Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Day Sermon 2011

Many people long to hear God’s voice. I will include myself among them. I long to hear what God has to say. When I am facing a difficult decision in my life, I ask God, "What should I do?" I long for the clarity of a response. When trouble strikes in my life or in someone I care deeply for, I ask God, "Why?" And again, I long for the clarity of a response. Sometimes when I look at all the events happening in the world around us, I pause and say, "Lord, what are you going to do about this?" And I want a reply that is so crystal clear that I have no reason to doubt or object." Others, I know, ask different questions. Some ask, "What am I supposed to do with my life?" And they want desperately a direction. Others ask, "What is the purpose for our being here?" And they too wait for a reply. Many times, those of us who ask these questions wait...and wait...and wait...and we never hear an answer. Sometimes the disappointment is overwhelming. We long to hear God’s voice.

When we enter into such a state we are very much like the people of ancient Israel. They too longed to hear God’s voice. They longed to hear a word from Him. And many times God did not disappoint. For hundreds of years, God spoke to the people of Israel through the judges and the prophets. God raised up the likes of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Michah, Habbakkuk, and others to bring His word to His people. They would confront sin and injustice. They would call people to repentance. Their proclamation, "Thus sayeth the Lord," rang loud and clear through the streets. Sometimes their words brought comfort. Sometimes their words stepped on toes. People both loved and hated the prophets because they loved hearing from God, but they weren’t always pleased with the message.

But after a time, God grew silent. He ceased to speak through the prophets. For 400 years the people of Israel waited to hear a word from the Lord. Invading armies entered their lands. Revolts and uprisings took place. They were conquered by Rome. The people asked God what was happening. The people asked God what their future held. The people asked God for a word either good or bad. But God was silent. The peoples’ disappointment was tangible.

But then God began speaking once again. A prophet named John the Baptist began proclaiming in the wilderness. As the prophet Isaiah had once foretold, "A voice was now crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’" John proclaimed a baptism for the repentance of sins, but he also pointed to one who was coming. "I baptize you with water, but one is coming who is more powerful than I. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!" The people were curious. God would speak some more? Through someone more powerful than John? Who could it be? How would God act?

This Christmas day, we gather to reflect upon the answers to those questions. We gather to remember how God acted decisively in history. For God decreed that John would be the last of the prophets. God would not use a mediator to hear His voice any longer. He would send His own Son, Jesus the Messiah, who was fully human and fully divine to speak to the world. The babe born in Bethlehem would speak God’s will loudly and clearly. The Kingdom of God was at hand. Repent. Believe the good news! The Son of God was coming into the world not to condemn the world but to save it!

The writer of Hebrews affirms this boldly in our lesson this morning, "Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word."

This news is good news for us on two fronts. First, because there were those who wrote down Jesus’ teachings and sayings, we can know God’s Word first hand. All we need to do is open the pages of our Bibles. We can be seeped in tidings of great joy as we read God’s Words to us straight from His Son’s lips. Those words will often at the same time comfort us and challenge us, but they will also give us a certain insight into the heart and mind of God. We cannot know God fully, but there are things we can come to know. Jesus teaches us.

The second aspect of this good news is the knowledge that Christ is still seeking to communicate with us as He sustains all things by His powerful word. As we read Jesus, we see in John chapter 14 that He says these words, "25"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will be our guide through life, and that this Spirit will continue speaking to us even after He is gone. Do you realize what this means? Do you realize the radical nature of this comment? For at one time, God only spoke through the prophets and the priests. At one time God only spoke to a few people at any given time in history. But because of the promised Holy Spirit, God talks to us directly–in the midst of our daily, busy lives.

Ah, but that brings us right back to the beginning of this sermon. And the questions now come in earnest. But I have asked God time and again to speak to me. I have repeatedly asked God time and again to give me direction. I have asked God time and again to give me answers to life’s most difficult questions. How come I am not hearing Him? How come I can’t hear God’s voice or the Holy Spirit’s promptings?

Here is where I must say to you, "I don’t know." I don’t know exactly why. I don’t fully know your circumstances or the things you are going through in life. But let me ask you a couple of questions: #1. Are you taking time to listen for God to speak? Have you turned off your television, your computer, your MP3 player, your radio and whatever other noise producers you have around you? Have you embraced the silence so that you can hear the still small voice that God often uses to speak?

#2. Have you opened your heart and mind to listen to what God actually has to say, or are you just waiting for God to affirm what you want to hear? So often, we want God to simply tell us we are doing Okay or to bless a path that we have already chosen instead of allowing Him free reign to lead us and guide us in the direction He wants us to go. When our minds are already pre-determined, we won’t hear God.

#3. Are you looking for God no matter where you are? Sometimes God speaks through strangers. Sometimes God speaks in church. Sometimes God speaks in the deer blind. Sometimes God speaks in the shower. Sometimes God speaks as you are watching your kids playing sports as you enter into the "white noise" produced by crowds. Do you expect God in these places? Or do you limit Him expecting Him to talk to you on your terms? Open your heart to see Him everywhere.

#4. Do you really want Him to speak to you? Remember, Jesus’ words both offer comfort and challenge. We like the comfort part, but are we open to the challenge? Are we open to those directions the Holy Spirit might take us even though they make us squirm. If we aren’t open, we won’t hear.

Oh, I could go on with questions and points to ponder, but let’s stop for a moment, shall we. Let’s instead ponder that God indeed wants to talk to you. God indeed wants you to hear His voice. God indeed has a message for you, this day and every day. And that’s one of the reasons He sent His Son into the world–so that we could hear His Word and have our lives filled with His light and His peace. Merry Christmas. Amen.

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