1st Sunday after Christmas Hebrews 2: 10-18



Who is your favourite pioneer, or explorer?  Why?
We admire pioneers because they put their own lives at risk in order to break new frontiers for the rest of us.  One such person is Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to climb to the top of Mt Everest.  (slide 1) He was able to achieve what many people have failed to do.  What was so pioneering is that he was able to blaze a path for others to follow.  (slide 2) He and his team went ahead of everyone to come and put safety pins and clamps into the rocks and across the crevasses, ropes and ladders, so that future expeditions could happen.

The pioneers went ahead and prepared the way for others.  They faced the uncertainty, fear and the unknown, to find the best path up to the summit.  (slide 3&4).  Now others follow in their path, relying on their anchor points, their route, and their safety advice.  From these photos we can see others climbing to the summit.

It is not the same to send a robot up a mountain or to the moon or wherever, only when one of us, a human being, breaks the new ground, reaches the goal, the summit, can we be certain the feat can be done; only then do we know that we too can reach the same summit.

Did you know that there is an even greater summit that has been reached by a pioneer; a far greater feat has been achieved by another human being; a human, just like us, who has gone before us and has prepared a way for us to the greatest of summits.

(slide 5)  Jesus Christ, true God, yet true human being, like us in every way, but without sin, has reached the summit of heaven.  Jesus, like Edmund Hillary on Mt Everest, has gone before us and blazed a path into heaven itself; he is the first pioneer of salvation, to make a way into the presence of God.  And in true pioneering spirit, he has made the path open for all to enter heaven through his achievements.  Sound unbelievable?  Listen to this from Hebrews ‘In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.’

Did you hear that ‘In bringing many sons to glory’, that’s humanity, that’s you and I, we are being brought into glory; being brought into heaven itself …by the pioneer of our salvation, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the pioneer of the human race, the first of the new Adam, the new man, to enter glory.  And he is the one who brings the rest of his brothers and sisters, those who are baptised and believe, into glory with him.

What a feat, no wonder the writer calls Jesus a pioneer!  We know that one of us is already in heaven; one who blazed the way for us, making the path open so that we may join him.  What comfort it is for us to know that it can be done, the summit can be reached and that heaven is meant for humanity, for you and I to be with God; and we can be assured of this for the scriptures say ‘since the pioneer who saves and those he brings into glory are of the same origin. Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.’  We are in the same family as the one who saves; Jesus Christ.  We will share in his victory.

This pioneering act, which opened the way to heaven, had its beginnings at the first Christmas (slide 6).  Here in a manger, wrapped in cloths is the pioneer of our salvation.  This unassuming baby is the Son of God, born to Mary and a son to Joseph, truly human in every way, yet God, and begins his trek to the summit of heaven by sharing in our humanity; being one of us so that he may lead all of humanity into glory.  This is the mystery and miracle of Jesus the Christmas child; that he is God in human nature; not two separate parts, not human now God later, no, both truly human and truly God; in Jesus God became one of us, a human.

Being totally human, Jesus experienced every emotion, suffered pain, had joys and sorrows, wept and laughed.  God made himself so vulnerable in Jesus, that his parents had to flee Bethlehem because he would have been killed by Herod.  Yes, if Jesus was not really human, and could not be killed, there would have been no need for him to be hidden in exile.  And if he were not human he would not have suffered temptation, but he did.  St Mark begins Jesus earthly ministry with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and closes it with Jesus’ temptation to reject the cross and the will of his Father in the garden of Gethsemane.

And since Jesus has suffered every temptation, in our darkest hours of trial, when we struggle with temptation, in Jesus we have someone who knows temptation and has over come it, and can help us.  Like Edmund Hillary, who forged a path up the mountain and over come the trials, and who put in place safety lines and anchor points for those to follow.  Jesus has led the way leaving us anchor points to place our hope during these trials.  One such anchor point is our baptism.  It is the sure hope that when we fall into temptation, as a climber may fall down a mountain, we can cling to it, hold on tight and say as Luther did ‘in spite of everything, I’ve been baptised!  I have the promise that I will be happy forever and I have eternal life for my body and soul’.

Yes, these anchor points Jesus put in place are there to be used, not to be admired and looked at.  Who would climb Mt Everest and say, I’m not using the safety points, I’m going it alone’.  That climber would be a fool and soon fall to their death.  We are in the same predicament.  We cannot reach the summit of heaven on our own, using our own safety nets, we will soon fall and die.  We need to rely on Jesus, the pioneer who went ahead of us, and use the anchor points; baptism, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus name.  All of these are the power of God to save, to be used to defeat the devil, sin and temptation which pull us off the mountain.

Sir Hillary had travelled 13 days, and 17 miles up the mountain range to reach the final camp site, just a few hundred meters from the summit.  Yet the last few metres were to be the hardest trial, taking 7hrs until finally on May the 29th at 11:30am he reached the summit; the first person had reached the top of the world.  The hardest trials and suffering were at the end, but once over come, led to total victory.

Before Jesus reached the summit of heaven, to bring many of us to glory, he had to first suffer.  And the hardest trial and suffering came at the end.  (slide 7)  The writer to the Hebrews says ‘it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil– and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.’

The pioneer of our salvation exchanged glory for human nature, then in suffering, exchanged the wood of the manger for the wood of the cross.  This picture reveals the true story behind the birth of Jesus; to bring his children through death to life.  And because we now know it has been done, death no longer has power over us; Jesus has released us from fear.  This is why we sing these words from the carol ‘Once in a royal David’s city: ‘And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love, for that child so dear and gentle, is our Lord in heaven above; and he leads his children on , to the place where he has gone’.  The true Christmas joy in the birth of Jesus is found only in his whole life; his birth, his death, resurrection and ascension, for through his life, he has opened for us the way to heaven.  Yes, Jesus is the pioneer of our salvation.


Christmas Day 2007 – Luke 2:8-20

We live in a world where the remarkable has become the norm.  What was unreal is now real; what we seen as impossible is now possible.

Who would have thought you could cook food until it is boiling hot without some sort of heating element and then be able to touch the bowl or plate the food is cooked in.  The microwave is indeed remarkable.

Who would have thought we could store whole libraries with thousands of books into a space the size of a match box.  Impossible, yet it is being done.

Who would have thought we could walk around in the outback while talking to friends on the other side of the world; seems unreal, yet it is real because of the mobile phone.

The remarkable has become the norm and nothing seems to really amaze us anymore.  Perhaps if we were the shepherds in the fields today, and suddenly a great company of angels came praising God in the heavens, we might say ‘O yeah, saw something like that on the Matrix movie’ and go on looking after the sheep…from home using webcam that is!

The miraculous, the awesome, the incredible wonder of Christmas is often lost in our own self importance.  With the advances in technology, the baby Jesus is a little old hat; a little mundane.  That is of course, until we realize we are not the centre of creation, we are not as big, or as important as we think we are.  Take a look at a clip from a DVD called ‘indescribable’

When we put ourselves, our efforts and our ego into perspective; into proportion the works and wonders of God, then we begin to see the real miracle of Christmas.  It is when we realize how big God is and how small we are, do we begin to see the wonder of Christmas and join with the psalmist ‘When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?’  This is the miracle of Christmas, that God should love us some much that he would send his own Son into the world as our saviour; that Jesus would leave his home and come to us.

This fact is not lost on heaven’s angels, even they are astounded at this wonder and come together to sing God’s praises ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests;’  so excited where they, that the heavenly hosts leave their home and joined Jesus on earth and sang his praises there.  On Christmas day the impossible became the possible; that all of Heaven would fill the earth; that God would come and live among us, born as a baby and lying in a manger.

The shepherds never lost sight of this, the lowly and least in society are first to hear and are astounded at the angel’s announcement that God would come into the world.  So much so, that they too, together with the angels, leave their homes and join Jesus to sing his praises.  The unreal becomes the real; That God and man are once again together.  This happening is so amazing to the shepherds that they stay only a short time.  They are eager to go and tell others about this miracle.

And today?  Are there still people like the shepherds staying only a while in church with Jesus, to then leave in a hurry and in joy to tell others about the miracle?  Are you amazed that God, the creator of the heavens and earth, whose hands formed the dry land, would do such a thing as leave his home and enter ours; to become one of us, to save us from our sins?  Yes, I know you are.

