January 13, 2022 January 6, 2022 December 31, 2021 December 24, 2021 December 16, 2021

Baptism and beginnings

Category From the Minister

These days, there are not nearly as many children in mainstream churches as there were during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. One of the consequences of this decline is that we witness far fewer baptisms. In some ways this is a blessing, for many parents only had their children ‘done’ because it was correct social etiquette to do so and not because of personal faith. In other ways, though, fewer baptisms means fewer opportunities to reflect on the meaning and significance of this important sacrament.

In each of the four Gospel accounts, the ministry of Jesus begins with his baptism by John. In each case we read that God’s Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism in the form of a dove. This experience changed Jesus and propelled him into his public ministry. It marked a significant turning point as Jesus moved from living in relative obscurity in Nazareth into the public spotlight. It was a turning point in his relationship with God and in the world.

At the very end of his ministry, after the resurrection, Jesus urged his followers to make disciples of all nations and to baptise them (Matt 28:19). The church’s practice of baptism stems from this command. As for Jesus, baptism marks a significant turning point for us, both in our relationship with God and in our ministry in the world. We may have known God from our birth, but in baptism we are named and claimed as God’s children. We are also given a distinct vocation, namely to be Christ’s visible presence in the world. These are great privileges that also come with responsibility.

As we reflect this week on the baptism of Jesus, may we reflect on our own journey of faith and marvel afresh at how God has called us and equipped us to be followers of the way of Jesus. May we remember our baptism and be thankful.

Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2022 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Luke 3:15-22

Matthew’s alternative Christmas story

Category From the Minister

January the sixth is celebrated as Epiphany, the time when Jesus was revealed to the wise men as the new king of Israel. This day marks the traditional 12th day of Christmas when nativity sets and decorations are packed away for another year. It also provides a good excuse for us to read Matthew’s alternative Christmas story.

In Matthew’s rather grittier version of the story there are no shepherds or sheep, no choirs of angels and no baby Jesus in the manger. Instead the heroes are the magi (wise men or astrologers) who have followed a mysterious star they have seen appear in the sky. Somehow – we’re never told how – they link this heavenly sign with the birth of a child born to be king of the Jews. They come bearing luxury gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and are overjoyed to meet Jesus, whom they bow down and worship. While this story has several legendary elements to it, it probably has a core of truth given later Christian denunciations of astrologers and magicians.

Rather than view the story as the reason why we give each other gifts at Christmas, it encourages us to reflect on what gifts we might offer to Jesus. It also encourages us to continually seek out Jesus, even though the road might be hard and long. Finally it encourages an attitude of joy and worship, as seen in the response of the magi to eventually meeting Jesus. In this most distracting new year period when our anxieties are running high about covid, let us take some time to seek out Jesus and to offer him the best gifts we have, including our worship.

Posted: Thursday, January 6, 2022 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Matthew 2:1-12

Who will this baby born at Christmas become?

Category From the Minister

After two disrupted and difficult years due to Covid, we stand on the cusp on a new year. Many of us are fervently hoping for a very different sort of year – a year filled with certainty and peace and even joy. The latter two of these hopes are often associated with Christmas and the coming of Jesus and it feels as though the world could certainly do with more peace and joy at the moment.

This week the Gospel of Luke moves on quickly from Christmas and the baby in the manger as Luke recounts the naming and presentation of Jesus in the Temple some eight days later. Everything is done according to Jewish custom including circumcision ( … I wonder if Jesus still didn’t cry?). There we hear from two elderly prophets, Simeon and Anna, who have been waiting patiently for the redemption of Israel.

Without any prompting, both Simeon and Anna identify Jesus as the Messiah or Christ, the one who will bring salvation – the one who will bring peace, yes, but also change and uncertainty. According to Mary’s earlier song, the poor and hungry will be lifted up while the proud and powerful will be toppled from their thrones. This is seen through the lens of salvation – or healing – that this child will bring – resulting in glory for Israel and light to the nations, an early indication from Luke that this child will touch the whole world for good.

But Simeon also sounds a darker note that Jesus will bring division and disruption within Israel, again an early sign from Luke that this child will be rejected by many. He will bring pain and heartache – including to his mother Mary – as well as salvation. So for those of us wanting greater certainty and joy in our lives, be warned that following Jesus has never been the pathway to a certain or easy life. Yes, God will bring light and peace and joy through Jesus – but will also shine light into the dark and divided places in our world – including the political sphere – that may well bring discomfort and change with its corresponding level of stress. We can’t have one without the other. If we want to be true to Jesus, we will need to be willing to embrace both the light and the darker aspects he brings.

Posted: Friday, December 31, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Luke 2:21-40

Christmas – God’s extraordinary adventure

Category From the Minister

When we think of the classical Christmas story, we tend to think of Luke’s account with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus in the manger, shepherds and animals. Apart from a few angels it’s a fairly rustic scene. In my imagination it’s also fairly smelly and messy, the scene of a typical human birth. Nothing very special to see here in fact. And perhaps that’s the point. The birth of Jesus was just like that of so many other babies.

But the angels add a different element, announcing that this is no ordinary baby – although born in very ordinary circumstances – who is described as a Saviour, as Messiah (or King in English) and as Lord (the most common title for God in the Hebrew Scriptures). Another angel, Gabriel, had earlier informed Mary that her baby would be called Son of God, would rule on King David’s throne and be given the name Jesus (meaning God saves). So we have a very human birth of one who has a very high calling as a future king and ruler of God’s people.

John’s account of the origins of Jesus pushes hard in another direction. This child is none other than the Word of God, the form of God that spoke creation into existence in the opening chapter of Genesis. As the Word of God, this child brings God’s life and light into the world. And in John’s mind, the child is this Word of God taking on human flesh and dwelling amongst us – God laying aside all of God’s glory and power and being born as a human baby.

And so we have the mystery of the incarnation – Jesus born as a fully human and vulnerable baby (as in Luke’s account) – and yet no less than God taking on human form and living amongst us (as in John’s account). In this birth and in this life, then, God is embarking on an extraordinary and deeply risky adventure. Who will listen to the message that Jesus brings? Who will dare to follow where he leads? And just what is the relationship between God and Jesus? These are the questions that those who knew Jesus in real life ask of us. Who is this Jesus for us?

Posted: Friday, December 24, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: John 1:1-14, Luke 2:1-20

An upside down adventure

Category From the Minister

Many Protestant Christians have a rather ambivalent view of Mary. Yes she is the mother of Jesus and features prominently in the Christmas story, but she then rapidly disappears from our view, only to reappear at the foot of the cross (in John’s Gospel at least). But Protestants are wary of the high view of Mary in the Catholic Church and her exalted role in redemption and prayer. Because of this ambivalence, and the influence of Christian art that usually depicts Mary as meek and demure with her eyes cast downwards, we lose sight of Mary’s contribution to our faith.

Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 that we know as the Magnificat is actually quite subversive and radical. Mary considers herself blessed and favoured by God, who has done great things for her. God’s choosing of Mary to be the mother of Jesus is indeed an honour, but it comes at considerable personal cost to her reputation and later life. The stigma surrounding the origins of Jesus will never leave her and she will most likely live much of her life on the margins of polite society. So a rather upside down blessing.

The balance of the song is equally subversive as Mary sings of the proud, powerful and rich being brought low while the poor and hungry are lifted up. In many ways this is a foretaste of the message and ministry of Jesus who comes to bring good news to the poor through word and action. Mary’s prophetic words are filled with faith, courage and vision and set out the first declaration of God’s upside down kingdom adventure in Luke’s Gospel. So yes, Mary fulfils an important role in being the mother – and educator – of Jesus but is also an inspiring example of an early female disciple who has an important voice for us to hear.

Posted: Thursday, December 16, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Luke 1:39-55

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