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 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.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 9 2018 10:39AM

My least favourite moment of Christmas is arriving here for this service. I come up early to make sure that the heating is on and everything is ready, and although it's only a little after 10 it's so dark and quiet up here that I feel like I'm the only person in the world. Sometimes it's as if the darkness is closing in on me, but then I find the lights on the path and switch them on, and I get to the church and flick the switches and everything is bright again, everything is better. Many of us feel like that about the dark, and as the dark nights come closing in it's wonderful to see the Christmas lights appearing on the houses, brightening up the winter nights. This year it's been especially wonderful because we have had some lights for our village. Those lights do more than light up a dark place, and give cheer to the commuters coming home from work; they tell a story of a community coming together to make a difference.

Lights are a great symbol for Christmas, because Jesus came from heaven to earth to be our light. The first 5 verses of our gospel reading tell us: " In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it."

Darkness can be frightening. We can't see what's in front of us, the dangers that lie ahead like a patch of mud on the path or someone using the cover of darkness to lie in wait. We can have times of darkness in our lives too - the first Christmas without a loved one, uncertainty over a job or pension, a big change in the family. We might even have a sudden realisation of our own mortality. God knows our darkness and so Jesus came to shine his light into this world, into your life and mine. When the light comes, it changes everything. The obstacles and dangers don't go away, but we can see them clearly. If Jesus is our light, he helps us to see things the way he sees them, and he walks the path with us. We don't have to be afraid of the dark any more, not even the darkness of death, because Jesus' light is eternal: "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

Now there are people who will say that this isn't true. There are always those who are nay sayers. Think about the lights in our village. I've seen the comments on Facebook and heard the mutters of people in the streets that the lights aren't big enough or they're not in the right place or whatever it might be, without appreciating the hard work it took to get where we are. There are always some who take a negative position. It's the same with Christmas. There are those who say that Jesus isn't real and we should celebrate Christmas without him. This isn't as new a stance as people might think. v9-11 of our reading said "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." Even when Jesus walked the earth there were those who refused to listen to him or believe in him.

Does it matter? Does it matter whether we believe or not? The next verses tell us that it does v12-13 " Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God." This is what Jesus offers. Not just the friend along the way, but full adoption into God's family. What do we have to do to get it? Be good all year, like Santa asks? Is that even possible? A little boy was writing his Christmas letter, but rather than writing to Santa, he decided to cut out the middle man and go straight to Jesus. "Dear Jesus" he wrote "I've been a good boy this year and would appreciate a new bicycle. Your friend Daniel." Now Danny guessed that Jesus knew he hadn't been a good boy so he tore it up and tried again: "Dear Jesus, I've been an OK boy this year and I want a new bicycle. Yours truly, Daniel." Danny knew that this still wasn't true so he tore it up and tried again "Dear Jesus, I've thought about being a good boy so may I have a new bicycle? Daniel" He realised that even this wasn't true so he threw away the letter and ran downstairs to the living room where the Nativity scene was. Reaching into it, he got the figure of Mary and ran back upstairs. He got his pen and began to write again "Jesus, let's face it: I've broken most of the commandments, tore up my sister's doll, and lots more. I'm desperate. I've got your mother Mary. If you ever want to see her again, give me a bike for Christmas. From you know who."

(Richard Leonard 'What are we waiting for? Finding meaning in Advent and Christmas')

Little Danny had got one thing right - he knew he had messed up and had nothing to bargain with Jesus over. Neither have we. To even try is insulting to the loving heart of God. How, then, do we get what Jesus offers, this adoption into his family? We simply receive it. It's a gift. As we trust the giver and believe his promises, we are taken into his family as his precious child. That's why Jesus left the glories of heaven to become a child, so that we can become the children of God. Will you receive him this Christmas?

well, we've reflected on the light of Jesus, and the darkness we often face, and we've also seen that God offers to lift us out of that darkness. I want to finish tonight with the beautiful words of another pastor in his Christmas address:

"There’s a story to be told… the real story tells about a day when our Heavenly Father went looking for a tree. And He chose the best one He could find with just the right shape. And He took that tree and placed it where everyone that passed by could see it. And then He hung the most beautiful Light that Heaven had to offer on that tree. And everyone that passed by gazed in wonder at the Light on the tree. And the story goes… the Light died and the scripture says… once again, darkness covered the land. And then the Father moved His beautiful Light that died into the darkest place possible, a sealed tomb. You can’t get any darker than a sealed tomb. There is absolutely no light and no expectation of light in a sealed tomb. It’s a place of hopelessness. It’s a place of despair and despondency. That’s the way God wanted it. He planned for the Greatest Gift ever given to mankind, the Light of the World, to be positioned in the darkest place that mankind could ever face, death; because . . . three days later… over in the darkness of that tomb, over in the most dire of situations, the most hopeless of circumstances, once again the Light shined in the darkness and the darkness could not stop it. Jesus, the Light of the World opened His eyes up and said… “Grave, where is your victory… Death where is your sting.” And when that Light shined into the darkest of darkness, hope sprang up for every man, woman, boy, and girl in any situation that they might face, because Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Light of the World prevailed against the darkness." (John Petty Sermon Central) May you know the light of Christ this Christmas.

By porthkerryandrhoose, Dec 31 2017 03:02PM

Christmas is a time of surprises. Some are pleasant, others can take a bit of effort to come to terms with. What’s the biggest surprise you’ve ever had at Christmas time? For me and the family, Christmas took an unexpected turn of events around the 22nd or 23rd of December a few years ago. Mum discovered that her oven wasn’t working. Getting a new one before Christmas didn’t look very likely. She then dropped the bombshell on me – that means we’ll be roasting the turkey, potatoes, parsnips and stuffing at yours! Not really a problem, because my oven worked fine, but the logistics of carrying said items between two houses wasn’t something any of us was looking forward to. Fortunately, Christmas was saved – a new oven was delivered and installed on Christmas Eve by the angels of next day delivery that are!

That incident pales into insignificance in comparison with the unexpected event in our Bible passage today. Mary received two surprises in quick succession. Firstly, she had an angel appear in her home. Imagine the scene: Mary’s is doing her daily chores – maybe she’s preparing a meal, maybe sweeping the floor. Suddenly, there’s a big, bright, shining angel standing in front of her. We’re told that Mary was ‘greatly troubled’ at the angel’s greeting, which is surely an understatement. However, if that wasn’t enough of a shock, Mary’s second surprise is that she’s going to have a baby, even though she’s a virgin. Yet, despite her initial surprise, Mary demonstrates three characteristics that make her an example for us to follow in terms of welcoming and accepting Jesus into our lives. Firstly, Mary is an ordinary woman for whom God had an extraordinary plan, secondly she doesn’t doubt God’s word, but isn’t afraid to ask questions, finally she is faithful and willing to serve.

Let’s look at Mary as a person. V27 introduces her to us. She is ‘a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.’ This makes Mary a fairly ordinary young woman of her time. She lives in an ordinary town and she lives an ordinary life. She is betrothed to be married, as was the custom for young women, though she isn’t yet living with her husband. We also know that she lives in Nazareth. Nazareth doesn’t seem to be a particularly desirable location. In John 1: 46, we have the words of Nathanael’s response to Phillip’s offer to take him to meet Jesus: ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Yet, Mary’s very ordinary life is about to become dramatically extraordinary. Gabriel’s message to Mary from God is delivered in vv31-33: ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end.’ God has suddenly, and surprisingly called Mary into his service – and not for any ordinary task. She is to help God fulfil his promises. God promised in 2 Samuel 7 that David’s descendant would rule forever, saying ‘I will be his father, and he shall be my son.’ Luke does not record Mary’s initial reaction to this news but we can imagine that she might well be stunned that she was to have such a great task.

Have you ever heard God calling you to do something extraordinary and wondered ‘why me?’ It may be a task that we imagine is beyond our capabilities; it may be something that takes us massively out of our comfort zone. Maybe it’s something we don’t feel special enough, or important enough to do. Indeed, being called into God’s service can sometimes be a bit like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube: we may know what the end result is going to be but not how we’re going to get there! But why do we question God’s choices? As Mary’s story demonstrates, God has a habit of choosing ordinary people to do his work. In Exodus 4, God has chosen Moses to speak on behalf of the Israelites in Egypt. Moses argues with God, “Please, Lord, I have never been a skilled speaker. Even now, after talking to you, I cannot speak well. I speak slowly and can’t find the best words.” Even after reassurance from God that he will give Moses the right words, Moses still pleads with God, “Please, Lord, send someone else.” When what he calls us to do seems impossible, God asks us to trust him. He will give us everything we need.

Mary demonstrates this trust. She doesn’t doubt God’s word or ask why she has been chosen for such great responsibility. However, she isn’t afraid to ask questions. Mary can’t understand how she’ll be able to have a baby. In v34 she asks the angel: ‘how will this be since I am a virgin?’ It isn’t clear from her question whether Mary is merely curious, or whether she has concerns for her future, as she isn’t married yet. Whichever the case, the angel honours her question, giving her both a practical answer and a reassurance. In v35, Mary receives a practical response from Gabriel, answering her ‘how’ question: ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’ Secondly, Gabriel provides a reassurance that anything is possible with God. In v36, Gabriel tells Mary: ‘Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.’ To restate in less angelic words: If God can give an older woman, unable to conceive, a child, then he can also do the same for a virgin, because God always lives up to his promises.

This answer to her question must satisfy Mary as she ends this encounter with Gabriel by demonstrating faithfulness and willingness to serve God. She can have been by no means certain that her pregnancy would be accepted by Joseph or her family. She may have feared for the future, and even for her life – after all, if she was judged to have committed adultery, she would likely have been executed. However, Mary puts her trust in God. Her simple statement of acceptance of God’s call to service in v38 shows wonderful obedience: ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ In doing so, Mary becomes the first human to accept and welcome Jesus into her life. She does so in the full knowledge that her life will never be the same again. Welcoming Jesus into our lives is transformational because he works with us and in us to make us the very best ‘me’ we can be.

The Christmas story reminds us of Jesus’ birth, of his coming into the world to live among us and so Christmas time offers us an opportunity to welcome Jesus into our lives, whether we are doing so for the first time or renewing our welcome. In our Bible passage this morning, we have seen how Mary’s trust in God, her obedience to him and her willingness to enter into his service led her to be the first person to welcome Jesus into her life. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus again this Christmas, and as we hear once again the familiar story, may we also remember the example of obedience and trust demonstrated by Mary and be led by it.

Let us pray

Loving God, thank you for sending your Son Jesus into the world to live among us. Thank you too, that you call people into your service as you did Mary all those years ago. We pray that, like Mary, we may show trust and faithfulness and a willingness to serve. We pray too that we may have open hearts to welcome Jesus into our lives, not just at Christmas time but every day. Amen.

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