Sermon: Epiphany 3, 21 January 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 21st January 2018

Rev. Paul Weaver

THE GOD WHO GUIDES AND PROVIDES
(1 Samuel 23:7-14; Psalm 31; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20)
Each Sunday during January and indeed for another couple of weeks we are hearing stories from the Books of Samuel: a number of incidents in the life of David, who became the second king of Israel. David’s story must be just about the longest narrative in the Bible: it starts halfway through 1 Samuel, includes all of 2 Samuel, and goes into the First Book of Kings: over 40 chapters in all.

And what a mixed story it is! It begins with the anointing of David, probably an adolescent at the time: Samuel the prophet and leader has been told that a member of the family of Jesse will become king after Saul, because Saul has been disobedient to God. David, the youngest son of Jesse, has seven older brothers who look like fine fellows, but the Lord tells Samuel that none of these is the one chosen by God. Young David has to be called from watching the sheep, and he is anointed. Everyone is surprised, although the family probably don’t know exactly why David is being anointed. However, there is the reminder that the Lord looks not on the outward appearance but on the heart.

Meanwhile Saul, told by Samuel that God has rejected him as king, falls victim to bouts of mental instability, and David, who is a gifted musician, is chosen to play for him in the hope of calming him down during these periods of depression and aggression. And before this or after this, David the youngster is the one brave enough – or confident enough in the Lord’s help – to take on the Philippine giant Goliath in combat, and he of course kills him with a stone shot from his sling.

It’s an impressive start: David is brave, resourceful, gifted in many ways, as well as being a person of real faith. And he becomes a close friend of Saul’s son Jonathan.

This forms the background to the next long part of the story, from which we have been hearing extracts this month. Saul, in his mental and spiritual struggles, sees that David is becoming more highly regarded than him. Will David try to take the throne from him, or from his son Jonathan?
Actually Saul already knows that he and his family have been rejected by God. But he becomes not only jealous of David, but even paranoid.

Saul becomes determined to get rid of David, his faithful and successful servant. He makes a couple of unsuccessful attempts to kill David himself. He offers him one of his daughters in marriage, then takes her back again, then offers another daughter. The bridal price involves David fighting dangerous battles, in which Saul hopes he will be killed. It becomes clear that David is no longer safe at Saul’s court, and he flees into the wilderness, gathering about 600 men, almost a private army. Saul pursues David with his large army, but is never able to find him. David refuses a couple of opportunities to kill Saul: it would surely be sensible, given Saul’s determination to kill David.

But David sees kingship as God’s gift and God’s call: he will not attack God’s anointed king, even though his own life is in danger from Saul. David finds himself having to live on the edge of Israel, and even to serve the Philistine king. However his service is only apparent, for in fact he fights the strongholds of Israel’s enemies, and acts as Israel’s protector.

It seems that David’s heart is in the right place. However he is far from ideal: he is unfaithful to his wife Michal who has helped him escape for Saul, and begins collecting wives as if he were a king. He uses dishonesty and violence to achieve his purposes. It is understandable: but David, the king after God’s own heart, is also beginning to show that he has feet of clay.

When Saul dies in battle and David eventually becomes king, he seeks to be a good and faithful king. He invades Jerusalem, still occupied by Canaanites, and makes it his capital: the city is helpfully located between the people of Judah, David’s tribe, and the other tribes of Israel. David wants to unite all the people of Israel. He continues to defeat Israel’s enemies, and Israel becomes much stronger and more secure.

But David has his flaws and weaknesses: the most famous demonstration of this is the story of his affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his officers, which leads to David’s murder of her husband, in order to reduce the embarrassment caused by her pregnancy.
What with David’s various wives and children, the family becomes disturbed and there is an extensive account of the division, often violent, within his family. David proves to be an ineffective father, and there is great confusion about who is the one to succeed him as king. Because of this violent division, David finds himself at one stage forced to retreat from Jerusalem in fear of his life. The division is only resolved on David’s sickbed not long before his death, where David is cajoled by Bathsheba into ensuring that Solomon her son succeeds him as king.

David the great king, the king after God’s own heart? Yes, but…we might say. A flawed individual as well: not so different from so many political leaders we see today! But whatever his faults, he grasped hold of the principle that kingship over the people of God was an honour to be received from God, and not a position to be grasped at all cost.

Today’s story comes from that period when David was on the run from Saul: he had based himself on the edge of Israel, and was still supporting the people of Israel. He and his 600 men had saved the Israelite town of Keilah from the attacks of the Philistines. And he had been joined by Abiathar the priest, after the other priests had been massacred by Saul because they had assisted David when he was escaping from Saul. Abiathar’s priestly clothing included the ephod, which seems to have been a garment worn by a priest over his chest: the ephod could be used in a particular way as a means of discovering God’s will.

Having rescued the people of Keilah, David might have expected that they would protect him from Saul’s armies: but through the priestly guidance he discovered that Saul and his army, having heard that David was in Keilah, would come to the city and attack it if they did not release David to Saul. David was not going to put Keilah in danger of attack by the murderous Saul, and he and his men escaped to the wilderness. Our reading concludes by telling us that “Saul sought David every day, but the Lord did not give him into his hand.”

The story reminds us how God provided for David’s needs and guided him so that he might know what he needed to do. And God’s provision is also given to us day by day, and his guidance is also available to us as we seek to live as Christ’s followers.
The Psalms we have been using this month are linked to the incidents we are reading about in the life of David. Many Psalms have headings which explain the background to David’s words in the Psalm. Psalm 31 which we have read today does not have such a heading, but as we read it, we can see how well it links up with the story of David and the town of Keilah.

The Psalm tells of one who is trapped as David seemed to be: “Rescue me speedily” he begs: “Take me out of the net that is hidden for me.” And so he prays for God to rescue him and to provide for his desperate needs. “Be gracious to me, Lord,” he cries, “for I am in distress.” But David expresses great faith, even in his difficult circumstances: “You are indeed my rock and my fortress”, he says. “I trust in you, O Lord: I say, ‘You are my
God’ ”. Here is faith under pressure, but it is faith which remains steadfast when times are tough. This is a good Psalm to turn to when we are finding life difficult.

