December 4, 2016 – New things I now declare

Advent 2    December 4, 2016   Psalm 24, Isaiah 42:5-9, Matthew 1:1,12-17, Luke 1: 26-38          New things I now declare

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God speaks through the prophet Isaiah: “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”

We need this heads-up warning that something new is coming from God… Because, God knows, not everything new is good… Not everything new is even remotely related… to the things of God that are from God…

From the first high-rise tower of Babel to contemporary skyscrapers blocking the light of day for those living in their shadows… From the first chemical weapons of World War I, to nuclear weapons, to the latest in cyber-warfare… From the first horror movies to tv shows obsessing with evil… The new things we humans produce quite often turn out to be very bad indeed….

(Which is not to say everything new is bad, or everything old is good… Just to say our tendency to plunge too far too fast too uncritically into things labeled and marketed as “New! is well documented…)

And among the many things I’ve been wrong about, one thing I’ve sometimes managed to get right by grace – is to refrain from embracing the new… just because it’s new…

Growing up in the tumultuous ‘60’s, I learned to love older music from artists like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Martha and the Vandellas… as much, often even more than, the newer bands the sixties were more famous for… I grew up listening to blues and jazz even before I listened to rock. Listened to old acoustic country blues before the electrified bands of Muddy Waters and BB King… Later listening to yodeling Jimmy Rogers and the Carter Family along with Willie Nelson and other more recent country singers…

I was exposed to jazz from birth through my parents, starting with the older New Orleans jazz of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet…Then Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, and others of the swing era… Only later on to Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane… modern jazz and beyond…

And just as appreciating older styles of American music has helped me to better enjoy some of our newer music….

So also, since I became a Christian, I’ve been captivated by many of the older biblical books – roots books – Genesis, first book of the bible – Isaiah and Micah among the prophets… Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs, among the writings… The psalms – the original sanctified blues…

All these older books of the bible have helped me better love and understand the New Testament, with it’s deep roots in the psalms, writings and prophets of Israel… And appreciate the continuity of God’s themes… of creation and redemption… and new creation…

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There’s many reasons to be suspicious of man-made changes…I remember older Vermont farmers I worked with saying – ‘every new labor-saving device that was supposedly going to save us time and money – always ended up costing us time and money…’

But when its God doing a new thing….We may not know exactly what to expect… But we have assurance… it will be good…

God who spoke forth creation in the beginning and said that it was good and very good… God who names himself to the prophet Isaiah, saying, “Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth …who gives breath to the people upon it…”

Is the same God who now lets us know – new things are on the way…

God doesn’t spell out the details of what these new things will be like yet… Though the scroll of Isaiah does feature multiple images of a wondrous kingdom of peace and harmony…

And we should remember – it is the same God who formed a people from one pair of elderly childless ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, long ago – who now reminds Israel – her vocation is to be light for all nations – “to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon…” Words God breathes through Isaiah multiple times; words Jesus speaks, quoting Isaiah, in his first recorded sermon in Luke’s gospel…

And the same angel Gabriel we met last week in the Jerusalem temple (kind of like The National Cathedral in Washington DC) proclaiming new birth to Zechariah the elderly priest, who couldn’t quite believe the good news at the time… Now this same angel has been sent by God to the North Country village of Nazareth in the province of Galilee. (Kind of like the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont…) Speaking to a young not-yet-wed woman, saying “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you.” Bringing tidings of a son to be born to her, to be named Jesus, who will inherit the throne of Israel and rule forever… This child will be called Son of the Most High… And Mary asks “how can this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel gives his pledge: what he says will happen through God’s Holy Spirit… ‘And your relative Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah, who was said to be barren, is now in the sixth month of her pregnancy.’ And the angel concludes: “Nothing will be impossible with God.” (Sounding a lot like the angel of God back in Genesis (18), asking Abraham and Sarah, rhetorically, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”)

And young Mary understands the angel better than her elderly in-law Zechariah, as she now says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word…” Changing the future of the universe… with her most excellent affirmative answer.

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Now we are entering into the new things God speaks of through the prophet Isaiah… in words spoken hundreds of years before Mary’s birth… And Mary’s yes to God – yes to the baby to be born unto her through the Holy Spirit – is witness to  the new things God is doing. God choosing this young, unmarried woman to be bearer of God’s own Son… A new thing so very different from the logic of this world… We can easily miss the fullness of it’s meaning…

Lutheran pastor, teacher, and blogger David Lose quotes Martin Luther’s Christmas sermon from 1530: “If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, his birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was rather to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to him. Now he reveals himself to the miserable (–) in order not to give any impression that he arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners.”

Luther and David Lose remind us – look for God, Most High… coming in low, under our radar…

And I need reminding – how and where to be looking and listening for God – in this roller-coaster season of Advent… So along with the gospels I’m reading the book of Isaiah, with its mountain-top highs and deep-valley lows, an excellent sound-track for Advent – with it’s fast-track sugar-highs, followed by sharp-turn post-sugar crashes… A season in which darker forces of this world conspire to disrupt and derail awareness of the holy… Even as the angels of God collaborate to lift our hearts and minds to God…

This is a season of contrasts. Dark darkness and brilliant bright light. High highs,  low lows… I find myself often caught up in seasonally-affected-disorderly mood swings… Alternating between the skeptical “how can I know this is true?” response of Zechariah to the angel we overheard last week in the temple… And Mary’s ready-willing-and-able “let it be with me according to your word” response we hear this week in Nazareth…

In days and weeks to come we’ll be hearing Isaiah remind us… that a little child will lead us…  And thanks be to God I’ve had one of my best reminders…already this week… One morning when I was having a hard time writing my Advent newsletter article… Our daughter Rohi came downstairs, hugged me, sat down at the piano, began playing It Came upon the Midnight Clear… Then a verse or two of Joy to the WorldSilent Night…Then she picked up her well-worn copy of a Christmas cantata songbook dating back to our Plainfield, Vermont Methodist choir’s Christmas cantata when Rohi was three years old. Rohi’s held on to that songbook ever since, bringing it out again every year at Christmastime… (This year she said “daddy, do you remember how I used to chew on this hymn book when I was little?”)

Reminding me again… The story of Jesus, Son of God, who has become flesh and lived among us… is the story of God entering into the fullness of human life… Experiencing all the pain, sorrow, suffering, and struggles of human life… And–  filling human life with the astonishing love, joy, truth, grace and peace of God’s heavenly kingdom… Bringing God’s holy life from on high… into the very depths of this broken world… in human flesh…

And the new life God has begun in Mary and in Jesus…

Now continues in you… and even me…

As we remind each other – of the utterly illogical logic of God (speaking in worldly terms)… God coming into this world in lowliness and complete humility… a baby to be born of woman… Weak and vulnerable and fully human…

To reveal for us and communicate to us… the height and depth and fullness of what God is willing to do… And in fact is doing…

To bring us all home to God… In God’s beloved community.

Thanks be to God. Amen.