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Friday, December 24, 2010

Quiet and Soft and Slow (Philippians 2.5-8)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 24, 2010
Some Music Used
Winter Snow (Audrey Assad); Sung by Maddie Shuler

Quiet and Soft and Slow
Texts: Philippians 2:5-8

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Tomorrow morning is Christmas morning. In past weeks we’ve talked some with the children about the giving and receiving of gifts and how that can be seen as a reminder and extension of God’s gift-giving love. In addition to being an expression of love, gifts are also wonderful because of the surprise factor. While kids big and small may look around for weeks before Christmas to catch a glimpse of a gift, most don’t really want to find out until Christmas morning.

God’s people had been waiting for the Messiah for a long, long time. They knew that God loved them and was faithful, and that one day Messiah would come. While they did not know the timing of his coming, they were pretty sure they knew what they were getting. The Messiah was going to be the descendant of King David, returning as King over Israel to once again establish God’s people in the world. This was the gist of their prayers as we saw last week in Psalm 80. And this was the expectation of many in Jesus’ day, as described in the Gospel stories when people wanted to make him king.

But the Messiah didn’t come the way people thought he would. And later, he would not behave or preach the way people thought he should. That was one of the huge surprises, and even one of the great obstacles concerning Jesus. God’s gift was not what we expected, though it was the very best gift, given out of perfect love, wisdom, and grace.

And while I might only speak of the ancient Israelites awaiting the Messiah, or the people of Jesus day with all their hero-expectations, we come at God with our own substantial set of expectations that are not so far from those ancient people. And so I want to speak of us all together as we ponder the gift of God.

We want the gift we want, not the gift God is giving. We want our answers to our problems and we want them quick. We are frustrated by God’s timing, God’s answers, and God’s silence.

We want a splashy gift – big and bold, thunder and lightning; we want a miracle for the problems we can’t see around.

We want a sweeping gift that covers all situations, all circumstances, all problems – like some sort of cosmic band-aid.

And when the gift comes, like the child whose parents give the first two-wheel bike instead of this week’s fad, we miss the significance and the durability and the depth of the gift we’ve received, wanting the quick fix of what we didn’t. And we put on a fake happy face or we pout or we just miss the significance of what has transpired.

People expected God to raise a man to greatness. Instead, God condescended to live among us. That’s a strange word to use, but it literally means “come down with” – and that’s what God did in Christ… Emmanuel, God with us.

In the scripture passage from Philippians, we read of the character and quality of God’s gift in Christ, who “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of men.” This is what happened at Jesus’ birth: he set aside his divine rights to be born of a woman into this world, into time, as a baby. No thunder and lightning there, just a young mother, the straw of a manger, and all the frailty of infancy. Later, in his adult ministry, Jesus would still turn aside from earthly power – he further “humbled himself,” says Philippians, “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

While there are times God shows up BIG, those are the exception rather than the rule. Scripture speaks most often of a God who speaks in whispers or comes to the last and least. We are told again and again to “wait on the Lord” and “trust in God” and to “rest in the Lord.”

This suggests several things if we want to understand and receive God’s gift in Christ.

We must be willing to trust God’s gift-giving ability, that God knows better than we what we need most.

We must look and listen for God’s whisper of direction or response or comfort. I don’t know about you, but I have way too much noise in my life to do that well. So whether that means simplifying or setting aside time and space to be still before God (or both!), we may miss what God is doing because of our failure to tune in.

We must not make God into a genie in a lamp, answering wishes for our every need, or a cosmic band-aid, but as Scripture says, a “very present help in times of trouble.” This winter and spring we are going to study the story of the Exodus. If there is one great lesson there, it is that God doesn’t rescue us out of life, but leads and delivers us through it.

God is indeed the great and perfect gift-giver, for those who have the eyes and ears to receive it.

What if God is already speaking in your life? What if God is already acting, but in a way that is quiet and soft and slow? Will you hear Him? Will you see Him?

The Good News is that God has given you the greatest and perfect gift in Jesus Christ, born this Christmas morning. Welcome, receive, and open up what could be your greatest Christmas gift ever. Amen.

Winter Snow
By Audrey Assad

Could've come like a mighty storm with all the strength of a hurricane
You could've come like a forest fire with the power of heaven in Your flame
But You came like a winter snow, quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night to the earth below

You could've swept in like a tidal wave or an ocean to ravish our hearts
You could have come through like a roaring flood
To wipe away the things we've scarred
But You came like a winter snow (Yes, You did);
You were quiet, You were soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night to the earth below

Oh, no, Your voice wasn't in a bush burning
No, Your voice wasn't in a rushing wind
It was still… It was small… It was hidden

You came like a winter snow, quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night to the earth below
Falling (Oh, yeah) to the earth below
You came falling from the sky in the night to the earth below

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