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Posted By Nan

Luke 1:26-56

In our family, the 5th candle, to be lit Christmas Day, was always called the Jesus candle.

Growing up I was always hearing Noel sung, spoken or even written. I just assumed it was one of those words a child didn’t understand.

When I was preparing for this Christmas I decided to look it up. It is from French meaning to be born. Beautiful. And what a celebration of a birth it is. A birth that is the most important and world changing birth ever.

Christmas is so much more than a holiday. It is easy to forget that. Here in Australia we usually take time off between Christmas and New Year and even into early January. Even if there is no time off, there are plenty of public holidays to extend Christmas. I know I look forward to the time in December when I see my last client for the year and close the door to my room with the promise I will return in a few weeks. It is easy to see Christmas as being about holidays and soaking up the sun.

Christmas is more than buying presents, wrapping presents, buying food, cooking food. It is more than Christmas wishes shared around. It is more than Santa or Elf on the Shelf. It is more even than being with family.

Christmas may include those things, but more importantly it is the time for us to reflect on God’s promises for our salvation to come from one who sits on the throne of the line of David. It is time for us to reflect on what it cost Jesus, who was God, to humble himself to become a human and live a life that would end in a horrifying death. 

Christmas is also about preparing to honour that baby, born into poverty, destined for a difficult life, yet willing to do it for us. 

Christmas is also about renewal. Coming away fresh from a day honouring Jesus and renewing our memory of what He has done for us, renewing our faith and commitment to the path following Jesus.

What we must not neglect in this time is the reading of our Bibles.

It isn’t too late to get that Bible out now and read it. 

It is never so busy that you cannot spend even 5 minutes remembering what Jesus did for us when he was born as a tiny baby, grew, ministered and died for us.

We must never forget Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the Christ.

It is about the arrival of the light of Jesus into the world. About the light that lights our path so we may follow Him in the light, so we may have the true light of life.

I was reading an article this morning that talked about how important it is for children to believe in Santa and be allowed to grow out of that belief. The writer likened Santa to mercy, compassion and justice. It was sad to read that. To read how those stumbling in darkness have invented a character that has the characteristics of Jesus, but in an imperfect, secular way. 

This week I have spoken to so many people who cannot get home to see family this Christmas. I have spoken to those who have their family there but only see the point of Christmas because they have young children who will be present. 

All these people fail to see how Christmas means anything or is even enjoyable. Once the magic of Christmas was dispelled at the realisation Santa was not real, the magic was gone from Christmas. Without God, without Jesus, Christmas is just empty consumerism. That consumerism is contagious. It infects us too.

It is important we don’t forget that Christmas is about Jesus. That the magic and attraction of Christmas is remembering and acknowledging Jesus birth in a stable.

While we come to be obsessed with Christmas being about family, it is easy to forget that Joseph and Mary had no family around them. They were in a dirty, drafty stable with the animals. They did not even have a cradle to put Jesus into or lovely clothes to cover Him with.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jewish people were unsure of their identity. They no longer had a homeland. It was under Roman occupation with a non Jew as their nominal king. The promises of God ruling the world with justice and peace seemed so far away. Mary was one of that nation who remembered the past and what they had lost in the present.

There was the promise of a Messiah who was to come. The people endowed Him with all their longing to return to the days of nationhood. The Messiah seemed to be an impossible promise. In this time, we see Mary, a young teenager, visited by an angel who tells her the impossible. The Holy Spirit was to place in her uterus a baby, who was the Messiah, God. This young girl did not deny the visit from the angel, or the fact that she was pregnant when she had never lain with a man. 

When Mary visited her cousin, pregnant in a point in life way past when women usually fell pregnant. The baby in her cousin’s uterus leapt for joy. She wondered what was happening. She knew something amazing and mighty was coming. Something that, although it promises a better way, was frightening in the radical changes it would bring about. 

For hundreds of years people had waited despairingly for the promised Messiah. Now Mary and Elizabeth realised He was coming. But people had been waiting so long many had lost hope He would actually come.

For people today, the promise of Jesus return was made two thousand years ago. It seems to so many that it will never happen, and they have fallen away. The symbolism of the Messiah appearing as a tiny baby. Symbolising the newness of what was happening, of the need to be reborn. The day when Jesus returns comes closer all the time. We don’t know how long we will have to wait. It may not even be in our life times. But it will come. 

