Here are the thoughts that I presented at Walker Valley UMC on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, 10 December 2000. The scriptures for this Sunday are Malachi 3: 1 – 4, Philippians 1: 3 – 11, and Luke 3: 1 – 6.
Over the years, I have learned that many of the phrases that we routinely say have roots in the Bible, most notably in the Book of Proverbs. Even phrases such as "hither, thither, and yon" are found in the Bible (in a passage from 1 Kings dealing with Ezekiel and his famous "dry bones.")
The lyrics for the rock and roll songs "Along The Watchtower", written by Bob Dylan, "Crossroads" by Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce (aka Cream) and "O, Good Shepherd" by Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane all have roots in Biblical phrases.
When I first read the scriptures for today, I thought about the age-old phrase of opportunity knocking once and how it might be a phrase from the Bible. There are a number of references to opportunity and several more about knocking, most notably, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" which is depicted in the window to my left. But there are no statements about opportunity knocking.
Maybe that is just as well for, if opportunity in the form of Christ only knocked once, then we would not really enjoy the results if we should miss that one opportunity. For if our opportunity to gain God’s grace is limited, then to say that God’s grace is limitless and that would be a contradiction of what is the truth, God’s grace is unlimited.
Since God’s grace is not limited, our opportunities for God’s grace are not limited, though in actuality, we only need one. It is not so much what we do with that one opportunity for ourselves but what we do with the countless opportunities that present themselves to us each day that Advent is about.
Both the prophet Malachi and Job the Baptist spoke of preparing the way for the coming messenger. For as we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth, we also help others to see what this event means to each and every one of us. What we do now should not stop after Christ is born but continue on throughout the year.
This, I think, is what Paul was writing the Philippians about. Paul had helped to found the church in Philippi but he wasn’t always there to help it through its daily struggles. When you read Paul’s letters to the various churches that he had started, you see that he spends a lot of his time working on problems and advising them as to how to solve the problems.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least in the reading for today. Paul uses "fellowship" to mean a joint partnership in a business venture in which all parties actively participate to ensure the success of the business. Obviously, this church was doing more than just meeting on Sunday. As you reread this passage, you can imagine that what Paul is commending them for is the manner in which they lead their lives.
Yes, the members of the church would have gotten together on a regular basis to talk about Christ and what His life meant. Remember that the Bible, as we know, didn’t exist and it was necessary to meet and pass down the oral traditions of what happened those years before in Israel and Jerusalem. It also gave them the opportunity to read and discuss the letters that Paul wrote, not only to the Philippians but the other churches in the area, as those letters were distributed among the various communities.
But I also think that it was how the Philippians lead their lives that Paul was talking about. When Paul wrote this letter, he was in prison for his missionary works. For the Philippians to boldly stand on the corner and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ would have clearly gotten them in trouble with the Roman and local authorities. I am sure that some of the members of those early churches did go to jail for preaching the Gospel but I also think that the majority of the church put the Gospel into action, through their daily lives and what they did.
The city of Philippi was one of the most diverse cities in the Roman empire and the ability of the people of that earlier church to work together clearly had an impact on what happened in that city. By the presence of the Holy Spirit, their lives had changed and the people in the city saw that change.
A note that I got this week concerning lay speaker school makes this point very clear. It points out that "Your life may be the only Bible some people ever read." It is what you do with your life, it is how you lead your life. The opportunities that present themselves are limitless.
Some may find the call to be a lay speaker the opportunity that they are looking for. There are new classes being scheduled that I believe are close by. Information about lay speaking school is available.
As we go to Charge Conference, there are a number of spots on the Administrative Council that are still open. Yes, each one of them takes a few moments of your time, sometimes on a monthly basis, sometimes on a weekly basis and sometimes it is just too much of a hassle. But the rewards of seeing Walker Valley grow should be worth the effort that you are asked to make.
As we go into the New Year, our major goal will be to reestablish contact with those members who haven’t been here in awhile. A few weeks ago, I asked you all to send cards to people whom you haven’t seen in awhile. Now is the time to follow up on those cards. Let these people know that you do care about their presence and that their presence is missed.
Personally, Advent is a chance for us to prepare for the birth of Christ. But Advent is also the opportunity to tell others what the Christmas story is about and to let them know what God’s love is all about. The opportunity to do so comes in many ways and many times. The question is one of taking the opportunity when it presents itself.