December 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday in Advent Sermon

There Standeth One Among You
Philippians 4:4-7, John 1:19-29
Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 22, 2013

“There standeth one among you.”  Theologians and preachers often make much ado about the transcendence of God.  And we should.  Transcendence is an important attribute of the greatness and glory of God.  He transcends the physical universe.  He transcends time and space. Christina Rossetti, who, by the way was an Anglican, wrote the beloved Christmas carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter” in 1872.  We will sing it tonight at our Christmas service, and I will completely obliterate the timing of the words in the second verse, like I do every year.  You know the words, “Our God, heav’n cannot hold Him, nor earth contain.”  I will get the timing of those words wrong tonight, but I have their meaning correct in my heart.  I know God is bigger, and greater, and far more glorious than the stars and galaxies I see in the night sky.  I know the heavens cannot hold Him. He transcends all things.
 But the Bible makes a great deal about another attribute of God.  The Bible goes to great lengths to show that He is as immanent as He is transcendent.  In other words, He is down here as much as He is out there.  This point is made throughout the Bible.  In the very first verse, God created the heavens and the earth.  In the second verse, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. In Genesis 2 “God took the man and put him in Eden.  In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve heard the voice of God walking in the garden, and in Genesis 3:9, “the Lord God called unto Adam.  In other parts of the Old Testament the Lord speaks to Noah.  God speaks to Abraham. God speaks to Moses.  God speaks Joshua.  The Lord calls Samuel.  He speaks to the prophets, whose writings echo the refrain, “The word of the Lord came to me.”  He appears to Isaiah “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.”  To Jeremiah He says, “Am I a God at hand… and not a God afar off?”  He is telling Jeremiah  He is here with us.  He is “at hand.”
The immanence of God is also one of the primary messages of the New Testament.  Matthew 1 tells us Christ is God with us. John 1 tells us the word, who always was, always is, and always will be God, “was made flesh and dwelt among us.” “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,” Christ said to the Apostles. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” Christ promised His Church.  According to the Bible Christ dwells in us.  We are His Temple.  He has put His Spirit in us, the Holy Spirit, who is called the Spirit of Christ. This brings me to the words of the Gospel reading this morning, John 1:26, “there standeth one among you.”  The words were spoken by John the Baptist regarding Christ Jesus.  John did not know exactly which man in the crowds he spoke to was the Christ.  That had not been revealed to him yet.  But he knew one thing about Christ; he knew He was here.  He knew Christ was among them.  He still is.  Christ is among us.  The point of all of this is to say we are never alone.  God is with us, an ever present help and friend.  “There standeth one among you” and that One is God with us.  That is the first point of today’s sermon.
For the second point we turn to the Epistle and read in Philippians 4:5, “the Lord is at hand.”  While it is certain that “at hand” refers, in part, to the return of Christ, the words also apply to Christ’s continuing presence with His people.  He is, as He said through Jeremiah, a God at hand and not a God afar off.  But the point I want to emphasise here is found in verse 7; “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.”  This is the result of Christ being among us.  This is the result of Christ dwelling in us.  This is the result of us being in Christ.
There is no peace in this world.  There is, at times, the appearance of peace, but it is always an illusion, for in such times the next big problem is advancing upon us.  It may be war.  It may be poverty.  It may be illness.  It may be family problems.  It may be disillusionment.  It may be disappointment.  But something is coming at us, and it will shatter our illusion peace.  That’s why Jesus said the peace He gives is not like the peace the world gives.  The peace Christ gives is as eternal and unbreakable as God Himself.
The peace of God is based upon His atoning sacrifice on the cross.  It is based on the knowledge that Jesus died for our sin, and that all who believe in Him in Biblical faith are completely and eternally forgiven.  His blood has washed away our sins.  He has removed them from us as far as the east is from the west.  That means that when we stand before God on the other side of the grave, we will not tremble in the consuming wrath of God, we will give thanks in His consuming love.
The peace of God is based on the removal of the fear of death.  Why do people fear death?  Isn’t it because we instinctively know we will face God?  And don’t we fear that meeting because we know we have sinned?  In short, don’t we fear death because we fear hell?  But in Christ that fear is gone.  The sting, the pain of death is gone.  The grave is no victory for hell, it is the entrance to eternal life, and we can face it with assurance.  That is peace.
The peace of God is based upon the knowledge that earthly troubles will pass, but Heaven is forever.  We often hear the words, ‘life is short.”  They are often followed by an exhortation, like, “use the good china,” or “hug your wife and children.”  They are usually said with a smile, yet there is a sense of urgency in them.  If life is short we should make every minute count.  We should do what is important.  I agree, and I add, seek God.  Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and mind.
The peace of God is not based upon getting the most out of life here and now.  It is based on the  knowledge that when earth is over, and all the treasures we have worked so hard to get, and all the pleasures we thought were so important, and all the troubles we thought were so huge and debilitating, will end soon.  And one day, God’s people will look back on them and wonder how we could have been so dominated by them because they will be absolutely insignificant in Heaven.
The peace of God is based upon the knowledge that God loves us and is working all things to our good, here and now.  Life on earth, for the Christian, is like a preparatory school.  It not the end or the goal; the be all end all.  It is only a classroom to get us ready for Heaven.  Knowing this we can trust God with life.  We can put it all in His hands and accept what comes to us.  We know that the troubles of life cannot separate us from God, and that all things work together for our good.
All of these things put a peace in our hearts the world can’t take away.  We can lose our homes.  We can lose our cars.  We can lose our health and our lives.  But we can never lose God or the benefits of His love.  That knowledge gives peace.  Philippians 4:7 says it will keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.  Keep means to protect.  The word projects the image of a strong and heavily armed guard standing watch over your soul.  Who is this Guard?  He is no mere man; nor even an angel. He is no less than Christ Jesus.  He is the guardian of your soul.  It is He who keeps you by His peace.  May His peace be with you.
                                                                                                           
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.X

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