Reflecting the true light

The Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28

A few years ago, China landed a rocket on the moon and obtained some samples from the moon’s surface. We humans are fascinated by moon travel and expeditions to other planets.

Sometimes, when we see a full moon rising in the early evening, it appears so big and bright that we can see so much detail on it.

In some ways, John the Baptist is like the moon. He came rising onto the scene out of nowhere – from the wilderness – and told the people that he is not the light but was pointing the people to the light: He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. And that’s what the moon does. The moon does not produce its own light but it merely reflects the light of the sun. And what’s interesting is that the sun is nowhere to be seen – it’s at the opposite end of the world, and yet it shines bright enough to bring light to the deepest darkness.

In the same way, we Christians have been called to reflect the light of Christ. Jesus says – “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” So just as John was a witness to the light, we are to be a witness to the light. The light of Christ. And we do that by reflecting the light of Christ in all that we do. Because people look at us and they don’t just judge us by the things we do or say but they judge God as well.

As we look to see how we are reflecting the light of God it is often helpful to look in the mirror to see what others are seeing. Quite often we don’t realise what we are reflecting. We might think we are looking okay – until we look in the mirror and see our shirt button isn’t done up or we have some breakfast remains on our face. We might think we are leading great examples of Christian living; but it’s not important what we think, but what others see in us.

Luther’s explanation to the 10 commandments in his Small Catechism, helps us reflect on how we break each of the commandments in 2 ways – known as acts of commission and acts of omission. We break the commandments not just by what we do – acts of commission – but by what we don’t do – acts of omission.

Usually we’re pretty good at refraining from doing the wrong thing – acts of commission, such as in the 5th Commandment: “You shall not kill. What does this mean? We are to fear and love God so that we do not hurt our neighbour in any way.”  Yep, I can check that one off.

But Luther continues – “BUT, I am to help him in all his physical needs.” That’s the part I’m not always so good at. “Look, I’m a little busy at the moment – can’t somebody else help you?” Or the seventh commandment: “You shall not steal – we are to fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbour’s money or property.” Check. No worries with that one.

“BUT – we are to help him improve and protect his property and means of making a living.”

“Sorry but I’ve got my own business to worry about – I have to make enough to pay my mortgage – my credit card – and save up for my retirement. Can’t my neighbour get his act into gear? I’ve worked hard to get where I am – why can’t he do the same?”

 Sometimes it’s not the light of what we are doing that is reflecting on people around us – but what we are NOT doing that people are taking notice of. As the old saying goes – “all it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.” Sometimes it’s the acts of omission that do the most harm. And so it can be a real struggle reflecting the light of Christ because of the things that we don’t do to help our neighbour.  

And there are also times when we can fall into the danger of not reflecting the light of Christ because we are trying too hard to reflect our own light. A sort of, “Look at me – look at all the good things I’m doing.” And that’s where John had to try hard to keep reminding people that he is NOT the light. He said – I’m not even Elijah or one of the prophets. I’m just one who is pointing you to the true light of Christ.

St Paul shares with us how we CAN reflect God’s light not by doing good works in order for the world to be impressed with our service. No, Paul says – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. What a freeing thing that is when we forget about trying to impress others by our good works and just rejoice, pray and give thanks for all the good things God has done for us..

It’s so easy to rejoice, pray and give thanks when we realise how much God has done for us in Christ. But it’s just as easy to reflect the opposite, to grumble about everything instead of rejoicing. Like the Israelites who grumbled about their conditions rather than rejoicing that God had freed them from slavery in Egypt, many of us complained about the restrictions that were imposed upon us during the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of rejoicing that God had saved many lives through the actions of the medical profession, and some of the restrictions put in place by the government of the time, we grumbled that we had to wear masks in church and use individual cups for holy communion. It’s so easy to forget to rejoice and give thanks and pray for our government and our medical profession, even though they’re not perfect, like all of us.  That’s when we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “What image are we reflecting to the world? What light are we shining? Are we shining our own light or Christ’s?”

