Sunday 26th January – Australia Day
Audio sermon – Pastor Robert Voigt
Sunday 26th January – Australia Day
Audio sermon – Pastor Robert Voigt
Pastor Robert Voigt Audio Sermon
I love my “Fambily”
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 NIV
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Revelation 3:3 NIV
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard.
Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
You don’t go to church, you are the church. But the ‘you’ in “you are the church” is plural, not singular. Church is bigger than you.
While solitude is a gift from God, isolation is a tool of the enemy. And there’s no faster way to render a community ineffective than to isolate its members
THE FOUNDATION STONES OF CHRISTIAN UNITY
1) Humility (lowliness) and gentleness (meekness)
2) Patience (longsuffering)
3) Mutual forbearance (tolerance)
Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27
Sunday 12th January
Audio Sermon Pastor Robert Voigt – Anchors Aweigh
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul!”
John 1: 10-18
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
Christmas and New Year has been burnt off, over shadowed, by so many bushfires raging. Can you imagine being in Mallacoota in SE Victoria and plunging into the sea to escape the oncoming blaze. We were over that way a couple of years ago. Beautiful forest and beach part of Australia – but hardly any roads – one way in and one way out. That would have been scary.
I ask myself, what does the arrival of God in the flesh mean as we begin this fiery 2020?
St John will help us. I am not sure you could plunge yourself into deeper water when pondering who Jesus is and what his arrival means than diving into the deep end of the pool in John’s gospel beginning.
We know it well. “In the beginning was the Word….”
“In the beginning…”. We are right back at that other mysterious place – pre-history – ‘Beginnings’; the “Book of Beginnings”; the Book of Genesis, John has seen and heard a new beginning, a new creation coming out of the old one; breaking into the existing one.
John has seen Light. Not a heated blazing destructive fire but light by which to walk and see and live through the devastation of fire.
Jesus is the light of all light, he says. Jesus is like sun is to planet earth. Every other star and the moon and all other plants, animals, trees and rocks exist under that sun’s light.
John says we need this Light.
“If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles.” (John 11:9-10).
So, it seems that this Light, even though it is THE Light for living this life, is actually hard to see – like the sun blocked out by that terrible dark thick smoke.
How do you know this Light of life? Luther is wise here:
“This is the criterion by which to judge true and false teachers. Pious, Christian teachers direct the people away from themselves and to Christ, as St. John does here with his testimony, and as we (God be praised) and others also do.
For all our sermons tend toward this one goal, that you and we know and believe that Christ is the only Saviour and Consolation of the world and the Bishop and Shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).
The Gospel points to Christ exclusively; and this is in complete agreement with the testimony of St. John. For this reason, we do not attract the people to ourselves; we lead them to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)”.
Isn’t this our goal as this fiery year begins? Isn’t this our hearts desire for all those suffering loss or mourning death, and dealing with danger across this country? Isn’t this always our goal no matter the weather, or the threat or the ease?
Our goal is John’s goal and Luther’s goal, to point people to Jesus so they receive him as their Shepherd, Bishop Saviour, Pastor, Lover of the broken and the suffering.
Why so? Because of what this Light gives.
The Light has arrived in time and space; in our human history. Like those people stuck in make-shift camping areas and town camp sites as we speak, God turned up, and back in the camper or the caravan or pitch the tent with all the other travellers on planet earth, and stayed with us.
Receiving and believing this man and his words of promise of life beyond any fire, flood, disaster or death affords any Aussie a new place, a new name, a new status, a new light that shapes our life like the sun.
Because he came to us, sought us out, chose us, loved us, stays with us we are now children of God. You are a child of a loving Father, a brother to this Saviour, a member of his family.
This is his glory. We have seen his glory….
“The evangelist wants to say that Christ not only demonstrated His humanity with His actions, by dwelling among the people so that they could see Him, hear Him, speak with Him, and live near Him until His thirty-fourth year, by suffering cold, hunger, and thirst in this feeble and wretched human form and nature, but that He also displayed His glory and power in proof of His divinity.
Of this He gave proof with His teaching, His preaching, His signs and wonders, convincing anyone of His Godhead who was not blinded and hardened by the devil, as the high priests and scribes were.
By word and deed He proved that He was God by nature: He healed the sick and raised the dead; in short, He wrought more and greater miracles than any prophet before Him, in fact, than any other human being ever was able to do”.
I am hearing the stories of these people in everyday Australian towns in this tragedy and I see his glory at work in and among them.
Child of God, you have been given that precious right. Use it well as 2020 begins with such a challenge.
Pray that the Lord of all creation would silence this chaos.
