DON’T MISS THE POINT
A minister decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon. Four worms were placed into four separate jars. The first worm was put into a container of alcohol. The second worm was put into a container of cigarette smoke. The third worm was put into a container of chocolate syrup. The fourth worm was put into a container of good clean soil.
At the conclusion of the sermon, the minister checked on his experiment and reported the following results: The first worm in alcohol, not surprisingly, was dead. The second worm in cigarette smoke was also quite dead. Even the third worm in chocolate syrup was equally dead. The fourth worm, however, in good clean soil was very much alive. So the minister asked the congregation, “What did you learn from this demonstration?”
Bertha who was sitting near the back, quickly raised her hand and said, “As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won’t have worms!” That pretty much ended the service.
Was Bertha right? I don’t think so. The minister was undoubtedly trying to create an object lesson on how various vices can kill our bodies which are the temples of the Holy Spirit. But Bertha missed the point entirely.
Do you know something? We often do the very same thing Advent. We often miss the point. We look at Advent as a time to prepare our hearts and lives for the coming of Jesus, born in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem. It is that but it’s also something more. It’s also about his second coming at the end of the age when Christ will return in glory to complete the Kingdom that he began when he walked the earth 2000 years ago.
We often miss crucial point. Generally, we get all caught up with Christmas. Just a week and a half from now, we will be doing our very best to celebrate the birth of Jesus in whatever modified form Covid-19 allows us to this year. And although family traditions may change I expect that most of us will go to sleep on Christmas night with pleasant memories and happy dreams.
Advent, however, is so much more than that. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Christmas trees, short breads, cranberry sauce and mistletoe – especially the mistletoe. But it’s so much more than we expect. What Advent is really about is the transformation of the world. And that’s the point that we really don’t want to miss.
What does that transformation look like? There are two things that I want to talk about today. The first thing I want to look at is how God wants to transform the world. The second thing we are going to examine is how he transforms you and me as well.
GOD TRANSFORMS THE WORLD
Let’s first look at what how God wants to transform the world. We’ll begin that by reading Isaiah 61:8-11 (NIV):
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.
This is an interesting passage. God looked down on the creation that he had made and he saw that it was broken. The perfection of Eden had been replaced by a world dominated by sin and death. People cheated one another. They lied to each other. Some people stole what was not theirs. Others competed for scarce resources hoping to get more than their share. Wherever God looked he saw the busted remains of his perfect creation and he grieved deeply in his soul.
God said to himself, “What am I going to do about this?” He had already tried various things. He had made a covenant with the people through Abraham and they had ignored it. Through Moses, God had given them the Law but time and time again they had broken it. He has sent the prophets and they had been killed by the very people they were trying to warn. After trying everything else, God decided to send his one and only son.
God came to us in Jesus and through Jesus showed us how to live. He taught us about the Father and how we are to live in relationship with him and with one another. During the time when he walked the earth he gave us a vision of what the world would be like if God had his way. He gave us a glimpse of a world in which the lion would lie down with the lamb and in which the bear and the goat would graze on grass together. He showed us a world in which sin was abolished and the dark demonic forces were cast into the abyss and people could live together in peace as God had always intended.
That’s what Jesus did when he came the first time. He started the transformation of creation back to the way that God intended it to be. In doing so, he set the stage for his second coming at the end of the age when he will return in glory to fulfill the vision that he gave to us the first time he came. That kingdom is what Isaiah is talking about in the passage that we read this morning.
In verse 8, God promises an everlasting covenant that will never be broken. Note that this is everlasting. It is not for a certain time or for a particular place or a specific people. It is for all the saints for all time wherever they might be.
Verse 9 tells us that all peoples on the face of the earth will acknowledge this covenant and realize what a blessing it is. It hints that even those who have not received Christ, even those who have not chosen to follow him will realize what they have missed and they will see him for who he really is. When he comes again at the end of time, even those who have so viciously denied him will be forced to acknowledge that they were wrong. Jesus alone is our reason for the hope of a better future.
Verse 10 promises that we will be clothed in a garment of salvation and arrayed in a robe of righteousness. It says that we will wear that salvation as a bridegroom adorns his head and as a bride adorns herself with jewels. What a wonderful image! It speaks of a time of celebration when people go the extra mile to make themselves presentable. It speaks of a time of abundant joy as two people are united in marriage and begin a new journey together.
Then in verse 11 he summarizes everything by saying, “For as the soil makes the sprout come up and the garden causes the seed to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all the nations.” This verse is key to understanding what will happen at the end of the age because it tells us who will make this transformation happen. God is the one who transforms. God is the one who makes all things new.
That’s because we can’t do it. There are all sorts of people in this world who spend their entire lives trying to make this world a better place to be and all they end up with is a life filled with frustration. They help their neighbours. They work hard in their congregations. They volunteer at the food banks and visit the sick in the hospital but when they come to the end of their lives and look at the state of the world, they see that it’s no better than when they began. So what was the point?
The point is that, on our own, we have no power to transform the world into the kind of place that God wants it to be. Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean that we stop trying. That doesn’t mean that we give up and go home. God still wants us to fill our lives with good works in service to others as we seek to make a difference in our little corners of creation. But we cannot transform the world because that is Jesus’ job.
GOD TRANSFORMS US
Isaiah tells us that God will transform creation back to the way God always intended to be. The other interesting thing about Isaiah 61 is that it is also written in the first person. Verse 10, for example, says this:
I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…
What this tells us is that not only is God going to transform creation into what it was intended to be, Jesus is also interested in transforming each and every one of us so that we can be everything that God intended us to be.
God calls us to be joyful, to be filled with praise and gratitude for our many blessings. God calls us to pray continually, to always be willing to reach out to those in need, to heal the sick, visit the lonely and bind up the broken hearted.
God calls us to do all of those things and so many more. But here’s the key point. We are called live like that regardless of our circumstances. We see this in what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV):
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
We are called to be the people of God, to live the way that Jesus wants us to live regardless of our circumstances. But here’s the kicker. We aren’t naturally joyful. We’d much rather complain about everything. We aren’t naturally prayerful. Many of us would rather ignore God until we need something. And while many of us are really thankful for what we have, lots of us would much rather just have more.
This is what the Bible calls the sinful nature and the sinful nature encourages us to be miserable, self centred and take everything for granted. Note what Paul said to the Philippians. In Philippians 4:12, he wrote that he had to learn to be content in all situations. It didn’t come naturally to him. He had to learn. He had to change.
Now note this: we, all on our own, are powerless to change our sinful nature. That’s because we can’t transform ourselves. The only way that we can change is to let God transform us into the people he intends us to be.
Here’s a question: when should we expect this transformation to take place? Do we have to wait until the end of the age when Jesus returns in glory before we can be transformed? That’s when God promised to finally transform creation. Do we have to wait that long?
The answer is, “No.” Creation might not be fully transformed until Jesus returns to take control of it. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait that long. He can transform your life beginning today if you will let him. All you have to do is put your life into his hands and let his Holy Spirit work within you.
Let’s face it, all of us need to learn how to be the people God wants us to be. All of could learn to be more joyful. All of us could learn to pray more continually. All of us could use a little more thankfulness in our lives. Some of us are along way down the road and some of us are just starting. But now matter where you are on the road to transformation, each of us can learn to these attitudes along the way.
What areas of your life to do need to give to God? What part of your life are you holding back? Advent is a great time to think about that because traditionally it is a time of preparation for the come of Christ, both at Bethlehem and at the second coming. As you prepare for his coming, what do you need to give to him that you have been keeping to yourself?
If you’re not sure what that might be, let me offer you some suggestions on how you can find out. Start with your attitude. What areas of your life rob you of joy? If you don’t have joy in an area of your life, chances are you have not given it over to God. If you haven’t give it to him, he can’t redeem it and if he can’t redeem it no wonder you are starved for joy in that area of your life.
Another way to tell if you have not given part of your life to God is by looking at those areas where you don’t want to pray. If you don’t want to pray about something, chances are that you really don’t want that area of your life to change. That’s because you haven’t given that area of your life over to God. Maybe you might want to set aside so time today to pray about that area and give it to God.
The final way in which we can discover those areas of our lives which we have not given to God is to look at the areas of your lives where you are not thankful. If you don’t think you can thank God for something than chances are that you realize that it isn’t from him. You might want it. You might crave it. You might even enjoy it but if it isn’t of God, then it will do you no good. If you can’t thank God for something in your life, than get rid of it. It is only getting in the way of the transformation that God wants in your life.
Our God is a God of transformation. He has a plan to transform creation into what he always intended it to be. And he wants to transform your life so that you can be the person he always intended you to be. That happens when you give your life over to Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. He is the one who loves us. He is the one who saves us. He is the one who makes all things new… including you.
PRAYER AFTER MESSAGE
Heavenly Father, search my life and my heart. I know that you want to transform me into an image of your glory. I know that I am not yet completely the man or woman you want me to be. I also know that, apart from you, I am helpless to affect any lasting change in my life. So come to me now. Enter into those place where I have kept you out. As you have promised to transform creation at the end of the age, I want you to continue to process of transformation in my life even now. I want this and I know that you can do it. And I pray these prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Light, we seek your radiant glory to shine into our lives. In a world that often seems dark and foreboding, we need you to show us the way, the path that you would place before our feet. We think of many dark places in this world. There is the darkness of injustice that hovers over so many people. When children are hungry, when innocent people suffer, when the lonely have no one with whom to talk, darkness settles like a heavy canopy shrouding all that would give us life. We think about the dark places in our lives. There are those with whom we are unreconciled. There are past wrongs and hurts left unforgiven to fester and allow our separation to continue.
And yet we are also aware of the joy of lights that shine in the darkness. We are thankful for the Christmas lights that grace every street in town, and, in their own way, proclaim the birth of the Christ Child of Bethlehem. We thank you for all of the candles, large and small, young and old who shine your love to us in such special ways.
Keep us aware, O God, of the light that shines into our lives. May we not be tempted or persuaded to follow any other lights but Christ. It is his star that shines in our hearts. It is he whom we seek to guide us on our path of life.
This morning, we pray for the sick at home or in hospital. We remember Mark, Bob, Gary, Richard, Elizabeth and Pauline. Grant them, O God, a special measure of your light that they may experience your peace and healing power in their lives. We also lift up those who mourn, especially the family and friends of Angela Mulder, Evelyn Ellerbeck and Morley Scratch whose lives were celebrated this week. Bless them as they bear this loss in the Christmas season.
Finally, we pray for ourselves as we seek an uncertain economic and financial future especially in the wake of Covid-19. We pray for government, business and labour that they may find lasting solutions. We don’t need more bandaids. We need real transformation. Bless us with leaders that will see beyond the immediate problems and have a broader vision of a better tomorrow in your sight.
We, O God, who are your lights in this world, call upon you to make us shine. Empower us, enliven us, encourage us for ministry, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
December 13, 2020 / Advent 3
Psalm 126; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Luke 1:47-55; John 1:6-8, 19-28; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Come to us, O God, as we wait upon your Child;
ALL: Come to us and restore our souls.
ONE: Enter our thoughts and guide our ways;
ALL: Enter our lives, bring us back to your path.
ONE: God is in this place;
ALL: Let us worship the One who draws near to Bethlehem.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of all generations, you sent John the Baptist to show us the way and to prepare the path for the coming Saviour. Like the crowds that followed him to the Jordan River, fill us with expectation. In this Advent season, we prepare for the time when Jesus will, once again, dwell among us here on earth, when he comes as the True Light that will enlighten all of Creation. May our hearts be filled with joy as we sing praises for all that you have done.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, you shine your light upon us but we sometimes chose to live in darkness. You have given us so much but we squander your gifts on unholy pursuits. We ask for your mercy and compassion to be showered down from Heaven. We need your hand to guide us through the hazards of sin that threaten to trip us and block our path to you. Remove the distortions of our vision and grant us peace.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God clothes us with righteousness and offers us the gift of salvation. Holy is the One who came to be born in human form and to cleanse us from our sin. Through faith in Christ and honest confession we are truly forgiven. Thanks be to God.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
The fruits of the earth surround us. All of our abundant blessings come from you, O God. We offer these gifts, today, as signs of our wealth and comfort, in thanksgiving to you. You are our Creator and our God both now and forevermore.
Let us go into the world filled with the joy of Jesus. We await his coming even as he lives in our hearts. Let us share that message and live that joy.