December 2, 2012
Sermon, First Sunday of Advent
Person, not Chance
Psalm 50, Malachi 3:1-6 &4:4-6, Luke 1:5-25
First Sunday of Advent
December 2, 2012
I think people often miss the point of the Scriptures by focusing their attention on the people in the Bible instead of the God of the Bible. I have, for example, heard many sermons on Genesis 37:4, which have been about parenting and the evils of favouritism by parents. Parental favouritism is a great evil, and the relationship between Jacob and Joseph and the rest of the sons of Jacob plainly show the devastation it can cause. But that is not the point of Genesis 37:4. The point is that God has a plan for Israel, and His plan includes getting Joseph into Egypt to provide for Israel during the coming famine.
I think people make the same mistake with the passage we just read in Luke. They see a story about Zechariah and Elizabeth and John, but the passage is not really about them. The passage is about God. That's why it was designated to be read on the First Sunday in Advent, when we begin to focus our attention on what we are to believe about God.
What does this passage teach us to believe about God? First; God has a plan. The birth of John the Baptist was no accident. It was not through blind chance that Zechariah served at the table of incense that morning. It was not through blind chance that Elizabeth was unable to conceive a child. It was not through blind chance that she finally did conceive a child who was John the Baptist and did all of the wonderful things John did. God has a plan, and all of these events are part of the plan of God, to prepare the way of the Lord.
This means the birth of Christ was no accident. We say, "of course not, for Christ's sacrifice was planned before the foundations of the earth were laid, and He had to be born before He could die." True, but what about the timing and circumstances of His birth? The Bible makes it clear they were part of God's plan, too. God had been working in history to bring the world to the fullness of time when all things were prepared for the birth of the Saviour. Jacob and Joseph were part of that plan. Egypt was part of that plan. Moses and the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery were part of that plan. Ruth was part of it. David was part of it. Bathsheba was part of it. Babylon was part of it. Even Greece and Rome were all part of God's plan, and each played its part exactly as God, the Planner, directed.
Part of God's plan is the calling and redeeming of a people to be His own unique Kingdom. The citizens of His Kingdom are called out of many nations and backgrounds, but all are called out of sin and into righteousness. They are forgiven of sin and dressed in the righteousness of God Himself, who died for their sins in Christ. These people begin a new life in God's fellowship and blessings. Israel was the foundation of that Kingdom in the Old Testament. The Church of the New Testament is the continuation of that plan. God's promises to Israel are being fulfilled in the Church. We, who are in the Church live in the era in which God's promises are beginning to be fulfilled. The Bible calls this era, the "last days," meaning the last era before the return of Christ and the full completion of His plan.
But I want to move beyond the plan of God to the God of the plan. I want to know what it means that God has a plan. I'm going to make some statements here, and ask you to tell if they are correct or not.
First, only a mind can make a plan. If anything happens by blind chance, regardless of what happens, whether it be order or chaos, it is still only an accident. It isn't meant to happen and it isn't meant not to happen because there isn't anyone to mean or not mean it. Whatever happened was accidental, had no meaning or purpose, came from nothing and returns to nothing. Of course, blind chance is impossible, for even chance requires something to exist before anything can happen to it, and existence comes from God on the basis of His purpose and direction. So the existence of anything negates all possibility of blind chance.
But, here is the point; if only a mind can make a plan, God is a mind. God thinks. God has purpose, intentionality, intelligence, and thoughts. He is not a mere cosmic force. He is a mind.
Second, only a personal being has a mind. A galaxy does not have a mind. A planet does not have a mind. Even that weed trimmer that won't start when we want it to does not have "a mind of its own." A cosmic "Force" as portrayed in the Star Wars movies would not have a mind. It would be simply a form of energy that can be used and controlled if you know the right tricks. That's why even religions that believe in a cosmic force also can believe in personal gods, like Krishna and Kali. Only a person can have a mind and only a mind can have a plan.
Third, God is a Person. He is a Being. In fact all personhood and being exist in Him. The salient point of our reading in Luke is not just that John was no accident; it is that John is part of a master plan, formed in the Mind of a great Person and Being who is able to both make a plan and to make His plan work.
So this is the first thing we emphasise in what we are to believe about God: He is a Person. He "lives," He thinks, He makes plans. He is a Being.
Second, God is able to make His plans work. Imagine all the generations it took to produce Noah. Then think of all the generations it took to produce Abraham and Sarah, and Moses and Mary and Joseph. All of these people existed and did what they did because God was working it all out in His own way and His own time. Think of all the "coincidences" that brought Zacharias and Elizabeth into the world, brought them to marry one another, and remain childless. Think of all the things that had to happen to get Zacharias into the Temple that morning and to serve at the incense altar. They weren't coincidences. They were all part of the plan of God working into place in His own time and His own way. They didn't happen by chance; they happened because God made them happen.