‘God speaks in Baptism’

Mark 1:11
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

            We’re in a new season of the church year now, but you might not have noticed because everything is still the same white as Christmas. But we’re in the season of Epiphany, or realisation, which began on the 6th with the epiphany of the Wise Men, that Jesus is King, Priest, and sacrifice for not the Jews only but also us gentiles. Today we celebrate another epiphany, the revelation of the Triune God at Jesus’ baptism. But what does this have to do with you today? We don’t have that Ethiopian tradition of Timkat, a public re-enactment of baptism, but then what does Jesus’ baptism have to do with yours? And what does His baptism even mean?

            John’s baptism was for repentance, forgiveness of sins; but Jesus never sinned, why was He baptised? Maybe there’s an epiphany for us in God’s Word. So let’s hear a bit again. Jesus came to the Jordan river to be baptised there. When He came up from the waters the Spirit came down to Him as a dove. And also, a voice came from the clouds of heaven. What is important about these things, a dove over waters, a voice from heaven and the river Jordan? What does this tell us about Jesus and baptism?

            Maybe we’ll get some help from the last few weeks when we heard that all creation is gathered under Christ and that He fills all things, simply He is the New Creation as we say. And God shows us this in the Holy Spirit above the waters of Jesus’ baptism. What does this remind us of but the first creation (Genesis 1:2). St John told us last week, that it’s through the preincarnate Son of God, the Word, that all creation was made (John 1:1-3). And we heard that powerful Word again today, “let there be light” and there was light; no wonder the psalmist sings of God’s Words that shake the mountains, it created them (Psalm 29:6). So, there is this connection of creation to the baptism of Jesus.

            But the Spirit didn’t just hover, He came as a dove over the waters. Just like the dove holding the olive branch returning to Noah on the ark (Genesis 8:8-11). Over those flood waters that destroyed the wicked and renewed the world, only the blameless Noah and his family were saved through the waters of the flood (Genesis 6:5-13). The Spirit came as a dove, that symbol of God’s peace and rest, reminding us as well of the renewal of the world, destruction of wickedness and the salvation of the holy. So, another connection with a renewal of creation in Jesus, the death of the old sinful ways and preservation of the blameless.

            Now it wasn’t just the Spirit descending, there was also that voice from the clouds of heaven. The voice of God that shakes the foundations of the earth, that breaks the mountains; the voice of God that spoke to the ancient Israelites at Mount Sinai during the Exodus (19:9). And the Exodus is in many ways the beginning of the Israelites as the chosen people of God, He promised land and rest to their ancestor Abraham yet they lived in a foreign land, enslaved. God did not abandon His promise though, He called Moses to lead His chosen people out of Egypt and they fled. They fled through the waters of the Red Sea, and again the waters destroyed the wicked oppressors saving the chosen people of God (Exodus 14). When the Jews heard the thunderous voice, it would certainly have reminded them of the first time their ancestors heard God in the Exodus. Another connection of Jesus’ baptism to water that destroyed the wicked and saving the chosen people of God from slavery.

            Those chosen people that came to this same river, the river Jordan. This river that God dried up to bring His chosen people into the promised land of His rest (Joshua 3). It was a paradise for these wanderers of the desert, peace and joy at last at the fulfilment of God’s promise (Genesis 15:18-21). Yet just a foretaste of what is to come in Jesus. Again, this connection of a new beginning in Jesus, of life with God, here in the same Jordan, the entrance to the paradise.

            As God has revealed, Jesus brings all these things together. His baptism is a New Creation, a New Flood, a New crossing of the Red Sea, and a New entrance into Canaan. We hear these things again and again in the letters of the New Testament, that the baptism of Jesus is new life, separation from sin and wickedness, and entrance into the peace of God’s Kingdom as His chosen and holy people in Christ (Romans 6; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21; 1 Corinthians 10:2; 12:13; Galatians 3:27). The Baptism of Jesus fulfills all these promises, Jesus gathers these wonderful events in this one epiphany of the Triune God and His promises. And it’s not as if we are standing outside in. No! This is the most wonderous thing, all this is yours, according to God’s promise, by your baptism into Christ; your baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). By the Holy Mystery you are joined to Christ’s life, receiving the Holy Spirit who brings the gifts of God. By this Holy Mystery God says to you, “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.” (Galatians 4:5). You are baptised, children of God in Christ Jesus. Joined with Him who is the New Creation, separated from sin and wickedness, receiving everlasting life, coheirs of our Father’s Kingdom. You have this promise already, forgiveness and life in Jesus. Hear God’s Word to you and live by it, You are the beloved child of God!

