ADVENT (2)

John 1: 1-14 touches upon the Advent of Christ; and verse 12 gives a particular challenge to our thinking: ‘Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the power, the right, to become children of God’ .
 
The challenge of this verse, for all Christians, is that their spiritual lives depend, not only upon God's acceptance of them; graciously offered through Jesus Christ; but also upon their full acceptance of heaven’s way of doing things; through their personal acceptance of Christ, as God, Saviour and Lord.
 
Jesus did not come into the world empty-handed. He brought with him the love of the Father, and the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit.
 
These precious things remain in the world, for God's people to claim; to experience for themselves; and to minister to others, in a sharing of faith.
 
In accepting Christ, we begin to open our lives to receive what he offers. Whether or not we actually receive these gifts and graces; or, if we do, fully use them; is another matter.
 
We cannot work for the gifts of God; otherwise they would not be gifts, but rewards. However, once received, we must work at them, through-putting them to regular use.
 
Here are a few touches upon some of the gifts and graces; that Christ offers to those who follow him.
 
The most obvious gift; is the new, spiritual life, that is given in him. Jesus said, and still says: ‘I came that you might have life; and have it to the full’, or 'abundantly', as the old King James’ version puts it.
 
Jesus did not say: ‘I came that you might have existence’, but LIFE! and not just enough life to be going on with, but an abundance of it, that is both a joyful experience, and an effective witness.
 
In many ways, Jesus made it quite clear that the abundant life that he gives; has a particular source - God the Father, himself.
 
The 17th chapter of the 'Gospel According to John': is taken up by a prayer; that Jesus made as he approached the end of his earthly ministry.
 
At verse 3 he speaks to the Father about his followers, and says: ‘This is eternal life...that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’.
In the Bible, the word 'know'; is often used, in a very personal way; indicating an enriching experience of the Lord.
 
Jesus taught that a close, personal relationship with God, is never static; but is on-going; developing and deepening; leading to...
 
a)- an increasing knowledge of the Lord...
 
b)- a deepening sense of eternal life in his Presence...
 
c)- a widening sense of the scope of God's love, in Christ; and the desire to 
     share it with others.
 
But, as Christ taught, in many ways, eternal life in and with the Lord, comes into being, and remains, only when God's requirements are met. Jesus said: ‘If you would enter eternal life, then keep the commandments’.   (Matt.19:17).              
                                                                                                                       
However, he not only gives an instruction: ‘Keep the commandments’, but also promises help in doing so; and offers us the gifts of his enabling Spirit.
 
He taught that, just as we need ordinary food to sustain our bodies; otherwise, we die, physically; so our spiritual lives need sustenance; or else we die, spiritually.
 
And so the Lord Jesus offers us his personal help, in nourishing and sustaining the spiritual life we received at the Father's hand. He uses an image to describe the help that he gives, to those who will receive it; and speaks of himself as being: 'The Bread of Life'.
 
Christ's image of 'bread'; betokens a fresh receiving, from the Lord, daily. His parable about the rich man, who had some extra-big barns built for him, and filled with good things, that he did not live to enjoy...
 
...makes two important points. The first is that the 'things of the Spirit' cannot be stored away, for future use; but must be received afresh, each day, direct from God.
 
The second is that, as Jesus said on another occasion: ‘A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’. (Luke 12:15).
 
If we say: 'We know that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions'; then, can we say, with equal conviction, just what our lives do consist in?
 
Another great gift, which the Advent-Christ brought with him, is a love that embraces fearlessness. Jesus said: ‘There is no fear in love; for perfect love casts out fear’, and he said this through the heart, mind and pen of John, at 1.John 4:18.
Many Christians still have fears of various kinds, and they get puzzled; along these lines: 'Jesus spoke the truth about perfect love casting out fear, but I still feel fearful, for reasons that are quite understandable to me...
 
...So, if Jesus hadn't got it wrong, it must be me. Did I misunderstand what Christ said, through John?'
 
And a surprising number of Christians come up with an answer that is of no help to them at all, because it is wrongly based. They say that their love was far from perfect in the first place...
 
... no wonder it was ineffective, and did not deal with, and drive out, those things which cause anxieties and fears.
 
Thinking and speaking like that, is to miss the point. The love that John was writing about is God's perfect love for us, and not our imperfect love for him.
 
God's perfect love...by which we are saved...in which we live...and through which we are gradually brought to spiritual perfection; is one of the gifts that the Advent-Christ brought into our world.
Wherever God's perfect love begins to fill a life; there is less and less room for anxiety and fear. But, as said, we must let the Lord to do things his way.
 
In our ordinary, daily lives, we do not attempt to pump up our car tyres, using a small, hand-pump, designed to blow up party balloons...
 
...nor do we try to open a can of fruit with a blunt table-knife; or attempt to paint a house, using a pigeon's feather, instead of a proper paint-brush.
 
We might, eventually, get the job done that way; but we are far too sensible to attempt such things; and so we use the right tools for each particular job.
 
However: sensible though we might be, in such practical matters; we are seldom as sensible in matters of the Spirit. We try to bring about certain situations and attainments, relying upon our imperfect love for God...
 
...rather than allowing God's perfect love for us, to bring about all good things that are needful, and desired.
 
Another gift of Christ, to the needy world, is the shifting of a particular responsibility from the shoulders of mankind...to God's own shoulders; in this way :-
 
At Proverbs 4:20-22. we find an Old Testament pointer to how things were done, prior to Christ's earthly ministry. It says: ‘My word is life to those who find it’...
The onus appears to be on the shoulders of men and women: to seek the word, in the hope of finding it. There is a radical change in the New Testament way of doing things.
At John 17 we find Jesus saying; to the Father, about Christ's followers, ‘I gave them the words that you gave me; and they accepted them’. And, in that same prayer, at John 17, Jesus also says to the Father: ‘I pray, not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their words’.
 
That is, the Word of God is no longer a hidden thing, that must be searched for, and discovered; but an open-to-view thing, that is offered, and must be received; if the truth and meaning contained within it; is to be discovered.
 
Christ brought many gifts into the world; and offered them to mankind. As the text from John 1 says: ‘To all who received him, he gave..’; but, for the giving to be fulfilled, there has to be a receiving.
 
Christ gave life itself; in its on-going fullness, in relationship with God; and also a share in God's own love, to give that life its full shape and character.
 
He gave God's 'Word', to give direction and purpose to that new life; and God's own peace, to give it depth of meaning.
 
He gave a joy, which touches, colours, and enhances all parts of the Christian life; and so much more.
 
The Advent Christ was given once, for all; yet he is offered afresh, moment by moment, throughout our lives.
 
When we first accepted Christ, and became 'Born-Again' of the Spirit, we received the gift of spiritual life from him, and that was the beginning of our personal journey of faith...
 
…but, as we continue our journey; and Christ is offered to us afresh, moment by moment, what other gifts from him have we actually accepted…
 
 and in what ways have they enriched, not only our personal lives, but also our Christian ministries; and our outreach, to those all around?        Amen!