Water into wine

John 2: 1-11

Who hasn’t been in a tricky situation and needed something dramatic to happen in order to get out of it?  Have you longed for something good to come out of the bad?  It could be you’ve got too much to do and not enough time to do it.  It could be you just don’t know what to do, where to start, and you have a deadline to meet… a bit like writing a new sermon!  So, how often have you said, or thought, “To save the day I need a miracle here”!

Today with Covid-19 we’re looking for something good to come out of the bad.  Can good come out of this bad time we’re in now?  Can Jesus make something good come out of this bad time?

Jesus and his disciples had been at a wedding celebration, and midway through, the hosts ran out of wine. This was unheard of and highly embarrassing. We don’t really know a lot about Mary, the mother of Jesus, but we see her compassion, and a fortitude in this account.   She feels the pain of the hosts and knows Jesus can resolve this situation, and so she makes His miracle-working abilities public, a little bit too soon if we take verse 4 at face value, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?”  Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

Had Mary seen her son do something as He was growing up that would indicate He could make something good out of this embarrassing lack of wine? Mary must have seen something different as Jesus grew up for she clearly knew He could do something to make good to come out of the bad.

So what did Mary know?  Have you ever thought about that?  I have to say I haven’t given this much thought, but as I thought about this, could it be that Mary on an occasion burnt the evening supper?  Burnt fish lingering in the house, and Jesus comes in and restores it to its pre-burnt state! Maybe one of His brothers skinned their knee and Jesus healed the cut! No need for Band-Aids in that Nazareth home!

The Bible does tell us that she knew that her child was special for she pondered on all the things that happened. After all, wouldn’t you think your child was special if you had angels appearing telling you of about the birth of a child you are going to have? 

Furthermore, Luke tells us in chapter 2 that after they returned safely from their trip to the Temple with Jesus when He was a boy, and after He had stayed behind in His father’s house, Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.”  Obviously there were many characteristics that showed Mary the uniqueness of her son.

The Bible doesn’t tell us these details, but Mary knew something. She knew Jesus could take a bad situation and make it right and not only right but so much better than anyone could have imagined.

When the master of the feast tasted the water-become-wine, he called the bridegroom to one side (he didn’t make a scene) and said to him;

‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’” (John 2:9-10)

Did you know that changing water into wine involved an entire change in the molecular makeup of the water? It’s not like Jesus added some food colouring or a teaspoon of salt. No, he changed the atomic structure of the liquid — a feat that required a staggering amount of energy.  This shows us that Jesus has a real mastery of the natural law, far beyond the comprehension of the world’s best scientists.

Isn’t that typical of Jesus?  The change He brings is not a minor modification, no He brings about a complete remake!  The classic Austin/Morris Mini car only had minor modifications for 40 yr., then… in 2000 it had a complete remake… Mini One! 

So why did Jesus turn water into wine? What is its significance?

Water-into-wine teaches us that Jesus is all about making us completely new.  He doesn’t change bits and pieces here and there because He has the power to change us completely, as if he is changing our whole molecular structure. Like water-into-wine.

Before we look at this further, it’s worth noting that John refers to what other Gospel writers call miracles as “signs”.  Why?  Well, signs emphasise that there is something significant about the action just undertaken, rather than the marvel of what has just occurred. So what is the significance of Jesus turning water into wine?

Jesus turned water into wine to prove that He is the source of life. Changing the water to wine offered a symbol of the new supernatural spiritual life Jesus brings from the old mortal in conversion. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!”

Many people make a mistake here; they want to improve themselves into being worthy of God before they accept Christ. The truth is the other way round it is by accepting Jesus as Saviour that God counts us worthy of entering His presence…

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Jesus turned water into wine to prove His real nature to the disciples. For this was the ultimate purpose of the miracle: to reveal His Glory! This resulted in them putting their faith in Him.

