True happiness

Text: Matthew 5:3-10 (NIV)

True happiness


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

No doubt, some of you have watched Survivor. This immensely popular TV real life game show is watched by millions of people around the world.

Imagine putting 16 people together from different backgrounds – trying to survive together and at the same time competing against one another for individual survival. After each round, the participants meet together to cast their votes to see who will be dismissed from the group. It can be for any number of reasons such as –
I think you’re not pulling your weight; you cheated by having some kind of contraband; you are too old, too selfish, too uncooperative; or simply, because I don’t like your face.

The ultimate goal is to not get voted out. And the way to survive is to make sure that there are people on your side – alliances are made – and broken – leaving behind a trail of betrayal and suspicion. This is real life played out in a game show. That’s perhaps the reason why Survivor has been so popular – it brings out the best and worst in people – more often the worst than the best. The winner is not the person who is kind and considerate, but who makes friends, uses them and then turns against them. The winner is not the person who is the better or the nicer person but the one who is ruthless and hurtful, who has no feelings for the others.

One person who was asked about his view of the show hit the nail on the head when he said, “It’s sorry that our society is this way, but the people who are conniving and back-stabbing are the ones who make it. Unlike the movies where the scriptwriter controls the plot and good triumphs over evil, in Survivor, no one controls the plot and how things eventually turn out. It is a sad commentary on the way the world is.”

As we think about what it means to be happy or blessed we might say —
Blessed are those who earn six figure incomes.
Blessed are the famous.
Blessed are those who don’t have anything to worry about.
Blessed are the powerful.
Blessed are those who have the determination and ruthlessness to eliminate everything that hinders the fulfilment of their dreams.

Our view of happiness depends so much on our circumstances and environment. A young woman might think that true happiness is to find the right man, to marry and have a family, only later to find herself thinking that true happiness would come if she could divorce her abusive husband.

Teenagers may think true happiness is getting their first car, but it’s not too long before they think that they would be truly happy if they could have a certain car that was sleeker and faster.

Happiness is a common desire. Yet, so few people seem to have true happiness that we put happiness in the same category as four-leaf clovers and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – that which is elusive, unattainable, and impossible. Happiness is a goal that we all strive for, but when that goal is reached, we realise that there is always something else that we think would make us truly happy.

I’m sure you can think of things that you would like to see changed in your life so that you can be truly happy. So we go about arranging and re-arranging our environment and circumstances so that we will be happy. On this basis, people have assumed that, if they are unhappy, it is because of this wretched washing machine, this wretched heart, this wretched person I am living with… They believe that they will become happy by changing their lot in some way.

Seeking happiness becomes a never-ending quest. Happiness, we assume, must be fun and laughter and expressing our own personalities by “doing our own thing”. In order to be happy, we think, we must be free from suffering, sorrow and hardship. It’s no wonder that we can’t ever say that we have reached our goal – true happiness. There is nothing wrong with the desire to be happy; there is everything wrong with the way we often go seeking it.

And that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about today in the Sermon on the Mount when he talks about true happiness. He says,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

We would hardly regard ‘the poor in spirit’ as “happy” because they are aware of how much their sinfulness is out of control; their faith often wavers; they lack the spiritual resources to cope with the upsets in life and easily become depressed and miserable.

“Blessed are those who mourn.”

They are the least likely to be called “happy” because they are upset by the injustices in our world; they grieve for the starving, the homeless, refugees and those suffering in wars; they are distressed over their own stupidity and sinfulness; they are sad because of what death has done.

“Blessed are the humble,”

Those whom the world regards as the least likely to be “happy” because they are always busy doing things for others; they are gentle in their dealings with others, refusing to do anything for their own personal gain at the expense of others;
they don’t push themselves forward and are satisfied helping others.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

These people can hardly be called “happy” because of their deep sense of what is right; they are passionate about justice for the underdog and won’t rest until something is done. They are unhappy about the treatment of refugees, unnecessary logging, the treatment of prisoners. They are also those who are “unhappy” with their own lives and want to live more as God intended them to live.)

“Blessed are the persecuted.”

Being persecuted can hardly be called a “happy” experience. Persecution is an unhappy event when you are suffering because you are a peacemaker, or because you have shown mercy and compassion on someone whom everyone else thinks doesn’t deserve it, or because you are pure in heart – you know what is the right thing to do but no one else sees it that way.

Can you see that Jesus’ definition of what it means to be blessed doesn’t depend on us and what is happening around us? The Beatitudes present us with a whole new idea of what it means to be happy and blessed. True happiness has to do with knowing God, belonging to God’s Kingdom, being a part of God’s family. You might say that this is hardly a popular view, especially when worldly happiness depends so much on money, a house, the right car, and being free from sickness, death and anything that upsets our “happiness”. But Jesus was one for making true statements. True happiness is to be found in God. The fact is that we don’t find happiness by seeking happiness. We find God, and discover a deep level of happiness.

Or it is better said that God finds us.

In the middle of all the difficulties we have living out our Christian faith in our daily lives; when we are sad and upset; when we are despondent and depressed;
when others reject us and ridicule us for our faith or for sticking up for what we believe is right; when we are trying to show mercy and love or bring about peace and we are told to butt out; God meets us, he strengthens us, he comforts, he helps us endure, he gives us the courage to move on.

A woman was the victim of abuse as a child. She understood what had happened – she didn’t like it – she had been angry but God had helped her through her anger and now she prayed for her father. She also helped her brother to come to terms with what had happened and to rebuild his relationship with his father. She had suffered a great deal and yet she would say that she was blessed. The inner and outer scars will always be there, but she was happy because God was with her. He had helped her though it all and now God was using her to be a peacemaker.

George Matheson was a great preacher and hymn writer who lost his sight at an early age. He thought of his blindness as his thorn in the flesh, as his personal cross. For several years, he prayed that his sight would be restored. Like most of us, I suppose, he believed that personal happiness would come to him only after the handicap was gone. But then, one day God sent him a new insight: The creative use of his handicap could actually become his personal means of achieving happiness!

So, Matheson went on to write: “My God, I have never thanked you for my thorn. I have thanked you for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of the cross itself as a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross. Teach me the value of my thorn.”

George Matheson had found God’s kind of happiness—the kind of happiness that is not only a future hope, but also a reality in the here and now.

That’s the kind of happiness that enabled the apostle Paul to write to the Philippians from his gaol cell, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4).

That’s the secret of true happiness!
You may be suffering a great deal from sickness; you may be persecuted for doing what you consider the right thing; you may be upset about your own sinfulness or the weakness of your faith; you may even be upset by those who have failed to show love toward you; whatever the case, you can still be “happy” in the knowledge that you are one of God’s precious children, that he sent his Son to die for you, and that when all is said and done, there is a place for you in heaven where there will be no more unhappiness.

This is the kind of “blessedness” or “happiness” that no circumstance or person can take away from those who trust in Christ.

Amen.

Jesus begins his work

MATTHEW 4:12 Jesus, having heard that John had been imprisoned, withdrew into Galilee. 13And having left Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the seaside in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14in order that it may be fulfilled what had been said through Isaiah the prophet:

            15Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

            way of the sea across from the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

            16The people dwelling in darkness and gloom have seen a great light

            And among those dwelling in the field of the shadow of death

            A light has risen for them

17From then Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” 18Then walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and Andrew, his brother, casting a large fish net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And Jesus said to them ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people.’ 20And they immediately left their nets and followed Him. 21And moving on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with their father Zebedee, repairing their nets, and Jesus called them. 22And they immediately left the boat and their father and followed Him. 23And Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every sickness and every infirmity among the people.

Apparently, as seen from space, Las Vegas is the brightest city in the world. In New York City, Times Square is home to the ABC ‘SuperSign’ a whopping 3,685-square foot screen with wavy LED ribbons. The Eiffel Tower in France is illuminated by 20,000 bulbs. Closer to home the light towers of the MCG have a total of 844 2000 Watt lamps. Each have an individual angle that is computer generated to provide maximum coverage of the arena without any shadowed areas or dark spots. A few years ago, Sydney’s cloudy night sky was seemingly turned into bright day when the city ushered in the New Year with 7 tonnes of fireworks including 1000 that were launched from the Opera House sails, as well as glittering waterfalls of fire that cascaded over the harbour. This paled into insignificance when compared to Dubai’s Guinness World Record effort in which over half a million fireworks were used spanning 94 kilometres of the Dubai Coast, costing nearly $7 million.

