Sunday, March 3, 2019

Face to Face Transformation - Fr. Phil Eberhart

Transfiguration Sunday - Last Epiphany
March 3, 2019
Fr. Phil Eberhart

Ex 34:29-35 Ps 99 1 Cor 12:27-13:13 Lk 9:28-36

Face to Face Transformation

Have you ever looked in the mirror and tried to see Jesus?  I have to tell you... it's kinda hard!

One of my favorite things is to collect pictures of Jesus.  I have about 6 or 8 paintings and need to expand the collection and put them back up in my office some day... but I want to see what people think Jesus looked like.

I'm a little jealous of the painting that Brian and Barbara Felt have in their home, the Head of Christ that is referred to in Heaven is For Real, as the person that the young boy, Colton, met in heaven.

So what's the point of all the ramble here?  This morning is the Sunday of the Transfiguration - you probably figured that out from the readings!  Lots of talk about mountains and shining faces, clouds of glory with voices coming out of them and ... 
disciples who didn't get it.

My point is that Jesus wants to transform us into His image and likeness.  No we're probably not going to look like Him in a mirror sort of way - we will look just like we do now, for better or worse - but there will be an inner change, an inner transformation or transfiguration into His image.  So what IS THAT IMAGE?

How many of you read the Gospels through regularly? I know many read the Bible regularly but do we do what James encourages us to do:

[Jas 1:22-25 NLT] 
22 But don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

"If you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free" - there is the challenge isn't it? And then do it!
Jesus said that the one who DID His Word, was the one whose house was built on bedrock.  No storm can assail it!  Let the storm's come as they will.

Paul gives us the secret in Rom 12:
12 Beloved friends, what should be our proper response to God’s marvelous mercies? I encourage you to surrender yourselves to God to be his sacred, living sacrifices. And live in holiness, experiencing all that delights his heart. For this becomes your genuine expression of worship.
Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you,[a] but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes. (The Passion Translation)
How do we start to look like Jesus?
The writer of Hebrews gives us a giant instructional clue...

Chapter 12 
As for us, we have all of these great witnesses[a] who encircle us like clouds. So we must let go of every wound that has pierced us[b] and the sin we so easily fall into.[c] Then we will be able to run life’s marathon race[d] with passion and determination, for the path has been already marked out before us.[e]
We look away from the natural realm and we fasten our gaze onto Jesus who birthed faith within us and who leads us forward into faith’s perfection.[f] His example is this: Because his heart was focused on the joy of knowing that you would be his,[g] he endured the agony of the cross and conquered its humiliation,[h] and now sits exalted at the right hand of the throne of God!
So consider carefully how Jesus faced such intense opposition from sinners who opposed their own souls,[i] so that you won’t become worn down and cave in under life’s pressures. (The Passion Translation)

There we have it again:   Consider Carefully , Fasten your gaze, ... "Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of your faith!"

What do spend time with?  How do you read the Bible? Just a verse here and there, a glance in the morning, the verse of the day?  Sure God speaks to us through these "snacks" but do you ever sit down and have the full meal deal?

Look intently - Consider carefully - Fasten your gaze!

On the mountain top, the disciples saw a lot - they saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus - in all His glory - shining face, clothes like lightening and all - kind of a pre-cursor for the Apostle John who would have another of those kinds of revelations late in his life on Patmos.  Read Rev. 1 some day!

They saw and apparently heard what they were talking about!  How Jesus was going to bring to fulfillment all that they stood for - the Law and the Prophets - in his soon departure from Jerusalem.  That may be why he said, "IT IS FINISHED!"

But the disciples, just like us so often, completely missed the point of the conversation, so God just makes it plain:  We're not going to make a new tabernacle - it's not about camping here on the mountaintop and staying in the glory - It's all about Jesus!  "This is my beloved SON ... LISTEN TO HIM!"

This is about Jesus and His Word to us.  Daily Bread!

What does Jesus look like, face to face?  Have you gazed?  Have you heard, read, marked, learned and inwardly digested?

Let's just look at 3 verses: Our reading from 1 Cor 13

Love is large and incredibly patient.[f] Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous[g] when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated[h] or quick to take offense.[i] Love joyfully celebrates honesty[j] and finds no delight in what is wrong.[k] Love is a safe place of shelter,[l] for it never stops believing the best for others.[m] Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up. Love never fails!

