First Epiphany Sunday

 

Acts 10:38, 42
Jesus of Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and power, went about working good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, God was with Him.
And He commanded us to proclaim to the people and thoroughly witness that He is appointed under God judge of the living and the dead.

 

            Thank God for all the gifts He has given, for life, food, family, friends, for peace, relatively good government, a land to call home, all these wonderful things that so many throughout the world and throughout history have not had. Yet now we have all this, what do we do with it? How should we use these gifts? Knowing all this what will you do in this drought and as our state is burning down. Job said the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). But while we have these gifts, what will you do?

Of course today we celebrate something else, the baptism of Jesus, the beginning of His earthly ministry the healing and good works He did for all those oppressed by the devil, of course that is all us people. Wonderful gifts of freedom from sickness and oppression for many all those years ago. We could ask what Jesus did, with what He was given; but I’ll leave that for another time. Rather, I’ll ask you about those disciples He brought along, after Jesus finished His earthly ministry, what did they do with what God had given? They waited as God had commanded (Luke 24:49), then received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1), proclaimed the word and in the Spirit brought thousands into the baptism of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:41). By God’s power and Holy Word He has drawn tens of thousands into the baptism of Jesus by such a plain washing, the mystery of water and Word (Ephesians 5:26).

And so you who are baptised, might not really remember it, but today we heard again what happened, when you were baptised into Jesus’ baptism. The Spirit and power descended on you in Christ Jesus and our Heavenly Father said of you in Jesus Christ, you are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased (Matthew 3:16-17). I’m moving fast through this because I’m sure you’ve heard already this wonderful news, the gospel itself, but now I want to ask, what does this mean for you now? The gifts given you by water and the word are wonderful marvellous and mysterious gifts, forgiveness, healing, death of sinfulness and resurrection to righteousness, unity with God Himself. You have all these gifts, what now? As you sit here today, what does this truth mean for you? How has it changed you and the way you live? We ask God to teach us His ways, that we may walk in His truth (Psalm 86:11) and not live according to our sinful flesh (Romans 6:12-14). For us who have received God’s promises, what is it to live His way?

Christ’s first followers, the apostles, once they received these mercies also received a command, to make disciples, students, of all nations, baptising and teaching to obey all that Jesus had commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). And here Peter told these Gentiles that command to him, to proclaim to the people and thoroughly witness that Jesus Christ is appointed by God judge of the living and the dead. Now there’s no undie stress to you here, you don’t have to go to Iran or anything, these commands were given to the church, and so we as Christ’s church seek to proclaim the Gospel and to walk God’s way here where we are. And to walk God’s way is to listen to Him and live accordingly, to bear witness to the truth that Jesus died for you, that your sins are forgiven, and that Jesus is your Lord, king of all kings (John 20:28; Revelation 17:14). That He is judge of all the living and all the dead. That Jesus is in charge.

To know what that means, we come together to hear His words, and the Word of His Father through the bible readings. Sometimes these are difficult to understand so we listen to what the church has said through the ages, how wise Christians have tried to explain, yet still there are mysteries. Great and wonderful the mystery of union with Jesus and all Christians by the Holy Spirit in His baptism, the mystery of Christ’s return to reconcile all things to Himself, destroying all evil, cleansing all who trust and glorifying them into bodies like His (Romans 6:3-4; Philippians 3:20-21). These are true, in His mercy God even demonstrates to you and me the small mysteries of faith, peace from out of nowhere, finding lost keys, the beauty of the sunset in smoke, dust and cloud. Today we are reminded by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacrament again of God’s mysterious, yet true, love for you. He is in charge and He is on your side, what wonderful good news.

Certainly a comfort in difficult times, in the stress of drought, the despair of fire, and the struggles in this life. Yet more than a comfort, the Good News of Jesus Christ, Saviour, motivates us. Yes to listen, to hear and to comfort each other with His good words, but more to live differently. To thoroughly witness in the way you live, what you do, how you act and how you speak. Firstly you are free from sin in Christ, it is dead to you, so you don’t need to trap yourself in it (Romans 6:5-11). You are free to love each other and all people, free to care, to do good just as Jesus did for all people (Luke 7:22). Jesus tells you again, you are forgiven, your sins are removed and destroyed (Psalm 103:12), yes even those you did this morning, you are free from regret, free to turn away from your sin, from sin against you (Ezekiel 33:11), to turn back to God’s way of reconciliation (Colossians 1:20-22), active in love and peace (Acts 3:19). Free from sin and free to live in Christ, again wonderful news!

