Gospel of peace and joy!

Luke 1:10, 14
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

            Merry Christmas! The Christ is born! The words of the angels that we heard and sung last night. The night when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Unto you is born a saviour, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). What wonderful words they are, the Good News! I’d say the best news, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue as easy. Good News of mega-joy to all people! On earth peace among those whom He favours! And who does He favour? Who did the Son of God come to save? The whole world (John 3:16). Joy and peace, this is what God’s Word, the Gospel, brings.

            We have been prepared, the potter recreating you, the Lord purifying and bringing you life, the Spirit making you Holy. And you have responded to the Lord’s promise, “I am the Lord’s servant, let it be to me as you have said.” And God has proclaimed, “See your Saviour comes!” You are the Holy people, the Redeemed of the Lord! (Isaiah 62:11-12). With the psalmist, be glad and rejoice! The Almighty comes in righteousness and justice, guarding and delivering His people. Yet humbly, His glory hidden in the night of this world, in the baby kept in hay. He has come in kindness and love for your sake, to save you!

            To save you from the worries of this world, from hurt, from sickness, from evil and from your sin and death. That you who fail, who desire evil things, pride, grudges, lust, envy; you who chase after the things of this world, wealth, fame, worldly acceptance; and distracted from God’s Word by so many other voices. That you who sin might be saved, not because of the good things you’ve done, but because of His mercy. God our Saviour saves us by removing our guilt, taking away our sinful ways of living and giving us a new life, His life. He saves us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, through baptism. So that having been justified by His grace, united to Jesus, God and human reconciled, we might be heirs of the kingdom having the hope of His everlasting life.

            Even as you continue to suffer in this world, as He did. To love and care for those around you, for those you have lost and now are separated from; just as He loved, cared and was bereaved. Return again and hear His Word. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15). He came to save me, and every one of you who is a sinner. And He has done it. It is finished (John 19:30). God declared to His church and the world at your baptism, ‘you are my beloved child’ (Matthew 3:17). That you are united to Christ in His death and resurrection, no longer you that live but Christ who lives in you (Romans 6; Galatians 2:10). Whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood lives in Him and He in them (John 6:54-56). And we receive this wonderous grace again today, for the forgiveness of all your sins. And He is faithful and just to forgive your sins and clean you from all unrighteousness as He told you (1 John 1:6-10). God loves you. Jesus came for you. And the Holy Spirit brings us together. My brothers and sisters in Christ, I love you; thank you and thank God for all the gifts we receive from each other, that we can share in Jesus’ life together. This is a wonderful thing! As we go out, rejoice! Celebrate with family, with friends, with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Sing with the angels, Glory to God on High! Praise God with the shepherds, treasure this Good News with Mary, and know that in the end the Gospel means everlasting joy and peace together in Jesus. Amen!

            The joy and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, ‘til the whole church gathers together as one. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

The most important thing to happen in history

The Text: Luke 2:11-20

If you were asked what the most important thing to happen in history was, how would you reply? The sixth person interviewed by a newspaper reporter was a 14-year-old schoolboy who said, “The birth of Jesus Christ.” He believed the birth of Jesus was the greatest event in our world since its creation. For us, Christmas is a holy day as well as a holiday. Christmas is an event too divine, too glorious and too precious to reduce our wishes to others as “Season’s Greetings”. Without our Saviour’s birth, there would be nothing of real and lasting meaning for us. Christmas regenerates our lives each year; its celebration seems perennially new as it inspires new songs, new music, new artwork, and new presentations of the Christmas story.

The surprising way in which God comes to us shatters our preconceptions of how God ought to act. Christmas is the scandal of our Almighty God coming into our world as a helpless baby, lying in an animals’ feeding box. No elaborate preparations were made for this, the greatest birth ever. God’s true greatness is seen in His humility on Christmas night in Bethlehem. By His breath-taking humility, God raises us up to new heights of glorious joy and wonder. He came down to earth to first seek and save the lost; to experience an ordinary human life with us; and to model that human life for us so it might be our lifelong passion and endeavour to be like Jesus.

To save us from our sinful human nature and be reunited with Him, God came to us as a baby crying in His mother’s arms, as she fed Him and rocked Him to sleep. God didn’t want to scare anyone at Christmas with His great power, but reminds us that his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). He didn’t force his way into our world. Instead, He came to share our vulnerability and need. He came in love and in the powerlessness of a newborn baby.

The angel gives the shepherds a sign “You will find a Child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (v 12). Now there’s nothing especially religious or miraculous about this sign, and its lowliness didn’t deter the shepherds from going to the stable to see their Saviour lying there. When the angel says “To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour” (v. 11), the words “to you” mean us too. We are also beneficiaries of this amazing event. Jesus belongs to you and me as much as He does to Mary.

In the hour of His birth, this good news of great joy is announced by an angel. The contrast between the humble setting of His birth and the splendour of the angel’s announcement couldn’t be more dramatic. And then a host of angels engage in praise and adoration of the wonderful thing God has done, giving God the glory for His wondrous deeds. Their Christmas song is still heard by us two thousand years on in our Sunday services. Their Christmas anthem is the climax to the Christmas story.  

“Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those who enjoy His favour” (v. 14)     

Jesus has brought the glory of God down among us so that we might never stop praising our marvellous God. The birth of Jesus brings heaven down to earth for us. The vision of God’s glory is no longer restricted to the angels in heaven. It’s now revealed to us in the human face of Christ. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

In our Christmas carols, we’re telling the world that heaven has come down to earth through the birth and life of Jesus. The angel’s Christmas carol permeates our whole worship. We join the angels in praising God for the marvellous way His Son comes to us. The more we enjoy all the wonderful gifts God has given us, the more we can’t help but give Him the glory. To do so is to acknowledge His primary importance in our lives and to praise His everlasting goodness, grace and mercy. King David’s prayer, “Let your glory be over all the earth” is now being fulfilled (Psalm 57:5). Praise of God is joy expressed in words, music and song. We praise the most what we love and treasure the most. When we sing with the angels “Glory to God in the highest”, we’re expressing enjoyment of our Creator. We’re living again as God created us to live; we do what God created us to do.

With the psalmist we say, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you (Psalm 9:1-2).” We have received immeasurable blessings in our lives from celebrating Christmas year after year.

A common prayer request at this time of year is for harmony, peace and calmness of spirit to reign supreme when family members get together at Christmas. The Christ of Christmas says, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, because what peacemakers do is so urgently needed and so full of blessings for everyone involved (Matt 5:9).

“People who work for peace in a peaceful way plant a good crop of right-living (James 3:18).” What a wonderful incentive that is to make the “peace on earth” of Christmas an essential part of our relationships with each other. Peacemaking is meant to be a tonic rather than a tranquiliser as it aims to make others keen to be peacemakers too.

When we give Jesus the broken pieces of our lives, He gives us His unbroken peace, peace such as this world cannot give, peace which blesses us with His gift of patience and makes us so much easier to live with. The peace of Christ becomes the still-point in our madly turning world, a blessing no change of circumstances can destroy. His peace is a creative gift that brings a soothing sense of serenity and calmness to those who eagerly embrace and treasure it. Nothing can bring you peace of heart and mind quicker than to pray about the things that make you angry and upset. Let us all pray that God will make us His instruments of peace this Christmas season.

After hearing the angels’ message, going to the manger in Bethlehem becomes more important for the shepherds than anything else.

What would you have done if you’d been one of them?

What is it in your life that matters more than anything else?

What if some of the shepherds had said they had to work, or that the stable was too far, or that they didn’t have time?

