Archive for December, 2018

1st Sunday after Christmas

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

Luke:2 41-52 Mary’s Treasure

Mary treasured all these things in her heart. This is a saying we hear often in the Gospel according to Luke. Mary kept and pondered all that happened in the core of her being! She remembered what happened and meditated on the events of Jesus’ life.Thanks to Mary we have Luke’s Gospel account. In his account we find the most extensive recollection of Jesus’ birth narrative. It is most likely that Luke, the gentile physician and friend of Saint Paul, recorded the events of Jesus’ birth, life, and death personally from Mary.

 This is why in the Gospel of Luke we find this personal reference to Marypondering all these happenings in her heart.We might understand why a mother might ponder the actions of her child. Yet while she treasured the events, she still didn’t understand why Jesus remained in the temple in Jerusalem and did not travel home with them. Nor did she understand why he said he said, “I had to be in my Father’s house?”Nevertheless, Mary pondered all that had happened before her. She remembered, the spectacular way in which she conceived Jesus by the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit announced through Gabriel, the archangel.Mary mused over her visit to Elizabeth, her relative, very pregnant with John the Baptist who jumped for joy at her arrival carrying the Christ child. She would have wondered about the awkward trip on the donkey to Bethlehem and the hassle of giving birth in an environment not really fit for a baby in which to be born. And she contemplated the visit of the shepherds and their excitement over finding this baby Jesus lying in the manger.In the Lutheran Church, at times other then Christmas, Mary tends to get shunned in fear we might elevate her to the point were we worship and deify her to the same level as Jesus Christ. However, Mary is a person to whom we can look as a model of what it is to ponder, to treasure, and to honour Jesus Christ.Mary not only bore the Son of God, but Luke uses her recollection and treasuring as the basis of his Gospel birth narrative. And similarly we can use Luke’s testimony, to gain an understanding from the mother of Christ, of what it is to be one who looks out of ourselves to Christ — pondering, treasuring, contemplating, and musing over he who once was concealed in Mary’s womb, but now who is hidden by faith in all who believe in him for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.Unfortunately though, Christmas for our society today has become one of self-centred contemplation. The gifts we receive don’t regularly encourage us to look out of ourselves at all, let alone to worship and honour Christ. Rather our earthly gifts will us to look towards the glorification of ourselves.From a very early age children see Christmas as a “what am I going to get” exercise. Yes, we give, but truth be known, getting gives all of us at least just a little bit more of a sense of warmth. Or, when we give great to someone and they return the giving with a lesser gift, there is a part inside of us that remembers the inequality.Mary too could have bore a grudge against God the Father, her situation, her twelve year old Son staying behind in Jerusalem, and humanity, at her Son’s death on the cross, and ascension into heaven after his resurrection. She could have cried out as the victim! Used by God; losing the company of her Son at the age of thirty three!Perhaps she did in the early days just after his crucifixion! But we’re not to know as the Scriptures report little of her emotion and thoughts after his death. What we do know is while Jesus was alive and conducting his ministry in the lead up to his crucifixion, his family thought he was out of his mind and sought to take charge of him. However, in time Mary and her family, look to her son and their brother, as the Son of God from eternity. They worked and served the church, privileged to be such a special part of God’s plan of salvation for humanity.When Jesus was approached and told his mother and brothers had come to see him, he responded, “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother!” (Mark 3: 34-35) “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s Word and put it into practice.” (Luke 8:21)We like Mary and her family should also be growing in the love of God too. As God continually reveals himself to us, as a God of forgiveness. Despite the nature of our sinful being, we, his brothers and sisters, can treasure, ponder, contemplate, and meditate on just how much he does for us. Especially as he sends the Holy Spirit to you and opens the eye of faith in your heart so you see, the holy Child of God, and, the Son of Mary, dwells in you in all his glory.The gifts we received or the ones we thought we should have received. The ones which lead us to place ourselves at the centre, despite their inability to deliver into eternal life, because they are doomed to deterioration! They can be put aside in favour of a gift that we can worship and honour. And this gift will give us lasting peace and good will greater than the peace and goodwill we are supposed to find in the chaotic commercial lead up and Boxing Day sales of Christmas.This gift doesn’t deem that we do anything to give us an emotional lift, or a sense of goodness or peace! Rather this gift encourages us to rest and trust in Christ, by trusting and remaining, or just being, in he who forgives and feeds us faith. Jesus can give you the gift of serving others with forgiveness and love, while still being able to focus solely on him and give him the glory for the work he does in and through you!And in the spirit that Mary treasured Jesus in her heart, privileged to be a part of God’s redemption of humanity, you too are encouraged by Paul in his letter to the Colossians to meditate and muse over Jesus Christ as he uses you also to reflect his light on those in our world who still live in darkness. As he says…Since… you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, and not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.Amen (Colossians 3:1-3, 12-17)

Pastor Heath Pukallus 

Christmas Eve 2018

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

Isaiah 9:6-7

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is give. That child is Jesus, the son of the living God. Joy to the world, rejoice! This child who came all those years ago is the Prince of peace, The mighty, heroic God, wonderful counsellor. In Him is gladness, in spite of our sadness. Born that humans no more may die. About 30yrs after the events we are remembering tonight He declared, ‘repent and believe the Good News, the Kingdom of Heaven is near!’ (Mark 1:15). His kingdom of peace, justice and righteousness that lasts forever.

This is the reason for Mary’s great joy, the excitement of the shepherds and the singing of the angels all those years ago. The one to come had come. You, like the Israelites before you, struggle and suffer in this corrupt world. There are natural disasters, like the drought, there are people who see you as just another obstacle, there is death and the deterioration of your bodies, and there is your own selfish/sinful desires that destroy good steering you away from God the righteous. Here in the life of this world we are dying, enslaved to our evil desires. We need help! Jesus, The Lord, saves, bringing us into His wonderful peace and righteousness, rescuing us from the evils of this world and cleansing us from all sin. So we rejoice and celebrate thanking God for the marvel that He has done, taking on human form and living among His people; relating to us as we do to each other rather than the fire and blazing light that He revealed through the Old Testament. Now, in Christ through Baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can approach God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and ask Him for help because of His great love, mercy and zeal.

God keeps His promises, and thank God for that! He promised a son would be born, who would bring His kingdom to this world, and in Jesus He has done it! Thanks be to God! Now, you have some peace and assurance in Jesus, so continue to ask Him for all the help you need and rejoice when He gives it.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come. Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns. No more let sins and sorrows grow For He rules the world with truth and grace. And may His peace protect you now and forever. Amen.

Rev. Joseph Graham.

Christmas Day 2018

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

John 1:4-5

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

            Merry Christmas! And Thanks be to God! The celebration is here, all that waiting is over and we remember the reason for the season; The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. A bit of a different way to say Jesus was born of Mary, but true none the less. We’ve heard the fuller stories of Jesus’ birth from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, but John’s Gospel manages to summarise who Jesus is and all that will happen from well, I suppose creation, but more specifically Jesus’ life death and resurrection. The Word, God, life, light, came into the world, was rejected by His creation but not overcome, then there are those who do believe and are now children of God. Jesus came, and because of Him you have life and light in Jesus. You are saved.

            Of course this is why we are celebrating. A child is born, a son is given. This is why we’ve received presents either last night or this morning, Jesus was born in the night as the angels and shepherds show so that’s the best time, but … regardless just as God Almighty, Father in Heaven, sent and gave His son to you, the world, we share in giving gifts and receiving them with thanksgiving. But what is so special about this gift to the world, why do we set aside up to 12 days to celebrate it, from now to Epiphany? And why might it feel like John is speaking over our heads?

            The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John calls Jesus, the true light coming into the world. This is not to confuse us but rather to help us understand what Jesus has done for you and for the whole world. God is light, so evil the opposite of God, is darkness (1 John 1). We know what a dark action is, it’s anything you’ve done that you would rather keep hidden; not like a present, more like the stolen snack or the lies you tell. A simple question, at night what happens to the darkness when you turn on the light? … It disappears. Gone. The darkness doesn’t put out the candle, or short circuit the bulb. It is destroyed. Jesus removes evil. And what wonderful things does this mean for you?

            This whole world was made through Jesus, The Word of God, but we did not know Him, or receive Him. We all here are born from this world. Yes, created by God, but unfortunately, along with this whole world, corrupted and darkened by sin, selfishness, evil and death. We might have noticed, we don’t need to teach kids to be jealous, but rather they need to be taught to share. Humans are sinful from birth, rejecting God’s ways in favour of our own. But by God’s grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit in baptism, you are one of those who have received Jesus, and you will receive again The true light, full everlasting life, in the mystery of Holy Communion. Thank the Lord! Jesus, like light, chases away your darkness and brings you His life. He forgives you all your evil and will continue to comfort you in your suffering until the time comes when you enter His eternal, royal glory. Without Jesus there is only darkness, death and deception; ask most any adult convert if they would like to go back to their previous life.

            To reject the peace and joy we have in God and His gracious gifts for your ultimate good might seem like a foolish thing, especially for those who remember their life outside of the light of Christ. Yes, for us in His light of truth it might not seem all butterflies and flowers all the time, we suffer because of our faith and trust in the truth both from outside ourselves and within. Look at the one we are following, Jesus our Lifegiver, He suffered more in this world than anyone I know, sweating like blood before the day of His crucifixion, pleading with God The Father but still holding true to the truth to be lifted up like a light for all of us, defeating darkness and destroying death a few days later. In His light we have no fear of the dark powers of sin or death, because they are destroyed by Jesus. And Thank God for that!

We know the truth, we see it, we live it. The baby born, struggling through life, rejected by this dark world, but finally victorious over sin and death, saving all those who believe Him, the children of God, and will at the end shine bright, revealing all for what it truly is and finally destroying darkness, bringing eternal peace, joy and life.

Thanks be to God! And may His peace guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the baby born today, your saviour. Amen.

Rev. Joseph Graham

4th Sunday of Advent

Saturday, December 22nd, 2018

Luke 1:42-45

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

So close to the celebration now, we’ve been waiting for 3 weeks. It’s almost here, He’s in Mary’s womb, but still we wait. This waiting for God’s word to be fulfilled is something people have done almost from creation on, they were waiting, we’ve been waiting, and here Mary and Elizabeth are both waiting. Waiting for the coming of their Lord and ours. Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, anointed one; the one who would save the Israelites and bring salvation and joy to all the world, peace to those favoured. But Elizabeth and Mary don’t just feel anticipation for the wonders to come, they’re thankful. Even John in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy with the Holy Spirit. They all wonder and marvel at what God has put into motion, what He has done and will do.

This is the last Sunday of Advent, the first season of our church year. And if you’ve kept track at home, you’ll notice that the church year is a very helpful tool for teaching the faith. We start the Christian year with Advent, then Christmas, Epiphany, Transfiguration, focussing on who Jesus is; God, man, and Saviour of both Jews and gentiles. That is why, while we wait, we can still celebrate, together with the blessed virgin Mary, Elizabeth and her unborn child. We know who Jesus is, even though He hadn’t really done much at this point, not even born yet.

But why celebrate before anything has happened? We don’t have a house warming party before we’ve moved, or celebrate someone’s retirement before they’ve finished school. That’s ridiculous. You have to wait until after the thing has happened before you party. However, if I promise you you’re favourite food, if I promise my wife an overseas trip, if we are promised something from someone we trust we thank them for it and our thanks reflects our trust and the magnitude of the gracious promise.

Now God Almighty promised His suffering, crushed and dispersed people salvation from all those evils. Time and again The Lord promised that He would come, to save and heal them, to be their holy, just and righteous king, to restore their relationship to Him, to bring them complete peace, joy, comfort, even everlasting life (Ezekiel 34:11-16; Isaiah 57:14-19; Daniel 12:2). And just before today’s text Mary heard God’s word, that she would be the one to bear the Messiah, the one to come, God Himself (Luke 1:31-33). Highly favoured, greatly graced, Mary surely is, the mother of God her saviour! I can not imagine how amazing and wonderful it would be to be told by God that I would be the one to bear my saviour. For a few reasons, one of which I am not a woman. But even to be told that you would raise Him who would bring blessing and peace to you and the whole wide world, like Joseph all those years ago, how would you react? If God just sent an angel to me would be wonderful enough, but Mary would be to one to bear her own Lord. Elizabeth by the Holy Spirit says, Blessed are you among women, and calls Mary the ‘mother of my Lord’! Thanks be to God!

Mary trusted God, believed His wonderful promise, but still asked how this could be. And God in His marvellous grace shows her that none of His words will fail, pointing her to something she could grasp, much like Baptism or Holy Communion for us; that her barren relative now was pregnant (Luke 1:36-37). And so we come to our text, Mary rejoices in her waiting, she knows that God will fulfil His words, His wonderful promises; Elizabeth, filled by the Holy Spirit in her humility wonders at God’s grace; Even the unborn John, later ‘the baptist’, leaps for joy in the womb. Waiting yes, but also wonder joy and praising God, Lord of all. And in the same way we can praise God for His mighty power to save all people from our own selfishness and evil and even from death, and we can thank Him, Father Son and Spirit, for who they are and what they will do for you at the end of time.

Blest, happy and joyous are you who have believed that the Lord fulfils all His promises to you.Amen.

Rev. Joseph Graham

3rd Sunday in Advent

Saturday, December 15th, 2018

Philippians 4:4
16/12/2018

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice!

Rejoice! This building was built 40yrs ago for God’s people and dedicated to the glory of Jesus Christ, not only that, but also His people have been here all those 40yrs. And Thank God for that! We are celebrating 40yrs of God’s grace to His people from this building by His marvellous Words and His mysterious Sacraments. That is a wonderful thing, but what about know? What is God doing here, will this building be here in another 40yrs? What has happened to all those people who grew up here, were baptised here in this building? Where is the future of this building and what is the future of our congregation?

This congregation, St Mark’s, this parish is not growing. It’s seen times when there were many more people here than there are now, some have died in Christ and now know that hope which we all have as followers of Christ, some have moved for work or family to other congregations in our LCA, some have given up on the faith and others have left for other reasons. This congregation is struggling, and some might say it is even dying.

Maybe you too are feeling that struggle in your own life and are looking for answers. Where can we look to for help? To Jesus Christ and God our Heavenly Father through the strength of the Holy Spirit. Here in His Word we hear from Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Another person just like anyone of us, saved by Christ, but also struggling with sin and the evil of this world. Now he wants to see the Philippians, but as this letter is written, he can’t; Paul is in prison in Rome where he would eventually be killed (Philippians 1:7-14). He struggled much in his life after seeing Jesus, rejected by the Jews, his people, beaten, imprisoned, stoned even. He was struggling, coming closer and closer to death. But he does not despair.

He knows something. He knows what Jesus has done for him and for you. That He has come down to our level to take care of everything that ultimately threatens us, to take your sin away, to give you life vastly stronger than death, to free you from Satan his lies and accusations, and to restore your relationship with God Almighty your heavenly Father in Christ. Paul also knew that all the things he could do, all the good, are as nothing compared to the brilliant, wonderful and utterly amazing knowledge of Jesus Christ the Lord (Philippians 3:7-8). Compared to all those things that God has given us through Jesus and for the sake of His ministry, His suffering, death and resurrection. That we are now righteous and holy, not of ourselves but of God, that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul knew the power of the resurrection, life eternal, forgiveness and freedom in Christ, and also he shared Jesus Christ’s suffering in this world. Paul knew that God Almighty was by his side and throughout everything that happened to him, he let his requests be made known to God by prayer with thanksgiving. He held fast to the joy we all have in Christ Jesus.

Our present sufferings are nothing compared to the joy of Jesus that will be revealed in us in the end (Romans 8:18-24). That joy and peace that we celebrate with the first coming of Jesus as a baby, that wonder that Mary knew when the shepherds came praising God in her child, then the wise men with their gifts, that experience that many of you have had perhaps through answered prayer or studying and thinking on the scriptures, even receiving forgiveness at the absolution or through Christ’s body and blood. Thank God that we can experience His love and mercy today. But even those wonderful and comforting times are just a foretaste of the things to come. And thank God that He has given us such a marvellous hope.

Your heavenly Father, God Almighty, has promised you that He can and will raise you from death into new eternal life in Jesus. Thank the Lord. He has given and sustained this congregation through the years with this building. Again thank the Lord of Heaven. When you are struggling He hears your cries for help, He will not abandon you but He will get you through. Thanks be to God. For all that He has done for you, give Him thanks. But not only that, continue to give thanks to Him and to rely on Him in the good times and the bad, because He loves you and will continue to walk alongside you. And don’t just thank Him for the good things that happen to you, thank Him and rejoice in everything just like Paul, be content (Philippians 4:11-13). Thank Him for the suffering you experience in this life, in it you are following Jesus; and thank Him for all the challenges and difficulties, they are more opportunities to rely on God’s strength and shine Christ’s light into this weary world. You have all that you need in Christ already, you are forgiven, you have eternal life, you are free from the power of sin and death. Thank God.

This isn’t a command, as if you must say ‘thank God’ 10 times a day and then you will get blessings and salvation. But rather I’m encouraging you and reminding you with Jesus’s words through Paul, that there is nothing to worry about, you don’t need to be pulled in all sorts of directions, to be anxious (Philippians 4:6). Paul is giving you some great wisdom here, to recognise that you have all you need, that God Almighty, your Heavenly Father, has given it to you; just like Christ giving you His body and blood through the pastor and the bread and wine. And this doesn’t mean that we just give up on life because we have all we need, rather in our thanksgiving we can respond to God’s love, and do what is pure, honourable, just, lovely, commendable and excellent (Philippians 4:8-10). Rejoice in the Lord always, as Paul writes earlier, to say the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you (Philippians 3:1). Rejoice that you have your congregation, Rejoice that you live where you do, Rejoice that you have family, Rejoice that you know the people you do, yes even that person, Rejoice that you are in pain, Rejoice that this world is against you, even sometimes your own body, Rejoice that you have all these opportunities to practise what you believe, to rely on God’s strength and not your own. And Rejoice that Jesus saves and sustains you, that in the end in Christ we will be free from all the evil and sin and corruption, and with thanksgiving continually ask Him for help. I know I need it, and I know He will give it. Amen

Rev. Joseph Graham

2nd Sunday of Advent

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

Malachi 3:3

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold or silver so they may approach The LORD and offer in righteousness.

            Here we are in Advent, lighting candles and in part remembering that Jesus is the light of the world and we don’t light candles to keep them hidden. The candle gives light and a little warmth especially when it is dark and cold at night, candles are good things to have in blackouts. But, as many of you may have found out, perhaps from showing others how tough you were and holding your hand in the flame gathering soot, candles burn. That hurts, and we don’t like it.

Fire, the flame of the candle, the stove or the bushfire. These can be good and life sustaining, or they can burn and destroy anything that is flammable. A dangerous but beneficial thing that God has created. And here we hear that His messenger is like the fire that melts and purifies gold and silver, removing the dross and rubbish from the precious metal. Though instead of purifying precious metals, this messenger is prophesied to purify and refine the sons of Levi, the priestly tribe in Israel, to make them righteous and to restore the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the place they were called to be, by God’s side.

But who is Malachi speaking of? Who is this messenger? Well, is a bit of a funny question because in this short section we have two messengers, the first who would prepare the way and the second messenger of the covenant. The first messenger we can read about in the first chapter of Mark and we also hear this prophecy quoted in Matthew 11 and Luke chapter 7 (Mark 1:2; Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:27). That messenger is John the Baptist, who preached that all needed to turn from evil and turn back to the one true Lord God. The second messenger, the one of the covenant, would then be Jesus Christ Himself. It is He who brings us the New Covenant in His blood through Holy Communion and tells us of the complete promises of God, eternal life and forgiveness for those who trust Him (Luke 22:20; John 3: 16-21). And then, it is Jesus who is like a refiner’s fire and a cleaner’s bleach.

Jesus came, the light of the world, the resurrection and the life, the Word of God. He came and building on John’s preparation, proclaimed ‘repent and believe the good news!’ Turn away from your dark way of living and turn to the light of Christ.

But this isn’t an easy thing to do, to reject those desires that come from within ourselves, to reject the independence, selfishness and pride in yourself glorified by our culture, instead relying on God and doing all things for His glory not our own. Being a Christian, it seems in this day and age, means that society sees us as fools, weak, stupid and even hateful. We who want the absolute best for all the people God created are almost routinely called bigots for trying to spread that ‘wicked’ truth of God’s forgiveness, peace, hope and love for all. And though this is not easy, these people can only destroy our bodies, not our souls. And as Jesus tells us we should rather fear the one who destroys both body and soul, God Almighty. This is the truly difficult challenge, God’s truthful Word tells all people that everyone of us rejects God’s authority, His love and His help. It might be as simple as eating that chocolate you promised to your child so that you can pleasure yourself, as obvious as insisting that the church carpet remains the same to honour yourself, or as grievous as wishing death on someone who you’ve grown to hate. Many of the ways we reject God, we don’t even notice we’re doing it and if all the things you’ve done were tallied up, Godly on one side and questionable on the other, and not just what you’ve done, but also what you’ve said, what you’ve thought and even what you’ve had a passing desire to do; if all this was tallied up and God, who knows the truth, is to judge your life, how sure are you that you’ve been perfect? That is why Jesus is like a dangerous and harmful fire and why Malachi says, ‘who can endure the day He comes?’

However, the fire of Jesus only destroys evil and lies. He will purify the priesthood so that they will approach God Almighty’s throne without terror. Zechariah says, He will refine them by fire and they will be His people and they will call Him the Lord our God (Zechariah 13:9). And Peter writes that you are the royal priesthood, the holy nation; once you were not but now you are God’s people and receive His great mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10). Jesus came to bring you relief, not terror, forgiveness not condemnation and eternal life not death. And it is in Jesus by the Holy Spirit that we are being purified and made holy. It is not a painless thing as we live with God Himself and also alongside sin, we feel that guilt, harm even disgust or hatred at our own sinful and selfish actions and desires. That is God’s holy light burning away our sin and evil. But also we know that when we die and see Jesus as He truly is, or when Jesus finally reveals Himself to all, the light of Christ will destroy all our sinfulness and we will be free to live in peace with God for all eternity.

And that peace which passes all our understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham

First Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

Text: Luke 21:27,28,36

Then the Son of Man will appear, coming in a cloud with great power and glory.  When these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your salvation is near.

Jesus is coming

Being prepared is really important. Whether talking about preparing for an exam, a trip overseas or a dinner party. The 19th-century explorer, Sir John Franklin, led an expedition that tried to reach the North Pole. Consider how prepared he was for that journey:

“Each sailing vessel carried an auxiliary steam engine and a 12-day supply of coal for the entire projected 2 or 3 year voyage. Instead of additional coal…each ship made room for a 1,200-volume library, a hand-organ playing 50 tunes, china place settings for officers and men, cut-glass wine goblets, and sterling silver cutlery. The expedition carried no special clothing for the Arctic, only the uniforms of Her Majesty’s Navy.” (1)

Imagine heading into the frigid wastelands of the North Pole with supplies like that! These explorers were totally unprepared for what they were about to face.

Today is the beginning of the Advent season, a time of anticipation, a time of getting ready for the arrival of someone important. Jesus will come back again, as out text reminds us – “the Son of Man will appear, coming in a cloud with great power and glory”.

The Advent season reminds us through the words of Jesus and people like John the Baptist, Paul and the Old Testament prophets that we should always be prepared for Jesus’ return because we don’t know exactly when this will take place. His reappearance will catch many people unprepared just as a thief comes during the night when the owners of the house are sleeping and unprepared for his unexpected arrival.

There was once a spider who lived in a cornfield. He was a big spider and he had spun a beautiful web between the corn stalks. He got fat eating all the bugs that would get caught in his web. He liked his home and planned to stay there for the rest of his life.

One day the spider caught a little bug in his web, and just as the spider was about to eat him, the bug said,
“If you let me go I will tell you something important that will save your life.”

The spider paused for a moment and listened because he was amused.
“You better get out of this cornfield,” the little bug said, “The harvest is coming!”

The spider smiled and said, “What is this harvest you are talking about? I think you are just telling me a story.”

But the little bug said, “Oh no, it is true. The owner of this field is coming to harvest it soon. All the stalks will be knocked down and the corn will be gathered up. You will be killed by the giant machines if you stay here.”

The spider said, “I don’t believe in harvests and giant machines that knock down corn stalks. How can you prove this?”

The little bug continued, “Just look at the corn. See how it is planted in rows? It proves this field was created by an intelligent designer.”

The spider laughed and mockingly said, “This field has evolved and has nothing to do with a creator. Corn always grows that way.”

The bug went on to explain, “Oh no. This field belongs to the owner who planted it, and the harvest is coming soon.”

The spider grinned and said to the little bug, “I don’t believe you,” and then the spider ate the little bug for lunch.

A few days later, the spider was laughing about the story the little bug had told him. He thought to himself, “A harvest! What a silly idea. I have lived here all of my life and nothing has ever disturbed me. I have been here since these stalks were just a foot off the ground, and I’ll be here for the rest of my life, because nothing is ever going to change in this field. Life is good, and I have it made.”

The next day was a beautiful sunny day in the cornfield. The sky above was clear and there was no wind at all. That afternoon as the spider was about to take a nap, he noticed some thick dusty clouds moving toward him. He could hear the roar of a great engine and he said to himself, “I wonder what that could be?”

Jesus knew that when the he came a second time there would be many people who would say, “I wonder what that could be?” and so he went to a lot of effort to tell us that he will return and that we need to always be ready.

He tells the story about a man who goes on a trip and leaves one of his workers in charge of his property and house. Before he goes, he gives the worker a list of jobs he expected to be completed while he is away. After the owner leaves the worker doesn’t worry too much about the jobs he had to do. The owner won’t be back for ages; there will have plenty of time to do those jobs just before the owner returns so he had a good time partying and having a great time. The owner came back suddenly and caught the man he had left in charge unfaithful and unprepared (Matt 24:45-51). Jesus concludes,
“Watch, then, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming—it might be in the evening or at midnight or before dawn or at sunrise. If he comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep. What I say to you, then, I say to all: Watch!”

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he has left us in charge and gave us instructions what we are to do while he is away.
Go, make disciples… baptise…
love one another…
pray for one another…
do this often as you drink in remembrance of me….
trust and believe in me…
worship, pray, teach, listen to my Word,
live as God’s people.
He will come again and he wants us to be always ready for his return. There is no room for bludging and leaving things to the last minute. He will come back and he wants to find us carrying out his instructions and be prepared for the day when he “will appear, coming in a cloud with great power and glory”.

Jesus leaves us in no doubt whatsoever that the day will come when the history of this world as we know it, will be drawn to a close. The last page of the world’s history will contain a description of what took place when Jesus returned. “There will be the shout of command, the archangel’s voice, the sound of God’s trumpet, and the Lord himself will come down from heaven” (1 Thess 4:16).
When this happens people will cower in fear.
Everyone will run this way and that to escape.
Everyone will faint from terror,
everyone except people of faith.
According to Jesus, people of faith need not panic when they see this happening. Jesus says, “When these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your salvation is near.”

How can I say that we do not need to panic and be terrified like the rest of the world when Jesus comes as judge? After all, aren’t we sinners, people who have disobeyed God? Haven’t we been loveless? Haven’t we been too eager to offer excuses rather than live as one of God’s people? On what basis can it be said that we have nothing to fear on the day Jesus returns?

There are two ways to view Christ’s return. Firstly, people can ignore their sin and the fact that Jesus will come again. When the end looms near, they will have every reason to panic. They will realise that they will soon face an audit of their lives and how they have regarded God. They will panic because they know they will fail the test.

On the other hand, people who face judgement acknowledging their sinfulness, receiving God’s forgiveness, don’t have to panic when they face the end. If all your wrongs have been removed, wiped out, eliminated, by the forgiveness that Jesus won for you by dying on the cross, then there won’t be anything left to judge on judgement day. Paul puts it like this, “You will be free from all impurity and blame on the Day of Christ” (Phil 1:10). For Christians the return of Jesus is not something to fear. In fact, when everyone else around you is overcome by panic, you can stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Our baptism assures us that we have nothing to fear when Christ returns. Not many of us can remember the day we were baptised but that doesn’t reduce its significance or power one bit. In baptism, we are united with Jesus Christ in such a way that the power of sin to condemn is destroyed. We receive Christ’s forgiveness, and are given the promise that we shall live with God forever in heaven. From the day of our baptism on and throughout our lives, we acknowledge our sins against God, family members, friends and even total strangers and we claim the promise of forgiveness which God gives us in baptism.

Daily our sins are judged;
daily we are forgiven;
daily we are made new and clean.
Therefore, we need not fear the end of the world, because our sin has been dealt with at the baptismal font. While the rest of the world is cowering in fear, Christians stand erect with uplifted heads because they have been made pure and blameless by the blood of Jesus.

When you get right down to it, baptism is not a very spectacular thing,. It involves standing at the font while some ordinary water is applied to your head and some ancient words are spoken. There is no dove hovering overhead. No booming voice of God declaring that you a holy son or daughter. There is nothing to cause the congregation to ooh and ah. There is no angelic choir singing the “Hallelujah Chorus”. There is only the Word of God in and with the water – very ordinary water from the tap and a few simple words.

Jesus Christ was born in a dark, lonely stable amid lowly animals, not in the crowd-filled streets near a shopping mall amid fireworks and thundering music. Those who came and looked into the manger saw just another tiny Jewish baby, born to very poor parents, in a small county town, in very turbulent times. This first advent of Jesus into our world was indeed very ordinary and humble, but we know what great blessings the tiny baby in the manger brought to our world.

When we were born again in baptism at a quiet font with ordinary water and simple words, look what power that humble ceremony has brought to us. And when Christ comes again, we will stand up and raise our heads in great hope and expectation, because we do not have to be afraid of Jesus’ return, our life to come is secure.

As we progress through the Advent season, let’s join with the church of all ages and say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Come into hearts as the Christ-child. Come on the Last Day. Come with your grace into our lives. “Come, Lord Jesus! Come!”

(1) Quoted from Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy