Sermon from 27th Dec 2020

Luke 2:22-40 (ESV)

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons”. 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,

    according to your word;

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation

31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

    and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may see our salvation and depart in peace for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

You’ve probably gone shopping when it’s busy, perhaps even recently as you attended the pre- or post-Christmas sales. If you have, you might have observed many people rushing about as they hoped to get their list of things done. You may have also seen children having to touch and grab things off the shelves hoping mum or dad will buy it for them to stop their whining. You may have heard checkout cash registers or pay wave machines ringing and dinging away merrily, and seen shopkeepers being rushed off their feet to attend to everyone’s whims and desires.

You may have discovered that in busy crowds you don’t always notice each other as there’s often too many faces to search through and too little spare time to stop and chat. You’re often just focused on doing what you came for and going home to some kind of peace and quiet.

In the same way you also could imagine the Temple in Jerusalem being a busy place.

You had money changers swapping the local currency for the Temple currency so you could buy your sacrifices. Then you had the people selling their animals for those sacrifices – including doves and sheep and goats and even cattle. Mixed with the sounds of coin tinkering, the coos of doves, the bleats of sheep, and the moos of cattle were the sounds of many people in conversations: haggling, laughing, talking, and wailing. You also had many Levites and priests going about their everyday duties at the Temple as they served the line ups of people coming to offer their sacrifices.

On one particular day in human history, in this busy temple complex, which was constantly buzzing and bustling, five people met who had never met before. This small gathering within a crowded temple is now remembered for the rest of history as significant and insightful.

One of those people was an old widow who was either 84 years old or had been a widow for 84 years. Either way this was quite remarkable as the average age (especially for widows), was much lower than it is today.

This old woman, named Anna, was there at the Temple every day, so she would have seen many regular people come and go. Since we learn she’s been waiting for the redemption of Israel, she may have been scanning the crowd daily; watching and waiting for the One who would come.

Another person was a faithful and devout man of unknown age named Simeon who was also watching and waiting. We don’t know how often he was at the Temple, but somehow, he knew he would see the long-promised Messiah before he died. The Holy Spirit would guide his attention as he scanned the crowds.

And then came a poor young couple and their 40-day old child.

Now you may wonder how I know Jesus’ exact age when it’s not specifically mentioned in the text, but we know this because this is the requirement for the people of God in Jesus’ day.

You see, the purification rituals for the mothers of children following childbirth required them to go to the Temple and offer a small sacrifice to God 40 days after childbirth. Their visit to the Temple was for Mary’s purification following childbirth, but it was also about redeeming their first-born son.

This is because, according to Exodus 13, every first-born male (who opens the woman’s womb) ‘belongs’ to the Lord, and so needs to be redeemed or ‘bought back’ from the Lord by paying five shekels to the priesthood (according to Numbers 3). If the child isn’t redeemed or bought back from the Lord, the child remains dedicated to serve the Lord.

The prophet Samuel is an Old Testament example of this where his mother Hannah ‘lent’ him to the Lord for the rest of his life. Like Samuel, Jesus too (since he wasn’t redeemed by his parents), would grow in wisdom and stature before God and his people, and he remained holy ‘to the Lord’.

So, into this crowded place was an old woman, a man, and a young family. To anyone else going about their busy routines, they would have all looked like an ordinary people. No-one unusual. No-one exceptional. No-one worth a second look. Except the child Jesus was very the One whom both Simeon and Anna were looking for.

Simeon was the first to see Jesus for who he truly is. He saw that, here, in this child wasn’t just the promised Saviour, but Salvation himself.

Now, I’m not sure how Mary or Joseph felt about meeting this stranger who put his arms out to hold their child, but they let him anyway. Thankfully, there was no Coronavirus in those days, so keeping a distance wasn’t required. Simeon, eagerly taking Jesus in his arms, then sang his famous song which is sung on many Sundays after we receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

He sung how, now that he has seen, touched, and even held Salvation himself in his arms, he could now gladly be set free in peace. He is privileged to hold the Lord of Peace, the Light of the world, the Glory of Israel, God’s Word and promise in human flesh. He could now depart from this place, and even from this life, feeling whole and complete.

