New Years Day

Dear friends, we are among those who have been called to be children of


God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of us.

Let’s join in a word of prayer:
Loving Father God, we are together to continue in our celebration of the human birth and life  of Your Son, and to  worship You.  We praise you for the gift of salvation received through his birth, life, death and resurrection.  Guide our time together as we celebrate our fellowship with our Christian family this morning. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

Just a week ago, we rejoiced in the coming of Emmanuel. We marvelled that the Creator God of all the universe, the sustainer of worlds without end, would seek to join in our humanity.  We pondered how God entered humanity in the same way that each of us enters life.  He chose a young virgin Mary to be his mother. And chose a carpenter, Joseph, to partner with her in the rearing the God-child.  Yet, it depended upon these two saying ‘yes’ to God’s love.

Christ came not only to share our humanity, but to transform it. On account of sin, people were degraded. They were dominated by its power and under its control. But God has a brighter prospect for his people. Things are different now because  Christ Jesus was born into humanity on that first Christmas morning.   

That first Christmas came and went, and only a handful of people knew about it. We sometimes forget this in our sense of Christmas excitement. After all, we have shared the stories of people who did see, people whose lives were changed, a mere handful of people, perhaps fifteen or twenty, out of hundreds of thousands in the world.   All those people in Bethlehem, so crowded that there was no room in the inn for the Saviour to be born there.  

And, apparently, none of the rest of them knew a thing about it. The Saviour of the world was born in a stable, and it appears they didn’t even hear about it. Except those to whom the shepherds shared the miraculous visit of angels and birth of a saviour, as they returned to their flocks.

Now the first excitement of the Christmas event is passed for us too.  The Christmas dinner is now our leftovers, the presents are put away, and we are preparing to pull down the decorations for another year. Even so, this week,  we consider the Eastern astrologers and mystics known as the Magi.  How they identified this child as the longed-for King and Messiah.  And then we take in the visit of the Magi to Mary and Jesus settled into a house, while, I suspect, Joseph was off plying his trade to support his family.   We discover that the news is out.  At least to those in the court of Herod.  A brutal foreigner positioned King over Judea by Caesar. 

We celebrate the news of the birth of the saviour as such wonderful news.  Good news proclaimed by angels, confirmed by shepherds, and now noted by gentile travellers.   But this good news  of a world redeemer quickly turns into a vicious, heartbreaking story.  Although the Prince of Peace has come to the world, the world did not accept him.  The world was—and still remains—a hostile foe to peace and goodwill among people.

I see the hand of Satan in this.   Rather than receiving a joyous welcome throughout the land, powerful people resented his arrival from the beginning.  They plotted to destroy him, even as a child, to rid the world of his presence. Matthew tells of Herod’s hatred for anyone who might threaten his domain.  Especially the Messiah.  Herod’s hatred reached such a proportion that he determined to destroy all the young boys born in Bethlehem.  To prevent the Messiah from reaching manhood.

History witnesses that Herod was only the first among many who saw Christ as a threat to be removed.  First, during his life.  Than later, during the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. 

And even today, against the family of Christians in the world. Who are praying, helping, teaching, and presenting the Good News of a Saviour who is with us always.  

In our time, countless people see Christ as a burden upon them rather than the one who frees them from their burdens;  a hindrance to full life rather than the giver of meaningful, lasting life.  Their voices join the chorus of rejection through the ages, rather than acceptance of Emmanuel, God with us. 

We are reminded this morning that salvation begins in the heart and mind of God. If fallen humanity is to be brought ultimately into the presence of God as redeemed and changed.  It can only be because God has chosen to effect this miracle by his saving intervention into  human history.

Notice the initiative and action of God in all this.  Hebrews proclaims it is ‘by the grace of God’ that Christ experienced death for us.  It is through the wisdom of God that such a death is effective for humankind. God made it possible because He chose to. This sacrifice was part of God’s compassionate plan for the redemption of all people.  

Thank God, no attempt to remove the salvation of Christ from life can ever succeed.  God will not allow anyone to corrupt his plan to dwell among us and be as one with us.  Matthew tells of loyal, faithful Joseph.  The one who heard an angel in his dream and obeyed.  How he moved quickly to protect his young family, slipping away in the night to the safety of Egypt.

Joseph becomes the instrument for saving the life of God the Son, whose time had not yet come to be sacrificed for our sins. God always seems to move in his quiet, powerful way to preserve his presence with us.   Almost always against the most ominous foes.

Herod was unable to destroy the baby Jesus.   Pilate was unable to contain Christ Jesus to a tomb.  Roman might was unable to annihilate him in the early Church. Other hordes through history could not drive him into oblivion.   In every generation, new threats emerge, but the Christian Gospel message prevails.  As Jesus said, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’

Once the Holy Spirit of God is at work in the world, He remains.  Even if just below the surface, hidden no deeper than the human heart.  Constantly throughout history there have been Marys and Josephs who have been instruments of Christ Jesus.  Those who risked life-and-limb proclaiming the presence of Emmanuel. 

The presence of Jesus in our lives is the gift of a loving God.  Jesus brings his peace to be received, not laws to be obeyed.   Once we are inwardly at peace through his abiding Spirit, we learn to live peacefully in the world.  When we are at peace within ourselves, we can then become a witness of Jesus, the Messiah and Saviour.  A witness for those around us who are struggling. 

As the author of Hebrews explains, ‘In bringing many to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Both the one who makes holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.’

And yet the Gospel divides created humanity between those who believe in Jesus as the Saviour, and those who choose not to believe.  A broken world held captive by happy endings and easy religion.  That is the harsh reality of Christmas. 

