Stir up our Hearts

 

What sort of highway construction equipment do we need to “make straight…a highway for God” to enter our hearts?

Do we need bulldozers to level the stubborn I’lltakecareofitmyself” mountain range?  Scrapers to let God’s Spirit shape our life?  Graders to fill in the rough spots with the forgiveness of sins?

So, it is that we prayed:

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve you with pure minds.  We prayed that it would happen through Jesus Christ, our Lord who lives and rules forevermore with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  One God working in concert to build the highway needed that Christ might enter into our hearts.

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Isaiah 40 in Context

 

“Comfort, comfort my people” says your God.  That’s the beginning of the OT lesson.  Isaiah 40 speaks to a time around 587 BC.

However, there is a gap of 125 years between chapter 40 and chapter 39. In about 711 BC envoys came from Babylon to King Hezekiah of Judah.  He is so honored, that he shows them his “Fort Knox” and his military command center and weapons.

The prophet Isaiah asks what he has shown these visitors.  “Everything.”  Hezekiah wants to form an alliance to counter Assyria, who had captured the ten northern tribes of Israel.

But Isaiah tells him Yahweh’s word.   Babylon will come and carry away everything and Hezekiah’s descendants will serve the king of Babylon.

In that space between chaps 39-40, was the terrible 55- year reign of Manasseh (2 Kings 21).  The 2-year reign of Amon.  Then Josiah ruled.  He tried to undo the harm of Manasseh.  During a repair of the temple they found the Book of Deuteronomy and discovered they had been neglecting to celebrate Passover.  However, Josiah was killed in 605 in a battle against Egypt at Megiddo.  Babylon rose to power. Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the city and the temple in 587.

Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple destroyed.  Into that dark time God calls, “Comfort, comfort, my people.”

When the times are the darkest, that is where the gospel seeks to shine its brightest, with hope.

 

 

Ambrose of Milan

 

“Savior of the Nations, Come, Virgin’s son, make here your home!”  Each Advent we sing this hymn penned by Ambrose over 1,600 years ago.

Born in Trier in 340, Ambrose was serving as a civil governor seeking to bring peace among the quarreling Christians in Milan, Italy.  In 374, when a new bishop was to be elected, he spoke to the crowd.  A child cried out, “Ambrose, bishop.”  Support spread through the crowd.  Though he was still a catechumen, he was baptized on December 7 and consecrated bishop of Milan, at age 34.

He gave his possessions to the poor saying, “The world belongs to everyone, not just to the rich.”  He convinced emperors Gratian and Theodosius to oppose and forbid Arianism in the West.  He extracted a confession from Theodosius after he massacred 700 Thessalonians.   His preaching drew a confused young man named Augustine to hear him.  Augustine, after years of searching, soon came to faith in Christ.

Ambrose, pastor, defender of the faith and musician, died on Good Friday, April 4, 397.

Preaching on Jesus words, “When you pray, enter your room, close the door and pray to your Father,”  Ambrose counseled, “Let your prayer then rise not just from your lips…enter the depths of your heart, go right into it.”  “You always have a secret room.  Your room is your Spirit.  Even if you are in the midst of a crowd, you have within you your closed and secret room.”

St. Nicholas Day

 

Happy birthday to granddaughter Amelia (15) in Maryland and grandson Lucas (10) in Ballwin, Mo.

Nicholas was a fourth century bishop in Myra on the coast of what is now Turkey.  He was noted for giving to the poor.

Basil, the fourth century church father, wrote:

What keeps you from giving now?  Isn’t the poor person there?  Aren’t your own warehouses full?  Isn’t the reward promised?  The command is clear:  the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now-and you want to wait until tomorrow?  “I’m not doing any harm,” you say.  “I just want to keep what I own, that’s all.”  You own!  You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone’s use is your own…. If everyone took only what they needed and gave the rest to those in need, there would be no such thing as rich and poor.  After all, didn’t you come into life naked, and won’t you return naked to the earth?

The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor.  You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help.

 

 

 

 

Trusting God

 

From Jan Karon’s latest novel, “To Be Where You Are.”

Her mom said they were to pray for the people her dad and his colleagues were treating (In Cameroon), pray for his sound health and safekeeping, and trust God in everything.  She knew such wisdom in her head, but complete trust was, as her mother said, “yet to build a station in her heart and erect its flag of undisputed possession.”

To be where you are.  Good theme for Advent/Christmas when God becomes Immanuel, God with us, in Jesus Christ.

Stirring up Salvation

 

The Prayers of the Day for Advent remind me of Christmas cookies.  All of the cookies involved a good deal of stirring before the dough was put in the oven.  Making Christmas cookies required some arm strength.  Making our salvation included some power also, on Christ’s part.

“Stir up Your power, O Lord and come,” begins the prayer for the first Sunday in Advent.  That certainly fits in with the text from Isaiah, 64:1, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” And, Psalm 98:1, “His hand and his holy arm have won him victory.”

But how does he come?  In the first gospel lesson (Mark 11:1-10) our all – powerful God comes riding on a donkey.  We know what happened to him by the end of the week, crucified, dead and buried.

The alternative Gospel lesson (Mark 13:24-37) God does come with power and glory.  His angels will gather his chosen people from the four corners of the earth and the ends of heaven.

When will this happen?  Nobody knows, not even the angels nor Jesus Himself, so Jesus and the angels must be on their toes at all times, and so must we.  Thus we pray

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and come, that by your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

 

The Wretched King Comes

 

From a sermon by Martin Luther on the First Sunday of Advent, 1533.

Zechariah 9:9 Behold Your King comes to you, just and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass.

Yes, truly, He will be a king, but a poor and wretched king.  He leaves to other kings’ pomp, castle, palaces, gold and wealth; lets them eat and drink, dress and build more daintily than other folks; but the craft which Christ the poor beggar-king knows, they do not know.

He helps not against one sin, but against all my sin; and against the world’s sin.  He comes to take away not only sickness, but death; and not my death only, but the whole world’s death. Do not be offended by his lowly advent; shut your eyes and open your ears, and perceive not how he rides so beggarly, but hearken to what is said and preached about this poor king. He comes riding on an ass like a beggar having neither saddle nor spurs.  This King, will take sin from us, strangle death, endow us with eternal holiness, eternal bliss, and eternal life, this cannot be sin.  Therefore, we must hear and believe.

Wachet Auf – En Garde

 

En Garde – Be on Guard.  Wachet Auf – Stay Awake

That’s what Mark 13:33, tells us this weekend; “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”

What time?  The time for Isaiah’s prayer to be answered, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.”

To which coming is Isaiah referring?  Ah, that’s what Advent is about. That’s what makes Advent so much fun.  In Isaiah 64:1-9 the prophet looks forward to the advent of the Messiah, his first coming.  However, the choice of the Gospel lessons first presents us with his coming into Jerusalem riding on a donkey who is bringing God’s kingdom to his father David’s city.  Secondly, in Mark 13, Jesus wants us to be on guard and stay awake for his coming when he brings this age to an end.

If you have a sensation of dizziness this Sunday, you don’t need to have your equilibrium checked.  It’s just the season.  It’s Advent which can get us coming and going.  En garde, Wachet Auf.

Give Advent its due.  Christmas can wait.