Sunday, November 30, 2008

Be ready

1 Peter 3:14-16 (New International Version)

14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened."15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

The theme of the first week in Advent is hope. Hope is what keeps our your head cool. The hope of salvation is part of the full Armor of God that Paul talks about in Ephesians 6. No matter what we have to go through or put up with, we don't have to be afraid. God's love drives out fear. Only Jesus gives us this kind of unflappable hope. We have hope because He saved us and we now belong to Him.

The first candle on the Advent wreath is the prophets' candle. Isaiah, Michah, Zecheriah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, these old testament prophets had hope because they knew that God was sending His messiah to Israel. Today, God asks us to prophesy (to speak His Words) to others. 1 Peter 3 tells us one way we can do that- if we have hope , especially at times when so many around us are driven by fear, we should be ready to explain where our hope comes from.

Mind you, (maybe a little like the disciple Peter) I know that I haven't always been great about doing it with gentleness and respect- but if we can manage that, to not just speak the truth but to make sure we speak the truth in love, then our most ardent opponents won't get far when they try to defame our characters.

Even pirates can serve God as His modern day prophets when we share the hope we have in Jesus. And by the way, with the exception of Jonah, most of those Old Testament prophets didn't come to outsiders, they came to Israel. Sure, God wants us to evangelize, to share Jesus with the un-churched, but He also calls us to speak His Word to our fellow Christians. When they come to you motivated by fear, of the unknown, of people or things they don't understand, of the end times, of the world and of the Devil, be prepared to answer those fears with the hope Jesus gives you- hope because the victory is already won, hope because He reigns with love and grace, mercy and forgiveness, openness and acceptance.

Does this sound familiar? Sure it does. President Elect Obama is not Jesus and he's not some kind of savior. If anything many of us are heaping way too many expectations on him, but he ran a campaign (yes, like Ronald Reagan's) based on confidence and optimism. He even had the audacity to use the word "hope" as a slogan until settling on "change" as a dominant buzzword. Coming from the faith traditions of the Black Church, he was comfortable with the concept of prophecy being something for the church in the here and now, not exclusively for the ancient Hebrews or for people desperate to divine the future and forecast the second coming. Maybe that's why Christian leaders from that same tradition, like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke not only of Heaven and the Judgment Day, but of how we can positively affect the coming of God's Kingdom now, in our own communities. Because they served as God's advocates, His prophets, to their congregations.

This Christmas season, apply this kind of language and this kind of thinking in your personal life, and in your fellowships and relationships. Don't let it be catchy campaign rhetoric that's left behind on election day. Let it transform your thinking and guide your behavior.

Overcome fear with hope, and be prepared to tell people that Jesus gives you that hope.

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