However, this Psalm also takes us beyond David, and indeed beyond the ups and downs of our own lives. For one of its verses is heard on the lips of Jesus towards the end of his time hanging on the cross. “Into your hands I commit my Spirit” are words of faith, not just said by David, but by the Son of God himself.

After his hours of agony on the cross, Jesus is shortly to die. He commends himself into God’s hands. He has not avoided pain and suffering, but he knows he has done what needed to be done for the forgiveness of sins, and for the salvation of all. He can indeed commit himself in faith into his Father’s hands, and we know that the Lord will indeed welcome him and say: “You are my Son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” As God rescued David from evil and death, so God through his Son has rescued us from evil and death.

But God’s blessing is received through faith, and so David’s attitude of faith stands as an example and a challenge to us. And Jesus’ call which we heard in the Gospel, to repent and believe the Gospel, to trust in the Gospel of Jesus, to place our faith in the Saviour, comes to us also.

Like David we have feet of clay. Like David we experience our own times of stress and difficulty. Like David we need to trust in the Lord. Like David in our Psalm, we need to be able to say – and we can say:
“I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God’.
My times are in your hand.” Amen. Paul Weaver

Sermon: Epiphany, 31 December 2017, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 31st December 2017

Rev. Paul Weaver

A LONG WAY TO BETHLEHEM (Epiphany)
(Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12)
It’s not often that we get the opportunity to celebrate Epiphany twice in the same year. But here we are celebrating Epiphany a second time in 2017. Of course than means than we won’t have the actual festival of Epiphany at all in 2018, although there will be six Sundays after Epiphany before Lent!

In the lectionary of the old Book of Common Prayer, Epiphany was simply celebrated on 6th January, and if that did not fall on a Sunday, which of course happened six years out of seven, we did not read the great Epiphany story at Sunday services that year. In recent times, our lectionary has encouraged us to celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday before 6th January, if that day is not a Sunday. I see the value of ensuring that we have the opportunity to observe Epiphany on a Sunday each year, but the way they have chosen has some strange consequences! Not only do we have this odd result with two Epiphanies in one year, but it also means that we have lost half our Christmas season: this Christmas has only six days instead of the traditional twelve days of Christmas. And I think that has been a loss, with no Sunday included in the Christmas season. My vote would be to celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday nearest 6th January. However, I must leave it to others who design and review these matters.

Certainly the Epiphany story is well-known. Most people are familiar with the story of the three wise men visiting baby Jesus in the stable. I hope the camels could be parked somewhere outside, especially if the shepherds were still there with their sheep!

Well, actually there are quite a few assumptions people make which are different from the story as Matthew presents it, and that is the only place we find it in the scriptures. We don’t actually know how many wise men there were: we only know about three gifts that they brought to the infant king. And Matthew says that they found Mary, Joseph and Jesus in a house, not a stable or a cave. And Jesus was probably weeks or months old: possibly more than a year old.

Who were these “wise men”? We can dismiss another legend that suggests they were kings. They were magi, a word linked with our word “magic”.
The magi were scholars who studied the movement of stars, believing that there was a direct link between what they observed in the heavens and what happened on earth. They were astronomers, but also astrologers.
They came from the East, perhaps from what we know as Iran or even Saudi Arabia. They were Gentiles. And their ideas about theology would have been very different from what was believed in Judea and what was taught in the scriptures. After all, the scriptures take a very negative attitude towards astrology and the like.

But these people have seen something unusual in the sky – perhaps the conjunction of planets or stars, possibly a meteor or comet – the experts have a number of theories on this. But from what they have seen in the heavens these Magi have concluded that a new king has been born in Israel: one of great significance, for they have been willing to make the long journey to pay him homage.

They come to Jerusalem the capital seeking guidance on where exactly to find this great king who has been born. Despite the words of the carol, the star does not seem to have been continuing both day and night to guide them all the way! It is King Herod whose experts point the Magi to Bethlehem, the birthplace of David. Bethlehem is only a couple of hours’ walk south of Jerusalem, and Micah’s prophecy of the birth of a great ruler in Bethlehem is familiar to the theologians. So off go the Magi.

Sadly the violent and paranoid old king will soon have the babies of Bethlehem killed in a fruitless attempt to get rid of this baby. Perhaps the number of children in Bethlehem under two years old is not all that large: but this is what Herod does with anyone he sees as a possible threat to his waning power. Herod officially claims the title of “King of the Jews”, but the real King of the Jews has been born.

The Magi find Jesus: they kneel down in homage and offer their gifts. These gifts were certainly valuable, and would have seen as fitting for a great king: another sign that these Magi were men of wealth. Over the centuries Christians have seen extra significance in these gifts beyond what the Magi would have been aware of. Gold was indeed fitting for a king, but is also seen as reflecting the humanity of Jesus. Frankincense was particularly used in worship, and it reminds us that this baby was no less than God incarnate, the human who was also God, God coming among us to share our human existence. And myrrh was used as a perfumed ointment, often used to anoint the body of someone who had died: of course Christians see it as a pointer to the one who would die on the cross, and be anointed and buried, the one who would give his life for us, the one who is our Saviour as well as our King.

But while we remember the story of the Wise Men, we need also to ask what is its significance, why does it matter?

Certainly Matthew is not encouraging people to take up astrology – or tarot readings or fortune telling, or any of these questionable ways of seeking to know the future. Obviously most of what passes for astrology today is fakery, filling the pages of magazines, attracting people to expensive websites, and making money for its practitioners. And those who are serious about astrology have picked up a tradition that the scriptures warn us against. We don’t need to know the future in this way, and we need to trust that God will always be with us in whatever the future holds.

But the Lord who makes the heavens and the stars is Lord of heaven and earth. He understands our ignorance and confusion. In Jesus he comes to us where we are. And in this case, he used the ideas and understandings of these astrologers, confused as they were, to speak to them, and to lead them to the place where he wanted them. And so these people became the first Gentiles to meet Jesus: hence we have the term “Epiphany”, the unveiling or revelation of Jesus. The old Book of Common Prayer called it “The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles”.

And so in these opening chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, this most obviously Jewish of the Gospels, we see the promised King of the Jews revealed to Gentiles, even when he is a mere infant. Matthew knows that Jesus has come not just for the people of the Jewish nation: he has come for all people everywhere, Jews and Gentiles, in fulfilment of the Old Testament scriptures..

And this is why our reading from Ephesians is so appropriate today. In this letter, Paul describes the message that God has revealed to him in Christ. This mystery, as he calls it, this truth than people would not have seen unless God had made it clear, is that Jesus came for all people everywhere, and that God’s family is open to all people everywhere – Jews and Gentiles.
Paul understood his call as taking the Good News of Christ to all people whoever they were, but he saw that he had been given a particular ministry as Apostle to the Gentiles.

And he found himself many times having to defend his Gospel from those who wanted to narrow it: people who wanted to impose rules and restrictions on Gentile Christians, or who tried to insist that Gentiles could not be accepted as real Christians unless they were circumcised and took on the demands of Jewish tradition.

But Paul found in the message of the Old Testament time and again the promise that God’s plan reached beyond his ancient people of Israel to people of all nations. He had been entrusted with the message that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs with the Jews, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel”. Today we take for granted the truth that the Christian faith is for people of all nations and backgrounds. But in the early days of the church it was a new and threatening idea, a challenge for many early Christians to understand and accept.

Epiphany reminds us what a privilege it is to be members of God’s family in Christ. In Christ God comes to us where we are in our flawed humanity: he doesn’t give us hoops to get through before he will be concerned for us.

We don’t have to have all the right answers before God has a message for us. God already loves us, he invites us and welcomes us, and encourages us to welcome others into God’s family – no matter what their background, their misunderstandings, their weaknesses or their failings.

We live in a divided and suspicious and unwelcoming world: and it is so easy for us to get sucked into that closed-up environment and mindset. But the mystery of Christ tells us that God loves all people, that Christ died for all people, and that the neighbour we are called to love can be anyone at all. May we follow God’s pattern and the example of Christ. May we be thankful for God’s love that has reached out even to us. And let us seek ways to break down barriers between people rather than building up those barriers.

The Gospel is for all people. God’s church is for all people. May we welcome all people in Jesus’ name. Amen. Paul Weaver

Sermon: Baptism of Our Lord , 7 January 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

On the Run- Psalm 59, 1Samuel 19

-I’m sure every single one of us has had those times in life where things have been going bad.

-We’ve all experienced times when it seems we just can’t take a trick,

-Everything is stacked against us,

-Success is elusive.

-And then one morning you wake up,

-The sun is shining,

-The birds are singing,

-And suddenly everything gets worse!

-Welcome to the world of David,

-A man after God’s own heart.

-If you read through the stories of David,

-You get to see that life wasn’t always beer and skittles for him either.

-You’d think that if you’d been chosen by God to be king over his people,

-That your life would be easy.

-Yet what we get to see is that David’s life is just like ours,

-He makes some good decisions and he makes dumb decisions,

-People treat him with honour,

-And some with disdain.

-Some things go his way,

-While others turn to dust.

-He’s obedient to God and he’s foolishly rebellious.

-Every decision he makes,

-Event that occurs,

-Choice he makes,

-Has impact on and consequences for his life,

-For good and ill.

-The book of Samuel gives us the bare facts,

-But then in the Psalms we catch a glimpse of David’s heart.

-And here in Psalm 59 we see the complexity of David’s life.

-Above the first line of this Psalm is the sub-title;

“Of David. A miktam. When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.”

-1Samuel 19 provides the background which prompted David to write;

“Deliver me from my enemies, O God; be my fortress against those who are attacking me. Deliver me from evildoers and save me from those who are after my blood.” Psalm 59: 1-2

-Saul has given the command to his son Jonathan and all his attendants that they’re to kill David.

-Back in 1Samuel 18:7 you see what’s prompted this jealous rage.

-It seems that everywhere Saul goes he hears the people praising David.

“Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” 1Samuel 18: 7

-Saul is furious,

-‘They’ve credited David with ten thousands,

-‘But me with only thousands.’

-And his jealous heart does a paranoid calculation,

“What more can he get but the kingdom?” 1Samuel 18: 8-9

-And from that time on he keeps a distrustful eye on David,

-That finally erupts into this murderous command.

-The king’s son Jonathan comes to David and warns him of the murderous intent of his father.

-Jonathan is a good friend to David.

-He goes to his father and gives him three solid arguments,

-That offer Saul the rational, moral and theological considerations for sparing David’s life;

“The king should not sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have been of good service to you; for he took his life in his hand when he attacked the Philistine, and the Lord brought about a great victory for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced; why then will you sin against an innocent person by killing David without cause?” 1Samuel 19: 4-5

-‘Why would you kill someone who has given you so many benefits?

-‘That’s crazy

-‘Why would you kill someone who has done you no harm?

-‘That’s immoral.

-‘Why would you kill someone who God is clearly using?

-‘That’s clear ignorance of the nature and character of God.’

-So Saul wisely relents.

“Deliver me from evildoers and save me from those who are after my blood. See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offence or sin of mine, Lord. I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me. Arise to help me; look on my plight!” Psalm 59: 2-4

-Before he wrote these words into his Psalm,

-David may well have been praying them to God.

-And through the intercession of Jonathan,

-His prayer is answered,

-For a little while.

-Because life’s events take another dramatic turn for David.

-Jonathan calls David and tells him of the positive conversation he’s had with his father.

-He takes him back to the palace,

-And life continues in the royal court as if nothing has happened.

-But then international events careen David back into the realm of chaos.

-The Philistines attack.

-The nation is once more plunged into war,

-And it’s David who goes out to meet this opera hating, ballet loathing enemy,

-Maybe with this prayer rising in his heart;

“You, Lord God Almighty, you who are the God of Israel, rouse yourself to punish all the nations; show no mercy to wicked traitors.” Psalm 59: 5

-And God does rouse himself,

-David launches a heavy attack on the Philistines and they flee before him.

