Archive for December, 2015

Born in a stable, oh dear.

Saturday, December 26th, 2015

Luke 2:22-40

giftsAs was the custom of the day, 40 days after His birth Jesus like other babies was brought into the temple to be presented before the Lord. A big moment in any family’s life and to the untrained eye, not unlike any others before them. Yet a moment in time that a man named Simeon and an elderly women named Anna that through the gift of the Holy Spirit had been waiting for. The moment they would see the promised Messiah of the World. The Saviour who they now knew as this little baby named Jesus.

I imagine that when they went back to their normal lives they would not be able to contain themselves shouting this good news from the mountain tops.

If then was as now, which I suggest is more than likely, after Simeon and Anna left having such public conversation’s, a fly on the wall may have heard:

-You know the mother was pregnant before they married

-Very lowly people and from of all places Nazareth, ( A statement understood of the time as we hear later in the Book of John those saying not only “Can the Messiah come out of Nazareth,” but “Can there any good thing come?”)

-Born in a stable, oh dear. And you know who were there don’t you. Thieving low class shepherds.

-Messiah, yer right. You wouldn’t believe what they offered at the temple. A pair of doves-peasants. (Doves being the most modest of the different sacrifices that could be offered).

And no doubt upon Simeon or Anna suffering any unfortunate situation, I’m sure some would be going along the old almost gloating “where is your Messiah God now” line.

A line probably heard by all the apostles. Eleven killed for following Christ with only John dyeing a natural death though still living under exile on the island of Patmos because of his proclamation of the risen Christ.

And the 48 year old Mary, revered throughout time but then seen standing at the cross of her beloved 33 year old son seeing His pain and death while those around hurled ridicule and abuse.

A situation that no doubt, whether to you, or to another person you would heard the same unknowing words said in the tone of a viper. Words to hurt and ridicule but words that see us like little Jobs holding to the truth in faith as things happen in, to and around us that we would prefer not.

The myth of being a Christian: never have any more worries, life will be good, and if it’s not, it means your faith is not strong enough. A myth that even according to the odd late night evangelist is perpetuated with statements such as send in money and you will be materially rewarded tenfold.

Misguided, unrealistic and even sinister crap.

Becoming a Christian is like becoming a husband or wife and then a mother or father. Absolutely the joy increases, but so does the hurt-because their hurts and sadness’s become yours.

Having faith in Christ-in being a Christian we share with Christ, the injustices and hurts of this world and its people. We may get sick or we may not, we may struggle financially or we may not-so be it, that’s life. Jesus never promised either way, he promised that he would be with us through it all, to serve us and get us over the line.

We know that later as a man, Jesus enters Jerusalem and is welcomed as the great king. “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. The King of Israel”.

Absolutely true. Albeit misguided because those welcoming Jesus expected a warrior type of king to release them from the bondage of the Romans. To drive them out of town and when this doesn’t eventuate-we know the story.

Jesus had a bigger fish to fry. Yes Jesus would release them, release from the bondage of sin. To bring true freedom, not as the warrior king, but as the servant king.

Jesus didn’t come to run the bad guys out of town, but to bring the bad guys, the Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Romans and Australians-you and me into town-into his kingdom.

Yet this side of heaven, living in God’s kingdom can sometimes feel a bit like starting pre-season training or renovating a house as when you look back you think if only I knew that was going to happen, I doubt I’d have made it to the end. Yet somehow we are all here today scars and all. Scars that God did not bring on us. But scars that somehow he used to bring us to hear of Christ, to somehow bring us to turn towards God in repentance and be free.

“Born down in a dead man’s town the first kick I took was when I hit the ground, (and) you end up like a dog that’s been beat too much till you spend half your life just covering up”. The opening lyrics from Bruce Springsteen’s song “Born in the USA”. A protest song about his country that he doesn’t much sing anymore since the tragedy of September 11 and instead wrote a song called the rising.

A song with biblical overturns directed towards his country, a song of rebuilding and a song of hope

“I make my way through this darkness

I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me….

There’s holy pictures of our children

dancing in a sky filled with light.

May I feel your arms around me

May I feel your blood mix with mine

A dream of life comes to me.

Come on up, lay your hands in mine

Come on up for the rising

Come on up for the rising tonight.”

Every person who walks this earth will at some time and at some level face persecution. And all will face death. That’s just how it is.

But in it all we know that:

Our pain upon Christ’s pain, is that, that has brought hope.

(and) Our rising upon Christ’s rising, is that, that has brought life.

In Christ what may happen is not what we dwell on; we dwell on what he has done. That he has brought us forgiveness, has brought us eternal life, has brought us freedom and has brought us life here today.

His love for us and joy of life he has given that cannot be taken from us by neither those who ridicule us, nor those who turn from us and treat us unfairly, nor the knowledge of our own sin, nor our own self- loathing.

For we are now free.

