’The Leader We Can Trust!’

’The Leader We Can Trust!’

Catastrophic events such as we have seen over this last year, give us pause and challenge us to see life with new eyes. While Covid has dominated the news, volcanoes and earthquakes, wild-fires and devastating tornadoes have also wrought havoc. Nations have looked to their leaders to chart a course to preserve life and secure livelihoods. Leaders who worked at this won our respect.

Good and upright leaders are rare. That said, because no leader is perfect, most people – as every election shows – long for someone who will use their position to provide for the security and welfare of the nation. In a fallen world the freedom to elect leaders is important and very precious.

When we read the history of Israel in the Old Testament we learn that the prophets spoke of a special leader whom God would send. Isaiah 1 – 39 reveal God’s condemnation of his people for their self-worship and their disregard of him. Isaiah had warned of God’s judgement and in 586BC the Babylonians demolished Jerusalem and took its people captive. But Isaiah is not all negative, for he opens a window on something new and lasting that God planned to do through a very special king.

In Isaiah 61 we read: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;… Isaiah 61 continues by telling us what this Spirit-led figure will do: He has come to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; And the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn… (61:1b-2).

It is not until we come to the New Testament that we see the real significance of these words.

For Luke 4:17-19 tells us that Jesus, as guest speaker in the synagogue in Nazareth, opened the scroll of the book of Isaiah at chapter 61. He read: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me,… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Period. Full stop.

Jesus didn’t complete Isaiah’s words: …and the day of vengeance of our God, but went on to comment: “Today these words are being fulfilled in your midst”.

By putting a period/full stop to Isaiah’s words, Jesus reveals that there are two stages to the ‘Day of the Lord’ – the day of favor, and the day of justice. His first coming inaugurates the time of God’s favor, or mercy – the era of God’s rescue operation. His return will be the time of God’s judgment and the establishment of Jesus’ rule in all its perfection and glory. Everyone will see it and feel it.

It’s important that we notice how Jesus applies Isaiah’s words in his public ministry: he says he has come to the aid of the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.

When did he do this? After all he didn’t provide food and clothing for all the needy around him; he didn’t release any prisoners, not even John the Baptist. Why? He has a bigger plan.

Words such as poor, blind, captive and mourn in Isaiah and the Old Testament as a whole, are often used as metaphors. The poor is often a reference to the spiritually poor, the blind, to the spiritually blind, and the captives, to those who are captive to self, sin and death. Those who mourn are aware of their own broken relationship with God as well as the brokenness of the world in its relationship with God.

That said, there were times when Jesus literally fulfilled Isaiah’s words. He did feed people who were hungry; he did give sight to some who were blind; and he did release people who were captive to the powers of evil. In each instance the miracle is a picture of God’s compassion and his ultimate purpose to provide life in all its fullness and freedom for his people. The events pointed to the beauty and perfection of the rule of God’s king.

By reading from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue in Nazareth that day, Jesus assumed the mantle of the anointed servant-king of Isaiah’s vision. He was announcing that the final great era of God’s mercy had dawned.

Yes, he introduced a tension between the is and the yet to be of God’s rule, but it is a tension we need to work with, for it is God’s plan. It’s important for us to see this for we need to live with this tension in our lives.

Many around us have thrown God out of life and view political power and their own world-view as the solution to the world’s ills – of which there are many. But the reality is that the day will come when Jesus Christ will return in all his kingly glory.

Before he departed from his followers, Jesus commissioned them with the primary task of proclamation – announcing God’s good news of release to all nations. What’s more, he continues to raise up men and women to carry on this task, to give people everywhere the chance to turn to God. Isaiah tells us and Jesus repeats: ‘Now is the time of God’s favor – the era of God’s grace’. The opportunity to respond to God’s good news won’t last forever.

Now is the time to listen up and to respond. In Jesus we find the leader we long for: God’s king who will come in all might, majesty, dominion and power.

Do you believe this? Are you prepared? And are you keen to help others to be ready for the Advent, the return of the King? It’s a key reason we are encouraging everyone to check out The Word One-to-One an annotated version of John’s Gospel to share with family and friends. You can find it at www.TheWord121.com.

