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“Miracles Yet to Come” – Luke 2 and Isaiah 9
We still wait for the day when “every boot of the tramping warrior, and every garment rolled in battle blood,” will be so unnecessary that those war-fighting tools (that slaughter the innocents) will be burned in our cooking stoves. We still wait for this time of peace when the One Isaiah called, “Wonder-Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” will reign visibly over all. We still wait, like others have waited before us, but on one such waiting night during the reign of Caesar Augustus, while shepherds were guarding their flocks outside little Bethlehem, the skies suddenly opened and a myriad of angels sang God’s version of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” As surely as God’s angels tore heaven open…..to tell all the world that God was giving us His Son…..God has also torn open all the rest of human history to be the kingdom of the gentle rule of His beloved Son.
St. Paul’s congregation has feasted on the Advent texts of the great OT prophet, Isaiah, for these last 4 weeks, and here is yet one text drawing us forward toward what only God can do. All war forgotten because Jesus reigns, all evil and injustice banished beyond His borders because the Evil One has also been banished too, and men, women and children from every tribe and nation joining the shepherds in awe and joy at the great thing God has done for us. “The zeal of the Lord of Hosts which has done all this!” But He is not finished yet, so we still wait.
And in this “not-yet-finished-time” which we share with the shepherds, and Isaiah, and the saints who have gone before, we see King Herod and tyrants like him, attack the shepherd’s village, Bethlehem, and try to kill the One Herod thought might take his throne. If there was to be any “increase of government and of peace,” in 1st century Judah, then Herod the Great and Caesar Augustus would craft it with as many tramping warriors and as many garments rolled in blood as they wanted. Some of the little sons of those shepherds were surely among the boys Herod slaughtered in Bethlehem as he tried to stamp out the Prince of Peace.
This is the painful reality for our waiting. Not only is the Christ’s rule gentle, but it is invisible, and the Herods of the world ignore God as if He were nothing and even dare to brutalize the lambs of God’s flock. There has always been a cost to following Jesus. Even His mother was warned by the Archangel that a sword would pierce her heart because of Jesus. Bishop Miguel Velazquez, whose territory is in the mountains of western Mexico, has a real target painted on his chest right now, because he has publically fought back against the drug lords who are killing the lambs of his flock. We can not celebrate the innocence and beauty of Christ’s birth without seeing the silhouette of the cross painted on His manger. While we wait for God’s zeal, there is always a cost.
Mary and Joseph were strangers in crowded Bethlehem, with meager last minute shelter provided by a kind innkeeper who had no empty rooms. Far from family, in a stable – not a warm house–without Mom or midwife to show them what to do next, Mary did much more than ponder the words of the Archangel Gabriel. The kicking baby inflicted normal late term pain as Mary & Joseph trekked from Nazareth to Bethlehem. So Mary was first to feel the Gospel’s announcement that God has become a human child. Incarnation is flesh and blood, labor pains, and all the risks that go with birth. God did not wave His hand over the world to redeem us, nor did He issue a grand royal decree. He came into our human family and lived among us as Mary’s son. He risked mistakes by Joseph as Mary struggled to give birth, He risked respiratory infection in a chilly stable, the wrath of Herod’s tramping warriors, all so that He could do what you and I and all our ancestors have failed to do—-to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbors as we love ourselves. The perfectly obedient “God-Become-Man,” the innocent One, by His death ransoms us, the guilty ones. Why? Why does Jesus come down from heaven for disobedient children like us? Because God’s zeal is all about us, His passion is that I may be His very own. And you too.
The Gospels often repeat Jesus’ invitation to come to Him, to come away from a world where we juggle goods & property in an uncertain marketplace, where we are all tempted to be too rich toward self and too stingy toward others, away from a world where a mighty aircraft carrier and its tramping boots seem to dwarf the footprint of the Prince of Peace. He calls us away from all that glitter and power, to a world where we pick up our cross each day and follow where He leads. That will never make sense or be truly marketable in the way the world markets stuff. But the One Who divided history by His birth, and offered up His life for our redemption, calls us into His family in just this counter cultural way: “I am among you as the One Who serves,” He said. From that moment on, service and serving has become the shape of our living in His kingdom. It is His very own design. It may make no sense, but this is how the zeal of the Lord of Hosts is shaping all things.
Isaiah lived with the same kind of forces that frighten us, with rulers who made war to conquer neighbors, he lived in a world where market barons trampled on little people, and a world where his own repeated calls to repent were ignored by king and commoner alike. History tell us that Isaiah was right and the kings and their people wrong. They ended up as slaves of the Babylonian Emperor simply because they loved sin and sinning more than they loved God. As he viewed their demise at the hands of the Babylonians, Isaiah could have said, “I told you so.” But by the breath of God in Him, he urged the faithful to keep faith, even as slaves, because God still had yet more to do on their behalf. Jesus’ birth is God’s great act of love, and it is part of the yet much more that God has in store for us. But even on Christmas Eve it must be said that God isn’t finished yet and that He still invites you to be His servant while you wait for our zealous God to do all that He has in mind.
I lived with tramping warriors for a whole career in America’s Army, got to love them every day, go with them wherever they went, with the mission of bringing this Prince of Peace as close to them as they would allow. Because I was with them, I heard their yearnings for that day when they could lay all their burdens down, when there are no more deployments, and no more wars, when they no longer had to grieve for the buddies they lost, a day when they too can beat their swords into plowshares and then stand beside their plowed fields to welcome the Prince of Peace. Come to Him now and hear the angels sing. Come to Him with all your heart and let Him make you all that you were meant to be. Imagine your tomorrow full of deeds that would please Him, and then by His grace go make it so. And in case you don’t know it, the rocks and the hills have already begun to sing because this little child is God come to earth. The whole creation is ready, the Apostle Paul says, ready like a woman already having labor pains. Now is the time for each us to be ready too. God bless you and your families as you adore Him Who is Lord of us all and as you offer Him the best that you have.
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