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A Christmas reflection: Immanuel – God with us

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.

Like Elohim.

El Shaddai.

El Elyon.

El Shammah.

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 loneliness

The sadness

The rejection we face

GOD WITH US.

The sickness

Suffering

Sadness.

GOD WITH US.

Fear

Frustration

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.

Amen.

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4 May 2014 – Emmaus Road Reflection

Eyes opened and hearts burning 

Reading: Luke 24:13-35

Luke 24:31  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. Luke 24:32  They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”

Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.” 

Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.” 

This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”

Those who know, tell those who don’t know…

That is the gospel in a nutshell. The problem is that on the road to Emmaus it is Jesus who appears not to know, while the two disciples are the ones who do!

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast.  One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (vv17-18)

There is this ironic twist. The disciples claim to be “in the know” and seem amazed by this stranger’s ignorance!

The problem was that they only had half the story!

When you pass on the news with only half the story, that’s more like gossip.

The stranger is the one who puts them right of course. It is Jesus who unpacks the whole story. It’s rather nice really.

And the crunch comes when their eyes are opened in the breaking of the break.

They see.

And they acknowledge that their hearts were burning when he spoke to him and opened the Scriptures to them.

Remember Jeremiah writing about this? (Jer 20:9)  But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

Eyes opened and hearts burning.

It doesn’t matter what order that happens in really.

For John Wesley – it was after some years of religious discipline that his heart was “strangely warmed” – there was this inner experience or reality which arose really out of a searching and his leadership of what was called “The Holy Club”

Listen to this account:

In 1729 he joined with a small group of students at Lincoln College who met on Sunday evenings to talk about religious books and engage in prayer together. John became the natural leader of this group which expanded: it became known as ‘The Holy Club’, and they extended their activities to pastoral care including prison visiting.
John began to set down rules for himself. When dining in hall he would only drink one glass of wine or ale and he would never taste more than three dishes of food. For the Holy Club he laid emphasis on (1) the central importance of Holy Communion; (2) the responsibility of doing good to all, and (3) the importance of the written word for developing the faith.

On 24 May 1738,  (frustrated and) depressed, he opened his bible at random and read ‘ Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.’ Later that day he heard Luther’s anthem ‘Out of the Deep have I called unto thee, 0 Lord,’ And during a society meeting in the evening, where Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans was being read, he records:  ‘while he was describing the change in the heart through faith in Christ I felt my heart strangely warmed … I felt an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins … and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

DIFFERENT JOURNEYS

There are different journeys. The Emmaus road was the journey that those two disciples took while pretty depressed too. They only knew half the story. The death of Jesus was the precursor to the real event that was to change the world – his resurrection!

Wesley’s journey was as a religious person – a missionary working in America – who read hundreds of books and tried to follow a religious life. His heart was warmed when he HEARED a reading from Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

I don’t think that the two disciples or Wesley were actually expecting such a revelation! They were in a bad space emotionally when it happened.

HOW ABOUT YOU?

When our eyes are opened and our hearts warmed, it all fits into place.

Those who know tell those who don’t know – that the resurrection of Jesus changes things in a remarkable way.

And there is no resurrection to share with others without the amazing story of Jesus’ death.

It’s that death and resurrection that we remember at the table. We do this in remembrance of Him. We partake in His life! We accept the privilege of his grace – forgiveness, and the promise of new life.

AND we enjoy the power of the resurrection NOW. The same spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives in us!

Our lives are transformed now!

LET’S TALK ABOUT THESE PEOPLE FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW: They are standing there with downcast faces. Gloomy. In the darkness of loss and depression. And there is John’s Wesley – depressed after all his religious discipline and his missionary years.

Jesus is the one who opens our eyes to the whole truth – and warms our hearts.

His light shines.

Those who know tell those who don’t know. Sometimes we’re like those who have forgotten. The gloom of our lives has blocked out the light of the Son of God who shines in our hearts.

I’ve been there. Some of my darkest days have been in the past five years. It has been impossible to claw back – except for the grace and love and warmth of God.

May our eyes be opened and our hearts burn within us – may there be a quickening of our spirits as we remember again the whole story.