 So often we believe it is up to us to take the ‘fight’ to the world. We think that it is up to us to defend the rights of God and the church. And often what happens is that we replace God’s light with our own. And that’s what John was avoiding when he said: “I’m not the Christ, I’m not Elijah – I’m not one of the prophets. In fact I’m not even worthy enough to untie the sandals of the one I’m pointing you to.”

Yes, we all want to defend God – we all want to defend the church – we want to defend the name of Christ in an increasingly Godless world. But the best way we can do that is by rejoicing in the midst of it all – giving thanks in the midst of it all – and praying for all. And Paul says – pray without ceasing – because the challenges on the church and on God’s name are without ceasing. And in doing that we will be reflecting the light of Christ even if sometimes we don’t always live perfect lives. And even when that happens, we are assured by the Word of God, that, “the God of peace himself will sanctify you entirely; and your spirit and soul and body will be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The one who calls us is faithful, and he will do this. Amen.

Same story – different challenges

Text Mark 1:1-8

Same story – different challenges

One of the challenges during Advent and Christmas is hearing the familiar story we all know so well.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the story, but sometimes we sort of switch off – we’ve heard it all before – we want to hear something new. We all know the story. We’ve all seen the Christmas pageants and know the script.  We’ve seen the Nativity scenes with Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus in a manger, the cow, donkey, the sheep and shepherds. It’s become almost too familiar.  And what is the old saying: ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’”?

The season of Advent prepares the way to Christmas through the wilderness. Advent makes a straight path for Jesus – the path which is usually hindered by the busyness of shopping and food preparation and the organising of holidays. Every year has different challenges hindering our preparations for Christmas.  During this Advent season let this be a time of reflection and contemplation as we hear the good news of Jesus coming to us in the flesh. Let the gospel sink more deeply into our lives, let the story of Jesus’ birth speak to us differently this year. The story of Jesus may be familiar – it may be the same – but our lives are not the same so let us hear the story with eager ears.

But before we do, let us remember haw very different it was during COVID. For many, it was not the usual joyous march toward Christmas.  Everything might have been planned – parents were thinking about roles for their children – the play was organised and being rehearsed, the carols and readings were all worked out. But how to fit the usual crowds into one per 4 square metres and 1.5 metres apart? And how to account for any visitors that may turn up? It was anything but the straight path to Christmas that John the Baptist proclaimed-  for us there were many road blocks and potholes to be faced along the way.

During COVID all people were anxious and waiting in the wilderness of lockdowns. For many, Advent was a wilderness experience in lockdown. For many there was no clear path forward. It was a time of uncertainty, fear and grief. Christmas may have been the same familiar story but our lives were not. But while the harshness of wilderness may have confronted us during those times of church closure, the ageless truth remained the same and it is what got us through. When the angel announced to Mary and Joseph that Mary would give birth he said that this child would be called Immanuel – which means God is with us. And that kept us going, knowing that in the wilderness we were not alone.

The season of Advent reminds us that no matter where we are or what experiences we are going through that God is with us in Jesus. The wilderness is an uncomfortable place if we are alone. Peter was writing to a Christian community who were in the wilderness. They too needed reminding that the Christmas story was a story of hope in times of wilderness. The wilderness can seem like an eternity when you are alone but Peter reminds us that with God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.

Peter was writing to a Christian community experiencing persecution at the hands of the ruling empire. They were looking for Jesus’ return and immediate relief from their suffering.  But God does not always act in our timeline.  A thousand years is like a day, and a day is like a thousand years to God.  And when we are suffering, the lonely nights can seem like an eternity in the wilderness but, as the Psalmist writes: ‘Weeping may last for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.’

During Advent we are given a word of hope for the future while our present seems like wilderness. The prophet John the Baptist proclaimed in the wilderness a familiar message to a people who were in the wilderness themselves. Israel has been invaded by the Roman Empire and they had no king.  John pointed away from himself and toward someone greater to come. John pointed to a hopeful future by promising one who would come baptizing, not with mere water but with the eternal Holy Spirit. And we are to live out our hope by looking away from ourselves and our wilderness to one more powerful than us.

