Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sermon for 12/26/10 - 1st Sunday after Christmas

Sermon "God's Perfect Will"

May the Lord open our eyes to see his perfect will and to understand that he governs all things according to his good pleasure for his glory and for the good of his people. Amen.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. And they, we, were puzzled by that light. What does it mean? Maybe we're frightened by it. But at the same time we're drawn toward it. We who were in bondage become witnesses of God's self-revelation. We who knew nothing but bondage have been given freedom. We used to cry out for that freedom. We wondered who would come to deliver us. We desired the day of our release. Our cries ascended before the throne of God. He heard our cry. He knew our pain, our bondage. He who created heaven and earth and all things is perfectly aware of our struggle. He knows the wages of sin. He knows how hurtful it is to continue in the darkness.

But the situation isn't that simple, is it? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We cried out for release from our bondage. But as we seek release from bondage we find ways of adapting to our bondage. Like the doctor in Dickens' Tale of Two Cities we retreat into a world where we can protect ourselves. Doctor Manet forgot his former life, his former associates, his former desires and goals. We who are subject to the curse of sin try to harden ourselves to sin. We try to accept the sin which is poison to our souls. We who were dead in sin walked in sin, dead people walking around, living a life that was not really life at all. We pursue false hopes, false dreams. We say evil doesn't really hurt us as we cry out in pain. We say sin isn't sin and that we have done nothing wrong, all the while being condemned by our consciences. We pursue our own ways, saying we are able to define and pursue what is good, all the while knowing that we are not up to the task. We use all these means to try to protect ourselves from evil and death, or at least from thinking about it. We make a pretty good life for ourselves. We try to take care of our possessions. We seek promotion at work. We make friends. And all the while, if we are honest, we wonder what the purpose of it all is. Life's short, you die, and that's that. Even in the best of times we see that it's really the worst of times.

But what was that hope we used to have? Maybe you were raised in a Christian home and had this hope nurtured in you from the start. Maybe baptism, Christ's redemptive washing, was applied to you at an early age and you spent your youth being taught about our Savior's redeeming love. Maybe you were taught that this world with all its sin and shame is not all there is. Or maybe, like me and many people I know, you were left to go your own way, make your own decisions, learn by your mistakes. Maybe you had a hope that there was something better than what you saw all around you, but nobody would give you a reason. Maybe you made the best of the worst times. No matter your background, no matter your experience, no matter your observations about this world, I have a message of hope for you today. And this message is sure, it is certain, it is divine. It's been affirmed by countless men, women, and children through the ages. It is the claim of the Scripture. And we've read the message already, from Galatians 4.

Galatians 4.4-7 (ESV)

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Maybe we've retreated into our protective shell. Maybe we've gone to hide from our sin and the sin of others around us. Maybe we've given up because we know we can't fight the power of Satan. The Scripture acknowledges that we are right in that impression. We can't fight against sin. We don't have the tools, we don't have the strength, we don't have the nature to be able to do it. Like Doctor Manet, we are locked into a cell. We have been condemned to death, and though we seem to live, it is not true life.

The great good news of this passage, however, is that we've been recalled to life. God has sent his son to redeem us, to ransom us from death, to set us free, and to adopt us into his own family. He has come himself to nurture us, to feed us, to comfort us, to bring us hope and protection. Our Lord and Savior has come to make us his own heirs, not just children given some of the blessings of the household, but the adopted heirs, the firstborn sons, rulers over his own kingdom. Not only that, but our God knows that we are tired from crying out to him. He knows that we don't know what to ask for. He knows that we are worn down from this world. So he has put his Holy Spirit in us, in all who believe, so we cry out to God in truth. Picture that. This passage says that God the Father sent God the Son to redeem us, then placed God the Spirit in us so in the final analysis it is God praying to God to give us all we need and make us heirs of his own kingdom.

What then is God's perfect will? His perfect will is that at just the right time he would come to draw people to himself. He himself saves us from sin. He himself indwells us. He himself teaches us to pray. He himself delights in the prayers that he prays through us. He himself does all things in and through us for his good pleasure. Indeed, it is the best of times.

Sadly, though, as we look around us, despite what we have just read in Scripture, not only is it the best of times, but it is also the worst of times. Like the Doctor who has been recalled to life, we, partakers of the divine nature, people who have been given life and who have been made heirs of God in Christ, we retreat again and again into our old sinful patterns. We see the evil of the world and, not trusting in the Holy Spirit who lives in us, we retreat. We return to our prison cell even though we have been set free. We see that we have no reason to fear. We see that our Lord has redeemed us from sin and death. We see that we are utterly safe in the arms of our savior. Yet we fear, we run, we try to hide.

Let us rather encourage one another. Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our salvation. Let us trust in the Lord who has adopted us. Let us believe that he has actually borne our sins and imputed his righteousness to us. And let us remind one another of these things, even as we see the final day approaching. Do we doubt that we can or should do that? Let us look at Joseph and Mary, who nurtured the child, reminding him of God's grace. Let us look at Joseph and Mary who did all they could to protect this little child entrusted to their care. Let us likewise build one another up, trusting in God's protective hand upon us, exhorting one another to believe.

May the Lord who has begun this good work in us bring it to completion, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Dave Spotts
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