This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
Monday, December 21, 2015
Christmas Hopes - God's Deliverance
Preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2015
Scripture readings: Exodus
2:23-25; Luke 1:57-80
God is involved in the world. God is involved with
your life. The Book of Exodus tells us that the Lord “remembered his covenant
with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”
In the Neighborhood: Desert Aire/Mattawa, December 2015
In the Bible, to say that you remember something is
not to say that you have it on your mind. To remember a thing means to get
To remember people means to get involved with them.
To remember someone when they are in trouble is to help them, and rescue them.
This is what the God of the Bible is about, all the
way through its story. This is what our God is about: getting involved in the
work of the rescue of the world. If this God is our God, then his job is our
God entered our world of time and space, and flesh
and blood, in the Baby Jesus, in order to come to the world’s rescue: to come
to our rescue. The baby of Zechariah and Elizabeth was a messenger for the
rescue mission of God, in Jesus.
Zechariah called the mission by many names: rescue,
deliverance, salvation. He said the Lord was coming: “to rescue us from the
hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear…” (Luke 1:74)
He said the Lord’s mission was a mission of mercy:
“By which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living
in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of
peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
Zechariah said that his tiny son would grow up to
prepare the way of the Lord: “To give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins.” (Luke 1:77)
All of this tells us that God’s deliverance, the
rescue mission of God, is a very big thing. It involves everything about the
world as we know it. It involves everything in your life and mine. It involves
the life we live now. It involves the eternal life to come. It involves a new
heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1)
Photos around Home Desert Aire/Mattawa: December 2015
Now, “to be rescued from the hands of our enemies,
and to serve the Lord without fear,” would have meant something very clear to
people like Zechariah. It meant getting rid of the Romans.
Their land was occupied by the Romans, who were not
there to help them, but to rule them, and not go away. King Herod worked for
the Romans and did their bidding. In order to help them rule his people, Herod
expanded a fortress on the north side of the Temple
and handed it over to the Romans.
This fortress served a number of purposes that only
Herod could have conceived, because he was very clever. The walls of the
fortress overlooked the Temple
courtyards. Soldiers could shoot into the Temple
from the walls. There was a tunnel from the fortress that came out into the
main courtyard of the Temple.
Soldiers could enter the main gathering area of the Temple at will, at the slightest sign of
The holy robes of the high priest, which were his
required uniform on special occasions, were kept in a chest in the Roman
fortress. On high holy days, the high priest had to come to the Roman governor,
or to his officer, in order to borrow his own robes, and then bring them back,
for safekeeping, when he was finished.
The Jewish high priests once served for life, but in
New Testament times they served at the pleasure and whim of the Romans. They
could not serve the Lord without fear. And the people could not worship in the Temple without fear.
That was their world. Under the power of the Holy
Spirit, Zechariah prophesied that the coming king, the baby that his own baby
would serve, would rescue his people so that they could serve God without fear.
There are two things to learn from this.
For one thing, Jesus rescues us from fear by giving
us the gift of responding to fear with faithfulness, courage, compassion, and
One example in my life is that I have never really
overcome my fear of preaching. I do it for love, and I try to do it out of
faithfulness to the Lord and to you.
Another example was one time, when I got a call from
a parent who told me that their adult son was very upset; and could I, please,
come and talk with him. The voice on the phone was actually fearful, and I was
too inexperienced to understand what it meant, so I went to the house and
walked into a room where there was a young guy holding a revolver to his head.
I felt fear and danger. Someone holding a gun to
their own head can turn it around, and point it at your head. I knew that.
I spent the next couple hours talking to him until he
put the gun down and promised not to use it for the time being. I never went
into a situation like that again.
What you do is ask, over the phone, if that person
has hurt themselves or others, or has threatened themselves or others, and then
you call 911. I don’t have the training or the resources to properly handle a
situation like that, and if you are like me, you need to call 911. That’s what
I did the next time that parent called me about their son; when I asked if he
was endangering himself, and I was told that he was.
I do have to tell you that I got a call from this guy
years later and he was living a happy and productive life. He was even thinking
about going into the ministry. I’ve lost track of him since.
I did what I felt that I had to do at the time. I
cannot say that I served God without fear, but I served God without being ruled
by my fear. I did it in faithfulness and love. I believe that Jesus has a
unique power to enable us to serve in faithfulness and love, without being
ruled by fear.
Other faiths may teach their people to serve without
fear. But Jesus teaches us to serve, overcoming our fears in compassion and
love, and not in fanaticism or extremism. The fact that God became a baby in
Bethlehem, and a man on a cross dying for the sins of the world, is a God who
overcomes the weakness and fear in the world, never as a fanatic, but always
with a faithful and sacrificial love.
Plenty of times the Lord and his angels say, “Fear
not.” This is not a cure for fear, but a promise that your fears need not
Where is your fear ruling you? The Lord and his
angels say “Fear not!”
It also needs to be said that the kingdom of God
is opposed to all the things that create fear in this world, and Christians are
called to stand up to those things. The day will come when the time is
complete, and the kingdom will come, and all causes of fear will come to an
end. That too is a promise. Fear not!
Zechariah said that, “the rising sun will come to us
from heaven to shine on those living in darkness, and in the shadow of death.”
Zechariah was talking about his own darkness as well as the darkness felt by
everyone else in the world.
Zechariah was living in the shadow of unfulfilled
waiting. Just as the people of Israel
had been waiting centuries for the messiah without seeing anything come of all
that waiting, Zechariah and Elizabeth had been waiting decades for a child. The
long waiting had made a hollow place in their faith. Their faith was like an
empty aluminum can that you can push in with your finger. The long waiting had
formed a kind of cloud and darkness over the life of a good man and woman.
God is good at waiting. I guess he is patient and
recommends patience to us. Patience is God’s way of bringing fruit and fullness
to people’s lives. And waiting is part of patience.
Unfulfilled waiting feels like a shadow. It feels
like the darkness of night. But God promises to shine and bring his light to
those who wait. Then you will see what was there all along. God was there all
Since Jesus came, the same is true of death. Death
looks dark. Death can look as if there is nothing there. But the Lord is there.
Jesus has died, and has risen, and rules in heaven and on earth. Jesus is in
the shadow of death, and his light will shine there.
Zechariah said that human beings would experience
salvation in the forgiveness of their sins. I once heard that people are fairly
ready to forgive you if you are wrong. But they really hate to forgive you if
you are right. Of course they’re that way because they want to be the ones who
are right, not the ones who are wrong. I’m glad I’m not like that. Aren’t you
glad you’re not like that?
There is a lot to be said about this. Suffice it to
say that our lives will not bear much fruit if we don’t recognize our own need
for grace, our own need for forgiveness. We need to realize that, unless we
seek grace and forgiveness from God, and from other people, from the very core
of our being, we will miss God’s mark for our life. We will miss God’s desire
and design for our life.
We cannot heal ourselves, or those who have had to
put up with us. We must come to the Lord, and to others, for mercy, and grace,
The cross is the ultimate place where we find our
sins taken away. But I find that the Baby in Bethlehem is the sign of God’s extreme
humility that takes our sins away.
God is not too proud to forgive us even though true
forgiveness always comes at a great cost. Words of forgiveness are never
God’s humility is what makes the cross possible. The
way of the cross, for Jesus, was not a matter of a few hours on the hill of
The way of the cross, for Jesus, took his whole life.
It took years of the Lord’s quietness and patience. It began with his birth.
The way of the cross was the pattern of his own life
on earth. Now Jesus follows the same pattern of quietness, patience, and
humility in our lives.
We don’t really want this as much as we think we do.
We certainly don’t want him to be quiet. We don’t realize that this quietness
and patience come from his humility. His refusal to stop being quiet and
patient with us comes from his humility.
He refuses to stop and go away and leave us alone. If
God were proud he wouldn’t keep going after us. He wouldn’t keep waiting for
us. Christmas is a sign of this God, and the promise and the hope he gives to
When we truly see this, it becomes part of the reason
why we can’t say no to him. The ability to see this persistent and inescapable
humility is the reason why we surrender to him, in the end. We see that he
refuses to leave us alone.
Whether we know it or not, our hearts cry out for
God’s deliverance: the conquest of fear, and darkness, and sin. We find it in
the God whom we meet in Jesus, whose birth, and life, and death, and rising are
a rescue mission to bring God’s deliverance to us and to the world.