‘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.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Matthew 1:21, 23
She will bear a son, and you will call Him Jesus; for He will save His people from their sins.
Behold the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call Him Emmanuel, which translated is ‘God with us’.

            This is the Gospel, the Good News, the Evangelion! In Jesus you are saved from your sins, that God is with you, on your side, bringing you life, light and love through Jesus Christ our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6). We hear again and again of the true gospel, of evangelists, using the name Jesus and Immanuel, but do you ever sit back and meditate on this, reflecting on what this wonderful word means for you (Psalm 119:27)?

            Like worrying about cleaning and forgetting why we clean, do you forget what it means to be a Christian? Why we use these words and names, what they mean? Gospel, Godspell, is simply old English for God’s word, still kids have their ‘wording’ or spelling checked today. But Evangelion, the words brought by the Evangelist, it’s an old Greek word meaning Good Message, the eu from eulogy, and also angel Greek for messenger. Some examples from the ancient Greeks would be the news of victory against a foe, the birth of a king’s heir, or also a word from God. The Gospel is God’s good Word to you and all people, heralding, proclaiming, the victory over sin in Jesus the newborn King! You are saved! Forgiven and made righteous in Jesus, Immanuel, God is with you.

            And this is the meaning of these names Jesus and Immanuel. Jesus/Iesus, Joshua/Yehoshua from the Greek and Hebrew respectively, meaning The Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God Almighty, creator and judge of all, He saves. And yes, you need saving. Every person on this earth is afflicted, suffering and in need of help. We cry out, Hosanna, save us (Psalm 57:2)! We suffer evils from outside, and sin/failure from within. No matter how much we try to love every person we meet, to live the right way, to act according to the truth, you fail. You reject what is true, you refuse what is good, and you ignore what is beautiful. In short you sin, you separate yourself from God who created you, who loves and sustains you, who wants you to turn away from your sinful selfish ways and turn back to His love and truth, turn back, turn back for why will you die (Ezekiel 33:11)? Why do we separate ourselves from the love of God? Why do you continually go back to your way? You know that way, the easy road, the wide road, that road of sin leads to death (Matthew 7:13). Rejecting God’s embrace, sin separates you from God. The sinner who sees God’s face will die; the pure, holy, righteous glory of God will destroy them; we know this from the scriptures about fire coming from God’s presence to burn up those sinning against Him (Exodus ). We who sin cannot approach God, we cannot work our way up to His righteousness, we cannot plead our case, we cannot even survive in His Holy presence. We can do nothing to save ourselves (Romans 8:5-11).

           But Jesus, He can. Jesus is God in the flesh, the Almighty one mysteriously came as a human just like us, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). The Son of God, second person of the Trinity, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity God from God, separated from us by our sin, came down to this earth, to the people who carried God’s Word through history, to Bethlehem of Judea, born the boy Jesus. We could not hope to come to God, so He in His mercy came to us. This is the Gospel, Immanuel, God with us. Because of sin we cannot approach the naked Glory of God, yet mediated through the humanity of Jesus fully united with His divinity, He approaches us. God and humanity were separated because of sin, now in Christmas God and humanity are united in Christ Jesus, reconciled, at peace, in all joy and love; God is with us in Jesus Christ our saviour.

And how do you know that you are in Jesus? All those who have been baptised in His name have been joined to Him, joined with Him in His death to sin and risen into His new everlasting life (Romans 6:3-11). Only in Christ Jesus is God reconciled to humanity, only in Jesus are we saved (), and you are in Him through Holy Baptism, reconciled to God and born again by water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). God is with us, Immanuel, you are in Jesus and He is in you who are baptised (John 14:20). As we share in Christ’s body and blood we receive again this Full and overflowing life and holiness that we already receive by the Holy Spirit and grasp in faith.

            This is the last Sunday of Advent, waiting for the coming of Jesus. Soon Christmas will be upon us, the celebration of the incarnation, God come as man that we might be joined with God; this is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but also for we who are joined with Him it’s our birth. For every Christian is join with Jesus, into His life, His relationship with the Father, His victory over death and the devil. When our Heavenly Father looks at you He sees Jesus, righteous, holy and glorified. When Christ returns we will see this truth and live in it in Jesus. Saved from our sins, in Jesus God is with us, none can stand against (Romans 8:31). You are saved, holy and protected in Jesus, He will take away all your suffering, sin and evil at His return and until that time continue to provide His peace, joy and love by the Holy Spirit.

