“A Single Light – The Light of Love”


This is a little late but here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (Year A), 8 December 2013. This is the second of a series of Advent messages. The first was “A Single Light – The Light of Hope” which I posted for the 1st Sunday of Advent.

The Scripture readings for this Sunday are Isaiah 11: 1 – 10, Romans 5: 4 – 13, and Matthew 3: 1 – 12.

We begin with a reading from the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 2: 4,

But I didn’t write it to cause pain; I wrote it so you would know how much I care—oh, more than care—love you!

In this world of darkness, we light the candle of hope and add a single of light of love.

The Advent Candles (Tune: Away in a Manger)

On the Second Sunday of Advent

A candle is burning, a candle of Peace;

A candle to signal that conflict must cease.

For Jesus is coming to show us the way;

A message of Peace humbly laid in the hay.

A second reading, John 17: 26

I have made your very being known to them — Who you are and what you do — And continue to make it known, So that your love for me might be in them exactly as I am in them.”

Prayer – O God, in a world full of hatred and violence, You sent Your Son to bring Love back into it. Help us this day, as we light the second candle, the candle of Love, to make love more than a word but a truly feeling and expression of hope in this world. This we pray this day in the name of Your Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN

I begin with the news of the world and how we have reacted. This week, Nelson Mandela died. It was and is interesting to see how people in this country reacted to this man’s death.

For the youngest generations in this country, they had no clue what it was that this man died or why a nation would grieve. But this generation was born after the end of apartheid in South Africa and segregation in this country, so they should have no clue as to the horrors of this social policy that stated that all men were not created equal.

For those who knew of apartheid and segregation, the reactions were mixed. I happened to listen to a discussion on the radio on Friday and one of the “talkers” commented how many people were lauding Mandela in his death but who, when he was alive, worked against him and in support of the government of South Africa and their policy of apartheid.

I don’t know how many of this individuals changed their minds because it was politically expedient or because they finally understood what it was that Mandela worked against and what his goals were.

What bothers me more though is not the reversal of thought but that so many people will not admit that they were wrong and that he might have been right in his opposition to that policy. They will not admit that they could have done more to reverse the policies of oppression and inequality, not only in South Africa but here in the United States and elsewhere around the world.

There is one group that quietly and continually sought to remove apartheid in South Africa and segregation here in this country but I sometimes thought that it was more a social thing that an actual movement. If one is working against wrong, then you have to be involved totally and completely.

There is a group in this country today who will tell you that Mandela was a Marxist, a Communist, and/or a terrorist. They will speak about the horrors that the African National Congress inflicted on the people of South Africa and say that represented the true Nelson Mandela. I cannot support violence of any means by any group but I also know that when violence is been the method used by any group to impose its will on others and is used to suppress any group, it is categorically wrong.

But then again, I also cannot support the argument that many people make that the oppression of a people is sometimes needed to strengthen liberty. The argument was made by many of our leaders that we needed to support South Africa because it was working against communism in Africa but I always felt that it was more because we needed and wanted the gold and diamonds that came out of South African mines.

The problem is that segregation in this country and around the world has not been removed from society; it simply exists in other forms. When Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Memphis in the spring of 1968, it was as much about income equality as it was about racial justice. Even today, the people of South Africa will point out that the great divides in the country are economic in nature. And think about where many of the goods bought in the 1st world and the higher levels of the 2nd world are made. They are made in the 3rd world countries by workers earning, at best, subsistence wages in conditions that are unsafe at best.

The passage from Isaiah is one of those that is often used when speaking out against war. But is the peaceable Kingdom that Isaiah has in mind simply one in which we study war no more? Or is it one where every person, no matter who they are in economic, racial, or sexual terms, has a chance?

What will it take to have the lion lay down with the lamb? What will it take to have a world of equality? It is perhaps a cliché but the answer is represented by the 2nd candle of Advent, Love.

Why would God even think about sending His Son to this place some two thousand years ago? He didn’t send Jesus here to destroy the world or warn us that disaster loomed if we didn’t change our ways? We ignored the prophets before so sending another prophet wasn’t going to do the job. And God certainly didn’t need Jesus to destroy the world; that’s the type of job that He would do Himself and one that He had done in the past.

No, as the disciple John will write, God sent His Son to save us because He loved us that much. He loved us enough to send His Only Son, knowing that in the end, people in this world would kill Him.

Our task is perhaps the most difficult task ever envisaged and that is to take the message of Love into a world that doesn’t want to hear it or even think about it. Our task is to take the message that was given to us some two thousand years ago and make it a reality.

It is difficult to do because it is so much easier to hate people and then use violence in as many ways as we can think because we ultimately think that violence is and will be the only answer. But listen/read this words that Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote about Nelson Mandela,

Some people on the Left reject Mandela’s strategy. “How can one be openhearted toward one’s oppressors?” they say. “Fostering compassion toward oppressors will undermine the revolutionary spirit needed to defeat the evil ones.”

 

Yet Mandela showed us the opposite—that one can generate more solidarity and more willingness to take risks in struggle when one can clearly present one’s own movement as morally superior to the actions of the oppressors. Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement claimed this moral superiority through being able to respond to the oppressors’ hatred with great love. When Che Guevara said, “A true revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love,” he was alluding to this same truth. And this is what the Torah teaches when it instructs us to “love the stranger” (the “other”). (Lerner, Tikkun – 6 December 2013)

Every thing that Jesus said and did during His three years in the Galilee were predicated on doing that which no one expected, to show concern and care for all the people, including one’s enemies. Paul points out that what we have to do is hard work. But if you are not willing to do the extra work, how can you expect anything to happen? If you want to change the world, it must be done in ways that build the world, not destroy it.

We look at our Advent wreath with its two burning candles, the candle representing hope and the candle representing love. The world is not as dark as it was before Advent began and we know that there is hope in this world as long as we are willing to walk with Jesus. We can offer the promise of hope because we are willing to love each other as we have been loved by Christ.

Our challenge, once again, is very simple; to take the Gospel message and see that it is carried out and to do so with the same love and compassion that Christ had when He did what He know asks us to do. The world is a little brighter now and the light will continue to grow in brightness and intensity as we get closer and closer to the birth of Christ.

“The Meaning of the Season”


Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Advent. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 11: 1 – 10, Romans 15: 4 – 13, and Matthew 3: 1 – 12.

The genesis of this began last week with a comment made to my last post (“The New World”). It wasn’t so much the comment itself but what the statement that I had written (“If we are to have a world of peace, it will because we have repented of our old ways and began to live a true life in Christ.”) that began my thought process.

So that we can understand what John the Baptizer is calling for in today’s Gospel reading and what Jesus will later say, perhaps we need to understand what the word “repent” really means. I really think that too many people think of repentance as an act of contrition, of saying one is sorry for doing something bad and promising not to do it again.

Our image of repentance is reinforced by street corner preachers we encounter in our lives. You know the ones; the ones that stand on the corner of a busy street with a Bible in their hands and literally scream at the people passing by of their need to repent. Perhaps they see themselves as reincarnations of the Baptizer. But John the Baptist was a country preacher and the people came to hear him; we tend to stay away from these 21st century versions.

I am not saying that we should listen to them; they tend to be too loud and too obnoxious. Their view of the world says that the only course of action is the one that they offer and if we fail to follow that pre-set path then we are condemned to a life in purgatory or elsewhere. Now, let me first point out that there is no guarantee that our lives will not end in purgatory or elsewhere. If we live a life without Christ, in fact, if we live a life without some sort of religious belief, I don’t see how there can be any hope for the future. A life without hope becomes a life of the here and now, of living for the moment and I cannot see how that is any sort of life. Yet, that is the life that many people today express, some willingly, some unwillingly. No matter what your core belief is or might be, a life of the present, of the here and now is a condemned life. Yet, the promise is made that if we take on a life with Christ and in Christ, our life can and will take on a new meaning.

We would like the world that we live in to be the world that Isaiah describes in the Old Testament reading for today but we honestly do not see how we can achieve such a utopian world. But we must also realize that compassion, justice, and peace are not possible if we insist on living our lives as we do today.

Such a world requires major changes in our lives; it requires more than simply saying we are sorry and promising never to do it again. To repent means to turn around and take a new direction in life. It means turning away from the powers of sin and death, from selfishness, darkness, idols, habits, and bondage to demons, both public and private. It means turning away from the violence and evil that we are a part of in this world and from the false worship that controls and corrupts.

Yes, this is very hard to do. It would be nice if it were easy to do but then, at best, we would have what Dietrich Bonhoeffer labeled cheap grace. If we are not willing to make major changes; if we are not willing to radically redirect our lives to new directions, then we cannot expect changes to be accomplished. As Paul wrote, even Jesus waded right into the mix in order to make the changes.

Our cynical society says that we cannot make the changes in the world today. Some will say that it is impossible to make the changes because the system is too corrupt and too evil for anything to happen. But the changes that Jesus spoke of for three years as He, the disciples and the rest wandered through the Galilee did not take place overnight. It began small and it grew slowly but surely.

Movements do not take effect overnight; they take time to grow. There is, in this country and throughout the world, a call for change. I think it is an angry call simply because the people crying out have no plan. But the Gospel message does offer a plan and it is more than simply having everyone say they are sorry and that they won’t do it again. It is a plan to change their life, their attitude, and the view of the world. It is a plan that says we must feed the hungry, heal the sick, build houses for the homeless, find clothes for the naked and needy, and work to bring justice and compassion into this world. It will take more than just a few nights of effort. I am not saying that we shouldn’t get together and put together food baskets for the hungry on Christmas Eve so that they have food for Christmas Day. But what will these people eat on the day after Christmas? (And I as write those words, I am beginning to think about what I will say on the day after Christmas – I will be at the Dover Church (Location of church) and the title of the message is “The False Gift.”)

We schedule four weeks for Advent, not to just fill up time but to prepare. It is not an overnight thing but a long process and it does take time. And then it must continue. So we hear the voice crying in the wilderness of our soul calling for us to repent and begin anew. That is the meaning of this season and it is time to answer the call.

The New World


The Old Testament reading for today (Isaiah 11: 1 – 10) has been used by many to describe a world at peace. It is clearly not an image of the world today nor is it an image many people think is even remotely possible. Too many people feel that war is an inherent part of society and it is best to deal with war rather than try and eliminate war.

I believe that war can be eliminated and that is must be eliminated. But to eliminate war does not mean to just remove the instruments of war (as described in last week’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah 2: 1 – 5 ). To eliminate war you must eliminate the causes of war. When Jesus came and began His ministry, he proclaimed that the sick would be healed, the lame would walk, the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the homeless would find shelter, and the oppressed would be set free.

Sickness, homelessness, and oppression are and have always been the root causes of war. IF we do not remove the causes of war, then we will never eliminate war.

In his 1961 speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, President John Kennedy said, “today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be inhabited.” (John F. Kennedy, Address before the General Assembly of the United Nations, September 25, 1961) At a time when the threat of nuclear war was clear, President Kennedy understood that the initiation of nuclear war by any country, be it the Soviet Union, the United States, or some unnamed country, would lead to the total devastation of the world.

Today, we may not live under that same threat but the threat of the destruction of this world is still a possibility. It may be by nuclear weapons, biochemical weapons, or terrorism. It might be through global warming or through some other unknown destructive threat. But it is clear that we cannot live in a world where each country views its own interests and values as more important than any other country’s interests and values.

If we are to live in a world of peace and free from the threat of destruction, then we must work together as countries and as individuals. That is not to say that we will have one country that occupies the whole world. The nations that inhabit this world and the many cultures represented are too complex to even think that this is a possibility.

Of course, there are those today who say that it can be accomplished under the auspices of one of the great religions. We constantly hear from many fundamentalists how they wish to establish a kingdom of God under the auspices of their religion. I am not one of them.

The establishment of such a kingdom requires that we establish that our religion is the single true religion and that all other religions are false. One of the reasons Paul wrote what he did for this week (Romans 15: 4 – 13) (amazing how he knew that it would be read this week) was because he wanted to point out that Christ’s message transcended the boundary of the religions of the time. Christ’s message was for all, not just a few.