Our Advent message is that we are called to be a people that await the coming of the Lord in all circumstances.  We are always in waiting—through victory and defeat, triumph and loss. And as the church, we are to proclaim peace on earth, goodwill towards all, and joy to the world – all the messages of Christmas.

And that’s what Peter said also: “While you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation”. And it’s the patience of the Lord that creates the seeming slowness in times of wilderness – his patience of not wanting anyone to be lost forever.

So just as we are pointed by John to Christ, we point the world to the Christ, the one who is more powerful, more patient, and more loving. We point to the Christ, the one who is to come.

This Advent, many of us feel like we are still in the wilderness. But let us remember that all things here on earth are temporary. Let our lives be shaped by our hope in the truth that God is coming – that God has come in Jesus who is with us always. Amen.

Christmas is coming.

The Text: Mark 13:24-37

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may keep watch for the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Have you noticed what’s coming? For example, have you noticed that Christmas is coming, and how can you tell?

You can tell because the shops and streets are full of Christmas decorations, wrappings, lights, gift ideas, etc. You can tell because Christmas music is playing. You can tell because the TV advertisements let you know what you need to buy to make yourself or your loved ones happy.

Or, have you noticed a number of new films coming soon? Boxing Day is traditionally when many blockbuster films open in cinemas around the country.

Or, have you noticed that the days are getting longer and warmer, and the agapanthus and jacarandas are flowering?

Or, have you noticed the Lord is coming, and how can you tell?

Well, you can tell by the signs.

Just like a television advertisement or movie trailer which changes scenes rapidly, today’s gospel reading, or rather Jesus through St Mark, is using a montage of pictures which advertise the Lord’s coming in a very contemporary way.

Try to imagine what he’s saying, picturing the signs:

The opening scene: Cosmic chaos! You watch the sun go dark; the moon goes black without the sun, the stars fall from their positions, and the heavenly authorities and powers are shaken from their foundations.

Change of scene: You see the Son of man coming on the clouds surrounded by the light of his glory. The angels whizz backwards and forwards to the ends of the earth, gathering all the chosen ones.

Change of scene: You see a fig tree at spring time, sprouting a new, green, tender shoot, advertising the coming summer; then you see a picture of the universe, and you’re disturbed to see everything, including the heavens and the earth disappear over time, yet you also notice the words spoken by God strangely remain unaffected by the ravages of time and don’t fade at all.

Change of scene: You see an alarm clock about to go off, but because it hasn’t got any hands to tell what time it will happen, no-one can figure out what time it will go off. You even see the Son of God go up and inspect it, but he too doesn’t know what time it’ll go off.

Change of scene: You watch a man going away on a journey, leaving his servants in charge of all his belongings. You see the doorkeeper of his property stand at watch. Time goes by and you notice the same doorkeeper at different times of the night and day still standing, still watching, still waiting.

Change of scene: everything is going dark, but as you see this, you notice more and more people falling asleep, and fewer staying awake. The scene ends with a word, strong and clear: Watch!

Like a richly colourful and startling advertisement, this montage of pictures creates a sense of anticipation.

In the church we anticipate and eagerly look forward to the coming of the Day of the Lord. This is what the Advent season is all about. Advent isn’t designed just to make us ready for Christmas, but to remind us and make us ready for Christ coming in his glory. And while we may not see the sun going black or see any stars fall, we know the moment of his return is getting nearer all the time.

But, we are not very good at keeping watch!

We aren’t very good at waiting because we want things NOW. We’re not even patient at watching sport. Many people prefer the quick action games like one-day cricket or 20-20 cricket to the slower battle of the tests. We also want our meals NOW, that’s why we have microwaves and fast food. We want to sing Christmas carols now and then by the time Christmas is here we are tired of them. We want to see the films now. We want the new products now so we can be first in our social circle to have the latest thing. We want to get better now rather than letting nature take its course. We want the highly paid positions now rather than working our way up the ladder. We want to get paid for our crops now. We want to receive the blessings of retirement now. We want to be wise now. Even emails and mobile phones demand our immediate attention.

