given on Sunday, December 7, 2008
Have you started counting the days? Have you wrapped all the gifts? Have you sent out your cards? Have you started cooking the treats? Have you started going to the parties? Have you stopped and read what the season is all about? Are you ready for the Messiah?
I do not think I am ready for Christmas. The lists just keeps growing and the days keep speeding past, but I am feeling the pressure so I had better stop. Unfortunately my body told me that I had better slow down, but I cannot seem to get my head to stop because I just keep coming up with more and more ideas of what needs to be done. Christmas is so close and I am not ready.
Then I find myself thinking—this has been a year of anticipation, only one year. We have spent most of our calendar year waiting on the arrival of two grandkids. What if I had been waiting 750 years for a child who would be our Messiah? Would I have been ready to know that the Messiah had indeed been born? Would I have even been ready if I had learned that the Messiah had just been born as a baby and it would be as many as 30 years before he could begin his work? Would I have been ready when I started hearing about this strange man walking around telling that the Messiah was coming any day?
I have to admit that I do not think I would have been ready. I do not know if I would have understood it at all. Here I am a cradle Methodist: born, raised, and living these years as a Methodist. We grew up knowing that Jesus was the Messiah. We hear the story of his birth every year. We were taught that all we had to do was believe that he had died for our sins. We believe God granted us grace from the day we were born. Never did we have to ask whether the Messiah was coming or not. We have never had to wait for the Messiah.
Consider this: if we were to be told that the Messiah was coming, how would we react? Would we continue to follow our traditions, go to church every Sunday? Would we conduct business like we do? Would we treat others as we do? Would we believe, after 750 years of waiting, that the Messiah was just born?
According to the Life Application Study Bible, the Messiah was “… to rescue them from their Roman oppressors and establish a new kingdom. As their king, he would rule the world with justice.” The Jews were ready for a strong, dynamic political leader, but they forgot something. The study Bible goes on to remind us “…many Jews overlooked prophecies that also spoke of this king as a suffering servant who would be rejected and killed.”
Were the Jewish people ready for the Messiah? They waited over 750 years for the Messiah. And even when he was born, many were not ready. Remember the story: The birth of the Messiah was preceded by a miracle birth of a distant cousin, John. Look again at the scripture in Luke. Here is an older priest, Zechariah, whose division of priests was on duty at the temple. Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter into the most sacred part of the temple, the Holy Place. This was not a typical day because he was one of as many as 20,000 priests who could have been called to pray in the Holy Place. Zechariah was placed there and the angel Gabriel spoke to him. I am sure Zechariah was not ready to hear those words.
11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.
I am sure Zechariah was not ready to hear those words! And then he went home to his wife Elizabeth and told her she was going to have a baby—at her age! Much less, he had to tell her without his voice because he was so shocked that he questioned Gabriel right then and there…in the Holy Place. Gabriel’s message was true; Elizabeth had a baby.
Last week we asked the question “Why a Messiah?” and we know that we needed a teacher, a healer, a live person who could demonstrate God’s love and re-establish that loving relationship between God and his creation. Today we can also ask why John the Baptist. The circumstances help us to understand the reason. Even though all four gospels tell of John the Baptist, the scripture in Mark is focused on validating the Christian story to an audience of Roman Christians. The Roman culture was accustomed to having a messenger or a herald to announce the arrival of an important figure. Without John the Baptist to announce Jesus the Messiah’s arrival, the Romans would not have been ready. Jesus’ arrival out in the stable would have been completely unimportant.
Hear the words from Mark knowing the importance of John the Baptist:
1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2It is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
3″a voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ”
4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Mark returns to the Old Testament and includes Isaiah’s prophecy that a messenger would come before the Messiah. The Jewish people had been waiting a very long time and should have been ready. The Romans were learning the heritage of their faith and needed to understand the story. The connection Mark makes is to establish the validity of John the Baptist as part of the fulfillment of God’s promise. The Romans did not have to be ready for the Messiah, they had to accept the Jesus as the Messiah in a manner they understood.
