Sermon: Second Sunday after Epiphany, 17 January 2016

St.Aidan’s West Epping,17th January 2016

 Rev. Paul Weaver

“THE BODY OF CHRIST”

(Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11)

Snoopy, the dog in the Peanuts cartoons, was once going on a hike. As he walked along, a conversation was taking place amongst the various parts of his body. His feet were complaining that they were overworked and underpaid: why should they have to do all the walking? His legs were insisting that they have to work just as hard. His stomach was defending itself against accusations of laziness. Meanwhile his brain is complaining about all the noise coming up from below: it’s trying to get some sleep!

Of course, they are all vital to Snoopy’s hike! Without his feet, he won’t be able to walk at all. Without his legs, his feet will be pretty useless, if they’re there at all. Without his stomach, he won’t be alive to do the walking. And without his brain, there will be no signals to his legs and feet to do anything at all.

Where did Charles Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts”, get this idea from? As he often did, he got it from the Bible: from Paul’s picture of the body in 1 Corinthians 12, part of which was our New Testament reading. In fact it comes from the middle of the chapter, which we’ll hear next Sunday.

Paul writes about feet and ears trying to declare independence from the body. He refers to eyes telling hands, and heads telling feet, that they aren’t needed. We are asked to imagine what a body would be like if it were one huge eye or one big ear. Nonsense, of course!

This is one of the famous passages of the New Testament where Paul describes the church as “the body of Christ”. And he uses the image because he has something important to say about Christian ministry.

How many ministers are there in our parish? Not just Fr Ross! Not just the other clergy who assist! Paul’s answer is that every Christian, every member of the church, every member of any church, is a minister. It doesn’t matter whether we wear a clerical collar, whether we put on special robes, whether we have been officially ordained, whether we are outstanding Christians or not. It doesn’t matter whether we are 23 or 103, and it doesn’t even matter whether we are male or female. God calls every Christian believer to be a minister.

When Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians, he saw it as a church with a number of problems. One problem was that they didn’t know much about Christian ministry.

They knew that some of them had special abilities: they had members who could preach a powerful message from God. Others could perform miracles or heal the sick, or speak in tongues. Quite impressive! But their understanding of these things, and their attitude towards them were all wrong.

And in this part of the letter, Paul seeks to get them back on track.

What then was the problem with the Corinthians having these impressive abilities? Actually, nothing at all! It was God’s gift to them. It was the Holy Spirit at work in them. The problem was their attitude.

“I healed a broken leg”, said one. “Well, I gave sight to a blind man”, came the reply. Or someone might say, “I can speak in tongues for longer than you can”. “So what”, comes the response, “no one can understand any of what I say when I speak in tongues. It must be the language of heaven. You can’t get better than that.” It probably wasn’t exactly like that, but you get the point. People were comparing and competing with one another. There was pride and arrogance. They had missed the point, and so Paul takes them back to basics.

Paul makes clear that because something is impressive, it is not necessarily from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps someone had shouted out “Jesus is cursed!” in a state of apparent ecstasy. Was that the Holy Spirit at work? Certainly not, insists Paul. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, the Spirit who glorifies Christ. The Spirit enables us to declare that Jesus is Lord, and strengthens us to live with Jesus as our Lord. The test of whether something comes from the Spirit is not how unusual or impressive it is, but whether it reflects the truth and love of God.

We have heard too often how some clergy and church leaders have manipulated vulnerable people, assuring them that it was right for them to accept the sexual advances of someone with their spiritual authority. They have been persuasive in using that authority: but was the Holy Spirit at work? Far from it!

No, there have always been frauds and tricksters; and some of them have used their position in the church to achieve their evil ends. They often claim to have special spiritual gifts, but what sort of gifts does Paul speak about in his letters, and in particular in this chapter?

He describes the gifts in terms of activity and in terms of service. And he underlines this when he describes the purpose of the gifts. These gifts, these manifestations of the Spirit are for the common good. Their purpose is not to impress others, to compete with others, or to gain power over others. The gifts are given so that we can serve one another.

And what are these gifts? Paul mentions a number of dramatic gifts: gifts of healing and working miracles, as well as speaking in tongues. And then there are gifts of communication and insight: the ability to speak with wisdom and knowledge, the gift of prophecy bringing particular messages from God, the ability to interpret tongues so that others can understand the message, the understanding to distinguish between spiritual truth and falsehood.

Later on in the chapter Paul will refer to more apparently ordinary activities such as helping people in need and providing leadership. In other letters he will mention teaching, administration, the ability to give generously, caring for people in need, and more. You see, the test of a spiritual gift is not how impressive it is, but whether it is helpful in the life of the church, whether it is of help to our brothers and sisters in the church or outside the church, whether it expresses the truth of God and the love of God.

Spiritual gifts may be spectacular or not; some may use obvious talents while others don’t seem to, some may be obvious while others are used by people just getting on with the job. There is a whole range of gifts named in the New Testament, and I am sure there are plenty more. It’s not that we need to desperately try to work out what our gifts are: rather we look at where the needs are, and ask ourselves whether there is some way we can help to fulfil that need. If that is where God wants us to be, he will equip us through the Spirit to make a contribution: it may be a prominent one, or very low key, but with all of them, the Spirit will be at work.

Every Christian has a spiritual gift or gifts. As followers of Christ, we have the Holy Spirit at work in us. But he works in different ways in different people. I will have my particular gifts which are different from yours. But each of you may well have gifts that are different from mine. And that’s fine. We are different in our appearance, our background, our personality, our interests, our abilities, and our spiritual gifts. And those gifts are not in competition with each other: rather they enable us to complement each other and work together for the good of God’s family and the good of our neighbours. As Paul writes: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

We need some leaders, some teachers or preachers: but we certainly don’t need huge numbers of these people. We need many givers: but some will be in a position to give more than others. We need many who are carers: but there are different ways we can show God’s care to others. We need many helpers: but there are many ways in which we can give help. And we need people who can give time to pray; people who can give a friendly phone call to someone who might be lonely; people who can encourage someone who is struggling.

The gifts of the Spirit then are the abilities and opportunities God gives us to make our helpful contribution to the life of the church. Just as we are all different, we have our different ways we can contribute to the life of the Parish. I have said on other occasions that God’s great purpose is not simply to save lots of individuals, but to gather a family, a community. And in this family, we all matter not only to God, but to each other.

We are all in this together, in the body of Christ. Let’s seek to make our contribution to the life and health of our church. Let’s serve, but let us also be willing to accept what others have to offer.

Let me close with the words of a hymn many of us know, which sums up much of Paul’s message for us today:

          “Brother, sister, let me serve you;

          Let me be as Christ to you.

          Pray that I might have the grace

          To let you be my servant too.” Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Baptism of Our Lord, 10 January 2016

St.Alban’s Epping,10th January 2016

 Rev. Paul Weaver

“JESUS’ BAPTISM AND OUR BAPTISM”

(Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-22)

There are two places along the Jordan River where people go to connect with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. The popular site is up to the north, not far from the Sea of Galilee. It is a picturesque location, complete with eucalyptus trees. Sarah and myself were reminded of Australia, when we visited it some years ago, as part of a wonderful course on “The Palestine of Jesus” run by St.George’s College Jerusalem.

This popular pilgrim site is effectively set up so that people can easily step into the water: one part is ankle deep, while the other section is deep enough for people to be baptized by immersion. The account of Jesus’ baptism from Mark’s Gospel is beautifully displayed in dozens of languages on the walls nearby, and of course there are shops selling refreshments and souvenirs.

But this location is unlikely to be authentic. The Gospels do not clearly indicate that John the Baptist worked in this area. The present day advantages of the location are firstly that it is within Israel, and secondly that it is so well set up for visitors.

The site which is much more likely to be authentic is further south, down towards the Dead Sea. Here there are remains of churches with prominent baptistries, going back to the early centuries of Christianity, and there are strong traditions about John’s ministry. In fact this is the area described in the Gospels as where John did his preaching and baptizing. However, the site is much less beautiful, and the site is actually in the country of Jordan, on the eastern side of the river. The river itself here is narrow, muddy and unimpressive, a result of population growth in the region, as well as the demands of Israel for irrigation water. For many years the area was effectively closed to visitors because of the hostilities of the Arab/Israel war.

When Sarah and I were taken there, we noticed that there was now also development happening on the Israel side of the river, and we wondered whether there would soon be a setup for pilgrims and tourists on that side of the river also. Near the site in Jordan churches were being built by both Catholic and Orthodox communities, so that the traditional site was being reclaimed as part of the Christian tradition.

