Sermon for 11/30/2014- First Sunday of Advent

Advent Candles

Editor’s Note: I am not a preacher or pastor, nor am I ordained or have I been to seminary. As a Lay Leader I am called on from time to time to fill in at various churches. 

Prayer for the sick

Lord, on this First Sunday of Advent, a Sunday of hope, we have many concerns within our church. Be with those who are sick, whose names were mentioned here, be with those with unspoken requests, requests from the heart. Heal the sick, comfort those in mourning. Be with our leaders Lord that they may seek your guidance in every decision. Be with our churches. Bring those in need of a church into your house and may we comfort and encourage them. These things we ask in your name.

Amen

Offertory Prayer

Lord,

May we now give from our hearts a portion what is rightfully yours to continue moving the Gospel forward.

Amen

 

Scripture for Sunday:

Isaiah 40: 1-11 (NIV)

Comfort for God’s People

1 Comfort, comfort my people,

says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and proclaim to her

that her hard service has been completed,

that her sin has been paid for,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

double for all her sins.

3 A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be raised up,

every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord

will be revealed,

and all people will see it together.

For the mouth of the Lord

has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out.”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,

and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,

because the breath of the Lord

blows on them.

Surely the people are grass.

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of our God endures forever.”

9 You who bring good news to Zion,

go up on a high mountain.

You who bring good news to Jerusalem,

lift up your voice with a shout,

lift it up, do not be afraid;

say to the towns of Judah,

“Here is your God!”

10 See, the Sovereign Lord

comes with power,

and he rules with a mighty arm.

See, his reward is with him,

and his recompense accompanies him.

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart;

he gently leads those that have young.

 

Happy New Year! Or at least Happy New Christian Year. Today is the first Sunday of Advent and as such it is considered a new Christian Year. We begin counting down the days until the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ. It is a time of hope. And…

It is a time of miracles. I am so amazed by the story of a couple last week in Buffalo, NY. You know they have been having historic snow storms. Sure, it always seems to snow in Buffalo but it started early and it snowed historic amounts of snow. Can you imagine six and seven feet snow drifts? I saw video of people jumping out of their second story windows into the snow for fun. But anyway, this couple was pregnant and went into labor. So the dad hikes through the snow and takes their other child to their grandparents and then they start driving. They meet a fire chief who was helping a stranded woman and they stop and it turns out she is a pediatric nurse who used to do labor and delivery. They get to the fire station as they are not going to make it to the hospital that night and they deliver the baby. Another miracle, a maternity nurse who specializes in taking care of babies after they are born arrives at the fire station too. I read the story on two news sites, one only quoted the husband as saying it was a Godsend for the first nurse to be there.  But the other site quoted him word for word. The husband said, “It’s not odds, it’s God. It’s not odds. She delivered our baby. She was an angel to us. And, you know, there was another angel in the night later, another stranded nurse, her name was Stacy,” Jared Hojnacki said. “She came to the fire hall where we basically couldn’t make it to the hospital. We were at the fire hall for basically the duration of the night and another nurse who was stranded came to the fire hall and she was a maternity nurse whose specialty was caring for the babies after they’re born.” God works in such mysterious ways. Such an amazing story.

 

I want to read a passage from a book called  “Hope of Christmas” by Jack Countryman

 

“God planned the birth of Jesus before time began,and throughout the Old Testament—thousands of years before a Baby was born in Bethlehem—God hinted about the coming of this Messiah, this King of kings, Lord of lords, Prince of Peace. …

 

For centuries, voices in the Old Testament called God’s people to look for the Messiah, yet most Jewish people missed the significance of the prophets’ words. Micah, for instance, said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. In Psalm 89:27, 36, David foretold of a firstborn when he spoke of the Lord declaring that David’s seed would endure forever. Isaiah made the preposterous claim that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Hosea revealed that at a certain time God would call His Son out of Egypt. Such Old Testament prophecies and promises were spoken five hundred to seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, and devout Jews would wonder, “Will the Messiah come in my lifetime? Will I see the Promised One with my own eyes?” In a sense, when we open God’s Word today, we see with our own eyes as well as the eyes of our hearts that all of God’s promises regarding the Anointed One of God are fulfilled, detail for detail, in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 

In fact, New Testament passages take us on a journey, revealing this carpenter’s son to be the Messiah, a descendant of Abraham, an heir to the throne of David, born of a virgin in the city of Bethlehem. Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, Old Testament prophecies become living, breathing New Testament realities. What better time than the Christmas season to reflect on these promises of Scripture—promises fulfilled—that point to our ultimate Hope: God’s Son, Jesus Christ.”

 

I don’t know about you but I hope like me, you had an amazing Thanksgiving with family and friends. Perhaps there were even strangers in your celebration of Thanksgiving. Hopefully you had good food and fellowship. And maybe you took the time to reflect on all that has happened throughout the year. I did. I was thinking about everything that has happened this year.

 

The year started off with my wife’s mom going onto a roller coaster with her health, going from being able to take care of herself to not. Then my best friend, Jeff, continuing the fight for his health and ultimately passing away. Then joyish events such as birthdays of my children. My oldest son, Ryan graduating from Clemson. Wow how four years seem to have flown. Then he moved back in with us while looking for a job and food began disappearing from the house. It may have been cheaper to move him back to Clemson and put him on a meal plan. Somewhere in there my oldest daughter moved out of our house trying to figure out her life and that is a work in progress. Then she started going to Piedmont Tech. Then my wife’s mom being put into a long term care program as she went back and forth from the hospital to family members’ homes and began to suffe dementia. And my wife’s trips back and forth to try and help the family make decisions and work with caregivers to figure out the best course of action for her mom. And then another high point, my oldest son finding a job after months of resumes and job interviews. He got a job with a company who handles electronic health records, a booming field, though the job is more Information Technology than Economics, his chosen degree. And it is in Wisconsin. So luckily he shared in our Thanksgiving celebration before driving to Madison where he starts work on Monday. I didn’t want him to move so far away but I knew that was probably what would happen. But I did want him to start living for his own hopes and dreams. Any father or mother wants for their children to be happy and to make their own path in the world. All of this to say, many milestones and challenges (or for the optimists, opportunities), happen over a course of a year and over the course of our life. And I know that many of you have had heart aches and wonderful joys sprinkled throughout your year.

 

We are entering into the season where we celebrate the birth of a Savior, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Whose birth was foretold in the Old Testament and was lived out in the New Testament. We start with the birth of John, the Baptizer (or Baptist if you are in a Baptist church) who eventually prepares the way for the start of the ministry of Jesus to the people of Israel and the world. Jesus’ birth, lying in a manger, the choir of Angels bringing the Shepherds from the fields to witness the event. The birth of our Messiah starts in a stable. We start with perhaps the lowliest of beginnings and from there it seems we can only go up. Filled with hope. It is a season of hope. Hope and joy are things that work best when shared with others. I know that some of you, maybe even all of you send Christmas cards to others this time of year. Is there someone in your life that you would have sent a Christmas card to years ago but now, you don’t. Maybe someone who for some reason came off your Christmas card list. It is time to add them back. And those of you who don’t send Christmas cards, now is the time. Go to the store and buy a box of generic Christmas cards. It is up to you to add the heartfelt sentiments. They have blank cards with just a picture on the front. Or if you can’t find the words, just sign the card, “I am thinking about you and praying for you”. For those of you who don’t send out paper Christmas cards with envelopes and stamps, the postal service needs you. An email or an e-greeting won’t do for this. It is time to mend fences and build and repair bridges. And say you send this card and nothing happens. It won’t be because you didn’t offer the olive branch.

This is a season of hope. Jesus gave us the path to hope. It is but for us to follow it. I don’t know about you but I often think about missed opportunities to share God. We have become so cynical and untrusting. The homeless man we see who asks for money. Is he going to use the money for food or alcohol? That is not for us to decide is it. It is for God to recon with. It is better to give. The blessing lands on us when we give to others. Giving hope to others brings joy to our soul. In theory yes, you can be a saved Christian and never commit a selfless act, but that is an empty heart and so many missed chances to be the hands and feet of Christ. We know there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. It is freely given to us. So by our deeds we do not earn God’s grace but as James says in James 2:14-18

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

So I ask you to start with one small kindness and send that Christmas card to that long forgotten person. When you check out of Wal-Mart or the grocery store, get some cash back and put it in the Salvation Army bucket. Find those extra coats and clothes you have outgrown and take them to a charity that will give them out. Carry your extra canned foods you have stared at over and over again in the cabinet and give them to the Food Bank. Hope has no hope if it is not shared with others.

 

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your Son, Jesus Christ, who brought hope into a very dark world and by whose birth and then death on the Cross gave us forgiveness that is ours but for the asking.

Amen

Benediction:

“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

Amen

The Bible in a Digital World

We had been having problems with the quality and quantity of our Internet bandwidth for some time. With my wife and I both IT professionals for a living and the kids of the house being technology junkies, a matter for discussion another day, we finally gave up on our provider and switched. Other than the expensive monthly bill and the lousy Internet, our other services were okay. But to save money we signed up for a bundle of everything. That in itself was an adventure as the new company wasn’t known for great customer service just service and while I placed the order online, then tried to confirm over the phone, I finally had to pay a visit to an office to see if they wanted my money. In this day it seems good customer service is optional. So we awaited the day the company would come out to install our new services and I had told work I would be working remotely if possible, thinking the old services would be available even in their sad state until the “switch” was switched. Instead it seems they turned off our services somewhere in the wee hours of morning and so when I woke up at 5am to start working on personal and business things, I was without Internet. I decided to go ahead and eat breakfast. As I asked for blessing before eating my breakfast, I asked God to forgive us for getting wrapped up in first world problems when we have food, water, shelter, and most importantly, Him, in our lives and those are the essentials. I then sat down and I was going to read my Bible reading on my phone but inside our house, the 4G doesn’t work and 3G is so so. So I was unable to pull up my favorite Bible app as it was insisting it must talk to the Internet even though I have several Bible translations downloaded to it. My tablet devices do not have 4G options and require good old fashioned wireless Internet so they would be of no use. So I decided, no worries, I will hunt around and find the good old fashioned analog versions of the Bible. I was saddened it took me so long to find a copy of the Bible in paper form in my house. But I did finally find a pocket version of the King James Bible and then finally my old trusty NIV Study Bible which I used to carry before I went digital.

bible.com-logo

Now my next challenge is remembering what today’s readings are as I have been using a reading plan on my tablets and phone, going back and forth as technology allowed. And that is the crux of the issue here. It doesn’t matter where I am in the Word as long as I am in the Word and if I pray for guidance, God will put me on the pages he wants me to be on. God put me in Psalms.