Isaiah 61:10-62:5; Galatians 4:4–7
Today, Sunday, December 27, is the first Sunday after Christmas. We've now returned to the real world - a world filled with danger, risk, hurt and evil. A world where children die senselessly; a world where parents live in fear and oppression; a world thirsting for peace and that can easily erupt in genocide at any moment; a world filled with massive storms and earthquakes and tsunamis.
Before we go further, let us look back and see what the Lord taught us in those darkest times of 2020. Let me remind you of a few themes of our sermons, and I do not expect you to remember all of these.
In our lectionary gospel reading, Luke reported that after Mary and Joseph completed the ceremony "required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him." Luke 2:39-40
This simple child is endowed with God's favor, God's power, might and wisdom. He came to the ones of his own. He came as a new beginning of God's purpose. He was the promise. He was the light that Isaiah called Israel to seek after Israel dwelled in the shadow of slavery. In Isaiah 60:1, an astonishing voice of mercy was heard inviting Israel to rise above circumstance, because the light of God has come toward them—to Arise and shine! Israel was in its weakiest moment. Israel was called a rejected, desolate land, forsaken by their own God, and there was no hope for the remnants either. Yet, God broke the dawning light and broke the good news of God's reclaiming Israel. God brings a fresh restart of partnership. Therefore, Israel must recognize the light and make its own little light shine forth to meet the divine offer. God has remembered his commitment and showed his love to Israel once again.
We can see this love manifested through the example of Hosea's marriage to the unfaithful partner. For the sake of the covenant, God has promised to keep loving Israel despite Israel's untrustworthiness character. In the fullness of time, after Israel experienced a period of slavery, God comforted and promised a double reward for the cause (Isaiah 40:1-2). This happened not because of Israel's goodness or any merit, but only that God's love compelled God to have compassion on Israel. The author of Lamentations recalls the experience and said: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends; His mercies never cease.” (Lamentations 3:22)
Scholars agreed on one thing, that Isaiah 60-62 is believed to be a proclamation of the good news to Israel. When we read these chapters, we can see voices of a speaker and of the receiver while God remained silent in the background. Israel expressed gratitude for God's mercy and deliverance and said, — "I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10-11).
God, on the other hand, broke his silence and promised to remain Israel's defender and that he won't rest until his full purpose is accomplished— "until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch (Isaiah 62:1). As Charles Cousar says, 'the exuberant joyfulness in the face of so much present and future hardship is quite remarkable." What has been the old experience is now and will be the future hope that rests and source from within.
This hope is to be "born of a woman" says Paul, making many friends, and making their deliverance possible. This promise has been fulfilled with Jesus's Birth as the light to the world and in his ministry as he claimed on a Sabbath when he was given the scroll and read from Isaiah. That the promises of God have been fulfilled and that he had come (Luke 4:14-19).
In his daily study commentary, William Barclay, describes security with God both inward and outward: Inwardly, he says, "The inward characteristic is the awareness of the love of God, the deep awareness that we cannot drift beyond his care, the sense that the everlasting arms are underneath us. One of the basic needs of life is security, and we find that need met in the consciousness of the unchanging love of God." God never changes and his love is an endless ocean to us. In the moment of despair, God promises to shoot up a new beginning, a new way that helps us look into the matters of the world around us. God puts himself in position for your cause. God will not take rest until a messenger is appointed and you're informed of God's great news. This can be hearing a scripture on Sunday, reading the Bible, chatting with a friend, or even hearing the whisper of God's voice into our hearts.
God promised Israel a new beginning. He also tells us he will robe us with RIGHTEOUSNESS and it will be a perfect robe— (not like mine). God's robe is God's presence, renewal, and close relationship with us. God will bring springs of joy in time of sorrow. In those moments, where God seems distant, the whisper of the Holy Spirit wakens our covenant relationship and our commitment to God. You and I are given a new name and will be called: Chosen, Forgiven, Delight, and God's own crown. No more will you be called rejected, desolate, old, and powerless. But in God's newness, you will be young in heart, renewed in hope like Abraham; and let this be true to us in the year 2021.
