Category Archives: Year B

The Season of Advent

Advent is an early New Year. It is the beginning of a new liturgical year for those churches that follow the lectionary readings. A new cycle of scriptural readings begins. This time the Gospel readings come from the Gospel of Matthew, carried throughout the Year A cycle of readings. (See Liturgical Calendar.)

There are four Sundays in Advent which tell of the coming of Jesus. At first the emphasis is on his second coming and end-times, but then the emphasis shifts to the first coming. They offer a powerful progression of how Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets of the Old Covenant while establishing the New Covenant through the Incarnation of God.

Advent is a season of expectation. It is a season of hope. It is an opportunity put away the old and put on the new. It is a time of preparation for the Bride of Christ to prepare for the millennial reign of Jesus.

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I challenged a friend in ministry to preach on the lectionary readings of Advent. He had never done so. He found himself preaching on subjects he had never preached on before, such as the second coming of Jesus and the end-times. Later he told me that Advent had caused him to grow in the faith. That is the beauty of the lectionary in general and especially the beauty of the Season of Advent.

We do not want to rush into Christmas prematurely. Rather, we need to prepare spiritually for a joyous Christmas. Christmas is so over-commercialized in this nation. It seems to be more a pagan celebration than a religious one, rivaled by only by Halloween.

Let us use Advent to recommit ourselves to Christ as Savior and Lord. And let us explore new insights and meanings that wash over us as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child.

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Ash Wednesday

Remember That You Are Dust

Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting and repentance. In many liturgical churches ashes are placed on the foreheads of each participant. Ashes were a sign of penitence in the Ancient Near East, particularly in Judaism.

Recall this example from the Old Testament. Jonah preached to Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city and the people listened:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  (Jonah 3:5-8)

Notice that the King of Nineveh decreed that the people must turn from evil. God is never impressed with meaningless rituals.

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 6:1)

As a campus minister I remember a particular Ash Wednesday service when a school official who wanted to know at what precise time I would be doing the “imposition of ashes” (making the customary sign of the cross in ashes on a person’s forehead). She did not want to sit through the scripture readings, homily, or prayers. The mere sign of the cross on her forehead would prove that she had done her religious duty.

Let us consider these instructive words of Jesus?

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

We cannot impress God with our rituals or our piety. Why should we try to impress others who must also stand before His throne, as we are required? God is calling us to a holy fast – one in which we come before Him in true repentance.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The Ash Wednesday service serves as a reminder of who we are and whose we are. Man was created out of dust by the hand of God. Our lives are sustained by His very breath. One day His breath will be taken away and we will have to give an accounting to Him of how we lived our lives.

Ash Wednesday is a check to the triumphant Christians who have arrived and no longer need to acknowledge their sins before God. It questions the “once saved, always saved” mentality.

Ash Wednesday, meaningless ritual? It might be for some. The act of fasting and repentance was not meaningless to the King of Nineveh. Jesus did not say that we should not fast and repent. He said that we should not make a show of it. If we do, we may receive approval by some, but not by God. God looks at the heart.

What is the fasting part? That can be done in many ways. Some may have trouble giving up eating food do to a medical condition. The fasting is taking our minds off the world and its comforts so that we might focus on God, seeking his comfort and presence in our lives. Setting aside time for extended prayer and meditation upon God’s Word. This, too, is fasting. It may be difficult to find time to do. Our flesh or carnal nature never wants us to do it. It continually makes demands on us. The Apostle Paul wrote:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.   (Romans 7:15-20)

Can we imagine the Apostle Paul having such a struggle? It is a common struggle that we al face. Paul goes on to write:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

If we deny the flesh for a season, we will discover a new victory in Christ. Jesus will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Soon, we will discover the joys of fasting. The Lord Jesus is so much more exciting and refreshing than anything in the flesh.

What about the repentance? If we say that we do not need any formal type of confession because our sins are washed in the blood of Jesus, we may be missing the point of confession. From the First Epistle of John:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

If we say that we have given our heart to Jesus and yet deliberately sin, how should our God judge our act of contrition? The Book of Hebrews has the answer:

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Ash Wednesday offers us an opportunity for fasting and repentance. Perhaps we should take it?

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The Epiphany

adormagiVisitation of the Magi

A moment of epiphany is when we say: “Aha!” We suddenly see a truth that we did not realize before. In this season we will be looking at God’s surprises. We will looking at times when God manifested himself and entered into our history to change the story.

The birth of Jesus almost went unnoticed by most of the world. A few shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem were informed by the heavenly hosts. But the Magi were able to discern that a major event had occurred through vigilant study and dedication of purpose. They had observed the night sky. God had been  preparing them for a great event. They were not Jews but they were acquainted with the ancient writings and had sought out the sayings of the prophets:

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”  (Micah 5:2,4)

The wisemen from the East were seeking the Lord. They did not fully understand who they were seeking but it did not stop them from doing so. They traveled a long distance and were willing to make sacrifices. We may look upon our life as a journey. What do we seek? Whom do we seek? And what sacrifices are we willing to make in our day? Will we set aside a time in our lives to seek God with all our hearts? (It is interesting to note that many people today seek God through Eastern mysticism. We must remember that the best of the Eastern seekers of God bowed down to the Lord Jesus.)

Many people are not seeking God today. Matters beyond their immediate concerns are of little importance to them. They are living in darkness without even knowing that they are in darkness. They have not yet seen the light of Christ. Nevertheless, the light of Christ can break forth at any time. This world needs a spiritual “Aha!”

The good news of Christ Jesus is for all people. From the Isaiah we read:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.  (Isaiah 60:1-3)

A wise person realizes that he or she does not have all the answers. Wisdom comes from seeking. The Apostle Paul wrote that “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” Paul had a spiritual “aha!”.He writes:

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  (Ephesians 3:5-6)

Paul further writes:

Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.  (Ephesians 3:8-12)

To be fair, Paul had been seeking God through his study of Judaism. He was a scholar of the first order. He needed direction and grace from God.

The wisemen of old sought Jesus. They found Him and worshiped Him. They returned to their own people with joy in their hearts. The Epiphany for them was a great and joyful awakening.

On the other hand, an epiphany of God can be a fearful thing. It was for Herod. From today’s Gospel we read:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened. …  (Matthew 2:1-3)

Herod did not want an epiphany of God. He believed that he was in charge of his circumstances and he wanted to keep it that way. What stops us from receiving our own epiphany? Have we been seeking God on a deep level? Are ready for an “Aha!” If we are holding on desperately to the status quo then we may miss a move of God.

We are in the advance stages of the Church Age. God is on the move. He is pouring out his Spirit like never before. This Season of Epiphany may be a special time for us to tune ourselves to God’s frequency and not that of the world. The devil has a frequency that is distracting and discouraging. This is not from God.

We must slow down our worldly pace. We need to spend time in his Word and in prayer. God will speak to us. A great surprise might be coming our way. We read from Jeremiah 28:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me,  (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

The Epiphany was seen by the wise. God wants to intervene again in our history. Are we ready? So we seek him with all our hearts?

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Holy Innocents

flight-into-egyptThe Protection of Children

We read from the Prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:

A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.

Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.   (Jeremiah 31:15)

Our children are so vulnerable on this earth, Jesus was no exception. God risked himself and made himself vulnerable to the evil in this world. The plan of Satan is to kill, steal, and destroy. God has come that we might have life and life more abundantly (John 10:10).

Today we read about the wisemen searching for a child born under a miraculous sign. The Christ Child they sought was more than an inconvenience to Herod. After all, the wisemen had called the child “King of the Jews” and sought Him out to worship. This was just too much for Herod to swallow. Not understanding Judaism and the prophecy concerning the child, Herod could take no chances. His very kingdom might be threatened. He was prepared to take drastic measures to ensure his reign. Thus Joseph, the father of Jesus had to be warned about the threat against his son. From the Gospel of Matthew we read:

When the wise men had departed, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”   (Matthew 2:13-15)

Herod was a monster. Reading from Matthew:

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.  (Matthew 2:16)

We have even more Herod’s today. All of our children are under threat, regardless of age. Do we not abort our children up to nine months of pregnancy and beyond, simply because they are an inconvenience to us? Have our churches been willing to speak out about this, so-called, woman’s right to choose? Abortion has nothing to do with women’s rights and everything to do with child sacrifice. The Apostle Paul:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.   (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

What could be worse? In the entertainment industry, government, and even the church, a terrible monster lurks behind the scene. It devours our children while we are looking the other way. Child trafficking, pedophilia, and even child sacrifice have been hidden, but God is now exposing it. His judgement will fall on the perpetrators. They will no longer be able to hide.

The Apostle John, on the Island of Patmos, had a vision in which God will do away with all the evil we are now experiencing:

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”   (Revelation 21:1-4)

How do we live while we await the culmination of Christ’s ministry? We need to conduct ourselves in a more godly way while we are still on earth. We need to take responsibility for the care of our children. Those of us who have remained silent about the plight of our children need to repent.

When we do not care for our children, we have not cared for our Lord:

‘”Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”   (Matthew 25:45)

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