Forward in Joy

view of christmas decoration

Advent 4 – 19th December 2021

Our preparation is nearly complete! The Christmas Season starts Friday with Christmas Eve and ends with Epiphany Day, 6th January. Advent is all about preparing for the coming of Christ. In fact, the term “advent” is commonly associated as meaning “coming”. That is why Advent is an important part of our calendar. It is all about preparing for Christmas Day which celebrates Jesus’s birth. (bbc.co.uk)

Christians have been observing Advent since the fourth century. Back in the 300’s A.D. (or C.E. the Common Era as it referred to now), it was used as a time for new converts to get ready for their baptism. Then during the Middle Ages, Advent became associated with preparing for the Second Coming of Christ. It was observed as a time of prayer and fasting, just like lent before Easter. (Infoplease.com)

It appears we may have lost that aspect of Advent observance! Or have we? In spite of secular advertisers urging holiday gift-giving, Christian families still look for quiet moments to light candles in the Advent wreath. Children too, look forward to Christmas with their Advent calendars. In spite of the secular religion becoming more dominate in our society, the Christian practice of looking forward to Christmas continues. Together, we all anticipate the Nativity on Christmas Day.

Advent’s joy is God with us!

Our text in Micah prophesied about the Nativity. It foretold about the place where Christmas joy would happen. And the place it promised was obscure.

The small size of Bethlehem reminds one of a common biblical theme: When God is about to do something great, human estimates of status, size, power, and influence are completely irrelevant. In fact, God often deliberately chooses someone whom we would probably dismiss as the most unlikely candidate for carrying out God’s mission. (Daniel J. Simundson)

And in this scenario, God chose Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.

Micah 5:2

It would be from the smallest of clans Israel’s deliverer would be born. It is important to understand a little about the historical context of Micah’s text. You see, there is a natural bias against the minority. Bethlehem was a little town – it was not Jerusalem. Micah is prophesying during a time when Jerusalem was the chief city. The Assyrian Empire was expanding greatly. It was swallowing up Israel and its northern 10 tribes of the Jews. Jerusalem was standing alone with just two tribes backing her. Surely God would call upon the might of this great city? But Micah said otherwise.

There were these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp. (David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College Commencement Speech: This is Water)

Advent’s joy is God with us!

Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.

Micah 5:3

This verse is usually understood to point forward to Mary and her giving birth to Jesus. You know it is interesting how Christians forget when texts like these were written, they were often penned with no understanding of their future implications. They often were describing local events and assuming application was more immediate.

However, it is Jesus Christ himself who taught that these scriptures are more than human writings. He states rather emphatically that the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (all 3 divisions of the Hebrew Bible we know as the Old Testament) speak of him “and must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). That is why we gladly interpret such obscure passages of Micah’s in light of Jesus’ birth.

The majority of Biblical scholars see this as a reference to the Davidic line. But could it not also be argued that there are layers of meaning here, that even if Micah was not aware of it, that this could be referring to the Son of God, who reigns eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit until the “fullness of time,” when He enters the world to bring peace and reconciliation with humanity? (thepastorsworkshop.com)

Micah is speaking to a people who see their land being invaded. He is addressing the fear of possible occupation. He is dealing with the unrest among his congregation. And to them he promises that though they be taken over by the enemy, they will return to a place of rest.

It is hard not to draw the parallel with our situation today. We have been invaded by Covid. Just when we thought it was contained, a variant stuck through our borders. That variant locked us in our homes for 3 months. We had our liberties slightly increased for another month. Now, just 4 days ago, we were finally allowed to leave our borders.

But all of a sudden we have a new variant in our midst – Omicron. 

The case has prompted experts to urge the Government to delay opening the border, restrict passengers from high-risk countries, and reconsider allowing Covid-19 patients to isolate at home. [Dr Ashley Bloomfield stated 2 days ago, that] Omicron was “quite a bit more transmissible than even the Delta variant… New Zealanders should be on “high alert” (stuff.co.nz)

That is not what we wanted to hear! Where is our joy this Advent? Certainly not in government decisions – even if they are made with our best interests at heart.

It is only with the benefit of hindsight beyond Micah’s time that we now see how Jesus, brought physically into this world through Mary, fulfilled this promise. It is interesting, isn’t it? That the promised Saviour comes from an insignificant town through a woman? There is no big dramatic pageantry. The entire promise sets the scene for God to literally be with us! The Creator interacting as part of humanity. It is mind-boggling but it is also the secret:

Advent’s joy is God with us!

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

Micah 5:4, 5a

The imagery of Jesus coming as a shepherd to feed his flock is given by Micah. Jesus states clearly, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), fulfilling Micah’s prophecy. Micah goes further and states “he shall be the one of peace.” Jesus is the good shepherd for he is willing to lead us “to the ends of the earth.”

Remember, peace does not mean only the absence of war. Peace is a “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions”. (Merriam-Webster.com) Jesus, as a shepherd, leads us with an easy yoke. Teathered to him, we are lead to a fulness of life with God with our neighbours. You might recognise that concept in St John’s Mission motto:

Connecting with God and Community.

That mission can only be possible if we are led by the Good Shepherd.

Where is our peace today? Karl Barth once said, “Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is Himself the way.”

Our peace is found by following the good shepherd. What does that mean? What does it mean to follow the Good Shepherd? How can we follow Jesus Christ today? How can we find peace during this time of Covid uncertainty?

Billy Graham once said, “The will of God will not take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us.”

The bottom line is this: Jesus is here today. Yes, he was born 2,000 years ago. Yes, we will be celebrating that birth this next weekend. Yet Jesus rose from the dead is ever present today. Emmanuel, God with us, is not just an historic event limited to the first century, it is a current event in our time and place. Covid may be here, but so too is Christ. And THAT is the joy of Advent’s season: God is with us! Abide in Christ and you will find Advent’s joy.

When you go to Auckland Botanic Gardens not too far from all of us here, we marvel at the beauty of its roses each year. The colours, the textures, the collections, their settings; all overwhelm our senses with delight.

Have you ever considered the evolution of our modern rose?

There have been roses since we have been on this planet, but the wild roses in Europe, while all different colours and quite beautiful, would only bloom once a year, and so for most of the warm months you would be looking at a bunch of ugly green canes with thorns, no flowers. But then, some botanists in the late 18th century began experimenting by grafting the Chinese wild rose, which was only green, but bloomed all summer, with the European rose, and after a bunch of testing, created what we know to be the modern rose, which blooms from June through October, but not only in green, but in a myriad of colours. 

Isn’t that interesting, so roses as we know them are really a modern invention, and because of the grafting of the wild Chinese rose with the roses of Europe, we have this stronger, much more beautiful flower than we ever had before. When Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches, he is speaking about a similar phenomenon. When we abide in Christ, we produce “fruit” we were never capable of producing before. (Stuart Strachan Jr.)

Abide in Christ and you will find your hope, peace, love, and joy in your final preparations for Christmas.

Collect

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an angel,
may, by his passion and cross,
be brought to the glory of his resurrection,
through Jesus Christ, our Saviour,
who is alive with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen. (based on Reformation prayer for Advent 4)


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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