Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Believing in His Promises

On of the greatest expressions of faith, if not the greatest, was made by Mary the mother of Jesus. On her visit to her cousin Elizabeth she proclaimed:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.   (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary believed in the promises that God made to his people Israel. Israel had not heard a prophetic word from God for over four hundred years. They nation of Israel was under foreign occupation, yet Mary still believed in God’s promises. She believed so strongly in them that she was willing to surrender all of herself to God’s providence.

Because he was now in prison and ostracized from the significant events that were occurring, John the Baptist began to have doubts about the one he had proclaimed as the Messiah. From today’s Gospel reading:

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”   (Matthew 11:2-6)

Notice how Jesus answered John. He did not do so directly. Rather, he proclaimed that the promises of God were being fulfilled. Jesus, by his very works, was fulfilling the prophecy of old concerning himself. From the Prophet:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.   (Isaiah 35:5-6)

Do we believe in the promises of God? Circumstances around us can cause us to doubt them if we are not careful. Often times, the timing of the fulfillment of God’s promises is problematic. God’s timing may not be our timing. Yet, his timing is perfect. From the Book of James we read:

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.   (James 5:7-10)

Mary was patient. Mary was trusting. She was willing to wait upon the Lord, even though what God promised to do through her was beyond anything imaginable. How willing are we to believe in God’s promises today? In some ways, it may appear that the promises of God are losing ground. That is all the more reason for us to put our entire trust in him. We cannot take matters into our own hands. Only God can bring about his glorious word.

Let us remember that we are not alone on our Christian journey. We have our brothers and sisters in the faith to offer us encouragement:

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11)

We also have a traveling companion who is our greatest encouragement. He is Jesus. He has established a road map for us. Isaiah prophesied:

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;

the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.   (Isaiah 35:1-10)

Many are unwilling to travel this highway. But this is the only highway that leads to he absolute fulfillment of the promises of God. Jesus said:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”   (John 14:6)

Those who hold on to the promises of God shall not be disappointed:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35:6-10)

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Second Sunday of Advent, Year A

The Root  of Jesse

On this second Sunday of Advent we hear from the Prophet Isaiah:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.   (Isaiah 11::1-2)

Jesse was the father of King David. The stump of Jesse refers to the rule of King David and his family line that had been cut off. Only foreign nations were ruling Israel by the end if the Old Testament. The Prophet Malachi closed the age with this message from God:

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.   (Malachi 4:5–6)

Just when many of the Jews thought that all was lost, a new age was beginning. It began with the preaching of John the Baptist. From today’s Gospel reading:

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”   (Matthew 3:1-3)

The kingdom of heaven had come near, indeed. John preached one more powerful than he would usher in this age:

I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.   (Matthew 3:11)

Did the Jewish people reject this new leader? Not everyone did. Many who were baptized by John in the River Jordan were prepared for the coming of Christ Jesus. They wanted to believe what John was saying. They repented of their sins and were willing to undergo a baptism which was reserved for Gentiles. This was a drastic step for them.

It was a drastic step for a Pharisee named Saul who became the Apostle Paul. He was called by God to preach to the Gentiles. Paul quoted from the Old Testament concerning his ministry:

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;

and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;

and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”   (Romans 15:9-13)

We are those Gentiles. Do we find our hope in Jesus? That has, for many of us, been a drastic step. But our journey is not yet complete. We are now facing the close of an age.

The age of the Gentiles is closing. We have been living in a difficult age. It is an age that has become more troubling by the day. It has not been easy to confess the lordship of Jesus Christ in many parts of the world. This is now true for America. We are living in transition to a new age. Have we lost our hope? Has our Christian witness diminished?

For some of us it may be a time for repentance. Jesus is preparing us now for a new age. We can no longer hide ourselves in a darkened world. Jesus sees everything. From Isaiah:

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.   (Isaiah 11:3=5)

A new age is coming. It is just around the corner. It is the millennial reign of Jesus on the earth. Are we ready for this age?

In this new age the root of Jesse will have fully blossomed. Again, from Isaiah:

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.   (Isaiah 11:10)

The psalmist wrote:

He shall defend the needy among the people;
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure,
from one generation to another.

He shall come down like rain upon the mown field,
like showers that water the earth.

In his time shall the righteous flourish;
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.   (Psalm 72:4-7)

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First Sunday of Advent, Year A

Put on the Armor of Light

Today is the first Sunday in the Season of Advent. We begin our four weeks of preparation for the birth of the Christ child. It is a time for spiritual reflection. It is a time of joyful anticipation.

Yet Advent begins, not with the first coming of Jesus, but with his second. The disciples of Jesus were questi0ning him about when thus would take place:

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”   (Matthew 24:3)

Jesus answered them in today’s Gospel reading:

About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.   (Matthew 24:36-39)

Jesus tells his disciples that there will be no certainty of the day and hour when he returns, but then he goes on to say that there will be another certainty:

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”   (Matthew 24:40-44)

Therefore you also must be ready. What does that mean? What does it mean to us today?

The Apostle Peter was preaching at Pentecost:

Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.   (Acts:36)

His preaching led to a question:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,   Acts 2:37-38)

“What should we do?” This is the vital question. There are some practical elements to consider. When John the Baptist was preaching repentance the crowds asked him what they should do:

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”   (Luke 3:10-14)

The Apostle Paul peached to the Church in Rome:

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.   (Romans 13:11-14)

Jesus made it clear what should be the foundation of our preparation:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”   (John 6:27-29)

To live in the light of Christ we must first believe in Christ. Advent is a time for us to expand our believing. It is a time to see more that just our small world around us. The light of Christ is coming. To prepare for his light we must seek that light.

God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.   (Isaiah 2:2-3)

Are we ready to put on the armor of light?

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