Advent 11: Genesis 1 Isaiah 1:18 Psalm 51:1-10

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Its an emotional day for me today. 21 years ago today my Dad, Michael or Mick as everyone called him, died suddenly at the age of just 44. He was one of the friendliest, most outgoing, generous, caring and all round lovely guys you could ever meet. That’s not just the rose tinted glasses you always wear when looking back on someone who died young talking, but what anyone who knew him thought about him; the standing room only at Maidstone Crematorium for his funeral testifies to it as well.

I am now 41, meaning that it’s been over half my life since he died and I’ve had pretty much my whole adult life without him there to guide me.

I haven’t, however, been without any guidance. I’ve been able to turn to someone who has experienced everything; creation, destruction, joy, sorrow, life, death, freedom and suffering. He has taught, guided, celebrated, punished, and mourned with people since the beginning of time.

I try to follow what he teaches me, but I’m always getting it wrong. The thing is, I know that he’ll pick me up, clean me off and set me on my way again. I know he loves me, unconditionally, and will forgive my faults and failings because of this. Just like my Dad always did.

God is not a substitute for my Dad. He is so different to that. However, when I look at him acting like this towards me I can see why Jesus referred to him as “Father”; someone who is there to bring us up to be the best person we can be.

A year, nearly to the day, after Dad died, I became a father myself. My daughter turns 20 next week and its my intention to be here for her longer than my Dad was able to be. But he still influences me in how I am as a parent as well as how I relate to my Father in heaven. I always knew my Dad would be there for me and I know that God will be too.

(In loving memory of Michael Jalland: 21 January 1949 – 11 December 1993.)

Advent 10: Matthew 1:22-23 Isaiah 7:10-15 John 1:14

There are religious wars, religious terrorists, religious extremists in government and religious bigotry in this world you can see why people don’t feel they need religion.

They’re right, too.

We don’t need religion. Religion is a man made construct. Religion is a set of constrictive rules which reflect the values of those who made them. Religion is a useful excuse for conflict and oppression.

People don’t need religion.

People need hope. People need love. People need caring. People need guidance. People need food and shelter. People need protection. People need a better way. People need grace.

People really need someone with real power, mercy and glory to enable all of this.

People need Immanuel.

God with us.

Advent 9: Isaiah 9:6-7, Revelation 19:1-16, 1 Timothy 6:11-16

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We all get the concept of justice. You do something wrong and there is retribution, you are made to pay in some way for your wrongdoing. It is central to our society that we try as hard as we can to stay within the law of the land as set out by our government or face justice.

Of course, not everyone manages to do this. There are and will always be criminals, those who cheat the system or those who choose to disobey the law as a form of protest. The former two groups do so out of greed and selfishness in many cases, with a total disregard of the law. The latter, those who protest, often do so because they perceive some kind of injustice which is to be railed against; often they’re right because the laws of human beings are, by their nature, flawed.

The same is true of God’s law. He is referred to as sending Jesus to govern over us in Isaiah and there are many references to his justice and law. There are still laws we must try our hardest to keep; laws regarding worshipping God, loving and caring for others, keeping God’s commandments etc. we have a choice as to whether or not we follow these laws, but they are there.

The difference is in the way justice is meted out. We all face it, but we can throw ourselves on God’s mercy. This is where the difference lies. When you throw yourself on the mercy of a human court you may need to make deals to get leniency. However, throwing yourself, sincerely, on God’s mercy and…

suddenly you are innocent of all charges. You’re sent from the court a free person and told to keep within the law. And, because of that, you try even harder to do so.

The thing is that, at some stage, you’ll break those laws again. It’s one of those things you can’t help. So you go back to court, worried that your past errors will be taken into account. You throw yourself on God’s mercy again and…

suddenly you are innocent of all charges, again!

That’s grace. You don’t deserve it, but Jesus, who came to Earth at Christmas, took the punishment we should have had on the cross. He did it, not to save us from himself, as some thinks it means, but to save us from ourselves. To save us from that spiral towards destruction that sin leads us to. We must face justice for our sin, but we have Jesus to stand up for us and declare us not guilty.

It’s not a get out of jail free card. We can’t just ask for forgiveness then keep doing the same old thing. It is a second chance, though, and a third chance. And a fourth, fifth, sixth…