From what we read Jesus had no interest in recruiting faith in the members of the wedding party, or the master of the feast. Even though the servants knew the provenance of the wine, Jesus didn’t perform the miracle to convince them. His only interest was to reveal His true, inner being to the six men He had handpicked to be His disciples; two of John-the-Baptist’s followers, one of whom was Andrew, who finds his brother Simon Peter, that’s three.  Then Jesus finds Philip who then found Nathanael, that’s five, and I’m assuming John was there, as it is his Gospel, so that makes six.  This glory would only be completely uncovered once during his ministry – at his transfiguration in front of a select few. But this sign, of water into wine, achieved its purpose, for His disciples believed in Him.

As Jesus continued His ministry many who came to believe in Him through His preaching, miracles, claims and example understood what glory meant… in Christ, God had become a mortal.  In Christ, God put on a human face – a reality verified by John when Jesus appeared to him as we read in Revelation 1:12-18.

 I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me… His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

When we put our faith in Jesus and believe who He is, the eternal invisible God will be made visible to us all.  This is redemption through Jesus Christ.  In essence then, this miracle proved more about the someone Jesus was than the something He did. He is the only person who has the power to remake us completely so we can know and experience his supernatural divine glory personally for ourselves. A glory that leads us to believe in Him.

Time to think

Read John 2:1-11.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand give yourself time to think about the following as you dig into God’s word.

  1. When has God shown up in ways you did not expect?
  2. How has He worked something good in your life that you could not have pictured?
  3. Can you imagine that He can do it again at this moment in time?  If so ask Him how He is going to do that.

Summary of Fellowship, Discipleship and Evangelism

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

Why are fellowship, discipleship and evangelism so important?

God’s truthful word to us teaches us that these three things are needed if His church is going to grow here on earth, therefore God expects all Christians to engage with them. I hope that over the last few weeks you have seen that all that I have said has its foundations in Scripture.  Without the truth of Scripture, we would not be here today, and Christianity would have died out with the first Disciples.

So what have I learnt about fellowship?

I was reminded of the New Testament Greek word for fellowship: koinonia (koy-no-nee-uh).  This expresses the idea of being together for mutual benefit.  So it’s all about relationships. 

Hebrews 10:24-25 shares this idea, saying,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The natural result of koinonia is that there is no fellowship without action.  Hence, we believe that RBR Connections will result in deeper practical pastoral support as well as greater spiritual support. 

Fellowship enables us to see that the local church is a community with real names, with real faces, with real joys and with real pain and sorrow.  This is another purpose of RBR Connections. Through this shared life as a community, we become a visible manifestation of the Gospel we are all called to proclaim.

Fellowship originates from the Holy Spirit, expressed succinctly by Paul; May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14) Thus fellowship results in a relationship with God the Trinity, and with one another.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John. 1:3).

Fellowship means living and sharing life together.  So it is to be a priority; one of the objectives for gathering together. 

Godly fellowship then is about sharing and communicating Gospel truths together, which in turn will build us up. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  (1 Thess 5:11; see also Rom. 1:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:2; Philem. 6)

What have I learnt about Discipleship?

Being a Christian is about willingly submitting the whole of yourself to God. 

The Greek word translated “disciple” means follower, someone who invests their life and time learning from someone else, and then spreading that person’s teachings to others. This is in-line with the great commission of Matthew 28 in which Jesus commands us to go and make disciples by telling others the way of Jesus.

Yes, some are gifted in teaching, but all believers are called to share with others what they know about Jesus, in accordance with the faith God has proportioned to them, (see Romans 12). 

Isn’t that great?  We act in proportion to the faith God has given us, and as our faith grows so does what we share.

To tell others about Jesus we need to get to know God and His Son in a deeper and personal way. This involves not only learning the truths of the Gospel, but showing them to others in a loving, caring and compassionate way.  Truths such as

  1. Jesus is God incarnate;
  2. His death and resurrection was a sacrifice that we could never make as an atonement for our sin;
  3. His sacrificial death abolishes the power of death to separate us from God. 

All of which means we are saved fromthe penalty of sin, the power of sin, and sin’s presence.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ we move from living under the power of sin, shifting instead to living in the hope of His coming, His second Advent.  All of which assures us of eternal salvation.

