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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

He Comes to Us (various scriptures as indicated)

The following are scripture readings and meditations from the Good Shepherd Christmas Cantata, "He Comes to Us."

Scripture Readings: Steve Fine
Scripture Meditations: Robert Austell
Christmas Cantata: written and compiled by Lynda Shuler
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Audio for Scripture readings and meditations

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[Due to illness and other factors, this is an exact transcript - i.e., I read the manuscript.]

He Comes as Hope
Isaiah 59:9; Psalm 39:7; Romans 15:12

He comes as hope. That statement is full of promise, yet hope is one of the hardest things to identify or quantify. What do we mean by that? Hope is not wishing. God is not a magic genie. God is not the object of our desires but the subject of them. While it is correct, as the scriptures say, to hope in God, we can hope in God because hope comes from God. It is the Lord of hope who comes to save us. It is God’s promised salvation that is not only the root of Jesse, but also the root of our hope. And so we wait for God to act; we wait for God’s salvation.

What does that mean for us today? We no longer wait in darkness for prophecy to be fulfilled, for God’s promises have been kept in Jesus Christ. We now wait for things like prayers to be answered, recognizing that while God answers all prayer, the answer is not always ‘yes.’ We wait for the future, unsure of what it holds, yet hopeful. We can be hopeful not out of optimism or wishful thinking, but because God holds the future. Our hope is anchored in the person and character of God. Likewise, we have hope for an eternal future with God in Heaven. Again, not wishful thinking or uninformed speculation, but based on God’s self-revelation in scripture and through Jesus.

And here is the heart of hope: the all-powerful, loving, and wise God has done all that He has said He would do; and God will do all that He says He will do. Hope is not speculation or groundless optimism; it springs forth from God to all who trust God’s story of our past, look for God’s hand in our present, and believe God’s promises for our future.

In Jesus Christ, God comes to us as hope!

He Comes as Light
Isaiah 9:2; John 12:46; Book of Common Worship

He comes as light… though humanity has a love affair with darkness, perhaps because humanity has a love affair with darkness. As the Gospel of John says, “We love darkness” – we are drawn to it, perhaps like Adam and Eve to get out of God’s line of sight. And yet, it also terrifies us and creates a yearning within us. When the power goes out in the evening, the first thing we do is scramble for candles or flashlights. It’s the practical response, of course; no one wants to stumble and grope around the house in the darkness. Yet, we need to see; we need to know our place in the world. In life we are caught between our dark acts and our yearning for God’s light. Perhaps you can relate to the Psalmist, who wrote in Psalm 130:

1 Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications. 3 If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared. 5 I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord More than the watchmen for the morning; Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is lovingkindness, And with Him is abundant redemption. 8 And He will redeem Israel From all his iniquities.

That Psalm and that image of watching and waiting in the dark for the morning sun to rise is a picture of humanity waiting for the arrival of God’s light. Luke writes of Jesus:

78 … the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79 To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (1:78b-79)

The Good News of Christmas is that, in Jesus, God has come as light. The long, dark night of waiting for God’s salvation has come to an end. Oh people of darkness, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is lovingkindness and abundant redemption. He comes as light… for you. And then… through you, to others.

He Comes as Love
John 3:16-17

Through Jesus Christ, God comes to us as love. That is, perhaps, the heart of the Christian Gospel. We are not a divine experiment or a cosmic project, but the beloved of God. Every bit of God’s interaction with us – from creation to curse to revelation to law to grace to salvation and resurrection – it is all rooted in God’s loving character.

That is, perhaps, why John 3:16 resonates so deeply and is so memorable. It declares this simple truth: God loves you! And in a sentence it contains the Gospel – God loves you and this is how much! He sent His own Son into the world so that all who believe in Him will live fully and forever. God’s motive is not condemnation, but love.

This distinction becomes one of the deep challenges of the Gospel. Love is not a wishy-washy, let us do whatever we want attitude, as if that were love. We know better than that. Any parent and any child knows better. Love is, as Song of Solomon says, strong as death. And no one knows that better than Jesus, who died out of perfect love.

The Bible describes this deep and perfect love in more depth in 1 Corinthians 13. Many years ago I wrote a song that paraphrased that chapter, which describes “perfect love.”

(It is) Love that binds (together), it gives - is always kind
(It is) Love that laughs, it sees the better half
Love hopes and protects, it even corrects
Love trusts and forgives, it holds on and lives

Love never fails, It neither forsakes
Love is our gift, from fear to escape...

God has come as love through Jesus Christ. Jesus is our gift – God’s love in human flesh, given freely for us that we might live. In him, God has invited us to love Him back and know what it means to truly live.

He Comes as Joy
Isaiah 9:6; 12:3

He comes as joy! And what exactly is joy? This may surprise you – in the Bible joy is linked with obedience to God. Godly joy is what the obedient and faithful experience, particularly as we follow after Jesus, the perfectly obedient one.

And so, if today you awoke to a dark cloud of gloom and if this week wore on you like a heavy weight, turn with me to the words of scripture. If the months have stretched out in joyless monotony, listen to the words of Jesus Christ, for he comes as joy for us!

Hebrews 12:1-3
1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart

We are to fix our eyes upon Jesus - as our Savior, but also as our example, for Jesus endured the cross and its shame, and is now seated at God's right hand. He suffered for us, because of the "joy set before him." That joy was the promise of being with the Father. It was the joy of bringing us along with him, that we might also know the joy of salvation and fellowship with our Heavenly Father.

And what were the cross and its shame if not an act of obedience. In Philippians 2, Paul says that Jesus "humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Jesus obeyed the Father, fulfilling the plan of redemption God proclaimed right after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. And for Jesus, that obedience - as terrible as it was - was joy. It was the joy of doing the Father's will.

The rest of that passage in Hebrews encourages us to take heart from what Jesus did. If Jesus suffered for the joy set before him, we also can endure the things of this world for the joy set before us. If Jesus could choose the path of obedience even in the face of great difficulty, with his strength, we too can choose obedience and know the joy of being in the Father's will.

What is the message here today? It is to live in the love of God by obeying God's intent for life. That intent is found in the Bible in the words of Jesus and his followers. It is timeless and true. And living obediently before Christ and our Heavenly Father will fill us up with the joy we all long for. That is the joy that was announced, enfleshed, and offered to us through Jesus Christ.

Pastoral Prayer – Peace

Heavenly Father, receive our tithes and offerings, gladly given. Use them for the ministry and mission of this church for the sake of your Name.

Receive, too, our obedience, freely given in response to your Word and your grace. Take our minds and hearts, take our feet and hands, take our time and plans, that we might also join you in your work in this world for the sake of your Name.

We pray for those who are struggling and suffering.

We pray for…Personal prayers of the church.

Finally, Father, we pray for peace. We pray that those who do not know you might come to know you and find peace. We pray for our own battles against you – our own disobedience – that we might surrender to your wise and compassionate will. We pray for our nation and our world, for wisdom and common grace. And we thank you for your son, the Prince of Peace, who has come to announce your present reign and coming Kingdom. Come, quickly, Lord! Amen.

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