Today’s reading is a little different to the previous Sundays in Advent. It tells the story of Paul on a boat, searching to find God, but he even struggles to see the stars in the sky. He is in despair and thinks that God has abandoned him and his fellow disciples.
Life can be hard; sometimes we feel depressed and so weighed down by pressures that we cannot lift our heads up to glimpse God. As Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem, they must have thought about their future, with a new infant. Where would they live? How would people accept them? Mary, only a young girl herself, must have felt in turmoil as the donkey carried her to her final destination.
In our lives too, we wonder what the future will hold for us.
Are we at the end of our tether?
Do we have to journey to new place to find rest and renewal?
Know this; even though the dark clouds may hinder the stars from our sight, we know they are there, and knowing that the light of Love is shining even though it is beyond our sight, brings reassurance.
God of the stars
When the clouds of life darken our sight
Lighten our path with Love
When the air we breathe is clogged with fear and mistrust
Lighten our Path with Love
When our minds doubt your presence
Lighten our path with Love
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.v18
Habakkuk was saddened by the corruption he witnessed, and that Babylon’s riches came from the misfortunes of others. Money became an idol to desire, and people had an appetite for money instead of an appetite for God. Habakkuk’s feelings were not being controlled by the situation around him, but he kept his faith by focussing on God and God’s desire for restorative justice. As I read the news and listen to media reports, it saddens me and many ask the question ‘why do some people prosper and the righteous suffer? We cannot see all that God is doing, but knowing that God is there brings us confidence in the midst of a confusing world.
Lord, I dare not ask ‘why’ again, for the many times I do, you show me peacemakers, encouragers, and mediators. Be with all people who are alone in their suffering, especially those who are far from their homeland. Amen
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.v6
God’s capacity for restoring humanity and creation is beyond our understanding. Forests burn down and are able to grow back again, broken bones heal, and even grief is not a permanent condition. Our tears can be seeds that will sow into a harvest of joy. God is able to bring good news out of tragedy. When burdened by sorrow, and despair know that your time of grief and sadness will subside and that joy will come. We must be patient as well as wait.
Despair is such a dark word, and we have all experienced it to some degree. Lord, show us a glimmer of light that will end our darkness and help us know that you hold us tenderly. Amen
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,v10
This is a profound statement about values, saying that a relationship with Christ is more important than anything else. In our western world, we have the freedom to worship God in the way we choose. Paul gave up everything, family, friendship and political freedom to follow Christ. This may seem strange to us, but persecuted Christians in the world still have this decision to make. To openly follow Christ in North Korea will mean certain death, so Christians meet in secret, and carry no symbols of their faith. As Christmas approaches, remember the people who crept in beside Jesus at the manger, the onlookers, and the many who are never mentioned in the nativity story, yet still carried their memory of his birth with them through life, knowing that he as unique and special. This is the hope and promise many cling to today.
God Immanuel! Your name is to be praised Amen
He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. v16
The story of the angel visiting Zacharias is often overlooked in Advent, yet an angel did appear to him saying that his wife Elizabeth would be having a baby. Just when they were ‘well on in years’, this event must have been a shock and also a delight to Elizabeth and Zacharias. Unexpected news can often unsettle us with a mixture of emotions, some are joyful and others dread. Whatever the situation you are experiencing, it is reassuring to know that God is with us, God knows what fears we have, what doubts we carry, and God will give us strength.
God, you know every part of me, my emotions, my health, my well being and my love for you. In the times of doubting, calm me, in the times of joy, dance with me and in times of reflection, still me Amen
Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed, over all the glory there will be a canopy.v5
The Jewish wedding celebration is a wondrous sight, as the bride and bridegroom join hands under a canopy, called a ‘chuppah’ which symbolizes the home they will build together. In a spiritual sense it represents the presence of God within their union. The image of God placing each one of us under a canopy is intimate and loving, and even though Mary and Joseph had a difficult start in their marriage, the knowledge that God blessed their union gave them strength to continue their difficult journey.
Lord, place us in the chuppah, and bless us with your presence each day and night and bring glory to name. Amen
So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. v41
To the naked eye, the skies are scattered with thousands of shining stars and some shine brighter than others, however surrounding the stars is a darkness, a void which the naked eye cannot penetrate. Through Astrophysics and Science we know that the cosmos is always evolving, that new stars are being born every second, yet it is many thousands of millennium till we see them. When we are in a dark place, someone holds a hand of hope and love to us through Jesus. It may take a while before we see the fruits of that encounter, but it is there for we are changed. Look at the skies and hear the words from Acts again.
God of light and darkness, you are present in the embers of bitterness and the birthing of faith; we thank you Amen
There are many ways in which we can see the evidence of God in the world around us. Some people may be struck by the intricate beauty of a flower, while others are amazed at the majesty of the night sky, especially when there is no electrical lighting nearby. Gazing heavenwards to look at the light of distant stars, especially if using a telescope and in some remote place, and the number of stars in the vastness of the sky can be awe-inspiring. It enables us to see God not just as a small infant or a caring parent who loves us, but one who is a creator of all things.
As we light the second candle this Sunday, we think about our world, with all its complexities and its joys. Fascinated by the skies, its endless lights darting around the night skies, echo the possibilities for your Kingdom Lord. We remember people who explore the heavenly and the earthly realms; the scientists, the philosophers, the farmers and of course ourselves. Let us always remember that God, the Creator of the vastness of the heavens, and the Creator of smallest cell in our bodies, came to live among us as an infant called Jesus, to bring a light of promise to a world of darkness and doubters.
God of the stars
You walk among us yet
You flung stars into space.
You are closer than breath itself yet
You are beyond our reach.
You are a mystery and also the majesty yet
You are the promise of what is to come.
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. v26
Ezekiel was a prophet and watchman, who repeatedly endorsed that in seemingly hopeless situations and obstacles we may have, God’s plan for the world will be fulfilled. You may have heard the saying that the church is full of perfect people, who have got life sussed! I beg to differ. A church is a community of people who have recognised their weaknesses and know they need God for strength and courage. Once a person recognises this, then God starts to move to change hearts and mind; to be more God-centred not self-centred. In essence, this is what the voice of Ezekiel says to us this day.
Lord let the words of Ezekiel sink deep in my heart. Amen
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. v9
Yesterday we heard about Paul speaking to the church in Thessalonica. Today we read about God speaking directly to the young boy Jeremiah, who will become Gods Prophet and mouthpiece. Passing on the story of a God who brings hope and promise into the world is not just for adults, children play a part too. I know many children who have brought their parents to faith, by their commitment to Jesus as a role model, teacher and friend. Evangelism is done by anyone who loves the Lord, whatever age. So see the adoration in the eyes of a child as they hear and act the Christmas story again, and be inspired and moved.
Give thanks for the words of children who have moved us and continue to move us as they blossom into shining stars that point us to Jesus Amen