COVID-19 has brought many changes and raised many questions. Some people have changed their jobs. Others have opted for a sea or a tree change. People are hoping to reassess and rejuvenate their lives. A change of job or location won’t fix the deeper problems of human nature. What we all need is a cross-change. Jesus says to us, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus brings God’s rule into our lives through his death and resurrection. The call to repent is a gracious invitation to let go of our sins and our striving, and receive the hope and future that God’s forgiveness brings.
We meet God in the ordinary events of our lives. God is remarkable down to earth. Jesus proves God’s grounded love. We see him as he reveals himself to us, invites us to stay with him and get to know who he is as we listen to him. This encounter with Jesus transforms our lives, and we can’t but tell others who Jesus is and what knowing him means.
Many of us like to watch or read murder mysteries. We like the twists and turns, but ultimately we want the guilty party to face justice. But even though the mystery is solved, the pain of death still remains. This Sunday the church celebrates Epiphany, when God revealed his mysterious plan to reconcile the world to himself. It, too, involved a death, and all of us were the guilty ones. But in the death of God’s Son, Jesus, the mystery of God’s love is revealed, and in his resurrection we see the new life that God offers to all people. This is the mystery God has chosen to reveal through the church, and through each one of us, whose lives have been transformed by God’s mysterious and wondrous love.
It’s 2023 A.D. Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. The world marks the passing of time with reference to the birth of Jesus. As we begin 2023, we celebrate the Festival of the Name of Jesus. Mary and Joseph had no trouble choosing a name for their first born son, God had revealed that Jesus would be his name. By name and nature he is our help and salvation, through his life, his cross and his resurrection. We carry his name and his life with us through our baptism.
We can face this new year with hope and confidence, through the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
When we want to share good news we say something like “Now listen to this.” The heritage King James translation introduces tidings of great joy with a little word we no longer use -“Behold.”
“Behold” is a call to be still to recognise that something out beyond any of our experiences is happening, something which will bring joy and enrich and transform the ordinariness of life
We have little beholdings in our lives - when you pick your first peach of summer, or sit on a beach at sunset.
And there are the big ones. When someone loves you - mother, father, lover. You behold their eyes reaching toward you. Beholdings are overwhelming - the birth of a child or grandchild - the eyes of a little person reaching out to capture your heart.
“Behold! I bring you tidings of great joy.”
Immanuel, God with us who will reach out in relentless love and capture your heart.
To behold is to be open to new information, to recognise the limits of my knowing, to recognise mystery and wonder, to be prepared to grow, develop, mature.
There are risks in beholding. And delights.
For when I be-hold the good tidings I find myself be-held.
Recently, at an Advent event, we played Mystery Parcel. We passed a parcel around our table, and when the music stopped, the person with the parcel, unwrapped it, and so it continued until all the wrappings were removed and some “lucky” person received the gift hidden within many wrappings.
Christmas is like that. The Christmas gift is hidden between many “man-made” wrappings, like bright lights, late night shopping, much feasting, gift giving, family reunions, carols by candlelight, maybe a Christmas worship service, and in the midst of all this distraction maybe some people find Jesus Christ.
The Christmas gift is also hidden between “God-made” wrappings, like the great plan of God revealed throughout the Bible, and especially all the prophecies which give clues which point to the coming Messiah. Then there are all the dashed hopes where people unwrap another layer only to find nothing but disappointment. Finally, a night comes when the most unlikely couple unwrap a baby, in a most unlikely place, and are visited by the most unlikely people. The Messiah is born. Jesus is the most surprising package.
Not surprisingly many don’t recognise him, and continue to live in darkness. But those who do recognise him, are filled with light and life and joy. The challenge for us old time Christ-mas celebrators is to not lose the joy of the GIFT and for it all to become another ho-hum Christmas.
JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD IS COME.
Here in South Australia, we know desert. The desert is that harsh place outback, dry, harsh and dangerous. But, there is another side to the desert. And this year we have seen it. The desert can come alive with animals and birds and blooming wildflowers as if from nowhere. Israel knows desert, too. Isaiah uses this image of the desert coming to life as a picture of what God will do for his people.
When Isaiah writes these words to the Israelites, they are under threat from the Assyrians. Later in Israel’s history, the people are taken in captivity to Babylon, dragged away from their beloved Jerusalem in chains across the harsh desert with it’s wild animals to Babylon. This prophecy of Isaiah took on new meaning as a promise of return to Jerusalem. God would act. God would bring about a miraculous return. The images are beyond the normal “desert springs to life”. Something special, supernatural is happening. The desert is transformed to farmland and fertile hill country. A highway is built to transport the people back to Jerusalem. Not only is the land transformed, but the people too.
Do you spend some time in the desert? Your address may be some suburb in Adelaide, but your real address may be “desert”. Is there dryness of life and experience that seems oppressive at times? Does it seem that life is a bit of a dead end sometimes: a bit pointless? Are there jackals and lions, or dingoes and snakes threatening your peace? Do you sometimes feel tired and weak? If that’s true for you, then hear the hope of Isaiah. God places before you an image of your desert blooming
He is the one who will bring it to bloom. Our hope is not in ourselves, the desert is too big to water. Our hope is in a faithful God who shows us the way when we can see no way out. Our hope is in the God who comes as a child whose birth we remember at Christmas. This babe born into the world to bring life to the desert: to make a highway to heaven. In the desert, look with eyes of faith. See God who accomplishes for us what we can’t. See the highway of hope. See the desert blooming before you. See the hope that Jesus gives us for the future.
A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a sapling shall grow out of his roots. That is a picture we in Australia can truly relate to. Our bush has a wonderful, even miraculous, ability to recover from the devastation of fire. A year or so after a terrible bushfire, you see shoots coming out of blackened stumps, and you see saplings springing up hopefully out of blackened and seemingly lifeless roots. After destruction there will be new growth, out of deadness will come life, and out of desolation hope will spring up. In the fulness of time, the descendant of Jesse did indeed come, and he came to be the Saviour not just for his own people, but for us all. We too can become like charred stumps, burnt out by the harshness of life. But because of Jesus and his life-giving victory over sin and death and the powers of evil, hope springs up within us, and hope abounds.
Christ is coming again soon (Matthew 24:36-44). The earth is not never-ending, but has a fixed history. Today, on the first Sunday of Advent, we'll be unpacking what it means for our lives now, and hearing the good news that in Christ Jesus the end is also the beginning.