Sermon - Brad Brookins

Bible Study

Sermon December 10, 2017 - Brad Brookins
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Isaiah 35. 11-10

Luke 1. 46-55

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Isaiah 35: 1-10

 

Below is a portion of the Isaiah passage re-formatted to look like a poem rather than a Scripture passage.  Forget for a moment that this comes from the Bible.  Read it as a poem without any religious expectations and answer the following questions without any religious language (God, faith, belief, etc).

 

1.       Poetry uses metaphor to express feelings and hopes about the way things are or the way they should be.  What feelings come to mind for you as you read this poem?

2.      If you were to assign a season of the year to this poem, which season would you use?

3.      If you were to assign a color to this poem, what color would you choose?

4.      Think of 2 things you hope for in your life.  Do any lines of this poem speak to those hopes—describing or encouraging or discouraging your hopes?

5.      Think of 2 things you hope for your children or grand-children’s future.   Do any lines of this poem speak to those hopes—describing or encouraging or discouraging your hopes?

6.      React to this line from the 4th stanza:  “no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray”.

 

The eyes of the blind shall be opened,

the ears of the deaf unstopped;
the lame shall leap like a deer,

the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

 

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the desert;

The burning sand shall become a pool,

and the thirsty ground springs of water;

 

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.

 

No lion shall be there,

nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;

they shall not be found there,

but the redeemed shall walk there.
 

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,

and come home with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

7. Consider verse 4: 

            “Say to those who are of a fearful heart,

‘Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God.
             He will come with vengeance,

with terrible recompense.
             He will come and save you.”

 

Where do you find comfort or assurance here?  What in these words makes you afraid?

 

 

Luke 1 46-55

 

1.        The gentle virgin is quite the political revolutionary in this song, announcing the overthrow or the government, the downfall of the wealthy and powerful and the elevation of the poor and vulnerable.  Does this sound like the Mary you know from the Christmas story?

2.       How do you reconcile the political and economic radicalness of Mary with the reluctance of modern Christians (at least Christians in this congregation) to engage in political action or conversation?  Do political discussions (political, not partisan discussions) belong in church?  Why or why not? 

3.       What would happen if someone (certainly not your current pastor, by the way) preached a sermon calling for the overthrow of the government in Washington and the redistribution of wealth to spread it more equally among the poor and middle classes in our country?

4.       Mary seems to draw a connection between her lowly station and God’s concern all people of low station.  Do you think the two are related?

5.       In our reading of the prophets over the last few weeks, and especially Isaiah, we have seen a consistent and recurring interest in the poor on God’s part.   Why does God care do much about poverty?  Why does God care so much about justice?

6.       Discuss this quote:  “Justice is what love looks like in public”.

 

 

Isaiah 35.1-10

 

1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom;

like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.

The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.

They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,

with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,

and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,

and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,

the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8 A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.

9 No lion shall be there,

nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there,

but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,

and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

Luke 1:46-55                                

 

 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’

Luke 1:46-55

Seeing in the Dark

 

 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’

 

Here’s a line from a portion of the gospel of John we read every Christmas Eve:  “What has come into being in (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  (Jn 1)

 

Several years ago, I asked a group of kids, “What’s so good about sunshine; why do we seem to like it so much?”  And one of the girls, in the great wisdom that kids possess, said that when the sun shines and you have light you can see things you can’t see when its dark.

 

She was, of course, exactly correct; when the sun shines you can walk around without running into a wall or falling into a hole.  When the sun is shining you might even find pieces of that cell phone your dog carried off to the back yard and chewed up.  Sunshine is a good thing.

 

And without knowing it, the little girl who answered my question gave us the meaning of the passage I just read.  St John calls Jesus the light of all people—the light of the world; the light that shines in and illuminates the darkness.

 

So the question for today is this:  when the Light of the World shines, what do you see that you couldn’t see before?   

 

Most of the Bible stories, you know, were told, by men and women we call prophets.  Now, most of us think of prophets as people who foretell the future.  We think of “prophecy” as sort of an advance notice of something that will happen in days to come. 

