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Tag: Advent

A Future of Hope

Over the last three weeks we’ve been looking at all the background of the Christmas story. And we’ve discovered that this history of hope goes all the way back to the beginning of time when God created the heavens and the earth. 

You see, God had set up the perfect system for the perfect life – He would be the source of everything mankind would ever need. He gave them life, He provided delicious food to eat, He gave them an amazing place to live, meaningful relationships, purpose in their work – everything they needed, He would provide. 

And as their source, He would also be their authority. Of course, He certainly gave them incredible freedom – as well as authority and responsibilities of their own, but He was to be the ultimate authority. He was the one to determine right and wrong. 

And that was God’s setup for the perfect life. As long as mankind looked to God as their source and as their authority, life would be amazing!

And it worked great! With this setup, Adam & Eve enjoyed life to the fullest as God intended it – and it was sweet. They had everything they wanted. Their relationship with God and with each was perfect and beautiful – Never any conflict or never any strife – it was exactly what you might describe as heaven.

But something happened. Sin happened. Adam & Eve rejected God as their source and as their authority and they took that role for themselves and as a result – everything fell apart. Their relationships with God and with each other was broken. The sweetness of life turned to bitterness and life on earth became painful and difficult. In fact, life for all of mankind has been a struggle ever since.

But of course, God had a plan. God knew this would happen even before He created the world, so all along, God had a plan. And this is what we’ve been looking at for the past three weeks – God’s plan to put things back to the way they were when He first created them.

And all along the way, we’ve seen that God has given us hints of His plan – He’s given several different people several different promises that all point to the same thing. 

But in case you missed the previous three Sundays, let me give you just a quick summary of some of the promises that God had given to various people throughout the Old Testament: 

  • On week one, we learned how God promised Adam & Eve that one day, one of Eve’s descendants would crush Satan’s head and defeat sin and death for all time. 
  • On week two, we learned how God promised Abraham that one day, one of his descendants would be a blessing to every single family on earth. 
  • On week three, we learned that God promised King David that one day, one of his descendants would be King for all time.

And as we looked at some of the old testament prophecies, and then as we looked at the Christmas story as recorded in Luke, we came to realize that all these promises were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. He was the one that God had been promising for some 4000+ years. He was the one who would crush Satan’s head. He was the one who would be a blessing to every family on earth. He was the one who would be King forever.

And that’s what made that first Christmas such a big deal – its because finally, after years of hoping and waiting for God to fulfill his promises, finally, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ was born as a human being and He would make things right again.

But here’s the big question that we were left with last Sunday. If you look around at the world today – it doesn’t really seem like everything’s right again – does it? There’s still pain. There’s still suffering. Satan seems as active as ever. Sin is still around in bountiful supply. Our relationships with God and our relationships with each are far from perfect. 

So… what happened? Did God’s plan fail? Did Jesus not accomplish everything He was supposed to do? Did we somehow misunderstand God’s promises? Or is it just that the story isn’t over yet? Well, that’s what we’re going to look at today. 

In our progression through this History of Hope, we left off last week with the angel Gabriel declaring to Mary that she was about to have a baby. And perhaps you came here, on this last Sunday before Christmas, expecting to hear the story of the angels and the shepherds and the wiseman and the manger and all that good stuff. 

But I’m guessing that you probably already know that part of the story and if you don’t, you can tune into our Christmas Eve Zoom party later this week and we’ll be reading through all that part of the story – complete with visual aids provided by all the kiddos! But this morning, I’m going to fast forward a little bit. I actually want to focus on what happened after Christmas – so for now, we’re going to skip the whole birth of Jesus part of the Christmas story.

I won’t spend much time talking about Jesus’ childhood either. In fact, apart from one incident from when He was about 12 years old, we don’t hear anything about Jesus until He was about 30. That was when He started doing all those miracles and teaching the crowds and training his disciples and doing all those things that you read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Most of what happens in the Gospels happens within a period of about three years when Jesus is probably in his early thirties. But that’s still not the part I want to focus on – let’s fast-forward just a little further.

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The Unexpected Source of Joy

We’ve been preaching through the season of Advent – remembering the first (and looking forward to the second) coming of Jesus. These Advent candles remind us of the many gifts we have (and the gifts we look forward to) because of Jesus’ coming.  We started two weeks ago with God’s gift of hope – last week was a reminder of the gift of peace – and this week, of course, we want to look at God’s gift of joy.

This gift of joy is made possible only because of Jesus’ arrival into the world as a little baby. We read at our Christmas Celebration on Friday in Luke chapter 2 of how, on the night of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem and announced to them this good news that would bring great joy to all people. Let me read for you in Luke 2 – starting at verse 8.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

This little baby boy, born in the Bethlehem some 2000 years ago would be the source of joy to the world – even for us here in Penhold in 2017.

And I know this probably isn’t necessarily ‘new’ news for you this morning. Chances are, you many of you have heard this good news before. Especially if you’ve been here for the past two weeks.

One of the concerns that I had when we decided to do these Advent messages was that hope, peace, and joy are so intertwined with each other that I feared I’d be preaching the same message every week – just using a different word.

  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us hope because our sins are forgiven and he has promised to return and make all things right.
  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us peace because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.
  • And I could talk about how Jesus gives us joy because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.

And of course, that would all be very true! Christmas really is a ‘buy one, get two free’ kind of a deal. Hope, peace, and joy are all part of the same package. They are all made possible by Jesus coming to earth, being born as a baby in a manger – living and then dying on the cross and being raised back to life again.

But even though they are all so closely related, I do want to talk a little bit today specifically about joy. As I was studying up on the topic of joy this week – I found that even defining ‘joy’ could be a little tricky. There was no one clear definition of joy.

  • Some would say that joy is another word for happiness. Others would say that joy is certainly not the same thing as happiness.
  • Some would say that joy is a feeling or an emotion. Others would say, no. No it’s not.
  • Some would say we can choose to be joyful – that is it an act of our will – but others see joyfulness a natural by-product of something else.

There are lots of different ways to define joy – I think there can be good arguments made for all of those different ways.

So how do we understand joy? What exactly did the angels mean when they said that this good news would bring great joy to all people? How does this good news help you and I experience joy today?

Regardless of how we define it, joy sure sounds like a good thing – so how do we get it? I guess that’s really our bottom line – how do we experience joy in our lives today?

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A Reminder of Hope

Now some of you will already know this about me – but for some of you, today I want to share with you a little bit about my life that you may not have known before.

You wouldn’t guess it by the state of my backyard right now – but I’m actually a bit of a gardener. When Heather & I were first married – I actually spent a few months working at the Meadowbrook Greenhouses just west of town and it was somewhere around that time that I took an online landscape design course. I learned how to survey a yard and then how to plan and design a beautiful garden space. I put that to use at our home in Mirror.

This was the plan that Heather & I came up with for our yard. It’s kinda hard to make out everything from this map – but for those who have know us for a while and have been to our house in Mirror before, you might be able to recognize some of the elements.

I’ve actually got a couple before and after pictures to give you an idea of how it all came together.

When we started working on the sidewalk, people thought it was pretty strange to put a fire pit in the middle of the sidewalk…. But no, it wasn’t a firepit. It was for a tree.

I’ll tell you, it was a lot of work, but it’s pretty cool to see the transformation from a barren wasteland to a beautiful, productive garden. I think that’s probably why I love gardening and landscaping. I love to see that transformation. I love to see things grow and flourish and be beautiful and productive.

And that’s probably why I love pastoring too. It’s the same idea, just in a different realm. I love to see God transform people’s lives – helping them to grow and to flourish and be productive!

And I bring all this up today because earlier this week, I received in the mail my annual catalogue for T & T Seeds. This is probably my favourite thing to get in the mail – especially in the dead of winter. When everything is cold and frozen – there is nothing green anywhere – it’s all brown or covered in snow and ice. Summer has been long forgotten and there seems to be no sign of life anywhere. You start wondering if winter will ever end.

And then, in the mail, comes this beacon of hope! The seed catalogue! It brings us the promise that winter will not last forever – spring is coming. Soon the ice and snow will melt – new leaves will sprout on the trees, the little seeds that we buy and bury in the ground will soon push through the dirt and grow into flowers and vegetables. New life is just around the corner. There is hope.

And in a lot of ways, Christmas is a lot like that seed catalogue. Christmas is a reminder of hope.

Sometimes I wrestle with how much emphasis we put on Christmas. You know, the Bible never actually tells us to celebrate Christmas – there’s no mention in the Bible of the early church celebrating Jesus’ birth. In fact, in my Bible there is only about 4 pages out of about 1200 pages of Scripture that talk about the birth of Jesus. That’s only 0.3 percent of the Bible that talks about Christmas. And yet, we often take the entire month of December (1/12th of the year) to talk about it. Why is that? Well, I think it’s because Christmas is like that seed catalogue – it offers us a beacon of hope. It reminds us that God always keeps His promises. God is in the midst – even right now – of redeeming and restoring his Creation back to the way He intended it. 

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