A Christmas Lament

I have developed a view of Christmas that is different from the one held by most people (I am making an unqualified assumption here). I do not see Christmas as a happy time by as a time to lament. I know that the angels sang joy to the world when Jesus was born but when I reflect on the come of God-with-us I do not see joy but sacrifice and sorrow. Let me describe why.

The reason for the first coming of the Son of God was to save human beings from the consequences of their sins. If human beings did not sin, then there would have been no reason for Jesus to have left the intimacy of the Trinity and become one with humanity. I cannot think of an analogy that would even come close to the sacrifice of the Son.

I do not think any of us would like to trade places with a garden slug. Would you want to give up your ability to think as we think? Would you like to be limited by a body that moves slowly in the dirt leaving a trail of slime behind? Would you do this knowing you would end up crawling through a patch of salt and would experience the pain of dissolving slowly? This would not be a choice any of us would make. Even if we loved slugs and knew that if we did this, other slugs might not have to crawl through the salt I doubt there would be many takers. As I said before, not a very good analogy.

We do not get a choice about our being born into the human race. If given this choice, some of us, including myself, would have said no way. Jesus made the choice. Jesus made the choice knowing he would not be accepted but rejected. He would be mocked, attacked, beaten, and eventually killed in the most horrible way. Any takers for this kind of destiny? So please forgive me if I do not necessarily jump on the merry bandwagon. Instead, I will add a lament to my Advent focus.

Oh God, hear my cry as I come to you in sorrow and shame.
I grieve that I and my race sin again you. 
I know this causes you pain.
Our hearts are drawn away from you and thus despair and depravity are our common spiritual currency.
We push you away and thus find ourselves the authors of our own corruption.
It is hard to understand why you would tolerate us at all.
We know when you come again you will bring a sword.
None will be able to survive by their own will.

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent 2021

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

On the first Sunday of Advent we light a candle which is referred to as the candle of hope. It is also called the Prophets candle as it is to remind us of the prophecies given to God’s people, prophecies of promise of a Messiah, a Savior who could lead humanity back to where we belong, into a relationship of Love with God.

The word advent means arrival or coming. Advent, for those who believe in Jesus, is a time of focusing upon an expectation, an expectation that God’s promise will be kept. A time of remembering a promise.

And what promise is that? The promise and prophecy found in Acts 1:11, “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who as been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same you have seen him go into heaven.”

God made this promise and no matter how bad things get, no matter about wars or rumors of wars, no matter about how much immorality, how much crime, or Covid or poverty, or prosecution that comes, God will keep his promise. In just four weeks we are going to celebrate a promise kept.

Christmas was the first advent of Jesus. The advent which was the fulfillment of a promise made by God to the nation of Israel. A promise spoken of in our passage.

The prophet Jeremiah was not well-liked by the people of his time. His message was not one of compromise but of conviction. He did not speak to comfort the people but to bring conviction and contrition. His mission was not to make people feel good but to feel God.

Jeremiah spoke to the people at a time that the people were under attack. Jerusalem was under siege. The people thought just because they had the temple, that they had the Scripture, that they were the chosen, so God would have to come to their aid. The people did not realize their avarice actions, their arrogant attitude, and their acceptance of the amoral had alienated them from God. Jeremiah spoke the truth while other “prophets” told lies. For speaking the truth they threw him into prison.

Poor Jeremiah, he is in jail. He is afflicted, isolated, feeling downright entitled to a huge pity party, and then God comes to call.

If there is one thing I deeply believe is true, God never abandons his own. God never lets the faithful face more than they can endure. And when we need God, God is there whether we are aware or not. As it states in Psalm 145:18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. And, as Jesus told us in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” God keeps promises. In fact, that is what God came to do for Jeremiah.

God came to Jeremiah to give him a promise. This gives us insight into the nature of God. God is committed to giving us human beings hope. Even though we do not deserve it, even though we often abuse it, that fact is God loves us so much he is always reaching out to us his rebellious children.

A fact made so clear by Jesus and the Scripture which tell us in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Those of us who believe have a wonderful promise, God promised one would come who would bring salvation and safety. This promise would be very comforting to those who we still faithful considering what was about to happen to the nation. For they were about to lose their land, the homes, their freedom as they would be taken captive and exiled to Babylon.

This promise would give them the strength to maintain and to endure during very difficult times. For those who are faithful there is power in such a promise.

What kind of power? The three ABC’s of power, the power of an Anchor, the power of a Base, and the power of Conviction and Courage.

The power to anchor us in the midst of affliction is a power to give us a different perspective, a way to see beyond difficulties and sorrow. There are those days when we do not feel very spiritual. Days in which we are tempted to just give up, to say what the use. We try and be faithful, we try to do what is right, but because of circumstances that are overwhelming we don’t feel we can go on. What can we do?

These are times we need God’s promises to anchor us in our faith. These promises are not some speculative, pie in the sky idealism buy experiential promises backed up by human experience and history. God does what God says God will do.

Not only does a promise have the power to anchor us, it builds a base for our faith. A foundation we can trust. Many of us have been let down by people who have made promises to us. Sometimes we make promises hoping to keep them but then something happens, and we do damage to relationships because we cannot keep our word. This erodes trust.

However, when God makes a promise you can count

on it to come true because God is not limited by human frailty or circumstances. When God spoke to Abraham and told him to pack up and go to a land which God would give him, Abraham responded and God kept his promise. When God told him he would have a son even though both he and his wife were old sure enough God kept his promise. When God told Abraham that God would bless him sure enough God did. So when God asked Abraham to offer his Son,

Abraham was able to trust God enough to believe that even if his son would die, God could bring him back to life.

Promises kept builds trust that can face even the most challenging demands of life. I have seen this in hospitals, jails, nursing homes, and any place where there are those who know God and trust God’s word

Something else a promise can do. The power of a promise can give us the Conviction and Courage to stand strong. A promise that is trusted, believed, and held to can create within us character that knows there is hope and thus gives us strength and assurance to face those challenges which seem hopeless.

As today is the beginning of a new church year, there are many things we could worry about. We have Covid, inflation, racism, brazen and often violent crime, the division of red states and blue states, increasing tension between nuclear-armed nations, consumer driven churches, and a morality based on what brings me pleasure. It is a very frightening world.

But remember, we have a promise, a promise affirmed in a statement of faith, “Christ has died Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. When we make the choice to embrace faith in Jesus, this promise is ours. It is a promise of hope and hope is the one thing that we all really do need.

Is this hope in you? It’s your choice.