Ok, here are the audio links:
Evening Sermon: Genesis 3 and Luke 1, "The Two Most Important Women in the Christmas Story."
Morning Sermon: Isaiah 9: "Hope"
Now, I'm going to give you the outline for the evening service first, and then the morning. I didn't outline the morning service, I actually wrote it out, and then didn't quite deliver it word-for-word.
Texts: Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:30-33
I. Eve: The First Promise
A. Failed to heed the Word of God
B. Death came in (her and Adam)
II. Mary: The Fulfilled Promise
A. Heard and heeded: "Let it be unto me"
B. Life comes in through her child: Jesus Christ
III. Who are the two most important?
A. The obedient?
B. The disobedient?
C. The one with the Word of God
D. The one who needs the Word of God
Morning text: (And if anyone chooses to listen and compare, I will absolutely welcome your commentary on what I said differently.)
We turn today to the idea of “Hope” as we move toward Christmas. Hope is an often used word in our culture today, one which I'm certain many of you are well aware of, both in use and abuse of it. Examples of our use of Hope include political campaigning, whether in themes like “I still believe in a place called Hope” or “Hope and change” or other rhetoric, we hear it from politicians many times.
We hear it from sports teams and businesses, whether it's that a business “hopes” to meet it 4th quarter earnings targets or a team “hopes” to meet its 4th quarter touchdown targets, it's heard there. It's many times used when a new leader takes over, whether a new CEO hoping for better results or a new coach hoping to take his team to the next level, hope is commonly used.
We even hear it in our churches. Churches set goals and plans, select pastors and leaders, and announce their hope in doing so. Sometimes it's a hope that this will work out better than the last plan, a hope that this plan won't be too hard or a hope that we'll reach our community for Christ. It may be a hope that people will finally leave us alone or a hope that our pastor will never change. Occasionally, it's a hope that he will...
We have hope that our society will get better and more godly, or perhaps hope that we'll return to a time when we were. All through, there's this common thread: HOPE. And it's often paired with change, like salt with pepper. Why? Because HOPE implies to us that something is just not quite right with the situation. In times of darkness, frustration, those are the places that HOPE is needed.
Scripture speaks to us of this type of hope, and speaks of Christmas in the same passage. Where does this happen? If you'll take your Bibles and turn with me to Isaiah 9:1-7, we'll read it together. Would you stand with me in honor of reading God's Word?
Birth and Reign of the Prince of Peace
1But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He (B)treated the (C)land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
2(D)The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.
3(E)You shall multiply the nation,
You (F)shall increase their gladness;
They will be glad in Your presence
As with the gladness of harvest,
As (G)men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
4For (H)You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,
The rod of their (I)oppressor, as at the battle of (J)Midian.
5For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult,
And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.
6For a (K)child will be born to us, a (L)son will be given to us;
And the (M)government will rest (N)on His shoulders;
And His name will be called (O)Wonderful Counselor, (P)Mighty God,
Eternal (Q)Father, Prince of (R)Peace.
7There will be (S)no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the (T)throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with (U)justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore
(V)The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.
Let's pray. Prayer for God to speak through His Word.
As we can see here, just as we often hope for things to improve, so Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel in a time of darkness and frustration. When Isaiah speaks to them, the northern part of their nation has been overrun and destroyed. The lands of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were both a part of this northern area.
The southern area, the nation of Judah, had been invaded, and would last only a few more decades as an independent power. It was a dark time for their nation. They had formerly been great and respected in the world, and even had known economic prosperity where silver wasn't counted as valuable (1 Kings 10:21). The people saw their future as bleak and without a chance of anything positive.
Meanwhile, God sent His prophet, Isaiah, among them. Isaiah had been called, and warned, by God, to preach and that his preaching would be misunderstood. Some of the misunderstanding was because of the hardness of people's hearts, but some was because the audience was, well, simply human. We as people sometimes have difficulties with seeing past our own lives and situations. Whatever it is that we are dealing with has to be the worst possible thing to have to deal with.
Yet it isn't. God promised through Isaiah that relief would come to Israel, and it came in small amounts in the years to come. This is often a feature of Biblical prophecy: there are partial fulfillments and complete fulfillments. The partial fulfillment is often easily understood and observed by the people that hear it. Then, there is a complete fulfillment, and this often happens outside of the lifetime of the audience or the prophet. Many of Isaiah's prophecies fall within this category. There was someone earthly who was partially like what Isaiah spoke of, but then, well, we're getting there...
The years went by, and the people did see things turn a little better, then a little worse. Finally, though, things got a lot worse. The government that ruled over Israel prohibited the Jews from worshiping God as God required (side note: This is what freedom of religion is supposed to be about. Not that we are free to worship God as we choose, but rather free to worship God as He requires. Not as an earthly king requires or an earthly government allows, but free to answer to God for our worship and none other.) From there, the Jews had rebelled against that government, only to allow themselves to be placed under the tyranny of another. In all, it just wasn't a happy time.
And not just unhappy in our terms of unhappiness, but rather truly dealing with oppressive tyrants and dictators. King Herod, for example, seems to have been somewhere on the wrong side of crazy, who put his wife to death, then kept her body around the house. He drowned his sons, to prevent them from plotting against him, and then spent time and money seeking whomever had murdered them! This same Herod had ordered that when he died, leading men from every city in his territory were to be executed so that there would be guaranteed weeping throughout the land (fortunately, nobody did this). Whatever we may think of Republicans or Democrats, whatever darkness we see in our land is not quite this bad (yet).
However, not even this darkness is what Isaiah is referring to. Instead, he refers to the darkness that all of mankind is born into. It is the darkness of sin, the darkness of death, the darkness of separation from God. It's a darkness that none of us can escape or claim to not have. John reminds of this, that if we say we have no sin, we lie and lack the truth. Paul reminds us as well, that all have sinned and fall short. And God is holy, and looks away from those who are covered in sin (Isaiah 29 and Habakkuk 1).
This is the darkness we find ourselves in, and this is the darkness Isaiah speaks of in verse 2. Look at it again: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light...and then we see a description of what God will do with this light.
Finally, we see that the light is not merely a lamp, a candle, or a flood light.
Rather, the light is a person. A son. A son that will rule over the people that see the light, a son that will break the burden of oppression, of the oppression that sin and darkness brings.
This son will be called.....well, this verse doesn't give a personal name. Instead, Isaiah is shown the names that are descriptive, names that show character:
Wonderful: well, that's pretty easy: consider this word in its purest meaning though, not “wonderful like wonder bread!” but Wonderful, beyond comprehension or explanation.
Counselor (your Bible translation may have a comma there or may not. It's not error to have it or not have it, but a question about the language. Hebrew poetry is as loose with grammar as English poetry is, and you can translate it either way. Does it matter? He is certainly Wonderful. He certainly Counsels and guides us. Whatever He does, He does wonderfully, so.....) not just light and fluffy huggy-counselor, but the One who gives guidance that must be followed.
Mighty God...now, we know that there is only one God, so this Son cannot be a mere man if He is described as Mighty God
Everlasting Father...who can claim to do anything Everlasting except for one who has been since the Beginning and will be until the end?
Prince of Peace...Peace. The absence of conflict, and the presence of right relationship. How does peace come? Peace between people comes when they realize they are both inadequate before God Almighty. How does One become Prince of Peace? By ruling over His Kingdom and that rule causing people to see themselves as they are: graciously forgiven. How could we find in our hearts the ability to despise anyone? This peace is not a fluff peace, but a peace with perspective, a peace that comes because we are all following completely someone else.
Who is this Child?
The Child is Christ Jesus, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
It is from Him that we receive Hope, from Him alone that the change that fulfills that Hope can come. He is the Hope of Christmas:
For the Wonderful Counselor we need in our daily problems
For the Mighty God we need to encounter, who made us and can provide for us
For the Everlasting Father who protects and loves us
For the Prince of Peace who can command all to beat swords and spears to plows and pruning hooks....who could even command tanks turned to combines (but with one gun left for varmints, perhaps?)
It is not the place of government or even ourselves to provide us with hope. Hope must come because we know the darkness we have around us, the darkness within us, the Hope must be of a light that is outside of us. That Light is Jesus.
As we contend with this world, realize that everyone without Christ is walking in darkness. Meeting them with anger or agitation will not solve any problems, and will more likely cause problems! Rather, we need to meet the world with hope....
That does not mean that we neglect the problems, ignore them, or soft-pedal them. In fact, hope is our response to recognizing those very problems. We see darkness around us, we see darkness invading, and we have few options. We can try and shut our eyes and pretend it's not there. We can shut down in despair. Or we can hope.
Hope for the forgiveness of our sins and a new life
Hope for the eternity to come
Hope for the love of God and peace with Him.
Another thing about Hope, though, is this: Isaiah says that there will be no end to the increase...
So, for those of us with Hope, here's the question:
What are you doing to be a part of that increase? Are you contributing all you have to accomplish it?
Is your time going to increase His government? Are your talents? Is your treasure to see Him increase, or is your treasure to see your finances increase?
Our invitation is two-fold: to commit anew to increase His government as we have seen the light, or to come into that light for the first time.
Flow out.....(At this point, I move to a fairly routine explanation of what the invitation is and means at the end of the service, and why we do it. I turn off the recorder after the closing prayer, so you don't hear that.)