Monday, December 17, 2012

Now Showing: The Coming of Victory

Preached on the Third Sunday in Advient, December 16, 2012

Scripture readings: Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4

The psalm we have read and the opening lines of the Letter to the Hebrews are happy words. They are simply happy. They show a happy God and a happy world. I don’t think I am accustomed to thinking of God or the world in this way, are you?

December Late Afternoon between Riztville & Washtucna
With so many angry psalms, the psalm we have read has seemingly no hint of anger. All danger is gone. There are no enemies left to fight and defeat. There is nothing left to fear.

The opening lines of the Letter to the Hebrews are about the happiness of the Father and the Son. We know that the Son is Jesus who “made purification for sin.” We are told that this Son, this Jesus, is the radiance of the glory of the God who spoke through the prophets.

Jesus is the glory of God and the communication of God. Even though Jesus is said to sit at the right hand of the heavenly majesty, and even though this kind of wording might make us wonder what it is that Jesus is seated on the right hand of, and what it means for Jesus to be positioned to the right of it, this still means that wherever God is, wherever the Father is, that is where the Son is.

Jesus is God’s speaking and God’s communication. If you hear God, it means you have heard Jesus. If you listen to Jesus, it means you have listened to God.

December, Looking East at Four O'clock
Jesus is the radiance of God. So, if you have seen the Son, you have seen God. If you have seen God, it is because you have seen the Son.

Jesus shows us the fullness and the completeness of God. The Son does the Father’s work by creating everything. The Son does the Holy Spirit’s work by “sustaining all things”, keeping everything in the universe in existence, as if he carried it all on his shoulders.

These lines from Hebrews give us a picture of the life of God as a continual state of generous and joyful togetherness. Glory, as the languages of the Bible have it, is like the brightness of light and the thrill of music that makes us want to sway, and jump, and dance. The life of God is a continual sharing of work. The life of God is the unending exchange of gifts, and courtesies, and honor.

The life of God is happy. It is this happiness that the world is founded on. It is happiness that has made us. It is happiness that reaches out to us and gives us our purpose in life.

Wouldn’t this be nice? Who wouldn’t want to just reach out to this happiness and receive it; or take a daring leap and dive deep into it? We reach out to God for happiness, and he turns us around to be aware of the unhappiness of our world, and he sends us into that world. He tells us to follow him by carrying our crosses, which are smaller versions of his own cross.

Looking West at Four O'clock
Some people are instinctively aware of this danger. They avoid it by going their own way and seeking their own happiness at the expense of others. Or they learn to embrace their misery, their unhappiness, and their anger, and they turn it against others. They spread their dysfunction and they may spread outright destruction.

There is this huge capacity of God for happiness. It is a happiness he seeks to share with us. It is a bright, shining, glorious happiness, but it is happiness that has a shadow.

There is a shadow in the glory and happiness of God. The Psalm says, “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” And the word for salvation, here, is often translated as “victory”: but victory over what; victory over whom?

Hebrews tells us that Jesus won his victory over us, because he won his victory over sin. It tells us that Jesus “provided purification for sins”. But this is a soft way of putting it.

On a summer afternoon, when I was little, I was playing with a bunch of other kids at a neighbor’s house. They had huge a pile of rough, red, volcanic rock in their driveway.

They were going to use it as a border around their yard. But, for small children, it made the perfect place to play the game “King of the Mountain”. The mother was at home, but she wasn’t paying any attention, or she would never have let us play on her mountain.

I fell down that mountain, and the rough, red rock was crumbly, and bits of it gouged my hands and arms. There were tiny grains of that rock under my skin.

I was screaming bloody murder, as we used to say. The mother heard, and came out, and saw the damage.

She was a nurse; and she hustled me inside, to the bathroom, and she began to scrub my hands and arms with hot soapy water, and she put iodine on my wounds. I howled, and I fought her with all my strength; and she fought back until she was satisfied that I was clean and properly disinfected, and then she sent me whimpering home.
December, Walking Back to Washtucna from the Cemetery

The purification Jesus gives us is a case of the deepest cleaning imaginable. He doesn’t simply provide it. He made our purification like you make a construction project. He made our purification like you make a piece of furniture or build a house. He made it like a surgeon makes repairs on your body. He made it like he made the universe.

The word for our purification implies something deep and horrible to feel, and to hear, and to look at, and to deal with. I haven’t seen a lot of horrible things, but I have seen some. I have seen some gruesome wounds, and the victims of bad auto accidents.

I have seen some evil. When I was ten, I saw some teenagers beating up an old man. It scared me and I ran away. Several years ago I found myself spending some hours in a room with a man holding a gun to his head.

All of this is nothing. There are far worse things to see or hear in this world, and there is a whole world of purification to be made and carried by Jesus. There is a victory that needs to be won and, when it is won, the whole world, and everyone in it, will sing. They will clap their hands, and make the most joyful music forever.

Washtucna Star Seen from a Different Perspective
The victory has been won. It has been won by the cross and by the resurrection. But the beginning of that deep cleansing happened in Bethlehem, where God became a baby in a homeless family.

The beginning of the victory over the sins of the world began when God became a baby who (as the Gospel of Matthew tells us) narrowly escaped the massacre of all the boy babies in the town where he was born. The village of Bethlehem was ruled by a king in Jerusalem who was determined, with all his might, to fight the interference of a God who works for the purification of this world. However it may work, God’s project began, even from the start, by God (himself) making direct personal contact with unspeakable horrors and the destruction of innocence. The work of purification is a battle, and serious work.

There is a battle being fought by the spiritual powers behind the evil of this world. They fight with weapons of madness, and hate, and anger, and despair, and pride, and greed, and lust, and power. They fight with words, and injustices, and abuse, and neglect. They fight with clubs, and fire, and knives, and guns, and bombs.

Good people may try to fight this battle with reforms, and laws, and governments. They may even try to fight with arms and armies. These are weapons of this world and it is hard to prove where these weapons have truly been effective. We seem to think of them only after the damage is done. We mostly use them for stepping in and mopping up afterwards..

God fights differently. God fights from person to person, from soul to soul, with the weapons of his humility and his servanthood. God fights with the weapons of his birth, and his life, and his death on the cross. He fights with the power of his resurrection. The Lord tells us that these are the only weapons that will end the vicious cycle of our world.

We say Jesus was born to die. It is just as true to say Jesus was born to rise from the dead and to defeat death itself. God fights by faithfully carrying this world we live in by speaking his resurrection life into it: his word of power. This world and our lives go on because Jesus is continually speaking to us his word of power: his word of life.
Christmas Program, The Play, December 16, 2012

He establishes a beachhead in each one of us. Then each one of us plays a part in bringing the victory of Jesus to others around us, in our living, and serving, and speaking, and praying, and loving. Jesus wages his war for the eventual victory of the kingdom of happiness, and he calls for us to help.

The Psalm tells us that God’s “right hand and holy arm have gotten him the victory.” Jesus is God’s right hand.

For most of us, our right hands and arms are the one’s we work with the most. For most of us, our right hand is the strongest hand and the smartest hand. Jesus Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:24)

Jesus is God reaching his strong and skilled right hand into time and space to fight for the transformation of the world. To do this he had to meet every form of evil, and weakness, and lostness. It is his happiness, in the present, to share this battle with us.

He had to confront the worst this world could do, in order to give us his best. So God became the child Jesus to make our purification, and to make the purification of a world that seems so empty of safety and hope. It is his happiness to share this battle with us. And so, as Mister Rogers said, we are to look for the helpers. We are called to join the helpers.

Christmas Program, Handbells/Chimes, December 16, 2012
Mister Rogers once said this: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster’, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers…so many caring people in this world.”

As bad as this world seems, it is carried along by Jesus who promises to share with us the gift of happiness that flourishes and thrives in his heart. He is dedicated to bringing into our world of danger and fear, a bigger and better hope that has all the power of a high dive from heaven to earth.

Our hope is based on his faithful, tender, and humble love. This is the hope that we see in its first steps from the manger of Bethlehem.

1 comment:

  1. good morning, pastor dennis.
    an inspirational post for sure.

    part of my day was made happy by this visit to your blog.
    anything to make a heart smile, is a good thing, especially now.

    and as always, i am very grateful for your wonderful comments and for your continued support.

    much appreciated!!