bible telling us that Mary and Joseph were a devout couple, fulfilling all the requirements of the Law of the Lord.  My intuition tells me that they were a loving couple caring for their children with equal compassion and affection.

With the wonder of Christmas, we often see images of even the baby Jesus in art with a halo surrounding his head.  And we overlook the absolute humanity of Jesus that joined with his divinity as fundamental to his character.  Jesus was truly the child of Mary, and the Son of God. So I see this little story of the family travelling to Jerusalem at Passover, as an  affirmation of the humanity of Jesus.  Which turns this little story into a thrilling addition Gospel of the Christ.  

By the time of today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus would have brothers and sisters travelling with the family.  Matthew tells us of the comments of his neighbours in Nazareth,  “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?  Aren’t all his sisters with us?”  (The Holy Bible: New International Version (Mt 13:55–56). (1984). Zondervan.)

When our family travelled any distance as a youngster with two brothers and a sister, we were relied upon to keep track of each other.  I remember when our family travelled to Washington DC from Ohio, it was a big deal.  My mother dressed all us boys and my dad in the same distinctive blue shirts to make it easier for us to keep track of each other.  And I can imagine that Mary and Joseph would have depended on their kids to do the same. 

Luke tells us that as the family were returning home, they noticed that Jesus was not with the caravan.  Luke tells us that after searching diligently for Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem.  Can you imagine the anxiety and frustration that Mary and Joseph are now feeling.  But they continued  their search until ‘After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.’

This is where I struggle with the dialogue between Jesus and his parents.  ‘When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”  Jesus asked “Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  But they did not understand what he was saying to them.’

In Jewish families, young men, join the adult world at 13 years old with a ‘Bar mitzvah’.  They spend a lot of their twelfth year preparing for this event.  Jesus would have been no different.  I can imagine that he would have engulfed himself in the writings of the Law, Prophets, History, and Psalms that as the Word, God inspired through the history of life, leading up to his birth.   

I can also imagine that Jesus, being the eldest child, might have felt different from the other kids, and somewhat out of place growing up in the family.  In most families, there is that one child that seems to be a bit different.  After all, Jesus was the Son of God who received a tremendous wisdom by the time he was weaned. 

I can read the response of Jesus in two ways.  “Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Responding in a very human teenage way.   Or perhaps,  “Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  Responding in the compassion of the divine Christ Jesus that we know today.  Both ways would be valid, and there is no right or wrong.   

As Christians in a world that is more and more anti-Christian, it wouldn’t be unusual to feel a bit different, out of place in this broken world.  Especially our children growing up in this 21st Century.  The way we respond to the world around us, and especially our family that surrounds us does make a difference.  Luke tells us that the parents of Jesus, could not understand the response of Jesus.  As parents we all know how that feels, dealing with our teenage children.

Jesus’ parents were immersed in the human world of life in Nazareth, years after the birth in Bethlehem. Raising and caring for their family. 

The world we live in may never really understand our approach to life. We have an opportunity to show our quiet determination, wisdom, and humility.    

As we begin the new year, we can also, ‘Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in our hearts and make us wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. And whatever we do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.’

Our Lord Jesus Christ can be the source of our joy of living through this next year.  Because we can trust that Christ Jesus has been there with us through all of last year. 

Knowing that we are God’s forgiven children, we can make allowance for each other’s faults and show the world that we are disciples of Christ Jesus determined to cherish each other.   We can let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts, and always be thankful.  In all our attitudes, actions, and words, we can let life be to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

What better New Year’s Resolution could there be.

As we prepare to enter a new year, may the grace and peace of our God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Rev David Thompson

‘Where is Johnny?’….  ‘I don’t know. Wasn’t he with you?

The Text: Luke 2:41-52

I’m wondering whether some of us can call to mind those arguments andallanb panic stations that ensue when parents realise their child is missing. The pattern between husband and wife in this example usually goes something like this: ‘Where is Johnny?’….  ‘I don’t know. Wasn’t he with you? … No! He was supposed to be with you! You were supposed to keep an eye on him…. Well actually I did, and then I when I didn’t see him I just assumed Johnny went over to you…… Well he didn’t, and it is entirely your fault’….etc. etc. 

