Saturday, December 22, 2007
December 23, 2007 4th Sunday in Advent, Year A
Isaiah 7: 10-16. Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19, Romans 1: 1-7, Matthew 1: 18-25
I don’t have to tell you that Christmas is nearly here. The signs are everywhere. If you haven’t already decorated your home, if you are going to you better hurry, time is running out. Tomorrow we will be scurrying here and there, buying last minute gifts, dragging out the punch bowl for visitors, or packing the car to travel home for Christmas.
When I think of Christmas, I often find myself thinking also of all the memories I have of Christmas. Maybe you do that too, think of the Christmases past, think of home, and of happy times. Well, I think that is fitting.
Between our Old Testament and our Gospel reading this morning, the prophet Isaiah has found a new home in the gospel of Matthew. It is revelation of the fulfillment of the ancient promise that Isaiah made to King Ahaz about the coming of God, King Ahaz who refused to seek any sign from God, but who received one anyway. Isaiah’s prophesy was about family, a sign that was as natural as living; a sign as natural as home.
Home. That is something that we all long for from time to time. Depending on your age, or maybe the place you are in your life, how you feel about home probably differs. As a young person, or a child, home may mean where your parents are, where you hang out with your family, do chores, eat meals, and have sleep overs. For those of us who have been out of our parents’ home for many years, we may think of home as the place we go to live, to rest, and to be at peace.
No matter who you are though, you have some kind of a feeling about home. If you are a person who did not grow up in a happy home, then you may have a deep longing for the kind of home you wish you had.
When I long for home, I am longing not for a specific place, or a particular time, or even a unique memory, but I am longing for love, the love of family.
I think for many of us that is true, our longing for home is about love. It is about being accepted for being who you are, warts and all. Home is where your parents welcome you…just because they’ve missed you. Robert Frost said, home is the place that when you must go there, they have to take you in.
Christmas is about family, love, and home. Deep within each of us is what someone once called a God-sized hole, one that we are always longing to fill. This week I watched a movie called Apocalypto, it is about the fall of the Mayan civilization as seen through the eyes of a young warrior called Jaguar Paw. Before his village is attacked and he is captured for human sacrifice, he listens to the wise elder tell a story about the fate of humankind.
The old one said, that one day the animals noticed that the humans were sad, and they wondered why. The wise old owl said, they were said because they were weak and poor. So each one of the animals came one by one to offer the humans a gift, strength from the Jaguar, keen eyesight from the eagle, agility from the monkey, and soon the humans had all the gifts the earth could give. But the animals noticed that the humans were still unhappy. Then the wise owl said, the humans are unhappy because things of the earth cannot make the human happy, even if he possesses everything.
Now this may be a fiction, but human life down through history seems to bear it out that even people from ancient pagan civilizations knew about the God-sized hole in the human heart that can not be filled with anything that is of the earth. Maybe they didn’t call the hole a God-hole, but it was something within humans that could not be filled.
I’m sure King Ahaz had such a longing. He needed a sign of God’s presence, one described by Isaiah to be as deep as sheol, or as high as heaven. Not so different are any of us from King Ahaz.
Isaiah told of a young girl who would bear a son, called Immanuel, which means God with us. It would be a sign to the Jews, a sign to the nations (all people), that God was with us. God, who is our ultimate home.
You see, God knows all about that God-sized hole in our hearts, the one that can never be filled with things of the earth. God knows because God created us. God knows about the longing, the desires we have for love, our need for being accepted, our yearning for contentment.
God who knew that no matter how hard we tried, no matter how many things we accumulated, no matter how good we were to try to be, we would be unable to fill that God-sized hole. God knew that we could not come home to God, so God came to us.
He came into the world, just as vulnerable as we are, with just as much danger from gestation, and primitive birth techniques, and subject to all the cruelties of power-crazed rulers, and harsh living as anyone had…to be at home with us.
