The Torch - Issue 5 2012

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Where do you find a King?

Where do you find a king? This is the question that faced the Magi - sometimes called the wise men - those who came with a very odd selection of gifts to present to a newly born king. They came from far away - from the East - and for navigation they used a celestial guidance system. Christians today are suspicious of astrology - and rightly so. But God used their fascination with signs in the stars to alert them to the birth of Jesus - God's own Son - and to lead them in their search for the infant king. They must have been very determined - leaving home comforts and travelling to an unfamiliar place, potentially at some risk to themselves. It was a journey that would have taken many weeks to complete, checking carefully each night that they were still on track.

How exactly would this work with the night sky swivelling as the earth rotated? Was it the place where the star crossed the horizon as it rose or fell? Whatever, it was a guidance system that worked for them.

When they realised - again it's not clear how - that they were in the right area they seemed to lose faith in their star gazing and resort to the reasoning of their own minds. "Where do you find a newborn king?" was the question they chewed over among themselves. In a king's palace, obviously. And where would the king's palace be? In the principal city, of course. No need for a heavenly beacon to determine that. So despite the onwards leading of the star, they blunder into Herod's palace in Jerusalem - a mistake that was to cost many innocent young lives.

Where was their journey's end? The traditional crib scene inevitably has them arriving at the Bethlehem stable but this seems unlikely. Certainly King Herod understood that the star - presumably a comet, or what we know of today as a supernova, had appeared suddenly when Jesus was born. Their arrival would then have been weeks later and the family home in Nazareth seems more likely. Matthew's Gospel tells us clearly they went to a house. The decision of Herod to eliminate boys under the age of two would seem to support that view.

The infant king was to be found not in a palace among a family of wealthy royals supported by an army of servants, but in the very ordinary provincial home of a humble carpenter. Here they present their incongruous but highly significant gifts to the infant Jesus.

Christmas time presents us each with the opportunity to make our own journey to discover the king and honour him - whether repeating many similar annual journeys or for the very first time. Where do we find the King and how do we get there?

It starts with our readiness to leave our comfort zone and to follow the signs God has given that point us to his son; signs that we find in the Bible that tell us about this extraordinary king; signs that we find in the church and in the words and lives of followers of Jesus that converge on the child born to a teenage couple in Palestine two thousand years ago. The search takes us beyond the faculties of our reason which can throw us off the trail, and takes us into the realm of faith. And when we get there we might feel a bit out of place and arriving with slightly odd things to offer in worship - but finding them strangely acceptable to the king.

When we meet Jesus, we find him not in a palace, but among his people; not on the throne, but on a cross; not flaunting riches, but poorer than us; not in a grave, but risen and ascended. Elderly Simeon holding the baby Jesus declares: "For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people". (Luke 2:20-21)

We come at Christmas time to worship the infant but meet the man who is quite wonderfully, Saviour of the World.

God guide you in your search for the Saviour King this Christmas time.

Gordon Temple and the editors

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Let the scriptures speak

Jeremiah 29:13

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord. (NIV)

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(taken from a series of New Testament words by Canon Desmond Treanor)

God is love ... Jesus came to show him.
That we all might know him.

The incarnation which Christians everywhere celebrate at Christmas was an amazing lesson in humility. "Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine ..." Jesus Christ was a real man born of a humble woman (Luke 1:48) and laid in a manger in a "lowly cattle shed". After he had been brought up privately in an unpretentious home, he ministered publicly for two or three years to the sick, the poor, the lonely, the forsaken and the outcasts of society.

With the poor and mean and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

Humbly assuming the role of a servant, he washed his disciples' feet and, having been betrayed, he was judicially murdered, dying on a cross between two common criminals; and no one expected him to rise from the dead. "This is our God, the servant King". In Wesley's words:

Amazing love! How can it be
That thou my God, shouldst die for me?

Jesus saw himself as the suffering servant of God of whom Isaiah had written (Isaiah 53). So he thought of his life and his death in terms of sacrifice (Mark 10:45). Although he was the son of God and no meek and mild nonentity, he was a genuinely humble, caring and compassionate man. His awe-inspiring humility should challenge the pathetic pride of all who claim to follow him (Philippians 2:5-9), as he himself praised humility (Matthew 23:11,12) and condemned all sorts of spiritual and social pride (Matthew 6:5; 23:5ff).

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ," wrote St Paul (Philippians 2:5ff).

