Monday, December 23, 2019

Advent 2019 | The Prince of Peace: Christ Comes in the Chaos

The basic, life-changing, mind-transforming, spirit-redeeming reality is not what we do, but what God does. And He has done it. It is given: Jesus, our Messiah, the Prince of Peace who gives us Himself and the peace that passes all understanding in the midst of our chaos. 

Prince of Peace by Dylan Thomas | Joel Houston | Matt Crocker, 2015 A.D.

My heart a storm, clouds raging deep within,
The Prince of peace came bursting through the wind.
The violent sky held its breath and in Your light I found rest.

Tearing through the night, riding on the storm;
Staring down the fight, my eyes found Yours.
Shining like the sun, striding through my fear
The Prince of peace met me there. You heard my prayer.

Hope like the sunlight piercing through the dark,
The Prince of peace came and broke into my heart.
The violent cross, the empty grave, and in Your light I found grace.

You're always there and You hear my prayer.

Your love surrounds me when my thoughts wage war.
When night screams terror, there Your voice will roar.
Come death or shadow, God I know Your light will meet me there.
When fear comes knocking, there You'll be my guard.
When day breeds trouble, there You'll hold my heart.
Come storm or battle, God I know Your peace will meet me there (again and again).

Oh, be still my heart. I know that You are God.
Oh, fear no evil for I know You are here.

An excerpt from Eugene Peterson's "For to Us a Child Is Born" in As Kingfishers Catch Fire

In the dark days of Isaiah's prophetic ministry, rumors were flying through Jerusalem of an impending military attack by the Assyrians. A glance over the walls of Jerusalem took in the sight of the enemy on every hillside. In the general panic, everyone was terrorized. "We've got to do something. We've got to get organized. What do we do? We've got to get our act together. Where do we start?" Instead of offering a strategy, Isaiah preached a sermon. First, you need to know what has already been done. Are you aware of what God has done? Are you alert to what God is doing? Do you have any idea at all of what has been going on since God made heaven and earth and all the centuries since? If you devise a plan of action that doesn't take into account God's activity, you are going to do the wrong thing. The basic, life-changing, mind-transforming, spirit-redeeming reality is not what we do but what God does. And he has done it. It is given. And the giving continues.

It isn't something we invent or slap together hastily in our spare time. It is the massive, eternal, enduring gift of God. The world is given to us. We don't go out and about and buy it. We don't hire someone to find it for us. We don't acquire an education and training to make it happen. It is right here. Salvation is given to us. We don't earn it. We don't become educated for it. We are not trained into it. An expert does not package it for us. It is given. How will we recognize it? Isaiah says it simply: "To us a child is born, to us a son is given."

God starts out where we start out: a child is born. He submerges himself in our biology, our psychology, our history. He becomes one of us so we can become what he is. God's way of revealing himself to us and giving himself to us is Jesus. That saves us a lot of time and trouble. 

We don't have to look for God's presence in the skies, nor the schools, nor the religious places, but in a child born among us. God does not come as a mighty heavenly warrior, brandishing a sword and hurling thunderbolts. God does not come as a wise sage, calling a few superintelligent persons to a seminar at which he imparts the secret knowledge of salvation. God does not hide himself in the babbling brooks and whispering trees for us to piece together like some gigantic puzzle. No. God gave us a story: "To us a child is born, to us a son is given."

We ask, "Really? Can that make any difference? What can a child do?" Isaiah, we must remember, preached in desperate times. He was involved in an international crisis. He walked the streets of Jerusalem with persons stretched to the breaking point with anxiety, with pain, with fear, their hearts heavy with the burdens of sin, their arms aching from carrying the baggage of guilt. They were people like us – they needed help, they needed deliverance, they needed relief, and they needed hope. They needed all the things that persons who have rebelled and lost a sense of security, persons who have trivialized the sacred and found themselves separated from meaning and reduced to boredom and banality. They needed a gospel adequate for their needs, and their needs were extreme and desperate. To such people Isaiah said, "To us a child is born, to us a son is given."

C.S. Lewis has a marvelous elaboration of the detail in Isaiah's vision:

In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has a picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.

Four names describe what God, via the child, becomes for us:

| 1 | Wonderful Counselor: He is not a dictator but a counselor. He listens more than he talks. He comprehends our needs and helps us find ways to meet them. He pays attention to us. When we are in his presence, we know we are significant, important, unique. And the result is that we find a will and the means to life with zest.  
| 2 | Mighty God: He is able to do what he sets out to do. And what he sets out to do is conquer sin, defeat the evil that would maim and cripple our aspirations to goodness. There is nothing passive about our Savior. He incarnates an aggressive assault on what is wrong with the world that will finally result in a new heaven and new earth.  
| 3 | Everlasting Father: God is the origin of our existence and continues into eternity. He is no absent Father. There is continuity in God, and as we live in him, our lives have continuity. We escape the jumble of impressions and the chaos of experience. We don't have to start each day looking for something new to keep us going, to be happy or entertained. We have histories that accumulate in meaning and significance and worth, for we have both a past and a future in God. 
| 4 | Prince of Peace: As the prince rules, peace develops. He is thorough and complete in what he does. Peace is harmony that comes from putting everything together so it fits. I try to get peace by getting rid of what irritates me; God gets peace by restoring everything to health. I try to get peace by getting rid of what I don't like; God gets peace by loving the unruly and unlovely into a life-changing salvation. I try to get peace by saying, "Shut up. I don't want to hear it anymore"; God gets peace by saying, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). 

The four names are a frontal attack on all that keeps us from God, an all-out assault on what is wrong with the world. Persons who don't yet see this are described by Isaiah as those who "(walk) in darkness." Those who do see it are described as men and women who "(see) a great light" (Isaiah 9:2). Many of us, maybe most of us, stumble around in darkness for years, oblivious to the light. And then we see. It is already given. It was only a matter of time before Isaiah's vision became fulfilled history in Jesus, who was born in a Bethlehem manger and walked in Galilee, touching, feeding, and speaking to all who came to him. At Calvary he conquered sin and the grave. He is now present among us, mighty to save.

Twice in the course of Isaiah's vision in chapter 9, the word increase is used. Near the beginning we read, "Thou has increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest" (verse 3). And near the end of the vision there is this: "Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end" (verse 7). There is plenty given. It is given in a way you can receive it. What is given will do what needs to be done in you. It doesn't run out. It is inexhaustible. What is given increases week by week, year by year. What you got last week or last month is not subtracted from what you still have coming to you. "Of the increase ... there will be no end."

Much as I liked and enjoyed my sly uncle Ernie (who used to fake like he was taking from the offering plate), I must say that if he were in this congregation, I wouldn't trust him to supervise even the cribbery in our church school. All the same I have to admit that when he was in church, he asked the right question when he jokingly asked me after the offering plate passed by: "How much did you get?" For everybody gets something. A plate full of money is passed in front of you, the Word of God is opened before you, the praises of God are sung around you, prayers to God direct and bless you. With all of that given, surely you got something, didn't you? But how much?

The moment we ask the question that way, everything changes dramatically. The very reason we come together for worship changes. We are not here to find what is lost or perform a duty. We are here to receive what is given. 

How much did you get?

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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