Friday, May 22, 2009

Sermon III: The Advent of Deliverance

The Advent of Deliverance
Ian “Ivan” Hyde
Nov. 30, 2008 – Youth Sunday/First Sunday of Advent, Year B
First Southern Baptist Church of Pasadena, CA

  • Good Morning! I hope you all will excuse me if I have a gruff voice this morning; I’ve had a pretty decent sore throat the last couple of days. Also, if I sit down halfway through this sermon it’s ‘cause I’m being weighed down by the 20 lbs. of turkey I ate on Thursday.
  • Now that Thanksgiving is finished, people begin to look toward the next big holiday, Christmas. Many of you have already started dragging your Christmas trees and decorations out of garages, basements and attics and a few of you have probably spent a super frustrating half hour untangling Christmas lights. But in the midst of scrambling for gifts and digging up old recipes, there’s a church tradition that often goes overlooked, but in the last couple of years since my wife and I first started celebrating it, it has been one that I’ve found is a great way to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth. This is the tradition of Advent.
Crying Out for a Messiah
  • Christians began celebrating Advent around 1700 years ago as a time of preparation, repentance and fasting before Christmas. It was meant to represent the long Jewish history of waiting for the Messiah to come, to deliver Israel from its enemies and oppressors. It represents a period of groaning and lament over the strains of this life, the injustices we see and feel. During this time, Christians are called to open their eyes to the suffering of the people around them, the suffering in their own lives, and the consequences of their own sin. We are called to see that even Creation groans under the weight of our sins and calls out to its God for help.
  • And believe me, our sins are many. We lust, covet, take what we haven’t earned and bind ourselves to addictions. I don’t just mean addictions to drugs or alcohol (although they are major problems in our society), I also mean addictions to sex, tv and trends, anything that will give us instant gratification and keep us from having to engage relationships with those around us, relationships that take a lot of work and self sacrifice. We live in a world where we devastate the natural beauty God entrusted to us and instead of loving each other, we enslave our brothers and sisters. In fact, there are more slaves in the world now than there have ever been. And I am sure in the midst of all this, that my sins have been the worst of all.
The First Advent
  • So, in the midst of our bondage we cry out to God the same words Isaiah wept 2,500 years ago, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” [Is. 64:1] But here is the good news in all this, and not just good news, great news! God has ripped apart the heavens on our behalf. He broke the wall down that separated us from Him. The God of Heaven is also the Savior of the Earth; because, as John says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.[John 1:14] This Word that became flesh is our Deliverer.
Example: This actually reminds me of something that happened to me a number of years ago. I was with a group of guys trekking in New Mexico. We were hiking from campsite to campsite each day, and on this particular day we had an especially long hike in front of us. I was the leader of our group and I had a different guy read the map each day. Well this time, we lost the trail and when we found it again we followed along for hours but without finding any campsite. As the day wore on, we scrambled over rocks and through streams as we climbed mountains, ridges and valleys.
Day turned to night and it began to rain… hard. Our hands became like clay and our fingers were numb. Our legs ached and burned and we had run out of food and clean water long ago. When I had called a two-minute standing break, I walked forward a little bit to gather my thoughts. Then, in the distance I saw the faint glow of some lights, but when I looked down my head spun and I thought I was gonna puke. I wasn’t three inches from a good 40 ft. drop straight down. The glow was still far away, and there was no way I could see to get down the precipice. In desperation I crumpled to the ground and deep inside, cried out to God for help.
Just then I saw another glow in the woods, but from a different direction. As I looked, I saw it was moving closer and I jumped up and down, hollering at the light as it came. The other guys musta thought I was crazy, ‘cause they hadn’t seen it yet. But one by one their eyes brightened and they began yelling too. It turns out, the people at the campsite we were supposed to go to sent out a search party after we didn’t show up at dark. They led us safely back along a trail we had missed and when we got back, they took our packs off our tired shoulders, set up our tents for us and led us into their cabin. There they fed us as much spaghetti, meatballs and garlic bread we could eat and as much cold Kool-Aid we could drink. It was by far the best meal I’ve ever eaten. And then we were able to lay down to sleep in peace.

