A Messenger Arrives

It is hard to imagine that the season of Advent begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Even as we prepare for our Thanksgiving celebrations next week, pastors all over the place are starting to write their first of four advent sermons. Advent is the season of preparation for the “advent” of Christ on earth, and we mark it off by lighting candles in our churches that remind us of the hope, peace, joy, and love that he came to bring. And we always begin by listening to the messengers. The prophets of the Old Testament wrote about a much-needed messiah who would come to save their people. Their prophesies set the stage for Jesus. Listen to Malachi’s words about a messenger who would come to announce the arrival of the savior:

Malachi 3:1-4 (Common English Bible)

Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me; suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming, says the Lord of heavenly forces. 2 Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can withstand his appearance. He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver. He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. They will belong to the Lord, presenting a righteous offering. 4 The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in ancient days and in former years.

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament and was written to address the religious, spiritual, and moral laxity that had overtaken the Israelites. The people had returned from their Babylonian exile seventy years prior, and the temple had been rebuilt. But they had fallen into laziness and cynicism about their relationship with God. Their disaffection led them to bring “polluted offerings” to the temple, breaking the covenant law about first fruits, which required that only the finest and unblemished offerings be presented. (Malachi 1:7). Malachi speaks directly to their powerless worship and warns that judgment is coming.


It was always the mission of the prophets to bring God’s message of God’s covenant relationship to the people and the expectations that came with it. God established a covenant through Abraham, reinforced it through Joseph, and defined it through Moses. The covenant promise continued through the major and minor prophets and always carried both warnings and hope. Their work involved warning against social injustice and the worldly powers that oppressed God’s people, but it also included words of hope about their future deliverance and a peace that would last. The prophetical writings breathed hope into humanity’s present condition, regardless of the century they were written. Malachi warned that in order for a righteous offering to be presented, a cleansing fire will occur first, beginning with the slack priests (the Levites) who should have been leading the people in true worship.
     

We see Malachi’s prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, who came and will come again to do the final and ultimate refining. Those who repent and believe in him will never perish, but will become a righteous and pleasing offering to God through the unblemished First Fruit of the Son. (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Only in this way can any of us endure the day of his coming.  Sound scary? Hang on … hope is also coming. John the Baptizer, the messenger chosen to clear the way for Jesus, shows us the way: repent, for the kingdom is at hand.

When we begin looking toward Advent with a call to repent, it sounds as thought we have confused the season and are jumping to Lent. But the call to repentance is season-less. Malachi reminds us that a refiner’s fire is coming and we need to be ready.

As we make ourselves ready next week for great Thanksgiving feasts, football games, and the start of Christmas preparations, let us not neglect to make our hearts ready as well. “Suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple”, says Malachi. Let us make the temples of our souls ready and waiting.

Ready, and Waiting by Kathy Schumacher

Preparation is Key

I faced a dilemma a few weeks ago. It was a crazy-busy Sunday in the height of the summer season on the Outer Banks. A nation-wide worker shortage is adversely affecting the restaurant business, and wait times of up to two and a half hours for a table are not unheard of, especially for Sunday brunch. We were blessed to have our District Superintendent visit us for worship, but that left us with a problem of where to take him for lunch afterward. Lo and behold, one of my favorite restaurant offers reservations. Bliss!

Can you imagine the incredible work and preparation that goes into running a restaurant? From ordering supplies, hiring and scheduling workers, designing menus, ensuring that equipment and ingredients are prepared and ready to go everyday….it boggles the mind.

Now think about what happens when a restaurant, a business, a surgery, a classroom, or even a short trip happens without proper planning. It can spell disaster in a hurry.

When God sent out those who would be prophets, he was preparing the people for things to come. God was hoping to guarantee their success by being specific with the words the prophets were to proclaim on his behalf. It must have been a terrible calling, especially for the Old Testament prophets who were instructed to warn their people of the coming wrath and judgment.

