Sunday 6th December – 2nd Sunday of Advent

The Christ of Christmas

Micah 5 – 1-9

As a whole, people look forward to Christmas with more anticipation than any other season of the year. It is truly a time of rejoicing, bright eyes, giving and receiving of gifts, much delicious food, and visiting of relatives and friends. However, Christmas would have very little real depth of meaning apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. It is his birth date that we celebrate this season of the year, and it is the Christ of Christmas that is the subject for this message. The Christ of Christmas from birth to his present status is a revelation from God.

A. In Christ’s birth, one can see the power of God to rise above the natural and manifest himself in a miraculous way.

The Babe in Bethlehem was one of the greatest miracles of all times. He was the pre-existent one now in earthly existence. He was the eternal God in the form of a fleshly child.

No one but an ever-present God could do this. The Babe in Bethlehem was born of a virgin without an earthly father. This also reveals God at work in an unusual way. Only one who had all power would be able to break a natural law and bring one into the world as God did Christ. The Babe in Bethlehem is a proof of God’s fulfillment of prophecy. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, God had promised such an event with many little details spelled out. This is a revelation of God’s knowledge and of his ability to carry out plans.

        B. In Christ’s life, one can see the nature and characteristics of God at work.

The Bible speaks of God as love, and no greater revelation of love can be found and/or manifested than in Jesus Christ. He loved all. This all is all-inclusive regardless of how people might be catalogued or characterized. There are no exceptions. The Bible speaks of God’s being no respecter of persons.  In the life of Jesus, one can see the validity of  such a statement.  In him the worth of each person is emphasized.

The Bible also speaks of Jesus as a God of compassion, and his very movements while on earth manifested God as a God of compassion.

C.    In Jesus’ death, one can see the sacrifice of God to redeem lost people. In Jesus, God died physically and spiritually to pay the price of sin.

The wages of sin is death. This death is physical, but it is also separation from God, and Jesus paid the full price. Jesus shed his blood for the remission of sin. From the beginning of time, blood sacrifices played a major role in the atonement for sin. But when Jesus died, his was a sacrifice once and for all, and apart from his sacrifice, there is no remission of sin.

D.    In his resurrection, ascension, and intercession, one can see God as mighty, ruling, and victorious.

The resurrection reveals power over enemy number one—​death and the grave. When Jesus arose from the grave, he broke the power of death and the grave, and so he reveals God. The ascension reveals God’s power over time and physical laws. The intercession reveals God and his concern for all people of all time.

E.    In Jesus’ coming again, one can see the cleansing and ruling Christ.

 The Christ of Christmas is worthy of a lofty place in the lives of all people.

A.    He is worthy of worship, and people do worship him.

To worship Christ aright—​in spirit and in truth—​we must surrender our

lives to him for salvation. Then Jesus becomes a personal Saviour, and this is his purpose of coming into the world. Christ is to be worshiped privately the year around. He is to be worshiped publicly in the church throughout the year. Christ is to be worshiped in adoration. Everyone ought to see him as God and as Saviour and manifest reverent admiration for him. Christ is to be worshiped in praise. All Christians are to praise his name, his works, his love, and his redeeming grace. Christ is to be exalted because of love for him and appreciation to him.

B.    Christ is worthy of one’s life and possessions.

In him one’s life is its very best, and apart from him it is inferior. In him a life is what it ought to be, and apart from him it is less than the best. In him one’s possessions are sanctified, cleansed, and multiplied for good.

C. Christ is worthy of recognition and consultation by the entire world.

 It is natural to want to share Christ, and it is beneficial to consult him in every facet of life.

Conclusion

This is the Christmas season.  In your buying of gifts, do not forget Christ. Think of missions.

Think of the church and include Christ in the expenditure of money. In our seeking of happiness and a good time, take him into our lives, and he will give supreme happiness.

Sunday 29th November – 1st Sunday of Advent

Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come.It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Reflection

In the days of Advent, as we wait for Christmas we should take time to remind ourselves that God wants us to rise to the life He intends us to know and to enjoy. Advent is a time of preparation. In our day and age Christmas, with all its extravagance, has all but removed Advent off the map altogether. This reading starts with one of those predictions of the way things will be when the end is nearly upon the world. Perhaps the truth is there are always indications that the world is not as it should be. We are called to wait expectantly for the day that Jesus has promised. We have let the idea of the Second Coming of Christ slip to the back of our thinking. I wonder how central it is in our faith journey today. Yet Jesus did promise that he would return one day, and in Advent we should be aware that we are not only awaiting our celebration of his first coming in the Babe of Bethlehem, but also his coming again at the end of time to usher in the Kingdom as he promised. Remember what it was like as a wee boy or girl waiting for the arrival of Christmas. There was a great deal of excitement. There was the worry that, perhaps Santa Claus would not come, or would not bring the toy, or game, or book that we so eagerly wanted. As December passed by the level of anticipation rose until, on the night of Christmas Eve, many children were then, and are still, unable to get to sleep. I wonder if that was anything like the attitude of the People of God as they waited for the coming of the Messiah? Were they a people literally quivering with excitement anticipating their liberation and vindication at the hands of God? This was very much part of their understanding of what God would do for them, they were attuned to waiting for God to act on their behalf. I imagine something of their patience was firmly grounded in their history. I also imagine there were the not so patient ones, who were eager to make things happen. The People of God believed that ill favour befell them when they didn’t live up to God’s demands of them. Whether it was travelling through the Exile, or enduring the Roman occupation, they thought that their misfortune was the result of God’s displeasure. Only when their penance had been served, would vindication come. They didn’t doubt that they would be vindicated. They were sure that God would act for them. Today do we still carry that same kind of message? We believe this because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who came that first Christmas to bring us back into a right relationship with the God who made us and who loves us. I believe that, because of Jesus, God forgives us when we are truly repentant, and will continue to love us. Perhaps repentance is a concept that we have moved away from in our society. “Sorry” is said lightly, and only when someone has been found out. We live in a world and a society which has come to expect only good. A society that was so sure of itself and the control it had over the world it would quite comfortably predict what tomorrow will bring without as much as a smidgeon of second thought. It was beyond the big thinkers of our time to doubt unending economic growth with increasing prosperity and greater comfort in the world through the years. Of course none of us need to be told that this year has thrown an almighty spanner in that works. Until the early part of this year everything had become so predictable in life that to speak out with a message that jarred with the mainstream would be different enough that it could be easily dismissed. I suspect that this is why Advent may have lost its potency. Christmas appears to have gate crashed its forerunner and taken over by at least midway through. Jesus calls us to watch and to wait, and to be ready. Will Christmas rush towards us again this year and find us unprepared, when Christ comes we are not ready to receive him. The message of Advent calls us to look to what is important. It reminds us that we can be assured of God’s love, for it was in love He came among us in Christ. Jesus assures us of God’s forgiveness; hope and strength are ours through him.

Sunday 22nd November 2020

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Reflection

Christ the King Sunday is the final Sunday in the Church’s year. Let’s begin with an aye been question.

Now we know, apart from God, nothing has truly aye been. Has the church aye celebrated Christ the King Sunday? What century did it begin? 10th, 14th, 17th, 19th, 20th. The feast of Christ the King was first marked in 1925, a few years after WWI, it was intended to assert the power of Christ in the world, over the power of war, over the power of totalitarianism. Paul’s hymn to love that we read in 1st Corinthians is one of the greatest pieces of love poetry ever written.  It is the sort of love that is strong as steel and relates to all manner of human relationships.  All our divisions and selfishness, all our arrogance and impatience, all our deceit and dishonesty the problems and issues that confront so many people are challenged head on in this writing. It may sound a very simple solution but I will ask the question. Can love overcome all these human failings? Paul declares with absolute certainty, Yes. Yet if I am really honest, and I suppose if you were really honest too, we sometimes still wonder, will love have the victory? As today is Christ the King Sunday it may be good for us to think about the emotional footprint each of us will leave behind.

What legacy do we leave for others?

What are the things we hold on to that could describe how we feel about ourselves and life in general?

Jesus’ footprint was a giant footprint then and still is today despite much anti-Christian feeling. Remember he cried over Jerusalem, and the people who were like sheep without a shepherd. Remember his emotion over the suffering and isolation of lepers. Yet he could still be hurt by the fact that only one thought to come back to say thank you. Jesus was no soft touch either; he showed his anger at the hypocrisy and oppression around him. He taught us to call God our loving father. He taught us to care for others as we care for ourselves. He shared his vision of good news for the poor, liberty and freedom for the oppressed, sight for the blind and salvation for all. We saw his humility, gentleness and obedience. He always had the power of God but gave it up to become like us. He gave up all he had and gave his life for the world. We saw his agony in the garden, his forgiveness from the cross, his care of his mother in his dying moments. With his last words on earth he promised that he would never leave us, but would be with us always through his Holy Spirit. Not one person has had such a profound effect on our world as this one man. His emotional footprint is giant sized. As Christians does the teaching of Jesus shine from our lives, meaning that our footprint is a positive one?

What about the footprint left by the Church?

There is much written on the pages of history that leave the church not looking too. There is much written on the pages of history that show the church in a much better light. But people, often to suit their own agenda, ignore the good footprints which Christians have left behind, preferring to concentrate on the bad and the negative. When we embark on a campaign of, let’s call it religious works, if the root of that is some sort of merit for the one doing it then it is in vain. These things ought to be done for the other and not for the self. Promoting Christian unity, Christian love and Christian ministry in the world, we are a people who are called to feed one another and support one another and to witness to the world. Paul’s ‘love is’ list says if we have spiritual gifts but not love we are nothing. Therefore, he is saying a person who is filled with love is patient, is kind etc. a person filled with love will not envy, does not boast etc. Paul wrote about the footprint left by Jesus and he reminds us of who we are and whom we belong to, of what we should be doing and who we should be doing it for, of where our abilities come from and where those abilities are meant to be applied. He was talking about the footprints we leave behind. Let us make sure the emotional footprints we leave on friends, family and even strangers changes their world for the better. Let us walk in the footprints of Jesus the Christ and King.

Sunday 15th November 2020

Reading: John 6:16-24

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone.Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

Reflection

Next Sunday will mark the end of the Christian Calendar year as we celebrate Christ the King Sunday.

This morning’s reading follows the feeding of the 5,000 when the crowd intended to make Jesus king through force hence his retreating from them. He sent his disciples away from him for they too wanted him to take the mantle of kingship. Their understanding was incomplete. Jesus must first go the cross to fulfil God’s plan. He was not to become an earthly king but rather a suffering servant. It was on the boat as they left Jesus that the problems began.

