Soon, it will be Christmas …

Soon, it will be Christmas. It’s a very special time of year. What is it that makes Christmas special? It’s Jesus who makes Christmas special. Jesus is a very special Person. There’s no-one more special than Jesus. If Christmas is going to be special for us, we must see that it’s all about Jesus – nothing else, no-one else, only Jesus, always Jesus.

Jesus’ birth was a very special birth. He was no ordinary child. He was the Son of God. He still is the Son of God. He loves us with a very special love. It’s the greatest love of all. It’s the love that reaches out to us. It’s the love that comes to us from heaven. It’s the love that never comes to an end. It’s the best love. It’s the love of God: “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son …” (John 3:16).

We read, in the Bible, about the first Christmas. We read about Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men – but Christmas is not really about any of them. It’s about Jesus. We learn from Mary and Joseph. We learn from the shepherds and the wise men. What do we learn from them? We learn about how special Jesus is. We do not say, “Mary is special.” We do not say, “Joseph is special.” We do not say, “The shepherds are special.” We do not say, “The wise men are special.” We say, “Jesus is special.” In the Christmas story, Mary has her place, and Joseph has his place. The  shepherds have their place, and the wise men have their place. None of them can take the place of Jesus. Without Jesus, there is no Christmas.

In the season of Advent (the four Sundays, leading up to Christmas), we look forward to Christmas. We count down the days. Before the first Christmas, there had been a much longer time of waiting. It wasn’t waiting for weeks. It was waiting for centuries. People must have wondered, “Had the waiting gone on for too long?” Then, at His chosen time, God sent His Son, Jesus, to be our Saviour (Galatians 4:4-5). Some people say, “All of this happened such a long time ago. What does it have to do with us?” The Christmas story may be an old story, but it is still God’s story for us. It’s the story of our Saviour.

After Advent, there is Christmas. After the time of waiting, there’s the time of celebration. What do we celebrate? Is Christmas no more than a winter festival? Or is there more to it than that? There is more – much, much more? There’s Jesus! What do we have without Jesus? – We “have winter, but no Christmas.” There is a better way than “winter, but no Christmas.” There’s the way of “Christmas in my heart” (Mission Praise, 107). What makes the difference between winter and Christmas? – It’s Jesus who makes the difference.

One week after Christmas, we move out of the old year and into the New Year. We put the past behind us. We press on into the future. Is it just a change of year – 2018 becomes 2019? – No! There’s something more than that. God is calling us to leave our past behind us. He’s calling us to step out, with Him, into His future. What will the New Year hold for us? – No-one knows – no-one but God. There may be surprises for us, but there are no surprises for Him. Whatever 2019 brings our way, we can be sure of this: God will be there, waiting for us. He will be there – to give us the strength that we need.

Christmas is just around the corner. The New Year is just around the next corner. We can’t look around the corners – and see what’s waiting there for us. Sometimes, we may wish that we could – but we can’t. There’s only one thing we can do – and it’s the best thing we could ever do. We can commit  ourselves and our future to the Lord. We can ask Him to lead us in His way – and we can follow in His footsteps, in the footsteps of His love. There may be hard times ahead of us, but we will not face them on our own. We will face them with God – and that is enough for those who put their trust in Him.

May God bless you during Advent, at Christmas and in the New Year.

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Watching, Waiting, Worshipping … Hope, Happiness, Holiness

The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit
Advent is the time of preparation for Christmas. Make sure that you prepare your heart for a real celebration of our Saviour. Remember that Christmas is not about us. It’s about God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: “an angel of the Lord” comes with news of something very special – “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the Name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). This is what makes Christmas a special time!

Watching, Waiting, Worshipping
 During Advent, we are watching and waiting. We hear the words of the prophet – “to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). We’re looking forward to Christmas time. It’s a time for celebration. The Lord has come. We hear the words of Jesus – “I will come back and take you to be with Me” (John 14:3). We’re looking to the future. It’s a great future. It’s God’s future – “we wait for the blessed hope— the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). May our watching and waiting be filled with worshipping – “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Love, Light, Life
In the Advent Season, we think about love. It’s the greatest love of all. It’s everlasting love. It’s the love of God – “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son …” (John 3:16). We think also about light. It’s the greatest light of all. It’s everlasting light. It’s the light of God – “the Lord God will give them light” (Revelation 22:5). Our thoughts are focused on life. It’s the greatest life of all. It’s everlasting life. It’s the life of God – “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11).