Why are we all so busy and feeling stressed out? Because everything has to be done…NOW! But who said everything has to be that way?

Have you noticed how we’ve become so impatient? Is this healthy for us? We have forgotten how to be patient, to watch and wait. We need to re-learn the art of silence. We need to re-learn the teaching of rest and relaxation instead of our constant work and busy-ness.

But that’s not all! We’ve also become passive watchers. What once used to make our blood boil or cause us to cry, no longer affects us or moves us to action. Many of us were deeply affected when we first saw the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre buildings or the Bali bombings on our television screens. But what about now? Terrible atrocities seem to be reported on every night in our news bulletins. What is our reaction? Not another terrorist attack that we are tired of hearing about. It also seems as the amount of violence increases on our TV screens, the less we notice it; we become conditioned to it. Violence and terror don’t move us to action the way it used to. The most we do is shake our heads and change the television channel to find something else more appealing.

In other words, we’re becoming people that hide or ignore our emotions. What once used to shock us, we now turn a blind eye to. What once used to terrify us, we now only shrug our shoulders.

Unfortunately this same attitude affects the church. For example, when the Word of God strikes deeply at our hearts, we might just consider it an “itch” and ignore it. When God urges repentance, we self-justify our actions and excuse ourselves from self-examination. When God announces peace, forgiveness, comfort and love, we simply shrug our shoulders as if nothing has happened.

Yet we are called to watch – actively and patiently. The Spirit calls us to action like a concierge standing watch. He calls us to have patience as we wait in constant anticipation.

But just like a scary movie, we might be afraid to watch. Some of us are afraid to look for the signs of the Lord’s coming, because it reminds us of our fragility, our feebleness, our weakness, or our sinfulness. Yet for those in Christ, watching for Jesus isn’t something to fear.

Even though some of the signs Jesus talks about may be scary to some, to Christians they’re something to look forward to. We look forward to them because we’re among the chosen ones!

Since we’re God’s chosen ones, even if the sun were to lose its light and energy, we’ve nothing to fear. Even if the stars were to fall from the sky, we can instead celebrate the coming of the Lord. Even when Jesus comes in glory and many shake with fear, we can clap our hands and cheer our victorious King.

We can do this because we’re among those he’ll gather up into his eternal kingdom. He’s already placed his name on us in baptism, claiming us to be his own. Therefore, confident of his love and faithfulness, we can constantly watch and look forward to his promised return.

This is the story of Advent. When Advent comes, we’re called to watch. We’re to watch ourselves and admit our impatience, our inaction and our laziness. We’re to repent of our busyness that has squeezed Jesus and his word out of our lives. We’re to repent of our sinfulness, but in such a manner that we don’t fear his anger, but instead we are confident of his mercy, compassion and forgiveness.

When Advent comes, we’re called to watch for Jesus. We’re to watch for the signs of his coming and listen to his Words of promise. We’re to look to Jesus who truly comes to us already, hidden in a child born in Bethlehem, hidden in the words of a sermon, hidden in water mixed with his holy name, and hidden with bread and wine that truly becomes his body and blood.

Just like an advertisement announcing the arrival of a film, product or celebration, Advent creates sense of anticipation. We anticipate that Jesus will return, for that’s what he said. Jesus doesn’t lie. His word remains true and valid today as the day he first promised.

Therefore stay awake and watch, actively and patiently! Watch, knowing that salvation is ours and we’re the chosen ones who’ll be gathered up to enter his kingdom. Rejoice that we’ve been selected to enter his kingdom without fear.

As we stand and watch, clinging to God’s word, we’re assured that he’s not far off, but here with us, standing beside us patiently. In this way as we listen attentively, eat and drink eagerly, we’re assured that salvation is ours even now. So the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds as we wait and watch for our coming Lord Christ 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.


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.


Clothed in Christ

Romans 13:11-14  

 ‘Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…’
(v14a NIV)

A lot of people say that you should never judge a book by its cover. There’s probably a lot of truth in that when we apply it to people; because there is usually a lot more going on in people’s lives than what we can see when we look at them. However, there are times when you can tell a lot about who people are and what they do by the way they dress.

