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What is the world waiting for?
For what or for whom does the world wait?
This is one of the primary questions that we have been asking at church during this Advent 2016.
We have been wondering out loud and sometimes to ourselves what is it, exactly,
that the world is waiting for this Advent season?
At first glance, our ancient text from Isaiah could seem far removed from current circumstances.
Many, many years ago, in the 8th century BCE, Ahaz ruled over the southern kingdom of Judah.
According to II Kings, Ahaz was just 20 years old, the age of a sophomore in college,
when he ascended to the throne of Judah.
During his reign, the southern kingdom was threatened by the King of Aram, today’s Syria,
where Aleppo sits today, and by the King of Israel, Judah’s former kinsman to the north.
Under siege by these neighbors, King Ahaz seeks a political alliance with the powerful King of Assyria,
a little further to the north and east, in order to protect the kingdom.
Ahaz takes silver and gold from the holy temple in Jerusalem
and offers it to the powerful king of Assyria,
and when Ahaz visits an Assyrian altar in their holy place in Damascus,
he instructs that an exact replica be built in Jerusalem’s temple.
Ahaz actually moves the altar to YWHW to the side and replaces it with an altar to an Assyrian god,
where his chief priest Uriah begins offering sacrifices at his instruction.
This is not a perfect example, but Ahaz’s actions could be considered worse
than someone taking our cross and communion table, putting them off to the side, or in the chapel,
and replacing them with Santa, his sleigh, and reindeer!
The prophet Isaiah was incensed. Not only was Isaiah fiercely opposed to the unholy military alliance,
the prophet also recognized that Ahaz “did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God.
As II Kings reports, Ahaz followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire,
engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. (2 Kings 16:2-4)
God tells the prophet Isaiah to go visit Ahaz, to tell him not to rely on earthly powers
to preserve his nation, but to trust in God.
YHWH will be his help in time of trouble–all he needs to do is ask.
Hear the Word of God from Isaiah 7:1-16. I will be reading from The Message,
Eugene Peterson’s scholarly paraphrase of the Bible.
1-2 During the time that Ahaz son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, was king of Judah,
King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel attacked Jerusalem,
but the attack sputtered out.
When the Davidic government learned that Aram had joined forces with Ephraim (that is, Israel),
Ahaz and his people were badly shaken. They shook like trees in the wind.
3-6 Then God told Isaiah, “Go and meet Ahaz. Take your son Shear-jashub (A-Remnant-Will-Return)
with you. Meet him south of the city at the end of the aqueduct where it empties into the upper pool
on the road to the public laundry. Tell him, Listen, calm down. Don’t be afraid.
And don’t panic over these two burnt-out cases, Rezin of Aram and the son of Remaliah.
They talk big but there’s nothing to them. Aram, along with Ephraim’s son of Remaliah,
have plotted to do you harm. They’ve conspired against you, saying, ‘Let’s go to war against Judah, dismember it, take it for ourselves, and set the son of Tabeel up as a puppet king over it.’
7-9 But God, the Master, says, “It won’t happen. Nothing will come of it.
Because the capital of Aram is Damascus and the king of Damascus is a mere man, Rezin.
As for Ephraim, in sixty-five years it will be rubble, nothing left of it.
The capital of Ephraim is Samaria, and the king of Samaria is the mere son of Remaliah.
If you don’t take your stand in faith, you won’t have a leg to stand on.”
10-11 God spoke again to Ahaz. This time he said,
“Ask for a sign from your God. Ask anything. Be extravagant. Ask for the moon!”
12 But Ahaz said, “I’d never do that. I’d never make demands like that on God!”
13-17 So Isaiah told him, “Then listen to this, government of David!
It’s bad enough that you make people tired with your pious, timid hypocrisies,
but now you’re making God tired. So the Master is going to give you a sign anyway.
Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant.
She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us).
By the time the child is twelve years old, able to make moral decisions, the threat of war will be over.
Relax, those two kings that have you so worried will be out of the picture.
But also be warned: God will bring on you and your people and your government
a judgment worse than anything since the time the kingdom split, when Ephraim left Judah.
The king of Assyria is coming!”
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
War in the Middle East. Nations threatening one another.
Fearful people turning to even more fearful leaders who are turning to whomever they think can help.
The worship of the One True God becomes lost amidst the angst and confusion of the day;
everyone begins worshiping false gods of their choosing;
people spend their time and money on whatever they think will bring them security or happiness.
Then, in the midst of divine judgment and warfare, in the midst of the worst that it seems life can bring,
finally a sign is offered, a sign that somehow, someday life will get better again.
Whether in the 8th century BCE, or the 21st century CE, the sign of a child to be born
can embody all that is good and hopeful about the future of humankind.
The birth of a promised child is about hope in the midst of desperation.
The birth of a promised child is about peace emerging where no one can see the possibility for peace.
The birth of a promised child is about love, unselfish, self-giving love,
showing up when all around there seems to be nothing but division and hate.
The birth of a promised child is about joy, deep abiding joy, when all seems depressing and futile.
The lyrics of the beautiful anthem express it well:
O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices
O night divine! O night when Christ was born
On Thursday evening, after Luke had wisdom teeth surgery and we enjoyed a birthday dinner at home
for Melanie, we gathered in our den to watch “Gone with the Wind.”
The movie had come up in conversation, as to whether our sons had ever watched the classic film.
So we watched it…well, at least until Intermission….It’s a long movie!
It had been a while since I had seen the movie.
I had forgotten a key aspect of that terrible scene when they were escaping from Atlanta.
Do you remember the scene with the ammunition depot burning and all the city catching fire?
The indomitable Scarlett, her would-be beau Rhett, and Miss Prissie
are fleeing in a borrowed carriage, with a beaten down old horse,
struggling to get across the railroad tracks to McDonough Road
before Sherman’s troops cut off the only way out of town.
What I had forgotten was that the righteous Melanie and her newborn child
all that time were lying, vulnerably, in the back of that carriage.
As the flames crept closer, as desperate men tried to take their horse away,
and Rhett had to shove them away, there lay the mother and newborn child.
Then they cross a battlefield covered with bodies of dead soldiers,
and next they wait under a bridge in a swollen creek during a rainstorm
as Yankee troops pass by unaware overhead,
and finally, they return to the beloved plantation, Tara, which has been decimated by occupying forces.
All the while, there lies Melanie with newborn child – vulnerable, innocent,
yet embodying hope for a future that cannot yet be imagined.
As that newborn infant is held tightly and protected against the swirling forces
of chaos and death and hunger all around, hope finds a foothold amidst the pain and suffering.
What is the world waiting for?
The world is waiting for such a sign, the sign of a child to be born in mean estate,
the sign of a child to embody the hopes of all,
the sign that, though all is not well, one day, somehow, peace and joy shall reign again.
In the Star Wars series, twins – Luke and Leah – are born to a poor mother on a faraway rural planet.
Their vulnerable lives offer steadfast hope for the rebellion, undergirded by the power of The Force.
Even the evil of the Darth Vader and the Death Star cannot defeat them.
In the Terminator series, the protection of the pregnant mother, Sarah Conner, and her unborn child
becomes paramount. Hope is kept alive in the first movie against the relentless attacks
of Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator.
Then, in a later movie, The Terminator is the one who provides relentless protection
of the young John Conner, the child who has been born.
In the Harry Potter movies, a boy wizard, the promised one, the one raised beneath the stairs,
is always the underdog, but somehow, only by a grace beyond his own powers,
he is able to survive the worst that Voldemort has to offer.
In the Matrix series, Keanu Reeves gradually realizes his own destiny as Neo, the chosen one,
as he engages in an intense fight to save Zion and all of humanity from machines.
When humanity is at risk, when fearful leaders go from bad to worse,
when people are struggling in chaos and warfare,
a child is born to save the world from sin.
The Promised One will come. A Messiah will be born.
A vulnerable, innocent one will born to a righteous mother and loyal husband
and will become the sign given in the midst of the worst that life can offer,
promising that hope may spring again.
Like King Ahaz, we try to secure our own futures.
We play the system. We make compromises. We turn to whomever we think can help us.
No matter what century, we tend to follow our fears instead of trusting in God.
We have been asking: What is the world waiting for?
Perhaps the more important question is: What is God waiting for?
For what does the Holy One, the Sign-Giver, the Father Above, wait this Advent season?
The Tuesday evening before last, our session gathered in the chapel to examine newly elected elders.
As they shared beautiful, inspiring statements of faith,
one of them spoke of an event that happened when she was just eight years old.
She was upset about something going on in her life, so she ran and knelt beneath an old bridge,
just a few blocks away, over at First Baptist Church of Decatur.
The young girl cried out to God in her distress.
At just eight years old, she prayed this prayer:
“Dear God, will you just run my life? Please?”
How often do you and I pray that prayer? How often do we submit our wills and our ways to God?
More often perhaps, we are like King Ahaz. We try to do it on our own, secure our own future,
tell God what we want to happen or how we want God’s help to do what we want to do.
We may not often say, “God, do with me whatever you wish.
Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee.”
How often do we pray daily in the manner of our Lord Jesus:
“Not my will, O God, but thy will be done.”
Perhaps in this Advent season, God is waiting for us—
to pray, to turn our focus and trust toward the One who cares for us,
to worship God alone, and walk in the paths of God’s choosing.
This is why we find such hope in a young, vulnerable child,
because in that child we realize that it is not about our human power,
but about the grace and power of God.
Child-like faith is willing to submit to God.
Child-like faith is open to the miraculous gifts that God has to offer.
Child-like faith quickly forgives that which is past and looks forward to that which is new.
Jesus said, “Unless you are willing to receive the kingdom of God as a child, you may never enter it.”
What is the world waiting for?
The world waits for a sign to remind us of the grace and love and power of God to save.
What is God waiting for?
God waits for us to recognize the sign, to turn again in trust and hope,
to give up trying to secure ourselves and to offer ourselves in humble service.
Joy to the World, the Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
December 18, 2016
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 am and at 5 pm on the 1st Sunday.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God’s Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030