THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO BE HAPPY…ALWAYS

12.17.17

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1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

 

When Mandy and I were engaged, we went through premarriage counseling with one of my professors at the Seminary.  It’s something I ask all engaged couples to do.  It’s just a good idea before you get married to take some time and learn from the one who created marriage, how it is going to work out well in your life.  During that class, I remember a list of instructions and encouragements.  And one of the items was: avoid “always” and “never.”  Those two words don’t lead down a good road for a marriage.  They are hyperbolic, exaggerations.  Sometimes you could say “them be fightin’ words.”  They go to the extreme and make a situation worse than it actually is.  You say something like, “You are never home when you say you will be.”  “You always forget to change the toilet paper roll when it’s empty.”   In reality, you were home late 2 or 3 times last week or you forgot to restock the toilet paper roll once or twice recently.  When you use words like always and never, it’s not quite accurate and it heightens tension.

In this section for God’s Word today, the Apostle Paul is giving some instructions in this letter that he first sent to a group of Christians in Thessalonica.  These are quick phrases, almost like Paul is running out of room as he gets the end of this parchment or scroll.  “Pray continually. Give thanks! Don’t quench the Spirit…”   And right there at the beginning is “Rejoice always.”  He uses one of the sweeping hyperboles that you just shouldn’t use.

He has to be exaggerating, right?  There is no possible way that God would have Paul write down in the Bible that we need to rejoice always, be happy all the time.  Doesn’t he know what kind of world we live in?  Maybe he doesn’t understand the kind of 21st Century problems that are consuming us day by day:  mass shootings, bigotry, political divides deeper than the Grand Canyon, financial insecurity, bullying, suppression against all types of races and religions, sexual harassment and abuse, the promiscuous and immoral ideologies about sexuality, the idolization of Hollywood, the greed, the lust, the hate – shall I go on?  When Paul wrote this, it was a different time.  It must have been an easier time.

Well, the same kind of people who put Jesus to death were still trying to remove his name from the earth.  That meant wherever they heard rumblings of houses or gatherings where Jesus was being preached and taught, there they were to threaten, pressure, put down, and persecute.  How would you live if you knew being here might mean you’d would have a target on your back, you could lose your job, your house could be vandalized or burglarized, your family could be in danger, or worse?

Or is Paul one of those guys who is telling this fledgling group of believers and us that we should spend a day in his shoes?  Is he saying, “You have those little problems.  You can imagine what I’ve been through.  I’ve been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, shackled so many times.  I’m literally in danger wherever I go.  I cannot escape the price on my head.  Seriously, you guys should just relax and count your blessings.  You guys should be content that you don’t have it like me.  You have every reason to be happy. You guys should enjoy your life.  Rejoice always, because you have it pretty good.”

Is this just a Paul thing?  Is he the only Bible-writer that thinks we can “always look on the bright side of life?” Actually, Peter says something pretty similar: “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ…”  It’s in the Old Testament, too: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.” And “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Even if this is day where you are facing a huge mess, even if you are in the lowest point of your life, it’s still a time to be happy.  Jesus, himself, had this to say, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad.”

The whole Bible is full of this kind of language, and every time you come a cross it, does it make sense?  In every circumstance, all the time we are supposed to rejoice?  How is that possible?  How can I rejoice when I don’t understand what is going on in my life, or when I don’t know how to do what is asked of me, when I’m not sure what the next stage has in store, or when my beliefs might get me in trouble?  “Rejoice always?  Tell me how.”

Maybe it’s not a bunch of questions that come to mind when you hear this, but it is the heaps of past unhappiness.  God says “rejoice always,” and the guilt starts to weigh you down because you can probably remember a whole bunch of times when rejoicing and happiness was the last thing on your mind.  You don’t have a smile on your face when the kids are being less then helpful.  You don’t have a smile on your face when you see the gas prices rising.  You don’t have a smile on your face when you see the lines at the store or someone in the line behind you is the chatty type and you have a headache.  You don’t have a smile on your face when you or a loved one gets a tough call from the doctor.

