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Archive for January, 2010

Increasing in Favor with God and Man

A Sermon Preached by Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.

On January 10, 2010

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, LA 

 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.   And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.   But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.   And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.   And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.   And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.   And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.   And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?   And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.   And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.   And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Luke 2:42-52) 

This week we have been celebrating Epiphany.  I remind you that the word for “epiphany” means “to appear,” or “to manifest.”  During this Epiphany season we celebrate the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When our Lord appeared, he manifested himself with many different characteristics and attributes.  But let us go back today to his childhood and let us look at how he appeared to others.  When he made himself known in the form of a child, how did he appear?

One of the great mysteries of our faith is how our Lord Jesus Christ could be both fully God and fully man.  We confess in our Nicene Creed that we believe that Jesus Christ is very God of very God, being of one substance with the Father.  At this time of year when we think of the birth and childhood of our Lord, that mystery comes to the forefront of our minds.  How could that little baby lying in a manger in Bethlehem be the eternal God?  How could the twelve year old child that we just read about be of one substance with the Father?  When we read this description of him, it doesn’t seem as though he is being described at the eternal deity:  “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”  If he is God, how could he increase in wisdom?  If he is God, then he has all the perfect wisdom of the omniscient God?  If he is God, how can he grow in favor with God?  When we read such descriptions of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must remember that he was fully man, and as a man, he increased in wisdom the same way that any other person would increase in wisdom.  He had to read the Scriptures, study hard, and listen to the lessons that his mother and father taught him.  We often think that God could have chosen just any parents for our Lord Jesus Christ, and it wouldn’t have made any difference.  I don’t believe that for a moment.  There was a reason that God chose Mary and Joseph to be the parents of his son.  God knew that they were righteous and that they would be the kind of parents who would enable Jesus to increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.  God said of Abraham, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” (Gen. 18:19).  If God knew that Abraham would be a godly parent, he certainly knew that Mary and Joseph would command his  son and teach him to keep the way of the Lord.  Thus, we find in this passage that our Lord was subject to Mary and Joseph.  He was submissive to them, for they were teaching him the ways of the Lord in order that he might increase in wisdom.  This truth does not detract from his deity.  Rather, it points out to us his humanity.  A very similar expression was used of John the Baptist in Luke 1:80, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.”  Jesus was just as human, just as much man, as John the Baptist, and like John the Baptist, had to grow physically, emotionally, and intellectually.  As a matter of fact, this description of John is almost the same description of the child Jesus in Luke 2:40:  “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom:  and the grace of God was upon him.”  Luke 2:25 is almost word for word a quotation of I Samuel 2:26, where Samuel’s childhood is described in this way:  “And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men.”  It is obvious that Jesus is being compared to Samuel, a child who grew up before the Lord, and like Samuel was in favour with God and men.  Just as he grew physically, as any man would have to grow, he had to develop mentally by diligent application, study, and meditation.    We are told that as he did so, he increased in favor with God and man, so much so, that at his baptism, the heavens open and we hear the voice of his Father saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  The Father looked back over the course of the life of his son, the way he had been living for the past 30 years, seeing how he had applied himself to study, love, good works, submission to parental authority, and he was well pleased. 

            Nevertheless, this phrase, that Jesus increased in favor with God and man is a rather puzzling one.  How can one increase in favor with God?  If Jesus could increase in favor with God, is it possible that we can increase in favor with God?  When the Scripture says that Jesus increased in favor with God, does that mean that there were stages in Jesus’ life where God was displeased and that he gradually gained God’s approval.  Of course not!nn Jesus was without sin and was always the beloved son of his father in whom he was well pleased.  This phrase means that as the Father watched his Son grow and mature, he was pleased with every step of his development and progress.  The word that is translated here as “increase” mean “to advance,” or “to make progress.”  We know what this is like in our dealings with our own children.  When a child is in the first grade and he learns that 4 + 4=8, we don’t stand there and say, “Well, I’m not pleased because you aren’t able to do multi-dimensional calculus.”  No, we are pleased with all the progress they make at each step along the way, and our delight increases day by day, not that we have been finding fault before, but rather because each attainment of grace and knowledge along the way fills us more and more with pleasure.   The word that is translated here as “favor” is the word that is most often translated as “grace.”  In contexts such as these, it means “that which causes joy, pleasure, or delight.”  To increase in favor means to increase in those characteristics that evoke  feelings of pleasure, delight, and joy.  When we read that Jesus increased in favor with God, it merely means that he increasingly matured and developed those characteristics that are pleasing to behold.   In that same way, we can increase in favor with God.  That statement may seem like a contradiction to the teaching about God’s grace.  After all, grace is God’s unmerited favor.  Since we did nothing to gain God’s favor, how can we increase in the favor of God?  We can increase in favor with God in same way that Jesus did.  We can grow and mature in the Christian faith, and as we do so, God takes pleasure in every step of our progress along the way.  Peter ends his second epistle by saying, “But grow in the grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 3:18).  Just as our Lord grew in grace and knowledge, we are called upon to grow in grace and knowledge, and when we do so, God is well pleased.    Paul told the Colossians, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10). 