Mary had faith in God, despite the danger of her being an unwed, pregnant woman. She had faith in what God had told her. She was one of the few who was full of faith and hope in the promises God had made. We need to be like that too. We need to let go of the cynicism that has seeped in as Christmas is made into a secular holiday with all the commercial bells and whistles, as people rob the day of its true meaning. We need to declare as Mary did that we are God’s servants. We need to ask that His promises are fulfilled as He decrees. 

May we be blessings to others, witnesses of the baby’s birth.

May our souls glorify God and our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour. 

May we never forget that God delights in the humble and blesses them. 

That His idea of the worthy is not the world’s idea. 

That God fulfilled His promise to Abraham in sending Jesus into the world and He will fulfil His promise to us in Jesus return.

In the meantime, we need to use Christmas as the time to remember the baby’s birth. God’s promises. We need to remember each year to spend the time of Advent reflecting, preparing and being open to renewal at the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

 
Posted By Nan

John 3:16-21 and Luke 11:37-54.

Today we are still on the theme of Love. 

John 3 speaks of God’s love being so great that He was willing to give up His own Son. He was willing to send Him into the world to leave His light here for those of us who see it. He came to save the world, so that when we saw His light, loved it, and followed it, we would be saved. That is the greatest expression of the Love of God. Nothing compares to that. Here is the fulfilment of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son. God supplied the sacrifice and at Christmas we remember that God supplied the once for all sacrifice of His son and Jesus obeyed His father’s commands to fulfil what God had planned since the beginning as our salvation.

Luke 11 continues the theme of my last blog. It speaks again of the Pharisees whose focus is on being outwardly clean while full of sin. Of being excessively legalistic to the point of neglecting God’s command to love. Pharisees who love the outward show of people holding them in awe and taking the best seats in the synagogue. Of being harsh and judgemental, loading people up with impossible rules and commands and filling them with shame when they cannot live as perfectly as the Pharisees tell them to live. Shame that does not belong to God and does not come from God. And when the people cannot live as perfectly as they are commanded the Pharisees condemn them and do nothing to help or show compassion. It was the Pharisees whose ancestors persecuted and sometimes killed the prophets and apostles sent by God. The Pharisees were also judged for taking away the key to knowledge of God. This was because they had not entered into faith in God, and they hindered anyone else who may enter there. 

Historically, this is what has happened with the Western Church. For so long it was considered advantageous to be a man of God. Men entered the church for prestige, not out of love for God. These men had no love of God, no knowledge of God and no interest in acquiring that knowledge. Their interest was in secular pursuits such as the acquisition of power. This is not to say that all who served God in the past, or now, are like that. There are many who love God. But they do not tend to be those in positions of power within the church. Even if someone who loves God rises to power, they are easily led astray by the politics of the organisation they serve. In that serving they make their religious institution their god and forget about God. I have seen this happen so often.

I have also seen church hierarchies that favour those in important positions and judge those lesser members of the church. I have sat with a woman who wanted her fiancé to be ambitious for power within the church and was horrified when I asked her what God wanted for her fiancé. 

I have seen a man lead a church even when he was no longer interested in the job. Instead he chose to stay so that the church would continue to pay his son’s school fees. When the son finished school he found a job within the church hierarchy where he didn’t have to stand up in church and mutter platitudes he didn’t believe in.

I have seen too many church leaders afraid to stand up to dominant members of the congregation who were doing things that were against everything God stood for. The leaders allowed this ungodly behaviour to continue. This has particularly happened with child sexual abuse. Abuse where the victim was persecuted by the church to keep those in power happy.

I have seen a woman, who had an affair with a man in the church. A mutually consensual affair. When she became pregnant she chose to keep her baby, rather than abort it, in line with her belief in God. She was condemned and cast out by the church, without support, and the man was not even censured in any way. 

There are so many things I could talk about but I will leave it at that.

There have always been Pharisees. Jesus commanded them to be generous to the poor, to love Justice and the Love of God. But they clung instead to their legalism, favouritism, harsh judgementalism and hatred.

I am sick of people telling me I am not like other Christians they know because I show love and acceptance to all while maintaining my Jesus following principles. Because I don’t judge. Because I believe in justice, social justice in particular. I know there are other Christians like me, but the face of God in the churches that the world sees does not glorify God, instead it brings condemnation to God. 