This is largely incorrect—at least as far as the Bible prophets are concerned.  The men and women who told the Bible stories had almost no interest in the distant future; but they had an intense interest in the present. 

 

That is to say, the purpose of prophecy is not to tell us the way things will be in the far off future.  The purpose of prophecy is to tell us the way things ought to be today—right now. 

 

What makes a prophet a prophet is this God given ability to see in a way the rest of us can’t see.  The Light of the World, the light that shines in the darkness, seems to shine around them brighter than it shines around us. 

 

In the Bible, when God calls a prophet to deliver a message, God first opens her eyes—turns on the light, so to speak, so she can see what God wants her to see.  Then God gives her the courage to speak—to tell the truth, even though the listeners may not like what they hear.

 

Now there’s one thing about the Bible prophet’s message that may also be counter to what many of us expect.  Much more often than not, prophets spoke against the wealthy and the powerful and in favor of the poor and the vulnerable.  God really seems to care about people who are poor; and God really seems to get mad at people who get rich by making other people poor.

 

It’s surprising, even to me, just how prevalent this message is.  Over and over, on almost every page, the prophets tell us that a severe inequality between rich and poor is wrong.  This gap between the powerful and the vulnerable that has always been with us—and has reached new heights in our own day, is evil they say.  It is evil and God wants it to stop.

 

And here’s another thing about the prophets—and this includes Mary:  they see things much more clearly than we do and they trust God’s word much more intensely than we do.  As a result of this clarity of vision, what looks like the future to us looks to them like it has already come to pass.  I know that sounds strange, but stay with the idea for a few minutes. 

 

Because t3his way of seeing is the message of Advent.  It is the message Mary delivers in her song.  Listen while I read it, but pay special attention to the verb tenses she uses:  

 

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’

 

The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her God is sending the Messiah into the world; he tells her what this will mean to the world.  And quite suddenly, the light comes on for Mary.  The “Light of the World” shines around her and the present and the future come together. 

Mary can see so clearly what God wants for the world that it appears to her to be already accomplished.  Love will win; she knows that in her heart.  And so she proclaims it as an accomplished fact.  It appears to her, seeing with her prophet’s faithful eye, that the Messiah has already scattered the proud and brought down the powerful and filled the hungry with good things—just by being here.  

To Mary, you see, and to all the prophets, there was no difference between what God wants for the world and what God has already done for the world.  They trusted God’s word that much.

           

Now to someone like me—who is not a prophet, this is not so obvious.  When I read the news or look out at my community, I see a world of hurt.  I see a world of inequality and injustice; a world of hunger and pain.  I don’t see what Mary saw.

 

But this is why I am so grateful for her and for this season of Advent.  Mary saw; and she sang:  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.

 

Her trust ran so deep and her vision so clear she could look into the future God wants and see it as if it were already accomplished.  She dreamed God’s dream; in her vision, it was as good as here.

 

Listen, during this Advent season.  She is calling us to see what she saw; to dream God’s dream.

 

That’s what Advent is all about—seeing what isn’t yet here. Or to put it better, Advent is all about seeing what is here but isn’t yet visible. 

 

This is Mary’s gift to us.  She models for us the possibility of seeing in the dark.  She shows what can happen when the Light of the World shines into your soul. 

 

During Advent, you see, what is invisible to the eye is visible to the heart.  What your eyes can’t see, your heart can. 

 

During Advent we see.  And when we see, we sing.

 

Bobby Kennedy, one of the prophets of the last century, once said:  “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why?  I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

 

Advent calls us—people like you and me, to dream of things that are not yet but should be, and to make the dream happen.  Advent calls each of us to dream God’s dream—and when we wake, bring that dream to life in acts of compassion and kindness; acts of justice and generosity.

 

“My soul magnifies the Lord”,  Mary sang, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.  Let her song ring from inside of you.  Let it ring.

 

The world is dying to hear it.  Amen.