Tag: advent sermon

Advent sermon: How God Came To Be With Us

My sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Advent is coming later today.  But, here’s a sermon I preached last year, How God Came to Be With Us.   This sermon features the fictional character Itzak, who tells the story of his friend Joseph and how God came to be with them.  A pastor in Ontario presented it in costume recently and reported good responses from his congregation.

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent: ‘How God Came To Be With Us’

How God Came To Be With Us

Matthew 1:18-25 NRSV

My name is Itzak. You would call me Isaac. Oh, no, not that Isaac, blessed be his name and his father Abraham. No, I’m just Isaac — a friend of Joseph, the carpenter. You know Joseph, don’t you? Joseph is often forgotten at this time of year. Not that he would mind, for he was a very humble man himself. But with all the talk now about Jesus, his son, and Mary, his wife, well, Joseph gets overlooked. But I was his friend, and I want to tell you a little about him and the wonderful thing that happened to him, and to Mary, and really to us all.

Continue reading “Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent: ‘How God Came To Be With Us’”

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent

I just posted my sermon, How God Came To Be With Us, from Matthew 1:18-25, for the fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2007. 

‘A Highway for God’s People’ podcast

A Highway for God’s People podcast, Isaiah 35:1-10.  I preached this sermon on the third Sunday in Advent, December 16, 2007. 

A Highway for God’s People

A Highway for God’s People

Isaiah 35:1-10 NRSV

35:1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus

35:2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.

35:3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

35:4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”

35:5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

35:6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;

35:7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

35:8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

35:9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

An American Story of Exile

In Pasadena, California, in 1905, several churches in the area began to minister to recent Japanese immigrants. The churches established housing and a night school, as well as spiritual guidance, to help these newcomers to America adjust to their new surroundings. By 1913, 23 people chartered the Pasadena Union Church. By the 1930s, over 200 people were attending. The future of the church looked bright for these newly arrived Americans and their growing families.

These Japanese immigrants, arriving on the shores of the west coast of the United States, came with few possessions, and fewer skills. But they learned quickly, adapted to American life, and became successful business owners within a few years. Children were born to these families, and because they were born on US soil, were themselves citizens of the United States of America. The American dream of freedom of religion, prosperity, and self-determination seemed to become a reality to these transplanted Japanese families.

But, on a Sunday morning in December of 1941, all that was to change. When the imperial nation of Japan staged a surprise attack on the home of the United States Pacific fleet at anchor at Pearl Harbor, Haiwaii, the lives of all Japanese-Americans would be forever altered.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 9066, which stated in part —

NOW, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such actions necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commanders may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with such respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. — Executive Order No. 9066, FDR

With that order, large areas of the United States were declared off-limits to Japanese-Americans. The forceable removal of Japanese-Americans began in what would become a dark chapter in American history. Fear and politics won out over commonsense and compassion, and Japanese-Americans were rounded up and shipped to internment camps for the duration of World War II.

The churches in Pasadena rallied to the support of their Japanese Christian friends at the Pasadena Union Church, but to no avail. Long-term residents, many natural-born US citizens were detained and relocated to internment camps. These Japanese-Americans were removed from the homes they owned, and from their church they loved. With only enough time to lock the doors, and carry a bag or bundle of personal belongings, they were forced to leave behind all they had worked for, and all their families before them had worked for over 35-years. Few expected to see their homes or their possessions again. And the land that they hoped would provide freedom became instead a place of exile.

Judah in Isaiah’s Time

In the passage we have read this morning, Isaiah is preaching to the nation of Judah, a nation that has made a bad alliance with the Assyrian king against their own kinsmen, Israel. Isaiah is preaching to a nation that has turned from following God to following the gods of foreigners, if any god at all. Mostly, they are a nation who has forgotten who they are, who has forgotten the story of God in their midst.

But this passage from Isaiah 35 sounds hopeful —

  • v1 — The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and bloom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly;
  • v2 — the glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord and the majesty of our God.
  • v4 — Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.’
  • v5 — Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water..

So, this doesn’t sound so bad. As a matter of fact, it sounds absolutely wonderful. Can you imagine the desert blooming like a crocus? Or desert sand becoming pools of water? Or blind seeing, deaf hearing, the speechless speaking, and the lame leaping like a deer? It was a wonderful vision of what God’s people could experience.

