First Sunday after Christmas

Isaiah 63:7
I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, â€¦ according to all that the Lord has granted us, â€¦ according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

            The steadfast love of the lord never ceases (Lamentations 3:22). This reminder of God’s steadfast love in His prophetic prophecy through Isaiah is hemmed in behind and before with reference to God’s vengeance and the rebellion of Israel herself. Suffering and death behind and before, just as in the Gospel today, Herod’s attack on Jesus murdering all boys in Bethlehem under 2 and Jesus’s own death on the cross. Death and suffering behind and before us, drought and fire, funerals and cancer, the evil foolishness of governments and authorities across this corrupt world and your own struggling against sin, death and the devil. Like the Israelites of old and Jesus Himself we are surrounded in suffering. But remember the abundance of the Lord’s steadfast love for you.

            That word ‘steadfast love’ in Hebrew is a wonderful word, deep and comforting in it’s meaning. It means loyalty to covenants, like integrity and faithfulness, but also kindness and everlasting love because of what God has promised. Then of course the question is what has He promised?

            Salvation in His love and in His pity redemption, carrying the Israelites all the days of old. He gave the Israelites such great goodness, strengthening them and sustaining them by His word and His creation, redeemed from Egypt but now suffering again because of their rejection of their saviour. God had promised through Moses, If you will truly hear my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). And this promise had been fulfilled, when Israel listened to God’s word it was a holy nation, under King David, under Hezekiah, under Josiah, treasured by God. However, when they rejected Him they suffered their sins and the evil of others.

            And why the Israelites? Through Moses again God told His people, ‘you are a people sanctified. The Lord has chosen you … not because you were many, but because the Lord loves you and is keeping His promise to your forefathers, to Abraham (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). And that promise? I will make you the father of many nations, will establish my covenant with your descendants through the generations giving them this land of Canaan, I will be their God; and now the part we care more about, through you all peoples of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 17:4-8; 12:3). Now we know God kept those first two promises, Abraham the father of the Israelites, Edomites, Arabs, Midianites, father of many nations. And the second promise, the Israelites after receiving the fulfilment of another promise of protection then escape from Egypt did settle in that land of Canaan. But what of that last promise? Through you all people will be blessed? How have all peoples been blessed through Abraham?

            Well, the answer as I’m sure you know is Jesus, Abraham’s descendent. He came to redeem, not just the Israelites, not just the descendants of Abraham, but all the peoples of this world (Isaiah 49:6). God Himself, the second person of the Trinity, descended to be born a human, to live and suffer just like you and me, attacked by Herod, by this corrupt world, hostile and rejecting its own creator, the one who loves them. He came into this world He created, and His own did not receive Him (John 1:11). Jesus lived a life truly hearing and trusting God’s Word, unlike the failure of the ancient Israelites, walking God’s way and speaking the truth of God’s love and faithfulness, His covenant loyalty. Jesus suffered because you and I want to sin, we don’t like to hear that we are wrong rather we desire to walk our own ways and trust not in our creator. Jesus suffered ridicule, abuse, rejection, and finally death because He held tight to God’s Word, to the truth, to love, in the face of this corrupt world. He died, and if He were just a human that would be the end of the story again no comfort for you, but He is not just fully human, but also fully God. Rising from death, God and man united and victorious over all evil, redeeming and glorifying this humanity Jesus was given authority over all things. What He says goes, and He keeps His promises despite His suffering and despite yours.

            Now what does Jesus say? I will send you a comforter to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth … He will teach you all things and remind you of all that I have said (John 14:15-27)! The Holy Spirit came into this world at Pentecost giving birth to the church, another promise kept, but again what is this to you? When did The Father, through Jesus by the Holy Spirit promise you anything? Promise you adoption as His sons, His children? Promise forgiveness and salvation, Redemption or deliverance? When were you joined up with this salvation from your sin, this victory in Christ over death and the devil? When did God promised all this to you? Baptism into His name. The Holy Spirit through the New Testament writers teaches us from that fiery day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39) that this message and baptism was for those who listened, their children and all who are far off; that is you and me! The Holy Spirit goes on to promise through Paul that He comes to you through baptism and you are adopted as God’s children, and more that you have been joined into Christ, part of His body and one with Him reconciled to God, saved and redeemed (Titus 3:4-8; Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Peter 3:21). Today we have heard again why God’s loyalty to His promises is such a comfort to us, and no one can take them away from you, you can’t be unwatered, unbaptised; and you did nothing to earn these promises you just lay there or stood there as the Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit, working through the Word of promise, the pastor and the water baptising you into His family, washing you clean from all sin and bringing you into the everlasting life of Jesus Christ. You are in Him, this is God’s promise to you and He is faithful.

