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Sunday sermon 1 December 2013 (Advent 1) – Hope

(The Word Isaiah saw – and hope today)

Readings:

Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matt 24:36-44

Isa 2:1  This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: Isa 2:2  In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Isa 2:3  Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isa 2:4  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isa 2:5  Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Rom 13:11  And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Rom 13:12  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Rom 13:13  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rom 13:14  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Mat 24:36  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Mat 24:37  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:38  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; Mat 24:39  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:40  Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:41  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:42  “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Mat 24:43  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 

Sermon.

Mat 24:43  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.

We’ve been burgled twice in my life – that we know about. Who knows what else has walked out of our house over the years. During times when we’ve opened our home to waifs and strays – sadly other things have walked too. That has not changed our commitment to care.

When we were first married – 30 years ago next year – thieves got in to our place while we slept – and came into our bedroom and removed things. Thankfully we slept. In Wellington people got into the house in the middle of the day – and carried quantities of things out. No one questioned them somehow – or even noticed. The funny thing was that we didn’t notice either when we got home – we’d been sitting the lounge room for a while and then our children came in  – and wanted to know where the TV was.

The unexpected is exactly that. SURPRISE! And even if you plan a surprise party – someone lets the cat out of the bag. If you’re lucky – the person will not pick up on the signs. Hindsight though is a wonderful gift. You realise afterwards why people were behaving differently.

Advent is about waiting – about being prepared – it is a future looking time. It’s not a time of repentance like Lent. Lent is like spring cleaning – spiritually speaking.

Advent is about openness and anticipation.

And this week we focus on hope.

And we turn to the passage from Isaiah to get a sense of how powerful hope is.

Here it is again: Isa 2:4  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

What is even more powerful is how this prophecy is introduced: Isa 2:1  This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: (NIV)

The NIV short changes us here. Listen to the more literal New Revised Standard Version: Isa 2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. (NRSV)

How do you “see” a word? There was no text message or twitter option – we can see words today more readily. In fact some people exist in a word of written conversation – and don’t actually know what a telephone is for. You have to remind kids that they can phone people for free!

Lots of images are visual words. The doves you have today. The Christmas tree that we will hang them on. The anticipation portrayed in the wrapping paper that hides our Christmas presents.

So too body language – it speaks.

But Isaiah sees a word. There is a visionary sense here. This is Isaiah 2.

When you read chapter one – it’s not a pretty picture. It begins like this: Isa 1:2  Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. Isa 1:3  The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Isa 1:4  Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

Bribery, violence, unfaithfulness, wretchedness, terrible treatment of the poor. And the prophet says this: Isa 1:15  When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; Isa 1:16  wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, Isa 1:17  learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

There are glimpses of redemption though. The very next verse says this: Isa 1:18  “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

But then you read these words: Isa 1:21  See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her— but now murderers! Isa 1:22  Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. Isa 1:23  Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. Isa 1:24  Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies.

It’s much like today – people far from God – violence and rebellion.

But he says a new word: Isa 2:4  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

But who will believe this:

This word he sees – is on the wall to be seen today. Can you tell me where this is?

UN Isaiah wall reduced

Who can believe that? Isaiah’s words are carved into the wall across from the United Nations building. Who believes these words across the street in the General Assembly as they debate sanctions against Iran, as they wring their hands over 100,000 killed in Syria, and chastise the United States for inhumane treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo?  (Barbara Lundblad – commentary on Isaiah 2:1-15)

That’s the thing about hope. It’s not obvious – but you can still see it. In the Christian scriptures Hebrews put it like this when speaking of faith: Heb 11:1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)

(NIV84)  Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

(NLT)  Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

  • Hope today – is symbolised by the lighting of the first Advent candle.
  • It is a dream we have – that can become a reality
  • It can change how we cope with huge challenges and struggles – the knowledge that we too can see a Word – the Word Jesus coming into the world as a baby to bring hope
  • Hope galvanises us and strengthens us in the face of death itself. After all that is our scariest certainty – I was reminded of that again this week when we went to Rosedale. There were fewer in the hospital section than last month. Some were out, but the helper said to me: “we’ve lost a few since you were last here”. Makes going there even more significant really.

People in war torn Syria, and in every other conflict zone – have a greater need to see a word of hope.

Walter Brueggeman makes the connection:  in Texts for Preaching: The vision of Isaiah is “an act of imagination that looks beyond present dismay through the eyes of God, to see what will be that is not yet.  That is the function of promise (and therefore of Advent) in the life of faith.  Under promise, in Advent, faith sees what will be that is not yet.”  (A lectionary commentary based on the NRSV – Year A.)