As the bridegroom finds joy in his union with his bride, so will your God take joy in his union with you! (Isaiah 61:11). A new day is about to dawn in the relationship between God and the people. As the end of captivity brought Joy to Israel, may the new year end the pain and suffering of our people and the whole world through this virus.
This message is personal to me as well, you have accepted and shown me love through my ministry. And thank you for accepting me in my filthy robe today and in our struggles to make the service possible throughout this year. Thank you to many of you who, behind the scenes, have been helping and making the service, our newsletters, and websites possible and better. Thank you for your love and acceptance of me, even in my crazy moments of losing the entire PowerPoint or adding hymns to the PowerPoint sometimes. Your patience has made my weakness turn to strength and fear to greater confidence. In my wants, needs and despair, you reach out with great support and your generosity has brightened our Christmas this year.
It's true that God's intention and greater purpose for our lives is transformation and rebuilding. It's about restoration and reunion with him and it takes on personal responsibility. “In the Jewish world, on the first Sabbath after a boy had passed his twelfth birthday, his father took him to the Synagogue, where he became A Son of the Law. The father thereupon uttered a benediction, ‘Blessed be thou, O God, who has taken from me the responsibility for this boy.’ The boy prayed a prayer in which he said, ‘O my God and God of my fathers! On this solemn and sacred day, which marks my passage from boyhood to manhood, I humbly raise my eyes unto thee, and declare with sincerity and truth, that henceforth I will keep thy commandments, and undertake and bear the responsibility of mine actions towards thee.’ There was a clear dividing line in the boy's life; almost overnight he became a man.” William Barclay
Alluded to this experience, Paul told Galatians that they are in union with God as faithful adults when they accept Christ Jesus. They do not belong to the laws or the legal codes that had served as guardian until the coming of the gospel. The gospel, then, has brought us deliverance from the law. This deliverance is the gift of God and God's only love that bring us unity. This unity is compared to the best Robe, only made prefect by God through Christ and its God's salvation which we receive by faith. As Paul states, "…when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God." Galatians 4:4–7
Therefore, we are heirs of God with full rights to access God, and God's goodness and possession. As children, we have full confidence to approach God and ask of him everything we need. And God has and will cause your deliverance. He has and will transform you from within. He will remain as your "glory within” to guide, as you continue your journey with him to the new year—2021! The secret to keeping the joy of Christmas and to maintaining our union with God, is to keep finding and seeking the face of God! So, may it be true for you now and through 2021!
Here's the link to the Youtube service. All photos, videos, and pictures are from our church. A little taste of home and Christmas! Peace to you and your family!
Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38
4th Sunday of Advent
Today, the gospel of Luke brings us a terrifying announcement to a young girl. An angel appeared to Mary to break a strange news to hear; a news that was out of context; but the news was about an extraordinary gift of a child. She was frightened as she encountered an angelic being. Imagine that a strange creature appeared to you at night. What would you do? How would you react? More surprisingly, this obscure being is talking to you in your own language! Think how terrifying a moment it might be!
I always remember a story of an old woman from my village when I read Mary's story. The woman saw herself in a mirror for the first time in her life. Her nephew had brought home a mirror from a nearby town and placed the mirror in the far end of the hut. The aunty had no knowledge about the strange object in the hut. One afternoon this woman, looking for an item, entered the hut and saw her reflection in the mirror. She had no front upper teeth in the past, and her lower teeth were removed due to our tradition. That afternoon what the woman saw was a monster with closed teeth staring at her. She ran out screaming, "lääy dagø yi øtø"—meaning, there is unidentifiable animal inside the hut. When the villagers came to her rescue, they found a mirror, everyone saw their own reflection, but there was no animal in the hut. Do not yield to your fear, is the message for our 4th Sunday of Advent today.
