Hark, The Herald Angels Sing #2
The first verse of one of Charles Wesley’s best loved hymns says: “Hark the herald angels sing. Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” As the clip said, “God has given us the ministry of Reconciliation.” As we worship on this Second Sunday of Advent; as we prepare our hearts and souls for the celebration of the birth of our Savior; Emmanuel, God with us, we do so because God sent His own Son, Jesus so that we could be reconciled to God.
So, what does it mean to be reconciled to God? Well, that’s what we’re going to explore today.
Normally, either the first or the second Sunday of Advent is devoted to John the Baptist. His discordant voice from the wilderness breaks into our Christmas celebrations. John’s message to Repent is about as welcome and appetizing at our Christmas celebrations as a Jalapeno and Peanut Butter Sandwich or Dill Pickle and Shrimp Milk Shake.
And yet, the very first sermon Jesus ever preached was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” That message is the very reason Jesus came. He IS the Reason for the Season. And his purpose was and is reconciliation between us with God.
When Paul was writing to Timothy, his young preacher in training, he wanted Timothy to remember the reason for his calling. In part, this is what he wrote: 1 Timothy 1:12-17; 4:9-11 (NRSV)
 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service,
 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,
 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.
 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.
 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 4:9-11 (NRSV)
 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance.
 For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
 These are the things you must insist on and teach.
Paul says, “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” He could have stopped there but instead he said, “of which I am the foremost.”
Paul understood the order of it all. Jesus came to redeem us through the forgiveness of our sins so that we could be reconciled to God. But you can’t be forgiven if you don’t acknowledge that you need to be forgiven.
A. Repentance is the first step. Somewhere I read about a meeting of a group of software designers. They were using typical technical jargon to discuss a data exchange interface with a vendor.
One engineer said the programming that had been ordered was delayed because the vendor was suffering from a “severe nonlinear waterfowl issue.”
Curious, the team leader raised his eyebrows and asked, “Well, what exactly is a severe nonlinear waterfowl issue?”
The engineer replied, “They don’t have all their ducks in a row.”
When it comes to living as God created to live, we have a “severe nonlinear waterfowl issue.” We don’t have our ducks in a row. We blow it nearly every day. Some days are better and more focused but often times when we leave church or close our devotional, we hang everything Christian on the hook just inside the door and live no differently in the world than anyone else.
B. We are a fallen people. We are sinners of the first degree. We have a “severe nonlinear waterfowl issue.” The truth is, we have to acknowledge that in order to receive the forgiveness God offers.
New life in Christ begins with recognition of who we are and what our situation is. Because of our sin, we are cut off from God. We are helpless to fill the emptiness within our soul. Lights and the music and the feel good movies during this season really only mask the deep need we have. That feel good feeling isn’t enough to fill the thirsting soul longing for living water to quench its deep thirst or the hungry heart longing to be fed the bread of life through the unconditional love which only God can provide.
In order to receive that which on God can provide, we have to Repent. We have to acknowledge we can’t do it on our own. We have to ask God for the gift he freely offers to each of us–His grace.
When we do that, it becomes possible for us to become a new person in Christ.
A. Receiving Forgiveness and Forgiving as Christ forgave are essential to Reconciliation between us and God. I believe that Forgiveness is a choice we make. I don’t believe it has anything to do with our feelings about the other person, their actions or their motives. It’s about a conscious decision we make to be like Christ.
I’ll tell you up front, it’s not easy. It’s part of the hard work of being a Christian. It’s part of the hard work of Sanctification. It’s part of the hard work of taking up our cross and becoming like Jesus.
It’s hard work because we want to remember the hurt and the pain. And usually we want them to suffer as much was we did, only then can we think about forgiving them. That is NOT the Christian way. That is not the way of Jesus. We’re called to a higher standard.
B. Nelson Mandela was a militant anti-apartheid activist, who spent 27 long years in a South African prison. He was released from prison in 1990 and elected as the first black president of South Africa in 1994. One of his major goals was reconciliation. One of the ways he chose to do it was through the integrating the National Rugby Team and asking the nation to get behind the Springboks. The players went on tour to visit villages and cities as ambassador’s of reconciliation. It paid off. In 1995 they won the World Cup. The movie Invictus details much of the struggle and success in changing a nation through sports.
But it wasn’t always easy. Shortly after taking office, Mandela’s head of security requested more men. Mandela got him more men. The problem was, the bodyguards sent to his office are white men from the apartheid regime of the former president. This is the conversation that took place:
Forgiveness does liberate the soul, not only for the forgiven but for those who forgive. Jesus spent a lot of time preaching about forgiveness and reconciliation. He taught that because God forgives us, we ought to forgive one another. Jesus knew that with forgiveness comes reconciliation and an end to condemnation. The Apostle Paul tells us that we a part of the ministry of reconciliation. We are God’s ambassadors. How can we ever convince others that God will forgive them if we can’t, won’t or don’t?
I believe we can, if we choose to. It may take a while but with the help and power of God’s Holy Spirit it can be done and the process of Reconciliation can begin.
A. The work of Forgiveness and Reconciliation is hard work. It’s soul work. It’s Spirit Work. But with perseverance and the help of God, it can be accomplished
“Guiseppe-good-for-nothing.” That’s what his father called him. As the son of a San Francisco fisherman, Guiseppe got sick at the smell of fish and turned green every time he boarded a boat. It didn’t seem to matter that his brothers all loved the fishing business, Guiseppe just didn’t fit in. He tried to explain to his father that he’d work in the office, or increase sales or even repair the nets. But his father was stubborn and wouldn’t listen. Guiseppe was “good-for-nothing,” so he was booted off the boat.
On the inside, Guiseppe felt like he was going to die, but he tried a few odd jobs. He delivered papers, shined shoes, he even worked as a busboy in a local restaurant. Every dime he made he gave back to the family. But he wasn’t fishing. To his stubborn, old father, it didn’t count. Guiseppe was still “good-for-nothing.”
Because there was no acceptance at home, Guiseppe started hanging out on the streets. It was there that he discovered stick ball. He was good. He had lightning hands and flying feet. He could hit, run and field with the best of them. And as a result, a dream began to take shape.
It wasn’t easy, but Guiseppe persevered and followed that dream which began in the streets. And by the time he was finished, Guiseppe had become the most successful member of his family, even convincing two of his brothers to quit fishing and follow him.
And the day finally came when his father wept with pride at the achievements of his good-for-nothing son.
Guiseppe had found reconciliation and resurrection through his perseverance. Years later, long after his career had ended, Guiseppe would lovingly laugh and recall the pain of day his papa kicked him off the boat for the very last time. It was the best thing that had ever happened to him and to the country that came to love him. You see, if “Guiseppe-good-for-nothing,” hadn’t persevered after being kicked off his father’s fishing boat or if he had ended up as a fisherman, then Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio never would have made it into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. (1)
B. The work of Forgiveness and Reconciliation is hard work. Not just for us but for God as well. From that first moment in the Garden when Adam and Eve disobeyed and every time we turn away or disobey, it breaks God’s heart. It would be easy for God to just call us good-for-nothing and toss us aside. But if you’re a parent, you know how hard that would be. Because no matter how much they disappoint you, no matter what direction they take with their life, you still love them. They might disappoint you and break your heart but you still love them. You might not want them in your house or in your life but you still love them.
And that’s how God feels about each of us. God loves us. That’s why the baby of this Season was born. What is more precious than the sight of a newborn baby? Innocent, unsullied, untainted by the world, filled with nothing but hope and the future; not burdened with a load of guilt and shame. Not carrying the weight of the past. But new; with nothing but possibilities before it.
That’s what God offers to the world through this baby; Emmanuel, God with us, the one through whom God and Sinners are reconciled.
The Spanish have a story about a father and son who became estranged. The son left home and the father later set out to find him. He searched for months but with no success. Finally, in desperation, the father turned to the newspaper for help. His ad simply read, “Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.”
On Saturday morning, 800 young men named Paco showed up looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.
Our world is filled with people who desperately long for reconciliation – with each other and with God. Your name may not be Paco but maybe you’re one of those who long for reconciliation and forgiveness. Maybe you have realized that your life has “severe nonlinear waterfowl issue.” It may be because of something you did, something in your past or something you said. This is the time to get rid of it. That’s why Jesus came, to bring Good News.
“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
Make sure you visit the stable this year and sing with the choir of angels. Hark the herald angels sing. “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled”
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. From The Clergy Journal, pg. 22, August, 1991
2. Homemade, January 1993, p. 1