Now about the gifts of the Spirit (pneumatikōn), brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 4 There are different kinds of gifts (charismatōn) , but the same Spirit distributes them.5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV
Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. – 1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” – John 14:26 NIV
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, ‘I baptise 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 baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 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.’
When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 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.’
This is one of very few narratives that are found in some form in all four Gospel accounts.
So here we are in the 2nd week of Epiphany, a time and season where we celebrate the revelation of God the Son to us. Last week was the visit of the Magi, where we learnt that our Lord Jesus has come to be Lord to both Jew and Gentile, all people in fact.
Today is a new revelation in which we don’t get indirect speech about some New Testament writers’ explanation of who Jesus is but a record of God the Father speaking to directly the matter… ‘This is my beloved Son’. Our Heavenly Father doesn’t have a habit of speaking so direct, but He does here, at Jesus’ baptism and also at His transfiguration that will be celebrated just before Lent.
So, just before our particular text in Luke where Jesus comes to get baptised (similarly in Matthew and Mark), John the Baptist has been preaching and calling people to repent. To turn away from themselves, turn away from their sin and turn back to God. To repent means to literally turn around and go back the other way. This is what God, through John, was calling people to do. John was preaching and offering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is a baptism that not only do the crowds take up but Jesus Himself.
But hang on a second… was not Jesus sinless? If Jesus was God’s Divine Son, what sins does He have to repent of? So why then does He get baptised? We will look to figure this out in today’s sermon.
And so, our text begins… after preaching repentance and baptising…
v.15 As the people were in expectation, and all of them questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he was the Christ. John exercising and preaching with such authority the crowds begin to think that He is this expected chosen one of God, the Messiah that has come to redeem His people. But…
v.16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…”
John clears all speculation that he is not the one, but the one they’re after is coming. John actually says a similar thing earlier, that he was called to prepare the way for the Lord. John himself is not the Lord. Here he goes even further, I am not worthy to untie even his sandals. John’s criteria of the Lord being mightier than him is that his baptism is only with water, but the Lord will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. For us to understand our Lord’s Baptism and its significance we must clear up a few things. As John says, the baptism he offers and the baptism that Jesus offers are two separate things. In other words, the Baptism that is granted to us Christians is not the same baptism that John offered and consequently Jesus received. In our text John is doing the baptising. At your baptism and the baptism offered here at St Petri, it is actually the Lord Jesus who is doing the baptising. Before we move on, I wonder how many of us can truly resonate with John in our hearts… do we really consider ourselves unworthy? Jesus later calls John the greatest in the kingdom of heaven but yet John considered himself unworthy to untie his sandals… Even St Paul considered himself the chief of sinners… I mention this because this belief is central to true Christian spirituality… unworthy sinners, in need of God’s grace and forgiveness… we must never grow old of this because it is here we God’s does He greatest work… hence John says “I must decrease so that he may increase”…
Back to our text… so John, wanting to depict who this Jesus is, goes on to say…
His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear the threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire”. It took me some research to find out what a winnowing fork is… It is an ancient method used to separate the grain from the chaff. Grain is what is good and useful, what the farmer is looking for… and on the other hand the chaff is not used and typically serves no purpose and is thrown out. John uses this imagery to give us some insight into who this Jesus actually is. He is the Lord that has been given all authority on heaven and earth. It is He who has the keys to heaven and to hell. This has allusions to the fact that one day our Lord will one day separate the sheep from the goats. It is a scary thought to think that not everyone is saved, that not everyone is going to heaven. This is why John was so adamant on preaching repentance of the people, he is wanting them to be saved from the coming wrath.
And I mean even the ones who did come to be baptised, how are they to be sure that they really are repentant? Likewise, with us? Luther wrestled with this so deeply that he came to hate God. Never being able to please for he never trusted that he was truly sorry.
What is the solution? How are we supposed to know if we really have been repentant?
Here is our answer…
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The who One has a His winnowing fork in hand, steps into the dirty waters where everyone was bring their sins. Steps into those waters with those who are chaff and deserve to burn and stands in their place before His Father. Even the repentance that was called upon by John cannot be achieved, so Jesus repented truly, once and for all for us. Jesus wasn’t repenting of his sins at His baptism, for He had none to repent of, He was repenting our sins for us. St Paul says that He who knew no sin became sin for us. So, when thinking of your own sin, don’t look to how sincerely sorry and repentant you are… rather look to Christ. The One who repents and pleads for you always. If you need affirmation of such things come and talk to your Pastor, so that you may hear God’s love and forgiveness declared to you. That is the bread and butter of Pastoral Ministry declaring forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name, so take advantage of it.
Jesus stood in solidarity with the sinners who came to repent at the Jordan River. He also stands in solidarity with you and me, as our King and Brother who lays down His life for us. Jesus did all this so that along with Him the Father would be pleased with us also. And those of us who have been baptised have received this right, to be children of God. Our Father, for Jesus’s sake, declares that He is well pleased with us. So, may we learn what this means to live as dearly loved children of our Heavenly Father, calling upon Him through Jesus Christ. It all starts here, as baptised children who have come to receive the gifts of our Father. And through our work as a Church, Pastor’s and laity, we are called from this same One, who has authority over heaven and earth to make disciples by baptising and teaching… so that the world may become truly loved children of our Heavenly Father along with us.
By aligning Himself with us, repenting our sins for us… This Baptism of Our Lord has further significances… DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS BAPTISM MEANT FOR JESUS? Doing His Father’s will. Jesus goes to be tempted, to teach and serve His people and to ultimately lay down His life for them, for you and me.
Also with us, by being adopting into his family by Baptism… DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR BAPTISM MEANS FOR YOU? Doing your Father’s will in this life, different though similarly to Jesus. Serve and love one another here. See your job, husbands, wives and children, family and friends as gifts from your Father and not your own to do as you will with. We are called to reach out to the widowed, the orphaned, the poor and needy. As dearly loved, baptised children of the Heavenly Father through what Christ has done for us, we now, with the help of the Holy Spirit live as Christ to others. Are we going to master it this side of the grave? Most definitely not. Jesus is the only one who lived His Father’s will out truly and so we cling to Him and not to our efforts. This is why we come back Sunday after Sunday to receive forgiveness, because we’ve blown it again and to receive His help and guidance which He grants through His Word and His people. This is why it’s important to come to church and to listen to His Word preached. Not because it is the right thing to do or we are wearing fancy clothes…. but because it is needed for our daily Christian lives. It is where God looks to guide us, renew us and lead us to live as His people.
And if you’re looking for a blueprint on the Christian life, look no further than the Lord’s Prayer. It is actually Jesus’ prayer, meaning it belongs to Him. But through what Christ has done for us we now have the right to call God Father also and as dearly loved children call to their earthly fathers; asking Him to help keep His name holy, that He would bring His heavenly kingdom to earth. As children calling and relying upon Him as the provider of a daily bread, that He would forgive us our sins and help us to forgive others who sin against us. We pray that our Heavenly Father would lead us not into temptation and protect from the evil one. This is why Jesus pleaded and repented for us at the Jordan River and lived His earthly life in obedience to the Father… so that His Father may be our Father too.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus, the One who repents and pleads for you always. Amen.
Sermon, Sunday Dec 30th, 2018 – 1st Sunday after Christmas
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?”[a]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.
Whose business are you about mostly these days, and what has this special boy got to do with it? That is my question to myself and you today.
Another year is coming. Business, education, farming, caring, working, saving, holiday making, planning retirement, planning school subjects, university or gap year….That is the business on the agenda of your life. Where is this special boy and his Father in all your business?
We know the boy was special. We have just remembered all that happened at his birth.
There were angles singing, Herod frightened, Wise men wondering, Shepherds gazing, John the Baptist calling, Elizabeth and Zachariah rejoicing, Mary pondering all this in her heart. He interrupted the business of their lives and made their lives centre on God’s business.
We know the boy was special. We know his Father sent him and has some serious business to do on planet earth and in my life.
Luke gives us just a glimpse of a teenage Jesus. He is still special 10 years or so on from his birth.
Jesus has real business to learn as he is in the business of growing up. He has this concern, this interest, this drive, this shape to him that is unusual among people his age. Jesus, the young lad is consumed by Someone and Something.
This shape ends up getting him trouble one day.
While he is where he wants to be dicing it with the people he finds fascinating (and they him) in the temple, his family is already on the road heading home from the city after the festival.
After assuming the teenager was somewhere among the relatives and friends heading back home to Nazareth, they finally realise that the boy is not with them.
When you find him do you hug the boy or get stuck into him about ‘growing up’ and ‘taking responsibility’!?
I can imagine a bit of both! The anger turns to relief and joy when after having to back track all the way to the city, they finally track down Jesus in the temple with all the bearded men talking theology – as if nothing has happened!
You can tell that Luke wants us to know that the young man is that same baby of promise who came to do God’s serious business, and the business for which he came is on track.
This Father’s business of being in the world to save the world, in your life to save your life, in your face to shine God’s light and love upon you is on track.
This deep need to dwell in the Word of God and be in his Father’s presence, around the holy things of God and the people of God will mark this young man’s life. Will it mark yours in 2019?
Later on, he will come back to this same temple and clear it of trading tables and money exchange booths in pure zeal for “my Father’s house”. You can hear even here when he is so young, ‘church’ is not really the building or the stuff in it so much as a Father’s home in which he, the child, is at home – really ‘at home’. He calls church, “his own Father’s house”. Will God’s Word, done and said in his community gathered, be your heavenly Father’s house and your home in 2019?
Luke tells us what happens as the dust settles on this particular snapshot in time. Mary does her wonderful “pondering all these things in her heart” and;
52 …Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
That is what being in God’s presence around his Word and his gifts with his people does for us all. It helps us grow in on three ways.
WISDOM: As it was for the young Jesus, so for us: the Word of God grows us in the wisdom of God.
The business of our Father begins with a respectful heart for the things of God, the Word of God and the people of God.
“Fear of the Lord is the beginning point of all wisdom” (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10).
STATURE: Jesus grew in stature –“ place”, “understanding” of God and the world, “knowledge”, “awareness”….
With a heart centred on the Word of Jesus we get changed. Why? Because the Word of God is a force, a power and spiritual reality that shapes a person and creates the very things we need to be in order to be a fuller, more complete more aware, more understanding, person.
Jesus says as much when he is beyond these young years;
“The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10)
FAVOUR: With God and people.
Jesus grows into favour with God and with other people.
Like a young woman on the rise in business or a young student who works hard and earns good results, our respect for them grows and our encouragement flows.
This has happened before. Remember the young Samuel also in his Father’s house – centred on the Word and the holy things and the humility to hear and receive whatever the Lord had in store for him?
And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people. (1 Samuel 2:26)
With a heart open to the Word of God, the Holy Spirit does call me, shape me, and give me a part to play in his mission community called the local church serving the world.
How will this happen for you, for me, for us in 2019? Will it be by keeping so busy with the business of my life that my business way overshadows our Father’s business in time and priority? No. I think we know that.
As we have our hearts set on the love of our heavenly Father in the shape of his Son, our Saviour Jesus, this will come out of us in everything we are and do and then we will grow God’s way – in genuine love, faithful serving, joy even in our suffering.
Our Father’s business is to draw all people into his loving embrace by repentance of all that separates us from him and the receiving of all his grace toward us. It is our business too.
How we will go about our Father’s business in 2019?
Same way God’s people have been in the family business of the Kingdom for ages…
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)
What will be your main business in 2019?
The young Jesus and the gospel-writer Luke are saying;
Let him rule in our hearts that are full of thankfulness for everything we receive from his hand.
Let his peace rule in your relationships – practice forgiveness. Say it. Do it. Mean it.
Share the word, share life in the word, share the experiences God gives with each other, including the teens and the little kids. Receive his Word said and done in song and liturgy and proclaiming
Sing. Sing your faith a lot.
Pray to your Father. Pray all the time for people – known or not.
That’s the business of a gospel man, woman, young person, child. That is our business as a church in 2019: our Father’s business.
St Petri Lutheran Church – Message by Vicar Shaun Manning
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’
So here we are on the Eve of Christmas, on the eve of one of the most joyful times of the year. Regardless if people celebrate the real meaning of Christmas or not, it is a time when people seek to be with the company of family and friends; get together, eat, exchange presents and even sing songs.
Not too long ago, whilst on school placement for my pastoral studies, I heard a story whose setting is also Christmas Eve. It’s family context also isn’t too unfamiliar to many of our Australian homes today. Other than the fact that we don’t typically have White Christmas’s here.
Anyhow, it’s starts off on a cold and snowy Christmas Eve, inside a warm house, the Christmas tree was cheerfully ablaze with lights and surrounded by dozens of presents.
The wife of the small family and the children were dressed and ready to leave for a Christmas Eve service at their local Church. “Come with us,” they urged their husband and father, for they loved him.
“Not me,” he snapped. “I don’t believe in all that religion garbage.”
For many years, the man’s wife had been trying to tell him about Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers. How God’s Son had become a human being in order to save us and show us who God really is and they way to heaven.
“Nonsense,” the man always replied.
The family left for church and the man was all alone in his cozy country home. He glanced out the window at the cold snowy scene outside. He turned himself by the fire. But as he turned, his eyes caught a movement in the snow outside. He looked. Cats! Three young cats walking slowly past his window.
“Silly cats,” he thought. “They’ll freeze for sure!” The man put on his hat and coat and opened door… “Come here, cats! Come inside where there’s warmth and food. You’ll die out there.”
He walked outside. “Come back! Don’t be afraid, I want to save you.”
But the cats ran away in fright, the cats were gone, it was too late.
“Well, I did everything I could for them,” the man uttered to himself. “What more could I do?”….
Now the story continues further but we’ll leave it there for a moment…
In comparison to this story, presumably in some Western first-world country, our Gospel text paints a slightly different picture.
Joseph and Mary’s Christmas Eve was in Israel, in the 1st century; hence their Christmas Eve looked much different than ours typically would also.
The Emperor of the time has issued a decree and so everyone needs to go to their home town. Hence for Mary and Joseph, being in Nazareth at the time, needed to travel back to Bethlehem. With the assistance of Google Maps I discovered that the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is 70 miles, or a 112km. This is similar distance if one is to travel from Nuri to Waikerie… a roughly 22 and a half hour walk.
This is in an age and time where modes of travel are even harder for ones of low status like Mary and Joseph, and also one must remember that Mary is heavily pregnant. (How they got there specifically, we don’t know for sure but lets just say that it wasn’t by motor vehicle, metro bus or a helicopter).
But as if things couldn’t get much harder.
When they finally arrive in Bethlehem but there is no where for them to stay, so they presumably get a small place in a close by stable. Whilst here Luke describes for us here that Mary gives birth to her firstborn son, wraps Him in swaddling cloth and lays him in a manger.
Not your ideal Christmas Eve to say the least…
nor a great time to fall into labor is it?
When one looks on the difficult, mundane and very human circumstances of Jesus’ birth, it’s easy to lose sight of Who He is and what His birth means.
But this is the whole point of Christmas and Luke presents this nativity scene in line with this truth. Luke paints the true picture of God in Christ who descended to our lowly and fallen world. Christ the eternal Son of God, who partook in the Creation of the World, has become human. John puts it this way “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us… He came to which was His own but his own knew him not”. The same world He created He has now literally stepped into and become a part of but all we could offer was a manger.
It makes one wonder about the depth of our state if God is having to intervene to such great depths. Just like if the Federal Police involved or if someone is being summoned to the Supreme Court, something major has happened. So how much more serious is the issue if the One who positioned the universe, composed all matter and gave life to everything, has had to step in and do something?
We paused on our story earlier, with the man pondering on what He could do to save these cats. After opening the door and enticing them to come in and be saved, he says to himself “well I did everything I could for them? What more could I do?… He interestingly considered that the only way he could reach and save them, would be if he would become a cat himself. “Surely then I could show them who I am and what I was trying to do”. As he ponders this, he returns back to his warm fire and hears the church bells ring in the distance. He paused for a second and listened. Then he got down on his knees and wept.
Why did he weep? This is an understandable reaction of someone who experiences God’s love, especially for the very first time. The man had been encountered with the Gospel, finally understanding why his family had enticed him to come to church for Christmas, year after year.
Isn’t it true that we are lost if God doesn’t intervene?
In the state we are in, we cannot come to God on our own accord but need Him to come to us. And He did, and He does also now.
Around halfway through the Gospel narrative we hear of the shepherds.
These shepherds have encountered the glory of the Lord, God’s holiness in the field and are terrified.
None of us can stand in the Holy presence of God, for without God’s help we are totally unholy, aren’t we?
The angel of the Lord says to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, I bring Good News of great joy for all people”. The angel continues by explaining what the Good News is… “For unto you is born this day… a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you… you will find…”
How would you finish this sentence yourself? Jesus is the King and Lord, so how would you think royalty would typically make its appearance? Think of when Prince Harry and Kate came to Dubbo earlier this year. There was media everywhere, security and crowds following them everywhere they went, and dozens of roads being closed off. This is not overly surprising is it? This is how we expect earthly royalty to be greeted by the hosting nation. However, what do you think the sign would be if, not the Prince of United Kingdom, but the King of the Universe was to make his appearance? So, you’ve just heard that the Lord of the Universe and Saviour of the World has come… what sign would you look for? what would be the sign that you would think God would send? Surely something magnificent and glorious and definitely not… “a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
The Wise Men who catch wind of the King who is being born and then head to where they would expect a King to be born, in a palace and hence they head up to Jerusalem. We often do the same don’t we?
How do expect God to work out His plans in the life is His people?
We look and expect a different King, don’t we?
If you’re anything like me, you would expect the Creator to come and work in some glorious and ostentatious manner, but He typically doesn’t. In particular, when we think of tonight, He goes about His work of reconciling us to Himself, through this baby lying in a manger in Bethlehem.
But this is just who God is, and who He has always been. Walking amongst Adam and Eve in garden, coming to visit Abraham his home, meeting Moses on the mountain and being present with His people in the Temple in Jerusalem. He has now come ever so closer and even took on the flesh in which He created. St. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Philippians… “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
This divine Son of God became human in baby Jesus; traded in His throne for an earthly manger; He exchanged robes of splendour for swaddling clothes; He left the songs of praise from a multitude of angels for the recognition of a few shepherds. He has done all this for you and for me. Not because it was nice, but because it was necessary. Necessary for us to be restored to right relationship with God. And this could not have happened if God didn’t become one of us.
This is who God was, has always been and is also now. By looking for Him to operate in a way other than Christ, we end up missing Him and who He truly is. Although we may celebrate, we find it difficult to accept that our Lord became a human and died a cross, don’t we? It is also tough to believe that He works through His Spirit through the Word, ink and paper, that the Holy Spirit through the proclaimed Word creates and strengthens faith or that kneeling at the alter receiving bread and wine that our Lord’s body and blood are really present. Look at me, not even wearing a fancy stole but yet God still uses this imperfect creature, right now… to bring Good News of great joy.
Just as God stepped into a dark and sinful reality at Christmas, so He comes to you and me today.
He comes and steps into our broken and hurting lives and offers us hope through His Spirit and Word, peace through the forgiveness of our sins in Absolution and joy in the Good News of the Gospel which we share together as God’s people. He does all of this magnificent work in the lives of all people everywhere even to us here in Nuri.
The angels knowing what a miracle has just worked in the birth of Christ, and so they exclaim “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased”. So who is God pleased with? You? Me? Pastor Adrian? The answer is no. These words of affirmation belong to Christ. They were said to Christ at His Baptism. Christ shares that same affirmation from Father with us, when he became one of us, assumed human flesh and now through our Baptism has united us with Christ. United us with His death so that we share in His resurrection. And this brings peace to earth for those with whom He is pleased. And the good news is that He is pleased with any of us who don’t have to earn the right to receive His love, but who receive His love for us by faith.
This Christmas may God grant once again the joy, peace and hope as we hear and meditate on the Good News of His love that He has come in lowly means, that He does come to us here and now and that He will come again to take us to be with Him in the Highest Heaven.
Though I’m sure there are presents still waiting for you to receive this Christmas,
this season is truly about the gift that you have already been given.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The Shepherd says to himself, “I got to tell them!”. But in the same breath comes the other question, “But who is going to listen: Angels, wise men? We ask, “Who is going to listen in Nuriootpa, in South Australia, in Australia in all the communities of planet earth in 2018?
The Shepherd thinks that if he looks impressive, they will listen. But then he knows that the telling of this news does not depend on how clean or dirty your fingernails, how tidy or untidy your hair, how much or little respect you may have; there is Something bigger telling this story.
The Shepherd’s questions still stands today: Who will listen?
Who is going to believe that the saving of this world, with all of its war and hate and injustice and powerful evil forces at work, comes to an end in a baby in a shed in a nowhere town a long time ago?
It is a miracle that any of us believe this magnificent but beyond human logic news – that Jesus the Saviour of the world is just that – the Saviour of this troubled world. He is indeed the end of injustice, war, hatred and fear. That is what he claims at Christmas.
Well, Christmas is not really primarily about Shepherds and angels and stables and straw. These things and people were there when something ‘Other’ happened. What Luke and the many other first witnesses are telling is not so much what happened as what it actually means for those who come after them – you and me.
So, let the Christmas nostalgia sit with you. You feel warm. You enjoy the memories and the moment, and so it should be. But hear the Sprit whispering to you to then move beyond it just for now.
Yes, you’ve got some time off. We give and receive gifts and eat nice food and catch up with loved people and this is good. But can we let the meaning the bible drives at underneath it all; meaning that crosses history and cultures and outlasts our best Christmas gift?
What does Christmas actually mean? Four things:
GRACE: Christmas means grace: God’s grace.
This world’s freedom, future, life and peace is complete gift from a God of gifts – the God of grace. Angels, shepherds, eastern stargazers, young women, old men, confused fiancés do not choose any of it. It is all given to them.
Christmas is done for them and to them. They don’t ask for Christmas, control Christmas or even know the Christ-child. Grace arrives in a person. He is grace. Jesus just arrives. The angels just sing. The shepherds just turn up, along with Eastern travellers. It is all gift and it is all grace.
Christmas means grace – God is grace. God gives gifts because he gives gifts to human beings who don’t know, can’t know, can’t earn, can’t be good enough, can’t be perfect, can’t be in control enough.
Of course, we do our very best to avoid this meaning and defend our own goodness at Christmas. We try and live a very good life at Christmas. We give, we share, we try hard to avoid trouble at Christmas dinner.
But if that is all we believe Christmas to be – a moment of us being good, then we have missed it. Why? Because we have missed him. That is acting like Jesus is just a kids story or legend or fable, like Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit.
Christmas in God’s words announces that Jesus is goodness itself, grace itself. Jesus is life beyond our efforts and control and mistakes and fears. He is grace now and for us and for always. God has actually come in grace to you. You are not on your own or dependent on keeping yourself good. He is every good thing you will even need.
FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD: These Shepherds and angels and travellers, and Mary and Joe were invited into a whole new depth of fellowship with the God of Christmas. God comes close and invites them into himself and his great good news for them and their world.
God becomes human so we can be close to him. He lives the perfect human life we could not. He dies the perfect human death that we no longer need to, because he has and because he lives.
God becomes knowable and able to be experienced in a whole new personal and communal way they could never really know before this event of God.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the in the flesh deity.
God has hidden his overpowering holy light, so we can know him and be loved by him, made new by his love in the baby boy.
Now we can see him, hear him, taste him, see him, touch him, know him personally because the huge lengths God has come to get close to us.
God wants to be near you. He calls you to turn away from your self and your vision of life and wants and needs and desires and any sense of justifying yourself before people and before God.
The boy calls out, “Turn to me with all your heart in the shed in this trough so your heart is melted and you know that you are loved into this divine close love and acceptance”.
Jesus ain’t no concept or intellectual truth. He is a person. He is blood, bones, words, hands, breath. He is love and he seeks fellowship with you.
MAKES YOU WHOLE: Love is a person with a body and mind and a spirit that draws close to you in everything about you. Christmas means that your body and your mind and your spirit are included in the saving grace of a God who has all three, just like you.
Jesus is not a force of love or just a spirit of love or a universal being that created love. Jesus is a baby; a human baby like you and I have been once.
So, Christmas says that God is love in all forms and all ways.
God is three persons acting in concert to get those angels singing, those shepherd and wise people believing so you can sing and be invited into that Trinity of Love, that community of love who has a body like yours, a mind like yours, a spirit like yours.
JOY: This Shepherd just explodes in joy. It is the right response! It is the only response – like a Grand Slam winner lying on the court with racquet raised and tears flowing – joy unfettered and free.
Our songs express it. The biblical texts express it. This pastor, this Vicar, this people love it.
Joy to the whole world for the Lord of it has finally come to save it!
If Christmas means grace fully given when not deserved or known or controlled by us;
If Christmas is deep fellowship with a new person who is God;
if Christmas is for my whole body, my troubled mind, me spirit – all of me, then it is joy.
Not just feeling happy, but joy that is an anchor to our lives as we love like we have been loved, give like we have been given to, share the way we have been included and given everything in his love.
Yes, the wonders of his love. The wonders of his love.
Glory in the highest.
Joy in the fullest.
Love in the largest.
Peace in the harshest.
Meaning in the madness.
Heart in the hatred.
Justice in the wrongness.
Hear it, friend. Unwrap him and his four gifts.
Fellowship with the Divine
Wholeness – all of you
He may be more like me than I ever thought possible.
The angels got it wrong. This I not just good news. It is the best news ever!
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’
I marvel at Mary. Always have. Not in the sense of worshipping her, but in the sense of taking her lead. I think that is why Luke tells us about her; because there is a good lead; a good example; a good lead for us who worship Jesus the Messiah.
I have no doubt the video was right. Mary must have asked heaps of questions about the calling placed on her life. I can hear Mary asking; How did all this come to be? Will I say yes? Will I say yes to this high calling to bear the Son of God when it is all pretty scary!
This is part of this Christmas Dilemma we have been pondering in Advent. We live in two stories – this Christ-child with Mother Mary story, and the alternative one the world tells. It is hard to figure out how to listen to this biblical story the most, in a culture that is replacing it and overpowering it.
I read an excellent article by Greg Sheridan in The Australian, yesterday where he tells of the Chinese city of Langfang where the authorities have legally banned the decorations and celebrations of Christmas. Sheridan says that this suggests that Chinese Communist Party actually knows what Christmas is – a symbol of a movement – a subversive movement – Christianity. A movement that Beijing cannot control and that contradicts the communist (and I would say human) ideal by proposing that there is a higher authority than the Party (or than human ideals and visions).
I know people who genuinely want the values and the practices of Christian faith, like honesty, just rule of law, faithfulness in marriage, work ethic, care of the planet, spiritual disciplines and etc, but without the faith from which the values come.
People want the values without the faith; the Christmas without the religion, the good life without the gospel movement of repentance and confession of faith.
If I am honest, this includes many Western Christians who may have lost what we actually have. This at time includes me. It’s more natural to me to be my own truth and control my own life (even though I am kidding myself that I can!)
In the end the article rightly says that the values without the faith, the festival with the tinsel without the confession of faith in Jesus as the King who says he is The King of all kings and highest authority in my life is impossible.
Without the living Spirit breathing his living word which creates living faith in Jesus in people, the values eventually wither and die. This is because we naturally pull away from truth and deceive ourselves into being our own truth.
So, Christmas raises question for us: Will we let our heart go to this biblical story of a real God, a real person, in action in our world and in our lives since the world began, since the first Christmas and every Christmas since?
Will we say yes to his calling to repent and love as easily as we say yes to gifts and trees and family and food? If we say yes to this God calling in this child, it may be a scary yes.
It is a scary yes for Mary. She says yes sensing that saying yes to God’s invitation to be involved personally in his saving work in his broken world will probably mean many “yesses” for all her life. Even more, Mary may sense already that this child himself will have many more and difficult yeses to say before his life is complete.
This yes, to the call of the Christ-child to repent and believe in his gift of hope and life is scary because it is impossible for us. I know I am not enough to keep saying yes to his calling and his working in my life. I know I don’t know enough. I see that I can’t see enough. I hear that I can’t hear him all the time. I believe that I live with unbelief. I trust that only he can make his kingdom come in me and in his world.
I want to see. I want to hear. I want to have dreams of a good life, a better world in which children can flourish and grandies can love. But how and by whose power and promise?
Mary has dreams too. Mary dreams for this boy she loves. She knows that her single yes to bear him for the world will require much from that day onward. She knows that he himself will be required to say yes to things too difficult and dark for all of us.
Same for you and me who give our heart to this biblical witness to God’s coming. I sense that we will all have many yeses to speak as the long road of life continues if we are to be found in him at the last.
Advent says we are called to say yes to this impossible news – God in a human frame and flesh. Saying yes may be scary because we know it not a once-off yes; it is a life-long relationship that requires much even if it is the best news and the best life we could ever receive.
And the reward for this yes to Jesus and his calling at Christmas? Mary tells us. Mary sings us. Mary sings her delight at the yes she said. Mary calls out her invite to us to join her in singing and saying yes to this Advent King coming to change the game of life, shift the goal posts of success, swing things in favour of his story, his justice, his peace, his gracious love of every sinner on the planet.
Mary’s song; the Magnificat….
With all my heart I praise the Lord, 47 and I am glad because of God my Savior. 48 He cares for me, his humble servant. From now on, all people will say God has blessed me. 49 God All-Powerful has done great things for me, and his name is holy.
50 He always shows mercy to everyone who worships him. 51 The Lord has used his powerful arm to scatter those who are proud. 52 He drags strong rulers from their thrones and puts humble people in places of power. 53 God gives the hungry good things to eat, and sends the rich away with nothing.
54 He helps his servant Israel and is always merciful to his people. 55 The Lord made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his family forever!
‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’
Blessed are you woman or man or child of faith in Jesus the Advent King! He has favoured you in the font, in the Body, in the meal, in the gifts of his Spirit and given you the calling of Mary – to bear the Son of God in your body, mind and spirit.
He is making his promises to you again today. Tomorrow he will stun you with his commitment and love again.
Say yes. Keep on saying yes. It is our delight. It is our heart story and our light for the journey.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.
Luke 3:1-6 All people will see the salvation of our God
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all people will see God’s salvation.”’[a]
7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 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.’
10 ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.
11 John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptised. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’
13 ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’
He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’
15 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 baptise you with[a] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with[b] 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.
We Christians find ourselves in this dilemma at Christmas.
We live between two stories. One is told with earthly authority and considerable force; the other comes from other-worldly dreams and words of biblical proportions.
The mind says go along with the worldly story for it is easier and more fun. But a heart of faith says we are taking the harder option and the long way home with the other-worldly story that comes via the Voice of biblical proportions.
Today John the Baptist is that other-worldly voice.
John announces with beautiful words from Isaiah about a level path ahead for planet earth, mountains lowered for us, valleys lifted for us; clear and straight and easy journeying with God into his future …
This is a beautiful good news story because our current ways are anything but smooth, straight and safe.
The other story at this time of the year seems to rise up like a mountain every year. The Christmas tunes played earlier and earlier. The decorations the same. Songs of living faith once, reduced to muzak to accompany the real Christmas preparation for this alternative Christmas story – shop ‘til you drop!
But to hear this other-worldly story of God we need something else to happen first. We cannot hear it by our own intellect of effort. We need God to shout it to us. We need the Spirit to prepare us, and that is the part of the story we may not like much. The world certainly does not like it.
It has been a long time since I laid an axe at the root for a tree where the roots begin ready to lay the first blow to fell that whole tree. But I have done this with my Husqvarna chainsaw lately – it is quicker and more fun!
This is the picture John used to describe how God needs to prepare us for Christmas. Some preparation! Death and complete destruction. This tree cannot live in God’s new future as it is.
John tells it like this for a reason – to prepare the world to receive what God is doing: to prepare people for God’s new story of biblical proportions.
John is a CFS siren. He is the not the Nuri fire alarm predictably sounding out three times on Thursday at 7.30 pm, which surprises no-one. He is the siren sounded twenty times on Saturday afternoon at 1.30 pm. He gets the town’s attention!
Has he got your attention?
He says something in us has to die for this complete birth and life of a person; a Someone, who is coming to bring about something new for people that will make us new trees – strong and true, is to be truly received and loved.
Why so brutal?
Because we believe ourselves to be strong trees despite this new King and his kingdom coming. We tend to believe we are already all we need to be.
Even more, the people John spoke to believed themselves to have the right family tree – the right family name, the right behaviour, the right roots, the right goods.
They were the good people and they were very keen about their goodness. Everyone else should be very good like them.
So keen were they to maintain their own name and place in God’s good books, they became blind to those who did not or could not. In their pursuit of goodness on their own terms they could not see the vulnerable in society. They don’t really care either.
That is the tree that needs to be felled. In their self-focus, self-reliance and invincibility they had not just missed the vulnerable, but the Lord and his heart for the vulnerable – including them.
That was the offensiveness of John – daring to suggest that the good people with the right name and family tree and behaviour were vulnerable and in need for a new day, a new way, a new man … How dare he suggest that!
Sounds like our world. Sounds like that alternative Christmas story. How dare you Christians interrupt this happy story with all of its happy songs! How dare you speak of death and destruction at this happy time. How dare you speak of faith more than food, discipleship more than drink, the smell of cow dung and the scratch of straw more than the warm crackle of fireplaces and stockings and eggnog in the lounge room!
Surely we do not want this alternative story to be THE story because we know him and his story of biblical proportions that has come to us, for real.
He has come to us by more than dreams but by a real act in real time – baptism, the worship gathering of God’s people, the gift of body and blood a thousand times … Forgiveness, healing, hope for the vulnerable, peace for the unsteady, life for the dead, strength for the tired and new for the old.
We know what it has cost our God to fell us and then re-grow us – the death of this boy on the tree.
We know what tree was felled so that a new vineyard, a new forest, a new landscape of strong and true trees of the field has come to be
And this is why we clap our hands at this time of year – because of the wonderful acceptance and love of a God who is with us and for us and working through us and will come again to complete everything.
Friend, God’s axe; God’s word is striking at your very roots today. Not to destroy you but to wake you up, so you may be renewed so you stand strong and tall in grace this Christmas.
And when you are strong and true in the gospel of Jesus, you are happy not to have two shirts but keen to give away one to a one in need of a shirt.
You become happy not to make a lot of money just for yourself by any means, but you are content to play fair with integrity in business for the good of all.
You are happy to not get your way by any means; means of using power and stand-over tactics, but you are content to stick with the truth of things and let that be enough no matter what it costs you.
With this boy and his calling to be him among our friends and family this Christmas we are definitely going to take the long way home as we follow him.
There is no easy way to live in the Christmas Dilemma. It takes faith and courage born of repenting and believing daily. But we have serious help.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
Let the axe fall where it needs to today. He will prepare him room in your heart and you will be strong and true in him again.
John answered them all, ‘I baptise 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 baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.