Sunday 21, 2014
2Samual 7:1-11 16 and Matthew 1:18-25
Let our hearts come together in prayer: may the words of my mouth and the mediations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you oh God our rock and our redeemer, Amen.
I love Advent. I love the rich imagery of the candles of hope, peace, joy and love bringing their light into the dark and cold of the night. I love the watching, waiting and wondering that is at the heart of this season of preparation. I love the language we use that expresses our deep longings, “Come thou long expected Jesus born to set your people free.” I love that we do not just rush to the manger, but instead walk slowly over these four weeks, thinking and praying about what it is that God has done in the person of Jesus. Thinking and praying, as was said as the candle of love was lit, about how God so loved the world that God desired to save it.
But even as we look forward to promise of the manger that is coming, we look around at the pain and brokenness of the world that is with us now. And when I do, I find myself wondering “How did and how does God coming into the world change our reality?” As I read horrific headlines in the news, I find myself wondering “Where is the salvation that God promises?” “Where is it to be seen? What does it look?”
Christian teaching tells us that salvation comes through Jesus who forgives us for the ways that we have failed to be in right relationship with God and with each other. And that being forgiven, our salvation is assured in eternal life with God. Salvation, we are told is our promised future.
This is a powerful message of redemption that brings great comfort and hope.
But Brian McLaren, pastor, author, leading figure in the emerging church movement reminds us that the Biblical origins of salvation are not other worldly. Salvation in the Bible is about now. Salvation happens amidst the messiness of life. “The word salvation,” he tells us “gets its original meaning in the biblical story from the liberation of slaves from Egypt. Salvation is being set free from dominion of that which diminishes and constricts. Salvation is being delivered into fullness of life with God. Salvation was first from physical slavery in the Exodus story. But salvation is also from the captivity we continue to face. Whether that be liberation from our internal captivity of being bound by feelings of shame, inadequacy, guilt and regret. Or liberation socially from our proclivity to scapegoat, devalue, disregard those who are other and from the persistent currents of racism that tear at our social fabric. Or liberation from an economic system of insatiable consumption that is destroying the planet.”
McLaren goes on to say salvation happens people meet Jesus and in his presence are not only forgiven but are challenged to follow him into a new way of living that brings aliveness. Jesus called this aliveness “life to the full” or abundant life. In Greek, McLaren says the word is translated as “life of the ages.” In English we know it as eternal life, but it is a life that starts not at death. It is a life that starts when we meet God with us. And it is a big life, a life to the full.
I love the passage from 2 Samuel that speaks of the big life of God. David has gone through a lot. It has been a long road from being a shepherd boy to now being King. But finally he has made it. He has his house of cedar, his stability and security. He has finally arrived and with relief and thanksgiving wants to do the same for God. He wants to build God a house so that God can settle down and dwell in God’s house too.
But God has no interested in being domesticated. God has no interest at all in settling down in the house that David proposes be built.
God reminds David that God has always and will always lead a big life, moving freely in the world. God is not to be confined, but is out moving in the world. Prying open the door to the sacred all over the place. This passage reminds me of one from the book of Job where God takes Job on a “magic carpet ride of creation” to borrow a phrase from ANTS professor Greg Mobley, saying to Job from the whirlwind, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the deer?”
God is in a generative energy, a creative impulse, a wild imaging, in the shimmering of steadfast love behind and through and in everything that is. We may live in a circumscribed, rather monochrome lives but that is not God’s will for us. God’s will is that we will join in the radiance that is waiting to break into our living and is what breaks into the manger on that first Christmas.
Salvation begins with God challenging people to change their lives not just for them alone, but so that life for all may be changed. This is the God in the Gospel this morning, who bid the likes of Joseph to step out of what he thought he knew to be his life, and into something bigger, fuller, something that help helps to bring God’s life in Jesus into the world. It is into this big life with God that Christmas invites us.
I have come to understand that salvation is at hand in every moment. Every moment holds the possibility for our liberation because every moment holds something of God. But there is something particularly powerful about the manger. Perhaps that is why we return to it year after year. Not as spectators to an event long ago but as those who seek hunger and thirst for righteousness, those that hunger and thirst for that big life with God. As those seeking forgiveness and new life now.
For in that manger, it is not just Jesus that is to be born we too are to be delivered. New life for us begins as well with the birthing cry of Jesus. Susie will sing O Holy Night on Christmas Eve and there is one phrase that always seizes me. It is “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, until he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” Walter Brueggemann, Pastor and Hebrew Scriptures scholar, calls this in-breaking of God, “Hope in History.” Hope in History is what kindles the Menorah. Hope in History is what sets the manger aglow. When we gaze into the face of Jesus and we feel the worth of our soul and the stirrings of Hope. We look on the face of Jesus and see our belovedness and are delivered out of all that diminishes and confines and once again into this big life with God.
But this big life with God, into which we are delivered is not just for our personal salvation. This big life with God is for the salvation of the world and the degree to which we say “yes” to that life is the degree to which God will use our lives to birth that salvation more and more fully in the world.
This came home to me the other night during our confirmation class. We had invited the mentors to join us for dinner and over the meal I asked if they would share what impact their faith has had on how they live their lives. What difference does Jesus make for them?
One mentor spoke about he lives on the look out for ways to help other people. Because of the example of Jesus, he is intentional about looking for and stepping into places where he can be of assistance.
Another mentor spoke about the Biblical imperative to welcome the other. She spoke of how she has been on the receiving end of extravagant welcome and knows what it is to be accepted and loved by people she does not yet even know. The starting place for her is the benevolence and hospitality of god and that has changed her and so she tries to live a life that extends that hospitality and extravagant welcome to others.
Another mentor spoke that he felt the embrace and acceptance of God during a time when he did not feel like he belonged. And that love changed him so that he now feels called to go to and embrace with the steadfast love of God those people who may feel like they don’t belong or are not worthy. Seeing how Jesus loved the broken ones and sought out the lost, makes him want to do the same.
As they spoke I could see the glow of the manager upon them. These are people were and were being delivered to ever bigger, fuller God centered lives right now and through them others were being touched by the mangers glow as well.
Christmas happened over two thousand years ago in a manger in a far away land, but Christmas also happens every time we open the manger of our heart to receive the new life that Jesus brings. Christmas happens when we look upon the face of Jesus and our soul awakens to its worth. Christmas is our time of our salvation, the time of our own rebirth.
So let us go. We are close now. The glow of the manager is almost upon us. The quickening of new life that the manger brings is making itself ready to be delivered again in our living. Let us go! Amen
 “Seeking Aliveness” by Brian McLaren