02 Christmas 02 First Sunday of Christmas Isaiah 63.7-9
My friends, I greet you today in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our lesson comes to us from the 63rd chapter of Isaiah.
Stories are powerful. It is easy to get caught up in a good story. Have you ever read a book that you could not seem to put down? You had to keep turning one page after the next. Our maybe you saw a movie that afterwards you had to tell everyone you saw about it. Because you were captured by the power of the story.
Stories allow us to become participants in events that we were not necessarily there to experience ourselves. They can become part of who we are and form how we see ourselves and our world. Stories can illustrate a point or teach us a valuable lesson. Stories can be true, I could sure tell you some stories from our trip to the national youth gathering. But they don’t have to be true either. Did I ever tell you about the one that got away that last time I went fishing, it was this big?
It seems that whenever we get to the end of the year we find ourselves doing some reflection on the days past. For some it is a sense of relief as this was a pretty crummy year. This year was so bad that the next year can only be an improvement. For others it was a year full of joys and firsts and wonderful experiences. I hope that this next year will be as good as the last one.
We reflect on classes that we have taken, projects that we worked on at work, things we accomplished around the house. We receive grades and performance evaluations. As we look back on the days past we write more of our own personal stories. The story of me and what has happened to me in my life during the year of our Lord 2007.
Our text in Isaiah not only is about a story, but it takes place within a story. You see, a long time ago, in a land far way, there was a tiny nation populated by a small group of people. But these people were a special people, because they were chosen by God to be his people. They would live in a special relationship with him that was different than the way any of the other people around them lived. In living their lives this way, they would bear witness to who God is to the nations around him. Because there were many nations that surround this tiny special one, but none of those other nations knew who God was. This was part of his plan to bring them into relationship with him.
However the people of this special nation forgot this important fact. They would look at the other nations around them and say, “we want to be like them. We want to do what they are doing. We want to worship the gods they are worshipping.” So God allowed the enemies of this special nation to come in and remove them from their homes and take them to a foreign land that was far away. It was terribly sad and discouraging. And questions began to arise. Why did God allow this to happen? Is it because he was powerless against the gods of our enemies? Is it because he no longer loves us or wants anything to do with us? What does this mean?
This is the situation that Isaiah speaks to. It is with these questions in mind that Isaiah pens the beautiful and amazing words that happen to be our text for today. “I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, because of all that the Lord has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. For he said, ‘Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely’; and he became their savior in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”
Now notice that these words did not actually answer the questions that were being asked by the people. Instead what they do is provide an action plan for dealing with some of the most horrible, difficult, and troubling situations that life can throw at us. This action plan works well for times of being exiled, that is being forced to leave your home and relocated by your enemies, but it also works in smaller, though sometimes just as painful struggles that we face in life. This strategy is one that works well in the face of bad grades or not passing a class, the loss of a job or the end of a relationship. It works well as there is struggle with sin and addiction and even in the face of death.
This action plan is simple, but it is powerful. It is to recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praiseworthy acts of our God, because of all that he has done for us, and the great favor to his people, the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For this special nation, as they face the worst possible situation that they could have ever imagined. In the face of all their questions, they are not given deep and complex theological treatises that require advance degrees to understand. Instead they are pointed back to the gracious, praiseworthy actions of God that are done out of his gracious love. Love that is like super love, love that keeps in mind the promises that God made to his people, love that does not end or is removed, love that is beyond words. Love that is beyond, that is greater than the sins of God’s people. They are pointed back to a story, and the power of that story.
The story here that Isaiah is referring to is the events of the Exodus. The special nation was not a sovereign people, but they were slaves. Living a horrible life where it was ordered that any boy babies born were to be thrown into the river. And so God himself shows up to save them. He does not send an angel, but he does the job himself, and in so doing the people of this special nation are given freedom, and life and a relationship with God.
This is our story too. We too celebrate and give thanks for God’s gracious acts and dealing with the people of that day. So we tell this story so that it can inform our world views and how we see ourselves and how we see our God. We tell of his praiseworthy acts and gracious deeds that flow from the abundance of his steadfast love. So that we can share in that story and in that identity of God’s people.
Having the benefit of hindsight, we also know of another occurrence of the gracious deeds of our Lord, and acts that are praiseworthy that flow from the abundance of his steadfast love for you and me, and that is this;
“Because God's children are human beings -- made of flesh and blood -- the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.”
Lest you think that this story be reserved for only sad and seemingly hopeless situations, know that it is a story for all times of life. Because when we experience joy, the gracious and praiseworthy acts of our Lord are even sweeter. When we experience the corruption and brokenness of sin, the gracious and praiseworthy acts of our Lord are powerful source of strength and comfort, and so we rejoice and give thanks in them.
As a community, these gracious and praiseworthy acts bind us together as members of the same family. It is a special relationship that we have with one another. It also calls us to carry out the mission and work of our God in this word, and that is this, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you, and surely I am with you to the very end of the age.
And so these stories move us to share them with the community around us. To do that requires that we be creative in how we communicate. We live in a world that sees Christians and Christianity in a negative light. They think the church is only after money, and that life in the community of faith is only about being told what to do and not to do. Yet we know that that is not the case. So how do we make our neighbors aware of this? I don’t have the answers, but I am willing to try to figure it out. And I would invite you to join me. If you are interested in being a part of this jot down a little note on the back of your yellow sheet, and I will be in contact with you.
There is a lot of ministry to do around this place. But what an adventure it will be. Spend some time in prayer and ask God how you can become part of the work of recounting his gracious and praiseworthy acts that flow out of the abundance of his steadfast love in this congregation. And supplement that prayer with time reading that story so that it can fill your minds, hearts and lives.
May you always find a great source of comfort, joy and strength in this story, in sharing this story and in the recounting of the gracious and praiseworthy acts of our God that flow out of the abundance of his steadfast love. Now and into the year 2008 and beyond. Amen.