Readings: Isaiah 9:1-7; Phil 4:4-7; Luke 2:1-11
STORY: “Finders keepers.”
My dad had this policy at home – that if you left money around it was his. A kind of finders keepers thing.
I quite like it. People leave all kinds of things around here.
I think I’m going to be the “finders keepers” guy.
Take this little white box for example. It turned up on my birthday. Must be mine. Inside is this amazing mug.
I need a new coffee mug here at work. And it’s got some writing on it. Bible things which fit into the theme for the day and that pink candle which represents joy. It says “The joy of the Lord is my strength” from Nehemiah 8. What joy to find such a treasure.
It reminds me of the parable in Matthew 13 – about the man who found treasure hidden in a field – who hid the treasure and went and sold ALL HE HAD to buy that field. Jesus says of that man “in his joy he went…” The people I witnessed in Greece who had come to faith in Jesus – those refugees – you can imagine their joy too. It’s not about Greece – its about the GOSPEL – the good news of great joy changing lives.
(Hopefully the owner of the mug will claim it! Better not leave things lying around here in the future!)
So let’s talk about joy today.
So how joyful will your Christmas be?
And what is the right word to describe Christmas anyway?
If you say Happy Christmas, then what do you say for New Year?
Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year sounds strange.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year sounds sensible. And you do want some merriment after all. No one wants to be like Ebenezer Scrooge.
This 1984 version has George C Scott as Scrooge. Here he is at his worst: I mean Scrooge, not George C Scott!
Not a Merry person is he. It takes some scary visits from ghosts to change Scrooge.
But what about us?
The answer lies in having Jesus at the centre. In our hearts?
Yes, in that our hearts are the seat of our emotions. Perhaps the centre of our wills too? We are certainly told to love the Lord our God with all our heart at least.
Love and peace which are represented by the first two advent candles are broad concepts with many associated ideas that may or may not be based in spirituality.
Joy on the other hand seems a bit more focused.
In Sunday School we sang songs like ‘Joy Joy Joy with joy my heart is singing” and it seemed criminal not to clap as part of the song’s celebration.
Like “I am H A P P Y”. You can’t really sing it and be miserable.
Singing, by the way, does improve your mood and generate good brain chemicals.
Research indicates that people feel great after singing together probably from endorphins (a pleasure hormone) or oxytocin, another hormone. They’ve found that GROUP singing decreases depression and feelings of loneliness.
So it is a good thing to sing! Join a choir! And positive songs area probably more helpful.
The Sunday School songs we sang as kids are about one aspect of joy.
Joy joy joy with joy my heart is singing goes on to say joy joy joy, his love to me is known. My sins are all forgiven, I’m on my way to heaven, my heart is bubbling over with his joy joy joy.
The New Testament scholar Tom Wright rightly asks the question – what about what happens in the meantime – between this celebration of forgiveness of sins and going to heaven?
The Bible does not just talk about salvation as our destination at the end of life.
It has much to say about how we live in the meantime. It has rich pictures of what joy is in a broader sense.
It involves situations, people, relationships, and especially the work of the Holy Spirit.
For example in Paul’s writings:
- For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:7);
- May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13).
- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22 – 23).
Through forgiveness of sins by the cross and the work of the Spirit we have access to God – Paul in Ephesians 2 writes about the consequences of the cross: Eph 2:17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
The in-between time if you are a person who thinks of salvation as being qualified to go to heaven – is actually the real relational stuff now.
There is JOY in this relationship with God NOW through the work of the Holy Spirit who makes God real to us as Paul says to the Roman readers: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (ch 15)
JOY IS ALSO SEEN WHERE PEOPLE REACH THEIR POTENTIAL IN CHRIST
Writing about the Thessalonians – in the earliest of his letters to the one church that gets things right he says:
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
Seeing people reach their full potential in Christ IN COMMUNITY brings joy to Paul – and to me. And to others.
SO WE HAVE JOY IN US THROUGH GOD’S POWER – AND JOY IN US WHEN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES REFLECT JESUS FULLY
If we have this joy from the Spirit and are a source of joy because of changed lives, people may be joyful when we come into a room rather than when we leave it! We talk about this church being a lighthouse for people. The fact is we are the church wherever we go -our joy and peace and hope should shine.
So when we hear the message of the angels, joy is right up there as a key sign of the coming of Messiah Jesus: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10).
This news of Te Harinui.
They needed it back then – because like all religious groups, you can get so fixated on how you do things – your systems and rules – that you lose the point of why you are there.
When Jesus came his people rejected him (John 1:12) – the very people who had both the law and the prophets available to them.
For example, talking to the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection (remember their trick question about the lady who’s husband died and she married the brother – who also died… married the whole lot of them the poor woman…) Jesus says:
Mat 22:29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
And of course to the teachers of the law – well they hardly brought joy into peoples’ lives. So Jesus says to them:
Luke 11:46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
“good news of great joy” was needed.
The religious leaders didn’t bring joy. The Roman occupiers didn’t either.
Jesus’ way of bringing Joy confounded them of course. On the cross. Rather than the obvious hope they had of a Messiah who would defeat their oppressive Roman occupiers.
So to go back to my story of finders keepers at the beginning – and the lovely cup I found here at church.
The writing of the cup reminds us that this joy is not the same as a Merry Christmas or a Happy new year. The joy of the LORD is our strength!
So we end with Paul’s injunction – his command that we be joyful in Philippians 4:
Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Php 4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This joy is in the Lord- in the relationship – not in our circumstances – and the peace of God comes along as part of the package.
That is good news of great joy for all of us.
Have you found it? If you haven’t don’t delay – and ask for help to do so.
May the joy of the Lord be your strength. Amen.
Readings: Isaiah 7:10-15; Matthew 1:18-25
CALLING PEOPLE NAMES
What were you called as a child? Yes I know you were named Larry, Peter or Susan.
But you must have had other names. Or called other people names. Children can be horrible. Ok forget the mean names. What about the nicknames?
I was called various names through my school years. They weren’t all nice, but some were a good description of me.
This passage from Matthew is really important when it come to names – and what people are called.
The angel makes it clear – speaking to Joseph about Mary:
Mat 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
That in itself would be enough. What a powerful name. Meaning “God saves”.
Hallelujah – what a Saviour – is what we sing at Easter.
Jesus – Joshua – is about Jesus and his mission.
But Matthew goes on. He is writing to Jewish readers and wants them to understand how Jesus fits in to the bible they had – and the prophets’ predictions
So he says: Mat 1:22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:Mat 1:23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
Of course back in Isaiah’s time – they expected someone to come and help them.
But the prophecies often had multiple applications.
Jesus was the ultimate Immanuel.
This is Immanu – el in Hebrew.
El – is the word for God. Immanu – means with us.
You would have heard some of the other names for God in history.
Jesus – is what he would be named on his birth certificate. Immanu-el – is what they would call Jesus. A very powerful name. And “called” name. (You see it on forms today – the name you like to be called by)
GOD WITH US.
That description changes everything for us.
The rejection we face
GOD WITH US.
GOD WITH US.
Fighting around us
GOD WITH US.
Never to leave us or forsake us – is what he says.
The moment Jesus comes into that manger – in fact from his conception – GOD WITH US.
The world is never the same.
We went to two concerts last Christmas.
- The Bach Musica Concert in the City hall.
- And the Morning Melodies at the Bruce Mason.
In both concerts they were singing about IMMANUEL. God with us.
The City Hall concert included Puccini’s Mass – with the whole of the Nicene Creed sung.
These lines got my attention. This amazing bass-baritone was singing in Latin of course;
Passus et sepultus est; Et reurrexit tertia die.
Died and was buried; And rose again on the third day.
But this was the line that got me before those \wo. I thought – if only I could talk to him afterwards – and say, ‘do you know the one of whom you were singing?”
Because it says; ET HOMO FACTUS EST – AND BECAME A MAN.
All those people were hearing about Jesus -Immanuel – God with us.
And at the Mason theatre – we sang another Charles Wesley hymn:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel
Those hundreds of people were signing about Emmanuel.
I was praying – Lord – show them who you are in reality.
Now we know this already.
And we know Him as God with us.
Or at least we are discovering Him as God with us.
My prayer for you this Advent and Christmas season is that you discover fully what it means to know Him RIGHT IN THE CENTRE of your life – whether things are tough or easy sailing – may you know Him and his hope, peace, joy and love.
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.
Sermon Advent 4 20 December 2015
REFLECTIVE VIDEO (Mary’s song)
Who was Time magazine’s woman of the year? Angela Merkel of course. The daughter of a pastor who believes that Germany can not say to refugees “no room in the inn”.
How about National Geographic’s most influential person? Mary of Galilee. The Virgin Mary.
The headline goes like this:
MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2015
How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman
Mary barely speaks in the New Testament, but her image and legacy are found and celebrated around the world.
I loved watching the current Pope on his recent tour to America. I was comfortable up to the point when he led a prayer involving the virgin Mary.
The line that features uses the words of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptiser.
Luk 1:42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
You don’t pick it up as well in the NIV – listen to the KJV and NRSV:
(KJV) And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
Add “Jesus” to the end of this and you’ve almost got a Hail May.
Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Okay you have to add verse 42, the greeting of the angel:
(KJV) And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
I’d like to know the virgin Mary a little more. Now that sounds scary I know. I’m not talking about having a visitation from her.
One of the reasons why National Geographic in its December article talks about her influence is because of those appearances. Have a look:
Have a look at this:
If I were to have anyone appear to me, I’d prefer it to be Jesus – which he is doing in middle eastern countries.
But truthfully – would you like Jesus walking into your living room? And talking to you about your life?
Mary was God’s chosen teenager. I wouldn’t mind hearing from her.
SO WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THIS?
- Mary’s voice and message speaks to women because a lot of our Christian stuff, whether we like it or not, is dominated by men.
- Mary’s faith and trust is inspirational.
No need to say more. Just go home and read her response in the magnificat.
- It can’t have been easy for her as a teenage mother. A young mother pregnant and potentially shamed. We have seen how unhelpful it is to have “truths” unmatched with compassion.
I wrote my version of a Christmas letter this year. I’ve always been a bit allergic to them as people overstate the virtues and successes of their children. I mean come on – they didn’t just sail through their studies without major family issues and conflicts.
Here’s what I wrote after my story:
The greatest challenge and blessing – developing a more disciplined and reflective prayer life. Part of this is resting in the Lord, especially when we have absolutely no control over things. Which you discover in the second half of life is basically all the time. Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward, a spirituality for the two halves of life”, is proving a slow and grinding yet rewarding read. He quotes Desmond Tutu: “We are only the light bulbs, Richard, and our job is just to remain screwed in!” Rohr, Richard (2011-02-11). Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life . Wiley. Kindle Edition.
May you have a blessed Christmas. For those who never write – bless you! For those who do – bless you especially! A thought for you to close my bit – then you can read Sheilagh’s epistle.
A comment by a Christmas shopper checking his list…
I almost forgot the most important thing of all – compassion. If I see some – no matter what the colour, size or shape – I’m going to stock up heavily regardless of the price. I have run out of it so many times and I always feel ashamed when it happens.
It’s just as well angels did speak back in the day when Mary fell pregnant. There might have been a kind of honour killing.
- It could not have been any easier for Mary at that first Easter crucifixion.
Sheilagh shared with me her thoughts last week when I spoke about Zachariah and Elizabeth and the conception of John. She was sitting at the back (probably wondering when I would finish) and thinking: “I hope that john’s mom and dad were dead when Herod Antipas had his head chopped off”.
Parenting never ends. You know the story of the 100-year-old lady who said the best year of her life was when she turned 90. In that year all her children were safely retired in rest homes.
- I would like to ask Mary lots of questions.
About Jesus as a child. Did he walk on water then in the bath? Probably not. 🙂
I guess his cousin may have had an interesting childhood too:
If we knew more from Mary about being a mother – and more about Jesus as a child, maybe we would relax more about parenting. Jesus has been through it all.
READING: Matthew 2:1-23
I loved teaching boys, especially little ones. We used to sing this song with our year 1s and 2s – “you can be happy…” and there is a verse which goes “you can be friends with me, I can be friends with you…” where they used to shake hands. I usually had 40 little boys “being friends” in a rugby scrum on the floor. Probably not best health and safety policy, but no one ever suffocated.
Celebrations of joy for boys are often quite robust. They keep doing it until about age 25 when the brain is finally fully formed and adolescence ends.
It would not be unusual in my year 1s and 2s when we did colouring in of the nativity scene at Christmas for dinosaurs and volcanoes to appear behind baby Jesus, or soldiers with guns and tanks to trundle over the hill behind the stable.
Actually – they were onto something. With the guns and tanks I mean.
Hence the delight in the gory version of “Jingle Bells” so aptly sung in the play today.
Our idyllic Christmas with trees and gifts is not the norm for most of the world.
We were watching the interview “Hillary meets Oprah” this week where Oprah Winfrey talks about the day when she heard that this big fella who dominates the season with a “ho ho ho” apparently is a legend. She was 12, and probably should have worked it out by then.
The thought was that there would be no Christmas. They were poor. Dirt poor.
That night some nuns dropped off food and gifts. It changed her life.
She learnt to give later and went through African villages setting up a tent and giving clothes and toys to kids who never had Christmas.
Later on she found that the clothes were valued the most.
I remember one of my three children at about 5 wailing “I didn’t want a jersey” – which granny had lovingly knitted. Captured on video forever.
Oprah’s kids valued the clothes because they were an equalizer. Everything before had been hand me downs. These were new clothes. They empowered those kids. The toys were secondary.
Which they are mainly. They break or get upgraded these days.
The point of this?
Christmas is messy. Jesus ends up as a refugee. Hundreds of mums have their babies – little boys up to 2 year old – slaughtered by the aging Herod who had already bumped of a number of his own sons and many others in his paranoia. In fact, he gave instructions that when he died hundreds of Jewish nobles were to be killed – key people in every village whom he had rounded up and brought into the Hippodrome when he was dying – so that people would really mourn his passing and not throw a party. Thankfully they ignored that order.
He was a troubled man indeed. Mind you he had ten wives, two of whom shared the same name. Herod the great reigned for 33 years. The Jerusalem temple project he began took decades to complete, and was eventually finished in AD 63 only to be destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans.
Appropriately the only remaining part today is the wailing wall.
Jesus was a refugee. Suddenly the wisdom of the magi makes sense – they needed gold as a resource to finance their travels as a young family. They flee to Egypt on account of Herod – saved by the wise “wise men” who didn’t report back to the despotic king.
The passage is matter of fact as time progresses. God keeps in touch with Joseph through a dream:
Mat 2:19-21: After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
Then of course the backstory is known to us. Herod was dangerous as long as he lived, but when he died it was still interesting. They say that where there is a will, there are relatives. Herod had written six wills, the last only 5 days before he died. Augustus the Emperor has to sort out the mess as each son (who had not been killed by their nice dad) had a claim to something.
The Kingdom is divided into three between Archelaus, Antipas and Philip. Herod. Antipas we meet again in March next year at Easter. Evil men and their evil children are part of the Christmas story. Not very joyful.
The story today ends with this:
Mat 2:22-23: But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
Joseph was a smart man. Any member of Herod’s family and he needed to keep Jesus safe and well away.
Lessons for you kids?
- Be thankful for the dad you have. It’s not that bad you know. An attitude of gratitude makes you healthier and happier anyway. He’s not horrible Herod. Parents do say weird things sometimes. Like “if you get yourself killed doing something stupid, don’t come running to me”. And when they say that they feel like killing someone, it’s not true. They don’t really do it! Anger is sometimes an expression of love.
- And be joyful at Christmas. Joy comes from knowing that you are really loved, never mind what gifts you get. And – people who love you don’t always give you what you want. They know better because they usually know best. Trouble is our kids only figure that out when they have their own children one day. Spare a thought for those who get nothing at Christmas.
- Don’t miss the point of Christmas either. Even when things are horrible, God still sticks around. Jesus was born in a messy place to make it better. Part of our job until he returns is to make the world better – right where we are.
Ask Him to help you if things are messy in your life. He likes that.
The end. (aka Amen – we agree).
Isaiah 9:1-7; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 1:66-79
Over the years we have had interesting people in our lives in the Presbyterian Church. Leaders were always fascinating. And occasionally they would visit you – especially when you lived 100km plus from the main centres.
I remember a brother Moderator coming along and sitting us down in the lounge and asking us this question:
“How are things with your soul?”
Great question. I think as a young couple with two small boys charging around, we were in a survival mode and hadn’t really thought about more than coping with the simple things of getting through the day. (And I knew him in a totally other capacity – it just sounded weird when he asked us that!)
- What fed us spiritually? Who knows, when you are always giving out?
- What feeds us spiritually?
That’s why going to New Wine each January is so important for us now as a couple, as were the renewal conferences we were part of back in South Africa. (And no – new wine is a Christian group supporting local churches and ministers without bottles of wine! It’s a different spirit if you like – although when we tell some of our friends who don’t know the biblical reference Jesus used about new wine, they are curious about what we actually do for four nights and days.) (Click here to have a look at New Wine and the summer festivals)
- What feeds us?
- What feeds you?
This time of year is saturated – flooded with amazing food. I confess mince pies alone are dangerous enough to cause the collapse of a nation.
John the Baptiser was not big on fancy foods. His sustenance was found in a desert, and locusts and wild honey seemed to suffice.
Something else would have kept him going I suspect. He ministered in the desert, and clearly listened to God. There had been no prophetic voice for nearly 500 years.
We’ve talked before about these desert experiences – do you remember the message that included Mendelssohn’s “O for the wings of a dove?” It’s from Psalm 55: Psalm 55:6 I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest— Psalm 55:7 I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah Psalm 55:8 I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.”
I shared this quote with you about the voices we hear: But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved, my favour rests on you.’ That’s the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That’s what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us ‘my Beloved.’” (Henri Nouwen).
We need to hear that voice. And we need our souls fed.
There are some amazing hymns in our tradition. And then there are exceptional ones. Guide me o Thou Great Jehovah/Redeemer is one.
“Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more!”
Our soul is fed by God’s word and His presence.
Didn’t Jesus say at his temptation (to the devil of course): “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4 quoting Deuteronomy 8:3)
And the starting point is meeting Jesus – the Word of God in John 1 – the one who speaks by his life and words, and who is described prophetically by Isaiah in the prophecy read today in these words:
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. (Isaiah 9:2).
Wonderful counsellor – what a comfort. Mighty God – how strong that sounds and is. Everlasting Father – contrast with human fathers who abandon us by jumping ship or dying too soon. Prince of Peace – is such a joy to hear.
If our souls are disquieted – troubled – deficient of anything – it is probably peace.
- Sleepless nights (money, work, family, health – you name the cause)
- Troubled days (wondering if we will have sleepless nights again)
- Anxiety about being anxious (that vicious circle which feeds itself)
- Plain unadulterated fear (fed in my case by nightmares and post-traumatic stress)
It’s all something that needs the prince of peace to park in the troubled zones of our minds, our hearts, our souls – out deepest recesses of darkness and sin.
As an aside – on that matter of sin – It’s interesting when people tell me they are perfect. Without sin. 1 John always comes to mind: 1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
And then I wonder about this verse, when Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery: John 8:7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Would they then throw the first stone?
Of course John in chapter 1 of his first letter says this: 1 John 1:9 – 10: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
The prayer of a little boy comes to mind: “Dear Lord, please forgive us our sins – those we have done, those we have not got around to doing, and those we haven’t yet thought up”.
Clearly he had an irritating sister or brother.
Sometimes we lack peace because people have sinned against us. Either way we get hurt because of the sinful nature of human beings. We need peace – healing and nurturing deep within our souls.
The absence of Peace – and the need to nurture our souls
Discussions about the soul are about the inner life. Our inner life – involving thoughts and emotions (minds and hearts if you like). And our souls. The word soul crops up a lot in Scripture.
In the Psalms the writer’s speak of their soul in these ways: A soul can be in anguish (6:3); it can be revived (19:7); it can be restored (23:3); it can grow weak with grief (34:2); It can rejoice in the Lord (35:9); it can be left forlorn 35:12); it can be poured out in worship (42:4); and often downcast (42:5,6,11; 43:5); It can be called to awaken (57:8); it can find rest in God (63:1,5)
In fact it’s worth looking at these verses from Psalm 62 and 63:
Psalm 62:1 For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David. My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.
Psalm 62:5 Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.
Psalm 63:1 A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah. O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psalm 63:5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Psalm 63:8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
Today we sang: “Find rest my soul – in Christ alone – I will be still and know you are God!” It’s a great song.
The reading from Philippians is a timely reminder if you are lacking peace. And listening to the news on Friday about family violence over Christmas, how the shelters have to stay open because stress leads to domestic violence, it’s always a great passage:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Of course people facing violence can’t just depend on this peace – they also need safety and help. Thankfully there are people who can help us.
The point is that Christmas is not always an ideal time. There again, the first Christmas also had challenges.
Peace with God – a right relationship
Peace is achieved with God – in the realm of salvation through trusting in Jesus as our Lord and rescuer from sin. Romans 5:1 puts it like this in the NLT: Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.
I take that as a given. We need to trust in Christ and find forgiveness and peace with God at that level.
Peace in the turmoil of life.
Peace in the turmoil of life comes when you hear God speak to you. Being well in our inner life – our souls – comes out of hearing his voice of assurance, of guidance, and of peace.
You can be forgiven if you sometimes doubt that God knows what he is doing when things are tough in your life. The Christmas characters had some serious challenges too.
There are secondary characters in the Christmas story that teach us about this kind of soul life – stability and peace through hearing God. Simeon the priest for one – waiting for the messiah – filled with the Spirit – knew he would not die until he saw the messiah. He’s led by the Spirit into the temple when Mary and joseph bring baby Jesus there. And listen to what he says: “Sovereign Lord, now let Your servant die in peace, as You have promised. (Luke 2:29).
I wouldn’t mind that – knowing that I am exactly in God’s plan and when the day comes I can die in peace. Pretty cool hey? His prophecy is powerful. (Read verses 34-5 of Luke 2).
CLOSING THOUGHTS ABOUT JOHN’S MUM AND DAD
And this is John in the Bible. John the Baptiser. Like Mary and Joseph, spare a thought for the lack of peace in their lives. Cousin Mary and Joseph have to deal with politicians and their decisions and go to Bethlehem on a precarious four legged taxi (no Uber here for them) when she is about to pop.
Zachariah and Elizabeth had to deal with the curse of being barren – even though he was a faithful priest.
But its to chapter 1 in Luke where we have to go to see what happens when God speaks and we start our own ideas in response.
John’s father has an angelic visitation in the temple when on duty. He’s rostered on. Funny how the Levites came to our attention last week. This week it’s a priest again. And an angel appears and speaks to him.
He is terrified. The angel assures him. He doubts. (1:18) and gets this response: Luke 1:19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was He who sent me to bring you this good news! Luke 1:20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
Oops. It’s taken up a notch. Gabriel reminds him that although he is a professional in God’s presence in the temple. Gabriel is not to be argued with – “ I stand in the very presence of God”. Stilte! (An Afrikaans word). He is silenced.
It helps us understand the passage we heard today – the power of Zachariah’s prophecy, seeing that he had been silenced for 9 months. The silence is lifted when this happens:
Luke 1:57 When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. Luke 1:58 And when her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her. Luke 1:59 When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. Luke 1:60 But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” Luke 1:61 “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” Luke 1:62 So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. Luke 1:63 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” Luke 1:64 Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.
It’s amazing what silence does. He prophecies – after all that time of silence and clearly listening to God. He says this:
Luke 1:76 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, Luke 1:77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, Luke 1:78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven Luk 1:79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
The King James version captures the beauty of the words of the man who had to be still for 9 months: Luke 1:78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, Luke 1:79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The dayspring is another word for the rising sun – Jesus. Zachariah’s prophecy is a perfect blend of Isaiah 9 which we heard as well today, and Malachi 4:2.
Isa 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Mal 4:2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.
Ring any bells? The Christmas carol “Hark the Herald Angel sing” by Charles Wesley – who didn’t make these songs up. It’s all from scripture:
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings;
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Interestingly the “Sun of Righteousness” has often been changed to “Son of Righteousness” on the assumption perhaps that this is a spelling mistake. Malachi 4:2 speaks however of the sun, referring to the brightness of His glory perhaps (Hebrews 1:3) or His being the light of the world (John 8:12).
One writer put it like this: The sun which is righteousness, in whose wings, that is, rays, are healing and salvation. This Divine righteousness shall beam upon them that fear the Name of God, flooding them with joy and light, healing all wounds, removing all miseries, making them incalculably blessed. The Fathers generally apply the title of “Sun of Righteousness” to Christ, who is the Source of all justification and enlightenment and happiness, and who is called (Jeremiah 23:6), “The Lord our Righteousness.”
Wesley writes of the healing here in these words: “His beams shall bring health and strength, with delight and joy, safety and security.”
How are things with your soul today? May you find this healing and life, his warmth and peace.
May the prince of peace speak peace into your soul today.
READINGS: Malachi 3:1-6 Luke 3:1-6; Matthew 12:9-21
We have a local website and network called neighbourly. It’s a great tool. You can send out notices of events in specific areas around here, and people get a daily email with the key events.
Here’s an example recently – just before the last school holidays:
If you can’t read that it says:
5 Top Posts
- Mainly Music on Fridays at 10 am – come to BBP @ 45 Anzac Road, Browns Bay New
- Browns Bay Family Home Cleaner Required New
- Brown Chickens sighted on Browns Bay Road this morning 17Sep15 New
- Update on Tsunami Warning New
- National Warning issued by Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management- Tsunami: Marine and Beach Threat New
Do you see the odd thing about this email?
- Mainly music – number one! All good really!
- Then a cleaner needed – number two! Makes sense. They say cleanliness is close to godliness!
- Then the lost brown chickens – number three! O dear. Sounds tragic really.
- Then the last two are about the Tsunami coming! Bit late for mainly music, the cleaner and the chickens really – if the tsunami comes, well who cares. Unless you’re a duck, it’s all academic really.
Seriously – the last time there was a serious tsunami warning people went down to the beach front with picnic baskets for an afternoon’s entertainment!
It sounds just like the people in the time of Noah…. Or Lot. Have a look in Luke 17:
Luk 17:24 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. Luk 17:25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Luk 17:26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. Luk 17:27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
Luk 17:28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. Luk 17:29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Luk 17:30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. Luk 17:31 On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Luk 17:32 Remember Lot’s wife!
You know the story of the boy in Sunday school who had to answer the question: what happened to Lot’s wife? He wrote – “she was a pillar of salt by day and a ball of fire at night”.
ARE YOU SERIOUS?
Are WE serious?
When we talk about Advent and being prepared for a major event or happening, it reminds me of our days in Wellington before the Christchurch earthquakes.
We were not that serious about having food and water stored up. I don’t think we had more than one torch and certainly nothing to cook on in the event of a long term power failure.
And that was despite having a number of serious shakes via quakes.
And so we bought our emergency kits after the fact – and then moved to Auckland where you need a boat when you get 12 hours warning of a volcano.
PREPARATION is a big deal.
So John the Baptist arrives. There is a serious pronouncement of an event here. And this is the announcement of the arrival of the one who would do the major announcement to follow. It’s the pre-alert if you like.
Luk 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— Luk 3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.
There had been a silence for a long time. Nothing – heaven had been silent since the time of Malachi which was written so many hundreds of years before this (in about 430BC). God speaks to John – and through John to people about Jesus – and through Jesus the Word of God – to the world. Malachi warns us:
Mal 3:1 “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.
THE LORD WILL COME SUDDENLY
The passage quickly turns to the actual event:
“Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. Mal 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. Mal 3:3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, Mal 3:4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.”
Advent is the event before the event. It’s about being ready for the celebration of the coming of Jesus. For us it’s the pre-Christmas bit.
I’ve been reading some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s advent sermons. The one was preached in 1930 in Cuba. Listen to what he says: “But Advent is a serious matter too, and indeed a terribly serious matter. We are a strange people. As Advent comes around again, we will probably sing a few Christmas carols at home with our children, rush around to by all our gifts, write a few Christmas cards, and the when all the office parties are over, we shall enter the land of fun and laughter, the land of Christmas.”
He goes on to his sermon text from Deuteronomy 32: 48-52 about Moses dying before he reaches the Promised Land. Moses whose life’s journey and mission was to lead the people to that land. What a terrible unfulfilled hope and wish. God speaks to His man – to Moses, and tells him to go up to the Abarim mountain range, to die on the mountain, within sight of the promised land. Because of disobedience, unholiness and sin. Bonhoeffer says simply: Before the promise, the sinner must die. He puts it like this:
“He comes. Are you ready? There lies the shattering question with which the New Testament begins and ends, the only decisive question for the whole world and for the whole of our life. Are you ready for God?” (Christmas Sermons, 2005:p36).
John comes before Jesus. Repentance comes before good news. Advent before Christmas.
At Advent with all the horrible things happening around the world, our hope has to be realistic and not decorated with tinsel.
We need some cleaning up in our lives.
The Malachi reading is the powerful one. It features in Handel’s Messiah. I was listening to it again. I always marvel at the power of the human voices who sing the solo parts.
Would you like to listen to some of it? Of course they repeat the lines from Malachi again and again. Like a preacher repeating herself a lot – maybe because people are slow to hear or hear only what their itching ears want to hear! (Verse: 2Ti 4:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2Ti 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.)
Here it is. What amazing singing. Look out for the visuals about cleansing.
(The singers and musicians: Contralto: Hillary Summers; Bass: Alastair Miles; Orchestra: The Brandenburg Consort; Choir: Kings College Choir Cambridge).
The words are straight from Scripture – staring from Haggai 2:
Bass: Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts: Yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come. (Haggai 2: 6-7)
The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3: 1)
Alto or soprano: But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire. (Malachi 3: 2)
And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3: 3)
Lovely that they simply sing scripture!
So what about the Levites?
Earlier in Malachi 1 we read: Mal 1:6 “A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.
And then: Mal 1:10 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. Mal 1:11 My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.
Malachi was obviously concerned about their shoddy work – their second rate offerings. ABout worship.
In chapter 2 he spells out how they had broken His covenant with Levi (2:8).
They offered him second best, and did not keep the covenant. (By grace – later in the NT when the deacons are elected so that the apostles can focus on preaching the word in Acts 6 we read: Act 6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.)
If there is anything that we are to be judged on – it’s our worship. And judgment begins with the household of God for us too (1 Peter 4:17).
Our offerings. Our passion for worship. Our total love for God. Or lack of it.And how we express it here especially – is this our very best?
Our hearts that become hardened – or indifferent – or locked onto other things.
Again and again Jesus reminds us. Again and again in Deuteronomy it comes up. It’s about all our heart. One quote from the gospels will do: Mar 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
- All this preparation at Advent.
- All these activities.
- All the preparation for Christmas too.
- But are we really ready for his coming?
The one of whom it is said as we heard in Luke 3: “All mankind will see God’s salvation.” And in Matthew 11 today: “In his name the nations will put their hope.”
We also have a covenant – through our baptism. We are also committed to put God first.
But there is so much rubbish in our lives.
The refiner’s fire will cleanse us too. Renewal comes through testing and cleansing. And the word for ‘soap’ (borit) sounds quite similar to the word for “covenant” (berit). Ironically.
So in chapter 3 he says that God will come:
(Mal 3:1 …. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. Mal 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. Mal 3:3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, al 3:4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
One writer put it like this:
“Like a refiner’s fire and cleansing soap, the arrival of Christ in our midst calls us to reverent obedience and faithful praise. The good news is indeed that we will not be left unchanged but will be reformed and refined to become like Christ. The prophet raises a challenge for each of us. As we proclaim Christ’s coming with Advent expectation, the promise of Christ’s arrival should prompt us to self-reflection and even make us uncomfortable. Are we ready?” (Anne Stewart. Workingpreacher.org)
There is a danger that we are not ready. That we are chasing brown chickens on Browns Bay road when a tsunami is coming.
Gospel Reading: St. Mark 10: 42 — 45; Preacher: Bill Davey
How are we to respond to the Incarnate One?
We know the Lord can change New Zealand ― if we each play our part!
We are, however, needed to help re-kindle the faith in the Christ of the Gospels. We have a clear exhortation about our service among His people:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to givehis life as a ransom for many.”
We will briefly review of some recent Advent Scriptures ― followed by a review of our Gospel reading this morning.
Every year we begin a great journey ― the story about God among His people: Meaning all humankind ― including you, me, indeed everyone is invited.
Advent (I) ― God’s Plan ― Journey’s End
Advent (I) began with a great thought ― our final focus on journey’s end:
Matthew 24: 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Our Christian story runs from Genesis (The Creation) to Revelation and ends with the Return of Christ to the earth.
Revelation 22: 20 reads: He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come Lord Jesus. The Return of Christ at the end of the age is our ultimate target throughout life.
― sometimes called the Second Coming or
― the culmination or consummation of all things.
Be watching ― Be praying ― Beware of false teachers ― Beware of idolatry
Advent (II) ― God’s Plan ― A great starting point
Advent (II) followed with the first baptisms ― a great start point ― Baptism.
Matthew 3: 11 – “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Advent (III) God’s Plan ― A New Way of living
Advent (III) Jesus demonstrated a new way of living and then He presented a eulogy to John the Baptist, with a paradox we find hard to understand.
Advent (IV) ― God’s Plan ― The Birth of Jesus
Advent (IV) The Joseph and Mary story.
Five days ago we celebrated the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, who became our Messiah, Redeemer and Saviour on the Cross at Calvary. Most of us have known this Christmas story ― about the Incarnation ― (“How God became man and came to live among us”) from our childhood. It has always been the cornerstone of our Christian culture and heritage.
Question: Is it still true ― for the children, and children’s children in New Zealand today?
During the family service we spoke of the ministry of John the Baptist. Our minister, Robin, recalled the words of Jesus to the people ― they are part of the eulogy to John the Baptist:
Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: `I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
I want to focus on the final words of the eulogy in verse 11: I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
What do we make of the paradox in verse 11? I tell you the truth: I tell you the truth also translates as “Verily, verilly, I say unto you. I suggest that we do well to highlight or underline all such sentences and ponder them ― They are always the kernel of a significant truth.
Now the paradox declares:
Among those born of women. Nobody “greater than John the Baptist” has been born. We continue: there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. What is this greater-ness of which He spoke? I understand the Lord was saying, ′that He was demonstrating His leadership and authority ― not with military muscle or through conquest, but by being a servant of servants, and as a slave of the slaves′.
If you remain unsure of the meaning of the paradox, please do what the Baptist told his disciples to do, Go ask him yourself: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Can you recall the response of Jesus? “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
Please note how giving the good news to the poor is valued by the Lord ― It is the equal of healing or raising the dead. Surely we can all tell someone about the goodness of the Lord to us?
Now what is our Church response and direction going to be in 2014?
Returning to our Gospel Reading
Our Lord gave a very clear exhortation about humble service among His followers:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” St. Mark 10: 42 — 45 Our Lord gave a very clear exhortation about humble service among His followers: Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
How will we respond the exhortation of Jesus?
Here are seven possible priorities for our consideration for 2014?
1. Hospitality: Highlighting the dignity of being members of the Household of God.
2. Caring: Helping any person in need, especially those experiencing misfortune or suffering from some disability.
3. Reconciliation: Seeking the recovery and restoration of those who have been separated in any way from God.
4. Worship: Guiding private and public worship. ― Time with God in prayer and study.
5. Formation: Fostering the spiritual life of each member of our Fellowship and all who wish to be associated in any way.
6. Education: Providing appropriate learning experiences ranging from simple guided learning to advanced leadership training and studies.
7. Evangelisation: Pursuing opportunities to communicate the living vitality of our Lord Jesus with all in need of His love and care.
Our Lord’s new and living way is our example!
Are we willing to be a servant of servants and a slave of fellow slaves?
What will we consider the priority ministries in our own life this year?
Some thoughts as we finish:
Recall, the Lord can change New Zealand ― if we each play our part!
and we are all needed to help re-kindle the faith in the Christ of the Gospels.
It will work best ― when we gather one person at a time. Amen!
Closing Prayer: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance toward you and give you peace!
Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
So you’re engaged – and the engagement ends. Do you get to keep the ring?
Depends – I think – on who breaks the engagement. If it’s the guy – then she keeps it. If it’s the girl – she gives the ring back.
Well that was the law I studied when becoming a marriage counsellor.
What do you make of Joseph and Mary’s muddle?
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. (NRSV)
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (NIV – one of them anyway)
What was the nature of their arrangement? It seems that the English words don’t capture their status. Were they engaged or married? Was does it mean to be “pledged to be married”.
It was more like a two stage wedding. The first was a contract arranged by the parents – a betrothal- a marriage contract in fact which could only be broken by divorce. The second step happened about a year later when the groom actually took the bride home as his wife – that’s when the feast took place. These two phases have specific Hebrew names which I won’t bore you with. The point is it was different from our set up today. We have other issues – partners galore, common law arrangements- and now legally you can marry anyone. Within a week of the new law on marriage here in NZ there were campaigns for polygamy. The boundaries will get pushed again and again.
Last week we reflected on Mary – her soul and spirit response to God in the face of the predicament she finds herself in.
Today we look at Joseph. He was in a corner – a proverbial tight spot. They were in-between the two phases of marriage – a time when they were not living together and certainly not sleeping together. In the literal sense of the Hebrew language he did not “know” her. Remember the passage in Genesis?
Genesis 4:1 says: Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain…
Hebrew is quiet a concrete language. The latest NIV generously translates the passage like this:
Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain…
I digress of course. The point is – there was clearly none of this intimate “knowledge” between these two. (I hope from now on you will not walk around saying that you know people. Could be misunderstood by those who remember anything of this today!)
So here’s this man in a place of panic mixed with distrust of this girl. If it wasn’t him, then who on earth was it?
Well there’s the solution. No one on earth.
There are debates in theological circles about the word “virgin” and whether in the New Testament the word translated simply means “young girl”.
The bible text is quite direct here. Listen again to the NIV version in the pew:
Mat 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
Mat 1:20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. There it is.
I love the response of this righteous man. He did not want to expose her to public disgrace – because this would be a breaking of the serious code of marriage really! It implies adultery – forbidden by one of the big ten. (Can you remember which one? Between ‘don’t murder” and “don’t steal” is the 7th commandment – ‘don’t commit adultery”.)
But Joseph gets a text – an email – a facebook message? Nope – just a dream – an angel appearing saying to him:
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
And of course it gets better:
Mat 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew reminds his listeners about the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 which we also heard today. Makes sense – Matthew’s gospel was written for a Jewish readership or audience.
I love Joseph’s openness to being led by God.
We need more Josephs today – open to the Lord’s leading.
And his obedience is fairly efficient:
Mat 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
Mat 1:25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
We need to pray for the men of this nation – and this community too – that they hear God speak into their lives.
I’m sure that Jesus was like Joseph – just like he sounds like Mary in the beautitudes.
Men of God. Listen to His voice.
(The Word Isaiah saw – and hope today)
Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matt 24:36-44
Isa 2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: Isa 2:2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Isa 2:3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isa 2:4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isa 2:5 Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Rom 13:11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Rom 13:12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Rom 13:13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rom 13:14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Mat 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Mat 24:37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; Mat 24:39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Mat 24:43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.
Mat 24:43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.
We’ve been burgled twice in my life – that we know about. Who knows what else has walked out of our house over the years. During times when we’ve opened our home to waifs and strays – sadly other things have walked too. That has not changed our commitment to care.
When we were first married – 30 years ago next year – thieves got in to our place while we slept – and came into our bedroom and removed things. Thankfully we slept. In Wellington people got into the house in the middle of the day – and carried quantities of things out. No one questioned them somehow – or even noticed. The funny thing was that we didn’t notice either when we got home – we’d been sitting the lounge room for a while and then our children came in – and wanted to know where the TV was.
The unexpected is exactly that. SURPRISE! And even if you plan a surprise party – someone lets the cat out of the bag. If you’re lucky – the person will not pick up on the signs. Hindsight though is a wonderful gift. You realise afterwards why people were behaving differently.
Advent is about waiting – about being prepared – it is a future looking time. It’s not a time of repentance like Lent. Lent is like spring cleaning – spiritually speaking.
Advent is about openness and anticipation.
And this week we focus on hope.
And we turn to the passage from Isaiah to get a sense of how powerful hope is.
Here it is again: Isa 2:4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
What is even more powerful is how this prophecy is introduced: Isa 2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: (NIV)
The NIV short changes us here. Listen to the more literal New Revised Standard Version: Isa 2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. (NRSV)
How do you “see” a word? There was no text message or twitter option – we can see words today more readily. In fact some people exist in a word of written conversation – and don’t actually know what a telephone is for. You have to remind kids that they can phone people for free!
Lots of images are visual words. The doves you have today. The Christmas tree that we will hang them on. The anticipation portrayed in the wrapping paper that hides our Christmas presents.
So too body language – it speaks.
But Isaiah sees a word. There is a visionary sense here. This is Isaiah 2.
When you read chapter one – it’s not a pretty picture. It begins like this: Isa 1:2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. Isa 1:3 The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Isa 1:4 Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.
Bribery, violence, unfaithfulness, wretchedness, terrible treatment of the poor. And the prophet says this: Isa 1:15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; Isa 1:16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, Isa 1:17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
There are glimpses of redemption though. The very next verse says this: Isa 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
But then you read these words: Isa 1:21 See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her— but now murderers! Isa 1:22 Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. Isa 1:23 Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. Isa 1:24 Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies.
It’s much like today – people far from God – violence and rebellion.
But he says a new word: Isa 2:4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
But who will believe this:
This word he sees – is on the wall to be seen today. Can you tell me where this is?
Who can believe that? Isaiah’s words are carved into the wall across from the United Nations building. Who believes these words across the street in the General Assembly as they debate sanctions against Iran, as they wring their hands over 100,000 killed in Syria, and chastise the United States for inhumane treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo? (Barbara Lundblad – commentary on Isaiah 2:1-15)
That’s the thing about hope. It’s not obvious – but you can still see it. In the Christian scriptures Hebrews put it like this when speaking of faith: Heb 11:1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)
(NIV84) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
(NLT) Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
- Hope today – is symbolised by the lighting of the first Advent candle.
- It is a dream we have – that can become a reality
- It can change how we cope with huge challenges and struggles – the knowledge that we too can see a Word – the Word Jesus coming into the world as a baby to bring hope
- Hope galvanises us and strengthens us in the face of death itself. After all that is our scariest certainty – I was reminded of that again this week when we went to Rosedale. There were fewer in the hospital section than last month. Some were out, but the helper said to me: “we’ve lost a few since you were last here”. Makes going there even more significant really.
People in war torn Syria, and in every other conflict zone – have a greater need to see a word of hope.
Walter Brueggeman makes the connection: in Texts for Preaching: The vision of Isaiah is “an act of imagination that looks beyond present dismay through the eyes of God, to see what will be that is not yet. That is the function of promise (and therefore of Advent) in the life of faith. Under promise, in Advent, faith sees what will be that is not yet.” (A lectionary commentary based on the NRSV – Year A.)
So if this about hope – then where is the solution? Do we just hang in there until Jesus comes and sorts it all out?
No – our very life is found in the one who gives hope.
Even for Isaiah – 8 centuries before Jesus (and like Micah) they knew the source:
Isa 2:2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Isa 2:3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Life comes from where God is – in their case it would be Zion. For us it is Christ – we turn to Him who is the living Word of God – light of the world – Good shepherd – bread of life – giving living water.
Isaiah says in verse 3:
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
We have Jesus the Word of God – we have the Word of God in the Scriptures – He speaks through them to us.
We too are to walk in his paths. Living and walking are the same – remember the first Christians were called people of “The Way”.
While we wait – always ready in case like a thief in the night it all happens – we have a life to walk! Note that we don’t sit around. Listen to these New Testament verses:
Rom_6:4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
2Co_5:7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.
2Jn_1:6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning–you must walk in it.
And my favourite (from last week): 1Jn_1:7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
And hope is part of our walk. The most famous passage and one of my favourites is this one:
Rom 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom 5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Rom 5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
The future hope as come to us already in Christ, and through His indwelling Holy Spirit. For this reason Peter writes these important words on our being “good news” or evangelists today: But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give and answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for for the hope that you have! (1 Peter 3:15)
And of course Paul, talking of the mystery of the Gospel which he passionately lived for and eventually died for says this: “… the glorious riches of this mystery: Christ in you the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)
May we be living words – living letters, to use Paul’s term – words that people can see – as they see the living Word Christ in us – and as we extend His presence and hope in our world.
For further help or guidance – please use the contact form below: