Monthly Archives: December 2021

Sunday 26 December 2021 – The Peace of Christ.

Readings: Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

MESSAGE

It’s the day after Christmas Day and its Sunday. Which is quite unusual. The last time we had Christmas Day on a Saturday was 11 years ago. This is only the ninth occasion in my lifetime. The pattern is 6-5-6-11 years between occurrences. So the next one is in 2027. Gosh this is pub quiz material, isn’t it?

As a result this is a super Sunday. It’s BOXING day. St Stephen’s day. And Low Sunday – the Sunday after Christmas which people sometimes ignore, especially if they are hardy annuals who have just done their Christmas Day trip to worship and already have their calendar overloaded with an Easter Sunday booking.

All in one day. Plus four congregations zoomed in together too.

We are fortunate that the lectionary we use focuses on Jesus after Christmas on this day. Over the three-year cycle the gospel reading covers the dedication of Jesus at the temple, the flight into Egypt , and we leap forward this week to almost teenage Jesus. Next Sunday we pop back almost to those terrible twos or at least toddler Jesus checking out the gifts that came via camel. Yes, the wise men visit Jesus the child (not a baby) and in a house.

Like our economic Christmas and Easter visitors, Christmas card designers tend to squash the whole lot onto one space – shepherds, sheep, kings, camels and a low flying star and a raft of angels. Only Mr Bean has ever thrown a dinosaur into the mix. Oh and dozens of five or six year old boys, when I taught that age, who always managed to draw a dinosaur or at least a couple of volcanoes behind baby Jesus and the whole gang.

So what do we do with Jesus today?

I’ve chosen the idea of “peace” as a filter or frame as we examine this part of the story. Colossians 3 is there as a reminder I think that as church we are in this together in unity as we take in the Christmas story.

Paul in this letter has pretty much summarized the Christian faith. The passage before our reading ends with one of those all-encompassing statements (a bit like my favourite Galatians 3:28.)

Col 3:11  Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (In Galatians 3:28 he includes “male and female” in his list of things that are not – not relevant or valid.)

In his letter to the church today I suspect he might add some other categories of separation. You’ll figure those out if you reflect on our current dilemmas. Whether we are certified or not.

Paul in this passage talks about peace like this:

Col 3:15  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Peace is a key part of the Christmas message. Remember these lines:

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.””

On earth, peace or peace on earth.

In fact it is one of those areas where Christians have a bridge with people who are not particularly into this faith story.

They’re pretty keen on peace.

Timothy Keller, in his book “Hidden Christmas” makes the point that the source of light and therefore peace for us is not within us but outside of us.

The prophecy of Isaiah helps:

Before the announcement of the son to be born, this is the context: Isa 9:2  The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

They are walking in darkness – and the light breaks in. Jesus backs this up when he is identified as the light of the world. Light breaks into darkness.

And the expected one is both wonderful counsellor AND prince of peace.

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 Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7).

So what about the gospel reading today? Where does the peace come in there?

Here it is. Put yourself in Mary and Joseph’s shoes.

Quite a huge responsibility really, raising the son of God. No pressure.

Anyone with even a limited understanding of the incarnation- this bit about Jesus pitching his tent – moving in among us – will know that this is real stuff. Real humanity. There is no Marvel-comics “superJESUS” at school sorting out the bullies.

From the outset, it was challenging and scary. Raising and caring for the son of God. Having to pack up and escape like refugees to Egypt – that place of slavery for his people – is quite a rough start. After that, when they settle in Nazareth, it was the normal stuff that parents do, including home schooling I imagine. And modelling faith.

He’s reaching adulthood now.As a Jewish male. Almost 13.

On this family trip to Jerusalem there’s a small problem of losing Jesus.

Losing a child is pretty tough, even if for a short while. We’ve all probably been there as parents. Even when they’re adults we still worry about them. As the story of this older lady of 100 illustrates well: she described the best year of her life as the year in which she turned 90 – because by then all her children were safely in rest homes.

Jesus is found in due time. And the conversation is pretty polite considering.

Luk 2:48  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.”

They must have been pleased where they find Jesus. Could have been some other danger or disaster.

His response is fascinating: Luk 2:49  “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Sorry Joseph –  I know who my real dad is?

I think Mary made her peace with this too. From the annunciation onwards, there is this gracious acceptance of her role as a young mother of God’s son. I like her example, because in processing that encounter when with Elizabeth, Mary’s response is praise! “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour…”

It’s a simple lesson for us when things are on the road to custard, if you like mixed metaphors. We too are to praise God even in the storms of life.

  • I think we were privileged to learn that from early on – the writings of a once prisoner then prison chaplain Mervyn Carothers were helpful in our early years of faith. (You may remember the Prison to Praise series). At the beginning of the book he quotes Paul in 1 Thessalonians: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1Thess 5:16-18).
  • Paul and Silas praising God in Acts while in jail are another pointer. (Acts 16:25).
  • Paul’s antidote to anxiety in Philippians 4 is another reminder. Don’t be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication, WITH THANKSGIVING present your requests to God – and the promised peace that passes human understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (well he is the prince of peace, isn’t he?) (Phil 4:6-6).

In Colossians 3 from which we heard today, Paul has another pointer:

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. (Col 3:15-16).

I imagine Mary might have said to Paul (imagine them meeting together and sharing thoughts at a table talk conversation about the things of faith!): “Yes, you’re right. I needed peace that day when we lost Jesus. But I kept praising God and trusting God’s plan, maybe a bit like when you were in prison Paul?”

Imagine you or I at that table saying: well here are the things that keep me up at night….

  • Mary might say – “let me tell you about Golgotha.”
  • Paul might say: “have you perhaps read my letter which talks about those 5 times 39 lashes, beatings and shipwrecks – or that bit where I mentioned we are pressed down but not crushed.” (The passage it goes like this: ”We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” 2 Cor 4:8-9 NKJV)

Not surprising that Paul also said: ‘”t is no longer I that lives, but Christ that lives in me.” (Gal 2:20).

There is something quite calming about the next few verses of this passage in Luke 2:

But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:50-52).

Somehow Jesus knew about his mission from early on but doesn’t talk about it again until preaching that first sermon in Nazareth (in Luke 4:16ff) when he read from their lectionary reading for that day: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Isaiah 61:1-2)

For some reason that line about his mother treasuring all those things in her heart speaks to me. There’s a pattern there a discipline. It’s a repeat of verse 2:19 after the shepherds’ visit: But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. You see this sense of inner peace at Jesus’ first miracle in Cana of Galilee – where she says to the servants in John 2:5: “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s a prayerfulness I think – in Acts 1:14 where they are constantly in prayer before they choose Mathias to replace Judas, Mary is there again.

I suspect mothers are like this – they treasure all kinds of things in their hearts and keep praying for their children especially, holding them before God. I think as parents many of us would be thrilled if our children all grew in wisdom and in favour with God and people!

I don’t know what will trouble your hearts in 2022.

I do recommend Paul’s exhortation to the Colossian church though:

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. (Col 3:15-16)

And true to our tradition, which I fear many have ditched too soon, it’s the word of Christ that is part of the stabilising we need.

And with that, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts at every stage and challenge in our lives. Our closing song today reinforces this – it’s the song ADORE. (See link below).

This is the Christian life. The peace of Christ dominant in our hearts – the word of Christ richly embedded within us to shape us, the praise of God always on our lips and in the rhythms and cadences of our days, weeks, months, and years of life.

May the peace of Christ reign in your heart at this time, and in the year ahead.

Amen.

Here is the song “Adore” which I commend to you.

22 December 2021 – A Saviour has been born to you. (Rosedale Village Christmas message)

Reading: Luke 2:1-14

Message

Have you ever been rescued? Somewhere along the line I’m sure someone turned up to help when you were in some kind of predicament or crisis over the years.

There have been some amazing stories in the last couple of years – think of that Thai football team rescued from underground caves. You see courageous rescue missions all the time on the news.

I’ve only been rescued once – in the sea that is. My sons had gone out too far – I swam out to tell them and we all got stuck. The African surf where we lived was really rough. It makes Browns Bay beach look like a swimming pool.