So if this about hope – then where is the solution? Do we just hang in there until Jesus comes and sorts it all out?

No – our very life is found in the one who gives hope.

Even for Isaiah – 8 centuries before Jesus (and like Micah) they knew the source:

Isa 2:2  In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Isa 2:3  Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Life comes from where God is – in their case it would be Zion. For us it is Christ – we turn to Him who is the living Word of God – light of the world – Good shepherd – bread of life – giving living water.

Isaiah says in verse 3:

He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

We have Jesus the Word of God – we have the Word of God in the Scriptures – He speaks through them to us.

We too are to walk in his paths. Living and walking are the same – remember the first Christians were called people of “The Way”.

While we wait – always ready in case like a thief in the night it all happens – we have a life to walk! Note that we don’t sit around. Listen to these New Testament verses:

Rom_6:4  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

2Co_5:7  for we walk by faith, not by sight.

2Jn_1:6  And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning–you must walk in it.

And my favourite (from last week): 1Jn_1:7  but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

And hope is part of our walk. The most famous passage and one of my favourites is this one:

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom 5:2  through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

The future hope as come to us already in Christ, and through His indwelling Holy Spirit. For this reason Peter writes these important words on our being “good news” or evangelists today: But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give and answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for for the hope that you have! (1 Peter 3:15)

And of course Paul, talking of the mystery of the Gospel which he passionately lived for and eventually died for says this: “… the glorious riches of this mystery: Christ in you the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

May we be living words – living letters, to use Paul’s term – words that people can see – as they see the living Word Christ in us – and as we extend His presence and hope in our world.

Amen!

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Sunday sermon 23 December – Life and Light

Reading  –  John 1:1-14

1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1:2  He was with God in the beginning.

1:3  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

1:4  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

1:5  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

1:6  There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.

1:7  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.

1:8  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

1:9  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

1:10  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

1:11  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

1:13  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

1:14  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Reflection (Following the Nine Lessons and Carols today)

So we’ve heard the story. How people turned from God and the world went haywire. Wrong. Bad. How God called a man called Abraham to be his man and how he had a plan. How God planned to rescue the world and foretold of the coming of a child. How the baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  How heaven opened – through messages, angels and dreams – and God got the attention of shepherds and stargazers. How King Herod was rattled by this coming King – whom the three magi came to worship and give gifts to. It’s a broad sweep of God’s story of his dealings with people.

And finally we heard this amazing passage from John called the prologue to John’s Gospel.

Both St Augustine and the great preacher Chrysostom are reported as having said: “It is beyond the power of man to speak as John does in his prologue.” John Calvin also wrote of this passage – the prologue or beginning of John’s Gospel, “… it says much more than our minds can take in.” So we look at this passage with some trepidation today.

The story of the Incarnate Word is presented  in simple and powerful phrases—” The light shines in the darkness,” “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us ,” “full of grace and truth,” “We have seen his glory”,  and most significantly: some “did not receive Him,” but others were “born of God.”

John explains that this is all about the WORD of God. Who is this Word of God? No we are not referring to the Bible here, but to Jesus. How Jesus was God – creating all things with God – and how he came bring two things really:

  1. Light
  2. Life

The opposites are

  1. Darkness
  2. Death

The coming of Jesus is all about counteracting darkness and death with light and life. About the antidote.

And the choice is simple.

  • Walk in the light!
  • Choose life!

At one level people don’t get it. John writes:

John 1:5  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (NIV84)

They could not see it! The also could not recognize him – perhaps because they were looking for the wrong thing. Although this verse can also be translated like this:

(NIV)  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it, which is encouraging when the darkness of evil and sin seems to have an upper hand!

Sadly many rejected what God did. Listen again to verses 10 and 11:

John 1:10  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  John 1:11  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

ON THE PLUS SIDE LISTEN TO THIS

John 1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—John 1:13  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The new family of God begins through faith in Jesus

  • Believing in Him
  • Receiving Him

There is no better time than this time – Christmas – to welcome Jesus into our lives.

“No room in the inn” is not the best response.

“Come Lord – and live in us” – is better.

In me. I receive you and I believe you are who you claim to be. The one though whom we become children of God – born of the spirit – born of God!

Jesus came to introduce us to God again! To help us begin again.

And to bring us into His family! Are you part of the family? Would you like to be?

Someone once said “the benefits are out of this world”. They are also right now!

Amen.