In Christ you are free to live His way, according to the judge of the living and the dead. He has told you that in Him you are safe, to rely on Him and on nothing else (Matthew 22:36-40). He has given you life, the Holy Spirit the giver of life to help you through this world (1 Peter 3:18). And now today, this week, in your homes, your work, your shopping, through all your life, just like the disciples and the ancient prophets, by the way you live you are free to bear witness to the forgiveness of sins and new everlasting life in Jesus’ name that you receive in His Word and Sacrament.

So as you go out and as you come in the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and into eternity. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

 

Second Sunday after Christmas

Immanuel – At Christmas God enters creation Matt 1:23, John 1:14



  Mary Poppins  is a classic children’s movie. I’m sure you have seen, or at least heard of it. Those who have seen it might recall the scene where Bert, the chimney sweep,  draws pictures with coloured chalk on the pavement. The curious thing about this scene, is that Bert, Mary and the two children don’t just sit back and admire his work – they actually jump into the picture. They enter his creation.  They experience the world he has just drawn in all it’s glory, beauty and wonder. They engage and interact with this world in a way that you can never do so by just observing the picture on the pavement. They dance with the penguins and ride the horses from the merry-go-round as they sing – including the famous Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. There are some similarities here to Christmas.  After God created the world, he doesn’t just stand back and watch. He is continuously involved in it. He continues to care for his creation. He continues to provide for you and me. Many have shared stories of how they or their property were miraculously spared in the recent fires. On Boxing Day, our family had an incident on a river that could have ended a lot worse, but we thank God that he was there protecting us, bringing us all to safety.
Yet God doesn’t just intimately care for his creation. God is so involved, that like Bert entered the world he’d drawn, our God enters the world he has made – our world. John says,
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. … the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Christmas is about Jesus, not just admiring his creation from a distance, but becoming flesh and blood to enter our world and become one of us.
Now when God came into the world, he could have come as he was. He could have come in some spectacular way.  He could have come like a superhero with special powers. He could have come with all the glory, glitz and glamour of the greatest celebrity of all time. He could have been the richest millionaire, throwing money at everything and anything so he could fix the world and solve all it’s problems.
Now in some respects he did some of this. Somewhat like a superhero, he performed numerous miracles, but that wasn’t his main message. Like a celebrity, there were times that he had a large following, and times that he felt terribly alone. But he didn’t throw money around to fix our problems.  His greatest miracle and his main message was that Jesus died on the cross to fix our greatest problem – the problem of sin in the human heart.
Sin infects our world. It contaminates us, destroying our relationships with each other and with God. It destroys how we see ourselves. It leaves us feeling broken and hurting within.
The only cure for sin, is for someone perfect to die in our place. We need someone to come as our substitute and sacrifice themselves for us. That’s why Jesus came.  So when Jesus entered our world, he actually became one of us. Not just as a fully grown human, but as a little vulnerable baby, born to a humble couple. Jesus is God in the flesh. He looked like you and me. And this wasn’t just a disguise Jesus wore. In Jesus Christ, God actually became one of us. And that means he experienced all there was to experience about humanity. He experienced deep joy and happiness, but also trials, hardship, suffering, death and vulnerability. So vulnerable that so many times he nearly didn’t make it to the cross.
At his birth, Jesus Christ was extremely vulnerable. His mother was pregnant before she was married. So according to their laws, they could have stoned her to death before he was even born. They travelled so far that she could have miscarried along the way.
Then when Jesus was finally born to a young, inexperienced mother, with no family support, the town was so overcrowded that the only accommodation left for them was out in the garage. We often joke about someone sleeping in the dog kennel or the
3 Immanuel – At Christmas God enters creation Matt 1:23, John 1:14
chook house, but Mary, Joseph and Jesus actually did. Not only was Jesus born amongst animals, he was placed in their food bowl. These conditions certainly wouldn’t meet Australian health standards for a newborn infant.
And if this wasn’t enough, the king at the time was jealous. When he heard that a new king had been born, he wanted to get rid of the child. To make sure, King Herod ordered that all children in Bethlehem and surrounds be killed to make sure the child was dead. Talk about being vulnerable.
This is the extent God went to for you, to become one of us. He experienced the joys of life as well as the pain of suffering we experience.  His death was one of the most horrific and tortuous known in history. That’s what God was willing to go through for you and me – so that by trusting in him, you and I don’t need to experience the torture of hell. That’s how much he loves you.
And God continues to love you. Jesus is Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’. Jesus is still with you and me today, walking amongst us and dwelling with us. It might seem hard to find him in this crowded, busy world, filled with many different faiths and beliefs. We often expect God to come in glory, surrounded by angels, bright lights and beautiful music. You certainly wouldn’t expect the king of the world, the God of the universe, to come to us in the dim lights of a stable and the lowly screams of a baby. You wouldn’t expect him to be crowned in thorns and be enthroned on a cross.
Yet he did all that for you and me. He did that because he loves you and wants you to know your sins are forgiven. Christmas is only important because of Easter. You can’t truly believe in the baby at Christmas without trusting in the freedom and forgiveness of the cross.  The place that God promises to be found today is not in spectacular ways, but in a humble book, in ordinary bread and wine. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God comes to us today in many ways, but the most certain way is through the bible and the sacraments. That’s why church services, devotions and a healthy prayer-life focus so heavily on the bible.
Now we all know that Christmas is a festive season. But for many, Christmas is also a stressful time. Many financial pressures with Christmas shopping, cost of travelling, and job losses. And when the day finally comes, some family gatherings aren’t so pleasant. Maybe there’s some tension, arguments or even on-going feuds. There is likely some disappointment after an exchange of presents, as well as the reminder of the loss of loved ones. And of course, this year with so many fires, there are many fearing for their lives, their homes, and their families.  When Joseph was worried about his situation, an angel came and told him it was going to be okay. Everything was in God’s hands. Continue with your plans to marry Mary.
And to the fearful shepherds, the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that for all the people. Today a Savior has been born to you”
I don’t know what you are going through, but whatever your situation, God says to you, ‘Do not be afraid, Jesus knows the stress you are going through, and he wants to take all your worries and anxious thoughts, and fill you instead with his peace and joy.’ (Philippians 4:6) Seek first his kingdom and he will provide all your needs (Matthew 6:33).  Jesus is called “Immanuel” – which means, ‘God is with us’. The loving God is with you! He always has been, and he will continue to walk with you no matter what.
On this, the last Sunday of the Christmas season, may you know true joy, love, hope and peace through Jesus Christ, and may that go with you all throughout this New Year, and on into eternity.

