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The Presentation

bellini2Purification

Today we celebrate The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Joseph and Mary. From the Gospel of Luke we read:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  (Luke 2:22-24)

Let us look at this event as if it were part of a three act play. This was the first act of purification – a ceremonial purification. Mary was considered unclean on the birth of her child, according to Jewish law. After a waiting period of about forty days, she and Joseph were required to offer up their son to God. Mary would then be considered pure and her child would be declared holy before God.

A ritual of ceremonial purification was not without meaning or significance. It was a rehearsal of a spiritual purification which was to come. Today, in many churches, parents present their children to God with the expectation that these children will be raised in the Christian Faith.

At the time of Jesus’ presentation the prophet Simeon blessed the family of Jesus and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

This prophecy foretold the second act of purification – a purification of the Law of God. Simeon prophesied that Jesus will bring about major changes in Judaism. Jesus said that he did not come to set aside the law but to fulfill it. The essence of the Law had to do with loving God and neighbor, but it had become merely an elaborate set of rules to follow. As the Word made flesh Jesus demonstrating by his life the true righteous requirements of the law. God requires transparency and truth. We cannot cover up our sins by our works.

Joseph and Mary were presenting Jesus to God in the Temple. Jesus would soon change the whole temple worship by becoming the temple himself. He would become the new Temple by satisfying all the requirements of the old Temple. His blood, spilled on the cross, would become the atoning sacrifice for all our sins once and for all.

From Hebrews we read:

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The last act of purification has to do with the purification of the saints. We read in Malachi:

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.   (Malachi 3:3-4)

The Apostle Paul writes that Jesus, by his atoning sacrifice, is able to present us pure before the Father:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.   (Colossians 1:21-23)

Paul makes it clear that we must continue in the Faith. Jesus makes this promise for those who do:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.   (Matthew 10:32-33)

Mary and Joseph presented Jesus holy to God. Jesus turned the tables. He presents Mary and Joseph and all saints as holy to God. Mary and Joseph offered up their son before God. God, the Father, offered His Son as a sacrifice to us all that we may be made holy before him. The Presentation of Jesus is our presentation as well.

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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)

We are living in the year of the Lord’s favor. Let us embrace him and all that he has prepared for us.

 

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Second Sunday of Advent: Year B

highwayA Highway for Our God

Last Sunday we talked about a revival for our nation and our churches. It takes the glory of God to bring about a true spiritual revival. We pray that God to tear open the heavens once more and show us his glory and presence.  Surely he has heard our prayers, but is he not waiting on us?

The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed:

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”   (Isaiah 40:3-5)

We are asked by God to build a highway in the wilderness. The wilderness is our sin and the highway is our repentance. John the baptizer echoed this message:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.   (Mark 1:4-5)

Baptism was reserved for Gentiles who were jewish converts. Certainly not for the children of Abraham? John made it clear that Judaism was much more than a birthright. Unholy living was a guaranteed disqualification. What does that say about nominal Christians today?

We are living at the end of the Church Age. Advent reminds us of that. Our preparation is not only for a new encounter of the Christ Child within our hearts, it is also a preparation for the age to come when Jesus returns to this earth.

The Apostle Peter warns Christians disciples about the coming of the day of the Lord which will help usher in the second coming of Jesus:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.   (2 Peter 3:10)

Peter goes on to stress that holy living on our part is required if we are to be ready:

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 3:11-13)

Peter speaks of a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness will prevail:

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.   (2 Peter 3:14-15)

We cannot clean up our act on our own. But clean up we must. We need a revival. We need an act of God. We need the glory of God in our land.

How will this happen? The psalmist wrote:

You have forgiven the iniquity of your people
and blotted out all their sins.

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.   (Psalm 85:2, 8-9)

Do we fear God today? Are we listening to what God is saying? Are we turning our hearts to him? If so, God will do the rest. He has promised us. We could see the greatest revival in our churches than we have ever seen before. All we need is a highway of repentance for his glory to be revealed:

“Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”   (Isaiah 40:4-5)

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Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

The  Shepherd and Guardian of Our Souls

Without a shepherd we are lost. We are like unruly sheep. The prophet wrote:

All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:6)

The music of Handel’s Messiah set to this reading from Isaiah tells the story. It is so lighthearted and frivolous. As people, we can be so unconcerned about and unaware of the consequences of our actions. Who can save us? Jesus. The Apostle Peter quotes Isaiah:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.   (1 Peter 2:23-25)

As sheep we need a shepherd. We need our shepherd to be the one who laid down his life for us. He alone can forgive us and lead us into righteousness:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.   (Psalm 23:1-3)

Only Jesus can lead us along right pathways. The institutions of education, the media, the entertainment industry, and the popular culture have worked overtime to lead us astray. Group think, political correctness, demonic music, and the intimidation of free speech have worn down our inner defenses and left us vulnerable to attack from the enemy. In fact, these voices are part of the attack.

These are strange voices to which we do not want to listen of follow. Let us tune our ears to the voice of the Good Shepherd:

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”   (John 10:3-5)

We need Jesus as a shepherd, but he is more than shepherd, He leads us along right pathway and he revives our souls. Friends, our souls are dying without his presence in our lives. Are we embracing Jesus or are we being lead astray by strangers who want to kill and destroy us?

All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”   (John 10:8-10)

Thus, we see the ministry of Jesus as being two-fold. He is our shepherd, but he is also the guardian of our souls. The Greek word for guardian here is episkopoß (episkopos). As it is used in 1 Peter, it means more of a ministry than a position in the Church. Supplementing shepherd, the term suggests the pastoral work of watching over or guarding someone. It also means one who is doing this has the fullest knowledge.

We live in a very dangerous world, one in which the Devil is prowling about, seeking whom he can devour. There is no protection apart from Jesus. We say and believe that Jesus has saved our souls. That is what we should believe. But is Jesus guarding our souls? Is he reviving our souls? He wants us to follow where he is leading us. He is leading us to safety. He knows the pitfalls which lie ahead –  the ones that we do not see and cannot anticipate.

Christianity is an endurance race. We must keep the faith to the end. Too much is at stack for us to rely solely on  ourselves. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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