Free to cry and free to mourn, and free to live. Free to build up those who look to bring us down and free to love those who love us not. Free to climb the highest mountains or free to rest at the bottom.

Our lives of freedom from a man named Jesus. Jesus the human Son of Mary and the Holy and eternal heavenly Son of God who when entering Jerusalem as a fragile baby was worshipped by Simeon and Anna because they knew the truth.

Jesus who thirty three years later as a strapping young man and entering Jerusalem for one last time was greeted by the crowds who now saw him as the coming king by cheering and honoring him-yet only to fall away in his hour of need when he was beaten, bruised, ridiculed and slain.

When Jesus as a baby entered the temple Simeon and Anna saw the loved child of God who would change the world. .

When our neighbor enters our life in their hour of need, lowly, beaten, bruised, ridiculed and lost: in that person we may too may see them as the world does, but we too also see them as a loved child of God

The honor to see a loved child of come into our lives in whatever disguise: rich or poor: who is in need in this world-hungry, starving, wandering, looking for “something”, alone, angry, all self-centered, living a misguided high life or fragile and scared.

The honor to serve them that their earthly life may have meaning, and the honor to serve God that they know his meaning.

Like Simeon and Anna we have seen the Messiah our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ come into our lives.

Like Mary at the cross we have seen our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ unfairly beaten and killed.

And like Mary Magdalene standing by an empty tomb, the resurrected Jesus has met us in flesh and blood confirming every word of the Good news he had promised.

Martin Luther, called John 3:16 “the Gospel in miniature and the heart of the Bible,”

The Good news summarised From John 3:16 in just 26 words “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

26 words given to you feeling broken and suffering through the actions or self and others that allow you to if nothing else, rise up for another day appointed to you by God the Father.

26 words given to those of you with the means to be humbled that you serve and be served by both the obnoxious and the pleasant be it in either times of chaos and darkness, or peace and sunshine.

The Words of God that saw a little fragile baby born for our sake. The Words of God that saw that baby grow and be killed for our sake.

The Words of the bible that no matter what may seem, that you here-knowing the Lord and the Lord knowing you: can leave here today come what may-staking your life upon in both this earthly life and the heavenly life to follow.

Praise be to the: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit: for we know that as Jesus was born for us in this world, in Baptism we have been born again into His world.

Just as we know that as He was raised again from death to life on this earth, so too will we be raised to life to forever live in His heavenly presence. Amen.

Amen.

How’s your Christmas?

Friday, December 25th, 2015

Christmas Day

Luke 2:8-20

 

giftsDear heavenly Father, even if our Christmas isn’t the way we would like it to be, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may rejoice in the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How’s your Christmas going so far?

Is everything the way you planned it, or have some things already ‘gone wrong’?

Just think back through all your preparations for today. You may have gone to some effort to buy presents for a number of people, which was hard enough in itself because you may have wanted to find just the right thing for someone who doesn’t really need anything anyway. Then you had to wrap everything up in pretty paper and you might have put on some ribbons and other fancy decorations.

You put up the Christmas tree with lots of blinking lights and shiny decorations, which takes a long time because you want it to look ‘just right’.

You’ve thought through the food for today: what you’re going to eat and how much to cook – probably more than enough! You might use a special tablecloth, bring out the finest dishes and cutlery, select some nice drinks, and decorate the table with bon-bons, party poppers, tinsel, and candles. Even now you might be thinking about what you need to do to make today special and ‘just right’.

You might have a list of people you want to contact today, maybe you have a strict schedule so that you can see as many people as possible, and you might have put on your best clothes, best shoes, and your best behaviour.

You’ve planned long and hard so that today will be ‘just right’, after all Christmas is such a special time of year.

But how do you feel if or when things go wrong today?

What if they don’t appreciate that present you took so much effort to get?

What if a cat or a child climbs the pretty Christmas tree and it falls down?

What if you burn the food or don’t get it all served up at the right temperature?

What if you’re involved in an argument with a member of your family or one of your guests?

What if you’re alone this Christmas?

What if one of your loved ones has died and you miss them?

What if your family is divided by conflict or misplaced love?

What if your Christmas involves a bedside vigil with a sick person?

What if you receive news of tragedy today?

Despite all your best laid plans for Christmas to be ‘just right’, sometimes you can be very disappointed.

Because of the pressures and expectations of having a Christmas filled with peace and joy and family and love and forgiveness and good food and generosity, and having everything ‘just right’, many people really struggle when things don’t go the way they planned. Unfortunately for many people, today can be one of the most disappointing or saddest days of the year because it won’t be ‘just right’.

For too many, things are far from being anywhere near ‘right’. This could be because they have unrealistic expectations of themselves or other people, or it could be because sometimes bad things happen that they hadn’t prepared for.

If you had planned Jesus’ birth, would things would have turned out the way they did?