Not just this but, He remains faithful even if the baptised goes on to reject Him, rejecting the truth. It’s not that all who are baptised are automatically saved, just like not all those descended of Abraham are God’s children. Jesus tells us, if we reject Him on Earth, He will reject us before the Heavenly Father (Luke 10:16). But in His wisdom God gave us baptism and promised that He is at work in it giving His promises to you specifically, that you can be sure that He loves you. This is why I don’t often condemn those who don’t trust the promise, I don’t know your heart like our Lord does, but I know when I simply say ‘you are forgiven in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ all those who trust God’s Word just brought again to them receive His forgiveness and all those who don’t trust Him, don’t. I don’t need to tell those who reject God’s promises that they don’t receive them, because they already know that.

But you, you who trust God, who suffer the attacks and temptations of the devil, you and I both need to hear again God’s Word that He spoke to you all those years ago at your baptism, to guard against fear and forgetting. This is why the Holy Spirit sent all those letters we now have in the New Testament to encourage and strengthen you and all the baptised church of God, to remind you that you are in Jesus, God’s children, you have overcome in Him sin, death and the devil, all the suffering in this world and that in the end, either your death or Christ’s return, you will be renewed, glorified and freed from death and the devil just as Jesus was because you are joined with Him (Philippians 3:21).  

            Baptised with Christ into His death, you like those Israelites Isaiah prophesied too are in the midst of suffering. Suffering because of stress, sickness, worry and now because you are in Christ suffering the increased attacks of the devil from many directions, just as Jesus was attacked by Herod as a toddler. But through all this suffering you have God’s sure promises to hold on to, the certainty of the love He has shown throughout the ages, to Abraham, to the Israelites, apostles, to Christians and to you. He promised in baptism you have been joined to Jesus, sharing in His flesh and blood that has destroyed death and the devil. This is your life in Jesus, free from sin, from fear of death, and free from fearing the sufferings of this world. This present suffering is not the end He will come and renew all things. This is His promise and He is loyal to His promises, so you can Have peace.

 And so the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Christmas Day 2019

Luke 2: 8-20

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 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 some kind of movie stars or sports celebrities.

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 looking 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 receiving 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.

Christmas Eve 2019

Text: Luke 2:10-12 (NIV)

The angel said to them (the shepherds), “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

From heaven to hay

Let’s suppose that you are a visitor in Australia. You are interested in Australian politics and you know that our chief politician is the Prime Minister. You would like to meet him but you don’t know who he is or where to find him so you ask me for help.

I would say something like this, “This is what you need to look for. Go to Canberra and look for this large building with this huge Australian flag flying above it – that’s the Australian Parliament House. If you see someone in a suit welcoming some dignitaries from other countries with a lot of pomp and ceremony and speech-making, flanked by security men, journalists, TV and newspaper cameramen and reporters, that’s the Prime Minister.

An angel visited some shepherds near Bethlehem and gave them some signs to enable them to find a special baby in the nearby town. They were told that this child would bring great joy to all people. This child born in David’s town was the Saviour – the Son of the Most High God, a king like his ancestor David.

Then a great crowd of angels fill the sky and sing the praises of God at the birth of God’s Saviour into the world. What signs were the shepherds given to help them find this heavenly prince? They were told, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

What a contrast this is to the usual signs of important people. If royalty were about to visit [name of town or city you are in], the signs would be evident. Newspapers and magazines would have photos and stories of the royal family and what preparations were taking place in the town. The streets would be tidied, the dignitaries of the shire would have the place where the royal reception was to take place spruced up and lessons would be given on protocol, what should be worn and how to address the royal family. Curious on-lookers who would want to catch a glimpse of the royal visitors would line the streets. The signs that someone important was arriving would be quite clear.

But when the Prince of Peace, the son of the Most High God, the Saviour of all humanity arrived in Bethlehem, the sign was “a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”.

Let’s suppose that you were one of the shepherds and all that you know about this important child is what the angel had told you when he said, “This is the sign that will tell you that you have found the Saviour – Christ the Lord. You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying on a bed of hay in a feeding trough.”

You can imagine the shepherds talking about this angelic message on the way to Bethlehem and discussing what this was all about. But once they had seen the baby lying in a bed of hay in a manger, what the angel had told them about the baby made good sense and nothing could stop them telling Mary and Joseph and anyone they came across what the angels had said and what they seen in the manger.

What did the message of the angel tell them, and us, about Jesus?

Firstly, these words tell us something about his humanity. The angel announced that the shepherds were to look for a baby, a newborn child. He came into the world the same way as all of us. It is true that this baby’s conception took place in a miraculous way, but apart from that, Mary carried this child for the usual nine months, felt the movement of her unborn child, and experienced the pain of childbirth in the same way as all mothers do.

We are told that the baby Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth. In a world with little medical care, where babies often died before their first birthday, it was a way of providing a crude kind of protection. The Son of the Most High God was born as helpless and as vulnerable as any other child born at that time.

To say that Christ was born as a baby brings us face to face with the truth that Jesus was as human as you and I.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, and same pain that we all experience.

Secondly, the words of the angel: “This very day in David’s town your Saviour is born—Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” told the shepherds something about the humble circumstances in which they will find this baby. They found the baby lying in a manger. In Bethlehem, there were probably a number of newborn babies wrapped in strips of cloth, but I’m sure that there was only one lying in an animal’s feeding trough. The mention of a manger indicates that Jesus was born in a stable, or a cave where animals were kept, or perhaps even in a very poor home where the animals lived inside the house with the family.

Before the birth of Jesus, the ancient writers never used the word “humble” as a compliment and would have certainly never referred to their gods as being “humble”. But the events of the first Christmas give us a picture of a “humble God” – an incomprehensible idea in the ancient world. Philip Yancey describes the humility of God in this way:

“The God who came to earth came not in a raging whirlwind nor a devouring fire. Unimaginably, the Maker of all things shrank down, down, down, so small as to become a single fertilised egg, barely visible to the human eye, an egg that would divide and redivide until a foetus took shape, enlarging cell by cell inside a nervous teenager. … God emerged in Palestine as a baby who could not speak or eat solid food or control his bladder, who depended on a teenager for shelter, food, and love” (The Jesus I Never Knew p 36).

There were no halos, no angels hovering over the stable, and no choirs singing in the background.

Maybe if you had been there you might have commented to another passer-by 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. Stables were dark, dirty, smelly places made for animals. The shepherds were told that they wouldn’t find the baby in a nursery but outside in a barn where the ground was covered with dirt and the air smelled of manure.

God does do some strange things some times. Occasionally he does strange things to get our attention – and he certainly got the attention of the shepherds. He always does strange things for a purpose. God became a human so that we could relate to him and so that people could experience the powerful love that God has for us.

God became human in order to save his people from their sins as the angel said to Joseph (Mt. 1.21). Beyond the cradle, see the cross. This baby in the hay was born for you and me. He was born because of God’s love for each of us. He was born into our world to bring us forgiveness and eternal life.

The island of Molokai is a part of Hawaii and has quite a 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.

God has seen that we need his help. Sin has become a part of our lives and there is nothing we can do to free ourselves of its effect on us or our relationships. God was determined to do something about it. God loves us so much that he wanted to stop this procession toward death. Like Father Damien who made his home among the lepers to show them God’s love, God has made his home amongst us who have the leprosy of sin. 

He came to show us his love for us and to save us. He came down to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves – get rid of our sin and the punishment we deserve because of it. He came down and was born a human so that he could die for us. He wants us to be his and to live forever with him in heaven. We have a God who loves us, cares for us, forgives us and welcomes us into his kingdom.

The question that remains is – what is your response to this gift from God?

How is your life different because of what God has done for you?

The visit by the shepherds certainly had an impact in their lives. They couldn’t help but tell everyone they saw about what they had witnessed that evening both in the fields of Bethlehem and in the stable.

God came 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. Let us also sing “Glory to God in the highest” We have our Saviour – Christ the Lord – who came down from heaven to be laid in hay!

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Matthew 1:21, 23
She will bear a son, and you will call Him Jesus; for He will save His people from their sins.
Behold the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call Him Emmanuel, which translated is ‘God with us’.

            This is the Gospel, the Good News, the Evangelion! In Jesus you are saved from your sins, that God is with you, on your side, bringing you life, light and love through Jesus Christ our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6). We hear again and again of the true gospel, of evangelists, using the name Jesus and Immanuel, but do you ever sit back and meditate on this, reflecting on what this wonderful word means for you (Psalm 119:27)?

            Like worrying about cleaning and forgetting why we clean, do you forget what it means to be a Christian? Why we use these words and names, what they mean? Gospel, Godspell, is simply old English for God’s word, still kids have their ‘wording’ or spelling checked today. But Evangelion, the words brought by the Evangelist, it’s an old Greek word meaning Good Message, the eu from eulogy, and also angel Greek for messenger. Some examples from the ancient Greeks would be the news of victory against a foe, the birth of a king’s heir, or also a word from God. The Gospel is God’s good Word to you and all people, heralding, proclaiming, the victory over sin in Jesus the newborn King! You are saved! Forgiven and made righteous in Jesus, Immanuel, God is with you.

            And this is the meaning of these names Jesus and Immanuel. Jesus/Iesus, Joshua/Yehoshua from the Greek and Hebrew respectively, meaning The Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God Almighty, creator and judge of all, He saves. And yes, you need saving. Every person on this earth is afflicted, suffering and in need of help. We cry out, Hosanna, save us (Psalm 57:2)! We suffer evils from outside, and sin/failure from within. No matter how much we try to love every person we meet, to live the right way, to act according to the truth, you fail. You reject what is true, you refuse what is good, and you ignore what is beautiful. In short you sin, you separate yourself from God who created you, who loves and sustains you, who wants you to turn away from your sinful selfish ways and turn back to His love and truth, turn back, turn back for why will you die (Ezekiel 33:11)? Why do we separate ourselves from the love of God? Why do you continually go back to your way? You know that way, the easy road, the wide road, that road of sin leads to death (Matthew 7:13). Rejecting God’s embrace, sin separates you from God. The sinner who sees God’s face will die; the pure, holy, righteous glory of God will destroy them; we know this from the scriptures about fire coming from God’s presence to burn up those sinning against Him (Exodus ). We who sin cannot approach God, we cannot work our way up to His righteousness, we cannot plead our case, we cannot even survive in His Holy presence. We can do nothing to save ourselves (Romans 8:5-11).

           But Jesus, He can. Jesus is God in the flesh, the Almighty one mysteriously came as a human just like us, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). The Son of God, second person of the Trinity, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity God from God, separated from us by our sin, came down to this earth, to the people who carried God’s Word through history, to Bethlehem of Judea, born the boy Jesus. We could not hope to come to God, so He in His mercy came to us. This is the Gospel, Immanuel, God with us. Because of sin we cannot approach the naked Glory of God, yet mediated through the humanity of Jesus fully united with His divinity, He approaches us. God and humanity were separated because of sin, now in Christmas God and humanity are united in Christ Jesus, reconciled, at peace, in all joy and love; God is with us in Jesus Christ our saviour.

And how do you know that you are in Jesus? All those who have been baptised in His name have been joined to Him, joined with Him in His death to sin and risen into His new everlasting life (Romans 6:3-11). Only in Christ Jesus is God reconciled to humanity, only in Jesus are we saved (), and you are in Him through Holy Baptism, reconciled to God and born again by water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). God is with us, Immanuel, you are in Jesus and He is in you who are baptised (John 14:20). As we share in Christ’s body and blood we receive again this Full and overflowing life and holiness that we already receive by the Holy Spirit and grasp in faith.

            This is the last Sunday of Advent, waiting for the coming of Jesus. Soon Christmas will be upon us, the celebration of the incarnation, God come as man that we might be joined with God; this is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but also for we who are joined with Him it’s our birth. For every Christian is join with Jesus, into His life, His relationship with the Father, His victory over death and the devil. When our Heavenly Father looks at you He sees Jesus, righteous, holy and glorified. When Christ returns we will see this truth and live in it in Jesus. Saved from our sins, in Jesus God is with us, none can stand against (Romans 8:31). You are saved, holy and protected in Jesus, He will take away all your suffering, sin and evil at His return and until that time continue to provide His peace, joy and love by the Holy Spirit.

            So by the unity all Christians have with Jesus, I bring you the blessing of God. The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Third Sunday of Advent

James 5:8
And you be patient, setting in place your heart, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

            Patience, a wonderful and joyous gift but not many like to learn it. To be patient, to be long tempered, not short, to be content with the wait, means two things: that we don’t worry and we don’t give up. When we are patient waiting for Christmas, we don’t go searching for our hidden presents, we don’t worry about what we’ll do, not getting frustrated trying to get organised, but rather bearing the burden of the wait we get things done. As we wait for Christ, patience is to keep waiting and not give up. But is patience always easy? No, but maybe that’s why some of us get reminded so often. Just as the Holy Spirit is reminding us all today.

            To be patient, to trust that everything will work out, to endure the stress that we experience, to set our hearts, the core of who we are, in Jesus Christ and His sure words. What does this mean for you? James is writing to Christians a few decades after Christ ascended, to Christians under Roman rule, under persecution and all types of suffering, bickering, greed and disease aren’t modern inventions. These people knew Christ’s promise that He would return to set all things right, to renew all creation and destroy all sin. He said to be ready at all times, He might come back at any moment so be ready and look forward to this wonderful fulfilment (Matthew 24:44). But it’s been a while, where is this joy? It’s been 20yrs, for us its 2000 when is He coming back? I’ve had to wait a week for my son and wife to come back, and that was bad enough; don’t we now have a right to loose our patience, be frustrated, To get angry? My dad would beep the car horn after just 10mins surely God doesn’t expect us to wait patiently anymore? Maybe we should just give up and go our own way.

            But then again, thinking about it, maybe not. Yes there is suffering in this life, sickness, grief, gossip, theft and all sorts, and worse for our brethren in various places throughout this world. How much must Christians endure before Christ returns? Wouldn’t it be easier to just give up? To forget about sin and just do what we want in the moment, searing our consciences and living for pleasure? No, that’s no way to live, aside from Jesus where else can we go? He has the truth and we know it. He has the words of eternal life and peace (John 6:68). If we left, we would just follow Judas Iscariot to death (Mark 14:21). You know the way of the Lord, the way of life, peace and joy. Yet you struggle and have reject it sinning, bringing death, turmoil and despair. We are afflicted with sin (Psalm 25:18), we fail God who loves us more than we can comprehend. God tells us through the prophets that His people were an adulterous wife and He her husband (Ezekiel 16, 23). Jesus teaches this is grounds for divorce, the union is already broken (Matthew 19:9). But God, long suffering years of repeated rejection and betrayal the thousand years of Ancient Israel’s existence, the years you have been baptised, patience beyond comprehension. God did not reject His people then, and He does not reject you; He gave us all the way of repentance, to turn back to Him, confess the truth and in Jesus be forgiven (1 John 1:7). And that is who you are, thanks be to God! Praise His wonderful name, for He is full of compassion and merciful!

            In Him we have life today, we have peace, joy, you are loved! To know the depths of sin, of our need for salvation, and to know that God freely provides it, Jesus has done all the work, He lived, died, rose and ascended for you and all His holy Church! New life by water and the Spirit, rejoice in this! Set your heart, your core in this, in Christ. You are free from sin, you no longer need to worry or give in. This is the wonder of the Gospel for us now. While we wait we can be patient, to endure the attacks of the evil one because we know we are saved, our hearts set in Jesus.

But still there is suffering and struggle, the prophets of old spoke of the coming salvation in Jesus, but they were abused by the very people to whom they spoke this wonderful news. James encourages us to imitate these prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, to suffer evil and be patient. John the Baptist was thrown into prison but still taught God’s way, preaching this same Wonderful Gospel until he was beheaded. Polycarp a disciple of the Apostle John and bishop in the early church said to the Roman persecutors who would kill him, ‘86 years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?’ Throughout the years Christians have suffered, because of their great faith, because of sickness and natural troubles, the sin of others and even their own sin and doubt, there are countless examples of good faith to imitate and you probably know many yourself. So remember them and try to imitate them. But, just make sure you remember imitate the faithfulness to the Triune God, not things like David’s adultery and murder.

When we get right down to it, we face the same world all God’s people have, a world with humans and sin. We’re in the same situation, waiting for Jesus to return and sort it all out. In His mercy and compassion He sent the Spirit to help us endure this life in His forgiveness and joy. We have His mercy even now while we wait for His return. In Him we are free by His mercy and grace. Free from worry and despair, free now to live and get things done right by the gift and power of the Holy Spirit. To set our hearts in Christ, to build on this solid foundation of mercy rather than any uncertainty, outside of Christ. In Him is gladness spite all our sadness, and outside of His patience and mercy is worry, doubt and danger. So take up the example of the faithful people of God before us and across the globe, be patient and steadfastly set in Christ Jesus that you may receive and share His wonderful compassion and mercy.And the peace of God which passes all understand

Joseph Graham.

Second Sunday of Advent

John The Baptist  Revd. Martin Dale

Sermon: John the Baptist – Radical and Countercultural par excellence

Story: A young police officer was taking his final exam for the police academy and he was set the following problem to solve.

“You are on patrol in the outer city when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street.

On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van nearby.

Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants—a man and a woman—are injured.

You recognize the woman as the wife of your Chief of Police, who is at present away in the USA.

A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you realize that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery.

Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent.

Another man is crying for help, having been blown in the adjacent canal by the explosion, and he cannot swim.

Describe in a few words what actions you would take.”

The young man thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote,


“I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.”

But just as that wouldn’t do for the policeman so we as Christians we can’t duck our responsibilities either

We are often called to swim against the tide of public opinion.

Jesus certainly did – and so did the subject of our Bible reading this morning – John the Baptist.

And interestingly all four of the Gospels tell us things about the life of John the Baptist (Mt3, Mk1 and Mk 6, Lk 3 and Jn1).

John was an important figure for the early Church.

John the Baptist was both radical and countercultural in three ways:

1. In his lifestyle

2. In what he taught and

3. In his fearlessness of men in the face of adversity.

1. The first way that John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was his radical lifestyle

While the religious leaders of his day lived in fine houses – and the High Priest himself even lived in a palace – John the Baptist took to the desert to live a life of seclusion and prayer.

John wasn’t pretentious. He didn’t overrate himself. In fact quite the contrary.

He didn’t claim to be more than he was. There was a humility about John.

When Jesus came to be baptised by John – look at John’s reply:

“But John tried to deter him, saying: I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14)

There was also a simplicity in his lifestyle

He didn’t wear an Armani suit or Designer jeans. He didn’t have a rolex watch either – and all the other trappings of worldly success. St Matthew records that

“John’s clothes were made of camels’ hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” (Mt 3:4)

While I am not advocating locusts and honey for our harvest supper – I do think it is important to notice the simplicity of John’s living.

2. The second way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his teaching

John the Baptist was very clear in his message. He called a spade a spade

He was hugely popular with the people – not just because he tweeked the nose of the heirarchy – but because the people recognised what he was saying was from God.

There was a mini revival. Even the outcasts of society – the tax collectors and the Roman soldiers are recorded as coming to him (Lk 3).

And I wouldn’t be surprised if the prostitutes came as well.

Yet his message wasn’t a populist message – indeed it should have been extremely unpopular as it was so condemnatory.

We read in Matthew 3 that he preached a Gospel of repentance. And He was quite a tough preacher.

When many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptised by him he said this:

“You brood of vipers Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves ” We have Abraham as our father. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children of Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:8-9)

I don’t think John the Baptist had ever read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to make friends and influence people”!!!

The Jews thought that simply by keeping the letter of the Law – as they saw it – would make them fit children for God

But God is interested in the heart – as Jesus often himself taught

“What comes out of a man’s heart and not what goes in is that which pollutes him,” (Mt 15:17-18 paraphrased) Jesus once said.

And God speaking through the writer of the book of Proverbs inn the Old Testament said this:

26 My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways, (Proverbs 23:26).

John’s message was tough – he didn’t mince his words – and inevitably this brought him into conflict with the authorities – which in this case was the local king Herod Antipas.

For Herod, John overstepped the mark once too often when he condemned Herod for marrying his brother Philip’s wife. And so Herod threw John in prison.

And prison in those days was not at all comfortable. Prisoners had no human rights and generally were dependant on friends and relations for the very food they ate.

3. And the final way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his fearlessness of men

He didn’t chicken out when the going got tough.

John, I am sure could have extradited himself from prison if he had simply found a formula to allow Herod to marry Herodias, Herod’s brother Philip’s wife.

And even great men of God bowed to such temporal pressure.

Story: One of the blots on the career of the great German Reformer, Martin Luther – was his acquiescence to the bigamous marriage of Philip of Hess.

In 1530, at the height of the Reformation in Germany – and where the Protestant cause was at its most vulnerable, Philip of Hesse organised the secular Protestant forces of the Reformation into

what was known as the Schmalkaldic League.

This alliance was set up to protect their religious and secular interests against interference from the Roman Catholic Holy Roman Emperor

On 11th December 1523 Philip married Christine of Saxony the daughter of an important ally George Duke of Saxony.

However Christine has been described by contempory sources as sickly and unattractive – and was reputed to have a drinking probem.

So it wasn’t very soon after the marriage that Philip committed adultery with the daugther of one of his sister’s ladies-in-waiting, Margarethe von der Saale.

And he wanted to marry her.

The matter was discussed with the great German Reformers, Luther, Methancthon and Bucer.

It was only when Philip threatened to side with the Holy Roman Emperor against the Protestant Schmalkaldic league if he didn’t get his own way, that the Reformers gave in.

They agreed that – rather than follow Henry VIII and have a divorce – they would sanction a bigamous marriage which took place on 4th December 1540, between Philip and Margarethe.

To the eternal shame of the Reformation

Had John the Baptist been asked his opinion, I am sure he would have condemned it.

Such was the courage and integrity of the man.

And John’s brave outspokenness eventually cost him his head.


John the Baptist’s story reminds us that being a Christian will not always be easy.

There will be tough decisions to make that might lead us to be unpopular.

Yet the story of John is not given to us to show us a way to earn our salvation – because we can’t.

All of us still have to come through the Cross of Jesus.

Even John the Baptist – a Great and Godly man as he was – could only enter the Kingdom through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

For the Kingdom of God is made up – not of those who in their own goodness try to enter it – but ofn those who are clothed in the blood of Jesus.

For in human terms John was special – but this needs to be kept in perspective – as Jesus said:

I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the very least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he (Lk 7:28-29)

However, once we are saved John was a great example for us to follow in Christian living.

But John’s life reminds us that we must have integrity in our lives.

We must be willing to be faithful to God’s calling in our lives – even if it eventually costs us our head. That is quite a challenge.

First Sunday of Advent

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord and saviour Jesus Christ our righteousness. Amen.

            The light of peace. There’s a room full of boys at bedtime. A bit of noise, a bit of mucking around and suddenly the lights turn on. Peace descends on the room as they all stop and get to bed. This is the truth we have heard today, the Son of Man, Jesus, will come in glorious light to bring peace to the whole world and deal with all evil. The light of God’s temple will be lifted above all things so we can look to it for the truth, like those old clocktowers telling the time. He will bring you peace, all of us, and we will walk in the Light of the Lord, His ways, not ours. (Isaiah 2:1-5)

            It’s not my power or your way that everyone will flock to, as Paul (Romans 13:14) writes, don’t think about how to gratify the desires of your flesh, rather clothe yourself with Jesus Christ. It’s His way that brings peace, and Jesus is a perfect example, saying to the Father, ‘not my will but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42) These desires, when we feel we just need to have this one thing, wine, chocolate, sex, our own way; when we dwell on these things and how to get them, we live as if Christ is not in us and we are not in Him. As Paul puts it, we are sleep in the faith. This new life you have through baptism into Jesus by the Holy Spirit is a life that is focussed on Him. It’s a focus like the moth to the light, it doesn’t care that it just ran into the wall, it only cares about the light. When you worry about fulfilling your desires, you stress and often sin forgetting Christ is our light, our focus, then feeling your guilt you have no peace. But to be clothed, or in Christ, is to live according to His life, not according to our often plainly selfish desires. It’s not about, ‘what do I want?’ rather it’s ‘What has Jesus done? And what does He want?’. This is what it means to walk in the light of the Lord, to put on Christ, so that when others see you they see Jesus.

            Now we know, when Jesus comes again, everyone will see and He’s gonna sort out everything. Last week we were reminded that those who are in Christ, and you are, He promised you this in Baptism, those who are in Christ are already judged righteous (John 3:18; Romans 8:1). So when the end comes you have nothing to fear, the New, peaceful and holy Creation awaits. Yet now and here while we wait for this final fulfillment of God’s promises, the advent of His Son, right now we can live the new life we have been given, to live in the light and peace we already have by God’s Amazing grace! It’s not the time for rest, we are the saints in warfare. Paul writes the armour of light not the PJs. It’s the time to fight against the devil, against our sinful desires, time to pray and listen to God’s Word, the time to encourage one another in the faith, to talk about Christ’s work in our lives and to point each other to the light of Christ and to receive His peace. Now while we wait, it’s the time for action not for sleep. So keep watch, for we do not know the time when Jesus will come to bring ultimate light, truth and deep lasting peace.

            This peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, as we wait and into eternity. Amen.

Joseph Graham.