16 December 2012
In our culture we have a genre of lame jokes which center around good news and bad news -- a lot of them are in such bad taste that I wouldn’t tell them.
But basically they unfold like this:
Flight Attendant to Passengers: Attention, please! The Pilot has asked me to announce that he has good news and bad news.
Anxious Passenger: What's the bad news?
Flight Attendant: The bad new is we're lost.
Passenger: Lost? Then what in the world can be good news?!
Flight Attendant: The good news is, we're way ahead of schedule.
Does anyone have a good news/bad news joke to share?
Jill phoned her husband, John, at work for a chat. "I'm sorry dear," said John, "but I'm up to my neck in work today. I don't have time to chat."
Jill replied, "But I've got some good news and some bad news for you, dear."
"Okay darling," said John, "but as I've got no time right now, just give me the good news."
"Okay," agreed Jill. "Well, the air bag works...bye!"
Good news – bad news.
The book of Isaiah is constructed along similar lines – except it’s not a lame joke.
All throughout the book the prophet’s messages to Judah have this alternating good news – bad news action. And such is very much the case as we get to the beginning of Isaiah 12 – our focus this morning.
In the preceding chapters there is a lot of talk about bad news – judgment –
- Judgment against Judah’s northern neighbor Israel ...
- Judgment against the great military power of Assyria.
- Judgment on Judah itself.
- There are warnings aimed at the women of Jerusalem –
(3:16) – “Next the Lord will judge the women of Jerusalem who walk around with their noses in the air, with tinkling ornaments on their ankles. Their eyes rove among the crowds, flirting with the men. The Lord will send a plague of scabs to ornament their heads. Yes, the Lord will make them bald for all to see...” (NLT)Lots of bad news – but there is a lot of good news interspersed -- the prophet toggles back and forth between despair and hope.
In chapter 11 he’s in the good news mode -- explaining that:
“A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse; a branch will sprout from his roots. 2 The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of planning and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.” ~ Isaiah 11:1-2 (CEB)Then, Isaiah 11:6-8 (NLT) –
“In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard and the goat will be at peace. Calves and yearlings will be safe among lions, and a little child will lead them all.  The cattle will graze among bears. Cubs and calves will lie down together. And lions will eat grass as the livestock do.  Babies will crawl safely among poisonous snakes. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes and pull it out unharmed.”All of this is really good news. There is going to be a new future -- a new leader -- someone from the family line of King David -- and when he comes into his fullness even the wild animals will be harmless.
And in that day you’ll be singing -- there will be a great Christmas carol for that day -- and these are the words from Isaiah 12 that we read a few minutes ago.
Isaiah 12:1-6 (CEB) --
You will say on that day: “I thank you,Lord. Though you were angry with me, your anger turned away and you comforted me. 2 God is indeed my salvation; I will trust and won’t be afraid. Yah, the Lord, is my strength and my shield; he has become my salvation.” 3 You will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation. 4 And you will say on that day: “Thank the Lord; call on God’s name; proclaim God’s deeds among the peoples; declare that God’s name is exalted. 5 Sing to the Lord, who has done glorious things; proclaim this throughout all the earth.” 6 Shout and sing for joy, city of Zion, because the holy one of Israel is great among you.It’s really this last line which has captured my heart and imagination this week. It’s this line that really capture’s God’s word for us this Advent. It’s this word that God is speaking to you: Look – I’ve got a new song for you – I want you to sing – I mean, shout for joy of people of Zion --
“...because the holy one of Israel is great among you.”This is a really wild and crazy idea here – that the great God – the one and only – the holy one – would make himself present in the midst of his people.
Actually, the idea is that he would live among his people – that’s why the NLT renders it: “For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you.” No joke.
Well, why is this such good news? Why does it even matter? A few thoughts – three thoughts actually...
1. When God is present he raises our status.
That is, with God in the neighborhood our property values go up.
As a homeowner I’m keenly aware of who is moving into the neighborhood. The wrong people will make everyone miserable and drive down property values for the whole neighborhood. But good neighbors who come in and improve their property -- who plant trees -- who keep their yards clean -- will add value for everyone.
Here’s some good news – bad news.
- It’s good news if your grumpy neighbor moves out.
- It’s bad news if the new neighbor tows in four beater cars which are parked on the front gravel – and they bring in an old oily engine hoist for the driveway. The property values immediately plummet.
- It’s good news if your grumpy neighbor moves out.
- It’s even better news if the new neighbor owns the giant BMW dealership out on the freeway. And he parks his car in the driveway. Property values shoot up.
So, what happens when God himself moves into the neighborhood? When God becomes incarnate into the human race?
The ancient church had a term for it – “theosis” or deification – a sharing in the divine nature – that is – because God has moved into the neighborhood we can become more God like.
NKJV – Hebrews 3:14 –
“We become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”Partakers – participants... sharing in him...
In the second century St Irenaeus asked – “How will man pass into God, unless God has first passed into man?”
If you still can’t quite get your mind around it try thinking of it like this -- because God has personally moved into the human neighborhood -- there has been a change in the neighborhood -- a change in our human nature -- an upgrading -- a raising of status -- so that we can now share in some of God’s nature.
We can become God-like, Notice that I didn’t say we would become gods in the same sense that the Almighty is God – but that we get to share in some of his divine energy.
The early Christians used to use the illustration of a sword thrust into a fire to make this point. The sword doesn’t cease to be a sword but it takes on the energy of the fire – and it becomes as blazing hot as the fire.
