Prophecy Songs of Praise


Prophecy

Diane-Louise Jordan unravels the mystery of how the birth of Jesus was predicted centuries before and introduces festive hymns for Advent Sunday from all over the UK.


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"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,

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"and they will call him Immanuel."

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"But to us, a child is born. To us, a son is given.

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"And the government will be on his shoulders."

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These are words that become so familiar at this time of year.

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An integral part of the Christmas story.

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And yet, they were written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus.

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They're the words of prophets, people of faith who believed God

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had given them a message to bring to the world.

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Today is Advent Sunday and I love this time of year,

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a time of waiting and anticipation,

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when we look forward to celebrating the event the prophets spoke about -

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God sending his son, our saviour, into the world.

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And so I'll be exploring those prophetic words

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that foretold the birth of Jesus so many centuries ago

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and discovering what prophecy can mean today.

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We've also wonderful hymns from all around the UK

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to celebrate the Advent season.

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The Christmas story is surely one of the most loved in the world,

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an account of extraordinary events,

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of angels and stars and kings and shepherds and wise men.

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And at its heart, a little baby lying in a manger.

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But perhaps what is most remarkable

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is that many of the details in the story of Jesus' birth

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were predicted centuries earlier by the prophets,

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so the full story of Jesus doesn't begin with his birth,

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but with the ancient scriptures of the Old Testament.

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One of the things I love about the Bible

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is that it contains such a huge variety of literature.

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It's full of fantastic stories, history, poetry, songs and proverbs.

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And a huge chunk of it is prophecy.

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The prophets brought God's message to the people around them

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at that time, but they also spoke of a great hope for the future.

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It's a hope realised in a baby laid in a manger

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and celebrated in many of our favourite Advent hymns.

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The Bible is full of prophecies and actually,

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particularly the Christmas story is full of prophecies.

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Things like the fact that Jesus would be born from a virgin,

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that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem,

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that they would try to kill him and all the children around him.

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And then details of his life, about where he would grow up,

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how he would be treated by his family.

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Details about the crucifixion of Jesus.

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Unbelievable details about just what crucifixion would feel like and look like.

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But also, Jesus' resurrection.

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All of that is predicted in the Old Testament,

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700-odd years before those events.

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So prophecy is a great gift to the church because it helps us

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to know God's got a big plan for the universe, he knows what's going to take place.

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And those prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus give us great confidence

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that God will keep his promises that are yet to be fulfilled in the rest of the Bible.

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Prophecy is when God speaks through a messenger

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and they are able to tell what God wants to say to his people.

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Many people look at the prophecies in the Old Testament

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and think they should find details of modern life in there,

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from barcodes to the European economic crisis to 9/11.

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And that's not how it works.

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It's not that God has put a message into a kind of time capsule

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that we dig up and it would only make sense to us now.

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Prophecy is not just all about foretelling,

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it's forthtelling, it's God explaining what he wants his people to do and how he wants them to live.

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But why would the people of that generation need to know

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that something was going to happen 700 years later?

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How you view the future affects how you live in the present, actually.

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If you think the future is terrible, you don't invest into it.

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People talk about us being a credit card generation.

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We store up great debts into the future because we know it's all going to be bad.

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But for me, knowing that God is one day going to sort out

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the future means that I want to work now to bring justice and peace.

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And it shows that the Bible is not really separatable into New Testament and Old Testament.

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It's one book.

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God makes promises in the Old Testament that he fulfils in the New Testament.

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Who were the Old Testament prophets? What sort of characters?

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They were an amazing group of people.

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They were made up of all sorts of different groups of people.

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Some of the prophets did write down their prophecies

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and some didn't, people like Moses and Deborah in the Old Testament.

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But even what God asked them to do was not just speak a message,

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but to live it out.

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A lot of the Old Testament prophecies were made during really dark and difficult times.

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In the Book of Isaiah,

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the nation of Israel feels like just a tiny little nation surrounded

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by these military superpowers and getting bashed about by them.

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And for God to say, look, it does feel really dark now, but the light is coming

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and you might feel alone, but actually I'm going to come,

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I'm going to live amongst you as a man, I'm coming, Emmanuel, God with us.

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It gave the people great hope, and even in some of our Advent hymns that we like to sing,

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My favourite is O Come, Emmanuel.

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It's an interesting mix because it's a very dark song, it's very sombre, it's in a minor key,

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it reminds me of a grunge record made by Nirvana or somebody.

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And yet the words, you know, "Come, come, Emmanuel, come, God,

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"Come into this world of darkness."

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That seems to really capture some of the ways the prophets worked.

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Into this difficult time, God makes a promise of hope and help to his people.

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We may remember the prophets of the Bible mostly by what they said

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and what they wrote down, but above all,

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these were men and women of action for God.

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Even if what they said was unpopular and sometimes controversial.

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At Advent, we prepare for the coming of Jesus,

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who often drew opposition himself through his bold words and actions.

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Asha Rogers volunteers for the Christian charity SPEAK.

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As an organisation, they campaign and pray on issues of global justice

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and so sympathise with the recent protest outside St Paul's Cathedral.

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'I think SPEAK is about living with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

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'And about trying to develop a faith and theology which seeks to integrate the two.'

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Prophecy is kind of about holding up a mirror to society

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and saying, this is what you look like. God's not happy about that.

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So in a way, you could be seen as a modern-day prophet?

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I guess so, if you kind of look at it from that way, yeah.

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And I think we've got a prophetic message about the kind of society

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and the kind of world God wants to see.

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The people who started it were really passionate about creating

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a movement of young people across the nation, really,

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who were going to be equipped to bring about social,

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political and spiritual transformation in their generation.

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I'm not actually camping here.

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But SPEAK as an organisation has signed the petition of Christian solidarity for the protest.

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And as an organisation, we really support the right to peaceful protest.

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Quite a lot of our campaigns really object to corporate greed

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so the actual principle of the camp, we're really in support of.

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One campaign we did last year in particular was all about the arms trade.

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We made an enormous cardboard tank,

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which I was quite impressed at, it was a good creative effort.

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And then gave it as a present to the Government.

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So we have another campaign that we've done.

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We got cloth squares

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and we got people to write down their prayers and their campaign messages

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so we could make a big skirt and then we had too many.

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We made a big dress, which is actually a marquee

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and it can fit 300 people inside.

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So we take it on tour to different places.

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I do believe change is possible.

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And I think at the heart of my understanding of the kingdom of God

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is that God is the one who holds all things together

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and he's given us this promise that he is never going to leave us

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and that he will bring everything to restoration.

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And the amazing thing about that is he gives us

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an active invitation to be part of that.

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I think SPEAK's real uniqueness is in being hopefully a prophetic voice to the church,

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but also we want to disciple the church into really understanding justice issues

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and really seeing that as something that is not separate from faith, but it's really at the heart of it.

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'Gerald Coates is founder of Pioneer,

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'one of the new church networks which has over half a million members in the UK.

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'He believes prophecy is part of his ministry today.'

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I've never been one for titles,

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so I don't go round calling myself a prophet,

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but yet, I've always wanted to speak on God's behalf.

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Over many years,

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I discovered I was praying with people

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at the end of meetings or in my home,

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and then they would say to me, "How did you know all of that?

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"How did you know I was struggling with this? Had doubts about that?"

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And of course I didn't know, and I'm suddenly aware there is someone else at work here.

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This HAS to be God.

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If you look in the Old Testament, which is the first part of the Bible,

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there are hundreds of prophecies,

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particularly about the most important person in the Bible, Jesus Christ, the Son of God -

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celebrating his birth this Christmas.

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Gerald, how would you define prophecy?

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Summing up prophecy in 10 or 20 words is impossible,

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because you have to go back to a God who speaks, in Creation,

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through scripture, through prophets,

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through his Son, and today, in words and in actions.

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What do you mean about God speaking to you?

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Do you actually hear his voice?

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It is something you see, something you feel,

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and you just know this is the voice of God.

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We can see a film and be spoken to, because we get the message.

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We hear a piece of music - "That music really spoke to me," and so on.

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So God speaks in all sorts of ways.

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Prophetic words and actions are just another way God speaks.

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Let me give you an example.

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I was in an event and I'd just bought myself

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a little microphone lapel badge. It probably cost me 75p.