God came so that God could fill up those big ole holes in our hearts, those holes that can only be filled by someone higher than the heavens and someone deeper than Sheol, someone not of this place, but someone of all places; someone not of this time, but someone of all time; someone not just of our hearts, but of all hearts. God came to fill us, to complete us, and to live with us always.
It is so easy to say, “peace on earth and good will to all people,” but it is so difficult to accomplish. It is difficult to accomplish because we all have not been filled. Some of us are like King Ahaz, who will not ask for God to do a thing. So we struggle still. We struggle with one another, with our possessions, with the state of our souls, so there is no peace.
There can be no peace until we are all home, and our longings are fulfilled, by God being with us, filling our hearts with love, grace and peace of the Holy Spirit.
As I conclude I want to share a Christmas memory with you. I remember the year I got my first bicycle. I think I was about 8 years old. It was a big bike for me, and I could only reach the pedals by standing up on them. I lived in the country, and we didn’t have any sidewalks to ride on, so my first ride was down through the yard.
With Momma and my little brother cheering on from the front porch, my big brothers started me off at the top of the yard with a push, one running along side part of the way down. I can still remember the sound of my pounding heart as I wobbled and jerked down through the grass, trying to keep that great two-wheeler upright.
My father stood at the bottom of the yard to catch me. I had not yet found out about braking. Every time I came down that slight hill, I headed right for the middle of the only small tree in the yard. No matter where my brothers started me out, I’d head for that tree like it was a beacon in a stormy sea.
But I never did hit the tree. Just about the time I was to smash into the tree, my dad would grab the handle bars and turn me aside. After about 20 times, I finally got the hang of bike riding.
Maybe I’m just being sentimental when I tell this story, I may have even told it to you before. What I love about this memory though, is not that it has the facts of how I learned to ride a bike, but I love this memory because it feels like home. I love this memory because it was my family who taught me how to ride that bike, they cheered me on, they laughed at me always going into the tree, and my dad was there to catch me before I fell.
When we know God and live with God in our hearts, our spirits are at home. God is there to cheer us, teach us, run along beside us, and catch us when we fall…cause…you know we fall a lot.
The thing that we long for about home is love, a soul-filling love, a God-shaped love from heaven who was born at Christmas. Jesus, God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus is that love.
© Judy Eurey 2007
Posted by Rev. Dr. Judy Hilton Eurey at 8:27 PM
Friday, December 14, 2007
Third Sunday in Advent - Year A - December 16, 2007
Isaiah 35: 1-19, Luke 1: 46b-55 (The Magnificant), James 5: 7-10, Matthew 11: 2-11
This week we continue into the beautiful season of Advent. These last weeks we have been hearing about how we are to be ready for the coming of Christ in our lives. Jesus himself has given us the directive to remain awake and watchful, like being ready for a thief in the night. Jesus’ call to us has shown us that we must daily place ourselves in readiness for Jesus’ coming. Last week we examined what the readiness looks like in our lives, that it is a process of repentance, of letting go of the burdens of sin and struggle we carry, and turning towards Jesus.
Our gospel lesson this week has us once again hearing from John the Baptist. So different are his words this week, than from the words we heard last week. The fiery preaching, the shouting of “Repent!” has ceased as John sits locked up in a dark dungeon by a cynical ruler.
I’m not surprised by what John is asking. There is something very profound that happens to us when our freedom is taken away, whether that freedom has been taken by the authorities, or whether that freedom has been taken by illness, depression, heartbreak or the many other difficult passages of our lives. Losing our freedom sometimes forces us to address issues in our lives that we could have been ignoring.
As John wasted away in prison, the issue that came up for him was doubt. What?! Doubt? From John the Baptizer, who knew Jesus invitro; John, who immediately knew Jesus as he stood on the bank of the Jordan asking to be baptized; John, who had lived his entire austere desert life waiting and proclaiming that the one of whom Isaiah spoke was indeed coming and was indeed here.
