Posts Tagged ‘covenant of grace’

Kerygma

The Kerygma – Part Two

The Kerygma

To review, kerygma is the Greek word κήρυγμα kérugma, translated proclamation or preaching. The Kergyma is proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in spoken words, or even proclaimed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is the proclamation of Jesus redemptive work. It is the proclamation God’s story of the history of redemption from the beginning of creation. Proclamation was usually followed by teaching and instruction in the elements of the faith, or the reading of a Creed. What Jesus did and taught in His ministry was included within the basic proclamation.

Here is a summary of the ancient kerygma:

  1. The Age of Fulfillment has dawned, the “latter days” foretold by the prophets.
  2. This has taken place through the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
  3. By virtue of the resurrection, and His ascension into heaven, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God as King of Kings – the Messianic head of the new Israel.
  4. The Holy Spirit in the Church is the sign of Jesus’ present power and glory.
  5. The Messianic Age will reach its consummation in the return of Jesus.
  6. An appeal is made for repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and salvation.

Jesus the Messiah, of course, was the center of this ancient kerygma. The cross, the resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of Majesty are crucial to the kerygmatic preaching of Messiah Jesus.

Kerygmatic preaching is not a technique that can simply be learned by articulate spokespersons, it is a relationship that must be received, experienced, and thereby announced.

There are eight kerygmatic sermons given by the Apostles in Luke’s letter to Theophilus, the Acts of the Apostles. They are found in the following passages:

1) Acts 2:14-36

2) Acts 3:12-26

3) Acts 4:8-12

4) Acts 5:29-32

5) Acts 10: 34-43

6) Acts 13:16-41

7) Acts 14:15-17

8) Acts 17: 22-31

Lent2

Lent

How should I prepare myself for Pascha?

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”  2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

What is Lent?

Lent is a season of forty weekdays and six Sundays for the church to journey with Christ to Holy Week and Pascha. It is an opportunity for of self-examination, repentance, purgation, and spiritual renewal.

Why may we struggle with Lent?

  1. Thanksgiving and Christmas are so ensconced in secular American culture that a period of preparation during Advent makes sense to us. Most Christians are attracted to this season as a way to rise above the materialism and commercialization of Christmas.
  2. Pascha is so foreign to secular American culture that a period of preparation during Lent just seems weird, threatening, out of place.

I. Lent seems like a dark, foreboding ritualism to some Christians – candles, ashes, fasting, prayer, works, and pilgrimage. Haven’t we been saved from empty, meaningless religion?

  1. Perhaps we struggle with Lent in the same way we struggle with the Psalms of lament, which make up two-thirds of the Psalter. Grieving over our lives (i.e. Lenten repentance and Psalms of lamentation) is foreign from our American way of living and our spiritual experience. We often subconsciously screen out what is dark, awkward, and uncomfortable.
  2. We need a season to prepare for Pascha. Most people think of Pascha as a weekend event, and the main preparation is the purchase of new clothes and a carefully planned Pascha egg hunt. However, Pascha is a forty-day season of feasting and celebration in response to the resurrection and new creation. If we prepare for a wedding, an anniversary, a birthday, a graduation, a vacation, an athletic competition, or any other special occasion in our lives, how much more do we need to prepare for Pascha? The forty days of Lent gets us ready for the forty days of Pascha.

The journey to Paschal joy

  1. Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Pascha, “the Feast of feasts.”
  2. Pascha celebrates the death of Death, the annihilation of Hell, the beginning of new and everlasting life.
  3. Pascha celebrates Christ’s resurrection as something that happened to him, is happening, and will happen to us.
  4. God has granted us the gift of new life. The resurrection alters our attitude toward everything, including death. In his death, Christ changed the nature of death from the inside out, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into ultimate victory. “O death, where is thy sting?” God made us partakers of Christ’s resurrection.
  5. We live as if Christ never came, never died, never rose again from the dead, is not the Lord of the world, and will not come again to judge the living and the dead.
  6. This is the real sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness, and tragedy of our Christian life.
  7. We may acknowledge and confess our various sins, yet we fail to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us. We continually lose and betray the “new life” we received as a gift from God.
  8. We are weak. We forget, we get busy; we become immersed in our daily preoccupations. We focus our material possessions – on what we have or what we do not have. We focus on our experiences – on where we are or where we want to go. We think only of ourselves. We live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event in human history has no meaning for us, as if we will not also rise from the dead. We fail to live constantly by “faith, hope, and love.” We fail to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
  9. Through our failure and sin, our life becomes “old” again – petty, dark, meaningless – a meaningless journey to a meaningless end.

