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Sermon for 2nd Sunday of Advent 2023

First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-11

1Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. 9Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” 10Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.


Psalm 85

1You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, you have restored the good fortune of Jacob. 2You have forgiven the iniquity of your people and blotted out all their sins. 3You have withdrawn all your fury and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation. 4Restore us then, O God our Savior; let your anger depart from us. 5Will you be displeased with us forever? will you prolong your anger from age to age? 6Will you not give us life again, that your people may rejoice in you? 7Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. 8I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him. 9Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 10Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. 11Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven. 12The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, and our land will yield its increase. 13Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.


Second Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-14

8Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 14Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.


Gospel: Mark 1:1-8

1The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


The Miricle of Peace

A popular prayer making it’s rounds on social media goes something like this: So far today God, I’ve done alright.  I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, overindulgent, or told anyone to mind their own business and to stay out of mine.  I’m really glad about that.  But in a few minutes God, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on, I’m going to need a whole lot of help.  In Jesus’ name, amen.  Here we are just 15 days away from Christmas Day.  If you find yourself needing a lot of help, then you’ve come to the very spot to find the wondrous resources of a God who never fails us.  That’s what I’d like to talk about today.

It’s been said that if our greatest need had been for information, God would have sent us an educator.  If our greatest need had been for money, God would have sent us an economist.  If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.  If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.  But our greatest need is salvation, so God sent us a Savior.  Simply stated, Christmas for Christians is this: Christ our Savior is born.  Even the psalmist could foresee it.  The real miracle of Christmas is that in Jesus, God and sinners are reconciled.  And because we have a Savior, pardon is plentiful.

I don’t usually focus on our psalm reading for the sermon.  This is probably because in most cases they preach themselves.  And our psalm reading for today is no exception.  However, since the theme for today, as we light the second candle on the Advent wreath, is peace, I couldn’t help but focus on Psalm 85 today.  But peace isn’t the only thing our psalmist is focused on, beginning at the first verse we read, Lord, you showed favor to your land.  You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin (vs, 1-2).  Forgiveness, pardon, and peace; in Jesus, our most deepest needs are met.

In the movie, A Christmas Story, some children on a school playground trick a boy named Flick into sticking his tongue on a frozen flagpole.  Sure enough, the awful happens.  Flick’s tongue sticks to the pole.  The bell rings.  The kids rush to class.  Finally, the teacher is forced to call the EMS to release Flick.  Knowing that Flick didn’t do this of his own volition, the teacher says to the class, “I am sure the guilt you feel in this room is far worse than any punishment you might receive.  So that’s all I am going to say about that.”  Ralphie, who put Flick up to it in the first place, leans over to his friend and comments, “Adults love to say stuff like that, but kids know better.  Kids know it’s always better not to get caught than to admit anything.”

If God had never sent us a Savior, all of us might be better off simply denying our sins, keeping a straight face, and proclaiming our innocence in the hope of not getting caught.  However, if constant denial is making you tired, I have good news for you.  Christ the Savior is born.  As we heard at the beginning of our service, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  But, if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:8-9).  Earlier this week, I was part of a conversation with a fellow pastor, and he shared with the group something he was going through.

As we were discussing our readings for this Sunday, one of the pastors said, “As I sorted through some of my father’s belongings a few weeks ago, I thought about a story Bishop Arthur Moore used to tell about his own father and in doing so, learned the pardoning love of God.  Bishop Moore said, “When I was a boy, I used to stop at the neighborhood store every afternoon after school and get a snack.  I was told by the proprietor that I could have anything I wanted.  I soon learned that anything I ordered was absolutely free.  It was such a good deal that I began to invite my friends to come, as well, and so sometimes there would be a whole group of us.  We ate and drank whatever we wanted and all of it was absolutely free.  It was one of the best deals anyone could imagine.  For years I just accepted it.”

“It wasn’t until my father died and I was sorting through his belongings that I discovered in the back of his sock drawer a whole stack of receipts from that neighborhood store.  On each one was listed everything I had purchased at that little store.  Across each receipt was stamped in bold, red letters, Paid in Full.  That day, said Bishop Moore, I began to understand what salvation meant.  Salvation is free, but it isn’t cheap.  Anytime we see forgiveness as something we earn or deserve, we cheapen it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was quoted as saying, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.  Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”  We must always remember the price God paid for our salvation.  Salvation is God’s free gift, because He bore the cost.  Our psalmist understood our deep need for grace when he proclaimed, “Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation” (Psalms 85:7).  And because we have a Savior, faithfulness is feasible.

Our psalmist continues, “Mercy and truth have met together.  Faithfulness will spring up from the ground” (Psalm 85:10a, 11a).  In a B.C. cartoon, the pre-historic lady, standing at the Rock of Advice asks, “What do you give a person full of empty promises?”  “An empty box,” replies the pre-historic advisor.  With that the lady waddles over to the gift rock and says, “I’d like an empty box.  Would you gift wrap it, please?”  One pastor asked this interesting question this week: If life were just, what would you get for Christmas?”  Think about it.

If life were just, I wonder how many of us would get nothing more than some nicely wrapped empty boxes for Christmas.  Again, as we confessed this morning, “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we’ve done and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved God with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”  The truth is, each of us sin each day in a variety of ways.

In this season of anticipation, we make promises that we’re unable to keep.  We try to save ourselves, yet we sink ourselves into over-commitments, soak ourselves with anxiety, and filled our lives with things.  In our rush to keep up, no matter our intensions, we neglect the things that are really important.  It’s no wonder we have trouble being faithful.  Back in the mid-80s my older brother gave me my first computer.  You remember those monster things.

Computers back then weighed 35 pounds and took up half the space on the desktop.  Phil gave it to me because he knew I was beginning my undergraduate work and knew the computer would be helpful in completing my studies.  After some tutoring, I learned to use Word Perfect, a word processing program.  A few weeks later, I completed my English Literature homework assignment on the word processor and then, proceeded to accidently erase the whole thing about 11 p.m.  It was Sunday night and I needed to turn in the assignment first thing Monday morning on my way to work.

In an expression of frustration, I called my older brother and explained my plight to him.  With a snicker, Phil said, “Oh, Steven, I forgot to tell you.  You have an IBM-based system, and IBM installed a special chip for military members.  Anytime a member of the Air Force writes a substandard college paper, the word processor program automatically erases it.”  Needless to say, I learned a valuable lesson about saving files, of always making a back-up copy, and having the ability to restore files when I push the wrong buttons!  I don’t know about you, but I’ve pushed a lot of wrong buttons in my life.

Thank goodness God is in the restoration business.  When we hit the wrong key eliminating all we hoped to be, He leads us in the right pathway and restores our soul.  When Microsoft developed their Millennial Edition, they inserted a new feature called Systems Restore.  From that point on, anytime my computer crashed, taking my latest sermon with it, I could simply go back to the manufacturer’s system disk and in a few keystrokes restore what had been lost.  In the same way, we can go to God in humility and faith and His grace will restore our relationship.

When things crash for us and we would give anything to have it back, we can turn to God’s all sufficient grace for every need.  When we turn to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, God will start working for good even when things are bad.  The psalmist continued, “Faithfulness will spring up from the ground and righteousness will look down from the sky.  The Lord will give us what is good” (Psalm 85:11-12).

The good news of this season includes the fact that because we have a Savior, righteousness is attainable.  Righteousness and peace will kiss each other (Psalm 85:10).

Pessimist Woody Allen once said in a speech, “We stand at the crossroads.  One path leads to destruction, the other path to annihilation.  Let us pray to God that we make the right choice.”  As we prepare for Jesus’ coming, we need to ask, “what is our destiny?”

I read the other day that Americans and Europeans spend 17 billion dollars a year on pet food.  To put that into perspective, it would only cost 13 billion dollars to provide basic health and nutrition to everyone in the world.  Europeans spend 11 billion dollars a year on ice cream, that’s 2 billion dollars more than the estimated cost of providing clean water and safe sewers for the world’s population.  American men and women spend 8 billion dollars a year on cosmetics, that’s 2 billion dollars more than it would cost to provide basic education for everyone in the world.

It goes without saying, I like my pets, I enjoy a bowl of good ice cream and I’m in no way on some campaign to eliminate the use of cosmetics.  However, we must acknowledge there is an imbalance.  There’s a problem when the distribution of wealth and goods around the globe is so disproportionate.  This congregation is so wonderfully faithful about helping those less fortunate.  You regularly provide food, supplies and clothing and toys at Christmas for the kids.  This is a generous church.  But, as a nation that’s so blessed, the same cannot be said.  We tout our lifestyle as the model for the world without acknowledging that if everyone enjoyed our way of life, we’d all be doomed.  Chances are, we’d consume all our resources in a generation.  Righteousness becomes reachable only when the Savior of the world is in our midst.  Our psalmist then asks, “O, Lord, will you not revive us again?” (Psalms 85:6).

For those who recall the movie E.T., E.T. was a frog-like character that invaded our planet from another world, who has a heart that glows and a finger that heals.  Discovered in a garage, he stirs the love of children and the anger of adults.  So, he was hunted down, killed, only to rise again and ascend to the heavens.  I remember walking out from that movie thinking, “I wonder where Spielberg stole his plot?  I think I’ve read it before.”

Someone greater than a fictional character invaded our world more than 2000 years ago.  He, too, was born in an unlikely place and managed to enlist both the love and hate of humans.  Salvation isn’t magic, it’s a miracle.  The incarnate Christ, our Lord and Savior came to us, sent from God the Father.  In His own words, Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, the release for the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18).  Because God sent us a Savior, pardon is plentiful.  Because we have a Savior, faithfulness is feasible.  And because we have a Savior, righteousness is reachable.  Furthermore, because we have a Savior, peace is possible.

I saw a sign in a place of business not long ago.  I’m guessing the employees put it there.  It read, “We intend to have a nervous breakdown immediately following the holidays.  We’ve earned it, we deserve it.  And frankly, we’re looking forward to it.”  I need a copy of that sign for my office!  In a Hank Ketchum cartoon, Dennis the Menace is digging furiously through his father’s work bench.  When Dad asks Dennis what he’s doing, Dennis replies, “I’m looking for some rope.  Mr. Wilson says he is just about at the end of his.”  Jesus came when humankind was at the end of its rope.

A friend of mine said some of his best advice on life came from a country doctor in the little town where he served his first call.  He said he was 27 years old, pastoring a 250-member church, working 65-70 hours most weeks.  He said he started having chest pains, so he went to see the town doc.  The doctor did an EKG, poked around on him for a few minutes than sat down on a stool and said, “Reverend, you don’t have heart trouble, you’ve just been eating too much fried chicken.   Besides, I’ve watched you scurrying around town.  You think you’re Jesus, but I need to tell you that you’re not Jesus.  You’re just one of the boys, so relax, live, try to accept people where they are.  You’ll feel better if you do.”  Let me ask you this.  Where do you find peace in this Advent season?

Peace, true peace, cannot be found in parties, the sights and sounds of the season, or in the gifts we give and receive.  True peace can only come from the One who came to live among us and save us from our sins.  We needed a Savior, and God provided that Savior more than 2000 years ago.  It’s only in God, that mercy and truth have met together, and righteousness and peace have kissed.

What you and I need, and not just us but the whole world, in this season of anticipation, is true peace and spiritual renewal, and to have true peace and spiritual renewal requires a Divine miracle of love and grace.  Simply put, what we, and the whole world, need is God and His renewing grace.  So, let’s leave here today with this prayer on our lips.  “O Lord, will you give us life again, that we may rejoice in you?”


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