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Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Christmas Message by Geoff Thompson

Below is the message I shared with the Renmark West and Renmark Town Uniting  Church on 22/12/13.
To any who read this blog I wish you a joyful and blessed Christmas.
Make it a time of celebration and renewed faith.


First reading.Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph Accepts Jesus as His Son
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[d]: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[e] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[g] (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
2nd reading
Luke 1
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Have you ever thought about the real meaning of Christmas?

Christmas is becoming less real in the lives of many around the world.

Don’t you think?

We have just come back from a holiday to Canberra about 2 weeks ago.

While there we went one night to see a decorated house all  lit up with lights like some people do these days.

It was easily the most spectacular and glittering decorated house  we had ever seen.

Yet there was no evidence,no skeric of a Christian or biblical happening related to the real Christmas!

Not a thing?

We looked but couldn’t find a thing.

No nativity scene-----No angels----No shepherds-----no wise men-----no manger,no Mary,no Joseph,no Jesus.

A child visiting would be entranced but nothing of Christmas at all!

To defend Canberra however we went to a wonderful Carols by Candlelight with lots of traditional carols.

What is called Christmas these days and in the recent past has had little to do with the real Christmas.

The real Christmas had some of these elements in it.

A miracle birth.

The virgin Mary giving birth to a son conceived by the Holy Spirit.

God is now among us and is called Emmanuel and Jesus.

The word Emmanuel means God with us.

His birth has a future  impact on the eternal destiny of millions of people yet to be born and then present  and living at the time of His birth.

Now to the people who God called to be part of this Divine Drama.

Mary and Joseph.

Zacharias and Elisabeth.

Elisabeth  and Zacharias had longed for a child but this had never happened.

They must have felt like many who in this day think they must have done something wrong to not conceive.

Elisabeth was past the Child bearing age.

Yet God’s plans and ways are often much bigger than ours and in this case Elisabeth and Zacharia.

Elisabeth gave birth to John the Baptist who was very much part of this drama.

This  plan for mankind.

They Elisabeth and Zacharia  were humble people who loved God.

They were prepared to do whatever God asked of them.

God chose them!

Not anyone of the stature of a world or local celebrity!

Mary’s amazing response to the angel.

Total abandonment to God’s will!
“And Mary said,behold, the handmaid(or bondmaid) of the Lord:be it unto me according to thy word” Luke 1:38.
To the Lord I belong ,body and soul.It must be as you said: (paraphrase of Phillips translation)).

How many wonderful people does God have who live in total obscurity who love Him body and soul.

They are never in the spotlight.

Who among the great and the wise(?) religious leaders of that day would have picked Mary.

They would not have given her a second thought.

The more one ponders this remarkable event the more one is filled with wonder.

The choice is so accurate,

so right!

God knew the innermost being of Mary.

Body and soul God knew her to be His.

Here was a pure love for Him

A genuinely single love.

God knew that she loved Him with all her heart,mind and strength.

There was nothing else that she shared her devotion with.

There were many prominent people in Israel at that time yet God seems to have by passed most of them.

Is this a lesson for us?

Most of us serve God making allowance for the pressures bearing in upon us.
:what will happen if we do what God wants;

how will my popularity be affected?

 What will others think?

And so it goes on.

Our love of God is mostly a mixture of other things and devotion to God.

As Christians we are also ordinary people called and chosen by God.

We are called to be part of the Divine Drama.

The following verses are some of Lesley’s favourites and should be for us all.

Ephesians Chapter 1

Praise for Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he[b] predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen,[e] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

 We now  come to the place God chose.

We know it was Bethlehem.

No one knows the actual location.

We do not really know the year, the  month , the day or the time He was born.

We don’t really know who the wise men were or how many there were.

People have made many assumptions about the birth of Jesus over the years.

What is now called Christmas.

We do not really know whether Mary travelled on a donkey.

We can imagine the long journey they were on.

The anxiety as the baby’s birth drew closer.

Then they came to Bethlehem.

They were crowded out.

We could get angry with the people who crowded them out but they were just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.

We are ordinary people who often in going about our ordinary business have no room for Jesus.

He gets crowded out.

Our loss when we allow ordinary things to take precedence over Jesus is immense.

Then we come to  the wonder of this truly supernatural event.

Shepherds and Joseph and Mary are in awe as they take part in the birth of our Saviour.

It occurred to me recently that one of the reasons God came to us as a baby was because our own children can identify with babies from an early age.

Just the simple story of the birth of Jesus when told to little ones is something they can relate to.

A  manger on the mantlepiece or under the Christmas tree can have a big impact! 

 more so than we might think.

The rejoicing angelic choir.

Imagine what this must have been like.
The angels knew the significance of what was happening.

They sang their hearts out.

There is arguably no more beautiful song  to evoke the first Christmas than “Oh little town of Bethlehem”

It is a prayer.

A most beautiful song of praise  and in part a  telling prayer.

It is also a marvellous summary of all that was put in motion, the gospel,THE GOOD NEWS, on that night.

We went to a carols night in Canberra on our recent holiday and this same  carol , for me, was the highlight

It would be wonderful if everyone who sings this prayer this Christmas would enable God to answer it!

The prayer part.

5. O holy Child of Bethlehem,
    Descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in,
    Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Holy angels,
    The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
    Our Lord Emmanuel!

The full song.

1. O little town of Bethlehem,
    How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
    The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
    The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
    Are met in thee to-night.

2. O morning stars, together
    Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
    And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary
    And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep the Angels keep
    Their watch of wondering love.

3. How silently, how silently,
    The wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
    The blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
    But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
    The dear Christ enters in.

4. Where children pure and happy
    Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee,
    Son of the Mother mild;
Where Charity stands watching
    And Faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
    And Christmas comes once more.

5. O holy Child of Bethlehem,
    Descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in,
    Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Holy angels,
    The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
    Our Lord Emmanuel!

We will sing this as our closing Hymn.

Shall we make it our prayer as well,

as a congregation and as individuals.

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