GCI Equipper

Growing from Shadows to Reality

It is our privilege to move from the shadows to participate in the reality of what the actions of Jesus mean in our life.

Glen WeberBy Glen A Weber, Regional Support Team, Central U.S.

Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church. For the next two (plus) decades, the church had to depend on two foundations – the Hebrew Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to show the interpretation of those Scriptures. Jesus had told them after his resurrection that the Old Testament law and the Prophets pointed to him. For a few decades, the church used those two pillars to step forward into proclaiming Christ to the world. For the past two thousand years, the church has not only had the Hebrew Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, but also the New Testament writings.

The New Testament writings would be odd without the Hebrew scriptures to give them context. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus and the four authors quote the Hebrew Scriptures. The book of Hebrews and the book of Revelation are often one quote after another from the Hebrew scriptures – all stitched together to reveal more of Jesus Christ. Virtually every symbol, expression, image and concept in Hebrews and the Revelation comes from the Prophets, with major concepts from Genesis, Psalms and elsewhere.

The New Testament writers tell us that much of the Hebrew Scriptures are shadows. Paul says in his letter to believers in Colosse that the key parts of the Hebrew Scriptures are shadows:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

The shadows point to the reality – Christ.

The writer of Hebrews also tells us about these shadows.

They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle. “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:5)

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. (Hebrews 10:1)

If we are walking through nature, we can see the shadow of a tree and have a good idea of the type of tree near us – evergreen or large deciduous tree. However, the shadow is gray and without detail. We don’t know the details of the tree. If it is during the fall season, have the leaves begun to change and if so, what color are they?

Another example could be touring through one of the great cities of the world and noticing the shadow of a large cathedral. Again, unless we turn and look at the building, we will not know any detail. It would be silly to take photos of the shadow, and when we arrive home, show people our shadow photos! We would want to take photos of the actual building to show its beauty and detail.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (and even much of the New Testament), we see shadows continually pointing to the reality, who is Jesus. Through the leadership of the Biblical text writers and the Holy Spirit, we can turn to see what the actual image/object is that is casting the shadow. How do we see Christ in that image/parable/narrative? For example, it is when we understand who Jesus is – when we grow in grace and knowledge by spending time with him – that we understand the sabbaths and holy days mentioned by Paul in Colossians 2 point to Jesus being our rest and the ultimate sacrifice. He replaced the old days of worship and the sacrificial system with himself. He is what they all pointed to. We might get physical rest on a seventh-day Sabbath, but the day doesn’t give us hope, healing, and promise. Jesus is our eternal rest; it is in him that we have our hope, our healing, and the fulfilment of God’s promises. Believers had to offer sacrifices year after year, symbolizing our constant need for forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption. Jesus’ one sacrifice gave us complete forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption.

Let’s illustrate this with our proverbial cathedral. We might first see the shadow of the cathedral that is often much larger than the actual building. As we turn, or get closer, we start to see the details of the building, and we begin to appreciate the structure. We might take a photo and walk on. But that is to miss out on the purpose of the building. To truly experience the purpose of the building, we need to walk in, take in the beauty, and then participate in the worship. The purpose of the cathedral is to provide an atmosphere to worship Jesus.

In all three passages quoted above, we are told the various requirements, activities and structures (tabernacle/temple) of the Hebrew Scriptures are “shadows of things to come.” The purpose for those days and sacrifices was to point us to Jesus – his incarnation, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension – and to what he means to creation and humanity.

Maximus the Confessor (580-662) wrote:

For the entire mystery of our salvation has been wisely arranged to unfold in a shadow; an image, and truth. The law has but a shadow, as the divine apostle says, of the good things to come; it was not the image of the realities themselves, through which God the Word prepared those under the law to receive the Gospel, in the manner that was appropriate to them, that is, through a dim manifestation of the truth.

How does this apply to us today? In our early denominational history, we dwelled on the shadows, and we did not focus on the reality of Jesus. Yes, we learned from the shadows, but what we ultimately learned is that we needed to turn to whose shadow we were focused on. When we did, the shadows all made sense. We moved from the shadows to worshipping Jesus – his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return. This has motivated us to add the events in Jesus’ life to our worship calendar.

It’s like moving from seeing the shadow of the cathedral to joining worship within. The worship calendar helps us stay focused on Jesus – who he is, who we are in him, and who others are in him. They help us stay focused on Jesus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets, on his baptism for humanity, on his forgiveness for all, on the gift of grace and reconciliation for all, on the blessing of participating in the relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit.  As we grow in relationship with Jesus, we see great significance in the Christian calendar, and we teach the various Christian worship events – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter Preparation (Lent), Palm Sunday, Passion week, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Ascension, and Christ the King Sunday.

I’ve had to challenge myself to move on from describing the cathedral to actually experiencing the reality. When I first began to understand, I could give a sermon on the Ascension and use Acts 1 and other passage to say, “Jesus ascended!” and give a fairly effective sermon about the historical fact of the Ascension. Ultimately, it was when I began studying more deeply, I began to understand and teach the reality of the Ascension.

Jesus didn’t just go into the presence of the Godhead. Jesus became our High Priest and Mediator – connecting the Father to us and us to the Father. He also became our King among kings (remember Revelation 5 says we are a kingdom of priests) and Lord among lords. Jesus didn’t just ascend; he took humanity into the presence of God and delivered all of humanity and all the created order into reconciliation with the Father. It is our privilege to move from the shadows to participate in the reality of what the actions of Jesus mean in our life. May we become more aware personally and lead people around us to see and experience the deep reality of Jesus Christ!

An RCL Worship Service for Advent 1

By Rick Shallenberger, Equipper Editor, Regional Director, U.S. North Central

Several have asked how to incorporate the RCL scripture passages, theme, and sermon into a weekly worship service. This sample will incorporate all four passages, Advent lighting ceremony, and responsive reading, sermon, communion, and reflection questions. This is just one example of how an RCL worship service can be done. Please note we are not stating how many worship songs to use. Some congregations just have two or three worship songs, others have more. Also, please note we are not suggesting the offertory and communion be right after the sermon. Both are important elements of a worship service, but your team may want to change the order for your congregation or fellowship group.

Call to Worship Song or Worship Video

Worship Leader: Welcome to all. This week begins the season of Advent, a time when we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, his arrival into the life of every believer, and his anticipated Second Coming. This week’s theme is put off darkness and put on the armor of light. (Member’s name) will begin by reading portions of Psalm 122:1-9

Member: Psalm 122:1-9, “I rejoice with those who said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord… This is where the tribes of the Lord go up to praise the name of the Lord… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” (It helps to have the text on the screen.)

Worship Leader: (Prayer: Lord, we thank you that we can meet in peace, and we pray for our brothers and sisters around the world that they can meet in peace and security. And that all of us can truly rejoice in the house of the Lord. Amen.)

Let us worship together. Some might prefer to stand; others might worship better sitting down.

Worship Song(s)

Advent Reading

Member: (The Advent reading might be done by a husband/wife, or a parent/child duo.) Advent 1 pictures hope – our hope is in the return of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah talks about this time. Let’s read from Isaiah 2:1-5. As we read this, (name of member) will come up and light the first Advent candle, the candle of hope. I will read a line, and the congregation will respond by reading the next line, as shown in our bulletin (or on the screen)

Member: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of mountains

Congregation: It will be exalted about the hills and all nations will stream to it.

Member: Many people will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…

Congregation: He will teach us his way, so that we may walk in his paths…

Member: He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…

Congregation: Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Member: This is the hope we have in Jesus, and a beautiful description of God’s kingdom, which is characterized by peace and justice — a mountain that draws all inhabitants of the world to it. Just as the light of the Advent candle draws our eyes to it, the glory of the kingdom will draw all people to it. (Prayer: Lord, let the hope we have in you sustain us and enable us to continue to walk in the light of the Lord. During this season of Advent, help us to continue to pray, “Your kingdom come, and please bless our efforts to be lights for you. Amen.)

Worship Song(s)

Worship Leader: Just like the psalmist, and the prophet Isaiah, Paul also encouraged us to walk in the light of the Lord. Let’s read Romans 13 together, beginning in verse 11. I’ll begin, then you read aloud the slide labeled congregation.

Worship Leader: “The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” 

Congregation: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Worship Leader: In Matthew, Jesus admonished his followers to be continuously prepared for his arrival by doing the things he instructed them to do. Pastor (name) will be giving a sermon titled: Should We Celebrate Jesus’ Second Coming?

Pastor – Sermon: Matthew 24:36-44 (see https://equipper.gci.org/2022/09/sermon-for-november-27-2022-advent-1)

Communion (Often flows best if pastor leads the end of sermon into communion)

Offertory: (Having a member say a few words gives more opportunity for involvement)

Worship Leader: Before we sing our closing song, Pastor (name) asked me to leave you with a couple questions from the sermon to think about this week. (These can be placed in a printed bulletin and brought attention to.)

  • When thinking about the Second Coming of Christ, have you ever felt confusion or fear?
  • What do you think would happen if people knew the exact time of Christ’s return?
  • What are some ways you would like to live as if Christ was coming today but plan like his arrival is far in the future?

Worship Song

Benediction

Our Personal Advent

“Advent is the season that can remind us God is working while we’re waiting and we’re really waiting with God.” ~ Louie Giglio

By Tim Sitterley, Regional Director, U.S. West

Not long after the grace awakening experienced by our denomination, the men of my congregation were invited to join a Four Square men’s ministry group for a three-day camping retreat. They were aware at some level of what we had experienced during our transformation, and I believed it would be a good experience to share quality time with members of the greater body of Christ. Throw in cooking over a fire and sleeping on the ground, and I was confident that any walls that existed between our two groups would quickly fall. Men are men, and I was not disappointed.

Camp was set, wood was cut and stacked, and folding chairs circled around the fire. It was time for dinner, and one of their leaders opened the evening with prayer. What he prayed for that evening was routine, expected and totally unremarkable … until his final comment. “And Lord, we pray for your second coming. May it be soon … even tonight. Amen.”

To this day I can still remember my reaction to that prayer. I spoke quietly with others from our group who had the same reaction. How absurd it was to pray for Jesus second coming “tonight.” Didn’t he realize there were prophecies to be fulfilled first? Things had to happen in the world. Governments had to align. At best, we could hope for the Lord’s return in seven years. But certainly not before then. Somebody needed to explain the tribulation to these people.

An Advent season does not pass for me where I don’t recall my dismissive response to that prayer of so many years ago. I can’t help but reflect on my own personal journey from a sense of dread of the second coming, to a growing excitement and expectation that is enhanced by the focus and ceremony of the season. Advent has become for me a time of now-but-not-yet. And understanding that can only come when one experiences their own personal Advent.

The word Advent comes from the Latin words ad ventus, which literally translates “come to.” Yes, there was a specific time when the Son of God put on flesh and came into our world. And yes, there will be a coming Day of the Lord when Jesus, that same Son of God, will return in glory. But for me, the candles and the devotionals of the Advent season speak to something much more personal. The “coming to” my life through my personal relationship with Jesus.

Pope John Paul II put it best:

To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously.

Christian writer and poet Michelle Blake wrestles with the paradox of the now-but-not-yet.

One of the essential paradoxes of Advent: that while we wait for God, we are with God all along, that while we need to be reassured of God’s arrival, or the arrival of our homecoming, we are already at home. While we wait, we have to trust, to have faith, but it is God’s grace that gives us that faith. As with all spiritual knowledge, two things are true, and equally true, at once. The mind can’t grasp paradox; it is the knowledge of the soul.

It’s that “knowledge of the soul” that fills me with such joy during the Advent season. If I am at peace, it is not because of the future coming of a conquering King, but the presence of the Prince of Peace in my life today. Anything I might know of true love comes only because of a present-tense relationship with the God John says is love (1 John 4:8).

Advent is a season of expectation. But not the expectation of some far-off event, but more like the expectation of a woman with child. It is the awareness of present life, and the knowledge that one day that life will burst forth. I believe this is what Paul is talking about when he writes in Romans 8:22 that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth.”

When we light the candles and rehearse the four weeks of the season, we not only celebrate the story of the nativity, we express our hope and longing for the fulfillment of God’s plan for humanity. And we do so in faith because of a present relationship with the one to come. As Louie Giglio puts it, “Advent is the season that can remind us God is working while we’re waiting and we’re really waiting with God.”

Many times since that long-ago men’s campout, I’ve uttered the words, “Lord may you come soon. Tonight would work for me.” I’ve prayed this in times of seeming hopelessness. In times of physical and mental exhaustion. In times of physical pain. The promises from the end of the book of Revelations are so appealing. No more tears. No more pain. No more death. All the various interpretations of end-time prophecy don’t concern me that much. For me, Jesus is more than welcome to come back anytime he chooses.

But the season of Advent is a reminder that Jesus is already ever-present in my life. He is my source of joy, peace, hope, and love. I can no longer speak of the first and second advents without also praising God for the personal advent I have experienced in Christ. That, as much as anything else, is what I’ll give thanks for this year while watching someone from the congregation come forward to light a candle. And when that white Christ candle is lit, I’ll bask in its light, confident that the true light John tells us entered the darkness of the world so long ago still shines brightly in my life, and the lives of those believers around me.

May you be reminded of your personal advent this coming season. And in the words of the apostle Paul, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope.” (Romans 15:13 NLT)

Joy to the World

How can we, as GCI congregations and fellowship groups best share the joy of the Lord during this season?

By Bob Regazzoli, Pastor, Australia

Over the next two months we will be hearing one of the most popular Christmas carols, “Joy to the World,” being played time and time again and we will also enjoy singing it in our services. It’s a beautiful song, rich in meaning, and it truly encompasses the good news of Jesus Christ, and how he came as the Saviour of the world.

The Christmas season is a time of great joy and presents numerous opportunities for Christians to share the joy of the Lord with the world. In these troubled times, the world is crying out for good news. What this season presents is expressed so well in the lyrics of “O Holy Night”: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” Jesus is truly our hope and joy.

During the time of Nehemiah, there was a reading of the Torah by Ezra to the people, reminding them of their covenant with God. Initially there was weeping by the people as they heard the words read to them, but Nehemiah gave them this direction: “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

This occurred during the old covenant period as the Israelites were drawn back to God who loved them. Now, Jesus, the New Covenant, has come in among us, and how much greater is the reason for us to rejoice, to enjoy the meals, and to share with others. True joy, the joy which comes from God, strengthens our souls, and lifts our spirits. God has come in the flesh – Emmanuel, with the birth of Jesus – Incarnation, the Saviour of the world – Messiah. There is much to celebrate.

When Mary came to visit her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s baby leaped for joy in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44). When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, he told the shepherds to not be afraid. “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Messiah the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). This was truly joy to and for all the world. Joy is not just announced, but the heavenly host burst forth in exuberant praise and song (Luke 2:13-14).

How can we, as GCI congregations and fellowship groups, best share the joy of the Lord during this season? There are many possibilities which need to be tailored to the culture we are living in and the circumstances and resources of the local congregations.

In most societies, Christmas is, above all, a day that focuses on family get-togethers, taking advantage of the widely observed public holiday. As followers of Christ, this should be important to us as well. What better way to celebrate Christ, than to celebrate with children, grandchildren, and extended family members. This brings up a challenge to planning a special Christmas worship service, especially in 2022, when Christmas falls on a Sunday. Many congregations will choose to not have worship services on Christmas morning, and that’s understandable. Some might choose to have an early morning service, giving family time to be together the rest of the day.

But there are numerous other options to consider in serving the community and our members.

  • Have a Christmas Eve worship service – including a candlelight service.
  • Have a Christmas pageant/service the Sunday prior to Christmas.
  • Have a special Christmas service on Friday night enabling families to be together on both Christmas Eve and Christmas day.
  • If your group is small, go together to a larger congregation and enjoy their Christmas Eve or Christmas service.

It is not necessary to limit your Christmas service to Christmas day. Many of our congregations focus on the Sunday preceding Christmas Day, making this a special service with the telling of the Christmas story, and singing well-known carols and hymns. The season brings out the creativity of our members, who shine as they put together a beautiful and inspiring service, including selected readings, songs and pageantry. While they seek to involve as many in the congregation as possible, a special emphasis is put on involving parents and their children. This Christmas service is always followed with special refreshments and fellowship.

2022 will be our second year to host a Community Carols Evening two weeks before Christmas. Last year it proved to be an excellent way to involve others from the surrounding community in the singing of carols and seasonal songs, accompanied by refreshments. We engaged a local choral group to join our own members and musicians in providing the music. We also collected donations for helping children in care and crisis.

Another important opportunity in celebrating the joy of this Christ event is through sharing our meals on Christmas day, not only with family members and friends, but, where possible, with those who otherwise would be alone that day. These meals and the hospitality shown can mean much to those who are often alone on these special days; and the occasion of warmth and acceptance can open up opportunities to discuss the meaning of the season and to share our faith.

The Christmas season, as with other seasons of the year, has been highly commercialized, which naturally detracts from and often ignores the celebration of the birth of Jesus. But we have the opportunity within our neighbourhoods and congregations to share the true meaning of the birth of our Saviour, through friendship and hospitality, and by offering the beauty of singing leading to jubilant worship. The joy and the vitality a special worship service produces is an attractive and a powerful witness to the world. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

Longing for Christ

Spiritual formation ideas for the Advent season.

By Jillian Morrison, Associate Pastor, Glendora, CA

Out of all the Christmas songs I loved to listen to growing up, there was one whose melody and lyrics haunted me: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I wondered how this somber Christmas song had its place amongst the many “merry and bright” ones.

Traditionally, Christmas carols were not to be sung until Christmas Day, since “Advent is not a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the manger but a time to long for the coming of the Savior.”[1]

Ultimately, the meaning of Advent has its origins in waiting and longing, and for many people, the Advent season is already filled with waiting and longing. However, this yearning is typically for Christmas Day to arrive so we can finally get what was on our Christmas wish list. But do we long for God to break in on our lives and have his way in us? Advent forces us to ask ourselves: What do I really long for?

As someone who didn’t grow up observing Lent (Easter Preparation) or Advent, I can understand how uncomfortable these seasons can make us feel if we’re not accustomed to them. Our culture of pleasure-seeking and instant gratification has taught us to only yearn for the things in life that make us feel “good,” and to focus on the temporary instead of the eternal.

We’re tempted to skip the slow journey of Easter Preparation (Lent) and get straight to the Resurrection without going through the painstaking process of reflection, repentance and renewal as we enter 40 days of focusing on our personal relationship with Jesus. We’re tempted to skip the waiting in Advent and get straight to Christmas without meditating on the deep yearning of Christ in our souls.

We need to be honest with the fact that for many believers, we are comfortable living with God at a distance. We get so accustomed to thinking we can do things on our own, that we can become indifferent to the presence and necessity of God in our lives. Do we truly want God to interrupt our lives with renewing and restoring power?[1] And do we expect God to do so?

There are three Advents, or three “comings,” of Christ to remember during this time: The Advent of Christ in Bethlehem, the Advent of Christ in his second coming, and the Advent of Christ in our own lives.

The spirituality of Advent calls us to put our lives in the perspective of Christ’s triumphant arrival to our world that is in desperate need of a Savior. This means we must learn to yearn for and meditate on Christ’s second coming as well as the Advent of Christ in every aspect of our lives.

Meditating on the second coming of Christ reminds us that death and evil do not have the final word. In yearning for this victorious promise, we live in hopeful expectation that God will rid the world of all evil and establish his rule in the new heavens and earth.

Advent is a time of longing for redemption. What bad habits, jealousy, envy, undesirable relationships or vices do we need to be redeemed from? What may be blocking us from living in the Holy Spirit’s peace, joy, or generosity?

Robert E. Webber, author of Ancient-Future Time, challenges us to consider the basics of our relationship to God through Jesus Christ:

Do I really believe in Christ? Have I put my hope and trust in him? Do I see the future through the eyes of the one who came to redeem the world from the power of evil? Is there a longing within me for him to be formed within, to take up residence in my personal life, in my home, and in my vocation? These are not easy questions to answer. … We must be attentive to our spiritual discipline and long for God to break in on us with new life.[2]

Remember that you were created to love and be loved by the Lord Jesus, your Creator and your King. Do not be afraid to trust God with your life and lean into your deep, inherent longing for Christ. This Advent, may these ancient lyrics awaken your hearts to Christ our Savior, who is with us and for us: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”

Here are some spiritual practices to consider during Advent:

  • Simplicity – Practice the great art of letting go. Reorganize your priorities so that they flow from loving and serving God above all else. Root your identity in God’s love, not wealth and possessions.[3]
  • Slowing – Choose to be intentional about slowing down during one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year. Ask God to help you live in the present moment and fight the addiction to busyness and constant activity. Realize that life only happens in the now.
  • Solitude – Prioritize time and space to be alone with God without distractions. In a season when plans are made to reunite with loved ones, solitude may seem counterintuitive. However, even brief moments of solitude may be exactly what we need to recenter ourselves in God’s presence and free ourselves from the expectations of other people. Solitude also provides valuable space to practice other spiritual disciplines like Bible study, prayer, or journaling.

Be blessed, as you bless God with your time and attention this Advent season!

[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 51.

[1] Ibid., 38.

[2] Ibid., 52-53.

[3] Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 74.

Church Hack: Advent

Advent is a season of waiting. But not like waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting for a test result. It is not a passive waiting but an active waiting, like a toddler being picked up from daycare or an airport reunion with a loved one. We are waiting with anticipation – with great hope for Jesus’ ultimate return and fulfillment of his promises. We are on the lookout, ready to run toward him when we catch a glimpse of him.

Before we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, we remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past. And we celebrate the promises for the future, including Christ’s ultimate return, when all will be well.

For Advent Resources to inspire your worship this season, check out this month’s Church Hack at https://resources.gci.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/2022-CH10-Advent.pdf

Missional Discipleship w/ Jon Ritner Part 1 & 2

Check out part one of our bonus video episodes of the GC Podcast with author and church planter, Jon Ritner. In 2023 we will be sharing content around the process of discipling and developing our ministry workers, and our hope is that these episodes will lay the foundation for our denominational focus next year. Jon will also be the keynote speaker at the GCI Denominational Celebration in July 2023, and this is a great opportunity to get to know him a little better.

Listen in as Cara and John discuss best practices for team-based ministry in a post-Christian culture.

Resources: Check out John’s book, Positively Irritating 

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Check out part two of our bonus video episodes of the GC Podcast with author and church planter, Jon Ritner. In 2023 we will be sharing content around the process of discipling and developing our ministry workers, and our hope is that these episodes will lay the foundation for our denominational focus next year. Jon will also be the keynote speaker at the GCI Denominational Celebration in July 2023, and this is a great opportunity to get to know him a little better.

Listen in as Cara and John discuss missional rhythms in a post-Christian culture.

Resources: Check out John’s book, Positively Irritating 

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Showing Up

One of the most important things you can do to reflect the image of Christ is show up.

I have attended many awkward events. Some of them could be considered cringeworthy. I was an honored guest at a Quinceañera (a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday), where I was one of only a handful of attendees who spoke English. Sadly, I have yet to learn Spanish, so for two hours, I did a lot polite smiling and muttering, “Lo siento, no hablo Español” (Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish).

I went to a football game where the player I came to see looked like he was being used by the other team as a practice dummy. I still shake my head when I think about how badly the game went for him — 2 fumbles, 3 dropped passes, and a net 0 yards gained the entire game. Ugh! I kept cheering him on despite praying for a sudden thunderstorm so the game would be canceled, thereby ending the slaughter.

Then, there was a “musical performance” by three young ladies. It was part of their school’s talent night, and they had worked hard on a song that was popular at the time. It was…an experience. It seemed like one of them was possessed by the spirit of an angry cat, screeching her displeasure to the heavens. The sounds coming out of her mouth were so very loud and so very wrong. A part of my inner music lover died that night.

There are two things that all of these events have in common. First, I blatantly lied to each one of them when asked by a hopeful young person, “How did you enjoy the event?” I should have had more integrity but, at the time, it was so much easier to say, “It was…uh…great!” Second, I made a young person feel seen and loved just by showing up. My presence communicated what thousands of words could not.

As we transition from Ordinary Time to the Advent Season on the Christian Calendar, it is a good time for us to reflect on the importance of showing up. When humanity was lost in sin, God did not keep his distance. He did not just speak words from afar off. Jesus showed up and became one of us in order to bring redemption and restoration. As John 1:14 tells us:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

During the Advent season, we give special attention to the ways Jesus shows up in our lives. We should not only see Christ’s advent (coming or arrival) as a source of worship but also as an example to follow. For those who care for children and youth, one of the most important things you can do to reflect the image of Christ is show up.

If something is happening that is important to a young person, show up. Adults often overestimate the importance of inviting young people to our events and underestimate the impact of showing up to their events. This is especially relevant for a congregation that does not have a lot of young people. Instead of trying to figure out the best event to “attract” young people and their families, why not first develop a practice of showing up where young people already are? What better way is there to build relationships and communicate that you care?

I pray that you experience many awkward events as you follow Christ’s example and show up in the lives of young people. A little cringing is a small price to pay in order to participate in sharing the love of God with the children and youth around you.

Dishon Mills
U.S. Generations Ministry Coordinator

Story of Love: Kansas City w/ Terry McDonald & Barbara Leatherman

Video unavailable (video not checked).

In this episode, Cara Garrity, interviews Terry McDonald & Barbara Leatherman from Grace Communion South Kansas City. Terry serves as the pastor of the congregation, and Barbara is the love Avenue Champion. Together they reflect on their recent Outside the Walls Love Avenue summer event and share the impact of being intentional about living out our 2022 theme Compelled by Love.  

We learned a lot about teamwork, and we learned that our events don’t have to be great big and huge to be effective and to love our neighbors. We learned that God is not limited. He doesn’t just look at one situation, and that’s the way it is. He sees far bigger than we do. It’s great to watch and see that – that he wants relationships with everybody, and we get to join him with that. I’ve seen that because he wants relationship, he’s not afraid to get in the middle of our messes. And we have a lot of messes, don’t we?
-Barbara Leatherman

The Holy Spirit is calling us out into spaces of worship, and that worship doesn’t just take place on Sunday morning. Those areas of worship are when we go out and we connect with people and build relationships with them … Relationship is at the heart of everything that God does. That’s what he reconciled us back into – right relationship with him because he wants to enjoy us and wants us to enjoy him. And we can see that in those spaces where we connect with people and enjoy each other there.
-Terry McDonald

Main Points: 

  • What did you see God doing in the planning and execution of your Outside the Walls event?  6:49
  • What are you celebrating on the other side of the event that you hosted this summer? 12:27
  • What did you learn by participating in Christ’s ministry through your involvement in the event?  16:49
  • Where did you start in your understanding & participation in the love avenue? 25:41
  • How did your team and congregation grow together in the process of building your Love Avenue Team?  33:23
  • What have you learned about who God is, and his mission and ministry in the world? 39:34
  • What advice would you give to those beginning their journey in engaging the ministry of the Love Avenue?  54:19

 

Resources: 

  • Art of Neighboring – tips to build relationships with your neighbors 
  • Neighborhood Engagement Planning checklist – help your team plan a fun-filled event that connects back to the life of your congregation. 
  • Mapping Your Neighborhood – Mapping your neighborhood involves considering the ethnicities, religions, life stages, and worldviews of the people in your focus neighborhood. When we map our neighborhoods, we apply and live out what we learn in Scripture in ways that will engage our focus neighborhood 
  • Fitly Framed Together – An Equipper article that overviews the significance of understanding the 5 Voices and the impact they can make on your team. Want to discover your voice order? Take the assessment.

 
 
Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Program Transcript


Story of Love: Kansas City w/ Terry McDonald & Barbara Leatherman

Welcome to the GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience. Here are your hosts, Cara Garrity and Charissa Panuve.

Cara: Welcome all to today’s episode of GC Podcast. I’m here once again with my co-host, Charissa Panuve.

Welcome, Charissa. It’s good to have you here with us today.

Charissa: Hi everyone. It’s great to be back joining in on another episode. I’m super excited.

Cara: Yes. And one of the most special things to me about this season is the emphasis on Jesus being with us, his solidarity with humanity, Emmanuel, God with us.

I’m wondering, Charissa, what about this season of Advent is really meaningful to you?

Charissa: Yes. Amen to that.

I love the Advent season and the fact that I somehow managed to find five or 10 kilos during this season, I think is pretty special. But other than that, the fellowship and the togetherness that this time brings not only for the churches but within our families, I think is a very special time.

And to remember this season and reflect on our Savior when he first came into the world, in the flesh and what that led to, and sharing that with one another, I think is a beautiful thing to always look forward to about this season.

Cara: Mm. Yeah, that relationship and fellowship, that’s a wonderful thing. Thank you, Charissa, for sharing that.

And in today’s episode, speaking of, of relationships and fellowship, we’re going to hear from Barbara and Terry who are the Love Avenue champion and pastor at GC South Kansas City USA, about their journey in the Love Avenue. Before we get into that interview, I’m wondering what has been a formative movement of your own journey in the Love Avenue ministry of mission and witness?

Charissa: Ooh. Personally, I enjoy doing things hands-on, so I enjoy working with the youth leaders back home (when I am home, that is) and helping with the outreach in the community. For me, prior to the introduction of this Team Based—Pastor Led and the different Avenues that it broke down into, particularly Love Avenue ministry outreach was not something that was as commonly practiced with the youth as it is now.

So, getting started on that and working towards sharing the love beyond the church walls was such an experience and a blessing. And it really did open our eyes to the fact that you could witness and share the love of Christ in practically anything. We would do things for sports days that were open to all or cleaning up yards for different people, just to share our time and love with those around us and reflect Jesus in what we do.

Cara: Amen. And one of the things that really strikes me about your experience is the inclusion of youth in the ministry of the Love Avenue. I really love to hear that. That’s excellent. And I praise God for that part of your own journey in his ministry.

Why don’t we go ahead and hear what God is doing in GC South Kansas City, USA?


Cara: Hello friends and welcome to today’s episode of GC Podcast. This podcast is devoted to exploring best ministry practices in the context of Grace Communion International churches. I’m your host Cara Garrity. And today I am so, blessed to interview Terry McDonald and Barbara Leatherman. Terry is pastor of Grace Communion South Kansas City, and Barbara is Love Avenue champion there.

Barbara and Terry, thank you so, much for joining the pod with us today. It’s so, good to have you.

Barbara: Thank you for having us.

Terry: It’s so, good to be here.

Cara: Yes, of course. It’s my pleasure. And today I’m really excited because you’ll be sharing a little bit about your journey in the Love Avenue as a testimony or a real-life storytelling of what it looks like when we put all of what we’ve been learning about the Ministry of the Love Avenue, put flesh to it.

And so, I would love if you could just start us off, Barbara, with telling us a little bit about the Outside the Walls event that you all just had this summer.

Barbara: We had a neighborhood block party. We had it on June the 25th. It was one of the hottest days of the summer so, far. And we enjoyed it very much, but we worked really hard, and we were really tired.

But it was a great event. We met at a local high school at their ball field. So, it was very visible to everybody around. We had about 23 families join us for that. And we had a really good time. We had a DJ that played music and kept us going. And we had about 15 or so, games for the people that came to play.

We had prizes and treats and we had a face painting table and some bouncy houses for the children. We had some food trucks come in, which was really wonderful. So, that’s an overview of what we did.

Terry: Yeah, it was a really fun event, like Barbara said, in spite of the fact that it was really hot. I think the heat index got up to a hundred something degrees.

When we first started, the skies were overcast, so, it was nice to be able to set things up, but we could feel the heat beginning to rise. And me personally, I began to have some concerns, obviously. Oh, there’s a lot of heat here. Is there going to be anybody going to show up?

But like she said, we had about 23 families about a hundred people together show up and it was just a really great time to be able to come together as a team and just be able to share the love of Christ with them. So, it was a great.

Cara: Yeah, that sounds like a wonderful event.

I would go to something like that. And I’m wondering what did you see God doing concerning that gathering?

Barbara: God was working on our hearts in South Kansas City, and we saw God drawing us together, the Love Avenue team and the congregation. He was drawing us together showing us how the process worked and helping us to come together for a common goal.

I think he was shaping us for the things that are coming ahead for our congregation. And teaching us to trust him because a lot of times we try to do things on our own. But he was showing us how to trust him at this time, and I saw him open doors.

In the very beginning, he opened up this high school ball field to us. We didn’t know what they were going to require or anything. But right away, they agreed to let us use it. And they said, because we were doing it for the community, they didn’t charge us anything. We felt like that was a blessing from God.

And then they let us know after a time that we could use their trash facilities and their dumpsters, so, we didn’t have to go to the city and purchase those things. And that saved us about, I’d say $700 close to that. These were just a few things that I saw as blessings.

Terry: Yeah. It was really interesting that during this entire planning process, when we first got the call from our regional pastor, Mike Rasmussen, and he was sharing with us that we were being called to do an Outside the Walls event.

And obviously when that came to the forefront, there was this expectation in our own hearts (maybe individually, I know, certainly in mine) that this was supposed to be some outlandish, outrageous, huge, crazy-looking event. And I learned that I need to listen to my team a little bit more. (We’ll talk about that a little bit later.)

But I really saw God bringing us together to show us what he was doing in our neighborhood. And what I mean by that is, a lot of times it might be misunderstood that an Outside the Walls event is for the neighborhood or for the community that you’re serving. And while part of that is true, it’s really about calling the church from inside, “Come out of the building and find the spaces and look for the spaces and see the spaces where Jesus is working.”

And we knew from the beginning that this was going to be an all-hands-on-deck type of thing. It was almost like the first four or five months, we were doing a lot of vision casting, Barbara and I, about what this was going to look, like what it should be. And, for the first couple of months after Mike mentioned it to us, we had no idea what this was going to look like.

We were just all over the place trying to figure out what are we supposed to be doing? And, so, Barbara had the idea – we were doing game days in the park where we just take a couple of games out to a local park, maybe about a mile away from where we meet. And we set them up and the kids that were there on the playground or anybody else that was in the park, they’d come over and play some games with us. And they’d win prizes and we’d be able to talk to them and connect with them in that way.

And so, Barbara said, why don’t we just expand that a little bit. And when I hear the word expand, I need to tone back a little bit because I get crazy with the word expand. My voice is that of Creative, Connector [GiANT Worldwide 5 Voices.] So, the creative part of me really came out in volumes. But we knew that’s what that was going to be.

But we recognized at this time that God was giving us an opportunity to live out the theme that GCI has proclaimed this year: being compelled by love as well as our local focus of being intentional in exercising that love. God gave us the opportunity to do that, and it was a great time.

It was a great lesson for all of us about what that means.

Cara: Yeah. Thank you both for sharing that. And I love what you just shared, Terry, that part of the idea is get outside of the walls of the church building, because when you do that, what you see is that God is doing a lot! Jesus is actually in our midst.

And Barbara, from what you shared there, you guys experienced that in really tangible ways. That he’s building relationships within the community, within your neighborhood, that are beneficial. Allowing you guys to come into a space and connect with people opening those doors. And I think that’s an incredible thing to celebrate.

And so, we do want to celebrate that alongside you all, that God is doing a good thing and that you all have taken the steps to be “sent” people that are going to say, Yeah, God, we’ll walk outside the walls of the church because we know that you’re there too.

So, is there anything else that you’re celebrating on the other side of this event that you’ve hosted this summer?

Barbara: That’s a good question, Cara. I celebrated that the event came together and that it worked well because when we started, we didn’t know how this thing was going to work out, and I celebrated the families that God brought and that we actually survived the heat for such a long event.

I celebrated something else. Our members – a lot of our members and we’re not a great big church – but a lot of them are in advanced ages, I’d say, in the seventies, eighties. And they haven’t done a lot of this outside kind of thing. And they themselves became willing to come out and enjoy the event even for a time.

And I would have to say that our church members have been fairly stuck in their traditional ways. So, I was celebrating the fact that they were starting to get the vision and that they were willing to come out and celebrate with us.

Yes. So, that’s some of what I found to celebrate.

Terry: Yes. I echo that Cara, I echo that.

It was really refreshing to literally see people stepping outside of the walls. And when I say stepping outside of the walls, I’m not talking about stepping outside of the walls of the church building but stepping out of the walls of their own heart. Outside the walls of their own heart and saying, maybe God is doing something and if I stay stuck in my ways of thinking or I stay stuck in my space, perhaps I’m going to be missing out on seeing a chance for him to really open me up to see what he’s doing.

And it was a very trying process, putting this entire event together. And again, I take a lot of responsibility for that because of my Creative voice. But it was a trying process, us trying to organize all these big things and looking at the size of our team.

And, living in those realms of doubt, are we doing too much? Are we not following God’s direction? Are we doing something that we want to do and putting God’s name on it? (That’s a scary thing to do.) But what we got to the point of discovering is that we were recognizing that we were small, but we could be mighty if we just followed God’s direction and surrendered to his will.

And another thing I discovered was through the trials and frustrations and all the misunderstandings that came throughout this flow – Barbara keeps preaching to me that we need to improve communication. And she’s absolutely right. But what I discovered is that we started building strong relational bonds between each other through this process.

And it was really healthy and great because, I think that really helps to sell a vision when you are doing vision casting because people then begin to trust the direction that you’re leading. And they will feel safe and secure, which is two things that humans love: safety and security.

And in doing that and seeing it all come together at the end; we all recognized, we really can trust each other if we surrender to the will of God.

Cara: That is absolutely worth celebrating, the transformation of people that you both witnessed, including yourselves. Because as we participate in Jesus’ present ministry, his mission, the activities that he’s up to, or what we might call, the ministries of the Love Avenue, man, we’re transformed because we’re participating in what he’s doing in our midst.

That’s incredible.

And so, I’d love to ask you, Barbara, it sounds like there was a lot going on and a lot of things that, that you all learned. What last couple of things do you want to share with our listening audience that you learned that you’ll definitely carry forward with you?

Barbara: That is interesting that you asked that, and Terry touched on something about our voices. And I learned personally that as his voice was that of a Creative, Connector. Mine was that of a Nurture or Guardian. So, while it was good to learn what our voices were, we came to see that they were very different.

I learned that we don’t always understand what each other is saying or thinking because we don’t recognize the different voices. So, we tended to make assumptions about certain things, and we stepped on each other’s toes a little bit. But we learned that our voices are not enemies and that they’re all valuable and necessary, to accomplish the whole purpose.

And like Terry said, we have to learn to listen to each other and see the different perspectives and try to make decisions together and not try to do it on our own. We learned a lot about teamwork, and we learned – I think Terry mentioned this – we learned that our events don’t have to be great big and huge to be effective and to love our neighbors.

We can scale them back and we can work on a little different level. And next time I think we’re going to make some things more streamlined. And one thing I noticed that our event, because it was in a ball field, we were very spread out because it was a big area. And I think if we do this again, or even in other events that we do, that we want to bring our activities closer together so, that we can fellowship a little better with our guests.

And we also, learned that we had originally planned on doing this for four hours and somehow it turned into a six-hour event, and it was too hot for that. Plus, really I think we would’ve been able to accomplish our goal in a shorter duration, have more events for shorter periods. So, I think we learned a lot about handling an event and all the things that go into it.

So, that’s some of the things that I felt were important to learn.

Cara: Yes, learning how to send people home, Barbara, is critical!

But I also really appreciate what you said about the voices and teamwork because, GC podcast is about best ministry practices in GCI, and in GCI, we believe in Team Based ministry.

And so, what you’ve talked about, that’s critical across all of our expressions of ministry: Love Avenue, Faith, Hope, whatever the teams, sub-teams in those Avenues. And so, thank you for bringing that insight.

Terry, is there anything that you would add? Key pieces of learning that you’re going to bring forward with you?

Terry: Oh, yes, absolutely. I’m glad you asked this question because it is a huge thing. I may have touched on this a little bit already, but I’ve learned that with Creative, Connectors, being a bull in a china shop only works if there’s no china in the shop. Okay. You trying to run through everything and get everybody to follow your direction and all of that good stuff, and you’ve got to listen to the hearts of your team sometimes – and I’m not speaking for every pastor – but there are some of us out there who sometimes get in that mode where we know everything that needs to be done.

And sometimes we’ll even try to do it all ourselves, but we’ve got to listen to the hearts of our team. I’ve had some experience in putting certain events together large and small, but everyone on my team did not have that same experience. And Barbara alluded to that when she was talking about our voices and I in this planning session.

I forgot to listen to those voices because I was so adamant about making sure that this was a success and perfect. And I needed to listen to their hearts, and I needed to listen to their voice. And casting a vision is so important to help others see from their perspective how they can participate in engaging the call that we’re being called to.

And if you’re too busy only listening to your voice and doing what you want to do, not only are you going to set up a situation where they’re not going to be able to hear what the Lord is telling them, but they will also not feel included, not feel welcomed, not feel wanted into the situation. And learning that everyone has a different voice and not only learning that they have a different voice, but recognizing that those voices, those different voices are inside of me as well. I needed to listen to those voices inside of me and praising God, that as we got closer to the actual event happening, that I began to recognize that and see that. See what I was doing was actually detrimental, not intentionally, but detrimental to what God was trying to do with us.

We are all relational beings, and I feel God created us that way so that we can discover the joy of building those symbiotic relationships with each other and with Jesus. And I learned that listening intently to the other truly is an act of love and going forward.

I communicated that with Barbara, that she is so wise in some of the things that she brings forth and how she helps me to see things in a different light that I recognize I need to listen to my Love Avenue champion a little bit more. And I won’t stress myself out so much if I start keeping things a little simpler. So, that’s what I learned.

Cara: Thank you, Terry. I really appreciate you sharing that. Again, highlighting the importance of team based ministry.

And not only that, one of the things that I think of when you share that, is putting together, organizing, planning, whatever you want to call it, activities within the Love Avenue, it’s more than about just that activity. When you do things the way that you’re talking about, where you’re creating space and listening to people and figuring out how is God calling each person to participate in what he’s doing, that’s actually discipleship and an opportunity for discipleship, not just event planning.

And so, then it’s ministry for all of us to be able to participate in, which is so important for us as leaders to allow these spaces to be areas of disciple-making. Because as a church, that’s what we are called to. And so, thank you for sharing that because it is easy, I think, for us to default to just activity making instead of disciple-making.

Yeah. And so, that’s really critical. So, I appreciate you both and I’m so thankful for what God did through this event in your neighborhood and for y’all’s willingness to step out and try something new, get outside those walls. And so, we’re celebrating with you.

We’re praising God right alongside you. And now I want to back up just a little bit because you’ve already alluded to this a little bit. It’s been a whole journey for you all as a gathering church community, even getting to the point of this outside the walls event and coming out of this Outside the Walls event.

And so, I’d love to just hear a little bit more about your guys’ personal, as Terry and Barbara, and then collective, as Grace Community South Kansas City’s journey in the ministry of the Love Avenue.

And so, where did you all start in your understanding and participation in the Love Avenue?

Barbara: That’s a really good question, Cara.

Terry: Yes, it is!

Barbara: I’m sure we have different perspectives on that. Personally, I’ll talk from my standpoint. I had been serving for a number of years with the elderly and the shut-ins. So, I developed a lot of compassion for people and empathy. And then I started working with the local schools and worked in those, and I felt like I fit in well with the Love Avenue.

But as I got involved in it a little bit more, I soon learned that there was a lot more involved than that. And I was challenged quite a bit. I had to put together a team and that was challenging.

And at times, I would feel like – because we have a small congregation – I would feel like, who can I get on my team? Nobody really wants to go out and do things — because I didn’t see that. And so, it was challenging to listen to other people and hear what they were thinking. And that way, I could put together a team with those people with their different thoughts and ideas. And it was challenging for me to learn how to lead others and how to inspire them.

I think sometimes when we look at something – in this regard, it was the Love Avenue champion – and I’m thinking, I’m not a champion. What does that mean?  And so, it challenged me to think that what it means is that I have the challenge of leading other people and learning about them and letting them tell their ideas.

It was a lot of different things and even I found out that in the greater congregation, that I could actually say or do things that would stir them and help them to see the vision of the Outside the Walls. That it wasn’t just another activity, it was something that we could learn more about our greater neighborhood and about what other people need and open our doors to some different kinds of things.

It’s been it’s been a great challenge and to learn and understand the concepts involved with the Love Avenue. So, that’s from my perspective, what I have personally learned.

Cara: Thanks, Barbara. Terry, what about you?

Terry: Yeah, when the introduction of the Avenues had first come about again, my initial mindset was, Oh, here we go with another program, and here we go with another ministry thing to do.

And I just said – I sit back sometime, just say, Okay, I’m going to give it a chance. I’m going to give it a chance and see exactly what it was talking about. But I thought this was just some other program that was getting started to try and recruit people into GCI. But I really knew better, because we know who our leadership is. We know how we connect with people.

And I had to give it a chance. And then I began to recognize that especially with the Love Avenue, that this was something special that Jesus was doing. I’ve come to recognize that, as I look at the landscape of the body of Christ, not just in GCI, but many other churches, I have friends in other churches that seem to be latching on to things like what we’re doing in the Love Avenue in GCI.

And, as far as participating in the Love Avenue, I did fall into the trap of thinking there would be extra demands, quotas of gathering people. And I don’t know where this wrong thinking came from, but I just said to myself, I just need to sit back and see what the Lord is doing and just listen to those who are leading and guiding me and understand what the Lord is doing.

And we begin to see and understand the connections that Jesus was making. Not only using the Love Avenue to connect with our neighborhoods, but also the connections that he was making with the Hope and Faith Avenues, with the Love Avenue. Just making that a perichoretic relationship between the three Avenues to really engage the hearts of those who Jesus loves.

And so, what I began to recognize about the Love Avenue was as I read the story of the life of Jesus and how he loved people and how he engaged people, that was exactly what we were being taught to do in the Love Avenue. And being able to actually walk in his footsteps, engaging with people, it also showed us that Jesus isn’t just in the building with us on Sunday mornings, that he is calling us out into spaces of worship with him.

The Holy Spirit is calling us out in the spaces of worship, that the worship doesn’t just take place on Sunday morning. It does take place on Sunday morning, but not just there. Those areas of worship are when we go out and we connect with people and build relationships with them and get involved in their lives and invite them into our own lives and connect and just build those healthy, loving relationships just like Jesus did when he walked that land with his disciple.

That was what I eventually came to recognize. And I tell you what, it is going to be hard for me to even think about letting the Love Avenue go. And I’m glad it’s here to stay. I’m glad it is a lifestyle change for our denomination. But again, like I said before, I’m beginning to see evidence of it being a lifestyle change outside of our denomination for the body of Christ as a whole as people begin to recognize how Jesus walked this earth and how he loved people. And that relationship is at the heart of everything that God does. That’s what he reconciled us back into – right relationship with him because he wants to enjoy us and wants us to enjoy him. And we can see that in those spaces where we connect with people and enjoy each other there.

Cara: So, you’re telling me that neither of you guys jumped right in 100%, feeling confident and perfection toward the Love Avenue?

Terry: Oh, no. No way. No way.

Cara: No. I think that’s a beautiful thing and I think it’s important to name that, that it is a journey and it’s a journey of growth and learning. And I appreciate y’all sharing that.

Because we do start somewhere and we don’t have to start at the finished goal or finish line, whatever that looks like. We don’t even have a finish line in the Love Avenue because what we’re doing is just staying in step with the Spirit, as he shows us. So, I really appreciate y’all sharing that.

And I’m wondering too, y’all shared personally how you’ve grown and in the Love Avenue, what did that look like for you to grow and learn together as a church community in the Love Avenue?

Terry: Cara, that is still a work in progress. Okay? Because you’ve got to think of the storied history of our denomination. There’s so much baggage that people are still carrying.

And with all these new ways of engaging relationship and learning how Jesus did it, is calling us to drop some of that baggage, to let it go. And that requires the changing of hearts. And we know that the changing of hearts is a work of the Holy Spirit. We know that he does that well and that is his job.

One of the things that Mike always tells me is that when you love people, love them well, and when you love them well, they begin to recognize that heart change, that’s not only in you, but in them as well. And that really speaks into how we do that inside the walls as well. How well are we loving our people to where they are catching that vision, where they are seeing the different things that Jesus is doing and how he’s doing it differently, how Jesus is doing a new thing?

And we recognize what the Spirit is showing us through our interactions with our neighbors and recognizing – and this was the biggest thing for me, is helping the congregation to recognize that we need to get rid of that us-versus-them mentality. It’s not an us-versus-them because they are us.

We were in their place before we understood what Jesus was doing in our hearts. And there’s no separation. What they are is – they’re not just people who are outside the walls, we shouldn’t be recognizing them as enemies, but rather they are family who God is calling us to get to know, that we might share his story and be a conduit of revealing his love to them in relatable ways.

And I’m excited to see that heart change occurring in our community. People that normally wouldn’t step outside or do anything, are going out and above themselves to say, let’s see this new thing that Jesus is doing with us, and let’s just go ahead and take a chance. What’s the worst that could happen? That someone says no to us? Okay.

Follow the example of the 72, what did Jesus tell them to do? Look for those spaces where you’re welcomed. And if you’re not welcome, you shake the dust off your feet, bless them and move on. And that’s what we’ve been called to do. So, it takes the fear out of it, even though there’s some fear there, it kind of takes to fear out of it.

Cara: Yeah. Thank you, Terry.

Barbara, what about you? What have you seen in terms of growth as a church community in the Love Avenue?

Barbara: I pretty much, I think Terry covered it pretty well. I think that our people have been stuck for a long time.

They were taught early on before the changes that we weren’t supposed to go door to door and that we weren’t supposed to interact with non-church people. And so, this was a whole new thing for them. And I think that we had to step back and be really patient and continue to talk about it and continue to talk about it.

That Jesus came for the whole world, not just for us. And that since we were so happy that God called us and that he participates with us, that we should be happy to share that with everybody else so they can have that joy too.

So, I saw some of these patterns start to fall. I’m sure they’re not all the way gone, but I could see them changing. And I’ve been able to see that they’re starting to embrace the idea of loving your neighbor.

I think that’s been a hard one to understand because we tend as people to look at behavior and when we see the behaviors that we know are not right and that bother us, we tend to want to retreat from that and not engage with that instead of engaging in a different way so, that they can see there’s another way.

So, I’ve seen that growth in our people. And I think that as we go out and have other activities, that because we are changing that, we’ll be more accepting and people will see that, that we’ll be more attractive to other people. So, that’s what I have seen changing.

Cara: I love that.

And it sounds like sometimes there’s unlearning and relearning that comes along with growth and transformation, and even maybe going ahead and diving on it and getting your hands a little bit dirty. But either way it’s a process and to be along for that journey is an important thing.

Barbara: Yes, absolutely. And I saw that, we learned that God is not limited. That he doesn’t just look at one situation, and that’s the way it is. He sees far bigger than we do. And so, it’s great to watch and see that, that he wants relationships with everybody, and we get to join him with that.

Cara: Yes. Amen. And so, right along those lines as you all have been diving into the ministry of the Love Avenue, what have you learned about who God is, his mission, and his ministry in the world?

Barbara: Like I said, he’s not limited. I’ve learned that, and I guess I always kind of knew that, but I’ve seen it more because he’s always opening up things to us, helping us to see things better.

And I’ve seen that because he wants relationships, he’s not afraid to get in the middle of our messes. And we have a lot of messes, don’t we? And sometimes, we see things being insurmountable and we get afraid. I did at the beginning, I felt like I was stalled out because I didn’t know which way to turn.

I didn’t know what was expected of me. But I think we all learned that when he gives us something to do, if we will step back and trust him, he’ll show us where he wants to go with it. And even if we step out and make mistakes, he uses those mistakes to cause us to see something different. So, I felt that way that he’s really been working with me so, that I can understand what this is all about, so that I can share it with first my congregation and then with others around me.

Because there’s others around me, all around me, in my own neighborhood and in other parts of the world. So, if I learn it there, it’s going to be a benefit too.

Terry: Yes, indeed.

Barbara: God is big.

Cara: Yes. Amen. Amen. Terry, What about you?

Terry: It is really interesting, Cara, that throughout this entire process of planning this event, learning each other’s voice, seeing each other’s frustrations, our misunderstandings, our communication, our miscommunication and all of that I’ve learned.

In this process as I watched us coming together, that God is so patient with us and so merciful and full of grace and such a purveyor of love between all of us. That was like the glue that held us together even in planning stuff. And like I said before, the miscommunication we get, it was easy to get frustrated with each other.

Barbara and I would send text messages back and forth and the text message – I’m telling you right now, if you send a text message to someone and you feel funny about it, call them right away, call them right away. Because sometimes we take our own feelings on how things are worded and put our own inflections and heart behind it. And we’ll go and we’ll say why’d they say that to me like that?

And that in the early stages of this planning, I’m saying to myself what I just told her was really simple. I don’t understand how she can’t understand that. And that was part of me not listening to her voice because a nurturer wants to make sure that everybody is going to be okay.

And so, her questions were like, is this going to hurt anyone or confuse anyone or distract any of us from what God is calling us to do? It’s okay that she was asking for the details. What I saw in that was God’s heart of drawing us together, of showing us how to be patient with each other, how to exercise that mercy and grace, and truly exercise that unconditional love.

And with an event like this and with all the planning relating to your team, engaging the neighborhood and the many other things, it really showed me personally that God’s heart is all about that because those four words that I just used: being patient, being merciful, gracious, and loving is at the heart of all these healthy, loving relationships that you are going to engage. And it’s so, important that fruit is there to keep that relationship healthy.

And God was just telling me this throughout the entire process, and as we went further along my patience with – I hate to say it this way, I don’t want this to be misconstrued – but my patience of dealing with Barbara was getting better. And I was growing deeper into a relationship of love with that team and watching us come together and just seeing how God was the glue that was bringing us all together to call us according to his purpose.

And so, that was just a beautiful thing to watch.

Cara: Thanks Terry. And what I hear and what both of you shared is this idea that, it is his mission, and it is his ministry. And so, we are coming alongside, we’re participating, but at the end of the day, he’s got it, and he’s got us, right?

Terry: Yes, that’s right. We tend to forget that even, especially in the planning stages, because what you have to do is right in front of you, okay? I’ve got to call this thing to get the inflatables. I’ve got to call this to get the food trucks. I’ve got to set up this, I’ve got to set up that; I’ve got to build this, build that.

And we forget in the midst of all that, to recognize exactly what is God doing in our heart to transform us. What is he doing? And when we’re connecting with our neighbors, what is he doing to transform us there? And we tend to, God, I’ll call you when I need you. I’m a little busy right now.

I got to put all this together, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be there because you’re God, you’re bigger than all of this. But I’ll call you when I need you. No, it is, God, show me what you’re doing and let me join you. And that’s what it should be.

Cara: Yes. Yes. I’m wondering too as y’all have been participating in his mission and ministry in your neighborhood, what are you learning about your neighborhood, Barbara, and your neighbors?

Barbara: I see that our neighbors they very much need God. I see that, and that’s probably true in every neighborhood. But we’ve been serving probably three different areas near our church, and some don’t seem to want any activity. Some do.

We have an area that has a very high crime rate. And so, I think that that makes people afraid of trusting anybody and anything new. So, I think that’s been a hindrance for us up to this point. And Terry and I were talking about this, and I was sharing with him that I could see with people that came to our event, that some people are seeking things.

But when I look at the numbers of people we have to serve, I’m not sure that we’re in our target neighborhood now. We may be, and I know God will show us that, but I’m not real sure of that. And I feel like we want to be sure that we’re serving an area – not that these people don’t need it – but we want to make sure that we’re where God is working at this particular time.

So, we want to have our eyes open, and our focus be on hearing what God wants. And we have some plans, and we work with the schools a lot. The schools are very happy with participation that we have done with them. So, that’s been a plus in that neighborhood, is having an opportunity to work with the schools.

I know that we learned after the event in our debriefing that probably our particular building and setup is not real conducive to bringing the younger people in the area, that we have a lot of work to do to find out how we can be more culturally relevant with those younger people. So, that may make the difference in what I see as not responsive sometimes.

I do think that our activity was a success, and we were able to interact with a number of people. So, that’s a good thing there. I feel that God brought them for a reason and that everything we do in the neighborhood is valuable, and I’m sure it helps some people along the way.

And I know we have blessed our schools a great deal and their children. And I always say, when you reach the children, you’re going to reach the parents. So, I feel like perhaps we need to just keep going longer and keep moving forward. And it’s like I told Terry, I said, I don’t know what the future holds here, but I certainly want to give my full support and effort in this neighborhood until, and if God chooses to move us.

Those are some of the things I’ve learned about our neighborhood. I think they’re just a little reluctant to do change. But there may be some other things and Terry may have a different perspective on that than what I do, but so, I’ll let him give his little bit now.

Terry: Yeah. It’s similar to yours, Barbara. Some of the things that we’ve discovered I know that when we first engaged the Love Avenue and started traveling outside the walls and really focusing with intention on doing so, that we noticed that as we went door to door handing out gifts, just telling people that we care about them and just asking them what their needs were or anything of that nature, that they were a little hesitant.

And I guess that could be a mentality that’s in larger major cities. In the area where we’re serving right now, when you talk about specific individual neighborhoods within our one to two square miles around our church, there’s about seven or eight individual neighborhoods that are connected.

And each one of them has a different personality. And so, us getting out there, we also discovered that we need to probably be a little bit more consistent with that engagement is going to help us discover, what are their rhythms, and how do we get involved in those rhythms? What do we do to show them that we’re interested in what they have going on?

And so, a lot of them have this mentality that they’re very cautious to initial engagement. It’s almost like you come knocking on their door and you tell them, here’s a gift for you, and they think that they’re supposed to give something in return. Why are you doing this? I don’t understand why you are just coming up to my door and giving me stuff? What is this? What’s going on here?

And COVID didn’t help things either. This mentality that COVID has created as you’re handing someone something, they’re very leery about taking it from you because they don’t want that. They don’t want to catch that. And asking God to open our hearts to see more about what our neighborhood is all about is really going to require us to do a lot more consistent engaging, which is what we’re doing with that game day in the park that we do.

And with that being said, our congregation is still a commuter church. A lot of us live far away. Some of us have to drive 45 minutes to get to church. We have one member who drives two hours to come. And we are spread out in a big circle around our meeting place.

And we’re making this move now to discuss, okay, what about our own individual neighborhoods? Where are we, where we live? Laying the fleece out there, if you will, to see is this a place where God is calling us to? Is this a place where he wants us to engage in relationships?

And the answer to both of those questions, whether it’s the place where we’re meeting now or where we live, the answer is yes. He wants us to engage in both of those locations because that’s the ministry we’re called into. And thinking about their very cautious approach. That’s like listening to their voice.

How do we engage them in a way where they feel safe and secure? And they begin to realize that someone is approaching them for the sake of actually giving them love because they deserve it, because they exist. And mapping the neighborhood, discovering its rhythms and seeing how we fit in there and discovering the spaces that we’re called to engage.

It’s an intimidating journey because we have our own fears that we’re dealing with, but as we’ve discovered with this event and the people that we were able to meet, it is really a joyful journey. And I’m glad we’re walking it. It’s trying, but it’s fun. It really is.

Cara: Absolutely. Thank you both for that. And before we have to start closing out our time together, I have one final question for you. What advice would you give to those who are beginning their journeys of participating in Jesus’s mission and ministry through the Love Avenue? You want to go first, Barbara?

Barbara: It’s an interesting question and it’s a big question. I would say first, don’t overthink it. Because that’s what I did in the beginning. It has to be perfect. And how am I going to do this? And how am I going to do that? And oh, I don’t know if I – and so, I would say don’t overthink it. Don’t be afraid. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to do it all like somebody else does it. You’re going to mess up. Own that and go on. So, I was thinking that if we can just learn to trust God to provide us with first the understanding that we need and the strength that we need to do what we cannot do.

Because in the beginning, I don’t think any of us understand fully what our Avenue is involved in or what we’re going to need to participate in it. We know we need to, but we don’t know what it’s going to require. We don’t know exactly where God’s leading us, so we have to first trust in him to show us those things and we need to pray.

And pray. We pray some more. Yeah, but if we learn not to be afraid and to ask questions, and I know for myself that I ask a lot of questions and sometimes it probably becomes burdensome. That’s what Terry was saying in our journey together. Because I do have a lot of questions.

Always don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even if people don’t have the answers. God’s going to provide somebody that will answer that. And as you develop a team, make sure these people are in the same situation you are. They don’t understand it any better than you do.

So, give lots of kudos and let them know how much you appreciate them because they all have voices too, and they’re going to be different from mine or yours. And they’re going to be important to put in the mix of things and you’re not going to understand them all the time, but you can learn from working together what other people need and what they can do for you because, you can’t do it all.

Don’t expect to do it all. And be sure that you share with your congregation what you’re doing and what you need from them and encourage them to get involved. Just that piece of communicating and praying and doing that over and over. I think that is the main thing that I would encourage people to do.

Cara: Barbara, that is excellent advice. Thank you for sharing that. Terry, what would you have to add to that?

Terry: Oh, what is there to add to that? She said it all, but I tell you what is the one thing that she did hit on, which I think is so important for congregations for Love Avenue champions, and anyone else involved in the Love Avenue: don’t be afraid. Do not be afraid.

How many times did we see in the New Testament in the life of Jesus where that phrase came up? When the angel came to Mary, when the angel came to Joseph? When Jesus came to his disciples on the water, what did he say to him?

And take courage. Do not be afraid, communicating to them that you don’t have to be afraid. I’m here with you. Everything is going to be fine. And when we go out into our neighborhoods and to our communities to engage with people, we have to understand that they’re probably carrying some of those doubts and fears and concerns because of everything that we’re experiencing in this world right now causes us to have these fears and uncertainties and not feel safe or secure.

And when we are going out into the Love Avenue to engage and working out the details of all of those things, we need to hear that common theme that Jesus is calling us to not be afraid, to recognize that he is already out there in those spaces where he’s calling us to join with him.

He’s not saying, You go do that and then I’ll come in see if I want to be involved with what you got going on. No, he’s already doing that, and he is already preparing the hearts that you are going to connect with. So, just taking that journey, building that relationship with each other, building that relationship with Jesus as you connect with those hearts that have been prepared to receive you.

They’re out there and they are patiently waiting. And looking for that love because this world is not really offering it to them. And every human being that I’ve encountered, no matter what they’re going through, once you start engaging them in a true unconditionally loving relationship, man, they just come alive.

And so, it’s just not being afraid to go out there and find those spaces where Jesus is working.

Cara: That’s wonderful. Thank you both so, much for sharing with us today and spending your time on the podcast. I think there’s something that is really powerful about sharing our stories of what God is up to in our midst. I think it’s an encouragement and a witness that can help one another along in our journeys as we point to Christ together.

But I’m not finished with you yet. Oh, we have our random question segment for this episode, and so I’ve some random questions and you guys can both blurt out what is, whatever the first thing is that comes to mind.

So, all of these questions are for both of you. And so, are y’all ready?

Barbara: I’m ready, all right. Yeah. Ready enough.

Cara: Here we go.

Terry: I got to overcome this fear and doubt that I’m having right now.

Cara: That’s exactly right. Question number one. Here we go. What trend defined your generation?

Terry: Oh, man.

Cara: Oh, let’s hear it, Terry.

Terry: Okay. What trend defined my generation? Oh, man. And you’re talking about, you’re talking about the eighties here. You’re talking about Gen X? No, there’s so, many of them. I’m thinking of all the I’m thinking of the big hairdos in the kind of clothes that we wore.

Man, I can’t pick out one specific thing, but I know that I would say, the hairstyles that we had. I myself, I had one of what you called the high-top fade. I had that when I was in high school. And yeah, I was so happy to get rid of that.

Cara: I request photo evidence.

Barbara, what about you?

Barbara: Gee, I’m thinking of this, I don’t know. Mine is between seventies and eighties. So, the trends for our generation? Gosh, it’s a hard question.

Cara: That’s alright, we can move on. That’s alright. I won’t put you too much torture here.

If you were to compete in the Olympics, what sport would you compete in?

Barbara: Oh, I would participate in the, if I could in the ice – what do they call it? The ice dancing?

Cara: Yes. It’s figure skating.

Barbara: The figure skating! Yes. Yes. I think it’s the most beautiful and most elegant sport there is. If I could do that’s what I would do.

Cara: Love it. What about you, Terry?

Terry: If I had the athletic ability to do so, I really gravitate towards the luge. I love watching the luge. It is so much fun. And every time they’re banking on those walls or whatever, I’d love to be steering that thing, but I’d probably be wondering if I could make the sled come up off the wall and just do a big loop and come down on the other side. And I’d probably be losing a race. We not trying to do stunt, Terry, we’re trying to win a race.

Cara: But you know, if you’re having fun, then you’re winning. Isn’t that right?

Terry: I love to go fast and that’s probably the biggest problem Barbara had with me in making this event happens.

Barbara: Because I don’t like to go fast.

Cara: We’ll move on. Speaking of the ice then, so we don’t have to get into that.

What would you do if you came home and found a penguin in your freezer? This is really important.

Barbara: I might just faint away. I’d probably scream and say, where did this come?

Terry: I think I’d just laugh hysterically because I just love penguins. I really do. I’d probably be excited. First, I’d like to know, first of all, how did he get in the house? Who brought him in the house? And how did they do that? But to find him in my fridge, I think I’d have to talk to my wife because she’s the only other person in the house. What? Why is this here? But I think I’d enjoy it. I would probably try to keep it as a pet or something.

Cara: Oh, a pet penguin.

All right. What is your favorite time of day?

Barbara: I think my favorite time of day is in the early morning because the weather is the nicest then. It’s like peaceful and quiet and I like to then have a little reading at that time.

And so, I’m not so hurried. It’s a really nice, peaceful time of day.

Terry: And I like the early evening because it feels like the early morning, but that’s much later after I’ve gotten out of bed. I don’t like the early morning because I like to stay in bed, but I love that sunset atmosphere, when everything is beginning to settle down and the birds are settling down and the lightning bugs. And yes, I did say lightning bugs and not fireflies, lightning bugs.

That’s what I called them when I was little.

Cara: That’s what they’re called.

Barbara: Lightning bugs. That’s what they’re called.

Terry: That’s right. I wish I could high five right now, Cara. That’s right. But I used to love catching them when I was a kid, so that early evening, right as the sun is starting to go down, I love that part of the day, except when I’m driving, I can’t stand to twilight when I’m driving.

Cara: Fair enough. All right. Final question for y’all. If you were a dog, what breed of dog would you be?

Barbara: I’d be a poodle.

Cara: Ok. That’s a fun breed.

Terry: Oh, I would be a husky.

Cara: Ooh, those are fun too.

Terry: I absolutely love Huskies. I had a I had a friend who lived in Joplin, and she had a beautiful husky. Her name was Miko.

And we just had this wonderful relationship. I could not see her for months on end, and when I would see her, she’d just come and just jump all over me. And so, if I was to be a dog breed, that’s the kind of person that I am. And that doesn’t mean that any, if you see me again, I’m not going to jump all over you, I promise.

But I just like to be that type of person to just love people, and that’s what she did. Plus, they whine a lot too, which I’m good at.

Cara: Poodles and huskies are good dogs. So, that’s a good way to close out this episode.

I do really appreciate both of you spending your time with us today and sharing your insights and experience. We do love to end our podcast with the word of prayer. So, Barbara, would you be willing to pray for our churches and our pastors, our ministry leaders, and members in GCI?

Barbara: Sure.

Our great God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

We thank you so, very much for your love, for your participation in our lives and your guidance and direction in us. Thank you for getting in the midst of all of our messes and helping us to clean them up so, that they would be pleasing and glorifying to you. I pray that in the midst of our churches, as we learn about loving our neighbors and discipling people and providing hope and encouragement, I just pray, Father, that you would give understanding and give wisdom and patience to all of our pastors and to the Avenue champions because they need a lot of encouragement and they need a lot of pats on the back so that they can keep going forward.

And I just pray that you would bless each and every church area, each pastor, each Avenue coordinator, and I pray for the memberships as well, because they’re in the process of learning so much about how to interact with others and about what our mission really is.

And so, I just ask you to bless them, pray that you would guide us in every way, that we would be able to love people appropriately, that we would be able to share your ministry with them, that we would help be able to help them see that they are included and loved. And help us to develop the ability to see the culture of our neighbors so that we can react and minister appropriately to them.

So, I just give you thanks now for the opportunity to do this podcast. Thank you and bless Cara and all the work that she does and all that she brings to us. And thank you for Rue because he has orchestrated this podcast and pray that you would bless him going forward to be able to continue to accomplish these things.

And I just put all of this in into your hands, your loving and merciful hands. And I ask it all in the name of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Terry: Amen. Amen.


Cara: One of the things that I thought was really important about their testimony is holding space to learn and grow and to follow God’s leading, even when it meant doing things differently and maybe even when it was a little bit challenging for them as a team and as individuals.

Because I think it’s one thing to know the how-tos, the checklists of the Love Avenue, but living it out, putting flesh on it, is a whole other thing that can be a little bit messy. But is it sounds like from their own experience, is absolutely worth it.

What’s something that spoke to you through what they shared from their journey and experience, Charissa?

Charissa: I love that during their preparations for the event with hosting the Outside the Walls event, they understood each other more and how to be a better team together and end up applying that to understanding others as well, and the people that they were spreading love and witnessing to.

Cara: Absolutely. Thank you so much for sharing that insight with us.

And for those who are interested in learning more about living out mission in their lives and their neighborhoods, could you tell us a bit about our Place-sharing series?

Charissa: Yes, of course. The GCI Place-sharing series explores the practice of place-sharing through interviews, teachings, and a Q&A panel. Visit www.gci.org/placesharing to check it out and learn what place sharing is, why it’s valuable, and how it reflects the ministry of Jesus.

Cara: Thank you all so much, and until next time, keep on living and sharing the gospel.

We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast.  We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at info@gci.org. Remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.

 

 

Gospel Reverb – The Welcome Mat w/ Al Kurzawa

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Listen in as Al Kurzawa joins host, Anthony Mullins, to unpack this month’s lectionary passages.
Al is a GCI pastor serving in his 17th year in two congregations, Grace Communion Morwell and Grace Communion Seaford, in Victoria, Australia. For 10 years, he was the National Youth Coordinator and the Camp Director for SEP Australia. He is currently finishing up his post-grad work for his master’s degree in Theological Studies with Grace Communion Seminary.


December 4 – Advent 2
Romans 15:4-13 “The Welcome Mat”
4:56

December 11 – Advent 3
Luke 1:46-55 “A Mama’s Praise”
17:22

December 18 – Advent 4
Matthew 1:18-25 “God With Us”
26:44

December 25 – Nativity of the Lord
Luke 2: 1-14, 15-20 “Joy For All People”
44:14


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Program Transcript


Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.

The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.


Anthony: Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.

I’m your host, Anthony Mullins, and it’s my delight to welcome this month’s guest, Pastor Al Kurzawa. Al is a Pastor in Grace Communion International who is in his 17th year serving two churches in Seaford and Morwell, Australia in the state of Victoria. Also, for 10 years he was a national Youth Coordinator and Camp Director for SEP Australia. Al is currently wrapping up his post-grad work on a master’s degree in Theological Studies at Grace Communion Seminary. He’s married to the delight of his life, Elizabeth, and they have four children (two girls and two boys) ranging in ages 12-19.

Al thank you for being with me today. Welcome to the podcast, and for those in our listening audience who may not be familiar with you, we’d love to know a little bit about your story.

And I especially want to know the part of the story where you ended up in Australia, because I’ve known you since the 1990s. We went to undergrad together in Texas, and “down under” is a long way from Texas. So how in the world did you end up there?

Al: First, just thank you for having me on the show, Anthony. I am so hyped and I’m not sure if it’s because I get to do what I love, which is talking about Bible passages, or whether I’m hyped on coffee, drinking it after 5:00 PM tonight.

But either way, sometimes when people ask me about my story, I tend to think of Paul when he says, I was a Hebrew born of the tribe of Benjamin and pharisee of the Pharisees, because my parents met at a church singles function. They didn’t actually like each other, but that’s where they met, and they ended up writing each other, getting married.

And so, I have grown up in the church, and it’s all I know, and I love it. I love having grown up in the church. I ended up going to a Bible college. And then at the Bible college, I got to go to a wonderful camp for youth. And right after I graduated, I ended up working at that summer camp my fourth or sixth year up there.

And I ended up falling in love with a beautiful redheaded Aussie. And she still had one more year of Bible college to go. And when she finished up, we got married, we lived in North Carolina for about four years. Growing up, I lived all over in the U.S., Florida, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Utah.

So, when people ask me where I’m from, I’m like, all over and. The thing is, I never picked up an accent moving all around. So now that we ended up moving back to Australia so she could be close to her family where we wanted to raise our kids so they’re close to her parents because they love being grandparents. They were made for that!

And I’ve now been here in Australia for 20 years. I’ve got my Australian citizenship. And after 20 years, as far as I know, I still don’t have an Aussie accent.

Anthony: You don’t, I’m a little disappointed, Al. Part of blending in with your community is sounding like them too. But you sound like you’re from the Midwest, brother.

Al: Yeah, as I tell everyone, I’m such a great pastor because everyone can understand me. I don’t have an accent, which the Aussies all seem to laugh at that.

Anthony: Yeah. It’s great to have you on here. We’ve known each other for a long time, and it’s really fun to have two buddies come around scripture and talk about our Lord Jesus Christ together.

Let’s get on with it. It’s that time. And here are the four Bible passages that we’re going to discuss.

Romans 15:4-13                                                                          The Welcome Mat

Luke 1:46-55                                                                                A Mama’s Praise

Matthew 1:18-25                                                                        God With Us

Luke 2:1-14, 15-20                                                                      Joy For All People

Let me read the first pericope of the month. It’s Romans chapter 15, four through 13. I’m reading from the Common English Bible. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 2 on December the 4th.

Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction so that we could have hope through endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures. May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude toward each other, similar to Christ Jesus’ attitude. That way you can glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one voice. So welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you, for God’s glory. I’m saying that Christ became a servant of those who are circumcised for the sake of God’s truth, in order to confirm the promises given to the ancestors, and so that the Gentiles could glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name. 10 And again, it says, Rejoice, Gentiles, with his people. 11 And again, Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and all the people should sing his praises. 12 And again, Isaiah says, There will be a root of Jesse, who will also rise to rule the Gentiles. The Gentiles will place their hope in him. 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Al, what does this passage unveil about the God revealed in Jesus Christ?

Al: Oh man. So many good things.

First off, what jumps out at me is just that line in verse 5, May the God of endurance and encouragement. Jesus doesn’t ask us to endure out of our own strength and endurance. God is the God of endurance and encouragement.

I did a sermon in 2 Thessalonians this past week, and there’s this line there that says, God is the God of eternal encouragement. I just love that line. Eternal encouragement. Jesus isn’t asking us to endure from our own strength or our own endurance. And that’s where there’s that sense of peace, because it’s God who is the God of encouragement and endurance.

It’s his endurance that we see displayed in Jesus through his whole physical life, his ministry, and his endurance all the way through the cross and the grave and the resurrection. It’s his endurance that we now get to participate in.

And you look at this passage where he talks about the Gentiles, and you see that God is always bigger than we make him out to be. He’s more inclusive, sorry, more inclusive, more encompassing. His plans are larger and bigger than what we think.

Part of this Christian journey as disciples is that we’re always learning that God is so much bigger, so much broader. His plans are so much more all-encompassing than we can think of. We’re always having to readjust just how big this God is that loves us.

Anthony: Yeah, I’ve heard it said, Al, that if you ever cross a line where you think you’ve gone too far in saying, God is just too good to be true. You can’t actually get there. You think you may have. But like you were saying, life is this ongoing repentance where our minds are being blown and changed by the reality of the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

And it’s so much better than our fallen imagination can get to. And thanks be to God that it is his endurance and his encouragement. So, what are the implications both corporately and personally to welcome each other in the same way Christ has welcomed us? What say you?

Al: Just one more thing on that past question and then I’ll answer that one.

One of the other things that jumped out in this passage to me was that hope comes first. That it’s not our plans in preparing; we do all that, we make our plans, or we prepare everything, and then we hope for the best.

We have a hope and a God who is faithful. So, we hope in him. And then we make our plans and preparing, and it comes out of that hope of what we’re doing.

And the difference there is between us making our plans and that’s the center. And then God takes up any slack versus God is the center, the God of encouragement, the God of hope is at the center. And then because of who he is, then it’s born out of us knowing how to and being in relation to him, that we then do things and make our plans and all that out of that hope.

That was just one other thought from that passage I wanted to bring out. And then you asked about the implications both corporately and personally. Reading this passage, I thought back to Paul who’s writing this, and a guy named Ananias and a guy named Barnabas.

Because Paul, he was Saul, it was his name. And he has this unbelievable encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. And then he goes on and he’s blind. And this brother, Ananias, comes and he comes to Paul and lays his hands on him, and he welcomes Paul. It’s this beautiful story.

I just love the story of how Ananias, after talking with God, “God, are you sure this is who you want me to go? This guy’s coming to arrest us.” And God goes, No, I’ve got plans for him. And Ananias goes and lays hands on him.

And then you have Barnabas who welcomes Paul and actually takes him to meet the apostles because people were a bit scared of him. And you see in Paul’s life how he was welcomed even with his background and his story.

And yet he was welcomed. And so, we then translate that into how Christ was, he was welcoming of everyone. And we see even of Saul, he welcomed Saul into the fold as he’s converted. And so, we now have this wonderful model of, personally, we look beyond labels. Our world right now just loves doing labels, and it’s going beyond labels of rich, or poor, evangelical, charismatic, orthodox, capitalist, socialist, libertarian.

We go beyond that, and we look at the person, all of the person. We welcome them into God’s embrace. We’re just reflecting the embrace that God already has for them. So, we do that personally and the people we meet, but then we also do it corporately as the church, we have open doors. We welcome people and we let them know they belong, that soon as they show up, they belong, that God loves them.

Anthony: Yeah. We trust that one died and therefore all died. And so, we can no longer look at anyone from a worldly point of view. Correct? That we can only see as Christ sees. And I can’t help but think of that passage in Luke 19 where God in Jesus Christ welcomes Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector despised among his own people. And Jesus welcomed him into his own home. I’m going to come stay with you, Zacchaeus.

And that’s the initiative of our Lord revealed in Jesus Christ.

Verse 13, Al, I think is a wonderful benediction. And what would you say to someone, especially during the season of Advent, somebody who’s not experiencing as much joy and peace as they would desire? What’s Paul declared here for all of us?

Al: The first thing I would do is I would just sit with the person. I would find out where they are. I would just listen before I said anything because the last thing I want to do is offer shallow cliches to someone who’s hurting or feeling loss, or possibly going through something that I’ve just got no experience in, or no understanding, or I don’t have a common ground with what they’re going through.

I don’t want to offer, simple cliches. I want to just sit with them. And then in sitting with them and listening to them, hearing their story and just being with them in whatever they’re feeling. Then possibly in that sitting with them, then this benediction is lived out and they start to feel this sense of peace because they know they’ve been heard. Someone has actually taken the time to listen to them.

Then after doing that and making sure they’re listened to, then if they still feel like they’re looking for a word from me, that I feel like they want me to say something into their situation, I would just share with them that we can hold peace and anxiety, hope and despair together at the same time. We’re these walking paradoxes at time, and that we can be experiencing multiple feelings at once.

I might be feeling a sense of love from my wife today, and at the same time feeling anxiety from my daughter who’s having a hard time at school. I can feel the peace of God’s presence in my life and at the same time be hurting for a friend who’s going through a rough time. The peace and joy of God aren’t limited just to what we’re feeling at the time, in the moment.

The peace and joy of God are our fruit that is born out of our hope – as we talked about in this passage – born out of our hope in a God who does not disappoint, a God who is faithful, a hope in a God who’s the God of eternal encouragement and endurance. He will see us through whatever we’re going through, however long it takes.

He will be with us. He’s Emmanuel, and he will go through what we’re going through with us. So, our hope in God gives us a perspective of the bigger picture of the God who came to us and takes us with them in the ascension. And it is in that bigger picture beyond what we’re experiencing right now, or we’re feeling right now, that bears that fruit of peace and joy in our lives.

And that’s probably what I would then talk to a larger audience, like a congregation, and bringing out in this passage – that we all might be sitting in different spots during this month, and with everything going on, hectic and busy and joy. And we’ve got all these mixed feelings, but in all of this, God is with us.

And we focus on the big picture of the God who we have hope in, who doesn’t disappoint. He makes his promises, and he fulfills them. He promised a Messiah, and the Messiah came so we can rely on this God who keeps his promises again and again. Our hope focuses on who God is, the God that is a God of encouragement, the God of hope.

And then out of that, the peace and in this benediction that Paul gives us, this peace that he talks about. And the joy then is born out of that hope that we have in him.

Anthony: I appreciated what you said about just sitting with someone, listening to them, making sure they feel seen and heard. To me, that’s the marrying of gospel proclamation along with gospel demonstration. It’s just being with somebody and in that way, reflecting the truth that God is a God of hope and of all joy and peace, even in the midst of great sorrow. The paradox that you mentioned, that’s a beautiful way of expressing it. It goes back to that old saying that’s become somewhat cliche, but it’s still truthful, that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. And that’s what I hear you stating there. That’s beautiful.

Let’s move on to our next pericope, which is Luke 1:46 – 55. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 3, which is December the 11th. Al, would you read it for us, please?

Al: Sure.

46 Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. 48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored 49 because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. 50 He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. 51 He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. 52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. 54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55 just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Anthony: Mary’s Magnificat is a beloved passage of scripture, and I could tell you like it too, just the way you read it. What stands out to you in this contemplation of her song?

Al: First, I usually tend to stick to the NIV translation. I like reading some of the others. But when you mentioned that we were going to read from the Common English Bible, and I read this passage, I’m so glad you picked that translation.

Because what jumped out at me was right there at the beginning, “with all my heart I glorify the Lord in the depths of who I am.” Mary is feeling this sense of awe and worship to the depths of her bones. It’s just bubbling up out of her. And I get this sense that she couldn’t stop herself from singing God’s praises at this moment, even if she wanted to.

And I was trying to think how can we relate to this?

And I thought back to the concept of proposing. When I propose to my wife, there’s that moment because you’re a little, what if she says no? But you propose, and she says yes, and you’re happy and all that. But I thought back, and it was after that, nights afterwards, days afterwards, that I was sitting there when this joy was just like, she said yes. It was like it was just hitting me. She said, Yes! My whole life is now going to be different for the better.

And to me that, that was the closest I could come to what Mary is feeling here, is that it’s just this joy that she’s feeling and it’s bubbling up and it’s not just this instant thing, it’s something that’s just percolating, and it just keeps bubbling up.

The more and more she thinks about everyone will consider me highly favored. That this is something that is going to change – not just me – this is going to change everything. This is going to change my generation, but this is going to change everything for all of humanity. And she’s just, wow.

And she just can’t help but sing and praise. This song probably captures how she was feeling for days and weeks, just contemplating as this little baby grows inside of her and she feels this kick. It’s probably something that she just repeated to herself again and again. God is faithful and, ah, yeah, I’ll stop there.

Anthony: She said, yes. That sounds like a jewelry commercial.

But Mary obviously said amen to God’s amen to her. And she recognized that she was highly favored with God and that favor is unique and particular to her. But let me ask you this, can the particularity of her favored-ness show us something which is universally true about all of us?

And if so, how and if not, why not?

Al: Yeah. Good question. You know what God does for her; she says he looked with favor on the low status of his servant. And that’s what he’s done for all of us. Because in one state, in one sense, all of us have that low status. All of us are sinners. All of us live under that, that Adam and Eve’s line, and he’s done this act for all of us, this act of mercy. That of Jesus the Son coming and being incarnate in Jesus.

He’s done for everyone. So, it’s this personal story between God and Mary. And yet in Mary, it’s also our story in that God is a personal God. He shows each of us great favor, just simply because we’re now adopted in the Son through the Spirit. We are now in Christ. And the Father now looks at you and at me, and at all of us as beloved sons and beloved daughters.

So, this feeling of awe and victory and worship that Mary feels. And her song of praise, she does on our behalf, because it’s our story too. God has looked on us the least, the last, the little, the lost (as Robert Capon likes to say.) Those that seem to be dead to society, and he has given us favor.

Mary recognizes that she’s entered the unfolding story of God’s fidelity to Abraham and his seed way back in this story in Genesis 12, where he promises that all nations will be blessed through you. And she’s now a part of this story that continues to unfold generation after generation. And so just as she’s a part of it, we now get to be a part of it too.

Anthony: With that in mind, o favored one, Al Kurwaza, what else would you like for us to see and hear from this passage?

Al: Two things. And the first, I’ll just point to somewhere else, and that is the place of Israel in God’s heart. He did not abandon them at the cross any more than he ever abandoned Gentiles.

They’ve always been a part of his plan. And I can’t it articulate as well, but T.F. Torrance in his book, The Mediation of Christ, just does such a great job of recognizing that. I’ll just point to that way because that was something that jumped out in this passage. That Mary is part of that Jewish story, and that Jesus comes within Israel’s story for Israel.

When Paul goes out, he would go to the synagogues first. He wanted to share the story with the Jews, and then he would then share it with the Gentiles because the story is for both.

And then the other thing in this passage that I really like is how God sees us. It’s the Zacchaeus that you mentioned just previously, right? That he’s in this tree. He’s a short little guy. He is in a tree trying to get a glimpse of Jesus. And Jesus sees him.

Jesus sees Hannah, who is sitting there, and she wants to have a child so badly, and she’s praying, and she goes to the temple year after year. And God sees her.

And then there’s this beautiful story with Hagar when Hagar takes Ishmael and leaves because Sarah is just torturing her practically and giving her such a hard time. And God says, Hagar, where are you going? And talks to her and says that your son, Ishmael, and says what the name of Ishmael will be. And it’s “God hears.” So, God hears us. And then Hagar names this place, and she names it because you are the God who sees me.

So, it’s these little people, the Hagars and the Hannahs and the Zacchaeus and you and me, and that God sees us. He cares for us. And in Mary’s song, I think that’s where it comes out. She’s a nobody. She’s a nobody. And yet God sees her and includes her in his wonderful plan that he has for all of us.

Anthony: Your reflections made me think of Luke 13, a recent lectionary passage where Jesus is in the synagogue teaching. And he sees a woman who had been bent over for 18 years and calls her forward to participate in her healing that day based on his loving initiative.

And this is who God is. And I think this is why Mary sings with all of her hearts. And where we can sing too, because as it says in verse 50, he shows mercy to everyone. That’s all of us. We are the lowly who have been lifted high in the ascension.

Hallelujah, praise God.

Al: Oh hallelujah. And I love that what you just said. He takes the initiative. That’s what’s so wonderful about this God. He takes the initiative and then, ah wow. Yep.

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next passage for the month. It’s Matthew 1: 18 – 25. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 4, which is on December the 18th.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel.  (Emmanuel means “God with us.”) 24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

The author Robert Capon once described talking about God as throwing analogies against the mystery. I love that. Articulating the implications of the incarnation of the son of God is nearly an impossible task, Al. And yet we try. We try to put words to it. So, tell us about the birth of Jesus.

Al: If I’m going to trip up, this is it, because it’s almost beyond our language. And it’s why we have to then refer and use things like metaphors and poetry to try and capture something that’s so beyond straightforward words.

And I’m going to refer to another author, C.S. Lewis. As I came across his readings, he uses an analogy that really helped for me, and that was a cube and a square. And he was talking about that as a square, a square only lives in two dimensions. And it can only understand two dimensions. It can understand one dimension and two. But a cube is in three dimensions, and the square is just not going to be able to understand the cube. But the cube can understand the square because part of the cube is that square part, that two dimensions.

And where CS Lewis was going with that analogy is that God, not that God is a cube, but that God is God. And we can’t use creation and things of creation to describe the Trinity. We can’t go there because God is not a part of his creation. He is the creator.

But what’s amazing and this is what blows me away, is that God, even though he’s beyond us in creation, and we’re only created beings, God wants us to know him. He wants to reveal himself to us. Like this cube wants the square to actually know the cube in one sense. God isn’t limited, whereas the cube is limited; he can’t make the square understand three dimensions. God’s not limited, and he actually does something that blows us away. He makes himself known by coming down and becoming one of us.

He reveals himself to us by becoming one of us – human, fully human, born of a woman, just like you and me. And then in this person of Jesus Christ in his birth, we then find out that God is a relational God. We have a Father who says, This is my Son who my love. And we have this Spirit flowing through the Son.

And the Son says, I only do what the Father tells me to do. And I see my Father at work, and I participate. And so, we find out that this is a relational God. And so, this God who’s the creator and we’re only the creation, has somehow figured out a way to actually reveal himself to us. Not everything, because we can’t fully comprehend God, but enough to know that this is a relational God who’s willing to humble himself and become one of us.

In one sense, it’s the ultimate in place-sharing. We didn’t come up with this phrase, place-sharing. God actually shows us what place-sharing is. He comes and sets up his tent with us. John 1:14. He makes his dwelling with us. It’s like he’s setting up his tent.

You know when you go on a drive, and you stop at a rest area? You stop, you stretch your legs and then you go. But when you go camping, you bring a tent, you bring sleeping gear, you bring food, and you set up the tent, and you’re planning to stay there for a while to actually be part of this campsite and be part of it. And so, when it says, God sets up his tent with us, he comes and actually dwells with us.

He place-shares with us by actually experiencing humanity as we experience humanity. He experiences hunger, he experiences cold, he experiences being rejected and betrayal. Disciples leave him. He experiences bloodying up his knee. He experiences joy, and he shows us what true life is because he has the experience of the Father and the Spirit and being in communion with them and showing us that’s what his intentions are for us.

Anthony: Karl Barth, and I’m paraphrasing, talked about how we cannot comprehend God, as you mentioned, at best, we can apprehend, get glimpses. But thanks be to God that he wants to reveal himself and self-revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity.

And this is why the incarnation is so mindboggling that he would stoop to our level, just to be with his kids. Like you, as a parent, getting down on the floor with your child to play with them to meet them where they are. That the actual true Sabbath would walk into a synagogue on the sabbath day, just to be with his people, it is astonishing. May we never lose the awe and wonder of the incarnation of our Lord.

Let’s think about Joseph and his actions toward Mary for a moment. What, if anything, can his actions teach us?

Al: First, what jumps out at me is Joseph’s respect for Mary, right from the start. If you know a bit about the culture at that time, the patriarchal system, the way husbands could treat their wives, the way men Jewish men could treat women in this story.

Joseph could have behaved and acted in a whole lot of ways when he finds out that Mary was pregnant. And those ways could have ruined Mary’s life, or at least caused her a tremendous amount of pain. But right from the beginning, he wanted to honor her and respected her. Even the thought of divorcing her quietly so that it didn’t cause her any more grief than she was already going to feel being pregnant out of wedlock.

So, we see right from the beginning, this is a man who wanted to respect a female. And that right there, I think, in that culture, tells us a bit about Joseph. And then we see his faith and obedience to God, because when God tells him, No, you’re going to marry Mary, he obeys God’s instructions after the dream.

So, we see his respect for Mary, and we see him honoring God by not consummating the marriage until after Jesus was born. So, he follows God’s instructions, marries Mary, but then he also doesn’t consummate because he knows that this is sacred. This is something special going on.

And he allows Mary to go through the full pregnancy and Jesus is born, as the passage tells us.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s, I’m just thinking about what you stated in terms of just the way he honored her, respected her, and he had at his disposal, societal options that would have really belittled and humiliated her.

And in that way, he embodied our Lord Jesus Christ because Jesus could shame us. He literally has every right to belittle our waywardness, but he doesn’t. He even in the midst of great mocking and pain on the cross, he says, Father, forgive them, as he reveals the heart of the Father.

I thank God for Joseph in the way that he’s reflecting reality, that we experience with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Al, the witness of both Testaments in Scripture seem to point, and they don’t just seem to, they do point to a God who really likes his kids, who wants to be with his people. And so, we have a God named, Emmanuel, God with us, which explicates that reality.

So, the with-ness of God, what does it teach us? What is our response to it? What do you want to share with us?

Al: Oh boy. This is a good one. That’s a good question. Boy, we could go quite a while on this, so I’ll try to refrain from going too long. But Jesus himself defines, as I mentioned earlier, place-sharing with us.

God comes and place-shares with us. And I heard this once, I think it was Randy Bloom one time mentioned that the incarnation is God’s radical affirmation of our humanity. He takes on our humanity. And then I first heard this line from Elmer Colyer (but he might have been quoting Torrance), that God does not want to be God without us.

So, he chooses to be God with us, and both Testaments say, I will be their God and they will be my people. That’s the beautiful concluding image in Revelation. I will be their God and they will be my people. And it’s not us going off somewhere; it’s that God comes to us.

Even in Revelation, even in the final coming, God comes to us and there’s a new heaven and a new earth where it’s together, where we are in the full presence of God.

So, this God, this creator of the universe, the God, the one who’s created everything, who is complete in and by himself of the three persons of the Trinity and lacks nothing, chooses to be God with us.

Wow. His creation. We’re just his creation. We’re lowly humans who continue to rebel against him time and time again. And yet, every time we rebel against him and turn our backs, God continues to say no to our no and chooses to be God with us. And it wasn’t just this one time where Jesus comes and is on earth for 30 years with us.

He then sends the Holy Spirit, which is God’s presence. The Spirit of the Son is now flowing through us and the body of the Church. And then it doesn’t stop then either; in Jesus’ final coming, God is with us. And so, we get to be with him in his full glory for all eternity.

So this is definitely a God who shows us time and time again – from the beginning of the story when he’s walking in the garden looking for Adam and Eve to the very end when he comes down and says, I will be their God and they will be people – this is a God who wants to be with us. And that is what can really humble us again and again.

And it’s also something that we can truly clinging to when we mess up, when we goof up, when we just make our sin again. And we’re like, Why am I still doing this? Why am I frustrating with this?

This is what we can clinging to, is that this is a God who wants to be God with us. He chooses to dwell with us. Even if we don’t deserve it, this is what he wants to do. And he just continues to invite us. I like to use the word, drawing. He’s continually drawing us to him like a magnet. He just draws us to him because he loves us so much.

He wants to be with us.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s such a good word, such an encouraging word during Advent because part of Advent is this longing, this anticipation, this waiting for the arrival of God to be with us. And he is.

It’s like you said, and I think this is an important word to bring up, that even as we talk about the eschatological truth of Jesus’s second coming, we cannot rightfully talk about it as if God in Jesus Christ is not here by his Spirit.

And sometimes you get this disconnect like, Oh, we’re just waiting for the fullness of the kingdom, as if God is not with us now, but he is, even if we don’t sense it.

And really isn’t that a big part of the Christian walk? That the God that we have with us in the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of our heart to see the reality of God’s presence with us in the here and now. It’s this growing in our awareness of God’s power and presence by the Holy Spirit. So, this is such a fantastic word at a time of Advent in a time of chaos and disconnection to know that God is with us and he’s going to see his good promises through. Amen and amen.

Al: Amen. And if I could just add Anthony, you know that disconnect you’re talking about, when we think about, Oh Jesus isn’t here with us; he went and ascended to heaven. The great news is that we ascended with him. He took us with him. Paul says that we only see things darkly right now because we’re with Jesus.

So, whether it is in heaven where Jesus sits at the right hand of the throne, or whether it’s down here on Earth, Jesus is with us because his Spirit, as you were just saying, flows through us. So, Jesus is with us. And if we think, oh Jesus is up there somewhere in heaven, well, we’re with him there because he rose with us.

That this union with Christ was so important to Paul that he says it like 172 times one way or another, that we are in Christ, in Jesus Christ. One way or another. He says it over and over again because we are, our life is in Christ. So, we are so united with him.

So, when he died, we died with him. When he rose, we rose with him When he ascends to heaven. He takes us with them and dwells at the right hand. So, we are always with Christ. That is the only way to have life, is our union with Christ. That is our life. There is no life outside of that. So, he comes in the incarnation to show us that he is with us.

And then the whole story, the New Testament, is that he is always with us. Whether he dies and goes into the grave, whether the grave is empty, whether he’s resurrected, whether he ascends. We are always with Jesus because we are now united with him.

Anthony: That’s so powerful and hard to, again, comprehend that there is this double movement of grace that we are in Christ and so therefore we do what Christ does.

We move closer to the Father. That’s what love does. It always moves closer to the other. That’s what obedience looks like too, as Jesus is obedient to the Father, but also, he is with us by the Spirit. So, as I’m frying my eggs in the morning, he’s there. Yes, I find myself in sin. He is there when I’m loving my family, or not.

He is there and always through love, not just leaving us where we are, helping us to mature into himself, who is the head of the church. Hallelujah, praise God. It’s like you said at the top when I asked the question, we really could spend an entire podcast, a series of podcasts trying to describe this with-ness that we have with God in God.

Hallelujah.

Al: I love that phrase, you just used double movement. That’s beautiful and that we can just chew on that. Just take that with you, that double movement and it’s God moving towards us, but then God drawing us towards him, and then it’s in Jesus’s obedience that we’re able to draw towards him.

And so, God again, initiates both, but it’s this double movement that we get to participate in. So that’s a great phrase that you used.

Anthony: Brother man, it’s Christmas day. Let’s move on to our final pericope of the month. It’s Luke 2:1-14, 15-20 Common English Bible. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Christmas Day, December the 25th.

Al, Please read it for us.

Al: Okay.

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Anthony: Not a bad job pronouncing Quirinius. See. I can’t say it. You did. Excellent.

Al: I practiced a lot today.

Anthony: I bet you did, brother. Well done. We don’t name our kids that anymore. We should rectify that.

Al, it’s Christmas day. By the way, what’d you get me for Christmas?

Al: Ooh. It’s in the mail.

Anthony: Like Ed McMahon and my big prize. It’s in the mail. Okay.

Are there any Christmas traditions your family has been doing through the years that you’d be willing to share with our listening audience and what does the Christmas season mean to you?

Al: Alright. I have to give a little bit of background first, because my wife and I did not grow up celebrating Christmas.

It wasn’t part of either of our family’s tradition. And so, when we were married and started having kids, we did discuss what are we going to do as a family? And it’s been an interesting journey trying to figure out what traditions we wanted to establish for our family, because we didn’t come from any tradition.

So, in one sense, it was great because we started with a blank slate. But another sense, it’s hard starting traditions when you don’t even know what to do, what’s going to have meaning or not. And a few things never really stuck. But the two things that have seem to stick for our family is, first off, my wife bought an Advent calendar with cards.

And each day of Advent is a name or title for Jesus, and a passage that goes along with it. So, at dinnertime, during Advent, when we’re done eating, or near the end, one of the kids gets the card and they get to read the name, and then they get to read the passage and whatever discussions might come from that.

So that’s been enjoyable. And then because the cards, we then hang up around the living room my wife puts a beautiful string around the walls. And then we can see those words, those titles for Jesus, throughout the whole month.

And then when it gets to Christmas Eve time one of the channels here does carols by candlelight. And in Melbourne they put on this huge concert singing hymns and carols. And a lot of people in Melbourne will go to that and sit in the park. And you have to remember that here in December, it’s summertime, so it’s usually pretty good, warm weather so people can bring their picnic blankets and sit out.

And in our family, my wife’s a great cook and she makes homemade fudge, and she’ll make some chocolate fondue and we have strawberries, and we have fudge and some other neat little snacks, and we’ll just put on the carols by candlelight. And they sing songs like Holy Night, O Jerusalem. They do the Hallelujah Chorus from the Handel’s Messiah. And so, you get some of the top artists from Australia singing that night. And we get to sit back, enjoy some lovely food and enjoy some wonderful carols.

However, last week I did see a post that in Iceland, on Christmas Eve, they exchange books and then spend the rest of the night reading and eating chocolate. So that might be something we need to incorporate into our night. I wouldn’t mind doing that, doing a bit of reading that night.

Anthony: Speaking of chocolate, you mentioned chocolate fondue. What time should we show up at your house? We’re invited, right?

Al: About 7:30pm it should be all ready. We’re done with dinner and my wife’s set it all out, so you’re all welcome. 7:30 my house.

Anthony: Y’all come. I love it.

The passage mentions that Jesus, the firstborn child, was wrapped snugly. And sometimes I wonder, as we think about a nativity scene, it can be a bit sanitized and glamorized. Does it do a disservice to the depths our Lord humbly submitted himself to the human condition?

I’m curious for your thoughts.

Al: I would agree that it does. Again, my very smart wife says that when she became a mom, this whole passage changed for her because as a mom, this passage took on new meanings for her with the depths of Jesus’ humility.

He was born a baby, which means that he had to have his diaper or nappy, as we say in Australia, changed for him. He was completely at the mercy of Mary and Joseph to be fed, clothed, provided for. He went through that entire stage of baby and childhood and having to learn to walk and read and write and feed oneself.

So yeah, it can be a disservice when we forget about that. Jesus, really, when we talk about humble, he humbled himself to all of the human experience, including being a baby that has to be completely looked after.

Anthony: Yeah. It’s staggering. Continue.

Al: And one of the other thoughts with the whole sanitizing the service. I think part of it can also be in relation to those of us in the western world because if you think back to Mary’s Magnificat that we talked about, she talks about it with Jesus coming, it’s a reversal.

It’s God turning an upside-down world right side up. However, those of us in first world countries sometimes forget that we are the ones who can be proud. We are the ones that can be powerful. We are the ones that have full bellies.

So, I’m talking here to myself, that this inflection that I need to think about is maybe this good news of the poor being fed and the rich going away empty-handed, isn’t the sanitized good news that we in prosperous countries make it out to be? In the humility of Jesus’ birth, the manger of animals, the nobody’s involved in Jesus’ birth, it’s also a time for us for reflection, a time to stop and ask, is our part in this birth narrative maybe different than we assume?

Think about who is at the birth and who is it? First, notice who is not there? No Caesar, no King Herod, no chief priest from the temple. No army general. No politicians, none of the rich and famous. None of those that we usually would, in our current culture, that we think are important, having status worldly leaders.

But notice who is there, Joseph and Mary, two nobodies from Nazareth. No one had ever heard of them up to this point. And until Jesus had his ministry and the disciples and apostles start sharing the good news, after Jesus has risen and then some of them start writing down this Gospels good news, we would’ve never have known of Joseph and Mary.

Just two people having a baby. That happens all the time. And then you have these unnamed shepherds. They were the nomads at the time, right? They’d be our modern-day immigrants who are willing to work for less than minimum wage. They’re just wandering from job to job, living out in the fields with the sheep, no hot running water.

And then eight days later, Jesus is presented at the temple and there’s a guy named, Simian, and there’s an old lady named, Anna. These are the people that get to witness the birth of humanity’s salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s witnessed by a bunch of nobodies.

And the who’s who of Judea and the Roman Empire, they’re nowhere to be found. They’re off running the world, or at least think they are. And yet the King is born, and they’re too busy doing their other things.

So, it’s this chance, as you talk about, we can have this little manger scene and the snow falling and the shepherds around and the wise men in these little manger scenes, narratives like we put up.

But yeah, we can start to sanitize it and think of the joy of a baby born. But it’s also a comeuppance. It’s one of these things where we need to stop, reflect and go, are we actually there with Joseph and Mary and baby?

Or are we actually with the Caesars and the Herods in the palaces and off doing our own thing and a bit too busy during this season to actually stop and go, oh, wait a minute, the King has been born and he’s humbled himself. And that’s what he wants us to follow in his footsteps in all that too. Be that humble one. And if we’re the rich and we got the full bellies, then we need to be maybe pausing going, who do I need to feed?

Who is out there that I can help? Who is out there that I can give comfort to, warmth to? Who’s out there that might be sleeping in a manger that I can open my home to? And I’m talking metaphorically here but some might be literally, might be figuratively, of how can we look out for the Joseph and Marys out there and invite them and let them belong and look after them?

Anthony: That’s quite insightful, what you said, who’s there and who’s not. And that brought me to this moment of thinking about the incarnation, the birth of the Godchild. That with it is certainly the grace that God showed up on the scene, pitched the tent, as you said earlier.

But also comes with it a judgment that we needed a savior born to us. We needed a King. And so that’s what I hear you reflecting on. That as we look at the story — often when we come to a narrative scripture, if we think of ourselves in the story, have you noticed, Al, we generally make ourselves the good guys?

We’re with the good guys, we’re the ones doing it right. But what I hear you saying is really an important thing, that we also need to stop and reflect. Where am I and truly in this story? Would I be there? Would I come to see the wondrous, joyous news that’s good for all people?

Or would I be too busy doing my own thing, building my own kingdom when the King of the true kingdom has shown up on the scene? Thank you for that word.

It’s important for us to reflect on even at a time like Christmas and that’s what grace teaches us to do, right? We sometimes think of grace as even warm and fuzzy, like we think of the Christ child being born in a manger, but grace tells us to say no to ungodliness, right? That’s what Titus teaches us. So, it’s a truth-telling grace that we get to reflect upon.

I’m struck that in verse 9, the people were terrified when God showed up on the scene, when the Lord’s angel or his representative, I should say, showed up on the scene. And we see that often in scripture that people are terrified when something of the glory of heaven shows up.

Tell us about that. What’s going on?

Al: In contemplating on this and doing a little reading, I came across a quote by A.W. Tozer, who observed about 50 years ago, he said, “The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but his goodness encourages us not to be afraid of him. To fear and not be afraid, that is the paradox of faith.”

And I thought, yeah, he just captured that really well. And the image that came to my mind is the one of a moth being drawn to one of those bug zaps, right? The light is brilliant from a moth perspective. It’s this brilliant light, and it draws them off to it, but it’s also being drawn to its death.

In Luke’s Gospel story of the calling of the disciples, after the miracle catch of fish, Peter’s first exclamation is, go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man. And yet it says, the disciples got out of the boat and followed Jesus. So, he says to go away from me, I’m sinful. But then he follows Jesus.

So, we get a glimpse of the glory of God, and we see simultaneously God’s goodness, God’s holy love, God’s all-consuming love, and our sinfulness embedded in our very core and our complete destruction if in our current bodies, we were to encounter the full glory of God. God’s all-consuming love means that He wants all of us. Not one part is left to our own. C.S. Lewis calls this the intolerable compliment, that God is not willing to let any part of us, no dark corner, no little bit not be redeemed and reconciled to him.

Sometimes we want to compromise with God and say, Okay, I’ll give you this part of my life, but let me keep control of this part of my life. We either think we know better how to run that part of our life, or we like that part of our life the way it is. And we’re afraid God’s just going to mess it up if he gets his hands on it. He’ll want to purify us and there goes our fun.

But the only way to truly live into the abundant life that God has for us is to submit our entire lives to every part. And God won’t be satisfied unless he has every part. When we get a glimpse of that all-consuming love, we recognize that it truly is all-consuming. Like a refiner’s fire. All our impurities are going to be melted away until we are the masterpiece that, that great artist God has designed each and every one of us to be.

One of my favorite passages is Ephesian 2, and in the New Living translation it calls us God’s masterpiece. He is the master artist and each of one of us is a masterpiece, and he won’t finish with us until we are fully done. We are the masterpiece he designed us to be.

And what’s encouraging in this passage is even though the shepherds were frightened, they’re invited to witness the birth of Jesus. So even in our fear, God tells us, do not be afraid because what he has planned for us is an invitation. He’s inviting us to join in with the love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always been participating in for all time and always will.

So, it’s an invitation. It’s terrifying because he’s going to refine us so that we can participate in it. But once that masterpiece is done, when each and every one of us is done, we will get to fully participate in that love for all time.

I love what Tozer said. It’s just the paradox of this greatness of God. But there’s also his encouragement. Do not be afraid. I heard one time that’s the most often quoted, that’s the most often cited command in the Bible. Do not be afraid because he doesn’t want us to fear. He wants us to live, submit, and live into this perfect love that he has designed for us.

Anthony: That’s a good way to end. And I’m looking at verse 14. Glory to God in heaven and on the earth. Peace among those whom he favors.

He favors you, friends. Merry Christmas to you all. Al, it’s been a joy having you on the podcast today. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thank you so much for the keen insights by the Spirit that you provided for us here today.

And I also want to thank our fine producer, Reuel Enerio, and our transcriber, Elizabeth Mullins. They do a fantastic job, which makes this podcast possible.

Brother, I love you. You are a beloved child of the living God, and as is our tradition on the Gospel Reverb podcast, we’d love to end with prayer, and I know you’d like to share benediction as well.

Al: Yes. And let me just say again, thank you for having me on this podcast. I love listening to Gospel Reverb and now to actually be a part of it in this way, I just really appreciate it. And if I may also say back to you, Anthony, you are a beloved son of the Father and how wonderful that is. And a Merry Christmas to you and to all our listeners as well.

And yeah, if you would join me in prayer.

Loving God, we give you thanks. We thank you so much for who you are. We thank you that you continue to reveal to us who you are. And in that process, we learn who we are. We’re your beloved in Christ. We are your beloved sons and daughters. And we just thank you for these scriptures, these holy scriptures which you’ve given us, so that we can reflect and draw deeper into that relationship with you.

I just pray for those that will be reflecting on these passages and sharing them and teaching from them over the month of Advent. I just pray that your Holy Spirit guides them and gives them your words so that in each of their messages and in their teachings, they bring glory to you.

And we just pray this in Jesus’ name.

And now may the God of hope, the Lord of love, and the Spirit of comfort, fill all of you with joy, peace, hope, and love, so that it fills and overflows from you into others this advent season. Amen.


Thank you for being a guest of Gospel Reverb. If you like what you heard, give us a high rating and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast content. Share this episode with a friend. It really does help us get the word out as we are just getting started. Join us next month for a new show and insights from the RCL. Until then, peace be with you!

Sermon for December 4, 2022 – 2nd Sunday of Advent

Speaking of Life 5002 | The Full Package of Peace

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 5002 | The Full Package of Peace
Greg Williams

The second Sunday of Advent carries with it the theme of peace. It’s a wonderful reminder of yet another Christmas gift we can anticipate in Jesus’ coming to us. And the gift of peace is certainly a gift that needs to be received in our day and age.

But the gift of peace Jesus brings does not stand alone. Peace is the nature of Jesus’ rule and reign as the true Lord and King of his creation. You cannot separate Jesus’ person as King from his reign of peace. Jesus is not just our source of peace; Jesus is our peace. Peace does not come to us from any other source. That means to receive Jesus’ gift of peace is to receive him as our Lord and King.

When we do, we are receiving the full package of peace. Let me explain.

Peace has a foundation. It is built on righteousness and justice. These three, righteousness, justice, and peace, were the model by which ancient Israel’s rulers were measured. Unfortunately, they often fell short.

Let’s look at all three.

First, Righteousness is a word best understood as an orientation of the heart that seeks truth, compassion, gentleness, goodness, and overall wholeness in all relationships. “Righteousness,” biblically defined, could be rephrased as, “right-relationship.”

Second, Justice is then understood as a working out of these inner qualities within human communities. Therefore, justice comes from individuals whose hearts beat with righteousness in all their relationships. On this basis, justice is not an external law to govern people’s interactions, but an internal reality working out towards others.

Thirdly, Peace, then, is simply the result of communities living in righteousness and justice among one another.

So, these three, righteousness, justice, and peace go together. Listen for the repetition of these three words in Psalm 72 that are desired and sought in a king:

Give the king Your judgments, O God,
and Your righteousness to the king’s Son.
He will judge Your people with righteousness,
and Your poor with justice.
The mountains will bring peace to the people,
and the little hills, by righteousness.
He will bring justice to the poor of the people;
He will save the children of the needy,
and will break in pieces the oppressor.
They shall fear You as long as the sun and moon endure,
throughout all generations.
He shall come down like rain upon the grass before mowing,
like showers that water the earth.
In His days the righteous shall flourish,
and abundance of peace, until the moon is no more.
Psalm 72:1-7 (NKJV)

No doubt, this Psalm finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, our Lord and true King. He is the reason we celebrate the Second Week of Advent with a focus on the theme of peace. Jesus comes to us, bringing to us as gifts of grace his own righteousness, justice, and peace. If your heart is yearning for abiding peace, Jesus comes to you with the full package.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 • Isaiah 11:1-10 • Romans 15:4-13 • Matthew 3:1-12

This week’s theme is Jesus brings peace and we are to be his peacemakers. The call to worship Psalm petitions God to give to the king the righteousness and justice that leads to peace. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah is a classic announcement of the future king, from the line of David, who will bring a reign characterized by justice and peace. The text from Romans offers encouragement from the scriptures to glorify God by living in harmonious relationships with one another. The Gospel reading from Matthew accounts John the Baptist’s announcement of the coming of Jesus who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Welcoming God’s Welcome

Romans 15:4-13 (NRSVUE)

This week’s theme is Jesus brings peace and we are to be his peacemakers. The call to worship Psalm petitions God to give to the king the righteousness and justice that leads to peace. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah is a classic announcement of the future king, from the line of David, who will bring a reign characterized by justice and peace. The text from Romans offers encouragement from the scriptures to glorify God by living in harmonious relationships with one another. The Gospel reading from Matthew accounts John the Baptist’s announcement of the coming of Jesus who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Today’s advent theme is peace. So, as we look at our passage today, we will be encouraged to remember God’s past work in Christ that establishes peace between God and humans, and by extension, between all people one with another. As believers:

  • We celebrate the peace already introduced by the Father in Jesus as recorded for us in the Gospels.
  • We look forward in hope, anticipating Jesus’ return and the fulfillment of the New Creation he brings where peace will fill the earth and be the way of life between all peoples.
  • We participate in his peace in the present, as much as we possibly can, as a witness of the reality of peace found only in Christ.

This makes perfect sense, of course. If we are celebrating the peace Jesus brought in his first coming, while at the same time anticipating in hope the ultimate peace that will come with his second coming, why would we not aim to live out that peace in our present lives today? What’s the point of celebrating something in the past and hoping for the same thing in the future if we don’t really want it in the present?

However, living in peace in the present is not a simple task. In fact, without Christ, it is impossible. That’s why we need the to be reminded every Advent season, and every Sunday throughout all seasons, where the source of all peace is found—in Jesus. We are not invited to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and try harder to live in peace with others. We do not gather to be given a message on the importance of living peacefully in a world that is in so much conflict, as true as that is. And we certainly do not gather to hear a how-to message on living in peace with others. If peace can be established by such means, we would have had peace a long time ago.

We gather to receive once again the peace of God given to us in Jesus Christ. It is only in receiving the peace he has for us, that we can live out that peace in our relationships one with another, first in the church, and then in the world, as much as possible. As we do so, we do not expect to establish world peace by our efforts. Rather, we do so as a witness to the world that Jesus is indeed the only source of peace.

This is why it is so important that the church live in unity one with another. We are a witness of the unity in the triune God. We are a witness that invites others to participate alongside us in the life of peace made available in Jesus Christ. In this way, we become peacemakers in the world, not by our strength, but in the power of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who is Peace.

That’s a long introduction to our passage today, but to be fair, the Apostle Paul has set up this passage with a long introduction himself. In fact, Paul is going to make the admonition to believers in Rome, and by extension to us today, to “welcome one another,” which is another way of saying “to live in peace with each other,” or to live in unity. He spent the first 14 chapters in Romans building up to this point.

The church in Rome was made up of Jews and Gentiles. The vast differences between the two had created a great deal of tension, which Paul addresses. He spends 14 chapters reminding the church, and us today, of God’s identity, which is revealed in Jesus. He reminds us that the commands of Scripture are always grounded in the indicative (revealing) of God’s character.

Or to put it another way, God’s commands are grounded in God’s revelation of who he is. God doesn’t tell us to do something outside of who he is for us. If he commands us to live in peace, it is because the triune God is a God of peace. And Jesus has brought to us, in himself, the very peace that exists between Father, Son, and Spirit. We cannot achieve peace by our own efforts. Rather, true peace is received as a gift of grace.

It seems the divisions in the Roman church were so intense that Paul knew he would need to spend extra time in reminding them where the source of peace was … or more accurately, who the source of peace was. Surely, we are in the same situation today. The world around us is fracturing over so many issues, and the church has succumbed in large part to this influence. If the church is going to fulfill her calling as a witness in the world, it must return to her Lord, who is the only source of peace for the life and witness of the church.

In Jesus, churches, and the believers who belong to them, can resist the temptation of division by being reminded of the peace and unity established in the past work of Christ, as well as being reminded of the soon coming kingdom of peace Jesus will establish at his second coming. Both these past and future realities established in Christ can open our hearts once again to receive the peace Jesus holds out to us to receive by grace in the present.

Let’s begin our passage to hear this reminder once again in hopes of having our hearts turned to him who is ever with us as our peace on earth and good will toward all men.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 NRSVUE)

Paul begins by referring to what “was written in former days.” As we do during Advent, Paul begins by looking in the past. Specifically, he looks back to see what God has already told us in the Scriptures. We can trust what the Scriptures tell us because God is trustworthy. The Scriptures are his gift to us for our “instruction” and “encouragement.”

So, before Paul delivers his admonition to the church, he wants to remind them, and us today, that all Scripture “was written for our instruction.” A primary thing Scripture does is teach us. From here, we may ask the question, “teach us what?” Ultimately all of Scripture is given to us so we may learn who God is as revealed in Jesus Christ.

We can take comfort that God had us in mind when he inspired the prophets and poets to pen the words of Scripture. Through seeing who God is in Jesus Christ, we are given steadfastness and encouragement for our present time. But this does not mean the Scriptures just contain a lot of information and facts about God. The “knowing” we are given through the Scriptures is a real and personal knowing, because God meets us personally within the pages of the Bible.

The Holy Spirit is actively teaching us all things about himself as we read the Scriptures seeking to know the Lord more. It’s a book where the author sits down with you as you read it. So, the Bible is not a gift God gives from afar because he does not have time to show up in person, he gives it to us personally and stays in the room as we unwrap it and read through it.

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6 NRSVUE)

Notice that harmony is something God grants or gifts us. This will set up his command to “welcome one another” in the next verse. He is not presenting peace as an ideal to work towards but rather a reality to receive. As we live out this reality in our relationships with others, we “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Glorifying God is a way of reflecting who God is. God as Father, Son, Spirit, lives in perfect unity. This life of unity is a gift given to us in Jesus. As we receive this gift and live it out, we “glorify” or magnify to the world a bigger picture of who God is.

The church lives out her witness to the world through her union in Christ, receiving the peace the Lord gives her. This peace lived out in the church then does not become a sign that points to the church, but rather a sign that points others to Jesus. The church is simply participating in the peace he gives. It is not setting out to establish on her own a new program, ideology, principle, method, or set of rules for peace that the world must follow. No, it is serving as a witness to the Lord of Peace who they follow, calling others to do the same. We do not assume that peace will come in any other way. It is a work of grace, and God gets all the glory.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7 NRSVUE)

To welcome others to this degree, we must first welcome Christ’s welcome. Again, we are not left with a welcome grounded on common practices, ideology, or behavior, but on the reality that in Jesus all are welcomed as children of God. As we put our differences aside, we can “praise the Lord,” which in turn reminds us again of his welcome and acceptance of us. As we see more fully the Father’s welcome of us in Jesus, we are able to more fully participate in this reality by welcoming one another.

I’m sure we can all recount an experience of being in a place that we knew we were not welcome. That is not a pleasant experience on any level. When you aren’t welcome, the last thing you are able or want to do is welcome another to that place. Rather, you want to get out and go somewhere you feel welcomed. The same could be said of knowing and experiencing our welcome in Christ. Because we know that in Christ there is no condemnation toward us (Romans 8:1), we can be welcoming to one another. We are set free from all our insecurities and fears, enabling us to not be consumed with ourselves, but rather turn our focus towards others for their good. We welcome others into the welcome of Christ, where they too can lay down all that keeps them from living in the freedom and peace the Lord gives.

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the ancestors and that the gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the gentiles and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the gentiles; in him the gentiles shall hope.” (Romans 15:8-12 NRSVUE)

God had always intended and purposed that the Gentiles would be welcomed as God’s chosen people along with the Jews. Notice how Paul repeatedly cites scripture to make his point. He cites four scriptures to remind and reiterate the truth of God’s heart towards us. God does not intend to leave us in a fragmented and divided world. He does not intend to leave us fragmented and torn apart within ourselves or with others. He has intended from the beginning to bring us into his life of wholeness and peace. That’s what he has done in Jesus Christ, and that is the hope we have for the future. In this sure hope we can be encouraged to turn to the Lord, despite all our failings towards peace, and receive once again the peace he offers us by grace.

Paul then concludes with a benediction that we can receive for ourselves today. This is a blessing Jesus is holding out to you now, in our time of troubling divisions all around. Open your hands to him and receive the peace that only he can give.

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

May we see Paul’s message to the church in Rome as written for us today, pointing us to the unity and acceptance held out to us in Jesus Christ. As we trust in him, may we experience the peace that the second week of Advent points to – a peace grounded in the reality of reconciliation of all things forged in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Welcome Mat w/ Al Kurzawa W1

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December 4 – Advent 2
Romans 15:4-13 “The Welcome Mat”

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Program Transcript


Anthony: Let me read the first pericope of the month. It’s Romans chapter 15, four through 13. I’m reading from the Common English Bible. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 2 on December the 4th.

Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction so that we could have hope through endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures. May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude toward each other, similar to Christ Jesus’ attitude. That way you can glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one voice. So welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you, for God’s glory. I’m saying that Christ became a servant of those who are circumcised for the sake of God’s truth, in order to confirm the promises given to the ancestors, and so that the Gentiles could glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name. 10 And again, it says, Rejoice, Gentiles, with his people. 11 And again, Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and all the people should sing his praises. 12 And again, Isaiah says, There will be a root of Jesse, who will also rise to rule the Gentiles. The Gentiles will place their hope in him. 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Al, what does this passage unveil about the God revealed in Jesus Christ?

Al: Oh man. So many good things.

First off, what jumps out at me is just that line in verse 5, May the God of endurance and encouragement. Jesus doesn’t ask us to endure out of our own strength and endurance. God is the God of endurance and encouragement.

I did a sermon in 2 Thessalonians this past week, and there’s this line there that says, God is the God of eternal encouragement. I just love that line. Eternal encouragement. Jesus isn’t asking us to endure from our own strength or our own endurance. And that’s where there’s that sense of peace, because it’s God who is the God of encouragement and endurance.

It’s his endurance that we see displayed in Jesus through his whole physical life, his ministry, and his endurance all the way through the cross and the grave and the resurrection. It’s his endurance that we now get to participate in.

And you look at this passage where he talks about the Gentiles, and you see that God is always bigger than we make him out to be. He’s more inclusive, sorry, more inclusive, more encompassing. His plans are larger and bigger than what we think.

Part of this Christian journey as disciples is that we’re always learning that God is so much bigger, so much broader. His plans are so much more all-encompassing than we can think of. We’re always having to readjust just how big this God is that loves us.

Anthony: Yeah, I’ve heard it said, Al, that if you ever cross a line where you think you’ve gone too far in saying, God is just too good to be true. You can’t actually get there. You think you may have. But like you were saying, life is this ongoing repentance where our minds are being blown and changed by the reality of the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

And it’s so much better than our fallen imagination can get to. And thanks be to God that it is his endurance and his encouragement. So, what are the implications both corporately and personally to welcome each other in the same way Christ has welcomed us? What say you?

Al: Just one more thing on that past question and then I’ll answer that one.

One of the other things that jumped out in this passage to me was that hope comes first. That it’s not our plans in preparing; we do all that, we make our plans, or we prepare everything, and then we hope for the best.

We have a hope and a God who is faithful. So, we hope in him. And then we make our plans and preparing, and it comes out of that hope of what we’re doing.

And the difference there is between us making our plans and that’s the center. And then God takes up any slack versus God is the center, the God of encouragement, the God of hope is at the center. And then because of who he is, then it’s born out of us knowing how to and being in relation to him, that we then do things and make our plans and all that out of that hope.

That was just one other thought from that passage I wanted to bring out. And then you asked about the implications both corporately and personally. Reading this passage, I thought back to Paul who’s writing this, and a guy named Ananias and a guy named Barnabas.

Because Paul, he was Saul, it was his name. And he has this unbelievable encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. And then he goes on and he’s blind. And this brother, Ananias, comes and he comes to Paul and lays his hands on him, and he welcomes Paul. It’s this beautiful story.

I just love the story of how Ananias, after talking with God, “God, are you sure this is who you want me to go? This guy’s coming to arrest us.” And God goes, No, I’ve got plans for him. And Ananias goes and lays hands on him.

And then you have Barnabas who welcomes Paul and actually takes him to meet the apostles because people were a bit scared of him. And you see in Paul’s life how he was welcomed even with his background and his story.

And yet he was welcomed. And so, we then translate that into how Christ was, he was welcoming of everyone. And we see even of Saul, he welcomed Saul into the fold as he’s converted. And so, we now have this wonderful model of, personally, we look beyond labels. Our world right now just loves doing labels, and it’s going beyond labels of rich, or poor, evangelical, charismatic, orthodox, capitalist, socialist, libertarian.

We go beyond that, and we look at the person, all of the person. We welcome them into God’s embrace. We’re just reflecting the embrace that God already has for them. So, we do that personally and the people we meet, but then we also do it corporately as the church, we have open doors. We welcome people and we let them know they belong, that soon as they show up, they belong, that God loves them.

Anthony: Yeah. We trust that one died and therefore all died. And so, we can no longer look at anyone from a worldly point of view. Correct? That we can only see as Christ sees. And I can’t help but think of that passage in Luke 19 where God in Jesus Christ welcomes Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector despised among his own people. And Jesus welcomed him into his own home. I’m going to come stay with you, Zacchaeus.

And that’s the initiative of our Lord revealed in Jesus Christ.

Verse 13, Al, I think is a wonderful benediction. And what would you say to someone, especially during the season of Advent, somebody who’s not experiencing as much joy and peace as they would desire? What’s Paul declared here for all of us?

Al: The first thing I would do is I would just sit with the person. I would find out where they are. I would just listen before I said anything because the last thing I want to do is offer shallow cliches to someone who’s hurting or feeling loss, or possibly going through something that I’ve just got no experience in, or no understanding, or I don’t have a common ground with what they’re going through.

I don’t want to offer, simple cliches. I want to just sit with them. And then in sitting with them and listening to them, hearing their story and just being with them in whatever they’re feeling. Then possibly in that sitting with them, then this benediction is lived out and they start to feel this sense of peace because they know they’ve been heard. Someone has actually taken the time to listen to them.

Then after doing that and making sure they’re listened to, then if they still feel like they’re looking for a word from me, that I feel like they want me to say something into their situation, I would just share with them that we can hold peace and anxiety, hope and despair together at the same time. We’re these walking paradoxes at time, and that we can be experiencing multiple feelings at once.

I might be feeling a sense of love from my wife today, and at the same time feeling anxiety from my daughter who’s having a hard time at school. I can feel the peace of God’s presence in my life and at the same time be hurting for a friend who’s going through a rough time. The peace and joy of God aren’t limited just to what we’re feeling at the time, in the moment.

The peace and joy of God are our fruit that is born out of our hope – as we talked about in this passage – born out of our hope in a God who does not disappoint, a God who is faithful, a hope in a God who’s the God of eternal encouragement and endurance. He will see us through whatever we’re going through, however long it takes.

He will be with us. He’s Emmanuel, and he will go through what we’re going through with us. So, our hope in God gives us a perspective of the bigger picture of the God who came to us and takes us with them in the ascension. And it is in that bigger picture beyond what we’re experiencing right now, or we’re feeling right now, that bears that fruit of peace and joy in our lives.

And that’s probably what I would then talk to a larger audience, like a congregation, and bringing out in this passage – that we all might be sitting in different spots during this month, and with everything going on, hectic and busy and joy. And we’ve got all these mixed feelings, but in all of this, God is with us.

And we focus on the big picture of the God who we have hope in, who doesn’t disappoint. He makes his promises, and he fulfills them. He promised a Messiah, and the Messiah came so we can rely on this God who keeps his promises again and again. Our hope focuses on who God is, the God that is a God of encouragement, the God of hope.

And then out of that, the peace and in this benediction that Paul gives us, this peace that he talks about. And the joy then is born out of that hope that we have in him.

Anthony: I appreciated what you said about just sitting with someone, listening to them, making sure they feel seen and heard. To me, that’s the marrying of gospel proclamation along with gospel demonstration. It’s just being with somebody and in that way, reflecting the truth that God is a God of hope and of all joy and peace, even in the midst of great sorrow. The paradox that you mentioned, that’s a beautiful way of expressing it. It goes back to that old saying that’s become somewhat cliche, but it’s still truthful, that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. And that’s what I hear you stating there. That’s beautiful.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • What did you think about the video’s claim that to receive Jesus’ peace is to receive him as Lord and King?
  • What did you think of the connection of righteousness and justice forming the foundation of peace?
  • Discuss Jesus being the full package, our righteousness, justice, and peace.
From the Sermon
  • Discuss how Advent has a three-fold focus of past, present, and future.
  • Encourage one another by reminding each other of the peace Jesus has brought to us in his first coming. How might the first recipients of the gospel have understood the peace Jesus brought, with God, with one another, and with the world at large? Share the peace you experienced the first time you heard the gospel.
  • Imagine together what peace on earth could look like in the kingdom of God. And remember, however good an imagination you have, you will still not be able to come close to the actual peace God has for us. So, imagine with all your might. What might living in his peace be like?
  • Now, with the reminder of the peace Jesus has brought, and in hope of the soon coming future we just imagined, what ways can we be a witness to a fragmented world that Jesus is the source of all true and lasting peace?
  • Discuss the difference between receiving peace as a gift of grace from God and achieving peace by our own efforts.
  • How does knowing you are welcome in Christ enable you to welcome others?

Sermon for December 11, 2022 – 3rd Sunday of Advent

Speaking of Life 5003 | Three Responses

Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55 • Isaiah 35:1-10 • James 5:7-10 • Matthew 11:2-11

This week’s theme is songs of joy for who Jesus is. The call to worship Psalm praises God who frees captives and heals blindness pointing to the salvation that comes in Jesus. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah celebrates the wilderness being transformed into fertile land, the healing of those who are blind, deaf, lame, and dumb, along with the restoration of Zion. The text from James affirms Jesus’ soon coming return while encouraging patience. The Gospel reading from Matthew presents John the Baptist as the one preparing the way for Jesus while also confirming Jesus as the Messiah through healings and proclaiming good news to the poor. The alternate reading in Luke presents the Magnificat, Mary’s song of joy in anticipation of the coming of Jesus.

A Song of Joy

Luke 1:46-55 (ESV)

Today is Advent 3, which carries with it the theme of joy. Two weeks until Christmas, and this theme is already being echoed everywhere you go with the joyous music of Christmas that can be heard on the radio and in shopping centers, restaurants, and hopefully churches. Some songs may not be aimed as centrally to Christ as others, but the theme of joy is unmistakable in their tunes. Music all around during this season has a way of setting the tone of joyful anticipation. Joy and music tend to go hand in hand.

On that note, we shouldn’t be surprised that today our text for Advent 3 comes to us by way of a song. Specifically, a song Mary presents while she is pregnant with Jesus. This song has even been given a special name—Magnificat, which is derived from the first words of the song expressed in the Latin Vulgate (late 14th century Latin version of the Bible). Certainly, you can’t blame any mother who may want to sing with excitement because of the soon coming arrival of the baby she has been carrying. But there is much more going on in Mary’s case. Sure, she is singing in joyful anticipation of her new baby. But this is no ordinary baby. The arrival of this child will announce a change that the whole world can respond in joyful song, not just Mary alone. The first few versus of our text highlight the personal and global nature of the arrival of Jesus.

Mary begins the song in praise by reflecting on what God has done for her personally. The context of this song falls in the narrative of Mary visiting her relative, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Elizabeth is the wife of a priest named Zechariah, and she had been barren her whole life. Now in her old age she is also pregnant. She too has much to be joyful about. For her, bearing a child would reverse the stigma she has had to carry her entire marriage of not being blessed by God. You can imagine what this would also mean for Zechariah, who serves as a priest. When Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus, meets Elizabeth in an unnamed village in the Judean hill-country, Elizabeth’s child, who will later become John the Baptist, leaps in her womb. This greeting foreshadows the joy that follows when Jesus arrives on the scene.

As miraculous as Elizabeth’s pregnancy is, Mary’s is far more miraculous in that she is a virgin. As you can imagine, this miracle lies beyond cultural understanding, so Mary must deal with the shame that would come from being an unwed mother. But Elizabeth’s eyes have been opened by God’s work in her own life, to see God’s work in Mary’s. So, instead of looking down on Mary, as surely so many others had been doing, she praises her. It’s after this scene of greeting that we hear Mary’s response in song.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49 ESV)

Mary rejoices in the fact that “God my Savior” did not look away from her “humble state.” This should not be confused with some pious humility on Mary’s part. The “humble state” refers to her status, which she is likening to a slave-girl. Mary perceives that what God has done for her will be extended “on all generations.” When God sets things right it is permanent. This is good news for us as we take account of our own “humble state” in so many ways.

Some of us may truly carry some societal status that robs us of freedom and dignity. And we know that society, governments, and the culture at large can be fickle in who they deem worthy and who they degrade as inferior. If you are in the “in” crowd one day, you may not be the next. But God is not fickle. As Mary notes, he is the “Mighty One” and his name is “holy.” His character defines how he acts towards us. God is faithful to himself, and nothing will deter him from being “mindful” of our situation.

Before going further, we need to note how this song works on two levels. First, Mary is singing because of the specific and literal rescue that God has given her. But there is more to Mary’s rejoicing than just some immediate blessing she has received. Her song indicates a salvation on a metaphorical level as well. Mary and her “humble state” stand in for all of us who realize we too are in a “humble state” on account of sin. We do not confuse ourselves as pious and deserving recipients of God’s grace and blessing. We stand with Mary, knowing that without a miracle we too are lost. We stand with Mary, knowing that it is only on account of God’s mercy, love, and faithfulness, that we have been freed and called blessed. This is a freedom and blessing that will never be lost or diminished.

Mary is singing to us of the Lord she has met in her moment of salvation. In this encounter, she has come to know that God is for her regardless of her status, and he aims to lift her up. This same God does not turn away from the other Marys – like you and me – who are in need of salvation. He is “mindful” of our situation far more than we are. So, Mary invites you into her song, knowing that the Lord who saved her is seeking to save you. That salvation shows up in many ways for those who follow the Lord.

Sometimes, like Mary, we have miraculous moments in our lives where we experience God’s mindfulness of us, and we witness his intervention in our lives in very tangible and measurable ways. But even here, we are only seeing a sign of God’s heart and intentions towards us. As wonderful as some of our miraculous stories of his intervention may be, they are still signs of the far deeper reality of salvation he has accomplished for us in Jesus. These signs remind us through times of struggle and persecution that God has not lost sight of us. In the end, we know he will be faithful in lifting us up in his blessing, and forever reversing every curse we have ever had. Like Mary, we can be mindful of our Lord who comes to us knowing our past, meeting us in the present, and promising us a share in his eternal future.

So, Mary’s Magnificat is sung in celebration and anticipation of the extraordinary changes that are coming with the birth of her baby Jesus—changes for her, her people, and the whole world. Let’s go verse by verse for the rest of the song to see what changes we can expect and celebrate as we anticipate Jesus’ arrival.

And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1:50 ESV)

Jesus’ arrival was an arrival in concrete form of God’s mercy. The word mercy is translated from the rich Hebrew word hesed, a word carried through Israel’s history as it was revealed to her. This word indicates God’s grace and faithfulness to Israel’s future. For us, it means God will not leave us in our “humble state,” and he is committed to bringing us to be who he created us to be. Our future is secure, regardless of our past and present situation. He continually moves in mercy to bring us into his blessings. This means our sins will not prove to be a barrier too strong for the Lord to cross. Jesus enacted God’s mercy on the cross, crossing all barriers that alienate us from the Father.

And note that this “mercy extends to those who fear him.” This fear is not the kind of fear that the Angel told Mary not to have. Fearing the Lord is knowing him for who he is and aligning our lives to him. We come to know how good God is, and we trust in his goodness and faithfulness so that we would fear to not receive from him. This is the kind of fear that aligns with reality.

As an analogy, if you are standing on the banks of Niagara Falls, your awe and wonder of the power and majesty of those cascading waters, produces in you a proper fear that moves you to stay in bounds on the bank. To jump off the bank into the water would be to go against the reality of the relationship you have with the waterfall that lies before you. You do not fear that Niagara Falls will at some point reverse its flow and rampage up the bank in an attempt to destroy you. That would be a fear or paranoia, not a proper fear of the reality of the waterfall. But, to remain on the bank is to be able to receive the enjoyment of the waterfall. That analogy does not carry the personal nature of what we have with our living God, but hopefully it helps distinguish the difference to some degree between the fear that Jesus constantly tells us not to have, and the fear of the Lord spoken of in this song.

Here is a practical example of mercy being extended to those who fear him. Let’s imagine you have found yourself overcome by some sin. Maybe you have really blown it this time and have done much damage to yourself and your relationships. An improper fear would be to fear that all is lost because of your sin. But this is actually fearing sin more than fearing God.

A proper fear of the Lord is to know that he is full of mercy and quick to forgive. Because of Jesus, you know that God’s heart toward you is to restore and redeem all that is lost. His faithfulness to you will not allow your sin, no matter how grievous, to keep you from being blessed and having a future with him. When we know that reality of who God is and our relationship to him, we have a proper fear of him that compels us to respond accordingly to who he is. In this case, we can come boldly to the throne of grace. We can once again cast ourselves on his mercy. We can again turn to him knowing he is already turned to us. In short, we can repent because it is the goodness of God that leads you to repentance as Romans 2:4 tells us. This fear enables us to receive what God is giving us in Christ. And that is why “His mercy extends to those who fear him.” They are the ones who can receive it.

Now, let’s sing along to the next verse:

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; (Luke 1:51 ESV)

Here is something we can certainly sing about with joy. The “proud” are the exact opposite of the ones in a “humble state.” Our world is full of the proud parading over those in low estate. The phrase, “kick them while they’re down” echoes from the actions of those who live by the mantra “might makes right.” The accumulation of wealth and power becomes a weapon of tyranny in the hands of the prideful over those who have little in comparison. This is seen played out throughout the history of the world, in all the nations and people groups without exception. Jesus comes to change all that. Can you imagine a world where no one is motivated by a pride that seeks to exploit and control others? That would be a day of joy for sure.

And how are the prideful scattered? By the mighty deeds “with his arm.” His arms were stretched on the cross in humble obedience to his Father for the sake of the world. That’s a mighty power the world finds scandalous and offensive. Jesus does not scatter his foes like his foes do. And notice he gets to the root of the problem. It’s the pride “in their inmost thoughts” that must be accounted for.

But the real joy of this particular line of the song is in the recognition that this is what God aims to do in you and me. If we are not too proud to admit it, we must come to grips with the deeply imbedded pride that resides in our own “inmost thoughts.” How many of our actions are motivated in some way or another by pride. Can you imagine the freedom it would bring to not have these strings of pride pulling on you in all directions? We have barely come to experience what it really means to be human. Jesus has come to make us fully human, scattering all that seeks to dominate us and control us.

Let’s sing on:

He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; (Luke 1:52ESV)

This is similar to the verse we just read. But it carries the great reversals the Lord brings with him. Our Lord has surely told us that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. What wonderful news that the Lord who is full of mercy, compassion, and all wisdom will be the one who does the bringing down and the lifting up. How often in our world have you seen the greedy and unscrupulous rise to the top while those of integrity get pushed to the bottom?

This world is upside down and the Lord comes to set it right-side up. We shouldn’t take this to mean that Jesus simply swaps the status between the haves and have-nots. That doesn’t solve the problem. That would only enable the same problems to continue, only under new management. This verse follows the thought of “scattering the proud in their inmost thoughts.” The problem is not with having rulers and thrones, but how people rule on those thrones. Jesus is our true ruler who reigns on a throne of truth, grace, and mercy. He comes to establish his rule on earth in a kingdom where all are lifted up into his life and love.

The song continues…

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:53 ESV)

Here we have another reversal that Jesus brings. Again, we must not read these reversals in such a way as to polarize between certain people. It is implied that the “rich” that are being sent away empty are not being sent away simply because they are rich, but because of what they do with their riches. However, while this verse does speak to the physical realities that faced the early Christians under a tyrannical Roman rule, it primarily refers to the spiritual poverty and hunger of those oppressed by sin and evil.

We can sing praises and rejoice in the fact that Jesus comes to establish a kingdom where we will be spiritually fed with the very life of the Father, Son, Spirit. In this life, there is no exploitation or domination of one over another. That mindset will be sent away to the empty wastelands where it belongs. Jesus doesn’t hoard his riches to maintain power over us, rather he shares all good things with us, as is fitting in a kingdom powered by grace.

One last line to sing:

He has helped his servant Israel,  in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers,   to Abraham and to his offspring forever. (Luke 1:54-55 ESV)

This verse concludes Mary’s song of joy. She identifies herself with Israel and speaks in the language of covenant. Jesus, even though not born when this was sung, is understood to be God’s ultimate faithfulness and fulfillment of the covenant he has with Israel. This is a promise fulfilled that will continue forever. And it’s a promise that extends to all. Jesus is the Lord who has come, continues to come in the Spirit, and will ultimately come to us again. He does not come forgetting to be merciful. He comes as our Savior and Lord and one worthy of our praise and worship. Which means this song may conclude here, but we will continue to sing songs of joy from here to eternity.

The Welcome Mat w/ Al Kurzawa W2

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December 11 – Advent 3
Luke 1:46-55 “A Mama’s Praise”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

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Program Transcript


Anthony: Let’s move on to our next pericope, which is Luke 1:46 – 55. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 3, which is December the 11th. Al, would you read it for us, please?

Al: Sure.

46 Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. 48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored 49 because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. 50 He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. 51 He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. 52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. 54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55 just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Anthony: Mary’s Magnificat is a beloved passage of scripture, and I could tell you like it too, just the way you read it. What stands out to you in this contemplation of her song?

Al: First, I usually tend to stick to the NIV translation. I like reading some of the others. But when you mentioned that we were going to read from the Common English Bible, and I read this passage, I’m so glad you picked that translation.

Because what jumped out at me was right there at the beginning, “with all my heart I glorify the Lord in the depths of who I am.” Mary is feeling this sense of awe and worship to the depths of her bones. It’s just bubbling up out of her. And I get this sense that she couldn’t stop herself from singing God’s praises at this moment, even if she wanted to.

And I was trying to think how can we relate to this?

And I thought back to the concept of proposing. When I propose to my wife, there’s that moment because you’re a little, what if she says no? But you propose, and she says yes, and you’re happy and all that. But I thought back, and it was after that, nights afterwards, days afterwards, that I was sitting there when this joy was just like, she said yes. It was like it was just hitting me. She said, Yes! My whole life is now going to be different for the better.

And to me that, that was the closest I could come to what Mary is feeling here, is that it’s just this joy that she’s feeling and it’s bubbling up and it’s not just this instant thing, it’s something that’s just percolating, and it just keeps bubbling up.

The more and more she thinks about everyone will consider me highly favored. That this is something that is going to change – not just me – this is going to change everything. This is going to change my generation, but this is going to change everything for all of humanity. And she’s just, wow.

And she just can’t help but sing and praise. This song probably captures how she was feeling for days and weeks, just contemplating as this little baby grows inside of her and she feels this kick. It’s probably something that she just repeated to herself again and again. God is faithful and, ah, yeah, I’ll stop there.

Anthony: She said, yes. That sounds like a jewelry commercial.

But Mary obviously said amen to God’s amen to her. And she recognized that she was highly favored with God and that favor is unique and particular to her. But let me ask you this, can the particularity of her favored-ness show us something which is universally true about all of us?

And if so, how and if not, why not?

Al: Yeah. Good question. You know what God does for her; she says he looked with favor on the low status of his servant. And that’s what he’s done for all of us. Because in one state, in one sense, all of us have that low status. All of us are sinners. All of us live under that, that Adam and Eve’s line, and he’s done this act for all of us, this act of mercy. That of Jesus the Son coming and being incarnate in Jesus.

He’s done for everyone. So, it’s this personal story between God and Mary. And yet in Mary, it’s also our story in that God is a personal God. He shows each of us great favor, just simply because we’re now adopted in the Son through the Spirit. We are now in Christ. And the Father now looks at you and at me, and at all of us as beloved sons and beloved daughters.

So, this feeling of awe and victory and worship that Mary feels. And her song of praise, she does on our behalf, because it’s our story too. God has looked on us the least, the last, the little, the lost (as Robert Capon likes to say.) Those that seem to be dead to society, and he has given us favor.

Mary recognizes that she’s entered the unfolding story of God’s fidelity to Abraham and his seed way back in this story in Genesis 12, where he promises that all nations will be blessed through you. And she’s now a part of this story that continues to unfold generation after generation. And so just as she’s a part of it, we now get to be a part of it too.

Anthony: With that in mind, o favored one, Al Kurwaza, what else would you like for us to see and hear from this passage?

Al: Two things. And the first, I’ll just point to somewhere else, and that is the place of Israel in God’s heart. He did not abandon them at the cross any more than he ever abandoned Gentiles.

They’ve always been a part of his plan. And I can’t it articulate as well, but T.F. Torrance in his book, The Mediation of Christ, just does such a great job of recognizing that. I’ll just point to that way because that was something that jumped out in this passage. That Mary is part of that Jewish story, and that Jesus comes within Israel’s story for Israel.

When Paul goes out, he would go to the synagogues first. He wanted to share the story with the Jews, and then he would then share it with the Gentiles because the story is for both.

And then the other thing in this passage that I really like is how God sees us. It’s the Zacchaeus that you mentioned just previously, right? That he’s in this tree. He’s a short little guy. He is in a tree trying to get a glimpse of Jesus. And Jesus sees him.

Jesus sees Hannah, who is sitting there, and she wants to have a child so badly, and she’s praying, and she goes to the temple year after year. And God sees her.

And then there’s this beautiful story with Hagar when Hagar takes Ishmael and leaves because Sarah is just torturing her practically and giving her such a hard time. And God says, Hagar, where are you going? And talks to her and says that your son, Ishmael, and says what the name of Ishmael will be. And it’s “God hears.” So, God hears us. And then Hagar names this place, and she names it because you are the God who sees me.

So, it’s these little people, the Hagars and the Hannahs and the Zacchaeus and you and me, and that God sees us. He cares for us. And in Mary’s song, I think that’s where it comes out. She’s a nobody. She’s a nobody. And yet God sees her and includes her in his wonderful plan that he has for all of us.

Anthony: Your reflections made me think of Luke 13, a recent lectionary passage where Jesus is in the synagogue teaching. And he sees a woman who had been bent over for 18 years and calls her forward to participate in her healing that day based on his loving initiative.

And this is who God is. And I think this is why Mary sings with all of her hearts. And where we can sing too, because as it says in verse 50, he shows mercy to everyone. That’s all of us. We are the lowly who have been lifted high in the ascension.

Hallelujah, praise God.

Al: Oh hallelujah. And I love that what you just said. He takes the initiative. That’s what’s so wonderful about this God. He takes the initiative and then, ah wo


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • The first two kinds of people were identified as those who despair in response to all that’s wrong in the world, and those who jump in to solve the worlds problem on their own. Share how you have responded in these two ways at different times in your life.
  • How is the response of the Christian different from the two ways listed above?
From the Sermon 
  • Do you find Christmas music during the Christmas season joyful? How does it help you anticipate the joy of Jesus’ coming?
  • In what ways can you identify with Mary’s “humble state”?
  • Discuss what is meant by fearing the Lord.
  • Which verse in Mary’s song resonated with you the most? Which one brought you joy in your anticipation of Jesus’ coming?
  • Discuss the connection to who God is in his character and nature, to how he comes to us.

Sermon for December 18, 2022 – 4th Sunday of Advent

Speaking of Life 5004 | The Might and Light of a Saving Love

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 5004 | The Might and Light of a Saving Love
Greg Williams

If you were sick to the point of death, three things would be needed to restore your health.

First, you would need someone willing to heal you. Second, this person would have to be capable of doing the healing. And third, you would need to know you need healing in the first place.

This can serve as a metaphor for our need for a Savior from our terminal diagnosis of sin. Only, part of our spiritual illness involves a blindness to the fact that we are indeed ill. That blindness would need to be healed in order for us to even call out for healing. That presents a major obstacle to ever being saved from sin and the ultimate death it brings.

Advent is a time to be reminded that we have a savior whose love overcomes all obstacles.

Notice the first three verses of Psalm 80, which anticipates Jesus’ coming and therefore is a classic Advent Psalm. Here we will see God’s perfect provision of salvation in Jesus, who overcomes all obstacles to our being healed and made whole.

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
 you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Psalm 80:1-3 (NRSV)

The first verse of this Psalm uses language that is distinct in all of scripture. The title “Shepherd of Israel”—with the description of one who leads “Joseph like a flock”—is meant to convey compassion, tenderness, and one who is intimately involved. This points to the coming of Jesus who is our True Shepherd, one who is willing to save us. Our first need for salvation is met in Jesus.

Then the Psalm presents us with images that come from Ezekiel about One who is “enthroned upon the cherubim.” This challenges the imagination with concepts of power beyond human comprehension. This transcendent image is the background of the psalmist’s call for God to “stir up your might.” This God is not only willing and available like a Shepherd, but his might is more than capable to save us from any foe. Our second need for salvation is again met in Jesus.

Finally, the Psalm records what this mighty Shepherd comes to do—“shine forth.” It’s the light of his face shining on us that heals our blindness and brings us out of the darkness.

In this light of love that comes to dwell among us, we are enabled to confess our sins and receive his healing and restoration. In this way, all of salvation—even our need to confess and repent—is a gift of grace that comes to us in Jesus Christ. So even this final obstacle is overcome in Jesus.

On that ground we can join the psalmist’s refrain that calls out three times “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” As we continue to celebrate Advent, we can be reminded that God’s love has made all provisions and overcomes all obstacles to save us and make us whole.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 • Isaiah 7:10-16 • Romans 1:1-7 • Matthew 1:18-25

This week’s theme is the light of love comes and dwells among us. The call to worship Psalm presents a petition for help with a reference to Joseph, anticipating the need of salvation that Jesus comes to provide. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah recounts the sign of a young woman who will give birth to a son named Immanuel. The Gospel reading from Matthew quotes the sign given in our Isaiah reading and tells the story of Joseph’s marriage to Mary who is pregnant with Jesus. The epistolary text comes from the opening of Romans with its Christological confession that relates the coming of Christ in the context of God’s saving activity in history.

A Birth of Light & Love

Matthew 1:18-25 (NRSVUE)

Today is Advent 4, the last Sunday of Advent before we celebrate the arrival of Jesus on Christmas. Advent 4 carries the theme of love which can be seen as the culmination of what we learn about God throughout this season. When the Father sends his own Son to us, we are given a revelation of who God is in his inner being. We are given to know the Father in the same way the Son knows the Father. And what we see is what the Apostle John later records in 1 John 4:8— “God is Love.” It’s not that God is simply loving as if love is some universal principle that the Father just happens to do better than anyone else. No, the statement that “God is love” means that God, in his very being and character, is love and the very source of love. There is no other source of love to draw from.

This speaks immediately to what God has given us in sending Jesus Christ, his Son. Not only does he give us a true revelation of himself in Jesus, on account of who Jesus is as God’s Son, where we have the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature,” as the book of Hebrews puts it (Hebrews 1:3). But he also gives us his love. And if “God is love” then what we mean by God giving us his love is that he is actually giving us himself in Christ Jesus. This is the gift the Father is giving us on Christmas. This gift comes to us in his Son, Jesus Christ, where “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell” (Colossians 1:19). So, as we close out the Advent season, we can heighten our anticipation of Jesus’ coming, knowing that he brings us both his revealing light of who his Father is, and the love which he shares with his Father in the Holy Spirit. In short, we can anticipate the light of love coming to dwell among us.

To focus our attention on this light of love, we have the short account in Matthew that tells the story of the angel visiting Joseph. Matthew begins his Gospel by seeking to answer the question, “Who is this Jesus born in Bethlehem?” Matthew will fill out his answer further with four stories surrounding the birth of Jesus. The first one is in Matthew 1:1-17 where we find that Jesus is in the line of descendants of Abraham and David. The second answer he gives us comes from our text today where we find that Jesus is the child of a virgin named Mary, who is betrothed to Joseph. The third story is in Matthew 2:1-12 where Jesus is shown to be the king of the Jews and the hope of all nations. Matthew’s final story in 2:13-23 lets us know that Jesus is God’s Son who is called out of Egypt. Matthew begins his Gospel with a strong focus on letting us know just who Jesus is, and all the stories around Jesus’ birth give us more of the answer. They are certainly worth reading all the way through in anticipation and celebration as Advent ends and we enter the Christmas season.

But, for today, we will focus only on one of Matthew’s stories and see what light is given to us of God’s love.

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18 NRSVUE)

Matthew finds it important to dispel any notion that Jesus is not from the line of David on account of the argument that Joseph was not his father. So, Matthew tells us that Mary was already engaged, or betrothed, to be married to Joseph before she was found to be pregnant. Unlike our modern-day engagement period where a couple is engaged to be married but not actually considered married until after the wedding, in the time of Matthew’s readers it was understood that an engagement carried the same weight as marriage. Betrothal, in that time, was considered a legal bond that was only broken by divorce or death. Our modern ears may miss this nuance, but Matthew is making sure to establish that Joseph is legally Jesus’ father and therefore establishes Jesus in the line of David.

Matthew may settle the argument with this clarification in the story of how Jesus’ birth took place, but he also sheds some light for us of who our Father in heaven is by way of the narrative. For starters, the theme of marriage is a perfect context to introduce the coming of Jesus. God, throughout the entire Old Testament, has presented himself as the husband of Israel. Jesus’ Father is a covenant God. When he sends his Son, he does so in the confines of a covenant relationship between Joseph and Mary, who are both Jews under the covenant relationship established between Israel and God. And, as disruptive and challenging as this sending of his Son may be for Joseph and Mary, the covenant must not be broken. We will see God move to ensure his covenant love breaking into the world does not break apart our covenant love for one another. In the narrative, what we see of the God that Jesus comes to reveal, is God’s faithfulness. God is faithful to us and will never divorce or abandon us, no matter how difficult things become. God’s claim on marriage is reinforced as the pinnacle witness of the covenant relationship he establishes with us in Jesus Christ. This is the love of the Father we see in Jesus Christ.

He is also revealed as the God of life. If anything signals life, it’s a new baby. Jesus does not come to us as an idea or philosophy. He does not come to us as a principle, or a law, or a value, and certainly, not as an inanimate thing. He is a real, living person. Jesus is our life. Jesus coming to us as an embryo brings the sanctity of life in the womb, indicating that no part of our lives is left untouched, and therefore, unhealed, since Jesus came to us first as an unborn child.

Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19 NRSVUE)

Joseph is then given the description as “being a righteous man.” But notice by what account he is considered righteous. He was unwilling to let Mary be disgraced. By the law, Joseph would be expected to divorce Mary for her apparent adultery. But, at great cost to himself, Joseph does not take advantage of this legal right. If he had, he could have regained the bride-price he may have paid. This typically represented several years of savings. He also could have kept any dowry the bride’s father had given. So, Joseph forfeited considerable finances out of compassion for Mary. Instead of going through the courts, he attempts to “divorce her quietly” as a way of minimizing as much public shame as he could. He did not want to make her a public spectacle.

But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21 NRSVUE)

Now we find that Joseph is confronted with the truth of his and Mary’s situation. An angel is sent to let Joseph know that the child was not conceived by another human but is conceived by the Holy Spirit. For Joseph to continue with the marriage will mean he will now share in the shame that would have been limited to Mary. It will be assumed that Joseph and Mary conceived the child before their marriage, which would be a stigma they both would have to carry. It’s interesting that Joseph and Mary will be branded with sinning as they play their part of bringing into the world the one who “will save his people from their sins.” There is a bit of foreshadowing here of Jesus taking on our sins and giving us his righteousness. We are again given a light to see the Father’s love. The Father does not come to hold our sins against us, but to remove our sins by taking them on himself. God’s love is seen to be a consuming fire, a love the burns away all that is against us. Our sin will not be allowed to leave us in disgrace, as he will exchange our unrighteousness for his righteousness.

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23 NRSVUE)

Matthew only gives one reason to why Jesus was born in this way, and that is to fulfill Scripture. This tells us the importance God places on his written word to us. He has chosen to speak to us through his written word and he does not back down from that commitment. This can give us confidence to go to the Scriptures to hear the Lord speak to us today. It is there he meets us in person, revealing who he is for us by the Spirit in Jesus Christ. The Living Word does not cease to be “Emmanuel” or “God with us” in his written word. On the contrary, the Living Word meets us and communes with us in his written word as a gift of grace to us. And until he returns, we can be assured he will still meet us in the pages of the Bible.

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son; and he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25 – NRSVUE)

Joseph’s actions towards Mary are consistent with the grace God is bringing in his Son. God’s righteousness is understood as his committed love to us even at great cost to himself. His love is not limited by laws and rules but goes beyond to fulfill their intent. For Joseph to obey what the Lord commanded would mean he would take on the shame and suffering that would come by participating in the coming of Jesus. He would not choose a legal justification to abandon Mary. But notice the nod to resurrection even here at the beginning of Jesus’ story. Joseph obeys when he “awoke from sleep.” The obedience Joseph displays is given some teeth with the details of not having “marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son.” This was not just an obedience carried out in one decision, but an ongoing commitment to daily keep that decision.

You can imagine the amount of self-control this young couple would have to exert to live in this obedience. Joseph was also being a faithful witness with his obedience as the prophecy says that Jesus would be born of a virgin, not just conceived in one. Joseph would not compromise the witness of Scripture to Jesus by living contrary to it. But his obedience comes after he “awoke from sleep.” We too can anticipate an obedience that is a faithful witness to Jesus on account of the resurrection Jesus brings. We are made new creatures whose heart has been turned back to the Father to do his will in faithful obedience day in and day out. We don’t do it on our own steam, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion, let’s be clear who the real hero of this story is. It’s not Joseph, although he does serve as a wonderful example of one who is obedient, compassionate, and full of grace. But he serves as a witness of Jesus who is full of grace, bringing his obedience to the Father for us to participate in, while also bringing his Father’s compassion to us to receive. Joseph also serves as an example of what we are to become in Jesus. Obedient, faithful, committed, compassionate, self-controlled witnesses to God. In a word, we are to take on the love God pours out on us.

It’s not Joseph who brings this love to the story. It is Jesus who brings the light and love of the Father to a darkened world lost in sin, waking us up to participate in his life by the Spirit. After all, let us not forget the miracle of the story. Jesus was born of a virgin. Joseph contributed nothing. The light and love of the Father is grace all the way through.

The Welcome Mat w/ Al Kurzawa W3

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December 18 – Advent 4
Matthew 1:18-25 “God With Us”

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Program Transcript


Anthony: Let’s move on to our next passage for the month. It’s Matthew 1: 18 – 25. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 4, which is on December the 18th.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel.  (Emmanuel means “God with us.”) 24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

The author Robert Capon once described talking about God as throwing analogies against the mystery. I love that. Articulating the implications of the incarnation of the son of God is nearly an impossible task, Al. And yet we try. We try to put words to it. So, tell us about the birth of Jesus.

Al: If I’m going to trip up, this is it, because it’s almost beyond our language. And it’s why we have to then refer and use things like metaphors and poetry to try and capture something that’s so beyond straightforward words.

And I’m going to refer to another author, C.S. Lewis. As I came across his readings, he uses an analogy that really helped for me, and that was a cube and a square. And he was talking about that as a square, a square only lives in two dimensions. And it can only understand two dimensions. It can understand one dimension and two. But a cube is in three dimensions, and the square is just not going to be able to understand the cube. But the cube can understand the square because part of the cube is that square part, that two dimensions.

And where CS Lewis was going with that analogy is that God, not that God is a cube, but that God is God. And we can’t use creation and things of creation to describe the Trinity. We can’t go there because God is not a part of his creation. He is the creator.

But what’s amazing and this is what blows me away, is that God, even though he’s beyond us in creation, and we’re only created beings, God wants us to know him. He wants to reveal himself to us. Like this cube wants the square to actually know the cube in one sense. God isn’t limited, whereas the cube is limited; he can’t make the square understand three dimensions. God’s not limited, and he actually does something that blows us away. He makes himself known by coming down and becoming one of us.

He reveals himself to us by becoming one of us – human, fully human, born of a woman, just like you and me. And then in this person of Jesus Christ in his birth, we then find out that God is a relational God. We have a Father who says, this is my Son who my love. And we have this Spirit flowing through the Son.

And the Son says, I only do what the Father tells me to do. And I see my Father at work, and I participate. And so, we find out that this is a relational God. And so, this God who’s the creator and we’re only the creation, has somehow figured out a way to actually reveal himself to us. Not everything, because we can’t fully comprehend God, but enough to know that this is a relational God who’s willing to humble himself and become one of us.

In one sense, it’s the ultimate in place-sharing. We didn’t come up with this phrase, place-sharing. God actually shows us what place-sharing is. He comes and sets up his tent with us. John 1:14. He makes his dwelling with us. It’s like he’s setting up his tent.

You know when you go on a drive, and you stop at a rest area? You stop, you stretch your legs and then you go. But when you go camping, you bring a tent, you bring sleeping gear, you bring food, and you set up the tent, and you’re planning to stay there for a while to actually be part of this campsite and be part of it. And so, when it says, God sets up his tent with us, he comes and actually dwells with us.

He place-shares with us by actually experiencing humanity as we experience humanity. He experiences hunger, he experiences cold, he experiences being rejected and betrayal. Disciples leave him. He experiences bloodying up his knee. He experiences joy, and he shows us what true life is because he has the experience of the Father and the Spirit and being in communion with them and showing us that’s what his intentions are for us.

Anthony: Karl Barth, and I’m paraphrasing, talked about how we cannot comprehend God, as you mentioned, at best, we can apprehend, get glimpses. But thanks be to God that he wants to reveal himself and self-revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity.

And this is why the incarnation is so mindboggling that he would stoop to our level, just to be with his kids. Like you, as a parent, getting down on the floor with your child to play with them to meet them where they are. That the actual true Sabbath would walk into a synagogue on the sabbath day, just to be with his people, it is astonishing. May we never lose the awe and wonder of the incarnation of our Lord.

Let’s think about Joseph and his actions toward Mary for a moment. What, if anything, can his actions teach us?

Al: First, what jumps out at me is Joseph’s respect for Mary, right from the start. If you know a bit about the culture at that time, the patriarchal system, the way husbands could treat their wives, the way men Jewish men could treat women in this story.

Joseph could have behaved and acted in a whole lot of ways when he finds out that Mary was pregnant. And those ways could have ruined Mary’s life, or at least caused her a tremendous amount of pain. But right from the beginning, he wanted to honor her and respected her. Even the thought of divorcing her quietly so that it didn’t cause her any more grief than she was already going to feel being pregnant out of wedlock.

So, we see right from the beginning, this is a man who wanted to respect a female. And that right there, I think, in that culture, tells us a bit about Joseph. And then we see his faith and obedience to God, because when God tells him, No, you’re going to marry Mary, he obeys God’s instructions after the dream.

So, we see his respect for Mary, and we see him honoring God by not consummating the marriage until after Jesus was born. So, he follows God’s instructions, marries Mary, but then he also doesn’t consummate because he knows that this is sacred. This is something special going on.

And he allows Mary to go through the full pregnancy and Jesus is born, as the passage tells us.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s, I’m just thinking about what you stated in terms of just the way he honored her, respected her, and he had at his disposal, societal options that would have really belittled and humiliated her.

And in that way, he embodied our Lord Jesus Christ because Jesus could shame us. He literally has every right to belittle our waywardness, but he doesn’t. He even in the midst of great mocking and pain on the cross, he says, Father, forgive them, as he reveals the heart of the Father.

I thank God for Joseph in the way that he’s reflecting reality, that we experience with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Al, the witness of both Testaments in Scripture seem to point, and they don’t just seem to, they do point to a God who really likes his kids, who wants to be with his people. And so, we have a God named, Emmanuel, God with us, which explicates that reality.

So, the with-ness of God, what does it teach us? What is our response to it? What do you want to share with us?

Al: Oh boy. This is a good one. That’s a good question. Boy, we could go quite a while on this, so I’ll try to refrain from going too long. But Jesus himself defines, as I mentioned earlier, place-sharing with us.

God comes and place-shares with us. And I heard this once, I think it was Randy Bloom one time mentioned that the incarnation is God’s radical affirmation of our humanity. He takes on our humanity. And then I first heard this line from Elmer Colyer (but he might have been quoting Torrance), that God does not want to be God without us.

So, he chooses to be God with us, and both Testaments say, I will be their God and they will be my people. That’s the beautiful concluding image in Revelation. I will be their God and they will be my people. And it’s not us going off somewhere; it’s that God comes to us.

Even in Revelation, even in the final coming, God comes to us and there’s a new heaven and a new earth where it’s together, where we are in the full presence of God.

So, this God, this creator of the universe, the God, the one who’s created everything, who is complete in and by himself of the three persons of the Trinity and lacks nothing, chooses to be God with us.

Wow. His creation. We’re just his creation. We’re lowly humans who continue to rebel against him time and time again. And yet, every time we rebel against him and turn our backs, God continues to say no to our no and chooses to be God with us. And it wasn’t just this one time where Jesus comes and is on earth for 30 years with us.

He then sends the Holy Spirit, which is God’s presence. The Spirit of the Son is now flowing through us and the body of the Church. And then it doesn’t stop then either; in Jesus’ final coming, God is with us. And so, we get to be with him in his full glory for all eternity.

So this is definitely a God who shows us time and time again – from the beginning of the story when he’s walking in the garden looking for Adam and Eve to the very end when he comes down and says, I will be their God and they will be people – this is a God who wants to be with us. And that is what can really humble us again and again.

And it’s also something that we can truly clinging to when we mess up, when we goof up, when we just make our sin again. And we’re like, Why am I still doing this? Why am I frustrating with this?

This is what we can clinging to, is that this is a God who wants to be God with us. He chooses to dwell with us. Even if we don’t deserve it, this is what he wants to do. And he just continues to invite us. I like to use the word, drawing. He’s continually drawing us to him like a magnet. He just draws us to him because he loves us so much.

He wants to be with us.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s such a good word, such an encouraging word during Advent because part of Advent is this longing, this anticipation, this waiting for the arrival of God to be with us. And he is.

It’s like you said, and I think this is an important word to bring up, that even as we talk about the eschatological truth of Jesus’s second coming, we cannot rightfully talk about it as if God in Jesus Christ is not here by his Spirit.

And sometimes you get this disconnect like, Oh, we’re just waiting for the fullness of the kingdom, as if God is not with us now, but he is, even if we don’t sense it.

And really isn’t that a big part of the Christian walk? That the God that we have with us in the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of our heart to see the reality of God’s presence with us in the here and now. It’s this growing in our awareness of God’s power and presence by the Holy Spirit. So, this is such a fantastic word at a time of Advent in a time of chaos and disconnection to know that God is with us and he’s going to see his good promises through. Amen and amen.

Al: Amen. And if I could just add Anthony, you know that disconnect you’re talking about, when we think about, Oh Jesus isn’t here with us; he went and ascended to heaven. The great news is that we ascended with him. He took us with him. Paul says that we only see things darkly right now because we’re with Jesus.

So, whether it is in heaven where Jesus sits at the right hand of the throne, or whether it’s down here on Earth, Jesus is with us because his Spirit, as you were just saying, flows through us. So, Jesus is with us. And if we think, oh Jesus is up there somewhere in heaven, well, we’re with him there because he rose with us.

That this union with Christ was so important to Paul that he says it like 172 times one way or another, that we are in Christ, in Jesus Christ. One way or another. He says it over and over again because we are, our life is in Christ. So, we are so united with him.

So, when he died, we died with him. When he rose, we rose with him When he ascends to heaven. He takes us with them and dwells at the right hand. So, we are always with Christ. That is the only way to have life, is our union with Christ. That is our life. There is no life outside of that. So, he comes in the incarnation to show us that he is with us.

And then the whole story, the New Testament, is that he is always with us. Whether he dies and goes into the grave, whether the grave is empty, whether he’s resurrected, whether he ascends. We are always with Jesus because we are now united with him.

Anthony: That’s so powerful and hard to, again, comprehend that there is this double movement of grace that we are in Christ and so therefore we do what Christ does.

We move closer to the Father. That’s what love does. It always moves closer to the other. That’s what obedience looks like too, as Jesus is obedient to the Father, but also, he is with us by the Spirit. So, as I’m frying my eggs in the morning, he’s there. Yes, I find myself in sin. He is there when I’m loving my family, or not.

He is there and always through love, not just leaving us where we are, helping us to mature into himself, who is the head of the church. Hallelujah, praise God. It’s like you said at the top when I asked the question, we really could spend an entire podcast, a series of podcasts trying to describe this with-ness that we have with God in God.

Hallelujah.

Al: I love that phrase, you just used double movement. That’s beautiful and that we can just chew on that. Just take that with you, that double movement and it’s God moving towards us, but then God drawing us towards him, and then it’s in Jesus’s obedience that we’re able to draw towards him.

And so, God again, initiates both, but it’s this double movement that we get to participate in. So that’s a great phrase that you used.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Discuss the metaphor of being healed of a terminal disease by a willing doctor capable of healing us, and our need for a savior from our terminal diagnosis of sin.
  • According to the video, and Psalm 80:1-3, how does Jesus meet our need for salvation?
From the Sermon 
  • Does Advent 4 with its theme of love have more meaning to you knowing that the scripture tells us that “God is love?” What is God giving us when he gave us his Son?
  • What did you make of Jesus being born into the context of a covenant marriage? What does this say about God and his relationship to us? What does it say about marriage?
  • Were there any points of encouragement that came from knowing Jesus was given to us at the point of conception? What does God becoming flesh say about human life?
  • How did Joseph being described as a “righteous man” because he did not want to disgrace Mary make you think about “righteousness”?
  • How did this passage effect your view of the Scriptures?
  • Can you think of other ways Joseph witnesses to the light and love of God in this story?

Sermon for December 25, 2022 – Christmas

Speaking Of Life 5005 │ Best-Laid Plans

Psalm 96 · Isaiah 9:2-7 · Titus 2:11-14 · Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)

The theme for this week is finding ourselves in the hope of the nativity. Our call to worship in Psalm 96 praises God’s righteousness, evident in the created world and our participation in it. Isaiah 9 promises that the Son given to us will free us from oppression and bring endless peace. In Titus 2, Paul writes of Jesus’ willingness to give himself so we might pursue goodness, kindness, and mercy. Our sermon text is Luke 2:1-14, (15-20) where we’ll explore how we can identify with the shepherds who were the first recipients of the good news of Jesus’s birth.

The Divine Touch: The Shepherds and Us

Luke 2:1-20 (NRSVUE)

Let’s test your knowledge of Christmas carol trivia. What was the first Christmas hymn authorized by the Anglican Church that was written by a poet laureate of England? And one random clue…it has the word “shepherds” in the title. [wait for responses]

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” was written around 1700 by Nahum Tate, the poet laureate of England between 1692 and 1715. Tate was an Irishman who moved to London to work as a poet and playwright during his 20s. Until Tate wrote “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks,” the Anglican Church only allowed the Psalms of David to be sung in church. What makes Tate’s hymn different is that it isn’t based on a psalm; it’s a metrically paraphrased version of Luke 2:8-14 which is a portion of our sermon text for today. You’ll notice that Tate managed to work in the connection with King David in the third stanza.  Let’s read the lyrics for a preview of today’s sermon scripture:

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.

‘Fear not!’ said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind;
‘Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.

‘To you, in David’s town, this day
Is born of David’s line
A Saviour, who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign:

‘The heav’nly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
And in a manger laid.’

Thus spake the seraph and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God on high,
Who thus addressed their song:

‘All glory be to God on high,
And to the Earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from heav’n to men
Begin and never cease!’

Our sermon text today focuses on Jesus’s birth and the angelic visitation the shepherds experienced. Let’s read Luke 2:1-20. [read sermon text]

In considering this nativity story which we’ve heard countless times, let’s think about why God might have chosen shepherds to play an important role in the story of Jesus’s birth.

  • The shepherds were in the dark. These were people who were doing their job, guarding their sheep at night, and suddenly, light was everywhere. The contrast of dark vs. light would get their undivided attention, and the metaphor of light/dark is a common one throughout Scripture.
  • The shepherds were on the bottom rung of their socio-economic world. They would have been the last people that anyone would have thought God would interact with, let alone share the special news about Emmanuel – God with us. They had done nothing extraordinary to deserve this divine touch and revelation. This is a recurring motif when God interacts with people. It’s very often somebody who is considered a nobody in the culture.
  • Despite their low economic standing, the shepherds modeled the way God looked after God’s chosen people. Examples in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 40:11, Psalm 23, and Ezekiel 34:11-24, show how God looked after Israel as a good shepherd watched out for his sheep.
  • The shepherds simply obeyed the angelic command to go see the baby. They didn’t try to dismiss what they’d seen or explain it away. They went right away, “with haste” (v. 16).
  • The shepherds told others about what they had seen. They “made known what had been told them about this child” (v. 17). The divine touch and favor shown by God made the shepherds bold in sharing what they had witnessed.

As Luther Seminary Professor Sarah Henrich says:

Heaven and earth meet in obscure places, not in the halls of power. Shepherds and angels. A birth in the city of King David, but far from the royal residence. And that birth, that joy is for all people, just as the census was said to have been. 

With this strategic choice to tell the good news of Jesus’s birth to shepherds, God reveals the divine grace that cares not at all about class and power and position.

Revealing the birth of the Son of God first to shepherds also foreshadows the way Jesus lived his life. Jesus chose to hang out with tax collectors (Luke 5:27-29) and did not condemn sex workers (John 8:10-11; Luke 7:38-44). He touched and healed those considered unclean by the culture (Matthew 8:1-4). He spoke to women and allowed them to support him and minister to him (Luke 8: 1-3). Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14, NRSVUE). Jesus lived the way of making those first who thought they should be last based on the culture they were a part of. God’s revelation to the shepherds reminds us that God honors those who are often marginalized by the culture, and so should we.

Application: 

  • The Christmas story shows us that God works through ordinary people and purposefully chooses those who might be considered “outsiders” to reveal God’s grace and favor. Just to make it clear that God’s love and commitment to us cannot be earned, the example of the shepherds demonstrates God’s willingness to validate those often dismissed by the culture.
  • Christmas reminds us that God has entered our world and our history by taking on our flesh. Because of this, God is a part of our lives through Emmanuel – God with us – and this is what we proclaim at Christmas by singing the Christmas songs like “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks,” and by participating in other Christmas rituals. Because we are embodied, there is value in participating in rituals to celebrate the incarnation and embodiment of Jesus.
  • God came to us at Christmas so that we would possess courage and hope to face the difficulties of living in a world of uncertainty. The promise of Emmanuel – God with us – means we do not navigate life’s struggles without guidance or support. We are not alone.

By considering God’s choice to share the good news of Jesus’s birth with the shepherds, we can understand more about how the Christ child was born to be “good news of great joy for all the people,” not just those who were rich or powerful or esteemed by the culture. Through Christ’s birth and the nativity story, God reveals God’s plans for all humanity and confirms that indeed, God is love.

For Reference:

https://interestingliterature.com/2018/11/a-short-analysis-of-the-christmas-carol-while-shepherds-watched-their-flocks/

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/christmas-eve-nativity-of-our-lord/commentary-on-luke-21-14-15-20-20

The Welcome Mat w/ Al Kurzawa W4

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December 25 – Nativity of the Lord
Luke 2: 1-14, 15-20 “Joy For All People”

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Program Transcript


Anthony: Brother man, it’s Christmas day. Let’s move on to our final pericope of the month. It’s Luke 2:1-14, 15-20 Common English Bible. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Christmas Day, December the 25th.

Al, please read it for us.

Al: Okay.

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Anthony: Not a bad job pronouncing Quirinius. See. I can’t say it. You did. Excellent.

Al: I practiced a lot today.

Anthony: I bet you did, brother. Well done. We don’t name our kids that anymore. We should rectify that.

Al, it’s Christmas day. By the way, what’d you get me for Christmas?

Al: Ooh. It’s in the mail.

Anthony: Like Ed McMahon and my big prize. It’s in the mail. Okay.

Are there any Christmas traditions your family has been doing through the years that you’d be willing to share with our listening audience and what does the Christmas season mean to you?

Al: Alright. I have to give a little bit of background first, because my wife and I did not grow up celebrating Christmas.

It wasn’t part of either of our family’s tradition. And so, when we were married and started having kids, we did discuss what are we going to do as a family? And it’s been an interesting journey trying to figure out what traditions we wanted to establish for our family, because we didn’t come from any tradition.

So, in one sense, it was great because we started with a blank slate. But another sense, it’s hard starting traditions when you don’t even know what to do, what’s going to have meaning or not. And a few things never really stuck. But the two things that have seem to stick for our family is, first off, my wife bought an Advent calendar with cards.

And each day of Advent is a name or title for Jesus, and a passage that goes along with it. So, at dinnertime, during Advent, when we’re done eating, or near the end, one of the kids gets the card and they get to read the name, and then they get to read the passage and whatever discussions might come from that.

So that’s been enjoyable. And then because the cards, we then hang up around the living room my wife puts a beautiful string around the walls. And then we can see those words, those titles for Jesus, throughout the whole month.

And then when it gets to Christmas Eve time one of the channels here does carols by candlelight. And in Melbourne they put on this huge concert singing hymns and carols. And a lot of people in Melbourne will go to that and sit in the park. And you have to remember that here in December, it’s summertime, so it’s usually pretty good, warm weather so people can bring their picnic blankets and sit out.

And in our family, my wife’s a great cook and she makes homemade fudge, and she’ll make some chocolate fondue and we have strawberries, and we have fudge and some other neat little snacks, and we’ll just put on the carols by candlelight. And they sing songs like Holy Night, O Jerusalem. They do the Hallelujah Chorus from the Handel’s Messiah. And so, you get some of the top artists from Australia singing that night. And we get to sit back, enjoy some lovely food and enjoy some wonderful carols.

However, last week I did see a post that in Iceland, on Christmas Eve, they exchange books and then spend the rest of the night reading and eating chocolate. So that might be something we need to incorporate into our night. I wouldn’t mind doing that, doing a bit of reading that night.

Anthony: Speaking of chocolate, you mentioned chocolate fondue. What time should we show up at your house? We’re invited, right?

Al: About 7:30pm it should be all ready. We’re done with dinner and my wife’s set it all out, so you’re all welcome. 7:30 my house.

Anthony: Y’all come. I love it.

The passage mentions that Jesus, the firstborn child, was wrapped snugly. And sometimes I wonder, as we think about a nativity scene, it can be a bit sanitized and glamorized. Does it do a disservice to the depths our Lord humbly submitted himself to the human condition?

I’m curious for your thoughts.

Al: I would agree that it does. Again, my very smart wife says that when she became a mom, this whole passage changed for her because as a mom, this passage took on new meanings for her with the depths of Jesus’ humility.

He was born a baby, which means that he had to have his diaper or nappy, as we say in Australia, changed for him. He was completely at the mercy of Mary and Joseph to be fed, clothed, provided for. He went through that entire stage of baby and childhood and having to learn to walk and read and write and feed oneself.

So yeah, it can be a disservice when we forget about that. Jesus, really, when we talk about humble, he humbled himself to all of the human experience, including being a baby that has to be completely looked after.

Anthony: Yeah. It’s staggering. Continue.

Al: And one of the other thoughts with the whole sanitizing the service. I think part of it can also be in relation to those of us in the western world because if you think back to Mary’s Magnificat that we talked about, she talks about it with Jesus coming, it’s a reversal.

It’s God turning an upside-down world right side up. However, those of us in first world countries sometimes forget that we are the ones who can be proud. We are the ones that can be powerful. We are the ones that have full bellies.

So, I’m talking here to myself, that this inflection that I need to think about is maybe this good news of the poor being fed and the rich going away empty-handed, isn’t the sanitized good news that we in prosperous countries make it out to be? In the humility of Jesus’ birth, the manger of animals, the nobody’s involved in Jesus’ birth, it’s also a time for us for reflection, a time to stop and ask, is our part in this birth narrative maybe different than we assume?

Think about who is at the birth and who is it? First, notice who is not there? No Caesar, no King Herod, no chief priest from the temple. No army general. No politicians, none of the rich and famous. None of those that we usually would, in our current culture, that we think are important, having status worldly leaders.

But notice who is there, Joseph and Mary, two nobodies from Nazareth. No one had ever heard of them up to this point. And until Jesus had his ministry and the disciples and apostles start sharing the good news, after Jesus has risen and then some of them start writing down this Gospels good news, we would’ve never have known of Joseph and Mary.

Just two people having a baby. That happens all the time. And then you have these unnamed shepherds. They were the nomads at the time, right? They’d be our modern-day immigrants who are willing to work for less than minimum wage. They’re just wandering from job to job, living out in the fields with the sheep, no hot running water.

And then eight days later, Jesus is presented at the temple and there’s a guy named, Simian, and there’s an old lady named, Anna. These are the people that get to witness the birth of humanity’s salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s witnessed by a bunch of nobodies.

And the who’s who of Judea and the Roman Empire, they’re nowhere to be found. They’re off running the world, or at least think they are. And yet the King is born, and they’re too busy doing their other things.

So, it’s this chance, as you talk about, we can have this little manger scene and the snow falling and the shepherds around and the wise men in these little manger scenes, narratives like we put up.

But yeah, we can start to sanitize it and think of the joy of a baby born. But it’s also a comeuppance. It’s one of these things where we need to stop, reflect and go, are we actually there with Joseph and Mary and baby?

Or are we actually with the Caesars and the Herods in the palaces and off doing our own thing and a bit too busy during this season to actually stop and go, oh, wait a minute, the King has been born and he’s humbled himself. And that’s what he wants us to follow in his footsteps in all that too. Be that humble one. And if we’re the rich and we got the full bellies, then we need to be maybe pausing going, who do I need to feed?

Who is out there that I can help? Who is out there that I can give comfort to, warmth to? Who’s out there that might be sleeping in a manger that I can open my home to? And I’m talking metaphorically here but some might be literally, might be figuratively, of how can we look out for the Joseph and Marys out there and invite them and let them belong and look after them?

Anthony: That’s quite insightful, what you said, who’s there and who’s not. And that brought me to this moment of thinking about the incarnation, the birth of the Godchild. That with it is certainly the grace that God showed up on the scene, pitched the tent, as you said earlier.

But also comes with it a judgment that we needed a savior born to us. We needed a King. And so that’s what I hear you reflecting on. That as we look at the story — often when we come to a narrative scripture, if we think of ourselves in the story, have you noticed, Al, we generally make ourselves the good guys?

We’re with the good guys, we’re the ones doing it right. But what I hear you saying is really an important thing, that we also need to stop and reflect. Where am I and truly in this story? Would I be there? Would I come to see the wondrous, joyous news that’s good for all people?

Or would I be too busy doing my own thing, building my own kingdom when the King of the true kingdom has shown up on the scene? Thank you for that word.

It’s important for us to reflect on even at a time like Christmas and that’s what grace teaches us to do, right? We sometimes think of grace as even warm and fuzzy, like we think of the Christ child being born in a manger, but grace tells us to say no to ungodliness, right? That’s what Titus teaches us. So, it’s a truth-telling grace that we get to reflect upon.

I’m struck that in verse 9, the people were terrified when God showed up on the scene, when the Lord’s angel or his representative, I should say, showed up on the scene. And we see that often in scripture that people are terrified when something of the glory of heaven shows up.

Tell us about that. What’s going on?

Al: In contemplating on this and doing a little reading, I came across a quote by A.W. Tozer, who observed about 50 years ago, he said, “The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but his goodness encourages us not to be afraid of him. To fear and not be afraid, that is the paradox of faith.”

And I thought, yeah, he just captured that really well. And the image that came to my mind is the one of a moth being drawn to one of those bug zaps, right? The light is brilliant from a moth perspective. It’s this brilliant light, and it draws them off to it, but it’s also being drawn to its death.

In Luke’s Gospel story of the calling of the disciples, after the miracle catch of fish, Peter’s first exclamation is, go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man. And yet it says, the disciples got out of the boat and followed Jesus. So, he says to go away from me, I’m sinful. But then he follows Jesus.

So, we get a glimpse of the glory of God, and we see simultaneously God’s goodness, God’s holy love, God’s all-consuming love, and our sinfulness embedded in our very core and our complete destruction if in our current bodies, we were to encounter the full glory of God. God’s all-consuming love means that He wants all of us. Not one part is left to our own. C.S. Lewis calls this the intolerable compliment, that God is not willing to let any part of us, no dark corner, no little bit not be redeemed and reconciled to him.

Sometimes we want to compromise with God and say, Okay, I’ll give you this part of my life, but let me keep control of this part of my life. We either think we know better how to run that part of our life, or we like that part of our life the way it is. And we’re afraid God’s just going to mess it up if he gets his hands on it. He’ll want to purify us and there goes our fun.

But the only way to truly live into the abundant life that God has for us is to submit our entire lives to every part. And God won’t be satisfied unless he has every part. When we get a glimpse of that all-consuming love, we recognize that it truly is all-consuming. Like a refiner’s fire. All our impurities are going to be melted away until we are the masterpiece that, that great artist God has designed each and every one of us to be.

One of my favorite passages is Ephesian 2, and in the New Living translation it calls us God’s masterpiece. He is the master artist and each of one of us is a masterpiece, and he won’t finish with us until we are fully done. We are the masterpiece he designed us to be.

And what’s encouraging in this passage is even though the shepherds were frightened, they’re invited to witness the birth of Jesus. So even in our fear, God tells us, do not be afraid because what he has planned for us is an invitation. He’s inviting us to join in with the love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always been participating in for all time and always will.

So, it’s an invitation. It’s terrifying because he’s going to refine us so that we can participate in it. But once that masterpiece is done, when each and every one of us is done, we will get to fully participate in that love for all time.

I love what Tozer said. It’s just the paradox of this greatness of God. But there’s also his encouragement. Do not be afraid. I heard one time that’s the most often quoted, that’s the most often cited command in the Bible. Do not be afraid because he doesn’t want us to fear. He wants us to live, submit, and live into this perfect love that he has designed for us.

Anthony: That’s a good way to end. And I’m looking at verse 14. Glory to God in heaven and on the earth. Peace among those whom he favors.

He favors you, friends. Merry Christmas to you all. Al, it’s been a joy having you on the podcast today. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thank you so much for the keen insights by the Spirit that you provided for us here today.

And I also want to thank our fine producer, Reuel Enerio, and our transcriber, Elizabeth Mullins. They do a fantastic job, which makes this podcast possible.

Brother, I love you. You are a beloved child of the living God, and as is our tradition on the Gospel Reverb podcast, we’d love to end with prayer, and I know you’d like to share benediction as well.

Al: Yes. And let me just say again, thank you for having me on this podcast. I love listening to Gospel Reverb and now to actually be a part of it in this way, I just really appreciate it. And if I may also say back to you, Anthony, you are a beloved son of the Father and how wonderful that is. And a Merry Christmas to you and to all our listeners as well.

And yeah, if you would join me in prayer.

Loving God, we give you thanks. We thank you so much for who you are. We thank you that you continue to reveal to us who you are. And in that process, we learn who we are. We’re your beloved in Christ. We are your beloved sons and daughters. And we just thank you for these scriptures, these holy scriptures which you’ve given us, so that we can reflect and draw deeper into that relationship with you.

I just pray for those that will be reflecting on these passages and sharing them and teaching from them over the month of Advent. I just pray that your Holy Spirit guides them and gives them your words so that in each of their messages and in their teachings, they bring glory to you.

And we just pray this in Jesus’ name.

And now may the God of hope, the Lord of love, and the Spirit of comfort, fill all of you with joy, peace, hope, and love, so that it fills and overflows from you into others this advent season. Amen.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Have you ever created plans that ended up falling apart? If so, how did that make you feel? How did you respond to the situation?
  • The video talks about how the Jewish people held certain expectations for what the Messiah would be like. What expectations have you had for people or situations that made it difficult for you to accept what was actually happening?
From the sermon
  • When considering God’s choice to share the good news about Jesus’ birth with shepherds, what do you find most surprising? What does this tell you about God’s character?
  • Consider the angels’ prophecy that Jesus was “the good news of great joy for all the people.” What role do you think the shepherds played by witnessing the angelic hosts and sharing what they had seen with others? How do we live out of love rather than following cultural expectations?