Happiness Is.

True happiness

Matthew 5: 3-10

No doubt, some of you have watched Survivor. This immensely popular TV real life game show is watched by millions of people around the world.

Imagine putting 16 people together from different backgrounds – trying to survive together and at the same time competing against one another for individual survival. After each round, the participants meet together to cast their votes to see who will be dismissed from the group. It can be for any number of reasons –
such as I think you’re not pulling your weight,
you cheated by having some kind of contraband,
or you are too old, too selfish, too uncooperative
or simply because I don’t like your face.

The ultimate goal is not to get voted out. And the way to survive is to make sure that there are people on your side – alliances are made – and broken – leaving behind a trail of betrayal and suspicion. This is real life played out in a game show. That’s perhaps the reason why Survivor has been so popular – it brings out the best and worst in people – more often the worst than the best. The winner is not the person who is kind and considerate, but who makes friends, uses them and then turns against them. The winner is not the person who is the better or the nicer but the one who is ruthless and hurtful, who has no feelings for the others.

One person who was asked about his view of the show nailed it on the head when he said, “It’s sorry that our society is this way, but the people who are conniving and back-stabbing are the ones who make it. Unlike the movies where the scriptwriter controls the plot and good triumphs over evil. In Survivor, no one controls the plot and how things eventually turn out. It is a sad commentary on the way the world is.”

As we think about what it means to be happy or blessed we might say —
Blessed are those who earn six figures.
Blessed are the famous.
Blessed are those who don’t have anything to worry about.
Blessed are the powerful.
Blessed are those who have the determination and ruthlessness to eliminate everything that hinders the fulfilment of their dreams.

Our view of happiness depends so much on our circumstances and environment. For a young woman true happiness might be to find the right man, to marry and have a family, only later to find herself thinking that true happiness would come if she could divorce her abusive husband.
For teenagers, true happiness is getting their first car, but its not too long before they realises that they would be truly happy if they could have a certain car that was sleeker and faster.

Happiness is a common desire. Yet, so few people seem to have true happiness that we put it in the same category as four-leaf clovers and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the elusive, the unattainable, the impossible. Happiness is a goal that we all strive for, but when that goal is reached, we realise that there is always something else that would make us truly happy.

I’m sure you can think of things that you would like to see changed in your life so that you can be truly happy. So we go about suitably arranging – and re-arranging – our environment and circumstances – so that we will be happy. On this basis, people have assumed that, if they are unhappy, it is because of this wretched washing machine, this wretched heart, this wretched person I am living with… They believe that they will become happy by changing their lot in some way.

It becomes a never-ending quest. Happiness, we assume, must be fun and laughter and expressing our own personalities (“doing our own thing”) – free from suffering, sorrow and hardship. It’s no wonder that we can’t ever say that we have reached our goal – true happiness. There is nothing wrong with the desire to be happy, there is everything wrong with the way we often go seeking it.

And that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about today in the Sermon on the Mount when he talks about true happiness. He says,
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
(We would hardly regard ‘the poor in spirit’ as “happy” because they are aware of how much their sinfulness is out of control;
their faith often wavers;
they lack the spiritual resources to cope with the upsets in life and easily become depressed and miserable).

Blessed are those who mourn.
(They are the least likely to be called “happy” because they are upset by the injustices in our world;
they grieve for the starving, the homeless, refugees and those suffering wars;
they are distressed over their own stupidity and sinfulness;
they are sad because of what death has done).

Blessed are the humble,
(those whom world regards as the least likely to be “happy” because they are always busy doing things for others;
they are gentle in their dealings with others, refusing to do anything for their own personal gain at the expense of others;
they don’t push themselves forward and are satisfied helping others.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
(These people can hardly be called “happy” because of their deep sense of what is right; they are passionate about justice for the underdog and won’t rest until something is done.
They are unhappy about the treatment of refugees, unnecessary logging, the treatment of prisoners.
They are also those who are” unhappy” with their own lives and want to live more as God intended.)

