Given Grace to Give Grace

Given Grace to Give Grace

December 22, 2019*

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 7:10-16                            Matthew 1:18-25                               Romans 1:1-7

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to know the future?

Sometimes it might be a good thing.  When we’re going through difficult and challenging times it might be nice to know that things are going to turn out well for us.  When we worry about our children or grandchildren, it might be nice to know that they will eventually find their way, get an education, find a good job, and become responsible, productive, people of faith who love God.  Certainly, if we knew what the stock market was going to do next year, or even next week, we could make a lot of money.

But, on the other hand, would you want to know that your difficult and challenging times were only going to get worse?  Or that your children and grandchildren were not going to find their way?  Would you want to know the future if it was full of bad news?  Probably not.  And that’s exactly why Israel’s kings usually cringed whenever the prophets of God came to visit them.  God’s prophets had a reputation of only showing up when there was bad news and were sometimes thought of as harbingers of doom.  King Obadiah called Elijah the “troubler of Israel.”  God’s prophets knew that it wasn’t popular to know the future if the future wasn’t filled with good news.

And that’s a part of what is going on in the story we’re about to read, as Isaiah shares God’s words with King Ahaz of Judah in Isaiah 7:10-16.

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

Ahaz remembers that the people of God are not supposed to put God to the test, and that is so ingrained in him that he won’t do it even when God asks him to do it.  God tells Ahaz that he will accomplish whatever it takes to prove to him that the things that Isaiah is saying will truly happen.  But, since Ahaz refuses to ask for such a sign, God names one instead and says that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” 

Now, if you think about that for a minute, Isaiah’s prophecy sounds a little weird if the only meaning is the one that we remember at Christmastime because a that wouldn’t have answered King Ahaz’s question at all.  But, many of God’s prophecies had not one, but two meanings and two fulfillments.  The first would be one that made sense in the immediate future and the second would make sense in the more distant future.  This is one of those times.  The first meaning was that a young, unmarried woman, quite possibly a woman that both Isaiah and King Ahaz knew, such as the woman who was betrothed to Isaiah, who we would think of as Isaiah’s fiancée, and future wife, would, in a short amount of time, become pregnant and have a baby.  The second meaning, of course, is the one with which we are more familiar and that is one that became understood as something that would happen with the coming of Israel’s messiah.

And so, in this passage, God promises Ahaz that before Isaiah’s baby is old enough the choose right from wrong, traditionally about 12 or 13 years old, those who were attacking him, the kingdoms of Aram and the northern tribes of Israel, would come to an end.  And, while that sounds like good news, if you read the rest of that passage it quickly becomes clear that this is one of those times where things are going to get worse before they get better.  But, in any case, the second meaning is God’s promise of a messiah who would rescue his people for all time.  And it is that fulfillment that we see in the story of Matthew 1:18-25 where we hear these words:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Just as God had promised to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, the rescuer of humanity, God’s messiah, is born to a virgin.  But Joseph was terrified.  The woman to whom he had been pledged in marriage was pregnant and it was clear that he wasn’t the father.  At that point, Joseph had three choices and none of them were particularly good.  Since having sex before marriage was prohibited under the law of Moses, and it would seem obvious to most people that this is what Mary had done (since that was the ordinary way in which pregnancy happens), Mary would not only be seen as violating the law, but also as bringing disgrace to her family, bringing disgrace to Joseph’s family, and also breaking the contract that bound the two of them together. 

Joseph’s first option, under the law, was to publicly humiliate Mary and announce what she had done, and possibly even have her stoned to death (although that rarely, if ever, actually happened).  The second choice would be to quietly divorce her on the grounds that she had already broken the contract between their families.  The third choice was probably the worst choice of all, and that was to go ahead with their marriage.  This option would bring disgrace, humiliation, and financial hardship to both of their families, and would make Joseph, his father, and all of his family look stupid for going ahead with a marriage to a woman who had violated her promise even before their wedding. 

But even though all these choices seemed like bad ones, Joseph, being a nice guy, thought that he would choose the one that was the least damaging to everyone.

But God had other ideas.

God tells Joseph, in a dream, not to be afraid, that Mary had really not slept with anyone else, that the child she was carrying was actually the child of God and would become the one who would rescue God’s people from sin.  And when he woke up, Joseph did what God told him to do and in doing so, models for us some of the best characteristics of God, God’s people, and humanity.  In order to do what Joseph does requires extraordinary trust, abundant love, a mountain of faith, a pile of forgiveness, a large measure of grace, and more an ample amount of hope.

