Friday, December 19, 2008

B, Christmas Day - Titus 3:4-7 "Your Kingdom Comes"

Your kingdom come. God's kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask in this prayer that it may come also to us. Amen.

God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and live a godly life on earth now and in heaven for ever.

Christmas is all about God’s kingdom coming! But unlike the hullabaloo from advertisers over the last couple of months, it seems as though God could have advertised his kingdom’s coming just a little bit better. In all the gifts one will get, does the gift of Jesus Christ even register on your wish list, let alone make it to the top of the list as number one gift this Christmas? Do you meditate on God’s kingdom coming or on the coming of many Christmas presents?

On the surface the lacklustre advertising of God’s coming kingdom might not seem to be right. After all, John the Baptist was sent before to broadcast Christ’s coming. And “Hark!” didn’t the herald angel sing — Glory to the newborn king — before the shepherds at Bethlehem? Also, what about the wise men rolling into Jerusalem, parading before Herod and the Sanhedrin; looking for the King of Israel, advertised by the biggest star the heavens had ever held?

However, as extraordinary as these events are, they were all suppressed in some way. In the temple, Archangel Gabriel told Zechariah he was to have a son to prepare the way of the Lord and bring many back to Christ. But on hearing the news Zechariah lost his voice! And then when John began his ministry, his appearance would have left something to be desired, as he came eating locusts dressed in camel’s hair calling for repentance. Not much of an advert!

Then the shepherds didn’t help the cause either! They saw the host of heavenly angels proclaim glory to Christ, and they did go and report the event. But they were smelly characters! They probably hadn’t bathed for a long time and would have smelt more like sheep than people. Besides, they were ritually unclean, and like Zechariah couldn’t proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom in the temple!

And the wise men, magi, astrologers, star gazing their way to the Christ-child! They went home a different way not telling Jerusalem having been warned to do so in a dream.

It seems that just as Christ is buried under the wrappings off cheap Chinese Christmas claptrap, God allowed the Christ-child to be hidden under the accidents and muck of the day when Jesus Christ first came into the world at Bethlehem.

It all seems just a little bit weak and substandard for the entry of a kingdom as holy and almighty as God’s. Added to this, Jesus had what seemed to be misfit parents; he was conceived out of wedlock, enough to raise the eyebrows of even the most compassionate person! There he was hidden out back of a highway house of sinners in a manger. That’s no way to advertise and announce the coming of God’s kingdom!

But God’s kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask that it may come also to us. And it did, it does, and it continues to do so, even though it rarely — if ever — appears on our Christmas present wish list.

In fact our meditation on just about everything other than God and his gift reveals that, it’s not the coming of our Father’s kingdom that’s weak, but in its seemingly weak appearance, it reveals our hidden weaknesses and failure to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Where we revel in the things that seem to come with authority and power, the kingdom of God seems to be anything but coming by the authority of God’s right hand and the power of his almighty arm. The herald angels have been drowned out by the harking of Harvey Norman and Super Amart’s 48 month interest free Christmas sales. The question has to be asked of ourselves: How am I contributing to the “cover-up” of the true Christmas gift?

God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and live a godly life on earth now and in heaven for ever.

God’s kingdom comes hidden in weakness, and as it does it reveals our weakness. The weakness of the manger and all the events that surrounded it herald our weakness. But it’s because of our weakness that Christmas came and Christ continues to come.

Our entry into the kingdom often fails to appear as a dazzling gift. But when God takes us in our weakness and gives us faith to see his gift, all the other Christmas gifts suddenly seem gaudy and trite compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.

Saint Paul tells Titus what this gift is:

But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Hark! Our weakness and the seemingly poorly advertised advent of our new born King, is taken to the cross, where the gift of grace is unfolded for all, and the apparent weakness of God in the death of his Son, reveals the almighty arm and powerful right hand of God. Christ was lifted up, advertising to all our sin, and declaring to the devil and his entourage of evil that he is doomed to eternal death.

In the weakness of human flesh the Kingdom of God came at Bethlehem! It comes to us in our sinfulness as the gift of kindness, love, and mercy. The kingdom comes to you and Jesus justifies you by his grace; the grace veiled in the weakness of the manger, the curse of the cross, and in his resurrection into all righteousness.

And so as we hack our way through wads of wrapping paper this year, God calls us not to be led into temptation by our weakness. He calls us to see the gift of grace, and in it see the kingdom of heaven hidden in the manger and the cross. And in our hope of being heirs of the kingdom, we pray… that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins. And we pray that even though we are so tempted we may still win the final victory. Amen.

So we pray: Our Holy Father in heaven; your kingdom comes; therefore, lead us not into temptation; but forgive us and feed us on the bread of your Word born at Bethlehem; for the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever, Amen.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

B, Advent 2 - 2 Peter 3:8-15a "A Conscience Lock"

The day looks to be taking forever. And the length of the day appears to be inversely proportional to the hardships we face in it. That is — the worse the events one must endure to get to the end of the day, the longer it takes for the day to unfold and happen.

When the day gets harder to endure, there is also a decline in most of us too. The pressure makes the temperature gauge rise, and we begin to boil. It doesn’t take much for us to blow our tops. Hardships burden us so our patience is depleted and we become more and more intolerant to the events happening around us.

Extreme weather can add pressure to our days; stinking hot summers and bitterly cold winters can both weigh heavy on our patience. Various pain, limited only by the imagination, can make one feel as though the day seems to take a thousand years. Guilt from doing something wrong also gives the impression of slowing the day as we ponder, “If only I hadn’t done that!” In fact, anything that causes hardship has a lengthening effect on time so a day feels like it takes a thousand years to happen.

Saint Peter encourages those under pressure from impatient scoffers and those hell-bent on doing evil who have forgotten God’s Word, saying:

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)

If we compare the eternal almighty majesty of our Heavenly Father next to our pettiness and weaknesses which constantly test God’s patience, it’s not surprising that a day examining us seems like an eternity, let alone a thousand years.

God is so powerful he can examine all things big and small, complex and simple, microcosms and macrocosms. And he can do it in the blink of an eye. If it were possible to reach the edge of eternity, God would have already been there for an eternity.

Inside eternity he has knowledge of every single thing he has created, every star, every planet, every rock, every tree, the internal structure of every atom and molecule, every creature that walks the earth, flies over it, and swims in its waters.

And he knows everything about every person. What would take a thousand years to learn about yourself, God knows in a day. In fact, he knew your every impulse, thought, and action in the eternal moment before a blink of his eye.

This is absolutely amazing since we don’t even know ourselves or the pulses that run through our minds in a matter of seconds. Do you ever wonder how you ended up thinking about someone or an event from the past when you first were thinking of something completely different? Have you then gone back and tried to list the chain of events from your subconscious that led your thoughts from one to the other? It’s hard enough to remember a chain of events just happened in your mind let alone from further back in the past.

Can any of us remember everything about our past anyway? God knows every microscopic detail about our past, and even our future! None of us have an intimate knowledge of our medical and physiological makeup, nor do we really want to know! But God knows every sinew, every drop of blood, and every pulse of your brain. Yet he hasn’t even taken a surgeons knife to you to look in side.

We don’t have an intimate knowledge of our internal bodies in a physical sense. Furthermore, how much do we really know about each other in a social sense? Our understanding of our interaction with other people is so limited; yet it’s so complex, but God has full view of it all.

He sees all things we do, both good and bad. He sees the things we should have done. He sees all of our sins that occur as a result of our sinful condition, the ones we know, feeling guilty and ashamed about, and the sins we seek to justify. He also see the sins we overlook; the sins we don’t even know we commit. And it’s not just you he knows, it’s every impulse, thought, desire, and deed of every person who has lived, is living, and will ever live.

Now for us to know all this about our mortal selves would take a thousand years, let alone knowing anyone else around us. But it’s comforting to know God is patient with us and doesn’t do to us what our condition deserves. Although he is infinitely intimate with our whole person, God’s patience endures in the hope we will not eternally perish.

But having been made his children in baptism, receiving the life-giving condition of Christ in our mortal frames, have you ever wondered why God doesn’t place in us a stop guard so we no longer falter from the sinful condition still in us. Perhaps it would have been good if God had placed a conscience lock in us as he gives us new life in Christ!

A conscience lock would kick in and disable our physical bodies when we seek to harm our brother or sister in any way. A conscience lock would flash illegal error in the brain when our thoughts became devious. A conscience lock would silence us when our words waver from what is good and wholesome. The conscience lock would also work the other way and make us conscious of things around us. It would wake us to the needs of others, and we would never need an alarm clock to make it to church on time.

However, this is not the way God works. It’s not the way Christ worked when God sent him to be born in Bethlehem. Jesus was no robot. He was as human as you and me; and capable of the same sin as you and me. If Jesus was a robot sent from God, how much would he be able to relate to our human condition? But he struggled with the same things as you and me, yet he remained faithful to God and didn’t succumb to the sinful human nature as we do.

We like Jesus are not robots. So there is no lock on our consciences, although Christ is living in us. Jesus allowed himself to be handed over to death as result of our sin and he gave us life. Jesus rescues us and chose to take us to our Heavenly Father through his sacrifice. And now that we are with him, he calls us to stand with him, remain with him, and abide with him in heavenly peace.

Our sinful nature, the old Adam, still remains although we have now been given the new nature of the New Adam, Jesus Christ. But just like Christ God desires faith rather than robotics. Yet God is still patient with us, his people, his church!

God has done the work of salvation and brought us to it. He is faithful and in his work of salvation grants us faith through the work of the Holy Spirit. He is patient with us, willing us to see ourselves for who we are, to be conscious of our consciences, and trust what he has done for us.

Having been given this trusting faith, God desires you to remain with him and seek repentance, because he doesn’t want any person to perish. God is patient, but God will fulfil all of his promises. In these last days God desires you to understand his patience, to rest in his forgiveness, and to know of his almighty power as his comes forgiving you in his word, before the last day when he promises to put all things right.

Finally hear God’s word from Saint Peter…

But the day of the lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since every thing will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation. (2 Peter 3:10-15a)