It’s all about Grace!

Galatians 4.4-7

We find ourselves beginning a new year, with the past behind us and a world full of possibilities before us, waiting for a fresh perspective on a new beginning! Possibilities for new life are all around us. Our text today offers us possibilities of new life!

We enter into the narrative today by way of the author of our letter, Paul. He is writing to the church at Galatia (Antioch Pisidian, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe). Paul has worked on the mission field in Galatia (Acts 16.6, 18.23). We would recognize this area as modern-day Turkey. Paul has founded the churches in Galatia, and now there are new believers entering into the fellowship of the churches creating a stir that the new converts from paganism where not measuring up to the faith that they processed.

Judiazers (Jewish believers) have been spying on the new converts and declaring that they were not living up to the fulfillment of the Law of Moses (circumcision and dietary laws). We know this conflict well, as Paul has attended the Jerusalem Council to hash out the details of the Law of Moses requirements for new converts to the Christian faith (Acts 15). Paul has been given the revelation that his work is among the Gentiles, and he is fully prepared to accomplish that work by not converting them to Judaism by through grace by faith alone.

Paul is sitting in Antioch, having heard the news that Judiazers (those who live according to the Jewish customs) had infiltrated the churches of Galatia, and were requiring the new believers to follow the Law of Moses (circumcision and dietary laws). Paul is furious. Paul had received the revelation from God to be the messenger to the Gentiles. He was appointed, called to this very task. Now he writes to the people in his own hand (Gal. 6.11).

The Gospel does not require conversion to Judaism first. The new covenant is entered into by faith alone. Salvation is by faith alone, not by following the Law of Moses. We see Paul following the Law of Moses when Timothy is circumcised (Acts 16.3). However, Paul seems to support the Law of Moses rituals when it helps the Gospel to be preached and received, unhindered. In other words the Law of Moses is not a requirement for salvation. We are justified by faith alone (Acts 21.21).

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul declares that the Gospel message cannot be edited, changed, or misrepresented. Paul claims that he has received this message not from humankind but by revelation from God himself. Paul is frustrated with the Jerusalem leaders who are continuing to follow the Law of Moses as a means to an end (justification/sanctification). To be sure the only transformation comes is by way of faith alone.

We cannot work our way to good behavior, and we cannot discipline ourselves to salvation (Keener, 72-77). We find that we may get offended with people who swear or drink, but we must realize that even the best of us who have been set free from outward behaviors may not be set free in our hearts. We all have to surrender ourselves for transformation in the power of the Spirit. The key is whether we have made the decision by faith alone for our salvation like the song says, “I have decided to follow Jesus…” (Traditional).

There are times in our Christian lives when we are like the Judiazers: we have run the race, but we have somehow gotten on the wrong course (Acts 20.24, 1 Cor. 9.24-27, Heb. 12.1-3, 2 Tim. 4.7-9, Is. 40.31). Paul uses this illustration to invite believers back to the right race, the right course. Paul is clear that the people who have steered the new believers off the race course are actually Jewish believers. They have not been given misinformation by unbelievers, but by believers. He is offering a course correction here for the Jewish believers and the new converts in Galatia. Paul’s message is for us today. It is an opportunity for us to evaluate our race. Are we running the right course?

Our tradition holds a “distinctive Wesleyan emphases” on holiness of heart and life based in our understanding of grace (BOD, 51). Grace is the “undeserved, unmerited” favor of God (BOD, 51). By God’s grace in the Holy Spirit we are called to live in holiness of heart and life. Through God’s grace we are renewed in our fallen nature. Grace “awakens us in our earnest longing for deliverance from sin and death” (BOD, 52). Grace moves us toward repentance and faith. Grace reaches us when we have a “repentant heart” (BOD, 52). Grace “acceptance and pardons” us (BOD, 53). The human heart experiences a real change under the guidance of the Holy Spirit by faith alone. We are made new creations, and are given a new birth. The Spirit of God “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8.16; BOD, 53). Through the Holy Spirit, we experience the love and knowledge of God.

John Wesley in his sermon “Witness of the Spirit” observed, “It is hard to find the words in language of men, to explain the deep things of God. Indeed, there are none that adequately express what the Spirit of God works in his children” (Kerr, 191). Wesley further states that the witness of the Spirit is an inward impression (Kerr, 191). If you have not known this blessed assurance, it is indeed available to you. To be sure we can know that experience of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus lives within us.

To others among us we might need to hear that Wesley was concerned that this movement of God called Methodism would “degenerate into a mere formality; lest, having ‘a form of godliness’ we neglect, if not ‘deny the power of it’” (Kerr, 191). To others Wesley might say to guard the faith with a “scriptural, rational illustration and confirmation of this momentous truth” (Kerr, 191). To be sure Wesley believed that it was essential to live a holy life inwardly and outwardly. To further emphasize this understanding that grace moves from the inward witness to the outward experience of faith, one might use the slogan, “Head. Heart. Hands. Habits.”

Grace supplies us with new birth. That new birth brings about a dynamic love for God and a tangible love for neighbor as ourselves, as well as the very mind of Christ which transforms our thinking. Both are essential in the transformation process. Paul teaches us “that the process of transformation does not depend on our self-discipline as much as it depends on our willingness to embrace God’s help” (Keener, 72). We have a renewed nature born of the Spirit of God. We are a new creation, born anew into a new lifestyle of living. We are not to live passively, but actively putting off the old selfish nature and putting on the new creation based on faith alone (Keener, 73). We are to conform to the image of God not according to our strength, but with God’s help. Although discipline does aid us in the transformation process, new life in Christ requires our submission to the Spirit for the inward change to be secured.

God’s grace calls us forth in faith and good works. Piety and mercy are the initial fruits of the life of the Spirit (BOD, 102). A Spirit-filled life is marked by submission to others. It is marked with humility, service, and yielding in a life lived in community. On the other hand, a flesh-filled life is marked by way of gossip, slander, arrogance, overextending our authority and an overall “know-it-all” attitude that quenches the life in the Spirit.

A Spirit-filled church seeks to live in unity, building relationships with others, and staying connected across churches. A Spirit-filled life is long-suffering with others who are on the journey with us. Grace calls us to be on the journey together with all our warts and wrinkles exposed to one another that we might live in an accountable lifestyle. Grace forgives. Grace calls us onward and upward for the glory of God.

Grace calls us beyond the walls of our comfort zone to fulfill the Great Command and the Great Commission (Mt. 22.36-40, Mt. 28.16-20). Grace calls us and empowers us to live by love of God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Grace calls us to go forth into all the world to make disciples (BOD, 53). God’s grace calls us to a life of doing good, doing no harm, and loving God.

One of the most remarkable testimonies I know is the story of Fanny Crosby, a prolific Methodist hymn writer. Blind from the age of six weeks, Fanny was able to pen some 9,000 hymns in her lifetime, “depending upon God to provide for every lyric and tune” (Kinghorn, 147). The United Methodist Hymnal boasts a number of her songs including, “To God Be the Glory” (UMH98), “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” (301), “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” (351), “Blessed Assurance” (369), “Close to Thee” (407), “I am Thine, O Lord” (419), and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (591). But today I am especially reminded of the words to one of her songs, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of Salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood. This is my story! This is my song!” (UMH369). What a fitting way for us to remember the exhortation of Paul to the believers in Galatia!

Let’s briefly recapitulate the storyline of the Letter to the church at Galatia. To be sure Paul says there is a different gospel being preached in Galatia that is no Gospel at all (Gal. 1.6-7). Paul is emphatic that salvation comes by faith alone (Gal. 2.20). When we believe, we receive the promise of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3.22). The promise of the Spirit is our inheritance (Gal. 3.15-25). The Spirit of God brings freedom from the Law of Moses (Gal. 4.8-20). It brings freedom from sin and death. It brings freedom from the works of righteousness that are birthed in our flesh. The Spirit of God brings about the true righteousness in our lives and provides for us Eternal Life (Gal. 6.8-9).

Make no mistake about it: Galatians teaches us that it is not the Law that saves us, it is the Spirit of Jesus. This is good news! What counts for believers is the new creation (Gal. 6.14-15). Will you join me in this pursuit of holiness of heart and life? Let us welcome new members today by reminding ourselves of Paul’s words to the Galatians that there is one true Gospel based on faith alone, not by works, lest anyone should boast.

Works Cited

The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. United Methodist Pub. House, 2016.

Boring, M. Eugene, and Fred B. Craddock. “Galatians.” The People’s New Testament Commentary, Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

The Jesus Bible, New International Version. “Galatians.” Zondervan, 2013.

Keener, Craig S. Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today. Baker Academic, 2001.

Kerr, Hugh T., editor. “John Wesley.” Readings in Christian Thought, 2nd ed., Abingdon Press, 1990, pp. 190–196.

Kinghorn, Kenneth C. “The Heritage of Hymns.” The Heritage of American Methodism, Emeth Press, 2009, p. 147.

Rienecker, Fritz, and Cleon L. Rogers. A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Zondervan, 1976.

The United Methodist Book of Worship. United Methodist Pub. House, 1992.

The United Methodist Hymnal. United Methodist Publ. House, 1989.

Witherington, Ben. Paul’s Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph. Westminster John Knox, 1994.

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My Heart Believes

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” – Isaiah 55.6

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation (yeshua) and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness (sidqa) as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness (sidqa) and praise spring up before all nations. For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication (sidqa) shines out like the dawn her salvation (yeshua) like a blazing torch. The nations will see your vindication (sidqa), and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. – Isaiah 61.10-62.3

יְשׁוּעָה yšûʿ; something saved, deliverance, aid, victory, prosperity: — deliverance, health, help(-ing), salvation, save, saving (health), welfare.

צִדְקָה ṣiḏqâ; Sedek; (Aramaic) benevolence, bighearted, kindness, generosity, rightness, justice, morality, virtue, holy prosperity; clear one’s name

Today we celebrate the 1st Sunday after Christmas. Imagine with me what it would have been like for Mary and Joseph to have had their baby boy just 7 days ago. In the Jewish tradition the child would have been presented at the synagogue/temple or what we might call “church” on the 8th day. On that day the son would have been marked and given a name by his parents.

One of the most exciting moments in a couple’s life is the gift of a child. I remember when we were expecting our children. I went to the bookstore and bought a baby name book. I wanted the most meaningful names that I could bestow upon our children. Because we had to wait many years to have children, the surprise gift of our first child and the unexpected gift of a second child made us breathless. We knew that with each child we wanted a special name to represent all our hopes and dreams. So we pondered and waited until we saw each one to decide on the perfect name.

However, in the story of Mary and Joseph, God had already named this child many months prior to his birth. The story of the bestowal of Jesus’ name is memorable. It begins first with an angel of the Lord telling Mary to name their son Jesus (Luke 1.26-38). Then her husband-to-be, Joseph, had a dream where an angel of the Lord explains to him the situation and gives the baby boy the name Jesus (Matthew 1.18-25, Isaiah 7.14). Names are very important in biblical times, but Jesus’ name is extra special. His name means Salvation (Yeshua). Salvation is an important word to Christianity because it defines who we are as a people: saved from sins.

Salvation is a free gift from God to all people who will receive it. At Christmas we remember God’s free gift by exchanging presents with one another. God wants everyone to receive this free gift of Salvation found in Jesus alone but many people do not understand what being “saved from sin” means. Being saved from sin means that our mistakes in life and our broken hearts no longer have control over us. Jesus breaks the power of our mistakes and infirmities. In our object lesson we discover that humanity is created in the image of God, but Eve and Adam gave into temptation that created a scar in all humanity. We have the bent toward sinning, and sin keeps us away from God. So Jesus became our bridge back to God. He washes away our sins, and gives us the free gift of eternal life.  He sets our hearts at liberty (#freedom).

Across the pages of the Prophet Isaiah’s writings, the imagery of a Savior emerges in glorious details. Throughout the month of December, we have soaked in the passages from Isaiah in our sermon series. We have relived the experience of his days where hope and peace were only a distant promise. Yet, his words give us the greatest comfort as we anticipation not only the salvation of our own souls, but the souls of many who hear his words, receive forgiveness, and accept the new compass of moral piety for their hearts.

When we examine the writings as a whole, we see detail after detail of Salvation promises. Isaiah describes the sweet expectations of what the world would one day receive: forgiveness from our sins and a new moral compass. There are three concepts in our text that we are going to examine: salvation, vindication, and righteousness. Salvation (yeshua) is the core content of Isaiah’s writings. And, the supporting concepts come from one Aramaic word “sidqa” which is translated two ways vindication and righteousness.

As we take the journey of reading through Isaiah’s writings we can discover salvation stepping stones, vindication touch points, and righteousness milestones. Isaiah very clearly helps us to understand that Jesus died to provide vindication: forgiveness of our sins. He further clarifies that Jesus died to provide a new moral compass that we might live in righteousness. And, the two factors join together in our hearts leads us to the full experience of salvation. It’s an equation that adds up: holy vindication + imputed righteousness = fullness of salvation.

Let us dig deeper into the text of Isaiah and discover the meaning of salvation for Isaiah. Isaiah begins his writings with the promise that our sins can be cleansed, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” (Is. 1.18). Nothing is beyond the power of the blood of Jesus that forgives and washing us clean (“Nothing But the Blood of Jesus,” UMH#362). Isaiah declares that “all the nations will stream it [the Mountain of the Lord’s Temple]” (Is. 2.2). Salvation belongs to all people who will accept God’s provision in Jesus. Salvation comes to comfort the soul (Is. 3.10) (“It is Well with My Soul,” UMH#377). Even though Isaiah is a man of God, he understands by his own vision from God that sin must be atoned for even in his own life (Is. 6.6-7).

Isaiah promotes the essential ingredient of our faith – righteousness. We receive a new compass for holy prosperity, and it begins with the Messiah, “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth” (Is. 11.1-5). Isaiah assures his disciples that, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense, he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Is. 12.2-3).

Isaiah declares the importance of vindication from sin, “The Lord has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge” (Is. 14.32). “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God, we trusted in Him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation” (Is. 25.8-9). According to Isaiah, salvation leads to resurrection, “But your dead will live, Lord, their bodies will rise. Let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy” (Is. 26.19). To be sure Isaiah invites us to repent, rest, quiet our souls and trust in God, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it” (Is. 30.15).

To be sure Isaiah sees a day when our salvation is completed, “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King. It is he who will save us. …No one living in Zion will say, ‘I am ill.’ And the sins of those who dwell there will be forgiven” (Is. 33.22, 24). Isaiah inspires, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way, say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear, your God will come. He will come with vengeance, with divine retribution he will come to save you” (Is. 35.3-4).  His salvation comes with divine 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. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs” (“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” (Is. 35.5-7). A highway will be provided for the righteous, “And a highway will be there. It will be called the Way of Holiness. It will be for those who walk on that Way” (Is. 35.8).

When we find ourselves at the edge of destruction, God puts all our sins behind his back (Is. 38.17). Isaiah inspires us to know that we are a chosen people, “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness. I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Is. 42.6-7). When our hearts are stubborn, Isaiah reminds us that we are far away from God’s righteousness (Is. 46.12-13). God provides for us because of his great love. Isaiah says it this way, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you, and peoples in exchange for your life” (Is. 43.4).

God promises, “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed” (Is. 52.3). Isaiah’s writing climax in chapter 53 as the description of the suffering servant, “Surely, he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53.4-6). God’s everlasting covenant with his people is founded on God’s faithful love promised to David, and exampled in the suffering of the Holy One (Is. 55.3).

God’s Covenant is a relationship that all begins with God, and it’s purpose is to deliver us from sin and death. I recall when I was a child, I ran around the playground singing a song of promise. You might recall it too – cross my heart and hope to die; stick a needle in my eye. Some modern day covenants include a contract, an arrangement, a treaty, a promise, a pact, or a settlement.

For John Wesley covenant keeping was a leap of faith rooted in a love for God. Wesley called his disciples to be covenant keepers. Today covenants are often solemn written legally binding agreements that are negotiated and dissolved with little concern. God’s Covenant in the community of believers never changes. As far as God’s side of the bargain, his covenant cannot be changed or dissolved, except by our own choosing. It is and will always be fulfilled to the uttermost. This holy covenant requires a commitment on both sides – the One giving and the one receiving the promises.

In a recent email from Bishop Bruce Ough, President of the Council of Bishops, stated concerning the Wesley Covenant Service, “They clearly remind us that we belong to Christ, and that to give ourselves to Christ in all things is the heart and soul of all covenantal relationships within our great United Methodist Church” (December 30, 2017).

John Wesley wrestled with salvation in his sermon “The Scripture Way of Salvation.” Wesley begins his quest to define the way of salvation in plain and simple terms. Salvation is accessible to every person no matter their station in life or intellectual ability. Salvation is childlike faith lived out on earth with the hope of heaven. It is the already-not-yet experience of God’s great love in our hearts. We may choose to experience God now – in our hearts, minds, and souls. Yes, later we will be given “eternal happiness” as Wesley phrases it, but heaven is not salvation. Salvation is the gift that we receive that bridges the gap that separates us from God. Indeed, salvation is a future promise but it is also here and now. Salvation is a gift initiated and provided by God to us. God gives us the freedom to say either yes or no. It is our choice.

Salvation is the reconciliation of ourselves with the Almighty while we still live upon this earth, and later after we have died. Salvation very much invites us into a lifelong relationship with God whom we have been at odds with because of our choices. God is about the business of chasing down every longing heart. God desires to rule in our hearts alone. And, when we accept his offer of salvation (forgiveness of sin and new heart of righteousness), then our hearts are filled with everlasting joy. Salvation shines a light in our darkness, and a fire is sparked. To be sure each one of us is invited to believe in Jesus.

Hear the Good News! Redemption is near to all who seek God with their whole-heart. We have recaptured the heart of Isaiah’s writing in one word: Salvation (Yeshua). The very name of Jesus means salvation. We have been given the opportunity to hear the word of God according to Isaiah, and we can rejoice in God’s great love for his people. God has provided a highway in the deserted and lonely places of our lives. God has secured our redemption from sin. God has offered us the transformation of our hearts. In our darkness God has shown a great light of his glory. God has come that we might believe in the Messiah. It is our time to not keep silent but let our declaration to God be a blazing torch. Let us cast off the rags of unrighteousness, and be clothed with new garments. Let us robe ourselves in righteousness that entails admission of a guilty conscious and the acceptance of a new moral compass, a new conscious even the mind of Christ. Let our souls rejoice in God and our songs join with the heavenly hosts!

Let us reflect on the Christmas carol “Joy to the World” and make it our prayer. Joy to the world, the Lord has indeed come to us! Let us receive our King. Let all of us, every heart, prepare him room. Joy to the World, our Savior reigns! No more let sin and sorrow grow for he comes to make his blessings flow. He rules over us with truth and grace. He makes the nations prove his righteousness and his wondrous love! Let our hearts believe in the Savior who is Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The Heart’s Journey

“Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better still, welcome an enemy who will watch you keenly and sting you savagely. What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man, what an intolerable nuisance to a fool!” – Charles Spurgeon

At the outlying edge of the nativity story is the journey of the three magi, also known as kings or wise men, and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh as an act of homage – a public declaration of allegiance to this new king proclaimed in the night sky. They came to show their allegiance to the one they believed was a king of all kings. The magi go first to see if there is an heir born in the palace, inquiring, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2.2). But surely their gifts were but a reflection of the heart-warming allegiance to God reflected in their lengthy travels across the desert lands.

The magi as they were overjoyed at the sign of the star, bowed low to worship the young boy Jesus. It seems we show our allegiance to our family and friends much more readily than to the God who created us. We often offer only a token experience of personal worship at our local church. I wonder what would happen in our hearts and lives if we bowed low this Christmastide remembering to give homage to our Creator God who is our Redeemer and King.

J.B. Phillips says, “Every time we say, ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit,’ we mean that we believe there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it.” Are we willing for Jesus to change us?

I invite you to ponder with me. To whom or to what are you and I giving homage? I suppose many of us in the Western world struggle with our wealth, and our debt. The story of the magi invites us to reflect on our personal giving to God. Let us bow low before God our Creator. Come, thou long expectant Jesus! Change my heart to be like yours!

Almighty God, our hearts have taken a journey through Advent. We’ve been waiting and being patient for the birth of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Gift of Humility

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” – Gal. 4:4-5

 When we worship Jesus, we worship both his humanity and his divinity. They cannot be separated. It is hard for us to comprehend Jesus as being both 100% human and 100% God. Yet, we see from the language of Scripture that his disciples recognized both qualities in him. His humanness began with the Incarnation. When we consider the incarnation, it draws us to reflect on Jesus’ whole life, not just his birth. Jesus was born of woman and he died under the law and in between those two events he lived a full life. Jesus grew up from an infant to a man. During those years, he experienced bodily needs such as hunger, thirst, and being tired. He was an average person with a fully functional mind. He experienced emotions like being sad and weeping. He held a job as a carpenter before beginning his three years of ministry. He was, indeed, fully human.

As we consider the Incarnation this Christmas, let us together remember the fullness of the man and the fullness of his divinity.

I am reminded of the humility of my Savior and how humble I should be in light of what he has done for me, even me. In the fullness of time God came to join us in our common humanity. He came that He might fully redeem all of us that we might experience adoption as children of God. In this text Paul is writing to the minors as those who have not fully grown into their father’s inheritance. Until these minors grow up they are still no better than slaves. This text teaches me the purpose of the Incarnation was that we might experience adoption as children. But what good is the adoption if I choose to remain as a slave not growing up into all that God has provided through his humble birth, his fully human experience of life, his cruel death, his powerful resurrection, and the gift of his Spirit. How sad God must be when I live my daily life without embracing the fullness of the gift of life he has given in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray… Father, help us to receive the fullness of our inheritance, crying, “Abba, Father!” We choose today to surrender anew and afresh to the fullness of the God-man Jesus. This is our Christmas present. Amen.

Christmas Peace

Isaiah 9.2-7

Called and Sent

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.  Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” – Isaiah 6.8-10

Isaiah lived about 2700 years ago (739-680 BC). Isaiah was a religious leader who lived under the reigns of two kings: Ahaz (bad) and Hezekiah (good). He is married to another religious leader, a prophetess, and they have children together. There were three nations that wanted to fight the God’s people from three different directions. God would speak to Isaiah and declare judgment on the poor choices and bad decisions of the leaders and the locals. They refused to worship God with holy respect and trust their future to his care. God would continually promise that when his people changed their ways, God would provide a good outcome for their situation. God would send a special person – the Jesus Christ who would become the Savior of the world.

The Darkest Night

The whole of Advent we have spent time within the writings of Isaiah. When we look at the witness or testimony of the prophet, we know much about his heart and his relationship with God. Isaiah believed in the God of Israel because he had a deeply moving relationship with God. He had dreams and visions of a new day dawning in Israel, and it began as God called to him that a new day be proclaimed in the earth when evil would no longer rule in the hearts, mind and emotions of the people who belonged to God. A new ruler would emerge with all the qualities necessary to reform the nations. A child would be born in a little town of Judah known as Bethlehem, the smallest among the clans of Judah.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”Micah 5.2

It is into this climate of a new day dawning that earthly kings and prophets had failed to bring about the reform necessary to turn the nation from its own demise. God’s concern noted through the Prophet Isaiah was the hope of a remnant. But that would also entail the judgment of the royal house, as well as the populace. Israel was about to be judged. Isaiah was certain in his discernment that the leadership would topple, and the people would fall into exile. Both were guilty, both punishable by God.

The prophet would call followers of the One True God, Immanuel, to stand firm in their devotion. For those who would follow God, hardship would be long and the waiting would be their only recourse. Isaiah will call to the those loyal to Almighty God to steady their gaze upon the Truth, and live for God alone. In the crises ahead Isaiah and his biological children with his wife the prophetess, along with his disciples, will be called to stand firm on the divine word from God.

Each believer in history has but one testimony which has purpose and meaning, fashioned by the hand of the Almighty, understood only in the eyes of God. The words of the prophet would become a sanctuary in the years of dreadful waiting and conquest to come. Even today we find these same words of Isaiah some of the most reassuring. Recited at Advent and Christmastide, Isaiah’s words are found in fodder of sermons, the notes of holiday greetings, and trinkets for trees. Words that remind us of the promise of God for a Messiah that would only be realized after many seasons of waiting. Words that were not for the elite, but for the common folk.

Isaiah’s words would be heart-warming in the darkest of years for Israel-Judah’s history. The promise for a good leader – one who will emerge in the darkness of wicked leadership. When we look across the pages of Israel’s monarchy, corruption abounded. The kingdom was divided – north and south. Potentially good people would be ruled by political wickedness and evil motives. The monarchy once ruled by beloved King David and his son Solomon would divide and dissolve within 100 years of its birth, overshadowed by corruption.

The hearts of leaders and people would burn with the desire for their own power and lust for themselves. To be sure God promises that people who live in darkness will see a great light. The darkness was the thickest in history. Some of the darkest rulers were as evil as Hitler himself. (The ruler of Assyria Sennacherib would find his death at the hands of his own children.) The fire of darkness burned in the hearts of humanity only a remnant would survive to wait for a new day to dawn. In the final days of the Northern Kingdom one coup would replace the next then the Southern Kingdom would fall even the house of David would experience bloodshed. During this season of judgment, even widows and orphans would fail to receive mercy from God. Evil would prevail. Wickedness would consume. The Royal Court and King would be judged because they failed to share their great wealth with the needy, poor, widows, and orphans.

God would step down into space-time and bring peace to the hearts and minds at war. Not in the way of an earthly ruler, but a cosmic authority able to change the heart of every man, woman, and child. God would call the people to lay down their weapons of selfish power, and take up the works of peace with their neighbor. As God resides in every person who believes, each one is called to lay aside their own motives and agendas – taking the way of the Good King, the shepherd of the people. We will break the conditions of the covenant: worshiping other gods, taking the name of God in vein, dishonoring parents, not resting on the Sabbath, lying, stealing, killing, coveting and relational misconduct. In essence not loving God, and neighbor as self. Every act of treason and disloyalty would be forgiven except one – blasphemy against the Spirit of God.

The stump of Jesse would sprout. The root of Jesse would produce an heir to the throne. A contender would arise. Restoration would be provided by and for God, the Messiah. When no other could arise to lead the people in righteousness, God would himself provide an heir of his own making. His only Son.

A Great Light Shines

The failures of Isaiah’s day resurface in the world around us in every generation. The root of demise for Israel-Judah is the same as ours today – hubris and blasphemy. The flipside of our failures is a life lived in God’s promise that the Messiah would take away the sins of the word. God’s Kingdom is designed by justice and righteousness. God desires for his people to live not in pride but defined by justice – helping the oppressed, defending the orphans, and pleading for the widows.

Out of this darkness of hearts would come a King who would rule in the heart of every believer to remove the stain of injustice in the hidden places of our hearts. Our hearts would receive a king who would usher in a time of light, joy, peace, and healing. He would be a king who would rule with righteous authority and peace-filled justice. His name would be his legacy. He would be a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, an Eternal Father, and a Prince of Peace. He would establish the reign of David and his kingdom would sustain a love for people more than power and the wealthy of nations (desert temptations). He would die for the people, and this people would serve him with loyalty and faithfulness.

In our hearts would burn the fire of his Spirit. His Spirit would dwell within and cause a great neighborly love marked by compassion, grace, and mercy. He alone would establish and sustain his Kingdom by purging the land of unrighteousness, by leading with the hope of transformed lives. The call to repentance would ever be his battle cry, guiding all people to lay down their warring ways and seeking peace with the God and neighbor. The King claims us and entitles us to be a laborer in this endeavor, a servant in his kingdom of peace. Those who did not belong to the lineage are grafted into the bloodline of David through the Messiah.

Isaiah speaks of a child heir who will reclaim the Kingdom of David, a monarchy. This heir would hold not only the title on earth, but the heavenly title. All authority of heaven and earth would be upon his shoulders. In a world filled with power and position, the Messiah would not be corrupted. He would always reign and rule with the very best answers and outcomes for all his people. Our King would call for and give peace to every heart set ablaze with self-interest.

Jesus once said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14. 27

The Gift of Peace

Today we remember that the baby Jesus has been born to us to give us peace inside our hearts and minds, and outward toward all humanity. Indeed, peace is a condition of the heart. Where once a believer’s heart burned with personal gain, God quiets the soul to be guarded and guided by peace. Peace is a condition born in the heart first, then behavior will follow. To be sure we often spend our days focusing on the things that go wrong rather than the things that go right. Troubles are very small in our daily routines, but often consume our thoughts and prayers. Rarely do we spend our thoughts and prayers celebrating the goodness all around us. Peace moves us from fixing our problems to engaging in the good opportunities available to us. Peace is not something that happens to us, but something that we, with the guidance of our King, learn to live out in our hearts and lives.

John Wesley claimed that a Methodist could seek to do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.

Thoughts of peace move us from fear, control, bullying, correcting, and disciplining to teaching, helping, listening, and learning. Deep change happens when we relinquish our need to be right, and open our clenched fists to allow others the opportunity to live out their concerns. Our hearts communicate much more than our behaviors. Even when we live with good intentions and we line up our behaviors to the model of Jesus, discord remains in our hearts. Our deepest problems are hidden within us will create divisions among us. Our hearts can invite our own failure. We even invest in our own demise.  We see people as objects – demanding from them, being unreasonable of them, and nagging them to conform to our wishes. We spend our time and energy arguing and sustaining conflict. We demonize, name call, and group people together in masses. Peace requires of us a higher price than we are often willing to give – ourselves – in humble surrender to a will that is not our own. Peace requires us to encounter every person as ourselves, individuals who are just like us. (Just like me.) Peace disarms us of our stinging barbs and manipulation. Peace calls us to eradicate our own bigotry. Rather than making others horrible monsters, avoiding a friendship with them, and ignoring our flaws as similar to theirs, peace calls us to choose to love those unremarkable qualities within ourselves. Peace invites us to be in relationship with the most unlovely people, and to see them as children of the living God.

Peace calls to us to run with those who have no moral grounding so that they might imagine a world that justice and righteousness would be their allies and not their enemies. Peace calls us to care for everyone equally. When we find ourselves at odds with people, disgusted by their character and offended by their lack of scruples, peace invites us to forgive and live with them as valuable persons capable of living with moral pinning. Peace disarms us from our warring thoughts and actions toward those who have yet to become all that God has called them to be. Peace invites us to be brothers and sisters that give one another a hand up, not a hand out. A hand out implies that others are less than us, a hand up invites transformed living. Peace does not look down on others, but look prophetically like Isaiah to a new beginning that lies just ahead and other times just out of reach. Peace invites us to prayer. Peace invites others into relationship that creates space for differences. When we separate from our neighbor, we do so at our own peril. We are called to build deeper relationships. Relationships that deal only with corrective measures become shallow at best and destructive at worse.

The Sabbath Way

Lauren Winner invites us to think about Sabbath keeping from her Jewish heritage as a convert to Christianity. The Jewish traditions of Sabbath invite a new attitude that should inspire us to remember the importance of resting. In her writing, she notes the essential concept of Sabbath keeping is not to create. Perhaps interpreting this idea of not creating should entail not creating conflict with our words and behavior. Peace is the practice of silence and solitude when we would rather speak our mind. Peace calls us to honor those we love by our presence with them.

Resting from our labors gives us opportunity to let go of our ambition and political striving. Dr. Matthew Sleeth in his book 24/6 notes, “We cannot work our way to heaven, but many of us try. The need to impress God is part of our fall from Eden” (161). Peace calls us to practice hospitality in our homes for strangers among us, even those who seem so unlike ourselves.

Practicing spiritual disciplines keep us faithful in and out of times of doubt and trouble. Walter Brueggemann states in his book Sabbath as Resistance, “The limit is set by the weekly work pause that breaks the production cycle. And those who participate in it break the anxiety cycle” (27). Peace calls us to a routine of prayer – formal, liturgical, and spontaneous. Peace calls us to take every thought captive to the mind of Christ. Peace calls us to fast for the sake of loving God and neighbor more than ourselves.

We learn early on in our Christian journey that the Ten Commandments are our guideposts for right living. The command to rest dates back to Genesis at the very beginning (Gen. 2.2-3). We are to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Peace calls us to care for our physical body as God’s Temple for the Holy Spirit: food, sleep, exercise, bathing, and other physical needs. Peace calls us to care for our marriage. Peace calls us to times of celebrating our humanity.

Ruth Haley Barton in her book Sacred Rhythms suggests that Sabbath is a time to honor our limits, “Sabbath keeping helps us to live within our limits, because on the Sabbath in many different ways we allow ourselves to be the creature in the presence of our creator” (138). Peace calls us to honor the aging, care for the elderly, and remember the griefs we have faced. Sabbath calls us to new beginnings. Peace invites us to see a future where a new day is dawning. Isaiah the prophet believes that the dark will be pierced with a great light of a new day.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43.18-19

Accepting and receiving God’s best for us comes from living within our limits. Sabbath keeping excludes work, buying, selling, and worrying about our well-being. It moves us from fear to trusting God. King Solomon understood there is a time for everything under the sun.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” – Ecclesiastes 3.1-8

Christmas Peace

Now is the time for peace. And, in this season of Advent we are waiting for the peace of Christ to transcend our understanding. Peace calls us to hearts aflame with the love of God. At the heart of Sabbath keeping is the rest from our broken dreams, unmet expectations, and the well-wishes of others that were never more than lip service. Peace calls us to relinquish. Christmas is the time believers practice Sabbath keeping together more than any other time of the year. It is a time of rest as they enter into a time of celebration and feasting.

Many will put aside their grievances to share a family meal together and exchange tokens of affection. Christmas becomes a time of recognizing our disorientation with one another, and reorienting our lives to become whole again. Christmas becomes the place where light shines in the darkness to illuminate the depth of our needs to love one another. Christmas gives us the opportunity to think on whatever is lovely. Paul says it this way.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” – Philippians 4.8

Christmas is the time of new birth in our lives where we give God the permission to transform us with the gift of peace. Christmas invites us to experience in the Incarnational life of Christ Jesus. Christmas becomes our guidepost, our compass to chart the way forward into our future. Christmas invites us to set aside our normal activities for the day for the sake of God and neighbor. Christmas calls us to stop, center, meditate, and feast on God himself. Christmas is the time when righteousness and peace kiss.

“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” – Psalm 85.10

 Christmas calls us to slow down our pace to include not simply a day off from the normal work cycle, but Sabbath Rest. Christmas is the good news of Jesus Christ, bringing us peace in a dark time. He is the Light of the World lighting our hearts on fire. He leads us by way of Sabbath rest to experience restoration and healing in our darkness. We live in a world where the news carries word of wicked and evil people. Wars and rumors of war, shadows of fear and the uncovering of evil deeds. We live in turmoil, but God brings us the good news of peace. Into this turmoil was born a Savior, and he is Christ the King. Immanuel. God with us. Let us enter the Sabbath rest of God’s peace this Christmas.

Pray with me… Prince of Peace, we invite into touch our minds in the very places that we seek to make war with God and neighbor. Bring us into your mighty Sabbath rest and blessed peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.

Rule in Our Hearts Alone

“In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  – John 1.1-5 TNIV

The Word came to challenge the darkness! All of John’s Gospel points to this one statement: The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. And, the Gospel reframes the meaning of God bringing life and light every step along his journey. He exposed the darkness by his very presence among the people. Yet, the populace rejected him. We have much to learn about Christianity if we fail to understand the way in which God brings his presence into our hearts. The Word reaches into the dark places of the soul and shines a light, and brings life.

This is the greatest drama! When we open up the Bible we have every opportunity for God to become flesh and dwell within us and among us. I love how Mark’s Gospel boldly puts this concept of the Word becoming flesh, “The time has come,” he said. “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1.14-15). The coming of the Kingdom begins with the first step: repentance. Repentance comes by way of humility – humbling ourselves and allowing the Word to dwell within us. In the beginning when God spoke, all of creation was formed. God spoke into the darkness then light and life were formed. When God speaks, things are created. To be sure we are created in his image. When we speak, things are created as well. God’s words were pure love. Our words are tainted with broken understandings, big assumptions, and false realities that we design by our own imaginations. God’s Word will stand forever, but our words are temporal.

The Word became flesh and dwelled among us as a catalyst for conflicts, complaining, and complications. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on this earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10.34). When our worldview is challenged by the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, then conflict, complaining, and complications are surely part of the dialogue. We are living in a season of explosive growth in sharing our ideas with the use of the internet. Human words travel through the internet faster than ever before. We can see how society is immediately impacted with the speed of our conversations. Our traveling words have grown from foot delivery, to horseback, to steam engines, to motorized vehicles, to airplanes, and now the world-wide web.  In a very real sense our human words have become flesh and are dwelling among us. Our words do become flesh and dwell among us. So we must be very careful with how we share our words and ideas. We are responsible for every word we speak and share.

The Word requires us to be self-disciplined in the area of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. There is much fear when it comes to actually listening to one another. We shut each other down, and distance ourselves for fear of being exposed and experiencing self-mortification. When we really love in humility, we don’t hide our sins and failings or run away when a little discomfort invades our space. How can we know that we can deeply love one another if we cannot stand in the face of our own mortality, and extend a willing hand to a brother or sister in moral crisis? How can we deeply love one another if we fail to share our deepest hurts, longings, and failings?

Healing happens in the presence of a confessional community. The Word calls us from our thought-life about Jesus into an actualized reality of living as the Word made flesh within us. We are called to live an Incarnational life as part of the corporate body of Christ on this earth. We are to live as confessional, relational, and forgiving people. When the Word becomes flesh and dwells within us a new integration happens between our head, our hearts, and our hands. The Spirit dwells within us even stronger. There is a counterfeit word that is shaping our lives. Most often it is pride, fear, and our own self-importance that keep us from realizing our potential. When the Word manifests his goodness within us, it will always dispel the darkness.

Almighty God, You are the healer of our minds. You are the Word made flesh and dwelt among us. Through the season of Advent may our hearts be patient in waiting for Your appearance in our lives. May we discover the hope, love, joy and peace you offer in our minds so that our hearts, hands, and habits reflect your holiness. Amen.

Christmas Joy

The Year of the Lord’s Favor… The Spirit (Ruach) of the Sovereign Lord (Yahweh) is on me, because the Lord (Yahweh) has anointed me to proclaim (bear) good news to the (meek) poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners to proclaim the year of the Lord’s (Yahweh) favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit (ruach) of despair (fainting). They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord (Yahweh) for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the Lord (Yahweh), you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth (army) of nations, and in their riches you will boast. Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace (dishonor) you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion (inheritance) in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. “For I, the Lord (Yahweh), love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward (pay) my people and make an everlasting covenant (Berith) with them. Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord (Yahweh) has blessed.” (Rejoice! Rejoice! In Yahweh Exult) I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head (crown) like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (weapons, utensils). For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord (Yahweh) will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. – Isaiah 61.1-11

Isaiah is a well-educated, city dwelling, family man. He is politically astute, and lives in Jerusalem the capital of Judah. His main audience is the Southern Kingdom of Judah, not the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Isaiah predicts the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by Assyria from the North. He further predicts the captivity of the Southern Kingdom of Judah by the eastern powerhouse, Babylon.

Isaiah’s composition includes three books containing 66 chapters. The first 39 chapters focus on the nations rebellion, while the last 27 chapters focus on the hope of the coming Messiah. It is in these last 27 chapters that our passage rests for us today. Isaiah does not leave the people without anticipation of future hope, love, joy and peace. God will fulfill his promises.

But for the people, they are entering into a dark season of silence from God’s corporate word. 400 years would follow which we call the Inter-Testamental Period. During these 400 years, the Hebrew people would be conquered again and again by Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greeks, Syria, and Rome. And, it is into this season of conflict and destruction that God speaks the new beginning. John the Baptist will be the sign that the silence has ended, and a new beginning has been offered to the Hebrew people. It is into this silence that God spoke the Incarnation (Michael Card).

If we look closely at the layout of our Bible, this period ends with Malachi’s writings at about 430 BC and begins with Matthew’s writings at the time of the Incarnation. Malachi’s writings are the final reminder to God’s people to live rightly in the covenant relationship instead of mistreating wives and marrying ungodly people (family, prevenient life), refusing to tithe and not maintaining the Temple (worship, justified life), and not teaching God’s ways to his people (covenant, sanctified life). These three themes would be the agenda of the Messiah as well.

Isaiah’s writings are in light of a great day in the Hebrew calendar called the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25.9, 23-28, 39-55). It only happened once every 50 years (#FREEDOM). This was the year that the land and its people were freed from debt and slavery. There was freedom from all types of bondage – imprisonment, captivity, slaves released, debt forgiveness, labor contracts released, and property returned to its family of origin. Labor ceased for a year to give the land and the people rest.

The Year of Jubilee was a time of great joy for the people. This concept of joy is defined both in the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek. But both definitions of joy are very different from our understanding of cultural happiness. When we think of happiness, we often recall those “one hit wonders” in our lives, moments in time that are captured on film and recorder for posterity such as weddings, the birth of children, and retirement celebrations. Happiness is often defined like a Disney movie with the fairytale ending. However, the concept of joy in the scriptures comes from a source of knowing God, and it is a free gift of spiritual grace given to the heart, mind, and soul. Joy defined across the Scriptures is often captured in songs, hymns and spiritual songs composed to God, after deep reflection on the plight of humankind.  It is not conditional upon outward experiences, but on the knowledge that God is and God loves. Joy is based in the personal knowledge and experience of God’s personal relationship with me, and you.

As we ponder the joy of Advent, sometimes it is easier to define sadness instead of joy. Often times sorrow leads us to a better understanding of joy. Rarely do we look at times of sorrow as a gift from God, but God is teaching us the great gift of joy in the midst of sorrow. Isaac Watts, the composer of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” also composed a familiar Christmas tune entitled “Joy to the World.” Music has always helped us plummet the wonders of our emotional understanding of God and this world we live in.

The Messiah himself provides for believers the fulfillment of the Jubilee in modern times. When humanity could not follow the Law, God provided a Messiah who would fulfill the Law. The Year of Jubilee remains a promise for us today in the man Jesus Christ. He died for our spiritual freedom. He sets the captive free. He pays our debts. We are no longer slaves to fear of sin and death. We can enter into this rest provided for us in Jesus Christ (Heb. 4.9-10).

After Jesus is baptized, experiences his temptation, and begins his ministry, he returns to his hometown of Nazareth. And, it is in the synagogue that Jesus declares the fulfillment of this text. Jesus points to the mysterious anointed figure in Israel’s prophecy spelled out in Isaiah. That he indeed is the One that Israel has longed for, has been looking for, has been waiting for. God’s silence has ended; he has spoken the Incarnation. Israel has a long history of believing that God would liberate her from the nations, but God’s plan was to liberate the people from themselves.

Let’s dig deeper into the text. Our passage is broken down into four parts: call, declaration, promise, and celebration.

In a nutshell, Isaiah has listed the top 15 joy-robbers that will be dealt with in God’s mighty way through his Messiah: poverty, broken hearts, captivity, imprisonment, mourning for the dead/lost, ashes of destruction, grief, discouragement, devastation from generationally deserted places, wastelands of ancient ruined cities, shame, disgrace, injustice, robbery, and dishonesty. These 15 joy-robbers are refurbished by God’s rebuilding, restoring, and renewing activity provided by the Messiah.

Isaiah concludes his utterance with the lyrics of a song. In modern culture everyone has a melody and a song that they use to express themselves. The radio waves fill the air with AM, FM, and Satellite transmissions. Pandora and Spotify are streaming apps that play your favorite tunes non-stop. Internet resources like Vimeo, YouTube, and GodTube are available at the punch of a button. We can access music from across the globe in an instant.

Some music deals with cultural issues like folk storytellers such as James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot and Nancy Griffith. Some songs struggle with the lives of the poor and farming community such as bluegrass and country music, with musicians who know the heart of a select people like Allison Krause or Bill Monroe. Some genres address the African American lifestyle and culture with Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, Hip-Hop and Rap. We study music and composers, have degrees in musical performance and vocals. We develop music for entertainment with movies, video games, elevators, and phone hold systems. We even have music competitions such as

Music is everywhere holding us together in times of joy and sorrow. Music is the expression of every people group and generation to speak to life’s journey good and bad. Music composition is a natural part of the human spiritual existence. The oldest music in the Bible is noted in Genesis 4.23-24 with Lamech. There are song compositions from Moses, Deborah, Hannah, David, Solomon, and Isaiah. Music is a part of who we are created to be. To be sure God invites us to sing and make music. It has always been an important part of expressions of worship to God. Psalm 150 captures the heart of praising God with songs, instruments, and dancing.

Our Wesleyan heritage understands singing as a spiritual discipline. Charles Wesley composing his first hymn “And Can it Be?” in response to his conversion in 1738. On that day he opened his bible to Psalm 40.3, reading, “He has put a new song in my mouth. Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.” He composed some 6500 hymns in his lifetime (Christianity.com).

Hear the good news! Joy is found in the person of Jesus the Messiah who brings good news to the poor, binds up the broken hearted, proclaims release for captives and liberates the prisoners. As we go forth this Christmas season let us sing to the Lord with hearts filled with joy! Amen.