Tag: advent 4a

Come Away in a Manger for Peace

SermonAdvent 4A, Sunday December 22, 2019St Petri Away in a manger

Isaiah 7:10-16 

When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it. 

 2Now the house of David was told, ‘Aram has allied itself with[a] Ephraim’; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind. 

  5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 ‘Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.’ 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: 

‘“It will not take place, 

    it will not happen, 

8 for the head of Aram is Damascus, 

    and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. 

Within sixty-five years 

    Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. 

9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, 

    and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son. 

If you do not stand firm in your faith, 

    you will not stand at all.”’ 

 10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.’ 

12 But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.’ 

13 Then Isaiah said, ‘Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you[c] a sign: the virgin[d] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[e] will call him Immanuel.[f] 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.  

King Ahaz of Jerusalem was a lot like that Shepherd – a man shaken by life and searching for peace.  

 And like that Shepherd, Ahaz heard that God’s way of finally bringing peace to him and his people, was very different to what he thought would do the trick. It would involve pregnancy and birth, more than weapons and military might.   

God’s peace would be different too. The peace promised by God would not be just safety, security and survival in political terms, but would be peace in the inner person, in full; God’s “highest and complete good for a person and a nation”. That’s quite a peace and quite a promise!   

Ahaz was under the pump as the leader of the southern kingdom, Judah. He is in the capital city, Jerusalem, and the northerners have come to fight. His counterpart in the northern kingdom, Aram, and his offsiders, Ephraim and Pekah, have done a deal, formed an alliance against little Judah and Jerusalem, put their armies together and let their murderous intentions be known; 

6 ‘Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves…. 

Things are not looking good for this House of David. Isaiah tells us that Ahaz and those town dwellers are rattled. They are shaken like ‘wind shakes the trees of the forest’ (Isaiah 7:2).   

I have never been in a community that is about to attacked and certainly defeated by a superior force. I struggle to know that fear. But I do know fear of being attacked physically by another person with mates in support. I do know the fear of being attacked verbally by someone more powerful than I – a very angry person in rage. I know what it is to be in that scary moment of fight, take flight or just freeze. I am pretty sure you might know this fear given that life just brings these things into our path. It is not fun.   

The Lord says to Ahaz, in his moment of shakiness, “Pray to me. Ask me for a sign of hope: any sign, big or small, known or strange”.   

Ahaz says, “No. I will not test you, Lord”. Ahaz seems to believe that asking God for a sign of hope is somehow asking too much or asking with the wrong motive (too selfish) is doing something wrong. He thinks that would make him guilty of putting God to the test. Maybe he is just too proud to ask but won’t admit his need to ask.    

Isaiah disagrees with Ahaz’ refusal to seek a sign of hope that there will be lasting peace. Isaiah says NOT asking the Lord for a sign of hope is testing the Lord! NOT asking him for hope and peace in the shaky situation is asking too much of the Lord. He wants to give you a sign of hope! Not asking is putting his patience to the test! In others’ words, “Pray, ask, seek” when all you want to do is fight, take flight or freeze.   

The Lord loses patience with Ahaz. He just takes over the conversation and the situation for him. Like a learner driver instructor just taking over control of the car when the student can’t make a decision or does not ask for help, the Lord just goes right on ahead and gives a sign of hope right there in the shaky, scary moment.”  

…the virgin[d] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[e] will call him Immanuel.[f] 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste”.  

 Ahaz, in his fear is probably looking for a more immediate solution and a solution that would have more immediate affect – like a thousand super-duper cross bows, some very large fire balls to throw down on the coming attackers, a few thousand crack soldiers; better still, maybe a legion of angels to take up their post around the city walls…..  

Instead he gets a longer term promise that involves a young woman and pregnancy and birth and a special boy who will eventually defeat this attack and these people who are his enemies.   

That is the boy those shepherds met> They met this boy of promise. The young girl became pregnant and gave birth and the boy is the promised Saviour of the city and like the Lord’s promise to Ahaz, the boy and his story and his victory that brings peace has little to do with military might or political power.   

Why so? Because those ways of victory are temporary and usually involve violence and suffering. Those human ways of getting to peace are fleeting and always involve fighting and fear. Those human ways of peace are so very limited. Like a government department trying to fix society’s many ills, it is so very limited. It is only when real people get involved with real people for the long haul that real problem can be dealt with in any fuller sense.   

This little boy is that real person giving himself to real people to give real peace in real shaky situations. He is the Prince of Peace and God’s government of peace rests on his shoulders. He is love beyond fear, hope beyond despair, life beyond death, light in darkness. He is that very special gift of which the Shepherd speaks – Shalom – highest and fullest good for you. He is God cupping your face in his hands and breathing this Shalom into you.  