In these last few days before we celebrate the birth of Jesus, think about how you share God’s love with the world. Ask God if you can show more. Ask Him to show you where you lack Love, where you are failing to bring glory to His name.

We all need love and to show God’s love to those stumbling in darkness. And we all need to accept God’s gift of His love for ourselves as well.

 
Posted By Nan

In my family this is the week of the Love Candle. The Candle that expresses the Love of God for us and the Love Jesus has for us in humbling Himself to come to earth as a baby, born in poverty, who suffered much to achieve the task God had set for Him, and who willingly took on all our sin despite being sinless himself and endured death by crucifixion. 

Chapter 3 of John’s gospel, verses 16 to 17 tell us that God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son to live as a human. God’s intention was that this Son would give eternal life to all who believe in Him. 

Contrary to the way many people observe their Christian religion with harshness and judgement, God’s purpose in sending His son was not to condemn us. Rather Jesus came to earth to save the world through Him.

At Christmas it is important we cast aside all judgement and harshness and embrace this truth. 

So much of what religion teaches us is confusing. One will tell us we just have to believe in order to be saved. Another will tell us we have to take up our cross daily and set impossible conditions on what that means. Others will tell us we are not working hard enough, or giving up enough, or not following properly. All this is just as the pharisees and teachers of the law were like at the time Jesus lived on earth. What Jesus said to them is below:

Matthew 23:24-33
You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

As you come to celebrate Christmas this year, focus on the innocence and simplicity of that baby, wrapped in rags and placed in the straw of an animal feeding trough. God’s gift to us is that simple. Do not fall for the fear of getting it wrong, as the Pharisees and teachers of the law did. Fall instead into God’s welcoming arms. Rest in Jesus and seek His guidance on how to live your life. Never forget the love and acceptance of His birth, of the calling of the shepherd, the lowest of the low, to worship Him and the arrival of the astrologers from afar to worship the King whose birth was announced in the heavens. 

 
Posted By Nan

Luke 2

In this reading we come to the “reason Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem” as one of my Bible tutors put it many years ago. Unlike Matthew, which suggests Joseph and Mary came to Nazareth after returning from exile in Egypt, Luke describes them as coming from Nazareth. It isn’t a big deal where they came from before arriving in Bethlehem. What is important is that, in line with the prophesies around the Messiah, Joseph was of the line of David. We also know that Mary was pledged to be married to him and she gave birth to her baby in a stable due to the shortage of accommodation in Bethlehem during the census.

Luke details the calling of the Shepherds by the Angels and their response in coming to Bethlehem to see this new born baby. 

The Shepherds witnessed the heavenly joy at the birth of this baby and decided to come and see for themselves. They told many people and all were amazed. The Shepherds witnessed the baby and experienced great joy.

Then came the 8th day of His life, the day when he was to be named Jesus as instructed by the angel and be circumcised.

So Mary and Joseph took their baby to the temple in Jerusalem to do what the Law required of them.

In the temple two wonderful signs were given to them, and Luke has recorded them here.

The first was Simeon, a righteous and devout man who was waiting for the arrival of the promised Messiah. God had promised him that he would not die until he had seen that baby. He joyfully took baby Jesus in his arms and praised God for this baby who would bring salvation to all and revelation to the Gentiles. He told Mary the baby was destined the cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and be a sign that people would speak against. He also warned her that a sword would pierce her own soul too.

The second was the prophet Anna. She was an old woman who in her senior years worshipped night and day in the temple and fasted and prayed. She saw the child and knew who he was. Joyfully, she gave thanks to God and spoke about this child being the one to bring redemption to all Jerusalem.

Then Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Nazareth and he grew strong and wise in the grace of God.

As he approached the age of adulthood in the Jewish faith He accompanied his family to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. Unknown to His parents, He remained behind when they returned home. After a day they discovered He was missing and returned to Jerusalem, finding Him on the third day. There He was sitting, listening to the teachers and asking them questions. He astounded all who heard Him as his understanding for one so young was astonishing. By this time, Mary and Joseph appeared to have forgotten all that had happened to Him as a child. They could not understand why He needed to be in His father’s house.

Jesus obeyed His parents. His time had not yet come. He returned to Nazareth and was obedient to His parents. He also grew in His wisdom and knowledge of God. 

Mary, meanwhile thought about all the experiences and signs of His life and conception.

The people waited a long time for the Messiah to be born. Those who were made aware of His arrival felt great joy. But they had to wait over thirty years for Him to carry out the task God had sent Him to earth to do.

The Joy of the people was a here, but not yet. So often that is how it is for us. We know God has plans for us. We feel joy when those plans are revealed, when God promises us certain things. But we often have to wait for those things to come about. It can be hard to hold on to those promises as the years slip by and nothing seems to be happening. 

Maybe this is what Mary was experiencing in Jesus’ life. There was the amazing visit by a mighty Angel, and the unbelievable blessing of carrying the child of God. There were all the signs during her pregnancy and in the early days of Jesus’ life. Over the years did Mary wonder whether she had just imagined all these things? Did she wonder if God still had plans for her son? Yet here He was at the temple wanting to stay in His father’s house.

Did Mary ever wonder when Jesus was going to do all that God had told her would happen? 

Did she experience the same doubts we often experience when we have been promised something by God and it doesn’t eventuate?

Waiting is hard. There are glimpses of Joy and we can think we have finally arrived at that place of completeness. But then nothing happens and we wait, losing a little hope as each year goes by.

There are less than two weeks to go before we celebrate Jesus’ birth. We are waiting for that time. We know it will come because it does every year. But there are promises God has made that don’t come every year. Do you wait impatiently for them to come about? Do you begin to doubt you heard those promises?

In this time of remembering the waiting for Jesus and for the fulfilment of His life purpose, may be remember the waiting for all God’s promises to us. May we learn to wait patiently and with joy.

 
Posted By Nan

Matthew 2

In our family, this week is the Joy candle. As we celebrate the closeness of our celebration of Jesus birth.

As I prepared today, I read many Bible verses. This chapter from Matthew 2 was the one that spoke most powerfully of the message that needs to be given today.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem and his parents found a house to live in and stayed there. Magi from the east saw in the stars that a great child had been born and followed the star representing him to Judea. They were not sure where to go, so they asked at the obvious place, the royal palace in Jerusalem. 

It is noted that Herod was alarmed at the arrival of the promised Messiah. This was one who surely would usurp him! Also alarmed were the Religious leaders of Judea. The Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law. They had a nice position. They were comfortable and complacent and were not about to have any baby disrupt their happy lives.

They did tell The Magi to go to Bethlehem. They knew from the scriptures that this is where the Messiah would be born. So they were aware that this baby was God’s promised Messiah. They should have rejoiced. But instead they feared their lovely little life on earth would be destroyed. So Herod and the Religious leaders asked to be told where the find the baby. Not so that they could worship him, as they told the Magi, but so that they could kill him. 

It is horrifying that religious leaders were so keen to kill the one God promised He would send. They had no awe of God. Their awe was of the power and prestige they held in the world. It is sad and horrifying, but not surprising. So many religious leaders of today would do the same thing. They corrupt God’s teaching and His gift of Jesus to suit their own ends.

The Magi found Jesus, gave Him the gifts that represented His role on earth and left another way.

Herod responded by having all the boys in the area under the age of 2 killed so that the Messiah could not usurp him.

Jesus escaped this fate because Joseph was instructed by an angel to take his family to Egypt. When they were called back they were sent to the region of Galilee and the town Nazareth to settle.

Herod and the religious leaders rested easy, thinking Jesus was dead.

The Joy candle was not for Herod or the religious leaders, it was for the Magi, The Shepherds and all those faithful ones in Judea who waited expectantly for the birth of the Messiah. 

In this world there are many who see Christmas as just being about presents, Santa and lashings of food and drink. They see no meaning in Christmas other than that. They know no joy either.

Those of us who believe in Jesus and follow Him can celebrate this time as a time of great Joy. We can celebrate the way God brought about the birth of His son in Bethlehem as He had told the prophets.

May we remember this Christmas to celebrate what God did and does. May we be aware of the times we try to dictate our own needs to God and cut off the blessings of Jesus and his birth. May we never be like Herod and the religious leaders, so caught up in our worldly pursuits that we block the blessings of God in our lives.

 


 
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