Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Lights: The Kingdom of Peace

Preached Sunday, December 26
Scripture readings:
Isaiah 9:1-7; Hebrews 1:1-14; Luke 2:8-14

The message the angels gave to the shepherds, in the rangelands above Bethlehem, was about the birth of a new king who would cause a new world to be born. It was revolutionary news.

To the shepherds, and anyone who heard their report, the words of the angels meant that the world order and God’s order were about to collide, and the world order was going down. This is what it would have meant to them, when the angels said, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) The Christ was a royal title: messiah, king. They understood this to mean that, in a few years’ time, a leader would rise to the attention of the people of Israel and lead them in a confrontation against Rome and the other great powers of the world, and defeat those powers.

Jerusalem would become the imperial city of the world; the seat of world government. The nations would pay tribute and taxes, and support that government. The people of Israel would be free to worship as God intended, and follow God’s laws without distraction and without the competition and the corrupting influences of alien cultures. The Christ, the Messiah, would see to this, when he grew up to fight his battles and win his wars.

This is what they thought. This is what they thought when the read Isaiah’s words. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) A new world government in Jerusalem: this is what almost every one of the people of Israel thought these words were about.

The problem came when the baby grew up, and thought differently than almost everyone else did. He understood those words differently. He put the accent on a different place, on a different word, and came out with a meaning and purpose that surprised everyone.

Jesus took the accent off the word government and put the accent on the word peace. Didn’t the angels, themselves, call the baby king the bringer of “peace on earth”?
I want us to think about having an intense interest in peace; in being bringers of the Lord’s peace. In the gospels, we don’t hear Jesus using the word peace very often. In fact, he sometimes denied that he had come to bring peace at all (Matthew 10:34). Jesus always found a way to disrupt the peace of people who he thought were unworthy of it (Matthew 21:12-16).

But Jesus did use the word peace in important ways, and he brought peace to the people who needed it most. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) And Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Notice that Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” These are a king’s words. Jesus was saying something about his type of government but, in the same breath, he was also talking about his cross. He was saying these things as he waited for his capture, and arrest, and crucifixion. He didn’t want his friends to be completely undone by the horrible things that were about to happen.

The story of the gospel: the birth and life of Jesus; the death and resurrection of Jesus; describes his power as king. They are the actual weapons of his kingdom. They are the way his kingdom functions. They are his law that works in every person who belongs to his kingdom. The birth and life of Jesus; the death and resurrection of Jesus; are his way of governing you, and teaching you, and shaping your life and your commitments and relationships.

Jesus was also talking about his death (about the action of his being nailed to the cross, and that cross or that cross piece being lifted into place, and the people at the foot of the cross looking up at him dying there) when he said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32-33) His cross was his government drawing all people into his orbit.

This is his kingdom. This is part of what Isaiah meant when he said, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:7)

The justice and righteousness of the kingdom of God are the gift of Jesus in the work he has done for us. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to stand in for us in his humanity, in his life, in his death, in his resurrection. He carried our life in his. Our lives are contained in his life and everything he did.

The justice and righteousness of the child who has been born for us are the humility and mercy of God coming down in Jesus to rule in our favor. His justice and righteousness consisted of taking our sins and our old way of life, taking the world’s way of working, onto the cross in order to take it from us. His dying for the sins of the world is his way of overcoming the world. This is the key to the role of Jesus as Prince of Peace. Everything that Jesus is, and everything that Jesus does, is about peace.

But the peace is not just peace in our heart. And it is not only peace between us and God. The Prince of Peace rules a kingdom that is governed by the same laws that are at work in Jesus himself. If Jesus is our king, if we belong to his kingdom, then the law of peace will operate through us, in our lives.

If the Lord wants to give peace to the members of our family, and peace to our neighbors, and peace to our community, and peace to our world, then the laws of the Prince of Peace are going to reach out through us in order to give God’s peace to them. What God gives us in Christ, God seeks to give through us in Christ. Peace, as the Bible conceives it, is interactive.

