Summary: Choosing the promises to live by
I am really looking forward to Christmas. I saw the first Christmas items in the store this year at Sam’s Club in July. That was a little too early. But now, I am really looking forward to it. This kind of anticipation and excitement has been instilled in me every year. But this year, with a three year old really coming to look forward to it herself, it is more exciting than ever, and I can’t wait.
Advent is our time in the church year when we look forward. Recently, I have spoken of the tension between living in the Promised Land now, and looking forward to its culmination in the end. Advent is a season of the year when we focus on the future nature of the Promised Land, of life in the full presence of God. This is the time of year when we look at the Promises of God that are not yet fulfilled. We focus on them, and we get excited about them.
What I would like to do this morning is to take a quick look at the promises we live our lives by. Just, very quickly have us examine our own lives, see what promises that we hold onto, for better or for worse.
“Dr. Jerome Frank at Johns Hopkins talks about our "assumptive world." What he means is that all of us make assumptions about life about God, about ourselves, about others, about the way things are. [I would say that these are the promises we hold onto in our lives.] He argues that when our assumptions are true to reality, we live relatively happy, well-adjusted lives. But when our assumptions are distant from reality, we become confused and angry and disillusioned” (Haddon Robinson, "How Does God Keep His Promises?," Preaching Today, Tape No. 130). Nothing is more destructive than hoping in failed promises. Everybody knows what that is like, and how much it hurts. But we have to believe something.
So our world is full of promises, promises of things that will give meaning and purpose and value to your life. Promises that you don’t have to feel what you’re feeling. Promises that everything is going to be all right. Promises that tomorrow is going to be a better day. Promises that you’re better than that, that you’re pretty and strong and smart and loved and liked. And we live our lives by these promises. And how well we pick these promises is how good our lives are.
I have to tell you, there are a lot of people having a very hard time. I struggle with so many people day to day who are putting their hopes in promises that are deceiving, self-serving, and simply false. When I was in Seattle, there was a young couple struggling to get by in our church. I got to know them fairly well as they worked with the youth group I was leading. Three or four times while I was there, they put their financial hopes in pyramid schemes. A lot of promises were made to them about how they could make a lot of money. All of it was false, and they got in deeper and deeper. It was hard to watch. They learned the hard way what promises to hold onto. Many lives are deeply scared or destroyed before that.
Church, Advent, our relationship with God, is all about promises. For the last five months, we have been going through a portion of the Old Testament that is all about the journey of the people of Israel to the Promised Land. It’s even in the name! Our faith is about the promise of the salvation of our souls from sin and death, and our deliverance to a new promised land – the Kingdom of God! That is an incredible, huge, glorious promise for each one of us. And as we begin advent, it is right that we remember again just how huge and glorious that promise is. That is what we will be celebrating this Christmas, is the fulfillment of the promises of God.
It has become a Christian cliché, and therefore in danger of losing its meaning, to say that “Jesus is the reason of the season,” and that we must remember the “real meaning of Christmas” amidst all the hoopla. The extent to which we are relying on the real promises of God that we have great cause to celebrate, it is to that extent that we truly celebrate the meaning of Christmas.
The great D.L. Moody said, “God never made a promise that was too good to be true” (Christian History, no. 25 cited on www.preachingtoday.com). Do you know those promises, and do you trust them?
The passage in Jeremiah is written by the prophet when things looked real bad for his people. About 600 years before Jesus, they are about to be taken away from their Promised Land because for generations they have been not relying on the promise-giver, but on any other sort of promise. Everything that has given them meaning and identity, it all looks like it will be destroyed. And right then, Jeremiah, says that one will rise up – a Messiah – another David, who will restore Jerusalem to justice and righteousness. It is said that He, himself, will be our righteousness.