Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas I - The God Who Wants to Be Known

Christmas I
December 29, 2013
Fr. Philip Eberhart



So, NOW, this morning we have a white Christmas!!  
Kind of took me by surprise this morning.

As I read our Gospel lesson for this morning I was struck
by the last paragraph of the reading.  Really the whole reading
is an amazing one, the prologue or beginning of John, the 
beloved disciple's account of Jesus life and mission - especially
His final weeks.

I was particularly struck by the last line of the reading:

It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

The purpose for which Jesus, the Son of God, came was to make known to us His Father.

Over and over again, throughout the New Testament this is the measure by which we see God measuring our lives here on earth.  We are both to KNOW HIM and to BE KNOWN BY HIM.  What do those things mean to us today?

The words that the Bible uses for To Know are two - the first is simply knowledge - up here in the head - information. The presence or absence of facts about a person or thing or situation.  It is used about 300 times in the NT.  The other word denotes an experiential knowledge, a knowing down here - I call it the 18" drop!  It is a knowing in your heart, not just your head.  And its that knowing that I want to explore this morning, because it is that knowing that Jesus came to bring. 

Jesus came to bring us an experiential knowing of the Father - the last line of our reading again, says:

It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

On Christmas Eve I spoke for a few moments at the end of the sermon about the power of our "YES" to God.  When we say YES to God the result is that He is now free to bring this kind of KNOWING into our lives.  

The first thing that we have to know ... is that this knowing is not from this world - it is not from information we have gathered or can gather.  It is entirely something that the Son of God, or as John puts it, God the Only Son, brings to us - as a result of being in a relationship with Him.

RELATIONSHIP

What does that mean?  I don't want to assume stupidity here.  How does one go about developing a relationship?  Anyone?

How did you go about the process in your own life, with your BFF or your spouse?  How does someone become your "significant other?"

It is a process - with several ingredients...

1.   TIME

We cannot expect to have a relationship with someone, in any deep sense of that word, without spending time with them.   How many of you know that "Long Distance Relationships" is really an oxymoron!  They are super difficult to have, to maintain, at any depth.

Time together is the real key and ground of growing in relationship with someone.

But you can't just be in the same room all day.  What else is needed?

2.   TALK

Oh!   You mean I have to communicate?  Well, ... duh!  How many of you have a relationship that is maintained in silence?  Anyone?  Any relationship?  A silent relationship -- it even sounds non-sensical.  We reject the possibility out of hand.

There can be no relationship without communication.  We have to talk to one another to have a relationship, and you have to talk to God, to Jesus, to have a relationship.  

Communication works two ways - Talking and Listening.  When I was first getting to know my wife Val, we spend inordinate amounts of time together - there was a pizza place where we would go and have supper and talk, for 5, 6, 8 hours at a shot.  It never got tiring.  Why?  Because we wanted to "KNOW" one another - there was something there, and we knew it was special pretty quickly - SHE'S THE ONE / HE'S THE ONE kind of stuff.  

We need two-way communication with God through Jesus Christ.  And we have been given ACCESS to God, through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit.  We have been granted an audience with the God of the Universe - at any moment, of any day.

I watched the movie LINCOLN last night on TV and I was reminded of a story that Nicky Gumbel tells in ALPHA:
      During the Civil War there was a soldier who needed to speak with the President on an urgent personal matter.  He came to the White House but was denied entry, as he had no invitation.  As he sat outside, across the street, a small boy was playing and noticed the soldier, came over and spoke with him.  The soldier explained that he had come some distance to see and speak to the President, but had been denied entry.
The boy simply said, "Come on, follow me."  So he did as they went around to the back door of the White House, equally guarded and closed, but through which they walked straight in, with no hesitation or questioning.  Up into the house and through the corridors, right into the Oval Office - where the President was in conversation with his Secretary of State.  Lincoln looked up and said, "Todd!  What can I help you with?"

At which point, Todd, Lincoln's beloved son, introduced his new found friend and granted him an audience with his father.  He had ACCESS to the Father, through the Son.

"Come on ... Follow Me."

There is something beyond TIME and TALK -

3.  TRUTH

Jesus wants to know us and us to know him INTIMATELY.  Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well,  "An hour is coming and now is, when the Father will seek True Worshippers who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.  Indeed it is such that the Father seeks out."

We all know that truth is the foundational bedrock on which relationships stand or fall.  Truth is that which allows us to build trust, another word is faith!  Trust is the STUFF that faith is made of !!

That is why the communication piece is so crucial - God wants to know you, personally, at your own disclosing - not as an action of His omniscience!  Think of it - God wants to engage you with His love, His mercy and His grace.  To do so He wants to talk with you!  He wants to hear from you - the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God!

Jesus, back in John 4, in his conversation with the woman at the well (a conversation, by the way, that illustrates perfectly both the extent to which God is willing to press for relationship AND the need for truth in the communication) - when Jesus told her to "go call your husband and come back here."  She responded with TRUTH.  And Jesus responded to her Truth with MORE TRUTH.  TRUTH about her and her serial relationships, something that had made her an outcast, drawing water at noontime, not morning, so as not to have to run into the other women from the village.  

But Jesus engages her - a woman!   A Samaritan WOMAN.  This was way, way, way beyond the boundaries of allowed communication in Jesus day,  especially for a recognized Jewish Rabbi !!  It just was NOT done.

What's the lesson here?

God so wants to have a relationship with you, that He will go to any lengths to do so.  God will pursue you until you have to say NO! And you may have to say NO several times and loudly.  God doesn't hear NO very well !!  You almost have to shout at Him. Right in His Face !!

But you can whisper a YES, and He will hear it from across the Universe!

God is funny that way.  I guess it is His Father's Heart.

I love that phrase in our reading:    It is God the only Son, who is CLOSE TO THE FATHERS HEART.

Any parents here?  Do you understand that phrase?   Father's Heart / Mother's Heart?

Our sons and daughters are precious to us - close to our hearts.  It was the same with Jesus and His Father.  Only more so - in fact we partake of the stream in our own loves that comes from the fountainhead of His Love!  God is the source of love in the universe - and the extent to which we can experience His love for us, is often the extent to which we can share it with others.

It is that sharing that Jesus was sent to do!  To make known to us, to reveal the full extent of God's love for us - for all mankind - for all of His creation. And Jesus showed that love for us in his life, in his relating with His disciples and even with his relating with the pharisees and those who opposed him.  He showed the full extent of God's love - and God's willingness to go to any lengths - by the extension of his hands on the Cross and the words of forgiveness that came from his mouth in that moment.

"It is God the only Son, who is Close to the Father's heart, who has made Him known"

Let us pray:

Almighty god, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant
us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way,
the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his
steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ
your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Christmas Eve 2013

Christmas Eve 2013
December 24, 2013
Fr. Phil Eberhart




It almost seems these days that you have to excavate through the layers of commercialism and busy-ness - the froth of schedules and packages, bows and ribbon, lights and music to get down to the real meaning of Christmas.

This year has been a tough one for me to focus on that as well - we've had a full-blown bathroom remodel going on - and still do - we were just away for our daughter's mid-year graduation from college at Iowa State - lots going on, in addition to the regular duties of work and life.
Anyone else feeling a bit overwhelmed - glad that tonight and tomorrow are finally here?

In all the hubbub we tend to lose the focus that we should place on the main event.  That's why its important for us to hear the words again of our gospel lesson - to retell the story again and again.  For our world, for the most part, it feels like the season is used to make a buck!  The athiests in NY City say we can take the CHRIST out of Christmas and have the same effect!  No need to realize the real REASON for the SEASON!

This evening in a few minutes I want to give you another perspective - one you don't hear often - but one that is so incredible and so amazing that I hope you will go away with a WOW, just from the thought!

This morning I got an email from our friends at International Bible Translators in Moscow.  Natasha chose a phrase that encapsulates the thoughts I have to share:  

FOR OUR SAKE THE ETERNAL GOD IS BORN AS A LITTLE CHILD!

I want to be brief, but perspective is important here!  I looked up some facts about one of our attempts to explore the universe...

Voyager 2 is an interplanetary probe that was launched 21 days after Val and I were married, on Aug 20, 1977.  NASA reports that they are still receiving data from this unmanned probe, today in space, 36 years, 4 mo and 4 days!  And they expect to continue receiving data until the mid 2020's!  Traveling roughly the speed of a bullet, the craft has gone past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in our solar system. From launch to Jupiter was nearly two years, to Saturn two more years, to Uranus four more years, and Neptune, still in our own solar system, almost 12 years after launch!  It passed into the second phase of its mission, from the interplanetary to the inter stellar portion in Oct, 1989.

If it is not hindered in any way, the Voyager probe will pass by its first star at a distance of over 9 trillion miles in 40,000 years.  The next star it encounters, passing by it at 25 Trillion miles, is the star Sirius, which it will reach in 296, THOUSAND years!!

My point here?  In an afterthought the writer of Genesis in chapter 1:16 says, "and He also made the stars."  By the way.

I want you to grasp the vast magnificence and the enormity of who God is in just a few words!

I've been reminded of God's conversation with Job, of some of the questions God had for Job in Chapter 38 and following:

         “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?

       Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the  
       surveying line?

       What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone
           as the morning stars sang together and all the angels[ashouted for joy? 


       Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused  
       the dawn to rise in the east?

           Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth,
           to bring an end to the night’s wickedness?

           “Where does light come from, and where does darkness go?
            
        “Can you direct the movement of the stars - binding the 
         cluster of the Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion?

             Can you direct the sequence of the seasons
             or guide the Bear with her cubs across the heavens?
Do you know the laws of the universe?
    Can you use them to regulate the earth?

This is just a few of 3 chapters of questions God had for Job.  And I wonder sometimes if He 
doesn't have for us!  The point here is that this is the God, who Paul tells us, "Was pleased 
to dwell in Jesus, the baby of Bethlehem, in all His fullness."

Think for a minute about the story we've heard already this evening:
a young, back water maiden from Nazareth is pregnant.  Things are said 
about this baby, by no less than Gabriel, the Archangel.  Emmanuel, God With Us.  

God - the God of the universe - the God who created the stars, by the way;  
God who directs their movements;  Who set the foundations of the earth - 
laid its cornerstone - Who commands its morning to appear and causes the 
dawn to rise and whose faithfulness is new every morning.




















THAT God! Is WITH us!

That's the meaning of Christmas - WITH us.

The God who created, who sustains, who commands
came in His fullness into a virgin's womb.  
The God who directs  the laws of the universe and regulates the earth
came as a baby child, was born in a cattle shed and laid in a stall.
The God who makes daylight spread to the ends of the earth
enclosed himself in the darkness of the womb for 9 months.

Paul's hymn in Philippians 2 summarizes the process:
 Though he was God,[a]    he did not think of equality with God
     as something to cling to.Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
    he took the humble position of a slave[c]
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,[d]
   he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. 
Jesus, the Son was fully God from eternity, yet in the mystery of that relationship and in obedience to the Father, Jesus came to be among us as a man fully, yet he remained fully God.  That is the mystery and the wonder we celebrate tonight!  The mystery of the incarnation!  100% God AND 100% Man = JESUS CHRIST.

And finally the meaning is that God is with US!  You and me.  Plain old us.
Think of it.  God wants to get mixed up with the likes of us!   Amazing isn't it?

You.  You are the reason for the season!  You are the reason the Jesus came, and lived and died.
You.  God loves you that much!  Really!   All of this is for you.
And you have the ultimate power in the universe.
The power to say, "NO."   "NO, LORD!"   NO, GOD.

I saw on our trip last week where some farmer in Kansas had painted on his barn:
     "No God = No Peace
KNOW GOD = KNOW PEACE!"

You have a power - strong enough to thwart all the love in the universe or
a power to accept that same love by simply saying, 'YES'  
-  YES, GOD.  I believe.

Please pray with me:

If you've never heard this quite this way before and you want to say YES;
If you've said NO for years, but God has touched you tonight;
If you've said YES for years, and God has touched you tonight;  pray with me:

Lord Jesus Christ,  Babe of Bethlehem, Son of God.
You have loved me from the beginning of time.
And you showed the extent of your love
by coming as a baby, growing, living and dying for me.

I'm sorry for the ways I've messed up life.  I need You.
Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins - for all I've done wrong.
Please forgive me and come live your life in and through me.

I can't do this life with out you Jesus.  And because you came, I don't have to.
Thank you for saving my life.  I love you.

Amen.

Monday, December 16, 2013

ADVENT III - THE DISCIPLINE OF WAITING

Third Sunday of Advent
Dec 15, 2013
Fr. Philip Eberhart




Probably the hardest part of life and of our discipleship is the necessity of waiting.  Anyone ever feel like WAIT is a four-letter-word!???  Our scriptures this morning reveal the necessity of waiting and some of the secrets of success in this discipline that the Lord consistently seems to require of us.  And I have to say here at the outset that this is a particular problem for us in the west, much more than it is for almost any other culture around the world or down through history!!!  We are so much an "instant oatmeal - Instant Coffee - toaster strudel - leggo waffles" culture -  anything that will get us there faster is an object of worship!


A Keurig?  What is that?  A single shot instant coffee maker!  You can have your brewed expresso or latte in a minute - less than the time it used to take to boil water and stir in the awful instant coffee stuff.  Its all about speed for our culture and if there is one thing that we collectively HATE, it's to WAIT!

Can I say it here?   God takes a longer view!

And He has built that necessity into the fabric of life.  Waiting means that God is at work in a preparatory fashion.  The question for us in America and the West becomes how do we wait on God and not just do it ourselves.  We have gotten in so much trouble in this country and in our own lives on account of our impatience with God and His processes - we get out ahead and end up doing things  in our own power. In fact I believe that that is the majority of the problem in standard issue American Christianity!  We approach God with our need for instant gratification and when He doesn't respond appropriately or in our time table, we go on ahead.
We leave God behind!

God is a God who uses time and circumstance in His favor!  And to be in right relationship with Him we need to understand His priorities and His heart.  I've been in a relationship with God now for coming up on 50 years and if I've learned anything ( and that is a legitimate question ) ... IF I've learned anything ... I've learned that He is not in a hurry!  And that we can't help Him out in almost any way!!  God's time is God's time - so much so that scripture actually has a different word for it - KAIROS.

The word for the regular passage of time is CHRONOS - the ticking of the seconds away - chronograph, and chronology - the study of time.  But when the time becomes "FULL" - when the season is here for the fulfillment of promise - for the execution of God's plan, often the word changes and KAIROS is used.  It is the "fullness of time"  - when that for which we have waited is about to be made manifest!  The time of the harvest is Kairos time!  Paul in Galatians encourages them with the words:  "let us not become weary in well doing, for in due season we will reap, if we do not faint." (Gal 6:9)  

So how do we endure the CHRONOS while waiting for the KAIROS?? 

Time and circumstance are tools that God has firmly in hand!  And the work of His hands today is in many ways the same work Jesus grew up doing.  It's ironic - almost prophetic - that Jesus was a carpenter - the eldest son of his earthy father, Joseph, who would have been trained in his father's craft and expected to take over the family business in time.  Which Jesus probably actually did for a time, before His baptism by his cousin, John.

How did Jesus wait???   We have evidence that He knew his place in life early on - the incident of his staying behind in the temple at Jerusalem and being in conversation with the rabbi's and teachers there - "Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?"  There was already at 12 a thoroughly formed sense in Jesus of His identity as God's Son and that there was "business" to do there as well - and yet for nearly 20 years he subjected Himself to his earthly father and became the expected carpenter of Nazareth.

I love a prayer that I learned from Bishop Terry Kelshaw a few years back:

Lord Jesus Christ
Master Carpenter of Nazareth
Who on the cross
In wood and nails
First worked our full salvation;
Use well your tools
In this your workshop
That we who come to you rough hewn
May by your grace
Be fashioned to a true beauty and usefulness
In your service.
   AMEN

This is a prayer that captures the essence of Jesus, the carpenter, who is Lord!  The experience of the wood in a carpentry shop is one of waiting!  The tools for shaping and forming the wood are not a pleasant thing, if the wood were animate.  There is cutting and nailing and fitting-together - there is planing and sanding and painting involved.  The "circumstances" of being formed are not all that pleasant !  But God has a finished product in mind!