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There was somebody speaking, he's quite well known,

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and I really felt God say, "I'm going to use this guy in television,

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"and I want you to give him your lapel microphone badge

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"as a sign that he's going to be involved with the media."

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And so I went to him and I told him why I was giving him this badge

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and I would be praying that he would be a success in mainstream media

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and will be able to speak for God.

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And then I received a phone call a few days later

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and his car had been stolen, his wallet, his cards and his jacket.

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Everything had gone except for his briefcase,

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which he opened up and there inside was the little lapel microphone badge.

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The guy's name is Steve Chalke, and within months,

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he'd signed a major contract with a major television company,

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and so much has come out of that he's now in and out of Downing Street,

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and raised huge sums of money for charities, because of the profile he had.

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Those sort of things, they raise the sense of the presence of God and God's care for me

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in a way that few other things can.

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# Said the night wind to the little lamb

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-# Do you see what I see?

-Do you see what I see?

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# Way up in the sky, little lamb

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-# Do you see what I see?

-Do you see what I see?

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# A star, a star, dancing in the night

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# With a tail as big as a kite

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# With a tail as big as a kite

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# Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy

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# Do you hear what I hear?

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# Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy

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# Do you hear what I hear?

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# A song, a song, high above the tree

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# With a voice as big as the sea

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# With a voice as big as the sea

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# Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king

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-# Do you know what I know?

-# Do you know what I know?

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# In your palace warm, mighty king

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-# Do you know what I know?

-# Do you know what I know?

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-# A child

-# (A child shivers in the cold)

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# Let us bring him silver and gold

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# Let us bring him silver and gold

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# Said the king to the people everywhere

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# Listen to what I say

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# Pray for peace, people everywhere

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# Listen to what I say

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# The child, the child, sleeping in the night

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# He will bring us goodness and light

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# He will bring us goodness and light. #

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"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.

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"They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,

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"upon them hath the light shined."

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Light - at this time of year, it seems that everywhere,

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there are glimmers of light piercing through the darkness,

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from the most extravagant decorations

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to the smallest candle flame.

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It's such a powerful symbol.

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Jesus called himself the Light of the World, and centuries before,

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the prophets used the language of light to express their hope.

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Is there prophecy still to be fulfilled?

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Yes, lots of the prophecies made in the Bible are yet to be fulfilled.

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For example, one talks about a time

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when the lion and the lamb can lie down together.

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Zoo-keepers are not obeying that prophetic word yet,

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because it's not true yet. There will come a time

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when God will get rid of all injustice, all disease,

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all evil, all brokenness - in fact, at the end of the Bible, it says,

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God will come and wipe away every tear.

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There's a lot of tears in the world right now,

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so we're still waiting for these promises to be fulfilled.

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It's interesting, because Advent not only looks back

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to the first coming of Jesus - it looks forward

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to the time when Jesus will come again,

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and we call this the Second Coming

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and it won't be that he will be born in a stable,

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and we'll wonder if we've missed it. He will come again, on the clouds,

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appearing to us, so that every knee shall bow,

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everyone will see him as he truly is, the King of Heaven.

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When that comes, then this new phase of history begins,

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when the lion can lie down with the lamb,

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and every tear will be wiped away.

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Heavenly Father, who spoke through the prophets long ago,

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help us to hear Your voice today.

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Give us the strength to stand up for truth and for justice in Your name.

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And at this time of Advent,

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remind us of the one the prophets were waiting for,

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Your son, Jesus Christ, Light of the World, Prince of Peace.

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Amen.

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I know there's so much more to explore about prophecy, but for me,

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the more I discover, the more wondrous

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the story of that first Christmas becomes.

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And as we go into Advent, looking forward to all that's ahead,

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we leave you with an adaptation of Mary's words of praise

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when she found out that she was to have a son,

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and he would be the fulfilment of all the prophets had predicted.

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Next week, Sally explores the significance of the birth of Jesus,

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when God came to share our humanity,

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with readings by Julian Rhind-Tutt

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and seasonal hymns from All Saints Church, Cheltenham,

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plus music from Libera, Mary-Jess

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and Only Men Aloud.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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