  • The point of that story is that even in the midst of impossible challenges, when we are the most tired, the most worn through and we feel there is no way out, we can still cry out to God and He will deliver us. I am a living testament to this. Whether battling heat exhaustion in the jungles of Honduras, weeping over the victims of AIDS and malaria we prayed for in Africa and over the homeless and forgotten ones God has let me care for in my own country, or facing the threat of death as we snuck bibles under the noses of armed soldiers in Pakistan, God has always been there and is always the Faithful Deliverer.
  • And this brings us to the true heart of Advent. Advent isn’t just a time of groaning and lament, because God hasn’t left us to wallow and die. God has become flesh and delivered us from the consequences of our own sin. God removed the nails of sin that pierced us and bound us to our own death and instead placed them in His own hands and feet. When we remember this, we realize that Advent isn’t just preparing us to celebrate Christ’s birth, but just as integral to its meaning is the importance of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. God has heard our cries and smashed to pieces the enemy of death that would keep us from Him.
The Second Advent
  • But Advent isn’t just a time to remember our sins and how God delivered us from them at the Cross, it is also a time to look forward to the promise we have that He will come again. In fact, this is what the Latin word “adventus” means. It is a translation of the Greek word “parousia” which means “the arrival” or “the coming” of God. God didn’t simply do the job at the Cross, then leave us to our own fates. He has promised that the Resurrection of Jesus is a foretaste of what is in store for all who will believe. Just as John the Baptist was commissioned by the Word of God through Isaiah when he said, “A voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” So we are also called to be voices for the Gospel in the spiritual wasteland of our culture, ever ready and prepared like a soldier standing guard.
  • Because I promise you this, God is coming very soon and the Kingdom of God is already here. [Luke 17:21] We, as the Church, should not be caught sleeping, lazy or undisciplined. Just like soldiers we are to train ourselves: in the Word of God, in prayer and fasting, and in living the Gospel by loving each other and our enemies, even as we love ourselves. In this way, we will be ready for Christ’s sudden return, and in the meantime we will be prepared to face any trouble, suffering, injustice or persecution that comes our way. So let us prepare ourselves, train hard and fight the injustices we see enslaving the weak and helpless in society, all as we carry the light of the Gospel, the truth that Our God is the Only One who truly delivers, who truly gives freedom.
  • As we conclude, let me draw your attention to the Advent wreath I’ve placed on the altar. Each candle represents a Sunday during Advent, today being the first, which is why we only have one candle lit so far. The candles are purple to represent the royalty of the Christ that has been given to us and who we are waiting for again, but the purple is also meant to represent the robe Jesus was forced to wear as the soldiers beat Him before nailing Him to the Cross, and as such it is meant to draw us into repentance for the sins He redeemed us from. The fourth candle is a candle of joy as we draw ever closer to the second Advent we await, and the last candle in the middle represents both the day of Christ’s birth as the first Advent and the day of the final Resurrection as the second. Surrounding all this is the wreath, which represents the ever present encircling of God’s grace and deliverance, which is made readily available to us.
  • Now, as we sing the hymn, “Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” on page [ ] of your hymnals, if you haven’t yet come to Christ to lay down your burdens and the things that make you tired, deeply and to the bone, then please come forward and do it now. You have no idea the freedom Jesus brings until you experience it yourself. Jesus himself makes a promise to us when he says in Matthew, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” [Mt. 11:28]
  • And even if you have come before God before, believing that Jesus’ death and Resurrection are enough to save from the punishment of sin, but you still feel tired and worn down, or frustrated that your life seems out of control, then come forward and believe that Jesus will fulfill His promise and shoulder the burden for you.

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