Of course, being sure of the exact site is not the thing that really matters: either location could represent the reality of Jesus’ baptism for us. However, it was a great privilege to visit these sites associated with John and Jesus, to see the famous river Jordan, and to see where Jesus himself might have been baptized.

Today’s Gospel brings us the climax of Luke’s account of the ministry of John. In the leadup to our reading, Luke tells of John’s call to repentance: a new approach to God, and a genuine commitment to obeying and serving him. But this morning we heard what John said about a unique person who was coming, one who was so great that John was not worthy even to untie the thongs of his sandals. This man would not just baptize with water as John was doing: he would baptize with God’s Holy Spirit, and with the purifying fire of God. Of course John was speaking about Jesus.

But John also described Jesus as a great judge, like a farmer who separates the good grain from the chaff, which must be tossed out and burned. John had good news for those who repented, but there was a serious warning for those who refused to respond to his message.

What is striking about Luke’s account here is his comparative lack of interest in the baptism of Jesus. Did you notice that? He writes: “When all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying..” It’s as if Luke is saying: “Yes, of course Jesus was baptized, but that’s not the important thing!”

Luke wants us to focus on what happened then. The heavens opened and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove, and there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Of course Jesus’ baptism does matter. In his baptism Jesus not only identifies himself with the mission of John. He identifies with those who need to be baptized: he purposefully identifies with sinners who need to be forgiven. Later he will in agony identify himself with sinners needing forgiveness, through his death on the cross.

But Jesus also commits himself to God’s purposes for him: his baptism is the launching pad for his ministry. The next thing to happen is that he will face the temptations of Satan as he determines his priorities and his approach to his ministry. Once he has confirmed his commitment to God’s purposes and God’s priorities, he will commence his work of teaching and healing, leading up to his suffering, death and resurrection.

But right now, Luke wants us to see just who Jesus is. The words from heaven echo two passages from the Old Testament. “You are my Son”, says the Lord, echoing words from Psalm 2, a Psalm which pointed to the Messiah, the king chosen by God to lead and rule his people. And then words from Isaiah 42, the chapter before our reading today: words referring to the servant of God, who was faithful to God and who pleased the Lord. Isaiah will go on to present this servant of the Lord suffering and triumphing, bringing forgiveness and salvation to God’s people. The words from heaven make clear just who it was that John baptized.

Jesus was the Son of God, beloved by God, who pleased God: any reader could see this. But to those who recognized the background to these words, Luke was setting forth the deeper significance of who Jesus is. He is the Messiah, the chosen ruler and Saviour of God’s people. He is the Suffering Servant who will sacrifice himself for sinners, to bring them forgiveness and hope, to restore those who have gone astray like lost sheep.

As Jesus by his baptism takes up the role set for him, so God responds by acknowledging him and confirming his relationship and his authority. Jesus’ baptism and the words which follow it express who he is: he is the beloved Son of God, the faithful Servant of God. And it expresses who he belongs to: he is God’s Son, God’s servant, who identifies himself with sinners in need of forgiveness. And it expresses his purpose in life: he will serve the Lord, and sacrificially serve the needs of others. In a sense, Jesus’ baptism was also his commissioning for service.

And what about that mixed bunch baptized by John? John’s baptism spoke of repentance, that change of direction which takes God seriously rather than ignoring his claims and his call: repentance is not perfection, but it makes a real difference to our lives. For those people whose baptism was linked with repentance, however imperfect it might have been, there was indeed the assurance of forgiveness and acceptance by the Lord.

And what about those who have been baptized in Jesus’ name over the past 2000 years? In many ways, our baptism contains echoes of Jesus’ baptism. For our baptism also expresses who we are: how by adoption and grace we are truly God’s children, forgiven and welcomed into his kingdom.

And our baptism also expresses who we belong to: not only are we children of God, but we are members of God’s family, members of his church, with responsibilities not only to the Lord, but responsibilities also to one another as well. And as with Jesus, our baptism also expresses our direction in life: we commit ourselves to following Christ day by day, serving him and serving others, and playing our part in the life of God’s church.

We are eternally thankful that Jesus fulfilled the task and purpose for which he was sent and for which he was commissioned in baptism: but the challenge remains for us to keep remembering the significance of our own baptism. Who are we? Forgiven children of God. To whom do we belong? To God our Father and his beloved Son Jesus the Messiah: but we also belong to each other as members of God’s family. What is our purpose in life? As we begin this new year, let us commit ourselves afresh to following Christ, serving his people and loving our neighbour as ourselves.