But, Isaiah 35 — this glorious vision of God in the midst of his people, of creation as God intended it — this chapter comes after Isaiah has some other things to say. And they aren’t pleasant or promising.

In Isaiah 13, Isaiah proclaims an oracle against Babylon, the nation that would eventually take Judah into captivity —

v19-20a — And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them. It will never be inhabited or lived in for generations.

  • In Isaiah 15, there is a oracle against Moab.
  • In Isaiah 17, an oracle against Damascus.
  • In Isaiah 18, an oracle against Ethiopia.
  • In Isaiah 19, an oracle against Egypt.
  • In Isaiah 21, more oracles against Babylon, Edom and Arabia.
  • In Isaiah 22, a warning of the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • In Isaiah 23, an oracle against Tyre.
  • In Isaiah 24, impending judgement on the whole earth.
  • In Isaiah 28, God’s judgment on corrupt rulers, priests, and prophets.
  • In Isaiah 29, the future seige of Jerusalem foretold.
  • In Isaiah 30, the futility of an alliance with Egypt and judgement on Assyria.
  • In Isaiah 34, judgment on all the nations, with these words…

    For the Lord is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all the hordes; he has doomed them, has given them over for slaughter. Isaiah 34:2

The Exile Comes

And, then comes Isaiah 35, this glorious vision of what creation and the nation of Judah will be like once all this is over. But, sadly, no one listens to Isaiah. And so less than a hundred years later, the Babylonians will overrun Jerusalem, sack the Temple of God, level it to the ground, and take captive thousands of Jews, leaving only the poorest in Jerusalem amid the rubble.

These defeated, captive people are herded like cattle 700-miles across the desert to live the rest of their lives in exile. Along the way, hundreds die. But worse than the death and long march into captivity is the humiliation. The shame. The loss of life as they knew it. The loss of who they were as the people of God.

Like the Cherokee nation of the southeastern United States, the nation of Judah was forcefully relocated along their own “trail of tears” into a land of exile. A land in which they were strangers and aliens. A land in which they mourned,

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.

2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,

3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land? — Psalm 137:1-4 NIV

Eugene Peterson says that when the Jews arrived in Babylon, the contrast between their failed religion and the conquering religion of the Babylonians was stark. Peterson says of the Jews —

“They had left behind a city in rubble, a temple in ruins…. They were now living in cities that made Jerusalem look like the country town it was. Wealth and temples now marked the skyline, far surpassing anything of Solomon’s that the Queen of Sheba had marveled at…Just what place was there in it for Yahweh, the erstwhile protector of a ravaged petty state whose ruined temple gaped to the sky on a mountain in Judah?”

Back to Pasadena

Remember our Japanese friends in Pasadena, California? Well, let’s check in on them, again. When Mark Branson and his family joined Pasadena Union Church, which had now become the First Presbyterian Church in Altadena, in the fall of 2000, he found a church that was not flourishing. The church had declined from a high attendance of 600 in the 1960s, to less than 100. Leaders were confused and frustrated. Young families had left the church because larger churches provided more programs for their children. Children of long-standing members were no longer active in the church, even though they still lived in the community. And the community itself was changing. No longer a predominantly Japanese community, other ethnic groups had moved in and this conservative, Japanese Presbyterian church with members who averaged 70-years old did not understand how to reach them, and weren’t sure they wanted to.

Mark began asking questions. Questions about the history of the church. Not the history of dates and buildings, but the history of the people now known as the First Presbyterian Church of Altadena. Mark learned several things, among them —

  • The story of how the California highway department condemned and took the church’s property in the early 1960s for a new highway. Because the church had become a gathering place for the entire Japanese-American community, non-members responded to the church’s need to find new property. Within 10-days they raised $220,000 — quite a sum in the early ’60s. With that money, they bought new property and moved to their present location in Altadena.
  • The story of how their parents, the original founders of the church, used to meet for prayer meetings that lasted hours. Now hardly anyone talked about their faith, even at church.
  • The story of the fall festival, started as a way to unite the community, but which in later years had languished and grown stale. “Not enough people to help,” was the reason given by members.

But in the asking of questions, and listening to the responses, something else was happening. Mark tells the story of how his teenage son would go with him to one of the elder’s homes to talk. This elder, named Jim, was dying of cancer. Mark said Jim would lie on the couch, and tell stories about the congregation in the years long past. Stories that would be lost if there was no one to hear them and pass them on. Stories of how immigrant Japanese who spoke no English, became a community of successful business owners, and contributors to the society that had welcomed them at the turn of the century in 1905.