All this light in the world – it is not true light. The world is still in darkness—the darkness of greed, selfishness, broken homes, violence, theft, destruction, substance abuse, injustice and exploitation…and everything else that comes with worshipping the self as number 1. And so these man-made lights are a symbol of the extravagance and decadence that place the self on a pedestal to be served with whatever society wants to be served with.

A few years ago it was questioned by one mainstream newspaper why millions habitually flock to parties and what they actually celebrate when the same selfishness characterised by injustice and violence and family and social breakdown continues and calamity and strife surround us on a daily basis. Really isn’t this the picture we hear of from the prophet Isaiah cited by Matthew today?

The people of the Land of Zebulun and Naphtali are dwelling in darkness and gloom—God’s chosen people, the Jews, as well as Gentiles, were in darkness, error, unrighteousness—that 3 letter ‘s’ word that dare not be mentioned: sin. The people are ‘living’—that is, barely existing—in the state of sin, and therefore dwelling in the field of the shadow of death. That was the situation of the human race during the time of Isaiah’s prophecy. It was the situation when Matthew wrote…we see that with the opening verse of our text: John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod because John was faithful to God’s Word and reproved Herod for unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. On Herod’s birthday, Herodias’s daughter Salome danced before the king and his guests. Her dancing pleased Herod so much that in his drunkenness he promised to give her anything she desired. Prompted by her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although Herod was appalled by the request, he reluctantly agreed and had John beheaded in prison. What had John the Baptist done? Faithfully proclaimed God’s Word.

As our nation celebrates its greatness and the achievements of its people today, how much room will be made for public thanksgiving to God for His blessings? For all our greatness as a nation, the Australia I see is the land and the people Isaiah and Matthew spoke of centuries ago—a country that is desperately in need of the light of Christ. A country that rejects God’s Word—lost, stumbling, consumed with the decadence and self-worship of the Western world that will do away with anything that stands in the way—even God Himself.

It’s a chilling thought, but we too have inherited that condition—the condition that has the potential for us to be the next tyrant who we are sickened by. The condition that makes us all enemies of God because it shows itself in all the ways we know of or deny that are contrary to God’s will expressed in His Word. We were among the people of Zebulun and Naphtali who sat in gloom and darkness, even in the very shadow of death, needing rescue. So behold, the gospel, for you this day:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

            way of the sea across from the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

            The people dwelling in darkness and gloom have seen a great light

            And among those dwelling in the field of the shadow of death

            A light has risen for them

That light is Jesus and His Gospel. The first words Jesus proclaims in our text is: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus is talking in a geographical sense. In the person of Christ, heaven has come to earth. Wherever Jesus is, God’s kingdom is present and at work. Every other religion requires us to ascend to God through our good works. God shows his grace in that even though the world is darkened by sin and in bondage to it, blind to the true God and unable to free itself, God came down with love in the person of Christ, to bring freedom from the bondage of sin and dare I say it—ourselves. He came to trample over death with His own and make a mockery of the demonic realm of darkness with His redeeming work on the Cross.

Matthew tells us today that this Christ went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every sickness and every infirmity among the people. This is the light that has risen for the people. These healings are a witness that Jesus is indeed the Son of God with all authority over the created order, over sin, death and Satan, and the authority to forgive sins. The forgiveness of sins which is the greatest of blessings even in the depths of our brokenness and despair because it is only through forgiveness that we enter into God’s presence as His holy children and have peace and life with Him forever.

All of this is an undeserved gift to a people helpless to help themselves. So repentance is the only appropriate response to such lavish love; a love that none of us deserve but a love that is given without condition, a love that does not count our wrongs against us but counts them against the Christ who was crucified in our place to take our sin from us and exchange it with His holiness and righteousness. A love that welcomes the least into the family of God through His Son to be co-heirs with Him. Entry is through faith alone in the promise that there is a righteousness apart from the Law; the righteousness that comes through faith in this Messiah, Christ the light of the world.

Jesus says to us today: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Where is the Kingdom of Heaven? Wherever Jesus is, the Kingdom of Heaven is present—God’s gracious rule. Where is Jesus? In His holy word and sacraments. Just as He taught in the synagogues, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, Jesus is truly present again today, preaching and enacting the gospel through the readings, the liturgy, this sermon. Preaching the Gospel to you that will not return to Him empty but accomplish everything He desires it to do. He is the host of the holy meal we are about to receive, speaking His word that does what it says, making ordinary wafers and wine His true body and blood that He places in your hands, so that as you eat and drink there is no mistaking that the forgiveness and redemption that He won for the world He gives to you and you receive personally through faith in His promise: given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

You too have seen this great light shining in the darkness. It is not spectacular in the way the world understands spectacular, but it is far more powerful for this light has freed you so that you are no longer captive to your sinful nature but captive to Christ, who made you His very own in the waters of holy baptism. What a gracious God we have to come into our world and give us these holy gifts to bring us into personal relationship with Him! And in these waters, you too were called by our Lord to be His followers in your daily life and work. Just as Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John who immediately follow Jesus, not because they have a better faith or greater willpower or have sinned less than others, or for any quality within themselves. They are able to follow Jesus because He calls them to do so. The words that Jesus, God Himself utters: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people” are not just words, but words that do what they say they will do…because what Jesus says, happens. We are reminded of God’s words in the creation of the universe: “Let there be light…and it was so; let there be…and it was so; let there be…and it was so.” Here in our text the Lord of creation brings about a re-creation in these fishermen through His speech: “Come, follow me”—the same re-creation He works in your life.

Not only has Jesus won forgiveness and salvation for undeserving sinners, but in His task of building His church, chooses to use them in this work, leading and guiding them in the harvest of souls. And so the people you live and work with see a great light when they see how you live God’s word in your life. Just before our text today was Matthew’s account of the devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Without food for forty days Jesus is hungry. The devil knows Jesus has the power to turn the stones around Him into loaves of bread and tempts Him to do it. But Jesus answers: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Jesus isn’t talking about simply existing. He doesn’t say ‘Man does not exist on bread alone, but live on bread alone; real living. And so when you live—really live—meeting with Jesus Himself through His word, receiving the Holy Spirit He sends through the Scriptures, you have peace and contentment and strength no matter what your situation is because the Spirit is at work bearing His fruit. People see that in your life and they know there’s something different about these ‘churchy people’ as we’re often referred to. They see the light of Christ at work because you are a little Christ, to borrow Luther’s terms, in the darkness of the world around. When others see how you say grace at Maccas because you want Christ to be present and bless the food for you, when others see you come to church on a Sunday instead of sport or sitting on the header or sleeping in, when others see how you interact in a patient and forgiving way to those who have wronged you, when others see how you care for others, when others see how you respect authority, when others see how you cherish God’s name rather than using it habitually, when others see how you handle a crisis or live in integrity, when others see you feasting on the Word of God to really live, they see Christ the light of the world, living in and building His church among you.

It is not because of any effort on our part, but this only happens because Jesus has first preached the good news to you, and as he continues to preach to you and teach you through the scriptures, he continues to inspire and enable you to serve others and witness to him. Again today, He is in this church right here and He sends forth His gospel to make you everything He wants you to be, so that even as we live in the shadow of the valley of death of this life, His eternal light lights our way and—by his work in us and through us—shows the world a glimpse of the incredible love of its Saviour. Amen.

Behold the Lamb of God

The Text: John 1:29-42

‘God’s lamb who takes away our sin’

 

There were two different people on a particular week who came to talk to their pastor about some issues with in their families. In both cases the situation was a big fight with one of their grown up children.

The first person was a lady who was struggling with guilt about the whole thing, because she had lost her temper, things had gotten out of hand, and she had said some things she should’ve have.

The second visitor was a man, and his situation was the reverse in that he wasn’t struggling with the guilt of having lost his temper, but with the anger at his daughter over how she could’ve said the things she did to him.

In both cases the things that had happened ate away at these people whether it was sin they had committed, or sin that been committed against them. In both cases their question was, how can I get rid of this sin in our relationship and the effects of it?

And in both cases the pastor be a little John the Baptist and point to the ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’.

Sin is like rubbish that clings to our souls.

And the problem with rubbish and waste, is that the longer it hangs around, the worse it gets and the more problems it brings. Rubbish and waste not properly dealt with can make people sick, it can spread disease, if you leave too much of it in the backyard it will even attracts nasty creatures like rats.

Do you remember the pictures from England during the strikes of Margaret Thatcher’s time when she had stand-offs with the unions? Piles of rotting rubbish on the streets of London. Rubbish needs to removed for us to be healthy and live in a functioning society.

Now sin is spiritual rubbish. It needs to be taken away or it is unhealthy, and it even attracts nasty visitors. The spiritual rats are the devil and his demons. Have you noticed how they’re sometimes called ‘unclean spirits’ in the Bible?

Sin is the devil’s raw material, it’s all he’s got to work with. The devil’s strategy is to use our sin against us. So when we sin, he tries to bring it to our minds and accuse us with it, He says, ‘And you call yourself a Christian, how could you do that?’

That’s the accusation of the devil in our conscience, where he uses our sin to bring us guilt and shame, which are spiritually unhealthy, as well as in every other way. But he also uses the sin that has been committed against us, by making us angry about it and not being able to let it go.

He does this by bringing the sins of others against us to our minds so that we think, ‘how could that person do that to me?’

And so he gets in there and rummages around in the garbage of our lives, stirring it all up and making an even bigger mess.

So how do you get rid of rats?

You can set rat traps and such things, but then eventually if there’s still rubbish and waster laying around, more rats will come. If you really don’t want them around, you’ve got to get rid of the rubbish.

Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work, but in the first place he does it in a way we wouldn’t necessarily expect. He deals with the devil by removing the garbage of sin.  God gets rid of the rats by removing the rubbish from our souls.

‘Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’

Now let’s think for a few minutes about this this picture of the lamb.

What is John the baptizer trying to bring to mind when he calls Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’?

Well the short answer is that it’s to do with sacrifice.

But the longer answer is that this picks up on a very rich series of images from the Old Testament which all roll into Jesus being the Lamb of God.

So first we might think of Abraham and Isaac. Where Abraham is tested by being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. Remember Isaac’s question to Abraham? Dear little Isaac says, ‘Dad, look here’s the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ And Abraham’s wonderful faithful response was, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering…”

Which God did! Abraham is stopped by an angel from sacrificing Isaac and all of a sudden there’s a ram nearby caught up in a bush which was their sacrifice.

Then we might think of the Passover in Egypt.

When all the Israelite families were to take a lamb without blemish, to sacrifice this lamb and to put some of the blood on the doorposts.

The blood was a sign that God would pass over their houses so that the plague coming on the Egyptians would not touch them.

We might think of the lambs sacrificed at the Temple later on, making atonement for the people.

Then there was the scapegoat. Where once a year on the great Day of Atonement, Aaron the priest was to confess the sins of the people over the scapegoat, and it this goat would bear the sins of the people and carry them away out into the wilderness.

And then finally we remember the prophecy of Isaiah that we hear every Good Friday about the suffering servant of the Lord who was promised to come,

Surely he has born our griefs, carried our sorrows…

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before it’s shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth…’

All of this is in the background and flows into the loaded statement John makes when says about Jesus, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’.  Jesus is the once for all sacrifice for the sin of the world, he is our substitute, he gave his life for ours.

The story is told of a tourist who visited a church in Germany and was surprised to see the carved figure of a lamb near the top of the church’s tower. He asked why it was there and was told that when the church was being built, a workman fell from a high scaffold. His co-workers rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But to their surprise and joy, he was alive and only slightly injured. How did he survive? A flock of sheep was passing beneath the tower at the time, and he landed on top of a lamb. The lamb broke his fall and was crushed to death, but the man was saved.

So the figure of the carved lamb stood atop the church in memory of this miraculous escape, but even more to remember that in Jesus just such a life-saving event has taken place.

Now let’s just point out a few of the specific words in this sentence that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  

First notice Jesus is the lamb… of God

In other words it’s just as Abraham had said, God will provide the sacrifice.

‘For God so loved the world that he sent his Son.’ John 3:16

Amazingly, the sacrifice for our sins is not provided by us, but by God himself.

Next, notice again what this lamb does with sin?

He takes it away.

This word is different than the one for forgive. It includes forgiveness but it’s bigger than that. This word is to do with taking something away, getting rid of it, removing it, even carrying it and bearing it. Now if that is what the Lamb does, then it means we don’t do it. Which is what we tend to think.

That to deal with the sin in our life we must just be better, try harder, pray harder, believe harder, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. 

But it doesn’t work and we don’t need to be the ones to deal with sin because that what Jesus the Lamb has come for.

And notice what this Lamb takes away, it’s not sins plural but sin singular. In other words it’s not just the symptoms of bad behaviour here and there – ‘sins’ – but this is the much deeper disease of ‘sin’ singular.

And it’s not just for one group of people or one type of person, but for the whole world.

This is the once for all sacrifice.

If this Jesus can remove the sin and garbage of the whole world, how surely can he take away the sin in our life? And he does, he removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west.

Sin happens by us and to us, and the rubbish accumulates, and we hide it away, we try to forget about it. But it doesn’t go away, the symptoms of guilt and shame or anger and bitterness keep arising, reminding us there is a deeper problem. We need to bring these things to the Lamb of God for them to be taken away.

Where do we go to have our spiritual rubbish removed by the Lamb of God?  If all this still sounds a bit theoretical or spiritual to you and not terribly practical, I want to show you just how relevant and practical it is for our lives today.

Where do we go to have our spiritual rubbish removed by the Lamb of God? Well you get a hint by thinking about where we use those words.

We use them here in worship don’t we?

‘Jesus Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.’

Specifically we sing that or pray those words right before we receive Holy Communion.

Why do we do that? Why do we in worship pick up on these words of John Baptist and pray them right before we receive the body and blood of Jesus? It’s because it is here in worship, culminating in Holy Communion, where Jesus the Lamb of God invites us to come to him to have the rubbish removed from our souls.

And again that goes for the rubbish we are responsible for creating, and for that which has been dumped on us. When we say ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us’, what we’re praying is that just as he has taken away the sin of the whole world by his death on the cross, so now as we receive his body and blood given and shed on the cross, would he take away the sin in our lives, the rubbish clinging to our souls.

Let’s consider: is there any rubbish hanging around the recesses of our heart, scrunched up and stuffed away? Are we reminded it’s there every now and then by some wave of guilt or outburst of anger? What is the rubbish in our life that we need the Lamb to take away?

What’s so amazing is that not only does Jesus take away the rubbish, but he gives you immeasurably more valuable stuff in return. Imagine a council who paid you to take away your rubbish. He takes the ‘yuck’ stuff, and in return he gives you his purity, his holiness, his freedom and his peace.

‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’

Let us pray…

Jesus Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, so take away our sin and destroy its power in our lives, in our families, in the church. Amen.

The Baptism of Jesus

The Text: Matthew 3:13-17 

Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we might rejoice in the way you use water for your holy purpose of cleansing and adoption through baptism into your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s a known fact water can make dirty things clean, but it can also make clean things dirty.

Take for example floodwaters. They can cause damage and leave a lot of mess behind. The stinky silt and mud sticks to the ground and makes walking through it hazardous. Running floodwater digs away at foundations, fences, and roads; leaving holes and chasms. Anything touched by floodwaters is usually ruined.

The irony is; what do we often use to clean up after such a mess left behind by water? We use more water! We use water to wash away silt and mud. We use water to wash our muddy clothes and cars and properties. So, water can bring mess and muck, but water can also be used for cleaning.

In our text for today (which happens in the wilderness alongside the river Jordan), John the Baptist was using water to clean God’s people. In fact, ‘to baptise’ means to wash or purify something, but instead of sitting there in his camel-hair dinner jacket doing everyone’s dishes and dirty laundry, he was washing and purifying people in preparation for the coming Messiah.

But before you get a picture of John washing people’s hair or scrubbing behind people’s ears, he was using water to wash their sins away.

You see, the invitation John gave was for people to repent and be baptised, that is, to turn away from, and confess their sinful thoughts, words, and actions, and have those same thoughts, words, and actions washed away by water so the people would be holy for the coming of the Messiah.

This washing with water continued an old biblical teaching where there were two ways to wash or purify something in order to make it pure for God’s holy purposes.

The first method of cleansing was passing it through fire. But if it was going to burn in fire, then the alternate way of washing with water was to be used in order to purify it.

It makes sense that, since we humans don’t go so well in fire, the obvious way for us to be washed and purified is washing through water. Therefore, John was following God’s instructions to wash the people of their sins with water. It was a spiritual washing using the physical means of water used together with the teachings of the Word of God.

So the picture we have is: here’s John, reminding people of their sins and urging them to repent and be baptised so they could be clean and holy for the time when the coming One arrives who will take away the sins of the whole world: but then the next person to step forward to be baptised is…the man Jesus!

Now, remember, John and Jesus were related. John knew all about Jesus. When the pregnant Mary (with Jesus in her womb) met the pregnant Elizabeth (who had John in her womb), the baby John leaped inside her. John knew Jesus to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, and here he stands in front of John to be baptized. This puzzles John!

