In pm's words
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December 23, 2015, 9:00 AM

Advent Wednesday Sermons


Here's a special treat - here are the sermons that I preached during our Advent Wednesday Services this year.

Sermon from December 2

Text: Malachi 3: 1-4

Good evening and welcome to Redeemer as we begin our Wednesday Evening Advent Worship services. I know that most of us are very busy this time of year. There are a lot of commitments that we adhere to during this festive season – at home, at work, at school, with friends and family – that at times even the thought of ‘taking a step back’ seems daunting.

I know that we have some folks from the College here this evening as well, and I still remember my times at Newberry and at Southern Seminary vividly – especially during times of stress that the end of a semester typically brings. I had a professor in seminary who asked me and my fellow classmates once as the semester was winding down why the chapel became emptier the closer and closer those tests were administered and those papers were due. We answered, “Because we’re stressed – we feel like we can’t devote any more time to anything, but the work we have to do.”

He sort of chuckled when he heard that and stated, ‘where is the one place that you know that you can hear words of comfort, grace, love, forgiveness, and acceptance. Where is the one place that you can continually be reminded that you’re not alone and that you are loved?’ Of course, the answer was in worship, among those gathered as scripture was read, hymns were sung, and a meal is shared.

Whenever we become over-stressed and seemingly stretched to our limits, worship and space with God usually is one of the first things that we cut out to make room for other things – except it doesn’t normally make the stress and anxiousness seem to lessen in anyway. Now – compound that feeling during this Advent season as we gear up towards Christmas? Those feelings are multiplied greatly!

So, I’m thankful that you’ve come this night as we continue to make space for God in our life. Just as space was made for our Lord on the night that he was born – in which we look in expectant hope to celebrate in just a few short weeks.

I know things are stressful, you’re all busy – whether you’re a student, a parent, a worker in your respective field. But, being able to take a pause. A breath during this hectic time to point our eyes, hearts, and minds towards the one whom we celebrate and worship truly helps put everything in perspective.

 This evening we heard from Malachi. A book from the Old Testament that we don’t hear too often from. It’s a pretty short book, and in fact is the last book in the Old Testament before it fast forwards a few years and flips over to the Gospel of Matthew. This is a book that we as Christians interpret as one that foreshadows Jesus’ reign and the coming messenger of God that he is – and more.

In our short reading this morning we hear Malachi speak about a promise and what that promise will look like. That promise is the sending of a messenger. The one to bring good news to a world in desperate need to hear it. This messenger will be like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap.

Each of those items helped their respective users to make something more ‘pure’ or ‘clean.’ A refiner’s fire would blaze to extreme temperatures to help the refiner take out the impurities within silver or gold so that it was even more beautiful and precious than it already was. The same with the soap a fuller used – the soap that helped make cloth and garments shine clean and get back to the original intent of its maker.

We hear these terms used as we continue the journey into the season of Advent. This season where we wait in expectant hope of the one to come. As we wait for God’s in-breaking into the world. Where the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap is made known to the world.

Now, most people will read this and think about all the terrible ‘stuff’ that happens in our lives that we endure and change through. Where we go through it all and come out the other side a better person. Now, I can see that – but, I don’t necessarily think that God is up there with a big mighty ‘smite’ button and saying, “Yep, Matt’s at the time to deal with some serious you know what! He better hold on tight!” I don’t think God necessarily works that way…

Instead, as I read this text as we journey in the beginning of Advent, I think of what a refiner has to do in order to make that silver and gold as pure and clean as it was created to be. These precious minerals aren’t just thrown into the fire to be forgotten. Instead, the refiner stands watch. Yes, the fire is hot. Yes, the minerals will look great after they endure it. But, they are never left unattended.

Instead, the refiner must watch and take notice. Caring for the gold or silver within the fire. The refiner attends to the fire making sure that it doesn’t get too hot or lose the heat needed for the silver and gold to be made pure. Finally – as an old story says, the refiner’s work isn’t finished until the refiner can see his or her face within the silver or gold.

We hear this story of a promise. The promise of the one to come who will be a messenger from God to us. That this messenger will be like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap. And at first glance, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Things are going to be done to us intentionally so that we’ll get better. Instead, I wonder if it is in how we live our baptismal lives – as we journey through this life of faith – a life that brings those moments of fire – as the promises we’ve made and the callings we live out to God are in contrast to what the world might desire. Caring for those that others would rather cast aside, striving for peace and justice within a system that doesn’t seem to care, proclaiming the words and gospel of love, grace, hope, acceptance, and forgiveness to a world that seems at times incapable of living and practicing those sorts of things.

In all of that – Jesus – the refiner – is watching over us. We are not alone. He has been sent. We await his coming. The promise from God that we are not alone, we are not abandoned, we are not left unattended. But, that the life we live out – the life we live in the refiner’s fire – is done with care and love so that Christ might be seen in and through us.

It isn’t always easy; it isn’t always fun. But, we are not alone. The promise isn’t so much that the fire of life will hurt – but that the refiner is tending to us in the midst of this life of faith. The one that we wait in expectant hope is coming.

We journey in Advent. We continue to make space for the promise to come. The promise of a refiner’s fire. The promise of a messenger who continues to point us and point with us towards the one who redeems the world. Amen!

 

Sermon from December 9

Text: Zephaniah 3: 14-20

Welcome to y’all on this the second week of our Advent Services here at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. I’m so thankful and overjoyed that y’all are here to take time and to make space for our Lord within your busy schedules this week and during this season.

So, we hear from another Old Testament prophet this morning – probably the one with one of the coolest names – Zephaniah. In his words we here again about a promise to come. About a prophecy to be fulfilled by and in our Lord God.

Last week we heard Malachi speak about the promise of a Refiner and his fire. How the refiner will watch and tend over his work as the impurities of the silver and gold are removed and the beautiful shine and reflection of the refiner can be seen within his work.

This week, the promise we hear is of the one who rejoices in and restores us. Zephaniah’s words this evening are incredibly uplifting. Especially after we heard from Malachi about the struggles we are to face within the ‘fire’ of our baptismal lives.

We – as children of God – are called to rejoice and sing. Which we do during the season of Advent quite well. Whether it be a hymn sung in worship or even a song of the season we hear on the radio. This season of Advent opens us up to the beauty and joy of the music within and around us.

We sing as we rejoice in what God has done, is doing, and will do. We as followers of Christ rejoice in the glory of knowing that in Christ – in those waters of our baptism – our sin is washed away and God chooses to not remember them.

I don’t know about y’all – but that is definitely something to rejoice in! We’ve been washed – we’ve been welcomed into this community of faith. Where the things we’ve done that have not been so good, where the actions we’ve taken that have drawn us away from God, where the words we’ve used have not been used to give praise and thanks to our God – have all been washed away and remembered no more.

Not only that, but Zephaniah gives praise and song to the fact that the Lord is in our midst. God has come to be with us! Zephaniah is celebrating and praising Emmanuel – God with us!

In Advent, we await the coming of Emmanuel – we await the in-breaking of God into the world. The world that God formed in creation. The world that God has taken great joy and pleasure in. The world that God has not abandoned, but cares and loves so much that God has entered into creation as the Son – God’s son – to point the world to God’s love and victory.

These are wonderful words to hear as we quickly approach the celebration of the coming of Christ into the world. It is a time to rejoice. Rejoicing that God – our Lord – has taken away judgments, rejoices over us, renews us in love, and exults over us with loud singing.

Isn’t it weird that as we thank God for being God – that God looks upon us and thanks us for being us? That’s love isn’t it?

Best of all – we rejoice in the one who shows so much love and care that God comes to be with us. That God tears open the heavens to dwell among us. God comes among us as a child – as a human being – as one of us. To live life among us, to know our hurts and struggles, to share in our joys and our praise. To literally walk with us in this life of faith.

Not only that, but as God comes into the world – God gathers those who the world casts aside. Not to further push them away, but to turn their ‘shame’ into praise.

As we journey through this season of Advent we see God at work in the words of Zephaniah, and we again look to how we might be called to act. That perhaps – perhaps – the work and actions of grace and love that God revels in within the words of Zephaniah just might be modeled in us.

Caring for the ‘lame’ and gathering the outcast. Being in relationship with all those in our midst. That we learn and grow in and with all those around us so that all might know that God truly, truly is in the midst of this world and all our lives. Not relegated to a select few, but God’s presence and love transcends all boundaries that the world – that we – establish to separate ourselves.

And then, in that presence. In the midst of that rejoicing that the Lord – our Christ – heaps over on top of us – we are restored. We are restored as we are with God. Not because we have done something to get to God, but because God has come to be with us – Emmanuel. God is here. God always will be. We remember that during Advent and we wait in expectant hope for the celebration of that day as Christ is born into the world. Amen!

 

Sermon from December 16

Text: Micah 5: 2-5a

Grace and peace to y’all this final Wednesday service in Advent. We’ve eaten, and shared, laughed, sung, worshiped, and thought each week that we’ve gathered in this space. This time and this opportunity that we’ve come together to make space during this busy season.

We’ve been able to make space – even if only for a short time – to gather ourselves and look with expectant hope of the one who is to come. In those times these past few weeks, we’ve talked about promises. Specifically, we’ve taken a look at the promises that God makes for us and for the world through some Old Testament Prophets – Malachi, Zephaniah, and now Micah – during this holy time.

The promise that God’s coming is that of a refiner’s fire – the fire that rages as we live out our baptismal lives of faith. The fire that burns so that Christ might reflect in us; the beautiful creations of God that we are. The promise of a restorer – the one who comes to give praise in and through creation – through us – so that we might be made to realize that we are restored. That God rejoices in us. That God gathers all and makes what the world sees as a ‘shame’ into glory. The promise that God rejoices in us.

This evening we are again given a promise. But, this promise is a little different in how it is lived out in the ways we would expect. This evening we hear from the prophet Micah and through his words God’s promise is that of a ruler.

The one to come that would rule over Israel – the one that would stand ‘victorious’ over her enemies. Or at least that is how those who first heard these words interpreted them. You see, the prophet Micah was writing and living during a very tumultuous time. Just take a gander at the previous chapters of Micah and you can see the corruption, greed, and apathy that existed during his time.

The nation of Israel itself was divided as well – mostly because it was being ‘ruled’ by foreign powers. So, naturally as those who first heard Micah would think – as he began to speak about the ruler to come – they envisioned a mighty warrior who would push back and destroy the forces and foreign armies that stood between the people and their God.

But, if we’ve learned anything as we’ve celebrated Christmas throughout our lives – it is a consistent theme throughout the Bible that God delights in upsetting human expectations.

Upsetting human expectations when a baby is born to parents well past the child-bearing years. The anointing of a king who was the smallest and youngest of his brothers. So it is in this way that Micah’s words again point to the way that God does work as opposed to the way in which the world expects.

The world wants and expects to get a superhero of a ruler. A story of legend and epic-ness. The one who can fight, defeat enemies of the kingdom, help the poor, and gets the girl. The one who can do that over and over and over again. The one whose legend continues to grow and grow in such a way that no one dares to standup to that kingdom for fear of what ‘the ruler’ can and will do to them. The world wants a King Arthur. A William Wallace. A Captain America.

Yet, that isn’t who Micah prophecies about. The ruler that the people would expect would come from the ‘big city’ of Jerusalem. But, the ruler that Micah foretells is one who comes from the smallest tribe and city. The ‘back-water’ town of Bethlehem.

The promise that God lifts up through the words of Micah is one of old and deep. A promise that has been there from them beginning – of ancient days. The promise that God makes may be old, but it is still active.

That’s the kind of thing that I like to hear during this time of year. That the promises that God has for us stand true. The promises that God makes for us are upheld. The promises that God seeks to live out in us, through us, and for us might be made known in ways that we wouldn’t expect, but they end up being the full realization of what God has in store for us.

The promise we know is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. A child. A baby. Small. Tiny. Dependent upon others.

That is the one who comes to be with us – to rule this kingdom that we are a part of – that we are. We are led by a little child – the one who continually points to the one who sent him. The one who points and proclaims the one who has come to be with us.

As we are given the promise of the ruler – and we know that God fulfills all promises – even the ones of ancient days – we remember that those promises are fulfilled in unexpected ways. God delights in the fulfillment of promises in ways that we would not anticipate.

Abraham and Sarah give birth to Isaac in their advanced years. David is anointed king even though he’s the youngest and smallest of his family. That unexpected way of fulfillment is seen throughout the New Testament as well – Mary’s willingness to accept the responsibility to bear God to the world and in Jesus himself as he comes as a vulnerable child and not as a mighty warrior or ruler.

God fulfills promises. God holds true and fast to the people of God, the nation of Israel, the kingdom of heaven!

We are almost at the cusp of that largest promise – the promise of Immanuel – God with us. A ruler to live among us, to walk with us, to know us. A ruler who might not be what we expected, but is the ruler who redeems us and points us towards God. Amen!

 

 

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