John Ch 15 verse 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing
This is the 7th of the ‘I am’ sayings in the Gospel of John [can you remember the other 6?], and in it Jesus makes two distinct statements. If we remain in him, we will bear much fruit, and apart from him we can do nothing.
In using the analogy of the vine Jesus paints this picture that is easy for even the simplest to understand, and for his hearers it was rooted in the agricultural context in which they lived.
The key phrase is, ‘remain in me and I in you’, as a failure to heed this will undoubtably result in a lack of fruit in our lives, and us achieving [in the context of our faith] nothing.
Maybe this answers why some people never seem to grow in their faith, even though they have attended Church for many years, and are fully committed to it. Because the key is remaining in Jesus, not in religion, in the Church, in a denomination or in being the Vicar’s buddy!
What might it mean to remain in Jesus? Well you cannot remain in something you have not entered into in the first place, so initially it means putting our faith in him as Lord and Saviour. Then we need to cultivate that relationship, which probably includes praying, reading the Bible, meeting with other like-minded Christians, and sharing the sacraments. Finally, it probably means following the example of Jesus and putting into practice what we have read and heard.
You might ponder what fruit you might expect to see in your life, and what it is you can do for God, for as it says around the walls of Wath Church, Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours, etc.
Dear Lord Jesus, may it be our daily delight to commune with you, to pray, read, listen, and follow. May our remaining, result in fruitful lives as you remain in us, and work in us and through us by your Spirit.
Isaiah Ch 49 verse 16 ‘See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.’
These are a stunning few verses from Isaiah pouring out the truth that God, the Lord, our Father, our Creator and Redeemer does not forget or leave us, but watches, calls and offers His love to all who would hear and receive from Him. These verses speak of the compassion and faithfulness of our God who yearns to know us and draw us to His presence. Perhaps striking for us today are the words of verse 22: ‘See, I will beckon to the Gentiles, I will lift my banner to the people.’ Do we hear the call – do we see His open arms. Let us run, let us follow, let us abide in the arms of Jesus – the arms that stretched out creation and which hung on the cross enabling our forgiveness and healing.
Oh Lord, thank you for your compassion and love for each of us. Come by your Spirit to draw and call the needy, the lost and those who you are leading into your presence this Advent.
Luke Ch 2 verse 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
There are numerous instances in the Bible where angelic or divine visions or visitations cause fear and protestations of inadequacy and repentance.
In all reality, is it any wonder? The God of creation, or one of his ‘helpers’, steps out of eternity into a specific moment in time to reveal themselves to a humble member of the human race, who is limited by time and space. The experience is often accompanied by a blinding brightness and a sight that is completely other worldly. No wonder these experiences result in such dramatic human responses.
Think the Mount of Transfiguration, the opening verses of Isaiah chapter 6, Ezekiel’s vision in the first 3 chapters of his book, Daniel’s visions in chapters 7 and 10, to name but a few instances of such incidents.
I have only once in my life experienced anything that was remotely in any way similar to any of the above. It took place in a flat on the Hyde Park estate in Sheffield one Saturday night about 35 years ago with a group of about 9 other Christian young people. It is difficult to put into words what happened, but all I can say is that there was a sense of the presence of God and a brightness in the room which overwhelmed us, and for 50 minutes or so we were shrouded in this ‘glory’ and time seemed to stand still.
None of us were, or are, in any doubt that what we had collectively experienced was a divine visitation of God.
When God comes to reveal himself there is no doubt about it, no uncertainty or questioning, and those who experience it are rarely the same again.
Dear Lord Jesus, come and visit this fallen world with your divine presence and power. Come and visit your ailing Church with your divine presence and power. Come and visit us, feeble followers of yours with your divine presence and power. Break us, melt us, mould us, and fill us, Spirit of the Lord fall afresh on us.
Zephaniah Ch 9 verse 9 See your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey
Did Jesus have this prophecy in mind as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey. We don’t know for certain but more than likely he did. We do know though that God as he prompted Zephaniah in his prophecy had Jesus in mind as a victorious but gentle King but who would also bring about everlasting peace.
It sounds like a contradiction and no wonder the Jews in authority found it difficult to come to terms with.
Jesus Kingdom is powerful and establishes it’s reign in people’s lives today and will fully do so at the end of time. But it’s underlying ethos is peace and wholeness and love. Jesus comes to us here and now, and to the world.
Lord Jesus as I experience your rule in my life help me to be a person of peace and gentle with those around me.
Matthew Ch 1 verse 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
There is very little that we know about Joseph, he comes onto the scene very quickly and departs equally quickly. Although in the small amount that we do know about him he seemed to sleep a lot, as twice in two chapters an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream to give him some clear instructions!
Yet in what we do know of him he comes across as a God-fearing honourable man who wanted to do the right thing. This verse refers to him as being ‘faithful to the law’, which would indicate that he was someone who followed the Jewish faith and took it seriously.
To find that his betrothed was pregnant would have given him the right to denounce her and see her put through a trial, but his unwillingness to put her to shame through the public spectacle of a trial caused him to act differently. His choice was to take the permitted alternative of a private divorce before two witnesses, a much kinder way of dealing with the fallen young woman.
Those words, ‘he had in mind to divorce her quietly’, reveal much about Joseph and his attitude. Whilst the majority of men in that situation then and now would want retribution, he thought more about Mary than his own sense of outrage or humiliation.
Whilst Joseph plays only a minor role in the Christmas story, he plays it stunningly well, and fades into the backdrop as the star of the show takes centre stage. There is much we can learn from him.
Dear Lord Jesus, whilst we may only have a minor role to play in the body of Christ, your Church. May we have the grace and humility of Joseph, who though more of others than of himself.
1 Thessalonians Ch 5 verse 15 ‘Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.’
What made me want to share this verse with us today? Well, yesterday I was the victim of road rage which really served to bring these words of Paul into focus. I was careful not to retaliate! But it made me look beyond this momentary incident to remember and pray for all who face trials and persecutions for their following the name of Jesus and to wonder what that must feel like on a daily basis. What must it be like to constantly be pushed and pulled by evil manifested through men and women who are at enmity with the Gospel and its power to turn the darkness to brilliant light. We have heard the words ‘be kind to one another’ often over the course of this last year as we all face an often different kind of hardship and opposition. But yes, as Jesus demonstrated and calls us; let us love as He first loved us.
Oh Lord, come in your power, might and victory to bring strength and protection to your persecuted church. Help us this Advent to be kind to ourselves and to others.
Luke Ch 2 verse 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
The human heart is deep, in it we keep many things that mould who we are, what we do and is the source of many of our motivations. In it are kept desires and thoughts that we would be ashamed to share, and dreams that never come to pass.
This verse sums up all of this and more. Mary had experienced the angelic visitation, felt the stirrings in her womb of the growing babe, given birth in an extraordinary place, and been visited by shepherds, who informed her that they had been told that ‘a saviour has been born he is the Messiah, the Lord’, and they had come to visit him. Mary had a lot to ponder, and it didn’t stop there as we know.
I wonder what she made of all this. From just going about her business pledged to be married, she had seen, heard and experienced things too wonderful to comprehend, and yet they were true, and she was at the centre of these events. No wonder she treasured them and pondered them, maybe trying to make sense of them, could God really be using such a person as her.
Sadly. it took about 33 years for the final act of this drama to reveal itself as she watched 3 men nailed to 3 crosses, and the joy of the stable was overwhelmed by the pain of the Calvary.
The heart must be robust as life takes its toll upon it, through love and heartache, birth and death, exceeding joy and crushing sorrow, and still, it has to keep on going. Mary experienced it all, but I wonder if her ponderings and others that followed, helped sustain her in the darkness that was to come.
Dear Lord Jesus, through the highs and lows of life may we take time to treasure your goodness to us and reflect on the journey through which you have brought us to this place.