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.

The Holy Spirit

Not by might nor by power, But by my spirit,” Says the Lord Almighty.  Zechariah 4:6

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In January 2007 I was foolish.  In my wisdom and in my own strength I worked through flu.  My blindness was such that I didn’t at first recognise I was unwell.  But I was cold, so cold.  I kept turning the heating up and putting on more layers of clothes.  Still I wasn’t warm.  I’ve no idea what my temperature got to, but I was determined to get through this in my strength.  Well, many of you know what happened next.  I worked through flu, only to come down with bronchitis a few weeks later.  This time I knew I was unwell and went to the doctor who gave me antibiotics.  This did the trick, but when I’d completed the course I was left with no strength, no power in my body, mind, soul and spirit.  I was completely fatigued; my battery was completely flat and wouldn’t recharge.  To cut a long story short I was off work until Mothering Sunday 2008.  And then it took a further 3 to 4 years before I felt fully recovered, and even now I have to be so very careful with looking after my energy levels.

I shouldn’t have worked through flu – my arrogance blinded me – “I can do this in my own strength”.  I learnt that God does not want me to do anything in my own strength.

For a while these words from Zechariah 4:6 have been on my mind and in my heart.; “So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty”

During that year God clearly taught me that human might, power, and strength are not sufficient to accomplish the work God had for me here on earth.  For Christians it takes the presence, enablement, and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to fulfil “thy will be done on earth.”

I needed revival!  Looking back before 2007 I can see God had been warning me not to over-do it, physically, mentally and spiritually.  The One who stimulates and brings about both personal and national revival, and so impacts all Christian lives, is the Spirit of God, the third Person of the Holy Trinity.

As Jesus anticipated His own return to heaven, He told His disciples that it was good for them that He go, because from heaven He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them always (John 14:16-17; 16:7).

The Scriptures are so amazing; they show the Holy Spirit at work.  When we allow Him He makes every aspect of our lives effective in God’s service. Let’s look at three Biblical illustrations of this, (and there are many more).

1.         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 36:26-27

A “heart of stone”, this is what all people have before they welcome God into their lives.  Isn’t this a wonderful picture, God taking away from us our heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh.  To obey God, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.  I only became a real Christian when I allowed the Spirit of God, who had been working upon my stony heart, to “remove” my hard heart, put His Spirit in me, and give me a “heart of flesh”.  Then he “moved” me to begin a now-43-year journey of loving and serving the Lord.

When you’ve been in conversation with someone about Jesus, but have encountered hardness of heart at every point, pray to God that He would cause His Spirit to soften that person’s heart. What man cannot do — it’s “not by [human] might nor by [human] power” — the Holy Spirit can definitely do (“by my Spirit, says the Lord”). He is the Heart-Changer!

2.         … Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’”  John 3:5-7

“You must be born again”, words of supreme importance with eternal consequences.  Jesus said that without a birth by the Spirit, no one will enter the kingdom of God.

The truth is this; we are not saved by good works, but by grace through faith.  Paul expressed this perfectly in his letter to Titus:

He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

So, our entrance into the heaven-bound family of God begins when we come to sincere faith in Jesus Christ and repent of our sins, receive His grace and forgiveness, and accept new birth by the Holy Spirit.

This is such an important truth to know, because without being born again our hearts remain stone, and therefore we won’t be able to yield to God’s prompting and leading, thus we will not grow in knowledge of the Lord, nor will we grow in trust of the Lord.  Consequentially our faith will be very shallow.  (Parable of the seed/4 soils Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15)

3.         …On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit…  you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:4-5, 8

The most amazing work of the Spirit in the believer’s life is their baptism in the Holy Spirit.  This should be evidenced in our attitude toward God and others as we grow and mature in God’s attributes and characteristics, and as displayed by how we use the supernatural gifts that He has given us.  All should be done for the glory of God!

This filling of the Spirit empowers us to live a good satisfactory life, for our satisfaction is to come from the Lord; from Him alone.  In this satisfaction we receive Spiritual “power” that enables us to “be witnesses” effectively for Jesus Christ.  It is not by might, nor by power, or abilities that we can muster up, but “by my Spirit, says the Lord,” that we can do mighty works for God.

The verse from Zachariah teaches us to begin our walk with the Lord through new birth by the Spirit.  In this new birth He takes away our stony heart and puts His Spirit in us, and our hearts are changed by the Spirit.  As this happens, He gave us the mighty baptism of the Spirit, to empower our lives for ministry and service, for all are created to a life of ministry and service.  This leads us into God’s Heavenly realm with the Holy Spirit enabling us to bring glory to our Heavenly Father through spiritual manifestations of visions, dreams, prophecies, miracles and other spiritual gifts.

The Holy Spirit is to guide us into all the ways of God, as he helps us discern the things of God, which we simply cannot do by natural means.

In essence, the Holy Spirit brings us into our initial relationship with God through His Son Jesus. Then He continues to lead us, empower us, and reveal God’s mind to us throughout our earthly lives.  It is only through Him, the Holy Spirit, that we can finish our lives on earth with victory, and can look back on a life well spent under the Holy Spirit’s daily influence, (Gal 3:3).

Based on a sermon first delivered on Sunday 14th June 2020

Celebrating the Trinity

Image by KWHacbc from Pixabay

While the word “trinity” does not specifically appear in Scripture, the concept arises frequently in many bible passages, e.g. Matthew 28:18-20 and 2 Corinthians 13:14.  And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:18-20).

The nature of the Holy Trinity can never be completely understood.  But don’t we like a bit of mystery?  Mystery used wisely helps to keep us on our toes, as we strain and yearn to grow in our understanding of something that we can’t quite understand.

Understanding something of the nature of the Trinity comes best through allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through us, particularly as we read scripture.  So, it is appropriate that this mystery is celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost, when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit first occurred. Therefore, knowing about Pentecost helps us to better understand Trinity Sunday.

The English word “Pentecost” is translated from the Greek word pentekostos which means “fifty”.  This comes from the ancient Christian expression “pentekoste hemera” which means “fiftieth day”.  In fact, Christians borrowed the phrase from Greek-speaking Jews who used the phrase to refer to a Jewish Holiday known as the Festival of the Weeks.  Leviticus 23:16 instructs people to count seven weeks (50 days) from the end of Passover to the beginning of the next holiday.  Jews celebrate Pentecost 50 days after the end of Passover.  Christians observe the day 50 days after Easter.

As we heard last week when the Holy Spirit descended, the disciples spoke in tongues, in different languages, other than their own.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  (Acts 2:1-4).

The languages spoken by the early Christians were heard by thousands of Jewish pilgrims who were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, and those languages were intelligible.  The disciples spoke boldly of the miraculous messages connected with God’s mighty works through the life, death and resurrection of His Son.  Those who heard the messages in their own languages were amazed, others thought the speakers were just drunk, particularly because it was a feast day for the Jews.  But they were not drunk.  They were filled with the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost was not just an event that happened many years ago.  Pentecost is now.

This event wasn’t to be a surprise to the disciples of Jesus, because before He was crucified, He told them that the Holy Spirit would come after Him.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:16-18).

And just as Jesus said, 50 days after the resurrection (10 days after He ascended into heaven), that promise was fulfilled when Peter and the other Disciples were in Jerusalem for the Jewish holiday of Pentecost.

Pentecost is the establishment of the Church.  As a result of the Apostles’ teachings on the gospel, followed by baptism, thousands of followers joined the church. Pentecost is when the Apostles went out among the people and began spreading Jesus’ message, thus establishing the beginning of the church.  With the decent of the Holy Spirit, a New Covenant was inaugurated; a covenant that we celebrate every time we share communion – Jesus’ blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. It is one of the most ancient feasts in the Church, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (20:16) and Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.

Today on Trinity Sunday, we, the Christian Church, have an opportunity to ponder with joy and thanksgiving at what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have done to accomplish the salvation of sinful humanity.  It brings to remembrance how we as Christians should respond to the love God has shown for us.  One way we do this is to praise Him and give Him the glory.  We are also to remember God the Father as our Creator, the Son as our Saviour and the Holy Spirit as our Comforter, the one who gives us strength and courage.

Psalm 8 says, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise.”  The ESV Bible translation uses “established strength” instead of “ordained praise”.  To me this implies that praise is a tool we can use to find strength in the Lord, and our strength comes from the Holy Spirit dwelling in us! 

Our Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 appeals to believers to aim for perfection and live in peace, ending with that wonderful prayer that the grace of Christ Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all.  This is again a repeat of the commission Jesus left for all believers in Mathew 28:16-20.

So, Trinity Sunday is to explain, to the best of our ability, the clues written in Scripture to guide us to a fuller understanding of our triune God.  The Father is God from the beginning (John 1:1). Jesus revealed Himself as equal to the Father in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”  Together, they sent the Holy Spirit.  The Bible tells us, “For there are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one” (1 John 5:7-11).

As we grow in our understanding of the Trinity in the light of Pentecost so will our understanding of God grow more fully.

Based on a sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday, 7th June 2020