December 23, 2012
Sermon, Fourth Sunday in Advent
What the Bible Says about Us
Psalm 80, Isaiah 40:1-11, Luke 3:1-17
Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 23, 2012
We always need to keep in mind that the Bible's primary message is "God." It is about who God is, what He is like, what He is doing, and what His purpose and goal for creation is. So, in today's reading, as well as the readings in the other Sundays in Advent, the message is not about Zechariah, Elizabeth, or John, so much as it is about what God was doing through them to fullfill His purpose of bringing all things together in Christ. We saw, on the First Sunday of Advent, that John was promised by God as the one who would prepare the way of the Lord. Last Sunday we read of the birth of John as the fullfillment of God's promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and also as part of the fullfilment of the much greater Promise to send the Saviour, under whom all things will be gathered together. Today we see God using John in the work for which he was born; preparing the way of the Lord, and calling the people of Israel back to God. So, I want to emphasise that the Bible is about God, but, I don't want to give the impression that people are just props in a Divine Soliloquy. People are part of God's plan, which means God's plan is partly about us. That means the Bible, too, is partly about us. So, using John as an example, I want to talk about what the Bible says about us.
First, the Bible says we are created by God. Genesis 1 makes it very clear that the earth was created to be populated by people. We were no after thought, we were part of God's purpose for His creation. But it is not just people who were created, it was persons. The Bible gives many instances of individual persons being born because God planned and intended them to be. John was one of these persons. John was no accident of blind chance. John was foretold and forknown by God. He was born to parents past child bearing age. John was a miracle child. But, and this is important, every child is a miracle child. Every child is foreseen and foreknown by God. Before we were conceived, and even before the world was formed, God knew us. We were in God's mind and plan from the beginning. You were no after thought. You were no accident. God knew you before He formed you in the womb.
Second, we are created for a purpose. Let me put it another way, God has a purpose for you. Your life has meaning. You exist for more than simply accumulating toys and gratifying your mental pride and physical desires. Millions of people today spend the bulk of their time and energy trying to "find" themselves. They are looking for an identity and purpose. They are looking for their "passion." Sometimes they look in the craziest places; drugs, toys, amusements, cults, radical causes, self indulgence, or fornication. Yet, after they have indulged every whim and passion, they find they still have an emptiness inside of them. They have not "found themselves."
Not everyone runs amuck in their quest for self. Some people look in more traditional places, like love, marriage, children, meaningful work, and being a "good" person. These people also find an emptiness inside of them that their carefully crafted identities cannot fill. So they continue to search, or they simply resolve to live with the emptiness.
I think I see something in their quest. I see in it an explicit confession of one of the Bible's foundational teachings about man; they are lost. People are desperately trying to find themselves because they know, deep inside, that they have lost themselves. What they don't know is that they have lost themselves because they have lost God. They are strangers and aliens to God and His ways. But, rather than seeking God, they look for hope and meaning in things that cannot give them. They do not understand what St. Augustine meant when he said; "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless til we find our rest in Thee."
According to the Bible, your life has meaning and purpose already. You don't have to find it, invent it, or create it. It is given to you by One far wiser than yourself, who knows your needs, and wants better things for you than you can ask or think. Your purpose is to receive and return the love of God. The One who is omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, and Holy, created you to receive and return His love.
How do we return the love of God? By doing His will. When we see John in today's reading, we see him doing the will of God. He is serving God and God's people. But notice that it is not only "minsters" who serve God. All people are called to serve Him in every area of life. When the everyday people asked John what they should do, they were instructed to turn from sin and bring forth fruit worthy of repentance. Publicans, or, tax collectors, were told to gather only what was fair and required, rather than stealing to enrich themselves. Soldiers were told not to abuse civilians, or plunder like pirates. Instead they were to uphold the law and maintain the peace. So even our occupations are opportunities to serve God.
I see in these verses a call that encompases all people. It begins with the faithful Jewish believers, the ones who do their jobs and care for their families and go to synagogue. They are the people of verse 10. It moves to the marginal Jews, the tax collectors who work for the Roman conquerors. They need to do righteousness too, even in their work. Then it moves to those on the far fringe. They were either Jews who had enlisted in the Roman army, or Gentiles soldiers who had come to Judaism or were attracted by the preaching of John, and wanted to know if it was possible to serve in the Roman army and still serve God. John's answer is to come back to the center. Don't stay on the fringes. Repent of sin. Let your heart be changed for God. Love Him, love His people, and prepare for the Advent of the Saviour. So the call to serve God in all of life is not just for clergy or "saints," it is for all people, and it is your purpose and calling in life.
Third, we need to be enabled to serve God. There is something about us, about our nature, that inclines us away from God. Some call this our sinful nature. Some call it our Adamic nature, meaning the human nature we have inherited from our parents, back to the very beginning. Some call it our natural fallenness. I prefer to call it what our Anglican Articles of Religion call it, "Original Sin." Article IX says Original Sin is the "fault and corruption of the Nature of every man... whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil." These words are a very brief summary of a very involved Biblical doctrine, but it is expressed well in verses like 1 Corinthians 2:14; "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
When John came preaching, "repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 3:2), he was addressing the need to have our natural inclination toward sin repaired. Repentance is to have a new mind and a new way of life. It is to be turned around, so that instead of going away from God we begin to walk toward Him. More correctly, it is to be turned from a life-style of living apart from God, to a life-style of living in God. So John's call to repent is actually a call to let God renew and re-make your mind and your being, so you will be able to believe in Him in faith and follow Him in faithfulness.
Our Lord called this being "born again" (John 3:16). The Apostle Paul called it being quickened, or being made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:1). He also called it being renewed in your mind. I like the word,"regeneration." Paul used it in Titus 3:5, which tells us we are not saved by "works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost." I like the word "regeneration" because it reminds me of the Lord's words in Matthew 19:28; "Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Regeneration here refers to the new heavens and new earth, the renewal of creation and its restoration to its original condition as it came from the hand of God in the beginning. When Paul wrote of our regeneration he referred to our being restored to the original goodness and fellowship with God, which man had in paradise. That is what man needs. That is what God is doing in the lives of His people. That is His goal for you.
So the Bible has much to say about us. We were created by God. We were created to love Him and to receive His love. And because of our sin and natural corruption we need to be regenerated so we can be restored to the fellowship and purpose for which God created us. Thanks be to God, Christ is all about restoring us to God.
O Lord, our God, grant unto us true repentance and Thy Holy Spirit, that we may be wheat gathered into Thy garner, and bring forth fruit worthy of repentance, through Christ our Saviour. Amen.