Are we our biggest critic? For many of us, we get annoyed with ourselves for getting things wrong. We may often say to ourselves, “why did I do that?” Or even, “how could I be so stupid?” But is this the way that God looks at us? In the Bible reading this week, we have the account of Jesus’ baptism where a voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, with Him I am well pleased.” What is interesting is that, in Mark’s Gospel, we have the words “with YOU I am well pleased.” It is not unreasonable to think that God is well pleased with us. After all, he created us and, elsewhere in the Bible we read, He sings over us. We are adopted into his family. We are his children. He has promised us eternity with Him. Perhaps it is time to re-orientate our thinking. Perhaps we should not be too hard on ourselves but rather bask in His love. This love was demonstrated by the cross.
What is the central point in our changing lives? The 20th century is widely regarded as the century which saw the greatest amount of change. The 21st century may see even greater change. Change was recognised also in ancient times. In 560 BC there was a Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who postulated that while everything is in a state of change, this change was not haphazard. There was a pattern, a logic and a reason behind everything. This was called the ‘Logos’ or the ‘word’ and Greeks (and Jews) began to understand this concept. In trying to communicate effectively with the Greek world and inspired by the Holy Spirit, John chooses to use this concept in his Gospel. Jesus is nothing short of the one who makes sense of everything. He is the word of God. Jesus is the word who is the creating, illuminating, controlling, sustaining mind of God which has come to earth in human form. That is, the word became flesh. Jesus is the central point in a world that is changing around us. As we enter a new year and a new decade with all its changes, let’s rejoice in the fact that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
How obedient are we? How obedient are we to those in authority over us and how obedient are we to God? In the New Testament not much is known about Joseph, Mary’s husband. We know, for instance, that he is not mentioned when his wife Mary gives instructions at the wedding in Cana. It is probable that Joseph died when Jesus was relatively young. What we do know about Joseph is that he was very obedient. When the angel told him to marry Mary, he did. When the angel told him to take his wife and the child to Egypt from Bethlehem, he did. When the angel told him to return to Nazareth from Egypt, following Herod’s death, he did. What about us, how obedient to God are we? How obedient are we in feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, taking in the stranger, clothing the naked, comforting the sick and visiting those in prison? How obedient are we in simply doing the right thing? What can we learn from the obedience of Joseph?
What does it feel like to be chosen – to be chosen by family, friends, work colleagues or others we respect? What does it feel like to be chosen by God? The theme of the Bible reading this week is fundamentally one of being chosen. God chose humanity, God chose the people of Israel, God chose Mary and Joseph. That is the Christmas message. What did it feel like to Mary and Joseph to be given the baby Jesus to care for and raise? It must have felt like a mixture between terrifying and an indescribable honour. In the Bible we also read that we have been chosen to belong to Jesus Christ. Two initial thoughts spring from this. Firstly, how should we feel about this slightly terrifying but indescribable honour and, secondly, we might ask the question, what have we been chosen for? As we journey through this Christmas season into the new year, our prayer is that we might marvel at what God has done for us and discern his true purpose for our lives.
How spiritually fortunate are we? In the Bible reading for this week we have Jesus’ words about John the Baptist. What was the significance of John the Baptist? Was he more significant than Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and all the minor prophets? Crucially, was he more significant than Elijah? Jewish custom was that before the Messiah came, Elijah would return. Elijah represented the prophets in Judaism as Moses represented the Law. Was John the Baptist greater than any of these? What does Jesus say? Jesus says that John was more than a prophet – more than anyone that came before. Yet, equally interestingly, Jesus says that the least in the Kingdom of God will be greater than John the Baptist. What does this mean? Perhaps Jesus is alluding to the fact that unlike us, John never knew the breadth of God’s love revealed in the cross. John died before Jesus’ passion and resurrection. John knew about judgement, destruction and the need for repentance but he didn’t know the other side of God’s gracious love and forgiveness revealed in the cross. What about us? How fortunate are we? We know about the meaning of the cross. We have a fuller picture of what God is like. In Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension we have the complete jig-saw of what God is like. John had this in part, but not fully. How spiritually fortunate are we?