week commencing December 13th 2020

Week Commencing Sunday 13th December 2020

Call to worship

Our first carol reminds us we are in the season of Advent. We think of our Lord’s first coming to us: “O come, O come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel” But this hymn also reminds us that He has come to be our Saviour. He has promised to come again and take us to be with himself: “Come and open wide our heavenly home”

Opening Carol

 

1 O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

2 O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go. Refrain

3 O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai's height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

4 O come, O Branch of Jesse's stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o'er the grave. Refrain

5 O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe for us the heavenward road
and bar the way to death's abode. Refrain

6 O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light. Refrain

 

From the Latin (12th Century) tr. John Mason Neale.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ley1aOPDHCE

 

We celebrate the Lord’s coming to us. The baby born in Bethlehem is God with us.

 

Reading. Luke 1:26-38

126 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.’

 

Song. ‘Immanuel’

 

A sign shall be given
A virgin will conceive
A human baby bearing
Undiminished deity
 

The glory of the nations
A light for all to see
That hope for all who will embrace
His warm reality

 

Chorus.

Immanuel
Our God is with us
And if God is with us
Who could stand against us
Our God is with us
Immanuel
 

For all those who live in the shadow of death
A glorious light has dawned
For all those who stumble in the darkness
Behold your light has come
 

Chorus

 

So what will be your answer?
Will you hear the call?
Of Him who did not spare His Son
But gave him for us all
 

On earth there is no power
There is no depth or height
That could ever separate us
From the love of God in Christ
 

 

Michael Card

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAx4NArtPY8  

Sermon. ‘God with us’

The Church has used the term “Incarnation” to refer to the fact that Jesus was God in human flesh. Through the birth of Jesus, God Himself entered the world in human form. This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

Think of that passage from Luke 1. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Gabriel said “He will be called the Son of the Most High and the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1: 32-35) The Incarnation took place because God arranged to bring this about through what is called the virgin birth. Although Mary was a virgin, it was God’s power that brought about the baby Jesus conception. The birth of Jesus, then, was a miracle wrought by God’s power.

The accepting of the virgin birth, of God becoming man, or any other miracle, rests on what kind of God we worship. The truth is God’s greatness and power is far greater than anything we can conceive of or do. Such miracles are not too hard for the God who created the Universe and everything in it. Anyone who says the virgin birth is “impossible” is just confirming his or her own unbelief in the God of the Bible. Bruce Milne makes this helpful observation about the virgin birth: “It demonstrates the operation of the supernatural in the incarnation. For this reason biological objections are entirely beside the point. On the presupposition of an omnipotent God (all powerful), the virginal conception was wholly possible” (’Know the Truth’)

The doctrine of the Incarnation teaches us that Jesus was God’s Son before he was conceived in Mary’s womb. He did not become God’s Son at a later time. He was not accepted as God’s Son because of good behaviour or obedience. He wasn’t a man promoted to that position. God’s Son was born God’s Son. In the birth of Jesus God himself became human and entered the world.

We have a strong affirmation of Jesus divine pre -existence and Incarnation in those famous words from John’s Gospel Chapter 1 (See John 1:1-18). John not only calls Jesus “God”, but also refers to Him as the Word. (Gk “logos”) John’s readers would have recognised in this term a reference to the powerful creative Word of God in the Old Testament, by which the heavens and earth were created. ‘’Through the Word all things were made’’ (John 1:3):

When you look at Genesis Chapter 1 you see that God creates merely through speaking “and God said, “Let there be light and there was light” God said, “Let the land produce vegetation….And it was so” God said, “let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds…And it was so” God said “let us make man in our image” Miracle after miracle. All things were created through the Word of God. This is what Jesus, the Word of God does, he turns water into wine. With just the word of his mouth he speeds up the fermentation process that would ordinarily take place in nature, miraculously, and so reveals his divine glory. He tells the cripple to get up- at once the man was cured and picked up his mat and walked. On that occasion Jesus said “The Son can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19) He multiplies out food for 3000 from just 5 loaves and 2 fish. Again a miraculous sign to show his deity. God provides us with every material provision- and this is what the Son also does. He speaks and it happens. He speaks and puts mud on a blind man’s eyes- a man born blind- and that man’s eyes are recreated through the power of God so he can see perfectly. Jesus calls forth Lazarus from the tomb “Lazarus come out” And the once dead man comes out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” Jesus the Word speaks- miracles of restoration and recreation take place over and over again. All reveal his deity. He is the powerful Creator. The Word.

Compare that with what many secularists believe- people who want to deny the existence of a Creator and whose faith is in naturalism, not Christianity. Naturalism relies on what is material alone and allows no god, no spirit, no life beyond the grave. It is an ideology that is presupposed, and dominates universities, colleges and schools. Dr Don Batten exposes its foundational weakness in his summary of GTE (Grand Theory of Evolution):

“Nothing exploded and produced hydrogen- the big bang. Then hydrogen stars exploded causing hydrogen atoms to jam together to form the heavier elements. From these, stars as we know them formed, and galaxies and walls of galaxies- the whole universe. And then from a swirling disc of cosmic dust left over from some exploding stars, our Solar System formed, with the accreting matter in the centre finally achieving enough mass to ignite nuclear fusion- the sun. And earth had formed, with the other planets. All with very different characteristics. Earth happened to be in the right place to be suitable for life. Initially a molten blob, it finally cooled down enough for water to form. In the water, complex organic chemicals made themselves and (contrary to everything we know about the chemistry of life) chanced to form the first living cell. And this first cell changed, over eons of time, by accidental changes, to produce every living thing on earth, including microbes, magnolias and microbiologists. And the human mind. It all happened by happenstance; no intelligence allowed!

A short summary of this fashionable “scientific” belief system could be “Hydrogen is a gas, which if left long enough turns into people” The non-rational produced the rational”

Batten adds “When you are dealing daily with the details, such as the latest super trivial claim that some fish adapting to slightly colder water “proves evolution” you tend to lose sight of how fanciful the big claim is, I mean, how can nothing become everything (the Universe) with no cause whatsoever. The origin of life? Even the simplest microbe has stupendous integrated complexity far beyond human ability to invent. It just popped into existence by the blind forces of chemistry and physics? This is lunacy” (https://creation.com/evolution-preposterous .For more information on Origins please see Answers in Genesis and Creation.com websites)

No, through the Word all things were created.

 But the Word, as it is applied to Jesus Christ also carries the idea of that which unifies. The unifying principle, what holds everything together. Today we would say it’s “what makes sense of existence” If you’re a naturalist it’s hard to think of your life making sense. If you are a being thrown up by chance, have you any value? If your mind is the result of random fluctuations of matter- can you trust your own thought? Materialists believe that the cosmos operates with a uniformity of cause and effect in a closed system. Simply that we are the result of material forces and laws, just as they believe we are the products of evolutionary forces. But if human beings are part of that system then they are merely machines, moulded by nature and nurture. Complicated oh yes, but essentially we are determined by this view and so our freedom is denied. If the material is all there is then there is no sense to existence- especially if you think that death ends everything. Samuel Beckett wrote a 35 second play called “Breath”. It had no human actors. The props consisted of a pile of rubbish on the stage, lit by a light that begins dim, brightens, but never fully and then recedes to dimness. There are no words, only a recorded cry opening the play, an inhaled breath, an exhaled breath and an identical “recorded” cry closing the play. For Beckett life is such a “breath” he’s saying our existence does not make since. It’s futile.

But Christianity says the Word holds everything together (John 1). The Word makes sense of existence. God created with order and purpose. Not chaotically. While cause and effect are built into his cosmos to maintain order, the system is open. God is involved in reordering, even miraculously so if He sees fit. And since we human beings are made in His image we too can transcend what is material, we have spirit and so we are not determined or forced into any necessary reaction. We can also transcend our environment, just as God transcends his universe. Like God we have personality, intelligence, creativity, morality and social capacity. We have dignity, meaning and purpose because we are made in his image, we can know Him and be known by Him. And He is willing to direct our lives and bring us life to the full- even eternal life, beyond death- through Christ the Word who makes sense of existence.

