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12.09.18 Isaiah 11.5-9, 1 Thessalonians 5.16-24 An Advent Spiritual Check Up Sermon Summary

by on December 10, 2018

For those of us who live along the front range of the Rocky Mountains, it’s easy to take the biblical metaphor of the mountain for granted. The same is true of Advent.

Many of our Christmas images come from the book of Isaiah. It’s a long book written in three stages over two centuries. It addresses people in various places: People who are being threatened; people who have been exiled but on threshold of returning; and people who have returned but who are changed. These are people many of us can relate to.

Isaiah’s message to all these people, and to us, is that no matter what, God is still your God and you are still God’s people. Peace will return to you. But Isaiah also saw a future where this is true for ALL people, and even all creation.

The Christmas images come because Isaiah promised a Savior. The Savior would not be a warrior, or a politician, or a person of success by any measure. Instead, the Savior would be a child. “A child has been born unto us,” to use his familiar words; a peacemaker for the whole world.

So, Isaiah says in our passage for today, the wolves, leopards, lions, and bears (“Oh my!”) won’t eat lambs, goats, calves, or cows. And children will play near snake dens without fear. These are captivating images. And one of his favorites images is the mountain of the Lord. Here Isaiah says, “They will not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain.”

It’s easy for us who live in Colorado to take this for granted. But let us not forget that mountains where people meet God in the ancient world. Mountains reach towards heaven. And though it may take an arduous climb to summit the mountain, afterwards we arrive a place of rest and changed perspective. The world looks different from God’s point of view.

This is why our theme this Advent comes from Isaiah 2:3. “Come, let us go the mountain of the Lord, that God may teach us his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” This is Isaiah’s Advent promise. We see it being fulfilled in Christ’s coming. And we await the complete fulfillment in his promised return.

We’ve been waiting a long time. How can we keep faith while waiting? First Thessalonians is the earliest book of Newer Testament. It addresses the anxiety of waiting, as some in the community had begun to die. The Thessalonians were asking, What happens to them until and when Christ returns?

Nearly 2000 years on, we’re still waiting. What shall we do while we wait? Shall we despair, lose hope, abandon the faith? Shall we become apathetic? Shall we pursue a life of leisure and entertainment? Maybe we should explore the world, or exploit the world? Should we try to accumulate as much as we can? Shall we take up a causes? Most of us “embusy” ourselves while we wait. (I coined that word!)

Paul’s answer is none of these things. Instead, while we wait, we should “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Rejoice, pray, give thanks. Any time of year this is good advice, and in January you might set a New Year’s Resolution to do more of these things. But it’s Advent, and instead of three more things to do in this busy season, maybe think of these as brakes, as guides, as the criteria for a spiritual checkup during Advent.

What does it mean to rejoice, pray, and give thanks? First we have to deal with “always, without ceasing, and in all circumstances”! If we were actually to do this, we couldn’t do anything else! To do one precludes the other two, so they even contradict each other. Perhaps the best way to hear this is that “any time is appropriate” to do any of these three.

The easy ones are pray and give thanks. Here Paul is probably referring to intercessory prayer during which we ask for God’s help in our own lives or in others’. It’s always appropriate to ask for God’s help, and it’s never hard to find someone or something to pray for.

Giving thanks probably refers to concrete things. Think back on your day or your life. What blessings have come to you? It’s always appropriate to give thanks, and though it maybe hard, everyone can find something to be grateful for.

Rejoice is the most interesting one. Remember some people who rejoiced. The Magi rejoiced when they saw the star. Zacchaeus rejoiced when Jesus invited himself over for dinner. The crowds rejoiced when Jesus entered Jerusalem, and also when Jesus bested his opponents in argumentation. Those who reap rejoice at the harvest, Jesus says in a parable. And the Father rejoiced at the Prodigal Son’s return.

There is a sense of celebration in this word. Paul is telling us to find something or someone to celebrate and to do it!

This is Paul’s prescription for those who wait: Rejoice, pray, and give thanks. This Sunday of Advent we have come to the mountain to receive instruction to walk in God’s ways. We have been Instructed to rejoice, pray, and give thanks.

Rejoicing adds joy to our lives. Prayer reminds us of our dependence on God. And thanksgiving makes us sensitive to God’s redemptive action in our lives. Check in with these when overwhelmed, fragmented, distracted, uncentered, or lost this Advent season.

How will you remember to do this? Think of the word “repent.” The meaning of repent starts with a change in your thinking. Make a change to Rejoice, Pray, give Thanks. Changed thinking leads to different behavior. Different behavior leads to a different destination.

If you repent this Advent—Rejoice,Pray, and give Thanks—it could lead you to a different Christmas.

The Lord’s Table is an Advent able, a waiting table were “We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.” It’s also a table of repentance. Here we Rejoice in the presence of the resurrected Christ. We Pray for God’s grace to help us. We give Thanks for God’s gift of salvation. Let us come to this table in this spirit of waiting and repentance.

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