THE PARISH OF

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Sermons Blog

Welcome to our "Sermon" blog

 

You need never miss another sermon again, as every week they will be uploaded on to this Blog page.

 

And even if you do not regularly attend either of our Churches; in St Peter's Rhoose, or St Curig's Porthkerry, on this page you will find out what we learn each week: About the meaning of our bible readings, how we can better understand them, and how we can live our lives closer to God.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 30 2019 05:39PM

Christian joy is one of the most confusing and often elusive things. We know that faith in Jesus should bring us joy, but quite how can be something of a mystery. The voice of society is loud in our ears and it tells us to throw off the shackles of rules, reject any idea of judgement as the construct of a controlling church and live your life the way your heart tells you to. If you look underneath the gloss of many of our popular films, that is exactly what they are saying. One of the best feel good films of last year was a classic example: The Greatest Showman. Now I loved it as much as anyone, but the underlying philosophy of our age was loud and clear. Yet as we look around at society, we see that, rather than getting happier, mental health problems are on the rise, anger and outrage are an everyday occurrence.


So what does Jesus say about joy? Now of course, it is a complex issue and we're not going to get the bottom of things in 15 minutes, but as we study today's verses of John, we will learn some key points, while also debunking a few myths.


As we read the passage, it would be easy to hone in on v17 and make our own interpretation of what Jesus is saying "This is my command: love one another." After all, we know that love makes us happy, so loving one another will share the joy. But what does it mean to love one another? This is where it gets more tricky. Is love helping people to follow their own hearts, as society would tell us, or is Jesus meaning something else entirely? To get to the answer, we need to dig down into the whole of the passage and see what Jesus is saying.


As we glance up from v17 to v12, we find a fuller version of 'love one another'. "My command is this: love one another as I have loved you." Our love for one another is rooted in how Jesus has loved us. But how has Jesus loved us? As we continue back through the passage, we discover v9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you." Jesus' love for us is rooted in how his Father has loved him. But how is that? To get to the answer, we need to go back to John 5:20 "For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does." God the Father's love for Jesus is shown in revelation. He has shared everything with him: his plans, his thoughts, his inner self. This is what love does, isn't it? When you fall in love you talk for hours, about your hopes and dreams, your past and your future. You reveal your heart. And when this sort of talking stops, then it's not usually long before the relationship breaks down too. From the beginning of time Jesus and the Father, along with the Holy Spirit, have been one: sharing, relating, revealing their hearts to one another. And Jesus has done this for his disciples. (Remember that the words we're looking at were spoken privately to them). He had taught them, warned them, shared with them.


Now imagine love without a response. You've shared your heart with someone and then they've ignored you? That's a terrible thing, isn't it? If it's happened to you, you will remember the pain and the hurt it caused. Love demands a response. And the response to God's love is obedience. v10 "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love." Jesus showed his love for the Father by responding to his revelation with loving, free, obedience. He wasn't bullied or threatened to obey. God wasn't a domineering Father demanding he do as he was told. No, He lovingly did what his Father, in love, had asked. And it cost him. It was obedience which led to the cross. v13 "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." Jesus' willing, costly sacrifice for us. He obeyed. And we are called to obey too.


We're called to obey Jesus' commands. Time for a bit more debunking. Did you notice he says "If you keep my commands". It is plural. So he's not just talking about one command, 'love one another', but commands, plural. This isn't new teaching. If you look back to chapter 14:15-27, Jesus is saying the same thing. And he also makes it clear that he and the Father are united v20 "On that day you will realise I am in my Father." v24 "These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." So it's not like God the Father has made all these horrible commands which we can now ignore because Jesus has given us one which overrides them. No, we are called to obedience to the full revelation of God. That is so important for us to remember. We do not have authority to cast away whole chunks of the Bible because we don't like them any more, or because we think society has moved past them. Unless God himself has rescinded them because they have been fulfilled in Jesus (like the food laws and the temple sacrifices) then they are still applicable to us. We respond to God's love by obedience.


Now, of course, dry obedience can become harsh and self serving. The Pharisees were prime examples of this. They weren't bad people, as we often think of them. Pharisees were keenly aware that the exile had happened because the people had disobeyed God, and they wanted to make sure it didn't happen again. So they made more laws to 'protect' the laws given by God, under the assumption that if the people kept these new laws then they were kept safe from disobeying God's laws. It had a good intention. The problem was, it all became rigid and harsh and individualistic, just about sticking to the letter of the law. Obedience even became a cause for pride. The love had gone. And that's the context into which Jesus was speaking. He needed to remind the disciples to love. Not just God, but one another. The greatest act of Jesus' obedience wasn't about him at all. It was about others. It was for others, us. In fact it cost Jesus everything, for us to gain everything. So Jesus told his disciples to be obedient and love others in this same self-sacrificing way, for the benefit of the other.


Now we need to remember that Jesus was speaking to the disciples. That's the 'one another' he's primarily referring to. It's about how we relate to one another within the church family. Jesus knew that frictions and disagreements could easily creep in and destroy the mission of the church. That happened when he was still with them, and he knew that it would happen all the more when he was gone. The disciples needed to be reminded to put the needs of others before their own. And so do we. Often the hurts and disagreements in church life come because we feel we have been slighted, or our rights have not been considered. When we begin to feel that way, we need to stop and pray, to seek the good of others. Then the church can move on in its mission to the world.


Now, of course, Jesus' words have a wider application to people outside of the church too, as we remember his other commands to love our neighbour and even love our enemies. How do we love others outside the church and seek their good? We don't do it by denying the commands of Jesus and teaching them lies. Neither do we do it by harsh condemnation. Love is about wanting and working for the best in someone else. And the very best thing is for someone to know, love and serve Jesus themselves.


This leads to the final point. v16 "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you." Now Jesus calls his disciples - and us by extension - friends, and that is no small thing. It was only Abraham who was called God's friend in the OT (Though he spoke to Moses as one speaks with a friend). It's a huge thing to be called Jesus' friend, and v16 reminds us that is only so because Jesus has called and chosen us. It's not because we are especially lovely or worthy, or that we've obeyed to the right extent. The initiative is with Jesus. And he's chosen us for a purpose: to bear fruit. What fruit might that be? We often think of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and so on, and that is true. But there is more than that here. Jesus says this fruit lasts. The clue is in the verb: 'go'. It reminds us of 'go and make disciples'. Those are the fruit that lasts, right into eternity. And when you think about it, the purpose of fruit is to make more fruit. It can be pretty and tasty and good for us, but fruit is there to grow new plants. Our purpose is go and bear the fruit of new disciples for God's kingdom. When we begin to think like this, like Jesus, then our prayers are prayers from his heart which God delights to answer.


And the result of all of this is joy. v11 "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." Loving Jesus, obeying him, sharing his love and seeing others come alive in him. This is the way to know joy as a Christian, and it's a joy which runs far deeper than simply being happy. It's a joy which can rest in the love of Jesus, be content in living for him and which shares his delight when others come to know him for the first time. May Jesus help us to live joyful lives as we serve him.



By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 30 2019 05:38PM

We're getting into that season of love, aren't we? Friday was Dydd Santes Dwynwen, the Welsh celebration of love and in just over 2 weeks it will be St Valentine's Day. You've had your reminder now, so there's no excuse! Love is hugely important to us. We know that children starved of love struggle to thrive, love enriches our lives and gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning, love fills the pages of millions of books and countless hours of screen time. The Beatles wrote optimistically "All you need is love." Last week, as we continued our study of John, we encountered a passage all about love. v12 "Love each other as I have loved you." We explored how we can have a love like Jesus: a love which is obedient to God, which puts others first, and which teaches the truth about God, rather than comfortable lies. We saw that as branches grafted onto the vine that is Jesus, our purpose is to bear fruit for the kingdom. It's a very happy and positive reading, not least because love is mentioned no less than 9 times.


