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.
Over the last 7 weeks we have been focussing on what it really means to be a saint.
No, that doesn’t mean we are members of a well known football club based on the south coast. It’s actually something very different yet it still reflects our individual involvement and personal commitment.
Being part of a church is God’s plan for every Christian and becoming part of that church is His plan too. We can’t do it on through our own effort and merit but are called by and made alive in, Christ.
In our final sermon of this Transformed life series we’ll see how God’s love and power bring us together, hold us together and enable us to grow together. It can all seem too much to grasp at times but God is able to do far more than we can ever ask or even imagine. Nothing is impossible for Him