Tag: messiah

What is the Gospel?

I have resisted getting into this because I keep telling myself, “This is not what you do here at Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor.”  Normally, I don’t engage in theological discussions, particularly those that are the equivalent of how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.  But, today I can’t help myself because some discussion is taking place around the interwebs about “what is the gospel?”

Continue reading “What is the Gospel?”

Sermon for Sunday, Aug 3, 2008: “Good News for the Jews…And Us, Too!”

This is the sermon I’m preaching Sunday, August 3, 2008, from Romans 9:1-5. And, check out Holy Fools, by Matthew Woodley — I quote from Matthew’s new book in this sermon, and I think you will find the book helpful and encouraging.

Good News for the Jews…and Us, Too!
Romans 9:1-5

1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

I Would Give Anything

As a pastor I have sat with families who are grieving the loss of a beloved member of their family. I have heard husbands and fathers, wives and mothers say the same thing, “I would give anything if it could have been me.” Those words are especially poignant at the death of a child or young person. Parental love is so great, and grief so overwhelming, that the desire to take the place of someone we love to save them from death is a common desire.

Paul expresses a similar thought here, when he says,

“For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.”

Paul is not saying this lightly or carelessly, and he has the credentials as a Jew to back up his statement. In Philippians 3:4-7, he says:

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ (the Messiah).

Paul was an outstanding Jew, an aggressive Pharisee, and scrupulously righteous, but he scrapped all of that when he met the risen Jesus on the Damascus road. Paul’s fierce devotion to Pharisaic Judaism was quickly overshadowed by his new-found commitment to Jesus, the Messiah of God. Amazingly the one event that all Jews looked forward to was the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah of God, in Greek known as Christos, or the Christ. So, Paul is not relinquishing his Jewishness when he encounters the Messiah, he is actually finding fulfillment as a Jew.

For Paul to say then, “I would gladly be considered accursed for my people the Jews,” is profound. And, to make his point unmistakably clear, Paul explains that to be accursed is to be cut off from the Messiah. Paul is willing to give up his own knowledge of Christ if the Jews could then discover Christ. Paul is convinced that Jesus is God’s Messiah and he wants his people to be convinced as well.

When Others Don’t Share Our Passions

Have you ever had this experience? You’ve read a book or seen a movie or heard a song that you just love. In your enthusiasm you tell your family, your friends, your co-workers — anybody that will listen. And when you do, you say things like –

  • “You’ve got to read this book. It’s the best story I’ve ever read.”
  • “This song is amazing. You’ve got to hear it!”
  • “That is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen. You’ve got to see it!”

Seldom does our enthusiasm for the book or movie or song transfer easily or quickly to others. And when our friends and family and co-workers just look at us and say nonchalantly, “Okay, if I have time,” we are crestfallen, crushed by their inability to see how wonderful the book, movie, or song really is.

Several years ago, Debbie and I saw the movie, Moulin Rouge with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. The movie is a quirky, fun, dramatic, musical, comedic one-of-a-kind film. It was nominated for Best Picture, but didn’t win. And, I loved the movie! I liked it so much, Debbie gave me the DVD, we had friends over to see it, and I raved about the story line, cinematography, and cleverness of the film. I liked it so much, that on a trip to Shanghai, I found a bootleg copy of it at the DVD knock-off store across the street from my hotel, and watched it again in Shanghai. Which beat watching the Chinese warrior movies on CCTV. Unfortunately, outside of Debbie, few shared my enthusiasm for the movie. I was a frustrated fan of a really great movie.

Paul felt a similar frustration. He said he was in “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” because the Jews don’t get it about Jesus. Few other Jews, other than the original disciples, were as enthusiastic about Jesus being the Messiah as Paul was. So, why didn’t the Jews get it?

The same reason that our family and friends and co-workers don’t share our enthusiasm for a book or movie or political candidate: they don’t see it the way we do. Paul, you remember, encountered the risen, living Jesus in a blinding light on his way to Damascus to persecute followers of Jesus. The encounter was not a vision or an apparition or a hallucination — Paul’s experience was a real face-to-face meetup (to use the modern jargon) with a man thought to be a failed revolutionary, put to death by the Romans, buried in a borrowed grave, and relegated to the refuse heap of history. But Jesus was alive! He was a living, breathing, talking person who appeared to Paul a couple of years after everyone in Paul’s Pharisee circle thought they had put an end to the self-proclaimed son of God. Paul was on a mission to rub out the few remaining disciples of this dead, false prophet, when he met Jesus face-to-face. Up close and in person.

Fear eventually gave way to wonder, and Paul realized with the help of others that God was at work, and that this Jesus whom he had despised, whose followers he had killed and terrorized, was God’s Anointed One, the Messiah promised to the Jews. Now, Paul wanted everyone else to see it, to understand it, to follow this Jesus, too. But, they didn’t get it, couldn’t see it, were closed just as he had been.

