Monday, December 14, 2015

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of Advent (December 13, 2015)



In the name + of Jesus. 

     Have you ever engaged in people watching?  It usually happens when you are stuck waiting for a while in a crowd.  You watch people come and go.  You watch couples interact.  Perhaps there is some character than you can't take your eyes off of—either he is dressed strangely or is acting in a way that amuses you.  Perhaps you watch the guy who is struggling to carry packages or to corral children and you find all of his troubles entertaining.  You can't help but watch, because you can't wait to see what will go wrong for him next.
     Television has tapped into our obsession of watching other people.  Survivor and Big Brother have you watch strangers who are forced to live together in a tight, little community.  The Amazing Race has friends or relatives deal with each other in stressful contests.  If you watch programs like these, you are probably not watching out of concern for anyone's well being.  In fact, you are most entertained when people break down in tears or break out in a fight.  When we watch other people, we are usually hoping to see them fail or embarrass themselves.  It makes us feel better about ourselves—either because we feel superior to them or because their sins validate our own.
     God is a people watcher too.  He sees all that you do, whether you are at work or at home, whether you are in your car or at the store, whether you are in the noise of a crowd or in the quite of a private room.  God is a people watcher, and there are no secrets from him.  If he knows the very number of hairs on your head, he also knows how you spend your day and what you think of other people.
     The Psalmist recognized God's omnipresence and his omniscience.  No matter how highly his friends may have thought of him, the Psalmist did not find comfort in the praise of his friends.  They may have been able to put together one whale of a eulogy for him, but he knew that God remains the judge of him.  That terrified him.  And so he begins his prayer, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!  O Lord, hear my voice!  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” (Psalm 130:1-2)  The Psalmist knew the depth of his guilt.  A happy face might have hid his shame from others; but his heart was open before God.  God is a people watcher, and the Psalmist knew that God had been watching over him.  Therefore, he cries out in terror and from the depths of despair.  He longs for mercy.
     I don't know if there is anyone in the world who finds comfort in the knowledge that the Lord watches and sees everything.  If we were to invent our own god—and many people have—we would never have a god who sees and knows everything.  We would rather have a god who doesn't know the ugliest thoughts in our minds or the seedy, filthy desires of our hearts.  We don't want a God who has heard every nasty word we have uttered under our breath or behind someone's back.  We don't want a god who knows what goes on behind closed doors or drawn shades.  We want our dirty secrets to remain secrets.  The people who arranged their adulterous affairs through the Ashley Madison web site were horrified—not that they committed adultery, but that their names were revealed.  And so it is for this world—it's never the crime that puts people to shame, it is only the part where you get caught.  But God always sees the crime.  It all lies open before God, because God is a people watcher.
     “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3)  God is a people watcher.  He sees.  He knows.  And since God is holy, he cannot simply let actions and attitudes which defy his perfect Commandments slide.  If he did, he would not be holy, and he could not be taken seriously.  On the other hand, if God keeps tally marks against us for every sin—whether done on purpose or done in weakness or even done in ignorance—if God tracks every sin, who could stand?  Who could live without fear?  Who could approach death without sheer terror?  This is why the Psalmist cries out from the depths with pleas for mercy.
     But why would you cry out to the very God who watches and who sees sins?  The Psalmist gives the answer that calms terrified hearts, soothes anxious minds, and heals wounded souls: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4)  With the Lord there is forgiveness.  It is not permission.  It is not license.  And it is not oversight.  It is forgiveness.  How?  The Psalmist answers: “O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.  And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Psalm 130:7-8)
     With the Lord there is forgiveness because with the Lord there is redemption—in fact, “plentiful redemption.”  The Lord does not overlook our sins.  Rather, he has paid for them.  And not just some of them, or only the little ones.  With the Lord is plentiful redemption and full forgiveness for our sins.  For, the death of Jesus Christ is the full payment for your sins.  If he knows all your sins, then he did not miss any when he suffered and died for them.  With the Lord is steadfast love, and so that payment is steadfast too.  The blood of Jesus always acquits you of your guilt and covers you with Jesus' righteousness.
     God still watches you, but since you are covered with Jesus' righteousness, God now watches you as a parent watches a child playing in the backyard.  He is enamored with you.  He is protective of you.  He seeks only what is good for your eternal well-being.  He does not watch you to catch you doing something wrong so that he can punish you.  With the Lord there is forgiveness.  No, your Father in heaven watches you because you are his blood-bought child and because he loves you.
     Since God watches over us for our good, we watch for the Lord and flee to God's word so that we can grow in our faith and continue to receive Jesus' forgiveness.  That is where the Psalmist directs us: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning." (Psalm 130:5-6)
     The watchmen had to stand on the city walls at night, peering into the darkness and trying to detect any threat that was approaching.  Of course, you couldn't really see what lurked in the darkness to attack or destroy you.  That was the fear.  But when the rays of daylight began to arise, the watchmen were relieved of their duty.  And they were relieved that no harm came during their watch.  The morning was, indeed, most welcome.
     How much more is the word of the Lord welcome!  For with the Lord there is forgiveness.  Therefore, put our hope in Jesus and his word which continues to assure us, “You are forgiven.”  And therefore, we watch for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.  For, we know that are struggle against sin and temptation are not going to stop in this world.  We know that the devil still prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)  We know that our own sinful flesh craves what God forbids and condemns.  And we know that we are weak.  We long to be free from the crosses we bear, from the temptations which we find so attractive, and from the sins we fall into even though we know they are deadly.  And we know that we will be free from these once and for all when our Lord Jesus Christ returns to deliver his redeemed people from this world of sin to the glories of heaven.  Oh, yes, our souls wait for the Lord and long for his return, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
          God is a people watcher.  And he watches over you to strengthen and keep you in the one true faith to life everlasting.   Despite all of our struggles, this remains constant: With the Lord there is forgiveness.  With the Lord, there is steadfast love.  With the Lord, there is hope.  With the Lord, there is plentiful redemption.  And therefore, we flee to the Lord, and we watch for the Lord to come and deliver us from our momentary struggles to eternal glory.  For with the Lord is forgiveness, and therefore we never lose hope.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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