GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR … JESUS THE CHRIST.

Where do we go from Christmas?

I still remember the first time I preached on this text. It was back on February 26, 1961 when, as a junior in seminary, I was invited to preach at a Youth Sunday service.  I’m not sure what happened to that sermon, but oddly enough, I still have these pictures of the bulletin. The reason I remember that Sunday so vividly is because of the impact the bulletin had on me.

The front cover shows a young man and woman in front of a church. 

The caption reads “YOUTH in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”.

A father wrote the back cover of the bulletin as a memorial to his son and provides an answer to that question: Where do we go from Christmas? It began: “He Was Only Twenty-Four. He had been center on the football team, steersman on the crew.  Childhood, high school, Christian college, Oxford — the years had mounted upward in a spiraling crescendo. In George MacDonald’s words, he was a ‘gleam-faced, pure-eyed, high-hearted boy’ and the rising plateaus were before him.  Suddenly his youth — his life — was ended.  The roar of a motor, a body broken on a city street!”¹

Many bemoaned the fact that so promising a youth died before he could establish his life but his father wrote: “Youth is not preparation for life; youth is life itself.  There is no time for rehearsal.  The great play is on.  Every day is another little block of time in which to live — to live, to love, to serve, to weep and to laugh.  You cannot employ today only to set the stage for tomorrow. 

There may be no tomorrow.” ¹

That father was right.  Whenever we view youth or any other stage of life as primarily a training ground, we are selling God short and selling ourselves short. The writer goes on to remind us that “Long years ago, a youth of thirty-three writhed to His death on a cross. 

Across the centuries this Young Man summons other young men and women to join Him, and to give Him the vibrant, aspiring years of their youth.”¹

"A SOUL TO MAGNIFY THE LORD"

Text - LUKE 1:46—55

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR —- JESUS THE CHRIST—EMMANUEL — GOD WITH US.

The words of our text this morning came from Mary’s lips to become our first Christian hymn and they contain her powerful confession of faith – a confession so important that we prayed her words as our own in this morning’s Psalmody and then heard them read in the Gospel reading for the day.

I remember a visit to Ain Karem where Zacharias and his wife lived, where John The Baptist grew up and where the pregnant Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth.  There is a large wall there filled with plaques – each one inscribed with Mary’s confession of faith is each of the world’s languages.

Mary begins with the confession that “My soul magnifies The Lord ...”

“Soul” is the Greek word, ψυχή, which is that “breath of life” which God breathed into us to animate us and to put us into a radically different relationship with God than the one all the other creatures were given. ψυχή is that part of us which is so in communion with God that it lives on after this mortal body is surrendered in death.

When our soul is in communion with God as Mary’s was, our soul magnifies the Lord.  “Magnifies" is a translation of the Greek word, μεγηλύνει, which means “to declare great or to laud and celebrate the glory of ....”. Unlike a magnifying glass which makes something appear larger than it really is, Mary focuses on Someone large beyond measure.

In our culture, we can and often do magnify celebrities beyond what is appropriate — popular culture often calls things great which really aren’t. But when it comes to glorifying God, we always fall far short.  We never really know enough to do God justice when we praise Him.  We do the best we can.  Mary’s soul celebrated the glory, the power, the wonder, and the perfect benevolent Nature of God — to the best of her human ability.

Mary continues "And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour" 

GOD’S VOICE, OUR WILDERNESS

Text - LUKE 3:1—6

 

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN – EVER PRESENT LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS CHRIST.

The season of Advent when we again celebrate God’s three-fold coming to us and when we hear the season’s powerful Divine Call to “Prepare The Way of The LORD, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  Prepare The Way of The LORD in the depths of your soul for His future Second Visible Coming to judge us and to take His Own Home to His eternal Kingdom as we focused our attention last Sunday.  Prepare The Way of The LORD in the depths of your soul for His present Constant though invisible Presence in every moment of our temporal lives.  Prepare The Way of The LORD in the depths of your soul to cherish and celebrate His past coming in the human flesh and vulnerability of The Christ as we focus our attention his morning. Prepare The Way of The LORD!

In the 40 years since I studied in the Holy Land, I know I have shared this picture with you many times. In the wilderness, there is actually nothing for your physical eyes to see but a vast expanse of lifeless sand.  There are absolutely no natural resources in the desert wilderness - no way for edible plants to grow or for human beings or animals to survive even on the most primitive levels of existence. Both mentally and spiritually the experience is unforgettable.

I can imagine what Biblical people and even Mary and Joseph experienced crossing the Judean wilderness on their way to Jerusalem.  

Though the wilderness through which God’s people wandered for forty years is many miles to the south and the Exodus events happened nearly 15 centuries before Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem – you cannot cross the Judean wilderness without thinking of that other wilderness where that lost and grumbling group of former slaves truly learned to live by faith in God alone.

It is no surprise that when God as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ responded to humanity’s greatest need and began His ministry – it was here in the wilderness.

Indeed humanity has prepared the way for His coming -  but not in the way our text implies.  No, it was humanity’s sins and alienation from God that brought God to earth as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ.

“WHO IS JOHN THE BAPTIST”

Text – LUKE 3:7—18

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM JESUS CHRIST – EMMANUEL – GOD WITH US.

Last Sunday we looked at the Judean Wilderness - a vast wasteland with absolutely no natural or human resources.  We saw it as a powerful metaphor of life lived without relationship with God – hopelessly now and through all eternity.

This morning we return to that wilderness and focus on a man who lived his entire adult life there and we ask “WHO IS THIS JOHN THE BAPTIST?

John The Baptist is one of the most narrow minded and politically incorrect people in all of human history.

FUNK & WAGNALLS STANDARD DESK DICTIONARY defines "narrow minded" as "Having or characterized by narrow views or sentiments; or bigoted".

Well, in John certainly was not "bigoted". In John’s narrow-mindedness, one of the things that got him into trouble was his refusal to make distinctions between people - or even between other people and himself.  John proclaimed that every human being who has ever lived - including John himself - is a sinner in need of The Holy Savior.  Making no distinction between people, John classified people as a "Brood of vipers!"  Many of the modern paraphrases of Scripture have John calling everyone a viper.  Such paraphrases miss the point of what John is saying. Classifying human beings as a "Brood of vipers!" is John's reminder to us that the most venomous of vipers is that tempter who approached Adam and Eve in Eden and who slithers into all our lives to tempt us away from God and His Word. Everyone has yielded to some of those temptations and become part of the tempter’s brood.  God proclaimed through narrow-minded John - as God would later proclaim through the apostle Paul and others, "... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". (ROMANS 3:23) We have all been tempted and yielded to some of the temptations.

“GOD’S BIBLICAL SIGNS ON THE ROAD OF LIFE”

Text—LUKE 21:25—36

 

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR … JESUS THE CHRIST.

On this first Sunday of the new church year, our Advent Season text focuses on one of the three comings of Christ – today the future coming on Judgment Day – the day Jesus returns and our temporal world ends to be replaced by His appearance in all His glory to bid us entrance to His eternal kingdom.  Our text today provides us with a series of signs pointing to that awesome day.

As we travel in our temporal world, we are all familiar with the stop sign’s octagonal shape.  We know what the sign means even before we read the word printed on it.  It directs us to come to a complete stop — no creeping ahead … that’s cheating — a complete stop.  We also know that this stop is not our journey’s end.  It is merely a necessary stop along the way — an important time to halt our progress so we can truly see where we are and what possible hazards may be ready to cross our path.  It is a short but important time in which to determine which way to continue our journey.

God’s Word provides God’s “STOP” sign.   God directs us to come to a complete stop — not our temporal journey’s final destination but nevertheless a most important stop.  It must be a complete stop — an absolute halt to our hectic pace - a total pause in the midst of our “busyness” and the world’s challenges to faith and morality. God’s Word says stop - check God’s Word to see if we are still on the right path. Stop and see through God’s eyes where we are and what possible hazards may lay ahead in our path to eternity.  We must STOP to hear from The One Who truly knows The Way — The One Who is The Way. (JOHN 14:6)

You and I paused in our usually hectic lives this morning to come to church — happy about many things in our lives, unhappy about others … with many of life’s decisions already made and even more decisions to come … with our goals and our successes and our failures … with our sins and with God’s Grace.  We came to church this morning as God’s “STOP” sign beckoned us to pause here to hear God’s Word for us.

No sooner have we come to our complete stop than God’s Word points us to THE PURE WORD OF GOD “Traffic Advisory” signs. Unlike stop signs, “Traffic Advisory” signs come in a variety of sizes and shapes — with a variety of messages.

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