Friday, December 14, 2007

My sermon for 3 Advent - Anticipate who God is...

This is the time of year when our cars can get snowed-in. When we feel confined – trapped and powerless – we start to anticipate all the things that could go wrong. The store might run out of sale items. We might fall behind at work. People will be angry because I didn’t keep an appointment.
· Feeling powerless can lead us to anticipate the worst.

This week, I had three separate conversations with church members who said something like, “I want to grow as a Christian, but so many things in my life keep me from doing that.” They feel powerless over circumstances and anticipate spiritual failure.
· God also spoke to this concern this week when my wife and I read Mark 4:18-19, in which Jesus warns that some of us “hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.”

If you are anticipating that kind of fruitless failure, you are in good company. Our Gospel (Matthew 11:2-11) begins with John the Baptist locked up in prison and starting to doubt.
· John anticipates that his mission might be a failure. He has been pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, the savior sent by God, but now he questions his own accuracy and sends messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one or should we wait for someone else?”

Jesus’ response to John tells us that we must set aside much of what WE anticipate and make room for what JESUS anticipates.
· Instead of a “yes or no” answer, Jesus sends John a series of signs: “…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Jesus anticipates that John is a true prophet and will understand the signs.
· And all of these signs can be understood as fulfillments of Jewish prophecies, pointing to the Messiah. In fact, Isaiah 42:7 speaks of the blind receiving sight – and also prisoners going free. By adding “the dead are raised”, Jesus addresses John’s future. John will “see” the answer to his confusion and recognize Jesus as the Messiah foretold in Scripture. John will leave the prison, but will do so by dying as a martyr and rising to new life in the kingdom of heaven.
· In short, where John anticipates the possibility of his mission ending in failure, Jesus anticipates John’s coming triumph - which looks like defeat in the world's eyes but is victory in God's.

We must train ourselves to make room for what Jesus anticipates.
· For example, our lesson from James says that we must develop patience, so that we can prepare for the future that Jesus anticipates for us.
· In an example from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, we read that Jesus sent 36 pairs of disciples ahead of him to places he was going to visit. They came back excited about their power to drive out demons, but Jesus reminded them, “…do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” We are not to anticipate our own achievements, but to anticipate that God has accepted us and offers us a future. This is consistent with the order of things in 1 John 4:19, “We love because God first loved us.” We anticipate who God is, and this guides us to anticipate who we can be with God’s help. This is why our Men’s Prayer Group sessions begin with “adoration” – focusing on who God is before we get to our own concerns.
· In Luke Chapter 13, Jesus tells a parable about a tree that would not bear fruit. It was to be cut down (talk about anticipating the worst!), but a vineyard worker (who stands for Jesus in the story) asks permission to invest another year, caring for the tree to make it fruitful. Again, we might anticipate a future ruined by our own weakness and failure, but Jesus, if we are open to Him, anticipates “good fruit” – that our lives will be meaningful in God’s work on earth, if we recognize that Jesus cares about us and we let Him work on us.

As we get ready for Christmas, we need to stop anticipating lumps of coal and other measures of “naughty ‘n’ nice” in our lives.
· Instead, we need to anticipate who God is – Who GOD is – as we pray in the words of our traditional Communion services: “That for us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven…”



Alice C. Linsley said...

If I make room for what Jesus anticipates, then I can expect miracles!

This is rich food, Father! And timely at this season when peoples' expectations are high and the commericalization of the Nativity makes the miracle of the Incarnation seem trivial.

Anonymous said...

Again, ditto, Alice (see the previous sermon).

Two great sermons back to back. Can you possibly keep this up??

I just may have to ask your permission to borrow and adapt this sermon too for future use. I just might even give you credit, Fr. Tim.

I doubt if your parishioners really know what a remarkable gift they have in you, Tim+. For that would require a wide baseline for comparison. It takes visiting a lot of TEC churches to realize the sad sort of spiritual slop that gets fed to the people in most of them. And I wouldn't wish that fate on anyone, even my enemies!