The world around you needs you just as much as it needs God, because the kingdom of God is within you, as Jesus said. (Luke 17:12) The kingdom of God within you means that you are ruled by God. You are needed because the people around you, and the world you live in, needs people who are ruled by God. They need people who can be counted on; not just because of your talent, or imagination, or intelligence, or your creativity, but because, through Christ, the fullness of God dwells in you and works through you. (Ephesians 3:19) Through the Holy Spirit, the fullness of God and the life of Christ live in you. This makes you the mouth, and the hands, and the feet, and the shoulders of Jesus.

Peace is more than all things being calm. Peace is more than the absence of conflict. Peace is more than a feeling inside you. Peace is how you act and relate to the world around you.

Biblical peace is the state of things working right. Biblical peace is about the world working the way we know it ought to work. Marriages working right are peace. Constructive parenthood is peace. The healthy teaching and nurturing of children are peace. Neighbors being neighborly are peace. Outsiders being welcomed are peace. Old people being respected are peace. Good laws and honest public service are peace. People being free to find ways to improve their own lives are peace. Satisfying work to do is peace. Having time to rest and play and think is peace. Just and righteous societies are peace.

The Prince of Peace loves these things and he has a passion for them. Jesus showed this in the way he related to common people and to leaders in the gospels. His people, the people of his kingdom, should share with him a passion for the peace that makes things work the way we know they ought to work.

The kingdom of God has not fully come yet. Jesus promised to return from heaven to earth, and make all things new (Revelation 21:5). Part of the power and passion of being the people of God comes from a holy discontent, a yearning for the peace that hasn’t come. We are discontented because we know that the real reason for the world being the conflicted, brutal, unjust, and angry place that it is comes from the separation of the world from the rule of Christ.

We know Jesus, and we know that it is the lack of Jesus that the world cries out for. We see also that, if the world worked as if Jesus were living his life through every human being, the world would be a Christ-like place.

That is what we want. When we don’t see these things (the things that we and the whole world cry out for), we pray for them, and we stand and work in this world as if Jesus were working through us. This is what Jesus wants, and he can be trusted to do it.

If Jesus returned to the earth and set up his government in Jerusalem, and made us his bureaucrats, and his legislators, and his police force; that would not bring about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God will come when the people of the world operate according to the justice, and righteousness, and peace that come through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Exactly how and when this will happen, in the course of history, is not clear. But it is promised.

Loving the coming of God in Christ and loving the birth of Jesus means loving the work of the Prince of Peace. It means praying for his power to be at work in you. The whole principle of his being born in human flesh and blood goes hand in hand with his coming to be born in you.

This is a work in progress, just as his kingdom coming on earth in all its fullness is a work in progress. It is not finished yet. And we are to look for it, wait for it, pray for it, and work for it passionately. Isaiah promises that the Lord of hosts works with zeal and passion to make it happen. (Isaiah 9:7)

This is just a part of the promise which the angels spoke about to the shepherds: of peace on earth, good will toward men. It is an inescapable part of the real meaning of Christmas. May the birth of the Prince of Peace be within you and me.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

You Will Find the Baby in the Neediest Place

Preached on Christmas Eve

Scripture readings: Isaiah 42:1-9; Luke 2:1-20

On the hills above Bethlehem, the shepherds saw, and heard, and felt unimaginable things, indescribable things. Angels: but there was more than angels with them. “The glory of the Lord shone around them.” (Luke 2:9)

The glory of the Lord is the sign of the presence of the Lord. The Lord was there; and the shepherds experienced his presence as an exceeding weight, and light, and fear, and joy, and peace. There are no words for this.

The Lord was there. But the Lord was also to be found in a manger. He was lying in a feed trough in the place where the animals were kept for the inn at Bethlehem. There would be no sense of glory there: nothing that you could see, or hear, or feel. It would not be obvious.

The angel had to give the shepherds signs, so that they would know when they had found the Lord who had come to be the Christ, the Messiah, the king of the kingdom of God. According to the signs, they would have to find the Lord by means of priorities that were the exact opposite of what everyone else would have expected.

The message of the angels was about good news, joy, and peace. And these are things the world desperately needs and cries out for. We want them too. Sooner or later, we cry out for them. We want good news for a change. We want joy. We want peace. The message of the angels, and the directions they gave, and what the shepherds found tell us things about good news, and joy, and peace that very few people know anything about. The angels sent the shepherds to a place where no one else was going.

We think that if we could only go where everyone else is going that we could find good news, joy, and peace. We think that if we could only be like what everyone else seems to be, we would be happy.

Everybody thinks this by nature. Even those who seek to live in total rejection of being like everyone else find their happiness in being like others. The people who are Goths: who wear black clothing and black lipstick (even the guys) and dye their hair black, and wear spikes, and get piercings all look alike. They all look for much the same things. They like the same things, and that is their happiness.

The shepherds had to go to a really strange place, where no one else seemed to be going, to find the Lord. Maybe there were other babies in other mangers; but, if there were any, it was completely unintentional. In order to find the Lord, we must look where other people don’t look. We must go where no one goes intentionally. This is a mystery.

It is a strange kind of search that the shepherds were on. They were looking for the Lord who was really looking for them. The Lord insisted on finding them by making them go to the places where they wouldn’t want to find him. The Lord found them by sending them to the neediest place in Bethlehem.

I am thinking about going where God wants me to go, and experiencing what God wants me to experience. But I want to tell him what and where those things are. I think that I will find God there, but God sends me where I have no intention of going. God sends me to the neediest places.

I visit people in hospitals and nursing homes. Especially at Christmas time, I look for people who need help with groceries and other necessities. I deal with people who need to give gifts to their children, and they lack the means to do it. The greatest need a parent can feel is the need to give something good to their children. God often sends me to the neediest places, on behalf of his love for the world. This is not just what I do. It is what we want our communities to do. It’s what we want to be for others.

Sometimes God sends us to the places where we become the needy ones.
When these are the places we go, when these are the places where we meet other people, and where we pray for the wisdom to think the right thoughts, and speak the right words, and do the right things, it makes us have very interesting conversations with God. It forces us to look for the Lord in a different way, and a different place, than we would otherwise.

The holy family and the baby Jesus were in the neediest place. They were people who were pushed around by government programs. They were uprooted. They found all kinds of doors slammed in their faces. They had almost nothing. They had no idea what to expect next.

But the baby was the Lord himself. The Lord, himself, was to be found there in the middle of these unexpected and completely undesired circumstances.

Sometimes God blesses us with plenty. We have comforts. We have shelter. We have family and friends. We have plans. We have predictable lives, for a while. We can find God is these places. We can find him richly. But we often find him in the rich places in such a way that we do not really know him or know ourselves.

It is in the needy places where we must depend on God alone, and not on our money, or our health, or our work, or the kindness and welcome of others, that we will find the Lord, and really know who he is and who we are with him.

The good news of joy and peace belongs to a world that doesn’t know much about them. The good news is the news of a God who steps into the center of a needy world, and steps into the center of our lives when we need him most.

If we were able to see our own great need right now, we would be in the place where we could truly find the Lord’s presence and a glory that cannot be seen, or heard, or maybe even felt, but the Lord’s presence in born within us and makes its home in us.

This is why the Lord’s Table is such a simple thing. Bread and wine are the things you might find a beggar eating and drinking under a bridge in Spokane, or in a stable. It really is. And maybe, spiritually, we know what it is like to be in such needy places of our own.

The story of the baby in the manger is the story of God with us in the needy places. This is one of the greatest lessons of Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pastor's Christmas Letter: Be The Peace on Earth

Scripture readings: 2 Corinthians 5:1-17 and Luke 2:1-20

Dear Friends
So many kids who are my friends are suddenly turning 60 years old. So I wonder if I am getting old like they are. I have to remind myself that I am not. I am brand new. So are they. Well, we are all new in Jesus. Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Because of this Paul can also say, “So from now we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” (2 Corinthians 5:16)

This sheds light on Christmas: God becoming human in Christ. Christmas is the start of the new creation. The angels’ song about “peace on earth good will toward men” (Luke 2:14) is all about a new creation.

Of course the manger was only the beginning; barely the beginning of the beginning. Jesus had to grow up fulfilling our human life, then offering himself for us on the cross, then rising from the dead and taking his place on the throne (and all this to conquer the world, and sin, and death, and the devil). The work is still in the making. It has only begun in you and me.