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

It’s a big Greek word

Ephesians 1:10
In the plan of the fullness of time, to bring together all things in Christ, the things in heaven and the things in the earth.

            Today as we come toward the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the New calendar year, I want to focus on one word; might help with New Year’s resolutions. Anakefalaiosasthai. It’s a big Greek word that I hadn’t seen before. Kefale is in there and that means head, like the medical condition microcephaly or having a small head. But the big word itself means something like, gathering into a head, or union under one thing. So like how those people with five or more dogs, gather the leads into their hand, or the dogs being under their authority, at least sometimes. Another example is really any organisation, our LCA is gathered under our Bishop John Henderson, our country is gathered under our Prime Minister Scott Morrison, or maybe under Queen Elizabeth; either way, we know what it is to be under a head, to listen to someone above us calling the shots, or having people under us listening to our words. One example all of us have seen is parents.

            Now why do I bring this concept up? Well, Paul wrote to the Ephesians that God’s mysterious plan was revealed after Christ’s resurrection and then spread by Christians; and that plan is that at the fullness of time, in the incarnation as we heard last week, all things would be gathered together, everything above and below, spiritual, fleshy, doesn’t matter, all creation would be gathered in Jesus Christ, the head. Now what is the Holy Spirit telling us about God? About Jesus who is human, fully reconciled with divine, creator and creation as one person. What does it mean that Jesus is the head over all things? That Jesus gathers all things into Himself?

            Now we’re gonna talk about that later, but let’s think about how a head works for ourselves. Just your body. You have a head, it does the seeing, the thinking, all that stuff; then you have parts under your head, arms, stomach, nether regions … Now I have control over my arms don’t I? … Yes, I make them move. But sometimes my arms go against my head, against what I want to do; like my stomach when it tells me ‘I need to eat’, or tells me ‘I need more cake’, ‘I should have another beer’. Sometimes I tell my stomach to ‘get back into line’, ‘be quiet I’m in charge’, I bring my stomach under my headship. And other times we let our lower parts take control and things start to get out of hand, maybe even fall apart, which of course is where we get the word ‘dickhead’ from.

            So we see that we have a head, a goal, the one our body listens to, … or doesn’t. And we have those lower parts that might not always want to be who God has told us to be, those desires that seek to take control and take focus off of Christ, our goal. We call Christ our head, the church His body (Ephesians 5:23). So then what does this word, anakefalaiosasthai, mean for you? We are being gathered in Christ and under Him, by God the Father (John 6:44). So as our head, we listen to His Word, He is The Word (John 1:1), as He calls us to a new everlasting life in Him, to forgiveness and separation from your sin, to be children of God as He has called us to be (Mark 9:7). Being conformed, brought in line with, Jesus, God’s Son (Romans 8:29).

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Gospel of peace and joy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

The most important thing to happen in history

The Text: Luke 2:11-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Christians all, rejoice

with heart and soul and voice;

give good heed to what we say

Jesus Christ is born today!

Amen.

‘Hail, Christian, full of grace!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

The joy of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘The fire and life of Christmas’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

First Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 64:8
And you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

            We’ve heard again and again over the last few months, the season after Pentecost is about Christ’s church, who we are and what we do. Well today the church season changes and we being to hear again of who God is and what He does and will do. So who is God? Isaiah tells us, He is Our Father, He is the potter.

            And as the potter, He made us, we are the clay, the work of His hands. He is the one who can change who we are, who can fix breaks or failures in us, who can build us up into something beautiful and useful; or, as Jesus tells us, destroy those who reject Him body and soul (Matthew 10:28). He is the creator of everything. The creator, not creation; He is the potter not the clay. Why is that important for us? Well, if a broken pot wants to get fixed, asking a fancy pot isn’t gonna help, we need to rely on God. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1:8), Our Father will keep you firm to the end, will support, sustain, give you strength so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ! God is faithful! But, we people are not.

            Isaiah laments of God’s people, ‘no one calls on your name, no one relies on you for strength; because you have hidden your face from us and given us over to our sins.’ In the time of Isaiah, yes God had kept a remnant, but so many had left the faith. The powerful relied on their armies, the arrogant on their good works, the poor on idols. His people had abandoned the faith of their forefathers, relying not on the creator but the created. And is it much different today?

