Sermon Options: December 10, 2017

November 4th, 2017

A Voice in the Wilderness

Isaiah 40:1-11

Speak tenderly? Not John! Isaiah might have expected it, but the John who quotes this passage, the John of tradition, the John who dressed in camel's hair and ate a weird diet, did anything but speak tenderly. Here in this tender season of preparation, John seems harsh and discordant. But here the voice of the prophet is less confrontational and more comforting, helping to prepare our hearts and the way of the Lord.

I. God's Coming in Christ Brings Comfort

This is the season of comfort. God does comfort us. Dr. Barry Bailey, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, was asked to hold the funeral for rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. Part of the tragedy was that life for Stevie Ray Vaughan had just turned good. He had been clean and sober for the last couple of years, and his career was on the rise. He had just finished an album with his brother.

Bailey says the most moving part of the service was when Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne asked if they could sing a special song at the conclusion. It was impromptu and a cappella. They chose to sing "Amazing Grace." Imagine, there was Stevie Wonder, a man born blind, singing, "I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see." Those are words of faith, hope, grace, and resurrection. They sang of and found comfort and hope through the gift of God's presence. Why? Because God brings comfort to God's people.

II. God's Coming in Christ Reveals Glory

God's comfort comes as God is revealed in Christ.

One day while going through the radio stations, I heard Garth Brooks's song, "I've Got Friends in Low Places." I'd heard it before, but it suddenly dawned on me that those words could have been Jesus' words. That's what the Incarnation is all about. Jesus does have friends in low places. That's what got him in trouble. He hung out with outcasts, winebibbers, people who were blind or deaf, people who had leprosy; sinners of every shape and color. Jesus does have friends in low places: us.

And it is in the very nature of who Jesus calls friends that the glory of God is revealed. There is comfort because the Word became flesh. God stepped down and became one of us.

III. God's Coming in Christ Demonstrates Power

In that stepping down, God revealed true power. Advent and Christmas are about God's heart being wrapped in swaddling clothes and the frailty of human flesh to show us God's might. We find God's might revealed not in earth-shaking thunder, not in mountains being leveled, but in a baby born in Bethlehem and in arms outstretched in love. We see God's might as God seeks us out and shows divine love. We see God's might in God's power and desire to forgive. One evening while putting her daughter to bed, a mother asked what it was like to be four years old. The little girl responded, "It's special." Mom smiled and asked her why.

The little girl looked at her mother in disbelief, doubting her mother's sincerity, than smiled and said, "Because I know my mommy loves me." The voice in the wilderness reminds us that God became one of us. God's might and glory are revealed in a humble birth, a blood-stained cross, and an empty tomb, signs of God's great love for us. Life becomes special and we find comfort. (Billy D. Strayhorn)

Are You Ready for Christmas?

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Are you ready for Christmas? That's the question you'll probably be asked a hundred times during this season. I think it's a good question. We Christians can take it in its purest sense: "Are you ready for the coming of Christ?" After all, Christ's coming is at the center of our celebration. And Christ's coming is the determining factor in how we live our lives—not only his first coming, but his second coming. That's Peter's message to his church: "Are you ready for the coming of Christ?"

Peter makes at least three observations about Christ's coming that will ready us for this Advent season.

I. God's Watch Keeps a Different Time

God doesn't operate according to Timexes, Casios, or Swiss-made chronometers. God made time and stands outside it. That's why a thousand years is as one day and one day is as a thousand years.

"How long 'til Christmas?" ask the little voices beginning about this time of the year. "I wish Christmas would hurry up and get here!" As a child, I remember it seemed like a thousand years between Thanksgiving and Christmas! God works according to his watch, not ours. When Jesus arrived in a stable, the timing even caught many of those looking for a Messiah off guard. If he'd arrived when Sennacherib had surrounded Jerusalem seven hundred years earlier, God's timing might be more easily understood. If he'd arrived when Nebuchadnezzar besieged the city, while the people were crying for a deliverer, God's timing might be more easily understood. But God's watch runs on a different time. Jesus' advent occurred at the precise time God decided because God's watch keeps the best time of all.