Peace is not something that is just given to you. True peace, as God intends, is what we call “interactive”. Peace is how we interact; with God, our families, our congregations, our communities, and our world. And peace is about being peacemakers.
Paul says, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…” (2 Corinthians 5:15-16)

So are you looking at your spouse, your family, the members of your church, and the members of your community from God’s point of view, or from your own? Are you being God’s instrument of peace on earth? Even in your own internal conflicts and struggles, are you looking for peace on your own terms, or are you willing to work for inner peace on God’s terms?

God’s peace will make you new and change you into an agent of his peace and reconciliation. Our families, churches, and communities need this. They need us to be the Christians we claim to be by letting God stop us from being what we are, on our own, and make us different.

Let this peace on earth be in Adams County. And may this peace be in you, and may you be a bringer “of peace on earth, good will toward men.” Let Jesus be born in you. Be new. Live as the new creation of the true Christmas peace.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Lights: Baby-Talk

Preached December 12, Third Sunday in Advent
Scripture readings: Isaiah 9:1-7; Galatians 4:1-7

A husband and wife were expecting their first child. To get ready they attended birthing classes at the hospital.

It was a very nice hospital. On one of these sessions, the class was given a tour of the maternity ward, which was decorated to be as homelike and relaxing as possible.

The instructor told them everything that would take place during their stay, and that (on their last evening) they would be treated to a romantic dinner for two. The instructor mentioned some of the items on the menu.

As the tour moved on, the wife whispered to her husband, “Honey, I’m so excited.” And he smiled and said, “Me too. I’m going to order the lobster.”

For Isaiah and for Paul, the most important thing, the center of everything, was the baby. “For unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son; born of woman…) (Galatians 4:4-5)

For each one of them, this is how everything happens. Isaiah feels no need to tell us, here, what the baby will grow up to do. He tells us that elsewhere. But for now it is enough for him to say that the baby is how the kingdom comes. The same with Paul: “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law; to redeem those were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Isaiah shows us a baby who brings light to a dark world, and victory to the defeated, and harvest to the hungry. Isaiah doesn’t tell us how the baby does this, except by telling us who this baby is: “And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah wants us to understand that this is no ordinary child. This is a real child, a human child; but a child with a difference. The plan of God for the whole creation; the plan of God to mend all things, to set all things right, to make all things new; the plan of God to bring in a world of peace, and justice, and righteousness; this plan involves God’s coming into his own creation as a baby born in the ordinary way. This God makes us his children by becoming our child: “for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”

This is one of the keys to understand how God governs this world, “And the government shall be on his shoulders.” It happens through the work of his becoming a baby. It also happens through the work of his living among us. It also happens through the work of his dying for us on the cross, to take away our sins and to give us his righteousness. It also happens through his rising from the dead and being the man who sits upon the only real throne in heaven and earth. It happens though the work God did by taking upon himself our limitations, and our weaknesses, and our sins. But the most important, most essential, part of the plan depends, first of all, upon the work of taking upon himself our flesh and blood, and the whole essence of being human.

The idea that it should be necessary for God to become a baby might seem strange. In the same way the idea that it should be necessary for God to die a human death on the cross might seem strange.

At this point, I can think of nothing better than to give you the words of a great Christian thinker and Bible student named John Stott. Stott wrote this about Jesus: “He was God’s son. He was also born of a human mother, so that He was human as well as divine, the one and only God-man. And He was born ‘under the law’, that is, of a Jewish mother, into the Jewish nation, subject to the Jewish law.
Throughout His life He submitted to all the requirements of the law. He succeeded where all others before and since have failed: He perfectly fulfilled the righteousness of the law. So the divinity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, and the righteousness of Christ uniquely qualified Him to be our redeemer. If He had not been human, He could not have redeemed humans. If He had not been a righteous person, He could not have redeemed unrighteous people. And if He had not been God’s Son, He could not have redeemed human beings for God, or made them the children of God.” (“The Message of Galatians”, by John Stott, p. 106; Inter-Varsity Press)

If you were able to travel back in time and see this; what would you see? You would see wounds, and blood, and a man dying on a cross. You would go further back and see a baby sleeping in a manger. This is what God’s work looks like when you see it for yourself. This is the appearance of God’s greatest wonders and miracles.

It is possible, when God works, for you to see and hear extraordinary things. But there was nothing extraordinary about a man dying on a cross or a baby sleeping in a manger. These things are the most characteristic of God’s work. Here is what God’s work looks like when you actually see it. And many people completely miss it.

