Sermons Blog

Welcome to our "Sermon" blog


You need never miss another sermon again, as every week they will be uploaded on to this Blog page.


And even if you do not regularly attend either of our Churches; in St Peter's Rhoose, or St Curig's Porthkerry, on this page you will find out what we learn each week: About the meaning of our bible readings, how we can better understand them, and how we can live our lives closer to God.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 27 2018 11:34AM

What's the darkest dark you've ever experienced? A couple of weeks ago my daughter Naomi went on a school trip to a coal mine as part of their studies on the Industrial Revolution. They experienced the journey down in the cage to the coal face, the cramped corridors of the mine workings and then, for added atmosphere, the lights were switched off. If you've done a similar trip you will know that the darkness is so dark that you can't see anything, not even your hand in front of your face. It's no wonder that some of the young people screamed and grabbed each other for comfort. Total darkness can be a very frightening thing. Chapter 9 of John is all about the contrast between darkness and light, both physical darkness and spiritual darkness which is by far the worse condition.

We ended chapter 8 last week with people clearly in spiritual darkness. Not only had they rejected Jesus' offer of living water and his claim to be the light of the world, but they showed the darkness of their own souls in their drastic actions 8:59 "At this they picked up stones to stone him [Jesus]." As chapter 9 begins, we meet a man who is also in darkness, but this time a physical one. v1 "As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth." Here is someone who has never been able to see. The detail is added so that we understand just how dire this man's condition is. It's not a temporary blindness which someone with some skills with eyes can cure, it's not a psychological blindness brought on by a traumatic event. This is a complete and irretrievable blindness which prompts the reader to ask the question 'Can Jesus do anything about it? Can he heal this man's darkness? And if he can, does it mean he can do something about the other kind of darkness too?'

Before we find out, there is a misconception to clear up. v2 "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" The idea that suffering comes as a punishment is a very pervasive one. It was taught in Jesus' day and it is still very much around today. We see it in the popularity of the Buddhist and Hindu concept of karma: 'karma's gonna get you', and we also see it in the common response to misfortune 'Why me? What did I do to deserve this terrible thing to happen?' It may be a question you have asked yourself when something awful happened to you. But Jesus will not accept that suffering is delivered as a punishment for some sin that someone has done. In Luke's gospel, where the same issue is on everyone's news feeds, he says "those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no!’ (Luke 13:4-5). The whole of the book of Job tackles this very issue and the friends who tried to tell Job his misfortunes were all due to some unconfessed sin were criticised by God (Job 42:7-8). Nevertheless, suffering does come as a consequence of sin. Some can be causally linked, like falling and breaking your leg after drinking 10 cocktails, but most is just a consequence of living in a fallen world and being a part of fallen humanity. But this doesn't mean it is hopeless and meaningless. God can even turn around suffering and use it for his glory. We see a glimpse of this even in the secular world. I wonder if any of you watched our ice dance couple Penny Coomes and Nick Buckland? If you did I'm sure you were as awestruck as me at Penny's story. In 2016 she fell during training and shattered her kneecap in a career ending injury. But she was determined not to give up and after 2 operations, intensive physio and a lot of hard work she was able to skate in the Winter Olympics. Her story lifts the spirit and will no doubt inspire other people not to give up. That's the secular world. How inspiring again is seeing the faith of Christian believer remain strong through terrible suffering. I've been blessed to walk alongside many Christians in their last weeks and months, as they dealt with a variety of terminal conditions, and they've all been inspiring in their own way, but none more so than a young woman called Ngose. She was a 30 something mother of 4, her youngest child being only 2 when she was diagnosed with cancer. It was advanced and there was no cure. I used to visit her every week. And every week she would insist on praying for me. I'd object and tell her that I needed to pray for her and she'd say "I am happy, I'm going to the Lord. You need strength to go and tell others about him." The way she died was such a witness to Jesus' power over death. I'll never forget it. In his book 'The Problem of Pain" C S Lewis writes this about pain: "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God can even use pain and suffering to bring us back to him.

