This is a Christmas Day mediation coming from the Isaiah Text which has a very specific context behind it: the decisive battle of a War. Christmas Day is the day that the messenger appears on the mountain with a message. Victory is ours. The victory has been given to us. And what are the effects of that victory? What does the coming of the Lord to Zion bring? Comfort, Redemption, Peace. For all who might be feeling at the end of a war, this is the proclamation.
This is the call of 2nd Isaiah – a much better call than the first one. It is completely absorbed into the New Testament story in John the Baptist, but treating it as good news in its own right brings out a different emphasis. That is what this sermon does. Instead of a people already experiencing the inbreaking of the Kingdom, in its own context it is addressed to those who might rightly be despairing. The LORD has always claimed two things: 1) His love for his people is steadfast and 2) He is the only God of all the nations. Sitting in exile, neither of those seem right. But God tells his prophet to “Cry”. And the message is Good News.
It might be pride, it might just be the poorness of my file in general, but after delivering this one, it immediately feels like one for the portfolio.
Job 21:1-21, 34
Quick rundown of Job 21-30, How our trite answers just comfort us and not who they are supposed to comfort, do we really want to hear the Word of God, chasing God out of the temple
Talking about end times or eschatology always inspires lots of speculation. But that is exactly what Jesus says don’t do. The false prophets claim “I am he” or “the time is near”. Pop Christianity waits for a rapture, which is flatly against Jesus’ teaching. The troubles that come on the world are the Christian’s opportunity for witness. The compelling message out of Jesus’ end times words are comfort. This world is constantly trying to get you to fear. And out of fear run to some false savior or false messiah. Jesus does the opposite. Even though you will be persecuted and some will be put to death, not a hair of your head will perish. The purpose of Jesus’ and Christian eschatology or end times teaching is incredibly here and now focused. When the whole world is losing its head of fear of what is coming into the world, the Christian is free and fearless. She know her redemption is drawing near. Which means that we can act with purpose and resolve here and now whatever comes, because its all in the Father’s hands.
Its peculiar to me that the “reality based” label afixes or is claimed by atheists or agnostics. I understand that the resurrection seems a fantastical event. I would go so far as to say it is an absurd belief – in the same way that Paul says Christ crucified is foolishness to the gentiles. But here is the difference, the fundamental story the Bible tells of the world gets proven to me time and again. And Christian eschatology is a great example (which dispensationalism or rapture belief throws away for fantasy). Jesus says these things will happen (famines, wars, persecutions, etc.) and they are necessary. God is directing them. People not grounded in Jesus’ teaching are easily led away to false saviors of every strife that comes into the world. Either wanting to know when like global warming to stop it, or claiming they are the savior like most political movements of the right claiming rescue from big government or the left claiming rescue from big business or the ills of society which are just the results of a sinful world. The christian is freed from those and with a clear eye can focus on what is within their power – being Christ to their neighbor. That is much more real than any large plan. Don’t be led astray.
One of the VBS kids said something profound in the way only children can. The second day’s bible point was: God’s Word is Comforting. In quizzing the kids the next day what that main point was, one stood up, emphatically waving his hand in the air saying I know, I know. And when called on said – “God’s Word is comfortable.”
Comforting vs. comfortable. “I’ve not come to bring peace on earth, but division.” That isn’t comfortable, but it should be comforting.
In the background I continue to be amazed how often the appointed lessons for the lectionary match up with the life together in the church. Either as a reflection on events or as preparation for struggles upcoming. Of course that is the chicken and the egg problem. Since these texts are usually read first on the Sunday the prior week as I’m locking up the church, they impact the entire week. It might be just as easy to say that I’m obsessed with them for the week and so everything becomes about them regardless. But without going completely mystical – there are weeks that events over-ride the texts appointed. What I am amazed at is how infrequent that happens. When I read – “I’ve come to bring division” and saw the picture on the bulletin (flowing lava with those words) last Sunday, I said we’ll see. It didn’t seem promising. By Tuesday – divisions and events of all kinds had happened that made this sermon a easy write.
I was probably too tough in the law section. Not that these activities are not true, it is just that the people of God assembled are not really the ones to which it applies. But the text of the day, especially the OT Jeremiah 23:16-29, demanded the rough exposition.