So Paul wishes that if it took his being cut off from Christ to bring the Jews to Christ, he was willing to do it.

The New Based on the Old

Paul begins to make a case for why the Jews should embrace Jesus as the Messiah –

  1. Theirs is the adoption as children of God.
  2. Theirs is the divine glory.
  3. Theirs are the covenants.
  4. Theirs the receiving of the Law.
  5. Theirs the temple worship.
  6. Theirs the promises.
  7. Theirs the patriarchs.
  8. And from them the ancestry of the Messiah, Jesus.

And so there it is — a chronological, historical, rational walk through the history of the Jews to prove why the Jews should get it about Jesus.

Too often, Christians have given the impression that we are the new thing God is doing, and the Jews were about the old thing. We even refer to the two divisions of the Bible as The Old Testament and The New Testament. We have believed that Jesus came to save the world, and when the Jews rejected Him, He moved on to the Gentiles. We are as blind to our connection to the Jews, as many of them are to the Messiahship of Jesus.

But, if we read Scripture with seeing eyes, we read, not two stories, but one. Not two ways that God dealt with people, but one. Not two means to salvation, but one. Not two promises for the future, but one. All bound up in the plan of God for all people — Jew and non-Jew alike.

Let’s look more closely at what the Jews have going for them:

When Paul says that “the adoption as children” belongs to the Jews, he reminds us that God called Abraham out of paganism, adopted him as a father adopts a son, and promised to make him the father of a great nation.

When Paul says that “the divine glory” belongs to the Jews, he paints mind-pictures of the shekinah glory of God leading the nation of Israel with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night, the presence of God settling over Mount Sinai, the manifestation of God over the Tabernacle, and the glory of God inhabiting the Temple.

When Paul says that “the covenants” belong to the Jews, he means God’s first agreements with his people — with Adam and Eve in the garden, with Noah and the flood, with Abraham, with Isaac, with Jacob. And always, the covenant was the same — God promises to be their God, and he asks that they promise to be His people. God always keeps the covenant, even when his people break it. God always repairs the covenant, even when the breach is the act of His rebellious children.

When Paul recounts that “the receiving of the Law” belongs to the Jews, he conjures up memories of Moses on Mount Sinai, receiving stone tablets engraved by the finger of God. Those stone tablets became the emblem for how God’s people would be different from all other people. How God’s people would love, worship, and obey the one true God; and, how they would treat others. The Law, God’s Law, was a radical way to live. God outlawed idolatry, invoking the deity’s name in vain, working on the day set aside to honor God, disobeying parents, coveting the relationships and possessions of others, taking human life, violating marital commitments, and so on. Radical laws that set God’s people apart from the “do whatever it takes to survive” culture in which they lived.

When Paul says “the Temple worship” is theirs, every Jew instantly sees the image of the magnificent temple in Jerusalem. Gleaming white stone, the glistening solid-gold cluster of grapes hanging over the massive entrance, the crowds at Passover, the priests that ministered in the Temple, the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of the Women, and the Holy Place and Holy of Holies. Jews would know the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Lights, the ritual, the ceremony, the bustlel of temple stalls and vendors, and the calls to prayer three times a day. This was truly God’s house, the place where heaven and earth met. The Temple of the One True God, YHWH, the God of the Jews. There was no other building like the Temple, there was no other worship experience that came close, and every Jew who did not live in Jerusalem, and could not get there for Passover, said, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

Theirs are the promises, Paul also says. Promises for what? Promises contained in the covenant God made with his people, but promises that God continued to fulfill. Promises to Abraham to make him father of a great nation. The promise to Moses to take the nation back to the land of promise. The promise of prosperity, if God’s people would obey and observe God’s law. The promise to be their God. The promise of forgiveness and atonement for sin. The promise of relationship. But, ultimately the promise to send One who would make everything right. The promise of the Messiah. The ultimate promise, the promise to end all promises, not because God was tired of dealing with his people, but because the Messiah would stand between God and nation, between Perfection and imperfection, and make all things new.

And the patriarchs. The “fathers of the nation.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham who followed God. Isaac who became the child of promise. Jacob who wrestled with God for his blessing. Not perfect men, but real men who struggled in their obedience, failed in their humanity, and most of all, loved God passionately. These were the forebears, the examples, the inspiration, the first triad of generations that forged the familial bonds between God and his people.

And finally, the Jews are the family from which Jesus, the Messiah, comes. Jesus is no stranger, no foreigner brought in from the outside. This is and has been God’s plan all along. This is why God called Abraham. This is why God spared Isaac’s life as Father Abraham was about to sacrifice him to God. This is why Jacob was allowed to wrestle with God. This Jesus is the root of Jesse, the likeness of King David, the wisdom of Solomon, the power of the prophets, the simplicity of the shepherds, the strength of a Samson, the gentleness of a child, and the salvation of his people, and God’s creation. How could the Jews miss this? Were they too close to Jesus? Was his hometown of Nazareth too plain a place? Did they expect something else?

