Monday, December 3, 2018

Advent 1 "Look Down The Road”

Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10,1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, December 2 2018

I’d like to start this morning with a quote from Calvin. Not John Calvin the great reformer but Calvin and Hobbes, the comic strip. In the particular one I’m thinking of, Calvin speaks to Hobbes and says: "Live for the moment is my motto. You never know how long you got."

In the second frame he explains "You could step into the road tomorrow and WHAM, you get hit by a cement truck! Then you'd be sorry you put off your pleasures. That's what I say - live for the moment." And then he asks Hobbes: "What's your motto?"

Hobbes replies: "My motto is - Look down the road."

Look down the road.” Such is not a bad theme for the first Sunday in Advent. Our brief reading from Jeremiah was one that encouraged us to look ahead. Encouraged us to look beyond the present and to a future filled with possibilities.

Fact is that the situation in which Jeremiah wrote these words was anything but hopeful. The Babylonian army were laying siege to Jerusalem. Jehoichin, a King in the Davidic line had been replaced by a puppet king called Zedekiah. There was trouble within and without the nation and Jeremiah in previous chapters has warned that it was going to get worse before it ever got better.

Yet he doesn’t leave it there. He says, “Look down the Road.” Beyond these troubled times there will come a time when God makes things right again. It won’t be the same as it ever was. Though based upon what has past it will be something new. And it will be the Lords doing. Jeremiah 33:14 “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

Look down the road. The promise will be fulfilled.

As we look down the road towards Christmas, expectations, particularly among the young ones, can run high. As an old English carol proclaims, “Tis the season to be jolly, Fa La La La Lah, La Lah Lah Lah.” The Christmas celebration provides a welcome break in the dark days of winter. It’s theme of “Joy to the world” is a message seldom proclaimed among the hullabaloo of every day endeavor.

It is easy to become cynical about the materialism and gross excess that seems to parody the genuine message of Christmas spirit, but as Charles Dickens marvelous character “Mr Scrooge” reveals to us, to not allow room in ones life for celebration, even when it takes place in circumstances of desperation, is a soul destroying attitude of life to adopt.

Look down the Road. Jeremiah 33:15” In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David”.

We know about King David. That whilst he wasn’t the perfect King, he nevertheless had one thing that set him apart. He had a heart for the things of God. Now before David ever came to the throne, before even his predecessor Saul had become Israel’s first King, the prophet Samuel had warned the people that having a King wasn’t necessarily a good thing. His words had proved sadly true.

Many of the kings had led the people into the destructive worship of foreign idols. Others used their positions for selfish gain and advantage, and had depended upon military strength rather that in trust in God to get them through. In all of Israel’s history after David, only five kings in the Southern Kingdom, and none in the Northern Kingdom were remembered as being even marginally faithful to God.

Some of the people began to yearn for one who would be a worthy successor to David. Hezekiah had looked promising, but then his son Manasseh had negated much of the good he achieved. Josiah had come along with his reforms and message of renewal, but he died a sudden death.

As the nation faced the calamity of defeat and destruction the longing for a righteous royal deliverer grew more intense. Though the people knew they had fallen from God, there was also the recognition that God was faithful, and that all those promises made to Abraham and Moses and David were promises that could not be erased by the sins of the people, but had a power that remained in force. Look down the road. God would redeem God’s people! God’s promises were solid as a rock. A righteous branch would spring up from David’s line.

This was far more than just being a promise that some earthly king would come along. To the people of Israel facing an immanent catastrophe, this was a promise to them, that no matter what, God would remain faithful. It is a message about God’s faithfulness in the face of failure and despair. It shows that God is committed to God’s people, in spite of their disobedience, in spite of their failure, in spite of their sinfulness.

This morning we lit the first candle on the Advent Wreath. The candle of hope. Let’s face it, these aren’t the brightest days. Violence and unrest stalk the land. The world is still a place of famine, war and suffering for many of it's inhabitants. Questions as to the future are perplexing.

On a personal level we can face family illness and troubles of many and various kinds. Some days are just plain difficult, and it takes a good dose of holy grace to carry us through. At such times it is hard to look down the road, because the crisis of the moment takes away our vision for the future.

Yet here’s the thing. If the Advent message has nothing to say to these situations life throws at us, it could be that the Christian Gospel is the emptiest hope of all. It seems to me that our belief does not make us immune to life’s troubles, rather that it is our faith that informs us and carries us through the hard times.

It is the nature of Christian faith that sometimes the road gets tough. Sometimes it’s not our fault, but often times it is. We mess up. We make bad decisions. We sin and are sinned against. We are offered the best way and we take the easiest. We know what’s right yet time and time again choose the wrong.

Furthermore, even when we are faced with the consequences of our actions, we are more likely to complain and plead innocence rather than admit defeat! Was this not the situation of the people of Jeremiah’s day? ‘Yes we’ve been unfaithful, yes, you told us that if we didn’t change our ways, trouble would be coming, and yes, we know it’s about to hit us hard, but you know Lord? We just couldn’t seem to help ourselves!’

What were Jeremiah’s words of hope to these hopeless ones?
Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safely.
And this is the name by which it will be called:
The LORD is our righteousness.
(Jeremiah 33:16)

Did you catch those last words? ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ I’ve heard it suggested that the way God justified people in the Old Testament era was different to the way God saved them in the New. That the old way was the way only of the law, whilst the New Testament is all about grace.

Not so with Jeremiah! Jeremiah’s only hope for the people of Israel and Judah was in the saving act of God. “Look down the Road.” You’ve tried again and again to save yourselves but it’s just not in you. The sky is dark and your enemies are at your door, but this is not the end of the story. God will redeem God’s people. Your salvation is in God’s hands. The Lord is your righteousness.

God did indeed raise up a righteous branch from the line of David. As we look to celebrating the birth of Jesus, in David’s town of Bethlehem, we see the birth of new hope into the worlds darkness, a hope we are called to make our own.

It is to Jesus Christ that we are called to turn for our salvation. He alone can be our righteousness. He alone has the power over sin and death and hell. He alone can renew life and restore life, lift up the fallen, forgive the sinner and bind up the wounds of those who need healing. His joy enriches the laughter of God’s faithful ones and His tears sanctify the tears of those who mourn.

When I’m faced with the hard times, it seems that the faith God offers to me as a gift, has a habit of rising up and taking control. It’s when I try and suppress that reliance upon God, when in my pride and foolishness I think I can get through on my own or could do better without God’s interference, then I fall.

I’m so thankful that I have a God who just won’t give up on me. I’m so thankful that my destiny is not dependent on my own works but upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ. I’m so glad that I have a Savior who calls me to “Look down the road.” To see that, even in times that are not filled with light, there’s something good just a little further away than I can glimpse right now.

Living one day at a time’ is not the same thing as ‘Living without a care for tomorrow.’ Jesus encouraged us to live life in day-tight compartments, particularly as we never know what may be coming around the next corner. At the same time He also suggested that we “Watch and Pray.” That we dream dreams and envision possibilities. That we trust in God our Father to take care of those things we can’t fix for ourselves.

Look down the Road
For those who put their faith in Jesus Christ, There’s something good in store.

It kind of puts me in a Christmas frame of mind. Recapturing that feeling of not knowing exactly what Santa had left under the tree, but knowing it was something good.

I remember one Christmas years ago being taken to my Grandmothers. I had deep questions, like ‘Had my parents left Santa a forwarding address?’ We got there and I caught the measles. But it was O.K. I’d asked Santa for a cowboy suit, and on Christmas Day I put it on over my pajamas, and everything was fine. There had been something good down the road and it had given the nasty bits of the journey a new perspective.

Now didn’t Jesus say something about having the faith of a child?
Look down the Road.
Thanks be to God.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D

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