Monthly Archives: December 2016
Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
We’ve looked at three things today as we moved around the three stations in church. One we touched on last week – about the 65 million refugees in the world today – and that Jesus and his family also had to run away from their home country because it was dangerous. I hope you had a look at the world map to see where these people are from. That you pray for refugees and the persecuted church. And include them in your lives.
We were able to write prayers on an angel and hang them on the tree. For those refugees, their countries or persecuted Christians – and for our own needs and those of our loved ones and friends both here and around the world.
In the past we’ve had doves remembering people who are no longer with us or those who are far away. They’re still with us. I have them in a basket from last year.
This time we are hanging angels on the tree – because they are involved anyway – I mean real ones. Watching over our kids and grandchildren – actually the context of the “guardian” angel is that if someone hurts the little ones, their angels are going to tell God. They had close proximity to God. (Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.).
- Angels are also involved in watching over us adults and keeping us safe (Psalm 91:11 – For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;) And Psalm 34:7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Joshua 5:14-15; Isaiah 63:9).
- And they are tied up in worship and honouring God (Isaiah 6:2-3 – Isa 6:2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. Isa 6:3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”)
- And they are involved in helping our prayers reach God (Daniel 10 is worth a read sometime).
The main thing is that we pray. We are to ask, seek and knock (Matthew 7:7). And agree in prayer (read Matthew 18:19 – agreeing about anything you ask for. Read verse 20 as well – it is well used and quoted).
And then last but not least the we placed little people at the cradle of baby Jesus. with our Christmas gift to Him written or drawn on them. Okay it’s not really baby Jesus. He’s on loan from Glamorgan school.
But the idea that we should be giving something to Jesus on his birthday is fair enough. Last year at our Pyjama service – the 6.00pm service on Christmas Eve – when I asked the children what they would like to give Jesus for his birthday, one girl very quickly suggested she would give Jesus her big sister. I’m sure you may have some relatives you would like to give to Jesus.
The thing is you can give them to Jesus – in prayer too. Every day we can hold them up to God and pray for His hope, peace, love and joy to flow over them and through them and into them. That God may watch over them and draw them to himself.
If you look at the reading from Matthew today, there are two things about Jesus that really do give us hope, peace, love and joy as we get closer to him.
Jesus or J’shua (modern Joshua) – means God saves or rescues us from our mess. Including our sins which separate us from God
Emmanuel – means God is with us in our mess. And in our joys and hopes. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us.
Keep praying – keeping asking – keep trusting Jesus. Keep praying with eyes wide open to see what is happening around you. Pray for our lives, the lives of the refugees, the persecuted church, the poor, the wealthy, the lonely, the depressed, the frail and the suffering – all those who need Him! You’ll discover that we have a lot to be grateful for. We will be spending more time in prayers of thanksgiving I should think.
Reading: Matthew 2:13-23 (following the Christmas play)
(3rd Sunday of Advent when we light the pink Christmas candle of joy on the Advent wreath).
At Messy Church / Messy Christmas this month we had a story which had this key line in it: Keep Calm and Carry On. And the people responded each time: It’s Messy. Christmas.
And it doesn’t get much messier than this today.
- Jesus on a mad King’s hit-list.
- The massacre of the innocents – all those little boys slaughtered.
- Jesus the refugee – anticipating perhaps the 65 million refugees in the world today.
- A dad with international travel plans that appear out of nowhere – virtually overnight (in a dream). (Joseph, you could have given us some warning!)
- Settling in Nazareth! What a strange choice…. Nazareth! Can anything good come out of there? (John 1:46 – the words of Nathanael).
So how much JOY do you think they “enjoyed” in those early years?
Great question really. I’m not sure they were in it for the joy ride. (Like the people in “Jingle Bells” laughing all the way on their sleigh).
It speaks to our lives – when they are not ordered and predictable, when God is at work stirring us up to listen to his voice, open ourselves to dreams, and being willing to be sent where He wants us to go. To speak to the people He wants us to speak to. To be vulnerable. Even ostracised. To live a roller-coaster life – which is the closest it gets to a “joy ride”.