Even today, some 2000 years later, we have not lost sight of this wonder.  In fact, the more we discover about the world and the enormity of the universe, the more we admire the complexities of creation and how sin is destroying everything, including us, the more we realize that God has done far more that any microwave, any computer or any mobile phone could ever do; sure they may have changed the world; God changed eternity.

On that first Christmas Jesus was born, and on that day the remarkable be came the norm.  From that day on, we as sinners have God living among us.  Through Jesus he is righting the wrongs, reclaiming his own and bringing from the dead those who were once lost forever.  Today is indeed a day to join Mary and ponder all these things in our heart; ponder how remarkable, how unreal and how impossible God is to make this happen.

Christmas Eve 2007 – Luke 2: 1-14

‘And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’

What a difference a day makes.  How often do you say that or have others say it to you?  What a difference a day makes.  One day you are 15 years of age and are not permitted to drive, then the next day you turn 16, and you are allowed to drive.  What a difference a day makes.  One day you are slaving away at work, the next you are taking it easy on the weekend.   What a difference a day makes.

In one day, one moment, one time in history, God bursts into the world to make a difference.  In one day He made a difference to the life of Mary and Joseph.  One day they are a couple, the next, they are parents.  In one day He made a difference in the lives of the shepherds.  One day they are tending their flocks at night, the next they are standing in the presence of Christ the Lord.

In one day the magnificent songs of praise and adoration to God are only sung in heaven, the next the whole earth is filled with the sound of angels singing ‘glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among the people of his favour’.  What a difference a day makes.  What a difference the Christ child makes.

In one day God made a difference to the world.  One day the world was without a saviour, living in hope for the day to arrive, when God would come and redeem his people.  The next, in the town of Bethlehem, in a manger, Christ the saviour of the world is born.  What a difference a day makes; what a difference the Christ child makes.

That’s why the angel said ‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For today, yes today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; He is the Christ.’  Today is the day of God’s favour, today is the day the Lord has made.  Forget about yesterday, forget about what it was like before the Christ, forget about the searching and emptiness of yesterday.  Today has arrived, today Jesus the Christ child is here.  Here to make a difference.  There is now hope, there is now a saviour who has come into the world to restore the relationship between God and the world.  What a difference a day makes.

What difference will today make for you?  What difference will a day make in your life?  Today, as we join with the shepherds and angels in glorifying and praising God, for the Christ child, what difference will it make in your life?  What difference will Jesus make in your life?  The angels rejoiced, the shepherds praised, and Mary treasured him in her heart.  What will you do?

Can we leave from here today as if it was yesterday?  Can we go home without rejoicing like the angels, without praising like the shepherds?  Can we leave here today without pondering in our heart what today will bring?  What blessing we receive in the birth of Jesus, what the gift of salvation means for us?

Today, let us leave here in joy, knowing we have seen the Christ.  Knowing that Jesus has made a difference.  Sure, our daily routines of work and family and the struggles we face may not be different, even the shepherds had to go back to the fields.

But let us leave here today with different lives.  Lives that reflect the special hope we have.

And what might our lives touched by the presence of Jesus look like?  I don’t know whether I can tell you, perhaps you have to experience it for yourself.  After all, since Christ Jesus is real, so too will be the differences in your life.  Since the Christ child is born for you, only you can truly know what he can do for you.  Only St Paul, truly knew what Jesus meant to him to be willing to be persecuted for the sake of the gospel; only Zacheus truly knew what a difference Jesus made to be able to give half his money to the poor and mend his ways.

There is no text book changes to people’s lives.  Only when you live today, leaving yesterday behind, and live in the presence of Christ, will you truly know and experience what a difference Jesus can make in your life.   Yesterday is gone, today is different; we have seen Christ the Lord.  Amen

4th Sunday of Advent – Matthew 1:18-25

Who can tell me what their name means?
I have a little list here of some names and their meaning:
Bruce – woods
Andrew – manly – courageous
Kylie – a boomerang
Karen – pure
Ruth – beautiful and compassionate
Dianne – the divine one

Names are more than just headings or letters on a page.  A name brings meaning and purpose to someone or something; names are really an expression of what is going on.
If you are thinking names don’t really mean anything to you, can you remember being called names at school.  Name calling is horrible and very hurtful, and this is because names are a description that changes who you are; it is very powerful.

