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The 2017 Advent season has begun!

Advent is a time of anticipation. A time of looking forward to something unbelievably good. Looking forward to Jesus’ birth. God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. God condescending to be with us. Emmanuel.

Honestly, all that doesn’t mean so much to people anymore. Advent in our day and age usually means anticipating buying gifts, going to parties and family get togethers. Things that a lot of people Don’t look forward to. For too many people, the Christ birth event is a minor part of the holiday season, if it exists at all.

Jesus in the manger has lost it’s luster for a lot of Christians for another reason. It happens every year. It’s not new. We Want New. New electronics, kitchen gadgets, clothes and toys. Christmas isn’t new. It’s the same old thing, year after year. I’m 54 years old. I was raised in a Christian family. I have 54 years of Luke 2 and Matthew 1-2 under my belt. What could possibly be new in 2017 Advent? What is there to anticipate?

With this in mind, I began to think about how Jews might have been thinking around the time of Jesus’ birth. The Chosen People of God. They hadn’t had a prophet speak the Word of the LORD to them since Malachi, 400 years earlier. They had been under the thumb of foreign rulers for about 600 years. So, People Of God, how’s that working out for you?

Some of them probably decided that it wasn’t working and gave up on God, but many were holding on to the promises proclaimed by the prophets that someday a Messiah would come and bring peace and freedom. Proclamations like:

Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

 Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

 Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Some of us look forward to celebrating the birth of the Messiah every year. The Jews had been anticipating that day for over half a millenia!

When I think of looking forward to something good, I  think about our family vacation that we took in July. We drove from Oaxaca, Mexico to Brush, Colorado. In May we began planning for the trip, and the anticipation began. Anticipation of crossing the border into the U.S.A. Anticipation of seeing my parents and sister and oldest daughter. People I haven’t seen for over two years. Anticipation of Mom’s great cooking, as well as Taco Bell and Mountain Dew –  food and drink that are not available here in Oaxaca. Normally we would fly to Colorado, but this time we were going to drive, so we were looking forward to close family time (four days in the car) that would include museum visits, tourist attractions and motel swimming pools (Sally and Kelly, my youngest daughter’s favorite). Anticipation of camping in the mountains and seeing a Rocky’s baseball game.

The fulfillment of all of those things was great. A wonderful time was had by all. Heart’s longings were met and we were filled with joy. And that was after waiting a mere three months.

After waiting hundreds of years, the Messiah came to the Chosen People of God, and brought true spiritual freedom to all who would accept him and his message.  Some were disappointed that he didn’t overthrow Roman rule and bring national freedom.  But many more people through the ages have received something greater to celebrate, freedom from sin and adoption as Children of God.  The hungry eat the living Bread and the thirsty drink the living Water.

One of the Advent readings for the first Sunday in Advent is Isaiah 64:1-9.   Verse four says, “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

This Advent season I hope we can all find time to “wait for him”. Wait for Him to reveal himself in new and wonderous ways that can fill our journey on earth with happiness.

In waiting for Him, in meditating on Him, we find hope and joy. Strength and peace. Below is a web address for a video meditation on Advent that may encourage you on your journey.

https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/series/liturgical-meditations/

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We all have times in our lives when we are really looking forward to some special event.  Maybe a wedding, the birth of a child, a graduation, promotion, or a vacation.  My youngest daughter, Kelly, will be three in June.  She is really looking forward to her birthday!  Her sister had a birthday in March, complete with cupcakes and pizza and a trip to Boing-Boing, a children’s play land in Oaxaca city, here in Mexico.  Her sister Sally received many gifts and Kelly cried because she received none.  We consoled her by telling her that her birthday was coming up, and then she would be the one receiving the gifts.  Since then, a few of her little friends have had birthdays, complete with all the trimmings and gifts, and Kelly knew that she just had to wait for her special day to arrive.  She is really looking forward to that day.  On any given day she can be heard singing “happy birthday” and eating pretend birthday cake and swinging a stick at imaginary pinatas.
How about you and me?  Is there anything that we are looking forward to that much?  According to St. Peter, there is a day coming that should excite us more than all the birthdays, holidays and vacations combined.  It’s called the “Day of the Lord”.

