On Sunday morning, if you weren't there, you missed an all-age service with a message from Jonah (AKA me dressed in a dressing gown with strips of Sainsbury's bag pinned to it with a tea-towel on my head and flip-flops on my feet). If you want to read the script I've posted it below. Unfortunately, it probably won't have the same effect - I've had more comments about this message than most (including three comments about how white my legs are!)...



[Enter] What are you lot looking at? I know I’m not looking at my best but if you’d spent three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish you wouldn’t be looking at your best either! Yes, I know I’m covered in orange seaweed! And I know I’m not smelling my best but if you’d spent three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish you wouldn’t be smelling your best either! [sniff] I stink! But it’s not my fault, OK? Well, actually, it is my fault.


Anyway, do you know who I am? I’m Jonah. Yes, clever clogs at the back, I’m Jonah, son of Amittai. Jonah, son of Amittai, prophet of the LORD.


Hang on a second… you don’t know what a prophet of the LORD is, do you?

Well, a prophet is a bit like a postman. A postman gets messages from people and delivers them to other people. If you post a letter - a postman will deliver it for you. And a prophet is a bit like that except I don’t get messages from people, I get messages from God. The God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land, he gives me messages and I deliver them to other people.


And a few days ago the word of the LORD came to me. The word of the LORD has come to me before. I’ve delivered messages from God before. But this message was different…


Do you want to know what the LORD said to me? He said to me, ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh…’ ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh?!’ I mean - would you go go the great city of Nineveh?! I don’t think so…

Hang on a second… you don’t know about Nineveh, do you? Nineveh is the capital city of a country called Assyria. It’s a huge city. Thousands and thousands of people live there. It’s a huge city… but it’s also a horrible city. Thousands and thousands of bad people live there. The Ninevites are liars and cheats and thieves. The worst people in the world live in Nineveh.

And so when the LORD said to me, ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh’ - I knew what he wanted. Do you know what he wanted? Maybe you don’t know the LORD like I do. The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Yeah, he knows that Nineveh is a horrible city. He knows that tens of thousands of bad people live there. He knows that they’re liars and cheats and thieves. But he still loves them.

The LORD loves the worst people in the world. They deserve to be punished, but they’re precious to him. The LORD does’t want to punish them. He wants to show them mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Mercy! His mercy makes me mad! The LORD should punish the Ninevites! And if you knew the Ninevites you’d think that too. But I know that if they say sorry to the LORD, and if they turn to him, he’ll forgive them. That’s just what he’s like. He won’t give them what they deserve. He’ll show them mercy. His mercy makes me mad!


And so here’s the thing - when the LORD said to me, ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh’ - do you know what I did? You might think this is funny but I ran away. The LORD said to me, ‘Go that way, to Nineveh.’ But I said to myself, ‘I’m not going that way, I’m going this way!' And so I went this way. I ran. I found a ship. I paid the fare. I went aboard. And then I went below deck and fell into a deep sleep.


I haven’t slept for three nights since then.I could really do with some sleep [sleep and snore and then sniff] I could really do with some soap! Anyway, I don’t know how long I was asleep for but whatever it was, it wasn’t long enough! The captain of the ship woke me up, shouting and screaming: ‘There’a storm, the ships going to break

up! Wake up, wake up, Jonah, and call on your god!’


I was still half asleep and the sailors were asking me loads of questions and then when I said to them that I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land, they were terrified. To be honest - it was terrifying! The sea was getting rougher and rougher. Huge winds. Huge waves. And I knew it was my fault. I was running away from the LORD, remember, and so the LORD sent the wind and the waves. And so I said to the sailors, ‘Throw me into the sea and it will become calm.’ And you’ll never believe it! The scumbag sailors - they threw me into the sea!


I don’t know about you - but I can’t swim. And even if you can swim, have you ever tried swimming in a dressing gown? You’d probably sink too! There I was - sinking in the sea - and I actually thought I was going to die. And I did want to die. But I didn’t want to die either. I didn’t know what I wanted and so I called to the LORD for help. And you’ll never believe it but the LORD answered me. I was sinking in the sea - deeper and deeper - and I couldn't hold my breath for much longer, but he answered me. You’ll never believe it but the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow me. And when I say huge I mean huge. It was the hugest fish you’ve ever seen! And it swallowed me. There I was - in the belly of this huge fish! The stink was so strong I could hardly breathe. But I could breathe. It was a miracle!


And I spent three days and three nights in the belly of that huge fish. And then this morning God commanded it to vomit me onto dry land, and it did. And so here I am - on dry land.

Actually, God didn’t just speak to the fish this morning. He also spoke to me - just a few minutes ago: …the word of the LORD came to me a second time…


I didn’t know whether the LORD would ever speak to me again. Or if he did, I wanted him to say to me: ‘Go home, Jonah…’ I even said to the him - ‘LORD, I’m happy to go back in the fish!’ But do you know what the LORD said to me? He said the same thing he said a few days ago: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh…’


You see - the LORD just won’t give up! I hate the people of Nineveh but he loves them. And he wants them to hear his message - and so they will. The LORD is unstoppable! He wants them to hear that what they’ve done is wrong. But he wants them to hear that so that they can say sorry - so that they can turn to him - so that he can forgive them. The LORD just won’t give up.


Now - if the word of the LORD came to you - what would you do? What would you do if you were in my flip-flops? Would you go or wouldn’t you go to Nineveh? I suppose I should go. The LORD won’t stop until I do.


But maybe you are in my flip-flops? I wonder - where is God calling you to go? Because that’s his style - he’s a sending God. That’s in his nature. That’s even in his name! Even the first two letters of his name spell the word go. G - O - D. God. G - O. Go!


Or - what’s the name of the city you lot live in? Bristol? Never heard of it! Is Bristol a big city? It looks like thousands and thousands of people live here. And what are the people like - I bet they’re horrible! I bet they’re liars and cheats and thieves. Well, even if they’re the worst people in the world, the LORD loves them. He wants them to hear his message. He wants them to hear that what they’ve done is wrong. But he wants them to hear so that they can say sorry - so that they can turn to him - so that he can forgive them.


Or if the LORD has forgiven you - you’ll know what he’s like: Gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. The LORD will forgive anyone who says sorry to him. Anyone in your class. Any of your colleagues. Anyone in your community. Or anyone in any country. The LORD called me to go to another country - to the last country I’d ever imagine he’ d call me to go to. Maybe the LORD is calling you to go to another country?


For God so loves the world. God so loves the world that if he could become a human he’d probably come here himself. That’s a crazy thought, but the LORD is a crazy God! And maybe he’s calling you to do something crazy? And delivering God’s message isn’t just for people who are super spiritual. I mean - look at me - I’m covered in seaweed! But God is still sending me. And if God is sending me, he’s sending you too.


…the word of the LORD came to me a second time:

‘Go to the great city of Nineveh…’


I suppose there is something encouraging about that. The LORD hasn’t given up on me. I ran away from him - I disobeyed him - but he hasn’t given up on me.


Maybe you’ve been running away from the LORD? Maybe you’ve been running away from him for a long time? But, you know, you can’t run away from the LORD. I’ve tried it - it really doesn’t work. Wherever you go, he’ll be there. Or maybe you’ve disobeyed him? Maybe you’ve disobeyed him this week? Well, the LORD hasn’t given up on you. No matter what, in spite of everything, he loves you with a never stopping, never giving up, un-breaking, always and forever love. That’s something to think about next time you’re in the belly of a huge fish. Or when you’re having a hard time. Think about his never stopping, never giving up love.

Anyway, I suppose I should go to Nineveh.If someone ever does write a story about me - Jonah, son of Amittai, prophet of the LORD - it would be nice if they could write something positive. Like: Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Yeah, I like the sound of that. Nineveh, here I come…

Perhaps you hear the word 'counsellor' and you think of a professional person - a person who’s paid to counsel people. And counsellors can of course be professional, but counsellors can also be personal. We can be counselled by classmates or colleagues, or by family or friends. And a good counsellor is a person who does at least three things: (1) they listen well, (2) they understand, and (3) they speak wisely. And when it comes to Jesus Christ - if you read the accounts of his life - you’ll see that Jesus listens well, understands, and speaks wisely.


Jesus really listens well. We’re told that when he was a twelve year old boy he sat among the teachers in the temple courts listening to them and asking them questions (Luke 2:46).. I don’t know many twelve year old boys that really listen to their teachers - but Jesus did! And as a man, Jesus is always asking people questions. Sometimes they’re rhetorical questions but sometimes they’re not. And Jesus asks people questions because he’s genuinely interested in their answers.

Jesus also - if you read the accounts of his life - spends a lot of time eating and drinking with people. Sometimes it feels like he’s going from one meal to the next! And a lot of the time what Jesus says at the meal table is in response to what he’s heard. Jesus really listens to what people are saying. In fact - on a number of occasions we’re told that Jesus even listens to what people are thinking!


Jesus listens well. And because he listens well, he understands people. And because he understands people, he speaks wisely. In fact Jesus speaks wisely about almost any topic you can think of: God - of course - but creation, law, forgiveness, angels, demons, eternal life, salvation, judgment, heaven, hell, faith, love, hope, truth grace and glory. But also gender, singleness, friendship, marriage, sex, adultery, divorce, family, children, work and rest. And justice, mercy, poverty, riches, money, possessions, generosity, power and authority. Equality and diversity. Racism. Jesus speaks about these topics too. And anger, lust, pride, greed, humility, gratitude, purity, self-control, hypocrisy, integrity, anxiety, depression, satisfaction, discontent, doubt, shame, guilt. Jesus speaks about these topics. And Jesus addresses all the taboo topics: religion, politics, death.


We all need counselling. We all need people to talk to. But if you’re confused about who God is, or who you are - or what humanity is - Jesus speaks words of wisdom to us. Or if you’re in a crisis - a physical, emotional, relational, spiritual crisis - Jesus speaks words of wisdom to us. And Jesus isn’t out to hurt us. He isn’t out to humiliate us. He offers help and hope and healing. Jesus isn’t just a good counsellor. He isn’t even just a great counsellor. He is the Wonderful Counsellor we all need.


Jesus listens well and speaks wisely. But think with me for a moment about this idea that Jesus understands people. You see - Jesus understands people - not just because he listened to them - but because he lived with them.

Imagine if you had a phone call from Queen Elizabeth II. She called you and said: ‘I really want to understand you.’ Now - she could then ask you some questions, and I’m sure the Queen is a good listener. If you talked to her on the phone for 20 minutes you might feel like she understands you better. But what if Queen Elizabeth called you and said: ‘Can I come and live with you for a few weeks?I’ll arrive tomorrow and I’ll leave in a month.’ You can’t really say no to the Queen and so the Queen arrives and you have a cup of tea with her. Every day she eats breakfast, lunch and dinner with you. She goes to school with you; she goes to work with you. She spends all the time she can with you. And when she finally leaves you feel like she understands you. She’s lived your life with you - she understands your personality, your problems, and your pain.


It’s one thing to listen to people but it’s another thing to live with people. And when Jesus Christ was born - which is what we celebrate at Christmas - God became man, to live with people like us. God the Son arrived. And he didn’t live with people for a few weeks - he lived with people for more than three decades. He was born as a baby - he grew up as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult. He lived as a man.

God put himself in our shoes. God put himself in our skin. And one of the reasons he did that was so that he could understand us. Jesus understands us - not just because he’s God - but because he’s also human.


Isaiah says - this baby boy will be a King. But when Jesus was born he wasn’t born in a palace. He was born into poverty. That’s one of the things we tend to miss in the Christmas story. King Jesus was born in a barn. And being born in a barn was no more common in the first-century than it is in the twenty-first century. No mother wants to give birth to her first baby - or her second, or third, or fourth baby - in a barn. Babies weren’t born in barns in the first-century for the same reason they’re not born in barns in the twenty-first century - barns are dirty, smelly places, and midwives don’t work there! Can you imagine Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, giving birth to Prince George in a barn - I don’t think so! But King Jesus was born in a barn.


Or I don’t know if you’ll set up a manger scene this Christmas? But if you do - if you want it to be authentic - don’t sprinkle it with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Smear it with dirt and dung. Jesus wasn’t born in a place that smelled delicious. He was born in a place that smelled disgusting. Jesus understands what it’s like to be born and raised in poverty.

Most of us weren’t born and raised in poverty but Jesus understands what it’s like to live our lives. He’s been here, he’s done this, he’s got the t-shirt. He understands busyness. He understands tiredness. He understands what it’s like to be in demand, or to be discouraged or disappointed. He understands being criticised. He understands being lonely. He understands being popular and unpopular. He understands having friends and enemies. He understands being loved and hated. Jesus Christ understands grief. He understands what it’s like to lose a loved one - what it’s like to weep at the graveside of a friend. He understands sadness and deep sorrow. He understands what it’s like to be betrayed by a friend, and then disowned and deserted by everyone else. Jesus understands heartache and humiliation. He understands fear. He understands pain and suffering. He experienced the worst things you can experience in life - and then he experienced an excruciating death. Jesus understands.


And it’s this that qualifies him to be the Wonderful Counsellor. Whatever you’ve experienced in life - whatever you are experiencing and whatever you will experience - Jesus Christ understands. God the Son put himself in your shoes. God the Son put himself in your skin so that he could understand you.


I don’t know how you’re feeling about Christmas. Maybe you can’t wait. Maybe you can’t wait for it to be over. Maybe Christmas is a happy time for you and your family but maybe it’s not. Or maybe this year it really won’t be. Maybe this year it will be a sad time. Or maybe you don’t have a family and Christmas is a struggle. Well, however you’re feeling about Christmas, Jesus understands. In fact, the message of Christmas is that God became man - the supreme being shrank himself down to become one of us. The Creator became a creature so that he could understand us.

That’s pretty unbelievable…

On Sunday 24th November, 2019 Luke was born and Charlotte and I announced the birth of our son. It was a low key birth announcement - we sent a WhatsApp message to family and friends. On Thursday 26th November, 2020 Arlo was born and Kurt and Martha announced the birth of their son. A few days later - on Tuesday 1st December - Jack was born and Andy and Gemma announced the birth of their son. It was another low key birth announcement - I received a WhatsApp message from Andy. There was a picture of the baby and the message simply said: Introducing Jack Edwin Ian Roddy.


When Luke was born, when Arlo was born, when Jack was born, when any baby is born, there’s usually some sort of birth announcement. And in Isaiah 9:6 there’s another birth announcement. Isaiah chapter 9 verse 6 says: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… This is a birth announcement. Isaiah is saying, 'It’s a boy!'



But this isn’t a regular birth announcement. This is a royal birth announcement. This baby boy will be a future King. Isaiah says: …the government will be on his shoulders. And in the next verse he says: He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom…


This is a royal birth announcement, announcing the birth of a future King. But there’s something strange here. Most birth announcements come after the baby is born (you don’t send that WhatsApp message until the baby’s been safely delivered). But this birth announcement comes before the baby is born.

Writing 700 years or so later, Matthew - one of the New Testament authors - refers back to Isaiah. And he says - when Jesus Christ was born - Isaiah 9 was fulfilled. This royal birth announcement in Isaiah 9:6 is announcing the birth of Jesus Christ, 700 years or so before he was safely delivered!

This is an unusual birth announcement, but that’s because the baby to be born will be unique. On the one hand he’ll be like us. He’ll be like any other baby boy - like Luke, like Arlo, like Jack. But on the other hand he’ll be unlike us. Yes, he’ll be truly human, but he’ll also be truly divine. And there’s a hint of that in Isaiah 9:6. He’ll be human: …to us a child is born… But he’ll also be divine: …to us a son is given…


The most famous verse in the Bible is probably John chapter 3 verse 16. John 3:16 says: …God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son… Isaiah 9:6 says: …to us a son is given. 700 years or so before Jesus Christ was safely delivered, Isaiah says, God will give the world his one and only Son.


This baby boy will be unique. Not only will he be a King, but he’ll reign on David’s throne - verse 7 - for ever. That’s pretty unique! Queen Elizabeth II has been on her throne for nearly 70 years, but Isaiah says, Jesus Christ will be on his throne for ever. Isaiah’s saying: 'There hasn’t been and there won’t be a monarch in the history of humanity whose reign will last like that of Jesus Christ.' That’s pretty unbelievable!


When Charlotte and I announced Luke’s birth we announced his names - Luke Zachary Herring. Kurt and Martha did the same - Arlo William Stewart Bell. Andy and Gemma did the same - Jack Edwin Ian Roddy. And Isaiah does the same. Isaiah announces that this baby boy will have four names: And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). And this Christmas at the Village Church - especially at our Sunday morning services - we’ll be reflecting on what these names mean.