II. Lent is a journey of repentance and return to Pascha.

  1. Lent helps us recover the vision and taste of that new Pascha life which we so easily lose and betray.
  2. The aim of Lent is precisely the remembrance of Christ, a longing for a relationship with God that has been lost. Lent offers the time and place for lamentation of our alienation and the recovery of relationship with God.
  3. The mood of Lent is “bright sadness.” The darkness of Lent allows the flame of the Holy Spirit to burn within our hearts until we are led to the mysterious and radiant brilliance of the resurrection.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday

  1. The Service (Book of Common Prayer, 264-269)
  2. Prayer and invitation to repentance, both now and over the season of Lent
  3. Imposition of ashes
  4. Psalm 51: the prayer of the penitent
  5. Litany of penitence: a template for self-examination and confession during Lent
  6. The peace and Eucharist: Christ saves us from narcissistic self-absorption knowing that Good Friday means forgiveness and Pascha means joy.
  1. Why ashes?
  2. A sign of our Adamic identity, is that we are “of the earth”

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

  1. A sign of our finitude, brokenness, and mortality

“Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

“Abraham said, ‘I am nothing but dust and ashes.’” (Genesis 18)

  1. A sign of mourning and lamentation, often because of our or another’s rebellion and alienation from God

“But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up…When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head.” (2 Samuel 15:32-34)

“On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting, and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads.” (Nehemiah 9:1)

“Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6)

“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly… In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.” (Esther 4:1-3)

  1. In the third century, the church began the custom of burning the branches used on Palm Sunday, saving the ashes for the following year, and marking notorious and penitent sinners, such as robbers and murderers, with these ashes. Out of sympathy and solidarity, family and friends of these “marked” persons began using the ashes also, which is consistent with the gospel message that all of us are in need of God’s grace and in need of repentance and restoration.
  2. A Christian vision of the world
  3. Dualism – The radical separation between matter and spirit, profane and sacred, earthly and heavenly.
  4. Sacramentalism – The whole creation is of a piece; physical elements signify deep spiritual realities (i.e. water, bread, and wine; also oil, candles, ashes, palm branches, laying on hands, rings, etc.). We do damage to ourselves, to Jesus, and to the Bible when we try to separate the physical and spiritual, the human and divine, the earthy and the heavenly.

Repent

“Repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

  1. Repent: change, turn your life around, move in another direction.
  2. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses was, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite (Repent ye!), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”

III. Repentance is the beginning and continuation of a truly Christian life. Repentance, especially focused during Lent, is a long and sustained spiritual effort.

  1. Lent reminds us (in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer #88) that two things are involved in genuine repentance: “the dying of the old self and the coming to life of the new.” New life with Christ involves a daily surrendering of the old life.
  2. “It is not easy, indeed, to reject a petty ideal of life made up of daily cares, of search for material goods, security, and pleasure, for an ideal of life in which nothing short of perfection is the goal: ‘be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ This world through all its ‘media’ says: be happy, take it easy, and follow the broad way. Christ in the Gospel says: choose the narrow way, fight and suffer, for this is the road to the only genuine happiness. In addition, unless the Church helps, how can we make that awful choice, how can we repent and return to the glorious promise given us each year at Pascha? This is where Great Lent comes in. This is the help extended to us by the Church, the school of repentance, which alone will make it possible to receive Pascha not as a mere permission to eat, to drink, and to relax, but indeed as the end of the ‘old’ in us, as our entrance into the ‘new.’” (Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha)

Turn from sin toward Jesus via remembering your baptism

“Live in your baptism.” (Martin Luther)

  1. Listen to the Father’s voice in baptism: “You are my child whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3)
  2. Review the baptismal vows and prayers before God (Book of Common Prayer, 302-307)

IV. Remember the practice of baptism in the early church

  1. The baptized turned their backs on the west (the symbolic direction of the evil one and sin), saying, “I renounce the devil and all his works,” and spitting in the face of Satan as a sign of ending that relationship.
  2. The main purpose of Lent was to prepare the catechumen (the newly converted Christian) for baptism, which was performed during the Pascha liturgy. Even though we are baptized, what we constantly lose and betray is precisely that which we received at baptism. Therefore, Lent and Pascha is our return every year to our own baptism, our identity in Christ, our death in him, our life in him. Pascha is the rediscovery and the recovery by us of what we were made through our own baptismal death and resurrection.