And (since God always tells the truth as it is) this man on the cross, and this baby in the manger, must tell us the very truth of who God is. There is something about God that cannot be said or worked out any other way.

Somehow, when God does his greatest work, we do not see power, or dignity, or glory, or else we see the glory shinging upon those who are the least glorious. The glory of the Lord, and of the angels, shed its light on despised shepherds guarding their sheep among the hills. The wealthy wise men saw only a star (though a moving star, at that).

For those who went to see the God-Man, the King of the Kingdom of God, what they saw was a baby in a feed trough, in the place where the animals were kept. It was the glory of God to come down to earth and be found not even in a place for humans.

How much confidence did Mary and Joseph feel toward God’s care of them, when they saw the accommodations that God provided for their child-king? And yet Mary and Joseph knew that God had chosen them to care for his Son. God chose a man and woman sleeping in a stable to be the caregivers of the work of God.

What lavishness and impressiveness could they see in themselves? Yet, there with them, God was doing the greatest thing he had ever done; and the baby was the message.

God was revealing himself through this baby. God was speaking in this baby. The Gospel of John says: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (John 1:18)

He shall be called “Wonderful Counselor”. This is about wisdom and understanding. Do you want to understand life? Do you want to understand what is going on around you, and how God works in the world? Do you want to understand yourself? You have to look at the baby and see God there. Then you can see where God is at work in other places. That is the wisdom of God.

He shall be called “Mighty God”. The word “mighty” here is not a power word, but a warrior word. It means hero. If you want to know how to live in courage and to fight the good fight you look at the baby.

Think of the journey from heaven’s throne to the manger. What would it mean for you, if you were to live with courage like that?

If others looked to you to be their hero, what kind of action would the “babiness” of God require of you? What might you need to allow yourself to come to, in such a battle?

He shall be called “Everlasting Father”. Father, here, is another kind of hero. Father carries the weight of being the provider and caregiver of a family. In this sense, mothers are fathers too.

Everlasting means never stopping being what you are. What you are, everlastingly, you are with unyielding faithfulness. Isn’t it true that mothers and fathers never stop being mothers and fathers? Somehow the baby Jesus tells us about the unfailing faithfulness of God.

Isaiah also called the Messiah “Immanuel”. The meaning of Immanuel is “God with us”. Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child, and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
If God is with us, in this baby, then God is with us in all our own “babiness”. When you can no longer do anything for yourself, when you can no longer speak for yourself or protect yourself, when you have nothing to give to others but your little self, God is with you.

In this way God is faithful, and we see, in the baby, that God is our Everlasting Father. He can be trusted to be with you when you are at your smallest and weakest, and never fail you.

He shall be called “Prince of Peace”. Here is a long quote from the German teacher and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “Where God comes in love to human beings and unites with them, there peace is made between God and humankind, and among people. Are you afraid of God’s wrath? Then go to the child in the manger and receive there the peace of God. Have you fallen into strife and hatred with your sister or brother? Come and see how God, out of pure love, has become our brother and wants to reconcile us with each other.

In the world, power reigns. This child is the Prince of Peace. Where his is, peace reigns.” (“God Is in the Manger”, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 74; Westminster/John Knox Press)

The baby Jesus, lying in the manger cannot say one single word, and yet he is the living word of God. He is God speaking for himself. His “babiness” reveals God: his faithfulness and promise to us; his covenant and relationship with us and ours with him.

There is this great quietness and humility of God working in the world. We even see it in the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus chose to come to us, in all his fullness, as we do such a simple, innocent thing like tasting a bit of bread and drinking a bit of grape juice. The bread and wine bring us into the presence of the living, crucified and risen Jesus, the King of Glory. And yet it is still only bread and wine.

So little, so petty a thing; the way God comes. Yet this is the path he took in order to do the greatest things he has ever done.

We are right to call him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, but very few people found him in the manger with all his baby-talk. God is quiet and humble. Listen to what the baby says. He is talking to you. He has come here for you. He is with you now, but you must be careful not to miss him.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Lights: Victories

Preached December 5, Second Sunday in Advent

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 9:1-7: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28

I am the oldest child in my family so, when I learned to read, one of the things I started to do, as the oldest, was to read to the others; first to Kathy who was already on the scene, and then to Nanci after she was born.

