Sermon Advent 4 December 18, 2016
Isaiah 7:10-16 Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1:18-25
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Our readings today all have the theme of Call. The young mother spoken of by Isaiah has a Call, a purpose in life. So does – the child she will bear. So do the Israelites spoken of in the Psalm. Paul in his letter to the Romans does. And of course Jesus, who is eternally called to be our Saviour.
First then, Isaiah’s prophecy came at a time when Judah was facing an attack from Aram and Ephraim. Aram is today’s Syria, and Ephraim is northern Israel, northern Palestine, if you will, that situation seems to resonate with what Israel is facing today – the more things change the more they stay the same. Isaiah prophesys that by the time the child is born and weaned, say in two years, Aram and Ephraim, Syria and Palestine, will be defeated. That of course came true. We can look at Isaiah’s prophecy another way. We face challenges even threats every day, some big some small, some from within, some from without. We face temptations from within and without – temptations for gratification from within, whether it be food, sex, wealth, respect, we sometimes exist in a phantasy world – a world of ‘what if’ ! Then there are temptations from without – temptations inspired by others for us to cheat, to steal, to lie, to take advantage of someone who is down, to do what is unfair for gain – a world of ‘if only’ ! And like the two armies of Ephraim and Aram the temptations get mixed and mingled together, and lo and behold after a while temptation seems to be ok. And we go for it ! The reality is that truth and goodness do overcome deception and wrong. It may take time, years but truth will out. Isaiah cleverly uses the imagery of curds and honey. What better in a land flowing with milk and honey ? A land still coveted by others. The young woman’s child will know the difference between right and wrong very early but because we are frail human beings subject to temptations we don’t always discern what is good and what is evil, we need a guide, and that guide comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ. The child in the prophecy of Isaiah was going to be a normal child, until called to signal redemption for us. That child signifies the importance of Jesus for us.
Next, the Jews were always going to be the Chosen People, to be an example to us all in godliness until they were exposed, as being oh so human. But let’s not knock the Jews, they are the Chosen People. Have any other people retained their identity for five thousand years even though dispersed across the globe ? They have brought our focus to God and Redemption from Sin “show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved” writes the Psalmist. Without the Jews we would be worshipping cats, birds, trees, rocks and God knows what else, without their special relationship with God we would be pagans. Their Call, fulfilled every day is to bring us to God, we are chosen too, and no one needs reminding that our Saviour was a Jew.
Then of course comes Paul. Paul was going to be the staunch defender of the Faith, a Pharisee, until he went crazily wrong and persecuted God’s beloved. He had decided to do his own thing, to convert people his own way, converting people by force and fear of imprisonment. We hear of that same method being applied against Christians by ISIS and by other fanatics today. It ain’t goin’ to work ! God said to Paul ‘Enough, join my team’ and Paul more than any other disciple became the truest, staunchest defender of the Faith. Paul found out that it is not sufficient to follow our own whims, desires or convictions. God pointed Paul in the proper direction where he found out that having faith was the key to Salvation. It’s not what we think we can do, it’s what we are called to do. God will say “Enough” to those who persecute us.
Like Paul, many people have had their life’s direction changed, often unexpectedly and by circumstances beyond their control, and not just changed, but changed for the better. Paul you recall had what we call a Damascus experience. Going about his day, he was stunned by the revelation of Jesus in his life. We don’t need to be knocked to the ground to get our attention, we have the benefit of being able to read and understand God’s message to us through the pages of the Old and New Testaments. But often even with that grounding it is not enough and God will allow our lives to be changed by circumstance. Throughout history people have had things happen, sometimes seemingly for the worse but in reality for the better. My own case was like that. My marriage was on the rocks and I got fired too because I was too old. That can’t be good. I had a little bit of Faith about me so I prayed. I prayed that things were too much to bear. So as the Bible tells me I gave it all over to God. I unburdened myself. None of the damage was changed, the past does not change, but the future will – a new door opened for me, a door two years before I would never have considered. Without those personal disasters I would not have found my way into ministry. I took the opportunity of a new found freedom to study in seminary, to be ordained and to serve God, which is perfect freedom. Then a while ago there was another hiccup in my life but the next thing I know I received another Call, a great blessing, I came here. Examine your lives and see where things turned around for you, and be ready for the next.
The most perfect Call was Jesus’ from the beginning of time. He was always destined as Matthew tells us, to Save us from Sin. Jesus’ Call is from God, it is His own Call, because He is God, knowing that we need redemption, sometimes from ourselves, sometimes from others but always towards Him. In these seasons of Advent and Christmas look for the change in your life that may be God’s Call to you to something new. Look for the Saviour but look for you too, He is here and you are alongside Him now and always, ‘til the end of the Age. Amen.