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Stephen R. Clark
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Oreland, Pennsylvania
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Delivered November 29, 2020 | Huntingdon Valley, PA | Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church
You can listen to the sermon here: https://www.hvpc.org/sermons/sermon/2020-11-29/our-magnificent-hope

Advent Week One Sermon:
Our Magnificent Hope




It’s only about 27 days until Christmas. Can you believe it?

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, something we will be observing for the next three Sundays as well.

So what is this Advent thing? The word adventure starts with advent, so maybe there’s a clue. Not a bad clue, either. I’ll come back to this.

Advent is derived from the Latin word for “coming.” As in, “Daddy left for work this morning, but he’s coming home later.” Or, “I can’t wait for next week because our daughter is coming home from college.”

It’s the idea of “arrival” containing a dash of “eager anticipation.” Advent heralds the coming or arrival of something -- or someone -- significant. Specifically within the context of Christianity, it points to both the birth of Christ, and especially his Second Coming.

As an event on the liturgical calendar, just like Christmas, it’s entirely manmade. There is nothing in scripture that declares Christmas as a holiday for Christians to observe. And Advent didn’t exist until someone, possibly around the 5th century, thought it up.

I didn’t grow up celebrating Advent, but I heard things. Like, it was a vain tradition of those spiritually dead liturgical churches. At least that was the fake news version, and an opinion I don’t necessarily adhere to.

And I have to admit there was something intriguing about Advent calendars that dispensed candy. I kind of wanted in on that.

But, in our family and small church, November was all about Thanksgiving and December was all about Christmas. In church, we began singing Christmas hymns and carols the first Sunday after Thanksgiving and every Sunday through December, and even into the New Year.

Just as general Christmas traditions vary among churches and families, not everyone celebrates Advent the same way either. There is no consensus as to the order of themes and even to the colors of the candles. While we celebrate hope, peace, joy, love, and light a purple candle. Others celebrate peace, love, joy, hope. And the first candle they light is green.

Yes, I heard that gasp!

Church liturgical traditions can be useful as long as we are not slaves to a specific “correct” formula for observing them. That would smack of legalism which can lead to all sorts of mayhem.

For example, some believe no Christmas songs should be sung until December 25th, because, they say, Advent anticipates the birth of Christ so we shouldn’t be singing about his birth until it’s happened. To that idea I say, as you can probably guess, “Bah! Humbug!”

First, Jesus actually has already been born. And second, we’ve only got four or so Sundays to squeeze in the dozens of wonderful Christmas songs and hymns, so let’s have at it!

I say, banish the non-Christmas songs until at least January 6th, Epiphany, when Christmas is officially done, and that’s the day you’re supposed to take down your Christmas tree. But, this is just my opinion. And I digress.

While Advent is a period of anticipating the coming of Christ, the focus actually isn’t solely on his birth. Rather, it’s a time to anticipate both his first arrival and his second coming, or, rather, the time in-between. The now and not-yet. The time in which we live and move and have our being pre-Heaven. As I said earlier, adventure is a good clue as to what Advent is really all about. This faith journey we are on now truly is an adventure as we eagerly anticipate the return of our King.

So what are we to make of Advent? Perhaps we need to look at it as a time to focus our thoughts and hearts beyond just Emmanuel -- God with us, but adding in a maranatha outlook -- come Lord Jesus!



In the first chapter of Luke, we read two significant stories of anticipation, of Advent.

The first story involves a priest and his wife, Zechariah and Elizabeth. In a nutshell, the story goes like this. Zechariah is doing his priest thing in the temple when the angel Gabriel appears and startles Zechariah, a reasonable reaction to an angel showing up.

Gabriel tells Zechariah that he and Elizabeth are going to have a baby. The kicker here is that they are very old. We don’t know exactly how old, but obviously beyond the normal childbearing years.

They had no children, and at that time, this was viewed as not a good thing. To be barren raised questions about a couple. It was hard. So, being told by an angel that you were finally going to have a child, and a boy no less, was cause for celebration!

But it gets better. The child would be a precursor and cousin to Jesus. He would be John the Baptist, the voice in the wilderness, pointing to the Messiah.

So how does Zechariah respond? Instead of startled, he is now skeptical, and asks Gabriel, “How can this be? I’m old! My wife’s old! She is barren. Are you serious?”

Okay, that’s my paraphrase but it gets to the mood of the moment. Some commentators say he’s actually asking for a sign to be convinced!

Think about this. Zechariah is a priest, he is well-versed in the history of Israel and knows all about the mighty deeds God has done, and he’s completely aware that he is in the presence of one of the Lord’s angels. And yet, he’s skeptical.

As a result, he loses his voice, and possibly even his hearing, during the pregnancy.

Now we move to the second Advent story, one you’re probably more familiar with since it’s about the virgin Mary, the soon-to-be mother of Jesus. She was engaged to Joseph who was a descendant of David. Typically in those days, engagements lasted about a year before the wedding. During this time, the bride-to-be was considered all but married, but chaste.

Gabriel shows up again with a similar message as before. God has chosen the young virgin Mary to give birth to his son. Mary’s response is a little different than Zechariah’s. Mary asks Gabriel, “How’s this supposed to happen? I’m not married yet and so Joseph and I haven’t, you know, gotten together, so to speak.”

Gabe says, “No sweat. This is going to be handled by the Holy Spirit.”

He also fills her in on what’s happened to Elizabeth. And concludes, “Nothing is impossible for God.”

To this, Mary responds in all humility, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.”



I want to point out a couple of things here.

First, a very old and barren couple are having a child, and now a very young virgin is going to have a child. Quite the contrast. It really underscores that all of creation is fully within the grasp of the Lord and that in him, “all things hold together.” We are the creation of God, and he’s got this! ALL of this!

Second, like Zechariah, Mary is fully familiar with the history of Israel. She knows who God is and what he can do. But unlike Zechariah, she truly, fully, unhesitatingly believes in the power and authority of God. The difference between the two questions they ask is that Zechariah’s was a tad dubious, while Mary is simply curious.



Now Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. Some say Elizabeth is Mary’s aunt, others say they are cousins, but ether way they are relatives. When Mary enters the room, in utero baby John gives Elizabeth a kick, she is filled with the Holy spirit and proclaims -- in a loud voice, by the way; kind of like when Oprah’s giving stuff away -- “Mary! You are blessed! Your baby is blessed! I am blessed! We’re all blessed! I’m so happy!”

Again, I’m paraphrasing.



What Mary does next is what I really want us to focus on today.

She lets loose with what’s referred to as The Magnificat. It’s a magnificent canticle, a prayer, a poem, a song of praise to God.

Listen to it as I read from the Common English Bible. This is also included in your bulletin:

Mary said, "With all my heart I glorify the Lord!

In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.

He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name.

He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.

He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.

He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

 

In fewer than 150 words, Mary declares the glory of God, the favor of God, the mercy of God, the strength of God, the justice of God, the provision of God, and the faithfulness of God.

The prayer reveals that this teenager -- some say she was around 15 or so -- is saturated in God’s word -- a trait we should all emulate. John Piper writes, “Mary is so steeped in Scripture that when she breaks out in praise, the words that come naturally to her lips are the words of Scripture. Being a young woman, she probably loved the stories of the Old Testament women of faith like Sarah, Deborah, Hannah, Ruth, and Abigail.”

Nearly every commentary will link Mary’s magnificat to the prayer of Hannah in Second Samuel, who, like Elizabeth, desired to have a child.

There are also hints of Isaiah and there’s a prophetic element as well. You can hear a pre-echo of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. It’s an outline of sorts for the ministry of Jesus as he breaks his Kingdom into the world.

Given that we are called to model our lives and ministries after Christ, this prayer of Mary can serve as a model for us, how we view God, how we view ourselves in Christ, how we should view the world, and how we should serve the world.

Let’s break it down.

As did Mary, we must extol the glory of God, pledging our allegiance only to him as he is the only true authority worth serving. He is our creator. He is our sustainer. He is above all other gods, all other rulers, all other powers. Period.

We can rejoice in the favor God has shown us. As blood-bought believers, we are the recipients of immense mercy and grace. And we must pass this grace and mercy on to others.

We can rest in the strength of God, knowing that he is able “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” And we can teach others to trust in his strength.

We can count on the justice of God knowing that “He won’t break a bruised reed; he won’t extinguish a faint wick, but he will surely bring justice.” And we must encourage others by actively seeking justice on their behalf.

We can rely on the provision of God, knowing he will provide our daily bread for our physical needs, as well as satisfy our soul’s thirst. And we must pass on this provision to others, by meeting physical needs and ministering to hurting and lost souls.

And finally, we can have hope in the faithfulness of God, who fulfills his promises, knowing that his word is true and that he “who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.” And we must shine the light of the gospel into the world and, as did Mary, proclaim the message of the hope we have in the faithfulness of God.

Throughout this first week of Advent, as we look with anticipation for the coming of our Lord, I encourage and challenge you to open your Bibles daily to Mary’s song in Luke 1, and make it your prayer, your personal magnificat to the Lord, and let the words sink into your heart and mind, transforming you more and more into his likeness.

Meditate on the themes of God’s glory, God’s favor, God’s mercy, God’s strength, God’s justice, God’s provision, God’s faithfulness.

These are the elements that fuel our faith in Christ. And it is only in and through Christ that we have hope. A magnificent hope.

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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