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Third Sunday of Advent: Year B

The Year of the Lord‘s Favor

In this Season of Advent we seek a new understanding and realization of the presence of God in our lives. Advent is a season of expectation. God has intervened on behalf of his people many times. We have so many biblical examples of this. At times, his interventions were unexpected. God’s actions brought great surprise and joy. We have an example of this in today’s Psalm:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.   (Psalm 126:1-4)

The psalmist was recalling how God brought his people back from captivity from Babylon. Today, perhaps we as a people and nation feel captive by a different Babylon – a culture of inmorality and spiritual darkness. We need and intervention from God, do we not?

Are we ready for God to act? The people of Nazareth were not ready when Jesus got up to preach in the synagogue of his home town. He preached from this passage in Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.   (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Jesus was telling the people of Nazareth that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah. They did not believe him. What stopped them from receiving his sermon? Perhaps he was just a hometown boy to them and nothing more. He did not fulfill their expectation of the Messiah. Perhaps they were afraid of what the future might bring. They may not have liked wwhat was happening in their day, but would rather cling to that status quo than embrace an unknown future.

What may be keeping us from receiving a movement of God? If the people of Nazareth could only have been able to see the signs from God all around them. Jesus was performing the miracles mentioned in the prophecy of Isaiah. Can we see that God may already be moving in our midst?

God has a blessing for us – for each of us and for our nation. We need to be able to receive his blessing. Only he can prepare us for what lies ahead. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Thessalonica:

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.   (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

God is faithful. He is calling us to a greater purpose and a higher spiritual life. But we must be able to believe in him and accept his intervention. The enemy has his gatekeepers who could keep us from doing so. When John the baptize was preaching the coming of the Lord the Pharisees were there to oppose him. From today’s appointed Gospel we read:

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

as the prophet Isaiah said.   (John 1:19-23)

Who are today’s gatekeepers? Are we gatekeepers?

We are living in a spiritual wilderness. We are living in a wasteland. Immorality is being exposed. The sin behind the abortion explosion is being revealed. A colossal corruption in high places is staring to show.

We need to continue to cry out to God. We need to continue to pray. And above all, we must put our full trust in God because he is in charge of all that we see around us.

Again the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22)

God has made promises to his people. He is ready to act:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.   (Isaiah 61:10-11)

Aer we ready to receive?

 

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20A

Track 1: Let Us Not Be Anxious about Earthly Things

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Have we ever found ourselves complaining against the Lord? The children of Israel had been liberated from slavery in Egypt through miraculous signs and wonders by God. Now, however. they were unsure that God would still provided for them. From Exodus we read:

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”   (Exodus 16:2-3)

Why is it that, when our faith is challenged, we want to go backwards, even when that means slavery to past problems? It is better for us to wait upon the Lord as he helps us to face the present.

God answered the complaints of his people:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”   (Exodus 16:4-8)

When we complain against God it is usually because we are focusing on the wrong things, the less important things in life. God knows our needs before we ask him. This beautiful prayer is found in the Book of Common Prayer:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Surely we are living in a time when earthly things are quickly passing away. How are we to be best prepared for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Today’s psalm may say it best:

Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.

Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Search for the Lord and his strength;
continually seek his face.   (Psalm 105:1-4)

We remember that Jesus told a parable about a widow and an unjust judge. She continually sought the judge concerning her complaint. He finally granted her justice because he was tired of her complaining. Jesus said that Father in heaven would do better than the unjust judge:

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”   (Luke 18:7-8)

God responded to the concerns of the children of Israel in the wilderness. He has responded to our concerns in the past. But will we keep the faith? Will we seek his face on a daily basis? Will we continually praise his name? Will we tell others about the mighty things he has done, how he has given us salvation through the blood of his Son?

Let us not let the enemy steal our praise. Let us hold on to our holy hope. The world needs our witness all the more as the day grows darker and temporal things pass away. Jesus is calling us to keep the faith even in challenging times.

 


Track 2: The Privilege of Serving God

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

All of us are called by God for a specific ministry in his kingdom here on earth. Understanding our call and answering that call is just the beginning, though a very important first step. What happens when we accept that call and begin our ministry is a whole new level. Almost immediately, we are met with opposition from the enemy, particularly if we are following God’s plan for our lives. We often run into things that we did not expect to encounter. And the results that we wish to achieve are occasionally changed or transformed by the Holy Spirit, without our initial understanding of God’s purpose.

The prophet Jonah of the Old Testament was confused about his ministry. His ministry to the city of Nineveh offers a classic case of an expected result, at least on Jonah’s part. Nineveh was the notorious enemy of the Jewish people. As we remember, Jonah did not want to minister to Nineveh. He set sail in another direction, away from Nineveh. Eventually his sailing companions tossed him overboard when they discovered that his disobedience to God was jeopardizing the ship.

We now the story, Jonah was rescued when swallowed by a large fish. He then was persuaded by God to prophesy the destruction of this great city if its people did not repent. Unexpectedly, Nineveh repented, but this did not please Jonah. From the Book of Jonah we read:

This was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.   (Jonah 4:1-11)

Jonah wanted God to rain down destruction upon the people of Nineveh, even after they repented. What was Jonah’s problem? Perhaps he was too much into rewards and punishment. We can decided in our own minds who deserves punishment and who should be rewarded.

Jesus told a parable about workers in a vineyard which may help illustrate this point. As you recall, the owner of the vineyard hired laborers to work in his vineyard. Some of them were hired early in the day and others late. Some were hired even at the last hour. A problem arose because of this. We read in Matthew:

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”   (Matthew 20:8-12)

We may have a built-in understanding of what we think is fair play. (Keep in mind that we are talking about reward and punishment.) Again, from Matthew:

The owner replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   (Matthew 20:13-16)

This parable speaks on many issues. One issue is our sense of fairness. What is fair about “the last will be first, and the first will be last?” God’s order is not our order. His ways or not our ways. Just serving God is a privilegeThe Apostle Paul wrote:

Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well — since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have   (Philippians 1:27-30)

What keeps us from understanding the privilege of serving God? We have the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well. There are hardships in serving God. Things do not always go our way. But we are blessed to even be in the arena with God – to be counted as his servants. We are coworkers with Christ.

We are not working that we might receive salvation and enter into the kingdom of God. That is a free gift from God by faith in Christ Jesus. We do not have to keep score on ourselves or others. God is the one who keeps score. We recall the words of Jesus:

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’   (Luke 17:9-10)

These are harsh words for those who are working for rewards. But they are liberating words for those who know the joy alone of just serving Jesus in the vineyard, under any and all circumstances. To God be the glory!

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Feast of Trumpets

The Trumpet Shall Sound

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
    nor will be again after them
    in ages to come.   (Joel 2:1-2)

I have been called to sound an alarm.

“Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”   (Isaiah 58:1)

The Prophet Isaiah speaks about the human voice being a trumpet. God requires his watchmen to speak a warning. The Prophet Ezekiel was given a similar charge:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.

“So you, tson of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, cand you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, cthat wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, dthat person shall die in his iniquity, ebut you will have delivered your soul.   (Ezekiel 33:1–9)

Watchmen must blow the trumpet. He or she has no option, otherwise their soul would be accountable before God.

Likewise the Prophet Joel echoes a warning, a warning that reverberates down through the ages:

“Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
    gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
    assemble the aged;
gather the children,
    even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her canopy.

Between the vestibule and the altar
    let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
    and do not make your heritage a mockery,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”   (Joel 2:15-17)

What is the warning that God is giving us. We must repent. Even the church leadership must repent. The judgment of God starts with the church. The Apostle Peter writes:

For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?   (1 Peter 4:17)

Church, we have failed to preach the Gospel faithfully. We have failed to preach holy living. What have we been preaching? Self-help sermons? Prosperity? The Early Church members sold their property to give to the poor.

Have we forgotten that the church was built on the blood of martyrs? These people were only rich in the Spirit. Stephen was stoned for his holiness. Today we say people are poor because they have no faith. But Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

God is calling ministers to prepare his people. Many Christians are not prepared. Not all Christians will be ready when the Lord returns for his bride. We remember the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids:

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids[a] took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids[d] came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.   (Matthew 25:1-13)

Half of the bridesmaids did not have oil in their lamps, representing the Holy Spirit. If we are distracted by the things of this world, if we are not focused on the soon return of the Lord, we are in danger. This is not the time to be living as a nominal or casual Christian. 

We are living in urgent times. Can we not read the signs? Once again we read from Joel:

I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.   (Joel 2:30-32)

Does this ring a bell? The four blood moons? The total eclipse across America?

But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.   (1 Thessalonians 5;1-5)

Peace and safety is the theme of this year’s UN Day of Peace. Those who do not see the signs of the time do not want to see them.

The Epistles of Peter are short and compact, but they speak just as loudly to us today as they did to the Early Church:

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.   (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.   (2 Peter 3:9-13)

The messages of many churches in America has been about the cares of this life. This life is passing away very quickly. From the Gospel of Luke let us heed the warning of our Lord Jesus Christ:

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”   (Luke 21:34-36)

Now is the time to escape this world, not embrace it:

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your[a] life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive[d] language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.   (Colossians 3:1-10)

This is not a time to despair over the things of this earth, but a time to rejoice in the fellowship of saints:

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.   (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

Amen!

 

The Jewish Feast Days were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. They are days appointed by God for the Jewish people, but they have a great deal to do with the Christian Church and the whole world.

The Feast Days may be divided into three Spring and three Fall Feast Days. Beginning with the Spring ones: The Jewish Passover, which celebrated the death angle passing over the children of Israel in Egypt, was prophetically filled on Good Friday where the blood of  Jesus shed on the cross caused God’s judgment to passover us. The Feast of Unleavened Bread represents Jesus’ burial and the Feast of First Fruits has to do with His resurrection. Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection. Those who believe in Him will follow. Pentecost celebrated the giving of the Law of Moses. It is also the prophetic fulfillment of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, when God would write His law on our hearts. This date also marks the beginning of the Christian Church.

The Fall Feasts of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles have not yet been fulfilled prophetically,. In reverse order: Tabernacles signified God’s dwelling with His people in the wilderness. It will not be prophetically fulfilled  until the Second Coming and the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ. The Day of Atonement which celebrated Israel’s separation from sin could very well picture the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, when we are received as his bride without spot or w wrinkle. The Feast of Trumpets which represented new beginnings for the Jewish people may very well represent the rapture of the bride of Christ.

Unlike the Spring Feasts, where prophetic events actually occurred on their dates, the Fall Feast dates may not necessarily telegraph the actual dates of their prophetic fulfillment. They do, however, point to those events. The close of the Church age, the catching away of the bride, and beginning of the Great Tribulation are events that mere moments away compared to the length of the Church Age in which we live.

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