For example, you can probably tell if people are firefighters by the uniform they wear, and that their job it to put out fires. People dressed in surgical scrubs are probably surgeons who operate on patients to help them recover from illnesses or injuries. Someone in a sporting uniform will most probably be an athlete who competes in a particular sport. Depending on the sport, the clothes that athletes wear might even tell us the position they play or what their role is in the team.

In each of these cases, there will be consistency between what a person wears, who they are and what they do. You wouldn’t want a person dressed like a fireman to do surgery in the operating theatre. Cricketers dressed like surgeons won’t be able to compete to their full ability. And there is no way you would want to fight a fire dressed like a netballer or a swimmer. What we wear can say a lot about who we are and what we do.

When the Apostle Paul encourages the Christians in Rome to be dressed in Christ, he wasn’t giving them fashion advice. Paul was encouraging the readers of his letter to find a new sense of who we are and what the purpose of our lives are through faith in Jesus.

Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus covers our sin, shame and guilt and gives us a new identity as children of God. Through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit washes us clean of everything that makes us unacceptable to God, to others and even to ourselves, and covers us with the goodness, righteousness and purity of Jesus. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see our flaws, mistakes or failures. Instead, because we are clothed in Christ, God sees us as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased (see Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).

In the same way that the clothes firefighters, surgeons or sportspeople wear can tell us who they are, so being clothed in Christ tells us that we are God’s children who receive all of Jesus’ goodness as his gift to us through the Holy Spirit.

Just as it makes sense that what a firefighter, surgeon or sportsperson does will also reflect who they are, so the way in which God’s children live their lives needs to be consistent with being dressed with Jesus and who we are in him.

As surely as it is absurd to think of a fireman in an operating theatre, or a surgeon on a netball court, or a footballer fighting a fire, it makes just as little sense for the children of God to live in ways that are different from who we are as people who are clothed in Christ’s goodness. That is why Paul writes,

‘So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.’ (v12b,13 NIV).

Paul is urging us to be clothed in the goodness of Jesus so we live good lives which show the world who we are as God’s children.

When we live faithfully as God’s children, we bring the light of God’s goodness into a world that is often very dark. As we begin the season of Advent, in the coming weeks we will be remembering God’s gifts to us of peace, hope, joy and love.

People who live in our world, who live right next door to us, or maybe even live under our own roof, often need a greater sense of peace, hope, joy and love in their lives.

As we live in ways that are consistent with our new identity as people who are clothed in Christ, we can be the means by which God brings his peace, hope, joy love and light into people’s lives.

Christianity isn’t about following a set of rules to get into heaven, like a lot of people imagine. Instead, the Christian faith is about finding a new sense of who we are as people who are covered by Christ, and then living in ways that reflect our new identity as God’s children so God’s goodness and love can come into the world through us.

We all put our clothes on every day. This week, as you get dressed, remember that God gives you the goodness and love of Jesus to put on each and every day.

Jesus covers each of us and gives us a new identity as children of God whom he loves and with whom he is pleased, even before we do anything. In this garment of faith we are clothed with Jesus; all of his goodness and purity. And so we live each day as God’s children and bring the light of his peace, hope, joy and love into the lives of everyone we meet through all we say and do.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

“Go and tell that fox”

Luke 13:32
Go and tell that fox, “I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.”

            On the Sunday of Transfiguration before Lent began we heard an image of our goal in Christ. The human body completely united with God’s blazing glory. Jesus came down the mountain to defeat sin, death and the devil; casting out the demon from the boy, healing him and restoring him to his father. And last week you heard the Holy Spirit bringing Jesus out into the desert to fast and be attacked by demons. Tempted with those three great temptations of pleasure, possession and pride; and the devil departing for a time. Today we hear a veiled threat and the love of God.

