26 December 2020
The family return to Nazareth
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
So yesterday has come and gone and we have celebrated the birth of Christ. All the gifts have been opened and the wrapping has been binned and recycled. You are maybe trying to decide what to do with the leftover food or make a promise never to eat that much again. But what is this last gift? Again it isn’t wrapped or lying in a bag but (on a personal note) it is one of the most important gifts that can be found.
I am talking about church family, the people that you see each Sunday sitting round about you or dotted around the church. The people that make you smile, give you confidence, reassure you or even build you up. The people that you phone or meet up with when you get a chance to.
As far back as Ecclesiastes, the Bible says “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. Proverbs teaches us that “Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another” while Hebrews tells us that “let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works.”
In St Paul's we send out some cards each week to those in our church family that are perhaps ill or moving into a care home. On the front of the card there is a photograph of the church sanctuary with a Bible verse underneath. The verse gets changed every so often.
At the moment the verse on the card is from Galatians :
“Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
At the moment everything seems like shifting sands, things change and barriers are put in the way in which we live. But one thing remains the same and that is the love of Jesus Christ and the fellowship that you can find in your church.
So the gifts that we have unwrapped joy, light, peace, worship and the fellowship of your friends all sit side by side and we now leave the last word to the gospel of John as he tells us :
“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Amen
25 December 2020
Today's gift is the gift of a saviour. The saviour of the world.
I heard a hymn on the radio the other day and it was unfamiliar to me. Now that’s not to say that is it completely unknown and you may have sung it before. But after I heard it, I looked up the lyrics and found within this Christmas hymn the whole life of Jesus Christ, from the cradle to the cross. And so I present to you this Christmas Morning the words to this beautiful hymn.
Christians, awake, salute the happy morn
Whereon the Saviour of the world was born
Rise to adore the mystery of love
Which hosts of angels chanted from above
With them the joyful tidings first begun
Of God incarnate and the Virgin's Son
Then to the watchful shepherds it was told
Who heard the angelic herald's voice: "Behold,
I bring good tidings of a Saviour's birth
To you and all the nations upon earth
This day hath God fulfilled His promised word;
This day is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord."
He spake, and straightaway the celestial choir
In hymns of joy, unknown before, conspire
The praises of redeeming love they sang
And heaven's whole orb with alleluias rang
God's highest glory was their anthem still
Peace upon earth and unto men goodwill
To Bethlehem straight the shepherds ran
To see the wonder God had wrought for man
And found, with Joseph and the blessed Maid
Her Son, the Saviour, in a manger laid
Amazed, the wondrous story they proclaim
The earliest heralds of the Saviour's name
Let us, like these good shepherds, them employ
Our grateful voices to proclaim the joy
Trace we the Babe, who hath retrieved our loss
From His poor manger to His bitter cross
Treading His steps, assisted by His grace
Till man's first heavenly state again takes place
Then may we hope, the angelic thrones among
To sing, redeemed, a glad triumphal song
He that was born upon this joyful day
Around us all His glory shall display
Saved by His love, incessant we shall sing
Of angels and of angel-men the King.
I hope that today you leave some space to welcome Christ into Christmas. Amen
24 December 2020
Hark the herald angels sing Glory! To the newborn king. Now that’s a great hymn and I personally will miss hearing the choir belting it out this year as usual. But the gift that we unwrap is almost hidden in this hymn. All the gifts that we spoke off this week are included, light, worship as well as joy but right at the last verse is the greatest gift of all.
Mild he lays his glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Risen with healing in his wings
Light and life to all He brings
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of…
John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that he gave us his son. But as we live on both sides of the cross we can see this gift of a King born on Christmas day will one day give us eternal life. Born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. Light and life to all He brings.
These gifts that we have opened this week are tremendous and valuable but more than that they are unique. These gifts seal the relationship that we have with Christ. Up until this point we have been learning about him, what people say about him and what he says about us, but the joy and the light and the worship and now the eternal life is the glue that holds us together with him.
Hail the sun of righteousness. Hail the heaven born prince of peace. Amen
23 December 2020
Over the next four days we will unwrap four gifts that cannot be placed in a box or pulled from a gift bag. Each gift will be associated with the word as well as be accompanied by a Christmas hymn that you could find on YouTube if you are interested.
Our third gift this week is Joy. But what does it actually mean?