Even old Anna saw in this helpless and tiny Jesus the promised redemption of Israel, and spoke words of praise and thanks to God. Her joy is complete. She has seen her Lord.

Now think of the next time you’ll also eagerly put out your arms to hold the body of Jesus in your hands and taste the goodness and holiness of his blood in your mouth. While this meal may seem simple and ordinary, here you’re offered wholeness, peace, life, and salvation himself.

Here in the drudgery of your own existence as you cope with your own troubles and misery and relationship strains and post-Christmas blues, the Lord of life and hope and peace comes to you. In the midst of your busyness, your holiday resting, your feasting, your sorrow, or your loneliness, the promised Messiah comes to be truly present for you in his living Word and in this holy meal.

Jesus – the child, the man, the Saviour – continues to come to you through his Word. This Spirit-filled Word continues to unblock stubborn ears, soften hardened hearts, and open blinded eyes so you may see Jesus as your salvation.

This same Word and Spirit calls you to shift your eyes from the cares and worries and routines of your life, and gaze upon, and feast upon, the Son of God who came for you.

And as you hold Jesus’ body and blood in your hands and receive him into your own flesh and blood, through faith you see, and receive, your promised salvation. After receiving him in faith, you can leave this holy place in peace, knowing forgiveness, life, and salvation are yours.

Of course, you know all your troubles won’t automatically go away, but your fear of them goes away as you trust God is bigger than all your fears. God is on your side. God is with you. God has even defeated the enemies of sin, death, and the devil for you, so you don’t need to fear them anymore.

By eating and drinking in faith, trusting his words of promise and forgiveness, you leave in peace. Through faith you believe your sins are forgiven – all of them. Through faith you believe he is working peace in your hearts, peace in your family relationships, and peace in your work environments.

Sure, he won’t pay the bills, but he’s paid for your guilt. He may not undo the mistakes you’ve made in the last year, but he forgives you for them. You may not look forward to some things which might come your way this new year, but you go forward in peace knowing that your Lord and Saviour is still with you.

This is why we sing this same song of Simeon after receiving the Lord’s Supper. We all become little ‘Simeon’s; that is, we all get to hold Jesus in our hands and see our salvation, and since we receive the forgiveness of sins, we all get to depart in peace. This is what we see through faith.

As you reflect on your experience of Christmas, move about busy crowds, mull over what happened to you this year, and ponder what awaits you in the New Year, remember that, just as Jesus went to the crowded Temple and was revealed for who he truly is, Jesus also reveals himself to you through the church and travels with you. He is your constant source of forgiveness, salvation, peace, and joy.

I pray you may see a little of what Simeon saw, so that you can sing along with him: ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace according to your Word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the presence of all people.’

In this way may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from Christmas Day 25th Dec 2020

Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,

    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not be afraid, but live in the joyful knowledge that our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is born for us. Amen.

A long time ago in a garden far, far away…there was nothing to be afraid of and everything was right in the world.

In the Garden of Eden everyone and everything lived in perfect harmony. There was no sickness or disease. There was no cancer or Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or Coronavirus. There was no fighting or bickering. There were no accidents or death.

In this heaven-like garden, God and humans walked together in perfect peace as they enjoyed each other’s company. In this garden you could imagine lions and lambs playing together, with everything in a state of perfection.

And then there came the uninvited guests, and among them was…fear!

Now, you may have expected me to say ‘sin’ or ‘evil’, which would be correct, but sin and evil’s bed-companions are fear and death.

These uninvited guests came into this world because the first humans wanted to be like God. They weren’t happy to know only about the goodness and perfection of God, but they felt God was keeping something back from them. They wanted to know what evil was as well, so they succumbed to this temptation and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

But no sooner did they eat from this forbidden tree that they became afraid. They were afraid of each other’s nakedness, and they were afraid of their Creator.

Being afraid, they tried to hide from each other, and also from God. And from that time on, we’ve all become afraid. Like them, we attempt to hide ourselves from each other and from our Creator. Not only this, but we also attempt to hide the fact we’re afraid.

Oh, I know we all like to put on a brave face and make out we’re all in control and aren’t afraid of anything, but we all have our secret, and not so secret, fears. For example:

  • We fear spiders, snakes, and other creepies and crawlies.
  • We fear darkness.
  • We fear the unknown.
  • We fear being out of control.
  • We fear what people think.
  • We fear letting people down or upsetting them.
  • We fear for our children and grandchildren.
  • We fear we’re not as important or intelligent or beautiful or loveable as we think we are.
  • We fear what tomorrow brings.
  • We fear this Coronavirus thingy will continue to disrupt our lives and freedom.
  • We fear change.
  • We fear losing people.
  • We fear being a burden or a bother to others.
  • We fear we might miss out.
  • We fear ageing and sickness.
  • We fear death or the process of dying.

This seems to be our lot in life – to live in constant fear as if we’re enslaved to it! And if we’re not afraid right now, we soon will be, as our life surprises us with ever-changing conditions to our freedoms, or we experience storms, accidents, illness, changes to employment, breakdowns of relationships, and other unexpected events which remind us we’re not really in control. Some of these things happen as a result of our own selfishness. Some happen as a result of other people’s selfishness. Some things happen because we no longer live in that perfect garden and live in a broken and hurting world.

But from that moment in the garden when fear entered our reality, God has kept coming to search for us, comfort us, forgive us, and restore us.

If you think about it, the bible is a long story of God’s people being afraid as a result of losing (or fearing to lose) what we humans desire to get or keep or control, and yet despite their fear, it’s also a story about how God patiently and continually perseveres with his frightened people to slowly reveal his plan to restore peace and joy and to make things right again.

This is what we celebrate today when we hear he comes to us in such an unexpected way in order to save us from the very things we’re most afraid of – from sin (and all its troubling effects), death, and the devil.

And what do we hear through God’s message to us at his incarnation? Well, it’s a story of comfort and peace where God encourages his people not to be afraid. For example:

  • The angel said to Zechariah at the announcement that he was going to have a son who would prepare the way for the Lord: ‘don’t be afraid.’
  • The angel told Mary when announcing she would bear the Christ: ‘don’t be afraid.’
  • The angel told Joseph, who wanted to divorce Mary for being pregnant with the Christ: ‘don’t be afraid.’
  • And now the shepherds hear the angels tell them the good news of their Saviour’s birth, but they firstly tell them: ‘don’t be afraid.’

‘Don’t be afraid. Have no fear. Fear not.’ It’s the same message spoken many times at Jesus birth, during his ministry, and also at the time of his death.

It’s not only the story of Christmas, but it’s the meaning of Christ’s incarnation for us. It’s the consistent message from the Word-made-flesh himself, as he continually tells his frightened people, including us some two thousand years later: ‘don’t be afraid.’

But why shouldn’t we be afraid? What’s the antidote for all our fears and anxieties?

Well, it’s not a ‘what,’ but a ‘who.’

As you’d expect, the answer is Jesus Christ, who was born for you in Bethlehem, and whose news was the basis for the shepherd’s reason to not be afraid. But it’s also much more than that.

Now you may wonder what I’m going on about. Am I saying there’s something more than Jesus Christ?

Well, yes, but not entirely.

You see, the problem is our selfish and self-centred sinful desire to rebel against God, which comes with the companions of evil and fear and death. The answer is Jesus Christ and his forgiveness, life and salvation. But the connection between the problem and the answer is…faith. You can also call it belief or trust. The antidote for all our fears is having faith in Jesus Christ, who exactly matches everything which what was communicated about God’s plan of peace and salvation throughout the Scriptures.

It’s even lived out in our text for today.