-But this is not going to be good news for David.

-Sure enough,

-An evil spirit comes upon Saul and in another jealous fit,

-He hurls his spear,

-Trying to pin David to the wall.

-So much for Saul’s oath to Jonathan that,

“As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” 1Samuel 19: 6

-Once again David has to flee for his life.

-Escaping the throne room he now has to escape the palace.

-But Saul is one step ahead,

-And he sends his men to watch David’s house with orders to kill him when he comes out in the morning.

-But again it’s a member of Saul’s own household that steps in to rescue David.

-In Psalm 59:9-10 David writes;

“You are my strength, I watch for you; you, God, are my fortress, 10 my God on whom I can rely. God will go before me and will let me gloat over those who slander me.” Psalm 59: 9-10

-In 1Samuel 18 we see Saul precede his overt act to kill David with his spear,

-By a covert plot that would enlist the unsuspecting Philistines into the task of ending the threat David posed to Saul’s kingship.

-Let me read the plan to you;

“Saul said to David, ‘Here is my elder daughter Merab. I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the Lord.’ For Saul said to himself, ‘I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that!’ 18 But David said to Saul, ‘Who am I, and what is my family or my clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?’” 1Samuel 18: 17-18

-The humility of David shines through his response to the duplicity of Saul,

-A duplicity that only surfaces when Saul reneges on the deal with David,

-And marries off his eldest daughter to someone else.

-Why Saul did this we don’t know,

-But in the plans and purposes of God,

-Another opportunity arises for Saul to use a family member to place David in a dangerous position with Israel’s enemies.

-Saul hears that his younger daughter Michal is madly in love with David,

-And makes a second offer to David to be his son-in-law.

-David may have been a little more sceptical of Saul by now,

-But Saul encourages his unwitting attendants to butter up David,

-Telling him that the king is pleased with him,

-And that he should become the king’s son-in-law.

-David raises an objection that Saul is only too eager to use to his advantage;

“Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known.” 1Samuel 18: 23

-Through his servants Saul sends back the message;

“The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.”’ 1Samuel 18: 25

-Gruesome but cunning,

-Saul’s plan was for David to fall by the hands of the Philistines.

-The only glitch in Saul’s plan was that he’d made David a commander of a thousand,

-And a thousand men to ambush a hundred Philistines is not bad odds,

-So David doubles it,

-Beats the deadline,

-Survives the trap,

-Increases his reputation,

-And wins the bride.

-The very bride who later warns David about her father’s assassins lurking outside,

-And lowers him from their bedroom window.

-So David once more escapes the ‘snarling dogs’, Psalm 59: 14-15

-But as we’ll see throughout this series,

-The life of David seems to follow a pattern of ‘out of the frypan, into the fire’.

-In God’s plan the young shepherd is moved from minding sheep and fending off bears and wolves,

-Frypan!

-To playing harp in the king’s palace.

-David steps up when all others quake before the giant Goliath,

-His victory with nothing more than a sling and five smooth stones,

-Won him the attention of the king and a high rank in the army.

-Fire!

-As David becomes more successful,

-The king becomes more jealous.

-Frypan to fire,

-Fire to frypan.

-How demoralising that must that have been.

-Yet as we’ll see as we continue this series,

-Things will not get much better for David even when he finally becomes king.

-God is the only one who has the perfect clarity to see us as we are.

-But we can know what’s going on inside when a person reveals it to us.

-That’s what we see in David’s Psalms,

-We see into the heart of a man facing the struggles and joys of life,

-And we see what keeps him going.

-Read through Psalm 59 and you see David’s judgement of his situation.

“See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offence or sin of mine, Lord.” Psalm 59: 3

-King Saul,

-His royal assassins.

-It’s personal hatred.

-And mixed in with the personal dangers are the corporate threats.

-The Philistines probably didn’t hold a personal grudge against David,

-He was just one of their nation’s enemies.

-But David recognises them as a danger and threat;

“I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me. Arise to help me (Lord); look on my plight!” Psalm 59: 4-5

-In this Psalm we see that David is a realist,

-He’s no Pollyanna,

-No rosy eyed optimist,

-He’s correctly judged his position in a fallen and broken world.

-Stuff happens,

-But it happens because God allows it or he actively initiates it.

-Philosophers want to dissect the finer nuances of allowing or initiating,

-But the bottom line is that God is the one who’s in total control,

-Otherwise what would be the point of asking;

“Deliver me from my enemies, O God;” Psalm 59: 1

-Or;

“You, God, are my fortress, 10 my God on whom I can rely.” Psalm 59: 9-10

-If there were areas of life where God wasn’t in control?

-Where God was powerless?

-Where God could not be relied upon?

-David is a realist who knows that in this life there’ll be ups and downs and they’ll be relentless.

-He underlines this relentlessness by repeating twice the line;

“They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city.” Psalm 59: 6, 14

-But in the face of relentless troubles,

-David trusts in the one who is a fortress,

-So he again repeats himself,

“You are my strength, I watch for you; you, God, are my fortress, 10 my God on whom I can rely.” Psalm 59: 9-10

-He watches.

-Why?

-Because God will be there for him,

-God will come through,

-His trust will not be in vain,

-There will be vindication of the faithfulness and power of God over the circumstances of this world,

-And that vindication will result in praise of God.

-This story and the insights of David’s Psalm should challenge our view of comfort and blessing.

-Because of our individualistic, materialistic, consumer culture,

-We’re led to believe that comfort and ease are our right.

-Any setback is a personal affront to our autonomy and control.

-We believe the lie of the Devil and our culture,

-That loss and pain and suffering are a burden to be avoided.

-But as followers and disciples of Jesus,

-We need to follow the insights of David and the example of our Lord.

-Until Jesus returns and brings in the New Creation,

-We’ll live in a relentlessly evil and broken world.

-But should we despair?

-No,

-Because we see in the death and resurrection of Jesus,

-God’s victory over the forces ranged against him and us.

-What could be more designed to bring despair, fear and pain than a Roman cross,

-Yet Jesus walked that path for us.

-If David the King of Israel,

-If Jesus the King of Glory,

-Could walk the path of suffering,

-Relying and trusting in God,

-Then we too can turn our eyes from the lies of our culture,

-The taunts of our neighbours,

-The doubts of our hearts,

-To the God who is our strength and fortress.

Sermon: Baptism of Our Lord , 7 January 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 7th January 2018

 Rev. Paul Weaver

TWO UNUSUAL BAPTISMS

 (1 Samuel 19:1-18; Psalm 59; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11)

Baptisms can be memorable occasions. Few of us will remember our own baptisms, but we may remember the baptisms of our children or grandchildren, or other family members or friends. We may remember a particular baptism because something happened: a really noisy baby, or something unexpected, or perhaps because it took place at a swimming pool or beach, as sometimes happens nowadays.

Our New Testament readings today tell us about two baptisms which were certainly unusual, both of them baptisms connected in different ways with John the Baptist. And as we think about them, it might be worthwhile to keep in mind some questions which baptism brings into focus. Questions like:

  • Who am I?
  • To whom do I belong?
  • To whom am I connected?
  • Where am I heading?

About these questions baptism certainly has something to say.

The first baptism we read about in today’s Gospel: it is the baptism of Jesus by John, which we remember on this First Sunday after Epiphany. John had been faithfully preparing the way of the Lord: calling people to repentance, inviting them to be baptized to express that desire to live a new life as God’s forgiven people. And he had been telling them of the Great One sent from God who was shortly to be revealed. People must be ready for him, living that new life to which John was calling them. And this Great One would baptize with the Holy Spirit. His baptism would not be just an outward sign, but an inward reality, as God’s Spirit was poured out in a new way onto God’s people.

The day came when Jesus came seeking to be baptized by John. As the other Gospels make clear, John was rather taken aback: why would Jesus need to be baptized? But Jesus was clear that this was what God wanted, and John baptized him.

As he was coming out of the water, two unexpected things happened. The Holy Spirit came upon him from God in a new way. What did that mean? He had the fullness of God’s power with him. But the Holy Spirit’s purpose is not just to make us feel good and even strong. His purpose is to help us to go faithfully along the path God wants us to follow, to enable us to serve God faithfully and to deal with the temptations that we face in this world.

This outpouring of the Spirit on Jesus points us to the answer to one of those questions linked with baptism. Baptism asks us: where am I heading? And the answer in Jesus’ case was clear: he was heading along the path of obedience. In fact, if we read the next couple of verses in Mark’s Gospel, we can see that the next thing to happen to Jesus was his temptation in the wilderness, where the devil invited him to take a path different from the path of obedience. Jesus consistently rejected the call of the tempter who suggested that there was an easier way. Led by the Spirit, Jesus was determined to go God’s way, whatever the cost.

The other thing that happened as Jesus came up out of the water was that he heard the voice of God, which answered another question: Who am I?

To Jesus, God his Father said: “You are my Son, the beloved: with you I am well pleased.” Here was not just a son of God: he was truly God’s Son in a unique way. I rather like this modern translation of those words from heaven: “You are my wonderful son: you make me very glad.” Yes, Jesus had a unique relationship with God his Father. And he would continue to make his Father very glad. And if in one sense he didn’t need to be baptized seeking forgiveness of sins, his baptism became a sort of commissioning for service, as indeed our baptism was.

Our reading from Acts takes us to the great city of Ephesus in Western Turkey. The apostle Paul has arrived and met some disciples: but what sort of disciples are they? He asks them some questions and discovers that they certainly have gaps in their understanding. They did not receive the Holy Spirit when they became disciples: in fact, they don’t seem to know much at all about the Holy Spirit. They have been baptized, but it doesn’t seem to be baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus. They have actually received John’s baptism.

We know that followers of John moved around the empire telling people about John and his message, and encouraging them to repent and be baptized. It seems that these disciples had received this baptism. From what we know of John’s message, they presumably understood John’s call to repent and be baptized, seeking God’s forgiveness, and they probably knew that God was going to send a great teacher and leader. Whether they knew even the name of Jesus is not clear.

They are however disciples. Literally they are learners, students. They need to develop in their understanding. They need to keep growing.

And Paul fills in the gaps for them. He explains that Jesus is the one to whom John was pointing people. Jesus, the Messiah, is the promised Teacher and Leader and Saviour.

These disciples now understand in a new way. They are ready to believe in Jesus. They are ready to follow Jesus. And Paul sees that they are ready to be baptized. Of course they don’t know everything. Yes, there are still gaps in their understanding. But a disciple is a learner, not a graduate.  Disciples are on the path: they haven’t arrived. We know that there is still more for us to understand: we haven’t arrived yet, we need to keep going and keep growing and keep following.

And so these disciples are baptized: not this time with John’s baptism, but baptism in the name of Jesus. They are clear now that they are not just followers of John, significant though he is in the plan of God: they are followers of Jesus Christ, their King and their Saviour.

And then something very unexpected happens. The Holy Spirit comes upon them: not just quietly, as we might have experienced his work, but dramatically. These very new disciples of Jesus spoke in tongues and prophesied.

Now if that happened during a baptism I was conducting – even if I was baptizing an adult – I would be surprised, and perhaps taken aback. I might not be so surprised if I was attending a baptism in a Pentecostal church, which is where speaking in tongues and prophesying happens more often nowadays.

Why did it happen to these disciples in Ephesus? I don’t think that Luke, the writer of Acts, wants us to believe that this is what should normally happen when someone is baptized. This pouring out of the Holy Spirit made clear in these unusual circumstances that God was indeed at work in the lives of these people, and that these people, despite their unusual circumstances. were indeed to be acknowledged as genuine followers of Christ, as children of God, as true members of Christ’s family the church.

Baptisms will take different forms in different circumstances and places: different liturgies and words, at churches or pools and beaches, involving different amounts of water, baptism of all ages or adults only, quiet or perhaps accompanied by speaking in tongues.

But baptism with water in the name of Jesus, in the name of the Trinity – baptism which expresses repentance and faith and openness to God’s forgiveness, baptism expressing that readiness to live as Christ’s follower and a member of God’s church – that is true baptism, opening up to God’s eternal blessings and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

So as we think about these two unusual baptisms, we remind ourselves that we too are baptized disciples of Christ. As this new year begins, we continue along the path of discipleship: with things to learn, opportunities to grow, God’s call to obey, a church family to keep connected with, people to love and serve, and a Saviour to keep following.

This may or may not be a year bringing big changes for us. But we keep going, keep following.

Let’s remember the true answers to those questions linked with our baptism. Who am I? I am a follower of Christ. To whom do I belong? I am a child of God, loved and forgiven by him through Christ. To whom am I connected? I belong to God’s family and am a member of his church, and we are all called to truly love one another. And where am I heading? I seek to walk the path of discipleship, of loving and obedience service, following my Saviour and King, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Paul Weaver

 

Sermon: Epiphany, 31 December 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Song of Simeon; Luke 2:21-40

-What are some of the things you hope for?

-All of us have hopes.

-At this time of year hopes run high.

-I doubt that there was a kid in Australia who didn’t have a specific hope which they looked forward to being fulfilled under the Christmas tree.

-There are thousands of young students who are looking forward with hope,

-To the results of their HSC exams getting them into a career.

-On New Year’s Eve people all round Australia and the world will be making New Year’s resolutions.

-What is a New Year’s resolutions?

-It’s a hope for a better future.

-It’s a hope that changes can be made in our life which will help us improve our lives.

-The desire for hope runs deep and wide within everyone of us.

-Hope gives us meaning and purpose in life.

-There is a very ominous ring to the phrase ‘he hasn’t got a hope’.

-To be without hope is a very disturbing condition.

-Hope is the fuel which drives our zest for living.

-We’ll put up with all sorts of trials and tribulations,

-As long as we have hope that something better will come through in the end.

-The consistent promise of God throughout the whole Bible is that something better will come through.

-In the Old Testament book of Lamentations the prophet is despairing of the trials he’s facing,

-But just listen to how he deals with these woes;

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” Lamentation 3:19-22

-He remembers that our God is a lover.

-God loves us and his compassion will never fail.

-We matter to God.

-The apostle Paul also reflected upon the sufferings we all face,

-And he comes to a similar conclusion;

“We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:2-5

-In the passage we just heard read we saw the man Simeon.

-Luke tells us that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel.

-Simeon must have been despairing of the times he was living in.

-Everything seemed stacked against his people.

-Their nation was ruled by a foreign army.

-Insurrection was put down brutally.

-Their leaders looked after their own interests not the people’s.

-Even their religious leaders were not what they should have been.

-There was great show,

-But very little love of God.

-Simeon may have felt the way many Australians feel today.

-As a nation we’re buffeted by outside forces,

-Our leaders seem directionless and more concerned with their own position than the national interest.

-Even our religious institutions seem to be selling out to the spirit of the age.

-In times like that it’s not surprising people look for consolation.

-And hope will give us consolation.

-Simeon knew the promises of God.

-He knew the hope that God would save his people.

-He’d been waiting earnestly for this salvation, this consolation.

-The Holy Spirit of God had even told him personally,

-That he would not die until he saw with his own eyes the one who would bring salvation to his people.

-Then one morning as he’s heading off to work,

-He finds himself heading into the temple courtyard.

-There’s a young man and women with a baby in front of him.

-Nothing unusual about that,

-There were always young families coming in to fulfill the religious requirements after the birth of a child.

-But this child is different,

-And the Spirit tells Simeon,

-‘There is your hope’.

-‘In the arms of that young mother is the Saviour of the world.’

-That tiny little eight day old bundle was the Lord’s messiah, the Christ.

-He takes the baby Jesus in his arms,

-And the hope that has kept him going for all these years wells out in a psalm of praise;

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32

-Mary and Joseph are amazed at what Simeon says.

-Their child will be a light to the whole world.

-Jesus will not only give hope and meaning to his people the Jews,

-But the whole of humanity.

-Every person from every nation,

-Will be able to find peace with God and eternal life

-Through the life of this new born child.

-But there’s even more that they learn,

-For Simeon turns to Mary and says;

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” vv.34-35

-We all know the Christmas story well enough to know that not everybody was pleased to see Jesus.

-True the shepherds and wise men experience the joy of visiting the Christ child,

-But King Herod was less than pleased.

-A new born king was a threat to his rule.

-A new messiah was a challenge to his position and authority.

-This new ruler stood in opposition to Herod’s autonomy.

-Although Luke doesn’t tell us of this incident in his gospel,

-Mary and Joseph will soon experience the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy,

-Of the hatred that will be directed against Jesus,

-And the pain that that will inflict on Mary his mother.

-Jesus will not go unchallenged.

-Not all will see him as their hope.

-Simeon made that very clear to Mary.

-Jesus will be the cause of the rising and falling of many in Israel he said.

-But this statement was not limited to Israel.

-It applies to the whole world.

-When people are confronted by Jesus,

-The thoughts of their hearts are exposed.

-Jesus poses a challenge to all of us,

-And the reason for hostility is quite simple.

-It’s because he provides our only hope of a certain and happy future.

-Many people don’t like that exclusive claim of Jesus.

-Most of us don’t want to have our options limited.

-We’re just like Herod who didn’t want his autonomy challenged.

-He wanted to be in charge of his own life and kingdom.

-His hopes lay in a completely different direction to the one being presented in Jesus.

-Everything he stood for was being threatened.

-Think of your own situation.

-How do you feel when you have your heart set on something,

-And someone else says ‘no that can’t happen’?

-When our hopes are dashed,

-Even if the dashing was inevitable and visible to everyone but ourselves,

-We’re hurt and angry,

-And we lash out at whoever we think caused the destruction of our hope.

-Hope is a powerful thing,

-Even if it’s a false hope.

-And Jesus smashes our hopes

-He destroys our consolation in earthly things.

-Let me give some examples of the hopes we set our hearts upon.

-Why do some people change jobs?

-If I have a different job people will respect me.

-Why do some people buy expensive cars, houses or furnishings?

-If I have all these things it will show I’m important.

-Why do some people buy lottery tickets or play Lotto?

-If I win the big one I’ll be set for life.

-Why do some people remarry?

-If I marry this person I won’t make the same mistakes I made before.

-Why do some people take drugs?

-If I stay drunk life can’t hurt me.

-Every decision we make is backed by a hope.

-But Jesus says every one of those hopes is either going to be totally unachievable,

-Or is going to fade away.

-Do you want to be told that?

-Do you want to be told that its not your job that gives you respect,

-That possessions don’t make you important,

-That money will not make you happy.

-Do you really want to hear that if you don’t change,

-Your relationships won’t either,

-And despite what anyone tells you,

-Life is tough!

-If you’re honest,

-You’ll admit you don’t want to hear those things and a thousand other false hopes that you’ve got.

-But every time you hear the name of Jesus you’ll be challenged again.

-Now there can only be two responses to Jesus.

-One is to turn your back, block your ears, cover your eyes.

-And in your arrogant pride you will stumble.

-Oh, you may rise up every now and then,

-But you won’t get up from the eternal fall.

-The other response is made by those who have fallen.

-Those who have been pushed, shoved and knocked around by the realities of life.

-Those who have seen that the hopes we set our hearts upon are as fragile as a Christmas tree bauble,

-And in humility see the offer of hope that Jesus extends and accept it.

-For in accepting Jesus’ offer we receive a hope that cannot fade,

-A hope that cannot be shattered or taken from us.

-Just like Simeon we’ll see the salvation God has prepared for us through his Son.

-We’ll experience for ourselves the peace which Jesus promised when he said,

‘Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.’

– We’ll know the fulfillment that Jesus promised when he said,

‘I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full’

– We’ll taste the freedom that Jesus promised when he said,

‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free’ John 8:32

-We’ll feel the respect and value that comes from knowing we’re loved by God,

-And are called his children.

– We’ll have that certain hope that we’ll live with God forever,

-And that he’ll wipe away every tear from our eyes,

-There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

-My friends think about that.

-Think about that and be honest with yourself,

-How do your hopes compare with the hope that Jesus offers you?

“There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” Proverbs 23:18

Sermon: Christmas, 25 December 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

The Many Faces of Christmas- Luke 2:1-20

-Riding a train to the city recently I looked around and was struck by the many different faces.

-It wasn’t just that there were Caucasian, Asian and Indian faces,

-There were young faces,

-Old faces,

-Male faces and female faces.

-As I left that carriage and stepped into the bustle of a busy city street,

-I once again was hit by the many faces of the city,

-Executive faces, homeless faces,

-Stressed faces, tourist faces.

-On the return trip home my mind turned from the many faces of Sydney,

-To the many faces of Christmas.

-That thought began with the words from Exodus 33:11;

“The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”

-We all know the story of how Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land.

-A little known fact was he had a tent where he would meet with God.

-Now Christians often say we come to church to meet with God.

-But none of us would say,

-‘And God speaks with us face to face as one speaks to a friend.’

-Imagine sitting in a tent and speaking face to face with God.

-But Moses was experiencing something,

-That no human being had experienced since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

-But there was something else to this story,

-Because Moses says to God;

“Now show me your glory.” Exodus 33:18

-The Lord’s answer to Moses however is a surprising one;

“I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you . . . But you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Exodus 33:19, 20

-You cannot see my face!

-Hold on,

-Weren’t we just told the Lord would speak with Moses face to face?

-Has God just forgotten that he’d been talking with Moses in the flesh, as it were.

-No, the many faces of Christmas begins with the many faces of God,

-Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

-But let’s jump forward 1400 years or so,

-To the first face of our Christmas, from the heavenly realm.

-An angel appears to a priest whose face has seen many years,

-And the sadness of childlessness;

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:13,17

-It will be the grown up John the Baptist who points to his cousin and announces,

-‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’

-The next face of Christmas is a young single girl,

-Visited by the very same angel Gabriel,

-Who hears an even more disturbing message;

“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Luke 1:30-31

-And a visit to her old pregnant cousin proves the truth of those words.

-Joseph’s face however was one of shock in learning his fiancé was pregnant.

-Even more shocked at the appearance of an angel of the Lord who announces;

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

-And to give us a hint of what is to come,

-Or maybe a reminder of what we had at the beginning and Moses saw in his tent,

-Matthew adds;

“‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23

-Emmanuel, God with us,

-Face to face.

-But if Joseph thought everything now would be smooth sailing,

-The foreign face of a Roman emperor changed all that.

-The Emperor Augustus decreed a census be taken,

-And commanded everyone to return to their home town to register.

-So Joseph and his wife find themselves in a stable late at night,

-Face to face with the household animals and a new born baby.

-While out in the fields,

-Sun scorched faces quake in fear as more angel’s glowing faces appear to trembling shepherds announcing;

“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12

-And like a contingent of magicians still in a far off country,

-They set out to see for themselves the face of that new born King.

-All these many faces of Christmas looked toward the true face of Christmas,

-Jesus Christ.

-What they looked forward to was summed up by Simeon,

-The face of the faithful Israelite waiting patiently for the promise of God to be fulfilled;

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 22:29-32

-God the Father told Moses that no-one could see his face and live.

-Our selfishness and sin created a barrier between humanity and our holy, creator God.

-As he talked face to face with the Lord in that tent,

-Moses experienced what humanity would have to wait 1400 years to see.

-Look back over the many faces of Christmas,

-And hear the names they put to this baby’s face;

-Jesus,

-Son of the Most High,

-Messiah,

-Lord.

-Maybe the most significant was the name spoken by the ancient face of the prophet Isaiah,

-Of the Saviour he foresaw;

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

-Mary, Joseph, lowly shepherds, wealthy foreigners,

-All looked into the face of God when they looked into the face of Jesus.

-And through his life, death and resurrection the promise comes to all who put their faith in him;

“The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” Revelation 22:4

-That’s the promise that the Christmas story holds in front of all our faces,

-That God not only came and dwelt amongst us,

-He holds out a promise of his eternal presence,

-We will see him face to face as a man can see a friend,

-And that’s a promise that can change the face of any of our futures.

Sermon: Christmas, 25 December 2017, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 25th December 2017

 Rev. Paul Weaver

CHRISTMAS: GOD REVEALS HIMSELF

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

What do you think God is like? Most people in Australia still seem to believe that there is one God; that he is the Creator; that he is eternal, powerful, righteous. Some people have a very strong faith in this God, while others have lots of questions. Traditionally Christians for instance believe that God is real, that he is trustworthy, that he helps people in need, that he is the ultimate judge of all, and that he is in control of all things. But not all people who believe in God are sure about all these things.

The problem is that we can’t see God: we can’t feel him or touch him. We can’t literally prove his existence. And when we look at the world, we find the evidence is indeed mixed.

On the one hand, there is so much that is wonderful about the world and the universe: their beauty and grandeur. There are the patterns that mean things work in the world: sunrise, sunset, gravity, the seasons. And of course there are our own human bodies, and the potential of our minds and our capacity to decide and calculate and design and invent. There is our sense of right and wrong, and our capacity for relationships and for love. And on goes the list: so much that is wonderful.

But then there is another side: war, hunger, violence, abuse, oppression, injustice. And even if we can blame many of these on the wrong things done by people, who can we blame – apart from God – for illness and natural disasters?

The world and the universe are a mix: much that is good and wonderful, but also much that seems to be wrong. Out of my studies and reflection I can give something of an explanation for this, but I know it won’t convince everyone.

I remember the comment of Stephen Fry, who hosted the TV program QI for many years, and who is a convinced atheist: he said that if God existed he would want to walk up to him and ask him to explain cancer that hits children, and how that could be part of his plan. I understand his frustration, but that is only one of the issues that people might select to describe the mixed nature of God’s world. So much that is good, and yet there is sin and evil – something is wrong.

John, writer of the fourth Gospel, knows all this. He knows the mixed-up nature of the world made by God, but there is no doubt in his mind that this is God’s world. And he wants us to know that God is a God who speaks: he is there, and he is not silent. John writes about the Word of God – God expressing himself, God communicating with his creation.

In fact John says that creation owes its existence to the Word of God. In the beginning God spoke and there was light, the earth appeared, the sun and moon came into existence, as did the fish and birds and animals, and the first humans. The Word of God is creative, and through that Word God expresses his creative power, his wisdom and his purposes.

If God is a God who speaks, how do we hear his voice? We are likely to be suspicious of people who claim to literally hear God’s voice. But there are many ways God can communicate his message to us. We can learn much from the world itself and from the human mind, from our sense of right and wrong, and from the advice of wise godly people. The scriptures tell us of people chosen by God to be his messengers: prophets and teachers, and those who wrote down the message we read in the scriptures. And of course the scriptures themselves, the Bible, present in readable form the message of God to people everywhere.

But what we learn from the opening of John’s Gospel, which we heard a few minutes ago, is that God has spoken and revealed himself in a unique way in Jesus Christ. God’s eternal Word is creative and lifegiving and lightgiving.

And John wants us to understand that God’s Word actually came into the world as a human being. The Word of God, who exists side by side with God the Father, who shares the very nature the personal Word of God,of God, entered his own creation as a human being – in fact he entered it as a baby, born in improvised and humble and uncomfortable circumstances. No palace, no glamour, minimal comfort, certainly not the setting you would expect for the birth of a divine baby. But in the birth of Jesus God showed not only his love but also his humility. He entered this world not in power but in absolute weakness. He entered this world not in a blaze of glory, but with a struggle, and in danger for his life. The light of God came into the darkness of this world which should have expressed the wonder and goodness of God, rather than the darkness of ignorance and sin.

As John puts it, the Word became flesh, the Word became a human being. John, along with many other believers, can say “We have seen his glory”, glory of the Son of God demonstrating what God his Father is really like. And Jesus is not the Son of God merely in the sense that we humans might call ourselves children of God: yes, we are made by God, and we reflect his image, but we are not God’s children in the way that Jesus is God’s Son.

Jesus shares the very nature of his divine Father. As I am human, so my children truly share my human nature. As the Father is truly God, so Jesus the only or unique Son of God, truly shares his Father’s divine nature. To see Jesus is in fact to see God himself, to see what God is really like. If we want to see God, we must look closely at Jesus. In Jesus, we see “God with sandals on”, as a friend of mine used to put it.

Sadly, so many people failed to recognize that God had revealed himself in Jesus. They had their own agendas for God, and Jesus didn’t fit in with those agendas. They didn’t want grace and truth: they wanted power and conquest of enemies. And so they rejected Jesus, and they rejected the blessings of forgiveness and salvation and love and hope that he came to bring.

John wrote his Gospel hoping and praying that his readers would get the point, and look closely at Jesus, and find in him the blessings he offers. He wanted – and wants – his readers to believe in him, to trust in him, to put themselves in his hands.

And as we do that we will find ourselves getting to know God better, and becoming more sure that God is indeed for real, and that the promises and plans and blessings of God are for real.

John calls us to receive Jesus as the living Word of God, as the unique Son of God, as the one to brings us the Water of Life, the fullness of life, and the assurance of God’s eternal blessing. He won’t prevent us experiencing the ups and down of life in this mixed-up world, but he will travel with us through those ups and downs. In his own time he will come again, and will put everything right. But right now, as we receive him, as we believe in his name and follow him, we will indeed be children of God, members of his eternal family.

If we want to see God this Christmas, we must look closely at Jesus. If we want to know more of the reality of God, let us trust and follow Jesus. Let us allow that babe of Bethlehem to be our King and Teacher and Saviour. Amen.

Paul Weaver