“Having joy includes feeling good cheer and a vibrant happiness. But joy, in its fuller, spiritual meaning of expressing God's goodness, involves more. It is a deep rooted, inspired happiness. The Holy Bible says, "The joy of the Lord is your strength."
Just look at those words for a moment “It is a deep rooted inspired happiness.” Now that is a great gift to have.
The Christmas story is peppered with the word "joy" so many times and rightly so as the coming king and all that He entails wasn’t just good news it was great news that was bringing joy into the lives of so many.
Luke told us that when “Gabriel went into the house and said to her, "Joy be to you, favoured one! the Lord is with you." You see that wasn’t just good news it was deep rooted and inspired.
Matthew reminds us that when the magi “saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” They were on the right track and their relief must have been deep rooted and Matthew later on tells us “Be glad and full of joy; for great is your reward in heaven.”
And so this gift of joy that is deep rooted within us is a truly wonderful gift and it is a gift that be passed on this Christmas and we can all “repeat the sounding joy.“ Amen
22 December 2020
Over the next five days we will unwrap five gifts that cannot be placed in a box or pulled from a gift bag. Each gift will be associated with the word as well as be accompanied by a Christmas hymn that you could find on YouTube if you are interested.
Today's gift can be found in Matthew 2 verse 11 and it is the gift of worship.
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
We are talking about the gift of “Worship”. This gift has been so relevant over the past nine months especially as the doors of the church have been closed. But that did not prevent us from being able to worship in our own homes with our own Bibles and the many media devices available to us. Over the past few months I have heard a lot of people say they even love to sing the hymns in their own homes along with the worship that they are watching on YouTube or on the television.
The great hymn “Angels from the Realms of Glory” ask us to come and worship Christ the newborn king and tell the story of the shepherds in the fields, the wise men and the saints inviting them all to come and worship
Angels from the realms of glory
Wing your flight through all the earth
Ye who sang creation's story
Now proclaim Messiah's birth
Come and worship Come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn king
Shepherds, in the fields abiding
Watching o'er your flocks by night
God with man is now residing
Yonder shines the infant light
But like all gifts this one comes with a warning and that is complacency. Worshipping in the comfort of our own homes is great but we must get back to worshipping together Matthew 18 v 20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” There is nothing like your own church pew and the sanctuary.
And so as we have “four sleeps” till Christmas morning we treasure the gift of worship, still available despite the lockdown.
Come and worship the new born King.
21 December 2020
Over the next six days we will unwrap six gifts that cannot be placed in a box or pulled from a gift bag. Each gift will be associated with the Word as well as be accompanied by a Christmas hymn that you could find on YouTube if you are interested. Today's gift is the gift of light.
It was a star in the sky that guided the magi to find Christ. That light in the sky can be found in many Christmas cards and posters throughout the world. In the Christmas hymn “Away in a Manger,“ we sing -
The stars in the sky
Look down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay
There is a recurring theme throughout the Bible about light and how important it is to us. Of course the psalms tell us that “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Mathew reminds us that “you are the light of the world." My favourite is again in Matthew “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
We all have the light, we all get that light and it's our responsibility to let that light shine, especially in the darkest of moments and the bleakest of days, Christ is the light of the world.
Tonight something important will happen in the sky.
The planets of Saturn and Jupiter and edging closer together by the day. Come December 21, (that is today) the two giants of the solar system will be just 0.1 degrees apart in the night's sky, making it appear as if they are one celestial body. When combined, the two planets will form what appears to be a bright star, appearing just above the Moon.
The rare phenomenon happens once every 20 years or so, as the planets which have a combined orbit of the Sun of 41 years rarely find themselves together. However, this time around they will be the closest they have been in 800 years, making the event extra spectacular.
If you are not able to observe that, don’t worry for we have a resource open to us all in the Bible and when we open that book, when we read those words the most radiant of lights is available 24/7 365 days each year indoors or out. John tells us that
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." Amen
20 December 2020
We all know that The New Testament is labelled The Good News. The good news of Jesus birth and life and all that it entails. But just before Jesus was born Zechariah got good news too. He would bear a son in his old age. This son would be called John and as soon as he announced this, Zachariah came out of his state of shock and began speaking after a long period of silence. “What then is this child going to be?” People asked...... For the Lord’s hand was with him.
To celebrate this news. Zechariah had a song
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
So here we are, back at the beginning of the life of Jesus. Advent is not over just yet but I hope you know and understand Jesus just a wee bit better. Who he is and where he came from. Who we should be and what we can give to him. Just as Zechariah had a song over the next 7 days we will look at other songs that heralded the birth of the new born King this coming Christmas. Amen
19 December 2020
I watched a television Evangelist on Sky the other day and I was really impressed about the way he talked about the "baby in the manger” and the lowliness of his birth. My problem at this stage was the vast arena that he was preaching from and the massive choir standing beside him. There was also a band as well as a small orchestra. The arena was massive and was full and you just couldn't help be impressed.
He then went on to recite all Jesus accomplishments and when he came to “and he walked on water”, he pointed out the training shoes he was wearing on the stage and told the arena that he was wearing Nike Air Max 97 that were commonly known as “the walk on water” because of their comfort. As is my want, I then went and asked Mr Google how much they cost and was shocked that these shoes cost $4000 dollars a pair. This guy had what my dad would call “a swagger”. He was pacing up and down on the stage with his perfectly coiffed hair and his gleaming white teeth and his expensive clothes and he was preaching about “humility” and “humbleness”
In our reading today Jesus asks them to explain why David speaks of the Messiah as his Lord? They didn’t see that the Messiah was to be God as well as man and then go onto become David's son. Their ignorance was exposed and they could not explain what their own scriptures said. Jesus goes on to criticise the teachers of the law and their “swagger”. "They devour widows houses and make lengthy prayers." Jesus then goes on to tell the story of the widow and her two coins.
Now I'm not saying that the telly evangelist is stealing houses but how can we preach, teach and learn about God and not know what the scriptures really mean. No one man is bigger than God. No amount of money and crystal cathedrals makes you know the scriptures any better. Just as wearing $4000 “sannies” (as my dad called all types of leisure shoe) doesn’t mean that you are walking in the feet of our Lord.
Love came down at Christmas, in all its meekness and majesty. There were no grand buildings and no grander attendants to fawn over him. Just his mother Mary and of course Joseph. They were looked upon by simple shepherds and their flock. This birth story teaches us that that we come as we are, we give what we can because nothing will impress him other than a pure heart and a good intent. This Christmas we have a lot to be thankful for as well as a lot to look forward to. It's not the shoes on our feet but the offerings in our heart that we bring to Him this Christmas time. Amen
The full reading
Luke 20 v41-Luke 21 v1-4
Whose Son Is the Messiah?
41 Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
43 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’
44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”
Warning Against the Teachers of the Law
45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples,46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
The Widow’s Offering
21 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
18 December 2020
So who is Jesus and what do people say he is?
If someone were to give details of your accomplishments, achievements and characteristics what would be said about you? God spoke to a lot of people and spoke about a lot of people but he speaks to us now through his son Jesus Christ. In Hebrews we read :
“ In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
So one of the answers to the question “who is this Jesus?” Hebrews tells us that he is The heir appointed and the radiance of God’s glory and superior even to the angels.
5”For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son; today I have become your Father”?
Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son?
6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”7 In speaking of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.”
8 But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
I have read somewhere that in Hebrews the author (Paul?) gives us amazing descriptions of who Jesus really is and what he is about. These include
He’s worthy of worship, The lover of righteousness,
The hater of wickedness, The everlasting conqueror of all enemies,
Crowned with glory and honour, The founder of salvation,
Our hope, The giver of rest, Sharper than any two-edged sword, Sinless, The giver of grace and mercy, The source of eternal salvation, An anchor of the soul , Able to save to the uttermost,
The once for all sacrifice, The opener of the new and living way to God, The rewarder of those who seek God, He never leaves and never forsakes, He’s the same yesterday and today and forever,
The great shepherd of the sheep, The equipper of everything good, The one who works in us,
And the recipient of honour and glory forever and ever, Amen
In yesterdays reading we were able to track Jesus’s line back to God and in today's reading, we see that he is the radiance of all Gods glory.
So we know more and more about the life that’s about to be. Let's prepare ourselves for the newborn king. Amen
The reading in full
God’s Final Word: His Son
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
The Son Superior to Angels
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father”?
“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”[b]?
6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”[c]
7 In speaking of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels spirits,
and his servants flames of fire.”[d]
8 But about the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”[e]
10 He also says,
“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
12 You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.”
13 To which of the angels did God ever say,
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet”?
14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
17 December 2020
Who do you think you are?
I love the TV programme where celebrities go way back and discover interesting things about themselves. I did a similar exercise and discovered that one of my ancestors’ was a failed cobbler. He decided to go into the business of working in a new kind of sport called ”football” and he made leather bladders for the inside of the ball.
How far can you go back?
We end Luke 3 with a kind of a “who's who” in the life of Jesus and no one can argue that this lineage is amazing. Amos, Zerubbabel, Joshua, Jesse, David, Abraham, Noah, Seth and then Adam and then of course God. All the descendants from Jesus back to God himself.
Luke 3 ends with “ 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.”
23 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph,
So a defining moment for Jesus in rather unexpected circumstances. The people thought John might be the new messiah but no, it’s a man called Jesus. John warns the people that while he baptizes with water being baptized by Jesus is completely different. Never the less Jesus is baptized we hear the voice of God saying “ you are my son whom I love, with you, I am well pleased”
We started this Advent talking about the unexpected Christmas, and all the unexpected characters that gathered for his birth. This will be an unexpected Christmas. For most of us, there will be no watch night service and no going round the neighbours and relatives with Christmas cheer. You could even be forgiven for letting in just that wee chink of gloom and negativity. But just think about what God is saying to you, listen to those words he said to his son “ You are my son whom I love”
This Christmas he is saying them to you
“ You are my son whom I love” or “you are my daughter whom I love”
Love ( and a dove) came down that day to Jesus from God and Love comes to you today as well. “Who do you think you are?” Well, that one's easy as you are a child of God. Loved, blessed and full of grace. Amen
16 December 2020
The unexpected Messiah
My favourite Charles Dickens book is great expectations and the story of a young Pip. You could label Luke 3 “Great expectations” too as the people look to John with expectations in their heart.
Luke 3 tells us :
“5 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done,20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.”
We meet John in Luke 3 where there is an expectation of a Messiah. Could it be John the Baptist? We know it's not, we’ve followed the story thus far and we remember the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth. We have the privilege of knowing the life of Jesus on both sides of the cross.
But the irony here is that the Messiah is just about to make his entrance and it seems as though people might have to manage their expectations. They were perhaps expecting an “apocalyptical” messiah all fire and thunder, perhaps a “political” messiah who is here to sort the big boys out.
John tells them that the Messiah that is about to appear is more powerful and of a higher status than John, in fact, John is not worthy to tie his sandals. John goes on to talk about “His winnowing fork and the threshing floor." All of this means when this Messiah comes he will separate people. The good and the bad. The redeemed and the unredeemed. The forgiven and the unforgiven.
And so the Messiah that is to appear is another kind of figure, approved of quietly by heaven, having the power to divide between good and evil, devoted to sinners and to his Father’s will.
There were great expectations of this Messiah but what do people think now? An expert said of the Charles Dickens book that it is a story of “ambition and self-improvement”, while others say that it is a story of loyalty and conscience. Are peoples expectations of the Church too high? Is that why pews are empty? Do people expect more for them personally from God? If you know Jesus, you know God. You know what our expectations are.
15 December 2020
The unexpected behaviour?
One of the positives of social media is when someone goes missing, especially children. The amount of coverage it gets is amazing and definitely one of the tools to trace missing people. I hear even the police will suggest social media is used immediately.
I am trying hard to understand, then, how Mary and Joseph felt when the young Jesus disappeared for three days. Luke is the only gospel writer that tells this story. It's sandwiched between two ordinary statements of an ordinary family. This child was growing and becoming strong and wise and then we are told that he increased in wisdom and in stature and favour with God and man. But in between these two statements, it appears Jesus does “a runner”.
That’s what we would say today about a kid that disappears but of course, this story is different. Again contrasts and differences come into play and of course, Jesus was exactly where he should have been and Mary and Joseph were the two misplaced characters in this story.
And you can imagine the state Mary and Joseph would get in. Blaming each other, asking everyone around them “have you seen him?” “Help he’s just a boy.”
But this story is a landmark in Jesus' life. It’s not about taking the eye off the ball or being disobedient. Some say this story shows Jesus “shifting from his earthly father to his heavenly father.”
And there he was, sitting in His Father's house. Mary and Joseph are astonished they are understandably annoyed about the treatment they have endured but Jesus answers “did you not know I would be in my Father's house?” And there’s the shift. Joseph is the earthly father but his real Father is God and that’s where he should be.
