Advent 2014 – Week 3

Week 3, beginning 14th December:
The Shepherds

Again, the explanation behind this video is well worth watching.

It’s a humbling thing, knowing what God did that first Christmas.

God came down: He lived as a human being. He didn’t come in power and glory. He came in the vulnerable position of a baby, born of and dependent upon His human mother. He began His journey of life in the humblest way possible: through birth.

But those to whom God first chose to first reveal His birth is also humbling. At the time when the Gospels were written, shepherds were considered on the lowest rung of society. They were a little above lepers. The highest a shepherd could climb is if he was placed in charge of the sheep used in Temple sacrifices.

So, when the message of Christ’s birth is announced, it would not be expected that shepherds would be the first to hear. And yet, it was! It was to shepherds that God first shared the news of His birth!

What does this tell us? It tells us that God is for the least, that God favours the poor, the oppressed, the marginalised. God is serious when He says the last are first in His eyes.

God is for the least of us. And that encourages me! It reminds me that, this Christmas, and always, God is for me. And He is for you too!

Sola Deo Gloria. Amen.

Time for Everything

To begin with, I wish to make a confession. When it comes to New Year, I am the kind of person who, quite frankly, cannot wait for the old year to end and the new to begin.  I was quite happy to bid farewell to 2011, and I look to 2012 as a beacon of hope and possibility.

And yet, as I have adopted this attitude over the past few years, I have found myself vexed that my aspirations for the grand new year seem dashed, and after 364 days, I once again hope for a fresh start and a new year. I know I am not the only person who feels this way.

So, I ask the question, why do I seem stuck in this cycle; why is it I start each year hoping for good things, and end with a half-hearted sense of achievement? Not happy with this, I decided to challenge and deal with this not-very-healthy attitude!

As I was reflecting on this, I was came across this passage in Ecclesiastes 3:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot;

a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to mend; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

What can we learn from a passage like this? As I have said above, I am challenging the expectation that our fortunes will always improve with time and things will always get better.

Yet, this is not the story in Ecclesiastes. What we read hear is that there is a time for everything; as such we cannot go through our lives expecting good fortune to fall on us at every opportunity.

Instead, we see that everything has a time and season; there is a time to hurt, to tear down, to cast away, to weep or keep silent. Those things which hurt us and upset us are a reality of life which we must face; a reality which we cannot change. But, we can take comfort in two things.

Firstly, Ecclesiastes tells us that, while we must be realistic and know that bad things will happen in our lives, we must also expect good to come. You will no doubt notice the beautiful balance between each of the above statements, with each bad thing comes a good. We are discouraged from expecting only good things will come to us, but are reminded that they do.

But, there is a much more comforting point. This passage tells us that  there is a “time for every matter under heaven”. No matter what happens to us in our lives, it is all under the control of the One True God, who resides in Heaven and watches over us and our lives. He knows the troubles we face and the blessings we enjoy, and He is with us through everything.

And, more than that, there is time for every matter. Every single point of any person’s life is carefully considered and monitored by the Almighty God. He is not some distant and uninterested God; He is close, watching and loving His creation with the utmost care.

You may ask, then, if God is in control why do bad things happen? This is not the place to deal with that question; what this passage in Ecclesiastes does is point out the reality that they do happen, along with good things, and ultimately God is in control and with us throughout.

So, if you reach the end of the year and things have not gone as you had hoped, do not despair, instead rejoice. If all your dreams come true, then be glad. Because, no matter what happens to you this year, in 2012, whatever events happen in you life, whether good or bad: GOD is always with YOU!

Joy to the World?

Christmas is a very unique time of year. It is that moment when vast numbers of us, whether sharing in the “Christmas spirit” or simply from the retail industry, come together to celebrate, to share a meal, and give and receive gifts. Christmas is to be a time of joy, certainly if the Carols are to be believed.

Yet, this event can easily become a time of sorrow; stress about presents, or worry about the food. What of those who have no-one with whom to share this “season of goodwill”? With all this going on behind the bright and colourful decorations, can we really call this “the most wonderful time of the year”?

Yet, there is still joy to be found in this Christmas season. All it takes is a little bit of time and thought to look beyond the romanticism and find the true meaning of Christmas.

It really isn’t as hard to find the true meaning of Christmas as you might think. If you search Christmas into Google images, you will be bombarded with images not unlike this one:

What a magical scene this is! And yet, it does nothing to dispel the illusion or misconception of what Christmas is all about. And yet, with a little patience, a picture like this will come along:

We will, no doubt, recognise the Nativity. Such a tranquil setting this! Yet, while this points to the true meaning of Christmas, it still doesn’t give us the full picture.

So, what is Christmas all about? The Bible explains:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us) [Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23 (ESV)]

This passage is taken from the Old Testament of the Bible, and is repeated, almost word-for-word, 600 years later in the New Testament. Why is this fact significant? Because it shows, clearly, that God had Christ’s birth planned and prepared; it was not some accidental or unexpected cosmic event. It shows that God was in control, he had all these events in His hands from the moment He conceived them; even before the creation of time and space.

This short line also tells us of Jesus purpose. It was through Jesus Christ that God became accessible. This is why He is describes as “Immanuel”; Because, through Him,  God is able to dwell with us and we are able to relate to Him! How is this made possible? The Bible tells us; through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus! Don’t believe me? Have a look at the most famous verses in the Bible: John 3:16 & 17.

But, I hear you ask, what does all this have to do for me today? So Jesus was born. So he lived. So he died. So what? Well, my friend, let me say this; the Bible has made many promises to mankind, all of which have been fulfilled, except one: Jesus will one day return.

You try searching for the tomb of Jesus Christ, and you won’t find it, because it simply does not exist. Jesus didn’t just die; three days later, He rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of God in Heaven. And one day He will come back, and take all those who faithfully trust in Him, who believe He is the Son of God, who proclaim that died and rose again, taking the punishment for their sins, to Heaven, to spend eternity with God in Glory! (Revelation 19:11-20:15)

So, where will you find your joy this Christmas? In crackers and turkey and puddings and cream? The toys in the window that I’ve never seen? Or, are you willing to peel back the veil and find the true meaning behind the celebration of Christmas: ; Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born in a manger. Through his life, death and resurrection, we can now reach and relate to the Holy God, and one day Christ will return to take His faithful to Heaven, for all eternity.

God came down at Christmas, for me and for you.

Merry Christmas!