The angel appears to Mary

by Alison Shaw
Luke 1: 26-38

Today is the second Sunday in advent. We are looking forward to Christmas and the countdown has started. We light a candle on the advent crown, and you may have an advent calendar. I have a chocolate advent calendar.

In our Bible reading today we heard about Mary, a young woman who lives in a small town called Nazareth. She has recently become engaged to Joseph, a local man who is a carpenter. Mary will have a plan. They’ll get married in a few months’ time, maybe move into their own house and start a family.

However, things don’t go to Mary’s plan. The angel Gabriel visits Mary, startling her and gives her some news that COMPLETELY turns her world upside down! The angel told her that she was going to have a baby, but not with Joseph. This baby was coming soon and is the son of God!

In Jewish families it is common for the first child to be named by their father, the second child by the mother, and so on in turn. The name given to a child is believed to define them and possibly affect their personality, so children are given names that have strong positive meanings.

The angel tells Mary that the baby is to be called Jesus. This shows that God is the father because he has chosen the name, and the name Jesus means ‘saviour’ or ‘salvation’.

The angel goes on to tell us more about Jesus: ‘He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His
kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

So this is not just going to be any baby, but a very special one. Mary’s world had been shaken by the angel’s news. Verse 38 says that Mary accepts what the angel had said: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Our lives this year have been completely turned upside down in ways that none of us could ever have imagined. We’ve had to stay at home for months. We’ve had to work from home or do home-schooling. We might have been furloughed or lost our job. We might have had to work more, and school feels very different now.

We’ve had to change how we show people we love them. Instead of meeting up and hugging them, we’ve had to keep a safe distance. We’ve re-examined what brings us happiness and what is important to us.

Christmas is only a few weeks away and this year we’re having to make new plans to celebrate. As we open the doors on the advent calendar, we notice that they are not in a fixed pattern. The direction keeps changing and it can feel like things are all over the place. Much like our life at times! Was I surprised that there was a chocolate behind the door? No, because it says on the box that underneath each door is a chocolate.

And as our lives go through unexpected twists and turns, we need to remember that underneath it all God is with us. Our plan is not the same as God’s plan, and God’s plan is always greater and better. Isaiah 41:10 says ‘Do not be afraid—I am with you! I am your God—let nothing terrify you! I will make you strong and help you; I will protect you and save you.’

Powerful words, and something that we can cling on to in difficult times. As Christians we have a reason for the season, not just a party and some presents to brighten up December. No matter what it might say in the newspapers, Christmas isn’t cancelled this year – let’s look forward and celebrate the birth of Jesus!

Lord, we thank you that You are the hope living in us, You are the rock in whom we trust. You are the light shining for all the world to see – Lord we believe! Amen.

The Mind of Christ

Lizby Liz Shaw

Philippians 2 v 5 – 18

Dear Friends,

While Paul was in prison, he wanted to encourage The Church in Philippi to persevere and continue to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus. He was encouraging them to carry on without him there. Paul fulfilled many of the roles of a leader, but ultimately he wasn’t their leader. That was Jesus and Paul was pointing them in His direction.

To me, this sounds very much like us in the Rivers Team and other Churches across the country where we have no ordained minister having oversight. We are needing to be more self sufficient by taking on more decisions, more responsibilities and continuing to make disciples. This all sounds and feels like a mammoth task but Paul says later in Philippians 4 v 13 ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Paul is effectively saying, don’t look to me but to Jesus Christ. Many people are searching for meaning and direction in their lives and look up to leaders in different places. Status, wealth and power are important to these leaders. Are these important to Jesus? No they are not! If Jesus was here today he would be found on the streets, in homeless shelters, in prisons, in hospitals, refugee camps and anywhere there was a need. Jesus humbled himself. He didn’t abuse his equal status with God, He became human and took the ultimate punishment of dying on the cross.

Paul is telling the Church to have the mind of Christ. To do so a person must first have the holy spirit within them. This comes with a saving faith in Jesus. If we say we follow Jesus, we must also say we want to live as he lived. We need to view the world through Christ centered lens. Everyone is created in God’s image so we need to see them how God made them. Regardless of what they have done, who they are, every person should be treated with love, respect, dignity, care and attention just like Jesus would.

There is so much hatred, evil, pain and suffering in this world. We know that the solution to this is for people to become to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. How amazing would that be if every single knee in the whole world should bow
down and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord!

People need to hear this message but if no one tells them about it, they won’t know about it and receive the benefit! To do this is to go out into the world but Paul gives the warning first to do everything without grumbling or arguing. As Church families we do not always agree on what we should do, how we do it and get stuck on the same issues and never resolve them. The wider Church also has divisions and differences of opinions such as the ordination of women Bishops.

To be united in our thoughts and actions we all need to be reading scripture, praying together and listening to God speak. God will give us the guidance and direction we need as a Church. Our minds need to be renewed consistently. We need to be moving closer to God and further away from the body.
Having attitudes and behaviours that turn people’s attention to God’s truth and grace will according to Paul make us shine like stars in the sky. Verse 15 says “Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” Stars are not just beautiful objects in the sky, they are used for navigation and show us direction just like when the wise men were searching for the baby Jesus. As stars ourselves we can lead people or illuminate the path towards Jesus. We can do this through our words and actions.

Paul’s aim of his letter was to encourage the Church, to have the mind of Christ, to focus on Jesus and be united in what they do. This spiritual unity is
what we also need to focus on especially in these turbulent times.

I pray that these words from the hymn by Arthur Barnham–Gould are a prayer we can all truthfully live out together

May the mind of Christ my Saviour, Live in me from day to day, By his love and power controlling, All I say and do.

Love and Blessings from Liz Shaw

Paul’s Desire to Advance the Gospel

by Denise Teal
Philipians 1: 12-26

An unknown author once wrote “Be an encourager. The world has enough critics already.” When we look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the word “encouragement” stands clear. In the first part of Phil.1, Paul is starting a letter to a church in Philippi that was going through some trials. It was Paul’s first “plant” but he was many miles away. It is similar to many letters with its greeting; thanks for sending any help and a bit about how things are with the writer.

But Paul is in prison awaiting trial. People didn’t go to first century prison to be punished. They were awaiting trial or execution, either of which can take a long time. I’m sure most people in prison there had good reason to be miserable.

Paul was in miserable circumstances but he was not miserable. He was under house arrest on trumped up charges awaiting a trail whose outcome could result in his execution. We are not sure where he was, but his trial would be in the presence of Nero, whose attitude towards Christians would not have been kindly. On the way to Rome, Paul had experienced shipwreck, being bitten by a poisonous snake, and spent another two years waiting for his trial. In prison, he would have no privacy. Every few hours there would be a different praetorian guard. He would be chained up. If someone didn’t send food and money, he wouldn’t eat. Back in his beloved church at Philippi, 700 miles or so distant, tensions were building.
There were people with designs on leadership; preaching Christ “out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition… supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.” (Phil.1:15-17)
But Paul had something in his favour. The Philippians loved and cared about him enough to send food, money and fellow workers to his prison and Paul guided them from afar.

There would be people on the inside, metaphorically snapping at Paul’s heels to preach their way; and plenty of people outside the Philippian church… wanting to muddy the reputation of this growing faith; offering Roman PC alternatives that were ‘in vogue’ to keep up their social ‘standing’ there. Does any of that sound familiar, today? But it’s not good if Christians can’t agree. A church starts to take sides and forget why they are there; unity lost, to personal differences. Paul sensed this happening in Philippi, even among Christian converts.

Despite his own lockdown, how did Paul deal with division? He implied “do nothing”. (V.18) A unified church finds the good in people…the talents that work for Christ and brings them out.

Like us, Paul has a bigger priority…to encourage things that give us hope for our life with Jesus. Encouragement keeps hope on the go, doesn’t divide the church and doesn’t drive anyone away.
Paul’s letters have every indication that he was speaking as a confident, respected and loved leader to a church that listened to him.
What can we learn from Paul’s letter to this church? It can be summarized in the word “encouragement”. Throughout it, Paul is encouraging the people of Philippi to live lives obedient to God, in ways that are uplifting to one another. He is full of hope. He explains how his imprisonment has done a great deal to advance the Gospel. (Phil.1:12-18) Paul is confident of his faith and joyful in it. In v 19, Paul encourages the things that work in our faith…he continues to rejoice because he knows that prayer and the spirit of Jesus are im-portant to any growing church.

We grow together when we’re encouraged to think as Paul did. That’s Christian encouragement at its best! Even in lockdown, social distancing and all its difficulties…Paul’s words encourage us to be unified in faith: Phil.1:.27: “stand firm in one spirit, striving together with one accord for the faith of the gospel”. What if our encouraging words are the only source of strength in someone’s difficult day?

After all, “It’s not who we challenge… it’s how we serve”.

Prayer: Father, we all have needs, but we pray that we will look beyond ourselves to others, as Paul did. Make us aware of how we might offer encouragement to those that are struggling to cope, this week. Amen

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