Monday, January 26, 2015

Finding real Joy, in real Trials, in the Person, Presence and Purposes of a Real God (James 1:2-12): Shedding Light On THe Epislte Of Straw (part 2)

My life has been dominated by an ear infection this week… So I found it rather hard to be reflecting on the command James starts his letter with… “Count it all Joy, bothers and sisters, when you face all kinds of trials”.  I found it rather ear-otating and yes even ear-onic to be looking at Joy in the face of suffering. I mean in the scope of things an ear infection isn’t that much of a big deal, it just hurts and makes you feel miserable but I needed the encouragement to look beyond that. I know many of you are facing much greater trials than that and in all difficult situations it’s easy to get tunnel vision to focus on the issue the trial and forget the big picture forget that God is good and that God is at work… James dives straight in to that at the beginning of his letter and invites us not to focus simply on the situations but rather to find joy as we face all kinds of trials in the person, presence and purposes of God.

James calls us to look at life through the lens of faith… as Dan McCartney says ‘ A large part of the life of faith is ones attitude towards things in life and ones response to events. We often can do little to control our environment and the things that happen to us, but we can control the way we think about them and how we react to them. Knowing how to interpret events and actions is a large part of wisdom and the faithful attitude of the Christian is one of Joy.”

James is straight up about life, that we face trials and difficulties. He addresses his readers as the twelve tribes scattered throughout the nations, as we saw last week he is writing to a predominantly Jewish audience and that scattering was a result of historic suffering and being conquered by different nations. They knew what it were like to be sojourners in strange cities, longing for home, subject to prejudice. He is speaking to a group of fellow believers who would have been scattered because of persecution. Down through the ages Jewish wisdom literature had wrestled with the issue of suffering, why do bad things happen to good people, the psalms are full of people lamenting and wrestling with these things. It’s what Philip Yancy calls the question that will not go away. It won’t go away because its real and it comes and it touches our lives again and again.  in this life said Jesus there will be trouble but do not fear for I have overcome the world.’ There is trouble and trial but also great joy.

The first thing I need to say is that there is a difference between enjoying trials and finding joy in trials. James is not telling his readers that they should be like some modern day adrenaline junkie who seeks to go and find something dangerous and challenging to do. I mean it is good to push ourselves and set goals and challenges in our very safe and bland modern society… I wish more of it was tackling real pressing social issues and needs rather than back flips and unscaled mountain faces. Nor is this saying that we are to be masochistic, to enjoy pain. Neither is it being Pollyanna and diminishing the suffering or pain and difficulty of life. Hanging on the cross whistling and singing “always look on the Brightside of life” is Monty Python not Jesus Christ. We are talking about real trials and in them James invites us to find real joy by looking beyond our circumstance to God.

He takes us through a raft of reasons for Joy.

The first is that when we face trials our faith is able to be tested. This does not mean it is stress tested to see if it can be broken... The metaphor associated with testing is the idea of purification or smelting metals to get rid of the dross…Refining it. One cancer suffer talked of the biggest change in her life was a change of priorities, suddenly relationships because of paramount importance to her, she said “it was strange how it took something so serious to make her realise that’. James says that as we face trials and continue to put our hope and our trust in God our faith grows. A lot of the time our false hopes get stripped away and we are left with what is really real. In the laments in the psalms this is often put in terms of coming to realise that the important thing is not the trappings of life or the benefits of being God’s people but the abiding presence and goodness of God.

James says that as we face trials our faith is able to develop and produces perseverance. Now in English we tend to see this as a passive thing, that we have the ability to simply hold on and endure something. But the word here is an active one. It speaks of making head way moving forward. In fact the image that James uses to describe the two minded person in verse six helps us to understand that word. James talks of the person without faith as being like a wave on the sea blown about by the wind, not having a direction. But perseverance is keeping on to the goal staying on the journey focusing on the destination despite the wind direction and its changes. It was Martin Luther King Jr day in the US last Monday and many of his quotes appeared on social media… one that stuck me was where King calls for people to keep moving forward in the struggle for freedom despite the opposition.. if they can’t ride,” he said “well run, if they can’t run, well walk, if they can’t walk well crawl but keep  moving forwards. That’s perseverance.

Perseverance leads to character development. God’s purpose for us is that we might grow and become mature, and complete and lacking nothing. We can find joy in the midst of the trials of life because God is shaping us and making us more like Christ. The Hebrew word for Peace is the word shalom and it has the idea not of a lack of difficulty and a life of leisure, like lying on a towel on an the idyllic summer beach or lounging in a deck chair beside the pool but of wholeness and being complete.

Again a Martin Luther King Jr quote from this week cuts right to the heart of what James is saying “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

I found an amazing prayer this week from a Russian Oxthodox nun called Maria Skobtsova whose life sums up what James is aying. She helped hide Jews in France during the war and was arrested and was a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp, Ravensbruck in the midst of her suffering her prayer was “ I am thy message Lord. Throw me like a blazing torch into the night, so that all may see and understand what it means to be thy disciple.” On Easter Saturday 1945 Maria took the place of a Jewish women who was destined for the gas chamber and was killed.

Then James tells us that we can know Joy in the generosity and benevolence of God. That if we lack wisdom we should ask God who will give us wisdom. He gives it generously and without finding fault. This is more than an invitation to simply find understanding about why we are facing trials. It is an invitation to know and encounter and walk through those things with God. In the Old Testament there is a tradition of personifying wisdom, in proverbs 8 wisdom is seen as a woman. In Ephesians 1:17 Paul prays for the church at Ephesus and says he will ask the father to send the spirit of wisdom another name for the Holy Spirit and here James uses the idea of the wisdom of God as a way of talking about the presence of God’s spirit in our lives. We can know and have wisdom in our lives because we ask God for his presence. Again James as a letter is very reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount this passage has the same feel as Jesus invitation to ask seek and to knock, that God is a generous father who know how to give good gifts to his children and will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. In the midst of our trials we can know joy because of the presence and wisdom of God.

You may remember from last week that one of the nick names for James is ‘old camel knees’ because of the calluses on his knees because of the amount of time he spent on them in prayer. It is not a coincidence that James should tell us that we can find joy in the midst of trials in turning to God in Prayer. Some of us may find what James has to say about prayer and doubt daunting. WE all wrestle with honest questions and difficulties, but it is not what James is talking about here, many of the great prayers of faith in the psalms and old testament contain people wrestling with understanding and with doubts about God’s goodness. But they do not stop people turning and trusting in God, when James talks about being double minded it has the idea of looking both ways. I wonder if in the face of trials it’s not kind of like how we view pain killers or anti-biotics. The double minded person turns to God for a quick fix, if it doesn’t come they are on to the next, rather than out of a genuine faith and trust despite the questions.

James then turns to address the issue of poverty and says that joy does not come because of wealth, but rather comes from our status not in society but before God. Those who are poor, says James, should find glory and hope and joy in the fact that they are loved by God, that they are rich in faith. Jesus had started the beatitudes blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God.  Our joy is not based on our circumstances or what we do or do not have but on the grace of God, on knowing his forgiveness and grace, knowing that as we trust Jesus as our Lord and saviour he has made us sons and daughter of the most high God. James invites his readers to look beyond the circumstances of the now to an eternal perspective, that in the kingdom of God there will be a great reversal. James also tells those who are rich that they too need to find their joy not in what they have or their status in the world but in the eternal, that they just like the poor need to realise that the important thing in life is relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That wealth and position and power are merely transitory. We holidayed down in the central Hawkes bay over New Year and it seemed that each day that we were there without rain the wonderful rolling hills around us became browner and browner it was an illustration of what James says here about life and wealth, it simply passes away like the grass. We can focus on what we don’t have and allow money worries to build up and drag us down, or we can build our identity on what we have and worry and be concerned by the foibles of markets and losing it all or vainly trying to get more…but in the end joy comes from a faith that finds identity in knowing the goodness of God, knowing the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.
James usually finishes each section of his teaching with a pithy proverb a wise saying that sums up what he has been saying and here he finishes with a beatitude a blessing a saying about who is truly happy… here he says that the one who is blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, who stands the test, because the reward for that is the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. Now we might think that is talking about earning Gods favour and reward. But that endurance of faith is more responding with love to God who first loved us and gave his life for us. It is not winning eternal life or earning it, but finding life as a result of that perseverance of faith.

