Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sermon: A Promise between Heaven and Sheol

The Holy Places of Advent: A Promise between Heaven and Sheol
Isaiah 7: 10-16; Luke 2: 25-33 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 18, 2015
Fourth Sunday of Advent

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 'Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.'

But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.

Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
- Isaiah 7: 10-16

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.
- Luke 2: 25-33

The watch word for this fourth Sunday of Advent is LOVE. Today we draw ever closer to God’s promise that inaugurates God’s eternal kingdom. It was a promise of steadfast love in that the young woman (virgin) is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel, meaning God with us (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1: 31-33). Our texts today reveal Ahaz and Simeon gave two different responses to God’s promise. Their responses bear weight into our lives today.

Ahaz was Judah’s king and was in the line of David. He was to serve God and God’s people with faith and integrity. Isaiah’s first encounter with Ahaz was to reassure him. The king of Israel (Northern Kingdom) and the king of Aram conspired to remove Ahaz and end the Davidic dynasty; a threat to God's promise. Israel and Aram did not want any chance for Judah (Southern Kingdom) to prevail against them. This plan gripped Ahaz and the people with great fear (Isaiah 7:1-2).

Isaiah tried to guide Ahaz in trusting God, saying “If you do not stand firm in faith then you shall not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9). God is the only one who can peel back the layers of our hearts to reveal what blocks the passages of faith to flow towards obedience to God. Fear and pride blocked Ahaz’s heart. And God saw the dire risk and affects this would pose to Ahaz’s ability to serve God and the people.

So God spoke to Ahaz. God wanted Ahaz to look to God for help. Ahaz would need it to navigate through this real threat to his life and the goodwill of the people. The Lord said, “Ask for a sign of the Lord your God; let it be as deep as Sheol or high as the heavens” (Isaiah 7:11).

Ask for God’s pledge or promise of what God will do. Ask for it to reach either deep into the fears that risk cutting you off, or ask for it to reach as high as the greatest hope and glory God may bring. But Ahaz refused. He hid behind pious rhetoric and empty words.

Simeon was a prophet and priest in the temple long after Isaiah’s words were proclaimed. But Simeon had the privilege of opening Isaiah’s scroll. Simeon heard God’s Spirit whisper words of reassurance that Simeon would indeed see this Messiah before he died (Luke 2: 26). He spent his entire life looking high and low for the Messiah – this pledge of God’s steadfast love – to come and console and ultimately deliver God’s people.

Simeon was willing to allow the promise of the Messiah to inform his life. And God honored Simeon’s faithfulness. Mary and Joseph walked into the temple and Simeon held this sweet little Jesus boy (8 days old). As Simeon cradled baby Jesus in his arms, he knew this was the promised One. What a gift to hold the culmination of God’s promise in your own arms!

But God did something amazing in Ahaz’s life as well. Even as Ahaz refused to ask for a sign of God’s steadfast love to help him and his people, God did not turn away from Ahaz. God gave the sign of his divine promise anyway. Ahaz heard the promise that claimed God’s people, that guided Simeon’s life and still illumines our lives today.

But even though Ahaz heard the promise, he did not see his need for God’s help. He missed the blessing. It is the most precious gift that you and I could ever receive and yet we are at risk of missing it too.

A few weeks ago twenty four year old Isaac McCord was helping in the clean-up efforts from the wildfires in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. He and a coworker were raking up debris at one of the affected resorts. As Isaac was raking underneath a park bench, his eye caught a glimpse of a piece of paper in a puddle of water. He got down on the ground and noticed it was actually a page of the Bible. Curious to see what it said, he lifted the vulnerable page from the water. It was torn and the edges were singed black.

Isaac and his coworker looked at the verses that were legible. It said, “O Lord, to thee will I cry: For the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field," (Joel 1:19). The verse completely reflected the tragedy that claimed the town Isaac loved so much.