His second coming will be according to that same timing. Not when we expect or when we deem appropriate, but when God's watch sounds the hour, Jesus will come again.

II. God's Tendency Is Patience

While many of us long for a hurried-up Christmas, we all know that, officially at least, Christmas doesn't come until December 25. Our tendency is impatience. Whether it's government bureaucracy or church committees, the checkout lane or the interstate, we are an impatient people.

But God is a God of patience. While many of us might like to see Christ's second coming today, God waits, providing an opportunity for more people to respond to his love. Even in Jesus' life, God displayed patience. He allowed Jesus to be born as a baby, waiting thirty years for him to become the man we came to know as the Christ. God's tendency is patience.

III. God's Surprise Entrance Calls for Readiness

Peter warns that the second coming will be a surprise. Like a thief in the night, Christ will come as an unexpected and, in many cases, uninvited Savior. Just like his birth, Jesus' next coming will catch many by surprise. While in minor tones we call, "O come, O come, Emmanuel," when he comes, his arrival will still be unexpected. For that reason, Peter says, as we anxiously await his arrival, our lives ought to be holy, godly, spotless specimens of purity. The ethics of Christianity are based on this eschatological surprise. Peter says we ought to live today as if it were our last because it might be! Every day is a constant recommitment to holy living because today just might be the Day. During this season when someone asks you, "Are you ready for Christmas?" take the question in its fullest sense: "Are you ready for the coming of Christ?" (H. Blake Harwell)

An Advent Carol

Mark 1:1-8

"Old Marley was as dead as a doornail...." You remember that Charles Dickens begins A Christmas Carol in this way. And why?

Because, as a recent video version intones, if that fact if not distinctly understood, "nothing wonderful can come of this story I am going to relate." Dickens gives us what we need to know at the very beginning so that we will understand—even better than Scrooge—what's really going on here. Because we do, we can appreciate just how wonderful are the things that do happen. Think of today's text in much the same way. Mark is telling us what we need to know, what we must understand, and distinctly—that Jesus is the Son of God—so that we can really understand, even better than the disciples and John the fire-breathing baptizer, what wonderful things are happening in the story.

I. Old Words, New Words

Part of the wonder of the story of Jesus is how the ancient message is made new. When the people went streaming into the desert to hear John, it wasn't for the novelty of the message that they went. They had heard the words before. Rather, they went for the power of old words made new. John's presence and preaching made the ancient message fresh. Jesus, of course, will go that one better and make the ancient message flesh.

John's message of expectation was powerful, and precisely because of its familiarity, Jesus' incarnation was more powerful still. Because, in him, expectation gives way to realization.

II. Old Place, New Place

The wilderness, of all places, is where the gospel of Jesus Christ begins. That new message is rooted in the old message that God's delivering of his people always begins is the wilderness.

God's speaking is heard in the wilderness. Remember how Moses heard the call? God's saving is experienced in the wilderness. Remember how the children of Israel escaped Pharaoh in the wilderness? God's molding is accomplished in the wilderness. Remember how the saved children were disciplined and shaped in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land?

The wilderness is where the redemption of enslaved Israel took root and flourished. As God now begins to save all his children, this old venue is the new context for salvation. And whether the wilderness is literal or metaphorical, the truth remains: God's call can be heard in the wilderness. God's salvation can be experienced in the wilderness. God's people are to be formed in the wilderness.

III. Old Message, New Message

The sermon is an old one—preached by John and by prophets before him. Preached by Jesus, too, and by all who followed him. Repent and believe! But as old as the message is, it is ever new, for each time it is preached, according to John's testimony, there comes one after to baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself attends the preaching of the old word and brings it to reality in new ways. And so, as the old hymn says, does the "old, old story" become the "new, new song."

Mark tells us what we need to know right from the beginning so that wondrous things can come from our telling and retelling of the story. Reading the title is, then, like having read the story's last page. The beginning, then, is the end, and the end just the beginning. (Thomas R. Steagald)

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