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The Epiphany

adormagiVisitation of the Magi

A moment of epiphany is when we say: “Aha!” We suddenly see a truth that we did not realize before. It may seem to come as a complete surprise, but often a deep preparation within may have been ongoing of which we were not fully aware.

The birth of Jesus almost went unnoticed by most of the world. A few shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem were informed by the heavenly hosts. But the Magi were able to discern that a major event had occurred through vigilant study and dedication of purpose. They had observed the night sky. God had been  preparing them for this great event. They were not Jews but they were acquainted with the ancient writings and had sought out the sayings of the prophets:

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”  (Micah 5:2,4)

The wisemen from the East were seeking the Lord. They did not fully understand who they were seeking but it did not stop them from doing so. They traveled a long distance and were willing to make sacrifices. We may look upon our life as a journey. What do we seek? Whom do we seek? And what sacrifices are we willing to make in our day? Will we set aside a time in our lives to seek God with all our hearts? (It is interesting to note that many people today seek God through Eastern mysticism. We must remember that the best of the Eastern seekers of God bowed down to the Lord Jesus.)

God reveals himself to those who are seeking Him. Many people are not seeking God today. Matters beyond their immediate concerns are of little importance to them. They are living in darkness without even knowing that they are in darkness. They have not yet seen the light of Christ. Nevertheless, the light of Christ can break forth at any time. This world needs a spiritual “Aha!”

The good news of Christ Jesus is for all people. From the Isaiah we read:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.  (Isaiah 60:1-3)

A wise person realizes that he or she does not have all the answers. Wisdom comes from seeking. The Apostle Paul wrote that “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” Paul had a spiritual “aha!”.He writes:

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  (Ephesians 3:5-6)

Paul further writes:

Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.  (Ephesians 3:8-12)

To be fair, Paul had been seeking God through his study of Judaism. He was a scholar of the first order. He needed direction and grace from God.

The wisemen of old sought Jesus. They found Him and worshiped Him. They returned to their own people with joy in their hearts. The Epiphany for them was a great and joyful awakening.

On the other hand, an epiphany of God can be a fearful thing. It was for Herod. From today’s Gospel we read:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened. …  (Matthew 2:1-3)

Herod did not want an epiphany of God. He believed that he was in charge of his circumstances and he wanted to keep it that way. What stops us from receiving our own epiphany? Have we been seeking God on a deep level? Are ready for an “Aha!” If we are holding on desperately to the status quo then we may miss a move of God.

However, we are in the advance stages of the Church age. There is not a lot of time left. God is on the move. He is pouring out his Spirit like never before. This Season of Epiphany may be a special time for us to tune ourselves to God’s frequency and not that of the world. The devil has a frequency that is distracting and discouraging. This is not from God.

We must slow down our worldly pace. We need to spend time in his Word and in prayer. God will speak to us. A great surprise might be coming our way. We read from Jeremiah 28:

Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord…

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Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

The Obedience of the Faith

The Apostle Paul was never able to visit the Church of Rome, though that was his strong desire. Nevertheless, he wrote an epistle to this Church which is perhaps the greatest example of systematic theology ever written. In today’s epistle reading we find Paul introducing himself to the Church of Rome:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ …   (Romans 1:1-6)

Paul states his purpose very clearly. Paul wants to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” This may be an unusual way to express faith for many people. Obedience – how important is obedience to our faith?

Let us look at the example of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.”   (Matthew 1:18-23)

A child had never been conceived by the Holy Spirit without any involvement of a husband. Joseph could not have fully understood what this meant. It was certainly not in his plans for marriage. Yet, Joseph took Mary to be his wife because he was obedient to the commands of God.

We have another example of obedience in today’s Old Testament reading:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.   (Isaiah 7:10-14)

King Ahaz was requested to do a very simple thing. All he had to do was to ask for a sign from God. Ahaz was disobedient. He refused to do so. Why was he so unwilling? Perhaps he was too busy with his own plans to take the time to listen to the plan of God. Of course, He hid whatever reason he had to refuse to do what God asked in a lame attempt to sound pious.

God had a plan for Israel. Ahaz could have been a part of that plan. God asked Ahaz to participate in a plan that would restore all of humankind to a lasting relationship with God. What a great honor that would have been for Ahaz, or anyone.

Ahaz refused God, but that did not stop God’s plan. His vision is far greater than anyone else’s vision. No human being can stop God from carrying out his plan. He will move on and work with those who are obedient to his word. The blessings that God bestows on those who are obedient will be lost by those who refuse God.

The Apostle Paul warned against disobedience:

Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.   (Romans 2:5-10)

Ahaz, the disobedient one,  had a disastrous reign and died at an early age. His son, Hezekiah, whom Ahaz attempted to sacrifice to the demon god Moloch, succeeded him. Fortunately Hezekiah was spared. He commissioned the priests and Levites to open and repair the doors of the Temple and to remove the defilements of the sanctuary, a task which took 16 days.

Joseph, on the other hand, was obedient. He was given the honor of being the earthly father of Jesus. What greater honor could he have been given.

God has a plan for each of us. That plan is part of a greater plan that God has. If we obey him we will not only be blessed, but we will have the honor a blessing many others.

We read in the Book of Hebrews:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.   (Hebrews 5:7-9)

Jesus obeyed the Father, endured the cross, and bestowed upon us the greatest blessing of all. How can we refuse the one who made such a great sacrifice on our behalf? Are we to nullify the power of the Gospel through our disobedience? No, our primary act of obedience is the believe in the resurrection and proclaim this message to others. In this way we bless so many others, but we also bless ourselves.

From Revelation:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven. It said,

“Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God have come.
    The authority of his Messiah has come.
Satan, who brings charges against our brothers and sisters,
    has been thrown down.
    He brings charges against them in front of our God day and night.
They had victory over him
    by the blood the Lamb spilled for them.
They had victory over him
    by speaking the truth about Jesus to others.   (Revelation 12:10-12)

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The Season of Advent

advent-vespers-2Advent is an early New Year. It is the beginning of a new liturgical year for those churches that follow the lectionary readings. A new cycle of scriptural readings begins. This time the Gospel readings come from the Gospel of Matthew, carried throughout the Year A cycle of readings. (See Liturgical Calendar.)

There are four Sundays in Advent which tell of the coming of Jesus. At first the emphasis is on his second coming and end-times, but then the emphasis shifts to the first coming. They offer a powerful progression of how Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets of the Old Covenant while establishing the New Covenant through the Incarnation of God.

Advent is a season of expectation. It is a season of hope. It is an opportunity put away the old and put on the new. It is a time of preparation for the Bride of Christ to prepare for the millennial reign of Jesus.

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I challenged a friend in ministry to preach on the lectionary readings of Advent. He had never done so. He found himself preaching on subjects he had never preached on before, such as the second coming of Jesus and the end-times. Later he told me that Advent had caused him to grow in the faith. That is the beauty of the lectionary in general and especially the beauty of the Season of Advent.

We do not want to rush into Christmas prematurely. Rather, we need to prepare spiritually for a joyous Christmas. Christmas is so over-commercialized in this nation. It seems to be more a pagan celebration than a religious one, rivaled by only by Halloween.

Let us use Advent to recommit ourselves to Christ as Savior and Lord. And let us explore new insights and meanings that wash over us as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child.

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