            Isaiah writes, All of us have become like the unclean, all our righteousness, our good works, are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf and our sin, like the wind, sweeps us away. We confess, I am a poor miserable sinner who cannot help myself. When we live in sin we slowly but surely die, we cannot get out by ourselves. An obvious example is life in gangs, or the old mafia stories; and of course when people rely on alcohol or drugs instead of God. And I’m sure there’s been times in your life when you have felt beaten down or carried away by your guilt over what you have done. As Isaiah said, ‘you have handed us over to our guilt.’

            Yet he doesn’t end there, no he keeps going. ‘Yet you, Lord, are our Father! We are the clay you are the potter, we all are the work of your hands. Do not be angry to excess Lord; do not remember our sins forever! Oh, look on us, for we are your people!’ I know my sin, the guilt I have and experience. I know that I am clay in the potters hands, and I know what I deserve. But you and I are not sinners in the hands of an angry God. No! Far from it!

We are broken and hurting children in the hands of our loving Heavenly Father. He has let us loose to do what we might choose. We chose to touch the fire, even jump into it, carried away on our foolish desires; then we have tried to hide it, to fix it ourselves, but we cannot. We need help. You need help. To repent, turn away from sin and turn back to Our Loving Heavenly Father. To confess our sin, to reveal our guilt, and to receive His healing as He reshapes us. We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God. No, we are sick in need of the medicine of Jesus, renewal in the Holy Spirit. This is the rhythm of our life on earth. To sin, to repent, to be restored by Jesus. But this is not an endless cycle, in fact the whole of creation suffers in the same way. We are clay, dirt, earth, and look to the potter for His restoring hand, and the whole earth looks to Christ and His return, to be restored, renewed, made perfect on that Last Day.

We join again with the psalmist, “Let your hand, O Father, rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man, Jesus, you have raised up for yourself.
Then we, united in Him, will not turn away from you; revive us, in Him, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.”
(Psalm 80:17-19)

            And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, until that Last Day. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 25:34
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

            The sheep and the goats, faithful and lazy servants, the foolish virgins and the wise. A long chapter in Matthew’s gospel, we’ve heard it over these last three weeks. I wonder what Jesus is trying to tell us?

            As our church year comes to an end, we look to the end of the church on this earth. Since Pentecost the Holy Spirit has been teaching the church, who we are and what we can do. But now we hear the end. The Last Judgement, when Jesus reveals Himself to all, in glory, to judge the living and the dead. Jesus, high above all the rubbish and corruption of our governments here on earth. Jesus is the King of kings, Lord of lords, simply He is in charge (Revelation 19:16). And when He finally reveals Himself, He will reveal all things. He will show who you are to the whole world, what you have done, just as at a court case. After all He is the righteous judge (2 Timothy 4:8). He will say to the sheep, come; and to the goats, get lost! So, who are you? A sheep? Or a goat?

            To the goats He said, depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Eternal punishment, not meant for people. Rather Jesus tells us God prepared it for our enemy and his agents, not for those people who reject God’s love, who refuse to love others, but made just for the demons. As God says through Ezekiel, just a chapter before our reading today, thus says the Lord, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). But still, this is where the wicked condemn themselves to, what those who reject Christ’s love and mercy receive. Those who reject life, don’t get it.

            Does this make you uneasy? Does it make you afraid? For yourself, your friends and family? For all those people in our community, in our world who do not know Christ? Yes? Good! When Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God, He knew His words would not bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). Christ speaks harshly throughout the gospels, it’s no different than the prophets who proclaimed His coming. God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus, the King, speaks harshly to those at peace with their sin. To pierce their hearts, to terrify and crush the conscience, showing us our sin in the face of God’s holiness, seeing our sin as God sees it.

            Yes, Christ came to crush the unrepentant sinner, He is harsh with the arrogant and individualistic goats. But not with the humble, listening sheep. To the sheep He says, ‘come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world!’ ‘Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Gentle and tender He speaks to the broken sinner, to the lost sheep, healing the injured, strengthening the weak (Ezekiel 34:16). The kingdom prepare for you, not angels, not just those great saints since the beginning, for you. God declared to the serpent in the garden, His foot will crush your head (Genesis 3:15). From the foundation of the world, our Heavenly Father planned for you to come into His kingdom, to receive life, life forever in peace, joy and love with Him, Father, Son and Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-5; Titus 1:1-2). When Christ does return, we will know where we stand, everyone will. Yet what hope does He give those listening 2000yrs ago, what hope does this passage give you?

            Who are the sheep? They are those blessed by the Father. You are blessed by the Father, at the end of every Divine Service He makes this clear. And the sheep inherit the kingdom. You are children of God, adopted in Baptism by the Holy Spirit, you are now co-heirs with Christ to this Heavenly Kingdom prepared from the beginning (Matthew 3:17; Romans 8:17). The sheep come to Jesus. You come to Jesus and receive from Him His flesh and blood (John 6:53; Philippians 3:21). The sheep, made righteous in the blood of the lamb, receive eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:21). You receive the life of Christ as we, His Church, are united with Him in the mystery of God’s love (Ephesians 3:6, 9). In His presence today (Matthew 18:20). In His speaking to us through His Word. In His forgiveness and life given in baptism, absolution, Holy Communion. Who are the sheep? We are, God has promised. Who is the church? We are, alongside all the saints across space and time. And what can we do now, as the Church? Serve those in need, those locked up or housebound, those suffering addiction or disease, those hungry, hurting, naked and needy people in our families, in our parish, in our towns. Lord have mercy on us and make our desires yours, that we may care so much that we don’t even notice when we serve others.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Twentyfourth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Thessalonians 5:5-6
For all of you are children of light and day, not of night and dark; therefore we should not sleep as the rest, rather we should watch and be sober.

            Careful. A word I say often to Nathaniel as he waddles around. Watch out! A sentiment we are very aware of under these COVID restrictions. Be careful when you go to the shops, cautious and aware. Sanitise your hands, wear the mask, if you’re at all sick stay home and get tested. The kids at school know it; watch out or COVID will get you!

            It reminds me of another warning, one from so many years ago we struggle to count them. The Lord said to Cain, ‘why are you angry? … if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. (Genesis 4:6-7). Watch out or sin will get you. And 2000yrs ago Peter sent out this letter to the faithful, ‘be watchful and sober-minded. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8). Watch out or the devil will get you. But there is something far greater than our enemy, far more powerful than any sin. The Day of the Lord is coming.

            Judgement day; the final revelation, in Greek: apocalypse. When Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31f), the foolish virgins cast out, the wise ones brought into the wedding feast of the Lamb! They say are you ready for your death; forget about death, are you ready for this? Do you know who you are? Since Pentecost God has been teaching His church, the Holy Spirit has been speaking to you. Telling you who you are, bringing you wonderful gifts, yet soon the King will return from His journey to settle accounts. Did you hear who you are? Who God declares you to be? Who He makes you to be in Jesus? … Do you hold on tight to the gifts you have been given? Relying on Christ, on God’s grace, on His love for you? … or are you worn out, loosing energy and sight of the goal, just as our country is becoming lazy with our COVID restrictions?

            Today the Holy Spirit is telling you and me, to wake up, to know who we are, to know what is to come. Some may refuse to listen, some just throw away Gods gifts, like those at night in deep sleep, or drunk running from their problems. But you are not of the night, not of darkness. Your sin, darkness has been taken away from you, your failure has been dealt with by Christ crucified. You have been made anew in Jesus by His washing in Baptism, by His Most Holy Blood in Communion. Brought into His light, guided by The Holy Spirit, you are children of the day, you are the light of the world ()! And since we are children of the day, since we belong to the New Day in Jesus, let us not give up hope, let us not loose heart, you are forgiven, you have all the Heavenly hosts on side. Let us be aware of who we are everyday, our heart on our sleeve, showing Christ’s love and faith to those around us, always knowing, even thinking on our wonderful hope of salvation.

For God did not destine us to anger, to wrath, but rather to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. This salvation, separation from your failures and union with God in Jesus with peace, joy and love; this salvation given to you today through the absolution returning you to the grace, the gifts, of your baptism, and through Christ’s very body and blood given and shed for you, forgiveness and union with Christ. Know this, you have been saved. You are already one of God’s people, awake in the light of Christ. This is who you are, child of God our Heavenly Father, coheir with Jesus our Lord and Saviour, friend of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. As awesome and terrible as the Day of the Lord may be, as we hear from the prophets, us who are united with Christ in His death, will live together with Him. Encourage each other with this, build each other up! I need reminders of who I am because of Jesus, of what is truly important; and I’m sure you do too. So encourage each other, speak with each other and the other Christians you know about the faith, the wonderful gifts of God, His promises to us all. Children of God, Baptised into Life, you are Christ’s! Go in peace, love, and joyfully serving and praising Christ Jesus, your Saviour!

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.