Friday, December 15, 2017

Upcoming events Dec 18th to Dec 24th, 2017

Upcoming Events December 18th to December 24th, 2017

December 18th, 2017
Office is closed
December 19th, 2017 
11:00am Holy Communion @ Rutherford Heights Retirement Residence
December 20th, 2017 
7:00pm ‘When Christmas Hurts’ service @ St. Margaret’s
December 21st, 2017
8:00am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study groups Christmas Breakfast
December 23rd, 2017
9:00am – 11:00am Children’s pageant dress rehearsal @ church
December 24th, 2017 (Advent 4)
10:00am  Holy Communion
4:00pm Family Holy Communion & children’s pageant
10:00pm Holy Communion by Candlelight

When Christmas Hurts’ Wednesday December 20th 7:00 p.m.
Christmas is not a happy time for everyone. This service is designed to provide comfort and healing; it will be held in cooperation with St. Patrick’s and Crosslife Church and will be @ St. Margaret’s.

Tim will be away on vacation from Dec 27th, 2017 until Jan 2nd, 2018, inclusive. During his absence, the Rev. Hugh Matheson will be providing emergency pastoral care and can be reached at 780-312-7794.

Giving envelopes for 2018 are out in the foyer for pickup.  If you are going to be giving via direct deposit for 2018, there are no envelopes set out for you for the upcoming year.  Should you wish to contribute during the year for something “extra” such as world vision or PWRDF, simply use the blank envelopes at the back of the church. Should you have any questions, please feel free to call the church office at 780-437-7231.

Please join us for our Christmas services:

Sunday December 24th (Christmas Eve):

10:00 am Holy Communion for the 4th Sunday of Advent
4:00 pm Informal Holy Communion for Families. The first part of the service will include a Children’s pageant, and much of it will be led by our children and youth. We hope that our families with children will find this a good service to attend.
9:30 p.m. Holy Communion by Candlelight.

Monday December 25th 10:00 am Holy Communion for Christmas Day.

We will be accepting donations to the World Vision Raw Hope project at all of our Christmas Services. There is a special blue envelope for this in your envelope boxes, or if you don’t have this, please use an envelope from the back of the church and mark it ‘Raw Hope’.

The Inner City Pastoral Ministry Lunch (ICPM) at the Bissel Centre, 10503 96th Street NW, Edmonton, AB is coming up on Sunday January 14th, 2018. St. Margaret’s, in partnership with Good Shepherd Anglican Church, will be providing and serving lunch at the Bissell Centre. We require volunteers to donate food, as well as to help prepare sandwiches on Saturday Jan 13th, and to serve lunch on Sunday Jan 14th. There are sign up sheets for all of these things on the table in the foyer of the church. For more info, please contact the church office at 780-437-7231.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Coming Home (a sermon on Isaiah 40:1-11)

The word Isaiah speaks in our first reading for today is spoken to people who feel the situation they’re in is hopeless. I wonder how many of you have felt as if things are hopeless?

I think about the person who gets into debt so deeply they can’t see a way of ever getting their head above water again. Or the person in an abusive relationship in which they’re being hurt over and over again, and they can see no way out. I think about the parents who realise they’re in a negative rut in their relationship with their child and can’t see any way of changing it - or the teenager who wonders if his parents will ever understand him. These people are on the verge of giving up all hope - or maybe they’ve already done so.

Sometimes this is complicated by guilt; the situation’s hopeless and it’s my fault. Think of the alcoholic or drug addict who can’t see any way out, but he also knows all the suffering he and his family have gone through is his own fault. Think of the person who struggles unsuccessfully to control her temper and can’t see any hope of change, all the time being aware of the damage she’s caused to other people’s lives. “I’ve ruined it now and there’s no way it can ever be fixed”.

That’s the kind of situation God’s people were in when our Old Testament reading was written. They’d chased after other gods made of wood or stone and worshipped them. They’d abandoned God’s ways and oppressed the poor and needy. Over hundreds of years God had tried and tried again to call them back to him; he sent a long line of prophets to try to persuade them and warn them about what would happen if they didn’t repent. A few responded, but most ignored God’s call.

Eventually God allowed foreign armies to come against the land and defeat the Israelites; the leaders and educated classes were taken away as prisoners into exile in a foreign country and their land was given over to others. The temple in Jerusalem - which they saw as a sign that God was with them - was destroyed by the Babylonians. And the people who were taken away to Babylon thought God was so angry with them that he would never again accept them as his people.

Into this hopeless situation God sent a prophet to speak a word of comfort. We call him ‘Isaiah’, but he’s probably not the same prophet that wrote the first 39 chapters of the Book of Isaiah as we now have it; those chapters were likely written many years earlier. God gave this ‘Second Isaiah’ a word of hope for people who lived in hopelessness and despair. You can find it in our first reading for today, from Isaiah chapter 40. Let’s start by looking at verses 1-2:
‘Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins’.

The prophet brings the people an incredible message: despite all the sins they’ve committed, despite all the suffering they’ve been through, God still cares for them. And God is coming to them now with a message of comfort and hope.

That comfort and hope comes in the words of three ‘voices’ that the prophet mentions in verse 3, verse 6, and verse 9. We’re not told who the speakers are. Likely they’re just a poetic device the prophet uses; one of the things we know about Second Isaiah is that he’s a wonderful poet. Let’s explore what he has to say by listening to these three ‘voices’.

The first voice is a promise of homecoming. Look at verses 3-5:
‘A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”’

So this is a promise of a homecoming. For more than a generation the exiles had been living hundreds of miles away from their home. We can get a sense of how they felt in one of the most poignant psalms in the Bible, Psalm 137:
‘By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing Yahweh’s song in a foreign land?’

I can only imagine what it felt like for them. When I was seventeen my family moved from the U.K. to Canada. At the time I wasn’t too pleased with the move; I had good friends back home and I had no desire to start over again at the age of seventeen in a completely unfamiliar country. Making friends wasn’t easy for me in those days, because I was a pretty shy guy. Eventually, of course, things brightened up, and now, forty-two years later, I’m very happy in this foreign land!

But let’s change the illustration; let’s think of the children of the residential schools, taken away forcibly from their homes and their families, forced to live in a completely unfamiliar boarding school system, forced to forget their own languages and customs and learn a completely alien way of life. I can’t begin to imagine how awful that must have been for them.

But for Israel it was even worse, because they had a very strong belief that Jerusalem was the city of God and the Temple was the place in Jerusalem where God’s presence was strongest. If you wanted to meet with God, you went to the Temple; you could be sure he’d be there! But how could you ‘sing Yahweh’s song in a foreign land’?

How does this translate into our experience today?

I would suggest to you that the truest and most secure home any human being can have is the presence of God. God is our Creator, our rock, our loving parent. To live in God is to be truly at home in the most complete sense of that word. Every other home will disappoint us eventually; only when we find our home in God will we be fully satisfied. “You have made us for yourself”, Saint Augustine prays, “and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you”.

So what does Jesus say to us?
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

I don’t think Jesus is especially talking about death here. We don’t have to wait until we die to find our home in God. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Do we have to wait until we die to ‘come to the Father’? Of course not; we can come to the Father right now.

So that’s the first announcement of Advent for us Christians: our exile is over. Jesus has come to take us home to the Father. Advent is an invitation for us to find our true home in the presence of God.

Let’s go on to the second voice. The second voice is a promise about the dependability of God’s promise. Look at verses 6-8:
‘A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever’.

The issue here is a simple one: Who can you count on? When the chips are down, who will come through for you? Is there such a thing as a human bring whose promise is utterly reliable? The prophet doesn’t think so.

We live in an age of great scepticism when it comes to the promises of politicians. Most of us suspect that they have no intention of keeping them. They want us to vote for them, so they say what they know we want to hear, but it’s all a con game. Of course, that’s an outrageous generalisation; there are good and sincere politicians who genuinely want to make a difference. But generally speaking, when political promises are broken very few people are surprised.

And even when people make promises with every intention to keep them, there’s still a problem: we human beings aren’t in total control of our lives. We’re not gods; we’re ordinary mortals. The prophet uses the illustration of blades of grass. A blade of grass isn’t in control of the hot desert wind that dries up the ground and causes all growing things to die of thirst. Neither is it in control of the man who comes striding across the field, flattening everything under his feet without even thinking about it.

