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Come Away in a Manger for Peace

Sermon , Advent 4A, Sunday December 22, 2019 , St Petri

Away in a manger
Isaiah 7:10-16 When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.  2 Now the house of David was told, ‘Aram has allied itself with[a] Ephraim’; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 ‘Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.’ 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘“It will not take place,     it will not happen, 8 for the head of Aram is Damascus,     and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years     Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. 9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,     and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son. If you do not stand firm in your faith,     you will not stand at all.”’ 10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.’ 12 But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.’ 13 Then Isaiah said, ‘Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you[c] a sign: the virgin[d] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[e] will call him Immanuel.[f] 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

King Ahaz of Jerusalem was a lot like that Shepherd – a man shaken by life and searching for peace. 

 And like that Shepherd, Ahaz heard that God’s way of finally bringing peace to him and his people, was very different to what he thought would do the trick. It would involve pregnancy and birth, more than weapons and military might. 

God’s peace would be different too. The peace promised by God would not be just safety, security and survival in political terms, but would be peace in the inner person, in full; God’s “highest and complete good for a person and a nation”. That’s quite a peace and quite a promise!

Ahaz was under the pump as the leader of the southern kingdom, Judah. He is in the capital city, Jerusalem, and the northerners have come to fight. His counterpart in the northern kingdom, Aram, and his offsiders, Ephraim and Pekah, have done a deal, formed an alliance against little Judah and Jerusalem, put their armies together and let their murderous intentions be known;

6 ‘Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves….

Things are not looking good for this House of David. Isaiah tells us that Ahaz and those town dwellers are rattled. They are shaken like ‘wind shakes the trees of the forest’ (Isaiah 7:2). 

I have never been in a community that is about to attacked and certainly defeated by a superior force. I struggle to know that fear. But I do know fear of being attacked physically by another person with mates in support. I do know the fear of being attacked verbally by someone more powerful than I – a very angry person in rage. I know what it is to be in that scary moment of fight, take flight or just freeze. I am pretty sure you might know this fear given that life just brings these things into our path. It is not fun. 

The Lord says to Ahaz, in his moment of shakiness, “Pray to me. Ask me for a sign of hope: any sign, big or small, known or strange”. 

Ahaz says, “No. I will not test you, Lord”. Ahaz seems to believe that asking God for a sign of hope is somehow asking too much or asking with the wrong motive (too selfish) is doing something wrong. He thinks that would make him guilty of putting God to the test. Maybe he is just too proud to ask but won’t admit his need to ask. 

Isaiah disagrees with Ahaz’ refusal to seek a sign of hope that there will be lasting peace. Isaiah says NOT asking the Lord for a sign of hope is testing the Lord! NOT asking him for hope and peace in the shaky situation is asking too much of the Lord. He wants to give you a sign of hope! Not asking is putting his patience to the test! In others’ words, “Pray, ask, seek” when all you want to do is fight, take flight or freeze. 

The Lord loses patience with Ahaz. He just takes over the conversation and the situation for him. Like a learner driver instructor just taking over control of the car when the student can’t make a decision or does not ask for help, the Lord just goes right on ahead and gives a sign of hope right there in the shaky, scary moment.”

…the virgin[d] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[e] will call him Immanuel.[f] 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste”. 

 Ahaz, in his fear is probably looking for a more immediate solution and a solution that would have more immediate affect – like a thousand super-duper cross bows, some very large fire balls to throw down on the coming attackers, a few thousand crack soldiers; better still, maybe a legion of angels to take up their post around the city walls…..

Instead he gets a longer term promise that involves a young woman and pregnancy and birth and a special boy who will eventually defeat this attack and these people who are his enemies. 

That is the boy those shepherds met> They met this boy of promise. The young girl became pregnant and gave birth and the boy is the promised Saviour of the city and like the Lord’s promise to Ahaz, the boy and his story and his victory that brings peace has little to do with military might or political power. 

Why so? Because those ways of victory are temporary and usually involve violence and suffering. Those human ways of getting to peace are fleeting and always involve fighting and fear. Those human ways of peace are so very limited. Like a government department trying to fix society’s many ills, it is so very limited. It is only when real people get involved with real people for the long haul that real problem can be dealt with in any fuller sense. 

This little boy is that real person giving himself to real people to give real peace in real shaky situations. He is the Prince of Peace and God’s government of peace rests on his shoulders. He is love beyond fear, hope beyond despair, life beyond death, light in darkness. He is that very special gift of which the Shepherd speaks – Shalom – highest and fullest good for you. He is God cupping your face in his hands and breathing this Shalom into you.

Whatever is surrounding you, pressing in on you, prodding you to abandon the city of God, the church; whatever or whoever is overpowering you, attacking you, inflicting you with pain and causing you great suffering,; whatever or whoever is threatening to do you bad, can be dealt with the highest and most complete peace this One gives.

God has held you face in his wounded hands and said to you, “Shalom. My highest good in this lowly shed in the human boy who is your deepest, highest, longest and fullest good”. 

Have you got it? Can you breathe it in? Will you ask?

Friend, no need to test God’s patience by refusing to or forgetting to ask for a sign of hope. You have reason and every permission to welcome his wounded hands around you. He is your highest and fullest good. 

This child of promise is still the one who says he can and he is ready to lay to waist those things that you dread so that you live on, the city lives on, your family lives on in his deep peace and the joy it brings. 

That is what they brought to this man searching for peace under fire. Those angels brought a joy that the whole world is waiting to breath in. 

Will you breath that joy in and grab your people’s faces in your hand and breath his Shalom; be his shalom for them this Christmas? Will you allow the Spirit to make you a breath of joy in your places this Christmas?

Without threat or fear or control or a fighting for a win for the argument, will you simple breath the boy’s joy in your family, among your friends. Simply announce it with all the joy in the world and all his peace in your heart?

The word needs this shalom. You need this peace child. Your family needs that shalom. Your enemies need his shalom. Will you take their faces in your hands and breath the angle’s joy into them in love?

Let the wind blow. Let joy come. Strengthen feeble hands and steady knocking knees, calls the prophet. Your joy has come. The boy has come. The city has paid her dues in full. Life beyond your suffering is here. You are living in the year of the Lord’s favour. 

Breath on me Breath of God. Fill me with love anew. 


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