So where do we find Jesus today? People are still out there looking for him. They’ve lost him and they are searching frantically for him. Some have lost him during the pandemic blaming the church for closing the doors.
Jesus can be found in the pages of the Scriptures. His life is there, as well as his death and resurrection. He’s not in a building or exclusive to the minister or a pastor. He’s in the Bible for all of us to find.
Have you lost Jesus? Are you losing him day by day? You know where he is and you know where to find him. Do you know Jesus? They say If you want to know what the Father is like look to the Son. Part of Jesus’ role was to make the Father known throughout the world. For every one. Amen
Let's read about Jesus in the Temple
Luke 2 41-52
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
14 December 2020
Straight after Luke introduces us to Simeone he then shows us Anna the prophetess. But who was she? Well, we know that she was the daughter of Phanuel and was of the tribe of Asher. Asher was the eighth son of Jacob and his tribe was one of the ten lost tribes. As a prophetess, she would be regarded as being in contact with a divine being and would be an intermediary with humanity delivering messages or teachings from her source. As a devout asherite she would regularly practise prayer and fasting.
But what was she doing in the temple? She was a holy woman and the temple would be her “go to“ place. She would spend as much time with God as she could, so you can see why she would be overjoyed and would immediately praise God for she knew what had happened.
The Greek word used by Luke suggests recognition or intuition. She ‘sees’ what others cannot. Her reaction would be immediate and dramatic, speaking in as loud a voice as she can muster, telling anyone near her about this extraordinary child. Here, in front of their eyes, is the Being who will bring redemption to Israel.
So I hope that you see that in Jesus' early life there are a lot of unexpected characters coming into his life from the lowly shepherds, to the wisest of men and now two of Gods “right hand” people Simeon and Anna. This is Monday the 14th of December in 11 days it will be Christmas day. We will celebrate the long expected King of Kings, what we could never have expected this time last year would be the unexpected scenario we will be welcomed into.
Times change and sands shift but the celebrations must continue. We will welcome the new born King on Christmas morning as usual and be thankful that he chose us for the greatest gift of all. Eternal life
Let's read about Anna
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[e] She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
13 December 2020
The unexpected was expected
You might have heard someone say “Oh well, I can die happy now”, its usually because something momentous has happened in their life and the long wait is over. It can be quite a morbid statement to make as it implies that everything in life has been achieved and you can die now as there is nothing else to achieve.
There was a man called Simeon, a resident of Jerusalem and had a reputation for being “righteous and devout”. Like a lot of people, Simeon had the hope that the Messiah would free his people from oppression and when this Messiah arrived he would save them, just like the Messiah saved the Israelites in Egypt.
Simeon was different from the rest. Luke tells us that the “holy spirit was upon him” and that allowed him the confidence that he would see the messiah in his life time. Luke 2v26 tells us that “it had been revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before he had seen Jesus.”
As was customary, Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem in order to present Him to God (Luke 2v22). It was on this occasion that Simeon saw Jesus and recognized Him as the Messiah. When Simeon saw the baby Jesus, he picked Him up in his arms and said, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2v29–32).
Simeon spent his life anticipating Christ's arrival, and in a similar way, we should live our lives anticipating Christ's return. Jesus is a comfort to all who place their faith in His amazing grace. Tom Wright tells us that “Just as Simeon was an example of staying faithful to what God had told him in a world that had largely lost hope, we must stay faithful to Christ who has reconciled us to God and given us hope for a future with Him.” Amen
Now let's read what the bible says about Simeon :
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him.34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
12 December 2020
A man I didn't know
My father had a picture of his mother and father on the wall in his bedroom. I never knew my grandparents. I know that I went to my gran's every Friday for a bath and I always associate that with the smell of Coal Tar Soap, but the memory ends there. A picture on the wall of two people I didn’t know and regrettably never got the chance to ask.
All I knew was that my grandfather who was a wee man from Yoker was an eminent dock labourer in the field of men’s rights in the early days of unions. This impressed my dad so much he had it written on the back of the photograph." An eminent man"
A similar word cropped up the other day. I was reading about Paul and what he said in 1 Colossians about Jesus. He was painting a picture of who he was. Tom Wright tells us that Paul wants every Christian and every person to know that Jesus Christ is preeminent (meaning surpassing all others, the first above all others)
”He is preeminent over His natural creation, the universe. He is preeminent over His spiritual creation, the church. God’s settled purpose is “that He Himself will come to have first place in everything”
When you know Jesus then you know God. When you see Jesus then you have seen the invisible God. If you do not know Jesus then you do not know God. If you do not have a relationship with Jesus then you do not have a relationship with God.
You wouldn’t have a photograph on your wall of someone and when asked “who is he?” you would sound silly if your reply was “ eh? I don’t really know him, sorry!” So its always a good time to know Jesus better and again and again. In the reading we learn...
1 Colossians 15-21
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church, he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
11 December 2020
“Well, I’ll never watch him on the telly ever ever again”, I heard myself saying to the so called comedian that was on TV. He is a comedian, he tells funny stories about his life and his lifestyle so why take a knock at God? Then when that was finished he decided to take a shot at Jesus, which I found very distasteful.
Yes I know , free speech and all of that so as a point of protest I went to my computer and put on the first Christmas Hymn I could find :
The hymn O Come All ye Faithful is a great Christmas favourite.
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem
O come and behold Him, born the King of Angels
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord”
Matthew 2 10-11 From the New King James Version
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And of course all of this calmed me down. So we are called not to just like Jesus , or love Jesus, but to adore him? But what does that entail?
Jesus once said :
‘These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules'.
Some of us are paying lip service to Christmas. We walk the walk and we talk the talk. We even attend church and be seen, we might even belt out the hymn the loudest in the building. But where is our heart?
Are we holding back? You know the person who knows you best knows when you are holding back. He knows each and every one of the hairs on your head and he can tell that the word “Adore” just isn’t in your current remit.
I am stealing a quote from a DL Moody teaching manual that says “We adore what is most precious to us. The miser adores his wealth; the evolutionist might adore his knowledge. We all have what C.S. Lewis called an “overwhelming first.” The New Testament teaches that this is the spot that should be reserved for Jesus. Adoration is our privilege, but it is also our obligation. He is worthy to be “first.”
We are not called to like, we are called to adore. So this Christmas leave all negativity aside and “come let us adore him Christ the Lord”.
10 December 2020
I wonder this year, because of the year we have had, people will look at Christmas in a different way? They are bound to. Will it be a permanent change or only temporary?
Suddenly to most people, gifts are not important. For it is not what’s on the table but who's round the table. Will Christ be at your table? Will you make time for him as the pressure builds for Christmas day?
As Christians, we have seen a huge shift in our Church’s life. The doors were closed and we had to seek out other means to share the word of God. But we managed it. The Church doors opened and the numbers were reduced to 50 and then 20. Was it worth it? Of course it was and we managed it. These are our accomplishments for God cc.
In his letter to the Philippians Paul says this (Philippians 3 7-11)
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul is more or less saying to us that it doesn’t matter what our accomplishments are, all of that is unimportant compared to our relationship with Christ. Another thing he is saying is that our biggest accomplishment should be our relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul would gladly have traded his human accomplishments for more time and more fellowship with Christ.
Yes as we walk through Advent we should think of all of our accomplishments this year and celebrate maybe with alternative means with some of our family but there is no reason for us not to love and have Christ as our table this year. Amen
09 December 2020
When you think of all the characters in this Christmas story we have all kinds of people with all kinds of agenda. Mary and Joseph carrying out the will of God, the three “magi” following a star searching for this new born king and the shepherds guided by the heavenly choir and the angelic wishes “o come let us adore him”.
Now we have the heavyweights. Herod and his boys. All the chief priests and lawyers. The “know -it –alls” and the well qualified. They’ve all studied Hebrew scriptures and they all know where the child was to be born. Bethlehem (from Micah) So in reality that’s only around five miles away. Right? So why not go themselves? Why send the Magi?
There are some people that doubt the validity of this part of the nativity story. Why would a big man like Herod get some foreign “star gazers” to do his investigative work? Could it be he was trying to keep the whole thing “underground”? He wouldn’t want to spook the locals and then perhaps drive Mary and Joseph underground. That would make it even more difficult to carry out his plans. Remembering of course that God was in charge at all times.
As I said all kinds of plans and all kinds of agenda and all of it clearly labelled “unexpected”. But all of these people, moving around the chessboard making their moves, hatching their plans and going in for the kill.
