Prayer for the Week

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Immanuel, God With Us

Fourth Sunday of Advent | December 22, 2019

Isaiah 7:10-16 • Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 • Romans 1:1-7 • Matthew 1:18-25

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
    which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 New Living Translation (NLT)

Here we are – the Fourth Sunday of Advent – in the Sundays leading up to this, we have been looking at John the Baptist – the one who prepared the way for Jesus. This week’s gospel reading brings us to Matthew and his account of how Jesus was born. It is here that we find Joseph, who is engaged to be married to a woman named Mary. An angel comes to Joseph and again the words are “Do not be afraid!” I mentioned it during my sermon last week that we often think of angels as cute and cuddly, but they were fearsome creatures because they were part of the heavenly armies. The angel comes to Joseph because Mary is pregnant. This greatly disturbed Joseph and he thought about what he should do. He wanted to do what was right, but also what was just.

It is here that we learn that the angel tells Joseph to continue the marriage plans because the child is special. The child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and his name is to be Jesus. The name Jesus means, “God saves.”

Interesting, for 400 years the people had been crying out “Hosanna,” which we think of as a word of praise, but it is a cry – a cry of help meaning “God save us.” Jesus is the answer to the prayers of the people.

Matthew connects this angel visitation with the prophet Isaiah and reminds us that this baby will be Immanuel – or God with us. John writes:

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 

John 1:14, 16-17

On this final Sunday of Advent, we remember that Jesus came to be God with us – to be God incarnate – or God in the flesh. He humbled himself to come to earth to save us from our sins – so that He knows about all of our trials, and testings, and burdens. It is Jesus – the God who saves, who went to the cross to die for our sins. It is Jesus who rose again on the third day. It is this Jesus who will return someday. I encourage you if you do know know this Jesus, to seek Him out and turn your heart toward the God who saves.

Preparing the Way

Third Sunday of Advent | December 15, 2019

Isaiah 35:1-10 • Psalm 146:5-10 • James 5:7-10 • Matthew 11:2-11

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. 10 John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say,

‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    and he will prepare your way before you.’

11 “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is!

Matthew 11:2-11 New Living Translation (NLT)

Our gospels readings during Advent continue to focus on John the Baptist. The reading comes from the gospel of Matthew. John the Baptist wants to know if Jesus is really the Messiah or if they should be looking for someone else. John has been put in prison. Is Jesus really the Messiah? Will Jesus really be the One to bring freedom to the captives?

I love what Jesus tells the disciples of John:

“Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”

Matthew 11:4b-6

Jesus knows there are questions – questions about who John the Baptist is – questions about who He is. A crowd was gathered when John’s disciples asked Jesus that question. He asked them, who they thought they were going to see when they went to the wilderness to hear John preach. John was a prophet – he was one who was proclaiming the Word of the Lord. He was preaching the repentance of sins. John the Baptist was preparing the way for Jesus – he is the messenger before Jesus and he is preparing the way.

The Kingdom of God is in need of workers to advance his work. Those who are advancing the Kingdom are even greater than John the Baptist. That is high praise. We are called to advance the Kingdom of God and prepare the way for Jesus. The is a job for every believer.

The season of Advent is a season of preparation. We are to be preparing ourselves and others for the arrival of Jesus. His arrival will be soon!

Prayer for the Week

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Prayer for the Week

Second Sunday of Advent

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Prepare the Way

Second Sunday of Advent | December 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10 • Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 • Romans 15:4-13 • Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
    Clear the road for him!’”

John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 10 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”

Matthew 3:1-12 New Living Translation (NLT)

Again this week’s gospel reading is not what you would expect if you are not familiar with traditional advent readings. Matthew is telling us about John the Baptist. You may remember that John the Baptist was born before Jesus. He was Jesus’ cousin. John was the forerunner to Jesus and was preparing the way for Jesus’ arrival. These verses come right before Jesus would ask John to baptize him. John’s message is one of judgment. Judgment isn’t something that we think of during Advent. Matthew records John’s words:

Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

Matthew 3:2

Matthew tells us that the prophet Isaiah’s words written in Isaiah 40 were about John. In many ways, John the Baptist was a construction worker. I love watching construction crews build new roads. Today’s roads aren’t nearly as hilly or curvy as in year’s gone by.

If you’ve ever traveled through Virginia on some of the arterial highways such as US 58, US 220, US 29, you will notice that when they made the highways 4 lanes, they simply added a second set of lanes. The new lanes are straighter and less hilly. The picture below is a mild example of what I am talking about.

The season of Advent is a season of preparation. We prepare the way for arrival of Jesus, much like John the Baptist prepared the people for the arrival of Jesus on the scene.

John reminds the people that they must be ready for the coming of the Kingdom that Jesus has promised. In a similar way, we must be ready for the coming of Jesus’ Kingdom. John told people to repent. He used bold words, because they were thinking that they were safe. They thought because Abraham was their ancestor they were safe. There are many who think they are safe because they do the right things…because they were born into the right family. These things don’t make us safe. God wants those who follow Him – ones who obey his will. That is the kind of fruit that God desires. If we don’t produce good fruit, we will be cut-off.

As believers in Christ, we are commanded to produce good fruit. We are to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to take up our cross and follow Jesus. We are called to be obedient – to follow the commandments of Jesus. Let’s go out and do that as we prepare our hearts for the arrival of Jesus.

Prayer for the Week

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

You Must Keep Watch

First Sunday of Advent | December 1, 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5 • Psalm 122 • Romans 13:11-14 • Matthew 24:36-44

36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.

42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

Matthew 24:36-44 New Living Translation (NLT)

Now that Thanksgiving is over, most people are “ready” for Christmas. I know even in our own family, we try not to play Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Occasionally we break our own rules. There is a temptation now that Thanksgiving is over, almost everyone is in Christmas mode. We even have all the Black Friday sales. It seems everyone is Christmas…Christmas…Christmas…all the time…24 hours a day…seven days a week.

Tomorrow we begin the season of Advent. While most everyone thinks that Advent is the same as Christmas, it’s not. Advent is a season of waiting – Advent is a season of expectation – Advent is a season of preparation – Advent is a season of watching.

The gospel reading for tomorrow comes from the book of Matthew and it’s not the story of the angel coming to Joseph – but Jesus teaching the people about the future – about his second advent. The first time that Jesus came, he came as a baby, born to a carpenter. The next time Jesus comes, he will come as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The first time Jesus came, Pilate stood before Jesus, the next time he comes Pilate will stand before Him.

Jesus is coming again and no one knows that day or the hour. Many like to think they can figure out – like the Bible is some kind of secret code book. But that’s not the way it works. Jesus said that the only one who knows the day or the hour is Father God himself.

As I mentioned in my sermons over the last week, I believe that everything that needs to happen before Jesus returns has already happened. The Second Advent or Second Coming is the next big event on God’s calendar. We need to be ready – we need to keep watch. Why? Because Jesus said the day he returns will be like the days of Noah. In the days of Noah the people were going about their ordinary, everyday lives – not knowing the flood would come. It will be like that when Jesus returns and people will be swept away to judgment.

Jesus says because of this, “You must keep watch!” Jesus said he will return when we least expect it. We need to watch – prepare for Jesus return. Many people in First Century Israel missed his first coming. The same will happen when Jesus returns a second time. Many people will miss it because they didn’t prepare for his return. As we enter this season of waiting and preparation, let us watch for his return – even as we get ready to celebrate his birth.


candle-2874569_640Fourth Sunday of Advent

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.