But what is it that we should take away from these stories?  How does the story of Christmas guide us as we live our lives in the twenty-first century?  And, even though he lived two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul understood a part of that answer as he wrote to the church in Rome as we see in Romans 1:1-7.

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds everyone in the church that the Gospel message, the story of the messiah’s birth, death, and resurrection, was a story that God promised, through the prophets, hundreds of years before it happened.  It was because of God’s love for us that he created a way for us to be rescued from our own selfishness and sinfulness.  Just as Joseph rescued Mary by taking her home to live with him, just as Joseph chose hope, love, and grace, so did God.  Just as Joseph showed mercy and grace to Mary, God showed mercy and grace to us by sending his Son to rescue us.  It is through Jesus Christ that we received these gifts from God and, Paul says, because we have received these gifts from God, through Jesus Christ, we are, in turn, called by God to share this Good News with the rest of the world.

Paul is clear that the message of Jesus Christ was never just a message for the Jews, but has always been a message for the Jews, the Gentiles, and for the entire world.  And while I am sure that Paul didn’t intend for this to be Christmas message, it certainly is one because when Paul says that the Gentiles are being called to belong to Jesus Christ it reminds us of this:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:8-10)

Good news.  For all the people.

We have been given grace, so that we might give grace to those around us, to the people we love, to the people we fear, to the people we hate, to the insiders, to the outsiders, to the connected, to the outcasts, to citizens, to foreigners…

…to everyone.

The world would not have heard the message of Jesus if Joseph didn’t have enough faith and trust in God to show mercy and grace to Mary.

And two thousand years of history hasn’t changed that.

One of the clear messages in the story of Christmas is that we are called to share God’s mercy and grace so that everyone around us can hear the message of Jesus.

As we leave this place, let us remember that we are God’s agents of grace.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

December 15, 2019*

(Third Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 35:1-10                             Matthew 11:2-11                               James 5:7-10

What feelings come to mind as you think about Christmas?

What emotions get stirred within you?

Most of us immediately begin to think of gamily gatherings around the Christmas tree, and opening presents, and families that get along with one another and are reunited at Christmas time.  For many of us the Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds about right when it says…

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Tidings of comfort and joy sounds like a good summary for our feelings as well as for the message of the Christmas story.  And, quite often, that’s close to the truth for some of us.  Naturally, there are those among us whose childhoods were not idyllic, or who are struggling with unemployment, or homelessness, or divorce, or any number of other things that tend to make our emotions complicated.  But the message of scripture reminds us that Christmas itself, although filled with “good news of great joy,” is also more than just a story of comfort and joy. We begin, once again, with the promises of God given through the prophet Isaiah.  (Isaiah 35:1-10)

35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah declares that the coming of the messiah will be a time of gladness, rejoicing, and joy and compares it to rain in the desert that brings hidden flowers to bloom which is, once again, a symbol of resurrection with life exploding out of what looked lifelessness.  But while Israel waits for the coming of the messiah, Isaiah urges them to “be strong, do not fear, your God will come.”  Be strong, be patient, because we worship a God who always keeps his promises.  And then, in verse five, Isaiah shares the memorable words that Jesus would use to reassure an imprisoned John the Baptist.  Jesus uses these words of Isaiah to tell John that he is indeed the messiah that God had promised.  We hear that story in Matthew 11:2-11:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

The Messiah had come, John the Baptist announced his arrival, but John was not experiencing comfort and joy.  Instead, he was rotting in prison.  I’ve visited the site where John is reputed to have been imprisoned, and whether that’s the actual site or if it was remotely similar, it was basically just a cave with bars on the door that would be cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and would probably have pools of water on the floor whenever there was a hard rain.  And in that environment, John begins to worry that Jesus isn’t doing the things that he thought the messiah was supposed to be doing. 

But rather than reassure John that comfort and joy would be coming soon, Jesus simply tells John’s followers to say that Isaiah’s words were being fulfilled.  The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are healed, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  The messiah had come, but that didn’t guarantee that the suffering of the world was going to end (just yet) or that John, or anyone else, was going to find comfort and joy.

Jesus then speaks to the crowd and declares that John is the greatest prophet, indeed the greatest human being, ever born in Israel or anywhere else.  And yet, John would endure suffering, imprisonment, and death before he received any kind of comfort and joy.  How do we make sense of that?  If the coming of the messiah was the fulfillment of God’s promises, why don’t God’s people find the comfort and joy we thought we were supposed to get?  At least a part of the answer comes from James, the brother of Jesus in James 5:7-10 where we hear this:

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The coming of the messiah is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end.  James says that it’s like a farmer planting crops.  The seeds have been planted but now we must wait for the harvest.  While we find comfort and joy in knowing that the crops have been planted, we still must wait, patiently, until the harvest.  In the same way, we are comforted in knowing that God has already begun to fulfill his promises.  The messiah has come.  We do find comfort and joy in the story of Christmas.  But, at the same time, just as a farmer must wait for the rain, we must continue to wait patiently for coming of the messiah.  On that day, we will receive unimaginable gifts of comfort and joy, but until then we understand that life will still be full of discomfort, pain, and suffering.

Our calling, today, is to be patient, not to grumble, but to care for one another. 

Be patient.

Stand firm.

Because the Lord is near.

“Fear not then”, said the Angel
“Let nothing you affright
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might”
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Be Prepared

Be Prepared

December 01, 2019*

(First Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 2:1-5                Romans 13:11-14                   Matthew 24:36-44

 

Everyone knows that the motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared.”

As a scout, and as a scout leader, that phrase was often drilled into us not only as a motto, or as a cute saying that you would repeat from time to time, it was instilled in us as a lifestyle.  We were constantly encouraged to think about what was needed, what unexpected thing might happen, and to be prepared, in advance, so that we would be able to cope, adjust, and overcome no matter what happened.  As winter, or other foul weather approached, one of our scout leaders often said, “There is no bad weather in scouting, only scouts that are unprepared for the weather.”  But it went farther than that, our troops constantly emphasized the need, and the importance, of knowing things like knot tying, first aid, and CPR because you never knew when you might need them.  Knowing such things have often proven to make the difference between life and death for someone.  Many former scouts and scouters, decades after their time in scouting, still carry a pocketknife, or a can opener on their key ring, or a Leatherman.  You can almost bet that these are the people who carry jumper cables in their cars and have a first aid kit under the front seat.

But as wise as the advice to “Be Prepared” is to a scout or even to the general public, did you know that this is also the command of God as it relates to our spiritual lives?

As we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, which is known as the celebration of prophecy, we are reminded that there is a consistent message throughout scripture, that warns God’s people to be ready for the end of time and the day of Judgement.  We begin in Isaiah 2:1-5 where God’s prophet tells of the coming Messiah and a time when he will judge the nations.

2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah says that “in the last days” God’s temple would be built (or rebuilt) and all the nations of the earth will come to worship him.  And, in addition to declaring that all nations would come, Isaiah also says that many peoples, not many people, but many peoples would come.  Written in this way, the word “peoples” is understood to be an amplification of what was described as “all nations.”  “Many peoples,” can therefore be understood to not only mean the people representing many nations, but also the people from many races, tribes, ethnicities, and other groups who have been absorbed by larger nation states. 

Isaiah warns the people that there is a day coming when God will judge the nations and the people of the earth, and he concludes by saying, “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord.”  Which is, I think, the same as saying…

Be Prepared.

But with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, his followers, who were familiar with the judgement described by Isaiah, wanted to know when that would happen.  But rather than tell them when, Jesus said that no one knows except God. (Matthew 24:36-44)

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus explains that the coming of the last days and the final judgement would be a surprise to everyone just as the destruction of Noah’s flood caught everyone (except Noah) unprepared.  Jesus said that it would be like two people working side by side and one was suddenly taken away without warning. 

Jesus explains the point of his own story by saying that because the judgement will be so unexpected, we should all keep watch just as the soldiers who guard the city stand watch all through the night.  Soldiers never knew when the enemy might come, and their job was to always be prepared for the day that an attack might happen.  Likewise, we must keep watch for the return of Jesus, for the end of days, and for the judgement of all humanity.  In other words…

Be Prepared.