The text for today begins by reporting that Elizabeth was in her six-month pregnancy when the angel appeared to Mary. Let us take time and see the parallel context of the preceding passages. Luke 1:12-20—the angel appeared to Zacharias, while Luke 1:26-38 presents the same angel appearing to Mary breaking the news that the impossible can be possible, and the unimaginable is now conceivable. The story of Elizabeth and Mary breaks the trajectory of human experience—the old brings out anew and the young brings forth a new beginning. The stories appear to portray both Mary and Zechariah yielding to their fear as they were presented with the impossible. While Zachariah briefly was made mute until the birth of the child, Mary submitted to the sovereignty of God. She realized she was powerless but believed only God can do the impossible (Luke 1:12-20; Luke 1:26-38).
Also, when the angel appeared— “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear” (v. 12). Mary was "confused and disturbed” (v. 29). “But the angel said [to Zechariah], ‘Don’t be afraid’ (v. 13).” And to Mary, “Don’t be afraid,” the angel told her” (v. 30). “Your wife Elizabeth will give you a son,” said Gabriel, (v. 13). And the angel said to Mary, “You will conceive and give birth to a son” (v. 31); “you are to name him John” (v. 13),” you will name him Jesus” (v. 31).
While John “will be great in the eyes of the Lord,” (v. 15); Jesus “…will be very great and will be called the Son of the Highest” (v. 32). John "will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God (v.16); and Jesus will reign over Israel (v. 33). Both Zechariah and Mary, presented their doubts; “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years” Zechariah complained (v. 18). “But how can this happen? I am a virgin,” Mary presented her fear (v. 34).
Then Gabriel assured them, “I am Gabriel, [sent by God], my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time” (v. 19-20). To Mary, "The angel replied,” The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you.” (v. 35). This is to assure Mary that God’s presence, his protection, and the encouragement will rest upon her even when she cannot understand the whole plan of Yahweh. God will protect and strengthen Mary against all the shame, the name calling, the fear and all other cultural stigmas that might come as part of Mary's conception.
Unlike Matthew, Luke's focus lies on God's intervention with the human world when recording the birth story. Luke did not waste time on chronological order, biological connection, but his emphasis is on Jesus, the subject of his writing. He emphasizes Jesus is the son of God of the Most High; he is the Messiah; the promised one whose background traced back to Jesse and king David. His aim is to present the new acts of God in the new age and the long expecting hope. Luke wants to encourage his readers to stay firm in the hearing of this strange story of heavenly affairs to the human world. He brings “the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s saving purpose” Charles B Cousar.
Jesus is the promised Messiah and scriptures prove this promise. As Isaiah promised, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit" (Isaiah 1:1). A dead stump will shoot out a new beginning. You may think of a pruned tree giving out new leaves and branches. But it is impossible for a dead stump to bring out a new shoot of the same tree. There might be an algae, mushrooms or different organisms growing out of it. This biological and forestry logic is unheard of. The announcement of Gabriel has broken every logical thinking of this world order. God disclosed his love ‘TO” us in a mysterious way—on Christmas.
We can see two inconceivable facts: an old woman giving birth to a child and a virgin giving birth to a baby, are hard to reconcile and understand. Yet, the angel broke the news and strengthened his hearers, to "not yield to fear." It is possible for God. Yes, God has said in the past, that "In that day, the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples… the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people… (Isaiah 11:10-11). God has for the second time gave a chance for his people. His banner is not fear, nor a discouragement, but love and comfort over us. The announcement is to inform us how hopes can be fulfilled, impossible can be overcome when God intervenes in our story.
The women who were in cultural and unnatural despair were brought hope and love. The assurance was in the angel's identification and in the greetings, he offered saying, "you have found favor with God"; God's unmerited grace is in Godself—"the impassible things [are] accomplished by God." Charles B. Cousar.
What does this mean to us today? It is about God’s assurance of his presence; God’s encouragement; and God’s gift of love and mercy on us through the newborn child. Luke’s portrayal of his characters tells us that we are all passive objects of God's intervention. Mary responded, “let it be according to your word,” even if she could not fully understand God’s plan. God's action for humans’ salvation, is always a mystery.
It’s about human life experience and the gospel of hope and love. "Life can be difficult; sometimes a [person] is beaten to his[/her] knees by the battering that it gives to him [her]. Life can be perilous, sometimes a [person] is like to fall in the slippery places of temptation. The gospel is God's power to save; that power which keeps a [person] erect, even when life is at its worst and its most threatening.” William Barclay.
The angel confirms the miracle Elizabeth already had experienced. and “Mary quietly accepted the promise without any hint of the doubts …." I. Howard Marshall.
After that terrifying encounter, Mary, took a trip to visit her cousin. Therefore, do not yield to your fear, stay firm, and let it be according God’s own will.
It is about our relationship to Jesus. We are of Jesus and he is of us. We can all see our reflections in him because we are made heirs of God through him. We should not yield to our fear, because, like my villagers, Jesus is our mirror. We can see him in us (well not our teeth) 😊. The book of Hebrews says, “For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered; he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Heb 1:14-18).
We see our reflection in him, he is in us and one of us. He is our mirror; the savior is to be born and bring God’s favorable love to us. On Christmas, the Mystery of God is finally disclosed and encourages everyone to:
Therefore, Jesus comes as savior; he is Emmanuel who promises to remain and make his dwelling among us. Jesus is not a stranger but one of us; and if one of us, then there is no reason to yield to our fears. He will be beside us to guide and give us divine support in our faith journey.
Today Luke tells us of our faith. It is true that faith does not make things easy- but will make hard things possible. Like Mary, let us accept our calling and the love of God and say, “let it be with me according to your word.” Jesus the savior of the world is to be born to us; he is the Messiah, the Christ!
1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28
Has my joy been shaken? As the year comes to an end, this might be a question we could all ask ourselves whether our joys and hopes have been compromised during trying times in the year 2020. It is true that everyone of us has been touched by this adamant virus. The virus has brought fear, uncertainty, and confusion. It seems there is no end to this dreadful time. Many of us are asking when we could see better times again.
Year 2020 has been a different year and has brought on us overriding challenges. The question, now, is whether we still have confidence in God's protection and believe his deliverance? Do we see God's gift of hope? Are we certain that God would restore us again?
In the last three Sundays of Advent, scriptures have been talking about the anticipation of Jesus' return at the end of the ages not as an infant on Christmas. We expect Advent to offer something uplifting and promising. However, these past Sundays have been about Jesus return to judge and condemn, even today while we are praying and anticipating Joy.
As Paul comes to the conclusion of his first letter of Thessalonians, he took a greater interest to emphasize on the most important aspects of a Christian life. He needed the Thessalonians to be anchored on the foundation of Jesus Christ and maintain a faithful Christian living. Paul urged them to live lives filled with joy; encouraged by prayer and inspirited by thankfulness.
As Thessalonian believers expected an imminent return of Christ, Paul reminds them how "they are faced with a new kind of discernment as they are forced to determine the particularity of the will of God in the challenges of their everyday lives." Charles B. Cousar.
Paul describes God’s will for the Thessalonians with continued phrases; that they should Rejoice always, pray without ceasing despite their circumstance and often be thankful. Paul suggests life of service that is “characterized by delight, by gratitude and by confidence" (Charles B. Cousar). It is life marked with discovering joy in the mist of circumstances.
The word "joy" has been an important term from the announcement of the “Good News" to Mary until the ascension of Christ to the heavenly throne. The angel encouraged Mary to not be afraid “for you have found favor with God!" (Luke 1:30). "You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth," the angels announced to Zechariah (Luke 1:13-14). Then Elizabeth's baby "leaped for joy" to the greeting from Mary (Luke 1:44). The wise men "filled with joy" after the star had stopped where the baby was born (Matthew 2:10). The women were "filled with great joy" after they learned the resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28:8). Also, disciples were "filled with joy and wonder" after Jesus was lifted from their eyes and ascended to his Father (Luke 24:41).
As we can see from these incidents, Joy has the character of awakening. Joy comes as sudden; it surprises in nature and it is arising to the fullness. No wonder the psalms says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).” Troubles and trials may linger, but God has promised a surprising joy. Tomorrow isn’t always the next day; tomorrow is a mystery and rests in the salvific correlation of God grace.
Take Israel for example after 70 years of exile. They remembered their experience and said, “It was like a dream come true when you freed us from our bondage and brought us back to Zion!” (Psalm 126). They could not believe their dark days have been expelled and the light of hope and the joy has prevailed. Therefore, joy comes on God’s own timing and not our own.
Paul encouraged Thessalonians to “Rejoice in the Lord always" (5:16). But you may ask whether someone can rejoice when they are engulfed in life circumstances, and can they rejoice always? Can we rejoice when our medical results return with surprising findings? Can we rejoice when we live in fear and the virus is lurking around? What about when we lose our loved ones? Can we rejoice when we are in the hospital beds? Can we rejoice when a health condition persists?
Paul seems to affirm his statement. That, yes, we can find hope and still rejoice. That we should not be mortified, confounded, and subdued by circumstance in our lives. Yet, let us not take Paul wrong and misunderstand his point. Paul does not suggest that we should be joyful, and thankful FOR our hardships and troubles. However, he encourages us, that IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, we remain confident in God’s promise. For Paul, our joy does not depend on the changes of the weather, or in the absence of troubles, or on our best wishes, our gain or wants.
Our joy is grounded on Christ, the giver and sustainer of our life. "Christians have grounds for joy in both their experience of salvation and their hope of what will do in the future, but they need to express that joy; there is a right and proper place for the expression of joyful emotion." (Howard Marshall)
Jesus prayed that the disciples “may have [his] joy made complete in themselves" (John 17:13). Also, Joy is one of Jesus' beatitudes. He encouraged the disciples to rejoice when enduring circumstance for righteousness. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven" (Matthew 5:11-12).
Therefore, in any situation, “Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life a prayer. And in the midst of everything, be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus.” God’s will for you and I is to have confidence in his promise, deliverance, and gift of a savior. We are called to the life of discernment as we walk by faith and guided by the power of the Holy Spirit. With this determination we are able "to hold fast to what is good", what is encouraging and sustaining (1 Thess. 5:19-22).
John the Baptist gave a great testimony and helped his audience to look toward Jesus as the promised lamb of God, the Messiah, the light sent to expel darkness in every life. He proclaimed and said, “For the Light of Truth was about to come into the world and shine upon everyone.” The NIV translates this verse in a present perfect conditional tense. This means the incident has present effect and we see the result as we speak. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). The event of the light has taken place and the effect is seen in the present real life.
As we observe the season of joy and anticipating the birth of the infant Jesus, John the Baptist calls us to know Jesus as the gift of God for our darkness. With Jesus' coming, we will find purpose of life in him. We will not sit in our own darkness and will not carry our own burdens. Christ will heal us and carry our worries as we welcome him into our hearts. Like the people of Zebulun and those of Naphtali, we have been sitting for too long in hopelessness. Yet on Christmas and through the birth of Jesus, we will see and receive the light of hope and death will be no more after Jesus defeated death on Easter morning (Matthew 4:14-16).
God will finally bring forth his promise to remain in and with us. "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.” John 1:14 ቃልም ሥጋ ሆነ ጽጋንና እዉነትንም ተሞልቶ በእኛ አደረ... Christians, even now as we speak, feel the presence of this word as the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. The word teaches, guides, and exhorts us in our Christian living. He is our hope and brings our joy to its fullness.
