Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Comfort His people . . .
Peace is like a candle shining in a dark place. We speak this season of Advent in terms of Peace, of Hope, of Joy, of Expectation in terms of small, but powerful lights in the surrounding darkness. Certainly, those who heard the words of the prophet Isaiah knew darkness. Certainly he spoke to a people who had lost hope. For generations they had been taught and come to believe that they were God’s chosen people. Such a selection and understanding should have come with some significant perks. If God really was God, and if the idols were dumb and mute as He taught, they had nothing to fear. No God could fight Him in the heavens and win, and nobody could fight His people on the earth and win. Yet, Israel found itself in Exile, seemingly abandoned by God. Part of why Israel could not be overthrown was that the Temple of God was in their city. The only thing more important to God than His people, so the thought went, was His Temple, His home. God would obviously defend His home against any who would attempt to sack it. Life, seemingly, had taught God’s people they were wrong. They could be defeated. His Temple could be destroyed. They could be scattered from the Land He promised to their ancestors.
We don’t have to work hard at imagining how Isaiah’s audience likely felt. Stunned would be one feeling. Regret would be another. Can you imagine the feeling of having been part of God’s people only to realize that you broke the covenant and drove God away? After all, if they kept the torah, God would bless them; if they did not keep the torah, He would punish them. The prophets had certainly been reminding them that God kept His promises. They sinned; He punished. That was the deal. And, in the midst of this cosmological/theological struggle of their place in the world and in God’s covenant, life events were still happening. There were questions of provision. How will I feed my family? How will I pay for the doctor? Where will I find work? There were questions of health and disease. There were questions of relationship. Imagine being scattered and trying to find a spouse for your children.
We find ourselves, I think, empathetic to the the plight of the exiled Jews. We proclaim the Holy Mystery, Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again., every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. But in the midst of the day’s or week’s trials, do we really remember that? Do we really believe it? How are we going to keep the lights on? How am I going to afford medicine and food? How am I ever going to straighten out my kid? How am I ever going to be able to care for my parent? Throw the worldly anxieties in there, such as Ebola or Typhoons or mudslides, and mix in a few tragedies from the lives of our friends and coworkers, and we have a real understanding of the psyche of the people to whom Isaiah was writing. After all, we are those people, and they are us! If God raised Jesus from the dead, why is all this crap happening to us? If God is for us, why are we suffering? Over time, we begin to buy into the myth that God is not real, that we are not loved by Him, and that (if He is real) He really is not able to change the course of our lives.
Notice the words today from Isaiah. They are words of Advent, words of reminding. Comfort, comfort My people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term. She has received the double for all her sins. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed! Part of the truth revealed by God is that we do sin and we do suffer as a consequence of those sins. The pain, the hurt, the toll are real. As real as they are though, they do not signify that He has forgotten those who call upon His name as Lord and as Savior. As real as they are, they are not above Him or His power to redeem.
We talk often about how our behavior is meant to glorify our Master. I cringe when I hear moralistic sermons — particularly when I give them! —, when I hear a televangelist or radiovangelist tell the widow to give him or her that last $1000 so that God will finally bless her, when Christians tell those suffering at the deaths of a loved one that God needed another angel, when Christians argue that good enough is representative of God’s love to the world. When we fall short of His calling upon us, we dishonor Him. We do the opposite of glorifying Him to the world.
But have you ever considered that this honor relationship works both ways? Whatever happens to us, sullies Him, besmirches His reputations, makes Him seem impotent to save? Why do you think those in the Old Testament could wait patiently on His vengeance rather than seeking their own on their enemies? They knew that their dishonor was His! What was done to them was really done to them, one who was created by Him and among His chosen people! You and I can live our lives, and all the circumstances which work their way into our lives, because we know that He will redeem us. We have called upon His name. We have accepted the sacrifice of His Son and picked up our crosses to follow Him. We have asked that we be given the grace to die to ourselves and to live only for Him! And in that amazing act, He binds us to Himself. He reminds us that whatever we suffer, He suffers. Whatever pains us, pains Him. Whatever mocks us, mocks Him. And one day, one glorious Day, He will come agin with power and glory and angels to judge the living and the dead. One Day, one glorious Day, He will come with recompense and repay all humanity in judgment. Those who claim His Son and His sacrifice will be judged as holy, as righteous, as sheep of His own redeeming. And, best of all, He will scoop them up into His arms as a shepherd who gathers his lambs to his bosom. He will feed them, and He will gently lead them. That is the promise of this season of expectation and of our Lord!
It is a tender image. You and I are promised that one day our Lord will appear. Like a shepherd, He will gather us in His arms and hug us tightly to Him. He will feed us, He will lead us, He will love us. Can you imagine the feeling? Those of us who miss the loving embrace of a loved one will be embraced even better than that! For all the good parents and grandparents who loved us, for all those wonderful embraces we have experienced in the arms of someone who truly loves us, even those will pale in comparison to the tender embrace of the Creator, our Father in heaven, who loved us and redeemed us! It is that message you and I are given to proclaim! Why can we face cancer with hope and peace? Because we know one day He will hold us to His bosom! How can we face questions of provision in our lives with hope and peace in our lives? Because we know one day He will feed us, He will lead us to water, He will serve us at the Wedding Feast to which He has called all humanity! How can we face ridicule and persecution with hope and peace in our lives? Because we know one day He will come with recompense before Him! How can we face death with hope and peace? Because we know He will conquer even death’s apparent victory over all His people!
How do we know all this? I mentioned last week that we are a remembering people who are called to look forward, especially during Advent. We are called to remember that the Babe that will be born that Silent Night when all creation sighs at His coming will suffer the Passion and Death that makes possible our own salvation. We are called to remember that His Resurrection that Sunday reminds us not only that He has power even over death in our lives, but that He has power to keep all His promises. Since He has promised, He will come again. Nothing, no power of Hell, no distance, no time, no earthly philosophy, no death, no disease, no doubt, no single thing can prevent Him from keeping His promise to each one of us. And that promise, as we were reminded this morning from Isaiah, is one of comfort, one of hope, one of peace.
Brothers and sisters, to you have been given the words of eternal life. To you have been given the words of comfort. Our Lord loves us. Our Lord will one day come for us. Our Lord will one day take us to where He is, gently like a shepherd leading mother sheep, that we might dwell with Him for all eternity. And to remind people of that love, of that hope, He has planted that burning spark in each one of you and sent you back into the world as laborers. He has sent you bearing crosses that others might see your testimony, that others might hear your words, that you might lead them to His Son. Now go! Go and comfort His people! Just as He has comforted you!