Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lessons from the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel


A young Christian man writes:  “While auditioning for my church's Christmas pageant years ago, I had the good fortune to be chosen as the narrator.  Each rehearsal went off smoothly and I was confident when it came time for the pageant.  At a certain point in the drama, I said in a loud voice:  “And the kings brought gifts to the baby Jesus, gold, Frankenstein and myrrh.”

I recall a cartoon of the nativity which pictured three women standing near the manger.  The caption read:  “After the three wise men left, three wiser women arrived each presenting a gift to the baby Jesus.  Fresh diapers, casseroles for a week, and lots of formula.”
Which takes us to the story of the Magi.  Are there lessons the Magi can teach us?  The Magi were guided by a celestial body, which according to the star-gazers in their day meant that a special birth, the birth of a king, the King of the Jews, was coming into the world.  So they packed their suitcases, said good-bye to their families, climbed upon their camels, and set out on an adventure to find this king.    Yes, it was a modern day road trip.

I think this story captures our imagination, because it's a reminder that all of us are on a quest, a journey which we call life.  Magi were Wisemen, Astrologers, or Magicians from the east.  The East in this context has traditionally been identified as Persia, modern day Iran.  The arrival of the wise men in Jerusalem signified that this astonishing birth was inclusive, intended not only Jews, but Gentiles, non-Jews, represented by the Magi.

The presence of magi confirmed that God sent Jesus not just to be the savior of Israel, but that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed one for the whole world.  Centuries earlier we hear the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah: “Nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

The Magi followed a star.  The story reminds us right off, that people follow all kinds of things in life don't they?   Some things, like stars, are positive, good, inspiring, and beneficial.  There are stars that help our lives to grow and others' lives to grow.  There are stars that lead to meaning, joy and fulfillment.  There are stars that contribute to society, e.g. worthwhile causes, careers, family, medical research, military service, and spirituality.  Other people follow things that aren't stars, but follow them anyway.  Things that are dumb, foolish, worthless, harmful or trivial, like trouble, materialism, radical ideologies, pleasure, greed, crime, using and exploiting people for personal gain, hurting others, and the god of money and wealth.

I remember a conversation with a man when I was pastor in Colorado who had followed his love for gambling for many years.  He told me he once had a family, a job and a home.  But over the years, his love for gambling became an addiction and caused him to lose everything.  When I met him he had come a long way back from the bottom.  He had become a Christian, was no longer gambling, was dating a woman, was trying to re-connect with his children and had started a new career.

We all have the opportunity to follow stars or things.  It's critical to distinguish between them, because what we follow makes all the difference in our lives.  Choosing wisely is crucial.  What are you following?

The story of the magi further reminds us that God sends stars into our lives.  Now please don't be too literal here.  Think symbolically.  I'm not picturing a celestial body hovering over your head while you are walking in your home or walking around outside.  God can use anything as a star to get our attention and to guide us according to His plan.  God can turn anything or make anything into a star; we are after all talking about God.  God sends stars to us in order to fulfill His purpose for our lives.

I think of a pastor friend in Los Angeles who saw a star or sensed God's call to get personally involved in the tough neighborhood around his church.  He started playing pick-up basketball, in parks in his community and befriended a number of troubled youths who were involved in illegal drugs and violence in the neighborhood.  God used this pastor's faith, his personality, his athletic ability, his presence to help steer many young men away from trouble, or prison or death on the streets and into productive lives.  He led many to come to faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord.  Yes, God sends stars into our lives and can even use us as a star to guide others, to inspire others, to point others to the glory of Christ.

I further believe the Magi story reminds us that in following stars we must persevere.   Just because God set's a star before us, and we have a clear direction, a path, a call to follow, doesn't mean the journey will be easy or comfortable or stress-free or risk-free.

Clearly the journey the Magi took involved suffering, sacrifice, discomfort, and struggle.  The distance from Iran to Israel is well over a thousand miles.   To make that trip, crossing deserts by camel would have pushed one’s inner-strength to the extreme.  They would have faced untold hardships.  But these Magi persevered, they didn’t give up, they endured the journey, battling the elements in their quest to find the promised king.

Their story reminds us about what’s involved in truly following Jesus.  It means at times we must persevere and endure hardship, and remain faithful, amid difficult circumstances.  Why, because Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior is worthy of such faith and endurance.  Why, because God’s purposes for our lives matter.  God’s purposes are worth persevering after.

I think of valiant people in the Bible, men and women of faith, who battled on amid adversity like Ruth and Esther, and Micah, and Elijah, and Mary Magdalene, and Joseph and John and Timothy and the Apostle Paul.

In the letter of Hebrews we read:  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”   In the letter of I Timothy we read: “Fight the good fight of the faith; pursue righteousness, faith, love, endurance.”

Christ calls us to persevere, to carry on and that includes every aspect of our being.  It includes our intellect, our emotions, and our soul; the intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical aspects of our being, for sometimes we are plagued with questions and doubts, or we are downcast emotionally or spiritually exhausted.  Sometimes we are physically drained.  This is where prayer, getting down on your knees and going to God in prayer, is so essential.

Hardship doesn't mean you have mistakenly followed a star that you thought God had placed before you.  It doesn't mean that you are following the wrong star.  It doesn't mean God is punishing you because you aren't following in the manner God expects you to or in accord with God's timetable.

This is where we Christians sometimes misread God's plans and purposes for their lives.  In fact just the opposite can be true.  If the journey is too easy, too comfortable, you just may not be following the star, the path, the destination which God has in mind for you.   It is clear in scripture and in the lives of Christians today, in this nation and around the world, that following stars takes faith, determination, courage and a thankful heart for the privilege of God sending stars into our lives.

The author Fleming Rutledge writes: “As our life of thanksgiving deepens, we discover that the more mature prayers of thanksgiving are not only those offered for obvious blessings, but those spoken in gratitude for obstacles overcome, for insights gained, for lessons learned, for increased humility, for help received in time of need, for strength to persevere, for opportunities to serve others.”

My friends trust this, when God sends a star to you He will lead you.  The Magi traveled along their route with a sense of direction in mind.  They could not predict where the journey might take them, or what fortunes or disappointments they would encounter, or what detours they might unwittingly take, but they trusted the star to lead them to where God wanted them to go, Bethlehem, to where they could worship the king.

It’s been said: “The future is an opportunity yet unmet, a path yet untraveled, a life yet unlived.  The direction we take now, determines where we will end up in the future.”   When you aren’t sure which way to turn, what decision to make, or what you should do, remember and rely upon Jesus’ promise “I am the way.”   And fall down on your knees and pray.

I have spoken to many believers over the years who have told me about the guidance and direction God has given to them.  I too am personally thankful for the stars God has placed before my life, which have led me and have been a guiding light for my path, my walk, my journey.  Yes, I think the Magi have lessons to teach us after all.

Proverbs says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not rely on your own insight, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

God Became Human (John 1:1-18) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

I don't know if you've heard the news, your probably not aware of it, since the movie has received such little hype in the media, but the movie Stars Wars opened in theaters on Friday.  Star Wars, the Force Awakens, Episode 7.   Yes, “long ago, in a galaxy far away.”   No, I haven't seen it yet, I may be the only one on the planet who hasn't.  It has a huge cult following like no other movie series.  I remember when Nancy and I were driving along highway 1 in Santa Barbara earlier this year and we saw a storm trooper walking along the highway.  Our son Eric and our grandson Wyatt both have storm trooper costumes.

Pop culture has long employed a concept called King or Queen Incognito, where in film and books you run into an apparently nondescript and unimportant character like a beggar, and later discover that this person is someone of great fame and power, like a king or queen or powerful wizard, who has disguised himself to walk unnoticed among the common people.

In Star Wars there is such a character, Queen Amidala, the queen of the planet Naboo, who frequently disguised herself as one of her own handmaidens, and went out into public incognito, in order to walk among the populace and fulfill her mission of liberating her planet from the evil Federation.

Christmas dares to make this astonishing claim: God, the king of kings, came among us in human form. This humble birth of a baby named Jesus, born in a tiny town called Bethlehem, is in reality the incarnation of God, the ruler of the universe Christmas announces that in this baby's birth, God appeared in a human body. God was in Jesus. God came to the town of Bethlehem and that meant God entered our neighborhood, our world. C.S. Lewis wrote in his Chronicles of Narnia:   “A stable once had something in it bigger than the whole world.”

Why is this Christian truth-claim revolutionary? Humans have long been plagued with a haunting question – “Am I alone in this vast universe?  Am I merely a fleeting spark in a dark abyss?”  Is this world impersonal, capricious, devoid of some core principle or power which unites, sustains and directs it?

