Gospel of peace and joy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

The most important thing to happen in history

The Text: Luke 2:11-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Christians all, rejoice

with heart and soul and voice;

give good heed to what we say

Jesus Christ is born today!

Amen.

Christmas Day 2019

Luke 2: 8-20

How’s your Christmas going so far?

Is everything the way you planned it, or have some things already ‘gone wrong’?

Just think back through all your preparations for today. You may have gone to some effort to buy presents for a number of people, which was hard enough in itself because you may have wanted to find just the right thing for someone who doesn’t really need anything anyway. Then you had to wrap everything up in pretty paper and you might have put on some ribbons and other fancy decorations.

You put up the Christmas tree with lots of blinking lights and shiny decorations, which takes a long time, because you want it to look ‘just right’.

You’ve thought through the food for today: what you’re going to eat and how much to cook – probably more than enough! You might use a special tablecloth, bring out the finest dishes and cutlery, select some nice drinks, and decorate the table with bon-bons, party poppers, tinsel, and candles. Even now you might be thinking about what you need to do to make today special and ‘just right’.

You might have a list of people you want to contact today, maybe you have a strict schedule so that you can see as many people as possible, and you might have put on your best clothes, best shoes, and your best behaviour.

You’ve planned long and hard so that today will be ‘just right’, after all Christmas is such a special time of year.

But how do you feel if or when things go wrong today?

What if they don’t appreciate that present you took so much effort to get?

What if a cat or a child climbs the pretty Christmas tree and it falls down?

What if you burn the food or don’t get it all served up at the right temperature?

What if you’re involved in an argument with a member of your family or one of your guests?

What if you’re alone this Christmas?

What if one of your loved ones has died and you miss them?

What if your family is divided by conflict or misplaced love?

What if your Christmas involves a bedside vigil with a sick person?

What if you receive news of tragedy today?

Despite all your best laid plans for Christmas to be ‘just right’, sometimes you can be very disappointed.

Because of the pressures and expectations of having a Christmas filled with peace and joy and family and love and forgiveness and good food and generosity, and having everything ‘just right’, many people really struggle when things don’t go the way they planned. Unfortunately for many people, today can be one of the most disappointing or saddest days of the year because it won’t be ‘just right’.

For too many, things are far from being anywhere near ‘right’. This could be because they have unrealistic expectations of themselves or other people, or it could be because sometimes bad things happen that they hadn’t prepared for.

If you had planned Jesus’ birth, would things have turned out the way they did?

So that Christmas was ‘just right’, you might have chosen good looking and famous people to be the parents of Jesus, maybe some kind of movie stars or sports celebrities.

You might have announced the impending birth in the papers and arranged lucrative media deals to televise the birth in a famous and well-equipped hospital. Jesus would have been surrounded with every luxury, including the softest cloth to wrap him in, a comfortable bed, peaceful music to soothe his cries, and surrounded him with sweet smells. You may have invited important and influential people to witness the birth, and arranged a special list of gifts which they could search the world for to give the Son of God: after all, everything has to be ‘just right’.

But would you have chosen poor people from a village, that no-one would think anything good could come out of, to be the parents of the Creator of the universe?

Would you have arranged for them to travel by foot to another town just before the child was to arrive?

Would you have booked out every hotel and home in the village so the only place they could give birth is in a place where animals lived? For those of you with animals, would you even consider letting anyone stay overnight in your dog kennel or chook house, let alone allow them to give birth in there?

Would you have ensured the only midwife available was the husband who couldn’t even call 000 for advice? The only music and smells would have come from the animals, the cloth might have been rough, and the first bed was a feeding trough!

Would you have announced the birth to some of the most disregarded and criticised people who live outdoors looking after sheep? Even if you did, would you have invited them to witness this historic occasion instead of inviting powerful and worthy dignitaries?

This doesn’t sound like a Christmas that’s gone to plan, yet according to God’s plan, everything’s just right!

Jesus came into our world where everything is far from OK. He came to save people who aren’t OK. In fact it’s because everything’s not OK that he came to save us.

Without Jesus things aren’t OK between us and God, just as things often aren’t OK with the world, our families, or our friends. Relationships break down, people have accidents, get sick, or die, and tragedy, human selfishness and greed often fills media reports.

Yet the sign given to the shepherds that their Lord and Saviour has come who’ll set everything right, is a baby wrapped up in poor clothing and lying in a feed trough.

This might challenge our Christmas where we might expect everything to be ‘just right’.

If we brought the Christmas story into our own time, imagine God not choosing to be born in powerful and busy cities like London, New York, or Sydney. Imagine him ignoring all these places and being born in an Aboriginal camp out in central Australia with flies and dust sticking to his face. Imagine him born among the warring and starving tribes of Africa, or among the broken homes and terrors of Afghanistan or Iraq.

God doesn’t always meet our expectations or logic. His justice is to show mercy and grant forgiveness. His salvation and eternal life comes through a cruel death on a cross. His adoption of us human beings as his children so that we might be his heirs comes through a splash of water combined with the power of speaking his name. He gives you his Son’s body and blood with all their benefits through his word, through faithfully receiving his promise and by eating a wafer of bread and drinking a sip of wine.

God seems to do things in an upside down way that constantly challenges our expectations. The Messiah wasn’t some privileged man born to wealthy or influential people, but God himself came into our world wrapped up in frail human skin and he relied on his parents for support and nourishment.

The greatest victory he won for us wasn’t in the healing miracles, the raising of people from the dead, or even feeding 5,000 hungry people with a few small fish and loaves of bread. His greatest victory was in his sacrificial death for sinful, unworthy, and all too often ungrateful human beings.

God’s plan of salvation might seem at odds with our own plans for a perfect Christmas, or for a life that is ‘just right’ where everything goes our way. We might measure success by happiness, prosperity, health, profits, peace and everything being ‘just right’, but God measures his success by lowliness, humbleness, brokenness, and death.

In the middle of our dark nights and days where we might struggle with the realities of chaos, tragedy, pain and suffering, God’s message of ‘Don’t be afraid’ breaks in to turn our world upside down. He wants us to see our lives as he sees them, where things are reversed. God takes on our lowliness, so that through faith we might become a child who belongs in heaven. He wants us to see the hope and salvation he gives us through his Son Jesus Christ, even though he might not be whom we expect, or even come to us in ways we didn’t anticipate.

This doesn’t mean that we need to go home and change all our plans for Christmas! We don’t need to deliberately upset everything so that we experience a ‘real’ Christmas where everything’s not ‘just right’.

May we all enjoy peace and happiness and good food and good company, and everything else we wish for, but if that doesn’t happen- don’t be afraid. Christmas is still Christmas even if everything seems to go wrong. If nothing else, it serves as a good reminder of God’s plan of salvation for a crazy, mixed up, muddled up world where we are the ones who have everything topsy-turvy.

Whether your Christmas is ‘just right’ or not, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come into the world as a human child to make all things new and right through his death and resurrection.

For this reason we sing with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Amen.

Christmas Day 2018

John 1:4-5

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

            Merry Christmas! And Thanks be to God! The celebration is here, all that waiting is over and we remember the reason for the season; The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. A bit of a different way to say Jesus was born of Mary, but true none the less. We’ve heard the fuller stories of Jesus’ birth from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, but John’s Gospel manages to summarise who Jesus is and all that will happen from well, I suppose creation, but more specifically Jesus’ life death and resurrection. The Word, God, life, light, came into the world, was rejected by His creation but not overcome, then there are those who do believe and are now children of God. Jesus came, and because of Him you have life and light in Jesus. You are saved.

            Of course this is why we are celebrating. A child is born, a son is given. This is why we’ve received presents either last night or this morning, Jesus was born in the night as the angels and shepherds show so that’s the best time, but … regardless just as God Almighty, Father in Heaven, sent and gave His son to you, the world, we share in giving gifts and receiving them with thanksgiving. But what is so special about this gift to the world, why do we set aside up to 12 days to celebrate it, from now to Epiphany? And why might it feel like John is speaking over our heads?

            The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John calls Jesus, the true light coming into the world. This is not to confuse us but rather to help us understand what Jesus has done for you and for the whole world. God is light, so evil the opposite of God, is darkness (1 John 1). We know what a dark action is, it’s anything you’ve done that you would rather keep hidden; not like a present, more like the stolen snack or the lies you tell. A simple question, at night what happens to the darkness when you turn on the light? … It disappears. Gone. The darkness doesn’t put out the candle, or short circuit the bulb. It is destroyed. Jesus removes evil. And what wonderful things does this mean for you?

            This whole world was made through Jesus, The Word of God, but we did not know Him, or receive Him. We all here are born from this world. Yes, created by God, but unfortunately, along with this whole world, corrupted and darkened by sin, selfishness, evil and death. We might have noticed, we don’t need to teach kids to be jealous, but rather they need to be taught to share. Humans are sinful from birth, rejecting God’s ways in favour of our own. But by God’s grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit in baptism, you are one of those who have received Jesus, and you will receive again The true light, full everlasting life, in the mystery of Holy Communion. Thank the Lord! Jesus, like light, chases away your darkness and brings you His life. He forgives you all your evil and will continue to comfort you in your suffering until the time comes when you enter His eternal, royal glory. Without Jesus there is only darkness, death and deception; ask most any adult convert if they would like to go back to their previous life.

            To reject the peace and joy we have in God and His gracious gifts for your ultimate good might seem like a foolish thing, especially for those who remember their life outside of the light of Christ. Yes, for us in His light of truth it might not seem all butterflies and flowers all the time, we suffer because of our faith and trust in the truth both from outside ourselves and within. Look at the one we are following, Jesus our Lifegiver, He suffered more in this world than anyone I know, sweating like blood before the day of His crucifixion, pleading with God The Father but still holding true to the truth to be lifted up like a light for all of us, defeating darkness and destroying death a few days later. In His light we have no fear of the dark powers of sin or death, because they are destroyed by Jesus. And Thank God for that!

We know the truth, we see it, we live it. The baby born, struggling through life, rejected by this dark world, but finally victorious over sin and death, saving all those who believe Him, the children of God, and will at the end shine bright, revealing all for what it truly is and finally destroying darkness, bringing eternal peace, joy and life.

Thanks be to God! And may His peace guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the baby born today, your saviour. Amen.

Rev. Joseph Graham

The Light Has Come

The Light Has Come

John 3:19-21 (256)                                                                                                  24 December 2016

012This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

 

Even in the middle of the day, when the suns at its brightest, you can find lights on in just about every building you go into.  It seems as if we put them on, and sometimes leave them on, whether we need them or not.

Of course, lights are very valuable, even during the day, especially when we’re doing work which requires us to be able to see exactly what we’re doing without having to strain our eyes.

If we drop our keys in the dark, we can search for them for a long time if we haven’t got a light that’s handy.  It’s so much easier when we’re reading if we have a good strong light behind us.  Good light can help us avoid tripping over things.

And when we’re cleaning something or repairing a tiny piece of equipment – we appreciate good lighting.  We could get very frustrated without it.

 

But we don’t always appreciate the light.  There are times when we’d rather have darkness.  On some occasions, we can be doing things that we’d rather not be seen doing.  And so we can cringe at the light.

A really strong spotlight, for example, which might be very valuable for us at one particular time, would be the last thing that we’d want shining on us if we were involved in some kind of embarrassing activity.  It exposes us.

And when there are bright lights around, showing up marks or stains on table-cloths and clothes, and dirt and smudges on walls and carpets, we can feel a little uncomfortable, too, especially if other people notice them.

Light certainly does make things very plain.  It enables us to see clearly what’s going on about us, and helps us to avoid danger.  It also exposes us, our actions and intentions; it brings out into the open that which we may be ashamed of and want to hide.

 

And Jesus, the Light of the World does both of these things too.  He exposes us for what we really are.  He makes us face up to and admit all our weaknesses, blunders, and selfish thoughts and actions.  He sees right through us.

There’s no way we can hide from the Light of the World, and there’s nothing that we can keep from him.  Everything we do and say that’s not perfect is uncovered and made visible by him.

Jesus wants us to front up, accept the fact that we don’t live up to his expectations, and acknowledge that we’re not the innocent models of virtue that we make ourselves out to be at times.  He comes to expose us so that we stop kidding ourselves into believing that all we need to do is try a little harder and everything will be OK.

And Jesus comes to convince us that by ourselves, by our own strength and initiative we’ve got nothing that we can do to make ourselves acceptable before God.  No efforts, no great acts of heroism, not even generous contributions of time, effort or money to the church, will make any difference.

Our efforts are all tainted by sin, and so of no use at all in our attempt to win God’s favour.  Jesus exposes us as we really are and shows us that we have no way of changing, improving ourselves or influencing God to change his mind about us.

 

But Jesus, the Light of the World, doesn’t come to just to expose our sin, nor to take great delight in us having to suffer because of our sin.  Jesus Christ came to help us acknowledge our sin – yes, but only so that we can see our great need and welcome him into our lives so that he can do something about our predicament.

God sent his Son into the world, not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

He came into the world to do what no-one else could do.  He came to free us from all stain of sin, so that we can stand confidently before God, and not have to squirm in our boots.

The punishment we deserve because of our sin has been wiped out by Jesus.  The Light of the Word has overcome all that we have deserved, and has given his light to replace the darkness in our lives.  So, no longer do we have to wonder whether or not we’re acceptable to God.  We’ve been made acceptable.  God no longer holds our sin against us, because Christ has wiped it out.

 

Everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  Believing means holding to be true everything that Jesus has said about God, and about the way to God.  It means trusting that God does love us and does care for us – that he does forgive and bless us, that he is our Father, who wants only to have friendship and fellowship with us.

Whoever believes in him shall, not could, not might, but shall have eternal life.  That’s what God wants, and that’s what he’s made possible for all of us.

 

That’s why we need to hear the Christmas message over and over again – even though we may know it off by heart.  The Light has come, and it’s come for us and for our good.  We gain by Jesus’ presence – maybe not physically or materially, but certainly emotionally and spiritually.  Jesus coming to us means that we have his promise of eternal life.

That eternal life has already begun for us.  And because of it we can make changes in our lives, and live a life of service for others.

Jesus has come to us.  He’s offered us God’s friendship and love.  He’s offered us God’s grace and mercy.  He was born so that he could be lifted up on the cross for us so that we could have life with him, now and forever.

 

The Light of the World has come.  He’s exposed our sin, and he’s covered it over with his brilliant perfect life, his innocent suffering and death, and his glorious resurrection.  We need that Light, even though it shows us as we really are.  We need that Light, because without it we remain in the darkness, bring judgement on ourselves and suffer the consequences of a life without God.

But Jesus has come.  He was born in Bethlehem so that he could be lifted up on the cross for us to turn to, believe what he offers us, and live confidently and joyfully as his people.  Amen.

Bishop Mark.

Born in a stable, oh dear.

Luke 2:22-40

giftsAs was the custom of the day, 40 days after His birth Jesus like other babies was brought into the temple to be presented before the Lord. A big moment in any family’s life and to the untrained eye, not unlike any others before them. Yet a moment in time that a man named Simeon and an elderly women named Anna that through the gift of the Holy Spirit had been waiting for. The moment they would see the promised Messiah of the World. The Saviour who they now knew as this little baby named Jesus.

I imagine that when they went back to their normal lives they would not be able to contain themselves shouting this good news from the mountain tops.

If then was as now, which I suggest is more than likely, after Simeon and Anna left having such public conversation’s, a fly on the wall may have heard:

-You know the mother was pregnant before they married

-Very lowly people and from of all places Nazareth, ( A statement understood of the time as we hear later in the Book of John those saying not only “Can the Messiah come out of Nazareth,” but “Can there any good thing come?”)

-Born in a stable, oh dear. And you know who were there don’t you. Thieving low class shepherds.

-Messiah, yer right. You wouldn’t believe what they offered at the temple. A pair of doves-peasants. (Doves being the most modest of the different sacrifices that could be offered).

And no doubt upon Simeon or Anna suffering any unfortunate situation, I’m sure some would be going along the old almost gloating “where is your Messiah God now” line.

A line probably heard by all the apostles. Eleven killed for following Christ with only John dyeing a natural death though still living under exile on the island of Patmos because of his proclamation of the risen Christ.

And the 48 year old Mary, revered throughout time but then seen standing at the cross of her beloved 33 year old son seeing His pain and death while those around hurled ridicule and abuse.

A situation that no doubt, whether to you, or to another person you would heard the same unknowing words said in the tone of a viper. Words to hurt and ridicule but words that see us like little Jobs holding to the truth in faith as things happen in, to and around us that we would prefer not.

The myth of being a Christian: never have any more worries, life will be good, and if it’s not, it means your faith is not strong enough. A myth that even according to the odd late night evangelist is perpetuated with statements such as send in money and you will be materially rewarded tenfold.

Misguided, unrealistic and even sinister crap.

Becoming a Christian is like becoming a husband or wife and then a mother or father. Absolutely the joy increases, but so does the hurt-because their hurts and sadness’s become yours.

Having faith in Christ-in being a Christian we share with Christ, the injustices and hurts of this world and its people. We may get sick or we may not, we may struggle financially or we may not-so be it, that’s life. Jesus never promised either way, he promised that he would be with us through it all, to serve us and get us over the line.

We know that later as a man, Jesus enters Jerusalem and is welcomed as the great king. “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. The King of Israel”.

Absolutely true. Albeit misguided because those welcoming Jesus expected a warrior type of king to release them from the bondage of the Romans. To drive them out of town and when this doesn’t eventuate-we know the story.

Jesus had a bigger fish to fry. Yes Jesus would release them, release from the bondage of sin. To bring true freedom, not as the warrior king, but as the servant king.

Jesus didn’t come to run the bad guys out of town, but to bring the bad guys, the Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Romans and Australians-you and me into town-into his kingdom.

Yet this side of heaven, living in God’s kingdom can sometimes feel a bit like starting pre-season training or renovating a house as when you look back you think if only I knew that was going to happen, I doubt I’d have made it to the end. Yet somehow we are all here today scars and all. Scars that God did not bring on us. But scars that somehow he used to bring us to hear of Christ, to somehow bring us to turn towards God in repentance and be free.

“Born down in a dead man’s town the first kick I took was when I hit the ground, (and) you end up like a dog that’s been beat too much till you spend half your life just covering up”. The opening lyrics from Bruce Springsteen’s song “Born in the USA”. A protest song about his country that he doesn’t much sing anymore since the tragedy of September 11 and instead wrote a song called the rising.

A song with biblical overturns directed towards his country, a song of rebuilding and a song of hope

“I make my way through this darkness

I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me….

There’s holy pictures of our children

dancing in a sky filled with light.

May I feel your arms around me

May I feel your blood mix with mine

A dream of life comes to me.

Come on up, lay your hands in mine

Come on up for the rising

Come on up for the rising tonight.”

Every person who walks this earth will at some time and at some level face persecution. And all will face death. That’s just how it is.

But in it all we know that:

Our pain upon Christ’s pain, is that, that has brought hope.

(and) Our rising upon Christ’s rising, is that, that has brought life.

In Christ what may happen is not what we dwell on; we dwell on what he has done. That he has brought us forgiveness, has brought us eternal life, has brought us freedom and has brought us life here today.

His love for us and joy of life he has given that cannot be taken from us by neither those who ridicule us, nor those who turn from us and treat us unfairly, nor the knowledge of our own sin, nor our own self- loathing.

For we are now free.

Free to cry and free to mourn, and free to live. Free to build up those who look to bring us down and free to love those who love us not. Free to climb the highest mountains or free to rest at the bottom.

Our lives of freedom from a man named Jesus. Jesus the human Son of Mary and the Holy and eternal heavenly Son of God who when entering Jerusalem as a fragile baby was worshipped by Simeon and Anna because they knew the truth.

Jesus who thirty three years later as a strapping young man and entering Jerusalem for one last time was greeted by the crowds who now saw him as the coming king by cheering and honoring him-yet only to fall away in his hour of need when he was beaten, bruised, ridiculed and slain.

When Jesus as a baby entered the temple Simeon and Anna saw the loved child of God who would change the world. .

When our neighbor enters our life in their hour of need, lowly, beaten, bruised, ridiculed and lost: in that person we may too may see them as the world does, but we too also see them as a loved child of God

The honor to see a loved child of come into our lives in whatever disguise: rich or poor: who is in need in this world-hungry, starving, wandering, looking for “something”, alone, angry, all self-centered, living a misguided high life or fragile and scared.

The honor to serve them that their earthly life may have meaning, and the honor to serve God that they know his meaning.

Like Simeon and Anna we have seen the Messiah our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ come into our lives.

Like Mary at the cross we have seen our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ unfairly beaten and killed.