            So by the unity all Christians have with Jesus, I bring you the blessing of God. The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Third Sunday of Advent

James 5:8
And you be patient, setting in place your heart, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

            Patience, a wonderful and joyous gift but not many like to learn it. To be patient, to be long tempered, not short, to be content with the wait, means two things: that we don’t worry and we don’t give up. When we are patient waiting for Christmas, we don’t go searching for our hidden presents, we don’t worry about what we’ll do, not getting frustrated trying to get organised, but rather bearing the burden of the wait we get things done. As we wait for Christ, patience is to keep waiting and not give up. But is patience always easy? No, but maybe that’s why some of us get reminded so often. Just as the Holy Spirit is reminding us all today.

            To be patient, to trust that everything will work out, to endure the stress that we experience, to set our hearts, the core of who we are, in Jesus Christ and His sure words. What does this mean for you? James is writing to Christians a few decades after Christ ascended, to Christians under Roman rule, under persecution and all types of suffering, bickering, greed and disease aren’t modern inventions. These people knew Christ’s promise that He would return to set all things right, to renew all creation and destroy all sin. He said to be ready at all times, He might come back at any moment so be ready and look forward to this wonderful fulfilment (Matthew 24:44). But it’s been a while, where is this joy? It’s been 20yrs, for us its 2000 when is He coming back? I’ve had to wait a week for my son and wife to come back, and that was bad enough; don’t we now have a right to loose our patience, be frustrated, To get angry? My dad would beep the car horn after just 10mins surely God doesn’t expect us to wait patiently anymore? Maybe we should just give up and go our own way.

            But then again, thinking about it, maybe not. Yes there is suffering in this life, sickness, grief, gossip, theft and all sorts, and worse for our brethren in various places throughout this world. How much must Christians endure before Christ returns? Wouldn’t it be easier to just give up? To forget about sin and just do what we want in the moment, searing our consciences and living for pleasure? No, that’s no way to live, aside from Jesus where else can we go? He has the truth and we know it. He has the words of eternal life and peace (John 6:68). If we left, we would just follow Judas Iscariot to death (Mark 14:21). You know the way of the Lord, the way of life, peace and joy. Yet you struggle and have reject it sinning, bringing death, turmoil and despair. We are afflicted with sin (Psalm 25:18), we fail God who loves us more than we can comprehend. God tells us through the prophets that His people were an adulterous wife and He her husband (Ezekiel 16, 23). Jesus teaches this is grounds for divorce, the union is already broken (Matthew 19:9). But God, long suffering years of repeated rejection and betrayal the thousand years of Ancient Israel’s existence, the years you have been baptised, patience beyond comprehension. God did not reject His people then, and He does not reject you; He gave us all the way of repentance, to turn back to Him, confess the truth and in Jesus be forgiven (1 John 1:7). And that is who you are, thanks be to God! Praise His wonderful name, for He is full of compassion and merciful!

            In Him we have life today, we have peace, joy, you are loved! To know the depths of sin, of our need for salvation, and to know that God freely provides it, Jesus has done all the work, He lived, died, rose and ascended for you and all His holy Church! New life by water and the Spirit, rejoice in this! Set your heart, your core in this, in Christ. You are free from sin, you no longer need to worry or give in. This is the wonder of the Gospel for us now. While we wait we can be patient, to endure the attacks of the evil one because we know we are saved, our hearts set in Jesus.

But still there is suffering and struggle, the prophets of old spoke of the coming salvation in Jesus, but they were abused by the very people to whom they spoke this wonderful news. James encourages us to imitate these prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, to suffer evil and be patient. John the Baptist was thrown into prison but still taught God’s way, preaching this same Wonderful Gospel until he was beheaded. Polycarp a disciple of the Apostle John and bishop in the early church said to the Roman persecutors who would kill him, ‘86 years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?’ Throughout the years Christians have suffered, because of their great faith, because of sickness and natural troubles, the sin of others and even their own sin and doubt, there are countless examples of good faith to imitate and you probably know many yourself. So remember them and try to imitate them. But, just make sure you remember imitate the faithfulness to the Triune God, not things like David’s adultery and murder.

When we get right down to it, we face the same world all God’s people have, a world with humans and sin. We’re in the same situation, waiting for Jesus to return and sort it all out. In His mercy and compassion He sent the Spirit to help us endure this life in His forgiveness and joy. We have His mercy even now while we wait for His return. In Him we are free by His mercy and grace. Free from worry and despair, free now to live and get things done right by the gift and power of the Holy Spirit. To set our hearts in Christ, to build on this solid foundation of mercy rather than any uncertainty, outside of Christ. In Him is gladness spite all our sadness, and outside of His patience and mercy is worry, doubt and danger. So take up the example of the faithful people of God before us and across the globe, be patient and steadfastly set in Christ Jesus that you may receive and share His wonderful compassion and mercy.And the peace of God which passes all understand

Joseph Graham.

Second Sunday of Advent

John The Baptist  Revd. Martin Dale

Sermon: John the Baptist – Radical and Countercultural par excellence

Story: A young police officer was taking his final exam for the police academy and he was set the following problem to solve.

You are on patrol in the outer city when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street.

On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van nearby.

Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants—a man and a woman—are injured.

You recognize the woman as the wife of your Chief of Police, who is at present away in the USA.

A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you realize that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery.

Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent.

Another man is crying for help, having been blown in the adjacent canal by the explosion, and he cannot swim.

Describe in a few words what actions you would take.”

The young man thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote,

PAUSE

I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.”

But just as that wouldn’t do for the policeman so we as Christians we can’t duck our responsibilities either

We are often called to swim against the tide of public opinion.

Jesus certainly did – and so did the subject of our Bible reading this morning – John the Baptist.

And interestingly all four of the Gospels tell us things about the life of John the Baptist (Mt3, Mk1 and Mk 6, Lk 3 and Jn1).

John was an important figure for the early Church.

John the Baptist was both radical and countercultural in three ways:

1. In his lifestyle

2. In what he taught and

3. In his fearlessness of men in the face of adversity.

1. The first way that John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was his radical lifestyle

While the religious leaders of his day lived in fine houses – and the High Priest himself even lived in a palace – John the Baptist took to the desert to live a life of seclusion and prayer.

John wasn’t pretentious. He didn’t overrate himself. In fact quite the contrary.

He didn’t claim to be more than he was. There was a humility about John.

When Jesus came to be baptised by John – look at John’s reply:

But John tried to deter him, saying: I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14)

There was also a simplicity in his lifestyle

He didn’t wear an Armani suit or Designer jeans. He didn’t have a rolex watch either – and all the other trappings of worldly success. St Matthew records that

John’s clothes were made of camels’ hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” (Mt 3:4)

While I am not advocating locusts and honey for our harvest supper – I do think it is important to notice the simplicity of John’s living.

2. The second way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his teaching

John the Baptist was very clear in his message. He called a spade a spade

He was hugely popular with the people – not just because he tweeked the nose of the heirarchy – but because the people recognised what he was saying was from God.

There was a mini revival. Even the outcasts of society – the tax collectors and the Roman soldiers are recorded as coming to him (Lk 3).

And I wouldn’t be surprised if the prostitutes came as well.

Yet his message wasn’t a populist message – indeed it should have been extremely unpopular as it was so condemnatory.

We read in Matthew 3 that he preached a Gospel of repentance. And He was quite a tough preacher.

When many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptised by him he said this:

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 of 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” (Mt 3:8-9)

I don’t think John the Baptist had ever read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to make friends and influence people”!!!

The Jews thought that simply by keeping the letter of the Law – as they saw it – would make them fit children for God

But God is interested in the heart – as Jesus often himself taught

What comes out of a man’s heart and not what goes in is that which pollutes him,” (Mt 15:17-18 paraphrased) Jesus once said.

And God speaking through the writer of the book of Proverbs inn the Old Testament said this:

26 My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways, (Proverbs 23:26).

John’s message was tough – he didn’t mince his words – and inevitably this brought him into conflict with the authorities – which in this case was the local king Herod Antipas.

For Herod, John overstepped the mark once too often when he condemned Herod for marrying his brother Philip’s wife. And so Herod threw John in prison.

And prison in those days was not at all comfortable. Prisoners had no human rights and generally were dependant on friends and relations for the very food they ate.

3. And the final way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his fearlessness of men

He didn’t chicken out when the going got tough.

John, I am sure could have extradited himself from prison if he had simply found a formula to allow Herod to marry Herodias, Herod’s brother Philip’s wife.

And even great men of God bowed to such temporal pressure.

Story: One of the blots on the career of the great German Reformer, Martin Luther – was his acquiescence to the bigamous marriage of Philip of Hess.

