December: Advent is here
29 November Mark 13:24-37 Keep awake!
The last two words of this passage—the last two recorded words spoken by Jesus in this long speech, given to his disciples outside the Temple in Jerusalem—these two words set the theme for the four weeks of Advent, that start today. Advent literally means “towards the coming”. It is what pregnant women do; they look “towards the coming” of the expected child. It is what young children do, as dinner time approaches; they look “towards the coming” of their working parents, returning home to share in the evening meal and associated rituals. It is what we are called to do during these next four weeks; to look “towards the coming” of Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day. And as we look “towards the coming”, we are instructed to “keep awake” (13:37, and see also 13:35), to “keep alert” (13:33), “be alert” (13:23), and “beware” (13:9 and 13:5). Get the message??
6 December Mark 1:1-8 Prepare the way (get serious!)
The earliest Gospel that we have does not begin at the start of the story. It tells nothing of the birth of Jesus. Instead, it plunges into the story when Jesus is an adult. It links Jesus with a strange character, living in the desert, wearing strange clothing, eating strange foods, and speaking striking words. The desert dweller points beyond himself, to the one who is still to come: “he will baptise you”. And baptism means, literally, dunking; being plunged, fully-clothed, deep down into the water. Baptism was a serious business. Getting ready for such an experience took concentration, focus, and clear intention. Who would want to experience, even just for a few seconds, the feeling of drowning? Baptism requires serious preparation. So, too, in this season of Advent—as we look with anticipation to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we need to prepare, seriously, with intention. Let’s get serious!
13 December John 1:6-8,19-28 He is coming!
The “book of signs”, the fourth Gospel in our Bible, begins with a poem, painting wonderful word pictures about the Word. But the poem is interrupted by a somewhat prosaic account of a man named John. We met John last week, a wild wilderness figure, in Mark’s Gospel, the earliest Gospel we have. This week, in John’s Gospel, the last to be written of the four that we have, John has been “tidied up”. The first thing said about him is not what weird things he ate, nor what strange things he wore; no, John the evangelist says that this John was simply “a man sent from God”. He was a messenger, sent to deliver a message; “a witness to testify to the light”. Last week, in Mark, John bore testimony to Jesus; so, too, also this week, in John. Jesus is the light. Jesus is the Messiah, the one chosen by God. That’s who we look to, as we prepare for his coming.
20 December Luke 1:26-38 Something out of the ordinary
The “orderly account of the things coming to fulfilment” (which we know as the Gospel of Luke) tells us much more about the beginnings of Jesus (his conception, birth, and early days) than the other Gospels. This passage recounts the moment when Mary learns that she will bear a child. She is perplexed, amazed; she is a virgin. “How can this be?” A messenger from God informs her, though, that impossibilities are now becoming realities. Indeed, her aged, barren cousin is now pregnant, and Mary will find herself bearing a child—but no ordinary a child; a child “who will be holy, who will he called Son of God”. Now that is really out of the ordinary!
25 December Luke 2 Shepherds and angels celebrate
Every year, on Christmas Day, we hear year this familiar and beloved story from the “orderly account” of Luke’s Gospel. It contains an interesting collection of characters: a man of royal descent, accompanying a young woman pregnant but not married; a group of shepherds (marginalised characters at the best of times in ancient society) who see a vision in the sky; and a crowd of messengers from God, who suddenly appear and burst into song! The strangeness of the story is diluted by the repetition of this biblical passage every year. It is strange because it tells of God’s eruption into the everyday lives of ordinary people. It is strange because this eruption by God provokes and challenges. May that be the focus of our expectation and hope this Christmas: hope that God will burst anew into our lives in an unexpected and challenging way!
27 December Luke 2:22-40 Mother and baby: the challenges of faith
Again this week, we hear stories found only in the “orderly account” we call Luke’s Gospel. Again, there is an interesting cast of characters. As well as the baby (given the name Jesus in 2:21) and his parents, there are the Temple priests who receive the family’s sacrifice, the devout man Simeon, and the elderly prophet Anna. Both Simeon and Anna are inspired by the Spirit to declare how significant this newborn child would be. Anna relates him to “the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38); that points to his significance as Saviour. Simeon also relates him to salvation (2:30), but indicates that the pathway ahead will be divisive. “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” (2:34). That predicts a hard path for Jesus—and also for his mother, to whom Simeon declares, “a sword shall pierce your own soul too” (2:35). The destiny of this mother and child is not that of a gentle love story, but of a rugged, challenging route. Faith confronts and challenges.
Rev. Dr John Squires is the Presbytery Minister (Wellbeing) for the Canberra Region Presbytery.
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