2nd Sunday in Advent

December 8, 2013

Summary

Hope and Praise: A Lively Combination

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”
And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”
And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in
him will the Gentiles hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:4-13 ESV)

What do you say to people when they tell you that their lives are fine – good enough in the main – no real problems – and then they ask ‘Why should I believe in Jesus?’. If Jesus is a solution to a problem and people reject the problem, then the solution is irrelevant to them. Medicine is of use when it is taken and one takes it when one knows one is sick; but you wouldn’t dream of taking it if you weren’t ill.

These malady–recovery or problem–solution frameworks of explaining Jesus and Christianity is one of the most common ways of dealing with spiritual matters. People might come to pastors in trauma and tragedy – particularly at death – and seek help. People might ask for advice of their Christian friends or colleagues when things are tough and get information about who Jesus is and how he can help. These words will, no doubt, be true.

Sin and guilt can only be fully dealt with by the blood of Jesus. Death is so final and harrowing that the message of Jesus’ victory over death does bring comfort. These are true messages and they do bring comfort and support in those circumstances.

And because the church is helpful at such times – pastors feel useful and Christian laity are excited by the help they and Christ can bring – I think that there is a tendency in the church and in Christian proclamation to be bad news preachers. So if you want to know how bad society is then just go and listen to the churches – where you will hear about disease, social ills, corruption, injustice, wars – the future is grim. The logic seems to be: tell them the bad news so that the good news is … well, good. Now there is a time and a place for such analysis and a proclamation of God’s help and support but if this is the only style of message that the church uses then no wonder the church gets stumped when people say that life is good and death is something to face in the future.

When Paul was writing his introduction of himself and his theology to the Christians in Rome (he wanted them to help him in his plans to go on to Spain) he wrote about aspects of Christian living. Last week we considered how our relationship with Jesus is lived out in obedience to him, involving struggle and perseverance. In our reading today we hear him say that God’s Word gives us encouragement and endurance to live together as Christians (accepting one another because, without Jesus as our union, many of us would have nothing in common and would dread being stuck in an
elevator or desert island with one another!). Jesus gives us faith and fellowship and also hope. Hope is not wishful thinking but our faith directed towards the future and in Jesus therefore it is a sure hope because the future that Jesus mentions and brings will happen. This hope leads us to live with joy and peace as we trust Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This hope leads Christians to praise God.

Praising God is the response of Christian hope. It is speaking about God to other people (adoration is speaking to God). It is talking about God’s faithfulness and mercy. It is talking about Jesus and his life of service for us, his death for us, his resurrection for us, and his presence with and for us. Such praise can be done corporately – particularly through singing – and it also happens as we speak about God’s goodness.

This praise is a powerful message. God is good. That’s it. He is good. That is what the cross proclaims, the font proclaims, the altar proclaims, the Word proclaims. It is an absolute statement that is true without qualification.

However what we often hear – and it is very much a style of evangelism and witnessing – is ‘God is good for he has helped me’. Undoubtedly the sentiments are genuine and well meant but I think we should be somewhat cautious about them for they may promote God only as the fixer of problems. God is good because he cured me; God is good because he lead me to my spouse; God is good because he gives me healthy children; God is good because he gave me a parking spot. All may be true. Yet God is good – his love never wavers – if I’m not cured; my spouse and I fight like cats and dogs; my children are sick; and I never get a parking spot when I really need one.

God’s goodness in Christ does not necessarily alleviate suffering nor promise magical help at one’s beck and call but gives us a relationship in which we can be totally honest – we are totally loved – and so we have hope – our future is secure – because Jesus is with us now and he will never leave. People may sadly chuck away their faith for a while but God does not spit the dummy, pack his bags and leave. The Holy Spirit continues to point to Jesus and should people return to Christ, they also return to the heart of praise – God is good.

I like the story of Teresa of Avila who was a 16th century nun. She was a reformer, a businesswoman, and a contemplative. There’s a story that one night she was thrown out of her convent during a heavy rainstorm. She got into her donkey cart and was riding away when a wheel slipped into a ditch, turned the cart over and dumped Teresa into the mud. Sitting there in the rain, dressed in her habit of coarse wool, now sopping wet and covered in mud, she looked up to heaven and said, “Lord, why this?”. He answered, “That is the way I treat my friends”. To which Teresa replied, “Then no wonder you have so few of them!”.

This is the person who said, “There is no such thing as bad weather. All weather is good because it is God’s”. On another occasion she stated, “We can die but we cannot be conquered”.

Whether in sorrow or happiness, pain or delight, frustration or comfort, hope in Christ leads to praise and Christian praise challenges those who hear it to consider God and whether he is good.

The answer is most clearly found not in our lives – we live by faith and the fruit of our lives is mixed indeed – but in the life of Christ – both before and after he died. This praise binds people from all circumstances and gives encouragement and endurance. This praise draws others – those who have needs and problems and also those who claim self sufficiency and spiritual autonomy – to the truth of God’s goodness in Christ. In this way the Holy Spirit works to convict the world of sin and to lead the world to righteousness in Christ – to lead from death to life.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Praise God!

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Bible References

  • Romans 15:4 - 13