Sound familiar to anyone? It is panic stations when a child is lost. So often, blame kicks in even before a strategy is developed to try and solve the problem. Now I’m not sure what dialogue Mary and Joseph were having once they discovered that Jesus was not where he was supposed to be after an exhausting day of travel from Jerusalem, but the whole thing is not quite as simple as we might assume. Mary and Joseph had good reason to assume Jesus was coming home with them, so it is not as simple as thinking that Mary and Joseph were way too laid back or irresponsible parents.

But before we get to the part of Jesus being found some background is helpful. Firstly, our Gospel writer Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph and thousands of other Jews went to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover year after year after year. It was a set piece, the same routine. In those days people travelled together in groups and there was no such thing as two parents doing all the child rearing and formation by themselves. Whole communities were involved and so it was normal for children to hang out with lots of adults and other children.

And so, every year Jesus would have travelled as part of his community without seeing much of his parents along the way. The only time one could do a head count was the evening meal at the end of the day where everyone came together and camped for the night. This was the moment that Mary and Joseph knew something was wrong. He wasn’t with the relatives and family, and he wasn’t even with acquaintances and friends.

After a day’s journey imagine how you would feel having to travel back with all that worry about a missing child! And keep in mind the psychological profile of Mary and Joseph. Remember that they would have good reason to be anxious and extra concerned because of their early trauma of fleeing to Egypt. They know they have a son whom Herod tried very hard to get rid of. Perhaps Mary and Joseph think that Jesus might have been finally abducted or even killed.  

And so, the time it takes to find Jesus is three days in total. One day’s travel, another day travelling back and then another day looking for him in Jerusalem. Now it is interesting that Mary and Joseph didn’t try the Temple first since this pilgrimage for Passover was a very special one for Jesus. He had turned twelve.

This was the time he was officially an adult in Jewish eyes. This meant that during the pilgrimage Jesus would be required to attend classes in the Temple with the teachers of the law. This was a sort of youth development program and a way for the young men to become well versed in the Torah and to debate and discuss its content.

So, in verse 47 Jesus’ parents stumble upon a session in the temple courts and they witness the teachers of the Law being completely knocked out of line, and flabbergasted by Jesus’ answers and his understanding. Jesus and the teachers were clearly having a lot of extra time together. In the original language it describes Jesus as being remarkably able to ‘put all the pieces together’, to ‘connect all the dots’ in the Scriptures. And so, when Mary and Joseph see all this, the original language expresses their reaction as an image of a ‘mouth gaping open in surprise’. However, this astonishment is short lived, because the blame game kicks in very quick: ‘Son why have you treated us like this?’ they say to Jesus. For them Jesus has not only caused hassle, and worry, but in front of the teachers of the law they are likely embarrassed that Jesus has disrespected them by not telling them where he was.

But then comes Jesus’ reply, and this is the turning point of his life. It is the first time Jesus speaks in Luke’s Gospel; and he, like always, answers a question with a question. ‘Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?  His calm response silences that voice of an anxious and confused parent. His reply completely perplexes them, and they can’t answer him. They can’t even connect the dots together and make sense of it all.

Jesus the young adult has arrived. Jesus also now reveals another key parental relationship: That is Jesus’ relationship with his heavenly Father. Jesus’ time in the temple marks the beginning of a new chapter of his mission and ministry, but despite his time in Jerusalem, Jesus submits to his parents and goes home with them.

Things will never be the same again for Mary and Joseph, and Luke tells us that Mary is still doing her internal processing as she stores up all these events in her heart. Stop and think for a moment of how hard it must be for her to try and make sense of who Jesus really is. How hard it must have been for them to try and let go of their son as Jesus followed his Heavenly Father’s call? They wanted him to come home like he always did, but this time he didn’t come with them. He signalled to his parents that things would become different from then on.

Jesus’ transition from his earthly family is something we can identify with in our own families. Many of us have transitioned from our original family into a new world of marriage with another person. That can be difficult for parents to adjust to. Similarly, it can be hard for us to let our friends and family members transition into their calling with the Lord too. It is especially very hard for sons or daughters from a non-Christian family who then become Christians. Parents can become very hostile and even disown their children because of this change. Christian parents aren’t immune from this attachment problem either. Some struggle greatly that their dear son doesn’t wish to be a lawyer or doctor and get a secure job, but instead wants to be a pastor or a missionary overseas. Even though there is joy in one sense, there is also an odd sense of loss, and parental expectations compromised. 

This sense of expectation being compromised is something that Mary in particular would suffer as she would eventually see Jesus, the Messiah of the whole world being put to death for our sins. This is a calling no parent would ever wish for their child, but Mary had to come to terms with the fact that Jesus was God’s Son and she and Joseph had that privilege of being able to care and nurture him in his early years. They were a key part of his formation, and soon they would have to let him go into his ministry.

Jesus was safe and sound in God’s house, and all those who are baptised are baptised into the Christ, the Lord’s house, his temple. This is not a physical building, but the spiritual house of God that we all are part of. So let us not dwell in worry and anxiety over our children and our dear friends but commit them to the Lord’s care. We pray for many of the people we love to be able to follow God’s call on their life; not always expecting that they will follow us in our walk, but that we pray that they will dwell in Christ Jesus the place of true care and comfort. May all of you who are grieving over prodigal sons and daughters whom we might think are lost, keep on engaging in prayer for them so that one day they might be found safe in Christ’s arms. For we truly have a wonderful saviour who goes out to seek his children and bring them home.

Amen.   

Christmas Day

The Text: Luke 2:11-20

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If you were asked what the most important thing to happen in history was, how would you reply? The sixth person interviewedby a newspaper reporter was a 14-year-old schoolboy who said, “The birth of Jesus Christ.” He believed the birth of Jesus was the greatest event in our world since its creation. For us, Christmas is a holy day as well as a holiday. Christmas is an event too divine, too glorious and too precious to reduce our wishes to others as “Season’s Greetings”. Without our Saviour’s birth, there would be nothing of real and lasting meaning for us. Christmas regenerates our lives each year; its celebration seems perennially new as it inspires new songs, new music, new artwork, and new presentations of the Christmas story.

The surprising way in which God comes to us shatters our preconceptions of how God ought to act. Christmas is the scandal of our Almighty God coming into our world as a helpless baby, lying in an animals’ feeding box. No elaborate preparations were made for this, the greatest birth ever. God’s true greatness is seen in His humility on Christmas night in Bethlehem. By His breath-taking humility, God raises us up to new heights of glorious joy and wonder. He came down to earth to first seek and save the lost; to experience an ordinary human life with us; and to model that human life for us so it might be our lifelong passion and endeavour to be like Jesus.

To save us from our sinful human nature and be reunited with Him, God came to us as a baby crying in His mother’s arms, as she fed Him and rocked Him to sleep. God didn’t want to scare anyone at Christmas with His great power, but reminds us that his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). He didn’t force his way into our world. Instead, He came to share our vulnerability and need. He came in love and in the powerlessness of a newborn baby.

The angel gives the shepherds a sign “You will find a Child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (v 12). Now there’s nothing especially religious or miraculous about this sign, and its lowliness didn’t deter the shepherds from going to the stable to see their Saviour lying there. When the angel says “To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour” (v. 11), the words “to you” mean us too. We are also beneficiaries of this amazing event. Jesus belongs to you and me as much as He does to Mary.

In the hour of His birth, this good news of great joy is announced by an angel. The contrast between the humble setting of His birth and the splendour of the angel’s announcement couldn’t be more dramatic. And then a host of angels engage in praise and adoration of the wonderful thing God has done, giving God the glory for His wondrous deeds. Their Christmas song is still heard by us two thousand years on in our Sunday services. Their Christmas anthem is the climax to the Christmas story.

“Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those who enjoy His favour” (v. 14)

Jesus has brought the glory of God down among us so that we might never stop praising our marvellous God. The birth of Jesus brings heaven down to earth for us. The vision of God’s glory is no longer restricted to the angels in heaven. It’s now revealed to us in the human face of Christ. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

In our Christmas carols, we’re telling the world that heaven has come down to earth through the birth and life of Jesus. The angel’s Christmas carol permeates our whole worship. We join the angels in praising God for the marvellous way His Son comes to us. The more we enjoy all the wonderful gifts God has given us, the more we can’t help but give Him the glory. To do so is to acknowledge His primary importance in our lives and to praise His everlasting goodness, grace and mercy. King David’s prayer, “Let your glory be over all the earth” is now being fulfilled (Psalm 57:5). Praise of God is joy expressed in words, music and song. We praise the most what we love and treasure the most. When we sing with the angels “Glory to God in the highest”, we’re expressing enjoyment of our Creator. We’re living again as God created us to live; we do what God created us to do.

With the psalmist we say, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you (Psalm 9:1-2).” We have received immeasurable blessings in our lives from celebrating Christmas year after year.

A common prayer request at this time of year is for harmony, peace and calmness of spirit to reign supreme when family members get together at Christmas. The Christ of Christmas says, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, because what peacemakers do is so urgently needed and so full of blessings for everyone involved (Matt 5:9).

“People who work for peace in a peaceful way plant a good crop of right-living (James 3:18).” What a wonderful incentive that is to make the “peace on earth” of Christmas an essential part of our relationships with each other. Peacemaking is meant to be a tonic rather than a tranquiliser as it aims to make others keen to be peacemakers too.

When we give Jesus the broken pieces of our lives, He gives us His unbroken peace, peace such as this world cannot give, peace which blesses us with His gift of patience and makes us so much easier to live with. The peace of Christ becomes the still-point in our madly turning world, a blessing no change of circumstances can destroy. His peace is a creative gift that brings a soothing sense of serenity and calmness to those who eagerly embrace and treasure it. Nothing can bring you peace of heart and mind quicker than to pray about the things that make you angry and upset. Let us all pray that God will make us His instruments of peace this Christmas season.

After hearing the angels’ message, going to the manger in Bethlehem becomes more important for the shepherds than anything else.

What would you have done if you’d been one of them?

What is it in your life that matters more than anything else?

What if some of the shepherds had said they had to work, or that the stable was too far, or that they didn’t have time?

What if, years later, a shepherd who didn’t go, reported to his grandson: “Years ago when I was young, and I was watching sheep at night near Bethlehem, a bright light appeared in the sky and a voice said; ‘I bring you good news of great joy. To you is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord.” The old man’s story would finish. His grandson would look puzzled and ask what happened. The old shepherd would have to reply, “I never found out. I never went to see. Some shepherds said they saw the Christ-child. For me, I could never be quite sure. I couldn’t be bothered going.”

We too are called as the shepherds were called, to go and pay homage to the Saviour of us all. The shepherds went without hesitation and experienced the greatest night of their lives. They had believed without first seeing, and their faith was vindicated. This filled them with endless courage to share the good news of our Saviour’s birth with those around them. They took the light of Christmas into the darkness of their lives, never to be the same again.

God came Himself to save our fallen world. He came through His Son. The Word became flesh because only in flesh could Christ demonstrate ultimate and uttermost love to us human beings. The story of Christmas continues every Sunday in our worship, where we continue to sing the angel’s song: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those who enjoy His favour.”

The glorious joy of Christmas is yours to enjoy as long as you live.

Good Christians all, rejoice

with heart and soul and voice;

give good heed to what we say

Jesus Christ is born today!

Amen.

Christmas Day 2019

The Text: Matthew 2:13-23

 

Here we are just a few days from the joy of Christmas Day and we hear the horrible story of King Herod’s massacre of the baby boys of Bethlehem, the reading from Matthew’s Gospel.20180311_103505 (1)

Matthew’s version of the events of the first Christmas is quite different to that of St Luke’s. Matthew begins with the confused and bewildered Joseph planning to separate from his fiancé. She is pregnant. Joseph has nothing to sing about. He believes that Mary has been unfaithful to him.

