17 Dec - Matthew 2:1-12

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The wise men are really interesting.  There is so much about them that I find fascinating.

They were men of great importance.  Having been able to firstly afford the gifts they gave and the myths that surround them it is likely that they were kings.  And their job was most likely that of astrologers.  And they would have come from afar.  I am struck by that even just at the sight of a star they understand that this foretells the birth of the King.  And the come to worship him.   They drop everything and come to worship.  God has flung everything into being in such a way that even the stars precipitate worship of Jesus.

And the gifts.  Some of the most prophetic items ever given.  Gold for a king.  Crowns and sceptres are made of gold.  Pointing towards the revelation of Jesus as King of Kings. Frankincense is costly and expensive, but they know that this little baby is worth it, hinting at the worship that He deserves, costly and fragrant.  And myrrh, the smell of death, that corpses would have been smothered in to hide the odour, pointing towards Jesus death even at his birth.

16 Dec - Luke 2:1-20

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One of my favourite songs at Christmas is O Come O Come Emmanuel.  I like it because so much of Christmas is loud and bright, and this song is not.  It is in a minor key (I think...), it's slow, a bit of a dirge.  But I like it because it captures the feeling of the shepherds.

The shepherds are the no-hopers.  They're the ancient equivalent of a port-a-loo cleaner.  Not well respected, not well paid, not a pleasant job.   And they're the ones who would tell stories of the promised Messiah, on cold nights on the hills tending the sheep.  I can imagine them telling each other of what the Messiah would be like, attempting to encourage one-another, but not really believing it because it seems so far off.

But the into the middle of it comes an angel.  Declaring 'GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST".  And it blows everything apart.  They had been secretly hoping for this coming Messiah, but never would have imagined that they would be the first to hear his coming. 

And that's the thing about praying 'Come Lord Jesus Come'.  He might actually come.  And we will be among the first to see him.  What a joy.

15 Dec - Hebrews 9

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I think Hebrews 9 sums up that entire feeling of Maranatha.

It reminds us that before Jesus, there was such a massive faff to get right before God.   Sacrifices to make, sins to confess, the priest only being allowed into the holy of holies once a year, and only if he had make the right sacrifices.  This is how God's people used to interact with Him.  You can understand why they would cry, perhaps unknowingly, Come Messiah, Come.  

And then the hinge comes in v11, 'But when Christ came.'  That when he came as the perfect person he was able to demolish that need to make sacrifice.  And the people are able to approach God.  Not by going into the holy of holies, but because Jesus went to the perfect temple and made the whole earth His temple, His dwelling place.

14 Dec - John 1:1-18

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Think back to applying for University.  Writing the UCAS application form.  The difficulty of picking which university.  And the behemoth of a personal statement.  That essay about who you are and why you should be accepted to whichever establishment you want to go to.  The cringey quotes and the various guides on how to start and what to include.  How to show you're clever, but not just book-smart.  How to include everything about who you are yet constrained to that 1000 word limit.

The start of John is like Jesus' personal statement.  It tells us exactly who He is - The Word.  It tells us what he's good at - shining in the darkness.  It tells us what he wants to do - make the Father known.  It tells us about his other interests - making children of God.  

But unlike yours of my personal statement, it doesn't paper over our cracks, because there are no cracks in Jesus.  He has no weakness.  And again, unlike our personal statements, we're not hoping that we might be accepted.  Jesus' personal statement is like the personal statment of the applicant with full set of A* at GCSE and A-Level.  He's the applicant with Universities fighting over him, offering scholarships.  Infact his personal statement is so good universities are asking him to apply.  

Yes, the analogy gets stretched.  And Jesus isn't trying to apply anywhere.  Infact, he doesn't want to join anything.  He was us to join him in glorifying the Father.

13 Dec - John 13:1-20

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One of my many flaws in life is the expectation of good customer service.  For a couple of years I worked in quite high-end retail and had to provide an excellent standard of service and so I have come to expect it in others.  I am quick to compliment good service, but I am also quick to criticise.  I expect good service from people who's job it is to provide service, but wouldn't expect it from someone who's job it isn't.

But when you read this passage where Jesus washes his disciples feet, that is a whole other level of service.   It's like the CEO of Tescos has come to stack shelves and sit at the till.  Or the Minister for Education has become a TA for the day.  Or Gordon Ramsey has started working behind the counter in Mc Donalds.

And Jesus washes his disciples feet.  The creator of all things, has stooped down to wash his friends feet.  Because he is full of humility.

Who's feet can you wash today?

12 Dec - Revelation 21:1-8

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This passage paints a beautiful picture of what happens after Jesus second coming.  