Is that type of stuff a sin?  In light of these words, “rejoice always,” is it a sin to be sad, to deal with depression, to be grumpy, or to react negatively?  Our knee-jerk response would be, “No!  You’re speaking metaphorically.  You are using a hyperbole.  You’re exaggerating.”

But don’t be so quick to say that.  If I’m sad because I have come to the realization that I am not in control of my life, then my sadness is a symptom of a sin called idolatry.  I want to be in control, I want the power, I want to be the god of my earthly life, which means God has to take a back seat.  That sadness is breaking the first commandment.  If I’m sad because someone else is causing me pain and “what in the world is wrong with them and I wish they would just stop or I wish I could shut them up for a while,” then my sadness shows that I’m not loving others as I should.  I’m not being the humble servant God wants me to be.  If I’m sad because my life is not as easy as them and “I just wish I could get ahead and have a few of the things they had,” then my sadness shows that I’ve got some greed and lust and coveting in my heart.  In these situations, God’s Word shows us that we have some work to do.

We can also turn this encouragement into an oppression that never allows real joy.  Instead, we just feel the pressure. “If I’m a Christian I always have to be happy.  I always have to have a smile on my face and tears are not allowed.  I have to prove my faith with my joy.”

But God had Paul record this, not to be an oppressive law to follow or to heap a load of guilt onto our shoulders, but for one main reason.  God wants to draw attention to the improbable and impressive gift we have from his loving heart.  In fact, this gift is so incredible that it can cause rejoicing and happiness every minute of every day God gives us on this little third rock from the sun.

The one way to rejoice always does not come from the physical blessings I have (or the ones you are hoping to have in 8 days).  It does not come from the other sinners taking up space next to me for a few decades on this little third rock from the sun.  Rejoicing does not come from the triumphs and success I have produced with my skills and efforts.  Rejoicing does not come from the positive emotions that swell so much I just can’t keep them in any longer.  The one way to rejoice always comes from the one who is with us.

Do you ever see those videos of a soldier coming back from duty?  The wife and kids are jacked out of their minds to be with their dad or mom again.  Do you think that soldier who is a father of two kids that are finally in his arms is upset or sad at that moment if he finds out all his luggage is lost?  Not a chance.  He his rejoicing because of who he is with.  Do you think those kids are bummed out because of a bad grade or bullies at school?  No.  They are rejoicing because of who they are with.  To rejoice always is not so much about positive emotions or favorable circumstances, but it’s about who is with you.

This time of year is an overwhelming reminder of who that is.  It’s not a funny snowman.  It’s not a jolly man from the North Pole.  It’s not an elf on the shelf.  It’s not a red-nosed reindeer.  It’s not Clark Griswold or Ralphie Parker.  This advent tune we just sang tells the story.   Rejoice! Rejoice!  Immanuel shall come to you oh Israel.  You have a God who came here to be with us, even in the rotten, sinful world, he came to be here with us so that we could be with him forever in heaven.  That song reminds us that Jesus once came to be with us to save us from our unhappy wretchedness, to save us from our sinful sadness, to save us from an eternity of doom and gloom.  He was happy to do it, not because you earned it with your sunny disposition or positive outlook, but because of he loves you that much and he wants to be with you.

Isn’t that reason to rejoice every day and always?  Your God came to be with you and promised to never leave you or forsake you until he returns to take you home.  That makes a merry Christmas.  That makes a Happy New Year.  That makes a gleeful Groundhog’s day.  That makes ever single day of your life a day of rejoicing.

And how does that rejoicing take shape?  Today, Paul is not advocating that in every and any circumstance you are ready to burst into the Hallelujah chorus.  But…but, the God who is with us gives us endless opportunities to rejoice always.  Maybe it’s your disposition, how you carry yourself and how people would describe your attitude and temperament.  Maybe it’s your volunteerism.  Maybe it’s your giving heart.  Maybe it’s your positive encouragement.  Maybe it’s your patience and loyalty. But we all have a way, in our own God-given way, to rejoice because God is with us in every single situation you have ever been in and every situation you will ever face in your entire lifetime on this little third rock from the sun.