Turn from sin toward Jesus

  1. Remember that life with God is a loving, engaging, and demanding relationship. Sanctification (becoming increasingly righteous like God) is a subtle and gradual process rather than dramatic and instant moment.
  2. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the three primary acts of Jewish piety: fasting, – prayer, and almsgiving. He did not reject these practices, but sought to correct and deepen them. Jesus promoted an embodied, lived out piety in order to establish, maintain, repair, and transform our relationship with God, neighbor, and self. Be sure to meditate on Matthew 6:1-18 before Lent.

Fasting: turning away from self

  1. A commemoration of the wilderness experiences of Israel and Jesus and a spiritual reminder that “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
  2. A reminder that your body is holy and belongs to God – made by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and filled by the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

V. We are a psychosomatic unity. Our souls affect our bodies; our bodies affect our souls (i.e. kneeling, folding, or lifting hands, bowing head, etc.).

  1. To what are we saying “no”?
  2. Food – Saying no to my hunger that is often disproportionate to my hunger for God; saying no to what I enjoy in order to enjoy God more; anticipating the Eucharist (i.e. single day fast, multi-day fast, or extended fast – sweets, meat, caffeine, alcohol, etc.).
  3. Time – Saying no to my busyness, distraction, and noise in order to have extended solitude and silence or time to listen to God through is Word or his people (i.e. limit your extracurricular

Activities and commitments, take a true Sabbath).

  1. Money – Saying no to my greed, my urge to acquire, accumulate, hoard, compare (i.e. no advertising, no new purchases for myself, pursue extravagant generosity).
  2. Words – Saying no to my pride, envy, jealousy, anger, dishonesty, my insecure ego that needs more power, attention, pity, gratitude, approval (i.e. not defending myself, not dominating conversation or talking about myself, not gossiping or slandering, using my tongue, my lips, my words to encourage and affirm).
  3. Sex – Saying no to lust, my unfulfilled desires for pleasure (i.e. look people in the eyes, recognize their personhood and dignity as the image of God, delight in their beauty, mourn for their brokenness).
  4. Are these things inherently evil? Does God not want us to enjoy food, time, money, words, and sex? God made all these things good. In addition, we often enjoy them in sacred and redemptive ways. However, we also have a tendency to forget that these are gifts from God. We may become overly comfortable or bored with them. We may become ungrateful. We may distort and pervert them to self-serving ends. We may use them to advantage ourselves and disadvantage others. We may use them for evil. So one way to sanctify or redeem them as God’s good gifts is to go without them for a time to recalibrate our relationship with God and our relationship with these material goods.
  5. The all-day fasts during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We do not fast on Sundays, the day of resurrection and Eucharist.

VI. When you fast you are vulnerable. Do not plan to turn away from self if you do not also have a plan in place to turn toward God (prayer) and toward your neighbor (almsgiving).

Prayer: turning toward God

“Evening, morning, and noon I cry out to the Lord” (Psalm 55:17).

  1. The prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian (306-373)
  2. “O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. Nevertheless, give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
  3. Pray it in the morning, afternoon, and evening. In the morning, meditate on the four powers from which you seek to be delivered – sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. In the afternoon, meditate on the four virtues you desire to experience in your daily life – chastity, humility, patience, and love. In the evening, review the events of the day, confessing where you failed, giving thanks where you have succeeded, and praising Jesus Christ for his righteousness and grace.
  4. “Faith… is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with your beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of your digestion. Consequently, one must train the habit of faith. The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next step is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, the sum of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. Moreover, in fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” (C.S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven)

Almsgiving: turning toward our neighbors

  1. Combine God-focused prayer and neighbor-focused almsgiving by praying for your apartment complex or your street or the block where you work.
  2. Serve via Project Peace.

VII. Brainstorm simple acts of compassion toward known and unknown neighbors.

  1. Save money during Lent to give to the Pascha diaconal offering, which goes to meet financial and other tangible needs within and beyond the community.

