Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Word became Flesh

John's narrative of the incarnation is as succinct as it is direct. "The Word became flesh and lived among us." It is a little more difficult to sentimentalise these words and produce romanticised images for Christmas cards or nativity scenes. John cuts through the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke to get straight to the point - God the creator has become created.

The mystery of this paradox lies at the centre of the Christian faith. Whilst we might want to take control of our spiritual journey as followers of Jesus, asking 'what would Jesus do', this paradox of grace is beyond our control. This is because what Jesus would do is what God does in our midst for our sake and the sake of "all things [that] came into being through him".

As Nicodemus will find out, in chapter 3 of John's gospel, to be involved in God's life involves being 'born from above' something which can not be achieved through our own doing but only through God's. As John writes in 1:16 "From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."
Our celebration of this gift of grace, that is to say the incarnation of God in Jesus, may be to seek to follow Jesus and ask what he would do but it is God who shines the light into our lives and into this world.

This is the good news of a Christmas spirituality - we do not have to earn God's favour but through grace we can celebrate what God has already done for us in sharing our existence. We can do this as we enter into the rhythm of weekly worship, eating bread and wine, feasting on God's word, showing compassion for those around us and caring for this creation for which Christ came.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Jesus Emmanuel (Part 3)

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’

Matthew puts the words of Isaiah in the angel’s mouth and so declares that Jesus is also to be known as Emmanuel, a name which he points out means, ‘God is with us’.

Once again we are drawn into facing something truly wondrous, truly mysterious in looking this man in the face we will be looking into God’s eyes.

Once again we lose so much in translation for in the Greek this phrase “god is with us" is ego meth hemone eimi. In his choice of words Matthew captures the wonder of the incarnation.

In Greek the words ego eimi mean ‘I am’, which was the name of God in the Old Testament, simply ‘I am’! So in Matthew inserts between I and am, between ego and eimi the words meth hemone, with you.

The implication is that people are held within the bounds of the very name of God – God has drawn into God’s own life. Here we can find echoes of the promise expressed by that great church Father Athanasius who declared “He became human in order that we might become God with him.”

God in this genesis of Jesus not only saves us but opens the door into God’s own inner life so that we might share in his life. Rather than as people thinking that to be spiritual we must put God at the centre by our piety and efforts to be holy we discover a new and surprising thing God has put us at the centre of God’s own existence.

It is the revelation of this which enters our hearts and opens our eyes to the promise of a future determined not by our abilities or holiness or otherwise but by God’s choice to enact this amazing thing, this amazing grace which is announced by the angel in the dream to Joseph.

The implications of the incarnation are continuously unfolding in each of our lives as we discover the wonder of God’s grace for ourselves. For just as the genesis of Jesus life came into Mary’s womb unexpectedly so to the genesis of Jesus life for us grows within the womb of our faith and we celebrate this in the choices that we make to glorify and enjoy God in our living as we give thanks and praise in and through Jesus our Emmanuel.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Jesus Emmanul (part 2)

Less than a week out from celebrating the birth of Jesus we begin to plumb the depths of the concept of God becoming human, which is also known as the incarnation. This Sunday we enter these depths as we consider the names given to this child by God’s messenger the angel: ‘Jesus’ and ‘Emmanuel’!

The angels declares, “She will bear a Son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

To hear the name ‘Jesus’, to use it, rolls too quickly, too easily, too unthinkingly off our lips because it has been our currency in the church in recent years. We have grown accustomed to the idea that power is attached to Jesus name or we have filled the name with sentimentalism and romaticised it.

Throughout history the name and its pronunciation have been explored in different ways Jesus – Jesu, Yesu, Iesous, Ye’shua, Joshua - maybe using one of these other appellations is more helpful because it empties the imagery and connotation we have attached to the name ‘Jesus’.

In the ancient world and especially in the scriptures the meaning that lay behind the name was all important. Iesous means something like ‘he who saves’.