Today, we are more like the Romans than we were the Israelites. We are not still waiting for the Messiah, we know Jesus was born and fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. The question is: Are we ready to accept the Messiah in our lives and live as God taught us by giving us his only son? I may be a cradle Methodist, but I seem to need Christmas every year. Every year I go through the preparations, make the lists, get all stressed out, and go to church. Every year, I need to stop and ask do I accept the Messiah as my Savior. Every year, I need to read the story. Every day I need to pray that my life follows God’s will and that I demonstrate my acceptance of Jesus Christ.
This morning our traditions include communion. Some might think it rather odd that communion would be included as part of the Advent season, but I see the connection. Advent begins our preparation to accept Jesus as our Savior. Communion serves as a reminder of how a birth ended in death in order to give us eternal life.
The sacrament of communion is based on the ancient practice of sacrifice long before Christ was born. The faithful offered sacrifices to God as a means of honoring him and continuing their covenant with God. The loving relationship between God and his human creations was broken. Repeatedly God tried to tell his people to follow the laws. Repeatedly the people failed. God tried to start all over with a flood, but even then the people failed.
God spoke to the prophets who told the people that a Messiah would be born and they should be ready. For hundreds of years, God did not give up on his creation. For hundreds of years, the faithful followed the laws. For hundreds of years, humans strayed away from the laws and broke the loving relationship with God. Then God did send Jesus as the Messiah. He sent a small baby into a world filled with faithful and unfaithful followers in order to reestablish the loving relationship between God and humans.
A small baby, born into a family of faithful followers, had to grow up and learn about life just like each and every one of us does. A small baby grew up and led a world of followers into a new covenant with God. The new covenant is one of love. No more blood sacrifices. No more total destruction. No more broken relationship with God.
Today are you ready for the Messiah? Today communion is a reminder that God did send his only son so that all who may believe in him shall have eternal life. Today communion is a small symbol of the human experience that Jesus, a man, had to endure in order to fill us with God’s love. Jesus had to be born of man, had to grow through childhood, through the teen years, and into the man we know through the scriptures.
Jesus, as man, was a healer and a teacher. Jesus, as man, had emotions. Jesus, as man, took life and lived it just like we do each and every day. And Jesus, as man, suffered. He was ridiculed. He was taunted. He was hungry and tired. He was lonely. He was wrongly accused and crucified.
Jesus, as God, knew all this. Jesus, as God, stopped at the Last Supper and broke bread with his disciples. Jesus, as God, used the bread to tell his disciples that he was with them always and the bread that he broke with them was to represent his life as man given for us. Then he raised his cup and told them to drink from it because it stood for the blood shed for them. The elements, bread and wine, are all that we needed to confirm the new covenant with God. No longer are blood sacrifices be needed.
Are you ready for the Messiah? Are you ready to remember God’s sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ, the Messiah? Are you ready to commit yourself to maintaining that loving relationship with God? Are you ready to share the story of the Messiah with others so they may have that loving relationship with God, too? Are you ready to use Advent for the true reason…preparing for the Messiah?
Join me at the Communion Table as we remember the reason for the season. Join together as we hear the words of the great institution …
Pour out Your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood.
By Your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world
until Christ comes in final victory, and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
Through Your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in Your Holy Church,
all honor and glory is Yours, almighty Father, now and forever.
(During the service this is when the elements are distributed.)
Dear Heavenly and Loving Father,
We have been so busy with holiday affairs and daily living that we have failed to remember the reason we celebrate Christmas. As we leave your table and your sanctuary today, help us to remember that the Messiah did come years ago. Help us remember that we are in a loving relationship with you. Help us remember that you have done the work for us so all that we need do is believe.
Thank you, Father, for loving us. Thank you for caring for us so much that you joined us here on this earth to show us the way. Thank you for your patience with us as we stumble and fall. Thank you for sending us all the other believers who step in and help when we do fall. Thank you for sending your Messiah so let our Christmas honor him. –Amen