Sunday, December 14, 2008

You Can’t Kill Hope

The weekend’s weather forecasters nearly guaranteed a bad patch of weather for us today, and sure enough the flurries turned to accumulation, with promises of more. This did not deter worship this morning as the sanctuary appeared fairly full once more, despite the dire forecasts.

This did not mean there were no concerns about the weather. The service opened with a discussion regarding the postponing of the afternoon Christmas program, and a decision that next week would be safer. The howling wind and blowing snow throughout the service confirmed the wisdom of this decision.

Jake and Leanne Vanderscheuren lit the Advent Candle this morning to begin this Third Sunday of Advent service. After Darlene’s beautiful introit, we were led in worship by Ellie, Pearl, Robin and Brad. Dana shared two special songs with us during the service.

Today’s Scripture reading:
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Luke 1:47-55

After leading us in a time of prayer Pastor Brad Shannon delivered the message.

You Can’t Kill Hope

Matthew 2 begins with the well known story about the visit of the Magi:

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"

7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Using this passage as a springboard, Pastor Brad shared today who King Herod was, and how Herod is a symbol with much meaning for us today.

King Herod had been a powerful ruler in Israel, having been in command for forty years by the time the Christ child was born. He was successful by currying favor with Jewish leaders through temple improvements. Building projects probably also meant jobs. And his ability to rule Israel in a stable manner gave him points in Rome, since Israel at this time was under Roman rule.

Herod had a weak side, too, however. He was quite paranoid about losing his position and, over a period of time, in an effort to eliminate potential rivals or threats to his power he had his mother, wife and three of four sons killed. In short, he was not a nice guy.

This insecurity helps us understand how a man with power could order the slaughter of all infants under two years of age as he did. He would not permit any rival to challenge his throne.

Pastor Brad used the story of Herod as a metaphor for our own times and lives. The Jewish leaders put up with Herod's excesses because they got something out of it. There is always a cost, however... like high taxes which flowed back to Rome. And the occasional, unusual cruelty. Citing the historian Josephus, we learned how on his deathbed Herod ordered some of Jerusalem's elite citizens to be executed so that at least someone would be weeping when he died. Herod the Great.

In the same way, Pastor Brad indicated that many of us have things in our own lives that bring us perceived benefits but have hidden costs. These are our Herods, and he offered many examples.

Workaholic addiction was the first example he cited. The heightened energy of a workaholic helps him get things done and offers satisfactions, but at what price? How many workaholic dads there are who miss their kids' basketball games, and portions of their childrens' lives because they "weren't there."

Sometimes our Herod is an old hurt which we won't let go of, to which you've become addicted. You may not have deserved the hurt, and it may even have been a long time ago, but it's always waiting for you, especially when you're tired. You've tried to forgive the person who hurt you but have not been successful. Now it's so much a part of your life you don't know who you are any more without it. When you do rid yourself of it, you end up inviting it back into your heart.

"When you become too comfortable with your hurt, Herod is running your life and will ruin it with this hurt," he said.

Your Herod can be the alcohol that abuses you. Or the spouse that abuses you. It can be the job that abuses you day after day.... but you can't let go.

Our Herod can be the voice that says we can ignore the poor. Herod will tell you you've got your own problems, don't worry about those others. But if we do nothing in the face of need, we ourselves are the ones who become impoverished.

The wise men came to Jerusalem asking "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?" The passage in Matthew notes that not only was Herod frightened by this question, all Jerusalem was frightened as well. The city did not joyously rise up at the announcement that a liberator-king had been born. That's because people tend to prefer the misery they know to the mystery that is not yet known. It seems irrational, but it's human nature. Just because you know you are addicted doesn't mean you want to be delivered.

Yet this is what Christmas is about.

Jesus came not to give us a holiday, but to liberate us from our Herods. No matter how much Herod strives to extinguish the hope in our hearts, Jesus lives to keep that hope alive. Herod knows that the birth of the Christ in our lives means freedom from Herod. So he does all he can to quench our hope.

Jesus' entrance into the world means liberation. His presence as infant was a sign that God was opening His arms to us. As a man He told us of a new kingdom, established by God, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. On the cross, this Jesus died to set us free, to be fully alive.

In the Holy Child we see the birth of hope... and a new kingdom, a new hope. You can't kill this hope.

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