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Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent 3: Good News...for those who are being saved

Wow, this week's lectionary readings are an exciting and hope inspiring assortment. Good news after good news after good news...for those who are being saved!

Last week I asked the important question: Are you baptised in the Holy Spirit? Not, Have you been baptised in the Holy Spirit, but are you baptised in the Holy Spirit...because we leak, and yesterday's daily bread, yesterday', anointing, was for yesterday, not for today of for next week. God's economy
is a daily economy (day's pay it used to be called on the gold mines), not a weekly or monthly economy, but daily, new every morning, requiring daily commitment and a daily decision to live by faith.

Hence my title: Good News...for those who are being saved.

Our Gospel reading records John the Apostle's account of John the Baptiser, which essentially contains last week's message which was: Prepare the Way for the Lord

 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

As you can see, a similar message, unsurprisingly, to the one recorded by Mark, but with the addition of some facts which show that this message was not well recieved by the religious leaders (hypocrites) of the day. You see, one thing the religious leaders (hypocrites) of the day knew, is that the coming of the Messiah would usher in a new era, a new age... and like most hypocrites, the idea of change, even if it is messianic change, was/is frightening, because it turns the status quo on its head. The prophet Isaiah gives a good idea of what this messianic age and anointing will look like, and as I read through it, listen for the groups of people who are elevated and highlighted in this new age...and then remember  that we now live in that age, which the religious leaders so resisted and fought, that they eventually murdered the One who proclaimed it had now arrived:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations.

Do you notice the mention and elevation of the outcast: the poor, the captive, the prisoner?
Notice also how certain things mysteriously seem to go together in this new era:

a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning,and a garment of praise     instead of a spirit of despair.
We want the beauty, without the ashes; the joy without the mourning; praise instead of despair. But these very things, ashes, mourning, despair, mysteriously seem to have a place in this new era...and we all know that don't we? The faithful Christian will sometimes find themselves in ashes, in mourning, in despair...just look to Jesus...just look to the faithful saints in our midst here at AMC. Christ's most beloved are not spared these things, and that's a mystery that many struggle with, but one which the Psalmist, from his own experience, put into beautiful words in our Psalm for today:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

It seems that in this new era, the Kingdom of God in us, the future, in us now, is one where tears and weeping are linked to joy, one of the great promises of God to us: Peace and joy that passes all understanding, one of God's promises to those who are baptised in the Spirit, those who are being saved from ashes, tears, imprisonment, mourning and weeping NOW.
I call that Psalm one of the depressingly hopeful Psalms.

This turning upside down of everything which comes with the Kingdom of God, where the lowly are exalted, and the high and mighty are brought low...this reversal of everything the world hold dear, this reversal which every bone of our selfish existence tells us to avoid, is beautifully summed up in a devotion which one of you sent me on Friday for my encouragement and I share it with you for your encouragement and perhaps enlightenment, this third Sunday in Advent. It is from a devotion by AW Tozer (sourced here) entitled:

Trials and Pain: Easter Without Good Friday

It begins with a verse from Philippians 1:29 

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake and it sums up the reason why the religious leaders of John the Baptisers day and later of Jesus day, so resisted their message, to the point of having them both murdered: 

...God will crucify without pity those whom He desires to raise without measure!...
God wants to crucify us from head to foot-making our own powers ridiculous and useless—in the desire to raise us without measure for His glory and for our eternal good....
Willingness to suffer for Jesus' sake—this is what we have lost from the Christian church. We want our Easter to come without the necessity of a Good Friday. We forget that before the Redeemer could rise and sing among His brethren He must first bow His head and suffer among His brethren!
We forget so easily that in the spiritual life there must be the darkness of the night before there can be the radiance of the dawn. Before the life of resurrection can be known, there must be the death that ends the dominion of self. It is a serious but a blessed decision, this willingness to say, "I will follow Him no matter what the cost. I will take the cross no matter how it comes" 

That is what I call  depressingly hopeful good news for those who are being saved.
I ask you again, are you baptised in the Spirit and busy being saved. Without the ongoing infilling  of the Holy Spirit, give us this day our daily bread, O Lord, without that daily reliance and dependence, our tears, ashes, mourning, weeping and imprisonment just take us deeper down the road of despair.

But asking for, begging for, demanding even, our daily bread, the bread of life, the Spirit who is life, ensures the redemption of these things, reassures us, much as we wish it were different, that

Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
 Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

Until then, our reading from Thessalonians instructs us how to live, and I close with it:

 Rejoice always, pray continually,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. 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. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

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