Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sermon 11.27.11

A Present and Future Hope

1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

       2 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days

      That the mountain of the LORD’s house

      Shall be established on the top of the mountains,

      And shall be exalted above the hills;

      And all nations shall flow to it.

       3 Many people shall come and say,

      Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

      To the house of the God of Jacob;

      He will teach us His ways,

      And we shall walk in His paths.”

      For out of Zion shall go forth the law,

      And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

       4 He shall judge between the nations,

      And rebuke many people;

      They shall beat their swords into plowshares,

      And their spears into pruning hooks;

      Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

      Neither shall they learn war anymore.

5 O house of Jacob, come and let us walk

      In the light of the LORD.

I love Christmas. I love Advent more.

Christmas these days is about songs and gifts, food that is bad for you and cards from people you do not otherwise hear from, lights and color, and people  reciting the story of Jesus’ coming into the world, and remembering what that means. It is a time of the year that is filled with joy. I love the smell of pine needles and I love sitting in front of the tree in the dark and counting my blessings. I love remembering all the details and challenges that Mary and Joseph had as they brought Jesus into the world, and I love opening gifts in our jammies first thing in the morning in the living room. There is much to love about Christmas.

However, like I said, I like Advent more. Advent is all about a journey. It is full of anticipation both as we remember the hope we have through Christ’s second coming, and as we walk along with the stories of Scripture we get to remember how Jesus came into the world 2000 years ago, and what that meant for us today. Advent speaks to the sense of longing that many of us experience in our lives. It speaks to the yearning for God to have a more powerful influence on our lives and in our hearts. Advent has depth. It runs counter to the corruptions of Christmas. Advent challenges us to worship fully, pray honestly, and to live expectantly in our relationship with God.

In the last three years, I have preached from Matthew, Luke, and John during the Advent season. This year, I am going to follow the lectionary readings from last year, and study the prophetic passages from Isaiah that point to what Christ’s coming means.

Nearly all of the prophetic announcements in Isaiah that apply to the hope for the Messiah have at least two meanings. In some senses, they point to the life and work of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. At the same time they also point to the end of time, the “day of the Lord”, the moment when Christ will return and set everything right.

Isaiah 2:1-5 is very typical in this sense. It speaks about the life and work of Jesus, and how it has had an impact on the whole world. At the same time, it speaks even more strongly to the future, and what hope we confidently look forward to as believers in Jesus.

As Advent begins, and Isaiah begins to share his prophecies, we begin to hear God’s Word. And God’s Word comes to us in this passage in the form of an invitation. Three times in these five verses the call to come appears. “Many people shall come” it says. They will say to one another, “Come, let us go to the mountain of God”. Then the passage ends with the words “come let us walk in the light of the Lord”.

In this passage Jerusalem has become a destination place. It has become a hub for the whole world. Zion becomes that place that people come because it is the center of power. Jerusalem has become that place that people flock to for learning and knowledge.  The capital of Israel is the place people want to be to learn a new way of living, and to find a new and eternal hope.

And so the invitation goes out. COME! Come to the place where God is at work. COME! Come to the place where God presence resides. COME! Come to the class where God can teach us and give us understanding. COME! Come to the light!

It is interesting. The word “Advent” means the same. It is Old English for someone or something coming. It specifically refers most often to the arrival of something new that has been eagerly awaited or expected. The “Advent” of the NBA season will be Christmas day this year—two months late. Specifically, in Christian thought, Advent refers to the coming of Christ.

When we read Isaiah in the light of Advent, and in light of the context it is written, it appears to be saying this. God is on the move. His kingdom is coming. His power is more manifest each day—even if you cannot see it. And he is offering people like you and I an invitation. Come learn from Him. Come study under Him. Come to join him in what he is doing. Come and learn how to live God’s way.

As we think of that first Christmas day, we forget that everyone at that manger was led there from somewhere else. Joseph and Mary were in someone else’s barn, and lived on the other side of the country. The wise men came from afar. The shepherds came in from the fields and found Jesus lying in a manger.

Even more, we remember that everyone who came to visit the family of Jesus was issued an invitation to come visit Him. The wise men followed God’s invitation through following the star God had put in the sky to guide them, and by obeying what the angel had told them via a vision. The shepherds were greeted by a chorus of angels singing in the sky, and then invited to go into Bethlehem and see the baby Jesus.

I am sure many of you have received many invitations to different parties, events, and performances throughout your life. You have gotten a card in the mail inviting you to a wedding of a friend. You have received that invitation to a high school graduation from a niece, nephew, grandchild, or neighbor. Sometimes even funerals can be invitation only kinds of events.

