Sunday, December 21, 2014

Season of Comfort - 2 Peter 3.8-15, Isaiah 40.1-5

Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember that it’s now the Christmas Season. Sure there are reminders that it is, with all the sales ads that we can see on TV or read in our email boxes. And the decorations help, too. Yet if it weren’t for these, would we know that it is this season?

A few blocks over from Madison Square Gardens, during the lighting of the tree, there was an officer involved shooting and a teen is dead. Of course, we can’t forget what has happened in St. Louis. That has been in the headlines too often. Not to mention all of the other unrest there seems to be. Amazingly, I didn’t see any trampling at a “Black Friday” sales event this year. But those are the economic woes, a lackluster year by some counts and others are still counting to see if it can be spun differently.

And God’s children wonder, “how long, O Lord, before our rest, before your return?”  But times, they really aren’t any different from when the prophet spoke. A nation of God’s children were also having their woes. Isaiah was a prophet at the end of Israel and Judah as nations. Their leaders lead the people further away from God’s will, including the desecration of the Temple to appease the king of Assyria.

The God, the Almighty, our Heavenly Father gave him the words to record that we now know as the book of Isaiah. In it, the good news is revealed that God will send His Messiah to deliver all nations from the hopelessness of the times. He was to be one to remove our sins and our bent to sinning. He is our comfort, our salvation, and we know him as Jesus.

The world does, too, know him. Yet especially now, they only see a baby in a manger. Oh as a parent how I wish I could freeze time with my children as they continue to grow. Yet they are growing. As of Wednesday past, I officially became the parent of two preteens. Wednesday coming, my preschooler turns 5. They are ever growing. And so did Jesus.

Jesus came as a gift for us, to clothe us in righteousness so that we could approach the Creator of the Universe and call Him, Daddy. To be that gift, he grew. He lived and died and rose from the dead having sacrificed himself. Then he left his message, the good news, in the hands of a few. From there, we are now here today, nearly 2,000 years later, asking once again, “How long, O Lord?”

This is where Peter’s words of encouragement come. Let’s read our passage.

One of the problems that we have today is that we’ve forgotten our encounter. We’ve forgotten the grace of our salvation that the world so needs to hear. Instead of Jesus being someone we strive to follow, going to church has become the weekly activity. And society continues to worsen.

The promise he gave to his disciples was that he was going to go away for a spell, to prepare a place for them, and for us. Then after a while, he would return. Yet when is that while? For how long? God’s timetable is unfathomable. For Him, a 1000 years is nothing.

Mind you, this isn’t dealing with the creation recorded in Genesis. This is dealing with Christ and His return for us. And that return can happen at any moment. Be it now or in another 1,000 years.

Christmas then becomes a time that has a sense of urgency to it. The time is a short one. Come January 1, we stop thinking about the person of Jesus and instead ridicule the neighbor who’s lights are still up and going.  So I see a double meaning for this time. We are closer to salvation

This is the time of opportunity. To share the Gospel.

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Lesson from David 2 Samuel 7.1-11

A Lesson from David
A Christmas Quiz
1. It was a cold winter's night that Jesus was born. 
2. Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem. 
3. Jesus was born in a barn. 
4. The angels sang the announcement of Jesus to the shepherds. 
5. The magi were present at the birth. 
6. There were 3 magi.
7. There were cattle, sheep, and camels at the birth of Jesus. 

The answers to these true/false statements are all false. The truth of the matter is that we don't know most of the details. I appreciate that perhaps at the time of Mary's labor, she was resting in a tent that they toted. I suspect that perhaps they had a wagon since as a carpenter, he'd need to transport his finished works or supplies to the job sites. But then even these, I speculate.

As for the magi, by the time of their arrival, Jesus is found in a house. By Herod's order, we can speculate that Jesus was easily a baby or early toddler for all boys two and under were forfeit.

Just as we tend to mix our tradition about Christmas with the Bible, so our theology, what we think we know about our Heavenly Father can be easily confused by our traditions and preconceptions.

This morning, we will look at an event where David learns that he doesn't fully know or understand God. We will be reminded about a few key characteristics about our Heavenly Father.

Let's read 2 Samuel 7.1-11

Here we find that David is now established on the throne and his palace is complete.  He's comfortable and then realizes that his God is living in a tent. You see, back in the time of Moses, Good commissioned the ark and the tent that would house the ark. When these were done, the Lord settled His presence to be with His chosen people.

Now hundreds of years later, the Nation of Israel is settled. David has been placed on the throne, fully trusting God's timing. The nation is at peace. I can imagine that David is looking around his fine palace and wanted to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving by building a temple, a fixed  structure for the Lord's presence to reside. He even sought the advice of the Lord's prophet, Nathan, who gave a hearty thumbs up.

Then God spoke.
1. He's infinite, timeless. 
Here God is telling David that all of these years, He’s been content with how He set things up. If He had wanted a temple, He’d have asked. Instead, we can look and see that when Israel set up the camps, there, in the midst, in the center, is the Tabernacle, or Tent. 

Often that is how we can treat God. We perceive a problem and then we find a solution rather than consulting God, to see if the Word already has already addressed the situation. I am not able to think of something that the Early Church didn’t deal with that Paul and the other writers addressed.

Yet God is gracious to David. He wasn’t insulted. Instead He honored David by allowing Solomon to build the Temple. We know from Solomon’s commission of the Temple that the reason is that David, though through acts of righteousness, had too much blood on his hands to build the Temple. Was this fair? David seemed to think so because in verses 18 and following, David sings a song, praising God for His love and mercy. He sings because he was given a glimpse into something better that was coming, something that was for all the world. 

2. He's unchanging. 
Because of His infiniteness, He is ever unchanging. People often think that Judaism was one religion and Christianity is an offshoot, or at least a different. Yet that is not the case. Though the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, we know from John’s Gospel and Revelation that Jesus was from before time began. We see that God speaks of Himself in the plurality in the Genesis Creation account. 

He spoke most everything into being, but mankind. Of man, He fashioned. He then walked in the cool of the day with Adam. Yet sin separated us. Even then, God has always allowed an essence of His presence to remain with those He loves, and those who love Him in turn. Back in David’s time, it was the Tabernacle set in the center of life. Today, it’s the Holy Spirit living within each of us who are clothed in Christ. 

This is why we have the celebration of the advent. Our Heavenly Father still desires the creation He formed by His hand. And this, according to verse 19, is for all mankind, not just one people. This is why we sing, “God Rest You Merry”. 

3. He's forward focus.
Now our passage also has elements of His forward focus, or prophesy. Though we see in 19 that the revelation, our passage, is for all mankind, we see this in the passage itself. Look again at verse 10. David is told that God will establish for His people a place for them where they shall be undisturbed. If our Father wasn’t intending Christ, intending eternity from the beginning, then verse 10 flies in face of where David was. Israel was established. This was the promised land that Moses led the people to. So with David’s palace in Jerusalem, in the Promised Land, God still says that there is a place that is better, where the children of God will truly be at peace.

Today we can see that Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism and the prophesy of something better. Recall some of the final words of Jesus to his disciples, “I am going away to prepare a place for you. And since I am going away, you know that I will return for you. Don’t let your hearts be troubled.”  Now we have the advent where we remember Christ coming into this world. It should now serve to remind us that just as He came once to begin the plan of salvation, He will return once more for those who call upon His name.

What is our take home today? Consider all that you know about our Heavenly Father and then take it to the Word. See the truths about He who loves us that He gave us the greatest gift we’ll ever know. Then allow the Word to enrich you, opening your eyes to the opportunities of greatness. As David said, “This is why you are great, Oh Lord. There is none like You. You alone are God.”