What have I learnt about evangelism?

This is the tricky one. In sharing Jesus, we must share the truth of Jesus, a truth based on the need for all people to repent. 

Matthew 4:17 tells us that Jesus challenged people with the words,v“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near”.    This means explaining three realities:

  1. the inherent sinful nature of mankind,
  2. the holiness of God,
  3. the existence of heaven and hell. 

The only means to escape the punishment of sin is faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. While many Christians begin their evangelistic efforts with God’s love, that is really the second half the story, because the message of God’s love is lost on unbelievers unless they first come to grips with sin, judgement, and punishment.

There is no doubt that God is a loving God. But He is also holy and righteous, thus hating sin.  However, because God’s nature is full of love and mercy He provided the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin –  His Son! 

Ephesians 2:8–9 explains why.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

We’re saved not because we deserve it or can earn it, but by God’s grace!

Only those whose natures have been changed to be in line with God’s can escape His wrath, and thus experience His transforming nature expressed through His love and grace. If we believe these things, we will live eternally with Him in the joy of heaven.  If we do not, our eternal destiny is hell.

Jesus was God on earth.  We can say this with confidence because in John 5:19-20 Jesus, in His own words, tells us that He only did what He saw His Heavenly Father doing in heaven.  God, through the person of Jesus, was revealing His transforming power to the world.  This transforming power moves us from an earthy perspective to a supernatural heavenly one, so that we too can do what we see our heavenly Father doing in heaven. 

And Jesus unashamedly acknowledges that He “can do nothing by Himself”. 

This is the most radical statement to be found in the whole of Scripture as it indicates that any effort made to use God’s power for our own benefit will leave us feeling hollow and empty; it will never achieve anything and our life will be insipid and of no use to God. 

Because Jesus is confessing that as “the Son (he) can do nothing by Himself” we can have confidence in our core being that the words of Jesus are utterly dependable, truthful and worthy for all to hear.

So in sharing the Gospel we must have confidence that Jesus’ words have spoken powerfully to us personally, transforming us into His likeness, and that through us He can speak powerfully to others, transforming them too, because that is what He has done us!

Fellowship, Discipleship and Evangelism are things we need to work on in our daily lives if we want to see God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

The Importance of Evangelism: Part 3

Then Jesus said, ‘Therefor 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 28:19-20)

We’ve been looking at fellowship, discipleship and evangelism, elements and principles that a professing Christian needs to understand if the Kingdom of God is to be extended here on earth as it is in heaven.

These three things are not something that have been made up in order to see church growth.  No, these are all things that can be found in Scripture, The Word of God to us, and Jesus’ own words are no exception, as we see in our Gospel reading.

In John chapter 14 through to, and including 17 we read Jesus’ final discourse to His Disciples before He is arrested.   In the verses we had from Chapter 17 Jesus begins to pray for His disciples and in essence He is saying that they have come to believe four specific things about Him (7-8). The prominence of these four things, here in this prayer, and the way they are mentioned elsewhere in John’s Gospel points to their importance. They were vitally important for the founding of the church and for its growth and security against error. Getting these beliefs about Jesus right is important for us too, and so important for how we tell people about Jesus. The four things were:

1. Jesus’ ministry was only possible by the power of the Father (v7): Jesus transformed people.  He took them from living by an earthly perspective to one with a supernatural heavenly one.  As professing Christians, we have all experienced a supernatural moment with God.  Jesus commands us to share the Gospel and when we do, not if we do, it is important for our message not only to be true but for our message and method to demonstrate that Jesus can radically and powerfully transform lives. In your own life do you have confidence that Jesus still ministers powerfully to you and through you?

2. Jesus spoke the Father’s Words (Vs 8a): Read John 5:19-20 and what do you see…” the Son can do nothing by Himself”.   Jesus is clearly declaring the secret to how He lives.  This is the most radical statement to be found in the whole of Scripture as it indicates that any effort made to use God’s power for our own benefit will leave us feeling hollow and empty; it will never achieve anything.  Even if you become really successful in your field and have not found this secret your life will be unsatisfactory, insipid and of no use to God.  “The Son can do nothing by Himself”.

Yes, Jesus could have done things apart from His Father, just as we can and do, but He chose not to because He never chose to exercise that power for His own benefit.  Never!  God willingly and lavishly gives His power to those who will not use it for their own benefit.

If Jesus hadn’t lived out this secret, totally and utterly dependent on another – His Father God – then He would have violated His integrity, it would have cheapened His whole life, and been a total contradiction to what He said and did.  So by saying …” the Son can do nothing by Himself” Jesus is saying, no admitting, He could do things apart from His Father, but He did not, and He never did. All Jesus did was totally and utterly in line with the holy and supernatural character of God.  Today God’s holy and supernatural character is revealed to us through The Word, and through the life, death and resurrection of His Son.

This is why we should have confidence in our core being that the words of Jesus are of the utmost importance for us and for others. So in sharing the Gospel we must have confidence that Jesus’ words can speak powerfully to people and transform them because that is what they have done to you.

3. That Jesus came from the Father’s presence, i.e. that Jesus is truly God, (Vs 8b): This reminds us of Christ’s humility.  He was prepared to jump from the truly amazing glory of heaven to the depth of the slimy pit and into the mud and mire for me and for you.  He rolled His sleeves up, got, and still gets His hands dirty in order to sort out my life and your life.  And when He left His glory He knew He had to take the pain and sorrow of all my sin, and your sin, upon Himself because only the one true God is able to pay the price for sin.  In taking my sin, your sin, upon Himself He unites His divinity with our flesh in such a way that we are now able to know and share His Spirit because it is through this sharing we become children of God.  And as children of God we are given eternal life, the most wonderful of all gifts; eternal life through the knowledge of forgiveness for all confessed sin.

4. He was sent by the Father (Vs 8c): While Jesus gave himself for us, we mustn’t forget that the initiative in our salvation begins with the Father. This helps us to remember that the Father loves us just as much as He loves His Son, that He is not angry with us or somehow less loving than Jesus; God and Jesus are one and the same!  Knowing this in the depth of our being reassures us that all things work together for our good and salvation. So we can share the Gospel because of our own personal experience and knowledge of the love of God for ourselves, a love that impresses on us that the Father Himself has an enormous love for the lost too.

So know these four things about Jesus

  1. His ministry was only possible by the power of the Father (Vs 7)
  2. He only spoke the Father’s Words (Vs 8a)
  3. That Jesus is truly God because He came from theFather’s presence (Vs 8b)
  4. He was sent by the Father (Vs 8c)

These secrets of Jesus’ life, which He willingly shares with all, are to be pressed down into our own soul and spirit, until they run over, because from there they will become for us a well spring of life that leads us on to evangelise to those who live in darkness.

Time to think

Read John 17:6-12.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand give yourself time to think about the following as you dig into God’s word…. 

  1. Think on the times (v7) when you have felt Jesus ministering to you.  Now write down how these experiences made you feel.  What did you experience? Comfort, peace, healing, forgiveness, joy, love, God’s powerful presence?
  2. In your life today do you have confidence that Jesus still ministers powerfully to you and through you?
  3. Jesus’ words spoke powerfully to His listeners.  Write down the times when Jesus’ words spoke powerfully to you.  How did they make you feel?
  4. Real life is only available through Jesus Christ living in and through you.  How well do you know Jesus’ words? (v8)

Digging deeper into God’s word

Jesus only ever did what He saw His Heavenly Father doing.  In a time of quiet invite your heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, to show you what He wants you to do for Him for the next few days.  If you sense God inviting you to do something, test it against Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  All that we do must be in line with the plumb line of God’s character and truths.

Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Prayer response

Lord of the Harvest, we see that Your harvest field is ripe and ready all over this nation and the world! We long to see Your kingdom come on this earth, so may we allow you to strengthen us to obey Your commission to go into all the world. May we as individuals, as families and as Your Church allow you to show us how you want us to serve You, to respond to Your command in whatever way You call us, so we answer Your call to go.  Show us how to pray effectively for the protection, boldness, clarity, health, and fruitfulness in your mission and ministry here in our communities. May we actively seek to align ourselves with Your heart so that our hearts would be obedient to the desires of Your heart, and the whole earth come to a saving knowledge of the truth–the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose powerful name we pray.

Amen


Worry List

Reading: Matthew 6:25-34

How easy it is to worry about things.  We can be anywhere, sitting in our car, at home, doing the shopping, the gardening, talking with friends on the phone or over the fence, lying in bed as you try to get to sleep.  Worrying is one of those things that can be done anywhere, anytime and by anyone.  No training is required, we’re all experts!

I love having bird feeding stations in the garden as I enjoy watching how they dart about getting the seed that is in the feeders and on the bird table.  I also get blackbirds and thrushes looking for worms and there have been many occasions when I have seen them catch a worm, and quickly it is gone.

All of this reminds me vividly of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-26,

‘… do not worry about your life… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

At this particular moment in time it is very easy to worry about our current situation and Covid-19.  I am very aware that many have been extremely cautious, not going out, having as much as possible hand delivered, not handling items delivered for 48 or even 72 hours, and sanitising everything that comes into their homes.

I am aware of many who are worried about their health, and that of their relatives, because they are more vulnerable, either because of their age, or because of underlying health issues.  Now with the new strain of coronavirus many are worried about younger people as they seem more vulnerable than before. And we can go on adding to our worries.

Through these words from Matthew 6 Jesus is warning us of the ill effects of worrying.  We’re reminded of God’s promise that He will provide us with all our basic needs.

You see, worrying damages our health; worrying can end up consuming all our thoughts; it can disrupt our productivity, and impair our relationship with God.  Worrying can negatively affect the way we treat others causing us to snap at them and rebuff them.  Worrying can lead us to reduce our trust in the Lord.  You see, worry immobilises, whereas concern moves us to action!

There are many strategies out there for coping with our worries.  This is one that I have come across.  Perhaps we could use it….

START A WORRY LIST.

Write down what you’re worried about. The bills. Your job. Your children or grandchildren. Your health. The future.

THEN TURN YOUR WORRY INTO A PRAYER LIST.

Ask the Lord to show you how He wants you to let Him work in those situations you’re concerned about. Remember Jesus only ever did what He saw his Heavenly Father do in Heaven (John 5:19).  As you do this you allow Jesus to live through you, not just in you.  Jesus depended totally on His Father whilst He was here on earth.  As our model that is what we are to do also, and this will lead us to pray specifically for our needs and deepen our dependence and trust on Him.

NEXT TURN YOUR PRAYER LIST INTO AN ACTION LIST.

If you receive insight from the Lord on something you can do for your cares, do it. Through the graciousness of our Lord He can enable us to turn our worries into prayer and action.  The result of this is that our paralysing anxiety can be replaced by concern for the responsibilities of life as worries immobilise, whereas concern moves us to action!

Why not start right now?

As you start can I encourage you to mediate or reflect on these verses…?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

The words ‘We know’ here means that as Christians we already know that we have had this experience. God is already working in our lives. Undoubtedly we have in the past suffered pain and disappointment. At the worst of these times God was working for our benefit. After all He is our Father, who loves us, and so He promises to continue to look after the people who love him. 

For in the day of trouble

  he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

 and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:5)

As Christians, God not only lives with us but He also lives in us. We are the house of God.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me

    all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

    for ever.  (Psalm 23:6)

As believers in Jesus we can say with confidence, “I will always live (dwell) in the house of the LORD.” The house of the LORD is in heaven.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  (Psalm 139:7-10)

Because God is omnipresent he is always with us, we cannot hide from Him, so He always knows our worries.  Give them to Him.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:1-3 NIV)

Christ came so that everyone could have a full life (John 10:10), and this full life comes when we concentrate on Christ, whereas concentrating on the world leads to worry.

The words from Psalm 40 are amazing.  They offer such hope!  They help us to put aside any worries we have.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.

A Chinese Christian told this parable:

A man fell into a dark, dirty pit, and he tried to climb out but he couldn’t.  Confucius came along.  He saw the man in the pit and said ‘Poor fellow.  If he had listened to me, he would never have fallen in.’  And he left.  Buddha came along and he saw the man in the pit and said, ‘Poor fellow.  If he can climb up here, I’ll help him.’  And he too left.  Then Christ came along and said ‘Poor fellow!’ And he jumped into the pit and helped him out!

Isn’t that amazing? Our God is the only God prepared to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty to sort us out!  No other God does this. 

In Psalm 55:22 we are encouraged to cast all our cares on the Lord because he will sustain us; he will rescue us from the “pit”.  As He does this He will give us a new song to sing, a song to sing because we’ve experienced God’s deliverance from trouble through His Son. 

Know and live out this truth: God will never let the righteous be shaken. 

As we start this new year may we cast our cares on the Lord, for God is calling us to trust Him to meet all our needs, for when we trust in Him alone He will dispel all our worries and replace them with concerns that move us to actions that are in line with His Kingdom actions and thus reveal to us His divine righteousness living in us.

Christmas Day Message, 2020

Who was the Angel Gabriel? Few creatures are as misunderstood as angels. But I love the role they play in bringing about God’s plans and purposes.  The Bible tells us that these heavenly messengers are supernatural beings, – not human beings who have “earned” wings in the next life by being good in this one. The Bible also tells us that when people encounter an angel, they tend not to say “Aww, how cute” like we do when we see the artist Raphael’s chubby baby cherubs. On the contrary, angel seers are filled with awe. ,They fall to the ground, and if they could, they would reach for the nearest defibrillator!

The Angels were certainly busy for a while as they played their part in ushering in God’s purposes.  Gabriel is one of only two angels whose names are mentioned in Scripture (the other is Michael). Whatever epic assignments Gabriel had previously undertaken for the Lord, this one surely topped them all. He was sent “to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26–27).

Only heaven knows how long Gabriel hovered unseen above the girl before he made his presence known.

Mary was so . . . young! She didn’t seem old enough to have a child, much less this child. Nevertheless, Gabriel spoke and delivered his message:

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

Gabriel answered a few of Mary’s questions, then added, “For no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37).

Mary seem to willingly accept this mission, however impossible it might appear to be.

A few weeks later Gabriel visited Mary’s shocked fiancé Joseph to explain the reason for this situation and this particular name: “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21)

Perhaps, when thinking about this later, Joseph wondered if he’d really heard correctly.  Had an angel really spoken to him?  Things can look so different in the cold light of day.

But how do you picture angels?  Do you think about what they thought as they winged themselves back to heaven after playing their part in God’s plans and purposes to save humanity?

I wonder if Gabriel puzzled over the meaning of his visitations. As he winged himself back to heaven, did he ponder a thousand inscrutable questions:

Really, the Eternal One entering into time?

The Almighty becoming a helpless, tiny baby in the womb of an unmarried girl?

Deity in nappies?

The One who built the universe from scratch becoming the adopted son of a common carpenter?

Why not break into history in a more spectacular way?

Perhaps you can see Gabriel shaking, or even scratching, his big golden angel head.

Maybe it didn’t work that way. Maybe God’s heavenly servants aren’t given to such musings. But we earthly servants should be.

are we musing over the events of Christ’s birth today? Or are we caught up too much with Covid 19?

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus may we allow God to leave us staggered with speechless wonder by the story of God coming amongst us.

Amen.

Midnight Message, Christmas Eve, 2020

Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:3)

“Trinity”, by Andrei Rublev

The famous Russian artist Andrei Rublev, completed his best-known icon in about 1442.  It is titled quite simply Trinity. Take a moment to look at the image. In a striking combination of colour and light, three messengers from God are seated round a table, and our eyes are drawn to the gentle, loving circle of the figures, with their restful expressions which seem neither masculine nor feminine, and the unity of the three heads, faces and postures.