And then, a few dozen years later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and after the Spirit of God entered into his people at Pentecost, rumors would occasionally circulate that the end times had already begun.  Some people attempted to draw people away from the church to some “new” religion by preaching heresies that Christ had already returned.  And so, in that environment, Paul writes to the church in Rome about the end times, but as is often the case, Paul’s emphasis is to answer the “so what” question.  Paul wants the people of the church to know how our anticipation of God’s judgment should change the way that we live.  (Romans 13:11-14)

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So, let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul’s message is that “the hour has already come.”  Meaning, it already time to quit coasting.  There is no time for us to procrastinate.  There is already less time now before the return of Jesus Christ than there was yesterday.  The return of Jesus Christ could happen at any minute.  The time for us to stop living in darkness is now.  The time for us to start living like children of the light and as the followers of Jesus Christ, is now.  The time for us to change the way that we live, is now.  Instead of living lives that are indecent, or are spent in wild parties, or illicit sex, or in arguing, or jealousy, now is the time for us to live the way that Jesus lived and do the things that Jesus taught.  Instead of living lives that revolve around satisfying our selfishness, excesses, passions, and lusts, we are called to live lives of restraint, decency, so that the world can see Jesus in all that we are, and in all that we do.

Paul wants the church to understand that people who are genuinely convinced that Jesus Christ might appear at any time, should live so that in the moment of Jesus’ return, he might find us busy doing Kingdom work.

In other words…

Be Prepared.

The call of the ancient prophets, and of Jesus, and of Paul is emphatic and consistent.  The end of time, and the Day of Judgement is coming.  That moment is nearer now than it was at the time of Jesus, or Paul, or at the day we chose to follow Jesus.  Jesus could return at any moment.  And so, as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent and we hear the voices of the prophets, of Jesus, of Paul, and all of scripture, we must also hear the question that is implied by every one of those voices.

Are you prepared?

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Roadmap to the Future

Roadmap to the Future

October 27, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Joel 2:23-32                2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18          Luke 18:9-14

 

Have you ever gone on a long car trip as a passenger and, somewhere along the way, fell asleep for a while?  It isn’t bad when you’re going somewhere that you have been before or taking route that is familiar to you.  But if you are going to an unfamiliar place or traveling a road that you haven’t been on before, then the sensation that you have when you wake up can be a little disconcerting.  Upon awakening, you find your self wondering, and even asking, “Where am I?” and “How did we get here?”

But as we go about our daily lives, we sometimes have that same disconcerting feeling and we wonder, spiritually, where we are and how we got here.  And so, although I have preached similar sermons before, and likely will again, our scriptures for today offer us a link from the past to the present, and offer advice and guidance, a roadmap if you will, as we travel toward the future.  Our past, found in the Old Testament and heard through the voices of the prophets, reminds us of where we have been, the promises of God, and the wisdom of the ages.  The Gospels remind us of how those prophecies were fulfilled, and other books of the New Testament, such as Paul’s pastoral letters, offer us advice and guidance on how we might live our lives in a strange and confusing world, in a way that honors God.  These are the three sources that we will visit today as we learn the past, live for today, and plan for the future.  We begin by remembering the words of the prophet Joel as he addresses the nation of Israel in the aftermath of a natural disaster, a famine, that was caused by swarms of locusts that destroyed all of their crops and left both humans and animals hungry, starving, and searching for food.  (Joel 2:23-32)

23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
    because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
    the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

28 “And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance,
    as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
    whom the Lord calls.

Joel begins with a reminder to all of us that the rain, and our food, come to us through the blessing and the faithfulness of God.  In Joel’s understanding, the locusts were God’s army and were sent to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness but also as a reminder that God is in control and constantly nearby.  Joel teaches that after a time of repentance, that God would restore Israel’s fortunes, along with her food.  As I read through the first part of this passage, there were two things that struck me.  First, because it is God that sends the rains and causes the crops to grow, our calling is to be thankful when these things are in abundance.  And second, because the restoration of Israel was a promise that had not yet been fulfilled, I also see a call for God’s people to have hope as we endure times of hardship.

The second half of this passage should have sounded familiar to most of us, because, beginning with “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” these are the exact words that we hear quoted by the Apostle Peter as he speaks to the crowd on the day of Pentecost.  Peter announces that the promise of the prophet Joel is being fulfilled on that day, even still today and, as we understand it, will be completed the end of time.  Joel and Peter declare that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” and this becomes the work, not only of Jesus Christ, but also of his church on earth until his return.