So that Christmas was ‘just right’, you might have chosen good looking and famous people to be the parents of Jesus, maybe someone like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

You might have announced the impending birth in the papers and arranged lucrative media deals to televise the birth in a famous and well-equipped hospital. Jesus would have been surrounded with every luxury, including the softest cloth to wrap him in, a comfortable bed, peaceful music to soothe his cries, and surrounded him with sweet smells. You may have invited important and influential people to witness the birth, and arranged a special list of gifts which they could search the world for to give the Son of God: after all, everything has to be ‘just right’.

But would you have chosen poor people from a village, that no-one would think anything good could come out of, to be the parents of the Creator of the universe?

Would you have arranged for them to travel by foot to another town just before the child was to arrive?

Would you have booked out every hotel and home in the village so the only place they could give birth is in a place where animals lived? For those of you with animals, would you even consider letting anyone stay overnight in your dog kennel or chook house, let alone allow them to give birth in there?

Would you have ensured the only midwife available was the husband who couldn’t even call 000 for advice? The only music and smells would have come from the animals, the cloth might have been rough, and the first bed was a feeding trough!

Would you have announced the birth to some of the most disregarded and criticised people who live outdoors to look after sheep? Even if you did, would you have invited them to witness this historic occasion instead of inviting powerful and worthy dignitaries?

This doesn’t sound like a Christmas that’s gone to plan, yet according to God’s plan, everything’s just right!

Jesus came into our world where everything is far from OK. He came to save people who aren’t OK. In fact it’s because everything’s not OK that he came to save us.

Without Jesus things aren’t OK between us and God, just as things often aren’t OK with the world, our families, or our friends. Relationships break down, people have accidents, get sick, or die, and tragedy, human selfishness and greed often fills media reports.

Yet the sign given to the shepherds that their Lord and Saviour has come who’ll set everything right, is a baby wrapped up in poor clothing and lying in a feed trough.

This might challenge our Christmas where we might expect everything to be ‘just right’.

If we brought the Christmas story into our own time, imagine God not choosing to be born in powerful and busy cities like London, New York, or Sydney. Imagine him ignoring all these places and being born in an Aboriginal camp out in central Australia with flies and dust sticking to his face. Imagine him born among the warring and starving tribes of Africa, or among the broken homes and terrors of Afghanistan or Iraq.

God doesn’t always meet our expectations or logic. His justice is to show mercy and grant forgiveness. His salvation and eternal life comes through a cruel death on a cross. His adoption of us human beings as his children so that we might be his heirs comes through a splash of water combined with the power of speaking his name. He gives you his Son’s body and blood with all their benefits through his word, through faithfully accepting his promise and by eating a wafer of bread and drinking a sip of wine.

God seems to do things in an upside down way that constantly challenges our expectations. The Messiah wasn’t some privileged man born to wealthy or influential people, but God himself came into our world wrapped up in frail human skin and he relied on his parents for support and nourishment.

The greatest victory he won for us wasn’t in the healing miracles, the raising of people from the dead, or even feeding 5,000 hungry people with a few small fish and loaves of bread. His greatest victory was in his sacrificial death for sinful, unworthy, and all too often ungrateful human beings.

God’s plan of salvation might seem at odds with our own plans for a perfect Christmas, or for a life that is ‘just right’ where everything goes our way. We might measure success by happiness, prosperity, health, profits, peace and everything being ‘just right’, but God measures his success by lowliness, humbleness, brokenness, and death.

In the middle of our dark nights and days where we might struggle with the realities of chaos, tragedy, pain and suffering, God’s message of ‘Don’t be afraid’ breaks in to turn our world upside down. He wants us to see our lives as he sees them, where things are reversed. God takes on our lowliness, so that through faith we might become a child who belongs in heaven. He wants us to see the hope and salvation he gives us through his Son Jesus Christ, even though he might not be whom we expect, or even come to us in ways we didn’t anticipate.

This doesn’t mean that we need to go home and change all our plans for Christmas! We don’t need to deliberately upset everything so that we experience a ‘real’ Christmas where everything’s not ‘just right’.

May we all enjoy peace and happiness and good food and good company, and everything else we wish for, but if that doesn’t happen- don’t be afraid. Christmas is still Christmas even if everything seems to go wrong. If nothing else, it serves as a good reminder of God’s plan of salvation for a crazy, mixed up, muddled up world where we are the ones who have everything topsy-turvy.

Whether your Christmas is ‘just right’ or not, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come into the world as a human child to make all things new and right through his death and resurrection.

For this reason we sing with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Christmas is a busy time

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

Isaiah 9:2-7

 

giftsAs the word of the Lord came to the prophet Isaiah, Israel was going through a dark time. The northern kingdom had been conquered by the Assyrian king and his forces. Many of the people of Israel were deported and replaced with foreigners from the Assyrian kingdom. For many in Israel it must have been unthinkable that God would allow Israel to be conquered by a foreign, pagan power.

In these dark, depressed times God speaks a word of promise. A great light appears to people walking in darkness. It can be argued that we, too, walk in dark times. We live in a world at war with terrorism. We live under the threat of weapons of mass destruction. There is poverty and injustice experienced by millions. So many people are living in spiritual darkness. Things may be bad. But there is hope .God has not abandoned his people. He is about to act. He will send the Messiah-King into the world to rescue all people from sin and death.

The prophet Isaiah mentions the titles that Lord God will give to his Messiah-King. Wonderful Counsellor,  Mighty God,  Everlasting Father,  Prince of Peace. Let’s have a look at these titles, one by one.

Wonderful Counsellor

A lot of people turn to human counsellors these days. Counsellors listen to people express their fears, misgivings, needs. Counsellors discuss various courses of action with their clients. Counsellors encourage their clients to make and own their final decisions. Jesus is the Wonderful Counsellor. He knows the needs of every individual person. He is aware of the problems in people’s lives brought about by the sin disease. He knows the fears, troubles, disappointments experienced by people. From eternity God planned to send this Counsellor into the world. God laid out his plans and pointed to them in promises he made to the patriarchs and prophets. God promised that a Saviour would come into the world. These promises were fulfilled when  Jesus the Wonderful Counsellor arrived on the scene.

Mighty God

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us. That’s the great news that we share at Christmas. And this child is no ordinary child. He is true God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And yet he sets aside the power and glory that belong to him. He takes on the form of a human being. He is born in humble circumstances; he leads a holy life in obedience to God’s will; he suffers and dies on the cross to make payment for the sin and guilt of humanity; he rises from the dead and give eternal life to all who believe in him.   As we celebrate Christmas we see God showing might in the child in the manger at Bethlehem, in the man on the cross at Calvary, in the empty grave which once enclosed Jesus. Perhaps we might expect to hear the might of God in a big booming voice, to see God in the brimstone of fire and judgment. With the eye of faith, faith given by the Holy Spirit, you and I can confess that the child born in Bethlehem, is the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. We bow the knee before this Jesus and say with St Paul:

Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.
    (1 Timothy 3:16)

Everlasting Father

In the Book of Revelation we learn that John had a vision of Jesus. Jesus says: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 22:13) Jesus always was. The world and the universe has its origin in Jesus. In the Gospel St John states:  

He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.   (John 1: 3)

We take our purpose and meaning from Jesus who is one with the Father.

Prince of Peace

Jesus came into the world to establish peace between his Father and sinful human beings. He accomplished this not with the aid of guns and tanks, not by purchasing our freedom with economic wealth, but by his death on the cross. Because of all that Jesus did for us, we now have peace with God.

Suppose that someone hands you a Christmas present and says: I am giving you this because I love you. After taking off the bright wrappings you find in the parcel a book with a title about self-improvement, and though it may contain some good advice, you may or may not appreciate such a gift given the innuendo it may bring of your status before the gift giver.

But the great loving gift that God offers is peace. In fact, Jesus is the Prince of Peace, who offers true and lasting peace to people. Unfortunately, many people do not want the peace that Jesus gives. Once again, as we celebrate Christmas, we thank God for the wonderful peace that Jesus gives, a peace which the world cannot give or take away.

Christmas is a busy time. There is the constant rush of Christmas parties and end of year activities. But it’s wonderful to be able to gather with Christians at church and focus on what Christmas is all about. It’s good to hear again the message of God’s love to us in Jesus. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.  He is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The love, joy and peace of Jesus be with you. Amen.

“Tall poppy syndrome”

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Micah 5:2-4

 

If there is one thing we Australians are famous for, it’s chopping down anyone we consider to be getting just a bit too big for giftstheir boots. We tend to like everyone to be on a fairly level playing field and we don’t like people blowing their own trumpet or suggesting that they are a little better than someone else.

This “tall poppy syndrome” as it’s known, can be very unfair and even hurtful, but it can also produce some great humour as the following story shows:

An outback cattle station owner travelled to the big smoke for a holiday. Naturally, he drove down in the biggest vehicle he could find – a nice big Ford F250 Dual cab with a big V8 diesel motor and with all the bells and whistles. He was driving through the green dairy country in the hills just outside the city and he had to stop as the local dairy farmer’s cows crossed the road at milking time.

The cattleman called out to the dairy farmer, “How much land you got, mate?”

“Well,” the dairy farmer said, “my land runs all the way down there to those pines near the creek and right up to that line of gums on top of the ridge.”

“You know,” said the cattleman, “I’ve got a station in the outback, and I can get in my ute and drive all day without reaching any of my boundary lines.”

“Is that so?” said the dairy farmer. “I had a ute like that once.”

We don’t mind reminding people that we really are all the same and that no-one is better than anyone else in the overall scheme of things. I reckon that’s a good thing.

But at the same time, we still like to try to gain the upper hand over others. We can spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep people in their place – usually below us – especially if we have been a bit stirred up or angered by someone’s words or behaviour.

  • The boss lets us have it when he hasn’t bothered to hear our side of what really went on.
  • The kids try something on and we overreact by putting them in their place – maybe even unfairly.
  • A friend lets some confidential information circulate and we repay in kind.

We have a bit of trouble as Christians understanding God’s perspective on who we are, what’s important, what’s our place, what is of big importance in the Christian life and what is of small importance.

Sometimes we hold the exact opposite point of view to God. What we value as being big and small, important and unimportant, highly valued and of no great value seems to be a lot different to what he regards as important, big, small, valued and so on.

Today’s first reading really brings out how differently God sees us in his overall plan of bringing all things to their fulfilment. God chooses what seems small to us to accomplish big things through us.

The prophet Micah proclaims the birth of a new ruler for God’s people and the whole world: he will come from Bethlehem Ephrathah. Now Ephrathah is in the general vicinity of Bethlehem. Ephrathah was originally a small Judahite clan. So, this locality or suburb of Bethlehem was small and of no great importance or power in terms of politics, military status, arts and culture or great in by any other measure we might put on towns and suburbs. It certainly was no Tokyo, Sydney, New York, Paris or London.

Bethlehem is now almost a suburb of Jerusalem. It is only about 8kms from the centre of Jerusalem. So, here we have this little location with a name derived from the local family that have lived there for generations within a suburb of Bethlehem, which is hugely overshadowed by the big smoke next door. We are talking small, small town. We are talking no outward importance as far as society sees things.

But of course, we know that God has a different understanding and approach to what is important and unimportant; what is big and what is small. We know that by God’s promise to the prophet Samuel, a long time before the prophet Micah ever spoke and a long time before anything big happened in small Bethlehem, God made a choice about this little place. He told his prophet Samuel to go to this little town and find a king. From this little place and this little family among all the big and powerful families of the country, God had chosen a new king to replace Saul.

Samuel obeyed the Lord and went to Bethlehem to the family of Jesse. Jesse made his 10 sons walk past  Samuel so Samuel could find the one that the Lord had chosen to be King of the whole nation. There was one of Jesse’s sons missing that day. He was out in the paddock keeping the sheep. Samuel didn’t find God’s anointed king among the 10 big brothers. But when the youngest came in hot and sweaty from being out with the sheep all day, he was anointed to be king of Israel. His name was David and all of this happened in little Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16). Bethlehem became the birth-place of the King!

God chooses what seems small to accomplish his big things.

David became the greatest King, not in wealth, power or world status – his son Solomon really reached those pinnacles. David became King and was a “man after God’s own heart”. He sinned greatly but repented often and he put his trust in the Lord for his life. He wrote about it all in the psalms.

When those heady days of power and prestige ran out for the people of Israel, Bethlehem and indeed the whole nation of Israel were again nothing as far as the world was concerned. But again in the darkest days of God’s people, God chooses to do something big with something so small. He speaks another promise about little Bethlehem and this time God goes further than he did the first time he made a promise concerning Bethlehem.

Through Micah, God announces that there will come another King one day. He will be the ultimate King because he does not have his origins in a mere human family. He comes from of old, from ancient days (Micah 5:2).

He will be the one that the Lord spoke of way back in King David’s rule. God said through another of his prophets, the prophet Nathan, that one day there would be a king over Israel who will rule forever. God said to David that through this new king, not only God’s people would be blessed, but the whole world would be blessed because this new king – this new Messiah –  would rule over every power and nation.

All this from a little place of no particular importance to anyone!

God chooses what seems small to accomplish big things.

We will celebrate the coming of this extraordinarily BIG king who comes in a very normal, small way in a few days time. This ultimate Power and Life of the universe from ancient days has come into the world in the same way that we human, limited, finite, fragile people all came into the world. God keeps his promises for 1000 years and turns up in a way that is everything opposite to what we might want him to be.

Our God always has been on about doing his big things in and through small things and small people. Think of Moses – a reluctant leader. Think of the prophets; Elijah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah – all lived in weakness and powerlessness. Think of David – chosen so young. Think of Elizabeth and Mary – an elderly woman and a young girl who would be called “theotokos” (the bearer of God) by Christians for all generations!

Think of yourself. Where did you come from? What claim to God’s promises did you have? Why should he have chosen you to be a co-ruler with Christ in the world, for that is what you are in baptism? By what right of your own do sit at the Lord’s Table where you receive his love and grace and forgiveness in these ordinary looking but supernatural realities?

God chooses weak people, sinning people, blind people: all the “wrong” people to be with him. Praise the Lord!  Because of his “upside down” ways we have life and a future in his big work of gathering all the other big and small people into his family.

Because of this, our future as God’s community in this little corner of the earth is secure. God has not stopped working with clay vessels. He remains the shepherd who stands, protects and feeds us with his love, grace, peace and power; as he speaks his Word and gives us his own body and blood that was born in Bethlehem, crucified in Jerusalem and raised to glory.

Like the people of Micah’s day, we are to wait for his coming. Like a pregnant woman, we wait for the coming of our king – just like Elizabeth and Mary had to wait for their two children of promise.

But as they waited together, they and the children in their wombs leapt for joy at the good news God promised. “I am here and I am coming again and there will be lasting peace in your lives and in my world”.

We wait in the struggle with joy at the news we have heard and upon which we pin our lives, and we pray – Come soon, Lord Jesus, come soon.

Amen.

Keep your chin up

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Philippians 4:4-7

 

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always!gifts

Rejoice in the Lord always, even though you’re having a really bad day.

Rejoice in the Lord, even when you’re in pain, when you’re suffering, or when you’re sick.

Rejoice in the Lord always, even when you’re getting old and frail.”

“Be reasonable to everyone, even though family and friends attack you, criticise you and abandon you. Be gentle with all people, even though they are not gentle with you and backstab you. Be gentle with people even though they lie to your face.”

“Don’t be anxious, even though you probably haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet. Don’t be anxious about your crops and the lack of rain, or your limited finances, your wayward children, your selfish spouse, or your destructive community. Don’t be overly concerned about anything, even though you worry what the future might bring.”

“Be joyful, be reasonable with others, and don’t be anxious.”

Well, some people can live like this, but some of us find it hard to be always joyful, to be gentle at all times, and not worry about so many things.

In fact, even when things go right, we sometimes find it hard to rejoice. We struggle to be gentle or reasonable at home, let alone to others in our community. We worry about the smallest things that seem to blow out of all proportion in our minds.

Was Paul one of these annoying people that seem to always be happy, gentle and have no worries about anything? Is he expecting us to change our nature and be like him?

Sure, Paul was writing this letter from prison; sure he had been whipped and beaten to within an inch of his life; sure he was criticised by many people, including synagogue leaders; and sure he had close friends and family abandon him in times of need, but we all have problems of our own!

He may have been able to keep his chin up and keep smiling in all circumstances, but we can’t!

Why is it that we struggle with these things? Is there something wrong with Paul’s expectations, or is there something wrong with us?

Part of the problem is that we’re often focused on ourselves. We think we’re only truly happy when we get what we want. We can only be gentle with those who are first gentle with us. We’re only free of worries if everything goes our own way. Our sin makes us selfish and self-serving.

Our sinfulness blinds us so that we don’t see the blessings God gives us, even in the times of trouble and suffering. Perhaps we want revenge against people who treat us badly, instead of practicing peacemaking through forgiveness and gentleness. Maybe we don’t trust God will help us in our times of need and we figure it’s all up to us, so therefore we worry about how WE can fix things.

What can possibly help us get out of our gloomy outlooks, our selfish dealings with others, and our fretful lives?

Paul gives us a hint: we can always rejoice, be gentle, and not be anxious, because the Lord is near.

Because the Lord is near, we can rejoice even in the worst circumstances. Because the Lord is near, we can be gentle even with our enemies. Because the Lord is near, we have no need to be anxious.

It’s like we have been running a marathon. Our bodies ache and our minds have been telling us to give up for ages. Our vision has been blurred so that all we see is the few steps in front of us. But despite our aches and pains, we know the finish line is just up ahead. Where we come in the race doesn’t matter, but we’re filled with joy to know the race is almost finished. Relief and rescue is in sight.

But it’s more than that.

This isn’t just the relief from knowing the end is in sight, but that our Saviour and rescuer is near. Sure the end is coming, that time when the Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead, but we also know Jesus promises to always be near us.

He’s the one who’s been jogging alongside us the whole marathon, going through the same temptations, and the same pain. He’s the one who picks us up when we fall. He’s the one who bore the abuse against us, and took the worst scars. He’s the one who heals our wounds. When we’ve mistakenly gone down the wrong path, he’s followed us and called us to turn around and join the race again. When we’ve felt like giving up, he’s the one who encouraged us with his words and his refreshing provisions. He’s the one who constantly reminded us to keep calling on him and telling him our needs, to let him shoulder our pain, our frustrations, our sicknesses and our worries.

When we’re overly concerned about our problems, about people around us, or about our situation in life, he encourages us to take our needs to him in prayer. If we keep all our problems and worries to ourselves, they grow and multiply and threaten to take all the joy out of our lives. In this sense, worry is like a virus that takes away all our reasons to rejoice. The antidote for worry and anxiousness is prayer.

We can’t ‘think’ our worries away through wishful or positive thinking, but when we bring them before God in prayer, he gives us his peace. Notice it’s HIS peace he gives us, which is far better than any calmness we could ever achieve by our own reasoning.

Then, as our worries are taken away and God grants us his peace, joy can start growing in our life again. Our focus has been shifted away from our own troubles and problems so that we may look to Jesus Christ. Then we have reason for joy and thankfulness because of what God has done for us through Jesus.

Outward circumstances do not and should not determine the condition of our hearts. Even when everything around us is dark and gloomy, we can be joyful within.

We can be joyful because of our oneness with Christ. Even when we feel alone and isolated, we can rejoice in our unity with our Triune God.

We can be joyful because of our forgiveness through Christ. Sure other people may still not forgive us, they may still hold a grudge against us, and they may still continue to attack us, but as we stand in front of God, our conscience is clear through the forgiveness of our sins.

We can be joyful because of the nearness of Christ himself. He never abandons us or attacks us. He supplies all our needs. He lifts us up when we’ve fallen. He gives us the strength to endure our times of trial and suffering, and he even heals us. He answers our prayers for ourselves, the ones we love, and our petitions for the needs of the world. Christ gives us his peace.

Then, like a sentry, the peace from God will guard our hearts. It’s like we’ve a company of peace soldiers or angels surrounding us whose sole purpose is to protect and guard us.

As we confront all the temptations and trials of this life, we can be sure Jesus is near, which brings us joy. Through the peace and forgiveness from Christ, we can be gentle with all people, including our enemies. Through prayer, all our anxiousness is taken away and thankfulness joins with our reasons for joy.

For the foundation of our joy, is the nearness of Jesus Christ.

The foundation of our gentle dealing with all people, no matter how they treat us, is Jesus Christ.

The foundation of our freedom from anxiety, is prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.

The foundation of peace is Jesus Christ…

Amen.

Coming in from the Desert

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

Luke 3:1-6

 

giftsJohn – out in the desert – was in the great tradition of the Hebrew prophets. And here, we see him aware that the time was upon Him to fulfil the destiny given to him right from his conception when still in his mother’s womb, he first encountered a baby to be called Jesus being carried within his Aunt Mary’s womb.

So, in responding to a calling from God he came in from the wilderness and began to preach a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Luke names a list of rulers who probably wouldn’t have been happy with this scruffy looking prophet from the desert coming to the people and trying to put things right, especially if they thought that the one who was coming would take over their leadership from them.

Yet he came proclaiming boldly, “to prepare the way of the Lord; to make his paths straight”, this is the message of the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist is here to put it into practice.  Times are about to change people, hear ye, hear ye!  The mountains are about to move, the whole landscape will change, crooked will become straight and rough will become smooth.  But most importantly, all flesh will see the salvation of God.

Bold statements that saw the people distracted with superficial things come out from Jerusalem to see him. They were intrigued by this strange phenomenon of a wild man preaching repentance. They were fascinated by surface level things like his camel hair suit, wild hair-do and homemade leather belt and his fiery and passionate message of challenge. They wanted to interview him and then tell all their friends about their remarkable experience. “Who are you?” they asked. His answer was short and to the point: “I am not the Christ.” “Are you Elijah?” “No!” “Then who are you?” they persisted and though they had their doubts about who he was, his message to their ears was clear: Repent.

Repent at Christmas? Isn’t that the message of Lent, when we hear of all that torture, blood and suffering of this Jesus to whom John was a sign? But not at Christmas! Christmas is nice. Christmas is about a cute little baby and carols and presents and food and shopping!

Yes, repent approaching Christmas. John calls us to approach Christmas with honesty and openness to the Word of God. He calls us to repent our way to a merry Christmas.

Advent means “coming” and it requires a thoughtful and reflective approach to the coming of God into our humanity; with all our muck, sin and death. We prepare for Christmas by repenting. Repenting for John is more than having a change of heart or a feeling of regret. It is more than a New Year’s Eve resolution. Repentance is a turning away from ourselves, and in simple trust and faith in God’s grace, turning back to him.

Advent marks the start of a new church year, and it is customary at the start of any year to reflect on the past, look at the present and contemplate the future. We find ourselves reflecting on what God has been up to and what he will do in the future. In tough times when we feel a bit alone, it is pretty easy to start to worry about our future and feel as though we have to make everything happen by ourselves, without God!  Then there is always all those things we see and hear on TV these days – so much fear and terror. So many tragedies, so much suffering.

But into this comes this fiery witness – John. He calls us away from our worries and puts our life into perspective – God’s perspective. He displays God’s passion to have us back with him. John shows God’s deep concern for us and points us sinners to the medicine for our disease – the antidote to our worry, the security for our future – Jesus.

Each of us is invited to come to Jesus one-on-one. John says prepare for the advent – the coming – of Jesus. We can’t rely on our pedigree as a dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran or an extra special member of this parish. There is no room for pleading ignorance concerning God’s call to come clean with him and repent. No, there is only room in our hearts for the grace of Jesus –that’s what it’s all about.

For us Christians, there is a lifetime of living that comes from this grace that fills our hearts. We are called by the Lord through John to reflect on what we do with the Lord’s grace and love.

Consider the following….

  • If you have food in the fridge, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of people in the world.
  • If you have money in the bank, in your wallet/purse and spare change in a jar somewhere, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
  • If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are doing better than the 1 million who will not survive the week.
  • If you have never experienced the danger of battle, loneliness of imprisonment, agony of torture or pangs of starving, you are ahead of 500 million people.
  • If you can attend a Christian church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death, you are more blessed than 3 billion people.

Sobering facts that see us hearing the voice of John more as the God fearing Jews coming out from the Holy temples of Jerusalem than the wondering “un-godly, unknowing” gentiles

So, is it time for us to do a similar thing. To hear his message from the wilderness and repent, I think so. Just as it is also the time that we take his message with us into the wilderness knowing of the need to call the world to repentance and make the way straight for the coming of the kingdom of God?

Many would say that we now live in a post-Christian society, that our society has become more secular than Christian or in some parts of the world other faiths have taken precedent.  Perhaps the world view right now is not so different from the time of John the Baptist, with everyone looking out for themselves and building their own kingdoms, trying to take what is someone else’s for their own benefit.

We could also say in some ways that the those of us who would call ourselves a part of the kingdom of God, the church, aren’t that different to the rest of society.  We are distracted by the need to get ahead, to have all the right ‘toys’ in our houses, garages and driveways, we work too hard to have time to play, we focus on our own needs instead of the needs of others and building the kingdom of God is fairly low on the agenda for a fair majority of us.  So yes, John’s message is for us too, and especially during this Advent season as we journey along the path to Christmas.

And maybe as we go, we can share our hope, our vision and our faith with those around us by becoming quiet and caring prophets as we through our actions make the path just that little bit smoother for others to see the salvation of God as well.

Amen.

Post message reflection partly based on the writings of Duke Ellington

Imagine weaving your way through an ancient crowded marketplace. Pots are clanging, merchants are squabbling and a donkeys are braying as they wait to be unloaded. Your sandals scrape on cobblestone. Someone carrying an arm load of palm branches brushes quickly past you, knocking you to the ground. “Sorry!” he shouts without looking back. “I’ve got to be there when he comes!” You rise and taste the blood on your upper lip. Oth­ers are scurrying by—some with little children in their arms, some hand in hand with their lovers, one with no hand at all. A man with a withered leg hobbles up and pauses to catch his breath. “Why is everyone in such a hurry?” you ask. “It’s the healer!” he grins through three crooked teeth. “He’s coming this way.” You decide to follow. A dozen ornately clad religious teachers push briskly past. One seems excited. The others appear annoyed. “He is a great rabbi!” brags the one. “We’ll see about that!” scowl the others. You approach the gate and the crowd begins to cheer. They lift their palm branches high, like a thousand fans for a pharaoh. “Hosanna!” they shout as a wave of excitement fills the air. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven! Glory in the highest heaven!” You strain to see what is happening, looking for a warhorse, a chariot or a god. What are they waiting for? Whom are they cheering? A king? A healer? A general? And then you see him—the man on a donkey. Crowds are parting to let him pass—this strange and welcomed visitor. Not a king. Not a general. No person of prestige or power. A simple man on a donkey, with power to rivet the crowds. The religious teach­ers march up and order him to silence the masses. You press closer and see Him looking at the broken, hungry, oppressed and lost people, and then from His heavy eyes you see a single tear drop and wonder of such a man being honored so greatly, yet so greatly honors those before Him.  . (Pause) In a moment, you are transported to the streets of your town. Crowds are scurrying. Tinsel is glittering. A tiny speaker is blaring, “Here comes Santa Claus,” above a plastic Christmas tree. You look up, half expecting to see the man on the donkey, but all that greets your sight is a mass of anxious people, a blur of bustling crowds. Credit cards flash. Tills ring. Bright wrapping paper is bound with bows but no one is speaking—no one. They all seem in such a hurry, but no one says a word. So silent about the king whose name alone bears witness to the approaching holly day. Holy day. Holiday. There is nothing said about the healer, the teacher, the king—no praises, no whispers, no words.

Then suddenly you hear those words mentioned by the veterans on that one day of the year when they once again march united, and come to understand the power and hope of those words said for their fallen comrades through the trust of what awaited them because of the one man who defeated death that life become eternal:

The tumult and the shouting dies—
The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

As we celebrate Advent-the coming of our Lord Jesus, we again see our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the Son of God look toward the broken, hungry, oppressed and lost people. And look toward us and ask that we bring before Him our needs and the needs of our world. Bring before Him our fears, and the fears of the people that all will see and know the hope that is He. Amen