Isaac never considered himself a deeply religious person. He had not gone to church every Sunday nor had he read much of the Bible. But finding this Bible page did something within Isaac. It had moved him to tears. Isaac now has a desire to reflect upon the role of faith in his life. What a sign of God’s presence in the midst of turmoil. Isaac’s story has given many hope as this sign reveals God is with us, even in our darkest hour.

God’s gift is nothing less than extraordinary. God’s holy covenant love for humanity and creation is revealed in ordinary and even painful circumstances. In a time when fear, uncertainty, pride, injustice, and tragedy cast long shadows of dismay, the light of God’s hope shines the way forward. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together (Isaiah 40:5).

God’s gift of divine love is a miracle because we have the opportunity to experience it in unexpected places. Even as unexpected as finding baby Jesus in a manger. It was a feeding trough that cradled the King.

Listen to these words by Ann Weems:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
God’s mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning.

The Lord gave the peoples of the earth a garden,
And the people said, “That’s very nice, God, but that’s not enough.
We’d like a little knowledge, please.”

The Lord gave them knowledge,
And the people said, “Now that we have knowledge, we’d like things.”
The Lord God gave the people things,
But they always said, “That’s not quite enough.”

So the Lord God gave them gifts unequaled:
The sun
Lightning and thunder
Rain and flowers
Animals and birds and fish
Trees and stars and the moon.
God gave them the rainbow.

God parted the Red Sea and gave them manna.
God gave them prophets
And children and each other,
But still the people said, “That’s not quite enough.”

God loved the people,
And out of ultimate merciful goodness
God gave them the Gift of Gifts,
A Christmas present never to be forgotten.
God gave them love
In the form of God’s Son,
Even Jesus Christ.

There are some that do not open their eyes or their ears
Or their hearts
And they still say, that’s not quite enough.
They wander through the stores looking for Christmas.

But others open their whole being to the Lord,
Bending their knees to praise God,
Carrying Christmas with them every day.
For these the whole world is a gift!

As we journey to the manger of Christmas Eve, may we remember our need for a Savior by asking God once again to reveal his pledge of steadfast love to us in new ways. It reaches as far down to the Sheols of our worst fears and deepest pain to bring comfort. It stretches as high as the glories of heaven to proclaim that God’s majesty is redeeming our stories. God pledges to be with us through it all!

And as you go - look for the promise of God’s love in the unexpected places, for you never know where the Messiah will cry out.

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

Sources Referenced:

Advent Thematic Series title "The Holy Places of Advent: A Promise between Heaven and Sheol" adapted from "A Preacher's Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series", (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), p. 7, "Advent 4: Somewhere between Heaven and Hell."

Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1980 ), p. 70.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sermon: A Highway to God

"The Holy Places of Advent: A Highway to God"
Isaiah 35: 1-10; James 5: 7-10 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 11, 2015
Third Sunday of Advent

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.

They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
- Isaiah 35: 1-10

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. - James 5: 7-10

This season of Advent we have been singing the hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” each Sunday. The first stanza is so very poignant to Isaiah’s poetic words we hear today:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel, Shall come to you, O Israel.

As we sing these words we remember God’s people were held captive by Assyria and they were mourning in exile. Judah had a deep longing to return home to Mount Zion where the capital city of Jerusalem was. Exile caused the people to walk through another wilderness experience like their ancestors who were exiled in Egypt.

God allowed Assyria to capture Judah because the people of God had forgotten God’s ways. As a result the people of Judah were physically, emotionally, and spiritually parched like a desert. Life felt empty and barren for miles and miles. If you have traveled to a desert, then you know this arid climate goes for long stretches of time without water.

And suddenly Isaiah’s words reveal God’s timing will provide what the people need when they need it the most. Isaiah’s words come as a divine interruption. Isaiah prophesies of the day when the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad. The desert shall rejoice and blossom because God will bring life giving water in abundance (Isaiah 35:1-2, 6). Not only would the desert’s thirst be quenched, but also the weakness and fragileness of humanity would be strengthened and renewed (Isaiah 35:3-6). Out of the wilderness God would fashion a highway to lead the ransomed people of God home (Isaiah 35:8, 10).

Can you imagine the sense of renewed hope the people heard in this good news? It not only strengthened the people’s hearts but it renewed their confidence in God. A blooming desert is quite a visual image to connote the ways God’s grace provides for our souls to flourish.

This text from Isaiah always reminds me of a dear friend and former mentor, The Rev. Dr. Richard Cromie.

Dr. C., as I affectionately called him, was a retired Presbyterian pastor with over 40 years of ordained ministry. When my daughters were in preschool I had the privilege of working part-time with him as an Administrative Assistant for his faith-based non-profit ministry called Desert Ministries. Dr. C. and many other pastoral contributors wrote pastoral care literature for individuals enduring the desert times of life. While Dr. C. entered the Church Triumphant three years ago, his story of founding Desert Ministries remains with me.

Dr. C. was on a trip in Carefree, Arizona. He was with a group of friends playing golf. And the golf course was situated in the Sonoran desert. As the group reached the eighth tee it began to rain. Now this was not a drizzle but a heavy downpour. They waited more than an hour to pick up the clubs when they witnessed the most amazing sight before their eyes. The desert burst into bloom.

“Seeds that had been waiting beneath the surface, waiting for water, began to sprout and blossom. It was a miracle. Within minutes the flowers were there. That is what Isaiah must have seen when he wrote our little verse, twenty-eight hundred years ago.”

Dr. C. went on to say, “In the matters of the spirit, in friendship, love and relationships and healing, the same miracle can return again and again and again. From the dry, worrisome, worn-out little deserts of our lives, the miracle will come when the living water of our Lord comes down. Believe it. The desert shall rejoice and blossom…when the living waters come.”[1]

Consider where you are standing along the path of faith in this particular season of your life. Close your eyes just for a moment and look back through the days, months, and years. Allow God’s Spirit to give you the courage to revisit those little deserts you have experienced or may be experiencing today. Places of spiritual dryness; stretches of wilderness where you felt lost or lonely; seasons when weak hands and feeble knees disoriented life.

Now consider the moment your spirit tasted God’s abundant life-giving water in that time. Or maybe you’re waiting patiently for it today. For you and I all have a story where we have glimpsed the miracle of our little deserts blooming with new life. God’s grace interrupts our lives with hope filled words, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God! He will come and save!” (Isaiah 35:4).

Today, in our modern times, we do not know why God allows us to experience the wilderness and desert places of life. They do point to the brokenness of life which God is working to redeem. Maybe God uses the wilderness and desert to cause us to lean into a deeper trust of God.

For out of our desert experiences God not only provides sustenance, but God also provides a path for our feet and faith to follow. “In God, wilderness becomes not a journey of struggle but of hope, and the Advent season rekindles this hope for a way through the wilderness anew each year .”[2]

The season of Advent actually becomes a highway to God. It is a time to walk this path more slowly even through the wilderness. It is a time to walk with intentional focus lest we miss the landscape of God’s grace being revealed before us. Both Isaiah and John the Baptist reassured God’s people to trust this highway:

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley – every low place covered with darkness and shadows– shall be lifted up [into the light].
Every mountain and hill – those obstacles of life – will be made low.
The uneven ground – the spaces which cause us to lose our footing – shall become level.
The rough spaces – the areas of life which cause us pain – shall be made smooth.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all the people shall see it together’” (Isaiah 40: 3-5; Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23).

This highway to God is leading us to the fulfillment of God’s promises. And that fulfillment is found in Bethlehem as we remember the birth of the coming Christ Child. With each step we take on this Advent journey the joy of the Lord is being rekindled within us.

We are singing, O come, O come Emmanuel and redeem all that holds us captive. O Come, O come Emmanuel and return to us the joy of your salvation. O Come, O come Emmanuel and turn our mourning into dancing for we have something to rejoice about!

As we strive to focus our eyes a little further down the highway of God, across the crest of the Advent’s hill towards Christmas, we can trust Isaiah’s words of hope-filled joy:

“Be strong and do not fear! Here comes your God! He will come and save again, and again, and again!” That is good news to be joyful about.

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1]Richard M. Cromie, “Christ Will See You Through” (Palm Beach: Desert Ministries, Inc., 1999), p. 31.

[2]Bruce Birch (Exegetical Perspective), “Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 4” (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 53.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sermon: A Tangible Hope

"The Holy Places of Advent: A Tangible Hope"
Isaiah 11: 1-10; Romans 15: 4-13 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 4, 2015
Second Sunday of Advent

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
- Isaiah 11: 1-10

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel for Jews and Gentiles Alike

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name’;
and again he says,
‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’;
and again,
‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him’;

and again Isaiah says,
‘The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.’
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Romans 15: 4-13

Encouragement is found in the most unexpected places.

A few weeks ago my friend Diane was about to step into her business when a young African American woman walked up to her. The woman asked how to get to the Work Force Office on Jordan Lane. Diane asked the woman if she had a car since her destination was miles away. The woman had used the light rail and she was afraid she would miss an important appointment. Listening to the woman’s anxious voice, Diane offered to take the woman where she needed to go.

As soon as the seat belts clicked the two women began to talk. Diane was struck with how much they had in common: they both had a love for babies, they had both been single mothers struggling to support themselves and their children, and they both had family connections to Jamaica.

And then the woman opened up about the situation she was striving to overcome. The woman’s husband had been incarcerated for domestic violence. The abuse she incurred had been so oppressive the woman nearly lost their baby, a little girl who is now fourteen months old. The woman was on her way to the Work Force Office to apply for a job that her pastor was helping her to get. As she talked about her faith in God, Diane was inspired by the hope resounding in this young woman’s voice.

Right before the woman got out of the car she looked at Diane and said, “When I take the light rail to downtown, I usually exit out the tunnel the other way, but God sent me a different way today.”

Out of a dead end situation God provided a tangible hope to both of these women.

As Isaiah prophesied to God’s people, they were at a great loss. Assyria had invaded the Southern Kingdom of Judah, turning against King Ahaz’s corrupt deal to form an alliance. As a result God’s people had no one to turn to in hopes of leading them out of this oppression.

Authoritative leaders could not be trusted. The Syro-Ephraimite war devastated the people. Widows, orphans, and the poor were neglected. Everything seemed like a dead end. Where or who would the people of God turn to for encouragement and the hope of peace?

Isaiah’s words convey a resurrection promise from an unexpected place. From this dead end situation a tangible hope will rise up with the promise of new life from the stump of Jesse. What was left of the Davidic kingdom looked like a lifeless stump. But God wanted the people to look back into her roots for the divine encouragement promised in David’s lineage.

Not a lot is written about Jesse, the father of King David. But Jesse was a humble man. He was a farmer and a sheep herder. He was from Bethlehem and a descendent from the tribe of Judah (1 Samuel 16:1; 1 Chronicles 2:12). He was the grandson of Ruth and Boaz and within the promised lineage of God’s eternal kingdom (Ruth 4:12, 17-22). And from Jesse’s humble roots God’s promise is revealed as a divine gift.

This gift is none other than the Messiah whom we know as Jesus Christ. The Messiah is a tangible hope like no other. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him for he is anointed with divine credentials to redirect the course of all humanity and creation. The Messiah’s reign is an honorable one with divine strategy and discernment, sound advice and the valor of a warrior, as well displaying God’s truth and reverence.

The Messiah is who the people of God needed then and still need today for he does not make decisions based on the appearance of individuals, situations, or selfish desires. The Messiah lifts up the poor, the lowly, and the meek with right relationships and equity.

The greatest gift of the Messiah’s reign is peace where fear and violence are redirected by the hope of steadfast relationships. The predators and the prey within creation will lie down together in harmony. Humanity is encouraged by a keener awareness of God’s grace and hospitality to be one another’s keeper. This gift of peace not only rewrites the livelihood of the oppressed into a just and hope-filled reality. This gift of peace is a divine invitation for all creation and humanity to participate in revealing.

When you and I think of peace we often consider hardships and struggles will be resolved with an absence of conflict. But if we dig into the language of the Scriptures that is not how peace is described.

The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. It means God’s actions are bringing about wholeness, completeness, and welfare from brokenness and oppression. Shalom is also a hope-filled word in which an individual bestows God’s best upon another as we wait for all things to be reconciled in God’s timing .The Greek from the Romans’ text describes peace as tranquilly awaiting the return of Christ for all things to be transformed.

Despite all the hard things we face in the world today, the season of Advent reveals that God is sending us a different way. We are not to get caught up in the tunnels that lead to dead ends and hopelessness. Rather we are to walk in the ways of the Messiahs’ Kingdom for Christ is among us as a tangible hope to lead us in the ways of peace. Therefore Christ is calling us to be a tangible hope to others to pray and work together for God’s shalom.

This past week we have heard so many people and places crying out for peace. When the cries are coming from places close to home we cannot help but listen to their stories and look for hope rising.

The latest addition to the south east forest fires has been in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It has been amazing to hear of fire departments coming from as far as Washington State to restore peace from a fiery chaos. I have been touched by the local stories of ordinary people doing their part as well.

Ric Morgan is a longtime resident of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. As the wildfires Monday night quickly spread to his neck of the woods, Morgan saw rivers of fire. His home was on Ski Mountain and it was blazing red. Morgan waited for two hours without luck for authorities to rescue him. Morgan escaped the wildfire with the help of a neighbor who spotted him waving a flashlight in his window as flames raced down Ski Mountain toward his apartment.

Morgan, 66, has two prosthetic legs and uses a motorized wheelchair. He also holds doctorates in theology and world religion and has served as a chaplain. This past week he has been living in the Red Cross shelter with hundreds of others who are displaced from the wildfires. And Morgan has been allowing his faith to guide him by offering a kind ear for anyone at the shelter who needs to talk.

“There has to be hope,” Morgan said. “It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together.[1]

Morgan’s comment sounds a lot like God’s shalom, doesn’t it? That is what working for peace looks like.

It is working with God as a tangible hope to put the pieces back together so that God’s Kingdom will transform all things. We may not know how to be agents of peace to end world hunger, to end the wars that seize innocent women and children in the world, or to bring complete healing to tragedies close to home. But it does not excuse us from this holy work either.

Advent reframes the places of hopelessness into holy places where the light of Christ illumines the broken fragments of humanity and creation with the hope of God’s wholeness and welfare for all.

We all long for God’s peace through our prayers. And as humanity and creation groan, hope will rise. For the steadfastness and encouragement of our Messiah lead you and me to be a tangible hope to others in seemingly small ways.

Giving a ride to that woman in need.
Being that listening ear when another hurts.
Releasing a grudge to bring repairs to a relationship.
Preparing hygiene kits for the homeless.

Each small act of love and encouragement works to mend the bonds of humanity and creation a little more until Jesus Christ brings God’s shalom to completion. May it be so for each of us as we wait for the Messiah again this Advent season.

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

Sources Referenced:

Advent Thematic Series title "The Holy Places of Advent: A Tangible Hope" adapted from "A Preacher's Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series"(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), pp. 5-6.

[1] Hayes Hickman, “Evacuee Recalls Rivers of Fire,” Knoxville News Sentinel, November 30, 2016.