But what happens if a person has a valid belief system and leads a life that is set by that system. Are they condemned? Some might say they are but that would require that our rules be used to determine the outcome of an entirely different system. It would be like we used the rules of European football (i.e. soccer) to determine the outcome of an American football game. It won’t work.

Any individual has the right to believe as they wish, provided that their belief is based on a valid system. There are, of course, many who create their own belief systems, picking and choosing from other systems in order to get the best of all systems. But such an artificial belief system is an incomplete system. You cannot select what you want from one system and something from another system solely so that you can justify what you do. You may disagree with parts of a system but you cannot cast that part aside just because you disagree with it. It would be like saying that you follow Christ but you wish to hold onto all of your wealth and allow no one to share in it. Christ’s commandment was very clear; to follow Him require a total commitment, not a partial one. I am sure that a study of other belief systems would lead to the same conclusion.

There are those, of course, who say they are believers but their actions belie their words. When John the Baptist calls the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to hear him preach “a brood of vipers” (Matthew 3: 7), it was because their words and thoughts were not backed up by their actions.

The Pharisees and Sadducees proclaimed that by their position and name that they had received salvation. But, as John the Baptist pointed out, salvation comes only when you change your ways. Repentance is an act, not a statement. You cannot say that you have repented; you have to change what you do.

The result of repentance is that things change. The world cannot and will not survive if our words are contrary to our actions. We cannot say that we believe in peace when we continue to build the instruments of war or seek to provoke the initiation of war. We cannot say that we are a nation of plenty when people go hungry and countless others have no home in which to live. We cannot say that our healthcare system is the best there is if people have no medical insurance and are told that the emergency room is sufficient for many illnesses.

We cannot expect the world to change when the gap between the wealthy and the poor grows each year. We cannot expect the world to change when people believe that those who have wealth will receive glory in God’s Kingdom and those who are poor are sinful and are to be cast aside. And we cannot expect the other countries of this world to act any differently if we cannot do what we say we believe.

Isaiah concluded his prophecy by saying that the root of Jesse’s tree will stand as a signal to all the people and all the nations. (Isaiah 11: 10) The birth of Christ is not just a day; it is the beginning. We have a world that may not survive because there are too many threats to its survival. We have a chance through the birth of Christ to have a new world, a world in which the Gospel message becomes true and more than words in a passage of a book.

As we progress through Advent, we prepare for the Coming of Christ. We also prepare for what happens after He comes. If we are to have a world of peace, it will because we have repented of our old ways and began to live a true life in Christ.

“What Will Tomorrow Bring?”


This is the message I presented for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (5 December 2004) at Tompkins Corners UMC, Putnam Valley, NY.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 11: 1 – 10, Romans 15: 4 – 13, and Matthew 3: 1 – 12.

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The events, politically and theologically, of the past few weeks lead me to conclude that we are a long way from meeting the prophecy of Isaiah described in today’s Old Testament reading. And despite the fact that many religious leaders see tomorrow as the coming of the New Kingdom of Christ here on earth, I think that we are moving away from that prophecy rather than towards it.

As we look to and prepare for the birth of Christ, we have to ask ourselves what will tomorrow bring? Will it be the healing of divisions between nations and peoples, will it be the welcoming of all who believe into God’s kingdom, will it be a world of peace that often accompanies the description of the lion and lamb lying down together? Or will this nation become more divided, will our churches become even more exclusive, driving away those who need the presence of Christ in their lives?

I have already seen signs that suggest many possible Christians are turning away from the church because the church will not let them it in. Perhaps it is their lifestyle, perhaps it is something they have done in the past, or perhaps it is because of what they believe. What is certain is that many people who need the church and the presence of Christ in their lives are turning away from the church because they see a church that is not open to them.

It seems to me that the religious leaders of today, and that includes those who would seek to lead the United Methodist Church, care more about establishing a kingdom here on earth based more on a rigid structure of laws than they are on seeing that the message of the Gospel is heard throughout the land. So intent are these leaders on this outcome that they have lost focus on the prophecies that foretold the coming of Christ.

Throughout the history of the church, it was the prophets who criticized, interrogated and exhorted God’s people regarding social evil. This is a tradition that began with the prophets of the Old Testament and reached its zenith with Jesus’ life and teaching.