Yes. John doubted. He had probably heard about the ministry of Jesus, how he was teaching, about love, justice, forgiveness…how he was healing the sick, and feeding the hungry and giving hope to those who were oppressed. John also knew that the message that Jesus was proclaiming was not like his own. The expectation that the one coming would bring judgment and wrath on the world was simply not being realized in Jesus. So, John doubted.
I wonder how many times I have been in such a place; A place where I think I have it all figured out; A place where I am sure that I know exactly how God is going to work things out. And how many times have I been mistaken about God’s plan? Plenty. And of course…a nagging doubt will creep in. What was I thinking? Could I be wrong about God? Why would God act this way?
I think we can all relate to John’s state of mind because all of us have been in a place like John was in. Not in a physical sence, not in a physical prison perhaps, but in a place where we are bound down by circumstances, finances, relationships, or health issues that have us considering whether we too could have been wrong about this faith in Jesus thing.
So John calls together a bunch of his devout followers. He tells them: go to Jesus and ask him outright! Are you the one, or should we wait for another? No doubt that command from their leader John must have shaken up his followers quite a bit. Imagine if you heard that on his death bed, that John Wesley, or Martin Luther King, or Billy Graham had said, I’m just not sure I’ve been right about this thing. You better go ask someone else. Maybe I was wrong.
So off the disciples of John go and they ask Jesus. Are you the one? And now I ask: Is Jesus the one? Jesus did not tell them yes…or no. Do you find that odd? That Jesus would not just come right out and say. Yes…I’m the one. An answer like that would have made things a lot easier, for sure. But rather, Jesus answered, “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” Experience for yourself, is what Jesus was saying. Hear and see for yourself…then go and tell.
You see, I could stand here the rest of my life telling you that Jesus is the one. But unless you are ready to hear, to see, and to experience Jesus for yourself, then you will never know for sure. You will doubt, you will get in places where your feel imprisoned, and like John, you will seriously doubt.
You know, it would be so much easier for us if we didn’t get into such places. If once and for all, assurance of Christ was made crystal clear, that no amount of pain, heartache or grief could throw a shadow of doubt. Then we could just go on about our lives…happily in the knowledge of Christ. But that isn’t really what God wants for us.
God wants for us to grow some spiritually everyday. God wants us to have full assurance. To grow us though God may allow us to wake up every morning with the tiniest doubt and ask, are you the one? For we must always be seeking Jesus.We are called to make ourselves ready and available for Christ coming everyday, whether that day we feel imprisoned, or as free as the air. That making ourselves ready everyday for the coming of Jesus in our lives is a process called sanctification, a daily growing in Christ.
As we did two Sundays ago and yesterday at Mabel…tonight at Henson Chapel, we will be participating in a Christmas program. We will sing carols, and watch the children dramatize the Christmas story. The same story will be told again. The one where Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem and Jesus is born. The shepherds and the angels, the Magi from the east all coming to worship the baby king.
Someone once commented, “Good grief, I don’t want to go again this year. It’s the same story as last year, nothing is changed.” How true a statement that is. We have a story to tell, one that we have experienced not only every Christmas since most of us can remember, but one that does not change.
That story is about God and God’s great love for us. In Philippians 2, Paul says that Jesus, who being the very nature of God, did not consider that position, equality with God, to be more important than coming to us, but rather Jesus humbled himself, laid aside that glory of God. He took on earthly flesh, was born of a human being. This is Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrate, the one on whom we wait for…to come to us.
I wonder how many of us has ever experienced this. You are going to be introduced to someone new…maybe a friend of a friend. You have been told about this person, what they look like, how they act, maybe their hobbies. You know a lot about them even before you meet them. But, even so, until the day comes when you are actually introduced to them, reach to shake their hand, and speak to them…you really have not experienced them as a person.
It is the same with Christ. We tell the story of Jesus to a world who has not met him. They’ve heard a lot about Jesus, they hear about his birth every Christmas, about his death and resurrection every Easter, they witness the good and the bad behavior of his followers, and they think that they know Jesus pretty good.
But until they truly experience the person of Jesus coming to them, meeting them person to person, speaking to them in their hearts, embracing them with his love and forgiveness, all they really know about Jesus is the stories they have heard about him.
Jesus has come into the world, not so that we will have a Merry Christmas, or be able to max out our credit cards once a year, decorate our homes, or go to Grandma’s to open presents. Jesus has come into the world to save us. Jesus has come so that we can hear and see him, to experience for ourselves the true God of heaven.
Those who think they know all about Jesus from the stories they’ve heard must do like John’s disciples did, like we have done. They must meet him; they must be introduced to the person of Jesus Christ by God’s Holy Spirit. They must hear, and see him, personally, to be saved.
As those who have met Jesus, persons who have been saved by his marvelous grace, we are now like the disciples of John, we must go and tell the story, we must be Christmas witnesses empowered ourselves by God’s Holy Spirit. We must go and it…on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Amen.
© Judy Eurey 2007
Posted by Rev. Dr. Judy Hilton Eurey at 11:42 AM
Second Sunday of Advent - Year A - December 9, 2007
Isaiah 11: 1-16, Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19, Romans 15: 4-13, Matthew 3: 1-12
Here we are at the beginning of the richest part of the advent season, the second Sunday marking the halfway point. Last week our gospel lesson had a word from Jesus about being awake, watchful, and prepared to experience the coming of the Lord. This week, John the baptizer tells those who came to hear, just how to prepare for the Lord.
Paul, from the book to the Romans announces that Christ comes so that all, particularly we Gentiles, shall have hope. And from the prophet Isaiah, we have a vision of the kingdom which comes in Jesus, wolves and lambs lying together, children and snakes playing, and no more hurt or destruction. Yes we are indeed in a rich, rich part of Advent, and the good news of salvation at hand.
But, when we again listen to the words of John the baptizer, it may appear that the news he is bringing is not so good. Shouts about snakes in their midst, repentance, unworthiness, and the burning of the unquenchable fire, all of these remind me of the messages of some of the “hell and brimstone” preachers we all heard. And of which thankfully, are becoming fewer as the years go by.
You know some, or have probably have heard a few of them in your lives. They are masters of persuasion, and perfect purveyors of the altar call. These preachers seem to almost have been eyewitnesses of the fires of hell, explaining its heat, the eternally searing skin, the sulfur, the totality of suffering, all in an effort to convince people that hell is real and they are headed there, if they, at this very hour do not turn from their wicked, snake-like ways!
They’re style of preaching is of the John the baptizer school of preaching. So where is the hope in a sermon like that and like the one that John preached? The hope is found not in the preaching, but in the one of whom they preach, Jesus.
Such sermons appeal to many of us, because after all, we do not want to go to hell when we die. (some people avoid hell, by denying it) Such appeal is exactly what brought the Pharisees and Sadducees out to see this spectacle of preaching that John was doing. It wasn’t they believed that they were going to hell (they did not really have the same concept of it as we do), but they simply believed that life as a Jew in those days was a “hell” in itself. They desperately wanted the kingdom of God to come on earth and deliver them from Roman occupation and to restore the throne of their father David.
That’s what they wanted but what they heard from John was repentance. He preached that lives must be changed in order to prepare for the coming kingdom, which he called the wrath to come. Much as I want to embrace John’s entire message…there is something that needs to be cleared up. It is the idea, that we can, or are able to “clean ourselves up.” Obviously that is not an orthodox belief for us, because we believe that it is only though the Holy Spirit working in our life, that we are in any way “cleaned up.” All the washing in the world, John’s or otherwise, all the striving to be good, righteous, and holy will come to a big fat zero without God in our lives.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were the clear evidence of that. They won the prize for striving to live a holy life. In fact they were the top repenters of their day. Not only did they continually work and work to remain pure, they were insistent that every other Jew was to be just like them. Only then, when everyone had finally become pure, would the kingdom finally come.
