It is so good to be with you today on this first Sunday of Advent. We were blessed to receive a monetary gift from you all last February for our 10th anniversary that enabled us to take a wonderful family cruise to Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico. We ate until we about popped, we shopped a little, we sunned a lot, swam a lot, snorkeled together, kayaked, boogie boarded, explored a lot, played family games, saw several wonderful shows, held birds, rode a banana boat, saw a giant sea turtle, counted jelly fish, and became acquainted with all of the friends we had in Mexico that we never even knew we had! Everywhere we went, we heard, “Hello Amigos, let me show you something. 50% off today. Just for you!” We had more friends in Mexico than I know I have on Facebook!
We paid for our kids to have internet access aboard the ship, but for the most part, Thom and I were off the grid. It was good to be away from the internet, from the cyber noise that so easily crowds and consumes our lives. From that standpoint, the silence, the absence of technology was very refreshing. Silence was renewing. The silence got me ready for more work and for the Advent season as I got to reflect on the things of the soul, the things of the heart…the things of God. On this, the first Sunday of Advent, I want us to talk a bit about silence and how the silence prepares us to hear the voice of God even more clearly. For during Advent, God punctuates the silence with many life-changing messages. May God give us ears to hear His voice.
Scripture of the Month- I Thessalonians 5:18-Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Malachi 4:5-6 5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of theLordcomes.6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” And these two verses, are the last two verse of the Old Testament.
Silence. How do we interpret it? What do we make of it? What if the silence lasts for a long time? Does God speak even in the silence? Is God silent in the silence? Did you know there was 400 years of silence between the ending of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament? Between Malachi and Matthew, God was silent. Or was He? As I spent some time studying this lengthy period of quiet time where the voice of God was not heard among His people, I thought about the activity of God while His voice was silent. I came to this conclusion:
- God’s silence doesn’t indicate God’s absence. His silence is preparation for a greater miracle.
So, during the 400 years of silence, powers were rising and powers were falling. Israel changed hands many times when it comes to the rise and fall of political leaders. The Medo-Persians ruled. The Greeks conquered Jerusalem. Israel fell into the hands of the Egyptians. Syria then took charge. And finally Rome took control. Each empire had a different impact on Israel as languages, customs, and manners were imposed on the Jewish culture. The Greek Language spread like wildfire during this time, creating sort of a common language in the known world which would make it easy for the Gospel to spread when Jesus came. Under the Roman occupation, roads were developed which united much of the known world which would make it easier for the apostles to travel from place to place to preach the Good News that Jesus had come. During these 400 years the temple was desecrated more than once. There were political and religious uprisings. There were also periods of intense persecution, the kind that would be too graphic for me to share in this setting. Sabbaths were no longer celebrated. Feasts no longer held the significance they once did in Jewish life. Prophecy after prophecy was being fulfilled right before Israel’s eyes. The world had conquered Israel, but Jesus was about to conquer the world!
Think about the instability that would have resulted from tumultuous changes that took place every time a new empire conquered Jerusalem. God’s people felt the pressure. During these 400 years the different Jewish factions and political parties were developed. During this time the Pharisees and Sadducees developed. The High Priests were no longer godly men who had descended from the line of Aaron, from the Aaronic priesthood. They were basically priests for hire in a political game. The Sanhedrin were formed during the Greek period. As Malachi closed, there were no factions, no religious parties and no political priests. All of those were developed during the 400 years of silence.
The Jews were feeling empty and hopeless. They were sick of the polytheism around them. Even Eastern Empires like the one from which the Wise Men came in search of the Messiah, even they were looking for new wisdom.
And we read in Galatians 4:4-5 what followed the silent period proved God had been anything but silent. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Galatians 4:4-5
Listen, when God seems to have gone off of the grid, know that something deeper is happening. It is something you don’t need ears for. It will be a heart thing, a God-thing, an obvious thing, when He bursts onto the scene of your circumstances. Be watching for it, and be expecting God to do something wonderful in your life this Advent season.
Two main messages emerge for me as the New Testament opens. They are, “repent” and “fear not.” Let’s look first at the word “repent.”
- Advent invites us to repent.
When I was growing up, repentance was defined basically as turning away from sin. While repentance is that, it also involves turning toward Jesus. In that respect, Advent is an invitation to turn and look at Jesus.
Repentance has nothing to do with who is in power around the world. It isn’t about man-made religious laws. It isn’t about drama and political upheaval. It is about looking at Jesus, completely, solely, without distraction, without competition. When God broke the 400 years of silence, He did so with an announcement about the Kingdom of God and a directive for us to look at Jesus. Look atMatthew 3:1-3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness,‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
In John 1:29, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, exclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! You want salvation? Look at Jesus. You want answers for life? Look at Jesus. You want stability in the midst of the chaos of this world? Look at Jesus. If you accept that repentance involves looking at Jesus or looking to Jesus or following Jesus, I challenge you to examine yourself this Advent season. To what have you been looking for salvation, satisfaction, provision, peace, and joy? Maybe repentance for you will involve admitting you have been clinging to your social status for significance. More followers on Instagram supposedly has been the way to feel important or popular or loved. Maybe repentance for you will involve admitting you have been clinging to an earthly relationship or the thought of a perfect relationship in order to feel safe or at peace. Maybe repentance for you will involve confessing that you have looked to your bank account, your ability to make money, or the acquisition of things in order to anchor your life to some sense of contentment or happiness. Maybe repentance will involve looking away from the party life, from addictive substances and behaviors that we have clung to for security or sanity. If you are holding on to anything but Jesus for salvation, security, self-worth, sanity, or satisfaction, God is repeating the Advent message He sent through John the Baptist, “Repent, and just look at Jesus.”
It isn’t about keeping up with the Kardashians! It is about seeing Jesus and following Him. The greatest Christmas present we could all receive is a closer walk with Jesus. In order to see Him more clearly, we have to see ourselves and confess that we desire to let go of the things we are clinging to that are keeping us from faithfully, fully, following Jesus.
When God broke the silence after 400 years, He shouted that we were to repent. We were to turn away from sin and self and look at and follow after Jesus. He is still issuing the same message to us today.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us to FIX OUR GAZE on Jesus. We are to rely solely on Him. Remember what happened, as Peter was walking on the water, and he began to look at his circumstances, as he began to look at the wind and the waves and turned his gaze away from Jesus? He started to sink. The stresses of life won’t pause just because it is Christmastime. In fact, they will likely only increase. Look at Jesus.
And here is what I have found: When we look intently at Jesus, we will then be focused away from the things of this world. It only stands to reason. When we look at Jesus, we are looking away from sinful things, from selfish things, from the things that seduce us, steal from us, and sabotage us from faithfully, fully, following Jesus.
We have bought more than the commercialism of Christmas. We have bought into the noise and chaos around us every day. We don’t realize how much the things of this world cause us heartache and sorrow. As we are tied to them, our well-being gets tied to them. If we anchor our hearts and our gaze to Jesus, Christmas won’t be about getting anything but more and more of Him.
The second major message that God proclaimed as He broke the 400 years of silence was a message He gave to Mary, to Joseph, and to the Shepherds, through the voices of angels. It is simply, “Fear not.”
- Advent encourages us to fear not.
“Fear not. Come closer to Me,” God says, “and let me birth a miracle in you.” How many miracles do you think we miss out on because of fear? We are afraid for many reasons. Allow me to list a few:
Fear of Rejection
Joseph could surely have had this fear. He was an upstanding guy, engaged to an upstanding girl. Was this Mary’s way of telling him they were through? That he wasn’t her one and only? If it was a miraculous conception, what would people think about the fact that Mary was pregnant before they had gotten married? What would his family think? How would this change his social standing? How would it impact his reputation?
What if Joseph had bowed out? What if he had gone through with the plans in his mind to break off the engagement with Mary which was like getting a divorce in that culture? What would he have missed out on? Don’t’ let the fear of rejection keep you from anything God has for you!
Fear of Inadequacy
Mary was just a young virgin girl from the small town of Nazareth. How could she become the Mother of the Messiah? How could she know how to take on such a daunting task? Would she know what to do? She wasn’t prepared for such a task. Could she really do this?
We know what that feeling is like, right? We often would rather sit out than try and fail. This past week, Josh (and Thom, but mostly Josh) encouraged and challenged and pressed and bugged me to try something that no other woman my shape and my age was trying . . . It was a wave-riding, boogie boarding experience on our cruise ship called the “Flow Rider.” That sounds easy, right? That sounds fun, right?
This was the kind of thing people showed up to watch. There were actual grandstands on each side of the “Flow Rider” so that people could enjoy laughing at the people who wiped out. I knew I would be wiping out. I knew I wasn’t up to the task. “Try it,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said. “You’ll love it,” they said. You only live once, right? I didn’t want to miss out on the experience because of feelings of inadequacy.
This side of my wave-conquering on the “Flow Rider,” I can’t say it was so much fun that I would put it on my list of things to do again, but I did do it, and I was probably one of the entertaining highlights for the rest of the cruise-goers who kindly applauded the middle-age, fluffy lady, as I stood up after being thrown up by horrendous volumes of water and crashed against the back wall of the flow rider after I had fallen off of the board which wasn’t’ long after I had gotten on the board.
Don’t sit back this Advent. Don’t sit out this Advent. Don’t let feelings of inadequacy keep you from experiencing God’s miracles this Christmas.
Fear of Losing Control
King Herod was large and in charge. The birth of Jesus threatened his power. He didn’t want the Wise Men to tell him where Jesus was when they found him so that he could actually go and worship Him. He wanted Him found so that He could kill Him. Herod’s fear of losing control kept him from accepting the only thing that could ever save him. Until we surrender our lives to Jesus and let Him lead, we can’t know what real life is supposed to be like.
We often don’t want to deal with something that could create change in our lives. Maybe things aren’t exactly the way we want them or the way they could be, but at least we have a sense of “normal,” a sense of control, right? We don’t often want to deal with the kind of life that threatens our ability to be in charge. We think by holding onto the status quo or by maintaining our own plans we can “create the best possible life.” Not so. Only when we lose our lives to Christ, do we gain real life. I have always loved the quote by missionary Jim Elliot who said, “He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”-Jim Elliot
When we give God total control we gain everything!
Fear of the Unknown
The shepherds were just doing their job, watching their sheep that starry night when the angelic choir burst onto the scene to tell them the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. I don’t think the shepherds had it all figured out after the angelic announcement. I don’t think they knew exactly what they would find in Bethlehem or how it would change their lives. They even said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.” That statement doesn’t sound very compelling, right? Let’s see this thing? They weren’t super sure what they were walking off the job for, what they were traveling to another town for, but they didn’t let fear of the unknown keep them from making the trip.
What message can you hear God speak this morning? What can you do to “Be still and know that He is God” this Christmas? How can you reduce the noise in your life to enable you to hear God more clearly this Advent and Christmas? Do you hear what I hear? It’s God, breaking through the chaos of our lives to call us to repent and to fear not.