And like Mary Magdalene standing by an empty tomb, the resurrected Jesus has met us in flesh and blood confirming every word of the Good news he had promised.

Martin Luther, called John 3:16 “the Gospel in miniature and the heart of the Bible,”

The Good news summarised From John 3:16 in just 26 words “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

26 words given to you feeling broken and suffering through the actions or self and others that allow you to if nothing else, rise up for another day appointed to you by God the Father.

26 words given to those of you with the means to be humbled that you serve and be served by both the obnoxious and the pleasant be it in either times of chaos and darkness, or peace and sunshine.

The Words of God that saw a little fragile baby born for our sake. The Words of God that saw that baby grow and be killed for our sake.

The Words of the bible that no matter what may seem, that you here-knowing the Lord and the Lord knowing you: can leave here today come what may-staking your life upon in both this earthly life and the heavenly life to follow.

Praise be to the: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit: for we know that as Jesus was born for us in this world, in Baptism we have been born again into His world.

Just as we know that as He was raised again from death to life on this earth, so too will we be raised to life to forever live in His heavenly presence. Amen.

Amen.

How’s your Christmas?

Christmas Day

Luke 2:8-20

 

giftsDear heavenly Father, even if our Christmas isn’t the way we would like it to be, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may rejoice in the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How’s your Christmas going so far?

Is everything the way you planned it, or have some things already ‘gone wrong’?

Just think back through all your preparations for today. You may have gone to some effort to buy presents for a number of people, which was hard enough in itself because you may have wanted to find just the right thing for someone who doesn’t really need anything anyway. Then you had to wrap everything up in pretty paper and you might have put on some ribbons and other fancy decorations.

You put up the Christmas tree with lots of blinking lights and shiny decorations, which takes a long time because you want it to look ‘just right’.

You’ve thought through the food for today: what you’re going to eat and how much to cook – probably more than enough! You might use a special tablecloth, bring out the finest dishes and cutlery, select some nice drinks, and decorate the table with bon-bons, party poppers, tinsel, and candles. Even now you might be thinking about what you need to do to make today special and ‘just right’.

You might have a list of people you want to contact today, maybe you have a strict schedule so that you can see as many people as possible, and you might have put on your best clothes, best shoes, and your best behaviour.

You’ve planned long and hard so that today will be ‘just right’, after all Christmas is such a special time of year.

But how do you feel if or when things go wrong today?

What if they don’t appreciate that present you took so much effort to get?

What if a cat or a child climbs the pretty Christmas tree and it falls down?

What if you burn the food or don’t get it all served up at the right temperature?

What if you’re involved in an argument with a member of your family or one of your guests?

What if you’re alone this Christmas?

What if one of your loved ones has died and you miss them?

What if your family is divided by conflict or misplaced love?

What if your Christmas involves a bedside vigil with a sick person?

What if you receive news of tragedy today?

Despite all your best laid plans for Christmas to be ‘just right’, sometimes you can be very disappointed.

Because of the pressures and expectations of having a Christmas filled with peace and joy and family and love and forgiveness and good food and generosity, and having everything ‘just right’, many people really struggle when things don’t go the way they planned. Unfortunately for many people, today can be one of the most disappointing or saddest days of the year because it won’t be ‘just right’.

For too many, things are far from being anywhere near ‘right’. This could be because they have unrealistic expectations of themselves or other people, or it could be because sometimes bad things happen that they hadn’t prepared for.

If you had planned Jesus’ birth, would things would have turned out the way they did?

So that Christmas was ‘just right’, you might have chosen good looking and famous people to be the parents of Jesus, maybe someone like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

You might have announced the impending birth in the papers and arranged lucrative media deals to televise the birth in a famous and well-equipped hospital. Jesus would have been surrounded with every luxury, including the softest cloth to wrap him in, a comfortable bed, peaceful music to soothe his cries, and surrounded him with sweet smells. You may have invited important and influential people to witness the birth, and arranged a special list of gifts which they could search the world for to give the Son of God: after all, everything has to be ‘just right’.

But would you have chosen poor people from a village, that no-one would think anything good could come out of, to be the parents of the Creator of the universe?

Would you have arranged for them to travel by foot to another town just before the child was to arrive?

Would you have booked out every hotel and home in the village so the only place they could give birth is in a place where animals lived? For those of you with animals, would you even consider letting anyone stay overnight in your dog kennel or chook house, let alone allow them to give birth in there?

Would you have ensured the only midwife available was the husband who couldn’t even call 000 for advice? The only music and smells would have come from the animals, the cloth might have been rough, and the first bed was a feeding trough!

Would you have announced the birth to some of the most disregarded and criticised people who live outdoors to look after sheep? Even if you did, would you have invited them to witness this historic occasion instead of inviting powerful and worthy dignitaries?

This doesn’t sound like a Christmas that’s gone to plan, yet according to God’s plan, everything’s just right!

Jesus came into our world where everything is far from OK. He came to save people who aren’t OK. In fact it’s because everything’s not OK that he came to save us.

Without Jesus things aren’t OK between us and God, just as things often aren’t OK with the world, our families, or our friends. Relationships break down, people have accidents, get sick, or die, and tragedy, human selfishness and greed often fills media reports.

Yet the sign given to the shepherds that their Lord and Saviour has come who’ll set everything right, is a baby wrapped up in poor clothing and lying in a feed trough.