Therefore, let your joy remain stable and always; remember each other in our prayers and be thankful to God for the gift of love to the world. Remember each and every one in your prayers so that your joy remains stable. Paul did not see himself higher over the Thessalonians, but he too, asked his followers to pray for him. As William Barclay said, “It is a wonderful thing that the greatest saint of them all should feel that he was strengthened by the prayer of the humblest Christians.”
After she was told by the angel that her cousin Elizabeth was in her 6th month of pregnancy, Mary did not deny her need to go visit her. Elizabeth had passed through the impossible and Mary saw the need to go talk to her and learn from her. Remember that there is always a friend, a relative, a church member or a neighbor who has gone through your pain and valley of your life. This encourages us that we should talk to and pray with others.
Most importantly, let us remember to spread joy, to make him known and proclaim that God has given the greatest gift to the world. Soon this baby of Bethlehem will challenge the world order, disperse religious egos, and proclaim God's salvation that is obtained only by faith and reconcile us to God.
Therefore, rejoice, pray, and give thanks always, knowing that it is the outpouring will of God for us as Christians. God will maintain your joy in trials until the appearing of our Lord Jesus. Remember that, "the one who calls you by name is trustworthy and will thoroughly complete his work in you"(1 Thessalonians 5:24). Amen!
ISAIAH 40:1–11, MARK 1:1–8
Today, the gospel of Mark brings a BIZARRE STORY about a man for the Second Sunday of Advent. While Isaiah spoke of this man as a "voice crying in the wilderness," the gospel of Mark identifies this person as John the Baptist. His story was strange to us today in many ways. First, John made his living in the wilderness and lived with wild animals. He was eating Locusts and wild honey for his diet. Lastly, John wore Camal's skin to cover himself—sounds primitive!
Both passages bring to us the message of readiness in our calling, comfort in our weary, deliverance in weakness, and peace in our distress and hope in our sorrows. Isaiah comforted Israel in the Babylonian exile, promising deliverance from God. That God has forgiven his people and now it is time for God to accomplish his divine purpose by taking his people back to their promised land. That, the messenger has been discharge to "break the good news" of restoration to his people.
The gospel message speaks of John the Baptist, who did not desire to live in big Manson, a nice house, or even in a tent. He was not interested in eating hamburgers, fries, and chicken sandwich. There were no hot wings for appetizer nor chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Yet, even in his uncomfortable situation, John was ready for the purpose to "break the news of the coming of the Messiah." He proclaimed a message of repentance, forgiveness and return to God.
You may ask whether John had indeed eaten Locusts? The Answer is a BIG YES! John the Baptist "ate Locusts and wild honey." Eating Locusts may sound disgusting. However, Locusts were prefect diets for John the Baptist. And YES, John did not wear a suit, or even a T-shirt, but what he wore were made of a camel skin and his belt was made from a fresh leather. This too, sound uncivilized.
John was ready and he has all the equipment for the task. The Camel skin helps protect from the severe heart of the wilderness and the leather belt support his back as he walks long ways. Honey has antioxidants and Locust has portion to build up strength.
Yes, it is primitive for us today in the 21st century. For ancient Israel, Locust was the type of insect allowed by mosaic law in the Torah-extract. "Every flying insect that uses four legs for walking shall be avoided by you. The only flying insects with four walking legs that you may eat are those which have knees extending above their feet, [using this longer leg] to hop on the ground. Among thee you may only eat members of the red locust family, the yellow locust family, the spotted gray locust family, and the white locust family. All other flying insects with four feet [for walking] must be avoided by you." Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, ohr.edu: (Ask the Rabbi April 30, 1994, Issue #19)
How does Locust test? Served as are Kosher snacks, many people say Locusts test like chicken and crunchy in texture. This may not surprise you either. Take Africa for example, different kinds of insects are eaten by different ethnic groups all over Africa. As anthropologists/sociologist would say, the beauty of a culture/tradition is in the eyes of the beholder, say anthropologies.
