Monday, January 29, 2018

Listen To Him!

Readings: Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark:1:21-28, Deuteronomy 18: 15-20
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, January 28 2018

Tom Hanks, alongside the Welsh lovely Catherine Zeta Jones, star together in a movie called ‘The Terminal.’ Hank’s plays the part of Viktor Navorski, a resident of an Eastern European land who arrives at New York Airport only to be refused admittance because just after he left his own land war broke out.

He is therefore a man without a country to call his own. Immigration can not send him home to a home that no longer exists and he has to set up home in the airport until they can figure out what to do with him.

His situation is further complicated by the fact that he speaks very little English. As the weeks go by he starts making friends with many of the airport staff, including the aforementioned Miss Zeta-Jones who provides an element of romantic interest to the movie.

How does it all end up? Well I’m not going to tell you that. It’s no fun when people ruin the endings. You’ll have to rent the movie or wait for it to come back on Netflix.

As Christian people we pray each week, ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’ Such a prayer suggests that we, like Viktor Navorski, are people living in a terminal space between two lands, the one we encounter every day and that which Jesus speaks of as “The Kingdom of God.”

That’s just how it was for the people of God that Moses addresses in Deuteronomy Chapter 18. They were in the wilderness. They had left the oppression of Egypt, but had not yet entered the Promised Land.

Naturally they are a more than a little concerned as to what the future may bring their way. Just the same as we are today. It doesn’t matter what stage of life we are at. We’re all in the same boat.

Kids in Nursery School get anxious about what elementary school may hold. High School Youth agonize over which college to attend. People spend a whole lot of time pondering who they should live their lives with, when they should marry, and then kids come along and grandkids and every new experience has us thinking, “Well here’s a place we haven’t been before.” Where do we turn to get help to guide us through these situations?

There’s one place we are warned not to turn to. Moses counsels the people not to turn to the religious practices that were prevailing in the land. Deuteronomy 18 :10-11 "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.

Such practices continue to attract the attention of those seeking a word of guidance from beyond. Just dial 1 900 PSYKIC and all your problems will be solved. Hold a séance and speak with Elvis. Turn down the lights and get out the Ouija board. And whatever you do, once you’ve read your tea leaves, glanced in your crystal ball and before you leave the house tomorrow, I’ve heard that the constellation of Ursula Andress in the fourth quarter of the second phase of a new moon, so you better check your horoscope before picking your lottery numbers.

If we are turning to things like that to direct our path... then it won’t be long before we are heading in precisely the opposite way from that God would like us to take. Deuteronomy doesn’t mince words when it describes such practices as “detestable.” When something is described in scripture as being something that God says is “detestable” I think it is fair to say we don’t need to be going there.

But returning to Viktor Navorski trapped at the airport terminal; I'm sure you have also noticed that airport terminals are confusing places, particularly if you don’t speak the language of the country you have landed in.

Everybody at an airport is on a mission. Everybody is either going somewhere or hanging around waiting to go somewhere. There are endless boards with flight information on them, turning back and forwards. There are customs and immigration to navigate and you carry baggage that needs to be dealt with.

When you are at a busy airport you can read all the horoscopes, consult all the mediums and pray all the mantras you want, but it won’t help you find your plane. You usually have to ask some other human being here on this planet, to figure out exactly where you are meant to be.

As the Israelites traveled through the desert, they were fortunate. They had a flesh and blood character who knew where they were going and how they would get there. His name was Moses. Moses was one of the great prophets of God’s people. The Old Testament bristles with examples of prophets who addressed and lead the people in a similar fashion to Moses.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Elijah, Daniel, even reluctant prophets like Jonah… the list goes on and on of people, flesh and blood people, who through words or actions communicated the reality of God to those they spoke to. When the people listened they were reassured that God was with them. When they followed they prospered and grew!

In our reading today we heard Moses say: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.” (Deuteronomy 18:5). A prophet like me? Who was Moses speaking about?

Scripture does not leave us in the dark. In the New Testament Book of Acts, both Peter in his sermon at Solomon’s Portico and Stephen, during the testimony he gives at the time of his martyrdom identify the prophet Moses said would come as being Jesus Christ. (Acts 3:22 & 7:37)

In the first chapter of the gospel of John, people approach John the Baptist, and ask John, “Who are you? Are you the Messiah? Are you Elijah? Or are you… the prophet?” John says, “No, not mebut I came baptizing with water, that He might be revealed!” (John 1:21 & 1:31). He of course was speaking about Jesus.

A few days later Jesus has called Philip to be His disciple. Philip travels to tell Nathanial about his call. Philip greets Nathanial with these words, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth”.

The disciples clearly believed that Jesus was “The One” that Moses spoke about when he said, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you.” They were equally clear about the second part of Moses proclamation; “Listen to Him!” Jesus was the One Moses said would come. So listen to Him!

At Christmastime we celebrated that in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ God revealed God’s self in a unique, incomparable, unrepeatable way. “The Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’ (John 1:14)

That means that there is somebody that we can turn to and find where we are meant to be going and that somebody is Jesus Christ. Not ‘Dial a Psychic’ or ‘Mystic Meg’ or some screwy bit of paper in a fortune cookie, but the living resurrected Jesus Christ whom we encounter through the Holy Spirit when we seek to live our lives for God.

The New Testament contains the words that He spoke and the things that He did. Under the touch of God’s Spirit those words come alive to us and guide us and lead us. Through the disciplines of prayer and faithful worship we can attune ourselves to listen to Jesus Christ. Of all the voices you can tune into, all the things around us trying to get our attention, the one we often miss is the most important of them all. The Word of God.

That’s why developing regular worship habits and Sunday School and private time for prayer and Bible reading is so important for a vibrant walk with God. That’s why stewardship and service and utilizing our talents in ways that God calls us to has an eternal significance. Neglect such things, or never even try and fit them into your schedule, and you will be left wandering around like a lost soul in an airport terminal.

“What do I do now? Is there nobody out there who can help me?”
“Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters?”

Moses was crystal clear. Don’t mess with Ghostbusters. Don’t fool around with mediums or palm readers. This prophet he speaks of, the one the disciples recognized as the prophet God promised to send; “Listen to Him.” Listen to Him. Listen to Jesus Christ by reading the Bible and worshiping God in the presence of others. Pray to Him. Communicate with Him.

‘But you know pastor there’s a lot in the bible, there’s some pretty hard stuff to understand.’ I can tell you this. The more you learn the more you’ll discover you have to learn! God’s Word is something we are to feed upon on a daily basis.

If when you were three years old I had taken you to a room full of all the food you would eat until the day you die, and told you to eat it, you would look at me like I had lost my mind! “Me? Eat all that? Right now?” The very idea of consuming all the food we eat in a lifetime at one meal is ludicrous.

It’s the same with the bible and Christian life. It’s a non-microwaveable Word. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not phone a friend. It’s food. Real Meat. Something to get your teeth into and consume and digest. Faithfulness demands … “Listen to Him”, listen to Jesus Christ.

Every day we live we are faced with choices and decisions. The complexity of modern life may have us looking for answers in all the wrong places. So God has provided for us a way to find true direction. God sent Jesus Christ, our flesh and blood prophet. Moses tells us;“Listen to Him”.

“Listen to Him” means tuning in to the Scriptures, opening up our selves to God in worship and service, being sensitive to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit and abandoning those things that get in the way of being a disciple.

May God help us to listen!
And more than that, to put into practice what we hear from the Holy Spirit!
To God’s name be the Glory.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Reluctant Preacher

Reading: Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 Mark 1:14-20, Jonah 3:1-5 & 10
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, January 21 2018

Last week we were thinking about the call of God, and the experience of Samuel, who was tingling as he said; "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." Today our readings reflect again on ‘The Call’ of God. The first story was the call of Simon, Andrew, James and John to leave behind the fishing business, and get on with the business of fishing for the Kingdom. In the second story, Jonah comes from out of a fishy situation before going to the Ninevites with a message of judgment.

There seems little hesitation to the call of Jesus in the response of Simon and Andrew. Maybe, Zebedee, the father of James and John, was reluctant to let his sons go, but they themselves seem to have had a tingling that this was the right thing to do.

By contrast, Jonah ends up washed out on the beach. Whilst he had a strong sense of calling, he had an even stronger sense that the last thing he wanted to do was to respond to what God was calling him to do.

As a reluctant prophet, he was in good company. Moses and Jeremiah both pleaded with God that they were inadequate for their calling. Elijah ran away to a cave because he feared for his life if he spoke against King Ahab. Amos and Isaiah found their message to 'dreadful' to announce.

I've shared with some of you before, that when I felt a call to the ministry... a tingling sense that to work full time in the church was my vocation... I kicked against it. It really wasn't something that I had envisioned for my life. Pastors that I knew seemed overworked, underpaid and unappreciated, (except as an easy target for their parishioner’s criticism or a comedian’s satire.) They were old, usually wore black suits and they hated rock music.

I, on the other hand, spent most weekends going to rock concerts and many weeknights playing in a rock band... The only black I wanted to wear (apart from cool sunshades) was leather or denim. I had a head full of young dreams about fame, fortune and the fantastic experiences that life would bring. I can too easily identify with Jonah and Moses and Jeremiah and Elijah and Amos, who, when they felt a call, said to God, "Great idea, but send somebody else."

Oh yes, you had that tingling sensation that God was opening a new door before you, or that there was something you needed to do, but then you start thinking about what's through that door, or realize that what you need to do is not quite what you thought it was. You feel then, that, maybe you were wrong, or maybe you don't want to do this after all, or maybe God's not the nice guy the preacher had talked about!

The meat of Jonah's problem had to do with Jonah's understanding of God. Our problem with responding to the needs Christ places before us is often rooted in the same thing. Our image, our understanding, our conception of “Who God is” and “What God is like”, doesn't resonate with “Who we are” and “What we want” out of life.

Jonah did not like Ninevites. They were the enemy. Jonah was really pleased that God had a grievance with them. Jonah really hoped that God would blast them out of existence just like Sodom and Gomorrah. The last thing Jonah wanted any body to do was alert the Ninevites to the impending wrath of God that would fall on them if they did not change their ways.

Following his strange encounter with the big fish, reluctantly, Jonah got on with the job God was calling him to do. “Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (Jonah 3:4). The impact of this reluctant preacher, an enemy from a foreign land with a distinctly fishy odor, confirmed Jonah’s worst fears. “The people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” (3:5)

Jonah had all along cherished a sneaking suspicion that if he went and told the Ninevites to repent, they just might. Now he'd have to live with them for the rest of his life. He was mad at God. “Lord, you’ve made me look a right idiot. I go telling them that they are going to be destroyed… a great idea… and then You go and change Your mind… and forgive?” He heads out of the city where he sits and sulks under a tree - but that’s another story.

Responding to the call of God is an act of submission. It does not make everything in our world rosy. It does not take our “Nineveh’s” away. Following Jesus Christ does not bring instant answers to all our problems. Life doesn’t flow like that. We are complex, unique, contradictory beings. We have, in ourselves, places we are reluctant to go, challenges we don’t want to face. We get into patterns and habits and ways of doing and living that we would rather accept than change.

The call of God comes and upsets the apple cart. The Call of God comes and says, “Hey, let’s do something about this!” We say, “Let’s not.” The call of God comes and says, “Let me in!” We say, “Leave it out.” The Call of God comes and says, “You know, there’s something not right, here.” We say, “We know, but that’s the way it has always been. You’re not from round here, are you?”

Guess what? I’m still the reluctant preacher. I’m still having days when I kick against my calling rather than thank God for it. Chances are that you feel the same way about your daily lot in life from time to time. During such times we need to remind ourselves to be Ninevites, not Jonah’s. Jonah heard the Call and headed out of town. The Ninevites heard the Call and turned their lives around.

Jonah was afraid to embrace his fears. He would rather God dealt with things without his participation. The Ninevites embraced the message that Jonah brought to them, and sought God to renew their lives and they prayed and fasted. Jonah eventually, reluctantly and begrudgingly, accepted that God loved people he couldn’t. The Ninevites gratefully and graciously received God’s forgiveness and rejoiced that God’s love was even for people like them.

Just before calling Simon and Andrew to follow Him, Jesus makes a declaration; "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." (Mark 1:15). The idea of the Kingdom coming near, in such a way as to cause people to repent, to change, to turn their lives in a different direction, lies at the heart of Jonah’s story.

I can give you one good solid reason why we need to change. We need to change because God is not calling us to stay as we are. We need to change because our love for Jesus Christ is but a poor shadow of the love of Jesus for us. We need to change, because we do not rightly discern the nature of the judgment of God against evil or that the grace of God is greater than sin.

Overcoming our prejudices, our mistaken views of God, our hates and our complaints, our fears and our misplaced pride, is not an easy task. Not for any of us. Not for congregations or pastors or preachers or even prophets ... ask Jonah!

The Good News is that change can happen when we turn our focus away from ourselves and towards Jesus. That’s how it was for the first disciples. They knew enough of Jesus on that day when He came walking along the shore, that when He said “Follow me!” they were ready to go.

I don’t know exactly how God’s call is showing itself in your life right now, but I do know God is still calling people like you and me to commit to following Jesus Christ.
  • Maybe God’s called you to a hard place and you don’t know how you’re going to get through.
  • Maybe God’s call to you is just to hang on in there with your doubts and unresolved issues, because now is not the moment for everything to be clear.
  • Maybe you have what we described last week as a ‘tingling’, a sense that there is a particular task or function within the body of Christ that God is guiding you towards.
  • Maybe your lives circumstances mean that unwelcome changes are coming your way and it’s not clear where things go from here.
  • Maybe some us have our own ‘Nineveh.’ A situation we’re trying to avoid, but God keeps bringing it to mind. An unresolved issue that we’re almost afraid to think about because we have a sneaky suspicion that it may not turn out as we planned if God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
All of us need to hear, one more time, the declaration of Jesus;
The time is fulfilled,
And the kingdom of God has come near;
Repent, and believe
In the good news

The Good News that God always calls for a good reason.
The Good News that responding to God’s call leads to unknown treasures.
The Good News that Grace is greater than sin and love is stronger than hate.
The Good News that God in Christ calls people like us,
To be His followers.

Don’t be a loner and moaner and groaner, like Jonah.
Like Simon and Andrew and James and John
When God calls... go on.

Allow God’s Spirit to guide you through it.
And when Jesus says “Follow...
Just do it”.


The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Call (and the tingling)

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1–10 (11–20), Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18, 1 Corinthians 6:12–20, John 1:43–51
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, January 14 2018

I think it is a reasonable assumption to make that we have come to church with some vague purpose in mind. Maybe it"s a good habit we have got ourselves into on Sundays. Maybe this place is somewhere special to us because it contains much of our history and hopes. Maybe we are searching, or maybe we are thankful for what we have found.

Whilst we are all here for differing reasons there should be a sense with us all that the religious aspect of life is something that is worth developing and nurturing.

Yet, in spite of all our good intentions, we may not be expecting much this morning. Though involved in a spiritual journey, we would probably be more than a little surprised if we were to encounter God in some undeniable and powerful way that threw our expected life"s course into jeopardy.

The Call. The Call of God. That's what I want us to think about. Our bible passages today spoke about God calling Samuel and about Jesus calling Philip and Nathanael to be His disciples. In both instances we are given the distinct impression that those God called were not expecting to encounter God in the way that they did. Nor did they expect that encountering God would turn their lives upside down.

In both accounts, to use the Old Testament words, "
The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread". Although the light of God"s revelation had not completely gone out, it was burning pretty dim. There were reasons for that. In Samuel's day it was due to disobedience and sin. At the time that Jesus came, it was because God was about to do a new thing… establish a new covenant and a new relationship with humankind through God"s only begotten Son.

There are reasons why our lights burn dim. There is sin in our lives. There is throughout society a disrespect and disregard for the things of God. This is not a holy nation and we are not a holy people. We worship around the throne of many different idols. The idolatry of materialism and consumerism. The idolatry that suggests that we are the center of our own self constructed universes. The idolatry of half truths and divided commitments.

For many of us, we say prayer is important, but when we don"t see the expected answers, we start to doubt. We say God's Word is important to us, but in the daily routine, it can be hard to find room for personal bible study or reflection. We live in a nation that suggests religion and politics and education and so many other things should be kept in separate containers, having different standards to govern them; "one rule for you, one rule for me.”

No wonder that we sometimes feel, to apply Samue's words to ourselves, that "The word of the Lord is rare in
these days." No wonder that, as we come to the house of the Lord, our expectations do not soar on eagles wings.

Young Samuel is in the house of God, at a time when visions and messages of God were at a premium. Then one night, a voice, heard clearly by Samuel, is calling his name. So unexpected is this experience, that Samuel has to run to Eli the priest to work out what is going on. Thankfully, Eli has the spiritual maturity to discern what is happening. "
Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening." (1 Samuel 3:9).

Then, and I just love the way this translation puts it, when God addresses Samuel and Samuel decides to listen... "
The LORD said to Samuel, "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle." I've often read about spiritual experiences that are described as a "quickening "or a "moment of deep insight" or a "soul refreshing" - but have you ever heard such moments described as "A tingling"?

I think that "a tingling" was what Philip and Nathanael and all the other disciples felt when they knew Jesus was calling them to be on His team. When Nathanael heard about Jesus, at first there was no tingling. He was positively despondent. So rare were messages from the Lord that his only reaction to Phillip, who told him that he had seen the Messiah, was, "Oh. Yeah. Right. Like anything good is going to come from a town like Nazareth!"

But then, when he encounters Jesus, and Jesus smacks him a few words that hit right between the ears... Nathanael is tingling. "
Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"

Many times in Scripture - God moves and the result is - a tingling - a goose-bump encounter. Jesus had that sort of effect on people. On the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came, there was a tingling spreading through all Jerusalem. Ask me to define a tingling? It's when God moves, in the power of God"s Spirit, to bring home in our hearts a purpose that Jesus is calling us to.

The Call, the tingling - it"s important to recognize that this is an act of grace, an action of God. It's not something we can manufacture or fake. It's not just another religious experience. It is something profound and shaking that changes us. In a general way God, is calling us all. The tingling is an indication that God is calling us to a specific purpose.

There's a wonderful story about jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald (in
“Sid Collins, The Life and Times of Ella Fitzgerald”.) It was amateur night at the Harlem Opera House (now the Apollo Theatre) in New York.

A skinny sixteen-year-old girl timidly walks onto the stage. The M.C. bellows, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, our next contestant is Miss Ella Fitzgerald, who is going to dance for us...Hold it, hold it. Now what's your problem, honey?...Correction, folks. Miss Fitzgerald's changed her mind. She's not gonna dance; she's gonna sing!" Ella Fitzgerald gave three encores and won first prize. Initially, though, she had truly intended to dance.

There it is. An example of a tingling - a call - a moment of realization that we have a specific task to do. A sense that you just have to take a particular course of action at a particular time or else the tingling will go away. A sense of direction that is - well - especially for that moment.