When I was a summer missionary in the Alaskan village of Stony River, AK I had a strange experience of invitation and exclusion that will help illustrate the value of invitation, and the crushing disappointment of being not-invited. It all had to do with a funeral dinner. You see, especially in these isolated villages, a funeral potlatch (not to be confused with potluck) dinner is a big deal, and it is all about honor.

I had been trained on such occasions that as a missionary it was important to attend these events, and that it was also very important to place yourself near the back of the line in this funeral dinner, because one’s place in line was a matter of how important you were to the family. Presume too much, you are bound to embarrass yourself. So, I grabbed a piece of firewood lying in the middle of the yard outside the trailer where the meal was being served, made it into a stool, had a seat, and visited with folks here and there as they came by.

Well, the family that was hosting the meal I was fairly close to by the end of the summer. They saw me waiting my turn, and insisted I come to the front of the line. I meant so much to them and the family. I needed to be in the front. This felt awkward. Both because I already had food at the cabin while many of the other guests were travelling, and because I was white and most of the other people there were not.  But, if I rejected the invitation I risked insulting the host. So I reluctantly went toward the front of the line as I was told. I felt honored. I had been included and invited to a place in line that showed I was valued by the family.

As the line went along, several people would be invited into this double wide to grab their food off the tables in the living room, visit briefly, and then make their way out the door. When people exited the back door, someone would come and get more people from the front door. When the other family member came outside she invited people in, and then told me that I needed to get out of line so that others could come in. I would be included later, I was told, if there was enough for me. Needless to say, this was embarrassing to experience in front of the whole family.

So I left the line. I was intending to leave the whole event. As I was going I was visiting with other people I had gotten to know in the village. I started to play ball with one of the kids. Another member of the same family came outside, grabbed me, told me to move up toward the front of the line. Then the family member again came out who did not know me, and reminded me to wait my turn.

At this point, I just decided not to visit but to leave the event completely. Another one of the family grabbed me before I could get very far before I could get away, instructed me to come with her, grabbed a hold of my elbow (super assertive for that passive culture), pulled me past everyone, and brought me into the house. Her mother at the same time explained to the family member who I was and what had happened and what I meant to them. She apologized, which was also a rare action in that setting. I was served all sorts of traditional native finger foods, and visited a little bit.

You see, invitations convey to those not invited and to those invited their value to the one issuing the invitation. At times it can feel like an honor to be invited. It can also, at other times, just crush us when we are not invited to spend time with family and friends that we treasure. In the situation I described above, I experienced both the honor of being a special guest, and the utter shame of being uninvited at the same event. More than once!

I think some of us wonder if the life of faith is like that potlatch dinner. Sure the invitation is extended to us. And we may even be tempted to accept Jesus’ invitation to come and learn from Him. But we are afraid once we start on the Jesus Way, that somehow we will be found to be somehow unworthy of the invitation. And so then, we wonder if it is even worth responding to the invitation in the first place.

But as we read through this passage we come to see that God does not just issue invitations to wise men and shepherds 2000 years ago. He does not just issue invitations to the well-educated, the spiritually elite, or the people that were born to the right family, or in the right country. No, his invitation to come, to learn from him, to understand, to truly live is an invitation he offers to everyone. Isaiah 2:2 says all nations will “flow toward Jerusalem” and that nations will learn to “turn their swords into plowshares”. It also says that “many peoples” will be there. To every nation, and to every person, God issues the invitation through Jesus to journey with Jesus, to walk with Him, to learn from Him, to be led by his light.

If you don’t believe Isaiah, listen to the invitations of Jesus throughout the gospels…

“Come follow me” (Matthew 4:19)

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10: 9)

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:46)

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

This list goes on and on.

God invites us on a journey. He invites us to move toward Him. He invites us to join Him in what he is doing in the world, and to do our part to serve Him and love Him and his people in that place.

He invites us to come to Him and learn from Him. He invites us to be in his presence, and to learn what life is all about.

And what is interesting is, if we respond to this invitation by accepting it, and journeying toward God’s grace and his presence, we will find that God has been pursuing us, making his way to us, watching and waiting for us since the beginning.

He has been pursuing us when he came to earth in that manger. He had been making his way to us when he lived a sinless life, and taught us what God was like, and how to live. And, when he died on the cross and rose again to forgive us of our sins, he again issued an open invitation to each of us. He sent the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. And the Scripture is clear, He is coming again. He is returning.

At that moment I wonder, how will you have responded to his invitation?

1 comment:

lailani said...

Loved this Advent post!! What a great example with your experience at the funeral, too!