Onaway & Millersburg UMC
Tuesday, December 07, 2021
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors
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LATEST SERMON (Updated Tuesday)

November 28, 2021

I’d like to begin this sermon by wishing you all a very happy new year! Advent, as you may or may not already know, is the beginning of the Christian Calendar; and it just so happens to be one of my favorite times of year. Why? Because with it comes a renewed sense of joy as we anticipate the rest of the church year, and the coming of Christmas. But Advent is not just a season of waiting, but one of expectation; we look to and expect the work of Christ in our world, but also, in our own lives as well.

And on this first week of Advent, I find it only appropriate that we would begin by talking about hope. And hope is a curious thing, isn’t it? It’s something that we all do in different degrees, and with different levels of expectation. Hope can be found when we’re kids, looking forward to something like Christmas; we hope that we get the presents that we deserve, or we may hope that summer camp will be as awesome as advertised. But even when we’re older, we still hope for things. And sometimes, our hopes may be small; for instance, we may hope that it won’t rain on a particular day; or we may hope that our sports team happens to win. We may hope for a new promotion, or we may hope that our entry in some form of contest may receive first prize. Or sometimes, our hopes may have far broader things in mind: we may hope that we’ll have a successful career, that we’ll find the love of our life, and that we’ll make a difference in the world. Or we may hope, even when we’re older, that we will be surrounded by friends and family, and that we will maintain our good health. There are all kinds of things that people hope for.

And with all of these hopes, of course, we may find that there are many different things that we place our trust in. For the child hoping for the perfect gift, they may place their hope in their parent, or in Santa Claus. Or for the businessman, they may place their hope for success or a promotion in their own wealth and acumen. Even for a gambler, their hope may be fully entrenched in the next roll of the dice to bring them fortune, or for the homeless, their very hope for survival may be entirely placed in the kindness of strangers. But one of the things that I think is important for us to realize today is this: the things that we hope for are formative, as we tend to live our lives in light of the things that we hope for.

Now, this might not seem to be obvious at first, but when you think about it, it’s true. For instance, if we are hoping for a promotion at work, then we will work toward making that hope a reality: we will show up to work on time, or maybe even early; we make sure that we do the best work that we can, so that we can ensure that we have a strong, positive reputation. Or for a child, hoping for a good gift from Santa Claus, they make sure to be on their best behavior; they decide to let mom and dad sleep in, do their homework and go to bed on time, and they might even, when all else fails, even allow their sibling to have the last cookie. Even sports fans, in the hopes that they can somehow coax their team to victory, will dress up, cheer, yell at their television, and even follow silly superstitious rituals in the hopes that they will in some way help bring about a victory.

See, when you place your hope in something, slowly but surely, it becomes a part of who you are. It changes your behavior. And for better or for worse, we can see that the things that we hope for are evident in our lives by our behaviors. Why is this? Because when we believe that something will happen, or that something is worth hoping for, we make our lives a reflection of this hope.

And so, as I sat down to write this sermon, it didn’t take long for me to wonder what it truly meant for us, the church, to claim that our hope is in Christ. If we were to claim that our hope was in Christ, what would that mean for us today? How then are we, the people of God, to change our own behaviors if we believe that Christ is, in fact, where we have placed our hope? We talk a lot about having our hope in Christ as the church. And in fact, often times, we sing about it; for instance, we may remember the song: “My hope is built on nothing less / than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…”

But before I dive too deep into that, I think it’s important that we first look back in time, and examine this passage that we have in the book of Luke today. See, this passage that we’ve read today is known as Zechariah’s Song. It is the song that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, gave just after John was born. And I think that there’s a lot that can be said about the hope that we see in this song.

See, there’s two important aspects of this song in which Zechariah gives thanks to God: firstly, for the fact that God has fulfilled his promise of salvation. And secondly, for the fact that through this promised salvation, God would bring hope to the world;  and this hope would not just be for sometime far in the future, but for the very day and age in which they were living.

See, the first thing that Zechariah gives thanks to God for is the fact that he has finally come to redeem his people. We read this right from the start; Zechariah says in verse 68, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.” The promised hope, Zechariah now declared by the power of the Holy Spirit, was here. But there’s more; see, Zechariah also gave thanks to God, because part of this salvation was that we could now live holy and righteous lives. As we read in verse 74, Zechariah declares that the Lord had come “to enable us to serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

And so we see that Zechariah gave thanks for two things: Firstly, that the salvation of the world was soon to come. But secondly, that the people would be able to serve the Lord without fear. And we know that this would be fulfilled as well in the message of John the Baptist, who encouraged others to look for the coming of the Christ, who would redeem the world. And John the Baptist’s primary message as a prophet was how the people should live in light of the fact that Christ was coming: to repent, to give up wickedness, and to live a holy life before God.

See, what John the Baptist told the people is that in light of the coming hope, in light of the Christ, they should live in accordance with the ordinances of God, that they would be prepared for the day of his coming. And friends, what I’m telling you here and now today is that this same message applies just as much today as it did 2,000 years ago, in the wilderness.

And so today, I would ask you, Christian brothers and sisters, what is your hope found in? And how has that hope affected your life? Because if we truly carry with us the hope of the savior, then our lives should be a reflection of that fact. As I have stated earlier, when you place your hope in something, for better or for worse, it becomes a part of who you are.

And so, even though it my be familiar to most of us in the room, it is perhaps best for me to remind us all of the hope that we have in Christ. When we talk about the hope that we have in Christ, what we’re talking about is the good news that’s found in the resurrection. We look to the fact that Christ died on the cross, so that we would be justified before God, and so that we may have life, and that we may have life abundantly, and eternally, spent with Christ. And indeed, this is a super hopeful thing, that we have something to look forward to! But the good news of Christ doesn’t end there. See, the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection is the fact that we, as the people of God, are no longer subject to lives spent in slavery to sin. Our hope is in the fact that here, and now, have the option to give up our sinful natures, and to be a holy and righteous people who are able to serve the Lord.

And that’s what we read about today in the Gospel reading of Luke; remember the praise that Zechariah gave, that God would “enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” And again in verse 79, for the fact that God would “guide our feet into the path of peace.” See, the hope that we have in Christ is not just good news for when we are dead and gone. It’s good news for us today, that we can serve the Lord our God without fear, and that we will be a holy and righteous people.

And this is the hope that we as Christians carry. That through Christ, we are sanctified, and redeemed; that our sinful nature no longer has claim or mastery over us. And this is the hope that we are called to. And so I ask you, friends: have you been living up to this? And I ask this not as a matter of shame or guilt, but to remind you of two things: first of all, that we live in the hope of the fact that Christ is coming again. And secondly, that we live with the hope that Christ has broken the bonds of sin and death.

And why is it important that we live in light of these things? Well, I think that the first is obvious: we live in a world that is broken. And so, Christian, do you live with a hope that reflects that? We live in a world that’s filled with chaos; we have wars, and rumors of wars; we read about martyrs in other nations; we experience the pain of death and loss; we struggle with illnesses, physical and mental; we grieve as we see natural disasters wreak havoc; we see others treated with injustice over the color of their skin; and we see some prosper and bask in their wealth, while others struggle to find food and shelter.

And so, in light of these things, do you find Christ to be your hope? Do you live in the hope and knowledge that one day, all these things will be made right in the world? Are you able to say, in the midst of emotional or physical devastation that still, it is well with your soul? This is what it means to live with Christ as your hope: that no matter what happens in the world, and in this life, that we can have hope that all will be made well.

See, Christ made a promise that one day, he would return; that death would be undone, and all injustice would be corrected. That every tear would be wiped from our eyes, and that all things would be made right. And this is the hope that we look forward to; just as Israel looked for the promised coming of the messiah, so too do we today look for the promised coming of Christ. And so, even when we are faced with the woes of the world, and even when we are led into the valley of the shadow of death, we may go in peace and confidence. So as Christians, our lives should reflect that hope, and that peace. And it means, like in Zechariah’s song, we should be able to serve without fear.

But furthermore, we also live as people who have been redeemed. As people who look for the coming of that day, we should be ready for the coming of Christ. And part of living as people who look forward to the expected coming of Christ, this means that we are to live again, like what was told in Zechariah’s Song: Holy, and righteous lives before God, all the days of our lives.

Because if our hope is found in the resurrection of Christ, and in his second coming, then friends, the simple fact of the matter is that we should live lives that expect his return. We should be living like Christ commanded, seeking to rid ourselves of all unholiness. Because the fact of the matter is, one of the main reasons that we remind ourselves every year as a part of Advent that we should be living lives that pursue God’s holiness is because many will fail to do so. When we read about Christ’s return, we are told that he will come like a thief in the night; or we read about the parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were unprepared for the coming of Christ, and who missed the wedding feast.

See, if we believe in Christ as our hope, then our lives should reflect the fact that we believe that Christ, our long-expected savior, will be returning. No matter where we may be, whether we are rich or poor, young or old, our behavior should reflect the fact that Christ is coming. This means that our sinful habits are, in fact, a big deal, and we should be ridding ourselves of these habits so that we will be prepared for the coming of the Savior. And this means that if we harbor hatred and resentment toward our brothers or sisters, that we should seek reconciliation.

And so, as I said at the beginning of this message: for better or for worse, the things that we hope for, these are evident through our behaviors. And so I ask you, does your life reflect the hope of Jesus Christ? I pray that it does. And if it doesn’t, it’s my prayer that today, you’ll begin to ask God to help you with that by the power of the Holy Spirit. And even for the skeptic, it’s my prayer that by the grace of Jesus Christ, you’ll find that there is hope found in the offer of salvation.

Friends, this Advent season, we look for the return of Christ; and we eagerly anticipate his coming with hope. And so it’s my prayer as we come forward to the table today that as we encounter him in the elements, we will be reminded of the hope that is offered to all, and that we would be convicted to live our lives in light of that hope. Amen.