"He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God's equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man." (J B Phillips' translation)

"Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor." (2 Corinthians 8:9)

"Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another," writes St Peter, for "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you." (1 Peter 5:5,6)

St Paul, the converted Pharisee, constantly warns against spiritual pride. But it is our Lord's parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector that makes the point most memorably. Comparing himself not with other people but with God, the tax collector knew full well that he was a sinner in desperate need of God's mercy; and Jesus commended him for his prayer and asserted that "everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:14)

Thomas Merton commented in his "Thoughts in Solitude": "The surest sign that we have received a spiritual understanding of God's love for us is the appreciation of our own poverty in the light of his infinite mercy."

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The night when love was born

by Ann Voskamp

(taken from

Christ the babe comes at Christmas time just as Christ the Saviour comes on the cross - seeking only our embrace.

The mystery so large becomes the babe so small, and infinite God becomes infant.

And if there is no cross in my Christmas, then my Christmas has lost the Christ. What is the manger if not for the Messiah, the One who saves us with the scars?

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Love never fails

(taken from

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Michael Josephson in Character Counts tells the story about Todd whom he describes as a sadly quiet 11-year-old struggling to adjust to the death of his mother.

"His father left long ago and he was living with an aunt who made it known that she resented the responsibility of caring for him. On several occasions Sheryl, the boy's teacher, heard the aunt tell Todd, 'If it weren't for my generosity you would be a homeless orphan.'

"Sheryl took extra pains to make Todd feel valued and she encouraged his interest in making things. Just before the Christmas break, Todd shyly presented her with a small decorated box he'd made.

"'It's beautiful,' Sheryl gushed.

"Todd replied, 'There's something very special inside that my mom gave to me before she died. She said it's the one thing I can give and still have plenty left. It helps you feel better when you're sad, and safe when you're scared.'

"As Sheryl started to open the box, Todd warned her, 'Oh, you can't see it.'

"'Well, what is it?' Sheryl asked kindly.

"'It's love. And you're the first person since my mom that I love.'

"Sheryl hugged Todd tightly and said, 'I'll treasure this forever. It's the best gift I ever got.'

"She kept it on her desk until she retired and touched it whenever she was sad or scared. It never failed to make her heart smile.

"Years later, Todd sent her the tassel he wore during his graduation from medical school. It's been in the box ever since.

"In truth, it's love, not diamonds, that's the gift that keeps on giving. What's more, love generates itself. The more you give away, the more you have left."

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to be a more thoughtful, gracious, understanding and loving person. Help me in some way to communicate your love to every life I touch. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

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Here's a thought

(taken from

The wise men came from the East following a star to look for a "king, like a bright star" who would arise in Israel. They found him, worshipped him, and then disappeared from history. It is said, "Wise men still seek him".

We do not have to follow an actual star, or look for a manger bed to find the Lord Jesus Christ. We seek him through his Word and prayer. And he promises that if we keep on seeking we will find him, and he will come, dwell within our hearts, and fill us with his wisdom.

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Angel messages

by Mike Townsend

Most African people love noise. In May I was in South Africa at a conference about braille. What a relief to have the serious deliberations broken by singing and dancing from blind children's choirs. The little boy with the big drum gave us rhythm.

What are you like with silence? At a prayer meeting I attended the other day, no one seemed to have anything to say, until someone shouted, "The silence is deafening." But I had been quietly enjoying the presence of God!

African people also do silence. They often gather in the early morning at someone's house. They stay together there all day without speaking - no music, no noise. They are just enjoying the presence of God.

Silence can be very powerful - both in a positive and negative way.

Those were dark and sad times in Palestine two thousand years ago. God had been silent for four hundred years. Malachi was the last prophet to speak God's message. He promised that "for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings." (Malachi 4:2). Malachi's prophecy indicated that Elijah would prepare the way for the Messiah and that family harmony would be restored through "turning the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers" (verse 6). Malachi's very last words were a warning, "I will come and strike the land with a curse." (chapter 4 verse 6).

It seemed that the curse that ended the Old Testament would never lift. The Romans controlled Judah through a foreign king, Herod, who pretended to be a Jew. The Jews were desperate for God's promised Messiah.

We are struggling today. The global economics we trust have collapsed. Has your pension or salary been cut? Are you facing redundancy? Are the health and social services you rely on being axed? Are you hungry? Christmas will be tough for many this year. Does God care?

Christmas is not about things, but about people. In fact a very special person. Jesus came into the world to demonstrate that God does care and that we are special to him.

1. The special messenger

God broke the silence. Zechariah was an old priest whose wife Elizabeth was beyond having children. He had the privilege of going into the holy part of the temple to make the evening offerings. People prayed outside whilst Zechariah prayed in the temple courts. Suddenly the Angel Gabriel appeared. The word "angel" means messenger. At last God was speaking. Zechariah was startled and frightened.

The angel Gabriel said, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard." (Luke 1:13).

Gabriel appears four times in Scripture. He helped Daniel twice. Once to tell him the meaning of a vision. The second time as an answer to prayer. "While I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, 'Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.'" (Daniel 9:21-23)

Daniel was specially close to God. Remember how God delivered him from the lions' den. Gabriel was sent to explain Daniel's visions. They were about Jesus' first and second comings.

Now Gabriel was back as a messenger to Zechariah with the next stage of the fulfilment of Daniel's vision. Two prayers were answered together. Zechariah and Elizabeth were going to have a son, John. "He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:17). Zechariah was specially chosen to break God's four hundred year silence. He received the wonderful news that his son John would, in the spirit of Elijah, get people ready for the Christ, the Messiah and restore family life. Zechariah wanted a sign to confirm Gabriel's message. I don't know why. All Zechariah needed to do was to enjoy it. He got his sign. Gabriel spoke again. "You will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words," (Luke 1:20). The silence returned - this time exclusively for Zechariah, until his son was born.

2. Mary is special

The Angel Gabriel's next stop was Nazareth - a pretty town set in the Galilean hills. It was a lovely place for the young Mary to grow up and get engaged to her fiancée Joseph. Suddenly, everything changed for Mary. The Angel Gabriel came with a special message for Mary.

"Gabriel greeted her: 'Good morning! You're beautiful with God's beauty, beautiful inside and out! God be with you.' She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, 'Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great, he will be called "Son of the Highest." The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will rule Jacob's house forever - no end, ever, to his kingdom'" (Luke 1:28-33.)

Mary felt very special. She, an ordinary Nazareth girl, was going to be the mother of a king! God would be the father! I don't think you can be more special than that.

Mary completed her task wonderfully. She gave birth to Jesus and brought him up well. Mary was there when Jesus was dying on the cross. Mary's was a special lifelong commitment which began with Gabriel's visit and ended at the tomb.

Unfortunately, some people still make Mary very special. A few years ago I flew into Austria around the beginning of December. We could not get an evening meal. The whole city was closed to celebrate the conception of Mary in her mother's womb.

Mary was Jesus' mother. That is special enough!

I love the way Mary celebrated her specialness. "And Mary said, 'I'm bursting with God-news; I'm dancing the song of my Saviour God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened - I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!'" (Luke 1:46-48)

[Mary's and the shepherds section are taken from The Message version of the Bible. It's good to feel the freshness of a different Bible version for such familiar passages.]

3. The shepherds are special

Shepherds were one of the poorest groups in Jewish society. People didn't think much of them. But they got a special visit from an angel - they even got an angel choir!

"There were sheep-herders camping in the neighbourhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, 'Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Saviour has just been born in David's town, a Saviour who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.' At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises: 'Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.' As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheep-herders talked it over. 'Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.' They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger." (Luke 2:8-16.)

You can feel the excitement. The shepherds were thrilled to be singled out to receive the news of Jesus' birth in such a special way.

God loves to show us how special we are. How special do you feel this Christmas? You may feel lonely, neglected, a failure, struggling with illness, or not coping with a disability. I had the privilege of giving the Sunday Worship sermon on BBC Radio 4 just before the paralympic games. Though I was preaching live to two and a half million people, I was actually speaking to individuals in their own homes. My message was that God sees us all as "special". Why? Because "God created man in his own image." (Genesis 1:27). No matter how we feel, every single one of us bears God's own personal stamp. Many contacted me after the broadcast. They were so encouraged to realise how "special" they are to God. Perhaps you feel valueless like the lowly shepherds. Jesus is God's special gift to you this Christmas.

4. The special Man

Jesus, God's living word, is the heart of the Angel's special message.

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14). God has broken his silence for the whole of eternity. Jesus is God's message in person. God has become human to deliver us and give us hope. Jesus didn't come to be a beautiful baby centre piece to Christmas. He came to save us from our sins. The crib led all the way to the cross.

Have a special time of silence this Christmas. Enjoy the specialness of being with God's special gift to you. Because you are special!

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I am here

(Extract of W.H. Smaw's Advent poem, based on Revelation 22:20)

I am. I was. I will be.
I am not coming soon, I am here.

I was born on a cold night in a cold place
Unnoticed, unheralded by cold people.
Who turned my mother away?
On that night were you listening?
On that night the "least of your brothers" was me.
Now do you see, do you hear and do you care?
I am not coming soon, I am here.
In your life do you see me
In the ragged men and women
Who search the cold street
Looking for my reflection in your heart?
Do you hear my voice in
Their muttered plea or in their tear?
I am not coming soon, I am here.

In this season I was born unto you
Fulfilling the promise of God's care.
Look for me, listen to me ...
I am not coming soon, I am here

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