Juggling Justice and Gentleness

Juggling Justice and Gentleness

January 12, 2020*

Baptism of Jesus

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 42:1-9                          Matthew 3:13-17                               Acts 10:34-43

Have you ever been caught watching a juggler who is so good that you just can’t stop watching?  Sure, there are the average “good” jugglers who can get you to watch for a few minutes.  They’re fun to watch in a parade as the go by, or for a moment as you pause on the midway at the fair for a few minutes.  But every once in a while, there’s that one juggler who is so good that every time you think you’re starting to lose interest, they change their act and suck you right back in again.  Some years ago, there was a guy that would show up in television occasionally, and I’m pretty sure that he even made an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show, but he billed himself as the guy who could juggle anything.  He would start his act by juggling, balls, and then juggling pins, then bowling pins, then pieces of silk, feathers (which is pretty tricky), but then he’d mix in knives, swords, things that were on fire, chainsaws and even bowling balls, and finally he’d finish by juggling all those weird things at the same time.  Sure, it takes talent to juggle feathers, or bowling balls, or chainsaws, but in his closing act, he would juggle a feather, a chainsaw, a sword, and a bowling ball all at the same time.  That was impressive to watch. 

But, when we listen to his instructions and commands of God, sometimes it seems like that is the kind of thing that God is asking us to do.

We find this kind of juggling in the words of Isaiah found in Isaiah 42:1-9

42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”

 

God says that his Spirit would enter into the messiah so that he could bring justice to the nations but, that in doing so, he would not shout, cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  His coming, and his work, would be so gentle that he would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick.  But despite his gentleness, he will not falter, or be discouraged, until he establishes justice on the earth and brings hope to his people.

 

To most of us, I think that description sounds both wonderful and just a bit confusing.  We are familiar with justice from watching our law enforcement and legal systems, but much of the justice that we see, as hard as they try, often involves the use of brute strength and a lack of subtlety that clearly does not make us think of things like gentleness, tenderness, and hope.  I’m not saying that members of law enforcement and the legal system are brutes and bullies, or that they aren’t trying to do the very best that they can do, but we all know that circumstances, and the way in which our laws are written, sometimes leave them with few other options.  In the end, trying to bring justice and gentleness at the same time seems as difficult an exercise as juggling feathers and bowling balls.

 

But that was precisely what the messiah would be sent to do, and we begin to see how Jesus threads the needle a little bit as he begins his ministry in the story of his baptism contained in Matthew 3:13-17.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

It’s important we notice that John knows that Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized.  Jesus was the messiah, the one who was sent to bring righteousness and indeed, to be righteousness, so John knows that Jesus ought to be the one who baptizes him, not the other way around.  But Jesus explains that although he doesn’t need to be baptized for forgiveness, or to be symbolically purified, he needs to be baptized because that was what the scriptures said would happen, and that was what tradition and proper religious practices required.  Jesus is balancing, juggling if you will, both who he is, as well as who everyone expected him to be.  And in that moment, God recognizes that he is pleased with what Jesus is doing.

 

And, as we read through the gospels, we often see that Jesus is regularly juggling who he is with the mission to which he was called.  Jesus is constantly juggling the fulfillment of scripture, with the forwarding of his mission, with opposing those who are bent on destroying him, while at the same time offering gentleness and hope to those who have already been wounded by life, by God’s people, and even by the church.  And in many ways, that same juggling act, that same struggle for balance, has been passed on to us.  In Acts 10:34-43, Luke records Peter’s speech where we hear these words:

 

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

 

Peter reminds the crowd that they all know what Jesus had done, they had all either seen him or heard the stories about him and many of those gathered had done both.  But because they were the witnesses, because they had seen Jesus with their own eyes, because they had heard him preach, and because they had seen his miracles, they were also obligated to do something about it.  Because they were witnesses, Jesus commanded his followers to preach about Jesus to those who hadn’t heard and who hadn’t seen.   

 

Peter also reminds them that the prophets had promised that people would receive forgiveness of sins through the name of the messiah, Jesus.  But telling others about Jesus’ forgiveness of sins is a part of the juggling act and where we struggle to find balance.  Why? Because God appointed Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead, and because Jesus is the righteous judge, and because people receive forgiveness in the name of Jesus, and because the possibility of forgiveness is often the only thing that offers hope, all of these things must be found together.  We cannot tell the story about forgiveness and hope if we are unforgiving.  No one will listen to stories about a loving Jesus if we are unloving nor will anyone believe the promise of justice if we are not a people of gentleness.

 

No doubt you have all seen people of faith who, with the best of intentions, have attempted to tell the stories of Jesus and to be his witnesses while, at the same time, saying mean, angry, and hurtful things.  It is almost impossible to hear a message from anyone who is hurting you or attacking you.  Instead, we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to learn the art of balance.  We must juggle justice and gentleness, truth and compassion, so that the world around us can hear Jesus’ message of forgiveness and hope.

 

Sometimes that’s going to feel a lot like juggling feathers and bowling balls at the same time, but as hard as it might be, that is the mission to which Jesus has called us.  We are called to be witnesses and to be loving.

 

We must seek truth and compassion.  Forgiveness and hope.  Justice and gentleness. 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Invasion Begins

The Invasion Begins

January 05, 2020*

Epiphany Sunday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 60:1-6                          Matthew 2:1-12                                 Ephesians 3:1-12

 

This week, I was reading a description of what would happen if China decided to reclaim Taiwan by force, remove its democracy, and return it to the control of their communist central authority.  While no one thinks that such a thing is imminent, tensions across the Taiwan straight are considered to be one of the key world flashpoints that are most likely to ignite another world war.  If such a thing were to happen, China would need to move over a million troops across the Taiwan straight in order to counter the two million reservists in Taiwan’s army.  Due to our treaties with Taiwan, such a conflict would immediately draw in the United States and result in the almost immediate activation of more than 800,000 Reserve and National Guard troops.  Losses to the United States in such a conflict are expected to exceed those of the entire Vietnam War in just the first few weeks and could ultimately rival our losses in World War Two.  The losses to both Taiwan and China would be many times worse.

But, if there is one thing that we learned as we watched the invasions of Normandy, Anzio, North Africa, Korea, and other places, it is that whenever one nation invades another, great strength is required, and much blood is likely to be shed.  And, at least in our imagination, and in the 1996 movie, Independence Day, with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, an invasion of another world would be similarly chaotic and lethal.

But maybe not.

In the story of God’s kingdom contained in scripture, there is a moment when God invades our world.  Much like the other invasions that we mentioned, God’s intention was to fundamentally transform an alien world, but unlike those other invasions, God’s methods were substantially different.  We begin this morning by returning, once again to the writings of the prophet Isaiah found in Isaiah 60:1-6 in which God proclaims the eventual results of his invasion and the installation of his messiah as king.

60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you:
    All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar,
    and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense
    and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

God declares that entire nations will be drawn to follow the messiah, the wealth of the world’s oceans and that of the world’s nations would be brought to him, and even nations that had been historically hostile to Israel would come to him praising God and bearing gifts of camels, gold, and incense.

Some of those things happen in the Christmas story but the story of the Magi is only the beginning.  The story that we read in Matthew 2:1-12 represents not the end, but the very beginning of God’s invasion of the earth.

2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Jesus is not yet out of diapers and has, perhaps, just learned to walk, when Magi from the east, perhaps from a nation descended from the Babylonian empire that once conquered and ruled over Israel, come to worship him.  It is likely that the magi had read the writings of the prophet Daniel, which incidentally is the only book of the Bible originally written, at least in part, in Aramaic, the language of Babylon.  Daniel wrote of the messiah that God would send to Israel and even gave an accurate time when that messiah would arrive.  Israel’s scholars forgot, but it seems that the magi did not.  They remembered Daniel’s writings, they saw the star over Bethlehem, and they journeyed months, or even years, to see the messiah, to worship him, and to bring him gifts.

Why is that important to us?  In Ephesians 3:1-12, Paul explains it this way:

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Paul was called, by Jesus Christ, on the road to Damascus, to preach the Good News to the Gentiles.  These were the people who were not traditionally Jewish, or from the family of Abraham.  Paul says that the mystery of Jesus Christ is that through the gospel of Jesus Christ, “the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together, of one body, and sharers together in the promise of Jesus Christ.  But the beginning of that message, the beachhead of the invasion of this imperfect world by a holy and perfect God, is found in the Christmas story and the arrival of the magi.

Far from being an invasion that depended upon strength, military might, and great bloodshed, God orchestrated his invasion of our world by sending a tiny baby to a little country town, and to parents that were common, poor, and uneducated (by our standards).  But from that humble beachhead, the gospel message of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness of all people has circumnavigated the globe.

That baby in a manger was the beachhead of God’s invasion and the arrival of the magi symbolized the “breaking out” of that invasion into the world at large.  Today that invasion continues.  God has always intended to reclaim all his children, but his message of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration has not yet reached everyone.  Just as the magi returned to their own country carrying with them the good news of the messiah’s arrival, and just as Paul was called to carry that same goof news to the Gentiles, that work continues in us today.  We are the Gentiles that were welcomed by Jesus and, as his adopted, and beloved children, we have inherited the work of his invasion of the world.  His mission has become our mission.  Never forget these last words of Jesus’ to his disciples as he left the earth:

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

 

God’s invasion of the world began in a manger, broke out into the world through the magi, called Paul as it’s evangelist, and continues in us today.  We carry with us God’s invasion of transformation.  We carry with us the good news of forgiveness, redemption, restoration, hope, and love.

 

Therefore go… and make disciples.

 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Strategic Retreat

Strategic Retreat

December 29, 2019*

(First Sunday after Christmas)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 63:7-9                          Matthew 2:13-23                               Hebrews 2:10-18

 

Shortly after our nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Army, commanded by George Washington, was fighting for its life.  The British had landed an overwhelming force on Long Island, defeated the American patriots in Brooklyn, and had nearly 9,000 of Washington’s soldiers trapped against the East River.  British General Sir William Howe prepared to lay siege to the surrounded Americans and was intent on annihilating them to the last man.  But, as General Howe prepared his offensive, General Washington and his troops rounded up all the boats that they could find and, as silently as possible, even using rags to muffle the sound of the oars and maintaining their campfires so to deceive the British, the Americans ferried their army across the river in the dark of night on August 29, 1776.  At sunrise, many remained on the Long Island side of the river, but God, or luck, was on Washington’s side and a dense fog masked the final stages of the withdrawal.  In the end, all 9000 colonists and nearly all their equipment was successfully evacuated, and they lived to fight another day.  Continental officer Benjamin Tallmadge later wrote, “In the history of warfare I do not recollect a more fortunate retreat,”  (This story from History.com – https://www.history.com/news/7-brilliant-military-retreats)

Sometimes, when faced with an overwhelming enemy force, the wisest course is not to stay and fight, but to run away to fight another day.  In those cases, and history records many of them, it is not cowardly to make a strategic retreat.  We find such things even in scripture.  But first, we once again remember the prophecies recorded by the prophet Isaiah.  But in this passage, Isaiah not only writes about the messiah that was to come, but about the deeds that he would do, the emotions that he would have, and the connection that he would have to the heart of God’s people.  (Isaiah 63:7-9)

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—
yes, the many good things
    he has done for Israel,
    according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
He said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will be true to me”;
    and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
    and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy, he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them
    all the days of old.

Isaiah says that it was the actions of God for which he was normally remembered, but also that God had done these things because of his kindness, and compassion.  As the savior of his people, God was distressed when his people were distressed.  God rescued and redeemed his people because of the mercy that he had for them and the love that he felt for them.  And those feelings continue even as the messiah arrives upon the earth.  In Matthew 2:13-23, as the messiah begins God’s invasion of our world, we hear the story of God’s greatest strategic retreat.

13 When they [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

This is all good stuff but remember that Isaiah said that God was remembered for the deeds that he did, and for things like kindness and compassion.  So, as we think about the story about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ flight to Egypt, I want to particularly listen for two things: First, listen for what people did and second, pay attention to what emotions they must have felt. 

At the beginning of our story, I’m just going to guess that Mary and Joseph were tired.  This part of the story doesn’t immediately follow the Christmas story and could happen as much as two years later.  So, as we begin, Mary and Joseph have made a home in Bethlehem, or elsewhere, and are raising a toddler.  But Joseph is still a faithful man of God who both hears from and listens to God.  This is important because when God comes to Joseph in a dream, Joseph pays attention.  Now, I’m willing to grant that this was probably no ordinary dream, but still, how easy would it have been for Joseph to simply write it off as the result of some bad fish, or something he ate the night before? 

But Joseph immediately understands that this dream is from God and he immediately understands the importance of it.  He awakens Mary, in the middle of the night, they wrap up the baby, and apparently without even saying goodbye to their neighbors, family, and friends, they left town.  In two sentences they’ve gone from just being a couple of tired parents, to being terrified and fleeing for their lives because the King and his entire army want them dead. 

Herod, who was emotionally unstable, and who, at the very least, suffered from severe paranoia and who had no qualms at all about committing the vilest atrocities in order to remain in power, is incredibly angry.  Herod realizes that the Magi saw through his “I just want to worship him” act and is furious that they left the country without telling him where the baby was.  But, because Herod is both paranoid and a cold-blooded killer, he sends his army to Bethlehem with orders to kill every male child that was two years old or younger.  If Herod can’t be sure which child the Magi visited, his plan is to just kill all of them.

It is easy to understand that this mass execution of babies terrorizes the entire village and has every mother in the town out in the streets weeping and mourning just as the prophet Jeremiah has foretold hundreds of years earlier.  And then, several years later, Herod the Great dies, and the areas over which he had ruled were divided up among several of his sons.  When that happens, God once again calls upon Joseph in a dream and tells him that it is time to come home.  But even as they journey back, they hear that one of those sons, Herod Archelaus, who by some accounts was even more cruel and despotic than his father, is now the ruler over Judea, which included both Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  With that news, Mary and Joseph are once again afraid for their lives and for the life of their child, so they choose to bypass Bethlehem and make their way north instead to the area of Galilee and Nazareth which was ruled over by Herod Antipas, another son of Herod the Great.

But so, what?  Why is any of that important? 

Make no mistake, it is important, but before I explain why, let’s first look at something that we find in Hebrews 2:10-18.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again, he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

The writer of Hebrews wants to be certain that we understand the importance of Jesus’ suffering.  It is the suffering of Jesus that reminds us of his humanity and what assures us that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters.  He says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”  And he goes on to say that “he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”  And finally, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  The writer of Hebrews is insistent that the humanity of Jesus is not only important, it is vital, critical, and indeed, the whole story falls apart without it.

And that is also exactly why it’s important to focus on what Mary and Joseph did, and the emotions that they felt.  Too many times we hear people write off parts of the gospel message or discredit important parts of Christian faith by saying that Jesus wasn’t completely human in one way or another.  Some say that Jesus was only an idea and not a real person, or that he was only a spirit and not entirely a creature of flesh and blood, or that he was partly God and partly human and that’s the only reason that Jesus was able to live a perfect and sinless life. 

But none of those things fit with the story of scripture.

The writer of Hebrews wanted to be sure that we understood that, and so did Matthew.  Matthew takes the time to tell the story of this strategic retreat so that we understand the people in it and the emotions behind it.  Mary and Joseph were poor, but they were also people of a deep and devout faith and trust in God.  And not only did they know the struggle of daily survival and living, they understood fear.  When God told them to run, they didn’t wait until morning and say goodbye, they ran for their lives in the middle of the night.  The idea that King Herod wanted their baby dead, and maybe them as well, was terrifying.  Everyone knew the horror that Herod was capable of.  There were no mixed messages about Jesus in the minds of Mary and Joseph.  They knew that he was a human being in every respect.  A baby that wet the bed, a toddler that forgot his shoes and wandered off when you weren’t watching closely enough.  They knew that Jesus wasn’t godlike.  They knew that Jesus didn’t have any godly power that would protect them from Herod’s soldiers.  They knew that Jesus was no vaporous spirit, but that he was 100 percent flesh and blood just like them, and just like us, in every respect.

And because he was, he is able to help us.

Because he was human, he became a merciful and faithful high priest that made atonement for the sins of his people.  Without Jesus’ humanity, he would not have been able to rescue us.

But he was and he did.

And the unrelenting, overwhelming fear of Mary and Joseph is proof of Jesus’ humanity.

 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Because He Did, We Do.

Because He Did, We Do

December 24, 2019

(Christmas Eve)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7                       Titus 2:11-14                                      Luke 2:1-20

 

MEDITATION:

In case you somehow didn’t notice, this is Christmas Eve.  But so, what?  Why do we come together and retell the story every year?  Why does it matter?  Why do events that happened more than two thousand years ago matter to us in the twenty-first century at all?  I mean, isn’t it just a nice story that we tell children?  Why should a bedtime story be so important? 

But it does matter.  And yes, it does matter to adults and children alike.  And what’s more, not only is it worth repeating, and not only is it foundational to our faith, this story demands something from us.  Because we are the people who walked in darkness and saw a great light.  We are the people to whom a child has been born.  We are the people who have been rescued, by him, from sin and death.  We are the people who have been put under his authority, and when we accepted Jesus as our rescuer and savior, we chose to follow him and obey his commands.

So, what is it that Jesus requires of us?

We all know that’s not a simple question.  We read scripture at home, and we come to church every Sunday, and sometimes more, so that we can study together, and learn together and help one another to do understand and to do what Jesus wants us to do.  But for tonight, let’s listen to the words that we find in Titus 2:11-14, where we hear this:

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Salvation and rescue have been offered to all people.  And because we are the people who said “yes” to Jesus’ offer of rescue, then we are called to say “no” to ungodliness and instead live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives even if, and even when, the world around us preaches that God is dead, and it’s okay to do anything that feels good.

Titus reminds us that Jesus came to earth, lived among us, died, and rose from the dead so that we could be redeemed from a life of wickedness and evil, and so that Jesus could be at work purifying us so that we would be eager to do good.

Although it is a beautiful story, we don’t just celebrate on Christmas Eve because it’s a beautiful story.  We celebrate Christmas Eve because it is important for us to remember what he did and for whom he did it.  The Christmas story is the beginning of God’s invasion of the earth as he works to reclaim his people and call them back to him.  Jesus didn’t just come to save some random shepherds, a handful of disciples, and a few others.  Jesus didn’t come just to fulfill the promises that God gave to the Jews through his prophets.  Jesus came to rescue all of us.  Jesus came to rescue humanity.  Jesus came to rescue everyone.  Christmas brings a message filled good news of great joy for all the people.

But the work of telling all the people about that good news isn’t finished yet.

If nothing else, Christmas should remind us of two things.  First, that we are called to live as if our faith is important.  To live the way that Jesus lived.  To set aside the wickedness that is so common to the world and to live godly lives of purity.  Simply put, we need to look like, and live like, Jesus.  And second, because Jesus came to rescue all the people, and all the people haven’t yet heard his story, we must be in the business of making sure that they do.

Because Jesus did, we still do.

We love the Christmas story.  It’s awesome.  It’s far more than just a children’s bedtime story.

It is good news of great joy for all the people.

Every one of us should go out from this place and make sure that everyone, that all the people, hear that good news.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

READINGS:

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.
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.
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.
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

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.
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. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 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

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

When There Are No Words

“When There Are No Words”

Blue Christmas Service

December 22, 2019

By John Partridge*

 

This isn’t really a Christmas story.  But it is a story about how God met me at a time when I had no idea what to do next.

In 2001 I was working for Lectrotherm, a company near the Akron-Canton airport that manufactured, and remanufactured, induction melting equipment for the molten metals industry.  We made furnaces that melted steel for companies like Navistar, John Deere, and other companies in the Fortune 500 as well as tiny little places that you’ve never heard of.  I was an electrical engineer doing work that I liked and I thought I had a career that would keep me interested and well employed until retirement.  But, one day I was called into the boss’s office where I was dismissed and given an hour to clean out my office and leave the building.  My termination was totally unexpected.  They tried to say that it was performance related, but since my reviews were all good, they really didn’t have a reason at all.  Later I found that I was just the first of many, as the company struggled with financial problems that would ultimately end in its bankruptcy.

I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under me.  I had no idea what to do next.  I remember sitting on our front porch trying to pray and finding nothing to say.  I couldn’t form sentences. 

There were no words. 

And so, I just sat on the steps and groaned and cried out to God.

Sometimes we don’t have words.  And that’s okay because God understands our thoughts anyway.  In Exodus 2:23-24, we hear a story of how God heard the groans of his people:

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

And in Judges 2:18 we hear: Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.

God hears our prayers, even when all that comes out of our mouths are groans and weeping.

For me, what followed was two years of unemployment.  As I looked for a job in what was supposed to be a good economy and a solid job market, I had nothing. 

I wondered why.

I was active in my church.  We gave.  We volunteered.  We had leadership positions in the church.  And still, nothing.  I wondered why I lost my job, why I was unemployed, why I couldn’t find work, why God had allowed this to happen.  And God didn’t give me any easy answers.  And so, I began to read scripture as I had never done before.  I read books that my pastor recommended, and I struggled to discover, not only why I was unemployed, but if, somewhere in my pain, God had a bigger plan.  I wondered if God had allowed this to happen because he wanted to tell me something, or because he wanted me to change directions, and if so, where, and to what. 

The answers weren’t easy.  My prayers sometimes seemed to go nowhere. 

Job once felt as if his prayer to heaven just bounced off.  In Job 37:17-19 we hear these words:

17 You who swelter in your clothes when the land lies hushed under the south wind, 18 can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?

19 “Tell us what we should say to him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.

For Job, it felt as if the skies were as hard as a mirror of cast bronze and his prayers just bounced off.  And even if they got through, he had no idea what he would say to God or how to make his case.

But we know that God heard him, even when it felt like he didn’t.  Behind the scenes, God knew Job’s character. God knew the future.  God had a plan.  It took a long time, but eventually Job began to see a small part of God’s plan and, over time, God restored to Job all the things that had been taken from him.  For me, after a lot of time, prayer, pain, confusion, and struggle, it began to seem as if God had a new plan for my life.  And as I began to explore that possibility, things began to get better.  It seemed less and less like I was swimming upstream and more and more like I was going with the flow and was a part of God’s plan.  With the help of my pastor, I explored something different.  That exploration led me to seminary, and to here as a pastor, and no longer as an engineer.  I am certain that, for now, this is where God has led me, but I am still keenly aware that this might not be permanent.  At some point, should God have a new and different plan for my life, someday I could pivot and start doing something else.

My life has been nothing like Job’s, but I learned a lesson that was similar to something that Job saw.  Even when it seemed that God was far away, even when I had no words, even when everything seemed to be confused and senseless, even then God was a part of my life.  Even then, God had a plan and a purpose for my life.  Even then, God was leading me toward something new.

No matter where you are in your journey, I hope that you will hear me when I say that I am confident that the same is true for you.  Regardless of your pain and confusion, regardless of who, or what you wrote on your star today, God knows where you are.  God hears your groaning.  God has a plan.  God is working in you, on you, and through you so that you can become the person that he created you to be.  Even now, God is leading you to a new place, and possibly to a new mission.

My prayer is that you will hold tight to Jesus.  May you will trust him with your journey, even when the journey is hard, even when there are no words and your prayers are only groans.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Given Grace to Give Grace

Given Grace to Give Grace

December 22, 2019*

(Fourth Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 7:10-16                            Matthew 1:18-25                               Romans 1:1-7

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to know the future?

Sometimes it might be a good thing.  When we’re going through difficult and challenging times it might be nice to know that things are going to turn out well for us.  When we worry about our children or grandchildren, it might be nice to know that they will eventually find their way, get an education, find a good job, and become responsible, productive, people of faith who love God.  Certainly, if we knew what the stock market was going to do next year, or even next week, we could make a lot of money.

But, on the other hand, would you want to know that your difficult and challenging times were only going to get worse?  Or that your children and grandchildren were not going to find their way?  Would you want to know the future if it was full of bad news?  Probably not.  And that’s exactly why Israel’s kings usually cringed whenever the prophets of God came to visit them.  God’s prophets had a reputation of only showing up when there was bad news and were sometimes thought of as harbingers of doom.  King Obadiah called Elijah the “troubler of Israel.”  God’s prophets knew that it wasn’t popular to know the future if the future wasn’t filled with good news.

And that’s a part of what is going on in the story we’re about to read, as Isaiah shares God’s words with King Ahaz of Judah in Isaiah 7:10-16.