Personal reflection and group discussion

  1. Have you ever practiced Lent? If so, what was your experience? If not, what do you hope to gain from the Lenten journey?
  2. How would you apply the Lenten themes to your life and spiritual journey in the coming season?

What do you need to put off and what do you need to put on?

VIII. Fasting – Could we each commit to giving up something we enjoy on a daily or regular basis in order to deepen our desire for God? What? Could we all commit to fasting the entire day on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? How about fasting from lunch on Wednesdays during Lent?

  1. Prayer – Could we each commit to at least morning or evening prayer each day during Lent?

Could we spend 15 extra minutes on Sundays praying for the life and mission of the church?

  1. Almsgiving – Could we give up a luxury item during the week (i.e. lunch on Wednesdays) and give the money to a friend in need or the diaconal fund or a social service provider? Could we donate a portion of our weekend to do extra volunteering?

Adapted from Lent at Christ Church, edited by Rev. Gary DeSha

Psalm111

Psalm 111 Observations:

Verse 1:
1. Glory and honor are due unto God
2. Not just ordinary praise, but high praise given to God
3. This high praise comes from all of our being
4. Those who have been made righteous give this praise
5. God’s work in creation, providence, & redemption is exceptional

Verses 2-4:
6. God’s workings are so marvelous they cannot be forgotten
7. Those who love God delight in and seek out His wondrous works
8. The nature and character of God is justice and holiness
9. Memorials: eternal covenant, Law, Passover (Pascha), the Lord’s Supper, Baptism
10. God has tender mercy and is actively compassionate toward us

Verse 5:
11. The Psalmist reminds the people of God’s goodness
12. The God of peace, Who through the blood of the eternal covenant

Verse 6:
13. God’s powerful working is seen in the regeneration of our souls

Verses 7-8
14. God has always had a purpose and design for His works

Verse 9:
15. There is a transition from…
15. The Psalmist declaring the mighty works that Jehovah has done for His people
16. To Mt. Sinai and the commandments that He has given to them
17. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”(Galatians 5:14)
18. “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
19. “but he became a priest with an oath when God said to Him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: ‘You are a priest forever.'” Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” (Hebrews 7:21-22)
20. Jesus Christ is the surety, the guarantee, the insurer of the eternal covenant

Verse 10:
21. Holy and terrifying is His Name – Yahweh, Jehovah, THE LORD!
22. In vs. 9 awesome or fearful = to stand in awe, to be afraid, to fear, to inspire reverence
23. In vs. 10 The fear of the Lord, = fear, terror, a terrifying thing, to stand in awe
24. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” (1 Corinthians 3:19-20)
25. Psalm 111 speaks of God’s divine attributes: power, wisdom, faithfulness, and goodness
26. Psalm 111 issues the need for our response to God by: deep inquiry into communion with Him, being in awe of God that He is God, obedience in trusting in and relying upon God, and that true praise and worship flow from our inner most being in the gatherings of the local church, in our special personal times of devotion, and at all times in our hearts

Download the message here.

advent_wordle1

Perhaps during some late November, you have given or received an Advent calendar. Chances are, it was decorated with a religious picture and twenty-five perforated windows for each day in the month of December. When the window was opened, you could read a Bible verse or religious thought for that day. In more expensive calendars, a small piece of chocolate might be found. Parents in particular find that Advent calendars can help children “wait” during the interminable 24 days preceding Christmas, by giving them a little treat each day in December.

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. Christians celebrate the four weeks before Christmas as a time to reflect on and anticipate the “coming” of Christ at Christmas as well as the “coming” of Christ at the end of time. Preparing for the birth of Christ is a reminder of God’s great love for us—a love so vast that Christ lived and died as one of us. Preparing for the final coming of Christ is a reminder of the glory and grandeur that we will one day share in the Kingdom of God.

Customarily in the Christian tradition, the focus has been on these two “comings” of Christ. However, St. Bernard in the 11th Century identified a “third coming” that Advent leads us to await—the coming of Christ in our own soul. While the birth of Christ and the second coming of Christ are important to Christians, we must all still move through this earthly life on a day-to-day basis with Christ in our hearts.

Keeping a watchful Advent reminds us that we do not tread these days in isolation. We can live in expectation of the movement of Christ in and through every moment of those days. Even though we are frequently distracted and diverted from attention to this movement within us, the season of Advent reminds us to turn inward yet again and seek God, the Holy Spirit within us.

Advent is a time to notice the longing that runs through the silent crevices in our souls. It helps us learn to wait in patience for that longing to be filled rather than hiding it or numbing it by shuffling through the mall, standing in front of the open refrigerator, or sitting stone-like in front of the television. Advent is also a time to embrace silence and stillness in order to see more clearly and hear more keenly the movement of the Spirit of God. Finally, Advent is a time to rejoice with hope and expectation that what we say we believe will, in fact, be revealed in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of our lives.

advent-wreath-third-sunday

The Season of Advent

Advent is the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.

The Colors of Advent

Historically, the primary sanctuary color of Advent is Purple. This is the color of penitence and fasting as well as the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King.  Purple is still used in some traditions (for example Roman Catholic).  The purple of Advent is also the color of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week.  This points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death. The nativity, the Incarnation, cannot be separated from the crucifixion. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the “Word made flesh” and dwelling among us, is to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his suffering, death, and resurrection. To reflect this emphasis, originally Advent was a time of penitence and fasting, much as the Season of Lent and so shared the color of Lent.

In the four weeks of Advent the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice”). The shift from the purple of the Season to pink or rose for the third Sunday Advent candles reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration of the season.

In recent times, however, Advent has undergone a shift in emphasis, reflected in a change of colors used in many churches.  Except in the Eastern churches, the penitential aspect of the Season has been almost totally replaced by an emphasis on hope and anticipation.

In many churches the third Sunday remains the Sunday of Joy marked by Pink or Rose. However, most Protestant churches now use blue to distinguish the Season of Advent from Lent. Royal Blue is sometimes used as a symbol of royalty. Some churches use Bright Blue to symbolize the night sky, the anticipation of the impending announcement of the King’s coming, or to symbolize the waters of Genesis 1, the beginning of a new creation. Some churches, including some Catholic churches, use blue violet to preserve the traditional use of purple while providing a visual distinction between the purple or red violet of Lent.

This does not eliminate any sense of penitence from the Season.  With the focus on the Advent or Coming of Jesus, especially in anticipating His Second Advent, there remains a need for preparation for that coming. Most liturgical churches incorporate confessional prayers into the services of Advent that relate to a sense of unworthiness as we anticipate His Coming. It is appropriate even in more traditional services of worship to incorporate confessional prayers as part of the anticipation and preparation of the Season.

With the shift to blue for Advent in most non-Catholic churches, some churches retain pink among the Advent colors, but use it on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  It still remains associated with Joy, but is sometimes used as the climax of the Advent Season on the last Sunday before Christmas.

Red and Green are more secular colors of Christmas. Although they derive from older European practices of using evergreens and holly to symbolize ongoing life and hope that Christ’s birth brings into a cold world, they are never used as liturgical colors during Advent since those colors have other uses in other parts of the church year.

The Meaning of “Advent”

The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture reading for Advent will reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment on sin, and the hope of eternal life.

In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Spirit of Advent

Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance!

It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is that hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.

Part of the expectation also anticipates a judgment on sin and a calling of the world to accountability before God. We long for God to come and set the world right! Yet, as the prophet Amos warned, the expectation of a coming judgment at the “Day of the Lord” may not be the day of light that we might want, because the penetrating light of God’s judgment on sin will shine just as brightly on God’s people.

Because of this important truth, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Season of Advent has been a time of fasting and penitence for sins similar to the Season of Lent. However, a different emphasis for the season of Advent has gradually unfolded in much of the rest of the church. The season of Advent has come to be celebrated more in terms of expectation or anticipation. Yet, the anticipation of the Coming of the Messiah throughout the Old Testament and Judaism was not in connection with remembrance of sins. Rather, it was in the context of oppression and injustice, the longing for redemption, not from personal guilt and sin but from the systemic evil of the world expressed in evil empires and tyrants. It is in that sense that all creation groans for its redemption as we witness the evil that so dominates our world (Rom 8:18-25).

