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Posts Tagged ‘advent’

I bet Isaiah 7.14 sounds like Christmas to you. At least it does to me. I can almost hear carols in the background while reading it. It makes me feel like I am opening a Christmas card. I feel a twinge of excitement. I think I can smell Christmas while listening to it. And then, after Isaiah sings it, Matthew sings it again – a remix.

But unlike Matthew, Isaiah was not thinking about Christmas. He was thinking about politics. He was thinking about a clash between prophet and king. He was thinking about how different the world of faith is from the world of fear.

During this time the world power was Assyria. They made the rules and made sure the rules were followed.  The neighbor kings are tired of this and try to get King Ahaz and Judah to join forces to overthrow Assyria. Isaiah goes to the king with a message and a sign. But the king knows how the world works. He knows where the power is. He ignores the request of the neighbors and tries to snuggle up with Assyria. His worst decision, he ignored the message of the prophet. He refused the sign.

The sign that Ahaz ignored becomes important. A woman will be with child. She will have a son. His name shall be Immanuel. Immanuel means literally “God is with us.” A significant part of the sign for Isaiah is timing. Before the child is old enough to know right from wrong the lands of the kings will be forsaken. It seems the child will be living without fear, enjoying meals of curds and honey. In other words, the original sign is to alert the king that God truly is with his people. When this happens – be on the lookout! Salvation is near. Unfortunately, Ahaz refused “God with us.”

Centuries later Matthew repeats the sign of the prophet and paints for us a picture. There is a woman with child. She will have a son. He shall be called Immanuel. Immanuel literally means “God is with us.” We are more familiar with this story. We know something about this child. We might feel a twinge of excitement. The sign is of great importance. When this sign occurs, when this child is born, when this happens – be on the lookout! Salvation is near. This child is the visible physical evidence that God is with us.

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Luke is a careful investigator. He passes along details learned from eyewitnesses and is a student of history. This is important enough that it is the first thing he tells us in his gospel. He wants us to know that what follows is set in history.

That may be why he goes on to tell us that Caesar Augustus issued a decree and that Quirinius was governor and that a census was taking place. But Luke also wants us to be aware that other things were happening also. Luke wants us to know that the plan of God is in full effect. A new kingdom is on the horizon. The existing powers may continue to act as if they possess some ultimate authority. So Caesar decrees, Quirinius governs, Mary and Joseph try to follow the laws of the land.

Meanwhile a new king is near and with him a new kingdom. Perhaps in effort to emphasize this Luke points out that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem the town of David (home of Israel’s greatest king) and that Joseph was related to David (Israel’s greatest king). Perhaps that is why he records the angel’s announcement that the child is born in the town of David. Is Luke hinting that here lies Israel’s next king? Has kingdom come in a manger?

We sometimes read Luke 2 as instructions to set up our nativity scene. Luke wants us to know that something else is going on. God has invaded history. We sometimes try to spiritualize the work of God as if He only works in some spiritual arena. Luke wants us to know that God invades our real time history. God invades time while Caesar is decreeing, while wanna-be-Caesars debate on network television, while planning menus, while Quirinius governs, while balancing the checkbook, while shepherds watch their flocks, while worrying about fuel prices, while a census is taken, while unexpected weather occurs, while looking for room at the inn. Christmas is the message of kingdom come in a manger.

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There is a whole list of songs we associate with this time of year. I am surprised some of these lyrics are allowed to be sung in public. We sing “Glory to the newborn King.” “Let earth receive her King.” “Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the newborn King.” We recognize these as songs of Christmas and cannot overlook how they insist that a King is born. When we sing the songs of Christmas we are singing about a change in the political landscape. We are singing about Kingdom Come. We are offering tribute to the rightful King.

It should not surprise us to find Mary singing such a world changing song in Luke 1. Mary’s song does not come out of nowhere. It is a response to the activity of God. She learns of God’s activity in two prior conversations. First, Mary speaks with an angel, Gabriel. This is one of the better known conversations of Advent. Actually, this is the best known conversation in Advent. Simply, it goes like this;

Gabriel – “Greetings… you will bear a son… He will be great and will become King… He will reign forever and His Kingdom will have no end.”

Mary – “Impossible.”

Gabriel – “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

In the second conversation Mary speaks with a barren, elderly woman and we are again reminded “Nothing will be impossible with God.” No wonder Mary sings.

She never would have thought that she, a humble bondslave, would give birth to a King. Her song talks about a Kingdom where the proud will be scattered and rulers will be brought down from their thrones and humble will be exalted and hungry will be filled and rich will be empty handed. It should not be lost on us that Luke goes on to add that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, perhaps because he thought himself king, just prior to the birth of Mary’s child King. We might read these chapters and listen to these songs and say “Impossible.” And Luke might reply that this is exactly the territory where God likes to work.

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We have become familiar with the message of Kingdom Come in the New Testament Gospels. We know that Jesus preached the Kingship of God, but it may surprise some to discover that Old Testament Isaiah preached that God is King. Good News is the language of the Kingdom Come. So the prophet takes us to a mountain top to announce good news “Your God is King.”

We celebrate that announcement here by singing our songs, praying our prayers, offering our gifts, opening our book, and lighting the candle of peace. These are not things we do to check them off our list. When we do these things we are making a bold statement. When we do these things we are disagreeing with the majority opinion and those who appear to hold the power. This is easy in the sanctuary surrounded by like-minded folk. It becomes more difficult later when we walk into the “real world.”

But the prophet wants us to know this is not a nickel and dime operation that is limited to one small gathering in one small town. This announcement proclaims that God reigns over all. God reigns over even those who trust in world powers and those who hold to majority opinion. The implication of Isaiah’s announcement is that the gods of the empire have been exposed as frauds and are sure to be defeated. Meanwhile the God of Israel is recognized as the dominant reigning force in all of creation.

When Babylon or any world power tries to convince us of a text that suggests they are in charge, Isaiah announces a counter text – “Your God is King.” When others try to convince us that “shopping days until Christmas” is a legitimate text, Isaiah counters with beautiful feet on a mountain top – “Your God is King.” When disagreement occurs in the car ride home – “Your God is King.” When arguments occur at the dinner table – “Your God is King.” When battling restlessness and inability to sleep – “Your God is King.” In the midst of anxiety, impatience, and distraction – “Your God is King.” When elected officials disappoint – “Your God is King.” When the majority tries to sway your opinion – “Your God is King.”

So we gather and sing and pray and give and read our texts and light the candle of peace to demonstrate Kingdom Come. In the face of majority opinion we echo the prophet “God is King.” Worship will conclude, we will utter benediction, and we will return to a world that insists its gods are in control. But we have heard the good news of the prophet and we know that life can never be the same, because “Your God is King.”

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This is quite a ride we are on. We spin on Earth’s axis at more than 830 miles per hour. At the same time, we orbit around the sun at over 66,000 miles per hour. This prompts the question, how do we spend our time during such an adventure? One full rotation gives us a day—one full revolution a year. But we want more than years and days; we want to know that we hang on for something that matters.

We hang on because we want to know what happens next. We want to know where to go from here. People seem to be aware that something lies ahead, but we do not know what to expect. We don’t know whether to be excited or frightened by the prospects. We don’t know where to look. We do not even know what to look for.

It would be easy to settle with the herd, where the loudest voices can convince us they have things figured out and where we can find the road least difficult. Yet I long for an adventure that explores the beauties of creation and the mysteries of the Creator. Fortunately, it is Advent. Advent is a path that leads somewhere. It calls for us to prepare. It creates a sense of expectancy. Like the wise men that followed a star, we still need direction.

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An Invitation

Advent extends to us an invitation.  It is like Tolkien’s wizard looking for someone to share in an adventure and having difficulty finding a volunteer.  We may be inclined to respond like Tolkien’s hobbit and dismiss that invitation “We… have no use for adventures.  Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things!  Make you late for dinner!”  We want to know what happens next.  Like the hobbit, we are uncomfortable with what we do not know.

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One is Coming

One is Coming

Should we be afraid

Or have we have found favor

 

One is Coming

We hear that He will be Great

His Kingdom will have no end

 

One is Coming

We ask, how can this be

Yet, we hear that nothing is impossible

 

One is Coming

The silent will speak

And the unborn will leap

 

One is Coming

Our soul sings

And our spirit rejoices

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