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Saturday, 16 December 2017

The Hopes and Fears Of All The Years

Lettering by @rach_forsyth

Read: Luke 2: 25-35 The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.


This passage is extraordinary.


Simeon is a devout man who has been waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” He’s aware of the hardness of life and the lostness of his nation. On this day he came into the temple, and when Jesus was brought in he declared to God: “my eyes have seen your salvation!”


But Simeon isn’t holding a set of laws in his hands. He’s not holding the Ten Commandments, or a to-do list, or a doctrine, or a manifesto, or a philosophy or a state of soul.


He’s holding Jesus.


He’s holding Jesus and he’s saying to the LORD: “my eyes have seen your salvation!”


Hallelujah! The good news of Christmas is not that God has given us a very specific, very demanding set of laws we ought to complete in order to be good enough to make it on to his cosmic “Nice List.”


Hallelujah, as it has been poetically pointed out here, God is not like Santa Clause.


Simeon is able to hold the salvation of God in his arms and say- this is the way Israel will be comforted; this is the way Gentiles will see the reality of who God is; this is the way the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.


The salvation of God is Jesus. He is a person.


He is a person who, even as He is in the temple being presented to the Lord, is living a life that will bring righteousness to many.


The consolation of Israel, and of the nations is Jesus.


The solution to our sadness, sin, darkness and suffering is not a doctrine, or a a to-do list, or a philosophy or a state of mind because each of these things- and all of them together are patently inadequate for the problems they aim to solve.


The solution to our sadness, sin, darkness and suffering is not simple, because these things are not simple.


But this does not mean there is not solution.


Simeon held Jesus in his arms, and saw the salvation of God: a person.


And not just a person, but the Ultimate Person. Not just a bringer of peace, the Prince of Peace. And not just complex, but an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.


He is the Lion, and the Lamb. He is the Treasure of Heaven, who for our sake became poor. He is the Creator of Life who laid down His life.  


He is the humble King born in a manger, who grew up to boldly declare: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life! No one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14: 6)  


He is the salvation of the Lord.



Friday, 15 December 2017

Word of the Father, Now In Flesh Appearing!

Lettering by my friend @rach_forsyth

This morning I was on Twitter (this happens rarely because I find that using Twitter is even more like #shoutingintothevoid than blogging is…) and John Cleese was letting loose on the world of ‘evangelicals’, complaining that Christians continue to follow the God of the Old Testament when Jesus is so evidently different to him.

He asked, “why would you need to be God-fearing if Jesus is your God?”

And that was the tell-tale sign he hadn’t actually read the New Testament (beyond the Beatitudes) recently.

The New Testament is full of people who are afraid of Jesus. There is something terrifying about someone who has power over demons, and over the weather, who can out-wit you with his wisdom, who can gain the approval of people but who doesn’t pursue it, who can radically transform someone beyond recognition, who won’t back down from religious rulers, from Pilate, from Herod. People who meet Jesus in the New Testament are afraid of him.

If you like Jesus because you don’t think he’s scary then whoever it is you like isn’t Jesus.

As the much-quoted line from Mr Beaver goes when Lucy finds out that Aslan is a lion and cautiously asks, “but is he safe?”

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

What makes the God of the Bible, both and Old and New Testaments terrifying is not their badness, but their perfect goodness. Their unrelenting holy, holy, holiness is enough to make the best of humanity quake in their sinful boots.

But John Cleese does raise a concern that many people have. They think- okay, I could have Jesus as my King, but I’m not sure about the God he comes to represent.

But the King we considered yesterday is God’s truest expression of himself.

One of the most fundamental tenets of Biblical faith is the belief that in Christ the fullness of God lives in bodily form. And yet, it is so tempting as Christians to buy the popularly held belief that God is harsh and erratic and capricious and ruthless. And Jesus is the apologetic son who rocks up and says something like, “honestly he’s not that bad once you get to know him.”

Nonsense.

Jesus rocks up and  says, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

Jesus is the WORD of God. He perfectly communicates what His Father is like. He is not a PR representative sent to compensate or to paper over all the ways that God the Father’s reputation has been sullied. No, he comes to express the nature of the Father with absolute accuracy.

