Isaiah 61: 1-4 & 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24

December 13, 2020 THIRD SUNDAY of ADVENT

To Everything … turn turn turn … there is a season … turn turn turn … And, a time for every purpose under heaven.”   And, the memories of the song of my youth that brought the words of Solomon to the Billboard charts still resonate.   Solomon in Ecclesiastes allows readers to reflect on the circular aspects of life but Pete Seeger who wrote the tune the Byrds took all the way to number 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart added one more phrase that Solomon didn’t write and today in the season of Advent as we again consider the PRINCE of PEACE this is where we begin.  “A TIME for PEACE, I SWEAR IT’s NOT TOO LATE.”

This morning three lights have been lit for the season of ADVENT… Christmas is coming but we continue to be in the midst of the storm of darkness that for many of us has taken away almost an entire year.  We hear the voices and mine has been amongst them … anxious to erase the year 2020 from the tableau of history.  We feel worn, we continue to be anxious, and we realize that we are not the people we once were … or perhaps they … the other ones who disagree with us … they are not the people they once were, right?  It can’t be us … never us … A TIME FOR PEACE, I SWEAR IT’s NOT TOO LATE.

Paul as he concludes his first letter to the early Christian church collective of Thessalonians, in what is today’s northern Greece, needed to provide clarity about living a faith-led life.   Clarity as to what it is to be a person who has changed … some may say born again … through faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul knew those folks who were beginning their faith journey and that they had suddenly become alive in the Spirit of the Holy.  Their old ways … the ways of evil … of dying … of fear … and of embracing a cursed world of darkness and division had ended so he wanted to do all that he could to make sure they did not return to that world … instead that they became alive in the Light of God that Jesus Christ had provided to them.  The same Light of Christ we can bask in, thrive through, and walk in … the same Light we can cover up, reject, and run from.  So, he begins his concluding message, “BROTHERS and SISTERS … live in peace with each other.”  A TIME FOR PEACE, I SWEAR IT’s NOT TOO LATE.

It would appear that Pete Seeger and the Byrds have nothing in their song that isn’t a lesson of faith from the Scriptures.  We are in the season of Advent … a season of anticipation of what God has planned for us.  The prophet taught that THE LORD’S plans are “plans for peace, not disaster, to give you and me a future with hope.” We are in a season coinciding with the changing of the calendar when we each again can make a firm and active decision to allow our faith to be renewed … to allow our testimonies to be energized .. to become alive in the season and then to live our lives for God in the days to come … rejecting the world.  Same choice as the Thessalonians … same choice as the saints of the church … same choice those who care for the poor and homeless have made … the lights of the Advent Candle are being lit, the Christ candle is in their midst.  Friends are you ready to be alive in the season pulling away the pall that we’ve allowed to cover us and carry us out into the year’s fog and storms …. A TIME FOR PEACE, I SWEAR IT’s NOT TOO LATE.

REJOICE ALWAYS! … that’s where the light of Jesus Christ will take us.  SHOUT TO THE LORD all the earth let us sing; power and majesty praise to the King … JOY TO THE WORLD the LORD HAS COME … Paul is very deliberate in reminding us … because, let’s face it friends … we are potentially today’s Christians, we really are, who have the capability of showcasing the message of Christ out into the world but Jesus followers … Jesus believers … those who are truly saved by the love of God are those individuals who absolutely are willing to accept the commandments and directives of the creator of the universe that are found in the Gospels of Jesus Christ as the rules for how we live…  the very last thing in the world people of faith should ever be is dour, sad, frightened, disheartened, or allies with those who go against the teachings of Christ.  A TIME FOR PEACE, I SWEAR IT’s NOT TOO LATE.

Paul also wrote the same message to the church of Philippi and here we are reading again what he wrote to the Thessalonians … REJOICE ALWAYS!!!  Not just when you sing a Christmas carol … not just when no one can see you … ALWAYS, EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME, CONSISTENTLY … because if we aren’t alive in the SEASON of the LORD … and, I have a little insight to share with you … it’s not about putting Christ in the word Christmas it’s about showcasing CHRIST in you and in me through our joy … through our love .. through our embracing of all others and our direct rejection of the evil that the world showcases. When non-believers see we are REJOICING ALWAYS and loving everyone and actually believing and doing what Jesus taught rather than just claiming to be Christians perhaps then … perhaps then they will want some of what we have … and the bonus is … Jesus said it … some of you might even have memorized this … “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  A TIME FOR PEACE, I SWEAR IT’s NOT TOO LATE.

