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Advent 1: Wonderful Counselor

Advent 2020 CBO  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:24
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Experiencing the World Changer

Isaiah 9:6 ESV
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Today we begin a new series for Advent entitled “Experiencing the World Changer.” As we enter the Christmas season, we will be reminded of how the coming of Jesus literally changed everything forever and how Jesus is still ready to change our lives right now.
After the 2020 we’ve all experienced, I think those words, “World Changer,” might hit us more deeply than ever before. We are living in a world that has been deeply changed, aren’t we?
In February of this year, we started to notice something happening in our world. We started hearing rumors of something big that was going on overseas and might be coming our way. There was a Princess Cruise Ship in quarantine in Japan. But Bobbi and I still got on board the Star Princess for a 2-week vacation cruise to Hawaii. Our ship was healthy and we were safe onboard, and Hawaii didn’t yet have any active infections. But there was a new virus that was clearly becoming a a bigger threat to the world than any flu.
By the middle of March, our lives were completely changed. Suddenly and progressively, we were afraid of an invisible enemy that might be on our doorknobs, counter tops, shopping carts, on the handshake of strangers, or even on the embrace of friends or family members.
Soon, we were all asked to stay in our houses. Stores shut down. Schools closed the doors. We could no longer go to the movies, to concerts, or to church. Churches and schools began to adapt to an “online experience” that we are still using.
We were challenged when it became clear that, as a Church, we would not be gathering in person for Easter. This was big.
We learned what “pandemic” meant. None of us planned to be shut in our houses for weeks and now months at a time, hoarding toilet paper, stocking our freezers and pantries.
Some of you still have a stockpile of toilet paper, don’t you? You don’t need to worry. I won’t tell.
This year of dealing with a global pandemic changed us, didn’t it?
We’ve all had personal tragedies before. We’ve seen natural disasters in one part of the country or another. But, for the first time in a long time, the whole world was in this together.
When we shared about a personal loss before, people gave us a knowing nod and said, “I’m so sorry you went through that.” But, during this pandemic, when we shared about our struggles and pains… the person we were talking to… no matter where in the world they might be from… didn’t just nod in empathy without feeling our pain… they felt it too. We experienced a world-changing event together.
How fitting, as we prepare our hearts for Christmas, we take a look at the one person who truly changed the world more than any event or other living and breathing soul in human history. How fitting that this year’s message series is all about “Encountering the World Changer.”
This year, we understand what it means for the world to change. That’s not just a concept we read about anymore; it’s a recent memory.
As we open up this series, today, we’re going to encounter Jesus. We’re going to look at how Jesus changed our world, is changing our world, and is ready to change our lives so that we are never the same again… in all the best ways.

Facing Invisible Enemies

I don’t want to make light of the global pandemic we are still struggling with this year. We are at the point that it is coming closer to our homes all the time. More and more of us know someone who has become infected, hospitalized, or even had died of COVID-19.
However, I want you to know that this virus is not the only invisible enemy we have faced - or are, in fact, still facing. The truth is that many of us face something that not only threatens our lives, but it threatens the well-being of our very soul. Like COVID-19, this threat has gone undetected. Its symptoms are persistent, yet hard to spot; however, when they increase, this invisible enemy has the opportunity to attack our emotional well-being, our faith, and even our ability to cope with the world around us.
I don’t want to alarm you, but recent studies and statistical data point to the very strong possibility that you are struggling with this enemy, right now.
But, take heart, because Jesus is ready to change your world, forever, for the better, today. Jesus is about to begin setting you free from something that, whether you realize it or not, has been making it hard to love others, love yourself, and face each day with hope.
>>>So, what is this invisible enemy? Why are we. . .

Hiding Our Faces

And, face masks aside, we have been in this situation for years.
In the 2000s, Dr. Ed Tronick, Director of the Infant-Parent Mental Health Program for the University of Massachusetts, Boston, uncovered something that has been infecting our souls for thousands of years. This distinguished Professor of Psychology performed what has become known as “The Still Face Experiment.” And the insights that he gained from this experiment have the potential to forever change how you see your relationship with God.
In this experiment (which you can see for yourself by simply entering “The Still Face Experiment” on YouTube), Tronick asked a mother to sit down and play with her one-year-old, as she would normally - and very lovingly - do. For a minute, this mother interacts with her child, looking where she points, giving her little smiles of affirmation, and engaging the child’s interest. Then, the experimenters ask the mother to turn her face away for a moment, and, when she turns her face back, to not respond in any way to her child. Her face must remain completely blank, no matter how hard the child tries to get her attention and affection.
Immediately, the child notices that something is wrong. Her face turns from happy to concerned. Within seconds, this child tries to point out the world around her, reenacting something that had gotten her mother’s attention just moments ago. But, the mother’s face does not change. She does not interact. As panic grows on the child’s face, she tries to reach out and put both hands on her mother’s face. She wants to know that things are okay, but inside, her world is beginning to crumble. She can’t reach her mother, and her mother does not respond.
Quickly, the child begins to turn away. Her arms begin flailing. Her mother still is not responding. Not knowing what else to do, the child breaks into an uncontrollable fit of tears and screams. She becomes nearly inconsolable and hides her face while she cries her heart out.
Watching this happen is heartbreaking. And you may be thinking, “that poor child.” But, you likely have more in common with that child than you imagine. Christmas is all about Jesus coming as an infant to forever change our world. But, before we can understand just how world changing this was, we need to understand some of what Jesus came to change. Jesus helps us see God’s face. To realize that God’s face towards us isn’t still or disappointed.
>>>So, why does it feel like it always is?

