First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Epiphany Sunday ~ January 2, 2022)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“Passionately Pursuing Jesus!”
Jeremiah 29:11-14; 2 Timothy 1:6-10
Some Christian traditions extend the Christmas celebration to full 12 days. They call it, the Twelve Days of Christmas. I believe the idea behind the Twelve Days of Christmas is the fact that Christmas, the Nativity of Jesus, cannot be captured in just a single day. More time is needed to meditate on God’s indescribable gift.
The Twelve Days of Christmas lead to the Feast of Epiphany, which is celebrated this Thursday, January 6. Epiphany is also known as “Theophany”, “Little Christmas” or “Three Kings Day.” The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek “epiphaneia” which means “manifestation, revelation, or making known.”
In Luke 2:32, Simeon the righteous refers to the birth of Christ as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” In 2 Timothy 1:10, the apostle Paul speaks about the grace of God that “has been revealed” through Jesus Christ. Without Christ, you and I wouldn’t be able to know much about the God we have come to believe in. In 1984, songwriter, Mark Lowry, wrote the well-known Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know?” In the second stanza, he says, “May did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod … And when you kiss your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God? Mary, did you know?”
Christian faith has a revelatory nature. Listen to what the apostle John says in John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” In the Message, Eugene Peterson, paraphrased John 1:18 that way, “No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse. This one-of-a-kind God-Expression, who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made him plain as day.”
Our God is a Pursuing God
Jesus of Nazareth “has made God plain as day.” He revealed the very nature of the God of heavens and earth. Looking at the gift and life of Jesus, we can say that our God is a pursuing God. He is the one who pursues us. He is the one who searches for us.
What should be our response to a pursuing God? On this First Sunday of 2022, I want us to consider this question. In Christ, God has pitched His tent in our own backyard. If our God is a pursuing God, we are under two obligations:
First: We Are to Intentionally Pursue God
A New Year is ahead of us. Every day presents a fresh opportunity to pursue more of Jesus; to pursue a closer relationship with Him. I think one of the most dangerous problems in our walk with the Lord is we settle for just occasional encounters with Jesus in some casual manner. I wish we go for the maximum, not the minimum this year. I hope we pursue more of God’s voice in our ears; more of His hope in our grief; more of His dirt on your hands; more of His nearness in our loneliness.
Jeremiah 29:13 is a great Scripture that speaks of pursuing God. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” The people of Israel are in exile in Babylon. God sends them a message through the prophet Jeremiah and tells them that even at this very dark hour of their nation, God is still accessible. They can call on God and He will hear them. They can seek God, and the promise is: they will find Him. He never hides from us. It’s such a beautiful assurance to know that when we seek God with all of our hearts, we will find Him.
Second: We Pursue Jesus Together
We pursue God in a community. Community is so central to the Jesus movement. From day one, Jesus of Nazareth built a community of followers. This community was so diverse; educated and not well educated; rich and poor; Jews and Gentiles; religious and not very religious; young and old; Roman citizens and non-Romans. The first community of Jesus of Nazareth was so diverse, but they all had one thing in common, they wanted to pursue more of Jesus together.
“Together” is an important concept in the New Testament. It’s God’s plan for us to run the race of faith together; to pursue Jesus together. There is power in togetherness. The Pandemic has challenged our togetherness in a way like no other. I pray for a time when everyone feels safe to be together both in body and spirit.
As the community pursues Jesus together, we all know that we are not perfect. Rather, we are work in progress. Sometimes our togetherness gets messy and sometimes we fail, but God doesn’t define us by our failures. This is the truth. We are not perfect. That truth, however, doesn’t mean we give up, but it means to “set aside the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” Hebrews 12:1-2. We can be easily defeated when we run the race alone, but this is not what Jesus wants for us.
Friends, I charge you this year to pursue more of Jesus. Keep pursuing until your whole life is saturated with God’s presence. We pursue God because, in Christ, we have been pursued by God. May we do it passionately, actively, and intentionally. Do it within the community of Christ’s followers. Do it remembering the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:78-8, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Amen.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.