Of course, there is the problem of longing for vindication from an evil world when we are contributors to that evil. This is the power of the images of Amos when he warns about longing for the “Day of the Lord” that will really be a day of darkness (Amos 5:18-20). Still, even with Amos’ warning the time of Advent is one of expectation and anticipation, a longing for God’s actions to restore all things and vindicate the righteous. This is why during Advent we as Christians also anticipate the Second Coming as a twin theme of the season. So, while some church traditions focus on penitence during Advent, and there remains a place for that, the spirit of that expectation from the Old Testament is better captured with a joyous sense of expectancy. Rather than a time of mourning and fasting, Advent is celebrated as a time of joy and happiness as we await the coming of the King.

There will be time enough during the rest of the journey through the Church Year to remember our sins. It begins in Epiphany when we hear about the brotherhood of the Kingdom, and realize our failure to effect it. Then as we move toward and through Lent we realize that the coming of Jesus served more to lay bare our own sin than it did to vindicate our righteousness. There will be time to shed Peter’s bitter tears as we realize that what started with such possibility and expectation has apparently ended in such failure.

It is only as we experience that full cycle, beginning with unbridled joy in Advent that slowly fades into the realization of what we have done with and to the Christ, that the awful reality of Good Friday can have its full impact. And in that realization we can finally be ready to hear the Good News on Resurrection Sunday! That is the journey that the disciples took. And so there is value in taking the same journey beginning with the anticipation and joy of Advent!

So, we celebrate with gladness the great promise in the Advent, yet knowing that there is also a somber tone as the theme of threat is added to the theme of promise. This is reflected in some of the Scripture readings for Advent, in which there is a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment on sin. But this is also faithful to the role of the Coming King who comes to rule, save, and judge the world.

Because of the dual themes of threat and promise, Advent is a time of preparation that is marked by prayer. While Lent is characterized by fasting and a spirit of penitence, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those walking in darkness who are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Isa 9)!

The spirit of Advent is expressed well in the parable of the bridesmaids who are anxiously awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13). There is profound joy at the Bridegroom’s expected coming. And yet a warning of the need for preparation echoes through the parable. But even then, the prayer of Advent is still:

Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel!

Evergreens and The Advent Wreath

The beginning of Advent is a time for the hanging of the green, decoration of the church with evergreen wreaths, boughs, or trees that help to symbolize the new and everlasting life brought through Jesus the Christ. Some churches have a special weekday service, or the first Sunday evening of Advent, or even the first Sunday morning of Advent, in which the church is decorated and the Advent wreath put in place. This service is most often primarily of music, especially choir and hand bells, and Scripture reading, along with an explanation of the various symbols as they are placed in the sanctuary.

The Advent wreath is an increasingly popular symbol of the beginning of the Church year in many churches as well as homes. It is a circular evergreen wreath (real or artificial) with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the center. Since the wreath is symbolic and a vehicle to tell the Christmas story, there are various ways to understand the symbolism. The exact meaning given to the various aspects of the wreath is not as important as the story to which it invites us to listen, and participate.

The circle of the wreath reminds us of God Himself, His eternity and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life. Candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son. The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.

  • 1st CANDLE– (purple) THE PROPHECY CANDLE or CANDLE OF HOPE – We can have hope because God is faithful and will keep the promises made to us. Our hope comes from God. “And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)
  • 2nd CANDLE– (purple) THE BETHLEHEM CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF PREPARATION – God kept his promise of a Savior who would be born in Bethlehem.  Preparation means to “get ready”. Help us to be ready to welcome YOU, O GOD! “As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.‘ (Luke 3:4-6)
  • 3rd CANDLE– (pink) THE SHEPHERD CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF JOY – The angels sang a message of JOY! “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:7-15)
  • 4th CANDLE– (purple) THE ANGEL CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF LOVE – The angels announced the good news of a Savior.  God sent his only Son to earth to save us, because he loves us! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
  • 5th CANDLE– (white) “CHRIST CANDLE” – The white candle reminds us that Jesus is the spotless lamb of God, sent to wash away our sins! His birth was for his death, his death was for our birth! “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!‘” (John 1:29)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’ In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.‘” (John 3:1-8)

– Adapted from various sources.

