Hearing the Voice of God Rockburn Church Dec 16/18
Luke 1:5-20, 27-38
In a mother's womb were two babies. One asked the other: "Do you believe in life after delivery?"
The other replied, "Of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later."
"Nonsense," said the first. "There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?"
The second said, "I don't know, but I think there will be more light than here. And maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can't understand now."
The first replied, "How absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short, so there's no way there can be life after delivery. Logically it's just impossible"
The second insisted, "Well I think there is something and maybe it's different than it is here. Maybe we won't need the umbilical cord anymore."
The first replied, "Nonsense. And anyway, if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and after delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere."
"Well, I don't know," said the second, "but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us."
The first replied "Mother? You actually believe in Mother? What a joke. If Mother exists then where is She now?"
The second said, "She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her, this world of ours could not exist."
Said the first: "Well I don't see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn't exist."
To which the second replied, "Sometimes, when you're in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above."
This little illustration I think shines a light on the fact that humans long to know God but have difficulty connecting with Him. We need God, and whether we are aware of it or not, we want God.
But we have trouble believing in Him. In this age of reason and science, it is hard to convince ourselves that God even exists, let alone hope to hear His voice in our lives. We strain to listen, we try to feel, but often we just can't connect. It can feel like there's a wall or at least one of those blackout curtains hung up between earth and heaven. We have sayings: "seeing is believing" or "a picture is worth a thousand words". Basically we don't believe what we can't see with our own eyes.
But somehow we sense there's more, that there's something more beyond our ability to see. So we pray and pray, and ask God for his leading and direction. But so often we feel we can't hear his voice and don't know which direction to take. Sometimes, we give up and decide since we can't seem to break through, that God, if He is even there, doesn't care, and it doesn't matter. Still, in our innermost parts, we really know that we need to know God.
God SAYS he speaks to us and that we CAN hear His voice. So how then, and what does that look like? How does God make His voice heard anyway?
We read often in the Bible of people who heard God's voice, and were directed by Him. It seems God speaks to His people in various ways. One way is by sending an angel, or a messenger, to relay His messages, to speak for Him. In the last years a sort of angel worship cult has grown up. People are hungry for spiritual things and wish to be directed or led by someone or something with more knowledge or insight or with more authority than ourselves, we ordinary humans. The mystical is very popular. I am actually really baffled by this..1 know people who say the Bible is a myth and they could never believe it, and treat you like a relic of some unenlightened age, yet are willing to believe that there is a spirit in a stone or metal carving or will believe that the chanting of a so-called Holy person can give insight and direction in life. Or follow and believe a so-called "spiritual guide" who "channels" a being from "the other side". Yes, humans do want to hear God's voice. (and for the record, God has told us to NOT worship angels, that they are messengers only. Real angels will always point to Jesus, false ones will direct you to worship them).
At this time of the year we are celebrating Advent, the season leading to the birth of Jesus. Let's Have a look at the people that were involved in God's plan to save mankind by sending His own Son as a sacrifice: Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah.
Luke 1:5-20, 27-35
Zechariah: he was just working in the temple. It was his turn to light the candles, and get the incense burning. A simple but faithful man doing his job. The whole congregation was just outside this room of the temple, worshiping and basically doing church at the time. Zecharias was alone in the inner room. So, suddenly an angel, but not just any angel - GABRIEL a big-shot angel— is suddenly standing there and says "I have been sent by God to speak to you and tell you that your wife will have a baby, and that baby will tell the world about the Messiah".
So what does our faithful religious man in the church say? He's like "well that's impossible because my wife and I are old and theres no way we can have a baby". Basically he didn't believe the voice he heard. As a result of his unbelief, Gabriel told him was not going to be able to speak again until the baby was born ao as not to have Zacharias run out and tell everyone was a crazy experience he had just had. He was "struck dumb", so he couldn't talk down God's plan (at least that's how it looks here).
Mary: so 6 months or so later, Gabriel heads over to Nazareth, where Mary is minding her own business, likely looking forward to her marriage to the local carpenter, maybe working on her dowry linens, knitting socks, shelling peas, or cooking or who knows. Again God speaks to Mary through Gabriel ,and tells her His plan for her. Notice Mary's response is different to that of Zachariah.
