The Miracle of Christmas

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 25, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 52:7-10; Ps 98; Heb 1:1-4; Jn 1:1-14

The story is told of a man who struggled to believe God would send His Son to earth to redeem us. The man said to himself, “There is no point to a God who becomes man,” he mused. “Why would an all-powerful God want to share even one of His precious moments with the likes of man? And even if He did, why would He choose to be born in an animal stall? No way! The whole thing is absurd! I’m sure that if God really wanted to come down to earth, He would have chosen some other way.”

“Suddenly, the man was roused from his reverie by a strange sound outside. He went to the window and saw a small gaggle of blue geese frantically honking and aimlessly flopping about in the snow. They seemed dazed and confused. Apparently they had dropped out in exhaustion from the flight formations of a larger flock on its way from the Arctic Islands to the warmer climes of the Gulf of Mexico. Moved to compassion, the man tried to “shoo” the poor geese into his warm garage, but the more he “shooed” the more they panicked.

“’If they only realized I’m only trying to do what’s best for them,” he thought to himself. “How can I make them understand my concern for their well-being?” Then, this thought came to him: “If for just a minute, I could become one of them, an ordinary goose, and communicate with them in their own language, they would know what I am trying to do.” And suddenly … suddenly, he remembered Christmas and a smile came over his face. Suddenly, the Christmas story no longer seemed absurd. Suddenly, he pictured that ordinary-looking infant, lying in the manger, in that stable in Bethlehem, and he knew the answer to his Christmas problem: God had become one of us to tell us that He loves us.“ (Borrowed from the TCM website, 12/19/2022, author’s name unknown.)

This Christmas illustration is meant to remind us of the real miracle of Christmas: That Jesus Christ—the sovereign King of the Universe, seated in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, the seat of power–would take on flesh and become one of us in order to speak our language/ to get through to us and to save us from destruction.

Our scripture lessons today leave no doubt that Christmas is a miracle:

A. The writer to the Hebrews (1:1-4) wants us to know that Jesus Christ is superior in position and power to all of the prophets who have lived and to all of the angels in heaven and on earth. Previously, God had spoken to humankind through prophets He ordained to convey His thoughts to us. Less often, He communicated through angelic beings who came with specific messages to particular persons. And, then He made His thoughts known to us through the 45 Holy-Spirit-inspired authors of the Old Testament written over 1500 years. But with the birth of Jesus, the Father has spoken to us through His Son, the full revelation of God: (v.3) The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His [the Father’s] being, sustaining of all things by His powerful word. Or, as Peterson paraphrases it in his The Message, By His Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what He says—powerful words.

B. That theme of the power of The Word/the Divine Logos is spelled out for us in John 1:1-14.

First, let’s look at where John begins. Matthew and Luke each start with Jesus’ birth, Matthew from Joseph’s perspective and Luke, from Mary’s. Mark omits the birth narratives altogether and jumps into the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But John starts with the beginning of time and space! Verse 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Before creation took place, Jesus was present. Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, was with God, distinct from the Father; but also, Jesus, the Word, was God, part of the same deity as the Father. Like the Father, Jesus is fully divine! Verse 2 He was with God in the beginningThe Father and the Son have always co-existed. The Son did not come into being at His incarnation. He, like the Father, has existed forever.

Verse 3 Through Him all things were made and without Him, nothing was made that has been made. John sometimes repeats things to help insure that we don’t miss his point. Jesus made everything. John knows Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He just does not want us to miss the fact that Jesus was present at Creation. You see, the Father conceived the plan; and the Son, the agent of creation, spoke it into existence. Jesus brought all things to life because He is the life-force (the way, the truth and the life, John 14:6)!

Verse 4 What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. John makes a word play, in the original Greek, on life and light. Spiritually speaking, Jesus’ life brings light into ours. Later, Jesus will say, I am the light of the world (John 8:12) and I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). So, as God He is both light and life, and willingly offers both to us.

Verse 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. He came to dispel the darkness, the darkness surrounding us today: unbelief, sin, death, oppression, bondage, violence, the power of evil. But because we have free will, some of us will miss His gift. Some of us will refuse to believe in Him. Some of us will continue to live in spiritual darkness.

Verse 10 But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God. Those of us who believe in Him are not His biological heirs, or heirs through any human effort, but we are spiritual children of God, through Christ’s blood and the Father’s plan. You see, those of us who have accepted God’s perfect gift—Jesus—receive another gift: the privilege to become daughters or sons of God.

As if that weren’t enough, (v.14)🡪The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made His dwelling among us! This is a total break from all non-Christian thought–the agent of Creation becomes a Creature! Jesus encased Himself in baby flesh and comes to earth as one of us. If I were in charge, I would have had Him come as a King or as a victorious general. But God, in His wisdom, has Him arrive as a vulnerable and totally dependent, nonthreatening babe.

There has never been—nor will there ever be–a human as important as Jesus Christ! He is fully God, and He is fully human. What a miracle!

C and D.Our final two readings look forward to Christ’s millennial reign on earth, His second coming. The Isaiah passage (52:7-10) speaks to what it will be like when what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer comes to passThy kingdom come. Jesus’ rule and reign on earth will be fabulous! Peace, justice, mercy, grace and forgiveness will characterize the behavior of all people. There will be no more wars, murders, illness, death, sexual assaults, human trafficking, slavery, injustice, lying, fraud, etc. Can you even imagine such a state? How wonderful! No wonder everyone will experience great joy!

Our Psalm too (98) celebrates the righteous reign of Christ. Verse 1 Sing to the Lord a new song for He has done marvelous things! The psalmist predicts how joyous celebration will begin in the congregation (Christian Church and Synagogue of Messianic believers); then it will spread to all humans; and finally will impact all of creation. Remember, God cursed the serpent and the ground at the Fall, but not the people. Paul tells us (Romans 8:20-22) For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it [God the Father], in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God [waiting on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ].

At His 2nd Coming, the Righteous Judge will set all things right. That is a miracle for which I can hardly wait!

So we say, “Happy Birthday, Lord Jesus, on this Christmas Day, 2022!” Thank you for taking on flesh and dwelling among us! Thank you for saving us from the penalty for our sins! Today,

“May our Christmas gifts remind us of God’s greatest gift, His only Son.
May our Christmas candles remind us of Him who is the “Light of the world.”
May our Christmas trees remind us of another tree upon which He died.
May our Christmas cheer remind us of Him who said, “Be of good cheer.”
May our Christmas feast remind us of Him who is “the Bread of Life.”
May our Christmas bells remind us of the glorious proclamation of His birth.
May our Christmas carols remind us of the Son of whom the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest!”
May our Christmas season remind us in every way of Jesus Christ our King!”

(Again, borrowed from the TCM website, 12/19/2022, author’s name unknown.)

Blessed Christmas to each one of you!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams


God’s Generosity Towards Us

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 31, 2022

Scriptures: Hosea 11:1-11; Ps 107:1-9. 43; Col 3:1-11; Lk 12:13-21

The missionary, Jim Elliott, killed (in 1957 at age of 28) while attempting to witness to the Auca Indians of Ecuador, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” What does this mean? Elliot lived this out, didn’t he? He gave up his life in service to God. We all know life is fragile. We act like we can control the number of our days, but the truth is that we could each—God forbid—be run over by a truck tomorrow. None of us knows for sure when we will die. So Jim Elliot gave up what he couldn’t keep (his life) to honor God and to gain–due to his heart-attitude—what he could not lose (his salvation/his position as an adopted son of God). This guy was sold out to God! Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). If we can believe what others tell us about Jim Elliott, he was willing to die to help spread the Gospel. By the way, his widow, Elizabeth Elliott, continued Jim’s work with the Auca’s and ended up converting his murderer (and others) to Christ. Jim Elliot lived a short life of incredible generosity toward God and others.

Let me share another illustration of generosity:

“Two young men [were] working their way through Stanford University [members of its 1st class in 1895]. Their funds got desperately low, and the idea came to one of them to engage Paderewski for a piano recital and devote the profits to their board and tuition [There was no “GoFundMe” at that time]. The great pianist’s manager asked for a guarantee of two thousand dollars. The students, undaunted, proceeded to stage the concert. They worked hard, only to find that the concert had raised only sixteen hundred dollars. After the concert, the students sought the great artist and told him of their efforts and results. They gave him the entire sixteen hundred dollars, and accompanied it with a promissory note for four hundred dollars, explaining that they would earn the amount at the earliest possible moment and send the money to him. “No,” replied Paderewski, “that won’t do.” Then tearing the note to shreds, he returned the money and said to them: “Now, take out of this sixteen hundred dollars all of your expenses, and keep for each of you 10 percent of the balance for your work, and let me have the rest.” The years rolled by–years of fortune and destiny. Paderewski had become premier of Poland. The devastating war came [WWI], and Paderewski was striving with might and main to feed the starving thousands of his beloved Poland. There was only one man in the world who could help Paderewski and his people. {After appealing to this man], thousands of tons of food began to come into Poland for distribution by the Polish premier.

After the starving people were fed, Paderewski journeyed to Paris to thank Herbert Hoover for the relief sent him. “That’s all right, Mr. Paderewski,” was Mr. Hoover’s reply. “Besides, you don’t remember it, but you helped me once when I was a student at college and I was in a hole.” (True story, prior to Hoover serving as our 31st president from 1929-1933, from the website

Later in his life, the former college student from Stanford was able to repay the Polish Premier for his earlier generosity.

Three of our lessons for today center on the heart—attitude of generosity.

A. In Hosea 11:1-11, the prophet not only speaks for God, but he also lives out a metaphor of God’s love for His people. In chapter 1, which we read last week, God tells Hosea to marry a whore, a woman who will be repeatedly unfaithful to him. What a dreadful assignment! God used Hosea’s tragic marital life to demonstrate to the Northern Kingdom how He felt about their idolatry—or what God considers “spiritual adultery.”

Hosea’s wife, Gomer, humiliated him time and again by running around with other men. By Jewish law, Hosea was justified in stoning her to death. But God told him to break the law God Himself had created in order to make his life an object lesson for the people. So, Hosea remained faithful, as does our God, to a spouse who was a serial or repeated adulterer.

Gomer bore him 3 children, but he could not be sure they were his. God had him name his 2 boys and 1 girl names that reflected the Lord’s increasing disappointment with and distress over Israel:

1.) A son, Jezreel, whose name meant God scatters;

2.) A daughter, Lo-Ruhamah, whose name meant not loved; and

3.) A second son, Lo-Ammi, whose name meant not My people. God was saying to the people of the Northern Kingdom, I have faithfully loved you, but you have been consistently and blatantly unfaithful to Me. I am withdrawing from you. I will scatter you.

Now, 10 chapters later, God changes the metaphor from a marital relationship to a parent-child relationship. He poignantly recalls (vv.3-4) It was I who taught Ephraim [Israel] to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. He freed them, loved them, healed them, led them, and fed them. And how did they respond to His continuous, long-suffering, fatherly love for them? They left Him to take up with pagan gods.

So God names the nation He will use as His method of discipline: Defeat at the hands of the brutal Assyrians. This punishment, finally meted out in 722BC, was not simply meant as just retribution for their on-going betrayals. Rather, it was meant by God to be remedial. God used their defeat by the Assyrian army as a last resort to teach lessons they had rebelliously refused to learn. Our God means what He says. When I first taught high school (1970), my principal told me to always mean what I said to students and to say only what I meant. Otherwise, she said the students would not respect me or trust me. She was right. If I said a certain consequence would follow an act of disrespect or disruption, I had to enforce that consequence even if it meant punishing my favorite student. (Often I found the kids I liked the best were the first ones to try me.) Like a teacher who is firm and in control of her classroom, God loves us but will not tolerate our disobedience and disrespect forever. He is a God of love and mercy, but He will also act to bring about reformation of our character and our morals.

B. Psalm 107 celebrates the goodness of the Lord, in that He hears our prayers and saves us. The Psalm rejoices over God’s saving interventions on behalf of the Israelites in the past. Even though they were often disobedient, He provided for them, guided them, and protected them. He was justified in destroying them, but chose not to due to His love for them.

I believe this is a prophetic message for us today too. Due to His great love for us, our God continues to provide for and to protect us. He is extraordinarily patient with us. But as with the Israelites, there comes a time when He disciplines us to reform our characters.

This is why we pray for His continued mercy. This is why we weekly (and daily) pray for our nation to return to God.

C. In our Gospel passage, Luke 12:13-21, Jesus provides us with a lesson regarding those who are selfish and self-focused. We are meant by God to act generously toward God and others. Those who don’t, like the rich guy in the parable, will not be able to hold onto their wealth and possessions forever. He blithely assumed that he would continue to be blessed as he greedily horded all of his profits to himself. He probably never considered that it could all end for him at his sudden death. Jesus calls him a fool! Let’s think back to the Jim Elliott quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” We cannot trust we will keep our wealth. The stock market can crash; inflation cheapens what we have; expected inheritance checks fail to arrive (the deceased may have spent it all before dying; fire, rust, rot, floods, tornadoes, volcanos, and hurricanes can reduce what we own to nothing. While there are no u-hauls carrying our wealth with us in the afterlife, we can trust that God will reward us for being generous toward Him and others.

Our God is generous even as He disciplines us. He gave Israel—and He has given us—dozens and dozens of warnings of coming punishment. In the 350 years from 750-400BC, He sent 12 Minor Prophets and 4 Major ones to warn the people not to stray from Him. There was no social media then and no cable news networks, yet those folks cannot claim they were not warned. 16 prophets in 350 years amount to approximately one every 20 years. Most of them prophesied over a number of years, so their warnings overlapped. The people were not ignorant of God’s displeasure. They simply didn’t care. So He took them to the proverbial woodshed for a thorough thrashing.

And so that we know He means what He says—so that we discover that He is indeed trustworthy and true—He will eventually lower the boom on us as well. As much as we don’t want the discipline we have coming, He punishes us because He loves us: (Hebrews 12:5) My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son [or daughter].

We are wise to trust in His generosity towards us. We are also wise to fight against any tendencies we have toward greed and selfish self-interest. We can learn to be content with what we have.

We can commit to give to others in need out of our excess; i.e., rather than stock-pile it, we can give it away to others. And we can discipline ourselves to gift God with a tithe of all He has given us. Scripture says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). This means He owns all wealth. He gifts us with some of it. As a way to demonstrate our continued trust in His provision, and as a spiritual discipline, He wants us to give back to Him a portion…not because He needs it, but because we do.

Let’s pray:

Thank you, oh Lord, for Your incredible generosity towards us! We are exceedingly grateful. Help us to be generous toward You and toward others, we pray in the name of Jesus, our Messiah. Amen

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God is Good!

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 16, 2022

Scriptures—Isa 62:1-5; Ps 36:5-10; 1 Cor 12:1-11; Jn 2:1-11

Etymologists who study the evolution of language tell us that Old English developed from Germanic tribes (the Angles and Saxons) invading parts of England/Scotland and blending their Germanic tongues with the Celtic and Latin spoken there, around 300AD. (I know that languages evolve because my grandkids, 7th and 9th graders, speak words that I have never heard before or use words I know but which have a different meaning from what I learned.) Have you ever noticed that the words God and good are only separated by one letter, an extra “o”? This is significant because when these Germanic folk began to worship the God of the Old and New Testaments, fully revealed in Jesus Christ, they searched for a word to describe Him. Originally, they worshipped a pantheon of pagan gods with names like Odin, Thor, and Freya. They wanted a name that differentiated the Christian God from these. I don’t know why they didn’t use Yahweh, God’s name in the Old Testament. That would have gotten my vote, but, as they began to learn more about God’s nature, they were amazed by God’s goodness. So, they decided to use a form of their word good and adapt it to mean the Christian God.

In other words, the word that made the most sense to them to use to name our God was their word, good. This was true in Old English, but also in modern German and Dutch. We know from Scripture that God is good. Isn’t it interesting that when a group of ancient, northern European people came to accept our God as their Lord and Savior, they chose to call Him by their word for good?

I wrote this sermon on Thursday and Friday, then was out of town all day Saturday. When I arrived back home after 7:00pm Saturday, I found a card from an old friend in my mailbox. The card read, “God is good, all the time.” Inside, the printed card continued, “All the time, God is good.” My friend had selected the card some days ago and sent it to me from another city, not knowing what passages I would be preaching. I was delighted that God seemed to indicate that my sermon was pleasing to Him!

Our Scripture lessons today all emphasize the goodness of our God.

A. Our Old Testament lesson comes from Isaiah 62:1-5. In it, God uses the metaphor of a bridegroom’s love for His bride to describe His love for Jerusalem—and, by extension—for us, because, thanks to Jesus, we have been grafted into His Chosen People. Despite their repeated (and current) rejection of Him, God promises the Jews that at Jesus’ 2nd Coming, He will delight in Jerusalem (He and Jesus will take up residence there); He will give her a new name—indicating a new character pleasing to God; He will marry Himself to her (not in a sexual way but indicating an intimate knowledge of her for Him and Him for her); and He will be present to her, protect her, and delight in her.

Doesn’t this just beautifully and convincingly demonstrate the loving kindness, the goodness of our God? He never gives up on us. As the prophet Jeremiah affirms in 29:11–For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.

B. Similarly, Psalm 36:5-10, written by King David, extolls the goodness of the Lord toward all His creatures, human and otherwise:

Verse 5 praises God’s love and faithfulness towards us. Verse 6 applauds His righteousness and justice toward us. Verse 7 acclaims Him as our refuge when we need one—…both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. This image of wings echoes Exodus 19:4 where God tells Moses to remind the Israelites🡪You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. It’s also present in Matthew 23:37 where Jesus mourns His rejection by His people O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you were not willing. “Under her wings” is the place of protection and security; and “under [His] wings” is the place of warmth and rest.

Verses 8-10 celebrate His abundant provision for us, in images of profuse feasting and drinking. Again, the Scriptures proclaim the goodness of God.

C. Our Gospel reading, John 2:1-11, describes Jesus’ and His mother’s response to a lack at a country wedding. Jesus may have attended many weddings over the course of His earthly life, but this one took place at Cana, a village just over the hill from Nazareth. Weddings, then like now, were joyous occasions. In small villages, everyone was invited. There was feasting and dancing. Sometimes the celebration lasted several days. If a couple were poor, there was a real danger of running out of food and wine. Wine to them was a staple with meals. Perhaps the alcohol content helped kill bacteria in their unfiltered water. But drunkenness was universally condemned.

The couple does run out of wine, and they are about to be publically embarrassed. Mary, Jesus’ mother, brings their dilemma to His attention. She says (v.3), They have no more wine. Jesus responds (v.4), Dear woman, why do you involve Me? Scholars are undecided about why she would ask Him to do something for them in this setting. Some believe she was asking Jesus and His 12 to leave, thus lessening the demand. Others speculate she was asking Him to preach in order to distract the guests—but even if He did so, the folks attending would still require food and drink. Still others suggest she wanted Him to vindicate her publically, thinking if He performed a miracle for them, He would prove He was God as she had maintained all of her life. But I think she, as His mother, knew His capabilities. I know my engineer son. He can teach me about computers, but he cannot fix my clogged drains. We mothers often know very well what our kids can and cannot do. Mary clearly had empathy for the couple, and she knew her son and trusted that He could rectify the situation. Jesus, on the other hand, knew this would “out Him,” so He was reluctant to perform a miracle—He says, My time has not yet come. Later in John’s Gospel He will say He only does what He sees His Father doing. But in this case, I think He honored His mother by taking care of things:

First, He has them gather 6 large water jars. Each, set aside for ritual purification, held 20-30 gallons. Then He quietly transforms the water into the best wine ever! 6X20=120 gallons; 6X30=180 gallons. What an exceptionally generous amount of especially delicious wine! The wedding planner is stunned! In this transformation, Jesus has just offered what John calls “a sign” of His divinity—by His will alone, He can convert one form of matter into another.

D. We know from this side of the Cross that Jesus only did what His heavenly Father told Him to do. So, why unveil His divinity at a wedding? Remember, our Isaiah lesson (62:1-5) uses the metaphor of a bridegroom’s love for his bride to describe God’s love for us. A portion of our Psalm 36:5-10 celebrates God’s love for us in images of feasting and drinking—like at a wedding reception. The 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 passage lists 9 spiritual gifts potentially given to those of us who love Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now Paul provides 3 lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians and in Romans. There are some differences among these lists. But this one cites miraculous powers. Jesus demonstrated miraculous powers at the Cana wedding. Some believe this signaled His endorsement of the marital union. Other Biblical experts assert that Jesus took something old and battered (the jugs/water pots) and filled them with something new designed to meet their needs: He took a good thing from the past—water—and turned it into a good thing for the future–really excellent wine. This way, we can begin to see the wine as a metaphor for the generous blessings of God. Whatever the truth of the matter, in solving the problem of the wine deficit, Jesus demonstrated God’s love, compassion, generosity, and His goodness.

By the way, did you know that Welch’s Grape Juice was originally created as a non-alcoholic, alternative communion wine? Prior to branching out into jams and jellies, Mr. Welch, a Methodist dentist from the 1800’s, wanted something that looked like wine but lacked its alcohol content to serve at his church communion. Some denominations use real wine; others, like us, use grape juice. I have attended a Lutheran Church which served both, the grape juice as an alternative for kids and for recovering alcoholics.

If you have trouble getting your mind around the concept that God is good—especially when you wonder about the bumps, dings, assaults, and calamities you may have experienced in this life– consider this true story recounted by Richella J. Parham in her 2019 book titled, Mythical Me (pp. 58-59, IVPress):

As I was talking with my friend Robin one day, she told me of a good deed she had done, then she stopped and said, “Of course, I know I’m just a sinner.” I then asked Robin, who has a young-adult daughter, to describe her daughter to me in twenty-five words or less. I watched as my friend’s eyes lit up and her lips tilted into a smile. “She’s beautiful. She’s fierce and wise. She’s a lover of Jesus, a friend to all, and a defender of the poor. She is my inspiration.” (Robin is very good with words.)