We human beings are like that. I lost a good friend who died of cancer at the age of forty-six, leaving behind four children under the age of twelve, one of whom had Down Syndrome. It was his intention to be there for those kids into a ripe old age, but that wasn’t the way it turned out. No fault of his, but he was unable to keep those promises.

So who can we trust? In verse 8 the prophet says ‘The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever’. God’s promise is totally dependable. He promised to bring the Israelites home from exile, and he kept that promise. He promised to send a Saviour for all people, and he kept that promise. He has promised to bring us to his Kingdom, and he will keep that promise as well.

Of course, sometimes God’s promises seem a little slow in fulfilment to us poor mortals. The people were taken into exile in 586 B.C. and their return began about fifty years later. In those days a fifty-year lifespan was a long one for ordinary people; very few of the original exiles would have lived to see the journey home. I sometimes wonder what it means when we pray to God - who lives outside of time – and ask him to hurry up! One of the most common phrases in the Old Testament is ‘wait for the Lord’; apparently it was common knowledge that he takes his time, since he has plenty of it! My Dad used to say “God knows I’m impatient, so he’s made me wait for almost every important thing in my life!”

I think part of the call of Advent to us who live in an age of great materialism is this: be sceptical about the extravagant promises mammon makes to us. Advertisers promise us that if we just buy their product we’ll find true happiness and fulfilment, but in the end that’s a lie. What we’re looking for we can only find in God; only he can give us what Jesus calls ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10). So the prophet calls us to believe the promise of God and to turn to him for what we’re looking for.

We’ve heard two voices: a promise of a homecoming, and an assurance of the dependability of the promises of God. The third voice is a promise of the presence of God himself with us. Look at verses 9-11:
‘Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep’.

Remember, the prophet is talking to people who assumed that God had abandoned them because of their sins. This was the only way they could make sense of the disaster that had happened to Jerusalem. ‘If God had truly been with us the Babylonians wouldn’t have been able to destroy us. So God must have left us’.

But now the prophet tells them ‘Here is your God’. And the image he uses emphasises the tender and loving nature of God: ‘He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep’ (v.11). Yes, God is coming to live among them again - and not as an angry judge, but as a tender shepherd caring for the weakest and most vulnerable members of his flock.

God is not far away from us; he is present with us and lives among us. This is what the coming of Jesus means. Matthew says that the birth of Jesus was in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him ‘Emmanuel’, which means ‘God is with us’” (Matt. 1:23-24). Never again will God be a stranger to human life; he has lived it to the bitter end just as we do. As Eugene Peterson paraphrases John 1:14: ‘The Word became a human being and moved into our neighbourhood’.

So the Advent word is a call to look to Jesus. As I said last week, he’s the human face of God. In him, God has come to us and he has never left us since then. And because of him God’s Spirit lives among us. When we gather here week by week, that’s what we’re celebrating: Emmanuel, God with us. That’s what Jesus means.

So this Advent message is full of comfort and hope for us. Jesus came among us to lead us home to God – the one place in the universe where we can be completely secure. The Bible uses the old word ‘abide’; to ‘abide’ somewhere is to make it your home. ‘Abide in me’, Jesus says. Where God is, there we are home, and we believe that God is in Jesus, so we are at home in Jesus.

Jesus came to us as the fulfilment of the promises of God. False gods make all kinds of false promises to us – perfect happiness, eternal youth and so on. But we know we can’t rely on those promises. Only in God can we find what we’re really looking for. So we’re called to be sceptical about the promises of the false gods, but to put our trust in the Word of God, who is Jesus.

And Jesus is ‘God with us’, our Good Shepherd. God has not abandoned us and he never will. We may not always feel his presence, but our feelings are not a reliable guide. They’re influenced by all kinds of factors; some we’re aware of, some we’re not.

But the presence of God with us is deeper than our feelings. I heard a phrase at a clergy conference a few years ago that really struck me. The speaker said, “We sometimes talk about asking God to come into our hearts, but we might just have it backwards. What the gospel tells us is that God holds us in his heart!”

‘Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God’ (v.1). I can’t think of anything more comforting than the thought that God holds us – you and me – in his heart. Our true home is the heart of God. We live there now, and we’ll live there forever. Ponder that one for a while, and ask God to help you experience it as a living reality.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Upcoming events Dec 11th to Dec 17th, 2017

Upcoming Events December 11th to December 17th, 2017

December 11th, 2017
Office is closed
December 13th, 2017 
6:00pm Vestry potluck @ church
7:15pm Vestry meeting @ church
December 14th, 2017
8:00am Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies @ Bogani CafĂ©
11:15am Holy Communion @ St. Joseph’s Hospital
December 16th, 2017
12:30pm – 3:30pm Rental (piano recital)
4:30pm – 7:30pm Crosslife Church rental
December 17th, 2017 (Advent 3)
9:00am  Holy Communion
10:30am  Carol service & Bring a Friend

Carol Service and ‘Bring a Friend’ Sunday December 17th 10:30 a.m.: The Scripture readings tell the story of Christmas, starting with the Old Testament prophecies; in between these readings we sing carols – plenty of them! – so, if you like the carols of Christmas, this is the service for you. This is a ‘bring-a-friend’ service, so please invite friends or family members who do not normally go to church; the service will be structured with them in mind. There are invitations on the table in the foyer for anyone who would like to give one to a friend.

When Christmas Hurts’ Wednesday December 20th 7:00 p.m.
Christmas is not a happy time for everyone. This service is designed to provide comfort and healing; it will be held in cooperation with St. Patrick’s and Crosslife Church and will be @ St. Margaret’s.

If you would like to donate any new or gently used items to the Bissell Centre, please bring them to church and put in the blue bin in the foyer.

Thank you to Kathi Kilgour and the group ‘Fabric Artisans for Christ’, of which she is a member, for making the new angel banner. The banner is based on a pattern designed by artist Vera Velleman of Halifax NS.

Eva Thompson once again organized a wonderful Christmas concert. Thanks to everyone’s generosity we raised approximately $1700 for World Vision’s Raw Hope initiative.

Please join us for our Christmas services:
Sunday December 24th (Christmas Eve):
10:00 am Holy Communion for the 4th Sunday of Advent
4:00 pm Informal Holy Communion for Families. The first part of the service will include a Children’s pageant, and much of it will be led by our children and youth. We hope that our families with children will find this a good service to attend.
9:30 p.m. Holy Communion by Candlelight.

Monday December 25th 10:00 am Holy Communion for Christmas Day.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

'Restore Us, O God' (a sermon for Advent Sunday on Psalm 80)

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first day of the new church year. Happy new year, everyone! Advent isn’t just about preparing for Christmas, although of course in our culture that’s what December – and, increasingly, November too – is all about. Yes, in Advent we go back to the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah and try to imagine ourselves waiting in expectation and longing for God to fulfil them. But in Advent we also look forward to what the New Testament writers called in their language the parousia – the appearing of Christ at the end of the age, the time when (as the creeds say) ‘he will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, and his kingdom will never end’.

It’s really appropriate that Psalm 80 is our psalm for today. Psalm 80 is a psalm of longing – or even a psalm of desperation. The second half of verse 17 in the BAS version says ‘Give us life, that we may call upon your name’. ‘Give us life’ is translated in many Bibles as ‘revive us’ and this verse became a great theme for revival movements – times of great spiritual power in the history of the church, when the Holy Spirit seemed to work in a special way among the people of God. Revivals often led Christian people to share their faith with their neighbours so that new people came to faith in Christ. But the revivals didn’t usually start there; they started with a reawakening of faith in the hearts and lives of Christian people. And that’s what Advent is meant to be all about, too.

If you’ll look at the psalm on page 812 of your BAS, the first thing I want you to notice is the refrain that’s repeated three times, in slightly different form each time. Verse three says, ‘Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved’. This is repeated in verse seven. Verse 19 adds the name ‘Lord’: ‘Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved’.

