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Sunday, December 19, 2021

Prince of Peace

 A sermon based on Micah 5: 1-5

By Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

December 19th, 2021,

Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Royal Names of Jesus


Now you are walled around with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel upon the cheek.

 2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.

 4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;

 5 and he shall be the one of peace.  (Mic. 5:1-5 NRS)


Who would have ever dreamed that the gospel of peace came through Jesus, but Judas, one of his own, would betray him?   

Who would ever have dreamed that Jesus called Peter the rock, and then appeared to to Saul, who became Paul, but that later Paul and Peter could not get along over the matter of circumcision?  

Who would have ever dreamed that the Church in the East and the Church of the West would split apart, making an open door for Mohammed to correct all great schism of Christian division with Islam?  

Who would have dreamed that when the Protestant Church split from the Catholic Church, there would have a Christian war, continuous for over 30 years, where thousands of Christians would kill and murder other Christians in the name of Jesus?  

And who would have ever dreamed that this new country would enter a Civil War, south against north, in a bitter war over the issue of Slavery?   Furthermore, how that war would divide us up religiously too, between Christians in the south verses Christians in the north.  The issue of slavery has long been decided, but Christian still haven’t gotten back together, but have split again into other factions.

Finally, who would have ever dreamed that insurrectionists, made up of military vets and policemen would trust conspiracy theories, storming our nation’s capital and threatening the whole idea of American constitutional democracy, law and common sense, even going up against the pledge of Allegiance, that say, “One nation, under God, indivisible...?   It’s almost Christmas, and it’s not long until we sing Silent Night’ and intentionally pray for ‘peace on earth and good will to all’ but the ‘all’ doesn’t have the ring it used to have. 

Today, on this Sunday before Christmas, this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are considering the final royal name of Jesus Christ as Prince of Peace.   While we certainly believe in a hope for peace, how we still believe, pray and hope for peace in increasingly divided world, is becoming the most important question?   Like those people in Micah’s day, long, long ago, we too can feel ‘walled around with a wall; with siege laid against us...  We say peace, when there is still little or no peace.  How can we believe in Jesus as the Prince real peace, in our world filled with conflict?



A few years ago, I watched the Documentary by Ken Burns on the Vietnam War.  I’ll never forget how one ex-marine, after he returned from war and started a family, had to explain to his children why he, as an ex-marine and a grown man, had to sleep with the light on because he was so afraid of the dark.  When the lights when out, he couldn’t help but put himself back into the horrors of that jungle war.    I guess you could say, he was still ‘walled around’ from every side.

As I watched, I immediately thought of my own father, who never talked about the battle theaters he was in, in Africa, in Italy, in France, in Belgium, and in Germany.   When he came to Europe visit me, while I lived there a few years, we drove to several to old battlefield sites but he claimed he couldn’t remember anything.  Maybe it was too long ago.  Maybe it was too painful.  Maybe everything had changed too much.  I took it all as a strategy of his unconscious mind to emotionally deny what was locked away inside, protecting his mind from reopening mental wounds too painful and disturbing.

In one film about that war, not far from where my father almost had his toes frozen off on the snowy, cold Christmas of 1944, somewhere near Belgium-Holland border, a few German and American soldiers ceased shooting at one another long enough on that Christmas ‘midnight clear’, just long enough to exchange greetings, cigarettes and drinks, to and sing a few Christmas carols.  Then they resumed fighting and attempting to kill each other again.  Peace, peace but there was still no peace’.  As Micah says, we ‘are walled around with a wall and a siege is laid out against us.’  You thought their would be peace and security, but the walls have been breached, becoming a ‘death trap’ with no place to go and no way of escape.

How do we expect or hope for peace, real peace, lasting peace, world peace, or now, even national peace, and family peace too in a world like ours; where Christ is often claimed as Savior, but seldom followed as Lord.  Now, even naming Christ makes for even more division, more conflict and more strife, rather than bringing hope for a deeper, greater peace among Christians too..

     Let me as add more more wall, if I might.  When I was hardly starting out as a college student, my Baptist family were already in a national conflict.  I’ll never forget how a few students at my school were bringing tape recorders, attempting to stir up controversy and get some of those so called ‘liberal’ professors fired. It wasn’t long until a well-planned and politically orchestrated takeover of the Southern Baptist convention succeeded.  They claim was that conservatives were saving the denomination from destruction.  Interestingly, our denomination, as well as others too, have been in decline ever since it was saved.   So, even in our church life too, we are ‘walled around with a wall and a siege is laid out against us.’  How can we—how will we and will we ever be able to ‘live secure’ and find a future way to peace?          



Although we are not in any major international conflict, at the moment of this writing, division and conflict come increasingly closer to us here, at home.   That certainly became clear to early this year in the insurrection attempt upon our Capitol in Washington.  So, since Micah’s hope for the prince of peace has already come, what is our real chance for real, lasting peace?

When you look closely at Micah’s prophecy, there is something very peculiar about it.  This hope for peace came from Bethlehem, one of the smallest towns in the southern kingdom of Judah.  Although this town was small, very small in comparison to Jerusalem, it was anything but ordinary.  This was the town King David came from, and he was the most successful military King in Israel’s history.

You may recall that when Samuel was led by God to choose David, he was the least of Jessie’s many sons.  He wasn’t even as manly as the others, for he was still a Shepherd boy, and a musician and poet too.   Everything about David went against him being the next King of Israel, but as the text says,  “God doesn’t look on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart.’    Micah prophesied that the hope of lasting peace would come in much the same way, not fitting any kind of human agenda, but fitting God’s agenda.   This future prince of peace would even be born in the same little town, Bethlehem, which was the city of David.

Much can be said about this ancient prophecy and what it means.  But no matter which way you look at it, it’s hard to think of Christmas without singing that song from Philip Brooks, ‘ O Little Town of Bethlehem.   It was in August, 1865, shortly after the Civil war was over, that the members of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia sent their pastor, Phillips Brooks, on a Sabbatical abroad for a year.  His travels took him through Europe, and in December, to the Holy Land. There he traced the footsteps of Jesus southward and visited the scenes of the Bible narrative.

After two weeks spent in Jerusalem, Christmas Eve found him in Bethlehem at the birthplace of Jesus.  He wrote about that “Holy Night,” to his Sunday school back in Philadelphia:

“I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born. The whole church was singing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God. It was as if I could hear angelic voices telling each other of the Wonderful Night of our dear Savior’s birth.” (Carl F. Price, One Hundred and One Hymn Stories (New York: The Abingdon Press, 1923).

Two years later, in 1867, Brooks put his pen to paper and wrote the immortal words:    “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Did you catch that line: ‘in thy dark streets shines the everlasting light?  The prophet Micah, who announced where Christ would be born, was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah, who called this ‘child’ the coming ‘Prince of Peace’ God was speaking to them both 700 years before Christ’s birth.  What they were both saying, each in their own way, offered hope.  When the time was right, God would send a small child, born in a small town. 

This was not some super-mensch from a sprawling metropolis, but a small, vulnerable, human baby, who would grow up to show the way to peace for a conflicted, war-torn, world.  This would not happen in a power center of the world, nor would it happen with pomp and circumstance, but as we know, this prince was born, not just in humble surroundings, but in humiliating circumstances---in a stable, in a place to feed animals only furnished with straw.

On June 21, 1982, at 9:03 p.m. the future King of England, came into the world. He was named William, Prince of Wales, and as you know, was born to Prince Charles and his young wife Diana. This boy was a legitimate heir to the British throne. He was of royal ancestry. Born a prince who will one day, be crowned king. 

When that new King was born, ‘you could hear the shots of artillery in a 41-gun salute. When that new king was born, flags billow and chapel bells pealed loud into the night. When that new king was born, champagne corks stream through the air.  When that new king was born, people stood together and sing choruses in the street.  Clouds of euphoria made millions of people, subjects to the British Throne, feel like they are members of one, large, harmonious family (Matthew Roger). 

That’s certainly not the way it was when Jesus came into the world.  ‘Imagine, rather pains of labor coming upon a young woman who must give birth to her baby in an abandoned car in some urban alleyway, and you come closest, for our time, to the way the king of all kings was born into this world.



The most unique quality of this king, this prince of peace, Micah says, is that this king is also a shepherd, who feeds his flock in the strength of the Lord (4).   This is how he is a one of peace and why those who follow and feed from him live secure, even in a world full of conflict.     