            For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son to drive out demons and heal the people, to defeat sin, death and the devil for you. Jesus had been teaching, healing and casting out demons, casting wide the net of the Gospel; yet in doing so he had disturbed and angered the local leaders, the Pharisees and the scribes. Teaching, ‘unless you repent you too will perish.’ (Luke 13:5). Healing a woman, who was crippled by a demon, on the Sabbath, God’s day of rest; teaching the freedom of the Lord’s Day (Luke 13:10-16). And now the Pharisees confront Him, telling Him to leave under threat of death. But Jesus is not in a rush and He knows His work. “I will keep driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” To show God’s love to the people, even when some of those people stood against Him.

            Jesus standing against death and the devil, yet not fussed by the people who stood against Him. Continuing His way of life, He stood firm. And this is what Paul is writing of to the Philippians (4:1). St Paul and many like him strove to follow in the example of Jesus, to live in His life, to do as He did. Listening to His Word, which stands forever, Paul believed God’s Baptismal Promises, that our citizenship is not here in Australia, but in heaven (Philippians 3:20). In heaven, where God reigns in glory and where sin, death and the devil have no power. And Paul more than believed, he eagerly awaited our Saviour from there, from the right hand of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (3:20). Awaiting our Lord who defeats sin, death and the devil and will destroy your sin, your death and your devils; transforming your bodies to be like His glorious body (3:21). This is God’s goal for all of humanity, the revelation of the mount of Transfiguration, that we become who Jesus is. This is why we encourage each other, why we try to explain the faith to others, to spread the News of His victory. This is why we have the Church Year, Lent; why we might fast, pray and give to those in need.

And this is what being a Christian is. When you are Baptised, you are baptised into Christ’s everlasting life. When you are Justified, God Justifies you, He makes you righteous, with Christ’s Justice, His Righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). When you receive Holy Communion, Christ incorporates you into Himself, the two become one flesh. As you are united with Christ Jesus, you, together with all Christians, are becoming as He is. Fully reconciled with God Almighty, our Father; Eternally Victorious over sin, death and the devil; and glorified by Him in the New Creation, shining with His Eternal Glory. You have a foretaste of this today, a foretaste of God’s goal for us, of Christ’s goal; yet today, tomorrow, you struggle to follow His example again.

We struggle, especially as we focus, fast, pray, give to the needy, we struggle against sin death and the devil. And others stand against us, people, those we work with, our government, at times even friends and family; they stand against us when they set their minds on earthly things. Paul says not that they fast but that their god is their stomach, not that they pray but that they glory in shame (Philippians 3:19). Yet we have a helper, the Holy Spirit; we have a Saviour, Jesus Christ; and we have an ever-loving Father, God Almighty. He who made a total and unilateral commitment to Abraham, has promised forgiveness, and New Everlasting Holy Life in relationship with Him to you. He loves you.

That is why Jesus, despite those living as enemies of His cross, keeps working. A good example for us. A couple of days then on the Third day He would reach His goal. A few days until Good Friday, then on the Third day He would rise, resurrect, stand forever in victory. And we will receive Him today as we too proclaim, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

And so the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto His coming in all glory. Amen!

Pastor Joseph Graham.

It’s all about Mary

The Text: Luke 1:39-45


Many of you in the coming days will spend time visiting friends and relatives or having friends and relatives visit you for various Christmas celebrations.

Some of you will play the part of host welcoming others into your homes.  And as I talk you’re probably running through the 100 things you still have to do, before your guests arrive. Being a host can be a busy or even a stressful task.

Others of you will be the guests this time around enjoying the hospitality of others, but that has its challenges too, packing travelling, managing time, perhaps attending multiple celebrations in multiple locations on the same day.

This is a special time of year to gather with loved ones and a blessing for those who are able to or have the opportunity to do so.

Today’s text describes another family get together, a visit between relatives. In fact it is usually referred to on the Christian calendar as the visitation—when Mary, having discovered that she is pregnant, travelled to the hill country of Judea to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is pregnant with her son John at the time. What happens then as Mary enters the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth?