But I want you to look carefully at a different verse, 14: ‘Turn now, O God of hosts’. The word ‘turn’ here stands for a Hebrew word that we often translate ‘repent’. Normally in the Bible the word ‘repent’ is applied to human beings; we’re called to turn away from our sins and turn back to God. But occasionally in the Old Testament it’s used for God; God is said to change his mind and repent of his anger toward his people. That’s what the people of God are praying for here. “God, your face is turned away from us. Won’t you turn back to us?” This ties in with the phrase that’s used in the second half of the three refrains: ‘Show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved’. The ‘countenance’ is simply ‘the face’. We might paraphrase this as “God, won’t you smile on us again? It’s been so long since we’ve seen your smile!”

I suspect we all know what that feels like. Sometimes you might go to a close friend and ask “How are you?” and they reply, “Well, I’ve had better days”. We can all identify with that in one way or another. Small communities are having a hard time surviving in these days of urbanisation. Many churches are struggling and they look back nostalgically to the days when they had full pews and big Sunday Schools. And for us as individuals, too, there are times when God seems a long way away from us. We go through financial struggles and problems at work – maybe even loss of a job and a livelihood. Many of us are feeling the effects of advancing age. We go through debilitating illness. We lose people we love. We have worries about our kids and our grandchildren. We go through family conflict and heartache. Yes – ‘we’ve seen better days’.

In Psalm 80 the community reminds God of those better days in verses 8 to 11. Israel was like a grape vine that God brought up out of Egypt and planted in the good land of Canaan. The people filled the country and flourished, and for many years it seemed God was really blessing them.

But now what has happened? Verses 12-13 say ‘Why have you broken down its wall, so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes? The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it, and the beasts of the field have gazed on it’. This sounds like one of the invasions that took place in the eight and sixth centuries B.C., when God’s people were defeated in battle and many of them taken away into exile. We can imagine the writer of the psalm standing in the ruins of Samaria or Jerusalem, looking around and shaking his head. “God, why have you done this to us? Why have you abandoned us? We are your flock and you are our shepherd. We are your vine, and you are the owner of the vineyard. We are your firstborn son. How can this have happened to us?”

Other passages in the Old Testament give an explanation for this. They talk about how Israel turned away from God to worship false gods and practice injustice and oppression. But this psalm doesn’t go there. It doesn’t assign blame, or if it does, it throws the blame on God. We can hear the anger in the people’s voices. “God, where are you? How come you didn’t help us? Please, come now and rescue us from this desperate situation we’re in. How long are we going to have to wait?”

So what is the psalm calling us to today, as followers of Jesus? Three things.

First, the psalm is calling us to prayer. The psalms are the prayer book of the people of God. We use them as prayers, and also as models for prayer. Are you afraid to tell God how you really feel? The psalms encourage you not to be afraid. Are you wondering if your little troubles are important enough to pray about? The psalms encourage you to pray about everything. And the psalms speak for us when we can’t find the words to speak. I’m grateful to have been praying the psalms in church and outside church for as long as I can remember. The psalms are my school of prayer.

And we need to learn how to pray, don’t we? Every single one of us, at one time or another, has felt that life is just too much for us. And we know, deep down inside, that human planning and ingenuity can only go so far. Sometimes the changes we need are just beyond our power to achieve. We’re desperate for help. And that’s a good place to be. Ole Hallesby once said that the two essential conditions for prayer are faith and desperation. I’m sure most of us don’t have any difficulty supplying the ‘desperation’! But we might feel intimidated by our lack of faith, so Hallesby adds that if we have enough faith to turn to Jesus and ask for his help, that’s all we need!

So this psalm is calling us to prayer. Second, this psalm is calling us to turn. As we’ve seen, in verse 14 the people beg God to turn back to them: ‘Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine”. “Turn to us and let us see you smile on us again”. But the turning is a two-way street. In the refrain, the people ask three times “Restore us, O God of hosts”, but the Hebrew word translated ‘restore’ includes the little syllable ‘shub’ – repent. In fact, you could translate it ‘Make us to turn, O God’.

This might seem strange to us. After all, we’re familiar with the call to repent. We know we need to turn away from our sins and distractions and turn toward God and his will for us. But we usually see it as something we have to do. But here it’s a prayer we pray to God: ‘Make us to turn, O God’.

I would suggest to you that this is an honest and realistic prayer. Change is hard, whether it’s the change of trying to lose weight, the change of trying not to be so bad tempered, the change of learning patience, the change of being more careful about how we talk to other people. Those habits have created neural pathways in our brains, and they live there like deep ruts on a gravel road – the car tires just keep falling into them!

One of my favourite writers, Francis Spufford, describes sin as ‘our human propensity to mess things up’. Actually, he uses a much stronger word than ‘mess’ – one I won’t repeat in this pulpit! But when I first read that phrase I gave a grunt of recognition. That’s me! I have an incredible talent for messing things up, for hurting people, for spoiling relationships. And I find it incredibly difficult to change! So any hope that’s based on my ability to do things differently isn’t going to get me very far, because that ability is severely hampered by human weakness.

So the psalm acknowledges that we can’t do this alone; we need God’s help. “Make us to turn, O God”, isn’t a cop-out. It’s not asking God to do something that we should do ourselves. It’s a humble acknowledgement that if we want to change our lives, our human strength isn’t up to the job. We need to come to God in desperation and faith and cry out for God’s help.

So the psalm encourages us to pray, and the psalm encourages us to turn to God. Finally, the psalm encourages us to hope in Jesus. You need to look carefully to see this, but once you’ve seen it, it’s all over the psalm. It’s actually quite striking how Jesus takes up metaphors in this psalm and uses them for himself and his work.

‘Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock’ (v.1). ‘Shepherd’ in the Old Testament is a metaphor for ‘king’. But who is the Good Shepherd in the New Testament? It’s Jesus, of course. In John 10 he says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”.  He talks about calling his sheep by name, leading them out, guiding them, feeding them. In Psalm 23 David prays ‘The Lord is my shepherd’; in the New Testament ‘the Lord’ is Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Jesus has been called ‘the human face of God’. So when the people pray, ‘Make your face shine on us, O God’, Jesus is the answer to that prayer.

And what about the ‘vine’ metaphor? The psalm talks about Israel as God’s vine, planted in the land to produce good fruit. But who is the true vine in the New Testament? Again, it’s Jesus. He says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1). In the Old Testament the prophets talk about God looking for good fruit on his vine, but only finding bitter grapes – in other words, his people didn’t produce the fruit of good and holy living that he was looking for. But Jesus is the fruitful vine. And what does he say to us? “Abide in me as I abide in you”. To ‘abide’ somewhere means to make your home there. So we make Jesus our spiritual home. We live in fellowship with him. We listen to his words and put them into practice, and with his help – and only with his help – we can produce the fruit God is looking for.

The third metaphor is the ‘son of man’. Verse 16 says ‘Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, the son of man you have made so strong for yourself’. In the original context this is a metaphor for Israel – Israel is God’s firstborn son – but in the gospels Jesus takes it and uses it for himself; it becomes his favourite way of talking about himself. In other words, Jesus is the true Israelite; he’s the chosen one of God. He’s the one who shows us what it means not just to be God, but also to be truly human. When we look at Jesus, we’re looking at God’s dream of what a human life is like. In him – as we make our home in him – it’s possible for us to truly repent, to truly love, to truly pray, to truly be faithful to God.

So let’s go round this one last time. This psalm calls us to pray – not just as individuals, but as a community. We pray as desperate people, people who realize that life is often too much for us, that we aren’t up to the task, that we need help. But we also pray as people of faith, people who know we’ve been invited to turn to Jesus and ask for help. Are you desperate? Have you got enough faith to simply turn to Jesus and ask for help? Then you can pray!

This psalm calls us to turn – or, to be more accurate, it calls us to ask God to help us turn. We know that often we get distracted by too many things, and sometimes our lives are consumed by stuff that’s got nothing to do with loving God and loving our neighbour. So we ask God to help us turn from that, and turn back to God.

Advent is a time to be more faithful in prayer and to be more intentional about turning to God. But lastly, it’s a time to look to Jesus. He’s the human face of God. In him God has shown the light of his countenance to us – he’s made his face shine on us – we’ve seen the smile of God in him. He’s our Good Shepherd. “My sheep hear my voice”, he says. So we take care to hear his voice, and where he leads, there we follow.

May it be so for us. In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.