Sermon Options: December 27, 2020

November 7th, 2020

ISAIAH 61:10-62:3

Have you been able to hear the voice of God in all the din of Christmas preparation and celebration? This is such a busy season that we can easily lose sight of its central purpose. Perhaps you encountered the Lord in Christmas worship and great music such as Handel's Messiah.

The prophet Isaiah was concerned about the silence of God. There was a time when God did not appear to be answering prayers on behalf of his people. Isaiah refused to keep silent until the Lord saved Jerusalem: "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent" (62:1).

I. A Hymn of Praise and Thanksgiving (61:10-11)

When in doubt, pray and worship. Look for something for which to be grateful. Focus not on what you have lost but on what you have left. Isaiah celebrated "the garments of salvation" and "the robe of righteousness." As God renews the earth in springtime, so he will revive his people—righteousness and praise will " spring up." The new year at hand provides us a fresh opportunity to praise and serve the Lord. Approach it in a spirit of gratitude.

II. Vindication and a New Name (62:2)

The prophet prays that God will vindicate his people, Zion, in a highly visible way. The nations (Gentiles) shall see it and know that Yahweh is God. He promises that God will give Jerusalem a new name (character) much as God changed the names and nature of Abram and Jacob. They will have a change of character. John Wesley defended his movement by pointing out that people were being changed: "The habitual drunkard is now temperate." The strongest argument for Christianity is transformed people.

III. We Are the Lord's Crown (62:3)

The Babylonian god Marduk was pictured as wearing the walls of a city as a crown or tiara. Here Isaiah portrays Jerusalem as "a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD." This means that we are precious to the Lord. We have worth and God values us. Jesus bore the cross and wears the church like a crown of triumph. Even when God seems silent, we can praise and worship him. In due course God will vindicate us and change our character into the likeness of his dear Son. Never forget, you are precious in the Lord's sight. In the stressful time of Christmas past, let us worship the Lord and enter the new year unafraid. (Alton H. McEachern)


Legalism was the enemy of grace in the New Testament, and it was Paul's target in the letter to the Galatians. Paul's gospel of grace indicated that everything necessary for our salvation had already been done. All we have to do is to accept it by faith. For many, the offer of grace was too risky. They wanted something more tangible so they added some requirements. When anything is added to faith, the result is not grace but legalism.

Legalism has returned in our day with a vengeance. Requirements to be saved, requirements to remain saved, and requirements to demonstrate we are saved are being suggested by many. Understanding the biblical concept of grace will help us move beyond legalism.

In our text, Paul compared legalism to the gospel of grace at two points.

I. What the Law Couldn't Do, God Did (4:4-5a)

The redemption provided by Jesus (v. 5a ) stands in contrast to the bondage experienced under the law (v. 3). The word redeem means "to purchase a slave with a view to his freedom." The law provided not freedom but bondage. What the law couldn't do, God did in Jesus Christ.

How was Jesus able to provide this redemption? Paul explained in verse 4. Jesus was God's Son and at the same time was "born of a woman." To speak of Jesus as the Son of God implied a unique relationship between him and God. It is a reference to his divinity. To speak of Jesus as being "born of a woman" implied a relationship with us as human beings. It is a reference to his humanity.

This dual relationship enables Jesus to redeem us. If Jesus was less than God or different from us, he would not be able to save us. Because he was both man and God, he is able with one hand to gather all humanity under his care and with the other to usher us into the presence of God. As one of the ancient fathers put it, "he became what we are so that we may become what He is."

II. What the Law Couldn't Give, God Gave (4:5b-7)

The resources provided by Jesus (v. 7) stand in contrast to the limitations experienced under the law (v. 2). The word heir refers to "a person who will receive an inheritance." An inheritance is not earned or necessarily deserved. It is a gift to be received. The benefits of the law are determined by our abilities; the benefits of grace are determined by God's abundance. How do we become heirs of God? Paul explained in verse 5b. Through Jesus Christ, we have been adopted into God's forever family. This adoption is not the common property of all people by creation. Instead, it is a gift given to those who identify with Jesus Christ. This adoption is not determined by our merit. Instead, it is a gift of grace.

At the turn of the century, Billy accompanied his daddy into town on Saturday to pick up the necessary supplies at the dry goods store. He stood patiently at the door as his father gathered the supplies. As his dad paid the bill, the proprietor of the store spoke to Billy, "Son, I am impressed with your patience as your dad did the shopping. As a reward, why don't you reach your hand into this candy jar and get a handful of candy." Billy didn't move. After a minute, the proprietor reached his hand into the jar and gave Billy more candy than he could hold in both hands. As they boarded the wagon to head back home, Billy's father expressed surprise at his son's hesitancy. "I've never known you to be bashful," the father said. Billy explained, "I wasn't being bashful, Dad. I just knew that his hands were bigger than my hands!"

When we follow the pathway of legalism, we will have only what we can hold in our own hands. By contrast, when we follow the pattern of grace, we will have what God can hold in his hands. And God's hands are bigger than our hands! (Brian Harbour)

LUKE 2:22-40

In the writings of Augustine, an early church doctor of souls, time is conceived as consisting through a threefold extension of the human soul: (1) time past is time present in memory; (2) time present is time present in attention; (3) time future is time present in expectation. For Augustine, the soul is formed through the dynamics between memory, attention, and expectation that constitute the time of the soul.

In this Gospel passage, there are two "soulful" models, Simeon and Anna, who teach us how to remember, attend, and expect the presence of Christ.

I. We Live in Memory

Anna of Asher, widowed and childless, is the only woman in the Gospel called "a prophet." She, like Simeon, is looking for the One who would redeem Jerusalem. This looking forward is rooted in a backward vision, a memory of the promises of God. Part of Anna's memory would have been of the blood flowing in the streets of Jerusalem when the city and its Temple were conquered by Rome. Anna would have seen hundreds of youths and men die trying to prevent the military standards of Rome, the golden eagles, from being placed inside the Temple walls. To finally see the One who would redeem his people from this oppression as well as from their sins would have been a soul-making vision. Anna, of the tribe of Asher (meaning "happy"), has no children of her own to remember. Her memory of the God who redeemed the slaves in Egypt becomes the prophecy of a child who will be called Redeemer. From the past will come the future, and Anna blesses God for this fulfilling of the mystery.

II. We Live in Attention

Jewish law required two witnesses to establish the truth of an event, and Luke's Gospel skillfully weaves this "twoness" of truth into a prophetic narrative of Simeon and Anna. Here are two who have spent years in attention to the daily revelations of God and Israel's particular task of prayer and praise. Simeon's prayer, the Nunc Dimittis (named after the first two words in the Latin translation), has remained at the center of the church's worshiping life for nearly two thousand years.

Its inspired speech is often set in an anthem or used as the benediction. This is a powerful expression of life and liturgy lived "in attention" to God instead of "in tension" or "inattention." This is also a poignant request of a faithful watcher of God to be allowed to be released from a lifelong watch. A congregation that used this prayer many times as the concluding benediction of worship also experienced this prayer in another setting. When a minister or church member would reach the end of a hospital visit with someone who was gravely ill, dying, this prayer became a benediction to the parting. It spoke to the reality of death and the promise of another gathering. Here is a means to both bless and express faith with the sound of good-bye, God be with you. Above all, Simeon's prayer is a soul-making witness to the living God.

III. We Live in Expectation

What is the best that can be expected over time? This beginning of the story of Jesus has signs of its end clearly marked for the Christian who hears and believes. In memory, in attention, in expectation, the Christian church recites its faith: "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." But the Word precedes these and turns this season into a soul-making time, "Christ is born."

In memory, attention, and expectation, the community of Christ continues to pray, fast, prophesy, and praise God while experiencing the Holy Spirit and watching for the presence of the One who is "set for the fall and rising of many." This is the season of soul-making: the hallowing of human time with the radical interruption of the Incarnation. Like Augustine, our very souls depend on this fulfilling of time. (Heather Murray Elkins)

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