But when John the Baptistizer was called to be a prophet, his message was “repent, for the kingdom is at hand.” He was to serve as a preparer of the way, making things ready for Jesus to come. Jesus himself affirmed John’s ministry:

Luke 7:24-35 (Common English Bible)

24 After John’s messengers were gone, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A stalk blowing in the wind?25 What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in refined clothes? Look, those who dress in fashionable clothes and live in luxury are in royal palaces.26 What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 He is the one of whom it’s written: Look, I’m sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you.

Everything takes preparation, even a good messiahship. John was the “back of house” fellow who labored in the kitchen, chopping and prepping the mis en place so that when the real deal came, the table had already been set.

28 I tell you that no greater human being has ever been born than John. Yet whoever is least in God’s kingdom is greater than he.”29 Everyone who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged God’s justice because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and legal experts rejected God’s will for themselves because they hadn’t been baptized by John.

Those who were humble and received John’s baptism were prepared for a place in the kingdom that would be even higher than his. But the arrogant, prideful ones who rejected John’s baptism would pay the price for their haughtiness. There are consequences for rejecting God.

Are you prepared? Do you know where you will spend eternity? Are you prepared to answer for your life? Are you ready to teach the next generation about the kingdom of God?

Is it time to repent?

Make ready, for the day of the Lord is at hand.

Prepare the Way by Kathy Schumacher

Webs of Guilt

Have you ever done something terribly wrong and then suffered from the paranoia of getting caught? When we break the rules and commit a sin, we discover that the fear of being found out is often worse than the punishment that follows. It is a relief to finally confess our misdeeds and be done with it…the guilt is expunged and the anxiety over being discovered is finally over.

In our scripture today, King Herod is overcome with his guilt. He killed John the Baptist because of a young girl’s demand. His paranoia is so great, he believes that a miracle-worker named Jesus was actually John, returned from the dead:

Mark 6 (The Message)

14 King Herod heard of all this, for by this time the name of Jesus was on everyone’s lips. He said, “This has to be John the Baptizer come back from the dead—that’s why he’s able to work miracles!”

15 Others said, “No, it’s Elijah.”

Others said, “He’s a prophet, just like one of the old-time prophets.”

16 But Herod wouldn’t budge: “It’s John, sure enough. I cut off his head, and now he’s back, alive.”

Guilt will do that to you. It can drive you crazy to hold onto a secret or to have to cover up a crime or indiscretion. One lie leads to another lie until we are caught in a web of deception. Herod’s guilt was great. He actually liked John. He had given John special treatment as a “holy man,” and respected the fact that John was bold enough to speak the truth:

17-20 Herod was the one who had ordered the arrest of John, put him in chains, and sent him to prison at the nagging of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had provoked Herod by naming his relationship with Herodias “adultery.” Herodias, smoldering with hate, wanted to kill him, but didn’t dare because Herod was in awe of John. Convinced that he was a holy man, he gave him special treatment. Whenever he listened to him he was miserable with guilt—and yet he couldn’t stay away. Something in John kept pulling him back.

“Something in John kept pulling [Herod] back.” This is a sad statement. The power of the Holy Spirit working though John had almost broken down the walls that Herod had erected around himself. Herod felt the guilt that came with the truth John had exposed, and he couldn’t stay away. He was almost ready to turn it all around until…

21-22 But a portentous day arrived when Herod threw a birthday party, inviting all the brass and bluebloods in Galilee. Herodias’s daughter entered the banquet hall and danced for the guests. She charmed Herod and the guests.

22-23 The king said to the girl, “Ask me anything. I’ll give you anything you want.” Carried away, he kept on, “I swear, I’ll split my kingdom with you if you say so!”

24 She went back to her mother and said, “What should I ask for?”

“Ask for the head of John the Baptizer.”

25 Excited, she ran back to the king and said, “I want the head of John the Baptizer served up on a platter. And I want it now!”

His lustful eye for the young daughter of Herodias was his undoing. Trapped now by his hastily spoken words, he had no choice but to act on his extravagantly stupid vow to give her whatever she wanted.