And so if the day comes where you have to call me to the hospital, rejoice always because God is with us with the gift of his Son.  If you are looking at the impending December 24th with a little anxiety because this is the first one where grandpa or mom isn’t there, rejoice always because God is there with his assurance that not even death can separate us from his love in Christ.  When you are sulking in the darkness of your sin, when you are overcome with the thought that God might not be on your side, when you are hard-pressed with guilt, rejoice always because God proved he is with you when he left heaven for a feed box, for a brutal death, for an empty tomb that opens heaven for, as Paul says, even the worst of sinners.

Today, this is not hyperbole and exaggeration.  You and I have reason to rejoice always because it is not dependent on us.  After all these final instructions, do you recall how Paul ends this section?  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  If you want to know the one way to be happy always, it’s right there:  God is with us and always will be.  Amen.

 

 

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REPENTANCE THE RIGHT WAY

12.10.17

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Mark1

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way” 
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ” 

4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

When you use a tool the wrong way, what do you expect to happen?  I wanted to make some venison burgers on Friday night.  I was told it’s a good idea to mix a little pork with it first, so I got out our KitchenAid mixer and the meat grinding attachment.  I had used it before, so I started putting it together and grinding some of the pork and venison together.  But as it was going I started noticing some dark spots and it wasn’t shooting out the meat very well.  Mandy came in and asked, “Did you put it together right?”  “Yeah, of course I did.  I’ve done this before.  I know what I’m doing.”  Then, she shows me the spinning piece for the front of the grinder that I forgot to put in.  I had to throw that little bit that did make it through away, because those dark spots were little metal shavings or lubricant that got mixed into the meat because I was missing a piece.  When you use a tool the wrong way, what do you expect to happen?

You’ve done it before.  I’ve done it.  I’ve certainly seen it plenty.  When you have kids, it seems like they will try to make anything work.  I’ve seen Issy and Lute use some of their toys for a whole bunch of different purposes other than just playing.  We expect these kinds of things to work, maybe not as well as it could, but it will at the very least get the job done, so we think.  Then, when it doesn’t happen or someone ends up hurt, you realize that you should have just taken the time to use the right tool the right way.

Advent is all about Christ’s coming.  It’s about preparing for him.  So, getting ready for Christ’s coming means you need to have the right tools and you need to use them the right way. That thought came to mind as I studied the Gospel for today.

People need the right way to get ready for the Christ.  Back then and still today, we could never come up with it on our own.  When it comes to spiritual life, can a person ever legitimately think, “I’ve got this covered.  I can take care of my spiritual life the way I want to with my own abilities and my own thoughts?”  No, if God is the Spirit and he is one who gave us ours, then we need what he gives to keep us spiritually strong and healthy people, especially as we get ready for Christ’s coming.

Do you know how that process works, to be strong, healthy, and fit?  Let’s just talk about it physical terms first. It takes the right tools used the right way.   And it might hurt.  I’m in the middle of that hurt right now.  A few weeks ago, because I was not doing my best in the realm of fitness and health, I started up a workout system called Insanity.  It’s an insane cardio, death-defying 45 minutes 5 mornings a week.  It’s not what a lot of people consider fun.  It doesn’t feel good.  My muscles are being tugged and torn, so that they can be rebuilt.  My lungs are screaming.  My heart is pumping upwards of 180 beats a minute at some parts.  But that’s how you get better.  Combining that kind of regular exercise with healthy foods and, voila, I’m healthier, stronger, and fit.

But it’s not easy. This training system is not telling me what I want to hear.  What I want to hear is, “Sleep in and eat a bunch of donuts and bacon all morning.”  What I want to hear is, “Go ahead and have a third helping.  And when you get done with that, how about some ice cream?”  What I want to hear is, “You will be fine if you just do whatever makes you happy.”

Now, if that’s not how it works when you want to get into better physical shape and be healthier, do you expect that to work when it comes to being spiritually healthy?  Can you expect good results when you don’t have the right equipment, or don’t use the it the right way?

Like I said, God is the only one who can give us the path to a healthy spiritually life, and God is the only one who can show us the right way as we get ready for Jesus’ coming.  That’s what he was doing with a man named John.

Now, John was a recluse who lived in the desert, ate bugs and wild honey, and wore a camel hide around (and I don’t think he was trying to start a new trend). God gave them someone very unexpected.   And John’s job was just as unexpected. His job was not to tell people what they wanted to hear.  His job was not to be a cheerleader for whatever they already had going.  His job was to prepare them God’s way, a way they didn’t expect. Sometimes he said things that the people didn’t want to hear: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” As we get ready for Christ’s second coming, God still gives us a message that is sometimes hard to hear.  “Straighten out!” he says.

When it comes to staying fit, we want to hear, “Eat the donuts and bacon and sit on the couch as much as you want.  You don’t need to push yourself.  You don’t need to go through the pain and exertion.”  But what do you expect will happen when you listen to what you want to hear?  You’re never going to lose those extra pounds.

Spiritually, when you want to be fit and ready for Christ, you can’t always listen to what you want to hear.  God has somethings to say in his Word that might hurt a bit, but it is for our good.  He is straightening us out.  He’s getting us stronger and spiritually healthier.

When he tells us that our devotional life, prayer life, or worship life is sporadic to the point of damaging our faith and the faith of our children, it hurts.  When he tells you or he tells me that my offerings are a meager reflection of what he has blessed me with, that hurts.  When God says that my actions and attitudes are supposed to be a bright, shining light in this world and when he looks he asks, “Why are you living like a child of darkness?  Why, when I listen to the words coming out of your mouth, do I hear praise and cursing?  Why, when I see your actions, do they not resemble the good things I have prepared for my children to do?  Why, when I look at your heart, is it darkened with selfishness and negativity?” – that hurts because I know it’s true.

But that’s not the end of it.  The hurt leads us somewhere.  God does not just want you to hurt and that’s the end.  It’s like a workout.  The diet and exercise done the right way doesn’t end in pain.  The pain in your muscles and the pain of saying no to some of your favorite foods leads to getting more fit and healthier.  That’s how God’s spiritual training works. His Word strengthens us, it turns us into a new direction, a direction that is spiritually better for us.  This new direction is straighter and smoother, even if there is some difficulties in getting there.

For people who are hurting, there is peace.  For people who are sad, there is joy.  For people who are broken, there is comfort. Did you hear that from the Prophet Isaiah, today?  Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…  That was also God’s message through John to these people who were hearing some things that were tough to hear.  They had been hurt by God’s message, but God was preparing them for his good news, the good news of a Savior who was coming.

Mark quoted these words in speaking about John the Baptist.  Yes, he was unexpected.  Yes, his words were unexpected.  Yes, the people were sometimes hurt by his words.  And yes, God was turning them from the wrong kind of spiritual life.  The hurt was leading to a healthy and strong spiritual life, a life ready for the coming of Christ, a life on the straight and narrow.

That’s what repentance is, brothers and sisters.  It hurts to hear.  There is pain in God pointing out your sins.   There is a burden that becomes too heavy to carry.  And through repentance, God lifts the burden.

But it’s not up to you to do the heavy lifting.  When I began the sermon I said, “When you use a tool the wrong way, what do you expect to happen?”  If you think repentance is your work that God recognizes and rewards, you are using it the wrong way.  If you think repentance is the get-out-of-jail-free card, you are using it the wrong way.  If you think repentance is finishing up the work that Jesus began for you, you are using it the wrong way.

Repentance is simply the Christian spiritual workout.  Through his Word, God brings us to the realization that we are out of shape.  God shows us where we need some work.  He gives the new direction, the new regimen for the healthy, stronger spiritual life.  And he gives us the motivation and willpower to turn things around.  It’s all from him.

And do you know what that will power is?  It’s not that I’m going to look so good for God, that I will be blessed more.  It’s not that my life is going to start getting better and better here on earth.  It’s not that I’m going to be such an asset for the people around me.

