I sometimes think that James is like the little boy in the Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Story who exposed the emperor's nakedness.
James has a painful habit of exposing our own spiritual pretence: do we just talk a good game? Do we know the language, read the right books, sing acceptable songs, go along to the right meetings?
Fine, so far as it goes, but James argues that if that is our faith, then it needs to go a whole lot further: much, much further in fact, into a different way of living. We are not just to listen (although that’s crucial because you have to know what you are hearing but we must think through and engage with what we’ve learned and heard and out it into practice every day. It’s not enough to hear and to know about our faith, we are called by Christ to do something about it.
Tough times face us, it is true but the Good News of Jesus Christ and of God’s provision is always the Good News.
Faith and trust is truly the key to facing up to the tests that our daily lives set us.
It is faith in the Lord who will equip us not just to stay still and survive but to thrive and grow to maturity through His Grace. We will not achieve perfection in this life, but it is as we are refined in the face of trials and hardships, as we trust God wholeheartedly, as we are single minded about serving him and making him known, that we will grow closer to him and to each other.
Whatever trials we face - and we may be facing them now or may do so this week - then I pray that we will face them with God at our side, with prayer on our lips and with hope in our hearts.
At the state opening of Parliament, the reigning Monarch reads out a list of the legislation the Government will be bringing in the next session. Whilst this is effectively a statement of purpose for the kinds of areas the ruling party will focus on, it is often hard (without digging a lot deeper) to understand the motivation behind the words.
It’s very different with the writer of Psalm 101 (which is seen by many as King David’s coronation address). This is a very personal statement not a list of proposed legislation and, as a result, reveals, a lot about the heart and motivation that lies behind the façade of a successful man. It’s a question of character (who we are) as well as a matter of commitment (what we’ll do): both aspects reveal whether we are truly grounded in our relationship with God – or not.
Rockefeller the American billionaire described contentment as "A little more than you already have.“
We’ll always want more if our life is run on the basis of comparison – the car someone else has, the job they do, where they go on their holidays and so on. In such circumstances, happiness only comes when you are up with the competition or, better still, one up on the competition.
True happiness comes when we find real contentment. Despite the pressure to lead busy lives and to fill our diaries, we need to ensure that our focus remains on what we believe and how that is worked out. When we depend on God and not on some kind of social or possession driven pecking order, then we will find real contentment irrespective of the circumstances we may find ourselves in.
When the angels appeared to the shepherds 2000 years ago and sang “Peace on earth”, it wasn’t pie in the sky but a message from heaven itself. Later, when Jesus said “My peace I give to you”, He wasn’t joking. He really wants to share in our lives, just as He did when He was born in Bethlehem.
It isn’t every day that God came to live with ordinary people. The true story of Christmas invites us to do more than to read, remember or listen – it’s an event which invites us to step inside and to join in.
Will you take one step beyond the stable door and discover the most wonderful gift of all?
No, it’s not M & S, sprouts of even Christmas Day itself – it’s simply: God with us.
It’s said that you can see a candle flame on a still dark night over a mile away. Surely, something so small can’t make that much of a difference, can it?
The story of Christmas is an account of an everyday life event – a birth – that changed history forever. Surely someone that insignificant can’t have such a tremendous impact, can he?
The light shines in the darkness and that light is the light of men. Emmanuel. God with us.
An unexpected message, given to perhaps the most unlikely person. Who on earth would entrust a teenage girl from a rural backwater with a pivotal role in human history?
God’s choice of Mary is both unexpected but also very welcome. It is a human story because many of us can identify with Mary’s amazement at being invited by God to take part in something special – even if our task isn’t what hers would be. It’s personal too because it reminds us that none of us are beyond God’s love, something which is made clear in the Christmas story.
“The Lord is with you: God with us”.
John’s audience has been waiting for a Messiah. They have particular (and set) views on what he would be like: from the family line of David, he would set the world alight and set the world right again
They have been drawn out into the desert to get right with God: to be baptized as sign of their repentance. They are going to get on the straight and narrow.
But, that’s not the full story
Jesus’ arrival was not the best thing on some kind of spiritual “wish list”. He came to free the Jews from a fate worse than one that imposed by the occupying powers of Rome. What He delivered was so much greater than what was expected - He came to free them, and us, from death.
Locusts and wild honey may not sound like haute cuisine but it serves its purpose. Taken with clothes made out of goat hair, it provides the essential basics for food, warmth and decency, leaving you free to focus on what really matters.
The coronation of a new King is an exciting and busy time. There’s a lot to get ready - no one wants any hold ups on the day itself which might prevent the King from coming to His Kingdom and taking his place on the throne. It’s a question of ploughing the road – making sure that the way is clear and path is as straight and easy as it can be.
Advent welcomes the coming of the King. The way has already been prepared but it is equally as important that, when he turns up, we are not distracted either by the trappings of his arrival or by our own lack of preparation. Have you heard? Are you ready? Will you come and see? Will you receive, go and tell?
As we move into the Christmas season, let us not get so short sighted in single-mindedly over-preparing for Christmas, that we forget God’s vision for the world.
What is at stake is not just another annual celebration or making Christmas memories with friends and family. What is at stake is the coming of the kingdom of heaven, which, as Jesus reminds us, is both already and not yet here.
Living by faith means that we are constantly making a statement about what we believe and who we believe in.
A service of baptism invites us to stop and re-evaluate our relationship with God. For those being baptised, there is the immediacy of declarations to make (“I do”) and promises to keep (“I will”). For those of us who sit and watch it is not just a matter of observation, we are participants: we are God’s church and it is into our community as well as Christ that the candidates are being baptised into.
At the same time, we should not close our minds to what God will be doing as we meet. As well as honouring the public steps that some will take, God will also be reminding those of us who are already committed to his service of the promises we have made and the invitation he has issued to us.
What does it really mean to be a disciple?
In the strictest sense of the word, a disciple is someone who learns from a teacher. It’s more than knowledge though, it’s more like embracing a new way of life.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus spells out what the Kingdom driven life is really like. It is no bed of roses – the call to love, justice and mercy has significant implications for our status and goals even though the values of that rule will bring eternal life.
Discipleship now goes beyond learning: a mature disciple is now a follower who is prepared to be like the Teacher (Jesus). It means putting ourselves way down the list and being prepared to give everything for God, even our lives.
The world has always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.
As Paul looks forward to a visit to Jerusalem before going to Rome, he knows he won’t see his friends again. They have been through a lot together: they’ve faced hardship and shared blessings. Their love for and commitment to one another has been strengthened by their experiences but it’s been forged in their relationship with God and worked out in mutual respect and encouragement.
Now, as he says “farewell,” Paul has the opportunity to share a few well-chosen words with those who he is leaving behind. His focus is not on himself but on what drives him: his faith and his commitment are an example for them to follow.
How prepared are we to lay everything on line that we might support and encourage others?
It all seems very unfair. Whether you’ve spent 12 hours or 1 slaving away to bring the harvest home, you still get paid exactly the same: the day’s rate for a working man.
Jesus’ story paints a familiar picture to his listeners (“the disciples” [19: 23]). It’s harvest time and the grapes needed to be gathered in before they spoil. The sting in the tail is an illustration of grace: it is unexpected, undeserved but very welcome.
God is not controlled by our rules or laws but works as He wills, according to his character. It really is grace and generosity combined.