December 1, 2019 Sermon
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 11:1-9
1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the
as the waters cover the sea.
Second Scripture Reading: Micah 3:1-6
1 And I said:
Listen, you heads of Jacob
and rulers of the house of Israel!
Should you not know justice?—
2 you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin off my people,[a]
and the flesh off their bones;
3 who eat the flesh of my people,
flay their skin off them,
break their bones in pieces,
and chop them up like meat[b] in a kettle,
like flesh in a caldron.
4 Then they will cry to the Lord,
but he will not answer them;
he will hide his face from them at that time,
because they have acted wickedly.
5 Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
when they have something to eat,
but declare war against those
who put nothing into their mouths.
6 Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
and darkness to you, without revelation.
The sun shall go down upon the prophets,
and the day shall be black over them;
Message – “Advent Change: Repent”
Does Christmas mean we have to change? Does Jesus mean we have to change?
I mean, didn’t Jesus come to tell us God loves us just the way we are? Didn’t Jesus come to tell us that He would take our place in the seat of judgment when we die, and Jesus will be judged righteous which means WE will be judged righteous…no matter what?
So what we do, how we live doesn’t matter, right? Break a commandment – worship another god, don’t keep the Sabbath, don’t honor your father and mother, kill someone, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness covet – doesn’t matter anymore, right? Because Jesus came and made peace between sinful people and an infinitely loving God.
Is this what Christmas means to us?
I’m pretty sure most of you here would say something like, “No…that’s NOT what Christmas means to us.” And yet, if I ask you what it means that Jesus saves, you’d probably say pretty much what I just said…oh, you would use different words, you’d likely tell me in no uncertain terms which commandments you would NEVER break, which sins you would never commit…and yet, you would most likely suggest that, thanks to Jesus, God would forgive you ANY sin.
I’m not suggesting you’re wrong there. But I am suggesting this seeming inconsistency of modern mainline protestant Christian thought might require a little more consideration than we typically give it.
And that’s exactly what I intend to do during this season of Advent. During this and the next two Sunday sermons, I will consider whether or not God calls us to CHANGE, to do anything different than we would otherwise have done, as a result of Jesus’ coming, as a result of Christmas. I will consider how God calls us to CHANGE as a result of Jesus coming into the world, and I call the series “Advent Change.” And in this series, I’ll be looking to God’s words through the prophets, the prophets through whom God spoke to tell the world what Messiah, what Jesus, would be like and do.
Today’s message gets to the heart of the issue by considering change at its most fundamental level, where God is concerned; I will consider how Christmas – how God sending Jesus into the world – calls us to change by repenting, by turning away from whatever else we have turned to and turning back toward God.
You can likely see that this repentance thing requires at least two steps: figuring out what you’re turning toward that’s NOT God and turning yourself back toward God. I’ll consider each in turn.
The first step, figuring out, coming to the realization, that we, people of God, are actually turning toward something other than God, can be pretty tricky. God knew the difficulty of the task, revealing to God’s Old Testament prophets time and again that they would speak God’s words but not be heard. Yet, speak they did.
In our reading from Micah today, it’s pretty easy to see what God was telling the leaders of God’s people they were turning toward: greed, power, wealth for themselves, injustice:
Listen…you rulers of…Israel,
You who hate the good and love the evil,
Who tear the skin off my people.
Through Micah, God describes the ruling elite as treating the masses the way a butcher treats slaughtered animals. In seeking for themselves, Judah’s leaders had destroyed the lives of countless others and turned away from God.
It’s a bit more difficult to see in God’s words through Isaiah this morning, but you can find the turning away if you look for it. The leaders of God’s people had turned toward themselves in their decision-making, judging by their own “eyes” and “ears” rather than by God’s righteousness. Indeed, the description of a future time when natural predators would live peacefully with their prey describes the transformation that happens when people get their minds off themselves and start seeking decision-making from God…so God’s people must have been rather self-focused. And by describing God’s Messiah as wearing a belt of righteousness indicates the leaders of God’s people to be anything but righteous.
Ultimately, God describes a similar scene through both prophets; the leaders of God’s people had become selfish and greedy, had turned away from God and toward their own desires…which led to all kinds of terrible outcomes.
Doesn’t sound like much has changed, does it?
By a great many objective measures, we have a tendency to turn toward ourselves instead of God:
- Take the objective measure of time. How much time do you give to yourself and pursuits you desire versus how much you give to God and pursuits God desires?
- Take the objective measure of money. How much money do you give to yourself and pursuits you desire versus how much money you give to God and pursuits God desires?
- Take the more subjective measures of energy, effort, and enthusiasm. Do you give more effort, energy, and enthusiasm to your own desires or to God’s desires?
I hope you can see what I mean. And we know where this leads. In the time of the prophets Isaiah and Micah, when the people took their focus off God and onto themselves, all kinds of injustice occurred: poverty, homelessness, imprisonment, income inequality, and all manner of oppression and abuse. It’s easy for us to say – especially as individuals – that our own self-focus, our own selfishness, won’t lead to these kinds of nationwide and worldwide problems – I’m just one person, how much difference could I possibly make? – but the biblical witness proves the opposite. The self-focus of even one person of God MATTERS.
Which brings me to the second step: turning back toward God. Once we realize we fall short, we must turn back.
Through Isaiah, God presented an amazing vision of what will happen when we DO turn back toward God: not only will we as individuals, as the corporate people of God, and even the whole world get back to living as our Maker intended – which would be wonderful enough – but all of creation will be impacted:
- The wolf shall live with the lamb;
- The calf and the lion and the fatling together;
- The cow and the bear shall graze;
- The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp.
Y’all, this is God’s vision of God’s whole creation returning to what God desired from the beginning: no more predators, no more prey, but rather a nonviolent paradise in which people can live safely and no longer fear.
That’s what Messiah was supposed to usher in. And we proclaim Messiah has come, but this new paradise, this heaven on earth, has not yet arrived. Why?
Some people would say it’s because Jesus came once but hasn’t yet come again. While I can’t argue with that, I would suggest this answer is incomplete. There’s a reason Jesus hasn’t come again. And it’s because there aren’t enough of God’s people repenting, there aren’t enough of God’s people turning toward God, to bring to critical mass this vision of heaven-on-earth God has placed before us.
Which brings me all the way back to the questions I asked to begin this sermon.
- Does Christmas mean we have to change?
- Can’t Jesus save us no matter what we do?
- Doesn’t Christmas mean the heavy lifting has already been done, by Jesus?
Y’all, Christmas DOES mean Jesus already did the heavy lifting. That is true. Jesus came to this earth, and Jesus died on a cross in such a way to allow Him to take our place at The Judgment. But this truth is not the WHOLE story, the WHOLE truth. There is more.
God sent Messiah to show us a vision of a better earth, of a NEW earth, that we can help usher in…by following God’s righteousness instead of our own human and warped understanding of what is best.
And God sent Messiah to teach us the best ways to live, the ways to enjoy this life here and now AND participate in transforming this creation into God’s grand plans for it.
And the way God KNOWS that we’re God’s people, the way God KNOWS that we’re people whose place Jesus will take on that judgment seat, is by our turning toward God, by our focusing on God instead of ourselves, our own desires, or ANYTHING else but God. That’s how. So…Christmas doesn’t mean you are free to just do anything you want to do. Christmas doesn’t mean you are supposed to NOT change. Christmas DOES mean you’re supposed to follow God’s will as made known through Jesus. Christmas DOES mean you’re free to make mistakes while you do your darndest to follow Jesus. God’s grace in Christ allows you to make mistakes; it does NOT allow you to intentionally turn away from God and STAY that way. To do THAT, to not repent, to NOT turn back toward God, is akin to rejecting Jesus and all that God was doing through Christmas. To do THAT, to NOT turn back toward God, is akin to saying you have no desire for God’s grand vision of a perfect paradise to become reality and you have no desire to take part in God’s eternal kingdom.
My friends, it’s Advent. It’s time to remember God’s prophetic call for God’s ancient people to CHANGE and to consider how God calls to you, me, US to change, as well.