In 1530, at the height of the Reformation in Germany – and where the Protestant cause was at its most vulnerable, Philip of Hesse organised the secular Protestant forces of the Reformation into

what was known as the Schmalkaldic League.

This alliance was set up to protect their religious and secular interests against interference from the Roman Catholic Holy Roman Emperor

On 11th December 1523 Philip married Christine of Saxony the daughter of an important ally George Duke of Saxony.

However Christine has been described by contempory sources as sickly and unattractive – and was reputed to have a drinking probem.

So it wasn’t very soon after the marriage that Philip committed adultery with the daugther of one of his sister’s ladies-in-waiting, Margarethe von der Saale.

And he wanted to marry her.

The matter was discussed with the great German Reformers, Luther, Methancthon and Bucer.

It was only when Philip threatened to side with the Holy Roman Emperor against the Protestant Schmalkaldic league if he didn’t get his own way, that the Reformers gave in.

They agreed that – rather than follow Henry VIII and have a divorce – they would sanction a bigamous marriage which took place on 4th December 1540, between Philip and Margarethe.

To the eternal shame of the Reformation

Had John the Baptist been asked his opinion, I am sure he would have condemned it.

Such was the courage and integrity of the man.

And John’s brave outspokenness eventually cost him his head.

Conclusion

John the Baptist’s story reminds us that being a Christian will not always be easy.

There will be tough decisions to make that might lead us to be unpopular.

Yet the story of John is not given to us to show us a way to earn our salvation – because we can’t.

All of us still have to come through the Cross of Jesus.

Even John the Baptist – a Great and Godly man as he was – could only enter the Kingdom through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

For the Kingdom of God is made up – not of those who in their own goodness try to enter it – but ofn those who are clothed in the blood of Jesus.

For in human terms John was special – but this needs to be kept in perspective – as Jesus said:

I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the very least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he (Lk 7:28-29)

However, once we are saved John was a great example for us to follow in Christian living.

But John’s life reminds us that we must have integrity in our lives.

We must be willing to be faithful to God’s calling in our lives – even if it eventually costs us our head. That is quite a challenge.

First Sunday of Advent

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

            The light of peace. There’s a room full of boys at bedtime. A bit of noise, a bit of mucking around and suddenly the lights turn on. Peace descends on the room as they all stop and get to bed. This is the truth we have heard today, the Son of Man, Jesus, will come in glorious light to bring peace to the whole world and deal with all evil. The light of God’s temple will be lifted above all things so we can look to it for the truth, like those old clocktowers telling the time. He will bring you peace, all of us, and we will walk in the Light of the Lord, His ways, not ours. (Isaiah 2:1-5)

            It’s not my power or your way that everyone will flock to, as Paul (Romans 13:14) writes, don’t think about how to gratify the desires of your flesh, rather clothe yourself with Jesus Christ. It’s His way that brings peace, and Jesus is a perfect example, saying to the Father, ‘not my will but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42) These desires, when we feel we just need to have this one thing, wine, chocolate, sex, our own way; when we dwell on these things and how to get them, we live as if Christ is not in us and we are not in Him. As Paul puts it, we are sleep in the faith. This new life you have through baptism into Jesus by the Holy Spirit is a life that is focussed on Him. It’s a focus like the moth to the light, it doesn’t care that it just ran into the wall, it only cares about the light. When you worry about fulfilling your desires, you stress and often sin forgetting Christ is our light, our focus, then feeling your guilt you have no peace. But to be clothed, or in Christ, is to live according to His life, not according to our often plainly selfish desires. It’s not about, ‘what do I want?’ rather it’s ‘What has Jesus done? And what does He want?’. This is what it means to walk in the light of the Lord, to put on Christ, so that when others see you they see Jesus.

            Now we know, when Jesus comes again, everyone will see and He’s gonna sort out everything. Last week we were reminded that those who are in Christ, and you are, He promised you this in Baptism, those who are in Christ are already judged righteous (John 3:18; Romans 8:1). So when the end comes you have nothing to fear, the New, peaceful and holy Creation awaits. Yet now and here while we wait for this final fulfillment of God’s promises, the advent of His Son, right now we can live the new life we have been given, to live in the light and peace we already have by God’s Amazing grace! It’s not the time for rest, we are the saints in warfare. Paul writes the armour of light not the PJs. It’s the time to fight against the devil, against our sinful desires, time to pray and listen to God’s Word, the time to encourage one another in the faith, to talk about Christ’s work in our lives and to point each other to the light of Christ and to receive His peace. Now while we wait, it’s the time for action not for sleep. So keep watch, for we do not know the time when Jesus will come to bring ultimate light, truth and deep lasting peace.

