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Sermon Illustrations for Advent 2 (2018)

Illustration
Baruch 5:1-9
For they went out from you on foot,
    
led away by their enemies;
but God will bring them back to you,
    
carried in glory, as on a royal throne. (Baruch 5:6)

Psalm 137 gives us a heart-rending picture of the people being led away into exile on foot by their enemies (by the willows we hung up our harps -- that whole thing.). The captives no doubt suffered torment and death reminiscent of native Americans on the Trail of Tears or the American POWs in the Bataan Death March.

Baruch by contrast describes the exiles’ return, with a poetic detail that’s easy to overlook. These images of the return do Isaiah 40 one better -- there we saw that mountains were leveled and the valleys filled in as the paths were made straight -- but here there is something extraordinary. The people are carried back in glory on the royal throne. Imagine long poles which support this throne. This is truly coming back in style.

But there’s more. The words glory and throne are strong images associated with the court of God. Think Isaiah 6. The word “glory” in Hebrews has the sense of weight, something truly substantial. The throne is a key element. Since the God of Israel was not associated with a particular image the throne on top of the Ark of the Covenant was empty, but occupied. We get a glimpse of the throne room in Daniel 7, where the Ancient of Days is seated and the Son of Man stands alongside. This idea of the divine throne room permeates the Book of Revelation, which comes after Baruch but shares the same memory.

The people come back, and they are seated on the throne of glory. This is the true sign of their rehabilitation and return.
Frank R.

* * *

Baruch 5:1-9
Celebrations are fun. Do you remember the last time you were part of a big celebration?  I remember one that happened a few years ago.  I’m a baseball fan who grew up in Kansas City.  That means I’ve seen lots of less than stellar baseball.  However, for a couple of years recently, that changed. In 2014 and 2015 the Royals were one of the most exciting and best teams in baseball.  It was thrilling to hear 40,000 fans at packed Kauffman Stadium chant, "Let's Go Royals!" As incredible as that was, it was even more awesome to hear that chant by about 800,000 people. That’s what happened on November 3, 2015.  My hometown, Kansas City, celebrated the world champion Kansas City Royals. Royals fans crammed the streets, sidewalks, hills and rooftops in downtown Kansas City for a remarkable World Series celebration parade. It was a stunning sea of Royal blue not seen in Kansas City for many years.  It was a sight long-suffering Royals fans won’t soon forget.

I was reminded of that celebration and parade reading through this passage.  This text speaks of a day when God would restore his people. Mother Jerusalem, who saw the captivity of her children (Baruch 4:10) is called to witness their being gathered together, reversing the punishment of exile and bring the relief for which they had prayed. It would be a time of rejoicing, praise and glory.
Bill T.

* * *

Baruch 5:1-9
Soon we will be celebrating Christmas Day. The doxology Gloria in excelsis becomes important for us. This was the doxology sung by the angels when they announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. The words come to us from Luke’s gospel and are probably familiar to all of us. The angels sang:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

The doxology Gloria in excelsis is often called the “Angel’s Hymn.” It is regarded by the church as the Greater Doxology. By the year 500 it was sung in churches before the scripture reading. The Greater Doxology was used with the same purpose that the doxology in our worship services today. The doxology is used for emotional expression.
Ron L.

* * *

Philippians 1:3-11
Paul writes, “I thank God every time I think of you.” Who do we thank God for? Perhaps it is a parent who taught us about loving family, or traditions, or ancestral connections. Perhaps it is a teacher who shared with us a love of knowledge and learning. Perhaps it is a spouse who taught us about faithfulness and commitment, even in the hard times. Perhaps it was a Sunday school teachers who brought the bible stories to life. Maybe it was a pastor who preaches directly to your heart and about your life. Have you taken a moment to tell them that you thank God when you think of them? Have you actually thanked God for them? I once posited in a sermon, “what if everything we forgot to say thank you for disappeared from our lives?”  Would we have air to breath, a planet to walk on, work to do, health, food, family, friends, faith? Pause today and say thank you to God for your blessings and then reach out to those who impact your life and offer them your thanks as well.
Bonnie B.

* * *

Philippians 1:3-11
A 2014 survey by Watchstop found that almost half (48%) of us feel Christmas has lost its magic.  (And little has changed in American life in the last 4 years.) We have lost the sense in which the festival matters (except for all the presents and what they do to our family budgets).  We could use some peace and a little more mystery.  It lies there in the manger!  Paul says in our lesson that we have received God’s grace. And that is magic, a miracle! Martin Luther made that point once in a sermon:

Must not the heart presently start with alarm at its own boldness and say: “Do you really think it is true that the great and Majestic God, the Maker of heaven and earth has so regarded my misery and so mercifully looked upon me, deeply and manifoldly as I have sinned against Him...”  How can such a grace and such a treasure be grasped by the human heart or any other creature?  (Complete Sermons, Vol.1/2, p.330)

This magnificent awareness is itself a work of God and the Holy Spirit.  John Calvin made that clear:

... we have no testimony except from the outward efficacy of the Spirit…  This, however, is a general rule both as to ourselves and to others -- that, distrusting our own strength, we depend entirely on God alone.  (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol.XXI/2, pp.26-27)

It takes a miracle to believe the wonderful word of grace. Christmas really is magic! And it is even more magic that this miraculous love changes us, gets us materialistic money-grubbers to think about love. The magic of Christmas, Martin Luther tells is, is that the Holy Spirit so fills our hearts that you cannot help but will and desire what God wants (Paul Althaus, The Ethics of Martin Luther, p.13).
Mark E.

* * * 

Philippians 1:3-11
Every time I get email from my Christian friends in Nepal, I thank God because I know I have played a part, no matter how small, in their faith.  I pray with joy for these my fellow  believers who are partners in the gospel from the day they first came to know our Lord.  It was  God who began the good work in them. I pray his work will continue until the day he returns

No one knows when that date is.  We just remain faithful until we see him here on earth or in our heavenly reward.

Love must keep growing.

The more my wife and I love each other, the more we should know what pleases our partner the most.  I try to be blameless, but my wife may tell me as she did last night that I forgot to put away the dishes.  She said we will have none for breakfast.  We would both suffer for my forgetfulness.

Sometimes we need reminding.  That is one thing our church is here for.  Not just to make us more obedient, but to build our love. Love improves our memory.

We have to remember the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus whose faithfulness brought him to a cross.  He will help us with our faithfulness Partly through our church. So we need to be faithful church people.
Bob O.

* * *

Luke 3:1-6
Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene...(Luke 3:1).

Luke includes a list of rulers, sacred and secular, in the first, second, and third chapters of his gospel, in part, I believe, to make it clear that all of this happens in the "real" world.  The list gets rather long in chapter 3.

There's the Emperor Tiberius who reigned from 14-37 AD. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea from 26-36 AD. Prior to his reign Herod’s son Archaelaus had ruled a scant three years, after which Rome chose to rule Judea directly through a governor rather than someone with the title of a king.

Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee and Perea, and who was one of the sons of Herod the Great, reigned from his father's death (4BC) to 29 AD. Philip (or Herod-Philip), another one of the Herods, reigned over a much smaller portion of the old Herod's kingdom, from 4 BC to 34 AD. Lysanius reigned roughly from 25-30 AD, although the exact dates are not known.

And for those keeping score, Herodias, who would seek, and eventually receive, the head of John the Baptist, was married at one point to Herod-Philip but dumped him to marry her brother-in-law Herod Antipas in order to move up in power and influence.

Annas, the High Priest from 6-15 AD was deposed by Roman authorities and replaced by son-in-law Caiaphas, 18-36 AD, and both seemed to have held power together, perhaps uncomfortably.

Ironically Luke's point is that none of this matters. Not Caesar, not kings, not high priests -- but what John the Baptist does matters, despite the opposition from the Herods, and even more so, what Jesus does matters most of all. The world is upside down.
Frank R.

* * *

Luke 3:1-6
Regarding influence, who a person is doesn’t matter as much as who that person represents. Dr. A.T. Schofield shares a story that, I think, reflects this sentiment and describes the ministry of John the Baptist.

We were crossing the channel one day, and as we were nearing the pier, we heard a loud clear voice ringing over the boat. It came from a small dirty-looking boy standing near the engine-room. We could not hear what he said, but we could feel that the great wheels were beginning to revolve more slowly. Again, we heard the clear tones were heard, and suddenly the motion of the engines was reversed, and the paddles began to turn in an opposite direction. At first it appeared as if the boy had the entire control of the ship, and certainly he seemed quite capable of guiding her. The orders he gave were with authority, and the utmost confidence. There was no hesitation in his manner or in his voice. On approaching him the mystery was explained. His eyes were intently fixed on the little bridge above his head, where stood the captain. It was some time, however, before we discovered how he gave his orders to the boy. He seldom spoke, and then but a word, and yet the boy kept shouting down below as if moved by some unseen power. At last we found that it was by short, sharp movements of the hand that the captain gave his orders. Quite unintelligible as they were to us, to the boy all was clear, every movement had its meaning, and no sooner did a little wave of the hand say 'forward' than the voice was heard, 'Full speed ahead', and instantly the mighty engines moved in obedience.

We thought about this, and wished we were more like the captain's boy. The boy was (like John the Baptist of old) simply 'a voice', but as John’s voice derived all its importance because it was from the Lord, so did the boy's because it was but an echo of the captain's.
Bill T.

* * *

Luke 3:1-6
Carol Klein, with schoolbooks under one arm and a sheet of music under the other, got off the express train from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The year was 1957 and the 15-yeaar-old was determined to be a singing sensation. Wearing bobby socks, white sneakers, and a black skirt with a pink poodle embroidered on it, she opened the New York City telephone book. Starting with the “As” in the directory, she would visit every music industry executive until she found one who would record her songs. 

After being turned away by several recording studios, ABC-Paramount invited her to record four songs. Five decades later we know her as Carol King who has over 20 solo albums. At the age of 71, King was the first woman, on May 22, 2013, to receive Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The award is named after the music-writing team of George and Ira Gershwin.

Whenever King performs at a concert, a large number of baby boomers are in attendance. They were the ones who knew her best in the 1960s and 70s. Regarding the boomer audiences King said, “They have connected with me and, in connecting with me, they’re really connecting with themselves and thinking of where they were when they first heard one of my songs.”
Ron L.

New & Featured This Week

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For December 16, 2018:
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Wow, how can things get any better. God has not only taken our punishment, he has turned back our enemy. What more can we ask. We shouldn’t have to fear anything. God says this to Jerusalem. Can this apply to America also?

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My wife, who thrives on organization, has a motto: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” It’s an expression of her passion for keeping a room, a house, or a garage orderly. But I think the principle extends still further. It goes beyond just physical spaces. For what is true of cupboards and closets is even more profoundly true of a human life.

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Luke 3:7-18

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“...but one who is more powerful than I is coming..” (V. 16a)

Good morning girls, good morning boys!

My, it’s so fun to see you today.  Happy Advent! Know why I (say, sing, shout, chant) Happy Advent? (children may respond)

Advent means “a coming.” Something or somebody is coming. Just around the corner. Know what it is? (children respond)

Yep. It’s Christmas, and John the Baptist is here to help. (show sketch)

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I've had many reports of the Remembrance Sunday service held at Dickleburgh (in Norfolk, England) this year, mostly about the preacher. Since Dickleburgh has a historic connection with the Americans from the time of Second World War, they always invite the American Air Base at Mildenhall in Suffolk to join them for the service, and always invite the current American air force chaplain to preach.

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On the Sunday afternoon following Thanksgiving, when I was in seventh grade, it began to snow. It started slowly and undramatically -- much like any number of other snows I had experienced growing up in Detroit. The sky turned the shade of dirty wool and the flakes danced through the wind as in one of those glass balls that you invert. Little by little the sidewalks whitened, and soon the neighborhood was alive with the rasping sound of shovels. Before long the roads were filled and you could no longer see the curb.

Special Occasion