I think that Joel emphasizes thankfulness in times of abundance because our temptation to cry out to God when things are bad, but forget him when we are living in abundance, is real, ancient, and common.  In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who were in the temple to offer prayers to God.  But while the average listener would have expected the Pharisee to be the hero (because they were  perceived as being godly), and the tax collector as the villain (because they were seen as traitors), we are instead surprised to find that the man who appears to be blessed by God is actually distant from him, and the man who appears to be distant, is much closer than we might have imagined.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

And so, the message for anyone who would follow Jesus is clear, if we have real faith, and if we desire the real blessings of God, then we have to walk the walk.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we must see our place in the world with humility and see the people around us the way that God sees them.  Just because we are living in abundance doesn’t mean that we should take any credit for the blessings that we have been given.  Likewise, just because others may not seem to have the things that our culture values, position, power, fame, glory, popularity, money, and so on, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love them or that they are not, in fact, much closer to God, and his blessings, than we are.

But what about the future?  If we struggle to see people the way that God sees them, then what difference will it make?  What purpose will it give our lives?  And for at least one glimpse into the future, we can look to the end of Paul’s life as he is imprisoned in Rome and facing eventual execution, and there he writes his second letter to his young protégé Timothy. (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18) 

Paul says,For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Paul writes that he can almost feel his life flowing out of him as he rots in prison and waits for his execution.  But even as he approaches the end of his life, he knows that he did well with the life that he had, he fought a good fight, and pressed hard all the way to the finish line.  Paul knows that the rewards of God are waiting for him and will be awarded to him, and to everyone who looks forward to the second coming of Jesus, on the day of Judgement.

But even at the end of Paul’s life, even as he sat in prison, even as he was abandoned by his friends and  faced trials, God continued to give him strength so that he could accomplish his mission and continue the mission that we all share as followers of Jesus and members of his church.  Paul’s mission, and ours, is to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ so that everyone, including the outsiders, the tax collectors, the sinners, and everyone else that we are tempted to dismiss and discount, might have the opportunity to hear it.

Paul’s message to Timothy is largely biographical but is also instructional.  We are called to dedicate our lives, even at the end, even when we are faced with insurmountable trials, we are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people around us.  For Paul, that meant, as he sat in prison and appeared in court, he was sharing the story of Jesus with inmates, guards, administrators, lawyers, and anyone else that he encountered, possibly even Caesar himself.

The witness of Joel, Jesus, and Paul remind us that following Jesus is not something that we do once during a church revival, or at the altar of the church, and assume that we’re done with it.  It isn’t a box that we can check and say that we’ve finished.  Following Jesus is a totally transformational lifestyle, a roadmap for life, that keeps us involved in the world around us and on mission, all the way to the end of our time here on earth. 

Joel calls us to live well in thankfulness and humility whether we are living in hardship or in abundance.  Jesus calls us to walk the walk every day, to remember that it is God who has blessed us, and to see the people around us the way that God sees them.  And Paul call us to rely on God for strength so that we can stay on mission, even in times of great hardship, even at the end of our lives, and finish well.

May we all, no matter where we find ourselves on life’s journey, be transformed into the lifestyle of Jesus, and follow his roadmap for our lives.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Costly Love

Costly Love

December 23, 2018*

Fourth Sunday of Advent

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Micah 5:2-5a              Luke 1:39-45              Hebrews 10:5-10

Love.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and today is set aside to remember love.  But if there’s one thing that anyone knows about love, its that love isn’t always roses and unicorns, sweetness and light.  Sometimes love is painful and not at all like a sappy Hallmark Christmas movie.

But in particular, because this is church, and because we’re celebrating Advent and the birth of Jesus, the love that we’re talking about is God’s love, and the love of Jesus.  And for that, we begin this morning with the prophet Micah who lived and proclaimed the words of God between 750 and 686 B.C.  And in his writings, Micah tells of a king, a rescuer, whom God would eventually send to reunite the Israelites. (Micah 5:2-5a)

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace.

Seven hundred years before the Christmas story unfolds, Micah says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem and hints that he will be a descendant from the line of King David.  But more curiously, Micah declares that the origins of this coming king are from ancient times.  He is, he will be, a ruler who has been known throughout antiquity, perhaps reminding God’s people that he is the rescuer that the prophets had been writing about from the very beginning.

And it is this rescuer, redeemer, messiah, and king that Micah describes as someone who will stand up for his people and protect his flock through the strength of God.  He is the one who will bring security, greatness, honor and glory to his people.  And it is this king who will finally bring the one thing for which everyone had been praying for thousands of years.  Peace. 

“And he will be our peace.”

Fast forward seven hundred years and in Luke 1:39-45 we read these words:

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

From the moment that Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she knows, as does her unborn son John the Baptist, that Mary’s son will not only be a blessing to God’s people but will also be their king.  Elizabeth knows that it is through Mary, and through her son, that God has chosen to fulfill his promises to his people.

