The Branch From Jesse
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord--
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
The people of Israel (the Jews) had turned their backs on God. Their punishment was war with their neighbours and eventual exile.
As is usually the case, there were exceptions to the rule. There were still some who loved God and tried to live as He wanted them to. They longed to see better days when God would be in charge, not some selfish rulers, when peace would reign and kindness be the norm.
God spoke to these people through Isaiah the Prophet. One day he would set up a ruler from the House of Jesse (King David’s father), who would bring such a Kingdom in.
Some of it came to pass the first time Jesus came. The rest will happen when He comes again. He gave us the picture of wild animals and farm animals eating together and lying down in rest together and a young child leading them. Things back to front and upside down as we know it, but the right way up as God intended.
In the meantime He asks to be allowed to setup this Kingdom in our hearts and lives. To let peace and kindness, justice and faithfulness invade our hearts as He comes to share our lives. Will you let Him? It would be the best present you could give Him this Christmas.
The Magi Visit the Messiah
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Let’s start at the beginning; the Wise Men went straight to the king when they arrived. They saw the baby they were looking for as so important that they went straight to the supposed most important person in the country. They were also important enough, or perhaps persistent enough, to get a meeting with the king quickly which wouldn’t not have been an easy feet and yet, despite being so important, they wanted to worship a baby.
But not any baby; this baby was the Messiah. The Wise Men did not know the prophesies of Israel as they came from a distant land in the East and yet knew of the importance of this child. The Wise Men understood stars and so that is the way that God delivered the news of his son’s birth to them, likewise, the shepherds or Mary would not have understood stars, so God sent them angels. God talks to everyone in the language they understand.
Also, when it says in verse 9 “and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them.” This mirrors when the Israelites escaped Egypt (Exodus 13:21-22. By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.). God led them away from danger and to safety with a pillar of cloud or fire that went ahead of them. Similarly, the star is said to have ‘gone ahead’ of the Wise Men leading them to the ultimate refuge.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans[a] of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
The best things come in little packages. Or so my Grandmother, who was barely five foot, used to say! And it’s true that many precious items are very tiny, such as jewellery. I remember one Christmas thinking I would be the lucky recipient of a diamond ring as I had seen no evidence of large parcels, only to have a John Lewis van turn up at the door on 23rd December with a tumble dryer! Hmmm…!
In our world we often think big is better. In ancient times this was true as well. I’ve just been reading about the city of Tyre in Ezekiel, a global trading city not unlike London, Wall Street or Tokyo today. How tempting it is for us to put our trust in our achievements, status and possessions.
In God’s eyes, however, this is definitely not the case. God tells Samuel it is David, the youngest and least of Jesse’s sons, who is to be King of Israel. Seven older sons are rejected as we are told, ‘God does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ David’s humble trust in God is more valuable in His eyes than any pride in himself or his own ability.
So, this Christmas, when you feel small and overwhelmed either by your own personal circumstances or the immensity of world problems such as climate change, conflict, and the suffering of others let’s remember that it was in a dirty stable in tiny Bethlehem that Jesus was born not a palace in an important city. Tyre was ultimately destroyed by Alexander the Great in 322BC. Bethlehem, however, is known the world over.
Let’s rejoice this Christmas that ‘God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong’ (1 Corinthians 1:27) and continues to do so today.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is the best gift you have ever received?
What is the best gift you have ever given?
There is a real art to present buy and gift giving. Getting just the right kind of present for someone requires a few things; time, opportunity, availability for example. But more important that all of these things the best gifts will come when you know someone really well. You really know the person, who they are, what they are like, what they like. The better you know someone the more personal and tailored the gift will be.
The gift of Jesus - that we are preparing for this advent - is the greatest gift ever given for many reasons and we will be exploring the through these readings and through our services here at the church. But it is also the greatest gift that you and I can ever receive because it comes from a loving father in heaven. Not a flawed human parent, but the perfect loving God who knows each one of us intimately, God knows each hair of our head and God knows all our successes and all our failures and yet still chooses to send Jesus to us, a gift of love and grace to bring us salvation and allow us all to be called “holy people”.
This Christmas, as you think about gifts and presents, remember the gift of Jesus to you, and how special you are to him.
“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
The people were impatient that the coming should be soon and James implored them to be patient. Think of the farmers, he said they lay their seed, but do not expect the plant will be up and edible in weeks, they know that it has to germinate, and grow strong before it even appears above the earth.
Then the seeds need the Summer and Autumn rains and sunshine to reach their full potential.
Then they can reap the harvest.
Keep faith with one another, do not judge who does more or less, or you will also be judged, each of you have your parts to play to make ourselves ready for 'the coming' if any of you are finding life difficult make it your promise to help those with less ability than you to fulfil their part in being useful, in even a small way with what is possible to them to make the community strong, healthy united and happy in the name of the Lord.
Anyone who perseveres will be blessed by the Lord.
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.
So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
The Bible often uses the comparison of light and dark to show the difference between following Jesus and not. And at this time of year with the darker evenings and the bright Christmas lights cropping up all over the place the significance of light is even more obvious.
Our reading today is all about the coming of our salvation - the fact that Jesus has come, paid the price and set us free by the grace of God. Our future is secure not because or ability to choose right from wrong, but because we have chosen to live wearing the armour of light, living in the way of Christ, following in His footsteps being His disciple.
And the idea of armour of light is a good one, because walking in the way of Christ isn’t easy. It is a daily battle to resist the temptations of this life and live differently, live Christlike in all situations. But just because its like a battle doesn’t mean we need to give up, on the contrary - we have Christ on our side and by our side and He has faith in you, that you can live for Him.
So as you walk around, especially in the darker evenings and nights, take time to look at all the lights around you. Let there shining remind you that the night is nearly over and our day of salvation is coming soon.
A song of ascents. Of David.
I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up--
the tribes of the Lord--
to praise the name of the Lord
according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.
As a ‘song of ascent’ this Psalm is basically a marching song. It would be sung by families, indeed whole communities as three times a year they made they way up the hill to the plateau town of Jerusalem for each of the festivals; Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tents). These were times of great celebration and joy and the Psalm reflects this with its themes of peace and prosperity.
But Jerusalem has rarely known peace. Laid siege to over 20 times, destroyed twice, captured and recaptured 44 times and now, of course, the most disputed city in the world. Has the prayer of the Psalm failed, was it merely wishful thinking? Is human conflict and division more powerful than these empty words of hope?
In 1804 William Blake wrote the poem ‘And did those feet in ancient time’. He sees Jerusalem as an ideal, a future hope for a country that needs rebuilding, whose citizens are oppressed by the ‘satanic mills’ of soulless capitalism. It’s a lament, not a celebration. The well-known Parry tune suffers from its association with a political leaning towards bombast and xenophobia, so I prefer Chris Wood’s new version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNxEQESH9i4). (see below)
This is a prayer of hope and of action, and in this sense it rhymes with the secondary purpose of Psalm 122 – a call to be people who embody peace in our whole lives. ‘I will not cease from mental fight’ is very much like saying I will pray continually for the peace of Jerusalem; in Israel and in my own country ‘I will seek your prosperity’.
(A group of us are visiting Jerusalem on 26th October 2020 for a week. It’s not too late to join us. Speak to Alan Kerry or Karen Mead if you’re interested).
“This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
I’ve never been to a mountain like this, but if I had a bucket list I think going somewhere like this picture would be on there. Being up there, and seeing the raw power and majesty of creation would be amazing. Sometimes in the busyness of life and the chaos of our world it is easy to miss the awesomeness of creation and how beautiful our world really is.
When we stop marvelling at the created world we loose something of how special and amazing this planet, this universe actually is. It’s why I love science and creativity because both allow us to appreciate and value what is all around us.
It is also why I love holidays in new and different places because the change of pace allows you the chance to look around and value what you have, be that nature, arts, creativity or family.
I keep looking at how full my diary and my time is between now and Christmas and felt that full and busy lives are not really that conducive to the true nature of advent - of having space to go up the mountain of God, and allow Him to teach us so that we can walk in His paths, walk in the Light of the Lord.
A challenge to me to make some space each day to do just this, to pick up scripture and read and reflect, to make time to worship and to marvel at God’s goodness and to sit at the top of the mountain of God and just be in awe.
“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: 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. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
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. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1v18-25
We don’t often think that much about Joseph, he often seems to be somewhat of a bystander to the events, after all most of the work done in bringing Jesus into the world was done by God and Mary. But for a moment just imagine for a moment what that must have been like for Jospeh?
The woman you love is not only pregnant (a very big deal) but it is claimed that this is all part of the ancient prophecy that will bring about the Messiah. How is Joseph still standing?!
Some men would have run a mile or ridiculed and shamed Mary, but not Jospeh - upon hearing the whole story he accepted this with grace and humility. Playing his part in loving and caring for Mary and the unborn child.
How often do we jump to a conclusion before we have had time to properly hear and reflect on what is before us? How often do we make the assumption that we know best?
Jospeh is an example, I believe, of a deeply Godly, spiritual man, who accepts the Word given to him with faith and regardless of the cost and potential shame it would have brought upon him and his family takes Mary by the hand and leads her to his hometown, fulfilling the prophecy and ushering in the Messiah.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7v14
Have you every had that warning light come on in your car?
What do you do?
Some people will immediately head to the garage to check it out and have whatever is causing it fix. Some will reach for the manual and turn the pages to find a diagnosis and then either fix it themselves or take it to the mechanic and tell them what they need to fix. Others will either drive around for a short while before seeking a solution and others will just simply ignore it until the car stops working.
Which are you?
I tried the manual approach recently and thought it was one thing, but it turned out that rather than warning me about low tire pressure it was actually telling me a bulb had gone.
Signs are there for a reason and our response to them matter. Advent is a sign to us, a reminder that God acted, is acting and will continue to act in our world in ways of love and peace.
The question therefore at the start of Advent is what is your response to the sign that God is on the move?
Will you immediately check into a garage (church)?
Will your reach for the manual (the Bible)?
Will you take your time before you check in with God?
Will you ignore everything until it all falls apart?
Whatever your response is, my prayer is that this advent you will find and experience God’s love.