“Come, Follow Me!” – A Gospel Journey

 Come Follow Me

Click here for audio version

To follow Jesus Christ means:

  1. We are chosen by Him

After Jesus temptations in the wilderness and preaching begins…

Matthew 4:19* And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (“Come, follow Me!” means His call is effective and He equips us)

John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” (Present active imperative – it is a direct command to Philip to follow Him)

Jesus speaks about those who are really His, and Who the real Shepherd is…

John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (God chooses us we do not choose Him)

  1. We are to deny and die

While Jesus deals with many crowds and a centurion…

Matthew 8:21-22 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (The spiritually dead bury their own dead, while the spiritually alive follow Christ, and preach the Gospel – when God regenerates the one He calls, they become spiritually alive.) cp. Luke 9:60

There are two types of followers:

  1. Those that are chosen
  2. Those who are fans or groupies

Matthew 10:38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Taking up your cross is not a metaphor; it means to be willing to deny yourself and die for Christ)

After speaking to the crowds and Pharisees, Jesus explains…

Mark 10:21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Following Christ means giving up all you have and all you are)

Now look at verses 28-30:

“Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

After doing many miracles and healings, Jesus sees Levi…

Luke 5:27-28 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi (who is Matthew), sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.  (When God calls us to Himself, the call is irresistible. {Note: Greek imperfect active tense meaning Matthew began at once to follow Jesus and kept following Him}

After feeding the 5000, Jesus explains what it means to follow Him…

Luke 9:23** And he said to all, “If anyone would come (present tense) after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (God calls us to denial of self {i.e. totally reject ourselves} and to death, i.e., take up our own cross – daily.)

     3. We are never to look back

Luke 9:59-62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (There is a reluctance to break from the world system; whoever looks back to the world is not appropriate for the Kingdom of God)

  1. We are equipped to serve and multiply

Jesus explains to Andrew and Philip that He must be sacrificed and glorified…

John 12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (We must follow Christ before we can serve Him)

Jesus tells Peter of his responsibilities…

John 21:19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” {Greek describes a union of a particle with a word; You, Peter, follow me!}

John 21:22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (In this verse, John uses a primary pronoun; You, Peter, keep on following me!)

Jesus is saying here that:

  1. Our main concern is to follow Him.
  2. There are areas of the disciple’s life upon which we exercise a proud and presumptuous curiosity. Jesus reproves all that curiosity.
  3. Jesus assures us that He will take care of all His true disciples, and that we should not be unduly concerned about anything or anyone else.
  4. To follow Him means we should go forward to whatever He calls us to, whether persecution or death – not envying any other person, and anxious only to do the will of God.

5. We are to possess certain “qualities” – 2 Peter 1:1-10:

“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

The idea here is not making sure that we retain our salvation by doing something, but the fact that we do possess salvation! Peter says; “doing these things,” testify that we are indeed followers of Christ.

To recap:

There are five ways to illustrate what it means to follow Jesus Christ in the Gospels.

To follow Jesus Christ means:

  1. We are chosen by Him.
  2. We are to deny and die.
  3. We are never to look back.
  4. We are equipped to serve and multiply.
  5. We are to possess certain “qualities.”

For the audio message only: Come, Follow Me

covenant-triangleMy New Covenant Relationship with God

I believe that entrance into the Kingdom of God is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. My call to ministry is one based upon God’s faithfulness to fulfill His revealed purpose in my life. I had no ability to acquire salvation on my own. His loving grace granted me repentance and faith. God enabled me to make the choice of trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. He transformed me into a new creation in Christ Jesus, and now His sanctifying grace is making me holy in my daily life.

The Holy Spirit baptized me into the Body of Christ, the Church, of which I am a member. Now, I am a member of the Community of Jesus Christ. God created a community of worship, dedication, and faith in the time of the Old Covenant. Now, the community has changed with the coming of the new and better covenant. Within this community of the Kingdom, I am able to view my calling more clearly. It means that being a “covenant person” of a covenant people (the Church); Called to a mission along with many others, and equipped by God through the Holy Spirit as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher, I pursue the Missio Dei.

Therefore, I can speak with conviction along with the Apostle Paul when he said in 2 Corinthians 3:6, “ He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Therefore, I see that those members of the Community of Faith are ministers unto each other, the world, and unto God.

My call and the call of His Church (Matthew 25:35-45) is to minister unto a world that is lost. We are to be beacons of light to those who are blind in darkness. We are to be workers of justice and freedom for the oppressed and captive. We are to demonstrate to the poor the power of His greatness and His faithfulness from which we hope, and to proclaim the Gospel and His Kingdom!