What if, years later, a shepherd who didn’t go, reported to his grandson: “Years ago when I was young, and I was watching sheep at night near Bethlehem, a bright light appeared in the sky and a voice said; ‘I bring you good news of great joy. To you is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord.” The old man’s story would finish. His grandson would look puzzled and ask what happened. The old shepherd would have to reply, “I never found out. I never went to see. Some shepherds said they saw the Christ-child. For me, I could never be quite sure. I couldn’t be bothered going.”

We too are called as the shepherds were called, to go and pay homage to the Saviour of us all. The shepherds went without hesitation and experienced the greatest night of their lives. They had believed without first seeing, and their faith was vindicated. This filled them with endless courage to share the good news of our Saviour’s birth with those around them. They took the light of Christmas into the darkness of their lives, never to be the same again.

God came Himself to save our fallen world. He came through His Son. The Word became flesh because only in flesh could Christ demonstrate ultimate and uttermost love to us human beings. The story of Christmas continues every Sunday in our worship, where we continue to sing the angel’s song: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those who enjoy His favour.”

The glorious joy of Christmas is yours to enjoy as long as you live.

Good Christians all, rejoice

with heart and soul and voice;

give good heed to what we say

Jesus Christ is born today!


‘Hail, Christian, full of grace!’

Luke 1:35
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

            Christmas is coming we say, but now it’s 4 sleeps away. Are you ready? In this season of Advent we have been hearing God tell us of His coming, of the reconciliation between God and humanity. The first Sunday we heard that He is the potter and we the clay, He is the only one who can fix us, heal and recreate us. The second Sunday we heard that Jesus is fire and life, to purify us and provide everlasting life with Him. Last Sunday we heard that the Holy Spirit is the one who makes us holy, I mean it’s all in the name, and what a joy that is, thank God for His mercy.

Now today, what has our Lord said to you? What have you heard? Who is God? One thing is that He is triune, The Holy spirit will come on you, … the power of the Most High will overshadow you, … the Holy one being born will be called the Son of God. Holy Spirit, Most High Heavenly Father, and God the Son. And in the three Sundays of Advent, the Father is the potter, the Son brings fire and life, the Holy Spirit makes us Holy. Though our God is a mystery, still this is our God, Father, Son and Spirit, and He is at work for you.

God Most High, over all power and authority, all corporations, governments, laws of physics, ghosts, movements, spiritual beings; anything you might hear. This God, God of gods, is the one who sent His messenger to show and give His grace to a young lowly girl in Palestine 2000yrs ago. Gabriel said, Grace/Rejoice! You who’ve received grace, the Lord is with you! Do not fear Mary, for you have found grace alongside God! The Most High has shown His mercy, filled Mary with grace, free gifts of God, she is truly blessed over and above all women who have ever lived and ever will live. The Most High chose Mary to be the mother of our Lord Jesus, the mother of God.

It truly is a mystery, yet our Lord, God the Son, came down from high above all things. He came down for you. He came down to take on our humanity, from the embryo, the zygote, the gamete, again I don’t really understand, it is a mystery; yet still He took on our humanity from the smallest beginning through birth, childhood, adolescence, maturity and death. He did this to sanctify the fallen human life, that all who are joined with Him, who trust Him, who find their identity in Him might live a holy life and become fully reconciled with God Almighty (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:20). This is the wonder of Christmas, the mystery of the incarnation, god became man so that we might be united with Jesus. That when you hear Jesus’ life from Christmas to the ascension, you might know that this is your life; as Paul says we are being conformed to Jesus, to live is Christ, it’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Romans 8:29; Philippians 1:21; Galatians 2:20). And even here, at the very beginning of His human life, you are there.