Blessed are the persecuted. (Being persecuted can hardly be called a “happy” experience. Persecution is an unhappy event when you are suffering because you are a peacemaker, or because you have shown mercy and compassion on someone whom everyone else thinks doesn’t deserve it, or because you are pure in heart – you know what is the right thing to do but no one else sees it that way.)

Can you see that Jesus’ definition of what it means to be blessed doesn’t depend on us and what is happening around us? The “happy” sayings of Jesus – the Beatitudes – present us with a whole new idea of what it means to be happy. True happiness has to do with knowing God, belonging to God’s Kingdom, being a part of God’s family. You might say that this is hardly a popular view, especially when worldly happiness depends so much on money, a house, the right car, and being free from sickness, death and anything that upsets our “happiness”. But Jesus was one for making true statements. True happiness is to be found in God. The fact is that we don’t find happiness by seeking happiness. We find God, and discover a deep level of happiness.

Or perhaps it is better said that God finds us.
In the middle of all the difficulties we have living out our Christian faith in our daily lives;
when we are sad and upset;
when we are despondent and depressed;
when others reject us and ridicule us for our faith or for sticking up for what we believe is right;
when we are trying to show mercy and love or bring about peace and we are told to butt out;
God meets us, he strengthens us, he comforts, he helps us endure, he gives us the courage to move on.

A woman was the victim of abuse as a child. She understood what had happened – she didn’t like it – she had been angry but God had helped her through her anger and now she prayed for her father. She also helped her brother to come to terms with what had happened and to rebuild his relationship with his father. She had suffered a great deal and yet she would say that she was blessed. The inner and outer scars will always be there, but she was happy because God was with her. He had helped her though it all and now God was using her to be a peacemaker.

George Matheson was a great preacher and hymn writer who lost his sight at an early age. He thought of his blindness as his thorn in the flesh, as his personal cross. For several years, he prayed that his sight would be restored. Like most of us, I suppose, he believed that personal happiness would come to him only after the handicap was gone. But then, one day God sent him a new insight: The creative use of his handicap could actually become his personal means of achieving happiness!

So, Matheson went on to write: “My God, I have never thanked you for my thorn. I have thanked you for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of the cross itself as a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross. Teach me the value of my thorn.”

George Matheson had found God’s kind of happiness – the kind of happiness that is not only a future hope, but also a reality in the here and now.

That’s the kind of happiness that enabled the apostle Paul to write to the Philippians from his gaol cell, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4).

That’s the secret of true happiness!
You may be suffering a great deal from sickness;
you may be persecuted for doing what you consider the right thing;
you may be upset about your own sinfulness or the weakness of your faith;
you may even be upset by those who have failed to show love toward you;
whatever the case, you can still “happy” in the knowledge that you are one of God’s precious children, that he sent his Son to die for you, and that when all is said and done, there is a place for you in heaven where there will be no more unhappiness.

This is the kind of “blessedness” or “happiness” that no circumstance or person can take away from us.

Man fishing.

I will make you fishers of people.Sermon: 3rd Sunday after Epiphany.
Reading: Matthew 4:12-23


Jesus chose fishermen. Why? Any idea?

I don’t know, but as I have worked and meditated on this reading I have wondered if it was to make the point that it’s not what you know – your education or qualifications or abilities – that makes you an effective fisher of people, but who you know – in this case, the who being Jesus.

With this well known phrase from Matthew’s Gospel – “I will make you fishers of men” – we often grab first those distinctive words “fishers of men” as the key. But that is not the first thing Jesus calls these men to do. He says first of all, “Follow me”. It is through this following, this apprenticeship, that these men become fishers of people. They become Jesus’ disciples, his students.

And they do need to learn. Fishing requires patience and skill and commitment. Catching souls for Christ is like this too – we need to learn our skills and do our homework and build up our experience. We need to know Jesus and His Word and be able to express it. You can’t share what you don’t have yourself.

We all need to be students of the Bible. We need to grow in our relationship with Christ. These disciples after all had to spend three years with Jesus as their rabbi, their teacher. They needed to be taught and shown. They had to exercise the discipline of listening. They asked questions. Their values and ideas were challenged. And this is what Jesus calls us into as well.

Jesus says: I will make you. It has to do directly with what Jesus does with us – how he forms us as his fishermen.

But, you know, there’s another side to this too; a balancing truth. The fisherman has no ultimate control over the success of his fishing expedition. If you have ever fished much, you know that highly expert and experienced fishermen still can, and often do, come home with little to show for their efforts. The fisherman has to do his best, and then cast out his nets or bait his hook in faith – trusting to providence, not even knowing if the fish are there or if they are biting.

Fishers of people cast out their nets in faith too. Ultimately it will be Jesus who makes us fishers of people – in the sense also that it is he who brings the people to us, just as he brought the fish into Peter’s net in the story in Luke 5. It is Jesus who gives us the people and the right things to say and do to help them in their faith journey. It is Jesus who provides the catch.

“Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” These words apply not only to the disciples whom he calls here by the lakeside. It is clear from elsewhere in Scripture that these words also apply more broadly to all Jesus’ followers – pastors, lay people or whatever. These words apply to us, to you.

So are you fishing for people? This is where many of us feel that we fall down, or that we could never be involved in evangelism or outreach – the very mention of those words scares people to death.

Well, let me tell you something. Maybe you are fishing for souls without even realising it.

You don’t’ have to go door knocking or preaching in Flinders Street station. You may not have to even leave your home or go looking for the fish. They may be swimming right past your eyes already, and already you are reaching out to them.

I know many of our members witness to their children or their grandchildren, in a host of big and small ways. You are fishing for their souls.

Those of you who volunteer for the community meal are reaching out and serving in the name of Christ – those people who come know who we are, and why we do it. Our service to them is a living active statement of Christ’s love.

In Mary’s circle, the message of God’s grace in Christ is lived out and spoken about to all kinds of women from inside and outside the Knox church community.

Those of you who pray for others that they might come to faith or be renewed in their faith are fishers of souls.

And maybe there are some other untapped possibilities too – friendships where you can share your faith in small but powerful ways. I know a person who is a Christian today because when she was going through a really tough time somebody said to her at one point, “I am praying for you”. That was the hook.

It is interesting that the Christian who said those words was fishing in faith – they didn’t know what would happen, but they trusted in Jesus. And what does Jesus say? “I will make you fishers of people.” He will honour our faith in him, and do what he says, and send his Holy Spirit to work, even through us.

There are many ways and means and opportunities to fish for souls. And these words of Jesus remind us to make the most of them, to recognize that he has sent us with a purpose, on a mission – yes, each one of us individually and together as the church.

He calls us to continue being his students – learning, listening and growing in his truth and love – that we might get better at it. And these words assure us that it isn’t us who have to somehow save others. Jesus himself will provide the catch. “Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”

Rock Solid.

Epiphany 2 – John 1:35-42 “Rock Solid – Solid Rock.
Stone and rock; rocks and stones – are they good or are they bad? Are they useful or are they a hindrance? What comes into your mind when you hear of stones and rocks?

Today we focus on the rock, because this is the name Jesus gave to Simon. The name Cephas and Peter are the Aramaic and Greek variants of the word — rock. Hence many times in the bible we hear about the disciple Simon Peter — Simon the Rock.

It’s unusual that we should focus on Simon Peter in the season of Epiphany. Epiphany concerns itself more with the revelation of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, as Jesus the Christ, Son of the Father from eternity. However, we hear in the Gospel, while Jesus is being named the Lamb of God, Rabbi, and the Messiah (or the Christ), he names Simon — Peter — the rock.

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:35-42)

So why does Jesus rename Simon — Peter. Why does he call this man — rock? And what is a rock anyway? Is a rock or a stone a good or bad thing?

Some might say rocks and stones are bad things, especially if one’s brother or sister or enemy is throwing stones or rocks at them. But then again, stones and rocks might be your best friend if you need to scare a ferocious animal.

If ascending a hill on foot or in a vehicle, stones and rocks can prove to be hazardous regardless of their size. Large rocks can make the climb impossible; small stone can act like marbles making the hill a slippery slope to scale. But once at the top if one slips back down, rocks and large stones, might be the very thing that stops the deathly descent to the bottom.

