What do you want to be?

Delivered November 29, 1998 by Rev. Jerome D. Cooper

Sermon Text:
1 John 3:1-3
1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called
children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know
us is that it did not know him.
2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been
made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for
we shall see him as he is.
3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Well, it finally happened this past Friday night and it can mean only one thing – “The Miracle On 34th Street” was aired on a major network, which means that the Christmas season has begun. OK, maybe it wasn’t the good older version, but it still means that Christmas season is here. And if you missed that, then you probably found out that it was the Christmas season because of all the sales that began on Friday, known as “Black Friday.” Some say that it is the largest shopping day of the year, and with all the busyness and insanity that accompanies it, it certainly is close.

We are now, it seems, in full swing for the time of preparation for Christmas. In fact, it was interesting that even before Thanksgiving Ingrid and I were driving along Burke Road one evening on our way to church and saw that people were already putting up their Christmas lights and even more are going up now.

Well what are we as Christians supposed to do during these weeks before Christmas? What are our lives supposed to look like during this time? We just lit the Advent candle so you know now that this is the first Sunday of Advent, and many people seem to think that Advent is a time to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ. In fact, coming back from the airport on Thursday, I was listening to a Christian radio station and a woman was debunking certain myths about Christmas and things related to it like the fact that “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” song was actually a Christian song in code just to teach us about our Christian faith. Then she said “You know that Advent is really a time of preparation for celebrating the birth of Christ.” I thought to myself that she really hadn’t done her research very well, because that is not what Advent is all about.

Advent originally wasn’t so much about the first coming of Christ, but as Ron mentioned at the beginning of the service, Advent is a time of preparation that we might be ready for Christ’s return, His second coming. So as Christians, as we lead up to Christmas, too often we are focusing just on Christmas itself and we make ourselves crazy during that time of preparation. But what we really ought to be doing at this time is focusing not even as much on the first coming as much as on the second coming. In fact even scripture doesn’t talk that much about the birth of Christ – does it? In fact only two of the gospels record the birth of Christ, whereas all four of the gospels and many other writings of Paul, John and Peter all talk about His return. So we need to remember what this season is really for.

So please turn with me to our first Scripture of the day, which is found in I John, the letter of John, chapter three, verses 1-3. I chose this because it talks about both being a child as well as talking about Christ coming again.

Hear the word of the Lord as it comes to us from the apostle John.

I John 3:1-3. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Let us pray together: “Lord we do thank you for these words, your words, through the apostle John and Lord we pray now that these would not be just words for us but that by the power of your Holy Spirit at work within us that you would engrave them upon our hearts, that you would change us by them, that we might be more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ; for it is in His name that we pray – Amen.”

What a wonderful piece of scripture. Many of us have sung “Behold What Manner Of Love the Father Has Given Unto Us.” The NIV says “How great is the love that the Father has lavished upon us”, which is a nice interpretation of the Greek which actually simply means – Look at what kind of love the Father has given. What kind of Love? The kind of love where he calls us to be his children. It is a love that is really beyond our comprehension. You see we don’t deserve God’s love and we don’t deserve to be his children. In fact the book of Romans that Paul wrote makes it clear that the love of God was shown in that while we were yet sinners, enemies of God, while we were children of wrath, God sent his son Jesus Christ to die for you and for me. That’s the kind of love that he has – the kind of love where He is willing to die for an enemy. Not many of us would do that. In one sense this is the kind of love that just doesn’t make sense to us – at least not in a worldly way In fact, in one sense, you might even say that God loves us so much that he is a little bit insane.

Look at the prophet Hosea. In the Old Testament this prophet lived out and in a sense he acted out a parable of God’s love for his people. Now if you remember that story of Hosea, God actually told him to find an adulterous prostitute for a wife. So Hosea went out and found Gomer and married her and they had children. Then his wife left and went back to a life of sin and promiscuity and prostitution. Amazingly, God then told Hosea to go and find her again, to purchase her and take her back again as his wife. Now if one of your friends were to do what Hosea did, you would say he was crazy. That he was, if not insane, at the very least an absolute fool because of his love. However, that is the truth of God’s love for you and for me. God in one sense has made a fool of himself because he loves you and me so much that he keeps coming back to us over and over again; calling us to be his children and even when we stray, when we go off and when we reject him he continues to come back after us over time and time again. It is that kind of love that has led God to call you and me as his children.

But John says we are not just called his children but we really are his children. You see there is a difference there. We can take on the name of Christian, but are we really Christian? The name and the reality can be two very different things. The INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) knows that very well, which is why our missionaries Chris and Kay Smoes, sitting over there, are in the process of proving to our government that they are not just married in name, they are not just called husband and wife, but that they really are married. You see Kay is from Costa Rica, and just like with Ingrid and me, she and Chris have to prove that they did not go through the legal motions of marriage for reasons other than because they are truly committed to each other. And hopefully, in another 6 months our government will recognize that they truly are husband and wife in the truest sense, and not just in name.

Maybe an even better example is Anna Goodrich, the adopted daughter of Mike and Karen Goodrich. She was born in Korea, she has Korean ancestors, she was given a Korean name and, sure enough, she looks Korean. But she was adopted by Mike and Karen and so legally she can now be called Anna Goodrich. With her new name and her new legal status she is now called the child of Mike and Karen; but is she really their child? The answer to that is a definitive “Yes,” she really is the child of Mike and Karen, and not just in name. She is not just called their child but she really is their child. In the same way, you and I are truly the children of God – but what does that really mean? What does it mean that we are children of Almighty God; that we are part of this new family?

