Have you ever felt like you were stuck in a never-ending loop?  That every day is the same and things never change.

In 1993 Bill Murray starred in the Comedy, Ground Hog Day, and it tells the story of a weatherman reporting on Groundhog Day, only to get up the next morning to discover that it’s February 2nd all over again.  And then the next day, and the day after that.  A never-ending loop of February 2nd.

And it really is a funny movie.  It is now considered to be one of the best movies from the 1990s and in 2006, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Sometimes I feel like that about COVID.  Here we now are, Day 627 of two weeks to flatten the curve.  How often have you heard the refrain, it will be better next week, next month or next year?

Do you remember when you bought or were given your first mask?  And at the time, you wondered if maybe one wouldn’t be enough, that you really should break down and buy a second one.

Funny story, when this was all starting, and we weren’t sure what offered the most protection I decided to buy a pack of plastic face shields.  I went on Amazon and bought a package of twenty.  We wanted to make sure that we’d receive them while the pandemic was still happening and so shipping was a factor.

The ad said, “Made in Canada, Shipped from Toronto.”  After I ordered I discovered the name of the company was actually, “Made in Canada, Shipped from Toronto.”  The product was made and shipped from China.

It seems like we’ve been stuck in a time loop since WHO declared the COVID virus a Global pandemic on March 11, 2020.  We take two steps forward and end up taking one step backwards. 

A year ago today, in Nova Scotia, there were fourteen new cases of COVID reported, for a total of 125 active cases across the province.  Exposures in schools were almost unheard of and there was nobody in the hospital.  And that was before 90% of our population was vaccinated.  Friday we had 28 new cases, for a total of 172 cases and 14 people in the hospital. 

This is the last week of our resetting the TimeLine series at Cornerstone.  And since October 17 we’ve looked at the reality that things have changed since March 11, 2020. 

Things have changed for society, for our families and for each of us personally.  In each case, things are different now than they were two years ago.  And some things will never go back to the way they were. 

But what we do know is that COVID-19 did not push God off his throne.  And we know that God’s plans have not changed.   

And so, for the past number of weeks we’ve looked at how we need to reset the vision that God has given us for Cornerstone.  A vision to provide a home for the spiritually homeless.  A vision to help depopulate hell.  And a vision to see those who call Cornerstone their church home, use their spiritual gifts to help Cornerstone fulfill the task that God has given us.

This is the first Sunday of Advent, which is the first of the four weeks leading up to Christmas.  Next week we will begin our Christmas series, “I didn’t see that coming” and we will be looking at some of the surprising elements of the Christmas story.

But the birth of Christ wasn’t just something that happened in isolation.  It wasn’t a surprise.  Instead, it was something that had been anticipated and looked forward to by the Jewish people for hundreds of years.

The scripture that was read this morning are the last six verses of the Old Testament.  After Malachi penned those words, the Jewish people entered into 400 years of silence. 400 years when God didn’t speak through his prophets.

And for many who lived during those four hundred years, it seemed as if they were in a time loop as they waited for the coming messiah.  Every day people across Israel woke up wondering if this would be the day, and each evening they went to sleep disappointed, with the faint hope, that perhaps tomorrow would be the day.

I tend to be a bit of an optimist.  I am a: see the glass half full type of person.  And probably like some of you here I wake up each morning and think, maybe today will be the day.  Maybe today we’ll see COVID start to decline, and every day I’m horribly disappointed.  But there’s always tomorrow.  And for many in Israel, there was always tomorrow.

Let’s start with the fact that There was the Promise   The people weren’t left without hope and without anything to cling to, there was a promise.  A promise of a better future, a promise of God’s presence.

Often moving into Christmas, we think of the Messianic prophecies.  That is prophecies that were made about the coming messiah.

This morning, the Adeniji family lit, what is traditionally known as the Prophet’s Candle. 

And at Christmas time we often hear the voices of the Old Testament telling us how the story of the Messiah will unfold.  Moses told us that the Messiah would come from the line of Judah and Samuel narrows it down and says that he would be a descendant of David. 

Isaiah tells us that he will be born of a virgin. The prophet Micah tells us that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and Hosea foretold the Holy Families’ flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath.

But the prophecies weren’t just about the coming Messiah, they were also about the one who would precede the Messiah. 

In the scripture that was read this morning, God, through the Prophet Malachi promised the people of Israel, that as rough as things were, there’d be a change.   Malachi 4:5 “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah . . .”

And before Micah Isaiah wrote, Isaiah 40:3–5 Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!  Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places.  Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!”

And Malachi had also written,  Malachi 3:1 “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

So, the timeline was to be reset with a promise.  And maybe you are thinking, ok there was a promise, why did God take so long to fulfil the promise? 

How often have you heard one of your children whine, “but you promised.” And they don’t understand that not every promise can be answered right now. 

Yes, we are going on vacation, but not right now.  Yes, you will get ice cream, but not right now.  I know I promised you a pony, but you’re not getting a pony. 

But while you may not keep your promise about buying your kids a pony, Peter reminded the early church in 2 Peter 3:8–9 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.  The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed but wants everyone to repent.

I would imagine that if you aren’t waiting on God for a promise today, you have been in the past.  Waiting for the pain to go away, physical pain, spiritual pain, or emotional pain.  Waiting for a relationship to be restored.  Waiting to get clarity for the next steps, or wisdom in discerning God’s will in your life.  Or waiting for the return of Jesus.

And it seems like you’ve been waiting forever, and maybe it feels like God is silent. 

James the brother of Jesus wrote in James 5:7–8 Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen.  You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

And while God may be silent, God is not absent.  In the silence cling to the fact that God loves you and God cares for you, but his timing may not be your timing.

So along with the promise was The Preparation

For those who lived through those four hundred years of silence, it seemed as if God was not only silent but that he was absent as well.

But there were all kinds of things happening to set the stage for the coming Messiah.

During those four hundred years, we see the establishment of the first synagogues.  Up to that point, Jewish worship only happened in the temple in Jerusalem. 

Worship for the Jewish people was either private worship or gathering together in Jerusalem for corporate worship. 

But as synagogues were built, religious communities began to spring up across Israel.  And it was here that Jesus would eventually have the opportunity to speak to those who gathered to hear from God.  It was in synagogues across the known world that the message of Christ was preached by Paul and his companions.

It was during this time that Alexander the Great defeated the Persians, bringing Greek rule to the world.

Alexander may have seemed like just another in a long line of conquers but he was a student of Aristotle and was well-educated in Greek philosophy and politics.

Because Alexander required that Greek culture be promoted in every land that he conquered the common language of the Jews gradually shifted from Hebrew to Greek.

A change that for Jewish nationalists and zealots seemed like a part of erasing their culture.  Instead, it was making them a part of a bigger world. As a result, the world was introduced to the Greek Septuagint, the first translation of the Hebrew scriptures into another language. Opening God’s word to most of the known world.

You see the promise wasn’t just a promise for any time, it was a promise for a specific time. Just the right time. 

Paul writes in Galatians 4:4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  The right time?  There are all kinds of reasons why the time that Jesus was born was the right time. 

God could have chosen any time in the scope of history for his Son to come to earth and for the church to be birthed, and he chose a specific spot on the timeline of history.

According to historians, there was no better time for the church to flourish than the two-hundred-year juncture of history known as The Pax Romana. 

New Testament Scholar E. J. Goodspeed notes: “This was the Pax Romana. The provincial under Roman sway found himself in a position to conduct his business, provide for his family, send his letters, and make his journeys in security, thanks to the strong hand of Rome.”

The Roman Peace had spread across the known world, providing one of the few windows of opportunities for the land and sea to be travelled safely without the threat of warring factions. For the first time roadways connected points across the known world. 

But it went beyond simple transportation and incorporated communication as well.  Instead of having to learn a multitude of languages and dialects, it was only necessary to know one.  Greek was the common language, a reminder of Alexander’s conquests, allowing the written word to be sent to encourage and correct the growing churches in diverse cultures.   

It was not a coincidence that the Creator chose this point in time to interrupt history it was no accident that Christianity came when it did.

And as we lean into the promises of God, understand that God is still working.  He is working in you and in the people around you.  Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:1 For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.

And like children, we want the answers to our prayers right now, and God may be telling us to wait.  Can we trust God?  We may not understand his ways and his timing, but can we trust him? 

If we could understand everything about God, he wouldn’t be much of a God. 

Every day I discover new things that I didn’t know, and yet I still think I know more than God, creator of the universe and master over all things.  And somehow, I feel like I’m not alone.

The word of God tells us in, Proverbs 3:5–6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. 

And I’m pretty sure that just for me, Solomon added the next verse, Proverbs 3:7 Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. . . .

But the promise and the preparation wouldn’t have been enough by themselves.  At the end of the 400 years of silence, There was The Person

And in the Gospels, the silence was broken.  At Christmas, we are all familiar with the story of the birth of Jesus.  But running parrel to that is the story of the birth of John.

His parents were an older childless couple named Elizabeth and Zechariah.  We don’t know a lot about them.  We know that they wanted children but had been unable to conceive.  We know that Zechariah was a priest, and we know that Elizabeth was a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

And one day, when Zechariah was in the temple performing his priestly duties, he was visited by an angel, and we pick up the story in, Luke 1:13–17 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.  You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.  And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.  He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

We pick up the story six months later, shortly after Mary has her own visit from the angel, telling her that as a virgin, she would conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit and that her son would be Jesus. Luke 1:39–41 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth.  At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Even in the womb, John was celebrating who his cousin would be. 

And if there was any doubt, Jesus himself erased that when he said in Matthew 11:10 Jesus said, “John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.’”

So, the question that some people ask is, was John really Elijah reincarnated?  And the answer is no.  The meaning was that John was coming like Elijah came.  Remember what the angel told Zechariah, Luke 1:17 “He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

And there were all kinds of similarities, they both spent time in the wilderness, they both preached a strong message of repentance.  They were even similar in their appearance.  Elijah is described this way in 2 Kings 1:8 They replied, “He was a hairy man, and he wore a leather belt around his waist.”   When I was young, we called those folks, hippies.

When the Angel told Zechariah that John was never to drink alcohol many scholars believe that meant that John would be raised as a Nazirite, and as such was not to cut his hair or shave his beard.  Sounds like a hairy man to me, and then we read Matthew’s description of John in Matthew 3:4 John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food, he ate locusts and wild honey.

And all of that are just details.  It wasn’t John’s appearance or demeanour that are important.  What is important is why he was sent and how he fulfilled that, John 1:6–8 God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony.  John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light.

 And John did that so clearly in John 1:29–30 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”  And for clarity, John the Baptist did not write the Gospel of John. 

Jesus himself said, Matthew 11:14–15 And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come.  Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

To those willing to believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be, that is the Messiah, the Son of God, to those people John functioned as Elijah.  But to those who deny the claims of Christ, John was just a kook. 

Let’s go back to John’s story, John 1:35–37 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples.  As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!”  When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

Ultimately the person who came at the end of the silence, the one the prophets pointed to. The one the people of Israel were waiting for wasn’t John, it was Jesus, The Saviour

He is the one who takes away the sins of the world.  He is the one who is willing to take away your sins.    

We are told in 1 John 5:13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.  Again, written by John the Apostle, not John the Baptist.

If that isn’t a reality in your life, it can be.

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