One day, Jim asked Mark’s son, “Why do you come to hear an old, dying man?” To which, Mark’s son replied, “Because I like your stories.”

The Stories of God

And so in exile, in Babylon, the people began to tell the stories they liked, too. The old stories of God creating the world. The old stories of God calling Abraham. The old stories of God delivering his people from slavery in Egypt. And they reminded themselves of the words of the prophet Isaiah —

A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.35:9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

A highway. A highway back to Zion. A highway back to Zion where they would go singing, joyful to be returning home. With joy, not ashes, upon their heads. With sorrow and sighing gone and forgotten. And so, after they mourn by saying,

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,

3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?

They go on to say —

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill .

6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

They remember their stories.

And that is why we have advent.

So we can tell again the story of the coming of the Christ, the saviour of the world. The Messiah, the hope of the people of God. For the stories of God’s creation are always coupled with the stories of God’s salvation. The stories of God’s judgment are always followed by the stories of God’s mercy. The stories of need and want are always answered by the stories of God’s provision.

We are today’s people of God and the stories we tell are not of long ago, but are of today. Of now. Of God present with us, Immanuel all over again. They are stories of God’s presence in the past, of God’s presence in the future, of God’s presence with us now.

There is a highway for God’s people, a way back to all that we have forgotten. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Now some have a problem with that statement because they don’t believe that Jesus is the only way. Well, he is. He said so himself, and if we believe the other things Jesus said, we have to believe this, too. But, what does Isaiah say about this highway,

no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

Now that’s the kind of highway I need. One that I can’t get lost on. One that takes me to my destination. One that brings me back to the promised land. A highway for God’s people.

The People of God Find a New Future 

And what happened to the Japanese-American members of the First Presbyterian Church, when they were taken away into the internment camps, forced to leave their homes and church behind?

The other churches in the community came together. They protected the homes and the church building that belonged to the Japanese-American Christians. They watched out for the material possessions of their brothers and sisters in Christ. And when the war was over, and the Japanese-americans returned home, they found their houses and their church building safe, preserved by friends and neighbors.

And what about the church today? Through a series of conversations, and remembering and retelling their stories, the church has regained it’s identity as a people of God. They even developed what social scientists call “provocative proposals” of the future they saw for the church. Not things they ‘hoped’ to do, or would ‘try’ to do, but their vision of what the future will look like. A new future, a future as the people of God once again. A future where they envision the desert blooming like a rose, the sand becoming pools of water, the blind seeing, the lame walking, the deaf hearing, and the speechless singing. A future that can only be brought about by God. But they, the people of God, participate with God in creating it.

So far they have reinstituted the fall festival with help from the community. They spread the word of their found hope, their new vision for the future. The buzz in the community has grown, as have the number of new families and children. They are on the holy highway, walking together with joy down the highway for the people of God.

What is our vision for the future? What do we see as the work of God in our church, in our community, in our world? Do we see the unlikely event of deserts that bloom, blind people that see, lame people that leap? Do we see God making all things new? And, most importantly, do we see ourselves as the people of God walking down our own holy highway, singing with joy on our heads? Because that is what Advent should do for us.

[ The story of the First Presbyterian Church in Altadena was compiled from Mark Lau Branson’s book, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations, published by The Alban Institute.  Details not found in the book were from my notes in the DMin seminar at Fuller Seminary where I heard Mark tell these stories. ]

Re-post: Sermon for Dec 16, the 3rd Sunday in Advent

Okay, let’s try this again.  I had a link failure last time, so here is the corrected link to my sermon for this coming Sunday, Dec 16, 2007, A Highway for the People of God, from Isaiah 35:1-10.  My apologies for the goof-up, which I am sure was entirely my fault, and which I cannot figure out.  Happy Advent!

“A Dwelling Glorious” podcast

A Dwelling Glorious podcast, based on Isaiah 11:1-10 for the second Sunday in Advent, December 9, 2007. 

A Dwelling Glorious

A Dwelling Glorious

Isaiah 11:1-10 NRSV

11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

11:2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

11:3 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;

11:4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

11:5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

11:6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

11:8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

11:9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

11:10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

The Kingfish

In 1928, Huey P. Long became governor of the state of Louisiana. The former Railroad Commissioner, Huey Long, known as the Kingfish, changed the face of campaigning forever by driving over 15,000 miles over the back roads, most unpaved, of Louisiana. Poor, working class Louisianans had never seen a political candidate face-to-face. Huey’s band would warm up the crowd, then Huey would take to the platform like a man possessed. Some thought he was, but the working people of Louisiana loved it. They loved it even more when Huey announced his “Every Man A King” campaign and wrote a really bad song to go with it. The slogan of “Every Man A King” was “Share Our Wealth” and Huey P. Long played the role of the benevolent head of state, guaranteeing that in 1928, there was plenty to go around if the corrupt politicians, the big business interests, the newspapers, and his opponents would just let go of some it and share.

Huey Long’s life and campaign is characterized by a famous speech he made at St. Martinville, La. under the Evangeline Oak, the tree Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized in his poem, Evangeline. The poem is about a young woman, Evangeline, who waits under the shade of the oak tree for the love of her life, who never comes. Here’s what Huey told the crowd gathered there that day:

“…It is here under this oak where Evangeline waited for her lover, Gabriel, who never came. This oak is an immortal spot, made so by Longfellow’s poem, but Evangeline is not the only one who has waited here in disappointment.

Where are the schools that you have waited for your children to have, that have never come?

Where are the roads and the highways that you send your money to build, that are no nearer now than ever before?

Where are the institutions to care for the sick and disabled?

Evangeline wept bitter tears in her disappointment, but it lasted only through one lifetime. Your tears in this country, around this oak, have lasted for generations. Give me the chance to dry the eyes of those who still weep here.”

Poweful rhetoric with an obvious appeal to the Bible and the book of Revelation where God promises to dry every tear from their eyes. Huey’s audience knew the Bible, if they didn’t know any other book, and Huey looked like Louisiana’s messiah to them. He was elected governor in a landslide, garnering more votes than any candidate before him.  Not enough to win the election outright, but the next closest candidate refused to run against Huey in a run-off election, and so he took office.

After his term as governor ended, Huey ran for the US Senate and was overwhelmingly elected. While running the state government from Washington, Huey found a national platform in the US Senate. He was the Kingfish. Huey got his nickname from the Amos ‘n Andy radio show, popular at the time. When he was elected to the US Senate, Huey got to Washington and according to the website dedicated to preserving Huey’s legacy, he said,

“I’m a small fish here in Washington, but I’m ‘the Kingfish’ to the folks down in Louisiana.”

We’ll leave Huey’s legacy for historians and politicians to sort out. But here’s one story about Huey from a man who grew up to be head of the AFL-CIO in Louisiana —

I was born very poor with a brother and five sisters. My mother and father struggled to send us to school because of the high cost of school books. There finally came a time when they could no longer afford to buy books for 7 children. We children were told that we could no longer attend school.

That very same year, Governor Long persuaded the Louisiana Legislature to fund school books for all children attending public schools. Not only did that mean that my brother and sisters and I could finish our education but also thousands of other children could as well. My family never forgot Huey Long and became long time political supporters of the Long family.”

Victor Bussie, President Emeritus, Louisiana AFL-CIO

But, some thought Huey P. Long was a crook. While governor, Long instituted a plan to deduct a little from each state employee’s paycheck for his campaign warchest. This money was kept by Long in what was called “the deduct box” which mysteriously disappeared when Huey Long, at the age of 42, was shot and killed by an assassin.

Others thought Huey P. Long was a messiah. His body lay in state at the highrise state office building Huey built in Baton Rouge. Over 150,000 people filed by Huey’s casket to pay their last respects. Huey’s legacy lives on, and everytime the LSU football team takes the field, and the band plays “Touchdown for Louisiana” they’re playing the fight song that Huey P. Long wrote.

The Messiah In Isaiah’s Day

Just like the people in Louisiana in the 1920s, the nation of Judah in Isaiah’s time was looking for a messiah. They were in deep trouble. Political and military alliances they formed with the Assyrians had backfired. The nation was in disarray, and they needed a strong leader. Talk on the streets was of the legend of David, God’s anointed, the best king God’s people ever had.