Actors and singers often change their names: Demi Moore, was born Demetria Guynes, however Demi Moore is a more purposeful name. Bono, the lead singer of U2’s real name is Paul Hewson.  bono is short for the Latin word for ‘good voice’; his name describes his actions.  So you can see, names are an expression of both purpose and action.

There is one more thing names are important for.  They give us access to someone.  Have you noticed the first thing children do when they meet each other for the first time?  ‘What’s your name’ they ask.  Even from a young age, we know that we can’t be with someone or have a relationship with them, until we know their name; then we have access to them.  Guys, you must know what I mean, remember trying to get the name of the girl you fancied across the room; then and only then could you ask her out.

So, there are three key elements to a name; they give purpose, describe action and give access.

An incredible thing happened to Moses when he was afraid to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land.  He called out to God and said ‘I want your presence to go with us as we journey through the desert’.  God responds by saying ‘my presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’.  Then Moses is enveloped in a cloud expecting God to appear before him, expecting the presence of God in all his glory and power.  Yet, he did not see his presence or feel his presence, but he did hear his voice and the voice of God gave him more than he would have ever asked for; God gave him access to him by telling Moses his name, saying ‘the Lord, the Lord.’ And then he gave meaning and purpose to his name saying ‘the compassionate and gracious God, slow in anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’.

This is God’s name ‘the Lord’ which gives access to him.  And this is God’s name, which gives purpose and action; the God whose purpose is to love and whose action is to forgive.   How awesome this must have been for them, to know God’s name.

How awesome it is for us.  Today we have even more of God’s presence, even more access, more of his purpose and action than Moses ever did.  That’s right, God has put his name into human form, as Matthew records ‘”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.
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.”

We have God expressing his love in the name Jesus, his only Son, who through him, we have access to our Father in heaven.  And in the name, Jesus, we have God’s purpose; to save.  And in the name, Jesus, we have God’s action; to forgive sins.

And God being God, who always giving more than we ask, also attaches to Jesus name ‘Immanuel’ – God with us.

In Jesus we have everything of God, all he has and needs to offer; his purpose and action, his access and now his presence, as Jesus himself promises ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’.  Sometimes, in all or struggles, it is easy to lose sight of this reality, sometimes we don’t see Jesus present with us, forgiving us and saving us and leading us into his kingdom  Let me tell you a story about something that happen last week.

I got a call from a concerned father in Gunnedah, telling me his son Ross, about my age, was in the Dubbo base hospital with serious stomach pains.  So I went down and visited him, his mother was there.  They were both in high spirits, talking and discussing plans for Christmas.  It had been a while since they last met as he worked on a farm out from Nyngan.  After talking with Ross, I found out that he used to go to the Lutheran services in Nyngan, but lately he had been a bit slack.  We talked a bit more, and he told me he would like to be picked up in Nevertire on my way through to Nyngan for church services.

I visited him again a few days later.  This time, I felt prompted by the Spirit to give him communion, so I did.  He confessed his sins, received forgiveness and took the body and blood of Jesus.  After this he talked again about going home for Christmas.  Two days later I get a phone call, Ross died, he didn’t make it home for Christmas.  I didn’t know that was going to happen, his mother didn’t, and certainly Ross didn’t.  But Jesus did.  And he was there for Ross, doing what his name implies ‘saving and forgiving’.  That day, in and with the bread and wine, Jesus was Immanuel, there saving Ross, forgiving his sins and bringing him into his kingdom.

And he is here with us today.  The same Jesus is with us that was promised to Joseph; the same Jesus is with us who is born of the Virgin Mary and who was born saviour; one who saves people from their sins; and the same Jesus is with us who is Immanuel – God with us.  We have his presence in the bread and wine as he promises ‘this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you’.

