Sunday December 9th service was led by Andrew Johnson. The prophet Malachi prophesied that the Lord would send a messenger to prepare the way for the Lord. The Lord would be like a refiner’s fire and the prophet wondered who could endure it and make their offerings acceptable to the Lord. Andrew challenged us about whether we will hide from or decide to meet the light? John the Baptist came to preach repentance to prepare the way for our Lord to come. The messages of joy and hope bring with them a challenge. How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news that our God reigns! Paul in his letter to the Philippians 1v1-11 also brought a message of hope to his readers who were in trouble. Those readings paved the way for Andrew’s sermon.
Andrew wondered if it was good or bad news for us that Christmas was 16 days away. He reminded us that we were half way through the Advent season. Children of course can’t wait but mums and dads cannot believe it is so close, when they still have so much to do with so little time to do it in! Some prophets could not wait and anticipated the wonder of his imminent arrival. Those oppressed by poverty, the Roman occupation and religious leaders longed for the release when God came. They hoped for a mighty conqueror to drive out the Romans and change the attitudes of the religious leaders. What about Isaiah’s vision of a Messiah who would not raise his voice, not harm a bent reed and submit to suffering and even death? Such a vision did not bring with it the same hope of rescue from the oppressors for those oppressed! Some other Old Testament prophets were more hesitant; did they really want the day of the Lord to come, or was there an element of dread about what it could mean as Malachi warned? Andrew wondered into which corner of our life we feared to shine the light of Christ. Was there anything in the life of our church which was an obstacle to the light of Christ? What would we want to take hidden with us as it were in a rucksack weighing us down, as we could not let it go? What should be left behind as it will not advance the kingdom of God?
If Christ were with us now what changes would we make to the way we live? If John the Baptist were here today, what would he say to the Christmas shoppers on our steps? Would we support him or would we feel embarrassed? Are we not called to hear and share the message of the kingdom with those who are not living the life of the kingdom? Are we prepared to repent and see our lives as Christ sees them and see if they are what He wants them to be? Jesus gives us the power to change our lives as we learn to serve him growing each day more into his likeness. Let us remember that the baby Jesus is not foisted on us and only a few will be aware of his coming. He will not come into the Church, Parliament or a Palace, but maybe be born in a garage on a council estate or to ‘hoodies’ on the street or in extreme poverty abroad. Are we going to defend our position of comfort and fail to notice Jesus’ coming? Do we lose the message of Advent in all our planning? Remember the wonderful words of comfort in Paul’s letter to the Philippians and rejoice in the Lord.
If we allow ourselves to be refined by God’s fire and Christ to be our judge, our advisor and comforter He will be able to bring his kingdom in. Surely this is what our world needs; what Bethlehem needs all the more today. As we read our newspapers and hear and see the news, we can see how much God’s kingdom of service, love and acceptance is needed in our world today. Are we as individuals or as the church prepared to be refined in that fire of God and be what he wants us to be? Jesus will take all we can offer and make it wonderful and powerful in his service, so let us make this prayer of Paul’s in Philippians 1v3-6 our prayer:
‘I thank my God every time I think of you; whenever I pray for you all, my prayers are always joyful, because of the part you have taken in the work of the gospel from the first day until now. Of this I am confident, that he who started the good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Christ Jesus.’ Amen