Matthew makes no mention of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus, the journey made by a heavily pregnant Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the lack of accommodation, a stable, or a manger. Matthew makes no mention of angels announcing the Saviour’s birth to shepherds or of the shepherds visiting the newborn child and singing praises to God on their way back to their flocks. In Luke’s account, there is room to imagine that “the stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay” and to picture the peace and joy that fell on Bethlehem the night Jesus was born:

O little town of Bethlehem,

how still we see you lie!

Above your deep and dreamless sleep

the silent stars go by.”

Matthew’s version of events is quite different. There is nothing sweet and gentle but the birth of Jesus is set against the backdrop of treachery and murder. He tells us “Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the time when Herod was king” (Matt 2:1).

Herod had a reputation for being a cruel and bloody king. It is well documented that Herod murdered his own wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, his brothers-in-law, his uncle, and whoever else posed a threat to his throne. So those who first heard Matthew’s Christmas account would have gasped in horror when the wise men turned up at Herod’s palace to ask, “Where is the baby to be born king of the Jews?” They knew how suspicious Herod was. He always suspected others were plotting against him, even when they weren’t. And Herod doesn’t disappoint us; he plots to get rid of this so-called King of the Jews. He asks the wisemen to report to him when they have found the baby. He pretends that he too would like to go and worship him. His first attempt to get rid of this newborn king fails when the wisemen are warned not to go back to him.

Herod would not rest. “He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighbourhood who were two years old and younger—this was done in accordance with what he had learned from the visitors about the time when the star had appeared.” (Matt 2:16). Herod was thorough. No boy born in that region about the same age as Jesus would remain alive. But before Herod’s soldiers arrive at Bethlehem, Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus, escape during the night and go to Egypt.

In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, Bethlehem is known not only as the place where Jesus was born, but also the place where Herod’s soldiers slaughtered babies and toddlers. This is not a place where, as the carol says, “the silent stars go by” but a place where the loud crying of parents is heard because their children, who had done nothing, were now dead. Matthew’s Christmas pageant ends, not with tinsel-covered angels proclaiming good-will, but with Rachel (the wife of Jacob, believed to be buried near Bethlehem) weeping for her descendants.

Matthew has placed the birth of Jesus right in the middle of the real world where rulers like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mugabe (Mah-gah-bee) slaughter children for their own political ends. He has come into a world where many more babies than the babies of Bethlehem are aborted every day, others are brutally treated and killed, and others are sold into prostitution or slavery. The baby Jesus has come into a world where more children die of hunger every minute than the children of Bethlehem died at Herod’s command.

Matthew wants to make it clear that Jesus wasn’t born into a fairy-tale world. We leave Herod out of the Christmas story – he doesn’t fit with Santa and his jolly ‘ho-ho-ho’ or with the baby Jesus in the sweet-smelling hay. Matthew presents a story about Christmas that is far from the sanitised and often sentimental story that we are familiar with. Jesus came into a world that is far from perfect, in fact a very evil world. Into the real world where we live, and work and struggle, and work, has come a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. He doesn’t remain above the trouble of this world. Rather he enters into the fray as a baby, he becomes as vulnerable and helpless as the baby boys of Bethlehem.

All this gives us an idea of how magnificent it is that God became a human. There is so much wickedness and sin that the holy God could have refused to send us his Son. And it’s only when we keep this context in the forefront that we can appreciate the awesome reality of God’s entry into the fallen world. Jesus Christ comes to us, not into a picture-perfect peaceful world of serenity and tranquillity. No, Jesus Christ comes to us into the real world, a world of pain and death and suffering and evil.

Matthew’s version of the Christmas story has a lot to say to us as we encounter adversity, suffering, grief and death in our own lives. This may not be the Christmas story that we like but it’s the Christmas story we need. Remember, it is Matthew who reminds us that Jesus is Immanuel, which means “God with us”. We need to know that God is with us even when we feel that he is a million miles away. We need to know that God is right here with us when things are getting us down, when our sorrow is overwhelming, when death stares us in the face. We need to know that God will never consider us too sinful or too far away from him. This is a story about God’s love that will do anything to be with us and help us when we need him the most.

