God’s Hope for Humanity and Humanity’s Rebellion Against It

killing of innocents by herod by leon cogniet 1824

Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Isaiah 63: 1-9 & Matthew 2: 13 – 23.  Focus on the human rebellion against God’s plan for peace.

Well Christmas is over and soon the Advent candles, wreaths and lights will be put away for another year and we’ll be doing our best to look ahead toward the new year.  And yet, even though Advent is over it’s far from complete.  We’ve got an Advent hangover and texts like the one from Isaiah seem to mock us.

The passage from Isaiah might just be the perfect fulfillment to our Advent longings for: compassion, good deeds, faithfulness, redemption, salvation and love.  Hesed – God’s loving kindness, the best Christmas gift saved for last.  Except that it’s not.  It stands through the life and death of Christ and throughout the rest of time as a reminder that the not yet of God’s kingdom remains painfully unfulfilled.

This passage is so dissonant that we wonder if it might be the source text for the poem Footprints that hangs in the hallways of our homes and in the darker corners of our lives.  The one where we’re assured that we’re never alone that when it seems so; it was actually God who was bearing us up.  “When you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

But when we raise our eyes to the larger context of Isaiah 63 and Matthew’s passage with the slaughter of the innocent it makes me wonder if this poem was hanging in the conference room where the folks who pick the texts that we preach on each Sunday met, because they left off the last verse that puts it all back into context.  Verse 10 reads, “But they rebelled …  … and God turned and became their enemy, and fought against them…”

What originally was written as a community lament has been transformed into a warm pat on the back.  Left out is the verse 10.  The verse that shows us that we ruined God’s plan for reunion and a passage written in sarcasm about our ability to ever improve, a passage where God’s wrath is kindled against us, suddenly becomes a passage designed to make us feel good.

By omitting verse 10, the folks who give us our lectionary readings have defanged Isaiah’s passage.  Without verse 10 we miss Isaiah’s inflammatory commentary on the unfaithfulness of God’s people, who spend far more time proclaiming that they are God’s chosen than they do acting like it.  We pray for peace while we make war.  We ask for forgiveness while we stockpile bitterness, we preach repentance while we quietly judge others.

You see the problem is that we are leading a coup against God.  When do we ask about our own unfaithfulness?  What about our complicity in the disintegration of our world?  What about our individual and collective offenses toward God and God’s creation?”

It’s not a friendly question or a sexy one.  And it’s certainly not politically correct in our post sin based fascination with all things psychological to explain away our individual and collective sins.  But there it is.  It hangs over our lives, and we deftly ignore it most of the time.  It’s as though there is a conspiracy against us, which is being led by us.  And is being covered up by us.

How long can we keep preaching and hearing these texts, year after year, and expect that peace is coming when we overlook our responsibility to enact the elements of God’s kingdom that are within our grasp.  We have the power to beat our guns into plowshares, but we don’t.  We have God’s  2plan for peace, but we ignore it.  For it seems that our relationship with God is far more adversarial than it is collaborative.  We’re longing for God to carry us across some sandy beach when we’ve been dragging God’s loving kindness through the mud.

Are we too passive in our expectations of God’s fulfillment of our Advent longings?  Are we too demanding of God’s delivery of peace when we’re so full of violence?  For according to Matthew:  “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.”

For according to the New York Times a voice was heard in Rwanda, loud wailing and lamentation for her children were no more.  For according to CNN a voice was heard in Darfur, loud wailing and lamentation for her children were no more.  For according to the Bergen Record, a voice was heard in Newtown, Connecticut, loud weeping and mourning for her young children are no more.”

When there wailing is no more, when their tears have been wiped away, when death is no more then something like consolation might just be in store.  Until then we all must wait until we wake up to the fact that the key to our salvation lies in our willingness to accept responsibility for the violence we have brought upon God’s creation.  Accept responsibility for it, and repent of it, because in the final analysis it wasn’t God who made Rachel weep.  It was Herod and his fellow human beings, throughout the ages, who have done that.  Amen

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