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December 7, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

ISAIAH 11:1-9

While watching the excellent production of Charles Dickens’, A Tale of Two Cities on TV the other evening, I was struck by the thought that this is very appropriate for Advent. No doubt many would disagree with that statement. No doubt many feel and resent the association of the Tale of Two Cities with Christmas. Keep the memories of the French Revolution out of Christmas, you might say! Keep the injustice of the aristocracy, the suffering and poverty of the poor, the bloody violent uprising, and then the excess of the revolution itself which became as harsh and as unjust as the regime they overthrew, keep that out of my Christmas, some say.  “I want my Christmas to be peaceful, joyful and happy.” 

But, the Messiah came into a very real world, a real world of suffering and injustice. The Messiah did not come into a world of our commercialized Christmas, this make-believe world of tinsel and White Christmas, ho, ho, ho, silver bells and a shallow peace without justice. The Messiah came into a very real world, a world where people are hungry, a world where children are beaten—abused physically and emotionally, a world of divorce, of marital difficulties, a world where kids put drugs into their bodies, a world where loved ones die, a world where there's cancer, a world where there's war. Today is the 39th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Messiah came into a world of war, a world of racial prejudice and discrimination, a world of sex discrimination, a world of revolutions and coups, violence. The Messiah came into that real world. 

There's a fine line between celebration and escapism. We all need celebration. At Christmas, we all need the celebration. We need the joy, the fun, the laughter. We need the beauty, the pageantry, the music. We need the tree, the poinsettias, the wreath and the candles. We need the big feasts. We need the sharing of gifts. We need celebrations. We need the rest and the respite from our daily lives. We need the perspective and the objectivity, the time to stand apart from our life and look back at it. We need the time of celebrations to give us the energy and the power to cope with the real world, to face it and deal with it. That's the purpose of celebrations. 

But there's a fine line between celebration and escapism, escaping into a fantasy make-believe world, as did the aristocrats of pre-revolutionary France. The rich partied in their lavish gowns with gold and silver and crystal, dancing in step to their own tunes, completely oblivious and blind to the suffering and the poverty of the people around them, blind to it for they were in some fantasy, make-believe world. It took a bloody revolution to shatter that fantasy, to shatter that world and to shock them back into reality, into the real world of suffering, injustice and poverty. 

We in this Advent season are emphasizing the Bible to keep us face to face with the real world so that we don't escape into some fantasy world of nowhere, so we do not become smug and complacent and need revolutions and uprisings to bring us back to reality. We look in this Advent season at the prophecies primarily of Isaiah. We see in Isaiah, as was read to us last week and today, the agony, the hurt and the anguish of an oppressed people, a poor people, a humiliated people. And we hear their cry in agony for the Messiah, the Savior to come with righteousness and justice to bring them hope. Isaiah wrote in 11:5, “The Messiah will rule with justice and integrity.” He comes into a real world, and he will rule with justice and integrity. 

Last week, we looked at righteousness. Righteousness is the concern for the widow and the orphan who symbolize the helpless people of the world. The concern for these people is put into practice in justice, where the Messiah will rule with justice and integrity. In 11:4, Isaiah says, “He will judge the poor fairly and defend the rights of the helpless.” That's the Messiah. It's crucial for us to have an adequate picture of God for we act in terms of our understanding of God. It’s crucial to have an idea of what God is really like because the God of the Bible is very difficult to find in these United States. The God of the Bible is often difficult to find in our churches. The God of the Bible has made a decisive break with cultural definitions of God, and cultural expectations of God. The God of the Bible is a far cry from the popular gods of our people. The God of the Bible is a far cry from Santa Claus who merrily dispenses whatever we want as long as we're good. Although I don't hear that qualification much anymore, That used to hang over our heads—he’s making a list and checking it twice. I don't even hear that anymore. Santa Claus just gives it all out, whatever we want. The God of the Bible is a far cry from Santa Claus. 

The God of the Bible is a far cry from the miracle worker who, when we recite the right formula, will throw a miracle like pulling the strings on a puppet, or letting the genie out of the bottle. Whoopee! The God of the Bible is not subject to our whims and fancies, our recitations and our liturgies and even our prayers. The God of the Bible is the ruler. The God of the Bible is a far cry from the God of those who think God is on their side, the elitist God, that God is their own particular elite God, that God is on the side of the mighty, or that God is on the side of those with the biggest armies, or the most nuclear weapons, or the most money, or those with the right color, or those with a correct religion.  The God of the Bible is a far cry from that elitist God. The God of the Bible is a far cry from a national God, from the God on the totem poles or around the flags, or the God that will bless America above all other nations, bless America right or wrong. The God of the Bible is a far cry from a national God. 

The author of Psalm 82 paints a very interesting picture. He portrays an assembly of all of these gods. All of the popular cultural gods are brought together in an assembly. Can you picture them there? There's the national God, there’s the elitist god, there’s the miracle worker, there’s Santa Claus. The author of Psalm 82 pictures the God of the Bible standing in their midst. This is what he says, “God stands in the divine assembly and among the gods, he dispenses justice. God says to the other gods, no more mockery of justice, no more favoring the wicked. Let the weak and the orphan have justice. Be fair to the wretched and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy, save them from the clutches of the wicked” says God. The author goes on, “Ignorant and senseless, the gods carry on blindly undermining the very basis of earthly society. God dispenses justice throughout the world.” 

The God of the Bible is distinguished from all these cultural gods because the God of the Bible is on the side of those who suffer injustice, those who are exploited and victimized, on the side of the poor, the hungry, and the disadvantaged. The God of the Bible rules with justice and integrity. The God of the Bible, according to our passage in Isaiah, when the Messiah comes, he will rule with justice and integrity, and he will bring peace and fellowship among all people. We heard read of this idyllic picture of peace and fellowship where the wild animals and the dangerous reptiles live in harmonious relationship with domesticated animals and even with children. Listen to this picture of peace and fellowship. Isaiah 11:6-8, “Wolves and sheep will live together in peace. Leopards will lie down with young goats. Calves and lion cubs will feed together and little children shall take care of them. Cows and bears will eat together and their calves and cubs will lie down in peace. Lions will eat straw as cattle do. Even a baby will not be harmed if it plays near a poisonous snake.” 

Such a picture is our hope. All barriers broken down where there's harmony and peace, justice, fairness and love. That's our Messiah. That's our God. That's the Messiah for whom the prophets longed, and prayed and anguished. 

We name that Messiah Jesus. We see in Jesus the fulfillment of those expectations. As the prophets looked forward to the Messiah, now we look back to the Messiah, for we say the Messiah has come. The Messiah is present here with us now and Christ will come in the future. This Christmas and into the future Christ will come. That's our Messiah—to overcome injustice, to treat everyone fairly, and to unite people into one loving fellowship. That is what God is doing in the world. That is what God is about. That is the task of the Messiah. 

And the church is the people of the Messiah. You and I are the people of the Messiah. We as the church should live under the reign of the Messiah. We accept the Messiah, we follow Jesus’ teachings, we experience Christ in our midst, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be the kind of people of the Messiah, to be the kind of fellowship that God intends it to be. The whole world may look at our example and say, “That's what it's to be like when the Messiah comes. That's what it's to be like when Jesus comes.” We see it now in a limited way in the church where we should be in unity, in fellowship, in peace and harmony with one another, where everyone is accepted, where there are no qualifications for membership, where everyone is welcome, where everyone is treated fairly, where children are welcome, and the elderly, the divorced and the widowed, and the sinner, and the prisoner, the poor, the hungry and those of all colors, and backgrounds. 

We are all together as the people of God. We worship together, we study together, and we celebrate together. What a beautiful time on December 21 when we feast together at our dinner, when we eat our Christmas dinner together as God's family, as brothers and sisters in God. And then we come over to the church and receive the gift of the children as they give to us their Christmas program, their Christmas present. 

What a beautiful time. May the whole world look at the church at that time. May Iran and Iraq look at us and see how people are supposed to be together. May the Nazis and the clans and all prejudiced people look at us and see a people of all races together in one loving fellowship under God. May the whole world look at us and see the light shining. That's what we're to be. It is our mission to be Christ's body, to be the people of the Messiah in the world, to be the people who care about the helpless, the needy and the victimized, to be the people who work for justice, for freedom and to influence in whatever way we can our government, our institutions, to be on the side of those who need help. 

The Messiah, God present with us, will rule with justice, integrity, peace and harmony.

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris