Readings: Hebrew 1:1-3; John 1:1-5; 10-14
Do you get relatives coming for Christmas?
I noticed on SKY TV a suggestion from the Mental Health Foundation in Australia to help you get through the season in good shape:
MENTAL HEALTH RECOMMENDATIONS
- Sleep and relaxation
- Eating and drinking in moderation
- Keeping calm during family gatherings
- Doing good
Keep calm in family gatherings! A fair call. Just remember those this Christmas who have no family or whose loved ones are in care or in hospital and they can’t be together.
By the way there’s a lovely version of the serenity prayer when it comes to interesting people in our lives:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know its me. 🙂
Yes family descends. It often means a bit of work preparing for their coming.
Some family members inspire you to do a lot of cleaning and sorting. The house has to be tidy – perhaps for granny or your favourite auntie.
And on Christmas day if they all come along – well there’s all kinds of cleaning and cooking. That Christmas meal is heaps of work. Especially preparing things like turkeys or Christmas Ham. My favourite Mr Bean story is where he plays with the nativity set in a shop. But the craziest part of his Christmas adventure is when he gets a turkey stuck on his head. It can’t be that bad for us!
You’ve got to know what you are doing in the kitchen. And you’ve got to get ready for the day.
The truth is that we put a lot of time into preparing for Christmas celebrations – but how much effort goes into preparing for Jesus’ coming?
- It’s one thing if your gran checks if the house is clean and dusted.
- But Jesus’ coming means a lot of other things may need inspecting and cleaning up.
Jesus’ first coming as a baby is almost like “coming ready or not”. Very few people actually recognized his coming. And his own people did not receive him.
Mary and Joseph were prepared by angels bringing messages. Those revelations were quite frightening I am sure. The “wise” kings were alert and looking for signs. But there were to be risks for them too. Some like the shepherds got one of those “surprise” moments. All in all it makes sense that angels should say: “don’t be afraid!’
John’s gospel doesn’t talk about the birth of Jesus like Matthew and Luke. There’s no detail. But there is explanation. especially in these verses:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:10-12)
We need to make sure that we receive Him. Look what happens when we receive – and believe;
He gives us “the right to become children of God’ Born of God.
So what does that mean?
1. No longer orphans or lost boys
It reminds me of the lost boys in the story of Peter Pan. There are a number of countries in the world where there are many orphaned children in homes due to the disasters of human conflict. And tragedies on our roads take parents away.
Becoming children of God is a wonderful blessing. Like the lost boys we too need to be found. Becoming children of God also means:
2. Having a really good father
Chris Tomlin has written a wonderful song called “Good good Father.”
The words are a good reminder of the Father’s heart:
I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone
The chorus follows and a brilliant second verse:
You’re a good good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am
I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching
For answers only you provide
‘Cause you know just what we need
Before we say a word
3. We also don’t have to be afraid…
Fear and anxiety dominate our lives so much today. The words of the angels still ring in our heads: ‘Do not be afraid”.
Our nation and many others have hundreds of thousands of people on anti-anxiety medication. Keeping calm is not easy even on a normal day, never mind when the relatives descend.
John who writes about us having the right to become children of God through Jesus the word who became flesh and made his home (literally pitched his tent) among us, also writes this in his first letter chapter 4 verse 18:
God’s “perfect love drives out all fear.”
Paul in one of my favourite passages also says this:
“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.” (Phil 4:6-7.
These are the blessings of receiving this gift – the person of Jesus – whose coming we celebrate today.
A blessed Christmas to you all.
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.
Will you be alone this Christmas? There is such pressure from families to BE TOGETHER. It works of course when families live in the same town (or country!). These days we find our relatives dotted all over the globe.
The chances are you may be alone. More than that, some of us may well FEEL alone in the midst of our family gatherings and all the tinseled celebration. And we’re supposed to be so JOLLY – that’s what the carol says anyway.
The truth is that for many Christmas can be very cold and bleak. Our minds are bombarded with so many memories at this time of the year – memories of those we loved who are not with us any more – of moments in our lives that can never be recaptured. It simply hurts.
What is it really all about then? There is no snow (or “snowperson”) for us to make in the Southern Hemisphere. The Father Christmas bubble has long been popped. And even our gifts are often not well received (observe the queues on the 27th December as the exchange ritual begins).
There are those who suggest that we do it all differently. That Christmas as we know it has been totally hijacked by the commercial world. It is suggested that we have a spiritual Christmas – a totally “religious” celebration sometime in September, where we focus on the birth of Jesus and its implications for us as Christians.
I suspect that somewhere in that new tradition someone will pull out a mince pie and a turkey or some other tasty bird. Why then do we need to turn everything into a party? Is this really a commercial plot?
Perhaps not. Perhaps our party natures reflect a need for something deeper – a need to really celebrate life. The problem is that many of us are like an awesome sound system – unplugged. Or dancers in a choreographed dance of life – who are deaf and can’t hear the orchestra play.
The true source of joy and celebration is still the child in the manger. We fail, however, when we leave him there as an infant forever. As a man he fulfils all our human expectations. He is all we could ever become. As God, He is the source of real joy and delight that goes beyond the Christmas elevator jingles and jazzed-up carols.
Listen to what He says: “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ” `We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” (Matthew 11:16-19a)
They could not pin him down. Neither can we in this generation. One thing is for certain, you’ve never danced until you’ve discovered the depth of His tune.
There is a song that He plays that is wider and longer and higher than your favourite Christmas music, more enriching than your most esoteric experience, more profound than the movie that revolutionized your thinking, or the novel that grabbed your heart. The angelic beings sang His song, and simple shepherds were riveted to the spot. They then abandoned their posts to investigate the heralded good news. The starry hosts were disrupted and wise ones traveled many miles to determine the exact nature of the jolting in the cosmos.
A young girl and her beloved sang His song as they guarded and protected this refugee child from a paranoid King who committed infanticide and ripped open the hearts of many a mother. In time men and women from all walks of life sang His song. Through the generations millions have sung it. Will you sing His song? Will you dance His dance? I suspect that for many of you the celebration has not yet begun. It can. Today. There is no need to be alone.
Have a lovely Christmas wherever you are!
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).
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.
Reading – John 1:1-14
John 1:11-14 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Whose son are you? Who do you belong to? To whom do you belong? Whose child are you?
In the movies people are often labelled as son of a something or other! You can use your imagination – especially if you are a cowboy movie fan.
We’re a funny old community – those of us who have made New Zealand as our home. Very strange really.
It’s a bicultural nation. Made up of people of the land, and people of the treaty.
It’s fast becoming one of the most multi-cultural places to live, especially in this city.
So you often have to write down your ethnicity, when you fill in various forms. And that too makes no sense, because of the fact that you may be recognised as an ethnic European who was born in Africa, for example. And a permanent resident here.
John’s gospel today divides the world into two different groups. Listen to verse 11 and 12:John 1:11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
- His own – who did not receive him. Jesus was Hebrew, Semitic, born into a Jewish family.
- Those who received and believed – who become children of God.
This new family identity does not depend on ethnicity or language, or even citizenship or permanent residence.
Verse 13 continues: John 1:13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
A Spiritual birth. A spiritual identity. That’s the key.
In Chapter 3 John records the words of Jesus as follows: John 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
A better translation is this from the NRSV: Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
“Above” – refers to God of course – we are to be His children.
Who are you then? Who do you belong to? Which of these two categories? Those who receive Him or those who don’t?
If you haven’t figured that out – this is a good time to do so!
Christmas carols tell the story well.
O little town of Bethlehem – a favourite by Phillips Brooks – has these lines:
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
And then there’s this great carol by Charles Wesley:
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!”
Whose child are you? This last verse refers both to resurrection life and new birth!
When you’ve figured that out – then your life’s purpose is redefined – things can never be the same again.
What wonderful news this Christmas! What a wonderful faith!
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!
Readings: Isaiah 7:10-16 Matthew 1:18-25
So here’s the test for today. What’s the most popular Christmas song people sing?
Rudolf the red nosed reindeer? Santa Clause is coming to town? I’m dreaming of a white Christmas? (In your dreams in NZ!!)
Here it is then – “WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS” (and a happy new year!).
So what makes a Merry Christmas? (Kids around the world)
I think the clue is in the rest of the song. What are the other verses? (Let’s look on the screen).
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer
We won’t go until we get some;
We won’t go until we get some;
We won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here
We Wish You a Merry Christmas it seems dates back to England in the sixteenth century. Carol singers we are told were often poor and at the end of their singing would add this song in order to perhaps get Christmas treats from wealthy members of the community. So they probably ended with this song! “We won’t go until we get some!” It was pretty yummy pudding not unlike modern day Christmas Puddings (Figgy pudding it seems had rum and not brandy!)
Now this does not mean that you should sing demanding songs to you parents. If you stand outside their door and sing “o bring/give us a hundred dollars – we won’t go until we get some” they will probably get a little fed up! It won’t work!
It does remind us that some people do have to almost beg to get things we take for granted. Like food. That’s why Boxing Day (tomorrow) has always been important! No silly – not for the sales! It’s for putting things in boxes for the poor! I hope you finished your Advent calendar which will help the poor!
And there is one way which we can persist? What does persist mean? Keep on asking! With God – he loves us when we keep on asking him in prayer to help us – and not give up!
The most Merry Christmas is the one where we ask Jesus into our hearts!
There are two lovely things about this passage. Matthew’s matter of fact account begins:
Mat 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about:
He tells the story. Haven’t we heard it so often before. Nice Mary. Noble and obedient Joseph. O my. Life is much more complex and stressful than that.
This lovely romanticised story has the elements of intrigue, doubt and disaster. And in the midst of the potential for disgrace, danger and death (they are soon running for their lives) two words from God shout out to us.
The first – via an angelic messenger:
“… you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (verse 21)
The second – the Word of God recorded by Matthew himself quoting the prophecy:
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.”
He roots the story in the Old Testament – as he gives his gospel account aimed at Jewish readers:
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.
1. His name Jesus
2. His other name – Immanuel
1. His name Jesus
The real name of Jesus is YESHUA- or Joshua. It means God saves, our Yahweh (The Lord) saves.
That’s the whole point of his coming – to rescue us from ourselves and our sins. And our mess and troubles.
If you’ve ever met someone who has been rescued – from a dangerous place – you know the sense of gratitude they have!
We should be grateful – thankful – and always praising Him for what he did to save us!
2. His other name – Immanuel
Again it’s not English – or Afrikaans – or Korean or Chinese! It’s a Hebrew name or title.
Literally “with us is God”.
God with us is the best news of all!
He is still with us!
He didn’t just come in like a superhero and then jet off into space like superman! When he left earth as a human being – He promised to be with us always! And then He came back through His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ.
He is with us all the time! That’s what keeps us going!
And even when we die we will be with Him because he will be with us then too!
King David reminds us in Psalm 23 reminds us:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me… (verse 4)
If He is not real for you – this Jesus Immanuel – God saves and God with us – what can you do about it today?
Keep on talking to Him – asking Him to become real to you – persist – like the carollers singing about the Figgy pudding – “we won’t go until we’ve got some!”
Hang around with God – spend time with him and his people – read his book which tells us all about him – and we will understand Jeshua – Immanu – el – the one who makes it all worth living!
I had a conversation recently with someone about this reality of God – the person felt that God did not answer his prayers – that there was no reality. He was knock knock knocking on heaven’s door and not getting an answer!
The bible verse that came to mind immediately and which I shared with him was this onein Jeremiah 29:
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
And guess what the verses are before this one: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (11-13)
So I want to leave with you today the Figgy pudding solution.
You can really get to know this God – if you hang around – not give up – but seek him with all your heart.
Like those carol singers who sang:
We won’t go until we get some; We won’t go until we get some;We won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here
Figgy pudding persistence
Figgy pudding prayers
Figgy pudding power – is not in the rum and lovely yummy ingredients. I love Christmas and the food is yummy and it is a Merry time. The real power is in knowing God.
My wish for you is more than a Merry Christmas – it’s the Christ Jesus and knowing him in reality that is my wish for you.
Gospel reading: Luke 3:1-6
In the midst of all these world events and powerful people – Luke mentions leaders from Caesar to Pilate – to Herod and his brother Phillip, Lysanias – and the high priests in the temple at Jerusalem – with all their power and influences in their various sectors – there’s John the son of Zachariah hanging out in the wilderness. The desert. A typical prophet. Alternate. Different views and different diet. Weird – in fact. Dressed in camel skins and eating wild locusts and honey. Locusts are very tricky – those little bits stick in your teeth…
The focus is not on this unusual man, however. After the sweeping statement locating this story in historical time and its politicians and priests – the focus is not on the man.
The subject of Luke’s pronouncement is very specific:
“.. the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” The Word of God comes! The focus is not on the man – but on the message God gives him. Wonderful. Awesome! God’s word came to John after hundreds of years of prophetic silence. And God – through John – declares that they are to get ready.
There are different kinds of readiness and different levels of seriousness in our preparation in life.
I meet so many people really who when I mention Christmas get a pale frightened look on their faces and bleat out an apology: “I’m not ready”.
Last week we talked about being ready for Jesus’ return – or at least for our death and journey to eternity.
READY OR NOT – is a game children play. ‘Coming – ready or not!’
Death comes our way. In the secular world people who are dying are often encouraged to sort things out – to focus on preparations for their stuff and family – not wanting to leave a trail of mess and unfinished business, and wanting to provide for their loved ones. Funeral insurance is sold on this basis – don’t leave them with a huge debt, and so forth.
On a daily basis people get ready each day for work (many struggle to get this right too!).
And there are other preparations we make. On a more spiritual note people used to get ready for church each week.
READY EVERY SUNDAY
There was a time when the one really important readiness ritual we went through was on a Sunday. Churches were quiet places to enter into. And for the newcomer it seemed odd and boring. Nevertheless there was a sense of getting ready (in dress) and preparing (in heart and mind) to come into God’s presence. Of repentance and making right – confession and new beginnings. Stillness. (Very different now as we are a rowdy bunch really).
PREPARING THE WAY TODAY
In the midst of our Christmassy busyness today we hear God’s Word in the words John the Baptizer (he was never a Baptist!)
John’s task is to get people geared up for the salvation that comes from Jesus! Listen again:
“A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
TODAY IT’S ABOUT READINESS FOR WORKING WITH GOD IN THE HERE AND NOW
Or God working in us.
The desert – the wilderness – was not an unusual place God to speak to people. In fact people today are quite keen on those desolate yet beautiful places for retreats and reflection. They are less distracting.
But for most of us – if we don’t take the time and open our hearts and minds – our daily routine in the city or at home – can be like a desert. Dry. Dusty. No water of life. No energy. No word from the Lord.
The Essential Jesus 20 weeks and 100 readings have given many of us a new discipline and a new commitment to read the Bible. The point is – in our deserts – God speaks to us today – through the Bible and through His Holy Spirit.
THE CHALLENGE OF JOHN’S MESSAGE AT ADVENT
In the midst of the tinsel and Christmas expectation – all that wrapping paper and exotic food – it’s a very challenging thing for preachers to be true to this passage.
The candle we lit was for peace. It’s a lovely idea and all our hearts are softened when we think of the conflict of the world and the need for peace. We admire peacekeepers and pray for peace.
But true preparation for the coming of the Messiah – required repentance. Peace came at a cost. Changing direction and changing one’s mind – these actions are associated with repentance in the Bible.
I am sure that John – in his time of preparation in that lonely place we call God’s calling – the calling of prophets and preachers alike (in fact preaching is prophecy in the literal sense of speaking God’s word – “speaking forth”) – would have some straightening out of the paths in himself – smoothing out the rough places in his heart. He would have had his own repenting to do.
This repentance – if you are looking up – means you have to look down at the world from God’s point of view (imagine being able to see all the rage, anger and abuse going on with a view from heaven). If you are going north, it would mean changing direction to south. You get my point.
It’s a spiritual 180 degree turn which inevitably leads to a physical change in direction as well.
The truth is we need so much turning that we can easily become disorientated and dizzy. And our world can be like a desert, or a steep hill, or even a deep valley to claw out of. I remember a serious road crash we had some years back – where we went over a steep hill – and only a sand trap by a tree prevented us from disaster. We had to crawl out of there.
As we hear God’s word – and if we are serious – we have to make some moves. Our interior landscape can be quite bumpy.
And we do struggle sometimes because we want instant results and answers. The truth is a lot of the change that happens in us is slow and painful.
It takes time to clean things up in our lives. Like those bits of locusts that get stuck in your teeth. It needs some digging around.
So it makes sense that we are told to keep our eyes on Jesus. (Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.)
We need to set our compass with Jesus as our true North.
Wesley understood the challenge of true conversion and ongoing repentance and transformation when he wrote his hymn Love Divine. Listen again:
Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.
Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
– Charles Wesley
You can’t get that movement towards a new creation if you’re stuck somewhere in the wrong place or going in the wrong direction.
And changing the landscape of our lives takes time. Like changing the course of a river there is a lot of stuff to be shifted.
May you work on your spiritual preparation this Advent as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus to the world.
May we make the right moves and let him change us – bit by bit – on our journey.