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Summary: Advent 4: We are all strugglers. And yet, God takes the life of a young ’struggler’ named Mary, and brings through her the Savior of the World - Jesus.

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Have you ever watched an aquarium? They can be wonderfully relaxing. It’s almost like staring into a fantasy world – a world of bright vivid colors; a world of soothing, peaceful motion; a world of blissful joy. But if you’ve ever owned an aquarium, you know that they’re actually delicately balanced ecosystems. If the fish are fed too much, you have problems; if the fish are not fed enough, you have problems; if the filters or pumps stop working, you have problems; if the water temperature gets too hot or too cold, you have problems.

But the most interesting troubles happen when you mix species of fish that don’t get along in the same tank. If a new aquarium owner makes the mistake of mixing aggressive fish – like ciclids, with mild fish like mollies or guppies or gouramis, the whole nature of the aquarium changes. It becomes a battlefield instead of a peaceful environment. The fish that get picked on began to look really ragged. As a rookie aquarium keeper, I had a beautiful sail-fin mollie that I mixed with some aggressive fish and pretty soon that beautiful sail became ragged. The poor, bedraggled mollie lost its vivid colors and eventually this beautiful fish just spent it’s time hiding in a corner.

Life can be that way too, can’t it beloved? I’m sure we’ve all come into contact with a “ciclid” or two during our lifetime. Maybe we are the ciclids – I’m sure not everybody sitting here is a mellow mollie. Regardless, it doesn’t take very long to realize that the world in which we live is not necessarily a soothing, peaceful place. In fact, at this time of year, tempers tend to run short and many people get stressed out. Many of our interactions with others leave us feeling a bit ragged. People sometimes feel so beat up that they withdraw to their own little corners to hide.

Ciclids and mollies – these two groups seem to distinguish themselves - even among people: the mighty and the strugglers. Let’s talk about the mighty – the ones that are often perceived to be powerful. It is tempting to want to be in this group. The temptation is to have the power and wealth at any cost. The toys that money and power bring are so shiny and attractive. Because of this, doing whatever to get power and money can be very, very enticing.

The second group of people, the strugglers, are the people on the outs. These are the folks that feel that they are powerless and useless and unloved. As we look at the world around us, the strugglers are easy to see – there are the people who don’t have enough to eat; Some live under freeway overpasses; A new pair of sneakers is a luxury that many strugglers will never know. Strugglers come from families that are divided and in conflict on a daily basis. We could go on and on listing the conditions and characteristics in which strugglers find themselves.

The big surprise in all of this is that all of us – both the ciclids and mollies - are strugglers. Every one of us is needy. Maybe some don’t have need for material things, but they are needy of soul and spirit. Failure to recognize the need we have places us in danger of missing God by seeking after all the wrong things.

Here’s a true story: A seminary professor retired early because of his health. He died at the relatively young age of 58. The last 10 years of his life were spent in and out of hospitals. After his death, his wife gathered some papers that her husband had written. In one paper, he had written: “When I began, I thought of myself as standing upon the bank of the stream of life, shouting instructions to the swimmers who were down below. I was the expert. In the second stage of my ministry, I thought of myself as the rescuer. If I saw someone going down for the third time, I would plunge into the water, rescue him, get him started in the right direction again, and then I would return to the bank. But the last 10 years of my life, I was in the water. And we were fellow strugglers with arms around each other, trying to help one another make it to the shore.” (Adapted from an illustration in Homiletics Magazine, Vol. 15, No. 6, p.64 – contributed by Wesley Taylor)

Beloved, we are all strugglers. We all live in that aquarium that has all sorts of problems: nipping, downright attacking, illness, separation from others, pain, lack of joy, hiding in the corner. We are all strugglers with great need. Our sin contaminated lives prevent from loving the way God has called to. And we all need to be cared for and loved. Mother Teresa once said, “The poorest of the poor are those who feel that they are unloved.” (From SermonCentral.com, contributed by Francis Neil Jalando-on)

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