Biting off more than we can chew.

Our lectionary – the set of lessons assigned to be read and preached on each Sunday – is already looking forward to the season of Lent. 

In Deuteronomy, we hear the clear call to God’s chosen people to persevere in following the Saviour, even after 40 years – practically a lifetime – of following through the desert, they once again are presented with a decision: here, on the banks of the Jordan River, with the promised land coming into view, they once again need to choose to follow or to stray, to choose what is really good over what merely makes them happy, to choose the abundant life that God has in store over the death and decay that awaits them if they follow their own devices.

And as if that wasn’t a strong enough warning, did you hear what St. Paul said to us in First Corinthians?  They were some pretty strong words.  In fact, if someone walked up to me and spoke to me like that, I’d be downright insulted.  Did you hear it?  Let me read it again.

“My brothers and sisters,” he writes – “I can’t even speak to you like adults.  You’re a bunch of babies.”

Ouch.  …But there’s more.

What’s he saying here?  ‘You think you’re so sophisticated, solving the world’s problems, and choosing the denomination or the worship style that fits you best’… but what does he say?

‘You babies are still drinking from bottles’.  I can’t even give you solid food, I have to give you milk in a sippy cup.  You’re no where near mature enough to discuss the things that matter.’

Now, as someone who has spent years studying the scriptures and learning theology, those words hit where it hurts.  And, I think, that’s the point – after all, the wisest minds and the purest hearts will tell you that, as long as we think we’ve got all the answers, we’re unable to learn anything of any value at all.

Rough lessons: even after a lifetime of obedience through the heat of the desert, choose this day whom you will serve; and then the stern message to grow up, to get over ourselves.

Well, you know what, maybe we can look to the words of Jesus in the Gospel to find something a little more encouraging. 

…but what do we find there today? 

Jesus says, ‘you think you’re doing alright because you aren’t a murderer?  Guess what,’ he says, ‘if you’ve ever been angry at your sibling, you’re as bad as a murderer, and if you’ve ever called your neighbour or that politician or that cashier at the store a fool, you’re fit for eternal punishment and utter separation from God.’

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve done alright this week with the murder bit, but – and confession is good for the soul – there’s not much easy encouragement for me here: I was dealing with CRA again this week, and let’s just say the words “you fool” crossed my mind more than once.

Well, let’s keep reading and see if it gets any better: Jesus says, “you think you’re doing alright because you haven’t committed adultery?  Just thinking about it is as bad as the act itself.” 

…Harsh words this week.

And what does this have to do with Lent?

Well, thanks be to God, Lent is meant to be an annual opportunity to hit the reset button on our journey as followers of Jesus.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about how we are to be shaped, conformed to match the pattern of humble obedience and sacrificial love set by Jesus.  And we’ve talked, at length, about how that isn’t a one time thing, but like arrows sent on a flight towards the target, when we land in the dirt, what we need is for God to pick us up, dust us off, gently bend us back into shape, and send us forth once again.

And, in that same vein, the inescapable point in today’s lessons is this: there is no “set it and forget it” option for our faith.  The journey is life-long, and indeed, continues even after death as it’s only then that we’ll fully know ourselves, as we are made fit to share in the perfect life of God in the new heavens and new earth that He is preparing for us.

More than a decision.

Or, to put it this way, the message this morning is that, “I have decided to follow Jesus” is great, but not if it stops there.  Jesus is leading us to share in that perfect love and obedience of God Himself, and after that decision to follow Jesus – even after a lifetime of following Jesus through what feels at times like a parched desert – the journey means committing daily to pick up our feet and follow. 

“Deciding” is just the first step. 

I can decide right now to go on vacation down South.  (Surprise, Kristina – you can come too!).

But that decision isn’t going to do me much good unless I buy a ticket.

But just having that ticket in my hand isn’t going to get me to Mexico unless I actually go and get on the plane.

But even that isn’t going to do me much good if I haven’t first gotten my passport in order, gone to the bank to get the right kind of money, and packed my bag with the stuff I’ll need.  And, though I don’t enjoy diet and exercise, and sometimes it even hurts in the moment, the destination will be more fun if I can actually fit in my swimsuit.

There’s more to a journey than simply deciding to go.

Childish rather than Child-like

And this is why Paul addresses us as spiritual babies.

When you’re a kid, your parents say “we’re going on vacation”.  And what does the kid say?  Does the kid say, “oh, well there’s a lot of work to be done first!  Make sure you get our passports and refill our medications, and call the credit card company… oh, and make sure you find someone to feed the cat, water the plants, and check the mail while we’re gone”.

No, the child says, “oh, a trip, I’m excited!”  And then goes back to drawing or building with Legos, and thinks only about the destination, perhaps bragging here and there to their other young friends about why their vacation is going to be the best one ever.

…But St. Paul tells us to grow up.

A child-like faith is sufficient, but we’re to imitate Christ as we grow in wisdom: we’re called to be wise as serpents, but innocent as doves.  We’re to move from our spiritual milk in a sippy cup to become mature, eating a healthy diet of solid food.

…But to do that, we’ve got to have a plan, a sensible progression.

Or, as we heard this morning, we’ve got to have a firm foundation in place first, and then and only then can we get to work building the rest of the house.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, laying a foundation is tedious and sometimes boring compared to the higher-level stuff.  Children like to tell stories, and have great imaginations.  No child enjoys sitting at a desk and tracing their lower-case letters.  But you’ve got to learn how to write your letters before you can write a story.

Sadly, all these years later, the Church isn’t much better at following St. Paul’s instruction to us.  We find ourselves in a Church, in a world, that wants to gobble down solid food, though we haven’t yet been weaned off our milk.  We’re literally biting off more than we can chew: we want to discuss what justice looks like, and the nature of love and marriage, and how differing religions can co-exist peacefully side-by-side; but, how many of us, if an unchurched stranger asked us to explain something as basic, as fundamental as the Apostles’ Creed, the Creed of your Baptism, would be able to do so?

And, so, Lent is an invitation.

No matter how long you have been in the Church, whether you’ve been worshipping Almighty God ever since you were a baby in your mother’s arms, or whether you’re a new member preparing for baptism, whether you’re a committed pillar of this congregation, faithful in daily prayer and study of the scriptures, giving generously of your time and resources to care for your brothers and sisters in Christ, or whether this is the first time you’ve heard this invitation, all of us – all of us – are invited to grow. 

Those who followed through the desert 40 years were invited to grow closer, to learn again what it means to choose good over evil. 

Those who had become experts in the law were invited to grow deeper, to go beyond commandments to learn what it really means to love someone, to wish and work for their ultimate eternal best.

Lay a firm foundation

And if you’ve ever built something – whether it’s a house or a shelf from Ikea – you know how important that foundation is.  If that first corner isn’t square, then there’s no hope for anything else to fit together and stand the test of time.

For there is no foundation that can be laid other than Jesus Christ, that stone which the builders rejected, but which has become the cornerstone, that sure foundation that can never be shaken.[1]

And no matter where we are in our journey, Paul’s message is for you and for me:  “grow up.  Get on with it.”  We have a destination, we have a story to tell to the nations… but there’s work to be done, and our bags aren’t going to pack themselves.

To God be the Glory. 

Collect:

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you:
Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness
we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your
grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please
you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer over the Gifts:
God of unchanging glory,
accept all we offer this day as a token of our lives which we
offer in your service. 
May this sacrament be our manna in the wilderness as we
commit to follow where you lead, this day, and forevermore.  


Prayer after Communion:
Almighty God, you have fed us with the spiritual food of the
body and blood of your Son Jesus Christ. 
Conform us to his likeness as we follow him in our earthly
pilgrimage.  This we ask in the mighty name of Jesus Christ
our Lord.  Amen.

An Exhortation to a Holy Lent
(Based upon the 1979 BCP, to be read before the final blessing)

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great
devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and
it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by an
annual season of self-examination, works of mercy, prayer,
study, and fasting.

Each year, the whole assembly of the faithful
was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set
forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all
Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

Our Lenten Observance will begin on Ash Wednesday, the 26th
day of February, on which all the faithful will gather unless
prevented by illness or other grave necessity.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word. In the coming days, consider how
you may best use this opportunity to grow to maturity in the faith;
and, if, in your preparation, there are weighty sins, the guilt of which
is too heavy to bear, then go and open your grief to a discreet and
understanding priest, that you may receive the benefit of absolution,
spiritual counsel and advise, the assurance of pardon, and the
strengthening of your faith. 

And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit, be with you this day, and remain with you forever more. 
Amen.


[1] 1 Cor 3:11; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16

Resistance in the face of Rebellion

Paul writes, “I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God in lofty words or wisdom … so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on the power of God”.

My friends: we’re in the midst of a war.

We’re in the midst of a civil war.

It’s not a new war; it’s the same rebellion that has been brewing since the dawn of time, since that first time that men and women thought that they knew better than God Himself, and like rebels throwing out the rightful king, tried to replace his authority with our own.

We’re in the midst of a war.

Isaiah, one of the messengers of the rightful king, sent behind enemy lines to proclaim the truth and call the rebels back to repentance, said this very clearly this morning:

“Cry out”, he said, “do not hold back!  Lift up your voice like a trumpet!  Announce to my people their rebellion, announce where they have missed the mark.”

You see, deep down at the heart of all our troubles, all the injustice, all the pain, the grand drama proclaimed by the scriptures all comes back to a simple point: we rebelled against the rightful king, and now find ourselves in rebel occupied territory; and God, the rightful king, patiently sends messengers to win us over to the truth, so that when he comes in glory to reclaim his throne, he finds us ready and willing to proclaim him king and share in the glory of his reign.

At the heart of our problems, at the heart of human suffering, is our rebellion; at the heart is our proclamation that we, not God, should be the masters of our lives.

And, as we’ve heard these past few weeks, God, the rightful king, has actually made the expectations pretty simple, so simple perhaps that we have a hard time accepting them.  As we heard last week, what does God require of us?  Does he want you to claw your way to the top?  Does he want you to worry and stress about tomorrow?  Does he want you to store up riches so you can trust in your wealth?  No!  You know what the Lord requires: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Does God have some complicated secret plan for our lives that we need to somehow discover?  No!  There’s one plan: to follow Jesus, to become Christ-like, to faithfully follow that path that hits the target, and when we go off course, to repent and try again.

We’re in the midst of a civil war.

And sometimes, it’s important for us to be reminded of that.

We need to be reminded because, throughout all of history, rebellions and civil wars all have one thing in common: they depend on misinformation.  Or, to use the up-to-date term, every civil war, including humanity’s age-old rebellion against God, is absolutely dependant on fake news.

Think about it: right back to the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, it’s misinformation, propaganda that sparks the rebellion.  “Don’t worry”, was the lie, “there aren’t really any consequences for tasting that one single tree that you were specifically told not to touch”.

Isaiah, too, is sent with his message to correct false reports and misinformation. The people had bought into the rebel propaganda: just go through these motions and all will be well.  But outward expressions are only effective if they reflect inward change. As Isaiah says, what’s the point of putting on sackcloth as a sign of humility if you’re going to strike your neighbour and, in your humility, trample down those who are oppressed?

No, throughout history, the messengers of God have been sent, in the midst of this rebellion, to remind us of the truth.

St. Paul, throughout his epistles, makes this point clearly:  worldly wisdom, “the wisdom of this age”, is an insufficient response to faith.  Worldly wisdom, the propaganda on which our world attempts to run itself, says that says that you need to work harder, to prove yourself, to seek revenge when someone does you wrong; worldly wisdom says that we need to keep up with our neighbours, and, at the end of the day, this rat race is all that there is, so eat, drink, and be merry, no matter who gets hurt in the process.

But, in the wisdom of God, true strength is made perfect in weakness.  In the wisdom of God, the strongest love is found in one who would lay down their life for another. 

God demonstrated his ultimate, unmatched power by taking on our flesh and destroying death itself, and then freely offering the same to us: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness in the eyes of the world, though we all know, deep down, that real power can’t be built on pride in relation to others.  Power that depends on keeping others weak isn’t true power at all.

We’re in the midst of a civil war, and we, St. Paul says, are those tasked with counteracting the misinformation of our age.

The Resistance

As many of us have been reading through Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, this idea of a civil war is one of his central images woven throughout the book.

As Christians, we find ourselves in enemy-occupied territory, as the world around us has gone along with the age-old rebellion against God.  And in the words of Lewis, our task is to be the loyal underground resistance, preparing the way for when the rightful king reclaims his throne.

Lewis was writing during World War II, and he uses the image of the French Resistance.  France was invaded by Nazi forces and, for any number of reasons that ultimately boil down to pride and promises of power, France surrendered and let Nazi rule reign. 

But, even as that happened, the Allies had a plan to drive back those forces. And a crucial part of that plan was the Resistance: normal, everyday people, living everyday lives, who were willing to hold on to the truth in the face of the propaganda and lies; people who were willing to work behind the scenes, freeing prisoners, providing food to the hungry; people who were willing to take risks in order to sabotage the destructive plans of the oppressors; people who were willing to work carefully so that, when the forces of freedom landed, they found faithful friends who had prepared the way for them. 

Now, it’s just an image, not to glorify a brutal human conflict. 

But if it’s true that our conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil is an epic rebellion against the rightful King, and that the powers of this world are those who have gone along with the propaganda and lies, then it’s a great image nonetheless.

Our work as the Body of Christ is to be the Resistance. 

We, like the prophets and apostles, are to speak the truth in love, confidently contradicting the propaganda of the powerful.  But, like the Resistance, we’re to speak the truth knowing, like St. Paul, that no amount of public debate or worldly philosophy is going to make sense to those who have bought into the worldly conception of power: it’s not loud debates, but a humble, steadfast life of justice and mercy that wins ground and proves the truth of our cause.

And, like the Resistance, we’re to sabotage the ways of the world.  Where the world teaches us to serve ourselves, we’re to sacrificially serve the needy.  Where the world teaches us to seek revenge, we’re to show mercy.   Where the world lives as though what you see is what you get, we’re to live with the confidence that we were created for more; that we were created, by God’s grace, to live with him, forever, and that the trajectory we set in this life – whether we’re following toward the target set by Christ, or whether we’ve set our own rebellious course – that trajectory set now leads us to our destination when the rightful king takes his throne, welcomed by those on his side, while the rebels are driven away.

You are salt and light.

This is a civil war, a rebellion, in a broken world.

And we, the Resistance, are to be salt and light.

But lest we be caught up in our modern world, let’s remember that salt isn’t primarily about flavour.  You don’t have to go back far – if you asked our grandparents and great-grandparents about the purpose of salt, the answer isn’t about flavour, but preservation.

Salt keeps your meat from spoiling.  Salt dries and pickles your produce to keep it over winter. 

We, the Body of Christ, are the salt of the earth: our mission, during this rebellion against God and his truth, is to keep it from spoiling.

And we’re the light of the world, a city on a hill: a signal fire defiantly burning in the night, showing the rightful King that we’re here, that we’re ready; and as we live, as our faith produces good works, that light invites those around us to join our side, to turn from the prideful propaganda, and lay down their rebel arms.

For, as Isaiah said, when this conflict is ended, when the Lord reclaims the throne and welcomes those who prepared the way, he’ll rebuild what was lost: paradise will be restored, and as the temples of greed and power tumble, the ancient ruins of justice and mercy will be rebuilt, and we, the faithful resistance, will be called the repairers of the breach, and the restorers of the city.

We’re in the midst of a civil war, a rebellion built on misinformation and pride.  We’re gathered here to be strengthened by God’s grace, to receive our marching orders.  The question is: will we have the faith to carry out our mission, to confidently contradict the prideful propaganda around us?  Will we have the faith this week to sabotage the works of injustice and oppression? 

We are the salt and the light: and, by God’s grace, this mission depends on us.

To God be the glory now and forevermore.  Amen.

What does He expect?

He has shown you, O Mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

As we continue through these Sundays after Epiphany, we ought to be reminded that one of our primary tasks as Christians is to be an epiphany for those around us – God not only invites us, but wants to use us to reveal Himself to our friends and neighbours.  And that revelation, our task of bringing the message of God in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, is something we’re all expected to do, both in word and in deed; really, one of the questions we should ask ourselves before, during, and after every interaction with another person is, “are my words, are my actions, revealing God’s truth right now?  Are they showing God’s mercy?”  That’s our task, whether we’re having small talk at the grocery store or whether we’re hearing a bit of juicy gossip; are my words revealing God’s truth and mercy, even when I’m arguing about garbage disposal fees over at town hall?

We are to be epiphanies to those around us.

And, as we heard a couple of weeks back, the work God is doing is to make us as polished arrows in his quiver; arrows made to follow the pattern of Jesus, arrows that are able to fly straight and true and hit the target set in front of them.

After all, sin, as we know, is “missing the mark”, falling short of the target.  And the work of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God, is to pick us up when we repent and ask for another shot, as we’re slowly bent back into shape so that we can fly as we were intended.

So this morning, that brings us to the question of how.

We’re to be an epiphany, we’re to hit the target set by Christ, but how do we do that?  What does that look like?

The surprisingly simple response:

A beautifully simple answer comes to us this morning from the prophet Micah, chapter 6.  Micah is speaking to the people of God who, once again, have misunderstood their task.  The people came to worship, they sang the good old hymns, they recited the prayers, they brought the right offerings just as their parents and their teachers taught them, but in spite of doing all the right stuff, there was a problem.  Their religion wasn’t working.  The God-given religion intended to put things right between humankind and God, the God-given religion intended to be a light so that all the nations of the earth would be drawn in to experience God’s glory, wasn’t doing what it was intended to do.

In Micah chapter 6, the prophet lays out the case against the people.  The Lord God kept his side of the bargain, his end of the covenant: he freed his people from Egypt, he led them into the promised land, he protected them when their enemies plotted against them.  Yet, while his people kept the outward demands of the law, their obedience ended there; the law, the discipline which was supposed to shape their hearts and minds so that they could be polished arrows in God’s quiver wasn’t working because their obedience was limited to the outward physical actions, it wasn’t allowed to sink in.

Now, it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap that many Christians have fallen into over the ages.  Some Christians, some great Christian minds, have looked back and said, “oh, the problem is that they were being outwardly obedient; God doesn’t care about the outside, he cares about the heart”.

And, I mean, I suppose that’s a nice thought; except that the whole of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, totally disagree.  Nowhere are we taught that we’re to toss away outward actions in favour of a purely mental or “spiritual” religion – quite the opposite, it’s our bodies, not our minds or hearts, that are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we don’t believe in the resurrection of the mind, but of the whole person, body included.  “Heaven”, the New Jerusalem where Christ is even now preparing us a home, is described as a city, with streets, and doors, and rivers, and trees, and tasty fruit on those trees. 

