Pastor Sherry’s message for December 5, 2021
Scriptures: Mal 3:1-4; Lk 1:68-79; Phil 1:3-11; Lk 3:1-6
What are your favorite “signs”/symbols of Christmas? My two particular favorites are the Advent Wreath and the music of Handel’s “Messiah.” Last week, we lit the first candle on our Advent wreath. The wreath is circular, signifying the eternality of God, or God’s endless love and mercy. The wreath is formed of evergreens, a symbol of our hope in God (newness of life; renewal; and eternal life). The outer four candles remind us of the 400 years from the prophesies of Malachi until birth of Jesus. In those years, God was essentially saying to the Hebrew people, “You have not listened to Me. Now I won’t say anything more (until Jesus).” There are 3 purple or white candles, which signify the following:
1st The Prophesy Candle, Messiah is Coming, which speaks of Hope;
2nd The Bethlehem Candle, signifying the Birth of Christ, and our need to Prepare our hearts for Him.
4th The Angel Candle which denotes Love. There is also 1 rose or pink candle. The third Candle, also called the Shepherds Candle, which indicates the Joy the shepherds felt at the birth of Jesus. The large, white candle in the center of the wreath signifies Christ. It reminds us that Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God; the light of the world; and the reason for the season. As the candles are lit, we symbolically note how the darkness recedes, and remember that we are called to be the light of God’s grace to a darkened and weary world.
My other favorite signal of Christmas is the music of Handel’s “Messiah.” Our Old and New Testament lessons this morning comprise a tenor and a bass aria, which you may recognize. Handel, a devout student of Scripture, set these verses to music in about 23-24 days. Modern psychology believes Handel was experiencing a manicy high as he wrote his massive and impressive “Messiah,” including music for both instrumentation and for voices. We believers know Handel was not a Bipolar, but was downloading gorgeous music given to him by the Holy Spirit, and he probably wrote it down as quickly as he was able. Clearly, he wisely understood the purpose of Jesus’ 1st Coming was to rescue/save His people; and, by demonstrating God’s saving love for them, to bring them comfort and reassurance. He also knew that when Christ comes again, He comes to judge the people of the earth, separating out the clean from the unclean.
Thus, the Second Sunday of Advent reminds us of the message of John the Baptist, the forerunner/proclaimer of Jesus: “Prepare your hearts! Stop! Pay attention! Get right with God!” Let’s see how these themes are present in the Scripture passages appointed for today:
A. Our OT lesson is from Malachi (3:1-4), the final book before the recording of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. This is God’s final word to humankind prior to 400 years of silence. The prophet proclaims that just before the public ministry of the Messiah, a prophet will come on the scene to prepare folks to receive Him. All four Gospels reference this Malachi passage. So, we are left with no doubt that the 1st messenger is John the Baptist. His preaching about repentance and his call to folks to be baptized were meant to help people get their hearts ready to receive Jesus, ourSavior at His first Advent.
But even before the end of his first verse, Malachi also declares a …messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come…. This is Jesus, the Righteous Judge, who will appear suddenly at the end of times.
He will return to earth a 2nd time, as our Sovereign Lord. Malachi asks (v.2), Who can endure the day of His [2nd] coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiners’ fire or a launderer’s soap. His mission then will be to judge and to purify us. The only ones who will be able to stand in the presence of God and live, according to PS 24:3, are those who have…clean hands and a pure heart, and who have not sullied themselves with idol worship. If we had not been cleansed with the blood of Jesus—shed on the cross for us—we would not be able to meet this important criteria. But because, by believing in Jesus, we are covered by His righteousness, we will one day stand before, and live, in the presence of Almighty God.
Malachi’s message is one which reminds us to be prepared, to ready our hearts by inviting Jesus to be King on the throne of our lives.
B. Instead of a psalm, this morning, we are treated to a song of praise sung by the priestly father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:68-79)!
Remember, Zechariah was struck mute by the angel when he did not believe God would empower him to father a son as an elderly man. He was praying, in the Holy of Holies of the Temple—praying for the sins of Israel, and no doubt asking for a son—when the angel appeared with the answer to his prayers. He was no doubt so startled and amazed at the sight of the angels that he lost about 50 IQ points! He expressed unbelief and earned 9 months of silence as a result. He only recovered his speech when he affirmed that his infant son was to be named John.
In his song, he first rejoices that God is sending a Redeemer, out of the dynasty of King David. This Redeemer (Jesus) will…
1.) Provide salvation for God’s people;
2.) Show us God’s mercy;
3.) Demonstrate God’s covenant relationship with us;
4.) and Enable us to serve God without fear due to Jesus’ holiness and righteousness. Finally, and only at the end of his song, he declares that John the Baptist, his son, will be a prophet of the Most High. We can well imagine that Zechariah feels honored. We can tell that Zechariah rejoices in the fact that God’s rescue of His people is immanent.
C. In our Philippians 1:3-11 text, Paul reminds us of this very essential fact: He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will continue to work in us—if we allow Him to—to transform us into the best we can become. This is the second half of the Gospel. The first half is very big: Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. But the second is also important and involves our willingness to cooperate with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus loves us just as we are, but He also loves us too much to leave us that way.
In that light, Paul also prays that we might (1) abound in love, knowledge and discernment; (2) make wise decisions in the way we live so that we are ready for Christ’s 2nd Coming; and (3) be filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22):…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
D. Finally, in our Gospel lesson from Luke 3:1-6, John the Baptist himself, calls us to prepare for Christ. Notice how carefully Dr. Luke places John the Baptist in time: He dates his appearance on the historic scene by placing him in the context of non-Jewish governmental leaders from AD 25-26:
1.) Pontius Pilot, the Roman Prefect (military governing power);
2.) Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee (1 of 4 to take control over a quarter each of Alexander’ the Great’s empire after his death— Archaelaus was already dead);
3.) Leaving Herod, Philip (his brother), Tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitus;
4.) and Lysanias, Tetrarch of Abilene. Luke also places him during the high priesthood of Annas (out of favor w/ Rome but still pulling the strings) and Caiaphus, his son-in-law.
Then Dr. Luke makes sure we realize that the word of God Himself came to John the Baptist out in the wilderness (west of the Jordan). This recalls the 40 years wandering of the children of Israel, in the wilderness between Egypt and Israel, as God formed them into a nation. And later, Jesus will spend 40 days in John’s wilderness, strengthening His identity, understanding His mission, and deepening His faith and trust in His Father.
This poses the question, what is our wilderness? And are we using it to strengthen and deepen our faith and trust in God? But, this is a sermon for another day!
JtB then embarks on his ministry, calling folks to repentance; readying them to receive God’s forgiveness; and helping them to realize they/we need a Savior. Dr. Luke refers to Isaiah 40:3-5, which Handel so beautifully set to music—and sung so well this morning–in the 1st tenor aria of his “Messiah.” John’s role was to call us to prepare our hearts for Jesus. Just as crooked roads are straightened and rough spots are filled in and smoothed out, we are to ready ourselves morally and spiritually to welcome Jesus.
Advent is a season of expectant Hope! Advent fairly shouts, Don’t give up! Our God makes good on His promises! Jesus is coming a first time to redeem us. He will come a second time to make all things right. He will overcome all the “bad actors” in the world. He will usher in His peaceful kingdom. He will set all accounts right. So we want to be prepared. We want to live in a way that mimics the behavior of Jesus. We want to exhibit the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We want to express our gratitude, joining with St. Paul in saying, Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia, alleluia!
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams