Sunday, December 1, 2013

December 1, 2013 A Promise of Hope Pastor Carol P. Taylor

Isaiah 2:1-5
2 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
3 and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
5 O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord.

Romans 13:11-14
{Preceding Verses 8-10}
8  Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  9  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”and whatever other command there may be, are summed up  in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”10  Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
This is the first Sunday of Advent. “Advent” means the arrival of something or someone, or some event that is notable! In the church calendar, Advent is a season of waiting for that arrival....the arrival, the birth of the Savior!

The next few weeks we will be looking at some of the prophecies in the Bible, specifically in Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet roughly 700 years before the birth of Christ. He was warning the Hebrew people of hard times to come, indeed about 100 years later their holy city Jerusalem would be conquered, wiped out and many of their people would be taken into exile in Babylon. The exile was a devasting time for the Hebrew people, nearly comparable to the centuries of slavery in Egypt, that Moses led them out of. The Old Testament is a painting of people loving and worshiping God, who blesses them. The people then gradually fall away, turning their backs on God & get into trouble, then consequences of their bad behavior. They repent, return to God, and God forgives, and blesses. And the cycle repeats. This is what is going on here in Isaiah, the people have had it pretty good and they are complacent and falling away from God. And consequences are coming. Not that God is mean or vindictive, but that our actions, as individuals and as a society bring about things that may not be desirable or what we expected.

Yet the writings of Isaiah contain some of the most profound predictions of a Messiah-a savior. And these writings, prophecies, are referred to by the Gospel writers, especially Matthew. These writings point to Jesus. The writings point to the coming of a savior who would live with humanity, the suffering servant,
and to a 2nd coming, the ushering in of the new heaven and earth, (that are written about in the Revelation)

Our passages today show some contrasts, light/dark, night/day, wake/sleep. Works of darkness, putting on the armor of Light. I am intrigued by that phrase! The Light of Christ can protect us! How do we put on the armor of light? We can help others, share our faith, offer a prayer, give Hope to someone who is struggling.

My favorite of the Christmas programs on TV each year is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Charlie Brown is dismayed by the commercialism and greediness he sees in all the kids and even his dog, Snoopy! One of the recurring themes all thru all the Peanuts strips over the years is of course Linus carrying around his beloved blue security blanket. At one point during this show, Lucy, as usual, is threatening to slug little brother Linus if he has his blanket with him during their Christmas play!

Lucy: Linus, you’ve got to get rid of that stupid blanket! What’s a Christmas shepherd going to look like holding a stupid blanket like that?!
Linus: well this is one Christmas shepherd who is going to keep his trusty blanket with him (as Lucy is making a fist, he whips the blanket into a shepherd’s headdress) “See, you wouldn’t hit an innocent shepherd, would you?” Lucy walks away disgusted, and Linus smiles, relieved and I think just a bit smug.
Later on, Charlie Brown, in his frustration, cries out “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” little Linus, with security blanket in hand, walks to the center of the stage, says, “lights, please,” and recites from the Gospel of Luke chapter 2:8-14
8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.......
As Linus begins, he is still holding his blanket. But when he says, “the angel said to them..Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy,” he lets the blanket fall onto the floor next to him. The good news of great joy gives him SO much hope that he can even let go of his beloved security blanket!

Granted, he picks it up again and is hanging on to it as he says “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” But for a moment, he felt free to let go and hold only to the Good News that is for all people. The Good News that brings up hope...hope so fantastic that we can let go of our old ways. Now Linus is a cartoon character, he HAS to hold onto his blanket or we won't know who he is! But we can let go, we don't have to pick up and resume the old ways. We can share the hope of the LOVE of Christ that is for this season and all year!

This is what Apostle Paul is talking about here, putting on the armor of light, putting on Christ, living in love...“Love does no harm to a neighbor!”

someone I know is having a rough time right now, and she said, 'with all that God is piling on, I'm struggling.”
I don't believe GOD is piling on bad stuff. God is LOVE. Life happens, things happen. But God loves and is with us in the world, in the stuff of life. That's what the birth of Jesus is all about. Jesus came to earth to live and walk and love as a human being. To live in a frail human body, to fully experience what it means to be human! Jesus did this BECAUSE of love, to be with us, “emmanuel' --God with us. After Jesus life and death He gave the Holy Spirit, which is how we have God with us. It is an incredible story, but it gives HOPE, hope that we are never alone in life, or death, and that death is not the end, but the beginning of eternal life, with our Lord and with our loved ones.

When making the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, it was suggested to Charles Schultz, to not use the Bible message, a blatently religious message. His response was, “if we don't tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?” once the show was made, CBS Execs, actually the producers all thought it was not a good show, it would not be popular, had there not been a contract and publicity, it would not have aired. As it was, CBS said it would be aired once and shelved, one and done.

The night A Charlie Brown Christmas aired, Dec. 9, 1965, 49% of tvs in the nation tuned in. CBS executives were shocked. The producers were shocked too, and even more so when they were nominated for, and won, an Emmy and a Peabody award. The program has aired every year since, sold millions of VHS tapes, DVDs and BluRay. The music soundtrack is a classic as well, having just been remastered and reissued just last year.

If we don't tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will? People will doubt and second guess us for our faith. We will have days when we are challenged and it might be hard to just keep on. Life happens. But- we can let go of our fears and frustrations. Because we have HOPE. The Hope of Christ, God within, coming once again!   

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