Shame Effects Our Relationships

At the very beginning of the Bible’s record of God’s relationship with his final acts of creation, humanity does something that forever changes how we experience the Creator God.
If your Bible is in front of you, turn to
Genesis 3:1–8 CSB
1 Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3 But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’ ” 4 “No! You will certainly not die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
What do you notice in this text? There’s a lot of history and theology we could dig into. But, for today, I want you to notice just one thing. How did Adam and Eve respond to God after the first sins which we call “the fall”?
They hid, right? It sounds so plain and simple, and yet there is so much to this. Before to the fall, Adam and Eve had a great relationship with God. In fact, they had never known anything but a great relationship with God.
They turned their faces to God, and God’s measuring gaze towards them had always been favorable and life-giving. Like that child in the “Still Face Experiment”, before their mother turned away, they were excited to see God. I’m sure they laughed with a depth of laughter that resonated from deep within them.
They had hope. Things were good.
But, after the fall, they became like the child when her mother turned back with a still face. They began to panic. They felt a flood of anxiety wash over them for the first time. They felt shame.
I want you to think a moment about shame as a powerful force in life. I want you to see this foundational section of Scripture in a new light.
Adam and Eve, before they sinned, had a perfect relationship with God. They always turned their face towards God, and God always turned His face towards them with joy.
And yet, after humanity fell into sin, things changed.
>>>Dr. Bill Senyard, in his study, Take Heart YZ, shows that the three biggest needs of humans are significance, security, and belonging.

HUMANITY’S THREE BIGGEST LONGINGS:

1. SIGNIFICANCE

2. SECURITY

3. BELONGING

Before the fall, we had all of these things. We were given the task of naming the animals. We were put in charge of all creation. That’s significance.
God placed us in a garden with everything we could ever need. When God noticed that something was missing (human companionship), he took care of it. That’s security.
God walked with us. It appears from the text that He spoke with us face to face. We were given a depth of relationship with God we didn’t deserve. God has always existed in life-giving community in the Trinity/God-head, and we were invited to experience that community. That’s belonging.
Before the fall, humanity had everything we needed and wanted. We were whole.
But, when the fall happened, things changed. While the greatest needs humans express is significance, security, and belonging,
>>>When we turn our faces from God… when we assume that His measuring gaze towards us is still, we fall into different and destructive patterns. Dr. Senyard notes that our new defaults after the fall are shame, loneliness, and addiction.

HUMANITY’S NEW DEFAULTS

1. SHAME

2. LONELINESS

3. ADDICTION

And, of these, we see a special power given to shame. Notice that Adam and Eve’s immediate reaction was shame. Rather than running back to the security of their perfect relationship with God, Adam and Eve put on masks (fig leaves) and hid.
Shame s able to overpower our relationship and cause us to turn our faces from God. Our fear that God would look at us with a still-face was so powerful that shame became our deepest reality.
As amazing as this sounds, the feeling of shame was able to overwhelm us so much that we forgot what it meant to look at God’s face and see Him smile back at us. In fact, we began to fear looking into God’s eyes. We lost our security, our significance, and our sense of belonging in one devastating moment. Like the child in the experiment, we turned our face away from God, became overwhelmed with pain, and became inconsolable as a species.
Shame still causes us to hide from God. It still causes us to turn our faces away. In TAKE HEART YZ, Dr. Bill Senyard reflects on years of studying and working with 20 and 30-year-olds. In his study, he found that while older generations often feel guilt, our current generation struggles near-universally with shame. Guilt sometimes causes us to dig in and fix things. Guilt can be turned into a healthy response, but shame almost always causes us to hide. Guilt can lead to conviction, but shame most often leads to depression.
Dr. Senyard asked 200 people what their greatest fear in life was, over 60% said that their greatest fear is what God really thinks about them. Here are some of the real responses from real people who follow Jesus but confront shame every day.
“I am afraid I’m not good enough.”
“Do I really deserve love from anyone?”
“God, are you still pleased with me?”
“God, how disappointed are you in me that I didn’t listen to your direction for my life but instead went my own way?”
“Why do I feel like I am not worth anything?”
—-> Do you hear that? Do you RESONATE with that?
I want you to know that when you feel like that, you are not alone. In fact, you’re in the majority. Dr. Senyard’s research shows that while our deepest needs as humans are to feel significance, security, and a sense of belonging, the most common feelings we face each day are shame, loneliness, and addiction. That’s us. Right here. Right now.
If you would feel uncomfortable even thinking about turning your face towards God, right now, you’re in the majority. Ever since the fall, we’ve worried that God’s face is still. He doesn’t look upon us with joy. He doesn’t see us as His children… He sees nothing but disappointment. Where we should find life, instead, we feel overwhelming and crippling shame.
One of our deepest fears is that if we could dare turn towards God, we would see a still face. A blank, disapproving expression.
But, Jesus came to change that.

