Thursday, December 21, 2017

They came. They saw. They went back praising and glorifying God.

How do you react when you have good news to share with other people? Certainly, I shocked a couple of family members when I went in the house a different way because that way had been close, damaged for some time. I showed them that the new way was there and ready. There was shock and awe. There was celebration and a little bit of anger that they weren’t clued in. This is not unlike what we have happening through the story of the birth of Jesus and God coming near to us; in a way that we could understand. It took a lot of work and setting up for things to happen – centuries of people following God, failing and falling; of being disobedient and petulant. It all started with Abraham, and the call and life of one man and his family.

The trip of one family – a husband and wife to the man’s ancestral home was down right difficult. Walking about 75 miles over difficult roads while face weather and potential robbers, growling people because they too are on their way somewhere else – families, businesses, lives and countries in chaos all because Rome wants its taxes. When the young couple found their destination in Bethlehem (House of Bread), the Town of David, there was no room for them to stay in the Inn. So, they found a place in a stable, bedded down for the night, and made things as comfortable as possible.

That’s when it all happened, Suddenly, boom! An angel came and announced that the baby was born. But it was not to someone powerful, or to a king or queen that the angel went. It was to the poor and the outcast shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem – message: Boom! Glorious bright light during a time real darkness and then a message from Gabriel and the Message Department: Do not be afraid! To you in a certain place, at this moment a child is born for you and to you this sign will be given to you – he will be found in manger wrapped in rags and laying in a manger.  Like a cymbal crash, the birth of the timeless Son of God into human history happens, shattering the rhythm and hum of our meager existence. 

The shepherds left their flocks in the care of God to see the sight that had been proclaimed to them. They went. They saw. They worshipped and gave praise to God as they returned to their lives and livelihoods. It is what I hope for you this Christmas – you came, you saw Christ and you go home praising God, ready to come back and do that again and again.

Not everyone reacts to the news of the birth of Jesus with joy.  Some where amazed and terrified like the shepherds. There are those who would be baffled like the people of Bethlehem at the commotion. There are some who are amazed and become angry like Herod the Great.

The greatest thing that can happen in this moment is not a change in position or in place – but rather a change in spirit. Like Old Ebeneezer Scrooge, who after he ponderous and more than slightly disturbing night, is overjoyed to discover he has not missed Christmas but rather that he gets to enjoy it as a redeemed man and the chance to make mankind is his own business.

We too need to come to the manger to see the Child, to enjoy his presence and then to return to our lives changes people – different because we have encountered the Christ and because of that we can never be the same again. The mundanity of human life is now beside upon by the entrance of its Creator.

This message comes not just to the shepherds, to the people of a small town or even to a young couple, it also comes to us. To you is born this day, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.  You will find him if you seek him. The wise always do.  We must come. We must see and we must add our voices to the myriads who are praising God for the wonders he is doing. 


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Are you interuptible this Christmas?

People ask me all the time, “Why does Christmas have to be so busy?” – There is good news and bad news in that answer and it is the same answer: It’s not Christmas – yet. We have until sundown today before the feast begins.
We live in a society that does not like to wait. We are always in a rush to get somewhere, do something or whatever. We are Content with a drive through meal that take 30 to 90 seconds to deliver rather than being patient for 25 minutes and getting the steak and potato. Moreover, we live in a society that must have information on a screen for it to be true – won’t be believed otherwise. This has led to a breakdown in communications not only with each other but also with God. It reduces the ability of Christians because we are not limited to 280 characters of poor English and slang.
Therefore, if there is nothing else that gets said here in this moment let it be only the name of Jesus. He is the visible image of the invisible God. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For 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. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And 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. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and 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. (Colossians 1.15-20)

And I want to dispel some misinformation about Christmas – it was not taken from the pagans and made a Christian feast. Christmas or the Mass of Christ was celebrated by the Church 50 years before the pagan feasts of Saturnalia began, The pagan feast was started because of the desire to go back to what was in the Empire. The Christian faith was the faith of the Empire and thus the Celebration of Christmas which started some time between the Edict of Milan in 313 and the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 was rampant wherever the Empire was.

