This is what the Lord says, “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Yemen, Venezuela, Syria, Indonesia, the Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh: just a few of the places where we see children suffering under extreme conditions today. Closer to home statistics reveal that in an average class in the UK a shocking nine out of 30 children are in poverty. We look at our television screens, we listen to the radio and we feel overwhelmed by the need. Like Rachel weeping for her children we are paralysed by the enormity of what we see and the feeling that we are helpless in the face of such adversity.
However, in the next verses of this passage Jeremiah tells us God commands us to “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears for your work will be rewarded” and that ‘there is hope…your children will return to their own land.”
Let us not become victims of compassion fatigue and “become weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9). Let us take time to remember this Christmas there is comfort and hope and it comes through a little child, a child born into poverty, Jesus. Let us continue to work and pray for justice here on earth in whatever ways we can so that the world’s children can know this hope, for in the words of Jesus himself “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)
Genesis 18v25 Justice
Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Sometimes I want God to be angry. I want Him to judge. Sometimes I hear stories on the news that make me boil with outrage. After the body of a 12 year old African-American girl was found near his hometown, Tom Waits wrote the song ‘Georgia Lee’.
It’s a devastating song, with a very simple refrain: ‘Why wasn’t God watching? Why wasn’t God listening? Why wasn’t God there, for Georgia Lee?’. And there’s a righteousness in that anger that is shared by the writer of Psalm 94 ‘How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant?’.
And in this passage, it’s not as though the people of Sodom didn’t deserve judgment (though possibly not for the reason I was brought up to think). Ezekiel chapter 16 tells us their sin was that they were ‘arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy’.
Which, erm, doesn’t, actually, sound so bad, really, does it? They weren’t child murderers exactly, and there must be some good people amongst them? So, Abraham pleads with God for mercy, gradually whittling away at God’s anger so that God would be merciful if there were 50 righteous people living there, then 45, 40, 30, 20, 10 – you’ve got to admire his nerve! And God relents – he will show mercy because Abraham has persevered in prayer. But in the event, the city is destroyed; God’s mercy is shown to Lot and his family, but the crimes of the city do not go unpunished.
And Georgia Lee’s killer will face God’s judgment in the fullness of time. For God does care about the poor and the needy, much more than we do.
Is there any danger at all, that in celebrating this advent season I might become ‘overfed and unconcerned’?
God is on the side of the poor and the needy, am I?
Sarah said “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”
When was the last time you really really laughed?
Lke a proper belly laugh, one that leaves you feeling totally different to before! It is good to laugh like that. And I am not talking about laughing a a funny video or laughing at someone else misfortune but a joyful laugh that comes when you are in good company, when you are moved to feel different.
Our reading today is the story of how Sarah, who at first didn’t believe God, discovers the greatest joy she had even know in giving birth to the son God had promised her. And this was the beginning of the a family that God planned to use to bless the whole earth not just with love and hope but with great joy and laughter too.
I don’t know how you see God, or the kind of character he might possess, but as I reflected on this I realised that sometimes we forget that God is a loving God who not only wishes to love and bless us, but at times He wants us to this same great joy and laughter that Sarah had all those years ago.
So today look for the joy in life, look for the small things that bring a smile, and maybe, just maybe you might also get to laugh a little too.
Matthew 2v2 Hope
Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews. We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.
The Jewish people had never had a king. God didn’t want them to have one because He wanted to be their king, but he eventually agreed.
The Jewish people soon discovered it wasn’t always to their advantage. They were heavily taxed or forced to work in strenuous building work.
However, they did have a very good king in David, “A man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13v14) God promised David that he would always have a descendant on the throne. This was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus who reigns not just as King of the Jews but the whole world.
The prophets of the Old Testament talked about the ‘coming one’ who would be the Messiah, the Saviour of the World, the Hope of the Nation.
Unfortunately when He came that first Christmas very few people recognised Him. The Wise Men thought He would be in a palace which is why they called on Herod first. When they found the child in Bethlehem, as prophesied, they bowed down and worshipped Him.
The baby grew up, became a man, and died for the Salvation of the world. He is indeed the Hope of the Nations and ours too.
Do you recognise Him?
He wants to be your Saviour, Friend and Hope for the future.
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
At that time. What time? Is it, in the words of singer Andy Williams, the ‘most wonderful time of the year’? Time certainly seems at a premium now as we hurtle towards Christmas with a host of tasks, which seemingly need to be accomplished before we can fully enjoy the great day itself!
Just before that time in Mark’s Gospel John had been in the wilderness preaching a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. And for four hundred years before that time the people of Israel, meanwhile, had been in a spiritual wilderness, hearing nothing from God.
Suddenly Jesus appeared from Nazareth in Galilee, a place that appears from archeological excavation to have been no more than a poor, insignificant Jewish village. It’s no wonder that in John’s Gospel Nathaniel asks “Can anything good come from there?” when Philip invites him to meet Jesus.