“As soon as you find him,” said Herod “report to me so that I too may go and worship him,” (well we all know that wasn’t going to happen!).
As all of this is playing out the only person is that is in control is God.
Mary Joseph and Jesus are under his protection and guidance. None of the drama matters ….its God that matters. He’s the one that is in charge and as we know he will guide them all to safety.
And that’s what today is all about. The drama is playing out everywhere on the tv and on the radio. Social media telling us one thing and the newspapers telling us something different. We need to look to God for the answers. We need to speak to God about our fears. We need to listen to God for the words that will bring us much needed reassurance and a peaceful Christmas. Amen
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
08 December 2020
Today we are still staying with the Magi
Matthew 2:2, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
I’ve said it before but the Bible is full of contrasts and comparisons. These “wise men”, also called “magi”. They came looking for a king but they wouldn’t find him in a throne room but in a normal home. For it is said by the time they found Jesus he would be about a year old and living in a normal home.
I Want to bring something to your attention. They called him the King of the Jews, could they have guessed for a minute that the very title that they gave him that day would be written on a cross above this man around 33 years later?
Among the ancients, the appearance of a new star or comet was regarded as an omen of some remarkable event. Many such appearances are recorded by the Roman historians at the birth or death of distinguished men. They say that at the death of Julius Caesar a comet appeared in the heavens and shone seven days. These wise men also considered this as evidence that the long-expected Prince was born.
What this star was is not known. I read somewhere it is most probable that it was a luminous appearance, or meteor, such as we now see sometimes shoot from the sky, which the wise men saw, and which directed them to Jerusalem.
But it was no coincidence they were in the right place at the right time to see this new born son who was called Jesus.
Another clear example of how the light brought men out of the darkness, the angels and the heavenly hosts and the star that appeared heralded a new beginning and a new light to bring people out of the darkness. Will you have a star in your house over Christmas? Can you bring new light to someone this Christmas? Will you share this light with your own loved ones in what will be a never forgotten Christmas 2020?.
07 December 2020
Matthew 2 verse 1, “Behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem”
Wise men or Magi. They have been described in various ways.
“Magi” were known as pagan astrologers. An oxymoron. Pagan astrologers coming to find The son of God. The King of Kings.The saviour of the world being sought out by sorcerers and wizards. You could say they were the unexpected visitors that should have been avoided, but not God. That was his speciality. Bringing the unexpected, the outsiders, the people on the edge of society now that was his speciality.
All through the Bible magicians and sorcerers are condemned. Deuteronomy, Isaiah and Jeremiah all condemn them. Even in the New Testament, they get a bad press. Simon or Elymas to name but a few.
These men might not have been “three kings of orient” but they do come to worship Jesus the true King and they brought gifts. There are arguments about what the gifts represent. Gold to represent Jesus as a King, frankincense as a priest and myrrh as a sacrifice.
But the king they had come to worship was different, this was the servant king who “came not to be served but to serve." This king would serve everyone he met and his father would draw people from all extremes to be served. Advent marks the coming King.
The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King
The magi brought three gifts, our prayers today could be for three things. Our prayers should be for the unexpected Christmas, the one we could never have predicted. For the gift that nobody could put a price on and that is the saviour of the world. And closer to home the long-expected vaccine, pray that it is delivered to everyone who needs it.
06 December 2020
One of my all time favourite Christmas songs is “Mary Did You Know?” and it doesn’t really matter who sings it, it’s the lyrics that I love.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you
Luke 2 verse 19 says
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the shepherds talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the shepherds were impressed. Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The shepherds returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!
So the choir has gone and the shepherds decide to find out for themselves where this boy is. And if there was any doubt in their minds it was gone in an instant as Luke tells us “seeing is believing.”
I imagine this would be a busy scene with all the fuss being made by the shepherds telling all and sundry what they heard and even better what they had seen. But look at Mary. Mary sits still. She’s quiet. She’s taking all of this in “keeping all of these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.“ What was going through her mind?
Jesus’s life was about to be played in front of her, it was a lot to take in but a lot to cherish and this was possibly one of her first big memories. Maybe at this point, she thought “one day I will look back on all of this."
How could she know at this point the child that was in her arms, one day will give sight to the blind, calm the storm with his hand and be the King of all creation.
If you can, listen to the song “Mary did you know” and share with her all that Mary kept to herself, holding them dear, deep within. Amen
05 December 2020
Unexpected event, unexpected witness.
I was only in the choir for a short while. I loved it. But my problem was while I was sitting amongst the choir on a Thursday night and on a Sunday morning. I didn’t want to sing, I wanted to listen. On two occasions I can remember literally being struck into silence. The first time was when we sang the “The Irish blessing”. I had never heard anything so beautiful and the second time was when we sang “Behold the man”. Such powerful words rendered me powerless and I will never forget those two songs. The literally filled me with joy.
The choir in the dessert must have been something else. First, the shepherds were settling down for the night when suddenly an angel appears with an announcement. A baby was to be born in downtown Bethlehem and he was going to be special. A messiah and a saviour.
And then what followed can only be described as "the greatest choral presentation in the history of the world”. No tickets were sold for this event as it could not have been foreseen especially by the lowly shepherds.
And what about them being the audience? They were not wise and noble they were considered lowly shepherds, the kind of people that were looked upon as the lowest of the low. They were chosen for this kingly announcement. To share in this good news of great joy.
Joy, according to the dictionary means being filled with vibrant happiness. In the spiritual sense, it means being filled with God's goodness, having a deep-rooted inspired happiness.
In Nehemiah, Ezra said, "the joy of the Lord is your strength”. For him it was a time of restoration not only for the ruined city but also to the law of God.
As we march through December towards Christmas day make the joy of the Lord YOUR strength as we share with the shepherds the marvel of the new born king. Amen
Now lets read from Luke 2
There were shepherds camping in the neighbourhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Saviour has just been born in David’s town, a Saviour who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the shepherds talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met, what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
04 December 2020
Years ago we went to Howarth in Yorkshire on holiday. Previously I had rented the Bronte sisters' books at school and had enjoyed them. So it was great to be able to go to The Vicarage in Howarth and see where they lived and see how they lived. Seeing their clothes and their beds sent home how small they were and the sparseness of their living area helped understand their lives. We saw their pens and their notebooks and all of this put flesh on the bones of who we thought they were and how they lived.
Colossians 1 verse 9 tells us “In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.“ Yesterday we talked about the word becoming flesh. Jesus walking amongst his fellow citizens but not everyone was a fan so to speak. We know from scripture that not everyone was a believer.
“My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world. Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. And everyone who refuses to confess faith in Jesus has nothing in common with God.”
In his book “The Christmas we didn’t expect” David Mathis tells us that we must avoid the same mistake.
We mustn’t think of Christmas just as tinsel and trees and all things nice and comfy. The humanity of Christ can be a challenge but it can be the beauty of being a Christian.
We follow a saviour who was human, who had emotions and who even had a human mind. But John 6 v 38 reminds us Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven not only to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
The conflict is there. Jesus had a will of his own but he came to follow his Father's will and that’s what makes us love him all the more. He had his own failings, his own emotions but the Word that became flesh was here to carry out The Father's will. He was fully God but fully man.
“He became man in full so that he might save us in full.” Amen
03 December 2020
John 1:14 The word became flesh and dwelt among us
Many moons ago there was an expression used by other Christians that bothered me and that expression was “a personal relationship with Jesus”. I couldn’t get my head around it and in my naivety, I didn’t see why it was so important to have it. Its there and you believe it.
But just imagine that we didn’t have a nativity, a baby in the stable, a boy in the temple, a man who taught and healed. Just imagine there was no Jesus? No crucifixion and no resurrection. How would we fare with our faith and our understanding of God? And another thing. No Christ no Christianity.
Imagine having a friend. You love them and they live in the next town. You know they are there if you need them and will contact them from time to time only when you need them. How long would that relationship last?
A critical part of the gospel is the fact that Jesus was truly and fully physically human. This was no mirage or illusion. He was100% human, the Word became flesh. But why give us someone that was both human and divine?
The Word became flesh. We needed someone that has walked the walk before us. We need someone that has had all our human traits and has had tests and some failures. This incarnation that inspires us and interprets all the understanding we need to live this life as followers and believers. All of this was made possible because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Only then can we sit down and have a personal relationship with Jesus because we know him, we love him and we live through him. And we are lucky that each and every advent we get to think about and celebrate his coming. We will celebrate his birthday.
The Word became flesh. God became man. Christmas the time for a perfect gift. Jesus Christ.
02 December 2020
01 December 2020