Monday, November 30, 2009

"Open the Promise Box". Advent: Countdown to Christmas!

Yesterday marked the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is the season in the church calendar that immediately precedes Christmas. Most people forget that Christmas actually begins December 25th, and continues for 12 days. "Advent" is the time of preparation, a time set aside to make sure that our hearts and minds are ready to receive the amazing gift of Christ coming into this world.

So I was invited to speak at Palm Harbor United Methodist Church to help kick-off Advent. The congregation is reading "In My Heart I Carry A Star: stories for Advent" as a church-wide study. Thirty small-groups are meeting to discuss the book and so they thought bringing me in to give a message on "HOPE", the book's emphasis for this week, might be a good idea.

I had an awesome experience, getting to speak to around 300 people at the 8:15 service, and then close to 1,000 at the 9:45.

My "sermon" was titled "Open the Promise Box", (click on the link to find the 25-minute audio file) and I built the message around a childhood memory. The story went something like this:

Whenever we went to visit my grandma Lily, one of the highlights was always “Can we see the Promise Box?”

There are over 3,000 promises in the Bible… And my grandmother had just about every last one of them in a box, rolled in tight little tubes of hope and standing upright – like they would – so that when we took the lid off and looked down all we could see was around three-thousand small circles.

And so we’d open the box, taking the lid off carefully – almost reverently – and pick up the pair of ivory-handled tweezers that always lay across the top.

“Now pull out a promise,” she’s say; “And let’s read it together.” And we would. Something like:
  • “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deut 31:8 NIV)
  • Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, "Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:9)
  • (Heb 10:23) - Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
  • (Phil 4:6-7) - Do not be anxious about anything.... And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
  • (Mark 10:27) - But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
And Grandma Lily would make us memorize the promise - and then we’d put it away, carefully, and the promises of the scriptures became seared into our minds… and seeded into our subconscious… and became a part of who we were as children of light….

For me, the idea of HOPE is bound up in the theology of Promise. I concluded the message by referencing the Apostle Pauls' amazing declaration in Second Corinthians 1: 18-22

But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Now that's something to head into December holding on to!

Love and blessings - DEREK

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