Advent & Christmas 2013 - Notes for Preachers and Housegroup Leaders

Please note:  Housegroup notes for each session will be posted at least 2 weeks before each session.  What follows is an outline guide to the Advent / Christmas series with introductory notes for preachers and housegroup leaders.

Jesus Christ: the final peace

For Advent and Christmas 2013 our theme will be ‘Jesus Christ: the final peace’
The teaching theme will tie together the 4 Sundays of advent, Christmas eve communions and Christmas day services. 
Special Christmas services will be free to set their own readings / teaching agenda but should try to link with this theme in some way if at all possible.
The theme will link in with the Christmas Tree Festival which will be a key part of our community outreach.  There will be a special service at 6.30pm on Sunday 8th Dec to mark the end of the Christmas Tree Festival.
The theme of Jesus Christ:  the final peace will also be carried over into our post-Christmas outreach promotional material i.e Alpha / Oasis / Omega
Housegroup notes will be available and will be uploaded at least 2 weeks prior to each session.
Why ‘Jesus Christ the final peace’
1)    We hope that this theme will connect with the people of Ashtead who are not part of regular congregations, encouraging them to reflect on something which may be relevant and important, and serve as a point of engagement. 
2)    This theme will allow us to draw out an important principle of the kingdom reign of God for our regular congregation members, Namely that of peace / shalom.  The peace that is implied is deep well being that encompasses the whole person, often elusive, but to be sought and found in Christ. 
We hope that this series will be helpful and nourishing for our regular members and also engage and reach out to those who are not yet disciples of Christ but who may worship with us during advent and Christmas.
 Notes for preachers and housegroup leaders

Introduction to Isaiah

The following introduction may be helpful to preachers and housegroup leaders.  It sketches out some of the important theological and historical contours of Isaiah and provides a helpful introduction to questions of authorship and dating of Isaiah.  It sets the scene for understanding our chosen passages in context and should help us to allow them to speak authentically and fully. 

Historical Factors

Isaiah is a long and complex book of particular importance to Christians because it seems to predict some key elements in the life of Jesus – the virgin birth in chapter 7 as well as Jesus’ passion and death in chapter 53, for example. Yet there is the danger in reading backwards, as it were, that we pay no attention to the actual historical contexts of the writing – for example, we can’t properly understand Matthew’s use of of Isaiah’s Immanuel prophecy at Matt 1.23 unless we understand what Isaiah was saying to King Ahaz in eighth century Israel in Isaiah 7.10-17.
There is also the complication of the fact that while Isaiah appears in our Bibles as a single book, historical study has established that it was written by three different authors at different periods. Chapters 1-39, known as First Isaiah, was written by Isaiah ben Amoz who lived during the reigns of three eighth century BCE kings, Uzziah, Ahaz, and Hezekiah and who is presented as a royal counsellor advising the kings and people of Jerusalem and Judah during a series of political crises. This prophet, commonly known as Isaiah of Jerusalem, therefore, was active during the Assyrian invasion of the Northern Kingdom of Israel which resulted in the permanent destruction of that kingdom in 722 BCE and the subjugation of the Southern Kingdom of Judah in 701 BCE.
Chapters 40-55, known as Second Isaiah, were written by an anonymous prophet after the invasion of Judah by Babylon (which had taken over from Assyria as the regnant empire). Babylon took Judah’s elites into exile in 587 BCE. Finally, Third Isaiah, chapters 56-66, was written by one or more anonymous prophets from Jerusalem shortly after the Persian king, Cyrus (Persia having conquered Babylon) had allowed the exiles to return to Judah after 539 BCE.
Thus Isaiah covers Israel’s turbulent history over a period of around two hundred years during which time Israel suffered the indignity of being subjected to colonial rule on a continuous basis, a situation that would continue under the Greeks and then the Romans into and beyond the time of Jesus. Israel would enjoy only a brief period of independence initiated by the Maccabean rebellion in 167 and lasting to 62 BCE.
However, in addition to taking this historical background into consideration when reading the book, we also have to take seriously the fact that three writings have been combined into a single book with some later passages inserted into First Isaiah, so there isn’t an absolutely clearcut division between the separate books. Hence, the trick to reading Isaiah is to keep in mind at one and the same time the historical contexts of three different books written over a long period of time by different writers on the one hand, while on the other looking for those literary and thematic elements which unify the book under the canonical authorship of Isaiah of Jerusalem, and which often transcend their particular historical contexts.
A helpful overall summary is provided by Walter Brueggemann: “The book of Isaiah…is a meditation… about the destiny of Jerusalem into the crises of exile and the promise of Jerusalem out of exile into new well-being”.  Jerusalem is thus a major theme that ties the three writings together. We’ll see that there are other, connected grand themes.

First Isaiah (1-39)

If we now look at each separately, we begin with First Isaiah which is concerned with the crises of pre-exilic Jerusalem between 742 and 701 BCE into which Isaiah of Jerusalem’s prophecies were spoken. The first crisis was the Syro-Ephraimite War of 735-733 BCE: Syria formed an alliance with the Northern Kingdom of Israel against Assyria. The allies tried to persuade King Ahaz of the Southern Kingdom of Judea to join the alliance but Ahaz refused, appealing for help to Assyria when the allies tried to have him deposed. His reward was to be allowed to remain as a subject-ruler by the Assyrians. A decade later came the next crisis when Israel rebelled against Assyria, resulting in the destruction of Samaria in 722 BCE and the end of the Northern Kingdom (perhaps prophesied in Isaiah 28.1-4). Judea was endangered in 713 BCE when Ashdod, a Philistine city, rebelled against Assyria (see Isaiah 20). Finally, in 701 BCE Hezekiah of Judea revolted, provoking the wrath of Sennacharib, the Assyrian king. Most of Judea was ravaged but Jerusalem was saved and Hezekiah remained on the throne (see Isaiah 36-38).
 This sucession of crises plays some part in the structuring of First Isaiah. 2-5 are thought to belong to the earliest period of Isaiah of Jerusalem’s ministry, before the Syro-Ephraimite war; 6-8 belong to the first crisis; some material in 10-23 refers to the middle period between 722 and 701 BCE, with the oracles of 28-32 referring to the time of Sennacharib.
First Isaiah can be divided into six textual units, three directly connected to Isaiah son of Amoz and three later insertions floating more loosely, time-wise.
The first unit related to the eighth century prophet is 1-12, which is assigned to the the reign of Ahaz (735-15 BCE), and which anticipates God’s judgement on Jerusalem for Torah disobedience, but oracles of judgement (1.2-6; 2.6-22; 3.1-4.1; 5.1-7, 8-30) are balanced by promises (2.1-4; 4.2-6; 9.1-7; 11.1-9) so that judgement doesn’t have the final word. This weighing-up of judgement and promise with the movement from the former to the latter reveals in miniature the major theme of the whole book which shows Jerusalem’s descent into exile and death under God’s judgement followed by that city’s resurrection to new life in terms of God’s promise. . However, we should note that this opening section introduces a typical prophetic theme which Isaiah articulates vigorously, namely the critique of the practice of injustice in Israel, showing itself in corruption and a failure to care for the poor (1.23). 1.27 places side-by-side the two great terms which are so important to this theme in Isaiah: “righteousness” and “justice”.
The second unit directly connected to eighth century Jerusalem is 28-31 with an addendum in 32-33, usually assigned to Hezekiah’s reign (717-687). It urges the king to practise policies in accordance with God’s rule. It is dominated by “woe” oracles which suggest imminent death. It has the effect of intensifying the theme introduced in 1-12: unless Jerusalem changes her ways, judgement awaits.
The third unit reflecting eighth century Jerusalem is 36-39, a text probably taken from 2 Kings 18-20 to which it is closely linked, and probably a later writing inserted here in the name of Isaiah of Jerusalem. It consists of three speeches by Assyrian diplomats (36.4-10, 13-20; 37.8-13), a prayer by King Hezekiah (37.15-20) and an oracle by the prophet assuring Israel that the Assyrian threat is ultimately no match for the power of God (37.22-29) who will rescue Jerusalem from Assyria’s armies (37.36-38). This assurance is the basis of what is called “Zion theology”, the belief that God will never desert Jerusalem, the Holy City, which has remained the underlying impetus of Jewish faith into the present and which undergirds the royal, Davidic theology that dominates Isaiah. The all-powerful rule of God is another major theme in this first part of Isaiah, as it will be in the other two sections. The unit ends with a prophecy of the Babylonian exile, providing a clear link with Deutero-Isaiah (39.5-8).
