I am going to start my sermon this morning by telling you the destination, where we are going. Then I am going to back up and tell you why we are going there and how we will get there. If this was a big bus and I announced that we are going to go the Thudpucker, Arkansas, I am sure I would have to make a good case for why in the world would we go there, or I might have a mutiny on my hands. So, this morning our destination is to call First CRC to become a prayer advocate church for the nation of Nigeria and specifically for the Muslim Hausa frontier people group in northern Nigeria. Now already a few of you are thinking, I would rather go to Thudpucker, Arkansas. So, let’s back up and talk about the bigger picture and then zero in on why that destination.
We have been using this overflowing glass as a symbol of God’s overflowing grace to us in the Gospel. But what about when life doesn’t feel like that at all? What about when life doesn’t even feel half full or half empty, but completely empty? What about when we feel like we got nothing? Does it mean you aren’t a Christian? Does it mean you aren’t a good Christian? Does it mean that you have been left out or left behind? Remember David is a mature believer. What do we do when life empties our glass? What do we do when we feel like the Psalmist and find more why questions than answers? Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go about mourning? Why have you rejected me? Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you in turmoil within me? It’s OK to ask why questions. Jesus asked why on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?”
So let’s talk about these four glasses of water. Four pictures of our spiritual life. A glass half empty/full. What do you see here? How would you describe this glass? Half full or half empty? Most of us view life according to this first glass, sometimes it seems half full and sometimes it seems half empty. If you are an optimistic person, like Tigger, more often you will see it as half full. If you are more of a pessimistic person, like Eeyore, you might see it as half empty. There are variations on this theme. Do we complain rose bushes have thorns, or do we rejoice that thorn bushes have roses?
How many of you are growing older? Wow, pastor, that’s two sermons in a row where you have started off with a dumb question. Last week was how many of you have ever forgotten something? Now how many of us are growing older? Those of you who lurk about Facebook know a few weeks ago someone started a 10 Year Photo Challenge. You’re supposed to post two pictures of yourself side by side, one from 10 years ago and one from now. I know, you are thinking, why would anyone do that on purpose? Lots of celebrities and famous people are doing it to show off how great they still look. Others are owning up to the realities of what age does to our faces and bodies. So why am I talking about this topic this morning. Last week we considered the least of these, the little ones in their mother’s wombs. This morning I want to consider the other end of life, the oldest of these, the senior saints. Next week I will speak to a topic that will land in the middle, parents and the challenges of navigating the technology driven culture we are immersed in, or maybe submerged in. Pray for me as we tackle technology and smartphones and social media. The Puritan Edmund Barker said, “Every Christian hath two great works to do in the world, to live well, and to die well.” Dying well was something they prepared for by living well. So my goal this morning is to pass on some wisdom from God concerning the number of our days and how to age with grace or as the Puritans would say how to finish well and die well.
In the past two weeks you have heard two sermons from two very different preachers, both proclaiming God’s great love for us, how delights in His people and sings over us. And His love for us is not blind. He knows us completely and His love is absolutely realistic. He already knows the very worst about us and He cannot be blindsided or become disillusioned in any way that would diminish His love for us. For reasons that are almost too much to consider God purposefully wants to love us and be our God and have us as His children, as His friends. So much so He is willing to have His own Son die for us to make it all possible. Von Golder and I both tried to make it clear that the gospel is first and foremost about a loving, forgiving God seeking and pursuing us. How do we react when we discover this love, this forgiveness, this grace and mercy, this incredible and undeserved kindness and generosity? Von used the great Scriptural analogy last week of the slave and the son both working in the father’s field, but they are working for very different reasons. As sons and daughters anything we do in response to God’s love is not out of duty or out of trying to earn God’s love, it is out of love and gratitude, and in the knowledge we have a share in His grace and inheritance. This morning I want to call us to respond to His great love. I want to awaken our souls, to stir us up to love God. To whom so much has been given, much is expected.
This advent we have focused on much loved carols of the season and the Scripture texts they highlight. This morning we conclude with Joy to the World, perhaps the most loved and favorite Christmas carol. As I mentioned yesterday it beats out O Holy Night on YouTube with 29 million entry results. It is a unique carol in several ways. First, it’s written by a famous hymn writer many of us know, Isaac Watts. Second, it’s based on an OT passage, Psalm 98, not on the Christmas stories in the gospels like most carols. There is no mention of shepherds, angels, Mary or a baby. Third, it is more about the second coming of Christ, than the first coming of Christ. So technically it isn’t a Christmas carol at all. In the early 1700’s in England all church music was based on the Psalms. Here in the CRC we can understand that, we are not that far removed from the day when we only sang from the Psalms out of the Blue Psalter hymnal. As a young man of fifteen, Isaac Watts has disturbed by the deplorable and joyless singing in the churches. He believed, “The singing of God’s praise is the part of worship closest to heaven, and its performance among us is the worst on earth.” Watts felt the poetic texts of the Psalms were bad and the tunes even worse. After one particularly dreadful Sunday service he complained to his father and his father said what any good father would say, if you don’t like it then you do something about it or be quiet. And that’s exactly what he did. That afternoon he wrote “Behold the Glories of the Lamb” his first hymn, written in a desire to raise the standard of praise and worship. His father took it to church the following Sunday and it was well received. So the next week he wrote another and then another, a new hymn each Sunday for over two years. By the end of his life he had written over 700 and revolutionized congregational singing. He bears the title, the Father of English Hymnody and wrote the first Hymnbook in the English language. One of Watt’s most ambitious projects was to make a volume of hymns based on the Psalms, but translated in a way that highlighted how they all pointed to the NT and the glory of Christ. In Psalm 98 he wrote into it the joy of the coming again of the Messiah, of the salvation that begins with the incarnation. The tune we sing is from Lowell Mason, a well-known and prolific American hymn writer and composer. Over a century after Watts wrote his poem, Mason put together the lyrics from Watts and the tune from parts of Handel’s Messiah and introduced this carol to America around 1836. “The result is a favorite Christmas hymn based on an Old Testament psalm, set to musical fragments composed in England, and pieced together across the Atlantic in the United States!” (C. Michael Hawn). Watts wrote three verses we don’t use that cover the first three verses. The verses we know start with Psalm 98:4.
There are two kinds of people with it comes to paying taxes. Those who just take the standard deduction and those who itemize their deductions. There are two kinds of Christians when it comes to confessing their sins, those who just pray a blanket prayer, “Father, forgive all my sins” and those who itemize their sins, confessing them by name, being specific. There are two kinds of Christians when it comes to giving thanks. Those who just pray a blanket prayer of thanksgiving, “Dear God, thank you for everything, we are so blessed” and those who itemize their thanksgiving. The more Biblical way of giving thanks is to itemize, to be intentional, to be thoughtful, to take time to actually think about all we have been blessed with and all we are thankful for. A grateful heart wants to itemize. We started our worship this morning with a hymn based on Psalm 150 that is an itemized list of ways and reasons for giving praise and thanks. Like the lover, “how do I love thee, let me count the ways,” so it ought to be with the lover of God.