This sermon was delivered to St Oswald’s in Maybole,
Ayrshire, Scotland on the 13th December 2019
(a Scottish Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Glasgow and Dumfries).
Summary: As Christmas approaches many people become discouraged despite the festivities yet we have everything to live for according to all of today's readings. Read on!
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent and it can be a time of depression for many, yet we have everything to life for. So the theme of today's service is hope and encouragement; which we see in all three of today's readings. For now, we will start with the peace.
We meet in Christ's name. Let us share his peace.
Today's readings are: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7 and Luke 3:7-18 and Canticle 9.
Prayer: Father, let your message this morning be one of hope and expectation. Father let my words convey your message, and may we be blessed with your peace; which surpasses all our understanding. Amen.
Our first reading this morning came from the book of Zephaniah and I will be honest, it is not a book I have spent much time studying as Zephaniah was number nine of the twelve minor prophets in the Old Testament. These prophets are normally referred to as the prophets of doom; but Zephaniah is different; full of hope, and expectation.
The book of Zephaniah was written over 600 years before the birth of Jesus: at a time of international intrigue externally ... and the alluring threat of idolatrous worship internally.
After a great number of condemning prophesies of doom by his cohorts, Zephaniah promised a day of great rejoicing when God would walk on this earth, and be present among His people. This would bring not only forgiveness and security from oppression; but prosperity and renown among all His people.
Zephaniah went on to say that God would bring great judgment, not only to Israel, but to all nations ... and God would reconcile Himself with his people; motivated by His everlasting love which he promised in His covenant with Israel. This reconciliation was to be fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, 600 year hence; so it was still to be brought to completion by the work of the spirit, (with a small s), human spirit in all who believe. Reconciliation means put right, bring together, or resolve. God was to reconcile Himself with man ... so what a wonderfully thought for those people back then.
We now move onto our Gospel reading which describes the events just before the ministry of Jesus, about 30 AD. Here John the Baptist is preparing the way, for the coming of the Messiah; which will be sooner rather than later.
John’s preaching seems harsh and fundamental to our modern ears, but several themes stand out in John’s message:
the absolute sovereignty of God in spite of ritual correctness,
far-reaching social justice,
and the promise of a messiah who would come in judgment to win a glorious victory.
When John’s congregation asked what they were to do, John proclaimed that everyone should smarten up there act and live a more honest life. Luke has recorded two example, but there must have been many more. The two recorded were the most extreme.
First the Tax collectors, (the most despised people in Israel because they were hired by the hated Roman government), John told them to limit their revenues to what had been officially prescribed, and nothing more. No sane tax collector would even consider such a revolutionary approach.
Secondly; John challenged the imperial security forces with an equally hash answer. Do not extort bribes from anyone caught and imprisoned; as it was fairly common for soldiers to do so too supplement their wages. John told them to be satisfied with their meagre wages, which was unthinkable.
This was a far-reaching social justice on both accounts, but John went further, as he challenged everyone who heard him to share their resources. Can you imaging sharing all your possessions with anybody and sundry. I think not.
John the Baptist was commissioned by God to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah and this was his way of doing so. He was implying; “you better get your life in order, because if you do not, this new Messiah will sort you out”. This was the language they understood.
John at this stage could not say something like, “God will love you regardless”. No he had to build Jesus up first in there mind, and once they accepted him as the Messiah; Jesus could then teach his new Gospel of power through faith and love.
Our final readings this morning is from the Philippians in the New Testament, written probably about 40 years after the death of Jesus, but this reading is also full of hope and expectation; where a wonderful confident faith shines through those few verses, (which we use as a prayer at the end). Here Paul refers to what looks like the second coming, but he is not; rather he is referring to the fact that Jesus is not dead, but alive, and he is on hand to help us.
Paul was saying, Jesus is alive and he is looking after them; just like he is looking after us today. It was a bad time for the Israelites in the days of Zephaniah. It was a bad time in days of John the Baptist, and it was certainly the most challenging of times in Paul’s day.
How are you feeling as we move towards the celebration of Christ’s birth? Are you free from stress, worry and anxiety this advent? Using today’s scripture which we have just heard, I will now try to help you relieve these worries. Sometimes we do not know what we have, and we need to be reminded.
But first, you must accept that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Our limited minds cannot comprehend God’s love, but His love comes with no strings attached. God loved us first, not the other way around. God does not love us “if ….”, but “in spite of ….”. God does not love us if we do this, this and this; he loves us because of Jesus, and His death upon the cross. Jesus died for us and Jesus died instead of us, which we deserved. Jesus paid the ultimate price for our failures. All our sins, died on the cross with Jesus.
As a parent you may not approve of your child’s behaviour, but you always love and accept them. They are yours, and they belong to you. That is how God sees us.
Now to finish; if God was to write us a letter, a wee note for Christmas, (in our modern days language), I think it would go something like this.
I knew you before time began. I know how many hairs are on your head. Like a parent and their child you are created in my image.
I have plans for you. I have also given you the gifts you need to fulfil them; and what I give, nobody can take away. But don't abandon them, or leave them to fester; exercise them, and stir them up daily. I've started a good work in you and I'm going to finish it. I always complete what I begin.
'My commitment to you is unending. In this life you will have challenges, but cheer up, I have robbed Satan of his power to control you, and the world of its power to destroy you. When you are in trouble, remember I'm with you to help. Give Me your burdens, and I will keep you going. When you're stressed out and worn down by the pressures of life, lean on Me.
I will be your rock, your fortress, your deliverer and your strength. Even though you fail from time to time, you won't be discarded because I am upholding you. I have clothed you in a suit of spiritual armour, encircled you with angels, and allowed the Holy Spirit to dwell in you. You are marked with my seal of approval.
'But a word of caution: don't take advice from those who are spiritually dead, and do not hang out with sceptics; but delight yourself in My Word and, like a big oak tree growing by a river, you'll prosper in everything you do.
We now close with a prayer, a prayer taken from our New Testament reading this morning.
I will try to rejoice in you always. I will try my best to let your gentleness be known to everyone. I know that you are near; and I will do my best not worry about anything, as you have everything in my life in hand. Father let your peace, which surpasses all understanding; guard my heart and my mind, in Christ Jesus my Lord. Amen We shall now say the Nicene creed.
Note to the reader:
If you have been blessed by this sermon, or any of my sermons, I would be greatly honoured to receive an e-mail from you saying so; I like so many others need encouragement.
I often feel that to deliver a sermon one time to my congregation is such a waste; where as many more could be blessed by its message, after all, it is not for my glory but for his. I would therefore like my sermons to bless more people, preferably internationally and not only in a small part, of a small country called Scotland.
Simply let me know where you are in the world … and any other information you may want to share or be prayed for. I would also take it as a compliment for you to use my sermons in order to bless others in his almighty name. I do not even need acknowledged, but he does, and I will receive a blessing directly from him.
Thank you for taking the time to read, and I wish you "all the best" as we say in Scotland … and I pray that your endeavours in the Lord are equally blessed. Yours in Christ, Gordon McCulloch, Scotland.
Compiled By: Gordon McCulloch (Worship Leader),
St Oswalds Episcopal Church,
E-Mail: gccmcculloch @ aol.com or through Sermon Central