Monday, December 23, 2013

An Unbelievable Story!

The thing about the Christmas story is that it is really unbelievable.
In our world talk of angels appearing to give advice is met with skeptical ears at best.
Talk of virgin births is really not something that many people can see as possible.
All of these things are really unbelievable.
And perhaps that is the point.
If the story was believable there would be no reason to have faith.
Faith is the belief in things not seen; it is belief in the unbelievable.
We can explain away the more sensational parts of the Christmas story.
The angel was just a figment of Joseph’s imagination.
The word virgin is just a miss reading of the Hebrew word for young woman.
But I like to keep in the parts of the story that seem impossible.
Because the really unbelievable part of the story is really not these things.
It is really that God would come down and put on our skin.
That God would want anything to do with us or the world.
That is the part that really takes faith.

And without it we are all just King Ahaz.
In our reading from Isaiah King Ahaz is taken to task by the prophet because he really doesn’t believe that God is with Israel during this time crisis.
Ahaz doesn’t believe that God will fulfill God’s promise to remain faithful.
This is why he doesn’t ask for a sign.
Because it doesn’t matter what sign God gives Ahaz will ignore it and believe instead on his schemes.
Ahaz believes that he has the answer to the military problems facing Jerusalem.
He believes that if he makes certain packs with other countries he will have enough to face the enemy.
And Isaiah is telling him that God will do what God has promised not to let Jerusalem fall.
God will send a sign anyway.
And the sign will be a child.
And that too is a problem for Ahaz.
Because a child can’t fight off an army, a child can’t pay the bills.
Easier to scheme and come up with an answer on his own then simply have faith in God.

And that is something we all face in our lives.
We want to have the answers, know the answers.
We want the facts and we believe that we can solve the problems, because after all we are really smart, self-reliant people.
It is so hard for us to do nothing.
So hard for us to rely on God and have faith.

This week in Concord we had the annual memorial service for people who have died because they were homeless.
We gathered in front of the state capital, and prayed, remembered loved ones lost, lit candles, sang songs of faith that God is in the midst of it all, and cried.
We cried for what has been needlessly lost.
29 people died because they were homeless this year in NH.
Some of them right here in Concord.
If you ask me that is 29 people too many.
In a land of plenty some die for not having the basics like a warm place to sleep.
But this is not a sermon about the injustice of the homelessness.
This is a sermon about things that we can’t believe because our eyes tell us different.
And what is true is that all those who have died had God with them.
All those who sleep tonight on a make shift cot, or out in a tent, have God with them.
Not because we think it is nice, or because we wish it so, but because God has told us this to be true.
God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said, that even in times of great turmoil, of war, of poverty, I am with you.
God then spoke plainly through Jesus to say in all things I am with you.
It is hard to believe sometimes.
But that is why we have faith.

In this advent season this is what we cling to.
That God has not abandoned us.
God has not left us with nothing but our own schemes and crafty wills.
Instead God was pleased to dwell among and with us.

Our need to act and do something to fix it, to make it all go away, to make it feel better, usually leads us to despair.
Because we can’t fix everything, we can’t make some things better.
It is why perhaps we desire a sign.
We want to know in no uncertain terms that we are not left alone.
We want and desire the certainty of knowing what God is up to.
Some people will say that God has a plan.
That might be true, but at times it seems like a really bad plan.
How can letting people freeze to death be part of God’s plan?
How can letting people die scared and alone be a good plan?
You know what I could use these days, a visit from an angel.
I could use some idea of what God wants from us.
Perhaps an angel could come and say to me, Pastor Jon, “I want you to walk to this place, and do this thing.”
It would be nice.
Even with the sign would we believe it?

And yet we do have a sign, we do have an idea.
God has spoken to us through his Son Jesus Christ.
God has said that there is something great and special about living this life.
God has said that he is here.
And God has said that he is not just here in the good times.
He is here most assuredly in the bad times.
Can we believe it?
Do we dare believe it?

There is so much more going on in the Christmas story then merely the birth of a child.
In fact, so much more that Joseph can’t see it or can’t comprehend it.
He wants to do the right thing.
He will simply get rid of Mary.
He won’t publically shame her.
Can you blame him?
And yet here comes the angel to speak and tell of something beyond his imagination, beyond his comprehension, just as it is beyond our imagination and comprehension.
No way would God be with us here in this mess.
In this world filled with so much that is just wrong and out of place.

Yesterday, I had to run some errands to get ready for Christmas.
That was not the smartest thing I ever did.
It was crazy out there, so many people running around trying to get things done.
None of them really seemed to me like they were preparing for God to do this amazing, wonderful, incomprehensible thing.
Instead we were preparing for something much smaller.
We were getting ready for presents to be opened, meals to be shared, drinks to be made.
And people didn’t seem particularly happy about any of it.
It was hard to be while you bumped into people trying to get to the last can of crushed pineapple.
It was just a sea of humanity.
While I was out in it this thought occurred to me why would God want to be part of this?

That too me is the greatest mystery of this season.
And the only way to explain it is through a wonderfully mysteries and incomprehensible story.
The only way to explain it is through fai1th.
To believe that there is more out there than any of us can imagine.

God has given us a sign.
It is a sign of wonder and grace.
A sign foretold by prophets, announced by angels, conceived in an unimaginable way, and shared with us today.
That sign is Jesus who tells us and shows us that God is with us, always.
Do we dare believe it?

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