Today is the end of Christmastide and the beginning of Epiphany. The twelve days of Christmas are over and now we enter the season of Epiphany. This is the day that we celebrate the visit of the Magi bringing gifts of Frankincense, Myrrh, and Gold to the baby Jesus. Where the mystery of Christ is first revealed to the gentiles. We celebrate the coming of Jesus as our Lord and savior and give thanks that He came to save all of humanity, Jew, and Gentile alike. Like the Christmas season the season of Epiphany is longer than just a single day. As a matter of fact, because we are Methodists, we celebrate Epiphanytide until the beginning of lent which is approximately nine weeks and in the coming weeks we will celebrate the baptism of the Lord all the way through to the transfiguration on the mount where the glory of heaven is revealed on earth and the divinity of Christ as the Son of God is made plain by the Father. and behold, a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” But generally speaking this day is given over to the magi and how they represent the gentiles. But I want you to think about exactly who the magi are you have three guys from different cultures, travelling across many different lands also with different cultures, to worship “ The King of the Jews” and bring gifts to a baby they have never seen, in a land they had never been to, because of a vision they had while following a star in the sky. That is Faith. That is God’s plan working in fine detail. Amen.
You see I think that the wise men had it wrong. They were bringing gifts, to honor Jesus but the Lord came as a servant to the world. God sent Jesus to the world as a gift, The Gift. As a matter of fact, the greatest gift that God could give the world was the gift of his only begotten son. And I say it’s a gift because Jesus not only came as a gift from God, but he brought us a gift. Jesus brought us the gift of the word, the good news, the Son taught us the wisdom of the father through the scriptures. And the gift of the Word is its own gift for it brings Salvation and redemption. The Word brings the cleansing flood and the forgiveness that only the peace of God’s grace can provide. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This one was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and apart from him not one thing came into being that has come into being. In him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. The true light, who gives light to every person, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, and the world did not recognize him. He came to his own things, and his own people did not receive him. But as many as received him—to those who believe in his name—he gave to them authority to become children of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a husband, but of God. And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, and grace after grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the one and only, God, the one who is in the bosom of the Father—that one has made him known. Jesus is a gift to the world, to us, He is not set aside, just to be the Messiah for the people of Israel, but for all the people of the world and that is the true mystery of Christ. It is for that reason Paul suffers gladly as a prisoner for Jesus, for us. And I say for us because without Paul the gospel would never have been made known to the gentiles. The savior of the world would have been withheld from all but the Jewish people. Paul goes on to say how In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. The gift of the word of the gospel is given to us by Jesus and assures us that we to have a share in the promise of Christ. That even though we are not god’s chosen people, we are people chosen by God to share in the gifts and inheritance as his children. This same gift of god’s grace that is given to all of us, the power of god’s grace is his gift to us. And like Paul although he was the very least of all the saints it was that grace that gift from God, that gave him the strength to bring to us the news of the boundless riches of Christ. It is Paul that made everyone see the mystery that was hidden for ages in God who created all things; yet it is through the church that the wisdom of God in its rich variety is made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places. There is truly no mystery about the gift that is Jesus, there is no mystery about the gift that is the word. The mystery is that God loves us enough to send his only son to die for us, the true mystery is why we reject that love and grace that is extended to us even as we are adding to His burden, and still, He loves us and wants us and forgives us. That is the real Mystery. This is in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory. And it is Christs gift to Paul, to us as well. As you leave today, I would like you to ask yourself one question. What will you do, with your gift?