It was a good feeling to have someone on a paddle board come out and bring you in when you think you may drown. The embarrassing thing was that I was teaching part time at the local high school at that time. One of my students was the life saver. It was a “hello sir” moment. You don’t mind who the rescuer is really.

On one occasion after driving over the edge of the road on our way to a northern Natal town on a misty rainy night, we had to flag someone down to get help (after crawling up to the road.) The local Irish born Presbyterian minister got some mates from the pub to bring a ute and tow the car back over the edge of the hill onto the road again. What a night. But we were rescued. We were saved.

Sometimes when a rescue takes place, tragedy happens and the rescuer dies while saving children for example. People then talk about the sacrifice that person made of his or her life.

Which reminds me of a sign that went up on a church noticeboard – “breakfast this Saturday – help needed for the ingredients.” This chicken and pig happened to be walking past to go to the beach down the road. “Look at that” said the chicken to the pig. “We could help”. “That’s fine for you” said the pig. “You can give a gift. For me it’s total sacrifice. If I go in there, it’s all over for me.”

Looking at our reading today, the angel said this when Jesus was born:

Luk 2:11  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

This angel was living up to his name. Because “angel” means “messenger” or “news”. That was one of their main tasks. (The word “evangelism” meaning “good news” is made up of the prefix EU for good, and the word angel.)

That’s the word used in verse 10:

Luk 2:10  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

We also know that the name “Jesus” means God saves or rescues. And that “Emmanuel” means God with us. Such a great reminder of who Jesus was, what he did, and who he still is to us today.

In this reading we have all the other titles given to Jesus. This Saviour is Christ and Lord.

God came to the world in Jesus the Saviour, the Christ (the anointed one or Messiah) and the Lord (which means he is God).

And like the poor old pig had it offered to help at the breakfast – it cost him everything.

  • He gave up his authority – became a baby who needed nappies changed just like you and me – was dependant on parents to care for him and raise him. Had to do school (poor guy).
  • And eventually he let go completely of his life on the cross. He died in our place.
  • The beauty of this sacrificial rescue is that he took our punishment on himself – so we could be free from our mess – our sin – and our selfishness. And all the world’s pain and disease too.

And just to stretch us more – this amazing good news of a life-saver above all others – is given to marginalised shepherds out in the fields – people who were not your important people at the time.

Simple. Illiterate. Probably just young kids really. Like KIng David when he was a shepherd boy.

I’m always interested in how God speaks to children and young people. They are so open to things of faith.

God speaks to anyone who is open.

  • He wants to speak to you today.
  • To remind you that his love for you is the reason all this happened.
  • That Jesus is the greatest gift of all.

Don’t be like the person who said ‘no thanks. It’s a lovely gift you gave me this Christmas, but I’d rather struggle along without it. I’d rather leave it inwrapped under the tree. And in any case I don’t deserve it.”

Be like the shepherds – investigate this Jesus. The didn’t just say “well actually we really should stay here and forget all this stuff the angel has told us”. They went to investigate and discovered it was all true. And they went back telling everyone the good news too!

Take hold of this gift – that you may grow closer to Jesus our Saviour, our Messiah, our Lord and God. And really know him.

  • He makes all the difference in this hectic world we live in.
  • He is the gift of Christmas.
  • It’s good news – this Christmas story.
  • It’s worth celebrating!

Have a very blessed and merry Christmas.

Amen.

Sunsday 19 December 2021 – God so loved what? (4th Sunday in Advent – love)

John 3:16 at Christmas. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (The Message)

(Watch part of the service and the message here, or read the text below.)

REFLECTION

I was asked to share a devotional message online yesterday with some friends. What’s new? Being online, or being asked to share something? I think it was the context – my thoughts and wisdom were being sought! (I’m not sure if I qualify as one of the three “wise” men!)

Yesterday then we talked about our future in the light of this muddle we find ourselves in.

I shared my thoughts. That this virus won’t go away. That we will have to learn to live with it. That there have been many other corona viruses. That there will me more.

I asked these wiser friends than me this question: as Christians, what are we really afraid of?

If our message, our witness, out history, our future, if the blood and witness of the martyrs and the testimony of the saints of every age including those who are dying for their faith in this generation means anything at all, it does so because of this Christmas story and the love which brought about the invasion of something far more contagious – the love of God.

Because God SO loved THIS WORLD that he gave his only born Son to live in a dangerous world of men and women – so that before he even learned to walk, his little family had to flee to another country where his people had once been slaves – to escape the tyranny of a cruel puppet king called Herod the “great” who was given the title “the king of the Jews” by the Roman senate.

Herod could not tolerate the remote possibility of a threat even from an infant born in poverty.

(If you think the world is bad now, in every generation there have been maniacs like Herod who bumped off a whole lot of his family members – one of his wives whom he actually loved deeply –  Mariamne, her two sons, her brother, her grandfather, and her mother, and his first born son Antipater)

We know from Matthew that he had all the little boys up to two years of age killed in the area where Jesus was born just to be safe.

When I think of the world and reflect on its mess – the love of God shown in Jesus’ rescue mission is still valid.

It doesn’t expire like a vaccination certificate.

It’s unchanging. Immutable (indisputable). Ineffable (indescribable). Immortal (undying).

Eternal. Fierce. Bold. Courageous.

Powerful. Redeeming. Saving.

The Song of Songs – that great love poem which ultimately tries to describe God’s love describes love in these words: Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away (also translated as nor can the floods drown it).(Song 8:7)

For God so loved the world that he gave his best. He became a human being.

He took on the gates of hell and death itself.

He took upon himself all the mess.

The combined atrocities of the maniacs and tyrants of all ages, and all the tragedy of pain and death through all diseases fell upon him that day.

Love means courage. Purpose. Commitment. You see it in Jesus when as we have talked about before he sets his face towards Jerusalem – knowing what was coming.

When I sat and made these notes reflecting on the love of God and how it has empowered the saints through the generations, especially those who faced tyranny and villainy and the fiery darts of the enemy flung at them, I had just put on the third movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony – the one that ends with that great “Ode to Joy”

I was thinking about those martyrs when the music started. It’s particularly beautiful and moving, but especially so because it’s a recurring theme in the movie about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It took me back to that courageous saint – I watched the movie so many times as I used it as a teaching tool. (The link to watch the movie “Bonhoeffer – Agent of Grace” – is found at the end of this message below.)

The musical theme reoccurs throughout the movie, but towards the end when he and a motley bunch of prisoners land up in a bombed-out church after their transportation (an old bus with “Freude” painted on the side) had run out of fuel – at that point the first part of the 3rd movement is played fully. Boenhoeffer’s co-prisoners suggest that seeing that it’s a Sunday he should give them a few words. He doesn’t speak about Hitler, the world at war, the concentration camps like Flossenburg to which he is taken from that church and hanged just a few weeks before the end of the war.

He talks about being Christians in the future – how the faith will change to take on and share the suffering of the world in which it finds itself. How we will find a new language and way of living. Something quite different that will shock people because of the peace it brings.

This is a new era already. The post-COVID pandemic era – which will test us and our faith more fully than before.

People won’t necessarily believe us. They may even attack us with more extreme ideas than ever, suggesting that we are compromising their idea of the truth – whether its vaccination or other controversies – there will be division of all kinds.

What matters is that we remain true to Jesus’ rescue mission. He still loved the unlovable whoever they were. Whether they followed him or turned away.

Our weapons are not persuasive words. Only a message and lives lived showing forth the hope, peace, joy and love we have found in Christ. Through the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why Paul writes:

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Cor 2:4-5).

Love joy and peace are the first three fruits of the spirit.

In a discussion in Romans 14 on arguments over what and what not to eat, Paul says this:

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17)

And when ending his great chapter on love in first Corinthians he writes:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13 ) 

How are we doing on this score? Passing on this amazing powerful love and message of love?

That’s why Christmas’s messages are foundational.