            Just as Jesus increased in favor with  God, he grew in his social skills.  Because of the way our Lord’s life ended, I think that sometimes we beleive that Jesus was always in conflict with everyone.  We think that he must have always been in arguments with people and that people were always persecuting him.  But Jesus is not always portrayed as someone who inspired anger and persecution.  In our text for today we seen the learned men of the age being mesmerized by the intellectual and spiritual brilliance of this child.  Then, during the course of his ministry, we find these descriptions of Jesus that the common people heard him gladly.  Tax collectors and sinner gathered around him.  Now, he wouldn’t back down  when the truth was involved.  He wouldn’t hesitate to condemn that which was sinful, and that trait angered many people.  We often get the impression that is the duty of the Christian to be as obnoxious as possible, especially with the people of the world.   Sometimes, Christianity attracts proud haughty people because they think that Christianity gives them a good excuse to be arrogant and spiteful, ready to corner those who provoke us.  We always have the porcupine quills stuck out ready to launch an attack.  C. S. Lewis once wrote:  “I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse…Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.”   Unfortunately, I find that to be the case most of the time.  Christianity does not make people better—it makes them worse, and here is one of the ways it makes them worse.  They have the mistaken impression that being a Christian gives them a license to rude, hateful, unforgiving, and caustic.  But that is not the approach of the Christian at all.  As Paul says, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).  Paul even said that one of the qualifications for a bishop was that he have a good report from those who are without (I Tim. 3:7).  In other words, even people outside the Church should have a good opinion of the man of God.  Believe it or not, is possible for Christians to be respected by people in the world.  This word for “favor” is the same word used to describe Joseph in Acts 7:10:  “And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.”   It is no sin if pagans respect you.

The Church itself, like Christ, should grow in favor with God and man.  We see the Church described in that way in the book of Acts.  Notice how the Church is described in Acts 2:46-47—“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,  Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”    Notice how the Church had favor with all the people, not just those inside the Church.  Of course, the religious authorities in Jerusalem did persecute them, but by and large, the people looked upon the Church favorably.  In Acts 5:12-13, we read, “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.   And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.”  Yes, those in power and authority were jealous and wanted to stop this fledgling movement, but, on the whole, the people praised them for all the good that they were doing.  Luke loves to make these kinds of summary statements both in his gospel and the book of Acts.    Just as he like to describe how Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man, he likes to describe the Church as growing numerically, and in favor with God and man.  Since the Church is the body of Christ here on earth, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that it grows just as our Lord Jesus Christ grew.  Certainly, our stand on certain issues makes us unpopular with some people .  But let it be the stand that we take, not the way we take that stand that causes the opposition. This word for “favor” is used in Col. 4:6, where Paul writes, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”  One of the ways we offend people and turn people off is by the way we talk.  Sometimes it is not so much what we say that offends others—it is the way we say it.  Therefore, our speech should be with grace, spoken in a way that causes joy or delight.   We must never give the impression of being haughty, arrogant, proud.  We must never have the holier-than-thou attitude that gives people the impression that we believe that we are so superior to them.  We must never give people the impression that we think that we are too holy to associate with certain people because of their lifestyles or their views on social, political, and moral issues that we find objectionable.  Like Jesus, we must be separate from sinners, but at the same time, the friends of sinners. 

In order to be the friend of sinners, we need a good set of social skills, and we need to be taught those skills, learn those skills, and teach those skills to our children.   In other words, there is nothing wrong with learning how to win friends and influence people.    The problem is that sometimes, we make winning friends the goal of our lives rather than living a righteous and holy life.  Actually, the correct approach is to live a life of obedience to God, and the by-product of that kind of life will be to grow in favor with men.    Just by living in obedience to the Ten Commandments is a good way of growing in favor with men.  If we love our neighbors as ourselves by doing them no physical harm, by refraining from committing adultery, by refusing to steal his goods, by speaking no evil about him, by not coveting what is his, then we have a  good start in growing in favor with men.  Then, think of how our Lord taught us to live.    He taught us that we should be meek, merciful, forgiving, charitable, generous,  and peacemakers.  Such people have a tendency to grow in favor with man.  We are told that the fruit of the spirit is longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, and self-control.    People who display those characteristics usually grow in favor with men. Our Lord taught us to be kind, and above all, he taught us to love as he loved us.    Though there are people in the world who are so evil that they actually hate these attributes, these characteristics generally have a tendency to cause us to grow in favor in with others. 

We need to rediscover the old attribute of being a Christian gentleman, a Christian lady–someone who is cultured, refined, dignified, disciplined, marked by self-control over their behavior, conduct, speech; men and women who can be civil even when they are attacked or disagreed with.  I would put in that category such men as G. K. Chesterton, who was very dogmatic in his Christian beliefs, but he maintained very warm friendships with men like George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells.  As you know, both George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells were stern critics of the Church and Christianity, yet Chesterton knew how to be friends with such people.  He found favor in the eyes of men even like Shaw and Wells who disagreed with him about his most cherished beliefs.   Chesterton is a good example of a man who knew how to grow in favor with God and man.  Sometimes we look upon Jesus only as a person who attracted the hatred of the world.  We also need to remember him as the one who grew in favor with God and man.

            This passage should also be a challenge to parents to bring their children up in a well-rounded manner.    Jesus grew up in a home where he was encouraged to grow physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially.   He increased in stature.  Although Jesus  wasn’t enrolled in a weightlifting program or the Little League, we have to remember that he did grow up the son of a carpenter.  He was no doubt a very robust, healthy man.  I grew up around men who were carpenters, roofer, and mechanics.  I always observed how strong they were, and how the muscles in their arms bulged.  Take a look at some of the men who roof houses and you get an idea I think of how Jesus may have looked physically.  Very often, we want our children to grow spiritually or intellectually, and we think that physical activity is unimportant.  Teddy Roosevelt’s father taught him that taking care of the body was of primary importance because the mental pursuits would suffer without a healthy body.  Jesus was strong both in body and spirit, and Christian parents do well to teach their children to be physically fit. 

Jesus, of course, was obviously taught the Scriptures and taken to the synagogue regularly.  He was the kind of boy who, though physically active, paid attention to his parents, his teachers, his rabbi, and had the wisdom to know how to put it all together.  His parables illustrate how he could take the ordinary events of every day life–farming, cleaning a house, building a house,–and draw spiritual lessons from them.  That is the mark of wisdom.  There is a scene in the film Jesus of Nazareth where Joseph is showing his children how to measure things, and he reminds them of how God’s law is our rule to keep us straight.  I have no doubt that Joseph probably did teach Jesus how to draw spiritual analogies from the everyday world and that Jesus’ ability to do so was developed by a mother and father who taught him how to do that. 

Jesus knew how to deal with people.  When you go through the gospels you see the wisdom of Jesus and the friendliness of Jesus.  He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners, the people that the religious leaders would have nothing to do with.  Though Jesus knew the Scriptures and had great wisdom, he was not an ivory tower theologian who didn’t know how to get along with people.   It has often been said that Jesus was the most popular dinner guest in Judea.  Have you ever noticed how often his teaching is over a meal where he has been invited to attend?  Sinners invited him to dinner, and even Pharisees who disagreed with him invited him for meals.  There is no doubt that Jesus had great social skills that endeared him to many people.  These skills were developed in him at home by his parents, because we are told here that he grows up in favor with God and man.  The Christian should learn to grow in favor with God and man, teach these skills to others, especially our children.

            In the old Jimmy Stewart film, Harvey, Stewart, playing Elwood P. Dowd says, “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”  Like Elwood Dowd, I also vote for “pleasant.”  But our Lord Jesus was both wise and pleasant.  It is no sin if people like you.  As a matter of fact, when our Lord appeared in this world, he grew in favor with God and man.  Amen.

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Fear and Missed Opportunities:

A Sermon for the New Year 

A Sermon Preached by Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.

On January 3, 2010

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, LA 

He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.  (Eccl. 11:4)

The year 2009 has come and gone.  I suppose we always have mixed emotions at this time of year. It is a time of regret because as we look back over the past year, we wish that we had done many things that we failed to do.  We think back on some of the New Year’s resolutions that we made at this time last year and realize that we broke them within days or weeks of having made them.  Then, there are those regrets we experience because we did so many things in 2009 that  we wish we had not done.   We have sinned against the Lord in so many ways. We have hurt people, said things we shouldn’t have said, and caused pain and unhappiness even in those we love most.   As we examine ourselves at this time of year, I am sure that each of us can look back upon the past year with some regret.  In the words of our confession of sin, we can look back over 2009 and say, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;  and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”

But there is something about the approach of a new year which also fills us with hope. There is something about the beginning of new year that leads us to say,“I can make a fresh start. No matter what may have been true of me in the past, this year it will be different.” We begin to make resolutions, and we start the year with a strong determination to do those things in 2010 which ought to be done.

Yet, we know that there will be many things that prevent us from doing what we know should be done.  Some of us have particular kinds of personalities that prevent us from carrying out our plans.  Some of us procrastinate—we put things off until we even forget we  were so determined to do them.  Some of us get depressed and discouraged and finally throw up our hands in despair and say, “What’s the use.”  The wise man in our text before us this morning describes another kind of person who fails to get much done.  In the King James it reads, “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.”   I am sure that this verse was a well-known proverb  in Solomon’s day.   You have probably said the same thing from time to time, you just didn’t put it in exactly these words.  What Solomon has in mind is this:  There is a farmer and the time has come to plant his crop, to sow his seed. He says, “I had better plant my crop.” But then he looks outside and sees the wind blowing, and he says to himself,  “Oh, that wind coming up like that might mean the rain is on its way.  I had better not try to plant that crop today.”  Or, perhaps it is the time of year for harvesting the crop.  The farmer makes up his mind that this is the day to bring the crop in; but just as he walks outside, he looks up, and there are some clouds.  He says to himself, “Well, I had better not try to pick those crops. Those clouds look like a storm may come.”  For fear of a possible storm, he never harvests the crop.

I think you can see the obvious meaning of the proverb. If you keep putting things off because of the prospect of some future trouble, you will never do anything.  Today’s English Version translates this verse, “If you wait until the wind and the weather are just right, you will never plant anything and never harvest anything.”  Solomon is not saying that you should disregard the wind and the clouds entirely. If the sky is covered with black clouds,  lightning flashing everywhere, and it’s certain that this approaching storm will prevent you from sowing or reaping, or perhaps even destroy the work you put into the sowing or reaping, then obviously, it is not the time——you should wait.   But Solomon is warning us that many people let the possibility of future trouble prevent them from doing those things which ought to be done. If we stand back and magnify every little difficulty, imagine the worst that could happen, just because there is the possibility of trouble ahead, we will never accomplish anything. This fear of the possibility of future difficulties will paralyze you and prevent you from doing those things which are good and necessary.

