First Presbyterian – Lafayette, LouisianaIsaiah 7:10-16
December 19, 2010 – Advent A4
December 19, 2010 – Advent A4
Psalm 80:1-2,7 (sung with cantor)
As we begin the last sermon in this series, let’s remember where we have been before moving forward. So far we have considered the challenge to “Worship Fully” – to become aware of God’s presence in our private and public lives and respond to it with our decisions and actions. Next was the challenge to “Spend Less” on things that do not matter and to give gifts that impact individual lives and communities. And last Sunday we were challenged to “Give More” by taking the time to be with others and understanding all relationships as the sacred ground where Christ enters in.
I have suggested that the reality of Advent should change the world, and I am hopeful that your world has been changed in some small way by this season of preparation. In fact, I would even say that if you do not allow God to change your world in some way, you can not be part of the changes that God is instituting.
That is a pretty big claim, so I want you to know one small way that I’m trying to embrace it. You may have noticed my hair. Well, as an act of worship I decided not to spend money on a hair cut. Instead I buzzed it myself. I saved some money, and I’m going to spend some of it on memorial gifts from our giving tree. I’m going to put the card from these gifts in the hands of each of my grandmothers and let them know that because of their faith I have contributed to the Building Fund and to C.U.P.S.
Now, that was the easy part. Viewing every relationship as sacred and loving everyone is something I’m still working on. Love all? Terrorists? Jihadists? Love All? That’s madness. There are some natural boundaries in the world – oil and water; Cajun and Creole; Roman Catholic and Protestant. Within our denomination there are those who just can’t let go of the debate over homosexuality while many others have realized that a sexual ethic that ignores injustice is just bad theology. Then there is the web of confusion between personal responsibility and true human limitation that results in addiction, sexually transmitted diseases, and homelessness.
Love all? Lordy, Jesus, help us. We all have our own experiences and biases. This congregation has experiences and biases. We need something more to help us. We need scripture, and not just the words of God. We need the Word of God, the Divine Logos.
So, like children shaking boxes to find what truth lies in store we turn to Isaiah to be reminded that God’s promise of presence has come in a virgin birth. Without getting to deeply into mythology here, it should be noted that the idea of God in human form was not as alien to the ancient Hebrews as it is to us today. Great leaders of many cultures were said to have power and authority from beyond human action because they were born this way.
So, by the time we get this letter to the Romans, Paul is responding to a cultural idea of the divinity of the emperor. It was not uncommon for an emperor to claim the title, “Son of God.” How else could they take life or spare it at whim unless they had the authority of God to so. Besides that, the empire crossed so many cultures and divinities that people prayed to anything that seemed to work. Of course the emperor was a god!
What is so radical about Paul is that he is claiming that the power of Jesus is not about life taking – it is about life giving! Our passage ends with the invitation and acknowledgement that we have already received the gift and the power of God through Jesus Christ! “Grace and peace – to YOU,” he says.
And as the Gospels are written the story of the virgin birth adds to the authority over death proclaimed by Paul to further prove the divinity of Jesus. Usually we think about Mary in this story, but Joseph is the focal point in Matthew’s gospel. Joseph finds out his beloved is with child. All we know about this story is that he is a righteous man and resolves to leave her quietly.
Joseph is a righteous man. He had the power to have her stoned to death, but he had already made up his mind to respond with kindness. Suddenly the story explodes with promises! An angel appears and acknowledges the promise of the line of David. The promised Holy Spirit becomes the means of pregnancy. The unwanted child becomes the fulfillment of prophecy, and his name is Jesus. His name means, “Justice.” I’ve always wondered how it goes immediately from Emanuel, God with us, to Jesus, justice, and I think I’ve come closer to figuring that out this year.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Peace is not the absence of violence, but the presence of justice.” Justice, by our standards, usually looks a bit more like retribution or comeuppance. Not so by Biblical standards. Not so for Joseph, for he was a righteous man. Justice and righteousness went hand in hand in the law and the prophets. Justice tempers righteousness even in the conception of Jesus, and Joseph is the model for our response. That is what loving all is about. It is about witnessing to the presence of God through righteousness tempered by justice.
Biblical righteousness is about basic morality. Biblical righteousness is about doing the right thing in any given situation or relationship. Biblical justice is about power and powerlessness. Biblical justice is concerned with lifting up those who have no power or who believe themselves to be powerless.
We do a pretty good job with that around here! We have emergency food bags for the hungry with other community resources to share. We just distributed 500 baskets to needy families who would not have had Christmas presents without you. We operate as a control center for the Meals on Wheels program and gather peanut butter for the United Christian Outreach.
It is good to celebrate our efforts as a congregation and to name and claim what we do for the Kingdom of God! Yet all that we do here is simply the beginning of the work that must be completed in our lives. I cannot tell you what to do in terms of the people you find difficult to love. I can only tell you what it means to love them, and that we are called to do so.
One thing I have found is that the first place to work on when challenging bases of power is within myself. There are centers of power and powerlessness in each of our lives, and only the One who has true authority over life, death, and the life that is to come can bring about justice within us.
It is then, and only then, that we can find a way to say with the authority and conviction of Paul, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!” Christ is coming to make all things new. May the life giving presence of justice be born in you this day, that you might the one to offer it to someone else. And to God be the glory, both now and always. Amen.