Only, it couldn’t be done. Not by the purest Pharisee, not by the most pious of Sadducees, not by John, the ones he was baptizing, nor by any one of us. Try as we might, we just can’t be repentant, holy, or righteous in and of ourselves. We need God’s help. We need God’s grace, God’s gift of Jesus.
The holy people of John’s day just didn’t get that. I’m not certain that John himself got it either. But, there was one thing that John did get. That was that someone was coming…someone was coming who would enable people to change…someone who would enable people to produce fruit so that the repentance they wanted to do was of value…someone was coming whose cleansing of them was of God, through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
There in lies the hope. All of the hope that the people had for redemption, for restoration, for the peaceful life where wolves and lambs, children and vipers would romp together in harmony was coming in the person of Jesus Christ. John said…one is coming. Prepare, may the way straight.
We are even today making preparations. This week I put up my Christmas tree, and bought wrapping paper, and set out the nativity on the dining room server. I’m practicing Christmas carols, reading a new advent devotional, and sending Christmas greetings to my friends and family. But I have to ask myself if that is what Jesus meant when he said to prepare. I don’t think so.
According to what John the baptizer is saying, readiness for the one coming, requires repentance, a turning around, letting go, a kind of “doing-things-differently.”
Let’s imagine. If it helps you, close your eyes. Imagine that you are walking along an uphill road; it’s steep; you are carrying quite a load of stuff. You have yesterday’s newspapers, at least a month’s worth, with all of their bad news tucked under your arm. In your hand you hold the handle of a trunk of old clothes. They are favorite that you just refuse to turn loose of, even though they no longer fit you, they are out of style, and have moth holes eaten in them. The trunk weights a ton.
Up the hill you trudge, step by step, wishing that the bundle of heart aches that are strapped to your back was not so heavy. You know, those mis-placed and hurtful words you spoke to your friend, those ill feelings toward your neighbor that you constantly carry, those old addictions you can’t shake no matter how good you try to be, those ancient fears of failure and of being alone of never being healed, those broken relationships. You wished you could drop the bundle of heartaches, but somehow you just can’t let them down. But you wish they didn’t weigh so much.
Repentance. It means letting go, dropping everything, turning around. Repentance is being prepared. It’s looking to Jesus and saying, I can’t do this on my own. I can’t carry these heavy loads up this steep hill. Lord help me. Forgive me, and help me forgive; help me kick this addition that chokes me; cleanse me with your Holy Spirit.
Repentance is a prayer to God; A true action, a decision, one that is from the heart. Repentance is giving yourself up to Jesus to be washed by the only sin cleansing power in the universe, the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today I say that God is calling us all to repentance. Our repentance means that we know we are sinners, but we are ready to lay those sins down, and to turn towards the one who is coming, Jesus.
Jesus is all of our hope. Jesus is the hope of the world. And Jesus is coming to give us love, grace, forgiveness, abundant life, and peace. Life in Christ is a more excellent way of living. Thanks be to God.
© Judy Eurey 2007
Posted by Rev. Dr. Judy Hilton Eurey at 11:35 AM
First Sunday of Advent - Year A - December 2, 2007
Isaiah 2: 1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13: 11-14, Matthew 24-36-44
The beginning of the new Christian year is today, the first Sunday of Advent. We’ve lit the advent candle and spoken of God’s great love given to us at Christmas. In the lectionary cycle, we begin year A, the first year in our three year cycle. But for most of us, it seems like the end of the year. We have been conditioned through out our lives to expect the newness of a new year to begin a month from now, when the calendar flips over to January 2008. It’s confusing and sets up a tension between old and new. Is it time for the new? Or not?
Paul wrote to the Romans that their “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” To me that sounds like the end of things is drawing near and that the day we have been waiting for, the day of our salvation, the dawning of God’ kingdom, is close at hand, at least closer than it used to be.
Our gospel lesson finds Jesus teaching from the Mount of Olives. He has departed from his teaching at the temple, and in this section of the book of Matthew we find him answering some pertinent questions posed by his disciples. When is the time Lord, they ask. When will we know that the end is near?