We must realize that no matter what good work we begin to do, there is always the possibility of future problems and obstacles.  No matter what area of life you look at, there is always the possibility of crises ahead.  Many people won’t take a job or a promotion to a new job because of the possibility of future trouble. I remember once when I was out it the work-a-day world that I had an opportunity for a promotion to a job I really wanted. But many people began to come to me and say, “I wouldn’t take it if I were you.  It’s a boring job.  You won’t like your supervisor.  You won’t like the people you will have to work with every day.”  I listened to all that negative advice and turned down the job because of the possibility of future problems.   Later on, that opportunity came again.  This time, I wouldn’t be persuaded by the people around me, and I took that job.  All of those terrible things that people said might happen to me never did.   But I had let the possibility of those troubles deter me from taking that job.  Many people live their whole lives not taking advantage of opportunities because of the possibility of trouble ahead.  They are afraid to take a job or start a business, because the economic prognosticators have told them of trouble down the road.   In our own current financial climate, it is possible to imagine all kinds of terrible scenarios in the next few years.  Some people allow the fear of that possible trouble to prevent them from accomplishing anything. But as I say, there is the possibility of future  trials and tribulations no matter what you do, even when the prospects for the future look brightest.  Even if it looked as though the prospects for the future seemed to offer no hindrances or obstacles, there is always the possibility for disaster, accidents, and unforeseen problems.

            People can let the fear of the future prevent them from doing things that may actually be the path to much happiness.  Some people are afraid to get married because of the possibility of future trouble.  A young, single man  gets up one day, picks up the newspaper, and reads the latest statistics that over half of all marriages now end in divorce. He reads how many people engage in extramarital affairs. He looks around and sees in many marriages nothing but fighting, bickering, and all of the pressures and trials that married life can bring. After surveying the current status of marriage in this country, he may conclude, “Oh no, not me. I’m not going to get married because I don’t want to wind up in a divorce court. I don’t want to ruin a good relationship by getting married. All married people do is fight, and that might be the way my marriage would end.”  Such a person  allows the possibility of trouble to prevent him from  marrying.

The very act of following Jesus Christ is also one of those areas where many people give up before they get started, simply because of the possibility of future trials.  When people first begin to consider whether or not to follow Christ, he doesn’t tell them that there is a possibility of future trouble if they follow him. He guarantees them that there will be trouble in the future.  He doesn’t conceal this hard truth from would-be disciples.  Jesus said in Luke 12:51-53, “ Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:   For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.   The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”  In John 15:19 he said, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”  If you want all people to love you and speak well of you, don’t become a disciple of Christ.  Your future will be filled with people hating you because of your stand for Christ and his truth.

 No matter what you are planning to do in the future,  I assure you, that if you think long and hard enough about it,  you will think of something that could go wrong.  There will always be an ominous wind beginning to blow. There will be threatening clouds lurking on the horizon. But there are many reasons why we must not allow the prospect of trouble to stop us from boldly taking advantage of future opportunities.

First,  many times the trouble we fear never comes.  Our Lord told us not be anxious about tomorrow. One day’s trouble, this day’s trouble is sufficient for one day without imagining all of the trouble which may come upon us in the future.

Second, fearing possible trouble in the future will cause us to become idle.   As a matter of fact, many of our so–called “fears of the future” are nothing but excuses for laziness and idleness. We are too lazy to do what we know we should, but we disguise our laziness under the cover of being practical.  Perhaps the farmer in our text is just a lazy farmer looking for an excuse. 

I remember that there  was once a group of men who worked in the area where I grew up. They worked outside where you could see them. Sometimes you would pass where they were supposed to be working, and they wouldn’t be there. My dad had a saying about these men:  “If one drop of rain hits them, that’s the Lord’s fault. If two drops of rain hit them, that’s their own fault.” They certainly weren’t going to stay around and see if the rain might stop. They were gone at the first sight of rain.   Many men can relate to that attitude.   The weatherman can say there is 90% chance of rain, black clouds filling the sky, but we will try to get in a few w holes of golf. However, if we see a distant thunderhead on some far horizon, that is good enough reason to put off mowing the yard for one more day. Whether or not it is a real fear of the future or just a convenient excuse, the result is the same—idleness.  And the work which  should have been done is left undone.

Third, we should not allow the prospect of trouble to stop us from taking advantage of opportunities because of all the joy we will miss if we allow the possibility of trouble to keep us from sowing and reaping.

For example, most of the prophets of doom will be telling people that right now would be one of the worst times to try any type of business venture. But I will guarantee you that someone with zeal, thought, and imagination will disregard those forecasts and make a fortune during this time of economic instability, while others will be paralyzed by this fear.  Others will sow and reap while others will regret that they didn’t sow.  Joy awaits those who will sow and reap even though there is a possibility of trouble or disaster.

What if every woman decided that she should would have no children because the prospect of future trouble loomed before her. Just think of everything that a woman must endure to bring a child into this world:  the morning sickness, the backaches, cramps, and fatigue. Then, there’s the birth process itself.   When a woman decides that she wants a baby, she is exposing herself to future trouble, more in some cases than others. What wouldd make a woman go through all trouble to have a baby?   Our Lord Jesus Himself tells us why a woman will endure such discomfort and anguish.   In John 16:21 he said, “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.”  Yes, there is sorrow and anguish connected with childbirth, and the woman knows that is what she will face when her hour has come, but she is willing to endure it  because the joy of bringing that child into the world is far greater than the sorrow and anguish which preceded it. If women weren’t willing to face future sorrow and anguish, they would miss the joy of holding that little child in their arms and knowing the love that only a mother can know. How foolish it would be to give up this joy because there was future trouble involved.