The writer, Frederick Buechner, in his book Listening to Your Life, wrote: “When [this] child was born, the whole course of human history was changed. ...Art, music, literature, western culture itself, with all its institutions and the western understanding of  the world  came under his influence.. ..The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life, but a new way of living it.  The mystery of the eternal, cradled in a manger, elicits awesome wonder and grateful praise.” (Matthew Rogers, christmas-matthew-rogers-sermon-on-christmas-41581.asp.


Notice what Buechner says: “The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life, but a new way of living it.”  We often hear people ask, why can’t we keep the Christmas spirit all year long? And the answer is, of course, that is why Christ came--that we might keep his spirit all year long. The Christmas spirit is no more than the way the follower of Jesus is to live every day of his or her life--showing kindness to strangers; treating all people regardless of their station in life with respect; being generous with the poor and compassionate with the wayward. That’s not an aberration. That is simply living the Christ life.  And this is the life and way of peace.

Helmut Nausner was a Methodist pastor living in Austria. He told of a Christmas Eve Service during the Nazi occupation when he was very young. His father was away, so his mother gathered the children around her to read the Christmas story and to pray. As they did they could hear the soldiers outside their windows, marching the streets, patrolling the curfew, and enforcing the orders forbidding religious celebration. They were very quiet.

During the reading and praying, young Helmut kept wondering what his mother would do about the music. Poor as they were, they had a piano that was used for house services where his Papa preached and his Mama played the hymns. Mama, he said, loved the Christmas music, but surely the soldiers would hear if they sang. “What would they do to Mama and to us?” he wondered.

When they finished their reading and prayers, Helmut’s youngest sister asked, “Mama, aren’t we going to sing?” With only a moment’s hesitation, his mother answered, “Tonight we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child into our world. He came that we might never be afraid any more. Of course we are going to sing.” 

So she gathered her children about her and they sang, “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. Come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.”  (Sally B. Beis in Circuit Rider, July/August 1990, p. 8.)


Folks, today, even in a world of conflict we can have peace, because we can know today that the prince of peace has us.   Jesus is the baby who grew up to die and rise again, so that he can shepherd us, and lead us to be secure in the strength of the Lord.  He is the only one who can give us God’s strength and peace.  Amen.


Sunday, December 12, 2021

Everlasting Father

 A sermon based on Zephaniah 3: 14-20

By Charles J. Tomlin, DMin

3rd Sunday in Advent , Dec. 12th, 2021,

Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Royal Names of Jesus Christ


Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!  Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

 15  The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies.

The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

 16  On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.

 17  The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing  18  as on a day of festival.

I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.

 19  I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.  20  At that time I will bring you home,

at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised

among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.  Zephaniah 3:14–20 (NRSV):


When Seminary Professor Clement Moore wrote The Night Before Christmas and read it to his family on Christmas Eve in 1822, he changed how Americans think of St. Nicholas forever.  He took an ancient, slender, compassionate, Christian bishop of Myra, who lived in about 200 AD and was compassionate toward children and made him grow into that fat and jolly man as we know him today.

While the new Saint Nick can be a wonderful joy for children to ponder at Christmastime, he still can’t compare to the one Christmas truly is all about.  Even ‘Father Christmas’, as he is called, ultimately bows before the ‘Everlasting Father’ who has inspired Him. 

Through the royal prophecy we are considering from Isaiah, Jesus gained the name ‘Everlasting Father’ because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever and has been given the name that is above all other names.  The gifts Jesus gives are forever and the costs has already been paid—no bills coming due in January.  As Isaiah 9:6 says: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father...

Literally, Everlasting Father, (Heb. Avi-ad) means the “the one who possesses or produces eternity, ”.  As John’s gospel begins, ‘In the beginning was with God and the Word was God.’ (1:1).  Jesus is God from the very beginning because, as John goes on to say,: the Word became flesh and lived among us,...full of grace and truth’ (1:14).   Beautiful, astounding, and incredible ideas, but what does this mean and matter for us to say that Jesus is the Everlasting Father?

To keep this from becoming a mere lesson in theological metaphysics, I want to turn to today’s lectionary text from the almost unknown prophet, Zephaniah.  He preached in one of the darkest moments in Israel’s political history.  This hopeful text, which comes at the conclusion of his dark prophecy, indirectly points us to what it means that God is revealed an eternal, everlasting Father who’s love never ends.



When you read the prophecy of Zephaniah from the beginning, its opening message, doesn’t sound very ‘fatherly’.  As it begins God says: I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says the Lord. (1:2–7).   Keep reading and you will find a powerful, negative, overpowering images of judgement and catastrophe released upon the world in the ultimate coming of ‘the day of the Lord’.  

Now, that doesn’t sound very fatherly, does it?  Unless of course, you had a vengeful, angry, or excessively demanding father.  Unfortunately, for some, maybe even for too many, that is the painful and problematic image that comes to mind when they think of a father— angry, demanding, rigid and maybe even cruel or destructive.   The idea of God as Father, or Jesus who is ‘one with the Father’ and taught us to pray to God as ‘Our Father, who is in heaven, can bring to mind conflictive and complicated memories.  Their own relationship with an earthly father was difficult, abusive, or even maybe even absent and makes it difficult to imagine or relate to God as a loving Father.

The late Fred Craddock, who died just a few years ago, once told of going back one summer to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to take a short vacation with his wife. One night they found a quiet little restaurant where they looked forward to a private meal--just the two of them.

While they were waiting for their meal they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, "I hope he doesn’t come over here." He didn’t want the man to intrude on their privacy.  But the man did come by his table.

"Where you folks from?" he asked amicably.


"Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there. What do you do for a living?”

Fred Craddock welcomed that question, for whenever a stranger found out he was a preacher, they’d often excuse themselves shortly thereafter. "I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips University."

"Oh, so you teach preachers, do you. Well, I’ve got a story I want to tell you." And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife.  Dr. Craddock groaned inwardly: Oh no, here comes another preacher story. It seems everyone has one.

The man stuck out his hand. "I’m Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born so I had a hard time. When I started to school my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunchtime because the taunts of my playmates cut so deeply.

"What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through you. They were all wondering just who my real father was.

"When I was about 12 years old a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me.

"Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?’

I felt the old weight come on me with that question.   It was like a big black cloud. Now, it seemed like even the preacher was putting me down.   But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition.

"Wait a minute," he said, "I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God. God is your Daddy"

With that he slapped me across the back and said, "Boy you’ve got a great inheritance. Now, Go and claim it, because you got a daddy.  God is your daddy.

After the story ended, the old man looked across the table at Fred Craddock and said, "That was the most important single sentence ever said to me." With that he smiled, shook the hands of Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends. 

Then suddenly, Fred Craddock remembered that on two occasions the people of Tennessee had elected an illegitimate child to be their governor.  One of them was this man, Ben Hooper.

The truth that ‘God is Your Daddy, changed Ben Hooper’s life.   But this didn’t start as good news.  Did you hear? When he was leaving church, the preacher put his hand on his shoulder and asked: ‘Who’s Your Daddy, boy?  It was like a dark cloud, he said, like the preacher was putting him down, just like other people did, because he was an illegitimate child?  

Still, the promise of God as a loving father got through to Ben Hooper and it turned the disadvantages of his life into a motivating factor, giving him an edge work hard and to achieve and accomplish much. 

When you read the prophecy of Zephaniah it certainly begins like God is angry and is hovering over the earth like a dark cloud ready to pour down his wrath.  But we must understand that these were some of the darkest days of Israel’s history full of idols and false gods.  Being a jealous God, God was like a hurt Father, angry and threatening but not because he hates, but because he loves.  

For when you get to the concluding lines of this prophecy, our text for today, the whole mood and demeanor changes.   The prophet moves from speaking of destruction and judgement to speaking of transformation, cleansing and overwhelming and total joy. 

And it’s not just the people’s joy, but God is rejoicing over his people telling them that judgement is now taken away.  There will be no more destruction. They have nothing to fear.  This is now time for singing and rejoicing— no more doom and gloom.   This is a time of feasting and festivities.  The Lord is their now their warrior and gives them victory and rejoices with them.

Without any direct reference, this is what it means to have an Everlasting Father. Amid human sinfulness and rebellion, God comes---the day of the Lord comes even in judgement, but this judgment is not to destroy but to save, to protect, and to redeem God’s people from their slavery to falsehood and sinfulness.  

