December 1, 2019 – Advent Begins
Advent Candles - Hope
L: Deep darkness covers the people. Lift up your eyes and see.
P: We search the skies for a sign of hope.
L: Then you will see and you will be radiant -- your heart will race with excitement and burst with joy.
P: We listen for words of promise.
L: Arise, shine, for the Lord your Light has come. His glory will shine on you.
P: We long to realize the birth of hope in our day.
L: We light the candle of hope because kings and nations shall come to his bright dawning and will offer him their worship -- for God’s Son has come.
with song Emmanuel, Emmanuel
Do you know is a really unusual feature that many lizards and some other animals have to defend themselves in extreme situations? (claws, camouflage, lose their tails) And even after the tail comes off, the tail muscles still twitch so the tail keeps moving — distracting the threatening enemy so it can get away. Don’t you wish you had a tail to drop? (some said yes) Well, now that I know you know that about the tail, let me tell you a tale (story) about Johnny the Lizard.
Once upon a time (remember that for us that phrase means it is not a real story but it has a good point) Johnny the Lizard loved to go out and sunbathe on warm rocks under a hot sun. He often did what many of us do laying still in the heat. He fell asleep. One day when he fell asleep some mean children grabbed him — none of you are mean children are you? They had grabbed him by the tail so Johnny the lizard, shocked and scared, dropped his tail and ran away while he heard the mean children laughing at how his tail kept moving about in their hand. Eventually they threw the tail away. Johnny didn’t know where, but when he thought it was safe, he started looking for it so he could reattach it. But the countryside was big, and he could find no sign of his tail. He left everything in his life, his home, his things, his friends. Months passed and still he couldn’t find it, but he kept on asking everyone whether they had seen his tail.
One day he was asking someone, and they looked surprised and asked, “Why do you want two tails?” Johnny turned his head around and saw that after so much time searching for his old tail, he had grown a new one. On his way home he found his old tail! He began to carry it with him until a frog pointed out how icky it was. Johnny answered that it didn’t used to be that way. As he continued his journey he realized how much time he had wasted looking for something that was a part of him in the past, and that he loved so much, but what he really needed to do was drop the old thing, the worries (he had for it), and move into a new day. So he dropped his old tail and found new hope as he moved into his future. *
In today’s sermon we will hear about some smart people who didn’t look for a sign of some hope in the past. They left all that behind to find something brand new that God was doing. They weren’t chasing their tails and getting nowhere, they saw the direction God gave them chase — and they ended up at a home where the very young Jesus was living, and they presented him with valuable and meaningful gifts. Do you know what sign God gave these wise men so they could find their way to Jesus? (a star) Do you know what sign God gives today to help people find Jesus? (us) By your loving goodness and kindness and care — Paul says Christians (people who follow Jesus) shine like stars — giving hope as people find their way to Jesus.
* Based on a story “Johnny the Lizard” by Pefro Pablo Sacristan
Let’s pray. Lord we thank you that when we look for you, and we aren’t too distracted — we will see your signs, your stars, bursting all around us — you will show us the way. And if we stick with you, you may even use us to show others the way. Amen. (Hand out star bursts)
Bible Reading Micah 5:2b-5a
As the new Christian year begins, we start anticipating the birth of Christ. The front of the bulletin quotes the foreign prophet Balaam who anticipated that day in the far distant future -- much to the frustration of the leaders of his own people. Today’s sermon text sees Jesus’ birth as the fulfillment of the prophet Micah’s continuing anticipation of the glorious king that would rise over his people and bring peace to the world. Micah wrote,
… [Bethlehem], the “Ruler of Israel” will come from you to rule for me. His beginnings are from ancient times, from long, long ago. The Lord will let his people be defeated until the woman gives birth to her child, the promised king. Then the rest of his brothers will come back to join the people of Israel. He will begin to rule Israel in the power of the Lord. Like a shepherd, he will lead his people in the wonderful name of the Lord his God. And they will live in safety because then his greatness will be known all over the world. He will bring a time of peace.
Micah 5:2b-5a (ERV))
Message The Signs of Christmas Matthew 2:1-11
Because they are usually the last people to arrive in the Christmas story, we usually talk about the magi on the 12th day of Christmas. But their “late arrival in the story” may have, more than anything else, had more to do with the distance they had to travel. So for this year, for a change, we’ll see if they can teach us something different than they do on Epiphany by letting them start us off on this first day of Advent, (which I sometimes use as an acrostic to say Advent is Anticipating Divine Visitation Expecting New Things).
Obviously, Magi were searching the skies (or they wouldn’t have seen anything). What was the purpose of their quest? Was it a cry for help in difficult times? Were they desperate for something new in their nation? Was it simply a normal discipline of their religious experience? Or was it something they weren’t even looking for, but once they saw it, they couldn’t “unsee” it. One thing we do learn from them is that God is so filled with love for people that he will communicate with signs in a way that --- if we are willing to look and listen, we will be able to understand.
Sometimes that is easier said than done. For example, I was born and raised in Michigan. On major intersections, where do we look for the traffic light? Center and high, draped and sometimes swinging on cables. But I’ve lived in other places where the lights were not hanging in front of the lanes but were on the corners of the street – where our pedestrian lights normally are. I had to relearn where to look to see what I was supposed to do on my journey.
Signs: Star – Nature
This text helps us know where and how to look to see what God is wanting to tell us. Hear the first section:
After Jesus’ birth, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the child who has been born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose. Now we have come to worship him.”
Mt 2:1b-2 (NIRV))
Whatever expertise they had, they knew how to understand and apply what they saw. We may or may not get such a direct message from nature – yet it is clear that if we look at creation through spiritual eyes, God can use it to speak to us and teach us. The Psalmist wrote:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4 (NIV))
In my college days I remember going out on walks at night seeking – because I was in a receptive stage of my life, seeking and expecting, God used things, often common things around me, to teach spiritual truths. When such truths are verified (as best we can), the point isn’t just to learn, but to act on such things. The wise ones were so sure of God’s sign to them that they left home and traveled many miles – just to see what God was doing, because they understood that there was a king (foreign to them) that would have a huge impact no only among that king’s own people, but among all the nations of the world.
Priests / Prophets
Mature examples, Bible
The danger for us, of course, is that it is not always easy to accurately hear God’s proclamations through things that don’t speak actual words. That is why the last section needs to be qualified with “verify”. The text continues:
When King Herod heard about it, he was very upset. Everyone in Jerusalem was troubled too. So Herod called together all the chief priests of the people. He also called the teachers of the law. He asked them where the Messiah was going to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied. [and we already heard the Micah passage which they quoted to identify the place] Then Herod secretly called for the Wise Men. He found out from them exactly when the star had appeared. (Matthew 5:3-7 (NIRV))
The magi came asking whoever might have heard about what they sought. Word got to Herod, who isn’t the best example – but suffering from paranoia as he did – he certainly knew how to investigate for information. He consulted priests and scribes, who in turn consulted their knowledge of their Scripture for the answer. We too, should consult mature Christians for their wisdom in the Christian life. But even they are human, so ultimately, we must consult the life of Jesus in Scripture. Thus you see the encouragement in the bulletin for an Advent exercise of reading a chapter of Luke a day beginning today – The book concludes after 24 chapters, so on Christmas Eve you will have experienced this season the birth, life, teachings, and actions, including the death and resurrection and final instructions of Jesus, reminding us why we celebrate this season, and maybe each of us will also discover some
signs to follow – some changes in life we may need to make as we follow him, which leads to our last and most important sign of Christmas
the Wise Men … went on their way. The star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them. It finally stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. The Wise Men went to the house. There they saw the child with his mother Mary. They bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures. They gave him gold, frankincense and myrrh.
(Mt 5:8-11 (NIRV))
Ultimately, God’s sign, God’s message to us is Jesus himself. As the angels told the shepherds that the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger would be sign to them that a Savior, the Messiah, is born for them; (See Luke 2:11-12 (emphasis added)) It is not enough for us, just as it was not enough for the wise ones, to grasp a sign as a sign and know what it means, to study all about it and know all the ins and outs of the sign – they actually had to experience Jesus personally.
We too need to experience God’s risen Jesus and Spirit within our own hearts, and not only to know him as a person, but to allow him complete guidance in our lives. Just as the star guided the wise men to the manger to bow and worship and give gifts and a token of their devotion, so we need to allow our relationship with Jesus to guide us to live and worship and serve as our sign of devotion to him.
While looking for something else, I stumbled across this old picture (Kids need a stable background). But it isn’t just children who need that grounding – adults need it to – and if any didn’t get it at a kid, it is never too late to begin.
The physical signs of the coming of Christmas become more prominent each week as we walk into stores and see the street decorations, and how some of us transform our homes and yards and purchase gifts and cards and prepare for family reunions. Celebrating the season of Christmas through such signs are good, but this season, let those things help us point to our God and prepare us to look and listen for what he wants to give us as he comes to be born in us again this season. What might that mean for our lives today? And via children’s time – are we living in a way that we might become a sign of his love for others?
As we heard during the candles, the focus of advent’s start is hope. It was hope that drew the Magi from their far away homes, hope that forced them to research and ask all kinds of questions, hope that brought them to the young Jesus, hope that put them on their knees and present gifts to this new king, it was hope that caused them to believe in his worldwide influence.
After Communion, we are going to sing a song called My Hope is in You, based on a Psalm in which the author prays for help and signs to show and guide his ways because he trusts and puts his hope in God, his salvation. Well, I found a lot of things while looking for something else this week. I cam across this song by the same title written by Aaron Shust. Some of the lyrics are:
I meet with You and my soul sings out
As your word throws doubt far away
I sing to You and my heart cries
"Holy! Hallelujah, Father, You're near!"
I wait for You and my soul finds rest
In my selfishness, You show me grace
I worship You and my heart cries
"Glory Hallelujah, Father, You're here!"
I will wait on You -- You are my refuge
My hope is in You, Lord
All the day long,
I won't be shaken by drought or storm
A peace that passes understanding is my song
And I sing my hope is in You, Lord
Christmas hope is “stable-ized” and grounded on the foundation that God is with us and loves us…and in whom we receive unconditional love and find our identity as we strive to follow his light in worship.
Closing Music My Hope is in You
Closing Prayer and Blessing
Our Father in Heaven, we confess that we have not always kept the covenant we have made with you. We have at times revolted against your kingship and have not given you and your kingdom the time and commitment you deserve. We have not always bowed before you and recognized you as Lord, nor have we consistently modeled your ways... Forgive us and renew us according to the promise of Your Scripture, which says that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Almighty Father, you caused light to shine out of darkness and shine into our hearts, cleansing us from all sins, and restoring us to the light of the knowledge of God's glory, as seen in Jesus Christ, our Savior—and on the basis of these promises we are graciously forgiven in the name of Jesus Christ…
Now may the everlasting God, the radiance of faithful souls, the hope of all nations who come to His light, and kings to the brightness of His rising -- May He fill our world with His glory, and show himself as the true light, the bright and morning star to all the nations, until the day dawns when His star rises in each of our hearts, and every heart around the world.. . Amen.