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?
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.
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:
To the lonely, the scattered, the unknown, the waiting, the afraid, the unprotected, the needy, the longing. To us.
Paul Tripp has shared these words:
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.