You see, this baptism was for those who have sinned, for those who repent of their sins, and for those who need to be washed of their sin. But Jesus isn’t a sinner. He had nothing to confess. He has no sinful thoughts, words and actions. Although he is fully human and so is like us in every way, the only (and very significant) difference is; Jesus wasn’t born with the taint of sin that infects everything we do. 

So, what’s John to do? This baptism was a baptism of repentance, but Jesus doesn’t need to repent because he has nothing to repent of. Even though John had refused to baptise the self-righteous Pharisees (who didn’t think they needed repenting), here stands the only One who truly has nothing to repent of!

John realises Jesus doesn’t need to be baptised because he’s already clean, pure, and holy. He’s already been set aside for God’s holy purposes. He’s already bearing the fruit in keeping with repentance because he was already bearing the right fruit! So, in fact, if anything, John needs to be baptised by Jesus, and he tells him so!

But Jesus tells him to leave it this way for now. It’s fitting and right that he be baptised in order to fulfil all righteousness—to make everything right and fulfil the will of God, right there in the water of baptism. There in the Jordan, Jesus fully identified with us sinners, and in those very waters began his ministry of taking the sin of the world upon himself, so that his sacrificial death on the cross would pay the full penalty of it.

How does this happen? Remember—water makes dirty things clean and clean things dirty.

Therefore, if these baptismal waters were washing away the sins of sinners to make them clean and holy, what would you expect to happen when the pure and holy One is placed in the same water?

Well it’s here when Jesus was baptised that the great exchange took place. In baptism you’re washed of your sins, and those sins are taken by Jesus. The sinful people like you and me become pure, clean and holy, while the pure, clean and holy One of God becomes the bearer of our sin.

But you might argue that you weren’t baptised in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptised, so how can baptism using ordinary water from out of the tap work the same way?

Well, remember, it’s not just the water which does this great and mysterious exchange, but it’s water used together with the Word of God, and our faith which trusts the Word of God when it’s used this way.

In this way, every baptism which uses water together with the Word of God, which is received through faith, is now part of this great exchange of sin. Faith trusts what God promises in this action of baptismal washing. Here in baptism our sins are washed away because Jesus takes on all our sins of thought, word, and deed and receives the punishment we deserve for them on the cross.

Therefore, although Jesus stands sinless before John the Baptiser and so didn’t need to be baptised, it was through his baptism for the sake of all righteousness where Jesus becomes the greatest sinner of all; not because he was a sinner himself, but because he bore the sins of the whole world, including yours and mine.

So here he takes his place, being baptised among sinners, and will later take his place and die between sinners on the cross. Here God comes down to us to make things right and good through the work of Jesus Christ, which begins here at his baptism.

He continues to enact this cleansing work among us as we’re reminded of our baptism when we speak his holy name at the beginning of worship, when we repent of our sins and hear his gracious and undeserving words of forgiveness, and when he welcomes us at his holy banqueting table as forgiven and holy people of God through faith.

Here we celebrate the fact God’s goodness, love, mercy and righteousness is greater than our capacity to sin!

But wait, there’s more!

You see, something else happens which changes John’s baptism of repentance into something new.

We hear the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit comes down from the newly opened heavens to rest on Jesus in the form of a dove.

Here the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Jesus, reaffirming he is the loved, chosen, and well-approved Servant and Son of God. He is now the font of the Holy Spirit, which means we come to the incarnate Jesus Christ to receive his Spirit so that we may live a life of righteousness. We do this so that, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we’re able to do the good, perfect, and salutary will of God.

At the same time, the voice of God the Father (who completes the Holy Trinity miraculously present at this world-changing baptismal event), declares this Jesus to be his priceless Son, with whom he’s deeply pleased.

Amazingly, much of the same sentiment is conveyed to each of us in our own baptism, as he adopts us as his holy and dearly loved children, speaking his words of love and pleasure over us as we fulfil his will; his holy will and command that we would be baptised and continually learn from his Words and ways on how to live as his holy children.

So here, when Jesus was baptised, baptism itself was changed. It’s no longer a simple washing, but it’s a means of the Holy Spirit which brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the Word and promises of God declare.

For this reason we can rejoice and thank God for all the gifts we receive from our baptism into Christ Jesus, so that we can say or even sing:

“Jesus loves me, this I know,
for his washing tells me so.
Baptised ones to him belong;
we are weak, but he is strong.”

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus who has made us right before God through baptism. Amen.

Unshakable Christmas Joy

The Text: Matthew 2:13-23

Christmas is a time for celebrating. Christians celebrate by praising and thanking God for sending His Son as a baby to save us from sin. The unbelieving world also celebrates for it has a break from work, and embraces the tradition of gathering with family and friends to swap gifts and share time together with loved ones. Christmas is a time to step out of everyday life and live in holiday mode.

But the painful realities of life don’t take a break at Christmas time. Don’t we all keep an ear on the radio hoping the road toll this Christmas season will be zero, all the time knowing that some families will be shattered with bad news?

Imagine then, hearing the bad news of the death of all the boys under the age of two in a small town and its surrounding area. They did not die by accident. They were brutally murdered. Such were the events that took place in and around Bethlehem about two year after the birth of Christ.

The one responsible for the murders was King Herod. The visiting Magi searching for the exact location of the infant Christ went to Herod and asked him “where is He who has been born King of the Jews? … we have come to worship Him”. Herod had no idea that Jesus had been born, despite the Messiah being the hope of God’s people for thousands of years.

On hearing the news of Christ’s birth, Herod became concerned, because he saw Jesus as a threat to his throne. Herod was a paranoid man who would stop at nothing to keep his power. He didn’t want this child to be seen as his replacement. He planned to kill this rival, as he had done before by murdering his brother, some of his sons and even his wife.

Matthew tells us that all Jerusalem was troubled also, because they knew how ruthless Herod was in guarding his throne. The inhabitants of Jerusalem knew people would die because the Good News of the Messiah’s birth was heard as bad news by Herod.

Herod feared Jesus, not in ‘faith with love’, but in ‘unbelief with jealousy and rage’. He feared losing the kingdom he had worked so hard to obtain and hold onto. So, with hate and fear in his heart Herod had his men kill all the boys 2 years old and under in Bethlehem and in that entire region. This was a heartless and monstrous crime against innocent children and their families.

We look at what Herod did and we are repulsed by his cold-hearted brutality. Yet the same rebellion against God’s will that moved his hand to murder dwells in our hearts also. The Old Adam living within us rejects God’s will for us, and we think and we do evil. We plot revenge, we think about gaining or keeping power unethically, we speak unclean words, we crave what is not ours to have, we mistreat our loved ones and withhold mercy. We have not given an order to massacre infants, but the Scriptures tell us that everyone who hates another is a murderer (1 Jn 3:15).

When we hear of tragedies such as a school shooting or an outbreak of war we are stunned and ask why. But there is no point in searching for answers. We know the cause, even if we don’t want to admit it. Sin has twisted us and we do evil against each other. Sure, changing gun laws, providing better security for the family home and removing all the cars from the roads will reduce death from those things, but sin remains, and the devil will find new ways to use sin to attack and maim and kill.

The little boys of Bethlehem were slaughtered, while the Son of God went free. Christ’s time had not yet come. Joseph is warned in a dream about the coming danger and he takes his family and flees to Egypt until it is safe for them to return to Canaan, and they settle in Nazareth.  

There is Good News in these tragic events. Jesus survives Herod’s sword and God’s plan of salvation succeeds. The incarnate Son of God survives so that his human flesh can live a sinless life and die a blameless death to redeem all flesh. He escaped death at Herod’s hand so that later He can die on the cross for all sinners, even sinners as cruel as Herod or as innocent as babes. Jesus came for the exact purpose of taking away sin and death, and He could only do that by dying at the right time.

Jesus’ death outside Jerusalem provided a way of escape for all people from the evils of this world. In His dying and rising again Jesus provides salvation for the baby boys of Bethlehem. Although evil did it worst against them, Jesus is greater and stronger, and He did what is necessary to save them. Christ alone is the holy and innocent One who takes away the sin of the world and gives us life.

The baby boys of Bethlehem died and Jesus lived, so that He would one day die to provide them with eternal life. They died for the name of Jesus, and so the Church regards them as the first martyrs of the New Testament.

In Jesus’ death we see the power of evil to disfigure and kill, but it melts away in the power of Christ’s resurrection and the life He now lives. Christ works that same power of resurrection in us. We too shall succumb to death, yet in Christ we shall be raised to live forever. He shall give us a new body in heaven and death will not be able to lay a finger on us.

You might wonder why in this season of peace and joy, of life and celebration, the Church has a day to remember murdered children. Why gloominess at such a happy time? The Christian faith is not about pretending life is not real. Tragedies happen. We can’t wish evil away, or ignore it. We face reality head on, in all its brutal tragedy, and we do so with Jesus at our side.

The Good News of Christ’s resurrection trumps death. Where suffering, pain and death are at work to maim and destroy, there God is at work to bring new life and peace and joy. In the Gospel God restores, rebuilds and gives life.

The joy of Christmas is not snuffed out by bad news. The Lord is come to His people to save and rescue, to redeem and sanctify. Jesus is still Lord even if it appears that evil is winning the day. God still forgives. The pardon and peace of the cross of Christ shines and no darkness can put out its light.

Only Christ can deliver us from the evil of this world, from our own sins, the hatred we harbour in our hearts, and from the power of the devil. In Christ we are rescued from all this. He has overcome our sin and our death. His blood cleanses us. His Spirit lives in you making you holy. He leads you to walking in the ways of righteousness. Jesus was born to rescue us from the Old Adam within.

There is an old prayer that regularly pray that asks for God’s help in our struggle against our old nature. It goes like this: Lord my God, rescue me from myself, and give me to You; take away everything that draws me from You; give me all those things which lead me to You; for Jesus’ sake. Maybe you can use this as your prayer of repentance and faith in God to make you new every day.

When suffering and death come your way, let Jesus speak. Let His sacrifice on the cross assure you that your sins are paid for. Let His resurrection be the hope of your rising to new life. Let His victory over death be the Good News you share with other suffering from the evils of this world. Let God’s love revealed in His Son be your strength and your hope. Amen.

Let’s pray. Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise, not by speaking but by dying. Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will, that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Don’t miss out!

The Text: John 1:1-14

 

It seems like none of us has missed out on Christmas. That’s good. Unfortunately some people have to work on Christmas day and that means that while the rest of us are kicking back, relaxing and having fun they have to miss out. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to work during Christmas or perhaps you’ve been away overseas during Christmas, but it can be a bit of a downer to be away from all the action at Christmas when everyone else is enjoying themselves. Perhaps you don’t miss your dad’s overcooked turkey, or your mum’s passion pop, or the bad jokes tucked away in the bonbons but apart from those things we like to be a part of it on Christmas day, even if it’s just with a couple of people or our own immediate family.

We don’t want to miss out. Thankfully our country and many others around the world pretty much legislates that most people won’t have to miss out on Christmas by making it a public holiday. There’s no cricket today because it’s Christmas – the cricket starts tomorrow. There’s no trading on the Stock Exchange – that’ll open again tomorrow or on Monday. Most shops are closed, you can’t get your car fixed… Most things are called off well in advance because we all know that the 25th of December is Christmas and we don’t want to miss out on Christmas. 

Most people, however, did miss out on the first Christmas celebration. There were a handful of shepherds, some wise men, Mary, Joseph and presumably some animals but apart from that most people missed the first Christmas. But that’s OK, it was a pretty exclusive event, no one even knew what Christmas was at that stage, so it’s understandable that most people missed it. And at the first Christmas something extraordinary happened – the one who created the earth came to live on earth. Jesus, the Son of God, was born as a baby. This is the guy who made… everything – including many of the things we enjoy at Christmas – food, drink, fun, laughter, joy, happiness, families, culture… life itself. Jesus, referred to in our reading today as ‘The Word’, was there at the beginning with God: he was God and through him all things were made. So there in Bethlehem born in a manager at the first Christmas was not only the creator of life but the source of life itself. 

It would have been great to have been there, especially with all the angels and everything else. But thankfully Jesus gave people plenty of opportunity to get to meet him and get to know him later on as he grew up and became an adult. It wasn’t a flying visit that the creator of life made to earth – he came to stay, to dwell among us and be one of us, to eat and drink and celebrate with us. And so the author of life who was the light of the world lived among us, walked in our streets, worked like we work and mixed with the people of his society.

But so many people missed it – they had the chance to get to meet Jesus in person, the creator of the world but they didn’t recognise him, or they didn’t appreciate him. Our reading from John says that ‘the true light that gives light to every person was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.’ There may have been many people who bumped into a guy called Jesus from Nazareth but they missed the Christ.

It’s a bit like being around in the 60s but not attending a street parade for the Beatles. Apparently Adelaide still holds the record for the biggest ever street parade for the Beatles – pretty much everyone was there. And so if you were alive back then and living in Adelaide but weren’t there for the street parade people are inclined to ask you – ‘Where were you? Why did you miss it?’ Can you imagine if you got to meet someone who had lived in Palestine during the time of Christ? Or if they lived in Nazareth or Jerusalem and had ample opportunity to meet Jesus face to face. Wouldn’t you ask them, ‘Did you get to see Jesus?’ I mean, he was the big event of the time. Surely you wouldn’t want to miss that. But miss him they did, and Jesus passed through the streets often completely unacknowledged as the creator of the world. The author of life, the light of life – the Christ – was there but people missed him.

How lucky we can consider ourselves not to have missed out. We’re here today not just because of Christmas but because of Christ. Jesus has revealed himself to us, even though we’ve never actually seen him in the flesh, and we have faith. That was the point of his coming – that people would realise that the source of life had come in Jesus and he had come to give us that life. Knowing the source of life is the whole purpose of life and in fact Jesus himself said this in a prayer to God the father: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Knowing Jesus means not missing out on life. It means not missing out on eternal life but it also means not missing out on life right here and now. Knowing the author of life and the source of life is the best way and the only way to get a grip on what it truly means to be alive, to appreciate the gifts we have been given. Knowing the author of life means that our life has meaning and purpose, we’re not just accidents or statistics. By knowing Jesus we have been given the right to be called children of God.

And yet, if you ask most people, it’s the people who believe in Christ and who follow him, who are the ones missing out. Being a Christian means no fun, can’t do this and you can’t do that. Rules, rules, rules, going to boring church, telling lame jokes, listening to cheesy music, disengaging with anything relevant in popular culture, hiding from anything that might be against your beliefs or a bit too rough or a bit too risqué, living your life feeling guilty, begging God for forgiveness and then waiting for Jesus to take you to heaven. Surely it’s the Christians who are missing out, many say, so thanks very much but I’ll give believing in Jesus a big miss.

What do you think – have they got some good ammunition there? Are we as Christians getting deeper into the essence and meaning of what it is to be alive and showing that in the way that we live, or are we missing out? Now every Christian is different and we’re not all going to be the life of the party or the motivating, energising champion of the church leading the way by sucking the marrow out of life. But it’s worth asking yourself – does my faith give me more life, or less? Do I feel like I’m getting deeper into what it means to be alive, or do I feel like I’m missing out. Or perhaps you’re caught in the middle – you’d like to take your faith to a deeper place but it’s risky. What might you become? What might you lose? What might you be missing out on?

Jesus, the author of life and the source of life, did not come to rob us of fun, or of pleasure, or of our personality. But he did call us to prioritise him in everything else that we treasure in life. Jesus came so that we might know the fullness of life. He came that we might be granted God’s forgiveness, God’s peace and the promise of life after death and all that those things mean for the here and now. He came to make us children of God. So the gift of life is there – don’t miss out!

The birth of Jesus Christ

Luke 2:1–20

 If any of you grew up in the Church and were ever in a Nativity Play as children, you’ll know that one of the first things to be organised were the groups of angels and shepherds.

A few of the more confident children might score the roles of Mary and Joseph, or the Wise Men, but the rank-and-file average Sunday school child, slotted in line, year after year, as a faithful angel or shepherd. They were the backbone of the Nativity Play.

The fact that these two groups – angels and shepherds – were side by side in the Christmas story, is worth thinking about, because they were quite an unlikely pair. A Pastor once visited a Childcare Centre next to his church to read the Christmas story with the children. A little girl brought this into even sharper focus for him. Because before he began he asked if anyone knew what a shepherd was? One of the little girls said, ‘Yes, a shepherd has wings and flies through the air’.

What was going on? She had confused angels and shepherds, so close was the association between them in her mind.

It is really incredible that these two groups—shepherds and angel—should be so closely connected in our minds. Because…

On the one hand, you have the angels.

From the Bible we learn that angels are part of God’s creation, they aren’t eternal, they are created beings, and yet they are heavenly beings. God’s angels are untainted by sin and evil – they are pure and holy. They live in the presence of God, continually enjoying His glory, filled with the “light” of heaven. Their whole purpose is to adore and praise the Triune God, and to be His messengers and servants for God’s people on earth. Angels appear right through the story of the Bible.  But it’s worth noting that there seems to be an explosion of angels around the birth of Jesus.

Then on other hand, you’ve got the shepherds.

For a start, they’re only human beings living on earth. But more than that, in the world of those days, being a shepherd was some of the lowliest and most humble work a person could do. Notice in our text they were living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks at night. Can you imagine what they would have looked like and smelt like spending their life out with the animals in the fields? This was probably not the sort of life vocation parents aspired to for their children.  They are the sort of people we would think of as “a bit rough around the edges”.

Have you ever noticed too, that we never find out these shepherds’ names! They’re sort of presented to us as “no-bodies” in the eyes of the world. They’re perhaps on the bottom rung of social ladder.

So there’s a sense in which these two groups: the angels and the shepherds, represent the highest of heaven, and the lowest of earth. Those who are pure and holy, and those who are unclean. Those who live in the light, and those who live in the darkness.

So what about us?

Let’s say we were casting roles for our nativity play tonight with all of us in the cast. In which role would we fit? Shepherds, or angels?

Perhaps we’d like to think that there are at least some angelic-like aspects to our lives. It may be that, in reality, we tend to be a bit more shepherd-like. Most, if not all of us, may have a few rough edges as a result of things which may have happened to us and things for which we ourselves were responsible.

How has this past year been for us? Like the shepherds, have there been things happen which made us feel like we’re at the bottom of the heap too? Issues with health, family, work, relationships?

The dark corners of this world are a constant threat to our peace and security.

Or, has it been our own failures and mistakes which have reminded us that we’re far from being an angel? The darkness that lurks in our own heart—things, perhaps, which even make us cower in fear like those shepherds in the field?  

The shepherds were living in the darkness of night, exposed to the elements with their flocks. Our deepest problem is that, apart from God’s grace, we live in the darkness of our sin exposed to death.

But at Christmas, being a shepherd is the best possible place to be… Not because the shepherds reach their way up to heaven to be with the angels, but because the angels are sent from heaven to earth with good news for the shepherds.

In our fear, in our sadness, in our sins, let us listen to the words of the angel from heaven:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”

For all the people. That includes us!

Jesus is born as our Saviour.

Christ, the Son of God, comes into this world as one of us. He is the King of angels, but He was born with the poor and lowly and laid in a manger, in a cattle shed. In Jesus God assumes our human flesh with all its rough edges, except He was born without our sin.

Jesus lived the life we couldn’t live on our own. He died the death we deserved – all to be our Saviour. All we can do is receive this good news of great joy! Jesus is the reason angels and shepherds can be side by side. Jesus brings heaven and earth together, because in Jesus, humanity is reconciled to God.

We are reconciled to our Father, God. That’s why the angels sing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.” (verse 14).

Those God favours are those who are found in Christ, having received the good news of great joy. Sin and evil want to divide and drive apart, but God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in the business of bringing together, bringing peace. And that is good news of great joy.

What Jesus has done, cannot be undone. And so heaven and earth continue to be joined together even this very night.

You might remember singing in the well-known carol:

‘Sing choirs of angels,

Sing in exultation,

Sing all ye citizens of heaven above,

Glory to God, in the highest…’

‘Sing choirs of angels’.

We sing these words tonight, not in some imaginary way, as if we have travelled back in time to the fields surrounding Bethlehem, We acknowledge the presence of the angels here and now because the reconciliation Jesus has brought between heaven and earth, between God and humanity, is a permanent change which still today protects us from our old shepherd-like rough edges and the dark corners of our lives.

We worship together with heaven. We glorify God together with the angels, As we gather in worship, heaven and earth are brought together all because of the Saviour who was born for us.

That’s why Sunday by Sunday we sing ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased…’

And again, ‘together with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven, we adore and praise your glorious name’.

God may not give shepherds wings to fly through the air like the little Child Care Centre girl suggested, but He does transform shepherds into something close to angels. Have you ever noticed what the shepherds do at the end of the Christmas story? They return glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, which is just what the angels had been, and are doing.

The coming of Jesus our Saviour, that good news of great joy, is something which did change the shepherds. May that good news of great joy that is our Saviour’s birth for us, do its work in our lives once again this Christmas.

In the name of Jesus, Amen. 

Joseph’s predicament

The Text: Matthew 1:18-25

 

Today’s focus is going to be on Joseph and his part in the coming of our Lord Jesus. So let’s begin with a little Bible quiz about Joseph—just three quick questions…

 

  1. 1. Do you remember what Joseph’s trade was?

He was a carpenter. We think of Jesus as a carpenter, but that’s mainly because we know Joseph was a carpenter. In the Gospels according to Matthew and Mark, people ask of Jesus, ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?’

  1. 2. Here in today’s Gospel Reading is the first time we hear of Joseph. Do you remember the last time we hear of him in the Gospels?

It’s in the Temple twelve years after Jesus’ birth, when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus because, as Jesus says, he was in his true Father’s house. We hear of Mary right up to the crucifixion, but the last we hear of Joseph is when Jesus is twelve years old, which leads most people to guess that Joseph probably died some time after that, perhaps because he was older than Mary. But we don’t know that for sure.

  1. Now for the last quiz question. Do you remember how many things Joseph says in the Gospels?

It’s a trick question actually. The answer is…none; not one recorded word from Joseph. Joseph comes across as the ‘strong, silent’ type and we’ll return to this later in the sermon. 

For these sorts of reasons, Joseph is an intriguing and even mysterious character. But what we want to see today is that his role in God’s plan of salvation is no less significant because of it.

So, as we think more about Joseph, let’s look first at his predicament; second, at his task; and third, at his response.

First, what is Joseph’s predicament? His quandary? His dilemma? In simple terms, Joseph’s predicament is that he is pledged to be married to Mary; Mary is pregnant and the one thing Joseph knows for sure is that he is not the father. So what to do? 

If we probe a little deeper we can discover there’s actually two possible ways of reading this situation, both of which could leave Joseph in a difficult spot. The one we most commonly hear, is that Joseph assumed that Mary had been unfaithful to him. Now this may have been difficult just on the personal level. But more than that, according to the law and social custom, it would’ve created big problems for Joseph to take Mary as his wife if it was known she had been unfaithful to him. So divorce seems to be the inevitable end. The problem, then, is that this sort of thing could be punished quite severely according to the law. So Joseph is in a predicament. He is a righteous man, and comes across as a kind and merciful man. So what is he to do?

Well, he arrives at a less than ideal solution but the best he can work out—arranging the divorce, but doing it quietly and so not creating more problems for Mary. Quite a predicament! This is the most common way to read this situation, and I think is the most likely. But there is another possibility that is worth considering, which is how many in the early church understood this story.

According to the alternative understanding of this story, Mary told Joseph about the visit to her by the angel and the news that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph believed her. So he wasn’t suspicious of her, but he believed her. One of the things to remember here is that Joseph wasn’t a modern materialistic sceptic. He was a faithful, believing first century Jew who would’ve been much more open to God’s miraculous intervention than people today would be.

So if this understanding of the story is correct, then the predicament of Joseph is that he is overwhelmed by the magnitude of what is happening and what he is being called to do. He perhaps feels unworthy about caring for the holy child. So again, what to do?

Okay, divorcing Mary and running away from the situation may not be the best option. But it’s the sort of thing a lot of the prophets felt like doing when God called them into his service. So whether Joseph is suspicious of adultery, or he is overwhelmed by the presence of God’s holiness, he finds himself in a predicament.

Now let’s pause, because there’s a connection here with our lives today.  

As people of God today, as married people, as Christian families, we find ourselves in our fair share of predicaments, don’t we? And if we take our faith seriously, if we want to hear what God has to say to us and live according to his will, this doesn’t necessarily mean we have less difficult situations. In fact it can mean we have more of them.

Let me give you a very simple example, which perhaps some of you are facing right now. Let’s say Christmas lunch this year is scheduled for 12:30 at the rellies’ place. This part of the family isn’t involved in the life of the church. The problem for you is that it’s a two hour drive to their place. Church is at 9:30. So by the time we finish and get on the road you’re thinking: “Hmm, are we going to make it? Are they going to be upset if we’re late?” And so on…

Now at one level this may not sound like a big deal. But still, this small example can simply illustrate for us that our faith constantly raises these predicaments, dilemmas, and difficult situations. Many of you are facing your own particular ones right now, no doubt. In these experiences it can simply be good to remember that even the ‘holy family’ of Joseph, Mary and Jesus was not exempt. God’s interaction in their life is disruptive and confusing, at least at first.

