16 December 2018 Christmas again,for the first time Martin Baker
1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom mysoul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice tothe nations. 2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in thestreet; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he willnot quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint orbe crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlandswait for his teaching. 5 Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens andstretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who givesbreath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 I am theLord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and keptyou; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7 toopen the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, fromthe prison those who sit in darkness. 8 I am the Lord, that is my name; myglory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9 See, the former things havecome to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tellyou of them.
Let us pray
I’m not sure how many of you have had this experience. It’squite a strange one.
You might have been away from some place that you know verywell, and you’ve perhaps been away quite a long time, and then you come back,and instead of seeing that place as familiar, you see it for an instant in theway that someone who has never been there might see it.
Or perhaps it’s a bit like visiting the house you lived inonce, and seeing it again, and it’s not quite how you imagined in your head.
I remember phoning my parents on Christmas day after travellingfor a year or so, and thinking who are these people, with these terribleaccents?
I’ve talked about coming back from the Barrier where mostpeople have a wave. And driving down North Road and realising that people heredon’t wave so much. So I stop waving.
The reason I’m talking about this today is that the readingswe hear around Christmas can seem so familiar - and yet they are all to do with things that for their readers and hearers from long ago, would have been shocking, unfamiliar andstrange.
To quote Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, 'Toto, I've a feelingwe're not in Kansas anymore.
Those first Jews who encountered Jesus, who followed him,who saw him executed, who came to proclaim his resurrection. He was not what they were expecting. There was an expectation that a messiah wouldbe like Kind David, leading a victorious military conquest and establishing a kingdom.Or a couple of hundred years before Jesus, someone like Maccabeus who led a successfuluprising against the Greek Invaders of Jerusalem.
The stories of Jesus’ humble birth. In the living room, or manger,of a peasant farmer, who also kept their prized animals inside as well.
The story of Jesus, friend of sinners, and tax collectors,healing, eating, drinking, travelling, teaching. Finally seen as a troublemaker , dying a criminal’sdeath.
This was not familiar territory for anybody.
So where did these first Christians look for understanding,for the fulfilment of prophesy?
It’s in the ancient Book of Isaiah, from 500 years earlier.The reading today, see how closely itdescribes Jesus:
Is upheld and chosen by God
is one in whom God delights
is one on whom God’s Spirit resides
does not raise his voice in the streets
does not break a bruised read or quench a burning wick
will tirelessly work until he has established justice in theearth
has the support of God
is given as a “covenant to the people”
is a “light to the nations”
will “open the eyes that are blind”
will “bring out the prisoners from the dungeon ... those whosit in darkness”
is part of the “new things” God is up to
These words are part of a series of poems called theservants songs that we find in this part of Isaiah.
All these poems come from a time when the kingdom of Judahin the Southern part of Israel got the worst surprise they possibly could get - in the year 587 bc.
That was the year that you would have seen your countryoverrun, and destroyed by the Babylonian army. You remember that year, becausethat was the year you may have, especially if you'd been one of the country’sleaders , been taken off to exile in Babylon. In that year you'd have seen manyof your people die from starvation, from disease from war. It was also the yearthat you'd have seen the very central object, and symbol of your religiousfaith, the temple in Jerusalem, defiled and destroyed. The times couldn't havegot much harder back then. In fact what normally happened at this point tosmall nations like the Hebrew people is that they simply disappeared. Theycould have so easily just been assimilated and become lost in the lives andhistories of other more populace nations.
But the Hebrew people didn’t disappear. The main reason theydidn't, was that the prophets supplied the people with an understanding of whathad happened. The prophets kept reminding the people of their identity, of whothey were. The prophets told the people that they were chosen and called byGod.
After the Persian army, led by Cyrus, defeated theBabylonian the people had to rebuild their country from scratch. It's at thispoint of social despair, at this point of communal hopelessness that we hear Isaiah’swords. Words that spoke again so powerfully to those early Christians inunderstanding the ministry of Jesus Christ.
God says through the prophet, here is my servant whom Iuphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon him; hewill bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice,a bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. Hewill faithfully bring forth justice.
So at Christmas time lets join those first Christians and look back to Isaiah. With them see thisstartling imagery which ran counter to the commonly held understanding of powerand might. A God whosever identity and power became manifest in costly self-givingservice. The one who the songs also describe as the slave of rulers despised, abhorred,rejected, the ancient prophet would say, becomes the very agent for God's salvation.
We are surrounded by powerful messages of success, of consumption,spending, getting ahead, of beauty andattractiveness. But a message today that speaks of transformation through humbleness,striving sacrifice not giving up.
We see those hate groups gathering in parts of our world. Perhapswe all understand something about what that’s about. In times of change when youare feeling threatened you seek out likeminded people, and look for support foryour views, no matter how distorted they might be. Edward Said talked aboutthis “an exaggerated sense of group solidarity, passionate hostility tooutsiders, even those who may in fact be in the same predicament as you”
But this morning we are hearing a different story.
In Isaiah the prophet offers a vision of the world in whichan individual or a group of people in the midst of brokenness, in spite ofbrokenness, and maybe even because of the brokenness, will be a light to thenations.
Leonard Cohen said “Forgetyour perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, but that is where thelight gets in
2 Corinthians 4:7-9:
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may bemade clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come fromus. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not drivento despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
Even in the midst of all the challenges and news, we stillhave the power to make a difference in the lives of the people around us. Apower that grows out of compassion, out of being concerned with the needs andconcerns of the other that even in the most disturbing of days, we have theability to do good things, to look beyond our own problems, and to direct ourfocus to the other.
This last two weeks: a small thing, but a remarkablething. We started off with 121 envelopesand names on our Angel tree. Each represented the name of a child, or a parentor grandparent looking after children. We felt we were doing really well when40 people took an envelope and a name and gave $25 for food for that person. Thenwe told the families who came to our ministry programme during the week. Another 15 or 20 were taken. A few more lastSunday morning. We announced at our big end of year Littlies service lastSunday and another 20 or 30 went. One family gave us 200. And then the last twoor three people, who themselves havevery little, came and took an envelope. Finally a young mother came in on Wednesday,she spoke about those families in need , that was on her mind, and she took allthe rest. Over $3000 given for food for our local families in Takanini and Papakura. 121 children being prayed for thisChristmas.
It’s a simple lesson, not just helping people, but alsogiving people the opportunity to help. A community formed around giving andsacrifice. Perhaps both these things are as important as eachother. Perhaps that is what grace is all about. It’s wonderful to receive, butfor each of us to claim the power to give.
In the face of bad news, violence in homes, violence againstwoman, against a young traveller, it’s easy for us to let fear and suspicioncontrol our decisions. But we find here that transformation comes from beingopen to another. To give, and to receive. God so loved the world that he gaveus Jesus.
The things we do, the solutions which we arrive at toovercome fear and violence, will havean impact far beyond the coastlands, farbeyond the geographical boundaries ofour lives, and our community. Good News travels fast. We can proclaim that openand welcoming hands, and generous hearts are the way of Christ - that is Good News. We cannot be certain ofoutcomes. The final results are in God's hands. What we can do now is to makethe costly decisions that faith in Christ demands.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.