20 December (Advent 4)
Theme God’s kingdom fulfils all God’s promises
Sentence p. 553
Collect p. 554
Praise and honour to you living God;
your coming will be like a thief in the night,
like lightning flashing across the sky.
Grant that we may be ready,
and our hearts answer, Come Lord Jesus.
There is a 'wow' factor when precise predictions are made which are later fulfilled. Micah predicts that Bethlehem will be the place of origin of the future shepherd king of Israel. The psalmist, by contrast, is predicting nothing but crying out to God as the shepherd king of Israel, 'Stir up your might, and come to save us!' (v. 2b). His prayer is answered by Micah's prediction coming true according to the gospels of Matthew and Luke which tell us the story of Jesus the shepherd king of Israel who is born in Bethlehem.
The reading from Hebrews offers a different perspective on the role of Christ. If Micah and Psalm readings lead us to think of Jesus Christ's role as shepherd king, this reading is about Christ as high priest. As shepherd king, Christ leads Israel to become a great nation, with the twist that this greatness is expressed through a vast international movement of Christians rather than through a restored militarily and politically independent country. As high priest Christ transforms the internal spiritual centre of Israel: no longer is it the Jerusalem Temple and the sacrificial system anchored to it, now it is Jesus Christ himself. The connection point (according to Hebrews 10:10) in this unfolding sequence from prayer to prediction, from prediction to fulfilment, from one way of being God's people to another way is 'God's will.'
God's will would be nothing at all if it were words predicting a future course of events which never came true. Luke's gospel from beginning to end is enthusiastic about God's will coming true, about the promises of God being fulfilled. Sometimes Luke demonstrates for us that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of ancient prophecies. Other times Luke show us that a promise or forecast at the beginning of Jesus' story is fulfilled later in that story. The end of our gospel reading takes us straight to this enthusiasm of Luke: Elizabeth, a kinswoman of Mary, herself pregnant with an unexpected yet promised child, celebrates Mary's pregnancy: it is a fulfilment of a promise made to Mary and she is to be blessed because she believed that promise. In these and other ways through the gospel, Luke hammers home to his readers the simple point, What God promises, he fulfils; what God wills, it comes to pass.
Our gospel reading stops short of Mary's famous song which we know as the Magnificat. That song is the national anthem (as it were) of the kingdom of God: in this kingdom the shepherd king acts to answer the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 80, 'He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy' (1:54). But if our eyes continue to read through the whole of the gospel we find that through the coming of the baby born in Bethlehem, this kingdom is the fulfilment of all God's promises.
24 December (Midnight) and 25 December (Morning)
Theme The best news ever
Sentence NZPB p. 555
Christmas Eve service: NZ PB p. 555
Son of God, light that shines in the dark,
child of joy and peace,
help us to come to you
and be born anew this holy night.
Christmas Day service: NZPB p. 556
Son of God, Child of Mary
born in the stable at Bethlehem,
be born again in us this day
that through us the world may know
the wonder of your love.
What kind of news drives the shepherds to leave their flocks in the middle of the night to race to a stable to worship a baby? To call the news 'good news' is accurate - that is the meaning of 'gospel' - but not very helpful. A better sense would be to call this news the 'best news ever.' All the good news in the world - the birth of a new baby, a promotion with massive pay rise, the All Blacks winning the World Cup three times in a row ("Come, 2019!!") - falls well short of the news which sets the shepherds racing to the stable. They hear the best news ever. We hear it too in our four readings. Isaiah, centuries ahead of the actual birth date of Jesus, celebrates the best king ever. The psalmist celebrates God as the best God ever and sneaks in a preview of God coming to earth. Paul writing to his friend and colleague Titus reminds him that what happened in the birth of Jesus was nothing less than the appearance of the generous, unconstrained love of God which brought salvation for all (v.11).
In Luke's gospel the angel announcing this best news ever says it is of 'great joy for all the people' (v. 10). There is that word 'all' again. What on earth could the best news ever be when it is best news for everyone?
Going back to Titus, Paul lays out this best news ever in terms of our relationship with God. What state is that relationship in for humanity? What state is that relationship in for you and for me? If all were well there would be no need for talk of salvation, for peace and goodwill. But all is not well. The relationship has been broken. Instead of peace there are wars between countries and bitter conflicts between individuals. Instead of prosperity for all there is a growing gap between rich and poor. Instead of sober, pure living we inhabit a world drenched with pornography and awash with liquor and drugs.
It is a wonder God has not washed his hands of us and left us to our own selfish devices. Or even wiped us from the face of the earth. That would be bad news. Instead we have the best news ever,
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.'
God is not deterred that we have rejected him and spurned his will for our lives. Instead God has entered our world, hiding his glory, taking on the ordinary life of a baby who will grow to be a man. That man will die on a cross a death which absorbs all the bad stuff so the rift between us and God can be healed. Only with that healing can the world itself be healed.
Each Christmas we pause to celebrate this gift from God full of possibility for a new world. The challenging edge to this message is what we are going to do about it for the next 364 days! Something or nothing?