The Candles of Vigil and the The Pink Candle of Advent

Sandy Hook Candles

Sandy Hook Candles

Friday changed my message.  Ryan came into my office and directed me to the news of what was happening in Connecticut.  Unspeakable horror was accomplished at the hands of a Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  One of Adam’s former classmates described him as remote but intelligent maybe even a genius.  And now, of course, we will find out everything about him which in the minds of the sick is accomplishes some level of meaning for their lives.  I suppose a few hope that a detail, a piece of history, an event will relate some reason for his actions.  Nothing will make it right, not even a cause.

I’d rather not know anything more about his life and I think, in some ways, it would be better that he gain no notoriety.  I can tell you the cause, utter and ugly sin in a world broken by sin.  People separated from God by sin pursue darkness and death because they finally find no reason for hope.  Outside of God, we have no ability to see others as created in the image of God because of the blindness of sin.

I suspect we’ll hear God blamed, questioned, even dismissed in this crisis.  He was dismissed already by Adam.  His sin lead to death, the only destination of sin, but by his own machinations or in collusion with the plans of the devil, devised this scheme of destruction.

You will also hear the rhetoric of self-righteousness.  But I would rather we consider how dangerously destructive sin is in each of us.  There was a professor who asked his students to share whether they had ever considered killing another person.  The professor assumed that he would receive a few responses, instead over 85% of the class could share, sometimes in detail, what they had contemplated.  We shouldn’t put too much stock in pointing fingers, in weighing evil, in regulation, or in judging others more strictly than we dare judge ourselves.  We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  The heart is the problem in this case.  God is the only healer of the heart.

The reading today provides reasons to rejoice, I’ll get to that in a second, but first let’s attach to this command and promise, “Do not fear, don’t let your hands grow weak” verse 16.  Fear is not how God motivates us.  Fear is a tool that the devil uses, exploits and manipulates.  Whenever God calls us to let go of fear, He always then points to Himself.  In this case God says, I am in your midst.  Look to me.  God is in our midst, the very preparation of Advent, the coming of God into our midst.

Do not fear is a command with the power to fulfill it, God is in our midst.  With God in our midst, it doesn’t mean that there is no longer reasons to be afraid, quite the opposite, there is plenty of fearsome evil around us but with God in our midst.  Because of Jesus Christ, there is no power in those fearsome foes.

God doesn’t say that I am in your midst to take away your life, to control and consume all that you are.  God comes into our midst first as an infant, he is raised as a hungry, homeless man and dies a criminal.  Jesus is in our midst with us to walk the road beside us, sometimes to carry us but never to take control of you, chain you and enslave you.  God doesn’t take control of you.  This is the danger in the question, where was God in this catastrophe.  We want God to take over when there is evil beyond our control.  But God is not God if he contradicts His promise.  God created all of us with a choice.  Our first parents chose their own lives and rejected God.  If God were to contradict that will in us that He created God, God would no longer be God.  God instead is in our midst now because He works through those willing to respond to help, heal and pray.  God works through us; He is working now, His hands are at work in those who helped at the scene of the crime, His mouth is at work at the sides of the victims, His tears are being shed at a world that we reversed in sin and I suspect and may never know that He attempted to connect people to Adam before he went down this path, that God wanted to reverse the isolation and the sickness which found the fruit of this evil.  God is there, Jesus knows violence and evil, he himself has felt the destruction of sin, the pain of death and shed tears in the face of death.

If we lose heart, if we let our hands grow weak by this then sin has won.  If we lose the promises in the Zephaniah reading we’ll miss one of the most incredible verses of this season but this next verse is so incredibly unique.  It is a unique gem found in an often unexamined corner of the Scripture.  Verse 17 relates God’s attitude towards us, because of Jesus Christ.  As best as my fellow pastors and I could determine this is most likely the only place where God is recorded as singing.  It is a potent picture because my impression of these verses was for me as a father looking over a newborn child.

He will rejoice over you with gladness;

He will quiet you by his love;

He will exult over you with loud singing.

It perhaps is a picture of God’s actions for you that some of you can understand through the eyes of a parent.  A parent holding in their arms the gift of a child.  Certainly a time for rejoicing in gladness, the glow of the parents in that moment of one of the greatest gifts.  Also a time for quieting a child who tends to squirm and cry.  Can there be a more intensely, awe-filled picture of God singing over you with loud singing?  That is a picture of God’s love for you.

This is picture is so very heart wrenching in a mirror of this tragedy to consider the parents who have lost their children.  Parents who will not be holding their child tonight, taken by this evil.  Parents who are not singing or rejoicing but mourning and weeping.  We will need to mourn as a nation because this event is so evil, we must mourn and that will take our thoughts and prayers but our hearts cannot let that be the only message today.  We cannot reject the rejoicing of our Father who rejoices even in this sinful life, even with the sin of the world and our own sinful nature, God the Father sings over us.  If I didn’t share this verse we would miss an incredible image of that love that God has for us.  

Pink Candle of the 3rd Week of Advent

Pink Candle of the 3rd Week of Advent

Today we’ve lit the pink Advent candle, the third candle of Advent, the second to last Sunday before Christmas.  It is the candle of Joy.  Rejoicing may be the furthest emotion from our minds today because of the catastrophe.  But perhaps that is the best soil for rejoicing.  Rejoicing is not solely about emotion or happiness or being carefree.  No matter if a catastrophe looms over us sin will also mar our life until we go to be with the Lord.  Rejoicing is the conscious recognition that the destructive force of sin does not have the power to change God’s attitude towards us.  Rejoicing looks back to affirm that God has destroyed the power of death because of Jesus Christ – for that victory we rejoice.  Rejoicing remember that now God has promised to be in our midst to conquer the oppressor, heal that which cripples and enwrap in his loving arms those who are alienated – let us rejoice in that.  Rejoicing looks forward to the promise that in the end God will take us from the pain, shame and power of sin in this world to conquer forever the aching pain of sin by bringing us to Him – In His victory, presence and promise we rejoice.

Zephaniah 3:14-20
14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the Lord.

Published in: on December 17, 2012 at 10:05 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I teach kindergarten and 1st grade girls Sunday School classes at my church. One of the girls in my class made me a card this week. It said that she feels safe and protected in my class. It was such a bittersweet card. I was glad that she felt safe in my class. However it is sad that she would have to fear someone hurting her. Little did she know that her teacher has never felt more afraid that there might come a day that I wouldn’t be able to protect my little ones!

    • What a great gift! I can’t imagine a better compliment and blessing that you are giving each other.

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