If you ever wonder what Jesus looked like, try this portrait!  This is the kind of portrait that will lead us to look like HIM!  And its all over the place in the New Testament - and its the fulfillment of all the Torah teaches and all the Prophets speak about - in Him it was FINISHED.

Paul tells us that Jesus is the "visible image of the invisible God!"  And we are charged with coming to look like HIM.  We are HIS BODY, Paul says, "The fullness of Him who fills all in all!" (Eph 1)  

One final scripture, where Paul is talking to the Corinthians about Moses and the veil we read about this morning in Exodus 34.

2 Cor 3 (TPT)

16 But the moment one turns to the Lord[i] with an open heart, the veil is lifted and they see.[j] 17 Now, the “Lord” I’m referring to is the Holy Spirit,[k] and wherever he is Lord, there is freedom.
18 We can all draw close to him with the veil removed from our faces. And with no veil we all become like mirrors who brightly reflect the glory of the Lord Jesus.[l] We are being transfigured[m] into his very image as we move from one brighter level of glory to another.[n] And this glorious transfiguration comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Friends, I don't want you to make the mistake that the boys did on the mountain.  Take the sermon and make it into a religious exercise!  The key is what God said on the mountain, "This is my beloved Son, listen to Him."
The work of the Holy Spirit is called that because it's NOT OUR JOB to make ourselves look like Jesus. It's our job to LISTEN TO HIM and the Holy Spirit will make us new, different, transformed, Spirit-filled - all the things we want in our character, all the changes we need in how we live with others, all the ways others see us, here in the church and out in the world - will be transfigured when we "mirror" Jesus face to those around us.

The whole world is waiting for it.

Please pray with me...

Loving Father God, Beloved and Beautiful Jesus, Indwelling Holy Spirit - envelop us this morning in the cloud of Glory and let us hear Your Voice speaking to us deep inside our hearts.  Speak to us of your love that transforms us into your likeness. Overshadow us and give us your glory, wave after wave of glory, glory upon glory, by the power of Your Spirit.  Come, Holy Spirit and touch our hearts and lives - change our minds in transformational renewal.  We want to see Jesus when we look in the mirror! And let others see Jesus in us!
For His Kingdom's glory and the fame of His Name.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Gift and Role of Prophet

Jer 1:4-10 Ps 71:12-21 1 Cor 14:12-25 Lk 4:21-32 

 Good morning friends.

It's good to be back in the saddle again after a month down with pneumonia.  I want to thank everyone for the prayers and for the way that you all have stepped up to do things that needed to be done.  Keep it up!

The Lord has used this time, as He does with many of us, to re-prioritize some things for me, not the least of which is the way I see myself - especially in relation to Him and in relation to the work that I'm called to do.  As a result you will be seeing more of me here in the pulpit and in a direct teaching role with Bible in hand.  I'm still really unable to sing very much so, Valerie and the worship team have taken over the music.  I'll be doing a little guitar work, but the team will be leading vocally, and we have a newly forming choir!!  Praise the Lord.  I understand that slots are still open for singers!  Rehearsal is at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings.

This morning, our readings are very instructive - regarding the work of the prophet in our midst and prophecy in general.

Last week's message by Deacon Ethel had a prophetic 'edge' to it.  I use the word 'edge' advisedly because the prophet is supposed to, is called to, speak to the Body of Christ with God's Word, the "sword of the Spirit" - in the present tense!  There are several here who have been used in that way, and it is a fearful thing!  It is a fearful ( and I use that word in the sense of filled with awe) because this is the one time that we are, as a Body, allowed to and encouraged to "judge."  Now judging here isn't the kind of condemnation we typically experience - it IS Enhanced Listening !   The word of a prophet in a local body or a regional Body is one that is to be heeded with careful scrutiny.

When any of us "speak for God" we are putting ourselves out on a line - open to criticism (like Jesus experienced in his hometown) or open to rejection (which is a hard place, especially when people want to throw you off a hill!)  That is probably the reason that so few avail themselves of this gifting.  It's a gift we often want to take back and return for something else!

The life of Jeremiah is a testimony of the hardship and persecution that comes along with this gift.  It's never an easy calling, but the prophets are unanimous that the calling is like a "fire, shut up in the bones!"  Prophets, yesterday, today and forever, are called to "tell forth" God's Word in the moment - there is less "foretelling" than Forth Telling.

In our modern culture the place of Prophecy has often been limited to those who stand week by week in the Pulpit.  Telling forth the Word of God, which is itself described as a fire or a sword, has been the purview of the preacher.  Last week the prophetic part of the sermon was a call for us to be aware of a creeping spirit of fear in our midst.  Fear is the opposite and the enemy of faith!  And of all people - of all congregations - we need to be moving in faith right now, not in fear!  We need to be speaking, as Lawrence is quick to remind us, "what we want, not what we don't want!"  

This coming Tuesday evening, we have an opportunity to speak "what we want" as we go before the Greenwood Village Planning and Zoning Commission.  I urge your prayers for us as you watch the State of the Union address on TV, or you can come to something that is "really interesting."  Our time is 7 pm at the GWV City Building.   And I would like to ask us to consider fasting a meal that day as a church, if you can.  Take that time and pray into Favor for us who are presenting.

Prophetic ministry is something that is being restored to the Church these days and Paul's advice to the Corinthian church is worth heeding.  In fact, one verse in 1 Cor 14 kind of says it all:  [1Co 14:12 RSV] "12 So with yourselves; since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church."

And isn't that what we all need to do?  EXCEL in building up the church!  

That was the point of last week's sermon - the point of this week's sermon - the point of all the sermons preached in this place... is to build up the church.  All of us, in whatever gifts we employ by the Power of the Spirit, are to make the end of our use of the gifts the purpose of edification, of encouragement in the Holy Spirit, and of greater and greater growth into the image of Jesus, by both individuals and all of us together.

So with Paul and Deacon Ethel I say, Let us be eager to be used by the Holy Spirit, without fear and let us push toward the goal of building up the Church, both as individuals and as a whole Body of Christ!

Let me finish with a word from another place about our gifts:

[1Pe 4:10-11 NLT] 10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Shall we pray...

Glorious and everlasting God...

You have called us and gifted us by Your grace with many gifts of grace, each one supplied by Your Spirit's power.  Give us grace and wisdom to employ all that we have been given for your Glory and for the up-building of your church, the Body of Christ.  
Help us to be mindful of your direction and guidance in our service, and to look to you, who came to be servant of all.  Use us Lord, individually and severally, to bring encouragement, comfort and edification to all we meet, both in and outside these walls.
To the glory of your Name, Jesus, and for the sake of Your Kingdom come.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany 2019 - Arise! Shine !! Your light has come ...

Jan 6, 2019
Epiphany Sunday
Fr. Phil Eberhart

Isa 60:1-9
Ps 72:1-11
Eph 3:1-13
Matt 2:1-12
Good morning and Happy New Year!

Welcome to EPIPHANY!!

This is the season of light!  The light that has dawned on the whole world!  

I was happy to see our Isaiah reading this morning as it is one of my favorite passages.  One that has been sung over this church for nearly two decades!!  It was sung as I was Instituted as Rector of St. George's and has become a bit of a theme song for us.  We will end our worship this morning with it!

I want to expand the passage a bit.  Our reading was a portion of the chapter, but I want to extend our reading both backward by two verses and forward by two verses.  I wanted to see what was "around" this chapter as I thought about what to say this morning...

Isa 59
[Isa 59:21 ESV] 21 "And as for me, this is my covenant with them," says the LORD: "My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring," says the LORD, "from this time forth and forevermore."

[Isa 61:1-3 ESV] 1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

So the context of Isa 60 is set in between the reiteration of the OLD COVENANT PROMISE and the NEW COVENANT FULFILLMENT.  All in three chapters.
Epiphany is about the shedding of the light into the world, the whole world!  Jesus himself used these verses as His "job description" when He read from the scroll of Isaiah in his hometown synagogue one sabbath, highlighting these verses from Isaiah 61.

And then Jesus looked up and said, "Today, in your hearing, these verses have been fulfilled!"  His family and his friends from his home town, understood fully what He had claimed that morning.  And they rejected him, because of familiarity with him and his family.  

These verses are clearly the foretelling of the Messiah's coming.  And THAT was what they knew Jesus was claiming.
So they took him and were going to throw him off the cliff!

Jesus faced opposition to himself and his message from the very outset, it wasn't something that was a surprise, about which Jesus was suddenly dejected.  

Isaiah 60 is the description of the Messianic Kingdom - the promise of what is coming...
Keep in mind that this age described is the one that we are in right now.  An age where Darkness covers the earth and we are the "shining light."  What is being described is the rising of the Messiah.

We are the "reflectors" of His glory!

the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you. 

the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.

I'm reminded of the verses from 2 Cor 3 as Paul writes of this age...

[2Co 3:14-18 ESV] 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

This season is about the spread of the glory and the knowledge of the Lord, "as the waters cover the earth."
But the spread of the light is set in the context of battle.  Just like Jesus in His hometown synagogue, we will face the opposition of those who love their darkness.

There should be no surprise when we come up against this in our culture.  Jesus encountered it almost from Day One and so will we...   so DO we!

We are in darkness but the light has dawned on us.  And so we reflect the light into the darkness around us.
We are not the light!  Matthew tells us that we are like a "city on a hill."

Coming to REZ sometimes in the morning I happen to be driving up Yosemite when the sun rises.  It's a bright place with the sunrise reflecting off of all the mirror windows in the office buildings.  And so as I come here I pray that God will begin to be reflected in the life and work of the DTC!

We have been given a unique perch!  God has sent us to this place, to pray, to bless, to enter into the war over this city. As you know there is much yet to be done, for us to fully acquire this property, and we trust that God has brought us this far by faith, and so we move forward.

Please be in prayer daily for us in this battle - but pray the verses of the song at the end of your bulletin.
God has called us to Arise & Shine!  Welcome to 2019.

Let's pray.

Lord Jesus, as we enter a new year we look even more fully to You for all you have ordained for us to be and do.
We give you thanks for the way you have led us thus far and pray you will open our eyes to see your hand at work, on our behalf, throughout the days to come.  You are faithful and You are the one who has done it.  Let there never by any doubt about your Presence and Your hand of provision and favor.  We commit our way to You, Lord and know that you will bring it to pass.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve 2018 - Fr. Phil

Christmas Eve
Dec 24, 2018 - 9 PM
Fr. Phil Eberhart

We want to welcome you all again tonight to our first Christmas celebration as REZ in this new facility.  Isn't it amazing what God has done?!!

Christmas is about bringing the hope of salvation to the world.  It's what the whole Church is to be about!  It's our work, together with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit - all active together in the world with one purpose.

God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, that those who believe in Him might have eternal life.

I got a post this morning from one of our members who is with family elsewhere tonight.  It told a story of a elderly lady who accidentally ran her grocery cart into a display of dishes, knocking them over and breaking many.  Everyone was standing and watching her try to gather up the shards, murmuring about "how are we going to pay for this?"

A good Samaritan knelt beside her to help her.  Then another.  Finally a young man, came and helped her up, saying: We can clean this up ma'am.  You have a cut on your hand we need to get taken care of.  And you owe us nothing - we have insurance for this kind of thing.

The Gospel message for this evening is that when we make a mess of our life, or life just happens and its messy, painful, cutting...
God has an answer.  Grace!  

John said in his gospel:  
[Jhn 1:14 KJV] 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Grace... is God's policy!  It's not exactly like insurance - some would say Fire Insurance!  I would say LIFE insurance - eternal Life insurance.

Jesus was sent as a baby - I don't think I can do that justice in a few sentences.  What we celebrate here tonight takes a lifetime to contemplate - to wrap our minds around - if ever!  The best gift ever given!

In the midst of the rush and over-stimulation of the season in our over-commercialized culture, we hear moments of the message.  We see glimpses of hope, like the story we just heard.

After Jingle Bell Rock or Rockin around the Christmas Tree, comes O Holy Night on the play list.

I want to urge you to stop there!  I want to encourage you to consider the meaning of the season!  In the rush and crush of the season, we need to stop and breathe.  We need to recall why all this ...  IS all this?

It's about a baby!  It's about a miracle.  
It's why you're all here tonight in this place, at this time.  A miracle has happened in God coming among us, full of grace and truth.  He is bent down and helping us pick up the broken pieces.

But this baby wants to come in to live at your house.  ... to live at your address ... to live in your heart. He's waiting for an open door.  

Tomorrow or Wednesday the radio stations will all return to normal!  Christmas will be over.  But for us Christmas begins tomorrow - 12 days of meditation until Jan 6, the Feast of Epiphany.
The shedding of light.   

I hope that you will take some time to read and re-read the Gospel from tonight or the other accounts of Jesus birth.  Tonight we just make a beginning!

Our opening prayer this evening said it well...

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the revelation of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Another of the Christmas Day prayers will be a good way to close it tonight, as we go into our communion and contemplation time.

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

ADVENT IV - Deacon Ethel LeResche ... "Because it's all TRUE!!"

[The audio for the sermon is available now on our Spreaker website by clicking on the Title above.]

Mic 5:2-5a 

[c] But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace

Ps 80:1-7 

Rescue and Restore

80 For the Pure and Shining One
Asaph’s poetic song, set to the tune of “Your Decrees Are Like Lilies”
God-Enthroned, be revealed in splendor
    as you ride upon the cherubim!
    How perfectly you lead us, a people set free.[a]
    Loving shepherd of Israel—listen to our hearts’ cry!
    Shine forth from your throne of dazzling light.
In the sight of Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh,
    stir up your mighty power in full display before our eyes.[b]
    Break through and reveal yourself by coming to our rescue.
Revive us, O God! Let your beaming face shine upon us
    with the sunrise rays of glory;
    then nothing will be able to stop us.
O God, the mighty Commander of Angel Armies,
    how much longer will you smolder in anger?
    How much longer will you be disgusted with your people
    even when they pray?
You have fed us with sorrow and grief
    and made us drink our tears by the bowlful.
You’ve made us a thorn in the side of all the neighboring lands,
    and now they just laugh at us with their mocking scorn.
Come back, come back, O God, and restore us!
    You are the Commander of Angel Armies.
    Let your beaming face shine upon us with the sunrise rays of glory,
    and then nothing will be able to stop us!

Heb 10:1-10 
Christ’s Eternal Sacrifice
10 The old system of living under the law presented us with only a faint shadow, a crude outline of the reality of the wonderful blessings to come. Even with its steady stream of sacrifices offered year after year, there still was nothing that could make our hearts perfect before God. 2–3 For if animal sacrifices could once and for all eliminate sin, they would have ceased to be offered and the worshipers would have clean consciences. Instead, once was not enough so by the repetitive sacrifices year after year, the worshipers were continually reminded of their sins, with their hearts still impure. For what power does the blood of bulls and goats[a] have to remove sin’s guilt?
So when Jesus the Messiah came into the world he said,
“Since your ultimate desire was not another animal sacrifice,
    you have clothed me with a body[b]
    that I might offer myself instead!
Multiple burnt offerings and sin-offerings
    cannot satisfy your justice.
So I said to you, ‘God—
    I will be the One to go and do your will,
    to fulfill all that is written of me in your Word!’ ”[c]
First he said, “Multiple burnt-offerings and sin-offerings cannot satisfy your justice” (even though the law required them to be offered).
And then he said, “God, I will be the One to go and do your will.” So by being the sacrifice that removes sin, he abolishes animal sacrifices[d] and replaces that entire system with the new covenant.[e] 10 By God’s will we have been purified and made holy once and for all[f] through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus, the Messiah!
  1. Hebrews 10:4 The Aramaic can be translated “bulls and birds.”
  2. Hebrews 10:5 As translated from the Aramaic. See also Ps. 40:6-8. The Hebrew of Ps. 40:6 has, “My ears you have pierced.” The Clementine Septuagint has “My ears you have prepared.”
  3. Hebrews 10:7 Or “in the scroll of the Book.” The Aramaic can be translated “from the beginning of your writings [the Torah] it is spoken of me.”
  4. Hebrews 10:9 Or “he abolishes the first.”
  5. Hebrews 10:9 Or “the second” (covenant).
  6. Hebrews 10:10 Or “made holy through the offering up of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.”

Luke 1:39-56 King James Version (KJV)

39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
This is the last Sunday in Advent.  Advent means “to come”.  It means Jesus is coming.  Every year we hope that THIS is the year he comes back.  Our beloved King, Commander of Angel Armies, Good Shepard.

We commemorate his first coming, remembering that he saved us from death, he became the sacrifice for us, that birds and beasts sacrificed in the temple could not accomplish our redemption.  He brought a new covenant from heaven.  Covenants are tricky things—more than a contract, in which each party is responsible for holding up their end of the deal—in the new covenant God the Father exacts the price for sin, and then God the Son pays the price.  It is a humbling thought. 
There is even more.  Our Father gives us good things.  As it says in James, “every good and perfect thing comes from the Father” and so at this time of year, we also celebrate the coming of good and perfect things—gifts from the Father, gifts for each other.  An expression of gratitude and love given and shared.

I remember when I was little and it was almost Christmas.  The anticipation was almost more than I could bear.  It wasn’t just PRESENTS, it was Grandmother’s raisin cookies, that only came at Christmas.  It was getting all bundled up and making snow angels and building magnificent snow sculptures in the yard—we actually got our picture in the paper one year with a life-size baby elephant.  OK—dad helped.  The great Christmas Tree Hunt every year, wallowing in the snow drifts in the mountains carrying a sharp saw (and living to tell the tale).  It was taking the train to Illinois to see the grandparents, and reading “The Night Before Christmas.”  Did you know that my granddaddy was the actual real Santa?  He was round and had white hair and was very very jolly.  I got up one night and snuck out to the living room—there he was, putting presents under the tree. Proof!
I’ve never really lost that excitement.  Now I look forward to the Return of the King.  The Commander of Angel Armies instead of Santa.  Scripture talks about all creation standing on tip-toe awaiting the coming of the King.  Amen!  let it be so.
It’s inventory time, at the end of the old year, and the beginning of a new one.  I have had a pretty profound year—two new ministries, Restoring the Foundations and Hospice Chaplain—both require stretching my spiritual muscles to the max.  And both require experiencing the world from a new perspective.  Like Mary in our Gospel passage I have been thrown into the deep end and realize how very small and helpless I am.  I am also beginning to see, in a very small way, how large the real world is.  I’m not talking about the natural world that our five senses are aware of, nor even the galaxies and expanses of outer space that our man-made instruments can detect, but the spiritual realms that are so much larger and more real than our “reality.”

And like Mary, I am struck by the contradictions:  she was a peasant teenager raised up, to be honored for eternity, mother of the King of Kings.  I am confronting dark spiritual forces through RTF and watching the Lord free the prisoners, just as he said he would in Isaiah.  Daily, I watch him work through my presence and prayer drawing people to him in their last days.  Profound mysteries.

As Christians we are called to live in another reality—in our religious jargon, we call it the Kingdom, or life in the Spirit.  We are called to be counter-cultural.  Our laws are different, because they are based on the laws of God and reflect aspects of His personality.  We love others because God loves us.  We don’t judge because we will be judged.  We forgive because we are forgiven.  The world calls this foolishness, or even insanity.  We are radicals, profoundly radical, and bear witness to the mystery and contradiction of that other reality.

Our scriptures today stress that mystery and seeming contradiction.  Little Bethlehem, not big enough to be called a clan is THE most famous place in the world, and the son of a carpenter is the King of Kings.

Oh, wait, he wasn’t actually the son of a carpenter—he was (is) God.  That changes things.  But not the appearance of things.  Our earthly reality tells us that Jesus was the son of Joseph, a craftsman from a small town in a remote outpost of the Roman Empire, in a time long ago before flush toilets.  Why do we celebrate this?
Obviously there is something else going on here.

We have small clues that another reality exists.  Unexplainable things happen—we call them miracles.  People with incurable diseases are healed.  Others are called home.  Financial windfalls happen in the nick of time, or we struggle along and pray.  We don’t always understand, other times we do.  The Holy Spirit informs us, talks to us, and frees us from bondage, but we don’t actually see him, hear him in the usual way through our ears, or touch him.  If it seems as though we are living in a world where we can only see a tiny part of what is going on and it makes no sense for lack of data, you are right.  But instead of just revealing, God chooses to hide the true reality, to let us “see through a glass, darkly.”  The only way to make sense of what we are experiencing is to rely on him, and his perception.  We are confronted with the need for faith.

There are many, of course, who don’t see any contradictions, and are not aware of any need for faith.  If there are questions, then we are victims of random chance.  The world constantly totters on the brink of chaos and no law is absolute.

This life, this universe, although hopeless and dark, is all there is for them.  I grieve for them.  No matter how infantile my understanding of the spiritual realm is, it gives much greater light to my world than I see in theirs.  Every fiber of my being rings with hope, diamond-bright knowledge of the reality of another reality.  I know the King has come, is coming, and will come again.
I look for the Light of his coming every day.  I wait on tip-toe listening for the sound of the shofar in the distance.  I pray daily that I will not miss the signs of his approach.
Because I do know something:  IT’S ALL TRUE.