Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Ransomed of the Lord will Return

I always loved the television show, All in the Family.  There was Archie Bunker who played out the ultra-conservative, often bigoted, frequently cynical working man of multiple malaprops from middle class America.  Then there was Edith—or Dingbat—as Archie affectionately referred to her.  And of course there was the overly emotional, young and attractive daughter, Gloria; who happened to marry an ultra-liberal man by the name of Michael.  If you watched the show enough, you knew him as Meathead, another term of endearment coined by Archie.

The show was a success because it played out the social, racial, moral, and political themes of the day as never before.  We could all identify with the story or the characters or even the controversy while we laughed for half an hour.
Star Trek did the same thing for us except in outer space—the final frontier.  We saw superpowers in a constant state of cold war, prejudice, the first interracial kiss on television, two men who were half white and half black trying to kill each other because one was white on his right side and the other on his left side.  The social and political themes that hit close to home could be played out with abandon—nothing seemed off limits—and they could do it because the story took place light years away.

How would you like to have your family’s story played out for millions of people you didn’t even know?  In television that’s called a hit.  In real life, it is called God’s Chosen People.  We benefit from their story.  We can look at their success and failure, victories and defeats, struggles, trials, temptations as well as blessings and benefits of knowing the one true God.

God gave his people commands, laws, and prophets to tell them they had better get their act together.  Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t and there was a positive consequence for obedience and another consequence for rebellion and apostasy.

Isaiah prophesied at a time when neither kingdom of the post Solomon era had their act together.  In fact God through his prophets had been very direct in telling his people what would happen if they stayed their rebellious course.

Look, their brave men cry aloud in the streets;
    the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
 The highways are deserted,
    no travelers are on the roads.
The treaty is broken,
    its witnesses are despised,
    no one is respected.
 The land dries up and wastes away,
    Lebanon is ashamed and withers;
Sharon is like the Arabah,
    and Bashan and Carmel drop their leaves.

Two chapters later, Isaiah tells of the same roads and wastelands and desolation made fruitful again.

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

God’s Chosen People would be taken into exile in Babylon, at least those who were fit for some service or hadn’t already fled. They would be servants and slaves in another country but God would bring them and what belonged in the temple home one day.

Since sin entered the world, there has been death and blindness and illness and other factors that degrade our fullness; yet Isaiah speaks of a time of healing.

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.

Much of this prophecy was fulfilled in the first advent of Jesus.  We know this from the witness of the gospels and from the reply that Jesus sent to John the Baptist when John was in prison and asking, “Are you the one or should we expect another?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

The story of God’s people meanders through sin and apostasy and repentance and renewal and relapse, but God is faithful to redeem his chosen ones.  He is faithful.
In what today we call Mary’s song, she attests to his faithfulness.

He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.

Today,  we who have been granted right standing with God are privileged to enjoy the story of God’s Chosen People.  It is through these people that we have received our Savior.  It is through them that we can see our own human frailty.  It is through them that we know that there is more prophecy to be fulfilled.

It is through these people that we know how far we have fallen and how far God has come and will go to rescue us.

Through these chosen people we see God’s faithfulness is steadfast even when his own people were at their worst.

The ransomed of the Lord did return to Zion.  Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the history of his chosen people when they returned and rebuilt.

It was fulfilled again when Jesus walked the earth proclaiming good news, healing, and performing miracles.

It will be complete when Jesus comes again and there is no more death or pain or suffering among his people.  And yes, we are now included among those people.  At this time both God’s Chosen People and those who know God by the shed blood of Jesus will all belong to God because of his mercy.

But even in the tidings of great joy that we sing of as Christmas approaches, we know that not all will have eyes to see and ears to hear.  Some will harden their hearts.  Some will not respond to invitation after invitation.  Some would choose separation from God over truth and life everlasting.

Christ was born into this world so that he could die as the one and only sacrifice that would take away our sins now and forever.  His sacrifice was for all human kind.  His atonement was for the entire creation.  Reconciliation of all things is the gift that he brought to us.

We have been ransomed by God himself.  We can truly celebrate Christmas.

A babe in a manger and a star in the east have meaning to us.  Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night brings a smile to our faces every time we hear the story.

Fear not are words that we come to expect when angels make an appearance.

A virgin birth makes perfect sense to us.

We celebrate Advent and Christmas because we know the story of God’s people.  We know that regardless of what we do or do not do, God is always faithful.  God’s love for us and his faithfulness are forever.

He has saved us and because of that we celebrate days such as Christmas and Easter and the first day of the week and for those who continue to grow in grace, every day is a celebration.

But the world, even our small part in western Oklahoma, does not know the story.  They might know that the kid in the cradles is baby Jesus when they see a nativity scene, but they don’t know the story of why he is so important to us.

And that brings us to Christmas presents.  I am asking that everyone who receives this message gives someone that you know but who does not seem to know God very well a Christmas present.

You might be thinking, “I wish he had told me this before Black Friday so I could have found something on sale.”  Don’t worry, this gift won’t cost you anything.

For all of those people that we have been reaching out to telling them that God loves them, add the story of Christmas to that relationship.  Find one of these people that you have been reaching out to and give them the Christmas present of the Christmas story.

Let them know why the real Christmas story is special to you, to us.

We are people who relate to stories.  Today many of those stories come in the form of movies and television shows, but they also come in person-to-person encounters.

Find someone with whom you have already connected and give them the true Christmas story.  I am calling on everyone to do this, children as well as adults.  Share the Christmas story with someone who probably doesn’t know the whole story.

Instead of just posting, Jesus is the reason for the season; let’s give people the story that goes with that reason and with this season.

Instead of just saying, Let’s keep Christ in Christmas; let’s tell people about the Christ—this divine Message from God—being born into this world as a person and how we know God’s incredible love and faithfulness through him.

While we are at it, let’s explain some of our Christmas songs to people.  People can sing Frosty the Snowman in their sleep but do they know why that little town of Bethlehem is important to the Christmas story.  Why did it have to be the City of David?

Do they understand what we are saying when we sing, Joy to the world, the Lord has come?  Do they know that babe in the manger was King of Kings at birth?

We have been making more and more connections over the years.  It is time to strengthen those connections with those who are not enjoying the blessings of God’s favor in this modern time.  What better time than this Advent and this Christmas season to share the Christmas story.

God’s Chosen People returned from Babylon and rebuilt their city and their temple.  God restored them.  We have been ransomed and redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  We know abundant life in the here and now and eternal life that promises things that eye has not seen and ear has not heard but that the Lord God has in store for us.

But some have not received what God gives so freely.  Our denomination is often labeled the Whosoever Will bunch.  So this Christmas season, pick out a Whosever from the people with whom you have been connecting, and give them the gift of the true Christmas story.

Share the true story of Christmas with someone who needs it more than you can know.  ‘Tis the season.


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