Hope, Happiness, Holiness
What is God saying to us during the Advent Season? He’s speaking to us with His message of hope, His offer of happiness and His call to holiness. In Christ, we have glorious hope – “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). We want to be happy. Christ calls us to be holy. We don’t find happiness by searching for it. We find happiness when we seek holiness. We’re looking for a happy Christmas. Let’s remember “the holy Child of Bethlehem.” In Him, we will find wholeness – when we’re wholly devoted to Him.

Praise, Prayer, Preaching
Where will God speak to us during this Advent Season? There’s a special blessing promised to those who gather together for worship. Remember Jesus’ precious promise – “where two or three come together in My Name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). In our worship, there is praise, prayer and preaching. May all that we do be “to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves” (Ephesians 1:6). Looking forward to Christ’s Return, “I am coming soon”, let us pray with eager longing and expectant faith – “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). As we serve the Lord, may we always say, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Grow, Glow, Go
God is calling us to grow, glow and go. We are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). We are to glow with the light of the Lord. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). He says to us, “You are the light of the world … let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14,16). Growing and glowing, let us go out and tell the story of what the Lord has done for us – “Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.”

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

Christ has come. Christ is coming again.
Isaiah looked ahead to the coming of ‘Immanuel’- ‘God with us’ (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).
We look forward to the Second Coming of Immanuel: ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God’ (Revelation 21:3).
The Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ presents us with a challenge: ‘When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?’(Luke 18:8). He calls us to ‘stand firm in our faith’.
We must not ‘shrink back ‘from Him. We must ‘believe and be saved’ (Isaiah 7:9; Hebrews 10:37-39).
Jesus says, ‘I am coming soon’. Let us pray, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’.
Let us pray that our ‘love’ for Him will not ‘grow cold’. Let us pray for strength to ‘stand firm to the end and be saved’ (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20; Matthew 24:12-13).
Christ has come as our Saviour. Let Him be your Saviour.
‘Restore us, O God, make Your face shine upon us, that we may be saved’ (Psalm 80:3).
This prayer for salvation is repeated with a growing sense of God’s greatness – ‘O God Almighty’ (Psalm 80:7), ‘O Lord God Almighty’(Psalm 80:19).
To those who are asking the question of salvation – ‘What must I do to be saved?’- , God gives His answer – ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:30-31).
What does the Lord say to those who look to Christ for salvation? – ‘The Lord will bless you and watch over you. The Lord will smile on you and be kind to you. The Lord will look on you with favour and give you peace’ (Numbers 6:24-26).
Let us worship Him: ‘Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Through Christ, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing that heaven has to offer’ (Ephesians 1:3).
Looking back and looking forward, let us live for Christ now.
‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith’(Romans 1:16).
Do you think it was easy for Paul to maintain such commitment to Christ, such confidence in Christ?
What kind of world did he live in? – A world of ‘ungodliness and wickedness’(Romans 1:18-31).
Many times, Paul could have given up in despair – ‘There is too much ungodliness and wickedness all around me.
How can I go on?’. When you feel like giving up, when everything seems to be so difficult, remember Paul.
Remember his longing to ‘impart some spiritual gift’, his desire to ‘reap some harvest’his eagerness to ‘preach the gospel’(Romans 1:12-15).
Let us say, with Paul, ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’(Galatians 6:14).
Let us be ‘set apart for the gospel of God’(Romans 1:1).
 
As we remember Christ’s supernatural birth, let us live the power of the Spirit.
The birth of Christ is a fulfilment of prophecy: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel’(Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14). Christ is ‘God with us’. He was born through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18, 20). He is still ‘God with us’, when we are ‘born of the Spirit’(John 3:5).
Some people do not believe what the Bible says here. They do not like the idea of a ‘virgin birth’. The Bible gives no encouragement to such unbelief. Matthew simply says, ‘This is the way it happened’(Matthew 1:18).
In view of the amazing thing God was doing – sending His Son to be the Saviour of the World – why should we doubt that God took things out of man’s hands and worked in His own miraculous way? We rejoice not only in the miracle but also in its saving purpose: ‘He will save His people from their sins’(Matthew 1:21).

Third Sunday of Advent – Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10 (or St Luke 1:47-55); James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Do we have faith? – Let us commit ourselves to a life of holiness.
What blessings are given to those who draw near to God – ‘Your God… will come and save you’ (Isaiah 35:4).
The Good News of Christ comes to us as a call to faith – ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31).
We have been saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot remain the same. We are called to live a new life. We must travel on the Lord’s ‘highway’- ‘the Way of Holiness’ (Isaiah 35:8). This is ‘the Way’ which leads to ‘everlasting joy’ (Isaiah 35:10).
This ‘Way’ is so different from the world’s way. The world has no time for those who seek to live a holy life. This is what Jesus says about the world’s way of life: ‘the gate is wide and the way is wide that leads to destruction’ (Matthew 7:13).
Whatever the world may say, we must never forget this: ‘Without holiness, no-one will see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14).
Do we have faith? – Let us commit ourselves to a life of worship.
‘I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live’ (Psalm 146:2).
Praising the Lord our God: This is a lifelong commitment. We cannot maintain this lifelong commitment in our own strength.
We need the Lord’s help. We must never forget this: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain’ (Psalm 127:1). We are not expected to maintain this lifelong commitment in our own strength.
We have the Lord’s help. We must always remember this: ‘Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth’ (Psalm 124:8).
‘Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, the Lord who remains faithful for ever’(Psalm 146:5-6).
Let us join with Mary in saying, ‘My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ (Luke 1:46-47).
Do we have faith? – Let us commit ourselves to a life of listening to God’s Word.
Much is said about John the Baptist here, yet the whole purpose is to draw attention to Jesus the Saviour. Jesus is superior to John. He is the One to whom John pointed. There are two responses to Jesus.
– We can take offence at Him: ‘Blessed is he who takes no offence at Me’(Matthew 11:6).
– We can hear what He says, receiving Him with faith: ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear’ (Matthew 11:15).
In His time, Jesus asked the question, ‘To whom shall I compare this generation?’, giving the answer, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’ (Matthew 11:16-17).
The promise of the Gospel is preached, yet many will not rejoice. The warning of the Gospel is preached, yet many will not repent. This is the story of our generation.
May God help us to lead people of this generation to Christ, the ‘Friend of sinners’ (Matthew 11:19).
Do we have faith? – Let us commit ourselves to a life of obeying God’s Word.
Don’t worry about ‘what will happen tomorrow’. It’s in the Lord’s hands (James 4:14-15).
We must not lose sight of ‘the purpose of the Lord’. We must remember that ‘the Lord is full of compassion and mercy’(James 5:11).
We look forward to ‘the Lord’s Coming’ as the great Day of our salvation (James 5:7-8).
We must not, however, forget God’s words of warning: ‘The Judge is standing at the door’. God speaks to us concerning ‘the misery that is coming upon you’. What is He saying to us here? – He is warning us: Be careful how you live – Don’t trust in riches. ‘Don’t grumble against each other’(James 5:1-3, 9).
The warning and the promise belong together. Those who are facing judgment can be brought to the Saviour. May God help us to speak His Word – the warning as well as the promise – , always praying that sinners will be saved (James 5:16, 19-20).

Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

Christ calls all nations to come to Him.
The family tree of ‘Jesse, the father of King David’ has a very special ‘Branch’- Jesus Christ (Isaiah 11:1; Matthew 1:1, 6, 16).
Jesus Christ has raised ‘a banner for the nations’. He is ‘the Saviour of the world’. He has died ‘for the sins of the whole world’. The ‘Good News’ is to be preached to ‘all the world’.
Christ calls ‘all nations’ to ‘turn to Him’. He calls ‘all nations’ to receive the ‘forgiveness of sins’. He calls ‘all nations’ to become His ‘disciples’ (Isaiah 11:12; John 4:42; 1 John 2:2; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; Matthew 28:19).
May our personal faith – ‘I will praise You, O Lord… God is my Salvation… The Lord is my Strength and my Song…’- become our public testimony – making Christ ‘known among the nations’, telling ‘all the world’ what the Lord has done for us (Isaiah 12:1-2, 4-5).
From all over the world Christ gathers His people.
Read the words – ‘His Name’ shall ‘endure for ever’ (Psalm 72:17) – and think of Christ. His Name is ‘the Name above all other names’. He is ‘the King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 19:16).
Read the words – ‘all nations call Him blessed’ (Psalm 72:17) – , and think of Christ. ‘From every tribe and language and people and nation’, God’s people have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (Revelation 5:9).
Read the words -‘May His glory fill the whole earth!’(Psalm 72:19) – and think of Christ. In the ‘new heaven and new earth’, ‘the holy city’ will shine with ‘the glory of God’. ‘Its radiance’, ‘like a very precious jewel’, will be shining from this ‘lamp’: Jesus Christ, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (Revelation 21:1-2, 10-11, 23; John 1:29).
The Good News of Christ is for all the world.
With Christ’s example, ‘the encouragement of the Scriptures’ and the enabling power of God, let us love one another,‘with one heart and one voice’(Romans 15:1-6). This is the way of glorifying God.
Trusting in Christ, ‘the root of Jesse’, we are blessed by ‘the God of hope’, filled with ‘the power of the Holy Spirit’- so that we may ‘abound in hope’. This hope comes to us through ‘the Scriptures’(Romans 15:12-13, 4).
God’s saving purpose was not only for the ‘dyed in the wool’ Jew. He saved both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 15:9-12). Thank God that Paul was not as narrow-minded as many people are today! God’s blessing is not only for our type of people! Let us learn from Paul. ‘A minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles’, he was always reaching out to more and more people ‘in the fullness of the blessing of Christ’(Romans 15:16, 29).
Let us take the Good News of Christ to every nation.
Our Gospel passage begins with ‘John the Baptist’(Matthew 3:1). It ends with our Lord Jesus Christ concerning whom the Voice from heaven says, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased’(Matthew 3:17).
Once John had served his purpose, once he has pointed away from himself to the Lord Jesus Christ, he retreats into the background. This is how it must always be. We point to One who is ‘more powerful’ than ourselves (Matthew 3:11; Romans 1:16). With John, we must learn to say, ‘Christ must increase, I must decrease’(John 3:30).
The contrast between John and Jesus is highlighted in Matthew 3:11 – ‘I baptize with water… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire’. This is still the contrast between the preacher and the Saviour – We preach the Word. He sends the power. Still He says, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses’(Acts 1:8).