So what is all the waiting for?

Throughout our readings this morning we hear the signs of the goal. We catch glimpses of the end product that God has in mind:

From Isaiah...




They shall see the glory of the LORD,
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
"Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you."
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

From David the Psalmist:
7
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; *
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
8
The LORD loves the righteous;
the LORD cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
From Mary, His mother:

He has mercy on those who fear him *
    in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
    he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
    and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
    for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
    to Abraham and his children for ever.


From Jesus Himself:

Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

Waiting on the Lord

Apparently Jesus (and Mary) had a good grasp on this waiting thing.  After his time in the temple in Jerusalem it was nearly 20 years before he was baptized by John and when into his public ministry and then only for 3 years. 

It seems to me there is a lesson for us to learn:

1.  God has things well in hand!  He has a plan and design and our part is to "trust in Him, lean not on our own understanding, acknowledge Him in all our ways and HE will make our paths straight"

2. Wait is a four-letter-word.  God uses time and circumstance in our lives to form us into, as Bishop Kelshaw's prayer mentioned, "a true beauty and usefulness" for the Kingdom of God and for eternity.  Waiting is not an easy thing, and it never has been, for any of God's people.  It was not intended to be! Just read some of the Psalms of David. He had to wait in some of the most dire of circumstances - all after he was anointed by Samuel to be the next King!!!

3. Look to what God is forming.  His plan is to fashion you into the very likeness of Jesus!
The bible tells us that God has specific works planned out for us to walk in, but the timing of those works He keeps for himself!  That is why we need to be ready!  It's not just Jesus' return that we are waiting for - we get up each day, assured that His mercy is renewed every morning and that we are to be ready to walk in that mercy, to walk justly with others and humbly with Him.  We must come to the place where we recognize that every step, every turn, every breath is from HIM - every moment of every day is gift and we live them best when we look to the giver for His direction and empowerment.

Mary had her attitude right at the beginning - but there were nine months to wait - and lots of circumstances to weather, before Jesus was born!

John the Baptist had his attitude right, but came to a place where he doubted - where he wondered, and sent his men to ask Jesus - "are you the one or should we look for another." Last week we mentioned John's statement:  "He must increase and I must decrease."  It was in that process that these questions came, even for John the Baptist!

So don't feel ashamed or condemned that you hate to wait!  It's in our blood!  We have eternity build in!  Waiting does not come naturally.  But it is natural and necessary.

Shall we pray:


Lord Jesus Christ
Master Carpenter of Nazareth
Who on the cross
In wood and nails
First worked our full salvation;
Use well your tools
In this your workshop
That we who come to you rough hewn
May by your grace
Be fashioned to a true beauty and usefulness
In your service.

   AMEN

ADVENT II - PREPARING FOR HOPE

Second Sunday of Advent
December 8, 2013
Fr. Philip D. Eberhart



Whenever someone says I need to REPENT of something, for me it automatically sounds like judgment and a process that I'm unwilling to engage, just because I don't like change all that much.  I'm kind of set in my ways.  Like most of us.  REPENT has such a negative and judgmental sound to it, - so much so that we rarely hear it used today.  We would much rather talk about our need for therapy or our "issues" in living our lives - we have turned sin into a non-starter - a non-category in our thinking.

SIN reminds us that there is a WAY that we should be walking in - that we should be living our lives in a certain way.

SIN reminds us that there is a TRUTH that continues to stand in the face of our - yes, even our stubborn rebellion.

SIN reminds us that there is a LIFE that can be lived in alignment with the God who created and who sustains us.

SIN reminds us that we are partakers of the atmosphere - the air we breathe is lawlessness and independence!


I'm struck this morning by the proximity of words.  Often in the same sentences in Scripture we see the words REPENT and the word HOPE or the word LIFE.  I remember reading a little book once by Mother Basilea Schlinck, the founder of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Germany.  The book was called "Repentance - The Joy-filled Life".  The call that she spoke of in the book was the call to REPENT - in the case of their order of sisters, to "repent for the actions of the Nazi's and the German people toward the Jews in WW II".  This was the clear mandate of Mother Basilea and the order continues even today!

To repent is to be reconnected to hope and to life - to the very life of God!!

Our gospel this morning, on this Second Sunday of Advent, is the story of John, the Baptizer, whose message was also one of repentance for sin and turning from one kind of life to a new kind of life.  A message of preparation is what we hear this morning - preparing for the advent of the Messiah - the one promised by God.  John was a forerunner - a prophet appointed to bring a message - a particular message:  
                "In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,               
                     "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." 
                      This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
                    "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
                        `Prepare the way of the Lord,
                         make his paths straight.'"

John, the apostle, tells us more about John, the Baptist than perhaps any other gospeler.  In John's Gospel, the first three chapters reveal insights into the man and the dynamic between John and Jesus that existed, since they were cousins, a fact that Luke reveals to us in his account.

In John's gospel, John the Baptist points to Jesus as the messiah, refusing to take any of the accolades of the people, even to the point of giving Jesus some of his followers - Andrew being a major one, the brother of Simon Peter.  John's words, even in chapter 3 of John's gospel, when questioned again about Jesus, said this:




25 A debate broke out between John’s disciples and a certain Jew[h] over ceremonial cleansing. 26 So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”
27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. 28 You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ 29 It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. 30 He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

John, the baptizer, knew his task and his time in relationship to his cousin, Jesus.  It would have been super easy to get defensive and to begin to "own" more than he had been given, especially in the face of the accusations of his own disciples, but John keeps his perspective and rightly puts them and himself in the place he held as a forerunner - the best man at the wedding!  He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

Friends, the message of repentance that we hear in this season is one that connects us to the life that God intends for us. It is the doorway to access the forgiveness that Jesus spoke from the Cross - our message from a few weeks ago.  That is the reason that it is almost always in the same sentence with the words like hope and life and Kingdom of God!

You remember the painting of Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts?  Repentance is our coming to the door from the inside and opening the door to the knock of Jesus and letting him fulfill his promise to come in and sup with us and us with him!

Often we think of repentance from sin, as this awful thing - because we mix it with the devil's concoction of condemnation and guilt that leads us to self-condemnation and a judgment that we can never be truly saved.  But that is a lie from the pit of Hell!  Jesus said it best when he said, "The son of man came not to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved!"  The message of repentance is not one of condemnation, but one of hope and love and grace.

We need to understand the first part of the prayer that we pray so often:  "Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace"  


Did you hear it?   "THAT EVERYONE MIGHT COME WITHIN THE REACH OF YOUR SAVING EMBRACE"

Repentance is the joy filled life because it leads us back into relationship with Jesus and with His Father!  The message of repentance is amiss when it is mixed with condemnation and judgmentalism. Those are not from the heart of the Father, nor are they from the Word of the Son!  Paul tells us that "godly sorrow leads us to repentance."  It is not a message of condemnation, but a message of great love, of sacrifice and of grace extended.

Both John and Jesus came preaching the same message, line for line:   "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"  God is extending His hand to you - the Kingdom of Heaven - relationship with the Father is "at hand" - is extended to you in this moment. How will you respond?

Jesus' life and message, THE GOSPEL, was lived and preached as the "real life" extension of God's hand towards us.  Our response to His offer begins in repentance and ends in relationship... in restoration... in hope of redemption... and the hope of heaven.  Paul in fact refers to the Father as "The God of Hope!"  His letter to the Romans is a monument to this message of God's hand extended, through him to the Gentiles - to the whole world!

And my prayer and blessing throughout this season of Advent is the last line of our reading from Romans this morning!  Look there and read it together with me:


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist's and the message of the Gospel's, along with Paul's subsequent message in his teaching and letters to the churches is the same!  It is the message of the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of God that leads us to repentance, to turn from our sin and to take the hand of Jesus extended.  

I wonder - are you prepared for His coming?  Our collect this morning, that we will read in a few minutes during our prayers says it this way:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

When we pray in a few minutes, take those words to heart!   Give us grace, Merciful God, to heed the warnings of the Prophets, like John the Baptist, and to forsake our sins, SO THAT we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ - his first coming and His second coming, in power and great glory.

Let us get and remain prepared for His coming.  That is the task of this season of Advent.  It is the force of the message we are hearing today, "Repent - for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Amen and amen.