You see, this kind of reality has consequences. When we are really a child of God it means that something is different in our lives. Just like when Chris and Kay got married; there are consequences to that – and good ones, at that! When Anna was adopted by Mike and Karen there were real consequences that will effect her for the rest of her life. In the same way, the consequences of being a child of God will effect us for the rest of our lives, and in every area of life. John goes on to say, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” The reason the world does not understand us Christians is that it does not know God our Father. You see, when we become a Christian we change cultures. It is a lot like Anna Goodrich, actually. Anna came from Korea, but now that she is the child of Mike and Karen she is going to learn a different language. She will have a different identity. She will learn a different culture. In fact, if she goes back to Korea in ten years, she will be a stranger. She won’t understand them and they won’t understand her. It similar when we become a child of God.

When we become a child of God we take on a new identity. We take on a new culture. We even begin to speak a new language. This idea was an encouragement to the people that John was writing to, because they were being misunderstood and most likely persecuted by the world around them. It was an encouragement and a comfort for them to hear that if the world misunderstood them, it was a good thing, because that was a sign, or even a proof, that they really were children of God. So a question that we might ask ourselves is: Does the world understand us? And if the world really does understand us, then what does that say about how much we have been conformed to our new culture, our new family values.

There is a lot of talk today about family values isn’t there? In fact, people who believe almost anything, people who believe opposite things, talk about family values. And when you and I become a child of God, we ought to have a new set of family values. A member of Central remarked recently, “it is interesting that the people on Madison Avenue who put together ads know us almost better than we know ourselves, and they can get to us and influence us to do all sorts of different things.” That is true not just of the world in general, it is true of Christian consumers as well. We are targeted by folks who get to know us and then use that knowledge to influence us. What does that say about who we are as children of God and how much we have really become a part of the family?

John goes on to say “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him, for we will see him as He is.” This is interesting. It seems that seeing Christ for who he really is, is what results in our transformation into His likeness. “We shall be like Him because we shall see him as he really is.” Maybe that tells us that one of the reasons why we aren’t a little bit more conformed to our new family values is that we haven’t been focusing enough on getting to know our new family; specifically our father and our big brother.

The clearer we see God our Father for who he really is, the more we will truly be transformed by His love and by His power and by His grace. The more we get to know who our big brother Jesus is – not just the Jesus in a manger, but the Jesus who walked on this earth, who gave Himself for the people around Him, and who ultimately gave Himself for you and me on the cross – the more we get to know real Jesus, the more we are able to be conformed to Him.

My sermon title this week – “What do you want to be?” – comes from the common question that is often asked of children: “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Often the answer is one of many occupations – like astronaut or fireman or doctor – but often little boys will say they want to be like their Dads, or the occupation they choose is that of on of their parents. I know that I thought like that as a child. In fact, as much as I wanted to be like my Dad, I also wanted to be like my oldest brother. You know in the family of God those are pretty high aspirations. I want to be like my Dad, I want to be like my big brother. However, that can only happen as we get to really know them and allow them to impact and influence us; as we take upon ourselves the kind of culture and values that they bring to us; as we truly become more and more children of God.

Finally, John goes on to say that “everyone who has this hope in him, in Christ, purifies himself just as Christ is pure.” It really is a tremendous hope isn’t it? That some day we will actually be like Jesus Christ, because the Lord knows we aren’t right now. And this hope is sure – that Christ will return and we will be like Him. But we can’t just wait till then for it to happen. John says if anyone has this hope, then there is a resulting resolve on our part – that we will purify ourselves as Christ is pure. This means that we need to be looking very carefully at who Jesus really is; getting to know Him for who He is – and we find that in scripture and in the gospels. We should ask: How did Christ purify himself? How did he protect himself from impurities, and develop a pure heart, focused solely on God and his purposes? You see, purity means singleness of substance, singleness of focus, singleness of purpose. For many of us, the problem with the Christmas season is that we are worried and anxious about so many things, and our attention is diverted and split into far too many directions. This time when we should be most focused is a time when we are least focused on the things that really matter. We are busy running here and there, trying to get this gift, trying to get together that party, and trying to please this person on that side of the family.

What if we were to use this advent season to really prepare ourselves for the return of Jesus Christ. You see these advent candles? All except one are purple. Now purple is a liturgical color that is used during one other time in the Christian year. Who knows what that is? That is right, Lent. And normally we associate Lent with what? Confession, repentance. And that is what Advent was originally designed to be. It is a preparation for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. A time when we seek and ask God to purify us, that we might be like him. That through confession and repentance we allow God to work within us. Because when Christ returns we want to be ready for it.

Look just two verses before the ones we have been studying. Hear these words: “and now dear children” John says “Continue in him so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” That confidence at His coming doesn’t come from whom we have made ourselves to be. That confidence comes from one place. That confidence comes from the fact that we are children of God, because God has lavished his love upon us. We also need to see that next phrase, “and unashamed before Him.” You know, I don’t want to be ashamed of myself and my life when Christ comes. I want to be preparing right now so that when He comes back I can hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

I remember a time in my life when I was probably the most ashamed. It was when my Father caught me in a lie. It was one of the few times I have ever seen my Father cry and it brought me tremendous shame. I will never forget that feeling. I don’t want to feel that when Christ comes back. I want to feel that inexpressible joy that finally I get to be with my real family. I get to see my big brother, and I get to see my father face to face.

How will you use this time of Advent? How will you prepare yourself during this time. Not just to celebrate the birth of Christ but to look forward to his return and to celebrate the sure hope that we have in him, that you and I will be like him – and the process begins now. May God give us the grace and the strength to be like Him.

Let us pray together:
“Lord, we thank you that you have not only called us to be your children, but that you have actually made us to be your children. And Lord, we pray now that this truth would be something that you place deep down within us, and that we allow the consequences of that reality to take root and bear fruit in our lives. Lord, may our greatest desire be to be like you. Fill us with your presence, fill us with your values, that the world might know you through our witness; for we pray it through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.”