With our fellow students and pilgrims, Sarah and I shared in a renewal of our baptismal promises at the popular baptism site. We stood in a few inches of water, echoed our baptismal promises, and water was sprinkled over us: quite similar to our annual renewal of vows on Easter Day here at St.Alban’s. It was celebratory and happy rather than sombre, particularly as we realized that tiny fish were nibbling away at our feet as we shared in the liturgy. But we saw it as a very significant thing to share in. Of course that is the nature of baptism and the nature of faith. It is something to rejoice about, but it is also something serious and very significant.

Most of us do not remember our baptism: but we know that it took place, and perhaps we know some of the details. And we know what it is all about. As followers of Jesus, may we keep taking seriously those great baptismal promises of repentance, faith and loving service, as we follow Jesus along the path of life, and indeed the path of eternal life. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Epiphany, 3 January 2016

St.Aidan’s West Epping,3rd January 2016

Rev. Paul Weaver

“THE WONDER OF THE CHURCH” (Epiphany)

(Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12)

At Christmas we remember not only the birth of Jesus, but also the visit by the shepherds. At Epiphany we remember the Wise Men from the East who arrived too late! They didn’t see the baby in the manger: Jesus was probably months old by the time they arrived – perhaps he was already a toddler!

And they found about him in a very strange way. No angels trumpeting the good news from heaven for them! They were astrologers who believed that the positions and movements of the stars and planets were interconnected with events on earth. We don’t know exactly what they saw – something extraordinary, miraculous even, or perhaps simply two planets closely aligned, just in the ordinary course of things: something into which they read the message of the birth of a great king in Israel.

In any case, the Lord of heaven and earth spoke to them through their knowledge – or perhaps through their ignorance! He can get the stars and planets and comets and asteroids where he wants them, and he used astrology to speak to the wise men: even though the Jewish people knew that astrology and other superstitious practices were not the way to seek God’s guidance.

For one of the messages of Epiphany is that God is concerned with us where we are: he doesn’t wait until we get things sorted out before he will speak to us. The wise men were people with a good deal of knowledge: their astronomy was probably very advanced, but they were ignorant about the significance they saw in the normal movements of heavenly bodies. Nevertheless God came to where they were, because he wanted these people – these most unexpected people – to be witnesses to the infant Jesus.

And so they came with their gifts. The gifts seemed appropriate to the wealthy astrologers, but I think that Mary and Joseph would have been overwhelmed by the gold, and perhaps they would not have known what to do with the frankincense and the myrrh! Mind you, some gold would certainly have come in handy when they had to flee from Herod to the land of Egypt.

And if the wise men had any knowledge of Judean politics, they would have known that the last person to ask about the birth of a future king was King Herod: a paranoid murderer, suspicious of anyone who might be a threat to his continued power, ready to get rid of any possible claimant to his throne at whatever cost. Whether it was his wife or son, or the babies of Jerusalem, Herod would kill anyone who might get in his way.

However the big message of this story is that there were Gentile witnesses to the birth of Jesus. For Jesus had not just come to be the Jewish Messiah: he had come as King and Saviour of all people – he had come to be ruler of the nations. Epiphany points us to God’s plan not just for the Jews, not just for Israel, but for the whole world. We know that Jesus’ earthly ministry did not take him very actively in this direction. However, there were indications of a bigger picture in some of his words and actions, just as the Old Testament had its indications that God’s purposes reached beyond Israel to the whole world.

Right from the beginning of the Gospel stories, we see God in Jesus reaching out to unexpected people: not your normal conventional pious Jews, but shepherds, who lived on the edge of society; not your scholars of the scriptures, but superstitious Gentile students of the stars. And as the New Testament story unfolds, it becomes clearer and clearer that the Gospel message, the message of Jesus, is for people of all nations.

This is the central idea in our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Paul writes about “the mystery of Christ”. In the scriptures, a mystery is something that we wouldn’t know unless we were told. It is surprising, unexpected.

God’s way of salvation is a mystery in this sense. How can we be accepted by God? Normal thinking would be that we have to be good, we must do good deeds, we mustn’t do too many bad deeds. Perhaps we should be religious as well.

But the mystery of the Gospel is that we become God’s people not by being good, not by being religious, but simply by trusting in Jesus, by accepting in humble faith the forgiveness he offers us.

And here in Ephesians 3, Paul speaks about another side of the mystery of Christ. “The Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Jesus Christ through the Gospel.” The mystery is that Jews and Gentiles together are called to be members of God’s family in Christ. God’s purposes in Christ reach out not to just one nation, but to all nations.

Now that is so familiar to us 2000 years after Jesus that we might say “So what?” But in the first century it was revolutionary: offensive if not blasphemous. The idea turned Jewish listeners against Paul. And it caused controversy in the early church.

Most Jewish Christians assumed that Gentiles needed to embrace the Jewish religious and legal system if they were to be accepted as true Christians. Paul however insisted that Gentiles were accepted through Christ, not through the law. The Jewish system was not to be required of them. We are the beneficiaries of Paul’s clear understanding of the mystery of Christ.

This mystery is really about the nature of the church: one family with many different stories. And Paul says something extraordinary about the church, the family of God. He says that “through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

How strange! Most people who look at the church are far from impressed. The church doesn’t look like a testament to the wisdom of God! It is easy for people to look at the church today and say that its numbers are dwindling, its leadership is morally compromised, its ideas are out-of-date, it is failing. But this is a limited perspective: Paul tells us that the spiritual world is actually impressed!

Paul’s view of the church here is a big picture. His concern is not with clergy or church buildings or denominations; he is not focussing on individual congregations, where the life of the church is lived out in community.

Here Paul is focused on the church as a whole, the family of God in Christ – whoever they are, wherever they are. And Paul knows that God’s wonderful purposes for the church will come to pass. The church, the family of God’s people from all nations, is right at the heart of God’s plan for the world.

And all this points us to a vital truth: to be a Christian is not just about being an individual believer and follower of Christ: to be a Christian is to be a member of God’s family, the church. And therefore it means being a committed member of a particular church, a fellowship of Christian believers. The Christian who is disconnected from the church has missed the point of what God is on about.

As humans made in God’s image, we find our full humanity not just as individuals, but as individuals in relationship. As Christians, we express our faith not just in personal discipleship, but in our loving relationships with other members of God’s family. We hear people say: “Yes, I’m a Christian, but you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” And of course that is true, and of course there are many understandable reasons why genuine Christians may not belong to a church.

But spiritually healthy Christians will be regular members of a church, a church where they can show love to one another, where they can support and encourage one another, share in worship together, and learn more about their faith, and find ways of serving and reaching out together. Of course, every church is imperfect, but then so are we! Perfection is for the kingdom: right now, we support each other on the way to the kingdom!

Yes, the church really matters. It is right at the heart of God’s purposes, as he gathers his family together through Christ. And the church is made up of all kinds of people: they may be shepherds or other outsiders; they may be astrologers or people with other strange ideas; they may be orthodox in their understanding or even heretics; they may be our kind of people or very different from us.

But they are family, our family in Christ, God’s family in Christ. And we have our part in this great plan of God. As we keep journeying along the road of life, following Jesus our Lord and our Saviour, let us then keep walking together – encouraging each other, supporting each other, praying for each other, and loving each other, as God in Christ has loved us. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Christmas Day, 25 December 2015

 

St. Aidan’s West Epping, 25th December 2015

Rev. Paul Weaver

“THE BABY WHO BRINGS PEACE” (Christmas)

(Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1-12, John 1:1-14)

“Peace on earth, goodwill to all.” That doesn’t sound like the way things are at Christmas 2015. There is war: Syria, much of the Middle East, Africa, and other places. We see the USA, almost a country at war with itself over politics, firearms, immigration, wealth and power. We see divisions in our own country, fear and rejection of refugees and migrants, suspicions linked to terrorism or religion.

And we could go on: there is oppression and fear in so many places. We hear of the threat of climate change, but it is so often denied by those who have most opportunity to address the issue, particularly those whose profits would be threatened if they took it seriously. We do not have a world at peace: much more it is a world at war.

Where then is the God of peace this Christmas time?

He is a baby in a manger. Like babies in so many parts of the world, he is born in difficult circumstances, his parents struggling to provide his needs. And before long he will become a refugee, as his parents flee with him to Egypt to escape the murderous plans of Herod: perhaps the Assad of his day, ready to destroy anyone who might be a threat to his hold on power.

Peace in the Bible is not just the absence of warfare. It is when relationships are good, when all is well. And let’s face it: that’s not the way things are today!

But how can God bring peace when he’s a baby lying in a manger? Or when he’s a travelling preacher, stirring up the establishment, and doing some interesting miracles from time to time? Or when he’s dying on a cross, condemned by the Roman and Jewish authorities?

Does this baby in the manger really have divine power, the power to bring about real peace? Our readings this morning don’t focus on the story of Christmas: they don’t mention the young couple and the baby and the struggle to find somewhere to stay. They don’t remind us of the shepherds and the angelic choir. They certainly don’t take us forward to the later arrival of the wise men with their valuable gifts.

No, today’s readings are much more concerned to make clear who this baby is. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that God has spoken in many different ways, particularly through the prophets. But now he has spoken uniquely through his Son, who actually shares his Father’s divine nature. Jesus shows us exactly what God is like.

Through him the world was created. Because of him the world continues to exist. Through him comes forgiveness of sins. In him God’s divine and eternal authority is to be found.

John’s Gospel also points to a God who speaks: he is a God who communicates with us whom he has created. Jesus is the Word of God, eternal, creative, life-giving, revealing God’s light and truth. Jesus makes clear to us what God the Father is like, full of grace and truth.

But John also points out the apparent tragedy of the story of Jesus. The world was made through him, and yet the world rejected him. The Jewish people for whom he came as Messiah – his own people – rejected him. But the tragedy was only partial. For there were those who did recognize who he was – who he is: the Son of God, the Word of God, the King of the nations, the Saviour of all. These people accepted him as he was. They received him as their king and Saviour. And in him they found new life, new hope, new purpose.

God speaks in many ways. He speaks through the wonder of creation, through the voice of conscience, through the wisdom of godly people, and through the message of the scriptures. But he doesn’t often speak with a megaphone. And so it is easy to miss his voice, if it suits us to do so.

And as Jesus came in simplicity and humility, it was easy for people to fail to recognize his unique authority. And therefore it was easy for people to reject or ignore his message. And so the peace that he gives has never had the impact on the world that it might have done.

Jesus didn’t force himself on people, any more than God forces himself on people. In the same way, God wants us to choose him: however, he doesn’t force us to choose him.

Peace is God’s gift for Christmas. First of all, there is peace with God: forgiveness – the assurance that God is for us not against us, that he is our friend not our enemy, that he truly loves us: the certainty that God does not hold our sins against us.

But peace goes on from there: for the God who loves us calls us to be people of peace. He calls us not only to love those who love us, but to love all people. We are to love our neighbour, knowing that our neighbour may be very different from us: our neighbour may come from another race, another tradition, another religion. It is not for me to speak for those who believe that Islam justifies violence, but I must say that there is nothing in the New Testament that could justify violence in the name of Jesus.

Yes, we may have obligations to our country and community in time of war, but war or violence is not the way of Jesus. And when Christians have used the name of Jesus to justify violence against supposed heretics or people of other faiths; when they have threatened with violence those who would not convert to Christianity; when they have attacked or intimidated people whose moral decisions seem contrary to their own convictions – such as gay people or women seeking abortions – they are denying the way of Christ, who actually got along remarkably well with those whose lives did not measure up to his standards.

Jesus’ way of getting people to change, or helping them to change, is by love not by threat, by peaceful ways not by violent ways. And he makes clear that judgement of evildoers is his business: God’s business, not our business. It is not for us who ourselves need God’s forgiveness to presume to judge others, let alone hand out God’s supposed sentence against them.

The Prince of Peace, born in those humble circumstances 2000 years ago, invites us to live in peace with God, as we trust and follow him. He calls us to live in peace with others, praying that they might learn to do so as well. And he encourages us to look forward to that day when God’s peace shall reign for eternity, when evil and hatred shall indeed be done away with, and God’s righteousness and love shall reign for ever.

But it all starts with that babe of Bethlehem, who calls us to trust and follow him. He offers us his love, his forgiveness, his peace; and he invites us not only to accept it in humble faith, but to live it out in our lives.

May the peace of the Christ-child be ours this Christmas and far beyond, and may that peace reach out to our families, our neighbours, our communities, and even our world. May the peace of God have sway in our lives. And may our prayers and our actions help us move towards that great day when God’s peace will indeed hold sway throughout the world. Amen.

Paul Weaver