Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sermon - What if ...??

Sermon Preached at Holy Communion Evening Sunday 20th December St. Columba's Parish Church

Matthew 1 Joseph's Dream

Let us Pray – Heavenly Father, take my words, our thoughts and our hearts this evening and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit help us to understand more fully your Word. We ask this through the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.

Well I wonder how you are doing in your preparations for Christmas – are you sorted? Are the decorations and cards up? When are you collecting your turkey? … In the curatage The Christmas Tree went up on Saturday! And the gifts … well they are getting sorted as we speak.

This evenings Gospel reading is familiar if not even second nature to many if not all of us here. If I were to pick someone and ask them to tell me the story of Jesus Birth I am sure they would able to without too much difficulty. Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men, Herod, inn keepers. Little donkey?, shinning stars

We are still in Advent, still looking at the preparations which were made for the first Christmas. As we look at this reading this evening let us come to it with fresh eyes and see the scandal in God's plan. And look at the what if's in the story

We firstly need to understand Mary and Joseph's Relationship – they were engaged (betrothed) which unlike today did have legal and moral status – you couldn't simply throw off an engagement ring in the way that happens in so many soap operas today. It was an agreement between families and no doubt everyone in the vacinity knew Mary and Joseph and were happy for them. Two upstanding teenagers … sure they'd be very happy for them both … a perfect little family

Then Joseph's life is completely turned upside down Mary is expecting a Child … a CHILD, How could she do that to him? Why would she do that to him? Who is the father?

Public disgrace … not only for Joseph but for Mary and their families … Mary's life would be ruined perhaps even in danger.

First what if … Joseph is within his rights to publicly disgrace her, drag her through the courts which could eventually have ended in Mary's stoning … she was an adulteress wasn't she??

But we do see that Joseph took another line … he decided to do the divorce quietly to minimize the disgrace. But before that God intervened as he did on numerous occasions before … in a dream letting Joseph in on the plan that was unfolding and allowed Joseph to be a part of the plan.

In the dream the are certain points to note –
Firstly it is Jospeh who is of the David's Line (from where the Messiah is to come!)
Then the Holy Spirit who has conceived the Child,
Then it is up to Joseph to name him Jesus meaning “God Saves”- which was a common name Yeshua which is the name Joshua
but the reasoning is not like the others – a hope for what God will do but it is an expression of what this child will do. As John would say the Word became Flesh

Our Second what if … What if Joseph woke from his sleep and either just forgot about the dream or wrote it off as simply his own brain activity going wild in the face of the trauma he was going through? -

But what we do see is that Joseph remained faithful to the vision he had, to the instruction he received from God and did all that was asked with him.

The two what-if's identify two possible areas of vulnerability in God's Plan, but also the part human beings had in the bringing about of God's purposes, later in the plan we see God using Joseph to protect the new baby from Herod's soldiers.

As we look towards Christmas – there are no doubt skeptics about these events – a few weeks ago I was over on a Sunday afternoon in Speakers Corner in Hyde Park where people step up and speak about whatever takes their fancy. There is usually a good few street preachers trying to defend themselves from hecklers who love to argue about anything and everything. Thankfully in St. Columba's we do not have too many hecklers in our congregation, but I have no doubt that questions do indeed rise about stories.

When we look at the scandal of the Christmas story, from within Mary and Joseph's relationship we also should ask the question about God and the scandal this brings for Him.

He has stepped down to have a relationship with us –
the creator becomes the created
In Jesus – we get in one Fully God and Fully Human which is the mystery of the incarnation itself
the sinless one in the sinful world – how does that work … I don't know
It can only be described as grace – freely lovingly, given.

A couple of other what-ifs
What if Jesus was just born as any other human being … no conception by Holy Spirit....
Then we get into very dodgy ground - where do we get his divinity from? … he is just the same as the rest of us he has no power over sin, nature, death ...

What if Jesus had just floated down … no birth … Jesus is God no problem but he is not human, no understanding of human nature, and ultimately has ramifications with the atoning sacrifice on the cross.

But only a fully human and fully God- virgin Birth Jesus– makes sense - everything else rests on these facts.

We have just proclaimed our faith in the words of the Nicene creed which was very much borne out of the need to produce a clear statement of beliefs about the person of Christ counteracting heretics who were leading people astray with ideas such as the denial of either the humanity or the divinity of Jesus

Lee Strobel, A Masters Graduate of Law from Yale and award-winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune was a hardline atheist, set about writing a book when his wife became a Christian, his books A case for have become very good reads for anyone asking difficult questions about the Christian faith. Whilst I was reading one of the interviews he had with a theologian I was struck by the simplicity of the answer that was given. Book Case For Faith - p60

Strobel – OK, Dr Craig, you are an intelligent and educated individual, tell me how can a modern, rational person still believe in babies being born from virgins, people walking on water and bodies rising from tombs

Craig smiled – It's funny you should ask specifically about the virgin birth because it was a major stumbling block to me becoming a Christian. I thought it was totally absurd”

When the Christian message was first shared with me as a teenager I already had studied biology. I knew for the virgin birth to be true, a Y chromosome had to be created out of nothing in Mary's ovum, because Mary didn't possess the genetic material to produce a male child. To me this was utterly fantastic. It just didnt make sense.

Strobel then probed a bit – other skeptics have problems with it too... how did you proceed ?