So it's a bit of a shock when we enter today's reading. Instead of love we find hate. The word itself is used 7 times. It jars, coming so closely after love. In our logic we assume that the result of love is always happiness and peace. We remember v11 "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete" and we expect everything to be easy. But the deep joy that living in the love of Jesus brings, doesn't mean a trouble free life. In fact, living the life that Jesus calls us to can lead to hate. And it's a shock.


Two weeks ago, Rhiannon led us through a fantastic together service where we learned about the persecuted church. Hatred of Christians is widespread and horrific. It is estimated that 25 million Christians were martyred in the 20th century and the 21st has continued with little difference. In Jerusalem last year I met an Archbishop called Benjamin Kwashi from Jos in northern Nigeria. His life has been lived for Jesus and his gospel. As well as faithfully teaching the word of God and leading others, he and his wife have taken 51 orphans into their home. He wrote "When I was in Jerusalem this past June for GAFCON, the mother of a seven-month-old baby was shot back in Nigeria. The killers thought they had killed both of them, but later on in the day, people went searching for the corpse of this woman, and they found the baby sitting there crying with his dead mother. They immediately knew to bring him to Mama Gloria, to our house." Yet they have suffered attack after attack for their faith and have seen their home and churches burned. Last year, just a few days after we were in Jerusalem, his home was attacked again and his neighbour who went to investigate was killed. In the UK, persecution takes a different form, but the hatred is still there. Christian Concern supports many people who have been sacked because of their faith or who face other personal tragedies because they have spoken out.


Now, of course, hate is at its most shocking when it happens to you. We've probably all experienced it at one time or another for a variety of reasons, but when it comes because of our faith it can really rock us. Perhaps you refused to lie for your boss and were blacklisted at work, or you didn't want to fiddle the accounts or join the boozy night out, or maybe you spoke up for someone being bullied and found yourself frozen out. It hurts. And it brings the question 'why is this happening when I am doing the right thing?'


That hurt seems magnified when the hatred comes from within the church. It was a huge shock to me when I started my training for ordination and was ridiculed for believing in such things as the uniqueness of Jesus and the authority of scripture. I couldn't believe that people would try to get me thrown off the course because of what the Bible teaches. It was brutal and the scars from that time took nearly 2 decades to heal. I have colleagues who are still bowed down under the weight of their scars. And it still goes on. Stand up for Jesus and his truth online and you will be slated. Put your head above the parapet in meetings and you will be shot down and denied the right to speak. We don't expect it. We think "I'm following Jesus. I'm being obedient. I'm trying to love. What's gone wrong?" It cuts us to the heart, and I know people who have given up on Jesus altogether because of it. That is why today's reading is so vital for us to hear. As we study it together we will see that Jesus was hated and so we will be hated (v18-24); hatred is not new (v25) but we are not alone (v26-27).


Let's look at it together. Jesus was hated and so we will be hated. v18 "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." Think about Jesus' life. It was the most loving life ever lived. He healed the sick, he touched the untouchable, he taught others to live. Even as he was cruelly tortured, he prayed for those who hurt him. And he taught the truth about God. What was the reaction? While many flocked to him, others hated him. So much so that they wanted to kill him . . . and succeeded. The hatred began really early in his ministry. As we've been studying John's gospel, we encountered it as far back as 5:18. And who were the ones hating? The religious leaders. The very ones waiting for the Messiah rejected him when he came. Are we greater than Jesus? Do we love more perfectly, live more selflessly than he did, that we should avoid what he endured? No. v20 "A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also."


Why? Why did people hate Jesus and why do they still hate his followers? Jesus gives us 2 reasons. The first is in v19 "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." We don't belong to the world any more, if we love Jesus. We are different, and as humans we always attack those who are different. But there's even more. At a deeper level, an active Christian life challenges others. If we won't steal, they feel bad about stealing. Jesus' light shows up the dark places in their lives and they are either drawn to his light, or they shut it out. If you want to be left alone as a Christian, then keep your faith to Sundays and live like everyone else. They'll leave you alone, but you'll be a fruitless branch, and that brings an even greater danger. It's there in v6.


