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Advent 2015 - Worship Message - "Hope"

2015 Advent Message #1 !
The theme of today’s first Advent service is hope. !
There are three passages I want to share today, the first two relating to what the apostle
Paul wrote in his second letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth. The first passage
is not especially happy or positive, but it will, I hope, set the stage for what will be a
Christmasy ending to this message. !
The first passage is II Corinthians 11:24-28. It lists many of the things Paul experienced
in his Christian ministry. !
Of course, there were some good days for Paul. I know he rejoiced when he saw people
accepting Jesus as Savior and as he saw some grow in their Christian faith, but there
were also some very difficult things Paul experienced. !
Listen to the list of what Paul suffered during his ministry.
Five times he was lashed, which refers to being whipped. Whips, at least at that time in
history, were designed to hit, not just the back, but long enough to reach around to the
front, so that each time the back was struck, the chest area was wounded as well. Maybe
the face, too, if the hit was high, or the legs, if the hit was low. !
Paul refers to being lashed “40 times less one.” That refers to the maximum number of
lashes allowed by law being 40, which was considered to be the limit of human
endurance. There was also a law that if the one doing the whipping happened to exceed
40 lashes, he himself would be punished with 40 lashes. Certainly not wanting to suffer
that themselves, most stopped at 39 just in case there had been a miscounting during
the ordeal. !
Five times Paul was lashed. He suffered that during his Christian ministry. Three times
he was beaten with rods, which were made from birch wood. !
It should be mentioned that being beaten with rods was a punishment for crimes, which
Paul had not committed. It should be mentioned that Paul being beaten that way was
illegal. Roman citizens could not, by law, receive such treatment, and Paul was a Roman
citizen. Despite those two things, Paul was beaten with rods made from birch wood.
That happened to him three times. !
Once Paul was stoned. It was unusual for anyone to survive a stoning, which happened
when the punishers threw big rocks at the one being punished. My understanding is
that the one being punished was usually placed in kind of a ravine, the punishers
standing above. I understand the one being stoned hoped for a big rock to hit him on the
head first, thereby knocking him out. But somehow - it is how God worked it out - Paul
survived the stoning. !
Three times Paul was shipwrecked. A night and a day he was adrift at sea.
As he traveled during his ministry for Jesus, Paul faced other dangers. !
Dangers from rivers that had to be crossed. Rivers especially dangerous at least at some
times each year.
Dangers from robbers, who made roads treacherous.
Dangers from fellow Jews who threatened him almost every place he went. Many times
Paul had to escape cities to survive.
And dangers from Gentiles. That included tradesmen who made their livings from
constructing idols. When Paul spoke against idols and when some believed what Paul
said and stopped buying idols, the tradesmen were understandably angry. Many times
they were able to start riots against Paul. !
Paul faced dangers in cities and in wilderness areas. In addition, he was often hungry
and thirsty, cold and exposed.
Plus, he was concerned for the congregations he had started. He worded it as feeling
daily pressure or daily anxiety for all the churches. !
Isn’t that interesting? Paul often wrote against being anxious, so maybe the original
word would be better translated, not anxiety, but extreme concern for the churches he
had started. Concerns that the congregations would get along and work together.
Concerns that individual Christians were growing in their faith. !
Paul suffered many things during His ministry. However - here is where the theme of
hope is introduced - Paul had not and would not lose hope, which he expressed in II
Corinthians 4:8-9. !
Paul wrote, “We are afflicted in every way.” We refers to both Paul and Timothy. Paul
began II Corinthians with the news the letter was from him, “an apostle of Christ Jesus
by the will of God,” and Timothy, “our brother.” But verse 8 of II Corinthians 4, “We are
afflicted in every way.” Which, as just discussed, was certainly true for Paul. Again, he
was attacked by people. He faced other dangers. He had the concerns of his fellow
Christians on his mind. “We are afflicted in every way.” Other translations word it, we
are troubled on every side or we are pressed at every point. !
“But not crushed.” Not distressed. Not hemmed in. Despite the challenges, Paul was not
so tight in a corner there was no escape. That was true when he escaped dangerous
situations. It was true because of his faith.
“We are perplexed.” At our wit’s end is another way to word it. !
“But not driven to despair.” And hey, it was not easy for Paul to endure what he
experienced, but the hope is that when we are at our wit’s end, we, like Paul can survive.
We can rise above being driven to despair. Another way of wording it is that even when
perplexed, we do not have to be at the end of our hope. Troubled? Yes. But not so
discouraged we cannot function. !
“We are persecuted.” Persecuted by men. And by the way, the reason my attention has
been drawn to these passages for today, even as our Advent season begins, is there are a
lot of problems, including persecution, in our world today. Persecution of Christians. We
see it played out around the world. !
I do not want to be overly-negative, but I cannot help but think the same can happen in
this country. !
It is so easy to proclaim our faith when everything is going well. When everything is
easy. That includes the beauty of this season - the trees, the gifts, the food, the
fellowship, all of which can be enjoyed openly. !
Will we do the same - will we retain our faith - will we continue to proclaim our faith - if
everything becomes dangerous to us because of our faith? !
I am asking myself that question. I want to be strong - I want to stay strong - no matter
what. That is why the first two passages for this message are so important. Passages that
talk of suffering, but also of hope. The hope needed to survive the suffering. !
Paul was persecuted by many people, but he added, “not forsaken.” And yes, he was
often forsaken by other people, but he was not abandoned by God. What hope Paul had. !
“We are struck down,” Paul wrote. That can refer to being beat down physically, as Paul
was a number of times. It can also refer to being beat down emotionally. !
When I was growing up and would be called names by other kids, my parents would
always quote to me, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt
me.” That was a nice thought, but it is not necessarily a true statement, is it? !
Struck down. It can also be worded, cast down, as in thrown down, maybe like trash is
cast away or thrown away. !
Struck down, cast down, knocked down, “but not destroyed.” Not knocked out. As I
recently read, the supreme characteristic of a Christian is not that he or she does not fall,
but that every time he or she falls, he or she rises again. !
One more time, I have been drawn to these two passages in II Corinthians - the one in
chapter 11 about what Paul faced, the other in chapter 4 - because I want to make sure I
- I hope I can help all of us to do the same - I want to make sure I will stay true to Jesus,
not only during the good times - the times of lights and gifts and food and fellowship, all
of those easy for us right now - but also during difficult times that might be coming.
Times like Paul faced. Times of being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. That
even then, I - and we - like Paul did, can still stay strong in our faith. !
So, how was Paul able to avoid being crushed, in despair, feeling forsaken, being
knocked out? How can we stay strong? The answer is that Paul had and we are to have
faith. Faith in the one whose birth we are celebrating this season. Faith that will instill in
us today’s theme, which is hope. Paul did have, and we are to have, hope. Hope based on
the assurance of Jesus’ love and strength. Blessings He offers to us. Blessings He will
give us if we will let Him do so. Blessings available whether our days are easy or difficult. !
Who is Jesus? How long has He existed. He came to earth, 2000 years ago, in the form
of a baby, but how long has He existed? What has He done? What is He still doing? For
all that, let’s move to the Christmasy part of today’s message. Let’s move to the Gospel of
John, verses 1 through 5 of chapter 1. !
“In the beginning was the Word.” The Word is how John identifies Jesus. In the
beginning was Jesus, which means He has always existed. He was not and is not a
created being, like you and me. He has always existed. !
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
God and Jesus were and are one. !
We know descriptions of God. They are so numerous they cannot all be mentioned here
today, but how about the big “o” words. Omnipresent, meaning present everywhere.
Omnipotent, meaning all-powerful. Omniscient, meaning having complete or unlimited
knowledge, awareness, understanding - the ability to perceive all things. !
Those words describe God. Since the Word - since Jesus - is God, those words describe
Him, too. Which is why Paul was able to survive. He felt Jesus’ presence. He benefitted
from Jesus’ power. He knew Jesus was aware of where he was, what was going on with
him, and what needed to be done to help him survive. We can know those things as well,
even during any difficult times we have. !
How about love? God is love. So, too, is Jesus love. That gave Paul hope. Paul had the
faith to know Jesus loved him. That kept him strong in the face of his troubles. Jesus’
love is to encourage us as well. !
What about creation? We know God created the universe. That is reported in the very
first verse of the Bible. Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the
earth.” But listen to verse 3 of John 1. “All things were made through Him [through the
Word - through Jesus - who is God], and without Him was not anything made that was
made.” !
Who is Jesus? He is God. !
How long has He existed? Forever. !
What has He done? He created everything around us. Let’s add Colossians 1:17 to that.
“In Him all things hold together.” Think of the power of that. !
What is Jesus still doing? He continues to be the source of life. Verse 4 of John 1. “In
Him [in Jesus] was life.” !
I think that refers to physical life. If it was not for the creative power of Jesus, we would
not be here physically. !
I am convinced, though, that also refers to spiritual life. As in eternal life. It is Jesus who
offers that kind of life. Life that is given when we accept Jesus as the Savior. !
Paul had faith in Jesus’ ability to give life, so he was confident God could help him
survive physically. But Paul also had the hope of Heaven. Paul knew that even if he did
not survive physically, staying true to Jesus would result in a Heavenly reward. A reward
available because Jesus did not stop at being a baby. He grew up to eventually become
the Savior from sin. !
We can have faithful hope as well. We are to have faithful hope. And it is to lead to the
same confidence Paul had. That is how we can survive, maybe physically, definitely
spiritually, whatever we face. Survive, knowing the Lord’s blessings here on earth as we
look forward to later being in Heaven. !
In Him - in the Word - in Jesus - was life. In Him, life continues, “and the life was the
light of men.” !
Back to Genesis 1. In the beginning, the earth was without form. It was void. Darkness
was upon the face of the deep. All that changed when God said, “Let there be light,” and
there was light. !
The world, 2000 years ago, reverted to being a dark place. The sun, the moon, and the
stars continued, but spiritually the world was a very dark place. There were many, many
problems, even for the people of God. What was needed was a new light. What a joyous
thing that Jesus came, whose coming brought spiritual light. !
But even then it was not always bright for Paul as he suffered so many things. But Paul
felt the light. Whatever dark actions were inflicted on him, he still felt the hope of light,
that being Jesus. !
Light provides hope. Light also reveals things, including the evil of those who fight
against God. That certainly describes Paul, who spent all his early adult life fighting
against Christians. Early on, he was an avid enemy of Christians. He personally went
after them and ordered others to do the same. Any followers of Jesus who were found
were at least imprisoned. !
That went on and on until Paul saw the light. He literally saw the light of Jesus. He saw
it figuratively as well. The light revealed to him he was wrong to fight against God. That
realization led him to become a minister for the Lord. It was that light that kept Paul
strong, even in the face of problems during his ministry. !
Light can also act as a guide. Jesus provides that for us, both through our consciences
and through what He taught about how we are to live. No one can truthfully say he or
she does not know how to live. The light that is Jesus gives us all the guidance we could
ever need. !
And verse 5. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” It
can also be worded that the darkness can never extinguish it. What hope there is in that
verse. As dark as the world seems to be right now and as dark as the world might
become, nothing the world can do will end Jesus or overcome Him. His light will always
shine. What hope there is in that. !
Remember. That may not mean physical survival for those of us who believe in the
Word, but spiritually we will survive, thereby being guided to eternal life in Heaven. !
Jesus is the light of the world. It is His light that brings life. In that we can have hope.
Hope we are to share with the world. Will we do that throughout this Christmas season?
Will we keep doing that even after Christmas? May we believe and proclaim that, no
matter what we face, Jesus - the one we celebrate - is our hope. !
The closing carol for today is Joy to the World! !
Joy to the world! the Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven and nature sing. !
Joy to the world! the Savior reigns:
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and flocks, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy. !
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorn infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found. !
He rules the worLd with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love. !
Isaiah 60. “Arise, shine. For your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen
upon you.” !
John 1. That light is Jesus, who will not be extinguished or overcome. On that we can
rely. Amen.

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