Luke 3:1-18

            John the Baptist wasn’t exactly a social conformist.  He lived, acted, and said things that were anything but mainstream thinking.  But John wasn’t out to win friends and please people.  His message was sharp and straightforward:  “You bunch of snakes!  Who warned you to run from the coming judgment?  Do something to show that you really have given up your sins….  An ax is ready to cut the trees down at their roots.  Any tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire.”  John was the first-century version of the guy with a placard on the street corner yelling for everyone to repent.  He probably would have been relegated to the category of loony tunes had he not had an actual and substantial following of people who believed his message of repentance.
 
            The reason the masses did not dismiss John as some creepy clown is that he offered them something better than just being stuck in old destructive patterns of dumb decisions, unhealthy relationships, and bad habits.  John points us away from himself and squarely on Jesus.  Christ is the one who can and will unstick us from our downward spirals of complacency, mediocrity, and sinful behavior.
 
            To repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ allows us to bear good fruit.  Being with the Lord, rooted and established in him, allows us to spring from the ground like a fresh new shoot growing into something beautiful.  Dwelling in the presence of Jesus brings healthy patterns of life. 
 
            Jesus came once, and will come again.  We need to get ready for that day.  There are roads that need straightening; fires that need to be lit in order to burn away brush; dead trees need to be cut down; and, there are people who need to repent because the kingdom of God is near. 
 

 

            Lord Jesus, you are the rightful King of all creation.  I confess those sinful things I have done, and the good things I have left undone.  Your mercy is from everlasting to everlasting.  Help me to so hear your Word that new life and hope springs within me and produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control.  Amen.

Luke 7:18-30

            For a short time in my life I had a side business doing some painting.  I once painted an interior apartment in a large beautiful Victorian house.  When I was done, it looked great.  However, there was a bit of a problem.  The owner came to check on my progress only to find that I had painted with the wrong color!  I was certain I had it right, but, alas, the job ended up taking twice as long as anticipated.
 
            Sometimes we can be so sure about our plans, only to discover our expectations were off.  John the Baptist was sitting in jail, not for any crime other than offending the king.  As he sat there, John began to doubt.  He started wondering about Jesus.  Maybe he had been wrong about him.  Perhaps he was not the Messiah after all.  John had been doing ministry with the expectation that Jesus would beat up the Romans, usher in a renewed political Israel, and put down all threats to his Lordship.  But that was not happening.  John was now uncertain.  So, he sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
 
            John reasoned that if Jesus were really a sovereign king, he would not be imprisoned facing imminent death.  Jesus responded to John’s uncertainty by quoting the prophet Isaiah and letting him know that the kingdom takeover was going exactly as planned.  The problem was that John had been using the wrong paint.  John’s plans did not fully sync with Jesus.
 
            It is easy to doubt when adversity strikes.  When things don’t go according to our expected plans, then what?  This is why it is so vitally important to continually seek the Scriptures and seek the Lord Jesus so that we might not only paint the right building, but use the paint Jesus expects us to use.  The thing that John got right was pursuing Jesus.  When in doubt, he sought the Lord – and that is something we all can emulate.
 

 

            Lord God, you are sovereign over your world, even though at times it does not seem like it.  I look to you, Holy Spirit, to keep me on track with Christ’s kingdom purposes so that your will is accomplished in and through me.  Amen.

Malachi 3:16-4:6

            According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of every three — live in biological father-absent homes. The National Fatherhood Initiative reports that nine in ten American parents agree this is a “crisis.”  Consequently, there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the social issues facing America today. Yet there is hope in the fact that children with involved fathers do better across every measure of child well-being than their peers in father-absent homes.
            From a biblical perspective, the relationship between fathers and children is hugely important not only for the well-being of family and society, but for God’s people.  Fathers in ancient Israel were the primary instructors of God’s covenant to their children.  This responsibility was critical to ensuring success in Israel obeying their God.  The fact of the matter is that fathers as a whole blew it.  The very last verse of the Old Testament ends on a note of coming judgment.  But that is not the end of the story because the prophet Elijah will come to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and vice versa.
 
            John the Baptist, Jesus said, was the Elijah to come.  Jesus, then, is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to his people.  Dads have a sacred responsibility today to point their kids to Jesus.  We must take up the mantle of teaching our children the ways of God especially as expressed by Jesus.  God is on a mission of restoration, and the place to begin is with restoring relationships between fathers and children.  It behooves all us Dads to step away and slow down enough to consider what the nature of our family relationships are really like.  Then, take action to instruct our kids with both words and with actions.
            Gracious God, thank you for the gift of children.  Teach me your ways of grace so that I might pass them on to my children in Jesus’ name through the power of the Spirit.  Amen.

Missed Expectations

 
 
Many times it is true that our expectations determine our level of emotional and spiritual health.  Unmet expectations that we have can put us in, at best, a funk, and, at worst, into a profound period of disillusionment.  Yet, there is another option when what we expect does not look like it will materialize for us – we go back to see if what we were expecting is really accurate or true, whether it is really from God or not.
 
            In John the Baptist’s case, he was expecting the Messiah, the Deliverer, to come (which was true); he expected that the Messiah would come and execute justice and establish his kingdom on earth (which was also true).  But what John expected to take place immediately that did not materialize in his lifetime was when God’s judgment and wrath was going to take place.  What John did not see is that the Messiah would not come once, but twice – that there would be two Advents of the Christ.
 
            John was experiencing the first coming of Christ, while expecting that this first Advent would be like the second.  Christ willcome again, and shall judge all things.  Yet in this first coming, there would not be judgment, but healing.  Christ came in his first Advent in order to give the blind sight, to make the lame walk, to cure, raise, and preach good news to the powerless of the gracious coming of God.
 
            What, or whom, are we expecting?  Is Jesus the one we anticipate, or are we expecting someone or something else?  And, if Jesus is the One we are expecting, what is it we presume he will do?  Like John, do we suppose that the Messiah will beat up our enemies, have everything go our way, and establish a godly government?  Or are we looking forward to Christ coming and healing that which is broken?
 
            It is quite possible that, even though we might not admit it to another person, we are rather disappointed with Jesus.  He just has not come through for us in ways that we think he should have.  It is not hard to imagine why people would have their doubts.  I have heard my share of wonderings about God from others.  Listening to a woman wonder where God was when she was attacked and raped; hearing the person with chronic pain wonder why God has not answered prayer; remembering with another person a past of abuse and neglect – these and many other scenarios of brokenness are real, and the doubts about God just as real.
 
            John ended up in prison (Matthew 11:1-13).  He did not volunteer for it.  “Okay”, John thought, “I’m in prison – I’ll deal with it.  If Jesus is really the Messiah, he will spring me from the joint!”  But day after day, the deliverance did not come.  Eventually, John was beheaded in prison.  He ended up dying and never seeing his expectation realized.  John’s understanding was that the Messiah, the Deliverer, would come and take charge, beat up the Roman occupation, and establish his firm and strong rule on the earth.  Prison just did not fit the equation; it was not part of the plan. 
 
            If God is so all-powerful and loving, why doesn’t he rescue me?  That is an important question, and one that should not be dismissed by those who have not experienced the terrible evil of this fallen world.  If you are in any way disillusioned this holiday season, you are in good company with John the Baptist.  Yet, at the same time, we all need to examine our expectations.
 
            God often works in ways that we do not expect.  Sometimes we expect God to rescue us from harm, but instead he sends someone to walk alongside us in our time of need.  Sometimes we expect a miracle to be performed, but instead God gives us the ability to face the painful trial in front of us.  Sometimes we expect God to execute his judgment on those who have hurt us, but instead God gives us the grace to forgive.              
 
            If we are honest, at some time or another, we all have been disappointed by a Messiah that did not live up to our expectations.  We want Jesus to come and to come right now.  We want clear and helpful answers to our questions.  We want to be relieved of the burden of waking up every day without knowing what the next step is.  We want the Christian life to be like a simple math equation, where if we do our part, God will do his.  We want to put our hand under the pillow and find the answer there, like a quarter from the tooth fairy – but morning after morning all you feel is the sheet.  There was a particular time in my life some years ago when, every morning in the shower I would ask God to take me home – I was so disillusioned with my life and what was going on that I was just looking for heaven.
 
            I want to put a thought in your head that maybe you have not considered:  missed expectations are a gift.  When we don’t receive what we expect, we discover that God does not always conform to our agenda.  When we experience a missed expectation, we begin to see our own selfish desires.  When we don’t get our expectations met, it causes us to seek and trust God in new and fresh ways.  And, instead of trying to make sense of everything, we are free to discover God, who he really is and what he is really all about.  Every letdown becomes an opportunity to know God, and knowing God is our highest calling in life.
 
            Did God fail to come when you called?  Then maybe God isn’t a divine Santa Claus.  Did God fail to punish, or at least correct, the people who hurt me?  Then just maybe God is not a policeman who exists to give out tickets to lawbreakers.  Did God fail to make all my plans run smoothly?  Then maybe God isn’t some cosmic mechanic who always fixes every problem.  If God isn’t any of those things, then Who is God?
 
            We need to follow the trail of grace that points us to the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Instead of coming and erasing suffering, God is next to us in our pain.  Instead of making us successful and on top of the world, God humbles us and helps us to identify with those on the bottom.  Instead of always making us strong, God teaches us to trust him in our weakness.  Instead of destroying our enemies, God calls us to love and pray for them.  Instead of doing something spectacular, God came in a lowly manger and lived a life of self-sacrificial love.  Instead of taking us home in order to avoid hard circumstances, God asks us to be patient and do the work of reaching all kinds of people with the good news of Jesus.
 

 

            The message of Advent is this:  in the person of Jesus Christ, God is with us.  God is not going to let us simply run on cruise control; he wants us to think deeply about who he is, and what his followers are to be and to do.  So, Jesus was purposely cryptic, speaking in parables and alluding to things without coming outright and saying things plainly.  It is actually important, maybe even necessary, to question God, because God wants us, more than anything, to discover him, know him, and trust him.  Maybe we need to ask the question this year:  what does God want for Christmas?  Blessed is the person who does not fall away on account of Jesus, but who comes to terms with the true and living Christ.  Just as John came as a lowly messenger seeking to prepare the way for the Lord to come, so the person who identifies with Jesus in the lowly manger is the person who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  God wants us to want him above all else – to rely on him and walk with him.  Will you give your life to him this Christmas?