The same is true of the difficulties involved in the Christian life.  Some of you remember that in Pilgrim’s Progress, Pliable is not sure that he wants to begin this journey to the Celestial City because he has heard about all the hardships that one encounters on the way.    But Christian tells Pliable,

 There is an endless kingdom to be inhabited, and everlasting life to be given us, that we may inhabit that kingdom forever. There are crowns of glory to be given us, and garments that will make us shine like the sun in the firmament of heaven. There shall be no more crying, nor sorrow: for He that is owner of the place will wipe all tears from our eyes. There we shall be with seraphims and cherubims, creatures that will dazzle your eyes to look on them. There also you shall meet with thousands and ten thousands that have gone before us to that place; none of them but loving and holy; everyone walking in the sight of God, and standing in his presence with acceptance forever. In a word, there we shall see the elders with their golden crowns, there we shall see the holy virgins with their golden harps, there we shall see men that by the world were cut in pieces, burnt in flames, eaten of beasts, drowned in the seas, for the love that they bear to the Lord of the place, all well, and clothed with immortality as a garment.

Yes, there is a prospect of future trouble, but who in his right mind would let that stand in his way of possessing the place that Christian describes.  When Moses was leading the children of Israel, he had many difficulties, but he kept his eye on the prize at the end of the journey:   “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;  Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward” (Heb. 12:24-26).   Even our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to endure all the pain and agony he suffered because of the reward that awaited him:   “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).  In Pilgrim’s Progress, when the world tries to discourage Christian from beginning his journey to the Celestial City, he sticks his fingers in his ears and cries, “Eternal life, eternal life!” Yes, there are dark clouds on the horizon, but what are those troubles compared to the joy which is set before us. As Matthew Henry said,

The discouragements we meet with in these duties are but as winds and clouds, which do us no harm, and which those that put on a little courage and resolution will despise and easily break through. Those that will be deterred and driven off by small and seeming difficulties from great and real duties will never bring anything to pass in religion, for there will always arise some wind, some cloud or other, at least in our imagination to discourage us. Winds and clouds are in God’s hands, are designed to try us, and our Christianity obliges us to endure hardness.

To the Christian, I might also ask, “How many times have we been disobedient to the commands of our Lord because we saw trouble ahead?”   Haven’t we argued with God’s leading and dealing with us because of the prospect of future trouble?  But some disregard all of these worries about future trouble and obey God, because of the promise of Holy Scripture, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.   He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Ps.  126:5-6).   

Our church faces the question of whether we will embrace future opportunities or allow the fear of possible trouble to discourage us from attempting anything.  God is going to present us with many challenges in the days ahead.   As we look at these challenges, one of the temptations will be to stop going forward and say, “Yes, it would be good to do those things, but what if something goes wrong?”   Let us not let the fear of something going wrong in the future prevent us from doing what God has led us to do.   If we let our fears of the future hinder us, there are so many things that we would miss.  I think back on the time when we started this church.  Whenever you think of starting a new work like this, you can imagine all sorts of things that can go wrong.  Churches split all of the time.  People leave for no good reason.  Whenever I thought of starting this congregation I thought I knew every reason a person could  have for leaving a church, but since being here I have become acquainted with new reasons that people have.  Then you have to consider that it’s a possibility that a conservative, liturgical church will never grow.  Doctrinally conservative churches grow.  Liberal liturgical churches grow.  But doctrinally conservative, liturgical churches? Well, that’s another matter.  If we look at a small congregation such as ours, we are faced with the possibility that if we lose just a few families, we can’t make it financially.  If we had let the possibility of trouble stop us, we would have never begun this work.  What would have happened if we had let those fears of future problems stop us from organizing this church?  We would have missed all of the spiritual joys we have had in the past seven years:  the fellowship of godly people; the prayer times we have had together; the joy of children and babies who have become members of Christ; the joy of worshiping in the way that we believe God has ordained.   We would have missed all of those things if we had let the wind and the clouds discourage us. As we go into the future, let us be willing to make the same bold moves, not letting the fear of what could happen hold us back from doing the will of God.

As we look back over the past year, let me ask you, “What could you have done in 2009 that you did not do because the clouds and wind–because the prospect of trouble ahead held you back. What is the Lord leading you to do, but you are afraid because of possibility that danger or turmoil may be awaiting you if you do so?”  If  you allow the fear of possible trouble to control you, you will come to the end of your life full of regret. 2009, 2008, 2007, and all the years before are gone.   You will never have them again, and some of you let them slip away, not doing what God has commanded because you were afraid of future trouble.

The danger that this farmer faced in our text was that he would keep putting off sowing and reaping until the right time for sowing and reaping had passed away.  Some of you are making the same mistake. You are letting the time of sowing and reaping pass because you are afraid of what might happen in the future.   The time will come when it is too late to sow or reap, too late to obey God, and too late to accept the challenge he has given us. What has the Lord commanded you to do, but you are holding back for fear of what might happen? 

 Here is at least one resolution to add to that list of New Year’s resolutions:  “In 2010, by God’s grace and help, I will not allow the possibility of future trouble to keep me from doing what He has commanded me to do.”

Let us repent for the opportunities we missed in 2009, and let us resolve that in 2010 we will not allow the wind to keep us from sowing, or the clouds to keep us from reaping.  Amen.

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Go Tell It on the Mountain

A Sermon Preached by Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.

On December 25, 2009

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, LA 

O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!  Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.   He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. (Isa. 40:9-11)

            I have always wanted to spend Christmas in the mountains.  I may not ever get to do so.  It seems that I will always spend Christmas in the swamps with Papa Noel, watching the bayou version of The Nutcracker.  I know that some of you in this congregation have had the privilege of spending the Christmas season in Colorado, or other mountainous areas, surrounded by snow-covered, majestic peaks.  I have seen films of people skiing down the slopes on Christmas Eve with lamps in their hands, winding a path through the blue, evening snow.    I think many of us would like to spend Christmas in the mountains just so that we could be surrounded by such beauty.

            But in the ancient world, there was another reason to go to the high mountain.  A mountain was a place where you could see for long distances.  A mountain was a place from which you could proclaim a message and know that your voice would be heard by many people.  As we come to the close of our study of Isaiah 40 during this holy season of the year, we have seen that God has promised that he is going to deliver his people from captivity.  God had left his people to their own devices, withdrawn his blessings from them, and allowed them be carried away into captivity.  But now he is about to return to his people and deliver them.    He has told his people to prepare a highway for him to return, a highway of repentance from sin so that he might return to them without being hindered by any obstacles.  Now, the time has finally arrived when he is going to return, so he tells his people,  “ O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!”  Just as it was the responsibility of Zion, Jerusalem, to get up into the high mountain and proclaim the Lord’s coming, it is now the responsibility of the Church, the new Zion, the new Jerusalem, to proclaim that Christ has come.

            We must get up into the high mountain in order to proclaim the birth of Christ, because a mountain is a conspicuous place.  Not only should we be in a conspicuous place, but we must lift up our voices.  In other words, we should do everything we can to make sure that we are heard.  I like what E. J. Young says in his commentary on Isaiah:  “The Church is not to keep this message to herself but is to present it to Judah’s cities with a holy boldness.  She is not to pose as a seeker after truth, unsure of her message, but to declare in clear, firm, and positive voice that her message is true.  She must be vigorously and militantly evangelistic.  Hesitation, timorousness, and trembling are out of place” (38).    We often hear people in our generation say that they don’t mind Christians being religious as long as we keep our religion to ourselves.  But the Church cannot keep this message to herself and still be the church.  The message of Jesus Christ is, by its very nature, evangelistic.  If the Church is not evangelistic, it ceases to be the Church, for the gospel is  “good news.”  What do you do with good news?  Do you keep it to yourself, or joyfully proclaim it?  The Church is compelled to get up on the high mountain because she has the most joyful news that the world has ever heard—the news that Christ has come to save us from our sins and give us eternal life.

            This passage even tells us something of the good news that we must proclaim.  We are to say, “Behold your God!”  That God that the Church must tell the world to look at is Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ is God.  The message of the deity of Christ is the message we boldly proclaim at this Christmas season of the year.  Jesus was not merely a good teacher.  Jesus was not merely a man who allowed himself to be used by God in a way that no other person had.  Jesus was not a tragic figure who was killed because he preached a message of love and liberation.  Jesus Christ is the eternal God, the second personal of the eternal Holy Trinity.    We recite Matthew 1:22-23 so often at this time of year:  “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”   Since we believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, we get up into the high mountain, and we say with a loud, confident, assertive voice, “Behold your God– Jesus Christ.” 

Then there follows a description of this God revealed in Jesus:  “Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.”  In other words, Jesus comes to rule as sovereign Lord and king.  Our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophecy of Micah 5:2:  “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”  It had been prophesied by the prophet Micah that a ruler would be born in Bethlehem, and he would not be just any ruler.  He would be the one who had existed from all eternity past.  When the angel announced to Mary that she would have a son, the angel said, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:  And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 2:32-3).  That baby who was born over 2000 years ago was a born a king.  Then, after his glorious life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, he has been exalted to the heights of heaven.  As St. Paul put it, “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.  Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;  And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11). This is the Christian message to the entire world.  We go up to the high mountain to proclaim:  “Whether you realize it or not, believe it or not, Jesus Christ is God, and it is your duty to bow before him and give him your supreme allegiance as the Sovereign Lord of the Universe.”

            But our Lord Jesus is more than a mighty ruler, for in verse 11 we see a further description of him.  He is a shepherd who tends his flock, feeds them, and carries lambs in his arms.  Though he is the mighty ruler of the universe who rules with a rod of iron, yet, at the same time he is a gentle shepherd who keeps his flock safe and secure.  You remember how our Lord Jesus loved to portray himself as the good shepherd.  He said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).  Though our Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal king of the universe, he chose to come into the world and give his life for the sheep.  He went to the cross to pay the price for our redemption.    Now that he has made us members of his own flock, he promises to take care of us.  Notice how it says that he will gather the lambs with his arm.  That arm that was just described as a strong arm that can rule and reign is also a gentle arm that carries lambs.  The lambs, of course, are the weakest and most defenseless members of the flock, but our Lord promises that he will take care of them.  We are told that he will carry them in his bosom.  I like the way the NIV translates that verse:  “he carries them close to his heart.”  The next time you are in any kind of danger or difficulty, always picture yourself as one of his lambs that he is carrying close to his heart.  He hasn’t forgotten you, and the tender love that he has for you hasn’t changed though you may be going through some of the most difficult moments of your life.  Such a description of our Lord is worth getting up on the high mountain to proclaim:  “Look at your God.  He will always be your shepherd.  He will be like the good shepherd of the 23rd Psalm, leading you beside the still waters, restoring your soul when you are down and discouraged, and blessing you so much that you will say your cup is overflowing.    He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He will carry you close to his heart and protect you all the days of your life.”  Why should we be timid or shy when we have such good news to proclaim?  Let us go up into the high mountain and make this good news known.