Love as he loves.
Be with people as he is with them and with you.
Do what you can, as he does his healing work through you, his child.
Be his Light:
a cold drink to a thirsty man,
a visit via phone or letter or in the flesh;
some money to help the rebuilding,
a simple word telling of God in the flesh, in this land of sweeping plains and mountain ranges, flames and floods.
O Lord, when fires rage and consume the land,
Stir up in us the fire of your love.
10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.[a] 12 He says,
‘I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.’[b]
13 And again,
‘I will put my trust in him.’[c]
And again he says,
‘Here am I, and the children God has given me.’[d]
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them,[e] fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
So, it has all happened again. The big event has come and gone and here we are, with a moment to ponder what has happened. Let’s de-brief.
How did it go? Was the food good? How were the guests? Would you invite them back?! If Juan Antonio Sanchez, the chairman of the International Olympic Committee at the Sydney Olympics, was standing at a podium making an announcement to the word about your Christmas, would he say, “It was the best Games ever……or not!?”
Whether or not Christmas was the best or the worst ever, the writer to the Hebrews will help us catch the magnitude and meaning of Jesus.
He says Jesus is four ways. He is like that pork or ham or turkey that came roasted or fried or pulled or steamed at Christmas. Jesus is good news four ways;
Jesus is King (2:14–15). The writer wants us to trust that Jesus is the only one who delivers us from the worse tyrant who has ever lived. Not Herod, and not even our own sins, but pure evil – the Evil One. Jesus reigns over Satan’s terrorism. Jesus is King of death.
Satan is worse than Herod killing all the boys under two and forcing the holy family to escape down to Egypt for a while. He is worse than Pharaoh in Egypt who did the same so long ago. He is worse than the worst we have seen, and we have seen some bad ones, even in our lifetime.
He is worse than all the rest because we hear that he actually has limited power. He holds the last and greatest enemy we all face – death. The writer says of this tyrant:
“him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil”.
Satan is the great deceiver who is always trying to con you into believing that he has total power over you. He wants to produce fear, and plenty of it because fear isolates you, depletes you, robs you.
But he doesn’t have anything like complete control over you, even though we will indeed all have to face death. Everything has changed in that baby boy and what he did. Satan could just not kill that boy even though he had a good go at him a few times (When an infant, when on the top of temple in direct conflict with Satan who urged Jesus to give up and choose suicide from the top of the temple. Even the Good Friday cross and death!).
That boy eventually even lived through the death that he ALLOWED to come to himself. And this boy in the box ended up jumping out of the box to change everything. Death was killed and Satan’s power in it limited.
Now death no longer holds you down, no matter how deathly you may feel. A human person has lived through it. He shared his victory with you in that font of life. You have lived through death in your baptism resurrection.
Now you live in this post-death resurrected life. You’ll live through death when it comes. You live under king Jesus until then and after then.
The night in the shed tells us that Jesus is our blood brother (2:10–18). He has enabled you and I to become “sons of God” like him (‘sons’ as status, not gender).
We long for belonging and we have it. We need human connection and it is ours. We thirst for freedom to live well, and in his underserved acceptance and forgiveness, all guilt and shame just falls away every day.
“Jesus is not ashamed to call you brother/sisters”.
Can you hear that?
“Jesus is not ashamed of you”.
That, for me, is THE best ever gift in Christmas. That birth in that shed was the beginning of the end of all my shame and still is. This boy is the truth that just because you do a bad thing does not mean at all that you are bad person! Not as far as your older brother Jesus is concerned. He is not shamed to stand with you even if you are having trouble standing with yourself.
Unlike the older brother in the parable of the lost sons who did not lift a finger to go and search for his wayward and guilty brother but instead, judged him, got angry at him and at called he and his father fools, Jesus your true older brother lifts his arms in blood on the tree, rises from the dark tomb to find you and lead you home to the Father and a loved child’s welcome.
So, Jesus is your King and Your blood brother. In the shed we hear the new song, that Jesus is the Band Leader/Choir master (2:12–13). He is teaching his brothers and sisters to praise God together with him. He presents them as praise singers to God and the world.
Now there are a lot of Christmas songs, many about which I am unsure. But this is the one I am sure about; the one we really need to sing! Jesus sings;
‘I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.’
Can you picture him? Like that wildly popular Andrea Rieu directing the epic music with its epic set and the people singing along in joy. Either that or an intense Bono with his three U2 mates drawing out the song from the thirty thousand strong crowd on Adelaide Oval recently.
But here the song is not to Andre or Bono or to any mere human glory – it is the song of the angels – “Glory be to the Father, and to Jesus and to the Spirit”. Our spirit’s sore as Jesus leads the community song.
Jesus is King, Brother, Band leader and then, what about this? Jesus is our merciful and faithful High Priest (2:10–11). Jesus is High pastor; our Pastor of all pastors better than any of them. After his ordination to King of kings, which came via his sacrificial death that cost hi everything but is marvellously free for you and me, Jesus, in true priestly fashion, now provides God’s pardon to his people and shares his own holiness with them.
Unlike any other of the world’s religious gods who demand that you do it right to get life, Jesus, the Great High Priest simply gives the gifts of life to those who could never earn it, do it, achieve or give enough. He even sacrifices himself to make this possible. He rises to simply dish out his lavish gifts of love on any everyday person who ever asks. Stunning!
So now he takes our prayers and our heart and our loves and represents us, prays with us, prays for us before our Father – like a true pastor/priest should, like a true spouse does, like parents do for their kids and kids can do for their parents.
So, there it is; Jesus, four ways.
So, let him rule so you be grace where you need to be. Grace is the way we choose before judgement, criticism and gossip.
Because he is not shamed of you, speak of him when the moments arise and stand with anyone, anywhere, anytime in the hope that his grace wins them.
Sing with song–meister, Jesus! Whether you sound any good or not. There is life and joy in his band called the church.
Tell your Chief Pastor what’s on our mind and listen to what’s on his. In the process you will live day by day with a loving Father and his holy community supporting you through anything.
Christmas is complete. 2020 is ready to go for Christians living four ways with no shame.
Jesus makes you holy and pleasing to the Father and he and we are family.
He is not ashamed of you.
6 I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem;
they will never be silent day or night.
You who call on the Lord,
give yourselves no rest,
7 and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem
and makes her the praise of the earth.
8 The Lord has sworn by his right hand
and by his mighty arm:
‘Never again will I give your grain
as food for your enemies,
and never again will foreigners drink the new wine
for which you have toiled;
12 They will be called the Holy People,
the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you will be called Sought After,
the City No Longer Deserted.
Titus 3:4-7 Saved by God’s love
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
I have often noted those signs lots of church folks make calling for our community to ‘put Christ back in Christmas’. I resonate with that sentiment, but I am unsure about the effectiveness of making signs like this.
I hear the songs and the messages of Christmas everywhere you go, and I try and try to understand what the core message is in what Christmas has now become in 21st Century Australia.
I think it is something like this: “If we get together and work really hard, we can make the world a better place”. It almost sounds a bit of carryover from that old song “We are the World” sung at the Live Aid concert back in the 80’s. “We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who can make a brighter day, so let’s start giving….”
It seems that we want to believe that we can be and should be all we need on planet earth.
It is an attractive message. The thought of us all banding together, putting away our differences and working together to save the planet or end poverty or bring fairness back to our community, end racism, give people a fair go is attractive. We know we really do need these things – less harm, less injustice, less poverty, less carbon emissions, less hatred, less terrorism, less violence, less greed, less inequality.
Even though we have a good sense about what we need, I wonder something. I wonder if as we sing those songs everywhere at Christmas and speak that popular message, often without even being aware of it, we sort of ‘sing over’ and ‘pass over’ the very seeds of hope that give us THE hope for lasting change we know we need.
“Peace on earth. Goodwill toward all people. A Saviour is here”….
“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells…….”
“Silent night, Holy Night, love’s pure light. Glory streams from his holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace….”.
“Deck the Halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la….”
Sometimes I reckon we Aussies are like a puppy frantically ripping up the back yard looking for a yummy bone that is not there while our yummy bowl of Pal sits waiting for us on the patio.
So sure are we that we can find the bone, we miss the better food. So convinced are we that getting the food is within our control that we miss the gift of our owner giving us real food that will truly sustain us.
And along he comes again this Christmas, offering us everything we actually need for life and love and peace in all we face. Peace refuses to be sung over altogether! Jesus pops out of the music in the shops if you have ears to hear. Those seeds of hope and grace for our worrying future germinate again.
Jesus, THE hope, arrives on our doorstep in a way we can really get – a baby born in real time to real people in real history. And this baby promises an end to all that we long for to be ended and to give all we long for to be in us.
But will we receive him? Will we give up our frantic searching in the dirt and let him feed us the good stuff that only he provides; the stuff that makes for lasting and complete change for the good?
You’d think it would be easy. But I think we know the problem. The problem is we are not the world, even if we have been given the whole world as a gift. Our fullest hope is not what we give but what we receive from Him who gives us this boy and his story.
Like the people of the ancient city, Jerusalem, to whom Isaiah speaks, we need some intervention by Another to save the day and save us.
Oh, but that takes humility. But, when the crisis gets deep enough, the humility gets real enough! Is it real enough for you this morning?
In Isaiah’s time, God’s community had finally gotten close to stopping searching for that bone of self-help when Isaiah announced the Lord’s hope.
They were beginning to see that there was no bone to be found that was going to save them from starvation and death. They had finally started to see the futility of making deals with other countries, making deals with themselves, making deals with God: trying to be holy to get him to help.
They were under siege and running out of options. I wonder if we feel like that in the face of our shaky ecological future and our repeated bad behaviour as human beings?
If we do, will we continue to make deals or will we let this Intervention in a shed deal with us?
To people feeling the siege, Isaiah announces God’s intervention.
6 I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem;
they will never be silent day or night.
give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem
and makes her the praise of the earth.
And even more now; now a fuller and complete intervention than Isaiah could even know comes in this Christmas child:
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
God is intervening again today. His intervention is driven by mercy and kindness. This is no mere outward help. This boy is God’s loving and kind presence in a way we can carry it, know it, feel it, touch it, smell it, hear it, and it is an act of love – the best love; self-sacrificing love.
This baby boy is God’s intervention not just in a mighty army or a better technology or a more stable climate or favourable political fortune.
This intervention into our searching is of the heart – personal transformation from inside out. Resurrection from self-focus and all our fears to facing the world with others in his freedom and joy.
It is so full and so effective because it is being re-born; starting from a new place, a new heart, and bringing a new future.
He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
All the frantic searching, the missing the real food, the singing over the truth, the denial of what is actually really good for us is washed away like dirt on our hands under a tap.
Those seeds of his truth passed over as we shop spring up to become THE song, THE story, THE hope for peace again.
We are made clean and new and we live new. Like the shepherds, the easterners, the parents, we are just with him in the moment marvelling at how he loves us and how he loves his broken world.
And what about those signs to put Christ back in Christmas?
We don’t need them.
We don’t need to put the Christ back into Christmas. He is already there.
And we need more than signs on a wall or a website. We are the signs. By this total washing of rebirth, we are the sign that makes us his living sign of Jesus in Christmas.
Friend, you are his sign.
You are the Christ in Christmas because;
“in his kindness he saved you by the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on you generously so that, having been made holy and pleasing by his grace, you are an heir of all his promises of hope”.
Friend, watch out for others on these city walls. He has posted you here.
Be part of his new community which he is establishing to make him the praise of planet earth.
Be his living sign of hope as you sing his song, speak his words, love his people.
Sing his song. Stand your post with joy.
He will not rest until his kingdom is established.
After viewing Come Away in a Manger – Wise Man https://skitguys.com/videos/away-in-a-manger
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, ‘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.’
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.”[b]’
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.’
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 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. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
They came looking for royalty, looking for beauty, for answers, for truth. What have you come here for?
They went where royalty is usually found – a palace, a king with fine robes and much political power….They went to Herod. They did not know that they were looking in the wrong place for the wrong royalty.
And yet, it was not just them. It wasn’t that they themselves were searching for beauty and truth and royalty, they were also being led to find THE royal one.
Finally, they were led to the real royalty with the real truth, real answers, real beauty. They instinctively knew he was worthy of their highest honour.
You may be searching this holy night, but you are also being led this holy night.
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, you are love’s pure light
Radiant beams from your holy face,
Brings the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at thy birth,
By your Spirit make us alert
We hear from these witnesses that the first night of joy eventually gave way to another night sometime later that was to be a night of terror. Herod had all the boys under the age of two murdered as a result of hearing of these eastern astrologers were in town looking to pay their tribute to this rival king.
So, Matthew tells us of two kings; one a trickster and one the Truth: one the real deal, the other a temporary impostor: one operating in the darkness of secrecy, and the other just put right out there in the light; clear and true: one paranoid and fearful, the other innocent and new.
Friend, there is an opportunity to let your heart be filled with wonder for one as you find yourself rejecting the other.
You’d think this would be an easy choice. No one wants to be lied to, imposed upon, tricked or misled as those Magi were. Everyone wants to find the truth, the joy, the light the freedom.
But the reality is that often, the two kings are not so easy to choose between. Finding joy and wonder in the Promised One is often elusive.
That is not so much because of the kings, but because of us. Within us there is this tendency to not be able to see the light and the shade clearly. We are not perfect people. Sometimes we even chase the darkness believing it to be the light we think we need. Sometimes we trick ourselves as we follow the trickster, believing he is the truth-teller.
The wise man said that he had been searching for the star, the sign of the Divine, the light in the dark, the humility, the honest to God truth of things. He and the others must have wanted the truth badly. Why else would you search the stars, plumb the depths of known science theory, travel so far and so long?
Is this us still? Is this you now? Are you wanting the truth here? Have you been searching? Are you still searching? What if you found the truth, and the truth was a person? Would you receive him?
People search for truth and hope in their own way. We all want to make sense of the pain, the fear, the confusion, the injustice, the loneliness, the threats to our life on planet earth we feel. We all need to know that what we are doing counts for something bigger than just ourselves.
But it seems that we in the West, at least for time being, will search for hope and light anywhere but in this shed with a baby under a star. He’s ‘old hat’ now.
We seem to have mostly thrown this baby out with the bathwater. We are now searching for a replacement hope and future, be it in Eastern many gods, Western no gods; in our technology, the science, taking action on every cause to prove to ourselves that we really can be everything we need to be now WITHOUT this baby.
But here we are still: griefs, sorrow, injustice, damaged planet, shaky environmental future, living in the land of fire and flood, drought and plenty, still dying, still arguing, still fighting, still searching, still needing that star…..
And here he is again. A baby just being a baby. But a baby with a long-told back story. This boy is the long-awaited culmination of a nation, a planet, a human race. He is the delivery of the stories of promise for generations looking forward to this moment that is foretold in such detail across a thousand years, with such beautiful images of hope.
In the end any searching person has to draw near to this silent night scene in some way. No one wants Herod kingship, so what about the other king and his kingship?
Here he is named “Shepherd” king. This King will not lead you down the garden path to destruction but will shepherd to good water, good grass. He will protect, serve, lead you to replenish you; tend you.
How can you trust this good news? He has a forward story too. He will go on to serve you and tend you at the cost of his life. He will rule by giving everything. He will rule by serving those who do not deserve to be served by a king. He will serve by losing himself to find you. He will use his divine power for healing and life, not murder and power. He will bless the children, heal the broken hearted and win back the prisoners from their self-made Herod type cages.
So which king is it this holy night? More of the same or quiet and full wonder at the good news love in this boy of promise?
I don’t believe I got myself here or that you just got yourself here to the king’s shed tonight. I was led. Same for you.
I have been led to discover that this Jesus is the One; He is light, not dark. He is truth not trickery. He is joy, not fear. He is freedom to be open and honest in the light, not scratching around in the dark trying to hide everything. He is open invitation and welcome, not manipulation and power preservation.
As he enters your space and lays down his life for you; as he gives you everything he has so you can receive everything he gives, surely the only response to that in your heart is give your heart to him; just like those Easterners – marvelling at the beauty, truth and promise of this baby King and the rejection of the other one.
Open your treasures – not the cash or the card or the credit; the gold, frankincense and myrrh. No, open the heart to the boy in the box; He has given you a new life to be every day not by silver or gold, but by his precious blood.
He is God in the flesh. He will receive your gifts and give you much more. He will give you, you; a new you for a new life.
Jesus recreate you this holy night in his holy light.
When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.
2 Now the house of David was told, ‘Aram has allied itself with[a] Ephraim’; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.
5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 ‘Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.’ 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
‘“It will not take place,
it will not happen,
8 for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.”’
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.’
12 But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.’
13 Then Isaiah said, ‘Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you[c] a sign: the virgin[d] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[e] will call him Immanuel.[f] 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
King Ahaz of Jerusalem was a lot like that Shepherd – a man shaken by life and searching for peace.
And like that Shepherd, Ahaz heard that God’s way of finally bringing peace to him and his people, was very different to what he thought would do the trick. It would involve pregnancy and birth, more than weapons and military might.
God’s peace would be different too. The peace promised by God would not be just safety, security and survival in political terms, but would be peace in the inner person, in full; God’s “highest and complete good for a person and a nation”. That’s quite a peace and quite a promise!
Ahaz was under the pump as the leader of the southern kingdom, Judah. He is in the capital city, Jerusalem, and the northerners have come to fight. His counterpart in the northern kingdom, Aram, and his offsiders, Ephraim and Pekah, have done a deal, formed an alliance against little Judah and Jerusalem, put their armies together and let their murderous intentions be known;
6 ‘Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves….
Things are not looking good for this House of David. Isaiah tells us that Ahaz and those town dwellers are rattled. They are shaken like ‘wind shakes the trees of the forest’ (Isaiah 7:2).
I have never been in a community that is about to attacked and certainly defeated by a superior force. I struggle to know that fear. But I do know fear of being attacked physically by another person with mates in support. I do know the fear of being attacked verbally by someone more powerful than I – a very angry person in rage. I know what it is to be in that scary moment of fight, take flight or just freeze. I am pretty sure you might know this fear given that life just brings these things into our path. It is not fun.
The Lord says to Ahaz, in his moment of shakiness, “Pray to me. Ask me for a sign of hope: any sign, big or small, known or strange”.
Ahaz says, “No. I will not test you, Lord”. Ahaz seems to believe that asking God for a sign of hope is somehow asking too much or asking with the wrong motive (too selfish) is doing something wrong. He thinks that would make him guilty of putting God to the test. Maybe he is just too proud to ask but won’t admit his need to ask.
Isaiah disagrees with Ahaz’ refusal to seek a sign of hope that there will be lasting peace. Isaiah says NOT asking the Lord for a sign of hope is testing the Lord! NOT asking him for hope and peace in the shaky situation is asking too much of the Lord. He wants to give you a sign of hope! Not asking is putting his patience to the test! In others’ words, “Pray, ask, seek” when all you want to do is fight, take flight or freeze.
The Lord loses patience with Ahaz. He just takes over the conversation and the situation for him. Like a learner driver instructor just taking over control of the car when the student can’t make a decision or does not ask for help, the Lord just goes right on ahead and gives a sign of hope right there in the shaky, scary moment.”
…the virgin[d] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[e] will call him Immanuel.[f] 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste”.
Ahaz, in his fear is probably looking for a more immediate solution and a solution that would have more immediate affect – like a thousand super-duper cross bows, some very large fire balls to throw down on the coming attackers, a few thousand crack soldiers; better still, maybe a legion of angels to take up their post around the city walls…..
Instead he gets a longer term promise that involves a young woman and pregnancy and birth and a special boy who will eventually defeat this attack and these people who are his enemies.
That is the boy those shepherds met> They met this boy of promise. The young girl became pregnant and gave birth and the boy is the promised Saviour of the city and like the Lord’s promise to Ahaz, the boy and his story and his victory that brings peace has little to do with military might or political power.
Why so? Because those ways of victory are temporary and usually involve violence and suffering. Those human ways of getting to peace are fleeting and always involve fighting and fear. Those human ways of peace are so very limited. Like a government department trying to fix society’s many ills, it is so very limited. It is only when real people get involved with real people for the long haul that real problem can be dealt with in any fuller sense.
This little boy is that real person giving himself to real people to give real peace in real shaky situations. He is the Prince of Peace and God’s government of peace rests on his shoulders. He is love beyond fear, hope beyond despair, life beyond death, light in darkness. He is that very special gift of which the Shepherd speaks – Shalom – highest and fullest good for you. He is God cupping your face in his hands and breathing this Shalom into you.
Whatever is surrounding you, pressing in on you, prodding you to abandon the city of God, the church; whatever or whoever is overpowering you, attacking you, inflicting you with pain and causing you great suffering,; whatever or whoever is threatening to do you bad, can be dealt with the highest and most complete peace this One gives.
God has held you face in his wounded hands and said to you, “Shalom. My highest good in this lowly shed in the human boy who is your deepest, highest, longest and fullest good”.
Have you got it? Can you breathe it in? Will you ask?
Friend, no need to test God’s patience by refusing to or forgetting to ask for a sign of hope. You have reason and every permission to welcome his wounded hands around you. He is your highest and fullest good.
This child of promise is still the one who says he can and he is ready to lay to waist those things that you dread so that you live on, the city lives on, your family lives on in his deep peace and the joy it brings.
That is what they brought to this man searching for peace under fire. Those angels brought a joy that the whole world is waiting to breath in.
Will you breath that joy in and grab your people’s faces in your hand and breath his Shalom; be his shalom for them this Christmas? Will you allow the Spirit to make you a breath of joy in your places this Christmas?
Without threat or fear or control or a fighting for a win for the argument, will you simple breath the boy’s joy in your family, among your friends. Simply announce it with all the joy in the world and all his peace in your heart?
The word needs this shalom. You need this peace child. Your family needs that shalom. Your enemies need his shalom. Will you take their faces in your hands and breath the angle’s joy into them in love?
Let the wind blow. Let joy come. Strengthen feeble hands and steady knocking knees, calls the prophet. Your joy has come. The boy has come. The city has paid her dues in full. Life beyond your suffering is here. You are living in the year of the Lord’s favour.
Breath on me Breath of God. Fill me with love anew.