Whatever is surrounding you, pressing in on you, prodding you to abandon the city of God, the church; whatever or whoever is overpowering you, attacking you, inflicting you with pain and causing you great suffering,; whatever or whoever is threatening to do you bad, can be dealt with the highest and most complete peace this One gives.  

God has held you face in his wounded hands and said to you, “Shalom. My highest good in this lowly shed in the human boy who is your deepest, highest, longest and fullest good”.   

Have you got it? Can you breathe it in? Will you ask?  

Friend, no need to test God’s patience by refusing to or forgetting to ask for a sign of hope. You have reason and every permission to welcome his wounded hands around you. He is your highest and fullest good.   

This child of promise is still the one who says he can and he is ready to lay to waist those things that you dread so that you live on, the city lives on, your family lives on in his deep peace and the joy it brings.   

That is what they brought to this man searching for peace under fire. Those angels brought a joy that the whole world is waiting to breath in.   

Will you breath that joy in and grab your people’s faces in your hand and breath his Shalom; be his shalom for them this Christmas? Will you allow the Spirit to make you a breath of joy in your places this Christmas?   

Without threat or fear or control or a fighting for a win for the argument, will you simple breath the boy’s joy in your family, among your friends. Simply announce it with all the joy in the world and all his peace in your heart?  

The word needs this shalom. You need this peace child. Your family needs that shalom. Your enemies need his shalom. Will you take their faces in your hands and breath the angle’s joy into them in love?  

Let the wind blow. Let joy come. Strengthen feeble hands and steady knocking knees, calls the prophet. Your joy has come. The boy has come. The city has paid her dues in full. Life beyond your suffering is here. You are living in the year of the Lord’s favour.   

Breath on me Breath of God. Fill me with love anew.  

Amen 

God chooses you

Sermon Advent 4: THEME: “Trusting His Choice”     Advent -Christmas Title Pic 2013

Matthew 1:18-25

Video: Joseph

1:18 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.
1:19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
1:20 But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
1:21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
1:22 All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
1:23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
1:25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

 If ever a person had to lay it all on the line for trust in an unseen God it was Joseph. If ever a person had to simply let the “why” question go and just let God continue to choose him for God’s own purposes – which were quite unorthodox, it was Joseph.

I feel for the guy every time I ponder him in these first Christmas events. He really is what we might say on a “hiding to nothing”. His plans for the usual way in which a man and a woman leave there families and be joined together as one in the wonderful gift of marriage are completely upset but God.

He, the town wood working man, and Mary a young woman, are meant to go through the process of family negotiations and procedures and be married in the synagogue, share a week of great joy for all concerned and settle into life in their rural town – making furniture, making babies, making a life – and all being quite faithful to God and his call to fulfil their vocations and stations in life.

Mary gets pregnant! What is God doing?! The plan is rudely interrupted by God. God puts a “spanner in the works”. Instead of right and good family involvement and wedding and joy, there is a descent into shame, hearsay, rumour, judgements, fear, uncertainty, lack of clarity anymore. Everything is turned upside down – and they just have to cope with what God was doing.

Have you experienced this? Have you felt like this? Do you feel like this now? Rudely interrupted by a “spanner in the works” and an interruption to how you thought things would or should go?

How did you cope? How are you responding to this interruption? Fobbing it off as nothing? Wallowing around in self-pity? Living with huge doubts about yourself, your God, your ability, your strength?

Well, now you are with Joseph. This whole interruption to his life was always beyond him and surely quite unknown to him.

Joseph surely must have had trouble sleeping. His head must have been running those why questions over and over in his head like a repeat TV commercial stuck on loop. Why did God choose Joseph? Why did God choose Mary? Why did God choose me and you to be bearers of his good news for a world?

But we hear in these accounts of the first Christmas a man who also knows when to put the “why” question away in order to simply respond to what was happening with simple faith in the God who was making this whole surprising interruption happen.

Why? That’s the question being questioned this Advent. When is right and good to ask God why and when it is unhelpful and doubting to keep asking why God chose you, why this happens or that happens. When is it more helpful and faithful to simple not ask why when we don’t understand God’s ways and just let God do and act and speak by his Word and “keep it in our hearts” as Mary is said to have done?

After I feel for Joseph and his situation caused by a Divine interruption, I admire the man and I marvel at God’s grand plan that is very good for Joseph and for you and me.

As Mary said last week, “Joseph could have turned me out of the town or even had me stoned”. But Joseph did not do this. Joseph went with God’s plans and this very uncomfortable divine interruption to his life.