How are you doing when it comes to being flexible for God’s plans?
What kind of Joseph or Mary would you have been? How would your marriage have coped? Would you have gone off in the right direction? Or headed for a port to escape like Jonah did?
And would you children have been obedient like Jesus?
Remember the one thing said about him as a boy.
Two things matter actually – his words about being in his Father’s house, and the gospel writer Luke’s words about the boy Jesus.
Listen to the whole passage – he had been “lost” but not really in the story in Luke 2.
Luke 2 ends with this: Luk 2:49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luk 2:50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Luk 2:51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Luk 2:52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.
Will you grow in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and people in your future? Especially you young people who are the age Jesus was when that was written.
If you grow like that – you’ll know real joy.
Christmas joy does include the yummy things and great presents. I “enjoy” the carols too.
But nothing beats the deep joy in our hearts when we are listening to God and going where He wants us for His purposes. Being who he wants us to be.
The Joy of the Lord will be our strength, said the prophet Nehemiah in 8:10.
King David wrote this: God will fill our hearts (lit: You have filled my heart ) with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound in Psalm 4:7.
Knowing the Creator is always far better than knowing even the joys of his creation. God’s gladness invaded David’s heart.
And that happens when obedience is the goal, not the joy itself. When we have a true undivided heart for God.
What is in your heart then?
As C. S. Lewis points out, we will never know joy by seeking it.
Joy or gladness comes as a side-effect of the presence of the living God.
When Lewis became a Christian, he was in his words “surprised by joy.”
May you too be surprised by joy. This Advent and beyond.
May a pink candle be lit in your life every day!
Readings: Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12;
I wonder if you’ve figured out the difference between Lent and Advent?
Lent is a time of preparation in which we give up something to focus on our relationship with God (or more recently do something new that does the same thing). It involves cleansing I suppose – and purification. And doing things differently.
Lent ends at the cross.
Advent is about getting prepared for the arrival of someone very special and important. It also requires organisation of sorts – tidying up but in a more celebratory way. The outcome of Advent is not a death – but a birth.
Advent ends at a crib.
This explains the great choirs singing in Luke 2:14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” It’s certainly worth singing about!
We were in Wellington this past week – staying with friends. And the debate between them was interesting, with the one saying that none of this is in the Bible – Lent or Advent – while the other persisted in the view that God has given us these things through the Church. You can imagine a person raised in the Church of the Nazarene married to an Anglo-Catholic. The conversations are interesting to say the least.
On Friday night, they invited friends around for a kind of a party and carol singing event. With me on the piano. We did this years ago, and the carol sheets were still in the piano stool from the last time.
And afterwards I played German carols reading the music off another guest’s Ipad as we tried to translate them into English. Her husband was raised in oppressive Romania – although an ethnic German. There was one Samoan. Two South Africans. A Scot and his kiwi wife. The nations were represented there, that’s for sure.
Whatever you believe about these traditions like Lent or Advent, or whether you want to get rid of Christmas completely like some Christians do today, because they believe it is an infected economic swindle where Jesus gets buried under profits and presents, when you sing those carols – there is something that comes alive in people.
People across the world of every nation and tongue. From all the nations. We were able to sing from the same page about the birth of Jesus.
The same thing happened at a visit to a rest home in Tauranga. A lady was sitting alone in the lounge waiting for tea. I asked her if she played the piano that was there. She replied that she used to – but not much these days. She asked if I played – of course I said a bit. She asked me to play – I asked her for her favourite carol – and off we went.
My back was towards her has I played, and slowly the singing got louder and better as residents wandered in. It sounded pretty good. And most of those folk who probably forget a lot of things at their stage in life, could remember all the verses of the carols we sang.
The story and the songs – they ignite something. We ended up with an impromptu carol service. It brings people alive – and research tells us that all kinds of positive chemicals kick into action in our bodies when we sing together anyway – even if we don’t sing well.