What world view shapes your life at the moment? Naturalism or Christianity? Does your existence make sense?

Jesus is “the Word” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made.’’ (John 1:1-3) He is the powerful creative Word through whom all things have been made. And He holds everything together. He makes sense of everything.

Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology reflects on Jesus virgin birth. He says that if we try to think of other ways in which Christ might have come to earth, none of them would so clearly unite his divinity and humanity in one person. It would have been possible for God to create Jesus as a complete human being in heaven and send him to descend from heaven to earth without the benefit of any human parent. But then it would have very hard for us to see how Jesus could be fully human as we are. Neither would he be part of the human race physically descended from Adam.

It might have been possible for God to have Jesus come into the world through 2 human parents. Both a father and a mother, with His full divine nature somehow miraculously united to his human nature. But then it would have been hard for us to understand how Jesus was fully God, since his origin would have been like ours in every other way.

Grudem observes if “we try to think of other possibilities like these it helps us to understand how God in His wisdom ordained Jesus’ virgin birth. By this means his full humanity is evident to us from the fact of his ordinary human birth from a human mother. His full deity evident from the fact of his conception in Mary’s womb by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.”

There are other biblical references surrounding Jesus’ birth that refer to His divinity:

Around 700 years prior to Christ’s birth. Isaiah had prophesied “Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isa.7:14)

The name Immanuel means “God with us” and clearly refers to a supernatural birth in which God would become one of human kind. This too is cited in Matthew 1:23. The same thought is amplified in Isaiah 9:6; “For unto us a child is born…and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”

It would also be good to consider the word “Lord” as it is used of Christ at His birth

Sometimes the word “Lord” is used simply as a polite address to a superior- like our word “Sir”- just as if a servant addressed his/her employer.

But the Greek translation of the Old Testament translates the Hebrew name for God- “Yahweh”- as “the Lord” 6,814 times.

Now there are many instances in the New Testament where “Lord” is used of Christ in what can only be understood as this strong Old Testament usage- “the Lord” who is “Yahweh” or God Himself. Let me give you an example. Think of the words of the angel to the shepherds: “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Now these words are very familiar to us, but they would have been very shocking to any first century Jew. The force of the angel’s statement, which the shepherds could hardly believe was “Today in Bethlehem a baby has been born who is your Saviour and your Messiah, and who is also God Himself”. It’s not surprising that “all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them”

And when Mary went to visit Elizabeth before Jesus was born, Elizabeth said “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord, should come to me” (Luke 1:43). Since Jesus wasn’t even born yet, Elizabeth couldn’t be using the word “Lord” to mean something like “master”. She must be using it in this strong Old Testament sense: “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of the Lord God himself should come to me”

When we read of Christ after his birth and continue to read through the New Testament we read at least 7 clear passages that explicitly refer to Jesus as God. Many verses call Jesus “God” and “Lord”. The Scriptures use a number of other titles of deity to refer to Him. This includes divine names/titles Jesus gave Himself like “I am the Resurrection and the Life”. Then there are many passages that attribute actions or words to Jesus that could only be true of God Himself. For example Jesus describes how on the Day of Judgment He will separate people and decide their eternal destiny - on the basis of how they have responded to Him in this life

Truly Jesus is “God with us”

John 1:18 says “No one has seen God at any time, but God the only begotten Son who is at the Father’s side has made Him known:

I once read of a great (European) cathedral whose ceiling was adorned with a painting of God drawn in brilliant colours. But the ceiling was too high and the Cathedral so narrow that it hurt visitors to crane their necks to view the painting. An ingenious clergyman placed a mirror at ground level, tilted so that worshipers, by looking in the mirror, could study the image of the painting above.

Paul in Colossians 1:15 describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” We see God when we look at Jesus. But the Greek word translated “image” there goes beyond that. It represents more than an artificial imitation such as a figurehead of royalty on a coin. It implies the original from which the image is drawn. Prof Lightfoot says the word for image here speaks of Christ representing and manifesting God.