Today we celebrate our Lord’s gracious promise to be with us always in life and in death. We remember this day the children of Bethlehem and the children of every time and every place who are suffering. We remember those who are working to give these children a fair go in life. As Christ’s disciples, we strive to make this world a better and happier place for the vulnerable and helpless.

Jesus Christ walks with us in this violent, stark existence to suffer with us, walk with us and take us home.

In a Russian orphanage, there were about 100 boys and girls who had been abused and abandoned – like the babies of Bethlehem, they had experienced the violence of our world. With amazement, they heard the Christmas story for the first time.

Following the story, the children were given small pieces of cardboard to make a manger. They tore up a paper serviette for straw and were given a small doll cut out of felt.

In next to no time 6-year-old Misha finished his project, not with one baby but with two babies in the manger. When Misha was asked why he had two babies in the manger he replied by retelling the story until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.

Then Misha made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mama and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like the wise men did.

But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So, I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” “So, I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him – for always.”

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him – for always.

In the suffering and pain of our lives and in the violence of our world, Jesus is Immanuel – God with us – for always.

Christmas Day 2018

You’ve done presents?  Did you like what you received?  Where there any surprises? For children, Christmas is magical, gifts, holidays, a different experience of life. And I know that parents and grandparents go to a lot of work to help that magic happen for their children. mikeNow that I am older that different experience of Christmas time that I treasure is the togetherness –  that becomes more and more important. Togetherness that is deepened and made totally secure by being together with you in worship on Christmas Eve and now on Christmas Day; joining together with others who also say that this God stuff is absolutely vital, it’s true, and it works.

What is God like at Christmas?  Firstly – a baby. Red, wrinkled, sometimes looking like life is just way too much, helpless and utterly dependent on his parents. Not our normal idea of God.

God – a human baby. Let’s explore that.

  1. God does not despise the world. No way. God chooses to enter into our world in the most real way possible, as a baby. I know there are times when we would like to have been beamed up out of this. I know that many of us have experienced things that have pushed us way beyond, and it would have been much easier to wake up and find ourselves in heaven. God does not despise the world, but chooses to work in it and through it. So we learn to look around for God at work in the here and now.
  2. God does not despise ordinary people. The birth announcement came to the shepherds. As we said last night – they were low down on the scale of who is important. God delights in our ordinariness, and wants us to know that we are loved. We don’t have to prove ourselves or be good enough. We are to trust that we are forgiven, that we are loved, and that we are invited to share in God’s holiness and goodness, simply by trusting, simply by being alive.
  3. This incarnation – God taking on human flesh and blood is not an afterthought because Adam and Eve sinned. Ever since the first moment of creation, God’s love has been expressed in physical things, and finally, in us. It is just that, in this Christmas baby, who reaches his hands out to us, this love is personal, it’s for you and me.
  4. It’s not just Mary who gives birth to Jesus. God’s love, God’s joy and delight, God’s Holy Spirit are always in work in all people, wanting that love, who is God, to come to life in each one of us, in unique, crazy, faithful, amazing, joyful, faithful, funny ways. Each one of us reflect one unique quality of God, for we are all made in God’s image, and we are all called to grow into God’s likeness.

And in the light of that, and God’s love for us, shown in this baby, we do the hard things that we have sometimes to do, embracing (maybe that’s way too strong a word), coping with things that aren’t just the way we want them to be, and not losing heart. Learning to trust that God has us, when we discover that our little ideas of who we are and how important we are have to die, and in that dying, God raises up something deeper and more joyful. God is bringing to birth something inside us which is more real, more connected to him. So we allow God to work with the stuff inside us that is not so nice. We learn to trust that the things we have to sacrifice allow God to bring forth something much bigger. We trust that the efforts and work we have put into things are not in vain and are never wasted.

So, this baby, whose birth we celebrate again this Christmas means that God does not despise the world. God does not despise ordinary people, like the shepherds, like us.

This coming to be born as a baby was not plan B. It was always part of God’s plan, because God’s love, from the very first moment of creation, takes physical shape.

And finally, this love is working in all sorts of ways to come to greater life in each one of us.

Mike Mayer.