Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Listen out for what God is telling us

WHAT days they must have been. Days when the might of the Roman Empire ruled the known world.

Days when Caesar Augustus could issue a decree that a census should be taken, requiring people to return to their home town. Days when the voice of prophecy had become a thing of the past to most Jewish people. Days when many probably felt that God was no longer doing much in his world.

And if they did then, as Christmas reminds us, they were deeply and profoundly wrong. For there, within Mary, growing in the tiny form of an unborn baby, God was pleased to dwell. And it was a very, very few people that recognised that that was happening.

Of course, that’s by no means the only time in the story when Jesus’ life is linked to historic people and events. Go to the start of the third chapter of St Luke’s Gospel and you’ll find another list — one full of rather difficult and unpronounceable names, ruling, in some cases, over parts of the world that today we are very unfamiliar with — Iturea, Traconitis and Abilene do not trip easily off the tongue nor, come to that, are they found in many travel brochures.

Yet over them ruled some very powerful men as Jesus was growing up. Men who, like Pontius Pilate, or, even more, Tiberius Caesar, were quite used to using their power in idiosyncratic and self-centred ways. Standing alongside them were the religious authorities — the high priests Annas and Caiaphas who controlled the whole sacrificial system based in the temple.

Yet who did the word of God come to in that generation? The answer is very simple — it was to none of them. The Word of God in its spoken form came to a bit of an odd-ball in the desert. A man with strange clothes (and an even stranger appetite), the prophet we know as John the Baptist.

But, of course, remarkable as he was, he could only transmit verbal messages alongside the physical act of baptism. He was the mouthpiece for God’s message of repentance — no more and no less. Yet his cousin, Jesus, was in a different league. He was God’s Son in a way that John could never be, for Jesus was the Word made flesh. The God who fully became a human being — despised, rejected, crucified but God nevertheless.

So what has all that got to say to us? Certainly something about Christ’s humility — the one who empties himself and takes the form of a servant. And then there is his willingness to give his life for others.

But, stepping back a bit, I find it often helps to remember that God loves to work in the most unexpected places and ways. He is simply not predictable. If he chooses John the Baptist to be the channel for his messages then that is up to him. If he is born as a baby, the world is transformed. A challenge to us from the Christmas story is to keep our eyes and ears open to what God is saying to this generation. Currently I’m struck by how much of that seems to be counter-cultural at present. For instance, just at the point when the gloomsters are predicting the catastrophic demise of the Church, God seems to have different ideas.

Whether it is about buildings and their renewal or about plans to start new congregations like Trinity @ 4 or the one on Great Western Park, things are happening and God is speaking. And it would be so easy to miss that they are — as so many did at the time and place when Jesus was born.Let us resolve this year to keep our spiritual eyes and ears open — to see where God is at work… and then to join in with all that he continues to do.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and happy 2019.

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