Those things could potentially happen, but the real willpower for repentance is that Christ loved you to the point that he was willing to leave heaven for you.  He was willing to carry your heavy burden of sin.  He was willing to live according to God’s perfect expectations.  He was willing to suffer the punishment and pain.  He loved you to the point where his last breath was exhausted from his body, because you could never pay for your sins.  He felt the full wrath of God’s anger against sin, so that you and I would never know what that’s like.  Yes, repentance hurts when God points out our sin and we can only hang our head and confess it, but it will never hurt like the separation Jesus was forced to endure.  He did that for us.

That’s the motivation for repentance.  God has given us this new life in Christ.  God has given us his law and gospel.  God has given us the reality of heaven.  Nothing can take that away from us.  So, the spiritual exercise of repentance helps us on the journey.  It is God’s way of helping stay spiritually healthy.

The way John says it: God is getting us to straighten and smooth the way for Christ because he is coming soon.  Preparing for Christ’s coming, you don’t have to try and convince Christ that there are no potholes, unwanted twists and turns in your life.  Preparing for Christ’s coming, you don’t have to veer off the wrong way thinking your hard work and confession saves you.  Preparing for Christ’s coming means listening to the unexpected message that sometimes hurts, when God points out what’s wrong in my life or what is missing.  Preparing for Christ’s coming means listening to the way God takes care of the crooked and rough places of my life with his loving forgiveness.  Preparing for Christ’s coming means continually going through the spiritual exercise of repentance to enjoy the health and strength that God provides.

That is how to use repentance the right way.  God grant it.  Amen.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

12.3.17

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Isaiah 64

1Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.

8 Yet you, LORD, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

 

This past week I was flipping through Netflix as I often do when it’s getting late and I’m giving Jet his bottle, and I saw the movie based on the book, The Case for Christ.  So, over a couple nights I watched it.  It’s the story of Lee Strobel’s quest to prove Christianity false.  He read the Bible.  He read books about the Bible.  He went to presentations.  He held interviews with professionals in all sorts of fields: psychiatry, medicine, theology, linguistics, archaeology, and on.  He was a raging atheist who was expecting to prove his wife’s new-found faith wrong.  Do you know what happened to Lee?  All his investigating, his interviews, his reading, and research led him to a very surprising, unexpected conclusion: it’s all real.  Christ, his death and resurrection, the Bible, the faith, the church, all of it is real.  He went from a man on a mission to bring down Christianity, to a man with a mission to bring Christianity to all.

Now, I’m not going to say you have to queue it up on Netflix tonight.  I’m not going to say you have to look up Lee Strobel and all his books.  In fact, the doctrine he preaches and writes, isn’t always what you will read in the Bible.  But I will say this, God does not operate according to our expectations.  Lee Strobel expected to prove Jesus and the Bible wrong, but what really happened was so much different.

That is also something Isaiah noticed during his years as a prophet in Judah.  The people of Judah and Israel thought they knew what would happen.  They were God’s people, descendants of Abraham, chosen as heirs of God’s kingdom.  They took that as a license to do whatever they wanted to do, because God would always be on their side.  If you told them that God would allow the Assyrian empire to ransack the north and carry Israel away form their homeland as exiles of war, they would have laughed it off.  “Never!  We are God’s people.  He would never do something like that.”

Well, during Isaiah’s 60 years as prophet that is exactly what happened.  Israel in the north was leveled, never to return as a nation.  The people living in the south, in Judah, were supposed to get the hint that God takes his Word and his people seriously.  He loves like the gracious and all-powerful Father he is, but even a loving father has to discipline and rebuke and train his child.

Isaiah had the job of warning the people of Judah that they too would suffer God’s discipline if they did not take God’s message and his grace seriously. If Judah did not listen, the nation of Babylon would rise up and do the same things that happened in the north.  Judah would be carried off into Babylonian captivity.  But that would not last forever.  God would get his message across to the people and continue to keep his promise of the coming Savior.  In fact, the Savior would come and rescue people from sin and hell.  He would set up a kingdom that never ends.  God’s people, all true believers, would enjoy this promised deliverance for eternity in heaven.  It’s as if God was telling all the people in Judah, through the prophet Isaiah’s message, to expect the unexpected. And then, everything happened exactly the way God had said.  The people in Judah didn’t expect it at all, and yet it was the stunning reality for them.

Expectation vs. Reality is the new worship series for Advent.  As I was looking through the assigned Scriptures lessons for the next few weeks, I kept thinking of the expectations we have and how reality is often such a striking contrast.  It’s kind of like the people of Israel and Judah during Isaiah’s ministry as a prophet.  What are the expectations and then what really happens can be so far apart.

This week in our Scripture readings, the topic is Christ’s coming.  It’s not his coming as a baby in Bethlehem but his coming at the End of Time.  If you think about that is not an odd place to start our preparation for Christmas.  To enjoy why Jesus came the first time, you have to see where it leads.

Jesus came from heaven once before so that God’s promise would be fulfilled and heaven would be opened.  God did what no one expected.  He actually took on human flesh for us so that people could have heavenly bodies forever with him.  That’s the final goal.  That’s where Christmas leads.

So, is that where your focus is right now?  Is that where your eager expectations are aiming?  I don’t know if that is how we operate at this time of year.  There is so much going on, so much to get ready for the next 21 days.  (Yes!  That’s all you have.)  And look how much we do to get ready for that?  People expect so much out of Christmas every year, and the reality is it can never provide what people really need.  We can try and try and try as much as we want, but even a really great Christmas celebration this year can’t fix what’s wrong.

Isaiah writes, All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  All our best efforts can’t change the facts of what is going on in my heart and yours.  When the focus is on the present, or all the presents, then we aren’t ready for what’s coming, for who’s coming.

And we fall into this trap all the time.  We get wrapped up with all the earthly stuff, because we expect that the End is far off.  Instead of alert, ready, and watchful for Christ to come back, we are alert, ready, and watchful for the next big deal, for the next party invitation, for the family members to arrive.

It’s like the people of Israel and the people of Judah.  We focus on ourselves. That kind of preparation leads away from our God.  And that kind of self-centered life that leaves Jesus on the back burner leads Isaiah to ask for us, Why, Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?  When you think that our Lord is not vital in your life every day, every hour, every breath, then is it a surprise that he seems distant?  When you put him second or third or 15 down the priority list, what do you expect the relationship will be like?  Not the best.

That should make us expect something terrible at the End of time.  For people who do not put God first, can we really expect God to come for us?  It would make a whole lot more sense for Jesus to come against us, for him to destroy us.

Brothers and sisters listen to what Isaiah says.  When you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.  God did not do what we expect.  Yes, there was trembling, but it was the enemies of God.  Satan didn’t stand a chance.  Sin, death, and hell were not a match for Christ when he came down the first time.  He is the Redeemer, the rescuer, the deliverer.  He did not crush us, but the serpent’s head.  That is the reality that exists for you.  Your sins are gone from your record.  Every time you have let the earthy stuff distract you, every time our Lord has been pushed to the back burner, every time we have not lived up to God’s holy expectations, every time has been washed away.  We are cleansed.  We are children of the Most High God.  Isaiah puts it this way. You, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

God’s reality for us is better than anything we could ever expect.  Heaven is our home.  Christ made the full payment for us when he came down the first time.  Now, he is preparing the places in paradise for you and me and all believers.  He’s getting ready for his return.

So, we should, too.  Getting ready for that is a little different than the all the stuff you’re seeing lately.  It’s not filling up on all sorts of treats, it’s filling up on God’s Word. It’s not putting up strings of lights, it’s putting up your light of faith.  It’s not giving presents, it’s giving the gospel of Jesus.  It’s not sending invitations for parties, it’s sending invitations to worship.  The Christmas stuff is not sinful, but it can be if it doesn’t leave you any room to prepare for Christ.

All that stuff is very easy to understand.  We see it.  We hear it.  It comes.  It goes.  We expect it every year. But the reality that God has provided for us goes way beyond expectations.  Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

This time of year, it’s good to talk about the End.  It’s where Christmas always leads us.  Through Christ, God tells us to expect the unexpected.  Sinners are forgiven.  Heaven is open.  Our place in paradise is purchased and ready.  Christ is coming to take us there.  Be ready.  Be alert.  As Jesus says, “Watch!”  And as you prepare, use these ancient words from Isaiah as your prayer: Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.   Amen.