given on Sunday, December 7, 2014
Christmas is full of promises, but the promises most of us think about are what comes under the Christmas tree. With our kids clamoring about the house focused only on what they are hoping Santa brings, with the commercials promising all kinds of results, and who can forget the yummy promises of the kitchen—especially when the scents greet you as you get home and open the door to the aroma filling the house.
The promises we associate with Christmas are not the promises God made; they are the promises that we have created to our kids and even to ourselves as the season evolved into an entirely different event than what God promised in the Old Testament. The purpose of God’s promises was completely different than the promises we casually talk about today.
Consider the past, the ancient past: the people were living in the midst of pagan societies, the region was a key trading center, influences tended to feed on the very sins God warns us to avoid such as excessive alcohol, immoral sexual behaviors, unethical business practices, and the list grows well past the ones targeted with the Ten Commandments. Society was a mess.
The prophets kept warning the Israelites that they must stay faithful to God, to trust in Him. Yet, the earthly influences were real. The appeals attracted the faithful with promises, too, and they were real—you could touch them, see them, smell them, hear them, and taste them. Just imagine if we were to hear the prophet’s words today:
40 “Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
2 “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
and her sins are pardoned.
Those are the words of hope. There is a promise in those verses that lifted spirits. The promises are even spelled out in the following verses:
10 Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.
The promises are there and when the faithful felt so lost, so alone, the words demonstrated God’s love for his chosen ones. Yet, these promises were written between 930 and 586 BC—hundreds of years before the birth of the Messiah. In fact, when Isaiah spoke, it was still 100 years before Jerusalem fell which led to the exile that took 70 more years.
By comparison, promises we make today tend to have a much shorter duration. Can you even imagine how a promise we might make today would ever get anybody’s attention if it exceeded past a few weeks, a few months, or even a year? Maybe the ancient promises were too vague to bring about an immediate change. Why maybe the ancient promises are still so vague to us that we do not hear their message, either.
That leads us to the present time. And just when did the present time begin? The year on our calendars say it is 2014, and that is certainly a long, long time since Isaiah’s prophecy was written. In fact it was a long span of years before Jesus was born, almost 750 years or more.
What promises does God make now that should be affecting our behaviors each day of our lives? Has there been any contemporary prophets speaking out so we can hear the prophecy above the noise of our everyday world?
Here is the problem: I think we are living in the present. We do not perceive the present as anything more than the moment. God may think the present is a span of time that began over 2000 years ago and will continue until a time when we will meet him.
The words written in Mark were for those early Christians in Rome sometime between 55 and 65 AD:
1 This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.[a] It began 2 just as the prophet Isaiah had written:
“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way.[b]
3 He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’[c]” . . .
Even as we read these verses today, the time is now, the present. ‘Am sending’ is a present progressive verb. It tells the reader that the action began and is ongoing. The completion of God’s promise is ongoing. We are living in the present, not the past. Does our Christmas demonstrate that we are continuing to be present with God?
What is the future of Christmas? Are we living our lives in a manner that the promises found throughout the Bible will be fulfilled? Are we teaching our young people to love one another as God loved us? Do we make promises to others based on the Christian principles we practice?
As we get closer to Christmas Day and the shopping carts get piled up, do we even think about the promises God makes to us now? 2 Peter was written after the gospel of Mark, yet the message echoes the warnings we hear clear back in Isaiah, almost a thousand years earlier.
8 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. 9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
The prophecy is there. The love is there. The gift of Jesus Christ fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy as well as those of the other Old Testament prophets. And the words of the New Testament are written in the present for the future.
In fact, the God’s greatest promise continues to today as we share the bread and the cup. Jesus, shared God’s promise at the Last Supper with the Apostles (Mark 14):
22 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”
23 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant[a] between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. 25 I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”
26 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.
Today, we share the bread and the cup to renew our covenant with God. We have heard the promises God has shared since the beginning of time:
- God loves us.
- God provides for our needs.
- God is with us, always—past, present and future.
As we continue through Advent and have all the fun we do with our family and friends, remember God’s promise. The bread and the cup are the symbols of our promise to God, too. We are promising to love God and to love one another—not just today, but throughout God’s time whether the past, the present or the future.
Dear Father of all Time,
We continue to hope for love and justice whether near or far.
We offer love to one another whether family, friend or foe.
Our world swirls around us with so many temptations we struggle
to maintain our covenant with you.
Joining together to worship and to share the bread and cup
renews our relationship with you and with one another.
Thank you for your unending love that extends beyond time.
Thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
We promise through the sharing of the bread and the cup
to renew our efforts to do all that we can for all we can,
now and forever. –Amen