So why is it important that Jesus Christ is God?

  • Jonah 2:9 says “Salvation is from the Lord”. The whole message of the Bible is designed to show that no human being could ever save man. The redemption Jesus brought would be powerless to forgive and save if He was just a man. Only God Himself can save us. It is God we have wronged and so only God can redeem us
  • Jesus Christ is the Mediator between God and man. A Mediator is someone who can come between God and ourselves- a “go between”- to reconcile both parties. That Mediator must be fully God Himself, in order to fully reveal God to us, and also bring us back to God. But the Mediator must also be fully human- the mediator must represent God to us, but He must also represent us to God. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. He is that Mediator.
  • If Jesus Christ isn’t God, then the revelation He brings is not final revelation and may be superseded. If Jesus is not God we have no Christianity or salvation. But because Jesus is God, final truth is revealed in Him and He brings final redemption (Grudem)

 

The Incarnation demonstrates God’s great love for mankind- for you and for me. It’s quite unlike any other picture of God. Many of the Greek philosophers regarded the highest virtue of their gods as apathy- a word that literally means “freedom from suffering” These gods had no feelings; they were unconcerned about the world and its suffering. In contrast to that cold image, Jesus is God living in the dirt and pain of human life. He came to rescue us. “For God so loved the world that He gave us His one and only Son that whoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life”

Will you respond to God’s great love for you and put your faith in God Your Saviour this evening?

Let us approach Christ like those Christmas shepherds did when he was a baby. We come in humble faith and adoring worship, with Martin Luther professing:

“No other God have I but thee, born in a manger, died on a tree”

…………………………………………..

Prayers

O Lord Jesus Christ, make me worthy to understand the profound mystery of your holy incarnation, which you have worked for our sake and for our salvation. Truly there is nothing so great and wonderful as this, that you, my God, who are the creator of all things, should become a creature, so that we should become like God. You have humbled yourself and made yourself small that we might be made mighty. You have taken the form of a servant, so that you might confer upon us a royal and divine beauty. You, who are beyond our understanding, have made yourself understandable to us in Jesus Christ. You, who are the uncreated God, have made yourself a creature for us. You, who are the untouchable One, have made yourself touchable to us. You, who are most high, make us capable of understanding your amazing love and the wonderful things you have done for us. Make us able to understand the mystery of your incarnation, the mystery of your life, example, and doctrine, the mystery of your cross and passion, the mystery of your resurrection and ascension. Blessed are you, O Lord, for coming to earth as a man. Amen. (Angela of Foligno)

Prayers in a time of coronavirus

 

Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession:

For the health workers tending the seriously ill

for the scientists working on a vaccination 

for the researchers analysing data and identifying trends

for the media outlets working to communicate reality

for the supermarket workers, hygiene and sanitation providers

for the good news stories of recoveries and effective planning

for the singing from balconies by locked-down communities

for the recognition that isolation doesn’t need to mean loneliness

for the notes through letterboxes offering help and support 

for the internet and telephones and technology that connects

for the awakened appreciation of what is truly important

Thanks be to God.

For those who are unwell and concerned for loved ones

for those who were already very anxious

for those immune suppressed or compromised

for those vulnerable because of underlying conditions

for those in the ‘most at risk to coronavirus’ categories

for those watching their entire income stream dry up

for those who have no choice but to go out to work

for those who are afraid to be at home 

for those who are more lonely than they've ever been

for those who are bereaved and grieving.

God be their healer, comfort and protection,

be their strength, shield and provision

be their security, safety and close companion   (Christian Aid)

 

 

Carol

 

1 Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new-born King:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with the angelic hosts proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"

Refrain:
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new-born King"

2 Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of the Virgin's womb:
veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail the incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel. [Refrain]

3 Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth. [Refrain]

 

Charles Wesley

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCt1s44cfMM

Doxology

All things were created by Him, and all things exist through him and for him. To God be the glory for ever and ever! Amen                                                                                               

 

David Barnes 3/12/20