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Sermon title – Not yet…..

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Conflicting goals

Order of Service:

Call to worship

Prayer

Hymn CH4 83 I rejoiced when I heard them say (verses 1&2)

Scripture readings (scroll down to read the text of the readings):

Old Testament Leviticus 23: 33-36; 42-43

New Testament John 7: 1-19

Hymn CH4 83 For the peace of all nations, pray (verses 4&5)

Sermon Conflicting goals (scroll down to read the sermon text)

CH4 641 Seek ye first the kingdom of God (verses 1&3)

Prayer

Hymn CMP 249 How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him

Benediction

Scripture readings:

Leviticus 23: 33-36; 42-43

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the Lord.  On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.  For seven days you shall present food offerings to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the Lord. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work.

You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

John 7: 1-19

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.  Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand.  So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing.  For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”  For not even his brothers believed in him.  Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.  You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.”  After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.  The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?”  And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.”  Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.

About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.  The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”  So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.  If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.  The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.

Sermon : Conflicting goals

Disagreement between siblings. It’s a normal thing and we have it here in the home of Jesus and his brothers. They give their eldest brother advice. That advice is to go to Judea as the Feast of Booths is about to be begin. As we heard through our Old Testament reading, this feast is celebrated as it is required and spelled out by God in the Law given to Moses, so that generations will always remember that God had led the Israelites out of Egypt and that they wandered in the desert for forty years, dwelling  in booths.

It may be that Christians feel this feast is not relevant to them, as we don’t celebrate it, but what is relevant is the preciseness with which God specifies timing of His requirements; the details He put in His words, His instructions to Moses.

That is how God is. He still works, creates through exact timing and particulars.

The reason for the brothers’ advice to Jesus is that the pilgrimage feast will be the ideal opportunity for Him to make Himself known, to get publicity.

‘No one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly’, the brothers say to Jesus. In their eyes, Jesus shouldn’t miss His chance to promote Himself.

Jesus had done works before in Judea. Earlier in John’s Gospel it says,

Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing (John 3:22)

In the following chapter it says,

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John  (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),  he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. (John 4:1-3)

Jesus seems to avoid confrontation with the Pharisees, the Jewish religious authorities. But it’s not avoiding, it’s postponing.

Meanwhile, His brothers think that keeping doing things in secret, doesn’t go with wanting to be heard. You’ve got to go publicly. They understand that the purpose of the signs Jesus can do is to point to who Jesus is, to Himself. Hence the urge to put Himself in the spotlight. That’s straightforward thinking; thinking that makes sense.

But in the midst of that reasoning, the eldest brother holds back; He doesn’t think in the way His brothers think, ‘My time has not come yet, but Your time is always here.’

Now what does that mean?

What Jesus means is that timing of what He does; of what is to happen to Him comes from His Father. It has nothing to do with a desire for success for Himself.

When Jesus speaks about timing, He points to His last hour on earth; when that time has come. What Jesus has in mind is what God has in mind for Him: His suffering and dying. All will go according to God’s plan and time.

And so He differs from His brothers. His agenda differs from His brothers’ agenda. They can stick to their own. Unlike Jesus, they are not being hated and therefore they’re not in danger. They can go as a family to Jerusalem, without Him.

Plans. Arrangements. Purposes. Timing. God’s and ours. They cause suspension and tension, don’t we all know it? And here we’re told that Jesus’ family struggle with that too.

A story with which more people may be familiar is the story of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus and his mother Mary were guests. The host, the groom ran out of wine, which was terribly embarrassing for him.  Mary knew and stepped in by going to her eldest son urging Him to help them. The reply she got from her son was:

Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2: 4)

The painful distancing by Jesus from his mother, already began when He was in the temple as a twelve year old boy. After the celebration of the Passover Feast, Jesus had stayed behind in Jerusalem, learning from the teachers about the law of Moses, keen on learning more about God Himself; discovering. When Mary and Joseph found him there after three days of looking for him, Jesus says,

‘Did you not know that I have to be in my Father’s house’?  (Luke 2: 49)

Painful to hear for Mary and Joseph, this clear statement that it was not Joseph who was the father of Jesus, but that God Himself was Jesus’ Father.

Yet, after speaking to His mother in the way He did, Jesus went obediently with her and Joseph back home to Nazareth.

And at the wedding, after telling His mother that it was not yet His hour, He did help the desperate groom.

And now, after disagreeing with His brothers, Jesus did go to Jerusalem, not publicly but in private. Jesus arrives late at the Feast, to teach.

People had been wondering where He was. He was expected and was talked about. Sought by the religious authorities. The pilgrims have different opinions. There are those who don’t see Him as doing any harm. ‘He’s a good person’, they say. Others say that He leads the people of Israel astray.

In the middle of disagreeing opinions, about the middle of the feast, Jesus appears and teaches at the place where He as a boy was in dialogue with the teachers of the Law of Moses. And now, Jesus interprets the law of Moses in a way that His hearers have never heard before. And then He says,

 “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.  If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.  The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.” (John 7: 16-18)

Jesus’s words point away from Himself, to God; to His Father, from Whom He had come.

This was what was not understood by His brothers. Not yet. Their brotherly advice to Jesus to grab the opportunity to get publicity was rooted in their unbelief, as it says in the passage:

For not even his brothers believed in him. (John 7:5)

They thought in terms of an acknowledgment of Jesus by as many as people as possible. But it was an acknowledgment that had nothing to do with the kind of acknowledgement that Jesus has in mind. For Him, all He said and did happened through and for the Father. That was the essence of His teaching: it was all about His heavenly Father.

Jesus’s brothers’ unbelief didn’t last though. After Jesus’ resurrection, this is what the book of Acts says about them and their mother Mary,

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts: 1:14)

Where does the disagreement between Jesus and His brothers leave us? Hopefully with a realization that there is never room for complacency in our faith in God. Over and over again we need to be found by Him through Jesus. We need to meet Him anew.