So what will Jesus do with this man's suffering v3 "this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him". In his case, healing is God's plan. v6-7 "After saying this he spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 'Go' he told him, 'wash in the Pool of Siloam' (this means 'sent'). So the man went and washed and went home seeing." It was an amazing and complete miracle. We need to remember this in the midst of all the discussion which will follow. Jesus made a man who had never seen in his life, see again. It's something no doctor could do, no well meaning friend. It was a healing from God. And it had far reaching consequences. For as well as being a kindness towards this one individual, it is a sign of Jesus' mission v5 "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Jesus is the one who brings light into dark places. Nothing is too dark for Jesus, no problem too dire, no situation too intractable. Jesus is the light of the world. His light shines in the deepest darkness. He can even shine in yours.

The difference Jesus makes in this man's life is so striking that the man changes almost beyond recognition. From the beggar by the roadside to a confident member of society, walking with his head up, not afraid to express his opinion. His neighbours and those who walked past him every day are confused v8 "His neighbours and those who had formerly seen him begging asked 'Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?' Some claimed that he was. Others said 'No, he only looks like him.' But he himself insisted 'I am the man'. He's been changed by Jesus. But the change has only just begun. When Jesus touches our lives, he doesn't do everything in one go. We're not suddenly zapped into perfect followers, much as society might assume that we are, and much as we would wish to be ourselves. Once Jesus opens our eyes to him, lifts us out of the darkness into his light, we have a lifetime of getting to know him and being shaped into his likeness, and the job will only be completed once we are actually in heaven. It's worth remembering that. It might help us to be kinder on one another and on ourselves, as well as turning our hearts back to Jesus in prayer.

As we finish our section of John this morning, we leave the man healed but not yet knowing really who Jesus is or where he has gone. That will change as we see what happens next. But for that you'll have to wait until next week!

So, we've seen today that Jesus not only claims to be the light of the world, he is really the one who can bring his light into the darkest places. Do you trust him enough to let him shine his light into yours?

By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 27 2018 11:33AM

Have you been enjoying the Winter Olympics? I certainly have. I was trying to write this sermon while the women's curling was on in the background. It wasn't easy! One of the things I especially like is watching sports I don't normally follow. Sometimes they are so unfamiliar that I have to look them up to understand what is actually going on. It always helps, though, when there is an expert on hand to explain: someone who actually is a snowboarder or curler or whatever. They know the skills and strategies needed firsthand and can give authoritative information.

There can be few topics on which authoritative information is more needed than the question of what makes someone a Christian. It's a vital question because our whole eternal future depends on it. Fortunately for us we do have an expert on hand: Jesus. In our reading from John today Jesus takes us to the heart of what makes someone a Christian as well as tackling some common objections.

We left Jesus 2 weeks ago at the end of the Festival of Tabernacles. He had declared himself as the one who gives living water and as the light of the world; everything the festival was pointing towards. But the people's reaction was mixed. Some were confused, some were antagonistic, others believed him. It's to this third group of people that today's teaching is directed v31 "To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said 'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." Just assenting to Jesus' words wasn't the same as being a disciple. Just following Jesus for a bit amidst the hype and excitement of a festival wasn't being a disciple either. A real disciple is someone who holds to Jesus' teaching. Someone who keeps on going with it when the excitement has faded and reality has set in. This is exactly the same today. We've all known people who have been very keen. Perhaps they start coming to church and say all the right things. They might even join a study group or volunteer on a rota. But after a while they start missing a few weeks and before long you don't see them anymore. Being a Christian isn't just about how you start, it's about how you finish. Keeping going with Jesus, holding to his teaching. That is what makes you a disciple.

And, being a disciple, Jesus says, opens the door to knowing the truth. Truth has had somewhat of a resurgence lately. After years of being told that we can each have our own truth, we are suddenly very concerned about fake news. We've realised that there is objective truth and it does matter. We want to know if there is climate change so we can do something about it. We want to know what plastics are doing to the oceans so we can make changes. We want to know if certain foods are really killing us so we can avoid them. We don't want to be fed lies any more. So what is the truth we need to know as Christians, as disciples? The truth is that we need to be set free. For some people that will seem like a strange concept. We are free, aren't we? We live in a free country, we can make our own choices. For others, freedom might seem like a distant dream, as their lives are controlled by debt or addiction or fear. But Jesus says none of us is free v34 "Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin." Since 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' this means all of us. We are slaves to the very things we think will save us: money, success, relationships, entertainment, alcohol, whatever it may be. But being a slave means there is nothing at the end. No inheritance, no permanent place, just death. There is only one way to be free v36 "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." Jesus sets us free. In him we are free to know God, to live for him, to know the wonderful freedom of being his. His truth sets us free because he is the truth. John 14:6 "I am the way and the truth and the life". It is so simple and so beautiful. Jesus the truth who sets us free, we just need to hold on to him and his teaching. How do you respond?

The response from Jesus' listeners is very similar to responses we might hear today. The first one is in v33-41 "We are Abrahams' descendents . . . Abraham is our father." It's the argument from religion. Because we belong to a particular group, because we have been circumcised and follow the religious laws we are OK. In our own context people might say 'We belong to a Christian country, I've been Christened, my family goes back years in the churchyard, so I am a Christian.' This is backed up by popularisation of the idea that baptism is all that is needed to be a Christian. This is especially so in the Anglican church here in Wales, where letters from the Bench of Bishops have stated "that all the baptised by virtue of their baptism alone are full members of the body of Christ." But Jesus says it's not about what family we are from or what has been done to us as a part of our religion. The true children of Abraham were people after Abraham's heart. v39 "If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did." What was it that made Abraham distinctive? Genesis 15:6 "Abraham believed the Lord and he credited to him as righteousness". It was his faith and trust in God which made him God's person. It was the same in Jesus' day and it's still true today.

The next objection comes in v41-47 "The only father we have is God himself." This might be called the argument from creation. The logic runs that since each person is made in the image of God, each person is therefore a true child of God who will inherit all that is his in due course. This is a very common argument today, but Jesus will have none of it. v42 "If God were your father, you would love me, for I have come here from God." He says that those who are true children of God show it in how they respond to him, Jesus. That is the defining factor. Made in the image of God we are, but the image is marred through the sin which separates us. Only Jesus can reconcile us to God. If we don't love Jesus, we are still outside the family, a slave not a son. v47 continues the theme "Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

The people are floored. They can't find any other arguments, so they do what many people do when they are losing an argument: they make a personal attack v48 "Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon possessed?" There wasn't really a worse insult to make then. It was about as low as you could go. But even in the face of all that Jesus carries on with his offer of life. v51 "Very truly i tell you (That serious phrase again) whoever obeys my word will never see death." and he goes on to show that he is not only in a different league to Abraham - pre eminent - but he was also there before Abraham - pre existent. In fact he is none other than 'I am', God himself. It's a stunning revelation. And the response? v59 "At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds." They try to silence Jesus by killing him. Many people try to silence Jesus today by discrediting the very words which lead us to him. 'You can't believe that'; 'The church wrote the Bible, the church can re-write the Bible' and so forth. But just as Jesus' eventual death couldn't silence him, neither will his critics today, even the most dangerous critics who claim to be his followers. "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures for ever." (Isaiah 40:8).

So a stark passage for us this morning, but a very encouraging one. The way to be a disciple, to be one of Jesus' own people is simply to hold on to him, to keep going with him, to not give up on him. Many people will come along and try to discredit him, some even from within the church, but we are not to be upset by it, as religious leaders made the same objections to Jesus himself, to his face even. We are to keep on holding on, trusting in Jesus, the way the truth and the life.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 6 2018 11:10AM

On Wednesday of last week we had a super blue moon. Did anyone see it? Early in the evening, as it rose, it looked like a big orange balloon bobbing on the horizon and then it turned into a glorious shining globe, lighting up the night sky. It was a welcome sight because January always seems such a dark month, coming after the bright lights of Christmas. Somehow the light makes the darkness seem even darker when it comes. Today's section of John's gospel is all about the contrast between darkness and light.

But before we get there, the keener eyed amongst you might be wondering why I've skipped the first part of John chapter 8, the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. It's a favourite story for many of us. The reason is written in your Bibles: those verses simply aren't there in the earliest copies of John available. In others it is found in different places. The event probably happened, but not exactly here, so we're going to carry on with events as John originally wrote them, and as we pick up the story, you'll see that the end of chapter 7 and the rest of chapter 8 fit together naturally.

If you were here last week, you will remember that Jesus was teaching at the Festival of Tabernacles. It was a celebration of God's provision for his people in the wilderness; they built booths to remind them of the tents they lived in as they wandered and they brought water in from the Pool of Siloam to celebrate the way God made water come out of the rock to quench their thirst. It also looked forward to the day when God's promises would be fulfilled in the arrival of the Messiah. On the last and most important day of the feast, Jesus stood up and declared 7:37 "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me . . . rivers of living water will flow from within them". It was a massive claim - Jesus was the one who could give them life and help them bring life to others. It wasn't his only claim.

Another great theme of the Festival was light. To enable the celebrations to go on into the evening, great lights were lit around the temple complex. Contemporary sources note that the lights were so bright that they lit up all the nearby homes too. But on this last night, all the lamps bar one were extinguished. It was a reminder that the true light of the Messiah hadn't arrived yet. But it was at that moment that Jesus spoke up v12 "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." The promise of Isaiah 49:6 was being fulfilled. The great light for the whole world was right there! The light which casts away the darkness, the light which brings life, right there. And more than that. Remember that the phrase 'I am' is like the very name of God. When Jesus says it he's telling people who he is. It's like "Here I am, your God, the light I promised to send." The light is for each and everyone who will follow him. "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness." It's a wonderful announcement, and what's more it's still true today. This is what Jesus offers: light and life. This world can often seem a very dark place. Our own lives too can be filled with so much darkness: money worries, relationship problems, illness, bereavement. We can even wonder what the purpose is of it all. There are people in our community who feel that there is no purpose, no future. Life is just one long trudge along to death. It's one of the reasons why drug and alcohol abuse is so rife. Hopelessness. But Jesus offers light in the darkness. Think about what light does. If you're trying to navigate your way around an unfamiliar room in the dark, you don't know where the obstacles are. You bump into things, hurt yourself, maybe even put yourself into real danger. Switch the light on and the obstacles are still there, but you can see them for what they are, and with the help of the light you can avoid them. Jesus the light of the world shines his light into our lives so we can see things as he sees them. And there's more even than that. Without light there would be no life at all. The plants need the light for photosynthesis, we and the animals need the plants to eat, as well as to properly run our own bodies. No light, eventually we die. Jesus is the light. In him we live forever. Is there a better offer than that?

You would expect the Jewish leaders to be falling over themselves to follow him. They'd been teaching the people about their past and looking forward to the fulfilment of God's promises, and here was Jesus saying "I'm here! The living water! The true light! I'm here!" But just like in 7:40 the response was underwhelming. v13 "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid". We're not interested in your claims, Jesus, because there's no one to back them up. But do you need someone to tell you the sun is shining, unless you are blind? Even here in Wales where a clear sight of the sun is worthy of a facebook posting, we know the sun is there because there is light. The Pharisees' response shows that they were deep in darkness.

The subsequent discussion contains a series of objections to Jesus, each one more ridiculous than the last, until we reach the pertinent one in v25 "Who are you." I'd love to go through each one in detail, but time is already against us, so we're going to whizz through as quickly as we can, looking at each challenge from the Pharisees and its matching truth from Jesus.

Challenge 1 was v13 'your testimony is not valid'. We've already noted that Jesus didn't need a second witness as his light was clear to see, but Jesus reveals one anyway v18 "My other witness is the Father who sent me." This leads to . .

Challenge 2 "Where is your father?" A fair question, in earthly terms, but one which lights up a more troublesome problem. "You do not know me or my Father . . . If you knew me, you would know my Father also." Don't forget, these are the religious leaders Jesus is talking to. The ones who teach others about God, and Jesus is saying that they don't even know him. It is entirely possible to look like the most religious person on earth and still not know God. But the flip side of the truth shows something of wonderful comfort. If we know Jesus, if we believe in him and follow him we automatically know the Father too. God the creator, God the mighty and holy and powerful, God who sees all time here in the now can be known by us. It's a mindblowing truth. While the implications were sinking in for the Pharisees, Jesus said something else v21 "I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come." It's a repeat of the equally unsettling statement of 7:34.

Challenge number 3 is less of a challenge and more the product of complete confusion. 'Will he kill himself? Is that why he says where I go you cannot come?' They think that the only place they won't be going is down to hell, because they are such good Jews. The belief then was that if you took your own life you did go to hell - an idea which is not found in the teaching of Jesus nor of the church today, so don't be distressed by it - but it was what they thought then. So they drew the conclusion that Jesus was about to take his own life and go to hell where they couldn't follow. But here's the truth v23 "You are from below; I am from above". A complete reversal of their assumptions. It is they who belong in hell because they will die in their sin. Just as before the negative becomes a positive when the remedy is offered "if you do not believe that I am he - literally 'I am' - you will indeed die in your sins." The remedy for death is simple: to believe that Jesus is who he says he is. You might imagine that to live forever with Jesus and his Father would be such a precious thing that nothing less than an Indiana Jones style quest would be the way to get it, or to spend years in a monastery on top of a hill studying the scriptures and praying. But no, Jesus offers his life and light to those who believe in who he is and what he's done. That's it. It is that simple. HIs offer hasn't changed.

The fourth challenge is at least a sensible one v25 "Who are you?" In spite of all the evidence in front of them, they won't understand the answer until after the crucifixion, says Jesus. But he adds a wonderful truth about himself and his father "I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me, he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him." Jesus and the Father are completely united, they are one and they act as one. The things that will happen to Jesus aren't the work of an angry cosmic child abuser as some have called him, but Jesus and his father working together for our good; for the good of all who will come to him.

So, an in depth section of teaching today. But such wonderful truths! Jesus the light of the world who brings us life. The question for each of us is: are we following Jesus in the light, or are we like the Pharisees who thought they had enough light by themselves? Will we die in our sin or live in his light? There is no middle ground. Jesus makes no provision for the sincere agnostic or the distracted consumerist. But he makes no discrimination either. Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, bad lad or head girl all are invited into the Father's presence by the loving embrace of Jesus. Will you come?

By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 6 2018 11:09AM

Have you ever been really thirsty? The worst I can remember was the time Darren and I travelled to the south of France. It was before the children so we generally travelled quite light. We'd taken a boat trip over to an island which had nice walks on it, and as we studied the big map at the port, we decided to take the longest walk around the island. It didn't look very big and so we set off. What I had failed to do, however, was note the scale of the map. As we walked the sun rose higher and higher in the sky. The temperature rose too. When we got to the next sign I noted that we were less than a quarter of the way around. By that time it was baking hot and all our water had run out. I looked for any sign of a cafe or kiosk, but there was nothing. We had no choice but to carry on. By the time we got to the end, we had walked through the heat of the day, our heads were pounding and we were so thirsty. The bottle of water that we were finally able to buy was the most refreshing water I have ever tasted. Since then I always make sure we carry a big bottle with us when we travel. The water quenched our thirst.

What about the other things we thirst for? It is easy enough to quench a physical thirst, provided you can get hold of some water, but what about the deeper thirsts we have? Hannah and I went to see The Greatest Showman last week, and we are both big fans of Hugh Jackman. So I was interested to read an interview with him in the Times. He was asked about how he responds to critics and he said that sometimes they manage to hit the nail on the head. He quoted one critic as saying "‘All Hugh Jackman requires is that you love him loving you loving him.’ and he realised that it was all about approval - winning people's approval. That is his thirst. He quoted Bono "‘What kind of hole must there be in my heart, if I need 70,000 people to shout, ‘I love you!’ in unison?’” and then joked "“I don’t know if I need seventy thousand. Maybe forty.” Pause. “Thousand.” ( That's a thirst, isn't it? A thirst for approval driving people on but it never being quenched. What is it that you thirst for? Is it able to be quenched? Or is it that each time you think it's quenched, you're thirsty again? Today in our Bible reading Jesus says some striking words: v37 "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." Just as he offered the Samaritan woman living water, way back in chapter 4, so he offers this water to us.

But it's more than a quick fix. When Jesus said those words he was making a very bold statement. To understand what he meant, we need to go back to the first century and the Festival of Tabernacles. If you look back in chapter 7 you will see that this whole event takes place during the festival. It was a high point in the Jewish calendar, and it was one which looked back to the history of God's people and also forward to the day he would fulfil his promises. Jesus had chosen to go to the festival, not with a flourish at the beginning of the 8 days, as his brothers had wanted, but half way through. And he had been teaching since then. The festival remembered the time the Israelites wandered in the desert before entering the promised land. They would build booths and remember how they lived in tents but also how God provided for all their needs. The high point was when the priests would process to the Pool of Siloam, collect the water in jars and then bring it back to the temple to pour out as a libation to God, in praise of the way he made water spring from the rock in the desert. As they remembered that, they looked forward to the promises of God being fulfilled. Ezekiel had prophesied in 47:1 "I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple towards the east". This water flowed out of the temple and into the desert and on to the Dead sea, bringing life wherever it flowed. There was an expectation that God was about to fulfil these words. Against that background, Jesus' words "Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." take on new significance. Jesus was saying 'Here I am - I am the fulfilment. I bring life in the desert. I quench the thirsty." How? Through believing in him.