For example, the shepherds were afraid. They were told not to be afraid, but they were also given a reason. The reason for them not to be afraid is because a child has been born for them.

The shepherds then checked out this news and went and saw the Christ-child. They beheld with their own eyes the reason for them not to be afraid. The reason for them not to be afraid is true. A child is born for them, and it’s none other than Christ, the Lord.

The next thing you know, they went away joyfully from their encounter with our God-in-human-flesh, praising God and telling everyone else about what they had seen and heard. They wanted to tell others not to be afraid because they had personally confirmed, and now trusted, the message of their hope and peace is true.

In our case, well, we didn’t hear the angels ourselves. We don’t get to peek into the manger and see Jesus with our own eyes. We can’t personally confirm the news, which means we can only receive this remarkable world-changing news by faith. It’s only by faith that we can believe what we’re told in Scripture. And if we believe what we’re told is true, then we also have reason not to be afraid.

We’re not afraid because, no matter what we experience in this life, we believe our God loves us so much he sent his Son in human flesh in order to perform an almighty swap with us.

We’re not afraid because we believe he took on our sin and died for us in our place so he might give us his holiness and innocence, and so that we may have hope of walking with our God in a state of perfection once again.

We’re not afraid because we believe he defeated our enemies of sin, death, and the devil so that we may have joy and peace.

We’re not afraid because we believe God is with us always in our trials and tribulations, which means we can never truly be alone.

We’re not afraid because we believe we don’t need anyone else’s approval because we know we’re valued as God’s own child.

We’re not afraid because we believe if God is for us, then who can be against us?

We’re not afraid because we believe we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, who came to fulfil what is written about him. This child who lies in the manger is the child of the promise, the One who came to ultimately fulfil our peace and joy through his work on the cross.

Even though he’s come and gone (historically speaking), the incarnate Christ still comes to you today. He still comes to speak his words of comfort, “don’t be afraid” because he says, “I am with you”.

He comes to give you his holiness and innocence through his words of forgiveness through his chosen servants. He might not come to us wrapped in swaddling cloths, but he comes ‘wrapped’ in water made holy by the word of God in order to join you to himself. He comes ‘wrapped’ in bread and wine in order to reassure frightened people of his forgiving and loving presence and strengthen your faith.

You receive all these words of promise and their heavenly gifts through faith, and then, like the shepherds, you can go from this place praising God because you believe you’ve received what he promised because he gives you exactly what he tells you: life, forgiveness and salvation.

Yes, we all have reasons to be afraid, but we can also have joy and peace because we believe and trust our Lord and Saviour has come in order to fulfil everything that was spoken about him. That, through faith in him, everything will be restored to how it was always meant to be.

Yes, it began a long time ago, in a garden far, far away, but our reason to no longer be afraid has been fulfilled in the manger, on the cross, in the empty grave, and even in our church today, so that…

the peace of God, which drives out all fear, and which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 20th Dec 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 (EHV) 

1 It happened that when king David was living in his palace, and when the Lord had given him rest from his enemies all around, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “Look, I live in a house of cedar, but the Ark of God sits under tent curtains.”

Nathan said to the king, “Go and do everything that is in your heart, because the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan. He said, “Go and tell my servant David all these things.”

This is what the Lord says. Are you the one to build a house for me to live in? I have not lived in a house from the day I brought the people of Israel up from Egypt until today. I have been moving around in the Tent and the Dwelling. I have traveled everywhere with all the people of Israel. Did I ever speak a word to any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people, or ask them, “Why have you not built a house of cedar for me?”

You are also to say the following to my servant David.

This is what the Lord of Armies says. I took you from the pasture, from following sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel. I have been with you wherever you went. I have cut off all your enemies from before you. I will make your reputation great, like that of the great ones on the earth. 10 I will set up a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them there. They will dwell there, and they will not be disturbed again. Violent men will not afflict them again as they did at the beginning 11 and ever since the day I appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies.

The Lord also declares to you that the Lord himself will make a house for you. 

16 Your house will stand firm, and your kingdom will endure forever before you. Your throne will be established forever.

Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may gladly receive the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ who was born as the fulfilment of your promise.

You may have either heard or said this common statement: “Life is what you make it”.

While there may be some truth to this statement, I wonder if our experiences this year would challenge this type of thinking?

I mean, what we wanted to make or do or plan this year has been turned upside down. We weren’t allowed to make what we wanted out of life because we were restricted in our movements. We couldn’t do what we wanted to do without putting others, or ourselves, at risk. Our plans and dreams were thrown into disarray and as a result we often feel frustrated, angry or disappointed.

Even our Christmas celebrations might look a bit different this year. It could be some of us won’t travel as far as we want to. Maybe some of our family and friends are choosing to stay home this year. Maybe our Christmas might be a bit more simplified.

In the end, life isn’t so much what we make of it, but it seems we just have to make do with what our life looks currently like and be thankful for whatever we receive.

But I wonder if God’s teaching us that we often get everything upside down, topsy-turvy and all muddled up?

In this way, life isn’t so much what we make it, but what God makes it. You don’t always get to make your life into what you want it to be, but you receive it. Similarly, you don’t make Christmas, but you receive Christmas.

Even King David seem to get it all mixed up.

Now, I know he never celebrated Christmas, but he too wanted to make and do something special. He had big plans, which even Nathan the prophet thought was a good idea, but God turned his wish on its head.

You see, King David had defeated all the enemies God wanted him to defeat, and finally had some time to sit back and look at making some improvements on the home front. Since he loved God, it must have startled him to realise that while he sat in his lovely palace, the Ark of the Covenant sat in a tent.

By now the Ark of the Covenant contained the Ten Commandments, the budded staff of Aaron, and some manna, but it was much more than a glory box. The Ark of the Covenant was the most important holy item for all Israel and was also known as God’s throne. God sat on the Ark of the Covenant. So, where King David sat on his throne in a fine stone palace, right next door, God sat on his throne in a tent.

So David, like many people of faith, wanted to do something for God. He knew all the other gods of his enemies he had defeated had their own grand temples. Many considered that the bigger the temple, then the bigger and more powerful the god was. But if this is the case, then what would other people say about his God who resided in a tent? Perhaps all his enemies would laugh or tease them because their God was only powerful enough to sit in a worn-out tent!

David figured this wasn’t right, so he told the prophet Nathan he was planning to build a grand temple for God.

At first Nathan agreed, perhaps thinking this sounded like a good idea, but that night God told him otherwise. David won’t build a house for God, but God will build a house for David. This ‘house’ isn’t so much to be understood as a physical building, but a lasting dynasty for David.

You see, David, although well intentioned, had got it wrong. It wasn’t about what David did for God, but it was about what God does for David.

I wonder if we do the same sometimes?

Take for example our Christmas celebrations. If we think Christmas is only what we make it, then we’ve got it all wrong.

All the while when we busy ourselves with so many preparations we may end up with the wrong focus. Instead of receiving Christmas as a gift from God, we might think of it as an annoyingly busy time of frantic shopping and cooking and giving people what they want. Instead of meditating on the holy child born for us, we’re distracted by trees and lights and tinsel and food and shopping lists and all our other preparations.

Now of course there are many things to do, but Christmas is about receiving the glorious story of God coming into our weary world. It’s about receiving Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. It’s about receiving his peace and joy rather than manufacturing our own. It’s about receiving his saving gifts through his holy Word, his cleansing and adoption through holy baptism, and his forgiveness and fellowship through his holy Supper.

This is what Mary did in today’s gospel reading. She knew that by herself this remarkable promise couldn’t be completed. It was impossible for her, but with God all things are possible.

In the end she received this announcement from the angel as a gift. Life wasn’t what she made it but what she received from God. So she trusted God by saying, ‘may it be as you have said’. She received God’s Son into her womb as a gift through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Mary bore Jesus in her womb and gave birth to him, God’s promise to build a house, or rather, a dynasty for David, was ultimately fulfilled.

But even our own worship of God might end up having the wrong focus. Do you consider worship as something you do or make for yourself or God, or is worship instead something you receive as a gift from God? Is it a hassle to come to church and go through the pietistic motions, or is it like opening a gift from God every week? In other words, is your worship something you do for God, or is it God doing something for you?

Would your view of worship change if you heard God say through his messengers, “Well, I know you came here to do something for me. You want to make me happy. You want to praise me and be faithful to me, but let me instead do something for you. I want you to sit back and receive my gifts – the gift of my spirit-filled Word, the gift of my forgiveness and love, the gift of my faithful presence with you at all times, and the gift of my faith-sustaining sacraments.”

Now I know we have a nice building for worship. But do you realise God is just as magnificent and awesome here as he is in a tent? Although helpful, the building isn’t important. What God does in and among us is important.

We can’t make God any greater than he is, no matter how grand our building, how up to date our technology is, or how impressive our musicians are. Worship isn’t really about us doing things for God, but about what God does for us. Worship is about receiving God’s gifts.

Even your faith isn’t about what you do, but about what you receive. Many people ask, ‘what must I do to be saved?’ or even ask ‘what would Jesus do’. But it’s not about doing – it’s about receiving!

You don’t make your salvation, you don’t earn God’s pleasure, and you don’t manufacture your faith, but you receive all these things as a free and undeserving gift. St Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.’

You can’t even make yourselves into the people God wants you to be, but you receive his shaping, his pruning, and his growth. The Holy Spirit instructs you and sculpts you into the image of Christ, most of the time without your input. In this way, your tough times, your busy times, your lonely times, your desperate times, and your joyful times are all given to you as gifts to shape you and your faith. Even the events of this year, while disrupting and disturbing for many, are gifts from God to teach you about what’s really important. It’s not so much about you and what you want to do with your life, but about how you receive all things, including the tough things, from God through faith.

King David received a promise he didn’t ask for. Young Mary received a promise she didn’t ask for. They may not have made their life the way they wanted it to turn out, but they received these promises from God through faith. Their life, and our own lives, have been changed as a result of what they received from God.

Similarly, we also receive the Christ-child as the angel promised, the one who would ‘be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David’ (Lk 1:32).

We receive Christ as the still reigning successor of David, and as the final ruler of the House of David. We trust that his kingdom is far greater than that of his ancestor. We receive and trust the promise that through baptism, we have been grafted into Christ and his kingdom.

We receive the promise that all those who believe and are baptized are saved. After all, we’ve been grafted into the royal line of David through our baptism into Christ. Through faith we receive all the benefits of his royal words and work from his birth, obedience, suffering, death and resurrection.

As children in his royal household, we receive the forgiveness of all of our sins through faith in Jesus Christ. We receive Christ’s own righteousness. We receive peace and fellowship with himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We receive his guidance during our earthly lives as we’re led by our Good Shepherd. Even after our time in this world is finished, we trust we’ve already been received by Christ into his everlasting kingdom of heaven.

It doesn’t matter what type of year you’ve had, because you still get to receive all these heavenly gifts through faith. No virus or earthly restrictions can muck up what God gives you through faith. God keeps his promises and remains faithful to you.

Life isn’t always what you make it, but it’s about what you receive and how you receive it as you trust in our God who loves us so much he sent his dearly beloved Son into our troubled world for you and me.

So this Christmas, sit back and receive whatever God may give you in order to help you grow in faith and discipleship. Receive God’s promises and trust in them. Receive Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of God’s promise to David. Receive Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God as your eternal Lord and Saviour.

Receive the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, so that it will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 13th Dec 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (EHV)

1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the afflicted.
He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release for those who are bound,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance for our God,
    to comfort all who mourn,
    to provide for those who mourn in Zion,
    to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
    the oil of joy instead of mourning,
    a cloak of praise instead of a faint spirit,
    so that they will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord to display his beauty.

Then they will rebuild ancient ruins.
They will raise up what was formerly devastated,
and they will renew ruined cities,
    which have been devastated for generations.
Yes, I am the Lord. I love justice.
I hate robbery in a burnt offering.
I will repay them in faithfulness,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring will be known among the nations,
and their descendants in the midst of the peoples.
All who see them will recognize
    that they are offspring whom the Lord has blessed.
10 I will rejoice greatly in the Lord.
My soul will celebrate because of my God,
for he has clothed me in garments of salvation.
With a robe of righteousness he covered me,
like a bridegroom who wears a beautiful headdress like a priest,
and like a bride who adorns herself with her jewelry.

11 For as the earth produces its growth,
and as a garden causes what has been sown to sprout up,
so God the Lord will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up
    in the presence of all the nations.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we rejoice at the coming of the One on whom the Spirit rests: our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

No-one wants to be a loser. Losing means defeat, which leads to devastation and broken heartedness.

But, if everyone’s trying to be a winner, then there’s always going to be losers. In fact, even the winners may also become the true losers.

For example, imagine a husband and wife having an argument. Both are trying to win the argument because each of them are trying to get their own way. Each of them think they alone are right and the other is wrong. Each of them will try to impose their own will and rule and opinion over the other.

We do this because our own selfish nature wants to be more important, more valuable, more right, more intelligent, more influential, or more powerful than everyone else. It’s not our normal nature to be humble, or gracious, or submissive, or to serve others. Spiritually, our selfish nature wants us to become our own god where the world and everyone in it should obey us and bow to our own wants and desires.

Our self-centredness results in us not being able to correctly assess our own words, action, or motives. This means it doesn’t matter if we’re truly on the good and right side, because even if we’re wise and correct in our thinking and desires, we often want to be so influential that we’ll often use sinful methods to force our will and opinion onto others. We want to win at all costs, even at the cost of truth and decency and love. We’ll want to win, even at the cost of our relationships.

So, let’s say for example the wife wins this argument. She may now think of herself as the winner, but what has she won and lost in the process of winning?

In this case, she may have got her way, but she’s also broken the spirit of her husband who no longer wishes to serve her out of love and faithfulness, but out of fear and resentment. Their relationship may now be strained and no longer functions as harmoniously and as graciously it should. Therefore, even though she might think she’s won the argument and got her way, both people became losers because their relationship is now strained.

This game of winning and losing is played out in every marriage, every family, every friendship, every workplace, every congregation, and every community.

While much of the ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ may be subtle and might seem easy to dismiss or get over (at least that’s what we attempt to fool ourselves into thinking), the scars of winning and losing is highlighted in Isaiah’s words about all those who are ultimately labelled as losers: the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, the prisoners, the grieving, and all those with a faint spirit of timidity and fear.

As you consider your own life and relationships, and as you think back on how you’ve either won, or attempted to win, your arguments and discussions with those around you, do you come here today as a winner? As you consider your relationships within this congregation and across the parish, do you consider yourself as someone who’s won your arguments, got the better over other people, and feel vindicated by your words and actions? And if so, what have you lost in the process of winning?

Or do you come here as a loser? What or whom have you lost? What pain and heartache over strained relationships do you currently bear? How have you been broken or crushed or scarred? Who do you now struggle to love and forgive because of the pain and heartache you carry?

In this case, who will rescue and heal you from your loss? Who will serve as the one who brings the good news of reconciliation, wholeness, restoration, and peace to you? For any loser, surely the one who brings such a miracle of life and hope and peace to all of the losers of the world would be so valuable, that no-one would be worthy to untie this person’s sandals!

Well, for starters the person longed-for in this ancient word from Scripture could be the prophet Isaiah himself who brings hope and comfort to the exiles of Israel who were longing to be restored to their own nation and worship in the Temple at Jerusalem. The good news of their restoration would lift their flagging spirits and give them hope of their reconciliation with God, his holy land, and the intimacy of worshipping him in the Temple once more.

On the other hand, the one on whom the Spirit rests could also be referring to the restored nation of Israel itself who was chosen by God through Abraham to be a blessing to all nations, as surely any nation or community who would bring such good news of reconciliation and peace to a troubled and conflicted world could only be one led by the Spirit of God.

But, as Christians who long to hear what Jesus is doing in your life, you should know that ultimately, Scripture provides its own answer when St Luke records Jesus entering the synagogue in Nazareth to read from these very verses written on the scroll of Isaiah, and then says: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)

So, while Isaiah and the nation of Israel could be the one referred to, this text find its definitive identity in the person of Jesus Christ; who is the One on whom the Spirit of God rests. He is the One who is anointed to proclaim the good news to all you poor losers.

Jesus Christ is the One who has been sent to bandage your broken hearts. He is the One who proclaims amnesty for any of you who are captive to sin and fear and pain. He is the One who proclaims the year of grace and jubilee to you through his forgiveness. He is the One who brings comfort to any of you who are grieving.

As the anointed One of God, Jesus is authorised to tell you the good news that you’ve been forgiven, cleansed, made whole, restored, and reconciled with your God – not because he won any battle or argument over you (which would only cause you more pain), but he tells you this heavenly good news comes at the cost of his own losing for your sake.

Where everyone else wants to win and make you a loser, Jesus became the ultimate loser by willingly giving up his life for you so that you would win the prize of righteousness, salvation, and peace. You become the winner through his loss, and you receive all his love, mercy, grace, and blessing, simply through believing his words of promise.

This means when you were baptised and believed in Jesus, you received all the benefits of Christ’s obedience, suffering, death and resurrection through faith. You’re no longer a loser who is isolated and beaten and defeated. You’ve been welcomed into the royal family of God with all the heavenly benefits!

It also means, whenever you receive the broken body of your Lord into your mouth, and drink his innocent blood, peace and wholeness become yours through faith.

In this way there are no losers here. You become victorious over sin, death, and the devil, and are healed from all your scars, by trusting the words of your Lord and Saviour. You no longer need to fear any more loss, because what you have received through faith can’t be taken away from you. Through faith you receive forgiveness for all of your sins, reconciliation with God himself, and life eternal where you’ll get to see the fullness of what Christ has won for you: your full reconciliation and restoration to God.

But there’s a twist you may not have seen coming.

Here, as you receive and trust the good news of your Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and as you receive the promised Holy Spirit, you also become one of those whom this precious text of Scripture speaks.

You see, you may come here as losers, but through faith you leave this place as restored winners. As you go from here, you’re sent by the Spirit into this broken and hurting world; not to get your own back or punish all those who attempt to win their little games of one-upmanship, but you go to them as a restored loser to proclaim the same good news of hope and peace and wholeness to them.

As forgiven and restored people of God through faith in your Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit of the Lord now also rests on you. Like Christ himself, you don’t attempt to win any arguments or play as God’s police force in the world, but you instead reflect the love and light of God to a hurting and bewildered world.

You’re sent out by God to your family and those around you, not to point to yourself as anyone special, but to point to Jesus, who is their only true hope and peace and life. The Holy Christian Church therefore, as a community of people who gather to be made whole and holy by Christ, is the messenger of forgiveness, grace, and love to a world filled with losers.

As those filled with the Spirit of Jesus (who was willing to lose for your sake), you’re also content to lose, because even if you lose, no-one can take away what you’ve won through faith in Jesus. Since you’ve already received the victory prize of what Jesus has done for you, nothing and no-one can take these heavenly blessings from you, no matter how much else you lose in this life.

This means your conversations after worship, and your conversations with people through the week, would change as you no longer need to win, but you instead look for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who are hurting or struggling or losing.

Therefore, as holy and loved children of God who have received such good news which believes you’ve been healed and restored to wholeness and life through faith in Jesus, is it possible you could also say:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the afflicted. He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion, to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a cloak of praise instead of a faint spirit, so that they will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord to display his beauty.”?

Then may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.