Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015 - God SO loved...

Christmas Eve
Dec 24, 2015
Fr. Phil Eberhart

+++++++++++++++


So how many of you know the most commonly searched scripture on the web?

It shows up in end zones on ESPN and on face paint and eye black for the players - 
Think Tim Tebow.      Any guesses?

John 3:16

So what does John 3:16 have to do with Christmas?  A reasonable question!

I just want to point to one word this evening.  
       -   a two letter word that is packed with meaning.

A seemingly insignificant word - you probably haven't thought a lot about up to this point, but I just want to seed it into your mind tonight - to plant the thought, to make the inquiry.

Have you thought of this?  Have you considered that?

So what is the word?

SO...

It can be said many ways, like O or Mm Hmm...

SO?    Soooooo...

Sometimes it modifies another word, as in this case -  a very important word.

"For God SO ... Loved!"

The question that comes to my mind is How much?  

How much did God SO love the world?

Let me bring that into the present... How much DOES God SO love the world?   And of course the world is you and me.

God loves the world enough that, according to the verse, He sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ.

That brings us here to this time and place tonight.  Considering the Love of God and the fact that He SO loved us - He SO loves us...

That He purposely sent His only Son, his Firstborn Child.
The magic of Christmas - the Present we receive this night is the very presence of God Himself, come as a human baby.

God SO loved ... that He gave.
He gave everything to bring us back to Him.  And as we follow the life of Jesus, we see the Love of God on display!  And this is a love that never fails, never gives up, Never lets go.  No matter what you are experiencing right now - this love is with you, in it.  

In fact that is the given prophetic name of Jesus:  Emmanuel, which means God With US.  There are some other words that you need to put in your hopper for future consideration.  

GOD ...
WITH ...
US !

The point of this night and our celebration is the FACT - a historical fact, provable by every rule of court room evidence beyond a shadow of doubt;  the FACT that Jesus Came among us as a baby, earthly son of Mary, in the line of David, the King of promise.  As we sang earlier - King of Kings and Lord of Lords - And He shall reign forever and ever!

Paul prays that we will come to know the love of God as we experience Jesus Christ - as we receive Him as Lord;  That we will come to experience how wide and how high and how deep and how long is the LOVE OF GOD in Christ Jesus for you.

Paul says that nothing can separate you from the Love of God!

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[o]) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[p] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But its hard for us to get a handle on the "so" of the verse in John 3:16 until we consider what Paul talked about just now.
The SO has to do with all that God knew before hand - before this night happened.
That His son not only had to come a live a human life.
in which He experienced all the things we experience in our lives, hunger, thirst, exhaustion, pain, loss, suffering, and even death - and not just death, but the worst death ever devised by man in his twisted sinfulness!  Death on a Cross.
Paul tells us about the SO -  If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Some of us can say a name or two can't we. ... or a circumstance or two!  
Now close your eyes and I want you to see a hand up above you with a scale in the hand.  In the balance is your circumstance, your suffering, your enemy - whatever is pressing on you right now - distracting you, taking your life away, causing you internal or external pain.  I want you to place it on the one side of the scale.
Image result for justice scale
Now on the other side I want to place this LOVE OF GOD -  The love of God FOR YOU.
That's what tonight is about!  Weigh your trials against the overwhelming magnitude of the Love of God for YOU!  Nothing even comes close!  Nothing ever can!!  NO THING can separate you from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.

God SO loved... that He gave.
Let us pray.

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to
take our nature upon him, and to be born this day 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.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent IV - Fr. Phil Eberhart - A Witness to His Coming

Advent IVDec 20, 2015Fr. Phil Eberhart


This morning is the fourth Sunday of Advent.  Our final Sunday of preparation for the coming of The King.

I want to talk this morning about the Bible's witness to His coming and OUR witness to His coming.  Last night we attended with many from REZ, the performance of Handel's Messiah downtown at the PAC.  As I listened, and as I read the texts of the songs that Handel wrote in his musical tribute to Jesus Christ, I was struck by how many times God gave witness to the plan that was unfolding as time marched on.

Most of the texts for the Messiah are from the book of Isaiah, certainly one of the most prolific of the prophetic books, regarding the advent of the Messiah, Jesus.  One that Jesus Himself used, perhaps more than any other OT book, in referring to the prophetic imprint - the witness of prophecy - that spoke clearly about him, 400 - 700 years in advance!!

This is one of the most amazing features of the whole of Scripture - its singular voice in pointing to the coming King!  Through several millennia and from many different writers a single narrative explodes from the pages of the Bible - It's almost as if a single author penned the words!

Oh, HE DID!  

GOD is the Author and HIS WORD is the revelation of all that is in His heart for us - for the World and especially for those who "Receive The King."  According to some accounts there are as many as 350+ references in the OT that point to the Christ.

Some who look at the prophecies and then point to Christ's knowledge of the prophetic promises, say that this was "made up."...that Jesus self-fulfilled the prophecies AFTER reading them.  But many of the prophetic fulfillments, even the one our scripture from Micah speaks of today, the place of His birth, were not able to be manipulated.  It's hard to manipulate the place and time of your birth!  
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.

Let's look for a moment at some of the other prophecies, just in Isaiah for instance...

Isa 7 predicts that his will be a virgin birth.
Isa 9 his Galilean ministry as heir to the throne of David
Isa 40 predicts the forerunner, John the Baptizer
Isa 53 predicts the manner and agony of his death for us
     including the scourging, the spitting at him, the gambling
      for his clothing, his bones not being broken, what they offered         
      him to drink, his pierced side, hands and head, and his tomb -               
      the place of interment after death!!  

But most of these fulfillments were completely out of the "control" of Jesus himself or of his disciples.  20+ specific prophecies were fulfilled just on the day Jesus died!

Jesus himself took the prophecies of Isaiah as a kind of job description, even to the quoting of Isa 61 in the synagogue in his home town:
[Luk 4:18-19 KJV] 18 The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

These verses Jesus took as his personal job description from Isa 61.  Yes Jesus read the Messianic prophecies and was intimately familiar with them, but their fulfillment was largely "above his pay grade!"  The fact is that whether you count the 20+ or 100+ or 350+ that He fulfilled, any number is a miracle!  And the greater the number of prophecies the greater the miracle!

One commentator estimated that the odds of Jesus fulfilling all the prophecies that he did from the OT - if the number were translated into 1" steel ball bearings, the ball bearings would cover the state of TEXAS to a depth of about 6 feet!!

My point here is that the witness of Scripture is clear - LOUD and clear, in regard to the Messiah, and specifically, to the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, as it fulfilled those prophetic words.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah long predicted and the one who will 'save his people from their sins.'  

So this morning I want to end our Advent meditations with a simple question: 

Where is the witness to Jesus seen in YOUR life?  How can people see or hear or know, from your life, your words, your actions, that Jesus is the Messiah and that He is alive and well?

As I listened to the Messiah again and was struck by the words of the prophecies of Isaiah so beautifully scripted and set to music by Handel - I could see the "witness" of Christ in the life of the composer.  This wasn't a performance for him it was a worship service!  As we all stood at the Chorus - the Hallelujah Chorus - we all sensed the awe and the wonder of the moment of Christ's coronation as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, at the right hand of the Father in Heaven!  

Last night was the perfect end to the Advent season of meditation on his coming.  I commend a time of listening today and of thinking!  Thinking of how, like Handel, the song of King Jesus is written or sung from your life, from your lips, from your hands and feet! 

It is said that "you may be the only Gospel that people ever encounter!"  When people encounter you, when you rub shoulders at work, or at the market or the gym, when you are getting gas, when you are ... fill in the blank (______________________)
What are people able to READ from the pages of your life?

Do they meet the Prince of Peace in your demeanor?  Do they hear a blessing from your lips?  Do you speak to others of peace and of God?  You don't have to drum it into people - to force feed them!  in fact that is really counterproductive!  

The point this morning is a simple question:  When people meet you, will they meet Jesus too?

That is the point of all that we've said throughout this season of preparation!  It's been the point of our Sunday Advent-ure, so beautifully done by our Reverend Ladies!  Thank you.  And of all the readings of Advent 1 and 2 and 3.  Prepare Ye The Way - there's gonna be Revival!  Be it unto me, according to Thy Word!

I pray that you join us on Christmas Eve and through Christmas tide and all next year as we move ever "higher up and deeper in," in our quest to be like Jesus, here at REZ.  And I pray that when people meet you - they will meet Jesus too.

Amen.

Let's pray together again from the prayer for mission-

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.  So clothe us with your Spirit, that we, reaching forth our hands in love, might bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of You, for the honor of Your Name.

Amen!!