But so, what?

Of course, keeping promises is a good thing, but what difference does it make to us two thousand years later?

And we can find the answer to that in the letter written to the people known as the Hebrews.  Scholars have argued whether the author of this letter is Barnabus or possibly Apollos who travelled with Paul, but in either case, this is what he says about the coming of Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-10.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
    I have come to do your will, my God.

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

First off, we are reminded that Jesus was quoting the words of King David and Psalm 40 when he spoke about God’s displeasure with the sacrifices of his followers.  Although those sacrifices satisfied the requirements and the specifications of the Law of Moses, they weren’t what God wanted because, although the people were performing the ritual, they were not doing the will of God.  It is as if the people were performing an act of the mind, but not allowing God to reach their hearts.  Beyond that, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus came to set aside the entire sacrificial system so that he could establish the will of God as the new standard of obedience.   The result, the “so what,” was that where God’s people were once periodically and repeatedly purified, temporarily, through the sacrifice of animals and other offerings on the altar of the Temple, we have now been purified and made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once, forever.

So, you see, the difference that this makes two thousand years later, the “so what,” of the Christmas story, is the greatest gift that God has ever given to humanity and the most expensive gift ever conceived.  The coming of Jesus, and his sacrifice, death, and resurrection are the gift that brings perfection, purification, and holiness to us imperfect, impure, unholy, and altogether messy human beings. 

The coming of Jesus, son of David, the Prince of Peace, and Lord of lords, is the fulfillment of every prophecy written about the messiah for two thousand years.  The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a gift that was and is unimaginably expensive, horrifically painful, and inconceivably wondrous, and it represents the epitome, peak and pinnacle, the very embodiment…

…of costly love.

 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

A Righteous Branch

Christmas-treeA Righteous Branch

December 02, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 

 

 

Jeremiah 33:14-16                 Luke 21:25-36                        1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

 

Hope.

As we begin the season of Advent today the word we remember, and the word that we will repeatedly encounter, is… hope.

But that the same time, we remember that the first Sunday of Advent is traditionally celebrated as the one in which we remember the contributions of the prophets of old.  These two themes are inextricably intertwined because it is in the prophecies of old, and in the faithfulness of God, that leads us to have hope for the future.

That may seem to be a little vague, but let’s begin with the prophecy and the promise of God found in Jeremiah 33:14-16 where we hear these words:

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

We remember from last week, that God’s promise, his sacred covenant, with King David, was that one of his descendants would rule over the people of Israel in righteousness forever.  And now we hear Jeremiah say that God intends to keep that promise, that God is raising up a righteous branch from David’s family tree, a man that would do what is just and right, so that Judah and Jerusalem will live in safety.  Jeremiah also tells us that God has named that man, that righteous branch, the Lord, Our Righteous Savior.

Who else could this be but Jesus?  And as we begin our preparations for Advent and Christmas, it seems especially obvious that this must be Jesus.  But when we realize that this is Jesus, then we also remember that God has been faithful and has done what he had promised to David, to Jeremiah, and to the people of Israel.  You see, it is in remembering the faithfulness of God that we discover hope.

It is in remembering the faithfulness of God that we discover hope.

 But how?  How does remembering the past help us to have hope?  And the answer to that is found in reading the words of Jesus found in the New Testament, but today we specifically look at Jesus’ words to the disciples found in Luke 21:25-36 where we hear this:

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Jesus, the Son of Man, promises his disciples that that there will be signs that will precede his return to the earth and people who are alert and watching for those signs will know, just as we see the signs and know that spring is coming, we will know that his return is near.  But Jesus doesn’t just declare that he will return, he proclaims that when he comes, he will return, not as a suffering servant that obediently submits to torture and crucifixion, but with power and great glory as a conquering king.

But what does he mean when Jesus says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.”?  Part of our problem in understanding comes about because we started reading in the middle of the story.  In the beginning of the conversation, the disciples were marveling over how beautiful the temple and the surrounding buildings were, and Jesus said that soon all of them would be torn down with not a single stone left upon another.  And so, as we read this part of that conversation, Jesus is explaining that the destruction of the temple was so close at hand, that most of them would live to see it.  But we can also understand that the coming of the kingdom of God begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is because, as you will remember from last week, we have been called to be a kingdom and priests. 

