Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning If I lacked anything. “A guest," I answered, “worthy to be here”: Love said, “You shall be he.” “I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.” Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, “Who made the eyes but I?” “Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame Go where it doth deserve.” “And know you not," says Love, “who bore the blame?” “My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down," says Love, “and taste my meat.” So I did sit and eat.
It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent and we are exploring the theme of why Jesus came.
‘The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.’
John 1:14 in The Message
Why did Jesus come? Because his Father sent him to be the Saviour of the world and in that supreme act of obedience to his Father, Jesus brought glory to God.
Not everyone recognised his glory. Some laughed; some mocked; some were suspicious; some were not interested.
‘But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
And as he makes us become our true selves, our ‘child-of-God selves’, he brings glory to God – the one-of-a-kind glory – and we get to be part of his amazing story.
O Come, All Ye Faithful! (John Francis Wade, 1751)
Maybe you don’t feel like you need some light – or maybe you do. Most of us can readily agree that the world has become a dark place in many ways. We hear constantly of acts of terrorism, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, violence, abuse, injustice, poverty, famine and many other things which cause the darkness of fear to descend on our hearts and minds.
John says in John 1:9: ‘The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.’ Is the world a darker place now than it was when Jesus was born as a baby in Bethlehem? Let’s not forget that he was born into the midst of violence, injustice, threats and poverty. King Herod planned to kill him if he could and, in an effort to do that, ordered all the baby boys to be killed. Joseph and Mary had to flee like refugees to Egypt in order to keep their baby safe. They were so poor that, when the time came for them to offer sacrifices at the temple, they offered a poor man’s offering – two turtle doves.
So how did Jesus’ coming bring light to the darkness then – and how does it do that for us today? John 1:5 says ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ Just as the darkness is dispelled by a single candle in a dark room, so the coming of Jesus brought light into the darkness of our world.
And so it is today. At times it may seem like a faint flickering of a candle – but the darkness will not overcome it. The light will keep shining into our darkness – and one day it will extinguish the darkness – forever.
O Holy Night (Placide Cappeau, 1847)
I have no sense of direction and, without the aid of Google Maps or something similar, I would easily get lost. If you can identify with that, you know the panic when you are on a strange road on the way to a place you have never been before, with a deadline to meet, and you lose your bearings, or Google Maps fails you. Without a guide, you actually have no way of getting to the place you need to be.
In real life, maybe most of us don’t feel lost most of the time. But there are times when we lose our bearings. Maybe life takes an unexpected turn because of a medical diagnosis. Or perhaps we come to a dead end due to the loss of a loved one. Whatever the circumstance, there are times in life when we feel lost. We are travelling a way we have never gone before and we have no map.
‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,’ says Jesus in Luke 19:10. One of the reasons he came was to help us find our way – not only our way through the bends and twists of our lives, but also the way back to a connection with God. We were made for that, we are lost without it, and Jesus came so that he can help us navigate our way back into that safe place where we know that we are connected to him – for he is ‘the way, the truth and the life’. He gives direction to life and he gives meaning to life.
Once In Royal David’s City (Cecil Frances Alexander, 1848)
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.
Have you ever felt that your life was meaningless? or worthless? or going nowhere? Have you thought that there must be more to life than the life you’re living? Jesus came to bring us life to the full.
Jesus says ‘I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of‘ (John 10:10, The Message).
This is not just everlasting life – life in heaven when we die – this is a quality of life now, in the present, in our everyday life: a quality of life which is ‘abundant’ and which is ‘more and better’ than we have ever dreamed of.
It is also, as Alain Emerson says in his powerful book ‘Luminous Dark’ ‘much more than a spiritual buzz. Pursuing happiness alone, often what contemporary popular Christianity settles for, is a poor substitute. Jesus is inviting us into the reality of being ALIVE, fully ALIVE, through all the seasons of life.’
Joy To The World (Isaac Watts, 1719)
If you wear a red coat be prepared for comments (and jokes and suggestions….)
I once had a young friend ask me ‘Pauline do you know where my granny is?’. When I said I didn’t think I knew his granny, he said ‘Oh sorry – I thought you were Little Red Riding Hood!’.
In church one day, a deacon came up to me with a letter and said ‘Oh sorry! I thought you were a letter box!’.
And just yesterday afternoon in Belfast city centre, a complete stranger accosted my husband and me in the street saying, ‘I hope you don’t mind – but you’re so cute! I love red coats!’ As he left us, he shouted ‘Happy Christmas! And God bless!’
I don’t think I have ever had an item of clothing which produced so many comments, from the many who have simply admired it to the more jovial comments above.
What is it about a red coat?
On the brink of a new year, I can think of no more hope-instilling truth than this than one from Lamentations 3:
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Let’s decide now that in this new year we are going to call to mind the steadfast love of the Lord and look for His mercies which are new each morning. Sometimes they are obvious; sometimes we really need to look for them; but they are always there.
Look for them and your search will be rewarded: The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
Happy New Year!