Christmas declares that an eternal light has broken into the darkness of the world. John says:  “In Christ was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” Christmas is Christianity's answer to these existential questions.  In Jesus, God has made himself, his character, his heart, his mind, his voice, his nature known to the world.  Christmas proclaims that you and I are not alone. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.

Some people today see Christmas as a fairytale, like the brother's Grimm fairy tales, remember those stories, Snow White, Rapunzel, the Frog Prince.  They view Christmas as a sentimental tale about a poor peasant family giving birth to a baby surrounded by angels, animals, shepherds and kings.  But is is just a romantic story.  The Christian faith strongly disagrees.  I strongly disagree.  Christmas is based upon a historical event.  It is based upon a unique and joyous and astonishing birth.  An ordinary and humble birth of the king of kings and lord of lords, which occurred in a world of Caesar's and Herod’s and Pilates, and a Jewish people under the power of the Roman Empire.

Christmas announces that Jesus is truly God, very God, fully God.    In the Gospel of John we read:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.”  The letter of Colossians says it succinctly: “In Jesus Christ, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”   The letter of Philippians says: “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus humbled himself, and was born in human likeness.”   The Letter of Hebrews states:  “In these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.  He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”   And our Gospel writer John says:  “No one has ever seen God, it is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.”   So on the one hand, Jesus' is God’s self-communication, God’s self-revelation, Immanuel, God is with us.

But paradoxically, Christmas also declares the exact opposite, Jesus was a human being.  Jesus was fully and truly human.   God entered the world as a fragile and helpless baby.  The letter of Hebrews says:  “Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus likewise shared the same things.   For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect was tested as we are, yet without sin.”  Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.  Jesus was human, born of a woman like you and I are born. No, the story of Jesus' birth is no fairytale.

Yes, for some today it’s a scandalous claim. The Jews considered it blasphemy, an unforgiveable insult and offense to God because God is Spirit, not flesh and blood.  They also called it idolatry.  How can one say a man named Jesus is at the same time God and worship Him as such.  Some unbelievers today despise Christmas and argue that it’s a myth, a fallacy, a lie and put their energies into trying to eradicate Christmas from our culture.

We Christians declare this truth: in Jesus of Nazareth, God and humanity are united in one personal existence. We also acknowledge that this truth is a mystery. Ultimately, comprehending it lies beyond our mind's ability to fully grasp it.   We recognize that our minds are limited in our capacity to fully understand the incarnation.

Is the controversial debate about Jesus today surprising?  No.  Jesus was born into controversy 2000 years ago and that controversy continues today.  But on the other hand let us never forget that the celebration of the birthday of Jesus also continues to be honored and observed by 2.2 billion Christians around the world today.  Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God.    In Jesus the God of the heavens stooped down to earth. In Jesus the glory of God appeared as Immanuel, God with us, God one of us.

Why did God enter into the world in Jesus?  To fulfill His messianic promise which the prophets declared that the messiah, God's anointed one, would come to the world. To send a savior to bring salvation from our sins, to establish His Kingdom, to open up for us the heart and character of God, to show us who God is, to allow us to see God and know God, to demonstrate God's love for the world, to come into your life and my life.   

God is so passionate about human beings that He was willing to reach out to humanity by coming personally. God chose to bend down to our level, like an adult bends down to speak to a child face to face.  God became Immanuel, "God with us," so we might spend eternity with him.

The distinguished 5th century Church Father St. Augustine said: “God became a man for this purpose.  Since you, a human being could not reach God, but you can reach other humans, God became a human so that following a human, something you are able to do, you might reach God.”

I close with this story about a Roman Catholic priest named Father Damien.  For 16 years, in the late 1870’s and 80’s he dedicated his life to serving lepers.  He moved to a village on the island of Molokai, Hawaii that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony.  He lived among them.  He learned to speak their language, he ate with them, he bandaged their wounds, he embraced the bodies no one else would touch, he preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone.  He organized schools and choirs.  He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built coffins by hand so that, when they died, they could be buried with dignity. Slowly, it was said, the village became a place to live rather than only a place to die, for Father Damien offered God’s love and acceptance and affirmation.

Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He was close to them.  He did nothing to separate himself from these people. He dipped his fingers in the poi bowl along with them. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores.  For this, the people loved him.  Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: "We lepers…." Now he wasn't just helping them. Now he was one of them.”

And the word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."

Let us prepare to celebrate Jesus’ coming into our lives through faith, and to witness by our words and deeds to the Savior of the world.  Amen!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Prepare the Way of the Lord (John 1:1-9,19-23) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel


A pastor tells the story about a time he was preparing his sermon during Advent.  His 5 year old daughter approached him and said, "Daddy, can we play?"  He answered, "I'm sorry, Sweetheart, but I'm right in the middle of writing my sermon.  In about an hour I can play."  “But daddy, you always say that, are you sure?”  “Yes,” he replied.  "Okay, she said, when you're finished, Daddy, I am going to give you a great big hug."  She ran to the door and then did a U-turn and came back and gave him a bone-breaking hug.  The pastor said, "Darling, you said you were going to give me a hug after I finished."  She answered, "Yes Daddy, but I just wanted to help you prepare faster.”

What is the message of Advent?  “The Lord is coming, let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing.”  Today the spotlight shines on John the Baptist.  Why John?  He seems more like a Grinch rather than one who represents the true spirit of Christmas.   But John keeps showing up in this season whether we like it or not.

Our lesson from the Gospel of John says:  “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light, the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

John was the quintessential prophet.  He looked like one, he acted like one, he sounded like one, he dressed like one and he smelled like one.   A common reaction today to John is: “What a kill-joy.  I’m stressed already at Christmas, I'm busy enough this time of year, you mean I have to repent too?”  “John is very un-Christmas like.” Would you like to invite John over to your home and spend an evening with him?

John’s presence that day fulfilled the age-old prophecy from the prophet Isaiah: “See I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.”  God sent John to get people ready for the Lord’s appearing.

The Jewish leaders asked John – “Who are you?”   John first told them who he wasn't; “I am not the Messiah, let's make that perfectly clear.”  They asked again.  John replied:  “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.”   John didn't give a name.  Instead, he said:  “I am the voice of another.”  In other words: “It’s not important who I am, it’s not about me, I am a disembodied voice.”  “It’s all about the one who is coming after me.”   God called John to be the forerunner, the herald, the messenger, to witness of the coming Savior of the world.   John was sent to set the stage.

Think of the crowds that turned out to see him.  Yes, some were curiosity seekers, others undoubtedly came to mock him, but many came because they were discontented with their lives.  They were spiritually hungry, they felt a spiritual void, an emptiness, an inner-longing, they wanted to change their lives and get right with God.   They were seeking forgiveness and purpose, hope and joy.  Isn’t that true for some, perhaps many people today?

Advent is a time to get ready for the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus at many levels.  How will you prepare yourself?  There are practical ways of preparing the way.  We host friends and family in our homes and prepare special meals and activities.  We decorate our homes and churches, like we have here at PBPC and even some cities and communities in our nation still decorate for Christmas.  We buy gifts; send cards.  Parents plan Advent activities for their children.   We donate to special charities to help the poor this time of year.  We continue the cultural debate about whether our commercialism has crowded out Jesus' birth at Christmas or whether there is still room in the inn of our of hearts, our homes and our communities.

Further, there are spiritual ways to prepare the way.  John the Baptist challenged people to be spiritually vulnerable, to open themselves to God, to turn away from their sins, to turn from their pride and self-deceptions.  God sent John to disturb consciences, to awaken a spiritual need, to expose the darkness in people’s lives, to free us from self-centeredness, to shake folks up.  John called people to repent and re-dedicate their lives to God.  John called people to trust in God for forgiveness and peace.   Spiritual ways include coming to worship services, reading advent and Christmas stories in the Bible, engaging in prayer.

If you don’t prepare spiritually, if you get lost in busyness, the time from now through Christmas will pass by with no special significance, no special meaning, no special joy.  It will be like any other month.   You will miss being surprised by God’s grace this season.

Finally, there are witnessing ways to prepare for the Lord.  When John the Baptist shouted prepare the way of the Lord, he was serving as God's announcer, forerunner, herald, messenger, and witness to prepare others for the coming of the Messiah.   Announcers are important aren't they?

We need people who will prepare the way for us, blaze a trail, go before us, set the scene, open doors of opportunity, pave the way, lay a foundation.   I think of Dick Enberg, the television announcer for the SD Padres.  I also think of special people who have paved the way in my life over the years.

To whom is God calling you to be an announcer, a herald, a witness?  To whom is God calling you to prepare the way of the Lord?  For example a neighbor, a colleague, a cousin, a family member, a friend?  Whom has God laid on your heart this season?

I think of a famous composer whom God called to be a messenger of the lord - George Frederick Handel.   He spent most of his life in London, England.  The story is told about how this aging composer, wandered the lonely streets of London, night after night, in hopeless despair.  Only memories of his past glory, when the brilliant man was touted by the court society of London and Europe remained with him.  It seemed as if his genius had deserted him.  Once the favorite of kings and queens, he had been forced into bankruptcy and had become a pauper.

One bitterly cold morning during the winter of 1741, Handel returned to his lodging, to find a thick package on the table.  It contained a text made up of scripture verses from the opera writer, Charles Jennens.  Dazed by cold and hunger, Handel leafed through the pages and the words from the prophet Isaiah caught his attention.

Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, says the Lord.  Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us.  The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. I know that my Redeemer liveth and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth - King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.  Hallelujah.”    The words burned into his soul.   He began composing the music to the immortal oratorio, the Messiah.  For two weeks he labored incessantly, until it was finished.

God used Handel as His herald, his forerunner, his witness.  Nearly, three centuries have passed and people are still thrilled by the music of the Messiah and by the inspiration of a man whose faith, creative energies and talents God used to announce the coming of the way of the Lord to new generations.

We live in a world where there is joy and light and love and yet, at the same time, a world racked with uncertainty, violence, and darkness and we need during Advent, to focus our hearts and minds upon the one whom God sent to save us.  May God use us today, like God used John long ago, to help people get ready for the coming of the Lord.     Pray for God to prepare you in surprising ways this Advent and Christmas season.   Amen!

Friday, December 11, 2015

But About that Day or that Hour! (Mark 13:32-37) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Long after the sun had set on this year's Boston Marathon, the official clock turned off, and the crowds had all but gone home, 39 year old Venezuelan, Maickel Melamed crossed the finish line around 4 A.M.  It was 20 hours after the race began. What made Maickel's race significant is that he suffers from muscular dystrophy, which meant he didn't so much run the race as walk it. In reflecting on his accomplishment, Maickel stated: "In any marathon, you have to know why you're doing it.  Because in the last mile, the marathon will ask you."  Maickel's motivation was to honor Boston Children's Hospital where he was treated as a child.

The New Testament compares the Christian life to a race, much like a marathon.  It's a race which requires perseverance and endurance.  In those times of struggle in life's race, we need to know why we are running and for whom we are running.  For believers, Christ is the one we look to; the one we run to, the one we run for.  Christ's impending return at the end of the race motivates us to keep going.

Yes in life we often find ourselves waiting for something.  For example, military spouses and their children wait for their husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, to return from deployment.   Sometimes we are impatient and excited and can't wait for something to happen.  Sometimes we await with patient optimism and hope.  Other times we are fearful and anxious, are pessimistic and gloomy.   How do you look to the future?

Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent.   Advent looks forward to a bright new day. Advent is about the future, and that coming future may be much nearer than we can imagine.  Advent  declares a powerful truth -  the future of this world does not belong to the devil, to sinful human beings, to evil, to any political system, to any nation, to any dictator, or to radical terrorist groups.  No.   Advent declares this truth, the future belongs solely to God.

What does the Bible say about the future?  Christ is coming! Jesus is coming!   A biblical word which captures the spirit of Advent and which ought to be in our Christian vocabulary is Maranatha!  It is an Aramaic word.  It means “Come Lord” or “Our Lord, Comes”.  It is both a prayer and an affirmation of faith which Christians down through the ages have held on to.  “Maranatha, come Lord, our Lord comes.”   I'm sure you appreciate being able to leave church today knowing how to speak some Aramaic.

Jesus said: Watch the coming future with confidence, with hope, with assurance, wait with patience!   Jesus said watch out for false prophets, but he also said watch for the coming of the Son of Man.  Jesus also said watch out for wars, famines, pestilences, and natural disasters, but he also said wait for a beautiful new day.

Sometimes I gaze out at our world and fear grips me.  How about you? I wonder how will it all end?   We look with fear, with anxiety, sometimes even with despair about tomorrow.   But as people of faith, we need to remember who holds the future, whom the future belongs to, and whose plans and purpose will ultimately prevail.