She says "Okay, so how is this all going to work then?" Mary remained open to God's plan for her life, even though the idea that she should be pregnant - by the spirit of God mind you- outside of wedlock was pretty incredible and besides, a very unacceptable thing in society. But Mary was a young woman who knew God. She knew His voice when she heard it. So she was okay with the whole crazy idea. She trusted Him. She said, Okay, bring it on!
Then Joseph: the hardworking carpenter who had arranged to become engaged to Mary. In Matthew's gospel we read that he had a dream where an angel of God appeared and SPOKE to him telling him not to be worried about getting married to Mary (who was pregnant out of wedlock) but that he would be helping fulfill the plan of God. Joseph had secretly been planning to dissolve the engagement but when he heard this he changed his mind. His reaction was similar to Mary's. He obviously felt certain enough that it was the voice of God he had heard, because what did he do? He said, okay I'll do as you say. He went ahead and married his pregnant fiancee, in spite of the social stigma and consequences of the times. He trusted God.
Both Mary and Joseph heard the voice of God and recognized it.
How did they know it was the voice of God? And not some other entity? Or just a weird dream or something? I mean the whole things was totally crazy!
Let's go and see what Jesus says about hearing His voice.
John 10:27: My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. He doesn't say my sheep listen for my voice, he says they HEAR my voice. So.
Let's look quickly at what a sheep is like: many of you will have had, or do have sheep so do kind of know their character. Sheep love to be in their group. They feel stressed and afraid if they become separated or alone. They need leadership and they know it. Well-I am not sure what a sheep knows!! But at any rate it makes them feel safe. They know who is in charge and they know that voice and know that its the voice to obey. They want to obey it. It makes them feel safe. Sheep don't possess a lot of weapons of self-defense. They can run away, but not that fast, they stamp their feet, but it's not frightening. They need help. And the leader knows that the sheep need him to lead. We are actually looking at a relationship, a relationship that works. The sheep and the shepherd. Which we are often compared to. We are the sheep who need to hear the voice of the shepherd. He says we hear his voice.
Let's look at the times when God lets us hear His audible voice.
It seems that from the accounts we read about in the Bible, God spoke to His people in a clearly audible voice when they needed Him most, or when He most needed them to hear Him. When they were in a very serious situation or when big things were about to happen. In the case of Mary and Joseph, God was enacting His big plan of redemption that he had been working on since the very beginning of time, and which required the special involvement of His people. He spoke to them clearly, letting them know what was happening, and that they were an important part of it.
God speaks to His people when they find themselves without any recourse left, with nowhere to go. At the end of their tether so to speak. Many of us have had times in life when we finally reached the bottom or the end of our human resources, where we cried out to God, and He heard and spoke. King David writes about this in the Psalms, how he cries out to God in his distress, and how God answers him. You can read in the psalms HOW David did this, reminding God how hopelessly lost he was without God and how God is his only rescuer, his strength and his true salvation, and surrendering himself to God.
When my husband died in Switzerland, my whole world as I knew it came crashing down, spinning out of control. It was almost like a state of shock, and I didn't know how life was going to go on. My husband was lying in a hospital bed in a coma, and I had 2 small children at home. They were 3 and 6. We lived in a small village up on the side of the hill in the alps, about an hours drive by car to the university hospital in the city. I had gone every day for the previous few days once or even twice a day to the hospital, spent time consulting with the doctors, praying and reading the bible out loud to my husband as he lay comatose. I was frankly exhausted.
That day I knew just couldn't do it again, my children were in distress and I just couldn't leave them again with friends for the several hours it would take. They needed me. But my husband lay dying. I cried out to God where I stood in the kitchen and said "Lord I just can't do it"! At that moment, a clear voice said to me "Don't worry, I am with him." I can't say how the voice sounded, it just was. Immediately I felt relief! I knew then that the only One in the whole universe who needed to be there, was there, and I could relax.
And that night my husband died. The only day I wasn't there.
I am thankful to this day that Jesus told me He was with him. I believe He let me know so i wouldn't have to feel guilty, so that over the years I could focus on caring for the little girls without that extra burden of guilt. Not only that, perhaps my husband needed that time alone with God, without me there, to finish up what he needed to do before he left this earth. That is Love for you. Christ's love, not just in the act of the crucifixion, but in everyday occurrences. He let me hear His voice, because I needed it. He knows His sheep, and they know His voice. He knows they need Him.
Also, it seems God speaks to His people when they ask to hear His voice. I don't mean a vague, "Oh Lord let me hear your voice", but perhaps when we simply ask a direct question, and wait for Him to speak. I think so often when we pray, we just keep on talking and talking, as if it's the exercise of talking that is important. Maybe we should practice listening too.
In BC our church Mountainview Community church, was without a pastor and during the process of the search for a new one, a church member with a local business made a room available for specific prayer regarding the finding of a new pastor. I decided to take the time and go too to the room and pray.
I sat down on the comfy chair there, leaned back and after a moment simply said " Lord, what do you want us to do?". Then I just sat there and waited. I really didn't have anything else to say, we had had countless prayer meetings asking for God's guidance and leading. As clearly as could be, a "voice" came to me and said "I want my people to love me". Very simple want my people to love me. Matt 22:37-39. Jesus actually told his followers and all seekers who would ever come after, almost 2000 years ago, that this was what He wanted, what we needed to know and do. Why did I hear that voice that day? I think it was because I simply asked, and then just waited to hear the answer. I didn't have any idea what to do, or what God wanted for our church. So I just asked. That experience showed me again that following God is actually pretty simple. Like a sheep, we just need to pay attention and do what the shepherd says. Which is love Him with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbour as ourselves. He's actually told us many times what He wants.
So how do we hear God's voice today?
When we pray about something, the answer can come in various ways. Perhaps a sense of peace about a decision (George and I re the cheese plant), a friend who confirms something you had been thinking, or an inner impulse that leads you to the solution you had been praying for.
According to these few examples of Biblical events we have looked at today,
He has given us simple instructions: Mary and Joseph lived lives completely surrendered to God. They trusted Him completely, even so far as to going along with a preposterous plan. They knew His voice, because they were His sheep.
And Jesus Himself said simply: This is it: Love Me, Love your neighbour. With everything you have, everything you are. And what follows? He will be our Shepherd, and we will hear His voice. His voice of leadership, His voice of comfort, His voice of love. Amen
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
And may the JOY of the Lord, that we celebrate this Advent Sunday, be your strength as we go from this place. Amen
Today we are going to take a look at the life of John the Baptist. His parents, his ministry. And a bit of his eccentricities And we're going to do it a little differently, we're going to read through the passage of Luke.
And let it unfold as a "seven act play"
Before the opening scene, I want us to use our imagination. So I'd like to paint if you will the background of the set.. We start with John's parents. His father Zachariah, and his mother Elizabeth. it's in the hill country of Judah. The people of Israel are waiting, and expecting their messiah anytime.
Luke is the one who has undertaken to compile or take in account all that is going on. He is a doctor and he is investigating all these claims.
Vs 5 of Ch 1
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest name Zachariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
Now let's stop there, ... We can quickly read over that one little line. Of the daughters of Aaron. What we have here is the priestly line, they were direct descendants of the priestly line since the time of Moses.
They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 but they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced years.
Now let's stop here,.... As we read on, I want us all to look for the miracles that are happening as the rest of scripture unfolds. And it's very much like Abraham and Sarah. God is about to do something special, He is implicating Himself in the affairs of mankind.
Act one scene one
Vs 8 , Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 8 . according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.. 10, and the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 , And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the alter of incense. l 2 , Zachariah was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him.
Zachariah is at the temple doing his duties. He is a righteous man, but we have to realize, we look at the Bible now we see all the stories of angels, we tell each other these stories of Christmas what not, and we have a nostalgic, yet somewhat separated romantic , beautiful view of it. Our angels are usually kids with towels on their heads acting in plays and being cute and cuddly and harmless.
But for Zachariah, this was real, and it was terrifying. It's not every day that an angel appears to people! And I can pretty much guarantee, we would all have the same reaction if we had that encounter.