The kingdom of God is not just something that will come on the day of judgement at Jesus’ return, the kingdom of God is something that we do every day.  With the resurrection of Jesus, the kingdom of heaven has been planted on earth, and it is up to us, every day, to live like Jesus, to become more like Jesus, and to make the world around us more like heaven than it was the day before.  It is up to us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to speak for the voiceless, and intervene for downtrodden and the abused and to, as much as possible, make our community, and our world, a better place.

But what would that look like?

In 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Paul has both kind words, and a prayer for the church in Thessalonica.

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Paul compliments the people of the church by saying that he and the others who have ministered there are filled with joy in the presence of God because of them.  They are so proud of what the church is doing for the kingdom of God, and they would be blessed by God simply by knowing that they had played a part of leading the church in that direction.  But Paul’s prayer for the church is that they might be able to return and teach them even more.  And Paul also prays that God would make their love for one another, and for everyone around them, increase and overflow.  That God would strengthen their hearts so that the people of the church would be blameless and holy in the presence of God.

Paul was proud of the work that the church was doing but his prayer was that the people would so filled with love, that the love of Jesus would overflow into the life of the church, but also into the lives of their community and everyone around them.  Paul’s greatest prayer was that the church would become so much like Jesus, that they would be blameless when they stood in the presence of God.  Just as Jesus was raised up as a righteous branch from the tree of David, we too are called to be a righteous branch growing up in the midst of the chaos of our world.

So, you see, God made a covenant with King David that one of his descendants would rule over the people of Israel in righteousness forever and, as he always does, God kept his promise.  And just as God made a promise to David, Jesus has made a promise to each of us.  Jesus has promised that he will return, not in suffering, but in triumph.  But while we wait, we are called to do the work that Jesus began, to be Jesus to the world around us, to be so filled with his love that our love overflows into the lives of one another and into the lives of the people in the community, and the world, around us. 

It is a message of promises kept.  It is a message of prophecy fulfilled, and prophecy yet to come.  It is a message that even today fills the people of God, that fills us, with purpose.

It is… a message of hope.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

An Advent Invitation

advent-candles

We are, once again, entering the Advent Season.  Advent literally means the arrival of someone, or something, of great importance, but for us it is more than just marking the calendar to make note of his arrival.  We all know that our celebration of Jesus’ birth is on December 25th, but still, we deliberately set aside four weeks, and four Sundays, prior to that for special recognition and celebration?

But why?

We set aside time, because we are creatures of habit.  We get in ruts, we get stuck in our routines and habits, and we tend to live every week in the same pattern as the last.  If we allow ourselves to do that at Christmas, then Jesus’ birthday will get overrun with the busyness of the ordinary and ordinary is the one thing that it should never become.

Instead, we set aside Advent as a season of preparation just as we set aside Lent as a season to prepare for Easter.  For four weeks, we remember and reflect on the many aspects of the Christmas story.  We remember the shepherds and the angels, Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Anna and Simeon, and finally, the arrival of Jesus.  Each of the characters of the Christmas story have something to tell us and we can be shaped by God as we learn from them.

I hope that you will join us on this journey of preparation.  Oh sure, you can just pop in on Christmas Eve and feel as if you’ve worshipped, but then you’ll have missed the greater message.  You could save a lot of time if you only watched the last ten minutes of Star Wars or Casablanca or Gone with the Wind.  But while only watching the climax of the story may inform you how the story ends, it doesn’t carry you along on the journey, it doesn’t inspire, it doesn’t stir your emotions or let you feel the passion of the story.

To say that you have experienced these films and been changed or shaped by them, you need to watch the whole thing, often more than once.  We watch them, and we imagine ourselves as a part of the story.  We take the time to put ourselves in the place of the characters and imagine what it would be like to live through the story as they did.  Good movies, and good books, do all those things to us and this is the story that surpasses them all.  This is the greatest story ever told.

And so, I invite you to join us on an Advent journey as we prepare our hearts for the arrival of the King of kings.  I hope that, if you can, you will commit yourselves to worshipping with us, not just on Christmas Eve, but every week during this sacred season of preparation.  Allow yourself to be drawn into the story, to experience its drama, its emotions, and its passion.  I promise that if you do, you will experience a Christmas Eve, and a Christmas, that will be more deeply meaningful, more passionate, more life-changing, than you will ever find possible by simply skipping to the end of the story.

Won’t you join us on this amazing journey?

Blessings,

Pastor John