Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent 4: Invitation to Trust

*(I am indebted to Barbara Lundblad at Working Preacher for her thoughts regarding Isaiah 7:10-16 this week)

A long time ago and in a place far away from here, a prophet came to a king and said, “Trust me.”   
            The King’s name was Ahaz – and the prophet’s name was Isaiah.  And when Isaiah said, “Trust me,” he really meant “Trust God.” 
            Now you might wonder why the prophet came to the king with such a message. 
            Isaiah knew that King Ahaz was worried and frightened.  He knew that there were two other kings that were plotting against him – the king of Israel (the northern kingdom) and the king of Aram. 
            They wanted to overthrow Ahaz and set up another king in his place, for their own political purposes.  
            Ahaz was worried, and the prophet came to him said to him, “Trust me.”
             That’s what it means when Isaiah says, “Go ahead – ask for a sign.  You can ask for anything!  The sky’s the limit!  Just ask!”
             It’s an invitation.  But Ahaz won’t do it. 
            He won’t ask for a sign, and he makes a big show of saying, “I won’t put God to the test.”  Sounds pious right? 
            We are not supposed to test God, right?  But really, Ahaz is not pious.  The truth is, he has his own ideas about how he’s going to deal with Israel and Aram, and he doesn’t want God to get in the middle of it.   “Ask God for a sign,” Isaiah says. 
            As deep as sheol or a high as heaven.  The sky’s the limit!  And Ahaz refuses.

            Perhaps it seems like an odd story for the Sunday two days before Christmas Eve. 
            Two days until Christmas Eve and if you are like me, you are starting to get worried that you won’t get everything done before Christmas, or you are starting to anticipate with joy the return of family members from places far away, or you are thinking about the people who – for whatever reason – will not be with you this Christmas.
             Two days before Christmas eve, and for some of us, it really is Christmas already, because in this day and age when families live in many different places, some are sitting down to a family Christmas dinner already this weekend.
            But according to the church year, it is still advent, we are still waiting, and still preparing, still getting ready.

            And advent – well, advent is about many things.  Advent is about hope – about waiting for what only God can do in our lives.
             And Advent is about preparing – not just our homes but our hearts –  And advent is about repentance – about turning around and going in another direction. 
            Advent is about many things, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that advent is about God, saying to us, “Trust me.” 
            Trust me with your future. 
            Trust me with your present. 
            As Isaiah came to King Ahaz and said “trust me”, so during advent we are invited to trust the one who is coming to us, the one who will come to us, soon, the one who will be born among us and laid in a manger, because there is no room for him in the inn.

            Of course – this is not the reason that we read this passage from Isaiah on the 4th Sunday of Advent. 
            No – really we read this passage because of that sentence “ the young woman will conceive and bear a son, and she will name him “Immanuel.”
            And most of you will hear the word “Emmanuel” and you will immediately know that it means “God is with us.”  
            And when the early Christians heard this verse from Isaiah, they couldn’t help but think of Mary, and her son, Jesus.  
            “Emmanuel” was the sign given to Ahaz – the one he didn’t want – and “Emmanuel was the sign given to Joseph, and Emmanuel is the sign given to us, today.  “God is with us.”  Emmanuel Emerges
            “Trust me,” God says.  Ask me for a sign, and I will give it to you.  And when we say,
            “No, God, that’s all right.  I think I can get this all worked out without your help,”  God says,  
            “You know what?  I will give you a sign anyway.  And the sign will be a child.”

            And what kind of a sign is that?

            Well, for starters, we can say it is A good sign…..A child is a good sign, in many ways. 
            To the couple who are longing for a child, to a church wondering if they have a future, to a world looking for signs of life…. A child is a Good Sign. 
            I remember reading something a long time ago – that the era that my mother grew up in – the children that were born during the depression – is the smallest generation. 
            There were a few years  during the depression when there were just not that many children being born. 
            And the baby boomers – the generation born right after World War II ended – the boom was in part because of the spirit of optimism.  The sign of the child. 
            It is a good sign, a sign of hope.  A young woman has a baby and names him “Immanuel”.  God is with us. 
            Because that’s how she feels.  Something good is emerging in the world.

             But Immanuel is not just a good sign. 
            It’s also a vulnerable sign.  It is not a sign that tells you (if you are Ahaz) that God is going to send his armies and annihilate your enemies. 
            It’s not a sign that tells us that God is out to give us everything we want.  It is a sign that tells us that God is at work for good in the world,  but perhaps not in the ways we are expecting.  ‘God is with us.’ 
            A woman whose father served in the German army in World War II – has this memory – that the buckles of the German army had these three words printed on them,  “God with us.”   
            So we can lift those words out of the context and try to use them for our own purposes.  But the words are meant to be held together with the sign,  the sign of the child. 
“Trust me,”  God invites us. 
            Instead of trusting your own might, your own power, your own cleverness, trust me.   That’s the invitation to us, two days before Christmas eve.

            Two nights ago, my husband and I again went to a local performance called “All is Calm:  The Christmas truce of 1914.” 
            Hearing the music and listening to the readings from letters and poetry the soldiers wrote, I was struck again by how unusual it was, how unprecedented this action was
            Not just a small cease-fire, but really a temporary truce.
And it didn’t come from above, but from the soldier in the trenches.
It came from the soldiers in the trenches, who longed for peace, and trusted – somehow – that “God with us”  “Emmanuel”  meant was not a sign on a belt buckle of a conquering army --- but Emmanuel was a sign of peace for them – and for their enemies.
So They took a risk.
 I remember one voice during the performance, soldiers who were told by their sergeant to stop fraternizing with the enemy, to get back in their trenches. 
            “Shut up, sergeant,” the soldiers said back, suddenly unafraid.  “It’s Christmas!”  “God with us.”   

            “Trust me.”  That was the message to King Ahaz. 
That was the message to Joseph as well. 
The angel came to him in a dream and said, “Don’t be afraid.  Take Mary as your wife.   This child – this child will be called ‘God is with us.’” 
            This child will change the world – and your life – but not in the ways you were expecting
            Not through conquering armies – but through conquering hearts.
So Joseph trusted the angel.
And Emmanuel was born into the world.
            “Trust me.”  That’s the message for us as well, these two days before Christmas eve. 
            It is the message for us as individuals, and the message for our faith community. 
            Trust that God is working in your life, through your lives, that the baby born in a manger, is born into the ragged and messy parts of your lives, that God is with us – not in conquering armies and great successes, but in every changed heart, in every welcome guest, in every stranger, in every child who is fed, every prisoner visited. 
            God is with us – at Christmas, not in the ways we expect, or even in the ways we want, but in the ways we need –
Making us new
 making us instruments of his love.

            Trust him.


No comments: