Monday, December 24, 2018

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.

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