And so Isaiah delivers the words of God one day. In chapter 9, Isaiah paints the familiar portrait of the coming king with these words,

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, [b] Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

This famous portrait of the coming king would encourage Judah, and still encourages us today. And the best part for the nation of Judah, the king — the messiah — would reign on David’s throne. David loomed over Jewish history like no other figure, except maybe Moses or Abraham. But if Abraham was the father of the Jews, and Moses the law-giver, David was always the shepherd-king. The boy whom God chose to stand between God and his people, to shepherd them with love, while leading them in righteousness. There was nobody like David, and many thought that the nation had no hope unless someone — like a David — came along.

A Leader Falls, A Nation Mourns

After we moved back to Nashville in 1992, I worked for the Greater Nashville Arts Foundation. The foundation had a gift shop and gallery, and often we would invite local artists to exhibit their work. One of the most interesting people I met while working there was a former Life magazine photographer, Ed Clark. Ed had photographed John and Jacqueline Kennedy, Gene Kelly on the set of Singing in the Rain, Hermann Goering at the Nuremburg trials, and Clark was the only photographer allowed in the Oval Office on Dwight Eisenhower’s last day as president.

But Ed’s most famous photograph was taken in April, 1945. He was among 50 other photographers at The Little Whitehouse in Warm Springs, GA that day, trying to get a photograph of the casket of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had just died. They were loading the casket into the railroad car that would take Roosevelt’s body back to Washington, when Ed Clark heard an accordion playing one of Roosevelt’s favorite hymns, Going Home.

Clark turned to see a black man, Navy bandsman Graham Jackson, playing that mournful tune while tears streamed down his face. Quickly, Clark wheeled, snapped off four frames, and turned back hoping none of the other photographers had seen Jackson. None had and on April 17, 1945, Ed Clark’s black-and-white photograph of Graham Jackson’s tear-streaked face filled a full page in Life magazine. The photograph became the image of a nation in mourning.   In the same way the poor reverred Huey Long, a struggling people had placed their hope in FDR, and at his death grief was both national and personal.

The Messiah Among the People of God

But, Jurgen Moltmann says, “There is more in the new messianic David then there ever was in the historical David of old. So to transform the image of the king into the image of the messiah is not to idealize the past. The transformation is not designed to rouse nostalgia. On the contrary, it mobilizes the people to set forward afresh, hoping in God.”

In other words, God isn’t bringing back David for old home week, God is bringing this son of David, and by extension the chosen of God, to pull the nation forward. To give them hope for the future. To bring them to the place of obedience and witness.

A typical kingship in that day, and in ours, consists of judging and fighting battles. But a kingship in God’s name, empowered by his Spirit, means defending the rights of the poor, having compassion on the humble, and liberating the oppressed.

Moltmann goes on to say, “The messianic hope was never the hope of the victors and the rulers. It was always the hope of the defeated and the ground down. The hope of the poor is nothing other than the messianic hope.”

So, this Messiah, this king like David, comes not as a triumphalist, not as a military victor, not as a conqueror, but as one who judges not by the outward appearance, but by the inward. As one who sees with the eyes of God, as one who rules in concert with God, faithful to the covenant of God.

What Should We Expect from This Messiah?

Until about six weeks ago, here’s how Debbie and I spent many evenings at home:

  • Dinner about 5:30 or so, then clean up the kitchen in time to watch the evening news.
  • Comments about the evening news — “That’s awful” or “how sad” or “That makes me so mad”
  • After the evening news, searching for something to watch. Try ESPN. Try CNN. Try Discovery. Click to the weather channel. If you’re really desperate, try Fox. Okay, HGTV.
  • Two hours later, turn off the TV with the comment, “There’s nothing on.”

So, about six weeks ago, we tried an experiment. We unplugged our TV in the den, carted it upstairs and stashed it behind the sofa in our bedroom. No TV. Well, almost no TV — we kept the 13-inch TV in the kitchen in case the world came to an end, we wanted to be able to watch it. But we found we didn’t watch it.

So after three weeks of doing without TV, we called Comcast and disconnected. The conversation with Comcast went like this —

  • Me: Hi, I’d like to disconnect my cable service.
  • Comcast: Can I ask you why?
  • Me: We don’t watch it anymore.
  • Comcast: What if I offer you a reduced rate of $33 per month?
  • Me: We still wouldn’t watch it.
  • Comcast: How about just local programming at $15 per month?
  • Me: Thanks, but no.
  • Comcast: How about internet service? We’ve got great internet service.
  • Me: Thanks, but already have it.