Do you think it’s hard being late to lunch because of church? Imagine explaining that you’re late to lunch because an angel had just visited you! And in fact it gets a lot worse after this for the holy family, because they are forced to flee to Egypt to escape Herod. But notice too, that God does not leave Joseph in his predicament. God intervenes through his angel and reassures Joseph, comforts him, and assures him who this child is and where he is from. God’s enters into Joseph’s predicament.

Now we are not promised such extraordinary angelic interventions in all our difficult situations. But let us be open to God’s coming into them, to lead us through them, and to work all things for good according to his purposes.

So that is our first point: The predicament of Joseph.

Now we move onto the task of Joseph. What is Joseph actually called to do?

The reality is that biologically, Joseph was not needed. We confess from this text and from Luke’s account that we believe… ‘In Jesus Christ our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…’ The Christian church has always confessed that the conception of Jesus was a miracle. The church confesses that the Son of God became a human being in this world not through the normal processes of a man and woman coming together, but through the power and work of the Holy Spirit in Mary. Biologically speaking, Jesus had no human father. So what is the task of Joseph?

You could say Joseph is called to be a foster-father of sorts—to adopt and care for and protect Jesus as his own. He certainly does a good job of that especially in the flight to Egypt. So Joseph is sometimes called the guardian of Jesus. Notice too that Joseph is addressed by the angel as ‘Son of David’.

So, there’s something going on here to do with the fulfilment of the covenant that God made with David—that by Joseph becoming Jesus’ legal father the rightful King will come to his throne. But connected to this in the text, we read of a very specific task Joseph is given, which is the naming of Jesus: ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him… Jesus…’

Now, you’ve probably noticed that names seem to carry a lot more significance in the culture and time of the Bible than they do for us today in our culture. But even today we still often spend a lot of time thinking about what to name our children, don’t we? It’s fairly important to us. Just imagine if someone tried to restrict this freedom. Imagine if the government tried to tell people what they could and couldn’t name their children! We seem to instinctively know there’s something very important about names, and so there is a certain honour and gravity in the giving of a name.

So Joseph’s task is to name the child, not using a name of his own choosing, but with the name the Lord supplies: ‘You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’

Let’s think a little about the name Joseph is to give the child. The name ‘Jesus’ comes from two Hebrew words, which together mean ‘the Lord saves’. Notice the emphasis in his name—Jesus comes to save. This is who he is; this is his work; this is his mission. He comes to save his people. He comes to save you.

Jesus does other things. He teaches, he heals, he works miracles, and so on. But everything else serves this main purpose of being the Saviour. This is no small point. Just about everyone is willing to acknowledge Jesus in some way—as a great teacher, as a spiritual guru, or as a nice guy. But the only way to truly know him is as the Saviour.

The reason that it’s difficult to acknowledge him as Saviour is that it also requires realising your problem is much deeper than you think. So, for example, if all we need is a bit more information and guidance, then Jesus the teacher will do. But if our problem is that actually we are broken from the core; if our condition is terminal, then we need a Saviour. And notice what he saves from!

Many people of that time were hoping for a saviour—a saviour from the Romans, a saviour from their enemies, a saviour from all the problems out there. But the angel says he comes to save his people from their sins. Salvation is about delivering us from the problem inside of us—in our sinful hearts.

Jesus comes to save you from your sins. He does this by taking your sins on himself on the cross, and so removing their power. And he’s not only Jesus, the Saviour. He’s also Immanuel; God with us, God for us. So that’s the awesome task of Joseph—naming Jesus.

Now finally and more briefly, let’s note the response of Joseph, which is the obedience of faith. ‘When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.’

One of the striking features of both Mary and Joseph in the Christmas event is that when the angel comes with the news of Jesus’ birth and gives instructions concerning it, to use the words of the old hymn, they simply ‘trust and obey’. With Joseph it stands out even more because of what we said earlier about there being no record of anything he said. All we have is his action. Joseph hears, trusts, and does what God has called him to do. At the beginning he was in a predicament and he was unsure and unclear about what to do. He had to work it out as best he could and choose a course of action.

But with a clear word from God to him, there’s no great deliberation, no argument, and no second guessing. He simply hears, trusts, and obeys.

So what about for us?

It’s true that there are situations we find ourselves in in which it is not always easy to know what God would have us do. Things can be unclear to us, and so we are called to use our Christian wisdom to find the best course of action we can. But perhaps there are not as many of these as we think there are, and in our lives there are often situations which we make more complicated because we have trouble simply obeying the clear and simple word of God.

There’s a time for deliberation and discernment. There’s even a place for wrestling with God, and asking our questions, and pouring out our hearts’ struggles to him. But there’s also a time for simple, trusting obedience. This obedience does not put us right with God. We stand right before God by faith in Jesus Christ. But from our faith flows a joyful obedience.

So as you face predicaments in your Christian life, remember Joseph, and, as Joseph did, trust God to intervene and lead you through them. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, remember Joseph, the one charged with giving the child the name and all it means, Jesus, the Saviour from sin. And as you believe in Jesus, your Saviour, may a simple and joyful obedience to God’s will overflow in your life. Amen.

Jesus & John the Baptist

The Text: Matthew 11:1-12

 

1After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.

2When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

4Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

7As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,  who will prepare your way before you.’

11Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

 

In today’s text, Matthew tells us that John is in prison. He had been arrested by Herod because John had condemned Herod’s adulterous relationship with his brother Philip’s wife. John was simply being faithful to God’s Word. John the Baptist showed his love for God by not compromising his word, and he loved Herod too―really loved him by pointing out the hard truth to him and calling him to repentance, in accordance with God’s own definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13―that love rejoices in the truth.

Okay―people don’t like to hear the truth that hurts―but being imprisoned for speaking it? It wasn’t meant to turn out like this for John, was it? Maybe that’s the reason for John’s question of Jesus: “Are you the one to come, or should we wait for another?” The reason behind John’s question has resulted in quite a deal of debate and uncertainty among scholars for a long time. Was John doubting that Jesus was really the Christ? After all, John has faithfully prepared the way for him. Yet instead of the situation getting better it has only become worse. John had proclaimed that the Christ would come to bring judgment on evil―and now languishing in prison as a victim of injustice perhaps that is what John is longing for Jesus to do for him.

Or perhaps John was uncertain or confused because his proclamation was of a Messiah coming to bring judgment. He had heard in prison of the works Christ was doing―but where was the swinging of the axe that had gone below stump level and was already at the roots? The only works John had heard were those of forgiveness, healing, and mercy―would another follow Jesus, who would perform these works of judgment?

Or could it be that John’s question is not one of doubt, but really a question of trust―expecting confirmation and verification for what he already knows? The fact that John sends a delegation to Jesus with his question and awaits an answer from him proves his faith in Jesus. I’m not so sure it need be an either/or answer. Could it not be all of these thoughts are running through John’s mind while he waited and waited in prison?

It seems like we wait and wait too. Come Lord Jesus we pray. We don’t like waiting, especially in today’s society. But today’s text doesn’t just leave us with the questions. Jesus gives his own response. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say: “Yes, go and reassure John that I’m the Messiah.” But Jesus says: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” This is the best assurance possible, for what Jesus says is the direct fulfilment of what God promised through Isaiah in today’s Old Testament reading. Jesus is the fulfilment of what has been promised from of old. He has been doing precisely these things since the beginning of his public ministry. He has preached in the synagogues. He has cast out demons. He has healed many from their sicknesses including a lame man and a blind man. The miracles point to his authority and power over all things, even to release people from their sin and the kingdom of darkness, and to be victorious over the power of death itself. It’s no wonder Jesus tells them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.”

Perhaps at some point or other we can all relate to John the Baptist as he waited in prison. Just like John, everything we might expect or hope for from God is not always fulfilled in the way we’d like, or with the timing we’d like. Maybe it’s an illness that we or a loved one suffer, or the troubles of our family. Maybe it’s a time of difficulty we’re going through, or maybe it’s wondering about an uncertain future. We might feel trapped and isolated with burdens nobody else could understand. We might feel imprisoned by our frail bodies or our own sinful human natures.

Yet the season of Advent focuses our attention on God who did not abandon his creation but stepped into it in the person of Christ and was born in that stable at Bethlehem. However if Advent were just a reminder of what had happened in salvation history then it becomes emptied of so much hope and power. Neither is Advent only about hoping Christ will come again one day. In The freedom of a Christian, Luther says

“…it is not enough…to preach about Christ just by telling what he did and said, simply as a story or as historical facts. Just knowing these things doesn’t necessarily make any difference to how a person lives.