            This peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, as we wait and into eternity. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

2nd Sunday of Lent

Philippians 3:20-21

But our citizenship in heaven has already begun. From where we eagerly await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

            ‘Do what I say not what I do’ A phrase that most of us will have heard or maybe said ourselves. Of course, it means that what I say is true even if I fail to do it myself. But Paul writes something different, he says to do what he does and what he says, probably not something that most of us would be confident to say.

            Paul elsewhere writes that he copies the way Jesus showed him and so in imitating Paul we imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). What we do and the way we do it are important, people see it and it affects them, ridicule or honour even imitation, especially with kids. We hear from James, “I will show you my faith by my works” (2:18). The way you live shows people what you care about and what is important to you. Of course speaking is part of that, so don’t be scared to tell others about the help, grace and wonders Our heavenly Father has shown you in your life.

            But here in this passage Paul puts up two ways of living, or walking, of going through the motions of life. He first mentions the way he follows and is calling the Philippians, and through the Holy Spirit you too, to imitate, but then goes on the explain the other way. Those who walk as enemies of the crucifixion of Christ. In context he’s probably writing of those who demanded that Christians act according to the old Jewish ways, diminishing the glory and wonder of Jesus’ death on that cross and so may look to themselves rather than God Almighty. Nevertheless, it’s clear from the description and our lives that this way is still followed today. The way that ends in destruction, the people whose god is their belly, who revel in shameful things, whose minds are set on this life, earthly things, and not on Jesus.

            That their end is destruction is easily understood, they reject Jesus as their saviour and so reject salvation and life. But the god of the belly is a bit different, we don’t have buildings dedicated to your gut. But in this season of Lent if you’ve given up eating some type of food like me you’ve probably also struggled with that god in your belly, maybe even caved in to it, but this god of the belly all humans have is more than just relying on bread alone. It’s seeking to gratify all your desires, to chase after, yes food, also drink, healthiness, strength, intelligence, sex, wealth, power all these desires that you and I have and with which we are tempted away from God to ourselves, like Jesus, by Satan. But then to be proud of falling to these temptations, is to glory in shame. These desires are all for this world, not for the one to come; they are all for our earthly benefit and pride, but reject our relationship with the one who created it. To chase these is to store up treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves come and steal, to set our minds on earthly things (Matthew 6:19).

           Now we can think about people who attack the church from outside and look at how they fit this description, but Paul is writing to Christians. Paul weeps because these people, these enemies of the cross, were part of the church, but then began walking away from the Faith. And so, yes be wary and concerned for each other, how we maybe living; but also examine yourself in what your mind focuses on.

            By God’s grace stand firm in the Lord this Lenten season. The grace that forgives all your sins, all your guilt and all your failure. For you, like the Philippians before you, are already citizens of Heaven, your home is not Dubbo, not Gilgandra, not Australia, not truly anywhere in this wide world; you belong with Jesus in the New Creation. And you wait, yes, we wait, it’s been such a long time, still we suffer, but even more still we wait eagerly; eager for the saviour of all to come, The Lord Jesus Christ, who has authority over everything, in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). And with that authority, by His power, He will transform our bodies, weak, mortal and sinful though we be; to be like His glorified body. It does sound a bit like the gospel of glory or the prosperity gospel, but the difference is that throughout scripture we are told that in the end, at the new creation in Jesus, we will be righteous and glorified in Jesus Christ our Lord. This sure hope of salvation, and freedom from sin, death and the devil is the wonderful good news, and by God’s grace He doesn’t hoard it all at the end of time (John 8:36; Romans 6:22; 8:1-4). Rather He gives us little tastes of what is to come, His forgiveness in the absolution; peace in baptism; joy in Holy communion, and transforming our minds and actions now by our hearing and thinking on His Word, these wonderful gifts given by the Holy Spirit. But even compared to the most amazing and deep experience He has given you, there is so much more to come. So stand firm in the Lord.

            In our Christian lives there are just two ways to go, either we look toward Jesus, or we don’t and end up walking away. If you were to imitate my living, it would involve much struggle against the god of my belly, my desires for this world, and many failures, but also feeling shame in my shame and turning back to Jesus who I wait for and who forgives me even a thousand times a day. Even if you and I fall into temptation, our end is not destruction, Jesus does not reject you, He remains faithful to you and forgives you, gives you His peace and joy (2 Timothy 2:13). When we sin, we feel that guilt and shame, our willpower is weak, but this is the lowly body that Jesus will transform to be like Him, your sin does not disqualify you from citizenship in heaven, people can only loose that by rejecting it (Romans 8:38-39; Mark 16:16). So stand firm in the Lord not in this world, don’t forget what He has done and who you are because of Him. We could just concern ourselves with the day-to-day mundane world we live, in danger again and again of falling for that god of the belly; much better rather to remember Jesus, who He is and what He has done for you, what He does for you, who you are in Him and also the end of time when you, me and all our brothers and sisters will live with Him forever.

Pastor Joseph Graham

          

4th Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:42-45

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 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 fulfill his promises to her!”

So close to the celebration now, we’ve been waiting for 3 weeks. It’s almost here, He’s in Mary’s womb, but still we wait. This waiting for God’s word to be fulfilled is something people have done almost from creation on, they were waiting, we’ve been waiting, and here Mary and Elizabeth are both waiting. Waiting for the coming of their Lord and ours. Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, anointed one; the one who would save the Israelites and bring salvation and joy to all the world, peace to those favoured. But Elizabeth and Mary don’t just feel anticipation for the wonders to come, they’re thankful. Even John in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy with the Holy Spirit. They all wonder and marvel at what God has put into motion, what He has done and will do.

This is the last Sunday of Advent, the first season of our church year. And if you’ve kept track at home, you’ll notice that the church year is a very helpful tool for teaching the faith. We start the Christian year with Advent, then Christmas, Epiphany, Transfiguration, focussing on who Jesus is; God, man, and Saviour of both Jews and gentiles. That is why, while we wait, we can still celebrate, together with the blessed virgin Mary, Elizabeth and her unborn child. We know who Jesus is, even though He hadn’t really done much at this point, not even born yet.

But why celebrate before anything has happened? We don’t have a house warming party before we’ve moved, or celebrate someone’s retirement before they’ve finished school. That’s ridiculous. You have to wait until after the thing has happened before you party. However, if I promise you you’re favourite food, if I promise my wife an overseas trip, if we are promised something from someone we trust we thank them for it and our thanks reflects our trust and the magnitude of the gracious promise.

Now God Almighty promised His suffering, crushed and dispersed people salvation from all those evils. Time and again The Lord promised that He would come, to save and heal them, to be their holy, just and righteous king, to restore their relationship to Him, to bring them complete peace, joy, comfort, even everlasting life (Ezekiel 34:11-16; Isaiah 57:14-19; Daniel 12:2). And just before today’s text Mary heard God’s word, that she would be the one to bear the Messiah, the one to come, God Himself (Luke 1:31-33). Highly favoured, greatly graced, Mary surely is, the mother of God her saviour! I can not imagine how amazing and wonderful it would be to be told by God that I would be the one to bear my saviour. For a few reasons, one of which I am not a woman. But even to be told that you would raise Him who would bring blessing and peace to you and the whole wide world, like Joseph all those years ago, how would you react? If God just sent an angel to me would be wonderful enough, but Mary would be to one to bear her own Lord. Elizabeth by the Holy Spirit says, Blessed are you among women, and calls Mary the ‘mother of my Lord’! Thanks be to God!

Mary trusted God, believed His wonderful promise, but still asked how this could be. And God in His marvellous grace shows her that none of His words will fail, pointing her to something she could grasp, much like Baptism or Holy Communion for us; that her barren relative now was pregnant (Luke 1:36-37). And so we come to our text, Mary rejoices in her waiting, she knows that God will fulfil His words, His wonderful promises; Elizabeth, filled by the Holy Spirit in her humility wonders at God’s grace; Even the unborn John, later ‘the baptist’, leaps for joy in the womb. Waiting yes, but also wonder joy and praising God, Lord of all. And in the same way we can praise God for His mighty power to save all people from our own selfishness and evil and even from death, and we can thank Him, Father Son and Spirit, for who they are and what they will do for you at the end of time.

Blest, happy and joyous are you who have believed that the Lord fulfils all His promises to you.Amen.

Rev. Joseph Graham