Therefore, eating Locusts for John was normal. He was content with his lifestyle (Philippians 4:12-13). Even if his food and clothing seem uncomforting, John was buckled-up and was at peace with himself while in the wilderness. He was ready for the task given from God. And at the right time, John was discharged to remind people, exhort them, and call Israel to repent and return to God and the God of their fathers. He called for a new life in Israel. He led simple life but equipped to deliver a message from God.
John appeared, in the wilderness after 400 plus years of God's silence since the prophet Malachi. In those four hundred years, people had lost the meaning of life and tend to wander around over gods. Yet, Jehovah Adonai raised up a prophet to restore the fortune of Israel and bring back the nation to its path.
John the Baptist had the Spirit and zeal of the prophet Elijah as it was promised by prophet Malachi, saying, "Behold, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes" " (Malachi 4:4) (Luke 1:17). John came to draw attention to God. He was a hairy man like Elijah, “a hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kings 1:8). Elijah was a miracle worker, a messenger who encountered King Ahab and his wife. He prayed and there was no rain in Israel for three years because people chose to worship Baal over the God of Israel. After three years, Elijah defeated queen Jezebel and the prophets of Baal. He destroyed the worship of Baal at Mounty Carmel and led the people back to worship Yahweh (1 King 18).
One more thing, in the ancient days, there were no microphones, emails, Facebook, Tik-Tok, snapchat etc. to help spread their message to people. The messengers had to go around on foot announcing the message from one location to another, so that people could hear them. They use their voices, etc. to call attention to their message. A message could be a King's edict, public announcement for a special meeting or a call for war. People go out to listen to a prophet.
I remember back in Africa when a messenger would walk round my village from one location to another. They would repeat the message twice and people close to the road would ask him questions for a better understanding. Then when the messenger voice or the trumpet does not sound for the next five minutes, it would be understood that everyone had received the message. But people would continue asking others about the announcement. At that point, everyone is assumed to receive the message and are tasked to pass on the message.
This is similar with John experience and ancient Israel. People kept pouring to listen to John because the message has been passed on from one person to another. It was done human to human connection!
God's promise was fulfilled in the coming of John the Baptist (Malachi 3:1; Isaiah 40:3). John was a long-promised messenger to come and prepare the way for Christ's coming. When John emerged from the wilderness, people were interested to see, hear, and even talk to him (Mark 1:7).
Like Elijah, John asked people to repent and chose to live a life fit for repentance. His Baptism was for the change of hearts to God—as making a "U" turn when you make a wrong exit. His message meant to remind people of forgiveness and reconciliation. He compared this newness or change as of constructing a highway, where the valleys are filled-in and the hills made low. He called upon everyone to make such radical change, in that the whole world shall see the glorious salvation of God. A World at peace and everyone cares for one another.
John made it clear, that Messiah will be "baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire. Meaning people will be baptized into Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. As with fire, means everyone will be made accountable and responsible for their act of faith. He called people out of Jerusalem, back to the wilderness at the Jordan river. For many people, we may think John had lost his mind by asking people to leave behind their comfort life. But this was the prophetic model. Elijah too, had called queen Jezebel and his people out to Mount Carmel. There, Baal was defeated, and people entered the city with the rain pouring after three years of draught.
Here, John recreated Israel's entry to the promise land and to Jerusalem. Remember, Jordan was the last River the Israelites had crossed when entering the promise land. During the first entry, Joshua called out leaders and elders of the 12 tribes ad laid stones to help crossover to the new land.
Now John symbolized this event. By his call to baptism in the Jordan river, John the Baptist signified the spiritual reinter to the promise land. It was calling for new partnership with God and make people ready to receive the promised Messiah. He tasked people to go and "break the good news" they had just received. He had made it clear all-along to people, that he was not the Messiah. But he was the forerunner in the preparation for the coming of the promised One.