 Carbon can be found in different natural states one is coal and another is diamond, the difference between the two is…(as I paused here for dramatic affect it was typical when I use science illustrations as two people in the church said ‘crystalline structure instead of my rather more mundane and non-scientific answer)   pressure. I know I’m simplifying that, but in the end James is looking at trials and saying that in the midst of life’s real trials, real pressure, there is joy because a real God is at work in us to produce diamonds not coal. Diamonds reflect and sparkle they come alive in the presence of the light, the light of God.

Monday, January 19, 2015

And Now For Something Completely Different: An Introduction to the Book of James (James 1:1).... Shedding Light on the Epistle of Straw: Finding a Faith That Works In The Book Of James (part 1)

This is the introductory Message for a Series of Messages I'll be preaching on the book of James. I try and read through the Epistle once a day at the moment and still I find my self aware that it just feels so different than the other epistles in the New Testament or even the gospels...But despite that difference and yes even viva la difference it has a strong important message for us today... But first if I may a spot of Monty Python...

 ….“ And now for something completely different’… became a catch phrase in the TV show Monty Python’s flying Circus… They’d borrowed it from a BBC children TV show and made it their own… John Cleese would appear as a well-dressed BBC presenter behind a corporate BBC presenters desk, usually in some bizarre setting like the cage in the clip we just saw.  It would then segue into some crazy Monty python sketch…like the fish slap dance…” By the time the second series came out they used it to open the whole show. They made a movie called “and now for something completely different”  by cobbling together the best of the first two series to try and crack the American market.

When I came to reading through and reading about the book of James in the New Testament … “and now for something completely different” came to mind. You see James stands out as being different. Different from the other letters we have in the New Testament…  So much so in fact that it has been a focus for much controversy…  like Martin Luther calling it an epistle of straw.

It’s so  different because it is  by a different author… it’s a one off… But someone called James...My son James was born in Rotorua when we worked at St John’s and there were a lot of James associated with that church… the minister name was Jim, short for James his oldest son was James… one of my Youth group leadership team was James… We had several James in the Youth group… one we called little Jimmy till he grew to be a good six foot two… then it was just ironic. Another James got the nick name diesel when the tractor he was driving round the streets of Rotorua to quickly do his paper run before a youth group ski trip ran out of diesel and right in the drive way of a local hotel …  But When we called James, James I had to tell all these people that really it was despite them rather than because of them that we did it… At the time I didn’t know that Kris’ dad’s middle name was James… but can I just say that was a good way to get some brownie points as a son in law…

When it comes to the name James in the New Testament we have the same difficulty, you see there are twelve James mentioned in the New Testament, as the Greek version of the Hebrew Jacob it was very popular. Two disciples were called James. James who was John’s brother the son of Zebedee and James son of Alphaeus   One we are told was martyred very early on and the other one is never really mentioned that much. Scholars pretty much agree that the James here is the James Paul calls the brother of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15. In the gospels we find that Jesus brothers did not believe that he was the messiah but Paul mentions the fact that Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection. He is the James who as we read through the book of Acts we find is the head of the church in Jerusalem. He’s the James Paul comes to talk with when he comes and visits the apostles, He is the James who in Acts 15 who makes the decision and writes the letter at the end of what is known as the council of Jerusalem, about the question how Jewish do you need to be to be a follower of Jesus?  Later in extra biblical material he is referred to as James the just, in another tradition he is affectionately called James camel knees supposedly because of the calluses on his knees because of the amount of time he spent on his knees in prayer.  It adds real power to the impassioned plea for a life of prayer that James finishes his letter with.