So, we are now three weeks into being disconnected from cable. And, there is life after cable, believe it or not. One of the main reasons we disconnected was because we were tired of the way culture is being shaped by TV.

Let me give you some examples:

We live in a world now that has grown accustomed to….

  • violence instead of peace. We expect to see gangs, shootings, war, terrorism, bombings, sexual assault, domestic disputes, and other forms of violence each day.
  • enmity rather than unity. We expect to see the Palestinians and Jews hating each other, the Serbs and the Croats hating each other, muslims and christians hating each other, men and women hating each other, children hating parents, and parents abusing children. We expect that these things are now part of our society and we have to settle for them.
  • hopelessness instead of hope. Palestinians kill Israelis because they have no hope; jihadists kill Americans because they have no hope; street gangs rob innocent people at the mall in Danville because they have no hope. This is what we have grown accustomed to, and settle for.

And, the saddest part is, we think this is the way things are and always will be.

And, this is why we have Advent. This is why we, along with the Jews, look for the Messiah. Because in Jewish thought the Messiah will come when

  1. It is necessary, and
  2. It is possible.

The necessary part is when things are at their worst, when he is needed. The possible part is when things are ready.

We don’t need to spend much time talking about the necessary. We need this messiah of God, this anointed one. But, possible may be another story. For it is in the possible that God calls for the highways to be made straight, for the way to be prepared, for the mountains to be leveled, for the forerunner to cry, Get ready for the coming of God’s anointed. For God’s people not to settle for things as they are, but to see things as they will be.

Because then, when the way is prepared, when things are as God intends, and the messiah appears then —

11:6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

11:8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

11:9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

11:10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Living Into the Messiah’s Coming

We have often thought of the messiah’s dwelling that is spoken of here as heaven. And in Revelation John gives us magnificent images of heaven — streets paved with gold, gates make of giant pearls, walls formed of precious stones. Those images I think are the only words John could find to describe the indescribable. It will be glorious. But, that’s not what Isaiah is describing.

Isaiah says, “for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.  On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” This place, this creation, this earth, this order of things, this home God has given us. This is God’s dwelling, and it was glorious and will be again.

I’m reading The Practice of Everyday Life by Michel de Certeau, a French philosopher and linguist, who writes about how the weak in a society — those without power or prestige — live in such a way as to make the system that is designed to keep them down, to make that system actually work for them.

One practice among French workers is called, la perruque, which means “the wig.” Now it’s not really a wig, but it means when a worker does work for himself disguised as work for his employer. Like when an furniture-maker takes scraps of wood, and fashions them into a table for his own home, using his employer’s tools. Certeau says that inspite of individual incentives which pit workers against each other for more pay for more production, there is an unwritten code among workers that la perruque is overlooked by all.

That’s what we must do. Make this culture, this society in which we have grown accustomed to things not working right, not working in our favor, not working according to God’s plan, we must make this culture serve God’s purposes — making preparation for the coming of the Messiah. We must subvert “the system” of secular culture quietly, but deliberately to prepare the way for the King.

Because the messiah has not only come, but he is coming, and he will come, and he is coming now, and he is coming in the future, and he is coming to us, as he came to Judah, and he will come to our children, and their children, until

  • The wolf lies down with the lamb, the leopard lies down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling are together, and a little child leads them.
  • The cow and the bear graze, their young lie down together; and the lion eats straw like the ox.
  • The nursing child plays over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child can put its hand on the adder’s den.
  • Then, they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

And it will be a dwelling glorious.  Amen. 

Sermon for 2nd Sunday in Advent Dec 9, 2007

I just posted my sermon, A Dwelling Glorious, from Isaiah 11:1-10, for the second Sunday in Advent, December 9, 2007.  Hope it’s helpful as you reflect on Advent.

Also, Robert Dilday, associate editor of The Religious Herald, interviewed me on lectionary preaching for his article in ABP’s Stand and Deliver series.  If you want some information on preaching from lectionary texts, Robert’s article is a good resource.  Have a great day Sunday!

“Ain’t Gonna Study War No More!” podcast

“Ain’t Gonna Study War No More!” podcast, Isaiah 2:1-5.  This is the sermon I preached on the first Sunday in Advent this year, 2007.  Hope you find it helpful.