I can go on and on with literal background of this rich story. But let us turn to what it means to us today. First the location of John's activities present challenge to the temple practice, temple goers without real change and life of faith. His message exhorts to virtue and self-righteousness. He demands purity of heart, repentance of guilt and forgiveness. This too, is a call for us today to step out of our comfort zones in our ministry.
Second, John calls us for renewal; Isiah invites us to partner with God during this advent. As Israel returned to God when years of exile ended, we too, are remined the drawing new of the light of hope. We are called out to accept the message of God with pure hearts. The voice calling us to the church outside beyond the building walls. In every advent season we begin a new journey with God and reminded of our experience's wilderness/ of life circumstances. In his journey, the Lord assures us his presence. On Christmas Hope of new life is born again in our hearts. Yeshua, the savior confirms his indwelling among us—as Emmanuel—God with us!
Third, as John had his full armor of God, we are asked to do the same this time as we journey through Advent. You and I are demanded to "fasten the belt of truth" and "put on the breastplate of righteousness" and break the good news of God's grace (Ephesians 6:10-17). As John asked his attendees, the Lord asks us today to empty ourselves and to "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:13).
Fourth, we are strengthened and comforted in our darkness of life. "Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins" (Isaiah 40:1-2). This season, the Lord is taking us back to his intended purpose. He assures us of forgiveness, and gracious gift of salvation—it is accomplished through Christ! Our hope in Advent "…is not grounded in the possibilities we can see in the human community, but in the faithfulness of God that is not conditioned by human frailty or fickleness" Charles B Cousar.
Fifth, God is doing something new in our wilderness as we are reminded of our Baptism. God speaks anew into the silence and desolation of our lives when we repent, listen, and recognize his voice. The Lord brings assurance and solidarity to us—God is always faithful to his promises.
Take our current situation for example. We long for a time where everyone is set free; where no mask is required; where everyone talk to family member, a friend, a coworker freely without being cautious of contacting the virus. This time was like the exiles to whom the message of deliverance was first broken. They were anticipating a day when they were all set free and enjoy peace at last.
It is the same for us today during this season. We are all exhausted, mentally, emotionally, and weary spiritually and hope for a new day. We are anticipating Christ's birth. God's promise of care and concern for you, in your moments. “Like a shepherd the Lord will take care of his people. He will gather his children, carries them in his arms and leads nursing mothers through the long journey of the desert… " (Isaiah 40:11).
Therefore, as Israelites were tasked to prepare a road for the coming of Yahweh, now we are informed to make our hearts ready. Human heart is center of our change. It is the temple of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. From our hearts the spring of life and the living water flows (Prov. 4:23; John 7:38). In this season, make peace, love one another, take care of the poor, and feed the needy. In that, God comes and indwells in our hearts and make his living in midst. Then we will be blessed with the gifts, of compassion, and forgiveness, care, toward others and build unity with our neighbors.
Sixth, the work of evangelism is to show God and newness where none seemed possible. As messengers of the good news, we are dispatched to speak, break the news (mĕbaššēr"/ መስበር) loudly and clear calling people to be at peace, stable and ready in these trying times. You are called to break the news of the new season where light shines through the dense darkness and shall not overcome. A message of breakthrough, that gives future for those who has no future. Let us acquire a passion for the gospel message and bring comfort to the brokenhearted, of assurance of peace and a promising future.
Lastly, let us be content with our lives and run the race of faith as we prepare to receive the newborn Messiah (Philippians 4:12-13). May Christ finds a space in our hearts on Christmas Day, where our spiritual exile ends, darkness of our circumstances is dispelled and drought of desire for peace yields to springs of water of blessings through Christ. Life begins anew, whole, safe, protected. Everything comes anew after hearing the good news proclaimed and act on it. As we are reminded of our Baptism, know that we are renewed, revived and "…everything old [left behind]; everything become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Therefore, let us be ready and prepare our hearts for Christ’s return as a Baby born in Bethlehem. Let us welcome the Messiah and proclaim ["mĕbaššēr"] the good news to everyone. Peace to you and to the whole world!