Jesus, Immanuel is present with us, giving us his power and Spirit here at church, yes, but he is also with us each and every moment of the day, like he was with Ross; guiding our thoughts and actions, leading us in his way, strengthening our faith and protecting us from evil.  This is the joyous celebration of Christmas; that God is with us.  And this is the joy we have as we face the year ahead.  We know that when we step out in faith, reaching those who don’t know the name of Jesus, when we go into dangerous places and difficult situations, we know Jesus is with us.

I am currently reading a book on the modern church called ‘An unstoppable force’ by Erwin McManus, and I would like to encourage you with some words as we prepare to enter a new era of church, an new era which may bring with it fear and uncertainty.  Erwin writes ‘God fears nothing and no one!  God moves with intentionality and power.  To live outside of God’s presence will put us in danger; to live in his presence will make us dangerous’.

And we are dangerous, as we work together in Jesus name to plan how best bring people to faith, we are dangerous; dangerous to the devil and all his evil works, because we go in the name of Jesus; the name above all names; the name of God’s Son who came to seek and to save the lost; who came to be Immanuel – God with us.  Amen.

3rd Sunday of Advent

What thoughts come to mind when you think of jails?
Being locked up in a confined area is very traumatic.  Not only do we loose our freedom, we also lose other things; human contact, things like conversation, relationships and touch.  We are no longer connected with the outside world.  We no longer know what is going on, we can’t see for ourselves or make judgements for ourselves about what is happening.  Being locked up also means we lose our ability to be who we really are; we can’t express or thoughts, our hopes, our desires.  We can’t be the person or live the life we want when imprisoned; being locked up means we are not able to be who we truly are.

John the Baptist would have been going through those exact things.  He was supposed to be the voice of one in the desert, proclaiming the kingdom of heaven, but now he is silenced.  He knew Jesus, the coming Messiah and made way for his coming, but now he was cut off from any contact.  John has heard of the miracles, but they are doing him no good in prison. He will die in prison. There are no miracles coming his way.

The certainty of his wilderness proclamations has now turned into questions: Being imprisoned, locked him away from being the person he wanted to be; the person God wanted him to be.  The person he needed to be, caused him to question who Jesus is.  ‘Is Jesus truly who he said he was?’  Am I proclaiming something I don’t even know I believe myself?  You can just imagine the fears ‘have I been over zealous in proclaiming Jesus as saviour’? ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John questions.  His imprisonment stopped him from being the person God wanted him to be.

Many people, and you may be one of them, are also imprisoned like John.  And I don’t mean in an actual jail, but are imprisoned by circumstances. Self imprisonment, or the sense of ‘being locked up’ in your own body or home is real and it is something we may be dealing with personally.

Remember your thoughts on what it must be like being locked up, the feeling of loneliness, separation, and lose of who we really are, well that is exactly what some of us, and many in the community feel.

1) Perhaps it’s the jail of depression and anxiety which stops you from enjoying life; stops you from friendships and making new friends. Those suffering depression say its like darkness; just like standing in a dark cell, not knowing where to turn.
2)  Imprisonment can also come in the form of a medical condition, where you are a prisoner in your own home; unable to go out, unable to express your personality or live your life with other people.
3)  The feelings of imprisonment come when we are caught in obsessive behaviours; alcoholism, drug addiction, bingeing, gambling and internet porn.  All of these are prisons which keep us locked up from being who were really are and lock us up from being the people we are called to be.

And when this happens to us, we begin to question the purpose of our life.  For non-believers, they question whether there really is a God, and how God could allow bad things to happen to them.  For believers, as John did, we begin question whether Jesus is real; is he the one who can make a difference in our lives?  We echo John’s question ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Imprisonment brings insecurity and uncertainty about Jesus, because we’re not experiencing the freedom he gives, we seem to be locked up. And we’re not being the person we can be.

So what does Jesus say to answer this uncertainty?  What does he say to John: look John, I will come and break you free from your prison?  No, he doesn’t offer a way out, but he offers hope; hope that even though we as his disciples are caught up in prison, we may still know that he is the Christ   And he offers hope by pointing away from John’s imprisonment, away from ourselves and our needs, and points to others; to those who receive the free gift of mercy; his miracles.

He points to how ‘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.’ Yes, the miracles of Jesus reveal the heart of God; his love for the world and his love others; and this is how He wants John to know he is the Christ; by his love toward others.

And this is how Jesus wants us to know him; not JUST by what he has done for us, or by what we NEED him to do for us, but by what is DOING for others.  Jesus wants us to know him as the saviour who lays down his life for others so that they may be saved.  And the miracles are evidence of this; the breaking in of the Kingdom of God.  You can know Jesus is the one when you turn from your own needs to see the miracles happen in the lives of others.  When you see ‘The blind, the lame, those who have leprosy, the deaf all healed, the dead are raised, and the good news preached,’ you know Jesus is the messiah.

We have already witnessed these things, in our own lives in the miracle of our baptism.  Here we are given victory over sin, death and the power of the devil.  It is through the waters of baptism that Jesus set us free; free from our deepest darkest jail- the bondage to sin and death.  What happens to us in our life, the prisons we endure, the suffering, pain, anxiety and the likes, will make no difference to the grace we have received.  Jesus is still our saviour.  We are free.

But now as one of his own, he is calling us, as he did to John the Baptist, to turn from our concerns, turn from our worries and turn toward those around us; turn in faith from looking inwards to looking outwards, to look to the needs of others, to witness the miracles Jesus is performing in the lives of those around us.

When we look out from ourselves as Jesus calls us to do, we see miracles: people coming to faith in Jesus; people we never thought would believe.  When we look out from ourselves we see Jesus performing miracles in people lives; a baby has been conceived for the Ebbs family, the Seminary family we support, when doctors said she would never become pregnant.  We witness people raised from the dead, alive and well when they should have been killed in a terrible accident.

Yes, this is our God at work, here in our church, here in our community, breaking into our world, bringing with him the wonders of kingdom of God.  So let us join him in his mission and be focused on others; working with Jesus to bring about miracles in peoples lives.  And as we do this, let us encourage each other with the words of Isaiah “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come,’


The material world


The countdown to Christmas is on.  And time is pressing. There is a certain
urgency in the air about getting everything finished before shops close on the 24th of December.  This is the prophet we hear; the voice of one calling out in the desert.  Yes, consumerism is the modern day prophet and it is calling us as a matter of urgency.  You only need to go to the shops to see there are close similarities between the Prophet John the Baptist and the prophet consumerism

TV’s and radios, newspaper adds and junk mail all cry out with a matter of urgency; luring us out into the malls and shopping centres.  ‘Buy now, for the time of Christmas is near’.  We are called to spend money on things we would other wise not buy, purely for the sake of Christmas; the urgency of Christmas Eve.  And it is a message that is very hard to resist, after all, we live in the kingdom of consumerism where the only prophets we hear about, is the profits the companies make.  And many of us don’t even realize we live in this kingdom or if we do, we don’t want to but don’t know what else to do.

I am currently reading a book called ‘Advance Australia Where’, by Hugh Mackey, and in it he spills a lot of ink trying to fathom why Australians are such consumerists.  He calls it the ‘empty-feed’ and goes on to say ‘filling yourself up but not getting enough nutrition – is not just a food issue: it’s a metaphor for many of the things we do in a consumerists, materialistic society where even so-called pleasures often come in sophisticated, packaged and branded forms…like having a swift inhalation of expensive rose essence instead of taking time to smell, let alone grow, the roses themselves.’

Yes, the prophet consumerist is calling loudly and with urgency this Christmas, ‘return to the shops for Christmas is near.’  And so we buy.  Mackey makes an interesting discovery about ourselves saying ‘many thoughtful Australians are now wondering whether they are living as if materialism is indeed one of their core values, and the one they are most successful in passing on to their children.’

John the Baptist called people out into the desert.  Lured them out with a message of urgency.  ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’.  The people must turn from their unbelief and turn from their sins and be ready for a new Kingdom that was about to come.