The second reason for hate Jesus gives is in v 21 "They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me." They don't know God. This might be obvious when we think of the militant atheist, but a bit more of a surprise when we think of persecution from within the church. Yet there is a form of religion which involves going to church, singing hymns and looking the part, but which invites no relationship with the Lord at all. The Jewish leaders were very religious, yet they still killed Jesus. And there is no excuse. v22 "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin." v24 "If I had not done among them the works no-one else did, they would not be guilty of sin". The evidence was right there, but they rejected it and were culpable. The evidence is right before us today, especially in the UK where Bibles are freely available. Those who are church leaders and still deny Jesus are in the worst position of all, for to reject Jesus and his teaching with every resource at your fingertips is a terrible thing. But it happens, and we must not be surprised. Jesus taught that such hatred was not a new thing.


That's our second point: Hatred is not new. v25 "But this is to fulfil what is written in their law: 'They hated me without a cause'." It's a quote from Psalms 35 and 69. The scriptures they claimed to love so much predicted how those leaders would react to Jesus. But if you look through scripture, there are plenty of people who stood up for the word of God and were hated, even by their own leaders. Think about poor old Jeremiah for example or Elijah. Hatred is not new. We should not be surprised.


But we need not be downhearted either. The third point is an encouraging one: We are not alone. Verses 26 and 27 are a reminder that Jesus was going to send his Holy Spirit, another one just like him, the Advocate or the Counsellor, to be with his people. His job is to testify about Jesus. He's the one who softens people's hearts to receive him. He's the one who is with us, giving us words. His presence doesn't mean we don't need to speak. Jesus was very clear v27 "You also must testify." But it means we're not left on our own to face the hardships. He is with us, and he will help us to be fruitful branches on the vine.


So a really important section of John's gospel for us to study and take in, so that we are not shocked or thrown off balance when we are avoided or frozen out or challenged or hated for the good news of Jesus or for living a life of love in action. These things, and worse, happened to Jesus and so they will happen to us too. It's not a new phenomenon that we should be surprised by, but is there throughout scripture. Yet more encouraging, we are not alone as we struggle. We have God's Holy Spirit with us, testifying and changing hearts. So we can stand up and love and live for Jesus and be the fruitful branches we have been called and chosen to be.



By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 11 2019 09:13AM


Everyone seems to love a bit of singing at Christmas time. Whether that's the traditional carols, the classic Christmas rock anthems or the latest Christmas number 1. Christmas music is everywhere, in every shop and in every public place. I was asked last week 'What is your favourite Christmas song?' and I really had to think about it. What about you, what's your favourite Christmas song?

We sing at Christmas because it is a happy time, a time for celebration, and our Old Testament reading starts in this same vein v14 "Sing, daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel!" But what sort of a song? Is it to be a jolly but not very deep 'So here it is, Merry Christmas' or is something a little more theologically challenging called for?


To understand what the prophet is saying, we need to get to grips with the whole little book, otherwise it's like we're reading the last page of a novel, when the hero and heroine get to walk away into the sunset together, but we've no idea what they've been through to get there. If we just read the last verses of Zephaniah it's like celebrating Christmas without knowing why Jesus came. Now I'm guessing that not many of us know much about Zephaniah. It's not a book we suggest to new Christians to read, nor is it the place we turn to when we're deciding what to do next in our quiet times. I suspect that if we didn't give the page number out, many of us would have struggled to even find it in the Bibles. Yet it contains in its 3 chapters a wonderful summary of the gospel message. We discover: why we need Jesus; what Jesus has done and what Jesus will do, all written over 600 years before he was born.


Zephaniah was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah during the reign of the great reforming king, Josiah. Judah needed a reforming king, because the two previous kings, Manasseh and Amon, had turned the entire nation away from God and to the worship of Baal and Asherah. By the time the boy king Josiah took the throne, the temple worship had become so corrupt that nobody even knew where the Book of the Law (the Bible) was. (You can read about all of this in 2 Kings 21-23). Despite the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel 100 years previously, and the loss of 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel for exactly the same sorts of behaviour, the people carried on regardless. 'It won't happen to us. God wouldn't do that to us. Jerusalem and the temple are here, we'll be fine'. But they weren't going to be fine. Zephaniah's job was to warn the people that God was coming to judge. Rather than being a book of joy and singing, his prophecy contains some of the clearest expressions of God's anger against his people. Turn back to chapter 1, if you would. Look at v4-6

" ‘I will stretch out my hand against Judah

and against all who live in Jerusalem.

I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place,

the very names of the idolatrous priests –

5 those who bow down on the roofs

to worship the starry host,

those who bow down and swear by the Lord

and who also swear by Molek,[b]

6 those who turn back from following the Lord

and neither seek the Lord nor enquire of him.’

Can you see what was happening? The people were outwardly saying they were people of God, but they never sought him, they never prayed to him or asked for direction. They never listened to him. Oh, they might go to the Temple and go through the motions of worship, but when they weren't there, they were kneeling to the stars or swearing by Molek. And they probably didn't even know that what they were doing was wrong, because the priests were doing it too. There was the form of religion, but its heart had been ripped out. God's word had been lost and his name had become a mere formality. You think that's an ancient problem? Take a trip around our nation today. You will find churches with no Bibles, priests who cannot speak to God unless they are reading words off a page, and people who spend an hour a week reciting the words of the prayer book and the remaining hours worshipping the gods of secularism. 'We're God's people, he doesn't mind', the folk of Zephaniah's day said. 'God is love, he won't judge', the people of today say. God was saying something completely different. "I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem." He was coming to judge. And that judgement came in 586 when the Babylonian army swept in and destroyed everything, including the temple.


But, just as Rhiannon reminded us last week, Biblical prophecy often works on several levels. There are different horizons, different fulfilments at different times. Zephaniah's message wasn't just for the Jewish people of the late 7th century.

Look at v 2-3

" ‘I will sweep away everything

from the face of the earth,’

declares the LORD.

3 ‘I will sweep away both man and beast;

I will sweep away the birds in the sky

and the fish in the sea –

and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.’[a]

‘When I destroy all mankind

on the face of the earth,’

declares the LORD,"

Here is a universal judgement, and it's a judgement even more devastating than the flood in Noah's day. Then at least some of the birds and animals survived, here even the fish will be swept away. It is the Day of the Lord (v14). Why is it coming? The answer is in v17 "I will bring such distress on all people . . . because they have sinned against the Lord." There's the heart of the problem. People in Zephaniah's day, people today, temple goers, church goers, people of no religion and those who dabble in many. All have sinned against God and he will judge. You might ask 'how can a loving God do that?' When you hear about babies being raped and killed, how do you respond? When you see footage of frail elderly people beaten in their own beds in the middle of the night, or disabled people taunted and exploited, what is your gut reaction? Is it not for justice? How much more does God feel that way, whose motives and responses are not tainted by sin? Anything that damages another person is a sin against God because they are bearers of his image. We can't excuse ourselves because we're not as bad as all that, because we know we haven't lived a perfect life of loving God and others. Like Nineveh we've all put ourselves at the centre of the world 2:15 "I am the one! And there is none besides me." God's judgement is coming, and we desperately need a rescuer.


Zephaniah's prophecy would be very gloomy indeed if all we had were the first 2 and a half chapters. But we don't. God showed Zephaniah the things he was going to do further into the future. 3v9 is a turning point "Then I will purify the lips of the peoples that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder." One day people from all over the world would come back to God, including a remnant of Israel. How would this even be possible? The answer is in v15 "The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy." Though God was bringing judgement, he himself would take their punishment. The verses are written in what is known as the 'prophetic perfect' where the prophet speaks about things that will happen using the past tense, because they are so certain to take place it's like they've already happened. God would take away their punishment, turning back the greatest enemy, death, as Jesus hung on the cross. God himself, judge and judged. That's Jesus. That's why he came. It wasn't to give us a happy occasion to celebrate as the days get short, it was to take away the punishment we have brought on ourselves. That's the reason for the singing we started with. Our rescuer has come! We are saved! And there's even more than that. Look at v17

" The Lord your God is with you,

the Mighty Warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you;

in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

but will rejoice over you with singing.’