There is an outpouring of emotion and joy and blessing, there is blessing for the host, there is blessing for the guest, and there is blessing for the whole home as it welcomes Mary and Jesus into its midst.  Let’s think about the hosts. First of all Zechariah and Elizabeth and little miniature John the Baptist about six months along at this stage.

They weren’t spring chickens these two.  Luke describes them as being well along in years. Elizabeth has finally been able to conceive but now Zechariah is unable to speak because he didn’t believe the angel’s words and that God was capable of giving them a child, so they have a few challenges to overcome. But all of that seems to pale in significance compared to the joy in their home and the good news she brings. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and later she says, “Why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Elizabeth puts aside her challenges and distractions to simply rejoice and be grateful and express honour that such a special guest has come to her home. Elizabeth is excited, John the Baptist in the womb is excited. We’re not sure what Zechariah is because he can’t talk but we assume he is excited too that Mary, who Elizabeth calls the mother of her Lord, has come to stay.

Elizabeth recognises by the power of the Holy Spirit the miracle of what’s going on here. God hasn’t just entered the world but God has entered the womb. God has become embryonic, the infinite finite, the immortal mortal, the invulnerable vulnerable, the supernatural natural, the creator has entered his creation and the impossible has become possible.

This is the visit of our Lord into his world. We get so distracted by externals at Christmas time, by presents, by preparations, by food and drink and being a good host or a good guest. Elizabeth draws our attention to what is internal to her inner joy at Mary’s inner child. Being a good host isn’t easy. Do you know how long Mary stayed with Zechariah and Elizabeth? Three months. Do you know how long your relatives are planning to stay with you after Christmas? You better find out!

Mary was there three months, probably right up to the birth of John, but no doubt this time spent together involved great joy and blessing for them all.  So what about Mary?

As she travelled from Nazareth to Judea some 130 km away, there may have been the questions: what if they didn’t accept her? Believe her? Want her there? What if they didn’t make her feel at home? Often the anticipation of visiting, the uncertainty of visiting, can be one of the hardest parts, but once in the presence of her kinsfolk, once Mary arrives at her destination, all of that subsides. Elizabeth’s first words are words of welcome and words of blessing.  “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear!”. And later Mary also sings “From now on all generations will call me blessed”.

To be blessed is to be a recipient of God’s goodness and grace. The word blessing literally means a good word. So when Elizabeth blesses Mary and describes her as being blessed, what she is saying is that God has spoken a good word to her, and begun a good work in her that he has entrusted something good to her. 

From the angel’s message, to Joseph’s faithfulness, to Mary’s willingness, to Jesus’ presence, it all sounds to Elizabeth like good words, blessings, words of joy, words that speak of God’s goodness, and Elizabeth recognises then the source of blessing not simply above her or beyond her, but right in front of her. “Blessed is the child you will bear!”

God’s good word has entered our world, God’s good word, to overcome the many bad words of this world. God’s good word of forgiveness and healing and hope.  To overcome the bad words, of conflict and gossip and anger, that all too often cross our lips.

There is blessing for the host, there is blessing for the guest and finally there is blessing for every home that welcomes him.  Elizabeth says as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears the baby in my womb leaped for joy 

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!”

John the Baptist leaped in the womb, he can’t contain his joy in the presence of his cousin Jesus. John the Baptist is bouncing for joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of his cousin but also his Lord—he would later say: “The one who comes after me ranks ahead of me.”

And Elizabeth announces once final blessing on Mary for her faith that God would do exactly what he said he would do, and send his Saviour for her and within her. This is the best blessing, not material wealth, not worldly success, not even physical safety and security and prosperity.  Beautiful Mary and-Elizabeth-like faith at the coming of Jesus into their homes, a good word and work from God.

So what will fill your home this Christmas? People perhaps? Maybe even for longer than you expected! Presents maybe?  Good food, good drink, the smell of ham and honey biscuits.  That’s all good stuff but it’s not the only stuff.

We have a responsibility and a privilege and a joy to keep before our hosts and before our guests and within our homes.  But the most important word and work of all is from the one who is our guest, our host, and our Lord…and the presence for every home this Christmas. Amen.

