25 December 2015

Joy to the World

‘“Joy to the world!” Anyone for whom this sound is foreign, or who hears in it nothing but weak enthusiasm, has not yet really heard the gospel.
 
For the sake of humankind, Jesus Christ became a human being in a stable in Bethlehem: Rejoice, O Christendom! For sinners, Jesus Christ became a companion of tax collectors and prostitutes: Rejoice, O Christendom! For the condemned, Jesus Christ was condemned to the cross on Golgotha: Rejoice, O Christendom! For all of us, Jesus Christ was resurrected to life: Rejoice, O Christendom!…
 
All over the world today people are asking: Where is the path to joy? The church of Christ answers loudly: Jesus is our joy! Joy to the world!’
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger, 67

17 December 2015

Building on Discipleship Explored

imageOn Tuesday night at Kilmallie we had our final session on Discipleship Explored. It was Church Night Together, so we all looked back over the 8 sessions and thought about what discipleship is, and how we can build on the DE course. Here’s the promised memory-jogger…!

For each of the eight sessions, we picked out a verse (or two!). One of the ways we can build on Discipleship Explored is to learn these verses. They’re all below… Another is that we can read through Philippians – we’ll find that some of the things we’ve talked about will come back to us.

We also thought about what it means to ‘be with’ Jesus – the first disciples were people who were accompanying Jesus. People noticed that these folk had been with Jesus. We included actions to help us remember (it takes a while for Christmas Unwrapped to wear off!). Where do we meet Jesus? Where are we ‘with him’?

  • In here (holds up Bible!): we need to read in the Gospels regularly – although we meet Jesus throughout scripture, here we meet Jesus in a particular and immediate way.
  • In prayer (clasp hands!): as we pray, we need to imagine who we are speaking to and through. Jesus is a human being – and our imaginings in prayer ought to reflect this.
  • In here (motion over the gathered folk!): we meet Jesus wherever two or three are gathered. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ. We ought not to neglect meeting.
  • Over there (points to communion table!): at the Lord’s Supper we receive Christ in a special way. We ought to meet with the expectation of his presence in word, sacrament, prayer and our gathering.

So, that’s the recap on being with Jesus. Anyhow, here are the verses… Let’s build on Discipleship Explored.

image1: CONFIDENT IN CHRIST

‘And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’ Philippians 1:6

 

2: LIVING IN CHRIST

‘For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ Philippians 1:21

 

3: STANDING TOGETHER IN CHRIST

‘Do not look out for your own personal interests, but for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus.’ Philippians 2:4-5

 

4: TRANSFORMED BY CHRIST

image‘Just as you have always obeyed, work our your salvation with fear and trembling.’ Philippians 2:12

 

5: RIGHTEOUS IN CHRIST

‘I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…. Having a righteousness which comes through faith in Christ...’ Philippians 3:8-9

 

6: KNOWING CHRIST

‘…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.’ Philippians 3:10-11

 

7: REJOICING IN CHRIST

‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.’ Philippians 4:4

‘do not be anxious for anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ Philippians 4:6-7

 

8: CONTENT IN CHRIST

‘I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.’ Philippians 4:11

 

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The Call of Christmas

CallChristmas_thumb2It’s not every day I get on with a Thought for the Day by Giles Fraser! But this morning on Radio 4, he railed against the glittery unreality of a commercialised Christmas. People buy presents that they don’t need, for people they don’t like, with money they don’t have – and everyone puts on the mask and pretends to be having a great time. All the while, around us, people are suffering, the brokenness of the world won’t go away, and in the cold light of day a commercialised Christmas just seems empty and delusional. But hardly anyone can bring themselves to say it.
 
As Christians, we need to be a bit more cynical about our culture's commercialised, kitsch Christmas, and a bit more discerning about how we do Christmas ourselves.

A couple of Sundays ago, I preached on Isaiah 11 (we’ve been going through the traditional nine lessons during Advent). This passage speaks of the promised Messiah. He’s not coming to increase sales. Christmas is about the coming of a prophet, not the coming of profit. Christmas is the Festival of the Coming of Messiah. His agenda is not the agenda of secular liberalism, or Western Capitalism, or materialist consumerism. The agenda of Jesus the Messiah is the agenda of the Kingdom of God. He has come to change the world. If Christmas is going to be a time of joy, then the joyful agenda of the Kingdom of God is where we need to be looking for direction.

In Isaiah 11, we learn that the Messiah is anointed with the Holy Spirit of God (Messiah = Anointed One).  This anointing equips him to overturn the injustice of the world order, to judge on behalf of the poor and downtrodden. And he is equipped to bring peace into a fractured world. This is the mission of Messiah. And Christmas is the Festival of the Coming of Messiah. So, at Christmas, let us:
  • Seek Fulfilment in the Spirit. The Messiah is anointed with the Holy Spirit, and he in turn anoints his disciples with the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 5, Paul urges Christians to seek fulfilment in the Spirit, not to be drunk with wine (or any other intoxicating drug, like money, or possessions, for example). Yes, let’s enjoy family, good food and drink, the giving and receiving of gifts, the parties and get-togethers – these are all good gifts from God. But let us do so all the while seeking a holy fulfilment in the Spirit: taking time over Christmas to worship together; doing everything with an attitude of thankfulness; and having an attitude of service to others. These are the Three Keys to fulfilment in the Spirit from  Ephesians 5.
  • Remember the Poor. If we cannot remember the poor during the Festival of the Messiah, when can we? It is an affront to the Messiah that we spend so much on ourselves at Christmas, and so little on the poor of the world. I challenged myself and others on this during my sermon – and so as a family we’ve used Christian Aid to give practical gifts to poor communities in various parts of the world.  It’s not difficult to do if we have disposable income. Moneywise, maybe a little less on us, and a little more on the poor is a choice that reflects the priorities of the Messiah. Remembering the poor is remembering the spiritually poor too. Seeking good for our neighbours – so many of them doing fine financially, but in the depths of despair spiritually. The Festival of the Messiah is a time to bring Hope, the Hope of the Good News of Jesus.
  • Seek Peace. Jesus the Messiah has come to bring peace. So how is it that Christmas so often brings up the old rivalries and frictions? The Festival of the Messiah is a time to seek peace in our families, amongst our friends, and with our neighbours. As the year closes, let us heal wounds and seek reconciliation. Let us be kind, and forgive.
Jesus, of course, is more than a prophet; he is God become human. As both God and as a human being, he lies in a manger at the beginning of his life – and hangs on a cross at the end of it. He purchases our forgiveness and justifies us before God. He humbled himself, became a servant, gave so much for so many. At Christmas, we need the attitude of Messiah.

So, the challenges of Christmas are not just getting the turkey, or finding a Christmas jumper as a present for Old Uncle Alec. We can be so busy with these kinds of things that we forget what it means to be truly Christians, people of the Messiah, at Christmas. If we hear the Call of Christmas, the Call of the Festival of the Messiah, and respond to it, we’ll be more blessed, be more at peace, make more of a difference, and be more fulfilled this Christmas. And the glory will go to God.