DON’T MISS THE POINT
We look at Advent as a time to prepare our hearts and lives for the coming of Jesus, laid in a manger 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 he 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 couple of weeks from now, we will all be gathering with family and friends around our trees, ripping apart our presents and stuffing our faces with turkey, ham or tofu as is your pleasure. One more time, we will go through our family rituals whatever they might be. Most of us will enjoy ourselves and go to sleep on Christmas night with pleasant memories and happy dreams.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Christmas trees, short breads, cranberry sauce and mistletoe – especially the mistletoe, but there is far deeper meaning to this time. What Advent is really about is the transformation of the world.
What does that transformation look like? As in everything relating to our faith, the Bible contains the answers. 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 our lives as well.
GOD TRANSFORMS THE WORLD
God looked down on the world 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 The perfection of Eden had been replaced by a world dominated by sin and death.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. Children were abused, families broken, relationships shattered. 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.
We know how he was thanked for this wonderful vision. He took all of our sins upon himself and was nailed to a cross where he died so that all of our sins could be forgiven. Through faith in Jesus we have the assurance that we are right with God and that we are kingdom bound when this life ends.
That’s what Jesus did when he came the first time. 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 was talking about. It is the fulfilment of the transformation that will take place when he returns at the end of time.
The prophet Isaiah wrote about this beautifully in Isaiah 61:8-11 and it is to this passage that we now turn. Isaiah 61:8 (NIV) begins like this:
“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.
In this verse, 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. It continues in Isaiah 61:9 (NIV):
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.”
This 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. 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. Moving on the Isaiah 61:10 (NIV):
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.
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 like a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest 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. And finally, Isaiah 61:11 (NIV):
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.
In verse 11 Isaiah summarizes everything. This verse is key to understanding what will happen at the end of the age. Note that it tells us who will make this transformation happen. Who does it? God does it. 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 committed Christians 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. When we do that, we can make a real difference in someone else’s life. God wants us to do that. God wants us to be rays of light and hope to those who need to hear the Good News. In our little corners of creation, we can make a difference but nothing that we can do will transform the world. That’s because sin is still here. Death still reigns and it will until Jesus returns. Then and only then will that Kingdom that God promised be completely fulfilled. What a wonderful day that will be.
GOD TRANSFORMS US
Isaiah tells us that God will transform creation and re-make it into what it was always intended to be. In the meantime, as we await the return of Jesus, what are we to do? Paul wrote about that in his letter to the church at Thessalonica. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) we read: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
If Isaiah was talking about the transformation of the world, Paul is writing about a different kind of transformation. He is writing about the transformation that God wants to affect within each and every one of us. Again, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Wouldn’t that be great! But here’s a question? How many people do you know who are always joyful, who pray continually and who give thanks in all circumstances? Not many, correct? More likely you know people who are joyful when things are going their way; who pray when they need something from God and usually as a last resort; and who seldom give thanks because they are never satisfied with what they have. We all know people like that. In fact, if we were to be honest, we’d have to admit that a good number of us are just like that.
That’s not how God intends for us to be. God want us to be joyful always, to pray continually, and to give thanks in all circumstances. But how do we do that? It’s about attitude. God doesn’t want us to be miserable. God doesn’t want us to be cranky and hard to be around. God wants us to be joyful and to pray and to give thanks in all circumstances. That means that it doesn’t matter if you don’t get your way you are still called to be joyful. It doesn’t matter is happening in your life, God still wants to hear your prayers. God wants you to reach out to him with every single aspect of your life.
But someone is going to say, “How am I supposed to do that? My hours at work have been cut but the mortgage payment’s still the same. My kid borrowed the car last night and brought it home with a huge dent in the passenger’s door. My father needs more care as he ages and I don’t know where I’m going to find the time to do that. My wife’s going through menopause and would someone please tell me what that’s all about?
Despite all of that the Bible still teaches that our joy, our prayer and our thanksgiving cannot depend upon our circumstances. We all know how easy it is to do those things when life is great and there are not big problems. The challenge is to do them when the rug gets pulled out from under you and life heads south in a big hurry. That’s when you learn what faith is all about. That’s when you discover that there really is a God who loves you and cares for you and wants the very best for you. That’s when you realize just how much you need God in your life.
Paul also wrote this in Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV):
… 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 to everything through [Christ] who gives me strength.
Your circumstances are not the issue. Your attitude is. Your joy, your prayer and your thanksgiving are based upon the attitude that you bring to life.
But here’s the kicker with this and with everything else that we read in the Bible: we can’t transform on our own. 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 few of us are really thankful for all that we have. We’d much rather just have more and that’s why we need to be transformed.
The only way that we can change is to let God transform us into the people he intends us to be. Until we put ourselves in God’s hands and allow his Spirit to work within us, all of our honest and heartfelt efforts are merely spitting in the wind. None of it will make any lasting difference. Oh sure, it might make a difference for a short period of time but when the novelty wears off and the initial confidence and steadfastness erodes, we quickly fall back into old sinful habits. We cannot transform ourselves, only God can transform us.
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? Fortunately, we don’t have to wait that long. We can give Jesus control of our lives right now. He can begin that process of transformation today if you will let him.
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.
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 coming of Christ, both at Bethlehem and at the second coming. As you prepare for that time, what do you need to give to him that you have been keeping to yourself? What are you holding back from your Saviour?
I don’t know what it in your life, but I can tell you how you can find out. We’ll go right back to 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 given it to him, he can’t redeem it and if he can’t redeem it no wonder that part of your life is starved for joy.
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. All of us know what it’s like to withhold prayer. The reason why we sometimes don’t want to pray for something is because we really don’t want that area of our lives to change. We know what we’re doing isn’t godly but we aren’t ready to give it up. Have you got something in your life that you don’t want to take to God in prayer? Maybe you might want to set today aside to give it to him.
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 our lives where we 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, let go of it and give it to God. He can take care of it.
It really is all about attitude. If you allow God to transform your life, he will begin by changing your attitude. When he begins to do that, you will begin to see the world in a whole new light. You will find joy. You will be in constant prayer and you will be able to give thanks in any circumstance. As you do that, you become more and more like the people whom God created you to be.
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 people who helped to decorate the Church in such a beautiful manner this year. May the light of this season continue to shine in our hearts and from this congregation.
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 Carol, Mark, Rachel, Richard and Angela. Give 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 Kay Collard whose life was celebrated on Wednesday. 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. 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 12, 2021 / Advent 3
Isaiah 12:2-6; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
CALL TO WORSHIP
We seek the presence of the God of Joy;
the One who comes in the gentleness of a baby.
Let us rejoice in the One who brings us peace;
and praise the name of the Holy Child of Bethlehem.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Joy, we come before you on this day with our whole hearts and lives. Your love for us exceeds any understanding. You see us in a very different way than we see ourselves. You have called us good and saved us. You have said that we are your delight. Thank you for the truth of your promise. As we worship, enable us to better understand your graciousness and to begin to see ourselves as you see us, trusting in you ever more completely in all areas of life. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
O God, we are anxious and uncertain. Too often we are shaped by our fears, not by faith. We have said and done things that are unworthy of your calling. Our thoughts have been so dominated by the past and the future that we have failed to live fully in the present. We have not always trusted you are allowed you to set us on fire with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Forgive us. Change us. Inspire our caring and doing so that we may bear fruit as your forgiven and forgiving people.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God is in our midst. We have no reason to fear. God has come to us in Jesus Christ. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Let us bear the good fruit of repentance. As forgiven sinners may we share what we have received from God’s hand as generously as it was given to us.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We praise you with this offering, Gracious God. We honour you with our gifts which are from you. Enable us to accept our portion and to share it with others. Take control of our lives in ways that will draw us nearer to you. Increase our sense of responsibility to all of your children in Creation. Amen.
The God of Joy has touched our lives. It is our turn to touch the lives of others with the joy that we have experienced. May the joy of Christ be with you and with us all as we journey towards Bethlehem.