Craig thought for a moment “Well I sort of put that issue aside and became a Christian anyway, even though I didn't really believe in the virgin birth. But then, after becoming a Christian, it occured to me that if I really do believe in a God who created the universe then for him to create a Y chromosome would be child's play. … the interview continued

In conclusion, there are many what ifs, many discussions that can be had, but at some stage we must move to faith, of trusting the word of God, of saying God you are in control, of saying thank you for sending your son, thank you for the promise you give us – that you are immanuel – God with us and that you are Jesus – the embodient of God Saves.

Yes God made himself vulnerable, he sent his son as a baby to human parents who would bring him up as their own then eventually that boy would become a man and then die on a cross and then rise again.

This Christmas time let us Remember what it is all about – not about the perfect Christmas Dinner, of all the business parties, the best presents in the tidiest house but rather the simple message of God coming amongst his people that first Christmas day.

Let us pray

Friday, December 18, 2009

wishing away the year ?

Today was a busy day off in the curatage, getting things set up for Christmas ... shopping, stamps etc just as I picked up the tree and decorations ... just packed them in the car, popped round to the garage to get come milk and what was sitting at the tills... not selection boxes nor chocolate Christmas puddings.

But rather Cadbury's cream eggs, mini eggs and kitkat bars displaying easter.

Are we really wishing away the year or perhaps its just the desire to get brands noticed ... more profits for the chocolate manufacturers.

Surely we need to simply take a day at a time ... do what we can.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Philipians 4

4 Rejoice* in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.* 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Heavenly father,

I pray that you would take our minds and think through them, take my words and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. Through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen

The Epistle reading this morning is Christianity in a nutshell – take a look at it. It is full of Joy, it is full of great advice for dealing with any circumstance we find our selves in and it has the assurance of God's presence. What more could you ask for?

As we delve into it for a short time this morning let us ask ourselves what we can learn from it for our walk with God.

Let us begin with Joy – It is the underlying theme of Paul's letter many times in this letter he uses either the word joy or rejoice – It is also the theme of today's Candle – and coming up to Christmas it is the theme of many of the songs we sing – Joy to the world etc.

When we talk about Joy or rejoicing in the Lord it is not simply a nice happy smiley face that we put on for show, it is much, much deeper than that. If we think about the situation which Paul found himself in when writing this – in Chapter 1 he has already stated his situation – He's in prison and facing death head on but is determined to keep going

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.

But throughout all of this he is able to speak of Joy in the Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord comes from knowing him, realising what the Christian life is about, knowing that the future is secured, knowing how precious you are in his sight.

Once you know that you can really rejoice, knowing that relationship with him. Christmas is special not because of the commercialism and the Coca Cola Lorry arriving in the town but because God came down to us and made it possible for us to have a relationship with him.

The Joy which we rejoice with is only possible because we can have an intimate relationship with him – If our joy is founded on anything else it is inferior.

For some they rejoice in the latest technology or the latest fashion styles – nothing wrong with that but if that is where their identity is then they will always be striving for something more. But the thing is that with Joy founded in Christ brings meaning and fullness of life. Paul knew that – even in the midst of life locked up in a Roman jail.

As we move on in the passage How amazing it is to hear Paul re-iterate the words of Jesus – Do not worry about anything. Says he who is facing imprisonment and even death – Don't worry about anything … instead pray

I wonder what is concerning us this day. On the run up to Christmas what is worrying us, on the cusp of a new year what is scaring us? In our work life what is bearing down on us? In our familes are there worries we have? In these days of financial hardship are there things which are concerning us?

What are we to do … we are to pray about our worries. It is not a magical formula – pray and all your worries will disappear there and then but it is about gaining perspective, its about allowing God to minister to you, its about sharing your burdens with Him. Over the course of my time in St. Columba's it is such a privelige to go round on pastoral visits and share peoples burdens and pray with them – and leave the answers up to God. We do believe God does answer our prayers. As clergy we are only to delighted to pray with people in their joys, in their sorrows, in their concerns.
Please, if there is anything we can pray for please do not hesitate to ask us anytime.

In this passage it is interesting at the end – Paul concludes with a cresendo – if you do rejoice in the Lord, if you bring your requests before him – the result will be peace.

The word peace in the Bible as many will know – doesn't just simply mean a cessasion of violence or quietness but it means the deep fullness of life –

Paul was saul a jew before he became a follower of Christ so he would have known the fullness of the term shalom although he was now writing in Greek. If Chaos is disorder in the world – shalom is a restored order – The wholeness and health life in its proper place. The kind of life we sometimes dream of.

And he is saying that this peace will guard our hearts. Think about where Paul is … he is being guarded by soliders – he is illustrating here that the peace which God can provide is able to protect us from the harassment and fear which the world so often throws at us.

As we make our preparations for Christmas this year – let us remember what Paul is writing from his prison cell.

Let us rejoice in the incarnation, the fact that God is with us. On our Parish Christmas Card we have that reminder – Behold Emmanuel – God is with us. Our Joy needs to be grounded in that fact – if it is elsewhere then we are on shaky ground

Then let us bring our worries to God in Prayer … He is in control. Pray continuously … There is no problem too trivial or too Big for God. Share your prayers with others who can join you in prayer.

And finally rest assured in the Peace of Christ – know that he is God

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Advent Reflections

I know I said that I would put up a thought a day for advent ... however things are quite busy here in St. Columba's but I have come across a new type of advent calendar ... a video a day.

This free automatic Advent Video Calendar will display a different thought provoking video each day from 1st - 24th December, featuring speakers such as Philip Yancey, Krish Kandiah, Anna Robbins and Nick Pollard