This call to repentance by the prophet John is spoken to the people of God, those already in his kingdom and those already worshipping in the temple and receiving forgiveness of sins.  So John’s call to repentance is more than just a call to be sorry, its about being converted; about turning to God, to become once again the flock of the divine shepherd.  He is calling them away from God’s final judgement to conversion and true faith in God Nothing is mentioned about repentance of a particular sin, only the sin of turning away from God by their actions and life style.  Or as Mackey would put it ‘their core values were wrong.’  That is why John the Baptist says to the Pharisees ‘produce fruit in keeping with repentance’

Yes, John is standing in the River Jordan, the same river they had crossed to enter the Promised Land, calling the people of God to a second Exodus.  Calling them to enter the waters once again through baptism to repent or be converted out of their own kingdom of a blasé attitude to God; the once saved always saved faith, to a living active faith with core values based in God’s mercy upon sinners.

Perhaps it is time once again to listen afresh to the words of John.  To listen and act upon his call. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’  ‘But I do’ we say.  ‘I repent of my sins, I come to church each Sunday to confess and receive forgiveness.  Surely these words of John are meant for those out shopping this morning; those we point our finger at through the church window.’

No, these words of John spoken in the waters of the Jordan, are calling us back to the waters of our baptism; to remind us of our exodus when God rescued us from the slavery of sin, death and the power of the devil.  (Go and stand by the baptismal font) Let his words ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’, be God’s word to us; not those out there.

As Lutheran’s we often only understand repentance as confession of sins.  But it is more than this, it is also a call to conversion, or to recommit our ways, our faith, our core values back to the God of mercy; back to the kingdom of heaven.  Back to our God of love, who did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all.  Advent, and John’s preaching is about the grace of God and his call to repentance is a reminder that commercialism has no place in the kingdom of God, consumerism and materialism and any other kingdom of this world we care to think of, has no place before God, but seek first the kingdom of God, and all these will be added to you.

And even more so for us now, than those John spoke to, for the kingdom of heaven is not just near us, it is among us.  Yes, the good news for us today is that the kingdom of heaven dwells among us in the person Jesus Christ.  The kingdom of heaven, being Jesus himself; his grace, his mercy and his forgiveness, won for us on the cross, is present among us.  Hidden yes, but with us.  Hidden in the waters of baptism, hidden in, with and under the bread and wine, and hidden in his powerful word, Jesus is present bringing with him the kingdom of heaven; Hope peace and joy as St Paul explains it in Romans.

Yes, the kingdom of heaven makes a difference in this life.  It brings hope, peace, and joy.

This is what we as Christians celebrate this Advent and what we see as giving our urgent attention.  Not running to the shops in time before they close, but running to the waters of our baptism, to remember the day the kingdom of heaven came to us and brought us out of slavery to sin.  The day Jesus saved you.  This is the good news.

Since then, we have the kingdom of heaven, here with us in Jesus, and since we already have everything the kingdom of heaven offers because of Jesus, shouldn’t we treat our commitment to him, and our commitment to mission as being something urgent also?  Perhaps we could reflect on our core values and ask the hard questions, what message are we as Christians, passing on to our children this Christmas?  What are we as a church passing on?

Yes, what a great timely reminder John’s words are.  To remind us that we have a wonderful God who loves us dearly and that this Advent we are reminded of John 3:16 (say together).

Matthew 24:36-44 No one knows the day or hour

Who’s been fishing before?  And how did you go? Catch anything?  If there is one thing fishermen hate, it is missing a fish when it took the bait.  Perhaps we might have fallen asleep or gone to do something else, when all of a sudden BANG!  The fish strikes and takes the bait, but we are not there to hook the fish by jagging the line, and so it just swims off.  I think you would be a very popular person if you could tell fishermen when a fish was about to strike.

Because knowing when a fish will bite is an impossible task, we get so tired of waiting around that we often just walk off, and then to our horror, we miss the bite.  However, there are a number of things you can buy to help us not to miss the bite.  I have brought some along with me.  (explain the use of the reel drag; the bell, and the glow stick).

When you have this gear on, you can then go about doing the important things you need to like preparing food, setting up camp and talking with other fisherman, but you will also be able to keep watch, ready for a strike at any time.

We often feel the same way about Jesus return as we do of fishing.  We get sick of waiting around.  We begin to feel as if Jesus words, ‘keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.’ And again ‘So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’ are meant for another generation, not us.  After all how long has it been since Jesus first spoke these words?  2000 plus years!

Yes, it is so easy to become tired and even apathetic about Jesus return.  We hear it every year and some Christians even talk about it as if it were to happen tomorrow; but it doesn’t.  Nothing happens and so we are not really sure what do with the ‘keep watch and be ready.’  Do we ignore Jesus’ words and go on with our lives believing the likely hood that he won’t return in our life time anyway?  This would be a feasible option except for one point.  If we believe, and I know we do, that Jesus words are truth and they are the way and the life, then he must return and will return, at any time.

The people in Noah’s day knew what the forecast was, knew Noah was building an ark and that he expected the imminent arrival of rain, yet they refused to believe his words; actually, they refused to believe the word of God.  They lived by sight not by faith.  They couldn’t see a cloud in sight and so rejected the word of Noah as a joke and went about their normal business without a thought to what might be coming.

The question begs to be asked ‘is today any different?’  Do we also live by sight rather than by faith?  A fisherman who is not prepared with the right gear and the right knowledge, looks at the ocean and sees nothing, sees no change; no fish and so leaves his rod and attends to other things saying to himself ‘there is no urgency there are no fish coming today.’  Perhaps we all are thinking this way about the return of Jesus.  ‘He won’t come today, let us attend to other more pressing matters.’

We take a look around see the busyness of life, see yet another Christmas, yet another year coming to a close; we  see no changes, no evidence of Jesus return and act like the unprepared fisherman and go do other things.  We have convinced ourselves Jesus will never return in our lifetime, and so the urgency the early Christians felt, is no longer our urgency.

Perhaps this loss of urgency about Christ’s return is reflected in our shrinking mission budgets and shrinking pool of people willing to become pastors, evangelists and lay leaders.  Perhaps this lack of mission urgency is also reflected in the declining numbers in Church.  Hard questions, but questions we as a church need to be reflecting on.

Jesus says ‘be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’.  Are you ready?  Are you like the fisherman with all the warning gear in readiness of the bite?  Well, to be ready as a Christian is to have all the right gear; to be fully prepared for the inevitable return of Christ Jesus.  And the good news is that you already have the right gear.  There is nothing more you can do to be ready.  The right gear is given to you in baptism.  On that special day, when the water and the word of God poured down on you head, salvation became yours and you are readied by God himself for the return of Jesus.

Luther writes ‘Stated most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit and purpose of baptism is to save.  No one is baptised for the purpose of making them a prince, but as the words say, ‘he who is baptised and believes will be saved’.  To be saved is, as we know, nothing else than to be delivered form sins, from death, and from the devil, and to come into Christ’s kingdom and live with him forever’.

You have the right gear; you have been saved and made ready by baptism.

However, to remain ready for Jesus return, as he asks, is to make use of the salvation gear given to us.  A good fisherman doesn’t leave his gear in his tackle box, no, he puts on the bell, the drag and the light so that he is ready for the unknown time of the bite.  We can make ourselves ready for Jesus return by putting on our gear; baptism and Holy Communion.

In this salvation gear, are given the continuing forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith that make us constantly ready for Jesus.   When we confess our sins to God seeking his forgiveness, we make use of baptism’s power of forgiveness.  To come to communion for the body and blood of our Lord Jesus, is to dwell in him and he in us; continually making us pure and holy until that great day when we actually receive the glorious crown of life.

And part of being ready is to check up on each other, to ensure we are all using the right gear and ensuring we have it on in readiness.  When we see one of our brothers or sisters in Christ no longer making use of their gift; no longer confessing their sins, no longer receiving the forgiveness offered to them, perhaps we could go and visit them and remind them that the glorious day of the Lord will come;  And to encourage them to be ready for that day.

And if we see or know someone who has yet to be given the right gear of salvation; someone who is not baptised and doesn’t believe in Jesus, wouldn’t it be important to us, as a mater of urgency, to speak the good news of Jesus to them; to allow God the make them ready also.

Yes, this is what Jesus means when he says ‘keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come’.  When we do all these things we are in deed being ready and keeping watch for his return.  We don’t need to fear this day, or get tired of waiting, for we already know we have the gifts of salvation; baptism and Holy Communion.  It is just a matter of making use of these gifts, just as a fisherman makes use of his gear.


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