Advent Joy | Pastor Mike Fortune | December 20, 2008


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ADVENT JOY Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:10-18
by Pastor Mike Fortune
December 20, 2008

Introduction: YouTube Video: Advent Conspiracy 2008 

Advent joy...

  1. Spreads one crazy Christian at a time [Mark 1:1-8; Micah 6:8]
  2. By consuming less and giving more [Luke 3:10-14; 2 Corinthians 8:1-8]
  3. To those in need [Luke 3:15-18; Isaiah 59:15-16 NLT]

Though ill herself, she has given her life in service
She has seen forgiveness take root in the heart of a woman robbed of sight by a sniper's bullet. She has seen Iraqi children slowly recovering movement after shrapnel from American bombs shredded their limbs. She has seen light and hope being painstakingly restored to those blinded by phosphorus weapons and deafened by the thunder of bombs. And according to Noah Baker Merrill's column in the December 16, 2008 edition of Peace Signs, a monthly Mennonite online magazine, Najlaa is among the one in five Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homes during the last three US led wars.

She is one of her country's 5.2 million displaced people. She's an Iraqi refugee who lives now in Jordan, where her days are spent coordinating an aid, advocacy, and peace building project called Direct Aid Iraq []—I think they're putting her website on the screens for you to see. She refers to the work she does there as "helping people love each other." She has lost seven family members since the 2003 invasion, including her father, who died of brain cancer that came on rapidly in many residents of the family's neighborhood in Baghdad in the wake of the U.S. bombings that were called "Shock and Awe."

As she has continued to be faithful to what she believes God wants her to do—ministering to her people, helping to hold their bodies, hearts, minds, and families together in their time of exile—Najlaa has struggled with her own chronic pain and sometimes crippling health conditions. But she has borne her role as the primary care giver for her aging widowed mother, and the derision and contempt with which she as an Iraqi refugee and a single woman, is viewed by many in Jordan with grace. Najlaa is a Mandaean—a member of an ancient Iraqi community who follow the teachings of John the Baptist. 

Only a few thousand Mandaeans now remain in their own country, and fewer than 150,000 remain in the whole world. As a woman who has lost her entire adult life to war and sanctions, in this darkness, she has discovered God's presence through the love her fellow refugees show to one another—and in the love she and they inspire in those Americans blessed enough to work with them. Najlaa has given her whole life in service to her neighbors. Which sounds crazy I know. But what's even crazier is she's asking Americans to do the same. She says, "Through our work, through the stories we tell, through every tool we have, we have to make sure Americans remember the relationship we share."

Advent Joy spreads one crazy Christian at a time
Her life shows us that Advent Joy spreads one crazy Christian at a time. Which is point number one this week. So before we get any further, let's open our Bibles to two passages this morning. The first in Mark 1 and the second in Luke 3. This Scripture reading today is gonna take some multitasking so I hope you're up for it. We're gonna read Mark 1:1-8 followed immediately by Luke 3:10-18.

"1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"—3"a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Luke 3:10-18 adds, "10"What should we do then?" the crowd asked. 11John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." 12Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" 13"Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. 14Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay." 15The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." 18And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them."

John lived for others
Point number one: Advent joy spreads one crazy Christian at a time. And John was crazy. Everything about John shouted crazy. From his miraculous birth to a barren mother to his being raised alone in the desert to his wardrobe of camel's hair to his diet of locusts and wild honey to his message calling the affluent to repentance and confession of sins, John was great in the eyes of the Lord according to Matthew 11:11. In contrast with the tyrant Herod the Great, who  like Nimrod in Genesis 10:9-12 and 11:2-4 led men to doubt and oppose God, John lived for others. He was great in the same way that Elijah was great because Luke 1:16 says, "Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God."

So really, John picks up where the prophet Malachi left off hundreds of years earlier at the end of the Old Testament talking in Malachi 4:5-6 about "Turning the hearts of the children to their fathers." Like Samson [Judges 13:4-5] and Samuel [1 Samuel 1:22], John the Baptist was a Nazarite from birth. And at all times according to Genesis 49:26 and Numbers 6:2, Nazarites were to keep their appetites under control [Judges 13:5]. Which we know Samson struggled to do. And was just as difficult for John. We know this is true because later in his life, when some folks think he was getting even more sinless and more perfect, we see from his own doubts about Jesus in Luke 7:23, that he too continued to fall short of the glory of God.
So Jesus called John greater than all the other prophets not because he was perfect. Or because he dressed like them [2 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4]. Or because he had more will power than Samson. Or even because his message was any more radical than all the prophets before him. He was great because he was the one sharing it right before Jesus showed up.

And so refreshing was this invitation that even King Herod [not the Great, another Herod called Antipas, there were lots of them] thought about accepting it according to Mark 6:20. Unfortunately, he didn't. And later beheaded John the Baptist instead. But the invitation was made and like all the prophet's invitations before his, it included an invitation to not only change one's mind, but also one's purpose. A prophet's invitation included becoming willing to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God. Isn't that what the prophets of old said God required? Micah 6:8 says, "8He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Let's change what we do!
Metanoeo is literally the Greek word for repent found in Mark 1:4 and it means "To think differently after" or more accurately to "Change one's purpose." It doesn't just mean repent and change your mind. It means repent and change your purpose. It means become willing to do stuff differently than you did before. So as crazy as it sounds, Advent Joy only truly comes to those like John and Najlaa who not only change their minds about what they see, but by His grace, become willing to change their actions too. And if just the Christians in America did this and spent less at Christmas, imagine what we could do together!

So what if every other American buys a bazillion gifts for their kids? Doesn't mean we have to! Jesus was born into this world receiving only three gifts so Jackie and I decided our kids will live if that's what we give them too. Now grandparents often show no regard for this. But this lunancy on our part not only allows us to tell the story of Christ's birth with authenticity and meaning, it also leaves some money in our checkbook to send with Joshua and Lydia's drawings to our sponsored children, Golu and Salomi, in India who are the same age. Parents, we have got to be crazy enough as Christians to teach emerging generations that Christmas is about spending less so we can give more.

Consume less, give more
Point number one: Advent joy spreads one crazy Christian at a time. By consuming less and giving more. And this is point number two. Look at Luke 3:10-14. "10What should we do then?" the crowd asked. 11John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." 12Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" 13"Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. 14Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay."

We need to ask ourselves the same kinds of questions our grandparents were asking during the Great Depression. "Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay? Where will I put it? Why am I shopping?" Be content with what you have John said. Which reminds me: You guys have got to rent the DVD documentary from Morgan Spurlock called "What Would Jesus Buy?" You may need a twisted sense of humor like mine to appreciate it, but it may help you and your family apply point number two. Take a look at this preview to see what I mean. YouTube Vid: What Would Jesus Buy? 

Isn't that hilarious? We have got stop shopping. But no, we don't do that. Instead, we take our Christmas money and economic stimulus checks and tax returns and go to the mall and join the Sho-pocalypse. During Christmas alone, we spend $450 billion every year. All while more and more people are losing their jobs [500k last month in November alone]. And in some places on earth, we keep shopping while many are losing their lives from preventable water related illnesses at a rate of 25k/day. Why? Because Christians haven't yet embraced point number two: that Advent Joy comes from consuming less and giving more.

Excel in the grace of giving
We need a metanoia! We need a changealuliah! We need a sho-pocalypse exorcism! Why do people like Najlaa, who have nothing, give more than Americans that have everything? Why is she devoting her entire life to service while we can't get people to talk to their kids for more than 40 minutes a week? What on earth is wrong with us? Jesus said in Matthew 10:8, freely you have received, freely give! Paul adds these words to a church not unlike ours in 2 Corinthians 8:1-8 adds, "1And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. 6So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving."

So it starts with us. Point number one. One crazy Christian at a time. That consumes less and gives more. Point number two. Many of you remember a few months ago, there arose a real need within our own church family, when Mary Snowberger gave me permission to share with you the condition of her home leaking water through the floor. Thanks to the labor of Greg Bundy, Steve Bills, and a friend of Steve's, and thanks to all your generosity, we collected a special offering that day after church after we already collected the regular offering. And because you gave, and then gave some more, Mary today has a sparkling new kitchen sink and counter, a safer tub, and a functional toilet. And her floor doesn't have a hole in it anymore.

But this week another urgent request surfaced. Solomon Sesay is a Kenyan Adventist student at UT who has been attending Toledo First for months. He wrote me this email and gave me permission to share it: "Dear Pastor, thanks for your mail and the prayers. Im getting on with the studies though have some difficulties with my registration for the spring semester. I'm supposed to finish my registration process but I'm some how cut-up with financial problems. Since I came I have not been able to secure a job and had to settle my fall semester medical insurance and other school charges which came up to $1300. This I have already paid but the registration for the spring semester is $1,700 and all that I have now is $700. The remaining $1000 has been my problem. I'm really ashamed to disturb you with my problems. But I do not have nowhere I can have this amount of money. So I'm humbly pleading with you to solicit funds for me to get this bill settled. Thank you for accepting all my problems My regards to your family. God bless you."

So this week I shared Solomon's letter with the TF leaders able to meet with me weekly and in response, they pledged money to help Solomon. But because of your previous interest in helping Mary, I know there are some of you who would also want to help Solomon if given the chance. So after church today, we will again be collecting a special offering, this time for Solomon and for people like Solomon who come to us in obvious need. The deacons will be by the outside doors with the offering plates in the lobby on your way out. If you wish to give again, give cheerfully and freely to those in need. Luke 3:18 says it this way, "18And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them."

Forgiveness and changealuliah!
Advent joy spreads one crazy Christian at a time. Point number one. By consuming less and giving more. Point number two. Especially to those in need. This is point number three in a story that begins with repentance and confession, but leads to joy and giving. I was reminded of this when I read last week that GM printed a full page ad in Automotive News magazine to make a public apology. Let me close with this.

Here's what GM said: "While we're still the U.S. sales leader, we acknowledge we have disappointed you. At times we violated your trust by letting our quality fall below industry standards and our designs become lackluster. We proliferated our brands and dealer network to the point where we lost adequate focus on our core U.S. market. We also biased our product mix toward pickup trucks and SUVs. And we made commitments to compensation plans that have proven to be unsustainable in today's globally competitive industry. We have paid dearly for these decisions, learned from them and are working hard to correct them by restructuring our U.S. business to be viable for the long-term."

Critics called it a desperate P.R. campaign, a "bizarre" and "pointless exercise" that is "Too little too late." And from a business standpoint, maybe it is. But from a Christian standpoint, it isn't. Because if the world ever needed the church before, they sure do need us now. And in 2009, if we continue to spend less and give more, we will be uniquely prepared to help those in need. Not just in Africa. And India. But in Toledo. Isaiah 59:15-16 NLT says it this way: "15The Lord looked and was displeased to find there was no justice. 16He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed."

But that's not gonna happen here. Not on our watch. Because I'm convinced there's a growing group of crazy Christians in Toledo First ready and willing to consume less and give more of their time, and their talents, and their treasure in 2009. Especially to those in need. As Christians, let's not make the families of displaced GM, Chrysler, or Ford pay the penalty for the greed and poor business decisions of its executives. Those executives have asked for our forgiveness. So we should give it to them. And not withhold something from them that God does not withhold from us. Changealululiah? Amen? What do you think?

So thank you, in Christ's name, for all you gave this year. And thank you in advance for all you will do in 2009. We have some very exciting plans and ordinary outreach opportunities galore starting as early as January 17, 21, and 28, 2009 so please read your January Focal Point carefully when it arrives in a couple weeks. We are well on our way to growing from the children's divisions up, a Christ centered church, shouting the Gospel with our lives. And after the last two years, I wanted you to know how much I have thoroughly enjoyed being your pastor. May God continue to bless us and may the Christ of Christmas fill our homes with His joy. Changealuliah and Amen.