Because you’re in the fire there will be a heat transference.
Well, Isaiah anticipated, looked forward, to the time when the fire would be in our midst – and we would have the opportunity to take on some of the divine heat -- God’s energy.
So when we send holiday greetings, Christians are really saying “have a hot Christmas.” The neighbor is hot and he’s sharing the heat.
Get in close to the fire that’s now in your midst – no need to stand out in the cold – the neighborhood is now heated. There are new incredible possibilities for who you can become -- for the Holy One of Israel is living and burning in your midst.
Secondly, when God is present in the neighborhood – not only is there a change in status -- but there is a catalyst for real and actual change.
Have you noticed how some of your neighbors make things happen?
- They organize the block parties...
- They set the standard for Christmas decorations...
- They know everyone and are involved with everyone.
- They are catalysts for change.
Because of the little life born of the Virgin Mary, death is defeated. He makes things happen.
1 Corinthians 15:3 (NLT) –
“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me-that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said.”In the death of Christ we have the great triumph over death itself – and all that is associated with it – sin – evil – all are now defeated through the cross and resurrection.
Now, there are some holdouts who don’t fully realize the extent of their defeat – guerillas who still wage attacks against the army – even though the country has been conquered.
The last Japanese soldier holdout on Guam lived in a cave and roamed the jungle -- until he was captured on January 24, 1972 when Shōichi Yokoi attacked two local Chamorro guys who were tending their shrimp traps. They subdued him and brought him to the authorities. World War II had been over for 28 years but he thought the pamphlets dropped into the jungle at the end of the war were just propaganda to confuse him. So he carried on, not believing that Japan had been defeated.
We experienced such an attack again last Friday. An enemy hold-out fro the old regime killed 26 in Connecticut.
By entering into our midst God has been able to defeat death and triumph over sin in a spectacular victory. The victory has been won -- in spite of hold outs.
And it all started with God moving into the neighborhood – that baby born in a barn and bedded into a feeding trough made things happen.
Thirdly, when God is present in the neighborhood – not only is there a change in status – and not only is there is a catalyst for real change in the human condition... But there is also cause for celebration. When God is present in the neighborhood there is cause for celebration.
Too often we get so frustrated with all of the expectations and abuses of Christmas that we miss the celebration.
If you’re a pastor you start to think that Christmas is about reminding people that it’s not about shopping, and presents, and Santa. But too often we never really get around to reminding people what it IS about.
Christmas is about celebration. It’s a feast – it’s a party.
Isaiah 12:5-6 is a part of an Old Testament good news Christmas carol -- a celebration --
"Sing to the Lord, who has done glorious things; proclaim this throughout all the earth.” 6 Shout and sing for joy, city of Zion, because the holy one of Israel is great among you." (CEB)It’s not a silent night kind of affair. Sing, shout, praise, broadcast! We don’t go to Christmas parties – for Christmas itself is a party – a celebration. It’s all a party! Take the party with you wherever you go!
God set up his tent in our human neighborhood. He is in our midst.
Now, we haven’t always been very good at celebration. Some Christians have been so annoyed at the abuses of Christmas that they just don’t allow themselves any freedom to enjoy what Christmas is.
In some of the early American colonies there were restrictions on celebrating Christmas. Laws against celebrating Christmas in New England were finally repealed in 1681. But the Puritans of New England continued to unofficially outlaw Christmas until the mid-19th century -- just after the Civil War.
Some modern Christians don’t like to celebrate Christmas because they think that it was originally a pagan holiday – “Birth of the Unconquered Sun.”
This understanding is the result of some theories that first appeared in the 17th and 18th centuries. And many people take these theories as fact.
But now the some of the latest scholarly material, which I seriously doubt is the final word on this subject, is showing that Christians began celebrating Christmas pretty early on – perhaps in the second or third centuries -- and even on December 25th. It wasn’t as big of a party as Easter -- or Epiphany but it was happening in some places.
The third century Roman emperor Aurelian, who was hostile to Christianity promoted the establishment of the festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” as a device to unify the various pagan cults of the Roman Empire around a commemoration of the annual “rebirth” of the sun – and that happened on December 25th – winter solace in the old calendar.
And he was probably hoping to preempt some of the focus that the Christians had on that day. He was the first grinch.
Now, the church had apparently, prior to the state-advanced pagan festival, come up with December 25th date through a kind of bizarre, roundabout scheme that was based on an ancient Jewish theory called “integral age.” That theory held that important people such a prophets often died on the same date as their conception.
Someone figured out the date when Jesus died – which then, according to this system, was supposedly the day of the year of his conception -- and that was March 25th – as they understood it. And then they counted forward from that date nine months and ended up at December 25th.
It was kind of a bizarre way to pick a date and I can’t imagine that it was accurate – but it doesn’t really matter – and at least for the people who were troubled because they thought Christmas was originally a pagan holiday – they should have some relief of conscience.
The point is – hey, regardless of how we picked out the date – regardless of all the other unrelated trappings that happen with Christmas – YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO CELEBRATE – really celebrate. Party!!!
“Shout and sing for joy, city of Zion, because the holy one of Israel is great among you.”For those who follow Jesus this is totally good news.
Let's join together in reading the affirmation of faith from John 1:14 (The Message)
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.Unless otherwise noted, all scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The "CEB" and "Common English Bible" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Common English Bible. Use of either trademark requires the permission of Common English Bible.