After viewing ‘Away in a Manger’ – Joseph https://skitguys.com/videos/away-in-a-manger
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’
4 Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’
7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:
‘“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”[b]
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
I have to admit, that about this time of year, in Advent, just before Christmas, I struggle to find joy in what Christmas has become. I hear the alternative story that has grown in dimensions to become THE story for most in my lifetime and I get mildly angry. I seem to be on the edge of being cynical about the whole thing right about now. Maybe I’m becoming a ‘grumpy old man’!
I think I needed to be reminded this Advent that Christmas is about joy – the joy of a newborn baby and a proud Dad. I had to be reminded that Christmas and indeed the whole Christian movement is news – good news.
It’s good news and human news I can relate to. I remember holding my own babies. I remember Leanne and I marvelling at the gifts we had been given. Same for those around that shed at night. They soaked up this good news boy.
The whole of our Christmas story is essentially news – good news.
That is what Matthew and the other New Testament witnesses choose to name the Jesus event – news: good news’ ‘gospel’.
It is good news not just good advice. Advice is given to help you do something. Good news just is – good news that makes the soul soar.
Is Christmas, still good news for you? Is the whole Jesus event good news for you? Or, are you verging on cynicism when it comes to faith, church, God, Christmas? Is Jesus more just good advice’ for you rather than truly good news for you?
You know, three things happen when a thing is news.
Can you see how Christmas is news; good news?
1 Christmas is good news because it did not come from nowhere. It was foretold in a hundred ways over thousands of years – and in the most beautiful way – a new highway, water in the desert, singing in the land, a new king to rule in justice for all, a new good shepherd unlike the blind guides leading people into fake news. John is the go-between. The last great prophet and yet the great announcer of the final prophet – Jesus.
John, quite understandably, had his doubts. He is rotting in a prison for no good reason and Jesus is not quite what they expected in terms of a new king! No swords, white stallions, army…. John sends his friends to ask this supposed promised king, “Are you the One?”
The new good news king replies;
‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’
“OK. I won’t stumble. I won’t take offense, Jesus”.
Yes, Jesus is the good news that comes from that whole back story of promise. Jesus is news: good news because he comes from promise – promise of new life, new hope, new people, new heaven and new earth coming right here in the old one.
2. Christianity is essentially news; good news, because something good actually happened in real space and time – in our human story and in a real human way.
That is THE news of Christmas in particular. We call it the “Incarnation” – God taking on our bones and breath. Our flesh; being ‘carnalis’, ‘caro’, ‘meat, flesh’. God in the flesh, in the physical body; our body, our story, our ways….
The thing that happened has consequences; has impact on people’s lives. Jesus calls it the new ‘covenant’; the new relationship closer than ever before and not based on you earning it or achieving it or being good to get it, but all based on God’s will to give himself to you; to give all his gifts; all his love, all his acceptance, all his peace; forgiveness after forgiveness. Now there is ongoing teaching, learning, shaping in this undeserved gift of kindness and new hope; a whole new life to be lived!
We are like Joseph with his new baby boy, Joseph is a changed man. His whole life now includes someone else, something else, a future hope that shaped him from day one.
Same for you and me. The good news boy has called us into his community and enlisted us in his kingdom mission. Our whole lives are now different than they would ever be without that call, that love, that good news event still going on day by day in us.
3. And now the news that is very good puts us that time of hopeful, expectant waiting. We wait for good news boy to slowly fulfill his destiny; his rule of grace in one person at a time, one day at a time until what he promises comes to be complete makeover, complete fulfilment of all promises to the letter; promises of life even through dying, hope even in any suffering, great reward for the life lived in service of this good news king.
Promises of healing for my body, healing for my relationships, end to my suffering, love for my lack of love, faith for my doubt, trust for my fears, calm for my worries, hope even for this dangerous world of volcanoes, wars, injustice, corruption, and all the bad news.
So, John heard right in prison, and Joseph felt it right in the shed. Jesus is the news – the good news boy.
I am back again now. I am no longer a grumpy old man about Christmas. I am a new man because of Christmas.
I see the blue and hear the faith songs we sing and marvel at the good news boy, and somehow, I am good news again. So are we. So are you.
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.”’[a]
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them
: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 ‘I baptise you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’
The young boy standing in that stable is wide-eyed and all ears. He stands with wide eyes and open ears just taking in the scene and listening to the words. He takes in words of the Mother of this baby as she reflects on the magnitude of what God has given to her for the world.
Wide-eyed and all ears. That is the advent call. Wide-eyed and all ears.
