Archive for December, 2011

Things to see before you Die

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

 

Text: Luke 2:25-27

There was a man named Simeon living in Jerusalem. He was a good, God-fearing man and was waiting for Israel to be saved. The Holy Spirit was with him and had assured him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s promised Messiah. Led by the Spirit, Simeon went into the Temple. When the parents brought the child Jesus into the Temple to do for him what the Law required, Simeon took the child in his arms and gave thanks to God.

 
Knowing that I liked to travel and visit new and different places someone in the family gave me a book entitled Unforgettable places to see before you die (Steve Davey, BBC Books). As the title suggests the author travelled around the world with a photographer and produced a beautiful book of places that, in his opinion, were unforgettable and worth visiting. If you were going to make a list of things to do and see before you pack your bags for the last time, the places mentioned in the book are worth considering. If you look around book stores or check out the internet you will find lots of advice on things you should do and places you should travel to before you die.

One author had written a similar book with 100 things to do and see before you die and intended to do them all before he was too old to travel. However, he died at 47 barely halfway through his list.

There was a man named Simeon. He had done everything he had wanted to do in life except for one thing – to see the Messiah God had promised in the scriptures. We are told that he was a good, God-fearing man who longed for the day when God would send the saviour. We are also told that the Holy Spirit had promised him that he would not die before he had seen the promised Messiah.

Because Luke emphasises this fact we are led to believe that Simeon is now an old man and still waiting for that day when he would see God’s promise fulfilled. Maybe because of his advanced years Simeon knew that God would do as he had said very soon.

We don’t know what Simeon expected to happen and I doubt very much that he was expecting a baby. One thing was clear there was still one more thing he wanted to do before he died and so we have this image of an old man waiting and watching, looking and searching for a sight of the Saviour.

Mary and Joseph had bundled up their six-week-old baby boy and made the trip from Bethlehem to the temple at Jerusalem, where they planned to present their firstborn son to the Lord and make a sacrifice for Mary’s purification, as the Law of Moses required.

Simeon is led by the Holy Spirit to the temple that same day. Maybe it wasn’t on his list of things to do that day but somehow he knew that going to the temple was what God wanted him to do. Since he had been promised that he would see the Messiah before he died, he couldn’t afford to ignore the fact that for some reason God wanted him to be at the temple on that day and a certain time.

It seems strange that we don’t have any recorded conversation between Mary and Joseph and Simeon, but it seems the parents from Bethlehem sensed the deep spirituality of this old man with his outstretched arms asking if he could hold their child. Old Simeon sees in this tiny child the salvation that people have been waiting for. Here in his arms is the one who will save all people. Simeon says that now he had done all the things he had wanted to do in life and was ready to die now that he had seen the promise of God fulfilled. Cradling the infant Jesus in his arms, Simeon prays to God.

“Now, Lord, you have kept your promise, and you may let your servant go in peace. With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel.”

And after he had blessed Mary and Joseph, he went on to tell them more. Simeon had described this baby as a bright light that will reveal God’s will to all people. As you know the brighter the light the deeper and darker the shadows. Many people rejoiced to learn who Jesus was but there were also many who would clench their fists out of anger.

The Saviour would force people to choose whether they really wanted to get close to God or not. He would expose those who didn’t.

He would remind them that he and the Father are one and that to reject him would also mean rejecting the one who sent him.

There will be those who will deny that he is the only way to be reconciled with the God of the universe and it is only through him that it is possible to enter into the Father’s presence in heaven.

This child will cause a great divide throughout all humanity – those who will believe and trust him as their Saviour and those who will reject him and do their best to get rid of him.

Simeon said to Mary as he passed the baby back to her, “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against”. We know that throughout his life on earth and ever since this has been the case.

Simeon didn’t know that Mary would see Jesus die on a cross but he did know that, when Jesus suffered rejection and humiliation, she would also suffer. “Sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart,” Simeon said.

There was a woman whose name was Anna; eighty-four years old, and she too was looking for and speaking of this Saviour who was to come. The Bible says that she never left the temple; she stayed there day and night, fasting and praying that one day she would see the One whom God had sent to redeem Israel.

Again, God brought them together at the right time, and Anna prophesied that this child would redeem Israel. All her years of watching, waiting and fasting suddenly came to an end, as she told the people in the Temple who this child was. For Anna too her life was now complete. Of all the things that she had experienced in life, and of all the things she had achieved and done, this was indeed the most important and most exciting. Her list of things that she wanted to do before she died was complete.

There are reasons why these two people are featured on the first Sunday after Christmas.

The first is the irony that, while Simeon could not die until he met the Saviour in person, we cannot really live until we meet the Saviour. We can journey through life, happy enough, perhaps. We can be successful, and comfortable, and joyous people, but we cannot be at peace until we know that the Saviour has come to love us – one by one – love us into the Kingdom of God. Simeon’s joy was complete when he encountered the Saviour sent by God. Likewise our joy can only be complete when we encounter Jesus as our Saviour. He is not just a figure of interest from the stories of the Bible. He is our Saviour, the one who has been sent into our lives to drive out the darkness of sin and death and bring us the light of forgiveness and eternal life. It is only when we realise that Jesus came into the world for each of us personally that we can find true joy that will rise above any of the hurts and dangers that we will encounter along life’s path.

Secondly, we see in these stories of Simeon and Anna, evidence that the religious life is not a brief sprint, as we sometimes presume, but it is a marathon.

In an age of instant gratification, where the pursuit of a particular passion may last several weeks or months, these figures from the gospel of Luke spent many years seeking God’s blessing.

In an age where religious fervour lasts as long as it makes people feel good, and when things are no longer exciting they go on to something else that will give them a buzz, these two elderly figures remind us that faith and trust in God, commitment and dedication to what God wants of us, and religious fervour and commitment to God’s church is not a matter of a few weeks, months or even years.

For us, waiting for next Christmas might seem like forever; for Simeon and Anna, their watching and waiting spanned many decades. I’m sure there were times when they must have been impatient with God, depressed about their fellow Jews and their misguided ideas of worship and how God should act, and wondered whether God would really carry out his promise of a Saviour, but none of that deterred them from hanging in there, trusting God and waiting for that moment when God would bless them and they would be blessing to others as they pronounced to one and all that they have seen the salvation that God had promised. In fact, they could describe to others what it was like to hold the fulfilment of God’s promise in their arms.

The third reason why Simeon and Anna feature straight after Christmas is that they bring us back to why there had to be a Christmas in the first place. We have seen the baby in the manger and heard the story about the angels and the shepherds. We have heard the ancient prophesies about the Saviour. Simeon and Anna remind us that God’s plan of salvation will include cruelty, pain, torture, whips, nails, and dying.

God has come to earth – this child is a light revealing God’s love and bringing salvation for all people. He is our Saviour 24 seven, 365 days of the year for the rest of our lives. That’s something to get excited about. Jesus has come from heaven to earth for me – for you.

Let’s take this Christmas joy with us into the New Year. Even if we should die this coming year, suffer illness or face various kinds of misfortune, we can have that deep down joy and confidence knowing that Jesus is Saviour. He is our light, our strength and comfort every moment of the year ahead and every day of our lives.

Don’t be afraid.

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

 

The Gift


Text: Luke 2:10-11
The angel said to them (the shepherds), ‘Don’t be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Saviour was born – Christ the Lord’

Christmas is a very exciting time, for adults and children alike. It’s a highlight of the year and part of the excitement is the giving and receiving of gifts and, of course, before you can give you need to give thought into what you will give.

The kind of gifts given at Christmas has changed a great deal over the years. My dad, who grew up in the years between the two World Wars, tells of the simple homemade gifts he received at Christmas. Somehow mysteriously gifts appeared under the Christmas tree during the Christmas Eve service – a pair of socks knitted by his Granny and a pair of shorts made by his mum and one year the boys did get something bought from the shops – a small bag of marbles each. With eight kids that was no small task for Granny to knit eight pairs of socks. Those were hard times but from what I gather the Christmases celebrated then were no less joyous and no less exciting and no less full of anticipation than they are today.

And when our own children woke up on Christmas morning they were excited just as I was when I was a kid and just as excited as their own children are this morning. Gift giving, and sharing in the delight that the gift gives, is a highlight of the Christmas celebrations.

We know that the first visitors who came to visit the Christ-child brought gifts. The shepherds who were watching over their flocks near Bethlehem were poor but they brought the baby in the manger their love and adoration. The wisemen from the east brought expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but more importantly they knelt before the little child and gave him honour and worship.

In a very moving moment in the movie The Nativity Story, a rough looking group of shepherds, some carrying lambs, gather around a rather perplexed Mary and Joseph. They kneel and one old shepherd reaches out with a trembling hand to touch the baby but he thinks better and withdraws his hand. Mary says gently, “He is a gift for all mankind” and she holds out the baby and he reaches out again to touch the little one whom the angel had said is “your Saviour – Christ the Lord”. The old man is overcome with emotion as Mary says, “We have each been given a gift”. If you watch the sleeping baby carefully, he gives a little smile as baby’s do – almost a smile of approval or acknowledgment of the old man’s devotion.

Whatever was going through the shepherd’s mind at that time, he was overcome with joy to know that he was included in the happy news that the angel had announced. Today in David’s town his Saviour was born, the Messiah, the Lord God himself came in the flesh and was wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger. This child was his Messiah – the Saviour – God’s Christmas gift to the shepherds and to all of us.

Sometimes we focus on the giving and on the gifts so much that we miss the fact that what we are celebrating at this time of the year is God’s gift to us. Our gift giving is a reflection of the generous gift that God gave to us at the first Christmas – the gift of his Son. This gift from God is for all people – no one is excluded.

It is a gift given out of extreme love – a love so immense, so deep, so wonderful and powerful that we can hardly begin to fathom what kind of love it is that would cause God – the ruler and creator of everything – the supreme power that holds the universe together – to become a vulnerable and helpless baby born to human parents, subject to the laws of nature and the laws of mankind, and to come into this world in such a way that is hardly believable. God came from heaven to earth to the sound of a mother crying out in childbirth in a stable; his first bed was a manger; his first visitors strangers.

Like any new parents I’m sure Mary and Joseph were overcome with emotion as they held this new life in their arms for the first time. A new life had entered the world and he was theirs to care for and to love. They also realised that this tiny bundle was God’s gift not only to them but also to the world and the world would never be the same again. This child is a gift for all mankind; he belongs to everyone and he will give everyone the greatest gifts of all – peace, forgiveness, reconciliation with God, eternal life.

And like all gifts, this child in the manger, brings joy.

After visiting the stable “the shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen.”

In fact, not only the people on earth but also the angels of heaven rejoiced at this baby’s birth. “A great army of heaven’s angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God.” The Christmas story is about a gift that brought joy to all people.

This Christmas gift from God changes things.

The father of Tom and John Peterson had died and willed the farm to his sons with the idea that the farm would “bring his sons closer together”. But it didn’t work. John had married and lived nearby in a small town with his family. Tom, who remained single, lived alone in the old farmhouse.

Tom thought, “John is always preoccupied with his family. He does what he has to on the farm but then he’s off home to the missus and the kids. I do more than my share to keep the farm going. Who gets up in the middle of the night when there’s a sick cow? Who rounds up sheep that get through the fence during the night?” And so he began to resent his brother.

On the other hand his brother John was thinking, “Tom has become so grouchy lately. It must be living alone in the old house. He seems to resent me going home to my family. He’s become such a grumpy ol’ man.” And so a wall of bitterness gradually built up between them to the point where they would hardly speak to each other.

On Christmas Eve they sat on opposite sides of the church. One of the carols they sang went like this.

Now to the Lord sing praises,

all you within this place,

and with true love and brotherhood

each other now embrace;

this holy time of Christmas

all others doth efface:

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,

O tidings of comfort and joy,

As John sang these words he was troubled because he had hardly acknowledged his brother’s presence in church that night.

On the way home he said to his wife, “Tom is alone in the farmhouse and has no one to share Christmas. I know he won’t come to our place. Maybe we can take a nice Christmas dinner to him.” His wife prepared a delicious meal. It was only a short walk so he wrapped up the dinner to keep it warm and headed for the farmhouse.

Tom was sitting alone and thought, “Life is too short for this kind of thing. John is my only brother and it hasn’t been easy for him to provide for his wife and family. I’ve just smoked some fresh metwurst and I’ve got some gifts I’ve made from wood for the kids.” So he set off toward town with his arms full of goodies.

Down in the valley between the farm and the town they met. They were silent for a moment, and then they embraced with tears in their eyes and words of “Merry Christmas! Brother, please forgive me!”

You can see what happened. The barriers came down, reconciliation took place and peace came to those brothers. The peace that God gave to each of them through his Son; the peace they heard about as they sat in the church that Christmas Eve moved them to be peacemakers toward each other.

You and I know what devastating effect sin has in our lives. Sin is so destructive. It destroys everything that is good. It destroys good relationships, like the harmony between God and us, or the friendship between people. Just think of pride, or greed, or impatience, or unkindness and how destructive they can be. We all know what it means to feel guilty when we have hurt someone in some way. Christmas changes all this. The baby in the manger is our Saviour – Jesus – the one who rescues us from our sin.

Or what about the illness, the trouble, the tragedy, the unresolved problems that burden you? You wonder why this has to happen to you. When will it end? When will we have peace of mind again? How will you ever be able to cope? Christmas changes all this.

The gift that God gave us at Christmas is a Saviour. Christmas is a celebration of God becoming human, being born in a manger, for us. As unintelligible as it is to think of almighty God becoming a weak helpless baby born in a cattle shed, that is what happened so that he could be Emmanuel, that is God with us.

That is the whole point of Christmas. There may be lots of traditions, customs associated with Christmas. There may be the giving and receiving of lots of gifts. There may be Santas, Christmas parties, and Christmas Day celebrations with friends and relatives but in the end the only thing that really counts is the gift we receive from God. The gift of a Saviour is “God with us” in all the sin, the trouble and death of this world.

This is the gift that brings peace.

This is the gift that saves.

This is the gift that lasts.

In David’s town our Saviour was born – Christ the Lord.

How long is soon.

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

2 PETER 3:3-11.

THE CERTAINTY OF THE LORD’S COMING.

 
Have you ever been ridiculed for your Christian beliefs? Have you ever had people mock-scoff-make fun of Christianity?

What do you do in those situations? Do you ignore it? Do you just walk away? Or do you make some kind of response?

There is no easy answer to that. It all depends on the situation. In the Bible reading for today we see how the Apostle Peter responded when people were ridiculing his faith. This letter of Peter could well have been written today instead of almost 2,000 years ago. We can see from this letter that people haven’t really changed all that much over the centuries. People who scoff-mock Christianity are saying much the same kind of thing today as they said centuries ago. So that makes this letter from Peter very relevant for us today. Scoffing at –mocking-making fun of Christian teaching is not unique to today. It is not something that only happens today. There always have been and always will be those who ridicule Christianity and its teachings. That is what makes this passage relevant for us today.

Two kinds of sermons-fish and chips –easily digested; and steak and vegies-you have to chew on- because of the particular topic-this is a steak sermon- you are going to have chew/digest this sermon.

How long is soon? How soon is soon? Song, “Soon and very soon we are going to see the Lord” . So how soon is soon? Can you remember when you were a child and you asked your parents for something and they would say “soon”. Or perhaps you used that response to your own children when they wanted something.

So how “soon is soon”. That is basically what the early Christians were being asked about the Return of Jesus. The mocking question they were being asked was, ‘Where is this coming he promised? What they meant was, “You Christians say that Jesus promised to return, so then, where is he? What the mockers were implying was that Jesus wasn’t coming back.

Now this kind of mocking question wasn’t anything new. It was the kind of question that unbelievers have taunted God’s people down the centuries.

“Where is your God? “ they demanded of the Psalmist.

“ Where is the God of Judgement? They asked the prophet Malachi.

“Where is the Word of the Lord”, the prophet Jeremiah’s enemies asked him.

Now in asking that question they were implying that there was NO GOD and therefore no Word of God and that believers were just deluding themselves. This of course has been the standard tactic of non- believers down the centuries. Not very original.

Let’s have a closer look at what the sceptics were saying and how the Apostle responded to their claim that Jesus was not coming back.

1.Vs4:Their first argument was that the promise had been so long delayed that tt was safe to assume that it would never be fulfilled. In other words because it hadn’t happened, it wasn’t going to happen. So you might as well forget about it.-poor logic.

2.Their second argument 4b the world is going on precisely as it always has. They claimed that the world was stable and such an event as the Return of Jesus and the end of the world simply won’t happen.

The Apostle has a two fold answer. And he deals with their second argument first- ie that the world is stable and such upheavals just don’t happen on earth.

Peter refutes that claim by pointing out that the world has not always been stable- vs6-he reminds them of the great flood that destroyed the world at the time of Noah. And then he adds that a second great destruction- this time by fire- was on its way. He is arguing that since God had the power to create the world he also has the power to destroy it. The great flood showed what God was capable of doing. If he caused a great catastrophe in the past he could certainly do so in the future.

Vs8-9. here the Apostle tackles the first argument. The sceptics refer to the slowness of God to act-the long delay and claim that they can safely assume that Jesus is not going to return- that the Second Coming is not going to happen.

Well the Apostle has a two fold answer to that argument.

1.Wemust look at time from God’s perspective. Time is not the same for God as it is for us. He quotes psalm 90,”Wit God a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day”. We have a short term view of time whereas God has a long term view. Have you watched Dr Who? God is the original Time Lord because he is the Lord of time. So God’s plans are not affected by time as ours are. We only have a human life time to carry out our plans. But God has all eternity to carry out his.

So when it comes to how God works –we must forget our ideas of time. For Time does not limit God like it does you and me. God is not limited by time. He stands outside of time and sets the limits of time.

2. The Apostle Peter points out (verse 9) that there is a good reason for God’s apparent slowness to act- one that is for our benefit. God acts slowly because he is merciful. He withholds his hand of judgement to give unbelievers more opportunity to repent. So God’s delay is not because of his inability to act –BUT to give people more opportunity to come to their senses and repent-to give people more time to prepare for Christ’s Return.

What this means then is that we are to look on the extension of time that God gives

us as an opportunity to share or faith-the Good News of what Jesus has done for us. After all the Bible tells us that God wants all to be saved. So every day that we live- every day that we draw breath-is an opportunity to share the Good News about Jesus and his Return.

So “How Long is Soon?”. It may be SOONER than we think.

Finally we come to the Apostle’s conclusion. Read vs 11. “SINCE” –no doubt about it. It is a foregone conclusion.

The question is, “What kind of people should we be?” .

Peter also gives us the answer. “You ought to live holy and Godly lives. Lives that are committed/dedicated to serving God, We need to assess our values – to check that the values by which we live are Christian values and that we have not blindly taken on the values of this world. By this I mean the values that assume that this world is all that there is. And it is so easy to get caught up with and adopt those views.

Advent reminds us that we live in a world to which Jesus is returning-a world that has a limited shelf life. It reminds us that we want to make sure that we are ready to meet our Lord when he returns.

And if his Return is delayed, , remember that this is because God wants all people to have the opportunity to come to know him-to repent of their sins and enter into a new relationship with him. So that when -not if- but when our Lord finally returns

We may all go with him into the joy of eternal life.

 

Waiting… Waiting… Waiting…

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

Waiting with Joy

 

Sermon: 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B

Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 & John 1:6-8,19-28;

 

Waiting on the phone, waiting at the check-out, waiting for VCE results to come, waiting in the doctor’s surgery, waiting in the car as we drive on a long trip – are we there yet? I wonder many hours of our lives we would spend waiting.

The strange thing is that, even with all this practice, we never get used to it, although some of us are a little better at it than others. What doesn’t help, of course, is that these days we are getting more and more accustomed to instant answers and instant results. Everything from a pregnancy test to the digital camera – there it is, in seconds. We are slowly building our world around our desire to have it right now.

Recently I had the opportunity to open and consume a special bottle of red wine. It’s a bottle that I have been cellaring for 14 years. When we first tasted this wine at the winery it was full of promise. It had all the makings of a wonderful wine, though in a raw and undeveloped state. Back then it was completely unsuitable for drinking straight away. I read my Penguin wine guide and discovered that the experts suggested this year (2005) was the year it should be opened. So we waited and waited for 14 years. And finally last Wednesday we drew the cork.

And the wine had changed – it was rich and smooth and complex and wonderful. The potential it had back in 1991 had come to fullness. It was fantastic. And we reflected, as we sniffed and sipped this wine, that our enjoyment of it was heightened by our waiting for it to develop. Our enjoyment had been enhanced by the anticipation of what that raw, purple fluid would become as it matured over time. The wine had come to fullness and so we were able to fully enjoy it.

There is a purpose in waiting – it takes time for things to be ready. It takes time to make us ready for them. It is part of how God has designed creation. One famous writer and theologian (Teihard de Chardin) said: “It is a law of all progress that it is made by passing through stages and that this may take some time.”

It is in this same way that God unfolds his salvation, in what we often experience to be lengthy and maybe frustrating periods of waiting, and we become impatient and perhaps even cynical, and yet we know by faith that God’s timing is perfect and that it is almost always different to ours.

This period of Advent is all about waiting: anticipation, the slow growth of joy coming gradually to fullness as we celebrate Christmas. Mary waits as the child grows in her womb. Israel waits. All this waiting is represented as we wait through four weeks of this season, lighting candles as we go and recalling God’s promises through the ages.

Advent helps us practice waiting for God. Waiting is part of God’s unfolding plan for our salvation and for this world’s salvation.

It allows us space to grow towards maturity and it allows God’s work to develop – like the wine coming to it’s fullness.

These three Bible readings are about waiting.

Isaiah speaks to us in the Old Testament reading from the distant past. From this vantage point, he puts our waiting into perspective for us. He shows us that God’s work in this world reaches over centuries and generations, and did not begin and will not end with us.

This plan of God’s to bring all things together in his love began millennia ago, and stretches into eternity. And we who are part of God’s great plan see only what is here and now and we wait for the full revealing of God’s Kingdom.

The Church is not just us here and now. We are part of a long history and, after us, who knows how God will shape the church of the future. It may indeed look very different. We often wish we could make things change or move or progress faster than they do, and we definitely have our part to play, but often there is also waiting involved: waiting for others to be ready, waiting for the right opportunities where God brings things together and makes new things happen in people’s hearts and lives.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist speaks to an impatient crowd who are looking for their Messiah. As he speaks, it is some 400 years since God has sent a prophet to tell them what is happening. God’s people had been waiting. And John declares himself to be that voice that Isaiah speaks about; the voice crying in the wilderness. John is saying to them: God has not forgotten. He is working and your waiting is not in vain. He will not disappoint you. The promise is not lost. The day is coming, and is almost here.

 

In the Epistle reading today, Paul speaks to the Thessalonians who are waiting, as we also wait, for that final day of the Lord’s coming. They are fretful and distracted and restless and troubled by persecution and doubts and worries. And Paul is teaching them how to wait. He tells them to pray, to give thanks, and, he says, do not despise the words of the prophets. Like John the Baptist, Paul points the Thessalonians who are waiting back to the promises of God in his Word. And he says in verse 24, He who has called you is faithful and he will do it. He will do it. Leave it in his hands. Relinquish control. God will bring all things to completion and fullness in his time, at the right time.

What are you waiting for?

Retirement?

Kids to become independent?

For recovery from an illness?

For the right life-partner to come along?

For the right job or the right home?

For life to settle down so you can have a rest?

For life to get going so you can get on with it?

Waiting for others to get organized so you can do what you really want to do?

Waiting for God to answer some long-cherished prayer?

Waiting for some vision for our congregation that is close to your heart to be fulfilled?

We have all been waiting for our parish worker to be employed!

Well, Isaiah and John the Baptist and Paul would say to us: accept the waiting. Don’t fight it and fret it and become impatient. It is part of the journey of God’s purposes, for his whole creation, and for you and for your life. The waiting is just as important as the arrival of what is waited for. God is cellaring the wine, so that it will come to fullness.

He is maturing our hearts, gradually forming our character, shaping your will and the wills of others. As we wait for the bigger and the smaller things in our lives (whatever they may be), we can be confident that the waiting is part of what God has in store. And we can be confident also that He is preparing us for that final completion that will bring the perfect fullness of what our lives are meant to be.

When we wait in this way, our whole lives become “an Advent”… we mark our stages on the way. We learn to wait with hope and joy for the small and large gifts and changes that we need. We read the promises of God in His Word, reminding ourselves of where it is all going.

And as we wait for that final ultimate meeting with our Lord, the joy and hope and anticipation builds towards fullness. God is cellaring his wine, bringing it to its fullness. And one day when the waiting is over, we will taste that joy in its fullness. And so we wait with joy.
Amen.

At the end of the day.

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

“A Conscience lock”

2 Peter 3:8-15a
The day looks to be taking forever. And the length of the day appears to be inversely proportional to the hardships we face in it. That is — the worse the events one must endure to get to the end of the day, the longer it takes for the day to unfold and happen.

When the day gets harder to endure, there is also a decline in most of us too. The pressure makes the temperature gauge rise, and we begin to boil. It doesn’t take much for us to blow our tops. Hardships burden us so our patience is depleted and we become more and more intolerant to the events happening around us.

Extreme weather can add pressure to our days; stinking hot summers and bitterly cold winters can both weigh heavy on our patience. Various pain, limited only by the imagination, can make one feel as though the day seems to take a thousand years. Guilt from doing something wrong also gives the impression of slowing the day as we ponder, “If only I hadn’t done that!” In fact, anything that causes hardship has a lengthening effect on time so a day feels like it takes a thousand years to happen.

Saint Peter encourages those under pressure from impatient scoffers and those hell-bent on doing evil who have forgotten God’s Word, saying:

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)

If we compare the eternal almighty majesty of our Heavenly Father next to our pettiness and weaknesses which constantly test God’s patience, it’s not surprising that a day examining us seems like an eternity, let alone a thousand years.

God is so powerful he can examine all things big and small, complex and simple, microcosms and macrocosms. And he can do it in the blink of an eye. If it were possible to reach the edge of eternity, God would have already been there for an eternity.

Inside eternity he has knowledge of every single thing he has created, every star, every planet, every rock, every tree, the internal structure of every atom and molecule, every creature that walks the earth, flies over it, and swims in its waters.

And he knows everything about every person. What would take a thousand years to learn about yourself, God knows in a day. In fact, he knew your every impulse, thought, and action in the eternal moment before a blink of his eye.

This is absolutely amazing since we don’t even know ourselves or the pulses that run through our minds in a matter of seconds. Do you ever wonder how you ended up thinking about someone or an event from the past when you first were thinking of something completely different? Have you then gone back and tried to list the chain of events from your subconscious that led your thoughts from one to the other? It’s hard enough to remember a chain of events just happened in your mind let alone from further back in the past.

Can any of us remember everything about our past anyway? God knows every microscopic detail about our past, and even our future! None of us have an intimate knowledge of our medical and physiological makeup, nor do we really want to know! But God knows every sinew, every drop of blood, and every pulse of your brain. Yet he hasn’t even taken a surgeons knife to you to look in side.

We don’t have an intimate knowledge of our internal bodies in a physical sense. Furthermore, how much do we really know about each other in a social sense? Our understanding of our interaction with other people is so limited; yet it’s so complex, but God has full view of it all.

He sees all things we do, both good and bad. He sees the things we should have done. He sees all of our sins that occur as a result of our sinful condition, the ones we know, feeling guilty and ashamed about, and the sins we seek to justify. He also see the sins we overlook; the sins we don’t even know we commit. And it’s not just you he knows, it’s every impulse, thought, desire, and deed of every person who has lived, is living, and will ever live.

Now for us to know all this about our mortal selves would take a thousand years, let alone knowing anyone else around us. But it’s comforting to know God is patient with us and doesn’t do to us what our condition deserves. Although he is infinitely intimate with our whole person, God’s patience endures in the hope we will not eternally perish.

But having been made his children in baptism, receiving the life-giving condition of Christ in our mortal frames, have you ever wondered why God doesn’t place in us a stop guard so we no longer falter from the sinful condition still in us. Perhaps it would have been good if God had placed a conscience lock in us as he gives us new life in Christ!

A conscience lock would kick in and disable our physical bodies when we seek to harm our brother or sister in any way. A conscience lock would flash illegal error in the brain when our thoughts became devious. A conscience lock would silence us when our words waver from what is good and wholesome. The conscience lock would also work the other way and make us conscious of things around us. It would wake us to the needs of others, and we would never need an alarm clock to make it to church on time.

However, this is not the way God works. It’s not the way Christ worked when God sent him to be born in Bethlehem. Jesus was no robot. He was as human as you and me; and capable of the same sin as you and me. If Jesus was a robot sent from God, how much would he be able to relate to our human condition? But he struggled with the same things as you and me, yet he remained faithful to God and didn’t succumb to the sinful human nature as we do.

We like Jesus are not robots. So there is no lock on our consciences, although Christ is living in us. Jesus allowed himself to be handed over to death as result of our sin and he gave us life. Jesus rescues us and chose to take us to our Heavenly Father through his sacrifice. And now that we are with him, he calls us to stand with him, remain with him, and abide with him in heavenly peace.

Our sinful nature, the old Adam, still remains although we have now been given the new nature of the New Adam, Jesus Christ. But just like Christ God desires faith rather than robotics. Yet God is still patient with us, his people, his church!

God has done the work of salvation and brought us to it. He is faithful and in his work of salvation grants us faith through the work of the Holy Spirit. He is patient with us, willing us to see ourselves for who we are, to be conscious of our consciences, and trust what he has done for us.

Having been given this trusting faith, God desires you to remain with him and seek repentance, because he doesn’t want any person to perish. God is patient, but God will fulfil all of his promises. In these last days God desires you to understand his patience, to rest in his forgiveness, and to know of his almighty power as his comes forgiving you in his word, before the last day when he promises to put all things right.

Finally hear God’s word from Saint Peter…

But the day of the lord will come like a thief. 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. Since every thing will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation. (2 Peter 3:10-15a)

Amen.