Monthly Archives: December 2013
Gospel Reading: St. Mark 10: 42 — 45; Preacher: Bill Davey
How are we to respond to the Incarnate One?
We know the Lord can change New Zealand ― if we each play our part!
We are, however, needed to help re-kindle the faith in the Christ of the Gospels. We have a clear exhortation about our service among His people:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to givehis life as a ransom for many.”
We will briefly review of some recent Advent Scriptures ― followed by a review of our Gospel reading this morning.
Every year we begin a great journey ― the story about God among His people: Meaning all humankind ― including you, me, indeed everyone is invited.
Advent (I) ― God’s Plan ― Journey’s End
Advent (I) began with a great thought ― our final focus on journey’s end:
Matthew 24: 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Our Christian story runs from Genesis (The Creation) to Revelation and ends with the Return of Christ to the earth.
Revelation 22: 20 reads: He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come Lord Jesus. The Return of Christ at the end of the age is our ultimate target throughout life.
― sometimes called the Second Coming or
― the culmination or consummation of all things.
Be watching ― Be praying ― Beware of false teachers ― Beware of idolatry
Advent (II) ― God’s Plan ― A great starting point
Advent (II) followed with the first baptisms ― a great start point ― Baptism.
Matthew 3: 11 – “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Advent (III) God’s Plan ― A New Way of living
Advent (III) Jesus demonstrated a new way of living and then He presented a eulogy to John the Baptist, with a paradox we find hard to understand.
Advent (IV) ― God’s Plan ― The Birth of Jesus
Advent (IV) The Joseph and Mary story.
Five days ago we celebrated the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, who became our Messiah, Redeemer and Saviour on the Cross at Calvary. Most of us have known this Christmas story ― about the Incarnation ― (“How God became man and came to live among us”) from our childhood. It has always been the cornerstone of our Christian culture and heritage.
Question: Is it still true ― for the children, and children’s children in New Zealand today?
During the family service we spoke of the ministry of John the Baptist. Our minister, Robin, recalled the words of Jesus to the people ― they are part of the eulogy to John the Baptist:
Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: `I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
I want to focus on the final words of the eulogy in verse 11: I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
What do we make of the paradox in verse 11? I tell you the truth: I tell you the truth also translates as “Verily, verilly, I say unto you. I suggest that we do well to highlight or underline all such sentences and ponder them ― They are always the kernel of a significant truth.
Now the paradox declares:
Among those born of women. Nobody “greater than John the Baptist” has been born. We continue: there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. What is this greater-ness of which He spoke? I understand the Lord was saying, ′that He was demonstrating His leadership and authority ― not with military muscle or through conquest, but by being a servant of servants, and as a slave of the slaves′.
If you remain unsure of the meaning of the paradox, please do what the Baptist told his disciples to do, Go ask him yourself: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Can you recall the response of Jesus? “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
Please note how giving the good news to the poor is valued by the Lord ― It is the equal of healing or raising the dead. Surely we can all tell someone about the goodness of the Lord to us?
Now what is our Church response and direction going to be in 2014?
Returning to our Gospel Reading
Our Lord gave a very clear exhortation about humble service among His followers:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” St. Mark 10: 42 — 45 Our Lord gave a very clear exhortation about humble service among His followers: Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
How will we respond the exhortation of Jesus?
Here are seven possible priorities for our consideration for 2014?
1. Hospitality: Highlighting the dignity of being members of the Household of God.
2. Caring: Helping any person in need, especially those experiencing misfortune or suffering from some disability.
3. Reconciliation: Seeking the recovery and restoration of those who have been separated in any way from God.
4. Worship: Guiding private and public worship. ― Time with God in prayer and study.
5. Formation: Fostering the spiritual life of each member of our Fellowship and all who wish to be associated in any way.
6. Education: Providing appropriate learning experiences ranging from simple guided learning to advanced leadership training and studies.
7. Evangelisation: Pursuing opportunities to communicate the living vitality of our Lord Jesus with all in need of His love and care.
Our Lord’s new and living way is our example!
Are we willing to be a servant of servants and a slave of fellow slaves?
What will we consider the priority ministries in our own life this year?
Some thoughts as we finish:
Recall, the Lord can change New Zealand ― if we each play our part!
and we are all needed to help re-kindle the faith in the Christ of the Gospels.
It will work best ― when we gather one person at a time. Amen!
Closing Prayer: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance toward you and give you peace!
Titus 2:11-14 and Luke 2:1-14
So how much room is there in your home and heart for Jesus?
Let’s watch this video!
The kids play is pretty direct – especially the people shutting their doors on Jesus! No room in the inn – the doors kept shutting.
But there was a plan!
GOD”S PLAN seldom lines up with ours. We sometimes think that our spiritual lives have no connection with the ordinary things and the people around us in the world – with our political systems – our finances – our social lives – the complications of our society today.
It may seem to some that Christians hide away in church from all of this. The point is – it is all God’s! God’s world and God’s people.
Paul writes to Titus and reminds him of this universal and international intention of God: 11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
While we recognise that Mary and Joseph were uniquely open to God – other people who probably weren’t that open are also used by him:
- Caesar Augustus for one – issued a census that meant Mary and Joseph would be in the right place for Jesus to be born – Bethlehem.
- The innkeeper – who did not recognise the significance of who these three were – yet made a plan out of compassion – and set the tone for Jesus’ life amongst ordinary people and creatures of the earth.
- The shepherds – not your average literate bible-knowing church goers of the day. God gets their attention Why? Because he uses humble ordinary people for his purposes. The first visitors model for us the simple obedience that should be ours. More about that tomorrow!
The innkeeper – the man who made a plan – who could have been a kiwi with a “she’ll be right” attitude – organised a place where God affirms the simple things of creation and the humility of this new King. An upside down Kingdom indeed.
Are you prepared to go to any lengths to let Jesus in? Are you really wanting him in your life – in every part of it? There is a danger that we leave Jesus outside of those places that we regard as not very spiritual.
Well he made that stable a palace. And he can make your workshop, your garage, your office, your street – a place where his presence is known. And especially our homes. What a comfort to those who live alone – through choice, circumstance, bereavement or poverty. We can have this Son of God right there with us. Psalm 68:6 is such an encouragement – “God sets the lonely in families”. The church can become such an extended family.
There needs to be room for Him in our inns of every shape, size and description.
Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
So you’re engaged – and the engagement ends. Do you get to keep the ring?
Depends – I think – on who breaks the engagement. If it’s the guy – then she keeps it. If it’s the girl – she gives the ring back.
Well that was the law I studied when becoming a marriage counsellor.
What do you make of Joseph and Mary’s muddle?
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. (NRSV)
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (NIV – one of them anyway)
What was the nature of their arrangement? It seems that the English words don’t capture their status. Were they engaged or married? Was does it mean to be “pledged to be married”.
It was more like a two stage wedding. The first was a contract arranged by the parents – a betrothal- a marriage contract in fact which could only be broken by divorce. The second step happened about a year later when the groom actually took the bride home as his wife – that’s when the feast took place. These two phases have specific Hebrew names which I won’t bore you with. The point is it was different from our set up today. We have other issues – partners galore, common law arrangements- and now legally you can marry anyone. Within a week of the new law on marriage here in NZ there were campaigns for polygamy. The boundaries will get pushed again and again.
Last week we reflected on Mary – her soul and spirit response to God in the face of the predicament she finds herself in.
Today we look at Joseph. He was in a corner – a proverbial tight spot. They were in-between the two phases of marriage – a time when they were not living together and certainly not sleeping together. In the literal sense of the Hebrew language he did not “know” her. Remember the passage in Genesis?
Genesis 4:1 says: Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain…
Hebrew is quiet a concrete language. The latest NIV generously translates the passage like this:
Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain…
I digress of course. The point is – there was clearly none of this intimate “knowledge” between these two. (I hope from now on you will not walk around saying that you know people. Could be misunderstood by those who remember anything of this today!)
So here’s this man in a place of panic mixed with distrust of this girl. If it wasn’t him, then who on earth was it?
Well there’s the solution. No one on earth.
There are debates in theological circles about the word “virgin” and whether in the New Testament the word translated simply means “young girl”.
The bible text is quite direct here. Listen again to the NIV version in the pew:
Mat 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
Mat 1:20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. There it is.
I love the response of this righteous man. He did not want to expose her to public disgrace – because this would be a breaking of the serious code of marriage really! It implies adultery – forbidden by one of the big ten. (Can you remember which one? Between ‘don’t murder” and “don’t steal” is the 7th commandment – ‘don’t commit adultery”.)
But Joseph gets a text – an email – a facebook message? Nope – just a dream – an angel appearing saying to him:
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
And of course it gets better:
Mat 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew reminds his listeners about the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 which we also heard today. Makes sense – Matthew’s gospel was written for a Jewish readership or audience.
I love Joseph’s openness to being led by God.
We need more Josephs today – open to the Lord’s leading.
And his obedience is fairly efficient:
Mat 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
Mat 1:25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
We need to pray for the men of this nation – and this community too – that they hear God speak into their lives.
