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Second Sunday of Advent

Repentance and the Gospel

Israel was under bondage to Rome. They had not heard from a prophet of God for four years. They were longing for a message of deliverance. Where was the God of the Covenant?

As prophesied by Malachi, suddenly, God’s messenger would appear:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.   (Malachi 3:1-3)

God’s messenger was John the Baptist. Reading from the Gospel of Luke:

The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”   (Luke 3:2-6)

God was fulfilling his covenant promise, but Israel was not ready for how he would do it. He would require them to repent, for they had not kept their end of the Abrahamic Covenant. They had not been faithful in following the Commandments of Moses. A correction was required by God. How would he do it?

Reading the prophecy of Zechariah from the first chapter of Luke:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.   (Luke 1: 68-75)

A savior was raised up from the house of David. He would be able to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Abrahamic Covenant that no one else could fulfill. John the Baptist would prepare the people to receive the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Continuing with prophecy of Zechariah:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”   (Luke 1: 76-79)

Notice that the forgiveness of sin was central to the message of John. John reached:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.   (Mark 1:4)

What Jesus began his earthly ministry, he preached the same message:

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”   (Mark 1:14)

Sadly, much of today’s Gospel message leaves out the requirement for repentance. For this reason it has no power. Because of certain “mandates” many people are afraid to openly worship God. Has not God delivered us from fear?

He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.   (Luke 1: 72-75)

There is little boldness in those who have not totally surrendered to Jesus. All of us need the light of Christ to survive the times we are in.

By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”   (Luke 1:78-79)

God is with us. Are we with him?

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.   (Psalm 23:4)

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Saint Andrew, Apostle

José_de_Ribera_San_AndrésThe Word is Near You

The Gospel of John states that Andrew was first a disciple of John the Baptist:

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).   (John 1:35-41)

What is remarkable about Andrew is that he recognized Jesus as the Messiah almost at once. Andrew was excited to tell his brother Simon Peter. He started his career as a disciple by becoming an evangelist.

He was a very ordinary man – a fisherman along with his brother. Yet his testimony as an apostle of Jesus Christ helped to change the whole world. The Apostle Paul writes:

“Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”   (Romans 10:18)

God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things in His name. We have also been called to be disciples of Jesus and evangelists. We have been given power and authority to do so.

Where do we start? We start with the Word as did Andrew and all the apostles. Moses explained the power of God’s Word:

Moses said to the people of Israel: Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.   (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

We have been given a powerful Word from God – Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. He has been placed within our hearts. The Apostle Paul elaborates on what Moses said

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.   (Romans 10:8-10)

Are we ready to proclaim the Word that changes the hearts of people? We may be ridiculed for doing so, but we will probable not have to endure the suffering and ultimate death by crucifixion as did Andrew. We owe him and all the apostles a great debt of gratitude.

Let us remember that in our day  great number of people are dependent upon us to share the good news. Jesus said:

I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.   (Luke 12:8-9)

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First Sunday of Advent

A Righteous Branch Will Spring Up

Are we living in day where righteous living seems to be a thing of the past? An apparent lack of fairness and justice only seems to compound the problem. Many have said that things are so bad that only God can solve our problems.

The nation of Israel was experiencing such a time. The people had not heard a prophetic word from God for over four hundred years. Rome had overtaken the country and taxes were burdensome. Judaism had been corrupted by mandates imposed upon the people by certain elites who had reduced it to a system of and rules. The people were required to follow them but these elites did not. Does this sound familiar? For those who sought to true Judaism, only God could rescue them.

Fortunately, God had made promises through his prophets that he was about to keep. Reading from Jeremiah:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”   (Jeremiah 33:14-16)

In the Season of Advent, we celebrate a solemn act of God that brought restoration, not only to Israel, but to the entire world. God acted where no one else could. He is still acting.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus seems to be talking about his second coming:

Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.   (Luke 21:29-33)

Is not Advent more about the first coming of Jesus? Yes, but the first and second coming are a part of the same Advent. Adven is a continuum.  God was and is moving into the world to establish his residence with us. It may seem imperceptible at times, but God is still moving. Jesus said: “Look at the fig tree.” Israel is the fig tree. We are the  fig tree. That righteous Branch is still sprouting. The kingdom of God is very near.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Thessalonica:

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.   (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

We want God to move in our day. He is still moving; He is still coming into the world. He wants to come in to us. He wants to come in through us. The psalmist wrote:

Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.

Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.

Gracious and upright is the Lord;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his way to the lowly.   (Psalm 25:4-8)

Advent is a time of anticipation. It is a time of great expectation. Are we open to the coming of the Lord? Are we desiring for God to move upon us and through us? If so, his righteousness and justice will spread throughout our land. Revival will come. Let us open our hearts to Goed. Only then can he strengthen our hearts in holiness. Only then can we be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus.

Some may be caught by surprise at the close od the age. They did not see the fig tree. They did not see the righteous Branch. They did not see God’s power alive in us. Reading from the Book of Revelation:

To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him.   (Revelation 1:5-7)

But we see by faith, today, and each new day. His righteous Branch still grows. It is growing in us.

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The Season of Advent

Advent is an early New Year. It is the beginning of a new liturgical year for those churches that follow the lectionary readings. A new cycle of scriptural readings begins. This time the Gospel readings come from the Gospel of Matthew, carried throughout the Year A cycle of readings. (See Liturgical Calendar.)

There are four Sundays in Advent which tell of the coming of Jesus. At first the emphasis is on his second coming and end-times, but then the emphasis shifts to the first coming. They offer a powerful progression of how Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets of the Old Covenant while establishing the New Covenant through the Incarnation of God.

Advent is a season of expectation. It is a season of hope. It is an opportunity put away the old and put on the new. It is a time of preparation for the Bride of Christ to prepare for the millennial reign of Jesus.

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I challenged a friend in ministry to preach on the lectionary readings of Advent. He had never done so. He found himself preaching on subjects he had never preached on before, such as the second coming of Jesus and the end-times. Later he told me that Advent had caused him to grow in the faith. That is the beauty of the lectionary in general and especially the beauty of the Season of Advent.

We do not want to rush into Christmas prematurely. Rather, we need to prepare spiritually for a joyous Christmas. Christmas is so over-commercialized in this nation. It seems to be more a pagan celebration than a religious one, rivaled by only by Halloween.

Let us use Advent to recommit ourselves to Christ as Savior and Lord. And let us explore new insights and meanings that wash over us as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child.

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