Advent 4. Luke 1:39-55.
Mary speaks of a world turned upside down, through the coming of God’s messiah. She exclaims about the mercy of God, who scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, who brings down the powerful from their places and lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things and turns the rich away, empty. In all this, God is keeping the ancient promises made to Israel, from the time of Abraham and throughout subsequent history.
would be clear to all of us that this passage is about integrity. Jesus takes aim at the scribes who delight in the prestige of their position, yet do not live out God’s justice. They display all the trappings of religiosity, but they do great wrong to the poor. They are all show and no substance. The original wording of the scripture makes clear that their lives are a pretense. Jesus’ warning is that they will receive the greater condemnation.
Reading the letter to the Ephesians can be something of a challenge, because of the exalted language the writer uses. That’s why I have chosen the translation by Eugene Peterson from “The Message”, since I think it best explains to people of our day what the writer means. Let’s get a hold on some background so we understand the issues better.
August 6th marks the feast of the Transfiguration, and August 4th the centenary of the birth of a remarkable man, Raoul Wallenberg. We are acknowledging both these things in our worship today. I choose to bring these together, because surely the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus is not simply there to inspire awe and wonder in us, and leave it at that. That story is not in scripture “simply” as yet another sign to us that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the anointed One of God. No, surely the story is there to remind us that as we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, be it ever so slowly but surely, we are enabled to help transform the world about us.
A very perceptive person said to me quite recently that the letter to the Ephesians is substantially saying “Come on fellas, lift your game”. And there’s a lot of truth in that. Ephesians has a lot to say about how to live the Christian life so that we will be distinguishable from others. Scripture always encourages us not to accept the standards of society as our own, but to aspire to lives that really have the stamp of holiness on them. We’re not talking about being ‘holier than thou’, scripture never sanctions that kind of attitude. In fact Jesus labelled that hypocrisy. We’re talking about genuine humanity which is deeply touched by the transforming power of God.
As you can plainly see, the scripture from Ephesians is all about living wisely. Equally clearly, that’s all about following the will of God in our daily lives. I scarcely think that we need a lecture about not getting drunk with wine. However, it’s good to be reminded that we should constantly seek to be filled with the Spirit. We’re not talking about a “once off” here, either. We’re talking about something continuous, which grows day by day from being disciplined in studying the bible, in prayer, and in worshipping together.
The letter of James speaks with great confidence and conviction about prayer, such as we find it hard sometimes to match. It challenges us to move prayer out of the strictly private domain where we might express those things closest to our hearts, into the sphere of community where others can support us and pray with us, even about those things which touch us most deeply.
The book of Job is considered by some as possibly the greatest piece of literature ever written. We know from the start that we are dealing with a work of genius. So we realise that we need to approach it with great respect in seeking to understand it. We need to appreciate it as being from it’s time and place, and to read it as such, although it of course raises questions which confront every human being of any time and place.