"A Judge Is Coming"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 7, 2003

Luke 1:68-79; Malachi 3:1-4


     The word "Judge" can conjure up in our minds many images.  We can visualize someone like Judge Judy as she deliberates from her bench.  We may see in our mind's eye a Line Judge throwing a flag during a football game. We can bring to mind the person sitting in the life guard's chair whose whistle signals that there has been a breach in acceptable behavior by a swimmer.    

     In the last book of the Hebrew Bible, Malachi described quite vividly that God would soon be sending a messenger who would come in the form of a judge.  He wrote, "He will be like strong soap, like a fire that refines metal."  After these strong, descriptive metaphors, Malachi indicated the purpose for the messenger's coming.  "He will come to judge like one who refines and purifies silver and gold."  The mission and purpose for this judge's arrival is to bring out the best qualities in people.

     Years ago when Vince Lombardi was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, he gave a unique talk at half time to his team who had been playing miserably.  He stood in their midst and said, "Gentlemen.  This is a football.  The object of the game is to move this ball into our opponent’s real estate and cross the goal line with it.  When we do that we score 6 points.  We can only accomplish this when we work together as a team!!  Is everyone with me so far?!!!"  The rest of his little half-time chat with the boys would not be appropriate to recite from a pulpit. 

     Lombardi was known for his skill at motivating his players.  He also did not mince words when it came to defining personal weaknesses, team failures and poor attitudes.  He did not worry if his words might traumatize someone nor did he care what his players thought about him.  His men had a choice.  They could either execute well while on the playing field or they would not remain in the game.  Malachi wrote, "He will come to judge like one who refines and purifies silver and gold."

     As we enter the second week of Advent, I want us to examine the kind of judge Jesus turned out to be.  He taught highly specific rules of spirit, rules that had consequences that went beyond life as we know it in our physical form. Contrary to some Christian teachings, these rules apply to everyone on the planet regardless of what they believe. 

     For example, when people have their feelings hurt and they smolder with a grudge, the consequences of such an energy pattern are just as disastrous for atheists as they are for faithful believers.  When a person lives a manipulative, deceptive and conniving life style, the effect on their spirit is just as profound for a Buddhist as it is for an agnostic. Beliefs only sharpen a person's motivation to achieve the goals they have chosen to pursue.  The absence of an understanding of God in someone's life, however, does not alter or diminish the consequences when these timeless rules of spirit are violated. 

     Imagine Jesus standing in the midst of his listeners and saying, "People, it is your life.  Use your creative energy constantly when you are expressing your thoughts, feelings and deeds.  Succeeding at this will enhance your health, your relationships, your self-esteem, your skill levels, your consciousness of God and your flexibility when you find yourselves in the midst of unanticipated change.  It is your choice."  

     Walking this path gives us the power to be kind, humble, forgiving, tolerant, enthusiastic, self-starting, supportive and faithful to our responsibilities. When we carry ourselves with these qualities of spirit, the Judge has refined our "silver and gold" so that now it is visible to others. We need to polish our stones in such a way that when people approach us they will see a reflection of what is possible for them. 

     Not all people choose to live by the timeless rules of spirit Jesus taught. Some people clearly pursue goals the results of which must remain behind when they leave their bodies at death.  Again, their beliefs about life's purpose and goals are what energizes their pursuit of them.  God, however, is infinitely patient. This is good news! 

     Such people may believe, for example, that the more toys they acquire, the more confident they will be. They may believe that the more intimate partners they have, the more they will experience being alive and fulfilled. They may believe that the more they have "the look of perpetual youth," the more they will be appreciated and loved by the passing parade of personalities.  They may think that the more connected they are to powerful people, the more deals they will be able to broker.  Vast numbers of people thrive on achieving such goals.  

     Not everyone desires to learn that there is a greater purpose to life than the pleasures and successes found within our material existence.  They find fulfillment in the classroom rather than from the lessons they came into it to learn -- something that is very easy to do.  They forsake the substance for the shadow.   

     When Jesus entered the world, he reflected and taught what is possible for human beings to achieve.  He instructed his followers on how to live in Heaven now by following him, or they could remain as many human beings have for thousands of years --  inspired by what defines their identity from their pursuits and successes within the external world. Clearly, not everyone is ready to grasp the truth that life in our world is about spiritual evolution and nothing else.  

     As we prepare to draw ourselves closer to Bethlehem, let us be mindful that a judge did come into our midst. His judgments about humanity did not come from a spirit that wanted to punish people because they could not display qualities of spirit they never learned.  Jesus' desire was and is to refine the silver and gold we have within us.  When we follow him, we do not easily lose our resolve to be angels in the flesh when confronted by the mixed signals that have and will always come from our world.  

     On the cover of our bulletin this morning are these words, "Lead us to the way of salvation."  That is exactly what Jesus did.  We have to be clear on who we want to be -- someone defined by the world's standards or someone who reflects qualities of spirit that remind others of their own silver and gold.  This is a choice we must make every day.  How are we making it? 

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

    We thank you, God, for the days of Advent.  The calendar moves us closer and closer to the birth of Christ regardless of what is happening to us or within our world.  Sixty-two years ago today many Americans were experiencing their second Sunday of Advent just as we are only to be awakened by news of the unthinkable -- Pearl Harbor had been bombed, an event which would plunge our country into war.   

    Remembering such a time helps us to understand our own perspective of your coming into our lives when circumstances appear so uninviting and ill-prepared.  You know how to do that so masterfully.  There was a taxation, a very challenging ride on a donkey for an unmarried woman who was with child, an inn that had no room, an unsanitary stable lighted only by the stars -- and yet Jesus came into the world anyway, a world that did not recognize that something extraordinary had just happened.

    When life is uncertain, clouded and filled with anxious moments, may we understand that you always come to us when life appears the darkest.  May we also learn that you frequently come in a form we do not recognize or understand.  You come to us disguised as an event, a person, an experience which redirects our lives in ways that we later call miraculous.  Thank you for being so close even when our perceptions try to convince us that you stand at a distance.  Nurture us now through the loving spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .