Who’s naughty or nice.

  1. MATTHEW 24:36-44   LENT 1

kotzurGrace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Christmas is coming, this is the first Sunday in advent and I’m sure that in the stores there is an abundance of the Christmas carols and songs being played. Unfortunately a lot of these songs and carols are played to prick our consciences;     so that we will spend more money in good-will toward one another. I have to confess that I haven’t been shopping yet this year, but I live in HOPE.  I’m hoping Yvonne has bought me something.
I have to confess that I don’t get the opportunity to listen to the radio all that much and I’m not aware of the Christmas tunes that are being played, but I remember a few years back there was a song that everyone was talking about, the title was, “GRANDMA GOT RUN OVER BY A REINDEER.”

I have never heard it, have any of you? I am led to believe that it has been around for quite some time.  I dread to think what the words must be.

One of the popular songs that I have heard is “SANTA CLAUSE IS COMING TO TOWN.” The words sound very much like an effort by parents to get children to behave during the next few weeks.
If you think I’m going to sing it your wrong, I will recite the words. “YOU BETTER WATCH OUT, YOU BETTER NOT CRY, YOU BETTER NOT POUT, I’M TELLING YOU WHY: SANTA CLAUSE IS COMING TO TOWN.
And especially the next few lines, “HE’S MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE, HE’S GONNA FIND OUT WHO’S NAUGHTY OR NICE.” Some people think of God that way. People tell their children that God is watching them and if they be naughty God will punish them.Please don’t tell your children or grandchildren that, tell them instead that God is a loving God.
Lent is a time of living in expectation, of HOPE, waiting for our Lord. It is a time of preparation, a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.
It was Christmas many years ago when a soldier named  Rex  was stationed in Korea as a young  lieutenant. His wife and baby daughter, whom he had never seen, were home in Australia. On Christmas morning the thermometer hovered around zero with several inches of snow covering the ground.
Outdoor worship services were planned for that morning. Although no one was required to attend services, Rex went out of respect and “to set a good example for the even younger soldiers.” Nearly two hundred  turned out for the service. They sat on their helmets in the snow. They faced a small portable altar. The chaplain had no microphone, and the portable organ suffered from the extreme cold.Something happened to Rex in that worship service. God broke through into his life. He thought of all that was precious to him: home, his wife, his unseen infant child. In that moment as they tried to sing Christmas carols in the cold air he realized that Christmas does not depend on church architecture or fine clothing, expansive meals or expensive gifts. Instead Rex claimed, “Christmas is best celebrated as a voluntary act in which we replenish our personal faith; in the company of others.” Far from home and loved ones, Rex realized “that Christmas Day, in itself, is not important, but the faith it represents is.”

Let us not forget in the coming weeks that Jesus is the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Advent reminds us that God often breaks into our lives in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. At those times we discover that we must change our ways and realign ourselves with Jesus Christ.

 In Isaiah we read, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

 That name means “God with us.” That would be a sign that God would save his people. Centuries pass by, and finally;          the hope of the world comes through;      the hope of a girl.

 Saint Luke tells us about it. The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a little out-of-the-way town up in the Galilee district. He spoke a simple message to a simple peasant girl. Her name was Mary. She was just a teenage girl, whose future had already been planned for her by her family and the family of a man named Joseph, a carpenter by trade.

 But God had other plans for Mary. He chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.                God chose her because she was only engaged, and there would be no doubt this virgin was having God’s Son and the son of no other. But we know people, don’t we? And we know what they said about her.

 However, she and Joseph held onto what the angel Gabriel had said about him: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”

 It is here in this event that we see coming together in Bethlehem the hope of a girl and the hope of the world.     Young Mary, approaching marriage, had wonderful hopes about her own little family and the birth of her own little children.

 Her hopes came together with God’s plan about his Son who would be born to become the hope of the world.   The hope of this girl has become the hope of the world — AND HE IS OUR ONLY HOPE  This is what the Advent season says to us. Prepare to receive the hope of the world. The commentary on this passage in Luke says, “The glory of Christmas came about by the willingness of ordinary people to obey God’s claim on their lives.” I wonder if you are willing to do that, to obey God’s claim on your life?

If you are; you will experience the glory of Christmas, and you will find hope in your life, the hope of the world. I want to tell you why this child became the hope of the world.

 He is the hope of the world because he is God coming to us. Gabriel said to Mary, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” He is God coming to us. He is bringing God into our world and our experience. We have him as a part of our lives today and will forever. That is what this Advent time of preparation is all about. We are getting ready to celebrate the fact that he is God coming to us.

 Years ago in a small European town a visitor noticed that on one of the streets THERE IS A WALL. And when the citizens of the town walked by it they would nod and make the sign of the cross. As he stood there and watched he observed that they all did this. He became curious about the practice and began to ask around.

 But no one could tell him what it meant. Finally, he obtained permission to investigate the wall. He began to chip away at layers of paint and dirt. He discovered underneath a beautiful mural of Mary and her baby.

 People had always made the sign of the cross as they passed by that painting even after it was covered over. They had passed on the tradition, though the reason for it had been lost.

 Remove some of the things in which we dress Christmas and there beneath the surface you come to the central meaning. And you find there this beautiful story about a young girl and her baby – the hope of a little girl and the hope of the world.

 On these Sundays we are thinking together about the theme, “They Came Together In Bethlehem.” And today we turn to this: “The Hope Of A Girl – And The Hope Of The World.”                                             

 Long ago the prophet Isaiah saw a time when God would send a Messiah to set his people free. In a few weeks we will celebrate the birth of our Lord! Jesus was born of a woman, lived on this earth and died for our sins; so that we could be free.

 The Isaiah passage has a beautiful image. At the close of chapter 10, the hopeless fall of Assyria is magnificently pictured as the falling of the cedars of Lebanon by the axe swung by God’s own hand.

 I’m told that a cedar once cut down will not put out any new shoots. So the great Assyrian power has fallen and will fall forever. The metaphor is carried out in surpassing beauty in the 11th chapter

 It, too, is the picture of a shoot growing out of a stump — but not a cedar stump — an oak, which everyone knows will put out new growth from the old. And Isaiah uses that to talk about the coming Messiah: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse.”

Here is the beautiful prophecy of the coming Messiah, the coming of Jesus Christ out of the line of David,          specifically from the shoot of Jesse — a shoot that will grow up out of that stump to flower and bless all humankind.

It was that kind of longing for the coming Messiah that was expressed over and over again in the heart and mind and soul of ancient Israel.

That Messiah came in Jesus Christ — grew, taught, ministered, was crucified, was raised by God from the dead and ascended back to the Father from whom He had come. But now the Gospel writers are telling us that this One will come again. That’s the witness of Scripture. “Look up and raise your heads,” says Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, “because your redemption is drawing nigh.”

So we believe — so we pray “Come, O Come Emmanuel.” That’s the way we sing it; when singing;  it expresses far more than we can simply say. The promise of Advent is that word from the prophet Isaiah,

 “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” And the ringing call of Advent is the word of Jesus from Luke, “Look up and raise your head,  for your redemption is drawing nigh.”

 To-day the WORD is fulfilled in our hearing! To-day all that Jesus accomplished in His perfect life, His innocent death, His glorious resurrection, all that Jesus did is applied to us, fulfilled in our ears full of His word.

 Advent is a time of HOPE! Hope that our Saviour will come! Hope that we will be ready for HIM. Our hope is not in vain, as Jesus has promised us, HE WILL RETURN; He  is preparing that place for us.                                 His great love for us is real, HIS GRACE for us is real.   There is no need for us to fear, for Jesus loves us.So we believe — so we pray: “Come, O come Emmanuel.”

Amen.

Pastor Ian Kotzur

 

 

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