Like Jesus’s brothers, we lack belief when we aim for things that are in conflict with what He aims for. His purposes are the same as His Father’s.

In Jesus’ thoughts, words and deeds, we find the Father’s thoughts, words and deeds. They happen with a pace different from the quickness and slickness with which social media can make things happen these days. God’s words are rooted in His Love, Love that is patient, allowing for time, as it allowed time for Jesus’ brothers; as it allows time for us, and for those whom we don’t have time for. God does, in the midst of all that goes against Him and against all that He does, He doesn’t let go His purpose, the purpose of creating a Kingdom in which all His children have a place.

Let seeking that Kingdom be our purpose, for His Name’s sake.

Amen

By word of mouth

Order of Service

CMP 179 Go, tell it on the mountain (verses 1&2)

Call to worship

Prayer

Hymn CH4 448 Lord, the light of your love is shining (verses 1&2)

Scripture readings:

Old Testament 1 Samuel 3: 1-19

New Testament Romans 10: 14-18

Music

Sermon By word of mouth (scroll down for text of sermon)

Hymn CH4 251 I the Lord of sea and sky (verses 1&2)

Prayer

Music

Benediction

CMP 179 Go, tell it on the mountain (verses 4&5)

 

Speaking is silver, hearing is gold. It certainly is the case in the bible where God speaks and His words are heard by those whom He is speaking to. Throughout the bible, focus is on hearing:

‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one’ (Deuteronomy 6:4), meaning that his words and deeds are one.

‘But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.’ (Jeremiah 7:23)

And then the response of the young girl Mary, Jesus’s mother, after hearing the words that the angel Gabriel had spoken to her,

‘I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’(Luke 1:38)

We heard the first words that the twelve year old Jesus spoke in the temple:

Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ (Luke 2:49)

With these words the boy Jesus says: ‘the relationship with my Father comes first.’

And now, we have heard how the boy Samuel, whose name means, ‘to hear’, learns to hear God’s voice.

It was at a time, that rituals and offerings in Israel continued to happen, while the word of the Lord was rare. Or, could it be that His word was not heard?

Eli, the priest has two sons: Hophni and Phinehas. It is said of them that their sin was great in the eyes of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt. And by doing so, they found themselves, not within God’s blessing, but within the anger of the Lord.

It’s as if there was a layer, a thick crust that prevented God’s word from reaching His people.

The prophet Eli was old and with that, his eyesight had become weak.

But that weakening of his eyesight symbolizes the situation:

the old priest has lost sight of what it is that makes Israel Israel, its connection with God.

Yet, it was at that time, God chose to speak through the young Samuel.

‘Yet’, we hear that word a few times.

The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was (verse 3).

What kind of lamp is this? It’s not just a lamp, but  the lamp of which specific instructions can be found in the book of Exodus. It’s the lamp in the tent of meeting, to be tended from evening to morning before the Lord. It was a statute for ever to be observed throughout the generations by the people of Israel. Both the lamp and the ark, were symbols of God’s presence.

Samuel was lying where the ark was. The lamp had not yet gone out.

But the lamp signifies more. It’s symbolic. It refers to the spirit of Eli that is still receptive to God, even though he’s old and his eyesight had become weak. His commitment and service to God is still there. While that is so, the boy Samuel is given a crucial role by God.

In the darkness of the sin of blasphemy of God by Eli’s sons, while the word of God is rare, God makes His way to this young servant Samuel, who is not yet familiar with God’s word.

Just before the lamp runs out of oil, God speaks.

But Samuel does not recognize what he hears as the voice of God. Eli must have been near him, otherwise Samuel would not have assumed that it was Eli who called him.

‘Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.’ (verse 7)

That is how it is with faith. Familiarity with God comes with getting to know Him. Time is needed to let that familiarity grow; ripen.

Faith is not something that can be passed on. We wish, for if that were so, wouldn’t we pass it on to our children and grandchildren, our neighbours, friends? But no, that is not how it works.

God calls Samuel three times. There’s suspension until the moment of Samuel’s actual encounter with God.

That delay stands for the time that we all need to realize that and how God is present in our lives, and where He wants us to be. It is a delay that can be recognized in our faith in Him, now. God’s patience; His timing determines the pace with which He lets things happen.

It is important to realize that we never stop learning who God is; how He works in His mysterious ways.

While Eli’s eyesight has become weak, he still functions as a key in Samuel’s service to God. He puts Samuel on the way to God, by telling him to hear the Lord’s voice.

God was present that night. He is present now, but He can only be present through those who do hear Him. There is an enormous emphasis, for instance in Isaiah, on receiving God’s Word through the ear:

The Lord God has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward. (Isaiah 40:4-5)

Samuel opens his ear, but not without Eli’s help and guidance.

God says to Samuel:

 ‘I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.  Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.’

What a difficult thing to do, for this young servant Samuel, to tell Eli. And Eli? Eli wants to know every word that God has spoken.

And so he shows that he maintains his willingness to guide Samuel in God’s ways. He does not shut his ears for what he doesn’t want to hear, but listens and says:

‘It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to him’. (verse 18)

Eli continues to hear His Lord; continues to trust God in the darkness of His judgment.

Speaking is silver, hearing is gold. But hearing is only gold when we hear and recognize God’s voice like Eli does. Eli hears and then speaks to Samuel  words that for Samuel are words of guidance. And then, Eli hears those difficult words, that God spoke through Samuel.

While Eli’s own strength was failing, his faith in God wasn’t.

Faith doesn’t grow without being tested during times that are dark, difficult, painful. Our strength may be affected, but we can choose; we can insist on holding on to our faith, as Eli does.

In our struggles, we can find encouragement in God’s word as it has come to the world through Jesus Christ, through whom God’s word became flesh.

Let’s not lose sight of the biblical reality that God is and remains present through those who hear Him. God is not loud. So hearing requires concentration and training, so that we learn to recognize his voice like Eli the priest, who guided Samuel.

May hearing God’s word be as gold, triggering words and deeds coloured by His love. Love that He wants to begin within ourselves, so that He can make it greater, like the effect of a stone thrown into water causing bigger circles.

That so God’s word may continue to go out to all the earth, reaching the end of the world.

Amen

 

First things first

Order of Service

CMP 295 I serve a risen Saviour (verse 1)

Call to worship

Prayer

Hymn CH4 334 On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s cry (verses 1&5)

Scripture readings:

Exodus 12: 5-13

John 1: 19-34

Hymn CH466 Before the throne of God above (verses 1&3)

Sermon First things first (scroll down for sermon text)

Hymn I watch the sunrise (2 verses)

Prayer

Music

Benediction

CMP 295 I serve a risen Saviour (verses 2&3)

Last week we heard the passage that tells about the twelve year old boy Jesus. He is in dialogue with His teachers, in the temple. And then, Jesus’s parents appear, distressed and also relieved, as they had been looking for Jesus for three days. And this is what happens,

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

(Luke 2:49-51)

As parents, Mary and Joseph are naturally concerned about Jesus’s wellbeing. But  Jesus Himself points to a different kind of wellbeing, that comes from a different kind of relationship: the relationship between Him and His Heavenly Father.

Jesus is learning and discovering who He is and that is a process that doesn’t happen without tension. The fact that He went with Mary and Joseph back home, to Nazareth, obediently, while being aware who His true Father was, gives that sense of tension that Jesus must have felt.

It is not so much that Jesus’s first priority is to be in His Father’s house as the building. What He means is that He first and above all stands in relationship with His heavenly Father. That relationship, that is what is given first priority by Jesus.

John the Baptist and Jesus.

Their mothers are cousins. The two boys come from very different backgrounds. Joseph is a carpenter and Jesus would, as eldest son, have had to play His part and would have been given responsibilities.

John’s father is a priest. His name is Zechariah and therefore John should actually be called Zechariah too. But the old Zechariah, whose wife had passed the time that she could have children, had been visited by a messenger from God. And this messenger gave him this message: ‘Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.’

Zechariah was given both a promise and an instruction, from above: the promise that to him and Elizabeth, his wife, a son would be born. And with this promise, the instruction came, to call him John. And to this promise and instruction these words were added,

And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,  and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. (Luke 1:14-17)

 In our New Testament passage, we find the grown up John, in dialogue with the authorities of Jerusalem.

The official representative in the world, appointed by God, versus the official representatives of the Jewish religious authorities.

What this tells us is that John is known for what he says and does in the spirit of Elijah and, that he’s being watched by the officials in Jerusalem.

And now John is asked by this delegation from Jerusalem: ‘Who are you?’

He could of course say, I am John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. However, given his birth story, that answer would not say who he really is. It wouldn’t clarify what he says and does. It had been foretold to Zechariah that John would be great before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. Yet, it is emphasized that he’s neither Elijah nor the Prophet, nor Christ. ‘So, who are you? We need you to legitimize yourself, for Jerusalem wants an answer to that question’.

Well, there are questions in life that don’t have a straightforward answer. What John the Baptist says and does as a grown man, is shaped by his call from God; by the purpose God had for him even before he was born. And that purpose cannot be grasped by human intelligence; by human logic. It can only be grasped in the light of John’s birth story, as it was created from above.

The prophecy by the angel Gabriel, to his father Zechariah was proof that a completely new beginning; a new page in Israel’s history; in its salvation story with God, had begun, in Jesus.

John the Baptist is like a converging fire glass. He says in his way what the prophets had said before him. Like them, he doesn’t yet name Jesus Christ. The prophet Malachi says:

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (Malachi 3:1)

John points to the same Lord, when he says,

“I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. (John 1:26)

All this happens in Bethany, across the Jordan. The same place where under leadership of Joshua, Israel crossed the Jordan to enter the promised land. The same place where later Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead. At that place Jesus appears the next day. Seeing Him, John says:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

The lamb.

That takes us to the offerings that the Old Testament tells us about.

When we talk about offerings it’s usually the offering during our church service that we have in mind. The word offering isn’t associated with the slaughtering of an animal for offering. Not in Western thinking.

John, however, being a descendant from the tribe of Levi, John’s mind is so familiar with the lamb that is slaughtered. He’s grown up with what it says in Leviticus,

“If he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish and lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill it for a sin offering in the place where they kill the burnt offering. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. And all its fat he shall remove as the fat of the lamb is removed from the sacrifice of peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on top of the Lord’s food offerings. And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.” (Leviticus 4:32-35)

And there is the Passover lamb as we find it in our Old Testament reading of today.

While they came from different family backgrounds, John and Jesus shared their deep knowledge of these passages.

And it would have become clearer and clearer to Jesus, that He was the lamb to be offered for the sins of the world.

A child asks her mother: ‘Why do we close our eyes and fold our hands when we pray?’ The mother’s answer is: ‘then you can think of Jesus on the cross and not be distracted.’

There is so much to see, so much to know. And so much can be seen and known so quickly. Social media has made possible what once was impossible. And it’s good that through technology we can see each other, now we cannot meet physically; that education can to a certain extent be continued, under these circumstances.

Yet, the same time, what we can see and are able to do through that same social media…can drown out what we need to hear first.

Did you not know that I have to be in my Father’s House?

The first words that the child Jesus spoke in the temple, with which He puzzled His parents Mary and Joseph, the words that He spoke and meant,

Do you not know that He comes first?

Do we let Him come first? Do we know that hearing His word brings about a different kind of wellbeing, in the midst of the storms in our lives?

A wellbeing that is called peace?

Paul points to the prophet Isaiah when he says,

Isaiah says: ‘Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing though the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

First things first.

Amen

 

Growing and Learning

Order of Service:

Call to worship

Prayer

Hymn (Complete Mission Praise 3) Abba Father

Scripture readings:

Isaiah 11: 1-11

Luke 2: 39-52

Hymn (CMP 32) An army of ordinary people

Sermon ‘Growing and Learning’ – scroll down to read the sermon text

Hymn (CMP 167) Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning (2 verses: 1 & 4)

Prayer

Music

Benediction

Hymn (CMP 33) And can it be (2 verses: 1 & 3)

 Growing and Learning

As I was preparing the sermon, a particular prayer came to mind, the prayer that was always said at the end of the Girls Brigade session:

“Hear us Jesus as we pray,

Help us love You more each day,

at Girls Brigade and everywhere.

Help us know You’re always there.

Amen.”

Daisy prayed, Hear us Jesus as we pray, help us love You more each day.

We do need Jesus’s help to love Him more and more. We do need His help to learn to love.

In our New Testament reading, Jesus is the same age as Daisy: 12 years old. When you grow up, you discover and learn so many things.

Unlike Daisy, when she was saying this prayer, Jesus was not at his home, which was in Nazareth. In our story, Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. He went there with Mary his mother and Joseph to celebrate with thousands of other Israelites the Feast of Pesach. In English it’s called the ‘Passover’. What is celebrated at this feast is the freedom they were given by God, after years and years of slavery in Egypt. When they were led out of Egypt, they were guided by someone who was chosen by God and his name was Moses. And Moses guided the people of Israel out of Egypt in the way that God wanted him to do.

So it was for this feast that Jesus, with his mother Mary and Joseph, travelled from Nazareth to Jerusalem. They travelled as part of a group, a big group of people. Everybody was happy. Jesus was too. He was excited because this was the first time he was going to see the temple in Jerusalem. After a long journey they arrived in the city and then, after going through the small streets he saw…the temple. It was an enormous building and because it was built on a mountain, it looked even higher than it was.

It was also terribly busy. You can imagine: thousands of people arrived there from all different places, so things could get easily out of hand. Therefore, there were stewards who tried to make things go smoothly, but there were also teachers, priests, beggars and tradesmen, trying to do business by selling animals for offering. It just looked like a big, busy market place. Jesus saw a lot of toil. Not quite what He expected. For what He knew was that God works when people have peace when they trust Him. So He wondered…Is this the house where God lives, the house that He built? Jesus was thinking of the words of this Psalm,

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1,2)

Jesus had to stay with His mum Mary at the square where women had to stay behind. Joseph went through to the square where the animals were offered. Joseph had a lamb that he took with him and Jesus knew what was going to happen to it. It was going to be looked at by a priest, and if he thought it was perfect, the lamb was slaughtered. Then some of the blood of the lamb was going to be taken by the priest and he was going to put it on the altar. It was a ritual and Jesus knew what that ritual meant. It meant God’s forgiveness: the blood of the lamb covered the sins of the people; it washed away the sins of the people. The lamb could then be taken back and eaten by the family, at the Passover meal. Jesus knew all these things. He was a thinker. He thought a lot about God and wanted to find out more about Him.

Therefore, during the days of the Passover feast Jesus chose to spend time in that part of the temple where the Ten Commandments were taught. The Ten Commandments were rules given by God to Moses and Moses had to pass on those rules to the other Israelites. It was wise men who explained the meaning of the Ten Commandments.

In this story, Jesus listens very carefully to what these men say about these commandments, about these rules that God had given Moses. But more than anything, Jesus is keen on hearing more about who God is. What can these wise men tell Him about God Himself? Jesus listens, and then starts to ask questions.

God said to Moses that He always would be with His people, but how? And can we call Him Father? Moses also said that God’s children turned away from Him. Why did they do that?

Jesus asks deep, challenging questions. The wise men had never had a pupil before whose mind and heart were so full of God. At such a young age. They were amazed. Some of them liked having such a keen pupil. But others found Jesus with His sharp questions, irritating.

The wise men wonder: why is this boy like this? Well, through the stories he heard from his parents it started to dawn on Jesus that God must be His Father.

So while the wise men were dealing with his questions, they didn’t know that this boy Jesus was searching for His own Father, exploring, moving closer and closer to Him.

What this meant for Joseph and Mary was that Jesus slowly but surely distanced Himself from them. And that was painful for Mary and Joseph. That distancing of Jesus from them, while they loved Him. That pain was only going to be intensified. It was going to be unbearable, when Mary was going to see this same Jesus, her son, on the cross, from a distance.

The fact that Joseph and Mary were already on their way home when they realized that Jesus was not with them, is a sign that he was given freedom; that they trusted him. They didn’t expect him to stay within their sight, all the time. They found Him, after three days.

After three days, Jesus was found.

Later, Jesus would be lost again for three days, in death after which He would appear to His loved ones .

For now, in our story of this morning, Mary and Joseph find Him, after three distressing days, in the midst of the teachers. He was listening to them. Taking in the words they spoke. Making them His own, before He Himself would speak, teach and interpret the same Ten Commandments.

Jesus’s home was the tradition of His fellow believers. For that is what they were: Jesus and the teachers of the Law; they shared their unshakable belief in God.

From that belief and the traditions that came with that Jewish belief, Jesus grew, as it says at the end of the story

‘And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man’. (Luke 2:52)

During Jesus’s ministry, Jesus speaks about the Law and when He does, He means the Ten Commandments that were given to the Prophet Moses, ages and ages ago. Moses wrote down the ways in which God wanted His people to live. So when Jesus says,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them (Matthew 5:17)

He says: Don’t think, because it was ages and ages ago that those rules were given, they do not count anymore for I, the Son of God, am here to help you to love, and so to put in practice the rules that Moses, ages and ages ago, wrote down.

For when people do that, what happens then is that the light of Jesus; His way of living, can be shown by them. And other people can see something of Jesus. And His way is the way of love, a love that never stops burning

Amen

A new creation

Psalm 8

Luke 2: 21-39

 Ten days in to the new year, and what has changed? The year is new, 2021, but we still find ourselves within the same struggle of 2020?

Words from the book of Ecclesiastes say,

…there is nothing new under the sun.
   Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?.. (Ecclesiastes 9-10)

These word have a tone of cynicism, and we too may feel that same cynicism.

So, what’s new? Well, the birth of a child is always new. Children were born in the midst of the challenges and sadness of last year and they continue to be born. Every new born child is a new creation. Creation begins anew, every time a child is born. That is what the birth of a child is, from a biblical point of view.

After telling us the story about the birth of God’s Son, the Gospel writer Luke tells us  what happened to the baby boy that was born in a stable in Bethlehem, when he was eight days old. And we’re told, because Luke wants to draw our attention to the fact that Jesus was born as a Jewish baby boy. For on that day, the eight day, He, like any other Jewish boy, was circumcised and was given His Name. Mary knew, before she had conceived, that her son would be called Jesus, and Joseph knew that as well. He was told in a dream. Still, it was not until the eight day, that God’s Son was given the name Jesus, as was required by the Law of the Lord.

The Gospel writer Luke also tells about Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth too had conceived. Elizabeth’s husband was Zachariah, the priest. And they were a couple that were far too old to become parents. For nature, they were too old, for God they weren’t. He gave them a son, despite their old age:

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.  And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.  And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child.  And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”  And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.”  And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.  And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. (Luke 1:-57-63)

Here we have it again: wonder, after a discussion had taken place about the child’s name. John? Where does that name come from, no one in the family is called John; he should be called Zachariah, after his father.

The birth of John the Baptist; a child born for a particular purpose of God. Because of that, the patriarchal practice that the son is called after his father, didn’t happen. Instead, God’s way happened. He was called John, according to God’s will, who called him.

God’s ways cause to wonder, as His ways are not ours. He who created the world in seven days didn’t call it a day, after those seven days of creation. No, being a God of new beginnings, He begins over and over again. And therefore, since the eight day follows those seven days of creation, it is that eight day that symbolizes in the bible, God’s new beginning.

That is why a Jewish baby boy is circumcised on the eight day, because on that day he, as God’s new creation, enters the covenant that God made with Abraham. The baby boy is brought into that covenant by his parents and so is included and participates in that covenant. In fact, in Hebrew it doesn’t say that a covenant is made; a covenant is cut. Belonging to God is something that cuts deeply. It involves heart and soul and might, as it says,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5)

Like all other Jewish baby boys, both John and Jesus are brought into God’s covenant on the eight day. Their names are called out on that day. Just as the Law of the Lord required. But there’s a difference in how it happens. There are lots of people on John’s eight day. As for Jesus, it says,

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)

That’s all it says. A plain statement. It seems as if Luke thinks: ‘less is more’. And that more lies in His name. No, not just more, everything lies in His Name, in the Hebrew name that he was called, Yeshua, which means, God saves. Who He is, what he will do, His whole being is held in this name.

He is the Saviour, through whom God came to save the world. He was called Jesus for us. So that we would be saved, following Him. There was the blood from his flesh that came with his circumcision, but so much more blood was to come from His flesh, later, for us.

Mary and Joseph didn’t know, but the old Simeon did.

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2: 34-35)

Both he and the old Anna, had been waiting for their redeemer. The solidness of their faith, their patience, their joy when they at last after years and years of waiting see Him.

And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 38)

Meeting our Redeemer. It’s not a superficial thing. It’s deep, as he reveals thoughts from the hearts, as Simeon says.

 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:39-40)

May, through our Lord Jesus Christ, the favor of God be upon you all

Amen.

 

There is a Place By Me

Isaiah 54: 1-8

John 1: 1-4

Maybe some of you know that I’m fond of a good walk. And over the past few months, nearly a year now, I suppose, I’ve been walking even more than I used to. When the government advised us back in March that we should stay at home and only go out to the shops or for an hour’s exercise, I took them at their word – I made sure that I spent that hour outside, walking. And I wasn’t the only one. It seemed like everyone was doing the same, I saw people out walking I’d never seen before, crowds of them – the canal towpath was busier than I’d ever seen. It didn’t last. The canal towpath didn’t last, for a start – remember the storm that caused the canal to break its banks and overflow? That put paid to anyone walking on that stretch, at least. That bit still hasn’t re-opened, I’d like it if it would before I leave Polmont, although I can’t see that happening.

But for many people, the daily walks didn’t last either – I could see it as the weeks and the months went by, fewer and fewer people were out on the streets and the paths. Maybe as lockdown eased, they didn’t find it as necessary as they did before, they had other things to do. That’s to be expected, I suppose. But I kept going.

And I walked lots of paths and trails I’d never known before. All within just a few miles of home, or even less. Like, for instance, do you know in all my years of living in Polmont I’d never actually seen the reservoir, far less walk all the way around it. You could go out of here and be there in 10 minutes. And up at the canal, just past Beattock Cottage at Gilston Park, I’d always thought the bridge over the canal there didn’t lead anywhere anymore, but cross it and you’ll find a really nice half mile woodland walk that’ll take you out at Ercall Road in Brightons. It’s a bit icy and muddy just now, though, so if you fancy going, mind and wear your wellies. A wee bit further afield, up at Maddiston there’s a path that leads all the way to California – that’s really become a favourite walk of mine. I’m going to miss it. I’ll miss all the trails and pathways that criss-cross this wee part of the world that we live in.