The problem is that we long term Christians are often bleary-eyed and plugged ears when it comes to taking in the scene and listening to the Word speak. Like a shop owner so used to her shop and so focused on sweeping the floor that she does not even notice the cheers of the crowd as the Queen’s cavalcade drives past her shop!
But every year the Spirit sends out a breaking news bulletin across the bottom of our screens. The ABC radio fire announcement siren goes off for a moment in time. We may or may not be wide eyed and all ears…..
He comes in from the wild. He is trying to get us to be wide-eyed and all ears to the things of the Spirit again. His name is John. He is that wild man with a wild heart trying to arrest out attention back to this wild gift of God named Jesus.
If you choose to ignore this call to notice and receive this Gift; if you choose to lessen this gift by claiming yourself or your past or your family name or your nationality or your money or achievements in life a better thing; a gift you have earned or achieved for yourself, then he cuts you down to size.
John is sent to cut us down to size to make sure we are wide-eyed and all ears to the truth that we are not as good as we believe ourselves to be; I am not God’s gift to the world by myself, but this boy is God’s gift to me and only he makes us truly God’s gift to the world.
Some around John choose to dismiss this gift or be their own gift. They say; “We have Abraham as our father.”
Out comes the axe!
“I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Matthew 3: 9-10)
Why? To get you back to being that young kid, wide-eyed and all ears taking in the scene and hearing the words spoken; receiving him in the heart.
John knows that this gift brings life after his axe. There is hope from despair, forgiveness for a wayward heart in this baby boy.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him –
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord –
3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. (Isaiah 11: 1-3)
This boy will see beyond our human eyes and listen beyond our ears into the heart. He goes deeper, into the heart and does his work there in us.
But the way we receive him and his great gifts are by our eyes and ears. They are the windows to our very souls.
Just like Mary wants this wide-eyed boy with listening ears to hear the true magnitude of the gift Jesus is, so John is the same. John wants us to be wide-eyed and all ears to receive him in the heart because only there will we be transformed by all his gifts into who he has created us to be. From the inside out with his deeper seeing and hearing he will revolutionise who we are and how we live for the better – quite a promise! What a gift!
Is it working? Are your eyes wide open and ears attentive yet? Are you open to receive him, know him, hear him again despite all the distraction and self-focus and personal bubble of busyness or illness or pain or pride or fear?
Mary asked, “Will they come?”. She hopes you do and they too. Why so?
Mary tells the young boy not to be put off by the lack of power or wealth or royal show. She impresses upon the boy taking in this scene: it is all for love.
“Whatever you tell them about this shed, this humble place and my humble offering to this scene, tell them this boy is above all, a gift of love. Be sure to tell them that above all he is a gift of love”.
Love. To know love. To know this is all for love. This is divine love beyond all loves to rule over our wayward loves. This is the power of love displayed in humanness; in things not powerful or emotionally attractive or intellectually satisfying or visually amazing or politically correct. This is pure self-giving love given in a way any of us can really get – a everyday human way.
This is costly love; risky love. He has no guarantee that you will open your eyes and your ears to his words of love in action, but he does them anyway. You might even drive in a nail or two at times, but he still ‘does love’ for you. You might withhold love from him out of anger or doubt or distraction or unbelief. You might simply love other things, other people and your cherished dreams and visions for your life way more than his dream and vision for your life, but he still ‘does love’ for you.
His baptism of you still counts. His word of love still speaks. His community of loved people still exist and still live out his love in their everyday weaknesses.
Here comes the King of love with the true love, the right love, the largest and highest and widest perfect gracious love in real action (not just theory or idea or angelic distance); here comes human love divine in human action – God in the straw, bloodied arms spread on the wood, body risen with wounds, “Peace be with you, friend”.
Are you wide-eyed and all ears yet? Is John’s call working? Are Mary’s words speaking?
No need to come to this gift of a real love in a baby boy claiming your own goodness or rightness; your family privilege or place, your own deeds of grace.
John says, “just come”. “Repent and believe. Just come. Receive the one who gives a whole lot more than me”.
Why? Because he’s loved you the most when you have not loved him first. He loves you to make you a person of real love for your spouse, your kids, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbours and even strangers.
Mary says, John says, just come. Come with eyes wide open and all ears taking in the Christmas scene of life-changing love.
Come in faith to this boy this Advent. He is full love for your empty soul, complete forgiveness for your uncompleted faith, pure gift of grace for your impure self-reliance on your own graces; inclusive truth for your indifference.
O come all you faithful,
Joyful and triumphant
O come all you citizens of heaven above
Come and adore
Come let us adore him.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”. (Romans 4:13)