“Hope in a World falling Apart”
December 24, 2018
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7 Titus 2:11-14 Luke 2:1-20
Reading 1 – Isaiah 9:2-5
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
Reading 2 – Isaiah 9:6-7
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Reading 3 – Luke 2:1-7
2:1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Reading 4 – Luke 2:8-14
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
Reading 5 – Luke 2:15-20
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Several of our readings this evening come from the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah lived in a world that was falling apart. Writing from the land of Judah, at a time when the Assyrian Empire was growing stronger by the day, Isaiah watched as Judah’s own leader, King Ahaz, chose to stand with the Assyrian empire instead of his neighbors in Syria and his brothers of the northern tribes of Israel. Despite Isaiah’s warning, Ahaz aided the Assyrians in conquering their neighbors and their brothers. Everyone could see the handwriting on the wall. Everyone knew that, eventually, the Assyrians would turn on them. And, although it wouldn’t happen for more than a hundred years, Isaiah prophesied about the eventual conquest of Judah, the captivity of both Israel and Judah in Babylon, the rise of power of Cyrus the Persian, and the return of the Jews to Israel and Judah after seventy years of captivity, as well as the Messiah that was to come.
These were dark days, but Isaiah wrote about a light that would dispel the darkness. Although the people were oppressed, Isaiah wrote about the freedom that would come. Although they were surrounded by armies, warfare and bloodshed, Isaiah wrote about a child who would be the Prince of Peace. Isaiah proclaimed that a rescuer would come from God, a rescuer who would have the authority to bring about never-ending peace and who would establish his kingdom, not with force and oppression, but with justice and righteousness. Isaiah’s message was a message of hope.
Seven hundred years later, as that same country was occupied by foreign armies, God’s people were similarly well acquainted with violence, oppression, warfare, bloodshed, and death. In that time, angels appeared in the skies over a band of shepherds and declared that the day prophesied by Isaiah had finally come. “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Two thousand years later, we still remember that night and we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity. But, like Isaiah and the shepherds, we too live in a world that seems to be falling apart. Like them, we are also too familiar with violence, oppression, warfare and bloodshed. And we still look forward to the day when the boots of our soldiers and all of their bloodstained uniforms will be thrown into the fire. We look forward to the end of darkness, oppression, and death. We look forward to the day when there will be never-ending peace, as Jesus Christ rules over all the earth with justice and righteousness.
But we also remember the instructions of the prophet Titus who said (Titus 2:11-14):
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
While we wait for the return of Jesus we have work to do. Amid the chaos of the world in which we live, we are to pursue purity, and live lives that are self-controlled, righteous, and godly. Jesus came, and surrendered his life, so that we could be rescued from sin and death, and to be transformed into a people who are passionate about doing good.
Yes, we live in a world that seems to be falling apart. But we remember that in Matthew 4:16, Jesus said: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
The world that we live in today, much like the world of Isaiah, often seems to teeter on the brink of chaos and disaster. Every day seems to bring more bad news, or at least more news of death, destruction, and mayhem. But something changed between the time of Isaiah and today. Two thousand years ago, two unmarried young people found shelter in a barn and watched as hope entered the world.
And so, while we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, and while we look forward to the return of Jesus Christ, we know that his work falls to us. The mission of Jesus Christ has become the mission of his church. The mission of Jesus Christ has become our mission. Until Jesus sits on the throne and brings peace and justice to the world, we are called by God to do whatever we can to bring godliness, justice, righteousness, purity, peace, and yes, hope, into the world in which we live.
I admit it’s a big job.
But it is possible.
If we work together.
With. God’s. Help.
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