4 Pentecost A—12/22/19
Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Matt. 1:18-25
Pr. Scott Kramer
Sixty-three years ago today, Lyle and Eloise Kramer became husband and wife. Less than three years later, along came their first-born, Scott. December 22nd has always been a favorite day for me–especially this year. The day falls on a Sunday, when we hear again the story of another couple who were about to become man and wife: Miriam and Yosef–Mary and Joseph–whose first-born was named Yeshua; in English, Joshua. We call him by his Greek name–“Jesus,” meaning, “God saves.”
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell the story of Jesus. Our gospel readings come from these books. The gospel reading each Sunday is paired with another reading, usually from the Hebrew Scriptures; during Advent—including today—from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah seems like a good match for the Christmas story, especially v.14: Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. Centuries later, people began to connect the dots between this ancient prophecy and the circumstances of their own time, when Jesus was born.
But as much as these words of Isaiah sound to us like Christmas, they are only the beginning! There’s something much deeper and more urgent going on here that connects these stories with our own day.
These are stories of conflicting dreams and world views.
The expansive generosity of God is offered to King Ahaz: “Ask for a sign from your God. Ask anything. Be extravagant. Ask for the moon!” But Ahaz said, “I’d never do that. I’d never make demands like that on God!”
On the face of things, King Ahaz appears to be God’s faithful servant, humbly declining to ask too much. It’s a rookie mistake!—one that plays out each day in the lives of each of us. The problem, dear friends, is never that we human beings ask too much of God. Always, the problem is that we ask too little.
Despite Ahaz’ pretty-sounding religious language, he was a corrupt king. Listen to God’s response through the prophet Isaiah: 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!
This story came alive in our own nation this past week. We have our own King Ahaz. Fortunately, it turns out, we also have our own Isaiah. Christianity Today, the voice of mainstream conservative Christians, in its most recent issue describes our king as “a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence.” Strong words! But it is in the job description of prophets to say what no one wants to hear.
The story of King Ahaz represents a timeless human tragedy. Then and now, those with the most resources and the most power to do the most good frequently have the smallest dreams. Such dreams are limited to accumulating wealth, and taking care of their own. Such puny, pitiful dreams are enough, Isaiah says, to make God weary. “Ask for the moon!” God says. But Ahaz asks nothing. In return, Ahaz gets…nothing.
Fortunately, our Christian story is not about King Ahaz. It’s about the one who came into the world with no less a dream than to save the world. That is a dream worthy of God’s power. It is this dream that we sign on to at baptism. Ric and Diana, you may not have known that when you asked for young Ottilie to be baptized. You’re on the hook! But, so are we all.
That is the nature of love, right? None of us knows precisely what we’re signing up for when we get married, have children, take care of an aging parent. To be baptized means to daily remember God’s dream. We hold God’s dream next to our own. Does our dream more closely match the timid dreams of King Ahaz, or, the infinitely expansive dream of God for nothing less than the salvation of the world.
It’s a mistake to think that God’s dream of salvation is a merely spiritual vision of the life to come. Immanuel—God With Us—is a God who walks among us today as a human being for human beings, no less than two thousand years ago.
The choices made by parents today set the stage for how a child’s life unfolds. So it was for Jesus. Listen again to the story of Jesus’ parents:
His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph…Joseph discovered she was pregnant… Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.20-23 While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married…She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” 24-25 Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary.
Joseph had a dream. But, it wasn’t really Joseph’s dream. It was God’s own dream–a dream worthy of God. And then, Joseph woke up. Instead of dismissing the dream, he and Mary devoted their lives to that dream, with all the fear, pain, confusion—and joy–that it involved.
To glimpse God’s dream is what Christmas is about. To wake up to opportunities for that dream to take on flesh in our own lives is what Christmas is about. Think about that. Joseph and Mary, who had little, stepped out in faith and against all odds, devoted their lives to God’s dream. How different from King Ahaz, who had the power to transform countless lives, and yet not only did nothing; he asked God for nothing.
Sixty-three years ago, December 22nd marked the beginning of a dream that two people, Lyle and Eloise, shared as they pledged themselves to each other as husband and wife. But as they had their children baptized and took their oldest son and his siblings to worship week after week, year after year, it became clear that they had not invested merely in their own dreams, or even in the dreams of their children. They had signed on to God’s own dream of saving the world.
In response to selfishness or fear, even many of God’s own people over the centuries have settled for small dreams and merely human standards. If we set our goals low enough, as they say, we’re sure to achieve them.
We don’t wait for the life to come. We don’t just take care of our own. Through the choices of our lives, we sign on to God’s dream—a Christmas dream!–which is nothing less than the salvation of the world God loves!
We, the baptized people of God, do not settle for “timid hypocrisies.” At our best, we dream God’s dream. We ask for nothing less than Peace on Earth–and expect God to show us how to make that happen. We ask for nothing less than Joy to the World–and expect God to show us how to live lives that make it happen.
Let us pray: O Come, O Come, Immanuel, and save us from our sins. Save us from greed and indifference, fear and despair. Save us most of all from puny, pitiful dreams. Lead us to ask for the moon, and may we expect you to lead us! AMEN