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Why did Jesus come? (part 2)

 

Advent 2

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)

Once in royal David’s city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby,
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little Child.
He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.
For He is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And he shareth in our gladness.
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above:
And He leads His children on,
To the place where He is gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable,
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.

 

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Why did Jesus come? (part 1)

Advent 1

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)

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessing flow far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love, and wonders, wonders of His love.

 

 

Adventures in a red coat

If you wear a red coat be prepared for comments (and jokes and suggestions….)img_5590

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?

Hope for the New Year

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!

The week after Christmas…

It’s the time between Christmas and New Year. The great build-up to Christmas is over. Weeks – maybe even months – of planning have culminated in two or three days of festivities and, like the Christmas dinner which is consumed so quickly after being prepared so carefully, we are left scratching our heads and wondering what it was all about.

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What do you do with this week, this week of anti-climax, of emptiness and nothingness? Some keep on partying: there are still friends to see and things to do; the week is a flurry of visits and coffee reunions and lunch dates and dinner parties. Others get straight back to work and pick up the threads as if Christmas didn’t happen. For the rest of us, we have the week off and it feels…..empty….as if we are in limbo, caught between what was and what will be.

On the one hand, we enjoy the days without deadlines, with no agenda except what we choose to put there, spontaneously if we want to – personally I think one of the things I enjoy most about this week is not to have the alarm clock shrieking in my ear first thing in the morning and rushing out the door to try to beat the traffic. We can get up later and we can stay up later: and in between we can choose what we do – and do nothing if we want to. Many of us catch up on some rest after a frenetic month of December.

But somewhere in the midst of the ‘doing nothing’ of this week, many of us begin to wonder about what we are leaving behind and what we are heading towards as the new year approaches.

My niece Sharon is a gifted writer and has written a piece over on her blog where she encapsulates this sentiment beautifully: ‘In January I pick a ‘word for a year’ and in December I have to make peace with how that’s worked out for me!’.

Ah, the looking back and the looking forward. How did I do this year? How do I lay the year to rest, come to terms with the failures, celebrate the victories? And how will I enter the new year? Should I choose a word for the year? How can I prepare for a new year? Of course some people still make new year resolutions, while many others have long since decided it’s not worth the effort, for they will be broken before the end of January.

This tension of simultaneously  living in the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ is not new. The biblical writer to the Hebrews wrote about it like this:

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them. Hebrews 11:13-16.

I find it interesting that the writer talks about homesickness and people who are looking for their true home. I think when we feel this tension between what we have already and we don’t have yet, we are experiencing a kind of homesickness. It is a deep aching in our souls for what we do not yet have. It is a longing for home.

We have so much through Christ already. As we have just celebrated at Christmas, Jesus came to earth as a little baby in order to be able to welcome us to his eternal home. But we aren’t there yet. We live in a messy world where there is fear, sickness, war, brokenness and death.

My daughter Gemma is another gifted writer and she has written a blog about this longing for home which she ends by saying:

And so, my prayer this Christmas:
Immanuel, come.
To the lonely, the scattered, the unknown, the waiting, the afraid, the unprotected, the needy, the longing. To us.
Come.

Paul Tripp has shared these words:

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As a friend recently posted on Facebook: Christmas may be over -but God is still present – Immanuel.

Take him with you into the new year.

Time to ponder

A re-post….because I’m pondering again…

Tales from Taughlumny

I think we don’t do enough of it. Pondering. It’s not even a word we use very much. When did you last hear someone say they were pondering something? If you did, it probably meant they were going to take a while to think about something. We don’t like people to take a while to ponder – we like instant answers to our questions. Come to think of it, we don’t like people to take a while to do anything. We like things done now, and we like things done fast. When someone pulls out in front of us on the road, we sigh. When the person in front of us at the checkout spills their change, we moan. When we miss the bus and have to wait for the next one, we shout – inwardly, anyway. So what does pondering mean? The dictionary definition is ‘to consider something deeply…

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Is God for life, or just for Christmas?

We breathe a collective a sigh of relief as the eagerly-anticipated holidays draw to a close, happy that (a) there was enough food for everyone; or (b) the turkey was cooked through; or (c) there were no major family feuds. What we planned for and prepared for is over in a flash and part of us is left wondering what it was all about.photo 1 (1)

If you are left with some sense of longing, a part of you that wonders if it was worth all the energy you spent on it, not to mention the money, an ache that is gnawing away in the background, then you are not alone.

It wasn’t the perfect Christmas – and it never will be, in spite of all the time and money and energy we spend on it. Things go wrong and people break down. Most of our disasters are of the kind which I call First World disasters (like opening an online purchase to discover it was not what you had ordered, or a hair dye which goes wrong, or candle wax spilt on a tablecloth) – all inconvenient at the time but certainly not life-changing or life-threatening.

photo 2It’s more what we do with those inconveniences which matters. Do we allow them to assume such significance in our minds that they affect our relationships with those around us? Do we blame others? And if others were to blame, do we make sure they know it, layering on the guilt as much as we can? Are we more interested in proving that we were not in the wrong than we are in salvaging or strengthening a relationship?

And if we managed to escape the holidays with no tempers frayed, no major mishaps, what are we left with at the end of December? I saw a t-shirt yesterday with the caption ‘364 days till the next sprouts’. Is that how we feel about Christmas – 360-odd days till the next one?

Even if we are left with memories of good times personally, December is drawing to a close with news of global disasters which send chills down our spines: the tragedy of the bin lorry accident in Glasgow, the missing AirAsia Indonesia flight travelling from Indonesia to Singapore, not to speak of accidents and losses of a more local variety but nonetheless tragic.

In view of all of this, what does Christmas leave us with? Nothing more than a warm glow as we remember the twinkling lights and gifts under the tree? A nostalgic wish that it could be Christmas all year long?

If Christmas is only about transient warm fuzzy feelings which evaporate in the cold light of January, then forget it. We need something which is going to stand the test of time – and whatever the New Year holds for each of us. Like the old saying ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’, so it is equally true that we need God to be for life, not just for Christmas. That’s why we need a rigorous faith in a God who gets himself dirty with the mess of our lives – who sent his Son to a dirty, smelly manger which led to a shameful, painful death. Because he came – and died for us, and rose again for us – we can carry that fact beyond Christmas. The fact that Immanuel came that first Christmas means that now we know for sure that God is with us – in the confusion of our lives, in the messiness of our relationships, in the pain and shame which often accompany our days.

So take him with you into the New Year, into the good days and the bad days, the days when it’s easy to believe and the days when it feels like you’re hanging on by your fingernails. Nothing you an do or say will change the fact that he loves you and came at Christmas time because he wants you to be with him forever.photo 4