This theme of God’s rule is continued in the first of the three texts of later provenance, consisting of chapters 13-23. These chapters consist of oracles against other nations, especially Assyria and Babylon (13-14), thus throwing the reader forward to events that have not yet happened and providing assurance of God’s control of all history. In this way the prophet asserts God’s power over all nations, and there is an interesting assumption behind these oracles to the effect that all the nations know about God’s rule and demands so that it is not necessary to point to the Sinaitic law specifically (a tradition that develops in later Judaism in connection with the Noahic covenant in Genesis).
The second ‘supra-historical’ unit is the “Little Apocalypse” of 24-27 which includes psalms celebrating the downfall of an unnamed city. Completely disconnected from any historical referent, this section thus makes sweeping claims for God’s control of all history in judgement (24) and hope (25-27), adding to that theme as we’ve seen it in the previous section. Some scholars think they are a response to the desperate situation that returning exiles found in Judah. However, the most notable aspect of this section is its introduction of  the idea of the resurrection of the body (25.6-8, 19) which a Jewish biblical scholar, Jon Levenson, argues is fundamental to Judaism but which is usually regarded as a late belief introduced here for the first time.
The final unit in the category of supra-historical is 34-35 which anticipate the exile and return, and is thus an introduction to the material of 40-55.
First Isaiah, then, concerns both the period of Isaiah son of Amoz in eighth century Jerusalem and later material introducing anticipations of later events, the effect of which is to set free from confinement to a particular historical period the theme of God’s rule over history. In the context of the Assyrian threat in the eighth century, First Isaiah introduces the grand theme that while Assyria may appear to have control over the fate of Jerusalem, actually God has supreme power over Jerusalem and, indeed, over all the nations of the world. So the writer’s intention is not just to preach judgement but, finally, to encourage Israel to put complete trust in God. This theme ties together the message of the whole book that all the later events depicted as well – the Babylonian exile and subsequent return - happen under the guiding and controlling hand of God, despite the appearance of the political and military power of great empires.
Let me highlight the major theological themes of First Isaiah, all emerging from the key vision of chapter 6. First, Isaiah is critical of Judea’s rulers who put their trust in human power rather than in the power of God and thus opposes this tendency in Judah’s kings and their advisors. Isaiah urges complete trust in God’s control over history. This call for faith in God is based on royal Davidic theology, on the promise to David recorded in 2 Sam 7.11-16, which is the basis for Isaiah’s theology of kingship (see also the royal Psalms (eg., Pss 2; 45). The king is God’s representative.
This glorification of the monarchy assumes certain responsibilities, especially of ensuring justice, the lack of which is one of Isaiah’s chief targets. Closely associated with the kingship theme is the Zion theme, which encapsulates Jerusalem and the Temple there. Divinely-ordained kingship and the Zion theme provide the context for Isaiah’s faith (but First Isaiah disregards the Exodus, unlike his contemporaries Amos and Hosea). These themes, remember, are to be seen in the context of Israel’s suffering at the hands of various empires so his call for faith is issued in full awareness of the reality of suffering from which he doesn’t promise protection. Rather he deals with Israel’s suffering by giving a reason for it – injustice and lack of faith in Israel, especially on the part of the rulers – and by offering eschatological hope and the guarantee of a remnant – a course to history he regards as better for Israel than easy prosperity and political power in the present. His ideal kingdom is sketched in chapter 11; it is one of peace and simplicity. Thus Isaiah challenges all human pretensions, socially and politically, though his quietist position remains a difficulty in practice.

