Forward in Love

brown steel letter b wall decor
Year C Advent 3 – 12 December 2021

We continue to look forward to Christmas Day. Not the holiday, but the One whose birth we celebrate. Jesus Christ is who we are looking forward to seeing. We look forward mystically, through the candles, the prayers, the skits, and the readings. We look forward in a spirit of love for we love our Lord because he first loved us.

Advent is about all the preparations for when the family gets together. Jesus is coming! Let’s get the house decorated. Let’s make up a festive playlist for the boombox. Let’s make sure all the light bulbs are working in our strings of lights. Don’t forget about the mistletoe as we look forward in love! Get out the roast ham – or for many down under – the barbie for stakes, sausages, and perhaps even some prawns.

The family is getting together! There will be those uncles you don’t like. There will be those cousins you are jealous of with their Tic Tok videos. There will be those brothers and sisters you still are not happy about their posts of you in their Facebook feeds or Instagram photos. There will be those in-laws that ticked you off with their Tweet on Twitter. But it is Christmas Day. We are all coming home. Granddad and Nanna will make things right. The family will finally be able to sit down together at the table. Food has a way of helping us all come home. We look forward to coming home because we enjoy family love.

Our sermon texts encourage us to be ready for when Jesus meets the family. Once again I want to look at the prophets. On the first Sunday of Advent, we looked forward in hope from Jeremiah’s prophecy. Last week, we looked forward in peace and faith from Malachi’s text. Today, we look forward in love and joy from Zephaniah’s song. From this song, an important axiom is realised:

Advent’s aim is Christ’s healing presence.

Zephaniah’s passage is a song being sung loudly. Like those drunk fresh on victory, relieved from the stress of being occupied by unfriendly forces, God’s people sing about the Great Warrior – the deliverer of their salvation. That warrior is none other than “The LORD your God.”

Frank W Boreham wrote a book in 1909 titled, Mountains in the Midst. He made a fascinating observation. Just one century beforehand, everyone was following with bated breath the march of Napoleon across Europe. People waited feverishly for news of the war created by France’s Emperor. And all that time they were waiting, babies were being born. But who could think about babies? Everybody was thinking about battles! And yet, in that same year, a host of heroes were born!

  • Gladstone was born in Liverpool, England
  • Tennyson at Somersby
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Massachusetts.

And on the very same day of that same year:

  • Charles Darwin made his debut at Shrewsbury
  • Abraham Lincoln drew his first breath in Old Kentucky
  • and music was enriched by the birth of Felix Mendelssohn in Hamburg.

But nobody thought about babies. Everybody was thinking about battles. Yet, which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies that were born in 1809?

We fancy that God can only manage His world through the big battalions of life, when all the while He is doing it through the beautiful babies that are being born into the world. When a wrong wants righting, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants opening, God sends a baby into the world to do it. And where do you find God on Christmas? In a manger. A baby was born at the heart of the Roman Empire. And when the Roman Empire would crumble and fall, that baby, who would become a man, introduced God’s Kingdom on earth which remains to this day.

Advent’s aim is Christ’s healing presence.

Zephaniah’s Song of Joy begins:

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.

Zephaniah 3:14-15

Christ’s presence brings peace from fear. Evil no longer holds you captive. Christ’s love takes away the judgements against you. Christ’s power clears away your enemies.

Advent’s aim is Christ’s healing presence.

When Christ comes, you find healing for the aches in your heart. Often people mistakenly elevate Christmas the holiday as a healer. And that is why Christmas is one of the most loneliest times of the year for many suffering souls.

The English glam rock band named Mud, topped the UK singles chart in 1974 with a Christmas song. It reached number one selling over 750,000 copies (Wikipedia). How did the song open?

Try to imagine a house that’s not a home
Try to imagine a Christmas all alone
That’s where I’ll be since you left me
My tears could melt the snow
What can I do without you?

I’ve got no place, no place to go
It’ll be lonely this Christmas
Without you to hold
It’ll be lonely this Christmas
Lonely and cold
It’ll be cold, so cold, without you to hold
this Christmas

(Lonely This Christmas lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Advent’s aim is Christ’s healing presence.

Christmas is a time of love – but not love for the sake of love. It also is not Love with a capital “L”. Love is not a person but a force powerful because of its origin. Love is that force manifested by our Creator to help us understand what it means when we say, “coming home”.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing

Zephaniah 3:16-17

The power of Advent is that it prepares us to be renewed in God’s love. Are you feeling weak today from the stress of this season? Draw strength from the fact God is in your midst! Emmanuel – God with us!

Are you sad this season? Perhaps a loved one has been lost since last year. Maybe your children have left home and you lost your motivation to celebrate Christmas? It could be that you are suffering from the loss of a relationship and you wonder if it is even worth it to go on. My dear friends, God is with us! And God brings healing. Listen to the close of Zephaniah’s song and find encouragement.

as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.

I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.

Zephaniah 3:18-20

Your shame can be changed to praise with God’s healing presence. That is the power of Advent.

Paul Hewson, who is known more by his stage name, Bono, is the lead vocalist and primary writer for the songs played by the rock bank U2. As he matured, his lyrics changed and the band took on a spiritual tone. Nonetheless, Bono received 22 Grammy Awards and has been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He eventually came to this conclusion:

The idea that there’s a force of love and logic behind the universe is overwhelming to start with, if you believe it. Actually, maybe even far-fetched to start with, but the idea that that same love and logic would choose to describe itself as a baby born in straw and poverty is genius, and brings me to my knees, literally. To me, as a poet, I am just in awe of that. It makes some sort of poetic sense. It’s the thing that makes me a believer, though it didn’t dawn on me for many years. (Pastor’s Workshop)

Advent’s aim is Christ’s healing presence.

No matter what you are going through right now; no matter what you have suffered in this past year; no matter how heavy a burden you carry right now: Christ is here; Christ’s presence brings healing to your soul and spirit.

Let us pray.

Collect

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light. Your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility. He understands our sorrow, sadness, and weariness. He sits beside You on our behalf. Thank you for the gift of Your Son. We look forward to His coming. We long for the day where all injustice will end. We work in your kingdom waiting for Christ’s glorious majesty. We know he must judge and we know that is power for resurrection from the dead. We look forward to that day where we rise to live an abundant life, now and forever; through him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. Amen.


You can watch the sermon as part of worship service on our YouTube Channel here.

Published by St Johns Papatoetoe

Presbyterian Church, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand belonging to Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).

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