THE DIFFERENCE JESUS MAKES

Our world changes when we turn our back on shame and return our faces toward Jesus.

Throughout this series, we will encounter an Old Testament promise that points us to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Each week, we’re going to unpack one piece of this promise and examine how it changes our world. And, by our world, I don’t just mean THE world… I mean OUR world… our reality… our shame-filled response to God.
Isaiah 9:1–6 CSB
1 Nevertheless, the gloom of the distressed land will not be like that of the former times when he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But in the future he will bring honor to the way of the sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations. 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased its joy. The people have rejoiced before you as they rejoice at harvest time and as they rejoice when dividing spoils. 4 For you have shattered their oppressive yoke and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor, just as you did on the day of Midian. 5 For every trampling boot of battle and the bloodied garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
Each week leading up to Christmas, we’ll be taking a look at one aspect of verse six. Today, we’ll take just a moment to consider what it means for Jesus to be our Wonderful Counselor.
Counselors provide a great service. Among the many things they do, counselors help us to see through the gloom of life and reclaim hope in a brighter future.
In Isaiah 9, we see a continuation of a theme of light and darkness that runs through the earlier part of the book. The people of this time were familiar with gloom and darkness. When Isaiah wrote this prediction, he was pointing people toward the Messiah. Writing nearly 800 years before Christ was born, these people lived in a uniquely difficult period of history, where neighboring countries raided the land and were taking people into captivity. These oppressed people were in need of hope. They needed to see that there was something beyond their current pain.
Like the ancients that Isaiah wrote to, shame has raided our souls. It was allowed in through sin, not just in the garden, but every time we choose to ignore God, to enthrone ourselves, or to go against God’s best for our lives. Shame is so powerful, and such a dominant force in our lives that it causes us to hide from ourselves, hide from others, and, most of all, hide from God.
Shame causes us to turn our faces away from God, thinking… believing… knowing that if we dared to turn our gaze towards Him, His gaze would measure us and be disappointed, angry, or even simply indifferent. Like the child in “The Still Face Experiment,” we know that we could only bear this for a second before anxiety and panic begin to wash over s. Seeing God’s disappointed face would undo something deep in our very soul. It would crush us.
So, instead of turning our face toward God, we assume His still face, without even looking, and feel the effects of abandonment. With shame guiding our hearts and minds, nothing we do feels like it is enough. We don’t feel worthy to look at others as equals; we’re always the lesser. We worry that we’re not good enough for our beloved, for our job, or even our own life.
Even when other people compliment us, we force a little smile, but we know they’re lying or just wrong. Shame becomes a gloom. It creates a reality that feels like death.
Our world changes when we turn our back on shame, and return our faces toward Jesus.
But, Jesus is our counselor… not just a counselor… a WONDERFUL counselor. In ancient Israel, a counselor was synonymous with a wise king, giving guidance to people.
In Isaiah, we see God promising to restore honor and to bring light into the darkness. We see a promise that devastated lands will be restored. We see a reason to hope and to turn our backs on shame.
As our Wonderful Counselor, Jesus seeks to restore us from the effects of sin. This includes paying for our sins, but it also means fully restoring our relationship with God, including our ability to look into His eyes. When Jesus came as a baby 2,000 or so years ago, He came as the Mighty Counselor. And, His angels proclaimed the good news of great joy. They proclaimed the Gospel.
Gospel. We use that word, but sometimes we forget what it really means. Gospel means “good news,” and yet so many times we come to church, or try to pray, and anticipate nothing but bad news. We wait to feel the condemnation. We expect that our only reality will be shame.
But, Jesus wants to change that. Today.
Our world changes when we turn our back on shame, and return our faces toward Jesus.
Here’s the reality of the Gospel. Jesus Christ, God, in the form of man, was born into our world. Jesus walked in our shoes. He experienced temptation, yet He was sinless. As God’s only Son, a sinless offering, Jesus went onto the cross and took our punishment in our place.
As He hung on the cross, Jesus cried to heaven… “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
At that moment, Jesus looked up to heaven, and God turned His back. All of our sin. All of our failure. All of our shame. All of our doubt. It hung on that cross as Jesus became our sin.
But, because of the cross. Because Jesus took all of that onto Himself. Now, God will never turn His back on us. He doesn’t see our failure. He sees His Son. God CANNOT look at us and have a still face. Jesus took the full weight of that gaze for us.
Instead, when we look at God, when we dare to turn our face towards Him even in our worst moment, we will see the Wonderful Counselor. We see our Father, who lovingly looks at His precious child, made in His image, ready to restore us.
We need to hear this. In fact, the only way we’ll allow ourselves to move through the other side of shame is to keep hearing this. We need to preach the Gospel to ourselves regularly. Shame will try to cause us to hide. The Gospel empowers us to return.