Let's continue on.
Vs 13 But The angel said to him, do not be afraid, Zachariah for your petition has been hurt, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 You Will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet and his mothers womb..
Stop! Mark that in your memory.
Filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mothers womb...
16. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17. It is he who will go as a forerunner before him in the spirit and the power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and disobedient to the attitudes of the righteous so as to make ready to people prepared for the Lord.
Vs 18. Zachariah said to the angel, how will I know this for certain? For I am an Old man and my wife is advanced in years.
Stop! Can't you feel for Zacharias? I sure can... Here's where he stumbled, he's afraid and he began to doubt and question the messenger, question the possibility. Not trust.
Lessons to be learned?
Fear and doubt and and and trusting heart can plague us. And they can hold back the blessings that God has for us.
19 . And the angel answered and said to him, I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in there proper time. 21. The people were waiting for Zachariah's, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22. When he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple, and he kept making signs to them and remained mute.
Fast forward, verse 36. We are purposely gloss over there foretelling of the birth of Jesus to Mary. Because this is about John, it's about the one that will point the way to Jesus. And tell the people. People get ready.
So basically it's The angel Gabriel again. Appeared to Mary and telling her about her Son. And the virgin birth, yet Another miracle. God is doing something, He is implicating himself in the affairs of men, implicating himself in the person of Jesus in a real historical context.
Then we have the Angel appearing to Mary
And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also can see the sun in our old age and she who is called Baron is now in our six month 37 for nothing will be impossible with God. 38.And Mary said, behold the bond slave of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word and to the Angel departed from her.
In contrast, rather than Mary being full of fear doubt and disbelief She is excepting, and trusting. She still had questions , How can that be when I know you're man'?
Mary visits Elizabeth, pay attention to the subtle miracles.
39. Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to the city of Judah, 40 and entered the house and Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary is greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Stop, notice how Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
Let's continue on and again Pay attention to the subtleties.
42 and she cried out with a loud voice and said, "blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 and how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me
Stop and think mother of my Lord?
57 . Now the time is come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to her son. 58 her neighbours and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed his great mercy toward her, and they were rejoicing with her. 59 and it happened on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. 60 but his mother answered and said, no indeed but he shall be called John. 61 and they said to her, there is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.. 62. And they made signs to his father, as to why he wanted him called. 63 and asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, "his name is John." And they were all astonished. 64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65
Notice their reaction
Fear came on all those living around them, and all these matters were being talked about and all the hill country of Judea. 66 all who heard them kept them in mind, saying, what then will this child turn out to be? For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.
67 and his father Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied saying. 68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people. 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant. 70 As He spoke by the mouth of His Holy prophets from of old. 71 . Salvation from our enemies, and from the hands of all who hate us. 72 to show mercy towards our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant. 73 . The oath which he swore to Abraham our father, 74 To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear. 75. In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. 76 . And you, child, will be called the prophet of the most high. Or you will go on before the Lord prepare his ways. 77 . To give his people the knowledge of salvation buy the forgiveness of their sins. 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the sunrise from on high will visit us, 79 to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
John grew up???, became strong and,??? Huh,???
80 . And the child continue to grow and become strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until the day of is public appearance to Israel...
Scene 6 .. Fast forward 30 years
Chapter 3 , Vs 7-9 . So we began saying to the crowd who were going out to be baptized by him, " you brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"
Stop! Why is John talking like that? You're not gonna win many converts speaking like that!
Matthew chapter 3 vs 7 clarifies who we was speaking to. That is the Pharisees, the religious leaders that were looking to stifle, and stop any opposition.
So just to clarify, John grows up become strong and full of the Holy Spirit. And then he moves out to the desert, dresses and camels here tunic and eats grasshoppers.... huh?
That was me I'd be saying, not exactly what I signed up for
Vs 8 . Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourself, "we have Abraham for our father,' . For I say to you that from the stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9 .indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
Then in verse 10 to 14 John gives them the To do and the Not a lot to do list...
Into crowds were questioning him, saying, and what shall we do?. 11 and he answered and said to Them, the man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and he has food is to do likewise. 12 and some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, teacher what shall we do? 13 and he said to them, collect no more than what you have been ordered to. 14 some soldiers were questioning him, saying, and what about us? What shall we do? And he answered them, do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages..
