Christ Comes to All the World

Romans 15:13-21

Apostle to Nations who’ve Never Heard of Jesus
Paul knew that he was called to a special role, as one saturated in the Law, a Roman citizen, a Greek-speaker, confronted by the resurrected Jesus, sent especially to cities/people across a pagan Roman empire. He worked in Syria, Arabia, Asia Minor, Greece, now Rome, Spain. Paul has a strong sense of Advent. God is always breaking in, coming to new peoples new lives. He’s seen it. Participated. That’s the particular calling he received. Rome’s empire was tied to its own throng of gods. The Jews’ story seemed superstition. – A crucified Jew as Lord? Paul was the instrument of Advent in regions beyond what’s known in Acts – Illyricum.

Christ Opens God’s Welcome

Romans 15:7-13

Advent – Story of the Event that Shapes Us
Advent means “Coming.” The coming of Jesus as Messiah. All that that event means. No one knows Jesus’ birthday, but Advent/Christmas is about structuring life around the events of God’s promises of grace and salvation flowing from his love: Powerful, continuing Drama: One man (Abram) –> a Nation (Israel) –> One man (Messiah Jesus) –> the Whole World.... Paul comes to the climactic end of the main body of Romans: A way of life and relationships that flows from the whole story. The heart of Christian life & ethics – not general morality. Welcome – As the Messiah welcomed You – God’s Glory. What God has done for us in Jesus Christ, we learn as the permanent heart of God, we learn to practice toward others.

A New Year’s Message from the Prince of Peace

Matthew 6:24-34

The Challenge of Mammon and Human-size gods
The Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6; Lk 2:14) speaks on a mountain to crowds of poor laborers, farmers, sick people, about the in-breaking of God’s rule. Seek God’s kingdom now! (Mk 1:15; Mt 6:10)
Israel’s ancient prophets attacked idolatry. It was about the people’s desire for human-size gods they can bargain with, get stuff from. It was also about reality. Serve Baal to get fertility and you serve nothing. Self-deception. The one living God is already there freely creating that fertility. But no bargain. God’s purposes are larger than fertility.
Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Mammon is Aramaic for ‘stuff,’ ‘money,’ ‘what you trust.’ Jesus personifies it as the god who offers to supply all that. Matthew and Luke leave it as a god’s name. Mammon is the practical, powerful, human-size god who promises to provide all and secure all who serve him. He is money, power, sex, intellect, control, family, race, violence, war, progress, greed, etc. He’s the default god of humanity. We anxiously serve without realizing. (David Foster Wallace, “This is Water” 2005).

Proclaiming Peace to Far and Near

Ephesians 2:14-22

Advent: He came with Good News of Peace
Isaiah looked with hope for God’s intervention – a child, Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). The angel at Jesus’ birth echoed his words: to you is born a baby in a trough, Savior, Messiah, Lord.
What is a Prince of Peace? One who imposes peace – Augustus? Paul’s Advent meditation points to Jesus coming to proclaim peace (Isa 52:7) to those far and near (Isa 57:19).
But Jesus is not just the messenger or a conquering power commanding peace. Paul says Jesus himself is our peace. He’s writing to people in societies of intense conflict, with deep societal divisions and fears: Jew-Gentile, Roman-Greek-other ethnic groups, slave- free, male-female. Acts 19 show explosive fears, superstitions, and conflicts in Ephesus.
Paul had seen the how Jesus (as message and active presence) had brought together Jews, Romans, Greeks, the enslaved, the fearful into a new unity. It was who Jesus is – his life, message, cross, resurrection, Spirit – that embodied a new Adam, human being, the Suffering Servant of Isa 53, and that showed God’s purpose to unite everything in him.

A Guide in the Way of Peace

Isaiah 52:7-10, Luke 1:68,70, 76-79

What Would a Prince of Peace Look Like?
In the context of Advent, the vision of a Prince of Peace may seem obvious. But in Jesus’ time, Augustus Caesar was the great prince of Peace, conquering all: peace under Rome.
Jews chafed under his appointed rulers over the land. God, not Herod or Pilate should rule. Where was Isaiah’s promise: “Your God is King”? When would “the coming one” come?
Jesus’ whole story is that coming (Advent): Birth, ministry, passion, resurrection, all of it. People thought they knew what they were looking for – their own holy, good Augustus. After all, who is a more absolute king than God? They were ready to join the revolution. Jesus comes calling followers to “the Kingdom of God.” What else could it mean?

Longing for a Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9:1-7

Longing for Peace in a Fear-filled World
We focused our Retreat on the call to be Fearless. This Advent season we are centering on one of its most basic, comforting, challenging ideas: Peace. The two interact together. We start from Isaiah’s celebration of the birth of a child (Handel’s Messiah, Isa 9:6). In the NT this passage echoes in Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ birth, in Matthew’s description of the start of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is this “Prince of Peace.” But what does it mean?
Isaiah began prophesying in a time of powers pressing in on Judah (Israel, Syria, Assyria). Peace was a dream. A son is born in the Davidic royal family, possibly Hezekiah born to Ahaz. That child is a symbol of hope in a time of disaster. The prophet gives him the long prophetic name: Pele-yoets El-gibor Aviad Shar-shalom. Like the famous prophecy of a virgin conceiving (Isa 7:14; Mt 1:23), these words had an impact in their own time.

Living Expectantly: Expecting Tomorrow

Isaiah 40:1-11

Expecting the Unexpected Future
We’re looking into a new year that, as always, is full of unknowns. Politics, war, revolution, science, medicine, culture, economy, creativity, racial tensions, justice, decline, renewal.
A basic challenge of life is dealing with time. Our faith is very present-oriented. We are called to love and serve here and now. “I was hungry and you fed me...” (Mt 25:35) “Do not be anxious about tomorrow...” (Mt 6:34). I want to live this moment as a child of God, a follower of Jesus, and trust God for the future. Leave it in his capable hands.

Living Expectantly: Christ’s Birth & Grown-ups

Isaiah 11:1-9

A Branch from a Stump
We’re reflecting on some important passages in Isaiah’s prophecies that resonate powerfully in the birth and life of Jesus. We began with the sign of the birth of a child: “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (7:14); “to us a child is born, to us a son is given (9:6). God’s unique creative power breaking in to begin new life: Sarah & Isaac...Mary & Jesus. 
But in Isaiah’s day, with faithless king Ahaz, it wasn’t enough. He wanted military help now, not God’s promises with whatever signs. It was the superpower Assyria who could bring in the god of war. Ahaz sold his nation and religion to Assyria for immediate war help.

Learning Expectation: Christ's Birth & Children

Isaiah 9:1-7

Did you grow up as a kid looking forward to Christmas?
Different cultures have different expectations. I did. Not too much religious stuff. But the tree and the gifts? Yes! We like to give and receive gifts. It's easily distorted, commercialized, but a good instinct. (Think about giving: Google "Advent Conspiracy" for a wider vision of giving gifts.)
Part of what we love in the holiday as children is the thrill of expectation. Part of what we love as parents is watching and fostering our children's expectation. Yes, it's a rather artificial ritual, but it can point to a deep truth, rich and complex: learning to live life expectantly -- in hope. Helping a child to live expectantly, creatively, in hope is a great gift. The gifts the Wise Men bring symbolize the hope and expectation that they believe are embodied in that unknown child, without status, but marked by signs for the future.

The Candle of Hope: God's Surprising Sizzle Reel

John 1:1-14

This week, Jeff Walling is our guest speaker for this week.
Jeff is from Pepperdine University in California, where he directs the Youth Leadership Initiative. He is an outstanding preacher who has led congregations on both the east coast and west and is widely called on to speak at conferences and lectures. Jeff delivers the message on HOPE for the first week of Advent. Download the message above, and listen to Jeff as he illuminates the HOPE found in the story of God coming to be with us in Jesus.