Whatever the reasons, Paul is amazed that the Jews don’t get it, and he’s will to give up that for which he has “counted all things loss” in order that the Jews might know Jesus as their Messiah.

What Is It That We Don’t Understand?

Okay, so we all know that as a people, the Jews to this day still don’t accept Jesus as their Messiah. And, because of that, Christians have said a lot of unkind and outrageous things about the Jews.

  • The Jews for centuries were called “Christ-killers,” even though Jesus was put to death under the Roman system of capital punishment. The Jews were blamed for Jesus death, even though Jesus himself said that no one was taking his life, that he laid down his own life freely. But, still that insidious lie persists.
  • The Jews have been reviled and the evil that has fallen to them has been explained as their punishment for rejecting Christ. The Holocaust, when 6-million Jews died, was too often seen as the judgment of God on an unbelieving people.
  • The Jews have been portrayed as scheming, dishonest, money-grubbing charlatans since Judas betrayed Christ for a bag of silver. Even Shakespeare got into the act with his character Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in The Merchant of Venice.
  • As the Christian Church gained ascendancy in the Roman Empire, Jews replaced Christians as the minority to be persecuted and discriminated against.

Next week we’re going to discover that God isn’t finished with the Jews. That God hasn’t cancelled his covenant with the Jews. And, that even the disobedience of the Jews becomes the occasion for God’s mercy toward them and the rest of the world. But, that’s for next week.

This week, however, we have to put ourselves in Paul’s place for a moment. And, we have to ask ourselves,

Are we passionate enough about Jesus to give up our lives so that someone else might know God’s Messiah?
In his new book, Holy Fools, Matthew Woodley, pastor of Three Village Church on Long Island, reminds us of several people who gave up their lives of comfort, or privilege, or wealth, or even health, so that others might know God’s Messiah, Jesus. These people followed Jesus “with reckless abandon” according to Woodley, and because of their self-sacrifice, made the cause of Christ known to others. Listen to some of their stories:

  • A young man named Hudson Taylor shaved his head except for a long pigtail, donned Chinese robes, and ate with chopsticks to win the hearts of the Chinese among whom he served. Accused by his friends and fellow-missionaries of losing his mind and abandoning his own culture, Hudson Taylor founded the China Inland Mission, opening the door for the gospel in a land that less than a 100-years later would close to outside missionaries.
  • A young woman in France named Christiana had an aversion to foul smells. But, ignoring her own nauseating discomfort, she felt compelled to bring the love of Christ to the peasants of France, even to the point of caring for them in illness and injury and dressing their festering wounds.
  • And then there’s Damien the Leper, although he was not always called that. His name was Joseph de Veuster, born into a Belgian farming family. Joseph studied for the ministry, sailed to Hawaii, where served a comfortable church as pastor. In 1866, Hawaii experienced an outbreak of leprosy. Those afflicted with this disfiguring, ultimately fatal disease were shipped to the island of Molokai to live in isolation and die a solitary death. At his own request, Joseph asked to to move to Molokai to minister to the lepers. He addressed them as “my fellow lepers” and ignored the counsel of his superiors never to touch a leper. Joseph moved among the outcasts, hugging them, encouraging them, touching them. He taught them how to build houses, play instruments, and they even formed a band to play in worship. Eleven years on the island and Joseph so identified with the lepers that he was truly one of them. One evening while soaking his feet in hot water after a long and tiring day, Joseph noticed that he could not feel the water on his feet. He had truly given up his life that his fellow lepers might find eternal life.

The point of Matthew Woodley’s Holy Fools is summed up in a quote from Soren Kierkegarrd –

The greatest danger to Christianity is…not heresies, heterodoxies, not atheists, not profane secularism — no, but the kind of orthodoxy which is cordial drivel, mediocrity served up sweet.
Kierkegaard continues –

Christianity does not oppose debauchery and uncontrollable passions as much as it opposes this flat mediocrity, this nauseating atmosphere, this homey, civil togetherness, where admittedly great crimes, wild excesses, and powerful aberrations cannot easily occur — but where God’s unconditional demand has even greater difficulty accomplishing what it requires: the majestic obedience of submission. — Holy Fools, p. 164-165
Are we so excited about finding Jesus, that we would give up our knowledge of him so that others could know him? Are we excited enough about Jesus to give up even our comfort, or our possessions, or our time, or our energy, or our preferences for worship so that others might know him?Fortunately, neither Paul nor we have to give up Christ. There is plenty of Jesus to go around. And our giving up our own faith would not lead others to faith, and Paul knew that. But Paul also knew that he had discovered God’s plan for the world, starting with the Jews. He wanted others to know the promise of God. He was willing to do whatever it took. Are we?

“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.