Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reviving Love -- A Sermon for Advent 4B

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

We have reached the end of our Advent journey.  On Wednesday evening we will light the Christ candle and celebrate the coming of the Rock of our salvation into the world. The advent of Jesus in the world fulfills the covenant promises God made with our spiritual ancestors.  
God covenanted with Abraham and Sarah, promising that their descendants would be a blessing to the world.  God covenanted with Moses to bring to bring order and purpose to the people of Israel.  God covenanted with David, promising, that his throne would be established for all generations.  Yes, as the Psalmist declares, this covenant is a sign of God’s “faithfulness to all generations”  (Psalm  89:1-4).

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that she will bear a child, “who will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.”  Gabriel tells Mary that her child will “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).  Yes, even though it had been many centuries since a descendant of David sat on Israel’s throne, God had chosen to restore the kingdom of David, her son would sit on the throne forever.  Now Mary was a bit confused by all of this, especially since she wasn’t yet married.  But Gabriel tells her not to worry – the Holy Spirit will take care of things, and besides “nothing will be impossible with God.”  With this word of assurance, Mary accepts her new calling.  

The angelic visitation came at a time when Rome ruled that part of the world through a vassal king named Herod.  There were many in the land who believed that a time would come when God would deliver them by sending a Messiah – a liberator. Now, many such liberators had come and gone – so how would her child be any different?  That is the question that Christians have been pondering ever since.  How does Jesus’ realm differ from other realms?  After all, he wasn’t born in a palace and he never led an army.  

The Gospels tell us that Jesus embodied the realm of God and showed the world the true nature of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love through his life, his death, and his resurrection.  The kingdom that Jesus inaugurated at his birth transcends borders.  It transcends ethnicity and language.  It transcends tribe and family.  The realm of God which we inhabit through the Spirit binds us together in the loving embrace of the one to whom Mary gave life.     

When the people of Israel first sang Psalm 89, they were trying to make sense of life after the Exile.  The original kingdom of David and his descendants had long since been destroyed.  They were now residents of the Persian Empire.  As the people seek to make a new life in a long forsaken land, they take comfort in God’s steadfastness and faithfulness.  Just as God had stood with David, God would now stand with them in this new situation.  We may be coming here today feeling like we have just come out of exile.   

The Psalms give us permission to cry out in frustration and pain.  We can join the Psalmist in crying out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Psalm 22:1).  But in that same Psalm, we hear these words: “Posterity will serve him: future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it” (Psalm 22:31).    

In Psalm 89 we hear the people sing out praise to the one who is faithful and whose love is steadfast.  Yes, the Psalmist declares – “your steadfast love is established forever; you faithfulness is as firm as the heavens” (Psalm 89:2).     How do we know God will be faithful?  The Psalmist lays out a vision of the one whom God will raise up; the one on whose head God will place the crown.  This is the one whom God anoints and empowers, and this is the one who says to God:  “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.”

We come today to join with Jesus, the son of David, to declare before God:  You are “the Rock of my salvation.”  You are the one who brings healing, reconciliation, and restoration to our lives through your anointed.  You bind us together in love.  This love is unconditional and never ending. Therefore, we can “sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 89:1). 

The other evening we were watching the TV show Scorpion.  Maybe you’ve seen it.  It tells the story of a group of geniuses with special skills and experiences who help the FBI solve cases.  This particular episode was a bit different.  It carried, as is true of many shows this time of year, a Christmas focus.  In this particular episode the leader of the gang, Walter O’Brien, is sitting at the beach with his sister who suffers from MS. They’re talking about her impending death and his unwillingness to believe in miracles, but hoping that science can bring healing to her body. 
As the two of them are talking, a young boy whom Walter had helped get a kite in the air, gets trapped in a cave when the cliff overhead collapses.  The boy survives this collapse, but unless help comes soon he is going to drown when the sink hole in which he’s trapped fills with water.  Walter is first to respond and calls on his team to help rescue the boy in partnership with the LA Fire Department.  As you might expect, the rescue is complicated.  Even though they can drill a tunnel to him, he is injured and his leg is caught under debris and will require a special jack that a member of Walter’s team will try to create in order to facilitate an escape. Now, I don’t have time to tell the whole story, but Walter comes up with a plan to pipe oxygen directly into the boy’s blood stream so that he could continue to get oxygen after he is completely submerged. But for this to work – the boy can’t try to  breathe and he has to trust Walter. 

As for Walter, who is at best an emotionally distant individual, the rescue requires him to risk his life for the stranger.  The first time he goes into the hole, he faces the danger of a collapse.  But he goes forward with it and he assures the boy that he will return for him. Before they can go in and rescue him another cave-in occurs, and in the process pinches off the oxygen line.  At this point there’s no hope.  There’s no reason to continue the rescue.  But when the jack arrives, Walter goes in anyway and frees the boy.  Despite going without oxygen for more than six minutes, he survives.  Of course, this is a TV show with a Christmas theme, so there has to be a happy ending – but it’s not the “miracle” that is the point.  No, the point is Walter being faithful to his promise.  Although the boy was essentially a stranger, Walter’s love expressed in the moment was steadfast.

    During this Advent season we have heard the Psalmist proclaim that God is in the business of restoration.  By restoration we mean salvation.  But salvation doesn’t simply mean getting a pass to heaven.  No, it involves reconciliation with God and with neighbor.  It includes healing of body, soul, and spirit.  It includes what Eastern Christians call theosis.  That is, in Christ we take on the robe of divinity through union with God who is revealed to us in Jesus and with whom we are joined through the Holy Spirit.  

If, as John writes in one of his letters, God is love, and if we become one with God in Christ, then love dwells in us.  Of course, we are also human beings, and therefore it is necessary that the Spirit rekindle within us the love, which is God, so that we might “love one another” (1 John 4:7-11).  
During this Advent-Christmas season we have the opportunity to hear the message of – Emmanuel or “God is with us.”  Therefore, we are not alone in this world.  As we read in the Gospel of John, “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  It is for this reason that we join together at this season and sing “Joy to the World” and “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.”  

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
December 21, 2014
4th Sunday of Advent

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