Darren Kukpe.

New Years Day 2020

What’s in a Name?

About 2000 years ago, an eight-day-old baby boy was circumcised according to Jewish law, and was given the name Jesus. What makes this child or his name so special? In our world over 350,000 babies are born every day; that is over 127 million babies born in the world each year. Many of those babies are circumcised for reasons of religion or custom. Many are presented in churches and temples; they are all given names, and in Israel many are even given the name, Jesus.

Yet this one child—Jesus of Nazareth—has changed the course of history and of many individual lives. He has caused the years to be numbered from the time of his birth; BC—Before Christ, and AD—Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord. While your name or mine might not tell other people much about ourselves, the Name (or names) of Jesus tell us something very significant about his person.

William Shakespeare is known for the famous quote: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet! That is not true in relation to Jesus. His name is packed with meaning and purpose; and this one referred to in the Scriptures as the ‘Rose of Sharon,’ would by any other name than those given by God, certainly NOT smell as sweet. 

So what is the significance of the Name of Jesus? While many other Hebrew children were given the name Jesus, including the notorious criminal Jesus Barabbas, the name of Jesus of Nazareth was chosen, not by his parents, but by God himself. Luke writes: On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived (Luke 2:21). You will remember how Matthew records the angel’s instructions: You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matt.1:21).

The name ‘Jesus’ is a Greek form of the Hebrew name, ‘Joshua’ which means “The Lord Saves”.  How appropriate a name for this child!  Just as Joshua had been chosen to conquer the enemies of Israel and lead them into the Promised Land of Canaan, Jesus had now been chosen to conquer the enemies of the entire human race – sin, death and the devil – and lead his faithful people into the promised land of heaven.

It is not just his common, given name, Jesus which is significant.  Matthew recalls the prophecy of Isaiah: They will call him Immanuel—which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). His name describes his nature. This Jesus of Nazareth would be God in human form, true God and true man, living among his people.

Luke tells of another name the angel gave for Jesus: He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32). This name also tells us about the nature of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, and fulfils the prophesy of Isaiah: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Almighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  This child born to us, this Son given to us is not like the 127 million other babies born each year; he is not like all the other children called Jesus or Joshua. He is the Son of the Most High God (Luke 1:32).

When Jesus was born, the angels gave the shepherds another significant name for this child: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). The name ‘Christ’ held great significance for the Jews. ‘Christ’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’—meaning ‘The Anointed One’—the long awaited King and Saviour of his people. The angel told Mary: The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end (Luke 1:33).  Hence this Jesus is distinguished from all others by being referred to as ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ Jesus.’

When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians he showed how Jesus lived up to each of these names.  He lived up to the name ‘Son of the Most High’ by being in very nature God (Phil 2:6). He lived up to the name ‘ImmanuelGod with us’—by taking the very nature of a servant and being made in human likeness (Phil 2:7). He lived up to the name ‘Jesus—The Lord saves’ when he humbled himself and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross (Phil 2:8); and he lived up to the name ‘Christ—the Messiah, the Anointed One’ when God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11). Yes, Jesus is certainly the name above all names!

What does the name of Jesus have to do with us?  John tells us that when we believe in Jesus who is The Christ, the Son of God, we receive ‘life in his name’ (John 20:31). The name of Jesus saves those who trust in it because to believe in the name of Jesus is to believe in the person of Jesus and everything he is for us. Early Christians developed the symbol of the fish because the first letter of each Greek word in the sentence “Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour” spelt out the word ‘ichthus’ [pronounced ick-thus] the Greek word for fish. This confessed who Jesus was.

The apostles declared that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

When the Jews asked the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”(Acts 2:37, 38). When we are baptised in the name of Jesus we are given the name and nature of Christ as a personal gift for our forgiveness and eternal salvation.  We are referred to as CHRISTians. 

Scripture tells us that when we are baptised in the name of the ‘Son of the Most High’, we also become sons of the Most High God (Gal 3:26). The ‘Immanuel – God with us’ now becomes ‘Christ in us’’ (Gal. 2:20).  ‘The Lord saves’ us by joining us to his dying and rising (Rom 6:3-5).  Christ, The Messiah King gives us the power to join him, seated at his Father’s right hand in glory (Eph. 1:19-23). Such is the power of this name!

So as we enter a new year, what are we to do with the name of Jesus? Jesus’ name cops quite a bashing in today’s society. It is used commonly in cursing and swearing. Next time you hear it used that way, ask the person who says it: “Do you know who you are talking about?” You may get some interesting reactions. The name of Christ is being removed from State Schools and from prayers at all levels of government. We hear the name of Christ and the people who bear his name demeaned in the media. We Christians can even bring disgrace to the name that we bear by failing to live like ‘little Christs’ in the world or by failing to call upon the Lord’s name in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.

God calls us to live as ‘bearers’ of his name, honouring his name, believing in it, calling upon his name in worship, praying to the Father in Jesus’ name and praising his name forever. Luther encouraged us to begin each day by making the sign of the cross and repeating the name in which we were baptised.  All these things are involved in the words we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be your Name”. We are acknowledging the holiness of all God’s names—including Jesus—and asking that we may keep them holy in speech, in life and in teaching.

So, “what’s in a name?” Let’s never forget that the name given to a Hebrew baby over 2000 years ago and engraved on our lives by baptism and faith is our most precious possession. A rose by any other name would certainly NOT smell as sweet!  Amen!

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