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.

Christmas is all about life

Christmas is all about life

Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash

Christmas is all about life!  It’s about both new life and eternal life.

But as we know, life can be difficult. We make choices that produce unintended and difficult circumstances, and people make decisions that work against us and bring us pain. When we enter into these difficult times, the pain tends to draw our eyes downward, away from God of life and toward ourselves. Our pain, understandably, becomes large, and as a result our perspective is that God becomes small, ineffective, unable to save. We may feel that he is not there, that He has abandoned us!  While that’s certainly not true, our personal pain can overwhelm us to the point of believing that to be true.

It is at times like these that certain stories in the Bible are especially helpful, and none more so than the story of creation and of the birth of Jesus, which could be called a second creation. Although there are many controversies connected with both these stories, I believe that both teach us critical and central truths about God.  One truth is this; if we focus on His power and His loving nature as displayed through these stories, the pain of our lives can find His healing. Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise. (Jer. 17:14)

Both stories show as God the Creator… and both stories are at the beginning of the two parts of the Bible; creation at the beginning of the OT, the new second creation at the beginning of the NT.

Genesis 1:1–2 begins by affirming that God is the sole creator of everything. He stands above creation, is separate from creation, and is sovereign over all he has made. The stage is set.

In the first three days, God takes what is chaotic and makes it inhabitable, and he does this merely by his spoken word. In this we see that God creates and controls matter at the subatomic and molecular level.  Yet our temptation is to think that God cannot help us in our pain. Sounds almost silly when one puts it that way.

God makes light without the sun and stars, in contrast to the pagan myths that saw the sun as the ultimate power. To God, the sun and stars are incidental in creation.

He makes water that can exist in three states — liquid, solid, and gas — knowing that thousands of years later He will change the molecular structure of water to something else so that His Son can walk on it. Just stop and think about that: The God whom we have come to worship tonight, the God who pursues us, this all-powerful God merely speaks, and reality, time, atoms, and molecules come into existence. Since the beginning of creation, these have always been under His control so He can perform the miracles we read about in the Gospels: He turns water into wine, heals physical and mental illness, and merely speaks to give life to the dead.  What an awesome God!

And remember, He is as loving as He is powerful.

The second half of creation week is about inhabiting what is still inhabitable. He makes the stars and places them in the heavens, puts fish in the seas, releases birds into the skies, and creates animals and, finally, humans to fill the earth. The earth does not have the innate ability to produce life; it is a gift from God.

In the story of Jesus, we see again God speaking and miraculous things happening.

An angel appears to Mary, telling her that by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, you will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus.  He 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…  for ever; His Kingdom will never end (Luke 1:31ff)

God spoke Jesus into existence!

As we look at the whole story of Jesus’ birth, angels are everywhere; speaking to Joseph, the man Mary was betrothed to marry, to the shepherds on the hill side, and to the Wise Men.  On all of these occasions they declared the word of God, instructing them what to do.  You see, they were being presented with the truth of who God is, a God of life, and God who offers us the best in life. 

In showing God’s truth these angels tell us that God can be trusted, that He has plans for us, plans that are to prosper and bless us, not to harm us, after all He sent Jesus into the world to save us, not to condemn us.

So Just as the world, created by God, is His gift to us, Jesus is God’s gift to us!  Through this second creation we have an opportunity to be restored to good relationship with God.

Let’s allow Genesis 1 and Jesus’ birth to enlarge our vision of God so that we can begin to see the immensity of who He truly is. So How big is the God of Jesus Christ’s church? Have the pains of life become so large that they control our attention? Has the God of Genesis 1 and the story of Jesus become so unsatisfying that the gods of this world compete for our affection — pleasure, absence of pain, power, independence?

The truth is this; our God is the God of both Genesis and Jesus, the One who speaks all things into existence. The One who is sovereign over absolutely everything. The One who is wise beyond anything we can understand. The God who is worthy of being pursued with every ounce of passion in our body and spirit; the one to whom we cry out in our pain, to whom we hang on to in times of trouble, whom we serve, and whom we glorify in our obedience to His teachings and commands.

As the angels opened up the minds of those involved in this story may we allow God to open up our minds to the truth that is found in Him, the truth that Jesus is His Son, the one who came to make us right with God because as our Saviour He saves us.  And may we allow God to open up our minds to see Jesus as the one who is anointed to bring healing to all people and all nations of the earth.

The bottom line is this, Jesus, brings life and restoration to every inch of the universe. 

So let’s embrace the opportunity that Christmas gives us, to rejoice by raising our eyes to the God of life in the wonder of all that God has done, and is now doing, through His Son Jesus Christ, and accept the baby as our Lord and Saviour. In the name of the one true God.  Amen

Follow that star!

Follow that star!

Photo by Rad Pozniakov on Unsplash

God’s journey in human form began long before the star started shining.  No one knew what He would look like, or what kind of person He would be. God was hidden – He was with the people, but they did not really know it yet. How often is that the case? How often do we miss the presence of God because we do not know where to look, or because life feels hard and demanding and so God feels distant?

Joseph felt like that too. Frightened? Certainly.  Confused? Definitely. Unsure of what the whole thing meant? Totally.  But neither fear nor confusion takes away the fact that right then, before Joseph even knew it, God was there beside him.

Along with Joseph and Mary many people were travelling to Bethlehem. Houses were overcrowded, and so there was no space for them. There was no ‘Baby on Board’ badge to let them jump the queues or get a seat!

Yet… silently God is about to come into His world, and patiently He waits for His turn, but the world had no space for this traveller, no space for the parents He had chosen.  They could not pull rank or afford to buy favours.

Isn’t it interesting that God’s journey into the world starts with rejection and setting aside.  Not quite the welcome one might have expected. God was present, but the world largely passed by unaware of what was going on.

However, some people were made aware of what God was doing!  God’s invitation to the shepherds was both glossy (angels, no less!) and personal. But what were they invited to? To see a new-born child, with a promise the child was special.  Did they think this was all a joke? Why would a bunch of smelly shepherds from nowhere be invited for a special birth? Would shepherds be the best kind of visitors? surely… kings should be there first!

And I wonder whether the shepherds may have felt awkward, out of place, intimidated. Yet they were invited but it was up to them to decide how to respond, for they were not forced, they were just invited. Would they trust the invitation and go look for themselves?

God invites all of us to come and look – how do you feel about that? Will you go and find out more, or will you run away?

Running away is easy, especially from darkness. Yet, darkness in itself is not evil; it is merely frightening because it’s difficult to find our bearings within it. So, our response is often to run away from it.

The story of Christmas tells us that God came to dwell in darkness. God came to dwell in the place that was frightening – in a place of rejection, of poverty, of insecurity.

Yet, in dwelling in the darkness He brought light! It might sometimes feel like a small, flickering light, but it is light nonetheless. God does not just dwell in the beautiful, shiny places, where we are happy and grateful. God also dwells in the dark places, ready to walk with us, guide us and comfort us with the light of his loving presence.

Go ahead, ask Him, He will bring light to any darkness you’re going through.

The wise men saw the star that announced a king was going to be born. But somehow they ended up the wrong place, a palace instead of a stable. Maybe once they got nearer the goal, they followed their heads, and their inner sense of where a king should be born, rather than follow what they had discovered through the star.

So they had to adjust, both their course and their expectations. Course correction is part of any journey, for we too get things wrong, and need correcting.  But the Good News is this; this will not stop God from leading us, as long as we are ready to recognise our mistakes, and be ready to adjust. 

So the wise men were wise indeed. Wise enough to know they had gone wrong, and to learn from their mistake. Wise enough to be open to an unexpected truth… that God may not be quite as they had imagined.

Jesus’ birth in an unforgiving environment, shows us that the worth of a human being does not rest on where we are born, or to the parents we are born to.  It rests on the fact that we are loved by God. In His love for us God knows us through and through. But being known is a two-edged thing. It can make us feel loved and accepted. It can also make us feel exposed and vulnerable.

At Christmas God is saying to us all ‘come and see’, take a moment to look into the manager and see the Light of the World… Jesus. In Jesus we also find God’s presence, and their presence together is always marked by joy, kindness and generosity.

So Christmas is all about gathering around Jesus, and celebrating with others the fact that God has chosen to come to us, and to journey with us, in the difficult times, the good times, and so in every aspect of our lives. May this be your experience as you journey through this Christmastide.