  • The angels breaking into the world to prepare the main characters for action.
  • The expectations of hope in this baby’s birth.
  • The news that he will be called Jesus – God saves
  • And Emmanuel – God with us
  • That through his coming we can be forgiven, healed, saved from fear and death, and transformed by this powerful love and act of love.
  • Because that love ends on a cross.

Both the cradle and the cross are made of wood. And a Jewish carpenter – who probably experienced the pain of a splinter in his finger during his trade – would have those nails he worked with hammered into his hands and feet.

Paul – in that same chapter in 1 Corinthians about persuasive words also says this:

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2)

This is all a sign of God’s love.  The cradle, the cross and Christmas.

Don’t miss it amongst the wrapping of presents and the flashing colourful lights.

  • You’ve got to unwrap this present. God’s love. Emmanuel’s presence is more important.
  • Having God’s power, presence and love is all that counts and it counts for everything.

That’s why we are told:

  • not to be afraid. to be strong and courageous.
  • Not to let our hearts be troubled or afraid. Or anxious.
  • That His peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ – not other solutions offered around us.

That’s why we are told:

  • to always give a reason for the hope we have.
  • Because we do have it.
  • Because he is still Emmanuel – God with us.

This is why we have and can live by the greatest commandments:

  • to love God with every fibre of our being;
  • and to love one another and ourselves.
  • And to love each other as Christ has loved us.
  •  In words and in deeds.

God loved what? They may ask.

The world.

This messy world of complicated difficult people.

He loved us first!

All of us.

John in his first letter reminds us:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. “(1 John 4:10)

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 1:19)

And then Jesus reminds us:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 16 9)

Continue in my love.  Abide or live in my love.

Amen.

Here is the link to the movie as promised:

Sunday 5 December 21 – Pandemic Peace

Readings: Luke 1:5-20, 57-64; Luke 3:1-6;   

MESSAGE: Watch the recording of the prayers, readings and message from Sunday, or read the message below.

They were the perfect couple. He a priest serving God. She a faithful wife. Both of them had a good family tree on Ancestry.com. Descendants of Aaron on both sides of the family. They could have sung the Aaronic blessing with some authority.

An historian at the time – one Dr Luke, a reputable scholar of his day – records this: Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. (1:6).

In their generation they were like Mr. and Mrs. Perfect. The didn’t just have a go at following their religion. They walked blamelessly before God.

You know those families who write Christmas letters about their perfect families? With their perfect kids. And their superlative grandchildren. Angels and saints all of them?

Don’t believe  a word of it. There is no perfect family.

These wonderful faithful obedient people had a terrible problem.

She was barren. An economic and social disaster really. You needed children in your old age to care for you – the effective pension of the day. And barrenness was often socially seen as a sign of sin.

And they were both old. The NIV is kind in its translation: “and they were both well along in years.” Others say “advanced.”  You know as we get older we like to be classified as mature, not in old aged. The KJV says they were “well stricken in years.” (The bad news is that advanced years could just mean over 60 in that context.) 😊

Our eminent historian Dr Luke continues his narrative: Luk 1:8  Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, Luk 1:9  he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

Yes indeed, they had duty rosters too!

His division was on duty.

And he drew the right lot – like throwing dice I guess – or drawing straws – to have his once in a lifetime opportunity to burn incense in the temple.

Zechariah served for one week twice a year at the temple, one of perhaps eighteen thousand priests who served in a year. Offering the incense was something a priest could do only once in his career. It was a great moment for Zechariah, all the more so because of the sovereign plan God had for him and his family.

He just didn’t realize it. Maybe he was so burdened by his pension worries or lack thereof, or the seeming indifference of people towards God – that he was going through the motions. Not really expecting God to act.

They didn’t have COVID issues back then. But they did have an oppressive foreign power in charge.

Maybe he was so burdened or just flat that he really didn’t expect anything. I mean they must have prayed for a solution. After all when the time comes the angel says: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.”

And then the list of what this baby would do and be:

  1. A joy and delight to his parents; 2. Great in the sight of the Lord 3.filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth; 4. He will bring back many people of Israel to their God; 5. He will go before the Lord in the power of Elijah; 6. Turn the hearts of the fathers to their children; 7: make ready a people prepared for the Lord

Because the best was yet to come.

