Words of Hope

The Pas           Advent 4

Year C

23 December 2018

Psalm 80:1-7

Micah 5:2-5

Hebrews 10:5-10

Luke 1:39-55

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory; bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation, Jesus the Promised One. Amen.

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I was looking at the readings for today, and I’m struck by the somewhat confusingly mysterious, to the point of cryptic language used by Micah, today, to describe what we’ve come to acknowledge is one of the greatest of divine interventions since the time of creation, since the salvation of the Hebrew people – the birth of the Christ child.

This is language that is baffling, it’s contradictory, it’s got as many meanings and possible interpretations as we can find – and really, we might miss the mark with all of them. So, I’m thinking that a prophet’s message isn’t straight forward. It’s not clear cut.

Even John the Baptist’s proclamation on the banks of the River Jordan, and the fact that John came from the wilderness had been generations in the watching. Generations waiting for this message to be proclaimed, and yet, it talks of what we could interpret as infrastructure changes to the wilderness, rather than changes in the infrastructure that is the wilderness of our own lives and hearts.

So, then in what we see from Micah, today, we can deduce that a prophet’s words are never as clear cut as following the directions on a map.

At the same time, we’re used to, these days, following the advice of our GPS’s, of recipes, of the ‘how to assemble’ directions that come with just about anything that arrives in more than three pieces. We’re a people who like things, information, even our news to be straight forward, and point blank.

The only exception to this might be if we’re playing a game, or working on a puzzle, but otherwise, we tend to not be fond of cryptic language. We don’t like messages that come with a double entendre, or meanings that aren’t easily understood.

But God doesn’t seem to communicate with us, in a clear, straight forward manner. God doesn’t send emails. God doesn’t come straight out and say this is going to be done on this date, at this time of the day.

Rather God chooses to proclaim God’s messages, God’s warnings, God’s guidance through the words and proclamations of the prophets. Instead, we get these convoluted and often cryptic messages that, we need to assemble, or sort, or pull apart, to find the whole of God’s message to us, to the people of Israel.

Or like playing the game ‘telephone’, the message can get garbled in its transmission from one end to the other.

And today we’re able to look at Micah’s words and we wonder how they’re able to relate to what we know of the season of Advent, to the birth of the Christ child, or even, to the second coming of the Christ?

We get such words as: “Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.” (Mic 5:3-5a)

And we’re able to look at them and we’re able to wonder what God’s even talking about because we forget that Micah was as human as we are, but it’s through him that God chose to communicate to the people of Israel, to you, and to me, during his lifetime.

And it’s not just Micah’s words that we can look at with such a puzzled expression. All of the prophets, in their own way, proclaimed their messages of hope, of salvation, and of the Messiah. They proclaimed God’s wishes for a positive future for all who believe. Yet, it’s able to take generations, or even centuries for their messages to be given, life, context, and meaning.

After all, the angel’s proclamation to Mary, about Elizabeth, about her own immediate future, brings to life Isaiah’s words from about the same time that Micah was proclaiming the message that we hear, today.

Our gospel tells us: “41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! … 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”” (Lk 1:41-2, 45)

Now, Mary by comparison, had it easy. The angel comes to her directly and tells her God’s will for her life, and to tell her how this plan will affect and change her life, forever.

(After all, for years, after the family returned home, Mary was known as the one who was pregnant before she was married.)

But even in that, Mary puts God’s proclamation to the test by going to visit Elizabeth, by going to see if what the angel told her was true.

But we’re not in a position to hear the prophets words, directly, nor interpreted by angel messengers. Rather we have the pages of the bible from which their words are able to reach out to us, to guide us, and to give us encouragement, still today.

And this is the clue, that we’re looking for, today.

The words of the prophets, as convoluted as they are, as incomprehensible as they appear on one day, but not another, are intended to give us hope, to help keep that fire of faith alive, even if it’s to blow on the embers as we express our frustration in trying to understand what the prophets have proclaimed for our lives of faith, for the will of God in and to the world.

So, today, Micah tells us: ““But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”: (Mic 5:2)

And as we look at these words we see the coming of the Christ child, but, at the same time, we can see the promised second coming of the Christ?

And this is where we find the mystery of the prophets words. They can apply to our circumstances, here, today, or they can apply to events that we’ve seen centuries ago. At the same time, they may apply to events that will come to pass centuries from now, when God feels that the timing is right.

And in the midst of their time locked, yet timeless messages, the prophet’s aim was to continue to give us hope for tomorrow, yet at the same time showing us where and how God’s guiding us, leading us,  urging us, still today.

Micah tells us: “He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace” (Mic 5:4-5a)

Yet, in all of this, God sent the prophets to talk to us, to guide us, to encourage us to wait for God’s time to be right, and for things to move at God’s pace, and God’s pace isn’t humanity’s pace.

So, it comes back to the impatience of humanity who although we look for instant gratification, who, in many cases, wants what humanity wants, and God only knows that what we want isn’t always what’s best for us, or for creation.

It comes back to returning, time and again to the words of the prophets to puzzle them out a little more to see where God’s will has been fulfilled, or where it will be fulfilled, in the future.

In the meantime, we need hope we need encouragement to see our way through to tomorrow, and again we return to the words of the prophets, as mysterious and as cryptic as they can be upon first read.

But at the same time, this week, our ‘tomorrow’ is surrounded by Christmas preparations. It’s filled with family and expectations around the season, and with gathering to remember and to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

It’s tied up in ribbons and bows, and comes with baked goods of many varieties.

And such expectations, such preparations can be exhausting, so that by the time Tuesday comes we wonder why such preparations take the stuffing out of us, and not the turkey?

Then we remember. We remember Mary, and we remember Elizabeth.

We remember the words of the angels, and we remember the actions of the prophets over and around everything, like the gift-wrap that we’ve so carefully affixed to the gifts that will be so enjoyed when they’re opened on Christmas.

And we come back to the words of Micah.

We come back to the words of the other prophets that have carried us through since the days they were spoken, thousands of years ago. We see how they carried through the time of Mary and Elizabeth, who are living out the will of God, the fulfillment of the prophet’s words, and to today, so many generations after.

We see how the words of the prophets only make sense when God is moving in our lives, in the world. After all, Mary and Elizabeth heard these words of proclamation all of their lives, and expected their fulfillment as much as we expect to see the sun come up in the west.

But here we are, looking for faith in the midst of a world that would rather have presents, today, instead of promises for tomorrow.

We live in a world that in its desire to have constant internet connection and microwave ovens that we don’t want to wait for the coming of God’s time, in the world, we see what we want to see changed, affected, or amended by God, today.

And when God’s fulfillment comes, it comes in God’s way, not in the ways we would expect.

So, as we come to the end of the seasons of Advent, of waiting for the fulfillment of the arrival of the Messiah, or the second coming of Christ, we will look at the words of the prophets. We will celebrate the arrival of the Christ child as he is born in the stable and laid in the manger.

We will look, with the shepherds, in awe as we see the will of God made manifest for you, and for me, for generations before us and for generations to come as God cares for us and guides us through the words of the prophets, and the urging of the angels.

Amen.  

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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