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December 10, 2000
Second Sunday of Advent

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LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

[ Read the texts at the Vanderbilt Divinity On-Line Library ]
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"Seeing the Good News"

"All flesh shall see the salvation of God."

What amazing words. The deepest sense of these words is that peace, harmony, health and healing will break out all over the world!  "All flesh shall see.." means that every single human being on earth will see this come to pass.

Sounds impossible doesn't it?  This promise from the prophet Isaiah, brought to us in the gospel of Luke courtesy of John the Baptist brings to mind the words of Jesus to his disciples, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."  [Matt. 19:26]

Try to imagine what it would be like:

  • War is just a memory
  • Hunger and poverty a thing of the past
  • Every human being experiences love and caring community

Sounds like heaven doesn't it?

And...  when you look at the state of human affairs these days, it sounds impossible... For mortals.

***

Nevertheless, this is a time of year for dreaming.  Many of our children are writing lists of all the things that would fulfill their dreams.  The child within us reaches out for the wonder and mystery of this "season of good cheer."  One friend described his feelings about the Christmas season this way, "It is as though we take leave of the real world for a time and wait for that wonderful something that will come to us all and bring peace and joy to the world -- but it never quite arrives and we wait for another year to dream again."

If somehow you were given the gift of writing a headline for the morning newspaper that would come true as you wrote it -- what would that headline be? Would it be the kinds of headlines that fill our newspapers today? Of course not. Deep within our hearts we want good news and not bad news. Life is filled with bad news. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see good news break out in our national newspapers.

I asked a group of high school young people to write headlines they would love to see and here are the top six from the group:

"Peace declared all over earth!"

"Hunger and poverty to be eliminated by year's end!"

"No reports of child abuse in the US for over a year!"

"Religious tolerance at an all time high!"

"Vaccine for all forms of cancer discovered!"

"Officials to investigate complete absence of violent crime!"

***

"Wonderful dreams, but not very realistic," you say.  "Impossible!"

And you would be right with such thinking.  Human beings on their own will never bring such a thing about.  In the words of scripture, "For mortals it is impossible..."

And yet, there is a promise which is deep at the center of our faith that points to a spiritual truth that lies at the center of this season and call us to be ready for God to intervene in the world, "but for God all things are possible."

In plain talk, here is the message John the Baptist proclaimed in the wilderness of Judea.  Thought the message is an ancient one, it speaks quite directly to the spiritual wilderness of our contemporary world.

  • "Make room for God!"

  • "Get rid of everything in your life that is a barrier to God!"

  • "Every person will see the promises of God come to pass!"

There is a natural division of this message into two areas of concern.  There is first of all, the area of: [1] "That which is possible for mortals..."  and  "That which is possible only for God."  

[1] "That which is possible for mortals..."

When John the Baptist brought his message to the wilderness, he said there were two things we need to do in our relationship with God.

First of all, we need to make room for God.  "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."  It is easy to find our lives so cluttered and busy that there is no room for our relationship with God.  There are times when our religious activity is rather perfunctory. The hard thing is that the times we celebrate the central events of the Christian faith is precisely the time when the pace of our lives is most hectic.

Think about it.  Are you prepared for the holiday season?  Are your cards all written, shopping done and preparations for holiday company completed?  [shudder]

And in all of this -- have you made room for God in the center of your life for this Advent season?  Is God's way into the center of your heart a straight and easy path or is the way cluttered and winding?

The intent here is not to add more clutter in our lives by way of feeling guilty. (Although, guilt has gotten a bad name and the fact is that there are times when guilt is in order!)   However, a proper response to John's message is to intentionally address a question to every aspect of our celebration of Christmas this year. "How does God relate to this?"  We aim the question at our shopping and spending, our relationships and family life and our inner life.

Reflect on this:  "How can I make a straighter path and more room for God in my life?"

Secondly, we need to get rid of everything in our lives that is a barrier to God.  When John the Baptist spoke the words of the prophet Isaiah about the leveling of the mountains and the lifting up of the valleys, he was talking about justice and righteousness becoming the norm.  He was pointing to a world where "good news" was a reality.  He spoke of the kind of world it would be when God was truly in charge, a world Jesus said his ministry would be all about:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." [Luke 4:18-19]

To celebrate the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ is to line our lives up with God's purposes and join the  followers of Jesus Christ in bringing "good news" to the corner of the world we inhabit.  One of the great Christmas gifts I have ever heard of is a church where individuals and families were urged to include in their preparations for the season the giving of a significant gift for the work of Christ.  This was an extra gift - not for the local church - but to somehow bring good news to the poor, or freedom for those in bondage, or healing for those who are ill.  They called it a "Spirit of the Lord Gift,"  and a part of the Christmas Eve service included lifting up all the groups and persons who had received a "Spirit of the Lord Gift."

When we turn our attention outward and purpose to follow Christ in our giving and reaching out, we automatically begin to work on removing the barriers to God's presence in our lives and in our world!

[2] "That which is possible only for God..."

When we have done all we can do to make room for God and to remove barriers to the presence of God, it is time to trust God for the outcome of all things.  We have control over our actions and even a modicum of influence on the world around us - beginning with our own small part of the world.  But -- we are not able to bring about the stunning completion of all things -- the final goal of God's divine purposes -- namely:

"All flesh shall see the salvation of God!"

Do you see?

Advent and Christmas is all about a world that finally comes under the sovereign rule of God.  This is the good news that can not be rescinded or denied.  In the deepest sense, Advent and Christmas is the celebration of victory in a war against everything that is wrong.  Yet, the battles have yet to be completed and the time of fulfillment lies ahead.  The victory is secured in our faith and is being worked out in our lives.

That's what Advent and Christmas is all about.  Give yourselves once again to the wonderful victory of God's divine purposes in our world.  A new world which is described in some of the last words in our bible:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;  he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."  [Revelation 21:1-4]

John the Baptist said it best,  "...Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."


 

Discussion and Reflection on the Texts

Connections in the Text

Malachi speaks of the messenger who is to come from God. This is a messenger the people "delight in", but when he comes, there is a strong call to repentance. The Lord's messenger comes as a "refiner and purifier of silver." The ministry of this messenger will bring about a renewal of righteousness whereby the offerings of God's people will once again be pleasing to the Lord.

The messenger who comes in Luke is John the Baptist who issues a call to repentance. Justice and righteousness are required of those who wish to welcome the Lord. The Philippians text points to the sanctification the Christian experiences when growing in the love of Christ and gaining knowledge and insight. The purpose of sanctification is to produce a "harvest of righteousness."

Malachi 3:1-4

Nothing is known of the prophet Malachi whose name means, "My Messenger" or "The Lord's Messenger." He is likely one of the postexilic prophets usually placed with Haggai and Zechariah.

The message of Malachi is aimed at an apathetic people who had returned from exile and whose moral and spiritual life was at a low ebb. Through Malachi, the Lord addresses the priests and the people with stern warning about the righteous requirements of being the people of God. The Lord will come, but with judgment and testing. The relationship of the people to God is necessarily intertwined with the righteousness of God -- thus purification of the people is the first order of business when the Lord's "messenger" comes.

Luke 3:1-6

The voice of John the Baptist is located specifically in time and place -- for good reason -- the voice of a prophet is heard once again in Israel. "The voice of one crying in the wilderness," is a quote from Isaiah 40:3-5. In context, Isaiah 40 is the beginning of the words of comfort to Jerusalem and the people of God that redemption is certain.

In these few verses, Luke's gospel points to the coming of Jesus Christ as the One who brings about God's intervention into the world to bring redemption.

Philippians 1:3-11

In Philippians we looks past the coming of Christ and to the other side of his death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Paul addresses what may be the high point of his ministry, namely the people of the church at Philippi. There is a tone of warmth, joy and emotion not seen as clearly in his other epistles.

Here Paul reflects on the intimacy he shares with this congregation and he "longs to see them" again. Though he can not be with them at this time, he encourages them to continue their excellent growth in love. He also prays mature knowledge and insight will accompany their growth in love so that they might be "pure and blameless" in the day of Christ.

Although the epistle is not so directly related to the Old Testament and gospel reading - it does point to the aim of the Christian life which is the same as the goal of the other passages. Paul wants for his Philippian flock a, "...harvest of righteousness..."


 Worship Helps

A Unison Prayer of Invocation

O righteous and holy God, we gather today on this second Sunday of Advent to worship and praise your Holy Name. Help us, O merciful Lord, to give ourselves fully to your word for our living. Give us grace to hear your voice, courage to walk in your ways and joy in drawing closer to you.

Through the One who comes to us in these moments, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

A Prayer of Confession

We confess to You, O God, that we have often forgotten You and have strayed from the path of your commandments.

Through carelessness or foolish fears we have lost contact with your love; through willfulness and pride we have hurt our neighbors and lived in the darkness of our selfish desires.

Come upon us with Your mercy and restore us to the family of your love; pardon our sins against you and our fellow men and women; and send us forth this week refreshed and joyful, through the abundant grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.         (David H. C. Read)

Assurance of Pardon

God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Hear the gracious words of our Lord Jesus Christ to all that truly repent and turn to Him: Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Those who come to me I will in no way cast out.

Amen.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

O gracious and merciful Lord of life, we give thanks today that you cared for us so much that you sent your only Son to rescue us from the ways of sin and death. Though your people turned away from your words, you sent messengers to them over and over again.  Though we have joined them in frequent rebellion, you continue to call us to forgiveness and new life in Christ.

We pray that in this season of Advent you would give us attentive hearts, willing hearts and spirits anxious to do your will.  As the days of the celebration of our Savior's birth draw near to us, may we draw near to him in every way.

 Amen.

 

A Prayer of Dedication

O God, the giver of every good and perfect gift, give us skill and imagination to use the gifts which we now place on your holy table. May this money be used by dedicated hands to further your kingdom, to create fellowship, and to bring the healing power of the Gospel into the lives of humankind; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

(W. B. J. Martin, Acts of Worship)