When we see Jesus’ tenderness, compassion, patience, forgiveness, provision, miraculous power, staggering mercy, care for the outcasts, attentiveness to children, inclusion of women, restoration of rejects, healing of the diseased, rebuking of the religious we see the Father. We see an intense highlight reel of all the Father is and has been for all of eternity.

And it’s not even that the Father is like Jesus. It’s that Jesus is like the Father.

As Mike Reeves says in his book “Rejoicing in Christ”:

“Here, then is the revolution: there is no God in heaven who is unlike Jesus... Let us then be rid of that horrid, sly idea that behind Jesus, the friend of sinners, there is some more sinister being, one thinner in compassion and grace. There cannot be! Jesus is the Word. He is One with the Father.”

Jesus doesn’t correct the errors in the Father’s character. No! The Son is the exact representation of God’s being.

And that’s why “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” is such good news. Because this Jesus communicates what the Father and Creator is like; he was with the Father in the beginning. And God is pleased with Jesus. He doesn’t think “I wish he’d have toned down the mercy and compassion.” No. He was “pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” and declared on more than one occasion: This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased: listen to Him!

Hallelujah! God has spoken to us, by His Son.

Jesus is God’s message from God to us.

He is God of God,
He is Light of Light!
He is The Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.

Oh come, let us adore the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit!  

Carol: O Come All Ye Faithful  

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Let Earth Receive Her King!

Lettering by @rach_forsyth

So, Jesus is not like Herod. Or me.

Alleluia!

So what is he like?

This carol is one of my absolute favourites because it so simply states what Christmas is all about: joy. Despite everything our sinful nature tells is, the coming of this King, the Messiah who surpasses us in authority and power and significance, is indescribably good news. His coming in history and his coming in the future are both events that give us immeasurable cause to celebrate.

Because I like to be king in my life, the sound of a coming king can sound- as it did to Herod- like a threat.

But this carol joyfully advises: let earth receive her king! Receive your king! His rule will be a good idea!

So what is the king like? I could write out pretty much every verse in the Bible and it would provide reason to rejoice, but here are some faves:

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13: 3-5

“Then Jesus called the disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” Matthew 15: 32

“And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him saying, ‘Hail! King of the Jews!” Matthew 27: 28-29

And when they came to the place that is called the Skull, there they crucified him… and Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23: 33-34

Let Earth receive her king!

He is a king who uses his glory and power to serve his people; a king of compassion, of mercy; a king whose coronation is with a crown of thorns; who pleads forgiveness for his executors; whose wisdom silences his enemies; whose generosity provides more than 1000 bottles of wine for shamed wedding planners; whose wit comes up with such imagery as “you strain out a gnat to swallow a camel”; who looks after bruised reeds and who makes breakfast on the beach for those who abandoned him in his darkest hour.

Why do we want another king!?

This king coming is a reason for joy! He is a better king than there has ever been- and he is certainly a better king than me! This is a king whose coming gives us reason to sing and celebrate and delight and hope.

Joy to the world; the Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King!

If you are not yet encouraged, watch this, and rejoice that this is your King.

Or join Whitney for a party... 

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

In His Name All Oppression Shall Cease

Lettering by my friend @rach_forsyth


The Massacre of the Innocents is not one of the Christmas narratives the Western church tends to dwell on.

These verses in Matthew are a horrific account of the brutal execution of thousands of innocent children.

When Herod learns the magi are looking for a new-born King, he is alarmed and disturbed by this potential threat to his power: He is determined to control the situation and protect himself. He tells the men searching for Jesus to let him know where they have found him so that “I too may come and worship him,” but when it becomes clear that control has slipped beyond his grasp and the magi will not return, he is livid and more outraged than ever.

In a typically futile, typically dictatorial attempt to secure his own supremacy the paranoid, ruthless ruler orders that every boy under the age of two born in Bethlehem be slaughtered.

And they are.

Thousands of innocent children suffer under one person’s savage desire to stay in control.

As a result there is weeping and loud lamentation and no place for comfort.