This is what a true, eternal Father does.  He uses his strength, power, and authority to help his children overcome their self-destructiveness and their fear.  That’s why the people are being called to ‘Sing ...shout, ...Rejoice... The Lord has taken away the judgments..., He has turned away enemies.  The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

Now, you know, exactly what was behind the angels of Christmas singing to the Shepherds ‘good news of great joy for all people.   In Jesus Christ, we don’t have to fear disaster any more.   The Lord has taken away his judgments.  He is our eternal and everlasting Father, a warrior who gives us victory over that which can destroy us.  Now, God rejoices with us and God rejoices over us with great gladness.



At the heart of Zephaniah’s message God’s day comes, but instead of judgement against us, the Lord we know as Everlasting Father renews us in his great love for us (17).  

This is what the Christian gospel is about, isn’t it?  In Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word was made flesh and lived among us, and for us.  This Jesus is one with the Father and the one to whom the Father has given all judgement.  Final judgement comes to the world in the life and death of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.   This is God’s final judgement against all that is against us, renewing us in love rather than allowing all that opposes God to destroy us.  

This judgement of love is exactly what the gospel of John is getting at in the detailed discussion of this most intimate gospel.   Right after Jesus healed the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, asking him whether he ‘wants to get well’ (5:6), Jesus then informs that ‘the father is working and I am working’ (5:17).  After that Jesus announces that ‘just as the Father gives life, so does the Son’ (5:21) and then adds these astounding, arresting words:  

The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son (5:22).  

Did you get that?  Being one with the Everlasting Father Jesus becomes the fleshly, earthly judge who is given all judgement through his life, teachings, death and resurrection.   Now, Jesus says, Truly, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life (5:24).      


Dear people, this is the beautiful, joy-filled message Christmas sings:

“He rules the world with truth and grace,

and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness. 

And wonders of his love, wonders of his love and wonders, wonders of his love’.  

Listen close to this verse, Issac Watts is exactly right.  In Jesus Christ, the Father isn’t removing all judgment and destruction from the world, but he has given all judgement to the Son, so that through the truth, righteous love becomes the judgment by which we are redeemed and renewed.

The impressive PBS Masterpiece series, Mercy Street, which is based memoirs and letters of actual doctors and female nurse volunteers at Mansion House Hospital located in Alexandria Virginia during the Civil War.   This was a real, make-shift Union military hospital set up in what was still  occupied, confederate territory.

At the center of this story are wounded soldiers on both sides, who were injured, maimed, cared for, and dying in this hospital.  The judgment coming down on them all made no distinction.   But what you also observe, is how in that tragic war, ‘his truth keeps marching on’.  As the tide of war continues to turn toward what is right and against what is wrong, the nation is proving the glories of his righteousness.  The truth that marches on does not remove the costs of war and wrong,  but this is a truth of renewing love that must not resist that Christ’s judgment is just.   As the Battle Song of the Republic goes, and those diaries suggested:  God is sifting out the hearts Before His judgement seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him; Be jubilant, my feet;  Our God is marching on.
         That terrible time in American history should have taught us, once and for all, that the judgment of the Eternal Father has become the judgment of the true spirit of Jesus Christ.  When we go with Christ’s Spirit and hear his voice, the dead are raised to life and we do not come under judgment, but when we reject the truth of Christ, especially the truth that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free, truth will march again in judgement and death.

It was the prophet Zephaniah, even way back then, who said: ‘The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory...  In verse 19, the says, the Lord, whom we know as the Everlasting Father of all, and for all people, in Jesus Christ, who will fully and finally deal with the oppressors,… will save the lame, and will gather the outcast, and change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.   Christ comes to renew us in love, but you must not end up on the wrong side of this God who comes to love and judges where life and the future will go. 



This brings us to the final image of the Everlasting Fatherhood of God, revealed to us once and for all, in the life of Jesus Christ.   For, as Zephaniah foresees, one day, the Lord will ‘bring’ his people ‘home, and gather’ them, making them known and praised among all peoples of the earth...’   (20).   

That’s a very big promise, isn’t it?  It’s the kind of promise only an Everlasting, eternal Father of unending love and undying hope can give and fulfill.    

 In the world of foster children and adoption, there are many difficult stories; some that end with hope and fulfillment, but others than don’t turn out so well, because the scars of what happens to these children can’t be overcome so easily.  But in the midst of the stories of the orphans and displaced children, comes the great hope of finding their one, true, ‘forever family’. 

That’s what Zephaniah envisions, a Father who one day, through the difficult and dark days that can come to us as human beings, is willing to accept us, to adopt us, and bring us home.    

I’ll never forget, the day we adopted our daughter.  First, we had to bring her home, only for a day or so.  Then we had to give her back, at least until final decisions and evaluations could be made.  When we met the social worker in the parking lot of a shopping center, I broke down.  I could not help but cry.  Something in me said, this child, like every child, and ever human too, deserves to have a home, where they never have to leave.   We all deserve, need, and even long for, that ‘forever family’ and that forever love.

This is what Jesus came to be---the Everlasting Father for us all.   Jesus and the Father are one, who says to us, like he said to his disciples: “In my Father’s house are many rooms”.   Jesus also tells us about the lost son, where God is the Father, waiting for the child to come home.  The Father is always ready to ‘bring’ or ‘give’ his child home.  But finally, it is in the book of Revelation, where Jesus comes to the worst of all churches of the Revelation.   Jesus isn’t a waiting father, but Jesus goes and stands at the door of the human heart and knocks.  Jesus not only the Everlasting Father who helps us overcome our fears, or renews with his love, but Jesus as the Everlasting Father, is the Father who will not stop waiting and will not stop knocking on the door of the heart, until every child opens the door and comes home (Rev. 3: 20).   It is this kind of fatherly, everlasting, and unending love and care that comes into the world through Jesus Christ, that makes Christmas what Christmas is supposed to be. Amen.

Sunday, December 5, 2021


A sermon based on Malachi 3: 1-4; Isaiah 9:2-8

By Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

The Second Sunday of Advent, Year C.

December 5th, 2021


Malachi 3:1–5 (NRSV): See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

 2  But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;

 3  he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

 4  Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

 5  Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.


      The Faith and Spirituality film, I still Believe, tells the true story of Christian musician and singer Jeremy Camp and the loss of his first wife to cancer.  They were newly married and at the time.  She was only 21 years old.

     Throughout the ordeal, as you might imagine, Jeremy struggles to keep his faith.   The question that came to him, and to so many more,  is how can a loving, all-powerful, almighty God allow such suffering to fall upon those he loves?  But as Jeremy deals with his grief and doubts, one day he finds a note left in his guitar.  It was put there by his wife, Melissa, reminding him of her love for him and encouraging him to keep his trust in God because God is their only sure hope.     

       This moving story of unexpected grief and resilient faith, reminds us of what we are all up against.  Our continued human struggle with sickness, suffering, evil and death, either moves us toward faith in God, or it pushes us away.  What it does not allow us to do is to remain neutral.   Either God is the God who loves us, or what good is God, anyway?

            This question of God, God’s love and power gains attention in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  We either see the power of God at work through in Jesus, or we don’t.  We shouldn’t remain neutral.  We must come to some kind of answer to Jesus’ own question: ‘Who do you say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ 

          Especially during this season of Advent, either we are waiting in hope, trusting in God, or this celebration is just another human tradition, pointing to memories of the past or parties  in the present, which are just about pausing for fun. In the midst of fun or frustration, the question arises for us too: Is Jesus Our Emmanuel, God with us? 

            Today, we consider Isaiah’s second royal title of hope as it specifically relates to Jesus.  Isaiah names this son who will be given as, first as Wonderful Counselor, and then next, as Mighty God!   That’s certainly the most powerful name that could be ever be given a King.  Most Kings and rulers were considered to have divine rights, but to be named God, or Son of God, was the highest title of all.   Isaiah says it is this child who will grow up to establish justice and uphold righteousness in the nation.  What does this kind of hope mean, especially in light of a world that can still be unjust and seem far from righteousness?



Centuries later, another prophet picks up on Isaiah’s prophetic hope.  Isaiah’s prophecy was spoken in the 8th century BC, but this hope was renewed again, 300 years later.  As the Old Testament comes to a close, the final prophecy of Malachi almost shouts, ‘Prepare...’!  The Lord you seek is coming into his temple!   He is coming, says the Lord of hosts! (3:1).