God doesn't look at us and just tolerate us. I made them, I suppose I'd better save them. He delights in us! He rejoices over us with singing! When we come back to God, through Jesus, the whole of heaven erupts with joy. God saves us. And to truly know the wonder of that, we need to know about the judgement.


But salvation isn't the end of the story either. Jesus' work wasn't finished when he died on the cross, or even when he rose or ascended. There is a further horizon to Zephaniah's prophecy. v19

" At that time I will deal

with all who oppressed you.

I will rescue the lame;

I will gather the exiles.

I will give them praise and honour

in every land where they have suffered shame.

20 At that time I will gather you;

at that time I will bring you home.

I will give you honour and praise

among all the peoples of the earth

when I restore your fortunes[e]

before your very eyes,’

says the Lord

It's a future picture of restoration. It was partly fulfilled when the Jews came out of exile in Babylon, but its true fulfilment is yet to come, when God creates the new heaven and the new earth. His judgement will fall, everything will be swept away as in the flood, but those who are in the ark which is Jesus will be held safe, their punishment paid, and they will be kept safe until Eden is restored and perfected. So the big question is: have you been, will you be, saved by Jesus? Is your faith one where your trust is in him, or is it something you do for an hour or so in the week? God knows the difference, and the consequences are strikingly different.


So, a whistle stop tour of Zephaniah this morning, but one where we've seen why we need Jesus: because God is going to come in judgement; we've seen what Jesus has done: by taking the punishment we should have had - God the judge and the judged; and we've seen what Jesus will do: hold us safe in him until the world is remade in God's wonderful perfection. How we need Jesus! What a wonderful reminder of why he came.



By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 11 2019 09:11AM


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One question I have been asked a lot over the last week or two is "Are you ready for Christmas?" Perhaps you've been asked it too. But have you really thought about what they actually mean? What are people expecting when they ask that question? Are your presents bought and wrapped? Is your house decorated? Have you got all your food in? Is it all 'tidy and sorted'? I guess those are the expectations on us all, especially by now, 2 days away from the big day. We want everything to be just right, so the whole family can enjoy their Christmas. But there will be people, maybe even some of you here, whose Christmases won't be tidy and sorted. They'll be messy. Think of the young mum with a new baby and a toddler, who can barely find the time and energy to get dressed, or the family whose benefits have been sanctioned as they couldn't get to their appointment because their child was sick in the hospital, or the people working over Christmas to keep us safe, well, seasonally dined and merry, or the person alone, dreaming of what might have been. There is so much pressure for Christmas to be perfect that people are going into debt or even worse, depression, because their Christmas can't match up to the picture perfect one we see all around us. It is so tragic, because while we try to make Christmas perfect we forget that it began in a mess. It began in a dirty stable, with a child conceived outside of wedlock, in a town under occupation, and a couple about to become refugees. The first Christmas was a mess. But Jesus was born into the mess to make the wrong right, as Dai said on our film.


The wrong Jesus came to make right started at the very beginning of time in our first reading. God had created a wonderful world full of colour and freedom and joy. There was only one rule: don't eat the fruit from the tree in the centre of the garden. One rule, a myriad of things to enjoy, yet humanity went after the one thing it wasn't allowed. And we haven't changed. We don't seem able to be content with enough, we want it all, and that greed damaged everything. It damaged the world, it damaged our relationship with one another and it damaged our relationship with God. Yet God chose to come and fix it. He promised the one who would crush the enemy's head.


As his plan unfolded, he chose people to help him, as markers along the way to the one he would send. What sort of people would they be? Who would you choose? Would you not pick a superhero? There's been a lot of interest in superheroes lately, Hollywood seems to love to make films for every Marvel character ever drawn, and children long for the superpowers that they possess. But God didn't choose superheroes. He chose people whose lives were a mess.


Take Abraham. He was in our second reading. He was called by God to leave his own land and go to a land God would give him, and God promised that a descendant of his would bless all the nations. Abraham did obey God, but his personal life was a mess. He lied about his wife and said she was his sister, not once but twice. He slept with his slave girl to get a child when God didn't give him and Sarah one quickly enough, causing hurt and upset at the time and down through the generations. It was a mess, but God used him anyway.


Our next reading was about David, God's king, a man after God's own heart. But he was no saint or superhero either. He committed adultery and murder. He was a bit of a mess, but God worked through him anyway, and promised that his descendant would be the one God had promised.


Then we met Ahaz. He wasn't a king after God's own heart. He was more than a mess, he actively worked against God. And yet God still made a promise in conversation with him.. A big one: the virgin[d] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[e] will call him Immanuel.


Then, 700 years later Jesus was born. He was born into a messy stable in a messy world, and he went on to die an even messier death. But God was at work. Faithful Simeon saw it as he held the infant Jesus and said " my eyes have seen your salvation,

31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and the glory of your people Israel.

Here was the one who would make a difference. Jesus. He would crush the head of the serpent, he would obey God when Adam couldn't. He would take all the mess of the world into his own body at the cross, breaking the power of evil, sin and death, and he promised to come back with a newly restored world for all who trust in him. Jesus, the descendant of Abraham, of the kingly line of David, born of the virgin Mary, just as God had promised.


I wonder if you're getting the idea yet? God doesn't wait until we're all sorted out. Our lives don't have to be perfect before he'll love us. Quite the opposite. He was born in the mess to make the wrong right. That's what Christmas is all about. Not a polished royal visit to a few carefully selected guests, but God coming into this messy world, to save it, and to save you and me. Don't wait to be good enough for Jesus. Just let him into your messy life and see what wonders he can do, making the wrongs right in you.



By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 11 2019 09:10AM

When you think about it, we are doing a very strange thing tonight. It's nearly midnight and here we are sitting in church. We don't do that any other night of the year, and yet here we are. Why? Perhaps it's the sense that tonight is somehow different. It feels magical, special, like we're on the cusp of a time when anything is possible. There's peace, wonder, expectation. We've heard anew the beautiful story of a baby born against all the odds, shining angels singing heavenly songs and surprised shepherds leaving their flocks to go and gaze on this wonderful child. It's a perfect picture.


But before we know it, tomorrow will come, and it's likely that it will bring broken toys, crying children, unwanted presents, family arguments. If not in your household, then certainly in others. Domestic violence rises, loneliness increases and those in the depths of poverty feel their deprivation like never before. And what relevance will tonight's story have then? None at all, if all we see is the school nativity picture perfect scene. But thankfully there's a whole lot more going on than that.


I wonder if you've seen the latest Banksy image, painted on a garage in Port Talbot? I was especially interested in it because I served the first 3 years of my ministry in Port Talbot and have fond memories of the place and its people. It's painted on two sides of the corner point of the garage. If you look at it from one side you can see a little child with a sledge, joy on his face, opening his mouth to taste the snowflakes falling all around him. A picture perfect Christmas scene. But when you turn the corner and look at the other side, you quickly realise that it's not snow falling on the child, but ash from a bin that's been set alight. It's a profound dose of reality, which has a far wider impact than the pretty Christmas scene could ever do. But you wouldn't see it unless you looked around the corner.


That's exactly what we need to do with the Christmas story, if its message is to have an impact in the harsh reality of life. We need to look around the corner, look behind the tinsel and cute children to find a message so profound it can change the way we see everything.


Let's start with the manger. Picture the brown wooden box with its bright yellow straw, and lying on top of it, wrapped in brilliant white cloths is a chubby, pink, bright eyed baby. That's the picture, isn't it? But turn the corner and you see the reason why he was there, rather than in a cot in Nazareth. The land was ruled by the occupying powers of the Romans, who governed with the heavy hands of military force. People were not free. When the command came for everyone to register at the town of their birth, they had no choice but to drop everything and go. Joseph was a carpenter, running his own business, but he had to down tools and make the 100 mile journey to Bethlehem. It was a long way, no wonder he took his wife with him. After all, the scandal surrounding her pregnancy left her vulnerable, he had to keep an eye on her. But once they got to Bethlehem, the place was in chaos. People everywhere. It was only a small town. It couldn't cope with the influx of people, and who would want these two, if they had heard the rumours? It was a frightening, confusing and very dark time. But this is where God chose to be born. He didn't go to the best hospital with the finest midwives and a block on the press. He chose to be born into the chaos of ordinary life. And that tells us something very profound, when our lives seem anything but picture book perfect. God came into the real world, and he still operates in the real world today.


What about the visitors to the manger? We heard about the shepherds in our reading, hearing the heavenly host and rushing to see the baby. The image most of us have of the shepherds is of men in stripy dresses with fluffy white sheep under their arms, smiling at the holy infant. But if we look around the corner, we discover that shepherds weren't such cuddly visitors. In first century Judea shepherds were the lowest of the low. They lived outside of the regular communities, they didn't have time to go to the temple or synagogue and they eked out a living on the hillsides, staying in the natural caves. If a shepherd came near to you, you would keep a tight hold of your purse. They are not the people you would want near your new baby. Yet God welcomed them. In fact he did more than that. He invited them in. It wasn't that they just turned up and he didn't want to send them away. He sent angels to tell them to go to Bethlehem and see the special baby. You see God isn't just for the respectable people. When as an adult Jesus was challenged about why he spent time with the tax collectors and sinners he said "It's not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick". He didn't come for those who think their lives are all sorted out, but for those who know they need him. Your complicated life and the things you might have done don't put Jesus off. He came to earth for you.


What about the other visitors? We didn't read about them tonight, but we know they came. The exotic visitors from the east with their slightly perplexing presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They add colour and mystery to our nativity scene. But look around the corner and you will find a far more sinister backdrop. For while these important men were willing to travel for months to see Jesus, there was another king, much closer to hand, whose motives were far less honourable. His name was Herod and in his book there was only space for one king and it was him. In an attempt to get rid of Jesus he had all the Jewish baby boys slaughtered in a hideous act of genocide. The pain he caused is unimaginable. But his presence in the story is a reminder that not everyone welcomed Jesus back then, and not everyone welcomes him now. Many prefer to be the king in their own lives and so reject Jesus' rule. His presence prompts us to ask ourselves the question, do I accept Jesus as king over me? Or would I rather he stay rosy cheeked in the manger.


The final part of the Christmas picture we're going to look at is the name given to this miracle baby. Or rather the names. We have a fascination with baby names. Go on the internet and you will find all sorts of articles about which baby names will be popular next year and which names are totally out of fashion. We know names are important. None more so than the names given to this baby. His given name 'Jesus' means God saves and that would be the work he came to do, dying on the cross for the sin of the world. Another name is Immanuel. It means 'God is with us'. As we look around the corner of the nativity picture, we discover a God who is with us, who came to earth, to our messy, chaotic lives to live among us. He didn't hide himself away in palaces and meet only the most respectable of society. He invited the lowest of the low alongside the rich and powerful into his family. He invites you. And that's the difference tonight can make tomorrow and in the middle of January and when you are struggling and life is hard. Jesus was born and lived and died for you. He can be with you by his Spirit when you place your trust in him. He isn't just a part of the mirage of Christmas, gone even before the year turns. He is real, and you can know him yourself and find in him hope that doesn't fail, strength for the hard times and lasting joy in knowing that your future is safe in him.


So don't just see the cute nativity picture of Jesus this Christmas. Look around the corner and see the God who came to this messy world for you and for me.

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