St Andrew's Church

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God With Us – A Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent

Preached by Rev’d Jennie Ridley on 18th Dec 2016

How good are you with book Openers?

 

“Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal thank you very much” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone 1997)

Or this from 1970’s

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach? The Beatles? And me? (Love Story by Erich Segal)

Immediately you know this is a love story – that holds a tragic sadness.

 

That’s the purpose of the opening pages; they set the tone and direction of the plot.

The closing pages tie the threads together. Intervening chapters add substance as they develop and unravel the plot.

Matthew’s Gospel echoes that format.

From the opening genealogies, the adoption of Isaiah’s imagery of a virgin and baby called Immanuel – to the closing words of Jesus in Ch28 “I am with you always, to the end of the age” ….Matthew frames his whole Gospel around the theme “God is with us”

The Bible could be renamed:The Big Book of God with us

God with us is not fanciful thinking – it is the expressed desire, purpose and promise of God right from the opening pages of his book. In the garden of Eden God walked with the people he had created.

However those opening pages also reveal clues to the remaining plot.

As soon as human desire and autonomy is placed above the word and sovereignty of God – the people have to leave the garden – leave God’s presence.

God with us has something to do with participation and believing obedience.

And that is what the ensuing chapters unravel.

We quickly discover the depth of God’s desire to “be with us” but also his unwavering grace & commitment through the invitation “You will be my people and I will be your God”.

Today’s readings offer 2 very different responses of participation and believing obedience.

  1. Ahaz. He may be a king of God’s people but he has drifted so far from God that he now finds it hard to receive or trust God’s word. Consequently he cowers in fear of invasion having failed to take on board God’s pervious assurance “Don’t be afraid, their plot against you won’t succeed” (Ch 7:7)

Through Isaiah we hear God’s frustrations.

You are my people – I am your God, but you don’t turn to me, you don’t seek me.  You carry on as if my word and my promise were non-existent!

And yet … God still chooses to give Ahaz a sign.

In the time it takes for a virgin to conceive, give birth and wean her child – the armies Ahaz fears will be destroyed – and God’s people will truly know God is with them.

Next – Joseph – and a very different response.

He quite naturally has concerns yet he’s willing to participate in what God is doing.

Joseph trusts God’s assurance that it’ll be okay – whatever shame or difficulty he encounters God will be with him, upholding him – seeing him through.  And indeed that is what he and Mary experience.

So Jesus is born in Bethlehem.

The earlier chapters of a book are never dismissed, they remain important to the wholeness of the plot.  Matthew sees Jesus as a continuation of the story “God with us.”

But a new page is being turned, a new chapter is being written; a very different scene in the story.

Jesus, Emmanuel is the personal revelation and guarantee of “God with us”

Paul’s letter unravels the substance of this new chapter.

Jesus is the Messiah – the anointed King of God. Through his death and resurrection Jesus has placed a seal upon God’s promise to be with us; but in a new way. All who seek and receive Jesus as Lord – Jew, gentile, young, old, free or slave – all will know God with them personally –  intimately – his Spirit dwelling with them, writing his law of love upon their hearts and minds.

It is the Spirit who makes Christ real to us and helps us understand his Word.

The Spirit who takes our fumbling words of prayer right into the very heart of the Father.

The Spirit, who enables us to live as Christ’s followers on earth.

That’s the chapter heading – but nowhere in those pages does it promise to be easy.

The secular world says – if it feels good go it – if it doesn’t – don’t!

Emotions can be an indicator, but truly knowing God with us is more about standing on God’s promise and gift of grace than human endeavour or emotion.   

I’m so grateful of that!

2003, when I was in the confusion and darkness of depression I found it very hard to sense God’s presence. My emotions spoke more of absence than presence. I felt trapped behind a closed window looking into a world I could neither access nor belong to.

A friend pointed me to Zephaniah 3:17 – It became a rung to cling on to.

The Lord your God wins victory after victory and is always with you.He celebrates and sings because of you, and he will refresh your life with his love.” (Contemporary English version)

Even now it doesn’t always feel like God is with me.  As Sunday looms closer and I’m still sitting in front of a blank sheet or tangled thoughts it’s easy to cry out “Where are you God, where are the words, where’s the message you’d have me preach?”

I too am on that journey of believing obedience; seeking and waiting upon God; trusting that the message will come – even if later than feels comfortable.

Different things help us learn.  Tangible, visible objects help me to make connections.

I wear a cross and chain. It’s something I can touch – hold – it’s the physical prompt of a much deeper promise; God is with us – the companion who will honestly nudge us “Come on Jennie – that’s not my way is it!”  but also the one who will listen, assure and enable us.

God is with us in the joys too – and sometimes I just hold my cross and say “thank you Lord – thank you for that – it was great!”

My Dad had a wooden holding cross.

During the last few weeks of life, as cancer overwhelmed his body – Dad would hold his cross – a tactile reminder of God’s promise never to leave or forsake him.

God is frustrated and struggles to be with us when, like Ahaz, we steam along our own pathways ignoring and overlooking his sovereignty in our lives.

God is with us when, like Joseph we willingly walk with him; participating and trusting in what God is doing.

God is with us when, like Paul, we are willing to lay aside our own attitudes and understanding and make way for God’s transforming grace in our lives.

God is with us in his Word, in his Spirit, in his Church; in one another as together we work out what it is to live as God’s people today.

God is with us in ways we cannot imagine or fathom.

 

Paul’s letter to the Church of Rome might just as easily be written to the people of Gt Cornard, “God loves you and has called you to be his very own people”

As we approach Christmas, may Matthew’s message truly take root in your heart; that Jesus, Emmanuel is the personal revelation and assurance that God is with you.


Contact

Rev'd Chris Ramsey
Tel: 01787 376 293
Email: vicar@standrews-gc.org.uk.
Further contact details can be found under the "About us" menu

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