December 15, 2019

Thoughtful spot – 8.00 am – Revd Michael Beesley

“THOUGHTFUL SPOT”  -  15.12.19  -  “Advent 3”

Isaiah 35 vv.1-10: The prophet predicts that God will act to bring His redeemed people back to Zion from exile. He says they will rejoice in a land where plants and animals flourish; and the people will be strong in body, mind and spirit, and especially in faith, knowing that God will keep them safe from all evil.       

James 5 vv.7-10: James encourages his readers to be patient and long-suffering as they wait for the expected return of Jesus in their lifetime. He exhorts them to follow the example of those who taught them God’s Word and not to grumble against or judge one another, for God is the ultimate judge.

St Matthew 11 vv.2-11: John the Baptist, in prison, has heard about Jesus’ growing reputation and sends one of his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the expected Messiah. Jesus says they must tell John what they’ve witnessed Him doing and saying, so he may judge for himself. Jesus then commends John for the simplicity of his lifestyle and the truth of his message about Himself.

Our readings today are all about hopeful expectation. In these weeks before Christmas, most of us look forward to and prepare for this festival with happy if at times stressful anticipation. We hope to give our family and friends presents they’ll truly enjoy; and look forward to being with people who are special to us and share with them a Christmas meal that will reinforce our bond of fellowship.

And, of course, manufacturers and retailers have all been trying to take advantage of our hopes by encouraging us to spend our money with them.  They tell us, by means of clever and seductive TV and online advertisements, how their products will make our dreams, or the dreams of our loved ones, come true, with one advert saying “show them how much you care”, presumably by buying their products..

But with all these preparations, it’s easy to be distracted from the most important reasons why we celebrate this Christmas festival.

Today’s Bible readings, however, go to the heart of the most important reasons for celebrating Christmas. They emphasise how God moved in a unique and wonderful way by coming among us in human form to bring us back into the truly life-giving relationship we all need with Him.

First, we heard how Isaiah announced to the Israelites that God was about to bring them back from exile into the land of their own, where plants and animals would flourish. There, they will be safe, secure and free from all evil, assured God is watching over them with strength more powerful than any kind of evil.

Similarly, as James’ readers waited for the return of Jesus which they expected in their lifetime, he encouraged them to wait patiently, and to follow the example of those who taught them the Good News of Jesus coming to earth.

He says, in their expectant waiting, they must not fall into the temptation of grumbling or criticising one another, because, ultimately, God is the only true judge of us all.

This is perhaps a message for all of us after such a divisive general election campaign.

In the passage from St Matthew’s Gospel, we heard how John the Baptist, while he was in prison, had heard about Jesus’ growing reputation. He sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the Messiah for which everyone was hoping and expecting God to send to free His people from the Roman occupying forces, and re-establish the kingdom of Israel..

Jesus told John’s disciples to report to him what they’d seen Him doing and saying, and when they’d told John, he should then decide for himself if He met John’s expectations of what The Messiah would be.

Jesus then commended John for the simplicity of his lifestyle and the authenticity of his prophetic message. He added that John was a great prophet, but he was just an introduction to even greater people who would be seen in the “Kingdom of God” which Jesus himself was going to create.

So these readings are telling us that God should be at the heart of our expectations and preparations for Christmas, for it was God who made possible the coming of Jesus to live among us and show us in the best way possible how much God loves us.

So, let our preparations and decorations for Christmas reflect all the wonder of Jesus coming to be born among us.

Begin with the Christmas tree, hopefully a living, natural one, deciduous, and ever-green, reminding us of the ever-living love of God which will never let its needles or leaves of love fall from us.

We might place at the top of the tree or among its branches an angel. This will remind us how the angels told the shepherds, in those days, the poorest and least respected members of society, that they were the first to be invited to witness the birth of Jesus and worship Him in the manger.

Or, we might top the tree with a star, to celebrate the one which led the Wise Men from far off nations to come to worship the baby Jesus.

We should remember that along with the star that .led them, they brought a gift of gold which foretold Jesus’ divine royalty, frankincense which showed they knew and respected Jesus’ prayerful connection with God; and myrrh which indicated how this child as an adult would suffer at the hands of evil.

Then, as we prepare to create our Christmas meal or share in the Christmas meal of others, we might remember that it was at the heart of a meal, the Last supper with his disciples and friends, that Jesus gave Himself to them eternally through the sharing of bread and wine which we’re about to share.

So, we might also put a large candle in the middle of the Christmas table as the dominant reminder that Jesus is The Light of The World, the light that can never be extinguished, and whose coming among us in human form we are celebrating.

Now, in a minute of silence, let’s bring to mind the Christmas decorations we’re going to put up or see around us this year, and commit ourselves to see each one as a reminder of the wonder of God coming among us in the child, Jesus.

So, in the silence, see in your mind a Christmas tree, an angel, a shepherd scene, a star, images of the Wise Men and a candle burning brightly at the heart of your Christmas, and plan every time you see each one over Christmas to recall what it means for you and thank God for it.

(1 minute silence)

Finally, let’s thank God for what lies at the heart of our Christmas celebrations as we reflect on the second verse of Cecil Alexandra’s hymn,

“Once in Royal David’s City”

He came down to earth from heaven,

Who is God and Lord of all,

And His shelter was a stable,

And His cradle was a stall;

With the poor, and mean, and lowly,

Lived on earth our Saviour holy. Amen