This might challenge our Christmas where we might expect everything to be ‘just right’.

If we brought the Christmas story into our own time, imagine God not choosing to be born in powerful and busy cities like London, New York, or Sydney. Imagine him ignoring all these places and being born in an Aboriginal camp out in central Australia with flies and dust sticking to his face. Imagine him born among the warring and starving tribes of Africa, or among the broken homes and terrors of Afghanistan or Iraq.

God doesn’t always meet our expectations or logic. His justice is to show mercy and grant forgiveness. His salvation and eternal life comes through a cruel death on a cross. His adoption of us human beings as his children so that we might be his heirs comes through a splash of water combined with the power of speaking his name. He gives you his Son’s body and blood with all their benefits through his word, through faithfully accepting his promise and by eating a wafer of bread and drinking a sip of wine.

God seems to do things in an upside down way that constantly challenges our expectations. The Messiah wasn’t some privileged man born to wealthy or influential people, but God himself came into our world wrapped up in frail human skin and he relied on his parents for support and nourishment.

The greatest victory he won for us wasn’t in the healing miracles, the raising of people from the dead, or even feeding 5,000 hungry people with a few small fish and loaves of bread. His greatest victory was in his sacrificial death for sinful, unworthy, and all too often ungrateful human beings.

God’s plan of salvation might seem at odds with our own plans for a perfect Christmas, or for a life that is ‘just right’ where everything goes our way. We might measure success by happiness, prosperity, health, profits, peace and everything being ‘just right’, but God measures his success by lowliness, humbleness, brokenness, and death.

In the middle of our dark nights and days where we might struggle with the realities of chaos, tragedy, pain and suffering, God’s message of ‘Don’t be afraid’ breaks in to turn our world upside down. He wants us to see our lives as he sees them, where things are reversed. God takes on our lowliness, so that through faith we might become a child who belongs in heaven. He wants us to see the hope and salvation he gives us through his Son Jesus Christ, even though he might not be whom we expect, or even come to us in ways we didn’t anticipate.

This doesn’t mean that we need to go home and change all our plans for Christmas! We don’t need to deliberately upset everything so that we experience a ‘real’ Christmas where everything’s not ‘just right’.

May we all enjoy peace and happiness and good food and good company, and everything else we wish for, but if that doesn’t happen- don’t be afraid. Christmas is still Christmas even if everything seems to go wrong. If nothing else, it serves as a good reminder of God’s plan of salvation for a crazy, mixed up, muddled up world where we are the ones who have everything topsy-turvy.

Whether your Christmas is ‘just right’ or not, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come into the world as a human child to make all things new and right through his death and resurrection.

For this reason we sing with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

“Back to front land”

“Back to front land”

Luke 2:8-15

I remember once sitting in Church on Christmas Eve hearing the Gospel read and thinking I’ve heard this every year and I know what happens-there’s no new surprises coming. Then I finally “woke up” and realised that if I hear this same story every year to my death, I may still only hear it 60, 70 or maybe 80 times.

Tonight we’ve heard part of it again, and again yes we know where it all heads and thank God for that. It truly is an amazing story and we should hear it probably every day of our life because although we know it so well, the how and why’s are so back to front to how we would have wrote the coming of the greatest person and event in history, it should still jolt us and our lives to the very core of our existence.

The saying that fact is stranger than fiction is right on the money should we have been there to see and hear of the events that Holy night.

If you were the Pagan emperor or King you were born to a life of privilege. Maybe a spoilt brat from start to finish and never really knowing or caring of how the other half live from your golden crèche to your castle of splendour where you were feted with great public celebrations for brushing your teeth never mind being the supposed “Saviour and Lord” and never did the ancient tabloid reporters of the day use the word humble toward their emperor and “king” as in the day that would have been anything but a compliment.  So much for those guys who had their “Saviour.”

The Jewish were still waiting for their long promised saviour and messiah to arrive so that they would be rid of these Roman tyrants and their big brother tactics of strong arm force and coercion. The Saviour who would arrive and banish their detractors and put them back where they should be as the top dog’s, not just in God’s eyes but in the world’s realities and quite frankly if I was there so would have I considering how my God of unending power had created so precisely from minutest of things to the most amazing all of the earth and its inhabitants. How my God had shown His hand in Egypt and swept us to freedom from our captives with great miracles, provided us with trail blazing leaders to bring us home against the enormous odds of our enemies and indeed the enemies within ourselves, and so I wait-and still I wait to this day along-side a wall, walling and dreaming of the day when again we will have access to that piece of real estate and see the foundation of all what we are and re-build the Holy Temple that then, maybe then alongside God the Father will the great and powerful Messiah be with us.

Tonight I am in no way denigrating atheist, pagan nor any other faith including those of the Jewish because, we like them while having the free will to deny faith in Christ, have no power or desire to come to belief  other than in having received that gift from outside of ourselves through the Holy Spirit

To believe in Jesus Christ as your Saviour, who has brought you forgiveness and eternal life is a greater miracle and treasure than we could ever imagine or hope for and that is why though it be not natural for us, we pray for our enemies and those not yet in Christ that they too will be lifted up and given His peace.

His peace and Glory not brought about in the splendour of castles, the finest robes or even amongst the religious elite in the temple, but given to us as a baby born of a humble virgin in a stable in the less than fashionable town of Bethlehem.

There were no halos, no seen angels hovering over the stable, no choirs singing in the background and not even as was the common practice upon the birth of a baby boy where local musicians would congregate and greet him with simple music, and had we been passing by we may have even
commented to another something about how terrible it was that this couple had brought a baby into the world and they only place they could lay the child was in an animal feed trough.

And yet, the shepherds already reeling that they, the one’s despised by many of the religious elite because of their work keeping them from participating in the religious activities of their communities, that they are the ones to be visited by a great company of angels from heaven singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all on whom his favour rests” and heralding the arrival of the Good News of great joy that will be for all people.  That “today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you,” (and) “He is Christ the Lord.”

To those of the time, and indeed those of our time it is all “back to front ” and no more perplexing than it is of God Himself. God’s only Son, that is that little boy in the stable. Perplexing because religion is generally about getting our act together to be able to go up, not as with Christianity where the God, Our God The Father does the unthinkable and comes down among the mess.

The is a story about a European monarch who worried other officials by disappearing and walking incognito among his people and when he was asked not to for securities sake he would answer that “I cannot rule my people unless I know how they live.”

Talk about upping the ante, because although he was fully and truly God from all eternity, the Son of God took on true humanity when he was conceived in Mary’s womb and born in Bethlehem.  He was not half-God and half-man, but fully God and fully man.  He did not cease to be God, but was at the same time fully human with the same emotions,
same temptations,
same physical needs,
same pain that we all experience.

We talk about the grace of God and here we see it up close and personal, our God who could have done anything he pleased limit’s himself to become one of us. Grace up close and personal in the coming Jesus who knows the life we lived, because He lived it too.

The island of Molokai is a part of Hawaii and it has an interesting history. Back in the late 1800’s there was no cure for the horrible disfiguring disease, leprosy. In order to keep it from spreading and creating an epidemic, lepers were sent to a colony on the island of Molokai.

In 1873, there was a young Belgian priest named Father Damien who volunteered to spend his life serving the people secluded on the island of Molokai.  When he arrived, he was shocked to see the condition of the people.  Not only were they physically sick but they were also disheartened.  There was drunkenness, crime and an overall sense of hopelessness.  They needed God’s presence in their lives.  And so, in 1873, Father Damien lived among the 700 lepers, knowing the dangers, realizing the inevitable results of so much personal contact with a highly contagious disease.  In fact, in 1885 at the age of 45 he himself contracted leprosy.

A story as uplifting as is the faith and trust of Abraham daunting to us when we consider his preparedness to take up his Son Isaac to the top of a mountain as a sacrifice to God.

We know God stopped him at the last minute and while I am not sure how Father Damian went with his leprosy, can we ever comprehend the love God the Father, immense in power yet so great in love that he gives His Son not just to this world to save it, but ultimately for this world to devour Him.

On Wednesday morning I awoke from a terrible dream and it took me a couple minutes to realise it was only a dream and then a couple more before forgetting what it was about.

If humans had written a plan to save ourselves we would be still living a nightmare.

Thankfully the creator and orator of our lives wakes us from that nightmare by coming to earth to bring about change in our lives –
to give us peace and hope in the face of difficulty,
to clear away guilt for our sinful actions,
to tear down old barriers and restore love and forgiveness between people and to say to you tonight that in Jesus Christ my Son, we too like the apostle Paul that having been dragged to faith, we too can say with absolute certainty and live with complete  confidence: “that we are convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.

The Shepherds

Luke 2:1-20

Last night on Christmas Eve, we spoke of God reaching the unreachable through His Son Jesus.

Jesus the much awaited Messiah and Saviour whose birth was not broadcast to the religious elite, but to shepherds who were not welcome in the synagogue because of their inability to keep the meticulous ceremonial rules and regulations. Shepherds seen as way down the pecking order of society and of questionable character:  and they are the ones called to a stable where the future of the world lays.

And their response?  Luke 2, verse 20: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard”.

Such a great picture of God the Father, giving himself to Save the World and giving His only Son to such a humble earthly beginning to walk this earth among sinners and The Holy Spirit who comes to these Shepherds and they believe, and then testify to those they meet of what has happened.

It’s a great picture because it shows what God has done and what can happen when Jesus comes into the lives of those such as these shepherds wandering in the wilderness.

And a great picture of their response. The same response we hear each week in the preface each week before Holy Communion where we state similiar:

That “It is indeed right and good, Lord God, holy Father, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. You have revealed your glorious presence to us in a new way through the mystery of the Word made flesh,
so that as we see you in your Son, we are drawn to love you whom we cannot see. And so, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven,

We say these words together in worship each Sunday. Words of praise said by a group of people some 2,000 years ago, that though society had not changed its view about them, they had: and took a leap of faith as they gave witness to what had happened in that stable to people they met, as they continued in their employment as shepherds.

A great picture that we take with us as we enter this New Year as we too like a group of shepherds have seen and heard the truth of Christ. Not a picture of lecturing to do this and that, but the picture of change coming simply from His coming to us, like he did as a little baby to that group of men.

A group of men while wandering the country side in their occupation came to see and know the truth. And though after, they still wandered the country side as fitting the role of a shepherd, they now did not need to wonder.