Disaster movies often have that don’t panic scene. You know the one where the hero or the heroine is trying to organise the others to escape the oncoming disaster. Somebody always loses the plot, they start screaming about how they are all going to die. Don’t panic shouts the one in charge, often followed by a sharp slap to the cheek. Generally speaking, this is good advice though maybe not the slapping part, but certainly the don’t panic. We shouldn’t let fear paralyse us so that we do nothing. We shouldn’t let fear make us over-react so that we do lots of unhelpful things. Of course it is equally bad advice to stay too calm, too unruffled, when there is a true disaster shaping up. When we read John’s account it appears that the storm is not posing an impending disaster or crisis. These men are fishermen, they make their living from the lake. Look carefully it is when they see Jesus that they become terrified. This is an account of an incident in which John found, in a way that he would never forget, what Jesus was like. This is something that has lived with John, something that he obviously had thought about from the time of it happening until he wrote his gospel, somewhere in the region of sixty years later. Let’s set the scene. The disciples set sail. As Jesus sits alone, he could see they were toiling with the oars. The toiling disciples look up and see him. Shocked, amazed, somewhat unbelievable, something of how they might have felt. I imagine John the fisherman reliving the story; feeling that night again; the grey silver of the moonlight, the rough oar against his hand, the flapping sail, the shriek of the wind, and the sound of the surging water, that unexpected appearance of Jesus, the sound of his voice across the waves. John did more than remember he recognised that Jesus continues to watch over them. Even in this quiet time they were in his heart. When we are up against it Jesus watches over us too. He doesn’t step in making things too easy for us. He lets us fight our own battles and win our own victory. Any parent will remember watching the school sports day, you watch with great enthusiasm, you encourage as much as you can, you may cheer or weep depending on the outcome. The one thing you cannot do is run the race for the child. John saw Jesus come down from the hillside; he came, not unmoved, not detached. When strength is failing and life feels all too much for us, he comes with the strength for the last effort, that final push, the burst of energy that leads to victory. As John remembered it, as Jesus arrived so too did they. ‘the boat reached land at the place they were heading for’ is how the passage puts it. Isn’t it quite wonderful that here we have John the old fisherman turned evangelist finding all the wealth of Christ in the memory of a fisherman’s story. This Jesus who is always a comfort may not always be a comfortable companion. He would tell us to open our doors to the poor and the sick, to lay down our weapons and love our enemies, and to trust him to make it all work. I want to close by telling you a story about a small village school. The teacher had told the children this story of Jesus and his disciples at the lake. It was quite a while later when the village was hit by a blizzard, the wind was whipping across the playground and the snow was falling heavily all over the surrounding area. The decision was taken to close the school. As parents struggled to take the children home having to practically drag them through the drifts at some points. One mother nearly exhausted with the struggle overheard a little boy say, half to himself, ‘We could do with that chap Jesus being here now.’ And doesn’t that encapsulate the Gospel Yes, the unknown can be pretty scary at times. But listen carefully and you will hear these words, ‘don’t be afraid it is I.’

Service Of Remembrance 8th November 2020

View a short video from today’s Service of Remembrance

Reading: John 15:9-17

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 

This is my command: Love each other.

Reflection

All of us are experiencing something very different this year in the things that we have known as normal throughout our lives. There are things that are happening that takes much of what we decide to do with our lives out of our hands. I wonder if in some sort of strange way those of us who have lived through a time of war may be experiencing what that uncertainty would have felt like. One period of life seems normal, whatever that may mean to different people, then very quickly normal looks different. From playing everyday childhood games a young person during the 1940’s might have witnessed fighter planes flying overhead or warships amassing in a port. This year 75 years after the end of WWII young people have gone from playing everyday childhood games to witnessing things such as social distancing and face coverings. Both generations coming face to face with a new normal in a short space of time. Over the week leading up to this morning we have been sharing together each day in reflections of war poetry and the men who wrote these poems. Some of them did exactly what our reading from John’s gospel speaks of. ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ Others had close relatives who were lost to war. Yet others survived and returned home with the emotional scars to be carried with them for the rest of their lives. Jesus speaks of the love that lays down its life, this is not a path he has not taken himself. As with soldiers in every conflict they are called to leave the comfort and safety of what they know and love the dearest. They are called to leave home and journey to a place and a situation that may well be unknown to them. Jesus did likewise leaving his Father’s right hand. He entered into a world of darkness, suffering, sin and death. He came to this world and he bore the taunts and rejection. He came to this world where his motives were questioned and his authority challenged. He came to this world and offered his life that you and I and all God’s children might be restored to life and to peace with God! Jesus asks us to follow the example he has set. To mirror his great love. As we remember today those who did just that we are once more reminded what costly love! To lay one’s life out there for their friends and if needs be to yield it up! Jesus says, ‘I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father

I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you. We are here on Remembrance Sunday to remember those who have served in war, those who were left behind to worry and fret. We are here on Remembrance Sunday to remember those who are still serving in hostile places, those who are still being left behind to worry and fret. But so too we are here to remember that each of us is called daily to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not call us to go where he first has not gone. He does not call us to go without firstly assuring us that he will go with us. The call may be daunting, but he will give us strength, by the power of his life within us!‘ I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. ’Therefore, abide in him! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the very power of God! Some have been called to die for their friends. The rest of us have been called to live for ours.

There is still a commitment. There is still a cost. There is also a promised strength.

May God help us to serve wholeheartedly as we are called to love and to serve.