JESUS MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

Shame Will Try To Cause Us To Hide. The Gospel Empowers Us To Return.
Today, I want to help you experience the God who calls you His beloved child.
I am going to read a “letter to you from God”. This letter isn’t found in the Bible directly, but each thought is completely soaked in God’s Word. This is the Gospel. This is the Good news. And this is Jesus’s heart towards you, right now. So, I want to ask you to take a risk, lay open your shame, and turn towards Jesus for a moment. This may mean closing your eyes. It may mean turning your head towards the ceiling. It may mean making an altar in your room. This will challenge you, but I promise it is worth it.
As I read this letter, I invite you to look for God’s face. I invite you to hear God’s heart. I invite you to be vulnerable for the first time in a long time. I promise, as you turn towards Him, His face will not be still.

Beloved Child,

Do you know how much I adore you? When I look into your eyes - into your weary and beat up soul - do you know the joy that I feel? I see your struggle. I see the hurts and pains. I see the fear in your heart that maybe, somehow, I’ve turned my face away from you.

Up until now, you have been resistant to my love. You’ve had your reasons. I know your struggles. But, it’s time for you to experience a love that you have only dreamed of from a distance. This is what your soul has been longing for. It’s what it has always longed for. This is the love that you have been searching for all your life… in all the wrong places.

I love you as you are right now - with all of the scars and mistakes. I look at you and I know the real you, not just the mask you’ve put up to protect yourself. I love you far more than you even love yourself. You look in the mirror and you see distortions and fractures. You see the labels others have put on you, and the doubts you’ve believed about yourself. You’re worried you’ve messed it all up.

Stop looking into dirty and broken mirrors. I invite you to see yourself as a reflection in my eyes. Then you will see yourself as I see you. I created you on purpose. I created you for so much more. I know your deepest fears, doubts, and dysfunctions…and, yet, I still see my child. My arms are open. There is nothing you can do to earn my love. It cannot be earned. It has already been paid for by My Son on your behalf. Because of Him, it is perfectly yours forever.

But, I get it. Love has betrayed you too often. It has cost you so much. It has left so many scars. It is scary to be vulnerable to such a love. You, no doubt, imagine that my love is just more of the same, and that I will eventually tire of you or be ashamed of what I see. You’re afraid to look into my eyes and find that I am angry with you. But that will not happen. I only desire to honor you with a boundless Love and glory. I want to restore you.

You haven’t known this love, because you haven’t asked Me for it, and instead you’ve pursued lesser loves… counterfeit gods.

Hear this. Know this. My love will not leave you as you are. My love heals. Do not look within, or pursue more empty lovers. Come to Me. Your soul is weary, but I offer living water. Come and drink freely. Don’t be ashamed. Come. It is time to leave the darkness and shadows that plague you and enter the light. I’m ready to show you a love that changes everything.

- God.
This is the Good news. This is our Wonderful Counselor. I hope you hear a new beginning in these words. I hope you feel something you haven’t let yourself feel in a long time.
You should know that even before you leave this service, shame is going to try to creep back in. The addictions are going to come calling. Somehow, you’ll feel the sting of loneliness.
I want to encourage you to dare to look into God’s eyes once more.
I promise, His face isn’t still. He has been waiting for you to turn towards Him for so long. He sent His Son, a baby born in a manger, to take on all of the weight of our sin and shame. He turned His face away from Jesus so that He would never have to turn His face away from us again.

Wonderful Counselor

“And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

NEXT STEP:
Pastor, print out copies of this letter and have them available to the congregation. Encourage them, without heaping on any shame, to read this letter every day for the next week (or month?).
CLOSE IN PRAYER
BENEDICTION - I encourage you to include Psalm 67:1-2 in your benediction:
May God be gracious to us and bless us; may He make His face shine upon us (Selah), so that your way may be known on earth, your salvation among the na
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