Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Everything needed for life

2Peter 1:3  His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4  Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.5  For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6  and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7  and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8  For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9  For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. 10  Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.11  For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.


These words from 2 Peter are the final words from one who knows he is about to die (see 2 Peter 1: 14 & 15).  It seems likely that it written in Rome by Peter (or a disciple of Peter) during Nero’s persecution of the church – possibly 68AD. Reading the last words of a condemned man therefore takes on a special poignancy.

He assures his readers that they have all that is needed for life. This is made specific, in a world that is corrupted by lust. Put in other words – those who follow Jesus are reminded that there is a choice to be made: either allow human greed to control you, or choose to trust that the power of God “has given us everything needed for life”.

Learn from one who is about to die: Jesus-followers are to resist the corruption brought about by lust for things such as possessions, power or sexual conquest. Instead, our deepest desires for life are entrusted to Divine guidance.



The Week of New Year’s Day
6. Chosen to be God’s children
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 46.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.    



Monday, December 30, 2013

Love one another....

 John 15: 12-17:  "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.  I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

"...my commandment, that you love one another...”. For those who first heard this, it must have seemed a difficult activity. The disciples of Jesus struggled to overcome their jealousy of one another (Mark 10:35-45), and their anger at other groups that followed Jesus (Luke 9:49).  Now they are commanded to replace their urge to compete with a decision to co-operate.

The Gospel of John records this commandment of Jesus one hundred years after Jesus was born – at a time when new followers of Jesus also found it very hard to love one another. This was a time of many different Jesus-following groups, who each claimed to have the “right version” of Jesus’ teaching. In time the Donatists, the Marcionites, the Donatists,  the Gnostics and the Hellenists would clash with each other as they struggled to define the core doctrines of Christianity. Often the intention of commandment ‘to love one another’ was lost in the competition for religious power.   

This command has continued to haunt the followers of Jesus through the past two thousand years, as each succeeding generation of Christ-following groups have wanted to hold the moral high ground on spiritual truth. Today we see the clash of groups under the banners of liberal and conservative, fundamentalist and post-modernist, traditional and emerging church, and each time the commandment of Jesus to ‘love one another’ challenges us anew.

A New Year’s resolution: to practice the love of Jesus with unconditional regard for the group that person represents. I shall join with religious fundamentalists, atheists, and those who believe anything in-between, and seek to love each with equal passion. I shall show the same loving acceptance of those who are bewildered by the truth and of those who claim to have monopoly on all truth. But be warned – loving someone does not mean that I will be tolerant of behaviour that is the opposite of love: injustice, oppression and abuse will be opposed. To this end I shall join hands with anyone who seeks to lay down their lives in the cause of love – for all love comes from, and leads to God.

May God bless us with love for the New Year.     


the Week of New Year’s Day
6. Chosen to be God’s children
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 46.

This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.     

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Adeste Fideles

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;
Refrain
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

These words have been a treasured part of Christian worship for generations. This Christmas carol was first known as Adeste Fideles, and could pre-date the Reformation. The English version was translated from the Latin in 1841 by Frederick Oakeley, an English Roman Catholic priest. However, as sacred as these words are, they can convey the wron impression: as they stand they can give the impression that only those who are “faithful, joyful and triumphant” are welcome to worship the new born King. And of course this is simply not true! The Christmas message invites all to the manger – both king and shepherd,  righteous virgin and cruel despot were welcome to worship Jesus.  

I am grateful to my colleague Rev Barrett Lee, who rewrote this carol to reflect these values. He reflects on this experience in his blog The Theological Wanderings of a streetpastor. I love his adaption of this carol – and not being able to leave well enough alone I have adapted his adaption. So here it is:


O come, all ye faithless, beat up, and defeated
Come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold him, born the Friend of Sinners
O come, let us adore him
O come, let us adore him
O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord

Sing, choirs of vagrants, sing for inspiration
Sing, all ye citizens on earth below,
Glory to God, giving us new courage
O come, let us adore him O come, let us adore him
O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord

Yea Lord, we greet Thee
born to bring us joy
Jesus, to Thee be all glory given
Hope for the Hopeless, now in flesh appearing
O come, let us adore him
O come, let us adore him O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord

Adapted by J. Barrett Lee, and readapted by P. Grassow


Born Again

John 3:1  Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2  He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." 3  Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 4  Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" 5  Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6  What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7  Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' 8  The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

The Apostle John reminds us that in order to understand Jesus we need to become like a child - literally ‘born again’. And the best moment to discover children exhibiting faith is at Christmas time.

Look to the wonder and curiosity of children at Christmas, and learn how to live before our Creator.


Christmas
5. All things New
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 39.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.    


Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Clothes

Ephesians 4:17  Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19  They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20  That is not the way you learned Christ! 21  For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22  You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24  and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25  So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26  Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27  and do not make room for the devil. 28  Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29  Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32  and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Gold, sequins and shimmer: Perfect party dresses for Christmas “.  Christmas is the time when many, many people will step out in fine clothes to celebrate. Paul adapts this idea to speak of the spiritual values connected to Christmas: he invites his readers to take off the old corrupt self and instead to “clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

 

The best tribute we can pay Jesus is to practice the values of Christmas 365 days of the year.

   
Christmas
5. All things New
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 39.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.    


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Reconciliation

2Corinthians 5:16  From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The story is told of Christmas Eve 1914 when 100 000 British and German troops were involved in an unofficial truce along the length of the Western Front.    

Captain Sir Edward Hulse Bart reported how a sing-song which "ended up with 'Auld lang syne' which we all, English, Scots, Irish, Prussians, Wurttenbergers, etc, joined in. It was absolutely astounding, and if I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked ![1]

This is the stuff of Christmas: it is a time when people connect with one another. Use this Christmas as an opportunity to make peace with those who differ from you – in the cause of the Prince of Peace.


Christmas
5. All things New
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 39.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.    






[1]  Regan, Geoffrey. Military Anecdotes (1992)  Guinness Publishing ISBN 0-85112-519-0  p140-142.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

God sent his Son

Galatians 3:23  Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24  Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25  But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26  for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Gal 4:1  My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; 2  but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3  So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. 4  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5  in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6  And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7  So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

God sent his son to release us from the tyranny of legalism. Instead, by grace we are welcomed into the family of God – a family that transcends our social and cultural divisions and invites us to embrace our common humanity.

Christmas is an opportunity for Jesus-followers to cross the barriers of class and culture as we reflect on the baby who reached out from infinity to embrace the human fragility of our time.    


Christmas
5. All things New
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 39.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.    


Monday, December 23, 2013

I know You by Name

Isaiah 43:1  But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4  Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5  Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6  I will say to the north, "Give them up," and to the south, "Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth-- 7  everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." 8  Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! 9  Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble. Who among them declared this, and foretold to us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to justify them, and let them hear and say, "It is true." 10  You are my witnesses, says the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. 11  I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. 12  I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses, says the LORD. 13  I am God, and also henceforth I am He; there is no one who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it?

This is the time of year where people gather “from the east...west...north...south”. Families come together for Christmas, and there is opportunity for re-connecting with family and friends. The image that this evokes is one where people greet each other “by name” – this is where family know each other well enough to know each other’s nicknames and personal stories.  This is the image of a Creator who is ‘family’ – who calls each human being by name.

Christmas reminds us that the Creator of the Universe chooses to enter the life of a family and become personal. Christmas challenges us to bear witness to the blind, the deaf and to those who are scattered that a Saviour has come to live amongst us.   


Christmas
5. All things New
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 39.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.    


Friday, December 20, 2013

The People Have Seen a Great Light

Isaiah 9:1  But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness--on them light has shined. 3  You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4  For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5  For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6  For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.


The book of Isaiah can be best understood as a spiritual reflection on the life of Jerusalem during the exile of the children of Israel. The above passage has various interpretations: Jewish belief holds that this refers to past events, specifically the birth and reign of King Hezekiah. [1] There is a scholarly argument that this passage does not refer to Immanuel’s protection, but rather refers to Assyria, which broke the power of Israel.[2] And Christian interpretation holds that this passage points to the coming of Jesus, who will bring peace, justice and righteousness.    

It is helpful to be reminded of the power of the sacred scriptures to speak to every generation. These words can be more than a historical record, or a spiritual prayer, or a future hope. They are words that can re-energise those of us who live in the 21st Century. Jesus-followers believe that Christmas can be a time of reaffirming hope. Those who feel like they walk in darkness – “the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor” - can discover light. If each one of us committed ourselves to bringing light into the life of just one other person – this Christmas could begin a country (and world) that is radically different.


Second Sunday in Advent
4.  God is with us
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 32.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.    



Feed them with Justice

Ezekiel 34:11  For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12  As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13  I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14  I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15  I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. 16  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

A word that was originally spoken to people in exile has transcended time and context to become a word that can speak to us today. This speaks of a God who is like a faithful shepherd who will gather the scattered sheep, rescuing those who are lost and comforting the weak: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak”.  This is the good news of Christmas. However there is also the challenge to those who chose to enrich themselves by collaborating with the new unjust rulers: “the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.“

While Christmas is a time of celebrating a loving God who came to gather the lost sheep - it is also a time when we must remember that the love of Christmas is tempered by God’s passion for justice and righteousness. Jesus-followers are to care for the hungry before we sit down to our own Christmas feast.     


Second Sunday in Advent
4.  God is with us
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 32.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.     


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Comfort my People

Isaiah 40:1  Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. 3  A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." 6  A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7  The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8  The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9  Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" 10  See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11  He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
..............Isa 40:28  Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29  He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30  Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31  but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Among my all-time favourite music is Handel’s Messiah. I am always deeply moved by the Hallelujah Chorus – but the key passage that unlocks this music is them that the opening text from Isaiah “Comfort me, my people”. This is a word from God to the children of Israel: their time of exile is over and the prophet was to announce their restoration. But this is a word that has become greater than a particular period in history. This becomes a word for every generation – a word that has become a call on every Jesus-follower. This is a call to bring comfort to people by telling them that the “glory of the Lord shall be revealed”.

Christmas is a time to tell people about the “comfort” of the Lord. Christmas reminds us of the restoring work of God: it is a time of worship, celebration, and feasting. Let us get on with it.


Second Sunday in Advent
4.  God is with us
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 32.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.     




Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Scandalous Spirituality

Mat 1:18  Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19  Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23  "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." 24  When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25  but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Here are all the ingredients of a scandal: a pregnant, unmarried, young girl in a rural village; a righteous, upstanding man of the community who discovers that his fiancĂ© is pregnant – and he knows that he is not the father; add to this angels, a spiritual impregnation, and sexual abstinence and this is the stuff of the tabloid press.

Jesus was not born into genteel, refined living. He arrived in the middle of the village scandal, and spent the rest of his life bringing God’s love into scandals. Christmas reminds Jesus-followers that ours is a faith that is rooted in poor, messy, complicated, real-life situations. Let us commit ourselves this Christmas to bring something of Jesus’ love to someone who is currently embroiled in a messy life situation.      


Second Sunday in Advent
4.  God is with us
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 32.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.


Monday, December 16, 2013

A Virgin Birth

Isaiah 7:10  Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11  Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12  But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. 13  Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15  He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16  For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17  The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah--the king of Assyria."


Ahaz was King of Judah in the mid-8th century BC. He found himself in the precarious position of being forced by the neighbouring Israel to join a coalition against Assyria,  - something he desperately wanted to avoid. The prophet Isaiah brings a word that he does not need the coalition to be secure, because God will destroy his enemies. He is then given a sign to ‘prove’ this prophesy: a young woman would give birth to a child, who will be called “God with us” (Immanuel). The threat from the enemy kings would be ended before this child grew up.  

The Gospel of Matthew takes this passage and applies it to Jesus (Matthew 1:23). It takes the Hebrew word almah – which means young woman – and turns it into the Greek word parthenos, a word which means "virgin". The author of Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is not an ordinary human being, and so uses a commonly understood spiritual construct: a deity is born by miraculous conception. Greek and Egyptian mythology tell of virgin births for their gods, and Hindu stories of miraculous conception are associated with Lord Krishna, and with the Pandavas. So Matthew tells us that Jesus is born of a virgin – a sure sign of his divinity.

Truth be told: Jesus-followers do not need a miraculous birth to convince us that Jesus is more than human. We need only to look at the transformation his life and his teaching have on weak, sinful, lost people like us ...and we know that our only response is to worship him.   


Second Sunday in Advent
4.  God is with us
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 32.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

I will rescue my sheep

Ezekiel 34:1  The word of the LORD came to me:
Eze 34:2  Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them--to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3  You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4  You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5  So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6  My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them. 7  Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8  As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; 9  therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10  Thus says the Lord GOD, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

At the age of 25yrs Ezekiel, son of a priestly family, was part of the Jewish community who were exiled to Babylon. He was ‘prophet in residence’ for the Jewish exiles between 590-570BC, where he repeatedly explained that the children of Israel had lost God’s protection because of their apostasy. The passage from Chapter 34 refers to the way their leadership had neglected he sheep while taking care to enrich themselves.  “Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.”

God holds leaders accountable for the way they strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured and give guidance to the lost. In contrast those leaders bent on self-enrichment and the accumulation of power will be stopped by the Creator.     


Second Sunday in Advent
3.The Coming of Christ
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 26.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.




Ezekiel, at the age of 25, was amongst 3,000 upper class Jews who were exiled to Babylon.



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The One Who is, Who was, and Who is to come!

Revelation 1:1  The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2  who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near. 4  John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5  and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6  and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7  Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8  "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

This is the introduction to an evocative collection of poems, images and imaginative prose. These words were originally written by Bishop John to give courage to seven churches in Asia Minor, who were fearfully facing the might of the Roman ‘beast’, However, these spiritually rich images have transcended the history of the First Century, and are useful whenever Jesus-followers are afraid of the prevailing ‘beasts’, ‘dragons’ and ‘monsters’ who inhabit the politics and business of our society.

The Good News of Christmas is the reminder that the ‘monsters’ who inhabit our world are temporary. Jesus - the Alpha and the Omega - was there before these evil ‘beasts’ arrived; and the kingdom-values of Jesus will outlast their temporary power.


Second Sunday in Advent
3.The Coming of Christ
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 26.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Power and the Glory

Luke 21:25  "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27  Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. 28  Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." 29  Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30  as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32  Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34  "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35  like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36  Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

Luke writes about signs in the sun, moon and stars that will cause people to faint from fear, because the powers of the heaven will be shaken. However, his readers are not to be afraid because “they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.”  

This is a message that transcends time and space: whenever people are afraid of the signs and there is distress amongst the nations, the Lord comes to bring hope. Today as I watched the memorial service for Nelson Mandela I heard the fear and longing of the nations: some spoke of the loss of one who inspired hope; some spoke of the death of an icon; and some sections of the crowd were vocal in their fear of our leadership. The arrival of Christmas reminds us afresh that we are not to be afraid – because the Lord of Peace is still with us.


Second Sunday in Advent
3.The Coming of Christ
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 26.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.
  


Monday, December 9, 2013

Keep Awake

Mark 13:24  "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25  and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26  Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. 27  Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28  "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30  Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32  "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35  Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36  or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37  And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Christmas is the time when Jesus-followers remind each other to ‘keep awake’. While this is always a reminder of the birth of the Saviour in history, it is also the opportunity to look forward to the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. This is the moment that asks us to live as if the master was in the house – fig-tree fruitful, alert to the prompting of the Spirit, and awake to the possibilities of life.  

Second Sunday in Advent
3.The Coming of Christ
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 26.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

I am not Worthy

Mark 1:1  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2  As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3  the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" 4  John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6  Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7  He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Ours is a culture obsessed with becoming famous, or - if this is not possible - then trying to get close to a celebrity.  In contrast, John’s words and attitude are completely counter-cultural: he points the attention away from himself to Jesus. He does this by choosing to wear the clothes of a poor man; and deflecting the attention of his disciples away from himself to "The one who is more powerful than I”


Jesus-followers are challenged to use this Christmas season to point away from ourselves to Jesus.


First Sunday in Advent
2. Preparing the Way
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 20.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Testifying to the Light

John 1:6  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7  He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10  He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13  who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

John opens his Gospel with poetry and philosophy. These are beautifully evocative words of light and darkness, of embracing and rejection, of blood and flesh and of spirit.  This is the story of power to become children of God, and of the glory of the son of the father, and of ‘grace and truth’.

Jesus-followers invite our world to enter into the mystery, the glory, the imagination and the majestic poetry that is Christmas.     


First Sunday in Advent
2. Preparing the Way
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 20.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.


RIP


Thursday, December 5, 2013

I will not keep silent

Isaiah 62:1  For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2  The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 3  You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4  You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5  For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. 6  Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels; all day and all night they shall never be silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest, 7  and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it renowned throughout the earth. 8  The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink the wine for which you have labored; 9  but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather it shall drink it in my holy courts. 10  Go through, go through the gates, prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an ensign over the peoples. 11  The LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion, "See, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him." 12  They shall be called, "The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD"; and you shall be called, "Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken."

The recurring theme in the words of the prophet Isaiah was that descendants of Abraham are ignoring their God-directed way of life, and his task was to warn them of impending doom. History showed that they were carried off into exile in Babylon.  The above passage comes late in this event, when words of hope are offered to soften the blow. As they face a life far from the homeland, they are given hope: this was not the end - they would return.  So send messengers to prepare for this event: Go through, go through the gates, prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an ensign over the peoples

Christmas invites us to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’. We do this with deliberation and intent, fully aware that the broken and God-ignoring nature of our world needs hope beyond the confines of our cynical rationalism. 


First Sunday in Advent
2. Preparing the Way
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 20.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

We have our history!

Matthew 3:1  In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2  "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." 3  This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" 4  Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5  Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6  and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7  But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8  Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9  Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10  Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11  "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."


'We have Abraham as our ancestor' This was a proud claim of tradition and heritage. John the Baptist bluntly brushes this aside: he can be heard saying  ‘do not take pride in your heritage’. The claim of clan and culture pale into insignificance in the presence of God’. His challenge was for them to repent of their tribal pride and to embrace the unity given by the Holy Spirit.


First Sunday in Advent
2. Preparing the Way
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 20.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.