Then people begin to question him if he was the Messiah.
15 now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ. 16 . John answered and said to them all, as for me, I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the throng of his sandals, He Will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Then we see the Christ coming to John the Baptist to be baptized. Verse 21 and 22
Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized and while He was praying Heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in. bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, You are My beloved Son, in You 1 am well-pleased..
John points to Jesus messiah king of kings lord of lords
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Friends, technology is a wonderful thing. And in this technological age, we have developed many new and wonderful forms of communications. The Internet, the facebook and the twitter, iPhones and smartwatches, smarthouses, smart everythings.... But none, friends, nary a one can hold a candle to that greatest "old school" communication device
The bumper sticker.
It's subversive: You hardly see them. They worm their way into your subconscious and, before you know it.... Boom! You're aware that the kid in the car in front of you is an honor student at the local high school.....
And the bumper sticker is a great theological tool: You're minding your own business, driving down the road, when all of a sudden your under-brain fixes on the bumper sticker on the car in front of you spouting some profound theological message.
And all of a sudden the message hits you:
Hey.... That guy brakes for Jesus!
Well look at that.... That car is powered by Jesus!
A personal favorite: Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet him.
And here, friends, is my gentle segue into Advent, because some of the best of those bumper stickers have a very Advent-y message:
"In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned."
Or the slightly wittier: "Come the rapture, can I have your car?"
The return of Christ. The second coming. Apocalypticism. The End Times. Merry Christmas!
These are just the words that come to mind during this time of the Christmas season, aren't they? No?
A brood of vipers.
Chaff thrown into a raging fire.
These are the images that come to mind just before Christmas, right? No? Well, welcome to Advent.
You might think that the images of Christ's return and the images of the Christmas story have nothing in common and are even out of place during this time of the year. But think about it for a second. The two ideas share a very common theme...the advent of Christ into our world.
The first advent, or "coming" as the word means, was about Christ's birth and his coming to the earth. The second advent, is about Christ coming to the earth also to give his people and kingdom a new birth.
It makes all kinds of sense that we prepare our hearts and minds for this coming, this advent. Life's not all about trees and parcels and frankincense! This time of year is not just about getting all the gifts bought for our friends and family. It's about getting ready for this coming of Christ.
There's a comedy movie that came out a few years ago called Talladega Nights, in which Will Ferrell plays a racecar driver named Ricky Bobby.
The film is a spoof of NASCAR racing culture, and in one memorable scene, Ricky and his family are at the table getting ready to eat. And when he asks the blessing, he prays to "the little baby Jesus." But in the middle of his prayer in which he returns thanks for the bountiful harvest from dominoes pizza and taco bell, his wife interrupts him and tells him how she doesn't like the fact that he always prays to the baby Jesus. She says, "Jesus did grow up, you know? You don't always have to call him baby!" To which Ricky Bobby responds, "I like the Christmas Jesus best and I'm the one saying grace. When you say grace you can pray to grownup Jesus or teenage Jesus or bearded Jesus or whichever Jesus you like."
Now, while no one is ever going to call Talladega Nights a cinematic classic, there is an important message here: I think we all like the Christmas Jesus best. I mean, who among us doesn't prefer the tiny infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes lying away in some manger to the Jesus that comes near us riding on the clouds ushering in his kingdom, coming upon the world like a trap?
The story from Luke's gospel this morning is not a story of Christmas Jesus. It is a story of Advent Jesus. It is a story full of troubling and even confusing imagery. It's the Lucan parallel of the message from Mark we read last I was here. Not a stone left standing in the temple, "Keep calm and carry on...." remember?
There are certainly no cute little fuzzy sheep or shepherds watching their flocks by night in this lesson from Luke. Christmas trees are replaced by fig trees getting ready for the upcoming harvest.
The forecast for a white Christmas is replaced by roaring waves and ominous signs in the sky. The eager anticipation that comes on Christmas morning before we open our presents is replaced by fear and foreboding and fainting.
The first coming of Christ is much easier for us to imagine—a perfect child being born into an imperfect situation. We can wrap our minds around that kind of story. But the second coming, that's a much more difficult thing for us to embrace.
Our text from Luke this morning can be a little confusing and hard to understand. And there is a billion dollar industry behind writing fiction around these words of Jesus and theorizing about the specifics of his return. It is easy to get caught up into this craze of knowing when this time will be and plotting out a timeline for the return of grown-up Jesus.
But there's no real need to worry about these things. If you remember, Jesus tells us that even the angels in heaven don't know when the second coming will be. Jesus says that he doesn't even know, but that only the Father knows.
And as we discussed in my last message, we don't really need to concern ourselves too much with the confusing part(s) of this lesson. Jesus left us explicitly clear instructions about the things we need to worry about (you remember: kindness, love, generosity) and also explicitly told us that we weren't meant to know or to worry about the end times. And so his words about the subject of those end times are more poetic; more obtuse. And friends, if you don't understand every sentence in the Bible, good...that means you are human.
I think the main thing we should try to remember about this story this morning comes in verse 34. "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap."
Mark Twain once said that it wasn't the parts of the Bible that he didn't understand that bothered him, but the parts that he understood all too clearly.
It isn't those places in the Bible that confuse me that I worry about. It's the places in the Bible that I understand all too well that I hold with me: love your neighbor, turn the other cheek, come... follow me. Those are the sections I worry about.
And still, Jesus is coming. So we watch, and wait. And the waiting is hard, sometimes, isn't it?
Advent isn't about Christmas, Advent isn't about judgment. Advent is about being prepared and then waiting...And perhaps waiting for a long, long time. Can you think of anything less like the world we live in?
Our modern world would have us rush right out to deck our halls and jingle our bells. And here's the hardest things we are asked to do: During this time of wrapping paper and shopping lists, Santa Claus and black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, we're told that we need to stop.
We're told we need to stop and be still and quiet and to seek the Lord who once came to us as a baby. Christmas has exploded all around us, but in the midst of that, we wait. In our church, and out in the world we're are singing the carols and planning our big plans for Christmas.
And there's nothing wrong with that. As long as we remember that we are waiting. We wait because there is something far more important than wrapping, and tinsel and colored lights.
God came to Abraham and told him that he would be the father of a great nation and he waited.
God promised his children that they would have a land of their own and they waited.
The prophets told the Jews that the Messiah would come and
The archangel told Mary she would bear the Son of God and she waited.
Christ told us that he would come again and we wait.
That is what this season is all about. It reminds us that we are waiting. It reminds us what we are waiting on. It reminds us why we are waiting.
Advent hymns and readings and lessons are about this waiting and this preparation. They tell us that this is the time for us to wake up from our sleep. They tell us that, though the night is deep and dark, the day is drawing nearer.
And if we are to live in the light — and Advent is all about the coming of the light — then we are need to put aside all the potential for darkness that our modern world tries to force upon us.
It is time for us to wake up, and stay awake, as we wait for our coming Christ! It's time to be ready!
And all of this reminds me of another bumper sticker I saw this week (and the impetus behind this message).
I was stuck in Montreal traffic on my way to a gig. I was sitting, grumbling on Autoroute 40, when a small car merged directly in front of mine on the highway. On its bumper was a sticker I had to read twice. Fortunately... I had the time.
Despite the fact that it was hard to understand at first, it became remarkably clear and simple to me once I just looked at what it said.
It read: "Jesus is coming soon!" And underneath were the letters R U and an E? Rue, I thought? This fellow rues the fact that Jesus is coming?
Then of course, I noticed that the E was red. Which, in typical bumper-sticker vernacular, means R, U, red-E.
Are you ready?
Jesus is coming. Are you ready?
Gotta love those bumper stickers.
So, are we? Are we ready for the return of Jesus? I'm not just talking here about the time we celebrate baby Jesus, Christmas Jesus.
I am talking about grown-up Jesus, Advent Jesus? Are you ready for his return? We don't know when, but we know how to wait: By helping make the world the Kingdom he wants it to be.
Come, thou Long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, (Slow) let us find our rest in thee.
Amen and Amen.
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