I loved doing this, but sometimes I would be mischievous about it. I would open the cover of some book they gave me and I would read the story like this: “Once upon a time, they lived happily ever after.”

When reading a book to myself, I have always been tempted to cheat. If I don’t like one part of the story; or if I don’t like something that one of main characters is going through; or if the story is very long, and I wonder if it’s worth the effort, I have always been tempted to turn to the last page.

I never read the last page. I just give it a searching glance, to see if there is something there that I want to see; something to make me want to read to the end.
Isaiah and Paul don’t always do this; but they do it in the verses we have just read. In the eighth chapter of his book, Isaiah looked at the evils of his own day, and suddenly, as chapter nine begins, he saw the final victory. He described it as a great light, and as the gathering of spoils and the burning of the wreckage of war, after the battle was over. He saw the cause of it all as the baby whose birth made all things right, and then he saw the everlasting kingdom of that child.

In a few sentences he told a story that has been nearly three thousand years in the making, and is not over yet. And he left out all the bad stuff that we don’t want to see.

Paul did a similar thing in the verses we read from 1 Thessalonians. The followers of Jesus who were living in the Greek city of Thessalonica apparently wanted some information about the times and the dates leading up to “The Day of the Lord.” “The Day of the Lord” means the arrival of the kingdom of God, in its complete form, in its perfection, in justice and transformation. The day of the Lord is when the Lord Jesus will return, and set all things right, and make all things new.

Paul approached their question about the schedule of approaching events by skipping over the schedule completely and simply giving his friends a glance at the last page, or the next to the last page, of the story.

Paul told his fellow followers of Jesus that he did not need to write them about the schedule (the times and dates) because they already knew that the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2) This is very much what Jesus, himself, said. (Matthew 24:42-44; Mark 13:32)

The first chapter of the Book of Acts tells us that, just before Jesus left this world for heaven, his disciples asked about when he we going to bring the kingdom of God to them. Jesus told them, as his parting words: “It is not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:7-8)
The simplest and clearest thing that Jesus and his apostles ever said about knowing the times, and dates, and schedule of his returning is that it is essentially unknowable for us. If Jesus tells us, through his apostles, that this knowledge is not for us, it is, in some sense, a sort of forbidden knowledge.

The fact that so many good and devout Christians have sought out this knowledge (in spite of what Jesus and his apostles have clearly said) is the best evidence we have of the patience of God. It is the perfect evidence that God has a great sense of humor. I mean this will all my heart.

This is very important. There is a purpose and method in how God wants to train our expectations. God wants to mold our expectations into something greater than expectation. God wants to mold our expectations into hope. The Lord has many ways of doing this.

The Lord enabled Isaiah to envision the horror of the evils of his time, and to look at horrors to come. And then the Lord said: Look beyond all of that to the coming of the perfect kingdom. Look to the coming of the King. “For to us a child is born. To us a son is given.” (Isaiah 9:6) Look at the victory.

“You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as people rejoice when dividing the plunder.” (Isaiah 9:3) The Lord does not help Isaiah envision our part in the battle. He only shows us enjoying the victory. It is as if the Lord to Isaiah and his people, “Look, in spite of the horrors, and the defeats, and the fears to come; wait for the king, live in the victory, and live in hope.”

We can sum up Paul as saying, first, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. It will be as unpreventable, and as sudden, and as inescapable as the beginning of childbirth for a pregnant woman.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3)

The next thing Paul said about the Day of the Lord is this. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24) Everything Paul said between mentioning the day that comes like a thief (or like birth pains), and giving us the assurance of the Lord who will faithfully see us through, amount to the simplest advice possible: live in the victory.

What is the victory here? Paul said it. “He died for us.” (5:10) “He who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (5:24)

This is all about hope. God does not want us to live just in times, and dates, and seasons, and expectations. God wants us to live in his victory. God wants us to live in hope.

In the block of the prophecy about the Messiah and the kingdom of God, in Isaiah chapter nine, nothing describes the course of the battle, and nothing explains the victory, except the birth of the baby. The birth of the baby is the victory. In Paul’s letter the victory is only described by the words: “He died for us” and “The one who calls you is faithful.”

Those who know me best know that I have an obsession with making things complicated. So I am the best one to tell you the simplest thing that the Bible tells you: keep it simple; be people who live in the victory of God and live in hope.

People forget that the armor we are supposed to put on, according to our reading in 1 Thessalonians (You can also find it in Ephesians chapter six.), is (after all) the armor of God. It comes from another place in Isaiah (Isaiah 59:17) and it is the armor that describes God’s victory over evil and sin. The victory belongs to God.
We are like little children dressing up in our parent’s clothing and playing their parts together; doing their work, living their daily life. But, as children we don’t really do our parents’ work or life their lives. In God’s armor, we are children arming ourselves for a war that the Lord, himself, has essentially fought and won.

It is not that our life is not a struggle. It is not that we don’t really have to fight a spiritual warfare, as well. We may not understand what is happening to us, or how things will turn out for us. But we are fighting a war that has been won in Christ; in the birth, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At the end of World War Two, American service men and women who served in the South Pacific after the surrender of Japan, still fought and died fighting against defeated Japanese troops. The battle they fought and the blood that was shed was as real as any. But they were living in the victory. They lived in a hope that was not a future hope, but a present hope.

We pray “thy kingdom come” because it hasn’t come. It isn’t present yet. And yet the King who was born in Bethlehem, and who died on the cross, and who rose from the dead, and who will come again, lives and rules in our hearts. And, as Paul wrote: “He is faithful.”

As I was studying for this message I saw something that I had never seen before. The framework for what I saw is in Paul’s message: that the night and the darkness are this world’s darkness; and the day of the Lord is the coming of the Lord. In all of the, the day of the Lord is our time.

So, if we are children of the day, are we children of that day? Are we actually children of the day of the Lord? Is that our real world? Is that the place where we really live? Are we like children who have the last glorious, victorious page of a long difficult story already written in our hearts? Is everything we hope for already in us because “he who calls us is faithful”? I believe this is true.

What is life like in the day of the Lord? It’s telling makes a long list. I will select just a few words for your attention. There is faith, hope, and love in the armor of God (5:8). There is encouragement, nurture, respect, peace, patience, and kindness (5:11-15). There is always joy, prayer, and thanks (5:16-18). It’s true that there is warning and correction as well, but that is just a part of a much bigger picture.

“Rejoice always.” This is a word for those who live in the day of the Lord. Paul wants us to never forget that the times we are living through are truly a time for joy. The fact that we are somehow living in a time for joy often comes as a surprise to us.

We are to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances” because we are to live with one foot set securely in the day of the coming of the Lord. This is the new creation. This is living in the victory of God. This is the fulfillment and realization of all hope.

The word advent means coming. We have a season of Advent to teach us about expectant living. It helps us identify with the expectations and hopes of the people of Israel as they waited for the coming of the Lord.

As we read the story of those people in the gospels, we realize that this was a coming which most of them did not understand. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, when he taught and healed among them, when he died on the cross, they did not understand the coming of the Lord.

It may do us good to identify with those people. It may be good for us to identify ourselves with people waiting for something that they think they understand but completely misunderstand. Yes, that’s us. There we are.

We are waiting for so much that is simply beyond our understanding. We are waiting for so much that we are not supposed to know beforehand; as Jesus told us. And we find it hard to be content or patient about that.

We are watching and waiting for a world that needs a new creation just as much as people in the darkness need the light. Jesus and his apostles have told us to do this. This watching and waiting, this expectation and hope, are part of our calling. The world needs people like us who are patiently watching and waiting for something more, for something completely different from the way life is now.

A schedule of future events will not tell us this, but the kingdom in our hearts will tell us what we are watching and waiting for. The kingdom of God in our hearts, Jesus in our hearts, is like a blueprint that will guide us in the work we have to do. “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) will give us the words we need to show this kingdom to the world.

Both Isaiah and Paul tell us to envision the victory and to live in it just as if it actually lived in us. But it does live in us, because Jesus lives in us. “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”
There is a lot to learn, and it is very important for us to know what it is that we are not to know. The basic stuff to live by is very, very simple. Live in the victory of God. Live in hope. Can you say you are doing this? “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”