Tuesday, December 23, 2014

B, Christmas Eve/Christmas Day Isaiah 9:2-7 "The Way Things Are Meant To Be"

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When Joseph and Mary set off from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary heavily pregnant, one might wonder if Joseph grumbled in his heart, “This is not the way things are meant to be.” The word of God does not tell us what he was thinking other than that he originally planned to divorce Mary quietly for being “found with child”. Nevertheless, he was convinced otherwise after an angel of the Lord visited him and told him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife and to name the child, Jesus, at his birth. (see Matthew 1:18-25)

However, humans being what we are, as Joseph trudged his way from Nazareth to Bethlehem with a woman carrying a child of whom he was not the father, not to mention a heavily pregnant woman, ripe and ready to give birth at any moment, most of us would forgive Joseph being upset at the government for having them travel at this time to appease the bureaucratic busybodies in Rome.

And then the labour pains begin! “Now that’s just great! Mary is about to drop her bundle and we’re out here with nowhere to go.” One can sense the anxiety and stress of Joseph as Mary begins to bear down for the birth of the baby God has called Joseph to adopt as his own. And no one took them in, at their home town of Bethlehem. This was not the way it was meant to be, for the law called for folk to be hospitable and take travellers in, especially ones who were relatives.

Was it meant to be this way? They were in the lineage of David, the great king of Israel, but now humbled on a donkey was a woman ready to deliver a child whom the father was not clearly known, manipulated by their captives, the Roman government, without anywhere for this child to be born. It surely paints a picture of hopelessness, weakness, oppression, anxiety, and depression.

It is easy for us to tap into the sentiment of hopelessness, as we take check of what’s going on around us in our society today. And not just what’s out there but what’s in our hearts too! Are things meant to be this way? If one stops to take check of what’s really going on in his or her own heart, we will find no matter how much we dress ourselves with gaudy decorations and lights these things only cover the darkness within, and the joy and goodwill of the season only reveals the ever deepening chasm of hopelessness that really exists once the hangover of the holiday season sets in, in the wake of what we’ve really been worshipping. Yes, it’s very easy to get a sense of the uncertainty and lack of security Joseph could have felt for his new unorthodox family.

Even more so when we consider the society in which we live. Just as it was a great impost on Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem, our governments and an out of control bureaucracy, too seek to manipulate us for their own gain. Censuring us today in a way that parades a good order mantra, but in reality feeds a greater disorder in our society! The threat of terrorism is real, yet governments turn and use the terrorism threat to terrorise us into accepting more and more rules which control us and destroy the freedoms and democracy they’re meant to be protecting.

The media mediates the manipulative mantra of the ruling class so we’re only told half-truths, whoring themselves with politicians, waiting for the election season, when the tables are reversed and politicians whore themselves with the media to again manipulate us into voting for them. And as this carries on business continues to woo society with a mantra all of its own so we praise, purchase and worship their products, to the glory of their end of financial year profits.

And if the darkness of our hearts, the rule of politicians and the media is bad enough, the ecclesiastical estate seeks to align itself more and more with these rulers too. The institutionalisation of the church has become as much about manipulation of people for the glory of things other than God. Just like governments, the church uses past horrendous acts in the church by certain members to justify acts that are ungracious and even more atrocious removing people’s faith in God and replace it with a faith in something else, trampling the Holy Spirit underfoot in a bid to glorify other spirits.

Just like the ruling Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the days of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, here on earth, the institutionalised church is bowing to the very same sins. So bad has it become that the Word of God has been reviled by people inside and outside the church because the church uses the Word of God to bind God’s people when they rightly intend to glorify God. And again the Word of God has been reviled by folk when church hierarchy and others wrongly use it to loose themselves to manipulate or mount up money for themselves.

It’s no wonder that underneath the facade, the mainstays of our society these days seem to be unrest, hopelessness, unhappiness, lack of trust, anxiety, depression and a deep long for something better, that can’t be found in the fruitlessness of what governments, the media, and the secularised church has become. The unity of community fractured by the individualism of each broken heart, and the hopelessness of what our world’s become. This is not the way things are meant to be.

As much as we might be tempted to bury the reality of what we are and what we’ve become. We can’t! Nor could Joseph as his anxiety surely heightened as the unborn child sank lower and lower in Mary’s pelvis as they sought somewhere in Bethlehem to have the baby. Instead let us hear the promise of God against the darkness of how things have become. When this is not the way things are meant to be.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2–7 ESV)

The way things are is the way things are. Ever since the fall things are not meant to be this way! Ever since Adam and Eve sinned you are not the person you were meant to be. However, this is how it is!

But from the midst of this darkness a great light of hope shines bright. You who dwell in the darkness of anxiety, depression, institutional oppression, and from all the things that are not meant to be, a light is shining. Not the flashing light of Boxing Day sales, the lights on houses and trees, nor the light of hope someone might offer to coerce you into their world of popularity, power, and profits.

No! This is the light of true joy; the light that bureaucratic bullies cannot use to burden us, shattering the staff of institutionalism, and ruining the rod of ruling oppressors forever. This is the light of wonder, might, and peace, and it’s not a light that will fade with the fads that come and go with governments, media, and churches that have been hijacked of heavenly focused power and glory.

For us who are willing to believe we are in darkness are illuminated in this glorious eternal light. This is the “Light of the World” born to Mary, Jesus the Christ, whom Joseph was called to father on behalf of the Eternal Father. Joseph may have thought this in not how it’s meant to be, but God was making it right in the midst of things that were far from right.

And now for us too, who live with the darkness of self, who live with politicians giving themselves pay rises, ever maddening media mantras, and institutional churches modelling themselves more and more on the world, we are called to hear the promise of God who, despite all this stuff that’s not meant to be, is enlightening us with his Word of Hope! That which is meant to be!

We are called to believe what is, is! But also to believe that which is hidden! And this faith comes from the Light of his Word which illuminates the unseen… The government of God, established with justice and righteousness forever by this baby’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. The counsel of the Holy Spirit most wonderfully leading us back to repentance and forgiveness through our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. The might of God, which despite all the darkness still reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of those who believe and is effective in fulfilling the will of God on earth as it has been fulfilled in heaven. And the eternal peace which comes when we trust not in ourselves and what we can do but in the zeal of what God has done and continues to do in his righteous and just government.

The promise of God is the only truly righteous and just thing in heaven and on earth. Joseph trusted God alone when things were not what they were meant to be, we too need to trust God alone despite so much of our self and our world being not the way it is meant to be. Amen.