The seven days in the weak

1st Sunday after Christmas B

Luke 2:22-40

The seven days in the weak

There was a married couple who had to wait 16 years before their first child was born. Over those years, nothing weakened their hope or anticipation of this joyous event. You can imagine how they radiated joy when they held their long-awaited child in their arms for the first time.

Sometimes it seems we are just waiting around in life. But what are we still waiting for to happen in our lives? Are we looking for fame, security or prosperity? Or are we still longing for our lives to be transformed by God’s presence?

Some people think that they can experience God just as easily on a golf course, or walking around a lake, as in church. And in truth God is truly with us where ever we are, but sometimes the problem for us that we get distracted in these environments and don’t actually worship but sought of hang about and while it is true that just attending church worship is not essential for salvation, it is the place, the Lord’s house-where we are sure to find His encouraging and motivating presence because here, in our little church through the Word of God and Holy Communion we hear of our unmerited forgiveness, strengthened in faith through receiving the gifts God has provided and in response to such overwhelming grace received by us flawed but saved people, then challenged to no longer live for ourselves, but for our Saviour Jesus Christ and our neighbours and fellow-church members that He loves so dearly.

The Christmas story concludes with women and men in the temple, where God can impact on their lives. As soon as possible, Jesus was brought to the temple, to be in His Father’s House. There Jesus is met by two people who have waited all their lives for this moment, Simeon and Anna. Anna had never missed a Service. She was from the least, lost tribe of Israel and was a well-known figure at the temple. Anna is called a prophetess, a title of rare distinction, given to only seven other women in the Bible. She used the tragedy of her young husband’s death as an opportunity to grow closer to God. She filled the vacuum in her life with praying for others and living for the day when Jesus would come to the temple.

In God’s service, there’s no age limit. St. John wrote our fourth Gospel while in his 80s. Now in her 80s, Anna becomes an exuberant witness to our Saviour’s coming. She knew sorrow, but had not grown bitter. Anna hadn’t grown old with the sense of dejection and dependency that afflicts many older men and women today. Anna served God with heroic fidelity. She knew God doesn’t let His faithful servants shed a needless tear.

After wrestling with God in prayer for many years, Anna now sees God’s likeness in the face of His Son, Jesus. Any pastor can tell you of elderly Christian widows aglow with the joy of salvation. Anna cannot restrain her joy at seeing our Saviour. Bubbling over with joy and gratitude, she shares with everyone she meets the arrival of salvation from fear and guilt, from sin and death, in the Son of Mary. Years later, many people remembered what Anna, with a youthful exuberance, had told them about the greatest day of her life. It’s as if being in her Saviour’s presence has made her feel young again and given her new energy to sing our Saviour’s praises.

The gift of salvation is worth singing about, worthy of a full-bodied celebration, as Simeon shows. His joy too knows no bounds as he sees for the first time the whole reason for his existence. In an unforgettable picture, Simeon takes the Christ-child in his arms and sings a hymn of praise to God for the precious gift of Jesus. Simeon’s song is one of the treasures of our Holy Communion liturgy. What a moving overture and personal expression of thanksgiving this post-Christmas hymn is. Simeon was given a greater promise than he’d asked for. He confesses more than is visible to human eyes.

Simeon’s song contains no narrow reference to just himself. He sees the good news of Christ extending to every nation, over all the earth. In fact, he mentions the Gentiles (all non-Jewish nations) before his fellow-countrymen. What a magnificent, universal vision so soon after Christmas Eve! Having reached the highpoint of his life, the zenith of his existence, he savours the fulfilment of his fondest dreams. There’s nothing secretive about our Saviour’s existence. His death for all people was a public event and not something for some super-spiritual elite.

Light is a symbol of security. Jesus is a Light to the Gentiles because only in Christ can all people find a safe and secure future before and after death. Although our salvation came at great personal cost to Him, our Saviour Jesus believes we are worth saving. Instead of employing force, Jesus surrendered His life to save us from all that would ruin us in this life, or in the life to come after death. Jesus brings us salvation now from distress and despair, defeat and disappointment. The New Testament speaks frequently of salvation in the present tense. Salvation is a present experience of our Saviour’s help and companionship, love and protection. Salvation is our Lord’s sovereign act of rescue that can be tasted here and now and fully enjoyed in the life to come. Jesus saves us from the corrupting influences around us in our community, so that our lives are shaped week by week by His transforming presence.

Simeon can depart in peace because salvation brings peace with God, peace like nothing on earth. His peace fills us with a cheerful contentment, because it alone meets the deepest longings of our hearts. To taste Christ’s gift of salvation is to experience His goodness and grace in our lives, week by week. It is knowing that all you do for your Lord is never in vain. Simeon shared St. Paul’s motto: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is more of Christ.” In the presence of Christ, the Lord of life, death loses its terror.

The Lord’s Supper is called a “Means of Salvation”, because in this priceless sacrament, we receive the blessings of salvation now. Simeon’s song is part of our Holy Communion liturgy, to remind us that we receive the benefits of the birth, life and suffering of our Saviour in this life-giving, life-enriching sacrament. In Holy Communion, we receive the same Saviour whom Simeon held in his arms. Christ’s presence in the bread and wine is as real to us as it was in Simeon’s arms.

The work of Christmas continues in the Lord’s Supper. Holy Communion enables us to face the future free of fear, because of the pledge and assurance of our salvation this sacrament so boldly bestows on us. For hundreds of millions of Christians throughout the world today, receiving Holy Communion will be a privilege they receive with trembling joy and gratitude. Why? Because although so hard to comprehend and in deed that which can be only comprehended through the miracle and gift of faith, today when you come to the alter and receive Holy Communion you as forgiven sinners and brothers of Christ and Son’s and daughters of the Father receive “a foretaste of the feast to come.”

 A promise from our Lord, thus a truth and a fact that we take with us from this House of God forged in forgiveness in Christ to the far reaches of our everyday existence.

 Our salvation that we sing of today in joyful songs and hymns of praise to which the melody of what we have received in Christ sees us through the next seven days that should we become weak in spirit or service, we need not endure a week to forget of needless earthly imprisonment of being caught up in the musts of great fame, riches and security, but live the week fully in every action be it in times of hurt or times of great elation in the richness and security of our Lord and Saviour who hung on a cross for the whole world to see and for you to know, that you are His. Amen.

“Back to front land”

“Back to front land”

Luke 2:8-15

I remember once sitting in Church on Christmas Eve hearing the Gospel read and thinking I’ve heard this every year and I know what happens-there’s no new surprises coming. Then I finally “woke up” and realised that if I hear this same story every year to my death, I may still only hear it 60, 70 or maybe 80 times.

Tonight we’ve heard part of it again, and again yes we know where it all heads and thank God for that. It truly is an amazing story and we should hear it probably every day of our life because although we know it so well, the how and why’s are so back to front to how we would have wrote the coming of the greatest person and event in history, it should still jolt us and our lives to the very core of our existence.

The saying that fact is stranger than fiction is right on the money should we have been there to see and hear of the events that Holy night.

If you were the Pagan emperor or King you were born to a life of privilege. Maybe a spoilt brat from start to finish and never really knowing or caring of how the other half live from your golden crèche to your castle of splendour where you were feted with great public celebrations for brushing your teeth never mind being the supposed “Saviour and Lord” and never did the ancient tabloid reporters of the day use the word humble toward their emperor and “king” as in the day that would have been anything but a compliment.  So much for those guys who had their “Saviour.”

The Jewish were still waiting for their long promised saviour and messiah to arrive so that they would be rid of these Roman tyrants and their big brother tactics of strong arm force and coercion. The Saviour who would arrive and banish their detractors and put them back where they should be as the top dog’s, not just in God’s eyes but in the world’s realities and quite frankly if I was there so would have I considering how my God of unending power had created so precisely from minutest of things to the most amazing all of the earth and its inhabitants. How my God had shown His hand in Egypt and swept us to freedom from our captives with great miracles, provided us with trail blazing leaders to bring us home against the enormous odds of our enemies and indeed the enemies within ourselves, and so I wait-and still I wait to this day along-side a wall, walling and dreaming of the day when again we will have access to that piece of real estate and see the foundation of all what we are and re-build the Holy Temple that then, maybe then alongside God the Father will the great and powerful Messiah be with us.

Tonight I am in no way denigrating atheist, pagan nor any other faith including those of the Jewish because, we like them while having the free will to deny faith in Christ, have no power or desire to come to belief  other than in having received that gift from outside of ourselves through the Holy Spirit

To believe in Jesus Christ as your Saviour, who has brought you forgiveness and eternal life is a greater miracle and treasure than we could ever imagine or hope for and that is why though it be not natural for us, we pray for our enemies and those not yet in Christ that they too will be lifted up and given His peace.

His peace and Glory not brought about in the splendour of castles, the finest robes or even amongst the religious elite in the temple, but given to us as a baby born of a humble virgin in a stable in the less than fashionable town of Bethlehem.

There were no halos, no seen angels hovering over the stable, no choirs singing in the background and not even as was the common practice upon the birth of a baby boy where local musicians would congregate and greet him with simple music, and had we been passing by we may have even
commented to another something about how terrible it was that this couple had brought a baby into the world and they only place they could lay the child was in an animal feed trough.

And yet, the shepherds already reeling that they, the one’s despised by many of the religious elite because of their work keeping them from participating in the religious activities of their communities, that they are the ones to be visited by a great company of angels from heaven singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all on whom his favour rests” and heralding the arrival of the Good News of great joy that will be for all people.  That “today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you,” (and) “He is Christ the Lord.”

To those of the time, and indeed those of our time it is all “back to front ” and no more perplexing than it is of God Himself. God’s only Son, that is that little boy in the stable. Perplexing because religion is generally about getting our act together to be able to go up, not as with Christianity where the God, Our God The Father does the unthinkable and comes down among the mess.

The is a story about a European monarch who worried other officials by disappearing and walking incognito among his people and when he was asked not to for securities sake he would answer that “I cannot rule my people unless I know how they live.”

Talk about upping the ante, because although he was fully and truly God from all eternity, the Son of God took on true humanity when he was conceived in Mary’s womb and born in Bethlehem.  He was not half-God and half-man, but fully God and fully man.  He did not cease to be God, but was at the same time fully human with the same emotions,
same temptations,
same physical needs,
same pain that we all experience.

We talk about the grace of God and here we see it up close and personal, our God who could have done anything he pleased limit’s himself to become one of us. Grace up close and personal in the coming Jesus who knows the life we lived, because He lived it too.

The island of Molokai is a part of Hawaii and it has an interesting history. Back in the late 1800’s there was no cure for the horrible disfiguring disease, leprosy. In order to keep it from spreading and creating an epidemic, lepers were sent to a colony on the island of Molokai.

In 1873, there was a young Belgian priest named Father Damien who volunteered to spend his life serving the people secluded on the island of Molokai.  When he arrived, he was shocked to see the condition of the people.  Not only were they physically sick but they were also disheartened.  There was drunkenness, crime and an overall sense of hopelessness.  They needed God’s presence in their lives.  And so, in 1873, Father Damien lived among the 700 lepers, knowing the dangers, realizing the inevitable results of so much personal contact with a highly contagious disease.  In fact, in 1885 at the age of 45 he himself contracted leprosy.

A story as uplifting as is the faith and trust of Abraham daunting to us when we consider his preparedness to take up his Son Isaac to the top of a mountain as a sacrifice to God.

We know God stopped him at the last minute and while I am not sure how Father Damian went with his leprosy, can we ever comprehend the love God the Father, immense in power yet so great in love that he gives His Son not just to this world to save it, but ultimately for this world to devour Him.

On Wednesday morning I awoke from a terrible dream and it took me a couple minutes to realise it was only a dream and then a couple more before forgetting what it was about.

If humans had written a plan to save ourselves we would be still living a nightmare.

Thankfully the creator and orator of our lives wakes us from that nightmare by coming to earth to bring about change in our lives –
to give us peace and hope in the face of difficulty,
to clear away guilt for our sinful actions,
to tear down old barriers and restore love and forgiveness between people and to say to you tonight that in Jesus Christ my Son, we too like the apostle Paul that having been dragged to faith, we too can say with absolute certainty and live with complete  confidence: “that we are convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.

The gift of Christmas presents

“The gift of Christmas presence”

Luke 1:26-28

When I was young, on Christmas Eve we would open our presents from Father Christmas and on Christmas day all our families would gather together at a home of one of our relatives in the most central location. It was great fun playing back yard cricket against our cousins and their mum’s and dad’s. I enjoyed all of the day except when it was time for the communal opening of our presents from our mum’s and dad’s. I always wished we could have stopped at just getting the big fella’s presents the night before, not because I wouldn’t have minded a few more, but because in the communal session, I could always see how my mum and dad seemed not embarrassed, but more sought of as second class parents because of the inferior type of present that they could provide compared to the other’s given. I didn’t care, but they seemed to and I always felt sad for them and just wished we didn’t have that part of the day.

Those times in our early days often follow us around later in our lives where we try and compensate in the other way and if we look at it from the two ends of the scale: The children of a poor family who may grow up and try to shower their own kid’s with presents, and the children of a rich family who may grow up with the in-built longing to not so much shower their children with presents but to be present in their lives.  Or, we just mutate to another form of the same which I only know too well where instead of feeling sorry for my mum and dad in their thoughts of not having the ability to furnish me with great gifts like the others around them, to know feeling like them on a daily basis when I line up my pathetic and spiritually poor bank account of self and service towards our Lord and Saviour. Guilt and wallowing in self-regarding shame or guilt and wallowing in self-hiding pride.  Shame diffused through the bottom of a glass or shame diffused and hidden through the striving for wealth, respect and position.

 I’ve had a crack at most of them but each of us have our default position when the dark clouds of self-worth hit amongst the certainty of our desire to run from it in the way that is only known to each of us, only to find that when we get there-that there it still awaits bigger and stronger, asking for not less but for more of the same as we increase the self-medication of moving closer to the park bench and empty bottles or closer to the leather padded Lear jet seat traversing the world in might and prestige.

Ironically, neither of these book ends of society are either wrong or necessarily better or worse than the others. I’ve met CEO’s who truly understand that the position they hold is of great importance not to themselves, but to the thousands of families that rely on them doing their job well so that the company remains strong and that their employees remain secure. Just as I’ve met a man who didn’t drink, seemed clean and well-spoken and who chose the freedom of sleeping on a bus stop bench happy with either the balmy nights and storm clouds or the clear nights and sparkling stars as his blanket. Both were great people and because they “got what is was all about” neither ridiculed or judged other peoples place in the world.

Our upbringing and our experiences can shape our sense of who we are and how we see things and it is often enlightening to see that come out in the answers people give in one of my favourite shows “Family Feud” and this week, one contestant when asked what is made of straw and in replying “a bed” was rewarded with four points and laughter from the audience, at which hearing, the smiling compare of the show Grant replied “come on Australia, it’s one of the best stories ever told.”

Maybe it was a throw-away line or his statement of faith, but either way it struck me that on a show where to win you need high point scoring answers, we were given an answer of little point value and use towards the prize on offer.

Similar on New Year’s Eve 2000 in the back ground on the T.V. was the countdown to voting on the greatest Australian song in history and upon reaching number one, a well-known Aussie Band said “oh that’s easy because it doesn’t matter where we play in the world there will always some drunk Australian ask that we play Cold Chisel’s Khe Sahn.

I agree and it has great heartfelt and real lyrics about a soldier returning from Vietnam and his struggles to fit back into society and one verse summarises it well by saying:

“And I’ve travelled round the world from year to year
And each one found me aimless, one more year the worse for wear
And I’ve been back to South East Asia
But the answer sure ain’t there
But I’m drifting north, to check things out again.”

In writing this, I just noticed the word count and realized how long winded my introduction has been without any “God talk”. I’m sorry for that but so can be our searching for answers and contentment on this earth.

It is such a wonderful thing to see Jordana being baptised today into the arms of Jesus at the age of six weeks old and hearing His promise now imbedded into her very self that “Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved.” What a great promise to receive and though Jordana does not understand it now, just as I did not fully understand when I was baptised as a twenty nine year old, she to like myself will see that the Lord does not make that statement lightly and in fact is prepared to go into the lowest pit or above the highest mountain to show himself that we may come to believe in Him.

The same Saviour sent to earth to be born to a humble girl called Mary who through becoming pregnant out of wedlock would have been the target of ridicule, rumour and out right disgust, trusted the message from the angel Gabriel that she was chosen to be not the mother of grace, but the daughter of the grace given to her and the world through the long promised Messiah and Saviour that she carried in her womb.

The same Mary who over the next 30 years would see here baby boy grow into a man and then be brutally tortured before being hung from a cross amongst criminals. A moment where the Blessed Mary may not have felt so blessed.

A long time Pastor once asked me what it is like in the real world when the troubles come. The death of those close, the stuffing up and being stuffed up and at times feeling alone and helpless. My answer was the same as then as it is now-not a lot: because in my chasing and searching both outside of Christ and with Christ I’ve felt the wraths and the joys of what life in both worlds can bring. Times of being blessed by the unlikeliest of people and situation in the front bar of a hotel and times like that of the blessed Mary where we stand confused at the foot of suffering.

I bought a new CD this week where a song’s chorus goes “I don’t know where I’m running but I know how to run, cos running’s the thing I’ve always done” which reminded me of a little boy I knew used to know who would be woken in the middle of the night and told to run to safety through the paddocks to the neighbor’s house and today if you meet this man and look closely you will sometimes still see that little boy still trying to run from himself and though each step seems aimless and another the worse for wear, Jesus Christ run’s with him. Not to ridicule, lector or place demands. But to guide, lift up and ask that he know the truth that is Jesus Christ himself who has been with him the whole way asking and pleading over and over again that we head to His cry in Matthew chapter 11, verse 28 to “come unto me, all who that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

When my son was three years I went to him under the cloud of anguish and “asked that he forgive me for not being the Father I wished I could be”. To which he replied “what do you mean dad, you’re a great dad” and today just as we see a little child called Jordana before us, so do the three to be admired most, The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost see today your inner self and though to others and indeed to yourself you have hidden it away’, to them you need not because as you come before God the Father with Jesus Christ His Son and your Saviour by your side He sees not crimes of an enemy to be punished, but the anguish of a child needing to be covered cover with His love. His love that knows your journey. His love that has wept with you in the times of distress and cherished the moments with you when freed from them.

This Christmas we may or may not get the presents we would like but we can be assured that the greatest story ever told is not a fable or about some fictional scenario designed for bring out a false sought of hope in this world, but the story of truth arriving on this earth some 2,000 years ago given to little Jordana today and for her years ahead. A promise not from our actions but from His given to us on a cross in Israel 2,000 years ago where He gave up His earthly life that in ours we need not search or run no longer, but be still and rejoice that though the road may have been long and arduous, it has and will lead you home. Praise be to God. Amen.

Can’t wait ?

In today’s Gospel, we see this wild looking character John the Baptist announcing the arrival of the long-time promised Messiah as recorded right through scripture.

The Old Testament was a time of prophets and promise. It was a time of waiting, or anticipation-and then it happened. God sent “his one and only Son” and the New Testament is the time of celebrating the promise fulfilled.

The Advent season focuses on the coming of that Messiah as we are invited to enter into the Old Testament experience of yearning and hoping and waiting.

Just like our children wait in expectation before they are allowed to finally open the presents sitting under the Christmas tree, so are we invited during these weeks of Advent to enter that spirit of painful expectation spiritually and if we can sense the pain and frustration of the Old Testament people, we can better rejoice at the fulfilment when the angels finally announce that “today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you, He is Christ the Lord.”

To feel the pain of the wait and finally the Joy just as in our lives sometimes all we have is the promise as said in well-known form that “Faith is only faith when you have nothing else to hold onto to.”

Yet the Old Testament prophets did not know what to expect. They knew it would be a righteous Branch sprung from the stump of David’s house as recorded in Jeremiah where “The days are coming declares the Lord, when I will fulfil the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel.

But the Prophets did not know that the Messiah would be God himself.

They had no concept of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and so they couldn’t possibly anticipate that the Second person of the Trinity would be born as one of them with the Father sending his “One and only Son.”

We know from their writings that He would exercise kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, but how could they possibly know of the righteousness that Jesus would bring of forgiveness of sins won on a cross for they were anticipating that the Saviour would be for justice and righteousness for their nation rather than for all people and for all eternity.

Them and us, sometimes all we have in life is the promise, and we just wait. We wait and God surprises.

Problem is it’s hard to wait and we can feel it from the palmist and from ourselves as they and us cry: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord hear my voice. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his Word I put my hope (Ps. 130:1,5).

Sometimes all we have in life is the promise and it can hurt.

Times in our lives when all we had was the promise.

Times when you were in the depths and cried to the Lord, and all you could do was wait.

Painful times that you may remember as you recall the loneliness, the frustration, the anger, the doubt and maybe then the guilt of having such feelings. The how can God love me like this with my accusations and mistrust.

Maybe you are feeling that way today as we approach Christmas because while it is a time of celebrating Jesus arrival, it is also a season that can bring to the surface all the frustrations and losses and fears of life.

For many people, these weeks before Christmas are the most painful days of the year and can’t wait for it to be over.

Many people wear a mask of “good cheer”, but inside feel only pain and hurt and frustration. Outside it’s yes: Merry Christmas and Oh yes, the singing and the bells are wonderful. But inside it’s “I don’t have the perfect life like everybody else has.

I can act it, but I’ll never have it and as I don’t want to spoil it for you, I won’t tell you how I’m really feeling and this can go on for year after year. Will the pain ever end? Will Christmas ever pass?

Christmas is one of, if not the time of greatest depression, loneliness, and suicide in our society.

Sometimes all we have in life is promise and hope, and we wait. But the promise and hope that comes from God himself. And he is a God who fulfils his promises and that is what we celebrate at Christmas and daily in our lives that from Galatians, “When the time had fully come, God sent His son, born of a women.”

All this was happening in the fullness of God’s time just as there is the fullness of time in your life.

Think Back. Remember those times of pain and frustration and doubt?

Remember how your good Lord saw you through them. Most likely he didn’t lead you out as you anticipated, but he did lead you out-“in the fullness of time,” when it was right and when you were ready.

Our heavenly Father did it in Jesus and He did it to you in your life and he’s still doing it now. That’s the story of our life in God. It’s a life of Trust. It’s a turning over of our fears and worries and burdens. It’s a freedom of knowing he’s in charge, a confidence that he will act. Our whole Christian life is waiting on Him. Trusting him in His love, His will and His goodness.

In Christ you are saved and forgiven today because you know Him and He knows you. You are blessed.

Yet there are those around us that behind the mask if we looked, we would see the hurting.

The one’s we go to and hold their hand in God’s name and help to hang on and wait. To tell them the Christmas truth: That God kept his promise from the Old Testament and sent His Son.

Because to them and to you, God keeps his promises to all who wait on him and in the fullness of time, in the most unexpected ways, he stills sends his Son to us-to restore, to build and to lavish us with his love. Thanks be to God. Amen.