In fact he was so surprised that he doubted the message of an angel. The angel Gabriel. Who gives his name only because Zechariah was a bit dumbfounded. Uncertain. Doubting. (a good biblical tradition there although in Abraham’s case Sarah was the one who laughed when Isaac was promised.)

So instead of being able to tell the story – even of his privileged moment in the holy place –  he is struck dumb.

The life of Mr. and Mrs. Perfect was even more complex now. Pregant wife of advanced years..Dumb husband who finishes his duty and then goes home, only so say nothing.

Some (perhaps a bit cynically) have suggest that it may have been the best nine months of Elizabeth’s life. When she wanted her husband to do something, he couldn’t even argue.

Luke then proceeds to give an account of cousin Mary’s challenging conception. And then returns to Zechariah and Elizabeth again.

After the baby is born, Zechariah is redeemed when is able to name the boy correctly, and is then able to speak again.

Like cousin Jesus, John’s family would have an interesting time.

John ended up quite a character in the desert – fulfilling the vows of a Nazarite. Wearing clothes of camel hair and eating wild locusts and honey. (What did they write about him in their end of year letter? Like teachers writing reports, there are ways to say things: “he has an unusually rustic/earthy fashion sense and is ahead of his time in using insects as food to save the planet from methane/cows.) 

Unusual bloke. Living in the desert and then suddenly emerging onto the religious scene with a serious call to repentance. Jesus later tells the people that they said John had a demon.

We don’t even know if his parents lived to see his adult ministry.

But the outcome would be good.

From a troubled aging couple with a limited future to being part of God’s plan for the world.

Zechariah the dumb then becomes the last prophet of the Old Testament era before Jesus starts his ministry.

That year of silence could only have done him good. His growth is seen in the power of his prophecy over John. We read part of it as our call to worship.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

It’s a stunning declaration. “…to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” –  Pointing to Jesus the Prince of Peace. Jesus.

John would be arrested quite soon the account in Luke. We heard Luke chapter 3 introduce his ministry:

3:2b … the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. Luk 3:3  He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Luk 3:4  As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Luk 3:5  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. Luk 3:6  And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’

  • By Luke 3:20 (14 verses later) we are told he was to be arrested by Herod and put in prison.
  • By Luke 7:20 John’s disciples are sending a message from him to Jesus Are you he one who was come, or should we expect something else?
  • And then he is beheaded by Herod.

But he did his job. He prepared the way. Softened hearts to repentance in order to  make people open to the One. That was to come. The one.

In the words of his father: … for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Jesus said of him:  Luk_7:28  I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; (yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.)

  • Roman occupation and tyranny and taxes.
  • Covid Pandemic and disrupted life and dreams?
  • Worries about the future and your provision in old age?
  • Going through the motions doing your duty and wondering whether the breakthrough will come?

It doesn’t matter what century we live in.

Don’t be like John in prison sending a message to Jesus? Are you the one?

The one of whom Zechariah prophesied: the one “by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

It’s been a long hard and sometimes dark year for many – actually two years of gloom.

Even when  things are supposed to get better, the traffic light is still red.

We live under new tyrannies. It’s no surprise that thinking people are alarmed by the way in which we are categorized, certified, or marginalized and ostracized over our response to civic authorities or our different views on a raft of things.

Who are we if not a people of the Kingdom of God which was prepared for by John and ushered in by Jesus who is THE ONE.

There is Pandemic Peace when we have our hand firmly held by the ONE who brought peace in reconciling us to God and still brings peace no matter what disaster befalls us.

Whose hand are you reaching out to hold onto in these crazy times? Where is your anchor connected?

I think Elvis and Johnny Cash sang a gospel song that went like this: Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters, calmed the sea. Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee. (Written by Gene MacLellan and made famous by Anne Murray – both Canadians)

That’s where we find our peace.

At Advent we light a candle of peace on this Sunday. We have a virtual candle which you can see on our website.

Don’t let anything rob you of the peace He gives.

Receive his word and promise to us again today: John 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Amen.