So if we see Simon Peter as the rock, designated by Jesus Christ, we might see him as a hazardous hindrance, or alternatively, a heavenly help. And in the bible Peter definitely fills the bill as both a help and a hazard in the ministry of the Gospel. So too stones and rocks prove to be objects causing one to stumble or fear, but also represent stability and strength as we hear God’s Word.

The bible is full of references to stones and rocks. In Genesis, Jacob used a stone as a crude pillow when he slept and saw the ladder descending from heaven at Bethel. Then in Revelation we hear of heaven in all its perfection, full of precious stones, such as jasper, sapphire, emerald, and topaz — to name a few.

In the Gospels we also hear of many different uses of stones. And Jesus makes many references to stones and rocks too. One that must be mentioned, because it sits with the Gospel reading, is from Matthew 16:18 where Jesus says again to Simon Peter, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

So what kind of rock was Peter? The church regards him as the leading Apostle; he is the foundation stone on which Christ places the church. Yet Peter acted more like a stone that crumbles and disintegrates under pressure. Perhaps he is more akin to what Jesus said in the parable of the sower, “A farmer went out to sow his seed… Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.” (Matthew 13:3b, 5, 6)

And Jesus’ explanation follows, “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” (Matthew 13:20-21)

Jesus’ description of rocky ground goes a long way in giving us a picture of Peter the night the roster crowed three times. Peter is the disciple who confessed to his Christ that he would never fall away, but stumbled at the moment he was asked if he was an associate of Jesus.

So on what kind of foundation was Jesus to build his church? It must have looked pretty dismal with Peter weeping bitterly having just disowned his Lord, who was on death row. It seemed that all was lost, the crucifixion being the stumbling block, the tomb in the rock and the large stone over its entrance an impassable foolish end to Simon being the rock, and the man from Nazareth being the Saviour — let alone the Son of God.

But where failure and faithlessness seem to have won out, it’s precisely here where the victory of all victories exists — hidden.

Paul tells the church at Corinth, a church failing in the weaknesses of heresy, dissention, disorder, and sexual chaos, that God will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1 Corinthians 1:8-9)

Furthermore in Isaiah 49 we hear, “This is what the LORD says — the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel — to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Isaiah 49:7)

So in Jesus Christ — in his weakness and death and in his resurrection and life — we find the true rock foundation of our faith and Peter’s faith too. Despite our weak and faithless nature, God’s faithfulness is real and victorious, through Christ at the Cross, and the Holy Spirit faithfully putting the cross and the Rock of our salvation back in front of us. And we see it by faith — trusting God’s faithfulness to us.

Therefore, Jesus tells us, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25)

Added to this we know Jesus also said of himself, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes? He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matthew 21:42, 44)

Peter is the rock on which Christ built the church. Incidentally the name Simon or Simeon is derived from a Hebrew word meaning to hear or announce. We know Simon Peter was the hearing rock and was the rock that announced what he had witnessed. But it’s only because of God’s faithfulness to Peter that allowed Peter to hear, be built up in Jesus’ blood and righteousness, and to proclaim God’s faithfulness in Christ Jesus.

This is also God’s will for us too. We like Peter, flounder and fight against faithlessness and failures. And so our hope, our hearing and our witness to others, is built and stands on nothing less, than on Christ the Solid Rock. Amen.

Born to save

Epiphany 1   Matthew 3: 13-17

John the Baptist was the last of the prophets, he was a law man. His life was one of calling the Jews to repentance but also pointing forward to the coming of the Messiah. Just as his fellow Israelites had dwelt in the wilderness, wandering with Moses for forty years, he too dwelt in the wilderness, and just as the Israelites of Moses day looked forward to a kingdom in the land of milk and honey, John and the Jews looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah and his kingdom.Like the desert wilderness, living under the law is not pleasant. God’s word tells us that the Israelites failed in keeping the law, and therefore, couldn’t stand before the holiness of God. When God made the first covenant with the Israelites, giving them the Ten Commandments at Sinai through Moses, they failed to keep the law. He had freed them from four hundred years of oppression by cleansing them of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, but they grumbled against God, doubted him and worshiped other gods. So God left them in the wilderness for forty years.Israel’s sin against God didn’t stop there either. Joshua led God’s people into the land of milk and honey through the Jordan River, passing from death to life, and still the Israelites turned their backs on God and the holiness he offered through the law. They chose instead to mix with the local pagan Canaanite and Philistine nations prostituting themselves with the gods of their heathen wives. God even gave them great judges like Gideon, Samson, and Samuel, kings like David, Hezekiah, and Josiah, who led them in the ways of the Lord. And he gave the Israelites prophets like Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all of whom called God’s people to repentance and looked forward to a messiah king – a saviour. But the people of God placed their faith in other things rather than the holiness that God was offering through obedience to the law. So God withdrew his presence, the Israelites and Judeans were cut off from their land and they were exiled at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians. And God was quiet—deathly quiet—, for four hundred years there wasn’t a word from neither a prophet nor a messenger of God.  Once again God’s people were under oppression from other nations and they lost their land. They were in the wilderness again, but this wilderness was much worse than the Sinai wilderness in which they wandered with God for forty years. Like Egypt, this was another four hundred year wilderness without his word. Some fourteen hundred years after Joshua had crossed the Jordan, John the Baptist baptised the children of Israel in the very same river. And as he washed them of their sins with a baptism of repentance he proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was near (Matt 3:2) and there was One coming whose sandals he was not fit to carry (Matt 3: 11).

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)Matthew tells us in the gospel for today, ‘then Jesus came’. His coming changed everything forever. He came to the Jordan, the same place through which Joshua led the people of Israel after wandering in the Sinai wilderness for forty years. Jesus came to save all people from their sins, his name, Jesus, literally means – he will save. And it’s also no accident that the names Joshua and Jesus are the same name but just the Hebrew and the Greek variants.These men both came to the Jordan for life changing events. So we can’t let the significance of this location pass us by. The Jordan River is important; it’s the boundary over which the Israelites passed from a deadly wilderness environment into Canaan, the land of milk and honey. It’s the same waters which brought healing to Naaman, the same river through which Elijah passed before being taken into heaven, the same river carrying precious water, bringing life to the people and the land of Israel. This was the river where John the Baptist baptised the Jews for the forgiveness of their sins, the very sins God called them to turn away from through the observance of the law. And this was also the river where Jesus was baptised into his ministry of saving humanity.So as John the Baptist stood by the Jordan he knew who it was coming toward him. He also knew Jesus was far more powerful than he. He was aware that for him to baptise the One who could truly bring all people into the kingdom of heaven, the eternal land of milk and honey, just didn’t seem right. So he said, “Jesus I need to be baptised by you, and you come to me.” John baptised simply for repentance, Jesus didn’t need to repent, rather the one who needed to repent in Jesus’ presence was John. He needed the Holy Son of God to baptise him into the kingdom of heaven, to cleanse him from sin so he could stand holy before God the Father Almighty.John knew who he had baptised and everyone else present soon found out too. God had been silent for four hundred years, the doors of heaven were closed it might have seemed. But at that moment heaven was opened and God spoke to all saying “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” After four hundred years God the Father spoke, and sent the Holy Spirit down on Jesus. The Triune God has been speaking ever since. He does so through his written word by the power of the Holy Spirit as a result of his Apostles, who witnessed Jesus’ death, and resurrection from death, and whom he commanded to proclaim what they saw.Jesus came from the perfection of paradise, was born into his creation, was circumcised as a Jew under the old covenant, and was baptised in the Jordan into the wilderness of humanity’s sin, your sin and my sin, the sins of Israel and the sins of all people revealed by the law. In a very public way John consented to baptise Jesus so that righteousness for every person might be made complete in him. We live under righteousness because of he who was baptised into his public ministry, tempted by the devil, and tested by all around him. He did this and never placed a foot wrong. Then he took all our wrongdoings to the cross and buried them in hell, from which he rose victorious over death. He came from heaven and gives us heaven; he came into our wilderness and is taking us from our troubled wilderness wanderings. He gives us his holiness and has taken our sinful lives on himself in the waters of baptism.Nevertheless, we still live in chaotic times. Waves of sin continue to ripple through our lives wreaking havoc and seeking to separate us from our Heavenly Father and his Kingdom. However, the chaotic world in which we live constantly shows us why we need assurance and hope in Christ through the tranquil waters of holy baptism and his life giving word. So God the Father continues to give us his Holy Spirit. And in his written word, the Spirit always guides us to the gift of God’s Son whom he sent to take our hand and lead us through the wilderness of this life and into the paradise of eternity. Amen

What kind of home?

What kind of home?      John 1:1-18

We spent a lot of time getting our homes in order in the lead up to Christmas, didn’t we? Especially if we were having guests or family over for Christmas, we may have spent hours cleaning, decorating, cooking, and reorganizing. We want our homes to be welcoming places for those who visit us.

What kind of home welcomed the Son of God? What kind of dwelling place did he find? Well, you know the story well. There was no room for him at the inn, so his first home was in a stable. Not long after that Herod want to annihilate him, so he and his parents made Egypt their home. Upon return, his home became Nazareth, and there he lived for the next thirty years. Then, when his public ministry began, he was a guest in all kinds of homes. He dined with religious elite and with the prominent Pharisees of the day. But he also entered the homes of sinners and outcasts, like Zacchaeus. He visited the homes of those who were sick and those who had already died, like Jairus’ daughter whom he raised to life. In the many homes where he was a guest, there were those who loved him dearly and welcomed him. But there were also those who plotted his death – indeed, he would soon make his home in the grave; he would become a guest in the tomb.

But the gospel for today speaks of another home that Christ entered. In 1:14 the evangelist John tells us: ‘The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us’. ‘The Word’ here refers to Christ, God’s Son. And what is meant by ‘flesh’? Flesh stands for everything we are: our bodies, our souls, and our minds; but also our weakness, our mortality and our sin. And that’s where Christ has made his home. He has made his home in our flesh. The Son of God has become a resident in all that we humans are.

What kind of welcome did he receive to this home? Not a warm one, John tells us: ‘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’. He stands at the front door of his own home, his own children answer the door, and yet they tell him: We don’t know who you are – good bye’.

What kind of welcome does he receive in your home? Do you always feel at ease with Jesus at your kitchen table, or in the back seat of your car? Is he welcome in the conversations you share and the thoughts you think? Do you invite him to join in the gossip? Is your home, is your flesh, a fitting place for Christ?

Well let’s face it, often it isn’t. But that’s just the point! Christ was born in Bethlehem for no other reason that he could live in your life. The Word became flesh so that you can welcome him every day. Christ is always a guest in the home of sinners. He won’t politely ask to leave when we become embarrassingly entangled in sin. He doesn’t mutter excuses about needing to be elsewhere when our good Christian front falls to pieces. As long as you’re willing, he’ll stay. For the Word became flesh – and he still is.

But as long as he stays, your home will also change. And that’s because as well as entering your home, he also brings gifts. Not a box of toys or bowl of tossed salad, but something much better. Listen again to our verse: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’. He comes with Christmas hampers full of grace and full of truth.

By his grace he accepts the state of our home – but with his truth he repairs and restores it. By grace he redeems us from the sins of our flesh – with his truth he renews us to serve him. His grace puts up with our ignorance and silliness – his truth enlightens our minds with the knowledge of God. By grace he dwells with sinners, and by his truth he sets us free from sin. This is the guest who enters our homes: the One who became flesh and dwelt among us.

And this is also what Christmas is all about. For these days will soon pass through Epiphany and then on to Lent and Easter and Pentecost. The baby in the manger will grow, he will suffer, he will die, he will rise and take his place in his eternal home, at the Father’s right hand. And there, brothers and sisters in Christ, he prepares a home for us. Not in fallen flesh, but in the new creation. For the one who wrote: ‘the Word became flesh’ also recorded Jesus’ promise: ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms…and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’.

May the Son of God, who prepares a home for us, dwell in our homes today and always. Amen.