Sunday 1st November 2020

Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Reflection: In the day of his salvation

Isaiah speaks of a day when hope may be the centre of our thinking. A time when favour from the hand of God will be placed upon the earth. The setting of this text is on Mt. Zion, for the people of that age, the centre of God’s Kingdom on earth. All of the hope of that day is based on the things that God will do. The prophet proclaims God will reign victorious over all when his Messiah returns in power and great glory to rule and reign upon the earth.

In the day of His salvation: God will lead a celebration of His triumph.

The glory of that day is expressed here in symbolic imagery as God is seen to be preparing a lavish banquet, an occasion of great celebration. Nothing is to be spared for the occasion all peoples will be among the invited guests. The finest wine and the finest of food is served an occasion symbolic of the fulfilment of complete joy and a celebration of the people of God. In the previous days of earlier chapters no celebration was to be found. All things were in ruin; the wine was bitter. But now there is to be a new day, when gloom will be turned to celebration!

In the day of His salvation: the truth of the Gospel will be known to all.

The veil or covering mentioned may be one of two things a veil of mourning under the state of judgment to be removed in the time of celebration or as a veil that obscures the truth where ignorance and blindness are keeping us from receiving Christ’s offer of salvation. Either way I think Isaiah intends us to look for the day when the religious confusion and conflict in the world is replaced with the true knowledge of Christ.

In the day of His salvation: God will swallow up death.

Christ at the cross and through the empty tomb conquered death for all. Of course we live with death as a real and present enemy, Christ knows death as a defeated foe. Through Christ, death will one day be forever vanquished. The Apostle Paul argued the theology of eternal life. Near the end of his discussion, he cited the coming of Christ for his own and the resurrection of believers

as fulfilment of the prophetic words of Isaiah 25:8. Often we stand at a graveside, grieving the loss of one loved. The separation of death brings with it a sting. Yet we are reminded also that death will one day itself be swallowed up in victory, forever!

In the day of His salvation: God will eliminate sorrow.

The prophet further assures us that God will wipe away the tears of all people. The cause of tears here is not mentioned and in some respects it may be better to leave it as nonspecific, life brings many possible causes of grief. All of us who experienced grief have wept those bitter tears that sting your eyes. All or probably most of us have worked our way through those broken relationships, those conflicts with another, whether verbal or even escalating to physical each of them often prompt tears. A godly mother grieves over a spiritually wayward son. A prodigal son grieves over the sin that has ruined his life. God will ease the pain and wipe away the tears.

In the day of His salvation: God’s people will rejoice in His salvation.

God’s people have long-held the expectation of the last day and the fulfilment of life in salvation. They have waited for him to save them, which is an indication of faith. For me that is one beautiful aspect of faith in faith we do not look for nor dwell in the difficulty of the present moment but in faith we expect, nae we look forward, to the promised future of God. In this waiting, The people whom Isaiah addresses,

like the people of faith today, place their trust that God will do that which they or we cannot do.

Powerless to make all things right among the nations; unable to remove the blindness that the veil causes; death and sorrow seem to be inevitable experiences Yet hope and ultimate joy is found in the God who saves. The message of the biblical prophets, it would appear swings widely, from judgment and despair on the one hand to hope and salvation on the other. This is a question and even at times an accusation, how is it both extremes could be true? Some would argue such radically different messages constitute contradictions within the text of scripture. Such messages are not contradictory. Rather, they speak of seasons in the plan of God. Remember a few weeks ago when we looked at the reading from Ecclesiastes, I said that we serve a God of different seasons and different times that are all required to make the journey of life’s experience complete. At different points in time and situation, differing facets of God are in evidence. This reality comes through in Isaiah’s prophecy. At points he anticipates the judgment of God. Yet he also writes of a day of grace and salvation, anticipated comfort for a people experiencing anew the blessing of God upon them. Isaiah pictures this future feast prepared by the Lord. A spiritual feast of rich food, overflowing with spiritual blessings. Death will be no more. The tears of pain and mourning wiped from every eye forever. Christ, his Anointed One, at his first coming died for sinners. At his second coming, he will establish his Kingdom on earth. Let the celebration feast begin God’s Plan. Surely reason enough for God’s people to rejoice and be glad in the day of his salvation.