Monday, November 30, 2009

Sermon for Advent Sunday
St. John’s Church - Moultrie, GA
November 29, 2009

It is a glorious and wonderful new year that we begin this morning. We come to the start of a new Church Year as we have arrived again at the Season of Advent. The time when we as the Body of Christ reflect and anticipate the coming of the Messiah in the Incarnation of our Lord.

It’s amazing how me move so quickly from last Sunday where we celebrated the kingship of Jesus Christ, into the season of longing and expectation. If you look back at the lessons assigned for this morning, you might see that they provide a different sort of beginning of the Church Year and our Season of Advent.

The texts assigned don’t bring us stories of Zechariah and the coming of the prophet John the Baptist, nor do they speak of the interaction between the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. We don’t begin where we would think we would.

The lessons today do point to the Incarnation, but they do so looking straight through the Incarnation, straight through the cross, and on to the second coming of the Messiah. They have a focus on the eschatological future or the world. Eschatology is a theological term which deals with the study of the end times, or the final things of this world. Passages such as what we’ve just heard have an eschatological focus.

Not unlike our lessons from a few weeks ago, we heard a great deal of strange language and imagery such as:

“the valley…shall be filled up by the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah.”

“there shall no longer be cold or frost.”

“there shall be continuous day.”

“before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm.”

“there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.”

“people will be perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”

“the powers of heaven will be shaken.”

“and then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”

What are we to make of these particular passages of Scripture?
These passages certainly don’t bring to mind images of a manger, or shepherds, or wise men, or the coming of the Son of God.

No, they conjure up images of darkness and confusion.

And since we believe that the Holy Scriptures are the living, breathing Word of God, I believe they are certainly chosen specifically so that we might hear them and wrestle with them today.

Try for a moment to think about the first Christians in Jerusalem about 30 years after Jesus’ Ascension. They are meeting together to break bread, and re-tell the stories of Jesus together in small house churches. If some of these groups were lucky, they might have had something written down by one of the Apostles or one of the Evangelists. Most likely though they would have had nothing but the stories that they never got tired of telling over and over.

What would be going through their heads if they had heard these same passages being read in their midst? Most likely their non-Christian friends have been ragging them unmercifully because this so-called Messiah that they worshipped had not yet come back. Things were certainly getting rough around Jerusalem with all the Romans around.

And also think about what was happening in other parts of the world at the same time. Christianity was spreading rapidly outside Palestine, but these new converts were going about it in roundabout kind of way. There was an ex-Pharisee Saul, now Paul was telling these new followers of Christ were instructed that they did not have to be circumcised as a sign or maker of being part of the New Covenant.

However, many cried foul.

Hey! That’s not part of the deal here. Jesus was a good Jew, and he sure didn’t tell us we didn’t have to keep our part of the Old Covenant. These new folks need to follow the Law of Moses just like we do.

But what did Jesus say in our passage this morning? He told the Christians in Jerusalem the same thing he told Christians anywhere else.

Stay Awake!

Be on guard!

Hang on!

Prop your eyes open! Either literally of figuratively, whatever the case may be.
Now, let’s move forward to 2009 and St. John’s Church in Moultrie, GA. We are gathered together as a faith community preparing to break bread just like the early Christians did. We are in the process of re-telling the stories of Jesus just like the early Christians did. We aren’t doing it homes, but we are gathered around the altar for to be fed by the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The more things change, the more they stay exactly the same. We are still met with the same criticisms that the early Christians did.

Come on! Are you still believing those silly stories about that Jesus person?

Don’t you know that we are now enlightened and proven that this Christianity thing is just a big hoax?

All you need is a little more pleasure in your life in whatever form it takes. Besides, hasn’t the Church done some pretty bad things in its history all in the name of Jesus? What about those Crusades and that Inquisition business? You’ll notice that everyone who wants to debunk Christianity always bring those two items up. Ravi Zacharias once said that many would like to point out how much violence was done in the name of God, how much violence has been perpetrated in the name of godlessness?

Of course, the biggest complaint against Christianity has to do with the nature of evil. Skeptics say if your Jesus was so special why is there so much evil in the world, and why are we in as big of a mess as a global society as we’ve ever been?

These questions and accusations come at each of us in different forms, and are manifestations of the Devil and his work. He wants to whittle and wear us down. He wants to make us weary and tired.

And what happens when that occurs - we are not able to see the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus told us very clearly that this is exactly what we are to expect. This is what is going to be coming our way as His disciples. He continues to tell us today to stay awake, be vigilant, pray, and keep alert.

As our Gospel lesson from the morning closes, what does Jesus do?

It says that he went to the temple area during the day, and at night he would go apart and stay at a place called the Mount of Olives. Jesus knew that in order for him to stay alert he would have to go apart and be with His Father in prayer. In order for us to do the same we too must spend time apart and do the very same things.

I wish to close with a story that sets the stage for us during Advent as we approach our Lord’s Incarnation

A. J. Gordon was the pastor of Clarendon Baptist Church in Boston, MA. One day he met a young boy in front of the church carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously. Gordon inquired, “Son, where did you get those birds?”

The boy replied, “I trapped them out in the field.”

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m going to play with them, and then I guess I’ll just feed them to an old cat we have at home.”

When Gordon offered to buy them, the lad exclaimed, “Mister, you don’t want them, they’re just little old wild birds, and they sure can’t sing very well.”

Gordon replied, “I’ll give you $2 for the cage and the birds.”

“Okay, it’s a deal, but you’re making a bad bargain.”

The exchange was made and the boy went away whistling, happy with his shinny new coins. Gordon walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue.

The next Sunday he took the empty cage into the pulpit and used it to illustrate his sermon about Christ’s coming to seek and save the lost - paying for them with His own precious blood.

“That boy told me the birds were not songsters,” said Gordon, “but when I released them and they winged their way heavenward, it seemed to me they were singing, ‘Redeemed, Redeemed, Redeemed!’”

This is Advent - and the message of these times is the song of those wild birds. It’s the song sung in every carol of this season: Redeemed!

It’s the word that the shepherds heard: Redeemed!

It’s the assurance Mary received: Redeemed!

It’s the message behind the star that the wise men followed: Redeemed!

We are all trapped by sin, but Christ has purchased our pardon. He who has this hope in his heart will sing, and you know the song: Redeemed, Redeemed, Redeemed!

Happy New Year to all of us here at St. John’s and the followers of Jesus Christ everywhere, we are redeemed people.

May God give us the strength to stay awake, alert, and life like the redeemed people that we truly are.

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