December 18, 2016: "Hope Has Answered"

“Hope Has Answered”

A sermon by Andrew Philip Long

The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK

December 18, 2016: Advent Four

Matthew 1:17-25

Eve was filled with joy when she learned that she was pregnant. Joy had been hard to come by since she and Adam had been evicted from the Garden. But now, with God’s help, Eve would know the joy of motherhood. She gave birth to a son and named him Cain. Then she gave birth to another son, who she named Abel. Both boys grew into strong men: one was a farmer and the other a shepherd. When it came time for the boys to make an offering to the Lord, Cain brought a bushel of his finest grain and Abel brought the best of his herd. Genesis says that the Lord had regard for Abel’s offering, but had no regard for Cain’s offering. In anger, Cain took his brother into the field and murdered him. Cain’s sin was envy and wrath. Eve’s joy was shattered; no mother should have to bury a child. Adam and Eve had a third child, Seth, and then many more after him.

Tamar was born into a world where she was nothing more than a piece of property. As a young girl, Tamar was married to the first son of Judah. Judah was one of the sons of Jacob, and a brother to Joseph who wore the coat of many colors. Tamar’s husband was wicked in the sight of the Lord and the Lord put him to death. So Judah took Tamar and gave her to his second son, a tradition that kept women from striking out on their own. Judah’s second son did not like Tamar. He was also wicked and the Lord also put him to death. Judah tried to marry Tamar off to his third son, but with no success; the third son feared that Tamar was cursed and refused to marry her. One night, before Judah could find another man to marry Tamar, Tamar dressed her self as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law. It would be easy to judge Tamar, yet we cannot imagine the lengths to which she was willing to go in order to escape the buying and selling of her body. Tamar gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah.

Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho, and there is no mention in the Bible of a husband or sons. Her profession was the only one available to her. When Joshua inherited leadership of the Israelite army after the death of Moses, he made a plan to conquer Jericho. In order to make the best plan possible, Joshua sent two spies into Jericho, where Rahab opened her home to them. When the king of Jericho heard of the spies within his city, he sent thugs to capture them and shakedown Rahab. Rahab would not give in; she sent the thugs on a wild goose chase. In the meantime, Rahab had hidden the Israelite spies in the roof of her house, under bundles of flax. Rahab knew the God of the Israelites, and welcomed danger into her house because of this God. The spies recognized her faith and promised that she would be safe when the Israelite armies invaded the city. But she had to do something particular so that the army would avoid ransacking her home: hang a red ribbon from the window of her house. She did as they said.

Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law Naomi has been praised throughout the centuries. But Naomi was not the saint we might imagine. When Ruth returned one day from gathering grain in the field of Boaz the wealthy land-owner, Noami hatched a devious plan. Both were widows without any marital prospects. So Noami instructs Ruth to put on her nicest clothes and make-up and go back to the barn where Boaz is working on the grain late into the evening. She tells Ruth to wait until Boaz has eaten dinner and has had a little too much wine, and when he is full and asleep, Ruth is to uncover him and lay down next to him. Boaz wakes in the middle of the night, though, and there at his feet is a woman. Startled, Boaz demands to know who Ruth is. Ruth tells him that she is a distant member of his family, poor and destitute. Boaz knows that his reputation will be destroyed if someone finds him with a woman, so he promises to take Ruth in and her mother-in-law as well. Before sunrise the next morning, Ruth slipped away unnoticed.

Mary as young as 10 and as old as 14 when Gabriel appeared to her. She was afraid. Gabriel told her an unbelievable story. Mary had found favor in the sight of God, and in her womb she would conceive a son: Mary is to name him Jesus. Gabriel says he will be great, the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. Mary could not understand: “How can this be, since I am a virgin.” Gabriel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you…for nothing will be impossible for God.” What will Joseph think? What will her parents think? What will the temple priests and the townspeople think? A unwed, pregnant teen…Mary’s mind must have been racing. Yet Mary’s answer to Gabriel betrays all of her fear: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Zechariah and Elizabeth were blameless according to the commandments and regulations of the Lord, according to Luke. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years. Zechariah was a high priest in the temple, a position of great fame and popularity. Elizabeth was an old woman who had no children, a position that kept her from leaving the house. But one day, when Zechariah was serving in the temple, Gabriel appeared to him and told an another unbelievable story: Zechariah and Elizabeth would be parents! Elizabeth will bear a son and name him John, and John will be filled with the Holy Spirit. John will have the spirit and power of Elijah, turning many people to the Lord and preparing the way for the Messiah. Zechariah wasn’t so sure, and because of his doubt, Gabriel silenced him until John was born. Elizabeth, though, felt differently. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people."

What does any of this have to do with us? What do these characters in the Bible have to do with the story of Christmas? Well, in these characters and their chilling stories we find a tremendous amount of hope for our times and we learn from them that God can truly bring something out of nothing.

You see, Seth and the many children born to Adam and Eve children had many children also. One these children, many generations later, was named Abraham and Abraham was married to woman named Sarah. With Sarah, Abraham had a son named Isaac who was married to woman named Rebekah. Rebekah and Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob was married several times, but his favorite wife was Leah. Leah and Jacob were the parents of the twelve patriarchs of Israel, including Judah whose sons with Tamar were named Perez and Zerah. According to the gospel of Matthew, Perez was the father to Hezron, who was the father of Aram, who was the father of Aminadab, who had a son named Nashon. Nashon married and had a son named Salmon, and Salmon married a woman named Rahab. Rahab and Salmon had a son named Boaz, who laid in a barn one night with a woman named Ruth. Ruth and Boaz had a son named Obed, who in turn had a son named Jesse, who was the father of King David. Skip ahead about 28 generations and you find that a son was born to this family line whose name was Joseph. Jospeh married a woman named Mary, whose son was born in a manger. His name was Jesus.

From the tragedy of one son murdering another, Jesus Christ was born. From the desperation of a woman who was out of options and without a future, Jesus Christ was born. From similar desperation, which led a woman to house spies and hang a red ribbon from her window, Jesus Christ was born. From a mother-in-law who saw her daughter-in-law as a meal ticket, Jesus Christ was born. From fear that a pregnant teen would be put out of her house and her community, Jesus Christ was born. From the shriveled womb of a woman who was getting on in years, and from a man so full of pride that he could not believe an angel, Jesus Christ was born. This is the family line of our Savior. These are the genetics that were knit into the Messiah’s body. This is how our God works. This is how God has answered our hope for a better world, for a more peaceful world, for a more just world.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, amid the beauty and splendor of this season it is easy to forget why Jesus Christ was born. Jesus Christ was not born so that we could decorate our homes with lights and trees; he was not born to give us permission to spend and consume. Jesus Christ was not born to make the righteous feel more righteous, or so that people of faith could take his name and use it as a weapon. Jesus Christ was not born to sanction our wars or our greed or our indifference to the needs of the world. No, Jesus Christ was not born for any of this. Jesus Christ was born to redeem the mother whose son’s kill each other out of envy and wrath. Jesus Christ was born to redeem a person so desperate they are willing to sacrifice their body for a chance at life. Jesus Christ was born to redeem those who have been forced into destructive behavior, either because of who they are or because of who the world thinks they are. Jesus Christ was born to save those who are the victims of evil schemes and plans, who are given no choice in their own destiny. Jesus Christ was born to save the fearful of what will happen to them for being who they are. Jesus Christ was born for the barren and the for the prideful, for the murderer, for the prostitute, for victims, for schemers and evil-doers, for virgin’s who are afraid, and men and women who are getting on in years. Jesus Christ was born for you and for me.

That is the good news of the gospel today: Christ was born for you and for me. And if God could bring Jesus Christ into the world through people like Adam and Eve, Rahab and Ruth, Mary, Zechariah, and Elizabeth, God will work wonders for us, too. Christ was born to redeem and save us from our violence, and he will. Christ was born to redeem and save us from our evil plans, from our fear, and from our closed minds and hearts, and he will. Christ was born for this. God, our hope, has answered, and will bring something out of our everyday nothing. It might not be how we would expect, or even how we would want. But God will and it begins with a child. To us a child has been born. A son has been given. Authority rests upon his shoulders, and he his named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He will establish and uphold a kingdom of justice and righteousness, and there will be no end to peace. There is a place in this kingdom for you and for me and for everything in creation.

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, Bethlehem is so close. The stable lamp is lit and the manger awaits our Savior. Have hope and have faith. For look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, God with us. God is with us! Amen.

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