Sunday’s sermon pulled together four stories with a common thread.
722 BC (Isaiah 35) – Isaiah’s prophecy of the exile’s return from captivity in Babylon. During a dark time for Judah; their country overrun, their capital city destroyed, their people deported – it must have seemed like all of God’s promises would be left unfulfilled. “How can we worship our God in a strange land?” Conquered by Babylon: this was the darkest day for God’s people. And yet, Isaiah speaks to them of hope and peace. All is not lost. God has not walked away.
31 AD (Matthew 11) – Israel lives in the land that God had promised them, but they live their lives under the heel of a Roman boot. Their political life, their religious life, all exist at the whim of a foreign emperor. Any “peace” that they seem to enjoy comes at a very high and very violent price. Those calling themselves “messiah” have risen up before, only to be killed by the swift and merciless Roman legions. The violence of those times is still fresh in everyone’s minds. John the Baptist is in jail and must know that he will never get out. His days are numbered. He sees Jesus’ ministry begin and wonders, “Are you the one? Are you the one, because we can’t stomach another disappointment? When those other pretenders got put down – all of us suffered. Things are just too hopeless to tolerate another reminder that God has abandoned us.” Jesus says, “Report what you see and hear.” I am He. All is not lost and God has not walked away. True peace is coming to Israel.
October 1962 – The Soviet Union has moved nuclear warheads into Cuba and The US (led by President John F. Kennedy) is taking a hard stand. No one budges. No one blinks. For two weeks, the people of the United States are truly frightened. For the first time, the threat of nuclear war and the horror it could unleash become real and palpable to the American people. Panic sets in. The future that once looked so secure has evaporated overnight. The prosperity that we had struggled for suddenly seems vacuous and futile. Many people wake each day thinking, “This could be the last day of the world.” Nuclear war seems like a certainty.
It was in these moments that a New York songwriter experienced a change of heart and decided that the time was right to cry out for peace. That cry is remembered for us in the song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” It is one man’s cry for peace and hope in a world that seemed void of both. All was not lost. God has not abandoned us. Peace and hope are not just pipe dreams. They are possible.
December 2009 – Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re not doing great. We are struggling and things are looking a bit bleak. For many of us, this is not the American Dream we signed up for. Jobs, retirement funds, security – all disappearing overnight. People are losing hope. Iraq, Afghanistan, let’s not forget North Korea, Iran and those other “trouble spots.” Peace doesn’t even seem like a realistic thing to talk about. And yet, God is still God. We have not been abandoned. The hope and peace we find in Isaiah and Matthew are extended to us. Even when its seems like all is lost – all is not lost.
The message of this season is this: there is always hope. There is always a chance for peace. If we will keep our hearts and eyes open, we can find it. If we “report what we see and hear” (Mt. 11:4) others will find it too.
I pray that this Christmas you will “hear what I hear” and “see what I see.”