More or Less
† Jesus, Son & Savior †
As we continue our journey through Advent, my you be blessed knowing that neither God’s grace, nor His presence will ever be far from you…
As we hear about John sending His disciples to ask Jesus if He is truly the Christ, the Messiah, the one Chosen and set apart to save humanity, there is both comfort and concern.
The comfort comes from knowing that John’s faith was challenged, even as my faith waivers now and then. Perhaps more often it is now rather than then.
It is not uncommon to know that feeling that leads to John sending out his people to ask. Even though John knew in the womb that Jesus was the Messiah, even though John saw the Holy Spirit and Heard the Father’s voice when Jesus was baptized. Even though we sing John’s song, the words he said the day after the baptism –
“There is the Lamb of God! He who takes away the sins of the world!”
Now I can hear John crying out the words added to that liturgical hymn…. “Lord, grant me peace.”
That’s really what is behind his question about whether Jesus is the Messiah. As John sits in the dark, dank jail cell, with breaks only to confront the man who is sinning, sleeping with his brother’s wife.
“Jesus, are you truly the Messiah or do I need to find peace somewhere else.”
It’s comforting to know I am not the only one to ask that… it’s concerning because if John’s faith couldn’t withstand the challenges of life,
how can mine…?
Compared to this greatest of the prophets, the man who testified about Jesus while in his mother’s womb…. Who are you and me?
And how can we have the faith to endure?
As the gospel goes on, as we read the words St Matthew, the insignificance of my faith seems to multiply.
As John’s disciples leave, Jesus starts to praise John to the crowds.
John wasn’t weak and hollow like a willow reed. He wasn’t spun around easily by life, or bent and broken by the storms. He wasn’t a fashion plate, he wasn’t rich and famous, yet people flocked to hear him speak, which tells us he was not just a powerful speaker, he had a message that people needed to hear, and desired too, even if it was painful!
He was a prophet, and more than a prophet.
And people came to hear him, they couldn’t stop themselves.
Jesus says that as great as John was, and no who has ever been born is greater, he can’t be compared to the least in the kingdom of God.
What hope does that give us?
How do we compare to the prophets of prophets?
How can he who is so much more than us, and so much less than them… Hearing that, how do we know joy, on this third day of Advent?
Listening and Understanding
To understand this, we have to listen to Jesus,
He says, about John being the fulfillment of the promise of Elijah’s return, that those who have ears to hear should listen and understand.
That he is our Messiah. Just as He was John’s.
It’s the same answer, the answer to John, and the answer those who listen and hear.
Hear the answer to John again,
the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. 6 And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.*.’ ”
It took me a while to see it, but the answers are the same – and the challenge is seeing that Jesus is the Messiah.
Not just the He is here to save the world,
He is here to bring you and me, and every other broken person we know, into the Kingdom of God.
For those He heals and cleanses, the poor souls that hear the gospel, the good news, and cling to Him, they are the ones dwelling in the Kingdom of God.
They are those who are greater in faith than John the Baptist. “They” includes you and me.
That’s you and me, for we depend on the promises of God, that He will never leave or forsake us, that He will let nothing divided us from His love.
You and I have been raised to life with Christ, we dwell with Him.
We dwell in God’s kingdom by His invitation, by His declaration.
So we are more, even as we see ourselves as less.
We need to know this, we need to count on the fact that we are children Of God. We live in His kingdom, we can’t run from Him, because He abides within us.
He is here, he dwells with you, and though we can’t sustain our faith based on our observations, He sustains us anyway. That is why He came. That is why John/Elijah came and set up his ministry.
That is why Jesus points to his ministry, and the important prophecy about Elijah’s return, these all point to Jesus’ role as the Messiah. They point to His role as the one God sends to restore His people, to give up His life, to redeem us from the bondage of sin, to make us pure and holy in the Father’s eyes.
As the Messiah – as He is lifted up on the cross, he draws us into the Kingdom of Heaven, we become its citizens, we become the children of the King.
We are there, secure in Him, our hearts, our souls, our faith, and trust sustained, even on the dark days, for it is about His strength, His power, His love…
Love that never fades…Love that provides peace, and comfort, and when we see Him providing that love, we even know the joy that shatters the darkness. Love that we can see, through the word, as He reveals Himself in the sacrament, as He renews our spirits.
Ready, Are We?
As you encounter the grace, the mercy, and love of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, may your desire to experience His presence grow, as will your desire for Jesus to come again!
2 A.M. Somewhere….
Most of us picture Jesus returning based on a passage in First Thessalonians,
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NLT)
We see him, His long hair and robes flowing in the wind, his hand stretched out and a look of pure serenity on His face, with just a few high clouds in the sky, and the sun shining brightly, but no obscuring his glory.
But did you ever think – that somewhere when he returns – it will be 2 a.m in the morning? That somewhere people will be sound asleep; and in another home, a mom will be feeding her baby, as some will be taking their delivery trucks out, as bars and clubs close.
And somewhere, in the midst of their lives, at some time of the day or night, some people will be engaged in sin. Someone will be cursing using God’s name, and another forgetting to pray for an enemy. Someone will be killing with physical weapons, and others simply using their words to do damage as significant. Some will be committing adultery, and others gossiping., and some, just struggling to depend on God who they can’t see.
And out of the clouds, whether 2 p.m., 2 a.m. Jesus will return.
Our gospel tells us we must be ready always, for Jesus will not only return, but he will also return when you least expect it.
So as I share God’s love this morning, I want you to think about a couple of questions.
First – Do you care?
The first is challenging, well, they both are. But here is the first question:
Do you, or do you think the church cares about whether Jesus is coming back?
Is it on your radar at all? Do you wake up in the morning, and wonder if this will be the day? Do we ever consider it given our decisions to do this or that?
Do we even think about Jesus coming back?
Think about that for a moment.
second – why?
if you do think about Jesus returning, the second question comes into play.
Why do you want Him to return?
Is it to escape the pressure and depression that this world and the evil in it causes? I have to admit; there are days I don’t want to hear any news, to see any headlines.
Is it to stop having to struggle with life and the complications we have in our lives? Complications like aging and sick bodies, challenged relationships. ( Great line from Skorpion – Thanksgiving is about having meals with people we don’t get along with the rest of the year!)
Is it to stop having to deal with our sin, our guilt, shame, brokenness?
When we pray for Jesus to return – is it to be rescued from something, or to be delivered into the presence of God?
That’s what the issues were in Noah’s day, they forgot about the presence of God in their lives, and they lived life without thinking about God.
And to be honest, many of us get trapped in the same kind of life.
Unaware of God, and only turning to Him to be rescued.
Walking with Jesus is much, so much more meaningful than that. Eternity will be so much more than simply being free of the crap of this world! Eternity with God is dwelling with Him, in the purest peace, the most mindblowing joy, in fellowship divine.
It is to live, as we are being drawn into the glory of God…..
And it will happen… sooner than we have prepared for…
Ready, Are we?
SO then, the questions change a little….
How do we get ready for Jesus to return?
We turn to the words of Paul in the epistle…
12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes,
This speaks of two things – first our baptism, and the incredible work of God that started there, as God cleanses us from all our sin, just as He promises. But it also speaks of repentance – the continuing action of our being transformed – what we see when we confess our sins and expect God to keep His promise there as we and then the question of how we stay read
14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And this speaks of baptism too – as God the Father clothes us in Christ’s righteousness, in His holiness. As we see the work of God drawing us closer, and it is so incredible, so peaceful and so joyous that we begin to desire it more and more.
And we see that not only in baptism, but here as we kneel, as we receive Christ, as we have a glimpse at our relationship with God, and the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love for us, this endless joyous love.
Advent? TO desire Jesus presence, to have nothing hindering it, not guilt, no shame, no brokenness, this is what advent is about – and why we desire Him to return…
And may that desire grow – as you know His love, as you dwell in His peace.
Devotional Thought to Prepare us for Advent….
15 I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17 This, then, is what I command you: love one another. John 15:15-17 (TEV)
233 You spoke about the scenes in the life of Jesus which moved you most: when he met men suffering greatly… when he brought peace and health to those whose bodies and souls were racked with pain… You were inspired—you went on—seeing him cure leprosy, restore sight to the blind, heal the paralytic at the pool: the poor beggar forgotten by everybody. You are able to contemplate Him as He was, so profoundly human, so close at hand! Well… Jesus continues being the same as then. (2)
There is an attitude that negatively views contemporary worship (or that of 30-100 years ago) that treats Jesus to0 close, too intimate, too friendly. They would rather perceive God from the perspective of great distance, and perhaps great fear.
Which would make sense if we were approach Christ’s advent, His coming, with the anticipation of judgment without the cross’s benefit. To turn advent into a time of anticipating hell, fire, and brimstone, wrath and tribulation is wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, we need Jesus to come back, perhaps even desperately so. Life is too screwed up, we all need to be delivered from sin completely, we need to come home to God. But that turns advent from anxiety about Jesus coming, to realizing we and anxiety is more caused because of the wait we endure until He returns.
If we have friends we haven’t seen in ages coming to dinner during the holiday; we look forward to it. We anticipate it, we work hard, trying to get everything as perfect as possible. It is the same for Jesus second coming, we desire to grow in faith, we desire to see people come to know Him, to come to trust in Him, because He is our friend, because He loves us so completely.
Those contemporary worship songs which treat Jesus as a friend, they aren’t as far off base. They bring home that which we need to know, the attitude that Luther noted, makes the difference between one who knows God, and one who only knows of Him,
“For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they have not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Ghost.” (2)
If we don’t understand God’s desire for an intimate, deep friendship with the people He calls and makes His own, we truly only know a God whose presence evokes fear and brings to the front of our heart the condemnation of guilt and shame. We have to realize the intent of Christ’s incarnation, to head resolutely to the cross, to show us the depth of His love, to bring us healing and forgiveness.
Yes, we should be in awe of God’s presence, we are overwhelmed by His glory, but a glory that pours out grace, that delights in showering us with His Mercy, embracing us in the love, even as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. The awe of realizing God, in all His glory, desires to be our friend.
Which makes the wait of Advent tense, as if we hear every passing car as if it is our long awaited Friend…
For He is coming!
May your patience and desire to see God sustain you, even as you anxiously await His return. AMEN!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1170-1174). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) The Large Catechism of Martin Luther. The Apostles Creed: Explanation of the Third Article.
Final Preparations For His Coming
† IHS †
As You Realize the Depth of the Grace and Peace of God our Father, and Jesus our Lord, May Your Cry for Him to Save Us Become More Confident and Filled With Wonder and Expectation!
They’ll Be Here Any Second!
You look at your watch, or maybe the clock on the microwave, and as your heart begins to beat faster, you wonder where the last forty-five minutes went!
The company will be here any moment, and you so aren’t ready.
The appetizers are perfect, but you haven’t changed from your bathrobe and pajamas, for that matter, you realized you haven’t showered yet!
The rest of the house, you know, the parts that you asked for help in getting cleaned up, well they are worse than when you asked for help1
The extra chairs are still in the garage, the laundry basket is empty, all over floor.
And as you leave the kitchen to get looking half presentable, you notice you forgot to turn on the oven, and the turkey is still thawing in the sink!
IS this the ultimate nightmare, or worse… reality?
Many people get stressed when company is coming over…. They want things to be perfect for their guests. Perhaps some of us aren’t that noble. We know life isn’t perfect, but we like it when others think that our lives are!
If we are so concerned about company coming over and finding lives, what concern do we have about Jesus coming back, and finding us ready?
As we spend these weeks prior to Christmas thinking about Jesus’ incarnation and His second coming, we are going to look Advent prayers and preparations. Wednesday Nights we’ll study the prayers in the Bible for Jesus to return, and on Sunday’s we’ll look at how to be prepared, how to be ready.
So let’s begin looking at the final preparations for Advent, or is it Easter!
Easter or Advent?
It may seem a little odd to begin Advent with a reading from Palm Sunday and the Triumphal Entry. The beginning of the week leading to Good Friday and Easter. There is a reason. When the shepherds looked down on Jesus in the manger, they had no clue what it would take to be the Savior. A year or so later, as the wise men presented Jesus gifts, they didn’t know either.
The disciples have walked with Him for years. They’ve heard him teach about the Father’s love because of firsthand experience. They’ve seen Jesus heal lepers, give sight to the blind, feed thousands with a few sardines and small roles of bread. They’ve seen Him raise people from the dead.
The Messiah is about to establish His reign over everything, and it is for this reason that He came. To answer the prayer the people cried out Praise the Lord, as they cried out Hosanna! (which means save us!) Everything’s ready for that which had been a mystery from the beginning is about to occur….
It’s almost ready… just a few final preparations.
Are We Willing to Go Get the Donkey…
There is always one task that everyone hates, that has to be done when company’s coming over. Maybe it’s taking out the trash, maybe it’s cleaning the toilet bowl.
I can’t imagine taking the walk to town to pick up a young unbroken donkey, and dragging it back to Bethany was the greatest of jobs. But someone had to do it, and these two disciples had to go deal with the donkey.
Some of us may be sent on similar missions still to deal with stubborn donkeys and bring them to Jesus. Some of us are as stubborn and that unbroken donkey.
But are we willing to listen to God’s direction that clearly? Are we willing to go and take on a task that isn’t glamorous, and may be more than a bit difficult? These two disciples played a role in fulfilling prophecy, but I am not sure they knew that. I can imagine one of them wondering if they could find this donkey, the other wondering if no one asked them, would they be charged with Grand Theft Donkey?
Our lives are often like their task that day. We aren’t sure why God wants us to work with donkeys, or why He doesn’t just wipe out those we think are enemies. Why this action is good, but why doing that is a sin, and doing that is labelled an abomination. We don’t have the answers, and our answer is the same as those disciples, simply telling people what we are told, by God.
But will we accept that His answer is good enough?
What advent is about is to prepare to welcome the King, to welcome the Messiah who comes in the name of the Lord God Almighty! Are we ready for that day? Have we done that which He asks, in preparation for that day when He comes, and everyone praises Him?
We are called into this relationship, into this family of God. Are we waiting for His return! Will we be found ready? Or will we be still trying to figure out why we have to work with donkeys?
A Word of Hope!
The anxiety of company arriving at any moment can be matched, when we consider our own work, as we strive to become ready for the second coming of Christ. Paul addresses that in his letter to the church in Corinth,
4 I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 5 Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. 6 This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. 7 Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 9 God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord!
That is the key to Advent, the key to being prepared for Christ’s return. He isn’t coming to check out that all the trash cans so clean you could eat out of them, or that the toilet is that clean, or even that the feast is perfectly prepared. He’s coming to see if we are ready to enter the Father’s presence, following behind him like the crowds did on Palm Sunday.
How we are prepared? We know what God has done, and is doing. We know about the cross, about Jesus dying that we could be free from all blame. That what scripture promises about Christ is true here, in this place. It is true for all that believe and are baptized! We are prepared when we have trust in God’s work in this place. When we know and use the gifts God has given to us, given to us because we belong to Jesus Christ. When we know that Jesus will keep us strong, and free from all blame. Because He is faithful we trust in Him, and we look forward to what is promised.
I love verse 8 – we have to hear it again,
He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 9 God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord!
There is our hope, and there is the hope of the world, that in Christ, people are free from all blame and will be when He returns. For God has promises this welcomed you into a community led by Jesus! This is how we prepare for Advent. We realize our need for Him, our desperate need, and trust that He will meet it!
May our trust in God be seen, as we work with Him, even as His return draws closer!
You MUST Be Ready…but How?
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
As our expectations build toward celebrating Christmas, may the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ
reveal to us His presence in which we already dwell!
It is perhaps one of the small benefits I have as a pastor during this time of year; as people are invite each other to parties;
There is that question that lurks in the back of your mind, as you wonder how fancy the party will be?
Prior to becoming a pastor, it was hard for me to figure out how to get ready. If I wore comfortable jeans, everyone would be in suits and dresses. If I wore a suit, or even a tuxedo (does anyone do that anymore?), you know everyone would be wearing polo shirts and casual pants with sandals.
You stand there, looking in your closet, knowing you have to get ready! But…how?
My advantage now as a pastor is that I just throw on a shirt and collar – bring along a jacket… and I am all set! Well – I may have to remember to answer every time I hear the word, “Father,” like at my cousin’s party back when I was in Boston. Besides that… I do okay.
It is that feeling of not knowing what to expect, how to get ready for that which we will encounter, that is so challenging. Where are we going? Will it be fancy or simple? Formal or homey?
If we struggle with that, on this first day of Advent – the day of Hope and Expectation, what do we think of, as we hear Jesus’s words,
You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.
How do we get ready to come into the presence of the King of Kings and Lord or Lord’s?
The Norms of Life?
Parties and work and life..
One thing is certain from this passage… we do not have a clue when it will be, when everything that God has promised is fully complete.
It could have been a day like Thursday, when people were enjoying all the family and friends and feasting that goes along with Thanksgiving. Or days like Friday, when people who work in retail establishments are overwhelmed by those who want more for which to be thankful.
Celebrations, work, life, and into the midst of it all, will come Christ! In another passage Jesus will ask,
8 …when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” Luke 18:8 (NLT)
It’s a hard question, for how many will follow idols, or see their life fulfilled in what they acquire and what they do or who they are with, rather than in the relationship we’ve been given with God? How many of us would consider that which defines us to be our relationship with God? And if we do, does the way we live our lives reveal that definition?
I am not saying we should not throw parties, that people should not get married, or that they should not work. It is not what we do that reveals our priorities; rather it is how we do it. Is Christ involved, is the idea of His coming a consideration in how we do things. Paul talks about it this way,
31 .. whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NLT)
There is our answer, to being prepared, to know what to expect for His coming, His advent, Coming and Advent that great greek word “Parousia”. It simply means – I am around. I will be here.
That is what we need to expect – the presence of God in our lives.
Given all the distractions during this holiday season, given all the extra work, and the events with friends, how do we stay “ready?”
So how do we stay “ready”??
There was a time, and there are still people that would say we simply keep someone here at church praying, 24 hours day, 7 days a week. That they have a cell phone ready to speed dial all of us, just in case if the clouds break open and Jesus descends. One church did that back in 1981, on December 31st, there was a large crowd at a church in Orange County, whose pastor promised that Jesus would return that year. On the last day of the year – fully expecting His return, they sat there…singing songs, waiting.
Since Noah prepared and was expecting the flood without ever having experienced a rainstorm, maybe we can take a lesson from him. The letter to Hebrew Christians describes him this way,
It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith. Hebrews 11:7 (NLT) 7
He was ready, because he trusted God. He heard Him. Noah expected God to keep His promise because He walked with Him.
He had such a relationship with God that Noah could hear God’s message, he knew God’s love and trusted God enough to obey and do that which they did not understand. It was not just that what God told him to do was more important than his own enjoyment, it was that his relationship with God was more important.
He heard, he obeyed because he trusted God.
Because of that trust, because of that relationship, he was ready.
Not because of the actions, but because of the God who asked him to act.
When the rains came, he was ready.
For he knew that God was with him.
There were days in the last church year, many of them, where I wanted to cry out, Come o Come Immanuel, but for the wrong reasons. To be honest, it was a tiring year! It was a year where I would have rejoiced in Christ’s coming, simply to be done with it all. To see an end to suffering, both globally, and among those I know. To see the promises of no more sorrow, no more tears occur – for that reason.
That is not the reason to want Christ to come though. The reason is the advent, of the parousia – the coming of God– of His presence, here with us, That we would fully come to understand what it means that He is our God, that we are His people.
Key – Noah heard God’s voice….
The key is hearing Him.
Hearing Him mark us as His people, as He cleanses us of sin in baptism…
Hearing Him say, Take and eat this is my body, take and drink, this is my blood. Broken and shed for you…
Hearing Him say, I am, I am your God and you are my people.
Hearing Him, knowing His presence will result in a day when He will fully reveal His presence to us, as we stand around His throne, singing His praises, as He welcomes us hom.
For hearing God’s voice, knowing His presence, that is what advent and His second coming is all about…
Knowing that we dwell in His love, His mercy, His peace. That love and mercy and peace that is beyond all understanding, as it guards our hearts and minds in Christ. AMEN!
- A New (Church) Year’s Challenge to Pastors, Priests, Liturgists, and Worship Leaders…. (justifiedandsinner.com)