26-29 That sobered the king up fast. But unwilling to lose face with his guests, he caved in and let her have her wish. The king sent the executioner off to the prison with orders to bring back John’s head. He went, cut off John’s head, brought it back on a platter, and presented it to the girl, who gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and got the body and gave it a decent burial.

How sad. It would have been so much better for Herod to accept John’s truth, repent of his sins, and receive forgiveness. But instead, Herod ends up beheading a man that he truly admired….a man who could have saved Herod from himself.

If there is anything to be learned here, it is that guilt can be destructive. Many of us carry guilt around for years, and it eats away at our self-esteem and our peace. We are caught in its sticky web and we can’t get free.

Do you have guilt that is pulling you down? Get rid of it. Take it to Jesus and let him absolve you. He will throw that sin away, as far as the East is from the West, and you will never be burdened by it again.

Jesus was indeed a miracle-maker. Let him make a miracle in you today.

Deception’s Web

Lady-in-Waiting

From a historical perspective, a lady-in-waiting was a noblewoman of lower rank who attended a noblewoman of higher rank, such as a queen or princess. Her work centered on ensuring that the personal needs of her mistress were taken care of. More courtier or companion than servant, ladies-in-waiting provided assistance with secretarial needs, etiquette, practicing court dances, embroidery, wardrobe care, and delivering messages on behalf of their mistress in a discreet fashion. They wait in both contexts of that word: they wait on their mistress, and they sit and wait for their mistress to send for them.

I need a lady-in-waiting! Where can I get one?

Every woman I know has been a lady-in-waiting at some point in her life. Not in the context of court duties, but in the sense of having to wait for something. When we are engaged, we are waiting for the wedding to happen. When we’re pregnant, we wait for childbirth. We wait to hear if we’ve been accepted into college and grad school. We spend time sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for test results, and outside the interview room, waiting to see if we got the job. When hospice is brought in, we wait for our loved one to pass from this life to the next.

And then there is type of waiting that all people experience every day…waiting in line, waiting for phone calls, waiting at red lights, waiting for an apology, waiting for a house to sell, waiting for Christmas/vacation/birthdays/retirement to come…wait, wait, wait.

I hate waiting. How about you?

Luke 1 (The Message)

5-7During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Elizabeth waited all her life to have a child. She did all the right things, lived a righteous life, and yet was still waiting into her old age. And then the unthinkable happened. An angel visited her husband Zachariah with some startling news:

13-15 But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God.

And leap like a gazelle they did! Then another kind of waiting began. Meanwhile, in another part of Israel, Elizabeth’s cousin Mary was also having a conversation with an angel, who brought her some startling news as well. And then he concludes with telling her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy:

36-38 “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”

Waiters, take heed. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.

The thing you are waiting for will come to be, in God’s time. And if it doesn’t, it wasn’t going to be good for you. When I was five, I prayed for a pony. Still waiting.

God always works for the good of those who love him and who are called to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) So while waiting is tedious, stressful, and downright aggravating, we can acknowledge that God is present, even in the waiting.

One thing I noticed about how Elizabeth spent her waiting time was that she and Zachariah were said to “enjoy a clear conscience before God.” That tells me that they understood the value of repentance, which ironically was what their son John would spend his lifetime preaching about. Clear consciences come when we attend to God’s commandments and live honorable lives.

As you wait, consider this. How is your conscience? Is it clear? Are you harboring any grudges, withholding any offerings from God, or practicing things that would separate yourself from him? Are you ignoring God’s call to go and make amends with someone before you return to the altar?

Repentance is the great conscience-cleanser. When we turn away from sin and return to God, the angels rejoice and our load becomes lighter.

As you wait, remember Mary and Elizabeth. They waited, and waited, and waited. Then, in the fullness of time, they birthed joy, hope, salvation, and redemption for the world. What will God bring forth from your waiting?

Our mothers told us that good things come to those who wait. May you experience patience in the waiting, hope for the future, redemption in the now, and a new understanding that NOTHING is impossible with God.

Waiting for the Snow to Melt so I Can Play Ball (2014)