But where I’m going, of course, there will be new paths to discover, new places to visit, new routes to take, new walks to make. And in just under a couple of weeks I’ll have the chance to set out, exploring the highways and byways of my new home. I don’t plan on doing any camping, but in the reading I just gave from Isaiah today, the prophet says, ‘Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back.’ I think, in a way, with my walking and my discovering, that’s what I’m doing and what I believe God wants all of us to do. We all live in our own tents and sometimes it’s tempting to hunker down in them and let the world revolve without our input. Maybe this past year has just strengthened that resolve in some people and, again, that’s understandable, but the truth is it’s not good for us to stay in our tents forever. The curtains have to be opened, our habitations have to be stretched out.

You know, I can remember, right at the very start of my journey towards becoming a minister in the Church of Scotland, I was in a psychologist’s office (yes, we have to take psychology tests to make sure we’re suitable for the job!) and there was a poster on the wall that said, ‘A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.’ And that’s stayed with me throughout. ‘A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.’ I suppose it’s kind of fitting that I’m going to a place where the harbour is the main focus of the town, hopefully the harbour and the church, if I’ve anything to do with it, but the real message is that like ships we’re not supposed to stay in the harbour, we’re meant to explore and make the most of all that the world, God’s world, has to offer.

Going back to Isaiah, and turning back from my ship metaphor to his image of tents, he says, ‘lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.’ We become stronger by making our tents bigger, by opening them out, by being part of the world, not just being an observer of it. We’ve been restricted lately, we all know that, but as things begin to improve, which they are doing, thanks to the scientists and the specialists, slowly but surely, we’ll have every opportunity to lengthen our cords.

So I’m in the middle of packing to leave, I’m filling boxes and, I’ve got to be honest and say I’m not enjoying it in the least. The one thing that’s keeping me going, though, is the knowledge that the boxes will all soon be opened again, but in a new place. And, in a way, that’s what we’re all doing just now as we enter this new year. The boxes we’ve filled over the past year, what we’ve piled in to them; the frustrations over lockdowns, over wearing face coverings, keeping distances, they’ll all eventually be opened in a new place, but a better place. And I think it’s up to us to make the best of it, by being as much a part of it as we can. Not everyone can walk miles through the countryside, seeing God’s creation in action all around us, I know that. But we can all stretch our boundaries just a bit, because I think one of the things Isaiah was telling us that last thing God wants us to do in that new place, that better place, is hide away in our tents.

*********

We’ve heard, words from the book of Isaiah

 My hand laid the foundation of the earth,
and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I call to them,
they stand forth together. (48:13)

These words and those of our New Testament reading, In the beginning was the Word,’ take us back to the beginning of the first bible book. To the creation story that tells how God created the heavens and earth with His word. How He created Adam and put him in His perfect garden; the garden of Eden. And then Eve was created by God, while Adam was asleep.

And then, when Adam wakes up, we hear the first human speech, in jubilation, in amazement. Now, don’t forget this is a story, a story that holds a truth within it; that tells about something that still happens. When someone realizes, recognizes, discovers the love of his or her life. A discovery filled with joy: This is the one!

And living in paradise, in the garden of Eden, they were allowed to eat of every tree of the garden, except of one tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of all the trees they could eat, except of one. The accent here lies on, ‘all the trees’, to emphasize God’s generosity; who wants us to enjoy what He has created for us, as John has been doing and will continue to do in Portsoy, through his walks, discovering new places, that he hadn’t known about first.

God gives freely, but He also gives boundaries. In the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, that boundary is symbolized by that one tree that is not to be touched. Live, freely but don’t touch that tree, for that tree says: This is God’s. Let only God be God. Don’t start behaving as if you are God. Only He has all the knowledge, the insights of life and its secrets. There’s a limit that must not be exceeded. You go past it, and you forget that our world isn’t ours, our life isn’t ours. They are His.

But Adam and Eve did overstep that boundary, again symbolized through this encounter with the snake who was twisting God’s words.

And they fell for it.

Overstepping boundaries is what people did and continue to do. It’s the sin of all generations.

But that what humans do or fail to do, sin, doesn’t make an end to God’s faithfulness to what He once began.

Our Old Testament passage is exactly about that. Israel had overstepped God’s boundaries. They had disobeyed God in the promised land. The consequence of that, the consequence of their unfaithfulness was that they ended up in exile, in Babylon. But in Isaiah’s passage of today, we hear God’s own words of hope. Israel’s time of facing and going through the consequences of their disobedience to God, He Himself makes an end to that. And by doing that, He is back to what He intended: to give space in abundance.

Enlarge the place of your tent

And let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;

Do not hold back, lengthen your cords

And strengthen your stakes

Our God is a God of new beginnings. It is in the  light of that truth that we stand, at the beginning of this new year. In the light of His hope. It was His purpose that the place He had created for us, the space around us was to be used, enjoyed by us. Through the restrictions it has been taken away from us, and it may have felt as if God wasn’t there. But God doesn’t let go what He once began; His purpose isn’t annulled by anything.

The words, ‘There is a place by me’, are words from God Himself spoken to Moses, in the book of Exodus (33:21). These are words without end. They are words spoken to us, now.

But let us not only take, receive from Him. Let’s give Him the space of our heart; the heart you’ve been given by Him. Give to Him, without reservations. The more we give to him, the more He can plant seeds of love, which we then can spread.

For He has given, that what is most precious and therefore most vulnerable of Himself: His own heart, His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, for whom there was no place in the inns.

Let’s say to Him, ‘There’s a place by me’.

Amen

Saved to Save

Throughout the ages, mothers grieve. One grieving mother said to me recently: my boy went straight to God.

In our Old Testament passage it is mother Rachel who grieves for her children. In our New Testament passage it’s the mothers whose baby sons have been killed by king Herod. Neither of the passages is an historical account. Instead, both of them give a reality of life. Innocent children die. Tomorrow on December 28th that is what is remembered in the Christian year, the death of the innocent children as we have it in our New Testament reading.

King Herod feels threatened by the arrival of the new born king, of whom he is made aware of by the three wise men.

Herod thinks, ‘good to know’, and then says, ‘Come back and let me know where I can find Him so that I can worship Him’. When he realises that he has been tricked by the wise men, he finds his own way of getting rid of the new born King.

Fear and power. Put them together and you get the killing.

This Herod is clearly a twin brother of Pharaoh of Egypt. Same character. Same fear. Same power. Pharaoh too demanded that all new born baby boys were killed: thrown into the river Nile. Two powerful rulers with the same style of reigning.

While king Herod kills, the new born King is taken to the land of Egypt. He escapes the cruelty, is not going to be killed…yet.

In Luke’s Gospel, where it tells about the shepherds that went to the stable in Bethlehem, it says that Mary, ‘treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart’.

This Jewish young girl, who magnified the Lord with her song

    Holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate; (Luke 1: 49-52)

Oh, she knows what her Lord had done in the past, when Israel was led out of Egypt…and now in the light of that; in the light of all that she already knew, and now had come to know, and now feels when she is holding her baby, she is pondering.

But then, the next moment she finds herself with Joseph and Jesus fleeing, to Egypt.

Israel and Egypt. In the bible they seem to have a kind of love-hate relationship.

Once, Egypt was the place where Jacob and his sons went when they had a famine in Canaan, where they lived.  The bread in Egypt saved them. It did, but not for ever, for the offspring of Jacob and his sons, Israel, for them Egypt turned into hell when they were made slaves.

Meanwhile, the people of Israel grew in number.

So much, that Pharaoh was terrified that Israel would continue to grow into a strong nation and would be able to stand up against him. And so Pharaoh exercised power in his way. And that power killed.

So, here’s an Egypt that symbolizes the powers that oppress, kill, makes life hell.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Egypt is the opposite of that. The new born King is kept safe there in Egypt, until Herod’s death and Mary and Joseph and Jesus went to live in Nazareth.

Into Egypt and then out again. Why this movement? Well, the reason is given,

This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

In all the stories that we have, throughout the Bible, it’s about what God says and does. His word and deed are one, that’s why it says,

‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’ (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Where it says that the shepherds rushed to Bethlehem, it doesn’t say that they went to see the Christ child. They went to see,

‘…this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2: 15)

What happened was that the word of God had become flesh. That word of God made them rush to Bethlehem, where they found that that word had become a baby, the Christ child.

Jesus was saved from the hand of Herod, just as Moses was saved from the hand of Pharaoh. Both were saved to save; saved for God’s purpose.

So, Joseph was told, in a dream, to flee to Egypt.

Herod does not allow for ridiculing him. None of the tyrants do; it is what they do: they mess about with people. Don’t we all know that Egyptian Pharaohs continue to exist throughout the ages? It’s just that their names change.

Jesus as a baby, is not killed, but he will be, later and he will be called: king of the Jews, words immersed in the cynicism; the contempt with which the King of the Jews is nailed to the cross.

The Massacre of the Innocents, it’s a story about Egypt, about Bethlehem, it’s a story of all times.  Always again those tyrants who cause mothers to cry and weep in despair, as Rachel did, representing all the mothers of Israel, at the time that Israel were gathered in order to be deported to Babylon. Inconsolable they were, the mothers in Israel. Inconsolable they were, the mothers in Bethlehem;

Inconsolable they are, the mothers and fathers of children, teenage children and adult children, of children who have been taken away from them. Inconsolable are the children who have lost mothers and fathers.

Yet, the story of the vulnerable, poor King that was born in the stable goes hand in hand with the suffering that comes with the death of all those innocent children killed by Herod. In them the suffering of the Christ child was already foretold. They already suffered and died with Christ before He did.

The good news of Christmas is that in the midst of that suffering; because of that suffering, God came down to go through every minute of precisely that suffering Himself, in His Son. But then, after the suffering and dying, God did something again: He raised His Son from the dead. In that resurrection, suffering and death are held.

So, here we have in the Gospel of Matthew, two kings. The one with whom we are all familiar; who is loud and visible; the one who exercises power as it suits him or her; channelling them into their purposes:

That king vs the new born King.

As Christians, we don’t share a kind of general hope: the hope that all will work out, somehow, or that there is something after life. No, our hope is specific. Through Christ, God Himself is our hope, in that He is with us, throughout everything we go through.

Coming to the end of a hear in which so much pain has been suffered, so many lives have been lost and are being mourned, we have this hope. It gives us solid ground under our feet. It gives us reason to ponder in our hearts, as Mary did.

As we are about to enter a new year, be encouraged and persevere in that hope: our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen

 

Wonder

It was Frank’s first time as the department store Santa and just before the grotto opened for the day, he looked out through the curtains to see a queue of mums and dads and children snaking all the way from the grotto to the toy department. ‘What am I letting myself in for?’ he wondered.  ‘Am I going to be any good at this?  I think I look the part, I’ve got the glasses and the white beard, I’ve got the red robe with the white fur and a red suit and I’ve got the black boots, I’ve got plenty of padding.  I look like Santa, even if I don’t feel like him.  Hope I’m going to be okay.’

Jackie the elf sensed his trepidation.  Jackie usually worked behind the makeup counter but every December she took two weeks’ holiday to work beside Santa in the grotto because she just loved Christmas so much.  She’d seen plenty of Santas come and go, and she could tell Frank was nervous.

‘Look, don’t worry about it,’ she said.  ‘Try to relax and enjoy yourself.  Just, whatever you do, try not to scare the kids, won’t you?  Be jolly, be Santa.’

Frank did relax, and for a while everything was okay, and he did enjoy himself.  For the first half a dozen children, that is.  But the seventh one, well, it didn’t go so great.

Frank could tell the wee boy was scared of him.  As he came into the grotto he was half hiding behind his mum, looking at Frank as if he were some kind of ogre, not friendly old Santa Claus.  And as soon as his mum sat him down beside Frank, he started bawling and crying.  You could probably hear him in the menswear department, and that was on the floor above.  He just wouldn’t stop.  And his mum just looked at Frank expectantly, as if to say, ‘Well, you’re Santa, deal with it.’  Frank looked at Jackie the elf, but he didn’t get any support there – Jackie just folded her arms and looked amused.  She’d seen it all before.

None of Frank’s ‘Ho, ho, ho’s’ seemed to be having any effect.  And telling the wee boy he was definitely on the nice list and not the naughty one didn’t help either.  But then Frank had an idea.

First he took off the glasses, and the boy could see the eyes that were looking back at him weren’t the eyes of an old man, but they were young and they were twinkly.  Then he took off the white beard and the wee boy stopped crying and looked at him curiously.  Then Frank took off the red robe and jacket, leaving him in just an ordinary t-shirt.  The wee boy looked at him and laughed, the tears all gone.

Now both of them, Frank and the wee boy, were quite relaxed and happy in each other’s company.  And now they were the best of pals, Frank told the boy a story.  It was a story about how once, a very long time ago, God decided he was going to come down to earth to live alongside the people there, to be among them.  He didn’t want to frighten the people, so he was born the same way as they were, he wore the same clothes as they did, he lived an ordinary life just like them.  The wee boy listened, hanging on Frank’s every word, his eyes getting wider and wider.  And as Frank told the story, he started to put all the Santa gear back on again.  He put on the red jacket and the red robe, the glasses and, finally, the long white beard.  Eventually, dressed as Santa again, Frank gave the wee boy his gift and then, all too soon, time was up.  There was a whole queue of children waiting to see Santa, so the wee boy and his mum had to leave.  As they went, his mum turned to Jackie and said, ‘That was nice, but it’s a shame that your Santa spoiled all the magic.’

Looking back at Frank, the department store Santa, Jackie smiled and said, ‘Maybe it ended the magic, but I think it’s started a whole lot of wonder.’

We dress up Christmas in all sorts of ways, we give it a red suit and a white beard and, sometimes for us, like the wee boy in the department store, it all gets a bit overwhelming.  This year, maybe more than any other we can all remember, Christmas is pared back, stripped down – you could say it’s like Frank sitting there in his t-shirt instead of his Santa gear.  But I think this year gives us the perfect opportunity, if opportunity is needed, to remember the true message of Christmas – that God is with us, God is among us.  And next year, well, next year we’ll put all the gear back on again and Christmas will be just like we’ve come to know it.   But the message will still hold true, no matter how much we dress it up.

***********

The birth of a child brings about emotions in the parents that cannot be described by words. Emotions that overwhelm, deep love, intense joy. After months of waiting, after all the pain that comes with giving birth, there is pure wonder.

And the child itself, as it grows, he or she discovers all sorts of things, with amazement, watched by its parents.

Pure wonder is something that happens to you, you’re captured by it. In our bible readings, it happens to the shepherds, and to the people who hear from the shepherds what has been told about this new born child in the stable.

The story doesn’t say that they believed what they heard. It says that they wondered.

But then, can faith begin without wonder?

There are people who wonder about things a lot. There are people who do less so and there are people who just don’t.

How do we hear the story of the birth of Jesus; the story about Jesus’s mother and Joseph; the story about the shepherds. How do we hear the stories that follow from there? The story that tells about the twelve year old Jesus in the temple. Only twelve years old, He amazes the teachers of the Scriptures with his insight. And Jesus continues to amaze people when He heals the sick, when He speaks to people words that make them aware of new things.

Words that regularly amaze, shock His disciples, for instance when they stop children to come to Him. Jesus reacts to that by doing the opposite. He called the children to Him, saying:

“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)

 The little boy in John’s story was scared until Frank removed all the layers that made him Santa. That stripping off layers, that made the boy calm down. And then when Frank told the boy the story about how God chose to come down to earth to be with His people, the boy heard every word Fank was saying. And hearing them, the boy’s eyes got wider. He was amazed.

Just like the shepherds when they were told about the new born king by the angels; just like the people who, through the shepherds heard about the new born baby in the stable.

In the midst of all those wondering people there is one who starts to think deeper,

‘Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart’

Would she have begun to see connections between what she was told, knew, came to know, what she felt? All her pondering was brought about by that wonder, that came to her when she was told the Good News that she was going to give birth to God’s Son. The news that she, humbly, received, without understanding how that could be.

How much of our thinking allows for; is triggered by wonder? Is it not all too often played down, stifled even, by the layers that we are not so willing to remove:  the layer of the insistence on self-protection; the layer of ‘wanting to fix things’, the layer of ‘wanting to stay in control’.

That would be the reason why Jesus took a child as example for his disciples and for us now. For a child is free from those layers. Therefore, for a child, there is so much room for wonder.

As Frank could see in the eyes of the little boy who listened to Frank’s story about God coming down to earth; about how He chose to do it: as one of us, to be with us.

Following this new born boy in Bethlehem’s stable, we’re taken into lots of stories with people who wonder, amazed about what Jesus does, what He says, when He refers back to what has been said in stories that tell about His ancestors, in the Old Testament; to what has been said by the prophets who foretold His birth.

May the story of Jesus’ birth with all those other bible stories, kindle in our hearts a whole lot of wonder, encouraging us to discover more and more about the Holy One, who chose to come down in the vulnerability of new born baby, for us, to be with us.

Amen