Merry Christmas. Today is the sixth day of Christmastide and I pray that everyone had an awesome Christmas. Today’s sermon is titled Where are You and you may find it’s not exactly what you think it is. That is the point right. This particular scripture is almost always boiled down to verse 49. He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Clear cut to the point. I believe this is the first place in the Bible where Jesus actually refers to his divinity and that is why it is so popular. But I ask you to consider this from a different perspective. I’m gonna touch on the various topics within this passage but I want you keep just one thing in mind. I want to know where you are in this passage. Let me unpack that little bit first. Where do you see yourself in this passage? You have several different places you can be and several different people whose eyes you can see through. It says that every year Jesus’s parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. You can think of it from a parents point of view, the family vacation and how good it is to get out and away from Nazareth or you can think of the excitement from Jesus’s point of view as a young man he’s 12 years old which means that he is now considered a “Son of the Law” which meant that he was now under obligation to observe the ordinances and laws as an adult would observe them. Jesus would be expected to observe all 613 Rabbinic laws. It would be the precursor to his coming of age at 13. So, not exactly the same boring family vacation, it now had greater meaning and would have been a very exciting trip because Lord of the universe or not he’s still a 12-year-old boy. Or, maybe you see yourself somewhere in the middle of the story. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. Maybe you see yourself later after they leave and you’re tired and you’re wanting to go home and sleep in your own bed and it’s a long way home and when you get there you have to go back to the daily grind. You start thinking about all the things that you gotta do and places you gotta go and what you forgot to do, did I pay the gas bill, did I water the plants before I left? We’ve all been there. Now maybe you’re thinking what terrible parents Mary and Joseph were because they didn’t know that Jesus was missing but at that time it would have been normal for most of if not the entire village to travel together to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.
Partly because there is safety in number but also because it is a festival and everyone would have known each other, many would be related, and it was a time to have fun. Think about our community and the harvest festival only bigger. Your talking a huge caravan of people. However, they didn’t travel all mixed up or in small little groups instead the women typically went ahead first, and the men followed behind with children intermixed between the two groups. Now, anyone who’s had kids has had that moment when you look at each other and say, “I thought he was with you.” When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. Perhaps you can relate to the frightened parents who are anxious because they cannot find their child. The weary trip back to Jerusalem to search for the missing child dealing with the fear and anxiety, the anger. Getting angrier and angrier that not everything is going according to plan. The fear growing and feeding the anger, how many of us have been there? That crazy mixed up feeling that’s impossible to explain, it has to be experienced, the joy and the relief of finding your child alive and well and obviously unconcerned about your absence and having a great time. That overwhelming desire to strangle them and hug them at the same time, to never let them go again. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Maybe you see yourself searching, always searching but never finding what you’re looking for and then amazed when you do find it. Jesus parents didn’t go straight to the temple because obviously they didn’t expect to find Jesus at the temple. Instead they expected him to be wandering around the streets.
What’s up with that, both Mary and Joseph know that Jesus is the Messiah and still they are amazed to find him in the temple and apparently the last place they looked. I think we all know how that goes. Are you looking for Jesus where you expect Him to be or where He is? Now, any parent in the world would be extremely upset at this point. I know I would be I am certain that there’s not a person in this room that would not have said basically the same thing that Mary did only I’m sure we would have used a little bit stronger language than great anxiety (perhaps that’s bible code for just wait until we get home) I don’t know. I know I would have gotten more than a time out, that for sure. When his parents saw him, they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
Maybe you’re at the point your fear and anxieties has turned to anger, perhaps not everything is going according to plan in your life and you find yourself, mad at God. Maybe you’re no longer searching for God. Maybe the answer you got wasn’t the one you expected when your anger is turned into confusion because it’s no longer about where you are. Because it’s never been about where we are. We’re not talking about where we are any longer. We’re asking God, Where are You? And, you will find that the answer is the same for you as it is for Mary and Joseph. He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Often, I think that this is where we all are. But they did not understand what he said. Although Jesus has told us, God has told us so many times in so many places. In Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. He seeks us if we will only seek Him in return, you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. Deuteronomy 4:29 I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 27:8. Where are you? Do you have that wonder and excitement like a 12-year-old who’s no longer looking at the world as a child does but with the excitement and enthusiasm of a new adventure with new responsibilities. Are you afraid that maybe you missed the moment, anxious that your just not where you expected to be or maybe you just wanna relax it’s been a long day and being a Christian is not easy. Living for God instead of for yourself, it’s hard and important things often get left behind. Maybe you’re searching for that something that got left behind and you keep looking in all the wrong places and your anger and fear is preventing you from seeing the obvious from seeing where you are. Maybe, it’s never been about where you are or what you’re looking for. The Bible tells us to seek the Lord with our hearts and souls, not our eyes. We don’t have to look for God because He is always here, always with us. We don’t have to ask Where are You? All we have to do is open our hearts and He will find us. For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. AMEN!
They say death and taxes are the only certainties in this life and if you’re a Christian it’s just taxes. In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. Of course, this was done at the dictates of the emperor not because he wanted to know or actually cared about how many people he governed, the census was taken to determine how much taxes each regional governor owed the emperor. Now each regional governor refused to pay any more taxes than he had to and certainly would not pay taxes for people that did not live or work in his region. The easiest way to do this was tell everybody to go back to their birthplace so they could be counted. Because Mary was now married to Joseph, she was now a member of his family. This is how Mary and Joseph found themselves back in a Bethlehem with no place to stay. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. So, our savior is born not in the house of his father but in the stable of an inn. there are no great declarations, no parades just His family and a stable full of animals to greet the birth of our savior. So, the Angels went to the surrounding area and spoke to the shepherds not to the King or his counselor but to the average person and proclaimed the good news. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” For peace is exactly what Christ brings us. He is is the word made flesh, He is the love of God for his people come to earth to die for us and our sins. We are the people who walked in darkness and we have seen a great light; when we read Isaiah, it is us that he speaks of and it is now in this time. We are those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. We have been called to Christ to be one of his chosen a child of God reborn to serve the Lord. We celebrate this day the coming of our savior.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And his authority shall extend to us as well, we are gifted with the indwelling spirit of Christ and it is our great joy to declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. As you are going home today to be with your family to celebrate the birth of Christ tomorrow do not forget that he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth. Like I said the Lord is coming and it’s not what if he comes and it’s not what if I’m found wanting, because God is not about what ifs. God is not about possibilities, God is about certainty. The Bible says that all things are possible through God says it boldly and with certainty not with timidity not with what if. The bible doesn’t say what if the Lord comes it says he is coming it didn’t say what if he judges the world it says he will judge the world. So, go out today and declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you. You are children of God you will receive your inheritance as his children and part of that inheritance you have already received as the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that you have received your authority to declare the Kingdom of God and to let the world know the good news. It is now our responsibility to make the way straight for the coming of Christ. So, I tell you this day go forth boldly declare your authority to the world declare the coming of Christ and let no one and nothing stand between you and the Lord. Amen.
Today is the fourth Sunday of advent and this day we celebrate the coming of peace. The coming of our Lord and Savior. His name and His name alone will bring peace to the world. For His name is Holy. We know all these things because Mary was told by and Angel and “the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” And so, He was and is and is to come. This is the end of everything we put our faith and hope in. The peace of God and everlasting life to enjoy it in. But none of this would be possible without a very impossible circumstance. The story of Mary is one of great faith and absolute trust. Consider her circumstances, think a minute about the time that Mary lived in. Women especially young women who were unmarried or newly married had virtually no position in the community. They were entirely dependent upon their husbands or fathers and a young woman who found herself pregnant on her wedding night might be stoned in the morning by morally outraged townsfolk. While it was not common it was also not unheard of. Still, Mary accepted the word of God. The Angel said “For nothing will be impossible with God” because while Mary had total faith in God, she wasn’t blindly babbling either. Think about it when she asked the angel “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
Mary wasn’t denying the power of God instead she was questioning the intelligence of the Angel. Hello… Virgin…can’t get pregnant without some help, everyone knows this, especially young ladies and you would think Angels. Still Mary was right and after being told that it was God’s will, she had no more doubts, “then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary is at Peace. Not only is she at peace but she is so excited she can’t wait to go and tell her cousin Elizabeth. So, she takes off it says in haste she didn’t even pack a lunch or tell anybody anything she just took off, talk about fearless. That lack of fear, you can’t know that kind of peace without knowing the Lord and being fully committed to Him. By this I mean you’ll never know that kind of peace that fearlessness unless you abide entirely within the love of God. Until you have surrendered completely to the Lord, you’re always gonna have that little bit of a doubt in the back of your mind that what if moment, will it be OK, what if I lose my job, what if I fail that test. Maybe I should just hold back that little extra just in case the Lord doesn’t come through. Mary never doubted. And without that peace and joy that Christ brings to us we can second guess ourselves out of a relationship with God. We can second guess ourselves out of the peace that Jesus promised to us. That is why God sent Jesus to us in the first place so that we would have someone physical to place our trust in, someone we could relate to. Someone who could empathize with us but still be above us, a high priest that is truly Holy but accessible. The only way that that could be accomplished was for Jesus to be born as you and I. What qualities do you think that Mary had that the Lord should favor Mary above all others? What made Mary so special? I think and this is entirely my opinion it is not the gospel or rather it’s the gospel of Gene. But I think its Mary’s total faith and absolute trust in God that elevates her above all others. The Angel told Mary nothing is impossible for God. Jesus told us “all things are possible to him who believes.” James tells us we must ask in faith without any doubting for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” The blessings of the Lord always come from our own faith and that faith can be passed on to others. Just as Mary is blessed by God for her faith and that blessing is then extended to her cousin Elizabeth who will give birth to John the Baptist.
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spiritand exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” If you recall Zechariah was told by the Angel Gabriel that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit before he was ever born. “For nothing will be impossible with God.” The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and then passed to John the Baptist, only to return back to Jesus when he is baptized by John at the river Jordan. We too are to inherit a portion of the spirit as promised by Jesus and fulfilled on Pentecost. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” That is the reason for the season. It is to remind us that only through great faith and trust in Jesus can we hope for the blessings of eternal life. And make no mistake we are blessed, even if we don’t appreciate it or understand it for that matter. This is the time to leap for joy that our Messiah was born and will return, that we will receive the blessings promised us in faith as Mary was blessed because she “believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Can we do no less? I want to leave you with this song of praise. Mary’s Song of Praise. In fact, I would like it very much if you would repeat it with me as our final prayer to Jesus. The praise of a mother for her son and Her God.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
This is the third Sunday of advent and traditionally this Sunday represents the joy of the coming of Christ. It is called “Gaudete Sunday” which means rejoice in Latin as we light the rose candle, we recite the” Song of Joy” and we rejoice and exult with all our heart that the Lord has taken away the judgement that was laid up against us. He will rejoice over us with gladness and He will renew His love of us. No longer will we fear disaster. Worry will have no power over our minds. He will change shame into praise and renown, among all the peoples of the earth as he restores the fortunes of His children that is Good News, but not the Good News. We celebrate Joy in today’s Psalm as we drink from the only water that will quench our thirst for it is the scripture and it is drawn from the wells of salvation for God is our salvation and we give thanks to the Lord as we call on His name and exalt it to the nations. It is joy that we proclaim this day. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. I remind you of the joy of this day because John starts off with a warning and when someone gives you a warning especially this one you have a tendency to forget the real meaning behind the word so don’t let John’s words temper the joy of this day rather give thought to them and ask yourself have I done all that I can as a servant of the Lord. Listen. John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. What we need here is some context. We must remember where John was preaching.
This is not like in the movie in the middle of nowhere with a crowd of people next door to a river and he’s dunking them in the water singing hallelujah brother. This was not some tent revival. John’s ministry was on the I-40 of his day and remember also that travel was normally dusty and dirty and Jewish law required ritual washing. So, there would have been Pharisee and Sadducee as well as everyday rich and poor traveling to Jerusalem and it would have seemed like a good idea to stop and get some “insurance” just to be safe. John’s telling them don’t just come over here and get your fire insurance that won’t work if you don’t truly repent God will know that you’re wasting his time so be careful be watchful of your motives. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” it was a very common assumption during this time that because they were children of Abraham and God had made a covenant with them that they were favored so no matter what they did God loved them so much that God would forgive them and save them no matter how evil they acted. Sort of like the doctrine of once saved always saved that states that no matter what you do once you’ve been saved you can never lose your salvation. That just isn’t so. If at some point you’d like me to preach on the differences and similarities of Calvinism and Wesleyan theology and exactly what it is, we believe I’ll be happy to but not today. To get back to the context though the average person of faith did believe that it was not only acceptable it was perfectly logical. John wasn’t average and if you remember he was to be filled with the Holy Spirit and ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.’ even Jesus said that he was Elijah come again in the spirit. “Elias truly shall first come and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they liked. Likewise, shall also the Son of man suffer of them.” John was telling them just because they were descended of Abraham and part of the covenant did not mean that they would not be judged individually on their own merit and not to rely on family ties. It’s not Grandpa Abraham that’s gonna judge you it’s God and he’s not gonna judge you on what your grandparents did He’s gonna judge you on your merits.
Now they’re worried, and the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” John tells him don’t be selfish help one another, give to those less fortunate than you, help those that are in need. This is a common theme in the bible and Jesus preaches this is well. We are always told as Christians not only to turn the other cheek but to give selflessly of ourselves, to love our neighbors as ourselves. We wouldn’t permit ourselves to freeze to death or starve to death why do we let our fellow brothers and sisters suffer. Where is the Good News in that? All are welcome at the Lords table, Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” You see in those days they had what’s known as tax farmers and that is how the Roman Empire collected their taxes by bidding out the tax bill for a region to the highest bidder. Now this individual who won the bid agreed to pay the taxes for that region to the governor. It was a set amount and the way that they made their money was everything that they could collect over and above that amount was their profit and they had to pay for such things as transportation and wages for the tax collectors themselves you see the individuals who were rich enough to bid for these positions never went and actually collected the tax they left that up to what were called publicans (tax collectors). The apostle Matthew if you recall was a tax collector and as such he was one of those that his boss would tell him to go to the town of Bethany and collect 300 drachma and Matthew would go and like any good businessman he would size up the area, determine what each individual household and farm could afford to pay he would do a risk analysis and adjust the amounts owed accordingly and the way they got extra money was to increase the amount owed and the government didn’t care because they had already been paid. The more the publicans were hated the more that they would try to squeeze out of the locals. Where’s the Good News in that? And because they were hated so much, they were forced to hire soldiers to protect themselves from the crowds which increased taxes further. These soldiers were not Roman soldiers who would not have cared less about the tax collectors or John instead they were likely Jewish temple guards and just as devout as their master’s and so the soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation and be satisfied with your wages.” John tells them they have an honorable job they are paid good wages don’t be greedy be honest and do your job with integrity.
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. In those days only a slave, someone whom is not possible to degrade would remove your shoes and wash your feet not even a rabbis followers who are expected to perform all of the menial work that was too good for the master, even they would not perform this duty because they were too good for it. Johns telling us that the one who is to come is so far above us that we are not even worthy to be his slaves and even though Jesus came to serve not to be served still He is the Master and He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” John is telling us the Lord is bringing fire with him he brought fire the first time the fire of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and it is that fire that burns the chaff away from us, for a Christian the fire is good thing (not the Good News but a good thing none the less) because it burns away the chaff and the dross for a Christian the fire tempers the steel within us. We are changed forever just as a simple clay pot won’t hold water, in fact turns back into mud, but firing that same pot transforms it into a substance that is waterproof and impervious to time. For those who are not in Christ the fire is a terrifying prospect because those who are not in Christ are the chaff and the dross. They are cast aside and forever lost, burned to nothing. Where’s the Good News in that? So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. You know I don’t think John is gonna proclaim the good news. At least not the good news that Christ proclaimed because for John the good news is the coming of Christ. Just as it is for us. So, repent for the kingdom of God is near. Amen!
I’m sure by now most of you have recognized but the gospel and the Psalm are the same or similar because they are both a gospel and a Psalm or song. What about told you over and over and over about context you cannot claim the Bible if you cannot put into context. It’s very hard sometimes to get at that context and open it up so that everyone can see it because if I can’t make this come alive for you if I can’t get you to understand the context of the situation then I’m failing to bring the word you. So, let’s go back to the beginning. if you recall both Mary and Elizabeth were pregnant at the same time even though Elizabeth was much older and despaired of ever having a child but Elizabeth husband was “Zechariah and he was a temple priest and as was the custom at the time they would choose lost to see who would offer the Lord incense and it fell to Zechariah and he prayed to God and an angel appeared and told Zechariah his prayers had been answered. The angel told him everything from his name to what he was to be permitted to do. John was to be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. Zechariah new everything and still “Zechariah said to the Angel how will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years”.
Priest he might be, but he definitely was not going to win any awards for brains. So, the Angel replied “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news but now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute unable to speak until the day these things occur.” Note to self, do not make Gabriel mad. To finally answer the question of why it’s both a Gospel and a Song is because it is found in a gospel, but it is called the Song of Zechariah or Zechariah’s Prophecy. “His song is called the Benedictus, based on the first word that came from his lips: “Praise be to the Lord” (1:68, italics added). Zechariah believed that the Messiah was about to emerge, that God had come and redeemed his people, and that his son was going to prepare the way. The redemption of Israel would be made possible because God had raised up a horn of salvation (1:69).” I know in none of our readings does this say the “horn of Salvation” that’s why the NRSV is not always the best translation. In the King James version, you know the one that the disciples used. Verse 68 and 69 reads ”Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for he has visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of Salvation for us in the house of his servant David” You see when we change things even if it is for greater clarity it can lose it’s true meaning. “This is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is referred to as the “horn of salvation.” The instruction from God for the construction of the altar in the Temple where the atonement for the sins of the people was to be made called for a horn at each of the four corners (Ex. 27:1–2). Blood was applied to the horns of the altars for atonement (Ex. 30:10). Adonijah, in fear of Solomon, fled to the altar and hung on to the horns as a place for refuge and salvation (1 Kings 1:50–53). Upon deliverance from his enemies, David sang, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge, and my savior …” (2 Sam. 22:2–3, italics added). Zechariah was inspired to proclaim Jesus to be the one to whom humankind could flee for refuge—the one who would become the atonement for sin—the one who would become salvation for us and (Luke 1:69) the strength of our life.”
(Ps. 28:7–8) “The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in him, and I am helped: Therefore, my heart greatly rejoiceth; And with my song will I praise him. The LORD is their strength, And he is the saving strength of his anointed”. “Zechariah’s words must be understood as the result of the Holy Spirit’s coming upon him. They are words of prophecy, words which express God’s revelation. The horn was a symbol of strength (as with the horn of a bull), so that a horn of salvation means ‘a mighty salvation’ or ‘a strong savior’ The reference to the house of his servant David shows that Zechariah is singing about the Messiah. The salvation the Messiah will bring is spoken of first as deliverance (71), then as mercy to the fathers and then in terms of the covenant. Now, there are several covenants in the Old Testament, but that with Abraham stands out. The oath was a significant part of any covenant, and here it is emphasized. God will not go back on what he has sworn. The covenant with Abraham will be brought to its consummation. Zechariah first words in nine months are not about his little boy but the Messiah whom God was about to send. That doesn’t mean Zechariah didn’t care about John rather in verse 76 he points out that he will be called the prophet of the Most High. There had been no prophet among the Jews for centuries, so those were fighting words, not exactly something that the people of the time would take calmly. John would represent a radical departure from what had become customary. And not only was he to be a prophet, but he was to prepare the Lord’s way. He would be forerunner to the Messiah. Specifically, he would tell people about the coming of salvation in the forgiveness of their sins. John would not save people. No man could. But he would call people to repentance and tell them about One who could save them. Our coming salvation will be through God’s tender mercy. The compassion of God is a constant theme of the New Testament. Zechariah goes on to speak of salvation as light “the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace”.”We opened with the prophecy Zechariah and one more time I want close with the coming of our Lord the Messiah but not as a guide for future generations but as the fulfillment of that prophecy as the coming conqueror and eternal ruler of both heaven and earth. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Amen!
When Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple and the coming of the Messiah people freaked out and rightly so. Think about something that is central to your life, something that the destruction of would be unimaginable. Think about how you would react if someone told you that your whole way of life would cease to exist. The first thing that you will do is deny it and then you are going to want to know, “When will these things happen?” (Luke 21:7) It is only natural that you would want as much information as possible about an event that will affect your life so profoundly. You want to be on guard against it. You want to prepare, right. Well the Judeans were no different and they pestered Jesus to give them a sign, especially the Sadducee and Pharisee and do you remember His response to them. “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. But to His disciples He gave a few hints: Many will come in my name, claiming “I am he,” and, “The time is near” (Luke 21:8). There will be wars and revolutions (21:9). Nation will rise against nation (21:10). There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places (21:11). There will be fearful events and great signs from heaven (21:11). We are living in such times now. As a matter of fact, every generation throughout history has lived during similar times. Does anyone know who David Meade is? Do you know what April 23rd, of this year was supposed to be? The rapture. Yes, and that’s just one of a couple of hundred people and dates that have foretold the end of the world. The fact is Jesus told us not to fear or worry about the date because fear and lies are our greatest enemies and the enemy uses them to distract us. Wesleyan theologian Ken Heer put it like this, “We must be confident people of faith not in circumstances, but in God’s provision and care of His children. Fear is our enemy. Faith is our ally.” Paul is clear that we must always be on our guard, particularly in the last days. Paul writes to Timothy in Ephesus and advises him to watch for, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1–5). We were also told that the Lord would come as “a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:1–3), but that He would not come until “the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:4). Peter went even farther and warned that “in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires” (2 Pet. 3:3); and “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (3:10). George just read Luke to us and Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” The coming of the Lord will bring fear and tribulation to those who do not follow the Lord, but we are not to fear, we are to be on guard. We are His children and we have been redeemed, still we are not yet in His presence and cannot know the true gift of His grace until we are raised into the heavens just as Jesus ascended into the clouds. The angels have told us, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). He will return in awesome glory and with unimaginable power to become the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Still we must be on guard for that day because no one knows the day of His return, but everyone who follows Christ must be vigilant and discerning of the word of God and where He leads us. Jesus used the fig tree to illustrate that His return would follow as naturally as the procession of the seasons and that it would be obvious to us when it was going to happen.
When the leaves sprout, you can tell summer is near (21:30). As God’s people we too are expected to know that the kingdom of God is near just by being on guard and seeing the world as it is. There are few things in this life that have permanence. Most of us have lived long enough to see the world we were born into change so much that there are very few things that we have in common with the days of our youth. It’s just not there anymore. There are no guarantees in this life, Jesus said that even the heavens and the earth will pass away (21:33). Nothing will remain, nothing…with one exception Jesus said, “my words will never pass away” (21:33). In the end there will be nothing but the word of God, just as there was in the beginning. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. (Rev. 22:13). But until that final season comes, we are to be on guard so that our hearts are not weighed down (21:34). We are to be on guard so that day does not catch you unexpectedly like a trap (21:34). We are always to be alert, praying (21:36). We are not expected to hide in fear. No, we are created to face the enemy with our eyes wide open, with the word of God on our lips and faith in our heart. In prayer we remain confident in God’s faithfulness to us, as we remain faithful to Him and because of your faith in Christ they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify.So, make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. Be on guard when we accept Christ into our lives, we are warned to count the cost, “and they will put some of you to death” (21:16). Jesus never promised us a rose garden, instead He told us “All men will hate you because of me” (21:17). Harsh words but not without promise for Jesus tells us that not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. Be on guard we may lose our bodies they cannot kill the soul. We are eternal in spirit and we are only ever truly alive when we are within Christ because Crist has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. And all God’s children said? Amen.