Mary is the first Christian, even before Elizabeth’s child leaps in her womb, Mary hears and believes. And as the first Christian we can find ourselves in her. How did your Christian life begin? How did you first come to trust in Jesus, to receive your new life in Christ? It was in the same way Mary did, you heard the Word of God (Romans 10:17). As the ancient Christians put it, Jesus was conceived by the ear. Through hearing comes life. You heard the Word God brought to you, perhaps by the mouth of a pastor as the Holy Spirit baptised with water and the Word, or the mouth of a friend speaking the Word given by the Holy Spirit in love, or even maybe a televangelist yelling God’s Word through the speakers and the Holy Spirit opening your ears to hear. You need help, need healing, need a saviour. A strong and compassionate King to protect you and show how to live. A prophet to tell you the truth, even the hard ones; that you cannot fix yourself. A priest to intercede between you and the one who is able to do anything, God Almighty. You need Jesus.

And the wonderful Good News is that, He has come down to bring you joy, peace and life in Him. The question in this season of preparation is, are you ready to receive it? Mary responded, by God’s grace, “I am the Lord’s servant, May your word to me be fulfilled.” These are the words of the Christian. God in His great mercy has freely given you the Word to respond.

Now as you hear God’s Word; the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to the grace filled everlasting life. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

The joy of Christmas

1 Thessalonians 5:23
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you completely and in every part. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

            Rejoice always! And again I say Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). This is the Sunday of joy, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. And last week, on the 2nd, I asked, ‘how are you preparing for the coming of Jesus the Christ, God incarnate’. And here we have our description of the Christian’s life awaiting the Lord. Joy, prayer, and gratitude, this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ. Don’t stifle the Spirit, or reject prophecy; but test them all. Hold tight to the good, reject all evil and keep away from it. This is the life of the Christian as we prepare for God and His coming.

            But why should we be joyful? How can we be when life is so stressful and tough? When we are hurt or injured, when we struggle with financials or ourselves, when our families are so far from us; there is so much to worry us and to trap us in despair. We all know people who have been broken, we all hear others’ complaints and whining, and we have all felt at times that we’re just trudging through life; up an eternal hill, dragged through gravel, or simply putting one foot in front of the other. You know what it is to have no joy. And yet, Paul tells the Thessalonians, now at the end of the letter, to rejoice!

            Paul had told them of who God was, of what He had done, and what He had promised. And you! You have heard from the Psalms, Isaiah, Paul and John, God telling you the same, and we have confessed together with Christ’s whole church a summary of this in the words of the Apostles Creed. Why should we be joyful? In prayerful communion with God? Giving thanks in all circumstances? For the same reason the ancient Hebrews could rejoice after God brought them out of slavery into the desert; relief and gratitude that God provided for them still, not even their sandals wore out in all those 40 long hard years (Deuteronomy 29:5). The same reason the lame man was jumping and leaping and praising God after Peter freed his legs (Acts 3:8). The same reason that Jairus’ family could rejoice when Jesus healed his broken daughter, “talitha koum” and she rose from the dead (Mark 5:41). Freeing the oppressed, releasing those trapped/imprisoned, and restoring the broken (Isaiah 61:1). And God the Father, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit has brought you too from death to everlasting life.

            We know what it is to be broken, and we know everyone suffers sin. All humanity has been separated from God who is the source of life, when we reject His Word and listening to other things going after them we cut ourselves off from Jesus, from holiness and life, joining ourselves to sin and death (Romans 6:16-18). But you have been forgiven! The Holy Spirit has brought you back to repentance, turning toward Jesus! He has even given you the words and the strength to confess your sins, your failures, your separation from Jesus. And He has promised you, ‘I forgive all your sins’.

Now forgiveness isn’t just, oh it’s all okay now, it is so much more. You are divorced from your sin and betrothed to Christ in righteousness (Ephesians 5:25-27; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:1-7). You are united to Jesus who is the resurrection, life over death (John 11:25). Why can we be joyful, prayerful and thankful in this life? Because of Jesus, God and humanity reconciled in Himself. But do not hear this as a command, a job you must do to reach Jesus, as if He only speaks to the happy and content.

