Telling the Story

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Advent 3
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 35: 2-11 and Matthew 11: 2-11
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see.”
Matthew 11: 4 (NIV)

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Here we are, the third week of Advent. Christmas is just ten days away. I know that most of the preparations at our house are coming together. Most of our lights are up on the house. We got a really good tree from the Rotary Club this year. Their trees are always good but this year they outdid themselves. The kids are all planning to be home which will be great. In fact, we learned this week that they are all going to be staying overnight on Christmas Eve which will just be crazy because there’s quite a group of them now. Ruth is getting her baking done. Gifts are being wrapped. There’s still lots to do but things are getting done.

In our house, we take special care to remember why we have Christmas. Yes, Jesus is the reason for the season. I know that not everyone sees it that way. We hear radio and TV spots that refer to the holiday season and happy holidays. To tell you the truth, that used to irk me but it really doesn’t bother me anymore. I know that other religions celebrate their own traditions this time of year. Our Jewish friends have Hanukkah. There are also major Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and Wiccan festivals that happen in December. And even if people aren’t active in any religious group, even if they are atheists or agnostics, most people in our culture do traditional Christmasy things. So I no longer get bent out of shape when someone says, “Happy Holidays” to me. All I ask is that I be allowed to say “Merry Christmas” without someone feeling offended. The good news is that I think as a culture we are moving in that direction.

Nonetheless, for we who call ourselves Christians, this is very special time of the year because it is about the birth of Jesus. That is what it is about. For Christians, Christmas is about Christ and, as Christians, we need to be willing to tell that story.

ARE YOU THE MESSIAH?

That’s what today’s reading from Matthew is all about. It is about telling the story of Jesus. The story is framed in an interesting manner. It’s not in Bethlehem. There is not stable or manger or inn with no vacancy. The scenario, rather, is that John the Baptist – Jesus’ cousin – has been thrown into prison and he has sent some of his disciples to find who exactly Jesus thinks he is.

It starts off in Matthew 11:2-3 (NIV) which says, “When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” You might wonder what that’s all about. Let me explain.

2,000 years ago, Israel was under Roman occupation. The people of Israel were not thrilled about this because, even back then, they were very proud and independent. And so they yearned for the day when they would be free.

They also were aware of the Old Testament prophets who spoke about a coming Messiah who would rescue and redeem the people. The passage from Isaiah 35 that Linda read this morning is one of them. Verse 3-4 (NIV) says this;

Strengthen the feeble hands,

    steady the knees that give way;

say to those with fearful hearts,

    “Be strong, do not fear;

your God will come,

    he will come with vengeance;

with divine retribution

    he will come to save you.”

The prophet Isaiah is speaking to a people who are afraid and whose knees give way. He tells them not to be afraid, to not tremble because God will come to rescue them. With divine retribution he will come to save them. They called this person the Messiah.

Isaiah also said something about what this Messiah would do. Listen to verses 5-6:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened

    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness

    and streams in the desert.

This passage talks about how the Messiah will heal. He will open the eyes of the blind and enable the deaf to hear. But he won’t stop there. He also will bring miracles. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. So we have healing and miracles as signs of the Messiah.

Can you remember what Jesus did? He became famous for his healings and miracles. People read the words of the prophet Isaiah about the coming Messiah and saw Jesus doing healings and miracles and naturally wondered if he might be the long awaited Messiah that the Old Testament prophets foretold. Lots of people asked that question. Peter went so far as to say it was true. In Matthew 16:16 (NIV), when Jesus asked him who the people thought he was, Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” So the word was getting around.

No wonder John the Baptist asked the question. Everyone else was asking the same question. Could Jesus be the Messiah? Was he the one who was going to save them and redeem them?

Of course he was. Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah. They were looking at the right man. They were asking the right question. What they got wrong was what the Messiah was supposed to do. They were expecting a political Messiah, one who would save and redeem the people from Roman occupation. Jesus came to redeem the people but it wasn’t from Roman tyranny. It was from something far greater. He came to redeem us from the tyranny of sin.

JESUS’ REPLY

John asks the right question. It was the same question everyone was asking. Is Jesus the Messiah. Let’s listen to Jesus’ answer in Matthew 11:4-6 (NIV) which says this:

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Jesus, as he does so often, refuses to give John’s disciples a direct answer. He could have said, “Yes, I am the Messiah,” or, “No, I am not the Messiah.” But he didn’t do that. Instead he gave them statements to think about. He challenged them to consider what they have seen and heard. While he does it with statements, he could just as easily have done it with question. He could have said, “What do you hear? What do you see? Do those things match up to what the Old Testament prophets said about healings and miracles? You go and tell John that. Tell him what you hear. Tell him what you see. And then I’m pretty sure you’ll figure it out.”

Jesus had a way of making the people think for themselves. He never spoon fed his disciples with easy answers to tough question. He never backed down or candy coated issues when challenged by powerful people either in the synagogue or in government. He just kind of laid things out there and said, “Look at the evidence. You’re bright people so figure it out.”

He says the same thing to us in more ways than one. What do you hear? What do you see? Is Jesus the Messiah who was to come to save and redeem his people or isn’t he? What do you hear? What do you see? Does that match up with what the prophets said or doesn’t it?

The amazing thing about Jesus is that he fulfills so many of the Old Testament prophecies. This is true even in his birth. The prophet Micah said this about the Messiah in Micah 5:2 (NIV):

 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

    though you are small among the clans of Judah,

out of you will come for me

    one who will be ruler over Israel,

whose origins are from of old,

    from ancient times.”

And as we know from the Christmas story, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV) talks about the Messiah’s mother: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” That was fulfilled in Mary who had not lain with a man before Jesus was born.

Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NIV) says that the Messiah would be born from David’s line.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

    “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,

a King who will reign wisely

    and do what is just and right in the land.

In his days Judah will be saved

    and Israel will live in safety.

This is the name by which he will be called:

    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

We see that fulfilled in the genealogies published in both Matthew 1 and Luke 3.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the fulfillment of prophecy. What do you hear? What do you see? Armed with all of that, go figure it out. Do you think Jesus is the Messiah or not. Is he the one who was foretold or isn’t he?

And if that isn’t evidence enough, look at what he has done in the lives of people. I’ve never done this before but I believe that if I asked anyone in this room to talk about the difference Jesus has made in their lives that everyone would have a story to tell. I’m pretty sure that some of you could pop up right now and tell your story. Some of you would have to think about it a bit. And then there are the introverts who would just try to make themselves as small as possible and hope that I don’t call on them. But that’s not because they don’t have a story to tell. They just don’t like to get up in speak in public.

Personally, I don’t know what I would do without Jesus in my life. He gives me strength when I am weak. He gives me guidance when I am lost. He brings people into my life and into this church at just the right time to meet needs that I sometimes didn’t even know I had. I could go on but just suffice it to say that since Jesus became the centre of my life, my world has been a very different place and I am so thankful for that.

JESUS TELLS A STORY

Jesus tells John’s disciples to tell him what they have heard and seen, that the blind see and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear and the dead are raised to life. And then Jesus turns the tables a bit and starts to talk about John. Listen to his words in Matthew 11:7-11 (NIV):

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way before you.”

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

It’s interesting. Jesus told John’s disciples to consider what they had heard and seen about him. But now Jesus does the same thing with the crowd when he asked them what they saw and heard in John. Who was he? What did they remember about him. Was he a reed swaying in the wind? No. Was he dressed in fine clothes? No.

What did they see? They saw a prophet. And then Jesus quotes another Old Testament prophecy, Malachi 3:1 which says there will be someone who will prepare the way for the Messiah and he applies that to John. He is the messenger. He is the forerunner. He is the one who was to prepare the way for the Lord. And so Jesus tells John’s story.

Just as Jesus told John’s story, we are called to tell Jesus’ story. That’s important because his story is the greatest story ever told. From his birth to his death, from his resurrection to his ascension, we need to know his story and we need to share his story.

I appreciated the way one person shared the story earlier this week and I’d like to share it with you:

“More than two thousand years ago, a brilliant star shown in the east. Wise men traveled far and they came and they stood under the star where they found the Holy Family, in Bethlehem. As the Bible tells us, when the wise men had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him,.

“Christians give thanks that the Son of God came into the world to save humanity. Jesus Christ inspires us to love one another with hearts full of generosity and grace.

“At Christmas we remember this eternal truth: Every person is a beloved child of God. As one grateful nation we praise the joy of family, the blessings of freedom, and the miracle of Christmas.”

Can you guess who said that? It was Donald Trump on the occasion of the lighting of the national Christmas tree in Washington last week.

I know that Donald Trump is a controversial figure for some of you. He’s a guy that you either really like or you really don’t. And to tell you the truth, I never in my whole life ever expected to be quoting Donald Trump in a sermon. And I didn’t quote him because I support or don’t support him. I quoted him because if Donald Trump can tell the whole world that Jesus is the reason for the season, then we can too.

You may not have a great big stage with millions of viewers watching on TV but you have the stage that God has given to you. That stage may be your house and your family members. That stage may be your neighbourhood or where you work or where you go to school. That stage may be something as simple as the checkout counter where you’re paying for Christmas presents or groceries. It may be the library or the reception desk at the doctor’s office. That stage may change a dozen times a day but it’s your stage and with your words and with your actions and with the way you treat people, you proclaim the verses that Nellie used this morning in her call to worship: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David as Saviour who is Christ the Lord and this shall be a sign to you. You shall find the baby wrapped in clothes and laying in a manger.”

Jesus is the reason for the season. It’s a story that has changed our lives and changed the world. It’s a story we are called to share, our gift to the world at Christmas time.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

We come to you, God of Advent, anticipating all that you make available to us. You give us life. You give us joy. You fill us with love and compassion. Thank you for your blessings. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for coming to us in the form of a tiny baby born in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem.

Thank you for Jesus’ life. Thank you, also, for his sacrifice that made it possible for all people to be in relationship with you, abolishing the hostility and barriers that once separated us from one other and from you. Enable us to recognize those barriers where they exist and to do what we can to break them down that all people may be one.

We offer our thanks, also, for the hard work and dedication of so many who help to make Advent and Christmas a special time around our congregation and community. May be forever remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.

We lift up in prayer those who will find this Christmas to be a difficult time. For many there will be an empty seat around the table this year. For others there may be hardships caused by a loss of job or health concerns. Others, still, will be facing the reality of broken relationships and heartache. Lift us, O God, above our sorrow and enable us to look with hope to the better day that you have promised.

We also pray for Sandy Murphy and her team as they prepare for the ribbon cutting at Murchadha House this week. That, O God, is a dream come true for many people. May Murchadha House be a blessing to those who need its services and to our community as a whole.

We pray for the sick, at home or in hospital. Give them strength. Give them healing. Give them hope and wholeness of spirit.

Great and Holy God, we can hardly begin to comprehend the amazing depth of your love. You made yourself available to us even before we knew who you were. At times our patience is so small that we can hardly wait for the good things that you have promised in your heavenly Kingdom. Help us to wait upon you for all things and to trust that you will fulfill the promises that you have made in Jesus Christ our Saviour. We await his coming at Christmas. We await, also, his coming again in the fullness of time. As we wait, fill us with your patience as you fill your creation with love and compassion for all things. We raise these prayers to you in Jesus’ name.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

December 15, 2019 / Advent 3

SCRIPTURE

Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; Luke 1:47-55 (Alt. Res.); James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

CALL TO WORSHIP

Let us praise God as long as we live;

Blessed are those whose help is in the Spirit;                                    

Christ’s reign will last forever;

Praise God, O my soul.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Praise God, O my soul. Praise God for the redemption that is ours in Christ. Praise God that love glistened from a stable in Bethlehem. Praise God that in amongst the rude and ordinary things of Creation, a Saviour was born to shine light into the world. Shine that light upon us now, O God of Love. Fill us anew with your Spirit and with the new life that you have promised. Praise God, O my soul.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

The desserts shout for joy and the rocks sing your praises. But we have been guilty of falling away. The road that you set before us is straight and easy to follow. But there are times when we choose another path. We prepare our homes for Christmas but we forget to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child. We bake and cook our feasts but we put the hungry out of our minds. We ensure that there are many gifts under our trees but we neglect the needs of the poor. Convict us, forgive us and place our feet firmly upon the way of Christ.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God’s love is shown most clearly and profoundly in Jesus who was born at Bethlehem. He gave his life as a sacrifice for us that we may receive the gift of eternal life. By his wounds we are healed.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

We come to you with our offerings, O God, meager though they may be compared to the abundance with which you have blessed us. In faith, we turn to you and ask that you would bless us and our gifts.

COMMISSIONING

The love of Christ is shown in this world by the way we love one another. May God’s compassion and peace be with us as we share the Good News of salvation.

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