It’s tempting to write this off as an obscure event from antiquity.

But children across the globe, today, in Syria, in Yemen, … suffer similar atrocities: victims of decisions made by power-grabbing adults in worlds far removed from their little spheres. War marches into child-sized lives and brings with it displacement, violence, hunger. The Massacre of the Innocents is not an event from antiquity, but a fitting title for much of our own era.

Perhaps it is tempting to see the Massacre as being something relevant then to other places: insane, and evil, but nothing to do with me in my calm, measured, bloodshed free life.

Recently I’ve realised that I don’t have as much of a leg to stand on in my scorn of Herod as I would like. I’ve realised that I have a similar reckless determination to rule my own life and protect my own reputation in a way that shows no regard for how it might make the undeserving suffer. I, too, have railed so violently against the threat of another king, come to reign over my world and life and choices.

So often when I want to be king in my own life, it is those who deserve to least that suffer most at the hands of my temper and selfishness.

Not least, the boy in the manger.

In Bethlehem, the baby escaped an execution at the hands of sinful men- for the time being. He did not escape being an innocent sufferer. A few decades later, he faced execution, again. And the King of the Jews suffered, and then died as a consequence of countless ‘wannabe’ kings desperate to terminate his rightful rule.

I am not Herod. But I am responsible for the suffering of an Innocent.

I am not Herod. But I am also not a good King.

Like Herod, my rule of my own life results in anguish and weeping and mourning that cannot be comforted.

But into the manger is born a King,  in whose name all oppression shall cease. He is a king who who surrenders his power, who serves the weak, who brings comfort to the mourning, who will grow up and shepherd his people until he lays down his life for them. He is a king who will reign on David’s throne forever, and of the increase of his government and of his peace there will be no end.

Carol: O Holy Night

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Brighter Visions Beam Afar

Lettering by my friend @rach_forsyth

Wise men, leave your contemplations!
brighter visions shine afar;
seek in him the hope of nations,
you have seen his rising star!


Like many teenagers, I took a bus to get to school. I distinctly remember feeling that what made the journey was whether Red Dragon FM played Aerosmith (I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing) en route. Another highlight of the trip was passing a church that had a billboard with notices emblazoned on it in various shades of neon, rotating according to season.


During the World Cup they had one that said: “Stuck in a Corner? Go For the Cross!” and at Christmas they had that well known proverb: “Wise Men Sought Jesus; Wise Men Still Do.” However, as a fifteen year old new Christian, it seemed clear enough to me that my following Jesus wasn't to do with my own wisdom. My own wisdom had declared God distant and my life joyless; His wisdom had called me by name and had given me hope and joy inexpressible: it was His mercy rather than my wisdom that led me to follow him.


So were the magi wise?


Yes, in that they sought out answers to the meaning and purpose of life. Yes, in that they had some degree of earthly knowledge: they could study vast stretches of stars and from their scrutiny learn of the birth of the King of the Jews. They had the insight to see the importance of this occasion, and the common sense to search for the King in a palace. They were wise to seek out answers, and to use all they had in pursuit of them.

I see some real value in the proverb now. Yes, God is at work in all kinds of ways to make himself known. There is value in using our reason and the historical record and intellectual rigour to seek Him; all these pursuits are gifts from the One who makes himself known to those who seek Him, evidence of His mercy.

But the wisdom of the magi had its limits. Their wisdom alone led them to an insecure tyrant rather than to Emmanuel.

It was the finding of Jesus, much more than the seeking of Him, that made them wise.


As the star settled over the place where a little Jewish boy lived, weak and poor, they must have become wise. As they fled the wrath of a despot who saw the Manger-Messiah as his enemy, they must have learnt a new wisdom: deep and beyond fathoming and absolute, sheer folly in the eyes of the world.


The Wisdom of God, the one who had been beside the Creator when he established the heavens, embraced all that humanity considered most foolish: he embraced weakness and death. And as the magi worshipped the fragile, surprising, soon-to-be refugee King of Israel their hearts must have been humbled, and their understanding of life and reality and wisdom radically transformed; the inadequacy of their scholarship and intellect must have been revealed by the inexpressible glories of the unwordly wisdom of God.


When I think of the magi worshipping Jesus, I am reminded of the limits of my own earthly wisdom. Even with the best of intentions my wisdom leads me astray. But when I find it impossible to fathom the wisdom of God in places that hurt or situations that just seem wretched, I am challenged to remember that the magis who could read the stars bowed low before the Wisdom of the manger, and it helps me bow before God’s wisdom, too.


Monday, 11 December 2017

Heavenly Hosts Sing, "Alleluia!"

Lettering by my friend @rach_forsyth


“Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:’ Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those on whom his favour rests!”

I can’t help but feel that this line does not belong in a carol called “Silent Night.”

When a multitude of heaven’s army-choir filled the heavens to praise God for the wisdom and grace and power and beauty held within the incarnation, as they praised him for his peace and favour and kindness to humanity in need of a Saviour, the night is anything but silent.  

What incredible sounds must have reverberated around the heavens as those who had beheld Jesus face to face from the beginning tried to sing his glories: what melodies, what harmonies, what a range of perfect notes, what a blend of unexpected harmonies must have sounded from this Choir of choirs.

How it must have contrasted the night that was silent, unimpressive and seemingly unremarkable in so many other ways.

I find it amazing to think that this is what accompanies the announcement of the Champion of Heaven being born in a manger. The angels do not accompany “a Saviour has been born to you!” with a rebuke to the Shepherds: “look what you made God do.”

Oh no, the angels sing of God’s grace, and delight in sending His Son.

Apart from anything else, this heavenly chorus is a reminder that the Father was not reluctant to give His Son to be a Saviour. The heavenly host sing a song of triumph: peace, favour and glory, glory, glory to God.
The Father is glad to rescue us. The Son is glad to be our rescuer.

For the joy set before him - his joy being our salvation- he endured the womb, the manger, the crown of thorns, the cross.

And the angels celebrate a God who finds delight in rescuing an unworthy people. That’s why heavenly hosts sing, “alleluia!”

God be praised, indeed!

Carol: Silent Night

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Go, Tell It On The Mountain

Lettering by my friend @rach_forsyth

Read: Luke 2: 8-20 



The shepherds were not expecting the skies to be aflame with angels that night. I mean, who could have expected it? It was a truly remarkable night.

Made remarkable by all of those other unremarkable nights: days and weeks and months and years of nights where the skies were silent and their lives were small and unimpressive. They were poor in a culture where richness equated blessing, sheep herders who lived in the fields in a culture that valued cleanliness, working nights in a culture that thrived in daytime.


So when the angels announce good news of great joy for all the people, they start with the people who the world would have expected to be furthest from joy. The poor, the unclean, the outsiders.


“I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, who is Christ the LORD. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”


The Messiah is born, the angel declares, and this is how you’ll know: he’s lying in a food trough.


And then the whole sky is riven with angels singing about the glories of God.


I cannot imagine the wonder of the shepherds as they stammered to one another with heaven’s crescendo still ringing in their ears: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the LORD has told US about.”

Us!?


In awe they hurry off and find the baby in a manger. The baby who is Israel’s anointed King; the baby who is the LORD.


And they find that this precious baby, the LORD, is not unlike them: He is poor, He is hanging out with unclean animals, He is lying in an animal's feeding manger, because there was “no place” for him elsewhere.


I love this story because it reminds me that no one is excluded from joy. When I am finding it most difficult to believe that happiness is possible, I remember that the angel promised that Jesus was a great joy for all people. The world says happiness is possible for the wealthy and the attractive and the career savvy and for the successful and for the loved and for the included.


But the angels say: Jesus is good news of great joy for the shepherds, for all the people, for me.


After they’ve found the Manger-Messiah, the shepherds return to the fields. Their circumstances have not changed, but their perspective has.

The King in the trough is their king and as their hearts swelled in wonder and glory, they could not help but to go tell it on the mountain: He is Heaven’s joy- and He’s for all the people.
Carol: Go Tell It On The Mountain
 
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