Sunday Sermon: Incarnating the Emmanuel: Showing the Way

I’ve got some exciting news for you today.

Got your attention, didn’t I?

Our ears get a little more attentive when we hear that someone has some good news to share. We get excited at the thought that something good is happening to someone and, even more, they want to share it with us.

We rejoice when someone finds a new job, especially if they have been out of work. We love hearing about soldiers returning home. We are interested when someone finds out something unique about their family’s history. We all get excited to hear about a couple getting engaged or married. We could go on and on.

These stories make us smile. We love these stories. When we have good news to share, we love to share it with our friends and families.

Why? Why do we love good news? Part of me believes it is a welcome diversion from the negative stories we often hear. But I believe there is a deeper reason. We love sharing life with others, and some of the best ways we can do that is by letting others in on the good news we have. When we share some good news with someone, regardless of what it might be, we are inviting someone to participate in our times of celebration and to share life with us.

It is important for us to share good news with others, so we may all participate in life together.

My friends, we have good news to share with others. It is more important than any good news that comes from sports. It is more important than any good news regarding a deal we might have found. It is even more important than anything in our personal lives.

For this good news is the reason we are all gathered here today. It is the message of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is a message we should want to shout from the mountaintops and the rooftops. It is the message of God’s act of salvation for all of humanity and creation.

Good news gets to the heart of our passage today. In Mark 1:1, Mark, who is dictating a message about Jesus’ ministry from Peter, tells us that his words are about the “good news” of Jesus Christ. Other translations use the word “gospel” instead of “good news,” which is a more accurate translation. A gospel is a public announcement of some event that is good news to those who hear about it.

The idea of a “gospel” is taken from the Roman context of the First Century Christians. In those times, the gospel was good news regarding the activities of the Roman Empire. For instance, a gospel would be proclaimed following a major victory. As well, a gospel might have been for the birth of a child. According to Romans, Augustus’ birth was considered as “good news” for the world.

Early Christians knew this was not true good news. They said “true” good news, a true gospel, does not come from the exploits of the Roman Empire, or the exploits of any government, but instead from the action of God in the course of human events. The true gospel is the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, which is ongoing today.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is simply this: It is the message of God’s action in creation by sending His Son, who was born of the Virgin Mary, who lived among us, who taught us the way to a relationship with the Father, who died for the forgiveness of our sin, who was resurrected on the third day, who lives today at the right hand of the Father, and in whom we can have a relationship with the Father through the free gift of grace given to us by the Holy Spirit.

Without a doubt, this the true good news for the world. No other news, no other proclamation, can compete with the fact that God so loves the world that he gave us the greatest gift in His Son. Nothing comes close to this historic proclamation. Everything in Scripture, both the Old and New Testament, shows us that Jesus Christ is the true gospel.

But something is needed. The gospel needs a messenger. Good news is announced with someone helping in sharing the message with others. I can relate to this from my days as a journalist. Stories would not merely come to me on their own. They required one of two things: for me to work my sources for good information or for people to freely tell me of something going on. This prepared me to hear what they needed to say and to be able to share it with those who would read my articles.

For the gospel to be proclaimed, someone has to prepare the way for its hearing. This is the role of John the Baptist. He is the one who prepared the way for the people to hear and see the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mark tells us John is the long-awaited prophet who would be the “messenger” who comes before Christ. His job was to prepare the people to receive faith in Jesus Christ. Luke tells us more about John. In his account, we learn that John was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who was related to Mary. John was a cousin to Jesus, and perhaps the best person to be the long-awaited prophet who would be like Elijah.

That is an interesting phrase. It wasn’t just that there was a prophesy about someone preparing the way for the Lord’s message to be heard. It was also that this person would do so in a specific way. He would be like the prophet Elijah, who was one of the great prophets in the history of Israel. He battled the idolatry of the day with a style of preaching that anticipated the Lord’s coming. In Malachi, some of the last words of the Old Testament speak of the coming of an Elijah-type prophet who would come before the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ministry and words confirm that John was the long-awaited prophet.

John didn’t just fulfill this role as the prophet who would speak like Elijah. He also looked the part. In verse 1:6, we see that he wore camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey, the very same things that defined Elijah, as we see in his accounts in 1 and 2 Kings.

So, how did John fulfill his calling? We see in Mark’s account that he did so in a specific way. He preached a specific message, which led to an announcement of the one to come. John’s message wasn’t fluff, as if to hold the people over until Christ came. His message was straight-forward and direct. John preached on the need for the people to repent of their sin, which was their disobedience to God’s will. John didn’t make them comfortable, but called them to a time of repentance and preparation. John’s words were to make the people aware that the only way to salvation was to repent and live for God.

John preached with a purpose and came to make an announcement. Perhaps like those who would herald the Roman gospel, John boldly proclaimed that the time of Christ was upon them. The Messiah, the Son of God, would follow. By his words and actions, John prepared the people to receive Jesus. Some accepted and some did not. Yet, John faithfully prepared the people for Jesus to come, and helped them to see the only way to God was not by their own understanding of faith, but by faith in Christ.

John is a hero of the faith. His actions are not only for that specific time. In fact, they help us today in understanding what it means to follow Christ and to live as people who living Christ-like lives in anticipation of Christ’s return. By our witness, we are to participate in what God is doing in the lives of others, especially those who are outside the faith. We want to prepare them to see and experience the depths of God’s love for them, so that they might accept the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. This is not a role for some of us, but a role for all of us. Each of us are called to pave the way, so that someone might believe in Jesus.

Yes, it is challenging. But it is easier than what we might realize.

We prepare others to receive Christ by living our lives each day for Christ, and sharing the good news with others by our words, our actions, and our presence. This doesn’t mean that at every opportunity we are giving our “testimony.” Instead, it means we are living life with people so that Christ might shine from the depths of our soul and impact others. Simply by living our lives for Christ, we will have the opportunity to be a presence to others in ways that say Christ is the only way to a relationship with the Father.

It is an important task of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is hard work. Preparing the way for someone to see Christ is not something that happens overnight. George Hunter, who was one of my favorite professors at Asbury, said it sometimes takes up to 12 separate interactions for someone to come to know Christ. This doesn’t mean 12 separate testimonies given to an individual. Instead, what Hunter meant was that it sometimes takes 12 different people, at various times in an individual’s life, to share life with them and to model the good news of Jesus Christ. These interactions help someone see the depths of Christ’s love for them so they might come to see Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Think of  all the possibilities we have to engage the people around us and model Christ’s love. When we collect canned goods for Harvesting Hope, we are modeling the life of Christ to others. When you are patient with someone who is just getting on your nerves, you are sharing Christ’s love. When you have the opportunity to invite someone to church, or to share a meal with you, you are impacting their lives for Christ. People will take notice that there is something different about you. They may come up to you and ask you why you do the things you do. When that happens, those are the golden opportunities that give you the permission to share your life, to share the good news, so that they may hear the good news that Christ loves them and died for them so that they might be free.

These possibilities are all around us. On Friday, I had to go at the Apple store in Lexington. It was a busy time made even busier by an unfortunate incident that occurred at the store. I had the opportunity to show patience and to say a few words of kindness to the store associate who was helping me. Now, I don’t know her life and I certainly don’t know her faith, but I know that I showed her Christ. By being a living witness of Jesus Christ every day of my life, I showed her something unique about God’s love for me and for her. Only God knows what impact it had on her. You never know how your words and your actions will impact others to come to know Christ. Take seriously how you live your life, so that others will see Christ in you.

We all have the opportunity to participate in what God is doing in the lives of someone. But we cannot participate in that life if we are not willing to be in relationship with God ourselves. Advent should be our time of growth in our relationship with God, so that we might impact others and prepare the way for them to receive Christ, whether it be that day or at some point in the future. If you are struggling with this today, I invite you to find time, in a few moments, to give that over to God. Allow God to reach into your soul and transform you, so that you might live in relationship with God so that it impacts your life and the lives of those around you.

On this day, let us commit ourselves to being a living presence of Christ’s love in our communities. Let us be a witness by our words and our actions, so that others will know that Christ is the only way to the Father. Let us never forget that this life matters, and so also do our words and our actions, which can prepare the way for others to see Christ and his love for them.

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