Some of you have had "tinglings" at conferences, in certain times of worship, when going through particular problems. You've just known that God was calling your name and God was going to get you through and in the end, that if you didn't treasure that moment it would be lost for ever.

Some of you have felt that tingling at moments of commitment. When you walked down an aisle at a revival. When you knelt in prayer in some private moment and turned your life over to Jesus. When you were baptized or confirmed or commissioned or accepted some new insight or some new opportunity that opened up right before your eyes.

There is of course another side to this call, this tingling. God calls for a purpose. Where there is a call, there is also a cost. Put yourself in Samuel's shoes. Imagine, you get a direct message from God. Wow! You are excited. This is something new. These sort of things don't happen every day. At least not to you or anybody you know.

Then the reality of what you are called to do, dawns on you. You are asked to go to - one who is older and wiser than you - the same holy one who has helped you discern the voice of God - and come to him, not with a message of blessing - but a message of judgment and rebuke.

Like the disciples and Samuel we live in a gray and ambiguous world – not unlike like that of Israel at the time of Eli. In fact we would be crazy to respond to such impulses were it not for one thing.

The call comes from God. And those God calls, God also equips and empowers for service. The call is God's initiative. It is not something we conjure up in ourselves, but something outside of us that we respond to. The call is something that helps us realize who we are and what we can do and where we should be focusing our time and energy.

For most of us that call is not going to come in the midst of a restless night. For most of us it will be the voice of a person of flesh and blood that gives the words. It will be a situation or circumstance that we feel we just have to respond to or do something about, because it has got us tingling. It will be some bible verse or something else that we have heard or seen that moves us to make a response.

Often times we may not even have recognized that it was a call. It will only be further down the road, when we look back, that we see... well, this happened and that happened.. and though I couldn't see it at the time…the hand of God was at work... and I am so glad that I responded.

The Call. It's an essential part of Reformed theology. We believe that we are all here for a reason. That God calls us to particular tasks and duties in the world and the church. That the things that come our way are not random acts of chance, but that there is a purpose and a meaning, even though that purpose and meaning may be shadowed in mystery.

Our response to these things should surely be that of Samuel. "
Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." (Samuel 3:10).

Are we listening? Are we tingling? Are we ready for those tasks God is calling us to? Are we prepared to see it through - whatever it may cost - for we know that we walk with God, in the will of God, responding to the call of God?
Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
I pray for all of us, that as we learn to discern God's purpose for our life, we will also discover the faith that carries us through. To God"s name be the glory.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Advent 4 Magnify the Lord

Readings: Psalm 89, 2 Samuel 7:1-11, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:46-55
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, December 24 2017

At the heart of the Christmas story is the expectation of the birth of a very special child. Of course, every parent and grandparent knows, every child born into their family is a very special child.

But not every child has their birth greeted by angels, shepherds and travelers from the East bringing gifts of Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh. The Christmas child, our Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate born in Bethlehem’s manger is… if you like… beyond special.

Scripture tells us that Mary, the mother of Jesus will be counted as blessed for generations to come. What I find intriguing about Mary, is that she who bore the most special child ever, claimed to be nobody special. Mary is crystal clear that if glory were to be placed anywhere or given to anybody, then glory must be given to God.

Her great song of praise, known as the ‘Magnificat’, begins by proclaiming, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant.

The Message Bible transliterates those verses. “I'm bursting with God-news; I'm dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!” To put it another way; “Look at me! I’m nobody. Yet unbelievably God is doing something wonderful in my ordinary life. Better put on your dancing shoes, God is much greater than we believe!”

To our human way of thinking somebody destined to be a King should be born in noble circumstances. To a throne. To richness. To the proud and significant. Yet the Son of God is born to young girl, struggling to make ends meet, in the middle of nowhere. The angel comes to one who realized that she was an extremely unlikely candidate for God’s favor and can hardly fathom what is taking place.

There is a sense of “Can you believe it?” attached to the wonder in her words. ‘He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

This hymn of praise is about a lot more than just Mary and the child she bore. It is a song that is phrased and springs from the rich imagery of the Old Testament. It calls upon the listener to remember the glorious past in such a way as it becomes a present reality. To magnify in our minds the notion that the God who has done wonders in the past has wonders still to do in the future.

We easily forget that between the closing prophecies of the Old Testament and the beginnings of the gospel story many years rolled by. The nation was not what it used to be. God seemed conspicuous by His absence rather than by His Presence. So we are given these reminders that God hadn’t left the building or given up on His people. Verse 50 “His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation

The eternal nature of the great promises of covenant and blessings given to the Fathers of the faith are recalled. “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, according to the promise He made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to His descendants forever." Mary is aware that what is happening to her has a significance for the whole people, not just for herself and her circle of friends and family.

This call to “Magnify the Lord with me” is not just about, “Hey… guess what I’m having a baby” but is telling us that our conception of God has become too small and too limited. Remember what God can do! Remember how God has worked! And as you remember… get ready… because God is about to do something you wouldn’t believe!

What an awesome text this is to be focusing on Christmas Eve. I can’t speak for you but I’m prone to forget. I forget that when God shows up God usually works through the common place and the ordinary to do extraordinary things. I forget that in God’s economy the little things often turn out to be the big things and that the most important thing is showing love through the next thing we do.

I lose sight of the fact that God wants to fulfill Gods purposes through an army of ordinary people. I forget that it’s not about what I can do, but about what the Holy Spirit of God can work through me when in humility I admit I am powerless and weak and lost. I forget that God is still God every day that God creates.

So I invite you this day to hear Mary’s song. "My soul magnifies the Lord”. To magnify something means you take something small and you make it bigger. I ask you to pray that God will take our small smoldering simmering attempts at being faithful and make them grow into something that changes other peoples’ lives.

I pray that God may use the limited expectations we attach to a Christmas holiday and turn them into a true experience of celebrating the glory and majesty of the real message of Christmas – that God is still in the business of redeeming and saving and renewing and creating.

Rejoice in God.
Rejoice in God.
Rejoice in God!

God looks with favor upon our life. God sees our life as fertile ground for His promises to be fulfilled. And it’s not about us. If it were all about us then it would never happen. We are not that significant. But when God breathes life into our daily routines, when God takes our daily lot and it becomes the work of building His Kingdom, then our lives have a significance that is beyond anything we dare imagine.

As we will sing later today...

Joy to the world, the Lord has come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing

We have lit candles for Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. We have gathered together to praise God in Advent anticipation. It's Christmas Eve! We have gathered together this morning. We will light candles and sing carols this evening. We have an opportunity and meet around a table laid with bread and wine at midnight.

It’s still not enough. It’s still just a taster. Magnify it. It’s not about what we’re doing, it’s about what God has done, is doing and will do throughout the whole of creation, heaven and nature now and forever. And rejoice because it is the through the faithfulness of ordinary lives that the colors are added to the bigger picture.

Mary declares:"My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” Mary's song was the prelude. Today we rejoice that the promises were fulfilled, the Christ will come, His love will change everything.

The challenge is... how will we be changed? How will Christ be birthed in our hearts and lives in ways that declare to all people the reason for the season? How will our everyday ordinariness be transformed by the glory of the Christmas story?

Will it be a little thing? Or will we allow the message of His coming to be birthed in our hearts so we cannot help but allow God's love to bubble up and overflow. Will we respond to Mary's invitation... “Come and magnify the Lord with me!”

Know that into the darkness of our world a Savior will come. Know that through His life and love God will demonstrate that whatever life may bring, God will travel with us, through the joy and through the darkness. That's huge. We are not alone. God is with us. Glory to God. Amen!


The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D