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Advent 2019 #6

Looking Back and Ahead

This is always an interesting Sunday of each year’s Advent season. The Sunday between Christmas and the new year. Mary and Joseph have traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Jesus has been born. The shepherds have been visited by first one, then a multitude of angels. The shepherds have paid their visit to Jesus. Jesus has been named, circumcised, and presented to God, all according  to Jewish custom.

There is one more group important in the report of Christmas. The Wise Men. But they are still on their way to Bethlehem. We will not talk about them until next Sunday.

This is an interesting Sunday of the Advent season. So, what to talk about? What I have decided to talk about today is a review of the four themes we have had this year for Advent - hope, peace, joy, and love - including how those themes have been witnessed here at Fellowship Church throughout this year just ending, that serving as a review of 2019, and spending a few moments to think about the year about to begin. I understand 2020 will begin Tuesday night at midnight. I think I will be reading about it in the paper Wednesday morning.

Four themes, the first of which was hope. Defined this season as having the ability and privilege of fitting into God’s hopes for us.

Our examples of such hope are Mary and Joseph.

Remember? Mary was a young woman whose plans were to be the wife of Joseph and have a comfortable but quiet life with some children she would have with Joseph. However, God’s hopes for her were way different from that. God’s hopes were for her to conceive in a miraculous way, then give birth to a son who would grow up to be the Savior of the world.

Joseph’s plans for his life were to make Mary his wife and have a quiet life with her and probably some children of their own. A comfortable life supported by his carpentry business. However, God’s hopes for Joseph were also way different from what he planned. God’s hopes were that Joseph, though he would not be the father of Mary’s baby, would go ahead and marry her, then stay with the family to provide a stable home life for Jesus.

What God planned for Mary and Joseph did not make sense to either of them, yet when they were each told of God’s plans, they both gave up their plans so they could fit into what God hoped for them.

The hope of fitting into God’s hopes. How has that been seen in this, our congregation, this year? I have a couple things to suggest. I know there are many, many more, but here a couple examples in my mind.

The first goes back to early in 2019 when our Board of Directors formed our calendar of events as a congregation. I mention this because the exercise of forming a calendar is more than just filling in some dates with some activities. The goal every year is to have activities that are directed by God. Activities that will fit God’s hopes for us. The result this year has been a wonderful combination of educational and social activities. Times of learning and times of fellowship. We do not get together just to say we have been together. We have a purpose. The purpose of enjoying fellowship with other Christians, the idea being we can, as God hopes we will, encourage one another to grow in our faith.

One such activity this year was the Summer Sunday Seminar we had on being an Acts 2 church. A church that strives to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to connect with each other within the congregation and with the community, to grow both numerically and spiritually, to serve in Jesus’ name, to spread the message of Jesus, and to worship Him. As we do those things, we will definitely be fitting into God’s hopes for us.

Hope. Having the ability and privilege of fitting into God’s hopes for us. Having a willingness for that to happen, even when what God hopes does not make sense and when following those hopes may make our lives difficult, as was the case for both Mary and Joseph.

Toward the end of today’s message we will think about hope for 2020. For now, let’s feel good that we have, in 2019, been willing to know and follow God’s hopes for us. I should be quick to point out that you might be able to think of times you or I or we did not follow God’s hopes, but let’s rejoice about the times we have followed God’s plans for us, individually and as a congregation.

Hope was the first theme of this year’s Advent season. The second theme was peace.

Peace is what was proclaimed to some shepherds who were the first to hear about Jesus being born. They were told about Jesus by one, then a whole lot of angels. It was the group of angels that announced to the shepherds Jesus had come to bring peace.

Let me repeat my opinion of the peace announced by the angels. It is my opinion that what was referred to was not peace between nations or peace between people. Throughout history, including after Jesus’ birth, those two kinds of peace have never been achieved. Such peace may come sometime, but it does not look very promising even now.

No, the type of peace I think about concerning the report of Christmas is peace with God. Peace made available by Jesus, who grew up to be the sacrifice for our sins. Sins separate people from God, who is perfect. The only way to have a good relationship with God - a relationship of peace - is to accept Jesus as the sacrifice. As the Savior He was born to become.

When thinking of peace evident in this congregation this year, my mind went right away to the deaths we have experienced this year. Why the deaths in and connected to our congregation come to my mind under the topic of peace is that for those who were Christians, the peaceful relationship they had with God means they are now in Heaven. What a wonderful thought that is.

The deaths also come to mind because we as a congregation have had all those opportunities to remind families and friends, including ourselves, that death does not mean we have lost Jesus’ love. In fact, we know that for Christians, death brings the wonderful reward of peace with God for all eternity in Heaven. 

And the Lord loves us, even in times of grief. That promise should convince everyone to have peace with God now. Peace coming from accepting Jesus, whose birth we continue to celebrate.

The funerals we have had here this year have also given us opportunities to serve others by doing sound, video, ushering, providing food, serving food, and sending cards. I trust those affected have felt the peace of God through the serving that has been done.

Toward the end of today’s message we will think about peace for 2020, but for now, let’s feel good that in 2019, we have had and shared peace.

During this season of Advent, we have had the theme of hope, the theme of peace, and the theme of joy. Not happiness, which is determined by things around us going well, but joy. Christian joy, which has as its source knowing Jesus is the Savior, accepting Him as the Savior, then learning His teachings, all of it in the Bible, followed by obeying what He taught.

Concerning joy, think again of Mary and Joseph. As mentioned earlier, they had to change their plans to fit into God’s plans. But they did so. It was not easy for them to do that as Mary was rejected for being pregnant before she was married and as Joseph was called upon to help raise a son who was not his. Following the events of Christmas, things were not going to get any easier, but Mary and Joseph still had joy. Again, probably not happiness, but joy. The joy of being involved with the plan to offer salvation to the world.

Think of the shepherds talked about. The night of Jesus’ birth, they were invited to leave their sheep, walk to the nearby town of Bethlehem, and meet Jesus. Leave their sheep? What a danger that was. But they were willing to take the risk.

How richly they were rewarded. Rewarded by having nothing bad happen to the sheep while they were gone, and by meeting the Savior, which they joyfully reported to Mary and Joseph, then to other shepherds they passed on their way back to their sheep. Their lives were still filled with the drudgery of shepherding, so they were not necessarily happy, but they did have joy. The joy of knowing the Savior.

Joyously telling others about Jesus. We have had opportunities to do that as a congregation this year.

I am thinking of the conference we had in the spring with Steven and Peggy Beverly. The OMG - On Mission For God - Conference. The Beverlys are missionaries in Sri Lanka, off the coast of India. They were on leave back in the States. They led us in a discussion and challenge to let others know about the hope, peace, joy, and love of Jesus, doing that with people we know and people we meet here, and helping support people who do that other places, such as the Beverlys in Sri Lanka.

How about the breakfast we had Easter morning? Yes, there was good food enjoyed. Yes, there was wonderful fellowship. But I assume at least some of the discussion was about Jesus. The joy of His resurrection. Such discussion was us telling one another about the joy of Jesus.

How about the morning a few Saturdays ago when we decorated the church for Christmas? There was a great spirit here that day. Much got done. There was happy conversation and smiles all around. Since we were honoring Jesus in our work, we were feeling and sharing the joy of Jesus, including in our attitudes.

Many other examples of each of our Advent themes this year could be mentioned, but again, those themes have been hope, peace, joy. And love. Love shown to us by God, by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. 

By God, who gave Jesus to us so we might have - could have - can have - salvation from sins. God did not wait or even expect us to be perfect first. God gave Jesus while we were yet sinners. 

By Jesus, who, following His death, resurrection, and return to Heaven, is, even now, serving as our advocate. Our helper, our counselor, our defender. Helping us escape and avoid sin, but if we do sin, defending us before God.

By the Holy Spirit. One of His roles is to intercede for us when we pray so that even if we do not know how to pray, or if we cannot pray because we are so overwhelmed, God will know our requests, understand our hearts and minds, and answer in ways He knows are best.

What are some ways we have let others know of the love we celebrate? How has that been done in 2019? As with the other themes, the list could be much longer, but this is the list I have for this message.

We provide cookies to the fire and rescue personnel across the street. But it is not just sweets they receive from us. We have promised to pray for them each time we hear their sirens as they leave on calls, that they will be safe and effective and that the victims will be helped.

Since the beginning of the cookie giving, there has, by design, never been pressure for the fire and rescue people to be part of us for worship or other activities, but I am certain they know of our love, which is a reflection of God’s love. In that way, we are spreading His love.

I think of other community outreach programs.

One is serving lunch once a month at the People’s City Mission. Those who help with that have a smile and/or kind word or two for each of the ones served. We let them see the Lord’s love through us.

The Pumpkin Patch Party each October has grown to attract not only us, but others in the community. When they see our joy, I am sure our guests feel the love we have from the Lord.

Vacation Bible School does the same each year, attracting not only our own children, but also some who do not normally attend. Some of those others we see just once a year for VBS. Some we may never see again.  But for the four nights of VBS, we share God’s love, Jesus’ love, and the Holy Spirit’s love.

Hope, peace, joy, and love. What wonderful themes we have had this Advent season. What wonderful words that remind us of four of the wonderful blessings brought to us by Jesus, whose birth we have celebrated and do celebrate. What a privilege it has been in 2019 to share those blessings with others.

Now, as we are about to step into 2020, let’s individually and as a congregation look forward to continuing to know spiritual hope, peace, joy, and love. Let’s also look forward to sharing those blessings with others. 

The new year will bring changes. We can pray the future will be even more hopeful and loving than the past has been.

The new year will likely include some difficult days. Maybe some more times of loss due to illness or death. We can pray for the peace available during those times.

The new year will also feature some good days and good times. We can pray for reminders on those days and during those times to be joyful. Reminders, not just among ourselves, but with others.

All this should be our goal because Jesus was not just born. As important and wonderful as that was, He grew up. As an adult, He spent three years teaching us how to live, doing so in word, deed, and attitude. He then died, doing so willingly as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

On the third day after His death, He rose from the tomb. After that, He returned to Heaven, where He still loves us, making it possible for all who accept Him as the Savior to have and share hope, peace, joy, and love. Let’s celebrate that all through the new year.

The closing song for today is a variation of the carol O Come, All Ye Faithful. The variation is some additional words at the end. Words that give us the chance to promise we will glorify and praise the Lord, including in the coming year. 

This will also serve as today’s benediction.

O come, all ye faithful, 

joyful and triumphant,

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;

Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him, 

Christ the Lord.


Sing, choirs of angels,

sing in exultation,

O sing, all ye citizens of Heaven above;

Glory to God, all glory in the highest;

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him, 

Christ the Lord.


Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, 

born that happy morning,

O Jesus, to Thee be all glory given;

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him, 

Christ the Lord.


We’ll give You all the glory,

We'll give You all the glory,

We'll give You all the glory,

Christ the Lord.


We’ll praise Your name forever,

We'll praise Your name forever,

We'll praise Your name forever,

Christ the Lord.


Amen.

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