Nov – 1 Dec 2019, Christ Mountain Top
Wreath, from Isaiah 2.1-5
Moment, World AIDS Day,
hundred years ago, the words of the hymn that we know as “Joy to the World,”
were first published, as a paraphrase of Psalm 98 by English poet and pastor,
Isaac Watts. The hymn, as we sing it today, incorporates Watts’ words with a
tune from Lowell Mason, an American banker whose musical gifts were shared in
his side job as organist at a Presbyterian church in Savannah, Georgia. Since
Mason loved the music of George Frederic Handel, it’s no surprise that there
are pieces of the tune reminiscent of that composer’s Messiah. Three different lives, interwoven across
oceans and decades, come together to bring the world one of its most beloved
Advent and Christmas hymns. We say Advent and Christmas because, though the
song is often sung as a Christmas carol, a closer look at its words shows as
much focus on Christ’s return as on his birth – a perfect connection to the
season we enter today.
an announcement made to Mary, and an invitation that comes to us to “let every
heart prepare him room,” weave together to offer a powerful message of hope for
us and for our world today. (Leland)
is remarkable about all this is that the word of hope comes in the larger
context of judgment. Isaiah has just been writing of Israel as a donkey that
has forgotten its manger, a prostitute who has forgotten her faithful lover. He
calls Israel by an alternative name, a judgment name, “Sodom” and “Gomorrah.” He
says that God hates their religious observances and that if they persist in
their rebellion, they will be devoured by the sword (Isaiah 1).
with the text from Isaiah 2, which we shared with the kids, is from Matthew’s
gospel, from Jesus’ sermon on the end of days and final judgment. When the Son
of Man comes, he will come with judgment and come suddenly, and that suddenness
will be like the great flood in the time of Noah or like a burglar who comes to
take the best of what you have.
This message and worship series,
developed by my friend and our district superintendent Larry Leland, uses an
alternative series of gospel readings, from Luke. Yet, even today’s story of
the angel announcing the birth of Jesus to Mary comes as sudden and scary. “Greetings
favored one! The Lord is with you.” “But she was greatly perplexed.” She’s
committed to what God has for her, whatever it may be, and maybe she’s thinking
… “What’s the catch?” God’s call for her is to bear God into the world. And to
bear the world’s judgment in the process. In those days, good girls don’t get
knocked up before they are married, and being knocked up by God is not an
why is the first Sunday of Advent traditionally associated with HOPE? We all
crave it. We all desire something new. We look around at our world gone mad –
children slaughtered in school and nothing changing; hard working people being
denied access and opportunity because of the color of their skin; billions of
dollars spent on better and better ways for us to kill each other; old folks on
fixed incomes struggling to stay in their homes as property taxes rise; addiction,
abuse, and poverty seeming to lock generations in an abyss of pain. Our problem
lists may be different, and our ideal solutions are certainly different. But we
all know that things need to change. Yet, we become cynical. “The more things
nations will beat swords into plowshares, tanks into tractors. In that day “the
mountain of the house of Yahweh” will be established and many peoples shall
come to its light. Gabriel declares to Mary that this coming one, the holy Son
of the Most High, will set up a kingdom that has no end. Matthew encourages us
to be in constant readiness because the coming of the Lord is just as certain
as the disruption that his coming will cause.
Walter. Prophetic Imagination: Revised Edition (p. 84). Fortress Press.
announces the coming of the kingdom. But surely implicit in the announcement is
the counterpart that present kingdoms will end and be displaced. [Jesus]
announces that a new age was beginning, but that announcement carries within it
a harsh criticism of all those powers and agents of the present order. His
message was to the poor, but others kept them poor and benefited from their
poverty. He addressed the captives (which means bonded slaves), but others
surely wanted that arrangement unchanged. He named the oppressed, but there are
never oppressed without oppressors….
is correctly perceived as a clear and present danger to that order, and this is
the problem with the promissory newness of the gospel: it never promises
without threatening, it never begins without ending something, it never gives
gifts without also assessing harsh costs.
my personal Bible reading this week, I have been in Daniel. The king has a
disturbing vision of a beautiful statue with a head of gold, chest of silver,
abdomen of bronze, legs of iron, feet of clay and iron. Then he saw a stone
chiseled out – not by human hands. It struck the statue to “smithereens” and
grew to become a great mountain. The interpretation by the prophet was of several
kingdoms in the history of the world – Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome – and
the kingdom of God, that stone, that mountain, that would destroy all kingdoms
but itself would never be destroyed (Daniel 2).
hope comes with judgment. For Mary to enter that new future, for her to
participate in it, for her to make room for the Savior in her womb, her life,
her world – she had to enter into and stand under judgment. For you and me to
enter that new future, for us to live in gospel hope, for us to make room for
the Savior in our bodies, our lives, our world – we have to enter into the
judgment that comes with hope. We do this because we know that judgment does
not have the last word. God’s last word is a word of mercy. “And of his kingdom
there will be no end.” That is why we hope.
ago, when I was just getting started as a pastor, I struggled to structure my
days particularly when Robin was not around. She worked every other weekend out
of town, leaving Friday and coming back Sunday evening. And I couldn’t get to
sleep without her there. I’d stay up really, really late watching reruns of Doctor
Who. Yes, I looked forward to her getting home. But I waited until the last
minute to do those dishes. The idea that hope and judgment are related is
nothing new in the human experience. And Robin isn’t the judgmental kind. I
just didn’t want to disappoint her the way I had already disappointed myself.
gather today around the Lord’s Table. We are invited to receive bread and cup
as the body and blood of Jesus. In this gift, we are told that the last word is
a word of mercy, not judgment. We hear that ancient assurance, “In the name of
Jesus Christ you are forgiven. Glory to God!” And we begin to live in hope.
very bodies as well as in our hearts, minds, souls. We pray, “Pour out your
Spirit on us gathered here and on these gifts of bread and cup. May they be for
us the body and blood of Christ that we may be the body of Christ redeemed by
his blood.” So that everywhere we go, Jesus goes. So that everyone who receives
us and our witness has made room for Jesus. (See Leland.) Like Mother Mary, we
bear God into the world. Like the prophet Isaiah, instead of learning war we
learn to walk in the light of the LORD. Person by person, neighborhood by
neighborhood, city by city, we become a people of hope.
resources, including portion of message text, prepared by Larry Leland, and
take home questions by Adam Estep.