God made us, body and soul, and the whole point of the empty tomb at Easter is that our bodies, this physical world, matters.  After all, God made it and declared it good, and is restoring it so it will be made perfect.

The problem is not that God’s people were engaged in their God-given physical acts of worship; the problem is that they were stubbornly going through the motions without their outward obedience shaping their hearts and minds into the people God desired them to be, a people that revealed himself to the world, in thought, word, and deed.

It’s about alignment

True obedience means that both the outward and the inward are aligned.Like the arrow, being repaired and re-worked to hit its target, the whole thing needs to be aligned for the arrow to stay on course.  And when your trajectory, when your journey, is spread out in front of you, even the smallest change in that alignment is going to have a huge impact on where you land.

Let me tell you a little story.  The other night, Kristina and I went out to play a round of darts.  Now neither of us are darts champions by any stretch, and she’s much better than I am, but it’s all in good fun.  I gave her the little case of darts, hers have a French flag on the flight, mine have the good old Union Jack.  We went in to play, and somehow, two of mine fell out in the van on the way.  It was cold, and our coats were off, so instead of going out to get them, I borrowed some darts, and the first thing I noticed is that they were way lighter.  And, you know what?  It doesn’t take much to change your trajectory.  We started playing – I hit the wall, one ended up on the floor. 

It doesn’t take much, even a small change, can change how that arrow flies. 

Even a small change on our part can be used by God in incredible ways.

So how, exactly do we conform ourselves to that pattern set by Christ? 

In Micah we read, “he has shown you, O Mortal, what is good.
What does the Lord require? 
to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”.

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

Now let’s be clear – these aren’t three boxes to check: it’s not about doing some just actions, enjoying the thought of mercifulness, and staying humble and kind. 

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly are not actions, but the trajectory, the course, that we’re on.  Those describe our journey, our race to run, our flight toward the target.

And the problem and challenge is that, if we do one or two of those, without doing all three, we’ll miss the mark.

Examples of this are easy to find.  Even in the Church today, there are those who work tirelessly for justice in our society and strive to show mercy to those on the margins, but if that’s done without humility, if that’s done without the recognition that we’re all sinners in need of that mercy, then it misses the mark.

If you’re humbly preaching the message of God’s mercy, but you leave out the justice that God requires – if you leave out right and wrong, and repentance – then it misses the mark.

If you’re the humblest person in the world, and like the people to whom Micah wrote, you do all the right and just actions, but in your heart you refuse to show mercy, to really, truly forgive as you’ve been forgiven, then in spite of everything looking right on the outside, it misses the mark.

As we recited together this morning in the Psalm, who can actually stand in the heavenly city, who can actually stand in the dwelling place of God?

The one who leads a blameless life and does what is right; who speaks the truth and means it; the one who loves his neighbour, yet rejects those who are wicked and honours those who fear the Lord; those who give their money regardless of if they’ll get something in return; one who keeps his promises.  One who is on a trajectory, on a path, on a journey through life that is defined by just actions, a love of mercy, and humble obedience to God.

The vision:

And, what would happen if we managed to do this?  What would happen if God’s people to whom Micah wrote were, by God’s grace, able to live as God required?

Well, in short, they would live as God intended – not for their own sake, but as a revelation, an epiphany to the world: they would be a light to enlighten the nations, drawing the world to God.

If we lived as God intended – act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God – then, in short, we would look different.  We would look different from the world around us.  We would be a people, a church, that stood out, that attracted attention, like a city on a hill, or a lamp in a dark room.

If we lived this way, not as boxes to check, not saying “two out of three ain’t bad”, but combining justice, mercy, and humility, then we would be a Church, a community, that reflected the Beatitudes, we would be a community where those whom the world despises – the poor, the meek, those who mourn, those hungering for righteousness, the pure, those striving for peace, those who are persecuted – are not despised, but are known to be blessed, not just because they have favour with God, but because the Church, the Body of Christ, is gathered around them, blessing them, carrying their burdens.

What does the Lord require?

He wants you to be an epiphany.  He’s shaping and re-shaping you to hit the mark.  And he wants us to fly the course marked by justice, mercy, and humble obedience.

And… like those darts.  It might take some practice, but even the smallest change you make today can totally change where your arrow ends up. 

To God be the Glory, now and forevermore.  Amen.

It’s not a plan to fit you; He invites you to fit the plan.

The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. Isaiah 49

One of the constant themes carried throughout scripture is the simple truth that God has a plan, that each of us has a role to play.

From the first chapter of Genesis, the point being made is that, no matter how things may look from our limited perspective, this universe didn’t spring into being by chance; that, no matter how we understand the details, life and being and even our consciousness don’t just spring up within ourselves, but are gifts that we receive.

And, even life itself – all the joys and all the struggles and pains – doesn’t just exist by chance; no, we believe, we confess, that we’re here, ultimately, because God desired to make a creature in his Image, a creature capable of reason, and real, true love; the only sort of real love that is found in freely putting someone else ahead of yourself.

We’re not here by accident; and God has a plan.

But, it’s important not to hear that the wrong way.  It’s easy to suggest – and certainly there are shelves and shelves of “Christian self-help” books that say – that we should just get on with being happy: “don’t worry, God has a great plan for your life, and he’ll reveal it in His time”.

And I can certainly see why that’s a popular idea.

But it simply isn’t true – it isn’t what we find in the scriptures.  Not at all.

We’re not taught by God’s Word that God has an infinite number of individualized plans tailored to make us happy.  That’s the stuff of pop psychology, that’s the stuff of the easy, no-strings-attached, fake “love” that offers momentary happiness but requires no sacrifice, but it’s not what God has revealed through the ages, through scripture, and through his Church.

God has a great plan, but it’s not a plan with my fleeting feelings of happiness in mind.  How ridiculous, how small-minded, how pridefully arrogant to imagine that out of the history of this 4-and-a-half billion-year-old earth, whether or not I feel happy at this moment of my 70 or 80 or 90 short years is the sum total of “God’s plan”.

No, what scripture teaches us, and what the Church needs to recover and remember is that God most certainly has a plan – an eternal, unchanging purpose, from the foundation of the world, to draw men and women into loving relationship with himself, made possible as our sins and the disobedience and fallen nature of the whole world are made right by the free offering of Christ made in love upon the cross.

That’s the one plan.  There’s no guesswork required.  That one plan, to be in relationship with Him and restore creation is exactly what God is doing as he works through the ups and downs of our lives in this messy world. 

It’s not that God has some individualized plan for each of us to discover, some plan which happens to fit our desires, our likes and dislikes, a personalized plan that pats us on the back and tells us to just be ourselves.

Rather, God’s plan is eternal and universal, and instead of telling us to find a plan that fits, he invites us to fit the plan.

That’s a much deeper message, but even a moment of thought should prove it’s truth: the God who created us to experience true love, the love that only exists in sacrifice, in offering our own will and our good for the sake of another, it’s He who invites us to experience that love, to grow into that love, by offering ourselves for His sake.

The God who knew you while you were still in your mother’s womb, the one unto whom all hearts are open and from whom no secrets are hid, invites you not to “discover his plan for your life”, but to take a part, to play a role, in his one, eternal and unchanging plan of drawing the world into relationship with Him through Jesus, his Son.  That’s quite an invitation.

Arrows have a purpose.

In that wonderful lesson from Isaiah 49, we hear the prophet speak in wonderfully poetic terms about how God has fitted us, before we were even born, for the work he would give us to do.

In the second verse of that passage, he uses the image of an arrow.  God, pictured as a mighty warrior breaking down the forces of evil, carefully and intentionally prepares his kit for battle. 

This warrior doesn’t stumble into battle unprepared and wonder what he can use as a weapon, hoping to find something that will do the job.

No, before the battle begins, he’s prepared.  “He made me”, the prophet says, “like a polished arrow; and he put me in his quiver”, ready for the day of battle.

And each arrow has a role to play in that battle plan. 

And, contrary to popular belief, it’s really not as though each arrow has to think too hard to discover its’ purpose.

The purpose of an arrow is simple – to fly straight and true, to fly far and fast, and to hit the bullseye. 

That’s the purpose for which it was made, for which it was taken out of the quiver, loaded into the bow and shot forth.

It’s not as though certain arrows were built with a different purpose in mind.

No, God has prepared us, all of us, as arrows in his quiver, carefully and skilfully aimed toward the target.

The question is, once the archer releases the arrow, will the arrow stay on course?

Missing the mark.

The word which we translate in English as “sin” has a pretty mixed history in the church – some even today still have the false idea of “sins” as bad deeds put into a big old fashioned balance, where we must hope that we have enough good deeds to outweigh the bad we’ve done. 

What foolishness. 

The word we translate as “sin” is άμαρτια, and it’s an archery term.  Literally, “sin” is defined as “missing the mark”.  Sin is when the arrow, aimed and released, fails to hit the target, not because the archer didn’t aim, but because the arrow was defective, or blown off course.

In this world where moth and rust eat away and destroy, all of us miss the mark.  And, all of us, we believe, will remain as useless, defective arrows unless and until we align ourselves to the pattern set by Jesus.  It’s in living a Christ-like life, in bending our will to match his, that we’re able to properly live into our role in that great, unchanging plan; to reach the target, to cross the finish line, and hear that great “well done, my good and faithful servant”.

God has a role prepared for us in his plan; and it’s not something hidden for us to discover; it’s something for us to step into as we bend our wills to match the loving example of sacrifice set by Christ.

What about my purpose?

Sometimes, sadly, people let their whole life pass them by while searching for some deep “purpose”, when it was there all along, when, every day, God was calling us to faithfully fulfil the work he had given us to do, to conform ourselves to the pattern he gave, and to simply hit the target ahead of us.

For Andrew and Peter, it was as simple – and as life changing – as responding to Jesus’ invitation: “come and see”.  That was an invitation to follow the path towards the target.

They could say, “no thanks, we’re good”, they could say “sorry, we’ve got plans – it’s the weekend and I need some time to unwind with the guys”; they said yes, they hit the target, and as they walked with Jesus, yes, they missed the mark again and again, but repented and returned to the Lord, and as they were dusted off, reshaped, and sent forth again, they became the arrows which carried the piercing message of forgiveness and peace to the ends of the earth.

God has a plan, and it’s not a mystery.  It’s an unchanging plan to restore creation and draw the whole world to himself. 

God has invited you and me to play a part.

We, all of us, have missed the mark. 

Now we have a choice to make; we can lie in the dust beside the target, rationalizing why we’re here, inventing a reason why we should stay in the dust; or we can accept the offer to be picked up, dusted off, reshaped and refashioned, and have another shot at following the path set by Christ, and by his grace, this time hit the target, and on the way, bring his message to the ends of the earth.

May God grant us grace to live according to his purpose.  Amen.

The God who saves through water

Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Now, let it be so; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17

The Baptism of Jesus

This week the Christian Calendar used by the Church around the world brings us to the celebration of Jesus’ baptism.  We began in Advent with the promises that the Anointed One – that God’s Son – would come into the world, we celebrate that first coming at Christmas, and then last week, with Epiphany we celebrated God’s revealing of himself not just to the Jewish nation, but to the world.

Now, today, we fast forward some 30 years to the start of Our Lord’s public ministry, where he’s revealed not just to prophets and scholars, to his parents and shepherds, but is revealed publicly to all who were there to hear “This is my beloved Son” echoing through the clouds.

And, of course, it’s a significant day for us, too.  After all, baptism is our entry into the Body of Christ; it’s the sacrament that sets us apart and identifies us as Christians – together with a life that cooperates with the Holy Spirit to live a Christ-like life, asking for forgiveness when we mess up.

But, if we stop to think about it, the baptism of Jesus raises some questions.

Baptism for Repentance of Sin

John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin on Mary’s side, was a very strange man by any account.  He lived in the desert wearing a cloak of camel skin and eating only grasshoppers and wild honey: I’m thinking he’s the kind of guy who turned heads and probably left a bit of a stench when he walked by.

Now, he started his ministry a couple years before Jesus, announcing that he was preparing the way for the Lord, the Anointed One of God.  And, with that, he called people to confess their sins and to be baptized – to be washed – in the waters of the Jordan River.

And, the bulk of his message as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel is that it simply isn’t enough to claim to belong to God’s family without living a life that is in accordance with God’s will.

So, one day, Jesus comes to be baptized.

But wait a second.  Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus, scripture assures us, is like us in every way except for sin.  If there’s one person ever who didn’t need baptism, wouldn’t that be Jesus?  In our Gospel lesson today, even John the Baptist is confused: it says, “John tried to deter him, saying, ‘No, it is I who need to be baptized by you; why are you coming to me?”

To find the answer, I want to suggest that maybe there’s more to baptism than meets the eye.

Saving through water: not just a New Testament idea.

You see, if we study the whole story of God’s salvation as one continuous action, rather than picking and choosing what we read, we find that this isn’t the first time God uses water to save his people. 

As we said last week, our God is in the business of revealing himself those who seek him – that’s something he’s done throughout history, and it’s something he wants to use you and me to do even today.  (Which reminds me: how have you done being an Epiphany, a revelation of God to someone who is searching this past week?)

But, together with God showing himself to those who seek him, from the beginning, he’s in the business of offering himself to be in relationship with his creation.  He does that, we’re told, in covenants – in promises made – in which the Almighty God of heaven and earth offers us his boundless blessing and mercy in exchange for our recognition that he is Lord; in exchange for our trust and loyalty, but more importantly, our acknowledgement that when we don’t trust him, when we forget that he’s Lord, we’re in the wrong, and we need to ask for forgiveness.

We see this even from the very beginning.

On the very first page of our Bibles, in just the second sentence, we see God the Holy Spirit working through water.  God, wanting to make a creature in his Image, a creature capable of true love and sacrifice, a creature capable of choosing good over selfishness, created a home for us, a home – even the most worldly of scientists would tell us – is special, not because of rock, or an atmosphere, but because it has been shaped by the water that sustains life as we know it.

From the beginning, God is at work, “the Spirit of God hovering over the waters”, to create a home for us to live in relationship with Him.  And, from the beginning, he reveals himself to those first people, and offers himself to them, reaches out to them, inviting them into a covenant: ‘you can live in this paradise if you trust me as God, and you’ll show your trust by not touching that one tree – the rest is yours.’ 

Of course, we know how that chapter ends: we’re not happy with the 99.9% we were given, but broke that one simple rule, even though we knew that choosing to live apart from God would cost us dearly.

Time goes on, as some choose to live for the one true God who revealed himself in creation, while most others choose to live for themselves.  Then, God reveals himself and offers himself in relationship to us in a man called Noah, and his family.

Humanity, we’re told, had become murderous, obsessed with killing for power.  God offers himself to Noah, and tells him, and his sons, and their wives to be fruitful and multiply and fill the land, on the condition that they remember that each life is made in God’s image, and therefore no person should kill another.[1]

And how did God enact that covenant?  How did God offer salvation to Noah, and bring he and his family to their promised land?  He saved them through water; mighty waters of death that destroyed all in their path – except, for those whom God had called and carried through, those same waters became a fresh start, a new life, a new chance to live according to God’s will.

Time goes on, thousands of years pass, and God has chosen Abraham and his descendants to be the chosen people through whom he will reveal himself to the world.  This chosen family find themselves in Egypt where, over generations, they become enslaved. 

Again, God reveals himself – this time to Moses – and God offers himself to be in relationship with them; offering freedom and blessing and mercy in exchange for their trust and loyalty.  The people set off on their journey of trusting God, and find themselves trapped, with the sea on one side and an angry army on the other.  And, once again, God uses water to save his people: his chosen people are those who walked through the sea on dry land, while the army is drowned as the tide washes over them.

Of course, we know how this chapter goes – those chosen people saved from slavery were particularly bad at keeping the “trust and loyalty” part of their covenant.  In the desert they were afraid that they would starve, even though God provided food and water for them, and then they had the gall to complain about the food they were given!

God promised them a land overflowing with crops and cattle and milk and honey, but they hadn’t trusted; after 40 years, God raised up Joshua to take Moses’ place and lead his people to the promised land.  But there was a problem; the river – the Jordan River – was in their way. 

This, we read in Joshua 3[2] was an opportunity: an opportunity for God’s people to consecrate themselves, to make a fresh start in choosing to live according to God’s will for their lives, to live as his chosen people.  And, once again, God is saving his people through water.  They consecrate themselves in accordance with the Law, the priests enter into the flowing water and stand there, as the water dries up as everyone – toddlers, old men and old ladies – crosses the river without harm, arriving in the promised land.

Our own Baptism

God works through water.  And, in Jesus, we’re all invited into those waters of baptism.

But, what is offered is no mere bath, nor a simple “symbol” for a fresh start, nor even just the washing away of sin, of which Jesus had no need.

Our God, the one in the business of revealing himself, calls people made in his Image to enter into covenant with him; the covenant in which we receive his blessing and mercy in exchange for our trusting him as our Lord, and repenting when we live as though we’re lord of our own lives.

Jesus had no sins for which to be forgiven.  But, as he responded to John’s objection, his baptism is necessary, not for Jesus’ sake, but for ours – to fulfill all righteousness, as he shares our humanity.

As Jesus rises from the waters, he is revealed as God’s Son, as the perfect Son of Man, the one who succeeds in keeping God’s Law where all others have failed, the one who death cannot hold, and whose destruction of the gates of death opens the path of life; and he invites us not to a mere symbolic bath, but to enter into covenant with him, to enter into covenant with the God who, from the beginning, saves through water.

In baptism we are buried with Christ and raised to share in his resurrected life; in baptism the bonds that hold us to the fallen world are cut free and we are given a fresh start – just as with Noah, and Moses, and Joshua. 

But, it isn’t magic.  It’s a covenant.  And covenants, like any relationship, have expectations.  Blessing and mercy – boundless, unending mercy from Christ’s sacrifice of himself – offered in exchange for our trust and loyalty – a trust that knows that, when we’ve broken that loyalty, we need only to ask for forgiveness to receive his grace.

Christ’s baptism, paving the way for our baptism, joins us to God’s covenant people, the Church, the Body of Christ.

…And, maybe, in the years since your baptism, you, like the people of Israel, have lost that trust, or at times forgotten that God is to be Lord in your life.  The good news, though, is that God is unchanging – he’s the same yesterday, today, and forever – and even if we let down our end of the deal, even if we forgot our promises made at baptism, even if our parents or godparents broke their promises made on our behalf, God is still keeping his: he’s standing, arms wide open, waiting to receive back the one who turns to him for mercy.