But while today’s leaders, who claim to preach the Word of God and based on biblical teachings, focus on marriage and sexuality, there is very little in the Bible on those two topics. While we hear from prominent Christian leaders that these are the major moral issues of today, Jesus spent very little time, if any, discussing the two topics.

What did Jesus talk about in his ministry? What values does the Bible teach us? There is no doubt that if you were perusing the Bible in search of scripture that talks about the immorality of certain sexual practices or abortion, you’ll find a handful, here and there. But you’ll find far more verses dealing with economic ethics on earth, especially as it relates to the poor. As Sean Gonsalves noted in a recent column, we might want to consider the following:

“If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother (Deuteronomy 15:7).”

“This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles (Psalm 34:6).”

“He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker. But he that honoreth him hath mercy on the poor (Proverbs 14:31).”

The prophet Isaiah had this to say: “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them (Isaiah 41:17).”

“As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great and waxen rich … they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? (Jeremiah 5:27-29).” 

The prophet Amos declares: “Thus saith the Lord; for three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of shoes; that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek … (Amos 2:6,7).”

Turning to the New Testament, Jesus himself said that the nations would be judged according to how they’ve dealt with “the least of these,” and he announced his public ministry with these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… (Luke 4:18).”

And did you know that James, Jesus’ brother, had a few things to say wealth and poverty also?

“Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you … Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which … you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord (James 5:1-4).”  (“On Their Own Terms”, Sean Gonsalves, AlterNet, posted on 1 December 2004)

These verses are just the tip of the biblical iceberg, which is why some theologians speak of God’s “preferential option for the poor.” When Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners was in seminary, he was part of group that wanted to find every reference in the Bible to the poor and the oppressed.

The results were slightly astounding. In the Old Testament, the subject of the poor is the second most prominent theme with idolatry the first. In the New Testament, this group determined that one out of every sixteen verses was about the poor; in the Gospels, it was one out of every ten verses. One member of the group even went so far as to take a Bible and cut out every reference to the poor. When he was done, the Bible fell apart.

If the richest nation in the history of the world is populated by millions of Bible-believing Christians, then how come issues of poverty and economic justice were barely mentioned this past election season? There are an estimated 35 million poor people in America, including nearly 13 million children. The poverty rate has increased steadily over the past three years, most dramatically among children. But it was not a moral value worth discussing in the last election. It is most interesting, and slightly disturbing, that those who claim to be following the Bible and holding on to biblical values lead a movement that follows a gospel of prosperity. When there is so much of a difference between the wealthy and the poor, why is it that the leaders of the conservative movements in Christianity are defenders of the wealthy? (Adapted from Soul of Politics by Jim Wallis)

The Bible stresses the obligation not only to care for the poor but also for others, who cannot support themselves, i.e., widows and orphans. But in today’s society, what happens to those without power.

The Gospel contains many accounts of Jesus’ healing ministry. But what is the quality of health care in the country today? The Gospel also contains many accounts of Jesus reaching out to the social outcasts of His day — lepers, Samaritans, and often times women. But how do we as a society react to the outcasts of today? And were does the Bible stand on killing? How is it that many people can oppose abortion yet support the death penalty? How is it that killing is some situations is wrong but wars are okay? Is it permissible to invoke the name of God to both prevent killing and authorize killing? (adapted from Connections, December 2004, by Barbara Wendland)

It comes down to this. What was the ministry of Jesus? Based on the Gospel message, what issues should have our highest priorities? As Christians, should we not base our moral values on Jesus’ teaching?

One can only wonder what John the Baptist might say today if the leaders of the conservative churches of this country were to come and listen to him preach his message of preparedness and repentance. Would they be able to say, like the Pharisees and Sadducees of old, that their faith was the faith of their forefathers and that was all they needed? Would they be willing to hear John the Baptist call them liars and hypocrites, vipers and worse? I think not; when your actions belie your words, when you turn away those who should be in church because you don’t like their lifestyle, how can you say that you hold to the tradition of the Bible and the message of the Gospel?

Paul writes that Christ did not die for one specific group of individuals but rather for all. It is not up to the church to decide who can come in but rather it is up to the church to be ready to accept anyone that hears the Gospel message and decides to follow Christ. Paul notes that it is up to us, as believers, to welcome all who come to Christ, not shut the door in their face.