In the greeting at the beginning of the letter to James, he does not use any of these indications of position or status or nick names but simply identified himself as a servant, a household slave, of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not his family ties or his position and office or even his reputation that is of any importance rather his relationship with God and with Jesus Christ as his Lord and saviour. One of the differences you will notice in the book of James is that he is not long of theology, but here we see that James has a clear understanding of the divinity of Jesus mentioning him in the same breath as God. And also we have insight to what James has to say to us that at the centre of who we are and what we do is that relationship with Jesus. In fact for James that relationship needs to be reflected in all we do. It’s not the feel good phrasing of a Christian form letter or a belief it is to worked out in how we face trials and temptations, what we say, how we treat each other, our attitude to the poor and much, much more that we will see as we explore what he has to say. To call Christ Lord is to serve Christ.

Another thing that makes James seem so different is that It was possibly written for a different audience than we are used to thinking about with the other letters in the New Testament, particularly from Paul. In fact if you look at how the books of the New Testament are put together James starts the section known as the general epistles, written for wide circulation rather than to one specific church, group, person or situation.  We are used to the story of the spread of the gospel outlined in Acts, with its focus on how the gospel came from its beginnings in Jerusalem to the centre of the then world, Rome. With its focus on the gospel being preached primarily by Paul to the gentiles… and the Pauline letters seem to fit very well with that movement… It fits with us because for most of us this is the beginning of our story. Greek thought, the Roman world, Europe.  The concerns of most of Paul’s letters are the concerns in those churches full of new gentile believers wrestling to understand their new faith and how to live it out in community. Hebrews and James seem to be written to a different audience.  The letter of James is seen to follow the style of what is known as a diaspora letter, written from someone of importance to Jews who had dispersed throughout the world exhorting them to keep the faith.

 James addresses his letter to the “twelve tribes” scattered among the nations. Some have seen this as a letter written to Jewish believers or even as a Jewish letter simply adapted for Jewish Christians. But from an early time the church would have had both Jewish and gentile believers. There is some evidence like the mention in James 2 of people coming to your synagogue that this letter was written very early before the destruction of the temple in 70ad and before Christians were exclude from Synagogues. In acts we see that when Stephen is martyred the Christians in Jerusalem scatter it’s the start of that diaspora of the Christian faith. James is writing then to group who have been believers been from early on and who now find themselves in different and difficult situations.  Some f the things that make it seem so different come from the fact it was written for a predominantly Jewish audience.

When you read it, it seems to go all over the place and not follow a nice linear argument. WE are used to our literature and our arguments and our logic being linear. I remember a Cook Island evangelist speaking in an evening service in Rotorua. The cook island people were very moved and absorbed by what she had to say. I found it hard to follow and I was amazed at how many of my youth leaders reacted negatively… they hated it… Where was the logic... where was the flow... the linear argument the three succinct points...  (if you have a look at the image beside this section it's kind of like  being given this picture in reply to the question is the glass half full or empty) … it was a good lesson for us that different cultures speak and think in different ways. She would make a point then talk around it and come back in a very cyclic manner. James does that kind of thing to us as well. He speaks for a very different culture in a very different way... which does not negate what he says it just means we have to listen a bit harder...

One benefit is that James tends to write very much like the wisdom literature in the Old Testament and it is full of these wonderful word pictures and pithy one liners and proverbs that are easy for us to remember.   (In New Zealand we are used to this kind of thing very much like when you listen to Maori speak they will often sum things up with a proverb)
We have a good example of this wisdom emphasis in the few verses we had read out to us today where James emphasis on suffering is that it is when our faith is put to the test that it grows character in us and brings us to maturity. I remember having a conversation with another James… Dr James Ukaegbu  a past moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria and who was a missionary in the predominantly Muslim north of the country, who turned to me in a very James wisdom like manner and said “agh Yes It is suffering that matures a man.”

It is also different because for this audience his emphasis is different he is more concerned with the ethical teaching of Jesus, It actually feels very much like Jesus teaching in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 and the sermon on the plain in Luke 6.  This emphasis is because his concerned is with a “disconnect” between what People believe and how they act. He is aware that away from Jerusalem they are also being influenced by the world views and behaviours around them. They may believe in Jesus as Lord and saviour, but don’t even the demons believe that, it needs to be lived out in how we speak and act. FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD. It’s not really faith…

These differences actually make it very relevant to us. AS a general epistle James speaks to all ages and all times and this message about faith being put into action is very relevant to our own time and our own lives. Because we too live in an age which has a disconnect between what we believe and how we live. One commentator talks about that disconnect coming because we live in the TV or in more correctly the Information age. We suffer from information overload we hear  so many good ideas and we find that we do not let it affect how we act and live.  This summer for example we’ve had the best adverts and info and well some mixed messages about speed limits but the holiday road toll went up… and speed and alcohol were major factors.  Like for James initial readers we need to ask God for wisdom…. Not information… wisdom to know how to filter and apply what we know to our lives.

It relevant to our Church lives and discipleship… I have a friend who talks about the fact that in Christian thought about church and discipleship he   over time there is a move in emphasis between what he calls the three ‘B’s and in the Christian life which order they come in… Belonging; that we are called to be together as the people of God, and what is important is that we come and we belong.  Believing: It is important what we believe the right thing, doctrine and understanding is central and important, it’s interesting that at certain times during church history what we believe has been the defining factor. When people ask me about denominations and how they started my usual answer is well the short answer is history and geography, but the other thing is a strong emphasis on different doctrines and understandings. In fact the book of James itself was a victim of that. Martin Luther wanted it removed from the New Testament cannon, because in chapter 2 it does seem to fly in the face of the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. James says ‘Faith without works is dead’ The third B is behaving: The emphasis is on how our faith actually effects what we do. The way we treat each other, not showing preference to the rich the powerful and the important, not complaining and arguing, just business practises, how we speak. That is where James focus lies… he is exhorting us to have a faith that works.

And can I say it is a very challenging emphasis… AS I have read and reread James this year… boy does it hit home. But it is an important message for us to hear. The fact that we belong, that we are a family… the twelve tribes together… is important and we are a community. What we believe is important. But  it’s very important in an age where Christians are ridiculed for the lack of difference, where the church is caricatured about being about what’s in your wallet and not about being a servant of God… sadly that has almost become Christian speak for a Christian celebrity. To focus on working out our faith in our behaviour in  practical ways.

 James longs for us to behave in a way that when people meet us  in a good way its… “and now for something completely different.”  Someone who acts a lot like Jesus…

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Timely Reminder of A Timeless Message (Luke 2:1-18) Christmas Day 2014

I really like the videos the kids from St Paul’s Symonds Street  put together for Christmas… that one was from last year 2013..and it’s great that they are willing to let people freely use their resources. And if you don't mind the pun its really a Christmas video with star power...

The video is great because it puts the Christmas story in a context we are used to seeing in our living rooms every day, we flick on the Tele and watch the news.

I’m not sure about the baby glowing… But the video invoke realistic  images we are used to seeing, events that impact on our lives in the world today …cramming content in between breaks… reporters wearing bullet proof vests… the reflect to duck at a loud sound or unexplained light… armed soldiers in the street… there to maintain law and order in middle eastern towns…there at the command of the powerful to impose their ideology and their rule on the people… crowds of displaced peoples… over flowing into the streets flooding the roads and having to find shelter where they can. Unrest and violence … if you are wondering where that unrest is in the biblical narrative well biblical scholars have always  found it hard to pin point the census that Luke is talking about… they do know that when they had a certain census under Quirinius that it did cause riots and unrest… People knew it was all about taxes.

I don’t know about you but those very real connections with the way things are today made me think… it was a timely reminder of a timeless message. That the good news of Jesus Christ is a message of hope for our world today as much as it was the dawn of a new hope way back then.

Amidst the ebb and flow of empires the kingdom of God was established… the rule of God came to the realms of humanity… NT wright puts it like this “Augusts way off in Rome was at the height of his power. He was seen as the saviour of the world> he was its king and it’s Lord. He was the self-styled son of god. .. But the birth of the baby is the starting point of a confrontation between the kingdom of God in all its apparent weakness, insignificance and vulnerability and the kingdom of this world.”

It’s important for us to know that because of Jesus Christ, his birth, life and death and resurrection the kingdom of God has come into the world… there is a light for all humanity. God has made a way for us to have our sins forgiven and to know God as our heavenly father, to be empowered to live in a new way. In the daunting news from round the world that floods into our living rooms and which can sometimes overwhelm us it is good to know that an alternative narrative is also at work. Maybe not in the grandiose and big ways, but like with a birth of a baby in ways that may go unnoticed.  I read an article last week about someone who was wondering how Jesus born in a manger might feel about religious rituals, soring cathedrals and multimedia palaces that have been erected in his name… Then the writer stopped and said that the things that focused him on Jesus again were the small things, being done by ordinary people, sacrificial love being shown by those who claim to know and follow Jesus… he noted with respect and awe that the Time Person of the year this year is not one person of power or significance but a group of people a majority of them Christians working with the victims of Ebola in West Africa.

The kingdom and hope born with that baby in Bethlehem is established in this world by people who know him and follow him who are willing to love others, often un heralded and unseen… people who  because they are forgiven forgive others, who because they have received so much from God are willing to give people who know the freedom and life that Jesus brings are willing like the shepherds to simply tell other what they have witnesses to be true.

t is also a timely reminder of a timeless message in New Zealand today… because today marks the 200th anniversary of the proclamation of the gospel in Aotearoa New Zealand. Before your Christmas lunch today at 11am you might want to flick on the TV and see the live telecast of the Christmas day service from the Marsden cross at Rangihoua Bay in northland.  Ruatara the nephew of ngapuhi chief Hongi Heke had spent time with Samuel Marsden in Parramatta new south wales, he appreciated the kindness and respect he was shown so he invited MArsden to come to New Zealand and establish a Mission. Marsden preached the first service on Christmas day 1814.  Maori and Pakeha first lived together in that place the first school was established on that site.  It is good to have a timely reminder this Christmas about the impact and the possibility of the gospel here in our land.

In an increasingly multicultural city and nation it is important to remember that the gospel invites us to see one another as ‘One in Christ’… whanau because we are Brothers and sisters… as John tells us  the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and  to all who received him he gave the right to be called the sons and daughters of the most high.”

  In a country beset with inequality and a nation and world wrestling with how to deal with poverty, it good to be reminded that the good news of Jesus birth was shared first with lowly shepherds that the one who came to establish his kingdom and said blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God.

In the face of sin and death it is good to again reminded of the power of the gospel to bring forgiveness and new life.

In the face of feeling hopeless in the face of so many things it is good to remember the hope of the kingdom of God, established in Christ carried by Christ in the lives of those who know him and awaiting consummation in Christ’s return.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Make Haste (Luke 2 1-18) Christmas eve 2014

Right after Christmas I went on Holiday and Didn't post my Christmas eve or Christmas day messages... better late than never... happy new year and welcome back to work... Sigh...
As I sat down and read Luke’s account of Jesus Birth four words stood out to me “so they hurried off” … I couldn’t get past them because, taken out of context, they summed up a lot of how people talk about Christmas time and the  emotions and reality that goes with this time of year.

Life seems to speed up…we hurry off… there is the hurry of exams and end of school things, the end of work dos… then we hurry to finish off the shopping, and the planning and the wrapping and the decorating and the baking and getting ready for the supposedly leisurely, relaxed Christmas family gatherings and end of year celebrations…  

We hurry to finish everything off so we can go away on our summer holidays and relax. We hurry to complete all those jobs that need doing, the end of year accounts, the things that just won’t wait till we get back, and telling those who will just have to wait till we get back that they will just have to wait till we get back.

Sadly the news has told us of the hurry of the Salvation Army and the City Mission to pack food parcels and get ready to feed lots of people and try to keep pace with the amount of need they are being asked to meet this year

… and on the other side of the coin on the news we were told that retailers were waiting for that Christmas rush to kick in, hoping that we all would hurry off to their store and buy, buy, buy. 

Last Saturday it seemed to have kicked in because it was bumper to bumper down the motorway as people seemed to be hurrying somewhere to do something, but no one was getting anywhere in a hurry.

And a lot of them must of hurried off on holiday because on Monday morning I was waiting at the pedestrian crossing on Great South Road and normally it’s the ironically slow crawling congestion of rush hour…but it seemed like the city was deserted… our part of Auckland was like a sleepy country town… in fact the only vehicle waiting at the lights was an old Massey-Ferguson tractor.  

In the midst of our ‘and they hurried off’ we can miss the context of those words we can miss the wonder of the coming of Jesus Christ. In a devotion I read recently the author talked of trying to de-clutter and de stress his December… To make room for the important things… His family and celebrating his faith… But sadly he wasn’t managing to do it, he was defeated in his efforts. This story comes from the northern hemisphere and one of things that really concerned him was that he would miss his young son’s preschool midwinter production as it clashed with a business meeting.  When he had mentioned this to his son’s teacher she had said that parents who couldn’t make it to the production were able to come to the dress rehearsal on the morning of the show.

Relieved he went along and watched as his son and the other children preformed classic secular Christmas songs like Rudolf the red nosed reindeer and jingle bells… But he was also aware that he had to keep an eye on the time… he’d have to hurry off afterwards. The kids last song was called  Christmas Love and they stood along the stage holding cards with letters they had decorated  to spell that out… but the shy young girl holding the “M” had held her card up upside down so it formed a “w”… the man said in that God reached through his lso they hurried off’  to focus him again on  what was of paramount importance You see it spelled out “ Christ was Love”

And you know when you come to a midnight Christmas Eve service the last thing you want to be reminded of is the ‘so they hurried off” of life. I’m sorry for doing that but there is something in those words, when we view them in context that are important for us…

We are so used to the Christmas story that we forget that Christ’s birth almost went without notice that first Christmas. It wasn’t even a blip on the busy world stage of its day. Luke starts his account quit rightly with who the world would have said was the most important person the roman emperor Caesar Augustus. He had come to power after a bloody civil war between his father Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony and quite rightly could be seen in roman eyes as the saviour of the world, the roman world, and the prince of peace, pax roma, won and maintained by over whelming military power.  He definitely wanted the title ‘lord” and as he set up the worship of his father as a god he could even clay claim the title ‘son of god’. He asserted his authority by declaring a census… He wanted everyone to register so they could be taxed, he had an empire and an army to maintain. 

So everyone had to hurry off to their town of birth to register, Even Joseph and Mary, even though Mary was pregnant, and it was such an upheaval that all the guest house rooms were booked solid. And in all the hurry it would be easy to miss another four words that as a father of Four I can tell you demand our attention… “The time came for …” the time came for Mary’s son was born.   In the humblest of circumstance a new King was being born, in the humblest of circumstance the true king was being born, in the humblest of circumstances a saviour was born not to save a political or social system in this world but rather as Mary was told to save God’s people from their sins.  Not to do quash conflict and resistance but to bring about peace with God and through that a chance to be reconciled with each other. The true Lord, because as John tells us in this child Gods word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.

It could have gone unnoticed except for angels appearing to a group of shepherds, people on the margin of their society,  who were going about their everyday or every night work, watching their sheep, caring for their flock. They are told the good news a descendant of David, a king is being born, who is the saviour and the Lord, and that they will find him lying in a manger in an animal’s feeding trough. 

When the angel left it tells us ‘so they hurried off’ they hurried off to see what they had been told was true, and when they found the baby they knew it was true. And their hurrying off is an example for us of how to respond to the Good News of Christ birth and who he is and what he has come to do for us… They hurried to see if it was true… It is an example for us in our lives to come look and see… to come and to see and to know and to put our trust in the one who is God's chosen king and saviour… Jesus Christ. For them it was a one off event but for us it is a continuing journey… to come and see Christ the Child...yes... but to come and to see Christ the man who spoke of grace and God’s truth, a new way to live … to come and see the one who gave his life on the cross… that all we had done wrong could be forgiven…  to see Jesus raised from death and alive again… to come and see Jesus who invites us to follow him.

The shepherds didn’t stop hurrying once they have seen it is true… they hurry off to tell anyone who would listen about what they had seen and heard and about what they knew… They are witnesses to who Jesus is.  They return to their everyday life, their every night work giving thanks and praising God. To come and to see the truth of who Jesus, born in a manger is, is to be changed and transformed to become conveyers and witnesses to that Good News. To give thanks and praise to God for who Jesus is and what he done for us…  May you take the time this Christmas to stop and be still… and then to hurry off… and see and know Christ…