A.C.E. Week 2

December 10, 2017, 2nd Week in Advent

  • Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, comfort my people!
    says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
        and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
    that her penalty has been paid,
    that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!

A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
    Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Every valley will be raised up,
    and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
    Uneven ground will become level,
    and rough terrain a valley plain.
The Lord’s glory will appear,
    and all humanity will see it together;
    the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”

A voice was saying:
    “Call out!”
And another[a] said,
    “What should I call out?”
All flesh is grass;
    all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field.
The grass dries up
    and the flower withers
    when the Lord’s breath blows on it.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass dries up;
    the flower withers,
    but our God’s word will exist forever.

Go up on a high mountain,
    messenger Zion!
Raise your voice and shout,
    messenger Jerusalem!
Raise it; don’t be afraid;
    say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
10 Here is the Lord God,
    coming with strength,
    with a triumphant arm,
    bringing his reward with him
    and his payment before him.
11 Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;
    he will gather lambs in his arms
    and lift them onto his lap.
    He will gently guide the nursing ewes.

Thoughts for meditation: What a change from last week when our texts focused on the sinfulness of God’s people and the calamity their sinfulness brought upon them. This week we find the people in the same desperate situation. The Babylonians had conquered the Israelites, taken them captive and destroyed their temple. However, what a different tone from God. God’s people find themselves numb, lost, afraid and hopeless. They are in exile physically, emotionally and spiritually. There’s nothing that tests our faith as much as disaster. And the Israelites had been weak in faith before the Babylonian afflictions. Are you in the midst of affliction today? When have you been desperate in the past? What was the condition of your faith? What is the condition of your faith? The writer of our text calls out to God on our behalf. Perhaps there are others, people that you don’t even know that are also calling to God on your behalf today. Notice how the writer moves from the present tense to the future tense in verse 3. This way through the wilderness is a way of hope. It is expressed as future but with the confidence that it is already a reality. (the now and not yet) God will be God regardless of what we, God’s people, do or don’t do, believe or not believe. We are weak like grass that withers (vs 6) but God will stand forever. What does this mean to you? How does this affect your understanding of yourself, your desire to become who you want to be? 

  • Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Lord, you’ve been kind to your land;
    you’ve changed Jacob’s circumstances for the better.
You’ve forgiven your people’s wrongdoing;
    you’ve covered all their sins.

Let me hear what the Lord God says,
    because he speaks peace to his people and to his faithful ones.
    Don’t let them return to foolish ways.
God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him
    so that his glory can live in our land.
10 Faithful love and truth have met;
    righteousness and peace have kissed.
11 Truth springs up from the ground;
    righteousness gazes down from heaven.
12 Yes, the Lord gives what is good,
    and our land yields its produce.
13 Righteousness walks before God,
    making a road for his steps.

Thoughts for meditation: This Psalm excerpt does what preachers do each time we preach. We read the scripture, vs 1-2, then we prayerfully listen for what God is saying, vs 8, and finally we express the vision God has given us, vs 9-13. We do this daily and more. Of course, Hollywood would have you think there must be thunder and lightning, perhaps a few things flying by. The truth is, God speaks to you and me constantly, too often we assign our agenda to what we hear. How do we know the difference? We must all be alert, discerning, focusing on hearing and practice along with studying fellowship with others over time helps us to focus ourselves with accountability.  This preacher was given a stunning vision. Which phrase is especially resonating with your soul today? Pray on that phrase; read it stressing a different word each time; pray for insight. The scripture that is jumping out at me is vs 11. I like to compare translations. The NRSV translation uses the word faithfulness while the CEB uses truth. As I consider this, the translations inform one another. Faithfulness isn’t simply a blind following rather it is steadfast, it’s concerned about truth and it’s alive. This leads me beyond that phrase to the overall Psalm, the vision of salvation. First, this is not about individuals, this is about all who turn toward God and honor God. All who are in awe of God. There’s nothing here about being terrorized by God. Rather this is a sermon of blessing and salvation focusing us on four promises: steadfast love (faithful love), faithfulness (truth), peace, and righteousness. God will deliver us from evil but even more, God will and does surround us with God’s presence, a living active presence that goes even beyond saving us. Salvation is, by no means, a stagnant experience, it is dynamic. Faithful love and truth don’t just co-exist, they meet. Righteousness and peace don’t just “be”, they kiss. Salvation lives, God’s presence in your life is active. Faithfulness springs us, righteousness looks down, the Lord gives and the land yields. 

  • 2 Peter 3:8-15a

Don’t let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day.The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be? You must live holy and godly lives, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. Because of that day, the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt away in the flames.13 But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

14 Therefore, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found by him in peace—pure and faultless. 15 Consider the patience of our Lord to be salvation, just as our dear friend and brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him,

Thoughts for meditation:  This text is what we refer to as apocalyptic text, that is, concerning the “end of time”. What have you heard about this? What have you believed about this? One thing is clear and that’s the end of time has not happened the way Christians have believed it was going to happen. From the times the Bible was written, God’s people had believed that the end times were near. Well, it’s thousands of years since the last writings were written and it still hasn’t happened. Yet, we continue to focus on the wrong things. The writer of 2 Peter wasn’t concerned about “when”, he clearly states that we can’t possibly understand God’s timing in verse eight. The focus for this writer is not about “when” or “how”, the focus is what does the promise of the second coming mean to you and I and all of God’s people and “who we are” and “how we live”.  There are many people now who think God is simply to be believed in but belief goes no further than a mental exercise. The writer assures us that God is much more than simply a thought or belief. God is real, God is relational. I used the word, promise. Does this word sound odd to you when considering the end times? So often, the church represents the end times as a threat; straighten up or get out. Yet, if we carefully and prayerfully read the scriptures, we find that the end times are a Divine Promise. Read verse 9 again. Ask God for clarification, to help your heart understand what the message is. God is relational.  God touches us not just our intellect, but our emotions, our character. In fact, God wants to be our moral compass and is willing to patiently wait until we all change our hearts and lives. Does this sound like a threat or a promise to you? Who does this include? You? God? Others? Creation? Think about the dynamics of this relationship? How far does it go? How “infectual” is this? As you deal with the difficulties/tragedies of today, does this message give you hope that God not only is present and active in the here and now but has a plan and will be there at the end? What difference does that understanding, that promise make to who you are and how you conduct yourself today?

  • Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son,happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you.
He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:
        Prepare the way for the Lord;
        make his paths straight.”[a]

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Thoughts for meditation:  Think of the leaders you have looked up to. Most of them claimed their accomplishments for themselves as: it wouldn’t have happened had I not led you to it. This arrogance is what so many expect from a “good leader” today. John shoots all kinds of holes in that process. He has no problem accepting that he is but one leader in the process and focuses “his people” on a greater leader to come. Can you imagine this happening in the church or your business? Unfortunately, pastors and secular leaders alike, enjoy claiming responsibility for all the turnarounds, successes, celebrations of those they lead as if none of the leaders before them set the foundation. They also don’t tend to prepare the way for leaders who follow them. What do you think of John’s process? John comes from a humble perspective. His self view is as a servant of God. Are servants leaders? If so, what difference does that make in how they lead? What difference did it make that John “prepared the way” for Jesus? How does the preparations of John and the anticipatory waiting of “John’s people” inform how we wait on the Christ for the 2nd coming? How would it be different if John had focused on his “claims to fame”? What are you waiting for during this season of waiting?

An extra treat for this week:

After Gabriel told Mary she was going to have a son and name him Jesus and he will be God’s son. Mary went to see her cousin Elizabeth who was also carrying a child. Mary greets Elizabeth with a song that we now know as the Magnificat. Luke 1:46-55. Again, we have romanticized this truly amazing song of faith and hope. Click here to read a fresh rendering of Mary’s song.

Prayers:

Eternal God, who in Jesus the Christ awakens our hope for a new heaven and a new earth, we approach you with troubled but expectant hearts. We are troubled by conflicts within, yet reassured by your promise of salvation for those who trust you. We are troubled by conflicts without, yet encouraged by your pledge of peace for those who follow you. Take from us, O God, the fear that we are not your people, and make us messengers of the hope for peace on earth.

Almighty and everlasting God, you have ordained every time as a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. Yet we need the challenge of Advent to prepare for his birth. As with gratitude we recall his coming to first-century Jewry, let us with joy anticipate his coming to twenty-first century Christendom. Deliver us from the temptation to turn this Christmas into just another Christmas. The season’s commonplaces – the hanging of the greens, the lighting of the candles, the singing of the carols, the giving of the fruit baskets – have all too often become a mindless routine, engaging our purses rather than our hearts, calling attention to our diligence rather than our devotion. Forgive us, O God, for allowing this holy day to become a mere holiday, for letting eternity’s invasion of time become an occasion for time’s corruption of eternity, for permitting your symbol of divine  self-giving to become our sanction of human self-seeking. Grant us penitent hearts, dear Lord, that we might become bearers as well as receivers of your comfort. Let us make common cause with those for whom Christ’s coming turns bad news into good news: captives in a strange land, strangers in their native land, the neglected poor, the abandoned young, the forgotten elderly, the desperate lonely – all those who have fallen victim to humanity’s inhumanity. O Holy Comforter, as you break once again into our midst, make us channels of your consolation. Proclaim your healing word through our surrendered lips. Manifest your transforming presence through our yielded hearts. Work your gracious deeds through our outstretched hands. As we travel again the road to Bethlehem, let us not forget that Golgotha is our destination. Keep ever before us the connection between the cradle and the cross, lest we mute the glory of Christ’s coming and repeat the shame of his going. As we listen to the song of the angels, let us remember the message of Calvary. With an eye toward Jerusalem, let us march to Bethlehem, coming to the Lord as the Lord came to us.

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, 1740

Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down; fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown! Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art; visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast! Let us all in thee inherit; let us find that second rest. Take away our bent to sinning; Alpha and Omega be; end of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver, let us all thy life receive; suddenly return and never, nevermore thy temples leave. Thee we would be always blessing, serve thee as thy hosts above, pray and praise thee without ceasing, glory in thy perfect love.

Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be. Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee; changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.

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