A Heart for Hope
Our Second Advent Candle lighting
John came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
John calls out “Get ready- Prepare the way for the Lord.”
The crowds ask “what should we do?”
John answers “Repent and produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Don’t trust in your religious ancestry. Grow good fruit. Share clothes and food with those in need. Don’t overcharge or deal falsely with anyone. Be content with what you have. Get ready – one more powerful than I will come who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
As we light the Second Advent candle, let us prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming.
Let us pray,
Lord, prepare our hearts
Fill us with Your Holy Spirit
Produce in us the fruit of repentance.
Fill our hearts with Your hope. Amen
“The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.” (Luke 3:15)
Expectations! What are our expectations for Christmas? What do we hope for? Where do we place our hope for this world?
Somewhere between my fourth and seventh Christmas, my Christmas expectations got dashed. Maybe it was the year we got fire trucks. My brother, John got the fire truck with the huge extending ladder. I got the shorter stouter truck, which actually pumped water. A pumper truck that hooks to your garden hose is great in July but useless in December. I thought I had insensitive parents. Everything was not merry and bright even with a white Christmas. Upset, I tried to organize a pity party. No one came. Feeling ignored I announced “I’m running away.” My dad the former supply sergeant inquired as to what provisions I might need for my journey. That was not the attention I sought. I loaded my belongings into my new wagon and headed down the driveway. At the end of our yard, I turned left up toward the busy and forbidden Harrodsburg Road. Surely mom would stop me, running after me dramatically. She did not. I pulled my worldly goods uphill in the snow. My slippers grew damp. Ignoring Dad’s suggestions of galoshes added to my disappointment. The cold Kentucky wind cut through my new homemade pajamas. At the crest of Longview Dr, I wondered what I should do next.
My expectations had hijacked my Christmas celebration. Expectations can wreck your holidays. I wish that the last time my expectations derailed my celebration was 43 years ago. Expectations can even hijack someone’s life. Jesus speaks of our expectations. “But be ethical even with your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:35). When give without expecting anything in return we become the Children of God. Expectations are powerful. Deflated expectations can keep us from enjoying life, knowing our neighbors, or building a better world.
A friend posted on Facebook “the whole world has gone crazy.” Three times Luke asked: “what should we do?” It is a good question for uncertain times. “What can we expect now?” What shall we do? How shall we live amid now tattered expectations? What do you hope? What expectations float just under the surface? What do you long for? Where do you place your hope?
Even before the first Christmas, the people held expectations of Jesus. They longed for the Messiah to come. They longed for a Savior. You hear it on Palm Sunday as the crowds wave branches and sing “God save us- Blessed is the Savior who comes in the name of the Lord, blessed is the coming of our ancestor King David.” They longed for a warrior king- a mighty one to come in and drive the Romans out. They longed for a conquering hero to eliminate the sinful Greco-Roman culture of public baths, theater, immodest wrestling, jogging and such. They hoped for a Savior, the Anointed One of God, who would restore Israel to a world power: one to make Jerusalem great again- not the vassal state of Rome. They expected the Savior to keep their hard earned coins from traveling across the Mediterranean to Europe. Some zealots even turned to terror to bring about their national expectations.
Before Jesus’ first sermon, John the Baptizer comes preaching “Get ready, for the Lord is coming.” The crowds expect that John might be the Savior, the Messiah who sets things right. Which seems strange for John was a fiery austere preacher. He wore camel hair and a leather belt. He never cut his hair and ate a foraged subsistence diet of bugs, figs and wild honey. John retreated from the seats of power living out in the wilderness. He greeted the important religious and political leaders calling them a den of poisonous snakes. John seems an unlikely leader to restore Israel to power. Maybe they wanted a real outsider. Maybe their preconceived notions of the Messiah kept them from encountering the Lord. Let’s dig into Luke chapter three.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
Did you notice the seven political leaders mentioned? Without a common calendar, the use of ruler’s names was a way to locate events in history. However, using seven rulers implies more than the date. John will be martyred and Jesus crucified at the hands of these sorts of rulers. Perhaps Luke’s seven names do more than set the date! Perhaps, Luke reminds us that princes, politicians, and priests will not save us.
The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness
Do you hear the contrast? God’s Word comes to this wild preacher in the middle of nowhere. One might think God would come to the Temple, the Jerusalem think-tank, the seminary, or Palace but God shows up away from everything- in the wilderness. God speaks not through the King or High Priest but the locust eating prophet. Salvation does not lie in power, princes or politicians.
John went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”
What are we preparing for? Will Christmas come in a package we carry into our homes? Will the Lord arrive with our decorations? What are we hoping for? What do we expect Christ will bring? Are we busy with things that might even keep us from experiencing God’s Hope, Faith and Love swaddled in Bethlehem’s manger? Where do we place our hope?
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Would you expect that message? It is obvious that John has not gone to seminary or read the literature on church growth and marketing. Would you come back to church the next week? John thunders do not trust in your inherited religious birthright. Do not say I was baptized in that glorious sanctuary in TULLAHOMA. Do not rest in the knowledge that our coins say “in God we trust”! Don’t say I have a certificate of confirmation! No, produce the goods. Bear fruits worth of your repentance. Don’t tell me you are a Christian- Live out the faith. John thunders with James “show me your faith by your works” (James 2:18). Produce evidence by a Christ-like lifestyle. After all God could make a Methodist out of the moth balls that protect our altar silks.
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
How shall we get ready for the Lord’s coming? How will you prepare for Christmas? Do we buy more or decorate more, or party more? No- John says simply: “Share your stuff!” Do you want to be prepared for Christ’s coming? Give to the poor and needy! What should we do to receive the Lord? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick, care for the mourning. It is not exciting, flashy or fad worthy. The Lord usually comes in undramatic ways!
Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Now tax collectors work for the seven previously named princes. What might the prophet say to the government? John might preach “stop cooperating with the unjust system. Leave it- reject the unrighteous government. Stop feeding the forces of oppression.” The crowds would squeal with delight if John had screamed “Stop paying your taxes.” They expected the Savior to drive out Rome. Instead, John says simply- do not overcharge people- be honest and be fair. How can we prepare for Christmas? Do good, expecting nothing in return.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
What will John say to the soldiers who enforced the power of the princes? John could have fomented revolution. He does not. Nor does John tell the soldiers lay down their weapons. John’s message pleases neither the left nor the right. John does not speak against the soldier’s work, even though they will stand watch over his martyrdom and Jesus’ crucifixion. John disappoints the political power brokers, because John’s preaching interest lies elsewhere. Our New Testament Covenant never seeks to set up a Christian government. The kingdom John has in mind is an interior kingdom: give evidence of your belief- grow a Godly life- fill the clothes closet- stock the food bank- don’t overcharge anyone- be fair-be content with what you have. John articulates an undramatic kingdom- a kingdom of ethical living.
How can we prepare for God’s coming? Share, deal fairly, give, and be content with what we have! Change your expectations! Expect God’s interior kingdom to come and to change us! Christmas comes counterintuitively. Christmas comes more when we empty our closets instead of filling them. The Lord comes more as we stock the food bank than when feed ourselves.
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John calls us to prepare for the coming King. What do we expect Jesus will bring to us? What sort of Kingdom will the Prince of Peace usher in?
Our symbols might tell us what to expect from Jesus! What do we expect to see in the manger and the cross? Do you expect to see the Prince of Glory lying in a feed trough? In the cross, we see redemption, salvation, hope, love, and eternal life there only because of the love of Jesus. Without the love of Jesus, the cross and the manger offer little hope. The cross and manger defy conventional expectations! Jesus will defy the crowds expectations for God’s Kingdom.
“Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36
“For the kingdom of God is …righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:13, 17
“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out evil, and give freely.” Matthew 10:6-8
“Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in within you.’ ”Luke 17:20-21
I grew up praying for a better world. I prayed that God would sweep in and do something grand and glorious. We prayed for revival. We prayed for the president. We longed for a great day of the Lord when God might break into the world and change it. I have found in my life that God rarely overpowers us. God constantly empowers us- but God rarely overpowers us. God does not stop me when I am about to sin. The Holy Spirit might whisper lay off the ice cream at 10pm, but God has not yet frozen the freezer door shut. God’s Spirit might call to my mind the words of Jesus, “everyone will have to give an account on the day of judgement for every idle word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36), but God has not frozen my tongue in the middle of an acidic sentence. God changes hearts more often than the Almighty holds back the Red Sea. God rarely overpowers, but God empowers us to change the world.
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; behold- everything has become new! All this is from God!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Behold, stop, wake up- is the word the angels greet the shepherds with on Christmas Eve. Behold- you have interior power to change the world. Behold- God empowers us. Behold-the Kingdom of God is within us. Behold- God longs to change our expectations.
Perhaps it is time to stop thinking God will overpower the world. Maybe, we need to see that Jesus empowers us to step out into the darkness and lift up the light and love of God. Behold, Christ’s kingdom is within you. Maybe God restores the world with a series of undramatic moves. Behold- the undramatic kingdom where we share coats, food, homes, justice, fairness, sanctuary and comfort with those who need it. Behold, you will not carry Christmas joy into your homes, but God empowers you to be content with what you have. Behold, loving our neighbors, welcoming strangers, sharing our food, living with undramatic ethics even when evil arises- these boring moves may create a new world.
Perhaps we need to change our expectations of what Jesus’ coming means! Maybe Christ’s coming is not so much an exterior matter, but an empowerment of the heart.
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Lord, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to ourselves
that we are born to eternal life.
Let us re-evaluate our expectations of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Let us dare to step out into the world, knowing that another world awaits us. Let us to die to our own expectations and live for Jesus’ coming kingdom of righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit. Let us say with Paul: “to live is Christ, and to die is glory!” (Philippians 1:21). Paul expected to live for Christ. Paul counted death as the chance to gain God’s glory. Will we follow the one born in the manger and take up our cross, share our food, be content, be fair, be just, be good, love neighbors, welcome strangers and allow the kingdom of God to emerge within us? Where will we place our hopes?
Amazing undramatic miracles occur when we allow God to change our expectations. So there I stood on the corner of Longview and Harrodsburg Road in 1972-ish with the snow falling. The cold dampness oozed up my soon wet slippers. Smoke rose from my chimney where surely someone stood by the window watching. I decided to return home. I hoped to be greeted like the prodigal son, with dad racing down the drive way with a tin of fudge saying “son we forgot you have another big present we left in the attic!” That did not happen. I had to open my own back door. Mom said something like “John has some hot chocolate, would you like some?” Soon I sat barefooted by a roaring fire, drinking hot chocolate and full of joy. I held new expectations and deeper interior resources to navigate life’s disappointments.
Tuesday night we put up our tree. I sat on the futon in the Florida room with one of my boys who let me rub his back. He is in the teenage witness protection program and will remain nameless so as to not die of embarrassment. We listened to music and I looked at the tree. I realized I hate LED lights. I miss the tacky flashing lights of my tree growing up. Connie does not like twinkling lights. Growing up we had great, inefficient, heat generating bulbs that each screwed into an individual socket and flashed in random patterns across our glossy ceiling. It might have been tacky but I loved to lay on the sleeper sofa and watch the lights dance on the ceiling. Pure joy! As I sat rubbing my son’s back, I realized I could not remember what the toy or even the event that drove me outside in the snow back in 1972. Expectations.
Friends, maybe the whole world is going nuts, breaking our hearts, and changing our expectations. Let us not retreat from the world. No, let us step into the darkness and offer the light of Christ that our world so desperately needs. Maybe we need not wait for a sign or miracle. Maybe we do not need to wait for God to overpower the world. Perhaps, God has already empowered us enough to remake the world. Behold- God makes everything new. Behold, the kingdom that God longs to build is inside of us. Empowered by God’s Spirit let us rebuild this world with a series of undramatic Christ-like actions. Share your coat, share your food, share our comfort, share our shelter, welcome the stranger, be ethical, be fair, be content, make straight the path, prepare the way for the Lord! Behold- the kingdom of God is within you.