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We meet for worship at 214 Spencer Street NE. Directions.
Service begins Sundays at 10:00AM.


This Sunday is the beginning of Advent, which is the beginning of the liturgical year. At New City we follow the lectionary produced by the Anglican Church of North America, which allows us to read through the breadth of Scripture in a single calendar year, in a three-year cycle. The use of lectionaries is as old as the church. A lectionary is simply a structured reading plan. Paul instructed Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:14) and we think he meant it! Lectionaries began in Jewish synagogues and the practice was continued by the earliest Christians, most of whom were Jewish.

The lectionary begins with Advent, which starts four Sundays before Christmas day. Since Christmas day is a specific date rather than a day of the week, the timing of Advent changes a bit. This year Christmas is on a Monday. Technically speaking, then, Christmas Sunday is December 30, but no one will show up at New City on the 24th expecting anything other than a Christmas service even though it is, technically, the fourth Sunday of Advent. (Church tradition informs us, but it does not control us.)

Why does the lectionary begin with Advent? Life itself begins with Advent! The word comes from Latin and means “coming” or “arrival”. It is a season of longing, of waiting for the coming Messiah, the Rescuer. For long centuries God’s people waited for the promised One to come, the one who would undo all that is broken in this world. They longed for the Rescuer to come to defeat sin and death and rescue God’s world from the fall.

Though Christ has come, he lived and died and rose again, we still long for his coming. We wait for his arrival, though we wait for his return. When he comes he will recreate the heavens and the earth. He will resurrect his people. He will end all suffering and death. He will wipe away every tear from every eye. He will bring to conclusion the work he began at his first coming. When he comes, he will dwell on the new earth with his people forever. We long for this. We wait for this. Everything you and I long for will be fulfilled when he comes again.

We light a candle each Sunday during Advent, symbolizing various aspects of our waiting for the Lord’s arrival. These candles represent hope, peace, joy, and love. That is, we wait in hope, we wait in peace, we wait in joy, and we wait in love. Our first reading this coming Sunday will be about hope, our hope in the Lord, a longing for him to come and to rescue us. This longing is not merely that we will be rescued from our troubles, but from the troubles we cause ourselves.

Consider the story of the prophet Elijah. I’m fascinated by his story. He finds himself on Mount Carmel facing 400 prophets of the god Baal and challenges them to a duel: which God is real—Baal, or YHWH God of Israel? The God who acts is the God who is. The prophets of Baal weep and wail all day long and even cut themselves as they pleaded with Baal to send fire from heaven to consume their offering. I love how the author of 1 Kings explained the outcome.

And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

1 Kings 18:28–29 ESV

No one answered their cries. No one paid attention to them. No voice spoke to them, for Baal is no god. Then Elijah instructed them to pour water—a lot of water—on his sacrifice, so that the wood for the fire was completely soaked. Rather than spend hours pleading with a god who has no voice, who will not answer, who will not pay attention, Elijah simply prayed and asked the Lord to let it be known that he alone is God. At this, fire comes down from heaven and consumes the sacrifice, the wood, and even the water that was in the trench surrounding the sacrifice.

This story is amazing, but what happens next is staggering to me. After destroying the false prophets, king Ahab tells Jezebel about it and Jezebel sent Elijah a message saying that she will make sure he, too, is dead by the next day. After this incredible display of God’s power and authority, Elijah fled in fear. He ran from her like a scared child. How often is our faith like this! We see God do great things but then we cower in fear and fill ourselves with worry and anxiety over many small things! (Maybe that’s just me…)

The Lord sends an angel to Elijah in the wilderness where he is hiding. The angel provided him food and water and sent him to Mount Horeb—another name for Sinai. The Lord asked him why he was there and Elijah complained that he was alone. Only he cared about the covenant God made with his people! Instead of responding to this declaration of pride in himself, God tells Elijah to stand on the mountain. Then we read this:

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.

1 Kings 19:11–12 ESV

Then we read that God recommissions Elijah and he is sent on his way. Elijah’s problem was he was only looking for the spectacular. After seeing the fire come down from heaven he began to expect fire to come down whenever he was in need. If God is going to act, he no doubt reasoned to himself, he will act in a big manner for all to see. If God will do something, it must be great! Surely a wind that can tear apart a mountain is great, yet God was not in it. Surely an earthquake that can destroy an entire region is great, yet God was not in it. Surely a massive fire that can burn entire forests and even cities is great, yet God was not in it.

The truth is God does not always act in “big” ways. His acts are always great, for he is great, yet oftentimes when God acts he does so in “a low whisper”. It’s often hard to see or hear what God is doing, for he has the skill to work in small and subtle ways. Jesus himself told Nicodemus the Spirit of God is like the wind. He said you can feel it and you can see its effects, but you can’t see it, and you can’t tell where it’s coming from or where it’s going. While the wind can uproot entire trees or as Elijah saw, tear apart a mountain, most often the breeze ruffles our hair and stirs up leaves that have fallen.

How often have we seen God provide in a time of need, whether a young couple needing diapers or meals or God providing for car repairs? How often have we seen God work in us as he softens our hearts or the hearts of those we love? How often are we encouraged in our City Groups as we hear our brothers and sisters in Christ pray for one another? How often are we encouraged at just the right time through a passage of Scripture or through another believer who speaks into our lives? These are the very whispers of God!

God can and sometimes does truly great things. We don’t see fire from heaven today, but we see great things he does. More often, however, we see lots of smaller things—the whispers, not the shouts. The big things God does ought to cause us to also look for the small things, for the big things demonstrate the same power that is in the small things. Rather than moving from one big miracle to another, we ought to look for the small reminders that God is still God, whether we’re facing 400 prophets of Baal or an angry woman seeking to kill us or just the very ordinary activities of everyday life.

As we saw in our sermon a couple weeks ago, God works in our lives by orchestrating a series of events, little things that lead to other little things that are then intersected with the lives of others in which God has also been orchestrating little things that lead to other little things. Sometimes these little things lead to a really big thing, such as planting a church in Ephesus. Most often, though, the little things continue to occur throughout our lifetimes and may not lead to a really big thing.

The point is not the big thing! The big things serve to direct our attention to the fact that God is at work in us and through us. This is where our hope is based. Our hope is not wishful thinking. That is not the meaning of hope. I can “hope” the Lions win the Super Bowl this year, but this is not the real meaning of hope in the Bible. The meaning of hope in the Scriptures is “the looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment” (BDAG). It is the expectation of a certain outcome that is based on something specific. It is the very opposite of wishful thinking. Our hope is rooted entirely in God’s character and in God’s track record, whether big things or small things.

The big things we see God do in our lives give us hope that God is continuing to work in us through the little things. We ought not live our lives chasing after the big and the spectacular. Instead, we must live in hope that God is doing something even when we hear only whispers.