The question I want us to consider is a simple one – are you willing to have your Christmas interrupted this year, by this same Jesus? After all it is his day. Christ is Christmas. Will you allow him in and will you make room for him?
The message to Mary was important – her day, her upcoming marriage and her whole life was disrupted. There is always the possibility that Good News must start out and heard as bad news and then must be lived to become Good News. Mary was troubled and afraid when saw heard the Angel and his greeting – What do you mean God has been watching me? What does God want with me?
God had been watching Mary and wanted her to be a part of his plan, his mission to redeem the world. God wanted her to allow her heart and mind, her life to be open to the silliness of the possibilities that he wanted to work in her life. He indicated that he was near her and watching her and would continue to do so – her life had found favour because of the way in which she lived it – towards God and the kingdom.
She is told that she would conceive and give birth to a son who would be in the line of David and would be King over David’s people for ever.
I want you to know that there is a counter point to get us to see how remarkable this woman and her faith was – Zachariah the Priest and his old wife Elizabeth. If you read though the start of Luke’s narratives of the birth you will notice the differences between the old priest and the young woman. Mary was poor, about to be married, with little knowledge compared to a priest. What she did have in Joseph was a good man who like her, believed in God and was willing to listen to God through his dreams, like the Joseph of old.
If you read through the Old Testament, God now and again causes women who had been “barren” or childless to conceive a child – a son. The thing I want to point out to you is that in each case that I can think of, this was to women who were mothers of the ancestors of the line of David and therefore enabled the coming of the Messiah.
Zachariah was older, long married to a faithful wife. But despite his knowledge and experience as a priest, he was not willing to believe that God could do what he wanted to do. He chose to believe that he and the wife were about to wither and die on the vine and there was nothing that could convince him otherwise. Therefore, he spent nine months quiet, unable to speak because he did not believe. It was not until he said that his wife was right and that the boy’s name was his tongue loosed and he praised God for what he was doing.
We look even now for Jesus to come again the purpose of Advent these days and for God to restore things to the way that they were at first – in the Garden. We call for God to come down to fix the broken, to free those who are bound and to find that which has been lost. To deal with the adversaries of the people and the threats that had been made against the people. We want God to come down and sort things out because of the devastations that are happening across the world. We are dirty, despair and naked.
Jesus’ coming to us is about renewing the hope that we place in God for this very thing – to honour the prayer that we pray as churches in this town and across this nation – your kingdom come, you will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Don’t be afraid of what is coming – be ready for him when he does. Allow your Christmas to be interruptible that God might make know his favour for you and show you what you are going to be lead to do so see prayer answered that his kingdom will come. Don’t be afraid – Believe. Don’t be fearful – take courage and stand firm on what you believe. Don’t run away – come and participate in what it is that God is doing. In doing so we discover what we believe and even more importantly that God believes in us and is watching and encourage us to keep going and to keep doing.
As we participate in drawing in the kingdom to this world, as we learn to stand and to walk with God, we encounter God more deeply – and in doing so find the courage to do the silly, or even the outrageous (by the world’s standards) thing so that others may come to believe and to participate in God and his mission.
The dynamics of divine grace are such that it is not just for those moments that we need faith and to be great, grace is for life that is lived in between the moments that need to be lived. Miracles will come to the unsuspecting. Restoration will be given to those who are desolate. And blessing will be bestowed on those who believe and participate in what God is doing to redeem this world. We don’t have it all worked out. We must be ready and prepared to follow where the Spirit leads, to say, “Yes, Lord” and to be led in the ways that we need to go. Remember, God’s work, done God’s way, will not lack God’s supply.”
Remember, God is watching you and you are in his favour. Don’t be afraid of what’s happening next – be ready for him who is coming to you. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

We are filled with joy because of what God has done

I was listening recently to Bishop Tom Wright on YouTube, who was talking about the use of Scripture in worship and why it matters. He basic case was that we need to know and understand the basic narrative of the Bible, so that we can understand what it is that God is doing in this world and more so, so that we can understand what it is that God is saying to us. Without that, we do not understand what God is doing and how we are to respond to God and his mission in this world. Wright suggests that we need to be like children who go up to a shop window and press our noses hard against the glass to see what is going on and know the bigger picture.

I want to tie this together with the Christmastide (The feast and season of Christmas) for it will soon be upon us again with all the usual complications. There will be the usual complaining about credit card debit; about how commercial Christmas has gotten and how there aren’t any good modern Christmas songs anymore, forcing one to go back to the old days and listen to Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Perry Como. In the days ahead, we will express a desire for the days when Christmas was more real and simply better. It is all too common this time of year. Isn’t it weird that those times we long for, are the times when we were kids?

In contemplating the words of Bishop Wright along with the year that has been and the words of the Scriptures for Sunday, there was a line in the Psalm this week that captured my eye and then mind that I want to share a bit about with you:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. – Psalm 126.1-3

We don’t often put the whole story together to see what it is that God is doing where Christmas is concerned. I need to ask, what great thing has good done for you lately? What kinds of things do you see God doing and how are you responding to them and participating in them? The Bible opens for us as human beings, vision of the creation that was in the time of its infancy, and then the fall of humanity and God’s work to bring about the new life in the new creation. Scripture reminds of the fact that while sin is an issue and God in Jesus deals with that, the real issue is who or what we have at the centre of our lives, personally and collectively. If it is not Jesus Christ, then what idol are we holding on to? We need to recognize that God is speaking to each and to all of us. We need to spend more time in the Bible and to allow the Spirit to speak to us so that we can increasingly live more of it. The Bible is so much more than the recorded heroic acts of a few people who are, from our perspective long since dead in a society that is, compared to us, relatively primitive.

Pressing our noses to the glass, we can see how things used to be and, also to see how things will be when the new life in the new creation finally comes. We started in the Garden with a close relationship with God and with each other: we were creative and building community until the Fall. But know we can also see the new city with the new Life where we will be the royal priesthood and God will be our God. He will be the Temple.

Taking time to read Scripture in worship, as Wright points out, is the Christian equivalent of the burning bush on Mt. Sinai or the pillars of cloud and fire, the parting of the Red Sea. Reading the Bible is the invocation of the people of God into presence of God almighty so that we might remember and celebrate the mighty acts of salvation that God has done over the centuries, and that in doing so, he has saved us, and given us the joy we celebrate. Reading the Scriptures allows us to enter and to inhabit our story which is God’s own Gospel. And in living into what the Scriptures teach us, we can see and know what idols we are hanging onto so that we can rid ourselves of them. Allowing for idols in our lives degrades our worship and messes up our lives, personally and corporately.

So, if God has done great things for those who have believed in the past and is undertaking for us in the present, is he going to stop? Will he suddenly abandon us because he has had enough? Did he not use Abram, so that the faith of one man is shown to be more powerful than the rage of all the nations put together? Didn’t God lead his people out of bondage in Egypt into the Land he promised them. Did he not tabernacle at the Temple? Did he not punish the people for their idolatry and disobedience, sending them into exile? Did he not say, ‘Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days?” Has he not restored, time and again the fortunes of his own people? Does this not encourage, even compel us to pray, knowing that God will answer? Does not our future with God arrive as a gift in a manger? Will we not proclaim all that God has to others so that they will receive and participate in it?

In sending Jesus to us, God has done this great thing for us and we are filled with joy at what God is doing. Thanks be to God!



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Hairy Mantle of John the Prophet

It takes time for a plan to come together. God had been planning for some time but now was the time to act. The Gospel this week (Mark 1.18) tells us that his Gospel is the foundation of Good News for the entire earth. Why? Because Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God has come to us; the timeless Son of God enters human history. God took the opportunity to enter human history to affect our exodus back to him through himself. And why is this Good News? Because it is what we were created for – to know God and to enjoy him forever. Jesus’ coming is the beginning of the shinning of the resurrection light into human existence. Jesus is going to be revealed as the Christ, the Son of the living God by who he is and what he does.

Jesus is here for us and to draw us back to the Father is news that needs to be shared because it is a big deal. We are coming to the Feast of the Nativity or the Feast of the Incarnation – better known as Mass of Christ or Christmas. How do we let people know that there is something important that is going to happen and that it is not fake news?

Consider John the Baptist – he came to do two simple but powerful things: to baptize people in preparation of the revelation of the Christ (Messiah) and to proclaim the need for people to get back to God because the kingdom was coming to them and was very near. It is through Jesus that we will learn to know and call God, “Father”. Jesus will reveal his own relationship as a Father-Son relationship. He will reveal God as “Father, Son and Spirit”. Jesus will call people to follow him in discipleship – to undergo a baptism not just of cleansing but also being drench in pain and suffering. Jesus is going to call everyone he meets to repentance and to faith because the kingdom of God is coming near to them. John proclamation was a call, a demand for people to return to God so that they could be led back to him.

It should be made clear that confession of sin both in public and in private was common in First Century Judaism. Jews were well acquainted with purity law as and baptism could happen anytime a person wanted.  Those converting to Judaism were baptized only once for conversion – not unlike Christian baptism which is imposed once, for the forgiveness of sins. Historian Josephus once pointed out that “God is very easily reconciled to those who confess and repent” There is a need to know the Truth in the Christian faith and then to live it. Faith and repentance are at the core of who we are as people of God.

People when from all over the South of Israel to hear John preach and to be baptized in response to what they were hearing. Why? Because they were getting ready for the kingdom and for something else that is important for the Church, even today: revival. What did they go out to see and to hear? What God was asking of him. When I went to General Synod the first time, more than 25 years ago now, the Synod was covered by both the Church and secular media because people wanted to hear what God was saying. They may have disagreed with what was being said but they were still interested in what needed to be heard. The people of John’s day heard a message that called them to immediate repentance and faith in God because God was coming to them. People responded to that because they became aware of the fact that they were separated from God and wanted to reconnect. People needed God because they desired hope and were searching for something that the religious leaders of the day could not offer them: renewal and revival. The time was right for revival in the Land. People were hungering and thirsting for God and what God could do for them.

We are called to proclaim the Good news too – calling people to repentance and to faith because the King and his kingdom are coming to them. Like John, we are not bound by our surroundings. People will respond when they are called. We need to live what we preach then and preach what we live. We must do both because faith without works is dead and works without faith are empty gestures. And just as importantly we need to proclaim the kingdom with power. It is not necessarily doing the extraordinary thing every day but rather with extraordinary love, hope and trust in God.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come soon.