At this time you may feel as if you are in a spiritual wilderness, either overwhelmed with the preparations for what has become a celebration of materialism or overcome by life’s circumstances. However, this is the time when we remember Jesus coming as Immanuel, God with us. Jesus tells all the disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel “surely I am with you”, both those who worshipped him AND those who doubted. Know that he is with you, even when you feel alone and doubtful, and expect to find him in the places - like Nazareth - which seem most unlikely.
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly…to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
We woke at 2am, bundled into the minibus and drove through a few miles of hilly desert road to the drop-off. Even at this ungodly hour it was already packed with people. We grabbed our rucksacks and trudged off into the gloom. Our noses rather than our eyes told us we were nearing camels, then we could hear the Bedouin trader offering us a ride up the mountain.
Alongside him was a brightly coloured shack lit by a string of incandescent bulbs selling cans of coke and mars bars (no Kendal mint cake!). After climbing slowly for an hour or two we reached the final 750 steps of repentance. Here the path was packed with people, and we seemed to pause on each step to allow the older people in front to catch their breath. Finally we reached the summit…and waited.
A group of Koreans started singing ‘How great thou art’ (must they?) and still we waited. Impromptu prayers were offered in various languages (though the Americans were the loudest) and still we waited. It all felt rather touristy and contrived, wouldn’t the view be just as good over there, without this crowd?
Finally the strip of hazy blue to the East burst into light as the sun appeared over the distant horizon. It was breathtaking. It was Mount Sinai. We had come to a place so holy that the writer to the Hebrews described it as ‘so terrifying that Moses said “I am trembling with fear”.’
And yet he says that this profound experience is to be regarded as a pale imitation of the heavenly Zion that we can approach anytime, anywhere, in worship. And there will be crowds – even if we worship alone, we can join the heavenly host worshipping the God who transforms human relationships from enemies and strangers to brothers and sisters.
I love the understatement of the final line that Jesus’s self-given blood offering ‘speaks a better word’ than all the blood shed in human conflict between families, tribes, nations and religions. Jesus our brother invites us to regard one another as brother and sister; annoyingly cheerful Korean, brash American, the old and the slow.
Is there someone today that I need to extend brotherly, (or sisterly) love towards?
She gave birth to a son, a male child…The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient snake called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.
Probably not what you are expecting to read for this Advent reflection! It certainly is a rather unusual and mysterious passages to include. I’ve often been told to avoid Revelation because its just a minefield, no one really knows what is going on and well its just to messy.
But there is something of importance here.
Firstly - the dragon who leads the whole world astray. You only have to turn on the news, or scroll on your phone to hear stories of how bad our world is. Plastic in the oceans, war, children being tear gassed, hatred and divisions being giving a voice. I could go on and on highlight how far off course our world has come. We have indeed gone astray and our whole world is groaning and breaking as a result.
There are times when I think we are in a hopeless situation with no way to solve this mess. But then I am reminded of the Christmas story - a story that is all about the future. Jesus as a baby was not yet in a position to do much - lets be honest. But soon, soon something incredible would happen. An epic battle to rival Lord of the Rings a spiritual one between Jesus and evil, love against hate, hope against despair.
And - yes you’ve guessed it. Love Wins!!!!
Hebrews 2v9 Suffered
But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
When you look out at the world and universe around us there are, I think, to opposite trains of thought that might go through your mind. The first is how insignificant we must be in the vastness of the universe. The second is how special we must be to have a place in the vast nothingness of the universe.
At the start of Douglas Adams’ “Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” it begins with the earth being destroyed to make way for an intergalactic bypass - and no-one on earth knew about about. It is perhaps Adams’ way of highlighting just how insignificant we are compared to the vastness of the universe.
BUT if the story we began with is indeed true - that Jesus is the Firstborn - then its far more likely that we are special. While the universe might be vast, Jesus came as a baby to us. Of course if you simply took the story of Mary and Jospeh having a child out of wedlock and removed God form it, then there is no story here. Just another couple having a child in a backwater town in the middle of no-where. BUT Jesus didn’t come to just be a baby, to be another child among millions, he came to show us the grace of God that echos throughout eternity and clears the rubbish out of the way so that we can again be with God.
Colossians 1v15 Firstborn
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation
What is it about small babies that make us go gooey? They’re not very useful. In fact there’s almost nothing they can do except cry and poo - a lot! Yet when we hold them in our arms, our hearts melt away.
And when they smile (even if its wind) all of us can’t help but be won over to their charm.
As we begin this journey into Christmas, we are using some Bible passages to help us prepare for the arrival of the Firstborn child, the Son of the invisible God, Immanuel - God with us.
I am sure for Mary and Jospeh those first few moments in Jesus life when he was born would have been very similar to our experiences of birth - apart from he sheep, straw and shepherds perhaps. But as their hearts melted away the deep and profound mystery of Immanuel was held in their hands.
What is precious to you? What do you hold dear in this season of your life? Where does the Firstborn fit into this? Is your relationships with Jesus important to you now, does it impact your life? What difference does knowing Jesus make to you? For Mary and Joseph it turned their lives upside-down and inside-out. But it also invited them into the most wondrous story…
So today as we begin, you are invited to join them, and us as we welcome the Firstborn of all creation.