A prayer. Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of your holy word. May it be a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths, and strength to our lives. Take us and use us to love and serve all people in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

If you have not checked out the Word on Wednesday podcast this week you may want to listen to the Getty Music, In Christ Alone.

’The Leader We Can Trust!’

’Meaning and Hope’

In this transition from one year to the next, we’re looking at Ecclesiastes, one of the wisdom books of the Bible.

The wisdom books stand apart from the main narrative of the Bible, asking questions about our experiences of life. Job asks how do we make sense of suffering, especially the suffering of the seemingly innocent? The Song of Songs explores God’s gift of the joys of love and sex. Proverbs provides a framework for street-smart and successful godly living. Ecclesiastes asks, ‘What’s the purpose of life?’

Having touched on Ecclesiastes chapters 1 and 3 we turn to the concluding chapters of Ecclesiastes where we can identify two themes: ‘What’s the Point?’ and ‘What’s the Answer?’

What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? is a question that bubbles through Ecclesiastes. We work hard, put in long hours, and give up things we’d prefer to be doing. What’s the value of it all?’

The phrase, under the sun is used twenty-seven times in the Book. It’s asking what is life all about if God doesn’t reveal himself? The writer isn’t asking this as an atheist: he believes God exists. He’s asking, ‘What do we make of life if we don’t have a special word from God?’

And there’s another layer to life’s conundrum: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all (9:11). Life doesn’t always reward the swift or the strong, the wise or the brilliant. So much is a matter of timing or chance. If you’re the wrong age when the position of CEO arises, no matter how successful, how smart or wise you are, you’ll be passed over. ‘What’s the gain?’

In chapter 11 the Teacher exhorts us to try to be positive about life. If time and chance rule, there’s nothing we can do. So, if farmers watch the wind, they’ll never sow seed. Take a chance, give it a go!

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun, he continues in verses 7ff. Even those who live many years should rejoice in them all;…

It’s good to see the sun, especially after long, wintry days. Enjoy life if you can. But as verse 8 says: … Remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. Everything is meaningless. ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead’.

So, rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart … (11:9). Enjoy your youth while you can. You’ve got energy and an ability to learn quickly, so run, swim, learn, pump iron. Enjoy being young and strong, but realize there’s a sobering conclusion: But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

Chapter 12, verses 1 through 8 are a poem: Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;  before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain;…

A picture of old age emerges. Our world is afraid of aging. Indeed, there’s a vast industry devoted to anti-aging – creams and botox, diet and exercise programs.

Ecclesiastes tells us life can be fun: enjoy it while you can, but it won’t last. If you try to hold on to it, you’ll find it’s like sand: it slips through the fingers and is gone. What’s the point?

Is there an answer? In chapter 12, verses 9ff we read: Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.  The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd….

Ecclesiastes is composed of the collected sayings given by one shepherd – an Old Testament way of referring to God. It speaks of its sayings as goads, pointed sticks, challenging us to consider the meaning of life. It likens the words of the wise to firmly embedded nails, something to anchor us.

In verse13 we read: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.

This is the first time Ecclesiastes says that God has spoken. It’s the first time the Teacher has said that we don’t just live under the sun: we have a word from God. God has given us commandments to live out. We’re not living in the dark.

The Book of Proverbs says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Ecclesiastes gives us the flipside: to ignore God and his Word is ultimate foolishness. Honoring and serving God gives us meaning.

Ecclesiastes concludes, not just with reference to the creator God who has revealed his good purposes for us in his commandments, but also as judge. God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil (12:14). We live in a moral universe, a key that makes sense of our lives.

The New Testament gives us a clearer picture. In Second Corinthians, chapter 5 we read: all of us must appear before the judgment seat of God to receive his just judgment for things done in the body whether good or bad (5:10).

Do you believe these things will come to pass? Prophesies that spoke of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection, all came true. In the same way the words of Ecclesiastes and of Jesus himself about the coming judgement, will also come true. Such judgement makes sense of our existence. Are you and your family and friends prepared?

A prayer. Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.

© John G. Mason

If you have not checked out the Word on Wednesday podcast this week you may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

’The Leader We Can Trust!’

’The New Year – About Time…’

Another troublesome year has passed. ‘About time,’ we might say. But what about the New Year?

With the passing of the years and the seasons and our experiences of life, how do we make sense of it all? Back in the 1960s The Byrds and Pete Seeger with the song Turn, Turn, Turn brought the world’s attention to the words of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3.

The chapter begins by focusing on the bookends of life: A time to be born, a time to die… It moves on to creative and destructive events: A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal. And verse 4 highlights our emotions of sorrow and joy: A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. Verses 5 and 6 speak of building and possessions, and verse 7 touches on the wisdom of speaking up and remaining silent. Verse 8 speaks of personal and wider relationships – love and hate; peace and war.

We sense the rhythm of the poetry, the movement of time as the years and seasons come and go. We are made aware that there is a time for everything: just as it’s not always summer, so it’s not always a time to speak.

But being aware that there is a right time for everything, we feel the challenge: what do we reckon is the meaning and purpose of life? At the end of an enjoyable summer do we begin to see that it’s time for autumn with its colors and even winter with its cold and snow? The seasons are not just random. Even a pandemic isn’t random. How then are we to make sense of it all?

Threading through the Book of Ecclesiastes is the question: what are you looking for in life? What are you working for? What do people gain, or profit from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?

In chapter 3 the Teacher is asking: Does the movement of time and the variety of experiences mean that life is beautiful or meaningless? Is life meaningful or a burden? He tells us it’s both! Verse 9 repeats the theme: What gain have the workers from their toil? And verses 10 into 11 press the point: I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time.

There’s a beauty about everything in its time – the passing of the seasons, our childhood and teenage years. There’s also a beauty about study and developing our skills; there’s a beauty about being single and a beauty about marriage; there’s a beauty about Thursday afternoon because we know Friday’s coming and a lazy Saturday morning and coffee.

But there is another, deeper layer to our experience of time. Verse 11 says: Moreover, God has put a sense of eternity into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. God has given us an inner awareness that there is more to life. Philosophers have acknowledged this. Goethe in Faust said: “Everlasting! the end would be despair. No – no end! No end!” And Friedrich Nietzsche who said that God is dead, wrote, “All joy wills eternity – wills deep, deep eternity.”

We all sense there is more to life. It’s another facet of the tantalizing questions: ‘What is life really all about?’ and, ‘What does the future beyond space and time hold out for us?’

So, what is Ecclesiastes’ answer? If you can enjoy life, enjoy it. This is a gift from God. But notice God has a purpose in things. Verse 14 says: I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him…

It is here that we find a chilling note: much in life doesn’t seem just: Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well (3:16).

In the places where power and authority should be used for right purposes there is corruption, wickedness and injustice. In some countries corruption is endemic. But one noticeable feature of countries that have been influenced by the Judaeo-Christian ethic, is the built-in checks and balances, systems of regulation and accountability.

Even so, corruption still exists. The Australian group Midnight Oil, bluntly sang: The fat cats still push the thin cats around. That’s the way the world is.

So is God doing anything? I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work (3:17). There is injustice now, but one day there will be a day of reckoning.

If the teacher is right about this, if he’s right about what he says about time, the seasons of life, the times of injustice now and the time of justice to come, what is the state of our own relationship with God?

When Jesus of Nazareth was put to death by crucifixion, two criminals were crucified with him. One cursed Jesus. The other turned to him and said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus responded, ‘Today, you will be with me in paradise.’

There are two ways we can stand before God – either without Jesus or with him at our side as our defense attorney. The practical wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3 is simple. We cannot afford the luxury of simply enjoying all that we can in this present time without regard to a future time. The Teacher speaks of a time of justice to come. The day will come when we find time gone.

A prayer. Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.

© John G. Mason

If you have not checked out the Word on Wednesday podcast this week you may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OibIi1rz7mw

’The Leader We Can Trust!’

’Another Year – Where is Our Hope…?’

Another uncertain and troublesome year with yet another Covid variation! Given that so much has become politicized, where can we find a certain hope for the future? The question of the future in a troubled world is surely felt by anyone who reflects on life.

Consider the opening lines of Ecclesiastes: Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? (1:2,3)

The Book of Ecclesiastes is a strange book and it’s rather surprising to find it in the cluster of wisdom books in the Bible. It doesn’t seem to fit into the Bible’s story-line.