Second Isaiah (40-55)

This part of Isaiah is commonly regarded as an entirely different work, different in literary style and genre, in historical context, being concerned with the fall of Babylon under king Nebuchadnezzar (46-47) and the rise of Persia under king Cyrus (44.28; 45.1), and in the theological commitment to monotheism, voicing a belief, with singular focus,  in the God of Israel as the only God, creator of heaven and earth. We need to be aware of the brutality of the Israelite suffering: King Zedekiah had seen his sons slain before his eyes before himself being blinded and taken in chains to Babylon with the other leaders. This experience was a trauma for the Israelite community, some of whom saw it as punishment for their sins, while others questioned whether God actually had any control over history or, indeed, any love for Israel.
Hope was provided unexpectedly by Cyrus, King of Persia who entered Babylon as conqueror in 539 BCE and almost immediately authorized the exiles to return home. Cyrus was a generous ruler and skilled diplomat who presented himself to the Babylonians as acting in the name of Marduk, the god of the Babylonians and to the Jews as acting in the name of the Lord, who, he said, had charged him to rebuild the Temple. He was rewarded by being called “Messiah”. 40-55 is written to celebrate this deliverance and to reformulate Israel’s faith in light of it. 40-55 was probably written in Babylon.
Second Isaiah is usually dated to 540 BCE, anticipating the defeat of Babylon and Cyrus’s benign rule which will make him God’s agent in effecting Israel’s return from exile, though it was a return to a country under Persian rule. These chapters predict the restoration of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile while at the same time presupposing the exile so there is quite a complex mixing of time in this part of the book.
Chapters 40-55 consists mostly of poetry and begins on a note of comfort because the exile has ended (40.1-11) which is dramatically juxtaposed in the literary structure of the book with 39.5-7 which prophesied the exile. Thus, the book’s literary structure points silently to seventy years of history during which Jerusalem was destroyed and her citizens taken into captivity. This juxtaposition captures in miniature the theme we have already noted, of the movement from judgement to restoration which underlies the whole book.
44.21-45.13 is one of the key texts of this part of the book and presents Cyrus, a pagan king, as God’s shepherd to Israel. This key role given to a pagan monarch is one of the most astonishing features of Isaiah, a key moment in the dominant theme of God’s universal and sole rulership over all the nations: even one who doesn’t believe can be used by God for God’s purposes in history. Cyrus is even designated as “messiah” (45.1). This text is preceded by a series of doxologies celebrating God’s power as Creator (40.12-23; 42.10-13; 43.16-21), what Brueggemann calls “lyrical assaults upon and humiliation of rival gods who are shown to be impotent” (41.21-29), and pastoral assurances by God in the form of salvation oracles guaranteeing God’s eternal love for Israel (41.8-13; 43.1-7).
Following the “Cyrus texts” we find more assertions of God’s sovereign power, a celebration of the defeat of Babylon and the humiliation of its gods (46-47), an assertion that must have carried some risk when circulated in Babylon among exiles because it was accompanied, as is the nature of prophecy, with a direct attack on Babylonian beliefs (43.10) which are rooted in Babylon’s own creation myth, the Enuma Elish (upon which the Genesis account draws heavily, in fact). Remember, that the power to create is the ultimate power, so it is fitting that Isaiah should oppose the Babylonian claim to the creative power of its gods with his own claim that YHWH is the one and only Creator of all that is (51.9-11; 45.7; 40.12, 26; 44.24 etc.). In addition, there is a stirring pronouncement of the new ways God will act on behalf of Israel (51.9-16; 54.1-17). The intention is to arouse new hope in Israel (51.17-23; 52.1-12) and to initiate a new exodus from Babylon that will parallel the exodus from Egypt (52.11-12; see also 35.5-7). God concedes that he has abandoned Israel (54.7-8) but is now back, fighting in Israel’s corner.
Second Isaiah has become famous for its “servant songs” (42.1-9; 49.1-6; 50.4-9; 52.13-53.12). There has been and continues to be much debate about the identity of this servant: does the term denote a unique figure with a special revelation and vocation? Christian interpretation has focused on this interpretation, seeing in the figure of the servant of these songs an anticipation of Jesus Christ. In the structure of the book, however, it is likely, as Brueggemann among others argues, that the servant is Israel (because the relationship between God and Israel is the subject of the whole book) who has a special vocation, but not an exclusive one, for in Isaiah’s theology Israel is called to be a light to the nations (51.1-3). This means that we Christians should read these songs with bifocal lenses: on the one hand understanding the special role given in the book to Israel, but on the other seeing quite legitimately the anticipation of the servant of all servants, Jesus Christ because, in the words of Brevard Childs, “The suffering servant retains its theological significance within the Christian canon because it is inextricably linked in substance with the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is and always has been the ground of God’s salvation of Israel and the world”.
In summary, when we see 40-55 in relation to 1-39 we see two writings inextricably linked by the theme of judgement leading to restoration. This theme is both Israel’s lived experience as well as her theological conviction.
Some new theological themes are emphasized in Second Isaiah. First, God is Creator, the one and only God – earlier writings admitted the existence of other gods but forbad the Israelites to worship them. Second Isaiah stresses a monotheistic belief in a quite new way. The book also goes back to the Exodus to present God as Redeemer (40.3). Then there are the Servant Songs which are one of the ways Second Isaiah explains the Exile: Israel’s suffering was not merely a punishment for her sins but also had a positive meaning, to enable Israel to serve as a light to the nations by bearing their infirmities and leading them, as a result of Israel’s experience of deliverance, to faith in the one true God.

Third Isaiah (56-66)

The final section of Isaiah presupposes that the exiles have already returned to Judea, and is concerned with the communal life of the restored community with its internal tensions, a decisive shift from the focus on restoration in 40-55. One of the returning community’s problems was undoubtedly to grapple with the contrast between the lyrical outpourings of Second Isaiah and the rather shabby and impoverished country the returnees found (especially 63-66). Again, the prophet’s response is encouragement, which is found chiefly in 60-62 which proclaim future well-being for Israel in powerfully-lyric poetry. In addition Isaiah culminates in a picture of the “New Jerusalem” (65.17-25; 66.10-13) which brings to a wonderful climax the whole Jerusalem theme: in 1-39 Jerusalem is destroyed under God’s judgement; in 40-55 the prophet promises Jerusalem’s restoration, while in 56-66 God reshapes Jerusalem in accordance with God’s future purposes for Israel. Brueggemann summarizes neatly: “The sequence of First, Second, and Third Isaiah attracts the interpreted memory of Jerusalem as destroyed, expected,  reorganized”, a sequence captured, in fact, right at the book’s outset (1.21-27).




Taken as a whole made up of many inter-twining parts, Isaiah shows Israel in the process of thinking about the life of the nation, especially in times of crisis, in relation to her faith in God. The book poses and answers the question of how God’s power, love, and justice are to be understood in the light of Israel’s suffering at the hands of larger, more powerful nations. Does God love us, really? Isaiah affirms a powerfully-positive answer while at the same time reminding Israel of her responsibilities as God’s chosen people. In the words of Ronald Clements, Isaiah is “centred on the death and rebirth of Israel, interpreted theologically as acts of divine judgement and salvation”. Its peculiar power is to a considerable extent not only the result of its themes in themselves but also of the writers’s wonderful use of myth and poetry to tackle specific historical issues in Israel’s life as well as to show how his themes transcend history.

Some Useful References

Blenkinsopp, J. (<1983> 1996). A History of Prophecy in Israel (Revised and Enlarged ed.). Louisville; London: Westminster John Knox Press.
Brueggemann, W. (2003). An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville; London: Westminster John Knox Press.
Childs, B. S. (2001). Isaiah: A Commentary. Louisville; London: Westminster John Knox Press.
Collins, J. L. (1986). Isaiah (Collegeville Bible Commentary). Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press.
Levenson, J. D. (2006). Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
Sweeney, M. (2005). The Prophetic Literature. Nashville: The Abingdon Press.

Sunday 1st  December – Advent 1:  Isaiah 11:1-10 & Gen 3:17-19


Isaiah 11:1-10: The Branch From Jesse


“11 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lordand he will delight in the fear of the Lord.  He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.  Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.  The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together; and a little child will lead them.  The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.”

In these verses we see the link between the bringing of peace to the created order and the Messiah made explicit.  One will come who will have the wisdom of God and the Spirit of understanding and knowledge, and as he brings righteousness and justice so the whole created order will be brought eventually to peace as the reign and salvation of God is brought to completion. 
The righteousness and justice that the anointed one brings ushers in the start of this new era and is a breaking in of the kingdom and the first fruits of Gods reign, a taste of what is to come. 
Jesus Christ the final peace?  Yes, the whole of creation groans and experiences the dislocation and frustration of the fall, and its only hope is in Christ. 

Sunday 8th December – Advent 2:  Isaiah 2:1-5 & Isaiah 9:6-7

Isaiah 2:1-5:  The Mountain of the Lord
This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.  Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.  Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
A prophecy which speaks of the establishing of Gods reign and kingdom, open to all nations.  The temple is depicted as the centre point of this reign and rule and in keeping with Jesus’ self understanding as the ‘new temple’ the new centre of Gods dwelling  with mankind, we re-interpret this centre as Christ. 
As the people are taught the ways of the Lord and walk in his paths the goodness and justice of the salvation of the kingdom go out to all nations, and the result is peace and righteousness. 
Jesus Christ the final peace?  Yes, the world is devoid of peace as war and conflict rage, and nations pursue self interest.  The only hope is in Christ. 

Sunday 15th December - Advent 3:  Isaiah 35:1-10 & John 14:23-31


Isaiah 35:1-10:  Joy of the Redeemed


35 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.  The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.  Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution he will come to save you.” 
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.  Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.  The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.  In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way.  The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.  No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there.  But only the redeemed will walk there, 10 and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy
 will crown their heads.

Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

The messiah, the one who establishes the kingdom reign of God brings peace not just to creation, not just between nations, but to individuals too.  Peace, well being, is described in beautiful terms which include:  the lack of fear, physical healing, the rushing of water into parched lands, barren landscapes bursting into flower.  This peace includes a lack of threat (no wild beasts) and the promise of safety.
Jesus Christ the final peace?  Yes, don’t we all know what it is to live in a barren land, with no beauty, with threat and danger all around, at least metaphorically speaking?  Don’t we all long to know the life and well being that is so beautifully portrayed in these words?  Our only hope is in Christ.

Sunday 22nd December – Advent 4:  Isaiah 7:10-16 & Romans 15:5-13

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”  12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”  13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you[a] a sign: The virgin[b] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[c] will call him Immanuel.[d] 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
The sign of the reign of God breaking into the created order is given…this is the sign that signals the green lights are on for Gods salvation to be made known.  Immanuel, God with us, will be shown at his birth, the arrival of the prince of peace. 
This was the sign that the new age had been inaugurated, that the kingdom had arrived, Jesus is the manifestation of the Kingdom.  
And the signs of the new age are ever present today as God continues his work of salvation and extends his reign and rule, signs of the kingdom within and without. 
Jesus Christ the final peace?  Yes, but as bearers of the kingdom we have a mandate to bring the shalom and well being of the kingdom to this world and its people.

Tuesday 24th December – Christmas Eve:  Acts 13:16-26 & Phil 4:4-7

Acts 13:16-26
16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct[a] in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance.20 All this took about 450 years.
“After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’  23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work,he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’  26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.
To whom has this message of salvation, of peace, shalom, well being and fullness been sent?  It is to us!  The call to live in the peace and well being of the kingdom of God was sent first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, and consequently to all people who have lived since. 

The invitation to know the peace of the rule and reign of God has been issued in Jesus Christ, will you respond and lay hold of all that God longs to give?  Will you respond to the final peace that Christ offers?


Wednesday 25th December – Christmas Day:  Luke 2:1-20 & Matt 11:25-30

Luke 2:1-20
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to himand was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.


8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The wonder of the arrival of the Christ and the extent of the blessing that flows from God to mankind…from darkness to light, the oppressed freed, the prince of peace is born.  Will you put the final peace into place? 

Sunday 29th December – 1st Sunday of Christmas:  Isaiah 61:10-62:3 & Gal 4:4-7

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
62 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
These verses speak of the rejoicing and joy of those who have found Jesus Christ the final peace.  With this peace gifted to us in the grace and mercy of God how can we keep quiet?  Will we live and proclaim the final peace of Jesus Christ?

Simon Butler, 05/11/2013