Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sermon for Dec 22, 2013; Isaiah 7:10-16

Rev. George Miller
Isaiah 7:10-16
“Present to Past”
Dec 22, 2013

Imagine this scenario if you will: it’s Dec 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. President Roosevelt addresses the nation.

He states that he has been visited by the prophet Isaiah who has told him that the Lord says to wait and be patient, to not enter into war with Japan and to trust that God will work through the tragic events.

What would your reaction be? Do you think that the world, do you think that our nation, would have been for the better?

Would Germany and Italy have declared war on the US? What would’ve happened to the people in the concentration camps? Hiroshima?

Imagine, if you will another scenario: it is Sept 12, 2001, the day after the attack on the Twin Towers. President Bush addresses the nation.

He states that he has been visited by the prophet Isaiah who has told him that the Lord says to wait and be patient, to not retaliate, or launch a War on Terror and instead to trust that God will work through the tragic events.

What would your reaction be? Do you think that the world, do you think that our nation, would have been for the better?

The two situations given are in some ways similar to the events in today’s reading.

The prophet Isaiah is ministering during a tricky time in Israel’s history. Ahaz is the king of Judah, trying to mind his business. But Assyria is causing problems, attacking smaller states to build up their empire.

Syria and the Northern Kingdom are scared for their lives; they form an alliance against Assyria and try to get Judah to go along.

But King Ahaz says “No.” So Syria and the Northern Kingdom decide to attack Judah and put a puppet leader in the king’s place.

What is King Ahaz to do? War seems to be the only option. He comes up with a plan: to side with Assyria and to fight against Syria and the Northern Kingdom.

It is a political maneuver based out of fear and the kind of maneuver that will either greatly succeed or fail miserably.

This is where the Isaiah enters in. The prophet comes to King Ahaz with a message from God: “Wait. Be patient. Don’t do anything. God will work this out.”

It must have sounded ridiculous: two nations are ready to attack and the King is told that God says to wait.

Really? Wait, and do nothing. At all?

Isaiah continues. He points to a woman. He says to the King “You see that young lady over there? She is pregnant and will give birth to a child named Immanuel. Before the kid is old enough to know right from wrong, this whole thing will have blown over.”

Can you imagine?

Isaiah is telling the King “Trust me; trust God: in a few short years this’ll all be kaput and you don’t have to do a thing.”

Wait the prophet is telling the King during a time of turmoil.

Trust the prophet is telling the King when alliances are being formed.

Listen the prophet tells the King who chooses to be deaf.

In an act of impatience, Ahaz forms an alliance with Assyria, and like a wolf in wolf’s clothing, Assyria devours the people of Judah with fire and war, leaving their streets destroyed and many of their people dead.

God, speaking through the prophet, used the promise of an unborn child to create patience and peace. The King, by choosing not to listen, experienced the consequence of worry and war.

Last week we heard our Regional Conference Minister, Rev. Sarah Lund speak so eloquently about patience.

As a dreamer from New York that’s not such an easy concept for me to embrace or a life-style choice to commit to. Therefore living in Sebring where there is no choice but to be patient can be one of the reasons why living here can be so refreshing and so infuriating.

It’s nice to go into a store or home and operate on southern or Midwestern time. It allows one to be able to talk, to meet folk, to appreciate the moment.

Then there are other times where it’s like hurry up, stop talking, get your wallet out, step on the gas, figure out where you want to go and what you want to do!!!

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that for everything there is a season: a time to be born, a time to die. But it doesn’t say anything about a time to chill and trust God and a time to get to steppin’ and to act quickly on faith.

And Lord knows the biblical narratives don’t make it easy to figure out.

Genesis 1 tells us God took 7 days to create the world. Does that sound like a lot of time or a little bit of time to you?

What about Exodus 3? Moses is tending the sheep when out of nowhere God speaks to him from a burning bush and says “I have decided it’s about time to free the slaves and I want you to do it.”

There is no warning or preparation for Moses. Just an immediate before and after: Have a meeting with the elders and tell them the great I AM has sent you.

If you ask me, it’s God who sounds a bit impatient. Where’s the planning, the sign of a pregnant woman or words of assurance that if Moses just simply waits and does nothing God will have their problems resolved?

And then Moses does exactly what God asks him to do, and what happens? The Israelites end up having to wait and wander the desert for 40 years for God’s plan to be realized.

It’s like hurry up…to wait.

We see this also in the ministry of Jesus. He’s walking along the sea, spots Peter and Andrew and with nary an introduction he tells them “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they let down their nets and follow.

But when news gets out that his good friend Lazarus is sick and Jesus should come pay him a visit, what does he do? Jesus takes his time, three days to be exact, before going. By then, it appears to be too late.

After the crucifixion we’re told Jesus is in the tomb for 3 days before God raises him up. In your opinion is 3 days east-coast quick or southerrrn slowww?

Throughout the Bible we have examples of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit being like “Now!”, “…not yet.” “Now!” “…not yet.”

How can we ever know which is the right option? How can we ever be sure we are actually hearing a word from the Lord and not just a voice in our own head or the musings of an unstable person?

There is no solid answer for that. I read this passage and feel so bad for King Ahaz, wishing that for his sake and the sake of his people that he listened to Isaiah.

But then I think of the imagined situations we started today’s message with. How would you have felt if President Roosevelt or President Bush had based their decisions on a visit from the prophet?

To wait or to act? Which is the best to do?

I can’t say, but I believe an answer rests in something Tracy Miller, our-vice moderator, stated earlier this week “Seek first the Kingdom of God.”

In other words, as we do what we do, are we doing it for us, or for the betterment of God’s Kingdom?

Are we focused on what God ultimately wants and hopes for the people?”

Sometimes the answer we get is a very clear “yes!” Sometimes it is a very clear “no!” A lot of times we may find the answer a bit in the middle, mindful of all the complexities and sides of an argument.

So perhaps to get a sense of how to respond in the present, we bravely look back upon our past.

To learn and listen to what God has said before to get a better understanding of what God is still speaking today.

To recall the teachings of Jesus, to consider the stories he told, to look at the people he helped, healed, and reached out to and the people he ate with.

To celebrate the ways in which the Holy Spirit broke into the world, the fire it brought with it, the peoples it touched, the tongues it let loose.

Advent is a time to look forward; it is a time to anticipate.

Advent is a time to wait. To stay; to stay right where we are. To pray. To praise.

To remember the promises of the past as we are centered in the present. To be centered in the present so we can embrace the future that Immanuel (God is With Us) is creating.

Advent is a time pregnant with possibilities. A time pregnant with hope. Pregnant with joy. Pregnant with peace. Pregnant with love.

Can we stop and listen for the voice of God? Are we willing to trust that it’s not the ways of the world that are in charge but God is?

Are we willing to believe that God is still speaking, and it’s not just with periods, but commas, and dashes and even long, quiet pauses?

Are we willing to seek first, above all else, the Kingdom of God? Amen and amen.

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