Though these people still had the same job, probably still looked down upon by society and not welcomed by the religious elite, they were now free to be so in the freeing truth of Jesus Christ their saviour.

Jesus Christ our Saviour who has freed us with the truth. The truth that we need not be something we’re not. The truth that in ourselves that we are no better a person than when we met Him. But the truth that in Him has come forgiveness, redemption, life and freedom.

At the end of the American civil war, after being given their freedom, many of the slaves response to their once were slave masters was that “now I’m free, I’ll work even harder, but now as a free person”.

That is the freedom that Christ brought to this world. The freedom from having to, to the freedom of wanting too.

The freedom from the rules and regulations that if not adhered to kept people from the temple, to the freedom that in knowing that in Him alone is forgiveness and salvation comes the freedom to worship Him at Church, at home, at work without need for false fronts or bravado.

A pastor being questioned upon considering leaving the ministry replied, “I don’t need to be a pastor to serve God. I can serve him back home on the farm, in the shops and among the community”.

That is the freedom Christ has brought us that we take with us into this New Year.

The freedom that with our eyes set on Christ allows us to dream and achieve, or dream and fail.

To work and be rewarded or work only to be scorned. To befriend our neighbour though it may not be reciprocal. To forgive others without return and to help the helpless.

With your eyes on Christ and living in His grace your world is different and in Him so are you, because you know the truth: that in Christ and in trusting in His forgiveness you are saved and given eternal life, as you are.

And though you may still wander, you need not wonder because as He has gone before us and awaits to greet us in our heavenly homes, he goes with you now by your side, hurting when you’re hurt and Joyful when you’re in joy.

So again, I pray you have a blessed Christmas and New Year and achieve all that you set out for, and achieve all that He sets before you.  Amen.

“Jesus” or jesus

Luke 2:1-20

In the Gospel of Luke we are told that: “Shepherds were out in the field, keeping what over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’”.

Jesus Christ said “I am the good shepherd” and He said it for a reason because like in His day there were others called Jesus, He differentiated himself with the truth that He was Jesus Christ. The Christ and the messiah. The same, there were others known as shepherds and so Jesus told us that He is the Good Shepherd.

In our day we don’t hear of a lot of people given the name Jesus as we don’t hear of those with livestock being titled as shepherds and maybe the closet we get is to that of those going “droving”.

In biblical times shepherds were well known, but not much admired. In Genesis 46:34 they are called loathsome and in Numbers 14:33 we hear of being a shepherd was to be considered suffering in punishment as we are told: “And your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they shall suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness.”

The shepherds of those times were despised by the orthodox good people of the day. Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law as with the constant demands placed on them by their flocks they could not observe all the meticulous hand washings and rules and regulations and were looked down as very common people.”

Yet God specialises in reaching those considered unreachable. People like the shepherds in the first century and people like a man named Michael Braithwaite in America. A man that after coming to know Christ burnt his stock of adult sex toys worth thousands of dollars to transform his store into a Christian book shop.

An adult shop proprietor of ill repute, con men and tricksters and those of questionable character. It was to such that the angels sang of the good news of the Christ child. To the shepherds, the guys who ran the local black markets, the guys not welcome in the synagogue and the guys that could not even testify in the courts of law of the time. Yet the guys chosen to testify concerning the birth of the much awaited Messiah who we are told in Luke 2, verse 20: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen”.

Jesus Christ is the good Shepherd and by association to Him, ministers of religion are called shepherds. Yet a description that is a paradox for many, and certainly me as a sinner in myself and that of a rogue shepherd of the first century. Yet in Christ and washed clean in His blood, allowed to walk in His presence trusting that in knowing His grace upon this sinner, that others may hear of, and know of that grace for themselves.

God sent His Son Jesus, Jesus Christ the Messiah and saviour to reach the unreachable and that He found me, and found you and showed His love and the Love of God the Father by being raised on a cross, to die a torturous death and be raised three days later so that we too will raised on our last day brings tears to our eyes and joy in our hearts.

Tears because we see that after such a great sacrifice, we still fail. Yet the joy of His Gospel, that in Him, though the failures out way the successes, though the sins are prevalent and the good works rare, that by trusting in our Lord and the forgiveness that he has brought, that we stand before the Father spotless and glowing in His righteousness. The righteousness of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

This Christmas we remember a little baby that should have been clothed in robes of royal purple, yet was wrapped in simple cloth and lies on the floor of a stable if an animal’s feeding trough. Jesus who would grow from infancy to manhood, and from manhood to Saviourhood. From cradle to cross, from Bethlehem’s cave to Calvary’s crucifixion, Jesus showed us the immense love of God for His people. For us.

His love so great that He only asks we accept His Son as our Saviour, and trust in the forgiveness He brings.

And though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil because He is by our side. And though we may walk unsteady and heavy laden, He takes our weight on himself that we can find the peace that He so wants to give.

The peace He asks we accept this Christmas and in the year to come of not looking back on our sins and failures of past, but looking back to see Him, the Good Shepherd reaching the unreachable.

The peace He asks this Christmas and in the year to come that we take with us, and offer to others.

To us was born a Saviour, and though we may sin and fail, we get up, because in Him, and in Him alone we are saved, and that is peace enough.

I pray you have a blessed Christmas and New Year and achieve all that you set out for, and for that, that He sets for us. Amen.