Instead, Christ ought to be preached about in such a way that faith in him is kindled and kept burning, so that he is not only Christ, but Christ for you and me; so that what we are told he is and does takes effect in us. Such faith is produced and grows in us when we are told why Christ came, what he has brought and given us, and what good things we have when we have him.”

Together with our remembering and hoping, this is why the season of Advent is so special. Jesus came for us. He was born, truly human, for us. Born there in a stable surrounded by dirt and animals and their waste, Jesus came to us to know what it means to be a person and live in vulnerability and weakness and brokenness. He overcame temptation for us and lived perfectly for us. He came to rescue us and bring us true freedom by calling us into God’s Kingdom.

No one knows when he will come again but he tells us where he comes now with his re-creative power at work. He tells us where he comes in the midst the suffering of this world to bring the Good News to the blind, the lame, the sick, and the poor. Through the Holy Scriptures he continues to teach us, just like he taught his disciples in verse 1. He raised us from the dead and brought us his new life and resurrection power in baptism. He continues to bring freedom and release through the holy meal he serves his people which is not just bread and wine but his own flesh and blood. As he ministers to us through these ways, he calls us to wait―and to wait with him. As we do wait for his return we can rejoice that he will never leave us. As we wait with our Advent King and gather around him to be served by him, we proclaim to the world that he has trampled over death and lives today, and that he uses his authority to bless unworthy sinners with the abundant grace of God, so that there is hope and strength, joy and refuge in even the darkest places of human experience.

Blessed are those who do not take offence at Jesus’ words! For those who cherish Jesus’ words rather than taking offence at them can only do so because they have first been blessed by God. And those who have been blessed by God so that they do not take offence at the words of his Son—but hold firmly to them in faith—will see John the Baptist and all the other saints of all times and places, as we gather around the throne of the Lamb in heaven.

Amen.

Prepare the way for the Lord

Matthew 3:1-12

 

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “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 for 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.

 “I baptize you with water. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Repentance―it’s a key theme of advent and clearly a focus of today’s Gospel reading. “Repent.” That word is the opening word spoken in today’s text. It’s not even softened with a sugar-coated preface. Human ears don’t like that word. It’s a word frowned upon and laughed at by society. It’s an idea that society says oozes with irresponsibility because it gets in the way of personal freedom in deciding and claiming for ourselves what we think is our right to have. Society protests: “How dare anyone else try to snuff out my right to have whatever I want, whenever I want it and tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing!”

Even in the church it’s a word that grates and cuts against the grain of our human nature. “Outdated!” “Not progressive!” “Unloving!” “An impediment to mission!” we might argue. Or, those of us who call the church to take a stand against immorality might be heartened when we hear the word ‘repent’―until we realise that word is spoken to the unacceptable things we think or say or do ourselves. Then we quickly get to work at building the self-justification fortress: “Repent!?! Me?! We’re not that bad!!” our old self protests. “OK, we’re not perfect, but we’re pretty good.”

John the Baptist didn’t come to tell people everything was ‘OK’. “Repent!” he calls. What an unusual sight he must have been, eating locusts and wearing garments made of camel’s hair, the food and attire of the very poor. As he stood there in the wilderness, the hot, uninhabited gorge through which the Jordan flows―itself symbolic of the spiritual wasteland of the people’s hearts, devoid of any love for God―John drew people into a place where they were without the luxury, comforts, and security of their normal daily routine, to reflect on what they had prioritised in their life and how their priorities were at odds with God’s.

John saves the strictest rebuke for the Pharisees and Sadducees, very different religious sects in Israel, but with a common problem―they are assuming that because they were born into the covenant people Israel, they will be saved from the wrath to come simply because of their ancestry. Yet their hearts are far from God. They had all the external marks of religious respectability―and that is what they are trusting in. They have the false confidence that they have Abraham as their father and so have an automatic right to heaven. But they did not bring forth the fruit of genuine repentance and humility before God. John calls them to repent. He warns them the axe has gone far below the stump of the trees; it is already at the roots. Not so much as a twig will remain―God’s judgment is that they will be completely removed from the privileges he has given them.

Why does John make this call to repentance? Because the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Through the ages there have been so many predictions about how near the Kingdom of Heaven really is―even though Jesus teaches us that no-one knows the day or hour. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”―those words can be hard for us to hear for other reasons―just how near is God’s Kingdom, given that these words were spoken some 2,000 years ago? How then can we be firm in hope that God’s Kingdom is near? Is it an empty promise?

Although we don’t know when God’s Kingdom will come again, we can know where it comes now. A kingdom is where ever its King rules over his subjects. In his explanation to the petition “Thy Kingdom come”, Luther explains in the Small Catechism: “God’s Kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask in this prayer that it may come also to us. God’s Kingdom comes when our Heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy word and live a godly life on earth now, and in heaven forever.”

With this understanding of the kingdom, it might be easier to see what the Baptist means when he says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The Kingdom is near―close by―in Christ, the King of heaven, who came all the way from heaven down to earth, born in a stable at Bethlehem to be God with us. In him the kingdom has drawn close by to us, and indeed is in us, as Christ rules over our hearts and uses his authority and power to serve sinners and bless them with his grace and bring, love, forgiveness and joy. John was the one that Isaiah had spoken of in Isaiah 40:3-4:

A voice of one calling in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,  the rugged places a plain.

Isaiah says that mountains and hills are to be levelled and valleys raised up. The hills and valleys are symbolic of the sin in the human heart that separates people from God. Just as levelling mountains and raising valleys is a task beyond human ability, so too is making a way through sin to fellowship with God. It is a task that is utterly beyond human power. Only God is able to construct a way through such obstacles. He must prepare a highway to come to his people and deliver them. That is what Jesus does for us. Notice that our reading does not say: “Make a straight path so we can travel to him.” It says “Make a straight path for him to travel”. God has made the roadway and travelled it first in the person of Christ. He has come near to us.

He made the way straight for you in your baptism, where the rough ways and mountains and valleys in your heart were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit at work through God’s word. Christ came to you and washed you clean at the font and joined you to his own death and resurrection. You were born again from above and the Holy Spirit created faith in your heart, calling you to Christ through the Gospel—even if you were asleep and blissfully unaware of what was taking place, and even if you cried and squirmed and protested.

Since the Kingdom is so near in Christ who reaches out with God’s grace, it is only appropriate that all people should long to receive this Kingdom and turn to Christ with their sins for him to free them from them. John the Baptist’s call to repentance is for our ears too. It is not just to escape judgment but to receive grace. For us the call to repentance is because, though Christ will come again, he is also already here. The freeway has been opened! In the person of Christ, the Kingdom of heaven is near, again, today. He has already spoken his absolution to you this morning. He has come with good news for you through the words of Scripture. He serves you this gospel as a holy meal that he hosts―his true body and precious blood. As he hands it to you he says: “This is my body given for you. This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

The Kingdom of Heaven is near. It is 2000 years closer than when John first spoke these words in the Judean wilderness. The Kingdom of Heaven is near to you as we, the church, live in the wilderness of this age―the wilderness of western materialism, spiritual supermarkets, and spiritual wasteland of living for the self. The Kingdom of Heaven is near to you as we live in a consumer age that looks to filling the valleys of loneliness and the potholes of anxiety with things that promise hope but can’t give lasting peace. The Kingdom of Heaven is near to you as you live in a society with all its ethical and moral upheaval that has so many different ideas about what walking the straight path looks like, depending on opinion and trends. The Kingdom of Heaven is near to you as the church lives in a world that doesn’t want to hear the call of John the Baptist and in some parts would do anything to drown it out.

In days like this many of us might groan and wonder “Lord, how long? How near is your return?”

Rejoice that the Kingdom of Heaven is near to you, because you have the Christ. When we hear John’s words: “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near” we don’t know when that is…but we do know where. Thinking of the Kingdom of Heaven being found close by is actually of far more help to you than speculative dates of Jesus’ return. For when you look for the Kingdom of Heaven close by in worship; in God’s word and sacraments and in devotional time in the word of God each day, there Christ meets you with all the treasures of his grace, forgiveness, life and salvation for you. Looking for him there with repentant hearts and open hands waiting to receive is the best way to prepare for Christmas and your Saviour’s coming again―when he will take you to be with all the other saints of all times and places and serve you in the heavenly banquet that has no end.

Amen.