Word of the Week

Advent 2: God Sends Messengers

militarygirlsExcerpts of a sermon preached at Springfield Christian Church from Malachi 3:1-14 and Luke 3:1-6

I can imagine that many of us know a teenager (if not two or three) that has gone through a period in their life of rebellion. Slammed doors, snarky looks and secret keeping become the norm of existence with such teens who have declared their parents and all things  “uncool.”

Several years ago when one of our closest friend’s daughter turned 13, she really turned toward rebellion big time.

Lying, sneaking out of the house at all hours of the night, failing classes (though she was a smart kid) were just a few highlights of her rebellion story. It was bad, really bad and our friend, the mom was really at her wit's end, fearing her daughter not make it out of her teen years without being on drugs or pregnant.

So Kevin and I wanted to do anything we could to help encourage positive living. So one weekend when we all went away to West Virginia.  Kevin and I gave our mother friend the afternoon off to relax and we took the 14-year old girl and 12-year -old boy out to hike and for ice cream. As we finished our walk and sat around picnic tables licking our ice cream cones, Kevin surprised me with how directly he started talking to the kids.

He told stories of what he’d seen with other teens friends of ours who made poor choices for their lives.

And the first word out of his mouth was “military school.”

Kevin went on “Be prepared: your mom might send you there. Lots of parents do it!"

Then, Kevin proceeded to talk about how structured each day was, how little sleep you got and of particular interest to the girl—how you had no control over what you wore (and that the clothes in military school did nothing for your figure). And you could see the FEAR come over her eyes. Though she didn’t admit it aloud, you could tell what she was thinking: “Oh I could never go there.”

We later learned from her mom that on the way home from the trip the two kids were talking about Kevin’s speech in the backseat of the van. And the teen girl said, “Oh I’ve got to reconsider my choices.” We were so glad to hear. 

There’s a reason, you see that the “military” or “military school” is often used as the last resort for troubled kids needed a boast to see life for what it’s really like. For in such an institution a rookie is forced to realize life is not about one person but rather about being on a larger team and giving back to a cause greater than themselves.

And, in a similar way, the prophetic message we just read from Malachi chapter 3 was a wake up call.

For the community gathered to hear this text was in need a re-boot, a re-orientation, a re-positioning in their approach to life, as was the case with my friend’s daughter. The community needed to hear a message of instruction about how their choices weren’t living up to God’s best for them. They needed to lay down their posture of rebellion and move toward the better life that God offered.

It wasn’t an easy word to hear but it was a necessary piece of instruction for a verse 1 points to: the “Lord of Hosts” was 4446359_f496coming.

Depending on what translation of the Bible you use, the number of times the Hebrew word tsebha'oth gets translated to the English “Lord of Hosts” differs. But here’s what we need to know from the Hebrew: the word “hosts” is a military term. The phrase Lord of Hosts can be translated, YHWH, he creates armies. Interesting, huh?

So for this word of the Lord to draw upon imagery of the heavenly arms coming down is to show the serious nature of this message.

Spiritual military school 101.

But how?

The first phrase of verse 1 gives us a clue. “See I am sending my messenger to prepare the way.” Or in other words, making this much-needed change is not something I’m going to ask you to do alone.

I am going to send you a helper.

I am going to send you a voice.

I am going to send you a person who will speak directly to your hearts so that you can hear. And this messenger will prepare the way for me to come.

Or in simpler terms—I’m sending you an opening act, a warm-up show that is going to help you get ready for the main event.

This my friends, is God's grace!

I have a friend who is epitomizes truth-telling in my life.

Several months ago, as my friend and I shared a conversation which I thought just was your average coffee date, catching up, sharing stories, musing together about the future, she stopped and turned directly toward me. “Elizabeth, I have something to tell you” she said. My ears perked up to listen. I knew she didn’t talk this way often.

As she started to recount some particularly painful details of an experience in my life she knew a lot about, she then looked me directly in the eyes and said:

“You’re angry, and it’s hurting your soul.”

Whoa! Was my first reaction. But before I could go into all of thoughts in my mind of “I can’t believe she just said that” my friend went on.

“Elizabeth, hear me say, you’ve got so much love to give. Now let the anger go and start loving as God made you to love.”

Now I would be lying if I told you that I liked what she said in that very moment. Or that it set well in my gut in the hours that followed. No, I didn’t sleep for a couple of nights trying to process what I heard.

But as the days passed, Holy Spirit would not let me move on. My friend's words laid the ground work for my ability to welcome more of God into my life. She was right and I needed to change.

In our New Testament reading for today, we read of another messenger. It’s the story we 1280x720always hear read at Advent, the tale of John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin.

One word I’ve heard used to describe presence of John the Baptist on the religious scene is “an interruption.” And that he was!

John fulfills his calling by being “a voice crying out in the wilderness” offering a baptism for the repentance and the forgiveness of sins to those gathered in Galilee. John offers the people a new way to both live with God and one another.

John comes on the scene not as the main event, but as the opening act—the one preparing the way for Jesus’ ministry to begin. They too haven't been living right. And now is the time to prepare!

Good things, you know are only birthed out of times of preparation.

But appearance of messengers, as was the case with John the Baptist is that messengers do not always come in a package we might naturally gravitate towards (remember John was a burly character who ate bugs and honey) AND they might not say what we want to hear (no high points on the warm and fuzzy encouragement scale for prophets like this) but regardless they speak God’s words.

And we truly want more of God in our lives, we must listen.

God's messengers are gifts that keep on giving to us.

And this week, this month, this year a messenger might just find you across a meal table.

A messenger might just find in the break room at work.

Or a messenger might emerge in the face of one of your children. Hear me say truth-telling messengers can appear to us in thousands of ways, and usually not when we expect.

And our only responsibility is welcome the word and listen.

Of course this doesn’t mean that every person claiming to have a word of the Lord for us is actually of the Lord. A spiritual practice is always discernment! But that when we do discern that the word is for us, we listen and ask God to help us change.

For only when you and I face the truth of our circumstances, our emotions, our relationships and all the other parts of our lives can we welcome more of God in our world.

And isn't that what Advent is all about anyway?

Thank God for messengers. Oh, how we need each other!