God's love has always been for the world. Every human being has been the target of his compassion and grace. It is for this reason that Jesus has entered our world through a particular people and their history, the Jews. His love is not generic. It is grounded in real human experience, even if that human experience is alienated from God by its own darkness. But he has come as the world’s Saviour. The world's gift and the world’s only hope. Why? Because God has engraved us into the palm of his hands.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent; the season before Christmas when we prepare for the celebration of God became a human being. In doing so God not only changed the course of history but His very self. This advent we will be focusing on the promise of Jesus coming way back in Israel’s History in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied at a difficult time for the people of God. He spoke judgement and mercy and lifted their eyes to focus on the one sent from God to rescue. Isaiah says “the bruised reed he will not break and the smouldering wick he won’t snuff out”. Now that a promise we all need.
"How you doing?" is a simple question that can open up a big can of worms.
Everyday, people live out their lives the best way they know how, but is there a common destination that can make the difference to every traveler?
Today the church will joyfully celebrate the sacrament of baptism. It’s a wonderful time of worship where God initiates people into His church and reminds us all of God’s amazing grace. We will be baptising children, people from Australia and from overseas: a beautiful picture of the universal love of Jesus Christ who saves through his gospel. The condition of baptism is trust but its not blind trust. It is trust in a God who has already proven himself to be a good, good Father.
For many Christians the return of Christ is an embarrassing doctrine. It seem all too unreal and impractical. However, in three places the Apostle Paul tells his readers “I don’t want you to uninformed”. Firstly, about spiritual gifts, then about his suffering for the gospel and finally about the return of Christ. On the last matter he tells the church to encourage each other with the promise of Christ’s return. He is clearly not ashamed of what God has revealed. God is coming again and far from being an embarrassment this is the ultimate encouragement. Let’s not be shy in encouraging one another with the good news of Christ’s return.
Today is the international day of prayer for the Persecuted church. Jesus said in John 15 that if the world hated him they would also hate his followers. We generally don’t see that kind of hated in Australia but there are many in the world who do. One pastor in Egypt asks ‘Pray with us, not that the persecution end, but that we may stand firm in Jesus’. Here then is also the victorious church. Their buildings may be burned to the ground, they may be jailed, beaten and even killed for their witness to Jesus but also they show a radical love and a faith that just won’t die. So let’s pray with them. It might just be the gift of God we need.
The word “preaching” seems to produce negative responses in the church today. Paul found a similar response when the elites of his time said preaching the gospel was stupid. Yet he says: “God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe”. Here’s a provocative definition of preaching. “Preaching is God’s election of the ungodly”, (G Forde).
That God elects or chooses us is off-putting enough. That he chooses people while they are opposed to him is worse. But the suggestion that election by God is done by preaching is worst of all. But if such preaching really happens the hearers rejoice so much that we can hardly keep them quiet.
Jonah was an Old Testament prophet who tried to run away from the God. There is much that we can identify with Jonah. However, when Jesus was challenged to prove himself before the religious people of his day he looked to Jonah as a sign of his ministry and identity. In the same way God saved Jonah in the depths of his sin so Jesus comes to where we are and saves us. God then uses our witness to save others. He is a beautiful and merciful God. Now that is good news for everyone to hear.