Monthly Archives: December 2016

Shouts of triumph!

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

(Luke 2.8-15) 

Still the night, holy the night! 

Shepherds first saw the light,

Heard resounding clear and long, 

Far and near, the angel-song,

“Christ the Redeemer is here!”

(Joseph Mohr 1792-1848)

The angels knew what it meant, this insignificant family’s arrival in Bethlehem and the birth of a little boy in the most insanitary circumstances.

The angels knew the other side of the story, knew the plan formed from eternity, in the love of the Trinity, to redeem fallen humanity.

So many years they had seen God working patiently to bring his promise to fulfillment: watched as time and again people distrusted and disobeyed, and yet God never gave up.

They had been his messengers over those years, bringing encouragement and words from God’s heart for his people. But never had they had such good news to tell as today! This was God’s trumpet call, announcing his personal arrival in human form, to change forever the path of humankind. It would not only echo around the hills and in the ears of the shepherds, but would resound through history, reverberating down the centuries, as time marches on towards its ordained conclusion.

Here at last was the beginning of the end for evil and the power which had enslaved humanity since Eden. Here was the hero, the champion against whom nothing would be able to stand, and who would conquer death on behalf of all his beloved children. The angels had known him in his glory, the Son of the Father, one with him and sharing his glory. Now they throng the skies to see him swathed in strips of cloth, tiny hands and feet protected from the cold air, all that glory somehow poured into the miracle which is a human babe…Can this be the same person? How is it possible?! Angelic minds cannot penetrate the mystery of incarnation any more than ours, but they proclaim the glory and wonder of it nonetheless.

Today, let me listen for that angel song again. Let my heart be filled with joy and my eyes with tears of gladness, as I contemplate the glory which is God-made-man, for me, even me.

For he came for me, in my weakness and need, to show me how much I am loved. He came for me, in my loneliness and desolation, to show me the way to the home I have always wanted. He came for me, in my shame and regret, to show me that I am beautiful, the daughter of the King of Kings, and that in his name, I receive a crown of righteousness.

How I love to sing those words, of the shepherds seeing the light – can you picture it? Darkness suddenly rent apart and the rugged hills flooded with glory – no wonder they were afraid! God visited them that night, and surely for the rest of their lives, in times of darkness and fear, they would remember that visitation and be at peace. The light would shine in their hearts – Messiah has come! And the song would ring in their ears and in their memories, the whole host of heaven’s armies rejoicing at God’s outrageous love and plan of salvation.

This is the only thing that really matters today: that song is true. All the rest of the festivities are so much trimming, even distraction. But that song’s truth still shakes men and women today, transforming lives and bringing hope.

Christ the Redeemer is here!!

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Whispers of comfort

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. “O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. 

 (Isa 54.10-11)

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 

(2Cor 1.3)

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

(Rev 21.3&4)

Lashed by storms and not comforted, surrounded by a land laid waste by disaster and conflict.. This image in Isaiah’s prophecy of the desolation suffered by Jerusalem is a powerful and heart-rending one – calling to mind for us in these days places like the Syrian city of Aleppo, where distress beyond telling is the daily experience of so many people. Our globe continues to suffer the consequences of human rebellion against God – and humanity’s exaltation of itself.

Sometimes it can be a very private and personal desolation, a series of losses, setbacks and disappointments – in others and ourselves – which leave us reeling, breathless and weak. It was into such a personal situation many years ago that my mother read these words to me, bringing word from God of his tender compassion for my grief and agony. They were a lifeline, a trustworthy and secure connection to the solid ground of God’s over-arching provision for me through Jesus’s death and resurrection. All would one day be well, and I could hang on in the dark to that promise.

Is this not one of the most precious elements of the riches which we find in the coming of Jesus to be our Saviour? We are to be comforted – held closely by loving arms, like frightened or lonely children; warmed by the fiery love of God dwelling within us; quieted in our spirits by the knowledge that there is one in control who is all-powerful and ultimately victorious. Do we not all carry around in our adult bodies the spirits of little children, looking for a home and security, a place to lay down a burden of responsibility which is too great for us? Surely this is what Jesus meant when he called us to bear his yoke, which is light, and to allow the Almighty and Everlasting God to be God, to take from us those things which crush and destroy?

Our guilt for past sins – gone, by the grace of God in the atoning death of Christ on the cross. Our regrets for what might have been – lifted by the promise of eternal life in a new creation with infinite possibilities for good, and by God’s ability to work all things together for good for those who love him. Our fears for the future – transformed into quiet hope and expectation, that with God, we can do all that needs to be done, and that He sees and knows how to value our desire to obey and keep faith with him.

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned.”( Isa 40.1)

The comfort which God offers is ultimately guaranteed by the fulfillment of all the prophecies about the coming of a Saviour. That comfort comes to us at the price of God’s son taking on human flesh, and then taking that flesh to the cross – for me, for you – where he was not comforted in his appalling isolation and pain, but mocked and abandoned.

What we receive, Jesus gave up. In his darkness there was no comfort, only agony and degradation as sin shut him out from his Father’s presence. Do I even begin to grasp what the perfect Son of God suffered for love of me? No, I can only wonder, and worship, and reach out passionately to grasp the precious comfort which his death provides for me – how I need this!

Be comforted, be warmed and reassured this Christmas, as you celebrate the coming of such a Saviour, and have confidence in telling others. We have tidings of great comfort and joy!

Whispers of peace

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel with this special blessing: ‘May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. may the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.’

(Numbers 6.22-26)

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf…then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honoured around the world. And he will be the source of peace.

(Micah 5.2-5)

Our world has been tormented and scarred by warfare and disharmony between individuals and nations ever since the beginning; we are incapable of living peaceably together. But the kind of peace which is being promised all through the bible narrative is much more than simply that absence of conflict for which we long. The Hebrew word which we translate as peace, is ‘shalom’, and it has a much richer meaning including a sense of completion; health; thriving and fulfillment. All the barriers to fullness of life will be gone, and every created being will be able to rejoice without fear or restriction in what and who God made them to be.

The story of how the people of Israel should have entered and conquered the land promised to them is for us a picture of the unfettered, fruitful living which God desires for all his children. If the people had obeyed and driven out all the nations living in the land, they would indeed have dwelt in peace, receiving all the blessing God intended for them. Instead they compromised, chose to live alongside the other nations, and in time, were led away from worship of the living God into idolatry, with its disastrous consequences of destruction and exile. It is a warning to us to be aware of those things in our lives which we know pull us away from God, and which we yet cherish. Where then will our peace go?

This side of the winding up of time, we cannot hope for complete peace, the power and consequences of sin in our broken world are too much present. But as followers of Jesus we can trace this promise of peace, of wholeness and freedom to thrive, with confidence that it  applies to us. We live between the first coming of the one who – as Micah said – is the ‘source of our peace’, and his triumphant return, when all the opposing forces will be finally swept away.

In his letter to the Roman church – which experienced appalling persecution and had little hope of ‘peace’ in the sense of being free from assault – Paul writes these incredible words:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

(Romans 5.1-4)

We have peace, that freedom from grinding fear, because we are already regarded by God as right with him – no longer at enmity with him – all through Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. None of the the things that ultimately matter can be damaged or stolen from us – our Saviour has made us secure for ever and we will share God’s glory.

And not one of the difficulties which yet lie ahead, or which have dogged our lives for years, can undermine that peace. In fact, Paul seems to be saying that because we are safe in Christ, our very difficulties can be received as sources of blessing because God is at work through them to make us more like Christ – more like the glorious original he had in mind when he conceived us!

We need not worry, or fret that our struggles or sufferings will endanger our relationship with God because NOTHING can do that, and so we can accept each one with a peaceful heart. What a wonderful reason for celebration as we look forward to celebrating again the birth of the Prince of Peace, and praying once more with fervour for his speedy return!

Whispers of hope

Rejoice greatly; O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey…… He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners.. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you!

(Zechariah 9.9,10b-12)

The bible narrative from Genesis onward is not an easy read, as the consequences of sin make themselves felt at a personal and national level for God’s chosen people. Time and again they rebel and pay the price for their disobedience. But alongside this sadly realistic picture of human nature, we find words of hope – hope for temporary relief from distress, but also of a future perfect peace, a dwelling together of God and his creatures in mutual delight and harmony. This prophecy from Zechariah, addressed to a people in long-term exile, is one such word. The promise of a coming deliverer, bringing freedom, rejoicing and justice without borders.

The exiles circumstances were bad; there was no earthly reason to hope that the future might see an improvement – and their hopelessness was compounded by the knowledge that their exile was a direct result of persistent disobedience to God, and of breaking the terms of the covenant God had made with them!

Once again, God sends through his prophet a word of encouragement to the people, a word of grace, of unmerited favour and his faithfulness to an unfaithful people. Once again, God is revealed as the  hero of the story, preparing to bless those who have so deeply grieved him and got themselves into a dreadful mess as a result. He alone can and will deliver the imprisoned and despairing. Any hope for salvation depends utterly on this grace of God, who chooses to act because he must be true to his own promises.

 What makes us prisoners? Too often it is our fears; sometimes it is our success in the world’s eyes; and for some it will be circumstances which are beyond their control and which bring great distress. Think of the prophet Daniel, who spent his entire life in captivity in Babylon, or the exiled Ezekiel, born to be a priest in the temple but doomed never to fulfill his ambition.This passage in Zechariah promises that in God, we have a deliverer, and a sure hope for future freedom from whatever binds us now. We are called by faith to turn again to the stronghold which in this case is not a physical fortress, but the Lord God himself! The psalmist writes enthusiastically of this truth:

In you O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame…Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me for you are my rock and my fortress… For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. (Ps 71.1,3&5)

When by faith we are drawn to hide ourselves in God, our fortress, then we are no longer prisoners of our fears or circumstances.Our obedience in clinging to him means that we are now capable of receiving his blessings – and our whole view of our lives is transformed.

We will be hope-prisoners in the tower of the Lord, walled about by his promises, with the light of his love shining in our lives and holding us as close to him as the tightest chains. This kind of imprisonment is not something to shun, but rather to seek! There is no safer place than in God: our great,powerful and good God.

This hope can open the door of the deepest, darkest places, bringing assurance that our God is always with us, and where he is, there is life now and will be abundance to come. Our hope is certain because it is based on the character of God, not on our own strengths, or ability to work out our own salvation. And it is the fulfillment of this hope which we celebrate in the birth of Christ, who would one day ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, deliberately recalling this prophecy, and through whose death, the basis for peace between God and man would finally be established.

Let us rejoice in this promise fulfilled. Let us live as prisoners of this great hope, turning ever and again to the stronghold which is our God, and seeking to share the good news with our neighbours.