How can we be joyful? God Himself comes down to you, the Son came down and became human, the God-man Jesus Christ, the Incarnation. You cannot force yourself into heaven by good works, virtue or anything else, nor can you force God down. But He comes to us in love, and sanctifies us completely and in every part. He is the one who makes holy, who unites us broken people to Himself in Jesus, restoring us, recreating us together, healing us to everlasting life with Him the source of all life. This is not just a future reality, something that will happen one day perhaps long after I am dead and my bones are dust (Genesis 3:19), this happened 2000yrs ago, He is restoring you now, a foretaste of what is to come, and certainly, as Paul prays, ‘may you wholly be kept blameless at Christ’s coming’ when the heavens and the earth will be destroyed, the new creation and the final and eternal reconciliation (2 Peter 3:12-13). And so in advent we await the coming incarnation, the reconciliation of God and man, Jesus’ birth and the final revelation. Yet today He comes to you, through His Word and Sacrament. Comes to separate you from your sin and failures, to set you anew on His path that is peace, joy and love; The Holy Spirit comes to make you Holy. This is who God is, the one who makes us Holy, so speak to Him with joy!

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to life everlasting. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘The fire and life of Christmas’

Mark 1:3
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

            I was reflecting this week, with all the white cotton snow appearing, the thick coat of Santa Claus, the reindeer and all that. It’s interesting how, so much of our Christmas traditions began in the cold winters of the far north, and yet here we are in the stinking hot Australian Summer. In the north they watch the nights get longer and colder, and strain toward that shift when the light increases and they know that the new life of Spring is coming. Where this time last year, we were looking into the face of a furnace. Burning smoke, charcoaled scrub, death and destruction. In this season of Advent, it’s as if our northern brothers and sisters look toward the new life we have in Christ, where we down here see the fire coming on the Day of the Lord.

            And it’s just as God says, Mark quoting prophets, both Isaiah and Malachi the last before John the Baptist. From Malachi (3:1), ‘Behold I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me,’ then follows the Day of the Lord. When God Himself comes like a refiner’s fire, and purifier’s soap, to refine and purify His people and to judge the wicked. Like our fiery summer and soapy cold showers. The second quote we heard today from Isaiah, comfort comfort all my people, the Lord comes to tend His flock and recreate the whole world (Isaiah 40-41). As our siblings wait for the new life of Spring. So John the Baptist proclaims the Day of the Lord, the fire and the life.

            Now I asked last week, who is God? This week, what is the Day of the Lord? And I can ask it another way, who is Jesus? This one for whom John prepares the way. As Malachi prophesied the messenger prepares the way for God Himself, then as Isaiah proclaimed the one to bring comfort and the new creation. This one who brings the fire of God’s glory and New everlasting life from dead. This baby kept in hay.
When the people heard John, they knew God was soon to fulfill His promise. The Day of the Lord was near! John’s proclamation! The kingdom of God has come! The Good News of Jesus. And truly He has come into this world bringing fire and life. However, the Day of the Lord didn’t look the way they wanted it, Jesus came humble in the flesh, lived, died, His glory hidden. Yet still, 2000yrs ago the sky did grow dark, the earth shook, and sin was killed with Jesus, God’s people purified in His death. Then in the dark of night, like at His birth, the Son of Man rose from the dead, life to all us united in Him. Just as John proclaimed in the desert, Jesus is the refiner’s fire, He is the New Creation without sin or death. And you who are baptised in Jesus’ name, by the Holy Spirit, are together with Jesus, fire and life.

            What does this mean for you? John said prepare the way of the Lord, and people came, heard, and were baptised. They repented, turned away from their sin, toward God’s promise, toward God’s Word. They repented in preparation for Christ, the forgiveness, the removal of our sin. They were waiting, we’ve been waiting. John told them to prepare, now the Holy Spirit brings you that same command, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths. So I’ll leave you with this question. As we look together toward the fire and life; how do we make ready for the coming of Jesus, for the Day of the Lord? How do you prepare for Christmas?

            The Holy Spirit guide you as we long for that Day, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto that Day. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.