Peter writes about this Day in the last chapter of his second book.  This “Day of the Lord” is characterized by two things: one, the destruction of the heavens and the earth, and two, a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.  I think this is what Peter was really looking forward to.  In chapter two Peter describes some nasty stuff in this present world to indicate that this place is definitely not the home of righteousness.  He writes about false prophets, false teachers, destructive heresies, denying the Lord, depraved conduct, greed, exploitation, lawlessness, unrighteousness, corrupt desires of the flesh, arrogance, blasphemy, doing harm, carousing, adulterers, seducers, sinners, lovers of the wages of wickedness, lustful desires of the flesh, slaves of depravity, and people who turn their backs on God.  What a wretched stew pot this world is.  No wonder Peter says three times that he is looking forward to the destruction of this world, and the creation of a new world which will be the home of righteousness.

Me too!  I not only long to be free of the wickedness of this world, but the wickedness in me.  I know that if I look closely at my life, I can see elements in me, in my soul, of every thing Peter mentions, in my very being, and I hate it; I hate the struggle I face everyday against the world, my flesh, and the devil.  I hate it when I see on the news, or read in the paper’s of people being murdered, children being abused, the poor being taken advantage of.  I hate it when I see children with birth defects, when I hear of people dying of cancer, when I learn of loved ones suffering.

So what is God waiting for?  The world  of Noah was wicked, and God destroyed it by water.  Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked cities and God destroyed them by fire and brimstone.   The first century world and our world are full of evil, why doesn’t God go ahead and do it in?  Get it over with?

Peter answers that question in chapter three.  He tells his  readers that “the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  This verse, and the idea behind it, remind me of Paul and the  Corinthians.  Acts 18 tells us the story.  Paul went to Corinth and was preaching and teaching his heart out, giving his all to the people in the city, and what happens?  Verse six says that some Jews opposed Paul and became abusive.  I can just hear Paul screaming out in frustration, “That’s the thanks I get?!  I’m outta here!”    That night God speaks to him in a vision.  The Lord said, “Keep on speaking, do not be silent.  I  am with you and I have many people in this city.”  God is telling Paul to be patient, continue on with his good work, because God had “many people” that He had chosen  for  salvation in the city of Corinth.  Most of them had not heard the Good News of salvation, of God’s love and mercy.  They didn’t know that  God loved them and wanted them to be happy.

God says the same thing to His followers in this wicked world.  This is  not your home, you are just a passin’ thru.  You are strangers and aliens in a foreign land.  I know you long to go home and be with me forever in the perfect land of righteousness, but just wait a bit.  There are a lot of people that  I have chosen (Peter’s first letter is  addressed to the elect, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father; 1:1,2), that are the elect, that have not yet heard the message that the  Kingdom of God is near; that it is accessible to them, and that they have received a royal invitation from the King of Kings to be a part of  it.  It is your job to get the  message out, give the invitations, spread joy and grace and compassion to all around.  And then one day, the  work will be complete, and all my followers will come home.  What a day of rejoicing that will be!

One day this world as we know it will be utterly destroyed by fire, according to Peter.  A new world, the home of God and righteousness and all that is good and lovely, whole and just, peaceful and complete, will replace this bad old place, and I am really looking forward to going home.  How about you?

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Our present purpose is inseparable from God’s stated eternal purpose for us to rule the  earth forever as his children and heirs.  That is at the core of  the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s defining statement:”Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”  We will glorify God and  find joy in him as we do what he has made us to do,” serve him as resurrected beings and carry out his plan for developing a Christ centered, resurrected culture in a resurrected universe.”       Randy Alcorn in his book Heaven

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Next blog – The Ruler and the Shepherd