 God asks him to do this. In this dream we heard of, God says,

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

 “Joseph, son of David”.

Now there is a title Joseph might not have expected. “Son of David” King David. Joseph – named in the great line of the great King – the “man after God’s own heart”.

What an affirmation and story. Joseph’s story just got bigger and grander. In this naming of Joseph, the Lord places Joseph in the big story of all those promises that Joseph would have heard read aloud down at the Nazareth synagogue all his life.

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

Joseph is part of that plan.

That grand vision of God’s breaking into this troubled world and changing the very nature of how he relates to sinners – Now not by sinners trying to be perfect in morals and being good or simply avoiding all of that and doing their own things the way they please but in the new way of God’s grace; the third way, the way of God graciously gifting us with his forgiveness and kindness when we can’t earn it or ignore it anymore – simply saying “Yes” and going with God’s wonderful vision for living.

Joseph fell into the third way – the grace way, the gospel way. He heard this news and he stopped asking why and just said, “yes”. Will you?

There is a time to stop asking why and just let God be God and trust him for the outcome of the situation and your future as a result. Joseph, Shepherds, Mary, Elizabeth and millions of people since have known that God chooses people to enact his good plans for rescuing the world; by the words and deeds everyday people, scared people, interrupted people, unsure people.  God chooses people to be part of extraordinary things he is doing for the good of all.

Inconvenient?

His choosing can be very inconvenient and even personally costly. Joseph and Mary had to deal with being shamed in their community – misjudged, thought unwell of. His choosing of you may sometimes mean the same.

His choosing of you to enact something, teach something to someone, share something with someone, enter into a particular commitment or service for the sake of others or bear your illness, your doubting, your sorrow may be his calling, as it was for Mary and Joseph and their families.

But worth it

But fiends, would Mary and Joseph rather have not been included in this grand vision and this magnificent story of good news? Would we rather go the easier route and rely on other people and/or things to deal with what is interrupting your life than be chosen to be in this good news story that is still interrupting the world, calling it to account and sounding out the cry of God’s goodness and kindness like Jesus crying in that feeding trough?

Chosen person of the Lord, no need to be afraid of what is happening in your life or even what may happen in the future. There is a broader activity and story being written with your life as part of the story today and tomorrow. You are a page in this great active story of life. You are a witness as John was witness to the Saviour. As John pointed to Jesus, so you do too as you hear God calling and respond to his call on a daily basis in all your work, your rest, your play.

Just say, “Yes”.

Joseph found himself caught up in something big. He did not know how big. What is God catching you up in? What is God empowering and calling you to participate in as he continues the word of this Christ-Child in drawing the world to himself by forgiveness and sheer love?

 Will you let the why go for Advent and Christmas and just do a Joseph – just say “yes”?

 CONVERSATION STARTERS

Share your high and lows for your Christmas plans and preparations this year…

Read through the text carefully with particular focus on Joseph and his actions and what the Lord says to him. Share your thoughts on;

What did Joseph have to deal with?

What did he decide to do?

What did God call him to do?

What would God’s calling have have meant for Joseph in his community, in his relationship with Mary and his relationship with the Lord?

We spoke of Joseph having to put the many “why” questions about all this away and his response of simply saying “yes’ to the Lord’s plans for him. Share any experiences that you or others may have had like this where you had to stop asking why and simply say “yes” to the Lord in a a particular circumstance. Share what this was and what this is like.

I reflected briefly on how God’s named Joseph when he spoke to him. he named him “Joseph, Son of David”. That says a lot. That puts Joseph in the family line of king David and in the line from which the Messiah was going to come. it is important for this truth to be told for the credentials of Jesus and the integrity of what happened at his birth. However this name also surely acts as a strong affirmation of Joseph by the Lord. Share your thoughts on how the Lord chooses the hard moments in our life’s calling to strongly affirm us as his dearly loved men and women. When have you ever had a strong sense of God’s affirmation of you as his loved person? Share any stories on this…

If God was to name you, what name do you think he would use? Joseph was named “Son of David”. What might he name us Christians?

Joseph was part of an extremely BIG plan of God for the whole world. he must have found this rather hard to understand and believe. His family and friends must have also found this hard to believe. Do we find it hard to believe we are part of God’s BIG plan for his world still? What hinders our belief in God’s big plans to draw all people into Christ and what does these Christmas events say to us about our belief in what God is doing in our lives and for his world? Share your thoughts…..

PRAY:

Let us all with gladsome voice
praise the God of heaven
Who, to bid our hearts rejoice
his own Son has given. 
O Lord Christ, our Saviour dear
please ever be near us
grant us now a glad new year
Amen. Jesus hear us.