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.