Wednesday, December 3, 2014

First mid-week Advent sermon

                                                                                                Mid-Advent 1
                                                                                                Ps. 2

            As Christians, we live in challenging times – times that easily cause concern and worry.  The world has changed, and not for the better.
            Now these changes don’t occur at the same pace everywhere. I was reminded of this last week when I was in my hometown of Bloomington, IN for Thanksgiving.  My family and I went downtown on Friday night for the annual lighting of the lights.  As usual, a large crowd had gathered and as we waited for the festivities to start, a brass band was playing Christmas songs.  They were seated on a portable stage that the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department owns. Suspended behind the brass band was a banner that said in red and white: “Happy Holidays.”  As I looked at the banner, I leaned over to my dad referenced the banner and said, “Well I can tell I am back in Bloomington.”
            Now if you go downtown here in Marion at the square, you will find a very large and prominent nativity scene.  You will never find anything like that in Bloomington on public property.  Bloomington is home to Indiana University, and so in general the town is guided by the secular and politically correct ethos that dominates academia. There is no “Merry Christmas” to be found there in official settings.
            The imposition of a worldview that contradicts God’s Word has not made uniform progress everywhere – but it is advancing.  The “gospel” of tolerance and acceptance is thrust upon us all the time through the media and entertainment.  You know what it looks like as it champions the free use of sex in almost every possible way that breaks the Sixth Commandment. We are told that not even biology can limit your options, as you are free to decide what “gender” you are.  And of course this is not some discussion about an abstract problem, since our own state of Illinois has declared that marriage includes the union of two people who are the same sex.  We know that this is just one more step as the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender movement seeks to advance its agenda. This is an agenda that intends to destroy any worldview that opposes it, and will gladly use the courts and the coercive power of the government to do so.
            The world we live in now was almost unimaginable when I was Timothy’s age.  It can be frightening to think of what it will be like when he is my age.  However, fear is not faith.  It is the reaction of those who do not trust God.  Where we perceive worry and fear in ourselves, we need to confess this as the sin that it is.
            And we need to listen to our text tonight – Psalm 2. There the psalmist writes, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain. The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’”
            Yes, the nations do rage and plot against Yahweh and against his anointed One – his Christ.  But our text tells us that is all in vain.  In fact, God laughs at them.  He thinks they are pathetically funny.  Our text says, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”
            Instead, God directs them to his King, his Christ.  Our text says, “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.’”
            Then in Psalm 2 we hear from the Christ.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit the psalmist writes: “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.’”
            The description of the anointed One, the Christ, as “God’s son” recalls what God said to King David when he promised, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.”  It is this verse that we have on the banner behind me because in this promise God identified a descendant of David as the One who would fulfill his promises about salvation. 
            During Advent we are, of course, preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ in Bethlehem the city of David.  He is the One who fulfills God’s Word – both the words spoken to David and the words of Psalm 2.  He is God’s Son – not a son in an adopted sense like the nation of Israel and the Davidic king.  Instead, he is true God, begotten of his Father from all eternity.
            We prepare to celebrate the birth of this Son, true God and true man. Yet what we find is enough to make us wonder about God’s plan. The psalmist writes, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”  This is language of might and power.  Yet what we will find on Christmas Eve is a tiny and helpless baby in a feeding trough.
            If we are inclined to explain this away by saying,
“Well everyone starts out as a baby,” consider this: The words “This is my beloved Son” will be spoken as he submits to a baptism of repentance – as he identifies himself with helpless sinners.  It will be spoken again as he is transfigured in glory – now we are getting on track!  Yet this event itself takes place immediately after thie Christ has predicted his passion and death.
            During Advent we prepare to celebrate the birth of the One who comes in humility and service.  In fact he is anointed by the Spirit at his baptism and there is identified not just as the Christ, but also as the suffering Servant. He will submit to a baptism of repentance in order take our place - in order to take on our sins.  He bears our sins of worry and fear because he the Son trusts the Father completely.  He goes as the sacrifice for sin in order to give us forgiveness.  And so the One lying in the manger on Christmas Eve will hang on the cross on Good Friday.
            It is only after three days – on the third day – that we will begin to understand what happened.  It is only when Jesus the Christ is raised from the dead that we understand him to be the One in whom God has given us salvation and answered a great “Yes!” to all of his promises.   As Paul proclaimed at Psidian Antioch in the book of Acts, “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’”
            Jesus the Christ is the risen Lord who has now been exalted to the right hand of God in his ascension.  This One who arrived as a helpless baby at Christmas has now defeated sin, Satan and death for you.  And because this is true, there is no room for worry and fear.  For indeed the words of the psalmist in our text are true: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
            The One who came in humility on Christmas Eve will come again.  But as we will hear in our Scripture readings this Sunday, there will be nothing humble about his second coming. He will come as the One who breaks those who oppose him with a rod of iron and dashes them in pieces like a potter's vessel.  He will come as the risen, ascended and exalted Lord who executes judgment upon all who reject him.  But because we know him as the One who was placed in a manger and hung on a cross for us, we know that these words are true: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”                           

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