Posts Tagged ‘advent’

The passage today is 1 John 4.7-16.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

God shows his love not just with words or gifts or power, but by coming into the world, sacrificing himself for us. It’s such a good reminder that the primary thing we have to offer the world is ourselves, poured out in love. A readiness to sacrifice for the sake of another – this is real love.

Jesus came that we might live through him. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10.10) Where does this life come from? 1 John 4 v.12: God lives in us; v.13: We live in him and he in us; v.15: God lives in him and he in us; v.16: Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. This abundant, eternal life comes from God, out of our shared life in Christ – this ‘mutual indwelling’. He in us and us in him. In Christ humanity is irrevocably entangled with the divine. What an amazing thing to get our heads round!


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We’re into our final Gospel today with John 1:1-18, which is known as the Prologue to John’s Gospel.

So many of the themes we’ve already looked at are found in these verses, but at the same time this is very different to the Old Testament passages we’ve seen. These verses acknowledge Christ’s deity explicitly – he is the eternal Word made flesh and dwelling among us. “All things came into being through him“. The source of life and the true light, born into darkness, unrecognised and unacknowledged. I’ve read these verses many times, but on this reading it’s this verse that hits me:

He came to his own people, and even they did not receive him. (v.11)

It’s such a sad statement. Here was the very glory of God come into the world, the world which was made through him – and his own chosen and beloved people, his “treasured possession” (Deut 7.6) did not recognise him or want him. What terrible rejection.

But to anyone and everyone who did receive him, he gave the right to become children of God. When we welcomed Jesus we were given the right to be part of a new family, part of God’s own people.  What a wonderful privilege! So many of the Old Testament promises were made to the people of Israel, long before we were ever on the scene. But now we have been given the right to be part of God’s family- “grafted in” as Paul says (Romans 11) – and therefore we have now become inheritors of all the promises to Israel!

“… remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2.12-13)

“From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.” (John 1.16)

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We’re back in Matthew’s Gospel today with Matthew 2:13-18, catching up the story after the Magi have left and returned to their own country. Joseph is warned in a dream that Herod is after him and leaves immediately for Egypt. It seems that Jesus must have been just under 2 years old at this point, for Herod then orders all the children in Bethlehem under 2 to be killed. A terrible day indeed.

Herod is so desperate to stamp out any threat to his reign, that he will even kill tiny babies! So often those in power act only out of fear of losing that power. The fear consumes them to the point that they are willing to do anything to maintain their position. We see this on a large scale in so many countries around the world, and too often we also see this on a smaller scale in our workplaces, communities, and even churches. The petty power struggles, the desperate manipulation of people and situations to maintain status and influence, the attacks on others that bolster our own esteem… The net result is fear, distrust, abuse, pain, destruction… and for what? No earthly power lasts, no amount of worldly status is worth anything in the end. Herod massacres the children, but is very soon dead himself.

The only character in this story with real power, doesn’t cling to it, but humbles himself, laying down his life…

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil 2.5-8)

I liked Greg Boyd’s reminder in this clip that the way God shows his power is very unusual, and in the same way we also are called to be an unusual people…

(The rest of this sermon can be found here)

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Today we’re skipping away from the Gospels to read 1 John 1:1-7, John’s excited introduction to his letter.

We saw and heard and touched him – it really happened! “The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us” says the Message version. The words of this introduction echo so closely the prologue to John’s Gospel, which we’ll get to in a couple of days – God’s light and life coming into the world in human flesh. Amazing!

Reading these words reminds me that while it’s easy to love the light, sometimes the darkness feels safer. We gaze from a distance, preferring to hide rather than risk being fully exposed. But real relationships only thrive in the light, where there is no hiddenness, no dark corners, no holding back. We miss out on so much life when we avoid the light, when we hold back parts of ourselves out of fear. It can be a scary thing to allow the light of God to shine fully on our hearts and minds, but it’s the only way to real life and real fellowship with him. We cannot have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, says John. But if we walk in the light, with him, there’s true fellowship and forgiveness. Let’s commit, as we move into a new year, to stepping out bravely into the light with him.

The following lines, from a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins, are long favourites of mine:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

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All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him (Psalm 22.27)

Our passage on Boxing Day is Matthew 1.1-20 and the visit of the Magi. The ‘adoration of the Magi‘ is normally celebrated at the feast of Epiphany – traditionally on 6 January (ending the ‘twelve days of Christmas’) – but we’re getting to it a little earlier!

We’re used to seeing the three kings kneeling at the manger in our nativity scenes, and therefore we read this story very casually. We don’t notice what a stunning story it is to find at the beginning of Matthew, the most Jewish of the Gospels. Being astronomers or astrologers (we get our words ‘magic’ and ‘magician’ from the same word as ‘Magi’) from Persia or Arabia (modern day Iran/Iraq), the Magi are about as Gentile as you could be and, as Persians, not the natural friends of the Jews (nothing’s changed much there). Yet seeing the signs in the heavens, they have come all the way to Judea to worship the king of the Jews. What brings these foreigners to worship Jesus?

This is a moment foretold in countless Old Testament passages: the nations coming to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel (remember Micah 4?) Because Israel’s Messiah will be king of the whole earth! The Magi come bearing costly gifts, as is proper when paying homage to a king. They are just the  first fruits of the Gospel that will spread to all peoples.

Except for the shepherds, the people of Israel – God’s own people – are entirely ignorant of the amazing events happening within their midst, but the signs are there for those who are paying attention. Bethlehem is less than 5 miles south of Jerusalem, practically on the doorstep of the nation’s capital. The chief priests and teachers of the Law even know that Bethlehem is the place where the Messiah will arise (v.4-6) – but it takes strangers from another country to point out what’s happening. It’s such a good reminder that we can’t take it for granted that we who are ‘on the inside’, who have all the information about God, always have the full picture of what God is doing. We get complacent and stop paying attention to his moment-by-moment revelation. God is speaking and he will take anyone who’ll listen – whoever they may be.

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Happy Christmas!

No surprises today! Our passage is Luke 2.1-20, a text being read in church services up and down the country this morning.

I encourage you as you read or listen to these words, to try and imagine yourself as one of the characters in the story – try to hear it, or even feel it, from their perspective. Seek to enter into the story with the character, experiencing Christ along with them.

This type of Bible reading is a practice with a long history – it’s called Lectio Divina. It’s about meditating on the text, chewing on it, entering into it – it’s so much about understanding the words, as about experiencing Christ in the Word. Try it! Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you through this very familiar passage. Perhaps you’re one of the shepherds, visiting the baby – what do you say to Mary and Joseph? What do you say to Jesus? What do the Angel’s words mean to you?

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

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More from Mary today with the ‘Magnificat‘, Mary’s song when she meets Elizabeth in Luke 1.46-55. These verses constitute one of the most famous hymns in church history, and has been set to music by countless composers, including Vivaldi and Bach, Thomas Tallis and John Rutter. No wonder – it’s definitely a song worth singing!

This is a hymn of praise to a God who turns the world upside down and who keeps his promises to his people. What stands out about this song is how political it is – none of our standard Christmas themes are here! In some ways this feels like a thoroughly Old Testament hymn – it would fit quite happily alongside the passages we’ve been reading. It’s a song about justice, about God’s vindication of his people. He lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things. Amen!

Peter Leithart makes some interesting points on this topic in his blog on the difference between Advent and Christmas hymns:

“Listening to Christmas hymns… where is Abraham? Where is Israel? Where is exile and the fulfillment of Israel’s longings? It’s as if the whole history of Israel has been bypassed. It’s as if Jesus was born just outside Eden, immediately after Adam’s sin. … Biblical Christmas hymns are very, very different. They are explicitly rooted in the history of Abraham, Moses, David, exile, and the longing for return. They are overtly, even uncomfortably, political.”

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