And, while Ecclesiastes is quite depressing, it raises questions for us all. It’s a little like a water-blaster cleaning machine as it cuts through the nonsense filling our lives, challenging us to ask what gives our lives meaning and purpose.

The writer, self-styled the Teacher, could have been David’s son, King Solomon who lived around 1,000BC, or someone who wrote up Solomon’s wisdom. Furthermore, embedded in the word Ecclesiastes is the Greek word for assembly: ecclesia. Ecclesiastes is what the Teacher says to the assembly.

How then does the Teacher view life? What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? he asks (1:3). Gain is a commercial term, questioning the value or the bottom line of life. We work, we throw ourselves into life, we struggle, but what’s it all worth? What’s the point of it all?

The phrase under the sun (1:3), a recurring theme throughout the book, is a metaphor asking how we view life, as it were, from the outside. What sense can we make of life without reference to God?

The answer is depressing: Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity (1:2). The word vanity indicates that it’s all in vain, pointless. The word can also mean a puff of wind or a mist. Later on in the Book, the Teacher speaks about life being like chasing the wind.

A generation goes, and a generation comes, he says, but the earth remains for ever.  The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes round to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.

Like a scientist he writes up his observations: the sun rises, sets, and rises again. The wind blows from one direction, then another, and yet another. The streams run into the sea, but the sea never fills up. In our terminology, he observes the evaporation of water and precipitation: the rain falling on the hills, forming streams that run into the sea, then evaporation, precipitation, and so on.

The endless rising and setting of the sun, the blowing of the wind from every point of the compass, the endless movement of water, go on, and on, and on, and on.

It’s a theme with which he begins verse 4: Generations come, and generations go… But, unlike everything around us, we’re here one moment, gone the next! What’s the point of it all? So much of our life is spent working to achieve wealth, power, prestige – and what’s the point? We’re here one moment gone the next.

What’s more, we’re wearied in the brief time we’re here: All things are wearisome; more than one can express (1:8). Furthermore, he says: The eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing (1:8). One of Elton John’s songs in The Lion King captures the mood: From the moment we arrive on the planet and blinking step into the sun, there’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done. Why do we need new songs? Imagine if record companies said, ‘Instead of releasing new songs we’ll only be making available the best songs from the past’.

But ironically, nothing new ever happens: … There is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? (1:9) Nothing ever changes. Not even the news. It’s only the names and faces. Even a pandemic isn’t new!

And there’s something even more depressing – the time will come when you and I will be forgotten. Consider 1:11: The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.

So, does the Teacher have any solutions? An important test he applies is: ‘Is there anything that’s going to last?’ Ultimate meaninglessness is our issue. What will be left when the waves wipe out the sandcastles of our lives? What will be left when the winds blow on the idols we have erected in our heart? He isn’t saying life is all negative; just don’t stop and think about it.

As we transition from one calendar year to the next, it’s worth taking the time to stop and reflect – even read Ecclesiastes. Yes, there is hope for the future, whatever may happen in the coming year. Ecclesiastes 2:26a provides a clue: For to the one who pleases Him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy;…

Ecclesiastes challenge us to look for answers about the meaning of life. Significantly its answers take us into the larger biblical narrative, where we learn that God supremely holds out the answer to our questions in His Son, Jesus, whom he has appointed as the Lord over all.

In John 20:31 we read: These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and, that through believing you may have life in his name.

A prayer. Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

’The Leader We Can Trust!’

’Why Shepherds…?’

Does Christmas hold out something special for you? A time to be with family, Covid permitting? A joyful celebration? Or is it nothing but fake news and a season of stress? Let me touch on two scenes in the biblical narrative in Luke chapter 2.

But first, let’s remember who the writer is – Luke, the physician. Trained in medicine he understood the principles of research. Indeed, at the outset of his narrative he assures us that he has carefully researched his account of the Jesus story and verified it with eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-3). Furthermore, like all good historians, he identifies the time of the events. At the beginning of chapter 2 he writes: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered (Luke 2:1).

As we look back at this, we see that Augustus’s mandate requiring a census of the people set in motion events that resulted in the fulfilment of God’s promises. It’s worth noting that the God who exists beyond time, works out his own purposes in the course of human decisions and affairs.

The birth. The time came for her (Mary) to deliver her child, Luke continues (2:6b, 7). And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The word inn is not an accurate translation of the original word. The usual word for inn is found in the story of the good Samaritan where the Samaritan generously provides for a victim of terrorism at an inn (Luke 10:34). The word in Luke 2 is another word, katalyma which literally means a place to stay or guest room. It is the same word Luke uses to refer to a guest room in a private house in Jerusalem where Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples (Luke 22:11).

In Jesus’ day poorer families lived in homes with one large extended room, for living and for sleeping. And at one end there was always a small area at ground level, but under the same roof, where the family animals were kept at night to keep them secure.

Luke is telling us that in the home where Jesus was born there was literally no guest room. Mary had to make do for the birth of Jesus at the end of the living room, near the animals. What’s more, she used the cattle feeding-trough, a manger, for Jesus’s crib.

Shepherds. Luke again surprises us when he reports that an angel announced the birth to shepherds who were working on a hillside near Bethlehem: … In the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them and said: “To you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:8, 9a, 11).

At the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were at the bottom of the social order. They were the lost, the outsiders. Why did the angel announce the birth to them?  Given the resources of heaven they could have pulled off one very spectacular announcement in Bethlehem or, better still, in Jerusalem.

To begin to appreciate the reason the angel spoke to the shepherds we need to consider a back-story we find in the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel spoke of the kings of Israel as shepherds, but he knew that many of them were self-indulgent, power-hungry exploiters. In Ezekiel’s day God’s people had been conquered by the Babylonians – Jerusalem was in ruins and its people were in exile. Ezekiel 34 tells us it was the fault of the kings, the shepherds.

But Ezekiel’s news is not all negative. He speaks of a day when God would raise up a new and perfect king, a shepherd-king in the line of king David –a king whose power and glory was far beyond what anyone dreamed.

The king. With the angel’s announcement to the shepherds, we see that Jesus’ birth is the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s promise. God himself would raise up a king to do things Israel’s kings hadn’t done— restore the weak and gather the lost, offer an amnesty and open up his rule of justice and peace for the world, for ever. “Then they will know that I the Lord their God am with them” Ezekiel had said (Ezekiel 34:30). Jesus’ birth is indeed the very best news the world has known.

In fulfillment of his promise, the creator God himself has reached down from the glory of highest heaven to rescue and transform the lives of all people, even the lowliest, including the outcasts. No wonder the heavenly choir of angels broke into song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, ‘shalom’, ‘peace’.

In her Christmas Broadcast in 2012, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II said, “The carol, In The Bleak Midwinter, ends by asking a question of all of us who know the Christmas story, of how God gave himself to us in humble service: “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part”. The carol gives the answer “Yet what I can I give him – give my heart”.”

How right this is: Jesus wants us to turn to him, our savior-king, and to give him our heart in true repentance, love and loyalty.

Indeed, it is when we give our hearts to Jesus that we can truly sing: O Holy Night… it is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;…

© John G. Mason

Note: My comments on Luke 2:1-14 are drawn from my book, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2019.

O holy night: the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;

long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine, O night, when Christ was born! O night divine, O night, O night divine!

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine, O night, when Christ was born! O night divine, O night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming, with glowing hearts by his cradle we stand.

So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming, here come the wise men from the Orient land.

The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger; in all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger, behold your King!

Before him lowly bend! Behold your King! Your King, before him bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace.

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, let all within us praise his holy Name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise his Name forever, His power and glory evermore proclaim!

His power and glory evermore proclaim! Christ is the Lord! O praise his Name forever.

His power and glory evermore proclaim! His power and glory evermore proclaim!

’The Leader We Can Trust!’

’The Transcendental Interferer?’

We all like to think that there are areas in our life where we are in control.

CS Lewis in Surprised by Joy wrote this of his pre-Christian phase: “… But, of course, what mattered most of all was my deep-seated hatred of authority, my monstrous individualism, my lawlessness. No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word INTERFERENCE. But Christianity placed at the centre what then seemed to me a transcendental Interferer. If its picture were true, then no sort of ‘treaty with reality’ could ever be possible. There was no region, even in the innermost depth of one’s soul (nay, there least of all) which one could surround with a barbed wire fence and guard with a notice No Admittance. And that was what I wanted; some area, however small, of which I could say to all other beings, ‘This is my business and mine only’.”

As we prepare for Christmas it’s worth reflecting on one of the most breath-taking moments in history – the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28b). We can appreciate Mary’s perplexity with this supernatural visitation: she wondered what it might mean.

But the angel, sensitive to her apprehension continued, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus… (Luke 1:30-31).

“How can this be, since I have no husband?” Mary responded (Luke 1:34). Even though she was engaged to Joseph, at this point she had clearly not slept with him. And, perhaps like Peter at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:33), she uttered the first thought that came to mind.

The angel’s response to Mary’s question is unexpected and astonishing (Luke 1:35). It is one of the most awesome statements about Jesus in the whole of Luke. Gabriel clarified for Mary, and for us, just why this baby can be described as truly human and yet divine: ‘God’s Holy Spirit will come upon you,’ he says, and ‘the power of the Most High will overshadow you’. They reflect the life-giving work of God in creation (Genesis 1:2; Psalm 104:30), and in salvation (Ezekiel 37:14).

Mary was a special recipient of God’s grace. God would be with her (future tenses) in the events that were to unfold. His centuries old promises concerning his kingdom and his salvation were about to be fulfilled.

Consider what the angel Gabriel goes on to say to Mary about her baby: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” Luke 1:32f).

The theme of a virgin or young woman bearing a special son found in Isaiah 7:14 is present here. Yet Luke, unlike Matthew, doesn’t reference this. His emphasis is on the son rather than the mother: the baby is to be named Jesus. Furthermore, Luke sets out who the baby is – drawing our attention to the themes of the prophet Nathan’s words to king David in Second Samuel, chapter 7. Nathan speaks of David’s descendent whose name would be great and who would sit on the throne of his father David (2 Samuel 7:9 and 13-16). Furthermore, Nathan speaks of him as God’s son who will rule over God’s people (see also Psalm 7:17 and Daniel 4:24).

We should also note Luke’s contrasting statements about Jesus and John the Baptist. Whereas John would be great before the Lord (Luke 1:15), Jesus would be great in his own right (Luke 1:32). Many will rejoice at John’s birth (Luke 1:14) but God would give Jesus the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32). While John will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God (Luke 1:16), Jesus will reign over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:33).

John would play a significant role in God’s plan, but Jesus would be more significant in every way. John would stand in the tradition of the great prophets, but Jesus would be greater than a prophet. He would not simply stand in the tradition of the kings but would be the king God had promised long ago. (2 Samuel 7:9-16; Psalm 89:14, 19-29, 35-37).

For Luke, Jesus’ connection with David is most important (1:32; 1:69; 2:4; 2:11; 3:31). While Jesus would be given the title Lord after his death and resurrection (Acts 2:29-36), glimpses of this would be seen during the course of his ministry (Luke 18:39; 19:38). This royal figure would be the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32). His rule would be over Jacob and would be forever (Luke 1:33).

In this remarkable, unexpected scene, Luke records God’s direct and personal involvement in his creation. From the moment of his conception in Mary’s womb, Jesus is understood to be truly man and truly God. God’s kingdom or rule has come into our human experience in a new and personal way. Jesus is truly divine and yet he is from the family of the kings.

Mary’s closing words challenge us: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

When we consider this simple yet profound scene the implications are life-changing. They threaten our desire to be in control. Yet when we reflect, we discover an unexpected ray of light and hope for us and for our world. Yes, God is the ‘transcendental interferer’ but his ‘interference’ springs from his amazing heart of love and mercy.

No wonder we sing, Hark! The herald angels sing, … glory to the newborn king.

A prayer. Lord we beseech you, pour out your grace into our hearts; so that, knowing the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection by his cross and passion. We ask this through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Note: My comments on Luke 1:26-38 are drawn from my book, Luke: An Unexpected God, Second Edition, Aquila: 2019.