Sermon Options: December 16, 2018

November 12th, 2018

In The Land of the Living

Isaiah 12:2-6

The psalmist told us something important about the biblical faith when he said, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” Ps. 27:13) .

Isaiah said, “The Lord has become my salvation.” We have become accustomed to thinking of salvation primarily in terms of our hope for heaven beyond this life. As important as that is to us, it would be a mistake to limit our understanding of salvation to that hope. When Isaiah spoke of salvation, he was talking about something that can happen “in the land of the living.”

I. Salvation Takes Place in the Land of the Living

Throughout the Old Testament, God is thought of as a God who saves. Israel’s earliest experiences of salvation were things that God did in Israel’s history. Notice the places in the Bible in which we find the words, “The Lord has become my salvation.” In Exodus 15:2, they are part of a hymn of praise which Israel raised after God had rescued them from Pharaoh’s army. In Psalm 118:14, they are parts of a ritual of thanksgiving to God for help in some very real crisis. In our passage from Isaiah, they are part of a psalm of thanks that follows a prophecy of the coming of a messiah to bring his people home from exile. These all have to do with saving works of God “in the land of the living.”

In verse 3, there is a shift from past and present tense to the future tense. Isaiah says, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Remembering enables us to anticipate the saving work that God will do in the future.

II. What Kind of Salvation Do We Need in the Land of the Living?

What are the great real needs of our world today? Do we need to be saved from war and oppression, from ecological disaster, from moral disintegration? What are the greatest real needs in your life? From what do you and those whom you love need most to be saved?

Is it inappropriate to turn to the God who “has become our salvation” for help with these needs? Isaiah would not have thought so.

III. The Savior Comes to Bring Us Salvation in the Land of the Living

During the season of Advent, Christians look forward to the coming of one whose name, Jesus, means “The Lord is salvation.” Should we not expect that coming to have something to do with the real needs we experience in the land of the living? All three of the scripture passages in which we found the words, “The Lord has become my salvation,” are passages that the early Christian community used to interpret the saving work of Christ.

That One who came and lived and worked among us in Jesus still comes and lives and works among us today. No, God does not often work through miraculous cures and spectacular interventions. But in many subtle ways, God is at work among us. When we see those saving works that were done through Jesus being done again, we can recognize God’s saving work going on among us and respond.

In Philippians 4:6, Paul invites us to “let your requests be made known to God.” This is not just an invitation to pray prayers that are like letters to Santa Claus. It is, rather, an invitation to take seriously the biblical belief that God is at work to bring about significant forms of salvation here “in the land of the living.” (Jim Killen)

What If or Why Not?

Philippians 4:4-7

Worry changes nothing but the worrier, often to the negative extent that our creative juices are strangled and life is robbed of its vitality. A. J. Cronin states that only 8 percent of our worries are legitimate, and the great majority of our concerns never occur! Emerson said it best:

Some of your hurts you have cured.
And the sharpest you still have survived,
But what torment of grief you’ve endured
From evils that never arrived.
(From “Needless Worry” by Ralph Waldo Emerson)

From a positive viewpoint, worry is a distortion of our capacity to care. The irresponsible seldom worry. From a negative viewpoint, worry is a mild form of agnosticism. Since we feel God will not or cannot act, we feel we have to take matters in our own hands and play the destructive game of “What if?”

I. What If?—A Sit-Down Anxiety

This game of “What if?” is a wringing-of-the-hands, do-nothing, negative and inactive approach to life. We worry about the past, which ignores God’s ability to forgive. We worry about the future, which ignores God’s ability to teach us from our mistakes. We worry about people’s judgment of us, which stems from our inability to love ourselves as God does. We worry about our health, which doubts God’s ability to care for his own. We worry about finances, which ignores God’s ability to give us the wisdom and discipline to manage, especially when we tithe. And we worry about dozens of other things.

Lloyd Ogilvie wrote a book entitled Let God Love You! This may be our greatest need. The word “anxious” Phil. 4:6) means to “divide or share.” When we let God love us, we no longer work against ourselves and begin to work with God. We also take the vital step in replacing a sit-down anxiety with a get-up audacity.

II. Why Not?—A Get-Up Audacity

A get-up audacity is an active, positive lifestyle that dares God to keep his promises and reaches out into every new day in the full assurance that he will. It looks at a situation not with a foreboding “What if?” but with a daring “Why not?”

I love the story of the first grader feeling the pains of leaving his beloved teacher upon being promoted to the second grade. In saying a tearful good-bye to his mentor, he said, “I wish you knew enough to teach me in the second grade.”

One point of that story is that it is time to move on. Paul would agree. “Don’t be anxious,” he said, “do something—rejoice in God’s goodness, show gentleness to everyone, and pray persistently with petition and thanksgiving” (vv. 4-6). Don’t sit and fret. Get up and do.

Norman Cousins, in his book The Anatomy of an Illness, tells how he faced an “incurable,” crippling disease and literally laughed himself back to health. Instead of giving in, he got up! We can as well when we put God first, seek his kingdom (Matt. 6:33-34), and remember that what God guides, God provides. As we do, we exchange the negative, “What if?” to a positive “Why not?” and begin to enjoy the abundant life. “And how!”

III. And How!—the Abundant Life

The Christian with a get-up-and-go audacity enjoys and expects the serendipitous surprises of God. He or she expects God to work. When a situation seems hopeless, the Christian is praying, working, believing, expecting. The believer knows that “surprise” is God’s other name and that God will strengthen us in the problem, teach us from the problem, or God may remove the problem altogether.

Arnold Lemerand, on November 1, 1980, while taking a daily stroll, witnessed a tragedy at a construction site. A massive cast-iron pipe dislodged and rolled onto five-year-old Phillip Toth, suffocating him. With no one else around, Lemerand instinctively did what he could. He lifted the 1800-pound pipe off Toth’s head, saving his life. Later on, neither he nor his sons could budge the pipe. Not bad for a fifty-six-year-old who had recently suffered a heart attack and was told by his doctor not to lift anything heavy. I am not saying that God will use you to perform a miracle, but I’m not saying he won’t either.

The abundant-life-living Christian expects God’s surprises, is sustained by his power, and is kept by his love. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” Phil. 4:7) . The word guard paints the image of a faithful sentinel on duty. In this Christmas season, often haunted by the worry of unfulfilled expectations and loneliness, let God hold you guarded and secure in love. Why not? (Gary L. Carver)

And You Call This Good News?

Luke 3:7-18

We think of Advent as a happy time. This is the season when our attention is drawn to the most significant and wondrous event in the history of humanity—the inbreaking of the Savior into a world that has lost its way. We look upon Jesus as the hope and the healer of our globe which is sick unto death. And so we see Christmas as the beginning of a new age, an age of health and harmony that will come in fullness when our Lord returns. The message of the coming of Christ is indeed good news.

Or is it? It is really a matter of perspective. If we look at the news of the coming of the Savior from a certain angle it is deplorable news. John the Baptist makes that distressingly clear. John was an odd character, firmly embedded in the prophetic tradition. His dress and habits were strange, symbolizing his rejection of corrupt society. Both his lifestyle and his message shouted to the world that big changes were on the horizon. No longer could people rest easy with the status quo. Rather, John warned them that the coming of the Promised One would sweep over them like a raging fire in a bone-dry forest.

John’s announcement of the Messiah’s coming fell softly on no one’s ears. He certainly didn’t try to lull his audience into believing that they could welcome the Savior with an unreflective enthusiasm, like a child who looks forward to Santa Claus. John the Baptist’s words were troubling. The harshness of his tone made it evident that he had no patience with those who would require coaxing or cajoling before they would be receptive to his message. John spoke with brutal frankness.

The great church reformer Martin Luther once stated, “The most consistent outcome of the Word of God is that on its account the world is put into an uproar.” Personally, I would not have wanted to bear the brunt of John’s preaching. In the very first verses of our text, we find John apparently lashing out at his audience, calling them names. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

Evidently John stuck such an undignified label on them because he anticipated their reaction to his message. You see, they were confident they had a guaranteed place in the plan of God. It wasn’t as though they were going to be forced to try out for a part in the divine drama. God couldn’t get along very well without them. After all, they reasoned, they were irreplaceable because they were the children of promise. Despite any illusions that they cherished, or that we might cherish, God is not dependent upon any particular group of people—not Israelites or Americans, not blacks or whites, not Catholics or Baptists. As John proclaimed, “I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”

The strangest thing is that our scripture text concludes by saying that John “proclaimed the good news to the people.” How is it that John’s message, with all of its name-calling, threats, and warnings, can still be labeled “good news”?

Above all, it is because the bad news of God’s judgment implies the good news of God’s mercy. In the proclamation of darkness, the light of hope always shines. Imagine going to the doctor for a routine examination. As far as you know, you are perfectly healthy. You’re feeling well and have had no symptoms of illness, or at least you didn’t recognize the symptoms or take them seriously. After the test results are back, the doctor sits down with you. The results of your examination indicate that you have diabetes. If you do not drastically change your eating habits, you will surely face dire consequences. Bad news. But at the same time, the good news implied in the bad news is that your condition is not hopeless. Something can be done. It may be tough to make the adjustments, but still there is hope for a full and fruitful life.

With God, every apparently bad word about judgment implies a good word about salvation. Divine warnings are given so that divine mercy might be accepted. Judgment is a way that God shows his care for us. If God were uncaring, God would simply abandon us without notice. But our Lord loves us enough to redemptively hurt us. The word of God is painful the way surgery is painful. The agony it causes is but a stage on the way to health.

The Christ that John the Baptist announced is certainly a threat to anyone who has become complacent and overly comfortable with his or her life, values and opinions. The Christ that John called people to prepare for was One who came to interrupt the normal course of life in order to introduce the way of God. (Craig M. Watts)

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