Tag Archives: celebration

Journey’s End – and God’s victory

The picture in the second part of Revelation 7 (Revelation 7:9-17) is pretty crowded, but it gives a welcome sight of the Victory of God, and of our journey’s end.

Christians can be rather inclined to self-pity, which for those of us in western countries today is rather odd – life in the first century was much harder for the faithful! Remember that Revelation is the vision given to a man living in exile. Earlier in this chapter (Revelation 7:2-4) we are told of destructive powers held back for “sealing” of 144,000. These are not the total number of Christians, but represent the martyrs. The seal does not prevent their death, but protects against “accidental” death, so that their witness (martyrdom) may be accomplished.

If that is rather sombre, we quickly move on to the multitude who are celebrating victory, their triumphant passage through persecution. They wear white robes

  • which , reinforced by their holding palm branches, are symbols of victory
  • and also symbols of purity (they are “washed . . in the blood of the Lamb”. All Saints are sinners, pure because of forgiveness and grace, gained from the sacrifice Jesus made of himself)

And who are this joyful crowd? They are the ones who have come through the “great tribulation” (“terrible persecution” in GNB) – not just hardship and death, but conflicts of loyalties: faith and family / social position / demands of the state / self interest. They have come through, and kept the faith, and their reward is appropriate, magnificent and eternal (verses 15-17). They are not only the famous figures of Christian history, but all the faithful, and as in this vision we see them in heaven, so we have the encouragement of seeing where we are going, and what will get us there.

It’s a Sign

It could have been a disaster! Yet this story (John 2:1-11) has so much to say. Jesus took his disciples to a wedding – and we imagine he was a welcome guest. A bit of a celebrity, with a stock of stories to tell . . Perhaps we forget what a welcome guest He was.

Then disaster strikes – the wine runs out. We aren’t told why – whether it was thirsty disciples, bad planning, or delivery failure simply doesn’t matter. But who wants their wedding remembered for the catering disaster? There are all sorts of symbols here of things not working:

  • 6 jars of water for ritual washing (not 7, the perfect number)
  • Jesus’ mother is gently told not to manage his ministry – the old order is moving on to the new.
  • Even the water (of washing) is about to become the wine of celebration – but that is anticipating.

The wine runs out. Jesus takes charge – the provision he will make involves some hard work, without people understanding what is going on. But the servants fill the jars with water, and draw it out to take to the master of ceremonies. And, to his surprise, its the best!

God provides; we don’t always see how (as here), and can’t often predict what is planned. Yet He makes the best of the situation – that’s worth remembering. Here is a wedding gone wrong, but

  • Jesus, who refuses to do tricks to make himself look good, is shown to be kind (saving embarrassment) and affirms the importance of marriage by his presence and action.
  • Jesus works a creation miracle, showing his power over the world he created. Not just good with people, is he?
  • Jesus performs the first of 7 signs which John will carefully note in his gospel. Each reveals something important about Jesus, and so moves the disciples on in their understanding and commitment.

There are all sorts of sub-plots, in fact you can probably find some more for yourself:

  • Here is The Bridegroom (Old Testament picture for God) at a Wedding, to start a new family
  • Here is a human celebration running out of steam, but finding a greater celebration which works and keeps going..
  • Here is wine, which the Rabbis made a symbol of Torah – Old Testament law, replaced by better from Jesus

You could get lost in the detail, all the symbolism, but this story is about a God who provides (though we don’t always understand how or why), and who provides the best. It is a sign of what is still to come – in gospel and in life – but one meant to encourage disciples. Even us!

(There is another comment on John 2:1-11 last year: The (first) sign, January 2017).

Celebrate the Farewell -?

We celebrate Ascension Day (reading Luke 24:44-53, and Acts 1:1-11), the day Jesus left earth after his ministry – put like that, it seems odd. Imagine someone saying “You can’t have thought much of him if you celebrate his going!” It’s not like that, but why? What are we celebrating?

Part of the celebration is about the story of Jesus. We remember his birth (everybody has to celebrate Christmas, whether they like it or not!), and then we go on to remember through Epiphany how he came to be known and recognised. To begin with he was popular – healing and telling stories, but he didn’t offer the easy route some wanted, and he annoyed important people. We come to his Passion, Death, and yes, Resurrection (Easter is the most important celebration, but somehow more optional in the social calendar). That’s not quite the end, for there are the appearances, the forgiveness of the failed friends. Ascension Day wraps it up tidily.

It gives us a chance to think about who we are. We come from many places – for Christians come from every part of the world, and many different cultures and languages. They include all sorts of personalities, all ages, professions and life experiences. They were given that nickname, probably not in flattery, in Antioch – “Christians”, Jesus people. That is what we share, what draws and holds us together. Perhaps we should be encouraged that even in Acts 1:6 they still haven’t got it right, expecting the Kingdom in their terms.

But wait a minute. If Luke ends his gospel with Jesus being carried up to heaven, he tells the story again at the beginning of his second volume, Acts. What’s that about?

It is partly to say “He’s coming back, – be ready to give an account of yourselves”, which is what the angels say

But it’s also to say, because Jesus completed his ministry successfully – life, death, and resurrection – he is no longer stuck in one place. I imagine some of you will have visited the Holy Land, to see where Jesus walked, talked, died. Despite all the problems there, it remains popular – but so does Parry’s “Jerusalem” “And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s (Wales’?) mountains green, and was the Holy Lamb of God in … pleasant pastures seen?”

If Jesus had continued to appear around Palestine, how could we say “The Lord is here, his Spirit is with US”?

If his appearances had tailed off, that would have been a sad end. But being seen to return gloriously to heaven closes one chapter, and opens a new book. We look for the coming of the Spirit. We rejoice in the victory of our Lord.

Jesus has gone from earth to heaven;

  • Jesus has gone from one place, to be with us all
  • Jesus leads his Church, through the Holy Spirit, in every part of the world
  • Including – wherever you are reading this

Alleluia!

Telling Christmas (Christmas III)

How do you tell the Christmas story? In the New Testament Luke tells the story as we know it best – angels visit John the Baptist’s father, and then Mary; there is a journey to Bethlehem, a stable, and the shepherds’ visit.  Matthew takes Joseph’s perspective, and tells us of the mysterious wise men.  Mark starts his gospel later, as the adult Jesus bursts on the scene set by John’s baptisms.

John? – John is more reflective.  (John 1:1-14)  He tells us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (v5)  But the English translations cannot quite get the word – “overcome” can also be “understood”.  (Check out the different translations!).

The darkness was pretty obvious.  The world in which the baby was born was violent, unjust, hard for many people in many ways.  You could say the same today – I don’t need to point out the problems of our world (political, ecological, military, medical . . ) or invite you to detail the problems and threats in your own life at the moment.  Of course the darkness doesn’t understand the light.  Those who need to win at all costs cannot understand love and service; those who don’t care if their lifestyle ruins a world for others will never want justice, let alone to share equally in God’s plans.

The point John wants to make – the Christmas point – is that the darkness has not put out the light.  It shines on.  Despite the plotting of Herod to murder all rivals, despite the indifference of the innkeeper and his favoured guests to the needs of a young, but poor, mother, the baby is born and shines.

That’s our celebration.  Not that everything is wonderful – there is still plenty of darkness – but that the light shines in it.  Where the light shines, the darkness is dispersed.  Each person chooses.  Either you welcome the light, following Jesus even when it is difficult, reflecting light into new corners; or you block the light, and leave others in your shadow.

But you can’t stop the light shining!  That’s good news.