“Why didn’t you describe your daughter as a black-hearted buzzard?” I asked. “Isn’t she?”

“Why not?’ I queried.

“Because I love her,” came the reply.

“And why do you love her?” I pressed.

“Because she’s my daughter,” came the quick answer from my friend, now wearing a puzzled look.

“If this is how you feel about your daughter, how do you suppose your Father in heaven feels about you?” I asked, knowing the answer.

As Ms. Parham writes, compared to God, we are all black-hearted buzzards to some degree. But praise God, He sees the good in us besides, and loves us because He is good. Remember, He doesn’t send the bumps, dings, assaults, and calamities upon us–Satan does! The Lord, however, promises to be present with us in our struggles. God is good, all the time; All the time, God is good. To God be the glory!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

We Can’t Outgive God

Pastor Sherry’s Message for December 20, 2020

Scriptures: 2 Sam 7:1-11, 16; Ps89:1-4, 19-26; Lk 1:26-38

How many of you are aware of the Jan Karon series about the town of Mitford, in western North Carolina, and the pastor there named Father (Fr.) Timothy Kavanaugh?  Karon has now published 14 books in this series.  They are “clean,” Christ-centered, and heart-warming stories. In seminary, many of us hoped to serve at a parish like Mitford (the church there is called “Lord’s Chapel”).  We would have done much better, however, had we hoped we would be more like Fr. Tim himself.  Karon’s Fr. Tim is modest and self-effacing.  He is honest but also tactful.  He is inordinately patient with the elderly, children, and even unruly pets.  He displays a great sense of humor.  He has a pastor’s heart for his people, and he clearly loves Almighty God!

I recently read the 12th book in the series titled Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, and what I found to be most noteworthy is Fr. Tim’s remarkable prayer life.  Fr. Tim frequently lifts up the needs of his parishioners.  He prays with them, he prays for them while engaged in other activities, and his favorite come-back for a prayer request is, “Consider it done!”  A Bible-believing Episcopal priest, he has memorized many of his denomination’s beautiful prayers called “Collects.”  Quite a few were written by Archbishop Cranmer following the Protestant Reformation in the mid-1500’s.  Fr. Tim wakes up and ends his days reciting them.  He praises God when things go well.  He often prays what he calls the prayer that never fails: Lord, thy will be done….

Isn’t it true that most of us pray for help when our world is looking grim?  Or we pray to know God’s will when facing a big decision.  We may even remember to thank and praise Him for the wonderful moments, the miraculous events, the blessings in our lives.  But do we ever think to ask Him what He’d have us to do bless Him?  “Lord, how can we give back to You?”  Or, “What could we do that would please You?”

Today’s Old Testament lesson (2 Sam 7:1-11+16) sheds some light on what tends to happen when someone wants to gift God.

We are presented with King David, who lived about 1,000 years before the 1st Coming of Jesus.  Though he was a member of the tribe of Judah, he united all12 tribes to form the nation of Israel.  He also established Jerusalem as his capital.  With God’s help, he subdued all of Israel’s enemies and, at the time of this passage, is experiencing an unprecedented period of peace.  Furthermore, he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and danced before it, worshipping God as it entered the city.  He composed some great worship music, many examples of which are preserved for us as Psalms.  As you can imagine, our passage finds him very grateful to God for having blessed him in all of these ways.

My favorite Bible Commentator, Dr. J. Vernon McGee, suggests it might have been on a rare stormy or rainy day that the king spent some time and energy comparing his situation in his palace with that of God’s in the Ark.  He may have fretted, “Here I am sitting in this lovely cedar-lined palace, dry and warm, while God’s Ark sits out in the rain.  That is hardly right.  Why don’t I build God a house?”  Truly, the “tent” which held the Ark was not covered.  Nevertheless, David doesn’t pause to ask God if this is something that will please or bless Him.  He just assumes it will.  To King David, it probably seemed like a slam-dunk.

Even the prophet, Nathan, agreed with the idea, saying essentially, “Great concept!  Run with it!”  But God grabs ahold of Nathan and says, Go back!  Tell David I said “no.”  Furthermore, God adds, whoever said I needed a house?  For years, God had lived in a tent!  It has the advantages of being mobile, flexible, and portable (Other people groups in that day believed their local gods were confined to one geographic area; but the Hebrew God went all over the place).  God is saying, essentially, I appreciate the thought, but I will not be contained by humankind.

Afterall, He’d manifested as a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.  When He gave directions for them to build the “Tent of Meeting”—in which He met with and spoke to Moses and Joshua– He was present but not confined by the tent.  All of this was so until God allowed David’s son, Solomon, to build His Temple; and until informs us in John 1:14–The Word became flesh and dwelt (tented; pitched His tent) among us–a tent of flesh!

God denied the gesture but honored David’s intention.  He then proceeds to give David more than he could have asked for or imagined.

  1. First, He calls David “Servant.”  This is actually a Biblical term of endearment indicating a special relationship between a person and the Lord.  Typically it is used only with some patriarchs, the prophets, the nation of Israel, and Jesus.
  2. Next he tells Nathan, “Tell David I will build him a house” (dynasty).  David already has a luxurious palace.  The word House is bayith in Hebrew.  It has 3 meanings:  (1) David’s palace (vv.1-2); (2)Yahweh’s Temple (vv. 5-7, 13); and (3)David’s dynasty (vv.11, 16, 18, 19, 25-27, 2 times in 29).  This is the only royal house that the Lord would ever sanction in perpetuity.
  3. God then sets out the terms of His Covenant with David.  God promises:

    1.) I will make your name great (famous/renoun)

   2.) I will provide a place for My people;

  3.) I will give you rest from your enemies;

4.) I will raise up offspring to succeed you;

5.) I will establish the throne of your kingdom forever.  This means that God would not allow anyone to usurp David’s throne from him.  It also means that while the dynasty may fade, it will not disappear completely.

6.) I will be his Father/He will be My son.  God will father Solomon after David passes away.  And later, God will be/is still the Father of Jesus.                         

7.) I will discipline Him….God allows David’s wicked descendants to be taken out by the Assyrians or the Babylonians.  And much late–though He was without sin–Jesus is flogged and crucified.

 8.) But I will always love him!

9.) Your throne will be established forever:  In Luke 1:32–Gabriel says to Mary, He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give Him the throne of his father David.

         This 2 Samuel 7 passage is a very important section in the Old Testament as it expresses the Messianic Hope!  Our God is a Promise-Keeping God.  He placed the scepter (symbol of kingly power and rule) in the tribe of Judah way back in Genesis 49:10.  This Messianic Hope is reiterated time and time again in the Old Testament: 4 times in Isaiah; 3 times in Jeremiah; 2 times in Ezekiel; and once each in Hosea, Amos, and Zechariah.

Additionally, this passage shapes our Christian understanding of Jesus Christ:

  1. He is a son of (descendant of) David;
  2. One who will rise up from the dead;
  3. He is the capstone or cornerstone of the House of GodàJohn 2:19–Destroy this Temple (His body) and I (Jesus) will raise it again in 3 days.
  4. He is the possessor of a throneàRevelation 3:21–To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne…
  5. He rules over an eternal Kingdom:
  6. Jn 18:36–Jesus said, My Kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, My servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.  But My kingdom is from another place.
  7. Matt 28:28–And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
  8. He is the Son of God:
  9. Mark 1:1–The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
  10. Acts 9:20–At once [Paul] began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God.
  11. He is also the product of an “immaculate,” miraculous
  12. conception since God is His Father.

Now what does this mean to us today?  For one thing, our God keeps His promises, both to David and to us!  Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is descended from King David’s line.  He thus fulfills all of the Old Testament prophesies about His identity.  Just as He was the hope for David (and for many down through the ages), He is our hope, right now!  He has made us for relationship with Himself.  He loves us with a steadfast and loyal love. He is faithful and true.  He will never leave or forsake us.

For another, we can never out-give God.  Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us from the penalty for our sins.  The great temple built by Solomon (later rebuilt by Herod the Great) is gone (destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, and not yet to this day rebuilt.)  The point of that is thatGod’s house is not a building!  Now, it’s us.  By the indwelling power of His Holy Spirit, our bodies are God’s temple.

I think the literary character, Fr. Tim Kavanaugh, truly demonstrates how to live and pray in a way that honors God.  As we approach Christmas this week, let’s come to God with grateful hearts.  Like dear, humble Mary, let’s seek to do God’s will at all times.  And, while we can’t out-give God, let’s ask Him how we might bless Him this Christmas.  Amen.

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

More Than Anything Else

Pastor Sherry’s Message for December 13, 2020

Scriptures: Isa 61:1-4, 8-11; Ps 126; 1 Thess 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

At a little less than 2 weeks until Christmas, how many of you have finished your Christmas shopping?  The story is told of a man who, at this point in the Christmas season, has purchased zero gifts. In fact, he has not yet gotten around to purchasing an acceptable gift for his wife for last Christmas. He did give her something last year, but he could tell by her reaction to it that she had not been dreaming of getting a car emergency kit, even though it was the deluxe model with booster cables and an air compressor. Clearly this gift violated an important rule, but the man had no idea what this rule was, and his wife was too upset to tell him.

The poor guy in the story has no clue, does he?  We don’t buy what we would want—or even what we believe the gift receiver needs–but what the gift recipient believes they need or would love to have.  Effective gift giving requires that we observe the other and watch and listen for what’s on their heart.  And there tend to be plenty of hints floating around, if we are tuned in. Our God is certainly very tuned into what we need more than anything else.

Let’s review our Scripture passages today to verify just how tuned in God is to giving us that gift that we need more than anything else:

Our Gospel lesson (John 1:6-8, 19-28) introduces us to John the Baptist.  The Apostle John began his account of Jesus by establishing that He was both present at creation,and spoke it into existence.  He inserts into his account the existence and mission of John the Baptist (vv.6-8)–He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

Then John goes on to describe (vv.19-28) a dialogue between John the Baptist and some Priests, Levites, and Pharisees regarding his (JtB’s) identity.  They wondered if he were Elijah, come back to earth.  They surmised he was the prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18: 15 & 18…a successor to Moses–though all the prophets from Moses until John the Baptist were successors to Moses.  JtB freely admits he is not the Messiah/the Christ.  He denies he is any of the others they suggest.  Then he quotes Isa 40:3—which we read last week—and admits he is the forerunner to Jesus–The voice of one calling in the desert, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”

This should have clued them in that God’s Greatest Gift was coming soon—but they apparently didn’t believe him.  JtB told them they needed to repent.  They needed to make their hearts ready to receive Jesus as their Savior.

Paul suggests a number of ways we can make our hearts ready to receive Jesus, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24.  Instead of putting up our tree, baking cookies, or wrappingpresents—though there is nothing wrong with doing these things–the Apostle wants us to demonstrate some

Christmassy attitudes:

  1. Can we be joyful?  Search out and name things for which we are thankful.
  2. How about adopting an attitude of prayer?  Remember those from our fellowship who especially need our prayers; and consider that we can pray while driving, walking, working, cooking or cleaning.
  3. Let’s give thanks in all circumstances, even when we feel defeated or despondent.
  4. Paul admonishes us to always do the will of God (not quench the Holy Spirit).
  5. He also urges us not to be indifferent to God’s Word or to prophesy.  We can recognize a true prophet because what he or she says is always consistent with Scripture and it later always comes true.  (It may take us some time to see if the latter happens.)
  6. We are to hold to what is true and genuine and not to be gullible or taken in by frauds or scam artists.
  7. We are to abstain from even the appearance of evil.
  8. And finally, we should trust we can depend upon our God.   

How do we know that Jesus is God’s greatest gift?  Our Old Testament lesson (Isa 61:1-4) reveals the reasons to us.  Jesus came the 1st time to…

  1. Preach Good News to the poor (in spirit and economically)—the Gospel.  He brought comfort.  By paying for our sins, He brought blessed assurance.
  2. He also came to bind up or heal the broken-hearted.
  3. He proclaimed freedom for captives (those who have been captured and harmed by the sins of others);
  4. And release for prisoners (those whose own sins have put them in bondage).

We can also trust with faith that He will accomplish the prophesy about what is yet to be when He returns a 2nd time:  He will judge between the good and the evil-doers.  He will put down rebellion.  He will eradicate evil.  He will provide peace and comfort to all those whomourn or grieve,exchanging their pain and grief for beauty,gladness, and praise.  He will sostrengthen them that they will stand as strong as oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.  They will also rebuild the ancient ruins…and renew the ruined cities….  In other words,He will greatly bless those who love Him,materially, physically, and spiritually.

Our Psalm (126) encourages us to begin to praise Jesus now for what He is going to do.  It is a “Psalm of Ascent,” sung by pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem as they walked up to the hills, then up to the Temple.  They sang, praising God for delivering them from Exile in Babylon.

But we can appropriate it for what Jesus has done and will do for us. Our Lord Jesus is the perfect gift!  He is what we need more than anything else.  He has made us right with God the Father, satisfying the penalty for our sins, and ensuring for us eternal life.

When we get to know Him intimately, He meets the deep desires of our hearts.  He is always “in season,” in good taste, and His one size fits all.  And He is a far better gift than a car emergency kit!

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams