given on November 30, 2008, the first Sunday of Advent
Today is still November, but we are now in the Advent Season. Typically this is a time when all the activities are hustle and bustle with shopping to do, packages to wrap, decorations to get up, and parties to plan and to attend. The next four weeks turn into such a madhouse that by the time we actually make it to Christmas Day, we have completely lost touch with the significance much less have any energy left to honestly reflect on what Christmas means.
I plan to spend the next four Sundays stopping and thinking about the purpose of Advent and Christmas. I cannot always stop, either, to honestly reflect on the purpose of the season, so maybe this way we can. Today the question is why a Messiah. Why in the world did God have to even send Jesus? Why did the world need a savior? Why did God have to arrive on earth to meet face-to-face with us?
The answer lies in our history–not our personal history but the history of all human beings. When the story began in Genesis, we simply have those first verses:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty…(and he began the creation of the earth as we know it)…Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule … over all the earth and over the creatures …
Everything was good, perfect. Life on earth was in perfect harmony and the loving God was in a loving relationship with his creation.
As we discussed earlier this fall, the loving relationship was broken when Eve and Adam used the free will they were given to break that loving relationship. They did not follow God’s rule and that began a very different relationship between God and his creation, human beings. The history we have continues, though, because God did not choose to destroy his creation. Instead, humans continued to live and multiply. History of humankind also continued. The Old Testament preserves the history and the stories show us today how we humans kept breaking the loving relationship with God and how God kept telling us that we simply needed to believe in his love, to accept the grace he grants us from the moment we are born.
Now doesn’t it make you wonder why God did not just give up and wipe us all out? Look at history though, and you find the story of Noah. God did try. Still Noah was faithful and God heard him. In Genesis 6, the story if preserved:
…Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. Make yourself an ark…
And the history continues because Noah listened to God and made that ark. But even after the world was cleansed and renewed, the loving relationship between God and humans was tested, strained, and broken.
The Old Testament is filled with stories of how the Jewish people tried to follow God’s direction but would eventually fail to follow God’s laws and break that loving relationship once again. This break leads us to why a Messiah was needed. The prophets all tried to warn the people. Unfortunately the people did not choose to heed those prophets. The prophecy most commonly referred to during Advent season is in Isaiah 11:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
What promises there are in those words! I think if I had heard those words in a sermon and truly was a faithful follower, I would have been ready to meet this guy right away. But those words from Isaiah were spoken sometime between 740 and 700 BC, and according to the timelines of Biblical scholars, Jesus was not born until around 6 BC. The length of time that passed before Jesus was born certainly shows God’s patience.
As a parent, I cannot help but place myself into the position of God as a father. Through that frame of reference, I can understand why God tried and tried to outlast human’s unruly, unfaithful behavior. Parents love unconditionally and would do almost anything to save their children. God loves us unconditionally and I cannot imagine that he would do anything to harm us, his children. I can only surmise that when God tried to get the people to follow his rules, he gave them one opportunity after another until he had no choice but to clean up the mess and start all over again.
When God realized that even destroying the people in the flood did not work because people kept on making decisions that separated them from God, he must have felt utterly forlorn. I feel confident that God tried and tried to reach them. He talked to them through the prophets and the faithful followers. Sending a Messiah was one more way to reach out to his children. A Messiah was needed to teach that unconditional love, that grace God had for his children. A Messiah could reach out and touch the people and demonstrate the unconditional love that God had for absolutely all his children.
The prophets warned that a Savior was going to come. The Israelites did not understand. They were so sure that they understood and followed the law that they did not get the message of loving one another. Looking at the beginning of the four gospels sheds even further light into the coming of Christ. Each gospel has a different audience, a similar but different purpose. Each gospel attempted to answer why a Messiah was needed and how Jesus Christ was in deed the fulfillment of that prophecy.
Included with today’s bulletin is a parallel structure of the opening of each gospel. By comparing each of the gospels directly, we can learn how the young Christians explained why a Messiah was born and lived among the people. I began my studies with the Life Application Bible, but I quickly realized that I needed a deeper understanding so I turned to the Archeological Bible for a more detailed understanding of why there were four different stories of Jesus. Take a moment and look over these four sets of readings.
1. Matthew, the opening gospel of the New Testament provides a thorough genealogy of Jesus. Genealogy was a critical means of connecting the people; it served as a public record documenting history but also establishing one’s identity even explaining why one was right to hold specific offices. For instance, if one was to be a priest, the lineage had to be connected to Levi. If one was to serve as a king, the connection had to be to Judah, especially a son of David. Matthew does develops a legal genealogy for Jesus, right up to David by the means of Joseph, his earthly father.
2. Mark, the second gospel, takes a different approach because his audience was to Gentiles who had no understanding of the Jewish customs as Matthew’s Jewish audience did. The gospel of Mark had to explain the Jewish custom so began with the prophet Isaiah which said that God was sending his messenger. The messenger in this prophecy Mark explains is John the Baptist, so the Gentiles who are familiar with John the Baptist, a strange character in their immediate world, becomes a critical part of the story of a Messiah. Mark then explains that Jesus is the son of God, the son of Man, the messiah, and models suffering as part of the human experience. Mark then makes the argument that the Messiah is also the Savior who will save all who believe in him regardless of whether a Jew or a Gentile.
3. Luke, tells the story of Jesus’ birth which connects Jesus’ genealogy through Mary, his birth mother. Needless to say, the origin of Jesus’ birth continues to be debated, but Luke was bound and determined to talk to one educated official who held a high position and was wealthy. He was a non-Christian, but Luke is filled with explanations to convince this one individual, Theophilus, that Christ was real. Maybe that is one of the major reasons Luke’s story has become the favorite Christmas story for us today.
4. John, the final gospel, seems most appropriate for today, the first Sunday of Advent. It directly connects us to the beginning, not just of the Christmas story, but also of the creation of this earth. John was written for an audience of non-Jewish believers as well as ones who were still in the questioning phase of their belief. The argument begins with an understanding of the one most critical word—The Word. At the time that word was logos. According to the Archeological Bible study notes, logos is a word equal to what we know as the truth. The truth is the guiding principle of the universe and of every individual’s soul. The truth is Logos which is God which is the Word, and God is Jesus so Jesus is the Word.
Understanding the four gospels has given me a much clearer understanding of why we need four explanations. I also see that I have an even clearer picture of how early Christians understood who the Messiah was and therefore why a Messiah was needed. A Messiah was needed because humans had multiplied, separated, made their own decisions, listened to the law, failed to follow the law, and became separated from God. A Messiah was needed to demonstrate how God’s unconditional love can be lived right here among all the chaos we live in here on this earth. A Messiah was needed to demonstrate that God does love us, each and every one of us. A Messiah was needed to restore hope. A Messiah was needed to walk among us and show us grace. A Messiah was needed because…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
The gospel of John tells the story of Jesus because he actually knew him. The study notes in the Life Application Bible shares that John knew that Jesus was the Word; Jesus was God the creator of this universe we all live in. John knew that Jesus was the ultimate revelation of God and was the perfect picture of holiness in a man who walked on this earth.
What better place to begin our Advent season than knowing Jesus’ was the Word in the beginning? We may not always have answers for our questions, but hopefully we now know why a Messiah was needed. Our challenge is that we can answer others who may not know God why we know that Advent is a beginning for each and every one of us who believes, who seeks to believe, that God is the truth and God’s truth is that we love one another as we love ourselves—maybe even more than we love ourselves.
Dear Heavenly Father,
The Word is you and we thank you for providing us your Messiah as a way for us to know you personally. We love to celebrate holidays with our families and friends, but today we know we still need a Messiah in our lives. Help us to hear your Word throughout the Advent season and beyond so that we may serve as your messengers that you love each and every one of us unconditionally. –Amen