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

Ahaz remembers that the people of God are not supposed to put God to the test, and that is so ingrained in him that he won’t do it even when God asks him to do it.  God tells Ahaz that he will accomplish whatever it takes to prove to him that the things that Isaiah is saying will truly happen.  But, since Ahaz refuses to ask for such a sign, God names one instead and says that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” 

Now, if you think about that for a minute, Isaiah’s prophecy sounds a little weird if the only meaning is the one that we remember at Christmastime because a that wouldn’t have answered King Ahaz’s question at all.  But, many of God’s prophecies had not one, but two meanings and two fulfillments.  The first would be one that made sense in the immediate future and the second would make sense in the more distant future.  This is one of those times.  The first meaning was that a young, unmarried woman, quite possibly a woman that both Isaiah and King Ahaz knew, such as the woman who was betrothed to Isaiah, who we would think of as Isaiah’s fiancée, and future wife, would, in a short amount of time, become pregnant and have a baby.  The second meaning, of course, is the one with which we are more familiar and that is one that became understood as something that would happen with the coming of Israel’s messiah.

And so, in this passage, God promises Ahaz that before Isaiah’s baby is old enough the choose right from wrong, traditionally about 12 or 13 years old, those who were attacking him, the kingdoms of Aram and the northern tribes of Israel, would come to an end.  And, while that sounds like good news, if you read the rest of that passage it quickly becomes clear that this is one of those times where things are going to get worse before they get better.  But, in any case, the second meaning is God’s promise of a messiah who would rescue his people for all time.  And it is that fulfillment that we see in the story of Matthew 1:18-25 where we hear these words:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Just as God had promised to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, the rescuer of humanity, God’s messiah, is born to a virgin.  But Joseph was terrified.  The woman to whom he had been pledged in marriage was pregnant and it was clear that he wasn’t the father.  At that point, Joseph had three choices and none of them were particularly good.  Since having sex before marriage was prohibited under the law of Moses, and it would seem obvious to most people that this is what Mary had done (since that was the ordinary way in which pregnancy happens), Mary would not only be seen as violating the law, but also as bringing disgrace to her family, bringing disgrace to Joseph’s family, and also breaking the contract that bound the two of them together. 

Joseph’s first option, under the law, was to publicly humiliate Mary and announce what she had done, and possibly even have her stoned to death (although that rarely, if ever, actually happened).  The second choice would be to quietly divorce her on the grounds that she had already broken the contract between their families.  The third choice was probably the worst choice of all, and that was to go ahead with their marriage.  This option would bring disgrace, humiliation, and financial hardship to both of their families, and would make Joseph, his father, and all of his family look stupid for going ahead with a marriage to a woman who had violated her promise even before their wedding. 

But even though all these choices seemed like bad ones, Joseph, being a nice guy, thought that he would choose the one that was the least damaging to everyone.

But God had other ideas.

God tells Joseph, in a dream, not to be afraid, that Mary had really not slept with anyone else, that the child she was carrying was actually the child of God and would become the one who would rescue God’s people from sin.  And when he woke up, Joseph did what God told him to do and in doing so, models for us some of the best characteristics of God, God’s people, and humanity.  In order to do what Joseph does requires extraordinary trust, abundant love, a mountain of faith, a pile of forgiveness, a large measure of grace, and more an ample amount of hope.

But what is it that we should take away from these stories?  How does the story of Christmas guide us as we live our lives in the twenty-first century?  And, even though he lived two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul understood a part of that answer as he wrote to the church in Rome as we see in Romans 1:1-7.

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds everyone in the church that the Gospel message, the story of the messiah’s birth, death, and resurrection, was a story that God promised, through the prophets, hundreds of years before it happened.  It was because of God’s love for us that he created a way for us to be rescued from our own selfishness and sinfulness.  Just as Joseph rescued Mary by taking her home to live with him, just as Joseph chose hope, love, and grace, so did God.  Just as Joseph showed mercy and grace to Mary, God showed mercy and grace to us by sending his Son to rescue us.  It is through Jesus Christ that we received these gifts from God and, Paul says, because we have received these gifts from God, through Jesus Christ, we are, in turn, called by God to share this Good News with the rest of the world.

Paul is clear that the message of Jesus Christ was never just a message for the Jews, but has always been a message for the Jews, the Gentiles, and for the entire world.  And while I am sure that Paul didn’t intend for this to be Christmas message, it certainly is one because when Paul says that the Gentiles are being called to belong to Jesus Christ it reminds us of this:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to 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. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:8-10)

Good news.  For all the people.