I’m sure that Jesus was like Joseph – just like he sounds like Mary in the beautitudes.
Men of God. Listen to His voice.
Readings: Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 1:46-55; Matthew 11:2-11
The readings today are interesting. The one recording the words of Mary in the “Magnificat” (which is Latin for “it glorifies” – i.e. my soul) is an alternate reading to the Psalm for the day. (“magnificat anima mea Dominum”)
All of them refer to JOY – our key word symbolised by the one candle in the circle that is PINK!
The joy of the redeemed entering ZION singing! Isaiah says: everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away
Jesus tells John some good news about what is happening – hopefully that brought him JOY in prison: , ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor…
There are good reasons here for people to be joyful. To rejoice. To be full of joy.
The danger at Christmas is that we miss the boat – that we get excited about the wrong things.
Of course getting what you wish for does bring joy!
Have a look at this clip to see the looks on peoples’ faces when they get what they want for Christmas:
Won’t you watch this WESTJET VIDEO
Gifts bring joy! I think it’s a great story!
The REAL deal is the REAL gift of Jesus!
It’s worth singing about. Mary’s song of praise was about the joy that comes from a relationship with God.
Look carefully at the words of Luke 1:
46 And Mary said:
‘My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
The focus – before the gift of Jesus – is on the Lord. Her SOUL (the very depths of her being) glorifies the Lord (even though she is facing the challenge of her life – potential ridicule and shame and dishonour – she worships! She glorifies the Lord.
And in the next verse her SPIRIT – that aspect which makes her alive to God – rejoices in God my saviour!
There is a depth of connection between this young 14 year old girl – clearly BEFORE she encounters angels and pregnancy.
God has his hand upon young children early on – you can see it! The world conspires to knock faith out of them – it needs to be nurtured so that they can have lives set apart for God.
I knew it early on. I can’t explain it – it didn’t come from my family – it came from the Holy Spirit.
I was prayed for at the last healing service of the Presbytery – it was on a Thursday night. God’s affirmation is amazing! I too am rejoicing in God my saviour! I have a freedom to say to you – like Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 in that amazing and significant discussion on Marriage – “and I think that I too have the Spirit of God” – when people pull in the wrong direction or create strife. Or as he did when in discussion with the Philippians about being totally committed to Jesus and pressing on towards the goal of maturity – and of counting everything else as rubbish in comparison to the one thing of knowing Jesus – says: Php 3:15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
To get back to today’s reading – Mary would have been close to God before she was selected.
But there is another angle that is in the texts.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
She declares – prophecies – that the humble and hungry are blessed by God.
Jesus – in the Gospel reading about John being in jail and sending a message to Jesus –‘are you the one?” – poor John having doubts in jail – who wouldn’t – gets this report:
the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
This is such a great story – it is good news! It’s worth singing about.
We don’t have a fancy choir to sing about it this year. SO I thought we could enjoy other people’s creativity:
Listen to the Bohemian Rhapsody Christmas musical extravaganza:
PLAY VIDEO – this a great story worth singing about!
What was your favourite line? Mine was this one:
“I’m just a shepherd, nobody loves me,
he’s just a shepherd from a poor family!”
For the most part of the world – people don’t get what they wish for at Christmas.
- The poor (have you given to CWS sacrificially?)
- Those in war zones (refugees like Jesus who escaped to Egypt)
- Those in jail
- The oppressed
- You can extend the list
We end with the prophecy of Isaiah – which sings out about the joy of the Lord! We use to sing” Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads!” It goes like this:
But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
So who is this Jesus?
Let’s clear the matter up today!
1. Descendent of Jesse
The root of Jesse is a fascinating image. I asked a friend in America to sketch it for me – that picture from Isaiah 11:1. This is what she came up with: (Credit – she used the ornament from a book called “The greatest gift” by Ann Voskamp).
Jesse – was the father of David and his brothers, whom the prophet Samuel came to – to choose a King for Israel. You may remember the day – all the sons of Jessie were paraded before the prophet – but the real King was off the page. David was not even there – almost forgotten, or ignored. He was looking after sheep.
The descendant of Jesse – David – the youngest brother missed in the selection process – became this great King – enigmatic, vulnerable, tempted, courageous and brave. A man after God’s own heart.
Listen again: Isa 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2. A Son of David filled with and directed by the Spirit
Isaiah goes on: Isaiah 11:2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—
Jesus was exactly that – this amazing man who was God – and became a vulnerable man tempted in every way life David and like us, except without sin – this Jesus was empowered by the Spirit of God from His baptism. (Matthew 4:1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.)
As should we. We can’t be like him or bring in His Kingdom that we are told to seek – without the Spirit’s power!
In fact Matthew in chapter 12 gives us this amazing account, which we sometimes forget:
Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.
All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.
If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?
And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.
But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (22-28)
It was by the Spirit of God that this Son of David took on the powers of darkness – withstood the devil’s temptations in the wilderness – and fulfilled His mission.
3. This Son of Jesse and Son of David is the Son of God who lives out of that relationship
Isa 11:3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; Isa 11:4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Isa 11:5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist…
There is a familiar feel about this too. This Jesus (son of Jessie, son of David, led by the spirit) manifests the qualities that we associate with God – righteousness and justice, and judgment). And He has an ear towards heaven.
Remember Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel:
Joh 5:30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
Joh_8:16 But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.
And especially this passage: Joh 12:48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. Joh 12:49 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.
And this: Joh 14:10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Joh 14:11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
4. The root of Jesse, the Son of David filled and directed by the Spirit, The Son of God living out of a relationship with the Father, brings peace.
Isaiah goes on to prophecy: Isa 11:5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. Isa 11:6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. Isa 11:7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. Isa 11:8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
If hope does not galvanise you – then perhaps peace will:
One writer (Pastor Vince Gerhardy) put it well in these words: The lamb is normally lunch for the lion. Likewise, the goat is a snack for the leopard. Animals that don’t normally get on – eat together and rest side by side in peace. And what is more “a child will lead them”. Animals that we would hardly describe as suitable pets for a child – wolves, leopards, lions and snakes are play mates for a little child.
This vision of peace is remarkable.
It’s the impossible. I have to say that having heard of the death of President Nelson Mandela on Friday morning – I began to think about what was clearly the impossible in the country of my birth – the possibility of people sitting together and not killing each other was remote – a dream – peace which like faith was the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen.
South Africans have begun ten days of mourning – and so they should. Mandela will always be an icon of reconciliation and peace. And he’s just a man!
Jesus – on the other hand – is THE prince of Peace!
This prophetic vision is summed up in the most beautiful poetic line: Isa 11:9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
Like the hope we shared about last week being vested in and found in Zion – out of which came His powerful word – reminding us that our relationship with God is the source of all we need – that worship is at the heart of all we are – here Isaiah points to the holy mountain of God.
And then this line: for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
And finally: Isa 11:10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.
Paul picks up on this in his letter to the Romans, in the context of the need for a spirit of unity and mutual acceptance in the church and a discussion of the Gentiles: Rom 15:12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.” The ”nations” In Isaiah 11:10 are the GOYIM – the unbelieving non-Jews or Gentiles.
5. This root of Jesse, Son of David, Son of God empowered by the Spirit – who brings peace in impossible situations – unites all God’s people under a banner – a common name and heritage – followers of Jesus!
This is what this season is about – Advent is about preparing for this most amazing arrival!
Handing out invites to the Christmas services yesterday was an interesting thing. The invitation had the services of four churches listed – a great sign of unity. But looking into the faces of those receiving the invites – this city of ours with every nation right here – Jesus will stand as a banner for all peoples – he did already!
On the cross! He said: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32 LOOK AT THE IMAGE AGAIN:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10-11).
They choose to now. In time they most certainly will bow before him.
(The Word Isaiah saw – and hope today)
Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matt 24:36-44
Isa 2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: Isa 2:2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Isa 2:3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isa 2:4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isa 2:5 Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Rom 13:11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Rom 13:12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Rom 13:13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rom 13:14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Mat 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Mat 24:37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; Mat 24:39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Mat 24:43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.
Mat 24:43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.
We’ve been burgled twice in my life – that we know about. Who knows what else has walked out of our house over the years. During times when we’ve opened our home to waifs and strays – sadly other things have walked too. That has not changed our commitment to care.
When we were first married – 30 years ago next year – thieves got in to our place while we slept – and came into our bedroom and removed things. Thankfully we slept. In Wellington people got into the house in the middle of the day – and carried quantities of things out. No one questioned them somehow – or even noticed. The funny thing was that we didn’t notice either when we got home – we’d been sitting the lounge room for a while and then our children came in – and wanted to know where the TV was.
The unexpected is exactly that. SURPRISE! And even if you plan a surprise party – someone lets the cat out of the bag. If you’re lucky – the person will not pick up on the signs. Hindsight though is a wonderful gift. You realise afterwards why people were behaving differently.
Advent is about waiting – about being prepared – it is a future looking time. It’s not a time of repentance like Lent. Lent is like spring cleaning – spiritually speaking.
Advent is about openness and anticipation.
And this week we focus on hope.
And we turn to the passage from Isaiah to get a sense of how powerful hope is.
Here it is again: Isa 2:4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
What is even more powerful is how this prophecy is introduced: Isa 2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: (NIV)
The NIV short changes us here. Listen to the more literal New Revised Standard Version: Isa 2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. (NRSV)
How do you “see” a word? There was no text message or twitter option – we can see words today more readily. In fact some people exist in a word of written conversation – and don’t actually know what a telephone is for. You have to remind kids that they can phone people for free!
Lots of images are visual words. The doves you have today. The Christmas tree that we will hang them on. The anticipation portrayed in the wrapping paper that hides our Christmas presents.
So too body language – it speaks.
But Isaiah sees a word. There is a visionary sense here. This is Isaiah 2.
When you read chapter one – it’s not a pretty picture. It begins like this: Isa 1:2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. Isa 1:3 The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Isa 1:4 Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.
Bribery, violence, unfaithfulness, wretchedness, terrible treatment of the poor. And the prophet says this: Isa 1:15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; Isa 1:16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, Isa 1:17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
There are glimpses of redemption though. The very next verse says this: Isa 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
But then you read these words: Isa 1:21 See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her— but now murderers! Isa 1:22 Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. Isa 1:23 Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. Isa 1:24 Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies.
It’s much like today – people far from God – violence and rebellion.
But he says a new word: Isa 2:4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
But who will believe this:
This word he sees – is on the wall to be seen today. Can you tell me where this is?
Who can believe that? Isaiah’s words are carved into the wall across from the United Nations building. Who believes these words across the street in the General Assembly as they debate sanctions against Iran, as they wring their hands over 100,000 killed in Syria, and chastise the United States for inhumane treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo? (Barbara Lundblad – commentary on Isaiah 2:1-15)
That’s the thing about hope. It’s not obvious – but you can still see it. In the Christian scriptures Hebrews put it like this when speaking of faith: Heb 11:1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)
(NIV84) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
(NLT) Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
- Hope today – is symbolised by the lighting of the first Advent candle.
- It is a dream we have – that can become a reality
- It can change how we cope with huge challenges and struggles – the knowledge that we too can see a Word – the Word Jesus coming into the world as a baby to bring hope
- Hope galvanises us and strengthens us in the face of death itself. After all that is our scariest certainty – I was reminded of that again this week when we went to Rosedale. There were fewer in the hospital section than last month. Some were out, but the helper said to me: “we’ve lost a few since you were last here”. Makes going there even more significant really.
People in war torn Syria, and in every other conflict zone – have a greater need to see a word of hope.
Walter Brueggeman makes the connection: in Texts for Preaching: The vision of Isaiah is “an act of imagination that looks beyond present dismay through the eyes of God, to see what will be that is not yet. That is the function of promise (and therefore of Advent) in the life of faith. Under promise, in Advent, faith sees what will be that is not yet.” (A lectionary commentary based on the NRSV – Year A.)
So if this about hope – then where is the solution? Do we just hang in there until Jesus comes and sorts it all out?
No – our very life is found in the one who gives hope.
Even for Isaiah – 8 centuries before Jesus (and like Micah) they knew the source:
Isa 2:2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Isa 2:3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Life comes from where God is – in their case it would be Zion. For us it is Christ – we turn to Him who is the living Word of God – light of the world – Good shepherd – bread of life – giving living water.
Isaiah says in verse 3:
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
We have Jesus the Word of God – we have the Word of God in the Scriptures – He speaks through them to us.
We too are to walk in his paths. Living and walking are the same – remember the first Christians were called people of “The Way”.
While we wait – always ready in case like a thief in the night it all happens – we have a life to walk! Note that we don’t sit around. Listen to these New Testament verses:
Rom_6:4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
2Co_5:7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.
2Jn_1:6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning–you must walk in it.
And my favourite (from last week): 1Jn_1:7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
And hope is part of our walk. The most famous passage and one of my favourites is this one:
Rom 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom 5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Rom 5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
The future hope as come to us already in Christ, and through His indwelling Holy Spirit. For this reason Peter writes these important words on our being “good news” or evangelists today: But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give and answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for for the hope that you have! (1 Peter 3:15)
And of course Paul, talking of the mystery of the Gospel which he passionately lived for and eventually died for says this: “… the glorious riches of this mystery: Christ in you the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)
May we be living words – living letters, to use Paul’s term – words that people can see – as they see the living Word Christ in us – and as we extend His presence and hope in our world.
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