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Why Christmas?

Notes from a sermon: Sunday 5 December, Peter Comont, Magdalen Road Church

Why Christmas?
Because our need is very great.

Matthew 1:18-25

Shame and glory: v18-20

The passage contains elements of both shame and glory.
Shame: Mary is found to be pregnant, and by the time the child is born, she is still not married to Joseph. Even in the (adulterous) relationship between David and Bathsheba, they are married by the time the baby was born. In the eyes of those looking on, this was a very shameful situation.
Glory: This child is not the product of an illicit relationship, but of a miracle of God. When Abraham and Rachel are promised a child, beyond their years, it is still conceived in the normal way. With Mary, the beginnings of this life are even more miraculous and glorious.

A new kind of salvation: v 21

‘…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’
‘…he will save…’ – God will save? This baby will save? Or are they the same? Is this baby, God?
‘…his people…’
‘…from their sins.’ – Most people have Old Testament hopes of salvation, often centred around the political. “What’s wrong with the world?” Me. Sin. We make decisions. Some of them are wrong. We sin.

Saved from the penalty for sin. This morning I think I saw someone stealing a bike, which piqued my sense of justice – for the person whose bike was being stolen (the offended) to see justice brought to the thief (the offender). And on Friday we were a few minutes late getting back to our car in town, and I was worried that we would arrive to find a parking ticket stuck to the windscreen. The penalty would have been just, but I still didn’t want it. Sin doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are consequences for sin. And the one who is most offended is God. Sin deserves just punishment. Jesus comes to save me from that penalty, by paying it himself.

Saved from the tyranny of sin. If your life is not changed, you have no right to be called Christian. Whilst we continue to sin, the Holy Spirit helps us to battle with sin, and to cultivate fruits of the Spirit.

Saved, finally from sin itself… “I have been saved; I am being saved; I will be saved.” James Akin

A new kind of saviour: v 22-23

These verses make absolutely clear…  ‘Immanuel, God with us.’ God himself, made man.

This week, a leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Keith Mitchell, caused anger from a comment he tweeted about student protesters. Keith Mitchell wrote on his twitter feed: “County Hall invaded by an ugly, badly-dressed student rabble. God help us if this is our future.” Whilst Mitchell probably used ‘God help us’ in a sense of despair, it belies his conviction that, were he in charge, things would be different. The truth is, we need God’s help whoever is in charge. And the good news of Christmas is that God has helped us. He came to meet our deepest need.

Can you see that this is your most fundamental need? Have you sought Jesus as your answer? Is there a better analysis of the problem, or does Jesus get to the bottom of it?

When the Times of London once asked several of Britain’s leading intellectuals what they thought was the problem with the world, the celebrated Catholic journalist G. K. Chesterton sent back a postcard response: “I am.”

Edinburgh 2010.

Edinburgh 2010 (a missions conference celebrating the centenary of the World Missionary Conference) has now ended, and this morning I came across a really helpful review of the event written by Allen Yeh, a missiologist who specializes in Latin America and China.

The mood of the conference:
Dana Robert, the opening speaker, said that today the world is 1/3 Christian, the same as it was 100 years ago. But the difference is, back then they complained that the world was only 1/3 Christian. Today, we rejoice that the world is 1/3 Christian!

The review is well-written and very balanced, pointing out both the highlights and some of the problems, and is well worth a read. You can find the full post here: Four Conferences on Four Continents: Edinburgh 2010 (Epilogue)

Unstoppable reversals.

Notes from a sermon preached at Magdalen Road Church, Oxford.

Sunday 25 April 2010 – Peter Comont – Unstoppable Reversals (Matthew 8:1-16)

Today, society is a hostile place for Christianity. And yet, it was into this kind of society that Christianity was born. Hostility is a place where true Christianity flourishes.

Matthew 8-9 contains accounts of three miracles about Jesus’ authority, each followed by a section on discipleship.

8:1-4: unstoppable cleansing.
It’s hard to comprehend the contempt with which the leper would have been regarded. Which makes the following choice of language all the more striking: “And behold, a leper came and knelt before Jesus, saying ‘Lord…’”.

The leper comes with an irreversible condition.

Nobody would touch a leper for fear of being contaminated; uncleanness spreads. And yet when people come to Jesus, they catch his cleanness. Imagine a dirty, oily hand being cleaned by the touch of a clean hand; this just doesn’t happen.

8:5-13: unstoppable inclusion.
The centurion is an insider in society, but a religious outsider. Centurions typically looked down on Jews. “You are a centurion, and you want this itinerant Jewish peasant to come and heal your servant?!”

This proud centurion, perhaps the equivalent of a disciple of Richard Dawkins, a Muslim Imam, a parliamentary candidate… “I want to know about this Jesus.”

Leper: “I need your touch…” – the physical touch of Jesus is important.
Centurion: “Just say the word…!” – the faith we must exercise in this age.

8:14-17: unstoppable forgiveness.
These miracles are pictures of the fundamental thing that Jesus is doing, taking the punishment of our sins on his shoulders, bringing us freedom.

We belong to an unstoppable Jesus. He is still doing this today. It feels like the Christians are powerless, and yet in every generation, even now, Jesus is at work and will work powerfully.

Will you come and express the centurion’s faith?

Brain thinking.

“The brain stops at the skull, but the mind doesn’t. Scientists are appreciating that the brain is a hub in a bigger system of information exchange, with loops extending spatially beyond the body, and temporally into the past and future. Neuroscience is not enough: we need a better understanding of the person.”

Nicholas Humphrey
Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics

Pray for Niger.

Please join us in praying for Niger.

Military junta seizes power in Niger coup: the junta, called the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, has captured the president and his ministers. – The Guardian

Pray for our brothers and sisters, the members of GBEEN, the IFES movement there. Pray that they would be assured of God’s sovereignty in the midst of this situation and that “nothing shall separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES)

And here is another update from The Guardian. This further highlights the need to pray for Godly leaders, for Christians who will live out their faith in all areas of society; this is a goal towards which IFES is working.

A modern dream.

Came across a brilliant post by The Simple Pastor this morning, looking back at the power of Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, and the hunger for a similar “visionary dreamer” for today.

It was Martin Luther King’s description of the black community being ‘an island of poverty in an ocean of material prosperity’ that gets the pastor thinking; both that today’s prosperity is still not shared equally, but also of the truth that ‘many are drowning in the ocean of material prosperity’.

They’ve swum in it and the tide has carried them out into the ocean and there isn’t the strength to reach a safe shore. When so many are drowning in debt, drowning in self-indulgence, drowning in depression and anxiety, drowning in our own fat, drowning in greed there are too few voices that can be heard that say, ‘I have a dream.’

This year in the UK we will have an election, we will hear from those who aspire to govern us, but what I want to hear and what I fear I will not hear, is a dream. A dream of a society that turns its back on the god of the individual and seeks the solace of community, a society that ends its fruitless pursuit of self-interest and seeks the harvests of partnership, that rejects the sour dreams of happiness through acquisition and discovers the sweetness of generosity and sharing. A society more interested in the quality of life than the quantity of wealth.

I will add my ‘amen’ to that!

You can read the full post here.

Hannah’s African Quest.

My sister, Hannah, has safely arrived in Zambia for her 6 month African Quest with the charity Soapbox.

The ministries we are likely to be involved in are “St Anthony’s Children’s Village” (orphan care centre), “Eagles Wings School” and “Lifeline Zambia” (HIV/AIDS home based care project). Our studies will include Basic Christian Doctrine, African Culture and a week long course with the African Quest founder, John Miles. On Sundays we will be involved in local churches.

I guess my biggest prayer, that I’d ask you to join me in, is that God will equip me, and the others on the team for all He has prepared for us to do over the next few months.

You can follow her blog, which I guess will be updated infrequently during the trip, at:

If our love were but more simple.

A friend in the US pointed me towards the lyrics of this amazing hymn, so thought I would post them here:

Souls of men, why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts, why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?

Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Saviour Who would have us
Come and gather round His feet?

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgement given.

There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

Pining souls! come nearer Jesus,
And oh! come not doubting thus,
But with faith that trusts more bravely
His huge tenderness for us.

If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would all be sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.

Voting for real change?

Daniel got me thinking with his last post, and here are my thoughts…

“Thank you for being open with your position, and giving some explanation for it. As someone who is easily confused by these things, it helps solidify some of my own thinking too.

I think I would stand with you on some-most of these issues, particularly on small, local government. However, I still have questions about how this applies in a fast-changing world where national boundaries are increasingly blurred, and where it becomes increasingly difficult to control a global economy to ensure the welfare of all, not just the wealthy or powerful.

For example, I would like to buy from local producers as much as possible, and yet I often have to make decisions that have a global impact. Where consumer is less directly-linked to producer, do we need some form of government that helps protect the powerful from perpetuating the slavery of the vulnerable? And if so, what does that / should that look like, from a Biblical perspective?

I don’t say that because I believe in the EU, but because I struggle with, well, actually even being conscious of the wider impact of many of my decisions, to be frank. Living in light of the gospel should shape all of my decisions, and yet I rarely take time to think beyond ‘convenience’.

Having been out and voted today, one thing I was quite startled by was the number of ‘nationalistic’ parties represented on the ballot paper for the European Parliament. Is the only non-EU option to be inward looking, bigoted and self-serving, which would seem to be the manifesto of the BNP, UKIP and ‘Britain First’? How should we vote to reflect the gospel call to love our neighbour as ourself, even when this is costly? Do we want fewer immigrants in the UK because caring for the needy would have an impact on our comfortable lifestyle?

These questions are as much to myself as anything else, and are not intended to be pointed comments in response to what you have written – rather they have been provoked by what you have written, and come for a deeply unsettled view that the gospel needs to have a much greater impact in our nation and in our world – what are we doing about it?”

“Listen to me, my people;
hear me, my nation:
The law will go out from me;
my justice will become a light to the nations.”
- Isaiah 51:4