Category Archives: Christmas

Matthew 2: One King Too Many!

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!”

I always thought John Wayne said it. But apparently it’s from a 1932 B-grade Western called “The Western Code”.

It’s what happens when TWO people BOTH want to be in charge. And ONE of them will be disappointed!

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!” It might have been what someone said in an old Western movie. But it’s ALSO what King Herod said in about 2 BC.

He’s thinking of King Jesus. And the town was Jerusalem.

Because there was a new king in town. And the OLD King wasn’t too pleased. As far as Herod saw it, ONE king was just right. And any new contenders were a threat. Because Herod was in no mood to share his power with ANYONE.

The trouble started when some astronomers turned up. Wise men from around Persia. They’d arrived because they’d noticed a new star appear. And they’d worked out that meant A KING OF THE JEWS had been born. Literally, a sign in the heavens.

And so they turn up at Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. The obvious place for a new king of the Jews to be born. And they ask, in v2.

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

This new KING OF THE JEWS was so important, A star had appeared to herald his birth. Like a 21 gun salute. Or a trumpet fanfare.

The WHOLE COSMOS was sitting up and taking notice. And that’s what these wise men wanted to do, too. Because when they found him, they wanted to WORSHIP him.

The problem was it was NEWS TO HEROD. His wife hadn’t given birth. So there was no new prince HE was responsible for.

And so this new king, whoever he was, was a THREAT. And he thinks, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

Now, King Herod – Herod the Great – had a history of wiping out his opposition. He’d already murdered a wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, and an uncle. All because he thought they might be a threat.

And they were just NORMAL people. But the wise men were talking about a new king whose birth was announced by a NEW STAR! And who was worth WORSHIPPING. V3 says Herod was DISTURBED, and all Jerusalem WITH him. And no wonder – with HIS reputation, NO ONE was safe!

So Herod got to work. First up, v4, interrogating THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS. “Where would the Christ, or Messiah, appear?” (God’s promised chosen rescuer). They told him Bethlehem was the place. A little town just up the road. That’s what the prophet Micah had predicted.

Next up, he calls THE WISE MEN in, v7, secretly. He finds out when the star had first appeared. That will give him a BIRTH DATE, so he knows how old the boy is.

Then he points them in the direction of Bethlehem. And enlists them to do his dirty work for him. Listen to his instructions. There in v8.

He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Yeah right! Herod’s about as likely to worship this new king as Donald Trump is to send a Christmas card to Joe Biden.

And so the Magi head off again. But rather than follow HEROD’s directions. It’s THE STAR that leads the way. So they follow IT, INSTEAD.

And v9 tells us the star stopped over the place the child was. It’s actually a PASSIVE verb. The star WAS STOPPED. It didn’t just stop. It was MADE to STOP. In other words, GOD stopped the star.

The God who controls the events of history. Controlled the star that honoured his Son. The star that rose in the sky at his BIRTH. The star that guided the Wise men to where he was.

And notice what happened next. It’s there in v10. What is it that makes the Magi so happy?

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

I don’t think it’s THE STAR that made them happy. They’d obviously seen IT before. I think it was the fact that the star had STOPPED. They were overjoyed because their journey was OVER. Their searching was finished. They were finally HOME.

They may be hundreds of kilometers from where they LIVED. But they were HOME. The place where the REST of their LIFE BEGAN. Where questions would be answered. Where searching stopped. Where everything would get put into perspective.

Now the NIV translation’s pretty weak here. “They were overjoyed”. There are actually four different words. The old RSV is an accurate translation. “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

And this was even before they’d MET Jesus. That’s in v11.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary,

Two things to notice, just as an aside. They didn’t meet Jesus in the stable. And he wasn’t in a manger. It was a HOUSE. And it wasn’t a BABY – but a CHILD.

So it must have been some time AFTER Jesus’ birth. (After the night the shepherds visited).

Some other information that supports that:

First, it’s likely the star appeared at Jesus’ BIRTH. And it took the wise men a reasonable period of time to TRAVEL. A number of months at least.

Secondly, Herod sets an age limit of TWO YEARS when he sends his soldiers to kill the baby boys in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). Because he’d worked out when Jesus was born. And done his sums.

In fact, it doesn’t actually say they went to BETHLEHEM AT ALL. Herod TOLD them to go to Bethlehem. But LUKE’S gospel tells us Jesus’ family returned to Nazareth after his dedication in the temple at 40 days old. So it’s possible that’s where the house is.

So, most nativity scenes and Christmas cards get that bit wrong! Where they show the shepherds and wise men all gathering around the manger.

Almost certainly, it’s two different events. Which makes sense, seeing it’s LUKE’S gospel that tells us about the SHEPHERDS. And Matthew that tells us about the WISE MEN. And neither mentions the other.

So, these wise men finally meet Jesus. And what do they do? V11.

… they BOWED DOWN and WORSHIPED him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with GIFTS of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

The journey was OVER. They’d found the one they’d been looking for. And they fell down. They WORSHIPPED. They gave their gifts. In recognition and gratitude.

This little boy/ embodied God himself. And deserved their worship. Not just their GIFTS, but their LOYALTY and RESPECT and their LIVES.

And their gifts show a God-given insight into Jesus. His identity and role. GOLD fit for a KING. INCENSE – used by the PRIESTS in offering up prayers. And a strange gift for a baby – MYRRH – used to embalm A DEAD BODY.

So much expectation wrapped up in such a small bundle. Arrives with the backing of the God who controls THE STARS. The God who prepared his people to expect him through prophetic messages.

This little child destined for such an AWESOME and PUZZLING combination of roles and responsibilities. A KING over the world – over life and death. Over the fate of people. (promised to David, predicted in Isaiah 9)

A PRIEST standing between God and man. Representing one before the other. (An ETERNAL priest in the order of Melchizedek, promised in Psalm 110).

A DEATHLY SACRIFICE – a life offered in place of others. The means of atonement. A suffering servant pierced for our transgressions, promised in Isaiah 53).

Somehow, they’d perceived that this life that had started with such INNOCENCE and WEAKNESS and PROMISE. Would END in POWERFUL, LOVING, VIOLENT SACRIFICE.

No wonder they’d bowed down and worshipped!

That’s ONE reaction to Jesus. But the opposite reaction is never far from the surface. Look at the very next verse. Verse 12.

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to HEROD, they returned to their country by another route.

And it was just as well they did. Look at how Herod reacted when he found out. Down in v16.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was FURIOUS, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

Herod. And the Magi. Two opposite responses to Jesus.

Herod was troubled. And jealous. And threatened. And furious. He’d do ANYTHING to keep Jesus OFF the throne.

And the Magi. They’d do anything to SEE HIM ENTHRONED. To WORSHIP him. To OFFER THEMSELVES in SERVICE to him.

And it’s the same today. There are millions of Herods around. Puny, deluded kings. Looking to control every part of their life. (Their health, their financial security, their pleasure, their leisure, their choices). Refusing to submit. Always knowing best. Ruthless in dealing with any threat to their autonomy.

You see, anyone who lives life WITHOUT Jesus on the throne. Is a King Herod.

It’s JESUS who deserves to be your king. In fact, he IS the king over the cosmos, whether we recognize him or NOT.

God sent him to be a priest and a sacrifice. To die in our place. To win our reconciliation back to God. And then he RAISED HIM FROM DEATH, DECLARING him to be both LORD and MESSIAH. To be KING over EVERYTHING. (That’s Acts 2:36)

Philippians 2 says God EXALTED Jesus to the HIGHEST place, and gave him the name that is above EVERY name. So that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW.

And, ONE DAY, that WILL happen. (Every knee will bow before King Jesus). Either WILLINGLY, or Unwillingly.

The wise men just got in EARLY. They bowed the knee to Jesus as a little BOY.

But MOST people AREN’T wise. They’re like King Herod. Most people think life’s about looking after “Number One”. And ignoring the opposition. Doing WHAT they want/ WHEN they want. People might OPENLY thumb our noses at Jesus. Try to wipe him out. That’s what Herod did. Or people might just PRETEND he’s not there. ACT as if he’s not there. That’s probably most Aussies. But either way. For most people. If Jesus is on the scene. (If he’s asserting his right to rule). THAT’S ONE KING TOO MANY.

And THAT sort of attitude/ is what the Bible calls sin. (Setting yourself up on life’s throne. Instead of Jesus. Thinking you know better than the God who created you). That’s sin.

And God says/ that deserves his JUDGMENT. ETERNAL separation from him. Giving us what we WANT. Independence from God for all eternity. (People thought being on HEROD’S bad side was a scary thing. But that’s NOTHING compared to being on God’s bad side.)

Much better, says Matthew, to be a WISE GUY. Wisdom/ is recognising the true state of affairs and acting on it. It’s what the Magi did. Recognise who Jesus is. And submit to him. Fall before him. That’s where we deserve to be. On our faces in front of him.

This Christmas we all give and receive gifts. But how about giving KING JESUS the gift HE deserves? Our loyalty. Our worship. A life committed to serving him as king.

You see, the Magi ALSO knew that once Jesus arrived/ that was ONE KING TOO MANY. They couldn’t continue being king of their life/ while Jesus was king.

And so they demitted. They stepped off the throne of their lives. They bowed down and worshipped. They gave the crown to Jesus instead.

And that’s what WE need to do. The FIRST time we do that is when God makes us a new person. When we become a Christian.

Perhaps that’s something YOU need to do this Christmas.

Most of you have already done that. But we need to KEEP doing that. EACH DAY hopping off our thrones. And bowing before King Jesus. In SUBMISSION to his majesty and authority. And in THANKS that he’s saved us. Give up your kingship in your CAREER. In your AMBITION. Give it up / in your plans for how your CHILDREN will grow up. Or your plans for the future. Give it up in your MARRIAGE. Or your singleness. Give up your kingship over your HEALTH. And over your COMFORT. And PLEASURE. And your FINANCIAL SECURITY.

Wise Guys give up their kingship EVERY DAY. And fall before King Jesus. Because they recognise that TWO kings/ is ONE king too many.

Psalm 40: What God wants for Christmas

christmas-giftI don’t know how Christmas presents work in YOUR family. But for the last few years we’ve put everyone’s name on the fridge, and each person writes a wishlist of things they’d like. And you buy people something FROM THE LIST. Normally, there’s more things on the list than you actually GET, so it’s SORT of a surprise.

I reckon it’s a GREAT idea. Because, as a gift GIVER, you don’t spend money, and waste time, buying things people don’t want. And as a RECEIVER, you actually get things you LIKE. So no more hankies and hand-knitted Christmas jumpers!

But what about GOD? Have you ever wondered what GOD would like for Christmas? What’s on HIS wishlist?

After all, he’s the REASON we celebrate Christmas. He’s the One who sent us the greatest gift of all. When he sent Jesus, his only Son, to be the Saviour of the world.

The wise men brought gifts of gold, incense and myrhh to Jesus. But is that what GOD wants?

We could GUESS. And lots of religions do that. They imagine what God would be like. And what he’d like us to give him. And then they try to DO it.

But Christianity has a great advantage. Because God’s TOLD us those things. In his word, the Bible. He’s actually given us his Christmas list. Like the one we have on our fridge. And you might be a little surprised at what it says.

In particular I want to think about Psalm 40. It’s a song written about 3000 years ago by King David of Israel. In fact, U2 recorded it a number of years ago.

David begins, from v1, by talking about how his life was in a mess, and how he waited patiently for the Lord to act. And God heard his cry, and lifted him up out of the muddy pit he was in. And set his feet on a firm foundation.

And, as he thinks about how he can say thank you to God, look at what he says. And it’s not what we’d expect. It’s printed there in your song sheets. Verse 6.

6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced ; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.

Firstly, what God DOESN’T want. (His equivalent of socks and hand-knitted jumpers.) God’s not interested in sacrifices and offerings. Which might SURPRISE you. Because that’s the way LOTS of religions work. You sacrifice a sheep or a goat, or some grain or fruit. Or you burn some incense. All so God will ACCEPT you, and HEAR YOUR PRAYER.

And maybe you think that’s the way it works WITH CHRISTIANITY TOO. Donate some money to the church, or do some good deeds. Dig deep when the Salvation Army comes door-knocking. Volunteer your time at a soup kitchen or an orphanage. Recycle your cans and bottles, or join Landcare. Do some of THOSE things, and surely God will be pretty impressed!?

And they’re certainly good things to do. The problem is God can see what we’re like ON THE INSIDE. And that’s what really matters to him. He wants to see actions that come from A CHANGED HEART.

Actions that come from INSIDE, rather than being FORCED. From genuine gratitude, rather than wanting something from God.

And he wants CONSISTENCY, not HYPOCRISY. He wants a 24 hour 7 day a week worshipper. Not a one hour a week wonder.

And King David had worked that out. Although we might be just a little puzzled by what he says God IS interested in. See it there in v6?

6 Sacrifice and offering you did NOT desire, but MY EARS YOU HAVE PIERCED ;

What does THAT mean?

Well, it’s probably NOT about earrings. Which is just as well, because I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t SUIT me. But most Bibles have got a little footnote at that point that gives an alternative translation. “My ears you have OPENED, or UNBLOCKED.”

God wants us to LISTEN to him. And that makes a lot more sense. Especially if we keep reading.

7 Then I said, “HERE I AM, I have come–it is written about me in the scroll.
8 I DESIRE TO DO YOUR WILL, O my God; your LAW IS WITHIN MY HEART.”

THAT’S what God wants for Christmas. He’s spoken to us. And he wants us to LISTEN. And then be WILLING to DO WHAT HE SAYS.

Those of us who are parents know how frustrating it is when our kids don’t listen to us. It’s a sign of DISRESPECT. Same with God.

He’s spoken to us in the Bible. He’s spoken to us in his Son JESUS. The thing he wants MOST from us is TO LISTEN TO HIM.

Begin by asking God to unblock your ears. To get rid of the stubbornness and pride that blocks you from hearing. And then listen carefully. Read the Bible. Learn from Jesus. And follow him.

That’s what God wants most of all from you this Christmas.

John 1:1-18: The Word Became Flesh

hitchcockAlfred Hitchcock is famous for making brilliant movies. He’s ALSO famous for making small appearances in his own movies. Cameos. For a brief second, he’d step out from behind the camera to be PART OF THE STORY he was telling.

His fans love to study his movies to identify him. Missing a bus during the opening credits of “North by North West”.  Sitting next to Cary Grant on a bus in “To Catch a Thief”.  Sitting with a child on his lap in a hotel foyer in “Torn Curtain”.  He’s even the “Before” and “after” photos in a weight loss ad in a newspaper. 37 appearances identified so far in nearly 50 years of movies.

For Alfred Hitchcock, it’s quirky and cute and interesting. And it happened again and again. But it’s largely IRRELEVANT TO THE STORY. But at Christmas we celebrate when God, the Creator and Director of creation, chose to step into his creation. He stepped out of heaven, and into the story. Once, and for all. And when he did, in the person of Jesus, , it was utterly unique, and incredibly significant. And it CHANGED THE FACE OF HUMAN HISTORY.

We call it THE INCARNATION. Which just means “became flesh”. God became man, and changed EVERYTHING, FOREVER.

It’s the greatest news story ever. Not just at Christmas time. But ALL the time. It deserves a major investigative television special program every Christmas. But, instead, we sum it up with a clichéd card, a bunch of gifts we don’t really need. And eating far too much food. We distract ourselves from the earth-changing message with decorations, trees, and someone dressed in a red suit.

It’s a SIMPLE truth – God became man – but at the same time one you can spend your LIFETIME trying to understand it and explain it. Charles Wesley pondered it in this hymn: “Let earth and heaven combined, Angels and men agree, To praise in songs divine the incarnate deity, Our God contracted to a span, INCOMPREHENSIBLY made man.” “He deigns in flesh to appear, widest extremes to join; To bring our vileness near, and make us all divine; And we the life of God shall know, For God is manifest below.”

When Alfred Hitchcock does it, it’s cute. But UNDERSTANDABLE. He just moves from behind the camera to in front of it. Nothing really changes – except maybe a costume.

But when Jesus does it, God as SPIRIT takes on flesh and becomes FINITE HUMANITY. God, unlimited and infinite, limited Himself by becoming a human, one of His own creatures.

A Christian kids’ song says, “Fully God and fully man. That’s the truth we must understand.” It doesn’t EXPLAIN it. Just STATES it.

And that’s what the BIBLE does. The Apostle Paul states it. Philippians 2:6-7. Jesus being in very nature God, being found in appearance as a man humbled himself and became obedient to death.

Or writing to the Colossian church. Ch 1:14-20. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. By him all things created. Before all things. God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.

And even here in John’s Gospel there’s plenty of evidence that Jesus himself understands he’s God in the flesh. In Ch 3 v12, talking to Nicodemus, he says this about himself

12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except THE ONE WHO CAME FROM HEAVEN-the Son of Man.

That’s Jesus. The WORD, who’s COME FROM HEAVEN, and communicates heavenly things. A similar idea is in John 6:46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has SEEN THE FATHER.

In 8:58, Jesus reveals something of his understanding of being ETERNALLY with the Father.

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

Always existing. Always with God. But more than that, the only one who can INTRODUCE people to God. 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

But he’s more than a prophet who’s seen and known God. Or a priest who stands in between God and man. He’s somehow EQUAL with God. To SEE Jesus is to see God. In 14:9 he says Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. And similarly, to KNOW Jesus, is to know GOD. 8:19 “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”  And probably the clearest of all. Jn 10:30 “The Father and I are one.”

And by the time we get to Ch 20 v28, Thomas sees the resurrected Jesus, and exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” And Jesus ACCEPTS the worship.

It took the EARLY CHURCH a few hundred years after the Bible was completed, to come up with THE LANGUAGE to begin to expand and explain what the Bible assumed and described.

For example, the Council of Chalcedon, a town in Bithynia (modern day Turkey) met in A.D. 451. And it wrote the Chalcedon Creed that says, in part

We all with one voice confess our Lord Jesus Christ to be one and the same Son, perfect in divinity and humanity, truly God and truly human, consisting of a rational soul and a body, being of one substance with the Father in relation to his divinity, and being of one substance with us in relation to his humanity, and is like us in all things apart from sin.

That’s the INCARNATION. Jesus is fully God, AND fully man. More than God INSPIRING a man. More than God INDWELLING a good man. More than God LOOKING LIKE a man. But God BECOMING a man. Jesus – at one and the same time, God AND man.

And the way the beginning of John’s Gospel explains it is with A TITLE “The Word”. Look at v1-5.

1:1 In the beginning was THE WORD, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were MADE; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was LIFE, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

It’s talking about JESUS. God’s Son. On the one hand, with God and somehow God himself. But also a light that shines in the darkness. That bridges the gap between God and man. And that’s summed up in the title, THE WORD.

It’s like a super hero title – it tells you something about the person. “The Flash” obviously he’s QUICK. The Hulk – he’s BIG. And “Spiderman”  – he does whatever a spider can.

And THE WORD – well, he COMMUNICATES. He doesn’t just SPEAK words. He IS the word. A walking, talking self-revelation of God himself.

And it’s an ACCURATE word. It communicates PRECISELY and COMPLETELY. Because the Word was with God in the beginning. And WAS God. He was there before the Universe existed. OUTSIDE of space and matter.

You might hear people say, “I was there when they opened the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or the Opera House, or when man first walked on the moon in 1969.” It shows you’ve been around for a while.

Well, how about, “I was there when Sydney Harbour was first carved out of the earth.” And “I was there when the moon and all the stars were put in place.” That’s Jesus. He’s ALWAYS BEEN. The exact representation of who God is. A completely accurate expression. Fully God.

But because he’s THE WORD, he COMMUNICATES. And who better to communicate between God and man than someone who IS God and man. The eternal Word communicates by BECOMING man. Jump down to v14.

14 The Word became FLESH and made his DWELLING among us. We have SEEN HIS GLORY, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The ETERNAL God/ entered TIME. The INVISIBLE God became VISIBLE. The INFINITE AND POWERFUL God became FINITE AND FRAGILE.

He learned our language. The word became flesh. The ultimate in contextualisation. Wrapped himself in skin, bones, hair and blood. Complete with tears and sweat. Sneezes and skinned knees. Willingly chose the limitations of a frail human body.

It’s almost too incredible to imagine. Or understand. But for those of you who know your Old Testament, there’s a whole range of HINTS here in v14. Hints that can help us begin to understand this mind-blowing truth.

“He made his DWELLING among us”. The word for dwelling is TABERNACLE. Just like God pitched his tent among his people Israel in the wilderness and lived with them. And guided them. So Jesus pitches his tent. Not one nation in a desert. But one HUMANITY on a whole PLANET.

And he “REVEALS HIS GLORY.” God revealed his GLORY to Israel like a FIRE or a CLOUD. A visible representation of the invisible God.

But Jesus is God’s ultimate, complete, absolute GLORY. He IS the visible representation of an invisible God. Just like Paul says in Colossians. The glory that only the ONE AND ONLY SON could reveal. Only A SON could portray the family likeness of the Father so perfectly.

And he’s “FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH.” Just like God described himself as ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS. So Jesus is full of grace and truth. Not surprising since he’s COME FROM the Father. Full of GRACE in how he deals with us. And full of TRUTHFULNESS in his reliability of character and action.

And we see the TYPE of grace shown in Jesus as we keep reading. V16. From the FULLNESS of his grace, we have received ONE BLESSING AFTER ANOTHER. Or “grace upon grace”.

V17 describes the grace MOSES brought. A SORT of grace. He brought THE LAW. The means of approaching God. What we do for sins to be forgiven. But in Jesus we have something different. We have GRACE and TRUTH. True grace. In Jesus we have God approaching US.

And then v18 completes the description of grace. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has MADE HIM KNOWN.

If there was ANYONE who was close to God – it was Moses. If there was anyone who was thought to have seen God – it was Moses. At Mt Sinai God put him in the cleft of a rock, and then passed by, so Moses saw the glory of the train of his garment.

And we’re even told that Moses spoke with God face-to-face. And when he came down from the mountain, his face SHONE, so the people couldn’t look at him. But EVEN MOSES never saw God.

But WE’RE EVEN MORE PRIVILEGED THAN MOSES. That word translated “made him known” means “explain/ give a detailed report/ revealed.” And that’s what Jesus has done for us. Jesus has given us a detailed report of God. A personal explanation.

We’ve received MORE GRACE than Moses. Because we can meet JESUS. He’s God the one and only Son. We can KNOW GOD through him. Know him, see him, experience him, understand him BETTER THAN MOSES DID. That’s the incredible privilege we have. The Word has become FLESH and dwelt among us. He’s come from the Father, full of grace and truth.

So what?

So what should we do in response? Because you HAVE to do SOMETHING with an act like that. To do NOTHING is an insult. It diminishes its importance. Let me suggest FIVE THINGS to do.

  1. Accept

First. ACCEPT. God has reached out to you. He’s made the friend request. Accept the offer.

Many of you are on Facebook. And the way Facebook works is that you find the profile (or personal page) of someone you know, and you send them a message requesting to be their Facebook friend. And if they ACCEPT, then you can look at their photos and messages and communicate with them.

Mostly, people ACCEPT requests from people they know. But occasionally, I’ll send someone a friend request. Perhaps someone I haven’t seen for a few years. And there’ll be no response.

Normally I forget all about it. But occasionally I’ve come across their profile again. And it says “Friend request PENDING.”

Which is the nice way of saying, they’ve REJECTED you. They don’t WANT to be your facebook friend. And it’s a bit of a shock. I wonder what I’ve done. And it’s like that with God.

The first practical consequence of the incarnation is that God has sent you “a friend request” in Jesus. You should ACCEPT it. Don’t leave it PENDING. That’s what LOTS of people do. How do you think that makes God FEEL? Instead, trust Jesus. Receive him. Get to know him and know his Father. If you’ve already DONE that. What ELSE?

  1. Rejoice

Secondly, REJOICE. Rejoice in the incarnation. What a privilege! That God condescended to become man. To become ONE OF US. To take on flesh. All because of LOVE. Costly grace poured out on us. Rejoice. Because if there was no incarnation, there’d be no salvation. There’s no salvation with just INSPIRATION. And no salvation with just INFORMATION. You see, OUR SALVATION DEPENDS ON the incarnation. Because only a GOD/MAN can reconcile God and men. If Jesus was only a man, then he would need to die for his own sin. Only the PERFECT man can bear the sin of another. Only God can be perfect. If Jesus was only a man, then there may be MANY ways to God. And Jesus would just be ONE OPTION. Or no way at ALL. The incarnation means we can BE SURE.

Rejoice in that. Sing with joy songs like Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as Man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.

  1. Rest

Third, REST. Rest in the fact that it’s been accomplished. God has made the way to us.  A PERFECT way. The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

Every other religion tries to make its way to God. Every other religion is about DOING. But Christianity is about DONE. Christ has DONE ALL THE WORK that’s REQUIRED. No more STRIVING to earn, or work or achieve. Come to me says Jesus in Mt 11.28, and I will give you REST.

  1. Be comforted.

Fourth, BE COMFORTED. Because Jesus is fully MAN, it means he understands everything we go through. And because he’s fully God, he’s got the power to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Hebrews 4:15-16 says

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have ONE WHO HAS BEEN TEMPTED IN EVERY WAY, JUST AS WE ARE-yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with CONFIDENCE, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Be comforted, and be confident. Approach the throne of grace with confidence.

  1. Reflect the incarnation.

Fifthly, we respond to the incarnation by SHARING IN THE INCARNATION. By following the example of Jesus in the way we minister to others.

Jesus was not aloof. He gave up everything. He got his hands dirty. He didn’t just SPEAK FROM HEAVEN. He lived AMONG us. And he calls us to do the same.

In Mk 10:43-45 he says Whoever wants to become great among you must be your SERVANT, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be SLAVE OF ALL. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And in Jn 13, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and said, 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Incarnational ministry means getting your hands dirty. Sharing your LIFE with people.

Are you looking to SERVE? Or are you expecting to BE served? Respond to the incarnation by being a servant to all like Jesus. The Word became FLESH and DWELT among us. Accept it. Rejoice in it. Rest in it. Be comforted by it. And REFLECT it. For the glory of God, and of Jesus, the Word become flesh.

John 1:1-18: The light shines

CHRISTchristmas-lightsMAS and LIGHTS seem to go hand-in-hand. And for SOME people, the BIGGER the BETTER. Christmas is all about decorating their house with a completely OVER-the-top display of Christmas lights. Perhaps you saw Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Then there’s John K. He spends almost two months putting up 100,000 lights on his house in Hurstville. He reckons he’s spent around $50000 over the last 18 years. But he says it’s worth it, because he loves to see the smiles on kids’ faces. And he raises money from donations to treat leukemia at Sydney Children’s Hospital.

So why do we celebrate Christmas with LIGHTS? ONE option is because it reminds us of the STAR that led the wise men to Jesus. Shining brightly and leading them all the way to Bethlehem.  Or maybe it’s the shepherds in the fields on the night Jesus was born. (We read in Luke 2 how an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHONE AROUND THEM.) THAT would have been a pretty incredible light show.

But we’re going to think about ANOTHER incredible light show. Because all of those amazing lights just POINT TO, and REMIND us, of the best Christmas light show of ALL. JESUS HIMSELF. THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

The light of men

John’s Gospel doesn’t tell the Christmas story. That’s in Matthew and Luke. But chapter one DOES introduce us to “THE WORD”. A mysterious figure we find out halfway through IS JESUS. He was in the beginning, and was WITH God, and WAS God (v1). He’s existed from all eternity.

And, v2, through him everything was made. (DISTINCT from creation. Yet the AGENT for creation.)

And then v4 says that in him was LIFE. He’s the SOURCE of life. He’s not just ALIVE, but the One who GIVES life. He’s so FULL of life, it flows OUT of him, and gives life to everything.

But not only that. The life he gives has a certain QUALITY to it. We read, “that life WAS THE LIGHT OF MAN.” The type of life Jesus gives produces insight and perception in people. Both intellectual and spiritual. Consciousness of SELF, and of GOD. We have been given the ability to glimpse eternity. To have faith in unseen things.

And not just consciousness, but conscience. We’ve been created with a moral conscience that reflects the purity and goodness of The Light who GAVE us light.

Light shines in the darkness

What a wonderful picture that would be if that’s where it ENDED! (The way things were back with Adam and Eve). But v5 goes on to describe what happened AFTER that.

5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

It’s not as simple as Jesus creating us with the light of understanding. Our basic nature is more about DARKNESS. And, as a general rule, when the light SHINES on our darkness, we don’t understand it. We don’t ACCEPT it, or allow ourselves to be GUIDED by it.

Light shining in darkness has two ideas to it. And they’re CONNECTED. One is to do with information and guidance. Like a car headlight or a lighthouse. It shows the way. Guides and directs. The OTHER is to do with good and evil. Light is about purity and blamelessness. Darkness is about sin, shame, and guilt.

And when humanity, whose basic nature is DARKNESS, has the pure, clean light of Jesus shine on us. We don’t want to know. We don’t want to be guided towards life and love and joy. We block our ears, and run away. Like cockroaches who scurry under the fridge when you turn on the kitchen light. A bit further on, Ch 3 v19 describes that natural human response

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

Men loved darkness. In July, 1977, a series of lightning strikes caused a city-wide blackout across New York. When the lights finally came on 25 hours later, arsonists had set more than 1000 fires, and looters had ransacked 1600 stores. The New York Post reported that the streets had become a battleground, with even the looters being mugged.  Many of them, normal law-abiding citizens, who used the darkness as the opportunity to do what their hearts WANTED. Normally, in the light, they wouldn’t THINK of acting like that. Time magazine began an article on the event with this: “It was a crisis of light, and of darkness—the kind of event that brings out the best and the worst in people.”

That’s what Jesus means when he says that men love darkness because their deeds are EVIL. LITERAL darkness hides the darkness of their deeds and desires and natures. And that means they HATE LIGHT (That’s v20 of Ch 3). Because it EXPOSES them. They don’t want ANYONE seeing what they’re really like, let alone JESUS.

I heard of a shopping centre in Brisbane that was having trouble with groups of teenagers hanging around the public areas. Loitering. It was bad for business. They didn’t buy anything, and they made the other customers nervous. Security guards moving them only worked temporarily. But one thing they found worked BEAUTIFULLY was to use pink lights in all the trouble areas. Because pink light shows up all the pimples on a teenager’s face. And no teenager wants to hang around in a light that shows off all their blemishes.  And it’s the same with PEOPLE. We don’t want to listen to the truth Jesus speaks. Because his light shows our blemishes.

A few chapters further on, in ch 7 v7, Jesus says 7 The world cannot hate you, but it HATES me because I TESTIFY that what it does is EVIL.

Jesus speaks the light of truth into people’s lives. And rather than receive it. And CHANGE. They HATE him for it.

The foolishness of that choice is seen as we read on in Ch 1. In v9, we find out more about the light.  9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

Jesus is not just A light. (ONE source of light among many). One choice among many on the religious smorgasbord of life. But the TRUE light. The GENUINE light. The light on which all others are MODELLED. All other expressions of the truth flow out of, or contain PART of, the truth of the TRUE light.

And Jesus’ light isn’t just A TWINKLE. A candle. (An out-dated, culture-bound, context-dependent guide). But the true light who gives light to EVERY MAN. From every age, and every situation. Every language or culture. He’s ALWAYS relevant. ALWAYS appropriate. ALWAYS beneficial.

Because he MADE us, he knows us BEST. He knows us from the OUTSIDE – from the perspective of eternity. Like the author knows every paragraph of his novel. And the sculptor knows every curve and line. And the inventor knows every switch and lever. (He’s the TRUE light who gives light to EVERY man).

And HOW did he give that light to everyone? By COMING INTO THE WORLD. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. He didn’t give us light by sending an email, or flipping a switch from heaven. But by stepping out of eternity, and into time. By coming from heaven to earth. By putting aside his heavenly throne, and putting on FEEBLE FLESH. By putting down the author’s pen, and jumping into the pages of the novel. By putting down the paintbrush, and diving into the painting.

Which means he gives true light, not just as the CREATOR, but as the one who’s LIVED it. He knows us from the INSIDE, as well as the OUTSIDE – because he’s experienced EVERYTHING we’ve ever been through. Every temptation and sorrow. Every trial and joy.

The true light CAME INTO THE WORLD. It would be fitting to announce his arrival with fireworks. Or a marching band. Or a twenty-one gun salute. After all, he’s the ORIGIN, the SOURCE, the GUIDE, the ESSENCE of everything created.  But instead he came as a helpless baby, ignored by almost everyone, placed in a feeding trough. In a dusty, insignificant village in a dusty, insignificant nation.

The bitter irony – the One who’d created it all being IGNORED by that very creation. V10.

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Like the TV show Undercover Boss. The owner of the company puts on a disguise and comes to visit his employees. He’s established everything in the company. Copyrighted the name. Registered the business. the designDesigned the systems. Built the product line and the markets. He’s appointed them to their jobs. But they don’t recognise him. They treat him like any other employee.

But it’s worse than that with Jesus. Not only don’t they RECOGNISE him. They DON’T RECEIVE him. They REJECT him. They throw him off his own property, and change the locks. Because darkness HATES light. (The light shone in the darkness, but the darkness didn’t understand it.)

But to all who received him

Which is all fairly depressing. And maybe you’re wondering why we have Christmas lights that make you HAPPY to remind us OF THAT. How wonderful this isn’t the FULL PICTURE! V12 points out that NOT EVERYONE rejects the light.

12 Yet to all who RECEIVED him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-

Every person who becomes a Christian comes to a turning point. BEFORE, they think they’re FINE. They’re happy with their life, comfortable with their own ability to move through life. Wandering around in darkness. But at some point, they come to the end of themselves. They recognise their SIN. The blackness of their own hearts. And their HOPELESSNESS and HELPLESSNESS and LOSTNESS. They need LIGHT. Guidance, direction, goodness, restoration. And, instead of scurrying for the darkness like cockroaches, they reach out for the light of Jesus. Who speaks to them TRUTH about life and death, about God and man, about sin and forgiveness. And they RECEIVED that light. V10 says they BELIEVED IN HIS NAME. Which means, firstly, that they trusted the truth of the information Jesus brought.

When you’re lost in the dark, and someone comes along, shines their torch, and says, “Follow me. I know the way.” You want to TRUST him. When you’re drowning in the surf, and someone paddles up and says, “Hold onto me. I’ll get you to safety.” You want to TRUST him. And when Jesus comes and says, “You’re lost in the darkness of your selfishness and rejection of God. Follow me, I’ll lead you back to God.” You should TRUST him.  Believe in his NAME. Believe in his authority to speak on God’s behalf. Because from the beginning he was WITH God, and WAS God.

And v12 says that when we DO that, Jesus gives us the right to become children of God. He AUTHORISES it. Stamps the visa for entrance into God’s family. Processes the adoption papers. And welcomes us into the family.

Nicodemus

It’s exactly what we see over in John chapter 3. Nicodemus is a Pharisee. He’s spent his life studying the Jewish religion. If there’s anyone who should know where he’s going, it should be HIM. V2 says he comes to Jesus AT NIGHT. Which COULD simply be telling us the TIME. And that he doesn’t want anyone to SEE him. But it’s also telling us about light and dark. Nicodemus is IN THE DARK. And he needs the light of Jesus to give him LIFE.

He says to Jesus, “Here’s what I’ve worked out about you so far. “You’re a teacher from God and you do miraculous signs.”

Jesus says, v3, “Nice try, but you’re not even CLOSE. You’re blind and in the dark. You can’t SEE the Kingdom of God unless you’re born AGAIN. Born from ABOVE. Unless God makes you his CHILD.” (Just like we read back in Ch 1 v12. Jesus giving the right to become children of God. That’s LIGHT shining on DARKNESS.) He continues.

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

Only God can do it. You can’t get there by study, or racial connections, or birthright, or human effort. Nicodemus isn’t so sure (v9). “How can this be?” He’s in the dark, and Jesus is offering him the light of life. But will he RECEIVE it? Will he BELIEVE in his name?

And then Jesus turns on the spotlight. Floods the room with the greatest truth of human history. And what we must do in response. V14.

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be LIFTED UP, 15 that everyone who BELIEVES in him may have eternal life.

Jesus would be lifted up on a cross. Giving his life in our place. To save us from God’s judgment and death. Our response is to TRUST the effectiveness of that act. To LOOK to Jesus. And believe in his name. DO THAT, says Jesus. And you’ll receive eternal life. That’s LIGHT shining on Nicodemus’ darkness.

Light of the world

But not just Nicodemus. Jesus is the true light who gives light to EVERY man. Over in Ch 8 v12, he says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Receive the light Jesus brings. Let him shine on your darkness. Your blindness of your true condition. The deadness of your affection for God. The foolishness of your chasing after things that disappoint and destroy. FOLLOW him, and you’ll never walk in darkness. You’ll have the LIGHT of LIFE. The information that leads you to TRUE life. ABSOLUTE, ULTIMATE, MAXIMUM life. Life with JOY and purpose and perspective.

What’s that going to LOOK LIKE? To walk in Jesus’ light? Let me give you TWO expressions of that. First, REJOICE in the light. As we come up to Christmas, it’s easy to FORGET. To TAKE FOR GRANTED the incredible gift we celebrate. The TRUE LIGHT who gives light to all men came into the world. He left his heavenly privilege, and took on all our mess and muck.

And, as Christians, we should rejoice more than ANYONE. Because for MOST people, the light shines on their darkness, but they haven’t UNDERSTOOD it, or RECEIVED it. In fact they’ve HATED the light, because their deeds are EVIL.  But FOR US, we’ve received the greatest gift of all. John 1 v16 says 16 From the fullness of God’s grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

We’ve seen God. In the person of Jesus. The light of the world. And we’ve RECEIVED him. And we walk in the light. What a JOY to celebrate!

And the SECOND thing we should do is to shine a little light of our own. In Philippians 2, we’re encouraged to have the same attitude as Jesus, who gave up everything to serve people. We’re commanded to consider others before ourselves. And in v14, to do everything without complaining or arguing. All because we’re considering Jesus. We’re walking in the light he’s given us. And then v15 describes the end result. 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, IN WHICH YOU SHINE LIKE STARS IN THE UNIVERSE

Forget the Christmas lights decorating YOUR HOUSE. Work a little harder at REJOICING in Jesus the light of the world. Work a little harder at having the same attitude as Jesus. The light of the world. So that you shine a little of HIS light to the people you meet.

And may you bring them even MORE joy than the best Christmas lights. As we celebrate the true light who gives light to all men who came into the world.

Luke 2:1-20: Who Would Have Thought?

In 1809 the whole world was watching the campaigns of Napoleon. Everywhere, there was talk of marches and invasions, of battles and bloodshed. As the French dictator pushed his way through Europe.

Who cared about the birth of babies? Tiny, helpless, insignificant. But in 1809 babies were born whose lives would shape humanity. Babies were being born who would one day make people take notice. And leave an impression on the world even greater than that of Napoleon.

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

In 1809. William Gladstone was born in Liverpool. He was destined to become one of the greatest POLITICIANS England ever produced. He fought the cause of the poor, introducing many bills that improved life for the poor and needy.

In that same year Alfred Tennyson was born to an obscure minister and his wife in Summersby, England. Tennyson became one of the most popular poets in the English language.

In 1809, Edgar Allen Poe was also born in America. His life was eventful and tragic, but he became a highly successful author and poet.

Same year, on the other side of the world, an English doctor named Darwin and his wife named their child Charles Robert. And it’s debatable whether anyone has had a bigger impact on the SCIENTIFIC world than Charles Darwin.

And again, 1809, across in Europe, the great COMPOSER Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany.

And back in America, ALSO in 1809 the cries of a new-born infant could be heard from a rugged log cabin in Hodgenville, Kentucky.  The baby’s name?  Abraham Lincoln. Who shaped the United States politically and socially like no one else. Arguably the free world as well.

Music, politics, literature, poetry, science.

Everyone thought the destiny of the world was being shaped on battlefields in Europe by Napoleon Bonaparte.

But was it? The reality was history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England, Germany and America. Young mothers held in their arms the movers and shakers of the future. People who’d bring new insights. New freedoms. New organisations and institutions.

1809 was, in fact, THE BEGINNING OF AN ERA. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

And it was no different the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

No one in the entire Roman Empire could have cared less about the birth of that Jewish infant. Rome ruled. It was consolidating its position at the end of a spear all across the known world. That’s where history was being made!

Or was it?

Bethlehem was too busy with the political helter skelter of the Roman census. The inn-keeper, too busy with his important customers to find Mary and Joseph a bed.

The soldiers were too busy keeping the peace. Dealing with all those frustrated and tired travellers.

The Bethlehem crowds had NO IDEA the infinite Son of God – God with skin – was asleep in their little town. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

What seemed to be a lowly, unimportant, everyday event turned into THE MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD! WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

And it’s this strange contrast between the way things APPEAR to be. And their TRUE importance. That we see in Luke 2.

Whose kingdom ruled?

a. Rome:

First up, WHOSE KINGDOM RULED? If it was a multiple choice quiz, most people, including the Jews would tick A. Rome.

It was Rome who’d organised a census. Probably to calculate taxes and military service. The biggest event in a decade. And everything else paled into insignificance. Even expectant mothers. V1.

(Luke 2:1-3 NIV)  “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.) {3} And everyone went to his own town to register.”

And while Caesar thought HE was bossing people around. It was actually GOD moving the chess pieces. Working things for HIS purposes. Because even though Joseph was from Nazareth. Bethlehem was his home town, and so that’s where he travelled.

Bethlehem. The VERY TOWN Micah prophesied that the Messiah would be born. Micah 5:2

(Micah 5:2 NIV)  “”But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, OUT OF YOU WILL COME FOR ME ONE WHO WILL BE RULER OVER ISRAEL, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.””

While it may have APPEARED Rome was in control, it was actually all part of GOD’S plan. God was working out the fulfilment of his promises. His promises to provide a Saviour, a Messiah, a king from the line of King David, to be born in David’s town, Bethlehem.

b. The Kingdom of God:

And while, from the OUTSIDE, the kingdom of ROME ruled. The focus is really on the Kingdom of GOD. And it begins humbly and insignificantly. A lot different from the power and pomp of Rome. Look at v6.

(Luke 2:6-7 NIV)  “While they were there, the time came for THE BABY TO BE BORN, {7} and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

What a trivial, easily-overlooked beginning!

Abraham Lincoln started life in a tiny backwoods cabin. And rose to the White House. But at least he was born in a ROOM! Not a manger!

But what appeared humble, quickly showed its true character. God wasn’t going to let such a earth-shattering event pass COMPLETELY un-noticed. V8.

(Luke 2:8-14 NIV)  “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 of great joy that will be for all the people. {11} Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ 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, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.””

What had appeared so inconsequential was seen for what it really was – a glorious, heavenly, miraculous, perfectly-wise plan for salvation.

The one who’d appeared to be just a baby was really the KING of a kingdom. A kingdom much greater than either Israel or Rome.

Who would have thought?

And look at what this king will be like. Jesus was given three titles by the angel;

SAVIOUR. A title the Jews used for God, and God alone. All through history it was GOD who saved his people. This new baby was connected to God.

Secondly, CHRIST. MESSIAH. “Chosen one”. God’s anointed. God’s instrument, fulfilling God’s purposes.

And third. LORD: This title is really the most staggering. Already in little more than a chapter, Luke’s used this title of “Lord” nearly twenty times to refer to God! Here he uses the same word to refer to Jesus!

Saviour, Christ, Lord.

All three titles reveal THIS IS GOD HIMSELF, lying in the animal food trough. God with skin. The all-powerful Creator of the Universe  completely helpless and dependent on his mother. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

Reactions to Jesus

And look at the different REACTIONS to Jesus.

Angels

Firstly, the PRAISE of the angels. A great company of the heavenly host praising God and saying, {14} “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

What a sound and light show THAT would have been! The glory of the Lord shining all around the shepherds. A huge heavenly choir singing “Glory”. Better than any fireworks display, or Carols in the Domain.

And look at what ELSE the angels say. They declare PEACE. Peace to those on whom God’s favour rests.

And that works on a few levels. Jesus comes to bring peace with GOD. Changes us from ENEMIES to FRIENDS.

And once that’s happened, he gives us an INTERNAL peace. A serenity and tranquillity with the circumstances and trials of life.

And as Jesus works in people, he often brings peace BETWEEN people. Between families, and races, and nations.

And it’s more than just a PART-TIME PEACE. How often have you heard the phrase, “Christmas is that time of the year when we all need to try and get along, the time when we need to spread a little Christmas cheer”

But once Christmas is over, we’re back to our normal selfish behaviour. I think that’s why it’s called Boxing Day!!

The peace Jesus brings is a strong, consistent, concentrated, eternal peace. A peace that doesn’t come from any other source!

The Romans enforced peace at the end of a spear. The PAX ROMANA – the Roman peace – was the Roman LAW. Crucifixion and whipping. Tough justice. Rebels were rapidly quashed. Individual nations and states were encouraged to come under the umbrella of Roman law.

And yet it was only a shadow of GENUINE peace. The APPEARANCE of peace.

Because it wasn’t GENUINE peace. Nations and individuals still hated. They just kept their tongues. For fear of punishment.

Yet it was into the midst of this Roman peace that Jesus was born. The TRUE peace-maker.

The one who brings peace between us and God NOW. And who will, one day, bring peace between people everywhere.

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

Shepherds

And then there’s the SHEPHERDS. They went off to see Jesus, and when they’d MET him (v17), they spread the word about what they’d head and seen.

It’s incredible news. That Jesus didn’t just come to be a BABY. But to be a Saviour. To be King. To be LORD.

That’s the message of Christmas we need to proclaim.

And, for the shepherds, it didn’t stop with the events of that first Christmas. V20.

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.

They were CHANGED. Life had a new direction and priority. They lived to glorify God. Who’d brought things about just as he’d promised.

And that’s OUR response too. To find God FAITHFUL and RELIABLE in all things. To recognise that, in the MANGER, God has proved faithful.

We may not see it in the confusion and struggles of the day to day. But God IS working out his purposes in our lives. Because he HAS worked them out ALREADY in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Our life NOW finds its significance and orientation from HIM.

Mary

And finally, there was the reaction of MARY. There in v19.

19 But Mary TREASURED up all these things and PONDERED them in her heart.

Angel visits, a miraculous conception, shepherds, dreams and prophecies. What would life hold for this helpless little baby?

She had SOME idea. But we know MUCH MORE. Do WE TREASURE these things? PONDER them? Or are they quickly dismissed in the rush to get into Christmas lunch?

Out of all the significant events that have happened this year. Bushfires, wars, bombings. Elections, Dictators thrown down.

Nothing is MORE important than remembering the birth of a Jewish baby to working-class parents in a smelly stable halfway around the world.

The world dismisses it as sentimental fable, or irrelevant historical trivia, or an unthreatening helpless baby.

But we know better. This baby is our SAVIOUR, our MESSIAH, our LORD. He’s our treasure. The one we love and worship and serve. The one we trust our lives and our eternity to.

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

Isaiah 9: The Promises of Christmas: The Name

115 yachts left Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day, 1998 in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Although the race began under a gentle breeze, skippers were warned they’d face storm conditions as they approached Bass Strait.

The next afternoon after the main body of the fleet had passed Eden, an intense low pressure system hit the fleet. Winds gusting to 100 knots (170 km/h), combined with seas exceeding 10 metres, caused chaos, wrecking many yachts.

At about 8 am the following morning, the Careflight helicopter homed in on a distress beacon. 47 nautical miles from Merimbula, they located the yacht Business Post Naiad. The yacht’s mast was broken, the mainsail was in the water, there was an oil slick on the water near the stem. The yacht was 45 degrees facing into the wind and waves, because of the drag on the sails in the water. And was rolling, pitching and heaving dramatically in the enormous seas.

Seven crew members wearing life vests were waving from the cockpit, and one person was lying on the floor of the cockpit.

The winds were 40 to 60 knots, shredding the tops off six to eight metre, and occasional larger, breaking waves.

Only three crew were on board the helicopter. Pilot Dan Tyler, air crewman Graeme Fromberg and paramedic Murray Traynor.

They decided it would be too dangerous to winch directly to, or from, the yacht because of the deck movement in the seas, and the amount of wrecked gear on the deck which could snare the rescue winch cable.

The yacht’s radio wasn’t working, so Fromberg used HAND SIGNALS to urge the survivors, one at a time, TO JUMP INTO THE SEA ATTACHED TO A SAFETY LINE.

If you were on that yacht, you’d want to check that instruction, wouldn’t you? “You want me to jump into 8 m seas? ON the OFF CHANCE that you’ll be able to pick me up from the helicopter? You call that a RESCUE PLAN?”

But the sailors didn’t have a lot of choice. So, as Murray Traynor was lowered toward the water, he signalled for the first yachtsman to jump and swim clear of the yacht.

To cut a long story short, Traynor managed to rescue all seven sailors. One at a time.

The message concerning the crazy plan had been SENT. The sailors heard the message. They trusted their rescuers, and the plan worked. “Your present looks desperate, but your future’s secure. I’ve got a rescue plan if you trust me.”

It’s the same with the messages from God to his people. Especially the prophecies about Jesus. You know? The ones that speak about Jesus being born in Bethlehem. Born of a virgin. From the line of David. Of how he’ll enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey. There’s dozens of them.

Many of these prophecies are just like the frantic hand signals going on between the helicopter and the stricken boat.

They’re declarations from God that his rescue plan is coming. His purpose is to give HOPE to the readers. “Your present looks desperate, but your future’s secure. I’ve got a rescue plan if you trust me.”

And that’s certainly the case with these chapters at the start of Isaiah. We’re going to take a high-speed helicopter flyover of the first nine chapters of Isaiah.

And the aim is to put into context the incredible promises of God to Israel in Ch 9 – that a child will be born who will bring light to Galilee, on whose shoulders will be the government. And who will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The problem

Isaiah’s prophecy came to Jerusalem beginning in about 740 BC.

Remember the nation of Israel has been divided into TWO KINGDOMS. Israel (or Ephraim) in the north. And JUDAH in the south.

And both kingdoms are under attack. They’re fighting each other. And they’re both in the firing line from Assyria. The superpower of the time.

And it’s about 20 years before Israel falls to Assyria, and is exiled and scattered. And although Judah itself won’t be conquered by Babylon for another 150 years, there’s pressure building.

That’s the historical situation in which God speaks to Israel through Isaiah.

But what’s the problem. Why is it that Israel NEEDS to be rescued. What’s happened/ that’s left the boat of God’s people lying dead in the water, stricken, helpless, and needing rescue?

The answer’s there in Ch 1. The very first verse of the prophecy. V2.

(Isa 1:2-4 NIV)  Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. {3} The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” {4} Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

In a word. Sin. That’s the problem.

You can see the sort of hypocrisy that really makes God furious. From v13.

(Isa 1:13-17 NIV)  “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your evil assemblies. {14} Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. {15} When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; {16} wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, {17} learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

The awful image of hands lifted up to God in prayer. But they’re hands that are dripping with blood. That’s the hypocrisy of someone who offers sacrifices, while at the same time pursuing injustice, exploiting the weak, taking bribes.

Instead, God wants HEARTS that are right. The ACTIONS mean NOTHING if the HEART’S wrong.

The punishment

But it’s not as if God hasn’t done something about it. Much of the stuff that Israel’s ALREADY suffered is because God is DISCIPLINING them. PUNISHMENT. But it hasn’t made a scrap of difference. Some children are just like that! Look back to v5.

(Isa 1:5-7 NIV)  Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. {6} From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness– only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil. {7} Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.

It’s discipline that’s been ignored. And it’s just going to INTENSIFY. Over in Ch 2, God talks about a DAY that’s coming. The Day of the Lord. When judgment will be dished out by the bucketful. Ch 2 v12.

(Isa 2:12 NIV)  The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled),

It’s a theme that continues over into Ch 5. Look there at v25.

(Isa 5:25 NIV)  Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.

God’s going to call in the big guns. The foreign nations. The next verse. Listen as he paints the dreadful picture.

(Isa 5:26-30 NIV)  He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily! {27} Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal thong is broken. {28} Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses’ hoofs seem like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. {29} Their roar is like that of the lion, they roar like young lions; they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no one to rescue. {30} In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, he will see darkness and distress; even the light will be darkened by the clouds.

That’s the situation. The storm from which Israel needs rescuing. Ultimately it was a storm which overtook Judah in 580 BC when Babylon broke down the walls of Jerusalem, and took the Jews off into exile.

But at the moment, it’s the threat. A warning designed to lead people to repentance. To encourage them to step out in faith. To jump off the boat, and trust God’s rescue plan.

The Solution

So what was the solution? The rescue plan?

Mercy In The Midst Of Wrath

First, notice that it’s not pure punishment. As is always the case with God, it’s MERCY IN THE MIDST OF WRATH. Have a look at Ch 1 v18

(Isa 1:18-20 NIV)  “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. {19} If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; {20} but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Can you see the choice God offers them? “If you’re willing and obedient. If you turn from your sin. Then I’ll forgive you. Make you as pure and guiltless and white as snow”.

What wonderful good news! It’s hard to find news better than that EVEN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.

But that’s the mercy God offers sinners.

More Purification Than Extermination

And BECAUSE there are some who ACCEPT that offer. Who CHOOSE life. We see that God’s punishment is more PURIFICATION than EXTERMINATION. Listen to the language in Ch 1 v24

(Isa 1:25-28 NIV)  I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly PURGE AWAY YOUR DROSS AND REMOVE ALL YOUR IMPURITIES. {26} I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.” {27} Zion will be redeemed with justice, HER PENITENT ONES WITH RIGHTEOUSNESS. {28} But REBELS AND SINNERS WILL BOTH BE BROKEN, and those who forsake the LORD will perish.

It’s not COMPLETE annihilation. More/ a CLEANSING – a FILTERING. A restoration of the FAITHFUL. But rebels who are destroyed. Two very different consequences.

The promise

And so we come to the PROMISES. Promises made to these faithful people. To these people who are coming to God in REPENTANCE.

And they’re God’s INCENTIVE to pursue obedience and righteousness. The SPUR to keep trusting God, in the midst of the wickedness and faithlessness and hypocrisy.

The reward to hope for. The rescue line to reach out for.

A kingdom

And the first thing God promises his people is A KINGDOM. Look at it in Ch 2 v2.

(Isa 2:2-5 NIV)  In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. {3} Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. {4} He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. {5} Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

A kingdom where nations will come to Jerusalem. Not to RANSACK it, but to follow God’s ways. To join with God’s people.

A kingdom of PEACE. Where weapons aren’t needed anymore. Where God will judge and settle disputes.

And notice that it’s a promise which has a PURPOSE. See it there at the end? {5} Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

The future vision is designed to produce practical consequences in the present. It’s the incentive to walk in obedience NOW.

But it’s not only a KINGDOM that’s promised. God promises a KING AS WELL. Flip over to Ch 9.

In Isaiah’s time, the nations would come rampaging down from the north. And it was the northern tribes who copped the brunt of the attack. Around Galilee.

But God promises that in the future Galilee would be HONOURED instead. A light would dawn on those who lived in the shadow of death.

And that light is described in v6.

(Isa 9:6-7 NIV)  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. {7} Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Wonderful promises we remember at Christmas. Of a son who would be born who would GOVERN. And his rule would be JUST AND RIGHTEOUS. He’d be called WONDERFUL COUNSELLOR. That’s a KINGLY title.

One of the king’s jobs was to JUDGE. To discern truth. “Wonderful counsellor” means his decisions – his counsel – would be so wise that they’d cause people TO MARVEL.

His reign would be one of PEACE. He’d be called PRINCE of peace.

And notice how they’re all the characteristics of the kingdom promised in Ch 2?

And he would sit on King David’s throne. But he would be much more than AN EARTHLY KING.

For one thing, God promises that his reign would be ETERNAL.

For another, what about those NAMES? Mighty God? Everlasting Father?

This promised king will be like now other EARTHLY king. He’s OTHER worldly. OUT of this world.

God is promising a NEW KINGDOM. And a NEW KING.

It’s a wonderful picture. A promise from God designed as an INCENTIVE to obedience and righteousness. The SPUR to keep trusting God, in the midst of the wickedness and faithlessness and hypocrisy.

And God’s given it for the benefit of HIS HEARERS THEN. And for US TODAY.

When?

But I guess the important question to ask is WHEN? When should we expect all of this to occur? The kingdom and the king?

Jesus has come. The event the people of Isaiah’s time looked forward to. God kept his promise.

But now he’s gone. Should we expect a kingdom like Ch 2, and a reign like Ch 9 NOW? Or is it something we can look forward to WHEN Jesus RETURNS.

The answer is Yes! To both questions.

We talk about the kingdom of God BEGINNING when Jesus came. We saw glimpses of his reign – over sickness and nature and Satan. And ultimately over sin and death.

HE HAS achieved peace with God. He’s BEGUN the work of bringing about peace between nations.

But it’s not complete.

The kingdom of God is NOW, but it’s still NOT YET. His reign was INAUGURATED. But not CONSUMMATED.

He defeated DEATH, but Christians still DIE. He brought peace between nations, but there’s still war. He healed our diseases, but there’s still sickness and suffering.

And so we’re in the same situation as the saints of Isaiah’s time. We have God’s vision for the future. But we must persevere in a present which isn’t ideal.

God’s purpose in giving us promises like this – visions of the future kingdom – is to strengthen our resolve. Deepen our longing and hope for a new creation. And so live faithfully and with expectation in the present.

But we’re also MUCH BETTER OFF than Israel. Because Jesus HAS come. God HAS DELIVERED on the first part of his promise. And so we trust him to FINISH the job. For Jesus to return, and bring in his new creation. With a new level of peace with people and nature. A new level of intimacy with God.

But it’s not just about the future. The promise also comes with the expectation to do something in the present. Just like it did for Israel. In the words which followed the vision in Ch 2.

(Isa 2:5 NIV)  Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

You see, God’s kingdom – the sphere in which he reigns – is PRIMARILY the CHURCH. We are the people over whom Jesus reigns. We are the people who are at peace, for whom the dividing wall of hostility has been broken down. We are the people who are calling those around us to stream to the throne of Jesus, and bow the knee before him.

And our task, as we walk in the light of the Lord, is to bring in the kingdom MORE. To make that vision of the future more of a reality NOW.

To do what we can to effect justice and righteousness. To see that Jesus’ name is honoured. To right wrongs. To relieve suffering.

That’s the context in which the church performs its mission in the world. MOTIVATED by promises like this one. That one day God will send his king, to rule his new creation.

(Isa 9:6-7 NIV)  …and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. {7} Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

AMEN. Maranatha, COME, LORD Jesus COME.

Isaiah 42; 61: The Promises of Christmas: The Job Description

The promise of SOMETHING GOOD TO COME is a powerful motivator. There’s the expectation and anticipation – which are sometimes better than the actual experience!

It happens like that when you’re PLANNING A HOLIDAY. You get all the guide-books, the travel brochures, and the maps. You spend weeks discussing every day. You book the accommodation and the tours. You buy extra outfits and gear and bags. You spend days packing and re-packing.

And it’s the anticipation of the holiday to come that keeps you going through the last few weeks of work.

The promise of SOMETHING GOOD TO COME is a powerful motivator. Unfortunately, the holiday often fails to measure up to the promise, doesn’t it?

Or cooking a wonderful meal. You see the perfect picture in the cookbook. You shop for all the supplies, you clean the kitchen in preparation. You carefully assemble your ingredients, putting everything into little glass bowls – like they do on the cooking shows.

You follow the recipe to the LETTER. You check and double-check your quantities, and your measurements. And as you work through each step, it all looks SO GOOD. It SMELLS so good. It TASTES….

The promise of SOMETHING GOOD TO COME is a powerful motivator. But it never seems to turn out as it does in the cookbooks, or taste as good as it smells.

And it was the PROMISE of SOMETHING GOOD TO COME which God gave his people Israel. Around the 8th or 9th century BC. Promises of a RESCUER. Promises of A KING. Who’d bring a NEW KINGDOM, with a NEW PEACE, and a NEW RELATIONSHIP with God.

They’re promises we remember at Christmas. Because at Christmas we celebrate God MAKING GOOD on all his promises. When he sent Jesus. God became man, and was born in a body. And the RESULT is EVERY BIT AS GOOD as the PROMISE.

Today we’re looking at the promised JOB DESCRIPTION of God’s rescuer. What would he DO?

Let’s pray before we start – that God would help us to understand the things he says to us through his word, the Bible.

PRAY!!

Peter Costello – the anointed one. John Howard’s second in charge.

And, if the opposition’s got it right, the one who’ll be Prime Minister SOONER rather than LATER. They reckon John Howard will retire in the next couple of years. And hand the job over to his Treasurer. His loyal deputy.

Do you remember Labor’s political advertising during the last election? The ads about Costello. Scratch and win cards. There was a picture of John Howard. With the question next to it. “Guess who will be Prime Minister if you vote in John Howard?”

And scratch off the covering. And underneath was a picture of Peter Costello.

Very clever advertising. Labour decided that Costello was a LIABILITY. Someone who’d LOSE votes for the Government, rather than WIN them.

They’d more or less conceded that John Howard had most people’s confidence, but they were betting on the fact that people would be SCARED at the thought of having Peter Costello as PM.

Unfortunately for Labor, the results showed Australian voters were MORE scared of MARK LATHAM running the country / than the CHANCE of Peter Costello.

But whatever your political views ARE/ the accepted wisdom is that some time in the next three years. John Howard will be calling a press conference. And as the cameras focus in on the little guy peering over the top of the microphones, there standing next to him will be his Treasurer. His moderately-loyal deputy. His successor. His ANOINTED ONE.

And John Howard’s speech will go something like this;

“It’s time for me to retire. Time for someone else to take over. I’ve worked with Peter Costello for many years. He has my COMPLETE CONFIDENCE. He will lead Australia, and the Liberal Party, from strength to strength. For many years to come. Well, at least to the next election”

At which point Peter will impatiently elbow John Howard out of the way, assume the mike, and give HIS ACCEPTANCE SPEECH.

The PRESENTATION. And the ACCEPTANCE SPEECH.

It’s a tough job being Prime Minister. And one where you’d want to be 100% confident with the man you’re appointing.

But running the country is NOTHING/ compared with the job description God has in mind for HIS SERVANT. It’s a title that’s found in Isaiah – from Chapters 40-66 – the second half of the book.

And it’s a job that involves BRINGING IN GOD’S KINGDOM. A job that involves ruling over a NEW CREATION. With justice and strength and equity and peace. A kingdom FOR ALL NATIONS.

But at the time of Isaiah/ the job was nothing more than a DISTANT PROMISE. A bit like John Howard’s promise to retire and hand the reins over to Peter Costello.

We saw last week, from the FIRST CHAPTERS OF ISAIAH, how Israel had forgotten God. Chosen to live life WITHOUT him. And so he’d handed them over to foreign nations. To be attacked, and ransacked. And ultimately to be conquered and exiled.

But for all that/ the punishment was only PART of God’s plan. Because God’s GOAL was to bring his people back. To restore them. Not just to THE LAND. But also to a relationship with HIM.

And THAT part of the plan – the part to do with RESTORATION, AND RESCUE AND RELATIONSHIP, is where HIS SERVANT came in.

The Presentation (42:1-9)

And so we come to Ch 42. God’s talking. And what we see here is a kind of PRESENTATION. God presenting HIS CHOICE. His ANOINTED SERVANT. The one who would achieve HIS PURPOSES. Like John Howard presenting Peter Costello.

Who (1)

Look at it there in v1. God’s talking.

(Isa 42:1 NIV)  “HERE IS MY SERVANT, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.

This servant is someone who’ll come with GOD’S AUTHORITY. See, he’s upheld and strengthened by the presence of God’s Spirit himself?

And he’s no stop-gap measure – someone to make do with/ until a better option comes along. He’s God’s CHOICE. The one in whom he DELIGHTS. Got his complete confidence.

How (2-4)

That’s the WHO. What about the HOW? How will he do his job? V2.

(Isa 42:2-3 NIV)  He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. {3} A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

This is no tyrant. No head-kicker. He will do his job with GENTLENESS and COMPASSION.

It’s important when you feeling BRUISED AND FRAGILE that people treat you with KID GLOVES.

That was certainly the case with Israel. They’d really been through the wringer. And there was worse to come. More punishment and suffering at the hands of their enemies.

But God’s promise is that his servant will treat people with GENTLENESS.

That’s the point in the two images. {3} A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

Flimsy, fragile people – with barely the puff of life left in them. This close to death.

And there’s plenty of people like that out there. Who need someone to treat them with a bit of respect and compassion. People who’ve been deserted, abandoned. Sick people. Lonely people. Struggling people. Struggling with sickness, or guilt, or abandonment, or expectations.

But God’s servant won’t break bruised reeds like that. He won’t snuff out smouldering candles. Which is great news for us.

But it’s no good being gentle, if you’re not going to be JUST as well. See it there? At the end of v1?

and he will bring justice to the nations.

To be gentle to EVERYONE means you’re a DOORMAT, and people GET AWAY WITH THINGS.

Justice means being GENTLE with the broken reeds. But FIRM and UNCOMPROMISING with those who DESERVE IT – those who DAMAGE the reeds and smouldering wicks. Who abuse and mistreat and exploit and take advantage of.

Because justice towards THOSE PEOPLE is one part of being GENTLE to the broken reeds.

God’s servant is both gentle AND just. What a great combination!

What (5-9)

That’s the WHO and the HOW. The third question about the servant is WHAT. What does his job INVOLVE?

From v5, God’s attention turns to the servant himself. Rather than addressing HIS PEOPLE, God speaks to HIS SERVANT. Look from V6.

(Isa 42:6 NIV)  “I, the LORD, HAVE CALLED YOU in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be A COVENANT for the people and A LIGHT for the Gentiles,

God’s job description for his servant involves being A COVENANT, and A LIGHT.

A covenant’s just another word for a PROMISE, or a COMMITMENT. So God’s saying his servant will be the MEANS BY WHICH HE FULFILS, or KEEPS, his PROMISE to his people. His INSTRUMENT of rescue and restoration and renewal.

And that happens by being like a LIGHT. A BEACON. A source of direction and guidance and purity to the other nations.

And see how he’s going to DO THAT in the next verse. V7. He will

(Isa 42:7 NIV)  …open eyes that are blind, …free captives from prison and … release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

And there are plenty of people like THAT in the world. Not just in LITERAL prisons, but trapped by debt, or sickness, or moral choices, or guilt, or economic policy.

And BLIND people – many of whom don’t even KNOW it. Blind to God. Blind to ETERNITY and THINGS that LAST. Who only see the things of THIS world. Things that RUST, and PERISH.

People who are BLIND to CONSEQUENCES. Who can’t see how things they do TODAY affect what happens in the future.

These are the sorts of people God’s Servant has come to FREE. And RESTORE.

The Acceptance Speech (61:1-3)

It’s a pretty daunting Job Description. You wouldn’t hold it against someone if they didn’t take on a job like that. And yet, God’s servant takes it on WILLINGLY.

If you flip over to Ch 61. You can see the Servant’s ACCEPTANCE SPEECH.

And as you listen carefully, you can notice all the aspects of the JOB DESCRIPTION. Everything God wants his Servant to do, the servant will accomplish. Look at it there from v1.

(Isa 61:1-3 NIV)  The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, {2} to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, {3} and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair..

Look at the PEOPLE he’s come for. Bruised reeds and smouldering wicks. The poor, the broken-hearted, captives, prisoners. Freeing captives.

But he’s not about smashing down solid doors. Political revolution. His job involves WORDS. Bringing GOOD NEWS. Look at the verses again. He’s come to PREACH GOOD NEWS. To PROCLAIM FREEDOM, and down in v2, to PROCLAIM, and to COMFORT.

But who is it? Who IS this servant of God? There’s a hint in the first verse. “The LORD has ANOINTED me”. It’s the word for MESSIAH in Hebrew. Messiah means anointed one. And when that’s translated into Greek, it becomes CHRIST.

The Servant is God’s MESSIAH. His promised rescuer is his CHRIST.

But there’s a long time between MAKING the promise. And KEEPING the promise. More than 700 years in fact.

On the Job (Lk 4:14-30)

But just because that seems like a long time, doesn’t mean God’s FORGOTTEN. It’s time for his servant. He’s ON THE JOB.

In your minds, jump forward 700 years. And in your Bibles, about 200 pages. To Lk 2:25 (p725).

We’re still in Jerusalem. At THE TEMPLE to be specific. It was forty days after the FIRST CHRISTMAS. And, like happened most days, a month old baby was to be consecrated to God.

But this was no ORDINARY baby. I’ll let Luke take up the story. In v25.

(Luke 2:25-32 NIV)  Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. {26} It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s CHRIST. {27} Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, {28} Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: {29} “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. {30} For my eyes have seen your SALVATION, {31} which you have prepared in the sight of all people, {32} A LIGHT FOR REVELATION TO THE GENTILES and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon had been waiting for God to KEEP HIS PROMISE. And God finally DID. The Servant he’d promised. His Christ.

And Simeon could hardly believe his eyes. All that time. And finally. There in his arms – this helpless baby called Jesus/ was the ONE – the Christ.

And notice what Simeon says about him? Just what God promised through Isaiah. That he’d SAVE people – deliver them. And that he’d be A LIGHT TO THE GENTILES.

Lk 3:22

But he’s only a BABY. So there’s a bit more in store before God FULLY keeps his promises.

Jump forward another 30 years. Or turn over to the next page – which is probably easier. To Ch 3. And the baby’s become a man. And this man, Jesus, is baptised by John the Baptist. And as he comes up out of the water, two significant things happen. V22.

(Luke 3:22 NIV)  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.”

And both things should be familiar to those of us who’ve been expecting God’s SERVANT. Remember Isaiah 42? Listen again.

(Isa 42:1 NIV)  “Here is my servant, WHOM I UPHOLD, MY CHOSEN ONE IN WHOM I DELIGHT; I will put MY SPIRIT ON HIM and he will bring justice to the nations.

God’s declaration of DELIGHT and LOVE for his servant – his Messiah – his SON. And the validation of his authority with God’s Holy Spirit.

Simeon’s recognised Jesus. God’s recognised him. THIS MAN is God’s SERVANT. The one to rescue and restore broken and imprisoned and blind people.

Luke 4:14-30

And in the very next chapter, we see that Jesus HIMSELF recognises it. It’s his own ACCEPTANCE SPEECH.

He’s arrived home after a victorious tour. Miracles and healing. Exorcisms. Relieving suffering. Deliverance from all sorts of prisons. Comfort for all sorts of bruised reeds.

The news spreads like wildfire.

And he turns up at his hometown synagogue one Sabbath morning. And he’s invited to read the Bible. So he stands up, and they hand him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

So Jesus carefully rolls it up. Until he gets to… You guessed it – THE SERVANT’S ACCEPTANCE SPEECH. Ch 61. And he reads.

(Luke 4:18-21 NIV)  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, {19} to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” {20} Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, {21} and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Can you imagine it? “The Messiah Israel’s been waiting for/ for 700 years! He’s arrived! Right here in Nazareth!”

What great news!

And it’s great news for US TOO. It’s the good news of Christmas. Because Jesus’ job description was about preaching GOOD NEWS. News of prison doors opened. Blind people seeing. Sins that could be forgiven. News of a friendship restored with God.

News that involved SALVATION. A rescue that would culminate in God’s servant SUFFERING. Suffering DEATH on a cross. To take the punishment that our sins deserved. So that we could be forgiven.

There’s ONE OTHER passage in Isaiah that talks about God’s servant. It’s Ch 53. And it describes, not the victory and comfort and freedom. But the SUFFERING. The suffering of a servant whose SO OBEDIENT to his Master, that he’ll endure DEATH. Listen to how Isaiah described it. Is 53 v3.

(Isa 53:3-5 NIV)  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. {4} Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. {5} But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Jesus died in our place. It’s by MEANS of his OWN SUFFERING that Jesus brings salvation for his people. Rescue for ME and rescue for YOU. That’s the WAY he brings deliverance for prisoners. Freedom for captives. Sight to the blind.

The centre of all God’s promises for his people are that HE WILL BE THEIR GOD, and will DWELL with THEM. And that can only happen when we’re FORGIVEN.

And once you’ve been forgiven/ then REAL LIFE begins. Life with Jesus in charge. Life with purpose and joy and meaning and a future.

So whatever prison you’re in/ rescue BEGINS with forgiveness. And forgiveness only comes through God’s Servant – his Messiah, His SON – Jesus.

The answer to God’s promises. Promises we remember at Christmas. So, this Christmas, thank God for his promises. Thank God for his Servant. Thank God for HIS FORGIVENESS.

They’re a REALITY that are EVERY BIT AS GOOD as the PROMISES.

Luke 1:26-56 Nothing’s Impossible

Nothing’s impossible for God! And David Livingstone proved it his whole life.

He was born into a working-class Christian family in Blantyre, Scotland in 1813. He lived in a one room house, and from the age of ten, he worked a four -hour day in the cotton mill. And it was only after work / that he’d learn to read and write.

At the age of twenty, a strong Christian, he read about the need for medical missionaries in China. And because nothing’s impossible with God, he decided to train to be a doctor.

In 1838, he’d finished medical and theological studies. And was accepted as a missionary by the London Missionary Society. But their were problems in China. The door was closed because of the first Opium War there.

But because nothing’s impossible with God, another door opened. He volunteered for service in southern Africa, instead.

He started there in 1841, but it wasn’t long before he decided to move further into Africa. Looking for unreached people. He worked for the next ten years with the Tswana people, and saw only one convert, the village chief.

But nothing’s impossible with God, and Livingstone’s attention moved to areas further north – where there was little influence from white men at all.

He wanted to open up trade routes as opportunities for the gospel. And he pushed through central Africa all the way to the Atlantic ocean on the North West coast. He got there in May 1854. But he wasn’t really satisfied, so he re-traced his steps. And then followed the Zambezi river all the way to the Indian ocean. It was a phenomenal feat. He was a hero when he got back to England.

He spent the rest of his life opening up Africa to Christianity. Often years would pass without anyone in England knowing where he was. The most famous search party was led by the journalist H. M. Stanley/ who, once he’d found him/ came up with the line “Dr Livingstone I presume”.

And while he was a flawed man, with many rough edges to his personality, he was passionate for the gospel. His desire was to EXPAND missionary work, not just consolidate. And what’s resulted/ is that churches in these areas of Africa/ are some of the strongest in the world.

The church in Africa owes a big debt to David Livingstone. Because he believed that NOTHING WAS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.

An ordinary man, who trusted in an extraordinary God.

Perhaps you’re not convinced that God can use someone like you. Perhaps you’re not even sure he’s INTERESTED in people as ordinary, or insignificant as you.

But the amazing thing about God is that he loves to use the insignificant people. They’re the ones he can’t WAIT to show his power through. He loves to turn the expectation of the world on its head.

“You think you need money? I’ll show you!” he says.

“You think you need influence, or university degrees, or possessions, or connections? I’ll show you! Because nothing’s impossible with me”

That’s the message here in Luke, too!

Israel under Roman rule? Nothing’s impossible with God!

An old barren want a baby? Nothing’s impossible with God!

A young virgin will conceive a child who will be the Saviour of the world? Nothing’s impossible with God!

And just like Mary, that’s a good reason to celebrate. To praise the God of the Impossible.

Nothing’s impossible – God favours insignificant people (26-31)

Last week we looked at the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Now we pick up the story six months later. Six months after John’s conceived. Verse 26. Gabriel’s had a break. But now God’s got another job for him to do. His first message was to Zechariah in the middle of Jerusalem. In the middle of the temple. But now he’s got to go to Nazareth. Up in Galilee.

And he’s not going to an upright, respected priest either. It’s a message for a young – probably no older than 14. No prestige, no honour, nothing much significant about her at all.

Her ancestors are nothing to right home about. They’re not even mentioned. In fact her only claim to fame is that she’s been promised in marriage to a guy called Joseph. And he’s a descendant of King David.

So perhaps we don’t expect Gabriel’s message to be very important by comparison. But we’re in for a shock, because Mary’s JUST THE SORT of person God’s interested in. God favours insignificant people. And nothing’s impossible with God.

Look at what Gabriel says. Verse 28.

(Luke 1:28 NIV)  “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

The word for “Greetings” is literally “Rejoice!”.

Why rejoice? Because Mary is HIGHLY FAVOURED of God. Out of all the people in Israel, God has decided to shower HER with his good gifts.

The message/ is that God will be WITH Mary in a special way.

Perhaps this is all a bit much to take in, because Mary isn’t instantly jumping for joy. Verse 29.

(Luke 1:29 NIV)  Mary was greatly TROUBLED at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

It’s a bit like Stuart Macgill (recently retired from cricket). I heard a story that when he was first picked in the Australian cricket team, a reporter rang to tell him. Hoping to get an inside story.

But Stuart wouldn’t believe him. He thought it was one of his mates playing a joke. He took some convincing. SUCH GOOD NEWS WAS COMPLETELY UNEXPECTED.

And Mary isn’t too sure how to take HER news either. Because it’s even MORE unexpected. I mean, she’s hardly the most OBVIOUS choice to be on the receiving end of God’s good gifts. But Gabriel reassures her. Yes, it’s really true. It’s YOU that God’s interested in. Verse 30.

(Luke 1:30 NIV)  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, YOU have found favor with God.

Time and again the story of the Bible / is that God’s way is to pick the LEAST obvious choices. He loves to work with the insignificant, the undeserving, the left-out and the passed-over. Because they’re the ones who seem BEST able to TRUST him. And so he can USE THEM.

Which is good news for US. He doesn’t choose us because we DESERVE it. Because we’re measure-up. Because you’re special, or famous, or talented. You’re here only because God has CHOSEN you. And because he wants to work with INSIGNIFICANT PEOPLE.

Nothing’s Impossible – The greatest King ever (31-33)

But back to Mary. Because now Gabriel gets onto the meat of the message. If the FIRST PART’S been hard to take, just wait until he gets to this bit! The bit that seems REALLY impossible. Verse 31.

(Luke 1:31 NIV)  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.

Okay… That’s not too hard to cope with.. It’s a fair bet that some day I’ll have children. Nothing too out of the ordinary here. Not a bad name either … Jesus … or Y’shua in Hebrew – “the LORD saves”.

But Gabriel goes on. This is no normal baby. He’ll be the greatest king EVER. Verse 32

(Luke 1:32-33 NIV)  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, {33} and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Not just a son of Mary, but the Son of the MOST HIGH. GOD’S son. Gabriel had said JOHN was going to be great. But this is a WHOLE EXTRA DIMENSION on great.

He’s going to be the king on David’s throne. David was the pinnacle of Israel’s history. The best king there ever was. And Jesus will be a king like that! But while David was only king for forty years, Gabriel’s promising that Jesus will reign FOREVER. His kingdom will NEVER end.

Nothing’s impossible – A virgin conceives (34-45)

Who would have thought that such a mighty man would come from such humble beginnings? Certainly not Mary. She can’t quite follow the process. Verse 34. “How can this be. Since I am a virgin?” Young, no privilege, no connections, no money. No famous ancestors.

“Why me?” There’s nothing significant about me! I’m just a virgin!” How’s the world’s greatest king going to come from an insignificant young ?

But that’s the amazing thing about the way God works! Nothing’s impossible with him. He can even make a virgin into a mother. Gabriel continues. Verse 35. Describing one of the most miraculous events in the Bible.

(Luke 1:35-37 NIV)  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. {36} Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. {37} For nothing is impossible with God.”

I can imagine Doctor Luke doing his research for this book. Interviewing Mary. “Tell me again, Mary. What did the angel say? Are you SURE? The power of the Most High will come upon you? And the child will be called the SON of God. That’s a good one. He literally WOULD be God’s Son, wouldn’t he.”

And my guess is/ Luke would take comfort in the very words that Gabriel said to comfort Mary. “You think this is hard to believe? Even old Elizabeth’s expecting! Six month’s pregnant! Remember nothing’s impossible with God!”

And Luke would go away from his meeting with Mary. Muttering to himself. Looking at his notes. “I’ve seen plenty of births. I know how it happens. Just remember. Nothing’s impossible with God. Nothing’s impossible with God.”

But Mary accepts the angel’s word. Verse 38. “I am the Lord’s servant”. (It’s literally, “Behold, the Lord’s slave”) “May it be to me as you have said” In other words, I’m prepared to go through with this. She trusted God’s word. Hard as it might be to believe.

And she SHOWED that trust by rushing off to visit Elizabeth. Maybe a hundred kilometres away. She wants to be part of her happiness. To share the good things God’s doing for BOTH of them. They’re BOTH having babies. Who would have thought?! An old woman, and a virgin! Look at v39

(Luke 1:39-40 NIV)  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.

But it wasn’t just Mary and Elizabeth who were excited. God was pretty excited too! He makes baby John jump around. And fills Elizabeth too. Verse 41.

(Luke 1:41 NIV)  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Even John was getting into the action. Back in v15 it said John would be filled with the Holy Spirit EVEN FROM HIS MOTHER’S WOMB. It’s God’s Holy Spirit who’s getting excited about Jesus’ arrival! His plans are starting to unfold! He’s making John do somersaults. Because he’s heard Mary’s voice. The one who’s carrying Jesus.

Jesus was the One God had planned from the beginning. The One he was pleased in. God loves his Son. He gets a kick out of seeing him doing what he was destined for. And the greatest plan in history is now at stage two. And God loves it!

Elizabeth too. Elizabeth just gushes. How good God is! Verse 42.

(Luke 1:42-45 NIV)  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 FAVORED, 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 what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

Believe in the God who can do the impossible! That’s Elizabeth’s message. “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

Nothing’s impossible – Praise God! (46-56)

And Mary joins in. Nothing’s impossible – Praise God! Verse 46.

(Luke 1:46-47 NIV)  And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord {47} and my spirit REJOICES in God my Savior,

Why? Verse 48.

(Luke 1:48-49 NIV)  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, {49} for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.

True praise of God. Real joy and thanks. Always comes from understanding WHO GOD IS. And WHAT HE’S DONE.

“Look what he’s done. He’s done great things for me. Little old insignificant me.”

“But not just for me. He’s done great things for insignificant people all the way through history. He’s turned the way the world sees things on its head. Look at v50.

(Luke 1:50-55 NIV)  His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. {51} He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. {52} He has BROUGHT DOWN RULERS from their thrones BUT HAS LIFTED UP THE HUMBLE. {53} He has FILLED THE HUNGRY with good things but has SENT THE RICH AWAY EMPTY. {54} He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful {55} to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”

And this upside-down work of God is one of the big themes in the book of Luke. It’s the way JESUS did things. Jesus loves the outsiders of society. The rejects. The least, the lost and the last.

Women, children, lepers, tax collectors, s.

And it’s this upside-down way of doing things that we celebrate at Christmas. Who would have thought that the way to bring victory. To defeat the enormous power of sin and . To deal with the broken relationship between God and man. Would have come by ETERNAL GOD BECOMING FINITE MAN.

Getting right down into the muck and mess of this world!? Involving himself with an insignificant young virgin in a dusty corner of a tiny country?

Who would have thought that THAT’S THE WAY God would work out the most significant event in history!

But praise God he did! Praise God that he uses insignificant people like you and me! Like Mary and Elizabeth! Praise God that nothing’s impossible with Him.

And this Christmas time, let’s wonder afresh at the greatest gift of all. Jesus, the eternal, infinite Son of God, who put off his rights and power, and took on human flesh, with all its weakness and sickness and brokenness. So that he could WIN us to himself.

And let’s give OURSELVES. In grateful and humble service of our servant king. Let’s follow his example, and give ourselves to those who DON’T deserve it. To those who need the gift of Jesus.

Let’s offer ourselves, like Mary, to the God who uses insignificant people to achieve his incredible purposes. “Behold, I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said!”

Luke 1:26-56: Keeping a Promise

“I PROMISE I’ll be back to pick you up!”  So said Jenny Campbell to her three year old Liam.  She’d just dropped him off at the Roundhouse Childcare Centre at Fairlight on Monday this week.   Jenny KEPT her promise to Liam. But not quite the way she thought. She actually picked him up from HOSPITAL rather than from Childcare.

And rather than coming home with some paintings, and cutting-out, and an empty lunchbox. He came home with some cuts and bruises, and a bandage around a minor head injury.

It all happened when a car careered out of control, travelled across a busy intersection. And ploughed straight into the preschool, bursting into flames.

Liam was sleeping at the time, and was trapped underneath the car.

And even though his mother wasn’t there to rescue him. There were plenty of bystanders who rushed to the scene. And LIFTED the burning car OFF Liam before it could do too much damage.

Liam was rescued. And his mother kept her promise. Although it didn’t turn out quite like she expected.

And that’s often the way it is when WE promise something. We never know what’s around the corner – something that could upset our plans, and stop us from keeping our promise.

But the message of Christmas. The message of these verses from the Bible. Is that GOD keeps his promises, and he rescues us TOO. And he’s a lot more dependable than US. Much more able to keep his promises.

Although if you looked at the way the world is/ you mightn’t think so.

It’s one of the most common problems people have with believing in God. Or at least believing in the God OF THE BIBLE. A God who’s INVOLVED with the world. Who’s POWERFUL. And who LOVES us.

Because people look at the way the world is. The pain. The suffering. The injustice. And they say, “If God’s really there, why doesn’t he DO SOMETHING?”

(slide 5) You see, Liam was one of the lucky ones. Two s, sleeping next to him, are still in hospital in a critical condition. One with burns to 50% of her body, the other with 70%.

And people say, “Where was God when THAT happened?” Why doesn’t he protect the children? Control the car. Stop it catching alight.

Or looking a little wider. Why doesn’t he STOP THE WARS? Why doesn’t he HEAL the CANCERS? Bring the bad guys to justice? Prevent the earthquakes and famines and floods and bushfires.

And it’s a really difficult question. And I don’t have the whole answer.

But I do know SOMETHING. It’s not because he isn’t INTERESTED. Or isn’t POWERFUL ENOUGH.

Because the Bible is FULL of descriptions of times when God DID involve himself in human history. When he DID answer prayer. When he DID rescue, or bring JUSTICE, or PROTECT, or HEAL.

And I know it’s true in MY life. Dozens of times when I’ve seen God ACT. Int into my life, and the lives of people I know. To protect, and guide, and help. Not always in miraculous ways – but he’s acting none the less.

Although in the time of Mary (slide 6), these types of miraculous acts had been pretty few and far between. For about 400 years God had been SILENT. No prophets. No heroes. No judges. No kings. No messages.

And during this time, Israel was pushed around like a tiny school-kid. First by one playground bully, and then by the next. Powerful nations forced them to pay tribute. Controlled their economies, and their government. Restricted their freedom.

First up it was Persia (slide 7). Then Alexander the Great came on the scene. And Greece became the top of the heap. And a of hundred years later, Rome was in the ascendency.

And with each new super power, Israel hoped that their fortunes would change. That THIS would be the new broom to sweep out the old regime. A fresh wind to blow in change.

That THIS TIME, God would hear their prayers. And save his people. Restore the balance. Bring justice to the oppressed.

Because he’d PROMISED to do it. The prophets looked forward to a time when God WOULD return. Return to save. He promised to send a KING. A rescuer. Who would set things to right.

“I promise. I’ll be back”.

Promises like in Isaiah 60 (slide 8)

14 The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet …15 “Although you have been forsaken and d, I WILL MAKE YOU the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations. … Then you will know that I, THE LORD, AM YOUR SAVIOR, YOUR REDEEMER, THE MIGHTY ONE OF JACOB. 17 Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. .. I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler. 18 No longer will be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. 19 The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.

What wonderful promises to look forward to!

But each decade came and went. One generation succeeded another. And still the oppressors ruled. Still God was silent. Still God was absent.

Until one day, when an angel appeared to a young called Mary (slide 9). And she lived in a little country town called Nazareth. Away up in the north of Israel. In the middle of nowhere.

And the angel had a message. Look at it there in v28 (slide 9b). “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is WITH YOU”

Not your everyday singing telegram!

God’s been silent for 400 years. And when he DOES choose to send a message, it doesn’t come to a KING, or a PROPHET. It doesn’t come to a WARRIOR.

It comes to a young . A no-one. From nowhere.

And the message begins. That this nobody. Is HIGHLY-FAVOURED by God. And that God is WITH her. Extraordinary!

But if Mary’s a bit confused by THE GREETING. That’s NOTHING compared to the rest of the message. Because the angel continues. V31 (slide 10)

31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

They’re familiar words, especially at this time of year. And they tend to wash over us. And so we lose something of what an extraordinary announcement it was.

Was there ever a more momentous message delivered in such a small number of words? Finally, God was going to act. Int into history. And rescue his people. Restore them. And bring in a new kingdom. With a new king. Who would reign FOREVER!

And it’s this king who’ll bring in all the blessings he’s promised. All the promises he’s made through the prophets down through the ages.

And yet, while WE concentrate on the second part of message. Perhaps understandably, Mary’s more interested in the FIRST part – “You will BE WITH CHILD”. Look at v34. (slide 11)

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s the BEING with CHILD that’s got her stumped! It’s like she hasn’t even HEARD the rest of the announcement.

She might be YOUNG, and she might only be ENGAGED. But she DOES know where BABIES come from. And it DOESN’T happen on its own. Without a husband!

But the angel’s got an answer for that. God’s Holy Spirit will OVERSHADOW her. And a virgin, who’d never been with a man, would MIRACULOUSLY have an embryo growing inside her.

And the angel concludes. V 37. Just in case Mary starts to doubt. “For nothing is impossible with God”. (slide 11b)

Nothing is impossible with God!

That’s the answer to people who say “Why doesn’t God DO something?” They think he’s not ABLE to. Doesn’t have enough POWER. But the angel says it straight. Nothing is impossible with God! He CAN cure that cancer. He CAN bring peace in that war. Protect that child. End that drought.

And he IS doing it. Everyday! Sometimes it’s miraculous. Other times it doesn’t SEEM to be. It just seems like LUCK, or MEDICINE, or SURGERY, or other people’s generosity.

But it’s still God who’s behind it all!

But what about people’s OTHER complaint? They think he’s not INTERESTED. Too pre-occupied.

And yet the angel’s saying that God’s HEARD the cries of his people. He’s fulfilling his promise.

It’s just that he’s working to HIS timetable, and not theirs. 400 years, not 40, or 4.

And often that’s our problem. We’ll believe in him, as long as he does things OUR WAY.

We want God to be like our own personal genie. Just rub the lamp, and a parking spot will appear. Rub the lamp, and the job will materialise, the knee will mend, the storm will stop.

And yet, God is SO MUCH BIGGER than that! And his wisdom, and vision, are so much greater than ours!

That’s something the angel’s message makes clear.

But what ABOUT those claims? If you think about it, the angel’s made some pretty extraordinary statements. Look at them again with me. (slide 12)

His name will be JESUS. It’s the same name as JOSHUA. Which means God SAVES. God’s about to ACT, and he’s going to DO IT through Jesus.

(slide 12b) And he will be GREAT. SO great, he’ll be called God’s SON.

(slide 12c) And what’s more, God will give him the throne of his father David. The greatest king there ever was. And yet, Jesus is going to go one better than his ancestor. Because HIS reign will NEVER END. An ETERNAL kingdom.

It would have taken a real leap of faith to believe what the angel said. And yet that’s what Mary did. V38. (slide 13)

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

Bring it on! She says. Who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want God intruding into life? Hearing your prayers? Sending a Saviour?

When all around you / people are saying God’s nowhere to be found. Then he says he’s going to step into your world. And rescue you. Who WOULDN’T jump at the chance.

What do YOU say to an offer like that?

Well, look at what Mary does. Down in v46, she’s SO pleased, she breaks into song. (slide 14)

46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

No wonder she’s singing. With all the stuff Israel’s been through, she’s looking forward to God bringing in some justice, restoring the balance.

Look at what she says about God. About how he flips things on their head. V52 (slide 15)

52 He has brought DOWN / rulers from their thrones but has LIFTED UP / the HUMBLE. 53 He has FILLED the HUNGRY with good things but has sent the RICH away EMPTY.

And why has he done it? Because that’s what he’s promised. He’s KEEPING A PROMISE. Look at the next verse. (slide 15b)

54 He has helped his servant Israel, REMEMBERING to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, EVEN AS HE SAID to our fathers.”

And yet, even though Mary’s looking FORWARD to what God will do through Jesus. Notice that she’s actually LOOKING BACK. Looking back in history to what God’s ALREADY DONE. “He HAS performed mighty deeds with his arm. He HAS scattered… and so on”

It’s God’s actions in the PAST which give her the confidence that he will act IN THE FUTURE.

And it’s the same with us. It’s the fact of God stepping into history that first Christmas. Hearing the prayers of his people. Sending a Saviour. That gives us confidence that he’ll do it TODAY. Hear OUR prayers. Change OUR situations.

And we NEED that confidence. Because things obviously still AREN’T perfect. That at the Childcare Centre is proof of that. Perhaps there are things in your OWN life that make you wonder whether God’s really involved.

And yet the message of Christmas is that God DOES care. For Mary and Israel. But also for YOU. He cares SO MUCH he sent his only Son to die a cruel and painful .

He s the mess the world’s in MORE than you. He’s PROVED it.

(slow down) And the good news for US / is that one day God will say “Enough’s enough!” I’ve HAD it. I can’t STAND the pain anymore. I can’t BEAR what people are doing to each other. What they have to put up with”.

And when that day comes, he’ll bring the world to a close. Finish it all up. And set things to right.

I’ve said that’s GOOD news. Well, it’s good news AND it’s bad news. Justice is ALWAYS good news AND bad news.

It’s bad news for the guilty. But good news for the innocent.

And when God’s justice comes. It will be bad news for the powerful who exploit. But good news for the humble. Bad news for the greedy rich. But good news for the hungry.

He sent Jesus the BABY to BEGIN the rescue mission. And he’ll send Jesus the JUDGE to finish it all up.

(slow) And the way you treat Jesus determines whether that day will be GOOD NEWS for you. Or BAD NEWS.

Ignore Jesus NOW, and he’ll ignore you THEN. Follow Jesus, obey him, live for him NOW, and he’ll welcome you THEN.

And just like Mary, that’s something worth SINGING about.

Luke

Luke 1:26-56: There’s Something About Mary

“There’s Something about Mary!” It’s the name of a movie starring Cameron Diaz. She’s so popular, she’s got four guys vying for her affections.

But the Mary in today’s Bible verses is popular for a DIFFERENT reason. Humanly speaking, she was nothing special. Perhaps as young as 13. Living in a dusty little town in Israel. Nothing special that is, until one day something amazing happened to her. Lk 1:26

26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Highly favoured by GOD. For no reason other than his GRACE. He’s including Mary in his plans. Promising to be WITH her.

And Mary HERSELF seems to find it all a little hard to believe. V29

Mary was GREATLY TROUBLED at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

It’s hard to see anything greatly TROUBLING, isn’t it? Highly favoured by God? The Lord is with you? But maybe it was just the UNEXPECTED RE of the visit. After all, it’s not everyday the angel Gabriel comes to visit!

Do you ever find it hard to know how to take someone saying something nice? Like “I’ve heard you’re good at sewing” Which you quickly expect to be followed by “Could you help me make some curtains?”

Or for me, when someone says “That’s the best sermon I’ve heard you preach in ages”, my first thought is …“Have the other ones been really bad?”

But, whatever the reason for Mary’s fear, the angel CALMS it.

“DO NOT BE AFRAID, Mary, you have found favor with God.

Then he continues. As if the visit of the ANGEL isn’t enough of a surprise for one day. He’s got some news that’ll REALLY make her head spin. Incredible news!

31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be GREAT and will be called the SON OF THE MOST HIGH. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

We all hope our kids will grow up to MAKE something of themselves. But these claims are just STAGGERING.

Two of the great names in the history of Israel. JACOB, whose name God CHANGED to Israel – the Father of the whole nation. And DAVID – Israel’s greatest King.

And Jesus will surpass both of them! Reign over Jacob’s house FOREVER. And sit on King David’s throne.

And these aren’t just promises pulled out of the air. They’re the answer to promises God made centuries earlier. He’d promised King David there’d always be one of his descendants on his throne after him. Yet, in Mary’s time, that didn’t look very likely. And HADN’T been for hundreds of years. And yet God was promising that Jesus would be it!

And it was more than just a promise about an EARTHLY kingdom. God’s promise was that Jesus would be AN ETERNAL king. Who’d rule over Israel FOREVER.

And, in some way the angel doesn’t explain, he’d be called Son of the MOST HIGH. The exalted Son of the most exalted God! Part of the family of God himself! Descended not just from ROYALTY, but from DEITY.

All this from little Mary! As if the angel appearing wasn’t enough to shake her.

And yet, for all the staggering claims, there’s one nagging detail that’s troubling Mary more than ANY of them. V34.

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

Forget the mechanisms of kingship and politics and power. Forget how a human can be a Son of God. Mary’s more concerned with the mechanisms of marriage and conception. Of pregnancy and childbirth.

And it’s here we get one of the most perplexing answers to a question ever given. My kids sometimes ask me a question, and I’m so keen to answer it fully and accurately and completely. I get a bit carried away with the detail. And I don’t notice the kids eyes starting to glaze over. And a few minutes into the answer, they’ll say, “It’s ok Dad, I wasn’t THAT interested!”

And the angel gives Mary an answer that must be even MORE difficult to get her head around. V35.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the SON of God.

And then, to prove his point, Gabriel continues

36 Even ELIZABETH your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”

“Nothing’s impossible with God” Enough said. It’s an explanation that probably sounds completely normal to Gabriel. After all, he was there when God spoke the Universe into being. Mountains, oceans, forests. The sun and moon. Stars, galaxies, constellations. He was there when God breathed his breath into Adam and Eve and they LIVED.

So why should it seem strange that the power of the Most high would overshadow Mary and she’d be pregnant?

Not strange for GABIREL, but it’s an answer people ever SINCE have struggled to get their heads around. Even to the extent of plenty of people who say they’re Christians who say “It’s just a MYTH. That it didn’t HAPPEN like that. It’s a fairy tale designed to emphasise how SPECIAL Jesus was. How close to God. But of course, he couldn’t REALLY be conceived by the Holy Spirit overshadowing her.”

Listen to what ONE commentator says, William Barclay says. I’m embarrassed to say he’s a Scottish Presbyterian.

It may well be that the New Testament stories of the Birth of Jesus are lovely, poetical ways of saying that, even if He had a human father, the Holy Spirit of God was operative in His Birth in the most unique and special way. In this matter we may make our own decision. It may be that we will desire to cling to the literal doctrine of the Virgin Birth; it may be that we will prefer to think of it as a beautiful way of stressing the presence of the Spirit of God in family life

He’s very clever in the way he words it. He doesn’t exactly say he DOESN’T BELIEVE it. I think it’s pretty clear he DOESN’T. What he DOES say is/ it doesn’t MATTER if you believe it or not. Which isn’t really any better.

DOES it matter whether Jesus was born of a virgin, without human intervention? It’s CRUCIAL!

Jesus is ONLY the Son of the Most High / if he is conceived through God. He is ONLY able to be the ONE PERFECT HUMAN if he is ALSO fully God. He is ONLY able to stand as the MEDIATOR between God and Man if he is ALSO both God and man.

Of COURSE it matters.

It’s too hard to believe for William Barclay and others. But the explanation’s good enough for Mary. V38.

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

And sure enough, within a few months, Mary’s expecting.

Mary’s Song

And by then, it seems like Mary’s begun to get her head around the idea. She’s OVERJOYED at how good God is. And she sings a song. There from v46.

It’s a song that, in MY Bible, goes by the imaginative title of “Mary’s Song”, but it’s traditionally been called “The Magnificat”. The source of religious music in the church for centuries.

Looking Up

First, she looks UP. She says some incredible things about what God’s like. V46.

“My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

And then in v49

49 for the MIGHTY One has done great things for me- HOLY is his name.

For Mary, God isn’t just some distant, national God. He’s HER Saviour. He’s the MIGHTY ONE whose done great things FOR HER.

And his name is HOLY. He’s Pure, separate, perfect. And at the same time dependable, trustworthy and faithful. He’s worth singing about.

Looking Down

And while Mary’s looking UP, what she rejoices in MOST about God/ is that he’s looking DOWN. He IS mighty and holy. But he also NOTICES those who AREN’T. See there in v48?

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

She’s mainly thinking about herself – that God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. But she goes on to say that’s the NORMAL WAY God DOES things in the world. She says in v49

“the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name. His mercy EXTENDS to THOSE WHO FEAR HIM from GENERATION TO GENERATION”.

To FEAR God / means to recognise his authority, and to give him the RESPECT he deserves. And THOSE are the people Mary says God shows mercy to. It’s the way he’s ALWAYS worked. From generation to generation.

Fearing God. It’s not something you hear too much about these days. Plenty of IGNORING him, or using his name as a swear word. Or treating him as if he doesn’t exist, except when you’re in an emergency, and you promise that if he just gets you out of THIS mess, THEN you’ll show him some respect.

But Mary says God shows mercy to those people whose CHARACTERISTIC WAY OF LIVING is to show him the respect and honour he deserves.

Turning Around

And then she shows WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE. HOW God shows mercy. It’s about God TURNING things AROUND. V51

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are PROUD in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down RULERS from their thrones, but has lifted up the HUMBLE. He has filled the HUNGRY with good things, but has sent the RICH away empty.”

God shows MERCY and JUSTICE by turning things around. Making wrongs right.

It’s a very WESTERN SUBURBS sort of celebration. Very left wing, working class, Labor Party. We’re used to being overlooked. Used to missing out. Health care, or welfare, or transport, or education. Whatever it might be.

But listen to Mary. Those who are HUMANLY in charge mightn’t notice. But GOD DOES. Which is great news for those of us suffering under some sort of burden this Christmas. It might be financial pressure, or emotional pressure. It might be concerns about health or family.

But look to God in HUMILITY AND HONOUR. Make him the CENTRE of your life. And he’ll NOTICE you. Show you mercy and justice. And turn things around for you. That’s Mary’s message.

That’s Mary! what about me?

You might hear that, and think “That’s fine for MARY. She had an ANGEL visit HER. She had God’s Spirit visit her. And give her promises. She gave birth to the Saviour of the World. Of COURSE she knows God looks after HER.

But what about ME? God seems to have overlooked what I’M going through.”

But Mary says all of this, not just because SHE’S having a special baby. But because of WHO THAT BABY IS. And WHAT GOD’S plans are for him.

This baby is the One who SHOWS that God notices the humble. This baby Jesus was GOD wrapped in skin and bones. God, who left heaven, and was born into the most humble situation.

Not into a palace. Or a sterile hospital ward.

Not surrounded by the wealthy and important. But by animals and shepherds.

Not born at the centre of civilisation. In a great city. But in a dusty outpost of a town in a backwater nation in a farflung corner of the Roman Empire.

This baby Mary gave birth to/ is the Jesus who grew up, but who never married, never owned anything – never had more than a change of clothes.

This Jesus would be arrested, rejected by all his friends, abused, then ed for a crime he didn’t commit.

This Jesus showed that God didn’t just NOTICE the humble, he became LIKE THEM, so they might be lifted up. To RESTORE those who looked to God. Dying in our place to save us from God’s judgment.

And so, because he obediently went to according to his Father’s plan. couldn’t hold him. God raised him from the , and restored him to his throne in heaven. That’s where he is NOW, and where he NOTICES you and I. Where he CONTINUES to hear those who look to him. To the humble and the poor and the hungry.

And in case you DOUBT that, just remember the events of Christmas. Remember Mary, and her song, and what SHE learned about God. And WORSHIP the God who sent Jesus. Who noticed YOU. Your humble state, and sent a Saviour, keeping his promise. Whose lifted you up, restored you.

Sing with Mary, “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.