(Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25; Jonah 4)
4th Sun of Advent, Dec 18, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White
Christina Rossetti wrote:
Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, Love divine;
love was born at Christmas,
star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
love incarnate, Love divine;
worship we our Jesus:
but wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
love for plea and gift and sign.
It is the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Fourth theme of this Advent season: Love All.
God so loved the world that God gave the Son.
We keep reading each week from Isaiah. So old. So long before Jesus the Messiah. So beautiful. So unfulfilled?
Were these promises from God just for back then, thousands of years ago? Practical promises about the politics of the region and the freedom of the people?
God will give you a sign. Behold, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel – God with us. Before the child is grown, the land ruled by the enemies you fear will be deserted.
At the time, if we read all of chapter seven, we see that King Ahaz of Judah was fearful of King Rezin of Damascus and King Pekah of Israel. These are the two kings mentioned. The challenge of the words of Isaiah to King Ahaz is to have faith and trust God to save them. Ahaz won’t have anything to do with such embarrassment as leaving it to God.
But a sign shall be given anyway – the woman is with child – Immanuel, meaning God with us.
God saves. People have discovered throughout time that redemption and help is practical. South African Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, ‘ Now is that political or social?’ He said, ‘I feed you.’ Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”
God’s love for the world comes in freedom from oppressors, food when hungry, shelter when homeless, healing of the body. It is all God’s work, God’s way, God’s love.
It is our work too.
A few years ago, a group of five churches that were starting the Advent Conspiracy… journeyed to Africa with a team from Living Water International, a nonprofit that digs freshwater wells in places around the world most of us don’t know exist.
At one point they stopped at a village that, like many others, welcomed them with beautiful smiles and open arms. They were led through tall grasses, away from the village, to what they referred to as their “well.” If it was a well, it was not like any well they’d ever seen. It sat next to a swamp that leached untold disease into the water from which families drew their water every day.
They listened as the village chief told us of those who had died recently because of illnesses that came from drinking this water.
The visitors knew that in several weeks their churches would be taking Christmas offerings. They knew that by partnering with Living Water International, in a couple of months, this village would not have to rely on that well ever again.
When this message of hope was delivered — with great passion by a translator from the area who was as excited as we were — the weathered face of this honorable elder remained impassive. He simply stared at the visitors.
Even the translator was puzzled by this lack of emotion. When he asked the chief if he understood what this would mean for his people, the answer was unforgettable: “Others have made promises in the name of this Jesus, but they were never kept.” Here was a man whose hope had dried up and blown away because others had made promises in the name of Jesus that they’d never bothered to keep.
(McKinley, Rick; Seay, Chris. Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? (pp. 81-83). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)
The keeping of promises in the past is the story of Advent. Promises of water and food, of home and safety. And also, promises of a Saviour.
So ancient words like those of Isaiah seven we also see was a promise for later – Messiah / Christ.
Those words about a child named Immanuel get picked up in the Gospels with the birth of Jesus. The one Matthew reminds us will save His people from their sins. Along with the many ways people are needy is the spiritual need of each soul. The Messiah finally came, fulfilling many promises of Isaiah, such as those in chapter 7. And the message was for all people. Not just the Jews. Not just Middle- Easterners. For all. All were loved. All are loved.
Story of Jonah, sent to Nineveh…
Ends with God’s lovingkindness shown to the people, and Jonah’s disgust at that mercy shown.
A lovely children’s book by Douglas Wood, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, tells a story of the world becoming so fragmented when it is meant to be whole, and put it back together again.
One night, in a far-away land that “is somehow not so far away,” a truth falls from the stars. As it falls, it breaks into two pieces; one piece blazes off through the sky and the other falls straight to the ground. One day, a man stumbles upon the gravity- drawn truth and finds carved on it the words, “You are loved.” It makes him feel good, so he keeps it and shares it with the people in his tribe. The thing sparkles and makes the people who have it feel warm and happy. It becomes their most prized possession, and they call it “The Truth.”
Those who have the truth grow afraid of those who don’t have it, who are different. And those who don’t have it covet it. Soon people are fighting wars over the small truth, trying to capture it 4 themselves.
A little girl who is troubled by the growing violence, greed, and destruction in her once-peaceful world goes on a journey—through the Mountains of Imagining, the River of Wondering Why, and the Forest of Finding Out—to speak with Old Turtle, the wise counselor.
Old Turtle tells her that the Truth is broken and missing a piece, a piece that shot off in the night sky so long ago. Together they search for it and, when they find it, the little girl puts the jagged piece in her pocket and returns to her people. She tries to explain, but no one will listen or understand.
Finally, a raven flies the broken truth to the top of a tower, where the other piece has been ensconced for safety, & the rejoined pieces shine their full message: “You are loved / and so are they.” And the people begin to comprehend. And the earth begins to heal. (Summary by Richard Rohr)
“This is how much God loved the world:
He gave his Son, his one and only Son.
And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed;
by believing in him,
anyone can have a whole and lasting life.
God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son
merely to point an accusing finger,
telling the world how bad it was.
He came to help, to put the world right again.”
Jn 3:16-17 (Msg)
You are loved : And so are they.