‘Joyful Salvation’.

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

Isaiah 12:2
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

            Promise, love, now joy! The promises God fulfills, the love He shows through them, and the joy that is ours because of them. Like how a child, promised their favourite food on their birthday, rejoices as they enjoy that loving fulfilment. Or like a COVID contact, promised freedom and health after 14 days, rejoices as they leave their lockdown. We who are baptised and believe have been promised New Life Everlasting! All Our Heavenly Father’s adopted children are freed from the burdens of guilt, and the power of death! Rejoice! And again I say rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). You who are united with Christ, rejoice that your enemies, sin, death and the devil, have been defeated! You are free! Free to hope, to love, to rejoice, and to be at peace! What wonderful Good News, proclaimed today! God is our salvation!

            The Lord God is our strength and our song, He has become your salvation! All God’s Work through the Old Testemant points toward this singular joyful truth, just as we of the New Testament reflect it back. As Zephaniah proclaims, ‘Sing, shout aloud with the New Jerusalem, that beautiful and beloved bride of Christ, daughter of Zion (Zephaniah 3:14)! The Lord has turned back your enemy, and at that time He will rescue the lame, gather the scattered exiles and deal with all who oppress you; at that time He will gather us and all Christians, those who have died, those still suffering, all of His people; He will gather us rejoicing together, He will gather us home (Zephaniah 3:15-20). He will make straight paths, level hill and valley, and send that prophet out of the wilderness, proclaiming, “prepare the way of the Lord!” (Isaiah 40:3-5). John the Baptist, the prophet of prophets, the new Elijah, proclaiming on the wild banks of the Jordan a baptism of repentance; of turning to a new joyful way of life, the way of Christ’s life.

            John the Baptist, as we heard today, exhorting the people and proclaiming the Gospel on those banks, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Luke 3:18; 7). You snakes, who told you to turn to the One who loves you? Of course, we know just as they did, it was God’s own prophets who told the ancient Jews, the Holy Spirit Himself who drew them to the banks of the Jordan, just as He draws you here today. Now maybe like me, you don’t want to be the brood, the offspring, of a snake, maybe like me you want to be a child of God! And the crowd thought the same, “what should we do?” they cry. And John just repeats God’s Word to all people, from the beginning of time to now, ‘Trust in the Lord God and fear not’.

God is not just speaking to a chosen few, nor to just the respected of society, it is to the hated tax collector and the shunned soldier as well; His salvation is for all. So don’t rely on those other things for salvation. Don’t rely on the things of this life, rather give of your possessions, your food and clothes, to those who are in need; don’t abuse the power given to you, collecting more than required, or extorting or falsely accusing, rather be content with what you receive (Luke 3:11-14). For possessions and power will not save you from death; it is only God Almighty who can defeat all our enemies. For as the prophet proclaims, ‘behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.      

            My strength is not in food, in health, in house or home. My song is not in money, in respect, in family or friends. These wonderful gifts of God are not my salvation; if I trust in them, I will be afraid of loosing them. The pregnant woman has been given a wonderful gift, yet if we trust in that child, we fear losing them. Yet the Child of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God, the lover of mankind, He has defeated death for us, and on the last Day He will gather us all to our everlasting home together. He is with you according to His promise, He loves you and He does not lie. With Jesus there is nothing to fear for He more terrifying than all that terrifies us, your own sin, death and demonic attack; He is stronger than all that oppresses us, and He has won the victory, in Him we are free. Yes, still you suffer sin, guilt, death and attack in this life; yet you are joined to Christ; in Him you are already dead and live by His life, His Resurrection is already yours, His Ascension is already yours and His coming in All Glory is the final revelation of your salvation. We commend ourselves to Him. As Isaiah sang and prayed this passage, The Lord God has become our salvation, with joy we draw living water from the deep wells of His salvation; never ending refreshment in Christ even in evil times; for we know what He has done, what He is doing and what He will do for us. He has promised us everlasting love for all creation, and in this certainty, we can rejoice!

            And as we await, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, from now until He brings us all home. Amen.