  1. Jesus' bride, the church, that's us, will have been prepared, ready to meet her new husband.  Not in a weird wedding-night way, but in a fully committed to each other, overflowing with love, united and self-giving way.  
     
  2. God is now dwelling among his people.  This has been true since the death and of Jesus and the ripping of the temple curtain, but it seems to be something extra emphasised here.  Perhaps it means that we can't ignore his presence among us now.  Living on this side of heaven, it's possible not to acknowledge God's presence, but on the other side, we'll be so overwhelmingly aware of it.
     
  3. Jesus will comfort us.  All the scars and wounds of life that we've picked up will be bandaged and soothed by Jesus.  He will not stop us crying, but will wipe the tears away.  He will tend to us and calm our deepest fears.
     
  4. Sickness pain and death will have gone.  Jesus has swallowed up these things in his victory over the grave.  And we shall see that victory come into full effect when Jesus triumphantly returns as King of the universe.
     
  5. Finally, Jesus is making all things new.  Dont read this as it all going in the bin and we're starting again.  More like stripping it down, and cleaning and redeeming all the parts and putting it back together without the sin.  

 

11 Dec - Phillipians 2:1-16

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Each year I go away on a summer camp.  Its great fun.  Three weeks of 100 teenagers, fun, community, Jesus and seeing lives changed.  It's run by these good friends of mine, they're quite busy and important people, well respected with impressive jobs.  

The thing about taking over a hundred teenagers away is that there are a lot of things to do, and often not fun things.  Sometimes some of the naughty kids will stuff the toilet with loo roll.  Or there are thousands of onions to chop for dinner.  And this guy who leads the camp, with his impressive job title and tremendous responsibilities, is there, with his hand down the u-bend clearing it out.  Or in the kitchen with tears streaming down his face, chopping more onions.  

He could so easily send or make someone else do those jobs, but they're the worst jobs.  They're the disgusting and uncomfortable ones.  So he does them himself.  

And it reminds me a lot of Jesus, especially in this passage in Philippians.  Jesus, the most important human being ever to live, stoops low to stick his hand down the toilet and to chop onions.  He didn't use his status as God to his advantage.  Instead he humbled himself.  He did all that he could for the sake of you and me.  He lowered himself, lower than we could ever lower ourselves.  

And then because of God's topsy-turvy-upside-down economy, He ends up exaulted above all things.  

So, want to be honoured? Find the most disgusting thing you can do, and do it.

10 Dec - 1 Corinthians 15:42-58

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Christmas is an odd time to think about death.  It's supposed to be a happy, joyous, vibrant, red, gold, green, full of wrapping paper, mulled wine, turkey, laughter, presents, friends, with a topping of brandy butter, icing sugar and hopefully snow.

But what if it's not supposed to be like that?  What if the whole point of Christmas is that it points to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Sad Saturday, and then eventually Easter Sunday.  Mary is reminded of this when she meet Simeon, who says that a sword of pain will pierce you. 

The whole reason Jesus came to earth was to die.  To die for us.  To die to forgive us of sin.  To die to redeem our lives.  To die to adopt us into the family.  And to die to defeat death.  

The passage from today talks about the death of death.  And that is the mystery at the heart of Christmas, this eternal and yet new-baby Jesus came to earth for death.  He came to die, but he also came to die so that we might not die.  

He swallowed up death.  And now we can shout 'Death, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? WHERE IS YOUR STING?'

Because this little baby was born, we may be re-born.  Because this little baby was born, we may not die.  

9 Dec - Revelation 19:1-16

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At Christmas we get this image of God in our heads of a little baby.  Sleeping on some hay in a manger.  Not even crying when the cows go moo.  And this image sometimes carries on with Jesus as he grows up.  Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.  Sometimes it feels as if Jesus was a bit of a push-over.  

But then we read passages like Revelation 19.  And there is no way that Jesus was a pushover.  Riding in on the back of a white horse, brandishing a massive sword, with a tattoo saying KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Now if there ever was an image as far removed from the baby in the stable it's that one.  But there aren't two people.  Its not as if there is nice Jesus and nasty Jesus.  He doesn't have a split personality.  It's the same Jesus throughout.  The first time he chooses to come in humility and lowliness.  But the second time he will come to crush his enemies.  The first time he came in obscurity, but the second time he will come and all will know. 

8 Dec - Hebrews 1

Why do we worship Jesus?  Is it because he's quite good?  Because he's done some nice things for us?  Because he has saved us?  Even before Jesus went to the cross, He was worthy of worship, so it has to be something more than what happened on the cross.  It has to be more than the life that he lived.  There has to be a bigger answer.  Because God's intention was never for sin, and yet the only reason that Jesus had to die was because of sin.  But since the beginning of time, before creation and sin and death, Jesus has been worth worshipping.