As we progress through the season of Advent, as we prepare for the birth of Christ, we are challenged to think about what the presence of Christ in this world means? John the Baptist acknowledged that his purpose was to prepare the way for another, one who would baptize believers with the Holy Spirit.

It is admittedly hard to see Advent in terms of revival, evangelism, and repentance but it should not be. After all, Advent is a time of preparation and repentance is the first step in that preparation. If you are not willing to give up what keeps you from Christ, then you cannot repent. If you cannot repent, then you cannot prepare for the coming of Christ.

Isaiah’s prophecy speaks of a new day, a new beginning. The references are to the branch of Jesse’s tree that is to be planted somewhere. The branch of Jesse’s tree is Christ and it is to be planted in our hearts. We must begin anew if we are to welcome Christ into our lives and into our hearts.

As we prepare for Christmas today and look to a new world tomorrow, we must look within our own lives and, like those who gathered at the River Jordan to hear the Baptizer preach, repent of our past and begin anew. As we continue this celebration of Advent this day, the question remains “What will tomorrow bring in your life?”

“Opportunity Knocking”


This was the message I gave on the 2nd Sunday in Advent (6 December 1998) at Neon United Methodist Church, Neon, KY.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 11: 1 – 10, Romans 15: 4 – 13, and Matthew 3: 1 – 12.

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We have all heard at one time or another the phrase “opportunity knocks only once.” I thought of that phrase this week as I was listening to a financial news program.

During this last week, with all the ups and downs of the stock market, there was an initial public offering for a company whose stock symbol was something like TMCO. This was one of the best IPOs ever offered and those that bought the stock when it came out saw their investment shoot up over perhaps 1000%. What was interesting that a number of people bought stock in a company with the symbol TMOC, thinking it was this new company.

Because of this confusion in sticker symbols, the stock price of this second company also soared. But unlike the stock price of the first company which stayed up, the price of the second company’s stock came down just as quickly as it shoot up in price as people discovered their mistake and sold the stock. Of course, in selling the stock at a higher price than it was bought, these investors made a profit, even though the original purchase was a mistake.

It is one thing to grab at an opportunity that arises quite by chance, such as was the case with this error in stock symbols. I would add that there are investors who seek such opportunities such as what I just described. These investors buy stock belonging to companies whose symbol is similar to the symbol of companies more widely known. By doing this, the investors hope to gain from the confusion between the two companies.

But, if “opportunity only knocks once”, waiting for such opportunities to present themselves is not always the best way to gain. After all, major stock plays do not occur every day and one is not going to make much money waiting for the big play in the stock market.

The challenge we face this year can be a daunting one. As we look around us, we see a world scared of missing that all-important opportunity. We tell everyone to grab that first opportunity that comes by, no matter what it is. It is also a time when getting everything that you can seems to be the only solution.

Last week while I was in New York, there were numerous reports about people fighting to get a single toy. Why this is the toy of the year, one only knows. But it seems that everyone wants one and will do whatever is necessary to get it.

I am sure that you have seen the ad on TV about when a winner in the Kentucky lottery asking Dracula to give her immortal life because in winning the lottery, she won $1,000 a week for the rest of her life.

First of all, immortality is not achieved by turning into a vampire. I think on that point alone the commercial really shows the futilely of counting on the lottery to provide financial success. From a Christian standpoint, there is only one way to achieve immortality and being turned into a vampire is hardly the way to do it.

It is one thing to purchase a single ticket every now and then but it is an entirely different matter to spend large sums of money in hopes of hitting that one combination of numbers. And as many people find out, they are not prepared for what to do after winning all that money. Consider the individual who won the Florida lottery last week. While he won enough money so that he doesn’t have to work anymore, he still has to work because it is a requirement of his parole. An interesting twist on success.

Yet, this ad typifies the way we may see life today. It seems that if we don’t take the first opportunity that seems to come by, then we will lose everything. Our society demands the fix right now and I will agree that many times we really would like it right now. But Paul told the Romans.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

When life is at its darkest, when things seem so hopeless, that is when we need to realize that Christ is our hope. The time when Isaiah wrote his prophecy may have been one of the darkest times in Israel’s history with everyone taken from the Promised Land into exile in Babylon and Assyria. Yet, in the reading from the Old Testament today, Isaiah speaks of the hopes of the future. In verse 11 of this same chapter, he told the people that God would not forget his people.

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and the islands of the sea.

God gave us His son as a gift so that our hopes could be answered. But the gift can only work if we allow the Holy Spirit into our lives.

The world we live in is a far cry from the world envisioned by Isaiah and it is definitely a far cry from how John the Baptist lead his life. It is a simple world in which the Holy Spirit is the center.

This is the second Sunday in Advent. Advent is a time of preparation. The readings from both the Old Testament and the Gospel spoke of preparing for the coming of the new King. But how do we prepare for Christ?

Coming to Jesus requires that we repent of our sins and that we ask for God’s forgiveness. But we must also change our life. As long as we are hung up on all the world offers, it will be very difficult for us to have a simple, Spirit-led life. We do not have to give up all our possessions but we must give up the hold that have on us.

Remember the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus seeking entrance to heaven but left disappointed when Jesus told him he had to give up everything he owned. The rich young ruler was not willing to give up his worldly goods for a better life.

That is why John spoke harshly of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

The Pharisees and Sadducees saw John’s presence only as a way to show the common people that they too felt the need for repentance; yet their actions each day showed that they carried very little about true repentance. While outwardly accepting John’s message, by not changing what they did each day countered such actions.

At this time of year, when the message is overwhelming about getting and getting more, it is hard to hear the message of giving up. It is even harder to take the appropriate actions.

That is why we prepare for Christmas. That is why the people of Israel heard John the Baptist’s message of repentance and preparation before they heard the message of salvation. If we feel that our only hope is in what we have, then we have nothing. John led a simple life, preparing for the riches that were to come.

Isaiah spoke of a world of simplicity and peace, brought about by the inclusion of the Holy Spirit in the life of the community. This week, in one of the mailings that I get from the conference, I read this story.

A nurse on the pediatric ward, before listening to the little one’s chests, would plug the stethoscope into their ears and let them listen to their own hearts. Their eyes would always light up with awe.

But she never got a response equal to four-year-old David’s.

Gently she tucked the stethoscope in his ears and placed the disk over his heart. “Listen,” she said. “What do you suppose that is?”

Little David drew his eyebrows together in a puzzled line and looked up as if lost in the mystery of the strange tap-tap-tapping deep in his chest. Then his face broke out in a wondrous grin. “Is that Jesus knocking?” he asked. (A Clear Vision, Issue #8 – December, 1998)

Is Jesus knocking at your heart today? Rufus M Jones writes

It is a primary truth of Christianity that God reaches us directly. No person is insulated. As ocean floods the inlets, as sunlight environs the plant, so God enfolds and enwreathes the finite spirit. There is this difference, however, inlet and plant are penetrated whether they will or not. Sea and sunshine crowd themselves in a tergo. Not so with God. He can be received only through appreciation and conscious appropriation. He comes only through doors that are purposely opened for him. A person may live as near God as the bubble is to the ocean and yet not find him. He may be “closer than breathing, nearer than hands or feet,” and still be missed. Historical Christianity is dry and formal when it lacks the immediate and inward response to our Great Companion; but our spirits are trained to know him, to appreciate him, by the mediation of historical revelation. A person’s spiritual life is always dwarfed when cut apart from history. Mysticism is empty unless it is enriched by outward and historical revelation. The supreme education of the soul comes through an intimate acquaintance with Jesus Christ of history. (From The Double Search by Rufus M. Jones)

Our hope, as the hymn says, is built on nothing less than Jesus’ righteousness. As Paul wrote our hope comes “ by the power of the Holy Spirit”. God’s gift to us this year is that our hopes can be answered when we allow the Holy Spirit into our lives.

Are you prepared for the coming of the Lord? Is there room in your heart for His Spirit? Opportunities in this world may only knock once, but the opportunities offered when we accept Jesus are countless. Just as the little boy asked, “Is Jesus knocking on your heart this morning?”