Sunday, December 16, 2007

God Meets Us

Today we celebrated the third Sunday in advent. In preparation for the service Pastor Brad Shannon shared how advent is a time of anticipation as we await the One in whom all our hopes and dreams are staked on. Jesus is our kingdom hope. When all other hopes have been dashed, Jesus is present to say, “Pin your hopes on Me.”

For special music this morning Shylee Smith performed a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria, accompanied by Darlene Vanderscheuren on the keyboard.

Today’s Scripture readings were from Psalm 146:5-10 and Matthew 11:2-11.

Pastor Brad began his sermon with an object lesson about the Packers and Vikings. He noted that Packer fans routinely get rewarded from time to time for the hope the put in their team. To be a Viking fan requires much more character, since in the ultimate sense, there have yet to be any earthly rewards for such hope. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, he states, “This is why we are Viking fans at New Life Covenant.”

In truth, the illustration was a nice segue into today’s theme. When all your hopes have been disappointed, God gives us His hope. So many have experienced deep disappointment in life. This message was passionately presented to convey the message that God has not abandoned us and will meet us in that place of need.

Turning to Genesis 1:1, Pastor Brad asked, “Have you ever wondered how God feels about His creation?” In verse two, we see God “hovering” or “brooding” like a dove. God had great plans for His creation.

At the climax of this first Biblical account, God makes man from the dust of the earth. After breathing the breath of life into this lifeless clay, He declares “It is finished.” And He rested on the seventh day.

It is noteworthy that God created the world and all that is in it, but left some things unfinished. For example, the animals we as yet unnamed, and there was a garden to be tended.

The Hebrew expression Tikkun Olam is here used to refer to God’s leaving it to man “to fix or finish the work” That is, our role in the world is to partner with God to finish God’s work in the world.

Chapter three presents how the serpent deceived Eve and how sin entered the world. What did Adam and Eve experience when their eyes were opened? They saw their guilt and shame, and experienced despair. The earth was cursed (we now know where thistles and thorns come from) and they were banished from the Garden. They were exiled from Paradise.

From that time on the human race was in exile. God eventually called Abraham and formed a nation of people through whom God would fulfill Tikkun Olam. Israel, the chosen people, would be God’s partners in bringing restoration, healing and hope.

But Israel, too, failed and was assailed by many captors and ultimately exiled in the Babylonian captivity for seventy years. In Jesus’ day, Rome occupied Israel and many Hebrews remained dispersed.

The Scriptures repeatedly tie this exile to the sinfulness of God’s people. See, for example, Lamentation 4:22.

In the beginning of the New Testament Gospel of Mark, when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, the Lord came out of the water and saw the heavens torn open. And it says that the Spirit descended upon him “like a dove,” an image that hearkens back to the beginning where God is seen “hovering” dove-like over his Creation. We see that with the inauguration of Jesus’s ministry, God is hovering closely again.

Throughout this period in time, there was much expectation of one who was to come, who would liberate Israel and be the Messiah who restored God’s people to their rightful place. The hopes of the people had risen many times as various “leaders” rose, and were silenced by Rome.

Hope can be a dangerous thing, because hope can break your heart with it is thwarted.

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, we see the people getting their hopes aroused. But like so many times before, the promising possibility that Jesus would be the Messiah King ended again in a Roman crucifixion.

We see the torn hearts of his followers most vividly in the passage from Luke 24, on the road to Emmaus. A man and a woman were walking along the road, away from Jerusalem, when they were joined by a stranger, who is actually the risen Jesus but whom they did not recognize in their grief. “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel,” they said, as they recounted his ministry and deeds.

They were crushed in spirit because of the crucifixion. When you follow someone who gets crucified, you know you have been on the wrong team.

Then, Jesus shares a new perspective. God’s ways are not our ways, and He illuminates them, shedding light on Scriptures they were familiar with but failed to understand. “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” (vs. 27) And in the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened.

This same phrase echoes the opening of the eyes that Adam and Eve experienced, except in the first instance, they lost hope, and in this latter account, hope filled their emptied hearts.

Turning to John 20 we find yet another echo of the Genesis account. In the resurrection, the man Jesus had truly died, but God breathed into Him the breath of life. Resurrection life comes from God. The passage, beginning in verse 19, recounts the Lord’s appearing to his disciples in the upper room where they had been gathered, hiding in fear. It is a powerful moment, and the true birth of the church.

JOHN 20:19-22
19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
Jesus appears, comforts their fears and breathes on them the breath of resurrection life and power, from God. “So send I you,” He says, meaning in effect, “You be the Kingdom bearers and the hope bringers.” This is our role as the church in this world.

We have a choice. Either we can give in to despair or accept the truth that God is hovering over us, desirous to work great things through us.

Despair will make you want to quit. God never does this. In Psalm 43 we hear the psalmist lament, “Why are you cast down, oh my soul?” But he immediately follows with these words: “Put your hope in God.”

Remember this. The spirit of God has been breathed into you. Put your hope in the Lord.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us remember that Jesus Christ coming into the world is the hope of the world.

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