God saves through water.  You’ve been washed, made a new creation in Jesus.   God stands ready to keep his end of the bargain, to forgive and bless and call you a son or daughter of his kingdom – all that’s left is for us to really, truly, confess our sins, and live for our Lord.


[1] Genesis 9

[2] Joshua 3

Cover image: Baptism of Christ by Daniel Bonnell

Called to be an Epiphany

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ; that occasion over two thousand and twenty years ago when non-Jewish astronomers and philosophers from Persia read the Hebrew scriptures and took note that the God of Israel had promised to send a king to sit on David’s throne, who would be a great priest and anointed one who would save his people from the consequences of their sin and disobedience.  Then, these scholars of their day noticed a bright light in the sky – one theory suggests that what they saw was the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on August 12th in the year 3 B.C., a pattern that repeated 10 months later on June 17th, perhaps coinciding exactly with the time it would take to prepare for a journey, travel 800 kilometers across the desert, and then wait for an audience with King Herod.

The Epiphany – a word that means “a life-changing discovery”, a great insight, or a big “eureka” moment – is the realization that God’s promise that he would work through Israel to reveal himself to the entire world had happened with the birth of Jesus.

All of the Old Testament promises that God would bless the whole world through Abraham; that Jerusalem would not just be a holy city for the Jewish nation, but would be a beacon on a hill shining forth light and life for all the world to see; that the true glory of Israel would be in enlightening the nations with the truth of God’s mercy and love.  This is the “eureka” moment, the realization that all of this is finally happening, that this Holy Child is indeed God’s Son, uniting God’s nature with human nature so that he can blaze a new path for humanity, a path of humble obedience that leads to life in place of the age-old path of pride that leads to death.

Who knew a bright light in the sky could mean so much?

Epiphany is a big deal.

For much of the Christian Church around the world, ourselves included, today marks the beginning of a season of Epiphany, a season from today until the start of Lent in which we focus on how Christ is revealed for the world to see, and how we are to respond.

And Epiphany is a big deal – especially for us gathered here today.

We probably never stop to think about it, but Christmas – that major celebration of the promised Messiah, God’s own Son, coming to earth – only applies to us because of the Epiphany.  After all, as far as I know, none of us in this room are the biological descendants of Abraham, members by birth of the Hebrew people in accordance with the law given to Moses.  It’s only by the grace of God, and his revelation of himself to the whole world and not just the Jewish nation, that we’re invited to be included in God’s great work of redemption! 

It’s only by the grace of God… and that’s a key point we read in today’s Gospel as we hear of the wisemen coming to King Herod at Jerusalem – our relationship with God, our status in God’s covenant community, is not something that we can take for granted.

Just picture it: There in Jerusalem you have the beautiful, carved stone palace for the king, sitting on a hill on the western side of the city, almost directly across from the great Temple on the mountain of the Lord on the city’s east side.

Statues and art and tapestries depict the king’s greatness, while by this point, all the trappings of the Roman Empire are also displayed, while the soldiers in their blood-red tunics and bronze armour stand guard. 

The king sits surrounded by the highest ranking priests and the expert teachers of the Old Testament law, those who see themselves as the exclusive keepers and interpreters of God’s will for the world.

And then, a messenger comes in and says “Your Majesty, there’s a group of foreign scholars here to see you.”

And this is where it gets interesting. 

I’m sure they make an appointment and then enter in with all the pomp and circumstance you would expect in a royal palace; King Herod is sitting on a platform, I’d say he’s surrounded by his high-ranking advisors, and then what do these wisemen say?  “Your Majesty… what a splendid palace you have, and thank you so much for your hospitality to us.  Now, O King, please tell us where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?”

Can you imagine the look on Herod’s face?

The lesson we read this morning says that he was “disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him”, but I think that’s putting it politely.  Imagine a foreign contingent arriving at a royal palace to celebrate the birth of the heir to the throne, except the king and his wife haven’t had a baby.

I’m sure they were politely removed from the room as the King totally lost it.  Yelling at his advisors, “what do they mean?  I’m the king of the Jews!  What’s this star they’re talking about?”

The chief priests and the legal experts come together, perhaps shaking in their boots, embarrassed and now fearful of the King’s notoriously short temper.  Trying to save face, they say, “oh yes, of course, we know what they’re talking about… there are some old prophecies that we forgot about while we were going about our business and trying to get by in the modern Roman world – a ruler would come out of that farming town about 9 kilometers south of the city, the town of Bethlehem.

A great revelation with a solemn warning.

With the Epiphany comes an embarrassing warning for all of us.  God is in the business of revealing himself.  You would think that these chief priests and experts in the Old Testament law would be the first to notice and recognize when the prophesies are fulfilled, and how embarrassing that it’s not just people outside the royal household, but foreigners – those who aren’t even Hebrews – who are now teaching them their own religion. 

And it’s a warning to the Church, too.  When we, like them, become too caught up in the business of day-to-day life, when we become too worried about how we make our religion fit in a changing society, without being too costly or overbearing, lo and behold, the proud chosen ones are left behind as God carries on revealing himself to whoever is searching for him.

What happens next?  Well, Herod begins to weave a web of lies, feeling threatened that he may lose his worldly status – threatened to the point that he would lie and even kill innocent children to protect his so-called God-given right to rule.

Meanwhile, it’s foreigners, Gentiles, who fulfil the Old Testament prophecies with their gifts.  Gold, a gift fit for one who would be King of Kings and Lord of Lords; Frankincense, the incense burned by priests in the temple and still used by millions of Christians around the world in their worship today, demonstrating that Christ is the Great High Priest, the one foretold by prophets who is able to enter the heavenly sanctuary and offer the blood required for the price of sin; and myrrh, the perfumed oil of anointing, the oil used to anoint kings and prophets, the oil used to prepare bodies for burial, proclaiming that he is the Messiah – a word that literally means “the anointed one”. 

This is the Epiphany – the life-changing eureka moment that proclaims that Christ is the one who fulfills the Promises of God.

The Epiphany Challenge

But, we have a problem.

The anointed saviour of the nations, the light to enlighten all humankind has come into the world, but so many haven’t recognized him.  So many, like Herod and the priests, were so busy with their goals and priorities that they forgot what they had been taught; many more, I’m sure, were just worn down with the struggle of everyday life that, if they even noticed Venus and Jupiter lining to make a bright light in the sky, they thought “oh, that’s nice” and went on their way.

But God is in the business of revealing himself.

And one of his great revelations – a great epiphany – is that he doesn’t want to use lights in the sky or the movement of planets and stars, but now wants to use us instead.

Every person who is baptized, whether we realize it or not, is called to be an epiphany – a revelation of God to the world.  We are called to speak the truth and reveal the good news of God in Jesus just as that light in the sky called wisemen to cross the desert.  We’re all called to do that – some of us do it well, some of us really need to work on it, but, if you’re baptized, there’s no escaping that duty to reveal Christ to the world.

And as we start this new year together, this is an opportunity for each of us to reflect on how we’ve done.  God wants each of us to be that star that shines for those who are searching for truth, not pointing to ourselves, but leading the way to Jesus.

And how have we done? 

I can guarantee you that there are many who are searching.  Each of us rubs shoulders each week with those who have no direction in their lives, who are searching for meaning and purpose; each of us knows someone who is silently struggling, putting on a strong face to mask frustration, and disappointment, and pain; we’re all surrounded with people who, at the end of the day, feel like they don’t belong anywhere, like they don’t have anyone to really share their burdens. 

And how have we done with showing them the way?

When they look to us, do they find a light inviting them out of the darkness, or do they find us silent, or perhaps worse, do they find us bewildered ourselves as we, like the priests and teachers of the law, have missed the point of our own religion.

You are to be an epiphany; you are to be a revelation, a “eureka moment” for those you meet.  How many have we invited to church this year?  Or invited to Kids’ Club, or offered to pray with, or even offered for them to talk to your priest in their time of need?  Or do we only invite our friends to share our worldly concerns, to give us money for fundraisers, without inviting them to share in the benefits of belonging to a church family that cares?

These are big questions, but a new year is always a good time to start.

The point of Epiphany is that it’s only by the grace of God that we’re here; and that, one way or another, our great God is in the business of revealing himself to the world, and he wants us – he wants you to be a part of that. 

Now, are you willing to be that light, to be that Epiphany for those around you?

May God help us to respond, as with all our promises at baptism: I will, with God’s help.  Amen.

The Song of the Angels: God with us, even in our mess.

This Advent we’ve been focusing on the songs of Christmas – not “Jingle Bells” or “Deck the Halls”, but those ancient Christian hymns as found directly in the pages of scripture itself.

We looked at the great proclamation sung by Zechariah, that God can do the impossible for those who fully trust in him.   

Then we looked at Mary’s dramatic solo, where she, our Lord’s mother, proclaims her unshakable faith that God will keep his word to right the wrongs of the world; that unshakable faith that God will make all things new, beginning with breaking down our own pride.

And today we come to the most well known hymn of the scriptures – the song of the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

There are two things for us to notice in the angels’ song.  First, it’s “glory to God”.  Christmas, our salvation, and indeed all of creation is intended not to be an end in itself, but to demonstrate God’s glory and power. 

This is an important reminder as we contemplate our Lord in a manger.  This – this humble scene – is the One through whom all things were made stepping into his own creation. 

And it’s glorious – complete with animals, and stables, and jam-packed guesthouses.

Sometimes, we’re ashamed of our mess – and, to be sure there are times when we just need to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and clean up our act.  But, part of the glory of Christmas is that, while we might be ashamed of our mess, God isn’t.  Our God is so great that he’s content to be found in a noisy, smelly stable, making even that lowly place beautiful; and he’s content to enter into the noise and mess of my life, and, by his grace, make it a dwelling place fit for a king.

That’s the point.  “Glory to God in the highest” they sing, and “God finds glory” is the message, “even here”.

Peace on Earth

“Peace on earth to those on whom his favour rests”, we read.

This is one the world – and the popular Christmas songs – don’t get quite right. 
“Peace on earth, goodwill to men” is the message we hear.

But the angels sang “peace to those on whom his favour rests”, or, perhaps a more accurate translation of the Greek, “peace among those with whom he is pleased”.

One of the constant, and constantly shocking, phrases we hear on the lips of Jesus throughout the gospel is when he says “I have come not to bring peace, but division”.  One of the absolute promises of Jesus is that, until he returns, we will be divided – mothers against daughters, fathers against sons, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law, nation against nation, and faithful Christian against the unbelieving world. 

Yes, peace is our goal.  But to simply proclaim peace where there is no peace is the sign of the worst kind of deceit; the prophet Jeremiah likens it to a doctor who, seeing a patient with a mortal wound, slaps on a band-aid and says “you’ll be fine, go on your way”.[1]  The prophet Ezekiel says that one who says “peace” when there is no peace is like a contractor who puts up drywall without any studs and says “you can move in, the house is finished”, knowing full well that when it rains, the house will fall down.[2]

The message of the angels is specific: it’s a message of peace for those with whom God is pleased. 

It’s not talking about contentment or putting up with one another.  No, the Peace of God, true, lasting peace, passes all understanding, and is powerful enough to keep our hearts and minds in the love of God.  And the message brought not to kings or priests or the exalted leaders of the people, but to lowly shepherds in the fields, is that God declares “peace” for those with whom he is pleased. 

…And who are those with whom he is pleased?  Those who stay the course, who finish their race, repenting when they lose their way, and trusting Christ, the one in whose footsteps they tread; it’s to those that God says “well done, you good and faithful servant”. 

It’s those, his faithful servants, to whom he declares the peace which passes understanding.

God with us – even in our mess.

In the next 10 days, as we do all that needs doing before Christmas, as we get flustered with last minute gifts, , and keeping anxious kids occupied after the last day of school, and re-doing that baking that doesn’t go right, and remembering loved ones no longer with us, and dealing with the family drama that always seems to rear its head this time of year, lets remember the angels’ song.

God finds glory, God wants to be with us, even in our mess.

And peace, true peace springing up inside regardless of whatever is swirling around us, is a gift; and it’s a gift that God will give to his people who commit to be his servants.

In these 10 days, find time, make time, to prepare ourselves to welcome him in; because, where he comes, even the mess becomes beautiful, and the chaos becomes peace.


[1] Jeremiah 6:13-14

[2] Ezekiel 13:9-12