Of Shepherds and Hope (Advent)

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[Artwork: www.nomorestoneheart.com Used with permission]

Read: Luke 2:8-20

[This short sermon is the first in our Advent series. May God in his goodness bless you richly as you worship Jesus the King this Christmas]

Hope: to cherish a desire with anticipation. That is, to nurse a longing for things to be different, very different, and have some sense that this will one day happen.

We speak of hope like we speak of a wish, a strong desire for something that cannot or probably will not happen. The hope of the Scriptures is quite different. It is a strong and robust thing. Meaty. Grounded. And full of substance.

These shepherds out in the field were not so much men of hope. They were men’s men. Gutsy. They slept rough. There was life and death under their fingernails. They had been born to shepherds. They lived as shepherds. They would die as shepherds. They were regarded as despised, dirty and deceitful. That’s just how it was, and how it would ever would be.

Children today are taught they can make something of themselves. Not these shepherds. Caught between the rock of  religious legalism and the hard place of social prejudice, they would never change.

In our generation hope is more common. Parents hope their children will learn well, work hard, and get on in life.

But do you sometimes hope for more? Not more possessions or more money,  but deeper. Do we still nurse that deeper hope? That life can change? That we can change, or be changed?

Do you ever think that our hope is too limited? That our gaze is set too low? That our hope, far from being courageous, is often limp and insipid.

What we need is conversion. A new mind. A new heart. A new hope.

The good news is that the Christmas Gospel is given by God to convert us to hope. Christmas points us to the better life we all desire, and also sense that it will come to pass. It’s what we sing: a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

That’s what we hope for. Because of Jesus we are hoping for a new world, a new city, for new people, for a new church, for new relationships.

This is the Gospel: that through Jesus God is bringing the world we anticipate to reality. And God says ‘In and through Jesus I will do this in you. I will make you into a new person!”

In Jesus God is is bringing a world where heaven and nature sing! How many times do we sing these words at Christmas without so much as a thought to the hope they profess?

Heaven is rejoicing, and nature – our world – is rejoicing. It’s like they’ve been brought back together. It’s like a new beginning, a new world. God is directing us to that world and saying ‘My Son has come to open up that reality for you.”

Luke 2:11 Jesus Christ, the Saviour, has been born to you. He is the Messiah. The Lord.

Sometimes we wonder what difference the birth of Jesus actually makes. We sing about the birth of Jesus – if we’re lucky – for five weeks of the year, and then often we go on living the pother 47 weeks as if nothing has happened. How does that work?

How can our hope in him stand in the face of all the world’s threats? Hope, when there’s atrocity in Paris one week, another in the Sinai Peninsula, then San Bernadino. Next week, will we still have hope? How can we hope in a world like this? How can the hope of Jesus really resonate in our hearts?

It is probably too easy to think that our age is the only age where atrocities are commonplace. History shows such things in every age. At every time. In every place.

History also shows how the victory of the Gospel of Christ transformed men and women, cities, nations and empires.

The hope that one day creation’s heavy groans will be replaced with a rejoicing universe is grounded in the reality that, because of the death, rising, reign and rule of Jesus.

Think about that manger. It’s a picture of poverty and weakness. A skerrick of life on the margins of humanity. But to that manger, God sent his son. And through his son, God transforms our weakness, drawing us out of the cold of sin’s winter into the glorious warmth of the Kingdom of God. Draws us out of spiritual hunger into Father’s glorious banquet.

The little child, surrounded by lambs and cattle, would one day be our sacrifice. His life for ours. As people of hope in Christ this the message we bear: this is what we get to carry, to live in our world: Hope in Christ does not disappoint.

God, through his grace in Christ, is giving new birth to a different people. As Christ rules people, the hope of all the earth is seen.

Let us embrace that hope, and carry it, gracious and unashamed, into our world. Let us sing about the King who has come to give us new life.

 

Christmas: ATime To Receive & Share the Good News

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Read Luke 2:8-20

Our fascination with Christmas time will often have its roots in our childhood memories. I have so many memories of childhood Christmases:

• Waking up at the crack of dawn, and often to my parents frustration, before, the crack of dawn to see what was under the tree

• The fragrance of the real pine Christmas tree, or the eucalypt one that sometimes took its place. The warmer it got, the better the aroma

• Christmas Dinner: it didn’t matter how hot it was, there’d be roast lamb, roast pork, roast chicken, fast vegetables, gravy, appelmoes.

• The desserts: Aunty Margaret’s Trifle was a culinary feat of architectural proportions. A layered affair of jelly, cake, custard and cream. Aunty Margaret had perfected her weapons grade custard to such an extent that it could repel any spoon. The cake layers had been immersed in enough sherry to the extent that it could send you over the blood alcohol limit (not that there was one back then). There was, of course, an adults trifle, and another for the kiddies.

When I think about those things, I have no trouble thinking that Christmas is the best time of year!

But wouldn’t it be odd if you would ask someone how their Christmas has been, that they would say “it’s been ordinary.” Ordinary food. Ordinary presents. Ordinary company. When we say something is ‘ordinary’, it is not a compliment.

Ordinary people

But consider this: The announcement of Jesus birth was made to shepherds. In that culture, shepherds were worse than ordinary. They were regarded as dumb, dirty, and dishonest.

Dumb: because they were uneducated. Dirty: because their constant handling of animals and all that entailed rendered them ceremonially unclean. Dishonest: because many shepherds had a healthy taste for mutton, and they tended to stow a few too many of the master’s jumbucks in their tucker bag.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night…” (Luke 2:8–9, NIV)

These are the people chosen to make the first announcement of the coming of the King. This is where God starts. God starts with ordinary people.

It makes sense: If Jesus’s coming was announced to academics, only a minority of the human species would be able to penetrate the metaphysical implications of the incarnation or comprehend the potential consequences for one’s Sitz im Leben.

Imagine if it were announced to politicians: they would take way too long to say it, and still not get to the point or answer any questions, and then they would tax you for the privilege of listening.

But God announced his Christmas good news to ordinary people so that ordinary people might live by it

There’s some Christmas take home right there: Christians should be normal, ordinary people. We should get rid of all our holy jargon, all our look down your nose religious expectations.

Instead, Christians should be people who show that new life comes to expression not only in faith, but in changed behaviour and gracious attitudes. Isn’t worshipping Christ the new born King and honouring Jesus the normal life God has created us for?

It may be so that many Christians seem removed from the rest of society. It is not uncommon for Christians to be isolated and somewhat aloof. General society does not regard Christianity as something people would normally be engaged with.

But when you think about this passage, and the shepherds, and how ordinary they were, We see that Christians should be the most ordinary people of all. Living a normal life. A transformed and reformed life, and that their life, attitudes and behaviour should be seen by others and most desirable, most normal of all.

Why? Because God has entered poured his grace into their lives and opened their eyes to his glorious plan in Jesus.

Extraordinary News

This is what happens here: To these ordinary people came an extraordinary announcement:

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, NIV)

“The Town of David” signified the child would be a king in the line of King David.

“Saviour” meant he would be a rescuer, a redeemer, like Joshua and Samson, that he would lead his people to a great victory.

“Messiah” or “Christ” said he would be a mighty ruler who would bring the new age of the Lord and return Israel to her former glory.

“Lord” signified that this child to be born was the covenant Lord, Yahweh, himself. God in the flesh. The Holy One. The Ancient of Days who had come Himself to uphold His holy covenant of grace.

 

Admittedly, the shepherds and the people back in the day probably would not have well understood what these things meant. They would have expected the Saviour/Messiah to win a military victory and to get rid of the Romans.

Little did they know that Jesus would defeat the darker power of sin and the fall which bound the human heart, darkened the human mind, and brought death to the human soul.

Jesus’ extraordinary birth did not fit the typical expectations or royalty. No royal robe. No Prime Ministerial limousine. No red carpet. No security detail (unless you count the chickens the donkey, and the all too prevalent octopus).

All we see is a young mother. A confused father. A stable. A manger. And a mob of dumb, dirty, dishonest shepherds.

Would you entrust your newborn to that environment? No, you would not.

But this is what Jesus did for you. To become your King. To become your Saviour. To become your Messiah.

At Christmas we celebrate a profound reality: the Triune God sent his eternal son to take on a human nature. Almighty God, lying in a manger. The creator, born in a shed. This Christ child would grow up and become the lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world.

The birth of this little baby Jesus is a breathtaking statement of grace, isn’t it? Jesus is the Christmas gift which towers above them all, doesn’t it?

Any gift you receive today was bought with money. The gift of life Jesus brings can never be paid for.

It’s a gift of forgiveness, promised in his birth and secured in his Cross.

It’s a gift of grace: this love of God comes freely. You cannot pay for this kind of grace, all you can do is receive it in thanks.

It’s a gift of new life: this Jesus still enters human hearts, and starts his work of transformation. No one is beyond the pale.

It’s a gift of new beginning. For even the worst, Jesus grants a fresh start.

The gifts we have received today, even the best, will not last forever. This gift of Jesus is the best because it’s a gift of life that lasts forever! Money can’t buy you that kind of love, friends. All you can do is receive it.

The only ‘ordinary’ response

How did these ordinary shepherds respond?

First up: they believed the angel. They received the announcement of Jesus’ birth in faith, and they hurried off to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus.

Secondly: They run off to Bethlehem to find the baby in a manger. After they find him, and tell their story to Mary and Joseph, they are filled with worship, they praise God, and glorify him for what they have seen and heard.

This is what happens, right? When God reveals his glorious grace to people they cannot stop themselves from worshipping! When people see who Jesus really is: they have to worship!

Check it out: One of Luke’s favourite concepts is how people marvel and are amazed at Jesus. Shepherds were amazed. Mary and Joseph were amazed when Simeon prophesied about Jesus (2:33). The teachers in the Temple were amazed at Jesus’ understanding as a 12 year old (2:47). The people are amazed in the synagogue when Jesus speaks to them as he starts his ministry (4:22) … and on it goes.
Jesus just keeps amazing people with his grace, his love, his selflessness and his life.

Sometimes I think we have lost our ability to be amazed at the Gospel? Does anything amaze us anymore?

I think when we actually stop to think about the reality of the Christmas Gospel, the humility he has willingly adopted, for us, all we can do is be amazed at the grace of God in Jesus.

But here’s the thing: they don’t merely hold this as a personal and private truth. The shepherds worship by telling others:

“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.” (Luke 2:17–18, NIV)

When we know the depth of God’s love, and how he has lavished this love on us in his son, we just have to share the good news.

I know: You will say to yourself that you can’t do it, that you don’t know enough, you will worry that you won’t have the answers.

But remember these shepherds. What were they? Dumb. How did people view them? Dirty and dishonest. But 2000 years later, we are still reading their words.

The Bible tells us spreading the word is not just what we say. What we say must work with how we live. The world yawns at Christians who say much but live little. God spews at that kind of hypocrisy. But he is delighted when his people live out the fullness of their faith, even in the most trying circumstances:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:9–12, NIV)

That’s the Christian life God delights in. That’s the Christmas message he wants us not only to speak, but also to live.

Today, more than ever, our country needs a Christmas like that, and Christians like that. People who speak and live the good news.

Ordinary people, living and speaking the extraordinary message of God’s grace, love and life in Jesus.

This is what God calls us to be this Christmas: people who believe the message of Jesus. Place your trust in the one who came to ordinary people. Receive the life and grace he brings to you. Receive it as a gift.
Allow yourself to be amazed at this gift of life in Jesus. Let the wonder of God in the flesh, the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord wash over you.

This was done for you, for all who call on his name. Amazing grace!
And this Christmas, spread the good news. When you get together with others, talk about Jesus’ birth. Talk about the wonder of it all at the supermarket, at school, with your friends, at the pub. Share this extraordinary news with the people God has placed around you.

And may the good news of the Saviour, Christ, The Lord, resound all through the earth.

A Time to Reconnect: a Prelude to Christmas

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This sermon was originally preached by David Groenenboom at Gateway Community Church on Sunday December 19, 2014 as part of the Making Sense of the Silly Season series

Reading: Matt 1:18-25

It was only a few weeks ago that I started my sermon talking about how the world seemed more of a dark place. I referred to riots in Ferguson, MI, and I talked about the ISIS terrorists.

And now we come out of a week where

• three are dead after the Sydney siege
• 132 children – children mind you – are butchered in a Pakistani school
• 8 children from one family are murdered in Cairns

How do we celebrate Christmas after a week like that?

Immanuel

Matthew’s advice is to remember that Jesus is God with us.
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” (Matthew 1:20–23, NIV)

It wasn’t just that Jesus’ birth was a miracle, as Mary was a virgin, or that both she and Joseph were fallen people. It was more that Jesus was born into that world.

There were terrible things happening in the day Jesus was born. Herod the Great was a wicked ruler, killing all the male children in Bethlehem under 2 years old in pursuit of the infant Jesus. Those in authority, typically, were not seen as people who were on your side. Routinely, they were people to be feared.

We read that people were waiting for the consolation of Israel. This was largely because there was a lot to be consoled about. The world was not an easy place. But this is the world Jesus came to.

And it is why the Christmas message is good news:

God is not waiting for you to become holy,
To read your bible more
To live a better life
To love perfectly
To have stronger faith

Jesus’ birth expresses a comforting truth: God is with us! For God’s people, no greater blessing can be conceived than for God to dwell with them.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah saw this coming to pass. Speaking of the day Jesus would be born, he wrote:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1–3, NIV)

A bit over a century later, Ezekiel had a vision of a gloriously restored Israel, and a holy city, whose name will be ‘The Lord is there.’

Then, some 60 years after Jesus’ death and rising, the Lord reveals the same vision to the Apostle John. He sees a new heaven and new earth, a new Jerusalem, and the defining characteristic of this restored world is that

God’s dwelling will be among his people,
and he will dwell with them,
they will be his people,
and God himself will be with them and be their God.

So, when Gabriel says ‘they will call Him Immanuel’, it is not so much another name, but a statement of fact. It was a sign that the words of the prophets and the expectation of the people that God would dwell with them would at last find their fulfilment in Jesus.

Immanuel, Jesus himself, is the greatest proof that God has not forsaken his world. God had not forsaken them. God has not forsaken us.

The Divine Motive

Isn’t that a comforting thought? God has not left us alone! God has come into our world in the person of Jesus Christ! Wat we want to do us understand the purpose of his presence. And on that, the Bible gives us two very succinct statements:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV)

Secondly,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16–17, NIV)

Do you ever find yourself wondering what God is like? What he is really like?

There’s reason to say, of course, because we are mortal human beings that we will never be able fully to understand God or plumb the depths of his nature. But on the other hand, while we cannot fully know, we can truly know. And e can truly know the things God reveals things about himself.

Jesus came to save: God’s nature is about saving those who are undeserving. God is about grace.

And Jesus came as an act of divine love. God is about love. Loving a world where people are perishing, where they deserve condemnation.
He sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for sin, to save the world, not to condemn it. This has always been God’s intention.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they use their energies. Steve Smith, Australia Cricket Captain, when he’s not hitting Indian batsmen all around the cricket ground, spends a lot of his waking life training. Sharpening skills, improving fitness, he focuses all his energies toward that time when he’s out in the middle. Everything he does is directed toward that one great goal.

Think of the way God spend his energies. From the very first thing we read in Genesis, to the very last thing revealed in Revelation, we see God causing life to abound, and after the fall, restoring his creation.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He gave of himself to bring his world into existence. Like grace before its time, he was happy to spend his divine energy bringing life and beauty to light.

Then, when Jesus was born as Immanuel, we see him expending his energy reclaiming his world, bringing love and rescue to undeserving people.

And on the day Jesus returns to consummate the new heavens and the new earth, he will again be bringing life, love and grace but then so perfectly and eternally that all evil, and everything that opposes his rule, will forever be cast out.

Immanuel: God with us

We need to know what this means, and what it doesn’t mean.

What it means is that Jesus as Immanuel was not an afterthought.
Immanuel is the revelation of the Lord’s one plan to love his world,
to save his people by grace, and restore his creation through this child whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

Christianity is, simply, good news. It is the news that something has happened as a result of which the world is a different place [NT Wright].

The something that has happened is Jesus: God with us.

What it does not mean: we should not understand the birth of Immanuel to mean that God thinks everything is OK with our world, for God knows, everything is not OK. And we should certainly know that after the events of this past week.

God is grieved and angered at the sin of those who not only live outside of faith in Jesus, but who bring violence, bloodshed and untold grief to our world.

The events at Martin Place, Peshawar, and Cairns are profoundly confronting and distressing. They show the depth of the fall, the reality of human rebellion. How we weep when we see these things, yet as we do, we remember that God will call all who bring evil and violence and death to account when he judges all the earth.

This is why God calls everyone to turn to him, to have faith in him, to love him and trust him.

When they do, they will meet him not as Judge, but as a loving Father who has already had the claims of his justice satisfied through Jesus Immanuel.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 1:8–2:2, NIV)

Responding to Immanuel

When Gabriel said Jesus would also be called Immanuel, he was declaring God’s plan, right from the beginning, to dwell with his people. This Jesus, God With Us, enters this world as it is, but he is not prepared to leave it that way. The life, birth, sacrificial death, and rising again of Jesus Immanuel demonstrates that.

In days like these people will sometimes wonder whether God cares or knows what is happening. You know, you cannot conceive of the birth of Jesus Immanuel without knowing the love, grace, and saving heart of God, the deep love that he lavishes on people. You cannot celebrate the bible’s message of Christmas without being deeply moved by Immanuel.

The God who is with you.

Even before you knew it.

Even before you had any idea.

Since the beginning of time, God has planned to dwell with you. And now it’s time for you to respond to him. Here’s how:

Repent: that is. Come under Jesus’s rule. He is your King, Lord and Master. Turn around and start walking his way. Acknowledge the wrong in your life, and ask him to live in you, rule your life, and restore you.

Reconnect: Worship God with all you are, and in all you do. Love him with all your heart soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbour as yourself. Obey him every day. Bring his new life to expression. Commit to Worshipping Him with his people more than you do at present.

Trust him: when terrible things happen, remember he is with you. He’s Immanuel, he is with you always, even to the end of the age. There’s much we don’t understand about this, but we are comforted that he is with us and we are not alone.

Pray: Lord, help me bring your life. Help me believe. Help me trust. Help me bring the comfort of the Gospel to others. When there is much darkness, let your word be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path

Love: Show grace to all, even your enemies. Let Jesus’ Spirit move you to compassion. Help the broken. Befriend the lonely. Protect the scared. Bring his grace and love to all who are in need.

Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

Jesus, Immanuel, is for you. Who can be against you?

Jesus, Immanuel is with you, you are never alone.

Jesus, Immanuel, is in you, dwelling with you. Now in his power and by his grace, bring his good news to your world.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)

A Time for Rescue

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Reading: Matthew 1:18-23, focussing on Matthew 1:23

People think carefully before naming their children. We tend to go by how a name sounds, and what’s popular at the time. Back in the days of the NT, people chose names that were more like a prayer.

Nathaniel: gift of God.

Simon: God has heard

Jesus – or Yeshua (the Aramaic name we have anglicised into Jesus) is not such a common name in our part of the world. But it certainly was at the time Jesus was born. The name ‘Jesus’ expressed a parent’s prayer of hope and expectation that God would purify his people and save them from oppression.

Parents who used that name remembered a great deliverance from Pharaoh in Egypt, and they prayed something like that would happen to free them from the domination of Rome, and return Israel to its former glory.

‘Jesus’ expressed a parent’s prayer of hope and expectation that God would purify his people and save them from oppression

So the name ‘Jesus’ was a common enough. What was uncommon was the events surrounding his birth. Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah and Elizabeth, not only announcing the miraculous birth of John the Baptist, but also that he would prepare the way of someone even greater.

Interestingly, with Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Mary & Joseph, their children were not named by the parents, but by God.

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”” (Matthew 1:21, NIV)

Give him the name “Jesus”. It was more than a prayer: it was a profound revelation. A statement of divine truth. A proclamation of God’s action:

‘…he will save his people from their sins’

It is as if God pulls back the curtain on our little world, and reveals his plan to Mary and Joseph. God has been at work since the beginning of time to bring this moment to pass. God’s reality was about to break into our world and nothing will ever be the same.

Call him ‘Jesus’. He will save his people from their sins.

There is a problem…

That single sentence helps us make sense of Christmas. It brings us to the nub of the problem with our world, with us, with humanity. This is the issue: sin is a reality. But who wants to know about that? It’s like we are in some form of cosmic denial.

Look at it this way: Back then, the people of God saw their biggest problem as contextual. Like Israel in Egypt, they thought that if they could just get rid of the latest Pharaoh, Caesar, and if they could just follow God’s law, everything would be OK.

So there were zealots, ancient religious fundamentalists, who did whatever they could to get rid of the Romans. They never succeeded.

And there were the Pharisees: religious leaders devoted to the law of God, who believed that if only God’s people would respect and obey the law, God would then intervene, defeat Rome, and return Israel to her glory.

Neither of these groups were dealing with the core issue. Both of them had missed the point that the problem was more insidious and deceptive.

sin is a reality

All through the Old Testament, Israel seemed consistently to miss this point. They often neglected the reality of personal and corporate sin, and externalised the problem.

If we could just get out of Egypt.
Then, if we could just go back to Egypt.
If we could just get rid of the Canaanites.
If we could just have a King like the other nations.
Then, if we could just get rid of this King.
And on it went.

Had they missed what the Lord had said all along? The problem has its root in the human heart. There was an uncleanness of heart and soul which needed to be removed, symbolised in the ancient act of circumcision:

“Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” (Deuteronomy 10:16, NIV)

That this was something God would do for them:

“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6, NIV)

Hundreds of years later, he was still calling them to return to him and change their lives:

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it.” (Jeremiah 4:4, NIV)

Surprisingly, they never did it. Sin had made them so blind to their own fallenness that they were incapable of dealing with it themselves. But this faithful God stuck by his word, and promise a rescuer who would come and save them completely:

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:2, NIV)

The Lord himself was promising to do the most astonishing thing:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)

He Himself would act to save, to cleanse. He would do something which could change a person at the very core, the damaged core, of their being. Jesus would save his people from their sins.

You know why? You know why he was always calling his people away from sin, and promising that he would deal with it?

Because God hates sin.

He hates it because it turns people away from him.
It wrecks lives.
It destroys families.
It makes people addicted to their own pride.
It wrecks his world.
It brings alienation and separation to every sphere of life and relationship.

But such statements are not popular in our day and age.

So, how do we respond to the idea of sin today?

I think our response is much like the people at the time of Jesus’ birth, or of Israel in Egypt. We think all we need to do is educate people better. Develop better policy. Change a government. Earn more. Eat less. See what we’re doing? We externalise our problems just like Israel. And no one wants to know about the sin of their heart, or a fallen humanity in open rebellion against God.

Many people laugh at those who are serious about sin. They say it’s an oppressive idea. A hangover of some Victorian morality. A relict medieval spirituality. But they cannot account for the fact that after all our advances, all our technology, all our opportunity, things are still a mess. And even amongst the most well educated, the best provided for, those with all the capacity, relationships still fail, people are still violent, their world is still a mess.

This is sin: the arrogant determination of humanity to live without God, independent of him, indifferent to him, and be their own master. Our world is in open rebellion against God, and his justice needs to be satisfied.

Jesus is the rescuer

This is why the Christmas message is good news! Jesus is the Rescuer! The Saviour!

But could Mary possibly have known how this would come about?

Who would have expected God to become a human being, to take on the human nature?

Who would have expected him to make himself vulnerable, powerless, and dependent on the very people who were his enemies?

Yet, in taking on the human nature, Jesus submitted himself to people who hated him. I know, it sounds harsh to speak that way about Mary, but she and Joseph were as fallen, and in need of rescue, as anyone else.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8, NIV)

Isn’t that remarkable? Jesus was born with a mission: to save his people. To redeem his people. To do what needed to be done to bring people back to God and deal conclusively with the sin which had bound the human heart.

Jesus was not merely going to rescue from some foreign oppressor, a Rome, an Egypt. This little child to be born would rescue people from the sin that bound their heart. This Jesus would break the dominion of the evil one over the people of God.

This is how much God hates the sin that controls the hearts and minds of people. He hates it so much, so powerfully, so profoundly, that he would send his one and only Son as a tiny helpless baby to be the rescuer. Your Rescuer, your Saviour, and mine.

Give us a wave!

That’s how we make sense of the silly season: we see it as the Saviour’s season! We see it as the annual announcement that Jesus saves people from their sin! His incarnation and birth leads to his crucifixion and death! The manger leads to the cross!

Jesus has come to rescue you from the sin which binds your heart, from the brokenness in relationship with God, from the guilt all this brings, from the wrath which God has for it all. Jesus is your rescuer!

Anyone here ever been rescued? Here’s my story:

I think Catherine, our oldest daughter, was about 10. We were at Dodges Ferry in Tasmania. There’s a huge inlet to the north east, with a tiny mouth into Frederick Henry Bay. We were in a kayak, and the tide was running out. We were only a few hundred meters from the shore, when I noticed that even though we were paddling toward the beach, we were actually slowly getting further away. I worked my incredibly toned and sculpted arm muscles harder… but to no avail. And then, behind us, I heard a motor boat…

What do you think I did?

I put my hand up and signalled that we were in some trouble. They approached us and threw us a line, and towed us safely to the beach. That was just the greatest gift. It saved a father and his daughter an unelected trip to Antarctica…

See, you only start thinking about rescue when you run out of options. When you have nothing. When everything you are doing is not helping at all. You only need rescue when you’re powerless. It’s then that you put your hand up, and call for help.

Surely we have seen enough of human history, of the newsfeed, of our own experience to know that we need help. We need rescue. We need Jesus to save us from our sin.

Isn’t it time to put your hand up?

Call to the rescuer?

No other options will work.

Now is the time: To Call out to Jesus, who will save you from your sin. To acknowledge your own need. Your own brokenness. He’s here! He’s here! He’s here to rescue!

It’s serious. You are in the kayak, and you’re going backwards. You’re in the rip, and you can’t fight it. You’re powerless. And if you don’t get rescued, if you don’t get saved, you will die. (There is a whole other side to this: what response he requires from you beyond asking for his rescue – that is next week…)

For now: Put your hand up!

Put your hand out!

Give us a wave!

Your Saviour is powerful.

Your Saviour is capable.

Your Saviour is keen.

And on the cross, his selfless sacrifice did everything necessary to rescue you. And today He promises to enter your life, cleanse you from your sin and guilt. To give you a new heart. A new beginning so powerful it is called a new life. And he calls you to return to him, to confess your sins, and your need of his grace and rescue, to come under his rule, to walk his way, to live his life, to follow and obey.

A Time to Trust

Read: Luke 1:26-38

When you arrived here this morning, you probably greeted a few people with a ‘G’day’ – or a more formal ‘good morning’… You might have asked talked about the past week, or the weather, or commented how busy the shops are becoming, bemoaned the problem of local parking, etc.

And there are things that we do not easily talk about. One of them would be our fears. Fears about our health, our job prospects, a relationship issue.

Fear

While this passage covers a number of areas, I want to start by talking about fear.

Our passage says the Lord sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth to reveal his plan to Mary. Gabriel was a mighty angel. He had appeared to Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, a few months before. Around 500 years before that he appeared to the prophet Daniel.

Daniel, Zechariah, and Mary were very different people. But they had one thing  in common: when Gabriel appeared their response was one of fear and dread.

Daniel: “As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. …” (Daniel 8:17, NIV)

Zechariah: “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.” (Luke 1:12, NIV)

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

Why is Mary so troubled?

Well, she is probably somewhere between 12-14 years old, and she’s being told she will have a baby. That bothers us a lot, but in that culture it was common for girls that young to be married. Also, Mary was a virgin. She had never slept with a man. Even though this was an ancient community, everyone of knew how babies were made. And Mary had done none of that – so, what were people to think?

This turn of events created a social and moral problem for Mary and Joseph. In today’s Nazareth, this situation would mark a young woman as a target for an honour killing. So even though there have been many social changes between now and then, this news would have been enough to bring dread into any young woman’s life.

The most obvious reason, however, for Mary’s deep trouble, for Zechariah’s fear, and for Daniel’s terror is the reality of their own fallen humanity coming face to face with the messenger of the Living God.

Such fear has a long history.

The very first book of the Bible tells us when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and decided that they and all humanity should live independently of him, they ended up cowering in fear. The very last book of the Bible, Revelation, tells us of the Apostle John, who fell down like a dead man when met the risen Christ (Rev 1:17).

The many pages in between show a consistent pattern: when people come face to face with the living Lord, they are gripped with dread. This fear does not simply have its origins in the fact that we are mortals and the Lord is divine, but in the more uncomfortable truth that we are sinners and he is holy. The holiness of God provokes terror in fallen people. As the Scriptures say, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31, NIV)

But Mary’s fears are grounded in more than the state of her fallen soul before the messenger of a holy God. They’re also grounded in the astonishing content of Gabriel’s message:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31–33, NIV)

Mary was probably illiterate. But she knew enough to know that Gabriel’s words described only one person: the promised Messiah, the Saviour the people of Israel had been longing for for thousands of years. Gabriel was saying God was going to do something directly in her life. Do something to her.  Is it any wonder she was deeply troubled?

But notice Gabriel’s response: “Do not fear, Do not be afraid…” (v.30).

Notice also that when Zechariah was startled and gripped with fear, Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid…”

When John the apostle came face to face with the Risen Christ: “he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid” (Rev 1:17, NIV)

So, this is what the Lord says to people gripped with terror: “Do not fear, Do not be afraid.”

Do you know this?

Do you know that God seeks to take your fear away?

Your dread of his presence? Your fears about his work in your life?

That’s what happened with the prophet Isaiah. He saw the vision of the living Lord, and he cried out in fear. But an angel cleansed his lips with a coal from the altar. All pointing forward to the day when a greater cleansing would be won. When the Jesus here promised would go to the Cross,

where his blood would be shed,

where the sins of all who trust him would be cleansed,

where the guilt of God’s people would be purged,

where the condemnation we deserve would be conquered so completely.

The Easter story explains why we have a Christmas story.

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14–15, NIV)

This past week many Australians have been thing about death. We have seen a young cricketer cut down in his prime by a freak accident. Phillip Hughes’ death shows us how fragile we are. How quickly life can be snuffed out. It reminds us that death is our enemy, and a fearful one at that.

But the good news is that Jesus, the child who would be born to Mary, is now the end of fear because his death was the end of sin. We have to engage in a little mental ‘time travel’ but the reality is  Gabriel can confidently say ‘Do not be afraid’ because

Mary’s own fear

will in years to come 

be driven out 

as the nails 

are driven into 

the one she would soon 

bring into this world.

Faith

But there’s more here than ‘do not fear’. Those very words are a call to faith. Gabriel explained how Mary’s pregnancy would come about:

…“The Holy Spirit will come on 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. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”” (Luke 1:35–37, NIV)

There must have been much that Mary did not understand. From how it would all happen to what it all meant. Even so, she displays a beautiful faith and humble submission:

““I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:38, NIV)

Mary’s humble faith finds its ground in Gabriel’s last words: ‘no word from God will ever fail’, or as some translations say, ‘nothing is impossible with God.’ Here, God’s ‘word’ is more than mere information. His ‘word’ is his declaration, a statement, an assertion, a pronouncement, a promise. It cannot fail because the Lord who speaks this word is the One who is Sovereign Lord who reigns over all.

For us, the sovereignty of God’s is a core belief. But it still challenges us. We are challenged, not merely by Gabriel’s appearance, but by what he reveals: Mary will conceive miraculously and her child will be the Son of the Most High God.

It challenges us because it runs against what we call the laws of nature. But as one writer says

The laws of nature are not chains which the Divine Legislator has laid upon Himself; they are threads which He holds in His hand, and which He shortens or lengthens at will. [Van Oosterzee]

This all powerful, all sovereign God has nature conform to his will. It is not the other way around. This God has all reality and its processes at his disposal. So Mary’s humble acceptance of his will for her can be explained in the context of his love and his almighty power.

Follow

And this is where the rubber meets the road for us, who thrive on the predictable. We expect everything to happen today just the way it happened yesterday. We think we live in a closed system where nothing can ever change. And we go through life looking at all the things that bother us believing it will never be any different.

We might believe God is out there, but we imagine he’s locked out of our reality, and cannot change anything. Or us. Too easily we have bought the lie that God and how he works must conform to nature and its laws.

So we tend to imagine that when things get bad for us, there’s nothing that can be done. Like we’re stuck in a system, and we can’t get out. What we forget is that this sovereign God works beyond our situation. We forget that he can use our circumstances beyond our limited vision. And so we tend not to think about how his sovereignty impacts on our fears.

But here’s the thing: that our most enduring growth happens in contexts which are the most difficult and trying?

Think of Saul, on the road to Damascus. A michelin star Pharisee. Zealous for the Lord. A persecutor of the church. But on that road he is met and saved by Jesus Christ. Jesus drew him into the very church he was persecuting. More: Jesus then commissioned him as apostle to the non-Jewish peoples: the very people whom that morning he had regarded as lower than dogs. Think of the sideways glances he would have received from the Christians he now sought to join. Think of the trust that needed to be built. Think of the rejection he may have felt in those early days. Think of the shame he must have felt for persecuting the Christ he now loved and worshipped. Didn’t his most enduring growth came in his most difficult days?

Or think of Peter. Out on a boat in the middle of the sea when he saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. He called to Jesus, and Jesus called him to come to him, walking on the water. Peter was pushed to he point where he had to decide whether to stay safe, or to get out of the boat and obey Jesus. Whether this all powerful God would stop him from sinking. Did you know: if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat? (Ortberg) Perhaps his most enduring experience came as he walked, then sank, then grasped the hand of Jesus.

Or think of his vision, some years later. He had followed the scrupulous food laws of the Jewish people as a sign of his faith all his life. One day God confronted him in a dream, revealing all food was good, and in the process that non-Jewish people were as much loved by God as the Jews.

So, this context of difficult and incomprehensible news for Mary also become the context for her to display faithful, trusting acceptance of God’s word. Her response tells us a lot about trust. It reminds us that Christmas is about trust. Whether we accept the word of the Lord to be with us, and hold us, wherever he might lead us.

So, no, we might not speak that much about our fears. But maybe we should. Maybe we should acknowledge them, and commit ourselves into the Lord’s hands, like Mary. I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.

This is important because here at Gateway God is calling us to a deeper trust.

A trust that he is with us as we follow Jesus.

A trust that he will hold us, even in situations which are difficult and trying.

We sometimes think it would be easier for us if Gabriel were with us to assure us. Gabriel is not here, of course. But the One whose birth he announced is!

Jesus is here! Do you trust him? Do you trust him as he calls you to step out in faith? The one who calls you is the powerful, almighty omnipotent Lord!

But like Daniel, Zechariah,  Mary, and the cloud of witnesses, the thing he is calling you to will probably not excite you. It will not be what you want. More than likely it will be something that you don’t want. Something hard. Something difficult. Something you would rather not do.

Are you with me?

You probably know what I am talking about:

That conversation you don’t want to have.

That ministry you’d rather not do.

That confession you don’t want to make.

That mission, church, that fills us with fear and dread.

Here’s the question: will you trust God? Will you respond as Mary responded? “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Will we step up and allow ourselves to step down?

You can trust Jesus, friends. You can trust him, and say, “I am your servant. We are your servants together. Let it be to us as you have promised.”

There are two reasons. One:

“For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15, NIV)

God’s grace is gentle. You can trust him. You can obey. And you can follow.

Two: because this little child promised to Mary, is now the King of all the earth. Wherever he asks you to go, whatever he asks us to do, he is with us.

“…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:16–20, NIV)

Study Questions: A Time to Hope

Reading

 Luke 1:67-80

Read the sermon here

Questions:

In Australia, some people call the lead up to Christmas ‘the silly season’ because it’s such a busy and stressful time. How does all this busyness and stress impact on your ability to worship Jesus at this time of year?

Prior to the announcement of the impending birth of both John & Jesus, “Plenty of people would have been thinking that following God was a waste of time. That God was either deaf to their cries, or that He did not care. With their world as a dark and hopeless place, it seemed their dreams of God coming to their rescue had come to nothing.”  – In which life situations today would people be inclined to think the same?

“God just entered their mess, their darkness. He just waded into this failed, fallen and fractured people, and spoke words of grace.” In what ways can God’s people today reflect his gracious action and character?

Luke 1:71 says the coming Messiah will save us “from all the enemies who hate us”  – who are these enemies today, and what are the best ways for Christians to help people see see this clearly?

Read Romans 8:1-4. What has God done to take away condemnation? What does this mean to you?

If you would like to know more about the hope God brings to people whose lives are a mess, please feel free to comment.

Making Sense of the Silly Season

A Time to Hope

Read: Luke 1:67-80

Our world is a dark place.

We have seen riots erupting in Ferguson, Missouri.

We have seen further threats of terror from ISIS militants.

We have heard of renewed push to change the legislated definition of marriage.

And it is not just this week.

We are still waiting for the release of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls.

Will we ever see this day?

Despite unparalleled prosperity of some countries, many still live in terrible poverty.

Will this ever change?

Despite relative law and order in some places, there is great violence and corruption in others.

Will it ever be any different?

Zechariah sang his song 2000 years ago. The world was a dark place then, too.

Israel, a once great nation, lay in ruins. Over the centuries it had been conquered by four major world powers, and now languished under the dominion of Rome.

There were still people of faith, people who trusted Yahweh, and who were waiting for the consolation of Israel, but they were few.

It was as if the light of the world had been turned out. As if the voice of God, once heard through the prophets, had fallen silent. No word from the Lord had been heard for 400 years. As if the prayers of the faithful seem to bounce off a locked and bolted heaven.

Yet, these people are singing.

Zechariah is singing!

““Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:68–69, NIV)

How can they sing in that situation? What is going on?

They are singing because God has entered their world!

This mess. This brokenness. This darkness. God has spoken into it.

God has spoken to them. These broken people. This dark world.

And he has said to Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will have a son – even in their advanced years – and this child will prepare the way for the Messiah.

But before we move on: Think about what was happening just before God spoke.

Think about what it might have been like the day before any of this took place.

Plenty of people would have been thinking that following God was a waste of time. That God was either deaf to their cries, or that He did not care. With their world as a dark and hopeless place, it seemed their dreams of God coming to their rescue had come to nothing.

And yet, God had not forgotten. He was planning his grace intervention. He had his plan, and was following it. But until he revealed himself, few could see that.

That’s a truism, I know. But it’s also important truth: God is at work, but so often we just do not see it.

The truth is: God was not waiting for people to get their act together. God was not waiting for the world to improve, or for his people to be more faithful, or for there to be more light in the world.

God just entered their mess, their darkness. He just waded into this failed, fallen and fractured people, and spoke words of grace.

““Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:68–69, NIV)

That did not mean that everything was OK, and God has just forgotten about human rebellion. But it is a powerful reminder that no matter how bad things might seem, that we can still trust him, we can still place our hope in him. That he still has us, and our world, in his loving hands.

No matter how bad or broken you are, no matter how busted your world is, no matter how much evil you see in your world, God has not forgotten. He just wades in and enters your mess. A hope that brings mercy

No matter how bad or broken you are, no matter how busted your world is, no matter how much evil you see in your world, God has not forgotten.

And when God enters your mess, he brings hope and mercy (v.68ff):

He has come to his people and redeemed them…

He has raised up a horn of salvation…

He has shown the mercy he promised in his covenant…

Surprisingly, Zechariah speaks of these things with certainty, as if they had already happened. A redemption, a payment of ransom that would set people free. A salvation, a rescue, so powerful that nothing could resist it or frustrate it – that’s what a horn symbolised. A mercy – gracious response to undeserving and needy people – which he has shown and promised to his people since creation.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, there is no anger, no rage or judgement, no punishment for unfaithfulness – that would come, but not in the manner they expected.

Zechariah is saying: here is the God who shines light into our darkness and brings grace to our sin.

You want to know who God is? This is who God is. This is his plan. His covenant of grace.

When Adam and Eve rebelled in Eden, he waded into their mess and sought them.

Later, He made a promise to a weak, wandering, childless Abram

“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”” (Genesis 12:3, NIV)

When Abram and Sarai were well beyond the years of childbearing, this Lord

“…took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” (Genesis 15:5, NIV)

After that, in Genesis 17, the Lord declared that he would be Abraham’s God and the God of his descendants forever.

God has never waited for us to come to him. His covenant mercy shows him to be the initiator of grace. The giver of life.

Later he revealed his name to Moses as

“…The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”” (Exodus 34:6–7, NIV) 

So, how do we make sense of what we call the silly season? By making ti confession that it is not the silly season. It’s the Saviour’s Season.

Christmas is a time of hope. A hope inspired by a God who through his Son wades into human fallenness and rebellion. He enters our mess because he is merciful: at the core of his nature is grace, mercy, compassion, love, faithfulness, justice and righteousness.

When God spoke into the world’s darkness, into a humanity that rejected him, it was a song of mercy. A song consistent with his character, age old covenant promises of grace. The Scriptures are the record of how God brings mercy to people despite
their fallenness and sin. Despite the fact that at core they are rebels and enemies of God.

This is why Zechariah sang. And it is why we sing.

It is why our Christmas songs are filled with peace, joy, grace, faithfulness, hope and love. It is why you can be here today, with all sorts of mess going on and God says, “I am with you. I will rescue you. I will show you great mercy. Turn to me, love me, trust me.”

A hope that means rescue

How can that be – when we are so broken, our world is so dark, and rebellion against God is so brazen and blatant? Does God just ignore human evil, the heart’s corruption, your sin?

No.

He wades into it.

He meets it.

He addresses it.

He deals with it comprehensively in His Son, Jesus. Look at our passage speaks of rescue (v.71):

“salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—” (Luke 1:71, NIV)

We have an uncanny capacity to simply see our difficulties as merely circumstantial and external.

At one level, Zechariah would have thought of the great world powers of his day: Rome, and before them, Greece. And before them, Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt.

It’s true, isn’t it? We have an uncanny capacity to simply see our difficulties as merely circumstantial and external.

If we could just get rid of the Romans.

Or the Greeks.

Or the Egyptians.

If I could just change my circumstances.

My husband.

My finances.

The people who frustrate me.

My boss.

My health.

This merciful God, who wades into our mess, who acts in mercy, wants us to know today that the problems we face, the darkness of our world, is more than just circumstance.

The problem is the heart. Your heart. My heart. The core of humanity.

And here this gracious God is announcing that he is going to deal with sin, the core problem of the human heart.

Zechariah’s son, the one we call John the Baptist, would

“…give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”” (Luke 1:77–79, NIV)

John the Baptist would prepare the way for Jesus. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. On Good Friday we proclaim his death.

Why? Because The cross of Jesus is how God dealt with the sin of the human heart. The Cross is how God addressed the darkness of the world.

Jesus hung on a torturous cross to bear the sin of his people.

Jesus suffered in God forsaken agony for our rebellion.

Jesus became the punishment that brought us peace.

Jesus lifted the curse from our shoulders.

Remember how thousands of years before, when Yahweh revealed his name to Abram, he had said the guilty would not be left unpunished? A righteous God must punish sin. But our gracious God punishes sin in an astonishing manner.

Paul the Apostle says

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.””
(Romans 1:17, NIV)

Luther’s reformational discovery, was that this righteousness wasn’t a holy anger that humans had to appease in order to win divine love, it was a righteousness which God gave by grace to those who believe his Son.

So, God did not leave guilty unpunished: he poured that guilt out on Jesus so you would be free. The chains of your sin are broken. Your guilt is atoned for. Your sin is gone. And now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

Don’t you even ask yourself, “Is God listening? Does he care? Does he know or understand?”

Zechariah’s song points you right to Jesus, and Jesus’ Cross shows how seriously God takes the fallenness of your heart and your world. You cannot possibly look at Jesus and wonder whether God is doing anything about your mess or the mess of this world.

This Gospel in Jesus is why Christmas is a time of hope.

Jesus: God with us, Immanuel. He is light into our darkness. He is grace into our fallenness. He is redemption from every sin that binds us.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
(Isaiah 9:2, NIV)

This Christmas, we sing of this hope, this certainty of life in Christ.

We encourage and bless one another with this life in Christ

And we carry this good news into our world.

Making Sense of the Silly Season – Intro

As we move into the Christmas season for 2014, I want to develop series of sermons which draw us into the reality of Jesus’ coming into our world. These will be preached at Gateway Community Church in Cockburn Central in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Increasingly, Australia’s Christmas centres around the commercial aspects: presents, gifts, parties, leisure, holiday, family, food. Nothing wrong with any of that per se. More than ever, though,  churches need to reclaim not just the Christmas celebration, but the Christmas message.

So it’s even a bit cheeky that I mention the ‘silly season’ in this series. I don’t want to add to all the ‘noise’ which makes it hard to hear the message. But I do want to say Christmas is something very different from ‘silly’. In naming the issue, I hope to reframe it, and cast these weeks in their true Gospel context.

Jesus’ birth is the coming of God, Immanuel, into our world. It is a message of grace, hope, and divine initiative. It is a message we need to embrace. It is a message we need to hear. It is the message we need to take into our world.

I hope in the coming weeks Jesus the Saviour will be the focus of your celebrations.