The simple hope of Christmas – the peace that Christ brings – to Jews and Gentiles alike, is something to celebrate. For Americans, Romanian born Germans, kiwis, South Africans, Scots, Samoans, English and any others you may think of – this is a time for revisiting what God has done through Jesus.
So it’s good to really reflect through Advent about what God has done. We have to ask – if you want to get organised –
- as you prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming,
- and the certainty of his second coming, (either because the end will come for us in death, or he will come back first)
- – what is really important?
For John the baptiser as we heard – preparing the way for Jesus – there was an expectation that people should clean up their lives. Sounds a bit like Lent.
Repentance here is not the change of direction that the Hebrew Old Testament word indicates – but a transformed mind. A changed mind.
A refocusing of our thoughts on God. So let’s do that. Reflect on:
- Who He is.
- His promises that he will send someone to save the world.
- His coming in Christ.
- His work in us.
THE PROMISE OF A SAVIOUR
There are many prophecies that speak of Jesus. The one in Isaiah chapter 9 is probably the most beautiful: Isa 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And then this one from Isa 7:14 Therefore 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. Immanuel – meaning God with us. This happens in the incarnation.
A child is born – a son is given. In the words of the Creed: Jesus was –
“… conceived by the Holy Spirit – born of the virgin Mary”
This really messes things up for us – especially if we are people who like to separate the spiritual from the physical and carnal world. Which the Bible does do – but not like we do. We are prone to thinking like Greeks of old who categorised this world as bad, and painted a picture of another spiritual perfect world as a standard or ideal.
God messes up that thinking by becoming a flesh person. In – car-nate. Carnivores? Carnivorous? Ring any bells?
- Jesus who is our hope (for all nations as we see in Rom 15:12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”)
- Jesus – who is also the prince of peace – He does this not by making war in his first coming – but by surrender on the cross.
- This Jesus becomes a real human being. He brings both hope to the world and the promise of peace. He gets involved in a peace mission above all others.
Evangelicals are quick to point out that Jesus had to be a human being to pay the price for our sin – only a human could be a substitute for another human (in this case for all humans). We call that substitutionary atonement. The crib is made of wood – so is the cross. This prince of peace does makes peace through his blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:20).
The beauty of this first Advent is the way in which Jesus as a human being affirms our humanity. We see this God becoming human in a stable – in a feeding trough – with the feint or perhaps pungent smell of cattle dung.
The coming of Jesus as a real human being means God affirms the wonder of his creation. He pitches his tent with us (John 1:14). Through this incarnation he also affirms the wonder of creation and what it is to be human.
Have you noticed in the New Testament that Jesus was criticised for being a party enthusiast? Listen to this from Luke 7 to remind you: Luk 7:31 “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? Luk 7:32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ Luk 7:33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ Luk 7:34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”‘ Luk 7:35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
It’s okay to celebrate his coming with a real party. He certainly celebrated life fully.
My friends in Wellington were bemoaning the fact that their pastor won’t have a Christmas tree in church. I’m glad we do. It’s good to have some colour and sparkle.
Jesus was born to rescue us – and bring peace. We have a gospel to proclaim about this prince of peace. We have much to celebrate about this promised peace.
We also need to trust in Him that he will keep his promises to us – and that we will really have His peace. That it won’t just be a symbolic candle we light.
While we should party and rejoice, this is a serious matter too. Jesus doesn’t die for nothing. Our sins are not to be celebrated.
There is a warning in the words of John the baptiser who says that while he baptises with water, Jesus will baptise us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This symbolises purification and judgement.
When you meet this baby grown up to be the prince of peace – he pays the price for peace with his death.
And he gives us his purifying Holy Spirit – who is not only different in the extreme from our evil ways (we are always judged by holiness – see Isaiah 6:5 ) but also indwells us and will change us to be more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The last verse of the reading from Romans today sums up my desire for you to know this purifying Jesus more. The outcomes are brilliant:
Rom 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope” – how? “…by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The pink candle of joy is thrown in by Paul as well.
For today: receive His peace.