First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

Awaiting Christ’s Return , let us worship God and walk in His ways.
God calls us to worship Him – ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… ’ – and walk in His ways – ‘Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord’ (Isaiah 2:3, 5).
We are moving towards the Day when ‘the pride of men shall be humbled and brought low’, the Day when ‘the Lord alone will be exalted’ (Isaiah 2:11, 12, 17).
How are we to get ready for the Return of our Lord Jesus Christ? God calls us to keep on worshipping Him. We are to encourage one another to keep on walking with God. ‘Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching’(Hebrews 10:25).
Let our pride be humbled and let the Lord be exalted as we await Christ’s Return in ‘faith’, looking to Him alone for our ‘salvation’(1 Peter 1:7-9).
Worshipping the Lord with joy
‘I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the House of the Lord”’ (Psalm 122:2).
Why do we go to the House of the Lord? We go ‘to give thanks to the Name of the Lord’ (Psalm 122:4).
We seek His mercy for our past sins: ‘Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us!’(Psalm 123:3).
We seek His help for our future temptations: ‘Our help is in the Name of the Lord…’ (Psalm 124:8).
As we receive mercy and help from the Lord, we worship Him: ‘Blessed be the Lord’ (Psalm 124:6).
In our worship, we ‘look to the Lord our God’, drawing encouragement from His Word: ‘The Lord is on our side’- In Him we have the victory (Psalms 123:2; 124:1-5).
Rejoicing in God’s blessing, we pray for others: ‘May they prosper who love You’ (Psalm 122:6).
Walking with the Lord in love
Awaiting the Return of Christ – our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed – , let us clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:11, 14).
Clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ, let us ‘walk in love’- We must not fall out over matters in which difference of opinion is allowed (Romans 14:5, 15).
There can be a lot of bitterness over ‘the Sabbath’. There can be so much pride. For some, this is the ‘be-all and end-all’ of Christian faith. They say, ‘We are the Sabbath keepers. They are not!’. Others react, ‘We rejoice in our Christian liberty. They are legalists.’ ‘Pharisees’ are preoccupied with ‘the Sabbath’. We must remember that Jesus is ‘the Lord of the Sabbath’.
We must let His love flow (Matthew 12:2, 10, 8, 11-12).
Let faith be real- not just keeping on the right side of narrow-minded people (Romans 14:23; Colossians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 2:15).
Let there be ‘peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’.
Don’t think too highly of yourself. ‘Count others better than yourself’(Romans 14:17; 12:3; Philippians 2:3).
Worshipping with joy and walking in love, we await Christ’s Return.
‘The times they are-a-changing’. There is, however, one thing that remains constant. Jesus says, ‘My words will not pass away’(Matthew 24:35).
In an age of unbelief, our faith is often under threat. We must stand upon this solid Rock: ‘The Word of the Lord stands forever’(1 Peter 1:25).
The scoffers will say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’(2 Peter 3:3-4). We are to believe that ‘He is near’(Matthew 24:33).
Christ has risen. He will return (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
When He returns need not concern us: ‘the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’(Matthew 24:44).
We are to be ready at all times (Matthew 25:13) – doing the Lord’s will (Matthew 24:46).
We are to be ‘faithful and wise’(Matthew 24:45).
As ‘the bride of Christ’(Revelation 19:7; 21:2), we await the Return of Christ our Bridegroom: ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him’(Matthew 25:6).

Let us pray that our love for Jesus will not grow cold …

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24

Let us pray that our love for Jesus will not grow cold.
Isaiah looked ahead to the coming of ‘Immanuel’ – ‘God with us’ (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). We look forward to the Second Coming of Immanuel: ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God’ (Revelation 21:3). The Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ presents us with a challenge: ‘When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?’ (Luke 18:8). He calls us to ‘stand firm in our faith’. We must not ‘shrink back ‘ from Him. We must ‘believe and be saved’ (Isaiah 7:9; Hebrews 10:37-39). Jesus says, ‘I am coming soon’. Let us pray, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’. Let us pray that our ‘love’ for Him will not ‘grow cold’. Let us pray for strength to ‘stand firm to the end and be saved’ (Revelation 22:7,12,20; Matthew 24:12-13).

Words of blessing, words of encouragement
“Good will and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be yours” (Romans 1:7). Here, there is an echo of the message of the angels at the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:14). Thank God – His Good News was not only for there and then. It’s for here and now.
“I long to see you to share a spiritual blessing with you so that you will be strengthened. What I mean is  that we may be encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:11-12). Paul encouraged them. They encouraged him. Let us encourage one another.

We rejoice in the miracle and its saving purpose.

The birth of Christ is a fulfilment of prophecy: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel’ (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14). Christ is ‘God with us’. He was born through the power of the Holy Spirit  (Matthew 1:18,20). He is still ‘God with us’, when we are ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 3:5). Some people do not believe what the Bible says here. They do not like the idea of a ‘virgin birth’. The Bible gives no encouragement to such unbelief. Matthew simply says, ‘This is the way it happened’  (Matthew 1:18). In view of the amazing thing God was doing – sending His Son to be the Saviour of the world – why should we doubt that God took things out of man’s hands and worked in His own miraculous way? We rejoice not only in the miracle but also in its saving purpose: ‘He will save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).

These Bible readings are taken from the Catholic Lectionary – Year A.