Two other gospel writers record these same questions and Jesus’ answers to them. When the gospels were written, the Lord’s imminent return had not occurred, so it is not surprising that such interest existed in the hearts of the gospel writers about Christ’s return. As they waited, just as we do, the questions about the signs must have been as prominent in their thoughts as it is in many people’s thoughts today. Just how can we know when Jesus will come?
As you read the gospel of Matthew, along with the gospels of Luke and Mark, Jesus gives a variety of signs that the end is near: destruction of the temple, lightening, thunder, a darkened sun, a darkened night sky, falling stars, false prophets, nations rising against nations, earthquakes, famines, roaring seas, human perplexity.
When we read this list of signs, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that all the things that Jesus has said would be a sign of his coming has already happened, once, twice, or thousands of times. It feels like the end should be at any moment. It feels like the new kingdom should be appearing even today, that the clouds should burst open and the appearing of the Lord should happen even this very minute.
When will Jesus come again? It is an eternal question. In our gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that they will stand on the brink of the coming of the Lord, but even so, no one, not them, not the angels, not even Jesus himself, knows when the coming of the Lord will be.
What is sometimes hard for us is that we don’t like the idea of not knowing, do we? We modern people like to control our lives. We own day timers, day runners, PDA’s, blackberries, and all kinds of calendars, hang-on- the wall kind, electronic, and computer ones. I for one, hate to be caught off guard or forget an appointment, meeting or the like…and I think that I’m not the only one here who is like that.
Some surprises are good, but when it comes to being surprised by the second coming of Christ, we don’t like that kind of surprise. Well…too bad for us. We won’t know when it will happen, no matter how many biblical numeric formulas we figure out, no matter how many times we read Daniel and Revelation, no matter how many prophetic signs we declare, no matter what we do, we won’t know…Jesus said so.
We can certainly distract ourselves with speculation though. In fact a huge number of Christians distract themselves from work in the kingdom by continually focusing on the date, time and imminent coming of Christ. The multimillions of dollars made by Tim LaHaye on his Second Coming novels are proof of the great interest people have in this subject. He has over 25 books out now revolving around the second coming of Christ. For a fictional account, they are fascinating reading.
But we should not be taking our warning from Tim LaHaye or the dozens of other Second Coming gurus, who try to convert us by threatening us with that second coming. The warning is clear enough coming from the word of our Lord Jesus. If you notice, Jesus words to his disciples are not filled with fear, but with the hope of the second coming.
Jesus was telling the disciples that they were quite like Noah, that they would be saved. For Noah, there was no surprise when the rain drops began to fall in the desert. Noah was well prepared for what was coming. He had been busy building the ark. He had been about what God had told him to be about.
When we go back and read what God said to Noah, we find that Noah did not know when the rain would begin. God did not say, “Noah, build an ark. I going to start the rain on Saturday morning at 10:30am.” No what God said was build the boat, be ready.
That is exactly what Jesus is telling his disciples. The second coming will not happen when you expect it, but it will be happen. Jesus relates that the time will be like the moment that a thief breaks into your home…when you least expect it. In other words, you don’t know when, so take measures.
The measures Jesus wanted his disciples to take, and the measures we are supposed to take are to be ready. Be ready for that glorious day of his appearing. Watch for it. Expect it at all times. Be prepared like Noah was prepared.
Jesus has not left us alone in our preparation, but Jesus has left with us a great advocate, the Holy Spirit, who guides us to all truth. We are prepared for the day of Jesus’ second coming when we have placed our faith in Christ as our savior. Then our salvation, which comes nearer everyday, is assured.
The good news for today is this: Jesus is coming. Prepare yourself. Watch. When the rain drops start to patter the ground, and the lightening and thunder begin, be propped back on the deck of the ark of God, the great ship of Zion, living in the safety of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
© Judy Eurey 2007
Posted by Rev. Dr. Judy Hilton Eurey at 11:27 AM