            In a very similar passage in Isaiah 52, we read,  “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion.   Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God (Isaiah 52:7-10).  This passage brings out the same truths that we have been studying for the last few weeks in Isaiah 40, doesn’t it?  Isaiah 40 starts out, “Comfort ye, my people.”  In Isaiah 52 we see that the Lord has comforted his people.  In Isaiah 40 we see the strong arm of the Lord, and here in Isaiah 52 we see how the Lord has made bare his holy arm.  He has used his power and might to redeem his people.  Then we are promised that all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God, just as we studied last Sunday in Isaiah 40.    What are we to do with such good news?  Isaiah 52 also speaks of delivering the message from the high mountains:  “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of them bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation.”  Proclaiming this good news is our duty and our privilege.  Even the feet of those who bring the good news of Jesus Christ are beautiful.  For what better purpose could we use our feet than in getting on the high mountain to proclaim to the world the peace, the salvation, and the comfort, that comes through knowing Jesus Christ.    As you know, the apostle Paul used these words in Romans 10, when he said, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.   How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15).  We have a wonderful message:  “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  But no one will call upon the name of the Lord if they haven’t heard about him, and they can’t hear about him unless  someone gets up on the high mountain  and says, “Behold your God!”

            Nobody knows exactly when the old spiritual “Go Tell It on the Mountain” was written, although it seems to have been a song that was sung by African- American slaves.   It looks as though it was being sung by 1865, but it finally found its way into a published piece in 1907.    Though many different groups have used “Go Tell It on the Mountain” for various purposes, we usually hear it at this time of year as a celebration of the Christmas season, because the traditional lyrics center around the nativity:

While shepherds kept their watching
O’er silent flocks by night,
Behold, throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light

The shepherds feared and trembled,
When lo! above the earth,
Rang out the angels chorus
That hailed our Savior’s birth.

Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
That blessed Christmas morn.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

After the shepherds visited the Christ child, we are told,And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child” (Luke 2:17).   May that be the impulse of our hearts, as well.  Let us get up into the high mountain, and lift up our voices and boldly proclaim, “Jesus Christ is born.  Behold your God!”  Amen.

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Advent and Glory–Sermon

Advent and Glory

A Sermon Preached by Rev. S. Randall Toms

On December 20, 2009

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, LA

 

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.   Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.   The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.  (Isaiah 40:1-5) 

The great theme of the Bible is the glory of God. From the beginning of Holy Scripture to the end, we see that God’ s purpose in everything that he has done was to reveal his glory. When we speak of the “glory of God” we mean the outshining of all his attributes. The attributes of God include such things as love, mercy, justice, power, wisdom, and faithfulness. When God reveals these attributes to us, they shine forth with an overwhelming beauty, so that we can say his love is glorious love; his power is glorious power. When we see the glory of his attributes revealed, the natural response is worship and adoration.

There are many ways in which we can see the glory of God. For example, we see the glory of God in creation. The Psalmist said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Ps. 19:1).   Every time we look up into a night sky and see the moon and stars, every time we read an article in a scientific journal about the millions and billions of stars, planets, and galaxies, we see the glory of God’s infinite power and wisdom. Even the study of astronomy itself leads us to join with the elders before the throne of God in Rev. 4:11 and say, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”

We also see God’s glory revealed in the mighty acts he performed. When we read of the great miracles performed in Holy Scripture, we can see that they were designed to reveal the glory of God. Even the miracles that our Lord Jesus performed were done so that we might behold his glory and the glory of the Father. You remember that when Jesus received word that his friend, Lazarus,  was sick, our Lord said, “ This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4). The sickness of Lazarus had a purpose. After Lazarus dies, Jesus is going to reveal the glory of his power, even over death, by raising Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus gives the command to roll away the stone from sepulcher, he still detects a little doubt in Martha, and he says to her, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” When we believe God, when we have faith in his word, when we have that faith that God can move mountains, we have the privilege of seeing the glory of God revealed.

Though God reveals his glory in creation and in mighty miracles, the greatest display of the glory of God was in sending Jesus Christ into this world to save us from our sins. As great as the glory of God revealed in creation might be, as great as the glory of God revealed in his mighty works might have been in doing things like parting the Read Sea, healing the sick, and raising the dead, all of these manifestations of his glory pale in comparison to the glory revealed in God becoming man, the Word being made flesh, the glory  of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

            As we have studied Isaiah 40 during this Advent season, we have seen that this prophecy was ultimately fulfilled when Christ came into the world. Handel chose this passage to begin his great Messiah, because he realized, as all Christians have, that it was in the coming of Christ that the glory of God would be revealed. 

            Since it is with the coming of Christ that we see the most dazzling display of the glory of God, it is not surprising that even his birth was attended with glory.  In Luke 2 we read those well-known words, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:  and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not:  for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:8-10).  The glory of the Lord shining brightly at the announcement of the birth of the son of God was appropriate since the glory of God is being revealed in an incomparable manner in the birth of this child.  Remember how St. John put it, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  As the disciples followed our Lord Jesus Christ, heard his teachings, saw his miracles, experienced his sacrificial love, they were beholding the glory of God.  But that privilege of seeing the glory of God in Jesus Christ was not reserved for the apostles alone.  We also behold that glory in the word of God and through the preaching of the word.  St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 4:6).  Before we came to know Christ, we were in darkness, the darkness of sin and a purposeless, meaningless life. But in the midst of that darkness, God was pleased to reveal Christ to us, and the darkness of sin and the meaninglessness of life was dispelled as we saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  When we heard the good news that God had sent us a savior, that God came in the person of Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins, we realized that there could be no greater display of his glory. 

The very reason he saved us from our sins was to reveal the glory of his grace.  St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:   According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:3-6).  He chose us, predestined us to adoption, died for us, and blessed us with all spiritual blessings so that he might reveal the glory of his grace.  The glory of his grace, the glory of his love for undeserving sinners keeps us bowing before him in worship both now and throughout all eternity.  Isaiah prophesied, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,” and that glory was revealed in the coming of Christ.

            Then, the second part of this prophecy says that “all flesh shall see it together.”  Since the coming of Christ, the gospel of our Lord Jesus has been spreading around the world, and more and more people are seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  In the last chapter of Isaiah, we find a prophecy about how this gospel would be spread around the world, and how God’s glory would be revealed:  

For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory.   And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.  And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD.   And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the LORD.   For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.   And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.  (Isa. 66:18-23). 

This is a prophecy concerning that time when the Gentiles would become a part of the people of God.  There was a time when God revealed himself primarily to the Jews, but the day would come when all people, Jew and Gentile, would come to worship God and behold his glory.  God would make even non-Jews priests to serve before God.  All peoples would become worshipers of the true and living God, because they will see the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  We are worshiping here today because this prophecy has been fulfilled.  Isaiah describes how this prophecy will be fulfilled in worship. 

Whether we realize it or not, the great desire of the human heart is to see the glory of God.  You remember how much Moses wanted to see the glory of the Lord, but the Lord told him that he could not see him and live, so he hid him in the cleft of rock and gave him a glimpse of his glory.  But we have had a greater sight of the glory of God than even Moses had.  We have seen the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ.  Each Sunday we come to this place to behold that glory anew and afresh.  Beholding the glory of the Lord is the greatest privilege and the most wonderful experience of human life.  We see this expressed so often in the Psalms.  For example, in Ps. 63:1-2, we read, “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.”  We come to this sanctuary to see the power and glory of God revealed.  We emphasize the form of worship contained in our liturgy, because we believe it is the  most conducive to seeing the glory of the Lord.   We want our children to worship in this way, because it is our great desire that our children would see the glory of the Lord, be captivated by his beauty, and love him with all their hearts.  As the Psalmist said, “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.   And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Ps. 90:16-7).  We bring our children here, because here we believe that the glory of God is displayed here in a unique and special way.  In the Word and Sacraments, we behold his glory, not in some kind of mystical, emotional trance, but in the simple acts of reading Scripture, the preaching of God’s word, and partaking of his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  If you do not see the glory of God here, then there must be some sin in your life which is preventing you from doing so.  If that is the case, then the first thing you need to do is repent, and the glory of God will be revealed to you.  A few weeks ago, we saw that Isaiah’s imagery of leveling mountains, raising valleys, making crooked places straight, and rough places plain are used to describe repentance. Repent of your sins, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.  You will see the glory of his love, the glory of his forgiveness and mercy, all revealed here in his Word and Sacrament.

            But beholding the glory of the Lord is not only a wonderful experience—it is also an enormous responsibility.  If you behold the glory of the Lord here each Sunday, you should live as those who have beheld that glory.  We have seen the glory of God, just as Israel of old saw it in Egypt and in the wilderness; yet, look what happened to the people of Israel.  In Numbers 14:21-23 we read, “But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.   Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice;  Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.”  Israel, in the wilderness, saw the glory of God, but that sight of the glory of God did not change them.  The writer to the Hebrews uses the experience of the children of Israel as a warning to us.  He writes:   “For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;  How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;  God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Heb. 2:2-4).    Israel saw the glory of God, but we have seen that glory revealed in a greater way, for we have seen it revealed in Christ.  Therefore, to be disobedient to God is a far more heinous sin for us than  it was for them.    To behold the glory of the Lord is not just an ecstatic experience that we have in a worship service.  Beholding the glory of the Lord must be a life-changing experience.  Let us be transformed by beholding the glory of the Lord!  St. Paul wrote in II Cor. 3:18, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

            We must go on beholding the glory of the Lord now, and we have the promise that we will be able to enjoy beholding the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven without the limitations we have now.  In his high priestly prayer for his people, our Lord prayed, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).    He saved us in order that we might behold his glory for all eternity. 

            One of the greatest mysteries of all is that not only will we behold his glory, but he is also going to allow us to share his glory so that his glory will be revealed in us.  The very glory of God will radiate from us throughout all eternity.  As the glory of God shined forth in creation and in the person of Christ, it will shine forth in us.  The apostle Paul put it this way:  “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).  Isaiah said that the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.  One of the ways it is going to be revealed is in the glorious transformation of his people in their final salvation and glorifiecation. 

            In Handel’s Messiah, after the tenor sings “Comfort Ye, Comfort Ye, My People,” and “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted,” Handel allows the chorus to come in and sing, surely one of the most beautiful choruses ever written, “And the Glory of the Lord Shall Be Revealed.”  Reviewing a recent performance of this chorus, one music critic wrote, “The music almost glows.”  Let the words of Isaiah’s  prophecy glow in your hearts  with glory.   Look in the pages of Scripture.  Behold our Lord Jesus Christ in this Holy Sacrament,  and see how this prophecy has been fulfilled in the advent of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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