Here is the good news that the scriptures reveal in the words of the angel to Joseph ‘he who saves’ is going to be born.

Who is he saving and from what and for what?

Jesus comes to save me, Jesus comes to save you, Jesus comes for all people from all times, from all places. This is the moment in of all of history which defines the world in its relationship with God.

Jesus comes to save me and you personally and us corporately from our desire to put a death to God and to do away with belief in God. Jesus saves us from our rejection of living our lives in tune with God’s wondrous acts of creating this world, giving us the gift of our lives and the gift of each other.

The coming of ‘he who saves’ declares that we need to be saved from our predilection to pursue our self serving ends as if the life given to me revolves only around ‘me’: the pursuit of becoming like gods, just as Adam and Eve did. It this reality, which despite our denial, pops up again and again: in our hedonistic pursuits; in our blindness to those in need around us; and, in our litigious society that expects perfection.

Ye’shua, he who saves, releases us from the consequences of what we leave out of our lives and fail to do as those things which we do which cause harm to others and dishonour the one who made us.

Saved from the consequences of our actions and inaction we are set free to live again for God, for each other and for the creation without any sense of judgement or guilt hanging over us. We can live with joy and thanksgiving expressed in our worship, in our commitment to follow Jesus, in the expression of our compassion and care of others as we share in Jesus ministry.

The genesis of Yesu in our midst is God doing this new thing through ‘he who saves’, beginning with this new act of creation of Jesus’ life in Mary’s womb. Set from sin, set free to share in his life and ministry.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Jesus Emmanuel

Matthew 1:18-25

The word genesis has strong overtones for us as people of faith. It takes us back to the beginning – when the Word of God spoke and the Spirit hovered over the waters and something was created out of nothing – a world, teeming with life and beauty, at the heart of which was ‘man and woman’ made in God’s image.

The connotation of this wondrous mystery of creation and life is captured in the word genealogy. For anyone who has witnessed a birth or seen or held a new born baby will have shared that sense of wonder of the creation of a new life: tiny hands closing around an adult’s finger, wispy hair like strands of silk, utter dependency, living and breathing; a baby replete with the aroma of complete newness. The rhythm of one generation to the next heard in the tiny cries of new born life. Genealogy is the genesis of one generation to the next, created and blessed by God.

But now Matthew asserts there is something else arising in the midst of this rhythm of the generations: the genesis, the birth, of Jesus which took place in this way. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to announce the news that his betrothed Mary was with child, even though they had not had marital relations. This is something different again, something new: a new beginning, another genesis! The event of the virgin birth stands outside our common understanding of human reproductive processes and the generation of life from parents to child.

What occurs in Mary’s empty womb is a distinctively new creative act of God, through which God is coming to be with us, to live with us and to save us. This new reality of God’s relationship with the creation is reflected in the naming of this unborn child as ‘Jesus’ and ‘Emmanuel’.

Monday, 13 December 2010

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

When Mary meets with her cousin Elizabeth in Luke's gospel and Elizabeth names her as being blessed May breaks into song praising God and give thanks for God's promises, "My soul magnifies the Lord".

Here is an example of the movement of grace and faith that we might all reflect on as we approach the celebration of Jesus' birth.

God acts in love and mercy and Mary responds.
God acts in love and mercy and we respond.

Far too often we reverse this movement thinking that it is we who must act for God to respond to us with love but the Scriptures continual describe the movement of God to us in grace. God creates, God chooses, God saves, God redeems, God loves! It is this knowledge that inspires Mary's song and the zenith of God's actions of grace occurring within her very womb.

Ultimately it is God's movement towards us and for us in Jesus that opens the possibilities of life in all its fullness, eternity life!

As people living life in God's time, living eternity life now, we like Mary are called to share in her response. To magnify Lord as an expression of thankfulness for what God has already done in and is doing through Jesus' own life, death, resurrection and ascension.

What does it mean to share Mary's song, to proclaim "My soul magnifies the Lord" in how we live? For each of us our expression of magnifying the Lord may be different, for God has given us different gifts and contexts:

Maybe it means a commitment to attending the public worship of God, not jut when it is convenient but every week. Maybe it means sharing in Jesus concern for the poor, the prisoner, the hungry and the oppressed. Maybe it means engaging in challenging the powers and authorities which deceive and seduce us.

For me Mary's joyous song echoes the Westminster Catechism

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man (people)?

A. Man's (Humanity's) chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

For in giving glory to God, offering thanksgiving, magnifying the Lord do we not also discover the joy of God in our own life?

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Message of John the Baptist

Matthew 3:1-12

John the Baptist sought to expose the truth about the unfaithfulness of the Israelites and to challenge the status quo of power and authority.

John preached repentance and baptised those who were willing to confess their sin. When the Pharisees and Scribes appeared he called them names. He reviled them. He pulled no punches.

This wild man from the desert places with his camel hair clothing and unruly behaviour preached repentance and so declared that people were sinners who needed to turn back to God.

In this John becomes the midwife for the coming of Jesus. He is leading the ante-natal class as he prepares the people of God for the incarnation of God.

John’s message was that God’s people and even more so their leaders had strayed from God’s ways.

John’s message sits as uncomfortably now as it did back then. We live in a theological and spiritually stunted age which shies away from naming sin.

Yet naming sin, even in our lives, is not very difficult. It is easy for me to point the finger at us all in crass sentimentalism and consumerism through this Christmas period. I read this week this statement on Byron Smith’s blog:

Today is the first day of the liturgical new year. At this time of year, Christians await the coming of the Messiah; pagans go shopping. Christians yearn for a new world; pagans max out the credit card. Christians fast and pray; pagans hurry around in fear of missing a bargain or not having the right present for everyone.

Peace on earth: it's a promise based on the coming of the King; it's an experience tasted by those who wait for his advent.

I reflected on the behaviour of many people in the Kairos congregations, amongst my friends and even in my own family and decided that many of us look more like pagans than Christians.

But we are told not to speak of sin and of people as sinners because it is too negative, too demoralising. Don’t be negative, this is the season for joy, but my question is does everyone get a share in this consumerist joy?

We celebrate the ascension of humanity and our command of all things. Our scientific know how has made us arrogant. Those who speak of sin are seen as too conservative or old fashion – trying to give people a guilt complex and destroy their self esteem.

Yet the experience of many in this age which has been liberated from the talk of sin is not joyfully abundant life but anxiety and depression. The weight of the world is upon us for we are meant to be perfect. We use words like progress and growth to describe our journey as a human race to indicate we are getting better as people, but problems still plague us.

John’s message that we are a sinful people holds as true now as it did for the Jews so long ago.

This is difficult news to hear but it also explains a heck of a lot. Even when we seek to do good, often our actions can have unseen consequences which break down and destroy rather than build up.

The proclamation of the failure of Israel to be faithful to God’s promises and God’s faithfulness is to become the message on which the good news of the incarnation is to be built.

John is preparing the way for Jesus who comes to create the reconciliation needed between God and all people and ultimately the whole creation within his life, in his very flesh.

John’s call to repentance sets the context. As people who seek to turn to God, even those who repented and were baptised, we still need God’s help, God’s intervention in our predicament.

We cannot climb the ladder of holiness up to God, yet the good news is that in God’s grace God chooses to come and walk among us in Jesus and to heal our disease.

This may seem a negative view of humanity but God spins this negativity into a message of hope. Hope that our relationships can be reconciled, hope that we are loved in spite of our failures, hope that beyond our personal experiences of life and death God is and God loves and God redeems.

This is the good news that John prepares the way for. It is the good news that we prepare our hearts for as we approach the celebration of Jesus birth. It is the good news that we proclaim in a world that is so often blind to sin and its consequences.