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, Prince of Peace.—Isaiah 9:6

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…—1 Corinthians 15:3,4

When I was in college, I attended a large church where I had no relationship with the pastor.  I still learned a lot from him, though, just by listening to his preaching and watching the way he led the church.  I remember one Sunday in particular.  He had just finished a 6-week preaching series on marriage, which was excellent, but got a little repetitive toward the end.  Apparently the church’s leadership had decided that, with an epidemic of divorces in the church, there was a need for extended teaching on the subject.  It was all very biblical and helpful, but I was single at the time, and so there was a lot that I couldn’t apply directly to my life.

Then came the Sunday after that series was over.  The sermon that pastor preached on that day was simply about the Gospel.  It was a celebration of what God has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ.  It was nothing most of us hadn’t heard before, but it was fantastic, largely because the pastor was so obviously enjoying himself.  You could feel his relief at the opportunity to return to what is most central to our faith and preach a sermon that was all about Jesus.  Marriage is important, and sometimes you have to talk about it in the church.  But the church is first and foremost and always about Jesus, and in the big picture He always deserves the spotlight.

Now, almost 30 years later, I find that I have become that pastor.  For the last four Sundays, I have preached about financial giving.  It was necessary, the time was right, and, as I said more than once in this past month, it’s an area that can’t be ignored in our discipleship to Christ.  I believed in it, and I did it to the best of my ability, for the glory of God and the good of His church.  But I’ll confess I’m really excited about this coming Sunday.

This Sunday we will begin the four weeks of Advent, where the church turns its focus to the coming of Christ into the world.  Or maybe it would be better to say that we return our focus, to the One who is always at the center of our faith.  Believers who came before us established the traditions of Advent and Lent, so that twice a year the church would be forced to go back to the basics.  No matter what else we may preach on over the course of a year, we will always spend time talking about Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, because there is nothing more important.

I’ve already begun planning the preaching calendar for next year, and I’m excited to spend time in the books of Job, Habakkuk, and Colossians.  We’re going to explore what the word “grace” really means, and take a look at what the Bible has to say about fear.  It’s going to be a great year.  But in the midst of that, we will always return to the Gospel.  Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who was born into this world as a man.  Fully God and fully human, he lived a sinless life and died a humiliating, agonizing death on the cross as our substitute, paying the full price for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God, and then rising from the dead to offer us the gift of eternal life.  By His sacrifice and His victory, we have been cleansed and forgiven, adopted into the family of God, and indwelt with His Holy Spirit.  We will say it, and say it again, and then later, after we’ve talked about some other things, we’ll come back and say it again.  The Gospel never gets old, and we never grow past our need for it.

Because of this, God intends the Christian life to be a never-ending experience of returning.  We may have a difficult week, when the worries of this world distract us from our faith.  But when we go to church on Sunday, we are reminded of what matters most.  We may have a particular spiritual issue or theological question that consumes our thoughts for a season, but once a month when we show up to worship, we will take communion together, and together we’ll remember that it’s all about the cross.  A church may recognize that its people need teaching in a particular area, but no matter how important the topic, it’s never as important as the fact that Christ is crucified, risen, and returning.  And so we keep coming back, over and over, to that which saves us and sustains us.This coming Sunday, I’m going to preach from Isaiah chapter 9, which contains some of God’s promises about what this world is going to look like when Christ comes again to reign on the earth.  It will be a sermon about how all our hope is in Jesus, and how our hopes probably aren’t big enough, because the things God has planned are greater than we can imagine.  It will be a sermon that doesn’t challenge God’s people to do anything, except to be impressed with Jesus and to be excited about spending eternity with Him.  It will be a reminder that whatever else we might be facing in our lives, the central realities for the Christian are always that Jesus loves us, Jesus wins, and Jesus is coming back to take us home.  I can’t wait.

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