We have been given grace, so that we might give grace to those around us, to the people we love, to the people we fear, to the people we hate, to the insiders, to the outsiders, to the connected, to the outcasts, to citizens, to foreigners…

…to everyone.

The world would not have heard the message of Jesus if Joseph didn’t have enough faith and trust in God to show mercy and grace to Mary.

And two thousand years of history hasn’t changed that.

One of the clear messages in the story of Christmas is that we are called to share God’s mercy and grace so that everyone around us can hear the message of Jesus.

As we leave this place, let us remember that we are God’s agents of grace.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

Suffering, Joy, and a Promise Kept

December 15, 2019*

(Third Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 35:1-10                             Matthew 11:2-11                               James 5:7-10

What feelings come to mind as you think about Christmas?

What emotions get stirred within you?

Most of us immediately begin to think of gamily gatherings around the Christmas tree, and opening presents, and families that get along with one another and are reunited at Christmas time.  For many of us the Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds about right when it says…

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Tidings of comfort and joy sounds like a good summary for our feelings as well as for the message of the Christmas story.  And, quite often, that’s close to the truth for some of us.  Naturally, there are those among us whose childhoods were not idyllic, or who are struggling with unemployment, or homelessness, or divorce, or any number of other things that tend to make our emotions complicated.  But the message of scripture reminds us that Christmas itself, although filled with “good news of great joy,” is also more than just a story of comfort and joy. We begin, once again, with the promises of God given through the prophet Isaiah.  (Isaiah 35:1-10)

35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah declares that the coming of the messiah will be a time of gladness, rejoicing, and joy and compares it to rain in the desert that brings hidden flowers to bloom which is, once again, a symbol of resurrection with life exploding out of what looked lifelessness.  But while Israel waits for the coming of the messiah, Isaiah urges them to “be strong, do not fear, your God will come.”  Be strong, be patient, because we worship a God who always keeps his promises.  And then, in verse five, Isaiah shares the memorable words that Jesus would use to reassure an imprisoned John the Baptist.  Jesus uses these words of Isaiah to tell John that he is indeed the messiah that God had promised.  We hear that story in Matthew 11:2-11:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

The Messiah had come, John the Baptist announced his arrival, but John was not experiencing comfort and joy.  Instead, he was rotting in prison.  I’ve visited the site where John is reputed to have been imprisoned, and whether that’s the actual site or if it was remotely similar, it was basically just a cave with bars on the door that would be cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and would probably have pools of water on the floor whenever there was a hard rain.  And in that environment, John begins to worry that Jesus isn’t doing the things that he thought the messiah was supposed to be doing. 

But rather than reassure John that comfort and joy would be coming soon, Jesus simply tells John’s followers to say that Isaiah’s words were being fulfilled.  The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are healed, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  The messiah had come, but that didn’t guarantee that the suffering of the world was going to end (just yet) or that John, or anyone else, was going to find comfort and joy.

Jesus then speaks to the crowd and declares that John is the greatest prophet, indeed the greatest human being, ever born in Israel or anywhere else.  And yet, John would endure suffering, imprisonment, and death before he received any kind of comfort and joy.  How do we make sense of that?  If the coming of the messiah was the fulfillment of God’s promises, why don’t God’s people find the comfort and joy we thought we were supposed to get?  At least a part of the answer comes from James, the brother of Jesus in James 5:7-10 where we hear this:

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The coming of the messiah is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end.  James says that it’s like a farmer planting crops.  The seeds have been planted but now we must wait for the harvest.  While we find comfort and joy in knowing that the crops have been planted, we still must wait, patiently, until the harvest.  In the same way, we are comforted in knowing that God has already begun to fulfill his promises.  The messiah has come.  We do find comfort and joy in the story of Christmas.  But, at the same time, just as a farmer must wait for the rain, we must continue to wait patiently for coming of the messiah.  On that day, we will receive unimaginable gifts of comfort and joy, but until then we understand that life will still be full of discomfort, pain, and suffering.

Our calling, today, is to be patient, not to grumble, but to care for one another. 

Be patient.

Stand firm.

Because the Lord is near.

“Fear not then”, said the Angel
“Let nothing you affright
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might”
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.