When we're thirsty and we need water, it's no good just acknowledging that water is good for quenching the thirst. It's no good being around people who are drinking water or reading books about it. You have to actually drink the water or you will die. The same is true of Jesus. It's not enough to acknowledge that he was a real person who lived 2000 years ago, or to agree with much of his teaching, or to recognise the good that is done in his name. If you want his life giving water you are going to have to drink it yourself. For those inner thirsts to be quenched by Jesus you have to come to him and drink. Jesus says that the way we drink is by believing in him. Not believing about him. Believing in him as the only one who can give us life.

And the results are amazing. Jesus promises not just that our thirst will be quenched, but that there will be so much left over that the living water will flow through us to others. What is this 'living water'? John helpfully adds an editor's note to tell us v39 "By this he meant the Spirit whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified." Jesus needed to make payment for sin on the cross to clear the way for God's Spirit to live in people. There is no such delay today. Jesus has already done what was necessary. Has your thirst been quenched by Jesus? Have you come to him for life?

The invitation was there for the people of Jesus' day, right there! Such a precious invitation: come and drink! Come and live! And the reaction? 'Who do you think he is? He might be the Prophet, he might be the Messiah. He can't be the Messiah, he comes from Galilee.' Such an anticlimax to an amazing offer. But isn't Jesus' offer today often met with a similar reaction? If it's thought about at all? The ones who were most resistant to the invitation of Jesus were the simple security guards . . . weren't they? No, they were completely bowled over by Jesus' words v46 "No one ever spoke the way this man does". The most resistant were the religious leaders, who thought they knew better and threw scorn on everyone else. v48 "Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law - there is a curse on them." When one of their own spoke up, Nicodemus, who we've already met, they fired his reasonable request down with the most high handed of put downs v52 "Are you from Galilee too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee." Which theological college did you go to Nicodemus? On line degree was it? Of course 2 prophets did come from Galilee, Jonah and Nahum, but since when did truth get in the way of a good put down. Friends, this attitude to Jesus is still alive and well in the church, especially amongst the most senior leaders, so don't be surprised if you find it used against you. They were important, they were senior, they were experienced and they were outspoken. But they were wrong. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Galilee, and he was the life giving Messiah they claimed they were waiting for.

So what about you? What about your deepest thirsts? Have you come to Jesus to drink? Or are you still chasing the quick fix and the temporary solution? Even those of us who do believe can kid ourselves we are still thirsty by dwelling on our natural desires. If you put yourself near a chocolate cake or a plate of bacon rolls for long enough you'll think you need one, and that's what we often do in our hearts. Jesus is the only one who can truly quench our thirst, and moreover use us to bring life to others. Have you come to him to drink?

By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 9 2018 10:40AM

How has Christmas been for you? Good? Bad? Same as usual? My favourite day of the season is Boxing Day because I get to spend it with Darren and the children. No phones ringing, no compulsion to go and do something else, just time for me and the family. It's great! I wish the day could go on for twice as long. I didn't always feel this way about Boxing Day. When I was a child I hated it because all the excitement of Christmas had seemed to disappear overnight and everything was just as it had been before, only perhaps with a few more toys in it. I guess I was feeling something akin to what Peter Hitchens described in a Christmas meditation he did for Radio 4 some years ago, printed again this year in his blog. He wrote:

"So what actually lies beyond Christmas Day is flat disappointment, every sense stirred and tuned to expect something marvellous, and then just a lot to eat and drink, a few presents and a long, numb celebration of the miraculous birth of TV."

How can we stop our Christmases from being followed by flat disappointment? Our reading from Luke this morning gives us some pointers, as we look at what the shepherds, Mary and Joseph did after all the excitement. Let's begin with the shepherds who investigated. v15 "When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.' That Christmas night had to have been shocking, awesome and mindblowing all rolled into one for the shepherds. One minute they were on a hillside outside Bethlehem, looking after the sheep as they did every night, and the next minute they were joined by first one and then a whole army of angels, all shining with the glory of the Lord. It had to have been like nothing they had ever experienced before: light brighter and purer than any campfire or oil lamp, and the presence of God radiating down through the angels. But as soon as it had happened, it was gone. Their hillside was back to normal, the sheep were wandering around and munching the grass, just as they had been before. They could have just gone back to work, remembering a great experience, but moving on, back to normality. It had been a nice thing, but it was over. This is what many will be doing on Tuesday or Wednesday. Christmas and New Year have been and gone, and life continues as it always has. But the shepherds did something quite different. They went to investigate what the angels' message was all about. v16 "So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger." They didn't stop with their experience of Christmas, the angels, they went to check out if their message was true. And they weren't disappointed. There was the baby in the manger, just as the angels had said. If that was true, they could believe the rest of the message: that this child was truly the Messiah, Lord and Saviour. The result was joy, and not just for them, but for all the people they told too. Yes, they had to go back to the fields, but they went back as people whose hearts were filled with the glory of God and whose lips were filled with praise (v20). Christmas had changed them. If our Christmases are just about the trappings: Santa and reindeer and presents and food, then when all that has passed, the world will feel like a darker place again. But if we investigate the message behind Christmas: the birth of the Messiah, Lord and Saviour, then we meet the true light who shines in the darkness forever.

That's the shepherds. We can also learn from Mary. v19 tells us "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart". We have Mary who pondered. Christmas messages in the films we watch and the TV we see can be quite bland. It tends to be all about being happy and kind without answering the question 'how?'. In the Dr Who Christmas special as the Peter Capaldi doctor was preparing to regenerate, his refrain was to 'be kind'. And that's great, but it's so hard to sustain. We see small examples of kindness like the couple in Llantwit who walked a drunken stranger home after they had found him staggering in the road, but we also hear about homes and even churches being burgled over the Christmas period. Sustaining a life of kindness or 'being happy' are not as easy as they are often made out to be. We can try and push such troublesome thoughts away and look forward to the next celebration or to the summer holiday or whatever, or we can do what Mary did and ponder the meaning behind the Christmas story. Ponder what the angels were saying about this baby, ponder how others have responded to him and ponder too the difference he can make.

Our third character brings us closer to some answers. It is Joseph. Now he is not named in this passage, but we know from Matthew's account, that the naming of Jesus was Joseph's job, so he is behind the last verse of our reading v21 "On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived." It had to have a big thing for Joseph, naming the baby. He might have wanted to make a statement that he was accepting the baby by naming it after himself or his father Jacob. Or he might have wanted to distance himself from it in a Hosea style naming: Lo-Ruhamah, not loved. But instead, Joseph had listened to and believed the angel who had spoken to him 9 months earlier. The name Jesus is imbued with meaning. It means 'the Lord saves' and it helps us to understand both the message of the angels to the shepherds and the deep contradictions we see in society.

Banksy has been busy in Bethlehem once again. As many of you may know, he has a hotel in Bethlehem, right by the wall the Israelis built, called the 'Walled off' hotel, and he's painted numerous works of art on to the wall itself. This Christmas he has painted a new one, on a doorway in Bethlehem. It says, in Christmas card style writing, 'Peace of earth' with a Christmas star at the end. It's only as you look more closely that you see that the star is really an asterisk indicating some small print, and at the very bottom of the painting is the same star with the words 'terms and conditions apply'. He has a point. 2000 years since the angels declared peace on earth just a short distance away, and still there is war and hatred, seen so clearly in the guarded watchtowers on the barbed wire topped wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Yet as we look back to Luke 1:77 and Zechariah's song (or the Benedictus if you're traditional Anglican or Catholic), we get a clue about the child who will "give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins." We, and the other people who live on this earth, struggle to sustain kindness because we have sin running through us like DNA and we need a rescuer. That's why Jesus came. That's why his name means the Lord saves. As the carol puts is 'Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled'. He comes to save us, to reconcile us to God by the forgiveness of our sins. And one day he will return to bring the new heaven and the new earth we so long for.

So if you're feeling a bit flat with the festivities of the season almost over, why not take another look at what it's all about. Could you be like the shepherds who investigated, Mary who pondered and Joseph who listened and believed? For a mind that looks deeper, a heart that ponders and a will which listens and believes the message of God will produce something far more sustaining than the memory of the Christmas tree lights and the extra pounds gained from one too many mince pies. It brings a restored relationship with God and the joy of getting to know him better as the year rolls on. So as we prepare to enter 2018 why not go deeper into the message of God, investigate, ponder, listen and believe what you find, so that the true joy of Christmas stays with you, even on dark and dismal January days.

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