The New Testament then opens, with John the Baptizer preaching from the standpoint of Israel’s religious and political wilderness, saying ‘Make way!’ (My translation)  Prepare!  One who is more powerful than I is coming! (Mark 1: 7).  Then John adds:  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mk. 1:8). Later, in the gospel of John, Jesus’ disciple,  when John the Baptizer recognizes Jesus as the hoped for Messiah as he comes to be baptized by John , John then says, Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin’ (John 1:29).

            What all four gospels have in common is the recognition, along with John, that in Jesus of Nazareth the Lord God appears to his people and comes into his temple as Mighty God.  The long awaited fulfillment of the Hebrew prophets has finally been realized.  As the great Christmas Carol resounds,

Joy to the World, the Lord has come!  Let Earth receive her king! 

Let every heart prepare him room.  Let Heaven and mature sing!

This is indeed, what we sing, but what does it mean, for us, this world where there is still sin, still evil, still suffering and still death?  What does it mean to trust and to believe that Jesus is the answer to Isaiah’s hope that this child, given also to us, is Mighty God, with full authority and power?

            The best way to understand how the prophets hope of God’s power was realized in Jesus, came from those who witnessed it, as recorded in the gospels themselves.  The gospel of Mark, probably the first of the gospels, in the opening chapter wants us to see God’s mighty authority on display in Jesus from the vantage point of unclean, evil, demonic spirits. 

These spirits, revealing themselves in this man as an uncleanness (probably a mental illness), immediate recognized Jesus as the ‘holy one of God’ (1: 24).  Jesus then tells them to be silent, and to come out! (1:25).  Then the text says, the man convulsed a bit, and the spirits came out of him. 

Now, before you write this all off as creepy movie fiction, like in the Exorcist, you need to read on to see how the people respond, observing:  They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28  At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.  (Mark 1:27–28 (NRSV).

            The same kind of observation is repeated, but this time it is more intimate, coming from the disciples themselves.  After a storm comes upon in their boat out on the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus awakes to calm the storm by speaking a word, they ask themselves: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  The question that keeps surfacing over and over, especially among the people and religious leaders is ‘by what authority do you do these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mark 11:28).

       ‘Authority is another word for the mighty power of God to heal and to save.  This is what Isaiah means, where he says, ‘his authority will grow continually and there will be endless peace’ (v. 7).   It is the ultimate healing of Israel from the burden and Rod of her oppressors that Isaiah hopes for.   In the life of Jesus, this healing begins, not among the established government, but among the heartbreaks and burdens of the poorest of the poor.   God’s mighty power and rule appears in the lowest places; in single human lives and hurts, bringing hope and healing in both body and soul.   As the prophecy of Malachi opens,  God says to his people, ‘I have loved you’.  In Jesus God comes to make this message clear and plain. 

     However we may struggle in this life and in this world,  the gospel of Jesus points to this God who is, as the song says, ‘Mighty to Save!’  Jesus comes as the Son given to  reveal God himself.  This coming of the Lord into his temple, as Malachi puts it, isn’t about a building, but is a God coming into life as a human person, a ‘son of man’, or human one, as one translation puts it.  

Understanding how the invisible, mighty God becomes human flesh that not only heals and saves, but who also bleeds and dies, requires a whole new way of thinking, both about who God is and what ‘might’ means.  Might isn’t always what ‘makes right’, but might begins, as it does in Jesus, by being right and by doing what’s right.  This is the source of true human power.  True power taps into the coming of God’s as just and righteous, which is how God is also able to come our lives and into this broken world.   



I don’t want to get too deep.  What’s most important is that we first understand what God’s mighty power does in us, for us, and through us before we can even begin to understand how it all works.  Of course, we will never fully understand that.  We will get to what we can understand in just a moment, but first notice from the prophet Malachi what God’s mighty power in Jesus intends to do in us. 

            After Malachi prophesies that the Lord is coming, he asks a question few ever dare to ask.  Who can endure this?   Who can survive it?  For, he is like a refiner’s fire; like fuller’s soap (3:2-3).  These images point to the transforming, purifying power of God to change us, from who we are into who we can and should be. 

The point for us here is that we don’t always want what God can and will do in us, but God is coming to do this anyway.  This God is mighty in that he is not starting out to change the world or our situation, but God is mighty in that he comes first to change us and purify us in our situation, no matter what that situation my be.

One of the powerful and inspiring films I’ve seen lately is the Italian film, The War is Over.  It’s a film based on the book, The  War Is Over: Story of the Selvino Children written by an award winning Jewish writer.   It tells the true story of a group of Jewish adults who came together after WWII, to collect, shelter and rehabilitate Jewish children who had been left orphaned by the Holocaust.  

As the story unfolds, it’s not only the children who are being saved and healed out of the horrors of that terrible time, but the adults are too.  While there was nothing good about that war, something wonderful, healing, and amazing was taking place among those children and those who cared for them.  

The emotion of the entire series can be summed up in the one Jewish orphaned who looks up into the face of an female adult and innocently asked, ‘Are you my Mommy?’   Your heart breaks, but you also see how all those who care for these children, having their own lives touched and transformed by the whole ordeal.   How could your own life not be purified and refined by the heartbreak and the needs of these children.

While we can never know ‘why’ things happen to us as they often do in life, what we can do is decide how we will respond.   This is what Malachi means when he asks,  ‘Who can stand!   This mighty God who comes, is coming for you, not to destroy sinners, but to refine, purify and save us from our sin.  This is what a truly powerful and mighty God does.  God isn’t threatened by our sins, but we are.   However, in the greatest darkness, and in the most horrendous moment, God is at work to challenge, change and to transform us.

Isn’t this something current to us?   During the difficult and challenging times of this Pandemic, the refiners fire and fullers soap has come to us.   In all the fear and frustration of these days, the Lord has entered his temple, so to speak.  Did we survive?  Did we grow?  Did God bring newness of life and purpose to us? 

When God works in this way, in our weakness and struggle, we should learn again how mighty God is, and how much our hope truly depends on him.   And this hope in God, isn’t mainly what God will do for us, but it’s about what God wants to do in us and through us, in this world.     



This healing authority and transforming power of God,  which Isaiah could hardly understand himself, and which Malachi became clearer about, through the struggle that he experience, is a power that comes to transform us, not from the outside in, but from the inside out.  That’s what Malachi reveals.   For God to reveal his power, we must allow God to use us.  We must prepare the way.  We must endure the challenge and delight in his coming to change us.  

How does this transformation come to us, both in our world and in our lives?   Malachi says everything we need to hear in one single line at the end of verse 3: ...Until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.   

For Jesus to come to us as Mighty God, we must be determine to present our offerings, or as Paul later writes, to present our own bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God’ (Rom. 12:1).   Yes, God comes.  Yes, God is.  Yes, God works in our world, but you will not know it, see it or show it, until you present your own life as an offering of righteousness to the Lord.   

We all know that old question whether or not a tree that falls in the woods actually makes a sound, if no one hears it.   Well, that same kind of question can be put to God, as to whether or not it is God does good in our world or it’s just us.

The answer to this question, like the answer about the sound of a falling tree, is arguable both ways, just like the truth about God’s mighty power.  When we do good, when we participate in helping, healing, caring or loving, it is us and it is God too.  God has come to put righteousness into us, and it is this offering, this resonating sound of righteousness that both pleases the Lord and proves to us that the Lord is near.  But of course, you still have to want to see, hear it, and know it.   God can be God all by himself.   The purpose of coming to us, and displaying his power, is that while God can be God without us, we can’t be ourselves, that is our—be our best selves, without the righteousness and healing power of God that is revealed Jesus Christ.  

Most of you have heard of Saint Augustine.  Since the 5th century, his personal spiritual prayer book, Confessions, has been one the most important writings outside of  the Bible.   What makes this writing so important, even for modern people, is that this the very first book to describe a human self as we still do.  No one ever really wrote about who they are so personally, so intimately, and so intentionally before.  It is clear that Augustine follows directly in the footsteps of the apostle Paul, but it’s also   It clear that Augustine only learns how to talk about himself—-his true, growing, and best sense of self, in his own personal, relational, spiritual life in God.  In Augustines’s prayers and thoughts,  you only hear him learning to say ‘I’, ‘my’ or ‘me’ as he prays you, thee and thou, O Lord.

This is how life still is, and it’s God still works, mightily.  God proves who God is, as he does his mighty work in and through us.   Through Jesus, God chose, not only to become one of us, but to live God’s life through us, as we live, and move, and have our being, in God.  In the human spirit God puts God’s spirit and make available to us, the greatest powers of all; faith, hope and love, and with God in you, and you in God, you know which power is the greatest.  Amen