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?
Do we take care not to offend anyone? In our workplaces an enormous effort is made to keep the staff happy so that they don’t leave or, worse still, make a complaint against us as they leave. Interestingly, not offending anyone was not John the Baptist’s way of working. John the Baptist didn’t ‘pull his punches’. If the King had forged an illegitimate wedding, John would speak out. If the established religion was drowning in ritualistic formalism, John would speak out. If ordinary people were living lives ignorant of God, John would speak out. Wherever John saw evil – in the State, in the church or in the crowd – he fearlessly rebuked it. This has many parallels with us today. Yes, we have corrupt practice in the monarchy, in government and in the church but we also live in a time when ordinary people are not being ‘challenged with the Gospel’. In recent decades the Church in the Western world has become very accomplished at not offending anyone. Has this stance borne fruit? Perhaps we sometimes need to challenge people directly with the Gospel. John the Baptist did.
This Sunday marks the beginning of advent. Advent is about preparation. Are we ready for Christmas? Are we ready to welcome the baby Jesus into our world? Many families in the church have models of Mary and Joseph which move from home to home in this season to remind us to be welcoming and prepared for the birth of Jesus. But, of course, Advent not only celebrates that Jesus came to the earth but also looks forward to his coming again. This is a much more unpredictable event. While we make all the preparations for the birth of the baby on 25th December, we need to ask ourselves, are we prepared for the second coming? When will this be? The Bible reading for this week tells us that we simply don’t know. It could be before the 25th December; it could be tomorrow; it could be tonight! We have recorded for us in Matthew’s gospel the account of Jesus talking to his disciples about this. The advice that Jesus gives is that we need to be permanently prepared. Yes, live our lives to the full without fear but always be conscious that Jesus may return at any moment. When he does, everything else will pale into insignificance. Are we prepared?