Thank God that he provides for us.  That he forgives us, and makes provision for our redemption in the human birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Christ Jesus.  We can join Isaiah to  ‘tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us—yes, the many good things he has done according to his compassion and many kindnesses.’ Through Jesus, we share the same Father, and we become children of God.

May the grace and peace of God, which passes all our human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of eternal salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus.   Amen.

New Years Day 2020

What’s in a Name?


  About 2000 years ago, an eight-day-old baby boy was circumcised according to Jewish law, and was given the name Jesus. What makes this child or his name so special? In our world over 350,000 babies are born every day; that is over 127 million babies born in the world each year.20180311_103505 (1) Many of those babies are circumcised for reasons of religion or custom. Many are presented in churches and temples; they are all given names, and in Israel many are even given the name, Jesus.

Yet this one child—Jesus of Nazareth—has changed the course of history and of many individual lives. He has caused the years to be numbered from the time of his birth; BC—Before Christ, and AD—Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord. While your name or mine might not tell other people much about ourselves, the Name (or names) of Jesus tell us something very significant about his person.

William Shakespeare is known for the famous quote: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet! That is not true in relation to Jesus. His name is packed with meaning and purpose; and this one referred to in the Scriptures as the ‘Rose of Sharon,’ would by any other name than those given by God, certainly NOT smell as sweet. 

So what is the significance of the Name of Jesus? While many other Hebrew children were given the name Jesus, including the notorious criminal Jesus Barabbas, the name of Jesus of Nazareth was chosen, not by his parents, but by God himself. Luke writes: On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived (Luke 2:21). You will remember how Matthew records the angel’s instructions: You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matt.1:21).

The name ‘Jesus’ is a Greek form of the Hebrew name, ‘Joshua’ which means “The Lord Saves”.  How appropriate a name for this child!  Just as Joshua had been chosen to conquer the enemies of Israel and lead them into the Promised Land of Canaan, Jesus had now been chosen to conquer the enemies of the entire human race – sin, death and the devil – and lead his faithful people into the promised land of heaven.

It is not just his common, given name, Jesus which is significant.  Matthew recalls the prophecy of Isaiah: They will call him Immanuel—which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). His name describes his nature. This Jesus of Nazareth would be God in human form, true God and true man, living among his people.

Luke tells of another name the angel gave for Jesus: He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32). This name also tells us about the nature of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, and fulfils the prophesy of Isaiah: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Almighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  This child born to us, this Son given to us is not like the 127 million other babies born each year; he is not like all the other children called Jesus or Joshua. He is the Son of the Most High God (Luke 1:32).

When Jesus was born, the angels gave the shepherds another significant name for this child: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). The name ‘Christ’ held great significance for the Jews. ‘Christ’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’—meaning ‘The Anointed One’—the long awaited King and Saviour of his people. The angel told Mary: The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end (Luke 1:33).  Hence this Jesus is distinguished from all others by being referred to as ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ Jesus.’

When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians he showed how Jesus lived up to each of these names.  He lived up to the name ‘Son of the Most High’ by being in very nature God (Phil 2:6). He lived up to the name ‘ImmanuelGod with us’—by taking the very nature of a servant and being made in human likeness (Phil 2:7). He lived up to the name ‘Jesus—The Lord saves’ when he humbled himself and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross (Phil 2:8); and he lived up to the name ‘Christ—the Messiah, the Anointed One’ when God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11). Yes, Jesus is certainly the name above all names!

What does the name of Jesus have to do with us?  John tells us that when we believe in Jesus who is The Christ, the Son of God, we receive ‘life in his name’ (John 20:31). The name of Jesus saves those who trust in it because to believe in the name of Jesus is to believe in the person of Jesus and everything he is for us. Early Christians developed the symbol of the fish because the first letter of each Greek word in the sentence “Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour” spelt out the word ‘ichthus’ [pronounced ick-thus] the Greek word for fish. This confessed who Jesus was.

The apostles declared that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

When the Jews asked the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:37, 38). When we are baptised in the name of Jesus we are given the name and nature of Christ as a personal gift for our forgiveness and eternal salvation.  We are referred to as CHRISTians. 

Scripture tells us that when we are baptised in the name of the ‘Son of the Most High’, we also become sons of the Most High God (Gal 3:26). The ‘Immanuel – God with us’ now becomes ‘Christ in us’’ (Gal. 2:20).  ‘The Lord saves’ us by joining us to his dying and rising (Rom 6:3-5).  Christ, The Messiah King gives us the power to join him, seated at his Father’s right hand in glory (Eph. 1:19-23). Such is the power of this name!

So as we enter a new year, what are we to do with the name of Jesus? Jesus’ name cops quite a bashing in today’s society. It is used commonly in cursing and swearing. Next time you hear it used that way, ask the person who says it: “Do you know who you are talking about?” You may get some interesting reactions. The name of Christ is being removed from State Schools and from prayers at all levels of government. We hear the name of Christ and the people who bear his name demeaned in the media. We Christians can even bring disgrace to the name that we bear by failing to live like ‘little Christs’ in the world or by failing to call upon the Lord’s name in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.

God calls us to live as ‘bearers’ of his name, honouring his name, believing in it, calling upon his name in worship, praying to the Father in Jesus’ name and praising his name forever. Luther encouraged us to begin each day by making the sign of the cross and repeating the name in which we were baptised.  All these things are involved in the words we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be your Name”. We are acknowledging the holiness of all God’s names—including Jesus—and asking that we may keep them holy in speech, in life and in teaching.

So, “what’s in a name?” Let’s never forget that the name given to a Hebrew baby over 2000 years ago and engraved on our lives by baptism and faith is our most precious possession. A rose by any other name would certainly NOT smell as sweet!  Amen!


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