I think v3 of Hebews ch 1, sums it up the reason why we worship beautifully, "The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word"

Jesus is sustaining ALL THINGS.  That's literally all things.  Not most things or some things, but all things.  And he is doing it by His word.  And he doesn't do it for His sake, he does it for our sake.  Jesus is keeping all things going by His word for us to enjoy.

Jesus by his word is keeping all things on earth in motion.  By his word the moon revolves around the earth, which revolves around the sun, which revolves around the rest of the galaxy.  

By his word electrons attract and repel each other keeping all matter from crashing in on itself or floating off into outer space.

By his word sugar is reacting with oxygen to create energy sustaining all forms of life.

He is sustaining literally all things by his word.  

If that's not worshipping, I don't know what is.



7 Dec - Isaiah 45

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What a passage!

If you ever need reminding of God's power, then this is the bit of the Bible to read.  Full of glory and majesty.  Reminding us of who God is.  There are a few things that I want to pull out.

  1.  I am the Lord, and there is no other. v6.  God is the only God.  He is the only creator and sustainer of all things.  He is the only one worth worshipping.  He is the only one who is powerful and true.  And this is especially true at Christmas.  Its not that Jesus came as another God in addition to God in heaven.  Jesus is one of the three persons that make us the only God.  Difficult to understand, but key.  Read this for more.
  2. I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. v3.  
    As powerful as God is, he still calls us by name.  In the middle of this passage on God's power and glory, there is this little moment of intimacy.  It talks about the secret place, and how God calls us individually by name.  God is not only King, but he is friend too.
  3. I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right. v19
    God gets to decide what is right and true.  God has set out what is good and what is not.  It is Him who defines good.  Not the other way round.  We need to be looking to God to find out what is good and true.

o today, as God to reveal some of his truth to you.

6 Dec - Colossians 1:15-22

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Have you seen the nativity scenes?  It's all a bit surreal.  Mary has just given birth.  And there are cattle and a whole bunch of strangers.  It's not really the setting you want for giving birth to a baby.

And then when you consider this baby.  The one through whom, by whom and for whom all things were created.  The one under whom all things sit.  The firstborn over all creation.  What?  The firstborn?  How can he be firstborn if he's only just been born?  

In this little baby we have the one who has existed since before the beginning of time.  Stuffed into this tiny little flesh suit, is the fullness of God.  It's utterly incredible.  

Jesus is firstborn over all creation because He will be the first to be re-born, to be resurrected.  He will be the proto-type for all his people.  The first of all humanity to meet God's standard.  The first to live a sinless life. 

In this little baby is the power of God.

5 Dec - Job 33:12-28

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"Yet if there is an angel at their side,  a messenger, one out of a thousand, sent to tell them how to be upright and he is gracious to that person and says to God, ‘Spare them from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for them"

Job is a difficult book.  All the suffering and bad advice.  But hidden right in the middle is this gem.  This promise of one who will for us make a ransom with God, one who will beg God to spare us.

For those waiting for Jesus first coming this would have been great comfort.  The Romans would oppress them, the religious rulers would make things difficult.  If ill health came about, or the harvest wasn't good life could look pretty bleak.  Back then, as now, life could be full of suffering.  But to know that there is one of a thousand, one unique one, who has gone into the pit of suffering and come out the other side.  To know that He knows what it feels like to go through what we're going through can be so comforting.

And that ultimately He came so that we don't have to go to the eternal pit.

4 Dec - Isaiah 9:2-7

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When I think of Christmas readings, I think of this one.  'The people walking in darkness have seen a great light', and 'a child is born, a son in given, etc'.  Powerful, emotive moving words.  Words that were written hundreds of years before the son was given and before the great light came to the people in darkness.  

These words describe the beauty and joy that comes with this promised son.  The nations are enlarged.  Joy is increased.  The rod and yoke and bar has been shattered.  There is freedom.  This is utter joy.  It describes how war will come to an end.  How the everything to do with war will be burnt up.  That the coming of this light in darkness will be the end of the military and war and fighting.  

And yet we sit on the other side of the Syria Bombing vote.  And we think where is this light that will shatter the yoke, shatter the bar and shatter the rod?  And we see war increasing, and the warriors boot being used in battle and not burnt.  

From the back of this, we can do one of two things.  

We can despair.  We can rage against the machine.  We can give up and declare the government as corrupt.  