The right-hand figure, is considered to be the Holy Spirit, as there is a mountain behind his head thus reminding us of the transfiguration (Matt 17) of Jesus, when Moses and the great prophet Elijah appeared in a cloud with Jesus in front of three of Jesus’ disciples.

The middle figure is considered to be Jesus, as it is dressed in a red and gold tunic and there is a tree behind, suggesting the cross.

The slightest of the three figures, the Father, has an air of mystery with a translucent robe, and a house with many rooms above his head.  A reference to the passage in John’s Gospel when Jesus is comforting His disciples before his arrest and tells them that He will go ahead a prepare a place for them because in His Father’s house there are many rooms (John 14).

The cup of sacrifice and life is on the table, and if you look carefully, there in the open space created at the front of the table is a rectangle symbolising the world… (Remember the world was not known to be round in the fifteenth century).

With the three looking the way they do it is as if they are inviting the whole world to receive and join in with the gift of life and love that these three messengers possess. Here, the gift of God is made visible. 

So this icon is a human attempt to express something of who God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is. It is a gift to us from the Artist!

 

These beautiful opening verses to the Gospel of John set forth the entire intention of John’s Gospel: which is to proclaim and testify that Christ is the Son of God.  So who is this Christ? John tells us that Jesus is the eternal Word, (the Logos of God), because He reveals God and the hidden things of God, and in himself declares the beauty of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, in other words the triune God. The Word, who existed with God and creates and holds all things, is the Christ.

These words, like the description of the Icon I described a few minute ago, are John’s, attempt to show us that Jesus is essential to obtaining true life. Life as God created it to be, for it is Jesus who reveals both the Holy Spirit and God to us. And Jesus’ desire is to communicate this truth to all people. 

When we accept and understand that it is He, Jesus, who brings us into a new relationship with God we are brought into a living and dynamic relationship that reveals God’s reconciling, healing and glorifying life, light and, above all, love. 

But Christ who came to the Jews first can, if we wish, come to us now, tonight, as the true gift of God. In this gift, He brings blessing, grace and the truth of truths, and, as with all gifts, we are invited to accept, and then receive the gift which has been revealed to us from the heart of God the Father, the Son of God.  And then Christ, the expression of God, will be known in our hearts, just like a beautiful icon, a colourful sunset, an exquisite flower, a sparklingly adorned Christmas tree, a child’s delighted face on Christmas morning easily fills us with inexpressible delight, warmth and peace,

So the gift of God which is revealed to us and celebrated by us at Christmas is to lead us into a fuller experience and understanding of God’s presence in our lives.  And when we willingly receive into our lives the light and power of the life that God offers through Jesus Christ we receive the gift of being ‘children of God’.  And we do this by recognising the one who lived amongst us 2000 years ago to be the Son of God, foretold by the prophets of old. 

Why did He come?  He came to save us from our sin by helping us to recognise what sin is.  Through His death on the cross Jesus offers us an escape from sin, for sin leads to eternal death and separation from God.  This offer is God’s awesome gift of repentance.  As we recognise this we will then know that Jesus makes and remakes us day after day for the whole of our life in order to know God in new ways, by knowing the depth, height and width of His love for us.  You see, out of His love for us God wants us through Jesus to allow Him to live His life in our personal world.

With the increase of knowledge with each new generation, with the increase of our experience via the media of global suffering, with the pressures of materialism, competition, and visible success motivating so much of what we do, let us spend time this Christmastide reflecting on the beautiful gift which God has given us in His Son.

Let me encourage you to take time to remind yourselves, and your loved ones, of this child, the greatest gift of all time, to enjoy the presence of this gift around your table, to feel uplifted by the gift in creation when you take a walk (whatever the weather), to consider the gift in your conversations, and to dwell on the gift in your prayers tonight and every night.

As you allow the truest gift, the Word of God, namely Jesus Christ, to be part of your Christmas celebrations, may you allow Him to be part of your daily life as you continue your journey through life.

If you choose to do this, know that your life will be held in His grace, truth and love. For all of life is gift.

In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.