December 7, 2014 – Good listening

Isaiah 9:1-7

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 7:10-14

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.’

Matthew 1:1, 18-23

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham….

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’

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Advent 2 December 7, 2014   Psalm 24, Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 7:10-14, Matthew 1:1, 18-23   Good Listening 

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It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old…

(sing with me, please–)

From angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold…

Peace on the earth, good will to men, from heaven’s all gracious king…

The world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing…

One of my favorite Christmas hymns. Yet I wonder – isn’t it a little preposterous – imagining this world in solemn stillness – keeping still – to hear the angels sing?

All it takes is a few minutes on-line checking news… And I can feel the anxiety rising … Scanning news reports from around the globe – even reading local newspapers… It’s obvious many lives (mine included) are overcrowded with sounds and imagery that make it very difficult to even imagine hearing… the angels sing…

And, reading the news – it’s at least equally hard to visualize peace on earth, good will to men, breaking out, any time soon, on earth…

This whole idea the prophet Isaiah proclaims – of joy and rejoicing, as yokes of oppression, rods of injustice, barriers to peace are broken – and garments of war burned as fuel for the fires of peace…

What planet is the prophet Isaiah living on anyway?

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Actually he was living in a world not so very different from ours. (Except, of course, for all our technology-on-steroids that shares information at warp speed and makes us feel like we’re stuck on fast-forward.)

We’ve been studying Isaiah in our bible study group. Last week we read today’s readings and a few other passages from the early chapters of Isaiah. Noting in chapter 2 all the nations come to the mountain of the Lord for instruction, and beat their spears into pruning hooks, their swords into ploughshares… Then in chapter 9, today, a child has been born for us whose titles include Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace… In chapter 11 the lion and lamb shall lie down together, and a little child shall lead them… And looking at bible commentaries and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic study of the prophets, we learn the words of Isaiah were first spoken in times of prolonged war and turmoil, like today. Weapons were more primitive, but terrorism was commonplace. It was more-or-less normal practice for warring nations, including Israel and Judah, to wipe out entire populations, women and children sometimes excepted, other times included.

But all throughout his career, Isaiah told his nation’s kings and peoples to trust in God, not in military might or alliances. He kept God’s vision of divine justice and peace in full public view through his proclamation of God’s word.

Words which, of course, were routinely ignored, even by kings who sometimes valued Isaiah’s wisdom and counsel. Even when they agreed in principle, all this peace on earth, good will to men talk was never really considered remotely practical. The path of peace the prophet called for remained the way not taken…

Yet… still the way which God proclaims… and instructs us to walk in….

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And we know – a child has indeed been born for us… Our Savior has in truth come into this world… Though his presence is still often hard to discern…

Yet still… (as another hymn reminds us) –

All the earth is waiting to see the promised One… and the open furrows, the sowing of the Lord…. All the world, bound and struggling, seeks true liberty – it cries out for justice, and searches for the truth…

All the earth is still waiting and hoping… Many are still praying fervently… for the fullness of the peaceable kingdom, foreseen by the prophet of old. It’s promise having been well-confirmed in the birth of our Savior, the Prince of Peace…

But – we do need to be still… and listen… to hear God’s voice…And –

We still need to act on the word of God, to receive the fullness of God’s promise.

We still need to plough new furrows… and cultivate the fallow ground of holy silence…

Waiting in faith… to hear God speak…

Perhaps it is still only in shutting off all other voices…that we are equipped to hear the voice of God…

In the still, small voice of God’s holy silence…

In the voices of God’s children crying for justice…

Praying for peace… Searching…

Searching for the truth…

In the voices, finally, of angels – a word that means – messengers of God.

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Last week we overheard an angel in conversation with Mary, mother-to-be of Jesus, the Messiah – telling her not to be afraid. We marveled at her response – her readiness to say yes to the angel’s strange and unexpected message…. that she would bear a child, born of the Holy Spirit…

Today we hear an angel, speaking now in a dream to Joseph – engaged, not yet married to Mary – the angel saying again – ‘Do not be afraid.’

Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus – (meaning ‘he saves’) for he will save his people from their sins.”

Imagine how very hard it must be to hear news like this. Now imagine getting the news in a dream…You may want to tell your brother or best friend… But you’re pretty sure they’d probably say, ‘She’s pregnant. Not by you. But you had a dream. An angel said this is all because of the Holy Spirit, so it’s alright. Well – Ok – if you say so.’

Of course, if your name is Joseph in the bible, this can make a difference. Maybe there is more expectation – your dreams come from God, if your biblical namesake, Joseph, back in Genesis, changed the whole course of history through his dreams and dream interpretation… And now God is speaking to you in the same way…

So maybe it wasn’t quite as hard for Joseph as it might be for me or you…to believe the angel’s message.

Still, it must have been a very powerful dream indeed…. For Joseph to be able to do exactly what the angel said, upon waking. Marry his fiancee. Name the child Jesus.

Do what the angel perhaps only implied…

Become an excellent foster father…

to the Savior of the world…

And at the risk of stretching our imaginations… in holy directions…

Isn’t this also our job description?

To become God-parents of Jesus Christ in this time and place. Parents not by blood or natural childbirth – but through the intercession of God’s Spirit alone…

And as with Joseph, long ago, isn’t the question still –

Can we believe – God is still speaking – to us – by whatever means God chooses?

Can we linger long enough in solemn stillness… to hear, even faintly, the voice of God’s messengers…

(Hear God speaking, even perhaps in our own voices – channeling angel-song?)

Can we believe the Savior of the world has indeed come… And is with us…

And is still coming, closer –

Coming in fullness, to bring about all that the prophet proclaims…

The reign of God, in fullness of peace and justice, mercy and love –

on earth, as it is in heaven… Forevermore.

(and)

If we can believe – (even a little… )

Maybe we can say –

Thanks be to God. Amen.

(and sing the song together… )