Or we can increase our cry of 'Come Lord Jesus Come'.  If war is going to end, and the prince of peace is arriving when Jesus comes, then we need to pray for Jesus to come.  If the one who has the government of, not just the UK but, the whole world resting on his shoulders is Jesus, then we need to cry 'Come Lord Jesus Come'.  If we are angry for lack of justice and righteousness, then we need to cry 'Come Lord Jesus Come', as justice and righteousness are his and his alone.

  So instead of despairing, cry maranatha.

3 Dec - Micah 5:1-5

 

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One of my favourite things about Christmas is the films that get shown.  And usually there are a decent amount of either Bond films or murder mystery films, often a Poirot.  And the key to solving the murder, or James saving the world, is this little insignificant piece of information or gadget that was subtly dropped in near the beginning.

And todays passage reminds us of the importance of  the seemingly insignificant.  God chooses to come down in an insignificant place in an insignificant way to change the world forever.  

Bethlehem is, as we read, the smallest amongst the clans of Judah.  It's barely even worth counting.  Yet it will bear host to the most significant event and human being that has ever existed or will ever exist.  

And this seems to be the way that God works.  Her uses the foolish to shame the wise, he uses the weak to overcome the strong, he uses the insignifiant to highlight the important.  

But although he comes from a small clan, he will be ruler over Israel, over all the earth.  He will stand and shepherd his flock, he will be our peace.  Out of this little place will come one of strength and majesty.

As you go through today, ask yourself, "Where am I missing God in the insignificant?". 

2 Dec - Zecheriah 9:9-17

Christmas is a great time for many reasons.  And one of them is the adverts. It seems each year, the big corporations try to out do one another with a more impressive or tear jerking advert.  John Lewis, Sainsbury's, Lloyds, a whole myriad or more and more impressive adverts designed to overwhelm and awe.  

And that can often be the thinking trend, bigger, more impressive, more noisy, more emotive is always better.  But what if it's not.  What if there is something in humility.  Look at v9.  'Your king come to you ... lowly and riding on a donkey.' If that's the advert for the promised King then it's not about the impressiveness or might.  Its not about shock and awe.  

The headline banner for this section on what God is going to to through this promised King is about humility and humanity.  God wants his people to know first and foremost that this promised King is going to be approachable, knowable.  

But he is also going to 'rule from sea to sea' v10.  He is going to be King of all the earth, but his reign will be that of peace.  He will save his people, and his people will be precious to Him, v16.  

How excellent is that?  That this humble, saving king is going to rule, and that we, his people, are precious to him?!  To be the object of his affection.    

Make time today to remind yourself that this coming Messiah is King, is humble, and He thinks you are fantastic.

1 Dec - Isaiah 11

First day of the advent calendar.  First chocolate.  For the first time in a long time, my mum didn't buy me one.  I think you know you've grown up when you have to buy your own advent calendar.

It can feel like ages 'til Christmas on the 1st December.  There's still so much to be done, assignments to finish, exams to sit, things to revise for and lectures to go to.  It can feel like such a long time to wait.  And sometimes when we actually get to Christmas day, it's not what we're quite expecting.  Maybe it's a new way of doing Christmas, maybe a brother or a sister isn't around for the first time.  Or there is an argument.  Or you dont have turkey and everything is different.

Reading this passage the writer of Isaiah is in a very similar situation.  He's going to be waiting for a long time, and what he's waiting for is not going to be quite what he was expecting.  Isaiah 11 was written 800 years before the Messiah was born, and yet there is a clear idea of what He would be like.

  1. He would be a stump of Jesse.  Jesse was King David's father.  Elsewhere in scripture Jesus is foretold that he would be a son of David's.  And Joseph, Jesus' earthly dad was of the line of David.  But it would take 800 years and many many generations to see this happen.  But God was faithful all throughout that time.  He was talking to His people, guarding them, guiding them, redeeming them when they were stupid and loving them all the time.
  2. Things weren't as they were expected.  In the later stages of Isaiah 11 there appears to be a lot of smashing and fighting.  And this is what 800 years after Isaiah was written the people expected, a warrior king, triumphant in battle and mighty in strength.  But that's not the picture that Isaiah 11 actually paints. In the middle section there appears to be peace and an outrageous peace at that.  The calf and the lion, the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the goat all hanging out together.  It seems that warring factions and natural enemies would be brought together.  This coming Messiah, this shoot from Jesse would be different.  He would bring peace.  A peace that subdues some and lifts up others.  A peace that passes all understanding.  The Messiah would come and do #unexpected things. 

So today, be watching and waiting for this long awaited Messiah.  Be expecting Him to do unexpected things in your life.  Be on the lookout for where he is moving, for His signs of peace.