I believe in the truth of the advent of Jesus.   Why?  Because Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world, the Word incarnate proclaimed it!  Jesus says: “You will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”  “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.  It is like a man going on a journey when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the hour will come, in the evening, or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn.”

I believe because this truth is attested to in the Bible which is the unique, authoritative and inspired Word of God!   We read in the N.T. In II Timothy:  “The sacred writings are to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient equipped for every good work.”  Many chapters and books of the Bible are devoted to this promise of Christ's final coming and bringing the world to an end.

Third, I believe because the Biblical and Christian understanding of history promises it!   The ancient Greeks believed that the world was eternal, it always existed, there was no beginning or end.   Conversely, our Judeo/Christian tradition declares that only God is eternal.  That before God created the universe, there was only emptiness.  There was no cosmos, no matter, no organisms, no gases, no chemicals, no protozoans, no cells, no atoms, no energy, no life.

Our Judeo/Christian tradition and the scriptures declare that God created the world out of nothing.   The world is moving toward an end time, to the destination which the sovereign God has appointed, when God’s final purpose for His world will be realized.   Life is not meaningless, but meaningful, life is not without any purpose, but has a purpose, life is not aimless, but has a destination.   There is one divine, far-off event toward which the whole creation is moving; the final triumph of God over sin and evil.

Fourth, I believe because the bible promises that the day is coming when justice shall reign.   The injustice we witness today is an outrage.  We see horrific acts of injustice by governments, by dictators, by radical Islamic terrorists, by murderers, where innocent people suffer and die, where people are oppressed and persecuted.

We long for justice in our hearts, but that longing eludes us.  Author N. T. Wright in his book "Putting the World to Rights" tells this story:  I had a dream the other night, a powerful and interesting dream. And the really frustrating thing is that I can't remember all that it was about. I had a flash of it as I woke up, enough to make me think how extraordinary and meaningful it was; and then it was gone… Our passion for justice often seems like that. We dream the dream of justice. We glimpse, for a moment, a world at one, a world put to rights, a world where things work out, where societies function fairly and efficiently…and then we wake up and come back to reality.

The Bible says - Do not despair!  God is holy.  God is sovereign. God is righteous. There will be an accounting, a day of reckoning, a day of justice.  You reap what you sow.   In the O.T. The prophet Amos cries out:  “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”  The prophet Micah preaches:  “God has told you O man what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

Jesus’ judgment will be a universal, over all the living and the dead.  God will judge humanity’s behavior, good and bad, moral and immoral, righteous and unrighteous.  God will judge how much light humanity has about God and morality and what we have done with that faith and knowledge.   And unlike our imperfect judicial system, which is flawed, God’s judgment is perfect.

In the N.T. The books of Acts says:  "God has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."   Jesus will be the judge.

Finally, I believe in Christ’s coming because God loves His creation. God is a loving God, a forgiving God, a merciful God, slow to anger.     God loves the world and the people he created.   God will judge the world and purge the world, but God will not destroy it, God will not annihilate it.  I believe contemporary preachers of only doom and gloom are wrong.   God will renew the world. God will set the world right. God will restore the world. God will re-create a new and glorious world.  At Christ's return, the world as we know it will come to an end, and in its place, a new and transformed universe will be established forever.

Advent means you must keep watch and remember why you are running.  A few weeks ago we had our 2 &1/2 year old grandson Wyatt at our house for a few days.  He sleeps in his own room.   One early morning, about 5:30, I felt something brush against my cheek.  I was still half asleep.  I started to dose off and I felt something brush against my nose.  I started to wake up and opened my eyes.  Wyatt had his face about an inch from mine, was gently touching my face with his finger and said -” Wake up grandpa.”

Yes, wake up to the Advent of Jesus.  Jesus is coming.   But about that day or that hour no one knows, only God.  May we wait with hope, with confidence, with courage, with strength, with faith, because Jesus' return may be much sooner than we expect.   It may be tomorrow.  And when Jesus returns, a new indescribable, unimaginable, and spectacular world will be established forever.

I close with our Lord's inspiring vision from the Book of Revelation:   See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  The home of God is among mortals, God will dwell with them as their God, they will be his peoples and God himself will be with them.” Amen!