Friday 19 December 2014

Luke 1 v 26/38
If this gospel message was told as a story in one of our daily newspapers, and so posted on their website, it would receive numerous scornful mocking comments, questioning as to why anyone would believe it. In fairness, if a daughter or friend came and told you she was pregnant but had not been intimate with a man, you would reasonably think she was mad or trying to cover up a moral lapse.

Such was the situation experienced by a young Jewish girl in a remote Israeli village, risking disgrace and shame and also the loss of her fiancée. It has to be accepted that the birth of Jesus was unique. God took the initiative, and Jesus was born of a virgin, such is a basic doctrine of the Church,

But such was the faith and courage of that young woman that she trusted God, and so became the most famous woman in all history, the most blessed of women. The Roman Catholic Church has tended to make rather too much of Mary whilst the Protestant Churches have made too little.

Is it not amazing how peoples’ minds reason. Thousands say they will not believe what they cannot understand. If I should go out on to the car park of this Church and take out a little plastic box, and press a combination of 13 numbers, within seconds I would be speaking to my son in Hong Kong. Yet if I wished to speak face to face, it would take a journey of 13 hours to do so.

I can’t explain how this can happen, and I doubt there is anyone I know who could explain, we take mobile phones for granted. We watch events as they happen from across the world in a box in our homes and take it for granted. Who can explain how a brown cow, which eats green grass, produces white milk, and yellow butter, yet we eat and drink both. Why on earth if we can accept all the marvels of man, we cannot accept the miracles of God.

This causes me to turn with you to verse 37 of this morning’s passage, ‘for nothing is impossible with God’. Our minds are not meant to understand all the miracles and mighty deeds of the Lord; the Cross and atonement; the resurrection; the power of the Holy Spirit. We may not understand the virginal conception, but we accept all these by faith.

Mary did not doubt what the angel told her, she was just puzzled, as she might be, as to how this would happen. It was as if the angel was saying ‘Mary you are thinking as a human being and humanly you are right, but this is God at work and He shall come upon you with the power of the Holy Spirit, for nothing is impossible for God’.

Nobody chooses to be born, it just happens to us, but with Jesus He chose to come here. His mother had Him born in lowly circumstances, was visited by shepherds, had the angels sing Gloria in excelsis, and heard Simeon warn her of a sword which would pierce her heart.

The whole purpose of Jesus coming here was to act as a substitute for our sin, and to do so would face a painful crucifixion, something rejected by so many people for whom all Christmas means is an orgy of feasting and riotous behaviour.

I read about a party of tourists being taken around Westminster Abbey and they stopped by a beautiful stained glass window which the guide had led them to. As they stared in silence an American lady asked, ‘has anyone been saved in this Church lately?’ The guide drew himself up to his full height and replied, ‘Madam, this is a Cathedral’. But the lady was right, the function and mission of the Church, whether it be a Cathedral or small chapel, is to bring people to salvation.

We have 580 members in General Synod, costing the Church far too much money, debating issues for which Scripture has already given answers, rather than trying to devise means of halting the exodus of people. It is like arguing which is the best room in the house when the whole house is on fire. The primary aim is to put the fire out never mind the furniture.

We need to teach that God made us for a purpose, and we have turned our backs on Him who gave us Jesus to be born and live on this earth, and eventually to die to save us. There is the tendency to ask how an event which occurred over 2000 years ago in a country across the world can affect us now. The answer is that God acted and still acts in our lives by the Holy Spirit. We need Christ as a Saviour.

We all have a choice. We can refuse to believe, or react like Mary who although she could not understand when told of God’s purpose for her replied, ‘behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to your Word’. That is the question for you to-day. To accept, and yield yourself.
We talk glibly about peace, often implying a lack of combat. It is all very well to talk of love and applying a social gospel to the problems of life. Politicians and social workers have been putting forth their lofty aims and to consider their effect, look at the broken homes, the bribery corruption drug dealing and divorce.

God’s meaning of peace is a solid one joining ourselves to Him. God reaches out to us whose love makes Him forgive us and mercy is boundless. It is God who takes the initiative as He did when He chose Abraham, who inspired Isaac and Jacob and founded the nation of Israel.

This is why we should have concern for the nation of Israel from which all our teaching emanates. We worship the God of Israel; we worship a Jewish Saviour; born of a Jewish woman; and are taught from a book written (under the inspiration of God) by Jewish writers. One day Jesus will return to there.

The Israelites constantly sinned and strayed away from God but He still looked after them, fed and clothed them, protected and revealed Himself to them. The Old Testament is the history of the Israelites resisting God’s will and the New Testament shows God cannot be limited. It was |God who sent His Son to prepare the great salvation after His prophets were rejected; it was God who raised His Son from the dead; God who gave teaching on how we should live and respond to Him.

If our Lord was to return now would He be happy about the religious teaching. Would He wonder why we Christians treat our faith in such casual manner rather than the aggressive evangelism of other faiths?

There is often a reluctance by clergy to speak out for fear of offending people. It is true to say Christian preachers tend to modify teaching of traditional values to appeal to contemporary thinking. All this causes a problem for parish priests, and especially for itinerant preachers like me.

In effect there are three options open to preachers
One is to avoid all contentious issues.
2 To go with the flow.
3 To be true to Scripture.
We all want to please and satisfy our audience, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to cause offence. But if preachers are to be true to their calling, and preach with integrity and honour, there are times when I suppose some people may be upset. If that happen that is sad. But perhaps you may see we are not here to that be like a spiritual dispenser giving out soothing word potions, but rather to make people think out Scripture.

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