Though we were iced out of formal services, the proclamation of the Word goes forth via technology. In Isaiah today we are comforted with the hope of divine restoration.
If our first R last week from Isaiah was Revelation, today in Isaiah our second R is for Redemption. Just as Isaiah promised God would buy back and gather his people from exile, in baptism the promise that Christ will buy us back from sin and death stands ready to be claimed by faith.
As we mark the appearance of Magi to behold and worship Jesus the Messiah, the Third Song of Isaiah offers “illumination” (pun intended) to help us appreciate how the Light of the World delivers us from sin and death!
Loads of people make New Year’s resolutions. We want to eat right and exercise. We want to make more time for family. We want to write the great American novel. We want to quit smoking. We want to be a less frustrated driver. All of these are great ideas and noble ends.
But none of them are important. Rather, none of them are of eternal importance. Few people resolve to take care of their spiritual health, yet somehow expect miracles to spontaneously generate in their emotional and physical health without it. In John’s third letter, the venerable apostle writes, “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul“ (3 John 1:2). Which makes me wonder, is it really possible to succeed in our bodily resolutions when our souls are sick unto death?
So beginning in 2019, if you haven’t already, MAKE SPIRITUAL HEALTH YOUR PRIORITY! I preached on some spiritual disciplines in our Advent preparations for Christmas that can help. But there are 5 easy things that will jump-start your spiritual health.
- GO TO CHURCH: I don’t know how many times people have said how awful they felt they can’t make it to church, only to discover on Facebook they were binge-watching some TV show or spent the night before partying. You want to go out with friends on Saturday? Fine. Just come home in time to get enough sleep to last an hour in worship. You want to catch up on Game of Thrones? Who doesn’t? But take a break and see what God is up to! Sure, you’re kids may not be able to play in that volleyball tournament if you actually make church a priority. But they’ll miss out on an eternity of far better experiences if you keep them from meeting Jesus in his Word and at his holy table.
- PRAY DAILY: Don’t have time to pray? Don’t know how? I bet you do! If you know how to say “Sorry,” “Thank You,” and “Please,” you can pray…anytime. Sorry – Ask God to forgive you for any sins you are aware of. Thank You – Thank God for the good things you enjoyed that day, but especially the things you take for granted. Please – Then ask God to please help you and others you know with the struggles we face. Then spend a little time listening to see if God has something else to say to you. It doesn’t matter when you pray, or how long you pray, but to make a point of giving God the opportunity to interact with you every single day. It’s easiest if you set a regular appointment to meet God at the same time every day, experts have found.
- GIVE GENEROUSLY: You want to break the power of American consumerism in your life? Set aside a regular percentage of your income to give to church and other good causes. Jesus promises that wherever our money is, our hearts will follow. You want to love God more? Give to those things you know God loves – the poor, his Church, and his world.
- OPEN YOUR BIBLE: It’s intimidating at first, I know! Whoever thought it was a good idea to stick an encyclopedia of information into one volume was impishly brilliant. But God keeps speaking to us through those words anyway. Just begin reading it bit by bit. Get used to the ancient language. Hear the stories Adam and Eve, Moses, King David, and Jesus without the preacher’s Sunday morning cliff notes. Wrestle with the odd laws and customs. Honor the names of people you don’t know but God cares about just like you would like those on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Sing ancient hymns. Marvel at the symbols of how God wraps up history when he brings heaven to earth. You can do it a few minutes before you go to bed each night. Start small, maybe a chapter a day. Jot down questions and insights that jump out to you. Ask the Spirit how you can respond to what you’re reading. Then talk about it with your friends, in church and out of church.
- DO A GOOD TURN DAILY: Boy Scouts already know this. But serving others, even in small ways, is the easiest way to show Christ’s love to others. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be done in Jesus’ name – that is, it should be something Jesus would do and you would be happy to let others know you did under his inspiration.
These aren’t the only ways you can begin improving your spiritual health. But they are easy first steps to a better state for your soul. You might even be pleasantly surprised to see other resolutions become doable. Then, you’ll be genuinely prospering even as your soul prospers.
God gives us fulfilled promises, enlightened hearts, a sacred inheritance – but most of all his only-begotten Son – as we discover in our lessons for this Holy Night. Merry Christmas!
Concluding our Advent foray into spiritual disciplines, the letter to the Hebrews invites us in the discipline of obedience in response to Christ’s sacrifice.
Today St Paul encourages the Philippians (and us!) to pray, as we continue exploring those spiritual disciplines that will prepare the way for Lord.