You might have noticed that there was no Gospel reading this morning … instead I opted for the prophet Isaiah and Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians but I could have turned to Luke because I often have thought about the homecoming of Jesus as he went to the front of Nazareth’s synagogue to share the day’s reading.  He unrolled the scroll and he read what was read to all of us this morning … “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.  He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor!”  Jesus then proclaimed “today, this Scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” Jesus and I am pretty sure you remember the name Jesus don’t you because after all he’s the inventor of the Christmas tree and the inspiration for Christmas sales and Christmas decorations … and Christmas greetings and cards with Santa’s smiling face on them along with the reindeer. Now, were there 12 reindeer or was that 12 number associated with something or someone else? FYI: there are 9: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen, and the most famous and beloved last one … John … oops Rudolph. Do you happen to know who Jesus’ 12 were the way you know Rudolph’s song? We are in the season of ADVENT and are you anticipating what God has planned for you in the coming days?  Are you ready to energize your faith … revitalize or perhaps rediscover it …or even find it for the very first time?  A TIME FOR PEACE, I SWEAR IT’s NOT TOO LATE.

It is important to note the specific scroll that Jesus read on that morning because through it Jesus reveals His mission and therefore our mission because we are His followers, we are His 21st century disciples, and we are called to make disciples for Jesus  in every corner of the world.  Jesus was not declaring something new that morning … He was just verifying what matters to God.  And, if we understand what matters to God then we can become alive in this season of Advent and also alive in our faith that may have been dormant because we haven’t paid attention to God’s values because frankly there are a lot of loud voices out in the world telling us that God’s values should be trashed.  Well maybe not in those exact words but tell someone that you believe the oppressed should be liberated and watch for their reaction.Eww … maybe that’s a hard one so try saying that your Jesus endorses the releasing of prisoners … uh no … caring for the poor … yikes … maybe those reindeer do have some value after all.   Well that was enough to upset the good religion-focused people in His hometown … but that’s what God calls us to. TO DO JUSTICE, EMBRACE FAITHFUL LOVE OF ALL and WALK HUMBLY WITH GOD. We heard in our reading from Isaiah that God declares, “I the Lord love justice! I will faithfully give them their wages and make covenant with them.”  And, Old Testament Isaiah seems to be in agreement with Jesus and New Testament Paul because he declares that by following God’s teaching and I quote, “I surely rejoice in the Lord: my heart is joyful because of my God … who has clothed me with clothes of victory and wrapped me in a robe of righteousness.”  And, Paul wrote to two different early Christian churches, “REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS; AGAIN I SAY REJOICE!”  So, are you ready to be alive in the season of the Lord God who created the heavens and the earth? A TIME FOR PEACE, I SWEAR IT’s NOT TOO LATE.

The consistency of the Holy Scriptures should not surprise anyone … Paul in these concluding paragraphs writes, “Warn those who are disorderly! Comfort the discouraged! Help the weak! Be patient with everyone!  BE SURE that no one repays a wrong with a wrong but always pursue the good for each other AND FOR EVERYONE ELSE!” So, what does Christmas really mean to you … forget about Bing’s melodies for a moment and Amazon’s best deals … in this year 2020 with its turmoils and storms … what does Christmas mean to you? And, are you on board with God’s expectations for your life?  This is where it gets very personal … I have heard too many last breaths and have had family members tell me that the person who had just died “really didn’t go to church”  … they say “we think he or she had some religion but there are no Bible verses nor Jesus stories we remember them sharing.”

We have lit the third candle on the ADVENT WREATH … next Sunday the fourth and on Christmas Eve they all will be lit including the Christ Candle but will it be silent nights for you and your connection with God and Jesus Christ after that?  Are you caught up in the fear … are you thriving on the division … do you enjoy not having the peace of God that exceeds all human understanding?  Have you lost how to walk with Christ? Well, I am pleading with you this morning to become alive again in this season! For your salvation! Paul wrote, “Don’t suppress the Spirit … Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages BUT EXAMINE EVERYTHING carefully hang onto what is good and AVOID EVIL.  And, may the God of peace Himself cause you to be completely dedicated to Him keeping your spirit, your soul and your body intact in Christ.” A TIME FOR PEACE, I SWEAR IT’s NOT TOO LATE.

And, yes it takes work on our part or at least active change because work carries bad connotations that are not related to the peace that Jesus provides to us and the joy knowing we have a home in heaven.  We all need to have better conversations with God, Paul teaches “Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  That’s a pretty good habit … get comfy chatting with God and sincerely confess your sins and work on repenting from those things in your life that are bringing you down.  “Avoid EVERY KIND of EVIL,” that actually doesn’t take much work it just means some of our friends and family members will wonder why we aren’t chanting along with them out in the world. That old song ‘put your hands in the hands of the One who still the waters” is absolutely true because when we become alive in the season of the Lord … the God of peace Himself will take care of us.  God is “faithful and will do this” Paul reminds us.  And, if you need additional help don’t continue to be out cleaning up after reindeer when you could be basking in the peace of God … talk with someone, pray with someone, open up your Bible. Discover again Jesus Christ and God and let the Holy Spirit in.  REJOICE ALWAYS AGAIN I SAY REJOICE!!! And, friends there is still  A TIME FOR PEACE … for you and me … I SWEAR IT’s NOT TOO LATE.  AMEN

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